Ethiopia: The Masterplan Behind the Masterplan

December 16, 2015 |

The purpose of this article is to analyze what has been happening in the Oromia region so far. It is an attempt to help those who may still be confused about what is going on.
If you are still assuming that the protests in Oromia are about the Addis Ababa Masterplan, then you are only scratching the surface. Even if the EPRDF government decides to rescind the Masterplan overnight, there will be other protests against other issues, as Dr. Merera of the opposition group recently mentioned, because the people in the region have countless bottled up grievances that the government has failed to address.

According to this DW report, the “three weeks of protests have left 20 dead, more than 150 injured and more than 500 arrested,” a figure that the news agency received from the Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition political party. However, activists allege that the number of killed people, at this time, is over 70; the government says at least five protesters have died.
Understanding Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
By now, it should be obvious that there is some level of coordination behind the protests. Therefore, it is important to understand the protests are not just sporadic acts, but part of a fledgling nonviolent conflict that has a clandestine network of coordinators across the region.
One needs also to understand that nonviolent conflict is about power. It is about organizing to achieve political, economic or social power. The short term goal of the Oromia protests, for example, might have been resisting the Masterplan, but the long term goals can range from negotiating a deal to bringing down the EPRDF rule if possible. That is what some of the diaspora-based agitators are declaring on social media and what they want you to believe.
When an Oromo activist, who works for Aljazeera, wrote this article for the network stating the protests were against the development plan, the same diaspora activists rushed to castigate him for failing to accurately describe the protests as an uprising against the government.
The activists who have taken a proactive role of promoting the protests as nonviolent uprising are simultaneously positioning themselves as the movement’s leaders.
There is also an alleged underground group, known as Qeerroo, which claims to have a clandestine presence in the Oromia region. The alleged group also claims that it has no affiliation with any political party in its English language blog posts, but the OLF (ABO) armed group is constantly referenced in its Afaan Oromo blog posts. There are reportson its page that claim the protesters in some parts of Oromia, such as Jimma, were singing in praise of OLF and demanding the removal of OPDO and replacing it with the former.
The Qeerroo website states this:
According to the Oromian Calender, November 09, is the annual Oromo Civil Resistance Day in which the Oromo youth commemorates the peaceful struggle against subjugation. Nationalists in Oromia and around the globe commemorate the popular student uprising known as Fincila Diddaa Gabrummaa (meaning Revolt Against Subjugation) that broke out on November 09, 2005, following the failed national ‘election’ of 2005 in which the Oromo was denied any meaningful representation.
Clandestine Activism
Clandestine activities are expected in a repressive environment. This ought not surprise anyone. Invisible presence is one way to keep the ruling party off guard and protect the safety of any potential organizers of the movement within the country.
Underground cells were common during the Haile Selassie as well as Derg regimes. That is how the leaders of EPLF, TPLF, OLF and EPRP infiltrated the Derg regime until it collapsed. The difference between now and then is the methods of the struggle: armed struggle vs. unarmed insurrections.
Remember that when the protests in Egypt erupted, there was already an organized underground movement and team of coordinators, who received nonviolent training from Serbia’s Otpor activists without the Mubarak regime noticing, one or two years ahead of the uprising. It is not impossible to do the same in Ethiopia if you have the support system from outside and government infiltrators from inside who provide you with cover. 
Some opposition parties are already seizing the opportunity to capitalize on the protests. Leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Mr. Bekele Gerba, for example, has expressed that the protests are against the failures of the political system as a whole, including land grabs that dispossessed poor farmers who are now revolting. Dr. Merera also has echoed the same sentiment, warning that the country will become another Yugoslavia unless the government changes its course; however, this is not his first time to make such an assertion of a disintegrated Ethiopia. Doomsday speeches have never been absent in the Ethiopian political landscape, especially since the EPRDF took power after the demise of the Derg rule. The fact is even the EPRDF itself uses this same scare tactic whenever it feels threatened. Other Ethiopian opposition politicians have also jumped in to fan the flame, despite their skepticism about the ethnic nationalist tone of the protesters.
