Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Wonderous Creation" by Dereje Kebede

By Fikru Helebo

Two years ago I shared the song "Ethiopia" by Dr. Dereje Kebede here on this blog by posting the lyrics to the song and creating a video for it on YouTube. From the number of visitors the song has received on YouTube, it is safe to assume that the song has stuck a cord among Ethiopians. And so, here I am again with another favorite song of mine from Dereje's 4th album titled "Denq Sera". I believe the song was recorded in the late seventies (please correct me if I am wrong) and Dereje uses the Krar (Ethiopian lyre) to sing about the marvels of God's creation.

In the couple of years since I posted the "Ethiopia" song, public interest in Dereje Kebede has picked up steam. This may be partly because of people like me who grew up listening to Dereje's songs and are now craving to hear him sing his old songs. A recent appreciation event organized in Addis Ababa to honor Dereje gives you a good indication of how much respect and admiration Dereje has among his Protestant base. Here is another good example of this from a Dereje Kebede Facebook fan club: "Yemaideferes Selam Alegn" by Behiwot Benyam (a superb rendition bro, keep it up!).

Another reason for the rise in interest in Dereje might be that a lot of Ethiopians are starting to discover his timeless songs. Regardless, I am glad to see this renewed interest. Dereje also gave an in-depth interview this past July to Mathetes magazine (which you can find on Ethiocross) in which he indicated that he is working on his next album (I can't wait to hear it!). Speaking of the interview, I found his interview to be a breath of fresh air and I hope that he will continue to speak out against false teachings and materialism that is prevalent in many churches today and I highly recommend that you read it!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
[All pictures used to make the video are from Ethiopia]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oromo Separatism on the Decline

By Fikru Helebo

Back in the early 90s, when email was still considered a novel communication medium, there was an Ethiopian email discussion list called EEDN that served as the first meeting place for Ethiopians on the Internet. The list was a hotbed of lively, though sometimes vitriolic, political discussions about Ethiopia. I participated in the discussions, but my participation was limited to occasional replies on threads started by others. There were plenty of contributors to the list who initiated discussions on various topics and one of them was an Oromo separatist from Wollaga who used the name "Makobili".

Makobili was passionate about Oromo issues and his contributions on EEDN were mostly characterized by a scathing, though largely appropriate and deserved, criticisms of the Amhara and Tigrean ruling classes of the last 140 years. Although Makobili tried hard to make a case for his views, his separatist arguments were apparent and did not win him much support. My take on Makobili was that he was an ideologue whose main interest in the discussions was to re-define the political relationship between Amharas and Tigrayans (whom he refered to as Abyssinians) on the one hand and Oromos and other southerners on the other just solely on the basis of Ethiopian history which, for him, begins with the conquest of the Ethiopian south by Minilik II.

One day in 1992, in an attempt to bolster his arguments, Makobili decided to use the issue of slavery in Ethiopia in one of his postings by putting the blame for slavery in Ethiopia exclusively on Amharas and Tigrayans. I do not recall whether Makobili raised the slavery issue himself or he used a thread that was started by someone else, but I vividly remember that he was making his case in a forceful way. Needless to say, I was bothered by Makobili's assertion and I decided to contact him privately to find out if he really believed in what he was writing. Makobili promptly replied to my query and said that he did believe in his assertion.

I was surprised by Makobili's admission. To my surprise, he added something else in his reply which startled me even more and remains etched in my memory till this day. Makobili informed me that I was too naive to understand the objective of his missives on EEDN. He said that his objective in the discussions on EEDN was not to have a give-and-take type discussion, which assumes that we all have something to learn from the discussions but, rather, his sole objective was to project an "Oromo" world view which will act as a counterbalance to that of the "Abyssinian" world view. In other words, what he was essentially trying to do was to plant further seeds of division between Amharas and Tigreans on the one hand and Oromos and other southerners on the other, instead of trying to build a bridge of understanding among them.

Presto! If there is such a thing as a Road to Damascus moment in politics, that was it for me. I admit, up until that time, I was too innocent to believe in the best of intentions of all Ethiopians in the discussion list where, I thought, each one of us were attempting to shed light on the complex issues that have kept Ethiopia in the dark ages for far too long. Unfortunately for Makobili, and fortunately for me, what that email reply of Makobili managed to do was turn me into a skeptic, albeit a well-meaning one (I have since become more discerning of what I read and I have learned to read between the lines). I wish everybody was straightforward and more reflective in their writings. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in.

From Makobili's point of view, separating the Oromo from Ethiopia is the only way to correct the injustices of the past, and he is willing to throw away all the progress that has been made since the fall of the monarchy in 1974 in addressing the injustices just to achieve his singular goal of an independent Oromoland. I would have given Makobili a pass if the injustices of the past were only committed by the Amhara and Tigrean ruling classes. The truth, however, is that the ruling classes of most, if not all, ethnic groups in Ethiopia have committed injustices of one degree or another. For example, the Oromo ruling class used their Gada system to conquer the Hadiya people. Not only did they conquer the Hadiya, they forced the Hadiya to assimilate and loose their identity. I know this doesn't bother Makobili (sorry you would need a Google account to view this link) and he probably doesn't consider the conquest of the Hadiya by the Oromo an injustice.

So, "what is the point of this story about an obscure separatist named Makobili?", you may be asking yourself. Well, the point is that the separatist ideas that Makobili has been propagandizing all these years seem to be coming apart at the seams in the last few months as evidenced by the unravelling of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), where Makobili is a behind-the-scene power player. The Woyane regime has taken a note of this development and is working hard to take advantage of the situation by employing a multi-pronged strategy to decapitate the OLF by: 1) stepping up its harassment of independent-minded Oromo political activists, 2) increasing its military and propaganda efforts against the OLF, and 3) luring older and perhaps disillusioned former leaders of the OLF to its den to neutralize their influence.

While the decline of Oromo separatism is, in my view, a positive development, the fact that the Woyane regime is using this opportunity to intensify its persecution of innocent Oromos is extremely troubling and, unfortunately, it may end up strengthening the separatists within the OLF. People like Makobili probably want to see this happen and they will not, for sure, admit that their own mis-adventure is contributing to the suffering of innocent Oromos. This is to be expected, but I sincerely hope that they will soon start re-thinking their separatist position which, in all likelihood, will never be realized as there are so many forces arrayed against them. On the other hand, Ethiopians who believe in building bridges among the various ethnic communities of Ethiopia should stop being by-standers and be proactive in reaching out to Oromo separatists like Makobili and other separatist groups.

What I mean by reaching out is conducting an honest but principled dialogue with the separatists at the grassroots level. It is preferable to start such dialogue at a personal level in a coffee shop or at a dinner table where people are most comfortable. Political organizations should also do their own reaching out, but I do not put much stock on them at this time since the credibility of the political classes in conducting such a dialogue is at an all time low. The likes of Makobili, who are very successful in their own professional lives and have constructed an artificial wall of separation between themselves and the larger Ethiopian Diaspora community may not be open to such a dialogue, but we don't loose anything for trying. The first step in such a reach out is to educate yourself about the views of the separatists. These separatists have produced voluminous literature in the last couple of decades which reveal the strengths and weaknesses in their arguments in favor of separation, and it is your responsibility to understand their perspective before you reach out to them. Besides, they are as much, if not more, versed in your point of view and you need to be well armed with incisive ideas and have the willingness to see and appreciate their point of view. If you really want to see a united, just, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia, you will do that. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama's Africa

By Fikru Helebo

Barack Obama's victory over John McCain last night was one for the ages. Considering how close the last two presidential elections were and with the history of racism looming over the election, Obama's victory was a very impressive one and it proved once again that America is truely the greatest country in the world. McCain was very gracious in defeat and it showed his character.

Now that the election is over, there are many questions that beg for an answer, like, what direction will the policy of the incoming Obama Administration take with regards to the challenges that Afiricans are facing? Will President Obama stay the course over the genocide in Darfur? Will he continue to treat Africa as an afterthought as all American presidents have done before him? Will President Obama continue America's coddling with dictators like Meles Zenawi? Etc, etc...

