The “Third Way” of the Cheetah Generation
By Mersea Kidan
Sara Yisehak is an Engineer by education and decoration expert by profession, Henok Hedeto is also an engineer employed at a Machinery rental company, Abis Getachew earned a master’s degree in Economics and he is a researcher, Eyasu Mekonen has a master’s degree in Social works and is a consultant, Gizachew Animaw is a graduate in political science, also a consultant. All these Ethiopians have two things in common. They are all young in their late twenties and early thirties and they are all members of the Ethiopian Democratic Party. They represent what George Ayittey calls the “Cheetah Generation”.
George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist, defines the ‘Cheetah Generation” as the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective”. That is exactly what Sara, Henok, Abis, Eyasu and Gizachew are. They may be few today but they are the seeds of the Cheetah generation which will rise to domination in the near future. They are Ethiopia’s new hope. Ayittey contrasts the cheetah generation with the generation that he labeled as the “Hippo Generation”.
According to Ayittey, “the Hippos are of the 1960s-era mentality — stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old “colonialism-imperialism” paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They are near-sighted, comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems.” And so they will do anything to be at the helm of the state. They care less if the whole country collapses around them as long as they can secure power. When they are in power they push for more power and more foreign aid. When they are not in power, they do all they can do to prevent the country from getting foreign aid until they are in power. They are willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives if it earns them power. They care less if millions of people suffer because of their actions.
Ethiopia’s hippo generation has its own peculiar nature when compared to other African hippos. While the nature and behavior of other African hippos is shaped by colonialism and the struggle against colonialism, Ethiopia’s hippos are shaped by monarchial feudalism and socialism which they adopted during the last days of the Monarchy. Ethiopian hippos managed to end the feudal regime only to replace it with a worse regime that further pulled the country to destitution.
In today’s political landscape of Ethiopia, there are two dominating forces; the ruling party and the extreme opposition. At the helm of both sides are the hippos. The hippos of this regime can see with clarity the injustices perpetrated by previous regimes, but they are hopelessly blind to the more heinous injustices they perpetrate today. They sit tight in their government offices, comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Ethiopia’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. And they would ferociously defend their power at any cost. At the same token, the hippos in the opposition blame the regime for all Ethiopia’s problems. As a matter of fact they can’t care less about the real problems; they only use them to ridicule the regime. While the hippos in power look for more foreign aid, the hippos in opposition do everything they can to stop foreign aid from reaching the country. Neither of them cares about the subject people to whom the aid is being asked for.
Ethiopia’s cheetah generation, despite its desire to see change in the political landscape, has chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged and eyes closed in disgust with the political culture. The new generation is as disgusted with the hippos in opposition as it is angry on the hippos of the regime. While it desires to free itself from the shackles of oppression by the regime, it also abhors the extreme, hatred driven political culture in the opposition. This gridlock that left the cheetah generation on the sidelines needs to be broken. That is exactly what Sara, Henok, Abis, Eyasu, Gizachew and their fellow EDP members are trying to do. They have ratified a political strategy which they rightly named “The Third Way”. They provide a third alternative in contrast with the ruling party as alternative one, and the extreme opposition as alternative two.
The term “Third Way” has been used to explain a variety of political courses and ideologies in the last few centuries. Most notable among those is the political ideology that center left parties in UK, Australia and other nations promoted. “The Third way” in that context represents a combination of free market of capitalism and social welfare of socialism. This ideology has been promoted by many notable heads of state including Tony Blair of UK and Bill Clinton of USA. EDP’s “Third Way” is different explains, Ermias Balkew of EDP; another cheetah. In an article he wrote to explain EDP’s “Third Way” Ermias illustrates, “The Third Way” EDP promotes has to do with political course than ideology. We are providing a different alternative for the new generation. Traditionally, there are two alternatives, blind support to the regime or blind opposition against the regime. Reason had no place in the political culture. EDP’s “Third Way” is a different course because reason is at the center of it.
EDP’s Third Way is built on the concept that as a nation we have a common destiny, if we prosper, we will prosper together, if we fail we fail together. This concept as simple as it sounds is something the hippo generation could never understand. The hippos think that they have to eliminate their opponent for them to prosper. They forget that their opponents are human beings with their own interests and concerns. They have no respect for one another. The hippos of the regime label their opponents terrorists and charge them with treason. Similarly, the hippos in the opposition blame the regime on everything. Neither of them is willing to see the good in the other.
EDP is trying to carve a different alternative through its “Third way”. Nothing can illustrate the thought difference between the Third way and the traditional Ethiopian politics than the following incident. In the year 2011 EDP’s Lidetu Ayalew was having a discussion with EDP supporters in London. Among the participants in the discussion was a commander of former Ethiopian navy. The commander; a typical hippo, confronts Lidetu with a short and precise question. “Are you for or against the regime?” and Lidetu asks back “In which issue?” And the commander seemed to be confused and replied back … “Whatever the issue, Are you with them or with us?” And Lidetu’s reply was “I am with both and I am with neither; I am with both of you because both of you are my fellow Ethiopians. But I am with neither of you in hating the other.” For the hippos there are only two ways; their way or the enemy’s way. The cheetahs are saying there is a “third way”.
For the Cheetah generation of Ethiopia, the “They against us” paradigm is obsolete and too simplistic. The cheetahs are too dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic to fall prey to such mentality. They know that as a nation we can only prosper when we can manage to coexist with our differences. They understand that we have a lot more in common than our differences. As citizens of the nation we need to work together on our common interests and debate on our differences with reason and common sense. We need to have mutual respect despite our differences. No fellow citizen is an enemy just because they have a different view of things. These are the values that gave birth to the “Third Way” which the Cheetahs like Sara, Henok, Abis, Eyasu and Gizachew are trying to promote. These are the values that will bring the country out of the political quagmire that it is in today. Reason, mutual respect and common destiny.