Thursday, January 29, 2009

Victory always follows unity, even in the dictionary!

By Ephrem Madebo

It is a shame and it is a dreadful indignity to submit our right, freedom, and our country to the few timid.

If we Ethiopians have any boundless resource, it is our unrealized potential!

The political fallout of the last four years and its consequences, such as the sudden crack in the opposition camp has left many Ethiopians in the dark looking an answer for the question – Oh my God! What in the hell did go wrong? For those who started the long journey well aware of the daunting path, there was no a single justifiable answer; hence they gathered the pieces of the crack, put it together, and continued the journey. Yet, for many of us, the past four years were times of perplexity and political hibernation. In general, for millions of Ethiopians who witnessed the genesis of a new era [in May 2005], the past four years have been times of hope and despondency, elevation and degradation, agony and short lived ecstasy. Today, the key question is not what happened four years ago, but what can and what should we do in the next four years. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not telling you to ignore yesterday. All I’m saying is let’s not allow our paralysis of yesterday rule over our analysis of tomorrow.

Thanks to our fathers and forefathers, the name Ethiopia has for long been synonymous with national pride and valor. For all of us, especially, for those of us who reside outside Ethiopia, this national pride has been our last hiding banner where we all sought refuge from television screens that showed Ethiopian hunger and from the cover pages that read “Ethiopia the Poorest Nation on Earth”. Today, our problems are not just hunger and poverty. In a matter of days, the land that bears the precious blood of our ancestors will no more be ours. Our mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers do not have a tiny fraction of the rights that we enjoy here in our adopted land. Ethiopia is as old as the word democracy itself, but thanks to the villains from ‘Dedebit’, Ethiopians have never tasted the fruits of democracy. Should this continue unabated and unchallenged? Well, it goes without saying that your answer as a reader is no, but “no” by itself has never been good enough. Some of us said no almost 50 years ago, some 30 years, and many of us 15 to 25 years ago. It is evident that no matter how toned our “no” was; it has been fruitless with out a coordinated action! It is imperative to know that strong words, opinions, and reactions are very important to our struggle, but without action they waste our time and ruin our soul.

In the last 18 years, in spite of our magnitude and superior cause, we as a society have been despised, ridiculed, and considered inconsequential. We have been called “Tooth less lions” and “Paper Tigers”. For how long do we allow this humiliation and suffering to continue? Where is our anger? Where is our rage? Where is our determination to be free? Where is the courage to say “enough is enough”, and where is the wisdom and the strength to vigorously follow our vision and live the life we imagined? It is very difficult to understand why our anger and teeth gnashing can’t grow into a rage! When our patience is taken for fear, and when our farsightedness is mistaken for ignorance, rage should be our source of energy that gives us the strength to overcome the bad guys. Make no mistake, rage is necessary to heal a nation that suffers from wounds inflicted by home made enemies. Our struggle for freedom and democracy lacks emotional reactions. Trust me, emotional reactions are not inherently bad, wrong, rude, or immature. They can often add valuable context to our struggle and give us the momentum when we think we are dozed off.

Over the past two decades many Ethiopians have increasingly been concerned over the human rights conditions of their people and the territorial integrity of their country. In particular, millions of Ethiopians have shown a grave concern on the ever worsening conditions of the country’s north western border with Sudan. During the last 18 years, a plethora of human rights activists, journalists, concerned citizens, academicians, foreign governments and international organizations have issued calls to action highlighting the dramatically deteriorating human rights conditions of the Ethiopian people. Today, after two decades of national and international outcry, human right conditions in Ethiopia are one of the worst in the world, and the challenges to overcome them have become accelerated and more acute.

How do we overcome these challenges? All in all, what should we do to free our people from the bondage of the TPLF gangs? There are so many things that we need to do, and the very first of all is, the willingness to sacrifice what we are for what we want to become. If we truly love our country, then we must understand that love always involves responsibility and sacrifice. Our country Ethiopia is a large nation where there are different stakeholders who have conflicting interests. In spite of size and past political history, we must treat every stakeholder equally and make sure that their voices are heard. We must be willing to compromise on our differences, and work collectively in areas of common interest. Most of us share a culture where compromise is usually a sign of weakness, or an admission of defeat. Actually, compromise is the art of coming together, and the science of avoiding conflicts. When we compromise we bend a little, but we fit in; without compromise, we break apart, and we stand alone. Remember, to move the sprit of a nation, we should first move our own sprit. Let’s move our sprit and shake off the ghosts of fear!

If there is anything so fundamental and anything so important that warrants a “do or die” urgency, it must be the unity of the Ethiopian opposition groups. This unity is not just between groups and parties; it should be with and within the different organized stakeholders and ordinary citizens. If the beauty of democracy that we fought for years means anything to us, and if we want to free our people from the ethnocratic rule of one man, we must utterly free our mind from the solo attitude of yesterday and start a collective journey with a collective sense of purpose. It is true that we have the option to do some things separately or individually, but still unity is not an option for any conscious Ethiopian that understands the calamitous circumstances of our mother land. Yes, we have the right to choose among alternatives, but we have to realize that our choice is not always the right choice. The day before yesterday, yesterday, and even today we chose a solitary journey, but we got no where. What about tomorrow? Well, we have neither the option, nor the ability to fix the mistakes of yesterday. But, if we are ready to make the right choice today, freedom and justice for our people are just a choice away. That choice is unity!!!

