Thursday, June 15, 2006
Article 39, AFD and the Oromo Liberation Front.
By Ephrem Madebo
The United States constitution was written almost six decades before Emperor Teodros II consolidated his authority and unified the Ethiopian empire. When George Washington became the president of the United states the Union has only 13 states. Between 1789 and 1959 thirty seven more states joined the union. Toady, there are fifty states in the union. What attracted the last 37 states to the Union? The answer is easy, it is the constitution. The US constitution grants equal freedom and justice to all. The farsighted founding fathers dreamed a larger, wider, and stronger America, hence, they wrote a constitution that attracted a human wave of immigrants. As a result, today, the United States of America is the sole superpower, the richest country, and the model of representative democracy.
Article four of the US constitution describes the relationship between the states and the Federal government, and amongst the states; it also has provisions for the creation and admission of new states. However, the US constitution never mentions the concept of self determination or secession. In fact, the Civil War would have reduced the Union in to many weaker countries had something similar to article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution was enshrined in the constitution of the Unites States. Why did the founding fathers who lived two centuries ago leave a blue print for a larger and richer America? Why did TPLF write a constitution that disintegrates one of the oldest country of the world? Why didn’t TPLF learn from the American experience and leave a blue print of unity to all of us and to Posterity?
Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution states: Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.
OLF Mission Statment: The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is a political organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to lead the national liberation struggle of the Oromo people against the Abyssinian colonial rule. The emergence of the OLF was a culmination of a century old yearn of the Oromo people to have a strong and unified national organization to lead the struggle.
OLF Objective: The fundamental objective of the Oromo liberation movement is to exercise the Oromo peoples' inalienable right to national self-determination to terminate a century of oppression and exploitation, and to form, where possible, a political union with other nations on the basis of equality, respect for mutual interests and the principle of voluntary associations.
OLF Policy (taken from the OLF policy statement): The Oromo and other oppressed peoples are endowed with the right to decide the form of sovereignty they want, whether on their own or in a union with others on the basis of freely expressed consent of all concerned parties.
There is no question that many opposition parties, political organizations, civic organizations, and the Ethiopian people at large oppose article 39 of the constitution in its entirety. Article 39 explicitly endangers Ethiopia’s existence as a nation, and it is included in the constitution against the will of the Ethiopian people. The social and economic development of Ethiopia is highly dependent on the unity of the Ethiopian people, therefore, no Ethiopian would be happy to see an article in his/her constitution that could reduce the size, political, and economic importance of Ethiopia. With all due respect to the OLF as a major representative of the Oromo people, I don’t think that all Oromos agree on the separation of Oromia from the rest of Ethiopia.
A closer look to article 39 of the constitution clearly indicates the existence of a harmonious relationship between article 39 and the objective, policy, and mission of the Oromo Liberation Front. In fact, such a harmony is not a coincidence. In 1991, when EPRDF controlled Addis Ababa, and wrote the current constitution, OLF was part of the Transitional Government that ratified the constitution. As we all know, in the last twenty five years, the armed wing of the OLF was in action to separate Oromia from Ethiopia, therefore, as far as OLF is concerned, enshrining Article 39 in the constitution was a dream come true.
In 1991, when the two ethnic liberation fronts [OLF, TPLF] agreed to insert Article 39 in the constitution, the future of Ethiopia did not seem to be their cup of tea. I don’t even think the two liberation fronts deeply thought about the long term economic and social development of the Oromo and the Tigray people. As a member of one of the neglected nationalities of the south, I do share the pain of the Oromo people, but nothing happened to the Oromo people that did not happen to the people of my nationality. I’m a person who believes that the OLF should lead the Oromo people to a lasting victory. But, victory over what? In my opinion, victory to my nationality is victory to the Oromo people, and the vice versa.
If the Ethiopian opposition is capable of creating a political and social order that guarantees freedom, equal justice for all, and equitable wealth distribution, what is the value of creating a weaker independent states of Tigray, Oromia, Ogaden or Sidama? What people want is freedom and democracy, seceding from Ethiopia does not guarantee justice and democracy. The Eritreans fought for freedom, democracy, and justice. Today, fifteen years after independence, the fate of Eritreans is decided by a ruthless dictator Africa has never seen. Ethiopia, the very country that they vowed to never see again is a safe heaven to Eritrean dissenters and draft dodgers. It is amazing that a non-democratic Ethiopia is where Eritreans are looking for freedom.
