OPDO Reform: A Step in The Right Direction
Saba Degefa 03-16-16
OPDO, the ruling party of the state of Oromia, has spent the last two weeks in intense high-level meetings. The goal of the meetings is to reform the party establishment after the turmoil that rocked the state for months.
The Central Committee of the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO) has, at the end of the five day conference, relieved two leaders from their posts. The two were relived due to leadership failure,
Therefore, Daba Debele, who was the Head of the Organization’s Office and a member of the Executive Committee of OPDO and EPRDF, was demoted due to “leadership failure” to only serve as a member of the Central Committee. Likewise, Zelalem Jemaneh, who was the Head of Natural Resource Bureau of Oromia and a member of the Executive Committee of OPDO and EPRDF, was fired and suspended from any organizational activities until the next conference in two years’ time.
In the meetings, members of the central committee of the party has given and received criticisms from their colleagues and a couple of higher party officials were removed from their posts. The meetings reached consensus that the ongoing good governance drive, especially the action of removing corrupt and incompetent officials in the land development sector shall continue unabated. Shady land deals and misappropriation of compensation funds are believed to be the culprits behind the recent protests and the turmoil that followed.
Trade, transport, trade competitiveness, water works offices and consumer protection authority are some of the public institutions slated for reform action.The mayor of the capital, Addis Ababa, who is also a high level party official, has pledged that action, including legal actions, will be taken against corrupt officials in those sectors.
There have been media reports that the EPRDF coalition, in which OPDO is a member, has decided to break the custom of relocating officials that lacked in performance from one position to another and is now set to take “strong” and “teaching” measures. The party also emphasized the meetings and reforms should focus on top level party officials before moving on to lower level members.
One feature of the meetings the regional party usually gets criticisms for is the tendency to blame some party officials and/or outside actors for its problems instead of looking at its internal workings. However, doing that this time will be a big blunder that may bring irreversible damages to it. After all it is in EPRDF’s long held belief that no outside actor or person can create a turmoil unless there is a fertile ground that makes it possible. Therefore, OPDO should maintain that tradition and assess the fertile ground that made the turmoil possible and the role of its rank and file in creating that. Only that way will help the party come out of this crisis even stronger.
Self-Inspection and Learning fast
The OPDO’s Central Committee has also conducted an extraordinary meeting at on January 10, 2016 and issued resolutions regarding the unrest in Oromia.
One of its decisions was to call off the Master Plan by taking the opposition expressed towards it into consideration. On the issue, OPDO has recalled that it did temporarily suspend activities regarding the plan earlier in the hope of resolving it by trying to bridge the information gap. The decision was a right move that robbed anti-peace forces the excuse to rile the people. However, the move was too late to avoid the far reaching negative consequences already happened.
The other resolution concerns to the constitutional “special privileges of Oromia over Addis Ababa”. On this, OPDO claimed to have already been working on it and pledged to deliver as soon as possible. The resolution was a good one as it fetches renewed focus to the issue and calm the worry of the people concerned about state rights. However, no details have emerged on the issue hence it failed to satisfy the public.
The resolution addressing the need to “enhance ongoing anti-corruption campaign” and “resolve to pursue good governance drive” were appealing to the public. However, the track record of the party in dealing with corrupt officials in a not-so-harsh manner and the trust deficit already created has made that resolution less powerful to assure its constituents.
For the current meetings and reforms to be plausible and for this organization to regain its legitimacy, the party leaders should be courageous enough to admit the internal problem, bear responsibility and clean up their organization to remain relevant to its constituency. If the organization goes on blaming external forces for its troubles and not take bold self-cleansing measures, it will assuredly lose its legitimacy entirely and become irrelevant.
Even though this extraordinary meeting was the result of the protests, the good governance issue has been at the forefront of the party’s agenda since its congress in 2015. The turmoil seems to have demonstrated the urgency needed in implementing measures that can curb good governance deficits and tame corruption in public institutions.
The OPDO, which is criticized by observers for being the worst among EPRDF member parties in good governance and corruption, is expected to make significant reforms in order to regain the legitimacy it lost in some areas of the state. As was witnessed in the chaos, pledges and rhetoric are not enough to satisfy a disappointed public and hence bold confidence building moves are crucial.
The struggles to achieve good governance and weed-out rent-seeking shall now be taken to a new height with new directions, renewed commitment and urgency. The existential fight for a shift from a political economy dominated by rent seeking to one that is characterized by developmentalism shall be waged in full-scale in urban as well as rural areas across Oromia and Ethiopia. The rapid growth of the republic cannot be sustained lest there is a robust participation of the public, private and civic society in addressing good governance deficits.