Doomsters’ Prophesy of Doom & EPRDF’s Prospect of Second Renewal (Part one)
By Genenew Assefa
In no one of the periods which have followed the revolution of 1789 has the national prosperity of France augmented more rapidly than it did in the twenty years preceding that event, but the French found their position the more intolerable the better it became.
From May 28, 1991 to last week, not a fortnight seemed to have lapsed without flurries of self-fulfilling prophesies of EPRDF’s shipwreck in a tidal wave of tempestuous mass convulsion. As much as apocalyptic prophesies of state collapse appear credible in times of small and big flare-ups, none however has come anywhere close to the mark in the last quarter-century of EPRDF’s indisputable political upper-hand. Apparently, the cassandras at home and abroad are not the reflective sort inclined to pause and ask why their countless forecasts of what fate has in store for the EPRDF never seems to hold. Nor do they feel any obligation to account for the repeated failure of their hopeful projections of EPRDF’s internal fallout, heralding the end of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. Instead, blind as ever to the conspicuous absence the necessary condition for a sudden state meltdown, the Hussein Jebrilsof the cyber age continue to divine the second coming of the old united Abyssinia on the back of the twilight years of ethnic federalism. No doubt this is easier imagined than realized, though the credulous readily echo every fanciful social-media predictions of reversal to involuntary national unity minus diversity. Apparently for facebook addicts, distinguishing between authentic and simulated internet information is a formidable intellectual challenge. No wonder most are today as ever taken in by the latest rehashed rumor of state disintegration.
The irony is, the wider the gap separating forecast and outcomevis-à-vis EPRDF’s fate, the greater seems the trust the gullible place on the latest prophesy of nationwide rejection of EPRDF’s politics of recognition, enshrined as an inderogabel right in the federal constitution. It comes as no surprise, then, that the current crisis in Oromia and Amhara regional states has triggered what can only be described an orgy of exuberant expectancy of bright days to come after the breakup of EPRDF’s rule in the remaining regions of Ethiopia. Obviously, such forecast need not be backed by any empirically grounded analysis so long as it is posted as self-evident for facebook consumption. Truth told, where the willing are concerned, any analogical allusion to scenarios of street turbulence is just as good as any sound appraisal of the potential recurrence of a Syrian type of convulsion in Ethiopia. Such is the sorry intellectual threshold of the target audience of hate promoting social-media activists, whose claim to fame lies in nothing but dissemination of venomous inter-ethnic hostility. Lacking abilities of discernment, the victims of irresponsible social-media incitement uncritically absorb any dismal prospectus of national disaster at face value. Sadly, as we speak, the brainwashed are even more exercised by the latest round of wishful expectation of EPRDF’s downfall. A certainty, we are told, guaranteed by the spread of the current explosion of ostensibly unstoppable rural disorder in parts of Oromia and Amhara regions. Sadder even is that this same imaginary breakdown of law and order across the national landscape is echoed, with relish to boot, by global media outlets. With the approval, no less, of self-appointed area-experts affiliated with reputed think tanks, backed by syndicated pundits of prestigious foreign- policy periodicals.
There is no question that the present outburst in Oromia and Amhara regional states is by far the most serious, and the most disastrous to date. By the latest count, the combined tragic loss of life in both regions runs in the hundreds not to speak of the staggering scale of the senseless destruction of public utilities, private investment cites and personal property. If there is any consolation in all this destructive rage, it lies in the restoration of calm in Oromia, with promising signs of consolidation of order up and down in this vast regional state that outsize any in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the situation in western Amhara remains stormy amid alarmist talk of further descent into generalized chaos. On the upside, however, even as the tempest rages on, there are flickers of promising indicators that, if later than sooner, the fury may well subside before the worst of the possible comes to pass.
In the meantime, it might well be useful to reflect on the sudden explosion of indignant anger in western Amhara region and explore what legal instruments could those at the helm bring to bear on the pressing task of addressing the root cause of the crisis. To this end it is first crucial to disaggregate: A, the genesis of the contentious issue that triggered the regional crisis, B) its broader and underlying determinants, and C) the compounding secondary factors responsible for the deterioration of the flare-up into shameful hate-filled rampage.
It is perhaps apt to begin by a brief discussion of the flashpoint of the present crisis —.Wolqayt-Tsegede-.For years, the mapping of multiethnicWolqayt-Tsegede within the jurisdictional bounds of the Tigrai regional administrative state, has been a subject of local contention. Though the motivation behind the radicalization of the issues ranges from genuine to opportunistic, there can be no denying that responsibility for the deterioration of situation lies with the leadership of Tigrai and Amhara regional states. More so because the question ofWolqayt-Tsegede is neither, as some would have us believe, an irremediable problem that calls for adversarial mobilization, nor an ineluctable quandary beyond the adjudicative threshold capacity of the Ethiopian federal arrangement. In fact, the entire federal system is premised on recognition of identity claims, rendering thereby resort to other means of redress superfluous, if not, a punishable offense. Besides, the federal constitution has built-in mechanisms of reconciling competing identity claims and, in worst case scenario, of facilitating amicable partition. A case in point is the 2001 ruling of the House of Federation on the Silte people’s demand for Zonal autonomy, grounded in legitimate claim to distinct ethno-linguistic identity, separate from the rest of the Gurage nationality. Perhaps in this regard a more pertinent example is the 2005 federal adjudication of the inter-regional competing claims over the 425 cross-boundary Kebeles between Oromia and Somali regional administrative states. Both cases stand as best practices of accommodating identity-recognition claims and how best the correlative demands for boundary adjustments between adjacent regional states ought to be settled.
