By Ted Debirhan
I read Dr. Akolg Birara’s five-part series entitled “Why Ethiopians must unite?” with profound interest. The most monotonously used cliché in the Ethiopian opposition discourse, unity, has been hard to establish in the past 20 years. Some of the majorly pointed causes for the absence of a political u-turn in Ethiopia are lack of unity between pro-democracy forces, lack of capable and committed leadership, fear, and selfishness of the population. Unity stands aloud among them. This was what one of Ethiopia’s best sons, scholar, and a veteran of World Bank, Dr. Akolg dwelt on in the past few weeks. Highly investigated and written, the article also had many repeated sentences and ideas in each of the parts. Here I write my short rejoinder to his article in the company of my tiny knowledge. The article appeared on most of Ethiopian pro-democracy online media, may you want to read refer most Ethiopian sites like Ethiopian Review. Although the last part that is part five of the series is not yet published, I wanted to write this rejoinder with the hope that it may poke the writer to include few strategic and analytical points that have been missing in the previous parts. Dr. Aklog states that the last part of the series will be focusing on the implications of land grab. As I would argue in my critique section later, he should include some strategic and analytical recommendations and advice on how, with whom unity can come about.
In his first piece, Akolog attested the history of Ethiopia and the role that unity played in the preservation of our history and heritage. He then discusses about the formation of nations throughout the world saying that none were formed via olive branches but through bloody wars, which shall not be a source of fracture but unity.
He then goes to make a comparative analysis of the use natural resources and developing one’s nation fast using Korea and Ethiopia as cases. Then he goes to explain the social, unemployment, agricultural, education, and similar problems that have been dragging Ethiopia’s development and extremely neglected by the current regime. Agriculture and the land give away is one that could keep the country in desperate conditions. “Ethiopia deserves a smallholder farming revolution.” Dr. Aklog says.
In his second part, he discussed on the reasons why people revolt, the present socioeconomic situation of the country and similar problems. He also sternly speaks of the negligence of Ethiopian smallholders and other domestic entrepreneurs by the Ethiopian government and concludes that the governing party’s strategy will not improve the poor farmers and self-sufficiency attempts. “Rather, it was to control the ‘peasantry’ and to make the rural population dependent and an appendage. A pro poor economic and social policy would have resulted in a smallholder Green Revolution in Ethiopia.” He says.
Part three of his series highlighted the dangers that emanate from massive transfers of water basins and farmlands and other pillars of the economy to foreign governments and businesses. In his articles he tried to embolden that unity of purpose and action is critical, urgent and everyone’s business. In this part, he made a comparison of China and Ethiopia in terms of population, and sees the beneficial aspects of population growth. Quoting his new book also, Akolog says giving land away is giving water away, natural resources that he equates to minerals and fuel.
“Poor and repressive political and socioeconomic governance censures or restricts freedom and empowerment regardless of geographical location, ethnicity, religion or demography.” He says.
In part four (a) of five of his series, Aklog presented global measurements and annual reports that describe the severity of poverty and bad governance within Ethiopia. To him one of the major reasons why the civil and political forces of Ethiopia do not unite is because they cannot focus on the needs of Ethiopia and the population. However, in his Part four article he said “More than any single factor, it is their quarrelsome behaviors and actions and their divisions that prolong the agony of the Ethiopian people”.
In this same part, he advises political elites and the populous that the moral way of dismantling the ruling parties “divide and rule” strategy is unity. Down the page he adds this argumentative sentence “Only empowered Ethiopians can improve their lives and the status of the country.”
He states some of the factors that make Ethiopia still poor in the world. Citing cases from India mainly, he argues, “Smallholder farms are more productive than large-scale commercial farm”. He often uses “hungriest and unhealthiest countries in the world” to describe today’s Ethiopia. To say ‘The hungriest’ is in fact correct in the economics sense of it but politically incorrect way of describing a nation and people – as far as I remember it was first out in writing in the Economist magazine two years ago.
