Kinijit Leaders Proposed US and Europe Tour: Critical Appraisal

August 24, 2007

There is no doubt that we all are indebted and grateful to their sacrifice of the last 18 months. It is also appropriate to take this opportunity to thank all Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians who were relentlessly campaigning for the release of Kinijit leaders in whatever way they thought appropriate.

From the limited press releases and interviews of Kinijit leaders so far, it is fair to assume that they are currently engaged in a critical appraisal and reflection of their rather short but roller-coaster political journey, to come up with better strategies to pull the party and the country out of the impasse that they find themselves.

Moreover, in view of massive expectation from members, supporters and the Ethiopian people at large, I am hopeful that Kinijit leaders will soon start giving clear direction and leadership to all concerned.

Thus, I believe, the US and Europe trip is planned with a clear intention of giving unambiguous guidance and leadership to members and supporters abroad with an intention of rekindling the stalled struggle. I am hopeful that Kinijit leaders are going to make a business-like tour to assess and remedy the problems of the Diaspora Kinijit than to make an emotional re-union.

Considering the priority the Diaspora is taking over the constituents at home, again it is fair to assume that there are compelling and urgent reasons for the Kinijit leaders to make the proposed tour and meet their supporters in the Diaspora before meeting their constituents at home or addressing their domestic voters. All these points make the incoming tour very interesting and high profile to grip the national attention. However, there may be some difficult but legitimate questions this planned tour might raise.

If the assumption is right that there is/are some compelling and urgent reason/s to address the Diaspora first, I would like to highlight some of the problems that Kinijit leaders may have missed to foresee and the insurmountable challenges they might encounter during their visit to the Diaspora and its implication to the survival of CUDP and the overall peaceful struggle. I will try to briefly highlight few of the points as follows:

Misplaced priority?

In democracy, elected Parliamentarians’ accountability and responsibility come first and foremost to their constituents. Furthermore, we should never lose sight of Kinijit’s core belief that the struggle is primarily based at home; hence, change consequently will only come through the enormous sacrifices of members and supporters at home. Of course, nobody in his/her right mind can ignore the invaluable support Kinijit ought to rally from its Support Groups in the Diaspora. It is right for Kinijit to try to tap into the Diaspora�s enormous wealth of experience, financial resources, etc.

However, irrespective of the Diaspora’s essential contribution for Kinijit, it is also imperative to remember that the Diaspora can only play a supporting and secondary role to the home-grown and home-based struggle. Nothing can substitute or come equal to a struggle waged at home. After all, is this not what essentially define Kinijit’s peaceful struggle? If this assumption still stands, it is fair to say that Kinijit leaders must reach their members and supporters inside the country, including those in the countryside who had been paying immense sacrifices for the struggle, before venturing out into the Diaspora. In short, Kinijit leaders are primarily accountable to members and supporters at home, who not only voted for Kinijit, but also have been paying the ultimate sacrifice for supporting Kinijit. Thus, it is very crucial for Kinijit leaders to get their priorities right.

First, a duty is primarily owed to none other than to their constituents at home. It would certainly be a misplaced priority and against the very concept of Parliamentary democracy if Kinijit leaders fail to discharge their accountability and responsibility to their constituents at home first. It may be difficult to call public meetings to meet their constituencies at home. But they should first test the water and see what the outcome will be. It may still be possible to reach the public through what is left of the private media.

Second, leaving aside the issue of accountability and responsibility for the moment, it may amount to running a real and imminent risk of giving false signal to the murky politics of the Diaspora. I suspect, true to the Diaspora’s liking, the Diaspora may consequently feel that the Diaspora comes first and matters most for Kinijit than the very members and supporters at home who have been paying incalculable sacrifice for their freedom, following Kinijit’s lead. I thought this is against the very core belief of Kinijit since it gives primacy to the Diaspora than to Kinijit members and supporters at home. This move may become a very bad precedent and counter productive in the near future activities of Kinijit.

