Monday, June 20, 2005

The Emerging Irony in Ethiopia

By the Network of Ethiopian Scholars, Scandinavian Chapter

Addis Tribune -- Peaceful elections normally occasion a time of celebration. Unfortunately Ethiopia has gone through what seemed to be a largely peaceful election, only to be bolted up and confronted with a reality of yet another murder by heavily armed military and police against the unarmed and peaceful citizens. The popular mood at home and abroad had a high anticipation to celebrate not only for the possibility of scoring peaceful political change for the first time ever in the country’s recorded history but also for the sheer achievement of going through a process of relatively free and fair elections regardless of who wins or loses.

That expectation has been now thoroughly disabused and dashed with stories of vote-rigging, the lack of neutrality of the election board, the declaration of pre-mature victory by Meles & Co. before irregular votes have been recounted, heightening tensions and artificial alarm under the guise of opposing hate campaigns, the deliberate spreading of rumours, fear, mistrust, the numerous arrest of opposition members, the needless action by Meles to order the murder of peaceful protestors and above all to sell all these dastardly actions so arrogantly and insensitively as ‘legitimate’ to the foreign media.

It is indeed a tragic turn to witness once more that the nation is being forced to carry the burden, reality and memory of dealing with death and mourning when there was everything going for it to experience a collective sense of joy and buoyancy. This is what makes the current killing not easy to understand or tolerate. It has been reported that apparently a specially recruited Agaazi troops loyal to Meles have been flown from Tigray to Addis Ababa and the other main cities to commit these atrocities. Nothing justifies this type of action if the reports are true.

It is time that Meles & Co. must pay a grave political price, if, at all; true justice is going to be done. They cannot go away easily out of their irresponsible actions anymore by using their verbal pyrotechnics. People know better and realise Meles lacks not only historical sense but also now clearly also a democratic sense. There can be no self-exoneration of this crime by claiming contrived justification of any sort after the hard fact of death exhibited before the world. Why did they go to the extent of bringing extra-regional forces? What is wrong with relying on the local security personnel unless there is mistrust of the local security personnel? The courts have to be involved, the full truth and extent, intrigue and responsibility of Meles in this crime have to be exposed. The Ethiopian people throughout the breadth and depth of the land must not give up their peaceful protest and peaceful disobedience to secure collective justice for all the bereaved families that lost so brazenly and embarrassingly their loved ones.

The killing also sharply brings into relief not only the political impact on the future of democracy in Ethiopia, but also the existential impact on the loved ones who have to bear such unexpected loss. Those who are directly affected by the deaths of loved ones will find it terribly difficult to learn to forget their loss. After all the families probably laboured hard and strong to bring up their sons and daughters to university level and then to lose them so easily by officially ordered violence is unforgivable as it would be forever unforgettable. Nothing will replace their sons and daughters for them. The rest of their lives will probably continue to be lived with spasms of deep sorrow from their loss. In Ethiopia, stopping the tradition of politics that terrorises, and replacing it with one that heals through debate and public participation is an essential part of the democratic turn. Is this turn here yet or is it still a long way down the line? The full significance of ordering killing in the midst of democratic elections must be unearthed and known.

The Hypocrisy of the Official Account of the arrests and the Killings

According to Meles the terror was unleashed on the peaceful protestors because “things were beginning to get out of control.” He claimed they have to choose and use “forceful action.” The defeated candidate of Lalibea or the unelected propaganda minister Bereket Simon has been quoted to respond to the killing with the following statement: “Anyone who incites violence, other than those elected, will have to face the law.” Bereket’s logic makes Meles and not himself, who failed to win his seat in Lalibela, above the law. Meles won a seat in an Adwa district with 100% vote unopposed and seems to have broken the record of past one party election that always claim victory with 99 % like Ex- Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, leaving very often 1 % for some unknown dissidents that they themselves curiously know about. Incidentally the latter was driven out of life and history in the end for murder and embezzlement. According to Bereket, elected Meles can incite violence and get away with it because he is ‘legitimated.’ And Bereket’s logic seems to warrant that being elected bestows a legitimacy to be above the law and to order action when the elected like Meles imagine things may be beginning to spin out of control. The question is this: How one can read as “out of control” the peaceful demonstrations of students or the strike of taxi drivers or even the possible civil disobedience that citizens may use in the coming days, is every one’s guess. In a time of election where the general behaviour has been invariably cheerfully peaceful, any association of citizens and opposition rallies poses no threat either to the sitting Government or the process.

