Are Ethiopians angry enough to revolt?

By Messay Kebede

While events of historic proportions are occurring in the Arab world, the question that haunts Ethiopians is whether similar uprisings are possible in present-day Ethiopia, that is, whether the inspiring impact of events in Arab countries would be strong enough to provoke unrests and demonstrations in Ethiopia. Since the occurrence of the French Revolution, scholars of revolution are familiar with the outcomes of demonstration effects, some going to the extent of counting as one powerful cause of revolution its tendency to spread to other countries by the sheer effect of its inspirational appeal.

That an increasing number of Ethiopians argue that decisive lessons to topple the Meles regime can be drawn from events in the Arab world is a promising evolution. In an article titled “Way Forward for Ethiopia’s Opposition” posted on various websites (June 2010), I contended that the results of the last election showed clearly that the strategy of changing the Woyane regime by winning parliamentary elections is no longer tenable. I suggested that opposition groups should design a new strategy, which is “to work toward the gathering of conditions favoring a popular outburst with a political organization and a program ready to step in.” In other words, in light of the failure of the electoralist strategy and the little chance of creating in the near future an armed movement capable of threatening the regime, the only option left was to help build up the conditions of a popular uprising and be ready to take up its leadership. Thanks to the events in the Arab world, most Ethiopians now consider a popular uprising in Ethiopia as a very likely possibility and call for opposition groups to be ready for such an event. Of course, the main question is to know whether their expectation is realistic or simply a wishful thinking.

Let me begin by saying that events in Tunisia and Egypt, impressive and mutational as they are, are not yet revolutions. The latter require the overthrow of existing states and the implementation of a new social order. The fact that the two ruling dictators were removed does not necessarily entail a drastic social change in Egypt and Tunisia unless the removal is soon followed by the initiation of profound changes. All we can say now is that the removal is just a first step in the right direction, and that it is too early to speak of revolution.

Even so, the fact that the uprisings remained mostly nonviolent (with the exception of Libya) strongly renews the conviction that nonviolent form of struggle is the best method to remove dictatorial regimes. Nonviolence means here essentially active defiance and noncooperation. So understood, nonviolence is indeed, as one of the apostles of nonviolence, Gene Sharp, puts it, “the most powerful means available to those struggling for freedom” (From Dictatorship to Democracy, p. 13). There is no doubt that protests in Egypt and Tunisia prevented the early intervention of the army essentially because they remained largely nonviolent.

What is most striking about the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere is the metamorphosis of ordinary people. These people had so thoroughly submitted to the dictatorships that any prediction just a month ago of impeding protests would have sounded foolish. The uprisings came as a surprise to everybody. Most of all, all these protests were spontaneous in that they were not initiated by any organized opposition.

Spontaneity is undoubtedly one of the strong aspects of the movements. The dictatorships could not stop them because they could not find leaders they could put in jail or kill. People were driven by their own frustration, not by the appeal of a party or a leader. They were now in charge of their own destiny and, more importantly, free of the fear that paralyzed them for so long. How did this metamorphosis become possible?

It is a truism to say that dictatorships rule by fear and collapse the very day that they fail to inspire fear. This issue of fear is the key to the question of knowing whether similar uprisings are possible in Ethiopia. I am not impressed by the argument of those who discard the possibility of uprisings in Ethiopia on the ground that, unlike the Arab countries, Ethiopia does not have a large educated class and a vast means of internet access. Without denying the effective role of internet communications, the argument overlooks that popular uprisings have occurred before the invention of the internet, not to mention the fact that Ethiopians carried out a successful uprising in 1974 that toppled the entrenched imperial regime. Be it noted that the uprising against the imperial regime was successful because it was not initiated by an established leadership.

Another issue is to know whether the Ethiopian army can behave in a way similar to the behavior of the Egyptian army. Most Ethiopians are inclined to say the opposite owing to their belief that Ethiopia has no longer a national army per se, but a TPLF dominated mercenary army exclusively committed to protecting the interests of the ruling clique. The question is indeed a serious one, but there is no way of knowing the answer unless the uprising starts and shows some resilience. The 2005 violent crackdown on protesters cannot be taken as evidence, since except for taxi drivers and protesting young people, no massive movement of protest took place. In fact, the confined nature of the protest may have led to the belief that it could be easily suppressed. We cannot tell how the police and the army would react in the face of a determined massive protest all over the country. We should move the discussion from what the military will do to what a massive uprising can compel them to understand.

