[This is a sequel to part I
of a piece on the same topic. Footnotes are omitted for obvious reasons.]
3. What is hindering the Transition?: Key Challenges
Transition anywhere is bound to be challenging. More so in an immensely complex country such as Ethiopia. What are the factors that are posing difficulties to the work of transition? In this section, I try to mention a few of these factors by classifying them in four broad categories. These four categories of challenges are: a) challenges of mismanagement of change; b) structural limitations that inhibit the transition; c) the difficult nature of the state; and d) lack of clarity of vision on the part of the OPDO and lack of cohesion and strength of conviction on the part of the other political parties.
3.1. Mismanagement of the Change
The process of transition to democracy generally starts with the relaxation of authoritarian use of power and its practices. That is to say, it starts with relaxing the incumbent’s grip over the reins of power. More often than not, this is seen in the regime’s release of political prisoners, unbanning of outlawed political parties; fostering of basic instrumental political freedoms such as that of press, assembly, and association; desecuritizing group identities; reforming security institutions; taking baby steps to hold officials accountable for abuse of power and perpetration of atrocities such as torture, arbitrary execution, illegal detention, and forced disappearance; and taking first steps to encourage depoliticization of the institutions of rule of law such as courts, prosecutions, and the office of public defenders. Needless to say, the rule of law is critical to effective management and sustenance of the transition to democracy. This is done not just through a gesture of respecting judicial independence and its operational autonomy, but also through distancing oneself from a political weaponization of the law in such a way that it serves the incumbent’s grip over power and the political space thereof. Too often, the law is complicit in consolidation and conservation of authoritarian power in part because it is always part of the constellation of ideas, discourses, and practices of legitimation and in part because its malleability is exploited by cunning dictators who deploy it strategically to suppress and repress their opponents. One of the things one needs to do in the early phase of transition to democracy therefore is to relax the authoritative rules and provisions of the legal machinery by repealing or amending them as appropriate and as befitting a would-be democratic dispensation. In some contexts (such as South Africa, for instance), incumbent’s willingness to share power with the leaders of the revolt that forced the transition is also part of the gesture of relaxation.
This phase of the transition process (i.e., relaxation of the grip over power) is then followed by measures of inclusion of all stakeholders in the process. This phase brings about pluralization of the political actors to be involved in the transition process. In the literature on transition, this second phase is also called liberalization (although the term is also used to encompass relaxation of the regulatory regime in the economic sphere, at times even leading to privatization of key economic resources). One of the common liberalizing gestures is engendering the emergence and evolution of independent civic society organizations that empower communities and local populations.
The third phase, which often focuses on the conduct of election, is broadly called democratization. This is so because election is central to democracy and the transition that leads there. Everything done in the process of transition gravitates towards the conduct of a competitive, free, fair, and credible election because, without such an election, it is impossible to talk about democratic transition. For this to happen, the process of ‘levelling the playing field’ should be undertaken in earnest through, for instance, revising the electoral system (the rules, the institution and its membership, and the procedures thereof). And this has to be done in the context of an all-inclusive deliberation, negotiation, and consensus on what becomes the agreed upon rules of the electoral game to come.(Rules pertaining to political party registration, campaigns and conduct of public rallies, electoral code of conduct for parties, rules on public political debate, rules on access to and use of public media, allocation and utilization of public funding for political campaigns, rules on election observers, etc, should all be properly discussed, ironed out and agreed upon at this stage of the process.)
Once a competitive, free, fair, and credible election is conducted and a peaceful political transfer is achieved, with the handover of power from authoritarian rulers to the elected rulers, then we say that the work of democratic transition is accomplished, and democratization is fully launched. But because democracy building is more a process than an incident—and because there is always the possibility of sliding back—the work of democratic transition continues until democratic power is consolidated and the practice of democratic election is repeated and its future is secured. Transition is hardly achieved (and democracy is hardly consolidated and secure), Ali Mazrui is reported to have said, until we see a peaceful transition of power at least twice.
The winds of change blowing in Ethiopia showed some unequivocal signs of transition when the regime took measures of relaxation by releasing political prisoners, unbanning and inviting exiled political parties, freeing the use of internet and social media, tolerating a degree of free speech, etc. However, given the fact that the platform of political action is still far from being pluralized, and because there is so far no significant move to revise the electoral system (with a clear commitment to organize a competitive, free, fair, and credible election in 2020), the regime seems to have lost focus and the transition process seems to be going adrift.
