Monday, October 31, 2005
The Duplicity of The West In Buttressing Dictatorships in Africa: Stability vs. Democracy in Ethiopia
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
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
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
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
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
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!