Birtukan’s release and the challenges ahead
Nevertheless in addition to the totally unjustifiable and unreasonable actions of the EPRDF, I personally believe that Birtukan’s lack of political experience and savviness had also significantly contributed to her arrest in the first place.
I am well aware that as a capable lawyer, Birtukan may successfully make a compelling legal argument that the then Kinijit leaders were not released on pardon. That arguably is a moot academical exercise.
The most important thing was that the public as well as EPRDF knew that they had done nothing wrong to say sorry. It was simply a face saving exercise by the EPRDF. If that was the case, why was it necessary for Birtukan to confront EPRDF on this matter?
Of course we all know that it was the Diaspora who put Birtukan in this difficult saga in the first place. Satisfying the few Diaspora’s ego should have come second.
As a young woman, single mother and the leader of the new party UDJ, confronting EPRDF at that time of her political carrier on such a moot case should never have been the priority.
Of course any body can say any thing in hindsight and I do not want to take away the sacrifice by this brave and principled woman. She was in prison for the thing she believed. May be the timing was not right.
In retrospect Birtukan should have spared all her youthful energy and charm to organise her new party. Like now, the opposition was in disarray and rudderless. Creating a solid army of supporters, dedicated members and insightful leaders should have been the priority before taking on EPRDF.
Prison with out a strong and united party members and supporters behind may be sacrifices in vain. Kinijit went through the same process to finally climb down the mountain with a bruised ego.
The only person who went into and came out of EPRDF’s prison intact, unscratched and his head still held high was Dr Taye.
Of course rightly sensing Dr Taye’s resilience, EPRDF initially opted to scare Dr Taye to make his exile earlier. Dr Taye did not budge an inch and returned to Ethiopia well aware that he would end up in prison.
Through out his prison life, Dr Taye had remained a symbol of defiance. EPRDF had not succeeded a bit to break his spirit. Solitary confinement, ill treatment, being 24/7 chained even when he appeared at the courts, the various threats, etc did not break Dr Taye’s
morale. In fact it made him more resolute and determined.
Dr Taye went to prison with his head held high and came out of prison unbowed to EPRDF’s pressure. Not only was he a strong-willed person, but also he had a strong and united organisation behind him. Put simply Dr Taye was too strong-willed to succumb into EPRDF’s pressure.
No doubt that Dr Taye was greatly helped by the actions of his deputies at ETA. There was no any infighting in ETA. No body at ETA was vying for the chairmanship post vacated by Dr Taye’s imprisonment. Instead the likes of Gemoraw Kassa and Abate Angore were
more than prepared and capable to put their neck on the line to carry on from where Dr Taye left.
Besides the ETA leadership were putting a united and systematic lobbying to high light the plight of Dr Taye in prison. They looked after Dr Taye’s family. Free Dr Taye was high on their agenda. They rallied the public behind this noble cause.
Birtukan’s case is very different. After she went to prison, her party was in continuous infighting. The party split into two that eventually alienated most of the party’s supporters from UDJ.
Then comes the infamous decision to join Medrek on the back door at any cost by few of the leadership. Exposing the plights of Birtukan was not high on the agenda for the infighting UDJ leadership. We rarely saw a concerted and coordinated free Birtukan campaign. Put simply UDJ’s leadership was too busy infighting to campaign for the release of Birtukan.
Against this back ground coupled with the highly academical nature of the conditions of the then Kinijit leaders’ release, there was no point for Birtukan to languish in prison for a single more day.
I am sure Birtukan has learned a big lesson by now. Sorting her divided party would be her priority. Kick starting the struggle would be her second priority if she can succeed to bring an amicable solution to the divided party. There is no question that it is a very difficult task.
The few Diaspora’s rhetoric and empty bravado should have been clear to her by now. With out having a solid party, leadership and a critical mass base, suffering in prison would be sacrifices in vain.
Hence her overriding motto should be organise, organise and organise and clear her party from those opportunists who camped in her party. And take on EPRDF afterwards. That IS THE BIG LESSON!
Lastly EPRDF might wrongly feel victorious. But most people know that she was unjustly imprisoned in the first place.
Birtukan is probably the only political prisoner whose arrest caused great anguish to and out cry by many people irrespective of their political allegiance including EPRDF’s supporters.
Now the biggest challenge she has to face is that in persuading her deputies to stop playing her role any more. Her deputies were too used to and comfortable with running the show by leading the organisation and they might perceive her release as a threat to their unlimited power.
This part of the struggle might turn out more painful than languishing in prison. Nevertheless she has the good will of most of the party members to stamp her authority to resurrect her party’s fortune to make it a credible and viable opposition.