Monday, May 28, 2007

Education in Ethiopia

By Fikru Helebo

I watched an interesting documentary this past weekend on the topic of "Education in Ethiopia" by Jonathan Dimbleby and his accompanying interview with Meles Zenawi, the prime terrorist of Ethiopia, on the same topic. Ethiopians know Mr. Dimbleby from his ground-breaking report on the 1973-74 Ethiopian famine.

The documentary features the work of British volunteers with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), of which Mr. Dimbleby is a president. From what I saw on the video, the VSO volunteers' main mission is to improve the quality of teaching delivered in Ethiopian primary and secondary schools by training Ethiopian teachers to adopt modern teaching methods, such as "active learning", that are child-centered. The volunteers also advise the Ministry of Education in curriculum development and devising standards.

Unless you were a privileged kid who experienced a more open education system offered in one of the few private schools, you know that the Ethiopian education system is not student-centric and does not foster a favorable teacher-student relationship, which is vital to learning. Aside from lack of resources, I believe most would agree that the main obstacle to learning in Ethiopia is our culture which discourages openness. So, it is a breath of fresh air to see what these VSO volunteers are doing to help modernize the Ethiopian education system and I wish them best of luck in their efforts. As long as these volunteers are willing to respect the traditional moral norms of Ethiopia and are not bent on imposing their morality, I hope more of them will give their service to Ethiopia in the future.

But I also recognize that these volunteers are not operating in a vacuum. The Meles regime had to create an environment where these volunteers can come and try to help Ethiopia. Improving access to education is one area where Meles has done a good job and so I will give the devil his due. In the interview with Mr. Dimbley, Meles says his goal now is to improve the quality of education offered in the schools he has helped to build in the last ten years. This, I believe, is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It is one thing to build buildings, but it is quite another to bring about a change in the education culture where quality teaching and learning takes place in the classrooms.

Meles' record in fostering an education culture that encourages openness is a dismal one to say the least. One of his main accomplishments in his first few years in power was to summarily fire 40 Addis Ababa University professors and lecturers who were opponents of his political views. That was followed by the dismantling of the Ethiopian Teachers Association. Ethiopians should not forget the violent crackdown of peaceful university and high school protesters in 2001 and 2002 who were demanding academic and political freedom. Of course, the massacres of 2005 have finally laid bare Meles' true colors. Was this reality lost on Mr. Dimbleby? Probably not. But Mr. Dimbleby seems to be one of the few who still think that what happened in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections is an anomaly, and in this interview he seems to be making a subtle attempt to rehabilitate Meles' battered image.

Here is what baffles me about Meles: as intellectually capable as he is, why does he fail to recognize that Ethiopia will need the good will and cooperation of an overwhelming majority, if not all, of her citizens to achieve the education goals that he says he wants to achieve? He has continuously alienated the cream of the crop in Ethiopian education in his many years, too many years, in power and to think that he can change the education culture of Ethiopia for the better without their active participation is foolish!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Inquiry Commission Decision Video

Today marks the second anniversary of the ill-fated May 15th, 2005 Ethiopian elections. Those elections and the sad events which transpired in the months following the elections are etched in the minds of Ethiopians and will be remembered as a precious opportunity missed by the country to break with the horrible political culture of the past and move to a hopeful future.

One of the momentous occasions of the past two years is the vote taken by the Ethiopian Inquiry Commission (please see the 2:42 minute video below) that was tasked with investigating the post-May 2005 elections violence. The commission was handpicked by the Meles regime to absolve it from the crimes it perpetrated on innocent citizens. Fortunately for Ethiopia, the Inquiry Commission members did their job with honor and exposed the crimes of the regime with their 8-2 vote affirming that the Ethiopian government security forces used excessive force to silence the protesters who supported the opposition.

Please take a few minutes of your time to watch the video. Also, if you have pertinent information regarding the
Inquiry Commission's historical actions, please share it in the comments section. Thanks. Video courtesy of Qaliti Qal Kidan.

Get Out of Somalia!

By Ephrem Madebo

In May 2003, President George Bush addressed the world from the Aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and said the following: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country”.

