Ethiopia - "So What!"
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
So what! Soo what!! Sooo whaaat!!!" was the repetitive mantra of dictator Meles Zenawi recently in response to pesky questions lobbed at him in parliament about his so-called Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which will presumably make Ethiopia self-sufficient in food production in the next five years and expand the "industrial-led export sector", infrastructures and what have you. It was vintage Zenawi. He gets a few challenging questions and he ignites into spontaneous self-combustion, a meltdown: "So what if the GTP doesn't work! So what if we don't have the money to implement it? So what if don't have the institutional capacity to do it?! So what? I don't have to tell you diddly squat. I will do as I please. It's my way or you're hitting the friggin' highway!"
So what about Wikileaks?
The latest droplet of Wikileaks cable leak shows that back in January 2010, Zenawi met with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson for a couple of hours and gave them a piece of his mind, or a tongue lashing depending on your point of view. There were two fascinating things about the meeting: 1) the summary of the discussions (or hectoring monologue), and 2) the ambiance of the meeting of which we get a glimpse.
After carefully studying and analyzing the cable summaries, one is immediately struck by the absence of any meaningful dialogue on the issues. Rather one is overwhelmed by a sense of unrestrained monologue directed at the Americans with rhetorical flair. Extrapolating from Zenawi's known demeanor, behavior and pattern and practice in Q & A sessions in parliament (particularly when he is asked challenging questions or is on the receiving end of an unexpected reposte from a member), media interviews, speeches and his recent shocking verbal assault on the European Union Election Observer Mission as "garbage", one can retrospectively imagine that Otero/Carson must have had a traumatizing 2 hours. Reasoning deductively and reading between the lines in the cable summaries, Zenawi appears angry, frustrated, defensive and defiant. He tries to persuasively convince Otero/Carson of his good intentions for the country, but ends up hectoring, lecturing and talking down to them on elementary principles of democracy. The tone of his voice seemed condescending and contemptuous. His words were tinged with bitterness, and he seemed impatient with his guests. Overall, the meeting seems to have been a 2-hour monologue delivered with rhetorical fury as Otero/Carson cringed in stunned disbelief.
In response to Otero/Carson's concerns about the crackdown on civil society organizations, narrowing political space and the imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, Zenawi tries to outplay them with clever sophistry. He said "his government placed no restrictions on its citizens' democratic and civil rights, only the right of foreign entities to fund them." He seemed conveniently oblivious to the fact that he receives billions in foreign aid annually which he uses to entrench his political party, a notorious fact known to the population and donors since the stolen election of 2005. He counseled "those Ethiopians who want to engage in political activity to organize and fund themselves". He said "foreign funding of charities" is welcome as long as the money is given to his side, and not to the other guys. It seems he lost his temper at one point haranguing Otero/Carson: "Ethiopians must organize and fund themselves and defend their own rights" because they "were not too poor to organize themselves and establish their own democratic traditions, recalling that within his lifetime illiterate peasants and poor students had overthrown an ancient imperial dynasty."
Zenawi made it clear to Otero/Carson that he had nothing but contempt for his opposition. They are all just a bunch of whiners and wimps. He pontificated, "When people are committed to democracy and forced to make sacrifices for it, they won't let any leader take it away from them." He preached that in "our own struggle against the Derg regime, we received no foreign funding, but were willing to sacrifice and die for [our] cause." He matter-of-factly declared that Ethiopians must "take ownership of their democratic development, be willing to sacrifice for it, and defend their own rights."
Zenawi flashed a moment of reasonableness as he assured Otero/Carson not to be concerned about the 2010 election because it "will be free, fair, transparent, and peaceful..." But a question about potential violence caused by the opposition sent him into total spontaneous self-combustion: "If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election," Zenawi vowed, "We will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever." He asserted with bombastic bravado that there is no power on earth that can save them. "Nothing can protect them except the laws and constitution of Ethiopia!" Capisci! Otero? Carson? One can imagine Zenawi pounding his desk and screaming, "Capisci! Capisci!"
It is apparent from the cablegram that Otero and Carson were stunned into silence by Zenawi's obstinacy and dogmatic single-mindedness in refusing to allow more political space, ease restrictions on opposition groups and civil society organizations and release Birtukan. As the two representatives of the World's Greatest Superpower left the 2-hour verbal mauling, there could be no doubt in their minds that they had just met the "law and constitution of Ethiopia." There is no indication that Otero/Carson learned any lessons from their close encounter of the fourth kind, but there are many to be learned indeed.
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Anyone who opposes Zenawi will be crushed. Not with a teeny weeny bit of force. Not with reasonable force. Not even partial force. They will be crushed "with full force". They will be crushed like roaches, bedbugs or spiders. Squish!
If you can't crush them, then cage them like ferrets or rabbits; and sit back and watch them vegetate. Throw them in the dungeons. Let them rot in jail. So what! Who is going to save them? Better yet, coop them in solitary confinement and watch them turn into potted plants. See them go brain dead. Watch them go raving nuts, crazy. So what!
