Commentary on Ato Lidetu’s interview with the Voice of America
Regrettably, most of the valuable airtime was wasted with repeated questions that were based on hearsays (alubalta) than devoting sufficient time to discuss relevant political issues.
It is understandable that EDP was the most popular and the most vilified party in recent Ethiopian political history. The mere fact of mentioning EDP and its leader Ato Lidetu still triggers emotions from all sides. To some, it is a miracle that the party has survived from the last 3 years sustained attacks. For others, it is a testimony of the party’s resilience and strength of character of its leadership that made it survive the assaults.
Leaving all these aside, there were many interesting and valuable points that were raised during the interview. To encourage further discussion, I have highlighted some of the main points below.
1. On the allegation of EDP being a Teletafi party:
Ato Lidetu with his usual oratory skills gave a very convincing answer to some of these labels thrown at it from various corners. He explained that what he used to hear so far about his party was Tamagne Tekawami but not teletafi. Having said this, he went on to concisely explain the difference between loyal opposition “Tamagne Tekawami”“and “teletafi” party. He said EDP as a party does not mind to be called a loyal opposition, since it is an accepted term in Western politics. He said the term loyal opposition describes parties that are opposed to the actions of the government without being opposed to the constitution or rule of law. But if the label is meant to say “teletafi”, then that is a different matter.
In fact, he was quick to capitalise on the issue by stating that of all the opposition parties in Ethiopia, only EDP has a clear and distinct vision, political and economical programme which are fundamentally different from that of EPRDF. Interestingly enough he didn’t stop there. He turned the table on his recent critics, particularly Dr Beyene’s and Ato Gebru’s parties saying that they are more close to EPRDF than EDP. If Teletafi is measured by similarities of political programmes and economical policies, then he sees no differences between Medrek and EPRDF. He highlighted the prevailing facts that those parties have very identical ethnic-based political ideology, a belief in the supremacy of group rights over individual rights, and economic policies and political programmes similar to the government. He also reminded listeners about the role of some of his critics in enacting the infamous constitution including Article 39 which incorporates the right up to and including cessation. These parties may oppose personalities in the ruling party but it is not possible for them to oppose the ideology and vision of EPRDF since they work towards the same goal.
The minor error by Ato Lidetu though is that it is not only EDP but at least also AEUP and UDJ from home based opposition parties which have a clear and distinct political and economical programme different from that of the EPRDF. The VOA journalist, Tizeta Belachew, should have done her homework properly to point such a mistake to Ato Lidetu rather than focusing on hearsay or Alubalta.
2. On the issue of not joining Medrek
Ato Lidetu said, to begin with, EDP was not invited to join Medrek. Even if EDP was invited, it wouldn’t have joined Medrek on two fundamental grounds. First, EDP as a party will never join parties that restrict or exclude membership on the basis of ethnic origin and have no inclusive national visions. Second, the party will only form alliance with parties that have similar political programmes and visions.
On both cases, Medrek does not fulfill EDP’s requirements for alliance. Ato Lidetu further stated it was for the same reason that Dr Beyene and Dr Merara weren’t invited when Kinijit was formed. Since then nothing has changed as far as EDP is concerned. Nevertheless, Ato Lidetu left it open for a broad co-operation with them.
3. On Leadership’s term limitation:
One very positive thing that came out of the interview is that Ato Lidetu will step down as EDP’s leader during the next EDP’s leadership election. It is true that this is unprecedented in Ethiopian politics. Be it the ruling party and its affiliates and all the opposition parties this is just unthinkable. From the ruling party to the opposition, leadership is for life with no term limitation in their constitution. Assumption of power for life is inherently anti-democratic that need to be changed.
I think, if we are serious about building a democratic society and bring about peaceful transition of power, then the ruling party as well as the opposition parties need to limit their leaders’ term in office. Who ever is refusing term limitation while in opposition is unlikely to give up power through a democratic process. The public too need to put term limitation as pre-condition for support. Limited term of leadership is the way forward.
4. Is the door for Peaceful struggle closed?
Ato Lidetu was asked whether the door is closed for peaceful opposition in Ethiopia. He replied by making a clear distinction between struggle and democratic election. If there were rule of law, free and fair election, no human right violation, arrest, or extra-judicial killing in Ethiopia, the process wouldn’t have been called a struggle. The process would have been called a democratic contest like most democratic countries.
This is an important distinction that the opposition parties need to make. In that respect, I agree, his answer was reasonable and informative. We all should take a lesson that the purpose of the Ethiopian opposition forces is to struggle to stop extra judicial killings, arrests, tortures, disappearances, disregard to Human Rights, the Rule of Law, Freedom of Press, Assembly, and Association and bring about a democratic and peaceful transition of power. Until that has been achieved it is a “struggle” that demand scarifies.
Complaining that it is not possible to wage a peaceful struggle is at best lack of understanding what peaceful struggle means in the first place and at worst it is self-defeating. As Lidetu advised, if the opposition parties say publicly that it is impossible to wage a peaceful struggle in Ethiopia, then there is no point in asking the public to rally behind them.
To support political parties which have no will to wage a sustained fight and prevail will be a waste of resource and may lead to unnecessary sacrifices. That is why the opposition parties need to inspire their supports saying that they shall overcome through organized and persistent peaceful struggle. Not through a defeatist attitude.