Ethiopia’s Virtuous Patriotism Comes to Light through the Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia

November 27, 2009

In the last several decades, Ethiopia has been going through arduous experiments of transitions from a monarchical system, last led by Emperor Haile Selassie I, to a socialist system, last led by Lieutenant Colonel Menghistu Hailemariam, to a so called mixed-market economy democratic system, first proclaimed by Menghistu Hailemariam and then continued by the current Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.

These transitions have come through various trials and tribulations, including bloodsheds, failed and successful coup d’états, and a fundamental destabilization attempt that would have potentially put it only in history books for good. Historically, its stability has been tested at various times. On all occasions, its men and women in various corners of the country rose to challenge those agents of its destabilization. Some of the exemplary historical Ethiopian figures who fought with force and wisdom against the agents of its destabilization include Emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taytu Bitul, Fitawrari Habteghiorighis Dinagde, and Ras Alula Abba Nega.

Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu are probably best remembered for their leadership of Ethiopia’s victory over the Italian colonialist army at the battle of Adwa in 1896. Empress Taytu’s courageous statement during that time to die for her country is particularly classical. Fitawrari Habteghiorghis, Emperor Menelik II’s war minister, is remembered for his wisdom in diplomatic dealings. Ras Alula Abba Nega is remembered for his heroic fights, including in Eritrea, against those who came to destabilize the region.

Apparently conceived to address a legitimate quest for the decentralization of power in Ethiopia, the latest threat to Ethiopia’s and the East African region’s stability came veiled in the form of Article 39 in its constitution, which spells out the rights of nations and nationalities in it to self-determination up to and including secession.

Its introduction as a legal entity was overseen, as attested to by a German citizen in the early 1990s, by Isaias Afewerki, Lenco Lata, and Meles Zenawi, who were the leading figures of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF,) Oromo Liberation Front (OLF,) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF,) respectively. Dropping out from college education and civil service, these figures had earlier joined rebel movements that Menghistu Hailemariam fought against for all the time he ruled Ethiopia with an unflinching vigor for the unity of the country, including the Eritrean province and the Assab Autonomous Administration at the time.

Around 1992/1993, Lenco Lata gave an interview that was published in a local magazine called Salem in which he implicitly prognosticated the Badme war. A short while later, Dr. Merera Gudina, a political scientist, rose to emphatically argue for solving the Oromo people’s quest within Ethiopia instead of causing its destabilization. Going against the political tide of the time among many empiricist Oromo political activists, his argument set a stage for the long-held deliberation since and a foregone conclusion by now among reasonable Oromo political activists that it is in Oromo’s interest to solve the legitimate quest of our society within Ethiopia instead of destabilizing it.

When Eritrea started at Badme an act of war against Ethiopia in 1998, Siye Abraha, then a top leader of the TPLF, suddenly rose to challenge Meles Zenawi, who is acknowledged to have an Eritrean ancestor. In what appears to be a reincarnation of Ras Alula Abba Nega’s heroism, he led the war against Eritrea. Although much is yet to be known about his activities during the TPLF’s war against the then Ethiopian government and later while he was the Defense Minster of Ethiopia between 1991 and 1998, he led a decisive battle victory against Eritrea using what is now known to be a first-world-war tactic that cost the lives of so many. His faction in the TPLF that came to light during the war was narrowly defeated by that of Meles Zenawi’s in the aftermath of the war. However, it divided the TPLF into two camps for good.

Judge Birtukan emerged as a leading figure of a coalition of four political parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD,) that was quickly created in the run up to Ethiopia’s legislative elections in 2005. After going through trials and tribulations due to disputes over the results of the elections, she later rose as the first Ethiopian woman to lead a major Ethiopian political party, the Unity for Justice and Democracy (UJD) party. Before forming the new party, she was put in jail along with other leaders of the coalition. They were later released through a process marred between negotiations and legal process. She is currently imprisoned over issues linked to her explanation of these processes.

A recently released short video documentary about Birtukan reveals the level of her courage that appears to match that of Empress Taytu Bitul. After having been harassed by a member of the Ethiopian police in a 4 meter by 2 meter jail cell with another prisoner, she wrote a short poem in Amharic, of which a few lines are roughly translated below.

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

What has come to bind these three present day Ethiopian political figures, Dr. Merera Gudina, Ato Siye Abraha, and Judge Birtukan Mideksa, appears to be their clear principle on the stability of the country and the region. They all rose at different times, courageously going against the wind in their own rights in what appears to be the reincarnations of Fitawrari Habteghiorghis Dinagde, Ras Alula Abba Nega, and Empress Taytu Bitul, respectively. Rising to the call of their conscience, they and their political parties have come together in the newly formed Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia, which incidentally appears to shed light on Ethiopia’s virtuous patriotism. For the first time in its known history, this virtuous patriotism is on guard outside the government bureaucracy while those in it have rendered themselves political pawns by showing their indifference or ignorance to its potential destabilization in recent years, even if they appear now to be its legitimate stabilization pioneers after they have met, to use Prime Minster Meles Zenawi’s words, a dead end.

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