By Shigut Geleta
October 28, 2006 — The Horn of Africa, which comprises primarily Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, and the Sudan, is currently known to the world by three hot spots of conflicts: Darfur, Ethio-Eritrea border conflict and the turbulent situation in Somalia, each of which can potentially lead to regional war. Ethiopia, which is geopolitically at the centre of this security complex, has been under chronic political turmoil. Virtually an undeclared civil war has been the state of the Ethiopian state. If preventive actions are not promptly taken, the situation might escalate to an open genocide scale. The present Ethiopia is a country of more than 80 nations and nationalities. At no time before the conquest by Menlik-II was it a single country. What existed were independent kingdoms in Abyssinia, various confederacies in Oromia under the Gada system and the southern kingdoms of Walayita, Kaficho, Yem and various communal systems in the Nilotic and Omotic regions.
All the southern nations and nationalities were conquered by Menelik-II and incorporated to present day Ethiopia during the scramble for Africa. This annexation left fundamental political problems, which became chronic to the empire. Permanent conflict and war, total wretchedness and poverty, deeply rooted dependency and famine remain to be some of those chronic problems. From the political perspective, these problems are but only the aftermath of the colonial institutional system.
The Oromos and other Southern Peoples who were forcefully incorporated became subjects with no economic, political and social rights. Domination and suppression, exclusion and exploitation of these peoples by the minority Abyssinian ruling ethnic group beg for resistance and insurgency whereby war, poverty, backwardness and famine became cyclical norm of life for the peoples of the empire. It was not accidental therefore that almost all major political forces, such as Ethiopian Student Movements (ESM) and major liberation movements: the EPLF, TPLF, OLF and ONLF, have always been not only rooted but also geared towards resolving this deep rooted conflict. It is a well-known fact that these are the very forces that brought about the fall of Emperor Haile Silassie and the Dergue regimes. With the demise of the latter, Eritrea became independent through people’s referendum while the remaining liberation fronts managed to create a coalition of transitional government with the hope of instituting a fair and just political system. This was in May 1991.
Since the fall of the military dictatorship in May 1991, the political development in Ethiopia essentially went through five phases.
2. Five phases of political developments in Ethiopia since 1991
2.1 The first phase (June 1991- June 1992) The first phase began in June 1991 with the establishment of a "National Conference” and the approval of the “Charter for the Transitional period ". The National Conference was set to establish a legitimate, broad based Transitional Government (TG) that can prepare the country for a smooth democratic transformation as agreed at the US brokered London Peace Conference during May 27-28, 1991 under auspice of the then US Assistance Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. Herman Cohen.
The approved charter was designed to serve as a supreme law of the land for the Transitional period. The new arrangement of Regional States was based mainly on ethno-linguistic contour of the population. Alone this fact was the first in its kind in African history. It recognised Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic society, in which the political, economic, linguistic and cultural interests of the various nations and nationalities in the empire are to be recognised, protected and promoted. The basic principle that guided this agreement was the free and voluntary association of peoples, better well known as the principle of self-determination.
The Charter constituted four major components: -
1) Adoption of international norm for democratic rights (Universal declaration of Human rights)
2) Power sharing concept of a joint government was introduced. Participation in the conference was not restricted if not all-inclusive to all, to members of the group that captured the capital, but it included 27 political and liberation organisations.
3) Decentralization of power on ethnic based federal system
4) Dismantling Dergue’s oppression machinery (military, security and legislative body).
Through the Charter, the conference established a Transitional Government consisting of a legislative body (council of representatives) and an executive branch (council of ministers).
2.2 The second phase (June 1992-1995)
The second phase of the political development commenced at the end of 1992 with a “snap election” campaign for the first elections of local representatives. In April 1992, almost 450 of the 600 Woredas (sub-districts) held the so-called snap election. In Oromia Regional zones, the OLF won with landslides as well as a majority vote in Finfinnee ( Addis Ababa). Alone this fact sent a negative signal to the EPRDF. It came to realise that it has no chance to rule Ethiopia in free and fair democratic election and started violating agreements and the principles of the Charter. Consequently, the EPRDF by now a coalition of several parties by itself under the leadership of the TPLF, started to carefully plan a change in political strategy. It mainly started to focus on politics of power protection and consolidation at the expense of the broad based principles of the agreed Charter. This dictatorial attitude created confrontations over election rules, registration of voters, regulations of registration of candidates and many related matters. Intimidation and planned manipulation of democratic processes eventually resulted in the departure of the second strong political force, namely, the OLF, and other forces such as All Amhara People Organisation (AAPO), Ethiopian Democratic Action Group (EDAG), GPDO, ONLF and SLM from the election. Other political parties and liberation movements were disqualified afterwards because of their participation in the Paris Peace Conference in 1993.
