Part Two: Commentary on Ato Lidetu’s interview with the Voice of America

April 4, 2009

Relatively speaking, these points were easy to understand compared to “the third way” that I want to address today. It seems to me that, so far, the concept of the third way is not properly understood or debated. I, for one, do not know exactly what the third way mean. I also suspect that it is a work-in-progress concept for the party. In this article, for that matter for lack of choice, I have tried to eliminate what the third way “isn’t” rather than what “it is” to get closer to its real meaning.

5. The Third Way/ The Third alternative. What is it?

This is another interesting and new concept that was introduced in Ethiopian politics by EDP about two years ago. Conceptually we have been told EDP’s third way is different from the third way of Tony Blair. It doesn’t also mean taking the middle ground between the opposition and the government since most of EDP’s political programme and economic policies stand at the farthest far side of the opposition. It is also clear that it is not used as a byword for a bipartisan politics.

So what is it? Is the third way synonymous with ethical politics? May be yes or may be not. However, if third way means an emphasis on ethical politics, the necessary conclusion is that we are departing from Ethiopia’s revolutionary generation motto of “the end justifies the means” politics by placing the emphasis not only on the end but also on the means as well.
That is why I believe this topic needs further scrutiny and reflection to understand what exactly it means; not necessarily to pigeonhole it in pre-defined categories but also to understand where we are heading. But before reaching to any conclusion, let us compare it with what it isn’t to get closer to the real meaning.

The Third Way Ideology: The academic community defines Tony Blair’s “The Third Way” as political philosophy of governance that embraces a mix of market and interventionist philosophies. The third way of New Labour is commonly viewed as representing a centrist compromise between capitalism and socialism, or between market liberalism and democratic socialism. Simply it is a synthesis of these competing views and ideologies primarily designed to distance the Labour Party from control of the labour union and make it acceptable to middle-class electorates.

EDP’s third way is totally different since it has no allegiance to any class or group. Furthermore, the party itself professes to be a liberal democratic party with no allegiance to any class or group of people except individuals. Hence it is not the same as the New Labour’s third way that can be eliminated from discussion. So if it is not an ideological driven third way, then what is it?  Does it mean middle way?

The middle way: From discussions I had with good friends, EDP’s third way is perceived as a mid-way between the opposition and the government. If the public understand EDP as a party that would take the middle ground just for the sake of it, it could damage the party’s visions and ambitions. As I can understand it from EDP’s political programme, the party indeed stands at farther end of the political spectrum in some polices like; the supremacy of individual rights, the issue of Ethiopia’s access to the sea, on ethnic federalism, land ownership and creating urban and industrial based economy as opposed to agricultural-led economy.

So it cannot possibly be taken as a party of the middle way. As Ato Lidetu stated in the interview, most of the opposition parties like that of Dr. Beyene are probably closer to the ruling party than EDP. Hence, looking at EDP’s political programme and economic policy, EDP cannot be a party of the middle ground and this perception too can be safely eliminated.

Bipartisan Politics: The other confusion of EDP’s third way is with bipartisan politics of the West. Bipartisan political strategy is common in the West. In fact it was one of President Obama’s political campaigns during election. (We all remember the speech: “We are not the red state or the blue state, we are the United States of America”).

EDP now holds a pragmatic position and willing to adopt a bipartisan approach towards politics. If that is what the party has in mind, then it needs further explanation. The party could adopt a bipartisan political stand on development, national security and interest of the country. But Bipartisan politics is effective when one party is not a dominant force in a Parliament or seeks to build a consensus political culture across the party line.

To achieve a bipartisan political culture there has to be a radical shift in the mindset of the ruling party. As they say, it takes two for a tango. If the government is not ready for bipartisan politics, EDP’s third way could be perceived as one-way backing of the government. That could substantially damage the vision and goals of the party.

Ethical Politics: The last alternative that appears close to Ato Lidetu’s definition of the third way is probably adopting an ethical politics. Ato Lidetu repeatedly remarked that EDP will not have a “blind support or blind opposition” policy. This is probably close to saying that we are adopting an ethical and rational political culture which is contradictory to the long standing Ethiopian Students Movement Stalinist political culture which  is anchored in the principle of “the end justifies the means approach”.