Part four (b) – in this part he also referred to the impact of endowment companies such as EFFORT and party owned companies in national economies. He stressed that he advocates for an “unconditional unity”. He then dwells of the difference between growth and development taking the cases of the Ethiopian Diaspora who are bewildered by the ‘growth’ they see and the agricultural sector which as wrongly claimed by the government has been growing faster than the Ethiopian population. Finally, he lists some seven hurdles that the Ethiopian economy suffers from : hyperinflation, hunger, malnourishment and ill-health in urban and rural areas, high unemployment among youth, glaring income inequality, pervasive corruption, illicit outflow of foreign exchange, and the single party, endowment and foreign dominance of the pillars of the economy.
A tiny critique
As the title of his write ups suggested, Dr. Akolg hugely focused on the ‘why’ of Unity. With some repetitive points, he focused deeply on the hardships, destitutions and anticipated obliterations that Ethiopia will face unless we unite. Dr. Akolg however failed to clearly point out some strategic and analytical recommendations on the methods, how, and with whom aspects of bringing about unity. Regardless of the scope and objective of the thesis, answering these extremely relevant and important issues is unexceptionable. This writer anticipates that Dr. Akolg would take this comment on board and conclude his series by providing answers and solutions to these critical issues instead of solely focusing on the implications of the land grab, which is a very important issue too.
Part four (b) of his article he said “It is also their (opposition forces) lack of genuine commitment in siding with the people who struggle within the country to unseat a repressive regime peacefully, systematically and in sustainable ways” which perpetuates the division or is the cause. More than this, I as a reader would have loved to read the theoretical causes of division, disunity, and fragmentation within political parties and opposition forces. In addition to this, plausibly explaining the causes of the disunity among the Ethiopian opposition forces becomes essential. What divides these people and groups that we are telling ought to be united? Is it as they rhetorically say an external influence as they say, an uninvestigated internal cause, or independent one? These should all be answered from both an analytical and strategic insights.
Methods of forming the Unity of purpose and action
To answer Dr. Aklog’s “Why” question in a more succinct manner, finding few strategic and practical methods of executing the envisaged unity is also another question that should be answered in the next part of his article. He already stated that he wants to see an “unconditional unity” among the forces. Nevertheless, how can this unconditional unity be achieved? What has been highly used in most countries and so far in Ethiopia is dialogue/ deliberation between the liberal faction/units of the different forces at play. Dialogue and deliberation to form unity are time consuming, expensive and arduous. However, they remain to be one of the least contestable choices of forming unity of purpose and action among groups and people at large. What other methods and models of forming unity of purpose and action do we have in the plate? In addition, which one do you think works best in Ethiopia and for Ethiopia? How this unity should be formed: temporary or permanent? If as you premised, the propelling factors for unity were our moral obligation of defeating the ruling party’s divisive policy and listening to the call of the Ethiopian mass; how would we go about this fundamental question.
Who should unite?
You also have briefly covered this issue in your thesis. As far as what I registered from the thesis, you have no distinction of who should be part of the unity, as some Parties would foolishly exclude parties and rebels that have been formed along ethnic lines. Should this unity be regional? Meaning should we bring neighbouring countries and powers at play in the Horn of Africa as the main players and contributors of our unity?
Dr. Akolg did not give sufficient answer or skipped the above points I reviewed him for. There is one majorly important question that you have answered and that is the when. That is now. All Ethiopians and politico-military forces have no time to spare. They should unite now and now. Change is needed now and now. The thesis did answer some of the questions indirectly although, they emerge to be the most timely questions to be answered. There is no Ethiopian, I dare to say, who doesn’t know “Why Ethiopians must unite?” What most of us don’t know and want the scholarly insights of academics like you is on the how we go about it part? The walking aspect, I would say. I am reading various books and case studies to offer my own answer to these questions I posited.
The case of Sudan
Sudan is a case no different from today’s Ethiopia. It has an inflationary rate that is over 30%. Food prices as well have sky rocketed that urban dwellers have found it barely possible to buy their necessities. The opposition parties and rebels have been highly fragmented alike. However, last week a news emerged that divergent opposition groupings have come together and formed a united force.