Today (Tuesday May 15), four years after George Bush’s speech, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi addressed reporters from Menelik Palace and said the following: The "organized resistance" of the Islamists had now been broken. Things have improved significantly in Mogadishu”

The United States and Ethiopia may be countries of different political and economic significance, but the public lie and the rhetoric by their two leaders are the same. When political leaders are determined to carry on their personal agenda, they take no notice of reality, they ignore the lessons of history, and pay no heed to the difference between military power and the people’s power. Historically,humanity has witnessed great armies decisively defeat another army, but no one has ever heard any army defeating the will of the people. If Military power by itself was a means to an end, Alexander the Great’s Macedonia would have been the largest country of the world, the northern expansion of the Moors could have ceased the existence of Churches in Europe, or Adolf Hitler could have ruled Europe at least for the duration of the war.

The inability of mighty US to heal its own mess in Iraq could have given a clear lesson to the Ethiopian aggressor not to plunge his poor nation in to the internal affair of another country. Both President Bush and PM Meles sent their military forces to another country in the pretext of protecting the interest of people in those countries. Well, a good cause, but not quite true. When one uses force to change the status quo, the changed state of affair of the entity should by no means be worse than the status quo. In Iraq, more Iraqis died after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in the last16 years, more Somalis died in Mogadishu after the recent Ethiopian led military surge. Both Iraqis and the people of Somalia are fighting the presence of foreign forces on their land.

AU Commissioner Oumar Konare, and US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Fraser, warn that the Ethiopian forces must stay in Somalia until the AU force jumps in, an incident that could take months. In December 2006, the Ethiopian PM told the world that his forces will withdraw from Somalia within weeks, but more Somalis and Ethiopian soldiers were killed after the Prime Minister’s promised withdrawal timetable. Ethiopia is a poor country with multiple social and economic problems; it can not afford a continued proxy war, more over, Ethiopia should be a responsible peaceful neighbor to all. Our history in Congo and Korea shows that we died for the freedom of others. We Ethiopians should not die to just kill Somalis, if we have to die; we should die to give them new life. As of now, the Somalis don’t see it that way; therefore, the Ethiopian force must withdraw from Somalia starting today. Mr. Prime Minister, you are the one who sent the Ethiopian troops to Somalia, please call them back immediately and unconditionally.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Call for 2010

By Ephrem Madebo

Two years ago in the month of May, Ethiopia and the political process in Ethiopia was at the center of international spotlight. From the Washington Post to the LA Times, from the Le Monde to the Le Figaro, and form the Daily Nation to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, all newspaper columnists from around the globe converged on the political arena of Ethiopia to delight their readers with a uniquely different news from a country known for its intermittent war, devastating famine, and mind numbing malnutrition. More than 75 million Ethiopians from all walks of life and in every corner of the world were on their feet for days to witness a western style democratic transfer of power from the old to the new, from the few to the many, and from the voted out to the voted in. Unfortunately, the man who assumed power with the aid of gun failed to understand the language of the people and spoiled the international party from the get-go. PM Meles, the universal prince of turmoil, scrubbed the pre-election blueprint of the democratic process, and changed the streets of Africa’s capital in to an open air slaughterhouse. Today, two years after the infamous May-05 election, party leaders and elected Parliament members whom many Ethiopians entrusted to overhaul the corrupted justice system are languishing in jail with no due process. Article 17 of the constitution states: “No one shall be arrested or detained without being charged or convicted of a crime except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law.” But, in a city where the constitution was authored, defenders of democracy were thrown to jail in November 2005 and they were indicted a month ago in 2007.

May 2005 has come and gone, we have said a lot before it and left with a broken heart after it. But, in real terms, what have we done to correct our mistakes? What steps have we taken to avoid the repeat of May 2005? All in all, what is our strategy to build a transparent democratic process in Ethiopia? I am not a political strategist, however, I do believe I can throw mind provoking ideas and see provoked minds synthesize a winning strategy. Any political party that lacks strategy and a roadmap to the strategy is doomed for failure. No matter how good words and propaganda statements we use against our enemies, and no matter how many members and how much money we have; we can’t plan in to the future with out strategy. Let’s remember that failing to plan is planning to fail. Retrospectively speaking, had we planned ahead and coordinated our efforts, most of our failures of the past would have been victories. We all run individually to meet similar objectives, and we all fail because our enemy(s) is [are] greater & stronger than us individually. When do we put our pieces together and face our enemies as a single unit? I know the answer to this question is full of ambiguity because our enemies do not fight us face-to-face; all they do is make us fight and draw out the time that we need to stand as a unit. PM Meles is a man of “principle”; whose cardinal principle is - “If you can't convince them, confuse them” Do we all understand what this is? This is the strategy of our enemies, they have strategy; we don’t. We keep on loosing as long as we lack a better or a matching strategy that out maneuvers our enemies.