Though the end justifies the means was first advocated in Niccolo Machiavelli’s writing, it is the Bolshevik party that nurtured it into full blossom. Since the 1920s, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Mao, our wannabe revolutionary generation as well as modern day terrorists zealously adhere to the end justifies the means philosophy. Terror, defamation, lies, and negative campaigns were part and parcel of the Ethiopia’s revolutionary generation and still it is the main political strategy.  So, if the party means the third alternative as a departure from the Ethiopia’s revolutionary political culture then it needs to be properly articulated and defined.

In conclusion, I could only guess EDP’s third way is predominantly an attempt to undo the Stalinist political culture by adopting an ethnical politics and partly having a bipartisan approach to politics. If it indeed means that, then I do not have a problem but there is a down side to EDP unless it is properly articulated to the public.

The danger with the third way

There are few major pitfalls with the third way approach.

First, the perception of the public is as important as the content of policies of a party. If the public perceive the third way as a softly-softly middle ground approach to the policy of the government, then they may not rally behind the party.

Second, the role of the opposition is primarily to oppose the government. Once this principle is anchored, how that can be achieved falls in strategy. In the strategy, a wide shade of approach such as positive encouragement, bipartisan engagement, strong opposition, or even denunciation can be used on merit of each case and policy. These are strategies and should not be perceived as the primary role of the opposition.  Unless these are clearly understood by the public, it could have a negative impact on achieving the party’s vision.

Third, the third way may mean the party is limiting its ambition. For example, in most democratic countries like UK there are two major parties: the ruling and the opposition. But there are also small parties like the Liberal Democratic Party that had a luxury to adopt the third alternative. Simply the Liberal Democratic Party has no chance of coming to power. So they have no desire to lie, deceive or exaggerate (play politics) to win vote. They speak only what they believe in compared to competing parties. As Ato Lidetu said, EDP is the only party that has a distinct vision and goal from that of the ruling party. Hence, it should also aspire to be the major opposition party than restrict itself to the role of smaller parties.

In conclusion, the third way or the third alternative is a broad subject that deserves further discussion. Debating this issue could shine light on the last 40 years of revolutionary political culture to bring about a paradigm shift in Ethiopian politics.

On the VOA interviewer’s professionalism:

I was very disappointed by Tizeta Belachew when this topic was discussed. She failed to ask Ato Lidetu pointed questions. She only accepted Ato Lidetu’s brief explanation with no meaningful challenge; may be for lack of grasp of the complex concept or sound preparation. Ato Lidetu was allowed to state broadly and briefly what he meant by the third alternative. He briefly stated as a political stand which avoids blanket support or opposition to the EPRDF. In other words, he stated EDP will either support or oppose EPRDF with reason only.

The above statement may sound all right if not scrutinized carefully. Many well meaning  critics of Ato Lidetu and EDP base their arguments on his and the party’s misguided  approach of articulating EPRDF’s good sides to the detriment of  EDP’s future strength.
Tizeta Belachew should have reminded and in fact confronted Ato Lidetu with follow up questions that, even in Western democracy, the main job of the opposition is to oppose but not to highlight the good sides of the government. EPRDF has got its own well paid cadres to highlight the positive of works of the party; hence, EPRDF may not desperately need Ato Lidetu and EDP in this regard.

As a prudent and pragmatist opposition party, EDP should focus on highlighting EDP’s difference with the EPRDF, how EDP would fare better where EPRDF terribly failed and why EDP should be considered as the future party of Ethiopia. That is the job of an opposition party.

I believe that may be one of the main reasons why EDP is now knowingly or unknowingly branded as teletafi or Tamagne Teqawamy party. VOA journalist, Tizeta Belachew, should have done better in this regard.

16 comments on “Part Two: Commentary on Ato Lidetu’s interview with the Voice of America

  1. It is a very good analysis but the term Tamagn Tekawami was not given to EDP because of its ‘The third way’. The term has been used on EDP and for that matter on almost all of opposition parties who are based in Ethiopia, even before the election.

    The term was thrown mainly by EPRP supporters who claim they can unseat EPRDF remotly, even before the election 2005.