Lesson II. If you get into America's face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
American politicians like to talk big; but they rarely back up their talk with action. They have forked tongues, like serpents. They will jibber jabber about democracy, human rights and all that, but when things are down for the count, you will find them standing around twiddling their fingers and whistling Dixie. In fact, if you stand up to them, they will back down. There was a time when American foreign policy was guided by the old West African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." Now, they just speak softly, and instead of carrying a big stick they carry a big wad of cash, billions of it, and hand them out to those who have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
The whole thing works backwards with the Americans. The more bad stuff you do, the more you are rewarded. Take the May 2005 Ethiopia election and all the nasty stuff that happened after that: an election stole, hundreds of citizens massacred in the streets, tens of thousands imprisoned, nearly all opposition leaders rounded-up and vegetated for nearly two years, anti-free press and anti-civic society laws enacted, Birtukan Midekssa incarcerated for 21-months incluyding prolonged periods of solitary confinement, Somalia invaded against the strong advise and disapproval of the U.S. (wink, wink) and on and on. So what did the folks at the U.S. State Department do? They patted Zenawi on the back and handed him blank checks for billions of American tax dollars. So what are the Americans going to do after the May 2010 elections? Send billions more in American tax dollars, of course. Duh!!!
Lesson III. "Democratization is a matter of survival."
Zenawi says, "democratization is a matter of survival." Zenawi's survival, that is. If there is real democracy in the country, Zenawi's regime will not survive because he will be voted out of office in heartbeat. If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive. Stated more plainly, democracy and dictatorship cannot exist together in the same place and at the same time. Democracy necessarily means the end of dictatorship and vise versa. Therefore, there will be no democracy in Ethiopia as long as Zenawi's regime survives. So what!
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Democracy is not something you get in a ballot casting match. All that pluralism and multipartyism stuff is hogwash. If you want democracy, you must "struggle, sacrifice and die for it". What Zenawi is really saying is that "You ain't gonna get the democracy we got through the bullet by stuffing ballots in a box." There is no problem playing the whole election thing. It makes everybody happy, especially the American and European moneybags who dole out billions every year. But when push comes to shove, that is, if your idea is to push, shove and vote us out of power, it ain't happening because "We will crush you with our full force."
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
The opposition has been told, retold, advised and warned that the "international community will not be able to save them," says Zenawi. But it is not just the international community that is powerless to help them. International law, international human rights treaties, international conventions, international diplomacy, the International Criminal Court, international public opinion, whatever - they are all useless to the opposition. So what if their rights are violated?
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.
So what is all this hoopla and fuss about elections and democracy? The opposition is always whining, groaning and moaning about "free, fair, transparent, and peaceful" elections. The election business is not complicated. It is like playing marbles, except one guy owns all of the marbles and makes one rule: "He who owns the marbles wins all the time."(a rule that is sometimes referred to as the "laws and constitution of Ethiopia"). In his election "victory" speech this past May, Zenawi proclaimed, "The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election." In other words, elections are not about winning or losing; they are about how you play the game. The opposition played the game, very badly and lost. So what if they don't want to play anymore? It's all good. They can hit the highway. We will bring in players who are willing to play the game and never expect or want to win.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, organize...
So what do you need to do if you want to win? Moaning, groaning, whining, wailing and sobbing ain't going to do you much good. 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 like we do; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Cash? That is always a problem. It is OK to beg and collect billions in aid every year. It is OK to get Safety Net cash and Emergency Food Assistance and give it out to poor farmers in exchange for their votes. But no outside funds for the opposition because they and the "leaders of CSOs [civil society organizations] that receive foreign funding are not accountable to their organizations." It is all about accountability and transparency. Zenawi is accountable for all of the aid money he gets, the opposition and the CSOs are not accountable for the meager international donations they get. So what if they need cash? Let them dig deep into their wallets.
Lesson: IX. The Rule and Power of One
Everybody, dig this: "There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia."
Lesson X: If you don't like lessons I-IX?
The Ethiopian Diaspora’s Clashing Viewpoints on the Mounting Economic and Political Agonies of Ethiopia
By Maru Gubena
Many of us – particularly the political activists of the Ethiopian Diaspora – are firmly convinced that the basis for Ethiopia’s everlasting, multiple and mounting economic problems and the political repression by successive regimes lies exclusively with bad leadership and bad policy/governance. Other Ethiopians, however, attribute the prolonged agonies facing Ethiopians, including their longstanding dependence upon foreign handouts, to a collective conspiracy of outside powers, working through the provision of immeasurable financial and military assistance to our repressive and divisive regimes. This is thought to be a direct retaliation for the gallant resistance to European colonial powers and their defeat by the early Ethiopian nationalists during the scramble for Africa in the closing years of the 19th century, when Ethiopia was the only African country to maintain its political and territorial independence. A similar account has also been provided by a few members of the Ethiopian Diaspora community in response to questions about why Ethiopian Diaspora political activists have remained unable to effectively expose and weaken, perhaps even to defeat, the tyrannical regime of Meles Zenawi, despite having the necessary tools, including economic resources, educational backgrounds, political vision and extensive work and life experience. They see their inability to weaken, if not defeat, the Meles regime in the political and money powers of the regime itself: that is, the regime as the primary, undisputed role player in their divisions and the source of the eventual failure of the entire resistance, achieved by using its money power and political agents, mixed among the Diaspora’s political community members of the opposition.
Understandably, one might wonder which among these three categories of thought I support. The answer is that though I tend to agree somewhat with the first, I believe in none of them: in fact we Ethiopians both are the causes and are, or can be, the solutions. The reason Ethiopia is still unable to free herself from the entangled chains of economic poverty and from the yoke of political repression is that from time to time we Ethiopians often lend support to a given regime or political group, however cruel and ugly it may be, if it has the required political and economic power – so long as the regime or a political group belongs to us and we can share in and enjoy the fruits of its inhumanity and corruption.
Readers who wish to contact the author can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethiopia - Why do we let them kill US?
