The Significance of PM Abiy’s Prosperity Party
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed makes 2019 TIME 100 list.
By creating the Prosperity Party out of the three of the four partners of the EPRDF, PM Abiy Ahmed has de facto ended a 31-year partnership that has ruled Ethiopia for 28 years. Even though the news has reached all corners of the globe, its significance has not been appreciated sufficiently, despite the fact that the TPLF, the overwhelmingly and disproportionately powerful member, has declined to be part of this new party. It may be that this was somehow expected, yet it does not make much sense politically. It seems more a gesture of resentment and wounded pride than a well-calculated political move. It goes without saying that much of the ugly ethnic politics we have found ourselves in today, the widespread human rights abuses, the imprisonments and torture of innumerable of our fellow citizens, the venality and corruption of the entire bureaucracy, the pervasive ethnic animus of the past 28 years are attributable, without compunction and in their entirety, to the TPLF. It would have made sense for the TPLF instead to join the new party if it wanted to somewhat spread the blame more evenly among its former coalition partners. By making a clean separation from its old partners, it will have to own the blame for all the ills Ethiopians have suffered under its regime. This refusal to be part of the new party can be interpreted as signifying that the TPLF stands as ever unrepentant and defiant.
What the TPLF’s refusal of joining the Prosperity Party suggests to me first is that it is constitutionally incapable of transcending ethnic politics. Ethnocentrism is embedded in its DNA; and no amount of Marxist/Leninist/Maoist ideology has been unable to mitigate its irredentist tendencies. It seems, in fact, that it has only re-enforced and solidified it. Secondly, having dominated overwhelmingly the EPRDF for the 29 of its 31-year existence, it has become incapable of considering itself as an equal partner of any coalition. Subordinating itself to the will of the other three partners would have amounted to a total abdication. Thirdly, barring the complete independence of Tigray as a separate country – which in effect would be a total disaster for the people of Tigray – by opting to remain separate, the TPLF appears to be planning for Tigray an autonomy with but a tenuous ties to the rest of the country that none of the other Killils enjoys. In reality, this appears to be the case already.
The Prosperity Party, moreover, is definitely signaling that it is no longer putting ethnicity at the core of its political agenda. As the term prosperity itself indicates, it entirely focuses on pulling Ethiopia out of poverty and onto the road of economic success. This means that not only ethnic politics will take a back seat, but also the party will be governed by political and economic pragmatism. If I may venture, the adoption of the term prosperity rather than being fortuitous, appears to have been inspired by, or at least reminiscent of Evangelicalism’s prosperity gospel.
I am sure that Dr. Abiy’s ideology of Medemer (unity) is intimately tied to his essentially pro-capitalism in economics. This would suggest that should he win the coming elections, it would most likely mitigate the stronger tendencies of Killils towards more autonomy, and promote more free-market policies and practices. These, however, need to be gleaned from the new party’s political program.
By instituting the Prosperity Party, PM Abiy is also transitioning from being part of an ethnic based party to a national or ideological party, becoming in the process one of the major ones. This, I believe, may lessen the danger of re-enacting the sham elections that were conducted by its former incarnation, the EPRDF. Absent the TPLF from key positions in the political machinery, there is perhaps a good chance that we may finalize truly fair and transparent elections. Hopefully, we shall no longer see those 100% wins!
Under the EPRDF, with the TPLF at its helm, or at least moving the chess pieces behind the curtain, opposition parties participation in the elections was allowed more for the benefit of the ruling coalition than a genuine exercise in democracy; as limited as this may have appeared. With the TPLF and its political apparatus gone, it is not unrealistic to believe that PM Abiy’s new party does not have an overwhelming chance of winning the elections; or better, it is not impossible, nor improbable that any of the opposition parties may have a fair chance of winning it.
What a Prosperity Party without the TPLF suggests is that it is not the Old Emperor in new cloths, but a brand new one, which still needs to acquaint us with its visions for a new Ethiopia. The TPLF is in fact doing a great service to PM Abiy’s party by not joining it. Because if it had, it would have been really the old emperor in new cloths. And no amount of propaganda, no amount of recrimination, retraction, renunciation and request for pardon would have changed anybody’s mind. The fact of the matter is that Ethiopians should be grateful that the TPLF refused to join the new party. Imagine if it had. It would have simply re-cycled its old tired ideology, it would have spread a dark cloud over Ethiopian politics, and its seeds of discord would have eventually burrowed their way again to the surface.
With all the uncertainties this new party may bring, I am certain that it is better off severing its ties with its previous partner. What we are looking forward is to see is its vision for a new Ethiopia, and how it plans to resolve the enormous problems facing us now. One advantage it has is that a person who is genuinely committed to furthering the welfare of all Ethiopians, and not, as some have hinted, the advantage of a particular ethnic group, leads it. And with his now elevated standing on the world stage, he can further Ethiopia’s agenda far more effectively.