Leenco Lata’s Political Compass Lost in the Tatters?

March 10, 2007.

In a recent three part article, Leenco Lata attempted to draw his views on an extract by Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s current Prime Minister, from the latter’s upcoming book, which is reportedly titled African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings.

To the extent that Leenco Lata, the former deputy leader of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), is one of the few Oromo political activists who continue to contribute their thoughts to the public, at least once in a while or at a time of their choosing, whether we agree with their views or not, he deserves due credit for that. One of the disadvantages of such contributions is that it puts the contributor’s views under scrutiny and gives us little room for a comparative analysis with similar or against different views about political and human right issues from Oromo perspective. Therefore, we are generally left with analyzing Leenco’s article on its own by going through its weaknesses and strengths, which is the objective of this writing.

Leenco starts his writings by asking “Why seek something you already have?” This question, the first line of the article, fails to tell whether Leenco’s writing is out of concern about Meles’ handling of Ethiopian politics or if it is a political advice to Meles not to bother because he has what he needs.

The content of the article also fails to critically point out past mistakes and failures of Leenco, the organization he belongs to, Meles, the party Meles is leading, and the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Meles during the last fifteen or so years. This failure of taking responsibility or of pointing out those responsible suggests at the very least his indifference to Meles’ failures of the past. As a matter of fact, he attempts to liken Meles to past African leaders who fought European colonialists and wrote books while leading their respective countries. To begin with, that is the wrong analogy to draw unless we are told to believe that the Tigray People Liberation Front’s (TPLF) fight against Ethiopia, which Meles led, is equated to colonized Africa’s fight for independence from European colonialists.

A critical observation of the political conditions in Ethiopia shows that what has been unfolding on the ground in Ethiopia is this country’s resolve to fight back the lingering effects of Europe’s attempts to colonize it. Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia that became independent in 1993 under Meles Zenawi’s watch, was a former colony of Italy. It has now become clear that its current political leadership has been busy to destabilize Ethiopia instead of working with it to bring about regional stability as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is also clear that Leenco Lata, at least in the past, has been working with the political leadership in Eritrea. As a product of the missionary schools built in remote corners of Ethiopia, Leenco Lata’s utter indifference to or working relationship with Eritrea to destabilize Ethiopia makes it clear that he may have been complacent to Ethiopia's resilience to fight back the lingering effects of Europe’s attempt to colonize it.

Only recently, we read a writing of an international observer about Eritrean government’s policy of external containment and internal destabilization in Ethiopia. This policy appears to have been revealed through the latest popular motto of the OLF in Afan Oromo: Gadaan Gadaa Bilisummaa ti. The rough translation of this is “the term is the term of independence [from Ethiopia].” Even though the objective of the OLF to struggle for the political rights of our people in Ethiopia is not in dispute, the fact that such objective is critically influenced by another country that has its own vested interest in the region makes its maneuvering a staged political tradegy. Independence of Oromia from Ethiopia is easier said than done but it appears neither the political leadership in Eritrea, where the main office of the OLF was reported to be located, nor Leenco Lata have done critical evaluation of what such unrealistic adventure means for the future of Oromia, Ethiopia, and the peace and stability of the region that also includes Eritrea.

In mixed signals, Leenco first presents Meles as an emerging “well-read and articulate leader” that could herald “the dawning of yet another more promising era in African history and is thus a cause for celebration.” To any careful observer, Meles’ political as well as intellectual credentials are not very attractive. It is not necessary at all to enumerate basic human rights violations under the watch of Meles Zenawi in the last fifteen years. That has been widely documented. It is clear from the abstract of Meles’ upcoming book that the very meaning of renaissance is lost in this book. Meles has been suppressing the voices of actual renaissance activists in Ethiopia for a long time. One western critic effectively called Meles’ “economic renaissance” thesis as that of a sophomore trying to lecture a western scholar.

On the other hand, Leenco’s concern is about Meles’ thesis to continue to rule Ethiopia through what is called dominant party democracy. Interestingly, he points out that such ideology was presented to Meles about fourteen years ago by Samuel Huntington, and suggests that Meles’ party has been practicing it since then. Apparently, that is the reason he raises the question “Why seek something you already have?” What is not clear is why Leenco chose to use this issue as the basis of his argument at this point in time instead of in the past.

In an apparent conflict with his own concern about the effect of dominant party democracy in Ethiopia, Leenco points out that “After the TPLF/EPRDF suffered unprecedented losses in the May 2005 elections, the dominant party formula was indisputably in tatters.” This observation alone puts the rest of his arguments to the ultimate test for their sincerity. In fact, in the third part of his article, Leenco points out that the TPLF is not in good terms even with its very own constituency in Tigray. This is more evidence that the TPLF, on its own, can not realistically become the dominant party in Ethiopia.

As one observer pointed out after Ethiopia’s 2005 legislative elections, Ethiopia’s political landscape has irreversibly changed for good. That is an achievement of the continuous struggle of the peoples of Ethiopia. This continuous struggle has put them one leap ahead to regaining their power by putting the TPLF/EPRDF establishment in a defensive position, and the remnants of Europe’s colonialism as well as other cultural expansionists to a historic test.

