Fighting for the slice

By Ephrem Madebo / November 15, 2010

The EPRDF/TPLF exclusive pre-election campaign and the extremely lop-sided and disproportional results of the 2010 election are indicatives of a growing trend in Ethiopia where institutional rules including the constitution are largely irrelevant. Although Ethiopia has a constitution and a body of laws that provide formal limitations on how power is to be exercised, the long-held consensus among past and current Ethiopian political elites is that these rules play little or no role in actually constraining their behavior. Currently, Ethiopia is a one party state where there is no distinction between the ruling party, the state, and economic institutions. The comical part of this reality is that, if the TPLF regime honestly allows another political party to come into existence, Ethiopia would still be a one-party state, because everybody would join the new party. This is how disgusted Ethiopians are!

When the TPLF elites assumed political power in 1991, they publicly promised to a clean break up with Ethiopia’s past. The promise was to establish a just, equal, and democratic Ethiopia where there are self and shared rules. However, 19 years and four elections later, Ethiopia is still controlled by one ethnic group [minority Tigrean elite], and if there is a visible difference between the current Ethiopian parliament and the ruling EPRDF/TPLF party, it is the venue they convene.

In the 2010 election, the EPRDF together with its regional accessories swept 545 seats in the 547 seat parliament. Out of these 545 seats, 476 seats were won by the EPRDF member organizations according to the following order of importance: OPDO 178 (37.4%), ANDM 138(30%), SEPDM 122 (25.6%), and TPLF 38 (8%). In the TPLF electoral system of first past the post, any party or coalition of parties that reaches the 274 threshold is declared winner and can form a government. Therefore, in any general election in Ethiopia, any party or coalition of parties within the EPRDF that excludes the OPDO cannot form a government. Actually, without the OPDO [Oromia] and ANDM [Amhara], the total parliamentary seat of the eight regional states and the two city administrations is 231, which is not good enough to form a government. Therefore, in Ethiopia’s current plurality voting system, the road to power must pass through Oromia and Amhara regional states.

So why and how is tiny TPLF with only 38 parliamentary seats controlling everything in Ethiopia? Actually, the most surprising, rather the hard to swallow truth is not that tiny TPLF controls political giants like OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM. What is puzzling and sizzling is the chronic submissiveness of the three organizations who at will are functioning as subcontractors for the Tigrean Liberation Front, and yet call themselves an equal partner. By the way, who needs whom for its political survival? Is it the OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM that need the TPLF, or it’s the TPLF that badly needs the three?

Well, to answer this question and rule out subjectivity, we must use numbers because numbers don’t lie and are impartial. To begin with, in a genuine democracy where there is true power sharing, there is no way what so ever that the TPLF with only 8% of the parliamentary seats can have total dominance of power while the OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM are hand-clapping spectators with 32.5%, 25.2%, and 22.3% of the parliamentary seats. Meles Zenawi has repeatedly told the world that Ethiopia is in good hands of a growing democracy. To me, democracy is all about empowerment and equal representation. And in a representative democracy, elected officials make decisions on behalf of the people, and electoral systems are the methods by which citizens’ votes are translated into representatives’ seats. One shouldn’t be a math whiz to figure out that 178 seats of the OPDO, 138 seats of ANDM, or 123 seats of SEPDM individually or as a group are translated into more decision making power than the measly 38 seats of the TPLF party. Democratically, mathematically, or theoretically, TPLF should not have more than one or two low-level cabinet positions in Ethiopia, let alone controlling the entire nation.

To those who are deaf and blind at will, I want to make it very clear that this is what I call absolute domination which is a bitter truth that I refuse to live with! This is not about building dams, roads, and condos which all are necessary things; this is about respecting the freedom of the Ethiopian people to decide on what, where, and when to build. Remember, the first people crossed the Atlantic to secure liberty for their souls, not food to their body. Holding the soul hostage and feeding the body [if the feeding is there at all] is no different than enslaving the host. Please free the host so that it can cook and enjoy the food of its own choice.

