Is there a case to renegotiate AFD? Part 1

October 3, 2006

Before I go any further, however, let me make my stand very clear from the outset. First, in principle and to the extent possible, an all-inclusive and the widest possible opposition alliance against the incumbent TPLF’s regime is a necessity. There can be no illusion on it. Opposition political parties do desperately need to pull their meagre resources together to get rid of the TPLF from power. We know from experience that no single party alone is currently capable of removing TPLF. The opposition forces uncoordinated and scattered struggle is not going to get us anywhere. In light of this, I think, it is rationally wrong to oppose the formation of the AFD or any other alliance for that matter. Hence, I would not be opposing the formation of AFD as such. Rather, I fully and unreservedly support its formation.

Second, for a lasting peace, democracy and stability in Ethiopia, separatist movements like OLF, ONLF and SLF can not be ignored and sidelined from the mainstream of Ethiopian politics any longer. From their peripheral position, they need to be encouraged to come to the centre ground of Ethiopian body politic. It is wise to accept their place and role in Ethiopian politics and start negotiating with them as soon as it is practically possible. Whether we like it or not, they have their own constituencies and as such are a force to reckon with. We can not indefinitely postpone the problem. We need to face the problem sooner than later. In any case, any would-be lasting solution to the many and various Ethiopia’s pressing problems should take into account the role of the separatist movements and genuinely try to address their concerns and insecurities squarely and fairly.

Having said this, for the reasons that would be clear later, I would categorise the parties that constituted AFD essentially into two clear and distinct groups. That is to say, those who have an unwavering stand on Ethiopian unity and sovereignty, and those who utmost reject or at least question the very existence of the Ethiopian nation in the first place.

For me, in simple terms, AFD is nothing but an agreement between the separatist movements and Pan-Ethiopian forces. In any sound and fair deal, one would expect the agreement not only to be mutually beneficial to all concerned parties but also to reflect the actual and perceived strengths of the parties to the deal. However, in its present from, content and composition, the deal is far from being a good deal to Pan-Ethiopian forces. The agreement terribly failed to reflect the actual and perceived strengths of Pan-Ethiopian forces on the ground. That is why, in this article, I would attempt to highlight some of the basic flaws of AFD from Pan-Ethiopian points of view. To do this and for the obvious reason, the starting point for the article’s analysis and comment is AFD’s Statutes and Memorandum of Understanding.

2. As it stands now, what are the shortcomings of the Alliance in the eyes of Pan-Ethiopians?

A. Absence of the name of Ethiopia in the AFD:

When we look at the parties which constituted AFD, as categorised above, they are Pan-Ethiopian parties and separatist movements. Moreover, the very soul of the present struggle is essentially between those who believe in the eternal existence and continuity of Ethiopia and those who are bent to balkanise and dismember Ethiopia so as to crave out their respective mini-states out of Greater Ethiopia. It is also no secret that secessionist movements do not consider themselves as Ethiopians and nor do they believe in the very existence of the Ethiopian nation. Whenever they mention Ethiopia, they only talk of the ‘Empire Ethiopia’ or the invention of Ethiopia or the ‘coloniser’ Ethiopia.

That is why, among the secessionist movements, it is a fashion or a trend to talk about or prepare a conference on the Horn of Africa as it is intended to override and undermine the name and place of Ethiopia. Put simply, the name Ethiopia is simply allergic to some of the secessionist forces. For instance, if we take OLF, it believes in the existence of Abyssinia but not Ethiopia and for OLF, Abyssinia means nothing more than the ‘state of Amharas and Tigreans’. To make analogy with the incumbent regime, leaving the scrutiny of motive aside, it is interesting to note that even TPLF is at least forced to use the name of Ethiopia vis-à-vis EPRDF.

