Peaceful Struggle for Democratic Ethiopia: from Rhetoric to Action

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By D Demeke
This is an attempt to suggest some strategic ideas for nonviolent struggle to attain democratic governess in Ethiopia. At the end of this article, there are some practical steps and actions that are outlined to formulate a framework for the struggle against the TPLF government.  First, at this time, there are three strands of struggle and/or a combination of these strategies suggested (acted) to take the struggle forward in Ethiopia.

  1. Nonviolent struggle
  2. Violent struggle
  3. Negotiation with the current government to form a democratic system

The last strand, negotiation and formulation of a transition government as a stepping stone to all-inclusive democratic government has been advocated before, but this brings ferocious criticism from many corners; the current consensus is that the TPLF government required to be stressed to come to the negotiating table to include all stake holders to formulate a transition government.
There are researches that indicate nonviolent struggles are better equipped and have better chances in forming stable democratic systems than violent struggles. Nonviolent movements are successful half the time, whereas violent movements are 30% successful. The study[1], which looked between violent and non-violent movements between 1900 and 2006, indicates that the average civil war lasted nine years, while the average nonviolent movement lasted three years. Countries that experienced failed nonviolent movements are four times as likely to form a democratic country compared to countries with violent movements.
There are misconceptions on what consists of nonviolent struggle.  Nonviolent struggle is not: doing nothing, be submissive, or be cowardice in the face of cruel repressive government. The nonviolent struggle is a strategy that involves active, targeted actions, it is pragmatic, realistic and goal oriented actions to dismantle the oppressive state apparatus. The nonviolent movement tend to have a broad social base in society including the young, the old, male, females and many civic organisations, which require consensus to form a policy, and this is the foundation for establishing democratic system.
All oppressors require the participation of the oppressed mass; socially, economically and politically to enable them to continue to run their oppressing system. The TPLF government and their supporters heavily relay on the mass cooperation to sustain their power socially, economically and politically.  The nonviolent struggle is the suspension of this cooperation of the mass socially, economically and politically to the government and its supporters. The targeted tactical strategies that participated 4 to 5% of the population will force the government supporters to abandon their support and shorten the life of the dictatorial government.
To organise the struggle and provide leadership, a strong organisation is a necessity. The role of this organisation is to provide leadership and vision in formulating the strategies and tactics; including the identification of economic, social and political elements that will be acted upon by the mass.  The attempts, so far, to unify the oppositions are not successful, but it is possible to formulate a united front at least to the majority of the organisations. One of the factors for this disunity is the strategy used by the TPLF government of continuous fabrications of organisations to divide the society into small fragments. The other factor is many of the organisations, particularly those pursuing non-violent struggle, lack a unifying strategy and action plan to participate the mass to build momentum. During the Apartheid era, South Africans managed to create an umbrella organisation that brings together 500 different organisations. Countries have different settings and contexts that need to be addressed, but it is possible to organise nonviolent movement even in a highly authoritarian countries. We Ethiopians have many indigenous forms of organisation such as “Eder”, “Eqube”, “Yeset  Mahaber” that can be used as platform for communicating mass actions and coordination. One strong organisation with vision and leadership can be used as an umbrella organisation to bring together all others. Organisations need to work harder to be an effective force to bring the talent, commitment, vision and leadership that the struggle demands.
On one hand, the Ethiopian Orthodox church has been hijacked by the TPLF cadres and it is fully serving the government, the leaders (cadres) have abandoned their own morals and ethics; these cadres are hindrance for the struggle. On the other hand, our Muslim brothers continue to struggle against this tyranny. Furthermore, many Christians are joining their Muslim brothers to overthrow this Apartheid system. This struggle need to be strengthen by giving it vision, strategies and leadership to participate all other religion denominations in the country.
The form of the proposed umbrella organisation can take clandestine form to protect members from beating and killings by the government apparatus.
The question is how we move from rhetoric to action to intensify the struggle. The participation of the mass in Ethiopia is critical; it has to include all section of the society. Gene Sharp identified 198 methods of nonviolent actions that take many forms including social, economic and political activities. One of the main tasks of this unifying organisation is to identify which actions are appropriate in the Ethiopian case and act on it. The following economic boycott and non-cooperation to the TPLF government and supporters on their products and services are proposed that can further strength the non-violent struggle. To be effective, all of us have a role to play, inside or outside the country, by participating in these actions and by communicating to others to make them part of the movement.
The main strategies for the peaceful struggle are:

