Under-siege OPDO and its role in the near future of Ethiopia’s politics

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Abdisa Aga

The three years old pro-democracy protests have made OPDO a newly born reformist group within the ruling elite but a massive brutal crack down on the organization has got its future hanging in the balance.


The Oromo peoples democratic organization (OPDO) was created in the later stages of the civil war by captured troops of the then Ethiopia leader Mengistu Hailemariam to serve as a satellite organization for the upcoming TPLF rule. Their genesis was mainly in a response to the growing influence of the Oromo rebel group, OLF. By the time, in the late 80s and early 90s, the OLF was ideologically and militarily in a much better shape and it probably had some support from the failing Mengistu Hailemariam army. the OPDO became very critical to the survival of TPLF.  It gave them a nice cover to fight the OLF and get full control of Oromo populated lands.


As they were captured troops of Mengistu hailemariam, the OPDO  have always had Ethiopia in their hearts. Plus they were not radicalized by foreign education and fantasy. They also lived with peasant Amhara and Tigre fighters in North Ethiopia. So they were a perfect cover for TPLF. Even more, the propaganda by the some OLF-affiliated diaspora members and the TPLF made OLF a scary name for pro-Ethiopia Oromos and the rest of Ethiopianist elite. So for Oromia, OPDO were by far the choice of everybody.


While OLF leaders always used the word Wayyane ( TPLF) to refer to the regime, other opposition figures like Merera Gudina prefer the acronym EPRDF. This is a recognition to OPDO’s role in the regime. But practically the OPDO was TPLF’s wing in the name of Oromo. The deceased dictator Meles Zenawi used the existence of OPDO to attack the nationally organized opposition as “uniformist” and “expansionist” while OLF as a narrow nationalist and separatist.


It all worked. OPDO’s existence has helped TPLF control Oromo until the death of Meles Zenawi. Meles’s shrewd personality created the cult that kept the coalition EPRDF together. After his death, the TPLF had no man OPDO or the other satellite organizations would worship or  willingly open their mouth for long to listen to his speech. Even worse, three years of violent pro-democracy protests forced the TPLF itself to denounce its long time leader and crushed pro-meles factions within it.  The OPDO has now got the chance to elect its leaders without direct influence from TPLF.  These were really dramatic events in the party’s three decades old life.


Following the election of young charismatic leaders in Lema Megersa and Abiy Ahmed, the OPDO emerged as a reformist movement. It denounced TPLF’s ages old narrative of Ethiopia vs Oromo in which they successfully limited Oromo to minor regional affairs and kept it away from Ethiopian center politics.   That was like a stab from the back for TPLF when this narrative was thrown away. Some pro-TPLF elites were even forced to call for the dissolution of the EPRDF coalition.


The personal gestures of the new leaders were as sweet as honey for most people. They brought in people like Negaso Gidada, former head of nation who were doomed and persecuted by TPLF. their regional media started acting independently with successful campaigns. But Nothing like events at  pro-opposition rallies tell about the new born OPDO. Top regional officials were giving speeches at these massive peaceful rallies for freed politicians like Merera Gudina and Beqele gereba. The speeches were like ‘they arrested you and we freed you’.


Hailemariam Desalegn was forced to resign as prime minster in name. The vacant position was widely assumed to be filled by an OPDO man. For that purpose, Lema Megersa, the party chairman transferred the title to Abiy Ahimed who is member of the federal parliament. To the embarrassment of TPLF, newly elected chair and PM hopeful, Abiy skipped the extra ordinary parliamentary session to pass another draconian marital law in just two years. Close to a hundred OPDO MPs opposed the proposal which led to an embarrassing recalculating of the votes. It was a historic moral victory against TPLF.


After all these, Its true the OPDO has not fully toppled TPLF from Oromia let alone Ethiopia but it surely has become an opposition party in EPRDF’s dictionary. And when you act as an opposition party, The unorganized unarmed populist support is only psychological. It has little effect on the ground. Ethiopia is a millenniums old nation with violent history of power. You can’t easily walk into the Minilk palace.


Reality is now surfacing for OPDO. Yet many Ethiopians and western diplomats want to see an OPDO man ( either Lema or Abiy) to take the prime minister position. Which is good but TPLF has also officially started the crack down on this reformist faction. This second state of emergency is only for OPDO. Cutting the foot of Abiy and lema is well underway.  Several regional officials have been arrested. The killings are well and high in numbers. Only on Saturday, regime troops killed more than twenty Oromos in Moyale. The killings were deliberate by the ruthless regime. They blamed it on OLF. They brought back their old same song. TPLF is as determined as ever to get rid of anyone who threatens their power.


