Friday, June 10
everything old is new again ... revolutionary measures was the dergue term for murder of its opponents Revolutionary Democratic Agazee Forces patrolling among civilians on the streets of Addis Ababa, courtesy of Yahoo/AFP.
“Ethiopia: A Post Cold-War African State” by Theodore Vestal is required reading for any comprehensive understanding of the TPLF era (the ruling party that is indistinguishable from the supposed ruling coalition, the EPRDF, and the government itself). In an early chapter he talks of an early multi-ethnic opposition party and its fate. In 1991 the United Democratic Nationals (UDN) or National Democratic Union was formed by Oromo, Amhara and Tigrayans.
In addition to the usual visceral paranoia and destructive impulses directed toward any possibility of criticism and opposition from any corner of planet earth, the ire of the TPLF was heightened by UDN positions in favor of such common sense notions such as the right to private property. Ruling party informants infiltrated the UDN while the government harassed and disrupted members and meetings.
Despite this, the new party grew, so the government labeled it an Amhara and Dergue organization composed of a “warmongering, discord-sowing and violence advocating group of anarchists and hooligans". The UDN kept going and held a series of peaceful demonstration countrywide and in Addis Ababa in the midst of government inspired ethnic divide and rule tactics and fighting in various regions where Amharas and Oromos were the main targets.
Foreign influence from Western embassies in Addis Ababa allowed the UDN to proceed and on November 24, 1991 a crowd of 100,000 supporters assembled in Meskel Square. Military vehicles drove into the crowd at full speed, the electricity was cut off (sound familiar?) and despite other forms of abuse the protest was a success. The next day the UDN leaders were arrested, allegedly because of a single rock throwing incident at a group of soldiers.
Charges such as “inciting the people’s thinking with malicious thoughts,” shouting slogans and throwing rocks put the leaders in jail for months until they were released because of US pressure. Under constant surveillance and death threats after release, many leaders fled the country and its offices were occupied by the ruling party. Hundreds of rank and file members also fled or were subjected to torture, intimidation and harassment.
More revelatory than the above story is the entirely of the rule of the current government as shown in this post, Dictatorship. It shows that the exercise of liberal democracy can not be honest in any current Ethiopian context, anyway. What matters is the pretense of democracy and inclusion in the service of attracting Western money.
politics as war
Notably, the founding secretary general of the UDN was found to have been an informer of the government whose purpose was to expose enemies of the ruling party by acting as an agent provacateur. From the infiltration of fighters behind the lines on the battlefield onto dealing with groups and even individuals - careful, painstaking infiltration, sowing of discord, manipulation and lies are defining characteristics of the party approach to humanity.
Indeed, the ruling party of Ethiopia makes no distinction between politics and the battlefield. That is why in the midst of a stumbling campaign to steal the recent election after the fact, comparison was made to the victory over the Dergue in war. According to the Prime Minister, “any political group which has a popular agenda cannot be marginalized by repression of any magnitude.”
What this means is that any political competition such as the exercise of liberal democracy is seen as a sham by her rulers. Anyone with political aspirations who doesn’t fulfill them in combat doesn’t deserve consideration and anyone who achieves that kind of violent consideration will be killed.
This is why all talk of any replacement of or challenge to the current party will be met forever with references to battles many decades past and why all action with possibility of replacing the current order will be met with force. This is important for obvious reasons but also because all peaceful means of changing power are closed beyond the pretense of democracy carried out for donors to see.
Thus power in the TPLF era Ethiopia is designed to only come out of the barrel of a gun. Urban residents are generally viewed contemptuously as rivals to power but the government is scared to death of peasants whose power they themselves hijacked to get to Addis.
That is why no government candidate was elected where observers where present and why intimidation and vote rigging in the countryside will give the ruling party whatever margin of victory it decides to award itself. There are no observers and Westerners in the countryside where 85% of the people live and control of those lives is tightest of all.
The untold story of this election is the mass violence unleashed in defiant electoral districts far from prying eyes.
imperialist forces and their agents
In 1993 the EPRDF published a secret internal document “Our Revolutionary Democratic Goals and the Next Steps“ . An English translation was published as "TPLF/EPRDF Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule" in the Ethiopian Register, June 1996. We will certainly consider the entire fascinating document in the future, but for the present, the descriptions of revolutionary democracy, the grab bag of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist justifications for dictatorship, and its strategy towards the practice of actual democracy are very relevant.
The document notes that full fledged expression of revolutionary democracy is difficult because “imperialist forces” (the US and Europe) who were the victors of the cold war restrict freedom of action because of the need for foreign aid. Basically, there were now limits to how nakedly force could be used in defense of party interests. Foreign imperialists were to be misdirected with fake promises of democracy and a free market.
The “agents of imperialism within“, namely any and all anti-EPRDF forces, generally “lacked the political, economic, and military power to be of service to the imperialists and their organized representatives are paralyzed by internal contradictions and cannot offer a viable alternative to the people“. It is crucial to note how under typical Marxist rhetoric that, the people are by definition supporters of the vanguard Communist party in question.
When we say that all citizens’ democratic rights will be respected in the future socio-political system, it doesn’t mean that Revolutionary Democracy will stand equally for the rights of the masses and the ruling classes. Our support is always for the rights of the masses only.Since any opposition to the TPLF was by definition anti-people and anti-masses, then endless TPLF rule and any and all means of achieving it were also by definition justified in these terms familiar to any student of a jealous cult or intolerant religion. The Wretched of the Earth has a partial catalogue of convenient definitions for the people.
