By Publius Aethiopicus,
Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay, former Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces has written a bold article in Amharic calling for the regime to undertake fundamental political changes to spare the country from implosion and turmoil.
There is no question today that Ethiopia under the Tigray People’s Liberation Front/Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-TPLF/EPRDF regime has come to a cross roads, in fact a dead end. Either a change of course towards a genuine constitutional democracy or a nightmarish scenario of the implosion of Ethiopia are the alternatives, as Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay asserts.
In recent years the TPLF/EPRDF regime is embroiled in one crisis or another, unable to handle the multiple fault lines and facing total loss of support by the populace in all four corners of Ethiopia. One should recall that the regime declared itself as the sole winner of all 547 parliamentary seats in the May 2015 election.
In dissecting the all-around crisis the regime is mired in, the General does not mince words and shy away from being very frank about the pervasive crises of state, crisis of confidence, crisis of legitimacy. General Tsadkan addresses the all-around crisis – political, economic, massive and pervasive corruption (that includes himself as he owns many properties and businesses in the country including Raya Brewery).
What makes General Tsadkan’s assessment of current conditions in Ethiopia pertinent, and somewhat unique? Such a perspective about the nation’s tragic condition under the current dictatorial regime is coming, perhaps for the first time, in a radical and bold fashion, from one of the top leaders of the TPLF and a one-time Chief of Staff of the armed forces from 1991- 2001 before being ousted by Meles Zenawi after TPLF’s split.
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His recommendations for a way forward and solutions therefore has gone beyond what critics of the regime, the likes of General Abebe Tekle Haimnot, a former Airforce Commander, ousted by Meles during the TPLF’s split as well, and many others have talked about and written in recent months in regard to the multi-faceted crisis boiling in Ethiopia and overwhelming the readily weak regime of the TPLF/EPRDF rocked with internal contradictions and fissures both within the dominant TPLF and the satellite ANDM and OPDO parties that constitute the so-called EPRDF.
The fault lines are expanding, the contradictions are visible and there is a widening gulf separating the regime and the people. A wide chasm exists between the corrupt and inept army’s Tigrean top brass and the majority non-Tigrean rank and file line officers. There is massive discontent and widespread perception by the overwhelming majority of non-Tigreans that Tigreans have become enablers and apologists for a Kleptocratic, ethnocratic and brutal minority regime. These views have been given credence during the Oromo protest that rocked the Oromo region and beyond, proving the fallacy of the regime’s 25 year narrative that Ethiopia, as a democratic and federal state, for the first time in its history, has brought about the equality of the nations and nationalities that constitute it.
In his thoughtful and analytic assessment recognizing the crisis and the all-around faultiness that are prevalent in Ethiopia, General Tsadkan concludes that the status quo is not sustainable – that Ethiopia must democratize. The current one party dictatorship of the TPLF/EPRDF needs to give way to a genuine multiparty democracy with a level playing field for all political forces , there are has to be an orderly and peaceful transition, and that a genuinely free, fair and transparent election monitored by the international community has to be held during the next election cycle. Absent such fundamental change, Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic polity, may be heading towards an implosion and chaos.
Here are some of the highlights from the rather lengthy, albeit, bold proposition from a man who once was a member of the ruling clique till his dismissal by the late dictator and mastermind, Meles Zenawi:
- Human and democratic rights that were enshrined in the constitution are not fully respected. Even worse, the political space has become too narrow to be accommodative to the opposition. The quagmire that the government finds itself now was the result of the absolute monopolization of political and economic power by the ruling party and its leaders.
- Once assuming political power and the political upper hand, the EPRDF has gradually become antidemocratic. Many cases could be cited here, but will only mention the three salient cases and the undemocratic means that the EPRDF used to resolve them:
- The way the EPRDF handled the issue with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)
- The way the TPLF handled the crises within the Front itself [refers to the 2001 split within the Front]
- The 2005 elections and the way the Front dealt with the situation in its aftermath.