Well, we won't know the answers to these types of questions until well into the first year of an Obama Administration, but we have a good clue as to what general direction Obama's policies will take from his own words. Please listen to this thoughtful podcast Obama recorded for his constituents back in September of 2006, shortly after his first visit to Africa as a US Senator. Here is a quote from the podcast:

...there are a couple of things that Africa has to do to help itself and we can be good partners in it. Africa has to take upon itself (the nations of Africa have to take upon themselves) to rid themselves of corruption and politics that are organized around ethnicity and tribe. Unless Africa is able to create a transparent government with rule of law and accountability, ordinary people will continue to be victimized by those in power, and unless Africa rids itself of the vestiges of tribalism and ethnic conflict, you can never create enough political stability to truly develop the country...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Intimidating the Opposition

By Fikru Helebo

Mesfin Wolde Mariam, the retired Addis Ababa University professor and former head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, is now one of the leaders of UDJ (Andinet) party. He wrote an article recently describing how Ethiopian government security personnel had cornered him in his car in the middle of a busy street in Addis Ababa and tried to intimidate him. You can read the piece at (you need Ethiopic/Geez font). This incident Mesfin wrote about is eerily similar to another story I recently heard about a harassment of an opposition activist who was followed by Woyane security agents every where she went and where, one day, the agents attempted to create a bogus traffic accident with the intention of causing injury.

It is an open secret that the Woyane regime routinely employs various intimidation tactics like these ones above and many others to instill fear in the minds of its political opponents. Sometimes, if the target of the intimidation ignores the message and does not change her behavior or tone down her opposition activities, then the regime uses various extrajudicial methods to eliminate her. Just to mention one example, a vehicle accident was used as a means to kill a top fighter pilot named Daniel Beyene in 2006. Stories like these are prevalent in Woyane's Ethiopia, especially in the aftermath of the crackdown on the opposition after the stolen elections of 2005.

The intimidation regime that the Woyane government has put in place, which I believe rivals that of the Derg, seems to be accomplishing its objective very well, at least in the short term. Tired of the constant harassment and afraid for their dear lives, most opposition activists have fled the country and sought asylum in all corners of the globe. Those who remain in the country either do not have the means to flee the country or have resigned themselves to whatever punishment may come their way. Mesfin seems to be in the latter group. In the long term though, I believe this extreme harassment of the opposition is bound to backfire and help to hasten the demise of the regime itself. Newton's law of physics -- "for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction" -- works in politics, too!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Not a Transformational Figure

By Fikru Helebo

Barring unforeseen developments, Barack Obama is poised to coast to a comfortable victory over John McCain in the US Presidential election in a little over a couple of weeks. In spite of my center-right political disposition, I had previously expressed my view that America would be better served with a Democrat in the White House in the next four years. I will certainly celebrate an Obama victory for the reasons I had expressed before and also because of the powerful message of hope that his election would send to all people of African decent and, for that matter, to all of humanity.

However, I am troubled by an oft-repeated claim in the media that Barack Obama is a "transformational figure". The latest political heavy weight to throw this loaded phrase in describing Obama is the former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama's candidacy for President today. I hope Obama is a smart enough politician not to allow all such hype about him to to get into his head. But I have to say that his rhetoric about changing the world gives me reason to be concerned.

My understanding of a transformational figure, in so far as a politician goes, is someone like Nelson Mandela, who has an unparalleled capacity to win the respect of his opponents by what he/she says and does. As far as I can tell, aside from some of his recent speeches, there is very little evidence from Obama's political career which remotely suggests that he is such a figure. To be sure, Obama has reached across the aisle to work with Republicans on some issues since he has become a US Senator and talk of bipartisanship has been a part of his stump speech on the campaign trail. But the issues that Obama has worked with Republicans in the Senate, which he has touted in his advertisements, are not issues that are considered marquee issues that divide the right and left in the US and, in my opinion, do not give credence to Obama possessing a transformational quality. On the other hand, a far better argument can be made for John McCain about his willingness to buck his own party and work with Democrats, but that still doesn't make McCain a transformational figure, not by a long shot.

That said, I believe Obama has the potential to be a transformational figure if he is willing to put aside some of his orthodox liberal political beliefs, such as the concept of using the government as a tool to spread wealth around and to push down the throats of Americans wacky social engineering experiments, in favor of ideas that have broad support by the American electorate. For example, a President Obama would be well advised to concentrate on spending his precious political capital in the first couple of years on national security issues like energy independence and improving America's image around the world, a world that is getting more and more interconnected by the day. But, he will have to get elected first, and then, after taking his oath of office, he must stare down on some of his narrowly focused liberal constituencies if he really wants to be a transformational figure who can inspire a broad section of American society to getting something lasting accomplished during his presidency. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This Music is Really Good for You - III

We all probably need some respite from all the negative news that surrounds us -- the turmoil in the stock markets around the world, the starvation and inflation in Ethiopia, etc. Please enjoy this fascinating Gnawa music from Morocco titled "L'Hadiya, L'Bossoyé" by Zakaria HOUAOURA. Beware, you could fall into a trance while listening!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Food Aid as a Weapon of War

It looks like the Woyane rulers of Ethiopia have taken a calculated risk in using food aid as a weapon in the war against the Ogaden rebels. They thought they could get away with it. They should have known better. Weren't they at the receiving end of the food aid war in the 80s?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What a difference a year makes!

By Fikru Helebo

In a piece titled "Is Kinijit the Way?" a year ago today I had expressed cautious optimism that Kinijit had the better chance of all the political groups out there to lead Ethiopians towards democratic pluralism. In that same piece I had also expressed my doubts on whether or not Kinijit was up to
the task. I was optimistic because a few days earlier I had gone to a meeting in Alexandria, Virginia which was called by leaders of Kinijit who, having been released from two years of incarceration by the Woyane regime, did not show bitterness at their fate and their jailers but rather preached hope and reconciliation among Ethiopian political groups. On the other hand, I had reason to be guarded in my optimism because there were signs of division within Kinijit and I was concerned about the negative implications of that division for Kinijit supporters and the Ethiopian opposition groups at large.

In less than a month's time after I wrote that piece, the acrimonious division within Kinijit had gotten out of control and its partitioning had become a foregone conclusion. And in the months following the split within Kinijit, the Woyane regime added insult to injury by handing over the rights to the name and logo of Kinijit to groups that had betrayed Kinijit. In less than a year, Kinijit had gone from being called a "spirit" among its hardcore supporters to being seen as just another one of the long list of Ethiopian political parties that proved to not have what it takes to survive its first major test.

may have become history, but the causes that it symbolized and championed (democracy, human rights, etc) still remain the cries of the Ethiopian people and are in desperate need of a party that is capable of offering a vanguard leadership. Unfortunately, by going their separate ways, the former Kinijit leaders have made the struggle for freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia a more difficult task than it already was. Hailu Shawel's faction of Kinijit was the first to drop off the Kinijit bandwagon. Then the group which was aligned with Berhanu Nega came unhinged. That left the group led by Birtukan Mideksa as the only group that remained true to the original "spirit" of Kinijit that had won over the support of the Ethiopian people.
Hailu's group reverted to its old name of the All Ethiopia Unity Party, whereas Berhanu's group has reinvented itself as Ginbot 7 movement. Birtukan's group was forced to reorganize itself under a new name called Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (Andenet). My sympathies are with Birtukan's party and I wish her and her Andenet colleagues good luck.

What surprised me the most about the partitioning of Kinijit in the last year was its abandonment by the Berhanu Nega group. I have tremendous respect for Berhanu and his Ginbot 7 colleagues for the sacrifices they have made to help the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, and I still do think that Berhanu is the most effective advocate the Ethiopian opposition has got on its side. However, I do believe that Berhanu and his colleagues have made a serious political error in judgment in abandoning their former Kinijit colleagues and forming a group which neither complements the efforts of Andenet and others, who are determined to use what narrow political space that is left, nor fills a vacuum that is not already addressed by an existing Ethiopian political group.

