Mekelle: 15 May 2024 (Tigray Herald)

By Koki Abesolome


There is a common saying that cynical statisticians often repeat. If you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of word-processing machines, one of them is likely to reproduce Shakespeare’s Hamlet word for word. Anything is possible in this regard, including getting the PM, PP, and the opposition to agree on a transitional government for the sake of national interest.

I read Lidetu Ayalew’s two recent documents titled “መቋጫው! የችግራችን ምንጭ፣ ያለንበት ሁኔታ እና የመዳኛው መንገድ!” and “ምን ዓይነት የሽግግር ሒደት? ለምን እና እንዴት? Loosely translated: “The Crisis we are in and the path forward” and “The Need for a Transitional Government: Why and How?” I understand Lidetu has asked Ethiopian social media outlets to foster discussion on the issue. I welcome his initiative for discussion and share my take herewith.

Lidetu’s is not the only document that is floating around on this issue. There is one by the Imbylta Group – Congress of Ethiopian Civic Associations (CECA). The document is titled “A Citizen-Centered Roadmap for Systemic Political Transition in Ethiopia.” It has been in existence since January 17, 2024. Unfortunately, its heartbeat is not detectable on political ultrasound.  Whether it is a case of political hibernation or unannounced death remains to be seen.

The document was presented by Professor Berhau Abegaz, an Ivy League trained economist (PhD) and a Wolloye by the grace of God. He was also co-Chair of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Economic Advisory Council from which I understand he resigned on his own volition. Of the three, the Wolloye credential stands taller, for it is the hallmark of humanity in its totality.

My reaction to Imbylta Group’s proposal was: “Overall, the paper has a lot of substance that can initiate discussion, foster debate and help in the consensus building effort. There are also areas of faulty assumptions and misplaced premises that led to questionable conclusions. Let the discussion and the debate follow.”

Sadly, the document failed to galvanize interest outside of the CECA ecosystem. This is not the group’s fault. ነገረየው “it is the culture, stupid” ነው. Ethiopian intellectuals have not developed the culture to engage themselves in intellectual debate.

My two cents worth conclusion regarding Imbylta’s proposal was: The demand for transitional government has failed to materialize for over 50 years and there was not much Imbylta has done to change my mind. On power transfer, the issue of transitional government is thrown around without due attention to its organizational fault lines and political landmines. How it will be established and who will lead it are vexing issues. The document did little if any to chip, chisel, and break the impasse that has persisted over a span of half a century.

In my opinion, transitional government is a solution that Ethiopian intellectuals hang their hats on when they fail to develop a viable strategy to tackle the intellectual culture that is the source of all political problems in the country. ነገረየው “it is the culture, stupid” ነው. But the Ethiopian intellectual class (the self-anointed custodian of Ethiopia’s archaic culture) is oblivious to its handicap, by omission or commission.

Transitional governments face insurmountable problem in the present-day Ethiopia because the political arena is polarized and there are numerous military forces in every tribal homeland. Let us face it. It has been nearly a year since people have been trying to bring Fano factions together as one Amhara unit. No success to date.

If we cannot bring Eskinder Nega and Zemene Kassie together to govern the Amhara political universe, how can we bring together Jawar and Eskinder, or Shaleka Dawit ማንይሉታል and Professor ማነውሰሙ Gerba, or Armchair off-duty Oromo- and Amhara-Shene political commissars such as Professors Ezekiel Gabissa and Girma Berhanu to govern Ethiopia?

They will not agree to breath the same air, let alone share the same space to engage in a productive discussion. It is in this light that I read Lidetu’s two documents, totaling close to 70 pages.

Lidetu has done a lot of work and thought through many conflicting thorny issues. I hope it will spark broad discussion. Here are my thoughts.

Lidetu starts with the following two core assumption in his documents.

First: “አገራችን ወደ አዲስ የሽግግር ሒደት እንድትገባ የሚያስችል ዕድል በሦስት ኃይሎች እጅ ውስጥ አለ። የመጀመሪያው ጠ/ሚ ዐቢይ አህመድ ናቸው። ሁለተኛው ኃይል ብልፅግና ፓርቲ ነው። ሦስተኛውና የመጨረሻው ኃይል ተቃዋሚው ጐራ ነው።”

Second: “ሁሉም በግራ-ቀኝ ያሉ የኢትዮጵያ የፖለቲካ ኃይሎች የመፍትሄው ሳይሆን የአገራችን ጥፋት አካል ሆነዋል’ ለማለት የሚያስደፍረን ‘ዙሪያው-ገደል’ የሆነ የአገራችን አስቸጋሪ ነባራዊ እውነታ ነው።”

A daring step that Lidetu took (Professor Berhanu as an economist would not) is assigning probability for success based on his objective judgement. He gave the Prime Minister 0% chance to do the right thing. His judgement also included that the PP has a 10% chance to do the right thing. The opposition Oromo, Amhara and Tigray Shene and others get 20% probability that they will do the right thing.

Speaking of the PM, PP, and the opposition, Lidetu underlines “እነዚህ ሥስት አካላት አገሪቱን ወደ አዲስ የሽግ ግር ሂደት የማስገባት እድል ያላቸው ኃይሎች ናቸው.” In the meantime, he gives the PM 0% to do the right thing. In fact, in some places, he suggests that chance is less than zero.

