“Challenges of transition, Ethiopia’s reform process: Current dynamics, future opportunities and risks”
Your Excellency Mme Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the invitation you extended to me to participate in this important Conference and speak during this Opening Session.
Thank you Madame President for your kind remarks about me. Similarly, I would like to thank our Moderator for his generous comments as he asked me to speak.
As many of you present here know, I have said this on a number of occasions that this country, Ethiopia, occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of many of us who grew up in the ranks of the leading South African liberation movement, the African National Congress.
This means that as we got involved in struggle as fighters for liberation, part of what gave us direction and inspiration was the fact that Ethiopia stood out as a lodestar – a beacon which told us both what we had to achieve, told us that we had to make sacrifices to attain our goal, and reassured us that victory was certain!
I am therefore saying that as we engaged in an historic struggle to defeat the apartheid regime, Ethiopia stood out as one of our sources of inspiration which strengthened our resolve to ensure that our national democratic revolution emerged victorious.
When I heard that you, our fellow Africans, would meet to address the challenge of transition in this country, I was very keenly interested to sit among you even as a fly on the wall to listen to what you would say as you addressed the important issue of political transition in Ethiopia.
I was therefore very pleased when the organisers of this important Conference spoke to me about my possible attendance because, as I have said, I had already adopted the view that I would indeed be very honoured to be present as a humble guest at this Conference.
In this context allow me to make a public confession.
That confession is that as I have tried to follow the evolution of this Federal Democratic Republic especially in the last few years, I have been greatly concerned that this Ethiopian Republic must successfully address the various and seemingly obvious challenges which would help to ensure that, among other things, Ethiopia continues to maintain its historic place as Africa’s exemplar of independence and the exercise of the unfettered right to self-determination.
There are a number of instances in the development of Ethiopia which became fixed in my mind as important moments of very direct interest to the rest of us, your fellow Africans, as we addressed our own development challenges.
In this regard you will not be surprised that I mention the historic 1896 Victory at the Battle of Adwa with its heroes and heroines such as Emperor Menelik, Ras Alula, Empress Taitu and others.
What has stuck in my mind about the Victory at the Battle of Adwa, and of strategic importance to all of us as Africans, was that:
- the peoples of the African Ethiopian empire had united to defeat what had become a generalised European imperialist and colonialist offensive to subjugate the African continent;
- the people of Ethiopia had therefore communicated the practical message to all their African brothers and sisters that it was both possible and necessary to defeat the European Scramble for Africa by acting in unity; and,
- it was absolutely necessary that to achieve this victory all of us, Africans, needed patriotic leadership collectives which would do the necessary detailed planning and implementation focused on securing victory in the struggle to defend Africa’s independence.
One consequence of all this, as I have said before, is that one of the results for us South Africans of the posture which Ethiopia assumed in the 19th century, in the face of the disastrous colonial scramble for Africa, is that the very first founder of our liberation movement, and therefore the ANC, was the independent African church which called itself the Ethiopian Church!
In addition, the colonial power in South Africa, at the beginning of the 20th century, forced to accept the role and place of independent Ethiopia on our Continent, classified the African liberation nationalism which the ANC and other fighters in Africa espoused as ‘Ethiopianism’!
Our liberation leaders, then, were very happy to be called representatives of ‘Ethiopianism’, precisely because they fully accepted that independent Ethiopia stood out exactly as the exemplar and inspiration of the protracted struggle they had an obligation to lead!
Another historical moment imprinted on our minds is the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in 1935 and the crass betrayal of this country, and therefore all Africans, by the then international organisation, the League of Nations, despite the passionate, very cogent and correct pleas of Emperor Haile Selassie!
What this Ethiopian experience said to us as your fellow Africans is that:
- we must do our best to depend on ourselves to determine our future, even in the context of the process of the decolonisation of Africa and other countries of the South; and,
- we have to build the necessary international alliances to develop the strength to defeat our enemies, while ensuring that such alliances respect our strategic objective that the task to determine our destiny resides solely in our own hands as Africans!
And now I must jump to 1974 to speak to you, fellow Africans, of yet another moment in the evolution of Ethiopia which made a serious impact on us, your African brothers and sisters.
