By Oromsis Adula*
Fresh from a thwarting 99.6% “election victory”, the Ethiopian regime under the ostentatious banner of Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is gearing up for its 8th organizational conference. The people’s democratic organizations (PDO’s), Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front’s (TPLF) brainchild, are holding their own “conferences” to forward handpicked puppets to the EPRDF Executive Committee.
Formed in late 1980s from a mishmash of prisoners of war (POWs) the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) have just concluded the 6th organizational conference in Adama. Adama is also due to hold the EPRDF conference, the first in Oromia region, from September 15 - 17, 2010.
Since its establishment, OPDO has gone through a series of TPLF’s carefully crafted overhauls; each time cleansing itself from Oromo nationalists critical of governments handling of Oromo affairs. In recent years, the party has seen an increasing internal power struggle and rampant allegation of corruptions among its ranks. According to a knowledgeable source, the power struggle revolves around two former party chairmen – Kuma Demeksa & Abadula Gemeda, and Junedi Sado, also a former president of the Oromia region.
The news of the party’s leadership reshuffle has grabbed the headlines. Up until the day of reshuffle, Muktar Kadir, the head of EPRDF Secretariat Office, was seen as a favorite heir to the throne. It turns out Meles Zenawi had a better plan. The selection of a dark horse, Alemayehu Atomsa, formerly a general manager of Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency, seen as Kuma Dekeksa’s protégé but with no apparent party clique or political base of his own, came as surprise to many including senior party members, sources said from Adama.
Muktar Kedir remained on as party’s Deputy Chairman and member in EPRDF’s Executive Committee. Loyal cadres who rose through the ranks, both Alemayehu and Muktar joined the party after the fall of Dergue and are credited for having some tertiary education in addition to the free diplomas from Civil Service College. Alemayehu just returned from China concluding his studies, according to Opride sources in Adama. Muktar is largely expected to become the President of Oromia Regional State, in tune with EPRDF's practice of splitting the party leadership from state administration (the only exceptions were Abbadula in Oromia and Meles himself at the federal level) so as to maintain tight control.
Reports also show that both Kuma and Abadula have been shuttling back and forth to Arat Kilo (for months) to win the blessing of Meles Zenawi. However, amid greater scrutiny and an awkward corruption charges, Abadula’s group, has lost the confidence of the Premier. While Abadula managed to stay on as a member of the EC, some of his foot soldiers, Jemal Abasso, Jibril Mohammed, Diriba Tura and Sisay Negash were left out of the EC membership, a slap in the face for an otherwise very loyal person to the Premier, credited for using heavy-handed tactics to suppress the TPLF dissidents in 2001 and CUD demonstrators in 2005. One observer also told me that in the last five years, Abadula has become too popular among the public, something that Meles only wishes for himself, necessitating promotion to a federal office - TPLF’s discreet way of removing well-liked leaders from the public face.
Reportedly, Kuma who was also a forerunner for the Chairmanship is a clear architect of the Adama congress and have once again proved his loyalty to TPLF’s top man. Kuma was sacked in 2001 following the TPLF fallout for his sympathy and support of Siye Abraha’s group. As a current Mayor of Addis Ababa, Defense Minister and at a low key post at Refugee and Returnees Affairs prior to that, he has been working to revamp his image and gain the trust of Meles. At nomination hearing before the rubberstamp parliament following the 2005 election, Meles testified to Kuma’s loyalty and capability to become the country’s Defense Minister. Kuma’s victory in Adama is therefore a manifestation that he has fully won the heart of Meles Zenawi, who had once summoned him (then Shabia’s POW) in Tigray around 1989 to form what is now OPDO.
According to our sources, some of the power struggle among OPDO’s big wigs revolve around issues of seniority in membership vis-à-vis senior founders, educational qualifications (most of OPDO’s top men are recipients of diplomas from Civil Service College without any formal training), corruption scandals, regional and religious backing within the party apparatus, loyalty to TPLF, and (Oromo) nationalism. Some among OPDO are seen with suspicion for having dissatisfaction with the regime’s mishandling of Oromo affairs and sympathy with the Oromo Liberation Front. Slowly, the TPLF has been hard at work to cleanse the organization of those “with narrow nationalism.”
The victors; Girma Birru, Sufiyan Ahmed, Kuma Demeksa, Alemayehu Atomsa, Abadula Gemeda, Zelalem Jemaneh, Abdulaziz Mohammed and Diriba Kuma were elected to represent OPDO in the EPRDF. This group dominated by Kuma’s cliques is known for unwavering support for the regime and will unquestionably work their hard out to elongate the regime’s oppression of Oromo people.
The biggest loser of the Adama congress is Shiferaw Jarso who is stripped off his membership in the executive committee, allegedly retiring. Next in line comes Junedin Sado excluded from the EPRDF executive, a demotion. Abdulaziz Mohammed is another big loser, currently the Vice President of Oromia, and was widely expected to at least be the deputy chair of the organization, but it remains to be seen if he even regains his VP post. There is no doubt that the power struggle will continue to play out within the party leadership. The election of either group would not be for the benefit and betterment of the Oromo mass. And at the end of the day, Meles Zenawi gets the last word on major decisions that affect the lives of the people.
As a chief architect behind OPDOs formation, Meles Zenawi has been micromanaging, overtly and covertly, the organizational structure since day one. To mention a few notable instances, in 1990s to counter a strong OLF presence in Eastern and South Eastern Oromia and a popular disavowal by the public who saw OPDO as TPLF Trojan horses, he appointed Hassan Ali to confuse and manipulate the public. In 2001 when Kuma was no longer trustworthy, he appointed Abadula, then a military leader, as party chairman, a dubious post for a man who had very little education. In 2002, when OPDO came under ridicule that the organization lacked a single educated leader, Meles Zenawi appointed Junedi Sado a Geologist who was a new comer to the league. Following the highly contested 2005 election and at the height of an all-out student uprising in Oromia, Abadula proved to be more trustable and was appointed President, in addition to the party chairmanship.
Now, Kuma is slowly creeping back into the scene and history will be witness to what is next. The faces representing the OPDO to the public may change but one fact remains the same: Meles Zenawi, the puppet-master, is very well in charge, like an experienced orchestra conductor tapping his fingers to make limbs dance and heads roll to the tune of his music.