Saturday, December 31, 2005

No More Senseless War

By Fikru Helebo

Back in early 2000 some opponents of the Ethiopian regime, which I prefer to call appeaseniks, vigorously supported the regime’s military campaign to regain the territory that was lost to Eritrea in May of 1998. The appeaseniks reasoned that Eritrea’s invasion of the "disputed" stretches of land along the border area and the subsequent bombardment of civilian targets in Tigray region by Eritrean warplanes had taught the ruling TPLF party a lesson it won't forget: a politically divided Ethiopia that it helped to bring about is not in the interest of Tigray region.

The appeaseniks further argued that TPLF’s fallout with the Eritrean regime had left it with no choice but to pursue a policy that will put Ethiopia’s national interest ahead of Tigray’s parochial interest, and that the TPLF could eventually be persuaded to create a healthy political space for its domestic opponents as a derivative of this change of policy – the so-called peace dividend. The wishful thinking of the appeaseniks was understandable to some extent, but history teaches us that appeasement of dictatorial regimes and power-crazed militant groups has never worked and is invariably destined to fail.

It did not take very long for the TPLF to disappoint the appeaseniks as it signed the Algiers Peace Agreement without consulting them or the Ethiopian people who made the decisive victory on the battlefield possible in May and June of 2000. Alas, the TPLF’s primary interest did not match that of Ethiopia’s primary national interest once again
! The Algiers agreement also demonstrated that, at its core, the TPLF is a group that is made up of an incorrigible bunch of power thirsty individuals who do not possess the wisdom that would enable them to share real political power with the vast majority of Ethiopians from other regions. And, just like that, the wishful thinking of the appeaseniks came to an abrupt end before it had a chance to be tested.

Now, five and a half years later, Ethiopia’s victory on the battlefield, which cost tens of thousands of lives, has become a distant memory and it is clear that the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war was fought on a false premise. Most Ethiopians believed that their army was fighting for the territorial integrity of their nation and to secure Ethiopia’s natural access to the sea. Sad, but true, we now know that the real reason for the conflict was the long standing rivalry and the resultant animosity between the leadership camps of the two parties that ruled the two countries, and not the border dispute as it was made out to be.

The belligerents who gave us that senseless war, a war that should never have taken place, are now back at it again beating the all too familiar drums of war and readying their poor soldiers to die for a totally unjustifiable reason. The border dispute that sparked the war in 1998 could have been resolved through negotiations, and it can and it should be solved through negotiations regardless of how long it takes to resolve it. The Jane's group recently summed up the state of tension between the terrorist regimes of the two countries in this way:

Ethiopia has not been inclined to accept the award of territory to Eritrea and has difficulty coming to terms with its loss of direct sea access. Eritrea, meanwhile, just seems bent on being difficult. Both also have internal political and security problems, making an external 'threat' a welcome distraction.

This, I think, is a pretty good short summary of the state of the stalemate between the two belligerent parties at this point in time. That said, my view, for what it's worth, is that there cannot be any real peace between the states of Ethiopia and Eritrea until both countries have representative governments that can negotiate a real peace agreement on behalf of their respective people. Furthermore, even if the belligerent parties somehow manage to avoid going to war this time around and settle their differences by ratifying the Algiers agreement and demarcating the border, any peace agreement that is reached by the current holders of state power in Addis Ababa and Asmara will not be considered complete by the Ethiopian people if the agreement fails to address Ethiopia’s unencumbered access to the sea through the port of Assab.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Helen Helebo, 1973-2005, R.I.P.

ሔለን ሔሌቦ

Helen was a person of faith and courage. Helen was dedicated to her family and friends and she lived her life as it should be lived: she had an abiding faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and she had an unflinching optimism and a great attitude that endeared her to all who knew her. Helen passed away a week ago today at a young age of 32 from bone cancer. Learning of Helen’s untimely death, a long time family friend, Shaun Tate, wrote the following: “Helen was, is a remarkable young lady, bringing sunshine into any room she entered. She seemed to be one of the most genuinely happy people I have ever met.” This past week has been a very sad one for me, my family and all who knew Helen. We will terribly miss her positive attitude in all things and her infectious smile. But life has to go on, as it must, and blogging on Enset will also continue. Helen would not have it any other way.

The Lord is a mighty tower where His people can run for safety. Proverbs 18:10

Monday, December 12, 2005

IRIN's Interview with Berhanu Nega

"I deserve and Ethiopians deserve as much rights, as much democratic government as anyone else. In fact, we need it more for our development." - Berhanu Nega, Ethiopian Prisoner of Conscience.

On May 30, 2003 the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) posted an interview it conducted with Berhanu Nega on its web site. I feel that this interview is a must read interview for any serious observer of Ethiopian politics and all who care about the well being of Ethiopia. I have posted below excerpts from the interview that dealt with democratic reforms. When you read it, please bear in mind that the interview was condcted more than two and a half years ago. The good news is, in the two and a half years since Berhanu refered to the attitudes of Ethiopians as "docile", Ethiopians have proven him wrong by exhibiting extreme courage in standing up for their God-given human rights. On the other hand, the bad news is the state terrorism perpertated on its own citizens by the regime in power has increased dramatically since Berhanu's interview. Hopefully, Ethiopians will once again prove Berhanu wrong by overcoming the reign of terror that is imposed on them by the Meles regime. Now to the interview...

IRIN: Donors argue that the country is democratic, or at least moving towards it?

BERHANU: What I have been hearing from donors when this is raised is that the country is moving in the right direction. They acknowledge there were irregularities here and there, but by and large for a country like this it should be acceptable. Then you find yourself in a difficult position, because you don’t know what a country like Ethiopia deserves, what is our package of democracy - 20 percent, 30 percent?

My assumption is, there is only one process: that the election is free or is not free. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least we shouldn’t see state functionaries making it difficult to have a free and fair election. Nobody in their right mind in Ethiopia can tell you that it is not perfect but not even acceptable when you have one party winning some 90, 95 percent of parliament. It just doesn’t happen. We should not fool ourselves.

IRIN: So you are saying the donors authorise the government rather than the people?

BERHANU: There is no mechanism for the actual population to give any approval. The dynamic link that ought to exist between state and citizens is broken, and in between are donors. We face a situation where the state is much more interested in pleasing donors and will tell them what they want to hear; and citizens, because they have no means of reaching their own government in an organic way, they put their complaints through donors.

At the end of the day, development is what individuals do, not what the state or donors do. It is what individuals do to improve their lives that will improve long-term development. The issue of freedom and democracy is important. It always amazes me that donors are not interested it that aspect.

IRIN: How responsible then are donors for undemocratic systems?

BERHANU: The general cliché is if there is going to be democracy it has to come from our own efforts. But if that is to mean - would donors have a contribution to democratisation, they certainly would. Are they effectively using their partnership with the state to pursue a clear democratic agenda - then they haven’t shown it unfortunately. That is why the pressure for a genuine democratisation process in this country doesn’t seem to come from anywhere.

Citizens are so docile and terrified that they wouldn’t do what is needed. Donors are not pressuring them to do it, because they have other interests: they are essentially comfortable with what is going on. If you want to be more radical, you can say to a certain degree they are racists, because they really don’t believe that Ethiopians deserve the kind of democracy they are enjoying in their own ountries. They think that countries like Ethiopia are so backward they only need a small amount [of democracy]...

I deserve and Ethiopians deserve as much rights, as much democratic government as anyone else. In fact, we need it more for our development. We need it desperately, because we need to liberate the individual, because the individual has to fight to improve his or her own lives. It is that feeling of freedom, to struggle to improve your own condition that is going to bring development in this world.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Withdraw from Meles's Parliament

By Fikru Helebo

In the wake of the stolen elections of May 15, 2005 and the subsequent brutal repression of any meaningful political dissent in Ethiopia, the sole useful purpose that the continued participation of members of the Southern Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) in Meles’s parliament serves is to provide an appearance of a continuation of a democratic process in Ethiopia for a totalitarian regime that desperately needs a semblance of it. Therefore, it is my considered view that the eleven members of the SEPDC who have joined Meles’s parliament should withdraw from an institution that has come to symbolize tyranny in today's Ethiopia while there is still time to do so.

