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Dictatorship, or Democratic Federalism - Whither Ethiopia?

By Makonnen Tesfaye
Tigrai Online June 11, 2020

“It is prohibited to assume state powers in any manner other than provided under the Constitution”

(Article 9 (3), on Supremacy of the Constitution, the Constitution of the EFDR)

1. This is the Institution of a Dictatorship, Stupid!

1.1 It is a sad day for democracy, self-determination and federalism in Ethiopia. The blatantly unconstitutional, indefinite postponement of the Ethiopian General Election and the indefinite rule by the unelected Abiy EPP Cliques is the final act that undermines the nascent democracy, the hard won self-determination and federalism of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. Indeed, the indefinite postponement of the Election and the illegal usurpation of state power drive a coach and horses through the heart and edifice of the Constitution. That this was coming has been very apparent for more than one year by now. Covid-19 is the joker in the pack. No make mistake about it, this is the institution of a dictatorship and the counter-revolutionary restoration of a Neo-Neftegna State by the ruling classes and elites who are hell bent on destroying the edifice, structure and institutions of the democratic federalist order. It has been aided and abated by all organs of the State including the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature as well as  institutions, such as the National Electoral Board, which have been set up to protect the Constitution. Moreover, it has been aided and abated by external hegemonic forces and regional dictators that do not want to see a democratic and sovereign country that is free to determine its domestic and foreign policies.

1.2 To its credit and with all its serious democratic deficits, the now defunct EPRDF  held regularly 5 general elections (with varying degree of freedom, fairness and credibility) in Ethiopia under conditions of war, “No-War, No-Peace”,  potential famine and severe droughts and natural disasters over 28 years. Yet, the present dependent and comprador government (lacking social base and electoral constituencies in the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia) has no commitment or desire to hold a free, fair and credible election with or without the excuse of the Corona Virus Pandemic. This is contrary to its false and contrived “democratic mantle”, which has been globally exposed by reports of widespread human rights violations perpetrated by the Abiy EPP Cliques.

1.3 The illegitimate Government of Colonel Abiy Ahmed decision to extend its illegal usurpation of state power by unconstitutional means is the culmination of many and repeated violations of the Democratic Federal Constitution of the Country (Up to 67 violations recorded to date according to a senior and long standing Member of the House of Representatives and its Legal Parliamentary Sub-committee). The last and ultimate excuse of the Corona Virus Pandemic for not holding the scheduled General Election and the fabrication of a “constitutional crisis” for this purpose must register as a first political ploy in recent political history of nation states. The intention and plan has been apparent with or without the Covid-19 excuse.

1.4 The shenanigan and theatrical by the “Constitutional Council of Inquiry (CCI)” kangaroo court to provide a “legal cover” for the patently unconstitutional act of power usurpation was shamefully displayed on the mass media where the ruling cliques wore unashamedly different hats as “accusers, jurors, judges and executioners” of the Constitution. The very the same cliques were deployed as proposers of change, as judges and as expert opinion givers. What a shame!  Jawar Mohammed was correct when he characterised the CCI theatrical farce played by Meaza Ashenafi and company as akin to “a culinary competition where the very same chief simultaneously acting as a cook, as a taster/ opinion giver and as judge of their own dish” (Author’s rough translation from Amharic). It must be stated that credit is due to Professor Endreas Eshete (who was involved in the drafting of the Constitution) for his political integrity and defence of the Constitution.

1.5 According to the overwhelming legal opinions and the common sense understanding of the average layperson of the EFDR Constitution, there is no provision in the Constitution that allows a postponement of a General Election. The Constitution is as clear as a day light, without if and buts.  Limited term Parliament means what it says:

“Members of the House of representatives shall be elected by the People for a term of five years on the basis of universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair election held by secret ballot,”

(Article 54(1), Constitution of the EFDR)

“To vote and to be elected at periodic elections to any office at any level of Government; elections shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electorates”

(Article 38, Sub-article 1(c), the Constitution of the EFDR)

1.6 The so called “Constitutional Interpretation” was meant by the Ruling Cliques the fabrication of a law to extend term Parliament by self-serving Executive and Legislature to illegally extend their constitutionally mandated term. This undermines the fundamental pillars of the Constitution:

“All sovereignty power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia”; “the Constitution is an expression of their sovereignty”; and that “their sovereignty shall be expressed through their representatives elected in accordance with the Constitution and through their direct democratic participation”.

(Article 8, on the Sovereignty of the People, the Constitution of the EFDR)

2. What is Next and the Strategic Response of Democratic Federalists?

2.1 The “Elephant in the Room” for democratic federalists now is what they are going to do about it. This indeed must be the first and foremost historic question occupying their minds. The restoration of a Neo-Neftegna State is fast crystallising. What are the strategic responses available to counter the institution of a unitarian dictatorial State? What is to be done? Will they respond decisively and strategically or passively acquiesce to the fait accompli restoration of a unitarian, neo-Neftegna state, the very antithesis of a democratic federalist state?

2.2 It is vitally important for democratic federalist forces to hold a clear and firm stance on the illegality, unconstitutionality and illegitimacy of the ruling coalition led by EPP and must oppose it in no uncertain term its political and unconstitutional manoeuvres to extend its life. This is an epic struggle to stop a brutal and emerging Mark II Derg dictatorship. This means a categorical refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the Ruling Cliques. This must be expressed clearly in words and deeds as well as organised and strategised.

