Ethiopia – Pragmatist versus Idealist Politics of Opposition Groups

Pragmatist politicians use whatever means at their disposal to

by Alex Birhanu


Pragmatists are very passionate politicians that follow their instinct or their heart’s feelings and guts. Usually they dream of or believe in what they think as the absolute and unshakable truth. Opposed to principled idealist thinkers, pragmatists never entertain different views coming from various sources other than their astounding beliefs; and no matter the outcomes, they stead fistedly act bold, passionate and desperate when taking decisive actions. Pragmatists use whatever means is available at their disposal to secure what is in their vested interests. At times, they may become merciless in their executive actions especially when circumstances get tough. At such moments they act tougher and gain unwavering militaristic victory.

On the contrary, principle oriented politicians are idealist thinkers who bring about visionary thoughts; and are considered as principled people with good national visions. They are often blamed for being ‘paper-tigers”. But they never give up the principles they stand for in desperate times and in challenging and tough situations. Indeed unflinchingly they stand to the principles they adhere to and remain there till the end, no matter how badly circumstances may change for the worst. A case in point in the Ethiopian politics is the zealous EPRP-followers unwavering stand and efforts that adhere to EPRP’s initial political principles to this very day.

These two extreme categories of political traits at the extreme ends of an isle are at times referred to as the realistic traits versus the idealistic traits. In essence, however, power without principle is vicious; and yet principle without power is unproductive. That means, in real life, each perspective needs some combination of traits taken from one another in order to keep things in a balanced motion. Why is it so necessary to balance between these 2-well known ideological traits standing at extreme ends of the isle? The reason is clear. If our end goal is to bring about a more democratic sphere of functional change in Ethiopia, then we must draw the good bit of each trait to the center with which we can gather momentum for a huge take-off that eventually leads to democratic national building plans devised harmoniously. As each category represents the extreme political stand, each keeps on shaping up human history for good or for worse. Those who took the mid-way between these 2-extreme traits did forge democratic changes required by their nation; and brought about lasting peace. Much of what we observe in Western societies today is simply the result of such outcomes. The relationship between the pragmatist and the idealist political traits are not mutually exclusive; rather, the relationship between these two political traits is a symbiotic one. In either case, one of the traits may achieve its end results without forging something from the other. But such a move doesn’t arrive at any happy endings; in fact it arrives at disastrous results or that of maintaining the status quo without any forward moving progress. On the one hand, if the pragmatists are left with unbridled freedom to exercise their power, then they mess-up national systems and networks beyond repair. On the other hand, if the principled idealists are left all alone to do the most they can, and then they may waste so much time on a series of principal discussions and round-table decision making processes without achieving tangible results – i.e., such moves may leave the public to come to a point of despair.

Idealist Opposition:

Embarking on the prevailing Ethiopian political arena, the majority in the opposition camp both at home and in Diaspora seem to fall in the idealist category. We make lots of thinking, and come up with so many proposals, so many ideas, beautiful ideals etc., but still the key works to be done in concrete terms lack enough of the passion with which to bring about change. As opposition groups we remain vocal but action wise we are seriously mortal. Volumes of vocal opposition were produced thus far. But we achieved practically insignificant outcomes in concrete terms inside Ethiopia. Hence, Ethiopia remains artificially land-locked with no access or no retrieving made to regain Assab Seaport. Its people lack basic human rights to speak of; with Birtukan Mideksa still remaining jailed for unfounded reasons. Majority Ethiopian livelihoods still remain in abject poverty. And if we have to reverse TPLF’s anti-peace-policy standing in practical terms by a sustainable peace in the region, it is highly justifiable for the 80 million Ethiopian peoples represented by its solidified and united opposition front to eventually regain the legitimate Ethiopian rights to regain access to the sea through Assab Port. Likewise, by returning the port of Assab to Ethiopia willingly, Eritrea will remain in a better socio-economic and political networking position with Ethiopia and with the rest of its neighbors. It means none of the two countries are to worry about counter-fighting one another due to geographically unsettled demarcation issues that still remain pending under TPLF for nearly 2-decades in raw.

Pragmatist TPLF:

Most of the time, pragmatists are said to be good leaders in war times and in managing crisis moments. Soon after that, however, they become obsolete. This is a typical case of TPLF. Ever since they captured power from the DERG, the TPLF regime has decided to remain in power indefinitely. It declares its unflinching decisions never to kneel down for those coming through ballot boxes for what it paid in blood, tears and sweats under the barrel of the gun. It also means TPLF has already begun to eat-up its own glory of the early 1990s slowly. As pragmatists TPLF-leadership remains tough, stubborn and stuck into their own passionate militaristic glories of yesteryear even when things are getting tougher by the day. But this might have been acceptable in the hay days of the early 1990s, now nearly after two decades later; such stubbornness casts shadows of doubts associated with the pragmatist traits of the man on the driving sit in Ethiopia. When things are tough the PM remains pragmatic and takes critical measures regardless of their repercussions on TPLF’s political features. This might have served him well during those hay-days in the struggle against the DERG regime; but this time around, that same stubborn political stand is simply eating him up alive by each day that goes by; and by depraving him of all the dignity and glory that might be bestowed up on him as a good leader otherwise. Usually, the PM is known for taking swift and decisive actions no matter what these actions might ensue at the end of the day. A case in point is the expulsion of Eritrean persons from Ethiopia. And if such situations start to slide out of hand the TPLF-regime will deal with each, till such time it builds its own glory out of each case. The worst problem with TPLF is that it listens to no one, but to itself.

