Friday, June 30, 2006

A Drill for False Alarm, the Solitary Journey of UEDF

Ephrem Madebo

In the last fifteen months the political reality of Ethiopia has constantly been changing. The dynamic emergence, fallout, and re-emergence of events have forced both the opposition and the TPLF to change their strategy and adopt to the daily changing political environment. In my opinion, all the major political parties have sensed the dynamics of the Ethiopian political situation, but none have paid due attention to the changing events like the OLF and TPLF.

Political victory is unthinkable in the absence of battle seasoned leaders and a proactive party leadership. I have a great respect and appreciation for CUDP, but with its entire leadership suffering in jail, the ability of CUDP to stay proactive in Ethiopia's fast paced political life is minimum. In fact, the recent creation of CUDP international leadership is a wonderful move that shows the political maturity of the CUDP leaders in keeping the party ahead of events. Evidently, the CUDP international leadership was created to align the party's strategy with the changing political conditions. With all due respect to UEDF, I do believe that UEDF is a reactive party that suffers from a self-inflected wound. UEDF proudly presents it self as a pioneer party that started a political dialog with OLF, yet the same UEDF blames OLF and CUDP for forming a forum for dialog. According to my understanding, the purpose of the OLF-UEDF dialog was to forge a unity. If so, why run away when the foundation for unity is laid down?

On Sunday June 25, 2006, I was one of the many people who ignored the formidable rain and flood of the Washington, DC area to attend the much awaited meeting called by UEDF. As eager as I was to hear UEDF's position [on AFD] from the mouth of the horse, I was shocked and simmered in total disbelief when I heard a poor unedited essay that lacked coherence and thesis statement. Most of the participants of the meeting challenged and questioned the solitary journey of UEDF and demanded reason for such an act, but instead of reason, the audience was given a sermon that black mailed and repeatedly accused CUDP. According to the sermon on Sunday, UEDF is the only party that cares for Ethiopia's unity and challenges the TPLF constitution.

Most of the six point contentions of UEDF are technical in nature and could have been solved in the AFD forum. In fact, the contentions were good reasons to join AFD, not to run away and cry like a child who spills his own food. My advice to UEDF: All the time that you spent analyzing the Ethiopian political problem is greatly appreciated, but no matter how devoted and how courageous you are in analyzing problems, your effort will not bear fruits unless you match your time of analysis with synthesis. Remember, both analysis and synthesis are group efforts. Please join the group and work together with CUDP, OLF, ONLF, EPPF, and SLF.

As we all know, for the good part of the past thirty years the OLF carried a secessionist slogan and distanced itself from most mainstream Ethiopian political parties. In the other side, most mainstream Ethiopian political parties treated OLF as an ordinary terrorist organization and made no attempt of political cooperation with this giant thirty three years old organization. As a result of this meaningless and cold standoff, the Ethiopian people journey to justice and democracy lost the synergy that could have come from the political co-operation of OLF. The historic May 2005 election refuted the use of force [Gun] to achieve political goals in Ethiopia and gave a nice lesson to the ubiquitous ethnic liberation fronts. To be honest, in May 2005, when most Ethiopians went to the ballot box, they knew less what the vision of the opposition really was, however, they voted for a start-up party in a larger proportion because they were dead sure that the alternative was evil and they were eager to see a peaceful transfer of power.

In May 2005, the majestic appearance of CUDP and its young visionary leaders captured the imagination of many Ethiopians. As a result many urban Ethiopians gave their vote to CUDP. In Ethiopia we don't have a rural urban political divide, therefore, it is odd to have a landslide victory in urban centers and a disproportionate loss in rural areas. Large urban centers like Addis Ababa, Awassa, Jimma, Nazereth, Bahar Dar, and Dire Dawa are places where true Ethiopian diversity is expressed. Why would Oromos that live in Addis Ababa and other urban areas vote for the Opposition, and those who live in the rural area vote for the EPRDF? It is the answer to this kind of statistical and sociological question that forced the OLF to reconsider its long standing and obsolete colonial question. In deed, in the last six months the political tone of the OLF has changed dramatically. High ranking OLF officials have started envisioning democracy and justice to the Oromo people in the context of a united Ethiopia. Here are recent excerpts from two OLF officials:

"The future is doomed only for those who fear equality, democracy and freedom, and for those who uphold and condone injustice, inequality and dictatorship. I say freedom now, equality now, democracy now for all peoples of Ethiopia, and Freedom and Democracy for all" Dr. Shigut Geleta, OLF Head of Foreign Relations in Europe

"If the international community and the others in Ethiopia are ready to be serious and to seriously look to resolve the complicated problems in Ethiopia, OLF is ready to be a leading partner in this change" Dawud Ibsa, OLF Chairman

For a long time OLF was obsessed with the creation of Oromia state while other political parties were tormented by every move of the OLF to make the state of Oromia a reality. In this destructive zero sum game where neither the OLF achieved its goal nor the pro-unity parties faced their fear, the only beneficiaries were the enemies of Ethiopia. Retrospectively speaking, the short lived pre-election democratic face of the TPLF regime was a tantalizing empty promise. Currently, we as a society are so close to freedom and democracy, but we are guarded afar by TPLF from concretely holding to it. There is no question that TPLF is a voracious predator, but in the face of a united opposition, TPLF is not a formidable enemy. Our dreadful enemy is our inability to unite.

Ethiopia finds it self at a time where the unity of the opposition parties is a necessity, not a choice. Our nation is at the verge of disintegration; if Meles realizes his diabolic dream, the OLF would have no Oromia to separate, CUDP would have no place to unite, and UEDF would have no country and constitution to brag about. UEDF, CUDP, and OLF should understand that they exist in the context of each other. Accepting and exploring the rich context of their differences does not imply defeat or loss. Nor does it mean surrendering their own intellectual, aesthetic, or moral perspective. It simply means that they gain a deeper and broader understanding of where their own views fit in with society. That, in turn, helps them to navigate society more effectively.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Article 39, AFD and the Oromo Liberation Front.

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.

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.