On forgiving and the truth in relation to crimes of the Derg in Ethiopia
By Firew Kebede Tiba
I have been following the arguments for and against an initiative in the works about the forgiving by the wider public of the former Derg government officials. This initiative by the heads of the four religious groups [Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Catholic and Evangelical] is being criticized by notable organized groups, such as, the families of the 60 Haile Selassie government officials summarily executed by the Derg. Expectedly, there is bound to be both an opposition and support for this initiative.
I cannot even begin to fathom what it is like for victims of the terror unleashed by the Derg on the cross-section of the society between 1974 until the early 1980s, let alone suggest how best this ought to be handled. Not being a direct victim, I can only speak for myself as a citizen who has a stake in the country’s future and as an indirect victim for the loss which my country sustained as a result of the abuses committed.
The legal issue: whether this is possible at all:
The Ethiopian Constitution, in line with modern international human rights law, prohibits amnesty or pardon for such grave international crimes, but allows the Head of State to commute death sentence to that of life. The government has not said anything about this or has not even acknowledged that there is such an initiative in the works. It is unlikely that it will amend the Constitution to allow amnesty or pardon as it is simply against international law to do so, but also, there is nothing it can gain politically from such a move. Neither is there any political constituency to be served as Derg partisans are almost totally vanquished. I suspect that it is going to exercise the Head of State’s power to commute death penalty to that of life. It would not be such a risky move on its part, since the High Court had previously sentenced them to life before its decision got overturned by the Federal Supreme Court which imposed death sentence thereby making the final statement on the extent of their guilt. For the wider public, the human rights violations of the Derg is no longer vivid and politically motivated state crimes still continue to be committed putting in to question the moral legitimacy of the current government to punish others. But this is not about the current government, for the country will live on to be able to prosecute those who have currently taken their turns to commit some similar crimes.
The plan lacks clarity and details:
On the other hand, the initiative lacks clarity as there is no indication of whether what is being requested amounts to a request for an amnesty which wipes out the criminal responsibility of the convicted or simply calls for a customary and religious ritual of forgiveness without affecting the consequences of the Trial process. To be fair to the convicts, they have been requesting for an apology forum to be organized since the Trial Court rendered its decision on their guilt in 2006. There seems to be a genuine desire on their part to seek redemption regardless of whether they were sentenced to death or not. Some argue that their remorse is not genuine since they did not admit guilt during trial. Considering that they were going through a legal procedure, their ‘not guilty’ plea should not be held against them.
Between life sentence and capital punishment:
The issue now is whether the Ethiopian society is not prepared to settle for nothing less than the execution of those on the death row. Unlike most amnesty debates, this is coming 20 years after the suspects have been put behind bars and it is unique in demonstrating that one can have both justice and truth at the same time provided we utilize this opportunity carefully. They have already served for a period equivalent to life sentence under Ethiopian law provided they can qualify for parole. This is in fact what they would have expected, if an ad hoc international tribunal was established to try their cases or if capital punishment was abolished in Ethiopia.
Truth and forgiveness:
In my opinion, the religious leaders have been secretive about their activities and have not thoroughly thought through on how to capitalize on this and get the most desirable outcome for everyone concerned. Any generalized apology request without shedding light on some of the most mysterious instances of murder and disappearances for which the Trials did not provide conclusive answers is not going to be helpful. The religious leaders know too well that the heads of their Churches and a lot of other individuals were disappeared without a trace. They owe it to such people that the truth be told if the society is to extend them forgiveness. It would be a pity if they are to follow the same comical pardoning process that took place following the imprisonment of the opposition leaders in the wake of the 2005 disputed election.
Apology and individual guilt and remorse:
Apology has to be individualized. The Derg trials did not give us satisfactory answers as to who did what in the Derg leadership. The major trial seemed more like a condemnation of the collective leadership of the Derg and did not pinpoint the extent of each accused’s individual criminal responsibility. If we do not use this opportunity to get answers to some of the vexing questions, then we will have failed in our attempt at uncovering the truth. Who wouldn’t want to hear from the perpetrators directly as to what happened to Emperor Haileselassie; the murder of the renowned author Behalu Girma and numerous other figures whose murder or disappearance is still shrouded in mystery?
Better planning and broader consultation:
From what I know they were planning to organize a one day (possibly televised) forgiving ceremony composed of 500 individuals (mainly victims and families) from all parts of the country. This is brief and will not answer all questions citizens and victim families might have and they need to be better organized and they should consult broadly with all those concerned. It would be much better if they included the victims and alleged perpetrators of similar abuses committed by individuals belonging to the other camp, such as EPRP and MEISON etc. We cannot keep glossing over this side of our unpleasant past forever. This might be like opening a can of worms and the timid religious establishments may not have an appetite or the permission to engage in such broader search for truth. In any case, they will need to solicit expert advice on the various implications of this exercise and should steer clear of activities that may end up whitewashing history or harm their reputation painting them as apologists of dictatorship.
Firew Kebede Tiba, PhD
Hamilton, New Zealand
The writer is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethiopia - Groundhog Year in Prison Nation
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
In December 2008, I wrote a weekly column entitled "Groundhog Year in Prison Nation" summarizing some of my weekly columns for that year. I used the "groundhog year" analogy following the title of the motion picture "Groundhog Day" in which a hapless television weatherman is trapped in a time warp and finds himself repeating the same day over and over. I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004... Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each "new" day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray... for deliverance from Evil!
It is December 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. Are Ethiopians better off today than they were in 2009, 2005...2000?
Does bread (teff) cost more today than it did a year ago..., five years ago? Cooking oil, household fuel, beef, poultry, gasoline, housing, water, electricity, public transport...?
Are there more poor people today in Ethiopia than there were a year ago... five years ago? More unemployment among youth, less educational opportunities, less health care?
Is there more corruption, more secrecy, less transparency and less accountability in December 2010 than in December 2009...?
Are elections more free and fair in 2010 than they were in 2008, 2005?
Is there more press freedom today than five years ago? More human rights violations?
Is Ethiopia more dependent on international charity for its daily bread today than a year ago...?
Is there more environmental pollution, habitat destruction, forced human displacement and land grabs in Ethiopia today than there was in 2005?
Are businesses paying more taxes and bribes in Ethiopia today than in years past?
Is Ethiopia today at the very bottom of the global Index of Economic Freedom (limited access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure)?