Naturally you will understand why I refer to the year 1974 as an historic year in the evolution of Ethiopia.
As you know better than I, that year the Ethiopian military seized power and therefore overthrew the feudal monarch, Emperor Haile Selassie, and ultimately put in place effectively the ‘Derg’ to destroy the feudal infrastructure which had controlled the Ethiopian empire for many centuries.
Again you know this better than I do that two important parts of that intervention to destroy the centuries old feudal order in Ethiopia as put in place by ‘the Derg’ were:
- the nationalisation of the land and its redistribution to the peasants; and,
- the elimination from the State administration of the historic senior administrators of the Ethiopian State, many of whom were naturally drawn from the aristocratic families, and their replacement by non-aristocratic Ethiopians, essentially drawn from the military and the anti-feudal segments of Ethiopian society.
Because of the unique nature of Ethiopia in the African context, because of its many centuries as an actual and formal feudal empire, the 1974 changes drew attention to your fellow Africans, including ourselves, of what our Continent had to do successfully to achieve the victory of the national democratic revolution in the struggle against domestic African ‘feudal’ domination.
I would like to believe that you, participants at this important Conference, will make your own well- thought-out characterisation of what I would call was the potential of the national democratic revolution of 1974, but which failed to address the two strategic tasks of:
- the establishment of a democratic order to replace the feudal aristocratic order typical of the governance system which had characterised Ethiopia for many centuries; and,
- the resolution of the matter of the equality of nations, nationalities and peoples joined in one State entity, which equality the feudal State had denied.
Again as all of us know, the armed struggle waged principally by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), defeated the Derg and took power in 1991 as the EPRDF.
It is obvious that what followed the defeat of the Derg and therefore the introduction of the policies and programmes pursued by the Ethiopian Government led by the EPRDF, constitutes yet another period which impacted on the rest of our Continent. Necessarily the Conference will pay the necessary attention to this period.
I understand that it is truly within the context of a protracted period of a succession of important changes in this country covering many decades that you have come together at this important Conference to discuss the challenge of transition from your historically immediate past to your historically immediate future, thus to help determine the future of Ethiopia.
I fully understand your resolve in this regard. Nevertheless I would not be able to say anything to yourselves directly about Ethiopia which could in any way help this Conference.
I hold the firm view, which might very well be wrong, that the transition with which Ethiopia and therefore this Conference must grapple has to do with what in the general context of the African struggle for national liberation has been described as the struggle to ensure the victory of the national democratic revolution.
In this regard, before I go any further, I must say that I have, in the past, spoken about various instances on our Continent when the masses of the people have engaged in militant struggles to bring about various changes relevant to the national democratic revolution. In many of these instances these masses have failed for reasons it is possible to identify.
Earlier in my remarks I have tried to convey to you, my Ethiopian brothers and sisters, your unequalled importance in terms of our own and Africa’s struggle for liberation and therefore ours and Africa’s entrenched interest in the success of the transition which this important Conference has been convened to consider.
In this context I am certain that you will not be surprised when I tell you that there are some in the rest of the world, outside of Africa, who have told me of their own concern and interest about the future of this ancient African country, Ethiopia.
Accordingly, as I have reflected on what I could do further to contribute to the theme of this Conference, I thought it appropriate that I should talk to you about a transition elsewhere on our Continent which is not unrelated to the transition you have convened in this Conference to discuss.
Let me therefore talk about the transition in South Africa without suggesting in any way that the challenges of transition we faced in South Africa during the 1985/6-1995/6 decade are in any way similar to the challenges of transition this Ethiopian Conference will address about Ethiopia.
Like all the anti-colonial struggles on our Continent, we characterised our impending liberation from white minority apartheid domination as a national democratic revolution.
The reason for this was very simple. The first is that the defeat of apartheid rule would mean the end of the oppression of the black majority by the white minority, therefore signifying national emancipation. The second is that once that national liberation was achieved, for the first time our country would be governed as a democracy.
As the distinguished delegates know, ultimately the transition from white minority apartheid domination in South Africa to the new reality of a combination of national liberation and democratic rule was effected through a process of negotiations.
