Friday, December 29, 2006

"Ethiopia" by Dereje Kebede (Video)

Please enjoy Dereje Kebede's "Ethiopia" put to a video. I posted the lyrics for the song last week which you can find here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Grave Concern and Shamefullness of Our Conditions

By Erango Kelbisow

A poem that captures the gloomy predicament that hangs over
Ethiopia and Ethiopians. [PDF Version]

Echoes of War and the Imperative to Mobilize Our Good Senses

By Mitiku Adisu

These are difficult days. Once again we are hearing echoes of war. Words are being bandied about in support of or against a clash between Ethiopia and the Council of Somali Islamic Courts (CSICs). The issue need not have been presented as either/or, however. I believe the timing, not the act itself of defending one’s nation, should be the point of contention.

Some foresee “clear and present danger” and call for increased military intervention in the defense of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopian “territorial integrity.” Others suggest prudence, transparency, and altogether a different set of priorities. Wittingly or not, both sides seem to convey deep concern for the welfare of the nation.

Read the rest of this 10 page superb analysis here in PDF format.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Reckless War Borne of Bad Choices

By Fikru Helebo

Here we go again. Ethiopia is engaged in a war for the second time in less than a decade. The last time Ethiopia went to war in 1998 it was on a false premise: Ethiopians were told that their territory has been invaded by Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, and they were called to defend the motherland from an aggressor. Surely, the Eritreans were the aggressors, but the real reason for the war was the fall out between the Tigrean ruling elites who rule on both sides of the border, not the ill-defined border between the two countries.

If the Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998-2000 was a senseless war, then this war between the radical Somali Islamist and the illegitimate Meles-led regime of Ethiopia is a reckless one for all involved. This time around Ethiopians are told by Meles Zenawi that the nation's "defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation and to blunt repeated attacks by Islamic courts terrorists and anti-Ethiopian elements they are supporting." This is hogwash!

The truth of the matter is that Ethiopia was not forced to enter this war; rather, it is the bad policy choices that the Meles regime has made with regard to Somalia and domestically combined with the reckless decision of the lunatic Eritrean regime to engage in a proxy war with Ethiopia that has made this war inevitable. The United States Government should also bear the responsibility for this war since it is the CIA's botched attempt to support a group of Somali warlords early this year that led to the rise of the radical Islamists and this Ethiopian adventure into Somalia could not have taken place without a tacit approval from the US.

It was also reckless of the radical Islamists to refuse to talk to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia at the Khartoum talks where they had the most to gain through negotiations. But they blew it believing that the TFG based in the town of Baidoa would crumble under their military might. Is continued war making the way to bring peace and security to clan-crazy Somalia? I seriously doubt it. Somalis who support the Islamists should also not delude themselves into thinking that it is Ethiopia that is preventing them from having peace and security. The facts on the ground point otherwise -- the Somali regions of Somaliland and Puntland, which are allied with the Ethiopian regime, have been the ones that are relatively more stable over the last decade.

As I have attempted to argue in a previous posting, the ascendant Islamist forces clearly pose a tangible threat to the coexistence of the people of the Horn of Africa region and they should be held in check. However, from the evidence that is available to us, the threat they pose is not an imminent one as far as Ethiopian sovereignty is concerned at this particular time, and going to war with the Islamists under these conditions will only play into the hands of the Islamists and their Eritrean sponsors. Some have argued that waiting any longer to fight the Islamists will make it more difficult to contain them later. There is some logic to this argument, but I believe it is a short-sighted argument that fails to appreciate the supremacy of clan-based politics in Somalia.

In the months following the rise of the Islamist forces, the Meles regime could have invested some of the resources it committed to preparing for war to reaching out to the Somali community both in Somalia and abroad. But there is no evidence that it has done this other than propping up the weak TFG. The Meles regime could also have gone on a diplomatic offensive to isolate the Islamists and their Eritrean allies, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is the case. Sadly, the reverse is true -- the Islamists were the ones who carried out a diplomatic offensive and succeeded for the most part in isolating the Meles regime. Meles now has fewer allies in the region than when the Islamists took over in June of 2006.

Having said all that, I wish the Ethiopian defense forces that have been sent into harms way good luck in accomplishing their mission, and I hope they will be withdrawn from Somalia as soon as possible. The Islamists must be pressured by the International community to return to the Khartoum talks without any preconditions, and the Ethiopians and the Eritreans should be pressured to withdraw their troops from Somalia as well. In the end, it is not the Ethiopian military that can bring peace and security to Somalia, it is the Somali people themselves!

PS: Some readers have asked me why I have the comments feature on this blog turned off. My reasoning for turning it off is that some people tend to abuse this feature by engaging in out right insults and character assassinations and I am also not a fan of writing anonymously which totally removes accountability from the author of the comment. I have turned on the comments feature on an experimental basis a couple of days ago to see if it serves a useful purpose.

Friday, December 22, 2006

"Ethiopia" by Dereje Kebede

By Fikru Helebo

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to share with you a song by one of my all time favorite singers/song writers -- Dereje Kebede. I grew up listening to Dereje. I do believe that he is one of the best singers/song writers that Ethiopia has ever produced. This song of Dereje's that I am sharing with you, titled "Ethiopia", comes to you courtesy of
Ethiocross and it is from Dereje's last known recording (Dereje Kebede #8) from the mid 90s. In this song Dereje sings prayerfully, in that mesmerizing voice of his, for peace and harmony in Ethiopia and for God to have mercy on her.

Dereje has touched the lives of many Ethiopian Christian believers and some non-believers through his songs, especially in the late 70s and early 80s when persecution of protestant Christians was a common practice of the Ethiopian government. Dereje was a member of the Meserete Kristos Church (affiliated with the
Mennonites) Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), and he was forced to flee from Ethiopia in the early 80s to escape certain imprisonment. His crime was his religious beliefs and the prominent role he had in the larger Ethiopian protestant community. A contemporary of Dereje's and another terrific Christian singer/song writer by the name of Tesfaye Gabisso was not as lucky as him to escape imprisonment. Tesfaye was incarcerated for about a decade by the Dergue regime simply because of his faith.

I am told that Dereje now lives in the State of Minnesota in the United States and he has not published any new material after his #8 recording. I hope he is doing well and I would love to see him sing his old songs and write new songs again. Click on the link below to listen to the song (all you need is a computer with a speaker or a headphone) and read the lyrics while you listen. Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

"Ethiopia" by Dereje Kebede

"Ethiopia" by Dereje Kebede (Video)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Millennium Resolution

By Ephrem Madebo

New Year's Eve has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, forward to the coming year. Every year, as the days of December dwindle, most of us state, say, or enumerate our new year resolution. A scientific trend analysis shows that many of us don’t live up to our new year resolution. This might look like less of a deal because most of us have many more new years to redeem ourselves. Well, a millennium resolution is different because it comes once in a thousand years. The scope of a millennium resolution is more than the individual, or even more than the sum of single generations. Millennium resolutions are longer in sight, wider in reach, and have depth in content, they embrace a nation and its vision for a thousand years. Therefore, we need to think twice before we sate our millennium resolution, and once we commit, we should honor our words because this time there is no second chance.

As I always do, I recently visited and a link took me to another site where I read the following sarcastic statement: "The main difference between me- Meles now- and Meles 35 years ago is that Meles 35 years ago, as a young person, had the courage and ambition to storm the heavens. Meles now does not have the same type of ambition and courage". What an astonishing self assessment ! Meles says many good things, but he doesn’t mean them, he promises much, but never delivers, therefore, what ever he says should not be taken at face value. The main difference between Meles now- and Meles 35 years ago is that Meles 35 years ago, as a young person, had the dream and the ambition to disintegrate Ethiopia. Today’s Meles has already realized his dream; he doesn’t dream anymore because there isn’t much evil left to dream for. The jailing, the killing, and his recent hard to come back journey to Somalia are not new dreams, they are all the spillover effects of his original dream.