Peaceful Demonstration vs Insurrection
One must make a distinction between a peaceful demonstration and an insurrection because there seems to be a confusion regarding those two things among some Ethiopians.
A public protest, disobedience, noncooperation against a land grab, for example, with a precise set of demands and day of action, without violent clash with police or without having other hidden agenda, can be regarded as a peaceful demonstration. But when the demands for the land grab are just launch pads for other political demands, that weren’t disclosed at first, such as a regime change, and when the protests escalate from normal demonstration to a violent or nonviolent intervention, such as taking over police headquarters, setting up a parallel government, and talking about political transition, then that is an insurrection, a prelude to overthrow a government. 
The protests in some parts of Oromia have escalated from seemingly simple campus protests to mass insurrections, forcing the government to involve the army as the regional police and the federal police were unable to contain it.
Reflecting on the Libya crisis, Uganda’s president Museveni wrote that when protests occur,
The first issue is to distinguish between demonstrations and insurrections. Peaceful demonstrations should not be fired on with live bullets. Of course, even peaceful demonstrations should coordinate with the Police to ensure that they do not interfere with the rights of other citizens. When rioters are, however, attacking Police stations and Army barracks with the aim of taking power, then, they are no longer demonstrators; they are insurrectionists. They will have to be treated as such. A responsible Government would have to use reasonable force to neutralize them. Of course, the ideal responsible Government should also be an elected one by the people at periodic intervals. If there is a doubt about the legitimacy of a Government and the people decide to launch an insurrection, that should be the decision of the internal forces. It should not be for external forces to arrogate themselves that role, often, they do not have enough knowledge to decide rightly. Excessive external involvement always brings terrible distortions.
Museveni, who has been in power for close to three decades, basically spelled out the kind of zero tolerance against insurrection that his government, the government in Ethiopia, or any other government, which wants to assert authority and project its power, would consider. Indirectly, he is also sending a message to his fellow Ugandans what he would do in times of insurrection.
Unarmed Insurrections
Insurrections can be both armed and unarmed. The movements that toppled the Derg regime, for example, were armed insurrections while the strategic nonviolent conflict that brought down Egypt’s Mubarak was unarmed insurrection, though the army eventually reversed the gains of the movement a year later.
Kurt Schock, author of “Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements In Nondemocracies,” defines unarmed insurrection as
Organized popular challenges to government authority that depend primarily on methods of nonviolent action rather than on armed methods….they are civilian based and carried out through popular participation…rather than being relegated to the position of providing support for an armed vanguard….they are ‘nonviolent’ in the sense that their primary challenge to state power and legitimacy occurs through methods of nonviolent action rather than through violent methods. (p. xvi)
Ralph Summy, who is quoted in Schock’s book, states that “a nonviolent campaign… may contain some actions that…perhaps lapse into the violent sphere.”
Waging Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
By its nature, nonviolent conflict is disruptive. It creates conflict where there appears stability. It is an organized action that activates a dormant volcano and causes eruption. It requires strategic planning, decentralized coordination, an appearance of spontaneity, and careful timing. You also must keep your opponent busy with guessing your next move, manage human resources, deploy strategic communication to win public support, discredit or neutralize the opponent’s public relations, actively recruit followers from every angle, including from the opponent’s side, build alliances, and outmaneuver the opponent whenever possible.
In short, strategic nonviolent conflict is
The ability…to credibly, persistently, and publicly show how the regime abuses basic human and civil rights…[and to strategically exploit] a regime’s use of illegitimate force.
Picture a nonviolent struggle as a warfare, but without guns. When you picture it that way, you think of pragmatic planning, strategizing, and acting on a goal you set out to achieve — just like a General in a battlefield would do. There’s no guess game here. After all, you are putting lives in great danger. You cannot simply hide behind the scene, with a lousy strategy, and have innocent people killed. If you cannot take great responsibility, you are not a leader, but a streetsmart pretender.