Owing to the disorganized and enfeebled state of the opposition political parties at the time of the protest, the responsibility to manage the transition in Ethiopia had been (tacitly) given to the so called ‘Team Lemma’. But as we shall see herein below, there has been several episodes of mismanagement of the change on the part of this team of top leadership in the OPDO-ANDM led EPRDF coalition. Some of this is the result of lack of sense of priorities. Some of it is the result of OPDO’s insecurity about winning a genuinely competitive election come 2020, especially in Oromia where the incumbent can be challenged by other parties such as Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and/or Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-Shanee Group). Let us now turn to some of the specific signs of mismanagement of the change.
One of the things OPDO-EPRDF should have done, but hasn’t done so far, in order to manage the transition well was to form a multilateral interparty platform, a regular dialog forum, at which to engage the political parties constantly as they facilitate the work of the transition. This platform is necessary because, although OPDO-EPRDF was tacitly entrusted with the wok of managing the process, given the fact that it was the regime that the protesting public have been openly defiant of, it was obvious that it lacked the moral authority (as well as the capability) to manage the process alone. In addition, it is necessary because such participation in shaping the process helps enhance the credibility of the election. Thus, instead of acting unilaterally in what it believes is the proper mode of preparing for the election to come, it may use this platform to absorb the concerns and ideas of the opposition political parties into the work of facilitating transition, if need be taking their proposal as an input for the necessary legislative reform to improve the regime of laws pertaining to the electoral system. This in turn will make the parties own the process as their own as they also stake see their interests therein. Unfortunately, though, so far, such an inter-party platform is not created. To date, only two meetings were convened and nothing of consequence for the betterment of the process has stemmed from it. The OPDO-EPRDF government seems to go it all alone doing (or not doing) reforms purely according to their party’s whims and conjectures.
Consequently, there is so far, no sign of genuine interest to negotiate and collaborate in managing the transition. Every indication is that OPDO seems to see itself (as already) the change to come. In PM Abiy’s mind, OPDO’s team Lemma is already the transition. Although he did repeatedly say that he will lead the transition, he always seems to suggest more: that he is the transition. It is probably from this perspective that one can explain OPDO’s ever defensive and insecure behaviours, especially in Oromia, often jealously guarding its power and desperately wanting to secure the future for itself. No surprises here as the anxiety of the incumbent is understandable. What the people need to beware of is the incumbent’s tendency to hijack the process and make it purely self-serving. Signs of this are everywhere. The consequence is that OPDO, having reduced the political parties to willing and unwilling cheerleaders, languishes under the burdens of managing the vagaries of transition alone.
Another challenge OPDO is facing is the increasing loss of people’s trust to take the country into a democracy. The factor that is eroding trust in OPDO’s efforts to achieve the much sought transition is that, to date, there is no genuine effort to respond the demands of the people that were raised in the course of the protest. For example in Oromia, instead of responding to the questions of land (Abbaa biyyummaa), language (making Afaan Oromo a working language), and the right to the city (Finfinnee), too often diversion tactics are used. Nin this way, non-issues are turned into issues. The attempt to build Empress Taitu’s statue in Finfinnee; building a large set of condominium buildings in Koyyee Faccee (23 kilometers beyond the administrative jurisdiction of Finfinnee administration) and starting to allocate them to 50, 000 urban residents (without any regard to the rights and interests of the farmers evicted from the locality); the widespread and unchecked sale of the land of Oromo farmers to investors from Laga Xaafoo to Kinbibit and Shanoo, from Buraayyuu to Sabbataa, from Entoto to Sulultaa and beyond), etc are only examples. A robust attempt to push back against the gains of the protest by the OPDO in Oromia, especially in the area of land surrounding the city of Finfinnee, reminds people of the continuation of the dispossession via the Masterplan. OPDO’s insolence, or prevarication on the implementation of the constitutional ‘Special interest’ clause makes the populace question if OPDO is genuinely seeking the change the people sought or it is just jumping onto the Oromo revolution’s band wagon to consolidate its power over TPLF and reverse every little gain Oromos and the other peoples of the South secured through decades of struggle. Moreover, to date, PM Abiy has been reluctant to respond to the Sidama demand for statehood, or the demands of the Qemant, the Agaw, and Walqayit for recognition of their distinct identities.
