Does Messay Kebede Have the Right to Shake Dirty Hands?

July 9, 2011

As a response to the various reactions to his recent analysis, Dr. Messay Kebede has come out with a condescending analysis On the Democratization Process in Ethiopia.

It appears that his original article’s title was The Fallacy of TPLF’s Developmental State, as indicated in his subsequent article mentioned above. However, it was given various misleading titles on different internet sites. A couple of these titles were 1) Ethiopia: Meles’s Political Dilemma and the Developmental State: Dead-Ends and Exit and 2) A prescription for the political stalemate in Ethiopia .

His central arguments appear to be: 1) an assertion of a stalemate in Ethiopia, 2) prescribing only a peaceful process to solve the stalemate, 3) to let his perceived “elites” take charge of the solution process, and 4) deliver democracy to the masses through a long evolutionary process for “democracy grows out of authoritarianism,” according to his own assertion.

He couldn’t be more wrong on all counts. First, all the political parties outside the influence of the TPLF/EPRDF, the political stalemate arrived with the TPLF. For the TPLF/EPRDF, there is a historical pace of development in the country. For independent observers, the trajectory of political developments in Ethiopia in the last 20 years isn’t that simplistic.

Second, the prescription of only a peaceful process has been there and written about from early on. Perhaps, what hasn’t been there from early on was Dr. Messay Kebede’s independent decision to commit to only a peaceful process or an armed struggle. This would make his call for only peaceful process at this time opportunistic at best after watching those who have been pushing others to take up arms for so long.

Third, the TPLF/EPRDF leadership already considers itself an “elite” group that is spearheading its developmental state agenda and has asserted that the question of sharing leadership fashioned after Kenya and Zimbabwe is a model that doesn’t work for Ethiopia.

Fourth, delivering democracy to the masses through a long evolutionary process is what has been promised by the TPLF/EPRDF already doesn’t make Dr. Messay’s call at this time original but a vassal to redeliver the message that we have already heard about through a new found mouthpiece.

What this latest discourse has unveiled is that his message advocates more of the TPLF’s message we have heard before only in a fashion that sounds more catholic than the Pope. He has told us in a plain language that the “control of state power is the concern of political elites, not of ordinary people.”

The popular movement in the last many years in Ethiopia and for the Ethiopian people of all backgrounds sprang from an understanding of: 1) the philosophy of the supremacy of law, 2) power of the people, 3) accountability of the leadership to the people, and 4) subordination of the leader of the state to the leadership. In a sense, this is at par with President Abraham Lincoln’s school of thought of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This popular movement is in direct contrast to the claim to the divine as the source of elected authority and the channeling of this claim to the subordinates at various levels and down to the masses.

Dr. Messay’s philosophy seems to be rooted still in the communist movement of his student days. According to him, “As rightly conceptualized by Karl Marx, the day the people control power is the day state power and politics come to an end.”

After reading this much come from his imagination, it seems of not much use to debate him on the issue of the power of the people that no one can break but can only break oneself against it. While we know that he has the choice to join any political grouping of his choice, we must put to him a philosophical question: Does he have the right to shake dirty hands?

In one of his books, Tesfaye Ghebreab, who has been Meles Zenawi’s functionary, wrote in Amharic a telling borrowed poem, which has been translated roughly as follows.

Don't say it can't be – it has been as it did

Buried buried – lie the remains

Uplifting the stone – who knows if it rises?

"The rocks piled – the dirt mixed

That lives quietly – wearing the grass and leaves

The remain is a mountain – has neither mouth nor ear

Doesn't hear can't be cultivated – it is huge deaf"

You said and ignored – without knowing what is within it

I am afraid for you – that it might explode and you get destroyed

(Poem – Hanit Panit)

With that much said, Dr. Messay may well need to be informed that Ethiopia’s politics may not be in a stalemate but that he may have remained aloof to it under his inflated ego. He can also be assured that no one’s ego can be above the power of the people.

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