Peaceful Struggle?
People who don’t know much about nonviolent struggle, they terribly underestimate its capacity because of the misnomer “peaceful struggle.”
In order to avoid the confusion, the experts in the field of nonviolent struggle deliberately avoid the use of the term “peaceful struggle,” and they insist on calling it as Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. The three words basically define what it is all about: It is strategic; it is nonviolent (no guns, or tanks on the side of the activists); and it is a conflict with a potentially dangerous adversary.
For the opponent, the political cost of shooting at unarmed civilian population is irreparable, especially in this social media age, where, thanks to mobile phones, every citizen is a journalist to report the injustice.
When you are cconsciously waging a conflict, there is no such thing as “peaceful.” What you are doing is essentially disturbing, and creating insecurity, especially, if the peace or stability has been built on a shaky foundation, such as authoritarian rule.
Nonviolent struggle is not peaceful in the sense that you will do anything to weaken your opponent, apart from waging armed violence. Your primary weapon is your opponent’s use of violence to subdue you. You are expecting your opponent to respond violently. Since it has to protect its power, it will be forced to respond violently. And you can exploit the unjustified and excessive force to justify your cause as a legitimate action. Even if you may have instigated the conflict, say using the Addis Ababa Masterplan as a rallying cry, the world sees first the violence you are facing; thereby, you are not only undermining the opponent’s authority, but you are also generating a new support base, which may include your opponent’s loyal supporters who cannot possibly endorse the illegitimate use of force against civilians. Hence, why nonviolent struggle is considered a force more powerful.
The Methods of Nonviolent Action
Nonviolent struggle has all kinds of specific methods of nonviolent action — just as an armed opponent has sophisticated weapons. These methods of action, if applied expertly, can disarm an opponent without firing a single bullet.
Gene Sharp, who has extensively written about nonviolent conflict, classifies the methods of nonviolent action into three groups:
1. Protest and Persuasion
2. Noncooperation 
3. Nonviolent intervention or disruption
We have witnessed a variety of methods and tactics that can fall in the three categories of nonviolent direct action used in the Oromia region protests.
Here is a partial list of some of the actions that Oromo protesters have taken so far:
Protest and Persuasion
Effective communication and application of new technologies such as social media
Persuading others to join the protest
Group or mass petition
Slogans and symbols
Posters and display of portraits
Pressuring Individuals
Political mourning
Displaying pictures of the deceased
Homage at burial places
Protest meetings
A call for boycotts
A call for student strike
Writing open letters in Afaan Oromo and posting them on social media and asking OPDO officials, Oromia police officers, military personnel to disobey the government
Nonviolent Intervention or Disruption
Raids (marching to police stations and occupying them)
Blocking roads
Defying the law
Talking about transition
Attempting to install parallel government
Declaring “liberated areas”
External Actors
The cadres and diaspora supporters of the Eritrean regime, who actively disparage their fellow Eritreans who want to bring down the Isaias Afeworki’s dictatorship, have become hypocritical promoters of the Oromo protests online. This is intentional: on the one hand, they want to appear pro democracy in the name of solidarity while endorsing dictatorship in their homeland; on the other hand, nothing makes them happier than to see a fragmented Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s fragmentation is the central foreign policy strategy of the Eritrean regime in Asmara. 
The masqueraders of the Eritrean regime adopt Ethiopian names on social media to sow the seeds of hatred, mistrust and ethnic rivalry between the Oromo, Amhara and Tigrayans. They insult Oromos pretending to be Amhara or Tigrayan, and vice versa. Pitting one ethnic group against another has been a common tactic the Eritrean regime’s defenders have been practicing to antagonize Ethiopians.
