Wednesday, June 08, 2005

To Strike or Not To Strike: The Saga of Organized Protest in Ethiopia

The spirit of organized protests has dwindled since the time of the Derg. This fact although it’s real as day and night, needs to be further looked in to as to why. The last organized movement that started with students and went to topple a regime happened in the early 70s. His majesty at the time underestimated the power of students and relied upon his army, which led to the demise of the monarchy. The brutality of the days that followed the revolution, the white terror and the red terror, have made the people unresponsive to any kind of unjust government actions. The very students who led the revolution divided in to two groups and hunted down each other, street of Addis were littered with bodies of the young. Those who survived the day reminisce it as ‘abyot lijo’chuan beLach’ (the revolution ate her own children) and such trauma has left them incapable of voicing their concern.

Leaving aside Mengistu’s iron fist rule, ever since EPRDF came in to power waving democracy to the people, protests have been attempted but none materialize due immediate use of force and lack of uniformity in the public. Here are some highlights of the democratic journey:

Bank workers went on strike after the government suspended their union (correct me if I am wrong). The next day the government ordered the workers to return to their regular jobs or they will be replaced. Like they said, the once that refuse to give up got replaced by new ones who took advantage of the situation and submitted their application at the right time. Guaranteed the government would have accepted a baboon with the right credentials just to spite the protesters.

The second major one is the general business strike called in the light of a very unfair increase on rent. As usual the government ordered the businesses to open or lose their establishment and their license. again, many complied with the order while the once who stood by their demand got thrown out on the street and their places of business were given to advantage takers.

When we get to taxies, they have been a victim of several price increases on fuel that did not consider their buying power. Basically, when ever the taxi union contemplates a strike our good old government starts eyeing their taxi license.

By far the bloodiest one in Addis since the 74 revolution has been the AAU university walk-out demanding the return of their representatives who got sacked and replaced by cadres of the ruling party, including the current AAU president, Prof. Endrias Eshete, who I hope there is hell just so that he burns for eternity. On that day, piazza was a war zone; looting and ransacking took place, police opened fire on protesters. At least thirty people died and hundreds of students were taken to a detaining camp where they spent the next month being put through heaven knows what horrible things. After the dust cleared, students were allowed to return if, and only if, they signed some sort of accord drafted by some knucklehead stating that the students are liable for what happened and they will not do such things from now on.

Other peaceful protests have been staged in other parts of the country that our democratic government managed to crush. You can add the ones I left out in the comment section I just highlighted that ones that came to my mind in no chronological order. The common reoccurring themes you see here are that none of these groups got what they wanted or even got a democratic response, within the groups them selves, not every one was fully committed to their common demand and last but not least the public outside these groups did not react to these atrocities what so ever besides sucking their lips in awe or took advantage of the situation.

The economy plays a major role in the lack of a committed protest. In a nut shell, a strike means there is no flow of goods and services, which are means of generating income for most. The life style for most Ethiopians is hand to mouth, which can’t rily leave them with enuf to eat for the next day to participate in an extended strike. No wonder Africans or people in the third world resort to picking up arms, at least guns generate income. Well, if you are in Addis right now, you will be disgusted by the dichotomy that looms over the city. The people in mercato and piazza (the have-nots) are out on the streets for a common cause: release the kids you rounded up and give us back our democratic rights to voice our concerns on how this sham of an election is going. Why in the fuck are people in bole (the haves) lined up in restaurants like nothing is happening. The least they can do is stay at their home where no one would see them incase their sphincter loses control when things get out of hand in their fancyshmancy neighborhood. the city should have come to a stand still, remember everyone in the city believes in this change, and sometimes change needs sacrifices beyond shoving a piece of paper in to a ballot box.

You shouldn't wonder why EPRDF underestimates the power of the people. This is exactly what they have prepared for. “Sure protests will be staged, not everyone will participate so we will kill what we have to kill and show them who the boss is. Western media will give it a brief attention and go back to other current important issues like MJs never-ending trial and their knocked up pop queen. In the mean while, things will go back to “normal” over here and then we blame the whole thing on the opposition and throw them in jail. voila! It’s another five years for us.” the question is how long will it go on like this?

I won’t finish this with out saying something about the police and the army, who have no sense of sympathy and belonging-ship. The only belonging-ship these drones have is to who ever is sitting on the big chair holding a piece of meat telling them what’s right and wrong. How can they justify the beating and killing of unarmed civilians, their own flesh and blood, because orders are given from above? Remember the largest army in Africa Mengistu put together? it got thrown out on the street in 1991to beg for pocket changes and the people didn’t ignore their plight. Regimes come and regimes go but the people will still be the people.


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