There is no hard evidence that neither the population nor the opposition had either the inclination or intention to create “instability” in the country. Ironically it is Meles & Bereket that assumed this intention and inclination and acted with authoritarian completeness to bring about exactly what they feared, a state where they can kill and arrest at will all over the country. They have begun to attack citizens without remorse or care.

Let us say at least Meles can claim being elected. But Bereket has lost the election. He has joined the ranks of the unelected. According to his logic, he too should face the full brunt of the law not pretend to be above the law and arrest and be part of the order that kills citizens. Ato Lidetu, Engineer Hailu Shawl, Dr. Berhanu Nega and others who have been subjected to restrictions and detentions have been elected. According to Bereket’s jaundiced logic, they too would be above the law. Nevertheless, they are still treated by Meles and Berket as if they have not been elected and legitimated. The rejected Bereket is still in a position, if he wants to, to harass, intimidate, detain and arrest the legitimately and duly elected members of the opposition leadership. By his own logic, Bereket is the one that should be liable to be detained and the opposition leaders should be free. Meles cares less for election because he says if the situation gets hotter, he is ready to intimidate, detain, arrest or ban the elected from travel. Bereket’s logic escapes and goes past Meles. Should Bereket criticise Meles then? Whatever they are up to, these fellows seem to suffer from bad logic, not just bad politics. They seem confused and do neither appear to coordinate their thinking or their intended actions. Confused against each other, these characters confuse the Ethiopian population and the world.

Meles also shows another of his usual cunning contempt for the choices people made. He said, referring to the loss of his protégés: ” The individuals did not lose, it is the party which lost.” This is indeed an ominous give-away of what his intentions are for the next five years. He is preparing the ground to bring back to Government characters such as Bereket even though they were voted out of their constituencies. There are also a number of ministers that were voted out. They too might be re-invited by Meles to join a future Government that he wishes to form alone. The attempt to bring back those that have been de-legitimized through loss of seats is nothing but an act of incitement and affront to the people of Ethiopia that will no doubt challenge their forbearance and gaud them to resist. It is to impose unelected officials by throwing the gauntlet to the people to accept what they rejected through the ballot-box. The emerging irony is that the rejected would be used to rule as if they were the elected and legitimate rulers. But since they are unelected, assuming the protest by the people continues, and if these unelected officials incite forceful action to control, the law should be after them to use Bereket’s logic. The prospect of re-inviting unelected former officials to power will make the next five years one of the most trying times in Ethiopia’s long historical durée. This is a prospect that no Ethiopian wishes to see. And all who think for Ethiopia should dread this prospect. It is, however, probable that is what is behind the thinking of Meles & Co.

If Meles has any vision, he would have taken a different course, a course of engaging with the opposition and bringing about a national social contract involving all the significant stakeholders in the country. It appears that at no time has Meles said, hinted anything related to bringing in the opposition and trying to work with them by including them in the next five years. Meles and his party talk of setting up a Government based with their own exclusive monopoly on their own counting and pre-maturely announced victory. The loose talk by Meles that Bereket and others that as individuals Bereket and others did not ‘lose’, it is only EPDRF as a party that lost is an invitation by the back door that these persons will be invited to misgovern the already highly wronged, angry and protesting Ethiopian population. Meles is looking to use these unelected ministers and officials now more than ever, since they are vulnerable and have no base except to swear 100 % loyalty to Meles. He will use them to bolster his personal dictatorship and they will serve him by fulfilling his every whim by doing his bidding.

The role Bereket is playing as minister of propaganda in inflaming tension in the country is related to the loss of his own personal credibility suffering from the psychological syndrome of the rejected and the de-legitimised. He is not just a lame duck; he is a rejected minister by the popular vote. His denunciation of the opposition’s gains by belittling their efforts that it is the “wind that blew the votes to their ballot boxes” shows his arrogance as it tries to mask his deeper insecurities and weaknesses. He is putting out arrogant and inflammatory rhetoric at a time when his de-election should have sent a warning signal to him to step aside, show humility and try to do what the former ex-president did. The latter run as an independent and won an election in this round. Instead Bereket is permitted to play out his insecurities by contributing to the worsening climate in Ethiopia by inciting forceful action, justifying detention and arrest of opposition leaders around the country by serving only Meles loyally and not the country. He should take a leaf from the ex-president and try to re-win legitimacy. What is critically important is for Bereket not to contribute to a situation that will make it difficult for himself and Meles and others not to live in the country as citizens. As a rejected minister, it is strange that Meles contemplates retaining these persons whose liability is more than anything they offer to the country and the people. Meles and Bereket must be stopped from continuing to damage democracy and the country.

