Monday, January 30, 2006

Oh! Ethiopia

By Ephrem Madebo

Ethiopia is a country where Political, social, and economic inequality are century old trends that resurface as one dictator is replaced by another. In the last four decades Ethiopia has politically been unstable, its economy in shambles, and the country has socially been higgledy-piggledy. Ethiopia, the second most populace black nation on the planet, has always been crammed with poverty, starvation, and social injustice. The principal problem of Ethiopia has always been the existence of Ethno-nationalist groups who make use of governmental power to create and enforce public policies that advance ethno-nationalist objectives. In almost all cases, ethno-nationalist polices undermine the rule of law; and most awfully, constitutional laws are neither enforced nor drafted with equal protection in mind.

In 1990, when ‘Woyane’ changed its name from TPLF to EPRDF and got closer to Addis Ababa, its primary catchphrase was freedom and equality. Today, fifteen years later, TPLF builds University College in Mekele and kills University students in Addis Ababa. TPLF brazenly channels international aid funds and other resources from the other parts of Ethiopia to its own power base. For example, in Tigray zone, there is one hospital for every 286,143 people, where as in Amahara and Debub zone, there is one hospital for every 1,011,452 people (Source:
http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/battling_hiv-aids_ethiopia.pdf). In today’s Ethiopia, the majority of the larger economic firms are either entirely or partially owned by the TPLF elites. TPLF is a ruling party, a trading corporation, and a legislative and a judicial body.

Ethiopia is a country of many nationalities where the unequal distribution of power and wealth is rampant and seemingly interminable. From Emperor Menelik, the architect of modern Ethiopia, to Meles Zenawi, the disintegrating agent of Ethiopia; every Ethiopian regime has used the resources of the south to benefit the few, keeping the South in an invariable state of melancholy and teeth gnashing. In the last one hundred years, the role of the South in the national decision making process was next to nothing. In 1974 and 1991 when those on power were dazed, and when a short time governmental power vacuum was created; the South has never been close to filling the vacuum. Today, the Ethiopian political spectrum is jam-packed by self-acclaimed, elegant, and devious groups who promise true democracy for Ethiopians. In a land where promises are never kept, the South should never be swindled again.

Most political parties of the last four decades failed to succeed because they overlooked the political history of Ethiopia. Main stream Ethiopians usually dismiss the existence of a century old power struggle between the politically dominant North and the dominated South. Even toady, in the era of information technology, when Southerners articulate the Ethiopian problem from the Southern perspective, their ideas are mocked and domed as divisive and untimely, furthermore, the comprehensive ideas of Southern intellectuals are reduced to ethnic issues. In the contrary, remnants of the old system praise the wickedness of the feudal system as a blessed act of nation building. For example, a recent article on ethiomedia web site (
http://ethiomedia.com/courier/proud_neftegna.html), compared the Lewis & Clark continental expedition with Emperor Menelik’s expansion to South Ethiopia. This is what the writer said:

“Neftegnoch’ are respected, and names of great Neftegnoch such as Lewis & Clark are made immortal. Lewis & Clark extended the frontiers of America from coast to coast in the same way the Ethiopian pioneers once did to Africa. But, for reasons unknown, the ancient ‘Neftegnoch’ failed to create the Continent of Ethiopia and Africa is today what we believe it should not be”.

The writer failed to let us know what happened to millions of Native Americans after the Lewis & Clark expedition, and he disregarded the history of how the so called pioneer ‘Neftegnoch’ treated the people of the South for almost a century. The writer not only fails to tell us the truth, but he also tried to justify the system that reduced Southerners to sub humans by calling the builders of the system “Pioneers”. Such neglect, failure, and disregard to spell out the truth should not be attributed to being na├»ve or lack of knowledge because it is an out-and-out denial of history.