I will therefore speak about this period directly relevant to the negotiations rather than the longer period which involved various forms of struggle both within the country and internationally.
Accordingly the question we had to answer was what did we have to do to ensure the success of the transition from apartheid to a national democracy society, and therefore the victory of the national democratic revolution!
The first thing I would say in this regard is that as the national liberation movement representing the oppressed, who were also the majority of the population, we had to put forward to the people as a whole a Programme detailing our proposals relating both to the liberation of the oppressed and the democratic governance of the country after liberation.
This was vitally important because the victory of the national democratic revolution demanded the greatest possible unity of those who would benefit from the victory of that revolution.
For us that Programme was a document called The Freedom Charter which was adopted in 1955. Our liberation movement, the ANC, therefore worked to ensure the unity of the black oppressed around this Programme.
The reality however was that the adoption of the Charter caused the very first serious split in the ANC since its formation almost 45 years before. This split resulted in the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress, PAC, which continues to exist to this day.
However, given the strategic importance of the unity of the greatest number of the oppressed around the vision spelt out in the Freedom Charter, the ANC did not and could not give up on the task continuously to popularise the Charter. This was even after it was banned in 1960 and had to operate underground.
A critically important organisation in the struggle for our liberation was formed in 1983. This was the United Democratic Front, the UDF. The UDF brought together hundreds of anti-apartheid organisations representing the broad spectrum of South African society, encompassing literally the majority of the black oppressed.
Every year since 1979 the ANC has issued a major policy statement on its anniversary on January 8. The 1983 January 8th Statement issued ahead of the formation of the UDF said, among other things:
“Our policy document, the Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955, has not only stood the test of time, but is winning the hearts and minds of growing numbers of our people – including honest patriots and democrats in the white community as well.
“We must organise the people into a strong mass democratic organisation…We must organise all democratic forces into one front for national liberation…This will be our Year of United Action!”
Indeed, as I have said, the UDF was then formed as “a strong mass democratic organisation”. Also of great importance was that both the majority of the affiliates and then the UDF itself adopted the Freedom Charter as their policy statement.
Thus we could say that almost 30 years after the Charter was adopted, the objective was achieved of uniting the overwhelming majority of the black oppressed around one vision! This strategic achievement was of great importance in terms of facilitating our transition from apartheid rule to a national democratic society.
Again as the Conference knows, the matter of the liberation of South Africa became a global issue. We therefore assumed that necessarily the international community would be interested to participate in the transition process which would define the liberated South Africa.
Deliberately we took the decision that we should avoid this. This was not out of disrespect of or hostility to the international community.
Rather it was informed by our conviction that the outcome of our transition process had to be elaborated, agreed and owned by the South African people themselves precisely because of the deeply entrenched divisions created by a very long period of white minority rule.
We were therefore very determined that nobody in South Africa should walk away from any of the outcomes of the transition process on the basis that it had been imposed on us by the international community.
Happily, in 1989, through the OAU, the Non-Aligned Movement and the UN General Assembly, the international community accepted a document we had prepared which defined broadly how the South African transition would be handled.
Further to facilitate our transition we also took the position that the very first task of the negotiations must be to agree on the broad objectives which these negotiations had to achieve.
In this regard we recognised the fact that the black oppressed and their allies would participate in the negotiations as one united block because of the unity which had developed around the Freedom Charter, among other factors. At the same time we knew that that united block would have to negotiate with other formations which had their own policies.
For this reason we insisted that genuine negotiations could only be meaningful and succeed if and when as their very first act, the negotiators, working together, defined the broad outcomes of the process of negotiations.
Accordingly, at its very meeting our negotiations process, called the Congress for a Democratic South Africa, CODESA, adopted on 21 December, 1991, a Declaration of Intent.
