Worthy Opponents and Defeated New Friends

October 3, 2007

Since its formation a few months before the May 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia, much has happened in the Coalition for Unity and Democracy political grouping. Just before the elections, it organized a landmark peaceful rally in Finfinne (Addis Ababa), Ethiopia’s capital, followed by a landslide victory in the city in the election results. It also won significant number of seats, especially in the Amhara Regional State and among the urban dwellers in other parts of the country.

Fierce disputes ensued over the election results between the CUD as well as other alternative parties and the Tigray People Liberation Front/Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (TPLF/EPRDF) political grouping that has been ruling Ethiopia since 1991. Public demonstrations followed for a few months after the elections, which led to the deaths of nearly 200 people, including six police officers, under controversial circumstances. The outgoing Ethiopian parliament passed parliament rules elevating a requirement for alternative parties to table their own agenda in the parliament.

The CUD, on the other hand, laid out an 8-point precondition to the ruling political grouping for its elected members to take their seats in parliament. The ruling political grouping refused to accept the 8-point precondition, instead charging members of the top leadership of the CUD with crimes that could have carried the death penalty. In fact, the Ethiopian court sentenced them to life in prison.

A group of elders that had been working for reconciliation between the government and the CUD leadership managed to have the government pardon them under a circumstance that is yet to be clear.

In the meantime, an investigation commission that was set up by the government to look into the killings of the nearly 200 people compiled its findings in which it reported that the government had used excessive forces against the demonstrators. Members of the commission, including its chairman, were reportedly threatened to alter their findings but left the country with copies of their report.

The leaders of one of the parties in the CUD, EPDP-Medhin, had left the CUD and took up their seats in the parliament. Dr. Berhanu Nega, one of the top leaders of the CUD, wrote a voluminous book in which he clearly stated that he found that walking the talk is complex after his involvement in the CUD politics. In this book, he also implied the possibility that the leader of the EPDP-Medhin, Lidatu Ayalew, may have been the traitor to the CUD in favor of the TPLF/EPRDF. Lidatu Ayalew shot back stating that he had over a decade of involvement and experience in Ethiopia’s politics than Dr. Berhanu and that the latter knew less. In fact, Lidatu also wrote a book titled “Ye Arem Irsha” in Amharic, which roughly means “Weed Farm.”

The top leadership of the TPLF, Sebhat Nega and Meles Zenawi, gave interviews in which they affirmed their pride in helping the struggle of the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) for Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. Seye Abraha, the former Defense Minister of Ethiopia, who is rumored to have led the 1998-2000 Ethiopian war against Eritrea was released from prison, after he was put in jail and imprisoned since after the war.

Isaias Afeworki, Eritrea’s president and leader since 1991, published a booklet giving it a title One Ethiopia with the pictures of Seye Abraha and Hailu Shawel’s, CUD chairman, on the front cover of the booklet. This is after repeatedly assisting the Somalia Islamic Courts Union (SICU) in its recent war against Ethiopia. Isaias is also helping various liberation organizations which are struggling against Ethiopia as well as the Ethiopian government.

And here we are barely a few weeks after their release the CUD leadership bitterly divided into two camps. One group, now being touted as the moderate group, appears to be ready to work with other alternative parties and the governing political grouping. The Chairman of the CUD, on the other hand still sounds to be content on the 8-point precondition that may have been the main cause that put them in jail.

Now, the moderate group appears to be distancing itself from its hard line stance as stipulated in the voluminous election manifesto of the CUD, including the plan to reverse the current federal structure. Looking at the background of some of the individuals in this group, it would have made sense if they didn’t rally behind the elections manifesto that would have compromised the cause of decentralization quest in Ethiopia’s amorphous society. Thus their attempts to distance themselves could be seen a misguided policy that they started with instead of the imagination of a new policy. The fundamental question here is why they failed to see originally what they are trying to see today.

To his credit, the Chairman of the CUD doesn’t seem to budge from his original plan. However, as the moderate group takes off from his core All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP), his group is bound to be facing an uphill battle that the group will most probably revise its political program especially as it relates to federalism and diversity. That venture may help the party to leave a lasting legacy in Ethiopia for its fight for the unity of the country at a critical time when it risked disintegration that would have led to an uncertain future. Otherwise, the upward battle it is going to face may well be a downward spiral in the face of numerous alternative political parties alongside with the splinter group from the CUD.

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