The Rise and debacle of Kinijit, critical appraisal (Part One)
1. Coalition or a complete merge?
If we look at our very recent history, the then EDP was pioneering the complete merge of distinct and separate opposition political parties. Shortly after EDP came into existence, it broke from the norm of forming a broad-based coalition of opposition parties and instead took the initiative to vigorously advance a complete merge. EDP first merged with EDAG followed by a merge with EDU to become UEDP. The final merge of UEDP was with Medhin to become UEDP-Medhin. Generally speaking, until this time, the attempt on the part of UEDP-Medhin to execute a merge was by and large successful.
However, to the disappointment of many Pan-Ethiopians, the much hoped and eagerly awaited merge of AEUP and UEDP-Medhin in the late 2003 was unsuccessful at the last stage of the merge. Without going into detail, higher officials of both parties and those independent people who were facilitating the merge cited disagreement on equitable power sharing as the main obstacle for the unsuccessful attempt.
This unsuccessful attempt was certainly a catalyst for the formation of CUD a year after, in November 2004. Had the out come of the merge between AEUP and UEDP-Medhin was positive, I argue, there would not have been a necessity to form CUD in the first place. Put simply, CUD was essentially a second attempt to merge AEUP and UEDP-Medhin in one way or another while Kestedamena’s role was merely confined to that of mediation. It is not yet clear what role EDL played in the formation of Kinijit if there was any at all. Trying to understand the foundation of CUD other than this context will simply lead to a total misconception of the very essence of Kinijit.
The initial formation of CUD as a clumsily-assembled coalition was literally very successful in every aspect. However, I believe, the problem started when the parties hastily opted for a complete merge rather than maintaining the coalition by over looking the ideological differences among the parties. I say this because there is no evidence what so ever to suggest that any critical assessment was ever carried out on the ideological differences among Kinijit’s constituent parties; as a result, whether a sound complete merge was as such realistically possible in the first place before opting for a complete merge.
The ideological differences among the parties were there to see for every body. While AEUP is more of essentially a nationalist party, UEDP-Medhin is a liberal democratic party. Kestedamena is a social democratic party with an emphasis on social justice. EDL is a socialist oriented party with much emphasis on the question of nations and nationalities. Hence, the compatibility of such ideological differences and the inherent risks associated with such a move should have been given a serious thought. It seems to me that merging Kinijit’s constituent parties is tantamount to trying to merge UK’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties together. It was a far fetched and unrealistic exercise, to say the least.
Put simply, with such obvious differences in ideology among the four parties, one can safely conclude that Kinijit might have remained a vibrant and viable force as a collation of the four parties than a completely-merged single entity!!
2. Prudent and Equitable Power Sharing?
It is true to say that politics is all about power and politicians do their best to assume power to realise their vision and ambition. In short, power is almost everything in politics. Judging in light of this, the four parties’ strengths and weaknesses should have been realistically examined in order to come to a prudent and equitable power sharing among themselves during the merge.
As Kinijit was a coalition of unequal parties, indicators like the number of party members and branch offices across the country, the number of support groups out side Ethiopia, financial strength of each party, the degree of each party’s acceptance by the public, each party’s previous practical contribution to the struggle, the life span of each party, etc. should have been carefully taken into consideration to assess the strength of each party.
AEUP is the largest party which claim to have more than one million party membership, with sound financial strength, many branch offices across the country and some support groups mainly in the US. UEDP-Medhin was the second largest party, with members in hundred thousands, with significant supporters in the country side, deep-rooted particularly in the major cities, with modest financial resource, some branch offices across the country and support groups both in Europe and the US.
Kestedamena was a new party established in Oct/04 just one day before the formation of CUD, with a single office in Addis Ababa, with no base at all in the country side, with no more than few thousand members mainly in Addis Ababa and with no support groups outside Ethiopia. EDL’s standing was even worse than Kestedamena.
If this is the reality, why did AEUP and UEDP-Medhin agree to have equal 5 seats in the coalition with Kestedamena and EDL? Then when the parties negotiated to have a merger the two biggest parties had 18 seats each in the council where EDL and Kestedamena get 12 seats each which is disproportionately larger than their contribution to the Kinijit. Even more, were the four highest posts of Kinijit distributed to the four parties in accordance with their strength? In simple words, was the power sharing mechanism prudent and equitable? I say no for the following reasons
As it is the case in real politics every where, the number of seats allocated to each party within Kinijit council should have reflected each party’s actual strength on the ground since it had a direct and meaningful impact during any voting later on to pass any resolution. AEUP should have negotiated for the highest number of seats. UEDP-Medhin should have negotiated for the second largest number of seats. I believe, to the detriment of AEUP and UEDP-Medhin, Kestedamena and EDL were allocated with seats well beyond their actual strength and this may be one of the main causes for the recent power struggle within Kinijit which is tearing apart the party. Just look at the natural alliance on the on going power struggle within Kinijit which is exemplified between Mrs Birtukan, Dr Birhanu and Mr Muluneh (from Kestedemena and EDL) in one side and Engineer Hailu (from AEUP) on the other side!