In the last one month many articles have been written regarding the formation of AFD. Some have supported the alliance, some opposed it, and yet some others were too cautious to take a definitive stand. One of the most boisterous whimper regarding AFD was its nomenclature. Obviously, nomenclature is very important, however, nullifying the AFD at this stage because it lacks the word Ethiopia in its name is political immaturity. Let’s not forget that CUDP was a coalition of four parties, but it doesn’t have the name Ethiopia in it. Many writers have demanded the OLF to drop its secessionist policy, this is a valid demand, however, asking an organization to drop its 33 years objective overnight is being a little hasty and a little far from reality. At this juncture the ability of the opposition to create an alliance that embraces parties of diametrically opposing objectives is a victory by itself. Now the primary and the most difficult part of the task has been accomplished.
In its next several steps, the alliance should attract other parties and avoid contradicting objectives of member parties through extended dialogues. We should all understand that AFD might not at all solve Ethiopia’s problem, but it has opened a forum that was non-existent in Ethiopia. In the history of the Ethiopian opposition, the Oromo Liberation Front has agreed to work together with parties that strongly advocate Ethiopia’s unity. Now the ball is in the court of CUDP and other pro-unity parties. The ultimate goal of the liberation organizations [OLF,SLF, ONLF] and the pro-unity parties is identical. They all strive to lead their respective constituencies towards peace, democracy, and prosperity. The major difference between the parties is the tools they use and the path they travel towards their goal.
Is AFD capable of converging the different paths perused by the different parties? Yes, and It should, because preserving Ethiopia as it is, or the status quo is a Win- Lose game, reducing Ethiopia in to multiple small states is a Lose-Win game. Granting democracy, justice, and economic prosperity to all Ethiopians is a Win-Win game. Selecting a winning strategy for any particular party is easy. However, one doesn’t come to an alliance to play individual game. An alliance is a place where every party comes to win, and it is also a place where every party plays a fair game so that others win. To be specific, when trust develops between and within the parties, and when AFD fully matures, no individual party should have a reason to change its behavior given the choices of all other parties.
It is apparent that most Ethiopians expect the AFD to solve the age old political problem of Ethiopia, but make no mistake, the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy has the potential to harm Ethiopia by being the instrument of another brand of ethino- nationalists. The OLF is composed of people who strongly believe in unity and solve the Oromo problem within the framework of greater Ethiopia. Of course, there is another radical group that advocates separation. Currently, the AFD is packed with secessionist forces, pro-unity parties, and by some who can go either way. What should CUDP and other pro-unity parties do and not do to convince OLF change or avoid its secessionist policy? What should the OLF do and not do to earn the trust of the pro-unity parties? The success or failure of the AFD depends upon who plays smart in this game of give and take.
CUPD has repeatedly showed its unwavering stand on Ethiopia’s unity. In its recent and past press releases, we have clearly seen UEDF’s unflinching stand of unity. Now it is about time that these two vanguard parties stop their verbal war and show us their maturity by integrating their political program in to a common work plan. UEDF should reconsider its current stand. The process of how AFD handles the complex problems of Ethiopia can be redesigned, and in the real world a political process is redesigned by the people inside, not out side. My most important message to UEDF and CUDP is that they should both keep their eyes on TPLF, not on each other.
Ethiopia has been a mother to some and a step mother to others. Many nationalities of Ethiopia who once governed themselves were denied political power, economic freedom, and social justice by the four consecutive regimes that took power in Ethiopia between 1889 and 2006. The political, social, and economic problems of the past 117 years did not come from living together as a nation, and will never be solved by breaking the unity of Ethiopia. When the Chinese foresee our tremendous market potential and invest in billions, working hard to reduce ourselves in to minuscule local markets is a disgrace and an out and out blindness. The instinct of people is to live together and cherish the fruits of democracy and economic prosperity, therefore, one does not librate people from people. Today, we have a government that uses constitutional power to create and enforce public policies that advance the objectives of the Tigray elite. TPLF is the common enemy of the people, the Ethiopian people should be liberated form TPLF, not from each other.
The OLF, the SLF, and the ONLF should understand that the strength of the Oromo, the Sidama, and the Somali people comes from living together with the Amharas, Tigreans, Sidamas and Walaytas etc. The Oromo or the Sidama problem is not and has never been a colonial problem. Any attempt to solve the Oromo problem in the framework of colonialism is tantamount to treating a malaria patient with chemotherapy. To reiterate my point, uneven distribution of wealth, political domination, and social injustice have always been the root causes of Ethiopia’s problem. We can solve our problems only if we manage to handle the root causes of the problem. We have already identified and analyzed our problem, now it is time to look for a set of solutions. Remember, too much analysis is paralysis.