What a difference a year makes! Unfortunately for Ethiopians, this was not the difference they were looking for from their political parties at the begining of the Ethiopian millenium.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back from Exile

The obelisks of Axum arguably represent the Golden Age of ancient Ethiopian civilization. Ethiopians of all backgrounds should unite in celebrating the return of our national treasure from Italy where it spent 70 years in exile. Happy Ethiopian New Year!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Obama, McCain: Change and the Status-quo

By Ephrem Madebo

I spent a good part of this week watching the Republican Party Convention from Saint Paul, Minnesota. I listened to many of the convention speakers including Laura Bush, Cindy McCain, George Bush, Fred Thomason, the ‘neo-Republican’ Joseph Lieberman, Carly Fiorina, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Lindsey Graham. I found out the hard way that republicans are good at one thing. They don’t have anything new, they just keep on singing the same old song over and over again, and they sing it loud. Republicans and Senator McCain say things because they have to say them. Democrats and Obama say things because they have a lot to say. To me, the real drama of Tuesday night that caught me by surprise was Joseph Lieberman’s appearance in the Republican convention floor. When Lieberman blindly stood for the Bush-Cheney failed war policy, I knew he was a confused man. However, as confused as he is, I still thought he was smart enough to know the difference between friendship and democratic principles. Unfortunately, he didn’t! Yes, as he and others said it well, McCain like many other human beings is “his own” man; the problem is Joseph Lieberman isn’t. Last Tuesday night, Joseph Lieberman was a “stranger in the mirror”.

We love McCain for who he is, we respect his service to his country, and we honor his heroism, but we don’t give him the presidency because John McCain simply is not competent to the highest office in the nation. The maverick McCain might do well in some other offices, but not in the Oval Office. In 1992, when Bush senior was running for his second term; he was a war hero [fighter pilot] and a life long public servant. He was chief of the CIA, he was US ambassador in the UN, he was vice-president for 8 years, and most importantly he was a president for four years. G.H. Bush’s experience is by far greater and superior than McCain’s experience, but in 1992, the far sighted American voters saw beyond experience and elected a much younger, but competent president who led a stronger America into the 21st century. Today, eight years of Republican administration has made America a weak nation. With no clear economic, healthcare, education, and environmental policies, McCain will extend the failed Bush-Cheney administration and make America weaker.

President Bush who has a unique ability of looking deep into the eye of people and predict their character, told us about the good things that Senator McCain would do to America in the coming four years. I urge President Bush to look at the eye of Senator McCain again and tell us the truth because his prediction about Vladimir Putin was totally off. President Bush who has the lowest approval rating in history seems to have more confidence in what McCain could do in four years than what he himself could have done in eight years. All in all, instead of telling us what he himself did in the last eight years, George Bush tries to tell us about what McCain would do if elected president. In his campaign trail, instead of telling the American people what he would and wouldn’t do, McCain tells what Obama would and wouldn’t do. These are not the only similarities between the maverick McCain and the compassionate Bush. Neither George W. Bush nor Senator McCain were bright students when they were in college. Bush scored 70 (of 100) in Sociology and a 71 in Economics (no wander the economy is heading south). Senator McCain graduated 894th out of a class of 899. Both McCain and Bush have a clear stand on life’s important issues, but they have hard time explaining their stand or answering life’s important questions.

During the first term of G.Bush’s presidency, John McCain was one of the two republicans to vote against George Bush’s landmark tax cut. Today, McCain is fighting hard to make the same tax cut permanent. Senator McCain stood with the democrats and supported President Bush’s immigration policy. Today, McCain vehemently opposes the same immigration policy that he once supported. Senator McCain was a strong opponent of off-shore drilling. Today, he is a leading advocate of off-shore drilling. What should we call this kind of oscillating behavior? Is this what maverick means? Did any one see the current president and vice-president in the Republican Party convention? No! Because they have nothing to show except mess. The country is ashamed of them, Senator McCain is ashamed of them, and most importantly the party they lead is ashamed of them. If we elect McCain, I am positive, four years latter he will have nothing to show and we will be ashamed of him. By the way, I can’t wait until January 20, 2009 to see Dick Cheney end eight years of hibernation.

Last night Cindy McCain told us that Senator McCain was a true husband, and she also told us that having McCain as a father of her children was like hitting a home run. Well, way before Cindy McCain, there was another woman who until the ninth inning thought she hit a home run when she married McCain. The week long republican convention focused on one single issue - The biography of John McCain! As an American who needs information to elect the next president, I expected to hear less of McCain's biography and more of what he would do if elected president of this great nation. This election is not about McCain’s past, it is about America’s future. Last night John McCain vowed to work across party lines and change the ugly culture of Washington. Eight years ago, George Bush who was not a Washington insider promised to reach across party lines and change Washington. As soon as he entered the Whitehouse, Washington changed George Bush and today we have a deeply divided America. Watch out America! McCain’s last night rhetoric is not different from what his role model told us in 2000. McCain has been part and parcel of the Washington establishment for more than a quarter of a century. He has nothing in him that brings change to Washington; McCain is the symbol of Washington that Obama the true messenger of change wants to change.

The American people never questioned McCain’s heroism and his distinguished service to America. The slogan “Country First” and fighting for America are not just republican or democratic values, they are undisputed American values. The young men and women that went to Iraq and Afghanistan went as Americans, and when they pay the ultimate sacrifice, their body comes to Dover Air Force base as an American. John McCain and the Republican Party must stop mixing American values with Republican values. But, even if we consider important republican values such as “Traditional Family Value”, McCain started dating his current wife while married to other women whom he eventually asked for divorce. Well, there is nothing wrong because he is a maverick republican.

We all know that there is a significant difference between the Republican and the Democratic parties, but the difference between Obama and McCain is far deeper than the party differences, and it is visible to any naked eye. McCain is a man of yesterday whose vision for tomorrow is limited by his inability to see beyond the horizon. He is an ordinary man in history with less than average intellectual capacity. Don’t get me wrong, McCian is a war hero, but so are tens of thousands of Americans. Obama is a vector of change who is in a mission to make history. Obama has the intellectual capacity to see deeper into the future and seek answer to many burning questions of our time. Unlike McCain, Obama is here to correct the misguided policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. McCain is a mediocre communicator who has identical message for every audience. Obama is a charismatic communicator who has message to any audience. Geographically, McCain thinks Iraq and Afghanistan are neighbors, and politically; he does not know the difference between the Shiites and the Sunnis. Economically, he always fails to understand the threshold of poverty. How can McCain lead the free world with such a little knowledge about the world, and how can he lead America without knowing about poor and middle class Americans? America can not afford to have another so-so leader in this crucial time. I wonder how McCain chases Bin Laden to the gates of hell if he doesn’t know where the gate of hell is. Chasing the illusive Bin Laden is not an easy task for a person who does not visualize the Iraq-Afghanistan borer.

Let’s consider McCain’s judgment in selecting his running mate. Senator McCain barley knew Sarah Palin before he chose her to be a possible US president should something happens to him (if he is elected). I wonder where McCain’s nickname of “Country First” was when he made such a terrible decision. When McCain selected Palin as his running mate, the amount of women votes she would (yes, I said would) bring to the ticket seems to be his primary criteria. “Country first” and what happens to the presidency if the possible happens was not McCain’s cup of tea. John McCain who day-in and day-out tells us about his long time experience did not think otherwise when he insulted our intelligence by giving us the most in-experienced little known vice-president in America’s 232 years history. The only visible experience on Sarah Palin’s resume is governing the state of Alaska (population ~700K) for 21 months. The population of Alaska is almost four times less than the population of Chicago, a city in Obama’s home state of Illinois.

Yes, McCain is a maverick, a maverick to whom the pro-choice Hilary is the same as the anti -abortion slogan bearer Palin. To McCain, there is no difference between one of the most outspoken women in the world and the 2nd year governor from Alaska, a state that barley becomes a topic in the nightly news. Even Sarah Palin herself didn’t understand the huge difference between her and Hilary Clinton. Within hours of her introduction as the next VP, Sarah Palin substantiated McCain’s criteria of VP selection by repeating one of Hilary’s celebrated phrases - “18 million cracks”. What Palin didn’t understand is that, if she swears in as the next vice-president this coming winter, those 18 million cracks will turn into tears for another four winters. As a devoted Evangelical Christian, I applaud Palin’s unwavering anti-abortion stand, but as an American, I don’t vote for her just because we agree on one single issue. The future of America is very important to me because I am a father. I worry about Social Security because that is the last thing that I want to see handled by the private sector. Health Care is always in my mind because as a working father, I want to make sure that I can afford a meaningful health insurance for myself and my family. The future of my children highly depends on the quality of education they get today. I want my children and grand children to breathe clean air and live longer life. I know Senator McCain’s record on many of these issues and have heard him speak on the Environment, Education, Healthcare, and Social Security; to be honest, sometimes, I doubt that McCain’s America is the same as my America.

