The Folly of Political Detachment from the Past, Present, and Future – Part I

March 14, 2010

Over the last few weeks, to his credit, Tibebe Samuel Ferenji stepped outside the machinated box of the contemporary Ethio-Eritrean politics and tried to highlight its prevailing state and possible future directions. Sentimental arguments, instead of learned debates, have ensued about Tibebe’s analysis, notably by Neamin Zeleke.

What the arguments boil down to appears to be whether the pledge of the current leaders of Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) to support certain Ethiopian political forces to remove the current Ethiopian government from power is politically justified or not.

What is not in dispute is that, if not all, most Ethiopian political activists agree that this government is dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that has been wielding power in Ethiopia since 1991. Many also agree that it needs to be replaced by a government of the people through a credible election process and its effectuation thereof. Some still entertain the thesis of using force to remove it from power and replace it with that force that they have unilaterally chosen to follow.

Tibebe made a point from the outset that the idea of the EPLF “liberating Ethiopia” may not have been born from within those Ethiopian political forces that have now subscribed to the support of the current EPLF leadership to bring down the current TPLF leadership. This salient point was not refuted but lost in the sentimental argument.

Tibebe also made another point early on in his analysis what some in the leadership of the EPLF political hierarchy confided to him back in 1998 about the Badme war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides. According to this revelation, the border issue was not the real issue and that it was initiated by the EPLF and quickly acted upon by the EPLF for its grandiose plan, including the destabilization of regional peace.

Moreover, Tibebe asserts that a negotiation with Isaias Afewerki, a long time leader of the EPLF, has resulted in the elimination of the leadership of MENKEA, another Eritrean rebel group that the EPLF had invited to a peace accord in the relatively distant past.

He also asserts that Isaias had also a role in working with Major Dawit Woldeghiorghis and other top Ethiopian generals in the 1989 coup d’état attempt against Colonel Menghistu Hailemariam, who was then the president of Ethiopia.

That coup attempt caused the death of prominent members of the leadership of the Ethiopian defense forces that the country had built over the years. This contributed to the takeover of power by the TPLF in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and the EPLF in Asmara two years later in 1991. Another two years later in 1993, Eritrea became independent and Ethiopia became by far the most populous landlocked country in the world.

In what appears to expose his position of duality, Neamin picks up an issue with Tibebe’s assertion about the role of the EPLF in the 1989 coup d’état.

On the one hand, he appears to argue that the leaders of the coup d’état would not have succumbed to a possible EPLF machination of it or a role thereof to destabilize Ethiopia.

On the other hand, he appears to have subscribed to the prescription of the current EPLF leadership’s support to certain Ethiopian political groupings, which has not been proven beyond doubt that it doesn’t entail a machinated effort at destabilizing it.

In a recently published interview, Seye Abraha, the former second top leadership member in the TPLF asserted that his faction’s argument in this political grouping to get rid off the influence of the EPLF on the TPLF once and for all led to the splitting of the TPLF and the expulsion of Seye and his partners’ from it.

In an apparent detachment from the EPLF’s role in influencing some elements in the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF,) Neamin would have his readers believe that the TPLF expelled the OLF from the transitional Ethiopian government within mere two years of forming a political partnership. What Neamin may be oblivious to is the role of the EPLF in the machinations of the expulsion of the OLF leadership and the kind of relationship between certain elements of the OLF, EPLF, and TPLF thereafter and possibly up to the present day.

The role that the EPLF played in striking a long-lasting wound in the fabric of our Oromo society through its politicking in the OLF leadership has been wisely and carefully dwelt on by many Oromo political activists. If experience is any guide to the inexperienced on the matter, it suffices to note here an Oromo political activist’s observation that led him to invoke an age-old Oromo wisdom: raammoo baqa bofa afaan buute, which roughly means ending up in a snake’s mouth while running away from a worm. Let there be no illusion that the EPLF's machinations have fractured the OLF leadership in a similar way it has done to the TPLF leadership.

While all these anecdotes may serve as guiding markers for careful observers and willing activists, the uncultured political nature of the current EPLF leadership is out for the world to see and judge.