In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping, the de facto leader of the People’s Republic of China (late 1970s to the early 1990s) promoted the following pragmatic slogan: “Seek truth from facts”. The slogan advised the Chinese Communist party to look for economic and political solutions that have practical application rather than those based on the political ideology of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong’s China did not change much of its political ideology, it is still the symbol communism in our planet, however, in just 30 years; China’s economy has transformed from agrarian commune based farm to the industrial envy of the whole world. Today, China’s economy grows at unprecedented rate of 10% per annum. Can we Ethiopians emulate the Chinese? Can we seek truth from facts? When do we start gathering facts that point at the truth and stop making an emotional walk to arrive at our own truth, and look for facts to support them? In the context of social communication, emotions are not inherently bad, wrong, rude, or immature. Emotions are good, they can often add valuable context to our social understanding, making the human element impossible to ignore. However, they can derail communication and become overpowering if we emotionally react to daily events and plan our responses based on our emotional reaction.

The May 2005 election has devoured a good number of heroes; yes, it is true that the life of heroes is short, but we need to understand that an instance of a hero comes only once, when he/she is gone, we should be looking for another hero. Is it morally acceptable to sit back and watch when heroes vanish and demand their replacement? How about sometimes we die for our heroes instead of them always dying for us! In the aftermath of the election when the Agazis killed in hundreds, we made a momentary scream and went back to our comfort zone. TPLF responded by arresting the very people that we entrusted to lead our nation. We denounced the arrest and alerted the entire world, we called our local and national representatives, and demonstrated in front of a non-responding Whitehouse. The Ethiopian people (inside & outside) have always initiated the right response to every evil act of the TPLF regime, but lack of strategic continuity from our political parties and civic organizations killed all of the initiatives. I hope we all remember how the people of Nepal forced king Gyanendra to bend for public demand when he declared a state of emergency after sacking his government and assuming direct powers. The tanks of Nepal roamed the streets of Katmandu just like the Agazis did in Addis Ababa; but the curfew, the street killing, and the mass arrest did not keep angry Nepalese from demonstrating and imposing their will on the king. When compared to Ethiopians, Nepalese are not extraordinarily courageous or exceptionally patriotic. The marked difference between the two movements is that the political parties in Nepal (including the radical Maoist rebels) were ready to halt their differences and work together for the national interest. As the last thirty five years political history of Ethiopia would indicate, political alliances in Ethiopia have a prohibitive overhead cost. The debacle of EPRP in the 70s’, the bloody alliance of Dergue and MESION, the 1991 honeymoon of OLF and TPLF, the post election meltdown of ONC & SEPDC, the unstable existence of UEDP-Medhin in CUD, and the recent Merry-Go-Round alliance of Kinjit with OLF are evidences that demonstrate the pre-mature death of political alliances.

In Ethiopia there are many political stakeholders that follow different paths (peaceful, non-peaceful) to solve their problems. Just to name a few, we have Kinjit, UEDF, OLF, SLF, ONLF, AJC, ENUF, EPPF, etc. The infallible fact in the existence of these political organizations is that all of the above organizations are Ethiopians and fight for the segment of Ethiopia that they call home. They all have individually been bleeding fighting a common enemy, but their scrappy effort failed to stop the bleeding collectively. Last year Kinjit tried to break the vicious circle by joining AFD, but most members of the old guard condemned it and warned the public of such alliances with secessionist forces. We all knew AFD was composed of LFs. In fact, ONLF, an organization that carried out one of the most dreadful killings in our nation’s future development effort is part of AFD. However, as the most recent experience of the Irish peace accord to share power explicitly indicates, peace is made between enemies and groups that have deep rooted contradiction, not with friends. Compromises are negotiated between competing factions, not between groups of similar principle. OLF and the other liberation fronts, Kinjit, UEDF and other political entities should learn from the forty years old Irish movement that ended with an accord to share power. As the old saying goes, political power might come from the barrel of the gun, but political stability and economic growth will never come through the use of gun. Guns kill people, but they can never kill the will of the people.

