Monday, December 31, 2007

Is Kenya Regressing to the Moi Era?

It seems last week's Kenya's elections have gone the way of Ethiopia's botched 2005 elections. The Economist has this to say about the election:
THE electoral commission of Kenya declared a winner in the country's bitterly fought presidential election on Sunday December 30th: the sitting president, Mwai Kibaki, was returned to power. The voting three days earlier had been impressively orderly and peaceful, raising hopes of a brighter future for Kenyan democracy. But the tallying process was a much darker story, with heavy suspicion of vote rigging and subsequent fears that serious violence could strike the country.

No one disputes that the opposition Orange Democratic Movement swept aside government parties in the parliamentary vote. Most of the ministers in the cabinet of Mr Kibaki lost their seats to Oranges, including the vice-president, foreign minister, and defence minister, and a number of previously unassailable and wealthy MPs.

And yet the same disgruntled voters apparently gave 76-year-old Mr Kibaki strong support in the presidential vote. The final tally, according to the electoral commission, handed Mr Kibaki 4.58m voters to 4.35m for the firebrand opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. Mr Odinga's supporters had earlier stated that he had won, suggesting a lead of some 500,000 votes. He claimed that the electoral commission was “being forced to declare wrong results” and called on its leaders to resign rather than plunge the country into chaos. The consequence of failing to recognise a “fair result”, he threatened, could be civil war.

Polls had indicated that the presidential election was going to be close. It was the manner in which Mr Kibaki crept up on Mr Odinga's solid lead that raised suspicions. Why, for instance, were votes from the president's loyal Kikuyu highlands of central Kenya held back to the end of the counting? Why had so many returning officers there gone missing, along with their results? Mr Kibaki, himself a Kikuyu, was expected to have overwhelming support from his kinsmen, but 98% looked excessive.
Sound familiar?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

A thought before the new year…

By Ephrem Madebo

I read a wonderful article written by Dr. Messay Kebede (A plea for honest dialogue). As he always does, Dr. Messay tried to go deep in to the current crisis of Kinjit, and pointed his gun at those whom he thought are pouring gasoline on a fire hard to douse. In his article, Dr. Messay made a call for an honest dialogue.

I can buy Dr. Mesay's call for honest dialogue between the two factions of Kinjit. However, unlike Dr. Mesay, I will blame the Kinjit leadership (leaders of the two factions) for being too vague on the true cause of the split. We have heard a lot of highly worded verbal exchanges between the two groups, but neither the Kinjit leadership that toured North America, nor the other faction lead by Engineer Hailu had the courage to tell us the real cause of the split. Well, as Dr. Mesay and others have indicated, power struggle can be the cause of the split, and it shouldn’t surprise us. The real question is --Is this a personal power struggle between two persons, or ideological power struggle between two groups? In my opinion, the real cause of the split is the latter. There is a clear power struggle between those elements who believe in collective decision making and those who like the individual decision making process. One shouldn’t be a political analyst to sense the nature of the power struggle within Kinjit. As to me, not only the Diaspora, but all Ethiopians (even opponents of Kinjit) should by now be aware of this four months old problem and support what must be supported. Remember, one can support a process without being politically charged. In the current crisis of Kinjit; all we need to see is the process that the party is trying to build and the people behind such an effort. Those who stand for group decision making process need to be supported. Should our effort be to use the current split in the party as a learning process to reach to the next level, or to put together the two warring factions? Well, our effort must be a mix of the two, if there is a complete change of heart within the factions. Yes, in this case we should push the two groups for dialogue, but we shouldn’t try to put together two diametrically opposed ideology backers in the same party. What do U think?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Obama for Change

Earlier this year I opined about the wrong-headed approach the Bush administration has taken on the war against terrorism, particularly as it is being implemented in the Horn of Africa, and the need for the US to change its policy. By making its alliance with the tyrannical regime of Ethiopia the center piece of its policy of the war on terror in the Horn of Africa, the Bush administration has undermined America's long-term security interests in the region, and the administration's support for Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia and the calamity the Ethiopian occupation has caused is a prime example of the failure of the current US policy and a very good reason why it needs to change.

A change of administration in the White House will not guarantee a change of policy. However, the probability of a change from the simplistic policy of the Bush administration to a more holistic one is greater if a Democrat wins the 2008 presidential election, and it will be much greater if the Democrats nominate Barack Obama to represent them in the general election. Why Obama? Well, simply because he is the only major presidential candidate from both parties who is an agent of change and has the credibility to enact a change of policy if elected. Please read this compelling article about Obama by Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Monthly and find out for yourself why Obama is an agent of change.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Time to Engage with American Foreign Policy Makers

By Fikru Helebo

There was an interesting article earlier this week on the Washington Post which quoted an unnamed Pentagon official who characterized the policy pursued by US Department of State towards Somalia as a
It was dispatched by a correspondent who was traveling with the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on his visit to Djibouti and the Middle East. What made the article interesting was that it leveled a categorical criticism of US policy and it was made just a day before a visit to Ethiopia by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State. The unnamed Pentagon official not only criticized the State Department's policy but also went on to suggest an alternative policy that will shift US support from the Mogadishu based Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to the Hargesa based Republic of Somaliland by giving recognition to the former British colony of Somaliland.

There is nothing new about a
tug of war between the Pentagon and the State Department in setting US foreign policy. In fact, a struggle between the two Departments has been a defining feature of American foreign policy making since the end of World War II, but disagreements between the two Departments are rarely aired in public. This public criticism of the official policy of the State Department on a high profile issue such as this one by the Pentagon indicates to me that there is a serious split among American foreign policy makers on what US policy should be towards Somalia in particular and the volatile Horn of Africa region in general and a change of policy may not be that far off.

Although the suggested alternative solution in the article does not address the fundamental problem with Somali politics, which is clanism, I think t
his recognition of the US policy towards Somalia as being a failed policy should be welcomed by all who have a stake in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region. Even if H.R. 2003 gets through the US Senate, it is not realistic to expect any changes in American foreign towards the Horn of Africa region before 2009, since 2008 is an election year, a year that will be overshadowed by the US Presidential election, and since the lame duck Bush Administration has unwisely invested too much of its political capital on the dictatorial Ethiopian regime and it has very little incentive to change its policy with only 13 months left in the White House.

The good news is that 2009 is not that far away and I believe there will be a change in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region within the next two years regardless of which party takes the White House in the 2008 election. So, now is the time for those of us who want the US to adopt a policy that serves both American
long-term security interests as well as the interests of the citizens of the Horn of Africa nations to double our efforts in lobbying US government officials and influential Americans to effect the right kind of changes in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa. H.R. 2003 is certainly a tool that can be used towards this objective, but it should not be seen as an end in itself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Internet in Ethiopia

Dr. Samuel Kinde of MediaEthiopia has a well researched article on the state of Internet usage and connectivity in Ethiopia tiltled "Internet in Ethiopia - Is Ethiopia Off-line or Wired to the Rim?". Samuel reports that Ethiopia is lagging well behind virtually all African countries in Internet penetration rate (percent of population that uses the Internet), with a mere 0.25% of Ethiopia's population considered having access to the Internet. Not only the Internet penetration rate is embarrassingly low, Internet connectivity for those who are currently using it is a nightmare! Samuel puts the blame for this sad state of Internet usage and connectivity in Ethiopia squarely on the government's monopoly of the information and telecommunications infrastructure. As an antidote to this problem Samuel writes:
While there are a multitude of consequences of current Internet connectivity ownership, the remedy is very simple and straightforward. As experience everywhere in the world indicates, the only proven model is that of a free-market in the ISP space. This simple solution that has been argued in-favor of over the past several years is the sole solution that is on the table.