Among other things that Declaration said that the CODESA Parties solemnly commit themselves, among others:
about an undivided South Africa with one nation sharing a common citizenship,
patriotism and loyalty, pursuing amidst our diversity, freedom, equality and
security for all irrespective of race, colour, sex or creed; a country free
from apartheid or any other form of discrimination or domination; (and),
“to work to heal the divisions of the past, to secure the advancement of all, and to establish a free and open society based on democratic values where the dignity, worth and rights of every South African are protected by law…”
As the distinguished delegates will have realised just from these two paragraphs, the Declaration of Intent committed the CODESA process to reach an agreement to end the apartheid system of white minority domination.
That concentrated expression of the end goals of the process of negotiations, as indicated in the Declaration of Intent, and agreed by all the Negotiating Parties, was also vitally important in terms both focusing the negotiations and facilitating the transition to the national democratic society.
That Declaration of Intent was also important in terms of negotiating the new post-apartheid Constitution. This was because it was also agreed that the principles detailed in the Declaration would also serve as the founding principles of the new Constitution, providing its defining framework.
Before I proceed further with this presentation, I must mention yet another important process which preceded the negotiations but was vital to facilitating the transition process.
I would describe this as a process of sustained consultation with the national leadership elite, covering all social sectors and racial groups.
During this consultation we would try to develop some basic agreement between the liberation movement and this leadership on two matters.
The first of these was an agreement about the need for a truly inclusive negotiation process, permitting each negotiating Party the right freely to choose its representatives.
The secondly was about the need to ensure that such a process would genuinely address the concerns and interests of all the major social groupings, including and especially the black oppressed majority.
In trying to secure the cohesion of this leadership elite around the two very basic objectives we have mentioned, deliberately we never tried to persuade this broad leadership echelon to coalesce around the Freedom Charter.
This intervention to engage and try to develop a consensus among the broad national leadership echelon was very important because South Africa was a very fractured society with the various social segments developing their own and various visions about the future of the country as well as various forms of organisation and leadership.
Again to ease the transition to a national democratic society we considered it important that we mobilise as much of the national leadership elite as possible at least to agree to the two positions we have just indicated.
A great advantage of this is that it seriously isolated and therefore weakened the most backward section of the oppressor group, as many significant leadership groups in the country adopted what became summarised as a call – talk to the ANC!
The leadership collectives I am talking about included leadership groups and influential individuals variously representing:
- formations attached to the governing apartheid party; and the leadership committees representing:
- big white business;
- small black business;
- business managers;
- religious formations;
- the academic intelligentsia;
- professionals such as the legal sector;
- organised workers as represented by the trade unions;
- the youth;
- the media;
- the sports sector;
- other black and white sectoral non-government organisations; and of course,
- the various organised sections of the UDF!
This particular process of engaging the varied national leadership elite covered the period 1985 to 1990 and resulted in many of these leadership groups distancing themselves from continued apartheid rule, and therefore the governing National Party, resulting in its severe weakening.
This period was the last five years during which the oppressor apartheid regime finally decided that it had no choice but to – talk to the ANC!
This was simply because the sustained and protracted domestic and international struggle against apartheid which seriously weakened the racist regime obliged it to agree to enter into negotiations with its arch-enemy, the ANC, to negotiate an end to apartheid white minority domination!
The interactions with the various elements of the leadership elite or echelon I have mentioned amounted to at least 300 meetings held between the ANC and the various leadership groups during the years 1985 to 1990 outside South Africa.
Of course there were other similar meetings which took place inside the country especially between the leadership of the UDF and these various leadership collectives.
There is an essential point to bear in mind with regard to the processes I have just described with regard to the varied South African leadership elite.
This is that our forces for the victory of the national democratic revolution understood this very well that they had an obligation to mobilise into the transition the various elements of the national leadership echelon, many of which might not be directly political.
This was to ensure that we spread the acceptance by yet other sectors of the population of the broad objectives of our movement for fundamental change.
The ultimate coming together in one front of the millions of the black oppressed, joined by an important swathe of the varied broad non-political national leadership, meant that an overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa, essentially united around a common minimum programme for change.
This is what essentially informed the success of the CODESA negotiations, the adoption of the post-apartheid Constitution, and the later transition in 1994 when our first democratic elections resulted in a victory for our liberation movement, the ANC!
