Milestone or tombstone? EPRP’s 40 years of struggle

By Obo Arada Shawl


May 1, 2012



Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) was formally founded on a week long underground conference April 2 – 9, 1972. Four decades have elapsed since that time. Is this a milestone or a tombstone? That is everybody’s inquiry.


By milestone, I mean a significant point in political development and by tombstone (with small letter t); I am referring to a tombstone where geographically Tombstone is a town in Southern east Arizona. The place of Tombstone is where a 30 second gunfight was carried out for the possession of silver mining. Tombstone is now a historical museum in Arizona. Who can say EPRP deserves a milestone (landmark political history in Ethiopia and Eritrea) or a museum like Tombstone in Arizona, please stand up!


I hope this article will answer at least the basic questions whether EPRP deserves a milepost in the modern Eathiopian history or a tombstone with no epitaph.


At any time in history & cultureβ, of people, questions of unity, sovereignty and peace of a country comes up frequently. The case of Ethiopia or Eritrea is no exception to these concepts. I stand witness to the political history as well as culture of both countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia aka ኤትዮጵያ- Eathiopia


What was EPRP’s position on Unity, sovereignty (democracy) and Peace? Who were its members and supporters? What were the mission and vision of EPRP? Did the Party have political philosophy/ideology? Above all did the Party have a plan of action? Last but not least, does the Party still exist?


I would like to answer the above questions albeit briefly within the framework of my personal and societal obligation and not political affiliation.

EPRP’s position on Unity, Democracy and Peace

Everyman’s approach towards understanding the above concepts could not be uniform; some elements of EPRP were anti intellectual while the Party’s real position was anti elitism. There is a real difference between these two concepts. The former concept of intellectual is about reason while the latter elite relates about the status of individuals in society. For this reason, there were lots of row among Ethiopian and Eritrean college students during the Revolutionary struggle. Political history reveals that Eritrean college professors and students freely interchange elitism with nationalism. They have avoided philosophy – the basis for reasoning. That may be irrelevant with today’s selfish generation but it was not with the selfless generation of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

What is Unity?

Among leaders of EPRP, unity is sought from diversity. For this reason, the Party was popular. It is a fact that the Ethiopian Student Movement that culminated in the formation of EPRP emerged victorious simply for its diversity not only on issues of personality but also with ideas and issues of the day.


Diversity was not only symbolic as in ritual or heroes but also in values as well. Even during the Third phaseз of EPRP’s struggle, it is documented that EPRP was for diversity. Debteraw once wrote “we have said vive la difference.” He wrote this even when the Party was driven out of Tigrai province. So unity in EPRP’s parlance is beyond words. It has essence and substance.


What about democracy? The core venue of EPRP was democracy. Its symbol, its slogan and its rhetoric was/is democracy and/or DEMOCRACIA. That is, small d for its members and capital D for its associates and supporters. Before the world raises the slogan of democracy to signify for individuals and as well as for communities. EPRP was way ahead of the concept and its future significance. In actual fact, I know no organization in Africa’s liberation movements that sacrificed for or rallied around democracy so much. I would tend to think these days that EPRP (d) is a microcosm of the Party element despite many allegations and innuendoes. Capital letter D or small letter d is no alien concepts for those who really understand and follow the nature of EPRP. It is no different than saying WE and ME interchangeably.


So much so, the party’s main political organ was named locally democracy – ዴሞክራሲያ DEMOCRACIA – ዲሞክራሲያ. Actually, EPRP and its members have “cried” so to speak for 40 years. Thanks to its members and associates that they made it possible for the word to become a household word in Eathiopia. Historical documents reveal that EPRP’s milestone for democracy goes back half a century ago. Its martyred members and supporters deserve a shaped tombstone engraved with a plaque, pillar, cross, tablet, shrine, obelisk, memorial or any other inscription written as “remember me for D and d”- showing unity in diversity.


What about peace? Why was it necessary for EPRP to coalesce around peace? Peace is the only valuable asset for any body or community to survive and prosper. Without peace, Eathiopia couldn’t have survived for millennia. And so the Eathiopian Student Movement asked the then Ethiopian Imperial government to bring peace to Bale, Godjam and above all to Eritrea. Eritrea has been separated from Ethiopia for sixty years and it has made an impact at least politically among progressive student activists. There was a need to negotiate for peace with Eritreans. One of EPRP’s hall of fame was the struggle for peace in Eritrea. EPRP has never advocated for war in Eritrea. As I have repeatedly argued that EPRP’s also known as EPRA was a አንቂ – self-defense army.


