Regime Change in Ethiopia via Mass Uprisings
and Street Demonstrations: Whose Agenda?
By Tesfaye Habisso
July 09 2011
"There is a new and unique development in human history that is taking place around the world; it is unprecedented in reach and volume, and it is also the greatest threat to all global power structures: 'THE GLOBAL POLITICAL AWAKENING' [Andrew Gavin Marshall]
No doubt, the aforementioned 'new and unique historical development' has unfolded in North Africa and the Middle East since last January, 2011. This development which has engulfed almost all the Arab Region on both sides of the Red Sea from Morocco to Tunisia to Egypt, and from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain has been sarcastically dubbed "THE ISLAMIC AWAKENING", and this new awakening has enabled the Arab masses to rise up against their despotic rulers and tyrants, and to oust these long-entrenched patriarchs from power in a matter of a few weeks and months. Unfortunately however, these mass uprisings ad street demonstations have not yet produced any stable and democratic government in any one of the affected countries; the flames of what are conveniently called 'pro-democracy movements' and 'revolutions' are still burning the socio-economic and political structures of these countries in turmoil.
There seems no end in sight to these civil wars, destructions and chaos., and I am afraid, the 'revolutions' will continue like prairie fires wreaking immense havoc and hardship upon the target societies for a long time to come as numerous foreign powers have chosen to intervene and mess up the already chaotic situations by fretting to manipulate and gear the outcome to their own selfish economic and strategic interests under the guise of 'promoting democracy' in the Arab/Islamic world.
Strangely enough, some Ethiopian dissident groups also, unaware of the differences in the social structure, economic development, culture and political history between the Arabs and Ethiopians, are sounding the alarm signals of 'regime change in Ethiopia through mass uprisings and street demonstrations', as if any sub-Sahara African country could copy the North African experience in toto. This simplistic approach to complicated social malaise is absolutely hard to swallow. It is indeed absurd that the so-called EthiopianYouth National Movement (EYNM) has formulated and planned for mass uprisings and street demonstrations in Ethiopia to precipitate a peaceful regime change, not through periodic elections as stipulated in the Constitution but via mass uprisings and unconstitutional means, in a country that has never before seen any peaceful transitions or alternations of power over a period of a century of its existence as a centralized state. As we all know, Ethiopia's history of the past has always been that of political power changing hands through the barrel of a gun, and whichever group had military superiority held the sceptre of state power; there has never been an institutionalised modus operandi of peaceful and democratic regime change. That is, and has been, Ethiopia's history from Emperors Theodros to Yohannes, Menelik II to Haile Sellassie I and then from Haile Sellassie's monarchical rule to the Military Junta to the EPRDF government today.
Now, after two decades of the incumbent regime's rule, a call is being made by dissident groups, separatists, and armed movements at home and abroad for a quick regime change in Ethiopia. Some of these groups such as the ONLF, OLF, EPRP, EPPF, and Guenbot 7 want to remove the incumbent party and government through armed struggle. Others such as the Obang Metho, Eskinder Nega, Alemayehu Gebremariam and the like seek the interventionist services of the international community and foreign powers to oust the current rulers and present Ethiopians 'democracy' and 'freedom' in a silver platter. They appeal to Barrak Obama, Hillary Clinton, the UN Human Rights Commission and the European Union, etc. to rebuke and discipline Meles Zenawi and his close allies in the ruling elite for allegedly back-tracking on the process of democratization that was spearheaded in 1991. On the other hand, the so-called Ethiopian Youth National Movement [ www. firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com] whose origin, whereabouts, and membership as well as the scope and horizon of its hitherto activities are not yet clearly and fully known so far, has made a national call, from its clandestine base somewhere, that its members and leadership have begun a peaceful struggle for regime change in Ethiopia and that it has planned its clandestine activities, just like the rebel groups of the yesteryears, in phases to dislodge the current regime from state power and to declare a transition period toward free and democratic elections in the near future, in the way of transitions that are, perhaps, in the offing and yet to be seen in the North African countries since the last few months or so.