Is violent change inevitable in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia non-violent resistance

By Graham Peebles

As the Ethiopian government intensifies its violent suppression of the populace in the lead up to the illusion of national elections in May, there are many within the country and in the diaspora who believe a popular armed uprising is the only way to bring about change in the country.

The people’s frustration and anger towards the government is understandable as is their bewilderment at the neglect and complicity of Ethiopia’s major donors. America, the European Union and Britain collectively give almost half of Ethiopia’s federal budget in various aid packages and are well aware of the regime’s brutal form of governance but shamefully do and say nothing.

Old habits

The ruling regime, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), came to power in 1992 when they overthrew the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE). The ideologically-driven group of freedom fighters led by Meles Zenawi ousted the military dictatorship and drew up a new liberal constitution based on democratic principles of freedom and human rights. Once enthroned in Addis Ababa, however, they swiftly followed in their predecessor’s repressive footsteps and all democratic ideals where neatly filed away, to be forgotten about.

The government has imprisoned almost all major opposition leaders, as well as large numbers of troublesome journalists. An array of repressive laws has been passed to suffocate dissent and virtually criminalise freedom of expression and assembly – all contrary to their own constitution and in violation of a plethora of international conventions which they have dutifully signed up to.

With the major opposition party leaders behind bars and the regime maintaining total control of the electoral process, the result of the forthcoming May election is a forgone conclusion. It is a hollow piece of democratic theatre, which the EU has refused to legitimise with a team of observers, a mistake in my view, but understandable given the distorted result of the past two elections which the EU observed but did not validate.

Unite and act

Given the repressive picture in the country and the regime’s total intransigence, the frustration of huge numbers of people inside and outside the country is unsurprising.

But is an armed uprising the way forward? Would it be successful in ousting the ruling regime, or would there be a tightening of repressive legislation: the “rebel group” branded as terrorists, large numbers of deaths and arrests, and perhaps a long-drawn-out civil war igniting conflicts between one ethnic group and another? Is violence and hate ever the way to counter violence and hate? Not according to Martin Luther King, who presided over a largely peaceful civil rights movement in America, against an extremely violent, not to say ignorant, adversary. “Darkness,” he said, “cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

That other giant of non-violence, Mohandas Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement, undermined the British, united the population and was crucial in bringing about independence in India. As the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon,  has said, his His legacy is vital “in today’s world where the rights of too many people are still violated”. So is his means of achieving his goal.

As with all repressive regimes, the EPRDF follows a systematic methodology of divide and rule, so the answer to such crude means of control is unity.

We are living in unprecedented times, times of tremendous opportunity and potential change. The days are numbered for regimes like the EPRDF – it is a question of when they collapse, not if.

The people of Ethiopia, and those who make up the diaspora in Europe, America and elsewhere, need to come together, and overcome their apathy and fear, organise themselves and take responsibility for their own destiny, be creative, be heartened and learn from movements in Tunisia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere. They need to be inspired by the strategic actions successfully employed in the non-violent struggle led by Gandhi, and find the courage to act peacefully, to unite against what is a brutal group of men who are despised by the people and have no legitimacy to govern Ethiopia, and act with love not hate, to bring lasting change to their country.

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