EPRDF's 9th General Congress: Yet, Another Post-Meles Success Story
[Kidist Hailu April 2013]
The doomsayers had a common soundtrack. For the past two and three months, they made a labor-division among themselves: some as interviewer, some as interviewee, some as reporters, some as analyst, others as expert, etc. and quoting each-other. There were also those non-existent imaginary sources inside EPRDF that are cited now and then to make their fictional stories believable.
They all had one single theme: Doom and disaster will fall will come on Ethiopia in the EPRDF congress.
It was known that the 9th EPRDF Congress is held at the time when the party suffered a big loss - the death of the Great Leader Meles Zenawi. However, the main mistake of the doomsayers was that they underestimated the strong institutions and stable nation that Meles left behind.
The doomsayers mistakenly see EPRDF just like their so-called opposition parties that exists in name only and that are established, split and collapse every-other week. However, EPRDF's 22 years were not spent holding meetings & press statements in some fancy hotel and celebrating its anniversary and counting its age.
They were tough years of struggle and development that resulted in a mature and vibrant leadership. Unlike the parties that the doomsayers know, EPRDF conducted its Congresses, reviewed plans & reports and elected its leaders periodically.
Every Congress was a time of debate, evaluation, identifying weakness and setting the path forward.
Thus, with every Congress EPRDF emerged stronger. In fact, the values, objectives, strength and stature of the EPRDF is not an accidental matter rather an evolution of the 8 Congresses it held with the Chairmanship of the Great Leader.
The first Congress of the EPRDF took place in Kolla Tembien in January 1991, at the time when the gallant fighters of TPLF and ANDM as well as the later founders of OPDO and SEPDM were in control of half of the country. They were close to achieve victory against the Dergue and they knew it was inevitable.
Becoming close to power didn't turn TPLF & ANDM against each other, as we see with today's parties who quarrel & broke their partnership when they achieve a sizable diaspora money or popularity or become close to power (remember Kinijit in 2005).
Rather, TPLF & ANDM decided to take their decade-long cooperation ideological discussions to next stage by forming a Front.
The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front was born with equal representation of the two parties in the Front's leadership. It was a blow to the Dergue officials and to the reactionary forces in the diaspora, such as EPRP.
Still, the Congress didn't turn into a celebration of the military achievements and the Front's birth. It was rather focused on spotting weaknesses and undertake preparations for the tasks to come. The EPRDF knew that it has to be prepared to avoid the Western pundits prophesy that Ethiopia will become like Somalia and Yugoslavia.
Therefore, It evaluated its military and organizational performance and set directions on how to Intensify the armed struggle to speed up the downfall of the Dergue regime. That was not all.
The Congress deliberated on and approved the Revolutionary Democracy political program that saved the Ethiopia from the existential threat it was facing and put her in the right track of democracy and development following the downfall of the Dergue regime.
The resolutions of the first Congress and the leaders it elected succeeded in making the Transitional period characterized by peace, multiparty democracy and development.
Ethiopia escaped not only the immediate threats posed by the downfall of Dergue & the empty treasury and tens thousands of small arms scattered all over the country; but also managed the more fundamental threats that arise from centuries old national operation and denial of the farmers' fruits of labor.
Not only Ethiopia safely passed the looming threats of disintegration and communal conflict, it managed to set-up a multinational federalism that addresses the roots of the problem.
National and nationalities started governing themselves and for the first time they voluntarily renewed their commitment to live as one country by ratifying the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia through their elected representatives in 1995.
The16 or more armed groups that existed at the time of the downfall of the Dergue were persuaded to lay down their arms and join the political process while their fighters either resumed their peaceful lives or joined the national army, militia and police in accordance with their qualification and skills.
Some, like, OLF, who tried to impose their will on the people were effectively put under control with the cooperation of the public before they inflicted further damage.
However, on December 1995 when EPRDF held its 2nd Congress the focus was not celebration nor scramble for power. At that time, the EPRDF was a four-member party Front, with OPDO and SEPDM included. It was a time when each member party started governing its respective region through the first free and fair national and regional elections in the country's history.
The growth in the size of EPRDF leadership and its power and influence in the country was not the source of quarrel and power competition. Though the doomsayers were making all kinds of doomsday prophesies as their rent-seeking mind-set can not imagine working in collaboration and comradeship for the good of the people.
The EPRDF one more time focused on spotting weaknesses and setting future directions in its Second Congress that took place in Hawassa city, which the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. It conducted a critical and thorough evaluation of its performance interms of its organizational, governance, developmental activities and other national issues and foreign relations.
The Congress delivered the first Plan of the EPRDF for Peace, Development and Democracy. It also set clear directions on how the constitutional system could be made effective.
The fruits of the directions set in the Second Congress, which were supplemented by the Third Congress 1998, were clearly seen in the rise of Ethiopia from the brink of collapse to the regional prominence and influence in the region.