Readiness to lead is the function of intellectual capacity, judgment, intelligence, experience, character, and toughness in the soul and in the spirit. Both McCain and Obama have all of the above factors, but in different proportions. Senator Barack Obama has a much better judgment and a more developed intellectual thought process than McCain. He is more intelligent, wiser, and charismatic. Both Obama and McCain can handle the 3am calls, the difference is that by the time Obama resolves the problem; McCain is still on the phone. Nothing is important than a quick response for those of us who have a bad memory of September 11 and hurricane Katrina.

Much long after Obama’s first message of change reverberated through the Rockies, the Appalachians, and the Grand Canyon, Senator McCain’s campaign started talking about change. This proves that McCain is a born follower, not a leader. As I mentioned it above, Obama is a vector of change who has a good understanding of things that change, things that don’t change, and the difference between the two. A very important decision awaits us this Fall. We have the opportunity to vote for a change or to sustain the status-quo. If we want to be masters of our destiny, let’s vote for the candidate whose message of hope will be our anchor in the massive waves of the 21st century. As to my self, I am eager to see change, therefore, I vote for Obama!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Zenawi’s new war: Killing the press

By Ephrem Madebo

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listenTommy Smothers

A very disturbing truth about Ethiopia is that the daily life of its leaders is dictated by emotions. No matter how many facts they gather before they make political and economic decisions, Ethiopia’s leaders are profoundly influenced by their feelings; not by a felling of hope, but by a feeling of obliteration that pushes the people of Ethiopia an inch closer to the gates of ‘hell’ with a passing of every day. States and governments exist for citizens, and citizens are served by existing political, economic, and governmental institutions. When the government and its institutions decay and cease serving the public, only citizens can bring them back to life and make them responsive and accountable. In any civilized nation, laws are made into codes to protect these rights of citizens from being infringed on by anybody including the government. Sadly, in Ethiopia; laws are enacted to protect all-out criminals from law abiding citizens, or laws are endorsed to defend the government against the people. In its true sense, a constitution is an instrument for the people to restrain the government, in Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia; the constitution is an instrument for the government to restrain the people.

In the last 17 years, the TPLF regime has made many superfluous laws. For example, the “Seyie Law”, an overnight law to keep Seyie Abraha in jail, and the quickie hand written “Municipal Law” that PM Meles wrote a day after the May 2005 election. The essence of this pathetic law was to partially federalize the administration of Addis Ababa when it became apparent that CUDP was in charge of Ethiopia’s capital. Today, in Ethiopia, it seems that every joke that Meles makes in the Parliament becomes a law, and every law that the Parliament makes is a joke. Can you imagine that Meles enacted a law to just keep his one time soul mate in jail? This is what happens when a single person controls power, money, and gun. Ethiopia and the US are different in so many features, but they are uncharacteristically similar in one aspect. In the US, no one is above the law. The same is true in Ethiopia; no one is above the law, and PM Meles is the law.

The information age is typified by the following three types of people: people who produce information, people who use information, and people who block the dissemination of information. Today, we live in a world where the standard of living of people is directly related to their efficiency of sending, receiving, and using information. The constitution of many democratic nations entitles all member of society the right to request and to acquire information regardless of the reason for the request. Ethiopia is not an exception here, and it has no business of limiting the press on what it can publish, broadcast, webcast, or podcast.

Throughout history dictators and totalitarian regimes have invented new tools and methods to prolong their life, but no dictator has survived the wrath of the people. The swift technological advancements of the last three decades have exposed the malevolent acts of totalitarian regimes. E-mails, cell phones, instant messages, web sites, and the ubiquitous blogs have brought information to the door steps of the oppressed people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Colonel Mengistu committed most of his atrocities behind a closed door. The Colonel who ruled Ethiopia before the era of the Internet [World Wide Web] tried to hide his inequities by expelling Western media sources from the country. The current dictator that succeeded Colonel Mengistu seems to be busy not governing the country, but closing every hole through which he thinks information is flowing into Ethiopia. Today the TPLF regime imports more Chinese experts to block information (radio, blogs, and web sites) than Chinese goods or knowhow.

Ethiopia’s comatose parliament recently passed a new media law which is yet another threat to the already crumbling press freedom in Ethiopia. The preamble of the new law reads: "the proclamation removes all obstacles that were impediments to the operation of the media in Ethiopia." Well, the preamble is absolutely right. The new media law in deed clears the way for the government to continue to abuse and persecute the messenger whenever the message disenchants Meles Zeanwi, or any of his commandants. The recent senseless intimidations on “Awramba Times” and the extra-judicial decision by Judge Leul Gebremariam are sneak pre-views of the new media law. I’m sure judge Leul will treat me differently than Teddy Afro’s lawyer.

The most distressing portion of the new law is that when the law goes in to effect, the government [Meles] has the right to prosecute media outlets on defamation cases even if the allegedly defamed government entity does not seek legal actions. Here is article 43 (7) of the new media law: “Defamation and false accusation against "constitutionally mandated legislators, executives and judiciaries will be a matter of the government and prosecutable even if the person against whom they were committed chooses not to press charge" With this draconian law, either many pens will go dry, or many messengers will go to Kaliti. In Ethiopia, it is dangerous to be right and to be a news paper editor where the government is always wrong and detests true-life newspapers. I just feel bad for my fellow Ethiopians, as to me, I will rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers.

The International community in general and the United States in particular have been enthusiastic advocates of freedom of press. However, recently the US has been supporting the Ethiopian regime that preys on the free press. The US has knowingly compromised its fundamental value of freedom to give Meles Zenawi the green light to abuse the freedom of Ethiopians. Much to the surprise of many Ethiopians, the US has gone deaf on the freedom cry of millions of Ethiopians to protect American freedom in Somalia. The US should know better that the absence of freedom in Ethiopia is a threat to freedom in America. We have repeatedly seen America fighting its past. In the 1980s, the US assisted Sadam Hussien against Iran. In 2003, the US ousted Sadam and the US military is still bleeding in Iraq. Again in the 1980s, the US helped Ben Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan; today, the US troops are hunting Bin Laden in the remote mountainous regions of Pakistan. It seems that the US is passing through the same course in Ethiopia. Where is the lesson… America?

Poverty and political repression are the root causes of terrorism. In any place or any country, people will not choose terrorism to be part of their life if they have the full freedom to make decisions on their material and spiritual life. Freedom to make a choice is completely absent in Ethiopia. It is mind boggling to even think why a government that leads the global fight on terrorism supports another government that waters the sources of terrorism. The core values of any nation should not conflict with its interest; therefore, America must not bend its values to protect its interest. We all know Americans enjoy a much higher standard of living that Ethiopians, but the God given freedom of an Ethiopian beggar on the streets of Addis is no less than the freedom of the president of the United States. America should not support the abuse of freedom anywhere to protect freedom elsewhere.

The Ethiopia regime is a collection of monsters and ethical infants. Just three years ago, Meles Zenawi banned the independent media and blocked all pro-democracy websites and blogs. Blocking access to undesirable web sites through the use of IP filter has been a common government practice in China, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. Thanks to our "internet guru" Prime Minister, Ethiopia has joined the exclusive club of China and Saudi Arabia, and just like these two countries; Ethiopia has waged a war against the press, the independent media, and a war against information. The children of Ethiopia know more about dictatorship than they know about democracy, they know more about hunger that they know about surfeit. They know more about violence than they know about peace & justice. The Ethiopian children don’t goggle much like other children of the world. They don’t goggle because what is goggled out is what the government wants them to see, and they are sick and tired of that rubbish on ETV.

When a leader of a nation breaks the law and becomes the law, he breeds contempt for the law and opens the door for others to break the law and become the law like him. Such a leader creates a society of criminals where the only survivals are the ones with a better weapon to kill. In a developing nation like ours, I have no problem when leaders have a giant's strength, but it is horrifying to see when a leader uses his strength like a giant. Fellow Ethiopians, we must not sleep when a pitiless giant is roaming our land. We have to restrain the giant, or there should be either the giant, or us.

My question for all freedom loving Ethiopians is, aren’t we mortified to accept that in our country the sale of a magazine, a news paper, or a book is a subject of rational inquisition and of criminal inquiry too? It should be embossed upon our minds and implanted into the hearts our children that not the government, but we the people have the right to decide what to read and what to listen. The freedom of press is the protector of our civil, political, and religious rights. The bandits keep on telling us that unprotected press kills society. Well, that is a lie, and such a creed is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime. We the people understand that free press can be good or bad, but, we are absolutely sure that without freedom, a press can be nothing but bad and evil. God deliver us from all evil, amen!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why are these people starving?