This systematic power consolidation has been documented and witnessed by some invited election-observers: -
1) The US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) called the election result as a “consolidation of one party rule” and deplored acute administrative and logistical shortcomings that seriously impaired the electoral process (NDI 1992). NDI also noted that the election failed to resolve the crucial ethnic problems.
2) The other election observer group that have criticized the election was the African American Institute (AAI). The group declared on 25 June 1992, that the election fell considerably short of its aim to empower all of Ethiopia’s nationalities within a new pluralistic political system. In strong word, it criticised the intimidation and detention of supporters and candidates and voters from opposition parties from registering and voting (AAI, 1992).
3) The Norwegian observers in the Joint International observer Group (JIOG) concluded that the election largely failed to bring the main political forces into a peaceful political process. They further stated that the absence of contesting parties and democratic alternatives made the election one party dictatorship. They indicated the presence of provocative EPRDF forces that contributed to rising tension and mutual mistrust (NIHR 1992).
4) The German Observer Group in a statement on 26 June 1992 concluded that the election results should not be taken, as a fair and free reflection of democratic will of the people.
The above testimonies demonstrate beyond any doubt that EPRDF’s dictatorial tendency took root already at this second phase with its ever growing exclusive tendency and power consolidation.
After all, the popular liberation movements and political parties had been pushed out, the Transitional Government became one dictatorial party, the EPRDF with its satellite Peoples Democratic Organisations (…PDOs), it has manufactured. It appointed a Constitution Commission to draft a constitution. Accordingly, the election for the Constitutional Assembly was scheduled for 5 June 1994. A 547-member Constitutional Assembly was elected and established without representation of the opposition. On 8th December 1994, the Constitutional Assembly approved the constitution and submitted to Transitional Council with recommendation to hold national election in six months time. A national election was held in 1995 and marked the end of the Transitional period.
2.3 The third Phase (1995-1998)
The third phase is a phase that heralded an establishment of constitutional and institutional base for EPDRF’s hegemony. This phase began with the elections of 1995 based on the new constitution. Regional parliaments were created after the elections. As the election was run under the supremacy of one party, it made EPRDF/TPLF an incontestable winner. The World was told that the EPRDF won in the regions with 98% to 100% votes, which resulted in 543 seats out of the total 550 seats in the parliament. On August 22,1995 the 1994 constitution came into force and Mr. Meles Zenawi was elected prime Minister of the FDRE. Then after, EPRDF not only established all institutions under its full control but also legalised and legitimised it. Once its dictatorship in politics legitimised, the EPRDF’s tyranny went unabated in all directions. Today there is no distinction left between legislative, judiciary and executive bodies of the state. All these institutions are rather part and parcel of the EPRDF itself. The EPRDF/TPLF regime not only abused the judiciary, the media and economic sector but it possessed them as a part of its own party structure. Despite these glaring facts, the EPRDF regime remained for a while deceiving for the international community including US government which once portrayed Meles Zenawi as one of the newly breeding democratic African leaders.
2.4 The fourth phase (1998-2005)
This was the phase of absolute dictatorship of the TPLF regime. It ignored international communities and caused unnecessary bloodshed in the region. This phase begin in May 1998 when the war broke out with Eritrea because of a dispute over approximately 400 sq. km bordering land. The speed of the military escalation and lack of tolerance for democratic dialogue marked the beginning of a new phase of the political development where EPRDF absolutely controlled power and economy. It is a phase where EPRDF openly assumed and even declared to have become a regional power. Meles remarked at this stage that his goal was to establish another government in Eritrea to demonstrate his self-image as a regional power. After the cease-fire with Eritrea, Ethiopia refused to abide by the Boundary Commission’s decision as agreed in the Algiers peace agreement. Internally, EPDRF also committed massive killing on Oromo students, Sidama, Gambella and Ogaden people on a genocide scale during this phase.
