By Dilwenberu Nega
Tigrai Onlne - February 11, 2014
In a rare and bold move, Binyam Kebede of ethiopiafirst.com unleashed a scathing attack on EPRDF for increasing its membership at exponential rate to between 5-6million, and concluded by warning that unless EPRDF undergoes a political form of liposuction or detoxification, it is in danger of biting the dust at the 2015 Elections.Is Ben’s thesis appealing? The opposition-at-large among the Ethiopian diaspora is already having a field day because this harsh criticism came from the mouth of an independent journalist who quickly morphed from a lukewarm owner/editor of the status quo supporter website in Philadelphia to a wide-eyed acolyte of EPRDF in Addis Ababa.
My understanding of Ben’s line of argument is that while he doesn’t oppose the phenomenal growth of membership to coalition parties per se, he is however cynical about the quality of men and women who join the EPRDF. The inference is clear: EPRDF has become omnivorous at a time when it had to be eclectic. Ben is not wrong, he is mistaken.
Joining a political party of any hue is a far cry from joining an exclusive club or a secret organization, like say the Freemasons, where strict rules of selection are applied. I would have thought that Ben, who had lived the greater part of his adult life in richer democracies, needs no reminding on how simple and easy it is to join a political party in USA. Here in London, for instance, a British citizen is able to become a voting member of the Conservative Party by simply filling an online application and pay an annual subscription fee of £25.00 with no attempt made to establish his character and reputation. My EPRDF friends tell me while the application process is simple, a candidate member has to have proven track record of placing his public duties above that of personal ambition and interest before one’s application is accepted.
As EPRDF is born and bred in agrarian politics, it surely must be natural for it to draw its largest legion of members from rural Ethiopia. In fact, given that 85% of Ethiopians live in the countryside, EPRDF now stands accused for not even wooing 10% of the population of rural Ethiopia.
In the mid 70’s and 80’s Ethiopians joined parties that today make up EPRDF, in order to burn so as to generate light for others; to die so that others can live in freedom and equality. Today, though the liberation war has ended, the struggle to set Ethiopians free from the rigors of extreme poverty is very much work in progress. That’s why those who out of their own volition join EPRDF know full well why they want to join and what are expected of them. Ethiopians join EPRDF because they admire its determination to change Ethiopia for the better. Secondly, they are able to relate their dreams with EPRDF’s vision. Third, they are eyewitnesses to Ethiopia’s great leap forward under EPRDF. Last, but certainly not least, for they want to be part of history by leaving their footprints in the sand of time.
It is nonetheless a sad fact of life that those with a visceral hate for EPRDF and followers of gesture politics leave no stone unturned to denigrate the work and values of EPRDF by making preposterous claim that there exists a culture of pay offs in return for membership. If that was the case the Government would not have been blessed by the presence in its midst of Planning Minister, Makonen Manyazewal and Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Tekeda Alemu, both of whom are non-party members. True, as it is the norm in other democracies, it is the prerogative of the ruling party in Ethiopia to assign loyalists to key posts. On the other hand, where there has been abuse of power, misdemeanor or a case of incapacity by its members, EPRDF has been seen acting without mercy. The ongoing anti-corruption drive against high-ranking Inland Revenue officials (nearly all of whom are members of various coalition parties) is a case-in-point.
Of course everything is not a bed of roses under EPRDF. The ruling party, itself, accepts that it faces great challenges: in delivering its manifesto promises, in getting its acts together to ensure the prevalence of good governance and in implementing a no-nonsense anti-corruption drive, but to bash EPRDF - as Ben has done in his recent online broadcast – for letting its membership grow in leaps and bounds is neither here nor there. Nowhere in the world is a ruling party judged by the character and temperament of its rank and file; it is judged by what it has delivered since it came to power. No one is better qualified than Ben himself then to give testimony to EPRDF’s success story, because the truth is that until very recently EPRDF’s socio-economic successes were Ben’s online crowing points. The question in every one’s mind now is what is it that has made Ben turn his arsenal on the very EPRDF that had offered him access and preferential treatment that are the envy of journalists from both state and independent media outlets. Are we right to assume then that the parting of the ways has come for Ben?
Meanwhile, if EPRDF’s means what it says when making the prediction that Ethiopia is slated to join the league of middle-income nations by 2020, then it is imperative for it to look at itself microscopically and telescopically. Go back to basics and apply party discipline to reflect values, and chart out the way forward by being more inclusive. A broad church EPRDF would be better placed to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. Cohabitation with parasites, on the other hand, must remain a no brainer.