In recent months there have been persistent reports of starvation coming out of Ethiopia, particularly from the southern parts of the country. In its August 5, 2008 edition the Los Angles Times had an article which echoed those reports under a headline "Ethiopia faces a new food crisis." I have posted below pictures that accompanied this LA Times article. Looking at these pictures, I am really having a difficult time figuring out why these people are starving. I have travelled through this region of Ethiopia and it won't be an overstatement to say this is one of the most fertile areas in all of Ethiopia, albeit prone to periodical droughts as is the case for the whole of Ethiopia.

The man who has been in charge of running the Ethiopian government for over 17 years was quoted in the above article as saying: "The vast majority of farmers have never had it so good." I am not so sure how true this assertion is, but shouldn't his government take a major portion of the blame for allowing the inhabitants of such a fertile part of the country starve? It should. Logic dictates that this part of Ethiopia should have been one of the areas least susceptible to starvation because of its location and since billions of dollars of the aid money that has been pouring into Ethiopia by donor governments in the last two decades should have made starvation in an area like this a thing of the past by now. Is the real cause of the recurring hunger and starvation in Ethiopia, and this area in particular, which BTW had twice rejected the ruling party at the polls in 2000 and 2005, a natural calamity or government neglect? I strongly suspect it is the latter. So, I ask again, why are these people starving?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Violence & Non-Violence: A Clash of Strategies

By Ephrem Madebo

In the early 1990s, many Ethiopians supported the argument for a peaceful struggle, not because peaceful struggle was the only viable strategy, but most of us believed that, though very slim, there was a political space in Ethiopia to wage peaceful struggle. Well, we were unpretentiously right, but today, that political space has faded away and accommodates only one party. Meles and his party have shunned away from pluralism and started a one man democracy where the electorate and the elected are one and the same. Mr. Zenawi has re-defined the concept of "peaceful struggle" in an utterly strange way, and by doing so, he has closed the room for peaceful struggle in Ethiopia. Today, some in the opposition have opted to knock on the closed door, and yet, others have determined to break the door and make sure it will never be closed again. If the knock opens the door, we all will be happy campers; otherwise, we will break the door and still be happy campers. Knock, or break; if our goal is to open the door, why fight on how to open it? The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:

"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human right should be protected by the rule of law"

When justice is manipulated to instigate violence, the masses have the legal and moral obligation to use all means to stop the manipulation of justice. When our enemy is so violent and has no value for peace and human life, we need to have two weapons: love and some sort of defense mechanism. Non-violent struggle does not necessarily mean failure to defend against violence. Any species that does not defend itself is doomed for extinction.

Today, three years after the May 2005 election, many Ethiopians seem to have been re-visiting the old debate of peaceful versus non-peaceful struggle. I guess, it is not a shocker that this debate has been on fire since the inauguration of Ginbot 7 movement. The 2008 Ethiopian soccer tournament in N. America officially came to an end on Saturday July 5. On the same day and a day after, two consecutive public meetings in Washington, DC ignited the Ethiopian public and re-opened the peaceful versus non-peaceful struggle debate of the 1990s. In the center of this debate are students, life long academicians, a plethora of bloggers, web sites, and radio stations. This article highlights some of the major issues raised in the Washington DC UDJ meeting.

Like many people of my generation, I do listen when Professor Mesfin speaks and read when he writes. However, I don't take everything he says as a settled thought or proposal, and I don't read his books the same way I read my Bible. On the July 6 Washington, DC meeting, professor Mesfin used the experience of Gandhi and Dr. King as a classic example of non-violent struggle to make a case for a peaceful struggle in Ethiopia. To be honest, if I was the 'Ephrem ' of 25 years ago, the speech of the professor would have elated me and I would have been an instant opponent of any alternative to a peaceful struggle. Well, his speech has still elated me, but for a different reason. This time his speech gave me an opportunity to disagree with him. Even though I disagree with him, I will never rebuff the enormous benefit I gained from the understanding of Professor Mesfin’s point of view.

I hope my readers will agree that disagreeing with the professor is not just my right, sometimes it is also the right thing to do. A sincere disagreement is a good sign of progress, and it is the beginning of thought. Therefore, I sincerely disagree with my one time college professor. I don't think the Professor himself wants us to change whenever he changes, and to nod whenever he nods; I think his own shadow does that much better than we do.

Before I make my own case for an alternative strategy, I want to point out some important facts that the professor omitted at his DC speech. Yes, as he said it well, Gandhi and King are the ideal examples of non-violent struggle. The courage and the determination of the two champions were similar, and so was the political structure of the two giant forces they fought. But, how about the two governments that King and Gandhi encountered, are they similar to the kind of government that we have in Ethiopia today?

Let’s visit the history of Nelson Mandela, a living legend of freedom. Like Dr. King, Mandela was influenced by Gandhi. King went to India and came back to the US equipped with the non-violent strategy of Gandhi. Dr. King was smart enough to see the similarities between the US and the British governments. He understood that the political space in the US was wide enough to wage a Gandhi like non-violent struggle. To our surprise, Mandela is a person who had more personal exposure to Gandhi than Dr. King because Gandhi himself started his non-violence struggle in South Africa. But, Mandela chose a different strategy than Gandhi. Why? Mandela recognized and valued Gandhi’s non-violence struggle, and he committed himself to non-violent struggle. However, he eventually changed his view when he understood that the enemy he was fighting was absolutely different than the enemies Gandhi and Dr. King fought.

The three heroes fought and won three enemies. Gandhi and Dr. King employed similar strategies. Mandela followed his predecessors and started his struggle in a similar fashion, but he eventually changed his view and co-founded the armed wing of ANC. Why can’t we Ethiopians change our view like Mandela did? We can always learn from the experience of others, but we can’t possibly bring the experience of others to our country. When we’re looking for a lesson to learn, we shouldn’t be cherry picking. We can learn from Gandhi, King, Mandela, or any other person, or country. When it comes to a strategy choice, we should definitely listen to Professor Mesfin and many other wise Ethiopians. However, we have to carefully digest their words before we swallow them. We have to ask questions and get answers before shaping our opinion. What does the TPLF regime look like? Does it look like the government of the United States, or the government of the late Peter Botha? Both King and Mandela were influenced by Gandhi, if so, what forced Mandela to change his view? Do we Ethiopians have just 1% of the weapons that King had? These are very important points that professor Mesfin failed to address in his public meetings. I do believe the truth must be told today, waiting for tomorrow is an emotional sleepless battle with yesterday's omissions, and of course the omission of good information is no less reprehensible than tampering with the truth.

In the 1940s, Gandhi, in the 1960s, Dr. King, and in the 1990s, Nelson Mandela immensely influenced their respective governments and led their people to freedom. These three examples of human excellence lived in different continents, countries, and socio-economic orders. Surprisingly, there is something that links the three together. Dr. King went to India and visited Gandhi’s family to get first hand information on Gandhi's peaceful struggle. Gandhi's first effective use of civil disobedience took place in South Africa when he as a lawyer represented the Indian community's struggle for civil rights. The three heroes won the Nobel Prize for peace though Gandhi’s award was post-mortem and no one took the prize.

In 1915, Gandhi moved from South Africa to India and started organizing peasants, farmers, and urban laborers to lead a protest against the excessive land-tax imposed by the British colonial government. From 1915 to 1947 Gandhi employed peaceful resistance (strike, boycott, refusal to serve, non-cooperation) as his weapon to paralyze the complex British social structure in India. In those 32 years Gandhi was arrested 4 times, but he didn't serve his full term in none of those times. As bad as the British were, they could have given Gandhi life, or perhaps even killed him to slow down India's independence. However, the British neither denied Gandhi his right to due process, nor they forced him to sign a self incrementing agreement that would have brought him back to jail. Every time when Gandhi was released from jail, he was free to continue his struggle that eventually ended the British rule in India.

The enemy Gandhi fought 60 years ago is very different than the enemy we Ethiopians are fighting today. The current leaders of Ethiopia are determined to kill as many Ethiopians as they can to stay in power than the British would have to extend their colonial rule in India. The Ethiopian opposition does not have any of Gandhi’s peaceful resistance weapons; in fact, those weapons are illegal in Ethiopia. So what is legal in Ethiopia? Well, the answer is easy. The only peaceful struggle allowed in Ethiopia is to verbally oppose the ruling party using a carefully crafted language, and coronate the TPLF party every five years.