What all this says is that such was the mobilisation:
- to ensure the greatest unity of the black oppressed;
- to persuade the greatest possible number of the broad national leadership across all sectors, to support the negotiated transition to democracy;
- to ensure that the negotiations process started by agreeing on the fundamental objectives of that process;
that it became possible to make the strategic transition from apartheid rule to a national democratic society, with no resistance capable of seriously opposing or defeating this process.
The conclusion we drew with regard to everything I have said is that objectively, in our situation, the majority of our population, both black and white, favoured the establishment of a non-racial and non-sexist democracy.
However there remained a residue of our citizens who could not and would not accept the new reality of our non-racial democracy in which, by definition, white minority rule in any form was impossible. We accepted that this was inevitable given the inevitability of the instances of inertia which accompany any process of fundamental social change.
There are some former liberation fighters in our country who have openly stated that this residue, diehard supporters of the apartheid order, remain currently active, still intent to defeat the national democratic revolution.
The former liberation fighters urge that the governing party, the ANC, and the Government, must take the necessary firm steps to defeat this preparation for a future attempted counter revolution!
I must at this point mention that yet another element which was vital to the success of our transition to the new order was the fact that the ANC and the rest of the forces of change had to, and did discharge their obligation to keep their constituencies, the masses they represented, fully and continuously informed and engaged about what was happening.
This helped enormously to help ensure that our highly politicised mass population took ownership of the positions taken by our leadership.
Accordingly our activists and other supporters who maintained direct contact with the ANC leadership, from the local community upwards, worked to ensure that the communities they led took full ownership of the decisions taken by our leadership during the transition.
They successfully engaged the grassroots to ensure that the masses were both familiar with and fully supported the decisions adopted through the negotiations process.
With regard to everything I have just said, I want to insist that while I have sought to underline the authority of the established structures of the cohesive movement which led our historic transition, it is also true that at all times during our transition from apartheid to our national democratic society we always ensured that the masses of our people were informed so that they could also see themselves as owners of the decisions our national leadership had taken!
This is why even the CODESA Declaration of Intent said that the negotiating Parties would have to agree on a document based on a common acceptance of the vision of:
“an undivided South Africa with one nation sharing a common citizenship, patriotism and loyalty, pursuing amidst our diversity, freedom, equality and security for all”, based on “the diversity of languages, cultures and religions of the people of South Africa (which) shall be acknowledged”.
Obviously this demanded that the leaders of the transition must be seen among the people as a whole, regardless of their local and other identities, as genuine national leaders who represent the genuine interests of all the people.
This meant that these national leaders were also empowered to take on board all sectional, distinct and domestic interests, thus to ensure that the necessary balance would be achieved with regard to addressing simultaneously both the national and the local demands.
Naturally our leadership had to address this particular matter as part of the process of ensuring maximum national unity especially among the black oppressed and the genuine national patriots, to ensure as smooth a national transition as possible from apartheid rule to the national democratic society throughout our country.
Obviously this meant that our national leadership had to be constantly in touch with all sections of our people’s leadership throughout the country.
This would ensure that deliberately the leadership of the national democratic revolution would maintain and sustain regular contact with all sections of our population, and their leadership, throughout the country.
This transparency and accountability to the people was critically important given the act that it was exactly the mass struggle, involving millions of people, which had opened the way to the negotiated resolution of the South African conflict.
To conclude, let me say something about constitution-making in the context of our transition.
As I have indicated, our negotiations which played a central role in our transition to democratic rule began in 1990 and were attended by 19 political formations. Those negotiations, among others, produced what was called an Interim Constitution, which was the basis on which our very first democratic elections took place in 1994.
Important as it was, this Constitution was described as Interim.
The reason for this is that the view of our liberation movement was that an important national document such as the Constitution had to be adopted by a Constitutional Assembly elected by the people.
Accordingly the national parliament elected in 1994 also functioned as that Constitutional Assembly. It negotiated and adopted in 1996 what has been called our Final Constitution. In addition, as part of ensuring the greatest possible involvement of the masses of the people in the constitution-making process, the Assembly engaged these masses in a consultative process during which very large numbers of people indicated what they wanted the Constitution to include.
