Lemma’s disunity drug

As Lemma Megersa has shown, for ethno-nationalists, there will never be the right time for multi-ethnic politics or prioritising national unity
Reading Time: 8 minutes
As Lemma Megersa has shown, for ethno-nationalists, there will never be the right time for multi-ethnic politics or prioritising national unity

By Worku Aberra

In an interview with VOA on November 30, Lemma Megersa announced that he disagrees with the decision to form the new multi-ethnic party, the Prosperity Party (PP), the political project of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.  Lemma had previously vowed that only death will separate him from Abiy, a friend, a political ally, and a comrade in arms, but his announcement marks a major split with the Prime Minister.  The rupture could result in the reconfiguration of alliances among Oromo politicians and parties, the consequences of which is difficult to ascertain at this time for Ethiopia.

Lemma is a former president of Oromia. He was the vice-chairperson of the ruling Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), is the Minister of Defense, and more significantly was the leader of Team Lemma that was instrumental in reducing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) influence in the federal government through years of political insurgency. He is admired by Ethiopians for the critical role he played in the downfall of an authoritarian regime. He also became the darling of some of the more stridently nationalist Oromos.

He outlined his reasons for rejecting the new party on substantive and procedural grounds.  He is skeptical of the “philosophy” of medemerbroadly translated to mean unity to achieve a goalbecause the ODP has failed to unite the Oromo people, he asserts. He suggests it was not the right decision at this time to promote unity among Ethiopians when the ODP has not succeeded in uniting and serving the Oromo people.

This argument is unpersuasive.

First, unity is purpose-specific.  Unity implies agreeing on an objective and acting to attain it.  There can be no unity without a purpose. A group of individuals, communities, or political parties can agree on a specific issue but may disagree on other issues. For example, last September, ordinary Ethiopians, politicians, community leaders, the opposition parties, and the government were all united on the “green initiative” to plant trees across Ethiopia.

Ethiopians, Oromos and non-Oromos alike, are united on the need for establishing democracy in Ethiopia; most Ethiopians also agree on national unity, mutual respect of each other’s cultures, and the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. There is no disunity between Oromos and the rest of Ethiopians on these issues. On other issues, for example ideology, there could be deep differences of opinion among Oromos as much as there is among other Ethiopians. This difference explains the presence of multiple parties in Oromia. Therefore, the emphasis on an abstract unity among Oromo people first is political posturing without substance.

Disingenuous

Second, Lemma’s statement is all the more disappointing when we consider he had appealed in the past for unity among Ethiopians to establish democracy, to strengthen national unity, and to defend the territorial integrity of Ethiopia.

His concern about unity among the Oromo people first is a 180-degree turn from Ethiopian nationalism that he equated with an addiction. Addiction or not, civic nationalism, based on common rights and obligations, unites all citizens; it does not preclude unity among the Oromos. Indeed, a united Ethiopia for justice, equality, and democracy also creates a united Oromo people for the same objectives. The sequential approach to building unity that he advocates is a fallacy.

The creation of a multi-ethnic party embodies the unity of purpose to establish a democratic, tolerant, and prosperous Ethiopia, but the TPLF and Oromo hardliners oppose the unity of Ethiopians. Since they yearn for ethno-regional autonomy with the option of secession, there will never be the right moment to form a multi-ethnic party.

That is why this group has been disingenuously campaigning against all multi-ethnic parties, including PP, saying such parties will re-establish a unitary state that tramples upon the rights of ethnic groups in Ethiopia, the establishment of a dystopia. Mustafa Omer, the acting president of the region of Somalia, has eloquently rebutted this fallacious argument.

No threat to federalism

He argues that a multi-ethnic party poses no threat to federalism. He finds it ironic that the defenders of the previous government, such as the TPLF, allege that creating a multi-ethnic party threatens federalism and the transition to democracy. Contrary to what they claim, the previous government, he maintains, was neither democratic nor federal. It was an undemocratic unitary government, federal in name only, under the tight control of the TPLF. He points out that in the EPRDF government, individuals from the so-called developing regions—Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Somali and Harari—could never aspire to become the prime minister of Ethiopia. They were treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

Given Ethiopia’s regional, cultural, and ethnic diversity, he underscores that the consensus on the best form government for Ethiopia is federalism, and any attempt to impose a unitary form of government will be rejected by Ethiopians. He is not worried about a multi-ethnic party establishing a unitary state.

Lemma opposes the creation of the multi-ethnic party both on principle and timing. Even if one were to agree on the need for such a party, he argues that this is not the time to form a new party; this is the time is to establish peace, security, and law and order in Ethiopia.

