The Political Programme of Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy
By Tadesse Yimer
Ethiopia is home to a glorious mosaic of peoples and cultures and to the three great religions of the world–Christianity, Islam and Judaism as well as other traditional religions. Its geographic location in the Horn of Africa where African Cushitic cultures intensely interacted and mixed with Semitic cultures as well as the successful resistance of generations of Ethiopians against all forms of foreign occupation has given Ethiopia a uniquely rich history in the Continent of Africa.
While generations of Ethiopians have successfully defended the territorial integrity of their country from multiple foreign intrusions, more than 30 within the last one hundred years alone, all hasn’t been going well in terms of the well being of the people domestically. For Ethiopians freedom has always meant staying free of subjugation by foreign forces but with little relief from internal domination by powerful interests. Even the modernization of the country in many areas has never changed this reality. On the contrary, modernization has only helped refine the means and methods of oppression and brutal rule. Political power to this day remains the exclusive preserve of the powerful few who have shown little interest in the welfare of the ordinary Ethiopian.
Economic policies primarily designed for purposes of political control and personal gains have condemned the country to perpetual poverty. There has been little moral, ideological or institutional pressure forcing authorities to view Ethiopians as citizens and to implement policies that meet the serious needs and demands of ordinary people. For the most part, institutions that could help political, social and economic progress are either deliberately made weak or nonexistent. The people of Ethiopia often deferred to their rulers and carried the huge burdens of both defending the state from foreign enemies and sustaining their survival within the country. The vast amount of natural wealth the country is endowed with, has never been exploited for the benefit and welfare of the people and whatever success is achieved in terms of economic development was squandered by the rulers on unnecessary wars or on mechanisms of controlling the people, the very producers of the wealth themselves. This condition, in part, explains why Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries on the planet to this day.
Despite the changed political culture around the globe that has brought the rights of citizens at the center of governance, present day Ethiopian rulers are still marooned in the anachronistic view that regards the people as subjects that have to live with whatever decisions the rulers make. To the rulers of Ethiopia, human rights, civil liberties and welfare of citizens is a privilege granted by them rather than the rights of citizenship. Although Ethiopians are some of the most hardworking people in the world, they have been excluded from participating in the discussions and decisions on economic and political issues affecting their lives. This continues to be the biggest roadblock preventing the people from using their age old experiences, knowledge, wisdom, as well as natural resources to lessen the economic and social problems that continue to worsen all the time.
In spite of the harshness of the rulers, however, Ethiopians have continuously challenged their continued subjugation by the powerful few, more so intensely, over the last four decades. In 1972 the national uprising for change was usurped by a military junta that took full advantage of the lack of political institutions to empower the people and ruled the country with an iron fist for seventeen years. The brutal military rule was one of the bloodiest in the country’s history that resulted in the death and disappearances of thousands of people, the massive exodus of thousands of educated Ethiopians into exile and the intensification of poverty throughout the country.
The hated military regime led by Mengistu Hailemariam collapsed in 1991 following a widespread struggle and sacrifice from all sectors of the Ethiopian people. Once again, the fate of the country was decided by the well-armed and organized group of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The power vacuum created by the fall of the military junta was filled by the TPLF with the support of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF)
Even though, the original intent of this group’s armed struggle was the liberation of their ethnic homeland, it was proven, once more, that in the absence of democratic institutions, power falls in the hands of people with superior arms over the wishes and dreams of people who yearn for bringing meaningful change in their lives. That missed opportunity was followed by another seventeen years of ethnic dictatorship with the tragic economic condition in the country growing worse. Both the rate of poverty and the number of people who depend on international food handouts has more than tripled since the TPLF came to power. Currently one in six Ethiopians (15% of the population) lives on food aid. The current rulers squandered every opportunity as well as the goodwill and deference given to them by the Ethiopian people in hopes of expecting positive changes toward building a democratic country where the rule of law and civil liberties are respected. Rather, the ethnocentric TPLF rulers used (co-opted) the language of democracy to hoodwink the international community while they were secretly building a one party and one man authoritarian regime. For all intents and purposes, the TPLF has mostly pursued the policies of the defunct military junta in most economic policies and kept the repressive administrative infrastructure intact.
