Compassionate Revolutionary Democracy

Oct 5 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele

The coming months and the year 2020 will be hosting a large number of national elections all over the world. To just mention a few notable ones, Canada is going through one right now. It is highly likely that the Brexit conundrum will lead to a British election soon. The big one the world talks about is the US election at the tail end of the coming year. Closer to home and most important to those of us who live in this part of the woods, of course, is the coming Ethiopian election 2020.

National elections have different characters in different countries. The US election campaigns are, for instance, known for being long, contentious and expensive. Very expensive. Canada’s, on the other hand, are known for being short and relatively civil.

Here in Ethiopia, elections have not been held regularly and freely on a national scale for long enough to form a tradition or recognisable characteristic to speak of.

However, there is no doubt the election this time may be held in a unique political environment. At the very least, it is the first time since the controversially concluded 2005 elections that political parties can contest an election where they are relatively free to campaign without fear of government intimidation.

The media environment is a whole new world. There are over 30 television stations and around 28 radio stations now compared to the handful before. And the big difference is that a lot of them are privately owned now, unlike the previous government monopoly.

Almost all opposition politicians that were in jail have been freed, and the exiled have been allowed to return. Political parties previously categorised as terrorist organisations and banned in the country are free to campaign this time.

Considering all these enabling environments and the little time remaining before the election date, one would think the country will be on the brink of an election campaign by now. Think again. There is very little observable campaigning activity. With one exception. The Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) seems to be in full election mode. His recent interview with Meaza Birru of Sheger Radio has been a hit. He was effective in showing his personal side and explained his beliefs and worldview on a show that has a wide audience. More importantly, he also announced that his book explaining his governing philosophy- medemer- will be published soon.

Publishing a book and using it as a vehicle for campaigning may not be the norm here, but it is becoming standard practice elsewhere. It is an effective way to disseminate one’s election platform to opinion-makers before taking it to the general public. Indeed, there seem to be such discussions about the book in particular and medemerin general.

Careful observation and reading of recent statements and interviews of the Prime Minister as well as members of his administration can give several clues to what his campaign strategy might be.

My understanding is that instead of rejecting and running from the last EPRDF platform – Revolutionary Democracy – it is actually owning up to it, accepting and taking credit for the successes and reforming the failures. In other words, reform not revolution.

He seems to want to take the commanding height of the middle ground in between the highly polarised political forces in Ethiopia. He is seeking to build a more inclusive political coalition that could take votes from all sections of society in all corners of the country.

Whether this experiment will work in this polarised society and in a governance system that is designed more to recognise differences than to forge unity remains to be seen. But unlike the slumbering opposition, he is out campaigning. Kudos to him.

In the 2000 US election, then-candidate George W. Bush explained his governing philosophy as "compassionate conservatism". It was an attempt to put a little bit of compassion into the hardness of conservatism that was turning off some voters. Medemerand Abiy’s moves remind me of that. He is trying to bring in some deft humane touch to the rough and sharp edges of Revolutionary Democracy. Welcome  to "Compassionate Revolutionary Democracy".

PUBLISHED ON Oct 05,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1014]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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