Many Ethiopians had diverse reaction to the latest news that Dr Berhanu Nega has gone to Eritrea to lead the armed struggle against the Ethiopian regime.
I first met Dr. Berhanu Nega in New York city in 2007. After his release from prison in Ethiopia, he came to a research college at 5th avenue downtown Manhattan at 13street. Berhanu spoke passionately about all the problems in Ethiopia, sweating aggressively as he concluded his list of main points. He told the mostly non-Ethiopian audience that there will never be change in Ethiopia peacefully. After his presentation, i spoke with him for a few minutes and discussed various topics.
Dr Berhanu Nega is truly one of Ethiopia’s greatest sons; very patriotic, educated and of course, the first democratically elected mayor of Addis Ababa. Like Obama in the US, Dr. Berhanu has been one of the greatest orators or gifted communicators in modern Ethiopian history. As we all know, he led the CUD national party in 2005 to a convincing election victory, not only in Addis Ababa and Amhara region, but also in most of the south. Such nationwide success by CUD in 2005, even in some parts of Oromia region, surprised many of us and proved that the Meles Zenawi regime has not yet made tribalism more powerful than Ethiopian nationalism in the country.
But Zenawi’s brutality and the 2005 election fraud, as documented by the EU election observers, inspired Berhanu to establish the GINBOT 7 organization. Its stated goal was to establish democracy in Ethiopia, either thru armed struggle from the periphery or from the inside-out via a military coup.
Many of us had our reservations when he announced his new plan, because we know, from history, that political changes thru the barrel of gun often lead to another cycle of dictatorship; or worse, spark another civil war. And Ethiopia already has too many foreign enemies closeby that would love to exploit such a scenario.
But the Eritrea route has been too hard to resist.
Yes, we want the Assab port back.
Yes, we don’t like how the Isayas regime has oppressed our Eritrean brothers and sisters. And yes, we oppose Eritrea’s short sighted policy of helping fundamentalists in Somalia. But we still have one big common interest with Isayas or one common belief: we both see Zenawism as the biggest threat to stability of the horn of Africa. For those who are new to this term “Zenawism,” it is an ideology that extremely politicizes tribal identity in order to promote the creation of ethnic based mini-nation states through out Africa. It is a dangerous doctrine that I attribute to Meles Zenawi since he established ethnic-federalism as the foundation for such a reality that can spread like cancer continent-wide. Zenawism stands against the African Union charter and against conventional wisdom which demanded that Africa keep colonial era boundaries in order to avoid endless wars. Basically, since there are over 3,000 major tribes and languages in Africa, if Zenawism spreads continent-wide, it could translate to over 3,000 tribal pseudo states fighting for nationhood, possibly leading to thousands of new and endless ethnic-based border wars all over Africa.
Just like Ethiopia, Eritrea is also made up of many ethnic groups. If President Isayas cares about Eritrea at all, it would be in his best national interest to stop the spread of Zenawism inside Eritrea. Potentially giving up (or sharing) Assab port is a very small price to pay in order to save the fabric of Eritrean society from Zenawism.
The ultimate question now is, will this common interest between the Ethio opposition and the Eritrean regime be a strong enough glue to lead them to victory? Or is President Isayas simply playing them for a fool? In the absence of any insurance policy for the opposition, many Ethiopians also wonder if the weak Eritrean regime is just planning to exploit Ginbot 7 or use Ethiopian opposition as “cannon fodder” in its future war with the Ethiopian regime. In addition, knowing how thousands of Eritreans are deserting the Eritrean army, one wonders if the Ethiopian opposition groups inside Eritrea are actually there as expendable human wave to protect Eritrean troops. The answer to all these questions, we will not know anytime soon. But the latest 100% election “victory” of the EPRDF regime in Ethiopia seems to have pushed many Ethiopians like Dr Berhanu Nega to the limit, to a place where nothing can get worse than it already has.