In the case of Wolqayt-Tsegede, anecdotal evidence abound pointing to a buildup of groundswell grievance against political marginalization, compounded by enforcement of a top-down resettlement program and iniquitous land allocation . On the other hand, there is no evidence to support an express desire on the part of Wolqayt-Tsegede community to seek redress through proper channels, drawing at least from the recent experience of the Silte people. As to all peoples, the federal law grants the Wolqayt-Tsegede community the right to submit petition to the regional assembly of Tigrai regional state for redress or even settlement by referendum. If dissatisfied with the decision of the regional assembly of the host region, the aggrieved party reserves the right to appeal to the House of Federation, the only body with the power of last say on such matters.
For reason broached below, in advance of commencement, much less, exhaustion of this clearly laid down legal procedure, the Wolqayt-Tsegede case spilled over to Amhara region to devastating effect. As it turned out, the situation caught the ANDM/EPRDF political operatives off guard, particularly party functionaries responsible for to Wolqayt-Tsegede as well as the contiguous environ of Northern Gonder. An area distinguished by thin state presence that as a rule entices resort to violence as an accepted means of dispute-resolution. In light of the situation, one would have expected a proactive grassroots engagement of the issue in question from the TPLF/ ANDM wings of the EPRDF. Surely, in the light of the fact that several years had passed since the old-guards of both front had consensually opted to sleep over the issue, their heirs should at least have gone a little further. Pending a final settlement, an interim course to follow should have been awareness creation on the legal options and procedural mechanisms available should Amharic speaking side of Wolqayt-Tsegede seek a deferent jurisdictional arrangement.
Such a possibility cannot be ruled out a priori, particularly where residents at the interstices of boundary demarcations are concerned. Similar to, say, Wolqayt-Tsegede where identities tend to overlap, spurring at times vacillation when it comes to making decisions of belongingness in the context differentiated ethno-linguistic geo-political space. Be that as it may, it can be said that the present crisis is in part an outcome of a complacent self-congratulatory attitude pegged to the successes of the reigning politics of recognition and the impressive index of social and economic development. Complacency and the attendant relapse to reinter mentality and elicit self-enriching activity played no small role in distracting the leadership from paying close attention to mounting disaffection under its nose. Focused elsewhere the leadership apparently overlooked grassroots discontentment, combined with the gaps in understanding of how the ethnic federal arrangement works, could be used to foment discord among the peoples of the Ethiopian federation. Whatever unforeseeable factors may have been at play, ultimately it is detachment from the needs and interest of the people that opened up opportunity for outsiders to hijack the Wolqayt-Tsegede issue and polarize the atmosphere. Doubtless had glaring leadership failure in this case been remedied in time, this country would have speared the needles death of too many not to mention the destruction of vital public-service utility.
How it may be asked discontent in Wolqayt-Tsegede could trigger riot as far as Baher Dar, seat of the Amhara regional state. Well, in answer, the riots in the Amhara cities could be interpreted as impassioned expressions of solidarity with the plights of the Amharic-speaking community of Wolqayt-Tsegedepeople. But on a slight inspection this response flies on two counts. First, there has never been an outburst of violence in the name of solidarity with real or perceived violations of the rights of Amhara communities, say, in Bedeno, Abomsa, Yasso, or even recently in Guraferda, an incident which the Ethiopian diaspora tried to play up to a level of mass hysteria. Second, the solidarity argument barely holds water in the face of the fact that there are peacefully modalities of expressing solidarity that trumps destructive outburst and terrorizing resident Tigraians, who could not be any more far removed than the next Amhara from whatever high-level indecision sparked the turmoil.
Nay, a more plausible explanation must be sought elsewhere as the root cause of the crisis is deeper than the trigger point. Granted, the messy apprehension of a former army officer, reportedly charged with grave misdeeds associated with the troubles in Wolqayt-Tsegede is what ignited the furious tremor in Gonder. Only to engulf the greater part of the western zones of the Amhara region with unheard of speed. In situations like this, kneejerk reaction hardly measures up to the imperative of conducting a thorough appraisal of the underlying factors responsible for the concatenation of distemper in western Amhara. Neither is it any help to look for an alibi as nothing can explain away the turbulence as a mere function of facebook agitation or as a handiwork of anti-peace troublemakers. Sure enough the inflammatory intermediation of social media and clandestine subversive activists cannot be discounted. Even so, exogenous factors aside, greater weight has to be given to internal administrative malaise if the mass rupture in the two most populous regions is to be properly articulated free from exonerative semantics, so to speak. This much tallies with the recent EPRDF leadership assessment of the state of the nation in context of GTP- I and GTP-II. Among other failings, the sharply worded assessment concedes that the ruling party bears the lion’s share of the blame for the widespread mass disaffection which unfortunately skidded out control. The assessment likewise regrets the party’s own slack in accommodating legitimate demand for recognition before the issue could be taken up by ant-government agitators as a battle cry for the current lawless disturbance of no precedent. On the leadership’s own admission, dilution of founding values, corrosion of partisan ethos, deflation of revolutionary élan, and lowered standards of conduct significantly compromised EPRDF’s public standing. This is true to ANDM as can be deduced from the rage of misconduct in the region, including unconcealed rent-seeking, networked corruption, nepotism, patronage, abuse of power etc. In a word, governance deficit is threatening to be endemic across the regional state institutions, not least in land administration departments that, without doubt, adversely affects most EPRDF’s rural social base. Tied to these challenges is rampant state reluctance to address valid or misplaced rural grievance, without delay, worsened by disturbing signs of authoritarian dismissal of the concerns of the increasingly demanding agrarian society. As can be expected, it is the cumulative effects of unaddressed administrative gaps that accounts for the erosion of confidence in ANDM in the eyes of the party’s grassroots rural constituency.