A few points on Professor Mesfin’s interview with VOA

October 22, 2007

I am pleased to see the good professor visibly parting from the harmful tradition of unnecessarily covering up everything /ሽፍንፍን/ to openly address the very crisis that has been eating Kinijit from within. Below are some of the most important issues the good Professor raised which I would like to highlight.

1.መረን የለቀቀ የስልጣን ጥማት (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat) – power mongering:

Professor Mesfin clinically pointed out the root cause of Kinijit’s current fiasco. Without fear of anyone, the good professor bravely said “the current crisis with in Kinijit leadership is a result of few individuals’ insatiable appetite for power (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat)”. He further stated that the current embarrassing power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Engineer Hailu is not the first. He stressed this problem had manifested itself in the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Ato Lidetu in the early days of Kinijit formation. So, the power struggle within Kinijit leadership is rather an extended struggle for power than being a new phenomenon. While the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Ato Lidetu is concluded with the elimination of Ato Lidetu from Kinijit, the consequence of the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Engineer Hailu is not yet clear. This time, what all observers suggest is that the unhealthy and misplaced power struggle might lead to a complete breakup of the coalition than a clean defeat of one of the two power contenders.Hence, from Professor Mesfin’s interview one can safely conclude the following:

First, the only person who is the common denominator in this power struggle (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat) within Kinijit is Dr Birhanu. As Prof. stated, it was first with Ato Lidetu and now with Engineer Hailu. Now one may rightly ask: is this just a mere coincidence or has Dr. Birhanu been working systematically to eliminate potential power rivals from the party in hope of dominating the coalition?

Second, one of the four parties that had no mass base was that of Dr Birhanu’s Keste-damena. It joined the coalition to play the role of mediating the two parties, namely Engineer Hailu Shawel’s AEUP and Ato Lidetu’s UEDP-Medhin (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 243, last paragraph). This suggests that the two biggest parties will have no motive to undermine or eliminate Dr. Berhanu. If they had had this fear, they wouldn’t have let Dr Birhanu to join their union as mediator or otherwise.

Third, unlike Dr Birhanu, Engineer Hailu Shawel and Ato Lidetu were by and large household names to the Ethiopian people due to their long time involvement in the struggle for realization of democratic rights and unity of the Ethiopian people. To be honest, Dr Birhanu was a relatively unknown figure with no contribution to the Ethiopian people struggle against tyranny before the formation of Kinijit.

Fourth, as shown above Kestedamena had no mass base apart from founding members and one office in Addis Ababa when Kinijit was formed. In fact, Kestedamena was established a day before Kinijt was officially formed (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 197, last paragraph). Now thanks to Dr. Berhanu’s lieutenants in Diaspora, Ato Andargachew Tsige and Ato Berhane Mewa of KIL, Kestedamena has been recruiting loyal supporters even well after the complete merge of Kinijit to become a force to be reckoned with. Not only that, the plan was brilliantly executed among unsuspected Ethiopians, that many prominent websites and radios negligently show their allegiance to Dr Birhanu and KIL rather than the political party called Kinijit. Such actions validate Prof. Mesfin’s account that some parties had been busy in creating a sectarian movement (buden) within Kinijit in direct violation of the agreement the four parties signed to cease their individual party activities.

Fifth, in his recent book entitled ‘የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ / Yenetsanet Gohe Sikede’, Dr Birhanu had confessed his plan of disbanding AEUP and UEDP-Medhin by pushing for an urgent and complete merge among the four parties. It is obvious that the two parties, if left alone with their significant support from the people, Dr Birhanu’s ambition to control those parties would have remained a dream. In other words, for Dr Birhanu to come out of obscurity and control the very essence of Kinijit, he indeed needed to urgently dissolve the two solid parties. Hence, Prof. Mesfin’s assertion that there was a sectarian (buden) struggle to dominate kinijit does not only make sense, it is also consistent with Dr. Birhanu’s own statement in his book (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 243, last paragraph).

Put simply, Kestedamena’s lack of mass base at home, Dr Birhanu’s anonymity coupled with the perceived success of Kinijit could have triggered this power struggle. Now, it is logical to conclude that Dr Birhanu has to work tirelessly to dissolve AEUP and UEDP-Medhin urgently while embarking his own cult building through active involvement of KIL. Hence, Prof. Mesfin diagnosis of the problem is right to the point and Dr. Birhanu’s insatiable appetite for power could be the root cause of the conflict.

God forbid, if Dr Birhanus’ insatiable appetite for power is not nipped at the bud urgently and come may a third round power struggle with in Kinijit leadership, I bet, it would most probably be either between Dr Birhanu and Mrs Birtukan Mideksa or between Dr Birhanu and Ato Muluneh Eyoel.

2. On Dr Birhanu’s book (የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ/ Yenetsanet Gohe Sikede):

I also agree with Professor Mesfin’s characterisation of Dr. Berhanu’s book as Dr. Birhanu writing a book about Dr. Birhanu. In short it is “ገድለ ብርሀኑ/ Gedle Birhanu/” than a complete and balanced account of Kinijit’s movement. In spite of all the persistent media hype and spin from KIL, the book has nothing to do with the true picture of Kinijt. From the front cover of the book with its controversial Ethiopia’s map, its further dedication of the book to Ato Seye Abraha to the last page of conclusion, the book rarely reflects the view of the kinijit movement apart from telling the glories of Dr. Berhanu and his beliefs.