The purpose of a political party is to bring together people who have common beliefs with the hope that they may pull their resources to putting their shared principles into practice. The folks who founded the SEPDC back in 1992, and those of us who later joined them, shared the core belief that there was, and there still is, a vital need to address the power imbalance that exists in Ethiopia - a power imbalance which has disenfranchised Southerners for more than a century. Unfortunately, it is now increasingly becoming more evident that the SEPDC is failing to be the party that can bring most Southerners together to the realization of this shared core belief.

In countries where multiparty politics is practiced, a political party will try to put its principles into practice by fielding candidates for political offices and winning a majority of the seats in legislatures. In Ethiopia, democracy and multiparty politics are fairly new concepts, and the country experienced its first genuinely contested elections only in the year 2000, albeit it was limited to the Hadiya, Kembatta and Tembarro regions in Southern Ethiopia and a few Woredas in Addis Ababa. The main opposition party contesting in the elections of 2000 in Southern Ethiopia, and for that matter in all of Ethiopia, was the SEPDC. Southerners, irrespective of their ethnic background, were filled with pride when the SEPDC registered a first in the history of modern Ethiopian politics when its candidates won 9 seats to the federal parliament, and by so doing the SEPDC proved to Ethiopians everywhere that it is, indeed, possible to achieve their political objectives by engaging in electoral politics, even under conditions that are not favorable to the opposition parties.

Unfortunately, the euphoria of election success in that small corner of Southern Ethiopia did not last long. The ruling party, the EPRDF, understood very well the significance of its defeat in Hadiya, Kembatta and Tembarro areas in 2000 and the implications of this defeat with regard to its monopoly of political power and, so, it set about to nip SEPDC's success in the bud by making Hossana, the capital of Hadiya region, a military garrison and a staging ground for persecuting SEPDC's supporters accross the region with impunity. This persecution caused more than a thousand young Hadiya, Kembatta and Tembarro supporters of the SEPDC to leave their homes and seek refuge in countries beyond Ethiopia’s borders. Having suppressed all opposition activities in Hadiya, Kembatta and Tembarro areas, the EPRDF then easily "won" the uncontested local elections of 2001 in textbook fashion.

EPRDF's severe clampdown on SEPDC's supporters in 2000 and 2001 had the effect of crippling SEPDC's activities in the Southern region as a whole. Leaders of the SEPDC at the grassroots level, who deserve most of the credit for the success of the SEPDC in the 2000 elections, understandably became demoralized. In early 2003 I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the demoralizing effect of EPRDF's repression on SEPDC's grassroots leaders on my visit to Hossana. The morale breakdown I witnessed did not surprise me since I had expected it. What surprised and baffled me, however, was the lack of support these grassroots SEPDC leaders were getting from SEPDC’s top leadership. It was apparent to me that the grassroots leaders throughout the South were left to fend for themselves by SEPDC’s national leadership and, by the time the 2005 elections approached, it was clear that the SEPDC grassroots leaders were a disorganized bunch. What was most disturbing to me in the period between 2001 and 2005 was the fact that the SEPDC's top leaders were busy building alliances with other parties, a number of which have had little or no appreciation for the very reason the SEPDC was established in the first place, while ignoring the needs and views of the SEPDC grassroots leaders that made the result of the 2000 elections possible. [I am all for building political alliances to achieve a certain common objective, the objective for the Ethiopian opposition being the defeat the EPRDF in an election. However, I do not believe abandoning one’s grassroots support base is the way to build alliances.]

The May 2005 elections are considered by many a watershed moment in the history of the country, and I do concur with this view. However, I would like to remind the reader that SEPDC’s performance in the 2000 elections was a precursor for the performance of the opposition in the 2005 elections. While I was disappointed that the political party I had supported for a long time and one that spearheaded the aspirations of millions of Southerners in the last decade failed to make gains in the 2005 elections, I was delighted to see other parties who are committed to democratic pluralism in Ethiopia do well. But, as a Southerner looking towards the future, I feel that SEPDC’s poor performance in the 2005 elections coupled with its leadership’s unwillingness to admit the mistakes of the past four years, which led to the poor performance, and the leadership’s lack of desire to make the necessary corrections that will enable the SEPDC to be a genuine voice for Southerners again, has put the shared core belief that gave birth to the SEPDC in 1992 in grave danger.

What is even more distressing to me is that this shared core belief, a cause for which many precious lives were lost and for which thousands suffered imprisonments and persecution, is currently being tainted by the continued participation of SEPDC members in Meles’s parliament. If the eleven SEPDC members continue their participation in this parliament without adequately addressing the desires of the overwhelming majority of the Southern electorate to stay out of it, I can predict with reasonable degree of certainty that the SEPDC will inevitably be considered by most Ethiopians to be an organization that is engaged in aiding and abetting the suffering of Ethiopians at the hands of a hated regime.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Free Berhanu Nega

By Fikru Helebo

It has been reported in the press today that Dr. Berhanu Nega, who has been incarcerated along with thousands of others from the opposition since November 1, 2005 by the dictatorial regime of Ethiopia for advancing his political beliefs by peaceful means, is starting a hunger strike along with three other prominent opposition leaders, to bring the farce treason allegation that was made against them by the government to the attention of the world.

As a token of my support for Berhanu's plight and that of the thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia today, irrespective of their political party affiliations, I would like to share with you an email I shared with a group of Southern Ethiopians on an email list called Enset on September 6, 2001. I wrote the
email a few days after attending a meeting on September 1, 2001 in Silver Spring, Maryland, that was hosted by the support committee of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) for the Greater Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Here is the email in full and unedited:

I was also present at the meeting and enjoyed Dr. Berhanu Nega's presentation. Being an economist by profession, Berhanu discussed how his change of view led to his involvement in human rights issues in Ethiopia. When he left the US for Ethiopia in the mid-nineties, Dr. Berhanu said he was of the opinion that Ethiopia, as a poor country with no sizable middle class to speak of, did not have a constituency to make the transition to a democratic form of government viable, and that the country first needed to go thru a development phase similar to that of South Asian countries. But, when he saw first-hand how the Ethiopian government was stifling the emergence of a middle class that he saw as key to development and the hopelessness of his country men and women, he said he gradually realized that the assumption he came with to Ethiopia was wrong and that is when he started to get involved in human rights issues. [To support his conclusion that authoritarian rule impedes development, he mentioned a study by a prominent Harvard professor which showed that democracy and economic development are complementary to each other.]

I was also struck by Dr. Berhanu's description of the dire hopelessness and despair that pervades Ethiopians. The level of hopelessness and despair has gotten so bad that everybody in the country wants to get out, both rich and poor, he said. The damage done by successive regimes to the Ethiopian consciousness is also so deep that the population is terrorized to the point of total submission. This is what surprised him about the struggle for democracy and justice in the South, he said, and to know that there are people in Ethiopia who are standing up for their rights as has happened in the South has given many reason to hope for the future. This comment of Berhanu's was made during his initial remarks. Later on in the Q&A session, he added that the movement in the South should be a lesson to Ethiopians in other parts and that he himself has been energized by witnessing their courageous actions.

