By Admassu Feleke
Many concerned Ethiopians have asked at one point or another how the current regime will come to an end. After predicting time and again that it would have a very short life, we have witnessed not only its survival but its prospering despite the antipathy, hostility and ill wish of the majority of Ethiopians. The reality is that half of today’s Ethiopian population has not known any government other than the EPRDF’s or TPLF’s. 26 years is an average time for a child to be born and reach marriageable age in most cultures. This is where we are now. A whole generation has come of age and a new generation is beginning under the banner of the current regime. And we see no imminent sign of regime end. However, we should make no mistake about it: it will meet its end if it continues with its suppressive and suffocating policies. As an old saying goes: you cannot continue to rule forever by threat alone. But speculating how this regime will meet its demise is no easy matter as it may seem. I shall attempt here to outline different scenarios on the ways in which the EPRDF/TPLF may end its reign. In doing so I am obviously drawing conclusions based on historical analogies from the recent past. I will proceed from the less likely scenario to the more probable one. And there is no rule that states that only one of these scenarios may come to pass. It is indeed perhaps more likely that some combination of these alternative scenarios may be the final outcome. Or in fact, there could be a totally different one beyond what I have been able to hypothesize here. Prediction of historical events, as we know, is more of a gambler’s game.
The first route to regime change that comes to mind is obviously armed struggle because it’s the path most trodden by all oppressed peoples. It usually starts not only because it is the only alternative when all things fail, but also because it is the only one which seems to rectify injustices suffered. Some courageous Ethiopians have now chosen this path because they feel that as things worsen, an increasingly large number of young people eager to see an end to the suppressive and divisive policies of the current regime will join their ranks. And eventually the government will be forced to the negotiating table or engage in a war that it cannot win. The history of past armed struggle may appear to validate their point; but we have also numerous example where liberations struggle have been conducted for decades without tangible success. From the practical stand point, I perceive several difficulties and dangers in choosing such route. First of all how realistic is it, in our day and age, to find a sufficient number of able bodied young fighters willing to sacrifice their future and lives for such a cause? Secondly, in our present world where one country, namely the United States of America, dominates the international balance of power, which country would be willing to support financially, or otherwise, an armed struggle to topple a Third World regime? Indeed one thing that the EPRDF/TPLF has done extremely well is garnering the support of not only China, but more importantly of the West by waging the West’s proxy wars against Islamic extremists in the region. How willing is the West to abandon its ally in the war against terror for an uncertain alternative? Moreover, there are also the additional problems of coordinating and perhaps unifying the forces of the various liberation forces. Given that this regime has been quite successful in sawing distrust and discord among the various nationalities, it is a matter of serious concern that a common agenda and common goals can be laid out for the various armed struggle groups to agree upon. Indeed this would constitute the first battle the liberation armies must win before any other one. Armed struggle can in theory be an agent of regime change, but contemporary history provides us with far more examples of disagreement and discord once power has been seized. Once the winning parties are in power, the prospect of power struggle among them is very real. And once the same vicious cycle is bound to restart.
The alternative to armed struggle is, logically speaking, peaceful struggle which consists in popular marches, demonstrations, media saturation, vigils and occupations of public spaces. The aim of such struggle is to cause the ruling regime to seat at the negotiation table and form a transitional government. From a rational stand point this would have been the most natural course of action everyone should pursue. Any government that is even mildly democratic would have been susceptible to establish some form of dialogue with the opposition. But what we have witnessed in Ethiopia in the past few months is sufficient to disabuse us of such an illusion. What we have observed with horror are the heartless, ruthless and indiscriminate beatings of unarmed demonstrators, their mass incarceration, and even killings. The popular demonstrations have had the effect of driving the regime to panic and declare a state of emergency, which continues to this day. By its very actions the regime has made it plainly clear that it has no intention of acknowledging that there is overwhelming discontent and desire for immediate change. It appears set to squash all dissent by any means at its disposal. It plans to silence all opposition voices, jail whomever it wishes, and govern unhindered until kingdom come. Continuing to advocate peaceful struggle to oppose a regime which is no longer pretending to be democratic would be tantamount to asking that many sacrifice their lives for nothing. I am skeptical, even though I would love to be proven wrong, that peaceful struggle would bring about change in Ethiopia.
And thus we are left only with two other options that I would like to lay down forthwith. The first one considers what remains within the power of the people to bring forth the end of this regime, the other what the regime can do to make an honorable quasi-exit. I would like to call the first one “concerted popular resistance”, and the second “gradual integration”. A concerted popular resistance is a form of non-violent struggle which incorporates all the peaceful means available to the common person to weaken and eventually bring about the end of the regime. It consists of civil disobedience, financial boycott, exposing the regimes actions, and also organizing peaceful demonstration when possible.
By civil disobedience I mean the refusal to participate in any and all political elections unless international credible observers can guarantee their process and outcome. Under this rubric, I will also add the refusal to self-incriminate oneself for acting to bring about change by peaceful means. An adjuvant tactic of civil disobedience is financial boycott. The regime has had a staying power thanks in no small part to its vast financial network. If everyone who opposes this regime were to refuse to do business in any form or shape with the corporations, businesses and persons belonging to or affiliated with the regime I believe we would witness tangible changes, and even openness to establish some form of communication. The third component of the non-violent struggle is exposing the regime’s violence and abuses perpetrated on the people and dissident groups. This demands that all information be documented and corroborated. That no hear-says or half-truths be passed as facts. The idea is to shame and discredit the regime until it loses all its credibility and is forced to come to its senses. A final and essential part of civil disobedience is of course mass popular marches. They should be held everywhere, in Ethiopia and wherever this regime is represented outside the country. I believe that this alternative has a better chance of succeeding – and I could be of course wrong – than picking up arms.
This regime has demonstrated time and again to possess an uncanny ability to survive despite all forms of opposition. But I don’t believe, especially now, that it can extend its life by making recourse to violence alone. Every time it meets peaceful resistance with fire, it will be shortening its days. It is now that it has every opportunity to end the stalemate and trace a new course. It can do this by transforming itself from a narrow nationalist and ethnocentric party into a truly ideologically founded national party. This means promoting the equality of all the peoples of Ethiopia in every sense of the word, allowing the presence and freedom of all political groups throughout the country, allowing free and fair elections, freeing the press from all restrictions, protecting the human and civil rights of all citizens, upholding the rule of law, and creating a truly impartial military and security body. This should not imply the elimination of the rights and powers of the multitude of nationalities and ethnic groups, nor their rights to self-determination. As a famous scholar on Ethiopia once said: “Ethiopia is a mosaic of peoples”. And as such our political institutions must always reflect this fundamental fact. The question is really more about democratic governance and creating consensus about what kind of future we desire for the coming generation.