By RENÉ LEFORT
According to the dominant assessment, the crisis in Ethiopia reflects the absolute antagonism between two well-defined blocks. A fight between “Ethiopia’s political and business elites (that) have decided to make their last stand to protect their wealth and power by using a military” apparatus, and “a revolution from below based on the political activism of millions of people who are determined to deploy nonviolent methods to overthrow a tyrannical totalitarian regime.”
In this view, the first block is clinging to the status quo. “Take their power away, they will become nobody overnight.” Its center of gravity is “the” Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), perceived as a homogeneous and unified force. While Tigrayans account for only 6% of the population, the Front maintains its pre-eminence in the leadership of the military and security forces answerable to federal authority. It is a very big player in the “modern” – i.e. non-agricultural – economy, through its control over public and para-public companies. It has long been the dominant component of the four ethnic parties in the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
This ascendancy was clear with respect to the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), but in decline for the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and even more so for the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO). It also attracts apparatchiks from all over, including ANDM and OPDO. Without saying it overtly, they too have an interest in the maintenance of the status quo, even when this runs counter to some of their party’s positions.
Nevertheless, this block has made – or at least offered – gestures of opening up that were unthinkable a few months ago, and promises more. It has released more than 6000 political prisoners, including key leaders of the legal opposition. OPDO has “invited opposition party members based in Ethiopia and overseas to work together with the goal of realizing a democratic system,” i.e. even the most radical fringe of the diaspora. ANDM has made a similar gesture. Never before have the official news channels of Oromia and of the Amhara region, as well as the private media, enjoyed such a degree of freedom of expression.
For its detractors, however, the proclamation of the second state of emergency, on February 16, is evidence that this block still favors force as the tool of getting its way. In response to a mass protest, they say, it has simply yielded some tactical ground, which it will subsequently recover, while ultimately keeping hold of the essential. […] CONTINUE READING