At the beginning of the first millennium, when Ethiopia’s merchant ships roamed the oceans and when its crafts men built beautiful churches and tall obelisks, Tigray was the cradle of the great Ethiopian civilization that attracted Greek and Roman historians. Today, two millenniums latter, as Ethiopians count down towards the third millennium; Ethiopia does not enjoy the same level of civilization it had two thousand years ago. Thanks to a man from Ethiopia’s cradle of civilization, today, Ethiopia does not have access to the sea and its 77 million people depend on the port of another country. Today, as the new millennium draws closer, most Ethiopians do not have time to reflect back on the last thousand years and plan for the next because they are preoccupied with the dread of war looming in the skies of Ethiopia. As a person who grew up in Colonel Mengistu’s regime, I really appreciate the patience with which my fellow Ethiopians submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by the Meles Zenawi government, but for how long?

In the last 16 years, Ethiopians have taken a fighting stance with the dictatorial regime of Meles locally, nationally, and internationally. Today, as we stand at the turning point of the second millennium, we should ask our selves - what is the alternative that we offer to the Ethiopian people? Ethiopians already know what Meles has to offer, do they really know what we have to offer? PM Meles, who started the last decade of the millennium with war is determined to conclude it with war. This indiscriminate killer who killed many Ethiopians, has at last vowed to kill the hope of people at a time many Ethiopians look for a new hope and a new beginning. How do we stop this mad killer and change the course of history in our country? This is not about CUDP, UEDF, OLF, AFD, OFDM, ONC,SEPDC or EPRDF. This is about Ethiopians now and about generation of Ethiopians to come. In the last forty years, we have manufactured a large number of political organizations, but none of them were able to lead us to the promise land. The Ethiopian people have successfully uprooted two oppressive regimes, but only to see them replaced by another brand of ruthless dictators. What should we do to correct this ugly trend?

In 1991, when the TPLF gangs controlled Addis Ababa, they promised to fully democratize Ethiopia. Before they had their first anniversary, they used their "dedebit" or "dedeboch" model of democracy to wipe out Assab from the map of Ethiopia. During the honeymoon of Mels and Esayas, Ethiopia was forced to finance what was prematurely called as the Eritrean take-off. In 1999 and 2000, fifty thousand Ethiopians paid the ultimate price for the ugly honeymoon that ended up in a quick divorce. Months before the May 2005 election, the same gangs allowed a multi-party election and claimed to be the fathers of democracy in Ethiopia. In May 2005, they lost the election, but they decided to stay in power anyway. Democracy in the Meles context is two hyenas and a donkey voting on what to have for dinner. For the last 16 years, Meles has been promising freedom and liberty, I wonder if this enemy of freedom knows that liberty is the highest political end, not a means to a higher political end. Recently, the Ethiopian PM was asked by the Washington Post reporter- Why do you think there is such a fear among people here? The pathological liar replied: "I don’t think there is such a fear". The only people that have no fear in Ethiopia are Meles himself and his commandants. The TPLF government is the most feared government on earth because it has no constitutional brakes on it, in other words, it is a legalized criminal government. Mr. Prime minester, if you have a heart like him, let me quote you Thomas Jefferson: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty".

Article 50, sub-article 2 of the Ethiopian constitution states: "The Federal Government and the States shall have legislative, executive, and judicial powers" At its face value, the article says: The state is divided into three branches, and each branch has separate and independent power and areas of responsibility; however, each branch is also able to place limited restraints on the power exerted by the other branches. In Ethiopia, Meles not only exerts power on the other two branches, he also writes his own law and sends it to the rubber stamp parliament for approval. He jails his opponents and orders the judicial body to convict them. PM Meles is a man who has a gun and everything that a gun protects. As the old saying goes, when the same man holds the gun and the treasury, there comes an end to liberty. Yes, I am a vocal opponent of PM Meles, however, I have no problem with Meles as a person, or even as a commander-in-chief, but, I sure don’t like the sharpness of his command nor the swiftness of his army, if I don’t love what his army defends. The TPLF regime is a single-party state that imposes its will on the Ethiopian people by means of propaganda disseminated through the state -controlled mass media, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.

In 1775, Patrick Henry said "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death. In Ethiopia there is a saying that says: "A day with freedom is better than eternal slavery". It really doesn’t matter where, when, or who; people always prefer to die in liberty than live in constant servitude. For the most part, the history of mankind is dominated by People who die for freedom and by those who kill. The following is an excerpt from the Magna Carta: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land" King John, the 13th century monarch, did not have a matching democratic institution or favorable international conditions when he issued such a ground breaking declaration. Today, as the result of the Magna Carta; the Western world enjoys freedom of speech, justice, and advanced economic life. On the flip side, today, seven hundred ninety years after the declaration of the Magna Carta, a dictator in Ethiopia jails elected public officials, ruthlessly massacres demonstrators, and forces hundreds of thousands of freedom lovers to seek asylum in neighboring countries. In the presence of a plethora of governments and independent organizations that advocate democracy, especially, under the watch of the EU and the US government; it is unfashionable and troubling to see Ethiopians suffer under the yoke of a western anointed dictator who has no appetite for western democratic values.

I may be wrong, but I still think that between June and October 2005, the Ethiopian opposition had a shaky political upper hand over TPLF. I called it shaky because the on-and-off alliance of UEDF and CUD was unstable. As we all remember, in June, July, and August 2005, the group effort of CUD and UEDF earned the opposition some respect, and as a result obdurate Meles was forced to bow to the opposition’s demand of negotiation. However, as time passed, the opposition disintegrated when the UEDF chairman and CUD took a south and north stand on the issue of joining the parliament. Had CUD and the UEDF chairman used the principles of "Nash Equilibrium" while deciding the parliament issue, Meles wouldn’t have been able to fabricate any justification to jail the CUD leaders. Has our opposition learned form its indecisiveness?

For the last one thousand years Ethiopians lived in the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, backwardness, and war. Today, in many parts of Ethiopia people live in the same way their great grand fathers lived. As time, leaders, and regimes changed, the social and economic life of Ethiopians became progressively worse. Every successive regime or leader promised a better future, but Ethiopians who started the first millennium at the peak of civilization are closing the second millennium as one of the poorest people on earth. Ethiopians are sick and tired of leaders who promise prosperity, but deliver misery and hardship. Yes, we do believe we have better ideas and better alternatives than the TPLF regime. The caveat is, as the king of Reggae [Bob Marley] said, " you can full some people some time, but you can’t full all the people all the time". How do we convince the people of Ethiopia that we are not one of those opportunist thugs ?

As a nation, new beginnings present opportunities to renew and improve ourselves. If the tick of a new year can motivate us individually, the thunderous clap of a new millennium should definitely arouse us collectively. At the dawn of a new millennium, we should preach peace and hope, not war. Our resolution for the millennium should look at the bigger picture and the long term. That means all of us together as one indivisible nation should vow to wage war on poverty, disease, and backwardness. We should fight our enemies together with a more inclusive sense of belonging by widening the group to which we feel connected. The unifying effect of such a pledge is a strong sense of national cohesiveness that drives us to believe that all people next to us are important and worthy to be with. No matter how important we feel we are, we live in the context of each other. There is no me with out you, and there is no we with out them.

