Thursday, May 19, 2005

the contenders, the showdown and the rally

The contenders

I should mention before any thing that Ethiopia is made up of 70 ethnic groups, each with their own culture and many with their own language but less than a handful make up for 80% of the population (Oromo, Amhara, Tigre, Sidama). Even if the greater number of ethnicities make up for a small portion of the population the over all culture is intertwined. Regardless of their individual population, the constitution allows each group to be represented by political party/parties (Article 39).

Out of the 52 contending political parties running for office this year, only three are significant enuf for a rant. These major ones are composed of national and local ethnic-based parties.

The name in brackets and in italic is the Amharic name used locally

Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) (eh’adeg, weyane): Came to power after in 1990 by defeating the communist regime in a civil war that lasted 17 years. EPRDF takes credit for establishing a “Democratic” Government in Ethiopia even tho most of the high official in federal level are of the tigre group, as they are the once who started the armed struggle 31 years ago in Dedebit, Tigray. As a result, the power distribution in the current government is considered by many as Orwellian despite the fact they proclaim all ethnicities are equal.

Logo: it's a bee, i will post a pic as soon

Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) (kinijit): Formed less than six months ago by what use to be independent political parties representing the different ethnic groups. The glue that’s holding together this blend of parties is the common goal of defeating the ruling party in the coming democratic election and establishing a multiethnic central government capable of uniting the country.

United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) (Hibret): similar aim and composition as kinijit.

The showdown

Both Kinijit and Hibret came under the spotlight recently after the parties that comprise them announced of their coalition. Before that, the individual parties have done their homework of raising political awareness with in the ethnic groups they represent, while some central figures of the parties took care of high profile tasks in the media and abroad. Their coalition I believe came in the light of the political debates that were given high media coverage as part of the RPs way of saying the election is democratic. I also believe that the RP did not anticipate their move as witnessed from the televised debates where I could day the RP officials were ‘GRILLED’.

The essence of the debates basically revolved around accusations and further accusations. The RP accuses the OP of being anti-peace & democracy and akin to “Interhamwe”. For those who need an introduction, Interhamwe is the militia that led the Rwandan Hutus in the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of over a million Tutsis in 100 days. How you might ask? That ‘how’ is a riddle to me and to the Ethiopian public as well except for the one statement we keep hearing from the RP: “if the OP gets elected, it will lead to ethnic cleansing of the unheard of proportions”. I believe this is a serious accusation without any ground; a last minute fear campaign to divert votes to their side since they didn’t do very well on the rest of the debates not to mention their 14 year reputation. In addition, the RP holds a position where they claim they have led this country for the past fourteen years whereas the OP has ‘0’ years of experience governing a country therefore they are the most qualified.

The OP on the other hand accuses the RP of not being fair while proclaiming to the world this is an election of a kind where everything is perfect. What’s really happening in the inside is just another authoritarian with a coat of democracy. And leading the country doing “government” stuff (roads, schools, hospitals, etc…) shouldn’t be a credit; anyone can handle that. Where is the real change? As for the lack of governing experience, did any of us get tested on multiplication and division when we first went to register for pre-school? We were all judged on our overall activity and ability to grasp on to new ideas. OPs also attack the homogeneity of the current government, and plan to have an immediate “national forgiveness campaign” for the political parties as well as the people. This will help them establish a government based on individual capability rather than party affiliation.

Overall the debates lacked a solid platform on all sides. The platforms should encompass strategies to tackle the current issues of the country: population, HIV, the environment and general awareness. For now the poverty issue is common for both sides; the RP says they have done all the necessary preparations to bring not only Ethiopia but also Africa out of poverty (Meles Zenawi, the current PM takes some credit for establishing the African commission together with Bob Gedolf and Tony Blair). However, the OP insist that poverty eradication is just another ‘cow in the sky’ with the current land policy in the country, which requires all land to be under government control. The land issue has risen outside criticism since the beginning as it does not guarantee the farmer land ownership.

The state of the environment in Ethiopia is at a very high risk but I can say almost nothing is being done about it and is not part of the agenda in the current elections. A lesson we Africans learned from the developed world is that the environment is a last priority that follows economic prosperity. Considering the overall state of the planet these are not issues that can wait until we all get stinking rich. In Ethiopia, besides the obvious lack of the funds for environmental protection, there is serious lack of environmental awareness. That is why I have added general Awareness as a main agenda, just like HIV needs awareness, so does the environment. It is also a ‘DO OR DIE’ situation. In addition, I believe a general awareness campaign can also help with the insidious problems that drag the county in to the downward spiral – open mindedness, bureaucracy, and the work culture.


CUD (kinjit) and EPRDF so far have managed to hold rallies in Addis and other cities in Ethiopia. The ones held in Addis have shed some light on the public’s feeling.

The story is, CUD has been announcing their May 8th rally way in advance while EPRDF announced their rally three days in advance and ironically on May 7th, one day before the CUD rally. Plus, for people going to the EPRDF rally, city busses were stationed, for free! to bring them from Addis as well as surrounding towns. To make the deal sweet, everyone got a free t-shirt and a hat and sumthin to make the day worth a while. At the rally, which was held at Meskel square (known as Revolution square back in the communist days) there were over a million people dressed in white t-shirts. The overall atmosphere of the city was very unenthusiastic except the prime minister who took the podium in the style of the former Mengistu, screaming to the top of his lungs.

Most of my experiences for the CUD rally come first hand. Unusual for a Sunday, I was out in the wee-hours of the morning on a non-political matter. Even at that time, people had already taken up the streets chanting and dancing, and almost every vehicle on the street was driving with their headlights on, honking and holding a victory sign out the window. By noon, every street leading to Meskel square was jam packed and the Square was completely covered with people waiting for the 2:00pm CUD rally kickoff. After lunch, I parked my car at the closest possible point and headed to the rally around the kickoff time. When I got there, for your surprise, the power to the stage was out so the CUD was not able to address their supporters at their scheduled time. Hoping for the power to go back on, people waited around until the storm clouds began closing in. 45 minutes later the power went back on but the rally could not go on because their designated time had passed and it is considered an “illegal” protest if people stick around. When we left, organizers of the rally were telling people to return to their homes and so were the rain gods. By the time I got to a friend’s car, which was 5 mins away, I was drenched to the bone. I could only imagine people who had to march back to where they came from in the absence of free and convenient transportation.

The CUD rally was one of a kind, never have i seen so many people out to support a political party (estimated 2.5 – 3 million) with out any outside influence but their own conscious.
Some of the great things saw include, people dressed in the EPRDF shirt they got the day before with “te’nant le’kanatera today le’helina” (yesterday for a t-shirt today for the mind) printed on it; bread in a shape of a hand holding a victory sign and edited picture of Jesus showing the ever popular victory sign. Other very clever forms of protests were used by the supporters some of which I have taken pictures of.

In the evening, everyone was planted in front of the TV waiting for the media coverage of the rally. Unlike the EPRDF rally and despite the scale, it was given a very brief time slot somewhere at the end of the news. What a shame, but what do you expect from a government controlled media


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