The Prime Minister

In some areas Ldetu suggests: “በሆነ ‘ተዓምር’ ልቦና ቢያገኝ የብልፅግና አገዛዝ ለሽግግር መንግሥቱ መቋቋም ጥሩ እርሾ ሆኖ ሊያገለግልና የተሻለ ምቹ ሁኔታ ሊፈጥር ይችላል። እነዚህ ሦስት ሁኔታዎች ኢትዮጵያ የተሳካ የሽግግር ሒደት ማካሄድ እንድትችል የተሻለ ምቹ ሁኔታዎች የሚፈጥሩ ናቸው። አሁን ላይ እነዚህ በጎ እርሾዎች ባሉበት ሁኔታ የሽግግር መንግሥት ማቋቋም ካልቻልን ግን ከዚህ የባሰ እና ከቁጥጥር ውጭ የሆነ ሁኔታ ውስጥ ከገባን በኋላ ይህንን ዕድል መልሰን ልናገኘው አንችልም።”

How can the PM with less than 0% likelihood to do the right thing? The confusion comes from Lidetu’s failure to have a clear definition of the current government. In some places the term “government” seems to include both the administrative (PM) and Legislative Branch (PP) organs.

Let us look at three critical preconditions that Lidetu highlights and put them on the proverbial commonsense scale to see if they can move the needle toward a viable preliminary government formation.

First, “በአገራችን መካሄድ ያለበት የሽግግር ሒደት ዘላቂ የተኩስ ማቆም ስምምነት ላይ ለመድረስ የሚካሄድ ድርድርን፣ የሽግግር መንግሥት ከመቋቋሙ በፊት የሽግግር ቻርተር ለማውጣት የሚካሄድ ሒደትን [መቀበል ይኖርበታል].”

Reading the document suggests the PM is part of this equation. In this regard, the success for Lidetu’s proposal partly depends on Abiy doing the right thing. But by Lidetu’s own judgment there is 0% chance for it.

When I discussed the matter with Lidetu, he indicated that when he talked about the government, his focus is on the legislative branch or at the very least the government without the PM.

The Prosperity Party Without the PM

Based on our telephone conversation, in the post-Abiy cum Pre-Transitional government, Lidetu highlights four assumptions/conditions.

• ከዚህ በኋላ ለኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ የሽግግር መንግሥት ማቋቋም አንድ አማራጭ ሳይሆን የግድ ልንተገብረው የሚገባ የመጨረሻና ብቸኛ አማራጫ ሆኗል።

• በአገራችን መካሄድ ያለበት የሽግግር ሒደት ዘላቂ የተኩስ ማቆም ስምምነት ላይ ለመድረስ የሚካሄድ ድርድርን፣ የሽግግር መንግሥት ከመቋቋሙ በፊት የሽግግር ቻርተር ለማውጣት የሚካሄድ ሒደትን [መቀበል ይኖርበታል].

• ሁሉን-አቀፍ የሽግግር መንግሥት የማቋቋም አስፈላጊነት ላይ መስማማትን የሚያካትት ሊሆን ይገባል። እነዚህ ስምምነቶች በሙሉ አሁን በስራ ላይ ላለው ፓርላማ ቀርበው እንዲፀድቁ ይደረጋል።

• በአሁኑ ወቅት በሥልጣን ላይ የሚገኘው ገዥው ፓርቲ ለሽግግር ሒደቱ መፈጠር ፈቃደኛ በመሆን መንግስታዊ ስልጣኑን [ለመልቀቅ ይስማማል].

We know the PM has a near 100% grip over the PP. In Lidetu’s proposal the outcome will leave the PM with little to no skin in the game other than national interest. But the PM does not understand national interest in English, Affan Amhara or Oromigna. In this regard, the article needs to explain how the PM will be removed and what role the administrative branch plays in the-Post Abiy cum Pre-transitional government.

Even assuming the PM does not have 100% control over PP, the assumption that the PP that has become a rent-seeking monopolistic enterprise will relinquish its grip on the levers of the rent-seeking oligarchy is unrealistic. Even the seemingly low 10% chance proves unrealistically high. I would give it closer to 0%.

The Opposition

Lidetu assumes: “በአገራችን የሚገኙ ተቃዋሚ ፓርቲዎችም በሙሉ የሽግግር መንግሥቱ ተሳታፊ ይሆናሉ። ነገር ግን በቁጥር በርካታ ስለሆኑ በሽግግር መንግሥቱ ውስጥ ሥርዓት ባለው መንገድ ተሳታፊ ለመሆን እንዲችሉ በቅድሚያ አንድ ዓይነት የጋራ አደረጃጀት መፍጠር ይኖርባቸዋል።”

Let us assume there are some 50 opposition parties. Let us also assume 10 to 20 opposition parties can be a part of the transition government. God himself would need to intervene to have 30 opposition parties to voluntarily step aside to give other opposition parties to represent them. Short of God’s intervention, I would give the opposition parties a near zero percent chance of manifesting a self-less behavior.

Could it be assumed that self-preservation will force PP to behave differently if they feel that are manning a sinking ship? It is one thing to suggest that self-preservation will be a strong impetus to dump the PM. It is another to suggest self-preservation will lead them to give up their super-lucrative rent-seeking enterprise. Self-preservation did not encourage Mengistu’s Party or TPLF leaders to do it.

I personally do not share Lidetu’s assertion that “ከዚህ በኋላ ለኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ የሽግግር መንግሥት ማቋቋም አንድ አማራጭ ሳይሆን የግድ ልንተገብረው የሚገባ የመጨረሻና ብቸኛ አማራጫ ሆኗል.” In my opinion, ruling out a negotiated settlement is not prudent. I hope Lidetu will revisit this issue if he considers revising his draft to clear some of the points I raised above. Why can’t a negotiated settlement work need to be addressed. Its probability of success needs to be compared to the probability of success with a transitional government.

My recommendation to the social media news makers is to invite Professor Berhau Abegaz and Lidetu Ayalew to present their perspectives. A zoom conference with Professor Berhanu and Lidetu as guest speaker speakers with two commentators can initiate national dialogue that Lidetu hopes to ignite.

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