Ethiopia: The Cable from Meles Zenawi to Laurent Koudou Gbagbo: A Satire
By Fekade Shewakena
Dear Laurent Koudou Gbagbo,
President of Ivory Cost or, Côte d'Ivoire which ever name you choose.
My dear friend, I don’t understand for the life of me why this beautiful piece of land of Africa that you rule does not have an African name. But this is not the point of my cable today and maybe we can discuss this some other time. This cable is only about the damn election that you just held and has put you in the deep sh**t you are in now.
Bonjour! Mr. President:
As a fellow leader of an African country and as one who has muddled his way though messy, riggy, fishy, and troublesome elections, I understand the predicament you are in today.
Believe me; I have been in a more or less similar situation of being looked in the face by ouster from power in 2005. It was like death looked me in the face. Every time I listen to the news about you, I am reminded of my own which I always want myself and my subjects and the world forget. I know you have spent your youth like myself fighting for the freedom of your people including spending four years of your life in Houphouet-Boigny’s prison between 1971 and 1974. Our people, who are often thankless, and our political opponents, want to take power without fighting for it like us. They often forget that power in Africa is a payback for ones sacrifices. Imagine fighting your entire youth, remove someone from power, have many comrades killed in the process, and then someone who hasn’t done what you did wants to take it by counting a bunch of paper cards. I still cannot understand the crazy thing Mandela did when he left his shining power after a freakin’ one term. Compare it to the 27 years he spent confined in a dungeon on Robin Island. He is crazy.
The reason I am sending you this cable is twofold. First it is to tell you the mistakes you have committed. Second is to tell you how you can overcome the problem and stick to dear power. Now that you are in a serious problem, I am sure you appreciate any piece of advice from a fellow African leader who has been in your shoes, someone who has been there and done that; you know what I mean? I believe you don’t want to pull off a Charles Taylor. I hate that man for creating a bad precedence for the rest of us.
As you just did in Ivory Cost before the election, I played monkey with democracy and free and fair elections in 2005. My friend, people are thankless and they voted my opponents. Fortunately, I was prepared for any eventualities and succeeded in reversing it. I took that lesson for the next round of election which I held last year. This time, I laughed all the way to the palace with 99.6% of the seats of parliament. A miracle, isn’t it? In your case, you seem to have done a lot of dumb things including not preparing yourself for any bad results. What the hell were you smoking when you set up and election commission that is not loyal to you? Was it really difficult to find some nice men who can play monkey with the ballot boxes and change your opponent’s slight 54.1% lead? Do you really have a PhD in history from Paris Diderot University? To be frank with you, auditing the story of my election successes would have served you better than your degree. Couldn’t you find a few people who listen only to your orders and their tummies from among 20 million of your people to put on the damn Election Commission? How in the world was it so difficult to overturn an 8 point difference with your opponent without anybody finding out about any shenanigans? My dear, I overturned an estimated 75% landslide in 2005 including a 100% rout out in the very capital city where my government and the African Union seat. And you know what? I did it in a country four times the population size of yours. Yes, I know your Constitutional Council has overturned the results issued by the Election Commission but not before making you look like a fool. Duh! What is wrong with you man? Can’t you see that you have put the cart before the horse? Look Gbagbo, we are the second generation leaders of Africa. We cannot afford to behave like Idi Amin Dada or Moboutu or Bokassa or Mengistu who made Africa proud during their time. We have to refine their methods and languages to suit to the age of globalization.
Perhaps the most dummy thing you did is to let your opponent Mr. Alassane Ouattara take the oath of office at the same time you did. Sir, do you have no prisons in your country? Could you not just throw his ass to some French made dungeon somewhere on the outskirts of Abidjan? Is it difficult for your loyalists to kill some people from your ethnic group or a handful of members of your police forces and blame it on Mr. Ouattara and his supporters? If you did this, you could easily accuse him of genocide and sentence him and his collaborators to life. Period. By the way, how are your courts staffed? If it is the same as your Election Commission, you can as well forget it and pull off a Mengistu Hailemariam. Better look for a sanctuary country that will take you. Speaking of a sanctuary country, if you have good money, which I believe you do, I have land I am currently selling at dirt prices to Arab and Asian tycoons and you can come to Ethiopia and own a rice farm of any size your money can buy.
One thing you need not fear for certain is the bluff from the international community. Take it from a guy who has seen their behavior through thick and thin. These people are moral cowards who have no conscience. The more you know them the more you despise them. Often they hold their fingers in the wind to find out which direction they will have to go. The ambassadors of donor countries in your country are there only to build their resumes. Their work is all about themselves. They will succumb soon if they see what they get from you. The only time they will create problem for you is if they think you are weak and vulnerable and your opponents are strong.
The Aid Industrial Complex, the IMF, the World Bank and all the other lords of Africa’s poverty too are pretending. I laughed my heart out when I heard that the World Bank is suspending the loan they promised your country before the election. Just tell them to shove it as I did. In my case too they made a similar rant but they ended up doubling the amount of aid and loan once I successfully suppressed the opposition, threw every journalist and opposition leader in prison and the dust began to settle and fear took over its place. They never threatened me with military intervention like you when I was rounding up some 40 thousand people from Addis Ababa and dumped them in malaria infested concentration camps around the country or when I ordered indiscriminate shooting of unarmed protestors. When I heard some people talk about massacre intensely, I formed an investigation commission into the killings and shut their mouth. These cowards never asked me a question even after my own investigation commission accused me of using excessive force and massacring 200 people and debilitating several hundred others. I heard not even a quack.
I am afraid your only problem may be your rich offshore oil reserves. That is a bit worrisome. These guys love oil as much as they fear terrorists. You need to identify the key players and promise them cheap concessions in your part of the Guinea Gulf. Call Exxon. Give them a better offer than what Mr. Ouattara can. The drill baby drill guys in the West will support you. Also make sure you promise to supply the chocolate factories in Europe with cheap cacao. Don’t be afraid of Barack Obama. He talks good about Africa but looks the other way when push comes to shove.
If you stick to your guns you can end up pulling a me, Meles Zenawi. In a worst case scenario, you can pull off a Kibaki or Mugabe and end up with a coalition government which, in my view, is much better than pulling of a Charles Taylor. Your tugs are doing the right thing now. I hear that they are roaming the cities at night knocking doors of your opponents and kicking their asses and disappearing them. This is good since it creates fear. You should not be in any moral dilemma about creating fear. Fear cripples people. When people fear they will force themselves to fake love for you. Also spend as much money on people. Although your people are 50 times richer than mine, I presume you can buy them. Ask the underclass of your people to demonstrate in your support and condemn and the human rights groups that keep accusing you. Offer the participants good per diem expenses. Why do you care? It is government money. It could cost you only a year’s worth of Cacao revenues. Call the Chinese and seek ask for support. They are our future, baby.
I hear that some people are talking about mass graves. Make sure nobody sees any of it or deny it vehemently when asked. Make sure that devil’s advocate, Human Rights Watch, doesn’t set foot in your country. Accuse them of trying to replace the French as colonial masters. Outlaw all civil society organizations. In the case of people killed by your forces, tell the world that they were killed while trying to rob banks and supermarkets.
Since you are an African I presume you belong to a tribe. In my country we call them nations and nationalities depending on their numbers. The people in your tribe should be told unequivocally that they are going to suffer if you are forced to leave office. They will believe you if you scare them enough. Put the army and all security institutions in charge of members of your tribe. I know you have been at war with tribes in the northern part of your country. Accuse them of terrorism. Since most of them are Muslims your accusation can fly easily.
One big mistake you the leaders of ECOWAS member countries make is that you have not manufactured terrorist groups of a threshold size in your neighborhood. You see, the West would care less about democracy in areas where Islamic terrorism is reported. The anti terrorism bandwagon is not only a good cash cow but also a good shield against the wrath of your own angry people. In my case, poor Somalia is a gift from God. I cried wolf and Terrorist when a congregation of Moslem clerics began to provide peace in the country for the first time in two decades – that was ominous. I invaded the country claiming that they are terrorists. The West supported me and loved me. I ousted them and ended up manufacturing a more potent and radical terrorist group- the Al Shabaab,. In addition to becoming my cash cow, the Al Shabaab has now cemented my relationship with the West. Al Shabaab is my baby you know. You may have heard some leaks that they buy weapons from my generals some years ago. See how it works? I know these Westerners sometimes call me a bastard. But you know what; history is witness that they treat their own bastards very well. So never worry being referred to as a bastard by these people secretly. You simply need to work hard to give them the impression that you are their bastard. Why can’t you understand this Gbagbo? Look, I did my undergraduate and graduate studies while running the country. What has your ass been doing studying full time in Paris to seek all this advice from me?
