Actions: Where to Start? (T. Goshu)
By T .Goshu
This piece of writing is not intended to theorize the complex process of a political action and to pretend that deeds are as simple as words. My intention is just to express what I feel about the gravely dehumanizing political and socio-economic circumstances going on in our country in relation to the concrete political actions the people of Ethiopia are demanding for. Although the demands for more deeds not words is as old as the struggle for freedom and justice itself, its intensity and urgency has reached the turning point that critically requires a high level of concerted and practical steps. However, our efforts compared to the circumstances in which the people of Ethiopia are languishing are not moving as fast and effective as they should be.
There is no doubt that our abilities to define and analyze the problems we want to resolve is absolutely indispensable in the process of the struggle to defend our fundamental political and socio-economic rights. But it goes without saying that at the end of the day, our definition, theorization and articulation of the problems we want to deal with are impotent unless they become the material forces for interpreting our desired goals into actions. Although it is generally true that our weaknesses are reflected in both elements of the inseparable process (theoretical and practical), the weaknesses we suffer most are reflected in our course of actions. That is why we hear an overwhelming cry for action from millions of genuinely concerned Ethiopians over and over again. Needless to say that this powerfully legitimate cry for concrete action deserves serious attention. But, it is equally important to be noted that the way we transform our goals into practical terms has to go through steps that are systematically intertwined, not mechanically fixable.
Needless to say that even a genuine democratic system is not free from some sort of messiness. It is rather an endless process of a struggle to keep the balance between leaders who are tempted to involve in a manipulative and corrupt behavior on the one hand, and the continuation of people’s active participation in making sure that respect for political and socio-economic interests of the public at large are not ignored on the other hand. It is a never- ending process of arguments and counter-arguments, agreements and disagreements, contentious discussions and even vehement disagreements. It is rather a matter of dealing with problems in a real sense of civility and a fairly balanced manner. And this is possible only with the existence of very strong and vibrant democratic citizenship.
I want to argue that if we do not see our aspirations and demands for an ultimate political action as a product of incremental and persistent process, not just as an event that is expected to happen in an abrupt fashion, it is very difficult to make a meaningful difference on our way to the realization of democratic and just society. In other words, our strong desire for the decisive course of political action that can force the tyrannical ruling circle either to come to the negotiating table or get out of people’s way is part and parcel of a highly systematic process. Having said this introductory reflection, I want to proceed to relatively specific points which I believe deserve continuous and a great deal of attention whenever we talk about the ultimate political action we strongly aspire.
1. Let me begin by saying that having serious and meaningful conversations on the question of how to deal with common challenges and get common goals accomplished is where a process of political action should start. This is a very critical part of a process which millions of genuinely concerned citizens deeply cry for. It goes without saying that the question of bringing about a meaningful action depends on the existence of a well-thought, mutually understood, well –organized and well-coordinated way of doing things. And therefore, the demand for action requires strong and serious efforts to conduct vibrant, tolerant, transparent, honest and result-oriented debates/dialogues among political parties and movements of the opposition camp. This in its turn has to serve the very challenging journey towards the realization of common goals – building a democratically vibrant society. And this subsequently has to lead to the fulfillment of our strong desire to live in a country in which we all live together with a real sense of democratic citizenship.
Now, the very challenging question we have to face is whether we are moving fast and strongly enough or not yet. I strongly argue that we are still enormously suffering from an acute deficiency of engaging ourselves in activities that are critically relevant to what we desperately aspire. Are there opposition political parties/forums, human rights advocacy groups, and/or individual activists? Yes, there are! Are there some recognizable efforts being made? Of course, there are! However, it must be admitted that compared to the seriousness of the challenges we are facing, the course of political actions is still suffering from severe lack of meaningful conversations. The very essence of listening to each other’s views and developing a real sense of mutual understanding is still being badly driven-apart by the culture of irrationality, intolerance, the attitude of “if I or we are not right ,everybody else and everything is wrong!” I sincerely want to believe that this factor of political activity has to be taken seriously more than ever if the challenge in the process of the ultimate political change has to be met.
2. Logically and realistically speaking, the next course of political action rests on the willingness and ability of those concerned political and advocacy groups to come together and be the leading forces of the struggle. They have to interpret a real sense of coming together around unity of purpose. For sure, with the exception of very few political movements which still have the question political mottos such as “liberation”, most of the opposition political and advocacy groupings have the same major political agenda item – to live in a country in which the political freedom, human dignity and socio-economic justice are guaranteed. What is so ridiculous about those “democratic forces” is when it comes to the question of why they could not move beyond the formation of coalitions, forums, alliances, democratic unions, councils, congresses (shengos) and the like. I am not here undermining the relatively encouraging efforts being made by some groups/movements. What I am trying to say is that we are not fortunate enough to see a real sense of playing a complementary role among groups (small, big, old or new) leave alone delivering coordinated and effective leadership.
It is not uncommon to observe groups/movements pulling apart their efforts and resources even at the very critical moment of the struggle. It is not only difficult but also unthinkable to make meaningfully sustainable difference if those entities are not seriously willing and capable to provide a kind of leadership that can pave the way for a kind of never go back popular uprising .Yes, if we are talking about a course of political action that can either force the ruling party to be part of a peaceful change or else to get out of people’s way, there is a pressing need to get out of small circles in which we found ourselves badly encircled . I wish I could be deadly wrong when I say that there are political groups which are victims of the political culture of talking, not walking. It is hard to understand how we keep multiplying groups after groups which claim struggling for exactly the same cause. It is extremely difficult to comprehend why those who speak the same political literature and claim that they stand for the same major goals keep holding public meetings after public meetings and tell the people the same story and ask for support. I do not know why the people of poverty-stricken country are asked to contribute their merger resources to so many groups which claim fighting for the same cause.
