Abadula Gemeda: Man of Straw or Man of the World or No Exception to the Legacy?

By Mengistu Assefa (Dr.)

After a week of bewildering assumptions and theories by politicians and media outlets as to why Obbo Abadula Gemeda resigned as Speaker of the lower house of parliament, on Saturday October 14, 2017 he came out on a state-run television Oromia Broadcasting Network and made his reasons clear why he decided to quit the post. In comments carried by the Network Abadula said he was dissatisfied with the EPRDF`s treatment of Oromo people. He said “I resigned because my people and party were disrespected. However, I will struggle to bring the necessary respect and do the best I can for the Oromo people to (re)gain their rights”.

I have to admit how tremendous the reactions this new development in EPRDF drew are as they are well deserved. I have seen comments and analyses from multiple sides of political interest groups and various media outlets. Some say it is nothing more than a puppet with fake name and identity holding a symbolic representation kicked out and put to garbage by his masters when he sought to breath on his own. Others saw it as a rare heroic move in a march to stand by side and redeem the oppressed Oromo nation.

Abadula`s own words and facial appearance on the television resonate the later. But what really happened? What is going on in EPRDF? Is the institutionalized Oromo nationalism going to take a tipping point against its oppressors (of all kind) in the face of all odds? Are we finally going to see the youth generation who were buried by the state brutality in the last couple of years really grow alive (in Abadula) as they were seeds of liberty, equality and social justice? Do we have to take Abadula for whatever he says anyway? Or are we doing it already?

I argue that both above cases hold some weight and yet miss the essential long track record of Obbo Abadula`s military and public service implications.  The first case which presents his resignation as a forced removal by his masters (viz TPLF) misses the important point that Abadula is nothing like puppet political material; rather a feared reformist nationalist whom even the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi didn’t say or take anything against. He brought him to higher federal office to make him lose close contact with and grip on the fearsome Oromo nationalism (the reformist nationalism which was crafted on the promise that Abadula made to the youth to build and maintain Oromo interest politically, economically and legally in the Ethiopian federal polity). 

He was an army general who served at various levels and ranks of operations and fields in the military. He was defense minister and later Oromia National Regional State president. His Oromo reformist nationalism with Ethiopian patriotism which is an experiment in the making in Ethiopian quasi ethnic federalism is both troubling and essential to the political strategy of EPRDF. His strongman stance gave him a nickname “bulldozer”. 

Given this all long track record of Obbo Abadula Gemeda, it is difficult to make a bold conclusion that he is just a balloon seeking to breath on its own in the hands of its inflators. The second category of reaction is a colorful one, at least temporarily. It`s a view held by the majority of Oromo intellectuals, political personalities and (‘conventional and social’) media analysts. It is a view that hails Abadula as die hard man of the world for the historic Oromo struggle born out of the years-long discontentment with the usual transaction he had been making within the EPRDF and the pressing issue of the popular and unquenchable Oromo Protest which swept the nation to which state brutality was the only way the federal government responded only to claim the lives of above 1000 people and forced the government to impose the notorious ten month long state of emergency which resulted in imprisonment of nearly 30000 people.  

The recent development of border clash between Oromia and Ethiopian Somali regional states (which some claim that the federal government systematically recruited funded, trained, armed and deployed the infamous Somali Liyu Police to weaken the Oromo Protest) made Abadula (seemed) genuinely dissatisfied with how his people are treated by the federal government and how his party is undermined with regard to the existing and unescapable challenges begging only for a proper response. The proponents of Abadula`s heroic answer for longstanding call from the Qarree & Qeerroo and Qubee Generation take this for face value and go beyond with their political ambitions. I think this has to be dealt with, with the seriousness it deserves as it has a more serious damage with far reaching consequences. Here is why I say this. 

First off, it is too early to comment in such a way that the EPRDF veteran politician jumped out of his post and joined the youth for struggle for human and democratic rights and social justice. I am not saying it is impossible. I am saying let us wait and see what he really meant by disrespect particularly. Let us also hear what the EPRDF would say on the matter of the new tension as Abadula is their precious pal after all. 

Second, this latter view which is cleansing Abadula from all his sins and canonizing him into the bunch of torchbearers of liberty and justice who walked the talk of resistance against injustice. This is the big win for EPRDF as it critically helps it to hijack (forge and fake it to be its cause) the existing resistance to which the regime is pathologically incapable of providing the proper justice and democratization as well as prosperity the people are demanding. This brings me to the final part where I propose three interrelated possible reasons why Abadula might have done what he did.