Dr. Berhanu also mentioned that the "Oromo Question" is something we can not afford not to address. What surprised him the most about his two months of incarceration in Ethiopia was the sheer number of Oromos in jail. He said, he was once invited to speak to a meeting of University students, and, practically, all the Oromo students said they were not Ethiopians. If we want a country called Ethiopia, he said, we must be able to address the Oromo people's concern in an open and civilized manner.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"The Truth Will Set You Free"

By Fikru Helebo

I am thankful to God for His Providence on this
Thanksgiving holiday in the US, but I am especially thankful today to read a statement ("The Truth Will Set You Free") on the current crisis in Ethiopia that was made by the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia a week ago today. Speaking out against the government's cruel suppression of its political opponents the Bishops said: "In situations of such a social distress we cannot remain silent lest we appear to be indifferent in front of the suffering of our people." Thank you, the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, for recognizing the gravity of the crisis in Ethiopia for what it is and for breaking the silence that has gripped the religious institutions of the nation in the aftermath of the fraudulent elections of May 15, 2005. Here is the crux of the statement:

It is not unusual that public discontent be peacefully manifested through demonstrations, strikes and other social expressions. It also happens frequently that some individuals take advantage of those situations in order to create disorder and violence. This is one of the reasons why the forces of public order exist in order to control such reactions. What is a source of preoccupation is that while public disorders can be successfully controlled by the police without resorting to violence, this was not the case in the recent events. Human peace has to be restored through the respect of human rights. “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32)
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece titled "Religion and Politics" urging people of faith to step in and provide a much needed leadership in this gloomy atmosphere where the protagonists in the Ethiopian political arena have failed to deliver. The Ethiopian nation desperately needs a sense of common purpose and destiny, and I hope the other religious leaders in the country will follow in the foot steps of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and provide some hope for a nation that badly needs it.

Here is the link for the Bishops statement in Amharic.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder, Mr. Henze.

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

For you, Mr. Henze, TPLF is beautiful, but for majority of Ethiopians, who had to endure 14 and half years of TPLF’s repressive rule, it is really ugly. This letter is not addressed just to you, but to all those foreign policy wonks in the West who have turned a deaf ear to the cries of Ethiopians and continue to support a dictatorial government in Ethiopia. A Negro spiritual begins with these inspiring words:
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
The day of freedom in Ethiopia is just around the corner, and that I do believe.

Dear Mr. Paul Henze:

I have read your piece, "Comments on Comments", on Professor Christopher Clapham’s recent article titled "Comments on the Ethiopian Crisis" with utter incredulity. You started your comments with harsh criticisms referring to Professor Clapham’s judgment of the current post-electoral crisis as "too categorical, too negative a review of EPRDF history, and too charitable in its assessment of opposition motivation and behavior”. I do believe that this characterization of yours and the rest of your article is not based on an objective assessment of the recent political developments in Ethiopia.

You are famously known for being a very close friend of Prime Minister Meles and his coterie of TPLF leaders. To those who are familiar with this bosom relationship of yours to TPLFites, it does not come as surprise that you took your time to respond to Professor Clapham's long and detailed piece on the current political developments in Ethiopia so quickly and so dismissively. If one replaced your name as the writer of the "Comments on Comments" piece with Meles Zenawi, your article could very well pass for an article written by Mr. Meles. You seem to be chanting the same mantra Meles and the TPLF ex-guerrillas have been singing all along for years. Thank God, it is you instead of him, because he seems to use such exhilarating quotes as "What's love got to do with it?", from Tina Turner, the famous pop singer, or vulgar phrases such as "lumps of truth covered with garbage" referring to the report of European Union Observer delegation led by the Honorable Ana Gomes. (You also dismiss her in your article as a partisan, like your friends, Meles & Co).

I am sure Meles & Co. wanted a policy wonk of your caliber to counterbalance the detailed arguments and assessments of a scholar from an internationally respected University of Cambridge. I believe Professor Clapham presented his informed knowledge without prejudice or impartially to maintain his integrity as a scholar and the prestige of his institution. On the other hand, thanks to revolution in communications, it is very apparent that your eyes are shrouded by Meles' friendship for the international community to count on you to give them the objective reality of the developments in Ethiopia. I believe you have discredited yourself to be an impartial judge of the crisis at hand. Since you and other wonks like you have resisted the cries of millions of Ethiopians at home and thousands and thousands of Ethiopians in the Diaspora, I thought I could contribute in a small way for the struggle for Democracy by writing this response to you.

Unfortunately, we have to confront our own homegrown dictators who have lost both the political and moral legitimacy to govern because of their terrorizing of their own citizens in order to instill fear and subdue them, and wonks like you who arrogantly advance the so called geopolitical interest of the US - stability in the region - by colluding with dictators at the expense of the democratic aspiration of the Ethiopian people. As you know very well, there are a number of precedents of such insensitive and antidemocratic US foreign policies. The US foreign policy is largely responsible for creating one of the worst dictators in Africa, Mobutu, and prolonging the suffering of the people of South Africa by its disingenuous policy of “constructive engagement” with the Apartheid regime of South Africa in the name of the fight against communism, just to cite two examples among many. So those of us from Ethiopia now find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We are forced to challenge arrogant foreign policy wonks like you who think the fight against terrorism is more important than the democratic aspirations of Ethiopian people and continue to believe the West’s fight against terrorism could only be addressed by giving their support carte blanche to a dictator, while it is crystal clear to us that the West’s fight against terrorism will be served better if the West allies itself with the people of Ethiopia who are thirsty for democracy and freedom.

Despite the categorical support of wonks like you, I do not believe the wheels of history can be rolled back for Meles and cabal. In their desperate attempt to cling to power at any cost, they kill innocent lives and then as usual call for an independent commission into the killings afterwards - what a joke! Is an Ethiopian life worth anything for you and your friends, Mr. Henze? Your continued support for Meles despite his killings could only mean that you do not value the lives of those who were gunned down in the streets of Addis Ababa and elsewhere. You are rubbing salt in our wounds by trying to deflect the criticisms leveled against such blatant repression with mini-historical look into TPLF’s accomplishments and the evolution of the opposition. As they say in Ethiopia, you have "washed your eyes with salt", i.e. you have no shame or moral qualm to pen such an utterly biased account of events in Ethiopia in order to defend Meles’s rule.

How could you downplay fourteen long years of rule by Meles in this day and age? Instead you shift the blame to the opposition with the usual TPLF excuse: the opposition’s "attempt to replace it (EPRDF) by resort to extra-legal methods or incitement to violence". Let me remind you, as a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, that your governors are only one-term governors. Despite 70% or 80 % approval rating, as you know, Governor Mark Warner could not run for governor again. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander, as they say. If Virginians think term limits are good for Virginians like you, there must be some truth to it. As Professor Clapham correctly pointed out it is now those who were once touted as "the new leaders of Africa" who are desperately trying to cling to power by any means possible despite their long tenure. Meles wants to extend it to twenty years by killing citizens with impunity, throwing opposition leaders into jail and charging them with treason, banning demonstrations and violating human rights. Museveni, after twenty years, tweaks the Ugandan constitution to extend his rule to twenty five years and also charges an opposition leader with treason. And Esayas is a trouble-making dictator living in his own little world, also in power for fourteen years. As a diehard friend of Meles, you are in the company of those rulers who have stayed in power for too long.

You spent the first part of your article praising profusely TPLF’s achievements and wonderful rule. You seem to forget that Ethiopians have seen your TPLF darlings for fourteen years for what they are and voted unequivocally to rid themselves of their rule. For millions of Ethiopians they are power-crazed megalomaniacs who are hunkered in the Menlelik palace and order their security forces to shoot to kill those who exercise their democratic rights: demonstration and civil disobedience. You gloss over the recent repeated killings blithely. Nor do you mention the rounding up of over fifteen thousand people (may be twenty thousand). What is fascinating, in a quirky way, about your piece is nowhere do you point out that Prime Minister Meles banned demonstrations through emergency declarations the day after the elections. I am sure you know or must be reminded that demonstrating peacefully is one of bedrock rights of democracy. The people of Addis Ababa proved to the whole world a week before the elections that they could hold peaceful demonstrations. The rallies were huge and peaceful. Where was the justification for banning demonstrations? And during voting on the day of election, millions stood in long lines for long hours to cast their votes. It was a spectacular scene of unprecedented civility. Once again, the people of third world showed to the world that they are ready for democracy. All Ethiopia-loving citizens were excited, but only for few hours until your friend declared a state of emergency, pouring cold shower over the hopes and excitement of millions of Ethiopians. Mr. Henze, it is those in power, like your friend Meles, who are not ready for democracy because they can't see themselves giving up power after fourteen long years.