Let the reader answer these self-evident questions. Suffice it to say, "It is what it is!"
Montage of Scenes From 2010 Time Loop
So here we are in Ethiopian Groundhog Year 2010. As a year-end overview, I decided to select and highlight a few of my columns from the multiple dozens of weekly and other commentaries I wrote in 2010 and published on the various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, and the Huffington Post where all of my commentaries for the year are readily available.
January 2010 - Looking Through the Glass, Brightly
"Ethiopia is the country of the future," Birtukan Midekssa would often say epigrammatically. Ethiopia's number 1 political prisoner is always preoccupied with her country's future and destiny. Her deep concern for Ethiopia is exceeded only by her boundless optimism for its future... To be the country of the future necessarily means not being the country of the past. Birtukan's Ethiopia of the future is necessarily the categorical antitheses of an imperial autocracy, a military bureaucracy and a dictatorship of kleptocracy. Her vision of the future Ethiopia is a unified country built on a steel platform of multiparty democracy. Birtukan would have been pleased to explain her vision and dreams of the future country of Ethiopia; unfortunately, she cannot speak for herself as she has been condemned to "rot" in jail.
February 2010- Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Ethiopia's dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the "fastest developing economies in the world". Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with megawattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of "severe malnutrition". Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a "human rights" chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, "You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it 'democracy' but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!"
March 2010- Waiting for Godot to Leave
The politics of "succession" to Zenawi's "throne" has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the "throne" (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up... and the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they cannot remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came. Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain't happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work.
April, 2010- C'est la Vie? C'est la Vie en Prison!
When Meles Zenawi, the arch dictator in Ethiopia, was asked about Birtukan's health in his prison on March 23, 2010, he was comically philosophical about it. He said Birtukan health is in "perfect condition", except that she may be putting on some weight. "The health situation of Birtukan, the last I heard, is in perfect condition. She may have gained a few kilos, but other than that, and that may be for lack of exercise, I understand she is in perfect health... I am not surprised that they [U.S. State Department] have characterized Birtukan as a political prisoner, because I understand they have also characterized Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) terrorists... as political prisoners... But that is life; I think the French say, 'C'est la Vie.'
May, 2010- Speaking Truth to Power
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian "election" will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The "Preliminary Statement" of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: "The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties." ... Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that "we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards... The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory." Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as "mediator" in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: "... I don't think it was a fair election."
June, 2010- Speaking Truth to the Powerless
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi's "election" is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: "What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?" Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real "defeat" for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one's appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country's future.
July, 2010- Hummingbirds and Forest Fires
World history shows that individuals and small groups -- the hummingbirds -- do make a difference in bringing about change in their societies. The few dozen leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the government of the United States were driven to independence by a "long train of abuses and usurpations" leading to "absolute despotism" as so eloquently and timelessly expressed in the Declaration of Independence... The Bolsheviks (vultures in hummingbird feathers) won the Russian Revolution arguably defending the rights of the working class and peasants against the harsh oppression of Czarist dictatorship. They managed to establish a totalitarian system which thankfully swept itself into the dustbin of history two decades ago... Gandhi and a small group of followers in India led nationwide campaigns to alleviate poverty, make India economically self-reliant, broaden the rights of urban laborers, peasants and women, end the odious custom of untouchability and bring about tolerance and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo led ANC's Defiance Campaign and crafted the Freedom Charter which provided the ideological basis for the long struggle against apartheid and served as the foundation for the current South African Constitution. In the United States, Martin Luther King and some 60 church leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the driving force of the American civil rights movement.
August, 2010 - Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in Poland... and singled out Ethiopia along with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others to warn the world that "we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit."... She pointed out: "Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights."... Secretary Clinton said the acid test for the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy is whether "more people in more places are better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?" By this measure, U.S. policy in Ethiopia has been a total, unmitigated and dismal failure. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable...
September, 2010- Indoctri-Nation
Ethiopia's Ministry of Education issued a "directive" effectively outlawing distance learning (or education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country... Wholesale elimination of private distance learning programs by "directive", or more accurately bureaucratic fiat, is a flagrant violation of Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. Under this Proclamation, the Ministry of Education and its sub-agencies have the authority to regulate and "revoke accreditation" of a private institution which fails to meet statutory criteria on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process.... I believe the regime has a long term strategy to use the universities as breeding grounds for its ideologues and hatcheries for the thousands of loyal and dependent bureaucrats they need to sustain their domination and rule. The monopoly created for the state in the disciplines of law and teaching (which I will predict will gradually include other disciplines in the future) is a clear indication of the trend to gradually create a cadre of "educated" elites to serve the next generation of dictators to come.
October, 2010- Birtukan Unbound!
Birtukan was held for months in a dark room with no human contact except a few minutes a week with her mother and daughter. Fear, anxiety and despair were her only companions. Heartache knocked constantly on the door to her dark room needling her: "Did you do the right thing leaving three year-old Hal'le to the care of your aging mother?" Self-doubt kept her awake in that dark room where time stood still asking her the same question over and over: "Is it worth all this suffering? Give up!" But a voice in her conscience would echo thunderously, "Like hell you're going to give up, Birtukan. Fight on. Keep on fighting. 'Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'" In the end Birtukan signed Zenawi's scrap of paper making exception to convictions of honor and good sense. We expected nothing less from such a great young woman.... Prisoners can be brainwashed to say anything by those who control them. Prisoners who have endured torture, extreme degradation and abuse have been known to do shocking things to please their captors and ease their own pain and suffering. Abused prisoners have been known to deceive themselves into believing the cruelty of their captors as acts of kindness. It is called the "Stockholm Syndrome." When the victim is under the total and complete control of her captor for her basic needs of survival and her very existence, she will say and do anything to please her captor.
November, 2010- Remember the Slaughter of 2005
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
December, 2010- "So What!"
So what are the lessons of Groundhog Year 2010? The first decade of the 21st Century?
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Lesson II. If you get into America's face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
Lesson III. "Democratization is a matter of survival." If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive.
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
Lesson VI. Elections are like children's marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, you need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.
Lesson VIII. You want funding, don't beg for it; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Lesson: IX. There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.
Lesson X: The greatest lesson of 2010 and the first decade of the 21st Century:
DESPAIR NOT! "THERE HAVE BEEN TYRANTS AND MURDERERS AND FOR A TIME THEY SEEM INVINCIBLE BUT IN THE END, THEY ALWAYS FAIL -- THINK OF IT ALWAYS." Mahatma Gandhi.
