by Tadesse Nigatu
That Ethiopia is at the cross-road is becoming clearer and clearer by the day. We are witnessing mass uprisings by citizens all over the country including the Oromos, the Kimants in Gonder, the Knosso people in the south, the transportation workers in Addis Ababa and Mekele etc., the government in power no longer is able to sustain its dictatorial grip. The decades of its undemocratic ruling has resulted in the continuous public resistance. If this pattern continues, EPRDF’s unavoidable downfall is not a question of if but when. In other words, Ethiopians are telling this government in clear terms that it has no legitimacy to be their leader. That, its unjust cling to power has subjected the country to an unpresented tension which could bring chaos to the country.
In its twenty-five years’ history, the group in power has already shut the door to democracy and continues to weaken all democratic forces making the formation of an effective oppositions next to impossible.
That Ethiopian democratic forces could not master the wisdom and tenacity to overcome the repressive measures from the government and form a unified opposition that can channel their collective intellectual and logistical forces to become alternative political force for Ethiopia. As the result, our nation is facing a very grave danger. This is why Ethiopia is at a cross-road and with no clear direction.
The volatile condition in Ethiopia exposes the country to many possibilities some of which can have dangerous consequences. Given the current situations, we can anticipate the possibility of the following scenarios.
- That the peoples’ resistance will continue and even intensifies and the government resorts to nation-wide military rule while at the same time trying to buy time to prolong the misery of the Ethiopian people by pretending to address the democratic demands. In fact, the government is already imposing military rule region by region as we recently witnessed in Oromia and before that in Gambella, Ogaden and Afar regions.
- That the EPRDF comes to its sense and participate in initiatives to work with the Ethiopian people, civil and opposition organizations to address the political, economic and social issues to pave the way for a democratic Ethiopia.
- That the civil obedience that was started in many parts of the country intensifies and spreads all over the country in unorganized manner making the government weaker and weaker to the point that it cannot rule while at the same time, there are no strong civil and political organization to replace it leaving the nation in total disarray.
- That the civil disobedience that has started continues and spreads all over the nation and through the process of self-organization, the people manage to create a coordinated movement that will determine the future of the country.
- That the Ethiopian political organizations realize the grave danger the country is facing and urgently minimize their differences to work together to build strong organization which can lead the country to a better future.
- That the forces mentioned in scenario #4 and #5 form alliance to intensify the democratic struggle and bring the government to negotiation table to create a better future for all Ethiopians.
Scenario by nature can only draw a rough picture of what could happen if certain conditions exist. It is up to the stake holders (supporters) of a given scenario to convert it to a reality they want to see exist. I hope I am not mistaken if I say that the majority of Ethiopians are interested in realizing scenario #6. To realize scenario #6, we citizens have to make a renewed effort to save our country and make democracy a reality. We cannot sit and watch our people and country going into the unknown.
Below, I put my thoughts as to what we citizens should do to make scenario #6 a reality.
Objectives and Values
As a starter, Ethiopians engaged in the popular uprising, in organized oppositions as well as all democracy longing population, need to agree on common objectives and set of values. First objectives. At minimum our objectives should include the following.
- Our first objective has to be to maintain the integrity of our country, Ethiopia, as we know it now. It is only when we keep Ethiopia together we keep a common place we call home. This is vital even for those individuals and groups who have the desire to form a separate nation (other than Ethiopia) latter as there is a way to do it peacefully when a democratic system is established.
- Our second and equally important objective is the establishment of democracy (the right to organize, freely speak and write, vote, respect individual rights, religious and democratic freedom etc.). When this happens, all people have the right to participate in their country’s affairs and collectively and peacefully decide on their common future.
- The third objective is to make national reconciliation and form a democratic and constitutional government.
- The forth objective is to establish system that eradicates our main enemies, poverty ignorance and diseases and fair distribution of the national wealth.
The other important thing we need to do is to stablish the set of ethical values we all should abide by. Values are important because they are codes by which we operate to achieve our objectives. They are like common languages by which we can understand each other and build expectation from each other. The set of minimum values that the citizens and their organizations should carry include
- Integrity (honesty and truthfulness)
- Equality- respect for each other (tolerance to differing ideas, belief systems and approaches)
- Transparency (openness and no hidden agenda)
- Patriotism (love for people, country and the common good)
After formulating agreeable objectives, and values the next thing is to work on the formats of organizations we want to establish to achieve our goals.