The reality is, of course, that proponents of government ownership have their reasons for continuing such a model. The arguments often cited are that Ethiopia's conditions are so unique that the farmers which form the majority of the country's population will be left out in a free ISP market. This argument assumes Ethiopia's conditions to be so different from any other country on the face of the earth that it almost places the country as something out of this natural world. Conditions on the ground show that this argument is, of course, outdated, inaccurate and ingenuine. The truth, as any independent observer could see, is that there is a mistrust and fear of wide Internet access that could allegedly be used for political agitation purposes. However, this fear - as shown in the rest of the world including even China - is unsubstantiated and almost paranoid. No government - as conditions on the ground testify - has ever lost power because Internet access is widespread.

In a nutshell, therefore, attitudes have to change - particularly at the government level - where access to Internet by the average citizen is considered something to be feared. If the history of the country itself and the rest of the world is any indication, limiting an access always results in more damage than in any good that may come out of it. Looking forward, the country needs to make a decision between following a path that has so far proved unsuccessful and unsustainable and a correction of path that enables the proliferation of a dynamic sector that could add 0.5-1% points to the country's GDP as demonstrated by other progressive countries around the globe.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Phil Keaggy

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It is my favorite American holiday. I would like to give thanks today to Phil Keaggy, probably one of the most accomplished guitarist alive in the whole wide world. I have enjoyed his music ever since I got introduced to his music in a dorm room 20 years ago, and I have been to his concerts four times and enjoyed his performances thoroughly. Phil Keaggy is one amazing guitarist and a wonderful human being! I can't wait to attend my fifth concert. Please find three live performances below. I hope you will enjoy them.

Salvation Army Band (short version)

Salvation Army Band (long version)

Shades of Green

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Moment with Dr. Berhanu Nega

By Ephrem Madebo

He is a farsighted politician, an inexhaustible intellectual, a charismatic person, and a visionary leader who is entrusted to lead our nation to a new direction, ending fifty years of dancing in a political quagmire. Unlike the “My-way or no-way” politicians of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s; Dr. Berhanu is one of the few open-minded Ethiopian politicians who not only values the idea of others, but makes the most use out of it. His charisma, his love for others, his attentiveness, sense of humor, knowledge of politics, respect to dissent, and his consummate ability to deal with people of different attitude and political interest makes Dr. Berhanu Nega the most fulfilled Ethiopian politician of all time. To many who adore him without knowing him personally, he is a rock sold refuge of hope. To his close friends, he is an inspiration and a reason for optimism. To his party colleagues, he is a motivator. To the nation, he is a true vector of change with a solid, clear-cut, and steady trajectory.

For many Ethiopian politicians (past and present), the whole idea of open mindedness has been a toss-up concept which could mean many things. Dr. Berhnau is one of the few public figures that seems to clearly understand that being open-minded has nothing to do with how one treats other people, but how one treats him/herself. Our mind is autonomous from the minds of others. As social elements, we may be influenced by others, but we make our individual decision. The core idea of open mindedness is to have the capacity to admit mistakes, and gulp down our arrogance and allow ourselves to be corrected by others. If one is arrogant, proud, and hostile then he/she cannot be open-minded because they don’t have the will to accept that they are wrong.

Dr. Berhanu Nega and his party colleagues are persons distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, and strength. To put it differently, for this generation of Ethiopians, they are heroes. After closely following Dr. Berhanu for the last 50 days and after having a close encounter with him; I was morally and intellectually forced to cherish his balanced view on the following important features that single him out from the crowd.

Vision: A vision is a clear and compelling long-term goal of strategy that sets the overall direction for a country or an organization. It is a summary statement of what a country, or an organization ultimately intends to become five, 10 or even 15 years into the future. I read Dr. Berhanu’s 22 pages of immaculately written strategic speech, I heard most of his public speeches and interviews in North America, and most importantly I had the opportunity to be inches closer to him and to his collogues in their recent Washington DC public appearances. His rich, concise, and plainly stated vision is what forced me to devote my pen for this mastermind of contemporary Ethiopian politics. His vision is to establish a nation where all citizens are equal before the law. His vision is to see a politically free nation where all things are decided by the free will of the people. His vision is to build an economically powerful nation that produces most of its needs. This is as good as it gets!

Emphasis on the future: I’ve participated in countless Washington, DC “Unification Church” meetings, I’ve met a myriad of party leaders, and I have listened to many radio interviews and participated in paltalk discussions. Everything I heard until September 16, 2007 adds up to two highly charged political groups that kept the opposition camp divided for decades. In one corner, there are power monger people who seek to grab power at the cost of the nation itself. On the other side, there are victim-minded politicians who start everything by blaming others for the past, and end their day hating everybody outside their circle. Dr. Berhanu’s emphasis on our country’s future should be a bridge that curbs the gap between these polarized groups and pulls them to the pragmatic part of Ethiopian politics. This is what Dr. Berhanu said: “My emphasis on the past does not imply that we should set aside the past. The past is where we get our lesson for the future. We don’t dwell in the past; we plan everything for the future”. The future is daunting without hope, and there is no future without the past. To conquer the future and give hope to people, we should forget the burden of the past. A society that does not forgive shall not have a good future.

Ethnic Politics: Dr. Berhanu’s stand on ethnic politics is firm and straight forward. He has no taste for ethnic based politics, but he still has no intention of denying people their right of organizing in any form they want. His major departing point from ethnic politics is summarized in the following statement: “When one changes a decaying system, he/she should never burden the process of change. If one burdens change, he/she will fall altogether. The process of changing any society should be divided in to different stages. In our case, the first stage is to separate politics form ethnicity and set the tone for the principles of liberal democracy”. In a nation where the constitution protects the individual right of all citizens, there will be no loophole for ethnic oppression. The severance of politics and ethnicity is a major point of departure between Kinjit/Berhanu and TPLF/Meles.

Self Governance: He is an ardent proponent of local governance and self- reliance. Yes, he is also a strident advocate of liberal democracy, but trust me, though he is an accomplished economist (PHD), he does not buy the whole sale concept of political liberalism. He understands and believes in the architectural role of governments in guiding the development process of third world countries. According to Dr. Berhanu, local economic, political, and social affairs of people should be left alone to local people.

Political Alliance: As long as an alliance benefits his nation positively, he is open to work with any political group. The following is what Dr. Berhanu said on working with others: The fundamental legal and democratic principles that we [Kinjit] preach are not mere campaign slogans. They are the guiding principles of every movement in our party. According to Dr. Berhanu, there is no permanent political alliance as there is no lasting political animosity. Therefore, any group that wholeheartedly works for a strong Ethiopia, consents with the fundamental principles of equality before the law, and belives in the political freedom people is our political ally.

The importance of official language: Of all the things that Dr. Berhanu’s thinking stood clearly superior to mine is, his analysis of language in the Ethiopian society. Personally, he believes that having two official languages benefits Ethiopia. Most Ethiopians will benefit by learning the language of the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. If they become the dual official languages of Ethiopia, Amharic and Afaan Oromo will definitely benefit the nation as good unifying factors. Speaking multiple languages adds a positive tone to our diversity and eliminates artificial hurdles between people.

Political Campaign: A political campaign often refers to an organized effort of parties, or individuals to influence voters. Such influences could occur through media campaigns, town hall meetings, and Internet messages. Campaign politics is a new phenomenon to Ethiopia, and unquestionably, Dr. Berhanu Nega, campaign manager of CUDP [during the 2005 election], is the pioneer of media based campaign politics in Ethiopia. It was his ability to successfully disseminate his party’s message of hope alongside the soundbites of TPLF officials that dwarfed EPRDF in nationality televised debates. In 2005, Dr Berhanu effectively used the creative ability of the youth and the limited media slots to propagate the different identities of Kinjit such as “Kinjit is Fikir” “The Spirit of Kinjit” and the hard to forget symbol of Kinjit (V).