Why did some intellectuals, groups, and political parties of the last four decades fail to see the root cause of Ethiopia’s problem? What is Ethiopia’s root problem? As I tried to mention above, Ethno-nationalist groups who make use of governmental power to create and enforce public policies that advance ethno-nationalist objectives are the root causes of all of Ethiopia’s problems. Most Ethiopians thought all problems associated with land ownership were resolved by the 1975 rural land proclamation, yet today 31 years after the landmark proclamation, the land tenure system is a major problem in Ethiopia. Today, many Ethiopians inside and outside Ethiopia are fighting hard to bring an end to the TPLF regime; but will replacing TPLF by it self really solve Ethiopia’s problem? If the answer is yes, in the last 30 years Ethiopia has seen three different governments come and go, but none of them solved the root problem of Ethiopia. In my opinion, most Ethiopians agree on the issue of purging TPLF, the problem comes on the question of the replacement. In fact, the fundamental point of departure between the different opposition groups lies on who should replace the TPLF regime.

The main stream Ethiopian political pitch is composed of individuals, groups, and political parties who exhibit one of the following characteristics:

  • Deny the existence of problems: These are people who deny or question the history of the North-South domination in Ethiopia. To these people, modern Ethiopia was formed by the good will of individuals, groups, and nationalities that co-existed harmoniously.
  • Muffle Problems: These are people who clearly understand the political history of Ethiopia, but muffle the root problems in search of short cut to political power.
  • Run from problems: These are people who acknowledge the existence of problems, but they try to solve the problems by just running away from them. The creed of this class of people is: ‘Let us forget the past’ and be united to fight TPLF.
If one denies the existence of problems, it will absolutely be impossible to solve them; the TPLF regime can certainly be avoided, but the struggle continues unless problems are exhaustively discussed and the body that replaces TPLF is put together with a mutual consensus of all Ethiopians. One can muffle problems for a little while, but eventually the muffled problems will explode and create more damage. Finally, no matter how far one runs away from problems, the problems will always follow him/her. Obviously, one can not solve problems by dwelling in the past; likewise, no problem can be solved without knowing its root and uprooting it.

To establish a united Ethiopia, the people of Ethiopia should enter in to a social contract with each other. The most important precondition for a social contract is a lasting trust among the different nationalities that constitute the nation of Ethiopia. No trust can develop between people when one group denies, muffles, or runs away from a problem that the other group acknowledges and works hard to resolve. In all political settings, where trust or contracts are the vital issues, different groups and political parties have repeatedly been observed reducing themselves from the national agenda to egoistic group or individual agenda. This infectious disease is not limited to individuals; it is widespread among influential political parties that are expected to lead the country. ONC, SEPDC, and the trendy CUD are not free from such a syndrome. In fact, the inability of UEDF and CUD to work together as political allies is mainly characterized by the dread of who controls power. Immediately and following the May 2005 election, the focus of CUD and UEDF was not fully centered on EPRDF, they were rather infatuated with a personal agenda of putting their own person in the most powerful spot. Had UEDF and CUD worked together before and after the election, they could have put the first legal resident in Ethiopia’s executive mansion. The imprudent political and economic relations of the past hundred years have drained the trust that one group has for the other. In 1991, OLF was part of the transition government, however, it pulled itself out of the TG because the TPLF gang wanted a total control of the country by itself; ever since, the political relationship between OLF and other opposition groups was exemplified by lack of trust. Ethiopia needs a vanguard party that establishes trust, harmony, and an all rounded equal relationship between Ethiopians of different background.