Once everything is in place and the dust settles and you are in power, talk about economic development. Statistics baby, statistics. Cook it up baby, and feed it to your people. They love it. Tell the world you have grown the economy by 10% or more - Not 9% or less. You have to make it double digit to make it mouthful and aid flows like a mighty river from. The idiots are starved for success stories that they can tell to their tax payers. If people question data accuracy, tell them the World Bank and the IMF have testified affirmatively. The WB and IMF cowards wouldn’t speak against your statistics in public even when they know you are lying. And, plan baby plan, and Plan for the sky. Nobody is going to hold you to account if your plan for the sky and end up in the ditch. You see, if you cannot dazzle your people you can baffle them with bull sh**t.
And oh yes; make sure every tribe (please call them nations and nationalities) in your country dances and sing in stadiums and auditoriums and streets until they turn the dust to clouds. Equality of nations and nationalities, baby. It doesn’t matter what and how much they eat and how much power you give them; they dance happily. They will feel full on their tummies when they see themselves dancing on TV. Talk about the economy whenever your people speak about their dignity or democracy. Have you heard about the theory of the Developmentalist State? It is purely neo communist- the nanny state, you know what I mean?. But don’t call it that. Say only that you don’t like neo liberals whether anyone understand what you mean or not. You can find a lot of bull in French philosophy to baffle people by, and at the same time, make yourself look like an accomplished intellectual. I will get back to you for more once you weather this storm. I hope you will come out of this safely to make Africa Proud.
Hung in there baby! Soldier on!
Ethiopia: Why do things always fall apart in Africa?
By Alemayehu G. Mariam,
Copycat Dictators and Cartoon Democracies in Africa
Ivory Coast, December 2010. Laurent Gbagbo says he won the presidential election. The Independent Ivorian Election Commission (CEI) said former prime minister Alassane Ouattara is the winner by a nine-point margin. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the United States, the European Union all say Ouattara is the winner. Gbagbo is only the latest African dictator to steal an election in broad daylight, flip his middle finger at his people, thumb his nose at the international community and cling to power like a barnacle to a sunken ship.
Ethiopia, May 2010. Meles Zenawi said he won the parliamentary election by 99.6 percent. The European Union Election Observer Team said the election "lacked a level playing field" and "failed to meet international standards". Translation from diplomatic language: The election was stolen. Ditto for the May 2005 elections.
The Sudan, April 2010. Omar al-Bashir claimed victory by winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. The EU EOM declared the "deficiencies in the legal and electoral framework in the campaign environment led the overall process to fall short of a number of international standards for genuine democratic elections." Translation: al-Bashir stole the election.
Niger, February 2010. Calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), a group of army officers stormed Niger's presidential palace and snatched president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers. In 2009, Tandja had dissolved the National Assembly and set up a "Constitutional Court" to pave the way for him to become president-for-life. Presidential elections are scheduled for early January, 2011.
Zimbabwe, March 2008. In the first round of votes, Morgan Tsvangirai won 48 percent of the vote to Mugabe's 43 percent. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff in June after Mugabe cracked down on Tsvangirai's supporters. Mugabe declared victory. The African Union called for a "government of national unity". Former South African President Thabo Mbeki mediated and Tsvangirai agreed to serve as prime minister. A stolen election made to look like a not-stolen-election.
Kenya, December 2007. Mwai Kibaki declared himself winner of the presidential election. After 1500 Kenyans were killed in post-election violence and some six hundred thousand displaced, intense international pressure was applied on Kibaki, who agreed to have Raila Odinga serve as prime minster in a coalition government. Another stolen election in Africa.
Massive election fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter and opposition party intimidation, bogus voter registration, rigged polling stations, corrupt election commissioners and so on were common elsewhere in Africa including Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt. In 2011, "elections" will be held in Chad, the Central African Republic, Malagasy, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria and other countries. Will there be more stolen elections? One thing is for sure: In January, the Southern Sudanese independence referendum will be held with little doubt about its outcome.
Ivory Coast Headed for Civil War?
The tragedy about Gbagbo is that the one-time university professor was one of the courageous Ivorian leaders who had struggled against civilian and military dictatorships. He was the chief opponent of Ivorian president-for-life Félix Houphouet-Boigny. Today Gbagbo wants to become Félix Houphouet-Boigny reincarnate. After a decade in power, Gbagbo has become addicted to the sweet life (la dolce vita) of dictatorship. He is said to have the support of the country's military. He controls the south, and "rebels" are said to control much of the north where Ouattara has his support. To complicate matters, there are reports that rogue remnants of Charles Taylor's bloodthirsty Liberian army are being recruited by both sides of the crises as a perfect storm of civil war gathers over the Ivorian horizon. Is Ivory Coast headed for a replay of the two-year civil war that began in 2002? Unless Gbagbo peacefully leaves power, it seems inevitable that violence and conflict will again reign in the Ivory Coast destroying thousands of lives and the economy of one of the more prosperous African countries.
The international community led by the U.S and France appears to be orchestrating diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and a cutoff of access to funds at the regional West African bank to force Gbagbo to step aside. ECOWAS (a group of some dozen West African countries) is said to be considering military action; but there is little evidence that it has an offensive military capability to rout Gbagbo's troops. Gbagbo has intimated that he will retaliate against immigrants from ECOWAS countries in Ivory Coast should military action be initiated to dislodge him. He remains steadfastly defiant and has escalated the crackdown on opponents. He continues to round up opposition supporters; and street killings, abductions and detentions by the military and armed youth thugs are said to be widespread. Gbagbo has repeatedly claimed that the "international community has declared war" on Ivory Coast and he has a constitutional duty to defend the country against such aggression.
The Lesson of Ivory Coast
Informed analysts suggest that Ivory Coast will prove to be a global test case of whether the international community could develop consensus to uphold the outcomes of democratic elections against a defiant African dictator who refuses to leave power peacefully. I disagree for two reasons. First, dictatorships in Africa have always been tolerated by the international community. As in the past, the West will cackle, bray, neigh and yelp about Gbagbo, but at the end of the day they will yawn and walk away shaking their heads and repeating the words of former French President Jacques Chirac, "Africa is not ready for democracy!" Second, the AU and ECOWAS will make sure that nothing is done that will set a precedent for an African dictator being removed from power through international action. These are the same crooks who are today coddling and shielding al-Bashir from prosecution in the International Criminal Court. Today it is Gbagbo; tomorrow it could be any one of them. Africa's dictators will never, ever allow such a precedent to be established.
Things Keep Falling Apart After One-Half Century of African Independence
Things keep falling apart in Africa because over the past one-half century of independence it has been nearly impossible to hold Africa's so-called leaders accountable. For fifty years, African "leaders" have been telling Africans and the world that Africa's problems are all externally caused. Africa is what it is (or is not) because of its colonial legacy. It is the white man. It is imperialism. It is capitalism. It is the International Monetary Fund. It is the World Bank. The continent's underdevelopment, poverty, backwardness, mismanagement are all caused by evil powers outside the continent. The latest re-invention of the old African Boogeyman is "globalization" and "neoliberalism", which Zenawi claims has "created three consecutive lost decades for Africa".
There are indisputable reasons why things keep falling apart in Africa. The major one is the lack of competent leadership with vision, purpose and integrity. Indeed the common thread that sews the vast majority of post-independence African leaders is not steadfast commitment to good governance and democratic practices, but their incredible sense of entitlement to rule forever and ever and ever. In 1964, Kwame Nkrumah invented the whole idea of president-for-life becoming the first certified post-independence African dictator. Many others followed. In 1970, H. Kamuzu Banda of Malawi declared himself 'President-for-Life". Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the military ruler of the Central African Republic, kicked it up a notch in the mid-1970s. He coronated himself "Emperor". Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Albert Bernard Bongo of Gabon, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ismail Omar Guellah of tiny Djbouti, and countless others have clung or continue to cling to power as rulers-for-life. It boggles the mind to call these individuals "leaders"; they are, as the great Afrobeat legend and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti described them, "animals in human skin". I would call them hyenas in designer suits or uniforms.
