The Wider Implications of the Gonder Protest
By Felege Asrat
In the first part, I tried to look at the very essence of the Gonder protest. In this second part, I will try to shade some light on its wider implications on Ethiopia’s politics. Ethiopia’s political landscape is changing very fast since the July 31st Gonder protest. The pace of change is beyond belief. It was impossible to foresee.
The wider implications of the Gonder protest is even breathtaking. Thanks to the protest, in spite of TPLF’s systematic and relentless propaganda for the last 25 years to make the Amharas and the Oromos go for each other’s throat, it is now common to see them closing their ranks at all levels, vowing to stand and fight together against their common enemy.
The resistance is spilling over and rubbing off other parts of Ethiopia. It is spreading like wildfire to other parts of Ethiopia. The protest also redefined and refined the essence of peaceful struggle. Both lawful and outlawed political parties & TPLF satellite organisations are sucked into the resistance movement. TPLF also seems cracking within itself.
Thus the implications of the protest are far reaching. However, In this part, I will look at how the protest refined the peaceful struggle.
TPLF and opportunity for peaceful struggle
Before the 31st July/16 Gonder Protest, TPLF’s heavy- handed approach made most people to lose hope in the power of peaceful struggle. It left no window of opportunity for the public to vent their anger and frustration. Like its predecessor, the Derg regime, it consciously chose to rely on its military and security might to crush and silence any peaceful and lawful resistance. Unable and unwilling to learn from history, the regime has closed all doors of peaceful struggle.
Filled with arrogance, ignorance and contempt of the unarmed public, TPLF terribly failed to appreciate the dire consequence of closing all doors of peaceful struggle. It lacks the wisdom and foresight to foresee the eventual public rebellion against oppression when all avenues of peaceful struggle are completely closed. In short TPLF refused to learn from history; including its own history.
Rather emboldened by its total military, security & economic control, TPLF big- guns are busy to unlawfully help themselves with Ethiopia’s wealth. They are focused on satisfying their insatiable appetite for wealth via corruption. To meet their ends, if they have to kill and torture, they will not hesitate to do so. TPLF’s barbarity has no match.
Even by TPLF’s standard, there were relatively free and independent magazines, newspapers, trade unions, teacher’s association, human rights organisations, etc. immediately after TPLF took over power in 1991 than today! Ever since 1991, day by day, step by step, TPLF is closing all means of peaceful struggle. The last and symbolic act that tells the intention of TPLF beyond the reasonable doubt is its ‘ anti-terror law’. TPLF’s anti-terror law was enacted to stifle each and every form of legal and peaceful resistance. It is because of TPLF’s ‘anti-terror law’ that most prisoners of conscious are currently languishing in TPLF’s dungeon.
Apart from a self-serving propaganda and an outright white lie from TPLF- controlled media, there is no any empirical evidence to suggest that democracy is taking roots in Ethiopia. In fact, the many and various verifiable objective evidence suggest otherwise.
State media, Election Board, the judiciary, Parliament, security, police, army and in fact every aspect of life in Ethiopia is 100% controlled by TPLF. From its inception, TPLF is a control freak. It is not in any mood to allow any dissent willingly. In the last 25 years, It has gone from bad to worse. TPLF’s semblance of democracy is in reverse gear. It is decaying from top to bottom; waiting for its natural death eventually but gradually.
How TPLF is pushing the public to abandon peaceful struggle
First, by forcefully suppressing even the slightest lawful dissent and closing all doors of peaceful protest, TPLF effectively left the general public to entertain the very idea of all means of struggle including armed struggle. TPLF’s ‘anti-terror law’ is a case in point. This ‘ anti-terror law’ is used to terrorise the peaceful public who are engaged in lawful resistance.
For its current predicament, TPLF can not blame the public. As always, TPLF is its worst enemy. Thanks to TPLF’s persistent and systematic barbaric act, the public now has lived long enough under TPLF’s repression to understand the limitations of peaceful struggle. TPLF can not fool the public anymore. It did not take that long for the public to understand TPLF inside out.