    Then the accusation subsided after EDP’s and AEUP’s years of bitter struggle resulted a million people march in support of Kinijit, (on April 30, 2005?). In fact those who were degrading and labelling EDP as Teletafi started to claim the fruition of EDP as theirs.

    To cut the long story, the author’s assertion that ‘Teletafi’ or ‘Tamagn’ was given to the party because of the ‘third way’ is not accurate.

    On the other hand, the author’s uneasiness about EDP’’s ‘The Third Way’ is mine too but I still consider EDP as the only reliable, dependable and hope for Ethiopian people.
    Let us give them the chance.

  2. The Third Way is the only way to to tackle with the deep rooted machiavellianism in our society. But EDP guys have to do a lot to sell their idea to the people; they have to convince the people that the Third Way is much better than pursuing political agenda by saying ‘Belew’, ‘Gidelew’, ‘Atalelew’.

  3. I agree with the writer that how those smart EDP leadership missed the main job of opposition is beyond me. In any case,the sooner they stop highlighting the good sides of the EPRDF, the better for their political revival.

  4. It was right for the writer to bash Tizeta Belachew, the VOA journalist, for wasting our time on alubaltas(Hearsays) coming from the usual suspects including herself.

  5. I never thought that the third way could be as complex as the writer present it. Good job writer!!

  6. I am lost here. I genuinely tought Ato Lidetu and EDP were finished politically after the Kinijit debacle. But know, it seems to me that they are eventually but gradually coming into the political picture; particularly after their recent party conference.

    Who expected that there would be as many attendees as in the party conference pictures posted on the Web!I did not.

  7. Let us stop dreaming and walk the talk by standing for Ginbot 7. Get involved, be part of it, do what you can. As the saying goes ‘Eyeyem Sidala New’. There is no fertile ground to conduct peaceful struggle in Ethiopia. So unless we want to prolong the life of EPRDF, it is high time we show our solidarity to Ginbot 7

  8. It is a very interesting article that points important points about EDP’s Third Way. I would like, however, to remind the writer that he has escaped one aspect of EDP’s approach which is equally significant to address the present Ethiopian politics- its significance to reconciliations. The Ethiopian political forces have been highly polarized and, I think, the Third Way could be some means of rapprochement to bring the opposition and the ruling parties to some common ground on basic issues. Yes, EDPS’s effort to give the EPRDF some credits might be used by third parties to paint Ato Lidetu and the party as Teletafi in the short term. But if EDP is ready to pay some sacrifices in this regard to encourage EPRDF, through acceptance and tolerance rather than total marginalization, to come to accepted norms, it is a positive avenue to reconciliations and mutual-understanding leading to creating a common political system accepted to all in the long-term.

  9. Seyfu: Yes, it would make sense somehow to relate the Third way with reconciliation as well.

  10. Can Politics and Ethics be Reconciled?
    I’m pleased to let you know that I will be choosing The Third Way to reconcile whaever was happen in Ethiopia!i don’t really
    like the in “McCarthyism”,or a goal-directed Freudian Theory
    The Third Way (Hebrew: HaDerekh HaShlishit) was a political party in Israel in the 1990s.
    The party was formed in 1994 towards the end of the 13th Knesset’s term when two MKs, Avigdor Kahalani and Emanuel Zisman, broke away from the Labour Party. Kahalani and Zisman disagreed with the party’s willingness to entertain the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.

    The party ran in the 1996 elections and won 96,457 votes, equating to four seats, with Yehuda Harel and Alexander Lubotzky joining Kahalani and Zisman in the Knesset. They were invited to join Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government and Kahalani was appointed Minister of Internal Security. During the Knesset term, Zisman left the party to sit as an independent.

    The party ran in the 1999 elections, but faced with a massive loss of support, won only 26,290 votes (0.7%), well below the electoral threshold of 1.5%. After its failure, the party subsequently disbanded.

    ***The Third Way*** was established toward the end of the Thirteenth Knesset when two members of the Labor Party left it due to Labor’s willingness to consider an Israeli withdrawalfrom the Golan Heights within the framework of an agreement with Syria. The Third Way ran for the Fourteenth Knesset and won four seats, and joined the Binyamin Netanyahu’s Government. The Third Way ran for the Fifteenth Knesset, but did not pass the qualifying threshold.