It is evident that the current leaders of Ginbot 7 embraced a peaceful strategy in their quest for democracy and justice while they were in CUDP. There should be no doubt that these same leaders embrace the same strategy today as leaders of Ginbot 7. The significant change between Ginbot 2005 and today is that the TPLF ruling elites saw the determination of the Ethiopian people and banned the peaceful strategy perused by CUDP, UEDF and other parties. The ban was not the end of the game; they also published their own version of "Legal peaceful struggle" handbook. It is every word in this disreputable "handbook" that Ginbot 7 fails to accept. Hence Ginbot 7 employs every possible alternative to bring down the author of the "one man" democracy handbook and his moribund system. Ginbot 7 will never accept the TPLF prescribed "Legal peaceful struggle".

The leaders of Ginbot 7 did not avoid, or runaway from their strategy, they were pushed, or forced away from their lifelong creed of peaceful struggle. TPLF has drastically changed the rules of the game. I don’t think the opposition should be a rambling piece that forces itself to fit in the TPLF puzzle! It should have its own game, and its own strategy for winning the game. This is exactly what Ginbot 7 did, i.e. design a multifaceted (versatile) strategy to bring Mr. Zenawi’s dictatorship to its knee.

For Ginbot 7, or for all of us for that matter, peace is not the absence of war or conflict. Peace is not a gift from any person or government, it is something to be created and to be maintained by people. Peace is the triumph of principle, it is the product of faith, strength, will, sympathy, and justice. Peace will never be achieved by tameness or by extinction of the will. Ginbot 7 does not and will not agree with the TPLF prescribed peace that passes the human understanding; rather, Ginbot 7 will lead the masses to create a moral environment where peace reigns as a result of the human understanding.

As I have noted above, both Mandela’s and Dr. King's notion of peaceful struggle was rooted in Gandhi's principle of non-violent struggle. In the 1960's, when King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) applied the principles of non-violent protest, they had the freedom to choose the method of the protest and the places where the protests were to be carried out. All these freedoms that Dr. King and SCLC had are non existent in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, exercising a God given right is a treason that carries capital punishment.

A momentous peaceful struggle requires two or more opposing rivals that submit to the rule of law, to the democratic process, and to the fundamental legitimacy of the state. In a peaceful struggle, none of the rivals should be able to use force to cause harm on the other. The conflicting rivals and their supporters (including ruling parties) should have equal access to the media, and the role of the press must be impartial to all conflicting parties. Any kind of peaceful struggle is inconsequential in the absence of these factors. When Dr. King made his famous "I have a dream" speech, a speech that changed America for good, the US marshals and secret service agents were not shooting at him, they were protecting him from the KKK. Dr. King did not make his historic speech in a ghetto hidey-hole; he made his speech between the two symbols of American democracy, Capitol Hill and the White House; in front of 250, 000 people.

Mind you, just a few weeks ago, the TPLF gangs banned UDJ’s scheduled public meeting in a private hotel for no apparent reason. Last week, in one of its bizarre moves, TPLF turned down UDJ’s registration application citing outlandish reasons. This amorphous group of gangs has once more proved that it is against "Andinet" whether it is on paper, or in action. The following quote exemplifies the role the US media played in Dr. King’s peaceful struggle for freedom: "King correctly recognized that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow Law would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that convinced the majority of Americans that Civil Rights Movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s"

The popular victories in India, the US, and in South Africa are the most celebrated and distinguished victories of the 20th century. The leaders of these victories [Gandhi, King, and Mandela] are not just heroes of their respective countries; they are heroes of the human race. We saw how Gandhi and King brought freedom to their people. What did Mandela learn from the two? How does he differ from them? Most importantly, what did we Ethiopians learn from the three champions of peace? To be honest, we in the opposition did not learn anything! If anyone has learned a lesson from Gandhi, King, or Mandela; it must be Meles and his bad guys. Yes, they learned a good lesson on how to block every possible path to democracy, and perform tubal ligation on every fertile uterus that gives birth to a hero like Gandhi, King, and Mandela.

Mahatma Gandhi was a moral leader and an inspiration for Mandela and succeeding generations of South African anti-apartheid activists. Nelson Mandela has frequently credited Gandhi for being a major source of inspiration in his life, both for the philosophy of non-violence and for facing adversity with dignity. Indeed, Mandela was initially committed to Gandhi’s strategy of non-violence, however, he changed his view when he was arrested and charged with treason in December 1956. Mandela attributes his move to a mixed strategy (Violence, non-violence) to the increasing repression and violence from the South African white minority regime. According to Nelson Mandela, he was convinced that many years of non-violent protest against apartheid had achieved nothing and could not succeed.

In 1960, Nelson Mandela, the late Walter Sisulu, and other South Africans formed the military wing of the ANC, and in 1961 Mandela became the leader of ANC’s armed wing, aka Umkonto We Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation). In the 1980s, it became clear that the apartheid regime was in an irreversible crisis and its economy was in recession. Though ANC’s leader [Mandela] was in prison, it was the activities of ANC’s armed wing (Umkonto We Sizwe) that forced the apartheid regime to talk to the liberation movements, in Particular the ANC. The following script is taken from the statement of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress on the 25th anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto We Sizwe: "By that time the demands of our people were loud, persistent and clear: all our efforts as a people, the whole record of relentless struggle under the leadership of the African National Congress, were being met with ever-increasing violence and repression by the racist State. The time had arrived when we needed to reinforce our mass political action with the hammer blows of an armed struggle"

The Ethiopian government is not an Apartheid government like the government of South Africa that Mandela fought, and it is not a democratic government bounded by a constitution like the US and the British governments that King and Gandhi fought. But, if there is any resemblance between the three, many of the acts of the Ethiopian regime are carbon copies of the South African Apartheid regime. The US and the British governments have a constitutional brake that limits the amount of power they can use on subjects. To the TPLF government, power is the only method of conflict resolution, and the constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper that can be repelled by a simple memo. Gandhi and Dr. King enjoyed the independent media that popularized their concept of freedom. In Ethiopia, there is neither free press nor independent media. These are important comparisons that the professor omitted in his speech here in DC. In fact, if he includes these facts in his public addresses, he would reluctantly make a powerful case for an alternative that he passionately opposes.

A culture of impunity is built into the DNA of the Ethiopian leaders, and some of the clearest examples can be found in the post 2005 election massacre of innocent civilians, and the recent treason size crime of giving undisputed Ethiopian territory to Sudan. My fellow country men, a debate for an acceptable strategy is necessary and constructive, however, the foul languages and the enemy-like attacks are destructive and totally uncalled. As long us we have a shared objective, let’s peruse the strategy that we think is right while supporting each other. If victory puts us together at the end of the road, we will jointly kneel down to praise God for the victory. If somehow none of us gets to the finish line; sadly, this simply means we both failed. Obviously, the Ethiopian people do not want us to fail again. We need to agree, listen to each other, and work together on the bigger issues of our nation even as we peruse different strategies. Amen!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Listen to Siye Abraha

It seems to me Siye Abraha, the former college student turned guerrilla fighter turned defense minister tuned prisoner of conscience turned politician, has learned very important lessons from his varied experiences about methods of struggle. His insight on this topic is convincing and it should be heeded. This is just a small portion of the interview Siye did with Harambe newspaper and it comes to you courtesy of Ethiomedia.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Freedom is not Free

An inscription at the Korean War Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, DC reads "FREEDOM IS NOT FREE". Yes, indeed, it is not! The price for the freedom that Ethiopians in America enjoy was paid for by the blood and tears of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fought and died in foreign and domestic wars (excluding the so-called Indian Wars) wearing the uniforms of the United States Armed Forces. This freedom was also equally paid for by the thousands of civil rights activists who fought a valiant "peaceful war" against racism and injustice in the US. So, we should never take this freedom we enjoy for granted. One day, hopefully soon, Ethiopians in the motherland will enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoy in the US. But, it is imperative that Ethiopians opt for "peaceful war" to attain their freedom. Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Don’t try to kill them before they grow!