But, lawlessness in Ethiopia today is the result of 28 years of ethnic parties, ethnic politics, and ethnic federalism. Ethno-nationalist individuals, groups, and ethnic parties have also been active in creating instability in Ethiopia during the last two years. Retaining the regionally dominant ethnic-based parties will not solve Ethiopia’s political conundrum; on the contrary, it will heighten the political crisis to such a point that the country may disintegrate. Establishing a multi-ethnic party that enjoys widespread support throughout Ethiopia can mitigate against the crisis.

National question

Lemma also argues that since Ethiopia faces a number of serious macroeconomic problems, attention should focus on solving these problems, not on forming a new political party.  This is another red herring. Ethiopia’s macroeconomic problems, whether it is high unemployment, chronic balance of payments deficits, the high inflation rate, or the high cost of living, cannot be solved overnight. Addressing this problem successfully requires Ethiopia’s economic transformation, and economic transformation requires peace, security, and political stability.  If the past is any lesson, ethnic politics practiced by ethnic parties has created political instability and undermined economic transformation.

Preserving ethnic parties does not solve Ethiopia’s macroeconomic problems; it exacerbates the problems. To be sure, creating a multi-ethnic party is not the cure-all to Ethiopia’s macroeconomic problems, but the resulting stability will reduce the severity of the problems.  Resolving the macroeconomic problems facing the country could take decades, but measures can be taken now to alleviate them. Lemma’s suggestion that Ethiopia should solve its economic problems before forming a new party is a false dilemma. As is often said, government officials should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Lemma’s argument that the time is not ripe for dissolving the dominant ethnic political parties hints at the national question. Ethno-nationalists argue that there is still a need for ethnic political parties because the national question has not been successfully resolved. As long as national oppression remains, they argue, there is a need for ethnic political parties. Ethnic parties will only disappear when national oppression disappears. But when will that happen?   For fervent ethno-nationalists, national oppression ceases only when ethnic states are created.

Lemma’s position is inconsistent with his past view on the national question.  When he was struggling against the TPLF-run security state, he contended that in Ethiopia there was no national oppression, but only class oppression.  The EPRDF concludes that it has successfully resolved the national question. Whether we take Lemma’s premise or the EPRDF’s conclusion, there is no need for ethnic parties.

The more hardline Oromos see an Amhara conspiracy, as they pejoratively put it, a Neftegna conspiracy, in every decision that the Abiy government makes that they disapprove of, whether it is the celebration of the New Year in the Palace, the reading of a poem by a child at the celebration, the inauguration of the Unity Park, or the formation of the new party.  They allege that the Prime Minister’s advisers are all Amharas, contrary to the facts.

Lemma partially legitimizes these conspiracy theories when he says he questions the motive behind creating the new political party, when he alleges that his influence has diminished, and when he protests that “I begged, but nobody is listening to me anymore”.

Procedurally, he raises the legitimacy of the process that was followed in creating the new party.  He has every right to question the process used in creating the PP, but those who participated in the discussion at different levels and in committees, for example the PP Oromia spokesman Taye Dendea says that at no time did Lemma express his disagreement either with the process or the substance of forming the new party. In fact, the government has released a picture of him voting for the creation of the new party at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF.

Lemma says that the ODP should have consulted the Oromo people before deciding to form the new party. This is unpersuasive. It is not necessary to seek the opinion of the people, the blessing of the elderly, or the approval of Jawar Mohammed when forming a new party. The public will have the opportunity to pass its judgment on the party by casting their ballots during the election.

Whither Oromara

To understand the motivation behind his announcement we must understand the political situation today. The ‘Oromara’ alliance that was influential in removing the TPLF from power is on life support, if not dead. Abiy’s popularity has substantially decreased, especially among the Amhara people, because of his attempt to placate fervent Oromo nationalists like Jawar.

The Oromia Media Network, owned by Jawar, has intensified its anti-Amhara, anti-unity, and anti-Ethiopia propaganda over the last couple of months. For example, in its news cast on November 28, it interviewed a number of people who expressed fear that the PP will result in the creation of a unitary state. Even Daud Ibsa, the leader of the Oromo Liberation Front, has become concerned and distanced the OLF from tactics that pit one ethnic group against another.

More significantly, there has been a seismic shift in the alignment of political forces over the past year or so. The TPLF era has ended.  With the dissolution of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the subservience of the other ethnic political groups that were part of the EPRDF coalition is over. So, the TPLF is possibly set to ally with the hardline nationalist Oromos to create something more like a confederation of ethnic states than a united federation. On the other side, a strong pro-unity block, including the Prime Minister, the economic and political elites of almost all the ethnic groups in Ethiopia, (including the Tigrayan economic elite), has emerged.