I was incredulous to read most of what you wrote. You question the intention of the opposition and their tactics. Democracy is not a courthouse where one has to prove one's intent beforehand. Nor is it an exercise in psychiatry. No individual is entitled to judge what intentions are good or bad. Not you, not Meles! If the balloting process were undertaken transparently and under the watchful eyes of observers and in the presence of the representatives of the competing parties, none of these issues would have risen. It is the lack of transparent process, stupid. The problem, as you clearly know deep in your heart, is in the breakdown of the electoral process. If Meles and cabal wanted a transparent election, all they had to do was let as many observers, international as well as local ones, at many polling stations. If that had been done, you would not be writing about the intentions of the opposition. According to you, it seems the National Election Board must psychoanalyze the minds of politicians before they enter into election campaigns. You seem to look for scapegoats instead of explaining or addressing what happened – a fraudulent election.

You also rehash the same old reasons and doubts about the opposition instead of focusing on the current issues at hand. I do not believe the Ethiopian people are interested in the history of the evolution of the opposition. You seem to indulge in the minutia of TPLF on one hand and the irrelevant past of the opposition instead of dwelling on what has happened recently. What is spectacular and unbelievable about this election was the nobility and grace with which the Ethiopian people conducted themselves. What is absolutely shocking and unexpected was their utter lack of confidence in EPRDF as government and how they decided to vote for the opposition by large numbers. For exercising their democratic rights so beautifully for the first time in their history, they are paying a heavy price right now. You are deliberately setting aside the current burning issues and take us back to minute details of the past to distract our attention.

What is also sorry about your arguments is how you seem to echo the arguments of TPLF. Perhaps your access to the corridors of power has resulted in your service as an oracle of tired reasoning. You seem to underscore your fear of the extremist fringe in societies and do not seem to comprehend the complexities of the current state of Ethiopia since you just hang around the ruling elite. Bellicose statements by some elements of the Ethiopian society must not be misconstrued as the general attitude of the Ethiopian people and serve as an excuse for stability arguments of the kind you made.

In the last part of your piece, you pretended to get into what is to be done. It is, however, amusing how you started your paragraph with “An internationally recognized government which maintains violence has been consciously perpetrated against it…” What international recognition are you trying to flaunt? Have the Ethiopian people recognized this government or does it matter to you what they recognize? What violence? Who provoked and perpetrated the violence? It is very dishonest on your part to claim that EPRDF was putting down violence, when it is the very cause of violence. Instead of preaching to Ethiopians the virtues of EPRDF, I ask you to advise your friend Meles to yield to the demands of the opposition, release all political prisoners, and sit down to form a unity government. You only mentioned once in your piece about unity government in passing. That really shows how serious you are about helping your friends in power at the expense of poking our wounds.

In the words of the great American 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself will not stand”. Ethiopia will only stand if her children are united. The current government, for sure, is not a vehicle for unity and therefore Ethiopia’s future as a country is at stake. And your wishful stable Horn of Africa could be up in flames!!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Western Policy Towards Ethiopia

By Fikru Helebo

After listening to Herman Cohen interview on VOA last week, I thought that a letter writing campaign to educate Western policy makers on Ethiopia, particularly to those in the US, was in order. So, I was pleased to read an article that addressed this issue on Ethiomedia web site by Solomon Terfa titled "Support to Democracy in Ethiopia has to be Subordinated to U.S. Fight Against Terrorism."

While I do wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Terfa about the urgent need for the US to adjust its policy towards Ethiopia in favor of supporting the aspirations of Ethiopians for freedom and democracy, I do not think that asking the US to give less priority to its national interests in the Horn of Africa region and linking the US policy to partisan rhetoric will serve our common interest of advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia. Therefore, I respectfully diagree with the partisan approach Dr. Terfa took in addressing the issue. Refering to Mr. Cohen's interview, Dr. Terfa said the following:

it [Herman Cohen' view] confirmed my long standing assessment of the policies of the the various Republican administrations. They may give lip service to values like freedom, democracy, justice but rarely are they sincere about them.
I do believe that such a partisan approach (Democrat vs. Republican) is the wrong approach to looking at Western (especially US) policy towards Ethiopia. In point of fact, the above statement of Dr. Solomon could have been just as valid if the word 'Republican' is replaced with 'Democrat'. No one should forget that the biggest American policy mistake ever towards Africa in the last century was commited by a Democratic administration. There is now wide consensus among both Democrats and Republicans alike that the Clinton adminisration did absolutely nothing to stop the horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

When it comes to US policy towards Ethiopia, one can reasonably argue that, historically Republicans policy makers have been more friendly to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. But this is beside the point. I am of the view that United States's policy towards the Horn of Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular, is better understood if it is seen from United State's geopolitical interest in the region, and this geopolitical interest does not lend itself very well to a Democrat vs. Republican or liberal vs. concervative diachotomy since it is largely made by career diplomats. The political affiliations of these career diplomats, who for the most part determine US policy towards Ethiopia, could be with the party that is not in White House as we have seen many times in the last decade.

So, my suggestion to Dr. Terfa and all the rest of us who do believe it is worth our efforts to reach out to Western policy makers towards Ethiopia, within and outside of governments, is to stay clear of domestic partisan considerations and to concentrate on educating them that the interest of Western countries in the Horn of Africa region, especially that of the US and the UK, is best served if they are seen standing on the side of the Ethiopian people at this critical period in Ethiopian history. When seen from this point of view, Mr. Cohen's interview with VOA is a welcome one, considering the destructive role he played in 1991 when he helped to install a regime that has since proved itself antithetical to the interest of Ethiopia. I do believe that Ethiopia has good friends in the West across the political spectrum, and the best way we can influence the West's foreign policy towards Ethiopia is by taking a non-partisan approach.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


One thing that has pleasantly surprised me about the current situation in Ethiopia is the level of engagement by what I referred to as the "ordinary Ethiopian" in my posting the other day in the affairs of the nation. I think there is something profound going on here! Here is one example of such an engagement. I was surprised when a long time friend of mine, who displayed very little taste for Ethiopian politics in the years I have known him, sent me an email today inviting me to visit a blog he has just started called EthiopiaOnMyMind. I like what he has to say. Check it out! Here is a quote from his latest post.
Obeying and respecting the constitution requires disobeying the unconstitutional order of the Prime Minister or any government official to shoot, kill and arrest citizens for exercising their rights under the constitution.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Who Provoked the Violence, Why, and What Should be Done?

This is one of the most succinct articles written about the situation in Ethiopia since the protests began last week. Please read the article here. Here is a quote:

Who provoked the violence in Ethiopia? EPRDF accuses CUD leaders for the violence. That should mean that CUD leaders have called for violence. But it is not true. Since EPRDF has all the means to accuse, arrest and kill people it will not be surprising if it accuses CUD leaders for provoking the violence. What surprises me is that western diplomats too are somehow echoing the accusations of EPRDF. I said this because in many of the statements we find phrases that blame the government and the opposition equally for the violence.

CUD had earlier called for a peaceful demonstration that included a call for motorists to honk their horns between 8:00 and 8:30AM in the morning on Oct. 31st to Nov. 2, 2005. The motorists did honk their hirns but the army stopped and arrested most of them. It also took away licenses of 30 taxi drivers. The government announced this in the evening and the next day when the motorists were again demonstrating peacefully the special Agazi army started attacking them by bringing them out of their cars and beating them cruelly. The people who were watching the scene could not stand the way the motorists were treated and started throwing stones at the soldiers. The soldiers responded with live ammunition. The violence started immediately.

We can compare the situation on Monday with that of Tuesday. On Monday there was no violence because the army was not beating the motorists. They were taking away their licenses but the public tolerated that one. However, on Tuesday the government ordered the army to beat the motorists and hence it provoked the violence.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Sleeping Giant has Awoken!