It is against this back ground that Pan-Ethiopians should look at the absence of the name of Ethiopia in the AFD. We are hearing from some unsuspected Ethiopians that even ANC (African National Congress) is not using the name of South Africa. Thus, it is must be ok if AFD does not bear the name of Ethiopia. The counter argument for this is that, first, what ever the ANC does, can not always be right. Second, those who are involving and leading the ANC struggle, were/are not at any time suspected of dismembering South Africa. Third, more importantly, in Ethiopian context, CUDP does not bear the name of Ethiopia. Nevertheless, for the obvious reasons, the absence of Ethiopia in the CUDP has never been an issue at all among Pan-Ethiopians. Why? Simply because it is very clear from the party’s political programme, deed and the personnel involved in running the party that they have a very firm and principled stand on Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Finally, on the preamble of the AFD’s Statutes, it talks about Ethiopia and the region. What does Ethiopia and the region mean? Why is it necessary to include the word region? Does Ethiopia stand to represent the Amharas and Tigreans while Oromia and Ogaden as regions in this context? It is not clear and it may be subjected to different and opposing interpretations depending on where one stands. Clarification is desperately needed on this matter.

In conclusion, from Pan-Ethiopians point of view, for the reasons outlined above, not arguing for the inclusion of the name of Ethiopia in the AFD is at best political naivety and at worst political incompetence. By the same token, leaving aside the name of Ethiopia in the AFD is perfectly in line with the principles and objectives of all secessionist parties. Thus, they have no grounds to complain about AFD, as it can only be a good deal to them.

B. Language of AFD:

AFD’s Statutes, Chapter I, Article 4 (a), reads: ‘The documents of the Alliance shall be in English. Certified translations can be made in other languages.’ Fully aware of the fact that English is coloniser’s language and Ethiopia is the only non-colonised black country with its own languages and unique Geez alphabet, why should the documents of the AFD be in English? What is wrong in using Amharic as the documents of the AFD? Is it because the secessionist movements consider Ethiopia as a ‘coloniser’ and Amharic as the language of ‘Amhara colonisers’? If there is hatred towards Amharic language, why not use one of Ethiopian languages, say Oromigna, Guragigna, Tigrigna, etc as the language of AFD?

It is to be recalled that, in 1991, while OLF was part of the then ‘Transitional Government of Ethiopia’, it opted to use the Latin alphabet (coloniser’s alphabet) for written Oromigna language. While it is right and commendable for all ethnic groups in Ethiopia to use and develop their language and culture, why was it necessary to opt for Latin alphabet over Ethiopia’s indigenous Geez alphabet? What were the reasons given by the OLF when it opted for using the Latin alphabet over Geez alphabet for Oromigna language?

There was a very heated debate between Pan-Ethiopians and OLF politicians as to which alphabet the Oromigna language ought to use before the Latin alphabet was introduced as the alphabet of Oromigna language in Ethiopia. On the part of the OLF, all the arguments in favour of using the Latin alphabet over the Geez alphabet were carefully gathered, collated and put forward by Dr Tilahun Gemta (an English language instructor at the Addis Ababa University). On the other hand, the advantages of using Geez alphabet over Latin alphabet for written Oromigna language was advanced by Professor Bayu Yimam (Department of Linguistics, Addis Ababa University, in a publication called Dialogue, by Addis Ababa University Teachers’ Association before the 42 Professors and Drs were fired by the TPLF).

In his long and well argued article and as some one who specialised in linguistic, Professor Bayu Yimam one by one demolished Dr Tilahun’s arguments and made it clear to all his readers that unless it is a blind political decision, using the indigenous Ethiopian Geez alphabet over the coloniser’s Latin alphabet for a written Oromigna language is by far advantageous in every aspect.

So why did the OLF opt to use the Latin alphabet? We will not be far from the truth if we say, for secessionist parties like the OLF, demolishing and dismantling all the common ties, values, cultures and threads of Ethiopian people is very fundamental to promote their secessionist policy. It is perfectly in line with the very objective of separatist movements to carefully single out and magnify our differences while at the same time down playing or even branding our common identities as myths or fabrications.

