From Helping to Power to a Worrisome Awakening to the Abuse of Power

March 31, 2010

On May 27, 1991, under the mediation of Mr. Herman Cohen, the then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of the United States Department of State, what is now commonly known as the London Conference was opened between delegations of the then Ethiopian government, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF,) Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF,) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF.)

Against the strenuous objections of the Ethiopian delegation, the conference mediation practically gave a blessing to the assumption of political power by the TPLF in Ethiopia and EPLF in the then Ethiopian province of Eritrea.

The Ethiopian delegation was led by its Prime Minster at the time, Mr. Tesfaye Dinka, who had served in several technocratic posts in Ethiopia that include the Minister of Agriculture, Finance, Industry, and Foreign Affairs, before he was posted as the Prime Minister.

The TPLF delegation was led by Mr. Meles Zenawi who had interrupted his second year university education in 1975 at a young age of about 20 to join the TPLF. He spent the next 16 years of his early adult life in this rebel group that was practically disconnected from a peaceful civic society.

Similarly, the EPLF delegation was led by Mr. Isaias Afewerki who also had interrupted his university education in 1966 to join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and later created the EPLF and become its longtime leader.

Between 1998 and 2000, the two leaders oversaw a controversial war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that cost the lives of tens of thousands on both sides.

The aggressive behavior of the EPLF and its leaders recently led the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to put sanctions of arms embargo, travel restrictions, and asset freezes on Eritrea for its destabilizing activities in Somalia and Djibouti.

In a recent public revelation by Britain’s Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and corroborated by its former members, including Dr. Aregawi Berhe, one of its founding members, the TPLF had allegedly funneled up to 95% of aid money that was raised by Band Aid in the 1980s to assist drought stricken citizens in Tigray, a northern Ethiopian region that the TPLF was set out to liberate from Ethiopia.

Perhaps, due to this revelation and the subsequent discussions that followed it on this issue, Mr. Meles Zenawi signaled that he would and could take a sole, but probably unconstitutional, decision to jam the transmission of the Voice of America’s Amharic language service broadcasting to Ethiopia.

During a March 24, 2010, hearing on U.S. policy towards Africa, two high ranking U.S. congressmen, representatives Donald Payne (D) and Chris Smith (R), as well as the current Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. Jonnie Carson, expressed deep concerns about the deteriorating political conditions in Ethiopia.

Highlighted in this hearing is the case of Judge Birtukan Mideksa, a political prisoner as documented in the recent United States country report on human rights in Ethiopia. She is the Chairperson of one of the leading political parties, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ.) She was put in jail over a year ago following a dubious dispute regarding the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia that cost the lives of nearly 200 citizens, according to various media reports.

In one of her poems written from jail following harassment by her handlers, she wrote the following, as translated from Amharic to English by Finfinne Times.

Go ahead, exhaust your power on me
You are being cruel
Show it on me
Even new
Bring on something new
Fully reveal your wild nature
To please yourself in my suffering

For the sake of my dream, to be exemplary
Let me die today if necessary
I was jailed and came here because of it
It is not a load on me, it is my vision

This life of yours, your wild nature
Here is my chest for your cheap bullet
Destroy it
Hinder it
Entangle it
There won't be sorrow
It will be my virtue

Let me tell you, raising my head high
You snatched me from among the people
Speed up, speed up, hurry, hurry
Leave everything in today's day
Of course, tomorrow is not yours
It has escaped from your hands
It has passed, it is not here

It is my baby's that I bore
That I brought to this world through painful labor
Of the star
The bright
Of Halle [name of Birtukan's daughter]
The shining one
Her world has no residue
Since you have drained it

Our longing
This beauty
Beautiful Ethiopia
Your bullet
Propelled and brought

For close observers of Ethiopian politics and its machinations under Meles Zenawi who came to power with the blessing of former officials of the United States, the picture of what the Ethiopian people have been subjected to for long has become very clear. He has been making very unusual decisions that baffle his own former associates and confidantes, the leaders of political parties inside and outside Ethiopia, the general Ethiopian citizenry, and the international community. What may not have been put out to the public well enough are not his erratic actions but the unfortunate deficiency of the path he has traveled in life, as clearly depicted in Birtukan's instinctual and natural reactions conveyed through the above peom to his actions, as well as amply demonstrated by the unexpected revelations of his erratic actions, including working unconstitutionally to prospect the jamming the VOA.

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