By Fikru Helebo

The sleeping giant has finally awoken! The tumultuous week that we have all just witnessed has shown us that the ordinary Ethiopian has had enough of those who give her lip service to freedom and democracy. She has realized that freedom and democracy are not given to her by the generosity of those who rule over her, but rather she must demand it by all peaceful means at her disposal.

As I write this, millions of Ethiopians are heeding the opposition's call for a stay-at-home strike to affirmatively express their support for their fellow compatriots who have been gunned down by a savage regime and the thousands who have been thrown in jail for the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia. My heart goes out to those compatriots who have lost their loved ones in this struggle against a tyrannical regime that must be held accountable for the heinous atrocities it has committed. This is a hopeful sign for the future of Ethiopia and her people.

Unfortunately, all is not well as there are some reports of an armed revolt in some areas of the Amhara region. If there is any truth to such reports, I believe this will be a huge setback for the peaceful civil disobedience campaign that was called by the opposition. Any armed insurrection, especially one that is brewed in and served from the Amhara region, will only help to justify the strong-arm tactics of the Meles regime and will unnecessarily divide Ethiopians along ethnic lines and it should be discouraged by any responsible group or individuals that have the interest of all Ethiopians at heart!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Urgent Appeal by the Hon. Ana Gomez to Her Colleagues in the European Parliament

Subject: Ethiopia - Urgent Appeal - Call on EU Governments and the Commission to act

Dear Colleagues

Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia.

As I write to you, EU ambassadors are unable to leave the compound where they are meeting, random shooting is heard in the streets of Addis Ababa. This follows bloody incidents yesterday, where security forces killed people spontaneously protesting against PM Meles government and EPRDF, the ruling party.

The new parliament has been boycotted by the opposition forces, contesting official results and anti-democratic behaviour of the ruling party. EU ambassadors have confirmed to me that the top leaders of the opposition have been arrested, and some of them beaten, including the elected Mayor of Addis Ababa, Mr. Berhanu Nega, who was picked up when leaving the Dutch Embassy.

As you know, there were elections in Ethiopia in 15 May and 21 of August, which the EU Election Observation Mission, which I headed, considered not to have met international standards for genuine democratic elections, despite unprecedented competition and the massive turn out of the people. This evaluation was due to manipulation of overall result in the counting and tabulation of votes, following recognition of a landslide against the ruling party in the capital. And also to undemocratic control of the media, general climate of intimidation and serious human rights violations against opposition supporters committed by the government since election day. I witnessed, and publicly condemned, the peak of such repressive and anti-democratic behaviour on 8 June, when over 40 people were killed in Addis Ababa, elected opposition leaders put under house detention and over 5.000 people subsequently arrested.

Despite those ominous incidents, the conclusions of the EU EOM publicised on August 25, and two critical European Parliament resolutions adopted since then (the last on October 13, denouncing the undemocratic behaviour against opposition inside and outside the new Ethiopian parliament), European governments, although verbally standing by EU EOM conclusions, in practice have been acting as if it was "business as usual" with Mr. Meles. In the last weeks congratulations for PM Meles "re-election" have been pouring in from Europe, including from the British Presidency and the Presidency of the European Commission. Earlier on, just after the Junekillings and arrests, Mr. Meles was invited to rub shoulders with G-8 and "Africa Commission" leaders in Scotland. That amounts to rubbing salt in the wounds of Ethiopians who thought that democracy was at reach when they massively turned out to vote on May 15.

Most ironic is that Europe counts in Ethiopia, a country which depends on European aid, the largest recipient in Africa. Europe could definitely make the difference for democracy in Ethiopia. Instead, current European leaders are choosing to fail it. In doing so, they are not just failing Ethiopians. They are also failing Europe.

Please, urge your government and the Commission to act promptly and consistently for democracy in Ethiopia. Demand the release of arrested elected opposition leaders and supporters. PM Meles should be accountable.

Stop the killing of Ethiopians who dare to believe that democracy is possible in Ethiopia.

Best regards
Ana Gomes, MEP

Listen to VOA's interview with Ms. Ana Gomes

Letter to Send to Your Representatives

Use the links below to find your congressmen and senators:

United States House of Represetatives
United States Senate

Dear x x,

What started out as a wonderful and exciting exercise in democracy on May 15, 2005, when Ethiopia held its first contested multi-party election, has turned into a nightmare. Tension between the ruling party and the main opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, has now taken a turn for the worse.

On Tuesday, November 1st, the special security forces surrounded a high school in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. A skirmish ensued between the security forces and the high school students, and later between their panicking parents and the security forces. Up to eight people were reported killed in the mayhem that followed.

The trouble spread to other parts of the capital city on Novermber 2nd. Initial reports indicate that over 50 people have been killed through out the country, but mostly in the capital city, and hundreds more have been gravely wounded. Tensions are running very high between residents and the security forces. The situation is very precarious.

Most of the leaders of the main opposition party were rounded up on November 1st and thousands of suspected supporters of the opposition have since been arrested and taken to military camps for detention far way from Addis Ababa. And most of the leaders of the two main civic organizations, the Ethiopian Teachers Association and The Association of Ethiopian Journalists, have also been detained. A number of editors and publishers have been thrown into jails, as a result, most independent dailies of the city have been shut down since the protests began.

The government banned demonstrations on May 16th for a month, right after the election, citing security concerns. Then it extended it for another month as it released election results piecemeal. On June 8th, some frustrated residents of Addis Ababa tried to demonstrate, but were met with lethal force. Thirty-seven people were shot dead by security forces, which were placed under the direct command of the Prime Minister when the ban on demonstrations was declared.

The government kept on dribbling the election results intentionally. A substantial percentage of the results was challenged by the opposition. Three months after the elections were over and after tampering with the vote counts, the ruling party finally declared itself a winner. The opposition balked at the outcome and asked for recounts in many precincts. Under the supervision of the European Union, the Carter Center and the African Union observers, the recounts took place. The European Union and Carter Center observers concluded that the recounts fall short of international standards and expressed their dissatisfaction. The Prime Minister refereed to the European Union report as “some lumps of truth covered with garbage” and the Head of the Delegation as a “colonial viceroy”.

Despite an overwhelming evidence of fraud by the ruling party and its killings of unarmed civilians, the United States government has been very reluctant to pressure the Ethiopian government into negotiations with the opposition. In fact, most Ethiopians now think the US prefers the present ruling party to stay in power because of stability concerns in the region. The policy makers in the State department seem to value empty pledges of stability by an Ethiopian dictator over democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people.

The double standard towards Ethiopia is very baffling in light of recent US reactions towards other troubled regions with contested election results. The US government was openly supportive of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and was on the side of Georgian people in Eastern Europe. Ethiopians have been screaming in all major cities, in front of the white house and congress, but to no avail. It is very disheartening to hear very cold diplomatic words of insensitivity from the State Department, if there are any in the first place.

I am pleading to you to voice my concerns to the State Department. As it stands, Ethiopia is on the brink of civil strife. In order to pacify the tension, the ruling party must desist from massacring innocent lives, release leaders of the opposition parties and civic organizations and enter into negotiation for the good of all Ethiopians.


x x

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Duplicity of The West In Buttressing Dictatorships in Africa: Stability vs. Democracy in Ethiopia

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

A bit of historical prelude is in order to understand the carte blanche support of the West for Ethiopian dictator.

In his seminal book, "The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality" Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal cites that Hannibal of Carthage, the great African general, crossed into Europe to conquer Rome. As he advanced from Spain to Rome through the Alps, most of his army perished in the snowy winter of Northern Italy. According to Diop that was the last time Africa ventured into Europe with intention of dominating it. (Some historians argue the Moors ruled Spain for centuries at much later time than Hannibal's). Ever since Hannibal's failed adventure, according to Diop, Africa has been on the receiving end of European aggression and domination.

The late Professor Walter Rodney of Guyana meted out the harshest indictment against Europe's relentless imposition of its will on Africa. In his book, "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa", Professor Rodney expounds how Europe's proximity has been a curse to Africa. Africa could not evolve in its own natural way due to incessant meddling of Europeans in its affairs.

