Monday, October 17

Tag Team

We feel better about the united opposition to the Ethiopian government every day and as a result the prospects for Ethiopia‘s future seem ever brighter. They seem to know exactly what they are doing and they regularly display the confidence and the characteristics necessary to take on the Meles regime and eventually to lead Ethiopia.

First, the opposition isn't playing the regime’s game. Meles and his party view politics as a zero sum game with life or death stakes. The ruling party approach to politics is indistinguishable from its approach to intrigue or war either within its own party or with an armed enemy. Infiltration, propaganda, intimidation and from ambush particularly directed or mass violence is the regime’s own language.

The party history is re-written on a continuous basis and there is no concept of abstract morality or right and wrong beyond what serves the politburo at that moment in every case. Within or outside the party there is also no concept of equals in agreement or argument. There is only a strict hierarchy of ruler or the ruled in a rigid pyramid of discipline with Meles at the top and a heap of compromised and crushed souls at every level below..

By definition the people want Meles to rule forever and by definition anyone who doesn’t is against the people. That does not leave much room for civilized political exchange because following the logic of the will of the people, anything that Meles does against anyone is only proper. After all Meles is the people of Ethiopia -by definition.

Outwardly the government can only bluster and threaten dire consequences because money wielding ferenjis are watching. Below the radar in Addis or out in the countryside terror rules openly among the opposition and Ethiopians in general.

In astonishing displays of bravery at all levels the people keep standing up to be counted. Even where they have been beaten down and had their folks killed and tortured around them they had made their opinions know as they did in the brief, mistaken democratic window granted them. They represent the ultimate silent majority and force.

The people all over the country and the opposition are using every peaceful means at their disposal to resist. The government can plant guns or explosives on people and stage violence and fake news stories and tribalist pamphlets but no one is fooled - if they ever were anyway. With time the government just grows more shrill and abusive.

By not playing the government’s game the opposition is retaining freedom of action and credibility while deftly avoiding the ultimate fate of speaking the only real language the government knows - violence. The opposition always speaks maturely and reasonably without bombast or threats if you actually listen to it and not what the government says about it.

Their actions are transparent and not at all tricky. Actually at some point there was said to be a spy for the government broadcasting all internal business. He or she was probably not alone in this classic regime move - but it doesn't matter. The opposition has no real secrets anyway - what you see is what you get.

They do what they say they will and if they change their minds, they just say so with no sense of shame or weakness because they know their mission and themselves like grownups. This sort of peaceful and reasoned but principled and stubborn opposition is more of a nightmare for the regime than a massive guerrilla uprising would be.

Second, the opposition is not afraid of internal disagreement. The maturity displayed by regularly disagreeing with each other without purges and murders and life long enemies being made is what we most admire about the opposition. The way they react to disagreement today is the way they will treat opposition once they are in power and it is reassuring beyond all expectations for the development of a genuinely democratic culture and prosperity.

Basically, this makes us confident that unlike the ruling party that the opposition does not need to have the whole pie for itself or to see everyone bow down before it in humiliation and submission. Even now, outside of office, they are showing us their respect for people and the choices they make. They also seem to recognize that people may have a purpose beyond immediate political utility.

They are acting like democratic players from all over the world who expect of themselves and of others civilized participation in a system of give and take. It is politics after all so they are all men on a mission and they are also very ambitious. That is great - good politics should channel natural ambition and interest into the common good by the competition of words, without bullets involved it is all good.

But they dare to do so with respect for other men and most of all without ongoing jealousy and rancor. From a stock market and parliamentary debates to courtrooms and junior high school elections in Ethiopia’s future this is a profound and revolutionary factor that has been introduced into the country.

Consider how the main opposition figures have definite structures but that leaders and deputies routinely speak for each other across party lines and across internal party barriers as well. THEY TRUST EACH OTHER and ARE CONFIDENT.

As far as we know Meles has no single named single deputy in the party or government that is just assumed to have a right to an opinion or position absent ongoing support from the top. Why? Fear and the possibility that anyone could rise up at anytime given a chance is the reason.

