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.