In Ethiopia, today, there is widespread dissatisfaction and rebel movements are developing in different regions of the country, albeit, with varying intensities. Unable and unwilling to satisfy the demands of the people, the regime is resorting to repression and brutality, which in turn is feeding the resistances. Unless there is timely resolution to these growing problems, the dangers ahead are likely to be of serious consequences. Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa with more than 80 million people, is the fulcrum of stability in the Horn of Africa. If current trends continue, we fear that the country will plunge into chaos that will destabilize the entire Horn region.
In addition to the political challenges, the Ethiopian people are shackled by recurrent famines, health problems such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases that claim many lives. The country is faced by growing illiteracy rate, massive unemployment that reaches as high as 80% for high school and college graduates and soaring rural to urban migrations demonstrating the ever worsening social problems. Lack of accountability of those in charge of the public purse, widespread corruption and the complete lack of independent institutions to protect citizens has destroyed both the hopes and spirits of the people. The country is currently sitting on a volcano of socioeconomic problems.
The ever-expanding alienation felt by citizens is also reflected in the rapid deterioration of the environment and the destruction of the social and moral fabric of our society. The interests of the country and the people are being squandered to satisfy the selfish interests of the few in power. Destruction of forests and environmental degradation are rampant and more and more marginal lands that should have been left for vegetation cover are being brought under cultivation. All of these social and economic problems can be traced back to the central problem of bad governance and the absence of accommodating the plurality prevailing in the country. The current political and economic policies implemented in our country are based on ethnic favoritism and nepotism. The overwhelming majority have been relegated to live as second class citizens in their own country. The educated elite are leaving the country at alarming rates with the brain drain adversely impacting on development.
Ginbot 7 – Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy has come to the conclusion that the key to solving the many problems we face lies in our ability to solve the problems in our political system and governance. We therefore find our engagement in this struggle as an act of serious moral and political responsibility. No responsible Ethiopian can ignore this dangerous downward spiral of the country. Analyzing the conditions of the country and devising methods to mitigate and stop these dangerous directions, however tough and hard, is the duty of all Ethiopians who have the welfare of their people and country at heart. The coup d’etat the regime conducted against the outcomes of the May 15, 2005 National Election and the ever narrowing political space in the country is an alarming trend that will eventually turn Ethiopia into a failed state.
During the 2005 elections, Ethiopian citizens proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have the ability, the capacity and the perseverance necessary to build a democratic system. The only reason that the people’s voice was not respected and the election was rigged was because there were no independent institutions to count their votes, no independent courts to adjudicate complaints of massive voting irregularities. There was no independent media that the public could use to express its discontent. When people took their peaceful protest, over the stolen votes, to the streets, the regime responded with massive force and massacred many unarmed civilians. It was clear to every citizen that the military, security and police forces have no accountability or constitutional independence. These objective realities have not only shaped our vision and mission, the organizational structure of our movement, but also the types of strategies and the methods of struggle we have adopted.
II. Political Goals of Ginbot 7
• To create the conditions where power is obtained through the expressed will of the people in a peaceful, legal and democratic manner thereby making the current dictatorship the last in Ethiopia’s history.
• To establish a forum where all political forces in the country can come together to form an alliance on firmly grounded principles of democracy and the rule of law. Only such a broad based principled alliance can create a sustainable system that would empower the people and break the cycle of violence that has become the hallmark of succession of political power in Ethiopia.
• To build consensus among the different stakeholders– political forces, civic institutions, the military, security and police forces and various sectors of the population through inclusive and transparent discussions to determine the future of the country.
• To build a society where freedom of expression is respected and a vibrant independent media will be allowed to flourish in order to create an informed and empowered citizenry capable of freely organizing and participating in decision making and holding its elected leaders accountable.
1. The Fundamental Values of our Movement
• We believe that all citizens, regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender and regional origin are endowed with God given rights to live their lives in freedom, dignity and equality.
• We believe that Ethiopia as a founding member of the United Nations and as a signatory nation to various international laws and conventions has to renew its commitment to respect the rule of law.
• We reject the notion that the various ethnic groups of Ethiopia are social units tied together with mechanical force as false and divisive. We strongly believe that the various ethnic and religious groups of Ethiopia can only be understood as a network of people tied through a web of culture and shared history. We will cultivate values that help towards achieving the respect for all cultures and beliefs of Ethiopia’s many ethnic and religious groups. We believe that our varied cultures and religious beliefs are expressions of our collective beauty and wealth instead of a basis for division and conflict.
