by Asnake Demena
Experts of nonviolent struggle stated that dictators are never as strong as they tell you they are, and the people are never as weak as they think they are (Sharp, 2011). Sharp also explained that nonviolent action can eat away at a regime’s pillars of power like termites in a tree. This is to mean that political power is always potentially fragile and is always dependent on the society over which it is applied. Based on this explanation, it is possible to suggest that the political power of the brutal regime in Ethiopia can be destroyed without much risks and causalities. However, it is also potentially disastrous for any group to wage a struggle against dictatorship without prior knowledge of its fundamental pillars of support. Hence, the main purpose of this article is to identify, the fundamental pillars of support of dictatorship in Ethiopia.
Scholars of nonviolent resistance agreed that understanding of the nature of political power will help us to understand how to conduct the struggle effectively. Any regime: dictatorial or democrat will rely on some pillars of support more than on others. The regular interaction between pillars of support is the most important source of power for all forms of governments. Therefore, identifying fundamental pillars and developing a multi-level strategy that weakens those pillars may make the difference between success and failure for our nonviolent struggle.
Based on our daily observation it is possible to identify fundamental pillars of support of the brutal regime in Ethiopia. Some of these pillars, such as the military, police and security, courts, media, foreign aid and remittance are vulnerable to popular mass action or withdrawal of consent from the general population. Let’s take this discussion a bit further.
The dictatorial regime in Ethiopia uses military force to stay in power. In every protest that took place in Ethiopia, it is the military force that has killed many people than local police. More recently, it was the notorious Agazi Commando that killed more than 400 protestors in Oromia alone. This indicates that the military is the most crucial pillar of support for the regime in power. Since, the military unit is separated from the society to hinder the development of personal relationships between military and civilian families; there is no reason on the part of military units to use less force on protestors. In some circumstances, soldiers were considered by the regime to be more reliable than the local police and militia to use excessive force on civilians. It is because of this logic that when the local police refused to kill civilians in Gonder, TPLF started to mobilize the notorious Agazi Commando from Tigray to Gonder via Gojjam. Therefore, any plan for nonviolent struggle in Ethiopia should consider dissemination of information into the military apparatus to develop a positive relationship between soldiers and the rest of the society.
2. The police
Policing in Ethiopia is complex. Along with federal and regional police, there are also local militias that operate as local security forces. The federal police was created in 1995 to operate under the Ministry of Federal Affairs. Regional police also known as local police operates under their respective regional justice offices. The police and security apparatus have been effectively served as instrument of intimidation, torture and kidnapping for the corrupted and repressive regime in the country.
But still, it is possible to begin changing the attitudes and behavior of police personnel. There are a few factors to keep in mind concerning the police. First, police normally live in the communities that they serve. Therefore, their families, relatives, acquaintances and friends have developed a network of relationships. If the government, then, characterizes those people in the community who oppose the regime as criminals or terrorists, the police have another reference point by which to evaluate government propaganda. Secondly, police forces carrying out the orders of the dictatorial regime should not, in general, be viewed as the enemy of the people. They are servants of a system that has failed. It is the system that needs to be replaced, not the thousands of honest and honorable people whose training and skills are necessary to serve and protect a democratic society. Keeping these points in mind let’s work hard to change the attitudes and behavior of police personnel towards our struggle against the brutal regime in Ethiopia.
3. The courts
The courts in Ethiopia are strongly controlled by the regime in power. They are pillar of support of dictatorship which facilitates the imprisonment of thousands of dissents in the name of justice. The EPRDF regime routinely uses its vague and overly broad anti-terrorism law to stifle freedom of expression and political opposition. For the past 25 years, courts have been working hard to replace the rule of law with the rule of jungle. Death penalty and long term prison sentences have been given to individuals for being human rights defender or political activist.
Most of the judges to these courts are appointed by the regime only based on their party affiliation instead of their legal qualification. As a result of this, their judgment is based on intentional political motivation of the regime. In most case, state agents such as police ignore court orders regarding the release or treatment of defendants, as occurred when a supreme federal court ruled that Habtamu Ayalew could not travel abroad to receive urgent surgery and medical treatment due to torture inflicted kidney failure and Hemorrhoid. This subversion of judicial independence to political interests occurs at all levels of government. Judges who do not conform to those interests are either face disciplinary punishment or dismissal. All the scenarios discussed above indicate that courts are the most crucial pillars of support of the regime in power. Therefore, let’s encourage judges to think about strategic defection against the regime in Ethiopia.
4. The Media
If a popular nonviolent movement for democratic change is to be successful, it must have the means to communicate its messages to its target audiences. The brutal regime in Ethiopia knows this and makes attempts to deny or limit the flow of information among the society. The most recent “computer crime proclamation” of the regime was created to serve this purpose intentionally, in addition to the so-called anti-terrorism law that has been used to impede freedom of expression in the country for many years.
Furthermore, Magazines, Newspapers, television and radio stations are under the control of the repressive regime. All of these mass media have virtually been used to disseminate harmful propaganda for the past 25 years. However, by boycotting these media or by finding an alternative outside the country’s border it is possible to overcome impacts harmful propaganda on the struggle against the regime.
5. Foreign aid and remittance
Friendly governments that provide foreign aid, technical assistance or serve as international trade partner are also fundamental pillars of dictatorship in Ethiopia. The total amount of foreign aid to Ethiopia, estimated to be 4 billion US dollar on average from international donors in recent years. On the other hand, according to reports from the banking industry, remittances from abroad to Ethiopia reached 3.7 billion US dollar. This means, foreign aid and diaspora remittance represents 60 to 70 percent of the national budget of the EPRDF regime. This tremendous amount of money allowed the EPRDF regime to win support from the military and to fund numerous instruments of political repression, such as police and security forces. In other words, it is our own money has been serving as a walking stick for the regime to remain in power. If we are really serious about bringing down the regime, it is time to control the flow of foreign aid and remittance into Ethiopia.
To conclude the entire argument of this article, serious struggle against brutal dictatorship is not a pleasant prospect. An essential part of any effective nonviolent struggle is to identify and attack the regime’s few crucial pillars of support. All of the above mentioned organizations are made up of individuals who can be influenced. If the resisters can persuade these individuals to lessen or even withdraw their support for the regime, the pillar is weakened, and the regime’s power is diminished. These efforts can take place at both an individual and an organizational level. An early attack might focus on “pulling out” one or a few influential individuals. Finally, the organizations as a whole are still supportive of the regime, but unable to function as usual. This leads to entire collapse of the regime once for all.
Reference: – Gene Sharp, 2011. An interview on BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, 20 February 2011.