Sense of Humor: The social aspect of most of our political leaders is detached from the daily life and experience of the common people. To these isolated leaders, going to the places of ordinary people and addressing them using their own language/slung is a taboo. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Berhanu’s “The Quest for Democracy in Ethiopia” speech: We have a matured and a politically transformed youth. Today, the creed of our youth is: “Only the “Faras” [bumpkins] shun from political activism” Dr. Berhanu has a unique ability of wrapping his messages with giggling gags to take the full attention of his audience. When he switches gear away from burning issues, many people may pass Dr. Berhanu for a comedian.

As our society faces a rapid upswing in poverty, unemployment, and an ever worsening health and land tenure problems, we need leaders who will keep unemployment down and restore accountability to our government system. In my opinion, Dr. Berhanu is that leader. His noisy opponents try to align him with EPRDF. I guess, these barefaced “Talk-show” politicians either don’t know why they oppose EPRDF, or they are not good enough to distinguish good from bad. Dr. Berhanu might not be as good a leader to others as he is to me, but his ideology and his vision to Ethiopia are diametrically opposed to that of EPRDF. To me, TPLF and Dr. Berhanu don’t even seem to be working for the same country. I am not here to shield Dr. Berhanu; he has a much better weapon to do that. I’m here to defend the truth he stands for. Through the years, we have assassinated characters, dragged down promising leaders, and poured water on our hot issues. Let’s have a change of heart, to love others. No matte how polarized our ideas are, let’s change our attitude and listen to others. Let’s change our path and do things differently. Let’s embrace our heroes and help them realize their vision. May God be with all of us!

Jimma Times Interview with David Shinn

Jimma Times: Do you see the TFG and Ethiopia stabilizing Mogadishu anytime soon?

Dr. Shinn: No.

This is a must read interview with the former US Ambassador to Ethiopia. David Shinn is the fairest and most sensible commentator on Horn of Africa issues. Jendayi Frazer and Donald Yamamoto are well advised to listen to his views.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This Music is Really Good for You - II

Somalia burns, Ethiopia simmers (it may soon explode) and America is yet again on the wrong side of history in Africa. So, what else is new? But life goes on, as it must, and thank God, beautiful music, which soothes our aching souls, continues to be made. In this edition of "This Music is Really Good for You", I would like to introduce you to an incredible Latin folk rock musical duo from Mexico City, Rodrigo y Gabriela, whose performance, I guarantee you, will leave you with your jaws wide open. Here are a couple of their tunes courtesy of YouTube: "Tamacun" (3:23) and "Diablo Rojo" (6:10). While I am at it, let me also recommend to you a favorite song of mine from the 80s, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears For Fears. Enjoy!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Help Pass H.R. 2003 in the US Senate

Were you outraged by Senator Inhofe's remarks on the floor of the US Senate regarding HR 2003 last week as I was? If you were, as many Ethiopians were (Not in Her Name, Senator!, Senator, You Owe Us an Apology, Open Letter to Senator Inhofe, etc), then here is one easy thing you can do to help the US Senate take up H.R. 2003 for mark up and, hopefully, pass it.

The web page forms for contacting members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are hyper linked to their names below. Please click on their names and take 30 minutes of your time to send them a letter urging them to support H.R. 2003, or you can use the letter I sent to the Senators (see below). If 1000 of the 1778 weekly visitors of this blog help with this effort, that would be a great!

I just found out that there is an easy way to do this. Please go to Just Foreign Policy -- it will allow you to do this tedious task in one fell swoop!

Joe Biden
Richard Lugar
Chris Dodd
Chuck Hagel
John Kerry
Norm Coleman
Russ Feingold
Bob Corker
Barbara Boxer
John Sununu
Bill Nelson
George Voinovich
Barack Obama
Lisa Murkowski
Robert Menendez
Jim DeMint
Bejamin Cardin
Johnny Isakson
Robert Casey Jr.
David Vitter
Jim Webb

Dear Senator X,

I am writing to urge you to support H.R. 2003, the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, which was recently passed by the US House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

H.R. 2003 is a bipartisan legislation that is designed to promote democratic reforms in Ethiopia and encourage the Ethiopian government to respect human rights. This legislation does not negatively affect counter terrorism cooperation with the Ethiopian government.

I would encourage you to view or listen (see link below) to the October 2, 2007 hearing on the State of Democracy in Ethiopia conducted by the House Subcommittee on Africa to learn more why this legislation is necessary.

Hearing link:

Thank you for your time.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

He is Home, and He Isn't

Yacob Hailemariam has returned to his beloved family in Virginia Beach VA, reports The Virginian-Pilot.
Relaxed as he looked, joking or not, and home less than a day, Yacob Hailemariam talked only of returning home – to his homeland, Ethiopia. Permanently.

He said he plans to go back in two months to continue the “unfinished business” of peacefully instilling democracy. The 2010 elections are coming.

“There is a chance we could go back to prison, but what are you going to do?” he asked, smiling. “We have made promises to the people, and we can’t renege on those promises.”

To read the whole story and view a brief video clip of Yacob, go here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One against all?

By Ephrem Madebo

Our country Ethiopia might be as old as the earth it self, and the Ethiopian state might be one of the oldest on earth, but despite this inspiring historical and political background, dualism and Party politics are new phenomena that have eluded generation of Ethiopian intellectuals who dreamed multi-party democracy for Ethiopia. One month ago, I vowed to not dip my hands in to the internal conflict of Kinjit, however, after a month of speculation and shuddering political roller costar, I decided to end the silence because without debate, or without criticism, no party, no government, and no country can succeed -- and no democracy can survive. In the last 40 years, the Ethiopian political spectrum has entertained a plethora of political parties and political alliances, but none of the parties has stood firm to celebrate its 10th birthday without dividing and sub-dividing like an amoeba. Sadly, this has been a shocking truth of the Ethiopian political parties from the infamous EPRP of the 1970s to the flamboyant CUDP of the new millennium.

Evidently, no political party has captivated the imagination of young Ethiopians like EPRP did in the 1970s. The Ethiopian youth of the late 1960s and early1970s (the golden generation), was more loyal and obedient to EPRP than to its parents. I remember, I had a distant cousin who used to carry a potassium cyanide capsule whenever he was out on the streets on a party mission. We had such a determined youth that preferred its death than compromising party secrets. Today, party confidential is compromised on VOA and other media outlets by those who are at the top of protecting it. In the middle of the 1970s, EPRP crumbled and so did the morale and fighting sprit of the Ethiopian youth. When EPRP ceased to exit as a viable political force, the Ethiopian youth saw no reason for everything it did in the past, and lost the courage to stand for the future. Therefore, the youth resorted to substance abuse, alcoholism, and jolly-jackism.

It took 30 years to see another party that fascinated the Ethiopian youth and heaved it out of three decades of political retirement. This party is Kinjit. Though Kinjit has its own problem from its inception, many Ethiopians gave it the benefit of the doubt to be the party that gathers the momentum lost decades ago. As a result, many young people gave their life, savagely beaten, went to jail, and persecuted believing that the “sprit” of Kinjit shall muster them to realize their life long dream of freedom and justice. Any political miscalculation, sabotage, or mistake that creates any life threatening damage on Kinjit tears apart not only Kinjit as a party, it also obliterates the sprit of Kinjit from the minds of millions of Ethiopians. There is no doubt that our country Ethiopia is a very old country, but its population is comprised of a higher proportion of young people. We can not afford any EPRP like mistake of the 1970s that discourages our youth and alienates it from the political affairs of its nation.