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the aforementioned movements may be, certain salient points should be clearly and unambigously raised and discussed for the good of the country. Yes, "the era of tyranny and despotism is coming to an end in nations across the globe and so to[o] must it end in Ethiopia", as well put by the EYNM. Yes, we Ethiopians should be able through our hard-won struggles to enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom, freedom from fear, want, and qualitative and quantitative access to the nation's economic and political resources There is no question about that, and no controversy in this regard. What is questionable and controversial is when Ethiopians appeal for alien assistance of intervention to realize democracy and freedom in their own country. If Ethiopians are not prepared to pay the ultimate price in their limbs and their property, and to put their lives on the line for the cause of democracy, political and civil liberties, and social and economic rights who is going to do that on their behalf? What is this plea for Western tutelage and clientelism? What sort of generation has come to the forefront in the nation's political arena today? What has happened to our age-long national pride, passion and patriotism for independence and respect for our sovereignty? Do we sell our soul for some crambs from foreign powers? What a calamity in our nation's glorious history and proud heritage! All past generations of Ethiopians have always stood up for their rights and freedoms; they died in millions for the cause of the masses, and never invited foreigners to fight for their God-given and inalienable human rights. Here, it must be firmly asserted again and again that real democratic change will only come from within; it is an organic growth in the process of social development. It cannot be imposed from outside; no street demonstrations and mass uprisings can bring about functioning democracy in a short period of time; democracy evolves over time and it exacts huge costs.
Above all, as Marxists and others familiar with popular movements have long recognized, revolutions are the result of the consummation or fulfillment of certain objective conditions or requisites. Indeed, no amount of agitation for mass uprisings and street demonstrations will provoke the masses to rise up against the status quo unless the latter can clearly make the cost-benefit judgments on their own and undoubtedly see massive benefits as the outcome of their bitter struggles. Yes, no amount of money promised to the people could force hundreds of thousands of people to leave their jobs, homes, schools, and families to confront heavily armed military or police and tanks and put their lives on the line unless they have a deeply felt and genuine motivation to take the risks, whatever the consequences. Nobody in his/her right mind can think that such a situation has unfolded in Ethiopia today. Besides, what strong political organizations or business conglomerates and civil society groups are there in Ethiopia today to articulate the topical mass-based issues of the day and to mobilize, sponsor and guide the masses to the ultimate victory, whatever that victory may be. Moreover, how can the EYNM or any other groups insure that the indomitable army and police foces are on the side of the dissident groups and the sponsors and leaders of these change seekers? After all, the military and police are the linchpin in making or breaking the outcome of such revolts and uprisings. Without considering all these factors or variables in the power equation, agitating for mass uprisings and street demonstrations in Ethiopia today is nothing less and nothing more than foolishly repeating the catastrophic CUD blunder during the 2005 national elections and thereafter. 'Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them', as the saying goes.
Finally, Ethiopia today means many things to many groups and individuals. For some, it is a fast developing and democratizing developmental state. For some still, it is a democratizing and federalizing polity in the making. For others, it is an old Abyssinian empire-state that should be dismantled into its component parts, as the ONLF and OLF used to propagate. For others still, it is a fractured and fragmented polity held together by the iron hand rule of theTPLF-dominated EPRDF coalition, fractionalized along ethnic, tribal and clan/sub-clan lines wherein one ethnic group or tribal community or clan is pitted against each other for the sake of 'divide and rule' of the incumbent regime. Under these divergent and divisive political stances, it is quite dangerous to come up with crude prescriptions of regime change or any other political formulae. It would be wise to learn from the follies of Gorbachev before the demise of the USSR. He never imagined that his ideas of transforming the Soviet Union through his novel slogans of GLASNOST (Openness or transparency) and PERESTROIKA (restructuring) would trigger the disintegration of the USSR and the creation of 15 independent republics in its place. In spite of his relentless efforts to salvage the Union, it was too late to avert the catastrophe, to his deeply-felt regrets and lamentations. It was like spilt milk, and gone for ever in the dustbin of tragic history. Let us think twice or thrice before we throw out silly and simplistic prescriptions such as 'regime change' in Ethiopia. Regime change through unconstituional means is not an Ethiopian agenda but the agenda of Western Powers bent on manufacturing client regimes in the Third World that are pliable to the economic and strategic interests of their transnational corporations, MNCs and TNCs who make or break regimes in the Western World.