These "animals in human skin" have stoked ethnic and tribal hatred, caused fragmentation and sectarian tensions and unleashed unspeakable violence on their populations to cling to power in much the same way as the old colonial masters. In Ivory Coast and Nigeria today violent confrontations are being orchestrated by "leaders" along ethnic and religious lines. Just in the past few days, there has been a surge in violence in Nigeria, a country said to be evenly split between Christian and Muslims, with the firebombing of churches. Various scholars have expressed concern over the "heightening of the resurgence of ethnic identity politics in Nigeria" and the rise of armed ethnic militias which not only challenge the legitimacy of the Nigerian state but are also spearheading separatist movements to dismember the Nigerian nation. Given these tensions, more and more "marginalized" Nigerians are said to choose their ethnic identities over loyalty to the Nigerian nation. No doubt echoes of the Biafran War of 1967 reverberate in the minds of concerned Nigerians. Ethnicity and sectarianism are also a core element of the current Ivorian crises. Gbagbo accuses Muslims, who are in the majority in the north, of aiding and supporting the "rebels" who control the region. They have been subjected to attacks and persecution.
As Africa burns in ethnic, political and sectarian fires, the unctuous, hypocritical and self-righteous Western governments frolic in bed with the corrupt dictators in power. They jibber-jabber about democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rest of it, but will gladly hold hands with bloodthirsty African dictators and walk down the primrose path to maintain their oil, mineral and military strategic interests. No Western government involved in Africa will openly admit it, but each and every one of them shares wholeheartedly Chirac's view that "Africa is not ready for democracy" and that "multi-partyism" is a "kind of luxury," that is unaffordable by a country like the Ivory Coast (or any other African country for that matter).
Chinua Achebe and Why Things are in Free Fall in Africa
In Things Fall Apart (1959), the great African novelist Chinua Achebe tells the story of the initial encounters in the 1890s between Ibo villagers in Nigeria and white European missionaries and colonial officials. That was the time when things really began to "fall apart" in Africa. The white man "put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart." But his depiction could apply to the "falling apart" of many other African societies as a result of contact with colonialism and Christianity. But over the last one-half century, colonialism has become extinct and the white man has "left" Africa. The African leaders who replaced the colonial masters have not hearkened back to pre-colonial Africa and used traditional values and methods to hold the center and keep things from falling apart. Rather, they have followed in the colonial footsteps and lorded over vampiric states which have attenuated and frayed the fabric of the post-independent African societies to ensure their hold on power.
Robert Guest, Africa editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), argues that "Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades" while other developing countries and regions have grown. Africa was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today. According to the U.N., life expectancy in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland for the period 2005-2010 is less than 44 years, the worst in the world. The average annual income in Zimbabwe at independence in 1980 was USD $950. In 2009, 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars (with a "T") was worth about USD $300. In the same year, a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe cost 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars (with a "B"). The tens of billions in foreign aid money has done very little to improve the lives of Africans. The reason for things falling apart in Africa is statism (the state as the principal change agent) and central planning, according to Guest. The bottom line is that the masses of Africans today are denied basic political and economic freedoms while the privileged few live the sweet life of luxury, not entirely unlike the "good old" colonial times.
Guest concludes that "Africans are poor because they are poorly governed." The answer to Africa's problems lies in upholding the rule of law, enforcing contracts, safeguarding property rights and putting more stock in freedom than in force. Much of Africa today is under the control of "Vampire states". As the noted African economist George Ayittey explains, the "vampire African states" are "governments which have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else." ("Hyena States" would be a fitting alternative in the African landscape.) Africa is ruled by thugs in designer suits who buy votes and loyalties with cash handouts.
Things have fallen apart in Africa for a long time because of colonialism, capitalism, socialism, Marxism, communism, tribalism, ethnic chauvinism... neoliberalism, globalism and what have you. Things are in total free fall in Africa today because Africa has become a collection of vampiric states ruled by kleptocrats who have sucked it dry of its natural and human resources. It is easy to blame the white man and his colonialism, capitalism and all the other "isms" for Africa's ailments, but as Cassius said to Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." The fault is not in the African people, the African landscape or skyscape. Africa is rich and blessed with natural and human resources. The fault is in the African brutes and their vampiric regimes.
Achebe took the title for his book Things Fall Apart from William Butler Yeats's classic poem, which in partial rendition reads:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, (substitute Africa)
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
For what it is worth, my humble view is that the African center cannot hold and things always fall apart because the best and the brightest of Africans lack all conviction to do what is right, while the worst are full of passionate intensity to divide the people ethnically, tribally, racially, ideologically, religiously, regionally, geographically, linguistically, culturally, economically, socially, constitutionally, systematically... and rule them with an iron fist. "Ces't la vie en Afrique!" as the French might say; but to gainsay Jacques Chirac, "Africa is ready for democracy!" (L'Afrique est prêt pour la démocratie!).
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
Ethiopian ethnic federalism: grooming regions for independent statehood or a genuine coming together?
By Firew Kebede Tiba*
It has now been a little over fifteen years since a unique federal state structure was adopted in Ethiopia pursuant to the 1994 Constitution. There has not been any change of government since then and the system has been in operation with the blessing and support of its iron clad progenitor-the TPLF (Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front) led coalition of junior partners under the umbrella of the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front). The real strength of any system of government is to be judged based on the system surviving its partisan creators and enforcers. Can we say with certainty that this will be the case- come free and fair election which sees this coalition lose power? Some might even ask the ominous question whether Ethiopia itself, as we know it today, will survive the demise of the TPLF/EPRDF Coalition. The latter is a very difficult question to which no one without crystal balls can give a definitive answer. Instead I argue that the current form of Federalism has to be reformed fundamentally if it is to survive its current enforcers and transcend partisan politics of the day and serve the Ethiopian people. This subject has been written on by many scholars and compatriots over the years. However, it is important to not let a weed grow on this bitten track. At the outset, I would like to beg your indulgence reading this long note, which was originally intended to be only few pages long. We have a Frankenstein on our hands!
Let us first dispel the chimera that Federalism was introduced in to Ethiopia for the first time by the EPRDF. We all may have different views of what Ethiopia’s geographical boundary had been over the last three or so millennia of its recorded history. It is not necessary for all of us to agree on this to make a point, which I am going to. But one thing is true though, i.e. whether it was during the Axumites; the Zagwes; medieval Abyssinia or in the territories of the various nations annexed in to Abyssinia-there had always been a notion of Federalism or that of shared rule between the centre and its constituent territories. Ethiopian emperors did not assume the title of “King of Kings” without a reason. The occasional incursions of Abyssinian medieval kings in to independent kingdoms in the South and East bordering their empires never fully stripped the powers of the local rulers. This means regional autonomy has always been a feature of Ethiopian system of government. Even Emperor Minilik who is known for his empire expansion role and annexation of tribes and nations bordering his traditional boundaries, did leave some measure of self-rule to local kings who recognized him as their emperor e.g. Jimma Abbajifar and Kingdoms in Wollega This regional autonomy, however, was not accompanied by individual rights and freedoms for the subjects of these kingdoms, with the notable exception of the abolition of slavery.
The last nail in the coffin of regional autonomy was Haileselassie’s centralization policies which continued unabated during the military rule of the Derg. One can conclude that EPRDF’s federal system of government is a mere reversal of unitarism which took hold during the last two governments. However, many critics would point out that such reversal has been a matter of form but not of substance. There is merit in this criticism.
Thus, there is no doubt that the notion of regional autonomy is a desirable form of government for a large and diverse country like ours as well as to hasten the country’s economic development. The problem is not with the notion itself but with shortcomings in its design and the assumptions underlying the system. These shortcomings and assumptions combined with incompetent implementation results in making the end product a poisoned chalice. I will discuss, admittedly only partly, these short-comings and misguided assumptions in the following sections. This is like merely scratching the surface of our constitutional ailment.
2. Lack of full-hearted commitment to the project of a new federal Ethiopia
Commitment to a federalism project has to be full-hearted. I do not think that the makers of the constitution were fully committed to the modern federal Ethiopia project. The Constitution is based on the assumption that if this daring experiment succeeds, that is fine, if not we can pack up the willing pieces and move on and establish our independent fragmented states until the next bus stop. One either wants to be with Ethiopia or not, and that has to come out loud and clear in the constitution. It is important to look at the history of the TPLF to understand this half-hearted modern federal Ethiopia project. It is possible that political parties change their views over time and TPLF might have shifted its position on paper, but this shift has not been decisive and its intermittent nationalism is viewed suspiciously.
