Review of “A Tale of Two Elections”: A National Sprint that Forestalled a Deluge
By Abye Assefa
As the saying goes, “There is more than one way to skin a cat”. There is also more than one way to read: A Tale of Two Elections: A National Sprint that Forestalled a Deluge a book authored by Mr. Bereket Simon. However, in direct opposition to the maxim’s allusion to countless interpretation of the book, the author calls for a single perspective, which is essential to stop the imminent drawback of nauseating spins on its track. He insists on the imperative of an unambiguous perspective from the get go.
He does that by declaring that his assessment is not politically neutral and the main purpose of his work is to give account of the election(s) from the point of view of EPDRF. By affirming his political affiliation and personal views, he preempts the insidious predilection of petty squabbles of partisan politics and sets the stage for questions that matter the most. Whether the reader is sympathetic, hostile, or neutral towards EPDRF and its administration, it is impossible to dodge the issues that the author deems to be germane. This is a remarkable talent on the author’s part.
It releases the mind from frivolous debate and inspires intelligent discourse of grounded on solid subject matter.
Any meaningful and responsible reading either endorsing or rejecting the book has to come to terms with the author’s core contention first. And to that end, the priority would be to get hold of an appropriate angle of vision that captures his main line of reasoning. Luckily we do not have to look far for the proper angle. Bereket’s remarkable intellectual dexterity provides a coherent viewpoint through the general title of the book, which is the synthesis of two seemingly separate but intrinsically related dimensions. Firstly the title: A Tale of Two Elections highlights the political rivalries during the two election episodes, and secondly the subtitle: A National Sprint that Forestalled a Deluge underscores the structural context of the elections proper. The simultaneous appreciation of the processes of 2005/2010 elections and the underlying contextual ground offers the reader sophisticated approach that, on the one hand, situates the elections within global context and, on the other, assesses the global environment in terms of the specificity of Ethiopia. The twin spirit of the title warns the reader of the futility of segregating the elections from the context. Naturally, the author criticizes the opposition’s obsession with outdated doctrine of segregation and its logical “separate but equal” culmination simply because it makes the election(s) in Ethiopia wittingly subservient to the commands of Global Deities of Democracy.
Bereket has a rare gift of presenting alarming issues with satire and humor. By doing so he conveys profound conceptual paradigms and complex political dynamics with ease and clarity. He presents his case with persuasive authority by pointing out the political vassalage of the opposition to global power brokers. While the chronic childlike behaviors and reckless activities can be entertainingly hilarious, the long term consequences less so. The tragedy of self-centered and irresponsible priorities imperils communities, disparage collective honor, and consign citizens to second-class status.
Bereket clearly shows how winner-take-all mania of power-grabbing crusade separates the election process from its concrete context only to introduce an abstract democratic prototype that has nothing to do with Ethiopia whether in specific social-cultural setting or in overall global power relation.
Accordingly, he details the predicament of unconditional consent to outlandish ideals and the humiliation of outright pandering to hegemonic interest groups and organizations. He lays bare how shameless acquiescence fosters contempt for legal/constitutional provision, apathy toward intellectual curiosity, and impulsive political misuse. Bereket explains how the winner-takes-all rationale turns periodic elections into cycles of low-intensity warfare, and why it directly relinquishes all vestiges of sovereignty to global networks of domination. He lets the reader to wonder and decide for herself whether some politicians understand let alone promote the interest of the country and the aspirations of the peoples they claim to fight for.
Bereket’s claim is not limited to the criticism of opposition politicians’ distorted vision and erratic activities. His key point is not simply whether or not the opposition has a conceptual footing, but rather it is about what type of framework it adheres to in executing its political exploits. To that end, he spells out EPDRF’s vision and political platform with clarity so that the opposition’s perspective stands on its own without ambiguity. The distinctive strength of the book is highlighted by the subtitle A National Sprint that Forestalled a Deluge. It is the subtitle that confers consequentiality to the title. Not the other way around. Magnifying the title without any context is specifically the purview of opposition politicians.
