The Making of a Militant
(By Sintayehu Tefera, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)
[Names have been changed to protect privacy]
I first met Girum in the summer (kiremt) of 1983, on my first airplane ride. I had just triumphantly finished 8th grade and was transferring to a new school to continue my academic misadventures. The trip was a present from my Father – a gesture to show how proud he was that I was on the fast track to becoming a high school student. I hadn’t seen my dad in over a year. He and my Mom had divorced a couple of years back and soon after he had moved to the U.S with his new wife.
Girum, on the other hand, had a physical ailment which at the time couldn’t be adequately taken care of in Ethiopia; so his parents were sending him to the U.S for further treatment. After figuring out we two were the only kids on board - the adults decided the flight would be less boring for us and less of an irritation to them - if me and Girum sat next to each other. We soon struck up a friendship based on common interests. We survived the long arduous flight making fun of the grownups and professing our approbation for Michael Jackson and his new album at the time “Thriller”. We remained close friends there after.
Even after graduating from high school we remained friends. Our new interests, the night life and fervor for politics, drew us even closer. When EPRDF forces took over Addis on May of 91, Girum was one of the few people in the city (I knew of) who believed utterly a change for the better was on the horizon. Most of us assumed it was just a replacement of one dictator with another.
Fourteen years and two unopposed elections passed. We had both moved to the U.S, graduated from college and were leading fairly comfortable lives. My friend still remained a staunch supporter of the Ethiopian government. Girum is a practical man – he was the first to acknowledge democracy had not yet taken a foothold in Ethiopia but he argued the roads were being paved for it. I must admit I too was starting to see his point: the lack of a viable opposition and the perceived “economic growth” EPRDF was bringing to the country was turning me into a cautious believer. Maybe no one else was ready to challenge EPRDF; maybe EPRDF was truly willing to pass on the baton if only there was a competent political party.
I first heard of kinijit (CUDP) on a phone conversation to Addis. The person on the other line informed me discussions were underway to form a coalition of four major political parties. The leaders I knew by reputation and some personally – Girum knew them too. All were a success in their academic endeavors, professional careers and, most important to us, had never in their lives pointed a gun at another human being. There was no question these people had no additional motivation other than to see the transformation of their country for the better.
Two dissimilar agendas, two different goals and two opposing methods on how to reach them. For the first time in history it seemed Ethiopians had a real choice. Sanctioned by the government, blessed by foreign benefactors and enthusiastically endorsed by the citizens, the election campaigns were underway. Like everyone else we debated the issues – ethnic federalism, article 39 of the constitution, economic policies, etc. Girum supported EPRDF and I supported the CUDP (kinijit).
A day after the elections were held on May 15, 2005, the government declared victory saying it had already taken more than 300 of the 547 seats in parliament. In a hotly contested election where more than 90 percent of the 25.6 million registered voters turned out the government’s hasty claim struck most of us as odd – even Girum was perplexed. And yet with optimism and great hope we awaited the unfolding of events patiently.
To our dismay, affairs in Addis gradually progressed from better to worse in a matter of days. But my friend, an avid believer in Mr. Zenawi’s genius, was still hoping for a miracle that would alleviate the growing tensions. But I could see disillusionment creeping in his psyche as statements the Prime minister was making started more and more to resemble the rantings of the previous regime.
The eight point preconditions for joining parliament presented by the CUDP, as most of us saw it, was a very reasonable “Yemariyam Menged”: a way out of the impasse for the government with out it losing face. These preconditions were essential building blocks of a democracy based on anyone's standard. Surly the government will not reject such reasonable requests.
After the June massacres, Girum did a complete 180. He felt betrayed, his hero has turned into a villain; the eloquent progressive leader of Ethiopia turned out to be a mere thug. Subsequently, the opposition leaders and members of the free press were jailed. Thousands of Ethiopian Youth were captured and sent off to various concentration camps.
The nightmare has returned with a vengeance.
In the days that followed I began sensing a dangerous mutation in Girum’s Political philosophies – a result of frustration and total disillusionment. From Gandhi to Che, Martin Luther king Jr. to Simon Bolivar he was tearing down old idols he had upheld for so long; replacing them with new ones.
At the time I sat down to write this article, Girum was actively trying to make contact with an emerging “pro democracy” militant group who are proclaiming the start of an armed resistance to overthrow the government.
I say ENOUGH!
This government was on the verge of greatness – on the verge of making history – one that would have been remembered, taught in classrooms, exemplified for hundreds of years. The resurrection of Ethiopia from years of hibernation was within reach but this opportunity was squandered. I believe it still is not too late; there is still a higher road if you wish to take it – Mr. Prime Minister – remember you personal history. What made you decide to leave Addis Ababa University to go join a guerilla army?
Injustice? Prejudice? Lack of free speech? The absence of fairness and equality? The Inequities of the minority elite in leadership positions?
The same militant emotions and ideas the old government evoked in your generation, Mr. Prime Minister, you in turn are evoking from the youth of this generation.
A change is coming: no doubt about that – the issue is; will the current government be a part of it or will it be left behind?
It was in the month of April 1868 that Emperor Tewodros ended his life after the fall of Meqdela.
Here is another short poem by poet extraordinaire Tewodros Abebe which was composed a few years back as a tribute to this unique Ethiopian King.