“We Have to Pay With Blood”: Berhanu Nega’s Struggle for Relevance and Legitimacy (Part 2)

by the Strathink Editorial Team

Berhanu Nega came back to the United States on a mission—to re-energize a brittle and flagging organization breaking apart from Asmara to Washington, D.C. On January 31st, he gave a speech in Maryland to his followers. We look at Berhanu Nega through his own words. This is Part 2 in a three part series this week. We would love to hear from you.

Berhanu Nega’s speech to Ginbot 7 supporters in Maryland was intended to re-energize a dispirited organization that seems to have lost its way. The devastating setbacks in 2015 had left Ginbot 7 supporters frustrated with the leadership and confused about the direction of the organization.

For many, Eritrea and President Isayas Afewerki was a sticking point for a membership that, at the outset, did not support Eritrean independence. Moreover, Eritrea had waged war against the Ethiopian people. How could Ginbot 7 get in bed with the Eritrean President—an enemy of Ethiopia? Mr. Nega’s supporters needed something to grasp on to that would reinstate their faith in an organization that has so far failed to deliver anything to anyone at all. Would appropriating the recent events in Oromia offer hope to his members? Mr. Nega suggests that Ginbot 7 join and lead a broad based coalition that included people in Oromia. It is not, clear however, who these Oromos are and what they represent. Is it the OLF? Is it the OPC? And what about the national question?

As with the alliance with Eritrea, Ginbot 7 supporters are uncomfortable allying with movements that run counter to their overarching principles. Ginbot 7 rejects the ethnic federal system. Ginbot 7 rejects just about anything to do with ethnic or religious differences, calling them a “Trojan horse of doom and disintegration,” according to its stated core values and principles. In the short term, however, Mr. Nega had to offer his supporters some semblance of moving forward.

And this is where we start to have more questions about Berhanu Nega, Ginbot 7 and their strategy. But first let’s summarize what Mr. Nega says in this speech.

Mr. Nega says that the struggle is simple, not complicated. Their objective is to overthrow the [current] government and establish a democratic government. How? According to Mr. Nega, Ginbot 7, and presumably its allies, will go after the security apparatus and the army. They want to destroy EPRDF’s sources of financing. They want to create a broad based movement that will have the capacity to “fight on all these fronts.” He adds that they [Ginbot 7] need a modern organization to do this.

Berhanu Nega and Ginbot 7, including all of those members sitting in the audience, embrace violence as a means towards their end—overthrowing the current government. Berhanu Nega said in his speech, “Weyene cannot be defeated peacefully so we have to show power. We have no other choice. We have to pay with blood.”

But the opposition did have another choice. In 2005, having won almost a third of the seats in parliament, Berhanu Nega and his fellow party members could have accepted the mandate given to them by the voters. They could have taken on their responsibilities and worked within the system—not a perfect system—for change. If they had taken their seats in the parliament, their voices would have been heard by the people. And in 2010, if they had done the work of mobilizing their constituencies, there was the possibility of taking even more seats in the legislature. In democracies, change is incremental.

However, in a political culture ruled by all or nothing, if the opposition could not have a majority in the parliament, the opposition wouldn’t take their seats. Instead, they decided to overthrow the government through force. They have not changed direction since then.

Why would Berhanu Nega and his followers want to promote violence in a country that has suffered from the senseless bloodshed of the former military state? Berhanu Nega left Ethiopia to escape the violence of Red Terror but lost so many of his friends and family to the brutality and violence of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s.

What compels Mr. Nega, and the people living comfortably in Silver Spring, Maryland, to promote violence to a people weary from Red Terror, the subsequent brutality and even a two year war with Eritrea? Haven’t the Ethiopian people suffered enough from this kind of thinking?

What does Berhanu want? Civil war?

And what does armed struggle mean today in a country like Ethiopia. Berhanu says that Ginbot 7 must operate like a modern organization. The strategy he promotes, however, seems anachronistic. In the 1970s, the military had only to take the radio and television stations along with the airport in the capital city. What happens in the other regions? Is his army big enough to occupy every regional capital?

By the way, where is his army? How many soldiers are in this army? What kind of military equipment does this army have? How will this army defeat one of the strongest militaries in Africa? After all, the Ethiopian military trounced the Eritrean military in 2000. Is Ginbot 7’s army more powerful than Eritrea’s? Who is leading this army? Berhanu? What qualifications does he have to lead this army to victory? Is he more skilled than Ethiopia’s military leadership?

The strathink editorial team finds even typing these questions a ridiculous exercise.

How can Berhanu be so wrong about what is best for Ethiopia yet again? How can the people sitting in the audience in Silver Spring take any of this seriously? Berhanu closed his speech by saying, “We cannot pray to bring about change.” He added, “No one can be on the sideline; we cannot just talk, we have to be able to struggle.”   He chided the audience, “Not all of Ginbot 7 have to go, but everyone has to participate.” How? Will the revolution take place on Twitter? Will there be a war on Facebook? What will the diaspora do to promote armed struggle in Ethiopia?

Visit us on Sunday, February 14, 2016, for Part 3 of this series on Berhanu Nega and the future of Ginbot 7. In the next installment, we talk about Mr. Nega’s vision for Ethiopia. In the meantime, let us know what you think.

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