Today, we find ourselves two years after the May 2005 election and three years in front of another election. What were the internal weaknesses of the opposition that kept it out of power that it arguably won? What were the opportunities that the opposition camp failed to materialize? What are the external threats that impede the progress of the opposition camp? What is the strength of the opposition that should be augmented? To stay ahead of events and lead the popular movement to victory, the Ethiopian opposition should understand and complete the above SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threat) analysis and develop an elaborate and systematic plan of action to accomplish its objectives. Such an elaborate plan is nothing, but strategy. In one side, we have an impoverished country and 77 million people who live in sub-human conditions; in the flip side, we have a ruthless dictator determined to perpetuate misery among Ethiopians. To make things worse, we have most of our elite political leaders awaiting fabricated trial. What should be our strategy that enables us to face such a multiplicity of problems? Do we as a society have problems? Yes, we do have many complex problems, but our resolve and common endeavor dwarfs all of our problems combined. Do we learn from Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic slogan of “Seek truth from facts”, or do we let our emotions rule over our intellect? I will leave the answer to our political leaders. My advice to our political leaders: Don’t think of the next election like a politician, think of the next generation like a statesman. You should say good buy to the era of noisy politics. Noisy politicians are like an air conditioner that makes a lot of noise but doesn't keep the room cool.

The next three years should be times of reconciliation; in deed, they should be years of converging towards unity, and a time to stop throwing mud at each other for those who sling mud generally lose ground. As we move to the new millennium, our resolution should be to change our old mode of thinking and make a transition to the third millennia with a “let’s do it” attitude. We should not be fascinated by the millennium change; naturally, it changes every thousand year. To have control of our destiny in the ever changing millennium, the real change should come from our inner most. Some of us may hate our enemies more than we love our country, but such a hate by itself does not do any good for our country – We need to change! Most of us love our country more than anything, but such a love is empty if it is not accompanied by a real positive contribution– We need to change! Some of us are preoccupied with “my way or the high way” attitude and don’t give value to the idea of others – We need to change! Some of us are endowed with excessive wealth, but we live a parsimonious lifestyle totally forgetting our roots– We need to change! We shouldn’t blame past generations for the current backwardness of Ethiopia, like wise, we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by what we can do for the future generation. As a society, let’s pay back the debt we owe to our country. Let’s diligently and genuinely do what is expected from us and pass the rest to posterity. Nation building is not the responsibility of one generation, but the initial step of laying the foundation must be handled by one generation, we are that generation.

Like any society on earth, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal of all Ethiopians. If the pursuit of happiness is a radar that guides the endless journey of our society, the task of our political leaders is to build the radar, not to guide society throughout its journey. Today, our people are being forced out of their desired destination at gun point. They are being told to “shut” their mouth and go where ever they are told to go. All of these awful things are done in the name of freedom and democracy. Among the TPLF gangs (current Ethiopian government), justice and democracy are the two things that everybody wants to have exercised, but nobody wants to exercise. This is a bad taste of democracy that our people are forced swallow for the last sixteen years. If we are not willing to change such acts of evil, then lets not be stones on the path of the willing. I will again make a call to all political actors of Ethiopia, and specifically urge Kinjit, UEDF, and OLF to avoid their differences and work together for the sack of the national interest. Please start your effort now, running around like a mad cow in 2010 will only repeat the failure of May 2005. Regardless of your political affiliation, your short term plan should focus on the release of the CUDP leaders and other political prisoners. In the long run, you should be able to forge an alliance that can decisively defeat TPLF in the next election.

As is everywhere in any society, there are some of us who live to eat, and many of us who eat to live. I guess we’ve both eaten enough. Let’s all live every single day of the next three years to build a political system that ensures a peaceful transition of power, lay the foundation for a transparent legal system, and erect an economic institution that guarantees basic necessities to our people in the foreseeable future. The pitiless crime of the TPLF regime is that it governs people without their consent. As Abraham Lincoln said: “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent” In 2010, let’s ask the Ethiopian people the privilege to govern them…Amen!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why I Will Vote Democratic in the 2008 US Presidential Election

By Fikru Helebo

The next general elections in the United States will not take place until November of 2008, but the campaign for the Presidency of the United States has already began in earnest. This week, the contenders from the Republican Party had their debate in California. The Democrats duked it out in South Carolina last week.