After formulating agreeable objectives and ethical codes, the next logical task is to get organized.
Organization is a tool by which we can achieve our objectives.
That the repressive reality in Ethiopia did not allow the formation and development of large opposition political organizations is a fact. It is also true that the undemocratic traditions and lack of tolerance among the opposition did not help the emergence of large organizations. What we have is fragmented and weakened oppositions which in some cases have irreconcilable objectives. What we also have is spontaneous popular uprisings in many part of the country, which are the results of prolonged political repression and economic inequality imposed by the ruling group. The big question is: how do we go about establishing a viable opposition force under this repressive government that can build a true democratic country?
I try to answer the above big question by asking: Are large organizations (classical organizations) necessity to achieve our objectives? In other words, do we need to organize ourselves under large organizations to be a strong challenger to this government or can we forge the existing smaller and fragmented organizations in to networked systems to enable them to work as one?
No question that Ethiopia would have been in a better place now, had we have strong opposition organizations. But our history of many decades testify that we could not manage to form such formidable organization. Given the urgency that our country is facing, we need to explore a different model for cooperation while still trying to form the needed strong opposition organization (s). In this paper, I dwell on discussing an alternative form of cooperation as opposed to the classical organization. Before I get to that, I want to say few words about the traditional (classical) organizational format.
The classical organizations that most of us are familiar today have their beginning in the agrarian societies. The agrarian societies that came after the hunter-gatherer societies formed the basis for large settlements which in turn created the condition for the emergence of organizations such as states, armies, churches etc. Fast forward, the societies of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries also adopted those organizational formats and continued with them. Governments and entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution borrowed their organizational model from the states and armies started in the agrarian communities. Just like the states, armies and churches of earlier societies, the organizations including states of the industrial revolutions had centralized, hierarchical and command and control nature.
In addition to being centralized, hierarchical, command and control, another characteristic of the classical organization model is the acceptance of the separation of the mind (intellect) from the body (manual). This separation of the thinking from the doing became the foundation to separate the functions such as leaders, government officials, management, technical, administrative and labor which in turn reinforced the hierarchic and centralized organizations.
It is this organizational model that the majority of societies in this and the previous centuries apply in states, army, church, industry, commerce, education, politics, philanthropic and other functions that require large number of people. Another important point that needs mentioning here is that, for large organizations to exist and develop, they need a fertile and conducive conditions be it political, financial and cultural which the landlords of the agrarian societies, the states of industrial nations or the corrupt governments of EPRDF types have no shortages of. Otherwise it is impossible for such organizations to exist let alone to survive.
In repressive systems, the only big organizations that has the means to exist and grow are those which belong to the regimes. Opposition organizations, are suppressed and are not allowed to grow.
So in repressive regimes, like ours, we want to deemphasize pursuing the classical organization which promotes the formation of large, centralized, and rigid organizations. Instead, we should choose to pursue alternative form of organizations that do not require to be bulky, hierarchical and centralized. The alterative form is a decentralized, flat and networked cooperation. The cooperation of such organization is based on agreed up on common objectives and values. The common objectives should be implemented through agile and flexible networks. The emphasis should be on unity of purpose than on forming large organizational structure. The national goals can be achieved by the independent organizations which keep their own separate structure while they maintain unity of purpose. Forming and running large organization, if at all possible to form them, not only make them easy targets for the repressive state but also unaffordable (expensive for the small and fragmented opposition), bureaucratic and slow for the tasks ahead. Moreover, valuable time, money and resources can be wasted while pursuing them.
Working with networked structure does not mean that a unified large organizations are not necessary all together. Large organizations can be necessary when the right time comes. If anything, the networks, in addition to facilitating the peaceful democratic struggle, will become the foundations for the formation of larger organizations when the regime weakens, repression subsides and democracy emerges.
The Relevance of networked format
I mentioned that the ineffectiveness of the opposition politics also comes from their own lack of cooperation with each other and by their inability to be agile and flexible to rally the Ethiopian people.
This is not to say that there are no oppositions who have not tried to work together. There have been organizations and still are who are trying to form alliance. In fact, significant portion of their efforts and energy went doing just that. But it did not deliver the results they sought. The question is: why did they fail? Repression aside, part of the answer may be attributed to the organizational model the oppositions are seeking to achieve. In the majority of the cases, the opposition organizations intended to forge the type of classical organizational model described above.