  1. Strengthening the “Ethiopiawinet” renewed movement; this is already start taking shapes in many forms, in art, music, poems, conferences, and publications. The ideological battle that we need to fight against the divisive ethnic based ideology need to be strengthened, this ideology is formulated to divide and weaken our history, and identity.
  2. We Ethiopians have to suspend all cooperation with the ethnically based Apartheid government in three main areas, economically, socially and politically.
  3. Impose economic pressure by boycotting products and services offered by the government and its supporters
  4. Put pressure on individuals who supports the tyrannical government. We all are social animals; it is ethical and moral to shy away from individuals that actively support and extends the life of this oppressing state. Furthermore, some brave activists challenge the TPLF officials in the west by haunting and taunting them, this has to be strengthened and continue in the west.
  5. Those who resides in the west should continue protesting, writing to their member of parliament and raising the profile of the political movement and struggle.
  6. We have to continue doing our vigil, organising meetings to remember those who have passed away fighting, and those who are in prisons, writing and presenting poems, writing about their life and struggle in short stories and books.
  7. Use current technology creatively to communicate and get feedback from the public, including creating strong web presence to organise the movement.

As starting point I have raised few economic issues that we have to act on it.
We Ethiopians have to stop our participation of supporting the TPLF government knowingly or unknowingly. We have to boycott on selected economic activities run by the government and its supporters. The nonviolent struggle is an active participation to boycott the targeted products and services provided by the government and its supporters. These economic activities are the main financial sources that support the subjugation of the people. The generated money is invested on guns and bullet that is used to kill our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. This is the money payed to the federal police that beats, and kills our brothers and sisters. This is the money that actively supplied the dictators to be able to purchase spying software from the Hacking Team at the tune of 1 million dollars. We are the source of this money and we have to stop it now. The money is embezzled and reached those who sell out our country.
The peaceful struggle should include measures that reduce the TPLF government income. One of the major sources of the TPLF income is generated by Ethiopian Telecommunication; it is the instrument of spying and generating high level of income. To bring together the large section of the society, and empower them to participate in the struggle, stop calling and receiving calls for two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, this will reduce the income and enable to bring people together, start the process of mass movement.  If we want our voice to be heard, we need to reduce the government revenue, we have to have “SILENCE DAYS”.
There are sixty six companies that is operated and owned by TPLF, the products and services of these organisations need to be boycotted by all Ethiopians who want the formation of a democratic system in Ethiopia. Political parties need to identify these products and services and organise the struggle to boycott all.
There are many buildings in Ethiopia that are owned and rented by corrupt officials and government supporters. One of the corrupt methods used by the TPLF collaborators and corrupt officials is to rent these buildings to government or companies that are owned by the governments such as Ethiopian airlines, Ethiopian Electric power or Ethiopian telecommunication.  There are also other services and products that are offered in these buildings that we have to identify and boycott.
We have to focus on those products and services that we can target easily and bring effective results and empower the mass to further the struggle and erode the support of the government. For example, Awash Winery is owned and operated by a loyal supporter of the tyrannical government. Awash Winery products are easily identifiable; we have moral, ethical and political reasons that these products should be boycotted by the mass. I would rather have “Tela” (ጠላ) than any of the wine produced by this factory. To my amusement these products are available in the Ethiopian Restaurants in the West. We have to bring all these restauranteurs on board to further the struggle.
These are few products identified here; and there are many products and services that should be identified and targeted by the parties that pursue peaceful struggle; have to work on detail studies and bring these products and services to the forefront of the struggle. There are peaceful Social and Political measures and activities that bring together large section of the society; these are also need to be identified and actioned by all organisations that adopt peaceful struggle.
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[1] Chenoweth Erica; Stephan Maria J; “Drop Your Weapons: When and Why Civil Resistance Works”, Foreign Affairs V 93 Issue 2 , 92-106, 2014