In many ways the Revolutionary Democrats are more than a political grouping. Yes, they have transformed the Ethiopian political landscape over the past 19 years, bringing it to a point of no return. But they are as much a force of transformation in society as they are in politics, whether or not one likes their philosophies. This may only be seen from a perspective free of partisan inclinations.
Much to their credit, the Revolutionary Democrats started as young rebel fighters with a vision and developed themselves in the wilderness in line with the beliefs that they stood for. Not fearing to die for what they believed, the youth of yesterday and the leaders of today owe it all to the active political consciousness they had so many years ago.
The involvement of youngsters in Ethiopian politics is not something new. For instance, the students’ movement in the 70s led to the dethroning of Haile Selassie I and the end of the Imperial Regime.
Moreover, young Ethiopian political activists like Tilahun Gizaw and Berhanemeskel Redda were considered troublemakers or political maniacs by some.
But regardless of what others thought, both of them and many more of their peers had good knowledge and understanding of not only the political situation in Ethiopia that existed at the time but were also well informed about the global political and ideological situations.
When observing the youth of today, the case seems like classic doom and gloom.
Many youngsters today are more interested in memorising the names of western celebrities than learning about basic political issues in the country.
In the upcoming elections, some of the youngsters have registered to vote, yet do not know who they are going to vote for or why they are going to vote.
As a nation, the responsibility of grooming the youth for any responsibility that they might encounter lies in the hands of each family’s politically savvy elder, which seems to be lacking.
The purpose of this editorial is not to argue that every youngster should be a politician; however, the lack of knowledge of some of the fundamentals of the country’s politics is not something to be proud of.
The ignominy of it is that the young elite of a country currently in an election season should not be ill-informed on the ABCs of the nation’s politics.
Does this mean that the young voter who is going to cast his vote on May 23, 2010, and the ones that are going to reach their voting age and vote in the elections to come are going to take it as some form of amusement?
Elections have become a formal procedure, the formal procedure of going to the ballot, and that is what it has transformed into, a formality, though a much coveted one.
Moreover, in a more metaphoric manner, an electoral process by its very nature is also like show business. If the show turns out to be boring, the audience will leave that hall and make a mockery of the whole process. It all depends on who is doing the performance and how they are doing it.
When President Barack Obama was campaigning in the 2008 US National Elections, one of his primary focuses was on acquiring the votes of the youth and first time voters.
The actions he took at the time had some of his critics disparage the approach. To the disappointment of his critics, the path he took paid off.
With his motto of change chiming in the ears of the young and old and pungently inspiring the youth of the United States, he undoubtedly set a standard on election campaigning and how to attract potential voters.
Now it is the time in Ethiopian election politics to see whether the lessons have been learned or skipped.
Are Ethiopian youths just part of the rhetoric? Are they even included in the rhetoric?
Admittedly, what could and, perhaps, could not happen during this election is being considered as some of the major political developments to watch out for in Ethiopia in the years to come.
Apparent to the target that ought to have been set, the level of political participation of the youth in the nation’s politics is disturbing. Their lack of fundamental knowledge on the politics of the country can be labelled as feeble.
With the Revolutionary Democrats who are less than a month away from celebrating their 19th anniversary since taking over power, there are also voters of the same age who are a clean slate when it comes to Ethiopian Politics 101.
However, going back in time to take a look at the 19-year old Meles Zenawi and what his political erudition could be and compare it with some of his ardent admirers, that are eligible first time voters, the difference will to a large extent visible.
Maybe the generation that groomed his generation did a better job than the Revolutionary Democrats are doing with the youth of today.
Hoping for change in the youth seems like trying to walk on clouds. Although hardly anyone seems to quantify what sort of change is needed, or expected, it is obvious that it is in short supply.
How prepared and willing the leaders of the Revolutionary Democrats and opposition leaders are to respond to this desire, observed within and without, is anyone’s guess.
Nonetheless, the decision they are bound to make will undoubtedly have a major impact inside and outside their sphere of influence.
Though it was not part of their campaigning, the incumbent in this aspect has been reaching out to lower-class youth through micro and small enterprises (MSEs), for about 10 years but the opposition has not done much in this regard.
Whether it is just sheer propaganda performed by the incumbent or not is also yet to be seen. Maybe the incumbent expects to be paid back for the work that it has done by the votes of the people for whom jobs have been created. If the attention wanes after winning the election, it might all have been a long and expensive propaganda exercise. If it stops after losing the election, it still may be a reflection of something that has been done as an informal give-and-take pact that has not been respected. Of course, it might also be a genuine development effort.
However, neither side has been reaching the middle and upper-class members of the new generation of voters. Targeted campaigns have rarely been seen, leaving an actual power to its own vices.
What has been so far may be considered a shoddy exercise of election campaign. Outside of the not-so-impressive televised debates and the A4-size photocopies of posters that have been posted on every wall and fence in all kebeles, it is hard to say that any party has engaged in serious campaigning. That may have to do with financing problems.
But that leaves the country with a major national election that witnessed little competition for the voters. And that has meant that millions of young people between the ages of 18 and 23 have been ignored by the parties although they reserve a significant power that could tip the balance this way or that. That will be one big defect that has been observed in election 2010.
Read more about THE EPRDF GENERATION! at Fortune