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Thursday, February 23, 2006

In the company of legends

(By Dr.Yonnas Gondemo, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)

Today February 23, 2006 Ethiopia's opposition leaders, journalists and human rights activists have gone on trial for treason and attempted genocide - marking yet another sad day in Ethiopia’s recent History that will live forever in infamy.

On a day such as this, it is important to remember history’s giants who in their time were also persecuted for their beliefs in human rights and political freedom. We have compiled excerpts of two famous speeches. The first excerpt is from a speech given by a living legend renowned for his steadfast determination: and the second by an icon whose name is synonymous with peaceful resistance. We hope these speeches will give strength and sustenance to all in the struggle for freedom, justice and everlasting peace in Ethiopia.

At the opening of the defense case in the Rivonia Trial, Nelson Mandela gave his famous "I am prepared to die" speech. At the conclusion of the trial, June 1964: Mandela and seven others - Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg - were convicted. Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage and like the others was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech:

“Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on color, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s trial by the British, known as “the great trial” was held on Saturday, 18th of March 1922. At the conclusion of the trial Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison but only served about two years of the sentence and was released on February 1924.

Here’s an excerpt from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s trial statement of 1922:

In my opinion, non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good. But in the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiples evil, and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence.

Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.

The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal.”

Let us conclude with a quote that captures the true essence of Ethiopia’s struggle for democracy and economic independence.

"For us democracy is a question of human dignity. And human dignity is political freedom, the right to freely express opinion and the right to be allowed to criticise and form opinions. Human dignity is the right to health, work, education and social welfare. Human dignity is the right and the practical possibility to shape the future with others. These rights, the rights of democracy, are not reserved for a select group within society; they are the rights of all the people."

--Olof Palme, the late Swedish Prime Minister

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mengistu unleashed in Zimbabwe

The former military ruler of Ethiopia, Ex-dictator Mengistu Halilemariam, has not been sitting idly waiting for time to take its course. New allegations are surfacing that accuse the colonel of dabbling in Zim. politics. A Zimbabwean news service is reporting it has acquired evidence that proves Mengistu was the brains behind a recent controversial “clean-up” campaign that left millions homeless. According to ZimOnline, mengistu has been Mugabe's security adviser for quite sometime.

Here’s an excerpt from the article

“(Mengistu) first suggested the slum clearance idea to Mugabe in February, at one of the regular meetings he holds with the president and other senior security chiefs from the army, the CIO and the police………………. Other meetings chaired by Mengistu followed, during which video clippings of Zimbabwe's 1998 food riots, as well as footage of mass uprisings in the Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia, were shown to the group, which called itself Operation Murambatsvina's "high command"…………………… Mengistu then prepared a final document on the operation, which he submitted to Mugabe. The president endorsed it. Operation Murambatsvina, according to the plan, was to be implemented in phases, starting with flea markets suspected of fuelling economic crimes, mainly illegal foreign-currency trade."

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Message to the Youth

(By Golto Aila)

If you are an Ethiopian under forty, you probably don’t recall much of Emperor Haile Silasie’s reign. You will have lived under dictatorial rule for all your adult life, or you may have run away from your country to live in peace somewhere else. Even though you are thousands of miles away from all the turmoil , you are still restless; for you are mindful of the terrible life your loved ones whom you left behind go through day in and day out. you are physically in a free country, yet remain a prisoner in your innermost core.

If you are in your mid to late teens, you are most likely preoccupied with avoiding pit falls of an ever expanding net which has been cast to trap a youth like you. A trap set by your own government whose job it was to provide you with opportunities for your future success. Unlike the past, it is not the white man that is trying to enslave you but your own government, which considers your very presence a threat to its existence. Instead of nurturing you, protecting you, and strengthening you, your government is eliminating, imprisoning and undermining you. You have lost parents, siblings and friends.

History books tell you wonderful stories about your country’s glorious past and its old civilization. While all this knowledge fills you up with pride, the reality you are in makes it impossible for you to relate. Your country is blessed with natural resources, yet it is perennially begging for food.

Man’s selfish and primitive desire to dominate others through impoverishment, has led Ethiopia down a slippery slop it finds itself in today. Ethnic based regionalism: uses the old “divide and rule” tactic implemented by the colonial rulers, under the guise of providing development and cultural tolerance. Diversity which in a healthy society is a sign of strength, has been used to weaken our country, for a selfish, myopic and short- lived objectives.