As far as one can tell, without the subtitle’s contextual foundation, if left to its own devices, the title alone would be misleading. Without the subtitle, the election would be isolated from its contextual substance, only to be narrowly defined by the tale of the actual campaign. According to this understanding, the 2005 and 2010 elections are distinctly isolated from one another, each confined to its respective chain of events. A closer look however reveals that this distorted view does indeed have a contextual ground of its own, which is neoliberal in ideology and Eurocentric in spirit. Its premise is the denunciation of everything that is sustainable in resolve and homegrown in values.
In contrast, Bereket’s contextual underpinning introduced by the subtitle brings to light patterns that are prevalent in both elections. For instance, one of the most conspicuous patterns is the massing-effect that is chronic in the domain of the opposition. Like an army of moth attracted to an overhanging light, it does not take much for all kinds of political characters to pop up and form coalitions only to disintegrate once the election is over. This particular phenomenon is not an anomaly, but a bona fide trait of existential dependency on imported agenda and its sponsors. A sad spectacle that is symptomatic of the deluge that author warns the reader about.
Hence, unlike the formal portrayal delimited by the actual voting time-period, The sprint to forestall a deluge endows the election with substantive dimensions. It takes note of both the short-term race of the official election proper and the long-term sprint to deter the threat of an avalanche. While the time scope of the election proper is a discontinuous event of five-year cycle as in 2005 and 2010, the contextual ground is characterized by structural adjustment that is global in scope and by the actual form it assumes in Ethiopia. Accordingly, Bereket clearly sees the short term campaign of the election proper in terms of long-drawn strategy of steering the country in the systemic tempest. He rejects the self-inflicted dilemma of pitting western dynamism against African inertia, which is the absolute venerations of neoliberal global order and the total condemnation of everything Ethiopian as parochial chaos. Instead he insists in looking global transformations in their local manifestations, a perspective that takes into account the positional and material cultures in Ethiopia within the global nexus. Forestalling the deluge is nothing but synchronizing the change and transformation in Ethiopia in line with twenty first century global exigencies, which also means abandoning the dogmatic creed of the last two centuries. In the twenty first century the so-called cosmopolitan segment, which accepts its own subordination to the west, has ceded the driving seat to the rural population to steer the country to national dignity and regional collaboration.
Hence, in very fundamental respects the election is a contest between two antithetical visions. One subscribes to the saliency of the concrete condition in Ethiopia – agrarian, poor, black, African, matriarchal, in the global south etc. The other regards a surreal Ethiopia – cosmopolitan, race-free, universal, patriarchal, part of the global north etc. It is not by accident that Ana Gomez and the International Republican Political operative joined the opposition to formally legitimize their Ethiopian mimicry; a social specimen that is offensive to the honor and dignity of the actual peoples in Ethiopia. Hence, when looked at from the perspective of the subtitle, the election is fundamentally a contest between (1) sugar-coated hegemonic blueprints of deliverance headed to neoliberal sponsored structural adjustment, and (2) anti-hegemonic plan of action carefully navigating to relative safety across the fierce deluge of world-systemic chaos.
The subject matter of forestalling the deluge, articulated through the subtitle of the book, is another term of managing the harmful impulse of the so-called market system and its neoliberal worldview. Hence as far as the author is concerned, the election in Ethiopia, which is a deluge-averting process, should not be pigeonholed in either/or winner-take-all determinations. It should rather be appreciated as a thoughtful procedure governed by farsighted objectives. Protection from the satanic mill of the self-regulating market is a delicate matter that requires a contextual framework that is informed by well-thought-out democratic process. In that sense, the election is an indispensable vehicle involving the peoples, rural and urban alike, to common destiny. It is not a pass/fail test to be adjudicated by some bogus international body and benchmark.
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