Unfortunately, today, a paternal figure of the opposition camp is playing the most dangerous game of his political life. Engineer Hailu Shawel, the very person entrusted for his patriotic leadership of Kinjit, is on the verge of reducing Kinjit in to useless factions that will easily melt in the blistering heat of the TPLF political furnace. Engineer Hailu’s awkwardly designed moves and acts seem to constantly oppose his public words. The Engineer has repeatedly been heard saying “Kinjit shall never be divided”, but his acts and strange behaviors ever since he arrived to North America have jeopardized the life of Kinjit as a political entity. Should we beg Engineer Hailu to keep himself away from the riff-raffs of history that surrounded him and put his money where his mouth is? If that helps, I will definitely beg!

Ethiopians have unequivocally said no to dictatorial rule and supremacy of any kind. The following is what I heard from an extreme right wing radio station here in Washington, DC: “Kinjit as a party must implement the decisions of its chairman” (Dr. XX). If this is what the doctor is dreaming to Ethiopia, and if this is the kind of leadership Engineer Hailu insists to impose on Kinjit; I guess, both Ato Hailu and the doctor have few countries left in the world (China, Cuba). This is nothing, but the Nicolae Ceausescu type of party leadership. Engineer Hailu, or any leader of Kinjit has the responsibility of executing the majority decision of Kinjit regardless of which side of the decision the leader stands. In a recent Washington DC meeting, Engineer Hailu suggested that he would replace the “renegades” by others willing to work under his leadership. What is a party to Engineer Hailu? Isn’t a party a place where people of dissenting ideas work together? I’m sure it’s not a place where one exchanges an orange for another orange and end-up with the same orange. In a party one exchanges ideas and end-up with more ideas. I wonder if the Engineer thinks that his mere existence makes his side a majority regardless of the number of people in the other side.

Engineer Hailu’s inability to respect those who disagree with him is a sign of a quick descend from cynicism in to dogmatism. Don’t call me rude, for I am a true believer of reason. If Ato Hailu’s stand was honest, but erroneous, I would have stood with him and used reason to correct his error. This is not peculiar to me; most of us would tolerate error of opinion if reason is left free to combat it. But, the Engineer who himself was a hostage of tyranny a few months ago is holding ‘reason’ hostage, and making a nonsensical argument that would make Plato puke from the heavens.

Leaders unite people of different ideas, not create a rift. Leaders motivate people, not discourage them. Leaders rally followers around a common objective, not diminish the hope of people. Ato Hailu Shawel, the long time paternal figure of Kinjit has denied fatherhood to his political sons and daughters by reducing himself from a graceful leader of Kinjit to a discourteous leader of “petty politics”. The Renaissance Hotel meeting where Ato Hailu unveiled his degenerative vision was chaired by Dr. Taye Woldesemayat. My pen has written much about Dr. Taye when he was important to our struggle; I will not spoil that same pen by writing about this person whose public misdeed increases in direct proportion to his age.

The existence of Kinjit as a political entity benefits all Ethiopians regardless of party affiliation. I am not a kinjit member, I haven’t been, but I fight for its existence for I do believe that Kinjit and the political organization that I associate myself exist in the context of each other. The failed political parties of yesterday are campaigning day-in and day-out to justify their failure and attract others to their side. I’m afraid Ato Hailu seems to be the latest victim of these political rattle snakes. The unprecedented Public gratitude to Kinjit leaders in Washington DC, Dallas, Los Angles, Seattle, Boston, New York, and Atlanta must have sent an ambiguous message to Engineer Hailu and the handful of cacophonous singers around him.

If the beauty of democracy that Ato Hailu fought for years means anything at all, it means the undisputed right of party members to disagree with him, and his moral duty to execute the decision that he disagreed with. Just two months ago, Engineer Hailu was a person we all depended on to change the political landscape of Ethiopia. I want to say it loud and clear to the Engineer that no progress is possible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. No matter how patriotic and how anti-TPLF one is, acting against the fundamental principle of democracy is not a virtue, it’s a vice! Viva to the majority of Kinjit leaders who are fighting to keep the party in-tact. I salute your unwavering stand for the truth, and I applaud your initiative to include the many forgotten voices in Kinjit. I want to remind you that the truth you stand for might be ridiculed, or even violently opposed; but at the end of the day, it shall be accepted as self-evident. Trust me, one against all shall never win! Do not be anxious for the loafers, stand above all conditions, rise to every occasion, and most importantly stand for what is right. If you do, you will transcend the current party shortcomings, and lead us in to the promise land like Moses, not to the other side of the Red Sea, not far from it either, but within and to itself. May God bless our Ethiopia!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Boycott of Parliament and the Future of Kinijit

By Fikru Helebo

Two years ago this week I was furious at the combined Ethiopian opposition (CUD, UEDF, OFDM). Why? Because, just a few months after beating the EPRDF regime in the 2005 elections with all odds stacked against them, they blinked and failed to stand together in the decision about joining or boycotting parliament, thereby giving Meles Zenawi what he wanted: a divided opposition. In the debate about joining or boycotting parliament in 2005, although I leaned towards those who advocated joining parliament, I thought that it was very important for the opposition to have a single strategy regarding the issue of joining or boycotting parliament.

Now, two years later, I think it is safe to say that the opposition's inability to adopt a single strategy on joining or boycotting parliament did not serve them well. If the opposition had adopted a single strategy, join or boycott, most Ethiopians who voted for the opposition would have supported them. If they were united either way, I do believe that the political landscape of Ethiopia would have changed for the better. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way and the rest is history.

The verdict on those parties who joined parliament under the highly charged atmosphere of 2005 is clear. But it is not quite as clear for the party that put preconditions on joining parliament, the CUD (Kinijit). Those who joined parliament have proven nothing by joining parliament. In fact, by staying in parliament after hundreds of innocent civilians were gunned down and thousands imprisoned by the Meles regime, they have discredited themselves as an opposition and, in the process, they have become a pariah among supporters of the opposition. The party which boycotted parliament, Kinijit, is also not served well by its decision to boycott parliament,
at least from the results that we have witnessed so far. The decision to boycott may not have served Kinijit well in the short term, but it certainly has made Kinijit more popular among Ethiopians and it may help it in the long term. That, however, depends on many variables going Kinijit's way.

In as much as the decision to boycott parliament two years ago may have made Kinijit very popular, it is probable that the process Kinijit went through in reaching that decision may be the culprit for the current internal crisis that Kinijit finds itself in. It should be recalled that Hailu Shawel, the president of Kinijit, made quite a stir when he announced in Washington, DC three weeks before parliament opened on October 10, 2005 that Kinijit has decided not to enter parliament. Hailu Shawel's declaration was refuted a couple of days later by a press release
which appeared on Keste-Demena's now defunct web site, Keste-Demena being one of Kinijit's member parties and one which was led by Berhanu Nega ( served as a de facto Kinijit web site at that time). I liked the statement on Keste-Demena's web site; it sounded mature and responsible. That statement combined with a joint statement by CUD and UEDF a few days later raised my hope that the opposition may be pursuing a united strategy regarding the issue of joining or not joining parliament. Unfortunately, everything unraveled a few days later after CUD and UEDF officials met with Meles Zenawi.

This episode revealed that there were serious disagreements within Kinijit regarding the issue of joining or boycotting parliament. Disagreements within a political organization are natural, but this disagreement highlighted the existence of a deeper disagreement within Kinijit on its vision and its strategy for dealing with its opponents. Fast forward to October 2007 and, it seems to me, Kinijit is still stuck in the disagreements that arose during the decision process about joining or boycotting parliament in 2005. Most had hoped that the release of Kinijit's leadership from jail last July would re-energize the opposition. One faction of Kinijit is actually trying its best to reinvigorate the opposition camp. Unfortunately, another faction seems more interested in winning the turf battle within Kinijit than wining the hearts and minds of Ethiopians across the ethnic, religious and geographical spectrum.