Ivory Coast: UN Picks the Gauntlet in a rare experiment with use of force
By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
In recent years, election frauds in Africa have intensified. Domestically, elections are greeted with fear, often imposing flight for some, imprisonment for others and still for some others the live-let-live attitude of enforced servitude. These days the international community has lost its will to act; it has limited itself to expressions of disappointment and short-lived frowns, before it returns to its default mode of business as usual. Consequently, the habits and conveniences of strongmen have found it easier to dictate the modes of governance and national values on peoples without any meaningful recourse.
Thus, reports of ballot rigging, harassment of opposition candidates and supporters have become the norms of these days. The media is silenced, as corruption became rife. Journalists and members of the independent media are under constant threats, or in prison, or have exiled themselves. The elections “do not meet international standards” are hanged high in most states of the region, as evidence of loyalty to national interests and as a badge of struggle against “interference by neo-colonialists.” With the help of well-greased party machines, the public is mobilised to condemn that, eventually required to declare its support for the party in power, a shrewd way of warding opponents and consolidating power.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there should be widespread cynicism in Africa about international election observations. Neither the fanfare of the observers’ arrivals arrival days before elections, nor their presence has so far been a source of succour to the defenceless during the extravagant, tense and aggressive electoral periods. This makes one to wonder why so much precious resources are being wasted for non-action that dashes the hopes and aspirations of people that cannot be protected by the laws of their lands.
What difference did it make to Mubarak’s Egypt, when it went to business as usual ruling out the presence of foreign observers in the November? The ruling National Democratic Party knows full well that it cannot get a chance for another term in a free and fair election. Those who boycotted the election knew what would happen. Reuters reports (12 Dec) that the ruling has secured about 80 percent of the seats, while analysts claim that many independent candidates that secured the remaining seats have links to the ruling party.
This is not to imply that international observation is the cure all. It is domestic empowerment of the people that can do the job of exposing and curbing corruption of individuals and institutions, including electoral robbery in broad daylight. The intent of this article is to draw attention to the fact that the rich and powerful countries must conduct their relations with countries with weak institutions with the appropriate measures of engaging with seriousness the country, long before elections are held. If the objective is a shared sense of justice, then there is always ample time to correct the wrongs. The answer lies in aid being used to empower African citizens, instead of despots.
Through empowerment via civil society organisations and independent media, citizens can defend themselves and their national interests. However, this must be done by stopping the strongmen of greed and their insurgent ‘civil society organisations’ from stamping their wishes into law. I am writing here because it needed saying in public, although in this era of national governance by international business interests, captivated by attractions of lucrative contracts this may be next to the impossible. Powerful men have the means to make the case for themselves, even when nothing they do or say has little to do with truth, love of the nation and the needs of its development.
For a while now, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has left President Bashir of the Sudan in peace. ICC has now chosen Kenya to demonstrate its new tools to weed out electoral violence. It has identified six government officials to be tried for their role in the 2007 election-related bloodshed and destructions. Their crimes included responsibility for the loss of more than 1,220 lives and displacement of 350,000 in the ensuing inter-clan and inter-ethnic conflicts. Kenya is no longer the same. What is comforting about that country is that there still is determination to fight back, seeking justice for the political crimes against the nation and its innocent citizens.
Now, Kenya’s corrupt and unrepentant parliament has turned ICC’s involvement into a war between itself and ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. They do this because they are terrified, tainted as they are by either corruption or the electoral bloodshed. When the chips are down, Kenya’s parliamentarians responded in the least expected fashion. They hastened to approve on 23 December a motion aimed at protecting the accused six, eventually themselves, by seeking the country’s withdrawal from ICC membership. No wonder, in its editorial a stunned Daily Nation that same day wrote:
This dramatic approval…capped a week in which we saw the very best and the worst of Parliament. The best because MPs exhibited rare urgency in tackling critical matters, and worst because the urgency was stratified in the most selfish of needs an august House can ever muster. Indeed, it beggars belief that a congress of men and women sworn to protect the rule of law and protect the country's reputation can sit deep into the night discussing the most retrogressive of Motions since the dark day in 1982 when Kenyan became a single party state in 10 minutes. If the motion sought to protect the Ocampo Six, then the effort was in vain. Withdrawing from the treaty does not stop the ICC from pursuing suspects, and it most certainly guarantees them a one-way ticket to The Hague.
Luckily, the drama would not be over that easily, before one side blinks or everything dies down quietly—if as usual the “war on terrorism” that now is intensified in the Horn of Africa gives them the power and privilege of unaccountability.
During the past two decades, Ivory Coast has been infected with the region’s shameful disease of lawlessness. The problem today is Laurent Gbagbo—sort of a twin brother of Charles Taylor of Liberia—who, using the Ivorian Popular Front (IPF) that he formed with his wife, has decided to cling to power. Election commission results show that Mr Alassane Ouattara has won by about eight percentage points, according to news sources. Notwithstanding that, Mr Gbagbo swears in the name of the national sovereignty and constitution of Ivory Coast to defend his powers. In reality, he is the Nero of our time, who is singing and dancing, when his country is headed on the path of destruction.
Ivory coast had witnessed significant economic growth, when the rest of Africa was stagnating in the 1970w-1990s. In spite of the corruption of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the shunning he had suffered from Africa’s extreme leftists tagged as a bulwark of Africa’s reactionary spirit and continued destabilisation by the likes of Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, he had left behind to his successors a functional and prosperous country. For decades, that had made it a shining example of Africa’s capabilities and the magnet to citizens of neighbouring countries.
Nevertheless, seen against the backdrop of its much better days, there is no doubt that Ivory Coast has sunk down today. Owing to that, for the first time in 2010 perhaps the global supply of cocoa and the fortunes of Nestle would head south, at least for a while. As far as Nestle is concerned, Bloomberg reported in September that Switzerland has dwarfed “German profit growth led by Nestle-Novartis” (Bloomberg, 10 Sept). Life expectancy of Ivorians since 1998 has slumped down to 55.5 years. Household consumption from 1988-2008 has dived to -2.2 percent, according to the World Bank.