There is even a larger danger of inciting ethnic tensions. Meles & Co. seem to be even playing a more sinister game to ignite or aggravate ethic tensions in the Addis

Ababa than their other easily discernable gimmicks. It has been reported that the OPDO or the Oromo People Democratic Organisation has decided to move the capital from Nazareth (Adama) to Addis Ababa. Meles & Co. threw out this idea when it was raised by the OPDO in the past. What makes it right to permit this now especially at a time when Addis Ababa is meant to pass into CUD’s control, the party that won overwhelmingly all the seats in the city? What brought about this rush and change? This is no doubt designed to aggravate the tension in the capital and shows Meles & Co. are singularly pursuing the goal of exclusively controlling power everywhere by any means possible.

Is the Worst Over for Ethiopia?

Meles & Bereket do not fathom the significance of their order to shoot to kill. They see this as if it is a matter of the counts of the numbers killed, the arithmetic of the death toll, and not the algebra of the politics it signifies. They have not understood that it is ‘never again’ for Ethiopians in relation to subjecting citizens to death, killing and terror any more. Enough is enough. A genuinely gentle people, Ethiopians have been through a lot of these murders. This kind of politics that kills unarmed citizens even if these citizens may show one form of civil dissent or another will not, cannot, and must not be condoned.

As long as Meles and his rejected propaganda minister continue to want to order to kill or incite to take forceful action because of their unreasoning reasons that bolster them to justify the lethal actions they take to be above the law, we cannot yet say the “worst is over” for our country as Ethiopia is still lumbered such persons. We say to Meles’ description that the worst is over to foreign journalists is wrong from diagnosis to prescription, and from intention to reality. His related assertion and bragging that “ our democracy” is “maturing” does not hold water either. Meles justifies the killing of citizens and holds his breath and claims shamelessly by bragging that “our democracy matures.” Only when Meles brings protest under control with democracy and not killing can we say there is a new direction to maturity. From the April 11, 2001 massacre of unarmed students, this latest one invokes the larger tragic history of terror the nation has been forced to endure. When will this recurrent episode and reversion or reflex to resort almost instinctively to terror and the politics of deceit stop from being re-enacted by power holders? It is within this larger context and view that we must place the recent killing of unarmed citizens and the sorrow we all felt. The democracy we seek, and the kind of political power that needs to be constructed must make it impossible to make the killing legal of those who march peacefully and associate freely as part of the expression of their democratic, civil and political rights.

Given the abundance of force, terror, deception and fraud in the country’s political life, the lack of transparency, ethnicity and moral and political principles, as Meles & Co. repeatedly admit they cannot afford “ principles”, the time is long overdue to change historical course. One important milestone that all Ethiopians who care for the people, country and nation must strive for is to make the resort to terror impossible by building democratic procedures, institutions and substantive values and visions. A value or principle that takes the killing of one Ethiopian is like the killing of all us, and, equally important, the saving of one life is as if it is like saving of all the lives of each and every one of Ethiopian citizens. Democratic politics should ingrain such deep values. This latest killing of 26 officially confirmed citizens, intimidation by arresting opposition leaders and activists throughout the country flies in the face of institutionalising democratic politics in Ethiopia.

Democracy in Ethiopia means that we deal collectively as parties, civic organisations, and citizens with the long history of Ethiopia that has been autocratic and authoritarian. The legacy of that tradition has left a tasteless tragic story to our existential, political, social and cultural lives. It has embroiled our country to suffer from being a victim of proxy wars during the Cold War. Our youth was decimated by terror. The nation has been traumatised ever since and we have not yet fully recovered from the loss of a generation. The politics in the country remains violent even at a time that the demand for respect of human rights and democratic governance is strong. Leaders often think if they do not behave arrogantly they would not be taken seriously. The more they abuse the more they they think they can govern. A leader in Ethiopia until today is one who fixes his existential identity by a dictum like this: “I abuse, therefore I am’, much as Descartes used to define his time and himself with’ I think, therefore I am.’ Meles openly talks to the press with arrogance and ignorance about extending military rule by prolonging the state of emergency, a sure mechanism to continue harassing and arresting citizens and even possibly re-launching terror and death on a grander scale.