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
It has been exactly two month since Ali Ahmed Mohammed died on the fateful night of October 15, 2010. His killers are out there; and the investigation seems to go no where. Those of us who screamed for justice did not continue our effort to bring justice to the family of Ali. His killers are not only out there mingling with the rest of us, but also the business establishment where the alleged Ali’s murderers worked was able to obtain its Liquor License back. I guess, things have returned to normal in the “sin city” of the 9th street corridor in Washington, DC.
This is not the first time that we Ethiopians allowed killers of our citizens to live their lives like any other normal human beings. We give up too easily and we do not pursue what we started to the end. We take the words of “officials” on its face value and wait for things to happen by themselves. We have this “let things take their own natural course” attitude. Ali is not the only one whose untimely death caused by those who got away by killing innocent citizens like Ali.
I was extremely saddened when I read Dr. Brook’s article on Nazrt.com and posted on other websites titled “The police killed my son. Why can't they answer my questions?” Dr. Brook’s account gives us how the American Justice System is often unjust as far as colored people are concerned. No one can imagine the feeling and the excruciating pain of the death of a child. I am a father of two bright and vibrant kids; I don’t know what I would do if any harm come to them. As disturbing as it was the account that I have learned from reading Dr. Brook’s article, I find it more disturbing that we, as a community allow this to happen. Why are we silent? What is that we are afraid of? Why can’t we stand for ourselves and work with others to stand with us and stand with them when they face similar fate? Why do we let them kill us; and let them get away with it?
As we were protesting and demanding an answer in front of the DC City Hall about Ali’s death, an Ethiopian lady was distributing flyers, crying for help, and telling her story how her young son was brutally killed by the Prince George County, MD police officers. This young man was hit with more than 30 bullets while seating in his home according to the flyer. We did not scream, we did not demand any justice for this young man. Therefore, the killing has continued.
I don’t think most of us knew the details of the event that took place when the 19 year old Hailu Brook was killed by Fairfax county and Arlington County police. We all heard the official account and took it on its face value. We did not raise questions, we did not ask for evidence, and we did not speak for the young man who lost his voice by hail of bullets that took his young life. 20 bullets were fired, imagine, 20 bullets. There is no evidence what so ever that Hailu fired any shots; though, initially the report indicated Hailu exchanged fire with the police. Now we learned the police claim that Hailu “pointed a toy gun.” This is the kind of story we have read time and again whenever a young black man is gun down by the police. There is a reason why African Americans do not trust the police. They have seen too many times, when unjustified police killings of black children are “justified” by planted evidence, false reports and outright cover ups.
Dr. Brook, in his article raised very interesting and important questions that need answers. This same questions also should be raised in case of Ali’s death. Where are the video tapes? What did the Medical Examiner do in the course of its investigation? Witnesses have said that Ali was kicked by the alleged killers feet, and beaten with their fist; if that is the case, did the Medical examiner, checked the alleged killers’ shoes, clothing, hand, or any material that was in their person for blood? What happened to the newly installed video on U Street, 9th street , and the videos on the police cruiser?
Who is going to speak for these victims when such senseless and brutal killings occur. We were promised by politicians, the police and the US State’s attorney’s office when we demanded answer for Ali’s death. If the investigators could not find any thing when the case was still fresh, and the alleged killers were apprehended right away, how are they possible to recover any evidence when the time gets longer. We know that witnesses forget, evidence disappears and things change the longer it takes to “investigate”.
From the outset it was clear that the City officials wanted to buy time because they new that the demand for justice would fade away in time. They know that when the cameras are no longer interested, the pressure would fade away. They counted on that, and they sugar quoted the information given to the community until the shouting and the protest stops. They knew that would happen; and they were not wrong. If any one think that the corruptions that we are witnessing unfold in Prince George County is unique to that county, we need to wake up. No one will stand for us unless we stand for ourselves. We need to fight for ourselves, for our children and for justice to be truly for all.
We have allowed murderers like Hassen Ali and Tamirat Layne to live among us; we have allowed the brutal and unjust killing of our innocent citizens to slide by without any accountability; we have failed to be the voices of the voiceless. We came a long way, too far away from our land seeking justice, seeking equal treatment, and most of all to exercise our God given right- to speak and express ourselves without fear. We need to make our lives purposeful, what better way is there to give our voice to the voiceless.
We need to pressure our “community Leaders” to live up to their obligations. We need our community leaders to organize us and show us the way to stand for ourselves so we can let the world know that no one will get away by killing our brothers and sisters and our children. It is time that we pursue what we have started; we need to renew our call for justice for Ali and for Hailu. We need to demand truthful untainted and direct answer.
I like to take this opportunity to express my disappointment with the Washington Post editorial of November 14, 2010. The editorial was written from the official report of the US attorney’s office; this was not the work of a reputable newspaper. There was no investigative journalism. This was another sugar quoted pills that we were given to silence us. We are told to patiently wait for the investigation. What a cruel joke! They are killing us because we are allowing them to kill us; why do we let them? It has been two month since Ali’s death, nothing is happening and his killers are FREE!
Please renew your call for justice and contact DC police Chief f Cathy Linear at 300 Indiana Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20001; please also contact US attorney’s office for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. at 555 4th street NW Washington, DC 20530.
Please, also contact the Fairfax County Chief of Police Colonel David M. Rohrer at 4100 Chain Bridge Road Fairfax, Virginia 22030 703-246-2195 Contact via email. ...
www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/contact/, and demand that the police provide the appropriate evidence and report to the family regarding the death of Hailu Brook.
