Habtamu Kitaba, a founding committee member of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA) Party, played a pivotal role as an executive within the party structure. Throughout his career, Mr. Habtamu held various positions, notably serving as the economic cluster policy coordinator, where he spearheaded policy preparation in line with the party’s objectives. Additionally, he assumed leadership of a committee dedicated to actively formulating investment policies, underscoring his commitment to shaping strategic economic decisions.
Habtamu also held a significant position in the shadow cabinet of the party for the Ministry of Revenue, operating alongside the official cabinet in a parallel capacity. Moreover, he undertook an executive role within his constituency. He is among the seven executive members who recently resigned from the Party. In light of their collective resignation, Addis Stadnard’s Biruk Alemu conducted a lengthy interview with Habtamu.
AS: Thank you in advance for agreeing to the interview. Ezema has garnered a reputation as a formidable party with significant public support. However, recent rumors suggest internal divisions within the party. You and six other members recently announced your resignation from EZEMA. Could you shed some light on the circumstances within the party and provide a clear explanation for your departure?
Habtamu Kitaba: Our decision to leave Ezema stems from several factors. We pondered over why members were departing and why the party’s popularity was waning. Moreover, we realized that calling for an internal conference to address diverging opinions was being suppressed. The primary and fundamental rationale behind our decision is Ezema’s inability to actualize its own vision and program, thus failing to serve as a genuine alternative. Our objective is to contribute to a party that can effectively serve Ethiopia’s interests and be beneficial to its citizens. However, the leadership group obstructed the exploration of these ideas within the party’s assembly, thereby impeding any potential for resolution through constructive dialogue. The fundamental disparity lies in our inability to find common ground within the party. Despite our efforts to bring about meaningful discussions and decision-making through the assembly, the response fell short of our expectations. Consequently, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Ezema, taking responsibility for our own conscience.
“We consistently adopt positions on various matters, such as the war, issues in Addis Abeba, the recent elections, and national consultation. However, when it comes to defending the positions we uphold, the party leader chooses to align with the Prosperity Party.”
AS: Why did you choose to leave the party instead of addressing the conflicts internally? How extensively did you attempt to resolve these differences? As you mentioned earlier, is it because you believe that remaining in the party does not absolve you of responsibility, or do you have other reasons for your decision?
Habtamu Kitaba: We have been engaged in an internal struggle within Ezema for a period of three years, actively participating in various arenas. The differences that arose date back to the early stages of the party’s formation. Our concerns primarily revolved around the party leader’s relationship with the Prosperity Party, as well as the manner in which they communicated and explained their approach, which differed significantly from our initial expectations. We invested substantial efforts in resolving these differences, including the invitation of political figures from abroad to contribute research papers during our annual reviews. Numerous discussions were held, with constituencies taking firm positions, and considerable efforts were made to communicate these perspectives to the party’s central leadership. Unfortunately, despite our persistent endeavors, the decision-making structure at the center proved unable to reach rational resolutions. Nevertheless, we persevered and made concerted efforts to find a resolution.
AS: You mentioned that the divergence within Ezema emerged shortly after the party’s establishment. At the time of its founding, was there a clear consensus on the party’s policies and strategies? Was there a sense of unity and shared purpose among the members? How is it possible for such discrepancies to have emerged within a few months of the party’s inception?
Habtamu Kitaba: While there was a shared purpose outlined in written documents, the discrepancies arise in the approach and execution of our objectives. The party does have common positions on certain matters. For instance, Ezema holds a distinct stance on the issue of Gurage regional question, differing from that of the Prosperity party. However, during an outreach visit by the President of the Prosperity Party to Wolkite, our party’s leader joined the delegation and made a speech echoing the Prosperity Party’s stance. This occurred despite the divergence from our party’s declared position. Despite the party’s established viewpoint, there are internal factions that seemingly support and facilitate actions contradicting it. Furthermore, during a discussion panel on the Prime Minister’s book ‘Medemer’, our party’s leader was present, not to critique, but to provide an explanatory analysis.
As a party, we consistently adopt positions on various matters, such as the war, issues in Addis Abeba, the recent elections, and national consultation. However, when it comes to defending the positions we uphold, the party leader chooses to align with the Prosperity party. We have made efforts to address this situation, but since no resolution seems feasible, we have made the decision to disassociate ourselves. It is important to note that our stance on fundamental issues remains unchanged, but the implementation of those positions has been lacking, leading to this divide.
