I am sure most of you have heard or read that the leaders of Medrek are on a tour of North America. They have held town hall meetings in Seattle, San Jose, Las Vegas, Washington DC and Atlanta and are coming to Los Angles this coming weekend. The delegation consists of Ato Seye Abreha, Ato Gebru Asrat, Dr. Negasso Gidada and Engineer Gezachew Shiferaw. All four gentlemen were former members of TPLF, OPDO or AEUP.
For those not familiar with the alphabet soup, TPLF stands for Tigrai People's Liberation Front and OPDO is Oromo People's Democratic Union. OPDO is the brainchild of TPLF. That is neither paranoia nor a figment of my imagination. Other TPLF subsidiaries include ANDM (Amhara National Democratic Movement), SEPDM (Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Movement) and other minor parties. They call them Teletafi (ተለጣፊ) They are organized as EPDRF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Revolutionary Front).
The current Ethiopian Parliament is composed of 526 members and EPDRF controls 326 seats. That is actually not a true statement. TPLF Party control extends to all the so-called political parties organized as an independent for ferenjis consumption. Thus, in reality, the Parliament is TPLF's private playing field. As the Chilean dictator Pinochet said: ‘"Not a leaf moves in Chile if I don't know about it," nothing in Ethiopian Parliament happens without the permission of the one-party state.
If you will forgive me, I will start our current story with the 2005 general election as a background. For the majority of Ethiopians May 2005 is day one in the hope of our people for democracy and a better future. May 2005 left the Meles regime physically naked, mentally dead and spiritually drained. The total rejection of ethnic politics and cadre rule unnerved the regime. Meles and company panicked. They communicated with the Ethiopian people with snipers on every roof and concentration camps in every Kilil. The aftermath of 2005 election ushered in the quest for a new understanding of the struggle for liberation under a totalitarian state.
Kinijit leaders were forced to forge a new path based on the experience of the 2005 debacle. Kinijit the dragon slayer was an amalgamation of different organizations united for the purpose of elections. The two years in Kaliti jail dealt a heavy blow to the young party. The TPLF machine used every evil means at its disposal to create mistrust, mis-information resulting in disarray. Kaliti did a favor to the movement. It differentiated the men from the boys. Ledetu was officially recognized as a subsidiary. Hailu was criticized as spoiler. Merera and Petros became inconsequential. Berhanu reloaded and Bertukan decided to re-calibrate.
Our story revolves around Bertukan Mideksa. Upon her return to Ethiopia from her North American tour, she embarked on the formation of a new political party modeled after Kinijit. If you remember Ato Meles’s court had already handed Kinijit to some obscure individual named Ayele Chamiso. Thus Weizerit Bertukan labored tirelessly to form Andenet Party. Despite the many hurdles thrown on her path she was able to dot the I’s and cross the t’s and form Andenet. It was a proud accomplishment that will be told and retold for a long time. Birtukan’s Andenet is a multi-national party based on equality and resting on a strong bedrock of Democracy as its foundation.
Weizerit Bertukan criss-crossed the country forming headquarters in every region and managed to win the trust and respect of the Ethiopian People. Her rising star was eclipsing the faint candlelight of the TPLF cadres. That did not go well with TPLF. Chairperson Bertukan was re-hauled back to Kaliti on some funky charges to be kept away until the 2010 election is over [Ed: Birtukan Mideksa is sentenced to life in prison].
Her imprisonment created a void in the new party. It was not long before factions were formed and an all-out war was declared. The young party was left without a rudder to steer the party in the TPLF shark-infested ocean. The battle tested TPLF leaders exploited the weakness of the rookie leaders to the maximum. TPLF was not interested in killing the Party. It just wanted to deliver a crippling blow. It was not long before things degenerated to the extent that Andenet was forced to appeal to the TPLF regime for protection from its own members. Shame is an understatement. It was under these strange circumstances that Andenet joined what is known as Medrek. What exactly is Medrek?
What exactly is Medrek?
Medrek is a coalition of different parties that include UEDF (United Ethiopian Democratic Forces led by Dr. Beyene Petros and Dr. Merera Gudina), OFDM (Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement led by Ato Bulcha Demeksa), Arena Tigrai led by Ato Gebru Asrat, and Andenet led by Engineer Gezachew Shiferaw. Please note Andenet is the only multi-national party in the group. Andenet under the leadership of Chairperson Bertukan is the only party with representation in all parts of the country and support organizations in the Diaspora.
The two independent individuals Ato Seye Abraha and Dr. Negasso Gidada joined the weak and wounded Andenet at this critical time. The void felt in the party due to the expulsion of some founding members created a fertile ground for the two ex-officials to assume positions of leadership upon arrival.
Thus, this is the Medrek that is currently touring North America. Some of my esteemed friends have used such expressions as ‘the rebirth of Ethiopia’ and ‘a new political culture in Ethiopia’ to explain the tour. Is this really a Hallelujah or Alhamdulillah moment? It is possible that both declarations are heavy on the cheerleading side but lacking in the friendly but critical assessment option.