Currently, the Ethiopian people are determined to get rid of the TPLF gangs, what they lack is a vanguard party that leads them to victory. I do believe we still don’t have a single trusted party which is strong enough to lead Ethiopians to victory. In the May 2005 election, ONC and other Oromo groups won few parliamentary seats in the Oromya zone; but, OLF, arguably the greatest name among the Oromos was not even in the picture. In the South, the bungled SEPDC failed to extrapolate its landmark victory of five years earlier. If one goes back and assesses the May 2005 election, the Oromya and the Southern zones were the two main places where EPRDF had relatively strong footing compared to UEDF and CUD. With the exception of the three densely populated localities of Wolayta, Kembata, and Hadya, the South was plagued by a political vacuum. Poor leadership and lack of democratic culture made the Southern Ethiopian People Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) a bystander on its own turf. Obviously, CUD made unmatched attempt to reach the people of the South, but its appeal to the Southern voters was optimistically answered only in few urban centers like Awassa. The Oromos are disgruntled with TPLF the same way the Amaharas are, but why did CUD fail to secure comparable number of votes in Oromya zone as it did in the Amahara zone? All in all, why is CUD less popular among the Oromos?

Trust is a vital component in the creation of a true democratic Ethiopia, when a true democratic Ethiopia is formed with the unconditioned free will of all Ethiopians, and when the constitutional separation of power is properly enforced; legal and democratic institutions will flourish in all parts of the country paving the way for the restoration of political equilibrium between the different regions of the country. In a true democracy, most people conduct themselves rationally; no individual, group, or region will have a reason to change its behavior given the choices of all other individuals, groups, or regions. In a true democratic Ethiopia, the existence of a transparent judicial system and the prevalence of checks and balances between the different branches of the government will deter people from resorting to violence to resolve political differences.

Today, there are a large number of players in the political environment of Ethiopia; some are coalitions (CUD and UEDF), others are liberation fronts (OLF, ONLF, and TPLF), and yet some others are regional mass based political organizations (SEPDC, ONC and TAND). More or less, all of the above political players represent people; some are large stakeholders representing a larger section of the population. All of these political organizations have the responsibility of ensuring a lasting peace, freedom, and justice to the Ethiopian people and they are accountable for the actions they take and fail to take; but none of the political parties can claim to have a historical responsibility of single handedly carrying the yoke of the struggle. The group effort of CUD and UEDF shortly before and immediately after the May 2005 election was praised by many Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians, but instead of expanding their popular base by inviting other stakeholders to the political forum, the group effort of CUD and UEDF diminished as one distrusted the other. It is absolutely important to acknowledge that neither CUD nor UEDF can successfully wage their struggle without entertaining the Oromo, the Ogaden, the Afar, the Benshangul etc questions at the national level. I do have respect to ONC and other Oromo parties, but at the mean time, I have trouble visualizing the future mode of being of the Oromo people in the absence of the biggest player, the OLF. The current leaders of CUD, UEDF and other opposition groups have the responsibility of bringing OLF to the national political forum. At the mean time, the OLF leaders should take their own initiative to solve the Ethiopian problem with their brothers. Disregarding dialogues and resorting to the use of gun might ensure a temporary political power like TPLF, but it will never solve political differences.

Over all, people have similar interests and wishes. The over all interest of the oppressed people of Ethiopia is similar; North or South, we are all Ethiopians and we live in the context of each other. Southerners have been Ethiopians for many years, but did not participate in the national decision making process. Obviously, as most Ethiopians understand, the Ethiopian South and North do not share identical historical background. The South was denied of political power, has a forgotten language and a neglected culture. Such differences and the hideous parts of our history should not be denied, it should be uncovered and discussed. The past should be used as a bridge to bring Ethiopians together. Those who rebuff the past are doing nothing, but building a wall that keeps people apart. History is a lesson that educates us to hold on to the beneficial occurrences of the past and avoid adverse experiences from unfolding again. We can’t simply leave the past to historians; we all should deal with it. Historical coincidence has placed us at a crucial time in our country’s history; we face a huge task of liberating our people from all kind of oppression once and for all. This overwhelming task needs the coordinated effort of all oppressed people. Let’s rise together and find solution for the deep-seated problem of Ethiopia. Let’s run to save our country from falling apart, not for power!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nothing Is Evil, But Evil Itself

By Ephrem Madebo

I enjoyed reading Dr. Mogus Mochena’s latest article. As I understood his article, Dr. Mogus makes a call for the formation of a new Southern Ethiopia party. According to Dr. Mogus the struggle of Southern Ethiopians goes beyond just getting rid of Meles Zenawi’s dictatorial regime. The Ethiopian South is a place where imposed culture and language was/is a substitute for local culture and language. The resourceful South is also a place that is reduced to poverty by the deliberate actions of all past Ethiopian governments. This is evil. I don’t think Mr. Begashaw, who wrote a rather insipid comment on Dr. Mogus’s article, seems to understand this overarching evil and fails to get the gist of Dr. Mogus’s article.