Furthermore, there is an inability (and perhaps lack of care or will, too) to stabilize the restive region of Oromia. If anything, there is a renewed military action and a de facto state of emergency in parts of Oromia. The displaced are still out there in camps and hardly getting support other than biweekly ration of food in the make shift resettlement camps. More displacement is witnessed every day. No normalization of the border conflicts is in sight, apparently. Cinaaksan, Baatee, Moyale, Guji, Beegii, Bambasi, Kamashi, parts of Qeellam, etc still remain flashpoints of armed skirmishes. Contrary to Oromos’ expectation (and their demands for peace and stability of their borders), there is, as yet, hardly any sign of stability or stabilization. OPDO’s modus operandi is still the tactic of evading a problem by creating another problem if only to complicate and confuse everything. Instead of demarcating the jurisidictional limits of the Finfinnee city administration in Oromia, arresting the expanding land theft in the name of investment or sale of land, they build buildings in places such as Koyye Faccee and create further discord in the rural-urban relations. Instead of implementing the so called constitutional “special interest clause,” they try to build a Tayitu statue almost inciting the Oromo public into street protests. Instead of making Afaan Oromo the co-working language of the Finfinnee city council (as promised by Lemma Megerssa and Mayor Dirribaa Kumaa in late 2017 and early 2018), they seek to promote Amharic as the working language of the African Union and install a statue honouring Haileselassie in the Finfinnee compound of the AU thereby unleashing another political debate on what was not an important political issue before. Likewise, instead of facilitating the referendum to let the Sidama determine their statehood (as they have been demanding for years all the while attending to all the procedural requirements of the law), they establish a ‘commission on borders and identities’ which will help ‘resolve such issues’[read, reconfigure the regions]. Instead of starting an intense, honest, and transparent inter-party discussion and negotiation on the laws, procedures, and composition of the National Electoral Board, they appoint a former CUD chair, Birtukan Mideksa, only after secret negotiation with Ginbot 7’s Berhanu Nega (a former CUD colleague of Birtukan) thereby compromising the neutrality of the NEBE. Instead of hastening the transition process after which the country deals with issues of reconciliation through transitional justice, they set up a ‘Reconciliation Commission’ and appoint personalities who are themselves involved (or implicated) in acts of violation of human rights and perpetration of atrocities for a long time (e.g., former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn).
As every student of transition to democracy (and transitional justice) knows, the language and institution of reconciliation are matters of a post-transitional moment. They face a country on the aftermath, not on the eve, of transition. Reconciliation is the end result of the process of transitional justice (a process of facing, coming to terms with, and steering away from the atrocities of the past). Reconciliation happens after: a) the lived experiences under atrocities are reckoned with; b) truth is established and acknowledged by all; c) apology is offered by perpetrators; d) forgiveness is granted by the survivors; e) the suffering is mourned by all, together, as a country (and the nation is confronted with the imperative of atonement); and f) the country comes to terms with its past. Transitional justice cannot be done without (or before) democratic transition is achieved. There cannot be a transitional justice while you are still under the same authoritarian regime (albeit a regime that is relaxing its grip). To try to do reconciliation under authoritarianism is only to exculpate the very authoritarian regime we are just trying to electorally replace by a democratic regime. This becomes a farce, especially when, as we see in PM Abiy’s Reconciliation Commission, the very people who perpetrated the atrocities are the commissioners.
It is also important to note, incidentally, that if the ‘Reform Team’ is entrusted with the responsibility of taking the country to democracy, the bridge to the democracy to come can only be the constitution under the imperatives of which this regime operates. That is to say, Team Lemma, can only lead the transition in the light of the constitution, not outside, or against, it. To go unconstitutional is to risk a complete replacement of this team by a properly negotiated Transitional Government. To side step the constitution while professing belief in it is not just duplicitous but creates confusion about the rule of the game—and the proper actors–for the transition. To seek to change it through other means than the amendment procedures—such as through the so called ‘border and identities commission’—is even worse. However sceptical you are about the constitution that you have taken a solemn oath to “observe, protect, and defend”—you need to respect it if you want to reform and transform the system from within. And if you want to go unconstitutional (because you have no faith in it anymore), then you need to resign and let the revolution take over. Anything else is tantamount to redirecting the transition by conspiring to take the change possibly to directions the people had not sought.