The victor would then re-write history as convenient with Meles as hero or villain - whatever it took at that particular moment to maneuver around and rise to the top. Anyone who did not jump right on a new anti-Meles party line would be in as much trouble then as they would be today if they were anti-Meles.

Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties that have ever admired Enver Hoxha and his Albanian nightmare are not natural settings for the trust that internal party or national democracy and prosperity need. They are instead incubators of intrigue and suspicion and vengeance and trickery and by necessity - violence.

Ethiopia deserves better.

Notice that the inseparable ruling party / government / judiciary / legislature / press machine ALWAYS speaks with one voice.

No one should be surprised by this - all of the above are just the hydra like heads of one beast. It is the very model of a Bolshevik-Maoist structure of a party-state with a little bit of corporatist crony monopoly capitalism grafted onto it (doesn’t that sound like a description of a fascist state?) to accommodate the successes of the imperialist camp (what the government calls aid donors) in the Cold War.

That tight ruling party discipline is actually a sign of profound weakness. It means that they don’t trust anyone - especially those closest to them. To dissent or disagree or break with the regime one has to defect or naturally expect to be treated far worse than the opposition is. Turning away from revolutionary democracy is like committing the vilest act of heresy or apostasy in an unforgiving religion.

What this means is that it takes far more real commitment and actual discipline to be a member of the opposition to such a regime. That is the hard road after all and the faint hearted don’t begin it and stay on it easily. In contrast, the regime despite all of its efforts trusts no one because it knows very well that it can’t trust itself.

The government, as we said, wants obedient subjects, not partners. The partners it does tolerate are partners in crime who lose a bit of them selves in pursuit of property or position or just the easy way in life. Its supporters are people who by force or circumstance and very seldom by choice become part of a vanguard party that treats them like minions and not like men.

Between harassment and intimidation, spying and subverting one’s own spirit and those of others, always in the party’s service, supporters can not but feel a continual internal sense of complicity in wrong. ‘Only following orders’ or ‘everyone is doing it’ or ‘the others are worse’ can only serve for just so long.

We predict that in the months or few years ahead that the regime and the party at its core will implode from the steady yet peaceful moral pressure of the Ethiopian people in opposition to it.

That is just what happened in Eastern Europe and the USSR. The Ethiopian government, like it did in June will try to put the Chinese alternative and Tiananmen Square on the table but ultimately, the poverty its own system generates along with dependence on the world's money will make that a losing option. They still may take it but that will only seal its fate.

At some point the supporters of the government will recognize the time to admit that their own traditional and essential human morality learned in their community and homes was right all along has come, though they were afraid to reveal that fact openly.

They will shout out how far from human is the Marxist-Leninist mental colonialism from abroad that has subjugated them. The know now and will know better that they want something the party can not give them.

A sense of purpose and meaning as well as a vision of the future that is not based on force, fear and the demonization of their fellow Ethiopians - but calls on hope - for a change.

Third, no one is afraid of the opposition but the government. In every way in Ethiopia and with the diaspora, just about everyone takes advantage of opportunities to tear into the opposition. The government and its supporters do in a characteristically shrill and ad hominem manner routinely that would be silly if it did not promise deadly force.

What is really fantastic to us is how often critics of the government and supporters of the opposition pull no punches in their critique of the opposition. We think this is wonderful beyond our ability to describe it.

Why? People who want the opposition to rule, disagree with it openly and frequently because they want to help it be better or just to be what they want it to be effective or even keep its promises - mainly and the most healthy reason of all is that they sincerely feel that they own the opposition - that it is theirs and it has an obligation to hear them out and be influenced by them.

Now how is that for real democratic culture?! It is truly wonderful and marvelous is it not? We just choke up thinking about it - seriously.

What it all means is that they all trust the opposition to behave totally unlike the Ethiopian government of Meles or that of Mengistu. People critical of either government did or do so at great risk to liberty, limb or life. Totalitarian parties have long memories for disrespect and vengeance.

