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.