Sometimes the tiresome journey of freedom may burden us with the dire forces of hopelessness and helplessness; and such a burden is agonizing if we are struggling in our daily life. Sometimes we can be disappointed at people around us, sometimes death may claim the life of our comrades, and sometimes the pace of the struggle against tyranny may diminish our patience, however, in spite of all these adversities, we should never loose hope in our country, for hope is the only force that gathers our spirit for a new beginning. Even when we are confronted with seemingly hopeless situations, let’s hope that peace freedom, and justice will be the norms of our nation. Let’s all live in this hope and live for this hope. For the Ethiopian people, hope is more than just a democratic government; it is mending many broken hearts and healing many tortured minds.

As much as we love dialogues and as deeply as we are engaged in party politics; it is perplexing that we often are so committed to our own position and fail to consider the position of others. We also fail to reason out why we are holding this position, and whether such a position is likely to achieve our interest. Often, one of the parties defines its objectives in terms of negotiable interests while the other defines in terms must accept “Bible” like creeds that are not usually considered negotiable. Such disagreements make a resolution very hard to obtain. In general, obstinacy, lack of listening and the attitude of “My way or the highway” have always been the chronic diseases of our political establishment.

When we deal with others, it is very important that we have the courage to stand up and speak; and have that same courage to sit down and listen. Human beings are logical as well as emotional; therefore, as much as we like to deal with their logical side, we have to be thoughtful that there are many people who are emotionally charged. When we are engaged in dialogue(s), we have to be very careful not to hurt the feelings of others. Evidently, dialogues empower people and provide shared meaning; therefore, it is impossible to talk, or to even be in the same room when all parties start the dialogue with the assumption - “we are right” or “we must win”. It is so important to enter into dialogues with a willingness to change. The fruits of a dialogue must force our heart to open itself and replace the misfortunes of the past with the hope of the future. When we are engaged in dialogues, we have to honor all parties involved, we have to seek collective intelligence, develop a shared understanding, and embrace possibilities. The people in the dialogue may forget some of the things we said, but they will never forget how we made them feel and the respect we gave them.

It is not a coincidence that I selected “Unity” as the subject matter of this article; actually, it is a conscious move driven by the people from the blood lands of Bademe to the dry lands of Moyale and from the western cost of Assosa to the eastern tip of Jijjga. Unity is the loud spoken word that I heard from coast to coast, and of course, unity is the only vehicle that takes the north, the south, the east and the western parts of our country to the promise land as a single unit. Unity is the weapon that the TPLF gangs fear the most. The Meles machine doesn’t fight our superior idea, if it did or if it does, TPLF would have been a party in the opposition since May 2005. The TPLF gang fights our unity for it is our unity that makes this killing machine out of gas.

I don't think any Ethiopian would actually say that he/she supports oppression or injustice. Evidently, to what degree one supports or objects the TPLF regime may be debatable; what is not debatable is that the TPLF regime is taking our country to its grave. In order to stop this problem, we all need to come together. We can't ignore our differences; we need to work with them because our differences are the sources of rich idea. We can't discount the people next door, for all the work they do compliments ours; and we can’t ignore the idea of others, for that alone gives us width and depth. The day before yesterday we tried my agenda, yesterday we tried your agenda, today, it’s about time that we try our agenda. The survival of our nation depends on the willingness of our generation to sacrifice its time, finance, and when necessary, its life. If we don’t; our country dies, and we all die too. If we want to be remembered like our fathers and forefathers, let’s be willing to sacrifice ourselves for a cause greater than our life. Amen!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tamrat Layne and Debteraw

I just read an open letter addressed to Tamrat Layne, a former prime minister of Ethiopia, by a group called Assimba Forum. The group welcomes Tamrat's generic confession at a church in Addis Ababa after he was released from 12 years of incarceration by a regime he helped to come to power, but it is skeptical about the breadth and depth of his confession. The letter implies that Tamrat knows the whereabouts of their colleague by the name of Tsegaye Gebremedhin (Debteraw) and implores him to come clean.

Ethiopian Recycler

If you have not yet discovered it already, a keen observer of Ethiopian politics has been blogging his thoughts on Ethiopian Recycler since September 2008, and I highly recommend that you check him out regularly by bookmarking his blog or using the link provided on the right. Here is his take on Meles's attempt to adopt to the Obama Administration:

If you complained Ethiopian rulers lacked originality to a point of parroting the outgoing President Bush and his "war on terror," you haven't seen the half of it.

Here we go:

President Obama says, "Change we need. Change we can believe in."