3.2. Structural Challenges: EPRDF is in shambles, and the others are less than ready
OPDO-EPRDF faces some internal and external structural limitations as well. Internally, as power struggle (with TPLF) continues to rage, the Party lacks cohesion as an organization. As a result, there is no coherent vision coming from the party or its leader. To date, EPRDF is not yet completely dead. But as it is not having regular meetings to make a collective decision and to give direction as it used to do, we can hardly say it is meaningfully alive, either. Since the resignation of the former Prime Minister in February 2017, the EPRDF, as a coalition of the four regional parties, seems to be in a comatose state. In the absence of a collective party decision, the new Prime Minister seems to be deciding and acting alone. This is because, the Prime Minister has never gathered his own party, OPDO, for a meeting to generate a collective decision at that level. (In fact, the senior OPDO officials are reported to have started to grumble because the PM has never met them as his party since he was appointed PM except at the annual EPRDF summit of Jimma in September 2018.)
As things stand now, OPDO and ANDM could not reform the party except at the superficial level of changing their names from Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) to Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and from Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) to Amhara Democratic Party (ADP). OPDO and ANDM failed to renew themselves as per their promise. Any change that there is, is only a change of the names. And, of course, a change of rhetoric at the top. Not a change of the work of the lower level administrative OPDO and ANDM. To date, their programs remain the same. Their decision making procedures remain the same. Their role, share of decisional power, and votes in the EPRDF remain the same. The regional ODP and ADP have yet to be reformed. In most local districts, their party structure and the local government structure had collapsed completely under the pressure of the protests, or barely there as signpost for what used to be a local government. New appointments in the name of reform ended up recycling the same old corrupt or/and incompetent members and reshuffling them from one locality to another. Continued regional and local protests to these appointments and relentless popular unseating of these new appointees have left power vacuum in many localities. The ‘deep reform’ (or ‘deep renewal’) in these parties did not materialize—except at the very top (and that strictly at the level of Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megerssa or Demeke Mekonnen and Gedu Andargachew). The OPDO-ANDM tactical alliance continues to exist so far merely on the basis of personal trust and confidence in each other.
The Southern Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Democratic Movement (SNDM) seems to be largely reduced into a bystander in the national politics. Harrowed by several local political demands, it seems to be preoccupied with hot issues in Hawassa (including the demands of the Sidama and others to form their own separate States). Like OPDO and ANDM, the SNPDM has not made any change except its top leadership. Thus, there is no substantive change to its program yet. It is not clear whether (and if) the ‘Deep Reform’ can take place, or in deed has taken place already.
The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is an outlier in the new EPRDF game although it has not yet formally left the EPRDF coalition. It seems that TPLF is having its Frankenstein moment as the same parties that it created in the 1990s have taken over the center stage and have come back to bite it. The OPDO-ANDM alliance has virtually sidelined it, and as it seems that the country is forging ahead without TPLF’s leadership for the first time in 27 years. TPLF’s current position in the party seems to be that of an opposition from within (and the OPDO-ANDM leaders make a veiled insinuation when they refer to some of the TPLF leaders as ‘opponents of the reform’). Indeed, the TPLF has put forward a robust opposition against PM Abiy’s so called meddemer bandwagon both in words and deeds. To wit, the TPLF in the Federal Parliament (HPR) rejected the Bill on ‘Borders and Identities’ on constitutional grounds. The TPLF in Tigray Region passed a resolution against the bill as unconstitutional and indicated that they will contest its constitutionality using all possible avenues. It is a public secret that most of the border conflicts are TPLF’s proxy wars against the OPDO-ANDM alliance using local loyalists from the past.
Also, as ANDM continues to encourage arming civilians in what seems to be a showdown with TPLF, TPLF on its part seems to prepare for full-blown war in the event that a conflict arises. There is talk of the need for national service in Tigray. There is rumour that some members of the Federal army are quietly leaving for Tigray in preparation for what they think is the inevitable showdown. The agitation, and the sense of being under siege, is seen even in the rhetoric of Tigray’s only opposition party (called Aranaa Tigray).
All of this is to say that EPRDF is in shambles. It is dead already but not quite!