To provide another example, Ezema had a position on the Tigray war, advocating for a peaceful resolution rather than the destruction of the TPLF. However, when the Prosperity party expressed support for peace, the faction led by Professor Birhanu Nega capitulated and also began advocating for peace. Similarly, when the government campaigned to dismantle Shene [OLA], Ezema endorsed the destruction. Subsequently, when the government signaled its intention to negotiate with Shene, Ezema also shifted its stance to support negotiations. Ezema is a party that does not consistently maintain its own positions but rather tends to align itself with the Prosperity party. In light of these circumstances, it is not reasonable to invest one’s time and resources in remaining within a party that exhibits such tendencies.
AS: How many members have resigned from Ezema to date?
Habtamu Kitaba: Presently, Ezema does not possess any active members, except for a limited number of individuals who are still engaged at the central level. It is a verifiable fact that a significant portion of the original members, who played a crucial role in establishing the party, have chosen to leave. To illustrate this trend, if we consider the 12/13 constituencies within my jurisdiction, we observe that only 10 percent of the initial members remain. In the Amhara region, the remaining membership constitutes no more than 7 or 8 percent of our original count. Additionally, all organizational structures in the Oromia region have been disbanded. In Addis Abeba, the current membership figure, on average, represents less than 10 percent of the total. The reason why our departure has garnered attention is due to the official announcement we made through media channels. However, it is crucial to note that several members had already chosen to leave prior to this announcement. If you inquire about the reasons behind the members leaving, it is primarily attributed to the party’s relationship with the Prosperity Party. An emergency meeting was convened, during which a decision was made to collaborate with Prosperity. I, for one, dissented from this course of action. No written agreement was reached between the two parties. Initially, Prosperity sent a letter to which we provided our review, but we did not receive a response. Instead, they continued to engage solely with the party leader. Members subsequently requested a meeting to reconsider the decision, only to have their appeal denied. The accumulation of various factors, including this sequence of events, prompted the departure of numerous members.
“I do not believe that the Prosperity Party directly influences the internal affairs of Ezema. Rather, it is individuals within Ezema who are driven by an affinity for the ideals of Prosperity party, despite not being official members.”
AS: Dr. Mulalem, the public relations chief of Ezema, stated that some members who left the party were already facing disciplinary charges at the time of their departure. Could you please respond to these allegations and clarify whether you were personally subject to any legal action while deciding to leave the party?
Habtamu Kitaba: Allow me to address this matter and provide my response. In the initial stages, you raised the question of why we did not initiate an internal struggle. For instance, in my district, we held a two-day meeting where we collectively adopted a political stance. Similar meetings took place in other districts as well. One of our key positions is the urgent need for an assembly to convene. Additionally, we firmly believe that the party’s leader, Prof. Berhanu Nega, has deviated from the party’s established position, which we consider an unnecessary path. Moreover, we have communicated our concerns to the party’s central leadership regarding the party’s collaboration with Prosperity in Addis Abeba and the issues surrounding it. Regrettably, it appears that those in positions of authority selectively imposed bans on individuals they disapprove of, while turning a blind eye to those who provide them with favorable information.
Unfortunately, I find myself among those who have been accused. The charges against me stem from my involvement in my district, where I engaged in discussions with fellow party members and took a stance on pertinent issues. It is worth noting that the charges were filed by the executive, who, in an unlawful manner, constituted a committee for this purpose. According to the party’s regulations, the responsibility of prosecuting such matters lies with the District Disciplinary Committee. Moreover, the districts have adopted a unified position regarding the party’s approach, rendering it inappropriate to subject the district to legal action. Therefore, the disciplinary charges brought against us are baseless, as they were instigated not in accordance with the party’s laws, but rather based on the personal beliefs of the party leader. When members express dissenting opinions, they are met with shock and an erroneous perception that the law has been violated. The charges leveled against us are not justifiable within the framework of the party’s regulations, and we are prepared to argue our case based on these rules. However, it seems that they are unwilling to engage in such a discourse.
AS: Does the Prosperity Party have a role in undermining political parties and the multi-party system? How has the ruling party contributed to the divisions within Eema?
Habtamu Kitaba: To be honest, I hold the belief that the current situation for political parties is relatively better than during the previous [EPRDF] leadership. However, I cannot disregard the presence of monitoring and pressure exerted by the security apparatus. While we may not have personally witnessed it, as we are not actively involved in a struggle, we have observed the arrests of members from the Balderas party.
Nevertheless, I do not believe that the Prosperity Party directly influences the internal affairs of Ezema. Rather, it is individuals within Ezema who are driven by an affinity for the ideals of Prosperity party, despite not being official members. Thus, it would be inaccurate to solely attribute the responsibility for Ezema’s circumstances to the Prosperity party. I want to clarify that I am not suggesting that Prosperity actively promotes a multi-party system. Within a multi-party framework, I cannot assert that Prosperity differs significantly from other regimes in terms of party rivalry.
