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

January 7, 2008

8. Boycotting Parliament, Addis Ababa and Regional seats:

i. What led Kinijit to boycott?

In part two of my article, during post-election negotiation with the TPLF-led regime, I tried to show how Dr Birhanu’s contempt for Kinijit council’s collective decision coupled with his incompetence in handling the negotiation left Kinijit worse off. It is to be remembered that the Election Board had provisionally certified 158 Parliamentary seats won by Kinijit. Thanks to Dr Birhanu’s solo action and incompetence, after the negotiation and the signing of the agreement to settle the disputed seats with the vote of NEB, EPRDF and CUD , Kinijit ended up with 109 Parliamentary seats only. The investigation process was concluded with a total loss of 49 Parliamentary seats and the ‘re-election’ of EPRDF heavy weights such as Ato Bereket Semon, Ato Aba Dula and Ato Junedin Sado !!

When Kinijit became certain that the negotiation to resolve election-related disputes were concluded in favour of EPRDF (with a net loss of 49 Parliamentary seats, the ‘re-election’ of EPRDF heavy weights and the ‘legitimization’ of the fraudulent election), Kinijit completely abandoned the fight to reclaim the stolen votes in favour of the establishment of a national unity government. This proposal was put forward by Dr Birhanu and Dr Beyene to EPRDF without any mandate from either Kinijit council or the executive what so ever. In other words, the most important issue of vote rigging was completely abandoned to be replaced with a demand for few ministerial positions. As expected, ‘the government of national unity’ was rejected by the TPLF-led government.

At this time, to the big relief of EPRDF, the three day sit-in-strike was already successfully aborted with the unfortunate intervention of Dr Birhanu backed by the US and British Ambassadors. Dr Birhanu, to the dismay of the electorate and Kinijit members, agreed to call off the strike against Kinijit council’s previous decision which called the strike in the first place. There wasn’t any decision on the matter by Kinijit executive as well. Put simply, Dr Birhanu’s agreement to call off the strike was against the decision of Kinijit Council and the executive. After the strike was called off, Kinijit had already lost the people’s confidence and the momentum. This in effect gave EPRDF a breathing space and was effectively planning to crush Kinijit and any other popular dissent ‘once and for all’.

Thus, it was after losing 49 Parliamentary seats, the ‘re-election’ of some of EPRDF heavy weights, the ‘legitimisation’ of the fraudulent election result and the rejection of Dr Birhanu’s proposal for a government of national unity by EPRDF, the whole idea of joining or boycotting Parliament, regional seats and Addis Ababa’s administration creped up and took a centre stage. Bear in mind the fact that the public was not consulted at all when all these major decisions were taken including CUD’s demand for securing ministerial positions for few by abandoning the respect for the people’s vote. However, when total defeat was in sight, the public was invited to share the blame. Then after, the issue of Parliament became a hot and pressing topic culminating with eight preconditions to join Parliament.

ii. Who should have decided the matter?

Leaders are essentially elected to lead. Leaders should not expect to be led by the people. Leaders should detach themselves from emotion, carefully reflect on the crisis at hand and if needs be, come to a decision however unpopular it may be to the public.

I believe, when members elect their leaders, it effectively means giving the elected leaders the mandate to lead the party and to negotiate on behalf of members with any other third party on any matter. Leaders are essentially elected to lead. Leaders should not expect to be led by the people. Leaders should detach themselves from emotion, carefully reflect on the crisis at hand and if needs be, come to a decision however unpopular it may be to the public. When leaders are tempted to seek leadership from the public so as to share the blame and avoid a difficult decision, then it is difficult to talk about the existence of leadership in the first place. Particularly the importance of a seasoned leadership is paramount in times of crisis. More than any other time, leaders are tested and needed to give guidance and firm leadership in difficult times.

Of course, although it may not be necessary to bring every trivial matter to the attention of the public, it may be a good practice on the part of leaders to consult the public as and when necessary before making any big decision. Nevertheless, the final decision still should be left to the leaders after taking into consideration the people’s feedback except on certain matters which are stated otherwise in a party’s bye-law.

I take my hat off to Engineer Hailu and Ato Lidetu who all along argued the importance of the decision to be made by the leadership rather than the public. I believe they were dead right and it showed Engineer Hailu’s valuable experience in leadership and Ato Lidetu’s natural instinct to see where Kinijit was heading. It is unfortunate that Engineer Hailu’s and Ato Lidetu’s persuasion and plea fall on deaf ears.