The classical model, as ubiquitous as it is, cannot be applied in every situation. Particularly, it cannot be effective in authoritarian societies where there is no democratic governance and rules of the law are not followed. As mentioned above, the classical organizational structure is rigid, cumbersome, mechanistic, centralized and slow. The classical structure goes against the success factors that today’s Ethiopian repressive reality and the conditions of opposition organizations need which are speed, creativity and flexibility.
In repressive states like ours, the effort to form large organization that is big enough to challenge the ruling power will not be practical. As such, it is not the best form of organizational format. There are few obvious reasons for this. For starter, the repressive regime does not allow it, that is, the atmosphere is not conducive. Two, it is logistically and financially not feasible. Three, it is very hierarchical and slow. Four it is not flexible. Five, the organizations are not psychologically prepared.
So, what is the alternative? We know there are many genuine organizations who desire to bring democracy, rule of law and to eradicate poverty and disease in Ethiopia. Few of them want to do it alone. But most want to form some sort of alliance or even want to merge. This is good in that it is well intentioned. But even if feasible, to be big is not always effective. In fact, as mentioned earlier, in today’s repressive Ethiopian reality, big organization is ineffective. What is feasible and even necessary is unity of purpose and values (I mentioned above the objectives and values as I see them) but not merger to create large organization. If all or the majority of the oppositions agree on the purpose of what they want to achieve and core values they all operate by, establish solid network, and allow a smooth flow of information and coordination of actions among them, they can achieve what they want without being big ones.
In the next few paragraphs, I will say some more why the networked organizational format can be an effective tool. I will also briefly discuss the concepts of adaptation and self-similarity as operational guides as the networked oppositions forge ahead to achieve democracy for their country.
Why the Network approach?
In today’s connected world, we witness the cyber networks such as facebook, twitter, google etc. pointing that network thinking is a very important tool of our time. Network is defined as a collection of nodes connected with links. For our discussion, the nodes are the individual opposition organizations and the links are the connections or links they create among themselves. The network concept helps us to sort out the commonalities of connections and exchanges that can exist in a society. It is a good tool to understand and operate in organized manner without being “organized”. The network concept also helps to forge a resilient and efficient connections by bringing people together for a common cause such as to work for justice, democracy and others. It can also help identify the vulnerabilities of social connections and therefore to take preventive actions. Networks also are effective tools to exchange information quickly.
There are two categories of networks. They are known as small-world and scale-free networks. The two network models enable us to choose what fits our purpose the best. For example, if one is looking for a resilient organization, the model known as scale-free networks are resilient in that if a node or a set of nodes are deleted (in our case one or few organizations are attacked by repression) at random from a network, the property of the whole network will not be damaged severely. It still keeps functioning. On the other hand, if efficiency is what is desired the model known as small-world will work the best as it can avoid redundancy and reach far in short time. By combining the two models our democratic movement can survive the destructive attempt of repression. Functioning via network approach has a paramount significance for the effectiveness of our networked organizations when compared to the traditional form of organization.
Developing cooperative action based on unity of purpose and values and implementing them by way of strong network and smooth flow of information can take the place of large organizations. Each opposition can maintain its independence, identity and culture while at the same time playing its role as a carrier of the common purpose. In undemocratic society, unity of purpose can have much stronger role than organizational merger. In political condition which our country is in, smaller organizations with strong link between them may be preferable as they can be agile, flexible, and fast. In undemocratic and repressive regime, large organizations can be easy targets to the repressive regime as they are bureaucratic, cumbersome, slow and expensive.
Organizations that are cooperating through networks can try to work on their difference and merge to form large organizations if that is what the situation calls for. Merging of organizations will be valuable especially when a democratic system emerges. Potentially, the networked systems can pave the way for genuine merger. Until that time comes, the opposition organizations should form strong networks and equip themselves with the concepts of adaption and self-similarity as they strive to bring democracy and economic development to their nation.
Adaptation as a tool for democracy
In order to survive the brutal suppression, they may encounter from the government, networked organizations and the popular democratic forces should follow the principles of adaption. Adaptation involves understanding the methods and the threats from the repressive government and changing their tactics to survive and continue the struggle. The networked organizations need to be truly learning systems that adapt and function in an environment that is dominated by the calculating, vicious, brutal and at times pretentious behaviors of the government.