The last two hundred fifty years are exemplified by rapid economic, social, and environmental changes. The engines of change include new technology, global economic integration, and changing consumer preferences. Unfortunately, our country Ethiopia does not have access to the same economic and technological advancement that the western world enjoys, but 'she' is equally affected by global warming and deteriorating environmental conditions. Domestically, many Ethiopians do not have access to health care and to other social and economic services, but they pay taxes. Politically, Ethiopians participate in the democratic process and elect their leaders, but only to see them in jail. All in all, Ethiopians have little or no control of their own destiny. As the enlightened segment of society we have the primary responsibility of guiding our people to self empowerment. As the turn of the Millennium approaches, we should embolden people and enable them to be masters of their destiny, not create a national committee that plans for a single night of extravaganza for the few halves. People who know nothing, but war need peace. Socially disenfranchised people need an optimistic sense of belonging. People who live in a constant shadow of fear need hope. Can we bring peace, hope, and optimism to our land?

Can we honestly deliver what we promise? If yes, our millennium resolution should be: In the new millennium: We will be determined to establish a just and lasting peace in our country. We re-dedicate ourselves to support social and economic development, and uphold the principles of democracy and equality among all people. We pledge to seek peaceful means to resolve all disputes in conformity with the principles of justice. We will be determined to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We will respect the equal rights of all without distinction as to religion, language, race, sex, or political affiliation. We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law. We are determined to create a system where both government and the governed should be subject to the law. Our’s will be a system where power changes hands as the voted-in shake hands with the voted-out. We will be determined to make our country a better place to live, a better place to invest, and an attractive place to visit. Have we vowed to make this millennium to be the era of peace and development ? Perhaps are we considering a total attitude change, or are we having a change of heart to work together and value the idea of others? Are we determined to free our jailed leaders, and ultimately free our people? If our answer is yes, so help us God.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mengistu Haile Mariam Convicted of Genocide

At long last, an Ethiopian court has finally convicted the former Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, of genocide in absentia. Unfortunately, the families of Mengistu's Red Terror victims may never see the day when Mengistu will receive the punishment he deserves as Mengistu lives a cozy life protected by another African dictator in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the terrorization of the Ethiopian people continues unabated by another dictator, Meles Zenawi. When will this cycle end?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Four big mouths, four big lies

By Ephrem Madebo

In Ethiopia where the parliament is dominated by the executive branch, the entire legislative program of the Parliament is determined by the government, and government bills virtually always pass the House of Representatives due to the rubber stamp nature of the parliament. Constitutionally, in Ethiopia, sovereignty resides in parliament i.e., parliament is the ultimate legislative body in the country, and may remove power from or abolish local or regional government, and in theory pass any law it wishes. However, the Ethiopian check and balance system is unique in history where the executive branch makes law and the parliament convenes to express its eternal support to the executive branch.

The recent drama in PM Meles’s nominal Parliament is yet another visible evidence that epitomizes the emptiness of the rubber stamp parliament. Last week Meles Zenawi came to the parliament with a pre-determined bill and went back home with a ratified, but the same unaltered bill. When the absolute majority of the Parliament agrees with every bill that comes from the executive body, I wonder why Ethiopia needs a Parliament of 534 representatives who non-productively consume the rare resources of the country. To be honest, when the parliament and the executive branch agree 100% of the time, we need one of them, not both. Recently, when PM Meles addressed his mostly sleeping audience, he used his trade mark of senseless humor and absolute lie to sell his warmonger bill to a parliament that buys any bill regardless of its price . To me, the most surprising drama of the recent parliamentary session was that every member of the parliament, including the dummy speaker of the house, were dressed with a slogan stamped sweater that directly guided the MPs to vote in a certain pre-determined way. For the most part, PM Meles Zenawi’s mumbo-jumbo speech during the recent parliamentary session was loaded with multiple lies of which the following two stand above all.

-The Jihadists declared Holy war on Ethiopia for no apparent reason.
-Ethiopian Somalis have the right to be with Ethiopia or with any other nation, it all depends upon them.

The shameless PM did not even wink his eyes when he told the parliament that Ethiopia was invaded by the Jihadists. Yes, we all have heard that the Somalia Jihadists have declared Jihad on Ethiopia, but why? PM meles did not give any explanation for the declared Jihad, nor any member of the parliament asked the question "why". If the Somali Jihadists declare war on Ethiopia to materialize their long time dream of "Greater Somalia", make no mistake, all Ethiopians will fight such an invasion. The whole world knows that it’s PM Meles’s unprovoked military maneuver in and around Somalia that prompted the Jihadists to declare war on Ethiopia. Just like the French and the Brits opposed the war on Iraq, we Ethiopians should oppose the unprovoked war on a country that doesn’t even have a working government system.

PM Meles, a man that fought hard to exclude Assab from Ethiopia, is again working hard to break the resourceful area of Ogden from Ethiopia. According to Meles, every nationality of Ethiopia will be part of Ethiopia if it likes, or if it dislikes Ethiopia, it can be part of Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, or Eritrea. To this black ‘Giuseppe Sapeto’, Ethiopia is an alliance of nationalities, not an entity that is a whole. To PM Meles, the unity and stability of Ethiopia is immaterial, any hopeless lunatic [like himself] can mobilize people and convince them to break away from Ethiopia. This is the kind of leader our country has to put up with.

The speech of the Honorable Beyene Petros, Ethiopia’s oldest and most confused politician was conciliatory as usual and senseless as expected. The Honorable Beyene had the audacity to say the following: If the government, or the ruling party believes that this resolution saves our country- our party will have no political opposition though we oppose the war effort in our conscious mind" Oh! My dear professor do you know that you are in the parliament to save Ethiopia. Is it your conscious mind that guides your political path, or is it your ambition to power that drives your principle? How can your conscious mind oppose a war and your political mind support the same war? Is your will to serve your country that divided between wholly supporting and totally opposing a single resolution? WHAT A WISHY-WASHY STAND! Remember, a divided will can’t stand for its own good. Some times the Honorable Beyene reminds me Ethiopia’s run away man in Harare. Like Colonel Mengistu of the 70s and 80s, the Honorable Beyene is infatuated with titles (SEPDC chairman, UEDF chairman, Alternatives forces chairman etc). Today, more than 90% of the UEDF member organizations have alienated themselves form your leadership, which UEDF do you lead?

As PM Meles said, I value the love the Honorable Bulcha has to his country; he was the only MP that gave Ethiopia’s fate to the Almighty God. This is what he said: "We will not oppose the resolution, we will pray for the outcome". Ato Bulcha,I guess you can oppose what your conscious mind tells you to oppose, and still say your prayers, the two are not mutually exclusives.

The Honorable Temesgen, the leader of "MCUDP" (Meles’s Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party) was the only opposition party leader to openly and clearly oppose the resolution(no wander, Ato Temegaen used to be a political disciple of the Kaliti group). However, some where in his speech, the Honorable Temesgen said: "This parliament is not a rubber stamp parliament" . My friend Temegen, its good that, at last, you are awaking, but you are not fully awake yet. When you are fully awake, your eyes will be opened to see that you are one of the links that makes up the rubber stamp parliament.

The Honorable Lidetu, who flashed back his signature smile when he was ridiculed by PM Meles, was the only opposition party leader to openly support the war resolution. The Honorable Lidetu, who often wants to articulate more than he can and pretends to be smart more than he can ever be, dashed along some sensitive historical and cultural values of Ethiopians and gave his support to the war. The Honorable Lidetu called the war a defensive war and urged Ethiopians to rally behind the TPLF regime. He also tried to compare the current war to the 1977 war. The Jihadsist Holy war and the 1977 war are different in nature. In 1977, Somalia invaded Ethiopia and the Ethiopian government responded to the invasion. Today, the game is different. The two warmongers, Esayas and Meles, are taking the horn of Africa to a bloody conflict. Ato Lidetu, open your heart and identify your enemies. The only power that invaded the freedom of Ethiopians is TPLF, defend Ethiopian from TPLF.