As I have attempted to discuss in an article titled "The Battleground Region" last year, the Ethiopian South is where the next election will be won, if free and fair elections are to take place. At this point in the evolution of Kinijit as a party one can not deny that the base of the party is in the Amhara region. Nothing wrong with that per se. But, for Kinijit to be a majority party in Ethiopia, it will have to reach out to people in the South and Oromia regions. The faction of Kinijit that is linked to Hailu Shawel is quickly proving to be a liability for Kinijit in its effort to broaden its support base in other regions of the country. The Amhara base of Kinijit is a very important constituency for Kinijit and it looks like this is the card that Hailu Shawel is playing to keep Kinijit under his firm grip. But with Hailu Shawel's dictatorial tendencies, which can easily be detected in the interviews he has been giving since he arrived in the US, and his inherent inability to inspire, it is highly unlikely that Kinijit can make further inroads into the South and Oromia regions.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who is the Terrorist?

"The war on terrorism is very important, we all know that. But no regime that terrorizes its own citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror. Terrorism isn't just a military issue, it is also a human rights issue." -- Representative Christopher Smith as quoted by VOA News on July 18, 2007

Kinijit's Growing Pains

If you have a couple of hours to listen, here are two audio clips about the problems inside Kinijit. It would be nice if they can stay united, but it is much more important that they lead by example.

1. VOA's interview with Dr. Yacob Hailemariam courtesy of EMF.

2. Kinijit leaders Q&A session with supporters in Dallas, TX courtesy of Mahder.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

H.R. 2003

H.R. 2003, which previously was known as H.R. 4423 and H.R. 5680, unanimously passed the Foreign Relations committee in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress this week (you can watch Ethiopian Television Network's interview with Representatives Donald Payne and Christopher Smith and two Kinijit folks courtesy of Abugidainfo), and it is on the verge of getting the approval of the full House next week, if it gets to the House floor as scheduled.

It will be a major breakthrough for the cause of human rights in Ethiopia if the bill passes in the House, and that will substantially increase the odds of the bill getting the approval of the United States Senate. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is opposed to this bill (we will find out if they are still opposed to it at this hearing), and there is also a risk that the bill could be watered down in the Senate where the rules for passing a legislation are tougher. But, for now, we should thank Reps. Payne and Smith for keeping the spirit of bipartisanship for H.R. 2003 alive!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Unintended Consequences

By Fikru Helebo

Modern Ethiopian history is full of government policy decisions which had an unintended consequences. Prime among such unintended consequences is the separation of Eritrea in 1991 as a direct result of a decision taken by the Haile Selassie regime in 1962 to dissolve Eritrea's federation with Ethiopia. The current regime has also made a decision, namely the invasion of Somalia a few months ago, that has the potential to produce unintended consequence(s) that could rival Eritrea's separation.

Emperor Haile Selassie's regime did not believe its decision to revoke Eritrea's autonomous status in 1962 would ignite one of the longest civil wars of the 20th century and
result in Eritrea's eventual separation. Similarly, Meles Zenawi's regime did not believe that its decision to send troops into Somalia would trigger another round of civil war in the Somali inhabited parts of the country, which could then lead to the separation of the Ogaden region from Ethiopia a few years or decades down the line. Only time will tell if this will come to pass.

Decisions made by parties or groups of individuals in the Ethiopian political scene, which are not often as far-reaching as decisions made by a government, like the ones I mentioned above, may also have unintended consequence(s). Take, for example, the decision by MEISON in the mid-70s to work with the Derg regime, which left the EPRP, the main opposition group of the time, out in the cold. The unintended consequence of this decision by
MEISON was the Red Terror the Derg unleashed on the EPRP and, later on, on MEISON itself.

Are there decisions being made in the Ethiopian political scene these days that have the potential to produce unintended consequences of immense proportions like the examples I cited above? I hope not! Decisions that will have to be made by members of Kinijit regarding the apparent division within their party have the potential to produce unintended consequences. So does the muted response by the Ethiopian opposition to the plight of Ogadenis!
I hope the politicians of today have learned something from the mistakes of the past.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

To CUDP members, supporters, and to all concerned Ethiopians

By Ephrem Madebo

As we all sadly heard, CUDP, the foremost Ethiopian opposition party seems to be in a deep trouble, as once were the Democrats and the Republicans here in the USA and the Bolsheviks in Russia almost a century ago. Political parties are not problem-prone; they have their high and low times. Today, CUDP is going through a series of internal corrections, a process that consumes time, affects human temper, and temporarily halts operations. However, when the outcome of the correction process settles, I am confident that CUDP shall shine again, not only for its members and supporters, but also for the entire opposition camp and for our country at large.

When the CUDP leaders went to jail we made a continuous local and international cry for their release, we won! Now the party finds itself in a jail of itself. If we need another victory, let’s constructively be engaged with CUDP leaders and behave in the same way we behaved when they were in jail. Let us learn from the American economy. When markets are in deep trouble, the first and the most reliable choice is to tell the government to take its hands off the economy and let the market correct itself. Here the logic is very simple i.e. self correction is efficient than government interference. But, this doesn’t mean the government would sit and watch the correction forever, it will interfere if the economy deteriorates further. Let us not aggravate the CUDP situation by acting like the government in the above analogy. Let us give a chance to CUDP leaders to solve their differences and stand as a single entity again. Mind you, I am not saying we need to keep quiet and wait for outcomes, we have the responsibility of being a constructive critique, but we should not by any means make an attempt to solve their problem in our own way, or be the devil’s advocate!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is Kinijit the Way?

By Fikru Helebo

The last time I attended a meeting at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia was in January 1994. That was when delegates from the Council of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia (CAFPDE), which was led by Beyene Petros, had a public meeting there. Yesterday, I attended another public meeting in the very same hall where CAFPDE had its meeting. This time around the meeting was called by the recently-released-from-prison leaders of the CUD (Kinijit). It seemed this meeting was attended by twice as many people as the meeting I attended in 1994.

In a previous post I had expressed my hope and wish that the released Kinijit leaders will "remain united and continue to lead by example" and so this meeting was my first opportunity to observe these leaders up close and find out if they have what it takes to "remain united and continue to lead by example." I am not sure if they will remain united (I have no better insight about the apparent rift within Kinijit), but I came out of the meeting yesterday reassured that Berhanu Nega and the other four colleagues of his who spoke at the meeting are well aware that they must lead by example if their hard work is to bear fruit. Don't take my words about them, just find out for yourselves by listening to their speeches here.

The majority of the audience at this meeting was probably composed of Kinijit members and supporters. But I am sure a sizable portion of the audience was also made up of interested folks who support other opposition groups and non-partisans such as my self. All the speeches were substantive, but the speech that electrified the audience was the keynote speech by Berhanu Nega. I believe every Ethiopian should get a chance to hear or read Berhanu's
speech. Berhanu and the other speakers could have chosen to dwell on their prison ordeal or on many of the evils of the EPRDF regime. In stead, their speeches were filled with exhortations about the need to focus on the future and the importance of practicing what they preach.

I think I can confidently say that yesterday was the most optimistic I felt about the future of Ethiopia since the hijacked elections of 2005. A banner posted behind the podium at the meeting yesterday declared, in a Biblical tone, that "Kinijit is the way!". Well, I am not so sure that it is. But, of all the Ethiopian opposition groups out there, Kinijit seems to have the better chance to lead Ethiopians towards democratic pluralism and I sincerely wish these Kinijit leaders best of luck on the arduous immediate and long term tasks they face.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good Bye 1999, Hello 2000?