The political leaders from the so-called underdeveloped regions, particularly from Somali, are playing an important role in shaping the trajectory of the pro-unity alliance, as are other political elites from various ethnic groups who worry about the prospect of ever-increasing ethnic tensions.

This fundamental shift in the alignment of political forces threatens the TPLF and Oromo hardliners. It is in this context that Lemma announced his opposition to the formation of the PP. Lemma says that he will stay in the new party and continue his struggle from within unless he is pushed out. He also declares that after consulting the Oromo people on what they want, he will take the next step.  “Consulting the public” is a stock phrase that politicians use to justify any action they take, but his statement sounds like an indirect threat.

Similarly, “what the people want” is a nebulous term subject to the politician’s own interpretation; it could mean anything ranging from ending poverty, to self-rule, to independence.  He has chosen to remain ambiguous.  If Lemma opposes unity and the new party so passionately, he should have the courage of his conviction and resign from the government.  If he continues to publicly denounce the new party, the Prime Minister should fire him. Since the TPLF has also rejected the PP, all of the remaining TPLF federal ministers should be fired as well. Internal dissent is tolerable, public denunciation is not.

Ethiopians who are concerned about democracy and national unity must support the existing or new multi-ethnic political parties like the PP, regardless of the political differences they may have with the Prime Minister. Ethiopia’s survival is at stake.


Worku Aberra

Worku is a professor of economics at Dawson College, Montreal, Canada. He did his graduate studies in development economics at McGill University; currently he is doing research on child labour in Ethiopia.

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7 comments

  1. Prosperity. = Ediget
    Medemer = Behibret

    Prosperity medemer is not a political party, it is a national service or zemecha targeting it’s citizens .

    EPRDF was and still continues to be the only political party in power .
    TPLF and TEAM LEMMA are the only ones remaining to hold in political power in the last two years in Ethiopia . Team Lemma is not able to destroy TPLF, as team Lemma destroyed Ambachew , Asaminew……so TPLF is very much alive contending power of team Lemma.

    Other political and Civic organizations had been systemically weakened in the last two years by both team Lemma and TPLF , prohibited from holding gathering meetings rallies in Tigrai by TPLF, same as political and Civic organizations were systemically weakened by team Lemma in many occasions prohibited from holding gatherings rallies in other parts of Ethiopia by Team Lemma .

    Now team Lemma and TPLF are the two contestants for political power, other political parties are made more weaker than they were two years ago , Prosperity Meder is more of a crusade (edget behebret zemecha) or a semi SAWA STYLE national service than a political party. MBA holder philosopher Abiy have failed miserably in sharing the political.power, due to that reason he is in a verge of loosing his home base the Oromos trust with even Abo Lemma willing to sink with him and also Abiy.lost Amaras trust since had arrested many Amara Baladera Nama’s falsely accusing them taking part in the “coup”, which Team Lemma including Abiy himself orchasterated “secretly” with the secret being out Abiy’s credibility is diminished. He killed Ambachew , Asaminew … Arrested NAMA Baladera to systematically weaken the possible contenders from Amara region that were claiming to contribute for the so called change that were constantly reaching out in rural areas for supports vote which got YARA fertilizer so angry. The Norwegian fertilizer company YARA sells so much fertilizer to Ethiopia it gave Meles Zenawi an award for addicting the land with fertilizer, the land stopped producing without the fertilizer after YARA using Meles Zenawi forcefully addicted.the land. Now the rural farmers got no other choice but to vote for the fertilizer loan giver team Lemma, especially with Ambachew out the way team Lemma is saying “who Wolqait and Raya belonged to before the TPLF constitution we don’t talk about it” with fertilizer addicted farmers not making complaints since they are under tight control with fertilizer . To emancipate Ethiopians in a country where 80+ million of the people are subsistence farmers addicted to fertilizer gotten through loans, first the farm land must be able to be emancipated from fertilizer addiction.Norwegian consultants should give us the cure for the fertilizer addiction.

