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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

From another Shimagile

(By Dr.Yonnas Gondemo, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)
Reply to Donald N. Levine’s “Reply to a citizen's letter”
First, I would like to begin by stating my admiration and respect for Professor Levine. I have no doubt that he has the utmost love and genuine goodwill for Ethiopia and its people.

But, like the previous writer, I too was very perplexed by what I perceived to be a radical shift in Dr. Levine’s attitude soon after his visit to Addis Ababa. Upon reading his explanations for his “shimagile” stance, I am compelled to share my views.

Dear Professor Levine,
You have stated that you “felt obliged to search for ways to resolve Ethiopia's political crisis”. I am very grateful that you care enough to devote your time and energy to bring a solution to this impasse. However, we Ethiopians have had to suffer the consequences of many similar attempts in the past which may start out with good intentions but usually end up creating more problems. It is my prayer that your efforts and good intentions are rewarded with enduring success for the sake of the Ethiopian people.
Professor Levine, most things in life are gray. We have to consider the pros and cons, weigh the different alternatives and take the slightly better choice when arriving at a solution. But there are also choices with no shades of gray, a solid black or a solid white, simply right or wrong, just or unjust, true or false. I do not belong to any political party, but I do know that there are no gray areas when it comes to intimidation and killings. Some of us were in Addis at the time, in the early summer of 2005, as eyewitnesses; while the rest of us heard the personal accounts of citizens who were terrorized into submission by a regime that feared its days of supremacy were coming to an end.

Dr. Levine you have said: “I learned, PM Meles worked hard to get the CUD MPs to enter Parliament, and he advised them that if they did not they would lose immunity from criminal charges”

If by “working hard” you mean intimidate, then you are right. Mr. Zenawi has on several occasions threatened the elected parliamentarians; he has not made a secrete of this. On a speech televised by ETV, which all Ethiopians with access to a television witnessed, Mr. Zenawi presented the choices left before the elected CUDP members’ days before they were put in jail. “You have four choices,” he said: “one: exile, two: pick up arms and engage in armed struggle, three: submit and live quietly or four: Languish in detention for the rest of your lives.”

And let me make another point here. The CUDP leaders did not refuse to join parliament. They unanimously agreed to join parliament upon acceptance of their 8 point preconditions by the ruling party ( Holding an election every five years does not mean EPRDF is committed to building a democracy, Saddam Hussein held regular elections as did Mengistu Hailemariam. An election in and of itself does not constitute a democracy. EPRDF’s acceptance of the 8 point preconditions would have signified its dedication to building a free society. But the government decided to reject this compromise that would have broken the deadlock and instead, chose to reply with mass detentions. It is true that the opposition gained significant amount of seats according to the “official” results but the government made sure this seats were useless by passing a new law days after the election. Under the new law a party must have 51% of the vote to put an agenda for discussion. This new edict made sure that the elected MP’s would have no significant contributions.

I, like most Ethiopians, have nothing personal against Mr. Zenawi. God knows I have prayed and hoped that he would be the one to lead our people in the right direction. But that seems not to be the case. The dismantlement of the free press, the recent blockage of critical websites along with the documents smuggled out of an Ethiopian embassy detailing methods of silencing website administrators, bloggers and critics in the diaspora are clear indicators that EPRDF is bent on stifling all voices of dissent.

The final paragraph of your response, Professor Levine, I must completely disagree with. Work within the system, you said, Patience is essential, do not forget the main problems of hunger and poverty. Dr Levine, that’s precisely the reason why we do not have anymore patience left. Hunger and poverty are direct results of the megalomaniacs who ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for decades, not caring for the sufferings and aguish of our people. Democracy is the solution to these problems, and we can not afford to be patient any longer. The lives of our people depend on it.

I’m sure you are not under the assumption that the struggle for democracy started in 2005; it has taken many lives and decades while being fine-tuned. We have been very patient for too long. My generation prayed and fought for democracy but was not fortunate enough to experience it. We lived in fear and had to flee to foreign countries to escape the terror. And my generation, in unison, has made a vow that this will not be the fate of our children, we can not allow for another Ethiopian generation to be raised in an atmosphere of intimidation, praying for the day he/she gets a chance to leave his/her country to experience freedom and opportunity in a foreign land.

Professor Levine, I hope your “shimagile” stance proves fruitful; but, what Ethiopians need right now, even more than a “shimagile”, is a friend and an advocate.

Yours truly,