In Revolutionary Democracy, we took a look at a 2000 resurrection of that rather silly ideology as a weapon in the service of internal party struggles over the conduct of the war with Eritrea. As we described in Revolutionary Democracy in Action, and in Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, the party lost control of the election show of 2005 because of the unexpected defiance in favor of the opposition everywhere.
The current state of affairs is outlined in Tiger by the Tail - the opposition knows exactly what it is dealing with and is not going to back down. So the stage is set for us to see the true face of Ethiopia’s rulers. As anyone may guess ... it won’t be pretty.
storm clouds gathering
So far, the very well considered and careful behavior of the opposition, the attention of observers (with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter), and the statements of donor countries have held back the brutal hand of the party in the center at least , meaning Addis Ababa. This will change soon.
Recently, the Ethiopian press was sternly warned not to put out any opposition statements during a recent series of arrests and paroles on ‘good behavior‘. EU observers have already been critical of the one sided trickle of information from all powerful government sources.
Barring actual bloodshed in a central location like Meskel Square, the Western press may have little idea what is going on or it may take at face value pronouncements by the government. A few key personalities in the press and opposition known to influential embassies have only temporary security.
The National Election Board, a division of the ruling party / government, is threatening to sue the opposition for saying true things about it; "[s]uch statements, though baseless and fabricated, may mislead the public and discredit the efforts of the NEBE," Observers have already described the board as creating a situation where rigging was becoming an assumption of all concerned.
In order to have time to get its rigging machinery in order the release of official results has been postponed for a month further - ostensibly to investigate charges of rigging. Anyway, the government has consistently and repeatedly claimed victory since before the election began. The Minister of Information has already accused the opposition of wide scale voting fraud.
A lawsuit filed against the government because of a state of emergency and a ban on demonstrations is to be reviewed under the constitution. Of course, the judiciary is another division of the ruling party / government and the government has already declared victory numerous times and threatened those who question that victory.
Watch for an even more comical parliamentary investigation in the near future. Basically, the party wanted to take no chance on a popular gathering a la Kiev and Beirut that would capture the attention of the world.
The opposition is being labeled as anarchists “engaging in provocation, fanning ethnic hatred, vote rigging, buying ballots and other anti-democratic missions” while the Information minister has warned that : “[o]ur democracy is meant to serve the interest of our peoples and never to accommodate anarchy.”
One assumption that should be called into question by all concerned is the role of the people of Tigray. They were Ethiopians long before anyone ever heard of the TPLF and will always remain defiantly so, despite the governments best efforts. The opposition should never assume that support from the north is absent even if silenced by a brute force that is deeply entrenched and decades old.
abiyotawi irmija - revolutionary measures
Playing the ethnic card in the ugliest possible manner is as natural to Ethiopia’s rulers as breathing. The opposition is truly and voluntarily multi-ethnic which greatly threatens the tribal divide and rule tactics of the government. Charges against the opposition have already involved accusations of a planned Rwanda style genocide and a variety of code words for the omni present evil Amharas of politburo imagination.
Watch for staged ethnic violence where ‘sudden’ complete access is granted to the Western press. There might be also be confessions from within the opposition or statements from the ‘guilty’ about how they were inspired by the opposition. There might be attempts to use violence to split the opposition or just to discredit it so that the full force of government power can be put into play with Western silence (or even encouragement from Jimmy Carter).
Other targets for staged violence against people or property include infrastructure projects, foreigners or their businesses or embassies, government offices or expendable party members, mosques, churches and schools. A potential propoganda winner is a staged attack on an aviation target or a hijacking that the opposition is somehow blamed for.
Even if there is suspicion of government involvement, many foreigners will see it all as evidence of Ethiopian instability and maybe happy to turn away. In the same vein be assured that the religion card will also be played in the service of the party's will to power.
The opposition will be under extraordinary pressure to back down and weaker members may break under threats to themselves or their families. A very few may be TPLF agents in place. Anything is possible including assassination and disappearances.
After all what will anyone do about it in the end? If Ethiopia’s government is no longer invited to join international commissions they may not be happy but that is better to them than losing power. Anyway, the EU may have washed its hands of the remaining contested electoral district controversies.
All observers should realize that there is a titanic struggle going on. The full force of a dictatorship whose show of democracy got out of hand is facing down a popular opposition backed by seven tens of millions. There is nothing, no lie, no infamy, no killing, no horror, no atrocity in human imagination that the Ethiopian government will not gladly do to maintain its power and privileges.
Even if hundreds are killed silently, thousands in Meskel Square or tens of thousands in the countryside, sanctions will make the going more difficult for dictatorship but long suffering Ethiopians will continue to suffer long before the first sacrifice is made by the folks in charge. Have no doubt that the folks at the top have the best golden parachutes that the accumulated blood, sweat and tears squeezed from millions of human souls can buy.
Ethiopia under her current government, is akin to a purposefully maimed body too weak to free itself. The authors of that suffering are rewarded with control of the aid money that pitiable state generates. This may be one of the worst threats Ethiopians have ever faced in their long history.
The opposition has carried the struggle this far and we offer them our prayers and hopes because in supporting them one expresses belief in an Ethiopian future where freedom means more than the absence of foreign colonialism. Forming a shadow cabinet is an excellent start as is otherwise going on like they confidently carry the blessings and future of millions with them.
If we go, we shall slam the door on an empty house.
Lenin's vision of a post-communist Russia
The opposition, and indeed Ethiopians of every stripe have long ago identified their common enemy. Now they must go on identifying their common good in the face of great odds and greater engineered threats such as the sincere ones in the Lenin quote above. At Harvest 3,000 years and counting ... Ethiopians are certainly due a break from providence.