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Ezana Sehay 8/27/2015

Naturally, EPRDF is a wide open party, full of people with good intentions and bursting with ideas for making Ethiopia a better place. It is above all other considerations a highly professional, important political machine and has a record unmatched by others in Africa.

EPRDFites are ahead of their peers on virtually every attributes:  value, ideas, and judgment. They have held their ground; the traditional center stage on the political spectrum, artfully blending left and right ideologies.

But if one is not care full, success in politics can become weakness.  Apparently EPRDF is not immune to such a bug. In the days preceding the front’s convention the issue of public discontent has deservedly taken center-stage. The upcoming agglomerate’s theme - gaining back public trust – could not be more apt.

Obviously something is amiss in the EPRDFites world. Some are wondering if the party has lost its way, became decrepitude.  Others go as far as claiming the front is about to squander the gains it incrementally accumulated in the last 24 years.

But is the governess in the country really that severe? Is the public opprobrium warranted?  Don’t get me wrong, I know the cloud of mal - administration has been hovering over the nation for quite some time.  However, in the grand scheme of things; the state of polity in Ethiopia, especially, compared to others in African countries, is not as bad as all that.  Yet seemingly it is bad enough to become the crux of the matter of the party.  

So, what went wrong?   -   Is what people are asking. The responses vary but one that comes frequently is that…  EPRDF is conditioned by its past success in to believing it is a perfect entity that doesn’t need reform.

Therefore, there is truth in apportioning blame to the front heavyweights. The front it seems, especially, in the absence of a credible contender to the throne, has become content and arrogant.

After all, they say, it was only two months ago the people accorded them a full mandate to govern the nation. But this is misleading; because the voters will continue to back them, no matter what, so long as the alternative is perceived as unattractive.  Ethiopians have, in no uncertain terms, made it clear they would never elect extremists and syncs. This is by no means a sign of fidelity with the governing party.

In addition, concurrently, the people, in so many ways, have made it clear they are not pleased with the status quo, modus operandi either.

The good news is; after every hick-up, the party has a history of correcting itself.  And there were many of them over the years, but it should be careful, some of those hick-ups might develop to be carcinogen.

The first step of remedying a sickness is admittance.  EPRDF has, with humility has acknowledged its weaknesses.  And so, the coming party gathering [convention] offers a perfect opportunity for the party members to deal with the elephant –in – the – room – party politics.

Judging by the way the coalition partners of the front conducted their respective conventions; members and supporters of the front can be sure, the front will address the cardinal matters.  The just concluded conventions in Mekelle, Bahirdar, Adama, and Hawasa were conducted with candor and judiciously and all have hit all the right tones.

 But, bear in mind, owning up a problem if not followed by concrete action is making peace with the problem not eliminate it.  

Here are some areas the front should revisit in the future

Public Relations:  The greatest challenge with EPRDF is not policy, it is public relations. In other words, the party is full of people endowed with great ideas, but only few are capable of conveying those ideas to others: general public.

That PR weakness of the party is the reason for the poor showing of its representatives during the last pre-election debate. The debate has exposed a lurking weakness within the Revolutionary Democrats. There was a remarkable vacancy at the heart of their debating; some weren’t even sure of themselves, and failed to present plausible and honest answers to the fundamental questions why their party must be supported.

At the government level; it has shown a recognizable progress, in the last few years, but there is still ample room for improvement.  The government lacks a stricture of trained people and effective mechanism to address issues expeditiously.

Therefore it needs to develop key elements of internal [governmental] and external [national] communication strategy, as well as international protocol networking – to promote and defend national interest.

In addition, communication within and outside the party should be perpetual…. Not as special time activity [such as during elections], but as an essential resource to present and explain the priorities of policy objectives to members and society as a whole.

Separate Party and Government Responsibilities:  There is an immense public back lash against those unelected and unassigned party members who nevertheless, interfere in the day to day activities of the government especially, at a regional level. Most of the time; these party cadres are said to tie the hands of hard-working and decent civil servants. Moreover, these party members are considered a stumbling block to the reinvention and reform of the party.

Fix the Image:  Now days, EPRDF is seen, as the party of “rigidity”, “out of touch”, “not open to change” with non-members “barely receptive” to others’ policies and positions.  - Time to change the stodgy image of the Revolutionary Democrats’ profile.

Embrace Compassion:  EPRDFites have been known for their common humanity, but now days, that has been lost from the public perception and has endeavored to stain the impression of the party. Therefore, it needs to revisit the philosophy of compassionate EPRDF and dispel the myth of indifference.

Employ Symbolic Politics:  The long standing paradox: the Ethiopian people are operationally and ideologically republican but symbolically unitary.

To put it differently, most [Ethiopians] express great comfort with the policy of self-governing [kelelization], nevertheless, they prefer self-identifying as holistic [Ethiopians]. As such they are not too crazy about retail politics.

Grass Roots Membership:  In theory EPRDF is supposed to be the party of the new generation and posterity.  The zeitgeist of Developmental Democracy is supposed to favor the young and the middle class.

But, how many members of the aforementioned segments of the society, especially the youth, do actually espouse and defend publically the EPRDF’s policies? , Sadly not many.  Is it because they don’t understand it, doing know it, or they just don’t care?  Well that’s for the party to find out.

In any case, if the party wants to renew and strengthen its status; it should recruit the new age young scholars who can capture the party’s imagination, who can deliver less on abstract concepts of, liberty, democracy…  more on championing policies of social mobility. That is: focus on individual transformation as an incentive for finding innovative solutions to social- impact issues of the day.

Empowering Women:  For any party, Organization, or social movement to claim national legitimacy – sinqua non - it has first and foremost be representative of all demographics, especially, women.

Of all the actual or presumed shortcoming of EPRDF, none is as severe as its approach to women. Notwithstanding its lip devotion and posturing when it comes to leadership, the party has proven so far to be gender- exclusive.

Side bar: during a pre-election rally at Addis Ababa stadium, which was allegedly called and organized by the women’s association - can you guess who the main speakers were?  If you guessed men, you’re right.  That was the most vivid display of condescending paternalism and chauvinism.

This is disappointing to say the least, considering the history of EPRDF vs. women. Women have contributed equal, if not more, than their share to liberate the nation from the fascist Derg, as they accounted for more than 30% of the fighting force.

And yet, after 24 years in power, the number of women in the EPRDF executive body [women’s’ representation in the legislation is better], is almost negligible. This is a political faux pas that needs to be addressed.

Transparency:  of all the problems the front faces none is as pernicious as the lack of accountability and transparency. The party known for its populous policy and operation has now become guarded and detached. Some of the leadership, esp. at the regional level, has become conceited with sense of entitlement. This is what is fueling the public resentment.

Furthermore:  A contemporary political philosophy such as Developmental Democracy needs a vehicle to promote it effectively in the political process. To fly successfully over the long haul, it also needs a multitude of think tanks and links with academia to generate ideas and policy analysis; education and training institutions and programs to train everyone from poll captain to potential cabinet ministers. Furthermore, it needs communication vehicle to link itself to its grass roots and the society at large, link with interest groups capable of waging issue campaigns on subjects of party and national imperatives.

The goal; is to renew this great political organization, by going back to its roots and re-assert as the party of those, socially progressive, economically responsible and politically accountable Ethiopians.

To sum up: knowing what we know about the front, rest assure - morrow the Mekelle assembly - the revolutionary democrats will take the bull by the horn and come out better and stronger.

Shout out to the congress!


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