A lot of mental energy has been expended dissecting the concept and provisions of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD). Some of the inches in web journals and blogs are filled with anti-alliance jeers. Others champion it with pious zeal. Thinkers have groped about, stumbled and sometimes fallen in the dark to grab the tail of the issues; understand the nature, full meaning and limits of the alliance. The temper and tone of the fervent debates is inviting and reassuring. It is with this spirit of tolerance and respect that I join the inspired forum and expound my views. As the title of the article suggests, I intervene on the side of the alliance.
The context and meaning of the alliance
A careful reading of the statutes of the alliance reveals its loose nature. Its aims and functions are stipulated in very general terms. It has no specific programme. Its name is a derivate of this nature of the alliance. The Italians have a more appropriate term for loose political alliances. They call them Ammucchiata. Parties in Italy use ammucchiata when their power is threatened. As it is a mechanism of not loosing power, it may sometimes have a disparaging tone in Italian politics.
Terminologies like coalition and integration which are used by some critics interchangeably with alliance are, therefore, way out of the mark. The threshold of the alliance is clear. Since the ideology and political strategy of the parties under the umbrella is dauntingly unbridgeable, they chose a loose approach to definition. They seem to agree that it is unnecessary and, indeed, impossible to state a more precise definition of the alliance than its rough working ideas provide. To criticize the alliance of lacking a detailed programme and ask probing questions as Andinet Semere did on Ethiomedia reminds me of a tale of a student in my philosophy 101 class. Our instructor asked us to come up a well-reasoned refutation of one of Nietzsche's works. One of the students bragged with a claim that he had found the German philosopher to be irrational. The teacher rebuked him saying that his was not a refutation as Nietzsche never pretended to be rational. The alliance never claimed to have "a common political and governance framework" and, thus, criticizing it for not having one is making it what it didn't pretend to be.
The purpose of the Ammucchiata
The most obvious question flowing from my argument above will be "if the alliance is so loose, what is its purpose?" I contend that it has both symbolic and practical purposes.
-It says a lot when in a country where blood-curdling wars have been waged due to political differences, such political groupings of contradictory objectives and strategies sit down and agree to design ways of resolving disputes in a manner that respects democracy and freedom. Just a year ago, it would have been quite scandalous for the CUD and OLF to do that. They are now trying to make the scandal the new orthodoxy in Ethiopian politics.
-Practically, the alliance helps reduce the suspicion between the supporters of these organizations and undermines the divide and rule strategy TPLF uses to maintain its power. As an Oromo and passionate CUD supporter, I have a close experience of this suspicion and mistrust. During the election and after, I have traveled to many parts of Oromia region and learned the force of OLF in the minds of many Oromos. The fact that it didn't participate in the election may not quantifiably confirm the extent of its support. Yet the same could have been said about the CUD before the election. EPRDF thought its win was done and dusted before May 15. We shouldn't underrate OLF's support in the region. The suspicion many OLF supporters harbor towards CUD had seriously hampered grass root mobilization, opposition infiltration of the army and security etc. The AFD isn't an immediate answer to such suspicion. It is a start nonetheless.
AFD and all inclusive conference
Daniel Assefa has written a wonderful article on the all inclusive conference. On one of the paragraphs of that article he wrote:
A transitional (caretaker) government or a power broker is the usual proposal that comes out of such large all inclusive conference an issue that is more than the eight point proposal of CUD. That is eventually what all the “stakeholders” end up demanding. Such approach becomes a practical alternative in a country that is highly unstable and where the oppositions are evenly matched. In such situation, the overriding factor that brings them together is the realization by the involved parties that, a compromise is better than a mutually assured annihilation. Demonstrative examples include our neighbor the Sudan and Mozambique. The situation in Ethiopia is very different. Ethiopia is relatively stable country and has a constitution that is functional though unpopular. It was after conceding this fact that CUD and friends nearly wrestled power away from the government. In addition, many opposition groups are not in a position to demand a “rightful” place since there is a marked disparity between groups in terms of support, membership or military capability. In situation like this, a transitional government is seen as destabilizing move and is not always popular as it is a way of giving “ye mariam menged” to groups that do not have a mass base and could not have a any significant political impact otherwise
I agree with Daniel's assertion that there is a great likelihood that a transitional government will be the end product of the all inclusive conference the alliance craves for. My disagreement lies with his overall assessment of the situation of Ethiopia. Yes, Ethiopia was relatively stable and the constitution was functional. Yes, CUD conceded this fact and competed in the election and won. Yet this assessment doesn't reflect Ethiopia's situation post May; particularly post November. There is no political space to operate in at the moment. Opposition groups who are working through the parliamentary process have no role other than lending legitimacy to the TPLF government. The constitution is suspended. I can't see a genuine election politics as long as TPLF stays in power. It is, therefore, incumbent upon CUD to find alternatives to its pre-election position. One such alterative is to accept the possibility of forming a transitional government with other groups - the possibility that it rejected before.
The all inclusive conference may create transitional government. That doesn't mean all political groupings will have the same say and same power in such a government. Daniel's examples, Mozambique and Sudan, are cases in point; and this is where the alliance (particularly CUD and OLF) have to ponder over and come up with a fair power-sharing framework.
AFD and CUD's eight proposal
AFD kills and at the same time rekindles CUD's eight point proposal. The memorandum of understanding of the alliance states:
While maintaining their political programs, organizational independence and autonomy, the parties will refrain from entering into any unilateral negotiation or agreement with another party that could jeopardize the alliance.
Since CUD's eight point proposal is a call for the TPLF government, it will be structurally dead as long as the AFD exists as CUD can't make unilateral negotiation with the government.
Structural death doesn't mean total death. CUD can still make the eight point proposal an agenda for the all inclusive conference and to the transitional government latter. Most of the eight points demand institutional reform and as long as the transitional government is "a government for the establishment of democratic institutions", they will be answered. Again this is something CUD should press in the AFD.
AFD and the Ethiopian Constitution
Some of the critics of the alliance are puzzled as to how the CUD accepts to work within the framework of the present Ethiopian constitution. One should not have raised this argument if one followed CUD's politics closely. The party accepted to work under the constitution way before the AFD. It competed in the election with the constitution's framework. It wants to amend and change some of the provisions of the constitution but the change is to be made according to the rules of the same constitution. The AFD just about restates that commitment.
Coming up ...The politics of "vanguard" parties, CUD's democratic principles and AFD
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