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Is Medrek rehearsing Negede Gobeze’s legerdemain?

By Dilwenberu Nega
Oct. 03 2009

Who was it who once opined that to lose and learn hurts no one; but to lose and NOT to learn is a lasting tragedy?   Well, that would be the conclusion that you would undoubtedly reach if you have been keeping abreast of Medrek’s current toing and froing, not to say hide-and-seek in the rough and tumble electioneering life.   And for those who had closely been following the highs and lows of the 2005 National Elections from its epicentre, Medrek’s recent actions would also envelope them with an eerie feeling that Negedeism is rearing its ugly head again in Ethiopian politics.

The fact that one of the notorious avatars of Derg’s Red Terror, Negede Gobeze, was the mastermind behind the ephemeral takeover binge by Kinijit in 2005 has never been a moot point.   In fact his attempted re-entry into Ethiopian politics had prompted astute observers of the Ethiopian scene to fulminate “When Negede Gobeze enters through Bole, democracy jumps out through Bale!”

It was quite legitimately assumed that every stake-holder of a peaceful, secular and pluralistic Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia had learnt the necessary lessons from the seamy side of the 2005 National Elections.   In this regard Ethiopia’s well-heeled and visionary political party, EPDRF, had set the stage of ‘democratic humility’ by gracefully acknowledging that it had lost Addis Ababa as soon as the votes were declared.   This was soon to be accompanied by an all out rectification campaign by EPDRF which eventually helped it to recreate itself as a listening party.   The yield of its rectification drive has been the steady stream of the youth to its fold from the four-corners of the country – millions since the last National Elections alone.

Though no such remarkable feat can be attributed to none of Ethiopia’s political parties both within and outside Parliament, one thing nevertheless remains crystal clear.   Most of the opposition parties not only dread the very thought of treading down the 2005 National Elections’ memory lane, but  regard the whole idea as being inimical to the growth of pluralistic democracy in Ethiopia.   This, it must be noted, is by itself an encouraging trend because it portrays the refusal of the majority of Ethiopian political parties to be the guinea-pigs for - to put it in one of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s sound bites – “a fruit revolution” however exotic the fruit may appear.

Yet, there are those who, unfortunately, are eager for an encore performance of 2005.   These, it must be said fall in the category of power-mongers whose sole aim is to seize power by hook or by crook.   By hastily cobbling together political parties with antipodal policies they salivate to strike it lucky at round one.   Oblivious to the history of the now moribund Kinijit, therefore, they are seen committing the same old mistakes Kinijit committed both in pre and post National Elections 2005.

Here, the so far unsavoury history of Medrek is a case-in-point.   The first mistake Medrek had committed is one of haste.   In its frantic attempt to catch up with the 2010 National Elections, Medrek did the somersaulting, the flip-flopping the arm twisting; name it but Medrek did it, to deliver a premature babe in arms.   The second mistake is fervid desire to create itself before it knew itself.   The 8 opposition parties and 2 individuals that make up Medrek have brought to the supposed ‘the melting pot’ their own policies which, by itself, are as different as chalk and cheese.   Add to this the egotistic recipe of the 2 erstwhile high fibre members of EPDRF, and what do you get: a hodgepodge of dogmas which have turned into heresies; the worst form of political expediency ever witnessed in Ethiopian politics.   Medrek’s third mistake relates to its unwillingness or inability to accept that the EPDRF Government would, come hell or high water, give in to arm-locking from within or without.   We have seen it during and after the 2005 National Elections and, no doubt, we will see a repeat performance of EPDRF’s no nonsense approach to political legerdemain and to all kinds of chicanery at the forth-coming National Elections.

This week, then, saw the continued yo-yoing of Medrek as it tries to decide once and for all to join or not to join the All Party Talk on Code of Conduct – something that the public is yearning for a break through.   The ongoing Talk has set no preconditions to participants as its outcome is to be a consensual, albeit binding, agreement amongst contending parties to ensure that democratic and civilized norms of behaviour are upheld by everyone at the next Elections.   Participating in such a discourse, then, must surely be viewed both as an encouraging sign of statesmanship and maturity in the task of building a democratic order.   But Medrek would have none of this: instead of showing a modicum of common sense it is crowing its talent on brinkmanship and instead of joining the public’s drive to build a democratic order it is seen ambushing the pre-electoral process.   This is not bad; it is lethal.