What this means is that the crucial issue is indeed the question of fear. Are Ethiopians any less fearful of the Meles regime? Stated otherwise, the possibility of uprising solely hinges on our ability to ascertain that Ethiopians are today angrier than ever before. For anger alone can dissolve fear. More than the availability of internet communications, what explains events in Arab countries is the increasing fury of ordinary people, especially of unemployed young people. When anger grips the human mind, nothing else matters, including the likelihood of death. Anger is force and defiance because it mobilizes the power of emotion. People defy bloody regimes, not because they become suddenly courageous, but because the overwhelming power of rage made them do things that they would not otherwise have done.

I know that many Ethiopians see unity as an essential condition for the occurrence of a massive uprising. In effect, people begin to protest when they see a fair chance of success, and no chance of success can be expected if ethnic divisions prevail over unity. For an uprising to succeed, it must be massive, and it cannot be massive unless ethnic alignments are put aside. What else is this requirement of unity but another facet of the same question of anger? Are Ethiopians angry enough to overcome their divisions so as to rise together against their common enemy? The overwhelming nature of anger unites more than any rational discourse in favor of unity.

Although it is true that the mobilization of emotion explains the power of popular uprisings, it is also true that rage can only be a trigger. It cannot sustain itself over an extended period of time, especially if the regime in place uses deadly means to suppress the uprising. Very quickly, organization and smart politics must take the lead. Notably, anger must be controlled in such a way that it does not burst into an orgy of violence, which will end up by giving the upper hand to the dictator. Everything must be done to minimize the intervention of the army, and the best way to do so is to keep the movement nonviolent. In other words, nonviolent movement is nothing but the control of anger, more exactly, its transformation into a force of internal resistance that wears out the repressive power of the dictatorial state. Nonviolence does not generate anger; it sublimates it by reorienting its compulsion for outward furious expressions toward the buildup of an internal force of defiance.

In sum, the possibility of popular uprising in Ethiopia wholly depends on the psychological state of the masses. No doubt, events in the Arab world can be inspirational, but they are not enough to cause revolts unless the masses are going through the state of anger. Inspiration can strengthen confidence, but it cannot generate the emotional state of anger. What is more, it is not possible to know in advance what drives people to the tipping point of anger. We can definitely say that most Ethiopians are unhappy with the regime, that they even hate it. But dislike and hate are not yet anger. While hate is a contained or differed emotion, anger is in need of immediate reaction or lashing out. You get to live with hatred, not with rage, which, as an impulsive need for outward expressions, explodes.

(Messay Kebede, Ph.D., can be reached at

28 thoughts on “Are Ethiopians angry enough to revolt?

  1. Assesfa on

    Thank you Messay for beautifully articulating the problem of uprising in Ethiopia. The same argumetn was made by Olaana on Addis Voice. Both should be read together.

  2. Queen Candece on

    Yes, anger is absolutely more than enough, to say the least!

    But there can never be any significant change producing and an all encompassing uprising until and unless the Amhara and the Oromo people come together in unity within diversity as a unified change agent and put the people on the move.

    Repeatedly calling for uprising with out having the necessary preconditions and the basic ground basement structure will only help the divisive wayane dictatorship who is currently receiving generous amounts of money both from the west and the east and may render the eager citizens somewhat cynical about the opposition who lack the capacity of acting in a unified and believable ways.

  3. “..In sum, the possibility of popular uprising in Ethiopia wholly depends on the psychological state of the masses”

    I think this sounds rather a sweeping geralization! If you are angry enough to do something thaen you only need to convience one other person and he/she does the same and in no time you have the revolt in motion. It needs just one determined soul as opposed to the “masses” to instigate it.

  4. Ittu Aba Farda on

    I am sure that this ugly creature that ever crawled on the part of the good earth will kill again if threatened by peaceful demonstrations and the West will do nothing say nothing about it as long Al Shabaab is alive. They had nothing publicly about his killing of almost 200 people and maiming hundred immediately after the 2005 election. What the west did was warning its citizens about an impending violence. When similar demonstrations began in Tunisia or Egypt, the first thing they did was warning the governments to show restraints. This was done at the heads of the government level. That was done on the daily basis. I hate to imply a double-standardization clam here. Because I hate such claim and detest it like a nagging sickness. But I am afraid I am left with no other alternatives but to mull such thought of a weak mind. The West along with its bountiful resources has enormous capabilities to reign in such former ‘communist’ thug and overwhelm him to swallow heavy doses of democratic principles not only on paper but in practice. But understandably so, the West and the rest of the free world have other priorities in that part of the world especially in Somalia. That is to eliminate an even more specter called Al Shabaab. I would like to tell Dr. Messay this: It is very kind of you to share such a nice thought about the people and country we left behind. But please hold your thought and kind wishes for now until Al Shabaab is wiped out of the face of this God’s earth. Until then, this ruthless goon and his ‘Delphine Lalaurie’ wife will continue to take a dump on the unfortunate people for sometime to come. Just take the last election and its acclaimed result – 99.6% win for one grouping of gangsters!!! What is that? How is that? How in the dickens that happened? And then the goon tells the US department to take the aid he is receiving and shove it. What on a good earth is that? Ok..he has the right to say so but our son Eskinder can not write an opinion otherwise he will be warned of dire consequences by the goon’s cohorts if he does not stop such ‘vile habits’. I still have not heard a word from the state department about that. Are they waiting until one day he disappears suddenly without a trace or forced into exile?

