By Ayenew Haileselassie
I’m the Third Way, the Truth and the Life
Guests invited to the Intercontinental Addis Hotel, at the heart of good old Kazanchis, for a book launch were asked if they wanted to pay 40 Br more on top of the cover price. The prize? Author Lidetu Ayalew, would autograph his new book, “Medelot,” literally translated “Scale,” as some of us learned after a few telephone calls.
That surely is a piece of news. For those who were not there. It is no ordinary book, at least for the author, a young politician of 40, single and bruised from his controversial role during the last national elections.
The book left nothing uncovered, and if he had it his way, everyone, the Revolutionary Democrats, the opposition, and the public, would all buy into it, and he would finally be recognised as the pundit who showed the way – “the third way” – that led Ethiopia out of poverty and ethnic tension to freedom, respect and capitalism.
He claims he wrote the book because someone had to stand by the truth, and he felt that now was the perfect time to publish it compared with 2005, because the May election was coming up on everybody before the weaknesses of the ruling party, the opposition and the people were properly dissected and discussed. He also thinks that he is the right person to do it because he is a man free from populism and that whatever politically muddy rumours that can be said of him have already been said and he neither expects nor fears any more of it.
Then he starts making several points, supported by weak arguments sometimes, including a few funny points such as an elaboration on why Atse Yohannes and Emperor Menelik were not democrats, although he is using that as part of his argument to defend the geography and 3,000-year old history of Ethiopia.
Standing first for the rights of the individual, instead of groups such as ethnic groups, he disapproves of the constitution that begins with, “We, the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia.” The evidence he brings about to strengthen this point is the American constitution, which begins with “We the people of these United States.” At which point he contends with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF’s) argument for state ownership of land, one of his strong arguments is that since farmers killed one another to protect the boundaries of their farmlands, it would follow that they would also not easily sell their land. Of course he is not advocating complete privatisation, but to explore the various options of land ownership. He also believes that Ethiopia might be the only country in the world where each party hated the other so much.
A simple pause while he formed his opinions could have shown him better. The officials of the United Kingdom encouraged individuals to settle in America with the promise of large amounts of land. The United States is made up of individual men and their wives who battled nature and American Indians to settle. Lidetu should have been aware that the ethnic base was lost when the invading Caucasians nearly annihilated the Indians.
What relationship is there between a farmer choosing to kill the neighbour who infringes on his property and the possibility that he will sell his land and move off the moment he gets the chance? Lidetu points out the confusion in those elements of the constitution that make land national property (where any decisions related to it have to be agreed up on by all regional states) while at the same time the right to secede is left to concerned individual ethnic group. He chose to appear lost in the book, where he should have argued strongly.
As far as his point about Ethiopia being the only country where parties hate each other so much, he should go no further than following the current news.
The content of his book reveals another secret. The man who believes he has the only way that works for Ethiopia, the third way or liberal democracy, does not bother to surround himself with learned advisors. In Lidetu’s Ethiopia there would at least be one major difference. Joseph Stiglitz would give way to Jeffrey Sachs, whose book, “The End of Poverty,” has practically been Lidetu’s sole reference in discussing the economic strategy that would give Ethiopia sustainable development.
His faith in his own opinions is such that he repeated a number of times that other opposition parties were beginning to support ideas that he originally championed. The man who discussed democratic issues in relation to the old kings of Ethiopia, argues that the 19 years of EPRDF rule are too soon for democracy. He urges opposition parties to be patient; democracy does not happen in the blink of an eye.
“Opposition political parties found in Ethiopia,” he admonished, “must curb their emotional wish to see Ethiopia flooded with democracy at once, as if democracy were something that drops from the sky like manna.”
He has been very unkind to the opposition parties. They do not have any ideology, they are part-timers, cowards, and worst of all, none of them represent this generation – the last in reference to the incumbent, as well. Beyene Petros, the only politician that has been identified by name and mercilessly attacked, is described as a dangerous person who has to be considered separately as a problem because he has to date led six coalitions and brought none to any kind of success, and yet continues to crave for more power.
He has been more lenient on the incumbent. He has appreciated all that the EPRDF has done in achieving economic development for so many consecutive years.
“The strength of the EPRDF leadership is unrivalled since modern and organised political movement began in our country,” he wrote.
And the Ethiopian people? Maybe it will take 30 years for them to become mature enough for a democratic process. His shorter estimate is 15 years, a time when most Ethiopians will have become educated. That is something to tell your potential voters in the middle of an election. He should be glad that the kind of private media that was around in 2005 is not here today. Maybe Lidetu has used the cover of telling the truth to bring the opposition parties down with him. It feels that there is still a lot of bad blood. After all, the opposition party leaders had ganged up against him and told diplomats that they would not talk to them if Lidetu was present.
Maybe Lidetu’s attempt to emulate the American president, who has paired authorship and political leadership successfully, has fallen far too short. His attempt to produce a treatise on social, economic and political situations in Ethiopia may also have been tarnished by poor arguments in several places. But the book certainly speaks truthfully when it denounces the performance of opposition political parties (largely focused on bringing down the EPRDF based on a politics of hate) and popular sentiments towards democracy and election. But the entire book seems largely to root for the EPRDF, even more than it did for Lidetu and his party, and this writer, at least, finished the book with an increased feeling of confusion as to Lidetu’s intentions.
As he indicated at the very beginning of his book, “If the world goes against the truth, then Athanasius goes against the world,” and against the world he surely has been. The fourth century Egyptian saint, apparently, is Lidetu’s second hero, following Barack Obama, one representing truth and the other change. And this young politician, who has been a dominant opposition figure, is not so sure of the repercussions, despite his brash confidence, resulting from elements of truth badly told. So, he is not taking his chances too far. This time he will surely run in the election but, finally, will leave Addis Abeba for the remote village of Bugna in Wello where he hopes to fare well.