Most Ethiopians who voted in the 2005 election clearly understand that Meles and his ruling party are not in power with the consent of the Ethiopian electorate. They are in power through the use of arbitrary power; a power unrestrained by the constitution and a power established on the ruins of the liberty of the Ethiopian people. This article is not directed to those Ethiopians who know this truth. The objective of this article is to serve as a renaissance to those Ethiopians who see, but don’t observe and hear but don’t listen. The article also addresses western donor nations who deep in their heart know that Zenawi’s regime is an ethnic minority dictatorial regime, but give it life support anyway. Most importantly, this article is directed to the leaders and followers of the OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM who collectively are the source of political power in Ethiopia, but fight over toothless cabinet positions that Meles throws at them.

Meles has already diminished the role of opposition parties in Ethiopia; therefore, he doesn’t have a perceptible danger to fear [at least in the short run] or tangible benefits to gain from the decimated domestic opposition. Hence, he understands very well that any last minute help to extend his party’s monopoly of power beyond the 2015 election must come from OPDO, ANDM, or SEPDM. But, sneaky Zenawi also knows that any political help form OPDO and ANDM comes with enormous political cost, a cost neither Meles nor his TPLF party is willing to pay. So where is the helping hand that extends Zenawi’s boundless power coming? Well, if you guessed the SEPDM, I think you guessed it right. The SEPDM is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups where there is no individual ethnic group that has neither the political forte nor the ambition to sit on the highest chair of the nation. Hence, Meles used this soft-spot of the SEPDM to control not only the OPDO and ANDM, the two organizations that he distrusts the most, but the SEPDM itself and potentially the progressive forces of southern Ethiopia too.

For 20 long years, I thought the ethnically organized security forces, the ‘Agazi army’ within the army, and the divide and rule policy of the Tigray elites was decisive in keeping one of Africa’s most hated regimes in power. But, after the 2010 election, and especially after the formation of the new government, realities in Ethiopia forced me to think otherwise. Yes, Zenawi’s ethnic dictatorship stayed in power using all of the above dirty tricks, but as Zenawi’s tricks run out and as his divide and rule policy exposed itself, Meles needed an accomplice, not just an accomplice, but an accomplice that lends his minority TPLF party a much needed public face. Meles wanted the following two qualities from his would be accomplice: 1) Obedience, he wanted an obedient person who does not have the word “no” in his vocabulary. 2) He wanted an apathetic accomplice that does not demand equal partnership. Organizationally, the SPDM was what Meles was looking and within SEPDM , there is none like Mr. Haile Mariam Desalegn who is obedient and submissively loyal like a German Shepherd.

In the modern history of Ethiopia, Haile Mariam Desalegn is the first man from southern Ethiopia to be deputy premier and the top diplomat of the nation. Hence, he takes this windfall power as the greatest accomplishment of his life. Evidently, Mr. Haile Mariam does not see his overnight ascend to power as something long overdue. He sees it as a favor or a gift from his Machiavellian boss. I don’t think Mr. Haile Mariam Desalegn has the instinctive to suspect that he is being groomed to serve as the “38th Parallel” between OPDO and ANDM. Mr. Haile Mariam simply thinks he is the most favored man on the land, and I believe he will not hesitate to return the favor whenever he’s asked.