I did not watch these primary debates and I do not plan on watching any of the upcoming primary debates of either party. The reason I won't is because the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state I reside in, holds its primary too late in the primary season to have an effect on the outcome of the nomination process. I will, however, watch the presidential debates in the months preceding the November 2008 elections. I will watch those debates not because I need to find out whom to vote for, but only because they are must-watch television events.

As an American, I have only two real choices when I vote -- Republican or Democrat. Of course, abstaining is an option, but I do not consider it an option that I will exercise in the next election. The reason I won't is because of the Bush Administration's blatant and shameful support to the tyrannical regime of Ethiopia. As a voter whose political disposition is positively to the right of center on most domestic issues, this leaves me with no other choice but to vote for the candidate nominated by the Democratic Party, whomever that person happens to be. Since I do not have much faith in the Democratic Party, however, my vote will be a protest vote rather than an affirmative one.

The awful record of the current Republican administration in promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region in general, contrary to its expressed objective, is one of the biggest shortcomings of American foreign policy in the post-9-11 world that we live in. The Bush Administration, which otherwise has done a very good job in the initial response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and protecting the Homeland since then, has adopted a seriously flawed strategy of using excessive military force as a solution to the threat posed by extremists from the Muslim world.

The unqualified support the Bush Administration has given to the tyrannical regime of Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia is the latest manifestation of this deeply flawed policy. This simplistic policy, which assumes that the use of brute military force is the only way to deal with extremism inspired by political Islam, fails to appreciate the nuances of political activism in the Islamic world.
Stubbornly pursuing this policy, as the Bush Administration has done, has so far failed to assuage the level of extremism in the Islamic world, and it is self-evident that this policy is doing more harm than good in Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa region.

To make matters worse, this simplistic policy is alienating many human rights and democracy advocates in the Horn of Africa region, thereby making many in the region cynical of United States policy towards the region. This is no way to win friends. The current US Administration's over-dependence on using military force to prosecute the war on terror leads me to believe that the Administration, and by extension the Republican Party, does not have a sound long term strategy to dealing with this most important issue of our time.

This issue, the war on terror, happens to be closely intertwined with an issue that I care about the most at this time, namely America's role in promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia, and that makes the next Presidential election in the US all the more important. I believe the only way the US will adopt a more pragmatic and constructive policy towards this region is if there are people in the executive branch of the US Government who are willing to take a fresh approach to addressing the challenges posed by political Islam in the region. Make no mistake, the United States is well within its right to pursue terrorists wherever they are hiding. The US must also continue to make a prudent use its military might to protect its interests around the world. However, the current one-size-fits-all solution adopted by the Bush Administration is a short-sighted one and it will only win the US more enemies in the long term. This, my friends, needs to change.

I have previously cautioned against unduly politicizing US foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region. As we have clearly seen in the last two years, Ethiopia has friends from both major parties in the US, and it doesn't help to label one party pro-Ethiopian and the other anti-Ethiopian. So, we should still continue to make the cause of human rights and democracy in Ethiopia a bi-partisan issue that Americans from both parties can and will continue to champion. But events of the past year and a half have proved me wrong about my take on the wisdom of linking US interests in the region to the state of human rights and democracy in the region, and so I will have to eat my own words.

By abandoning the cause of human rights and democracy in the region in favor of achieving a simplistic objective in Somalia, the Bush Administration may have gotten the cooperation it sought from the Ethiopian regime, but I am afraid it has tarnished the image of the US among Ethiopians and most people of the Horn of Africa region. Realistically speaking then, the Bush Administration and a successor Republican Administration are unlikely to change this misguided policy, a policy which is not in the long-term interest of the US and, therefore, a regime change in Washington is in order.

The only realistic chance for a change in this misguided and simplistic policy of Washington is if the Democrats take control of the White House in the next Presidential election. For a chance to get this kind of policy change, I will gladly vote for a Democrat when the time comes to vote. Deep inside of me, however, I hope for the party of Lincoln to come through and prove me wrong, but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.