Ethiopia PM resignation big lesson for Uganda

On February 15, 2018, Uganda’s main political parties discussed the theme ‘The embattled continent: Crisis of political transition in Africa’ at a seminar organized by Makerere University’s political science students.

I represented the FDC president, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, on a panel that included DP president general Norbert Mao and a commissioner from the National Guidance directorate who represented NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba. Yes, the NRM was represented by a civil servant, something Mao amplified to his discomfort.

Fate has its own course, because even the organizers couldn’t have predicted that Jacob Zuma would be used as an illustration at this seminar, also attended by Kyambogo and Nkumba university students.

Zuma, who had just resigned as South African president, competed for mention at the seminar with Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who almost simultaneously announced his resignation that same day. The two leaders of very powerful African states were forced to resign by different circumstances.

While Zuma’s resignation is something almost everybody expected, especially in the last days, the one of Desalegn was a shocker. A shocker because Ethiopia is a police state and citizens have for long been at the mercy of rulers.

I have visited Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa a number of times and I can only compare it with Kigali. Very promising infrastructural development and efficient government machinery, but no liberty almost at all.

How did these subjugated souls, trampled upon for decades, rise up to force a powerful prime minister to resign? I think Ethiopia is now a very good destination for benchmarking by the Ugandan opposition.

South Africa offers only statistical value because the conditions there are completely different from ours. The African National Congress (ANC), President Jacob Zuma’s political party, is not or has not been turned into someone’s political enterprise; the judiciary is independent and attempts to turn the state into the president’s private company have failed.

The judiciary indicted a sitting president, thereby helping an equally-powerful ruling political party to tip him away. Both these factors are lacking in Uganda. Here, the words government and NRM mean Yoweri Museveni. The government is like his personal company and NRM his clan. The judiciary and parliament have also been co-opted. Therefore, it is Ethiopia that should offer us some hope.

That is why our focus as a country should be Ethiopia that has the same ingredients like Uganda’s. They have a revolutionary government that keeps a very tight grip on power and a ruling elite from a small ethnic group called Tigray. This small ethnic group constitutes just six per cent of the whole Ethiopian population estimated at about 85 million. The small ethnic group fought a guerrilla war and removed Col Haile Mariam Mengistu.

That is why the protests that have eventually forced the prime minister to resign began in Oromia region whose (Oromo) people constitute 34.4 per cent of the population and has spread to Amhara who constitute 27 per cent of Ethiopia’s population.

I don’t believe in majority ethnic groups dominating others like the Kikuyu have done in Kenya, but I also hate a minority group imposing itself on the rest for a long time. That is why transparent periodic elections are important. Ethiopia is, therefore, a big lesson to our revolutionary leaders who led a guerrilla war and removed a government.

Another important factor is that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had just won elections in 2015. It won 500 seats out of 547. The NRM here has 300 seats in a parliament of 455. Like in Ethiopia, most of the remaining seats are held by NRM allies like the army and independents.

Therefore, use of the state security apparatus and money to win elections is no insurance. That is what NRM must learn.

The BBC noted in an analysis that nothing sparked off riots in Ethiopia that have claimed more than 400 lives so far. It was accumulation of years of frustration from ethnic groups that are marginalized. The Ethiopian wave may come and pass like the Arab Spring did, but I am convinced the wave that will finally uproot this ruling kifeesi is about to happen.

Happen because even when you look at statistics, Africa is getting at least five new leaders every year. We are hardly two months into 2018 and already three leaders have left power in South Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia, circumstances of their departure notwithstanding.

Last year, there was change of leaders in Angola, Gambia, Lesotho, Somalia and Zimbabwe. And in 2016, new leaders took over the state mantle in Benin, the Comoros and Sao Tome and Principe. In 2015, there was change in leadership in Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia.

Even on the basis of statistics, the writing is on the wall. Those who think removal of age limits will necessarily guarantee Museveni many more years might be mistaken. The man is going; but my fear is that he may go down with our country.


The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd