As part of its quest for more power at the federal level, OPDO has made what it called necessary leadership changes in the aftermath of a secretive coup d’etat like development in Ethiopia. Will that constitute “change” and can it make a real difference if it succeeds in its pursuit of power?
When Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgne announced his resignation, with a frightened and breaking voice, as party chairman and prime minister with an intention to be “part of a solution” for the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia, many critical voices in the opposition quarter didn’t take him for his words. Deceleration of the state of emergency in the following day and the assumption of power by the “Command post”, which essentially represent TPLF in view of the fact that it constitutes mostly TPLF high ranking military officers, to preside over the martial law was a confirmation, for many, that TPLF engineered a military coup under the cover state of emergency (SOE).
The fact that the SOE was effective the same day it was announced. Theoretically, it was supposed to be approved by the parliament first. The rushed SEO is another important indication that the resignation of the prime minister was rather a seamless coup.
What the SOE fundamentally does is restriction of fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on grounds of averting instigation of ethnic-based violence as if politicized ethnicism, which often times leads to ethnic violence from the experiences of other African countries, was not the ideology of the regime. Worrisome ethnic based violence did happen in the course of the popular protest in different parts of Ethiopia ; it did happen in fact even in places one would least expect it like university campuses and stadiums. Yet, again it is important to note that even soccer tournaments are configured in a way to foster politicized ethnicity due to the ideology of the ruling party.
Critics say, rightly so, that ethnic violence came to be an issue, as reflected in the state of emergency, to the dominant party in the ruling coalition, TPLF, when some Tigray speaking Ethiopians, and Tigray is the political base of TPLF, began to feel the negative effects when they attacked in different parts of the country.
In any case, reaction to the SEO never run contours of indifference, unlike the case of the prime minister`s resignation which the ruling coalition accepted same day. Oromo People`s Democratic Organization (OPDO) reportedly opposed the SOE but did not issue official statement. As the details of SEO emerged later, some government bodies, especially regional media outlets, are implicitly targeted; one of which is Oromia Broadcasting Network (OBN). In addition, peaceful protests are banned which means OPDO`s move to redefine power relation within the ruling coalition could be in jeopardy if the popular protest in the region, it calls for an end of TPLF government, wane or disappears as they have been helpful for OPDO`s to negotiate power. To put it differently, while the new development that emerged after Hailemariam`s resignation could help TPLF to re-consolidate power, it will certainly weaken the position of OPDO.
There is unconfirmed report about critical voices within Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), another big component of the ruling coalition, towards SOE but this is a party within which TPLF exerts significant influence through its well-placed henchmen who are capable of manipulating the party.
The diplomatic community did not support the SEO either on grounds that it would impair much needed political solution. Getachew Reda, a new breed of TPLF who is also a member EPRDF executive committee, told local media, Addis Fortune, and it’s with a text message, that he `”recognizes the Embassy’s concern for the peace and stability of the country and the broadening of democratic space in Ethiopia, but he states that the government believes the state of emergency will help the county to ensure more, not less, peace and stability,” as cited by the aforementioned media.
OPDO’s quest for Federal power
It has been widely covered by Ethiopian media that today OPDO made changes to its internal power configuration. Lemma Megersa who was chairman of the party is made vice chairman while Abiy Ahmed (Dr.) is elevated to chair the party. The arrangement was made without Lemma Megerssa losing his position as president of the region.
In an interview with OBN, Lemma says that the changes were necessary so as to ensure that demands of the people in the region are addressed.
There seem to be a belief that the objective of reshuffle within the party is to make the new chairman, Abiy, a qualified candidate for the position that finally tasted bitter for Hailemariam Desalegn. Without overlooking competency issue, Hailemariam did not have the kind of power Meles Zenawi wielded and the reason is that the role and power of prime minister’s office was significantly weakened due to window dressing arrangement which was meant to tame internal power struggle by representing one prime minister from the four “sister organizations”, as TPLF calls them, that comprise the ruling coalition. That had a negative impact in the way Hailemariam carried out his duties.
The arrangement is not officially changed. Besides, security apparatus including intelligence and the defense force, which is what matters most in the current Ethiopian situation, is still firmly in the hands of TPLF. The SOE, more than anything else, confirmed and legalized TPLF`s new era of military rule.
That is why OPDO`s quest for the prime minister`s position, even if it is realized, will not make a difference as far as addressing popular demands are concerned. The very reason that caused hundreds of civilian deaths in Amhara and Oromo regions of Ethiopia in the past three years in connection with the demand for change is related to TPLF’s defiance to address the demand for change. The SOE itself is needed because TPLF didn`t want to address popular demands to the satisfaction of the people.
There has been a rumor that TPLF already filled the prime minister position long before what critical voices says is a silent coup and their pick is the current minister for foreign affairs, Workeneh Gebeyehu, who is known to be a loyal TPLF clown within OPDO. However, it does not seem to be a problem for TPLF to settle for Abiy Ahemd so long as it makes OPDO comfortable by giving it the illusion of “change and power.” It may be a face saving “gain” in the face of their ethnic support base too.
While making some notable efforts to check unregulated TPLF power, OPDO is still living an ideological confusion when it comes to the notion of Ethiopian unity. Its messages are often times conflicting even totally different when spoken in Amharic and Oromoigna languages, as some say. For well over two decades, the party subscribed to TPLF and radical Oromo ethno-nationalist`s demonized image of Ethiopia as a making of Negtegna, a tag labelled on Amharic speaking Ethiopians. That seem to have changed as a new rhetoric emerges that underscores Ethiopia was rather the making of all Ethiopians.
In a statement issued after the executive meeting, the party declared that oppressions in the history of Ethiopia were of class nature, rightly so, not ethnic based ones. Yet, the party`s penchant for ethnic politics as a means to compete for power, perhaps as an end too, is not less strong, if not more strong. In light of much needed ideological change in the country and in light of notable public support for young OPDO leaders even outside of Oromo region of Ethiopia, it remains questionable if that trend is desirable and realistic anymore and as to what OPDO would do with the prime ministerial power if it was the kind of power that Meles had.
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