Like wise, it was right for AEUP’s chair to assume Kinijit chairmanship. However, the next two big posts, namely the Secretariat and Vice Presidency were given to EDL and Kestedamena respectively while the fourth least influential position was given to UEDP-Medhin. This was possible with the tacit approval of AEUP and arguably with a little bit of conspiracy coupled with Kestedamena’s and EDL’s voting power within Kinijit.
In real politics, this can not be acceptable at all as prudent and equitable power sharing dictates UEDP-Medhin to take the second highest post. Can this be taken as the reason for the first crack within Kinijit leadership? I suppose, this had left UEDP-Medhin frustrated and may have served as a catalyst for UEDP-Medhin’s latter withdrawal from Kinijit.
Put simply, in hindsight, it was a fundamental problem which was overlooked during the merge. The unprecedented good faith and positive thinking of both AEUP and UEDP-Medhin leadership coupled with the enormous public pressure were very crucial for the realisation of Kinijit. Nevertheless, the fact that both parties ignored the necessity of prudent and equitable power sharing among the constituent parties was a time bomb which was meant to explode later as witnessed during the recent debacle of Kinijit.
AEUP and UEDP-Medhin leadership should have known better as they were perfectly aware of why their previous attempt to merge the two parties failed. Good faith, positive thinking, pressure from the public, the desire to see a strong united Pan-Ethiopian opposition party, etc. by themselves were not enough. They should have seen the sustainability of the merge pragmatically by sufficiently addressing every foreseeable obstacle. Failure to adequately address the necessity of prudent and equitable power sharing among the constituent parties according to each party’s real strength proved later to be the very nemesis of Kinijit.
3. The post of Secretariat and Vice Presidencey:
If we try to demystify the mystification and put into context the media spin, Mrs Birtukan was not a Kinijit candidate during the May/05 historical election. She did not join either Kinijit or Kestedamena before the election. Irrespective of the media hype, Ferensay Legasion can not be Mrs Birtukan’s constituency as she did not run for election in May/05 representing the people of Ferensay Legasion. Mrs Birtukan joined the struggle after the June/05 massacre. To be exact, Mrs Birtukan’s association with Kinijit started when she volunteered with other professional lawyers to help Kinijit during the post-election dispute. Mrs Birtukan joined Kestedamena in early Sept/05. She was elected as Kinijit’s Vice Chairman in late Sept/05; only three weeks after she joined Kestedamena and only after three weeks party politics experience! Three weeks after she joined Kestedamena, she also nominated Ato Muluneh for Kinijit’s post of Secretariat.
Prior to joining Kestedamena, Mrs Birtukan had no any party politics involvement at any level. She certainly had no experience in party leadership role. There is no evidence to suggest that she was even involved at any capacity in any non-political association in the fight against tyranny. She had not even met the three-months-probation period requirement to be a permanent ordinary member of most political parties. Her political back ground was not vetted. Put simply, she is a very late comer in the fight against tyranny. Her resilience, defiance and gut to fight tyranny till the end are not yet tested
Mr Muluneh was not a Kinijit candidate during the May/05 historical election. Thus, like Mrs Birtukan, he can not have any constituency. Even though his party, EDL, joined Kinijit before the election, EDL’s contribution in the election victory was largely symbolic. Mr Muluneh was a member of UEDP-Medhin previously. Up until UEDP-Medhin leadership met Mr Muluneh representing EDL during negotiation to form CUD, they were thinking Mr Muluneh as one of their member as he has not resigned formally from the party. It is not clear for UEDP-Medhin leadership when exactly and why Mr Muluneh quitted their party.
Those who are close to Mr Muluneh heard him citing his reason for severing his association with UEDP-Medhin as Mr Muluneh was not satisfied on UEDP-Medhin’s stand on the question of nations and nationalities. Since Kinijit’s election manifesto is entirely that of UEDP-Medhin’s, it should logically follow that Kinijit’s stand on the questions of nations and nationalities can not be good enough for him.
The question one need to ask is that how come Mrs Birtukan and Mr Muluneh, with literally no experience in party leadership, without prior credential, coming from parties with little significance within Kinijit, with little or no significant participation during the election, whose resilience, defiance, wisdom, negotiation skills were not tested, etc. were given the next two most important positions of Kinijit? It was heart breaking to note that this was happening while the hope of the nation was hanging on balance on the wisdom and expertise of the Kinijit leadership during Kinijit’s difficult time after the election. The posts of Secretariat and Vice Presidency should have been filled by leaders with proven track record of leadership quality. To allow such things to happen does seem a complete political naivety and a grave mistake on the part of Kinijit.