We Ethiopians have always defended our country, we will continue to defend regardless of our political differences. Meles is the wrong person to tell us to fight for the unity of Ethiopia. We should be vigilant and keep our eyes on the current political crisis of the horn of Africa, and we should not ignore Eritrea’s involvement in the internal affair of Somalia. Most importantly, we should acknowledge that Eastern Ethiopia is the basis of the future development potential of Ethiopia. Anything that destabilizes the Ogaden region destabilizes the entire country. We in the opposition are not blinds who disregard the territorial integrity of our country, we always fight unjust wars and fight for just wars. We need our country to do what is good and what is right.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tolerating Dissent and Admitting to Mistakes are Signs of Good Leadership

Admitting to mistakes and tolerating dissent are two important qualities that distinguish good political leaders from those who aren't. These two traits are positively not trademarks of Dr. Beyene Petros' leadership styles. We shared with our readers a few weeks ago about Dr. Beyene's feeble attempt to rehabilitate his political image after his gambit to remain in Meles Zenawi’s good graces took an unfavorable turn.

In this communication, we share two press releases in Amharic, one from the group led by Dr. Beyene and another, a response by the Democratic Organization of Hadiya National Unity (DOHNU), an organization that was created a few months ago after Dr. Beyene illegally claimed the Hadiya Nation Democratic Organization (HNDO) to himself through undemocratic means. Unfortunately, the tone and content of this press release of his evokes memories of the horrendous days of the Dergue regime!

Unwittingly or not, it is clear that Dr. Beyene is trying to pit the people of Hadiya against each other. We are truly saddened by his continued abuse of the good name of the Hadiya people for his selfish political ends. This press release of Dr. Beyene unmasks to the public the true nature of the leader of the group that has misappropriated the good name of the HNDO. His tirade has gone beyond insulting his old colleagues within HNDO. It calls the Ethiopian Diaspora "traitors", despite his continued effort to coax the Diaspora community for financial support.

It is only about 6 years ago that the agents of the ruling TPLF/EPRDF and its army atrociously and vengefully terrorized the law-abiding Ethiopians in the Hadiya zone for no reason other than voting for an opposition HNDO in an election organized by the TPLF/EPRDF itself. As we have reported previously, HNDO, an organization that epitomized peaceful and legal struggle against an undemocratic and unlawful regime in Ethiopia, has been weakened and divided by the vengeful actions of Dr. Beyene Petros since 2001.

By this action, Dr. Beyene has perpetrated yet another horrid enormity on the struggle of the peoples of Ethiopia for representation, democracy and the rule of law. The once vibrant and flagship organization in the South, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Organization (SEPDC) has been reduced to a name he swears by when he is challenged by his old SEPDC colleagues, and it serves only as Dr. Beyene’s ticket into the gates of Western Embassies.

After Dr. Beyene found himself in a precarious political situation with the Ethiopian people after the 2005 elections, instead of looking inward and examining his short comings as a leader, Dr. Beyene has raised the level of his vindictiveness against any group that disagrees with him. In a political career that spans a decade and a half, Dr. Beyene has sadly come to symbolize mediocrity and obsession for holding the chairmanship of multiple organizations, even obsolete ones.

Many Ethiopians, including those who faithfully stood by Dr. Beyene and supported him for more than a decade are raising questions about his credibility and legitimacy as an opposition politician, and the public has lost confidence on him. It is all too clear to us that his intolerrance of dissent and his unwillingness to admit to mistakes have become hallmarks of his leadership tenure. In spite of this reality, Dr. Beyene continues his vengeful actions against his opponents and critics using all the resources and means at his disposal.

We, former colleagues of Dr. Beyene, have given him the best chance any political ally of his can give him to correct his mistakes and to submit himself to democratic principles, which he purportedly stands for, and to align himself with the Ethiopian people in their struggle against tyranny. But his responses have so far been dismissive and outright hostile. If he cares to listen, our advice to him once again is: learn to tolerate dissent in the organizations you lead and have the humility to admit to mistakes when you make them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Festival of 1000 Stars

The 4th Festival of Music & Dance of the peoples of Southern Ethiopia will be held from 16th to 18th of December 2006 daily at the Football Pitch in Arba Minch. The festival is a free event sponsored by the Christensen Fund in association with Global Music Exchange. You can watch videos and listen to sounds from the Festival of 1000 Stars of December 2005 on YouTube here or on MySpace here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hebret on Somalia

This statement from the UEDF (Hebret) is the most incisive statement on the current situation in Somalia that I have seen from an Ethiopian political group. I believe the statement skillfully and responsibly expresses the views of the vast majority of Ethiopians on this issue. It is six pages long and it is worth your time to read it if you are fluent in Amharic. I wish they had an English version of it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Solution to the Quagmire in Somalia

By Fikru Helebo

Back in the summer months when I was trying to understand what was going on in Somalia after Mogadishu was taken over by radical Islamists, I started visiting some Somali web sites to read what Somalis were thinking about what is happening in their homeland. The sense I got was that many of them were willing to give the Islamists a chance. I posted a representative sample of their opinions along with my own comments here.

One of the opinion pieces I came across at that time was an article by Amina Mire, a cousin of the leader of the Islamists, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. In her article, the feminist Mire argues that what Somalis needed the most at this time is a sense of security in their own country and she was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the Islamists, even though she is convinced that Somali women will not fare any better under Islamic Sharia law.

In an email conversation I had with Mire after reading her article, she related to me that the central reason for the lack of political stability in Somalia in the last 16 years was Ethiopian interference in Somali affairs. She also seemed to attribute the ills of Somali society such as warlordism and the consumption of the mild narcotics khat (tchat) on Ethiopia. While I agreed with Mire that interference by the Meles regime was, indeed, one of the reasons for the political instability in Somalia today, I indicated to her that the premium that Somali society places on clan loyalty over and above everything else is the main culprit.

The regime in Addis Ababa has been using this weakness in Somali society to its advantage and, unfortunately, to the detriment of Somalia just as it has been using ethnic differences to divide and rule Ethiopians. Unfortunately, Amina Mire did not take kindly of my argument and she blasted me as being a proxy to the Ethiopian regime. Now that the Islamists have expanded their sphere of influence in Somalia in the last three months and they are gearing themselves to take on the Ethiopian-backed groups in Somalia, namely the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Baidoa and the Puntland autonomous regional government, I wonder what Mire now thinks about the prospect for a secure Somalia with the radical Islamists, backed by Eritrea and a host of foreigners including jihadists, unwilling to compromise with the TFG.

The Addis Ababa regime also has not shown any willingness to compromise with the Islamists. It recently declared that the Islamists pose "
a clear and present danger" to Ethiopia and that its military has finished preparations for war with the Islamists. Such declaration is uncalled for as there is no imminent threat of an attack on Ethiopian territory by the Islamists, at least not that I can detect. The talk of crushing the Islamists of the summer months has dissipated, but this declaration is still a provocative move and will not help to reduce the heightened tensions.

Meles has a proven track record of talking the talk but not walking the walk when dealing with his opponents. Therefore, all his talk about being committed to a peaceful resolution of the current Somali conflict should not be taken very seriously. If he wants to be taken seriously, especially by Somalis, Meles needs to start taking tangible steps to demonstrate that his regime is abandoning meddling in Somali affairs by genuinely seeking a broad-based solution to the quagmire in Somalia as outlined in this balanced presentation by Amb. David Shinn, a former high ranking US diplomat, in a remark before the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA on November 11, 2006.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Virginians: Which candidate did you vote for?