EPRP’s members honestly believed that Eritrea would not cede from Ethiopia provided peace and democracy prevailed. A Referendum could have solved the Eritrean case. See my article on Referendum on Imblta dated …


Who were the supporters of EPRP? Who were/are its members? It is impossible to document members and associate members of the Party. The only way to find out is when and if peace and democracy reigns in Eathiopia. Although the party functions clandestinely, its members and associates relate through its party, army and mass organizations such as workers union, women, teachers, traders and professionals and the Youth. As long as there is a slogan for democracy and peace, everyone and everybody in Eathiopia relates to EPRP. That is the glue upon which the Party survives against all odds.


As far as communication and relationship are concerned, I have come to realize that the Party members, leaders and others communicate in their daily lives in the following manner.

  • EPRP members communicate Heart to Heart
  • EPRP leaders communicate Head to Head
  • EPRP supporters communicate Soul to Soul


What about it mission and vision? I personally believed that the Party’s vision would be one Flag, one Fidel and many freedoms. Now, we have two flags, different alphabets and few freedoms. EPRP’s mission was to distribute land to the tillers, make the bureaucracy efficient and to honor national bourgeois. That meant three thronged fight anti-feudalism; anti-bureaucracy and anti-imperialism i.e. both imperialism of America and Soviet Union – was time honored struggle. Whether this time honored struggle is obvious to the common man is another question. But the Party’s vision for hardworking and discipline was clear. Eathiopians inside the country and abroad are seen to work hard though for the wrong reason. The current governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia push for cash value. EPRP used to advocate for Education for the value of education is inculcated in May Day which means that the value of work will translate into the love of humanity and prosperity. EPRP’s mission and vision go hand in hand.


How about its philosophy or ideology? It was well known among the student movement who galvanized the Ethiopian Revolution to follow philosophy. What do we mean by philosophy? Ethiopian University students at that time used to believe in the philosophy of poverty whereas the Eritreans laurel themselves in the poverty of philosophy. For Eritrean students philosophy was meant to get more information about the world, their birth place and themselves whereas for Ethiopian students, philosophy was meant to be useful to help them understand the things they already know and to understand them better than previous eras. Eritreans were looking to natural/social sciences and above all for colonial history. Unfortunately, Ethiopian history on colonialism was bitter to swallow.


The Adwa case was a point of reference. Unless and otherwise Eritreans and Ethiopians namely the MI (Meles & Issais) partners and their followers resolve their differences on this issue, it will continue to add fuel like that of Badme for generations to come. Adwa III should take precedence over Adwa I and Adwa IIµ.


What was the plan of action?

EPRP members have organized themselves to narrow this gap by thinking philosophically. It was done meticulously step by step to identify their class enemy ማንቃት – Mankat, get them organized – ማደራጀት Maderajet and empower ማስታጠቅ – Mastatek – people with resources. Their opponents such as EPLF and TPLF worked backwards. They armed their people before they educate them. While Meison, another arch enemy of EPRP confused the Eathiopian populace by rearranging the steps as staggered as first, second and third, the Party of EPRP would carry simultaneously its mission.


Meison’s mission was without purpose, it was as if changing people to bricks. EPRP’s act was purposefully done. That is to say there was some goal they all have in mind. In other words, the difference between Meison and EPRP was philosophical between Means and Ends. EPRP’s thinking was always in the Means not in the Ends. የትም ፍጪው ዱቄቱን አምጪው – did/does not reverberate with EPRP.


The ideology of EPRP was common experience and common sense. In order to assess EPRP’s struggle for Revolutionary change, one needs a sustained reflection and reasoning. A three-hours reading per day was a requirement to become a full member of EPRP. While the reading materials mostly reflect that of Leftist literature, there was no restriction not to read other books of interest. It is no wonder that the party was rigid as it could be. E pluribus Unum meaning many uniting into one (out of many one) as in EPRP d and D.


Does the Party Exist?