I am pleased that this time around the international community has moved out of its inertia to stand by the winner of the November election in that country, thanks to the impatience to electoral fraud by and political leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Also this time around, the response of the United Nations and the important countries of Africa, including Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, Europe, the EU, the US and AU have been swifter. It is the good fortune of Ivory Coast that the UN is heavily present since April 2004 of a UN peacekeeping force—the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI)—with a robust mandate under Chapter VII of the Organisation’s Charter.
Articles 41 and 42 of the Charter empower the Security Council, to use armed force, carry out blockade by air, sea, or land utilising the forces of Members of the United Nations. So far, this authority has been exercised sparingly, mostly due to lack of consensus, especially amongst the veto power holding members.
In the case of Ivory Coast, two important aspects of UNOCI’s mandate are the authorization granted it by the Security Council “to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate, within its capabilities and its areas of deployment.” The second one refers “to use all necessary means in order to support UNOCI in accordance with the agreement to be reached between UNOCI and the French authorities, and in particular to: (i) contribute to the general security of the area of activity of the international forces; (ii) intervene at the request of UNOCI in support of its elements whose security may be threatened, (iii) intervene against belligerent actions, if the security conditions so require, outside the areas directly controlled by UNOCI; and (iv) help to protect civilians, in the deployment areas of their units.”
UNOCI has a force presence of 9,150-strong, after the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1942 (2010) of 29 September, authorizing additional deployment of 500 police and military personnel to assist in the election. What is very rare is for the members of the Security Council to rally behind the position adopted by the Secretary-General to ensure decision of the population of Ivory Coast in the voting are respected. The technocratic and much experienced Alassane Dramane Ouattara of the Rally of the Republicans (RDD, from its French acronym) has been elected by the last election.
The use of force is not an easy decision. In Ivory Coast, it might be a necessity now to remove the man who has become obstacle to the resolution of that country’s longstanding political and security, and problems of national identity—whether a person is Ivorian or not. While it is essential to determine who is a citizen, using it as a means of dividing the country and to discredit opponents should be fought tooth and nail.
Mr Gbagbo is counting on the support of the armed forces, not for a long time though. The financial sanctions would soon bite. The armed forces could be swayed when they realise that he cannot pay their salaries. However, the UN and ECOWAS need not wait, until that realisation sinks. There is no more propitious time and opportunity than now to kick Mr Gbagbo and his cronies out of power by military means—with as little bloodshed as possible. This task is not going to be that easy, not even in the north, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and French forces.
In collaboration between Mr Ouattara, the United Nations and ECOWAS, and other opposition parties, there is need to set up a dedicated team that would assist the president-elect in stabilisation of the country and consolidation of his powers, especially at a time when he cannot rely on the country’s armed forces and part of the civil service. To that end, the following need to be agreed upon, as necessary:
a. The UN needs to plan on one-year time table to stabilise Mr Ouattara’s government and consolidate his power;
b. The international community needs to work with Mr Ouattara, supported by a team of experts, with diverse backgrounds;
c. The president-elect needs to work with Ivorians of all stripes toward healing the north-south divide, avoiding any semblance of ethnic favouritism or political vendetta, a disgraceful habit of Africa’s strongmen. He also should seek close collaboration with ONOCI’s task force, while decision-making is entirely his.
d. All the above, including Mr Ouattara, must respect and defend the rights of the millions that have stood behind Mr Gbagbo in the south. They need to be weaned out. Special efforts need to be exerted to enable them to see that the drastic action of ejecting the former president is being taken in the interests of the whole country and its people—both northerners and southerners. Recall that Mr Gbagbo and his supporters have accused the UN peacekeeping force and French troops as Mr Ouattara’s operatives, because of which they declared he and his supporters declared them “rebel fighters.” In a traditional society such as Ivory Coast, this calls for patient and concerted efforts of transformation, not sabre rattling.
e. The ICC must gather evidence and build a case of abuse of state powers and associated crimes responsible for the current situation and prosecute Mr Gagbo and his associates for the lives lost. Let the world declare its impatience with election stealers.
Ethiopia: The Mystery of the Black Nile
By Tuji Jidda
A lot has been said about Abay River and the Blue Nile: patriotic poems have been composed, beautiful songs sung in their honor; accords signed, major wars fought and boundaries demarcated. After the recent inauguration of the highly political Tekeze dam in Tigray and the Tana-Beles project in Amhara region, the issue of Nile politics has resurfaced once again. Meles Zenawi is touting a renewed possibility of war, accusing Egypt of backing anti-government rebels in Ethiopia. There is no reasonable ground for Zenawi’s allegations and his swagger is based on inaccurate facts. This article tries to challenge the correctness of previous opinions of Abyssinian rulers regarding the Nile River.
Westerners do not understand the difference between Abyssinian and non-Abyssinian Ethiopia. It was only fairly recently made known that 86% of the Nile’s water originated in the Ethiopian highlands. As the saying goes, ‘Ferenj na lij yenegerutin yamnal’—roughly translated, ‘The white man and the child believe all they are told.’ Abyssinians still do not admit the reality about the origin of Nile water. They also fail to mention that 50% of the White Nile arises from Ethiopia’s Black Nile, and that 100% of the Juba, Somalia’s big river, comes from Ethiopia.
It is striking, to say the least, many people neglect to properly acknowledge Ethiopian rivers apart from the Abay River and the White Nile. As a result, there is little known information regarding how the utilization of the many key Ethiopian rivers could address the chronic food security issues in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has many big rivers, eleven lakes, nine saline lakes, four crater lakes and over twelve major swamps. Almost all of the rivers flow from highlands of Ethiopia to the lowland neighboring countries. The true equation for the analysis and understanding of these rivers can be depicted easily by describing the courses of the main rivers one by one. The mapping and presentation of these river basins are crude and subject to major errors.
Eighteen Ethiopian rivers flow to the Sudan and cross the border at six different places: three of them being big perennial rivers from Southern Ethiopia, while the other three are seasonal rivers of the North. Also, four rivers from the Arsi-Bale highlands flow toward Somalia in different directions, three of them merging at the Ethio-Somali border to form the Juba River. The Omo River flows from the southwest highlands of Jimma to Kenya and forms Lake Turkana, the biggest desert lake in the world. The Awash River ends up in Lake Abbe at the Ethio-Djibouti border.