The OPDO, ANDM, and the SEPDM represent about 34, 28, and 15 percent of Ethiopia’s population, they have the votes and they have the seats in the parliament, but in the last twenty years; they never sought or even believed that they deserved the top leadership positions of the nation as if these positions were reserved for the TPLF party only. As a result, the OPDO and ANDM who actually own the entire power pie in Ethiopia, were observed fighting to get a slice in Zenawi’s most recent annual power rationing ceremony. It is depressing and awfully embarrassing to see political giants like OPDO and ANDM fight over tiny slices of ‘pizza’ when they collectively own Pizza-Hut and Dominos. In Zenawi’s most recent power rationing, the OPDO and ANDM were gorging amongst each for the highest prize [Deputy Prime Minister]. Sadly, for the king of divide and rule, watching the two elephants fight was a political victory by itself; hence, he responded by tossing the most coveted position to the unforeseen SEPDM leader Mr. Haile Mariam Desalegn. As expected, this insincere handing of power forced the SEPDM to join the power feud. As result, today, the OPDO and ANDM are at each other’s throats, and they are keeping an eye on SEPDM while SEPDM makes sure that OPDO and ANDM are not plotting against the TPLF. Thanks to the three parochial organizations, now Ethiopia’s bad man has ample time to focus on his real threats to his unending political tenure.

Recently, Mr. Haile Mariam Desalegn has two unusual, rather bizarre media encounters in which he embarrassed himself before he even started his new job. When he was asked whether he was ready to take the Deputy Prime Minister’s position- Mr.Haile Mariam responded “I don’t know”. When he was pressed to explain what he meant by “I don’t know”, he discredited himself by saying “There is no way for me to know the secrets of the party”. After over 20 years of marriage with the TPLF, SEPDM’s top gun, Haile Mariam Desalegn is telling us that he is not trusted to see classified party documents. So why is he or his party SEPDM trusting TPLF? Look, Mr. Haile Mariam, I would rather have you trust your own instinct than Zenawi's reasons. It is only when you trust yourself that you know more than you think you do.

Mr. Haile Mariam’s undignified debacle does not end here. When he was asked about his new post as the top man in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Haile Mariam said: I am getting into this trusting God and believing in Meles. Well, I like his trust in God, but for heaven’s sack- where in the “hell’ is the Meles part coming from? Does Haile Mariam think the same God that he trusts created him to permanently depend on Meles? What was he trying to tell us, his hollowness or Zenawi’s callousness? Whichever it is, Mr. Haile Mariam ought to know that submitting to tyranny makes him complicit in betrayal of the very people he claims to represent.

The OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM must understand that having large administration offices in Adama, Bahar Dar, and Awassa, and having ethnic folksongs broadcast on national TV does never translate into power sharing or ethnic equality. In fact, in a plural society like ours, the essence of equality emanates from equal power sharing. As long as regional states have no place in the national decision making process, and as long as regional decisions are made by the TPLF controlled central government, the current nine regional states are no better than ‘provinces’ during Emperor Haile Selasse or ‘administrative regions’ during Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.

As long as they dine with Chef Meles and dance with DJ Bereket, the leaders of OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM remain in a time warp, deluded and confined behind the most hated enemy in Ethiopia. Preaching ethnic equality in a country where there is no equality and talking about freedom while enslaving people is one of the greatest deceits that is being perpetuated on the Ethiopian people. We have repeatedly heard the leaders of the OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM boasting of freedom and equality of “nations, nationalities, and peoples” when the very people they actually represent are chained and milked by the Tigrean Liberation Front. If the leaders OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM are willing to undo the time warp that deluded them and move fast-forward in time to see the truth in Ethiopia, they will see that no one is so hopelessly enslaved than themselves who falsely believe they are free.

The Ethiopian people are enslaved by a handful of lawless in-humans so much so that the nation’s fertile land is sold to the highest [foreign] bidder while the entire nation watches with its hands cuffed and its mouth gagged. Dear leaders of OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM, though I may strongly condemn your despicable allegiance to the agents of tyranny and corruption, I have the at most respect to you as a human being and as fellow countrymen. Therefore, I will not say shame on you for shame arises from a sense of personal failure; however, you should feel guilty of yourself, for guilt arises out of concern for others. Please say sorry and join our struggle for freedom. The Ethiopian people will forgive you understanding that forgiveness may not change your actions of the past, but it will definitely bring us together and enlarge our future.