Can OPDO really rule Ethiopia?


Yes they can. They have openly said that. After relinquishing the chairmanship of OPDO to Abiy Ahmed, Lema the former chairman was quoted to have said they don’t use the power to steal Ethiopia and benefit Oromo but work for all. It was like an election campaign for a huge Ethiopian audience.  And just last week, the secretariat or the spokesman of the command post, Siraj fergesa said the violent situation is turning to look like a color revolution. The color revolution narrative is directed to Lema Megersa’s OPDO. TPLF in the mouth of the command post admitted the power struggle. TPLF uses that expression to situations that threaten its power. They used it against CUDP in 2005 after the election results signaled victory for the opposition coalition.


No one really knows what is on the mind of Lema and his reformist faction. TPLF, under the name of the command post and martial law has declared war on them. It  is killing their base and network all over the Oromia region. They need to act sooner than later before their base is gone. Once their base is gone, they will only be individuals not an organized group.


What they can do


The long awaited EPRDF meeting is underway. Its expected that they will name the new party chairman or the defacto PM in a few days. Western donors and most people on the opposition side prefer to see Abiy Ahmed, the OPDO chairman as the new PM. But TPLF is well known for ignoring advice. As Shiferaw Shigute another PM hopeful from the south said just like week, the EPRDF ( TPLF’s mask) has its own way of doing things. Yes they’re right. They have been doing things their own way and it has so far worked. They still rule Ethiopia.


For OPDO the first thing to do is wait on the outcomes of the meeting. We live by hope. If Abiy Ahmed gets the PM position, thats clearly a first victory for OPDO. They try to maintain their psychological triumph.


But as much as getting the PM position, there are other serious things to do. They one way or another way need to get rid of reactionary elements within the OPDO itself. Until recently, this party was full of corrupt officials who are directly connected to Addis Ababa in direct corruption. They have their own personal fear of retaliation. So they prefer to serve the TPLF than fully support their newly born independet OPDO.  They declared war on their own people by voting for the martial law. Lema and co. must carefully clear the organization of these people. The old guard of opportunists like Abadula Gemeda and the foreign affair minister Workneh Gebeyehu must be prime targets.


Once getting full control of the OPDO itself, the next move must be getting sympathy from individual Oromos in the armed forces. The hardest job ever for OPDO will be this. This is like playing with fire but its possible. In terms of numbers, there are thousands of Oromos within the armed forces. The army was organized along regional ties. So once they have the full control of their party free from the back stabbers, they might get the sympathy of members of the army with Oromo origin.  We have seen signs of doing that. Just last week again, a retired Oromo general who is also veteran of the rebel movement appeared on the regional television. The general vanished from public eyes after the end of the Ethio-Eri war. Its almost twenty years. In the TV appearance, he praised the new OPDO leaders and applauded their capablities of leading Ethiopia. This is not an accident. It is a small sign of the new OPDO trying to get foot in the military. Success in this area is the key toward the full reform everybody hopes for.


The Other most important thing is to maintain the rhetoric and the gestures. This is mainly a test for the two front men, Lema and Abiy. They need to start communicating to the international community. It was reported that US secretary of state department, Rex Tillerson would speak to them on the first stop of his Africa tour. This means they have attracted the attention of the international community. Its a huge moral boost. Who knows, may be the US is pondering its chance of replacing TPLF by OPDO for a less violent transition. Lema and Abiy must know that they’ve already held the tail of the beast. There is no way back. They must continue with the rhetoric and the gestures. They must embrace whatever cost will come. The cost of backing down will be much higher than cost of going forward. It is suicidal.


Least but not last is the opposition within the Oromo itself. Merera Gudina’s home based opposition is  in theory an opposition to the OPDO. Since it is a regionally registered party. They still oppose OPDO but its hard to say they will stand on its way for a better future. You never know. Politics is full of opportunist individuals and groups. If they see OPDO really weakening TPLF, they may plan to seize the hole and come after OPDO. It needs some serious calculation from the side of Lema and Abiy.