The concept of the ‘South’ in Dr. Mogus's article is not only geographic; it is also a political concept. In Ethiopia, the concept of North and South represents the dominator and the dominated. This is a fact. Mr. Begashaw’s fear of division among the opposition based on Dr. Mogus’s article is an irrational one that does not reflect the political reality of Ethiopia. The CUD is primarily an urban party and the UEDF is an agglomeration of parties that are primarily based out side of Ethiopia. In the midst of such configuration of opposition parties, the stubborn leaders of the SEPDC, purportedly representing Southerners, are sitting like dummies in the illegitimate parliament. As a result of these factors, a political vacuum has been created in the South and it needs to be filled and Dr. Mogus’s article addresses this vacuum.

I also find Mr. Begashaw’s call for Ethiomedia web site not to post articles which he deems "divisive" to be very disturbing. There is a wide array of views among the Ethiopian opposition and Ethiomedia is well advised to continue to accommodate them. Mr. Begashaw should be ashamed of himself when he tells Ethiomedia to act like Ethiopian Radio and Television. I thought we were struggling to have a free press. I thought some of us left Ethiopia because we couldn’t freely express ourselves. The South fears attitudes like that of Mr. Begashaw’s and that is why most Southerners feel their interests are better served if they have their own party. It is high time that Mr. Begashaw and his ilk learn to appreciate the diversity of Ethiopia and respect the desire of Ethiopians to organize in any way they wish.

What is a specific current situation in Ethiopia that warrants us not to fill a political vacuum? When is the right time to form a party? I do believe Dr. Mogus’s article initiates a dialogue among Ethiopians and contributes positively to the formation of a true democratic Ethiopia. The effort to get rid of the Meles regime and form a government of national unity should be inclusive; no individual, group of individuals, or no single party is given a sole historical task of fighting for Ethiopia. Mr. Begashaw may not like the idea of new party in the South and he should be entitled to his point of view, but he should be mature enough to recognize that there may be many others who may like the idea and want the dialogue continue. At the end of the day, it is the majority of the people in Southern Ethiopia who will decide whether or not it is a good idea to start a new Southern party at this point in time.

Monday, January 09, 2006

High Time For A Strong New Party: The Southern Ethiopian Congress (SEC)

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

As Ethiopia convulses in political violence, we face new challenges and problems. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

In the wake of the political seismic wave of immense magnitude that ripped through Ethiopia, we, Southern Ethiopians, like other Ethiopians, have been shaken to our core. We are shocked and enraged by the scope of the brutality unleashed by Meles’ government. “A crackdown on this scale has not been seen in Africa for twenty years and the repression exceeds anything by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for the past decade at least. Apartheid-era South Africa's onslaught against the black townships in the 1980s provides the only recent comparison", writes David Blair of The Daily Telegraph.

How sad it is, at the dawn of the twenty first century, when the exercise of democracy is commonplace throughout the world, we are being brutalized by megalomaniac leaders. How sad it is to see our psychotic leaders drag all Ethiopians through so much pain and tribulation to stay in power at any cost.