By Ephrem Madebo

"Every time I plant a seed, he said kill them before they grow". This is a living lyric from the late vibrant Reggae singer, Bob Marley’s classic - “I shot the Sherriff". If Marley was alive, I am sure he would have sang another song with the same lyrics to the "Ethiopian Review" editor who like a bad tag boat shoves away every new idea that he doesn't agree with. I had a close association with the Ethiopian Review editor years ago in the heydays of "Tigbar League". In fact, I joined the "Tegbar League" group discussion forum at the request of the moderator [Ethiopian Review editor] and I was expelled out after a while when I openly criticized Lidetu Ayalew for his 2002 crude action. Mind you the ER editor is the very person that blames Meles Zenawi for muffling the free press, but he himself didn't even think twice before he silenced me in his little world. What a hypocrisy! Regardless of the nature of the ideas, I usually keep small ideas at the personal level. This week after I read two indiscriminately misguiding articles on Ethiopian Review website, I decided to go public because I thought total silence does not do any good to the public.

Towards the end of last week, I read an article on Ethiopian Review that brought to light a covert negotiation between OLF and Ginbot 7. The article inadvertently reveals a possible political breakthrough that has the potential to change the course of history in Ethiopia. If the information that came to light is authentic, I applaud the investigative cleverness of the ER sources for digging deep and informing the public on what is to come, I also appreciate their effort in trying to directly or indirectly put pressure on the leaders of the opposition camp. Here is the part that I totally disagreed and demanded an explanation. For those of you who didn't have the chance to read ER’s article on the clandestine meeting of Ginbot 7 and OLF, here is the warning of the ER editor to the two organizations [OLF, Ginbot 7] and to the rest of us: "ER sources in both Ginbot 7 and OLF are not ready to disclose where the secret talks are being held, but for maximum political effect, any agreement that they reach needs to be signed in Asmara. Any one who doubts the significant role the Eritrean government can play in destroying Woyanne is either politically ignorant, or a closet Woyanne sympathizer, or does not fully comprehend the severity of the crisis our country is facing".

I'm not sure whether the editor is acting from his inner feeling, or out of his imagination, but at least I do understand that when people act under the influence of imagination, there is no boundary for their passion. Imagination is the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses. It is good to allow the image of the outside world have an input in our way of thinking, scheming, contriving, remembering, creating, fantasizing, and forming opinion, but we must understand that politics and everything we do must be accompanied by passion and driven by principle because too much imagination kills both principle and passion.

I wonder what in the "Hell" Asmara has to do with the likely outcome of political events in Ethiopia. Isn't Asmara the home of Esayas Afewerke, a man who never sleeps before he makes sure that Ethiopia is dwindled in to multiple mini states? Had there been an inch thick of a heart that worries for Ethiopia under the chest of Essays, Asmara wouldn't have opened its door for separatist elements that fight to dismantle Ethiopia, and for EPPF; an organization that firmly stands for the unity of Ethiopia. If there is anything that the opposition gets from Asmara today, it will definitely be paid back at an exorbitantly high rate tomorrow. The question of Assab, Bademe, Tsorena, and other border areas that I can’t even name are issues that face the current opposition in the future when it assumes power. If we believe that Esayas is willing to raise a lion that may ultimately devour him, we’re not just lying through our teeth, but we are also simplifying very complex national issues.

Another very important issue that the Ethiopian Review editor must understand is that we Ethiopians can respectfully disagree with him in many issues without he calling us “Politically ignorant, or a close Woyanne sympathizers”. As an editor, he must strike the balance between the flow of ideas and the interest of the public. An editor must appreciate dissent and accept criticism. By the way, isn’t the very essence of our struggle built on the values of respectful disagreement and on the principles of working together for a common cause? When an editor seeks freedom of speech for himself, he/she becomes captive of his/her desire and misguides millions of people. But, when an editor seeks discipline, he/she guides the freedom journey of the masses to victory. The era of blanket condemnation and character assassination is over. Editors, or readers, what we do and what we say should clearly identify which part of the isle we stand.

Here is a script from ER editor’s message this week:
“Let’s go straight to the crux of the matter: UDJ by its actions and positions had demonstrated itself to be a political party without a popular base. It is a fake party without popular constituency”

How do we measure the popularity of political parties? What makes some parties real and others fake? I might not give you the answer for these two questions, but I can at least say the following: The ER editor has neither the moral background nor the empirical authenticity to publicly declare that UDJ is a fake party with no political constituency. How dare a man who like me enjoys burgers at the comfort of a “drive-in” calls UDJ a fake party with no political constituency? Which constituency are we talking here? Isn’t UDJ a party that collected more than 10,000 signatures in few days when the government required 1500? Isn’t Birtukuan a lady who with no fear confronted Zenawi’s wicked legal system in her professional life? Didn’t this same relentless defender of democracy waste two years of her precious young life in Kaliti prison for our common cause? Regardless of their choice of strategy, Birtukuan and other members of UDJ have demonstrated their undeterred will to endlessly stand for the true cause of democracy.

There are many people in Ethiopia who preferred to live a quiet life than confronting Meles. Again there are many of us who raced out to the Western world because Meles screamed at us. Members of UDJ are still in Ethiopia knowing that they might be targets of Zenawi’s killing squads. These people need support and protection, not abuse and senseless mortification. UDJ has taken its first step; let’s give them the necessary time and support to have them shows us the whole staircase. If we have no patience of looking deep into the future, then we need to take a lesson from the Biblical story of Noah. Remember, there was no rain when Noah built the ark. He built it anyways when others ridiculed him because he had a good vision of the future. Criticizing our political parties is the right thing to do, but killing them before they grow is wrong. There are many things that we can do to collectively get closer to victory. If anything else, please let’s avoid any felling of bitterness towards others because bitterness is a cancer that eats upon the host.

Evidently, the proliferation of political parties has a tendency to water down the strength of the opposition camp, but this does not and should not imply that we as a nation should be limited to one party. Even if we believe in the idea of one party, we just don’t have to kill existing parties when we embrace new comers. Our belief is ours and ours only, we can sell it to others, but we must not impose our belief on the general public. UDJ has chosen to stay in side Ethiopia and wage a peaceful struggle. To those of us who have a different strategy, UDJ can be our good ally inside Ethiopia. Some of us might not want to have UDJ as an ally, so be it; but this doesn’t mean that UDJ is our enemy. We must make a distinction between a friend, a potential friend, and a foe. In politics, there is neither permanent alliance nor permanent animosity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox 3

Mozilla released Firefox 3 yesterday and it set a world record for a software download in a 24 hour period. There were only 215 downloads from Ethiopia in that period of time. Kenya had 1367. African countries with the most downloads were South Africa (20514), Egypt (7767), Morocco (5845) and Algeria (4221).

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Congratulations Obama!

Now that Senator Hilary Clinton has gracefully exited out of the race to represent the Democratic Party for President of the United States of America, congratulations to Senator Barack Obama on his historic achievement is in order and best wishes in his campaign for the November election against Senator John McCain.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A leader with no heart and a nation with no rage

By Ephrem Madebo

“The marriage of of leader with no heart and a nation with no rage is a recipe for disaster” My father

In 1991, Zenawi handed Ethiopia’s port of Assab to Eritrea against the will of the Ethiopian people. In 2002, he obstinately gave Bademe to Eritrea after shading the blood of thousands of brave Ethiopians. In 2008, he gave a large strip of land to Sudan. In 2010, 2012, and in 2014 ... What else, and who knows? Does anyone want to know what is left in Zenawi’s gift bag? Well, it is you; it is me; our children, our legacy, and everything that we’re proud of having. Recently, after he gave a good part of Gondar to Sudan, PM Meles addressed the parliament to explain his action. This is what he said:-“The demarcation of the Ethiopia-Sudan border will not displace anybody on either side”. Surprisingly, the applaud in the comatose parliament sounded as if Omar al-Beshir was addressing the Sudanese parliament. What a same! I don’t blame Meles; the problem is all with us. Meles observed us for 17 years and he saw in us what he eagerly wanted to see. Hey, wake up Habesha! Meless’ next move is to export our wives to Dubai and Abudabi and tell the parliament - Don’t worry they will not sleep with another man. Sorry for the foul language, but this is what is looming and I can’t hold it anymore. After all, the plot is on my country!