Unlike what is traditional claimed, major Ethiopian rivers do not originate from the arid Semien highlands of Abyssinia or from the desert lowlands of Afar or Ogaden. Instead, Ethiopia’s primary water sources are formed from the streams and lakes of the country’s rainforest regions. Rivers that arise from the northern arid highlands of Amhara and Tigray regions do flow westwards in the direction of Sudan. Those rivers that arise from the west side of the rift valley in Arsi, Bale, Chercher and Gara-Mulata mountains flow towards Somalia. Those originating from Tulama (Shoa) and from the rift valley area flows towards Djibouti, whereas numerous others originating from the tropical rainforest highlands of south western Ethiopia flow in three directions: to the Blue Nile, to the Black Nile and to the Omo River.
If we look closely at Ethiopia’s internal drainage systems, we can easily deduce a number of fundamental political realities. Before the creation of Ethiopia in the late 19th century, Abyssinians and some explorers considered Abay both the source of, and a major contributor to, the Nile River. This notion persisted even after the formation of contemporary Ethiopia. The problem remains that Abyssinians present Abay as equivalent to the Blue Nile and, by implication, mistakenly consider all Ethiopian rivers flowing into the Nile as tributaries of Abay. This leads them to the wrong assumption that the Blue Nile is nothing without Abay, when in fact the opposite is true.
The rhetoric of Abyssinian rulers has always been a false representation of the county as a whole and its rivers in particular, with the aim of promoting the skewed political dichotomy between Abyssinia and the rest of Ethiopia. It is to be remembered that Abyssinians have managed to present terrorist-like shifta rulers Tewodros, Yohannes and Menelik as noble leaders in Ethiopian history.
Abay, a tributary of the Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana. Lakes are reservoirs, and they discharge an amount of the river proportional to intakes coming from inflowing streams, rivers and precipitations. As such, Abay cannot have greater contribution than the White Nile, which arises from the tropical rainforest area of Lake Victoria.
To understand the dynamics of the Nile River, one needs to raise the following question: If Ethiopia accounts for 86% of the Nile River, and the Abay River contributes only 6% of the river water, where does the remaining 80% come from, and why are other Ethiopian rivers only mentioned as small-scale contributors to Abay? The answer? Most of the contributing rivers come from Oromia and other subjugated Southern regions of Ethiopia.
Blue Nile or Mormor River
A lot has been said about the Blue Nile from the Abyssinian perspective, focusing mainly on the fact that Abay that originates from Lake Tana. However, non-Abyssinian Ethiopian perspectives of the river are different and can be summarized as follows. The Blue Nile drains about sixteen rivers before crossing the border into the Sudan. It is the combination of these rivers that eventually form the Blue Nile, or the Mormor River. Though the river is referred to as blue, it is actually black in color due to the heavy black silt it carries. “Blue” comes from local Sudanese language that uses blue and black interchangeably. As described below, Oromian Rivers contribute the biggest share of Blue Nile water, and the Blue Nile brings the lion’s share of the Nile River. Below are the sixteen rivers that form the Blue Nile with their approximate courses and estimated water contributions.
- Abay originates from the historical Lake Tana. The lake receives three seasonal-type smaller streams of Megech, Ribb and Gumara from the adjacent Gondar area and discharges one small and one medium-sized river, called the Little Abay River and the Abay River respectively. The Little Abay empties into springs of Sakala in Gojjam, and the proper Abay forms the upper course of the Blue Nile River. It contributes about 6% of the Blue Nile water.
- Bashilo drains smaller streams and rivers of the Wallo region, and its tributaries include the Tirgiya, Checheho and the Walano rivers. The confluence of the two rivers at the gorge some 30 km down from Lake Tana forms the upper course of the Blue Nile. Conventionally, the true source of a river is considered to be whichever tributary is farthest from the mouth. Because it is unclear if the longest river is Abay or Bashilo, it is disputed which river is the true source of the Blue Nile. Like Abay, Bashilo flows in the deep canyons and contributes about 4% of the Nile.
- Beto is a small river that drains rivers from the Wallo-Tullama area, like the Kalaka River. It joins the Blue Nile some 40 km down the Abay-Bashilo confluence and contributes about 3% of the Nile.
- Jamaa drains the Wanchet and Salale areas and passes close to Fiche town to merge with the Blue Nile. There is an old Portuguese bridge on this river. Jamaa contributes 5% of the Nile.
- Muger is a river that drains streams from Ambo area and receives Labu River as a tributary. It passes alongside the Muger cement factory and contributes 3% of the Nile.
- Gudar drains Gudar Area Rivers like Dabissa and the Taranta and contributes 3.5% of the Nile.
- Fincha'a is small tributary that originates from Fincha’a Lake. It passes beside the Fincha’a Sugar Factory and contributes 1% of the Nile.
- Dhedhessa is a great river that originates from the tropical rain forest mountains of Gomma and Guma area where Gabba and Gojeb Rivers come from, and drains big rivers of the Jimma, Illubabor and Wallagga areas. Its tributaries include Doggaja, Malka-hidda, Enareya, Dabana, Alet, Wama, and the Angar rivers; it merges with the Blue Nile downstream of the river. Tributaries of the Anger include the Wajja, Alata, and Ukke rivers. The size of the river Dhedhessa at its mouth is comparable to that of the Baro River and it constitutes about 13% of the Nile. The historical Oromo name of the river that flows from Wallagga areas to the Sudan is called Mormor and it is this river that actually forms the core of the Blue Nile.
- Dabus, also called the Yabus River, originates from the West Wallagga area and drains rivers and swamps from the western part of the Benishangul-Gumuz region to merge with the Blue Nile just before it crosses the border to the Sudan. This river contributes about 6% of the Nile’s water.
- Temcha, Birr and Fattom are rivers originating from the southern part of Gojjam and they merge, seperately, one after the other, with the Blue Nile in the middle of its course, and they each contribute 1% of the Nile, together 3%.
- Dura orginates from the Wambara area and contributes about 1% of the Nile.
- Beles is a medium sized river that originates in Dangur woreda in the Dangur range of mountains in the Metekel and Wembera area to merge with the Blue Nile just at the border of the Sudan. It contributes about 3% of the Nile.
- Dinder drains streams and mainly rainfall floods west of Lake Tana in the Semien Gonder zone, in Alefa woreda. It has a short course within Ethiopia. It contributes about 2.5% of the Blue Nile after the river passes Rosiers and Sennar dams around 130kms from Ethio-Sudan border. It is a seasonal river that dries up during dry seasons.