Apart from those few people who still believe in the power of peaceful struggle irrespective of TPLF’s barbarity, it is effectively the TPLF who forced upon the public to use all forms of struggle against it. It is enough to reflect on what is happening in Gonder and Gojam now.
TPLF declared war on the people officially. Ato Hailemariam unashamedly gave free licence for the Agazi to kill. The Agazi is now on killing spree on the unarmed public. The killing will make the public more determined and resolute. Of course the public will survive and prevail at the end.
Put simply, in the absence of any room for peaceful struggle, one has to be blind and complacent like TPLF not to foresee the coming of public revolt. The public revolt has now started, and the public will claim back its freedom by all means necessary. It is only one month after the Gonder protest, but TPLF’s very foundation is already shaken. The day TPLF and Ato Halemariam facing justice will not be far away.
Second, there are some parties which are outlawed by the TPLF. These parties can not participate in the peaceful struggle even if they want to. Obviously, they are left with no other choice other than raising arms against the TPLF. The alternative to them is to surrender their freedom and live under slavery. That is a non-starter. TPLF should have known better. Even any ardent supporter of peaceful struggle will understand their case.
Therefore there is an obvious case for raising arms against the TPLF regime by those parties which are outlawed by the TPLF and/or by the people who are pushed to the limit by the TPLF to raise arms.
TPLF’s sham elections and peaceful struggle
Until now, the only peaceful dissent TPLF is prepared to allow during elections. It is for obvious reason TPLF is doing this. After Kinijit, It is a very tightly-controlled and carefully- managed affair. TPLF gives few hours of air time for the opposition on state- controlled media, allow them to hold few public meetings in few places, gives a little bit of money to the opposition and spins the public and the West that there is a free and fair election as a result. Of course, neither the public nor the West is fooled.
From the opposition side, after the 2005 Kinijit election, a peaceful struggle is effectively reduced to participating in TPLF’s unfree and unfair election. Of course participating even in unfree and unfair election is one of the many and various forms of peaceful struggle. This window of opportunity can be rightly exploited to do lots of political work by the opposition at grass root level. But it is by no means the only means of peaceful struggle. The opposition failed to explore other means of peaceful struggle and effectively reduced peaceful struggle to participation on periodic unfree and unfair election only. It significantly contributes for the public to lose hope in the power of peaceful struggle.
The Gonder protest and the very essence of peaceful struggle
The Gonder protest opened the public eyes to various forms of peaceful struggle. It showed to the public that peaceful struggle is more than participating in periodic sham elections. First, the Gonder protest was done without any ‘ permission’. The Gonder people were ready to demonstrate with or without ‘ permission’ from the regime at any cost.
With this brave decision, the fear hanging over the public’s head for so long was effectively lifted. The regime was made to swallow the power of the people. It puts TPLF’s military and security power into perspective. Now thanks to the protest, even the regime is forced to accept that its law requires only notification to police but not seeking permission.
Second, before culminating into the Gonder protest, many public meetings were held at various times and places organised by the Wolkait Amhara Identity Committee.
Third peaceful struggle certainly includes peacefully disobeying unlawful and unjust laws. A dictatorial regime like TPLF can pass any law. But the public may perceive the law as unlawful and unjust. Thus it may decide not to respect it. It was certainly the case during the apartheid era. Apartheid laws, even though they were laws passed according to the law of the land at the time, ANC was not meant to respect it. It is easy to see the similarity between TPLF’s ethnicity laws and Botha’s apartheid laws.
Thus when the public was determined to demonstrate with or without ‘permission’, it was a clear message from the public to reject unjust and unlawful laws. In other words, if TPLF laws prohibit the public not to stage a peaceful demonstration, the Gonder people were unwilling to respect the unjust and unlawful law.
Four: after assessing and judging the reality on the ground, the peaceful protest quickly moved into house sit-ins; followed by strikes. This move still kept on the struggle going and gave the public to discuss its next move. It denied the Agazi the opportunity to kill as well.