• We condemn all ethnic prejudice within our society and believe in the equality of all citizens of Ethiopia. We will fight the current tendencies of discrimination and the dangerous approaches employed by the ruling regime to serve its divide-and-rule tactics.
• We envision a meritocratic system where professionalism, intellect and competence rather than ethnic affiliation and nepotism are the path to acquiring wealth or high office. Along with this vision we also see the need to create a social environment whereby citizens from marginalized and disadvantaged communities have an equal opportunity to education and training so that they can compete for the share of wealth and the assignment to official positions within the envisaged meritocratic system.
• We believe in strengthening political power at the local and regional levels as a means of reducing the omnipotence of the center and would work hard to create a functional and vibrant federal political structure with all its fine attributes.
• We believe in the supremacy of the law and the right of the people to join any political party to elect their local and national leaders irrespective of ethnicity, language, culture, religion, gender and political views.
2. Form of Struggle and Principles of our Movement
• Our struggle does not have a dogmatic preference for any single strategy. Taking into perspective the changing circumstances of our country, we will follow the best strategy among that best fits our objective. Since the regime in power has monopolized the political space and criminalized every dissent, and failed time and again to uphold the “laws of the land” we will organize on our own terms outside the hindrances and “legal” manipulations of the dictators in power. We will make sure both our actions and organizing principles stand on higher moral ground and pursue strict ethical standards. We believe legitimacy is earned and not acquired through the barrel of the gun.
• Since our struggle for freedom and democracy is born out of the ashes of the brutal repression that followed the May 15, 2005 election, it will be a struggle that stands on a moral high ground and shared vision with our people. Our fight is for the restoration of the legitimate voices of our people that was silenced by brute force. However, we wish to emphasize that “peaceful struggle” works in a society where the government respects the rights of its citizens to dissent.
• Our struggle takes place in an environment where the authoritarian rulers exercise total control over the judiciary, the military, security and police forces. It takes place in an environment where there are no independent and accountable institutions that will protect the lives and property of citizens from the arbitrary decisions of the regime. A struggle that takes place in such an environment requires strategy and preparation to defend the people against attacks from the security apparatus. Bearing this in mind, our movement will study and implement methods with which it will protect itself and the public against any wanton violence.
3. The Principles our Movement Employs in Cooperating with other Ethiopian Political Forces
• Ginbot 7 expects, first and foremost, that all political forces that view themselves as stakeholders in the country, including the current ruling party, should understand and accept the freely expressed wishes and decisions of the people. We believe that everyone, including the ruling party, has a right to present its policies as long as it is done without any coercion.
• Our movement believes that exhaustive dialogue and negotiations are important vehicles to build consensus and strong cooperation between various political organizations. More importantly, Ginbot 7 believes that such honest dialogues, good faith negotiations and transparent agreements are the key to bringing rapid and lasting political change in Ethiopia. Through dialogue and negotiation, we envision making a transitional political arrangement where every stakeholder’s ideas have equal value and weight.
• An important element of the aim of such principled collaboration and cooperation between democratic forces is to pressure the ruling party to join the national dialogue as an equal partner with the stakeholders since the winner of the ill fated election of 2005 remains bitterly disputed. Alternatively, if the regime persists in refusing the offer of negotiation, the efforts of the cooperation/alliance will be the key instrument in removing the regime and laying the groundwork for a democratic political order in the country.
• Ginbot 7 cannot emphasize enough the importance of this cooperation in being very deliberative and sharing a common vision for our people. Critical points that we all need to agree upon include: accepting Ethiopia’s sovereignty and the democratic principles of free and fair elections based on “one person, one vote”. The primary goal is not for any group to come to power but to facilitate the free and democratic conditions where power is legitimately attained only through the will of the people. Our movement is willing to work with any political or non-political group that accepts these values regardless of the policies it espouses, the organizational structure it uses, and the form of struggle it employs. Ginbot 7 will make extra effort to make such a cooperation/alliance a reality.
• Our movement believes that the primary roadblock to fulfill the wishes of the people of Ethiopia is the present dictatorial regime. We are therefore willing to work in cooperation with opposition political groups and civic institutions inside and outside of Ethiopia who believe that the answers to the age old questions of political power in Ethiopia rest on freedom, social justice and democracy.