More than any other country in the world, this ancient country of ours, saddled with the most abominable level of poverty, desperately needs a stable peaceful political environment to overcome the disgraceful misery almost all of our fellow citizens face every day. Instead of working out solutions through dialogue to form a unity government, to our dismay and heartburns, we are now forced to confront an intransigent evil. The situation is so depressing that it may seem the easy way out of this conundrum is just to give up and bury one’s head in the sand like an ostrich. But how could anyone with an ounce of morality abandon tens of thousands of young people in mosquito-infested barracks at the mercy of inhuman thugs? How could we turn our eyes away from our people as they are being terrorized and humiliated? We can’t just sit around; we cannot escape the moral obligation that confronts us. We can’t give up. We must fight tooth and nail against the monsters. History will judge us unfavorably if we fail to do so.

Unfortunately, there is no recipe or charted path to overcome evil. One thing is for sure, that it will take the combined efforts of all Ethiopians to withstand EPRDF’s bestiality. In light of this, our struggle should be dual in nature: fighting in tandem with all other freedom-loving Ethiopians the repression of Meles on one hand and putting our own house in order on the other.

Yes, our house in the South is in shambles and must be put together. As we struggle with the rest of Ethiopians, we must also examine ourselves, our political organizations and the interests and aspirations of our people very carefully. This was once the region where the ray of freedom that spread into the rest of Ethiopia emanated in the 2000 elections, but now no more. Our region was once the beacon of hope and our people were the ones who passed the torch of peaceful struggle to the rest of Ethiopia, but now no more. What went wrong?

Our brothers and sisters were brutally killed by EPRDF forces during the 2000 campaign. Many more were imprisoned, and thousands went into exile for standing up to EPRDF. Our people chanted slogans of freedom and even mocked the death of EPRDF. “Where are you going?”, said the first group while going to one of the 2000 campaign rallies. And the second group replied, “to Wachamo”. “To do what?”, asked the first group. “To EPRDF’s funeral”, chanted back the second group. Way back when, in 2000, our people wished the death of EPRDF. They rallied in large numbers against EPRDF’s rule of corruption and incompetence. Has all this sacrifice of theirs been in vain? Fourteen, long years of sticking out their neck, for
what?

Even if all else is not well in the South at present, at least the torch of peaceful struggle was successfully passed to the rest of Ethiopia; the rest of Ethiopia responded, followed suit our people and voted against EPRDF in 2005 elections. The struggle reached its crescendo. Sadly, those who were once the vanguards of opposition against EPRDF, the people of the South, are nowhere at this critical juncture as a result of absent leadership. The leadership and elected members of the Southern Ethiopian Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) have chosen to sit as pots of plants in a kangaroo parliament lending legitimacy to a brutal dictatorship. Do our people deserve better leadership and representation after all that sacrifice?

A Brand New Party, A New Beginning

Why a new party is necessary now? Is it not just enough to reform SEPDC? Or is it just enough to become part of a “pan”-Ethiopian party; after all, the South is not any different from other parts of Ethiopia? Is it not better to be part of UEDF or CUD?

These are serious questions that need serious answers. How we go about laying our foundation now will affect the course of future politics in the South for many years to come. In order to choose the correct path for the future, we must scrutinize the recent political developments especially those right before and after the May 2005 election. We must size up our political standing in the midst of other contending entities, recognize our weaknesses and strengthens so as to build on our strengths and avoid from repeating similar mistakes in the future.

In all of these deliberations certain self-evident truths must be taken into account. Some of the historical dirty linen must be washed clean to build a stronger South and, consequently, a stronger Ethiopia. Certain incontrovertible facts must be exposed in order to find the right cure for the disease that is afflicting Ethiopia. The prime culprit among the causes for most of the turmoil we are experiencing is the unequal distribution of power and the lack of check and balance that prevents one group from dominating over the other.

One could go back as far back as Emperor Menelik or Emperor Haile Selassie or The Derg or the beginning of TPLF rule in 1991. I will leave that to historians. For the purpose of this article and as we look forward the 2005 parliamentary elections could be taken as a watershed moment. After all, these elections were the first elections of their kind in which multi-party campaigns have taken place in this ancient country for the first time. And the results of the elections serve us as a yardstick to find out where we stand in the spectrum of the current Ethiopian politics.