From slave trade to colonialism to neo-colonialism, the West has dominated the African consciousness, its politics and economy. The worst form of rule that humanity has ever witnessed, Apartheid, was the creation of the devious mentality of the Dutch colonizers, Afrikaners. The brutality of Apartheid that led to immense suffering of black people did not matter to the West; it treated the pariah state of South Africa as its ally against communism. Through constructive engagement and sheer disdain for sanctions imposed by the UN, the West prolonged Apartheid for many more years than it would have survived on its own legs.

The West's role in the recent past against liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique is a vivid reminder of the West's shameful support for aggressors rather than for the freedom of African people.

Some of the most brilliant African leaders, right after independence from colonialism, such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah were ousted from power with the help of CIA. In the case of Lumumba, he was replaced by Mobutu,the young army officer who turned out to be the notorious icon of dictatorship in Africa. Mobutu, a close ally of the west, pillaged and destroyed Zaire. Today Congo is a disaster - a torn-apart country of huge humanitarian crisis.

More recently in the 1990's, the Algerian democratic experience was halted when an Islamist party was expected to win the election. With a wink and a nod from the West, the military overthrew the civilian government. What followed next for over a decade was death and destruction. Over 150,000 Algerian lives were lost during the barbaric civil strife.

Rewinding the tape of history forward to 9-11, there seems to be a born-again consciousness or revelation to save Africa from its pitiful existence. Westerners are trumpeting hollow words of false expectations: democratic governance, debt relief, and increased aid. To undiscerning ear, the words sound too good to be true. But under scrutiny, as events unfold and one watches the actions of the West, the lofty words are nothing but mere pontifications by self-anointed saviors.

Take for instance, the question of debt relief. According to some estimates, Africa pays around eighteen billion dollars a year in debt services. What the G8 promised in debt relief after much painstaking deliberations, the 40 billion dollars, amounts to just two years of payments in debt servicing. In the first place, most of these loans were given to corrupt governments, the leaders of which turned around and deposited them in Swiss and other Western banks. It is a height of immorality of unprecedented magnitude to hold the poor of Africa hostage for the bad loans. Compared to the onerous debt payments and all the wealth the Westerners robbed during colonialism, the 40 billion is just a pittance; and any increase in aid that is being hyped probably will be eaten up by NGO salaries and purchase of surplus goods and equipment that are usually damped on poor third world countries.

The sublime utterances about democratic governance also do not hold water either under scrutiny when contrasted to what has recently transpired in Africa: the Ethiopian and Egyptian elections, of the second and third most populous countries in Africa. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the Ethiopian political saga, let me just briefly jot down what happened in Egypt.

After twenty-five years of dictatorship, President Mubarak, who receives 2 billion dollars a year in aid from the US, calls for a cosmetic, multi-party election. He allows for just three weeks of campaigning, makes sure the election board consists of his stooges and that no observers are allowed at polling stations. The turn out was very low. hat is very amazing is how the Western media portrayed such minor election gimmicks as great progress in democratization. The Egyptian people knew better and did not bother, in large numbers, to participate in the obvious shenanigans.

Back in May, just before the Ethiopian elections, the tiny West African nation of Togo, with a population of five million people, held an election. For some strange reason, this election caught the attention of Western media. May be because the Western media is keen in highlighting African foibles; the imposition of the son of the recently deceased long-time African dictator, Eyadema, by the military may have aroused their interest. One then naively expected at the time that the election in Ethiopia, a country of nearly seventy five million people, fifteen times the population of Togo, would at least get some comparable coverage. Disappointingly, except for some passing interest, there wasn't any coverage at all, not even the amount Togo received.

What is even worse and very hypocritical is the lack of tears the Westerners were shading elsewhere in the name of democracy while, right in front of them, the Ethiopian Robert Mugabe was in the making. Right after his security forces killed thirty something innocent demonstrators, the G8 invited Meles to wine and dine with them! Where was the rage they usually demonstrate against Mugabe? Was their rage against Mugabe because he kicked out white farmers from their farm? One could argue it had nothing to do with race. But, how about all those tears that were being shed for Ukraine and Georgia after their botched elections? Where are the same tears for Ethiopia as her children throughout the world are screaming for justice and democracy? What a double standard!!

Here we are six months after the elections and the country is still in limbo. The West has been mute as Meles and cabal dribbled election results, rerun elections again for Bereket Simon and other fallen and disgraced comrades, and as European observers and the Carter center concluded the elections "fraudulent" in diplomatically palatable jargon. Even as Meles lashed out at the Chief of the European delegation, The Honorable Ana Gomes, in a language that is vulgar and beneath that of a prime minister, there was no reaction.

What is even more disturbing is the collusion of the Western diplomats in averting the three-day stay-at-home strike. At the eleventh hour, they goaded the easily malleable opposition leaders into negotiations that were subsequently conducted in bad faith. Where is the retribution for bad faith?

On top of all this duplicity, there is the patronizing argument about the impressive gain of seats in parliament from twelve to one hundred seventy five. The gist of the argument is very simple: just get into parliament, and don't give us any headache for the sake of stability in the region. They seem to neglect the fundamental principle of democracy: an implicit, inviolable contract that must be respected - the verdict of the electorate. What is at stake is this fundamental contract that underlies all elections. The Ethiopian people unequivocally decided they do not want Meles & EPRDF for another five years after fourteen years. The verdict is crystal clear, and it is not too much to ask those who have been in power for fourteen years to step aside. Fourteen years is a very long time to be in power in modern times. If the verdict is not respected and shoved aside for political expediency, the repercussions will reverberate for years to come.

First and foremost, the primary fallout of expedient political solutions that contradict democratic principles will be the death of the budding democratic aspiration that manifested itself in huge rallies, long lines and general excitement in voting for the first time. The population will become very cynical and will not bother to vote in the future. The faith in democratic ideal will be exterminated for a foreseeable future. If the integrity of the voting process is not respected, then voting becomes an exercise in futility. If Meles and EPRDF retain their power through machinations, it will be the end of the nascent democracy and the onset of a one-man or one-party rule for years to come. This is not a far-fetched prediction given that African dictators rule until they die or are overthrown. Moreover, given the ongoing repressive trend in post-election fiasco: the hunting, harassing, imprisoning and even killing of opposition activists throughout Ethiopia, the prospect for survival of the budding democracy is dismal.

Second, the commitment of Meles and cabal to democracy has always been suspect. Meles has repeatedly invited his opponents to go into the bush and wage a guerrilla warfare as he did, if they want to ascend to power. Just on the first day of his illegal parliament, the most memorable phrase he belted out to the opposition was "Mengedun Cherk Yargilachew", which means go to hell. Such pronouncements are characteristic of his dismissive ego. His arrogance is just beyond the pale.

Third, in this day and age, psychological warfare and the show of force should not be allowed as the determining factors of election outcomes. Instead, the art of negotiation and compromise must be nurtured and cherished in order to iron out differences or break out of logjams. Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians must resist vigorously against the flaunting of military force to subdue popular peaceful uprising. Any violent action must not be tolerated and the perpetrators must be served notice that they will face international tribunals for crimes against humanity. This is not some sort of illusion on my part, but is becoming more and more of a reality these days. Recently an Israeli general who ordered the demolition of Palestinian houses had to return from Heathrow Airport in London when he learned the British police were waiting outside customs to handcuff him. A British magistrate had ordered a warrant for his arrest. Similarly, a Spanish magistrate ordered General Pinochet of Chile to be arrested a few years ago. Those of us in the Diaspora must make abundantly clear to abusers of human rights that Ethiopia is no longer an island to herself and that they will forever be hunted and brought to justice.

