By Medhane Tadesse
Time has come to say the following.
Since the changing of the guard in early 2018 the new leadership has stepped up its commitment to alter the significance of the EPRDF using various internal and external intervention instruments gathered under the banner of change(for whatever it is worth?) and the nomenclature of Medemer. These instruments are designed to decrease the functional and normative assets of the ruling party. However, intentions aside, the broader range of actions are prescriptive than normative and structural.
The damage to the TPLF is essentially tactical partly because at least in the short and medium term almost all structural and strategic issues will continue to reflect the norms, principles and values, some would say sidekicks, of the Front. Besides, the restructuring of the Ethiopian state along ethnic lines and the attempt to anchor it in a developmental state model might endure for a long time to come. Moreover, coalition politics mainly among identity groups has become the norm in Ethiopia. It will become the most critical tool of political contestation. Nonetheless, due to the recent actions coalition politics, at least at the level of the EPRDF, has lost its fundamental values, organizing principles or standardized procedures. Although these are fundamental in regulating and normalizing identity politics coalition building they are being tempered in the absence of alternative instruments with terrible costs. Thus the time has come to say the following: the harm is more on the EPRDF than the TPLF. As a consequence the EPRDF is flat-shifted, if not crushed.
From futility to callousness: First, any change within the EPRDF will not fundamentally change the nature and direction of political alliances. The TPLFs loss of influence within the ruling party could not halt identity politics or interest-based alliances around it. Organized politics has come a long and tortuous way in the last quarter of a century, so long a way that makes the other currents critically compromised and less relevant to resolving the problems confronting the country today. That is why philandering around the only workable architecture makes it all the more risky.
Second, continually demonizing the group that left the helm of power through intra-party elections (obviously in the face of widespread protests and a looming danger to the country) will not bode well for a peaceful transfer of power in the future; a phenomenon largely overlooked by many. It might serve as a startling warning to new dominant circles that leaving power without fighting till the end, including by violent means, invites a painful price. The very fact that it will not be rewarded is enough to generate a great deal of trepidation. If a domestic force is required to pay a heavy price for losing power and influence, this cannot be described as political transition.
Another otherwise-fatal occurrence is the perpetual delegtimization and criminalization of security institutions as a weapon of political contestation. Started in 2001, fueled during the protest years and the sprinting changes in recent months it has the potential to make the security sector, particularly the defense force feel lonely and abandoned. This will weaken their resolve and operational effectiveness; not to mention its impact on the long-held Weberian status of the Ethiopian state. Deep faultiness such as religion (about which I wrote sequentially since 1998) will find themselves violently agitated to offer a challenge. Jihadists in the region such as al-Shabaab will come closer to threaten us, once a distant prospect, further complicating the conduct of normal politics. This will undoubtedly facilitate political thuggery prominent among which the drop in the importance of an organizing principle will only expedite the potential axis between criminality and ethnicity.
I hope this attempt to problematic emerging trends will provide some signposts for what needs to be done.
Related links…..On populism and activism:
It is more than mere happenstance that populists and activists are weak at governing partly because they devour a jumbled understanding of intricate issues. They both thrive on the sentiment of ordinary people than on informed decisions about complex policy issues. They are not only anti-establishment but also, very often, glued to anti-intellectualism. They frequently reside in a serious if misguided historical scholarship. They adore easy slogans and easy solutions. But they have tremendous power to move people and-in our case- they command a disproportionate level of influence. The danger in Ethiopia is that populism is compounded by ethnic ‘firsts’: Oromo First, Amhara First and what have you. This remains the biggest challenge to democracy and inclusive society.