By Faisal A. Roble
At the risk of analyzing the current volatile situation in Somali Regional State, I ask myself why suddenly some leaders within the Somali Democratic Party (SDP) appear as if they are dissatisfied with the merger into Ethiopian Prosperity Party (PP). Perhaps, this is a consequence of unanticipated political fortune.
Until recently, the merger of the Somali Democratic Party (SDP) into Prime Minster Abiy’s new party called Prosperity Party, alias Ethiopian Prosperity Party (PP) was touted as positive development and a political gain for Somalis. In 2005, for example, the late Dr. Abdimajid Hussein urged the late Meles Zenawi to add into the then EPRDF’s agenda a discussion of merging “agar” or “less developed” regional governments into EPRDF. Unfortunately, Mr. Zenawi responded to the good doctor’s question with a racist tone saying that “agar” communities have not attained a level of socioeconomic development that permits them to join a peasant-based revolutionary political platform.
This issue was again tabled in subsequent years. Until now, such a request from the bottom was rejected. In a way, Abiy, owing to his political vision and a believer in one-strong national party, finally agrees to the merger. Some Somalis see this as major gain in that they are now partners of the politics of the country at a national level.
What is PP? the new Ethiopian Prosperity Party is both a tool and a concept born out of the PM’s theoretical framework to deconstruct the current Ethiopian political architecture and reconstruct a new one in his image. According to the PM’s treatise, the root cause of Ethiopia’s political problems emanates from the use of foreign concepts that are based in division. He purposefully criticizes Western European ideologies which has taken roots in the political elite culture of Ethiopia.
PM Abiy’s approach to resolving Ethiopian entanglement with the national question represents a radical departure from a framework too familiar to Ethiopians – the Wallelaign Makonnen treatise on the question of nations and nationalities. Some suggest that the Wallelaign argumentation cemented this leftist approach to the ethnic rights in Ethiopia.
Most of Ethiopia’s intelligentsia, mainly those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, largely continue to analyze Ethiopia’s sociopolitical problems from the vantage point of class and national divisions within the Ethiopian feudal/imperial state created by emperor Menelik at the turn of the 19th century.
Prime Minister Abiy refutes that and argued that Ethiopia rather suffers from shortage of love and mutual reliance on each other. Furthermore, he proposed that historical divisions must be replaced with addition, thus the “medemer” or addition concept will guide the Prime Minister’s new PP and the government that he wants to head. Even so, the platform of PP maintains and uphold the tenants of the existing constitution, and with the entire language of article 39, which grants the right of nations, nationalities’, and people of Ethiopia intact.
For political reasons and mainly to strengthen the Prime Minister’s position as we inch towards the 2020 elections, the country’s ruling party decided to migrate from the old EPRDF that was based on four equitably represented ethnic based parties plus their subservient allies (Agar groups) such as Somalis, Afar, Gambela, Harari, and Benishangul to one single party, and that is EPP.
This past summer, the leaders of EPRDF conducted seminars and 101 training courses of “medemer” to all regions seeking permission to PP. According to leaders of EPRDF officials, these seminars and training sessions were intended to collect input, hear concerns that prospective members of PP may have, and solicit suggestions from all those concerned.
Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali regional state, was one of the first political seats to organize several well-advertised and highly publicized meetings to hear experts on “medemer.” It was then that the leaders of the Somali region fully and unconditionally endorsed “medemer.” Social media was ablaze with commentaries by pro-SDP bloggers praising the seminars. To the contrary, the public never had a chance to hear or deliberate on the tenants of the mergers in a townhall setting. Still, the leaders of the Somali region never said any negative word about either “medemer” or merger into PP.
One recalls that the original name of the Somali ruling party was changed from Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party (ESPDP) to Somali Democratic Party (SDP). This name change, with almost no consultation with the people of the region, was done in sync with other name changes by Amhara, Oromo, Afar, Gambela and other regional parties as a prerequisite to leave the past ethnic based party-system to one national party under PP umbrella. Nothing was alarming about this since most businesses of these sorts are carried out by party functionaries.
To that effect, between this past summer and this winter (November 2019), Somali leaders in Jigjiga have deliberated with EPRDF on the technicalities of the merger. Procedurally and obviously, the Somali side tabled its input early this summer.
Some of the conditions, such as making Somali language one of the working national language and reserving key ministerial position in a future PP administration as well as giving a leadership role in the PP structure were all memorialized in the political platform of PP.
Moreover, the socioeconomic needs of pastoral regions have also been inducted into the new party’s program. Finally, by early summer Somali regional authorities knew well that merger with PP will nullify SDP or any other regional and ethnic-based parties. Knowingly, the Somali leaders endorsed that lest migrating from old ethnic-based parties to one-single party system is one of the main features of PP. In other words, PP will not have separate ethnic-based parties but may allow caucuses-based on regional- and special interest issues-based subgroups within the larger party.
The question is why some SDP leaders suddenly throw their hands up into the air and show serious hesitation about moving with the merger. A legal advisor to Deputy and Acting President Mustafa Omar belatedly tries to answer this question in two key interviews that he gave (OMN and ESATV interviews).
The gist of his criticism of the merger is this: “EPRDF treated pastoral communities as students and it dictated terms of agreement to us…” But he never explained what terms were dictated to them. Besides, he fails to explain to the Somali people this. In all his charges against the EPRDF, he speaks as if SDP is the only party in the region. And that is far from the truth.
For Example, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which started fighting for the independence of the Somali region, has finally reached a peace agreement with PM Abiy to participate peacefully in the political process. On October 4, 2019, ONLF has conducted a widely viewed open and transparent election to replace its former chairman, Admiral Mohamed Osman, and elected Mr. Abdirahman Mahdi. Some even went as far as arguing that the ONLF election was the only democratic and transparent election since the inception of the Ethiopian empire.
Besides, ONLF, there are other parties as options to the Somalis, where some are soon to be registered. All parties will compete in the 2020 election and will aggressively try to win seats locally and nationally. Those leaders with SDP that have misgivings about how the merger was conducted can also resign from their current party position and join other parties in the region, perhaps an alternative way to serve their people. So far, though the assertions that SDP is the sole representative of the Somalis, a lopsided concept that is a carry-over from the TPLF era, is fallacious and misleading. Whether SDP stays within the merger is nothing more than the private business of that party’s leaders.
SDP leaders who have shown belated suspicion about the merge failed to ponder on will leave the party and join those other Somali parties that are independent of PP. Leaders of SDP need to level with their people and start telling the true reason as to why they are now raising belated objections to a system of merger that they had endorsed as far back as this summer. Political change has consequences, and those consequences may please not all the people at the same time. That is exactly what we see with SDP and the merger.
Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division
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