Let us stand together, and let us fight for justice Thank you!
A Conversation With Obang Metho
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: A report by the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program on the Anuak concluded:"From December 2004 to at least January 2006, the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces) attacked and abused Anuak civilians in Gambella region - wantonly killing, raping, beating, torturing, and harassing civilians in response to ongoing Anuak rebel attacks. These abuses left Anuak villagers fearful of leaving their homes at night, going to the fields and farms outside of town, or fetching water from the water pumps or streams."
These are excerpts from an extended conversation I had with Obang Metho, the well-known Ethiopian human rights advocate, in solemn anticipation of the seventh anniversary of the December 13-16, 2003 Anuak massacres this coming Monday. The interview is captioned "forgotten genocide" because very few people know what happened to the Anuak seven years ago was genocide as defined under Art. 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention. In the interest of full disclosure, in September 2006, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the University of California, Los Angeles premier of "Betrayal of Democracy", a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching documentary on the Anuak massacre produced by the Anuak Justice Council, Obang Metho, Executive Director, in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Alemayehu: As you know November and December are very sad months for Ethiopians. In November 2005, following the election that year, hundreds of unarmed demonstrators were massacred in the streets. The world knows a lot about those crimes. But I am not sure if too many people other than the Anuak remember what happened in December in 2003. To be frank, with the exception of some Anuak I have met, I don't recall having any serious conversations with other Ethiopians about what happened to the Anuak people in Gambella seven years ago. Do you think your other countrymen and women really care about what happened at that time?
Obang: First of all, I want to thank you on behalf of the Anuak for joining with them in remembering some of the darkest days of Anuak history and for bringing this tragedy to the attention of Ethiopians now in 2010. I am sure that Meles never expected that seven years after the genocide of the Anuak that others, like yourself, would have joined together to commemorate this day.
You ask whether other Ethiopians really care about what happened to the Anuak. At the time of the massacre, the only Ethiopian organization that came to the defense of the Anuak was EHRCO [Ethiopian Human Rights Council]; otherwise, it was either overlooked or was not known among most Ethiopians. This was not surprising for several reasons. First, the Anuak were a remote, tiny and marginalized ethnic group who were not part of the mainstream of events in the country. Secondly, Ethiopians were very divided by ethnicity, region, skin color, political view, language, culture and to a lesser extent, by religion; so what was important was what happened to one's own group and the rest tended to be ignored. Thirdly, even today, what happens in Addis Ababa has always received far more attention than what occurs in the rural parts of Ethiopia where most Ethiopians live. Fourthly, the Ethiopian government does its best to cover up their crimes so it does not get out to the mainstream media. If the news does get out, they simply deny their own responsibility, twist the truth and blame others or try to excuse what happened as one of the regrettable consequences of "ethnic conflict" or use other justifications to avoid responsibility. The government even issues a whitewashed report absolving itself of any responsibility in the massacres.
It is true that the November 2005 killing of 194 unarmed protesters in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country created a groundswell of outraged response from many sectors of the Ethiopian community because they could identify with the victims, and the killings were carried out in plain view. It became impossible to hide, even to the international community.
However, this was not the case in the majority of violent incidents that have taken place over the past two decades all over the country. We have over 86 different ethnicities; many of them live in remote, rural and marginalized communities and are silenced violently like the Anuak were in 2003 without too much publicity. In fact, the Anuak genocide is now much better known and more remembered than most of the other incidents that have been perpetrated by the TPLF [Meles Zenawi's party] against Ethiopians.
For example, in July of 2002, 200 Mazengers -- neighbours to the Anuak in Gambella -- were brutally killed, but who knows about this? In 2001, 100 Sidamo were massacred. Who remembers these victims today? Ethiopians were killed in 1992 in Badenyo and in Arba Gogu. In all few remember these anniversaries. I say ask the Oromo about the tens of thousands of their people who have been beaten, tortured, imprisoned and murdered in the last twenty years by the Meles regime. How can we remember an anniversary when there are so many incidents and they are still ongoing? Ask the Afar about the displacements and human rights abuses they are facing right now. Ask the Benishangul about the same displacements and human rights abuses in their area. Ask the Ogadeni about the genocide being committed against them as we speak. It is not all about "remembering," but about standing with the victims against such barbaric aggression. We can keep going on for the list is endless and many cases are still unknown.
This is why the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) was formed. We must no longer mourn alone; it is time to take action. Meles' government cannot stop on 80 million people if we all stood up for each other and together. I believe we Ethiopians will finally come together in this way to stop this oppression. Only then will we hear the countless stories that have never been told of the immeasurable suffering of our people, and not just the Anuak.
Alemayehu: Let's nail down the facts about what happened in Gambella during the infamous three days in December in 2003, and in the days preceding and following. What are the established facts?
Obang: Meles and those carrying out the atrocities against the Anuak believed them to be expendable people; they thought of them as road blocks on the way to the oil fields, the fertile lands and abundant water and rich natural resources on indigenous Anuak land. They targeted those individuals who were the voices of the community and have a say in the exploration and development of oil on their land. As you might remember, when the killing squads went through Gambella town looking for the next Anuak to brutally kill, they chanted, "Today there will be no more Anuak," "Today there will be no more Anuak land". As they raped the women they said, "Today there will be no more Anuak babies." Within three days, 424 Anuak were dead.