The stability of the government and the unity of nation nationalities and peoples during the Eritrean aggression and the subsequent full-scale war (1998-2000) was an undeniable evidence that the three EPRDF Congresses put the country in the right direction and an effective governance structure.
The doomsayers were surprised when Ethiopians across the country mobilized in millions to protect the sovereignty of their federal union under the leadership of the EPRDF. Previously marginalized people, like Somalis, Gambellas, Afar, etc. made it clear that for the first time they feel owners of the country and they are willing to pay price to preserve and protect it.
Even if the EPRDF leadership was not fully healthy, it kept differences aside and led the people to victory and enabling the defense forces inflict a humiliating defeat on the Eritrean dictatorship.
The Congress held after the gallant Ethiopian armed forces restored our sovereignty was not a celebratory one. Rather a preparation for the subsequent struggle on existential threats of the system.
It was a time to refine the basic principles of Revolutionary Democracy and further elaborate and revise the sectoral policy frameworks based on the achievements, challenges and shortcomings observed in the previous decade.
However, as it is always the case with tranformative changes, it was not easily accepted by all. Some members of the leadership stood against the need for change either because it affects their personal interest or because they were trapped by rent-seeking and adventurism tendencies since the times of the war.
Even many members of the party and the public thought that there was no need to take radical reform. After all, the EPRDF-led government won both the war and the second national & regional elections, so it seemed things things should go as usual.
The division in opinion and the expulsion of a faction from the leadership appeared as if EPRDF faced an insurmountable challenge. Doomsayers jumped to request a coalition government, assuming that EPRDF would not pass the test.
The challenge, however, was turned into strength by the Fourth Congress, named “Renewal Congress”, conducted in August 2001, which evaluated the party's performance since the down-fall of the Dergue.
Under the chairmanship of Meles Zenawi, the Congress identified that democracy and development are matters of survival for the nation.
The Congress approved directions to enhance the performance in agriculture, capacity building and other key sectors as well as The second Five Year Plan for Peace, Development and Democracy.
The Congress also issued several resolutions to fight corruption, chauvinism, narrow nationalism, undemocratic and rent-seeking tendencies from among the party leadership and members.
EPRDF emerged stronger and unified ready to tack head-on the legion administrative and developmental problems facing the country. The first of the continuous double digit GDP growth registed in 2003/4 was a demonstration of the success of the fourth Congress.
Building on that achievement was the focus of the Fifth Congress held in 2004, in Bahirdar, that was named “Emerta Congress” (or “leap forward congress”).
The directions set by the two Congresses and the democratic developmental state built as a result were the primary engines of the sustained double-digit GDP growth that the nation register since 2003/4.
However, the Sixth Congress held in 2006 in Mekelle had its own challenges to address. It was a time when extremist opposition elements - with the encouragement of color revolution promoters and capitalizing on the limitations of the system - turned the 3rd national and regional elections into a crisis.
Stirring administrative grievances and emotions, they managed to shadow the developmental performances and win a significant number of legislative seats previously held by EPRDF.
The doomsayers one more time started projecting that EPRDF has entered into terminal crisis. They believed that EPRDF's organizational unity and comradeship will be undermined by the chauvinism and narrow-nationalism tendencies that were engulfing the country.
They also hoped that EPRDF leaders and members parties will engage in a blame game as EPRDF lost several seats in the election.
The sixth Congress however went as per the long tradition of EPRDF. The Congress pointed out that the election showed that the nation's gains interms of democracy, development and peace have not yet reached an irreversible stage. Moreover, the Congress noted that the public is disappointed by administrative problems.
Therefore, the Congress, which was under the title “we shall repeat the economic strides in good governance”, set directions to bring fundamental change in good governance, to intensify national consensus building works, to work on leadership capacity building and enhance focus for urban development as well as youth and women empowerment.
It also endorsed several other directions that made up the 5-years Plan for Sustained Development to Eradicate Poverty (PASDEP).
The 6th Congress did not only boost EPRDF's stature as a cohesive and forward-looking party; but also ensured the nation continues its developmental stride.
The directions set by the 6th Congress, as well as the subsequent Seventh Congress in 2008, in Hawassa city, enabled the all EPRDF leaders, members and supporters work in unison to sustain and scale-up the socio-economic strides, despite the distractions from several forces – ranging from mere pessimists to neo-liberal forces, from power-hungry opposition forces to terrorists based in Somalia.
The 8th Congress was held in Adama, in 2010, at a time when the continued double-digit growth and the impacts on human development indicators impressed the world. Just four months earlier, in the third national and regional elections, the Ethiopian people rewarded EPRDF by a landscape victory. It was indisputable that a dominant party system has emerged with EPRDF at the top.
But the 8th Congress didn't waste time congratulating itself. Instead, it focused on how to make the gains lasting and ensure that Ethiopia joins the middle-income countries category by 2025.
The Congress's main theme was: “The Ethiopian Renaissance will reach irreversible stage through the implementation of the Growth and Transformation Plan”.
It identified the weak points and deliberated on how to tackle them, so that the the socio-economic strides can be scaled up into a transformative level.