At the individual organization level, the adaptive behavior of the opposition organizations should come from the members in organizations who have learned and developed the patterns of adaptation. This means that each member learns and adapts to fit and form a coherent pattern within the organization. Fitting of individual’s pattern with the collective pattern and the vice-versa so that a whole organizational pattern emerges is a crucial part of adaptation.
At networked level, the adaptation process involves one organization trying to fit with the other organizations that have different cultures and operational behaviors. We should assume that the environment can be hostile. For example, the environment can be hostile due to the repression therefore we need to adapt to survive. Also, misunderstanding and confrontations can emerge even among oppositions as confrontations can be unpredictable. The only effective way to address such occurrence is by quick learning and adapting. Environments change continuously requiring change of shared rules and patterns among organizations. In this situation, again learning and adaptation becomes a question of life or death. All the networked organizations have to be quick learners to fit and survive. Flexibility but not rigidity should be the mode of operation for all in the network.
In short, for networked but independent organizations with common objectives the key points to grasp include:
- A democratic movement originates from the aggregate behavior of all individuals in the network. That is, everyone counts. Everyone has to adapt to everyone else.
- The aggregate behaviors of the individuals come from the objectives they are seeking to achieve.
- The interactions between individual members, networked organizations as well as the response from the repressive government can be challenge and become unpredictable, the best approach to achieve the goal is to learn, to adapt and to fit to the changing condition and continue to rally around the GOAL.
Self-Similarity of Actions
Another effective operational tool that the networked organizations and the popular uprising should apply is the self-similarity or (Technical name Fractal) concept. One good example of self-similarity is the sunflower. If you have observed a sunflower, its smallest petal has the same pattern as the whole flower. This phenomenon of having the same pattern at every dimension is known as self-similar. Self-similarity is the result of applying the same procedure to construct uniformity at every level. One striking properties of self-similarity is that similar patterns are found repeatedly at any scale (i.e. smaller or larger scales) throughout a system, so that even the smallest part has similar patterns to the whole.
What is the relevance of self-similarity to social systems, particularly to bring democracy? We know that democratic changes require networks of tens of millions who participate in tandem. The desired change cannot come if each and every one does different things or moves in different directions. The millions in the network and their organizations have to apply the same, actions, rules and procedures at all levels, so that the behavior of all functional groups from leadership committees to departments to teams down to individuals can be self-similar. It is only when this happens that a collective behavior of big significance can be achieved.
In other words, achieving democratic change require the emergence of similar pattern of behavior and actions at all levels of the networked organizations all the way at the national level.
We observe the self-similarity at work in the behaviors of the government in power when all of its organs from the national level to the smallest local Kebeles conduct repression, corruption, ethnic segregation etc. following the same procedures and recipes at every level. It is these repressive and backward behaviors that the network of the opposition and the popular uprisings have to counter with the popular and democratic opposing self-similar actions.
On the other hand, it is encouraging to see self-similarity in action in the current unrests that are taking place across Ethiopia. One real specific example of self-similarity in action is what we saw on the streets of both Ambo (Oromo students) and Kimant people (Gonder) where protesters blocked the roads with sticks and stones to prevent the intrusions of government armed forces.
If the networked opposition and the general population recognize the power of applying the concept of self-similarity to their democratic struggle, their political power grows exponentially in a short time. Here too, quick learning and adaptation are tremendous help.
If the Ethiopian government truly stands for a better Ethiopia, it would adopt scenario #2, and urgently goes to work to effect it. But its history shows that it has no regards for Ethiopians and Ethiopia. There is no regard for a country without practicing democracy. As the result of its unpatriotic behaviors, Ethiopia is on the cross-road and is facing a grave danger. The true daughters and sons of Ethiopia are left alone to save our country and we do not have time to waste. We need to hurry to craft a common objectives and values and start networking to form a strong alliance to save our nation and to bring democratic rules by forcing the government to come to the negotiation table. We do not need to form a large organization to do our job. A strong network that learns quick and adopts and functions in self-similar manner will get us there. Nothing is more powerful than networked citizens who stand for just causes.
LET US COME TOGETHER IN A HURRY TO SAVE OUR COUNTRY. WE CAN DO IT!!