As late as it may be, the international community started complaining to Ethiopia for lack of tolerance and political dialogue. To hide the internal situation for the consumption of foreign financiers, Meles’ regime opened a narrow channel for some political parties to participate in the May 2005 National Election. The EPRDF assumed that the group it allowed were irrelevant and too weak to be a threat to his power and hoped to gain international support by manoeuvring the election. This new ambition brings us to the fifth and final phase.
2.5 The fifth phase (After 2005 election up to now)
During this election, The European Union (EU) sent one of its ever largest team of election observers. The mission headed by Honourable Ana Gomes has played a critical role in fostering democracy in Ethiopia. The 159-strong observer mission, with estimated cost of about €2.8 million, had witnessed one of the turning points in Ethiopian history. Despite the outcome of the election, it was very clear for OLF from its experience of 1992 (see before the election statement of the OLF delegate headed by Chairman of OLF, Mr. Dawud Ibsa, THE INDIAN OCEAN NEWSLETTER N0 1129 (02.04.2005)). The election was a debacle for EPRDF and a spectacular success for the oppositions. The election showed the concern of the Ethiopian population about politics and a clear message for the parliamentarians to address the need of their constituents, if they earnestly committed to a fair and free elected mandate for the next election.
Result of the election and the current languishing of the opposition leaders under pretext of treason indicate: -
1. Democratic election is not and could not be the strength of EPRDF. The 2005 election had definitely shown the unpopularity of the TPLF/EPRDF.
2. In testimony of this fact, the European Union Election Observation Mission exposed the futile election attempt of EPRDF that was mainly aimed for foreign consumption.
3. Neither the prolongation of the present condition nor one party dominated Ethiopia is desirable or feasible any longer.
4. The political organizations have shown their commitment to participate in the political process, if it is free and fair, as the OLF and others did in 1992. However, TPLF/EPRDF considers these forces to be the biggest threats to its monopoly of power as they enjoy massive popular support. Thus, TPLF not only prevents them from operating freely among Ethiopian people but also subjects their members, supporters and constituents to intimidation, detention, and killings (Candidates and elected members of OFDM, ONC and CUDP). This simply indicates TPLF is always at war with any democratic force that wants to compete unless its victory is assured at the end of the day.
The crisis of legitimacy that was set in motion by the departure of the OLF from the political process in 1992 reached its climax in the May 2005 elections when TPLF smashed down any threatening opposition. Consequently, the Meles government has legitimacy neither from Ethiopian people, nor from the international community any longer.
Nowadays there is no distinction for the EPRDF between what it used to classify as legal and illegal opposition. It twists and exchanges the two concepts as it finds fit to its interest. It calls an opposition illegal whenever it finds the opposition to have threatened its power and conversely, though the identity of the opposition remains the same. For instance, TPLF declared its readiness to negotiate with the OLF, the very organization it used to criminalize, on 13th of September 2005 when it was in problem with a legal opposition group, the CUDP. Soon after it imprisoned CUDP leaders and put them on trial for treason, the negotiation with OLF never materialized.
Ever since the Ethiopian state took its present form, change in government always emanated from the barrel of the gun rather than the ballot box. Opposition to the state has always remained a deadly business. Thus, the only recourse for a serious opposition is to resort to arms resistance. This phenomenon has created a cyclical vicious circle. If the International community and all democratic forces vest a credible interest to end that cycle, they need to collaborate with Ethiopian Oppositions forces so that free people of Ethiopia will elect their government by free will without intimidation; a government that is by the people and for the people.
3. Our reading of the current Situation
Since 9 November 2005, public protests are going on in Oromia. Violent confrontations on the streets and villages are the result of the regime’s refusal to negotiate in good faith with OLF and all stakeholders.
In addition to long time imprisoned OLF members and supporters, new atrocities are being committed on CUDP leaders, members and supporters and OLF supporters.
The only source of temporary stability of the current government rests on the regime’s total control over the military and security forces and its readiness to use it without hesitation. The very recent defection of high ranking army officers and numerous diplomats indicate that even its most trusted machinery is on the verge to disintegration.
4. The Future and OLF’s role in finding lasting solutions
It is a public secret that it is the US administration that has boosted the TPLF regime to regional power for the purpose of war on international terrorism, despite the fact that this regime has been terrorizing itself its own subjects for the last fifteen years. The EU and US conveniently ignored gross violation of Human rights by the regime that is reaching genocide level every passing day.