  1. Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) has lost its organizational vitality and popular legitimacy which enable it to bring the justice, socioeconomic development and benefits thereof for the people it represents. The Oromo people especially the youth feel that OPDO has traded the dignity, resources and cultural pride of its people for the suckers. It is considered as a weak, callous irredeemable mafia agent inept to do any good, whose best brings decapitation of Oromo struggle. This view is severely damaging to a political party as anyone can make out.  In order to bring the “lost” organizational vitality and fractured promise of popular legitimacy back to the minds and hearts of Oromo youth, OPDO has to revitalize itself and reclaim its legitimacy as well as repair the fractured promise of democratization and self-determination fueled by and built on Oromummaa and Sabboonummaa (the central tenets of Oromo Nationalism) as per their stipulation of “change from within”. Abadula`s own words taken literally can systematically reverse the malice, bring salvation from its founder and put lipstick on the nose of a pig. This is the way OPDO can fake restoring the respect it deserves and struggling for the rights of Oromo. It is the only way OPDO can continue as a political party and coalition member in EPRDF with no fundamental change in its essential stance. If not, it has to either cut the knot and let the people go or divorce EPRDF and live and die for the people it claims it represents. When I see activists who are hardline critics of OPDO patronizing Abadula Gemeda, I think he is doing great in fulfilling the redemption of OPDO`s failure by atoning himself from the deliberate crimes he has been doing in the last 26 years. For the record, he left a position, an obscure and powerless one in Ethiopian not membership of the House nor Central Committee of OPDO.
  2. The current civil resistance is a serious existential threat to the regime. It couldn’t be quenched no matter how heavy-handed the state brutality is or how much deaf the ears of international communities on the matter are, especially the USA and UK governments. OPDO has recruited tech-savvy and rhetoric masters as its new leaders. These leaders at times go beyond limit and claim to be leaders of the ongoing resistance. They use languages which convey huge meaning in the Qeerroo`s psyche and hence tell the youth that they are not alone. Who are these people? Who elected them to the office? Did they answer the call from Qubee Generation? Or they have been and are in the security operatives of the federal government? For what it is worth, They are Abadula`s protégés for technocratization of the party leadership and state system The matter is a public secret. This new leadership coupled with Abadula`s appealing resignation will wrongly buy some trust of the youth and consequently hijacking the current resistance would be made easy. 
  3. Abadula`s resignation is a double-edged sword. He will use his resignation as EPRDF`s metekakat policy to join the comrades on the back bench and still controls the country`s political, economic and security affairs. This will hijack the resistance, dims the cause and annuls the price paid for freedom and liberty so far while it also salvages the lost credibility of EPRDF. 

I am well aware that my arguments could be woefully ignorant and Abadulas resignation might be as sincere as he and his proponents claim. I just found it reasonable that given his long track record of military and public office service filled with wrong choices and bad decisions, his remaining in the parliament with no member of opposition political party and his decision to serve in the OPDO Central Committee didn’t serve the truth he said to be the cause of his resignation. Because the disrespect he didn’t specify was his original sin in the first place. The extrajudicial mass shooting, torture and incarceration, federal police and military deployment to crush the peaceful resistance, absence of nonpartisan neutral investigation into the killings and tortures didn’t start yesterday when OPDO tries hard to revitalize its nonexistent vitality and reclaim its eternally fractured political legitimacy. Rather the disrespect was birthed with OPDOs inception and its ever since perpetual subjugation with Abadula being its author and publisher. 

The day has long passed when a veteran politician whose coalition party (EPRDF) gasping for the last breath on the edge of its political decomposition trying to appeal to us and win the game, same old game again. It is too little and too late to expect us to be moved by the mantra it ranted to insult us. It is a sunset diplomacy. 

Therefore, I argue that Abadula is neither “the man of straw” who is set up by his masters for this questionable transaction nor “the man of the world” who will use his worldly wisdom and political expertise to finally stand by us and craft and embody the slogans of our pens and mouths and moans of our hearts. He is rather just not the exceptional to the legacy of veteran politicians of this regime who are well known for their empty promises in the name of reform and deepen reform when their action actually is metekakat in disguise. If the case of Abadula is exceptional in anyway, it is smarter one.


Dr. Mengistu Assefa is an intern in dental surgery at Mekelle University College of Health Sciences Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital. He can be reached at servezking@gmail.com
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