Failing to observe such resilience and heroism of the peoples of Ethiopia, Leenco attempts to blame the U.S. government by stating “The TPLF/EPRDF has now been selected to permanently rule Ethiopia by indefinitely winning elections by the almighty power on earth, the US government.” This writer has no experience or expertise to judge the United State government’s foreign policy in general. However, based on observations about the current situation in Ethiopia, the U.S.’s attempt to help Ethiopia resolve its political problems peacefully should be welcome. That is the right thing to do, and I am led to believe that right is the road that leads to might.

As noted above, Leenco worries that the TPLF/EPRDF will win future elections indefinitely. As a matter of fact, he presumptuously uses this particular issue as a frame of reference for his readers and then attempts to exploit it. The U.S. government’s might was not in the way of the resolve of the peoples of Ethiopia to put Meles’ dominant party formula “indisputably in tatters,” in Leenco’s own words. Neither did Meles government’s violations of human rights over the years have killed our peoples' resolve to fight to regain their natural and inalienable power. This process is bound to evolve until the rule of law reigns in Ethiopia. This process is bound to put to rest what is already in tatters.

That is when clarity overcomes the “fusion between the state, the dominant party, and the government.” That will be when the distinction between opposing the activities of the governing party and the state becomes clear. On this point, Leenco puts forward an important issue of how opposing the governing party can be likened to opposing the state, which would lead to treasonous charges. Following a similar logic, any liberation front organization can be more easily likened to opposing the state. The implication of this is that anyone who involves in a liberation front movement can be easily charged with treason. Furthermore, taking refuge in a country that is known to be the enemy of the state and working with that state can be likened to far worse treason charges. Such possibility of charges and countercharges can only be solved when sincerity takes the place of insincerity, and when the will of the peoples replaces the interest of the individual.

Perhaps, the most revealing of Leenco’s article is his attempt to show that the gap between extremely divergent views across Ethiopia’s opposition camps can be bridgeable. On the one hand, he presents a camp that “continues to entertain the aspiration of either partially or fully regaining Eritrea,” that has members who harbor “the additional aspiration of reviving the agenda of forging Ethiopia into a single Amharic-speaking nation-state.” On the other hand, he presents a camp that considers the aspirations of the first camp “as a threat to their communities’ survival and dignity and are hence considering separation in order to realize their own culturally homogeneous nation-state.” It is after reading such utterly unrealistic political venture yet again that one would ask what is driving Leenco, and in fact, what has been driving Leenco for years. Realistically, it is much easier to end the so called TPLF/EPRDF’s dominant party formula than to bridge the gap between those who want to bring back Eritrea and those who want to follow the footsteps of Eritrea using the so called Alliance for Freedom and Democracy that was conceived with Eritrea’s involvement.

In its recent interview with Prof. David Shinn, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Burqaa Magazine asked the former ambassador about the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) becoming an alternative force for peace and stability in Ethiopia. Prof. Shinn responded by saying that “… parties may unite to defeat the EPRDF. If they achieve that goal, however, I fully expect they will splinter and return to their more parochial interests.” He further points out the fallacy by asking “… I would ask why should the U.S. or international community support one coalition of ethnic parties as opposed to an existing coalition of ethnic parties.”

Crucial clues about Leenco are to be found in his article being discussed. First, his writing is directed to Meles whom Leenco implicitly signifies as a sole decision maker. Leenco’s target group to solve the problem is what he conveniently calls the Ethiopian “elite,” even though the peoples of Ethiopia are the primary victims. The fact that the vote of the Ethiopian “elite” is marginal at best and that this group’s contributions include bringing a series of confusions to our civilized peoples makes Leenco’s prescription a continuation of past confusions. This is evident in that the elites are responsible for getting involved in the Red Terror while our people are still living with one another peacefully. Distinguished scholars such as the late Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin, Prof. Ephraim Isaac, and Prof. Donald N. Levine have testified to the depth of wisdom of our elderly peoples. Even if they lack today’s formal education, our elders draw their wisdom from a pool of age old knowledge that has been greatly valued and documented since the start of human civilization.

On the positive side, at the end of his analysis, Leenco makes valid recommendations about certain issues such as disentangling the ruling party from key state institutions, neutralizing the military and the judicial system, and conducting continuous deliberations at a multiplicity of venues and forums. He wrote “We should organize and participate in forum after forum inside and outside the country to achieve this much needed transformation.”

These are not new recommendations. However, such recommendations coming from more parties should be welcome. Our peoples have been demanding them and struggling for them. Such calls should have come before the formation of the AFD. Such deliberations should have been conducted among the individual communal groups before trying to bridge the gap between those groups who claim to represent them. The outcome should have been a clear and coherent voice of the communal group to itself, the peoples of Ethiopia and the international community. We as people should have sent clear messages to all parties involved instead of talking one objective in one language and the direct opposite objective in a different language, especially when one is seeking the honor of getting seats among the civilized nations by appealing to their constitutionally established organization.

As Ethiopia prepares to celebrate its Millennium, it must disentangle itself for good from the lingering effects of the attempts to colonize it. That will be double celebration for defeating the attempts of the colonialists and the blind agents of destabilization who targeted it on the eve of its upcoming Millennium. Let the coming Millennium usher in the consolidation of the rule of law and equality for its diverse population and cultures.

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