Oh! My God! What is wrong with the Ethiopian parliament? What is it composed of? Representatives of the people, or a bunch of nitwits that blindly follow the blind move of Meles Zenawi? I can buy your notion of party loyalty, but there is no party loyalty that defies national responsibility. Your ultimate loyalty is to your country, not to your party. Constitutionally, in Ethiopia, sovereignty resides in the parliament i.e., parliament is the ultimate legislative body in the country. Article 8.3 of the constitution states: “Sovereignty shall be expressed through the peoples' representatives, elected by them in accordance with this Constitution, and through their direct democratic participation”. In 1998, the Ethiopian parliament approved a war bill to liberate Bademe. In 2002, the same parliament approved a bill that handed over liberated Bademe back to Eritrea. Dear honorables and fellow country men, do you know that Meles has no business of defining the Ethiopian border? Territorial and border issues are considered only by you [parliament]. You were supposed to be the last line of defense to Ethiopia's unity and territorial integrity; yet, last week, when Meles Zenawi told you that a land has been awarded to Sudan, you applauded just like a fool that missed the joke, but laughed anyway. As long as a bill comes from Isayas Afewerke [through Meles] to annex Tigray, I have no doubt that our lousy ‘yes only’ parliament will gladly pass the bill. Dear honorables, when you as a legislative branch agree with Meles 100% of the time, our nation needs one of you, not both. At least my readers will agree because it’s less of an evil.

Thanks to our fathers and forefathers, the name Ethiopia was synonymous with national pride and valor. I wonder if this is still true and if we still call ourselves the sons and daughters of Tewdros, Menelik, Abdissa, and Balcha. Each of these heroes died so that we can live valiantly today. Actually, they didn’t die; they gave a new beginning to Ethiopians and continuity to Ethiopia. All of these heroes have one thing in common – They all loved Ethiopia more than themselves! Do we? Tewdros and Menelik created a larger Ethiopia. Balcha and Abdissa maintained the greatness of Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie was a failure in his domestic polices and the one who replaced him was a failure in everything. However, both Haile Selassie and Mengistu fought with unmatched tenacity to make sure that each inch of land that belonged to Ethiopia stayed within Ethiopia.

Today, we have a leader that gives our land to outsiders and tells us about a GDP growth to keep us passive. I’m afraid, if our land is sold at this rate, I don’t care if our economy booms or explodes, by the time Ethiopia grows in to the group of middle income nations, there will be no more Ethiopia. All of our past national leaders settled or solved territorial problems before they become national emergency. Emperor Yohannis made a one-way journey to Metema, and “Emeye” Menelik traveled all the way to Adwa to stop aggressor. Today, we have a leader afflicted with psychosis that gives our land to a foreign nation and addresses his parliament to justify his wickedness. If a psychotic glib tongue from no where has the heart to justify the breakup of our country, then either we are created with no heart what so ever, or our existence has no justification. An existence that can not be justified has no value and purpose; and when life is so empty and filled with invariable misery, I think it is worth sacrificing if for the good of the next generation. Are we scared of dying? Well, we all died long time ago when we quietly allowed Meles to realize his dream, so why fear the past? By the way, the strength of our enemy emanates from our fear and weakness. If Mandela was scared of dying, apartheid would have still been the norm in his country; and he wouldn’t have lived to be the first black president of South Africa. Are we scared of losing our property or wealth? Forget wealth or property! We are on the verge of losing mother Ethiopia. What more can we loose? No more hallucination! Ethiopia is making her last call from a virtual grave, let’s wake up and answer the call.

There is no human being that snores when his/her life is in jeopardy, and there is no nation that has no will to fight when its sovereignty is endangered. Why should we? It is true that Ethiopia is a country where principle dominates emotion. This has been proved in the 1960 coup d’√©tat, in the 1974 revolution, and in the very dangerous days of 1991 when we virtually had no government for almost a week. It is good to be a nation of principle, but it is also very important to blend principle with emotion when the moment is right. Emotional reactions are not inherently bad, wrong, rude, or immature. They can often add valuable context to our struggle, making the human element impossible to ignore. The TPLF mobs have hurt us, angered us, and belittled us for seventeen straight years. I don’t understand why our anger doesn’t grow in to rage. Rage, especially now, in this most crucial time of our history, is the most important emotion to heal. Yes in deed, range is necessary to heal a nation that suffers from past and present wounds. Mind you, like I said it above, we are not healing rage when we use angry words in scathing articles. When principle fails to work due to lack of reciprocity, rage is the only way that carries our ability to say NO! Rage helps us to rise to the occasion and forces the bad guys to follow principle.

Is it PM Zenawi’s never-ending conspiracy against our country and his disrespect to the people that shapes Ethiopia of the new millennium, or our determination to continue as a nation? Whose will is stronger; his, or ours? This is not about Tigray, Gondar, Sidamo, or Wellga etc, this is about Ethiopia. Our greatness comes from our indivisibility, and our survival as a nation comes from our collective oneness. For many years our response for the treasons of Zenawi has been a little anger, a little cursing, and a little denouncing. Such soft and toothless responses did not and will not stop Meles Zenawi from completing his diabolic mission. Obviously, it is easy to denounce a traitor like Meles, what is not easy is to understand him and to stop him from committing the next harm. Do we understand Meles? If our answer is yes, then we need to stop him from diminishing Ethiopia. Meles can not and must not prevail; all that is necessary for him to prevail is that we keep on acting like a toothless lion.

I wish I had the opportunity to campaign all over Ethiopia and express my emotion by shading my tear like Hilary Clinton. I’ve had many joyous and sad moments in my life, but I have never felt so empty and powerless in my entire life. When you finish reading this article, please don’t just sympathize with me, gnash your teeth, and go back to dormancy. No, please don’t! We all know that the past hasn’t been so easy and there were many wounds that were never allowed to heal. However, you, I, and we as a society have to depart from the past for the sake of a new begging. Forget the past? Absolutely no because the past is a lesson for tomorrow; we just don’t have to dwell on it. When we have a common destination and a common country that we call home, trust is the only relationship of reliance between us. What is trust? Trust is letting others know our feelings, emotions and reactions, and having the confidence in them to respect us and to not take advantage of us. Trust is the ability to let others into our life so that we and they can create a mutual respect, caring, and concern to assist one another in growing, and lifting our nation independently and collectively. Trust is the only way to transform our individual weaknesses into collective strength; therefore, we should trust each other individually and as a group. Ethiopia is much stronger when the Oromos trust the Amharas, and most importantly, our country will be indivisible and her growth shall be guaranteed when all the other nationalities of Ethiopia trust every move of the Amharas and the Oromos.

Ethiopia is a country that fought for the freedom of other countries, but her own people are dispersed around the globe looking for the very thing that they fought for others. Ethiopia had a well-defined border way before the Norman Conquest of England, today; thanks to a thoughtless leader, Ethiopia’s border is being redefined to appease a country created by England at the dawn of the 20th century. Ethiopia is one of the ancient countries that roamed the seas, today, Ethiopia’s 75million people depend on the port of tiny Djibouti while their pig-headed leader tells the world - “the majority of Ethiopians love to be landlocked” Mind you, this is a script from his interview broadcasted to his own people. Yes, you heard me right! Broadcasted to his own people. What a disgrace and what a pathological liar! My fellow Ethiopians, the story goes on and on and on unless we go out of our way to stop it.

As much as we love our adopted culture of outdoor cooking and a journey to the beach, this summer we must hold back ourselves from all summer rituals to redefine our association with our native land. Yes, summer is a time to renew ourselves with the solar power of the sun; but this summer must be a moment of reflection and a time to renew our covenant with our country. This summer we have to choose between “to be” and “not to be”, between respect and disrespect, between Ethiopia and no Ethiopia. If we fail to make the right choice, we will be ridiculed as a human being, humiliated as a nation, and possibly nicknamed - “African Gypsies”. A war has been waged on our identity. My fellow country men/women, this is not just a war; it is a conspiracy to diminish our geo-political importance in Africa. NOT ON OUR WATCH! I repeat, NOT ON OUR WATCH! We are in a promising horizon and in a new millennium. Our nation is in labor, the cramping and the contraction has begun. Let’s induce this unique labor and welcome the birth of a new leader, a leader that loves Ethiopia and restores the pride of Ethipiawinet. A leader that has the wisdom to lead and the loyalty to follow. Fellow Ethiopians, we are confronted with two choices: a choice to die for others, or a choice to see others die. Well, either way we die. When we die for others, we give them hope and a sense of purpose to live. When we choose to see others die, we die, they die, and we all die. Let’s lead by example, let’s make the right choice. True leadership is not the urge to stand above all; it is the urge to stand for all. God bless Ethiopia!