Oblivious to the fact that citizens who voted are angered by his own behaviour of relying on the military to deny them the significance and meaning of their exercise of the rights of voting, he blames the situation he created for continuing the policies of repression: “ If things get hotter they (meaning opposition leaders) will be detained without any question. If that’s intimidation, so be it.” That is an attitude, which simply is destructive and fails to exhibit any higher purpose or vision that is expected of leadership. The reason why the process is derailed has nothing to do with what opposition groups may have intended or not or said or not, it is due primarily to the overreaction of the panicky and arrogant Meles. It is the train of events such as banning all demonstrations, declaring a state of emergency and imposing a cognitive strategy of dealing with the situation by anticipating, ascribing subjectively bad intentions to the opposition, fearing popular resistance and reacting to all of these with force that is at the heart of the current crises.

NES demands:

  • Meles and Bereket show immediately and unconditionally, with humility and sensitivity accountability to the families that lost their loved ones.
  • Immediate release of all detainees in every part of the country.

  • Release all opposition leaders that have been arrested.

  • Those who are elected should be in parliament and not in prison or house arrest.

  • Stop extending any ban that can lead to killing and arrests.

  • Desist from future arrests, detentions, intimidation and harassment.

  • Never again should any winner use lethal means of force against peaceful protestors of any type.

  • Develop the tradition and art of using non-lethal means of protest control that puts no one in harm’s way.

  • Not to ban people from showing their grievances through peaceful protest.

  • Send to the barracks the army, including the so-called reported Agaazi armed units that have been apparently deployed into the major cities.

  • Enter into direct negotiation with all the opposition parties to create a peaceful environment for free flow of information, democratic debate, use of public media, and work for national renaissance.

  • Call on all the external powers especially the USA and UK that have so much hand in helping to install Meles & Co in the first place against our protest at the time, to put maximum pressure now to knock sense into Meles and beat back his overweening, cheap, insensitive, inhumane and disgusting arrogance.

  • Call on the USA and UK Governments and their followers to reject tying their interests to Meles and his clique and even when the latter so obliviously and fragrantly violates the peoples will and engages in unsavoury activities like legitimising the killing of peaceful protestors.

  • That opposition groups unite and think of the country’s destiny above any other interests and try to work together with unconditional cooperation for a government of national concord.

  • Call on all opposition groups to be strategic, learn to walk together and negotiate from a united and single voice to undo the bag of tricks of Meles and his clique.

  • Concluding Remarks

    For Ethiopia democracy has a much deeper meaning than just going through the motion of elections. It means there will be no more terror, neither the reality nor memory of it. It means a new historical chapter, no more authoritarianism or violence in effecting political transitions. It is high time that the current regime understands that it does not have the backing of the population of Ethiopia. Even if it assumes it has won the majority in parliament, the next five years on its own will not be easy to coast through. The new forces grouped around the opposition have shown sufficient strength to be reckoned with. The striving to deflect this by all sorts of tricks, talk, threats and cunning would be myopic. This is time to rise beyond the blinding vision of self-interest and try to anticipate the future of the people, the nation and the country with foresight and vision.

    Let the Ethiopian people celebrate the result of their democratic expressions through the vote in peace. Let Meles & Co through fear and selfishness NOT deny them their glorious moment of joy and historic achievement. We say the sooner the state of emergency and military authoritarian rule is lifted, the better for all concerned…for the people, the country and the nation including also for the democratic process. We have seen before millions of citizens lawfully and peacefully marching led at one time by the regime and at another by the opposition sides, things went without any reported incident of death. There is no reason to assume that people will march in any other way than peacefully despite the provocations of voting irregularities, heavy handed and military measures. It is these measures that need to be rescinded without delay for peaceful environment to resurface in the land. Let us all say and mean it as well: At last let freedom ring in Ethiopia and for Ethiopia at all levels!

    Professor Mammo Muchie, Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
    Berhanu G. Balcha, Vice-Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter

    Contact address:
    Fibigerstraede 2
    9220- Aalborg East
    Tel. + 45 96 359 813 Or +45 96 358 331
    Fax + 45 98 153 298
    Cell:+45 3112 5507
    Email: mammo@ihis.aau.dk or berhanu@ihis.aau.dk

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