When I received news, it was the darkest day of my life. My world was turned upside down. Among the 424 Anuak killed, I personally knew 317 of them. They were my family, my classmates and many others with whom I had been working to bring development not just to the Anuak, but to the region. Most were educated and outspoken. I have no doubts that I would have been one of the victims had I been living there at the time.
The Anuak genocide occurred as a surreal event as no one discussed it. When international news covered the massacre, they picked up the Ethiopian government's spin, which described it as an ethnic conflict between the Anuak and the Nuer. That is not true. Later on, Oromo soldiers, who had not even been in the area, were scapegoated for the killings. When I testified before the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in March and April of 2004, I did not speak only about the Anuak, but spoke of the Oromo and others facing persecution.
However, it was only after I testified before the US Congress in March of 2006 that I became more involved in the mainstream Ethiopian community. By that time, I had been to the capital cities of most of the donor countries in Europe and in North America exposing the Anuak massacre and ongoing human rights violations against the Anuak. After the November 2005 killing of unarmed election demonstrators in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country, other Ethiopians joined in this effort. Unfortunately, most tended to cluster around their own individual ethnic or political party interests rather than joining together as a whole. Sometimes we were working at cross purposes. I often wonder where we would be today had we been willing to collaborate then. I hope we don't have to ask ourselves that question five years from now.
Alemayehu: I don't believe many of us in the larger Ethiopian community adequately expressed our outrage against the crimes perpetrated against the Anuak. Perhaps many of us did not particularly care, didn't know or were just indifferent. After all, the Anuak are a tiny minority. Do you sense indifference among other Ethiopians to the plight of the Anuak?
Permit me to answer this question by asking another question. How many mainstream Ethiopian people you see writing about the ongoing genocide in the Ogaden or about the displacements of people as foreign investors align with this one-party government in grabbing the Ethiopian peoples' land and resources in places like Benishangul-Gumuz, on the borders of the Amhara region or even in Addis Ababa where graves are to be bull-dozed to make room for someone who seeks "ownership" of the land? This is not just indifference to the Anuak, but it is indifference to the problems our people are experiencing all over the country. The Anuak are only one example. This is why we need a "NEW ETHIOPIA!"
Not seeing the full humanity of each of us is the reason we have so many liberation fronts created not simply to break away from the country, but instead, created predominately to protect the interests and lives of the people that are not valued by others. As long as some feel they are more Ethiopian and see others as being of less worth, we will have indifference to the plight of others. This is why we have formed the SMNE, to fight for a new Ethiopia that values all her children the same way regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, political view or any other distinctions. The reason why many of these separatist groups do not want to associate with "Ethiopia" as they see it because they don't see much inclusiveness in the larger Ethiopian community. Meles has had an easy time of dividing and ruling; and until we all change from the heart, we will not emerge from our collective suffering.
Alemayehu: When you came out in public in 2006 and sought help to put a light on the Anuak massacres, did you get your much support from other Ethiopians? Did you make an effort to mobilize Ethiopians in the Diaspora, and if not why not?
Obang: In the midst of the genocide and ongoing human rights crimes, I sought organizations and government officials who were in the best position to intervene. Genocide Watch president, Dr. Greg Stanton, was one of the first to respond to my call for assistance. At the same time, some Anuak and their friends in Minnesota had already decided to send a team, which soon included me, to interview Anuak survivors and witnesses to the genocide who had fled to a refugee camp in Sudan. We hoped to gather information and evidence while the memories were still fresh. At Dr. Stanton's suggestion, we added a seasoned human rights investigator in our group. Following the investigation, we issued a report, "Today is the Day for Killing Anuak." A subsequent investigation was also completed resulting in the report, "Operation Sunny Mountain," which linked the massacre to the top officials of Meles in Addis Ababa.
Human Rights Watch did an investigation and issued two separate reports, "Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia's Gambella Region"( 3/24/05) and "Ethiopia and Eritrea: Promoting Stability, Democracy and Human Rights"(5/5/05). The International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School issued another report, "We Are Now Hoping for Death", (12/14/06). In all, the Anuak Justice Council was involved in coordinating the completion of five separate human rights investigations on the massacres.
We did not attempt to mobilize Ethiopians until 2006, following my testimony before the U.S. Congress when I made strong connections with other Ethiopians. At the time, ethnic and political divisions created competition between Ethiopians. Rather than working to advance similar goals, some tried to hijack the work of others or refused to collaborate. Even though this continues to be a characteristic shortcoming of many in the struggle for Ethiopian freedom and justice, I believe today Ethiopians are discarding peripheral differences to work together in common cause. I think Ethiopians suffering in the country would be highly encouraged if they saw real progress towards this goal among us in the Diaspora. It is only then that we can work together to mobilize the people within Ethiopia towards a national rather than an ethnic solution!
Alemayehu: How do we keep the memories of the Anuak massacre victims alive? What can we do as individuals and as a community, that is Anuaks and other Ethiopians together?
No one except the Anuak may have cried for them in 2003, but today, millions of Ethiopians know about the Anuak genocide. On December 13th, Ethiopians may remember the pain and suffering of the Anuak; speaking to others about it, praying for the survivors, joining with Anuak they know in a service of remembrance or calling them to personally talk. Many Anuak will shed tears as they remember those dark days and the subsequent grief and hardship resulting from their losses. May this remembrance be a call to all Ethiopians to reflect on the losses of their own loved ones or those of others in the country. We have suffered much as a country. We should try to lift up others with similar losses and wounds.
