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Blessing or Curse: Proliferation of Parties in Tigray

Blessing or Curse: Proliferation of Parties in Tigray

Yohannes Aberra (PhD) 5-12-19

Billy Ocean, the celebrated rock star sang a song in the 1980s. It goes like this: "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going". We all agree that the going is getting tough for Tigray. We also agree that Tigray must not fail as a result. It follows logically that those that can lead Tigray out must be those that can endure the challenges and cure Tigray from the ailment it is suffering from. This is what the USA does when there are tough rescue operations to do. It selects its best commanders and elite commandoes for the purpose. It does not allow the operation to be a training session for new recruits because it cannot afford to fail.


Today I listened to the press release by Salsay Weyane Party leadership, a newly formed party in Tigray. They are all young. That is fine and acceptable; the future belongs to them. I also loved the name of the party. Whatever the serial number is "Weyane" is sweet to the ears. It reminds me of my mother's favourite story telling about the first one where she witnessed the bravery of the weyenti and the cruelty of the "victors". The second, I saw it and I know it. Its story, as an emblem of Tigrayan bravery and endurance, must be told for hundreds of years to come.

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The increasing number of parties in Tigray is more disconcerting than comforting. Taking democracy at face value the sky is the limit for the number of parties to be formed. Theoretically, five million parties for five million people is possible, may be even more! Societies are not adopting democracy for its own sake or as an end; they are using it as a means to attain lofty goals of peace and prosperity for all.  Democracy is customized to fit the political, economic, social-cultural, and historical peculiarities of societies at particular points in time. That is why we have democracy tagged with different brand-cards like revolutionary democracy, which goes for indefinite re-elections in order to implement its long-term grass root objectives; liberal democracy which considers the proliferation of parties, frequent elections, and break-neck interparty competitions as the highest forms of the manifestations of democratic ideals; and social democracy which takes from the rich and gives it to the poor instead of enabling the poor to walk on its own feet.

In Tigray we now have three fiercely uncompromising ideological stances which are thought to serve as guides for how Tigray is to be ruled: Revolutionary democracy used and abused by TPLF, but never been an utter failure; liberal democracy adopted by TAND and ARENA under pressure to conform from the political crowd in Ethiopia without second thoughts about the dark side of the ideology for poverty-overwhelmed Tigray; social democracy adopted by the new party assuming that it will have enough rich people to take enough money from to give to the poor. All these parties are fast asleep and in sweet dreams with their imported ideologies while the people of Tigray are wide awake and waiting.

It has become a custom in Ethiopia that every time a new party is formed it rushes to tell its potential constituency in which political-ideological box it is in liberal democracy, social democracy, etc. To my surprise no one dares to mention revolutionary democracy, which is already satirized as "Meles's nightmare ideology". No one wants to admit that there is "colonization of the mind" which is the most potent form of colonization. Liberal and social democracies are appropriate contextual solutions to the realities in the developed western societies. The latter developed not while they were liberal democracies but through colonial plunder, slavery and subjugation of people of the now developing world led by monarchs and tyrants! People who take up politics as amateurs or professionals should care to read history. Whatever, its shortcomings revolutionary democracy was at least an experimentation with "traditional medicine from herbs available in one's own garden". It is feeble to say the least to show differences based on political ideologies that have become just fashionable and taken to be readily acceptable as politically correct. Here is the syllogism that many parties in Ethiopia, including parties Tigray, are formulating to their empty satisfaction: Liberal democracy is accepted in Ethiopia as a cure; Revolutionary democracy is rejected as a curse; I have adopted liberal democracy and hence I am more readily acceptable than TPLF is.

What people need to hear and see is not abstract ideologies and formulae designed in the west and rot-memorized by the politicians of the developing world. The latter are habituated to swallowing sugar coated killer pills manufactured in the west. Another discomfort, to tell you the truth bitterness, I felt from the press conference held by Salsay Weyane is what one of them stressed as the main rationale for the coming into existence of their party. He said, "Ours is a Tigray nationalist party". That is fine again; they can't be anything else if they are named Salsay Weyane! He continued to say "the party works solely for the interest of the Tigray people". Great! Although I appreciated the devotion I was unable to see the reason why another party should be formed for the same mission that others before it have stated as their own. At last, it came tumbling down on me: the young party official said in black and white that "So far there are no other parties in Tigray that have got this mission". I have had a few annoying graduate theses advisees who state the reason for taking up their research problem as no one else has done it before, without caring to adequately search the relevant literature.

No one can build a good reputation and win public support by burying its head in the sand like the ostrich. If this is the main reason for the establishment of Salsay Weyane and other new parties they are destined to be redundant. TPLF had faults does not at all mean that it did nothing for the people of Tigray. At least it has given them the peace and autonomy they longed for centuries. The last thing the people of Tigray would like to be is well-fed slaves. Freedom is more precious than gold. Many people condemn TPLF for retaining its name as a liberation front. I object to this. Liberation should not imply separation. Liberation means freedom to decide on one's own affairs without external interference. Tigray has attained this; but those forces that had denied it that freedom are still alive and kicking. It is clear, the liberation movement has not finished its job.

Salsay Weyane and others should have had as their mission: "Building on the foundations constructed by those before us". In Marxian theory of dialectical materialism the "negation of the negation" is a key process leading to the transformations of the socioeconomic systems. It says: the seed has to die in the soil in order for the seedling to grow mature and produce more seeds. This does not mean the seed dies completely. It is the genes inside the seed that are continued in the new seeds while increasing in number. Darkening the past in order to take credit for brightening the present and the future is an ages old curse in Ethiopia.

There was a brilliant question from journalists to the new party: "Yours is similar to another party; why don't you work together?" The answer was a disaster! They don't know about that party except that it is a splinter from ARENA. How can a new party be formed without knowing exactly how different it is from parties formed before it? It is not enough to know that the party is a splinter from ARENA and sit satisfied assuming that it is "rejected" by the public. This rationale is extremely shaky for Salsay Weyane. I am not trying to discourage Salsay Weyane. Who knows, they may turn out to be the best ever leaders for Tigray. However, we are too tight with rapidly escalating political developments to play with probabilities.

Parties seem to be sprouting spontaneously without mutual consultations for the greater good of the people of Tigray. Some have gone to the extent of trying to ensure their own survival and ascent to political power by taking the internal affairs of Tigray to unfriendly political forces outside Tigray. TAND and ARENA support group in the diaspora painted a horrible picture of Tigray as a slave camp and appealed to the Prime Minister and the people of Ethiopia to liberate it.

If parties have similar goals there is no need for xeroxing them. If the parties are proliferating, and at the same pace dividing the people of Tigray, making them vulnerable in the face of their enemies the Regional Government Council has to take the matter seriously and ban or force mergers of parties that are duplicating goals or missions. Party formation must not be an economic investment; it is a sacrifice one pays for the people. One strong opposition party, working on shared goals peacefully with TPLF, is what the people of Tigray can afford to support. All parties other than TPLF should merge and make sense. Party formation must not be made as easy as opening cafes. It is with this kind of proliferation that inlets are widely opened for the enemy. Watch or Perish!

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