Despite all this glaring, impending gloom and doom, the status quo continues and the West seems more bent on appeasing a dictator for the sake of stability. Stability maintained through dictatorship is transitory, and it is only a matter of time before it blows apart and creates more havoc ultimately. Why Westerners fail to perceive the stability that will accrue from democratic governance is hard to fathom. May be instead of the unknown good, they would rather stick with the known evil. And such myopic policy could stump out the buds of democracy. The West, if it is serious about alleviating poverty and bringing about lasting peace in the region, it should refrain from groping for easy solutions.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Religion and Politics

By Fikru Helebo

Have you come across some friends or family members who gave you a cold shoulder when you attempted to strike a conversation that is political in nature? If you did, you are not alone. It has been my experience that in some southern circles politics is treated as though it is an anathema to the religious belief that some of us hold dear. This is more true among some sects of protestant Christians than in others.

I have found this phenomenon to be particularly bothersome since, as a protestant Christian, I do not find my religious belief to be in contradiction with political activism. I do believe that religious people can play a constructive role in politics and should be in the forefront of the struggle for social justice. In the Ethiopian south, where protestant groups make up a plurarity of the population, it is imperative that protestant communities embrace politics as a tool to help rid their region of injustices and misrule by successive central governments.

The history of protestantism is replete with political activism of groups and individuals whose religious beliefs guided them into action on behalf of those who were oppressed and disadvantaged in their societies. The Quakers are a prime example of such activist protestantism. Back in the mid 1800s, the Quakers were instrumental in the formation of the "
Underground Railroad" that facilitated the freedom of thousands of slaves from the southern states to the north. In recent years, the clergy of the various protestant groups in South Africa have played key roles in leading the movement in the struggle to get rid of the apartheid system when the African National Congress was forced to go underground. Of course, there is the example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist preacher who gave his life in the struggle for the civil rights of our African-American brothers and sisters, rights that some of us, Ethiopians, have the privilege of enjoying in the United States today.

These examples above are just the tip of the iceburg. Unfortunately, in the case of Ethiopia, I have a hard time coming up with a religious figure or group, protestant or otherwise, that has made contributions towards the struggle for social justice. Why is that? Is the injustice suffered by Ethiopians any less significant? Obviously not! I think it is about time that we heed the advice of Martin Luther King Jr. who was once quoted as saying: "The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed but the vast majority who've sat idly by." It is wrong to assume or pretend that religion and politics are mutually exclusive.

Those of us who are religious and give our religious convictions as a reason for not participating in the political process are doing a great disservice to our people and this has got to change. The current stalemate between the EPRDF government and the opposition in the wake of the disputed May 15th elections and the specter of another war with the belligerent government of Eritrea are clear reasons why people of faith should step in and try to bring about national reconciliation and provide hope for the Horn of Africa region. I do believe that southern Ethiopian protestants, along with other people of faith, can play an important role in national reconciliation since they do not have the baggage of association with past or present Ethiopian governments.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Inspirations from South African Freedom Struggle

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

Two and a half years ago, I went to South Africa. During my stay there, I went to visit the apartheid museum in Johannesburg. The facility is not very impressive when seen from outside. However, one senses the strangeness of the facility as one enters it. The entrance was divided into two separate passages: "whites only" and "colored and blacks only", signposts from the Apartheid era. Eerily, my relative went through one and I passed through the other.

The museum catalogues the history of South Africa going all the way back to its early inhabitants, a thousand or more years back. What really shook me and left an indelible mark on me was the last part of the history just before Apartheid was crushed. I was so much inspired by the visit to the museum that I inserted the following couple of paragraphs in my long article I wrote at the time (Can Ethiopia Make it or Wallow in Poverty for Good?). The words ring true today just as they did at the time, even more so today in light of the current political quagmire in Ethiopia. Hence I felt the urge to share the paragraphs again, and here they are:

Oh, What a Struggle!

"No one can stop a determined people from throwing off the yoke of oppression", said a relative of mine to me after we finished visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. We were both overwhelmed by the awesome and earthshaking struggle by the people of South Africa. Videos after videos of the struggle were shown in the museum: videos of the young people of Soweto determined to make South Africa ungovernable for the racist regime; waves after waves of young people fighting the powerful South African security forces as they were being shot at, chased and beaten. The whole Soweto was up in smoke. University students followed suit, marching as they were being bludgeoned. Religious people were demonstrating and speaking openly against the immoral government (liberation theology). Women's groups and farm workers and trade unions were all out on the street. Everybody was fighting against injustice and the huge South African security forces just could not stop the struggle for freedom. The struggle for freedom spread like wildfire, and the fire was too big to be put out by the forces of brutality and racist machinery. Oh, what a struggle!!

A focused, Concerted Struggle

The time has come for all those who recently shed their tears and anguished over the inability of our people to feed to channel their shame and rage into a positive force to transform our country. Here comes our moment of truth: whether we really participate and fight for justice, freedom and democracy, or just whine and expect someone else to bring the change, someone else to confront the evil, some one else to sacrifice himself or herself.

If we, Ethiopians, really, really want freedom; if we really, really want to end the degrading poverty rather than get used to it and resign to wallowing in it, each one of us must fight, participate in one thing or another to bring change. We must assume the responsibility for bringing change. Only and only then, we can easily get rid of the bullying leadership of Meles and Meles's apartheid. We can also build an Apartheid museum
for Meles's Bantustan government.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Way Out

By Fikru Helebo

I have tried to point out in the last five months that the best strategy for the Ethiopian opposition (Kinijit and UEDF) to pursue in the post-election period is to develop a working relationship between them that goes beyond putting out occasional joint press releases and that allows for a real-time coordination of their respective short-term strategies. The June 8th massacre could have been avoided if there was such a working relationship between the UEDF and Kinijit.

The main reason why there was no working relationship to speak of between the two groups in the immediate post-election period was because of Kinijit's short-sightedness in not willing to share the limelight with the UEDF after their successful showing in the May 15th elections. As weeks weny by, however, it was becoming clear that the two groups had realized that it was for their mutual benefit to coordinate their strategy against the EPRDF as was evidenced by Kinijit's embrace of UEDF's proposal for a government of national unity.

Unfortunately, this working relationship did not last long enough to see the two groups through the critical time of the week prior to the opening of parliament. Instead of forging a single strategy on whether to join or boycott parliament, the two groups went about their own ways. More precisely, a faction of the UEDF led by Drs. Beyene and Merera defied the majority will of their party and joined parliament, thus denying the opposition a single strategy to confront the EPRDF.

I do believe that this action of Drs. Beyene and Merera has weakened the hand of the opposition significanly and needs to be rectified by them soon. There is a way out of this quagmire for Drs. Beyene and Merera and their supporters, and that is this: they need to come up with a short list of demands to the EPRDF that will put a condition on their stay in parliament. Here are my suggestions:

1. Demand that an independent body that has international presence be set up immediately to investigate the massacre of June 8th and all post-election murders of opposition supporters.

2. Demand that the National Election Board be dismantled immediately and be replaced by a professional body that is independent of parties.

3. Demand that all the parliamentary rules that were changed since the May 15th elections be declared null and void.

These demands should be presented to the EPRDF within a week or so and a response to it should be demanded in a reasonably short period of time. If these demands are not met in their entirety within a deadline that is set, then Drs. Beyene and Merera and their fellow opposition parliamentarians should walk out of parliament permanently. This is what Drs. Beyene and Merera and their supporters should do if they want to advance the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia at this critical time.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

The recent speech of bravado by Meles and the wishy-washy stand of the leaders of UEDF raise a fundamental question.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a documentary depicting the theory of impact of geography on the evolution of the societies and countries we have today by Professor Jared Diamond of UCLA in his book "Guns, Germs and Steel".

Professor Diamond is trying to answer the question why the Europeans have been so successful in conquering most of the world. It just so happened that the episode I was watching was about some hundred European soldiers led by a Spanish conquistador and the Empire of the Incas. The Incas, like the Aztecs of Mexico, had a spectacular civilization. The question is how could some hundred soldiers from Spain led by some adventurer conquer the Empire of the Incas?