As I have said, to underwrite the legitimacy and stability of the outcomes of the transition it was very important that the people themselves should share a sense or feeling of ownership of the achievements of that transition.
Accordingly, because of the manner in which it was negotiated, we could genuinely say that the principles and objectives stated in the Final Constitution served and serve as a national compact which unites the people of South Africa despite all the racial, gender and other divisions imposed on our country during 350 years of colonialism and apartheid.
This created the possibility to unite at least the overwhelming majority of the population around the one vision contained in the Constitution of reconstructing South Africa as a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country.
I would like to believe that such an outcome constituted and constitutes a very good tribute to the way all of us as South Africans handled the complex process of our transition from colonial and apartheid domination to a national democratic society.
In that context allow me to wish this important Conference success, confident that you will take the necessary care to identify the steps and processes according to which our sister people of Ethiopia will ensure that this important African country puts in place the right transition programme which will enable Ethiopia to continue occupying its place as an African leader.
As your fellow Africans we say that you must and will succeed. That success will be in the interest of this sister African country, the complex and important region in which this country is located, the IGAD region of the Horn of Africa, as well as the rest of our Continent.
Again, please accept my best wishes for the success of this important Conference.
Thank you very much for your attention.
I attach the CODESA Declaration of Intent to which I have referred, solely to inform this important Conference of all its contents.
CODESA Declaration of Intent.
CODESA I – Declaration of Intent
21 December 1991
We, the duly authorised
representatives of political parties, political organisations, administrations
and the South African Government, coming together at this first meeting of the
Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), mindful of the awesome
responsibility that rests on us at this moment in the history of our country,
declare our solemn commitment:
1. to bring about an undivided South Africa with one nation sharing a common citizenship, patriotism and loyalty, pursuing amidst our diversity, freedom, equality and security for all irrespective of race, colour, sex or creed; a country free from apartheid or any other form of discrimination or domination;
2. to work to heal the divisions of the past, to secure the advancement of all, and to establish a free and open society based on democratic values where the dignity, worth and rights of every South African are protected by law;
3. to strive to improve the quality of life of our people through policies that will promote economic growth and human development and ensure equal opportunities and social justice for all South Africans;
4. to create a climate conducive to peaceful constitutional change by eliminating violence, intimidation and destabilisation and by promoting free political participation, discussion and debate;
5. to set in motion the process of drawing up and establishing a constitution that will ensure, inter alia:
(a) that South Africa will be a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist state in which sovereign authority is exercised over the whole of its territory
(b) that the Constitution will be the supreme law and that it will be guarded over by an independent, non-racial and impartial judiciary;
(c) that there will be a multi-party democracy with the right to form and join political parties and with regular elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll; in general the basic electoral system, shall be that of proportional representation;
(d) that there shall be a separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary with appropriate checks and balances;
(e) that the diversity of languages, cultures and religions of the people of South Africa shall be acknowledged;
(f) that all shall enjoy universally accepted human rights, freedoms and civil liberties including freedom of religion, speech and assembly protected by an entrenched and justiciable Bill of Rights and a legal system that guarantees equality of all before the law.
1. that the present and
future participants shall be entitled to put forward freely to the Convention
any proposal consistent with democracy.
2. that CODESA will establish a mechanism whose task it will be, in co-operation with administrations and the South African Government, to draft the texts of all legislation required to give effect to the agreements reached in CODESA.
We, the representatives of political parties, political organisations and administrations, further solemnly commit ourselves to be bound by the agreements of CODESA and in good faith to take all such steps as are within our power and authority to realise implementation.
African National Congress
National People’s Party
South African Communist Party
Inyanda National Movement
Intando Yesizwe Party
United People’s Front
Labour Party South Africa
Natal/Transvaal Indian Congress
We, the South African Government, declare ourselves to be bound by agreements we reach together with other participants in CODESA in accordance with the standing rules and hereby commit ourselves to the implementation thereof within our capacity, powers and authority.
Signed by Mr F. W. de Klerk for the South African Government.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica.
Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika.
Morena boloka sechaba sa heso.
May the Lord bless our country.
Mudzimu. Fhatushedza Africa.
Hosi katekisa Africa.