    Also we hear Aboy Sebhat Nega of TPLF blaming Getachew Assefa for not killing Demeke Mekonnen same as Abo Lemma Megersa is angry at Abiy for not shutting Eakinder Nega one way or the other.
    ODP team Lemma is almost a replica of TPLF team Sebhat with
    official post in TPLF post in team Lemma
    Aboy Sebhat.,,…………………. is Abo Lemma
    Getachew Assefa ………………..Is Abiy Ahmed
    Debretsion Gebremichael….is Shimeles Abdissa

    Similarity Of former Ally friends .
    Former friend of Sebhat Former friend
    of Lemma
    Isayas Afewierki………… is Muktar Kedir

    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has coined a watchword, ‘Medemer’, to unite people around his new crusade Prosperity edget behbet zemecha

    As elections draw near, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s new Prosperity Party makes significant progress, but his political rebranding exercise is under time pressure.

    As Ethiopia gears up for its May 2020 elections, three of the four members of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition have voted to join the Prosperity Party (PP), Abiy Ahmed’s new development edget behbet crusade called Prosperity formation.

    Five regional parties, from Afar, Gambella, Harari, Benishangul Gumz and Somali regions have also joined the Prosperity edget behbet crusade.

    The lone holdout in the ruling party is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has seen its power wane under Abiy’s rule.

    “The move to disband the EPRDF weakens the federal system and takes away the rights of the people to self-administration,” Debretsion Gebremichael, chair of the TPLF, said at a news conference. “The drive to form a united party does not consider the existing situations in the country.”
    The PP marks the end of the EPRDF as an alliance of four parties, nearly three decades after it came to power.

    While the TPLF’s opposition to the merger was expected, Abiy’s new party has also been criticised by some of his allies and core supporters.

    The most prominent of them, defence minister Lemma Megersa, told VOA’s Afaan Oromo Service: “Merging this party is not timely as there are many dangers. We are in transition.”
    “Until they tell me to leave the organisation I will struggle holding on to the difference I have. It is not just me, there are many who have misgivings about this and are willing to struggle for it,” he said.
    Oromo doubts
    While Lemma’s comments have received the most attention, his opposition to the plan may point to the fact that Abiy’s biggest challenge will be how to sell the new Prosperity crusade Edget Behbet zemecha to the Oromo.

    Lemma’s criticism is significant for the future, as he is also the deputy chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Abiy’s current party.

    The minister, whose resignation as chair of the then OPDO cleared the route for Abiy to become prime minister, also said he does not subscribe to Abiy’s ‘Medemer’ philosophy .

    While there are obvious advantages to joining the national formation, constituent parties are also worried about the effect it will have on their home fronts.

    Too soon?
    Other critics are worried about the timing, too.

    “One of the most immediate challenges to PP is that it will be difficult to win a free and competitive election as a pan-Ethiopian party while ethnicity remains the predominant political cleavage,” argues Awol K Allo.

    He also says that, for some in Ethiopia, “the fusion of the distinct entities that represented the various ethnic groups marks a return to Ethiopia’s centralising and homogenising past.”
    Plans for an EPRDF merger have been in the works since 2008, but they gained momentum as part of Prime Minister Abiy’s political reforms.

    The reforms, which have included releasing political detainees and removing parties from terror lists, have resulted in an exponential growth in the number of recognised parties.
    In November, the Sidama people voted to form their own state, which will further increase the number of political players in the country.
    While launching the new party on 1 December, Abiy said that it had “prepared [a] clear programme and bylaws as well as a 10-year plan that leads Ethiopia to prosperity”.

    With just five months to the polls, the party will have to depend on the legacy of its predecessor, while also trying to distance itself from it.

    “The EPRDF party brand has collapsed,” Girmachew Alemu, an associate professor at Addis Abeba University, recently wrote in the Addis Standard: “Paradoxically, the strength and weakness of the Prosperity Party is closely linked with the legacy of the EPRDF.”

    The Prosperity Crusade strength is based on its iinheritance of, among others, fertilizer Monopoly , the financial and human resources, mass networks, and political, economic, and social achievements of the EPRDF .

    But this inheritance will also include all of EPRDF’s “authoritarian baggage”, and the new party will have to find a way to do things differently.

    Abiy’s extensive reforms will provide a foundation for the Prosperity Party’s brand. But it will still have to compete with regional parties on their home turf, and navigate multiple issues including ethnicity and the politics of federal city.

  2. What is all this fuss about Obbo Lemma’s preference to differ? Doesn’t he have the inviolable rights to do so? I think this article is just another example of overreaching. This young politician is a good man. How many of forget what he said about feeling an Ethiopian? He had said that it is like a beyond-repair addiction. Now if he uses such differing opinion as an excuse to join other clueless punk-rocking individuals and their proven entourage, then he needs to be put on the spot and criticized, But I doubt he will do that. He seems and sounds to be too dignified to be in a mix with these bigots like this so-called professor from somewhere in the Midwest. I am sure they are salivating to bring him in the fold with them and I hope he will not succumb to that. What may press him to go in that direction is if the pressure on him from inside his party is unbearable to him and make him worry about the safety of him and his family. I will keep defending this innocent man as long as he continue to do his duties assigned to him by the majority members of the ruling party until the day I see him cajoling with the bigots who are hell bent on nothing but yanking away a territory to call it their personal fiefdom which ain’t gonna happen, ever!!!!