The news has it as follows:
Rebels in Sudan’s Darfur region and southern Border States said on Saturday(12 Nov. 2011) they had formed an alliance to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, The alliance called “Sudanese Revolutionary Front” is focused on “toppling the regime of the (Sudan’s ruling) National Congress Party with all possible means” and replace it with a democratic system, the groups said in a joint statement sent to Reuters on Saturday. Darfur’s main rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) — and the SPLM-N, which fights the army in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, said they had formed a political and military alliance. Analysts said the new alliance showed closer coordination among various rebel groups left in Sudan after the South seceded under the terms of a 2005 peace agreement.
On the other hand, just today, while I was surfing on Facebook for the daily updates, I have come to read a new proposal for a united army by an individual/group named Green Ethiopia. The suggestion was endorsed by one of the strongest Ethiopian youth groups in Facebook and internationally, the Ethiopian Youth Movement. This is how it reads,
Free All Ethiopia Army(FAEA ). The future main opposition army group in Ethiopia. The nature of TPLF doesn’t allow for peaceful demonstration. So the chance of peaceful demonstrations to be turned to violent uprising is most likely high. Free All Ethiopia Army (FAEA ) is the ultimate solution . It will be a composed of defected Ethiopian Armed Forces personnel and volunteers from all regional states and ethnics, who can be active enough during the upcoming Ethiopian uprising. The formation of the opposition army group will be announced in websites and media by a group of uniformed defectors from the regime military, who will call upon members of the army to defect and join them. The Freedom fighter army will announce that the FAEA will work with demonstrators to bring down the repressive system and declare that all security forces attacking civilians will be justified targets. Free All Ethiopia Army will not have any political goals or power ambition except the liberation of Ethiopia and her people from Meles oppressive regime and his henchmen, his allies and protecting the country from domestic and foreign scavengers. The Group continues and outlines its Military tactics, leadership structure.
As the case of the Sudan above, shows unless all forces both the political and military oppositions form an alliance with a common denominator, their effectiveness, and existence will not be of any use. Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) that have worked independently for long have come to understand the need for unity of cause and action. The new Free All Ethiopia Army (FAEA ) suggestion from Ethiopian youth and democratic opposition seems to be a bit unhappy about the inconsolable attempts of Diaspora based political movements to bring together divided armed groups together. These guys are suggesting the creation of a new United force that is a product of the amalgamation of the already existing liberation forces who seem very bashful to listen to the advises given by the likes of Dr. Aklog. As a result, these young men came up with the idea of the formation of a new liberation army that is
Composed of defected Ethiopian Armed Forces personnel and volunteers from all regional states and ethnics, who can be active enough during the upcoming Ethiopian uprising.
This suggestion informs us how desperate the society both inside and outside is for a solution. The attempts of bringing fragmented political and military forces into one by movements and elders have been so lengthy and definitively inconclusive. As the case of the Sudanese opposition and rebel forces show, all parties political, religious, historical, and economic differences had put aside their differences in order to form this grand Unity force. This is has not happened among Ethiopian forces so far.
Last month when I was in a week holiday in Amsterdam, I had a good chat with this compatriot of mine about the bogeymen of Ethiopia. I said to him, both the political and military forces within and without Ethiopia are not doing anything but serving as bogeymen for the ruling party in order to imprison peaceful opposition activists at home. I explained this case well giving a historical flashback since the times of Professor Asrat Woledeyes. The ruling party in Ethiopia in order to arrest the Professor created its illegal own armed group as a bogeyman. I can cite a dozen of cases. The latest is the arrest of members of the civil home based parties such as Unity for Democracy and Justice, Oromo National Congress and journalists. The regime to arrest these non-violent critics had to link them to armed or pro-violence groups that are mostly based in the Diaspora such as Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ginbot 7. These groups have caused no tangible threat in the regime so far but continue to be used by the incumbent as bogeymen in order to arrest unarmed, helpless strugglers at home.
In my opinion, if this does not call for the formation of an immediate unity of purpose and action, what will?