2.3 Upon the expiry of the term of this Parliament and in the absence of a legitimately elected federal government and the existence of authority/power vacuum as well as in order to preserve the unity and security of the country internally and externally, all democratic federalists need to have a unified aim and strategy for safeguarding self-determination and the federalist order; and transitioning peacefully, legally and securely to a democratic election as soon as possible. This is possible only under “a time-limited, care-taker transitional government of all nationalities and opposition parties principally tasked to lead to a free, fair and credible general election under the Federal Constitution”. This could include the EPP Ruling Cliques if they agree to relinquish and not to use the forces of the coercive state and participate as equals. This could be buttressed or complemented, for example, by De-facto State in Tigray, Gadissa Hogenssa Oromo / Abba Gadaa Care-Taker Government in Oromia (e.g. as suggested by Dr Tsegaye Ararsa) and other caretaker governments in the Regional States. The strategy needs to consider the potential and constructive role of the armed forces (which being non-party political and multi-national has the duty to safeguard the Constitution and the integrity and independence of the Country) solely to facilitate a peaceful, democratic and legal transition to a free, fair and credible general election.

2.4 Given the failure of the Government (in cahoots with the ENEB) to hold the general election according to the Constitution, democratic federalists should demand the holding of elections in their Regions. This is with a view to submitting to their electorates and to renewing their mandate.  It is necessary to underline that let alone the right and ability to legislate regionally and set up regional electoral bodies (which are much lower thresholds of democracy and self-determination conferred by the Constitution) Ethiopian nationalities have the full spectrum of the right of self- determination, including and up to secession as stipulated in Article 39.  No less and no more. It is vitally important to recognise that constitutionally Article 39 cannot be suppressed even under a State of Emergency.  The acceptance of the implications of this fundamental dividing line has been the litmus paper of the politics of national and class struggle in Ethiopia over the last fifty years; and remains even more relevant today.

2.5 The call by the Regional Government of Tigray for holding the election according to the Constitution is to be welcomed by those with a scintilla of democratic and federalist aspiration. As a sovereign nationality, the Regional State has the constitutional rights to legislate, including the right to conduct regional elections for the purpose of submitting to its electorates and to seeking to renew or otherwise its democratic mandate. The principled, resolute and steadfast position of the Regional State of Tigray and the governing party, the TPLF, in confronting the emerging dictatorship of the Abiy EPP Cliques must be commended and emulated.

2.6 The blatant declaration of war on the people of Tigray and the TPLF by the Abiy EPP Cliques, in cahoots with regional dictators, must be opposed by all citizens. This is nothing short of treachery of the Ruling Cliques to conspire with external forces to wage war against its own citizens and Region, which is of Menelikian proportion. This is in the 21st Century, but history has the habit of repeating itself, though often as a farce. What is clear is that the people of Tigray and the ruling party, the TPLF, have no stomach to abandon the hard won self-determination of the Regional State. This is an existential issue that define the sovereignty of the people of Tigray, which is secured with by the over 65,000 martyred, over 100,000 disabled and close to a million of Tigrayans that perished during the  17 years of bitter armed struggle and genocidal acts perpetrated against it. This is not to mention those martyred during the First Woyanes and the one hundred years of subjugation and resistance of Tigrayans against a Neftegna State. To this effect the Region is fully united and mobilised to resist the emerging dictatorship, including attempts at or miscalculations to subjugate it  through economic warfare or militarily. Primarily self-reliant but in solidarity with other oppressed nationalities, the destiny of the people of Tigray is on their own hands. Judging by their history and trackrecord, the people of Tigray and the oppressed nationalities of Ethiopia have prevailed against the Haile Selassie Feudal Regime supported by Western Imperialism and the Fascist Military Dictatorship of the Derg that was armed to the teeth by Soviet Social Imperialists. Whether the Abiy EPP Cliques will try and fare any better is yet to be seen.

2.7 The strategic response of Oromo democrats, nationalists and federalists in particular is critical to the outcome of the struggle to counter the re-establishment of a Neo-Neftegna dictatorship in the Country. Notwithstanding the widespread repression of the Oromos by the Colonel Abiy regime and given its historic betrayal of the people, it is time to respond more proactively and decisively to the challenges on hand. Moreover, they must draw lessons from the decisive struggle of the Oromo masses, in particular the youth, against the moribund EPRDF.  Their struggle was for more democracy, justice and self-determination not for the restoration of a Neo-Neftegna dictatorship. It goes without saying that the Oromo nationalist forces, in particular the OLF, face historic decisions at the present decisive political juncture not less vital than those faced by the orgnisation in 1974 and 1992/93. It is time to make the right, decisive and strategic call since history has the habit of repeating itself with tragedy.

2.8 The opposition parties need to chart clear strategies, tactics and organisation that are equal to the challenges at hand. Without being prescriptive, it goes without saying that mass mobilisation, civil resistance and other appropriate forms of peaceful, legal but assertive struggle need to correspond to the expected responses of the coercive state led by the EPP Cliques.

2.9 In summary, as we move closer to the end of the current Parliament, democrats, nationalists and federalists must have the moral and political courage and foresight as well as the unity and strategy necessary to counter the emerging dictatorship of the EPP led by Colonel Abiy Ahmed.  It is vitally important to underline that the Abiy Cliques is ultimately a Paper Tiger since it has no social and electoral base when compared with the 84+ nationalities and peoples that expressly seek democracy, self-determination and federalism. As decisively demonstrated by the near unanimous vote of the Sidama people, the nations, nationalities and peoples want more democracy, self-determination and federalism not a throw-back to the feudo-monarchical-military dictatorships of past regimes.  Individually and collectively, federalists would be responsible if they allow the dictatorship to succeed wittingly or unwittingly. United and strategic they stand; divided and opportunistic they fall, with historic consequences for the fate of the unity of the country; the self-determination of nationalities and peoples; and the rights of citizens to live in peaceful, secured and democratic future. The Struggle Continues.

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