The consequence of EPRDF’s near death dysfunction is that there is now an organizational vacuum in the highest places of power. This in turn may render the transition vulnerable to self-serving manipulations by gradually (and almost imperceptibly) concentrating power in the hands of an individual rather than in the hands of a party. This situation has now invited the risk of making the PM an autocrat, or a demagogue, who is not afraid of becoming a dictator. Indeed, PM Abiy has said as much in late 2018 when he indicated that his government is on the brink of drifting into dictatorship, which he said is easier to do, in a country that has no democratic tradition to fall back on. He seems to be growing irate about criticisms of some of his measures. No doubt he is constantly under pressure being criticized (at times wrongly), but it is no reason for him to contemplate becoming a dictator unless one is a bit too impatient with the voices of discord that engulfed the country whose politics is being polarized exponentially every passing day. For, after all, his own unguarded rhetoric about the Ethiopian imperial past (and its past leaders), nationalisms (some of which were viewed as evil by him), state autonomy, federalism, regional borders, right to statehood, etc, have ignited or/and contributed to this growing polarization.
EPRDF’s dysfunction has also created a lack of coherent set of ideas with which to govern the country and to steer it on the road to democracy. EPRDF’s ruling ideology until 2018 centred around ‘Revolutionary Democracy’(which was defined in Meles Zenawi’s time as anything other than liberal democracy), ’democratic centralism’ (a system of collective decision-making at the top and executing it top down—and also upward delegation of powers to the party’s strong man), and ‘developmental state’ (a growth model in which state is a central player in the economy and all other actors are embedded in, or associated with, the state). With the near death of EPRDF, these three pillars of the party’s ideational structure have receded into the background. They have become things of the past, although all the member parties of the coalition have vowed, at various times, that they have not renounced their ideological commitment to them.
Moreover, the EPRDF as an organization has not yet come together to recast their vision, rewrite their programs, and/or reorient their modus operandi to fit the democratic imperative that the change is calling forth. The party’s decision-making procedure (of equal votes by all four parties in the Central Committee and in the Executive Committee) remains more consociational than majoritarian-democratic. There seems to be a reluctance, or disinterest, to make EPRDF democratic. The inbuilt problem of democratic deficit in the party structure remains to constrain the democratic aspiration within the party. The democratization to come should have started by democratizing the party itself through rearranging the voting and decision-making procedures. This has not happened yet.
The consequence of all this is the emergence of a void in the structure of the idea with which to govern the country. A vision vacuum, or a vacuum of programs, has come about. In more concrete terms, this means that there is no sense of direction about what exactly we want the country to transition to. Judging from the words of the PM, there seems to be an interest on his part ‘to restore Ethiopia to its greatness of olden times and the glories thereof.’ How that is going to be achieved is not entirely clear to anyone yet.
3.3. . The Nature of the Ethiopian State and the Regnant Contradictions
Beyond and above democratization, or simultaneously with democratization, (perhaps even before it), the Ethiopian state needs a transformation. The aspiration of the 1974 Revolution and EPRDF’s 1991 change was not just democratization (although democratization was key to them both) but a radical transformation of the state-society relation by changing the terrain of unequal citizenship that existed because of the imperial nature of the modern Ethiopian State. Part of the reason why (as John Markakis had once said) “democracy is overrated in Ethiopia” is that even when it succeeds it fails to transform the State. The state itself needs to be redeemed before it is democratized. It gets redeemed by reconfiguring its imperial nature and helping it outgrow its traditional urge to sanction a ranked relationship between ‘citizens and subjects,’ or between the center and the margin, the core and the periphery, the North and the South, the Abyssinian-Ethiopian self and the non-Abyssinian other.
There is to date a refusal to acknowledge and rethink the imperial ordering of the state. There is still a resistance to acknowledge the deficit in equal citizenship. The offhand rejection of the (so far merely theoretical) sovereignty and/or self-determination right of ‘the other peoples’ in the constitution, the insistent disavowal of the multi-foundational phrasing of the preamble of the constitution (“WE, the Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia…”) is merely a symptom of this deep structural constraints to democratization. The rejection on the part of the Ethiopianist political class to recognize the demand for recognition of the distinct identities of the ‘other peoples’ is an insistence on the imperial urge to efface difference (or to assume assimilation) under the hegemonic ‘habesha’ culture that operates under the implicit political imperative of homogenization (“we are all one”).