The American expression "friends don’t allow friends drive drunk" comes to mind, especially when one is a passenger in the vehicle. We are all passengers in this ship called Ethiopia. The action of the pilot affects the welfare of the passengers. The current tour leaves many questions unanswered, and the timing is a puzzle for all well-wishers. The question of raising money is out of the question. The Diaspora is fighting a life and death battle to retain jobs, pay mortgages and raise expensive children. The Diaspora doesn't vote. Is it possible the expenditure of thousands of hard-earned dollars in transporting, lodging and feeding the delegation is not a smart investment?
What exactly is Medrek trying to accomplish in the current election? The short answer is of course win. The next question will be is that possible? The simple answer is a resounding no. That leads us back to the first question, why participate in an impossible, rigged game where the outcome is pre-determined? That the TPLF started the preparations for this election way back in May of 2005 is obvious to all. Meles and company vowed not to be caught with their pants down again. Thus the vibrant independent media was destroyed, capable leaders were killed, exiled or jailed, the Constitution was amended to include curbs on NGO activities, a law defining any opposition as terrorist and a new code of conduct was put in place.
In Election Ethiopian style the opposition cannot hold unauthorized meeting, cannot hold a rally, and cannot raise money from outside sources including the Diaspora. It is enough for you to say what a cockamamie idea? Wait there is more; according to the PM, candidates cannot criticize the regime under threat of being charged with incitement or sedation. In emerging democratic Ethiopia the opposition cannot campaign except in a few large cities like Addis Abeba and Bahir Dar. Being a candidate or supporter of the opposition is a hazardous duty in most of the Kilils. The only exception seems to be Tigrai where ex-TPLF members can campaign in limited areas.
Medrek has sacrificed plenty of candidates in this election. Human rights activists, foreign correspondents such as VOA, Bloomberg and many others, have recorded party members being prosecuted, hounded in their villages, denied government controlled necessities and even murdered. Ethiopian politics is not for the fain hearted.
The 2005 election was proof that the minority-based regime is a paper tiger. It was resoundingly defeated where the ballot boxes were opened under the watchful eyes of the people and international observers. Thus the lesson learnt was it is not about the campaign but it is all about the counting of the ballots. What we see today is that the regime still controls the election board, recruited trained and is ready to deploy its own cadre observers and have drawn up a strict code of conduct for the Ferenji observers. It is like meet the new situation same as the old situation.
The simple question to Medrek is why do you exactly expect a different outcome when nothing has changed? The truth of the matter is actually things have changed in a negative way as far as the opposition is concerned. With its star leader behind bars and its candidates and supporters terrorized by government goons, how is it possible to contemplate winning when even trying has become a crime?
Why is Medrek giving legitimacy to a dictatorial regime by its involvement in a rigged game? Some will say half a loaf is better than no loaf. Is that Medrek’s philosophy too? Is the idea to win a hundred or so seats in Parliament? Is that considered good whereas the regime with its majority control will continue the abuse of the few opposition members seated for show?
These are the questions Medrek have not addressed both at home and abroad. It was only last October that Ato Gezachew declared ‘The release of Birtukan Mideksa and all Political Prisoners is the main agenda for joining the 2010 Election’. What ever happened to that bravado? How come the political prisoner population of Kaliti and the Kilils has gone up let alone secure the release of our leader?
The lessons of 2005 should not be forgotten. Repeating the same mistake is definitely not a winning strategy. The Ethiopian people have paid a heavy price for an inferior and ugly outcome. We worry that what was done to us five years ago is in the process of being repeated. We ask Medrek to consider the ramifications of kowtowing to a totalitarian state that is hell bent in winning at all cost. We urge Medrek to listen to its constituents that wish it well and include their concerns in its deliberations. We have a very sick regime that considers politics as a game where winning is the only acceptable outcome. They have shown that they will kill to secure their ill-gotten power and wealth.
We feel the pain of the opposition candidates that have sacrificed trying to get involved in the affairs of their nation. We are horrified to witness the death of Ato Aregawi Gebre Yohanes, Ato Beyansa Daba and many other nameless Ethiopians whose crime was wanting to be free. We hope Medrek will take its role seriously and observe the Hippocratic oath like doctors that state ‘do no harm’. Our hope is that they contemplate if their actions bring good or harm on our people.
It is a good possibility the regime will orchestrate an election worthy of an African standard. It is also true that the US and the Europeans will declare ‘a few irregularities’ but ‘an essential first step’. Just like what happened five years ago Ato Meles and company will continue the rape and pillage of our country and sell what is left of it to the highest bidder. We hope Medrek will not be one of those parties that will sit silently in the kangaroo parliament and preach the gospel of ‘working together’ and such crap while dining with killers, psychos and future guests of the International Criminal Court.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org