- Rahad, like the river Dinder, is a seasonal river that drains streams and mainly rainy season arid highlands floods of western Gondar. Rahad is its Sudanese name and the river has no properly recognized name in Ethiopia. Like Dinder, the river doesn’t form part of the proper Blue Nile as it does not meet the river within Ethiopian border but joins the Blue Nile before the confluence of the White and the Blue Niles at Khartoum. The river passes Rosiers and Sennar dams 150kms from Ethio-Sudan border and contributes about 2% to the Nile. Like Dinder, it dries up at lower course during dry seasons.
Blue Nile or Mormor River basin-source: US Bureau of Reclamation, 1964
The interesting point here is that it is the amalgamations of all the sixteen rivers that form the proper Blue Nile that contribute 52% of the Nile. Also it is with the addition of the Black Nile (Barya or Baro River) that Ethiopian rivers’ share of the Nile becomes 86%. This means that despite the little and yet disguised acknowledgement given to Ethiopian rivers by the national authorities, the facts on the ground confirm that Oromian rivers alone contributing about 80% of the Black Nile and 60% of the Blue Nile. In other words, Oromian Rivers contribute about 60 of the 86% of the Ethiopian water share of the Nile River. Overall, this accounts for approximately 50% of the Nile River water. Unfortunately, this fact is played down rather than admitted. For example, the creators of the IMAX film “Mystery of the Nile” were remiss in showing the spectacular scenes created by the confluence of the great Blue Nile tributaries.
For the most part, the Blue Nile forms the boundary between Gojjam and Wallagga. As a result it has different names at different places. Habeshas confusingly call the tributary Abay and the Blue Nile by same name, while some Oromos call it Abbayyaa. The true historical name of the river that includes all the tributaries is Mormor, named during the historical Gadaa Mormor of Ethiopia. The river gets the name Mormor specifically at or after the great confluence of Dhedhessa with upstream rivers.
It should be noted here that, despite the Abyssinian political invention of a 16th century “Galla Migration,” the Oromo are one of the indigenous Cushitic people of Africa that originally settled alongside the Nile River. On the other hand, the Abyssinian false presentation of the Abay River as one and the same with the Blue Nile, the interchangeable use of the same word for two distinct entities, is analogous with the Abyssinia-Ethiopia political confusion. It is not appropriate to say it but their claim feels as if Blue Nile won’t exist if, for example, the shallow Lake Tana dries up in 20 to 25 years time like.
Tekeze or Setit River
It is a northern river that originates from Ras Dejen Mountain in Gondar and drains streams from the arid Semien Massif Mountains. The tributaries of Tekeze include Balagas, Wari and Shinfa rivers. The river continues towards the Tigray region, where it is called Tekeze and then Setit when it reaches the Humera area. Two other rivers of Begemdir, the Angereb and Atbara rivers, merge with Tekeze inside the Sudan to form the river Atbara. Then this river passes through Kassala, Sudan, and flows in a northwest direction to merge, only during flood season, with the great Nile river on its way downstream of Khartoum, Sudan.
Tekeze River is totally outside the proper Blue Nile drainage system. Compared to the major Ethiopian rivers such as Dhedhessa, Gabba and Gibe, Tekeze is a small river, but politically as strong as the TPLF, with the capacity to drag Ethiopia in to a major war. Though it is a perennial river, the amount of water discharged by the river fluctuates significantly during short rainy and long dry season. During short flood time, the river discharges a considerable amount of water like the Dachatu River of Dire-Dawa. During the long dry season, however, it ends up in the Sudanese desert before reaching the Egyptian Nile. On average it contributes about 3% to the Nile. It is on this river that the highly political and most expensive Tekeze dam was constructed. However, the small amount of the yearly flow of this water, high seepage rate and other reasons puts the effective formation of the large lake to serve the dam's purpose in doubt.
Black Nile or Barya or Shankila or Baro River
This river is one of the big rivers that contribute a large quantity of water to the Nile. The river originates from the tropical rain forest mountain regions of Ethiopia and drains numerous streams and many rivers of the Illubabor, Wallagga, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and South Sudan regions. Little is mentioned or known about the drainage areas of this great river, as Robert O. Collins admitted in his book entitled “The Nile.” The main contributories are Gabba, Sor and Birbir. The confluence of these rivers a few miles away from the town of Gore forms the Black Nile, a name which is derived from the black silt in the river. Geographically, the Black Nile flows hundreds of kilometers apart from the Blue Nile. After Gore, it flows to the direction of Gambella. Downstream, it receives another great river called the Pibor River as a tributary, which is itself formed by the confluence of the Gilo, Jikawo, Akoba and Veveno rivers from Gambella and Southern Sudan areas. Finally, it merges with a proportional amount of Equatorial River coming from the Sudd region in the upper part of Southern Sudan to jointly form the White Nile.
- Gabba is a considerably great river the same size as the Gibe River. It originates from the dense tropical, nine-month rainforest highlands of Sigmo woreda of the Jimma zone bordering Illubabor. More specifically at the center of the Mocha-Sigmo-Gabba forest area. Eighty percent of these areas are covered by forests and swamps.
- Sor is big river, with a size comparable to that of Gabba. It originates from Sayo woreda in the West Wallagga zone and passes 5 km below the town of Mattu, forming a spectacular Sor falls 18 km from Mattu in place called Bacho, then making a great confluence with the Gabba River a few kilometers away from Gore.
- Birbir originates from the Benishangul-Gumuz area, drains most rivers of Wallagga and Illubabor, and then meets with the Gabba and Sor rivers before reaching Gambella to form Openu River, or the Black Nile. The size of the river is bigger than northern rivers. Its course defines part of the boundary between the West Wellega and Illubabor Zones of the Oromia Region.
- Pibor is formed by various streams that come together at Pibor post. The Pibor, Baro, Gilo, and Akobo rivers all drain the Ethiopian highlands. The Baro River is by far the largest, contributing 83% of the total water flowing into the Sobat River.
The Black Nile has different native names at different points along its course. The Oromos call it Nanno River, whereas the Agnuwak call it Openu River. The Abyssinians, however, call it by the derogatory names of Barya, Shankila or Baro River. The Black Nile contributes about 14% of the Nile after it loses a certain amount of its water and its silts in the hot swampy Gambella woreda of the Machar Marshes. The great crimes committed against the Black Nile are three fold: firstly, the river and its tributaries are not well acknowledged by the Abyssinian rulers, almost as if they were non-Ethiopian rivers; secondly, it has been given derogatory terms; and thirdly, despite its proportional amount of water contribution to the White Nile, it is considered, like the Blue Nile tributaries, as simply a tributary of the White Nile.