In a previous post I have advocated that Ethiopia is better off adopting the Gregorian calendar, the de facto world calendar, since it is obvious that the current Ethiopian calendar does not offer any advantages, other than its sentimental value for some, and since there is nothing to be gained by clinging to a calendar that is 7 years and 8 months behind the rest of the world. Isn't it time for Ethiopia to switch to the Gregorian calendar and join the rest of the world?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Plight of Beggars, Atonement & The Millennium Truth and Reconciliation Commission

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

The recent Associated Press report about beggars being rounded up and sent to their villages brought back memories of my experience when I visited Addis Ababa four years ago. In one of the articles I wrote at the time, “In Addis, The Nouveaux Riches Sip Their Caffeine in Range Rovers”, I began the article by spilling out my feelings as follows:

“It was my first day in Addis Ababa, and I had just survived nerve-racking rides through chaotic streets of Addis Ababa with utter trepidation: near misses, jolting swerves, sparring jerks at intersections without traffic lights as contending cars vie for the right of way, speeding busses, rickety old taxis and “wuyiyit” (minibuses) sneaking in and out of traffic, all scaring the hell out of me. At one stop light, seeing a beggar without limbs shoving himself on his belly and two others, with one limb each, hopping between cars as they seek for sympathetic eyes was too much to take on first day.”

How wretched life is for some of our fellow citizens! It is just beyond the pale. The problem of poverty is universal, but the degree of deprivation immensely varies and is relative to the ambient economy. In a country where the average annual income has stubbornly remained stuck at $100 per year for years, it is just too hard to understand how millions of ordinary Ethiopians make it from day to day. And quite a few resort to begging. Yet, the population is growing by leaps and bounds and is currently estimated at 81 million. And the cost of living is skyrocketing: 100 kilos of teff costs around $90 and 17 kilos (one farasulla) of ground pepper costs around $130 at this writing in a country where the average annual income is $100. Everything is so expensive and out of reach for the ordinary Ethiopians that they have dubbed the Millennium as “Minim Yelem (There is nothing)”. What is there to celebrate?

The organizers of the ballyhooed upcoming Ethiopian millennium are trying their best to project a very happy, partying Ethiopia to their foreign guests who will be visiting Addis Ababa for the festivities, especially in the wake of the recent political debacle that has tarnished the image of the current government irreparably. But certain embarrassing realities of Addis Ababa would be just too much to hide during the fleeting celebration - the tawdry, superficial partying in the midst of abject poverty.

According to one arrogant conservative political thinker from American Enterprise Institute: one must provide for beggars because they become eyesores and leave you in moral quandary as they beg. According to the AP report, the eyesores in Addis Ababa are being removed from the eyesight of the millennium party revelers.

Well, society should take care of its most vulnerable members and give them a helping hand. Relocation to one’s own village can be one of the options to solve the problem of urban beggars. This, however, must be done out of moral obligation and commonsense economic policy, not out of concern for dampening the mood of party revelers.

The millennium rather must be an occasion for reflecting why we continue to have millions of our citizens living in abominable poverty at the dawn of the twenty first century and how we can come together as a nation to lift our poor people out of the degrading poverty? If we reflect upon the images of the limbless and hopping beggars in front of us and put their interests ahead of ours, we could compromise, narrow our differences and bring about a lasting peace and economic prosperity to this ancient country to lift millions from misery.

First, however, we must atone for our ineptitude, pettiness, shortsightedness, and complete failure in recent decades before we usher in the new millennium. Then, with humility and contrition, to meet collectively the formidable challenges of poverty and instability, let us establish a Millennium Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brings the country together after the recent political fiasco. Let us wash away our dirty linen and begin afresh.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

United 93

By Fikru Helebo

The average number of movies that I watch (in a cinema theater or on DVD) in a one year period is probably in the vicinity of six, which hardly qualifies me to be called a movie buff let alone a critic. Nevertheless, please allow me to play the role of a movie critic for a few minutes and recommend to you United 93. This is a movie that was released in 2006 and it is about the fate of the only airplane that was hijacked by Islamic fanatics on September 11, 2001 which did not reach the hijacker's intended destination.

United 93 does not have plot lines that you would normally expect in movies, and what happened to all the passengers on that fateful flight is known to almost everyone who was old enough to remember the harrowing images of 9-11. But, the movie gives the viewer a realistic and gut-wrenching experience of what happened in the airplane and the flight control centers by skillfully reconstructing the heroic efforts of the passengers who, having learned the fate of the other three hijacked planes, decided to act to prevent the hijackers from realizing their objective by retaking
control of the aircraft.

The movie also deals with the failure of the air traffic control system which was not equipped to deal with a disaster of the 9-11 magnitude and the unpreparedness of the mightiest military on the face of the earth to react to a worst case scenario that dealt with the civilian air space. The best the US military could do on that day was to watch events unfold just like the rest of us and shake their heads in utter disgust and helplessness by repeatedly uttering "we have a real-world situation here".

Unfortunately, Americans seem to have already forgotten the lessons of 9-11! The main lesson of 9-11 is that there is a real war going on between Islamists of the Bin Laden ilk who have hijacked the religion of Islam for their own political objectives and the rest of the world, and that this war will probably take a generation or more before it ends and the Islamists are defeated for good. I have previously shared my views on this Islamic-inspired war from the perspective of what is going on Somalia here, here and here.

United 93 is the perfect movie to remind us of what happened on 9-11 and what could happen if we forget the lessons of 9-11 and loose our focus on the war on terror.
If you have not seen United 93, I highly recommend that you watch it and recommend it for other friends of yours to watch.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not Just the Tour of ‘Lucy’, but the Name ‘Lucy’ itself is Outrageous

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

While the uproar against the ‘Lucy’ tour of North America is still in the air, I felt I should share my feelings and thoughts I have been harboring about the name – Lucy – for quite some time.

In 1967, the Beetles, one of the greatest rock bands in history, had a hit song – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Here are the words of the song that have nothing to do with anthropology, or the Hadar region of Afar, or the Ethiopian culture at large:

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she's gone.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmellow pies,
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.
Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you're gone.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds,
Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties,
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle,
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.

Apparently the paleo-anthropologist Donald Johanson and colleagues, who discovered, by all accounts, the greatest skeletal remains of anthropology, a hommind that is 3.18 million years old, had a good reason to celebrate; to party in a tent after they had succeeded in assembling the fossil pieces into a skeletal form. Who wouldn’t after such a historic scientific discovery!! So the story goes that the Beetles’ song ‘Lucy in the sky with Diamonds’ was playing as they were celebrating. Voila! They were feeling very Beetles-happy. And they named the skeleton of the three and a half feet female Lucy.

One can’t help but feel awed when watching the video1 footage of the discovery of ‘Lucy’ at Hadar, as Johanson’s four wheel drive descends into the scorching, desolate valley and as Johansen describes how he first came across a couple of fossils that looked suspiciously different, went back to US to study them, and came back to Hadar with his graduate student and was scouring the grounds for more fossils. It always amazes me to observe archeologists or anthropologists, meticulously and methodically sifting through dirt and debris with uttermost care, peeling away at layers after layers with their tiny brushes and gadgets, or wandering some remote, inhospitable place in search of some fossils millions of years old. Such is a scholarly pursuit of highest caliber to uncover the past or link us to our ancestors. Johansen’s work truly falls in such a category and is one of those singular finds that renders meaning to the tireless efforts of scientists engrossed in the quest for knowledge. Nonetheless, the naming of this great find leaves much to be desired. I am not an anthropologist, but I feel there must be a better naming procedure than the trivial, nonchalant manner in which this was done.