For me, I will join with other Anuak in Minnesota in a service to remember December 13th; honoring the memory of those who lost their lives and praying for the future of the people and Ethiopia. For me, the pain has somewhat subsided, but my memory of this horrific loss motivates me to work to prevent it from happening again to the Anuak or anyone else. If Ethiopians have forgotten the memory of the Anuak genocide in 2010, the reasons may be somewhat different than 2003.
First of all, we Ethiopians are in great distress right now. It is natural for memories to fade, but when we are still struggling for survival, it is easy to become diverted with one new crisis after another. It is important not to forget so that we can take hold of a better future, but part of remembering "rightly" will take place when peace comes to Ethiopia, when justice is finally served and when the perpetrators and their bosses are held accountable.
Another reason for the memory subsiding is that the Anuak are not alone. Many others have also suffered at the hands of this regime both before and after the Anuak genocide. Look at the genocide going on right now in the Ogaden. Look at the daily beatings, killings and imprisonment of innocent Ethiopians now carried out by this repressive regime all over our country.
Due to the current dictatorial regime, Ethiopians must first become free before official memorials will be constructed, but that time will come. Several years ago I talked about how the death of the Anuak will never be forgotten as long as there are those who care about justice. Even though the current regime would like to obliterate or "whitewash" the memory of these shameful acts, we Ethiopians must be sure they are not forgotten.
When this TPLF government finally collapses, not only do I envision a memorial for the Anuak in Gambella, but also in Addis Ababa where not only will the Anuak be represented, but many others known and unknown who have tragically died at the hands of the Meles regime. At that time, Ethiopians will build a wall of shame where we can go to remember how the government that was supposed to protect the people turned out to be their mortal enemy. It will serve as a sobering reminder of how we must work to preserve a respect for the humanity in each of us.
Alemayehu: Is there anything being done to bring to justice those who committed the crimes against the Anuak in 2003? Are there any efforts underway?
Obang: Yes! We have a very strong legal foundation in place for that day in court where Meles and others will finally be held accountable. This is due to all the human rights investigations and documentation completed by groups like Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch and others. The case of the Anuak alone is very strong; but when combined with others, all of this abundant evidence may easily form the foundational basis for future prosecutions. The case of the Anuak is before the International Criminal Court (ICC) right now and the UN High Commissioner is looking at the case referred by Dr. Greg Stanton regarding the pattern of human rights abuses in Ethiopia at the hands of this government. I am confident that the time will come for Ethiopians to finally obtain justice. Look at the case of Cambodia where evidence collected and secured over twenty years ago produced convictions just this year. Meles is no different than Omar al Bashir. The tide is certain to change and we will be ready!
Alemayehu: From what you have been able to gather, is there systematic persecution still going on against the Anuak?
Obang: The new systematic persecution has everything to do with the "new fever" for Anuak land and resources. It is being advanced with speed and intensity in the case of the Anuak and other indigenous peoples of Gambella, but is also going on throughout the country; wherever there is resistance to this plan to dispossess the people of their land and assets. People from Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromiya, Afar and Ogaden have officially been put on notice to move from their homes to be resettled in camps. Those who speak out have been harassed, threatened or beaten. In the case of the Anuak, some have turned up dead, floating in the river or have been beaten to death. We do not know what will happen to the people if they refuse to leave their homes; something that is a definite possibility. It certainly could trigger fresh violence by government security forces.
How should we, as Ethiopians, work together to prevent the type of genocide that happened to the Anuak does not happen to any other groups in Ethiopia?
December 13th should act as a reminder of the shared pain of our people and act to bring us Ethiopians together to "mourn under one tent" as has been done in our traditional culture for many years. Inside the tent is the land of Ethiopia and our beautiful and precious people. The roof of that tent is the sky over our beloved country. Because of the pain, misery and ongoing threats to our survival as a nation, we must come together to find a common vision and lasting solution. This is at the heart of everything the SMNE and others have been trying to do.
Now is the time to change our thinking about each other and BEGIN to build a healthier, more inclusive society. No one but the Anuak and their friends cared about them in 2003, but we have a chance to do it over. The land grabs and human rights abuses going on right now; not only to the Anuak but to all the people of Ethiopia should sound the trumpet to gather together. Some only want to gather if they are in charge. This attitude will surely defeat us. We must ask ourselves how much we really care about potential tragedy if egos or hunger for power stand in the way. I do think we are better in 2010 than we were in 2003, but we are still not where we need to be.
The many loved ones I lost can never be replaced, but I trust God that their lives were not lost in vain. Ethnic domination and marginalization of others due to ethnicity, skin color, culture, education, gender or religion is unjustifiable. It was the reason the Anuak were singled out to be slaughtered among the 50,000 people who also lived in the city of Gambella. It was the reason why the government viewed them as a threat rather than as valuable human beings. As most survivors among the Anuak say, the Ethiopian government does not want the Anuak people, but only the resources. These resources on their indigenous land remain today as the chief threat to their survival as they stand in the way of the regime's ambitions in the area; yet the Anuak are not alone as Ethiopians are becoming more accepting of each other.
Over the last seven years, I have met many wonderful Ethiopians like yourself, who have come into my life, contributing in some unique and special ways. You asked me about a story I have told many times about my experience in Washington DC some years ago with an Ethiopian cab driver who could not believe I was Ethiopian. I must say, Ethiopian cab drivers today are among the most educated and politically astute Ethiopians around. They know about the Anuak and the other diverse people of Ethiopia. Now, when I get in a cab in Washington DC, a more common experience I have is the driver who refuses to accept any fare for the ride saying, "I want to contribute to the struggle." This is not about me or the Anuak, but about caring about the suffering people of our beautiful country. Yes, we should remember our painful history as a lesson for the future, but we must also embrace each other as we collaborate to create a New Ethiopia where there is room for all of us!