However, regarding Ezema specifically, I do not believe that Prosperity deliberately instigated its division because they are well aware that they have already contributed to its demise. While the ruling party may contribute to the weakening of the overall political system by providing leaders, I do not perceive any direct interference by the Prosperity party in the internal matters of Ezema.
“The leadership responsibilities held by Prof. Birhanu Nega in the government have limited his ability to actively influence the party.”
AS: You mentioned that Ezema’s leader Prof. Birhanu Nega is collaborating with the Prosperity party. Given Ezema’s usual propensity to critique the government’s approach to contemporary issues in their public declarations, how exactly are the party’s leader and its supporters who uphold their standpoint interfacing with the Prosperity Party?
Habtamu Kitaba: It is not uncommon for differing statements to emerge while working together. A notable example of this can be seen in the context of Amhara and Oromo Prosperity Party. Interestingly, the leader of Ezema is not frequently seen publicly articulating his party’s position in various forums, unlike Dr. Abiy who consistently emphasizes the Prosperity Party’s program. In the realm of politics, ideological battles are fought through the power of ideas. However, the leaders of Ezema are seldom witnessed championing their party’s position, but rather providing support to the Prosperity Party. Furthermore, whenever Prosperity Party undergoes a change in status, Ezema leaders swiftly align themselves with the new Prosperity status. If the intention is solely to issue statements, even the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, as a governmental body, can perform that task to voice criticisms of government practices. However, our commitment must transcend mere statements.
For instance, during the conflict in the northern region, as the TPLF forces approached Addis Abeba, a study committee was established to conduct comprehensive research. We conducted extensive investigations by engaging with wounded individuals, residents of the Amhara region, journalists who were actively involved in covering the war, and other relevant stakeholders. One of the significant findings of our study revealed the divergent narratives between Amhara prosperity and Oromo prosperity during the war, which inadvertently bolstered the TPLF’s position. While proponents of Oromo prosperity expressed their reservations about fighting to reclaim Amhara’s land, advocates of Amhara prosperity emphasized their determination to restore it. This divergence in narratives greatly benefited the TPLF and brought them closer to Addis Abeba. It is incumbent upon the party leader to confront and address this issue by disseminating such findings to the public. However, it seems that they are not receptive when evidence-based findings, even from research, are presented. Such behavior raises concerns, particularly considering their alignment with the Prosperity Party.
AS: To what extent has the appointment of Ezema leader Prof. Birhanu Nega to the government cabinet influenced and shaped the direction of the party?
Habtamu Kitaba: Expanding the political influence and ideas of the opposition requires dedicated effort. However, the leadership responsibilities held by Prof. Birhanu Nega in the government have limited his ability to actively influence the party. We were aware that this would be the case, and when he was appointed as the Minister of Education, we suggested that he relinquish his leadership position within the party. However, he declined our proposal. His involvement in the government structure has significantly reduced the time and attention he can dedicate to the party. As a result, Ezema has become akin to an empty house, where the leader’s absence is palpable. It seems as though the leader’s attention and focus have shifted elsewhere, leaving the party in a state where it feels deserted, like a house where the owner’s attention has been directed to a neighbor’s residence.
AS: Couldn’t your joint resignation from Ezema potentially strengthen the party’s relationship with Prosperity even further?
Habtamu Kitaba: To be candid, I don’t believe that Ezema’s continued existence will have any significant impact on Ethiopian politics, regardless of whether it strengthens its relationship with the Prosperity Party or not. Ezema lacks the capacity to strengthen the ruling party in a distinctive manner, nor does it possess the ability to bring about transformative change in the current political landscape. In my view, Ezema has reached its limits and its relevance has dwindled. It is reminiscent of historical political parties such as EPRP and MEISON, which have long been consigned to the annals of history. I firmly believe that Ezema has been effectively defunct for some time, and with the departure of this group, its funeral has taken place. Those remaining within the party are aware that it is incapable of re-emerging and instigating a transformative shift. Nevertheless, I feel a profound sense of disappointment knowing that these is the party to which I dedicated my support and resources.
AS: Doesn’t the frequent departure of party members undermine public trust in political parties and their ability to effectively represent the interests of citizens?
Habtamu Kitaba: Indeed, the history of various political parties in Ethiopia has witnessed instances of failure. When Ezema was established, its purpose was to bring about a change in this pattern. While the resignations of party members undoubtedly have an impact, it is worth noting that the people of Ethiopia have a tradition of independent struggle and have historically been capable of overthrowing regimes without relying solely on organized political parties. This historical context highlights the prominence of grassroots movements in driving political change in Ethiopia. In recent times, it was the youth movements of Qeerroo and Fano, rather than organized political parties, that played a significant role in effecting change.
AS: How would you describe the current political situation in the country, and what do you believe is the best approach to overcome the ongoing political crisis?