Based on its evaluation of previous performance and considering the new level of trust and responsibility that the Ethiopian people put on EPRDF by making it a dominant party, the Congress endorsed the pillars and basic tenets of the ambitious 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) which was later approved by the parliament after further elaboration by public discussions.
The Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) was not merely a 5-years plan, it set the direction which Ethiopia shall undertake to reach the middle-income countries level by 2025. Most of the medium and mega projects of the GTP are to be scale-up and expanded in the next 5-years plans.
This long term development direction was the brain-child of the Great Leader Meles Zenawi. He also tirelessly cultivated the developmental consensus and public ownership necessary to make the vision and plans a reality. He developed curriculum for leadership trainings and conducted periodic policy discussions even with the youth and women across the country.
Thus when he passed away last August, Ethiopia was on track on achieving the GTP targets, developing the necessary leadership, institutions and deepening developmental consensus.
The Ethiopian peoples, from north to south from west to east, grieved Meles's death, while vowing to realize the visions he set in place.
But the doomsayers were again occupied by their unrealistic dreams. Though EPRDF elected a new Chairman immediately after Meles's death and continued its developmental works without a hitch, they kept dreaming about a power competition and disagreement among EPRDF's leaders.
Especially, since January, they were busy making up all sorts of claims about trouble in EPRDF. While EPRDF's leadership was evaluating the two and half-year implementation of the GTP, the doomsayers were predicting all types of chaos interviewing one another, quoting each other as “analyst”, “expert”, etc. and referring to their imaginary imaginary sources inside EPRDF.
But the 9th Congress held last month in Bahir-dar was a moment where EPRDF emerged stronger and unified, and ready to accelerate progress in the developmental path.
The Congress, under the theme “with the thoughts of Meles: stronger organization and developmental forces for the renaissance”, was entirely focused on evaluating the implementation of the GTP so far and on how to tackle setbacks and enhance performance.
While the doomsayers were busy making all sorts claims as if the Congress was a closed-room mysterious event, EPRDF showed its confidence by inviting journalists, representatives of mass associations, business men and prominent personalities to observe the Congress.
While the doomsayers were predicting discord among the four-member parties of EPRDF, to the contrary the Congress was attended by 14 sister political parties from foreign countries as far away as Norway to South Africa, and from China to Yemen.
While the doomsayers were predicting comptetion among EPRDF leadership for position, about 1/3rd of the leadership including dozens of very senior leaders resigned to make way for the new generation.
The objective of the resignation was to ensure the continuance of the front’s line of struggle through posterity (whereby younger party members take over responsibility from senior party leadership), as Minister Bereket Simon explained. This is another concept that is alien to the doomsayers whose rent-seeking mentality can not imagine leaving position without loosing vote.
To the confusion and dismay of their zero-sum political mind-set, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn said that the Metekakat has been going as planned and the retired leadership will remain to be of paramount contribution to the EPRDF as they have a lot in terms of analyzing and refining ideology based on the renewal process launched in 2001.
These all are contrary to what the doomsayers were predicting and to what their rent-seeking political mindset can comprehend.
Therefore, they launched a new soundtrack immediately after the Congress with imaginary and fictional stories by claiming that the Metekakat has failed and some of the veteran leaders who resigned in 2010 are now re-elected. The Ethiopian people whose trust of EPRDF has grew overtime, however, is asking them to show their evidence.
Whatever the doomsayers may choose to continue claiming the 9th EPRDF Congress was another evidence that the Great Leader Meles Zenawi left behind a developmental state under a strong vibrant organization and firm national consensus.
The Congress successfully concluded its deliberations by reaffirming its commitment to the elimination of rent-seeking practice, freeing itself from the malaise and without any partisanship towards the interest of the peoples as per the democratic developmental line.
It also noted that the growth rate of the agricultural sector was not attained as per the decision of the 8th Organizational Congress, thus set directions for the preparation and full launch of agricultural developmental armies throughout the rural area without any delay.
The Congress instructed the EPRDF leadership to curb the rising inflation to ease the pressure on the urban dwellers.. It also reaffirmed commitment to attain industrial targets by transforming small and micro enterprises into middle level industries.
The EPRDF Congress commended the major infrastructure projects, including roads, hydro power plants, rail ways, water projects, that are underway, yet noted that some have suffered delay and are sub-standard. It pledged to strive for the successful implementation of these key projects through effectively utilization of public money and by mobilizing financial resources to the projects.
It also also pledged to stamp down religious extremism bent on undermining the equality of religions and religious tolerance existing in the country since time immemorial.
In conclusion, the Congress pledged to uphold and pass down the legacies of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to the public at large and posterity contributing share to the efforts of documenting his contributions to the Ethiopian peoples and African cause as well.
As it is in the tradition of EPRDF, despite all the doomsday prophesies , the Congress proved to be a moment of reflection, unity and refinement.
It also proved that EPRDF is suited to carry on the vision of the Great Leader and to bear the trust of the Ethiopian peoples.