The importance of Redefining the Role of ‘Revolutionaries’ for the Transition Period (BefeQadu Z Hailu)

The importance of Redefining the Role of ‘Revolutionaries’ for the Transition Period

By BefeQadu Z Hailu

A few months ago, in a TV discussion I had with the pro-TPLF activist Daniel Berhane, he said the term “Qeerroo” is vague because it refers to both the entire youth and the youth that was involved in Oromo protests. He was wrong. But, I didn’t have the chance to correct him. In Afaan Oromo there are other words equivalent to ‘youth’, of these ‘dardarummaa’ and ‘dargaggeessa’ are included. “Qeerroo” is an extension of “Qeerransa”, which means tiger. Qeerroo means, therefore, tiger-like youth. It specifically represents the portion of society, especially of the youth, that is defiant.

I came to learn about the term in 2014, in Maekelawi, when I met a guy who identified himself as a ‘Qeerroo’. His name is Adduña Kesso. He told me ‘Qeerroo’ means a ‘bachelor, who hasn’t become a father yet’. But, the four years long Oromo protests that shaked the country in to a revolution has redefined the meaning of the term. Now, Qeerroo is understood by many as ‘a revolutionary’.

The Qeerroo is a loose association of revolutionary youths that used the internet as a means of communication, organization and defiance against subjugation as a means of mobilization. It inspired protests elsewhere in Ethiopia and forced a split in the ruling coalition of EPRDF which led to an end for TPLF dominated regime. (One of the influences of the Qeerroo is implied when the terms ‘Fanno’ in Amhara and ‘Zerma’ in Guraghé are promoted by political elites to represent/identify the revolutionary youths in their respective administrative regions.)

Ethiopia is now in a government led reform and the phase of protests seem to be over. However, the Qeerroo and other equivalents in other regions of Ethiopia didn’t redefine their purposes. Or, if they have, they did it in a wrong way. The government in Ethiopia is not the same as before and doesn’t have the same goal as that of the government that was in charge last year. The government of last year was resistant to change, oppressive and brutal. Thus, protesting it in streets was a necessary condition and also a moral obligation for today’s relatively peaceful and hopeful era to dawn. And, it is also important to move on to the next step as the government stepped up. Now, the government is ready to change, and there is a relative space to assembly and free expression to effect change, so must the Qeerrroo and other revolutionaries step up their roles in the transition to democracy.

The mob justice happening from Tana Beles to Shashemene happened because the political elites failed to rightly redefine the purpose of these revolutionary youths in this time of transition. As ‘sacred’ as the term Qeerroo, and/or Fanno when it comes to the resistance against repression, it should also be questionable when it comes to what its role should be in the transition. The Qeerroo is a loose association that has no written strategy and goal other than consensus in rejecting tyranny and subjugation. Most Qeerroos/Fannos seem satisfied in the transition period so far and what they are trying to do is protect it. The Prime Minister, in a wrongly perceivable way, told these revolutionaries to be wary of strangers (“ፀጉረ ልውጦች”) in their neighborhoods. Accordinly, they do mob-justice against people whom the revolutionaries suspect are against the transition in a response to it. (Some people claim ounter-revolutionary actors are behind all the violence and mob justice. But, I think the claim itself is mob justice instigating, apart from shifting the blame.)

The youth paid a lot of sacrifies. They feel they don’t afford to lose the opportunity of genuine reform (or regime change). On one hand, they are requested to forgive previously corrupt and brutal leaders; on the other hand, they are asked to protect the change. The Prime Minister maybe saying ‘don’t be used by political missionaries who instigate violence’ when he said ‘watch the strangers’. However, either the revolutionaries are not civil enough to understand it that way or maybe there are members of the revolutionaries who are violent. Whatever the cause, there is violent and mob activity going on, which is making people feel insecurity and has a potential of reversing the transition. The best way to alleviate this challenge is to redefine the purpose of the revolutionary youths.

The revolutionary youths should be encouraged to formally assmeble in a sort of civil societ, or political organization that shapes the country’s future. They should learn how to refine their demands and work in civilized manner to effect changes. The government is also supposed to create platforms for the youth to participate in the political transition. They key players in the pre-transition should not be told what the transition looks like on TV. There must be a way they take part in defining what it should look like. Most of all, the Qeerroo and other revolutionaries should evolve to Democratic elements as the time demands. They cannot remain revolutionaries all the time.

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