If you are wondering about my personal commitment, since I am questioning the motives of others, I can tell you point blank that, we the peoples of Ethiopia have special bonds and I will definitely give a priority to living together so long as we are ready and able to accommodate each other, which I think we can. After all, it is the relationships, the bonds and mutual understanding which matters not the artificial notion of statehood. In my existence for a little over three decades, my life has been touched by people from all corners of the country and I have never had anybody come up to my face and disrespect me personally on account of who I am. I have a very fond memory of my neighbors in my little cosmopolitan hometown named Gore (which even included an Arab), classmates and colleagues who come from various ethnicities. I have, therefore, no axe to grind and will not let the worldview of others determine how I should relate to people I view as my compatriots. We can ignore the very few bad apples, who neither have the courtesy nor the foresight to recognize and acknowledge the historical mistakes committed by successive Ethiopian regimes. In short, my aspirations, my struggles with power, my identity as an Oromo human being would be the same whether I lived in independent Oromiya, in Ethiopia or in association with Sudan or Kenya. That said, I will not associate with anyone or entity which wants to trample on my identity. I will be the judge of that and will not accept to be dictated. I will not do to others what I do not want others do to me. This is my simple rule of co-existence. These views will inform my activities if I ever choose to get involved with any political group.
3. Lack of unwavering commitment to human rights and rule of law to counter the appeal of secession
Those who promote ethnic federalism must make sure that human rights are respected to the fullest. This is because federalism of the type we are practicing is competing with the very tantalizing prospect of secession. In other words, the level of respect for human rights and rule of law has to be strong enough to counter the new passion for nationalism made possible due to the organization of regional states along ethnic lines. Gradual improvement may not be the answer, since no one knows when nationalism strikes hard thereby pushing the federation to the brink. Let us be honest, we all are under a veil of ignorance as to what the future brings should TPLF lose power even for a short period of time.
4. Too big a regional state whose departure can threaten the viability of the federation
When a new federalism is designed from a scratch, especially of the ethnic federation type, no member of the Federation should be allowed to be so big so as to threaten the viability of the whole Federation. This problem is afflicting even mature federations such as the one in Belgium, where the most prosperous Dutch speaking part has upped its intransigence to the extent of paralyzing the government and threatening the very existence of the country. It has not always been like this since in the past the French speaking part was more powerful. If this is happening at the very heart of the European Union, what guarantees do we have, here in Africa, with lesser protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law?
I am not unfairly singling out larger states such as Oromiya and Amhara regional states. As I pointed out we are either fully committed to federalism or not. The best way of creating a new independent state is not through the back door of ethnic federalism as in Former Yugoslaiva or the USSR. Today the Amhara region might be perceived to be pro Ethiopia, but we do not know what tomorrow brings. Just assume that, the regional state discovers that it sits on one of the most lucrative natural resources, such as a huge oil deposit that could last for generations, and then wait and see if the state would want to continue to put up with and subsidize other whining members of the federation which did not turn out to be as lucky.
Constitution is for generations and we cannot slice and dice States every now and then causing further chaos. As things stand now, it seems to me that, we are simply grooming such big states for independence, and let me point out too what some people might consider a sacrilege. Before Minilik there were no unified independent Amhara, Tigray or Oromo states. All we had were semi autonomous Wag, Begemder, Yeju, Gojjam, Showa, Agame, Axum, Temben, Raya, the five Gibe states, Qeleem, Wallagaa, Borana, Harrar, various gadaa led states in central and south oromiya etc., not to mention others such as Kaffaa, Hadiyaa, or Wolayita,.etc… Some of them were even at war with each other despite speaking the same language, for example, the Muslim and non-Muslim Gibe States. If we want to go back to the pre-Minilik era, which ones do we consider the original position of the current constituents of the federation? do we get Amhara, Oromo and Tigray, the so called amalgam of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples regional state? Why then engage in a new form of national engineering? More on this below, in connection with the discussion of the issue of the origin of the issue of the “National Question”. Of course, all these should not be taken as a license to reorganize them haphazardly without taking their wishes in to account.
5. The Constitutional adoption process was not fully consultative
Constitution is a holy scripture of federations, indeed for any country, except that it is made by humans for humans. A document of such significance has to be carefully deliberated upon and has to get a near unanimous support of its inhabitants and needs to adapt to changed circumstances. Unfortunately, the FDRE Constitution of 1994 was adopted in haste without getting the backing of the cross-section of the population and political groups. As a result, it is largely viewed as a political program of the EPRDF and a handful of other armed groups repackaged as a constitution. Most of the political rancor of the past two decades could have been avoided if the Constitution was adopted with the full backing of the Ethiopian people and its sidelined political groups. It is hardly possible to expect such document to command the obedience of those who were sidelined when the Constitution was adopted. EPRDF has not done any fence mending job since its adoption to overcome this fatal blow to the legitimacy of the constitution. It is intransigent as ever and too quick to charge those who challenge the constitution with treason, and yet continues to flagrantly violate the terms of its own constitution with impunity. It does not help to venerate the constitution when only it serves the interests of the EPRDF. This only helps to multiply the number of people who hold the constitution in contempt.
6. The toxicity of ethnicity as an organizing principle
This is a radical departure from the past and it is the most daring political experiment attempted anywhere in the world in recent decades. Not only does the constitution recognize (group) identity rights of various ethnicities, which is the right thing to do, but it moves in to the uncharted territory by putting them at the pinnacle of government power in their respective regions and at the federal level. In the constitutional speak, the Nations, Nationalities and People are the sovereign. I don’t think that there is any major dispute in this day and time as to the desirability of recognizing identity (group) rights of ethnic communities as human rights, be it nationally or internationally. The problem is when ethnicity becomes a raison d’être for everything. Glorifying ethnicity is toxic and a very volatile matter which could be exploited by agitators and need not have such an overriding place in cosmopolitan societies. When Ethiopia sheds its agrarian character for a cosmopolitan one, with strong economic activity in all its corners, ethnicity can only serve as an unnecessary distraction. One should get a lesson from an overwhelming defeat which EPRDF was handed during the 2005 election in the cities and the opposition to its current kind of federalism in such places. These parties ran on the platform of repealing certain provisions of the current constitution. Cities are nothing but indications of what the country would look like in the future.
One proposal often made to diffuse this situation is to break up the existing regional states geographically and organize them in a manner which reflects settlement pattern, existence of one economic community etc...The credibility of such proposals is, however, put in to question due to the fact that its protagonists are figures nostalgic of unitary Ethiopia, which had a history of marginalization of most of its ethnic communities. Furthermore, there has not been any clear articulation of whether regional states so broken down will or will not continue to enjoy the right to choose their working language based on a free and fair vote of their inhabitants. For this debate to progress and mature, protagonists of unitarism must swallow a bitter pill, accept the fact that the genie is out of the bottle and return to the table with a view to reforming the existing federal arrangement. As is being witnessed, EPRDF is using the uncompromising attitude of unitarists as an example of how those with alternative views are apologists of the bygone era and do not have the best interests of ethnic communities at heart.
7. The elephant in the house: people with mixed ancestry
Now that we have ethnicity as an overriding concept, the constitution, however, utterly failed to take notice of one large group of Ethiopians. These are people with mixed ancestry, those who are thorn between their various identities and simply prefer to identify themselves as Ethiopians. There are many other, who for various reasons, want to be first recognized as Ethiopians suppressing their ethnic identity. We do not even have a statistics on the number of people who prefer to simply identify themselves as Ethiopians or simply feel unease about speaking about their ethnic identity. I won’t be surprised if their number is so great as to put them among one of the large group of people in the country.
It is, of course, unwise to carve up a separate identity akin to ethnicity for such group of people so as to fit them in to the constitution as was the case in Apartheid South Africa in regards to the colored people with mixed white and black ancestry. I am putting the spotlight on people of this category to simply show that, the Constitution, even in its own terms, had failed to address the interests of such category of people. People with such background rightly feel anxious and excluded from the new mantra of the sovereign nation, nationalities and peoples.
8. Where does ethnicity stop?
The trouble next door in Somalia is sufficient to convince anyone that playing with ethnicity is like opening Pandora’s Box. Clan, sub-clan, district, religious and denomination divisions will be the next issues that will occupy the space vacated by ethnicity. For example, in a hypothetical Oromiya, I will start worrying about the balance of power between Muslims and Christians and how they are going to run the country. I will be worried if people from my part of the country are not adequately represented at the centre. It does not mean that we do not have such problems at the moment but we tend to keep our eye on the bigger ball, just for now.
Ethnicity may appear tantalizing for marginalized ethnic groups in the short run, but the new frame of thinking will most likely activate or exaggerate other existing differences between people belonging to the same ethnic group. We are definitely better off focusing on the big picture than what makes us different. It is not without reason that the most tolerant people in the world are found in countries that are so diverse. The strength of the United States of America lies in its diversity although it had come a long way recognizing and respecting its different identities.