OLF, as the strongest opposition to the Ethiopian government has fostered a strategic policy that will not destabilise the Horn. The primary objective was to create a favourable political condition and work with all political forces and civic organisations of Ethiopia including the TPLF regime. In this regard, progressive elements of the opposition have already created Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD). The alliance is based on mutual respect of cultural and national differences among the peoples of Ethiopia. Establishing such an alliance has created a momentum that will free the Ethiopian people once and for all. The five parties (the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP), the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Sidama Liberation Front (SLF)) have signed an agreement that will guide them in their joint efforts and coordinate activities at Utrecht in Netherlands, from 19 to 22 of May 2006. One of the key challenges facing this movement is how to build trust among a new generation of leaders that are genuinely representative of their people, and how to reach out to other democratic forces not yet included in the alliance.
4.2 Core Values Shared by members of the Alliance
Achieving freedom, justice, liberty, and democracy and thereby charting the course to sustainable peace, stability and development. Ending arbitrary detention, the denial of democratic and human rights in Ethiopia that has created bitter resentments and conflicts lasting for generations.
Using the resources that are wasted to sustain an undemocratic and repressive system and to fight injustice for the betterment of the lives of all people establishing a just and democratic political system. This means a system where authority emanates from the freely expressed will of the people.
People should have control over decisions affecting their lives. Power has to devolved to organs of government closest to the people. The rule of law reigns supreme, no human rights violations in which fundamental freedoms and civil liberties are guaranteed for all.
4.3 Ultimate Aim
The ultimate aim of the Alliance is to establish a just, representative and a genuine democratic order. This is accomplished by convening an all-inclusive conference to strike a historic compromise and comprehensive solutions for the country’s political, social and economic ills. This will be accomplished by forging a new workable arrangement that could include, but not limited to, some of the options like
Transitional government, Caretaker government, Coalition government, Power-sharing arrangement and etc in which all the diverse groups are represented. New elections under which a neutral electoral board and neutral media plays major role.
To Create institutions that uphold the supremacy of the rule of law and the respect of individual and group liberties and freedom and allow level playing field for all civic and political organizations.
Non-partisan security forces, the security guarantees independent Judiciary that ends the fusion between state institutions and the ruling party.
This working arrangement must be able to defuse the current crisis (the repression, the armed confrontations and the civil unrest that is currently underway). This can be fulfilled by releasing all political prisoners, removing restrictions on political organizations to openly and freely operate inside the country that paves the way for the establishment of a democratic order.
5. Our appeal and recommendation to EU Parliamentary party groups
1. It is true that the three main hotspots of conflict at the Horn of Africa are the first priority concern for EU and other international organisations and democratic governments. Ethiopia is geopolitically situated to determine the stability of the Horn. The Oromo People who are about half of the Ethiopian population are economically and politically determinant for the stability of Ethiopia. The EPDRF that rules by force will neither bring peace to Ethiopia nor to the Horn as far as Oromos and other Ethiopian peoples are excluded for the polity. Therefore, we call on EU to work closely with AFD for a democratic power transformation in Ethiopia.
2. Most European countries and the EU have bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with Ethiopia. Most of these agreements enshrined human rights protection, good governance and democratic freedom. We feel however that the EU has failed to force Ethiopia to abide with these agreements. For those who care for humanity, Ethiopian has been a killing field of innocents just because of their identity or their support for opposition. The massive detention and killings perpetuated so far against Oromo students, businessmen and peasants is a living testimony for the EPRDF’s bad record on humanitarian issues. In addition, the Gambella massacre, the detention of CUDP leaders and supporters, the Ogaden massacre and etc., are more than enough to declare and implement Article 96 of ACP-EU of the Cotonou agreement when a state party fails to comply with paragraph 2, 3 and 4 of Article 9. But why is it not happening to Ethiopia now ? We humbly request this is a prime and critical time to take action.
3. We appeal and request the EU Parliamentarian Committee who are working on the Horn of Africa to arrange for Parliamentary Hearings on which Ethiopian political forces, Human rights advocates and civic organisations air their concern about alarming developments that are taking place in Ethiopia now. Ethiopia needs lasting solutions and EU should not be indifferent when facts are abounding to intervene now.
* The content of this paper was presented earlier this month in Brussels before the EU parliamentarian committee for foreign affairs. The author is the representative of the Oromo Liberation Front in Europe. He can be reached at