In addition, there is the issue of cultural insensitivity. Unfortunately, this naming reminds me of the Hollywood movie, the African Queen of 1951, although the ‘Lucy’ case is somewhat the reverse. Supposedly, the African Queen is considered one of the classic adventure movies of Hollywood. If one believes at first blush what the name suggests, one would go into a movie theatre expecting to watch an African queen who is African. Surprise! The African Queen is none other than Katherine Hepburn, the great, brunette white actress. And Hepburn is no African remotely, and yet the movie producers had to whiten their movie with white audience in mind – a complete disregard for a true African image even if it is an artistic work. The audacity of Westerners anointing a non-African a queen, bestowing such an honor to someone who is not African is a supercilious act of cultural insensitivity.

Scientists have a standard way of doing their scientific work. If they don’t follow the norm, they are ostracized. The scientific aspect of ‘Lucy’s’ discovery is superb and the professionalism is very inspiring. It is in the cultural aspect that Johanson fails miserably. It seems Johanson was bitten by the Hollywood bug of cultural insensitivity when he gave the name ‘Lucy’. It is ironic that such a world - renowned physical anthropologist could benefit from a lesson or two from the likes of Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist. And Ethiopians, for they part, must demand a remedy for the transgression - an Ethiopian name!!


Sunday, August 26, 2007

The First and the Last Ethiopian Millennium

By Fikru Helebo

Before I go on to my rant I would like to wish all those Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia who will celebrate the Ethiopian millennium a happy millennium Ethiopian New Year! If you can read Amharic, I also would like to encourage you to read this part satirical and seriously polemical
piece on the Ethiopian millennium by Mitiku Adisu (though I have differences with his take on emperors Yohannes IV, Minilik II and Haile Selassie I in his concluding remarks). Mitiku pretty much says all that needs to be said about the Ethiopian millennium and I guarantee that you will laugh your heart out!

In a little over two weeks time Ethiopians all over the world (except for some like me) will celebrate
the first and the last Ethiopian millennium. Yes, this is the first millennium which is uniquely Ethiopian and, hopefully, if it is left up to people like me, it will be the last uniquely Ethiopian millennium. I am of the opinion that the current calendar should be discarded in favor of the Gregorian calendar which serves as the de facto world calendar. The current Ethiopian calendar is not really Ethiopian in its origins anyway. According to this web site, the Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which in turn is based on the old Egyptian and Julian calendars.

So, why stick to a calendar that is not Ethiopian in its origins and one which creates unnecessary separation of Ethiopians from the world at large? Besides there are many things that Ethiopians have adopted from the rest of the world for the better. Take, for example, our use of the Arabic numerals (actually Indian numerals) in favor of our own numerals which are used on Ethiopian calendars, like the screen shot for the current month from the Ethiopica Calendar which I posted above.

I am not sure when Ethiopians adopted the use of Arabic numerals, but I am glad we adopted them. The fact that we borrowed Arabic numerals did not bring about the death of our numerals. Ethiopian numerals have not disappeared
as evidenced by their continued use in the Bible as well as calendars. The fate of the Ethiopian calendar will also be the same if it is discarded in favor of the Gregorian one: it will not die! The Ethiopian and Eritrean churches will continue to use it, obviously, and this fact alone will ensure that the Ethiopian calendar will survive well into the future if its official use comes to an end as I think it should.

I will not celebrate the Ethiopian millennium because, with the exceptions of the building of the monolithic churches of Lalibela in the 12th and 13th centuries and the Adwa victory over the Italians in the 19th century, there isn't much to celebrate about Ethiopian history of the last millennium. I have no problem with Ethiopians celebrating the Ethiopian millennium, but I am very much turned off by the boisterous atmosphere which surrounds the celebrations, an atmosphere which Mitiku's article captures vividly. In my view, this millennium occasion should have been celebrated in a low key manner in which Ethiopians took the time to reflect on many of our shortcomings!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Local History of Ethiopia

Here is an interesting web site that serves as a repository of the local history of Ethiopia. Bernhard Lindahl compiled it and here is his description of what the web site is about:
The concept of this work is to make extracts from printed external sources and to sort them geographically and chronologically. It concerns environment and events in the countryside of Ethiopia mainly from the early 1800s and onwards. The special effort is to shed light on places which are seldom mentioned in print and to make searchable the contents of various published sources.
I like the web site's search feature a lot. For example, when I searched for 'Wolayta' one of the search result pages I got contained an entry for Girmame Neway, a man who knew what was wrong with Ethiopia and tried to do something about it:
Girmame Neway was appointed as governor of Welamo sub-province in the late 1950s. He was well received there because he had a famous forefather, Dejazmach Girmame, who had negotiated with the chiefs prior to Menileks re-occupation of the area.
Girmame led the people to build roads and bridges and schools. After he had been governor for just over six months he is said to have produced som E$ 30,000 for a school. He surprised everyone by announcing that the money came from bribes which he had accepted and put aside for the school project.
Governor Girmame organised the people into their own watch committees when they complained of the dishonesty and brutality of 'Amhara' police. He distributed undeveloped land to the landless. The landowners complained of this and of Girmame's settling squatters from their land, leaving them with no labour supply. D. Levine in Africa Today, May 1961, states that a wealthy landowner named Desta Fisseha managed to arrange Girmame's transfer through the customary channels of Palace intrigue. Girmame was recalled and posted to Jijiga. Together with his brother he became the leader of the failed coup in December 1960.
[R Greenfield, Ethiopia, London 1965 p 371]
Typed in 'Alula' and here is one of the entries I found:
HET86c Mannawe, about 25 km south of Abiy Adi. 13/39 [n]
Ras Alula (1847-1897) was born in this small village. It is not confirmed that his year of birth really was 1847. His father was the farmer Engda Qubi with wife Garada who was daughter of Nagid, a local notable from the neighbouring village of Baga. A few old people in Mannawe remembered these names when they were interviewed by Haggai Ehrlich in February 1972.
Alula once told an Italian journalist that his father and grandfather had been soldiers. He was educated in the local church school by the Memhir Welde-Giyorgis and "being an aggressive and dominating youngster, he soon became the leader of the children".
"When his Tigrean patron became Emperor Yohannes IV, the young Alula was translated from the provincial to the national scene -- Alula's excellent military services in fighting external enemies and consolidating the emperor's supremacy in Ethiopia established him as a king's man." History remembers particularly Ras Alula's time as administrator of Mereb Mellash = the future Eritrea.

One of the search results for 'Hadiya' returned the following entry:
"The Muslims of Hadiya who earlier had suffered at the hands of the Oromo, no longer had any desire for war with the Christians. The attitude was expressed by the action of Azé's soldiers, who refused to fight with Sarsa Dengel. Only the malasay, the Muslim force from Harar, fought. Deserted by their fellow Muslims and outnumbered by Sarsa Dengel's men, they were easily crushed. Aze reconciled himself to the king, who was magnanimous in return. The king left Aze in his office, but stripped him of real power. Takla Giyorgis was made the commander of the provincial soldiers." [Mohammed 1994 p 33]
Thanks to Bernhard Lindahl, you may be pleasantly surprised to find historical information about the local area that you come from within present day Ethiopia. Just peruse around and satisfy your intellectual curiosity.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The better of the “Devil’s Alternative” is the right choice

By Ephrem Madebo

In the last two years, so many of us have repeatedly compared CUDP leaders to Nelson Mandela, arguably the best visionary leader of our time. Well, sometimes our emotion rules over our intellect and we do so many things that don’t give sense. Nelson Mandela is the wisest leader of this era and a living symbol of black excellence. To be honest, the only similarity between Mandela and the CUDP leaders is that both went to jail for crimes committed by their respective governments. In anything else, they are different. To a person who skimmed his article, Dr. Solomon Terfa’s recent commentary on ethiomedia seems to be comparing the CUDP leadership to Nelson Mandela.

