by Dessalegn Asfaw
A lot of us, including me, spend quite a bit of time criticizing the leadership of the Ethiopian democracy movement. But when they do something good, in this case, brilliant, they must get their due. Siye Abraha and Negasso Gidada’s decision to join the UDJ, and the UDJ’s decision to accept their application, is one such brilliant move.
The political futures of Siye, Negasso, the UDJ, and everyone in the opposition depend on the success of the democracy movement. These politicians and parties do not have any armed force behind them to propel them to power. Their only way to real power is via democratic means, which is why they are part of the democracy movement. The only way the democracy movement will succeed is by creating large coalitions and supermajorities. Only a broad democracy movement can muster the pressure needed to make force the EPRDF to make democratic change.
What Siye, Negasso, and the UDJ have demonstrated by their actions is that they not only understand this reality, but that they are really committed to unity for democracy. Remember that they will all be criticized for their move - Siye and Negasso for joining a party that believes in reforming federalism away from being purely ethnic-based, and the UDJ for accepted former members of the ruling regime and former die-hard ethnic federalists. All three may lose some of their constituents as a result. But they are showing that they are ready lose a little in the short run in exchange for future gain. They are showing a farsightedness much needed in Ethiopian politics.
Siye and Negasso, in particular, are making a very bold committment to the future. Note that they are going beyond being part of Medrek and standing in coalition with the UDJ. By actually joining the UDJ, they are signing on to the UDJ’s charter and values, a significant change from the ideologies they have held in the past. This sends a message to other members of the opposition, to the democracy movement, and the people of Ethiopia as a whole. It demonstrates that the human values of introspection, of being able to change one’s mind based on new evidence or in view of past mistakes, of listening and empathy, of community, should outweigh the pull of ideology, stubbornness, ego, and individualism. It sets a moral example for Ethiopians, an example far too rarely seen in Ethiopian politics.
It also demonstrates discipline. It would have been easy for Siye and Negasso to stay where they are, to avoid re-evaluating their ideas, to hold on to their little constituencies, and to stay away from taking risks. But having realized that this would not be a solution, they conquered their fears and took a bold step. Taking such action and handling the consequences requires discipline and strength of character, and having done so, Siye and Negasso are setting an example for all.
Hopefully, the real effect of this extraordinary evolution in the Ethiopian opposition will be seen at the grassroots level. In coming together, Siye, Negasso, and the UDJ leadership have demonstrated farsightedness, moral fortitude, and discipline, all values necessary for democratic change. They have set an example for opposition party members, democracy activists, and the population as a whole, an example that if followed, will result in a democratic dawn for Ethiopia. Let us all hope that their example will be followed and that Siye Abraha, Negasso Gidada, and the UDJ will continue to be a positive force for democracy in Ethiopia.