The White Nile has numerous streams and rivers in Brundi, Ruwanda Congo, Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It contributes water to the great Lakes of Victoria, Kivu, Edwards, Albert and Kyoga and then flows to a vast swampy region where it loses much of the water to evaporation. The purified water coming out of the Sudd forms the upper While Nile that contributes fourteen percent of the Nile. Had it not been for the lakes, reservoirs and huge evaporation loss in the vast Sudd swamps, the contribution of the rivers from this region to the While Nile would have been more than double in quantity.
- Ethiopia is a water-rich country, but lacks a clear and accurate usage policy. Its inaccurate policy emanates from deep-rooted internal political subjugation and obfuscation of the country, including its rivers. Especially neglected are Oromian Rivers that contribute the lion’s share of most rivers in Ethiopia: the Blue Nile, Black Nile, Omo, Hawas and Juba. Yet the main policy issue that has preoccupied successive Ethiopian regimes is whether to give priority to the development of relatively small desert Abyssinian Highland Rivers at a high cost with low expected productivity, or to the development of big forest non-Abyssinian highlands Rivers of the south at a much higher rate of return. To survive as a self-sustaining country, Ethiopian leaders needs to admit the facts on the ground, tell the truth and develop all rivers according to their economic importance. They need to set the clear objective of meeting food security issues and addressing population growth challenges, rather than boasting about only Abyssinian Rivers to maintain the political interests of one ethnic group. Therefore, pushing the country into a potentially devastating war to safeguard Abyssinian Rivers in the name of Ethiopia is reminiscent of the unnecessary TPLF-EPLF war over the Badme desert. This unacceptable policy should be denounced and objected by all Ethiopians.
- Studies do show that food security projects can be more successful in the Black Nile, Mormor, Juba, Omo, Awash and Shebele basins than they can in the Dinder, Rahad and Tekeze basins. Therefore, the Ethiopian government should stop biting the war drum, come out of its regionalist mentality of the Abyssinian vs. non-Abyssinian Ethiopia dichotomy. The government should direct proper attention to ascertaining equitable sharing and development of these rivers through policy cooperation.
- The false political description of the Abay River as the major contributor of the Blue Nile needs to be corrected. Also, if the source of the river is determined by whichever tributary of the Blue Nile is farthest from the mouth and not by the number of monasteries, the reality needs to be verified and the credit for the true source of the Blue Nile should go to the Bashilo River instead of Lake Tana.
- As a true source of the three big rivers of Ethiopia (Dhedhessa, Gabba and Gojab), the 80% forest and swampy Sigmo woreda deserves to be named the true “source of Ethiopian Rivers” and “The Water Tower of East Africa,” and designated as a destination of tourists and scientific researchers.
- The fact that all the big rivers of Wallagga, Illubabor, Western Jimma, Benishangul and Gambella regions do contribute the lion’s share of the Nile River should be acknowledged and made known to students and people of those regions.
- It is imperative to call our rivers by their true names. First, the confusing the names of the tributaries of Blue Nile with the proper Blue Nile should be corrected. Secondly, instead of borrowing the Sudanese word and calling a black river blue, it is better to use the original Ethiopian name of “Mormor River” for the Blue Nile.
- Calling the Black Nile names like Barya, Shankila or Baro River should stop without any precondition and be renamed officially by its true lower stream name, Openu. It should be noted as proper Ethiopian river, but not as negligible tributary of the equatorial White Nile.
- The fact that the Tekeze River travels in arid mountains of the North makes the river very important for that region. It would have been wise to spend the country’s scarce resources on the construction of three or four dams elsewhere rather than spending all that money in an ineffective dam that contributes little in alleviating the country’s chronic food insecurity.
Finally, the now likely creation of an independent, Christian, Southern Sudan would have many similarities with the creation the then State of Christian Island Abyssinia that latter transformed in to Ethiopia. In the long run, the ramifications of this political action will have immense impact on the politics of the Horn, and will intensify an already complex quarrel over the dwindling water resources of the Nile. Sudan may need to exercise caution not to share the catastrophic fate of Somalia, especially if Al-Bashir adopts the controversial Islamic law as the main source of legislation.
Some books and few learned individuals seldom mention Abyssinian rulers’ historical concern over the utilization of Nile tributaries, and the Egyptians counter involvement in supporting opposition and adversaries to destabilize Ethiopia. For example, during the Badme war, better known as TPLF-EPLF war, Egypt was accused of supporting Eritrea. TPLF supporters considered retaliating Egypt by either diverting or poisoning the water, or by bombing the Aswan dam that would cause an Egyptian tsunami. It is, however, strongly advisable to refrain from considering such a terrorizing alternative and focus on real policy cooperation.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
Ethiopia - Message of Christmas- May the Lord open our Mind for His Wisdom!
By Girma Kassa
December 24, 2010
Our Lord Jesus (or Issa) is worshipped by Christians as the Son of the Living God and adored by Muslims as a Prophet. It was His birth two thousand years ago in Bethlehem that we commemorate and celebrate as Christmas or “Genna”.
There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. According to the Gospel of Luke, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and told them the good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. A great company of the heavenly host (angels) appeared praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all men.”
The message of Christmas is a message of joy and peace. One of the heavenly declarations during that holy night is that peace is on Earth to all men. Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to the world to give us true peace that does not depend on external circumstances, but that springs out from within our heart.
In this modern world, the lack of peace and internal security severely affects many aspects or dimensions of our lives: personal, family, and national.
Suicides, addictions, and alcoholism are all manifestations of the lack of internal peace within individuals. According to official statistics, about a million people around the world commit suicide annually, more than those murdered or killed in wars. Some suicides may be explained by situational or cultural underpinnings. For instance, the suicide of Emperor Thewodros is one such example that is celebrated by Ethiopians and has become a symbol of the refusal of Ethiopians to British Colonialism for more than a century. Setting aside these generally unique cases, it is worth noting that depression is the leading cause of suicide. Suicide, simply put, is the lack of internal peace and security.