The 2005 elections clearly exposed the Southern political landscape to all interested parties. Real numbers and actual results cannot be fudged, so we must analyze and understand them in order to learn from mistakes and plan for the future. The three major parties, CUD, EPRDF and UEDF garnered different degrees of support in the region. We have many questions to ask and also find answers for. Why did people in the towns mainly vote for CUD? Why did EPRDF succeed in zones like Woleyita and how is that related to its divide and rule strategy? Will Kaawo Tonna be proud of the Woleyitas who sold out to EPRDF? Why did SEPDC (UEDF) just win only in Hadiya and Kembatta? Why has SEPDC fared miserably after five years (since the 2000 triumph)?

The results clearly show a divide between towns and rural areas, and between different regions consisting of different ethnic groups. How could we then bridge these gaps between the different constituencies as we try to forge a strong NEW Southern Ethiopian Party? What kind of theme will galvanize the different components?

As things stand now, there is a big vacuum that has been created due to lack of a strong party. As a result, those with brutal force on one hand and others with better messages and stronger organization were able to sway votes in their favor. In the mean time, the lack of focused Southern leadership that could have organized its people contributed tremendously to the partitioning of the votes, eventually leading to a weak influence of the South on the national scene.

Setbacks are a way of life and are bound to happen from time to time. It is okay to fall down as long as one gets up. We may have received severe body blows, but we must rebound and reclaim what is our own. The South needs a very strong party, built on democratic principles, that appeals across the South. Right now there is no such party, it is time to form one. If you wander, if we have to do this from a scratch, my answer is not necessarily. We can patch up what is already present and build upon it. Existing parties are welcome if they want to join hands and form a stronger party. [For instance, The Southern Ethiopian Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) can undergo a major surgical procedure, transformed radically and can constitute a major wing in this NEW party. The New party will be much bigger than SEPDC with fundamentally different principles and will involve a much larger constituency. It will be a regional party in the strict sense of the word Southern and will be open to anyone residing in or affiliated with the South]. Even in the worst scenario, if we had to start from a scratch, we can learn a valuable lesson from an old Chinese saying : “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We have to start somewhere and should not be afraid of starting what is timely. We cannot just sit around and not fill up the void created by lack of a strong party. I believe we can do it. Let us also remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another great American President, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Our goal is simple and straightforward. We want something that is lasting that belongs to the people of the region and not to individuals. We want a political institution that is based on democratic principles. We want something that grows and not something that dwindles as years go by. We want a dynamic party that engages its people in its decision making, envisions the future and inspires its people to ascend to greater heights. We want leadership that listens to the voices of its people and prepares younger generation for the challenges of future leadership. We want continuity and not faith in just one individual. We do not want to throw all of our eggs in one basket. We want leadership that consults with its people and finds out what they think. We want a truly democratic party that attracts all of the South because of its ideas and promises. We want a party that challenges its elite to get involved and lead. Above all we want a truly Southern party that represents the South on equal footing around a round table of Ethiopian politics. We want to lead ourselves within the bigger tent of Ethiopia and fight for political, economic and social interests of the region.

I believe we can rise up to the occasion. If we do not do it , who will do it? Let us be bold. Let us form The Southern Ethiopian Congress.

The author would like:
From a Southern vantage point, Northerners have dominated the Ethiopian political, economic as well as cultural landscapes for the past one hundred years since Emperor Menelik conquered the South. As a result, Southerners have been treated as second-class citizens. These ugly facts must be taken into account as we shape the future not only to be free from Meles’ dictatorship but from all forms of unequal relationships and dominations, and as we establish political alliances with others.
• to exchange ideas about getting this New Regional Party off the ground.
• to hear from Southerners from different regions of South.
• to scout for leaders in Ethiopia who will lead this New Party. The current environment is difficult, but the groundwork must be laid and struggle must continue.
The author can be reached at mmochena@yahoo.com.