Therefore, using English, the coloniser’s language, in place of Ethiopian languages as the language of AFD has to be looked at in this context. In short, if we use Amharic or any of the Ethiopian languages as the language of AFD, it will magnify our common identity and unity, which obviously is the very antithesis of secessionist movements. That is why using English, the coloniser’s language, as the language of AFD, can not be in the best interest Pan-Ethiopians by any standard.

C. TPLF’s Constitution as the basic framework for the AFD?

AFD’s Statutes, Chapter III, Article 1 (2), reads: ‘The Alliance shall convene an inclusive conference to establish a workable arrangement on the basis of the present framework of the Ethiopian constitution.’

Why did the TPLF lose the support of the majority of the Ethiopian people from the very beginning in the first place? Was it not because of the fact that TPLF was rightly perceived as anti-Ethiopian force that is bent to dismember Ethiopia through the instrumentality of its Constitution? Is it not in the TPLF’s Constitution that we find the legal basis for ethnic politics, bantustanisation of Ethiopia via ethnic enclaves and a recipe for dismemberment of Ethiopia via the rights of ‘nations and nationalities’ to self-determination up to and including secession? Are these not the very basic reasons for the wider Ethiopian public to reject TPLF from the outset?

If this is the case, it is beyond belief to see Pan-Ethiopian parties agreeing to such a proposition by endorsing TPLF’s/OLF’s/SLM’s Constitution as the basic framework of AFD. I said TPLF’s/OLF’s/SLM’s Constitution as all of these parties argued for and played vital role when the Constitution was endorsed. As to the TPLF’s Constitution, with out unnecessarily going into detail, there is a consensus among Pan-Ethiopians that it is a recipe and a time bomb for future balkanisation and dismemberment of Ethiopia. If that is the consensus among Pan-Ethiopians, how and why Pan-Ethiopian parties agreed to such an agreement?

Supporters of AFD argue that because CUDP already accepts and works within the framework TPLF’s Constitution, any opposition to AFD in this aspect is irrational. However, the truth is that, first, CUDP has no any other option other than accepting the TPLF’s Constitution to operate legally in Ethiopia and participate in any election. Second, even though CUDP accepts and recognises the TPLF’s Constitution so as to operate legally in Ethiopia, it is also a public knowledge that in its Election Manifesto, CUDP listed some of the very controversial Articles (including the infamous Article 39) from the TPLF’s Constitution, with a view to change/amend them when winning the election.

CUDP’s Election Manifesto, 3.1, paragraph one, states:The existing constitution has not been formulated in such a way as to be the frame-work in which the variety of interests, desires, attitudes are accommodated. Rather, it is so shaped to reflect the ideology, belief and political programme of a single party. It would therefore, be necessary to reform/amend it by freeing it from partisanship and transforming it into a document of long-term validity with which consecutive governments need not tamper…..’ This in effect means CUDP is actually struggling to change the Constitution by mobilising the Ethiopian public behind it.

Third, when it comes to AFD, there is no slightest justification what so ever on the part of the KIL (Kinijit International Leadership) to accept the TPLF’s Constitution as the basic framework of the AFD. This is because, to begin with, CUDP is struggling to change/amend this every Constitution. Thus, it would obviously be a contradiction in terms if KIL on one hand accepts the TPLF’s Constitution on behalf of CUDP as the basic framework of the AFD; while on the other hand, CUDP is struggling and mobilising the public to change the very Constitution which is so shaped to reflect the ideology, belief and political programme of a single party as rightly dubbed in its Election Manifesto. Most importantly, in light of CUDP’s significant acceptance, success and popular mandate by the majority of Ethiopian electorate compared to the other parties in the AFD, KIL can and should have negotiated from strength.

It is submitted that, if we believe TPLF’s Constitution is the very anti-thesis of Ethiopian unity and sovereignty and CUDP is a vanguard for a democratic and united Ethiopia, there can not be any sound justification for the KIL to accept the TPLF’s Constitution as the basic framework of the AFD against CUDP’s Election Manifesto. When we also take into account CUDP’s relative strength, acceptance and popular mandate from the electorate, KIL should have flexed its political muscle to coerce the others to look for a compromising solution. If there was one place where KIL should have been very careful and flexed its political muscle, it should have been here. It seems very ridiculous and politically suicidal for the KIL to accept TPLF’s Constitution as the basis of the AFD against CUDP’s Election Manifesto while it was best placed to argue otherwise.