9. It is all about opportunities and being left out, isn’t it?
It is an alarming experience when a citizen of a country feels or perceives that he is unwelcome to another part of the country or cannot partake in the economic and political affairs of that part of the country where he was born and bred; or even when he feels entitled to be anywhere by virtue of being a citizen but cannot. The Constitution does not exclude them literally but created a suitable condition for an exclusion to take place. One can readily blame the affected person for not putting an effort in to learning the language of the region but that cannot be a satisfactory answer in Ethiopian context.
Over the past two decades, the standing of the Amharic language, the lingua franca, is deteriorating and a decade or so down the line, if not already, there will be a new generation of Ethiopians who will not be able to communicate with each other due to the neglect of not only Amharic, but also due to failure to elevate other major languages such as Oromiffa as the Federal government’s working language and as an optional second language in other regional states. Opportunities to learn languages of their choice should be provided for those who feel alienated because of language policies. Both the Federal and Regional Governments must make it their responsibility to protect ethnic minorities within their boundaries and provide them with a safe and fulfilling environment for them and their families.
Even Stalin who discussed the ‘National Question’ including the right to secede in 1913 in that regard wrote: a “a state law based on complete democratization of the country is required, prohibiting all national privileges without exception and every kind of disability or restriction on the rights of national minorities.” But we have so far failed to democratize the country, reign in a privilege accorded to natives to the exclusion of the ‘outsiders’, and calm the nerves of vulnerable minorities in the regional states.
10. The federal geographical division is not principled
The Constitution also failed to exercise even-handedness in its elevation of some ethnic groups in to regional statehood by leaving equally (if not more) entitled ethnic groups in the cold. Number clearly was not a factor since we have one of the smallest, Harari as a state, not the Woliyta or Sidama who are much larger in number and size. Nor historical vulnerability a factor, for we see the people of Agew swallowed up by the Amhara and Tigray regional States. They have equal moral claim to statehood as that of the Harari. I cannot even understand the principle behind lumping about 45 ethnic groups in to one regional state in the South. They have every reason to be aggrieved by this lack of even-handedness.
11. The right to secede
Another wedge issue is the right to secede by the regional states contained in Art 39 of the Constitution. This is a rather unusual and corrupted right plucked out of context from Stalinist thought and put in to the Ethiopian Constitution. If Stalin was alive he would have scoffed at the intellectual fathers of the Ethiopian constitution for their subversion or perhaps misunderstanding of his writings. I say out of context because Stalin and Lenin conceived the issue of national question and secession in the context of colonial and capitalist domination. It was designed as a tool to overthrow the bourgeois and the right to secede is subordinate to the cause of proletariat revolution. These conditions are clearly absent in the Ethiopian context. It is in fact baffling that this had to come following the overthrow of an openly Marxist-Leninist regime of Mengistu Hailemariam by stealth Stalinists. Stalin believed that a ‘nation’ which is a definite community of people “is not racial, nor is it tribal,” but a “historically constituted community of people.” Citing an example, he says, “The modern Italian nation was formed from Romans, Teutons, Etruscans, Greeks, Arabs, and so forth. The French nation was formed from Gauls, Romans, Britons, Teutons, and so on. The same must be said of the British, the Germans and others, who were formed into nations from people of diverse races and tribes.” [Marxism and the National Question, Stalin, 1913]. Thus, according to Stalin, “a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” He excludes Russia, his native Georgia in it early stage from nationhood. If one strictly applies Stalin’s Nation theory, one would be hard-pressed to find an Ethiopian ethnic group that fulfills all the requirements, such as, the existence of “an economic life or economic cohesion” between them at the time of the adoption of the constitution or even before Minilik. Was there an economic cohesion between Begemidir and Showa or between Borena and Jimma? or even between Raya and Adowa, except that they spoke the same language? Even among the fairly small group such as the Tigreans, isn’t the pan-Tigrean consciousness a creation of the elites than the ordinary folks? There is the more pronounced Axum, Adowa, Agame, Temben identity before that of a Tigrean. This has nothing to do with respecting the identity rights of any group regardless of whether such group belongs to one nation instead of the other, because it is possible for people speaking the same language to belong to different nations or countries, unless we are engaging in an artificial nation building. But is it worth the effort to engage in such grandiose national engineering by amplifying what makes groups different from each other instead of focusing on their common interest and aspirations?
The constitution does not even define who Nations, Nationalities and Peoples are, so it seems out of an attempt to escape from questions that arise as to the appropriateness of such definitions and their applications to particular ethnic groups. It instead chose a catch-all-definition of what these three terms mean collectively (art. 39(5)). I am as confused as the drafters of the constitution.
Considering my previous argument about commitment to the project of a modern federal Ethiopia, what purpose does it serve to include such a wedge issue provision in the Constitution? Unfortunately, one has to again look at the ulterior motives of the intellectual fathers of the constitution instead of a long term purpose it was intended to serve. Personally, I fail to accept the argument that it was included to guarantee freedom and solidify voluntary union. Therefore, unless it is intended for use by the TPLF to allow its Tigray province to secede as it professed to do so in its Greater Tigray Manifesto of 1976, I do not see any long term significance. If Tigray goes, it is unlikely that Ethiopia would be able to stop secession by any of the remaining regional states. On the other hand, if TPLF leaders have a change of heart and see their future with the rest of Ethiopia, it is equally unlikely that they will allow others to secede as long as the power balance remains in TPLF’s favor. Until then, Ethiopians will unnecessarily continue fighting in favor of or against a constitutional right to secede, a provision which is superfluous and should not have been included in the first place.
Contrary to the claims of the TPLF/EPRDF, this right will do nothing to advance Federalism. It is anathema to the very idea of Federalism, an arrangement which was introduced in the first place to create conditions of mutual trust and voluntary union. One can only see the purpose of such arrangement as one intended to groom members of the federation for eventual statehood. Unlike the coming together of independent states, for example in the United States, the members of the Federation in Ethiopia have not come together out of their complete free will.Contrary to what the constitution says, there is too much appeal in becoming independent, especially for those regional states which are large, resource rich and can become a viable state without any difficulty.
It is amusing how Stalin aptly observed in 1913 on how cultural autonomy superimposed on federalism could lead to separatism. He wrote: “One may or may not dispute the existence of a logical connection between organizational federalism and cultural-national autonomy. But one cannot dispute the fact that the latter creates an atmosphere favouring unlimited federalism, developing into complete rupture, into separatism.” This according to him is inevitably because of the “nationalist atmosphere which is naturally generated by cultural-national autonomy.” It seems that our leaders introduced this daring experiment without understanding him. Who would have thought that one can find such an apt observation in Stalin’s own work?
12. Lack of unifying federal institutions and civil societies
Granted that we want to consolidate the kind of federalism we have and in concurrence to the requisite reform recommended, there is a need for considering certain elements lacking in the constitutional architecture. The underlying theme to the opposition of the current federal arrangement is the decimation of the hitherto strong unifying sentiment prevalent in state institutions and structures. The constitutional design has not helped in countering that. Let us look at some of these.
) The presidency- Ethiopia has for the first time adopted a prime minster led executive government and parliamentarian system. This is a rarity in Africa, which is accustomed to a directly elected (rigged election or otherwise) strong President as the head of state. The head of state in Ethiopia is the President, but it is one of the most powerless ceremonial presidencies anywhere in the world. He is elected by the Parliament just like the Prime Minister and does not have any meaningful power to speak of. Thus, neither the President nor the Prime Minister (naturally) comes to office through a nation-wide election by the electorate. They are not unifying figures as a matter of institutional design. In some parliamentarian and federal systems like Canada and Australia, there is at least the institution of the monarchy that plays a unifying role because of their historical tradition. In India, the President enjoys considerable power compared to his Ethiopian counterpart. It is hard to figure out why such design, as opposed to the most common models, was chosen except that it was perhaps tailor made to cater to the short term power-jockeying needs of the senior partner of the governing coalition.
Added to this institutional distance, it is regrettable that the Ethiopian Prime Minster had for the last two decades not attempted to mingle with the public and establish a personal rapport with citizens. Yes, he might have zoomed in to some villages by his helicopters from time to time, for the rest of us, our only knowledge of him has been through his carefully choreographed TV interviews and his appearances at the parliament. His detachment from the public is so grave that I am tempted to remark that, even Rudolph Graziani, who was the colonial administrator of Mussolini in occupied Ethiopia must have felt more at home in Addis Ababa than our current prime minister! Surely, I cannot be expected to relate to him as he is too far away from me and the little man.