Like the good Professor, I personally have no problem if Dr Birhanu writes a book. In fact, I am pleased that he wrote a book and it is a very good culture that we should encourage all our politicians and celebrities to write their biography. However, as pointed by Professor Mesfin, my main problem with the book is that, starting from the title to the conclusion, the book does not reflect at all the views of the vast majority of the Ethiopian people. As far as I am concerned, I just failed to see any “ጎህ / Gohe”, in fact, thanks to Dr Birhanu’s poor negotiation skill with EPRDF and the WEST after election 2005, it seems darkness we are facing. For any independent and critical reader, it easy to note that Dr Birhanu attempted to oversell himself by unashamedly giving the lion’s credit to himself, while taking no responsibility for the catastrophic failure of Kinijit.

My second problem with the book is that it not only failed to give due credit and necessary respect to other big players of Kinijit but also it tries to paint notably Engineer Hailu as an incompetent leader and AEUP as undemocratic party and a one-man show. Was the purpose of the book to bring Dr Birhanu out of obscurity and into the much craved popularity by building his cult even at the cost of tarnishing the good names of his main rivals, notably Engineer Hailu and AEUP? Is the current shocking allegation of Dr Birhanu and his buden towards Engineer Hailu the exact replica of the allegation in his book? Does that mean Dr Birhanu was preoccupied to overtake Engineer Hailu’s position even while he was in prison? Was the book written by Dr Birhanu about Dr Birhanu to pave way to his ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’ in mind? I am beginning to think that it may be the case!!

3. A call to rally around Mrs Birtukan?

Professor Mesfin unhesitatingly and with authority told us to rally around Mrs Birtukan Mideksa and to give her the necessary all round support in her fight to get Kinijit out of the current crisis. What does he mean by this? Does he want us to read between the lines?

My personal understanding is that Prof. Mesfin didn’t tell us to rally around Dr Birhanu to save the split with in Kinijit. It is a fact that Professor Mesfin has worked closely with Dr Birhanu and he is in a better position to judge Dr Birhanu’s character and ambition. In my view, the good professor must have felt uneasy by Dr Birhanu’s ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’ not to recommend people to rally around Dr Birhanu as he used to do up until the formation of Kinijit. When the professor hints people to follow Mrs Birtukan, he is effectively implying people to dismiss Dr Birhanu as a power monger and distance themselves from Dr Birhanu’s self-centered distractive discourse.

What I understood from Professor Mesfin when he urged people to rally around Mrs Birtukan is that, he is also at the same time sending a coded signal to Mrs Birtukan to stop being an instrument to Dr Birhanu’s ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’, to come out of Dr Birhanu’s shadow and assert her authority so as to serve the interest of kinijit rather than satisfying the insatiable appetite of Dr Birhanu for power. Put differently, Professor Mesfin is pleading to Mrs Birtukan to stop being used as a Trojan horse by Dr Birhanu to meet his personal unlimited power ambition.

What I found more worrying about Dr Birhanu’s insatiable appetite for power is that he is not even currently a member of Kinijit Executive Committee. Yet, he is acting and behaving as if he were Kinijit’s president. The media coverage for him is as if he were Kinijit’s chairman. He is a very late comer in the fight against tyranny. His resilience, defiance and gut to fight tyranny till the end are not yet tested. The prudence of his judgment and negotiation skill seems a bit shaky as witnessed after the election. His knowledge of TPLF/EPRDF seems very superficial not to mention his close proximity with prominent EPRDF men.

Yet, rather than buying the much needed time and aiming to take Kinijit’s top job eventually but gradually if he has to, Dr Birhanu is prematurely jockeying himself to take over Kinijit from Engineer Hailu using Mrs Birtukan Mideksa as his Trojan horse. Dr Birhanu is not alone in jockeying himself to the post of next ‘emperor’ of Kinijit, his lieutenants in the Diaspora too needed to get rid of others to assume the highest office.

Allow me to explain what I mean briefly. First Dr Birhanu’s blatant power struggle with Ato Lidetu and the means he used to kill Ato Lidetu’s political career was a warning sign for all who might stand against him. Now Engineer Hailu is given the exact dose of medicine and he might not recover from the damage inflicted on him. At the same time, Dr Birhanu has oversold himself in his book and by his KIL supporters, unsuspected websites and radio stations as the only bright, intelligent, and young person with a clear vision to remedy all the ills of Ethiopia. This strategy smells like that of the communist era than the traits of a potential leader of a liberal democratic party. Dr Birhanu presents himself to the West as liberal who is the only one among the opposition willing and able to engage the West while painting his colleagues as hardliners, etc. Of course in parallel, there is a deliberate tarnishing of the good name of every perceived and potential opponent of Dr Birhanu by Dr Birhanu and his buden as feudal, insane, Weyane, Kehadi, dictator, old, and backward looking etc.

What do all these spinning add up to? Of course, for me, it all adds up to Dr Birhanu working day and night to satisfy his insatiable appetite for power using Kinijit but not to promote the collective interest of Kinijit. That is why I fully agree with Prof. Mesfin’s sharp diagnosis of Kinijit’s problem.

Conclusion: Now Professor Mesfin has opened our eyes. He has eloquently pinpointed to us where the main problem of Kinijit lies. There is no a single difference of ideology, strategy or tactic among the warring faction of Kinijit leaders. We can not find a single person who is in a better position to give such an open and accurate account. It is now up to us to make good use of the comment and get the job done. Lastly, I wish our beloved Professor a speedy recovery and may God be with him.

Related links:
1. A few points on Professor Mesfin’s interview with the DW Radio
2. Professor Mesfin on VOA (Audio)