To date, there is a refusal or a hesitation to resolve deep contradictions. Even in EPRDF circles, there is a denial of the existence of such contradictions. There is in effect a denial of the pluri national nature of the state that survived the empire that Ethiopia has been. There is thus a denial of co-foundational status, and the co-eval presence, of all the groups—large and small—in this ‘nation of nations.’ As some of the speeches of PM Abiy indicate, there is a desire to retrace, valorize, reify and consolidate old imperial narratives. In it one cannot help noticing the refusal to center the margin, the inability to imagine a different, a transformed, Ethiopia. An inability to imagine an Ethiopia in which the other peoples’ demand for recognition of agency, autonomy, and authority by asserting their distinct selfhood as the makers, the co-constituents of the Ethiopian polity in which each of them are also a speaking and acting political subject. This status of groups as political subjects in the polity ought to be taken as integral part of allowing their members’ agency as voting subjects in the democratic process to come. To be fair, the 1995 constitution has laid down the ground work for such transformation. However, absent democracy, the constitutional provisions have remained inert on the issues that mattered the most although the text has been routinely used as a weapon of co-optation of the elites of the other peoples while also proclaiming EPRDF’s fantasy of achieving a “Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.”
Consequently, the issue of the identity is still unresolved. The debate on what defines Ethiopian identity continues to rage. What constitutes the irreducible minimum in the definition of who is and who is not Ethiopian—what the ‘national identity’ is—remains a vexed question over which views continue to be polarized. To date, Ethiopians do not agree on their flag, or anthem, or heroes, or memories and remembrances, much less a sense of share destiny. Given the fact that foundational issues of ‘national identity’ unsettle the strides towards democracy, it is imperative that Ethiopia does some sou-searching on the matter in order to find “a common national purpose”. A ‘national identity’ that recognizes (virtuous) diversity (that mirrors and absorbs peoples’ sense of “pride, anger, or shame”) needs to be forged so that Ethiopia, at last, achieves ‘a lasting peace’ and steers away from the risk of state collapse. A shared ‘national identity’ is important also for facilitating economic growth, engendering good governance, and instilling a better sense of trust among members of society and between the state and the society. Perhaps more important to our concern here, a shared sense of ‘national identity’ fosters the requisite social contract that operationalizes democracy.
3.4. Lack of clarity of vision, cohesion, and strength of conviction
If EPRDF lacks organization and clarity of vision needed to facilitate the transition, the other political parties lack cohesion and a strength of conviction even to put meaningful pressure on the former. Most of these parties seem to suffer from the aftereffects of long years of repressive rule, incarceration, and banishment to exile. To date, most of the parties that came home from exile seem to seek a client-patron relationship with OPDO-EPRDF. Their mode of operation seems to have changed from politics of resistance to politics of influencing the PM through self-ingratiation. In a bid to have unhindered access to him, their choicest statement has become “we support the reform and the OPDO-EPRDF leadership.” To that extent, they seemed to have lowered the bar to accept the OPDO-EPRDF as the standard bearer of the work of democratization in Ethiopia. Instead of leading and empowering the protesting public for the democracy to come, they generally have resigned to sit back and follow the cue from OPDO-EPRDF on what course to follow.
4. What can be done to Salvage the Change?: Prospects
Given the situation depicted above, what should be done now in order to return the process back to the track? What choices do we have? The relapse into an unpretentious dictatorship is not an option as the people are beyond being cowed by a dictator of any sort anymore. Resort to dictatorship will only fuel further protest that may lead to a complete revolutionary change that sweeps away everything that is left of the EPRDF rule. Conducting a snap election by dismissing the Parliament is another option but given the fact that we are only one year away from the general election (Election 2020), this too becomes a pointless exercise even if we assume it is manageable on a short order. Finding a new route to transition through forming a National Unity Government negotiated among all the political parties is not impossible but unlikely as: a) PM Abiy has ruled out that possibility early on; b) the other parties may not yet be ready to enter a power-sharing scheme even for the inter-regnum; and c) it may unduly prolong the time for election as so many things (including an interim constitution) need to be negotiated in the event that the whole constitutional framework of the EPRDF rule is set aside.