The rest significant element is the Oromo diaspora. The most vocal groups in the diaspora have been playing a very negative role for decades. Some are old school OLFites in confusion. Some are new school OLFites who have eternal love for the name. Some are detached from the new Ethiopia. These old folks know the Ethiopia of the emperor, so day and night they fantasize about a non existent Oromia republic they dreamed of forty years ago. But recently, a new generation of young smart activists have emerged as a vocal group in the Oromo diaspora. These young men are smart and play the game better than the outdated older Oromo diaspora. They control media. They compete to appear as a better Oromo by bashing the name Ethiopia and Amhara. They want to shape the future of OPDO. They post and tweet. They ask a question and they answer it themselves. They don’t let other oromo voices be heard on their platform. They are another big challenge for the new OPDO.


OPDO was not born to be a hero. But thanks to the pro-democracy protests, a new generation of leaders have emerged. Situations create heroes. Its up to Lema and Abiy to live to the name and write history. They came out from nowhere. Who knew these men before three years. Ethiopia’s history of power, the power of the underdogs favors OPDO to be the next play makers. But it must prove itself by defying all the odds.


4 Responses to Under-siege OPDO and its role in the near future of Ethiopia’s politics

  1. A nice OLF analysis? You opposed Addis master plan? then your Lemma and Abiy have been busy clearing Oromia from Amhara, Tigrie, Wolyta, Sidama, … this was done under your Lemma and Abiy? They could not even administer Oromia in 3 years? lemma and Abiy can never quality to be Ethiopians leaders and they must be actually cleared from Oromia. How they are prodemocratic? how? because they have been beheading, stoning people to death their region? No Ethiopians wanted Lemma or Abiy. They do not qualify. Western diplomatics love Lemma and Abiy? why? You are telling us they are mercenaries and agents foreign countries with vested interest? If you believe in democracy why do you want only Oromo to be PM? You are just a fascist. You wanted an Oromo to be PM? Then yu wanted to the PM to take revenge and kill, arrest EPRDF members? is that you democracy? bastard, idiots, and you continue after telling us taking over the military by Oromos? You did not tell when you will declare independence ?

    March 12, 2018 at 1:17 am

  2. The Oromo people through the centuries are open to Ethiopians from all corners. Oromia is island in Ethiopia where all are given opportunities. Oromo have been land of opportunity for all and is role model for tolerance and hosting others. People from North and south are well received and made fortune on Oromo land.

    At this critical time after 21 years of Tigrian PM and 6 years of Southern PM logical to try new thinking electing visionary leaders that can see beyond its ethnic base and personal interest and make Ethiopia land of opportunity for all. OPDO and its leaders (Lemma and Abye) are forces of unity, they have moral value to stand for justice and freedom. They are committed to take Ethiopian people to the next level of change thus passing the leadership role to OPDO is crucial for the country.

    March 13, 2018 at 10:09 am

  3. My understanding is that role of a prime minister is highly exaggerated by people who are unable to see the inherent weakness in the system as to how the position of prime minister is circulated among four organizations via assignment.

    What’s worrying is a trend has been established in the last twenty years in violation of the constitution.

    Article 38 (3) of the Constitution which is entitled “the right to vote and to be elected” provides:

    “Elections to positions of responsibility within any of the organizations referred to under sub-Article 2 of this Article (viz. political organizations, labour unions, trade organizations, or employers’ or professional associations) shall be conducted in a free and democratic manner.”

    As indicated within brackets, the Constitutions sanctions “elections to positions of responsibility” in political organizations which is to be conducted in a free and democratic manner. Positions of responsibility in political organizations are essentially about positions of leadership.

    Free and democratic elections of political leaders as required by the Constitution is unknown in our country. Leaving the legal opposition aside, let’s see the practices of TPLF-EPRDF. There is no open nomination and debate on matters relevant to the country among prospective leaders. Without departing from their organizational program, there are issues that candidates could have presented and debated to get support of members and supporters and of the general public.

    Democracy is about debating issues and giving opportunity for the idea that has won support of the majority to be implemented. The person who authors the winning idea is the one who takes over. And this is to be done in a free manner. I have not seen or heard of any debate on issues and free election of leaders within TPLF-EPRDF. And that’s one of the reasons the party has problem reforming itself or accept reform in the country.

    TPLF/EPRDF lacks internal democracy and open exchange of ideas and debate. Centralism is excessively applied to the extent that members muzzle themselves from discussing ideas. Article 38 was intended to limit such a development in the political sphere and emphasise that the public has interest and right to know internal workings of political organizations.

