Belachew Mekuria, PhD, For Addis Standard
Addis Abeba, November 15/2019- EPRDF’s merger, should it pan out, will mark a significant shift in Ethiopia’s democratic experiment as it means, following the Derg’s all-Ethiopian Workers Party, the second attempt in constituting a nationally inclusive political party by the government in power.
Bringing all corners of Ethiopia to the central power play will have a long-term implication on the creation of democratic culture and will improve the government’s legitimacy. Politically, it will enable EPRDF to go to the polls from a position of strength, compared to its contenders that are relatively smaller in size and localized in representation.
However, tactful internal political negotiation should have preceded any merger attempt by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration by going beyond the nationwide launching of the Medemer book as a national manifesto. It is riskier to go to the merger, for the sake of expediency, before bringing to the fold at least the existing permanent members of the Front. TPLF, as a party historically known to have shown interest on the merger project, at the moment disagrees on the timing, and not necessarily on the project idea per se. This is of course relying on the statements the Party has been making publicly. It is understandably suffering from ‘homesickness’ following its ouster, from the center, and perhaps in Ethiopia’s political architecture, the only power structure in the country, by the ODP/ADP bromance. It has lost trust in what is going on at the Capital. Therefore, leaving TPLF standing outside and moving the merger project forward will only expose Abiy, whose modus operandi is avidly declared as ‘Medemer’, to legitimate criticisms. It will not only be a self-contradiction, but will also expedite the merger agenda to a crash point before take-off.
This is just in reference to a numerically ‘tiny’ but politically muscular unit of the federation, while not even alluding to the big elephant in the room-ODP-that is posing a formidable threat to this initiative which, while viewed by the north as mere politicking in populism, part of ODP, such as party veteran Lemma Megerssa, currently the minister or defense, consider it as a risky move that erodes the multinational federalism project. Both are challenges that Abiy has to deal with separately as they are coming from two parties that may never see eye to eye least join hands against him in this life or the next, as long as Obbo Lemma continues to command respect within ODP. Lemma and Abiy are compatriots for life regardless of their political differences.
TPLF and ODP are not ordinary political players that Abiy could easily ignore, overlook or take lightly. The popular support the PM and his merger idea enjoy only gives him social capital which must not be mistaken for political capital. While the merger project, which, under Abiy, has started a de facto existence, is moving towards legalization, it may provide the foundation for a possible de facto state of Tigray to slip through the cracks and become a de jure one. The fragility of peace in this country is a significant challenge of the past four to five years and the merger coupled with an independent Tigray state would therefore only exacerbate the situation.
The establishment of an all-inclusive national party, under normal circumstances, would lead one to think of the positive contribution it will have on the overall peace in the country. However, we are living under anything but a normal circumstance. It is therefore prudent to begin looking at the fundamentals that shaped the Ethiopian state for better or worse and put in motion a national reconciliation process first. No doubt that EPRDF’s merger to become a truly inclusive political party is imperative, particularly if it vies for a national mandate of governing Ethiopia. Where, however, the very survival of the country is fiercely tested by the enhanced frequency of violence from all its corners, the rational step to take, in terms of priorities, is restoring stability, initiate a formal transitional justice process and open the dialogue on possible constitutional reform. The merger could be one among many of the steps as we endeavor to come to terms with our torturous past. This will at the same time provide sufficient opportunity to accommodate the views of those outlier political parties whose membership makes the merger a genuinely inclusive one and not their absence. AS
Editor’s Note:Belachew Mekuria (PhD), was former commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org