The Rise and debacle of Kinijit, critical appraisal (Part Two)

December 9, 2007

4. Kestedamena’s plot to control Kinijit:

We have already seen the unsuccessful attempt to merge AEUP and UEDP-Medhin as a catalyst for the subsequent formation of Kinijit. We have also seen disagreement on equitable power sharing between the two parties as the root cause of the adverse outcome. Hence, no sooner than the coalition was formed, as it was the case during the two parties’ previous unsuccessful attempt, the power struggle between the two biggest parties resumed. In a way, the resumption of the internal power struggle between AEUP and UEDP-Medhin was foreseeable, noticeable and to a certain extent unavoidable.

In fact, the internal power struggle was best exemplified when the two biggest parties bitterly fought to send as many of their election candidates as possible for both Parliament and Regional Government in the name of Kinijit. At one stage, this was threatening the very existence of the coalition. Thanks to the fear of public pressure and the commendable intervention of Kestedamena, the coalition somehow survived its early obstacle.

The possible emergence of Kestedamena as a real power contender was not foreseen by both AEUP and UEDP-Medhin. Confident upon their parties’ strength and mistakenly underestimating the potential of Kestedamena, it seems evident that the two largest parties never contemplated Kestedamena to become a party to the internal power struggle. They just unwisely had written off Kestedamena.

AEUP and UEDP-Medhin were instead busy lobbying to get the support of Kestedamena and EDL to dominate Kinijit. Finally, AEUP was successful to outwit and outsmart UEDP-Medhin in getting the temporary support of Kestedamena and EDL. Little had AEUP suspected at the time that, once UEDP-Medhin is out of the game by the combined effort of AEUP and Kestedamena, the next power struggle would be between AEUP and Kestedamena.

On the other hand, Kestedamena, with Dr Birhanu’s leadership, was all along working hard to strengthen its capacity using the favourable platform of Kinijit with a view to eventually control the soul of Kinijit. It seems to me that Kestedamena’s conspiracy to dominate Kinijit was actually justified by the famous revolutionary slogan ‘Abyot Lejochuan Tebelalech’. Since Professor Mesfin has resigned from Kestedamena well before the election, fully aware of their past involvement in the revolutionary struggle and belief in Stalinist doctrine, it was easy for the remaining leading architects of Kestedamena to easily apply the ‘Abyot Lejochuan Tebelalech’ theory on AEUP.

The evident animosity between AEUP and UEDP-Medhin was a key card which Kestedamena used successfully to its advantage. At first, Kestedamena sided with AEUP to finish off UEDP-Medhin. Then after, Kestedamena sets its tacit agenda of marginalising AEUP by taking the limelight as shown below.

In Ethiopia, after the formation of the coalition, while AEUP and UEDP-Medhin completely stopped their individual party activities, Kestedamena continued calling various public meetings on the pretext that it is a new party. Kestedamena also threw a fund-raising night to strengthen its financial muscle. Since Kinijit and Kestedamena were sharing the same building, when people came to office in mass to join Kinijit, they ended up being members of Kestedamena. Kestedamena used this opportunity to recruit new members for itself by telling people that there is no difference between joining Kinijit and Kestedamena.

Kinijit’s daily activities were reported on Kestedamena’s website. Most of the interviewees representing Kinijit on private newspapers were from Kestedamena. Most of the personnel who participated on the televised debates representing Kinijit were from Kestedamena. This was happening even though 96% of Kinijit’s election candidates were drawn from AEUP and UEDP-Medhin.

Outside Ethiopia, while the unsuspecting AEUP’s and UEDP-Medhin’s support groups were busy transforming themselves to Kinijit support groups, Kestedamena started establishing new support groups in Europe and USA with the active involvement of Dr Birhanu. Kestedamena managed to name UK’s Kinijit support group’s newspaper – Birtukan. It was arranged for Kestedamena to dominate KIL (Kinijit International Leadership) by having the highest representation.