As Worku Aberra aptly summarized it:
Isaias claims that he has been telling his Eritrean compatriots not to generalize, not to blame one ethnic group for the injustices perpetrated by the past and current regimes in Ethiopia. He says it is wrong to demonize the Amharas for the wrongdoings of the previous governments, just as it is incorrect to demonize Tigryans for the actions of the current government. He says that he detests hatred, arguing that “it is only a weak person who is hateful”. On the surface, his pronouncements sound reasonable, but the EPLF’s actions betray his words.
Most young Ethiopians are very much aware of the Eritrean regime’s campaign and are slowly learning to neutralize it.
A nonviolent struggle can be the best weapon to display people’s power in the face of aggressive authoritarian rule, unlike a conventional warfare that results in a complete destruction of life and properties.
The government’s violent reaction, however, is exactly the kind of reaction that any nonviolent struggle expects from an authoritarian system. As indicated in many case studies, including this one, a nonviolent struggle relies on such brutal reactions to undermine the government’s authority, trapping it in a vicious cycle until it falls apart. Why do you think the social media activists obsessively post graphic images of the victims of the protests? The more the government responds viciously to the insurrections, the less it will be able to exercise control — and that is what its opponents are gambling on.
In the age of ubiquitous mobile phones and social media, it is impossible for any repressive power to hide its crimes. The world is watching. Let alone Ethiopia; China, or the United States, with all its power and advanced technology, can never fully hide its abuses of authority.
Think of the Red Terror era in Ethiopia: had there been social media, imagine what it would have meant for the victims and the Derg regime.
One must know also that not all nonviolent struggles can succeed, however. So it is also important not to exaggerate about nonviolent struggle or romanticize it. The negative costs of nonviolent conflict can be very disastrous. Think of the suppression of students in China. It can also fail even in democratic states such as the United States. Remember the Occupy Wall Street movement. It fails for various reasons, and one of them is having an opponent that strategically neutralizes the movement. Think of how the army in Egypt counter punched the Mursi rise.
But the nonviolent struggles that succeeded in removing an authoritarian rule have established more stable and sustainable systems than the armed struggles that often lead countries to new dictatorship and unimaginable destruction.
Take Ethiopia, Eritrea, and South Sudan — all three are post armed conflict countries. While Ethiopia maintains a façade of democratic rule, Eritrea has completely shut down its doors without any democratic possibility, and South Sudan has become a tragic mess, bordering anarchy. Comparatively, consider the Phillipines and India, the world’s largest democracy. Both countries emerged from a predominantly nonviolent conflict. The Phillipines deposed the Marcos dictatorship and India drove out the British, though there were also violent uprisings. Relatively speaking, the two countries have a much better democratic order today than most countries, despite the extreme economic inequalities that divide their citizens.
Though the Oromia protests have started out with the signs of nonviolent struggle, it remains to be seen where that will go from here on as the army has now involved itself. There are reports already saying the conflict has turned into a mob violence in some areas.
The Ethiopian army is unpredictable; it will be difficult to asses the kind of decisions it will take at this stage of the conflict. The army, however, should protect the people, and not trap itself in the conflict. It should act as a buffer zone. Otherwise, it may risk internal conflict, mutiny, or defection, which is exactly what the agitators and their external backers wish to happen as that will turn the army against itself. Divide and conquer, ideally.
But it takes exceptional and farsighted leaders, not some power hungry opportunists, to design a grand strategy that will succeed and gradually lead to a win-win finale for all stakeholders. Your methods and strategic planning determine the outcome. But if you are an impulsive, vindictive, Machiavellian egomaniac, only driven to seize power to empowering yourself, you will jeopardize the movement and end up causing total anarchy and destruction, basically for nothing.
For those Ethiopians (and Eritreans) who may be interested in exploring nonviolent struggle deeper, consider reading the following books: “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and “Waging Nonviolent Struggle” by Gene Sharp; “Unarmed Insurrections” by Kurt Schock; “Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century” by Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler.

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