The Europeans were wily, had guns and some missionaries with them. When they first approached the great compounds of the Emperor of the Incas, they were petrified. The Incas were incredulous at seeing some strange form of human beings. The Europeans sent their priests and negotiators to the Emperor's court. They were sizing up the Emperor and his court as they pretended to negotiate. At one stage, there was a fall out. The Incas Emperor was still expecting them to come back the next morning and continue negotiations. The wicked European conquistadors had a different, sinister plan after having appraised all that wealth controlled by the Emperor. Before dawn they attacked with their guns and all the firepower they had with vengeance. The Incas were bewildered; their Emperor who was considered a demigod was disgraced and was reduced to a pitiful weakling. The Europeans took over.

After watching the episode a few weeks ago, I tried to relate Professor Diamond’s theory to the Ethiopian historical evolution of conquest. How Menelik conquered all of Ethiopia from the barren highlands of Ankober and Northern Shoa. Deceit, Guns and treachery played a fundamental role. I thought of the good-natured Incas and compared them to Oromos and Southerners.

Then I thought of the band of TPLF gun-totters at the present. How their guns have helped them conquer Ethiopia. How they have enriched themselves and control anything they wish in Ethiopia. How Meles brandishes his guns and tanks and threatens his opposition to kill. Guns, Guns, Guns!!! How he wants to cow the opposition into submission by flaunting his muscle. This guy is so crazed that he tells them straight to their face that he could wipe them out.

The issue before Ethiopian people now is whether force will rule over reason and negotiation. The opposition leaders are so scared that they are not willing to tap into the smoldering volcano of the Ethiopian people ready for eruption to consume the arrogant TPLF. The first thing, this jerk does after the illegitimate parliament convenes is pass a law to go after his opponents. In the end he always resorts to his guns and intimidation. The opposition should be equally bold to say no to him. He should know that his scare tactics would not work in this day and age. Rather he should be brought down to his knees, and that is possible only with a firm stand of Ethiopian people.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Reinvent the SEPDC!

By Fikru Helebo

The reason I embraced the Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) back in 1993 was for two main reasons: 1) For the disenfranchised Southerners, it sought to address the acute imbalance of power that exists in Ethiopia, and 2) For a nation that did not know peace and stability for three decades, it offered a peaceful approach to solving the outstanding political problems of the country. My SEPDC experience since 1993 tells me that the perception and the reality of the collective Ethiopian South embracing a peaceful method of struggle has had a profound impact on shifting the political discourse of the nation from that of armed confrontation to rudimentary dialogue. I do think that this is progress. On the other hand, however, SEPDC's record in addressing the power imbalance that exists in the country has been ineffective to say the least. Thus, I believe there is still a case to be made for the need to have some sort of Southern based political movement in the spirit of the SEPDC, since the environment that gave rise to the formation of the SEPDC back in 1992 still dominates the political landscape of the nation.

My SEPDC experience since 1993 also tells me that it has failed to be the vehicle through which the unity of the disparate ethnic groups that call the Southern region their home can be brought about. Truth be told, in my view SEPDC's appeal to ethnic groups outside of the Hadiyas and the Kembattas is tenuous at best, and the result of the May 15th elections, warts-and-all, has laid bare this fact for all to see. After 13 years of existence, the SEPDC has not been able to attract a sizable portion of the political class from the three largest ethnic groups in the South, namely the Sidamas, the Guraghes and the Wolaitas. The SEPDC or any other Southern Ethiopian political movement cannot succeed with out the active participation of a majority of the political class from at least two of these three largest ethnic groups.

The embodiment of the Southern Ethiopian political movement since 1992, the SEPDC, is at crossroads following its poorer than expected showing in the May 15, 2005 elections. It is generally assumed that the SEPDC would have done much better than the
12 out of 123 seats it won from the Southern region to the House of People's Representatives, if the elections were free and fair. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the SEPDC, a 13 year old political organization, has had a poor performance in relation to the performance of the CUD (Kinijit), a six month old organization which won 18 seats to the House of People's Representatives from the Southern region.

It is true that Kinijit had a clear advantage over the SEPDC in financial resources going into the elections. On the other hand, the conventional wisdom among political observers was that the SEPDC, as the more established political party in the South, had a clear advantage over Kinijit in most of the other aspects of pre-election preparations. After all, this election was the third one for the SEPDC and Kinijit's first. As it turned out, SEPDC's presumed advantage was superficial. Election Day 2005 came and went and conventional wisdom bit the dust as the SEPDC was unable to withstand a better financed political opponent in its own back yard. The question then becomes, why was Kinijit able to out-perform the SEPDC in such a short time? Was SEPDC's financial disadvantage the culprit? I am afraid not. I believe the result of the elections for the SEPDC would not have been any significantly different if it had Kinijit's financial resources at its disposal. Can any one in the SEPDC attribute the dismal showing of its candidate for the House of People's Representatives from Soddo Zuria 1 constituency of Wolaita Zone to financial problems? I think not! The reason why financial problems can not explain this poor showing is because the candidate was none other than vice chairman of the SEPDC, the respected Ato Mulu Meja. Ato Mulu finished a distant fourth, garnering less than 2% of the total votes cast in that constituency.

So, how did the SEPDC loose its luster? One may chose to attribute the result of the election on lack of funding and lack of preparation time, among other factors, but this can not be an honest assessment of the SEPDC failures. The result of the election is a cumulative effect of many factors, prime among which is the very foundation upon which the SEPDC rests: the fact that it is still a coalition of real and some phantom ethnic parties. The answer to the above question lies in SEPDC's organizational structure and its leadership. I believe the SEPDC's main Achilles' heel is its organizational structure, the weakness in its leadership being a close second. I am of the opinion that neither keeping the status quo nor tinkering around the edges of the SEPDC will bring a better result in the next election cycle. Therefore, there has to be a fundamental change in how the SEPDC is structured for the SEPDC to survive.

A political movement needs to re-evaluate itself from time to time and to reinvent itself, if necessary, to better deal with the changing realities of the times. In the wake of the 2005 elections, the time is ripe for the SEPDC to do just that. The SEPDC needs to reinvent itself because it has become glaringly obvious that the damage caused to it from being a coalition of ethnic parties has far outweighed it benefits. To help illustrate my point, I will mention the case of the Kembatta People Congress (KPC). The KPC was founded in 1991 as a direct result of the Tigrayan take over of power in Addis Ababa. One of KPC's founders admitted in a recent meeting that he has had to act as chairperson, secretary, public relations officer, etc., of the KPC simultaneously many times in the past because of the lack of participation in the KPC by Kembattas. Why are the Kembattas, for whose exclusive benefit the KPC was founded, not participating in the KPC in good numbers? The reason, I believe, is very simple: the Kembattas, like most Southerners, are not much interested in a political organization that caters only for their ethnic group. I am of the opinion that the KPC was not borne out of Kembatta people's genuine desire to organize along ethnic lines. The same can be said of most, if not all, Southern ethnic groups. Therefore, I believe the first step for the SEPDC is to reinvent itself by doing away with the current structure immediately and by reconstituting itself as a regional party that is open to any individual person who is concerned about the welfare of the Southern region. I would name this reinvented regional party simply as the Southern Union (Debub Hibret). All persons within the current SEPDC who want to continue their support for their respective ethnic organizations should feel free to do so, while at the same time being a part of the Southern Union as individuals. But their respective ethnic organizations must not have a role within the newly organized Southern Union.

Once the SEPDC completes its reinvention, the reorganized Southern Union should be announced to the public in Addis Ababa with big fanfare at least three months before the local elections that are scheduled for sometime in 2006. As it stands currently, the SEPDC is not a political organization that has an atmosphere that is conducive to winning, and its structure and the resultant fickle membership base are its weakest link. Unless the SEPDC quickly reforms itself and makes a serious attempt to regain its lost momentum in short order, I am afraid its fate will not be any different from the EPRPs and the Meisons of Ethiopian politics whose membership dwindles year after year and whose remaining members get older year after year with out enjoying the fruits of their labor. Do you, as a past or current supporter of the SEPDC, want to be affiliated with such an organization? I do not!