Alemayehu: With all the land-grabbing and population displacement, some 45,000 plus people from Gambella being moved to make way for international land-grabbers, do you have fears that what happened in December 2003 could happen again?
Obang: Yes, because once again, this regime's greed for "more" is leading to robbing the most vulnerable people of Ethiopia of their land and resources. Because these people "do not count," they are simply in the way of what this regime wants. If the people resist, the Meles government has been known to use any justification to use military force to subdue them; which could easily lead to ethnic-based killing. I do not think the people will all peacefully cooperate in this plan to displace themselves they have lived on for millennia. In 2003, the genocide was about oil. In 2010, it is about land, gold, potash, natural gas and even sand for concrete.
These are the new precipitating factors that could lead to genocide, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. However, there is also the passive side of a new form of "genocide" that could lead to putting at imminent risk, large populations of some of the most vulnerable people of our country; not necessarily in terms of direct killings, but in terms of jeopardizing the long-term survival and well being of huge groups of people who are being forced from their homes and land all over the country. How will these people support themselves?
We need to care about the pain of each other more than we care about the power and advancement of one particular group of Ethiopians for "none of us will be free until all are free." By the time I spoke before Congress in 2006, when our paths first crossed, I had already come to the conclusion that justice would never come to the Anuak until justice came to all Ethiopians; that until we cared about the wellbeing of others based on the God-given worth of every person--putting humanity before ethnicity--that Ethiopia would only produce serial dictators who would take turns preying on the vulnerable.
This is why when I testified I said I was not there not only for the Anuak, but also for the Tigrayans who disagreed with the cruelties of the Meles regime, the oppressed Oromos, the Somalis, the Afar and the other ethnic groups throughout Ethiopia who have been targeted by this regime. I said I was there for the Ethiopian woman whose son or daughter had been shot dead on the streets of Addis Ababa after the national elections and for the CUD leaders and young student protesters who had been taken away from their families and put in prisons and detention centers. I was there for those courageous prisoners of conscience, languishing in prisons throughout Ethiopia. I wanted my voice to not be my own but theirs; warning others that our country was in grave danger; that our nation was dying.
This was an effort to break out of our isolated boxes of caring only for our own tribe or ethnicity. It was the beginning of the SMNE. Today, the danger is greater than on that day and unless we put aside our differences and find common ground to unite, we have no hope. This regime will kill again and are doing so as we speak. Yet, God can help us change and I see a rising momentum for such change coming from many different groups of Ethiopians.
In 2003, we would never be having this discussion; yet, today, you are bringing these issues to the forefront. Both you and I have worked closely over the past four years on many issues. Through your many informed and insightful commentaries and analyses, you have contributed much to the discussion of the current situation by exposing the true nature of the regime and by creating greater international awareness and factual understanding of the dictatorship and repression in Ethiopia. This interview is just another example of your willingness to think beyond the ethnic-based paradigm that has defeated us for so many years. Because of people like you, who are willing to become the voices for a different kind of Ethiopia, a "new Ethiopia" of the future. May it inspire others to join with us! Thank you so much my friend!
Alemayehu: Thank you Obang for sharing your thoughts. It has been an honor working with you all these years. They say, "If you want peace, work for justice." We all want peace in Ethiopia and for the Ethiopian people. So, we'll be right there with you working for justice; we are with you in trying to bring to justice those perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It's only because of scheduling conflict that I am unable to join you and the Anuak community in Minneapolis for the memorial on December 13. But be assured that all Ethiopians join you in observing this tragic date in spirit. I hope the Ethiopian in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, my old "stomping grounds", will come out in full force and attend the memorial and show their solidarity with our Anuak brothers and sisters.
Obang: Thank you.
REMEMBER THE FORGOTTEN ANUAK GENOCIDE OF DECEMBER, 2003.
Follow Alemayehu G. Mariam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pal4thedefense
Internal Cohesion Key to Advancing our Nile Interest
For Ethiopia, if there is a single war worth sacrificing the blood of its children, it is the fight to break open Egypt’s century old blockade of the Nile river. More than 90% of the water and 96% of the transported sediments carried by the Nile originate from Ethiopia, yet our legitimate right to the river's use has been continually sabotaged by Egypt. While millions of Ethiopians starve, Egypt maintains its heavy utilization for various projects, wasting over 20% of the water (more than what all upstream countries demand to use) due to inefficient dams built in the desert. Year after year, lacking technical, financial, and most importantly determined leadership, Ethiopian farmers watch as the rainfall washes their fertile soil away and gives it to Egypt. Thus, there has always been basis for popular resentment and anger towards Egypt for its unjust use of Nile.
As a result, the making of war threats to Egypt over the right to use the Blue Nile has been an established form of propaganda used by successive rulers of Ethiopia in order to gain populist support. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has continued this tradition of rhetorical confrontation. But why were any of the Ethiopian leaders unable to live up to their promises of utilizing the Nile for the benefit their country, despite the paramount need for and popular public support of this cause?
War has been the most common means by which disputes over natural resources between countries are resolved. It is often said that Egypt and Ethiopia could go to war in the event that Ethiopia decides to reduce the quality or quantity of the Nile water. Yet, despite intense rhetorical exchanges, neither country ever seriously considered war as an option. In a latest interview with Reuters, Meles said “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."
