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

April 25, 2010

Since the first part of this article was published on March 14, 2010, various signals appear to have surfaced on Ethiopia’s current political landscape regarding the very issue this two part article presented for some analysis.

For close observers, the current agitations in Ethiopia and outside it for the consumption of the larger Ethiopian and international community appear to be very clear.

As many have already witnessed, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s current Prime Minister, has emerged as the primary actor in the political showdown in the run up to the country’s upcoming legislative elections, which are scheduled to take place in four weeks, on May 23, 2010. Arguably, he may currently have the strongest leverage in the political manifestations in Ethiopia in the weeks and months to come.

About a month ago, he came out to admit making a seemingly unconstitutional effort to jam the Voice of America’s Amharic Service broadcasting to Ethiopia. His reason to justify his effort is his farfetched comparison of this Radio broadcasting service to Radio Mille Collines that is blamed for inciting the 1994 genocide in Rwanda by broadcasting hate messages.

During his latest report to parliament on his government’s performance, he warned the leaders of Ethiopia’s major political parties against starting fire and walking away from it even as these political leaders, including his former comrade-in-arms Siye Abraha, to whom his criticisms are directed, openly asserted that they are struggling through peaceful and legal means.

Interestingly, the primary sources of both allegations, broadcasting hate messages by the Voice of America’s Amharic Service and Ethiopia’s political leaders starting fire, are Meles Zenawi himself. As Eskinder Nega reported in his latest article, Meles Zenawi mysteriously implies with increased intensity that creeping incitements will eventuate in riots.

The creeping incitements are abound and appear to emerge from the same direction against Ethiopia’s tested political ground.

Over a month ago, a controversy emerged over the death of a major political party’s candidate for parliament in the northern Tigray region. The political party of the deceased, Aregawi Ghebreyohannes, has alleged the attack as politically motivated and undertaken by the governing party. Meles Zenawi’s government spokespeople have denied it.

A few days ago, a similar controversy emerged over the death of another candidate of the same major political party. In the same way as the controversy about the death of Aregawi Ghebreyohannes, the political party of Biyansa Dhaba has alleged that he was attacked near Ambo, which lies some 100 kilometers to the west of the capital, while campaigning for his party. Again, Meles Zenawi’s government spokespeople denied that the ruling party is responsible.

As this article was being written, some media are reporting that five people died and another twenty were wounded in an explosion in Mekele, the capital of the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. The region’s officials are already blaming it on Eritrea.

Another recent story carried by the Indian Ocean Newsletter reports that about 260 Oromo and Amhara police officers were dismissed from service recently.

Earlier this month, various media reported about an Ethiopian Federal Court’s passing of death sentence to a young Oromo civil engineer, Mesfin Abebe Abdisa, and life to long term imprisonments to fourteen others. This death sentence is reminiscent of that of an iconic young Oromo lawyer, the late Mamo Mazamir, and the life and long term imprisonment sentences reminiscent of those of the leaders of Matcha Tulama Association, both nearly half a century ago.

Moreover, our Oromo society is being reminded of the death and imprisonment of other Oromo leaders and member of the society in Ethiopia’s political turmoil of the last several decades. Prominent among these are the late generals Demisse Bulto and Merid Nigusse, and Judge Birtukan Mideksa who is currently in prison.

Even though there is no strong evidence to the public that the two prominent individual Oromo generals who were involved in leading the attempted coup d’état of 1989 against former Ethiopian President Menghistu Hailemariam have been involved in any partisan Oromo cause, their deaths have lately been portrayed among Oromo causalities by the Ethiopian state due to their identities. Judge Birtukan Mideksa’s imprisonment has also been put in the same picture.

In a series of three books, a certain Tesfaye Ghebreab, who is believed to be a supporter of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), has tried to shamefully portray utilitarian propaganda to the Ethiopian public.

In his first book, called Ye Burqa Zimita, he apparently has insulted our Oromo society’s intelligence by attempting to give lecture and guidance to our society’s grievances as if his lectures and guidance outweigh our society’s age old and rich wisdom.

In his second book, called Ye Gazetegnaw Mastawesha, he brought to the public his story about a tragic assassination of the late Darara Kafani in Ambo, the same city where the controversy about the death of Biyansa Dhaba emerged a few days ago. Arguably, no one else has got closer, at least publicly, to revealing the story of the tragic premeditated assassination of Darara Kafani than Tesfaye Ghebreab. Any close observer may not fail to ask if Tesfaye himself, who is the first to bring the story to the public in a published book using unproven and questionable evidences, isn’t among the suspects in this premeditated tragedy.

In his third book, called Ye Derasiw Mastawesha, he narrated how the late renowned Ethiopian surgeon and political leader, Professor Asrat Woldeyes, was mercilessly handled in prison and later died.

While the Ethiopian public and the international community at large have all the rights to know about the political show over the last many years under Meles Zenawi and his accomplice’s watch, the timing of Tesfaye’s stories and the manners in which they have been delivered cast doubt about their claimed purpose and force us to ask if they are utilitarian for dubious agenda.