Once KIL was formed, it covertly continued rallying all the well meaning and unsuspecting new-comers behind the newly constituted Kestedamena support groups. In KIL’s website home page, more than half of the pictures of the detained leadership were from Kestedamena. While Kinijit’s leaders were in prison, KIL did its best to oversale particularly Dr Birhanu and Mrs Birtukan to the calculated detriment of the leader, Engineer Hailu. KIL’s spin supported by media hype put Kestedamena in the driving seat of Kinijit in the Diaspora. Dr Birhanu’s book should also be taken as an extension of this campaign. The essence of the book actually is to bestow all the credit to Dr Birhnau and Kestedamena while associating all the weaknesses of Kinijit to the other parties at the same time. Please do bear in mind the fact that the above examples are not exhaustive. I just tried to flag up the important points to the front.

Put simply, the fast rise of Kestedamena as a major power contender by abandoning its mediatory role was a big blow for Kinijit’s cohesion. The damage already caused as a result and its implication on the overall revival of Kinijit is massive. It simply was the last straw which stormed the very unity of Kinijit. It seems that the unsuspecting AEUP is caught by surprise by Kesedamena’s steadfast application of ‘Abyot Lejochuan Tebelalech’ theory. Thanks to Kestedamena’s ill intentioned plot to control Kinijit single-handedly, at the moment, Kestedamena is a force to be reckoned with at least in the Diaspora. Like it was witnessed during the recent ill-fated Kinijit leadership tour in the USA, Engineer Hailu can not easily silence Kestedamena.

5. On Dr Birhanu’s negotiation wisdom and skill:

Right after the June/05 massacre, election-dispute related negotiation between Kinijit and EPRDF was arranged at EU’s office in Addis Ababa. Kinijit was represented by Dr Birhanu and Engineer Gezachew. Dr Birhanu was informed by other Kinijit leaders to put certain preconditions before signing any agreement with EPRDF.

The release of all detained Kinijit members, the lifting of Engineer Hailu’s house arrest and the lifting of Ato Lidetu’s office arrest were the main preconditions Dr Birhanu was assigned to address. In spite of this clear instruction, Dr Birhanu failed to put forward any of the agreed preconditions. When Dr Birhanu was asked later why he failed to bring forward any of the preconditions, his answer was very surprising. Dr Birhnau simply told his colleagues that he completely forgot about the preconditions. Yes, you might find it hard to believe what you are reading! Knowing the gravity of the matter, I do not blame you. But it is nothing but the whole truth.

This was the most disingenuous response given by Dr Birhanu to his colleagues, to say the least. How could he possibly forget the house arrest of his leader (Engineer Hailu)? How could he possibly forget the office arrest of Ato Lidetu? How could he possibly forget the arrest of many Kinijit members and supporters? If Dr Birhanu can not remember such a crucial matter, how can one entrust his memory to negotiate complex and detailed matters? This is a serious matter which can not be taken lightly.

In his recent book, Dr Birhanu cited the harassment of Dr Yacob and Engineer Gezachew by the TPLF security after they left his home as the sole reason that made him decide not to join Parliament the next morning. By any standard, the house arrest of Engineer Hailu, the office arrest of Ato Lidetu and the arrest of many Kinijit members were more serious than the harassment of Dr Yacob and Engineer Gezachew.

How can one explain Dr Birhanu’s seriousness on the harassment of Dr Yacob and Engineer Gezachew and his indifference on the house arrest of Engineer Hailu and the office arrest of Ato Lidetu? In short, I am of the opinion that, either this honest fundamental error or calculated omission by Dr Birhanu begs the question of his competency or integrity to negotiate on behalf of Kinijit.

My suspicion is that, as Ato Bereket Semon disclosed in his interview, there was an informal pact between Dr. Birhanu and Ato Berket to contain the ‘extreme’ wings of CUD and EPRDF. Dr. Birhanu, honest to this pact, went on containing and partly eliminating “the extreme wing of Kinijit”. But on the contrary, Ato Bereket went against the sprit of the pact to let loose the Agazi force to cause the untold suffering to thousands of civilians and CUD supporters. Dr. Birhanu missed the old adage which says “one need a long spoon to sup with the devil”.