It is understandable that relatively significant tactical differences such as the question of whether peaceful popular disobediences or armed struggles have to be recognized as legitimate and justified reasons for not making unified organizational structures and commands. But, It is hard to understand why we are not making meaningful progress to bring at least those political entities with the same goal and similar tactics (either peaceful disobedience or armed or both) together under an unbreakable umbrella of purpose. Yes, it is not convincing at all if we are talking about a real sense of political action. And I want to say that this is a very unfortunate part of our political trend particularly in the diaspora that has freedom of assembly and organization as well as a relatively better financial and human resources affordability. Most leaders of those groups talk about the need to help the struggle back home (be it peaceful or otherwise) and that is fantastic. But in practical terms, we witness the culture of forming groups after groups and make our resources thinner and thinner while those political parties and movements back home that are operating in a very hostile political environment are crying for a very desperate financial and other form of support. I am not saying forming groups and being part of the struggle is a wrong thing as such. Not at all! What I am trying to say is that parties and advocacy groups are not drawing their efforts and resources to a much more powerful political asset, and this has to change if we want to make a difference.
I hope all concerned parties and movements will move forward by making necessary adjustments and readjustments to the very dynamic political situation going on in our country. Talking and crying about ultimate action (changing the political system) does not make sense if we do not take things to be dealt with at this level course of action much more seriously than ever.
3) Yes, individuals with their strong, unwavering and wise leadership quality play a very critical role in the process of extremely difficult political struggle like ours. However, the most decisive forces of the struggle are the people themselves .It is the willingness and determination of the people that moves the struggle on the right direction and at the right pace. It is the strong and sustainable coordination and cooperation between the leadership and the people that can guarantee a successful political transformation. And this level of participation is the result of an unbreakable integrity of each concerned citizen. Now, we have to face another challenging question: how far have we gone to make this front of political action the powerhouse of our legitimate struggle? Well, I think the terrible weaknesses we have in this front of political battle are neither arguable nor defendable at all.
This does not mean that the determination of the inner circle of (TPLF/EPRDF) to stay in power by using state terrorism has nothing to do with our failures as individual as well as a people for the last 21 years. It does not also mean that the multiple failures of the opposition camp have no any regrettable contribution to the political and moral degradation of citizens. It is rather to mean that we have not done our part both at individual and at some sort of organized level. Let me express some few examples of my observation in the form of questions:
In the diaspora:
. Did we play and continue to play our desirable role at least in making our views/comments, arguments/counter arguments, agreements/disagreements, conversations, critics and so forth in a real sense of rationality and civility whenever we engage ourselves in any subject of our common concern, or we do the opposite?
. Did we really try and continue try to do our best to engage leaders of opposition political parties/movements in a critical but constructive manner or otherwise? And do we simply complain about the failures we face and condemn the opposition forces or do we admit that we share responsibilities as individual citizens and as a community for not doing enough?
. Are we really willing to show up in events such as public meetings/ forums /conferences, demonstrations/ protests, candle light vigils and the like and take active participation or we simply talk behind those public activities? Are we courageous enough to challenge respectfully but critically leaders and members of the opposition groups, and human rights and civic organizations or we either try to avoid the politics of face to face challenges and continue complaining and condemning?
.Do we really focus on our big and common agendas (national issues) or merely on personalities? Do we really respond/react to anybody’s views which we do not agree with based on the views raised or we simply try hard to bombard him or her with all kinds of nasty and slurring words?
.Do we really commit ourselves to pay the sacrifices we can afford in a constant and effective manner or we just simply put tremendous pressure on opposition parties/movements to take concrete political actions?
. Does it make a lot of sense to undermine the efforts being made by opposition political groups which are trying to do their best by facing the real threat/fear itself while those of us who live in a part of the world where there is no real threat or to ‘fear the fear” and not doing enough ?
Back home: Let me say first that the recent movements we are witnessing in all corners of the country by various groups and sectors of the society are encouraging and admirable. However, I sincerely believe that raising few concerns is the right thing:
. With no doubt, the existence of effective leadership is so critical. But the self-motivated and self-devoted involvement as a citizen and as a people is absolutely indispensable. And this involvement has to be geared to a well-integrated, a clear and shared vision, and a persistent and sustainable way of doing things. Are we sensing this kind of qualitative moves? Definitely not yet! And people who have learned their lessons in a very hard way should be deeply concerned about the question of how to deal with the current challenges and opportunities.
. We have observed the very worrisome level of public participation in most activities undertaken by opposition forces. To mention examples : attending public meetings/ workshops and showing active participation , sincere willingness and determination to hold peaceful rallies /demonstrations/protests/civil disobediences , moral and financial/material supports and the like were not and still are not significantly encouraging.
. It has to be admitted that we as individuals or as a people still prefer staying away from the fear we fear instead of challenging the very cause of the fear itself . I think we should be worried when the people are scared of speaking about unimaginable level of impoverishment to the extent of being unable to put anything to eat on their tables for their children leave alone strongly demanding and insisting to be human with fundamental rights or not to be . I wish I could be terribly wrong .But that is the reality on the ground. Well, is this frustrating? Definitely it is! Can we and should we deal with this frustrating and fearful situation in a very wise and determined manner, and prevail successfully? Absolutely we can and we should!!
To sum up, the demand for an ultimate political action is not something a dramatic event. It is rather part and parcel of a systematic process .It is only by making a meaningful and unbreakable linkage among parts of that system that guarantees the political change we desperately aspire. Let us not make that connectivity repeatedly driven- apart by our own mistakes and consequently make our unity of purpose fall apart once again!
I am well aware that moving forward with a great mission in the presence evil is enormously challenging. But that is the way it is! There is no any other shortest way!