) Unifying language- the existence of a unifying language is important for fostering unity, nation building and for facilitating economic activities as discussed above.
) Lack of strong nationwide trade unions, professional organizations and civil societies
It is no surprise that nationwide civil societies, trade unions and professional organizations are practically non-existent in today’s Ethiopia thereby arresting the advancement of the rights of their members and that of the community in general. It takes a long time for regional independent civil societies to emerge. They also operate under very difficult environment compared to their federal counterparts; and even if they have a space to operate, they tend to look at issues from the narrow perspective of their regional interest. In the process the whole suffers. It is a classic divide and rule system in operation under the guise of federalism. The Federal Government, which is given too many powers under the constitution, can do anything it pleases without suffering the consequences. The war waged against the former Federation of Ethiopian Labour Union and that of Teachers Association is an important example. In the past two decades it has been rare to find workers or professionals coming from different regional states to rally in solidarity for a common cause. Splitting of trade unions according to nationality or ethnicity as was recognized by Stalin was a cause for aggravated national friction, disorganization and demoralization. Such is the state of our trade unions, professional organization and civil societies. As you can see already, one can simply quote from the communists’ great playbook, which the young communists must have read from pages to pages, to show how wrong they got it.
13. Lack of impartial arbiter of constitutional disputes
Ethiopia also made an unusual decision of not installing its judicial branch as the arbiter of its constitutional disputes. Instead it has the House of Federation (HOF)- an unequal conjoined twin to the House of Peoples Representatives, as the penultimate interpreter of constitutional disputes. This is an ideologically driven, communist to be exact, choice which rests on the assumption that the constitution is a pact between ‘nations’, ‘nationalities’ and ‘peoples’ of Ethiopia and it is the representatives of these entities and not the judiciary which should interpret it. This assumption forms the backbone of the apathy of the regime towards the judicial branch.
The HOF is supposed to be the upper house of parliament composed of representatives of nations and nationalities who may be elected or appointed by regional states. HOF is not involved in law making thereby distinguishing it from the likes of the United States Senate. Each ethnic group will have one representative in the HOF with one more for each 1 million additional population. It is not created to look after States rights per se, and the bigger the ethnic group is, the more representatives it will have in the HOF. This does not inspire the feeling of equality among member states of the Federation. Just as in the House of Peoples Representatives (the parliament) major ethnic groups can make decisions to the detriment of the smaller regional states. There is no check on their power, considering that it is this body that sets budget subsidy formula for budgetary allocation by the federal government to the regional states.
Even if the HOF is the best body to look after ethnic interests, it cannot be an impartial guardian of individual human rights. At the end of the day ethnic groups are composed of individuals. There are also instances where ethnic rights may conflict with individual rights and the HOF should be excluded from being a judge in its own cause as a matter of elementary principle of natural justice. The only role an institution of this kind should be allowed to have is only to mediate and seek resolution to inter-state disputes.
14. Nations, Nationalities and Peoples are happy. What about individuals?
EPRDF paints a picture of a very happy and grateful ‘nations’, ‘nationalities’ and ‘peoples’ it liberated. In a manner reminiscent of happy creatures in Jehovah Witnesses publications and propaganda leaflets from North Korea, EPRDF propagandists effusively tell us daily of the strides achieved in protecting ethnic rights as if they are some mythical entities not composed of individuals. I have no problem with happy ethnic groups, in fact congratulations to EPRDF to that extent. Yet, an unhappy individual whose rights are trampled upon on daily basis is excused for believing that federalism has not made his destiny any better. Am I expected to surrender my other basic human rights simply because I am now guaranteed to use my God given right to use my own language? These need not be mutually exclusive. EPRDF can salvage its federalism by assiduously working towards respecting and protecting individual human rights. It cannot cherry-pick the rights it wants to promote and protect and expect to be spared the wrath of the little man.
15. Conclusion: Ethiopia without EPRDF
As pointed out at the beginning of this note, the strength of any good system of government is to be judged with its continued existence after its ‘founding fathers’ are long gone. I sincerely wish that EPRDF or any political group, for that matter, can succeed in leaving behind a legacy of strong, harmonious and prosperous Ethiopia. Yet, ambitions are just ambitions unless matched by sincerity and hard work. We live in a real world and we cannot undo what happened. But we can change the future if we can learn from our past and change the way we do things. Imagine for a second an Ethiopia without EPRDF-a deeply Marxist party in a liberal cloak which runs the affairs of the Federal government and the regional States with a tight control. What do you see coming? To be optimistic, and even before we get there, to EPRDF’s credit, without EPRDF’s hands-on approach on the implementation of Federalism, Ethiopia would have already fragmented in to several independent states following the proclamation of the FDRE Constitution. We can simply say that the problem itself is EPRDFs own making but that is now in the past. The fragmentation did not happen because of EPRDF’s tight control over the regional states, but we cannot get complacent. It is true that there is a common bond between peoples and there is no deep rooted animosity that might push some to exit the Federation abruptly. But history is littered with several examples of masses being taken for a ride by few of its misguided children.
The unexpected might happen and the EPRDF might lose power one way or another. Nothing lasts forever. Under this scenario there is no guarantee that the Federation will continue as we have not done our homework of building unifying institutions, protecting individual rights and making federalism appealing to regions which are either resource rich or large in size. There is no incentive for them to stay in the federation willingly. On top of it all, the Constitution has made it extremely easy for any regional state to secede. I do not want to conjure up a doomsday scenario in your minds, if I have not done so already. The silver-lining to all of this, however, is that we all want Ethiopia to prevail in the face of adversities. Our fates are so intertwined that we cannot stand by and watch when one of us starts to get adrift.
Firew Kebede Tiba, PhD is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Waikato School of Law in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Ethiopia : On The Brawl Over The Nile Waters
By: Seid Hassan*
INTRODUCTION AND PERSONAL OBSERVATION
I lived in Egypt for about five and a half years (from late 1979 to the first few months of 1984) as a political refugee doing my undergraduate studies at the American University in Cairo. Just like any stateless Ethiopian who escaped the Derg’s murder, my 5 ½ years of stay in Egypt were filled with many ups and some downs. Speaking about the downs, two of them stood out of all. One of the nauseating and vexing issues had to do with listening to the constant barrage of negative campaigns carried out against Ethiopia by the Egyptian government, in which we felt was a deliberate implantation of “natural enmity” between the peoples of the two countries into the minds of the Egyptian people. On the other side, Mengistu Haile Mariam, standing on Maskal Square, and while mounting the “Red Terror” campaign against his opponents, was smashing bottles filled with “blood” to demonstrate the fate that his opponents, Egypt included, was awaiting them. Mengistu’s madness aside, I wondered why Egypt could have found it useful to instigate enmity and intensify the conflicts between the two nations instead of being thankful to the gift that both God and Ethiopia were giving her- the waters if the Blue Nile. Amazingly, the enmity barrage and the constant negative campaign did not stop within the sphere of international politics. In fact, it was very irritating to me and other true Ethiopians who observed the constant enmity barrage hurled against Ethiopia (and not Mengistu H. Mariam). The whole affair used to be broadcast live on TV as a staple recitation of Egyptian religious leaders during the Holy Friday Prayers. The constant rancor was being recited by the religious leaders irrespective of the fact that Ethiopia was the country chosen by Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) when his companions needed protection and freedom from oppression and persecution. Never mind that, in recognition of the kindness that the Ethiopian king who saved his followers, the Prophet had offered the first funeral prayer in absentia for a Christian. Never mind that the Prophet himself is known to have said:
“They were generous to our companions, so I wish to be generous to them in person….”
Never mind that the Prophet himself is even known to have personally served them meals when a Christian delegation from Ethiopian churches visited Medina.
The other was the two kinds of discriminatory treatments the Ethiopian political refugees received while in Egypt. On the one hand, those of us who claimed to be Ethiopian were not received well whenever we presented ourselves within the Arabic diplomatic circles, in general, and the Egyptian diplomatic community and officials, in particular. On the other hand, one could observe an unbelievable friendly reception being extended to those who claimed to be non-Ethiopian – nearly all of them being members of Liberation Fronts – the TPLF followers and “delegates” included. The recognition they received was comparable to the diplomatic immunity and extra-territorial status which is only extended to those who are friendly or allied militaries, foreign heads of state, ambassadors and diplomatic agents. I cannot help but just cringe wondering how on earth we let such groups and individuals, who wandered around the capitals of the Middle East, claiming to be partly Arabs, that they don’t belong to Ethiopia, and that they were fighting to secede from Ethiopia, smuggling and selling priceless Ethiopian religious relics along the way, be our rulers!? This absurd reality aside, which speaks volumes about the current generation of Ethiopians, please allow me to make my first point here: that Mr. Zenawi’s accusation of Egypt for backing anti-government rebels is quite accurate for he speaks from his own practical experience. Moreover, the historical enmity between the two nations, a substantial portion of the hostility originating from Egypt and Ethiopia’s neighbors is real and despot leaders such Messrs. Mubarak and Zenawi have a built-in tendency to exploit it. For picking a fight against both traditional and concocted enemies is a tool used by dictatorial and illegitimate regimes who are seeking unity in a highly fractured society.