The onus of not giving in to Medrek’s ludicrous legerdemain has, therefore, fallen on the Ethiopian electorate in general, but most particularly it has fallen on EPDRF and all those nine other opposition parties which have accepted to subscribe to what would be an All Party Code of Conduct Accords.   They should realize that Medrek’s recent pontificating is nothing but hot air and take note of the fact that a growing number of the electorate has started labelling Medrek “The dead-on-arrival-party.”

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Medrek has so far stuck to its gun and refused to rejoin the All Party Talks on Code of Conduct by continuously moving the goalpost.   Every day brings in new demand from Medrek HQ.   For the sake of argument, an attempt is being made here at vivisecting these bottlenecks so that at least Ethiopian expatriates in various parts of the world are shielded from being jet-hosed with utter lies and sheer speculations by the handful of the choleric Diaspora.

Demand no.1: Medrek wants a duo-logue with EPDRF, but EPDRF insists the norm at elections is to engage in multi-logue.   Demand no.2 Medrek places the unconditional release of “political prisoner, Birtukan Midekssa,” as one of the agenda items for its anticipated dialogue with EPDRF.   But this is not only a non-issue, but any attempt at overegging the Birtukan case at this juncture must be viewed as overstretching the practice of cry wolf.

Much has been said and written about Birtukan Midekssa’s prisoner of conscience status, but to no avail.   The reason is as clear and as satisfying as Ambo water.  The first port of call to find out whether a person is eligible enough to be adopted as “prisoner of conscience” is not EPDRF’s HQ at Arat Kilo, but the much vaunted focal point for human rights - Amnesty International’s HQ in Shoreditch, London.   There, unless and otherwise AI wants to engage in an act of applying double standards, you will see for yourself: that a prisoner of conscience is one who is imprisoned or tortured for openly or discreetly advocating or promoting policies inimical to the status quo in a peaceful manner.   Well, we all know, don’t we, what Birtukan and co were up to during and after the 2005 National Elections.

Goading supporters to engage in violent street violence in which supporters were throwing hand grenades which killed policemen, is surely a galaxy away from advocating or promoting policies inimical to the status quo in a peaceful manner.   But like it or not this is precisely why Birtukan and co were duly arrested, charged and convicted for.   Her release from prison after serving a mere year and a half was the outcome of a plea for pardon which Birtukan et al had signed and sent to the Ethiopian President.   But like all pardons, Birtukan’s pardon too, having made an unequivocal reference to her plea for pardon being made out of her own volition, goes on to articulate a variety of caveats: that she will respect the constitutional order and that she will refrain from such acts of criminality in the future.   On the other hand, let’s not lose sight of what prompted the impasse between the Government and Birtukan which eventually led to the return of Birtukan to serve the remaining terms of her life imprisonment conviction.   Most probably overtaken by the applause and ululation that greeted her visit to Sweden after her release, she reneged on her signed plea for pardon by declaring that the she never pleaded the Government for pardon.   This instinctively placed both the law enforcement agencies and the Government in an awkward position.   The Federal Police would be accused of applying both double standards and committing a dereliction of duty if it was to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to Birtukan’s trespasses.   On the other hand, to the no-nonsense Government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, renowned for its resistance to being frogmarched into doing the will of foreign powers, to stand and stare as Birtukan threw the gauntlet at the Government was an unthinkable proposition.   It nevertheless decided that nursing Birtukan would in the long run have a ripple effect on the democratic space, and chose to offer her instead the opportunity to publically claw back her plea for pardon or face the full weight of the law.   At this point Birtukan’s case became a done and dusted case. Adieu!

In conclusion one only hopes that Medrek will come to its senses by refraining from making politically verdant overtures which are of no use to anyone.   Therefore, far from these all party talks being a photo opportunity – as Medrek attempts to denigrate them – they constitute the best forum to ensure that the political space is always broadening.   That must surely be good tidings for those who wish to witness the realisation of our hopes and dreams for an Ethiopia which is a mother to all of us and a step-mother to none of us.

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