    Let’s all pray for the death of Al Shabaab. Insha’Allah!!! Then there will be no understandable excuses.

  5. For those who have been eagerly anticipating the ouster of TPLF for
    couple of decades, the light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel. It is going to be either the Egyptian or the Libyan model in Ethiopia. The sweeping events unfolding in north Africa must be a back breaker for Meles regime in particular. Tribal Juntas and Dictators be it in Sudan, whose leader in obvious fear this week promised not to run again or the tyrant in Eritrea have no longevity. Why these lowest of individual leaders whether Zenawi or Quaddafi happened to seize power and held on to it for long is anybody’s guess. However, in both cases, kings were deposed and the people might have erred. One thing evident, so far The Scorecard:- The people: 100 | Wicked rulers: 0.

  6. desalegne on

    Dear Messay, if the ethiopian people want a revolution, they will have to have a clear-cut plan. For instance, we the diaspora must involve in the revolt both in ethiopia and outside. Secondly, we gonna have to share the cost of freedom. Another thing the diaspora can do is help the people inside ethiopia to READ the BOOK of GENE SHARP extensively. That is what egyptian masses did. Thirdly, we must not have an ex-Derge,Eprp,Edu,and Other elements in the uprising. Let the leaderless revolution find and determine it’s fate. Thanks.

  7. Minyewab on

    I very much agree with most of you who highlight the human misery that the majority of Ethiopian people going through as a result of the TPLF policy. What I find quiet bewildering is the thinking of the enlightened Diaspora who are writing manuals on how to bring Meles Zenaw and post it on a website that is not accessible to the very people the manuals are intended for. Isn’t it a practical thing for us Ethiopians, if we really mean what we say, to go and join our brothers and sister in bringing the kind of change that is taking place in the Middle East. Abebe Gelaw is writing a series of manual on how to bring Meles down and Messay Kebede is asking whether Ethiopians are angry enough to revolt. Of course anger is understatement for all who know how the majority of Ethiopians feel under the current regime. But you are just daydreaming. Meles does not disappear just because you wanted him to. To satisfy your wish you better build Meles’s statue in Washington and bring it down in case it helps your feeling in some way. Otherwise let us all go to our homeland and help in whatever way we can to bring him down, the way Egiptians and Tunisians did. I just can’t get the thinking of some of you who seem to live in the utopian world.

  8. Shumetu on

    Why is it that this writer is always talking in such an abstract and too much bookish foggy manners as if he is hiding something instead of getting down and getting to the practical real business like a real human being?

    People on the ground and in the situation know it very well as to when to apply peaceful pressures coupled with enough forces for self defenses. Peaceful or peaceless conditions are born out of the practical interactive dynamics of the situation on the ground during the struggle in flesh, blood, bones and spirit.

    Even during the 2005 CUD uprising in Addis Ababa this type of comfort seeking guys preferred to withhold the already killed and outraged student demonstrations for the sheer purpose of walking to the fake negotiation trap tables offered by cunning Meles just to buy a little breathing space and time and went to go and peacefully take away power from dictator Meles. They think that there are predetermined and peaceful free meals being on offer. Personally I would,t hurt a tiny one legged and one eyed fly but wouldn’t shy away from opposing an overarmed and overfed chest pumping outraged tyrant on a spree to kill and maim.

    They do not need the preaching of people already isolated from reality and community and telling them what to about their life which they know best.

  9. Gragn Ahmed on

    The days of organized revolution is over. Mass people uprising is the only soluition to say no to neocolonialism, dictatorship, terrorism in the name of Islam, globalization, all of the same manifestations of poer greed Africans and resource hungry Westerners. Time to govern our own destiny. EDU EPPF or whatever the days are over. This is the time for peaceful revolution. Have we grapsed the real essence of peaceful revolution. Of course ghadafi is trying to change that game but still the people are the original peaceful people.