Third, it simply relegates Kinijit’s home-based struggle into that of secondary importance by giving primacy to exile political struggle. Put simply, as Kinijit constituents at home rightly expect more and deserve better, putting the cart before the horse should be avoided at any cost.

What does the CUD leadership want to achieve from the tour?

In view of some of the Diaspora’s campaign in the form of demonstrations, vigils, letter writings, lobbying, financial contributions, etc. to get the Kinijit leaders out of the infamous Kaliti prison, it is important that Kinijit leaders take a visit to thank the Diaspora (of course only after their meeting with their supporters and members at home as discussed above). However, in view of the Diaspora Kinijit’s bitter internal division and the inherent nature of Diaspora politics, Kinijit leaders should be able to foresee that a tour of the Diaspora may turn out to be like walking on landmines for the following reasons.

First, during their forthcoming private and public meetings, unless Kinijit leaders are prepared to set the agenda, give firm leadership and show their express willingness to inform the Diaspora that they are fully in charge and in control, they may be heading for an unhealthy showdown with some of the so-called Diaspora Kinijit leadership. Experience should by now tell Kinijit leaders that, the Diaspora would not hesitate to dictate them if they see an opportunity. It is good to remember the recent unwarranted and uncalled condemnation of Engineer Hailu Shawel by Ato Andargachew Tsige and his carefully hand-picked KIL Support Groups, to protest the appointment of KIC by the Kinijit leaders which was signed by Engineer Hailu Shawel!

Second, Kinijit leaders should in advance anticipate all sorts of questions they would be bombarded from the Diaspora. That of course may include far-fetched and unrealistic questions that may be put forward by someone who is living far away from the real threat of TPLF’s unlawful sanction. Hate-driven, divisive, backward looking and emotionally charged questions may also be asked. Therefore, Kinijit leaders should be well prepared and well rehearsed to give satisfactory answers in line with Kinijit’s manifesto, fundamental principles and cherished values particularly to deliberate questions which might catch them unguarded. Most importantly, what they need to avoid at any cost is that giving a sort of answers which are solely intended to appease the Diaspora at a risk of damaging Kinijit’s future activities at home and abroad. If needs be, Kinijit leaders need to be courageous enough to call a spade a spade

Third, it is a known fact to Kinijit leaders that Kinijit Diaspora is in essence bitterly divided into KIL (largely admirers of Keste Demena) and KIC (largely admirers of AEUP) supporters and it may be impossible for Kinijit leaders to please the two groups equally during their tour. In fact, there is every possibility for Kinijit leaders to offend KIC supporters as it seems that their visit to the USA and Europe is by and large being organised by KIL supporters or at least KIL sympathisers. This does not seem acceptable to KIC and its supporters. The way forward seems forming an ad hoc committee, which will be responsible for organising all Kinijit leaders’ tour, who in turn should be drawn from a wide cross section of independent people that are mutually acceptable by both the KIC and KIL supporters. This might pacify the danger of bitter division and animosity along AEUP and Keste Demena line. Anything short of this may have a disastrous effect on the future support Kinijit may be getting from the Diaspora and may have an adverse effect on the very cohesion of Kinijit Ethiopia itself. That is to say, there is a real danger for the Diaspora’s bitter division and animosity along AEUP and Keste Demena line to overspill to the Kinijit leaders as well.

Fourth: I do not know the exact nature and scope of the pardon to the Kinijit leaders by the TPLF. I can only second guess TPLF’s intention when it released Kinijit leaders. I believe, knowing TPLF’s nature at least for the past fourteen years, TPLF must have set some sort of trap for Kinijit leaders. It is also good to note TPLF prosecutors’ submission of speeches by Kinijit leaders at public meetings in the run-up to the May/05 election as evidence to TPLF’s kangaroo court. As the Diaspora is living in safe countries and far away from the vengeful long arms of the TPLF, I believe, Kinijit leaders should carefully trade their political discourse and navigate safely out of TPLF’s landmines when they take on questions from the Diaspora.