By Mohamed Oladh

Ethiopia’s ruling coalition EPRDF’s latest efforts to expand the current political space can be seen as commendable, as the largest political Front in the nation, it failed to represent all Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities and Peoples while it confined itself to only four regional states that it deemed are worthy of its representation.

It is widely known that the current relationship between EPRDF and the five so-called ‘Aggaar Dirijitooch’ or ‘partner parties’ that represent the five periphery regions the center deliberately shuns are not that of true partners but rather a clientele one. It is a lope-sided relationship in which information and decisions flow in one direction only. It is not even sure if Ethiopia’s political space of the center is also made up of these parties, i.e: The Afar National Democratic Party (ANDP), the Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party (ESPDP), the Harari Hational League (HNL), The Benishangul Gumuz People’s Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF), and the Gambella People’s Democratic Movement (GPDM).

If the EPRDF is theretofore talking about expanding the political space, why not begin by giving a voice to those who are already in its coalition but who have no voice at all at the table?

It is the sad reality of ‘democracy’ in Ethiopia, (perhaps only in Ethiopia), that a Front that claims to include a subset of regional parties decides the fate of all other regions including those it keeps as ‘partner parties’ without their representatives present at the table. That is what happened during the latest political drama played out on the national TV by only four actors. The rest of the ‘partner parties’ were not even invited for the casting let alone pay a role.

It is an irony in and on itself that the EPRDF made a calculated and strategic decision more than 25 years ago that it’s Front will only represent what I dub as the ‘special four’ (Oromia, Amhara, SNNP, and Tigray Regions) and exclude all other Federal Member Regions (FMR) while still deciding on matters that will define their fate. For what it is worth, these core members have never tried to meaningfully ponder or revisit the merit of that crooked decision for over a quarter century.

But at every occasion when the question arises regarding the political inclusion of these ‘Achabchabi Killilooch’ or ‘spectator regions’, as their detractors often call them, the core conveniently finds an easily manufactured excuses. Some of these excuses are an insult to the intelligence and the aspirations of the people who are represented by these “partner parties’ but are deliberately kept on the sideline from the political process for centuries – past and present alike. Although one we cannot exhaust the laundry list of those excuses, some of them are absurd, and deserve a poke in the eye.

For instance, one of the most cited reasons for EPRDF to remain pseudo-national party is the fact that it represents ‘special four‘ agricultural regions and they don’t want to mix with organizations that represent regions that are predominantly pastoralists which in and itself is a thin-veiled ethnic stereotyping manufactured for the sole purpose of political discrimination.

The other reason to keep these ‘partner parties’ at bay is the supposed lack of ‘political maturity’ up to the point where they conflated the ineptitude and incompetency of a single ‘Aggaar Dirijit’ or “partner party’ with that of the political maturity and aspirations of an entire region. One perfect example in this regard is how EPRDF elites used the shortcomings of a single party to define the aspirations and maturity of the whole Ethiopian Somali people.

In contrast, and may be one more example of the many colored hypocrisies of the first degree by the ever-dominant TPLF, including its late leader and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, as well as the rest of the EPRDF, is when, by hook or by crook, they mustered everything they can under the sun in terms of political muscle to unify and pull together an array of ethnic parties with often conflicting political interests but only when and if doing so fitted their purpose and when and if they needed one strong party to represent the Southern Nations and Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) to rule over the rest.

The political bankruptcy of this arrangement of governing through proxy, which by extension looks like it was borrowed from the playbook of the previous regimes, has created layers and classes in terms of governance and participation in the national political affairs. The first class of the current political order is the ‘special four’, the second class is the ‘Aggaar Dirijitooch’ ‘partner parties’ representing ‘Tadaggi Killilooch’ or ‘developing regions’ and the lowest class is everybody else, opposition or otherwise.

To put this in to perspective, we all know the buzz the long-entrenched and highly anticipated EPRDF Executive Committee meetings have created. However, what all the political chatter class had missed about these deliberations is the fact that those 36 executive members and the four parties they represented were deliberating on issues that were make or break for the entire country while the rest of the Federal Member Regions (FMRs) were not even present at the table.

One of the most astonishing things about these core EPRDF members is their mentality and how they have always tried to have it both ways. When no one had cast a decisive vote for or against EPRDF in the majority of the FMRs and their wish to rule those FMRs by proxy is an indicative of this mentality. Or maybe the irony that 36 individuals who were representing the ‘special four’ regions were deciding for all of us regarding matters of national significance; whether or not these matters represent the rest of us is an emblematic of how the core EPRDF always tries to have its cake and eat it too.

If this core EPRDF is to do what it publicly promises to do in order to save the country from the worst and expand the political space, it is time it stops treating its ‘partner parties’ as if they don’t exist; it is also time it stops using them when it suits its agenda. It has to create a political space for those which are there, but are not practically there. The choice is stark; it is a choice between being a truly national Front that is open to all Nations, Nationalities and People’s of the country’s periphery or one that represents the interests of the ‘special four’ regions.

For the so-called ‘partner parties’, it is time to wake up to EPRDF’s trickery and either be real partner or chart an independent path and fully represent the interests of their respective constituencies. AS