I say so because, first, leaders are there to lead. As simple as that. Second, only Kinijit leaders were better placed to assess and scrutinise the whole matter (such as Kinijit’s strengths and weakness, EPRDF’s strengths and weaknesses, the West’s influence, the public’s mood and determination, etc.) and come to an informed decision. The matter should have been looked at carefully from different angels. It was a complicated matter needing a cool, sober, reflective and wise decision.

Suffice to say, it was a deadly mistake to agree to leave the decision to the people. It seems to me that the leadership were not fully aware of the implications of what they were inviting. Unlike the leadership, apart from rightly out pouring their anger, disgust and emotion loudly and visibly, the public did not have inside information and the necessary expertise to come to an informed decision.

I think, it is fitting to cite Dr Birhanu’s private argument here as an informed decision. Dr Birhanu used to argue in private, since no lobbying work was done on the security force, the police and the army, it was not known which side they would be taking. In addition, Dr Birhanu used to argue that TPLF was not prepared to hand over power at all. Thus, Dr Birhanu privately argued the wisdom of joining Parliament at the time and to carry on engaging the military and security immediately afterwards with a view to get rid of TPLF-led regime in the next Parliamentary election. I could not agree more with Dr Birhanu.

But, surprise to everyone, Dr Birhanu confessed in his book that he decided not to join Parliament the morning after Dr Yacob’s and Engineer Gezachew’s harassment by the TPLF security after Meskel dinner invitation at his home. Such a snap decision on the issue that could have a lasting impact on the life of 70 million people is very amateurish, to say the least.

Lastly, I would like to mention a contradiction on the actions of the leadership. On one hand, the leadership was trying to avoid making the difficult decision by pushing it to the public and on the other hand, Dr Birhanu was distancing himself and his party (Kestedamena) from the people’s struggle at that difficult and trying time. Allow me to elaborate my point further. When the public took the initiative to organise peaceful dissent in the absence of any semblance of leadership from Kinijit, Dr Birhanu was the first to come out to the open and condemn it by issuing a press release in Oct/05 in the name of Kestedamena and signed by Dr Birhanu. At least a sympathy should have been afforded to the public rather than out right condemnation.

Why Dr Birhanu felt necessary to expressly abandon the public at the time, it is beyond me. Please click this pdf link to read the press release. At the time, there was no a party called Kestedamena as the four constituent parties have completely merged in Sept/05. Why Dr Birhanu issued this press release with out any consultation with the other Kinijit leaders and why he evaded suspension from Kinijit as it happened to Ato Mushe Semu who was suspended for issuing a press release in the name of UEDP-Medhin after a complete merge, it is still a mystery to me. I believe laws are meant to be applied evenly including to the leadership.

iii. Did we get our facts right?

Is it true to say that Kinijit boycotted taking Parliamentary seats, regional seats and Addis Ababa administration because the public wanted it so? How far is this assertion a reality or hearsay? I think it is high time to go through this very assertion made by some people including some Kinijit leadership to verify its validity. The discussion of either joining or boycotting Parliament was conducted in four separate and distinct categories based on Kinijit leadership’s decision. They were:

A. Discussion at Ibex Hotel with prominent individuals in Aug/05: Kinijit conducted the discussion with the invited prominent individuals at Ibex Hotel at the beginning of Aug/05. No single individual had advised Kinijit to boycott Parliament. All those who got the chance to speak strongly advised Kinijit to join Parliament including prominent lawyers. In fact, Kinijit was reminded by the participants to respect the people’s vote by joining Parliament and carrying on the struggle.

B. Discussion at Ibex Hotel with Civic Organisations and the Free Press in Aug/05: Kinijit conducted the discussion with the invited civic organisation and the free press representatives at Ibex Hotel at the beginning of Aug/05; three days after the discussion with prominent individuals. Most of the people who got the chance to speak had advised Kinijit to immediately decide on the matter and join Parliament. Of course, two individuals had reminded Kinijit the futility of joining Parliament. Thus, Kinijit was advised by a qualified majority of the civic organisations and the free press representatives to join Parliament.

C. Discussion among Kinijit leadership, zone representatives and Parliament and regional government electees at Global Hotel in Aug/05: Kinijit conducted discussion among the leadership, zone representatives, parliament and regional government electees at Global Hotel in Aug/05. Due to the shear volume of the participants, they were divided into nine sub groups and each sub group, headed by the leadership, conducted a lengthy discussion on the matter.

