Notes from an Interstate Bus: A Farmer on Election 2010. – Eskinder Nega (Addis Ababa)

April 9th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

I arrived at Addis’ Awtobes Tera (interstate bus station) at 6:00 AM but it was already teeming with thousands of would be travelers. (more…)

I arrived at Addis’ Awtobes Tera (interstate bus station) at 6:00 AM but it was already teeming with thousands of would be travelers. This was last Tuesday, the 28th in Ethiopian calendar, a day of pilgrimage to Metak Ammanuel, a revered church in the vicinity of Debre Birhan, an old sleepy town with medieval roots on the southern tip of the Amhara region, where I will be passing through on my way to the border of Welo and Shewa for a two days sojourn.

I sat between a farmer and a chubby light skinned woman on the back seat; not too happy at the prospect of spending no less than seven hours on a rickety bus on a partially dug up( now for two straight years) highway. The bus slowly made its way out of the crowded bus station at 6:30, an hour before the morning rush hour that is dreaded by interstate bus drivers. I prayed for good conversation as the bus left Addis, but not daring to hope for the rare bus rider that will risk a frank political discussion in the police state that Ethiopia is evolving in to after the 2005 elections.

But, Thank God, I was to be pleasantly surprised.

“Getaw, what time is it?” inquired the farmer as the bus finally made it on to the tarred highway after almost forty-five minutes on a rough detour. His booming voice broke the silence, and we drifted in to small talk as the bus accelerated to make up for lost time. The farmer, 28, slim, short, from Menz, told me he had been in and out prison, his last stint for three years which he recently completed.

My curiosity stirred, I couldn’t resist asking him “why the state is in love with him”; which elicited a hearty laugh from him. “Possession of Kalashnikov,” he replied in that booming voice of his; attracting the attention of two passengers sitting to the right in front of us. I could also sense the two sitting to my left on the back seat, the chubby lady and another farmer, stretching to catch a glimpse of him. “EHADEG(the EPRDF) took four guns from me,” he said with a deep breath and laid back, as if he wanted to give us time to digest the significance of what he had said. We apparently wanted more, and after what seemed a rather long pause he continued. “The first time they imprisoned me I gave it up without a fight. The torture was so sever, two of our cellmates threw themselves over a cliff. After seeing that I simply led them to where I had hidden a brand new Kalashnikov.”

One of the two who were sitting in front of us, both of whom had by now turned and were facing us, suddenly twitched his face. “But I know of that case,” he protested, “the two that threw themselves over the cliff were suspected of stealing Tabots. That had nothing to do with guns.” The reply came instantly. “Yeah, I know,” said the farmer dismissively, “ But we were in the same holding cell. It was obvious that what they did to them they would have done next to us. My God! It was really atrocious. They tricked them by telling them that the Tabot was hidden near an edge of a cliff, and when they got there they went over the cliff.” No proof was ever found that the two had ever stolen Tabots. But there was little sympathy for them, no crime is greater in Menz than that associated with Tabots; the taint of suspicion being sufficient to relegate a person to utter social banishment.

The farmer told us that he sold his oxen to buy Kalashnikov as soon as he was freed; which, much to the irritant of the others, propped me to interrupt with a question. “But why would you do that? Selling your oxen to…” he did not let me finish. “But everyone does it,’ came the reply with haven’t- you- ever- heard –of – Menz expression. And seeing that the two were nodding as he answered, I had to let him ensue with his tale. “Once they heard that I had sold my oxen, they came right after me. No questions asked; it was straight to prison. But this time I resisted despite the torture, and only gave up when any chance of release solely depended on giving them what they wanted. The third and fourth times, I was handed prison sentences.” But a court of law came in to the picture only after evidence had been secured through torture, a norm for petty crimes but with much more intensity and frequency if guns and politics are being investigated.