- The oppressive and undemocratic rule by the regime has become unbearable to the masses. On top of that, the standard of living has become too expensive and unemployment too high. The people do not see any hope that the regime would resolve their problems soon. All these factors have forced the people to protest and revolt against the government soon after it declared 100% victory in the 2015 elections. The government was also forced to admit that there are real problems that it cannot shy away from.
- Based on the current situations in the country, there are three scenarios that could unfold:
- Scenario 1) due to the ongoing popular uprising and political demand and the added pressure from foreign forces, the country could plunge into total chaos that the government could not control. The odds that this scenario could happen seem little, but not zero. It could happen and the government should be ready. The protest in Oromo region has put strain on the government, especially on the regional government. The uprising was halted by the intervention of the federal forces. If the protest kept its momentum and was joined by other popular protests, it is easy to predict what it could do to the central government.
- Scenario 2) to continue with the status quo of crises. The regime would try to buy time and stay in power by making few changes here and there, and sacking some officials to appease the populace. This scenario would be the best preferred by the regime in power. This scenario could extend the crises but would not resolve it. It would prevent a peaceful resolution of the crises and hence would create a fertile ground for those who try to resolve the crises through the use of force. This scenario could cost the country a great deal.
- Scenario 3) to begin a peaceful and orderly transition. This requires the acknowledgement that there is a crises in the country; and begin the process of transition with the participation of all political forces and the general public. This scenario also prevents the previous destructive scenarios from happening. It is therefore incumbent on those of us who worry about the future of the country to work for the realization of this scenario.
- What should be the role of the people of Tigray in resolving the current crises in the country? Should the role of the people of Tigray be to protect and defend the regime that is ruling with the help of its security forces and the military, and alienated and hated by the people? What is the political stand taken by the people of Tigray in the current political crisis in the country?
- The people of Tigray, together with the rest of the Ethiopian people need to work for the full implementation of the Constitution. The fact that few Tigrean elites hold political power is not a guarantee for the people of Tigray.
- I don’t understand why the country’s industrialization is being led by army generals. METEC has been tasked with the production of electric power, sugar production and building rails. It is ideal that those projects be done by local manufacturing. But why are they under the complete control of army generals? If the army had the technical capacity and know how, it should rather focus on maintaining and even building tanks, war planes, vehicles and communication equipment.
- The relationship among the legislative, the judiciary and the executive must be clearly defined. There should be check and balance. The reality we have now in the country is that the executive controls the politics and also the economy of the country, which resulted in the current political quagmire.
- The executive is engaged in promulgating restrictive laws to inhibit any movement by the opposition.
- A party that cannot resolve its internal contradictions in a democratic manner cannot be a vanguard of democracy.
- The EPRDF had come up with several laws that restrict the human and political rights promulgated in the constitution. It uses the security and military to hang on to power. The EPRDF should remove all obstacles that limit the activities of opposition political parties.
- The role of the military should be that of defending the sovereignty of the country and the constitution; it should not be a major player in the politics and economy of the country, as we see in Ethiopia today.
- The EPRDF is not willing to fight mal administration, corruption and abuse of power as it fears genuine action against these problems would lead to its disintegration and down fall.
- Those in political power also control the economy. The executive is also the one that steers the wheel of economy. The executive is the owner of major projects and also the main employer.
- Since the executive controls the economy, cronies and benefactors are engaged, under the guise of party membership, in rent seeking corrupt practices.
- The people should have the power to put the executive in check; not the other way around.
- In order to come out of the current crises, human and political rights enshrined in the constitution should be fully implemented; and we need to pave the way for all political forces to participate in a peaceful political engagement and fair competition without any interference.
- All political parties should come together and establish a pillar institution that would facilitate a smooth political transition which would culminate in the next election that the country is slated to hold.
- Details for a peaceful political transition could be decided by consultations and negotiations among the various political parties, including the ruling party, with the aim of fully realizing the rights protected in the constitution.