The question is perhaps the single most relevant one for both Eritreans and Ethiopians. But for me, it is one of the dumpiest questions I have so far encountered in my urban life.


By urban life, I mean those sections of the population who lived or travelled along the five routes that radiate from Addis Ababa.


That is the main arterial roads going from

1.      AA to Asmara via Wolo and Tigrai

2.      AA to Asmara via Godjam and Gondar.

3.      AA to Kurmuk via Wellega.

4.      AA to Gambella via Illubabor.

5.      AA to the main arterial networks going from Addis Ababa to the rest of the country, south, south east, south  west and east to Assab.


The inhabitants who live along these routes definitely know the government and business sectors. The power of the government officials and cash of the merchants play a heavy handed role for the consumers. In other words, they are at the mercy of government officials for their lives and services. Under these towns no one was a citizen or a consumer in the real sense of the word. Whoever demands for public or private service, the government police and courts are right after them.


I don’t believe these injustices and corruption has changed neither during the Derg nor under the TPLF regimes for these sectors of the economy. Those who ask for the rights of consumers or for any other citizens right, they were labeled as anarchists, anti-revolution, secessionist or members of EPRP.


What about those who live abroad who want to return to their home countries but could not? They are basically EPRP at heart. That is, their desire for personal freedom and social justice is the same as that of EPRP.


Urban development in Eathiopia has taken place along the roads.  This trend has not changed much. It is possible even today that the urban population knows or hears about the Party of DEMOCRACIA as the word democracy has penetrated deep into the psychic of all urban dwellers. Thanks to the sacrifice of EPRP members and supporters. The survival of EPRP is equivalent to the flourishing of democracy in Eathiopia.



Two years after the formal foundation of EPRP in April 1972, the Portuguese dictatorial regime who ruled for fifty years has collapsed. On that year the American President Richard Nixon resigned. It was a bad omen for the Empire of Ethiopia. Nationalists came to power everywhere and Marxist began to shore up for power. The spirit of democratic value was enshrined among the members of EPRP. Democracy was neither a luxury nor a Western concept as was envisaged by the opponents of EPRP. Democracy has a universal value. That was neither Russian nor American. It was Eathiopian too. The exchange of prize between Wallelign and Zewge Fanta was a case in point.


To concretize it, we have stated that EPRP has a vision, a mission, and a goal and a plan of action, what’s needed is a resource or budget to implement it.


Fortunately or unfortunately, EPRP are those who sacrifice their land, property, and their lives to the cause of the Eathiopian Revolution. The Eathiopian Revolution is a continuum. It is a human race for peace not prosperity as the current Meles government attempt to portray a distorted picture of Eathiopian realty.


But who leads this Eway Revolution of Ethiopia. Obviously, it has started 40 years ago and it is still continue to the present day. The journey will end in 2013 as predicted.


The Heavenly Stars have existed to hover over Eathiopia since the beginning of life on Earth. One can see with a naked eye. No one needs a telescope or a microscope in the land of Adam and Eve. One needs to synchronize the heart and the mind. The mind for the microscope and the heart for the telescope – that is the Eathiopian way or the EPRP way.



What’s more interesting is the fact that the Stars gave us direction as to how to relate and follow them with our heart via DOB.

Where is Tupac? That is the question for African American

Where is Haile Sellasie I? That is the question for Ras Tefferians.

Where is Debteraw? That question was asked by Getachew Redda of Semay. There was no follow up though. May be Getachew is looking up in the sky. But I know that DEBTERAW IS NOT DEAD. He is here on Earth. Our mission is to find him before aliens find him. He belongs to the Human race. He is ours.


The search for DEBTERAW is the key to reconciliation and for maintenance of the Peace Machine. DEBTERAW represents rebel with a cause, arts & culture; philosophy/religion; compassion/passion; and above all courage to bring freedom to “d” and “D” and justice to all humanity. Let us immortalize him.  




For questions and comments


β History & Culture = ዘር፤ the current government confuses Ge’ez with Latin letters

з ABC = Anja-Bitena-Continuum: This sequence is only relevant for the Party Organ.

µ Adwa I is about colonial history (1896-1941) : Adwa II is an assault on culture & religion (1974-Present) AAdwa III is the struggle to defend Adwa I and to counter-attack Adwa II

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