  10. The conditions for mass uprising in Ethiopia have been ripe for a while. The ridiculous price hike of all essential items, the lack of rule of law in all areas of the public sector, corruption, wanton use of power to stifle dissent, the large number of political prisoners, the lack of employment and opportunity especially for the youth, all of these issues and more have made for a very frustrated populace. If events in the Arab world does not push people to take the next step, I think we just need to close the book and just give in to woyanne. This is the best momentum that has ever come by and if people in Ethiopia do not possess the inertia to take to the streets, I am afraid we will have to heed the 11th commandment: Thou shall just give up. I hope and pray I am wrong.

  11. Chanyalew Yegzaw on

    Thanks Messay for your in depth analysis.

    Although I see so many good points in your arguments you seem to overlook the past scars done on some sections of Ethiopians on the other sectors. Probably those who have been unfortunate during the past 120 years of suppression still look voiceless still in diaspora and back home. Any one who really needs a change to happen should be able to think what the next administration would look like rather than rushing for change as there are groups who still aspire to live in the past.

  12. It is a good message to dictators like Meles that the west are planing to take dicisive measures against Libyan dictator and his loyals. Measures that include taking Gadaffi and his loyals to the ICC (international criminal court) for shooting at and killing peacfull demonstrators. The world will do the same in Ethiopian case if Meles’ war dogs (Agazi) start to shoot at peacefull demonistrators. Meles and his generals will be accounted by the ICC.

  13. A street vendor in Tunisia sparked the continuously unraveling revolution in mainly Arab countries. In Libya, it was a lawyer in Benghazi who initiated it. In Egypt, which claimed 365 lives, it was rather spontaneous and well organized uprising launched in multiple cities that did it. Nobody deserve a change than Ethiopians, who once epitomized freedom and dignity but have since been buried alive under succession of ugly, narrow, tribal, biblical proportion and mainly northerner takeover artists. ዘመነ ማቲዎስ ያገናኘን። No need to wonder how and where it is going to be triggered. Redemption, Light and Righteousness are in order in the new era of Ethiopia; that is for sure.

  14. Ittu Aba Farda on

    Gragn Ahmed has a point about the might of a determined mass revolt. But I can’t see thru the logic of calling yourself Gragn Ahmed who is a polarizing individual in the history of the Horn of Africa. I give Brother Elias many kudos for even letting such a name ride on this website. It is not wise to use such a name that will clearly antagonize many members of the Christian congregation just as the term ‘crusader’ that would arise suspicion among the Muslim population including me. I would suggest you stop using that name if you want your valuable message be taken at heart by the readers at large.

  15. Anonymous on

    Ethiopians are angry alright! It is just that guns are pointing at them at all points and at all times more than other countries in the world. The Agazi army that is trained by the devil possessed and mentally unstable Meles to hate and massacred Ethiopians will definitely slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians at his order. When I was in Ethiopia a few years ago everybody I talked to from students, teachers, business owners, day laborers and taxi drivers despise Meles and Woyanes. I will never forget what one older taxi driver said to me riding in his taxi:
    “ I have seen so much sufferings under Mengestu and now a brutal dictator who is worse than Mengestu. I am an old man that can die in a matter of ten years or so, God willing. For me, I drive taxi just to keep busy, my children are in America and they help a lot. But my heart bleeds for young Ethiopian men and women I see everyday who struggle to make it and to save themselves from being thrown in jail and killed by Woyanes. Most of all I cry for my country Ethiopia, I ache and feel deep sadness for my country!”

  16. Grang Ahmed on

    Point well taken. But Ahmed Gragn is no intruder. So the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

  17. Sontoga henok on


    Come on!

    Absolutely I can understand your trauma and the endless fears and nightmares which the chest pumping dictatorship have have deliberately instilled in to the minds and emotions of many people as an instrument control, domination and having dictatorial monopoly power over the fearful and the understandably trembling.

    This is not the struggle for the already deeply traumatized, incapacitated and totally surrendered and need help. This in fact is for those motivated, active and willing to take action and lead the uprising against barbaric tyranny in order to bring about justice and democracy for themselves and the entire society.

    TODAY is NOT YESTERDAY when dictators can shoot and loot and get away with their master crimes. Today is a new day where the dictators can now be completely exposed and put under the bright national and international torches and magnifying glasses and compelled to answer for their brutalities and crimes in international forums and Criminal courts.