These are the pitfalls my generation has fallen prey to, but you the hope of our new Ethiopia, must avoid at all cost:

· Ethnocentric jingoism
· Intolerance for political dissent
· Cultural insensitivity
The current TPLF Government has shown it will not hesitate to use ethnicity as a tool to advance its narrow political agenda. Even if it negatively affects the constituencies it purports to represent or the country as a whole. Ethnocentric views are not only tolerated but also encouraged, because the longer the divide between the people, the longer TPLF stays in power.

The most persistent pernicious problem in Ethiopian politics is the fact that opposition is not tolerated. Expressions of opposing views are taken as an insult. Differences in political opinions are taken personally and interpreted as a commentary on the person rather than a repudiation of an idea. Expression of opposing view points is the strength of civilized and progressive people. The western world is what it is today because of the freedom to express one’s views. It is the height of ignorance that leads to rejection of this ingredient needed for social and political advancement.

For the sake of your generation and the generations to follow, stand up and be counted. You must change the paradigm of Ethiopian Politics. Vow to create something new today, while you have your youth, your vitality; your prodigious imagination and daring. Then you can look back with pride at what you have accomplished for posterity. Today’s generation is looking at a waste land which looks unrecognizable by the day. It’s unbearable to watch what is unfolding. Promise yourself not to let this be your fate in the coming years.

Organize, mobilize, create a forum that facilitates exchange of ideas, learn your history with all the good plus the bad and progress forward. Be active politically and support the organizations which are committed to a unitary Ethiopia. Be culturally sensitive. For the sake of yourself and your Ethiopia, avoid idiotic notions of ethnocentrism; avoid the jokes, the fables and sayings that purport the superiority of one over the other. While you’re at it, don’t forget your Eritrean brethren who are victims like yourself. Construct the image of the new Ethiopia first in your imagination and then work towards that dream in unity and tolerance.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Analyzing “The Analysis”

(by Dr.Yonnas Gondemo, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)

For anyone that has not yet read CSIS’s (Center for Strategic and International Studies) article (written by Professor Terrence Lyons) I urge you to do so. These are the people that provide decision makers here in the U.S with “strategic insights” on situations happening around the globe. Policy makers heavily rely on the analysis that they get from such organizations to shape their views. Therefore it is strategically beneficial for us (in the struggle) to know how they perceive the situation.

In his analysis of the current situation in Ethiopia, Professor Terrence Lyons (George Mason University) came up with three scenarios (possible outcomes):

The first scenario is that some mechanism is found to strengthen the more pragmatic elements in both the ruling party and the opposition while simultaneously marginalizing their respective rejectionist wings.

Let's not forget, CUD’s 8-Point Precondition to Enter Parliament was a compromise which would have made this scenario a reality. But EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front) was not able/willing to reciprocate. The article makes an important point:

Sustained and meaningful international pressure and a transformation in how the international community relates to the incumbent regime will be necessary for this option.
That’s what we have been saying all along…
The second scenario envisioned by some in the opposition is for the EPRDF to collapse under the pressure of massive demonstrations and international sanctions, allowing the opposition to ascend to power. This option has never been realistic, given the EPRDF’s overwhelming superiority of power, but has been the dream of some in the opposition (notably some safely in the diaspora) and the paranoid fear of some in the ruling party.
Professor Lyons takes a little stub at us (the diaspora), and he has merit to do so. I am intensely annoyed by members of the “Starbucks Ethio liberation front” group. Yes we all know who they are. These are people who live in the US but are not willing to make a two hour drive to attend a “support imprisoned leaders” rally, and yet are very willing to give advice on how the demonstrations in Addis should be carried out.

Having said that, I would like to note, Tegbar civic group and the newly reformed (hopefully), kinijit North America, are playing an important positive role in Ethiopian politics, these people are in no way related to S.E.L.F.

And this second scenario is not unrealistic at all (here I disagree with Professor Lyons) ; EPRDF’s “overwhelming superiority of power” could unravel at any moment for the simple fact that TPLF (Tigrayan People's Liberation Front ) is a House Divided against Itself. This article makes mention of that but fails to put two and two together. The ever increasing public dissent, coupled with foreign aid cuts, will lead to a very unhappy and unpaid military, add to that the existing internal descent within TPLF and the result may very well be an atomic explosion making scenario two possible. (and I didn’t even factor in our good neighbor Isayas into the equation)

The third scenario is that the EPRDF will retain its hold on power by increasing its reliance on military and security forces as its electoral legitimacy declines and international criticism and pressures grow. Control over the media and the courts will limit opportunities for the opposition to mobilize, and when it tries, effective but very violent repression is likely. This scenario seems likely in at least the short to medium term, although the extent of violence may vary greatly.
This is what’s happening at the moment ….thus, no further explanation needed.