After their thorough discussion, each sub group returned their decision in writing to the house. Six of the sub groups decided to join Parliament immediately. Two of the sub groups decided to join Parliament near to the opening of Parliament. One sub group failed to make a decision either to join Parliament or boycott Parliament. Thus, eight out of the nine sub groups decided to join Parliament while one group failed to make a decision.

D. Discussion with the ‘electorate’: Discussions were held with the public in Addis Ababa in certain Woredas and in two places outside Addis. The public meeting was openly advertised and open to any body. There was no any means to verify as to who attended those meetings. There was no way to know how many of the attendees actually elected Kinijit, how many of them were TPLF agents and how many of them did not vote for Kinijit.

In any case, if we take 3000 on the average as the number of attendees in each meeting hall and if we say there were a maximum of 10 such public meetings, the total number of people who participated on the discussion would be 30, 000 people. Let us assume all these people as electing Kinijit. First, Kinijit is elected by several millions (up to 20 millions); thus, these few attendees could not sensibly represent the electorate. Even Engineer Gezachew alone is elected by more than 50, 000 people! Second, literally all of the meetings were held in Addis Ababa; thus, these few attendees in Addis Ababa could not reasonably speak on behalf of the electorate outside Addis Ababa. Third, even on these few public meetings, most of the people did not tell Kinijit to boycott Parliament. What most people said was that they would stand by the leaders what ever decision they take!

As argued above, neither the majority of the people nor its members ordered Kinijit to boycott Parliament, the regional government and Addis Ababa administration. Put simply, boycotting Parliament, regional governments and Addis Ababa was not the decision of Kinijit Council, the executive and the majority of the electorate. It may be the choice of very few people and the wish of the TPLF-led government. This is the fact. The argument that Kinijit boycotted Parliament based on the people’s decision can not be correct, to say the least. It is a myth which was concocted to cover up the leadership’s failure by shifting the blame to the public. I challenge any body to prove me wrong by putting forward any factual evidence!!

iv. Was it a right move to boycott?

Fully aware of the nature of TPLF-led regime, we all predicted the election not to be free and fair. We were aware of TPLF’s intent and capacity to cheat and rig the election. We rightly predicted TPLF to detain, kill, torture, hold incommunicado, etc. We never expected equal access to the public media. We never expected the security, the police, the military and the Election Board to be neutral. In short, no member of the opposition expected a level field as you can only expect a level field in a democracy. Needless to say, there is no any semblance of democracy in the TPLF-led government.

Yet, Kinijit leadership made its intent clear to participate in the May/05 election with out any preconditions by outlining election as the highest manifestation of a peaceful struggle. The leadership argued the importance of using the election process to reach to the people right across Ethiopia and rally the public behind them. In spite of the expected killing, torture, harassment, detention, etc, we were told by Kinijit leaders that they would nevertheless participate so as to get the maximum all rounded advantage during the election process since the establishment of democracy is a process. Hence, in this process, the leadership unambiguously explained us the necessary sacrifice including death as Kinijit is pursuing a peaceful struggle. They also predicted to win some seats across the country in spite of the expected election rigging. So it was with this mindset that Kinijit participated the election. I am not sure if the new comers to the leadership (mostly from Kestedamena) who joined the struggle in the 11th hours were thinking differently by missing the inherent nature of the TPLF-led government!!

If the above premise is correct, all the killings, torture, detentions, disappearances, harassments, etc. were expected. Election rigging and vote stealing were also rightly predicted. I argue, there was nothing unpredicted happening. So, the million dollar question is then why boycott Parliament, regional government and Addis Ababa administration?

If there is a free and fair election, then there is democracy and in democracy, there is no need to struggle. Hence, it seems to me that we may have to pass through few difficult and unfair elections before finally seeing a free and fair election. I am afraid, even if TPLF-led regime is replaced by the opposition, it would be wrong to expect an out right free and fair election. It just does not work like that. It will take time.

In conclusion, as shown above, the assertion that the people demanded Kinijit not to join Parliament is not true and it seems ‘Ye-Arada’ politica to blame the public for the disastrous strategic decision of Kinijit. Kinijit was voted by at least 20 million people and anyone who understands democracy and gives respect to the people’s vote would not dare to over turn this mandate by conducting public meetings with a total attendance of less than 30000 people!

Moreover, contrary to what has been told to the public, the consultation with notable individuals, civic organisation representatives, free press representatives, higher party officials and activists ended up advising Kinijit to join Parliament. As the establishment of democracy under peaceful struggle is a process, it could have been much more better for Kinijit to take what ever it won and at the same time continue the struggle to get the job finished rather than boycotting Parliament or throwing away the hard won victory.