I have placed a poll question on the right exclusively for Ethiopian Americans from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The contest between Jim Web and George Allen for US Senate was decided by fewer than 10,000 votes out of 2,370,900 votes cast. If you did vote in the election on Noverber 7th, I would like to know which candidate you voted for. Please take a few seconds to vote. The poll is open for one week. Respect for the honor code is appreciated. Thanks.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is Foreign Aid Working?

Here is an interesting debate on foreign aid between Hilary Benn, the British secretary of state for international development, and William Easterly, a critic of direct aid to recipient governments, such as Ethiopia, with no strings attached. I think Easterly makes a lot more sense than Benn. If donor governments are serious about reducing poverty in poor countries, the first and the best thing they should do is to stop their direct budget support to recipient governments. Easterly's argument for how success in foreign aid should be measured is also more persuasive.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Delusion, Frivolity and Now Desperation

A group that is chaired by Dr. Beyene Petros and illegitimately calls itself the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) recently put out a press release entitled "On the Current political situation in Ethiopia". This statement smacks of political desperation and it is mainly designed to continue to make Dr. Beyene relevant in the eyes of the unsuspecting diplomatic community, which he is not. Dr. Beyene thinks he can continue to hoodwink the Ethiopian public through deceptions and manipulations in the name of the two organizations, the Hadiya Nation Democratic Organization (HNDO) and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Coalition (SEPDC), that he has been secretly using to advance his personal ambitions for over a decade. Not anymore!

The statement by "UEDF" brings to public
an internal political struggle within the HNDO that has remained in the dominion of the members and supporters of HNDO since the local elections of 2001 (detailed accounts of violations of democratic principles, intolerance of dissent and betrayal of our people's wishes by Dr. Beyene will be made available here in the future). The statement also condemns what it calls "shameful acts of the few others who are at the services of the ruling party and the few others who are trying to serve as conduits to the unrealistic agendas of some diaspora political movements".

The latter half of the above statement is directed at three members of the Federal Parliament and eleven members of the Regional Parliament that have supported the creation of the Democratic Organization of Hadiya National Unity (DOHNU), an organization which was created a few months ago after Dr. Beyene illegally and undemocratically usurped power from the General Assembly of the HNDO and facilitated a backdoor election and transfer of HNDO leadership to his lackeys in violation of the regulations and bylaws of the organization. The DOHNU has put out a press release [in Amharic] in response to the allegations made by Dr. Beyene in the name of "UEDF". Please find it

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On the Recent Religious Violence in Ethiopia

In recent months we have been hearing of awful news about religion inspired violence in the Southwesten and Eastern parts of Ethiopia. Here is a sound editorial about it in Amharic. Please share it with others.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Skepticism and delusion, shunning from reality

By Ephrem Madebo

Most Ethiopians do not agree on a single path that delivers them from tyranny, many might not even have the same opinion on the type of government system that Ethiopia should have after D-Day. Most Ethiopians believe that Ethiopia is their undisputed mother; however, some of her children fail to accept her mother ship. A hand full of Ethiopians from all walks of life believe that Ethiopia is on the right path and substantiate their claim by quoting the nominal economic growth of the last two decades. In fact, some of them are innocent or naive; they try to rationalize Ethiopia’s growth by a mere numeric growth of high rise buildings in Addis Ababa. I personally, treasure disagreement and believe it is the source of development, but only when disagreements are avoided through dialogues, and when disagreement enhances the collective material and moral understanding of society. After the May 2005 election, the disagreement within and between the opposition camp has taken a heavy toll on the effort of the Ethiopian people to build a democratic society. Instead of attacking our common enemy, we pulled the trigger at each other losing every battle. I guess, it is about time to stop hallucinating and wake up, for no self-fighting group has won a war, and no war has been won after losing all battles.

The pre-election political process, the post-election political turbulence, and in general, the May 2005 election has radically revolutionized the concept of democracy in Ethiopia. For many generations, Ethiopians thought that political power is a gift from above; today, most Ethiopians believe that this gift [political power] is intended for them. Such a swift and pragmatic shift has changed the political reality of Ethiopia, and has opened a new political era of relative certainty. For many centuries the Ethiopian political system rested on three overlapping bases, the Church, the throne, and the nobility. Political dualism was unthinkable as the Church preached one religion, one country and one king. The monarchy and its ecclesiastical system might have been gone for long, but its ideology is still lingering in the mind of some prominent Ethiopians. These feudal minded people might be few in number, but their toxic behaviour and divisive agenda has contaminated every party and political organization of the last thirty years.

Today, many Ethiopians agree that there should be no peripheral group of people who should be side-lined from the national decision making process, as there should be no single person or group of people ordained to be rulers, i.e., many Ethiopians believe that they are the sole source of political power, and think that there are no distinguished citizens whose divine karma is to rule. Thanks to the May 2005 election and to the extrapolative people of Ethiopia, the era of the government of the few is gone. The irreversible verdict of the May 2005 election was clear and precise. To the leaders of the opposition, the message was unity i.e., get united, or disbanded. To the TPLF regime, the overt message was "timeout"! Unfortunately, it seems that the two addressees have gone deaf on the Ethiopian people.

In July and August 2005, the Ethiopian opposition was on the driver seat of the wagon; but latter, as August gave its way to September and as the Ethiopian winter retreated, so did the opposition. Internal Power struggle, political immaturity, and lack of clear path among the opposition slowed down the popular movement, and gave momentum to the otherwise dying regime. Obviously, after the May 2005 election, the behaviour of Meles was heartless, and his acts were diabolic. However, such acts of desperation were never unforeseen, especially to those who understood the anatomy of the TPLF gangs. So, instead of rising to the occasion, why did the opposition show signs of division and crumble at the most critical moment of the struggle? I’ve great appreciation to all opposition leaders who day in and day out have to put up with inside and outside pressure and character assassination. I respect and value their endless effort to our country. For the most part, my criticism is aimed not at what they did, but at what they didn’t do. In the last 20 years, the Ethiopian opposition has passed through a myriad of alliances and coalitions. I do believe the opposition had ample time to rectify its shortcomings and deliver the long due unified leadership to the struggle of the Ethiopian people.

Today, the opposition camp is plagued by self made problems, lacks visionary leaders, and moves haphazardly with no clear line of attack. Every party, or political organization is entangled with contradictory personal agendas. UEDF is cracked into domestic and "Diaspora" UEDF. CUDP is passing through a life saving surgery. The "domestic UEDF" has inaudibly transformed itself into a loyal opposition, and only God knows where the "Diaspora" UEDF is headed for! In this time of vagueness and volatility, who will lead the popular movement, or who will ignite the match and start the fire that devours Meles and company? Definitely, CUDP can’t ignite the match because as of now its match box is empty. The loyal opposition might not be willing to ignite the match because its interest is to conciliate with Meles by keeping the match box intact. The "Diaspora" UEDF seems to not even have the match box. So who will lead the Ethiopian people? When does the opposition understand that using a "finger to the wind" approach to leadership is an uphill battle that doesn't stand a great chance of winning?

Today, once again the opposition camp is battered by a new wave of endemic , an endemic that has the potential to cripple the popular movement for a good while. For over a year, Kinjit’s inability to make major decisions was blamed on the absence of its seasoned leaders. Today, the free leaders of Kinjit are making a horrifying decision, a decision that takes public pressure off the TPLF regime and makes conditions worse on the jailed leaders. One year ago, Kinjit mobilized its supporters for demonstrations, they responded and died by the hundreds, lifting up the trademark of Kinjit [V]. In August and September 2005, members of Kinjit consulted their MPs to boycott the parliament, they were heard. When they boycotted the parliament, some of them were in a work tour in Europe [Dr. Berhanu] and in USA [Eng. Hailu], but they went back to Ethiopia knowing what they would get. Today, these unwavering leaders are in jail, and hundreds of their supporters are dead. The sad thing is that every foundation built by the blood of these heroes is being bulldozed by the gluttons of Washington DC. At this critical time of our history, our Washingtonian brothers made a decision as awful as ‘Washington’. I’m sure if the jailed leaders of Kinjit find out what is going on in Washington, DC; they would definitely make a unanimous decision to stay where they are. I have question to my Washington brothers. Is your recent disgraceful divisive action a response to Dr. Berhanu’s literature marvel? If it is, who is right? You or him? If you think you are right, you are proving him guilty much faster than Meles’s kangaroo court.

