By Yilma Bekele
There are certain dates that mark a special event in our old history. They stand out when ever our history is told. These dates are adorned in red bold color when calendar is made. We are filled with a sense of euphoria and pride. They are not like other holidays. They are more than a holiday. They are a defining moment in our history.
March 2nd. is a special day. It is Victory at Adwa day. We proved that we could function as one when our sovereignty is threatened. April 6th. is another special day. It is the day the Fascist flag was lowered and our green, yellow and red flew high. It is a day we proved that we are unmatched in the art of protracted warfare to rout out an invader from our soil. Ginbot 15 is a special day too. It is the day the Ethiopian people tasted the power of the ballot box. Ginbot 15, 2005 the Ethiopian people woke up early to exercise their god given right to choose their leaders using the pencil instead of the gun.
Ginbot 15 changed Ethiopia for good. The very old, old and the young stood in line under the tropical sun on a hot muggy day to decide who they want to be in charge. It was unprecedented moment in our history. It was a lively campaign. The choice was laid out before them. There was the big, rich, organized TPLF camouflaged as EPDRF on one side and Kinijit, Hebret, OFDM on the other.
TPLF has been operating in a vacuum since 1991. The Derg has decimated both civilian and military leaders. TPLF entered the capital unopposed. For fourteen years TPLF roamed the country in the belief that it was shaping it in its own image. It facilitated the secession of Eritrea, rewrote a new Constitution, reconfisicated property, land and private businesses. It was a dark period in our history. Seventeen years of Derg mayhem left the population in a state of shock. The new leaders were looked at with total indifference. TPLF held a clearance sell of Derg companies and they all went to Tigrai rehab and endowment outfit. It even held an election in 1996 and 2000. TPLF (EPDRF) won everything. There was no organized opposition. It was actually a coronation.
Then came the famous 2005 general election. It was like the nation was waking up from a long slumber. New leaders were emerging. The people were eager to listen to new voices. The voices were smart, organized and defiant. The new leaders were focused, urbane, and fearless. Keste Damena under the leadership Of Dr. Berhanu Nega was the David against the TPLF Goliath. Slowly and methodically the TPLF cadres were goaded to react against their own interest. The Ethiopian people were given a front row seat to view the cadre clique naked flailing like a fish out of water.
The famous ‘television debates’ exposed the bankruptcy of the TPLF mafia. The Ethiopian people saw the cadres were blind leading the blind. Not even one was able to emerge worthy of respect. They were reduced to their old rant of ‘neftegna’ ‘deregist’ and bar room insults. They couldn’t articulate any vision so character assassination and bullying was the only thing left for them.
From Zele Anbesa to Moyale from Gore to Jijiga the Ethiopian people came out to vote on May 15. Using their newfound freedom, fueled by hope and a better future the Ethiopian people raised the banner of Kinijit and other opposition parties. TPLF was not safe even in its own backyard. The rejection of cadre economics, cadre politics and cadre leadership was universal. It was a landslide by any account. The cadres were in disarray. TPLF was the laughing stock of the continent. The only way out was illegal declaration of state of emergency and naked use of private Agaizi force.
Ginbot changed the dynamics of party building, election campaign and the sweet taste of freedom and one-man one vote principle. Ginbot showed that the Ethiopian people are ready and capable of exercising their right to choose their leaders in a peaceful manner.
Since Ginbot 15, 2005 our country has never been the same. We all woke up. The Ethiopian people realized TPLF was a paper tiger. It can kill, it can steal, it can lie and it can intimidate but it is also possible to defeat it. The Diaspora woke up too. You can physically transport the Ethiopian to a foreign land but you cannot take his Ethiopia ness out of him. The events of Ginbot 2005 downed on the Diaspora that silence is not an option.
So by imprisoning the leaders, killing activists, exiling opponents the TPLF regime thought it can turn time back to pre Ginbot state of affairs. What a wishful thinking? Freedom is infectious. Once you taste it there is no going back to slavery. Thus Kinijit became more than a party. It became an idea or as Judge Bertukan said ‘Kinijit is spirit’.
The TPLF regime said it took ‘a calculated risk’ in allowing the election and opening of the media to the opposition. It looks like they better get a new calculator because the old one seems to miscalculate a whole lot. Their love affair with Eritrea was a calculated risk that turned up into a two years war. The cease-fire and the Algiers agreement was another calculated risk that came back to bite them. Say goodbye to Badme. The invasion of Somalia was the mother of all calculated risks that blew up in the face of the cadres.
Can we give the cadres any credit for a job well done? I have tried but unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with one. You might say that is not fair but that is the truth. Ask a cadre to name a few success stories and see what they come up with. I know here in North America it is difficult to come up with an official TPLF supporter. TPLF is the only party in power with all its supporters underground. None of them will reveal their identity in broad daylight. They even use a pen name to write their poisonous propaganda.
Their mouthpiece ‘Aiga’ always posts tall buildings and freeways of the future being constructed. Are we supposed to be impressed by that? Is that what we want? Is that the blue print TPLF has for our country? How sad. Building wide freeways with borrowed money using Chinese labor is nothing to be proud of. A two-lane highway and plenty of primary schools with trained teachers is a better choice. Building soviet type concrete buildings with imported cement, imported metal, imported glass and remittance from the Diaspora is a shameful use of resources. Better to improve agriculture and feed the people instead of housing a few NGO’s in a high rise with no water and electricity.
The invention of the World Wide Web has brought untold advantage all over the world. Even the advanced economies have benefited from this miraculous technology. What did we do before the Web has become a genuine question. How is the TPLF regime using this wonderful invention? They built a ‘virtual network’ for the upper echelon of the party and foreign diplomats, but shut out the people. TPLF is afraid of free flow of information. Somalia a country in disarray is wired better than Ethiopia. On the other hand Ethiopia can boast the most robust firewall and web access blocking in Africa.
All this deep knowledge of the cadre government and Diaspora activism is the result of Ginbot 15. We were feeling defeated and resigned until Ginbot showed us the true strength of mass action. Ginbot 15 was the result of the action of dedicated sons and daughters of Ethiopia. It was the work of Dr. Berhanu, Ato Andargachew, Judge Birtukan, Ato Debebe, Dr. Hailu, Dr. Befekade and numerous others that are still working tirelessly to pave the way so our children can live free.
A lot has happened since Ginbot 15, 2005. The enemy is relentless. The enemy has the resources of the state under its control. The enemy is a big fat and ugly Goliath. But we have adapted too. We have managed to use our limited resources intelligently. We have risen to the occasion and routed the enemy in every encounter. We are lean, mean and smart. We have enjoyed numerous victories. We have forced the regime to release our leaders, convinced the US Congress and European Union to listen to our concerns, shamed paid lobbyists to distance themselves from the cadres, managed to work with such honorable organization as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others to echo the cry of our people.
We look back at Ginbot 15 with pride. We honor the memory of those who were slain by the regime because they took the promise of Ginbot 15 to heart. We take solace from the fact that their sacrifice will live forever in our glorious history. Four years later their dedication has borne fruit and here we are in the thousands working hard, working smart and convinced in the end good will triumph over evil. No one can change that.