Subsequent writings by both Tibebe and Neamin spiral down to narrations of their personal assessments of the involvements of individuals and organizations in the 1989 coup d’état attempt. Consequently, the argument lost its traction on the role of the EPLF in assisting certain Ethiopian political organizations to bring down the current Ethiopian government.

Reviewing the current reality on the ground in Ethiopia and possible outcomes of the various strategies that have been and may be employed by the spectrum of our existing political organizations may lead to bringing the arguments of the two gentlemen to a more productive debate among all of us who are interested in what is currently in the store for us as the stability of our region heads to the near future.

This should direct the attention of all concerned Ethiopian political activists to the political and auxiliary configurations on the ground today in Ethiopia and the region. We have diverse interests, political friends, disinterested or indifferent parties, as well as observers and opponents for their own strategic interests.

Perhaps, what most Ethiopian political activists have in common are to see the stability of the region, the respect for the rights of all citizens, and the rule of law.

In the mix of voices that have been jamming the Ethiopian political space with a lot of noise from various corners around the world, careful observers should be duty bound to gage the signals that are aimed against what we have all in common and want to continue to have in common as we continue to cherish, nurture, and celebrate our diversities.

One of such possible signals was told by Dr. Berhanu Nega in his book titled “ye netsanet goh si qed,” which may roughly mean the dawn of liberty. Puzzled by the nature of the political machination he couldn’t fathom, he put forward a supposition that the people involved in Ethiopia's current political leadership must have done something terribly wrong that they have been trying to hide.

If this supposition holds any truth, and we have no reason to believe it doesn’t, it must go without saying that the EPLF must have known about it if it wasn’t the architect of it afterall. This is simply because of the long-time influence it had on the TPLF leadership, which evidently threw its top two leadership members on different sides of a political ditch for good.

Interestingly, Dr. Berhanu later found himself aligning with the current EPLF leadership and we are not sure if this is before or after getting a clarification to his stated supposition in the book he authored. Those who have put themselves behind the movement he is leading along a path of an alignment with the current EPLF leadership owe themselves a satisfactory answer to this particular question before jumping on the bandwagon prepared for them.

What is clear is that a strong political movement, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD,) that Dr. Berhanu was a leadership member of in the run up to the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia has been split into at least four factions. Judge Birtukan Mideksa, the leader of one of the factions, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ,) has been put in jail under dubious circumstances. Dr. Negasso Gidada, a self-admitted criminal for involvement in capital crimes when he was a member of the Ethiopian government, has found his way to become a spokesperson of the UDJ.

Along a similar line, Yacob Likkie, who also found his way to become a spokesperson for the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP,) has been heard on a recent radio interview trying to push out Abayneh Berhanu from the leadership member of this party.

When members of the inquiry commission that was formed to investigate the turmoil that followed the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia distanced themselves from stepping over the truth, Dr. Gamachu Magarsa stepped up to defend the actions of the government.

Apart from such dubious involvements in the current political landscape of Ethiopia, what these three individuals have in common is the fact that they come from a small locality of Dambi Dollo, a border town between Oromo and Agnuwak lands where a missionary establishment got a foothold nearly a century ago and reportedly converted twelve local peasants into protestant priests.

What is more, Dr. Negasso Gidada and Yacob Likkie appear to have taken up the key positions of the spokespersons of the UDJ and AEUP factions of the former CUD, respectively. In the meantime, Dr. Berhanu is advising his followers to align themselves with the EPLF and his supporters have gone out of their way to defend the current EPLF leadership despite the well founded allegations lodged against them by an evidently informed writer, Tibebe Samuel Ferenji.

As the wise Oromo saying goes, wallaalaan waan beeku dubbata, beekaan waan dubbatu beeka, which roughly means a naïve talks about what he knows, a wise knows what he talks about.

This commentary may not give any answers to the arguments that have started. Hopefully, it provides an independent perspective on the issue and a further glimpse on the political reality on the ground today in Ethiopia and its ramifications for any future unmeasured actions taken by all those concerned. This is a subject of the upcoming second part of this commentary.

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