Obviously, his two accounts have and will make emotions run high among our Oromo and Amharic speaking communities as all prepare to enter this election season.

For many years now, some shortsighted Oromo political activists have found themselves as the hirelings of the EPLF and their foreign factors to destabilize the region in the name of forming Oromo statehood.

In his visit diary of Ethiopia back in the early 1990s, a German citizen who supported Oromo movement, the late Dr. Gunnar Hasselblatt, revealed that Isaias Afewerki, Lenco Waaqayo Lata, and Meles Zenawi were the three leaders of the country. What was strikingly interesting about the revelation is that he visited Ethiopia and wrote the diary after the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was presumed to have left the Ethiopian government and Eritrea became a de facto breakaway state.

With all these backgrounds and the ongoing incitements, one can’t help asking if what Meles Zenawi has been revealing lately isn’t a morphed continuation of a political machination over a long time, instead of a reasonable effort at the alleged slow paced effectuation of a democratic process in Ethiopia.

Many farsighted Oromo thinkers have concluded that Oromo interest is better served by maintaining regional peace and stability by taking equitable leadership in Ethiopia and the region. Whether the latest assemblage of Oromo elders, which Lenco Lata once discussed about as having been formed to solve the differences among our political actors and society, could stand any strong first test of instability remains to be seen in the event that future developments lead in that direction.

Even if the shortsighted are convinced that it is a must that Oromo statehood be declared despite the unforeseen consequences, it hasn’t reached its maturity. Neither is its guidance from without virtuous, its effectuation safe and certain, nor will its sustainability be convincingly long lasting. The best it will become may be another client state for today’s guidance givers from without.

In view of the signs at the leveling effort of the political landscape in Ethiopia since the 2005 legislative elections, many might ask if the speculation here is farfetched. Yet in view of its possibility and the magnitude of its historical implications, including the practical annulment of Ethiopia’s victory at Adwa, an African victory at that, caution should be in order for the enlightened.

One could argue that it would be too shortsighted of even Meles Zenawi himself to venture to adhere to the demands of his friends to whom he had entered into an allegiance. The fact that he made a speech on the eve of the beginning of Ethiopia’s third Millennium about Ethiopia’s Renaissance may give some level of solace to those who thought and wrote after the 2005 legislative elections that the country was miraculously saved. However, it has become clearer that the Ethiopian Renaissance he spoke about was not of his fertile imagination nor has it been followed upon meaningfully. As Helen Epstein observed intuitively, “…the Renaissance he’s thinking of seems very different from ours.”

According to the latest report by Eskinder Nega, even Lidatu Ayalew, a favorite political leader of Meles Zenawi outside his party, has been cast under the rumor that he has converted his religion from his constituent’s overwhelmingly Orthodox Christianity to Protestantism, a rumor that could cost him his parliament seat.

What ought to be clear to the concerned is that the political players behind the scene are at their game on such charged political landscape of present day Ethiopia.

On the one hand, the wrongful activities of some of them have been exposed enough already and brought to the public court with the prospect of a convincing victory for the public. On the other hand, emotions run high among the public because of what they have been subjected to by the same players for many years now. It is in such a situation that the players have the urge to do what may come to their imagination to devise their escape routes from the public court’s verdict. The work of Tesfaye Ghebreab seems to be an exemplary exhibit.

What is more, if there is some grain of truth in what Tibebe Samuel Ferenji informed the public that Isaias Afewerki had in the past assurance from a U.S. government official that it is not standing in the way of his effort at breaking apart Ethiopia, or something to that effect, it wouldn’t be farfetched to imagine that he may be using that option as one of his premeditated escape routes from the court of public opinion.

In conclusion, today, Ethiopia’s political landscape in the run up to the May 23, 2010, legislative elections seems to be no less charged than it was in the run up to the May 15, 2005, legislative elections. There is no convincing reason to believe that the players behind the manifestation of Ethiopia’s political atmosphere in the run up to and after the 2005 elections have completely left the theatrical scene or departed from their long time but misguided convictions. Meles Zenawi has admitted to having made a calculated risk in the 2005 elections and vowed since that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which he has been leading for a long time, will never repeat the same mistake again. If anything, he appears to have elevated his inciting words and actions in recent weeks and months. Granted that these observations are not farfetched, the Ethiopian public has various options to avoid stepping on the charged political landscape that would be immensely damaging to them and opens the escape routes for those who have been shamefully trampling on their basic rights. It has been arguably assured that the public court these players have been put in will deliver victory to the public in history books. However, the assurance of victory to the public will be only after they come out victorious even if it means staying away from the charged political landscape in today’s Ethiopia as the public debate and verdict process works itself out. Denying them being the party to even minor riots that can be taken out of control during this election season for possible premeditated dubious ends by the players may well be the wisest decision our public will have made during this election season. This is not running away from one's legitimate rights, which is uncharacteristic of our society, but doing it through other means towards victory.

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