I may be wrong, but Dr. Solomon’s inciting and incisive critique on the Shemagles is a what-if-analysis that implied what the CUDP leaders and the Shemagles should have done in the recent Shemagles brokered negotiation. As Dr. Solomon himself admitted, his article is hypothetical, i.e., there could be many imaginary answers as to what Mandela would have done if he was in the shoes of the CUDP leaders. Hypothetical scenarios or questions can be speculated in so many different ways, but it is very difficult to conclusively state them as reliable statements of truth. Let me use Dr. Solomon’s own words: “This hypothetical-scenario is an exercise that is routinely done in political science and international relation courses”. This is a correctly stated statement, and I have no second thought, but I just want readers to realize that even political scientists or seasoned political analysts would take a highly polarized stand on what Nelson Mandela would have done had he been in the shoes of the CUDP leaders.

Based on the then objective condition of South Africa and the organizational strength of the ANC party, in the 1970/80s’, Mandela made the right choice when he rejected Peter Botha’s offer of nominal freedom. It was a wise and matured decision in the South Africa of the 1970/80s’. Well, what would have Mandela done in the Ethiopia of 2007? This is a genuine, but hypothetical, a compelling, but speculative question. So why be consumed with a question that doesn’t serve our cause or purpose? Why can’t we deal with a practical question that sheds light in our path? My argument is intuitive and simple. It is very difficult to answer the “what would” Mandela has done question because we can’t read Mandelas’s mind, even if we think we can, there are significant domestic and international differences between South Africa of the 1970s and today’s Ethiopia.

“The what" should question is an opinion inclined question that can be answered by observing objective conditions on the ground and making “a what-if-analysis”. We can answer such questions in so many different ways without worrying for the risk of being wrong. “The what” would question could also be answered in many ways, but every answer has a higher risk of being wrong. In the latter case, we are answering a question by reading Mandela’ mind [which is difficult, or impossible], where as in the former case, we’re doing nothing other than expressing our opinion on how Mandela should have dealt with the issue. Opinions may be poor, so-so, or good, but they are neither wrong nor right on events whose outcome is yet to be decided.

When N. Mandela was arrested in 1963, his ANC Party was 51 years old, with a long time history of struggle in its pocket and many veteran leaders in its power structure [O.Tambo, T.Mbeki, J.Zuma, Ramaphosa, and Maharai]. Mandela enjoyed un-paralleled international support when he was in jail, while the CUDP leaders were forgotten by the international community until the day they were found guilty. In November 2005, when Meles arrested the CUDP leaders, CUDP was not even one year old. Yes, almost all of the CUDP leaders were true intellectuals, but their combined political experience was not at the level of ANC. Mandela’s incarceration might have appeased proponents of the apartheid regime, but it did not slow down the struggle of black South Africans for freedom and equality.

In the contrary, in the summer of 2005, the reckless action of Meles Zenawi dimmed the hope of democracy in Ethiopia. In late Fall of the same year, when the entire CUDP leaders were arrested, the fragile pro-democracy movement became paralyzed and went in to a coma state. Given the time & space difference, and such diametrically opposed economic, social and political conditions, it would absolutely be unrealistic to demand the CUDP leaders to behave the same way Mandela behaved when he was offered a deal by the apartheid regime. There was ANC before Mandela, but there was no CUDP before Professor Mesfin, Dr. Berhanu, Dr. Yackob, Dr.Hailu, Brtukuan, Muluneh Eyoel etc.

Evidently, hypothetical scenarios or questions are good because they give rise to a realistic question. So instead of speculating on what Mandela would have done, I think it would be wise to take Mandela out of the picture and consider a slightly different, but very relevant question. How differently should the CUDP leaders have acted and still secure their release? A critically analysis of this question will augment our subjective judgment and enable us to make informed decision. Otherwise, our judgments and decisions will be subjective reflecting our own ambition. The CUDP leaders could have dealt with the negotiation in many different ways, but as far as the Ethiopian people are concerned, there were only two out comes. Get out of jail, or stay in jail. This by no means is an issue of good, or bad; it is the matter of being right, or wrong.

In a pro-basket ball game, a last second call against a one point leading home team is usually considered a bad call even if the foul was committed, but it is the right call. Definitely, the referees understand the call silences more than 20k cheering home fans, but should they be emotional and not make the call? If they do, it is good for the home team and the supportive crowd, but doing so is not only wrong; it is also bad for the game of basketball. The referees have two options: 1) Make the call and do the right thing for the game of basketball. 2) Ignore the foul and appear to be good for the home team. I will leave the judgment and interpretation of the example to the reader. In the light of this example, let’s consider the following three important conditions: 1) Our country finds itself in a decisive time where the important task of keeping her unity and territorial integrity is left to those who vow to fight alongside her enemies. 2) We have elected leaders in jail and a partially aborted popular movement in coma. 3) The fourth parliamentary election is coming in less than three years time.

As to me, if the benefit largely out weights the cost, I will happily incur the political cost of any decision that stops the disintegration of my country. Here is what Abraham Lincoln said on unity: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that" If Lincoln was that determined to save the Union at the cost of a continued misery of black people, what is our empirical, moral, or historical foundation to demand how & why the CUDP leaders secured their freedom? Why can’t the elected leaders of Ethiopia do what they think is right to stop the bleeding of their country? To begin with, the crucial question is- Why are they in jail? Not how they were released!

The two years of relative silence and frustration in the opposition camp has clearly demonstrated how bad the popular movement missed the CUDP leaders. So when a condition that re-unites long separated “lovers” is created, what should be the right choice? Stay behind bars for the rest of their life, or come out of jail at a cost and energize the otherwise dormant opposition politics? Save the unity of the swiftly disintegrating Ethiopia, or stay in jail with no hope of passing the Ethiopia they inherited to the next generation? Lead the opposition for the next election in 2010, or sit in Kaliti/Kerchele and guarantee Meles Zenawi and his gang secure an easy fourth term? Social cost-benefit analysis is a good thing to consider here, but I will rather skip it to protect the innocent.

Once again Dr. Solomon said: “Let us recall that Mandela was in the dungeon of apartheid for over twenty five years. I should point out that prison did not deter the leaders of ANC from discharging their historic responsibility” (emphasis added by me). This is an absolutely true statement, but in the Ethiopian case, the prison not only deterred the free CUDP leaders, but it also created multiple Kinjit factions that crippled the popular movement. All in all, the Mandela-ANC experience and historical setting is totally different from the recent experience of CUDP leaders. Therefore, shouldn’t Mandela-ANC and CUDP be viewed independently? While the Mandela-CUDP comparative analysis is an absolutely right task to consider, imposing Mandela’s action on the CUDP leaders is an out-and-out denial of reality. Remember, too much analysis is paralysis! Currently, we all are eagerly expecting to have a town-hall meeting with the CUDP leaders, and here are some possible discussion questions: What is your plan to re-vitalize the struggle? Why did you listen to the Shimagles and bend to the will of Meles? What different things will you do in the next election? Why did you sign a document that makes you look like guilty? What do you do to create a strong political alliance? The CUDP leaders shall definitely entertain all of the above questions, but in the face of the current political crisis of our country, and the tight schedule of the leaders; some of the above questions are inconsequential to all of us individually, and to our country at large.

Obviously, the release of the CUDP leaders by itself does not give us hope for the future; however, their freedom is a vitally necessary factor to resuscitate the chocked hope of our people. The political discourse of the last fifty years did not take us anywhere because we dwelt too much in the past. Let’s change our course and give more emphasis to the future. The Ethiopian farmers, artisans, and working people want to hear our vision for the new millennium. Let’s be intelligent and brave enough to face the Ethiopian people with a vision, and ask their cooperation for its realization. If we can’t prove we’re good enough, let’s quietly leave the forum for the brave, the good, and the able people.