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What would threaten EPRDF’s political longevity?

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online November 17, 2014

Since the coming of the EPRDF, Ethiopia has made tremendous strides to become the fifth largest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa. According to African development Bank, the once famine and conflict prone nation, was among the twelfth best economic performers of the world in 2012. In just 23 years, its GDP has grown from US$ 12.8 billion to US$ 52 billion which is the ninth biggest in the continent. IMF’s prediction is that Ethiopia will surpass oil producing Angola to become the 3rd largest sub-Saharan economy by 2017, lagging behind South Africa and Nigeria.

The EPRDF could have performed much better than this in the presence of strong and independent political challengers as failure to deliver the needs and expectations of the voters would have resulted in being ejected from power. Only losing few parliamentary and municipal seats to Kinijit and others during the 2005 general election was enough to send shivers down EPRDF’s spine. Not long after the rioting subsided and Kinijit leaders were locked-up for attempted coup, a post-mortem was instigated with the full participation of the people to determine the core causes for the unexpected defeat. Following a lengthy consultation process, bad governance and unemployment were identified as the two key issues that required swift remedies.

Millions of jobs have been created in all sectors since then but the governance issue, however, still persists as sufficient, consistent and decisive measures were not taken to deal with the problem. It has now reached a stage where it is causing serious concerns, and in the not too distant future, the debilitating malaise may inflict serious harm to the country and its people. Obviously, in the presence of Kinjit, the EPRDF was very keen and enthusiastic to address voter’s worries as it wanted to avoid another humiliating defeat in future elections. But soon after the Amhara centric party was out of the scene, EPRDF returned to its old habits of appeasement as its position was no longer under threat.

Over the years, numerous challengers have appeared and gone, but none of them came close to unseating the EPRDF constitutionally. Regrettably, the current crops of political opponents don’t seem to be markedly different from what were on offer previously. Mostly, they tend to expend a great deal of their time resolving personality issues and ordinary petty quarrels.  Andinet, Kinijt’s left over, was a member of MEDREK but left in acrimonious circumstances as the leaders who claim to be proponents of human rights and of democracy were not able to solve simple matters in a civilised and amicable way.

Engineer Gezachew who was elected to lead Andient has recently been removed by a faction subservient to toxic Diaspora in contravention of the party’s rules. And its members in various parts of the country have demanded for his restitution as a matter of utmost urgency. The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has received a complaint and an investigation is currently underway; but if the division is not settled by the board, the matter may end up in court.

Semayawi party seems to be in a similar turbulence created by the diminutive leader of the organisation which heavily relies on proscribed outfits for political direction and financial incentives. Some of its members have already been placed in custody for their association with G-7 after being implicated by Andargachew Tsege who is at present having a deserved ‘’break’’ in Kaliti. ARENA is also going through a tumultuous period and trying to repair the schism that has developed within the young organisation may be a time consuming monumental task. The next general election is just round the corner and it appears that EDP and MEDREK (aka Beyene/Merara) are the only parties not in crisis as yet standing to challenge the formidable EPRDF.  

Ethiopia has accomplished so much in terms of economic development but has dismally failed to produce robust, loyal and independent opposition groups with clearly defined alternative political programmes. Competition empowers the people and compels whoever is in power to perform harder to deliver manifesto commitments so as to avoid being punished by the voters come next general election. Furthermore, open contest positively impacts on the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law; and obliges the incumbent to execute government businesses in a transparent, speedy and accountable manner.

No one disputes the desperate need for strong political challengers that can operate within the confines of the constitution. Most opponents, however, tend to be on the wrong side of the law, the exception being EDP which has been playing a critical role in fostering tolerance and civilised discourse. Lidetu’s party is definitely exhibiting political maturity, and when necessary, gives credit when it is due as it did to the EPRDF for all its successes.

EDP and its sort, who have made colossal contribution to the consolidation of democracy and political stability, should be afforded state funding until they are able to support themselves by collecting subscriptions and donations from their members and supporters. Equally important is a fair and proportional access to the air-waves before and during elections in order to help them disseminate their ideologies and beliefs to as wide audience as possible. Such arrangements will prevent opponents from falling into the hands of formidable foes intent on creating perpetual chaos and bloodshed.           

Hopefully we will have decent and stiff contenders in the distant future but at present it looks like the EPRDF will secure a fifth term in the forthcoming election. Winning competitively would have been immensely beneficial for the development of democracy, but for now we have no option but to accept the status quo and continue to create the conditions necessary for the proliferation of strong and responsible opponents with varied ideologies. But the grave danger for the EPRDF is that, in the absence of political contestants, a combination of corruption and bad governance may play a decisive part in determining its political longevity. Transparency International, which is a leading civil society spear heading the fight against corruption, ranks Ethiopia 111 out of 177 countries.

The level of sleaze is not yet as rampant and systemic as it is in many other African countries. But without an effective opposition, and lack of vigorous press and media watchdog, the EPRDF appears to be detached and remote. It is disconcerting indeed to note visible signs that clearly indicate power is being taken for granted in some quarters. It wouldn’t be unfair to state that the EPRDF has become complacent, tolerant to corruption and nepotism; and unresponsive to the public’s plight for tough and persistent measures against the perpetrators who are firmly lodged in all government institutions. Time is of the essence and failure to act now in a significant and meaningful way will sooner rather than later precipitate civil unrest that can undo the accomplishments of the last two decades. Moreover, the cohesion and stability of the country that came about as result of enormous sacrifices would be in a very serious jeopardy.


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