PM Meles' response?: “At some time and at some stage things will be changed and we are ready for the changes to come.” [He is so eager to please the incoming Administration that he used the word “change” twice in the same sentence.] In the coming months be prepared to hear a lot of “soft power” [applied to Eritrea and Somalia with the exception of any opposition NOT tied to the ruling minority by ethnicity or loot; we will also be bored to tears by another round of ‘development’ or the ‘developmental state.’]

We are aware by now that government bailout of failing institutions in the West has replaced “war on terror” for authoritarian regimes; the ruling minority in Ethiopia is so audacious that it has effectively centralized major political, financial and civic activities [and enacting the Charities and Societies Law.] The World Bank would not dare to look authoritarian rulers in the eye and preach its gospel of “free market” or non-state intervention! It can’t get any better than this for those threatened by democracy and public accountability!

The Opposition in and outside Ethiopia [if ever it could muster a consensus] has a lot of grounds to cover.

1. Begin with Alamoudi. We now know Alamoudi's donation to Clinton Foundation to date is $5 million [not $20 million as we were led to believe, though the amount was pledged.]

2. Today Hillary Clinton was confirmed as the Secretary of State [don't believe for a moment there will not be a conflict of interest.] Hillary is already talking about development and 'soft power' to guide her department. And Bill Clinton's war on HIV/AIDS and poverty should go hand-in-hand like the husband and wife. Don't forget Clinton Foundation has operations in Ethiopia. Go figure.
You can read the rest here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Elders: Time to Speak Up is Now

By Fikru Helebo

Elders in Ethiopia are well respected and, in some cases, they are revered. I reckon that most, if not all, languages of Ethiopia have words in them with which one expresses respect to an elder (such as Gashe, Abba, etc...), and the fact that a plural form of a verb is used to describe an elderly person indicates that the Ethiopian culture gives much respect to wisdom and perspective that can only be attained with getting older. This is not to say that all elderly Ethiopian people are wise. Truth be told, some aren't. And then there are those elders who abuse this respect that society has accorded to them. This, too, as unfortunate as it is, must be taken into account when discussing about the role of elders.

Elders play a significant role in settling disputes within a family or among community members at the local level. However, I am not familiar with elders playing a role in settling disputes at the national level in modern Ethiopian political history, although there have been some instances where elders have played a role in bringing peace at a regional level
(please correct me if I am wrong in this assumption). So, when I learned in the summer of 2007 that a group of Ethiopian elders led by Professor Ephraim Issac had played a key role in securing the release from prison of CUD (Kinijit) leaders, I was very skeptical about it and did not think it was worth mentioning in my blog entry at that time.

Now that Birtukan Mideksa, one of those leaders who were released as a result of the elders mediation efforts, is back in jail for speaking about the process that led to the release of the political prisoners, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the role that the elders had played was tainted as many, including myself, had suspected. To understand how tainted the role that the elders had played was, one only needs to read the very first statement the prisoners of conscience had issued after their release and score that statement against what the elders have and have not done between then and now. So, if any of these elders have any allegiance to the truth and have respect for the role elders play in Ethiopian society, it is incumbent on them to come forward and explain the role they had played in the release of the prisoners and the whole mediation process to the Ethiopian public now.

Here is a portion from an article by Professor Mesfin Worldemariam, a fellow prisoner of Britukan's, that underscores the necessity for the elders to speak up:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Solidarity with Birtukan Mideksa

The incarceration of Birtukan Mideksa, the first female leader of a major Ethiopian political party, by the Woyane regime a week ago is a sad commentary on the state of politics in Ethiopia.

The regime, which is being forced to end its occupation of Somalia and is in the process of retreating, believes this action will distract attention from its defeat in Somalia while at the same time breaking the resolve of Ethiopians to demand freedom from tyranny. Tough luck. With Birtukan willing to go to jail, again, to defend the truth, Ethiopians may have found a leader with backbone and a steely determination to stand up to Meles.

"The values that guide me are truth and fairness." -- Birtukan Mideksa, October 29, 2008

Sunday, January 04, 2009

ESAi Literature Contest

The Ethiopian Students Association, international (ESAi) is sponsoring a literature contest among high school students in Ethiopia and is inviting Ethiopians from arround the world to read the ten finalists of the submitted writings (in Amharic) and vote for their favorite piece online starting January 5, 2009 on their web site. A portion of the statement from ESAi reads as follows:

ESAi invited one hundred Ethiopian high schools to participate in a Literature Contest. Students were invited to choose from many topics that range from social and economic issues to politics, or choose their own topic. Three winners were to be selected from the entrants and be awarded a total of $1000 depending on their ranks.

We received entries from high schools in the different regions of the country over summer 2008. Judges selected from the ESAi membership have read each one and selected ten finalists. The next and final step is putting these finalists up for two rounds of public vote to select the three winners.

This project was initiated, funded and managed by members and friends of ESAi, most of who are young students. As such, we are very proud of it. And we would like to share this achievement with the global Ethiopian community.

Sharing our achievement, however, is not the only reason we are extending our invitation. We want to showcase the works of those students to the world. We believe that they have poured their hearts into sending us these entries and the least they deserve is to be heard.

Kudos to ESAi for organizing such an event! Please help them out by reading the literature and by voting for your favorite one.