As divisive as it is, I’m afraid if the evolution of the current drama is allowed to continue, CUDP’s continued existence as a single party will be dubious. In fact, CUDP can’t continue to be a leading political organization if it expects total leadership from its jailed leaders. Leadership is all about making tough decisions, and decision making requires information that is current and reliable. So how can the jailed leaders make informed decision, and for how long does CUDP hover before it replaces its jailed leaders? We all know that the jailed leaders are intellectually bright, wise, seasoned and veteran politicians. The question is; should it take us 365 days to replace them? Is our pool of full-grown leaders taht desiccated? All in all, shouldn’t CUDP make a strategic move that invigorates its leadership and reinforces its grass roots movement. CUDP and its supporters need to be aware of that the primary objective of the opposition is not to be consumed for the release of jailed opposition leaders. Please don’t quote me wrong! We sure need to fight for the release of our leaders, however, our primary objective is to continue the struggle and free the Ethiopian people from the totalitarian regime of Meles. For three decades, ANC’s David Bopape was never allowed to meet with more than two people at a time, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were jailed for decades, but all these did not cripple ANC from fighting the apartheid regime and ultimately defeat it.

From July 2005 until October 2006, the ruling minority party [TPLF] has made a number of strategic moves by constantly repositioning itself to stay in power for many more years. What did the opposition do? Or what is it planning to do? Does the opposition know that failing to plan is planning to fail? Yes, CUDP’s leaders are in jail, but this should never be an excuse for the sloppy performance of CUDP. A party that claims to have a strategic plan beyond the TPLF regime should not stay in a partial state of paralysis from October to October just because its leaders are in jail. Let me take the current leaders of CUDP by their own words- "Kinjit is a civilized politics" Is it really? Where is its wheel of civilization? Be it quantum or substantial, isn’t civilization always a forward leap? To be honest, today, the "civilized politics" of Kinjit is way behind from where it was 18 months ago! Kinjit was such a flamboyant party whose charismatic leaders and their slogans captivated millions of Ethiopians just 18 months ago. In fact, it is one of the few parties that enjoys popular mandate. I beg rather plead Kinjit to reincarnate itself and use its mandate to fight for its constituency.

In the last one year, the Ethiopian opposition has taken many steps; in my opinion, the formation of AFD was the most hopeful of all the steps. As I argued in the past, a life saving capsule is not encapsulated in AFD, but for the ailing weak popular struggle, AFD would have been a healing prescription. Does AFD save life? – No! Is it a solution to Ethiopia’s problems? - may be not. Can AFD be used as a steppingstone to a greater goal? – Why not? UEDF is one of the most boisterous whimper against AFD, yet UEDF is the very political organization that started underground dialogue with OLF that eventually opened the way for the formation of AFD. Was it too much for the leaders of UEDF to be part of a group that included OLF and other liberation fronts? Do the leaders of UEDF understand that the so called liberation fronts are fighting to secede from the very country that UEDF fights to keep united? To be frank, when it comes to unity, I always stand by the side of UEDF. But, I prefer to fight the enemies of unity in a civilized way. Though not a signatory, UEDF was among the participants of the Utrecht conference, in my opinion, UEDF blew a golden chance of forging a much stronger alliance when it myopically decided to walk away from the Utrecht accord. I think the presence of UEDF in AFD would have been an advantage to the forces of unity. I do believe UEDF could have played a much better role of changing the composition of AFD from inside than drifting around North America and crying foul. Let me temporarily agree with UEDF and assume that its decision to walk out of the accord was good for Ethiopia. But, what did UEDF do ever since? Or what is the net contribution of UEDF to our political development in the last one year and half?

In the last 15 years, the Ethiopian political forum entertained a plethora of alliances such as EDFU (ede-haq), CAFPDE (Amarach hayloch), UEDF, CUD, and the most recent AFD. Any of these alliances or parties came in to existence without being condemned and facing undue criticism, and most of the alliances fell apart because they lacked a contributing working environment and faced sturdy opposition. What is that keeps the opposition from forging a united front? Is it power struggle? Personal agenda? Egotism? Is there an external power that keeps us from uniting, or are we just a kind of people who agreed to not agree? Do we know how hard our enemy works to stay in power [inside & outside]? Do we really know how much pain and suffering our people have to endure every time PM Meles breathes an air of serenity? When the suffering of our people is measured by seconds, why should it take us decades to get united and free our people? When TPLF, OLF,SLF and what ever "LFs" fought Colonel Mengistu’s regime, they stood together and fought with supreme tenacity. The TPLF bandits fought hard for the people they claim to represent. Our opposition, instead of fighting for the people it represents, it tussles over the people it represents. I don’t care how popular and resourceful we are, if we need to topple TPLF, we need to be more disciplined, more united, have a much better character, and fight with superb tenacity. Such an amorphous and muddled struggle will not take us to victory, no matter how closely Knotted we are to the people.

Although often unacknowledged, how we define our plan for tomorrow is so crucial, and its role in putting together a winning strategy is remarkably significant. Thus, despite our discord, or party loyalty, developing the culture of collective definition of problems and solutions will significantly enhance our effort for peace. We are a proud nation of over 3000 years of history, but we should acknowledge that there is a shameful part of this history- we were a sleeping giant! Well, today, we’re not sleeping, but we’re not doing anything better either. A country and its people are like a lever and a fulcrum; they can only function if they are both present. Just as a lever cannot be used to move anything unless there is a fulcrum to support the lever, people cannot exist if they have no country. So if we really love our country, we should save her from perishing for we cease to exist without her. Remember, no matter how much we love our country, and no matter how hard we fight for the good cause of our people, we will always be wedged at the far side of victory if we fail to unite and coordinate our efforts.

The Ethiopian opposition parties are not limited to UEDF & CUDP, my criticism is focused on the two because they are the only alliances who played a noticeable role and won significant amount of votes in the May 2005 election. I preferred not to mention the role of Liberation fronts because as their name indicates, the role of LFs is limited to the ethnic groups they claim to represent. However, I want to appreciate the leaders of OLF who decided to work with other opposition parties after decades of unhelpful lonely journey. As the dust settles, I expect more rationality, more compromising, and less stiffness from OLF.

Eventually, I do believe CUDP survives the surgical procedures it is going through and renews its covenant with the Ethiopian people. I do believe the matured leaders of UEDF will resume their dialogue with all forces that have stake in Ethiopia and change the political momentum in favour of the opposition. I have the following message for UEDF and CUDP: The Ethiopian people are not anymore interested in your tittle-tattle, and baseless hearsay accusation. You both are invaluable treasures of Ethiopia. Neither of you have the right to treat yourself as the sole saviour of Ethiopia. There is no doubt that Ethiopia benefits from your individual effort; but in the face of fortified Agazes, our country benefits more from the synergism that occurs when your two parties interact congruently. Be careful, you are measured by what you do and by what you fail to do. Finally, I have a question for UEDF and CUDP – How close, or how far is the day we see you in the same alliance with other opposition entities? If I throw this question to the Ethiopian people, their natural answer is today! What about yours? Should it be different? It shouldn’t!