  3. Lemma will soon succumb to his misadventure.

    ድል

    Victory for EPP

    All in Ethiopia shall be one day be MEDEMER sweetness’ home,.

    All contraries like Jawar Mohamed, TPLF and rest prepare MEDEMER harmony;

    Towards MEDEMER our knowledge climbs, our passion gropes;

    In MEDEMER miraculous rapture ETHIOPIA shall dwell,.

    MEDEMER clasp shall turn to ecstasy our pain and Divisive and Radical forces.

    Dr. Abiye Ahmed is propelling the Ethiopian election as an angel for EPP ie Ethiopian Prosperity Party is a FORGONE CONCLUSION of Massive win by the fact that MEDEMER is doing work of an Angel.

    An Angle role and results are predestined by Divine although the appearance could be confusion in appearance.

    Hence, even the contarian like Jawar Mohamed, TPLF and Defense Minister all are preparing harmony to benifit Dr. Abiye the fruit of MEDEMER the Angle.

    Had these radicals and rascist made a representation on welfare of Ethiopia. than ANGLE would not have stripped them nacked of their nefracious plan. But now all are exposed working as divisive force against Ethiopia.

    Naturally the only winnervwith a Tsunami in upcoming election is Dr. Abiye Ahmed and his government of EPP.

    Nitin varia.

  4. Lema shall succumb to his misadventure.

    ድል

    Victory for EPP

    All in Ethiopia shall be one day be MEDEMER sweetness’ home,.

    All contraries like Jawar Mohamed, TPLF and rest prepare MEDEMER harmony;

    Towards MEDEMER our knowledge climbs, our passion gropes;

    In MEDEMER miraculous rapture ETHIOPIA shall dwell,.

    MEDEMER clasp shall turn to ecstasy our pain and Divisive and Radical forces.

    Dr. Abiye Ahmed is propelling the Ethiopian election as an angel for EPP ie Ethiopian Prosperity Party is a FORGONE CONCLUSION of Massive win by the fact that MEDEMER is doing work of an Angel.

    An Angle role and results are predestined by Divine although the appearance could be confusion in appearance.

    Hence, even the contarian like Jawar Mohamed, TPLF and Defense Minister all are preparing harmony to benifit Dr. Abiye the fruit of MEDEMER the Angle.

    Had these radicals and rascist made a representation on welfare of Ethiopia. than ANGLE would not have stripped them nacked of their nefracious plan. But now all are exposed working as divisive force against Ethiopia.

    Naturally the only winnervwith a Tsunami in upcoming election is Dr. Abiye Ahmed and his government of EPP.

    Nitin varia.

  5. A democracy is like a wrestling contest. It has to have, at least, two contestants in the ring; each comparable in skill and preferably belonging to the same weight category. Once a monarchy, later an autocracy, the old country is now seen tottering toward becoming a democracy; doing so at a speed much more impressive than that of a tortoise whose feet are riddled with arthritis, ironically a typical scenario almost everywhere else in Africa.

    Going by how it is constituted, the old country is a natural democracy. It only needs politicians with courage, those who are willing to take the other lane and drive in the opposite direction; or step in the ring to be the alternative. Is Lemma one such? Or is he just a masquerader?

  6. Political opposition is democracy’s life line, without which, democracy is a still-birth – dead on arrival. In consequence, it should be our attitude, not only to welcome political opposition, but to actually celebrate its arrival the moment it shows its ugly face. It is a good bacteria for the stomach, one less likely to cause either diarrhea or constipation.

  7. Why always the Habeshas are more concerned about Oromo individuals than thinking of their own people in poverty, wondering in search of job all over the country, and creating pressure on people at their place of destination. These multiple problems of their fellow men need to be prioritized than simply hanging out their tongues on criticizing politicians from other non-Habseha like Obbo Lamma and Jawar, Dawud, Kamal, etc.
    They should have focused on why Eskinder Negga got mad after being released from prison at the expense of Oromo Qeerroo’s martyrdom. For Habesha elites, their frontline enemy is conscious Oromos as they think that they will create awareness among the Oromo they alsways aspire to rule and exploit.

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