It is true that Egypt will never contemplate invading Ethiopia, but not because they are scared of defeat as he alludes to. For Egypt waging military confrontation with a country that is thousands of miles away and does not share a border is simply impractical. One tactic often floated by the Egyptians is to bomb any dam Ethiopia constructs on the river. I suspect this is also a bluff. The cost of such action would outweigh any potential benefit, as Ethiopia would most certainly respond by bombing the Egyptian dams, causing catastrophic damage that could potentially wipe out Egypt as we know it. In short, any act of direct military confrontation would be only the very last option for Egypt.
However, Egyptians rely on other more advantageous strategies to counter Ethiopia’s ambition and preemptively disable its ability to temper the water's flow. 1) Economic; by blocking Ethiopia from raising the funds needed to develop projects 2) Legal; by foreclosing future use of the river by developing projects before the upstream countries and asserting prior usage 3) Security; by destabilizing Ethiopia through strategic and material support for insurgent groups.
It’s obvious that in order to develop projects on the Basin, Ethiopia needs external financial assistance. Cairo uses all possible leverage to discourage global financial institutions and donor countries from supporting Ethiopia’s projects. Cairo's strategic importance to the global economy and security (the Suez Canal, its crucial role in the Middle East conflict, etc.) has placed it in such a position that almost every financial institution has difficulty withstanding its pressure. Therefore, Egypt has been able block several promises made to Ethiopia by the World Bank and other institutions. Faced with this reality, Ethiopia’s best option is to generate enough domestic resources for its projects.
Since most agreements on Nile River usage were signed during the Colonial era, and gave veto power to Egypt, Ethiopia and other upstream states have today rejected them. However, as Meles said the Egyptians “have yet to make up their minds as to whether they want to live in the 21st or the 19th century.” Yet Egyptians might have laid the foundation to assert legal rights over the river even beyond the 21st century. Legal scholars suggest that in accordance with the international law governing use of water resources, the ‘concept of foreclosure of future use’ could give a downstream country protection against an upstream country. For example, just like Ethiopia and other upstream countries could harm Egypt through physically reducing the quantity and quality of the Nile water, Egypt can assert acquired legal rights over the water flow and block Ethiopia from undertaking projects that reduce it.i For instance , if Egypt is the first to develop projects on the river, Ethiopia would have to forgo its own in order not infringe upon Egypt’s project by reducing water flow.
Since Egypt has developed many more water resource projects than Ethiopia, obviously Ethiopia would have to reject this principle as discriminatory. Nevertheless, Egypt can use the principle to drag Ethiopia through the international legal system and forestall its ability to undertake any project in a timely manner. Ethiopia must continue to insist on new negotiation that allocates fair and equitable quota among all Nile riparian countries. If Egypt does not come to terms, Ethiopia can exercise its right unilaterally.
Destabilizing and weakening successive Ethiopian governments has been Egypt’s most efficiently exploited strategy to protect its monopolistic use Nile water. Cognizant of the internal contradictions and historical animosities among various Ethiopian constituencies, Egypt has often supported rebel groups fighting against Ethiopian rulers. This support has been both direct and indirect - in the past it armed Eritrean and Tigrean rebels, backed Somalia’s support for Oromo and Somali insergents, and also supported Siad Barre’s invasion. Reportedly there was even a plan to settle millions of Egyptians in Somalia in order to balance Ethiopia’s population. Ethiopia has also alleged that Egypt took sides with Eritrea during the 1998-2000 border conflict. There is little doubt that Egypt has been using Eritrea to channel support for various Ethiopian and Somali insurgents. This Egyptian strategy has been fruitful, given the unfortunate fact that every Ethiopian ruler has relied heavily on violent suppression of dissent, and the implementation of policies that favors one ethnic group over the other, thus creating favorable domestic conditions for armed insurgency.
Countering Egyptian Opportunistic Intervention
A country engaged in war with itself lacks the necessary financial and political strength to protect and advance its national interests against a competing external foe. Meles is right in saying that "If we address the issues around which the rebel groups are mobilized then we can neutralize them, and therefore make it impossible for the Egyptians to fish in troubled waters because there won't be any.” The problem is that the prime minister’s statements run contrary to the policies he has been implementing. By promoting the supremacy of his ethnic group, and using the old, familiar divide and rule policy of pitting one group against the other, he has exacerbated the already rampant internal fragmentation. Wiping out the infant civil society organizations, cracking down on the press, and filling the jails with political prisoners can hardly be considered ‘addressing issues around which rebel groups are mobilized’.
His intolerance for even modest dissent - demonstrated by the 2010 election - has killed any hope for a peaceful political process in the country, and has reenergized groups that advocate bringing political change though violent means. Just like his predecessors, Meles has been preparing internal conditions that are advantageous to the Egyptians, as evidenced with their renewed aggressive courting of rebel groups. It’s true that today Ethiopia is relatively stable and that Meles is not facing aggressive multiple rebellions as his predecessor did – however, the condition that fosters insurgency is ripe.
Responsibility of the dissident
The primary responsibility of eliminating the internal condition that exposes a country to external intervention and manipulation falls on those holding state power. Therefore, Meles Zenawi and his party have the power and duty to ensure internal cohesion through peaceful resolution of political disputes. Unfortunately they are doing the opposite. Still, those who aim to replace the current government are also just as responsible for protecting and safeguarding the national interest of the people they promise to serve more effectively. That responsibility begins by refusing to be a proxy for an opportunistic external force that aims to permanently disable our potential to breakout of the cycle of poverty.
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