“So this means that you will not be voting for the EPRDF this year” I said smiling as he winded down, not at all expecting a serious reply. “But what choice do we have? We will be voting with their guns virtually held to our heads,” blurted out the farmer, not in the least bit worried who was listening nor bothered by who we might be. Intrigued, I pressed him a bit daringly as the conversation ventured in to dangerous territory. “But surely you will be voting in private. How would they know whom you voted for?” He reminded us that names will be on the voting cards. “They will know if they want to,” he said firmly. The others neither acknowledged nor disputed what he said, cautiously preferring to leave the conversation to the two of us though they were clearly engrossed. Nor was I particularly seeking attention on this trip, and I hesitated before pressing on. But the temptation was too much.

“So what if they were to know. What could they do? There is no law that says that you have to vote for them,” I insisted. He grinned; perhaps amused by what he thought was my naiveté. “Addis Ababa will not vote for Meles,” he abruptly declared somewhat gleefully, (a message that that he will surely take to his village) “But in our area,” he continued but now in a subdued tone, “if they find out that you are a member of the opposition, if they know beyond doubt, they will hit you.( Yematalu.)They will imprison you, shoot you and claim that you died while attempting to escape.”

That jolted me up. Here is a farmer from Menz sitting next to me, recounting almost word to word what many say had happened to Teklu Hawaz; once chief of TPLF’s Security (intelligence) who was relieved from his duties after being accused(falsely, say his friends and defenders) of trying to defect to the Derg, subsequently imprisoned and shot dead while allegedly attempting to escape. Time to take the farmer seriously. I asked him if an election had been held in his area to elect observers, to which he replied in the negative. “No, not in our area,” he said taken aback by my question.( The electoral board claims otherwise, maintaining that such elections had been held throughout the country. Independent reports, however, attest to many election observers being capriciously selected by local officials rather than being elected by voters as mandated by law.)

Assuming a free and fair election, whom do you think will the majority will vote for, I asked him as we approached Debre Birhan where he was to disembark and catch another bus to his home. “We voted for Kinijit the last time. If not for the campaign of terror, we will vote for the opposition again,” he told us, and cheerfully melted in to the Debre Birhan crowd way before we heard enough from him.

“Mark my words” remarked one of those who had been listening to him, “he will not last long. They will get him again.”

TIDBITS:

FROM YOUE E-MAILS

I would like to thank you all for your emails. I am grateful that you had taken time to write to me. They are always useful, providing me with new insights. Keep them coming. I will form time to time share some of them with my readers.

ON BEREKET SIMON

Sir:

I was born and raised in the same area (Kebele) as Bereket Simon (Birth name: Mebratu G/Hiwot). BOTH of his parents were indeed from Eritrea. And that could be the very reason why he opted to run across the country in Wollo, as an Amhara mind you. The fact is people in that part of Gondar knew what his REAL back ground is. All this would’ve not mattered one iota if it wasn’t directly contradictory to TPLF’s way of running business, i.e. tribal/killil politics. In fact, I would care less if Sebhat Ephrem pledges his allegiance to Ethiopia and decides to run in Gojam, for instance.A reader.

ON THE LEFT IN ETHIOPIAN POLTICS

Sir:

Many pundits often pontificate and even go as far as scapegoat the complex Ethiopian politics on the “left” Marxist-Leninist ideology. This kind of political argument is not new. It started what seemed a long time. However, the role of the “left” or the introduction of Marxist-Leninist thought in the Ethiopian body politics should be examined dispassionately and objectively. It should not be reduced to a very simplistic and opportunistic often dubious review of its role. It is still being debated among advanced and well instituted forums.For your information, even the Catholic church has revised its long standing out right condemnation of KARL MARX. Finally, you have not yet given up on the perennial ritual or farce so called “election”. Good luck. No pleading, no tech talk ain’t gonna change the brutal and violent reality of the Woyane regime.

A reader.

ON SURVIELANCE CAMERAS

Sir,

So you want to unseat the government through twitter? Let us wait and see how you are going to do this. On no man. Do not waste your time. We will clean the stumbling stones on our way to the 2010 election, and show the world Ethiopia can make a democratic election. Regarding the surveillance camera you decried, yes we already have installed them and we will further. They already have fed us a lot about people like you sworn to cause havoc in Ethiopia. Yes it is high time that Ethiopia possesses this technology to tackle its ‘nocturnal enemies’. Eski hulunm lemayet behiwet enkoy.

A reader.

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