Let us leave aside the preconditions for the moment and move into the main theme of the negotiation, which is resolving the dispute regarding the election result. Two steps were agreed to follow to resolve the dispute. The first step was to carry out initial screening on all the disputed election results to filter out those manifestly unfounded vote-rigging claims. The second step was to carry out an investigation of the matter for those disputed seats which passed the initial screening scrutiny and make a decision. Of course, the decision after the investigation was appealable to the court.

Kinijit successfully negotiated for its and foreign observers to monitor the fairness of the Election Board’s initial screening process. However, when the terms of reference were later signed to facilitate the matter, Dr Birhanu, without prior consultation with the Kinijit leadership and against the previous Kinijit’s council decision, single-handedly agreed to leave the whole matter of the initial screening solely to the Election Board without Kinijit’s and foreign observers monitoring it.

Since the Election Board was partisan and under the direct control of EPRDF, it is unreasonable to expect the Election Board to carry out a free, fair and independent initial screening. To be frank, the Election Board was part of the main problem and it can not be an impartial arbiter. This was very clear even to an ordinary Ethiopian leave alone to a Kinijit leader. If this was the reality, it is very strange for Dr Birhanu to agree on the matter against Kinijit council’s decision.

It was not surprising then that, out of the more than 180 seats Kinijit filed for initial screening scrutiny, only 80 of them passed by the Election Board. Almost all of EPRDF’s filing passed the initial screening scrutiny by the Election Board. Here we go again!

When we come to the investigation stage, Dr Birhanu agreed the Election Board and the two disputing parties to decide on the matter on majority vote. Since it was easy to predict the Election Board to vote in favour of EPRDF, EPRDF can easily get two votes (one from itself and one from the Election Board) against Kinijit’s one vote. Hence, it was crystal clear that both the screening and investigation stages seemed to favour EPRDF. It was suicidal for Kinijit to sign such an agreement. It ended up further legitimising EPRDF’s theft and EPRDF even got more seats than it had previously.

In short, one can safely conclude that such a grave error was an indication of Dr Birhanu’s lack of competency, wisdom and negotiation skill. Dr Birhanu was simply outwitted and outsmarted by the EPRDF. Dr Birhanu was no match to TPLF’s shrewd move and he was incapable of reading TPLF’s real motive behind every negotiation. In another aspect, the incident also brought to the open Dr Birhanu’s contempt for collective decision. His unwillingness to execute Kinijit council’s decision had shown the glimpse of what to come more later.

Finally when Kinijit became certain that the negotiation to resolve election-related disputes were concluded in favour of EPRDF, it changed its focus from getting back the people’s vote which was taken fraudulently by the EPRDF to the establishment of national unity government. A working draft document was prepared by Dr Birhanu on the establishment of national unity government to this effect.

After Dr Beyene was convinced, the establishment of the national unity government was jointly proposed by Dr Birhanu and Dr Beyene to the EPRDF which was flatly rejected by the EPRDF. The issue which I wanted to highlight on this section is that, even though there were some discussions on Dr Birhanu’s draft by Kinijit council, no final decision was made by either Kinijit council or executive. Thus, the final agreement on the establishment of national unity government between Dr Beyene and Dr Birhanu which was proposed to the EPRDF, was yet again another solo action by Dr Birhanu with out any mandate from Kinijit council or executive. It was undemocratic and in violation of Kinijit’s bye-laws.

I accept that it was a hectic moment and people including Dr Birhanu were under lots of pressure. Yet, looking at the seriousness of the matter, Dr Birhanu’s actions which were against or with out mandate from Kinijit were unacceptable. Now, after the crisis within Kinijit leadership came into the open, when I read and listen the concept of “collective leadership” used by Kestedamena as a slogan to discredit Engineer Hailu”, I get amazed by the depth of “hypocrisy” displayed by politicians. Of all the people, what is most amazing is to hear Dr Birhanu accusing Engineer Hailu of failing to respect ‘collective leadership’. This must be taken as the mother of all hypocrisies!!!