Five: wearing white clothing on the 4th anniversary of Ato Meles’s passing away was also another ingenious idea of peaceful struggle from Gonder. Now we can see people taking it even further by shaving their hairs in the Oromo region as a means of peaceful struggle. Six: the Gonder protesters by carefully raising national issues, managed to spread the resistance to all over Ethiopia, notably Gojam. The whole Gojam, like Gonder, is now at war with the regime as a result. It stretches the Agazi.
Seven: the Gonder peaceful struggle also showed, so long as the Agazi carries on killing the innocent for peacefully protesting, the public may combine the peaceful struggle with a reply in kind. In short laying the background to coordinate peaceful struggle with armed resistance. Gonder protest showed how to marry the peaceful struggle and armed resistance if needs be. The protest showed they are not mutually exclusive. They can go in parallel, side by side & hand in hand to support and supplement each other.
Eight: what proved productive and efficient was the recent sudden change of the house sit-ins into street protest. The beauty of it was its suddenness. This unexpected move tricked and surprised the regime. The regime was caught unprepared. If it can be co-ordinated all over Ethiopia at the same time, it will surely stretch the Agazi. If protests are conducted at the same time all over Ethiopia, there is no chance for the Agazi to suppress the protest. The Agazi will be scattered. We know from the Derg era, 200,000 soldiers were not enough to suppress the uprising in Eritrea province only. If the protest was coordinated and held at the same time all over Ethiopia, how many Agazi’s are needed to suppress the uprising in the 13 provinces? No chance.
Nine: boycotting TPLF’s business organisations and marginalising the die hard regime’s members from social life is in the pipeline.
Can Peaceful struggle rock TPLF harder than armed struggle?
The late TPLF leader, Ato Meles, was once asked by journalists to mention the most difficult and testing times in the history of TPLF. He cited three events which he thought stood out and put the very existence of TPLF in question.
The first was when the TPLF controlled the whole of Tigray. The TPLF army started throwing away their guns and went back to their village. The peasant army reasoned that mother Tigray was ‘liberated’ from the Derg and the Amharas could ‘liberate’ Gonder and Wello from Derg if they wanted to. In line with TPLF’s ethnicist propaganda, its army did not want to sacrifice themselves for the Amharas.
The TPLF worked its socks off to convince its army. TPLF leaders explained to the army, unless they get rid of Derg by going all the way to Arat Kilo, Derg would reorganise itself from Gonder & Wello, and would recapture their mother Tigray leaving their sacrifice in vain. Finally, the army changed their mind, and the rest is history.
The second issue was TPLF’s leadership split after the Badme war. The third issue Ato Meles cited was the Kinijit period. I am positive, had Ato Meles been alive now, he would have mentioned the current largely peaceful dissent ignited by the Gonder protest as the fourth issue that is rocking the foundation of TPLF.
From Ato Meles’s remarks above and observing what is happening currently in Ethiopia, it is clear that the Kinijit and the current peaceful protests were/are rocking the very foundation of TPL.F. I haven’t yet seen armed struggle even denting leave alone rocking the very basis of TPL’s foundation in the last 25 years. I am all ears if anybody wants to argue otherwise.
I personally believe in the power of peaceful struggle mainly because it gets rid of the vicious circle Ethiopia finds itself; power emanating from the barrel of the gun. That is our history. That is why, in spite of our long and proud history, we are still unable to lay the foundation for democratic governance. We don’t have lasting peace and stability. The public is not yet empowered.
At the same time, in the absence of any room for peaceful struggle and even worse, when TPLF outlaws some parties, I perfectly understand how Ethiopians are forced to raise arms to defend their freedom. Then again, when we look at the implications of the Gonder protest and the Kinijit period, we can easily see the power of peaceful struggle. They both rocked/ are rocking the very basis of TPLF. We haven’t seen armed struggle bringing the same result so far. Tomorrow may be different, though. However, the Gonder protest has shown us that, if carefully planned, both could supplement each other. They are not mutually exclusive. They can go together, hand in hand & side by side. The Gonder protest has raised the bar of the peaceful struggle few notches up. It is not now restricted to participating in periodic sham elections. The bar of the peaceful struggle should be raised even higher.
Related: The Gonder Protest: What Made the Impossible Possible?