Government supporters are simply afraid to be critical in any way even if the criticism is constructive. THEY ARE TERRIFIED OF THE GOVERNMENT more than the opposition is. Cadres know very well the legal and moral crimes that they routinely commit against their own fellow cadres and opponents alike and are thus familiar with what lies in store for themselves if they think unapproved thoughts or even worse - dare to voice them.

They also know that their own hands are dirty and can only justify their own weak behavior by louder and more aggressive behavior to prove themselves and to direct fire away from themselves. It is a structure that dehumanizes all who touch it within and without while demanding subservience in the same manner that cowboys break the spirit of a horse. They endure in the system to give themselves some illusion of purpose beyond the whims of those above them.

It is likely the case that much of the brutality of every manner directed against opponents is a result of trying to silence the internal guilt of knowing better from what tradition and family have taught them but being unable to face their own weak reality as a cog in an immoral machine. They seem to have viciousness in direct proportion to the earnestness of their opponents.

Try getting a government supporter to make any critique of the government in any way at all. They simply can't do it. It is like asking someone to forsake God. Now try the same with an opposition supporter and try and get them to criticize the opposition - you won't be able to shut them up. That is all a sign of great strength of the opposition and the clear insecurity and weakness of the government.

The only way a criticism will be allowed is when particular permission is given for the sake of infiltration and seeming reasonable in civilized circles. For example, the odd throwaway remark about the land policy is done only along the lines of a script handed down from far above and attempts to make the speaker seem open minded.

Presumably cadres should have to submit themselves to ritual cleansing after such missions.

Another example where extraordinary written permission may be needed is when loud abusive insults are directed at the government by its agents. The purpose there is classic Leninist infiltration to draw out hidden opponents in the flock and to discredit the opposition. Having thus established 'street credibility' an assault on the opposition may be launched that is supposed to find more receptive ears.

Often such calls are made with demands for anti-government violence and tribal insults and other ad hominem attacks. Even when no one is fooled, a purpose is served by such performances. Everyone just feels stupid and silly to even be in the company or the same room and interested in the same subject as the performer.

Participation on the sacred party ground of politics is thus discouraged by often successful but indirect means. Willing participants in the ruling party games are actually rather sad to contemplate seriously. Those at home may have untold pressures brought to bear on them but those abroad are real subjects for study.

Some who even use their children as props in the party service are beyond contempt and can only be pitied for what they have allowed themselves to become. All who serve as cadres in the cozy midst of free socities where they endeavor to recreate a culture of fear and to enable it at home are certainly beyond moral understanding.

What excuses can they have for being the personal handmaidens of totalitarianism or of a foreign government while they take full advantage of every opportunity in their new locations.

We say location instead of home because for many immigration is a matter of physical movement with brains always enslaved to forces far away. Did they go to free countries like carriers of a disease - to bring bits of dictatorship in their wake like it was some treasured part of their country's culture?

No, they left to be free but proved too weak to ever free more than their physical bodies from domination. It is beyond civilized understanding to contemplate someone who can cross oceans and continents to become agents, cadres and spies as though their earthly existence was nothing more than an eternal hell of loyal vanguard party membership of servitude.

The human spirit deserves more than that.

Presumably after such a loyal party performance a ritual cleansing is no longer good enough but a brief period of re-education and particular attention from internal party spies may be necessary to make sure nothing was internalized out there amongst the non-revolutionary democratic infidels.

Intensive participation in an intensive gimgema (criticism / self criticism) sessions may also be required to root out any independent thought that might have sprung up from exposure to free minds. Can anyone picture the opposition running a gimgema?

Of course not! People would just refuse to participate because they trust the opposition to behave in a civilized way ... and it would meet their expectations by never trying such nonsense anyway. Every Ethiopian deserves better than constant calls to the very worst parts of human nature that the government considers the basic coin it spends to rule.

Fourth, the opposition plans ahead. and they think. Man oh man do they plan ahead and think. We see that like a grand champion team at a chessboard that their minds have together wrapped themselves around every possibility and have a plan for it.

Ultimately we think that they know the regime better than it knows itself. Certainly they know Ethiopians far better than the regime does.