In the light of all of the above, the more realistic option seems to be resetting and recalibrating the transition process. In order to do this, OPDO-EPRDF needs to go back to the drawing board and reform itself on a short order. Considering the fact that the other option is to declare their demise as failures, they need to recreate themselves. Resolve on EPRDF as a cohesive party with a cohesive vision and an adequately democratic mode of operation. Before venturing to democratize Ethiopia, they need to put their house in order and inject a wind of democracy to the party’s decision-making process. As it stands now, EPRDF is structurally rigged against democracy. And that should change, or EPRDF should be abandoned altogether as a coalition of four regional parties. Also, PM Abiy’s EPRDF should resolve on whether it is EPRDF not. He can’t continue pretending to be OPDO-EPRDF while pandering to and/or orchestrating the politics of Ginbot 7. In particular, he should resolve on where his constituency is as the leader of OPDO: is his constituency Oromia region, or Amhara region? All indications are that PM Abiy is trying to win the heart of the Amhara heartland while ignoring (or taking for granted) his Oromo base. The result is the increasing prevalence among the Oromo of the sense of being ignored, or disrespected, by PM Abiy’s OPDO.
Once this is done, OPDO-EPRDF needs to reset their priorities. In particular, they ought to hasten to launch a genuine, sustained, all-inclusive, multilateral discussion on the minimum core elements of the much sought democratization. This should be done by instituting a regular consultative inter-party platform for dialog that augments the government’s efforts at facilitating the transition. They should publicize a comprehensive plan and calendar for the democratization process.
While this is being done, it is important that the country is stabilized. Removing the military from civilian sites goes a long way in this regard. In the interest of peace, all political parties (including OPDO)—and all of their political activities—should be insulated from military manoeuvres. OPDO should desist from weaponizing the Federal Armed Forces to resolve its stalemate with OLF-SG. OLF-SG should demobilize its armed forces in accordance with the terms of their agreement with the Government. The latter should also resolve on a peaceful political struggle. The elders (the Abba Gadaas) should continue to broker and monitor peace as the peoples’ custodians of peace and harmony.
In order to rally everyone behind it in support of the transition, the government ought to regain (or re-earn) the trust of the people. To win trust, the OPDO should exert genuine efforts to address at least some of the outstanding demands of the Oromo protestors. It should set up a parliamentary commission under the Caffee to seek solutions to the outstanding demands of the people. The PM, on his part, should recast himself as their PM, too.
Given the fact that the transition is derailed largely because of the activities (and of the cuff speeches) of the PM, there are things the PM should do in order to reset the process. Most of these have to do with getting his priorities right. The matter of constitutional reform, especially the matters pertaining to federalism, state autonomy, identity, etc are very delicate issues.
The PM does well not to unilaterally, or extra-constitutionally, tinker with these matters during this season of transition. The untimely (and unconstitutional) formation of commissions such as the one on Reconciliation (before transition) and the one on ‘Borders and Identities’ needs to be remedied through repeal or suspension until a government with the necessary democratic credentials is in place. Appointing problem people (people aligned with or against on partisan grounds, people implicated in past atrocities, people with controversial track records in relation to ‘the other peoples’ of Ethiopia) to positions of vital importance such as the National Electoral Board, or to the so called ‘Reconciliation Commission’ and the so called ‘Borders and Identities Commission’ casts doubt on the PM’s judgement and erodes people’s trust in him to lead the transition judiciously. Making divisive speeches pitched to please one section of the country’s population (as opposed to the other) feeds into and intensifies the polarization in the country—and the PM needs to desist from making such speeches.
While the other political parties need to start exerting more effort (re)mobilize, organize, and lead the people, the people also should also remain alert to protect the gains of their protests. They should not be cowed by OPDO-EPRDF’s call to demobilize them through co-optation or other pacifying schemes. They should continue mounting pressures on the powers that be so that they see the day when their calls for voice and representation, their desire for redistribution and equitable share of resources, and their demand for recognition of their dignity are finally honoured, respected, and realized in the democratic election to come. The young people (the Qeerroo and the Qarree) who gave their lives, limbs, and liberties for the sake of the social justice they sought deserve nothing less than achieving the democratic system they aspired. The achievement of one competitive, free, fair, and credible election come 2020 will go a long way to stat the work of transforming the polity into an inclusive, more just, more equitable, freer, and more peaceful one.