• Our movement will promote its mission among Ethiopians in the Diaspora and inside the country through various means and will facilitate the creation of a wide network of members and support chapters across the world. Ginbot 7 will also make efforts for its support groups around the world to collaborate with members and supporters other political groups towards implementing the primary agenda of the movement.
4. The high place given to the Values of Tolerance in our Movement
• Ginbot 7 strives to encourage values such as civil dialogue, tolerance, understanding and respect for competing views not only to narrow differences but also to nurture and sustain the unity of shared purpose. We discourage all cleavages that play directly into the hands of the dictators who are known to manipulate differences for their divide and conquer tactics. Conflicts between different ethnic groups combined with our deep-rooted tradition of using violence to settle disputes can pull all of us into a dangerous trap with no way out for all of us. To prevent that from happening, our movement will work to develop mechanisms to avoid such conflicts and prevent them before they even materialize.
• By focusing on the fundamental issues that unite all democratic forces, our movement will make serious efforts to prevent non – essential matters from testing our unity. Differences that are unrelated to the starting of a democratic process that will give a chance the people of Ethiopia to make a free decision on matters that affect their lives can be differed to a later stage. Different views on policies held by different organizations can be presented to the people and settled when the transitional forum creates the conditions necessary for Ethiopian citizens to make democratic decisions.
5. Harmful Customs That We Struggle Against
• We believe that the only way to enable the establishment of a government that is based on the primacy of the people is for us all to free ourselves from cultures promoted by successive authoritarian regimes in order to hold onto power. Suspicion, selfishness, rigidity and other destructive and harmful behaviors must be fought with serious vigor. Ginbot 7 believes that there is no alternative to frank and open discussions, listening to one another and feeling each other’s pains to creating a lasting solidarity and understanding and finding common solutions.
• We understand that the social, economic and political problems our people face are too large to be solved by separate and parochial efforts or efforts made by individuals or few groups. Our cooperation cannot be viewed as a means of achieving short-term gains, but as something vital and crucial in the creation of a lasting, stable, prosperous and just society.
A Call to the Ethiopian People
Freedom and justice, education and health, pursuit of prosperity and other rights are your rights that you are entitled to as citizens. They are by no means any acts of generosity given to you by the rulers who have imposed their will on you. These are rights that you should never relinquish to anyone.
As a farmer you must no longer be the serf of the state, but a worker where your rights to own land is respected and where access to fertilizers, farming machinery and other materials should not be used for political patronage based on ethnic affiliation.
As a worker in your country you are entitled to fair pay and a safe working place where your welfare and well being is protected and your rights to freely form and participate in trade unions that guard your interests are respected;
As a teacher, your right to academic freedom and student’s rights to question are respected and the standards of educational institutions are raised to higher levels.
The dream is to have a country where private business and entrepreneurial spirit is strongly encouraged and businesses are allowed to compete freely regardless of ethnic affiliation; where job security and promotion within both the civil service and military branches is based on merit and competence only; where the judicial system is truly independent and judges make their verdict on the basis of the law free from political interference.
The Ethiopian Defense Forces must be apolitical national army that will not be used to protect the narrow interests of the ruling party, but the national interest of the country. It is tragic that instead of being the people’s protectors, our army is being forced to commit atrocities against its own people and, as a result, viewed as a brutal force totally alienated from the people. Officers and soldiers must understand that lasting benefits such as developing their skills, ensuring their employment, promotion and as well as their security are not guaranteed by the amount of loyalty they show to the dictators in power. Sooner or later the dictators will face the verdict of the people and the fate of officers and soldiers too will be determined by the people. Hence officers and soldiers must realize that it is only loyalty to the people that is a lasting route to rewards and eternal glory. We make a special call to our troops to support the struggle of the people and understand that their own freedoms and rights are respected only when the people’s freedoms and rights are respected.
People of Ethiopia:
We will join you in your struggle and remain at the forefront until we create a truly democratic Ethiopia. Our movement has no illusion that the struggle will be easy and understands that the road ahead is fraught with serious challenges. But, we strongly believe that if we work together, united in a common purpose, freedom from tyranny is inevitable. The establishment of a democratic system in Ethiopia is not a choice but an inescapable part of our survival!
Posted by Tadesse Yimer