At every stage before, during and after the ‘election’ they not only defied predictions with their reasoned tenacity but did so with particular care taken with domestic and foreign opinion and expectations. Without going over every event in the past months let us just look at the past weeks.

No matter what the government says it is in reaction mode to the opposition - the opposition sets the agenda. They plan rallies and strikes, behave and judge in measured terms the risks and benefits and change their plans accordingly. They are always reasonable and never abusive in the face of the worst violence, abuse and ad attacks.

With no domestic press available they involve the common man as best they can and engage the diplomatic corps with care but never with timidity. The aid donors want nothing more than to have the opposition just go away with a nice pat on the head for playing the democracy game (they weren't supposed to take seriously) but they continue to defy everyone with dignity and the patient accumulation of a long list of carefully thought out positions and responses.

The opposition is painstakingly painting the regime and the donor community into a moral and practical box where there are no secrets and reality is presented in stark relief. If the government does what comes naturally and starts shooting there is a long record of opposition behavior in trying times that provides no excuses or exits for or from such a situation for anyone concerned.

Now CUD did not enter Parliament and the UEDF did. Is this a victory for the regime? No, it is actually far worse for the government than if both did not enter or if both did enter together. Having attempted to split the opposition all along what the regime is presented with is not a split but a strategy.

When the rubber stamp Parliament voted to threaten CUD with a withdrawal of parliamentary immunity on the same day it was accused yet again of being a violent outlaw force, UEDF within parliament made news by clearly disagreeing and making it principled positions know before all.

After all, if the UEDF has joined up it can’t be continuously scourged the way CUD is even if they are on the same page. That would not make sense in the regime’s own picture of pretend logic and that of aid donors as well.

This arrangement will prove to be a nightmare for the regime in the end and they have very few reasonable looking options for dealing with it. In a way the opposition is playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ from without and within, while it has also set the rules of the game being played out before an international audience.

The donors who finance Ethiopia’s dictatorship weren’t willing to go all out for the opposition. Why should they after all? They are there to look out for their own national interests and to use the rewards their own societies provide them in abundance to give some degree of humanitarian aid. They know full well that Ethiopia’s government is the main reason that Ethiopia is in bad shape.

The best they can do is assure that some democratic opening exists in a totalitarian system because at some level of violence all are aware there will be consequences in the withdrawal of aid. The regime hopes to avoid that by threatening national failure and chaos while using manageable levels of brute force to rule indefinitely.

The opposition has to play a very deft hand and juggle these forces while serving the general interest. It has come so far and done so well so far against a brutal despotism while saving the nation from the threat of a new round of civil war which is the government's counterfeit trump card and ultimate fake raison d'etre.

Given Ethiopian circumstances in 2005 what we are seeing is the equivalent of Gandhi in action against colonialism and Martin Luther King against Jim Crow. We have asked our readers to try a little thought experiment before.

Close your eyes and imagine Ethiopia's politburo was white. Immediately you would picture South African apartheid or a struggle against colonialism. The whole world would rise up with you calling for sanctions and disinvestment.

Why should dictators get any credit just for happening to look like the people they abuse?

While the Ethiopian government is missing the essential capacity for shame that worked so well directed back against the British or against the American South. The window provided by foreign eyes on Ethiopia is creating an atmosphere where daring and principled men and women may lead their people to freedom

We have said before that this is a struggle just like all of Ethiopia’s united efforts against centuries of foreign invaders and it is. This time war is not an option and once again Ethiopians of every region, tribe and religion are rising to meet the new challenge of non violent change just like they did with arms when called for against Italy, Somalia and the Dergue.

Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan, Gurage, Agew, Anuak and all others deserve better than what now pretends to speak for them singly or together.

The regime has been out of ideas for thirty years now and its options are slowly shrinking and being managed for them. Like an evil Samson they may yet try to take down the whole Temple with them, but given what Ethiopians of every kind from everywhere have shown of themselves for centuries and what they have displayed just this year- the good guys will win in the end.

It may not happen tomorrow and there is a hard road ahead but things are going the right way. Ethiopians finally have some leaders that deserve their support.

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