The key to building a free society lies in creating a durable set of democratic institutions - some public, some private - that encourage "Representative Democracy" as well as economic openness for long periods of time. This historic responsibility is not the task of few people; it is not even a task to be completed by one generation. Our grandfathers/mothers made us proud Africans by breaking the backbone of Italian colonialism. Our fathers/mothers lived in the darkness of the two [feudal, military] consecutive authoritarian regimes, but they educated us and enabled us to perceive the anatomy of evil. Dealing with the forces of evil is the responsibility of this generation. Our children should be left to focus on agriculture, medicine, economics, and engineering. I usually take my son to G. Washington, T. Jefferson, A. Lincoln, and FDR memorials, and take myself back in time to give respect to what these heroes did to their country. Our country Ethiopia needs heroes like Jefferson and Lincoln who burn like a candle to give light to others. When he gets old, I hope, my son takes his children to memorials, but to a different memorial; to a memorial of champion Ethiopians!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Size of Ethiopian Population in the United States

By Fikru Helebo

One of the big news items of the day in the United States is about the US surpassing the 300 million mark in population count. This figure is a statistical projection and not the actual count of people who reside in the US. This got me thinking about the size of the Ethiopian population in the US. How large is it?
That depends on whom you ask.

An Ethiopian would probably estimate the Ethiopian population in the US to be any where from 200,000 to 300,000. The estimate from an expert in the US Census Bureau, on the other hand, will probably be a lot lower than that. According to the last US census in 2000, the estimated number of people in the US who were born in Ethiopia was 69,530. This figure does not include those persons who were born in the US. I suppose most Ethiopians in the US will dispute this figure as being low.

I do not know what formula the US Census Bureau used to come up with a number like the one above, but I am pretty sure the Bureau used the raw data that it collected from the "long form" that it sent out to about one sixth of US households in the last census to arrive at that number. The accuracy of the Ethiopian population estimate in the US depends on the diligence of members of the Ethiopian community in the US who received the long form in the 2000 census. If every member of the Ethiopian community (of all ethnic backgrounds) wrote down "Ethiopia" as his/her answer to question #12 (Where was this person born?) in the 2000 census, then the 69,530 figure is a statistically accurate figure. If that was not the case, which is quite likely, then the 69,530 figure can not be relied upon.

If the Ethiopian community in the US want their numbers to be reflected fairly in the next census, which is scheduled to take place in 2010, then we need to educate our community about the benefits that can be derived from a count that is as accurate as possible. It will be hard to convice the newer immigrants amongst us about these benefits, but we need to inform them that information collected in the US census is confidential and will remain so for the next 72 years and they should fill out the questionairre as accurately as possible. The census is only four years from now and this is not the time to slouch.

Update (03/2010): Revisiting Size of Ethiopian Population in the US

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October 10, 2005: A Sad Day to Remember

By Fikru Helebo

October 10, 2005 will be remembered as a dark day in the annals of Ethiopian history. A year ago on this day "electees" of the highly disputed parliamentary elections of May 15, 2005 took their seats in the House of Peoples' Representatives in Addis Ababa, thus setting the stage for one of the most repressive periods in modern Ethiopian history.

A day earlier, on October 9 2005, the main opposition grouping, the CUD, presented
eight preconditions for joining parliament, a parliament which resulted from an election that most Ethiopians considered to be neither free nor fair. Sadly, CUD's preconditions were flatly rejected by Meles Zenawi, the head of the Tigrean ruling oligarchy that has ruled Ethiopia since 1991.

CUD's reasonable offer for compromise may have been the last opportunity for the Tigrean clique to begin to redeem themselves from the harm they have done to the Ethiopian people and nation. Now, a full year removed from that infamous day, the likelihood of a compromise between the Tigrean clique and the opposition is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely also is the chance of the Tigrean clique ever getting the benefit of the doubt from the Ethiopian people.

A year ago today I thought there was still a window of opportunity left for a compromise. But my hope for a compromise quickly faded a week later when I learned that the person whom I thought would serve as a bridge between the CUD and the Tigrean clique, Beyene Petros of the UEDF camp, had abdicated his leadership responsibility and was, in fact, secretly wishing for the dismemberment of the CUD camp.

Beyene has gotten his wish to some extent -- the CUD has been weakened as an organization. CUD's entire pre-election leadership is in jail and it is suffering from a leadership vacuum. In spite of its weaknesses, however, the CUD is now more popular than it was before the election. Beyene, on the other hand, has managed to transform himself from one of the most beloved politicians in the country before the election into one of the most hated ones.

Beyene claimed that he joined parliament not out of principle but as a tactical move to save the livelihood of his party while at the same time continuing the negotiattions on the outstanding issues of the May 2005 elections. So far, he has nothing to show on both counts and he will probably never have anything to show in the future. His party, the SEPDC, is now a former shadow of itself, at best, and "waging" a parliamentary struggle has not made any difference in solving the outstanding issues of the elections.
On the contrary, his conscious choice to abondon his opposition colleagues has made things a lot more worse!

October 10th is a sad day, indeed, and the past year has been a difficult year for all those who would like to see Ethiopia avoid the path to self-destruction she has been on. But all is not lost. In fact, the odds of getting rid of the Tigrean oligarchy out of power through the ballot are increasing by the day. The reputation the Tigrean clique had carefully cultivated in western capitals of being progressive has been dealt a severe blow as a result of its own miscalculations, and any way you look at it, this is a dying regime whose prospects to survive beyond the next four years is in serious doubt.

Another positive news is that the OLF seems to have finally realized that its agenda for a separate homeland for Oromos is not going any where and has recently taken steps to coordinate its efforts with other pan-Ethiopianist opposition groups. There is no mistaking that the result of the May 2005 elections and events which transpired since then have affected OLF's thinking on the role it wants to play in the Ethiopian political discourse. Pan-Ethiopian political groupings have the responsibility to nurture this positive move by OLF in addition to coordinating efforts amongst themselves.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Friends Don't Let Friends Commit Human Rights Abuses"

By Fikru Helebo

The above were the words of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), sponsor of HR 5680, during his fact-finding trip to Ethiopia in August of 2005 when he was asked by IRIN news service about what his message to the political leaders of the Unites States will be upon his return to the US. I am sure Rep. Smith communicated his message to those US officials he had the opportunity to brief about what he observed in Ethiopia. Rep. Smith met Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian dictator, on this trip and told him to "...ease up on the opposition. Stop following them, stop intimidating individuals who are supporters [of the opposition]." Obviously, his advise was not heeded by Meles. That was expected of him! He has killed and terrorized many times before to get to where he is. What was not expected was the response of US officials to Mr. Smith's advise. Unfortunately, US political leaders who were in a position to exert pressure on Meles failed to do so, and as a result, Meles got emboldened and repeated the massacre of June 2005 in November 2005, only on a much bigger scale, thus bringing the nascent democratic process in Ethiopia to a screeching halt!

If Condolezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and her assistant for Africa, Jendayi Fraser, were asked today "What did they do to pressure Meles to be civilized and compromise with the opposition between August and November 2005?", it is very likely that they would answer the question in a diplomatic language, such as: "the United States Government did everything possible to put pressure to bear on the Ethiopian Government." I am not trying to pick on Rice and Fraser, but they have miserably failed Ethiopians in their time of need. To be fair to them, however, there are other players in the US government, such as the Pentagon and the US intelligence service communities, who have a say in what US foreign policy towards Ethiopia is and, therefore, officials in those other government departments are also equally to blame for the failure US policy.

Judging from the muted reaction of the US government to the massacre of November 2005, it is reasonable to conclude that US government officials who were/are responsible for making policy on Ethiopia were asleep at the wheel and failed to make an effective use of United States' political and economic leverage on the Ethiopian Government so that it respects the fundamental right of the Ethiopian people to protest the outcome of the May 2005 elections in peaceful ways, including boycotts and demonstrations. This muted US reaction may seem a mystery right now, but it won't be a mystery forever, and why US policy makers failed to make a difference in Ethiopia in the post-May 2005 election era will become apparent in due time, perhaps some time after a new adminstration takes office.