That is why the message of Christmas as a message of peace is important in the world today. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all men, ” declared the angels. All of us are important to God. There is something unique that we can accomplish that no-one can. We may loose in one night what we have labored for years. We may learn distressing news about our health or we may have difficulty providing for our children. We may be lonely and betrayed by our dear friends. We may loose loved ones and be at the bottom of society. We may lose hope in our lives and feel hollow and empty on the inside. Others may bully us and we may come to believe that that we are good for nothing. We may continuously blame ourselves for a past mistake and come to lose our purpose in our life completely.
However, I declare the message of Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all men”. This is a heavenly message to each one of us. It is a message of hope, peace and joy. It is a message that reminds us that there are always alternatives. The stormy season will surely pass and spring will come. We should give ourselves second chances. We should tell ourselves that we are human beings created in the image of God for a unique and a noble cause. We may not be needed by others but we are important to God. We should stop blaming ourselves for what we did years ago. Instead, let us make use of our past mistakes to make our future a better one. Let us open our heart to a new beginning and a holy message of Christmas which is a message of joy, peace, and reconciliation.
Another important dimension of peace is the peace among fellow human beings. Here again, we see that the message of Christmas has a dimension that brings people together. It is in our nature to be slow to love and forgive but be quick to hate and judge, slow to build but quick to destroy. Many couples who shared their lives together may no longer dine at the same table. There may be some childhood friends who do not talk to each other anymore. What we have learned from our culture and our society may be hate towards a certain group of our population. Our hearts, whatever the reasons, may be filled with bitterness and rage against other fellow Ethiopians. But, the message of Christmas; the message of peace, love and forgiveness can provide fundamental changes in our perspectives and attitudes. It is a message that gives us the opportunity to see life from a different angle and a divine perspective. The message of Christmas is a message that says, ” LOVE and COMPASSION are more powerful than hate. MERCY and FORGIVENESS are more powerful that revenge.”
Let us create an opportunity for divorcees to reconsider and restore their marriages. Let us remember more the good days we have spent together than those few days that set us apart. The message of Christmas is a message that focuses on the positives. Let children go to sleep kissing their fathers and mothers every night. Let there be peace and joy in all families so they may sing, “Joy to the World” sitting around the Christmas tree. Let the whole family praise God with “Tsenatsil” and “Kebero” saying “AMAN BE AMAN ; TEWELEDE MEDHANE ALEM/ the Savior of the World is born “
The third dimension is peace in our world. All over the world, human beings are dying in hundreds and thousands in man-made wars and conflicts. The lack of peace is destroying cities, villages and countries. Ethiopia has been embroiled in such misery for generations. Compared to the Derg era, the current situation in Ethiopia may seem stable on the surface. However, with a one party absolute rule and a very narrow political space , the return to the old era of war and destruction cannot be ruled out. Temporary stability cannot, by any means, be considerd “peace”.
Ethiopia has some clear choices to make:
• It can either be like Somalia where one group of the population dominates the rest, where its citizens flee the country by the millions, where attacks and counterattacks destroy the social fabrics of society or it can be like South Africa where mercy and reconciliation rescues the country from its ugly past.
• It can either continue being a country at the peripheries of implosion, the poorest of the poor entirely dependent on outsiders to feed its people or it can be a country which is self-sufficient and food secure.
• It can either be a country where the government rules its people with an iron fist and by the power of the gun or it can be a country where a forward looking and civilized system by the people, for the people and of the people is established.
• It can either choose to be divided in to ethnic groups and immerse itself in ethnic tensions like Bosnia Herzegovina and Darfur or it can choose to live together as a multi-ethnic country where all Ethiopians are respected regardless of their age, gender, religion and ethnic affiliations.
• It can either allow itself to disintegrate and vanish from the face of the Earth despite its proud history or it can emerge as a major power of the black continent of Africa.
• It can either realize full political freedoms, the release of all political prisoners, reporters, human right activists and unfettered individuals’ rights; or it can decide to be a backward and a medieval country.
• It can either be a country where its children come together, forgive one another, and give peace a chance or it can be a country where the current animosity between brothers continues to thrive.
Let the Spirit of Christmas help Ethiopia make the right choices. Let peace, wisdom, and knowledge fill the hearts and minds of the authorities in Arat Kilo. Peace is not something that can either be imposed or exported from the outside. Peace is not a gift from the Americans and the Europeans. Peace is not a product of the United Nations. Peace is something that comes from within. Unless we Ethiopians solve our problems ourselves, it is naïve to expect to receive it from outsiders.
We are the only solution to our problems. We are the ones who can turn around the fate our country. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "nothing can bring us peace but ourselves." Peace is not stability; nor is it the lack of gun fires. Peace is freedom and joy and a life lived without fear and torment. There is no peace where there is fear. “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom,” said Malcolm-X. There is no peace where there is no freedom. There is no peace where there is no joy.
It is in this context that I call for the good conscious of the EPRDF officials to do the right thing and give true peace a chance. The ball is in their court. The EPRDF controls the economy, the army, the judiciary and the parliament. It controls everything in Ethiopia. If it chooses to, it can bring peace and hope to that country and its 77 millions inhabitants in a matter of weeks. Although it might be considered a defeat at the beginning, if the EPRDF takes courageous and bold reconciliatory moves now, it would surely be vindicated as the ultimate winner in the history books. EPRDF must unilaterally take bold moves and call for a serious dialog between itself and the main opposition parties who are functioning peacefully within Ethiopia and are abiding by the constitution.
With respect to armed groups, most of whom are based in Asmara, they should recognize war's heavy costs and be ready to have a dialog with the EPRDF. They must not slam the door shut for peace and reconciliation.
It is my hope and prayer that the leadership of the EPRDF will look beyond the horizon and above their individual prides, and take historic steps at this historic moment in this historic country of ours. It is my hope armed groups will renounce violence, lay down their arms and come to the negotiating table. It is my hope that all parties will come to recognize that the culture of violence does not work in Ethiopia anymore. We are tired of an Ethiopian killing another Ethiopian. We are tired of seeing the blood of our brothers and sisters shed in vain. We are tired of hearing gun fires. We are tired of smelling powders from explosives. We are tired of spending billions of dollars on weapons. What we want is bread, water, peace and the chance to live with dignity in that great country of ours which is called ‘ETHIOPIA”.
Message of Christmas- May the Lord open our Mind for His Wisdom!
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