Habtamu Kitaba: Ethiopian politics is often regarded as complex, but I personally do not perceive it as inherently complicated. Rather, I believe that the way it is being handled is flawed. There is a lack of a culture among political groups to engage in constructive dialogue and negotiations. Therefore, the key solution lies in creating an environment where all parties can come together and engage in meaningful and calm discussions, sitting down as equals. In my view, the country needs a dialogue on charting the way forward, with the Prosperity Party and each opposition party having an equal seat at the table. If this is done, I don’t think there’s any political party that thinks we can coexist without peace and justice. It is because there lacks a platform for discussion that everyone endeavors in their own way. The crux of the current instability in our country, in my opinion, stems from the ruling party’s reluctance to facilitate meaningful dialogue among all stakeholders. It is a consequence of their efforts to shape Ethiopia according to their own preferences. Therefore, the ultimate solution lies in granting equal opportunities for all parties to engage in dialogue.
“Our next course of action will be decided after thorough deliberation on the political landscape of Ethiopia, prioritizing the welfare and progress of our nation.”
AS: In the current political landscape, we observe that oppositional parties are more prominently engaged in opposing the ruling party rather than presenting their own ideas to challenge it. Given this observation, do you believe that Ethiopian politics has transitioned from predominantly opposition politics to a more competitive framework?
Habtamu Kitaba: Prosperity Party believes that we have entered a competitive political environment. However, I hold a different perspective. Allow me to elaborate. True competition necessitates that all participants stand on an equal footing. Unfortunately, the current political environment does not provide a level playing field. We observe government-owned media actively promoting the Prime Minister’s book, while other parties face restrictions such as limited access to media platforms and obstacles to holding public assemblies. Under these circumstances, genuine political competition becomes a challenging endeavor. Instead of referring to ourselves as competitors, I prefer to acknowledge that we are opponents in the present context. Within Ethiopian politics, the ruling party has yet to surpass opposition parties in terms of their ability to develop well-crafted ideas. Furthermore, the presence of peaceful opposition parties with well-defined and articulated political ideologies holds immense significance.
For instance, during our economic debates, we emphasized that if elected, we would meet industrial demands, increase wheat production, and ensure self-sufficiency in this regard. Additionally, we have put forth proposals and engaged in debates concerning housing issues, urban development, and the construction of smart cities without causing harm to the public. Opposition parties bring forth innovative ideas. Consequently, without the ruling party leveling the playing field and adhering to the rule of law, genuine political competition cannot thrive.
AS: What are your future plans? Do you have intentions to establish a new political party?
Habtamu Kitaba: Our current objective is to engage in thorough discussions. Firstly, we aim to critically examine the lessons learned from the shortcomings of Ezema. Secondly, we seek to initiate discussions concerning both the ethnic political sphere and our own ideological perspective. This discourse will encompass various aspects, including the role of the diaspora and other relevant issues. Following these deliberations, we will proceed with a well-coordinated implementation plan, drawing upon the insights gained from our discussions. The specific path we choose will be determined based on careful consideration and evaluation. Should our assessment indicate a need to work through the media, we will direct our efforts towards that avenue. Similarly, if we determine that a human rights movement is necessary, we will pursue that course. Alternatively, we may consider reestablishing a political party if it aligns with our objectives. If none of these options prove viable, we will gracefully step aside and earnestly pray for the betterment of our country. Hence, our next course of action will be decided after thorough deliberation on the political landscape of Ethiopia, prioritizing the welfare and progress of our nation.
AS: Do the discussions exclusively involve individuals who have departed from Ezema, or are representatives from other parties also included?
Habtamu Kitaba: We extend invitations to individuals who express an interest in participating in our discussions. We create an inclusive environment where those who wish to engage in meaningful conversations are welcome to join. It is possible that discussions specifically focused on reviewing the internal affairs of Ezema may primarily involve individuals who have had prior affiliation with the party.
AS: You said the discussion concerns “ethnic politics” to use your words, is it one of the alternatives you aspire to pursue?
Habtamu Kitaba: That’s not something I foresee; If we were to engage in ethnic politics, it would not require much deliberation. Numerous ethnic political organizations exist, presenting the possibility of joining one. Not only myself, but also my current companions, have no intention of pursuing a path in ethnic politics. However, it is important to note that my view on ethnic politics should not be generalized, as each ethnic political party operates based on distinct motives and rationales. While I recognize the diversity among these parties, I have not identified any particular ethnic political party that I perceive as superior or that I am inclined to join.
AS: Mr. Habtamu, we extend our sincere gratitude on behalf of our readers for generously dedicating your valuable time to answer and provide insights to our questions.
Habtamu Kitaba: You’re most welcome. It was my pleasure.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the article are that of the interviewee, and do not necessarily reflect AS’ editorial stands.