Many of the article’s points are right on target. At least now we know the policy makers are getting (pretty much) a well balanced analysis. What the policy makers choose to do with the information they have is another story.

But one thing Professor Lyons fails to explain clearly is Prime Minister Melese’s refusal to surrender Badme. Indeed this could be very confusing to an outside observer. After all the Prime minister will get a tremendous reputation boost if he agreed to abide by the courts ruling and withdrew. Bademe is a barren land without any significant economic importance. There is no oil to protect, no minerals to dig out. Then why is Prime Minister Meles risking everything for a useless piece of land?

Badme or in general the conflict with Eritrea, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. TPLF’s much publicized split was a result of an internal tension that has been brewing for years. TPLF’s policy in regards to Eritrea has been the cause of many heated debates, dissents, (and even) assassinations and assassination attempts within the central leadership of the organization. On one side we have Mr. Zenawi and his pro Eritrean clique; on the other, we have the likes of Mr. Siye Abreha, who viewed Eritrean influence in TPLF’s affairs as an intrusion.

When the ever unpredictable and arguably insane president of Eritrea chose to attack Tigray (province of Ethiopia) overtaking Bademe, the internal conflict within TPLF exploded. The hardliners lead by Mr. Siye believed a strong military response which will bring about regime change in Eritrea was in order. They were also questioning the prime minister’s motives for favoring a softer response (the prime minister is part Eritrean).

The cost of recapturing Bademe proved to be very high. Thousands were killed and injured. Mr. Siye and his supporters believed this sacrifice should not be in vain. They argued that as long as President Isayas is in power, similar conflicts were unavoidable. Thus, they advocated for finishing the job (getting rid of Isayas) once and for all. This stance was very popular within the military and people directly affected by Eritrea’s actions (people in Tigray). For whatever reason, Prime Minister Meles did not support this plan, and with a Machiavellian precision eliminated all voices of dissent in his party, shipping many off to prison on trumped up charges (Some say targeted assassinations were also used).

Though the opposition within his party (for at least the moment) is quelled, surrendering Bademe to Eritrea will unravel Prime Minister Meles’s support in two ways. One, the military who had paid dearly for this war will undoubtedly feel betrayed. Two, Mr. Zenawi will loose support tremendously within TPLF’s stronghold Tigray (Badme at the moment is part of Tigray).

The Prime minister made a big blunder in judgment when deciding to first go to war and then later accept the arbitration by the international court. Had he done it (gone to court) before going to war, and sacrificing many lives, he may have been able to save face. But in an attempt to please everyone, he decided to take over Badme by force thus increasing his popularity within the country and then later to ask for arbitration from the international community hoping to gain the support of foreign leaders.

But when the international court awarded Badme to Eritrea, the plan came to a screeching halt. And this is where we are now. It is surprising how unprepared the Ethiopian government was for such a scenario, no plan B, if you will. Stuck between a rock and hard place, the prime Minister has no choice but hope to buy some time by invoking empty words like “accept in Principal” and “more dialog” .

Getting back to the topic at hand (CSIS’s article), Scenario one and two are the outcomes most Ethiopians favor. At the moment scenario one is more unrealistic than scenario two, for a couple of reasons. First, Prime Minister Meles has continually refused to negotiate or make any meaningful compromise. And second, the West (in particular U.S and U.K) have shown little willingness to exert pressure on Mr. Zenawi’s government, for fear of destabilizing the region.

Insulting and accusing the U.S and Great Britain for their reluctance to come down on PM Zenawi’s government will accomplish very little. What Ethiopian opposition leaders around the world must do is assure the west a viable and able opposition is ready to take over. Ethnic federalism, which has been shoved down the throats of Ethiopians for the past 14 years, has had a very negative effect. Many separatist functions have immerged; due to this fact the fear that if Mr. Zenawi’s government collapses Ethiopia may turn into another Somalia is not entirely illogical.

If Ethiopians want real change and the support of the free world, an intense dialog should be started right now between the various functions. Organizations like the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) and ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) have to join in the discussion. Opposition leaders (in the Diaspora) have to prove to the world a truly democratic society has emerged from the ashes of communism and ethnic federalism. One that is based on compromise, negotiations and diplomacy: thus proving to anyone concerned that the people of Ethiopia are, at last, indeed ready for a true democracy.

(Pdf format)