This is not the first time US officials have bungled American policy towards Ethiopia. In another tumultuous time in Ethiopian history, as these recently declassified notes of US officials from the Nixon and Ford administration officials testify, US officials were consistently farther behind events in Ethiopia to adequetely effect changes in Ethiopia, both for the benefit of the Ethiopian people who were neglected by their own government, which was considered a solid US ally at the time, and for the sake of US interests in the Horn of Africa region. I would not be surprised if 30 years or so from now, when the notes of the current US officials are declassified, we will know for sure that they failed to grasp the level of discontent among Ethiopians of the Meles regime and turned a blind eye as a dictator, whom they think is a friend of the US, commit horrific human right abuses right under their noses, kill the aspirations of millions of Ethiopians and thereby undermine United States' long term interests in the region.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Supporting HR 5680

Here is a link to
an article on Ethiomedia where you can get some sound advice on how you can continue to support HR 5680. Please, by no means, do not consider your efforts to support HR 5680 the end of your engagement with your elected representatives.

And, here is an article ("Lobbyists' Power Wanes as Election Day Nears") from which sheds light on the challenges of advocating for a legislation, such as HR 5680, in the United States Congress in this fiercely contested mid-term election year. Even lobbyists for special interest causes that are popular with most Republican lawmakers are having a tough time getting their bills passed this year!

Realistically speaking, it looks like that the chances of HR 5680 being brought to the house floor for a vote next week is very slim. But, whatever happens next week, it will not be the end of the road for Ethiopian Human Rights and democracy advocacy. The spirit of HR 5680 will live on as long as tyranny and injustice continue to be the norm in Ethiopia.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Let's Give HR 5680 the Support it Deserves

By Fikru Helebo

I was having a conversation last night with a friend about the fate of HR 5680, the legislation that is currently making its way in the United States House of Representatives, which is designed to advance the cause of Human Rights and democracy in Ethiopia, and my friend asked me what are the chances of the bill getting passed in the House. I commented to my friend, with no hesitation I might add, that the bill has a pretty good chance of passing in the House with the required two thirds of the votes and that, if the bill faces trouble, it may be in the US Senate where the rules are more stringent and allow for a single senator to hold and kill a legislation.

And then I got up this morning and saw
this article on Ethiomedia which stated that HR 5680 is in danger being killed in the House of Representatives because the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, is not allowing it to come to the floor of the House for a vote as a result of a lobbying effort by the Meles regime. So much for my prognostication and I apologize for misleading my friend! I guess this means that we all need to work very hard to make this bill a reality. If we do not work hard and/or the Addis Ababa regime succeeds in killing the bill despite our efforts, that will not be the end of the world for the advancement of democracy in Ethiopia but it will sure make it more difficult. So, compatriots, let's roll and give HR 5680 the support it deserves and let the chips fall where they may. Let's not disappoint those who are paying a heavy price in the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.

Let's us all contact our representatives in the US House and tell them that this bill will not only help advance forward the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, but it will also put the United States' interest in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region on a much more solid footing. So far the US has been mainly giving lip service to the advancement of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia and it is about time for a change. Passage of HR 5680 will herald a clear shift in US policy in the region and will express, in no uncertain terms, that the United States government is on the side of the people of Ethiopia who are still yearning for a representative form of government.

Here is how to contact your representatives
in Congress. All you need to do is enter your state and your zip code and the web site tells you who your represetative is. And after that just enter the required fields and click on the "continue" button and write your representative. You may want to follow up your email with a phone call a few days later. You can find the phone number to call your representative by locating his/her name here.

If you are a registered voter in your district, please remind your representative that whom you vote for in this election cycle will depend on what happens to HR 5680 in the next few weeks. I am not a proponent of a single-issue voter, but there are times when a single issue is so important to voters that they must set aside ideological or party affiliations once in a while and give their votes for the candidate that supports their cause. For the Ethiopian-American voter this single issue is the support for Human Rights and democracy in our country of birth and what our respective representatives in the United States Congress do to help pass HR 5680 should determine whether we vote for or against our representatives in the coming mid-term elections in November.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Urgent Appeal for the Victims of flooding in the Omo River Valley, Ethiopia

The recent devastating flood that affected SouthernEthiopia followed the catastrophic flooding in DireDawa that claimed the lives of 260 people. Theflooding in the Omo River Valley is part of anationwide crisis following the unusually intense andcontinuous rainfall that has resulted in flashflooding and overflowing of rivers. The heavy rainsthat washed the central plateau and highlands ofSouthwest Ethiopia forced the backing of water fromLake Turkana (Lake Rudolf), a lake without an outletthat receives most of its water from the Omo River.This forced the river to leave its banks and wash awaythe people and their livelihoods. By any account,this area is one of the worst affected by theprevailing floods in Ethiopia. According to theelderly and local officials, the rain and the OmoRiver have never been so hostile to the people ofGeleb and Bume as they have been this past August whenthe deluge raised the death toll to nearly 400 andmarooned over tens of thousands of people. There are confirmed reports that flooding in SouthernOmo has claimed the lives of about 400 residentsmainly in the Dassenach (Galeb) and Nyangtaom (Bume)woredas (administrative subdistricts) of the South Omozone, and has displaced approximately 10,000 peopleand washed away more than 3000 livestock and 800traditional grain stores (silos). The affected area isin the isolated delta of the Omo River in bothDassenach and Nyangataom woredas, about 800 km awayfrom the capital, Addis Ababa. Around 14 villages inthese two woredas are flooded and isolated from eachother by the water. The flood has destroyed largeareas covered by crops and much of the pastureland.

In some places the flood completely immersed a villageand killed all the residents. No survivor came out. Itis heart-breaking to learn that dead bodies could notbe found in some places because the river has takenthem down to Lake Turkana. As more information isobtained from the remote villages now encircled byfloodwaters, the level of casualties is expected to beeven higher. There are still gaps in the search andrescue mission; much of the affected populations havebeen stranded by the floodwaters because of thecontinued rainfall and the absence of enablinginfrastructure. The water level is continuing torise, increasing the population at risk andexacerbating the humanitarian crises.

Ethiopians abroad and the international community andhave on many occasions assisted Ethiopian victims ofnatural and man made calamities. In the spirit of thistradition, we appeal to all Ethiopians and others tohelp the Dassenach and Nyangataom people affectedmassively by the continued flooding that has claimedmany lives and caused immense property damage.

A team, Committee for the Rehabilitation of FloodVictims of Southern Omo has been established tocoordinate the assistance efforts to the victims offlooding in South Omo. This committee is establishedunder the auspices of the Southern Advancement SupportOrganization Inc., a certified and legally operatingnonprofit organization. The Committee for theRehabilitation of Flood Victims of Southern Omo willdo its share of increasing the awareness of theinternational community and Ethiopians abroad aboutthe gravity of the humanitarian crises in South Omo,and will coordinate the collection of funds foremergency aid (food, shelter, medical care) andrehabilitation. We have opened an account at SunTrustBank (account # 1000043166833 and routing # 061000104) for this effort. We plead to you to pledge money tothis effort and deposit or transfer your contributionsto this account. The Committee for the Rehabilitation of Flood Victimsof Southern Omo will continue to inform the public andhumanitarian agencies about the immediate needs forand the required assistance to the flood victims inSouth Omo. Please address any questions or suggestionsyou may have to the Committee at

Committee for the Rehabilitation of Flood Victims of Southern Omo

September 7, 2006