    The Knessets in Which it Served:
    Knesset Members: Avigdor Kahalani Emanuel Zisman

    Knesset Members: Yehudah Harel Avigdor Kahalani Alexander Lubotzky Emanuel Zisman

    Color Key:
    Black: A Member of the Knesset who was a member of the parliamentary group throughout the group’s existence in that Knesset
    Blue: A Member of the Knesset who left the parliamentary group, resigned from the Knesset or passed away
    Green: A Member of the Knesset who joined a parliamentary group and remained in it until the end of the group’s existence in that Knesset
    Orange: A Member of the Knesset who joined a parliamentary group and then left it in the course of the Knesset’s term
    Purple: A Member of the Knesset who left a parliamentary group, and returned to it in the course of the Knesset’s term
    did you think Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, adherents of the “Third Way”.?lt me have you the ff link ,open up and read
    Third Way is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. it advancing a 21st century progressive agenda by working with elected officials, candidates, and advocates to create policies and market those ideas in the public debate. Third Way’s work on security, economics and culture
    let me have you one more link

  11. I agree with weyane. The only way out of the problem is through the use of armed struggle (force) as that is the only language EPRDF understands. My concern is though; Ginbot 7 may not have the appropriate leadership. I mean, Dr. Birhanu is a good lecturer (he has taught me Development Economics at the AAU), not a leader for guerrilla fighters.

  12. Allow me to make disclaimer first. I support EDP and I do not make an appology for it. Of cours my view could be a bit partial but I am not a blind supporter.

    In my view, EDP’s third way is a smart move made to creat a new and distinct identity for the party that is different from the opposition and the rulling party. It clearly distances itself from tried and failed opposition forces to re-affirm EDP’s desire not to be associated with failed policies of the opposition. In the commercial world they call it re-branding. To that end, it has served its purpose.
    Though the people do not know what it means the message has been eitched in the public mind. That is EDP is different from the oppostion and the government. What need to follow is a proper explanation in what ways the third way is a better way. The public knows that EDP has adistinct vision in organisational structure and strategy but it is not yet clear in what ways this could help to bring about a democratic and peaceful society in Ethiopia. I repeat, a democratic society not government. A government is partly a result of a society and there is a need for cultural changes. So, in what ways, the EDP’s ways could help to create a stable poltical system and sustainable development need further debate. I am sure that is in the making. The process must be seen in line with previous EDP’s mottos. When everybody was saying multi-ethnic political structure is imposible in Ethiopia, the party emarged with slongan of “Multi-culturalism is out aim”. “Hebre-Beherawinet Alamachen New”. This was the samartes move because it was distinct from “One Ethiopia or death” and yet challenges sectorian ethnic poltics. A radical enough to be different from the two waring faction but appealing enough to capture the imagination of most.

    Again when the party declared, a peaceful struggle is the only way to bring about democracy, many were giggling by the naiviety of the new kids on the block. It took may years to sell the idea to the oppostion but by 2005 everyone was a convert. From Kiflu Tadess of EPRP to Neged Gobeze of Meson, from Andargachew Tege to Berhanu Nega dances for the tune of EDP and EDP’s peaceful struggle. So everything is possible, it only need hard work and petiance.

    One thing we also miss is politics is also an art. A mind game! We should not forget disorientating effect of the third way, particularly on dogmatic opposition that was obsessed with EDP and doing everything possible to destroy it. Since most of them are very unidirectional in their approach, the third way was very disorientating. They didn’t want to comment for fear of making fool of themselves. In the mean time it gave time for EDP to focus on its organisation and come back.
    So the confusion in the opposition camp has served the party to focus on important issue of survival. Having said that, it is may be time to think about it in detail to define it or re-phrases the terminology to convey the right message to the public. To that end this article contributes a lot to clarifying the concept and I applaud the author.

    The third is the better way, because, I know for sure the opposition way didn’t work in the last 40 years.

  13. the thrid way is some mokeys copying someone’s idea. yes indeed without understanding it as he or she is with out brain. if you want further explanation for why say that i prefer to tell you face to face if you have the courage to organize free meeting to debate other issues too.

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