ETHIOPIANS SHOULD BE UNITED WHEN IT COMES TO THE NILE BUT AVOID PLACATION
Given the deeply held unholy Egyptian bitter resentment against Ethiopia, what would democrats, who happen to disagree with the current regime, do if Egypt launches punitive actions against Ethiopia’s newly built projects? Would the democratic forces ally themselves with Mr. Zenawi, even though they know that he is a despicable despot and has committed several treasonous crimes against the interests of their beloved country, if Egypt happens to trigger havoc against Ethiopia? My answer: “All things considered, and when push comes to shove: You Betcha!” They do so irrespective of the fact that the deeply rooted and historical enmity is being orchestrated by Meles himself, or, as Jawar aptly stated it, they know that “Meles is ratcheting up the rhetorical confrontation mantle in order to gain popular support” - http://ethiomedia.com/augur/4233.html .. They do so not because they are convinced treasonous and allegedly genocidal Meles has overnight turned to be a patriot when he tells them, via Reuters, that “I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia….Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story… I don’t think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that.” Instead, they are angered by the carefully orchestrated deception and placation. They will defend Ethiopia and its interests because they are fed up with the unjust animosity that Egypt harbors against Ethiopia for too long. They do so because they are tired of witnessing Ethiopia’s sovereignty and rights being infringed by its traditional enemies. They do so because, the position taken by Ethiopia and the other upper Nile riparian countries is just- an equitable distribution of water sources. They do so because they don’t want to set a precedent- since allying with Egypt and stopping the construction of the projects would be tantamount to Ethiopia’s fate being decided by foreigner elements rather than its citizens. For some of us who strongly believe that Ethiopia is better off by building smaller dams and/or who detest the non-transparent manner by which projects are implemented, we do so because we just don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” We do so because…, well, we are placated (duped) by Meles’ merciless Machiavellian tactics. Help! Unless Ethiopians come to together and find ways to disentangle the web of traps that Ethiopia and its people have been logged into, their fates will be at the mercy of despots of Mr. Zenawi’s type.
WHY WAR (CONFLICT) BETWEEN EGYPT AND ETHIOPIA IS POSSIBLE
There are several factors which indicate to me that hostility between Egypt and Ethiopia is likely to continue and I will mention just a few of them to save space. First, a significant portion of the Egyptian populace erroneously believes (or is made to believe) that the Nile waters belong only to them. As a result, they believe that dam constructions in Ethiopia are tantamount to crossing the “red line.” Second, the growing political uprisings of the Nile delta provinces of Kafr al-Sheikh, Gharbiya, Alexandria, Giza and Marsa Matruh due to water shortages indicate that, as argued by Lutfi Radwan and others that Egypt was facing severe water shortages (about 20 billion cubic meters per year) even before power dams were built in Ethiopia. The causes of the water shortages are known to be many- some of them being population pressure, life-style changes, the effects of global warming, the gradual changes of crop patterns such as the increased production of water devouring crops of rice and sugar cane. This suggests that, as correctly articulated by Alya Kebiri, water, which is becoming increasingly scarce, is not “priced and managed properly. Proper pricing could have been more efficient and sustainable. Moreover, the Egyptian government monopolistically controls the distribution and management of water, with a lot of subsidization, bureaucratization and inefficiencies involved.” A government which is not willing to communicate with its people about the current realities will have a tendency to find scapegoats. Experts who have advised the government of Egypt to give up its production of some crops (or change some of the crop patterns) have indicated that the government is not willing to do so. Such irrational usage of water may have corrupted that nation and its farmers and such spoiled attitudes involve negative repercussions. Add to this the war mongering rhetoric of Mr. Sadat, the late president of Egypt and Butrous Butrous Ghali, the former Secretary General of the United Nations who played a role, in collaboration with the treasonous regime of Meles Zenawi, for the break-up of Ethiopia- both Egyptian leaders known to have said that "The next war in our region will be over the waters of the Nile, … “ Wasn’t it Egyptian Mr. Ismail Serageldin, who was vice-president of the World Bank, who told the world that future wars would be mostly about water? As John Vidal informs us, nations already are sparing over rivers and dams such as India and Pakistan over river Indus; China, Nepal, India and Bangladesh over the rivers originating from in the Himalayas; Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the Amu Daria and Syr Daria rivers; Argentina and Uruguay over the river Plate; Iraq and Syria over the Tigris; Israel, Palestine, and Jordan over the Jordan River watersheds and other water sources; Iraq and Iran over the Shatt al-Arab waterways; Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, over Zambezi and its tributaries, etc.
But I seriously doubt that Egypt will invade Ethiopia for Egypt can create enough havoc by doing what it knows best – supporting disaffected insurgent groups and perhaps even using individual terrorists. If Mr. Zenawi knows that Egypt uses disaffected Ethiopian insurgent groups to attack Ethiopia, wouldn’t be wise and less costly for his government to deny Egypt and other Ethiopia’s enemies by finding solutions to the causes of (reasons) that such groups are forced to be used by Ethiopia’s traditional enemies? Unfortunately, this is not possible for it is not in the nature of undemocratic rulers like Mr. Zenawi and the TPLF/EPRDF to look inside themselves. They would rather opt for the ultimate placation of patriotic citizens. Let’s face it: the fact that I and other patriots, such as Messrs. Jawar Mohammed, Robele Ababya, Girma Kassa and others are calling for unity among Ethiopians when it comes to the Nile may indicate that the placation and Mr. Zenawi’s shrewd Machiavellian plans are already underway. Some of us had seen this ultimate placation coming for quite some time, and a precedent was already set during the Ethio-Eritrean war. The costs associated with the impending hostilities and placation, particularly in terms of treasure, would be incalculable. It is for this reason that I call upon politicians, intellectuals, political scientists and all patriot Ethiopians, to design mechanisms (responses) so that we are neither placated nor the hostilities get intensified, while at the same time standing together to protect Ethiopia’s rights to use its own waters.
Note: As soon as I begun disseminating the first draft of the above write-up, Professor Minga Negash, professor of accountancy at the Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa who has been following the issue for many years sent me a couple of important email messages. Below, I present to you one of the messages and I thank him for allowing me to share it with you.
"It is a well known fact that Egyptian policy towards Ethiopia is primarily driven by the politics of the Nile water. This policy goes back to the antiquities. TPLF's ill trained diplomats are incapable of understanding the historical complexities. As we have seen in the case of the Algiers Agreement they have also a poor understanding of international law. Egyptian support for the separation of Eritrea and now its alleged support for other separatists show the consistency of Egyptian foreign policy towards Ethiopia, and it can be explained in part by the politics of water. In other words, Mr. Zenawi is facing the same problem that his predecessors were facing.
“What makes TPLF's policy scandalous is Zenawi's Zenawi's letter to the ex foreign minister of Egypt, Boutros Boutros Galli to legitimize Eritrea's separation through the UN system. In addition to diminishing Ethiopia's profile in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's loss of its coastal territories gave Egypt the role of being the dominant naval power in the Red Sea. Egyptian support for Eritrea's policy towards Somalia is yet another evidence of reducing Ethiopia's influence on the Horn of Africa. TPLF's official scandals with regard to the Nile officially started in 1991. Ethiopia's useless foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin bowed to the Egyptian demand for the removal of the CEO of the Valley Development Authority. In the confusion, confidential rain fall data was lost and some suspect that the data was stolen by Egypt through a student who was studying for his Masters degree in Belgium. TPLF then signed the infamous treaty with Egypt, which the Egyptians feel is a useful diplomatic weapon. Zenawi's poor understanding of water policy was rectified by the creation of a new regional organization that advocates for the equitable and fair sharing of the waters of Nile river system. The success of this organization has yet to be seen. This progress, however, is frustrated by another incoherent policy of the TPLF. According to some reports, Egypt is a beneficiary of TPLF's wholesale of farm lands to foreigners. The report suggests that the National Bank of Egypt has leased a large tract of agricultural land in the Afar region. Another report suggests that an Egyptian company has established a factory in Bahir Dar, the source of the Blue Nile. Zenawi's recent press statement is coming in the middle of these complex relationships between Egypt and Ethiopia."