D. The role of EPLF and the idea of the special status of Eritrea in the AFD document:

AFD’s Statutes, Chapter III, Article 1 (8), reads: ‘The Alliance shall actively promote good relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea based on the agreement to be reached between the two sister countries.’

CUDP’s Election Manifesto, 3.7, paragraph five, states:The relationship of Ethiopia with its neighbours will be based on equality, mutual benefit, trust, good neighbourliness and peacefulness.’

As pointed above, while the CUDP Election Manifesto talks about neighbours in general, why single out Eritrea and specifically name Eritrea for this proposed good relationship with Ethiopia in the AFD document? What is the justification for this special status with Eritrea among all neighbouring countries to Ethiopia? Is it because AFD is solely created and financed by the EPLF with a hidden agenda as believed by some Pan-Ethiopians? Is it because, all the other parties in the AFD other than the CUDP, are based, financed and controlled by EPLF? Have we learned any lessons from our past mistakes with respect to EPLF? What is the exact nature of EPLF’s involvement with the AFD and why? Can we trust EPLF; hence, strike any deal with it? If there is any need at all to make a deal with the EPLF, what are the necessary precautions we need to take? We need to have clear answers for the above questions so as to grasp the very essence of the AFD.

Let us leave aside the above probing questions for the moment and focus on the compatibility of AFD’s stand in this aspect with that of Pan-Ethiopians. First, it is clear from CUDP’s Election Manifesto that CUDP vehemently argues for Ethiopia’s natural, historical and legal rights to access to the sea (CUDP’s Election Manifesto, 3.7, paragraph three). It is further clear that this claim for access to the sea is not from Sudan, Kenya, Somalia or Djibouti. In unambiguous language, this claim is from Eritrea and the port is specifically that of the Port of Assab. Full stop. If this is the case, is it not obvious that CUDP’s and EPLF’s interest would necessarily clash in this aspect? How is AFD going to solve these inherent conflict of interests?

Second, leaving the claim of access to the sea aside, there is also a question of Ethiopians of Afar ethnicity who are forcibly denied their Ethiopian identity by the EPLF since 1991. The Afars have time and again affirmed their Ethiopian identity and are waging armed resistance against the EPLF since 1991 to this effect. Thus, so long as the Afars’ in Eritrea are waging a righteous war against the EPLF to ascertain and claim back their Ethiopian identity, it is a question of principle and a matter of Ethiopian solidarity for Pan-Ethiopians to support them. Thus, there is a potential conflict of interest between Pan-Ethiopians and the EPLF in this aspect as well.

Third, it is also no secret that, there are some Pan-Ethiopians who still consider the whole of Eritrea as legitimate part of Ethiopia. They insist that the separation of Eritrea is illegal with no international legal basis what so ever. They also cite the absence of fair and free Referendum as a further proof for the illegality of the separation. Hence, there is a potential conflict of interest between Pan-Ethiopians and the EPLF in this aspect as well.

In summary, as argued above, so long as Pan-Ethiopians demand access to the sea, question the legality of Eritrea’s separation from Ethiopia and sympathise with the plight of Ethiopian’s of Afar ethnicity, there will always be a fundamental conflict of interest between the EPLF and Pan-Ethiopians. How is AFD going to reconcile these conflict of interests between the EPLF and Pan-Ethiopians? Is it possible then for AFD to address these issues squarely and fairly if it is particularly created, based and financed by EPLF? AFD has to come up with convincing explanations as to why it felt necessary to make a special relationship with Eritrea and at the same time, how it is going to solve the above pressing issues in a manner acceptable to both EPLF and Pan-Ethiopians.