The Sheraton and Imperial Events Comparison: Making a strong Case for Birtukan Mideksa Immediate Release ! – By Girma Kassa
There were two political events held in Addis Ababa last week. Both happened on Friday October 30th. Both were held in big hotels. Both were attended by foreign diplomats and reporters. The similarities of these two events end here.
The first event was held at the Addis Ababa Sheraton Hotel. The leader of the ruling party EPRDF Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the chairman of the All Ethiopia Unity Party Hailu Shawel, the leader of Ethiopian Democratic Party Lidetu Ayalew and a certain Ayele Chamisso were the main speakers.
In the second event at the Imperial Hotel, the feature speakers were more than 20 ordinary citizens, who came from all over the country. An old man from Western Gojam, a young lady from Debretabor Gonder, a farmer from Southern Omo, a woman from Dilla southern region and gentlemen from Mettu Illibabour, Kombolcha Wello, and Eastern Wellega were few among those who shared their stories at the Imperial Hotel.
At Sheraton there were laughter, applauses, handshakes and celebrations. People there, were celebrating the signing of the 2002 Election code of conduct. The message that was being relayed from the podium at Sheraton was that multi party democracy in Ethiopia has made a big progress and that we are in an era of a new beginning. “Gone are the days of mutual destruction, attrition and hate. With the signing of the historic Election Code of Conduct has ensured a bright chapter of the orderly and peaceful political contestation to ascend the ladder of political power through to the pinnacle in our country.” wrote a certain Tsehaye Debalkew from Washington DC commenting on the Sheraton event.
At the Imperial Hotel it was a different story. Shameful and egregious act of atrocities allegedly committed by local EPRDF security officers, on opposition supporters all over the country, were exposed by live witnesses.
Belay Kassa, an old man from Eastern Gojam was taken to a nearby forest and beaten up to near death.. Daniel Wolde-Gabriel, a UDJ activist from Illibabur, testified that his wife and kids were harassed and taken to prison multiple times. According to Ato Daniel Wolde-Gabriel EPRDF security officers even took his 12 years old boy to prison and threatened the boy that he would be killed. A young lady from Debre Tabor, Gonder was beaten up and raped. Genet Gemechu, another UDJ activist from Dilla southern region, was jailed for a month and suspended from her 25 years old government job, solely because she rented her house for the UDJ. A farmer, Mohamed Daoud from Southern Omo was taken to prison by 10 EPRDF armed men and beaten up. Alemu Abayneh, Worku Mulualem from Kombolcha Wello, Getaye Wedajeneh from Wellega and many more shared their sorrowful stories and illustrated the atrocities unleashed on them by EPRDF security officers and local government officials. What are their crimes? …. being members and supporters of a legally registered and recognized political party, the UDJ.
All these are on top of the illegal, unconstitutional and barbaric incarceration of the very popular and loved first woman political prisoner, the Ethiopian “Nelson Mandella”, Birtukan Mideksa . In spite of the constant and sustained call for her release the EPRDF has so far refused to listen. Even calls from its own supporters are being disregarded and ignored by decision makers and hardliners within the ruling party. As reported by Reuters “I don’t agree with jailing Birtukan. She’s a strong opponent, but Meles is good for Ethiopia and I wanted us to debate openly and show the people our economic achievements.” said a senior EPRDF member, who did not want to be named.
Bereket Simeon, the EPRDF head of information, recently told Reuters that nobody has been imprisoned or killed for political activity in Ethiopia. However the testimony of more than 20 citizens who came from all over the country at the Imperial hotel and the incarceration of Birtukan Mideksa indicate otherwise. I would question if there is a second Ethiopia Ato Mereket Simeon is living in.
When the event at Imperial event reflects the Ethiopia of today, the event of Sheraton may be reflecting the Ethiopia that doesn’t exist yet and we all would like to see. We were told by EPRDF officials that there will be free, fair and democratic election. We were told that the signed Code of Conduct is a history accomplishment.
However, how can we be assured that the Code of Conduct is different than the Constitution itself, a document that is being regularly violated by cadres of the rulin party? Would the spirit of mutual trust and respect to one another displayed at the Sheraton event be sustained? Will it be inclusive? Will the parties involved be serious in implementing it? Will the Code of Conduct create a plain field for all opposition parties? Will Birtukan Mideksa and all political prisoners be freed? Will local sadistic EPRDF cadres that are terrorizing our people all over the region be held accountable and prosecuted? Will opposition parties be allowed to hold public rallies at Meskel square and other public places? Will the public media currently working only for the ruling party be balanced to reflect views of all oppositions? ….
All these are questions that need to be answered quickly. If real issues and real questions of the people are addressed by co-signers of the Sheraton agreement, I believe the outcome of the Sheraton events will ultimately be hailed by many. It would become indeed a historic event.
However at this moment the Sheraton agreement is only a paper. We will not give weight to it at all, and does not want to fool ourselves by bragging about its benefit. As long as Birtukan Mideksa is in Kaliti prison and harassments of opposition supporters, as witnessed by regular citizens at Imperial Hotel, are continuing, this document would be considered as a simple paper, solely used by the EPRDF for garnering cheap political and diplomatic advantages.
Which one will it be? A historic document or just a paper? It is something that we will find out in few weeks.
I for one do not want to prematurely dismiss the Sheraton agreement. I want to give the Sheraton gentlemen the benefit of the doubt. I would like to see if Birtukan Mideksa is released. I would like to see if they work hard and make their two months long product an acceptable product by as many people as possible.
I therefore call for EPRDF officials to listen to many of their supporters and do the right thing for the sake of Ethiopia and their own party.
Though arriving to common understanding with AEUP chairman Ato Hailu Shawel may be significant for the EPRDF, that by itself is not enough. Birtukan Mideksa is the “LEADER” of the opposition. She commands the respect and love of tens of millions Ethiopians in all regions of the country and the Diaspora.
With her in prison there can never be a free and fair election and we will loose a big opportunity to come together as one country and one people. Instead of focusing together on bringing out Ethiopia from its poverty and shame, the status quo politics of hate, recrimination, revenge will continue. I am sure no-one would want that. Therefore BIRTUKAN MIDEKSA MUST BE FREED NOW!