The opposition movement in Ethiopia and the repressive Meles regime are entering a somewhat unchartered, but predictable, political territory in respect to how things unfold in the coming election cycle. It is evident that the EPRDF is faced with a challenge of having to see beyond Meles Zenawi, sooner or later. The tactical vows by the dictator that he prefers leaving office sooner, although a white lie which would definitely repeat for one more round in 2015, has inevitably sent tremor and the vying for control in the political, military, and intelligence sectors of the regime, who out of existential needs, look beyond what the political scene would look like in Meles’s absence.
What complicates the political scene from the perspective of Meles is the appearance of Siye Abraha and former EPRDF and TPLF (and to some extent Negasso Gidada and the others) into the political arena. Recently, ever since Siye’s release and his sly ascendance into the political scene by building his credibility in a shy but sure way, has caused a creepy fear in the heart of Meles Zenawi. Siye is not just a person in the EPRDF circle. He is an idea as well. He is still respected by the military and intelligence circle and now that Meles has become a politically expendable commodity, the intelligence and military circles of the TPLF/EPRDF are finding comfort that even the opposition would not be that bad if former TPLF/EPRDF members come into it. This tiny, but growing, germ of idea in the TPLF/EPRDF psyche is being observed by Meles and his attack of the army generals and officials was a clear lesson intended to send a message to the TPLF tagayoch and officers more than any of its collateral targets like Ginbot 7 and others. Meles looks into a future not as sure as his past and he does not want the military and intelligence people to take Siye and his movement as an alternative. Moreover, one cannot deny that time by itself begets change.
What is Meles doing to counter this?
1. Terrorizing the Military, the Intelligence, and the scapegoat Ginbot 7 - The first act is that Meles knows that he is left with no other choice than sending a tremor of terror in the army to let them know if any of them attempt to topple him in collaboration with Siye and the growing number of disaffected TPLF members, their end would be like those generals and officers condemned to death and life imprisonment. The potential followers of Siye understand that Meles has lost steam and that they need to take him as a sacrificial lamb in order to bridge themselves with the people. Meles believes that the discontent in the military and the intelligence units coupled with the growing understanding that they would naturally plan for an alternative to fill the vacuum if they do not like the transition “after Meles is out,” should be silenced by fear. That is what the “coup-turned-assassination-turned-Ginbot 7” terror is all about. The attack on the military is to intimidate the army and the intelligence that if they think anything differently, that would be their fate. Do not ever think of toppling me with Siye and the others is his message.
2. Hailu Shawel - The second phenomena of the Siye Factor is Hailu Shawel. Why did Meles need Hailu Shawel? Wasn’t Hailu the leader of the “neftegna-Derg” cult? Why did the “saintly and puritan” leader Meles fell in love with Hailu Shawel? The answer is very simple. One idea is that it is always good to have those who think ill of you as neutralized as possible to sway them out of their comfort zone of opposing. (Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!) But the other deep calculation for Meles is that the next threat is not the “neftegna-Derg” cult but the “ethno-centric Tigrian” and Oromo gang, which would have some challenge for the election of 2010. The next election cycle, EPRDF is going to sing the mantra of “MEDREK is going to disintegrate the country!” Meles would have wear the Emama Ethiopia t-shirt with the poster child Hailu Shawel by his side in a bid to attack Siye, Negasso, Bulcha, as Oromo and Tigrean ethno-centrists that have to be fought to “save Emama Ethiopia.” Recently, the former Air Force chief was the target of Meles’s extensive, but boring, narration that the former chief is also coming into the playing field suffocating Meles’s paranoid mind. Now the story is that the counter-intelligence against the non-Adwan TPLF members inside the military and army is tightening as Meles considers them, in the words of one insider, as “unpredictable.” Regardless of its sincerity, the severest accusation by Siye and friends is that Meles is a sell out who abandoned Assab and played too closely with Eritrea thereby harming the country. Thus, when these enemies ascend on the public ladder, it would help to have Hailu Shawel under your belts, won’t it? The ex-TPLFits are gathering steam and the fact that they had been on the victim side of the field makes them attractive and acceptable in the scheme of thoughts that is weaving in the minds of the military and intelligence people of the country.
3. Eritrea the Red Herring – Meles desperately needs Isayas (which could be mutual affection.) Both need each other as each other’s red herring, a way of distracting their unsuspecting citizens from their problems. More importantly, Meles needs Isayaas because he is always a threat to the ordinary Tigrian and that way Meles would take Tigrians as hostage. It is not that Isayas is that much strong that he cannot be toppled. As long as he is not strong enough to do serious harm, Meles enjoys the “No War, No Peace” status since if Isayas is not there, Meles’s would not be seen as the protector of the Tigrian people. Meles needs a controlled antagonism with Isayas and the non-Tigrian population in order to keep his base of Tigray begging for him. So when one hears of a flare up of clashes with Eritrea, the central message is to terrorize Tigrians in order that they would be keen on supporting Meles during the election or some uncertain seasons. The game would keep on.
4. Meles needs Eritreans and Adwans more: Why? Because Adwans are the closest to his military and intelligence muscle, led by Mulugeta Alemseged. But Eritrean-blooded allies are crucial for Meles’s survival because they do not have any constituency to in the even they plan of doing away with Meles. Imagine an Eritrean thinking to topple Meles – then what?
5. Birtukan Midekssa - The other Siye Factor, as eloquently put by the chief editor of Addis Neger, is Birtukan’s unfortunate fate. She being the symbol of justice for Siye and the potential of her appeal to the wider Ethiopian population, it is advantageous to eliminate her from the equation so that Siye would not validate himself and make use of her strength to make inroads into the hinter-hearts of the people. Hence, the fact that Meles believes that Siye is a real danger with all the reasons to see him bunker is defining the politics in an undeniable way.
6. Sentimental Massaging – Siye and his supporters believe that they have the “hearts and minds” of Tigreans and Meles is trying to compete for “I am holier than thou” prize. Recently, he talked of the “idiocy” of an American diplomat, not out of rationality or righteous indignation, but for the domestic consumption that he is more Tigrean than Siye and the others. This is another attempt by Meles that he is feeling threatened by the Siye Factor and the gathering storm that would be well programmed and executed by his former comrades in arms but his bitter enemies who are lying low awaiting and “making the war itself”. May you live in interesting times! You have not seen one like this yet!