Note: This article can be considered as a rejoinder to the recently published commentaries made public by Messrs. Robele Ababya, Jawar Mohammed, Girma Kassa, and Asrat Abraham.
Dr. Seid Hassan is a Professor of Economics at Murray State University in the United States.
Ethiopia - Derg guilty of genocide or politicide-a reply to Eskinder Nega
Firew Kebede Tiba, PhD
In his most recent contribution (31 December 2010), which appeared on your website, Eskinder Nega raised the question of whether Derg officials were wrongly convicted of genocide and concluded that “they have been sentenced to death for the wrong reasons…[and] they are not guilty of genocide.”(http://www.ethiomedia.com/augur/4358.html ). This is not an unfamiliar argument as it was the mainstay of the defense team’s argument against the charges. Let me first begin by expressing what I felt about this analysis. It seems to me that the purpose of his analysis is to present the perpetrators in a positive light so as to soften public opposition to the apology being requested. One can simply note the subliminal pressure on the reader in his profiling of the notorious butcher of Gondar whose infamy has entered in to the local folklore simply as a pathetic, insecure, and an underachiever young man not worthy of the maximum punishment a society reserves to its serious offenders. This may be an unfair assessment of Eskinder’s intentions and I stand to be corrected. On the other hand, he has not done anything to dispel the rumor that even at his old age Melaku continues to be defiant and rejects accusations labeled against him. Again I stand to be corrected on the veracity of these rumors. Eskinder would have done him and his lot a favor if he probed deeper and presented evidence that Melaku is not in league with his former boss Mengistu Hailemariam who publically, after the guilty verdict, categorically said that he had never killed a fly let alone a human being. [Mengistu’s Reuters Interview, video widely available online] Fair enough, and everybody is entitled to their opinion, but what worries me the most is how the legal arguments were presented to diminish the significance of whatever crimes they ‘should have been guilty of.’ I do not think that we should take these lightly.
Genocide is a relatively new term coined by Rapahel Lemkin, a Polish Jew lawyer, in 1944. This means, all crimes of genocide that we recognize today such as the Jewish holocaust or the Armenian genocide were not labeled as such before this term was coined. Such crimes were known by different names, among others, crimes against humanity. The NAZI war crimes suspects were not charged and convicted of genocide. Rather they were charged and found guilty of committing crimes against peace, waging war of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The word genocide, however, came to acquire such a powerful meaning and connotations so that labeling all types of massive killings as genocide as opposed to, say, crimes against humanity is becoming very commonplace. In reality, crimes against humanity is as heinous, grave and an affront to the conscience of humanity as genocide is. Any argument which seeks to diminish the moral blameworthiness of individuals who commit crimes against humanity is unacceptable. For argument sake, however, it does not make a difference whether Derg officials were convicted of crimes against humanity or genocide as far as the gravity of their offence is concerned both under our law and under international law. Perhaps, for various reasons, there is more stigma attached to genocide than other forms of mass killings.
On political groups: as Eskinder pointed out, including political groups among groups protected against genocide was a controversial subject and it was eventually dropped from the 1948 Genocide Convention due to a political compromise which emanated from a pressure exerted by the Soviet Block. Ethiopia at the time simply abstained and did not vote against the exclusion of political groups. But for Lemkin, the man who coined the word genocide, political groups were protected against genocide, although he excluded them later in his draft treaty prepared for the UN out of fear of disagreement by member states. Here is the original definition from his book: "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe" (1943):
"Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups."
Furthermore, in 1946, when the General Assembly of the United Nations called for a convention on genocide on its 11 December 1946 resolution, it explicitly included crimes committed on political grounds as crimes of genocide punishable under international law.
Be this as it may, Ethiopia, along with a handful of other countries such as, France (Art. 211-1 of its Penal Code) and Bolivia moved to include political groups in the category of groups protected against genocide. Considering all these, and the fact that the Ethiopian Penal Code of 1957 pre-existed the commission of the crimes, there is no legal ground for disputing that the suspects could not be charged with genocide. Yes, our law is not co-extensive with the genocide convention or the national laws of other countries which excluded political groups from protection, but it does not contradict any rule of international law and it better protects Ethiopian citizens.
Eskinder also took issue with whether the number of victims fulfilled the threshold for genocide and obliquely referred to the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to support his argument. This could pass for a respectable argument in defense of the suspects before any court of law if pursued rigorously but nonetheless, must fail. The essence of the law against genocide is not about numbers. It is about the intention to eliminate protected groups in whole or in part and how far the suspect goes to realize his or her intentions. We may summarily dismiss the argument that Derg did not intend to eliminate EPRP or any other political opposition in whole, because examples show that not everybody who was an EPRP member died or suffered adverse consequences. But this is immaterial. In relation to this, however, what Eskinder failed to point out is that genocide is committed not only by killing- other acts such as imprisonment, torture, even rape (as was recognized by the Rwanda Tribunal) so long as those actions were taken to further the genocidal intent amount to genocide. There is a strong case to show that, Derg intended to eliminate parts of political groups standing in opposition to its revolution. It is unrealistic to expect that Derg needed to wipe out all or a given number of EPRP members to meet the threshold. But at the very least, it is a matter of common knowledge that it imprisoned those it identified as members of the opposition in furtherance of its policy of eliminating EPRP and other opposition groups. Others who were not affected were mainly because, either they escaped or Derg was not able to lay its hands on them.
Can one counter the argument that the crime did not reach the genocidal threshold simply because only less than ¼ of the member of the group were targeted as asserted by Eskinder? Assuming that the figures are true, let us look at a case from the Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia, where only one incident was labeled as genocide while most others were categorized as crimes against humanity. This was confirmed by the International Court of Justice as well. In this one instance relating to the massacre in Srebrenica, the victims mainly men- including those above 65 and young boys were less than 8000 in number constituting roughly about 1/5 of the population of the region. The tribunal in Krstic case driving the message home that number is only the beginning but not the end of the inquiry observed:
“the numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial within the meaning of Article 4.”
So what do we know about the number of members of the opposition targeted for liquidation, torture, imprisonment, rape, enforced disappearance etc, in comparison to the EPRP membership? Is the number and composition of those targeted (including innocent children) not emblematic of the whole group? Were those who perished not essential for the survival of the group? Did this terror in fact not succeed in vanquishing EPRP and the opposition beyond any possibility of recovery? I think we have our answer.
Eskinder also wrote that the crime needs to be called politicide instead of genocide following Gurr and Harff. Politicide is not a legal term and does not carry any punishment in any modern criminal code. Until that word enters a legal lexicon we ought to call it what our criminal code calls it.
He also raised an important issue of prosecutorial discretion. I argued elsewhere that, the argument whether the acts constituted genocide as it is popularly known or not, is doing a disservice to the whole debate considering the highly politicized nature of such trials. The Special Prosecutor had an option of charging the suspects with commission of crimes against humanity carrying same punishment as well as no lesser degree of moral blameworthiness. However, he did what he did and here we are. But let it be remembered that whether they were found guilty of genocide or crimes against humanity it does not diminish the extent of their guilt. In fact, to the contrary, being charged under such a novel and uncommon provision has helped rally support for them as if they are being taken for a ride by those implementing ‘victor’s justice’ under a controversial law. From my readings of the decision of the Federal High Court, the defense and their witnesses were sometimes wrongly trying to defend the accusations as if they were charged with trying to eliminate a particular ethnic group. Their defenses sometimes run like, “derg did not have a policy of eliminating any ethnic group” . This was not what they were charged with and this line of defense in addition to wasting the defense’s precious time and energy, had to an extent also helped in leaving the wrong perception about the trials. The Amharic word for genocide “Zer Matfat” which is equivalent to “eliminating a race” might have also played a role in this.
I agree with Eskinder that the suspects did not receive adequate legal representation and their case dragged on for decades. There are also numerous questionable aspects of issues of individual criminal responsibility which could be a basis for challenging the verdicts for some of the suspects. The legal procedure is almost complete unless the Cassation Court says otherwise. Thus, at this stage the larger debate is the extent to which they are prepared to come clean of their own accord and whether the victims and the wider society is prepared to put this behind and move on. One has to do the convincing but the tone of this otherwise fine analysis by Eskinder Nega did not seem quite like it.
Firew Kebede Tiba is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Waikato School of Law in Hamilton, New Zealand. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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