Monday, June 05, 2006

D. Yamamoto and His "Positive Talks" with the Ethiopian Government

By Ephrem Madebo

At the End of May 2006,Donald Yamamoto, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs paid a working visit to four African countries including Ethiopia. In his trip to Ethiopia, the Assistant Secretary focused on political and economic reforms in Ethiopia, and the border dispute between the two poverty stricken nations of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Deputy Assistant Secretary described the current political situation in Ethiopia as "It remains ongoing"; and he said: "We’ve had some successes and areas that we haven’t made enough progress on".

It is perplexing that Mr. Yamamoto acknowledges TPLF’s mysterious handover of the administration of Addis Ababa to political appointees, but the Assistant Secretary reduces this important issue to a simple disagreement between EPRDF and the opposition, moreover, Mr. Yamamoto failed to point out the specifics of his country’s position on the solution to this grave problem. In his most recent trip to Addis Ababa, Mr. Yamamoto did not pressure the Ethiopian government to free the jailed opposition leaders and transfer the administration of Addis Ababa to elected officials. As an Ethiopian American tax payer, may I ask the Deputy Assistant Secretary why he used my tax money to go to my native country? Every thing he said and every example he used in the interview was an old public knowledge, I expected the Secretary to use this knowledge to pressure the Ethiopian government to free the leaders that my mother and father elected.

On issues of introducing political reform in Ethiopia, here is what Mr. Yamamoto said: "We continue to work though on the positive side, which is with other countries such as UK, India, Germany, on the political reform and how the Parliament is to operate. We’re working on media law and media in general, and hopefully that these could help with the process of political reform. But we have a long way to go and many issues to tackle" It is absolutely important to learn form the experience of democratic countries, but is it possible to solve the political problem of Ethiopia with UK, USA, Germany, and India on one side and TPLF on the other side? Where is the participation of the entire Ethiopian opposition? Mr. Secretary, how can you introduce political reform and improve the operation of the parliament in a multi party country where MPs and opposition party leaders are in jail?

Regarding the detention of the opposition leaders, this is what Donald Yamamoto said: "The official position of the United States is for the release of the detainees, period" In a follow-up statement the secretary said: "I’ve visited the detainees and had great discussions with them. In some cases, they are able to hear the Voice of America, so the Voice of America is critical, very important, to gain information in Ethiopia" In the long run, I would definitely be happy if I am allowed to know the un-official position of the US regarding the detention of Ethiopia’s political leaders, if there is at all such a thing as un-official position. Currently, the US is not showing any sign of pushing or guiding the Ethiopian rulers towards where it believes is the right direction. Mr. Yamamoto, thank you for the visit you paid to the prisoners of conscience, but what is good if the prisoners hear the voice of America(VOA), but not the voice of the American government? You said the official position of the US government is for the release of the prisoners, if so, why doesn’t the US government put its money where its mouth is?

Any political analyst that reads the transcript of Donald Yamamoto’s interview can see that the United States is trying to appease both the opposition and the TPLF regime. In the past the United States has used its political and economic muscle to force totalitarian regimes to release political prisoners. I guess we all know the difference between "releasing prisoners" and "speedy trial". What is the demand of the United States of America? Is it releasing the prisoners, or speedy trial? The irony is that on one side, no matter what the demand of the US government is, the Ethiopian government is not showing any sign of releasing the prisoners or granting them speedy trial. On the other side, no matter what the Ethiopian government does the US is quietly watching. In a diplomatic language such quietness is nothing, but approval or an invisible nod for acknowledgment.

Another important question presented to Donald Yamamoto was- Is reconciliation possible with virtually the entire leadership of the largest opposition party in prison? Ambassador Yamamoto’s reply to the above question was: "The Ethiopian government’s position is that they committed a crime and that they need to go through the trial process. That’s their decision but we have argued that they should be released and take up their seats in Parliament" There are some important questions that need to be raised here - What is the official position of the US government regarding the political prisoners in Ethiopia? Is it to negotiate and/or put pressure on the Ethiopian government to release the political prisoners? Or is it demand for speedy trial? If the former is true, then the US government agrees on the innocence of the CUDP leaders. In this case, the US should use its political and economic power to grant an immediate and unconditional release of the CUDP leaders. If the latter is true, then the US has agreed on the fabricated charges of genocide and treason. The truth is that the opposition leaders are jailed for exercising their constitutional right of freely expressing their ideas, a right that all the citizens of the United States take for granted.

Currently, the Ethiopian people expect two things form the United States government. First, the US government should engage itself in helping the Ethiopian people build a democratic system. The US shouldn’t support an outrageous dictator just because the dictator promises to fight terrorism. Terrorism is the enemy of democracy, as long as the Ethiopian people do not enjoy their God given democratic right, there will always be an open door that allows in the elements of terror no matter what the Ethiopian government does. It is important to prevent the symptoms of terrorism than trying to fight a fully blown terrorism. Second, we Ethiopians don’t expect the Americans or any country to build a democratic system in Ethiopia. The building it self should be left for Ethiopians, however, the US and other donor countries should make sure that the aid fund that flows to Ethiopia advances the principles of the democratic process, the Ethiopian people should be the direct beneficiaries of aid fund, not few elites! The US should learn from the mistakes it made in Chile, in the Mobutu era Zaire, and in the Apartheid era South Africa.

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