    That is how the Beni Ali’s and the Mubaraks have hit the road in spite of being the closest buddies and trusted regional allies of a superpower just like dictator Mallas. Time, place, technology, alliances, networkings, etc. matters.

  18. kalkalaew on

    Ethiopians are looking ahead with crystal clear message to Meles Zinawi either to leave now or to get ousted.If,indded Meles Zinawi decides to fight Ethiopians,he meet the fate of Ben Ali and Husen Mubarak and his own soon.

    Of course,Ethiopians are angry and can no longer bear or telerate Meles Zinawi and its cruel regime anymore.

  19. evenzr3: You will see your beloved Meles’s faith in the future and you will realize that you are the dog you mentioned above.

  20. Tamagnet yasfelegale on

    It can be done.First we have to be united from north to south,east to west to defeat the tyranny.Each & every person should ask how we can achive freedom from the oppresser.How we shouldn’t be a tool for the oppresser.We should also acknowledge haterate is a destruction not a solution for freedom.If we do the above mentioned & stand for justice Meles & followers will not have a place to hide in our be loved home land.

  21. Ethiopians, if they want freedom, fear and not doing anything is not going to cut it. People have to die in order to bring change. We have done the protest before as recent as 2005, what is it to stop us for doing it again fear? It is time to stop talking and do some action including the diaspora. For example in the diaspora, we don’t even have one leader to unite Ethiopia what a shame. I don’t hear Dr. Berhanu anymore. What is it that is stopping us from having meeting and creating a leaders? Remember, Egypt, Libya ,etc did not have leader but leaders. Everyone was a leader! We have to play that game and create leadership throught the West and do something about Ethiopia. Get rid of any suspected spies, no questions absolutely no feeling sympathy because they will weaken the movement by sending information here or in Ethiopia so that TPLF and Meles will be one step ahead of us. It is not just Meles that we are going to oust. The whole concept of TPLF needs to be destroyed as it is cancer and racist. It is very sad that we can’t even do a better job in the diaspora. Shame on us.

    Even TPLF kills many, they can’t kill all of us. The only problem is that they may have mercenaries in the neighboring countries like Eritrea, Sudan, or Somalia. Yet, if mass people die and let them, the world will take action no matter. We can’t keep on being afraid. die if we must, ende! but if we die let us die for purpose, not just without any plan.

  22. Abyssinia on

    You have started with good intention that The TPLF is not a Representative of Tigrayans. The TPLF/EPRDF top brasses are becoming mega rich within 15 years. The Tigrayan people are once again the victim of corrupt TPLF officials which they betray the Tigrayan people in a massive scale. The entire Tigrayans are prisoners of consciousness and being held prisoners in their own country by the TPLF/EPRDF and they are prisoners. I argue everyone to reunite as one entity. We need to avoid ethnic/tribal hatreds to accomplish the freedom and to get rid of Meles and his puppets.

    We must leave our difference aside by taking a lesson from the Egyptian/Tunisian protests. We must be civilised to control our emotions by conducting a peaceful protests not to damage properties otherwise we play to the hand of this corrupt government. This will give them an excuse to kill protests in the name of upholding law and order. As we know it there is no law and order in Ethiopia.

    Our country is ruled by faceless tyrants that have no human dignity. This corrupt government is there to be severed by the Ethiopian people and fleece the public money instead of serving the people, providing jobs and opportunity to all Ethiopians. Our land and critical assets are being sold to foreign companies in the name of investments. These investments do not benefit Ethiopians but to feed their greed habit and to fatten their pocket/bank accounts.

    I hope this time we need to leave our ethnical difference to one side and start to establish a democratic Ethiopia to benefit to all Ethiopians which we can live in harmony together in this wonderful country.

    Ethiopians deserve to have a government elected by the Ethiopian people that sever the people.

    Justice, freedom, equality of opportunities to all Ethiopians!

  23. Tobiason on

    Anger alone does not make you revolt. The love of freedom makes you revolt. Those who know the real meaning of freedom revolt. I’m 110% sure the large majority of Ethiopians don’t know the real meaning of freedom because they have never lived in one. Please don’t tell me that ” never been colonized” crap.

  24. goban gergo on

    ethiopians are agry enough since tplf the triabal front became 2005 during the election, the uprising was indicating that how much nations wide angry at the tribal junta.but what can they do ?.The x bush adminstration backed the anti ethiopian nations.

    since there ethiopian under the emergency law No way to domnstrating with brekeyes.The illitrate gov.can not understand the right of nations.

    but know there is a good way to remove the dictator meles, no need to wright hear

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