    The leaders of the regional organizations viz. TPLF, OPDO, ANDM, Southern organization are elected by a small number of people from the central or executive committee of the respective organizations without the involvement of the rank and file members via representatives.

    Another small group of people that come from these organizations elect the leader to the EPRDF who then becomes the prime minster of the country. In reality, the fate of the prime minister is dependent on the few people who elected him than the entire members of EPRDF and the general population.

    The small group of people who elected the prime minister can also remove him after unfavorable evaluation (gemgema). The other requirement to meet is election to HPR (federal parliament) in remote local district of few thousands of people.

    The internal workings of EPRDF to pick the prime minister and a very limited mass base he has by being elected in a single wereda is totally undemocratic way of putting a chief executive to the highest office in the country.

    Here is a concrete example. A few months ago, less than forty people who form the central committee of TPLF (including some who were said no more in the committee) removed their leader and crowned another.

    Through what process the removal and replacement done? Through evaluation (gemgema).

    Assuming that TPLF has a million members in Tigray, in the country and abroad, was there any mechanism by which the million strong participated to elect whom they call their leader? None whatsoever.

    -There was no leadership campaign among members and supporters in which candidates present what they will do if elected to lead the party.

    -There were no delegates (at least ten thousand of them for a million members) who were to vote for the leader and back his plan at all stages of implementation and support him in case the top leadership is not happy with what he is doing.

    -Nobody knows what the leader elected in closed doors plans to do. Not party members, not supporters, not the Tigray people.

    The process is like an appointment of a civil servant whose tenure is dependent on evaluation of his immediate superior. And the immediate supervisors in TPLF case are the few who elect the leader.

    That kind of election might have been reasonable during the civil war due to security concerns, but to maintain it for years after security risk is removed is undemocratic and meaningless. It is a corrupt system that encourages loyalty to few groups of people rather than to the entire population. If it exists anywhere in the world, it might be only in China. Since our country is not China, it needs a democratic way of electing party leaders.

    So, how the post of the prime minister is “given” makes the person weak
    Personal strength and weakness might improve or exacerbate situation, but to expect change, even a serious reform that involves transition including charting out a road-map and meeting with opposition is unrealistic.

    Until a few years ago, a TPLF/EPRDF leader held it to be succeeded by a leader of Southern organization/EPRDF until he was forced to resign not long ago. Next in line (without necessarily reflecting order) seem to be leaders of OPDO/EPRDF and ANDM/EPRDF.

    If and when the leader of OPDO/EPRDF becomes the prime minister, he will be weak due to the inherent weakness in the system. A bad legacy from TPLF, OPDO got its leader without saying what he wants to do, without competing with others for leadership and the expressed support of members of his party and the Oromo people. He becomes a prime minister by few “king makers” to whom he will be loyal until they throw him out.

    I can’t wait to hear or read a negative comment once OPDO/EPRDF guy walks in Menelik palace with his family without knowing what to do. People tell you he will implement EPRDF’s program, but that’s not enough. I can’t also wait to confirm how the system of filling the office will undo him because he can’t say no to the king makers.

    If you’re waiting for change or reform under such administration, forget it.

    Get this guys, look at the bigger picture. Look at the system and how it operates. The role of individuals is less important compared to a system that facilitates or hinders their performance.

    Drop unnecessarily raising people’s expectations.

    Hullabloo Dinaw
    March 13, 2018 at 1:51 pm

  4. Whatever dress you wear we can see through it and can tell whether it is TPLF or Not. Mr OLF (aka TPLF) the days of confusing people by putting on an Oromo name or Amhara name has gone for long. it is much easy to identify you with your narrow stone age mind set. You want Hailemarims replacement to be another Hailemairam ( who –shegute) but He can not serve you well by repeating what Hailemariam has been doing —playing your pupate. Lema and Abiy are individuals with brain, and people with brain are not going to let you loot and kill in daylight. Since you are moron you don’t know it, but your best chance for your own survival are individuals like Lema and Abiy. Aristotle once said that a person who has the knowledge is best, a person who hears and adjust according to wise man advice is a noble man, but a person who doesn’t know or doesn’t listen wise man’s advice is a useless man. TPLF stooges are useless beyond repair.

    March 14, 2018 at 10:01 pm

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