Lessons Learned From Past Mistakes:

Focusing on the current predicament of the idealist opposition camp, one can see that the number of Ethiopians opposing injustice is increasing by the day; not excluding those who are indifferent and those withdrawing their consent silently. However the leadership of the idealist opposition camps is not yet able to harness or channel this mass opposition inertia of pluralistic nature into a constructive unitary political entity. That means we need to learn from past mistakes and stop acting as vocal opposition only barking from Diaspora or from the Parliament House in Addis Ababa. We should go for winning the hearts, souls, and minds of the Ethiopian public at home and abroad; and bring about a fair and fraternal change without causing havoc or destruction; or without many losses of valuable human lives and property. This can be achieved only when the opposition groups at home and in Diaspora are ready to merge and do away with our die-hard differences for the sake of rescuing Ethiopia’s unity and national stability. We need to come to a workable consensus beyond crying foul on ethnic, religious or worldview differences among us. The idiomatic expression: ‘United, we win; divided we fail’ has been preached many thousands of times but in vain. It is easily said than done. In a serious note, we seem to remain stubborn, and go our own individualistic way to oblivion. When the quest for forging a firmly united opposition force remains at stake; and when the 2010 election is coming closer by each day that goes by, we seem still not fully prepared to deal with our heart-aching tasks properly beyond tones load of vocal opposition. How much of the homework expected of the opposition group is done in a systematic and structured manner compared to the vocal opposition and lip services we rendered thus far? The judgment is left for each reader to outweigh the gravity of our failures thus far.

Ernest Call for a Solidified United Opposition Front:

Transforming those who are in the opposition camp into change agents must be the priority of the opposition camp leading us eventually towards forging a solidified united opposition front. By converting ourselves beyond vocal opposition into fierce fighters and practically contributing partners we can enrich the struggle by the opposition’s united front to achieve results. There is no question regarding our vested will to bring about government change in Ethiopia. Both the overwhelming majority of the Ethiopian public and the well-trenched opposition party sympathizers and members dream of government change. But translating this existing political inertia and vested will into concrete actions require technical expertise, financial, human and material resources. That means both at an individual and group levels, the opposition camp must be more committed and more proficient in our collaborative efforts. I realize that Diaspora people do have other responsibilities. On top of our daily concerns for Ethiopia we remain providers not only to our family members in our immediate surrounding, but also to extended family members in Ethiopia. In order to draw more and more Diaspora groups into the opposition camp for the actual struggle, there is no other alternative than to devise more appropriate means which are compatible with or complimentary to our lifestyles here abroad. Provided that we are solidified as a united opposition front both at home and abroad, the Ethiopian people know well not only that the TPLF regime is on its way out from office, but also they know it will happen pretty soon. For that reason, it is our common task to create a favorable environment for Ethiopians of all walks of life to involve us in the struggle for victory by a solidified united opposition front both at home and abroad.

Finally, the opposition group has to be disciplined. It must learn its lessons from past emotional mistakes and act purposefully, swiftly and by rational reasoning means on the following 3-crucial factors outlined for further consideration:

Firstly, the opposition should act strategically on matters pertinent to foreign relations and seize opportunities to its advantage when they surface incidentally. It should try to hold the balance between political principles and passionate interests concerning foreign policy.

Secondly the opposition should make a strong presence inside Ethiopia. As a united and firm standing body, the opposition group must be solidified, united, and well equipped to do the grass-roots concretization job at home inside Ethiopia with relative ease. Those groups with knowledge of the local background might do well in each ethnic region that they are familiar with. This will help the opposition executives to critically and rationally allocate organizational roles according to merits rather than emotions. Politics is about reality, and reality is created by perception or reasoning. So there has to be a will and a way the opposition group can compliment each other’s weaknesses and strengths. The opposition group should collectively draw strategic action plans on how to stay united, solid, and remain relevant for winning the struggle waged by the opposition camp. The opposition camp must forge viable semblance for national unity rather than going one’s own way single-handedly.

Thirdly, the opposition group must realize that time is a critical factor of essence. In that case, why is the process for unification taking such a long time? It is very shocking and saddening to watch each opposition group behaving as if it has all the time in the whole world to unit itself gradually with others in the distant future. This shows that time is taken by the opposition groups as luxury entity and opposing the TPLF-regime is taken as an easy job to be accomplished in the unforeseeable future. Let us not be mistaken. The road to freedom is a long and tiresome march. The opposition has to identify and manage its passionate desires and its idealist political principles in clear terms so that some compromise is forged for the good of unity; and for jointly achievable outcomes in a reasonable window of time. Meanwhile each opposition group should place a means of checks and balances that help the smooth working relationship between the two extremist traits. Actually, the opposition group needs to balance its politics between forging shrewdness and aggressiveness of pragmatists and considering its idealistic and current global political perspectives for brighter Ethiopian political governance.

This entry was posted in Articles. Bookmark the permalink.