Which Constituition, Aite Tesfaye? by Wondemhunegn Ezezew

December 25th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

–Romans 12:19 (more…)

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

–Romans 12:19

“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience. Can it be any wonder to anybody that such conditions make a man an outlaw of society? Can it be wondered that such a man, having been outlawed by the government, should be prepared to lead the life of an outlaw, as I have led for some months, according to the evidence before this court?”
–Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, page 479

The first biblical quote is for the revengeful and Mandela’s words are for the deceitful political cheerleaders of Meles Zenawi, including Mr. Tesfaye Habisso, whose latest article that appeared on Aigaforum elicited this response.


I must admit from the outset that I am not former Derg official; I belong to what we may call the ‘Woyane Generation.’ Nor any of my close kins have been convicted criminals for collaborating in the crimes and atrocities of the military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam. But I cannot deny the fact that many of my cousins and a half-brother of mine had fought bravely against the secessionist, narrow-nationalist movements of the time, including TPLF, which sought to break the country into pieces for some real or perceived grievances stemming from ethnic discrimination and cultural oppression. I must also say that am proud of the sacrifices and patriotic devotion of all Ethiopians who paid the ultimate price so that Ethiopia could prevail with its sovereignty respected and its territorial integrity intact.

But I also recognize the fact that the period from 1974 to 1991 was one of the darkest eras in Ethiopia’s long and colourful history. It was a period of Red (and White) Terrors during which, to use the words of Harold Marcus, “unspeakable horrors were perpetrated on a largely defenseless civilian population for the sake of dogmatic purity, the broad masses, democracy, national integrity, and civilian rule.” It was a trying period for all Ethiopians, especially for the best and brightest young generation of the time, whose innocence or guilt depended on the capricious judgments and perverted opinions of heartless officials and political functionaries. Millions of Ethiopians were the direct victims of the brutal Derg regime and hundreds of thousands had been illegally hunted down from their houses, tortured, killed, disappeared, or forced into exile. It was a time of national grief and disaster most of which could be attributed to the ignorance of the communist leaders who had hijacked the popular revolution ignited by the student movement.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

The last few weeks have been abuzz with internet news about the possible release from jail of former Derg officials. According to Aigaforum, the avowed online mouth piece of the Meles-led regime, a coalition comprising representatives from the four major religions in Ethiopia (Orthodox Tewahedo, Islam, Catholic and Wengelawit) has been playing the intermediary role. The goal of this religious coalition, we are told, is not only to secure their release but also to bring forgiveness and reconciliation between the victims and their victimizers. Thus, if things go as planned, we will manage to burry all the grudges and revenge that we have been nursing against each other for years and open a new promising chapter for the current and future generations of Ethiopia. Though the government has not yet commented on the issue, some insiders have hinted at the possibility of their release at the beginning of the New Year (a few days from now).

Many Ethiopians have reacted to the news, some positively and some negatively. However, as usual, Mr. Tesfaye’s piece is too provocative to ignore. While Mr. Aserat Kassa, a victim himself, courageously argued not to make ourselves prisoners of our revolting past, Mr.Tesfaye, in his typically hypocritical tone, blabbered that he does not have any grudge or discomfort if the former Derg officials got pardon from the government and the people of Ethiopia but, he continues to argue, the idea of pardon is naïve and has “no constitutional or legal cushion to make it practicable.” What makes the whole premise an oxymoron is that it is a staunch supporter of a bloodthirsty regime, notorious for violating its own constitution, who is ringing the alarm bell that the “constitution” will be violated. Mr.Tesfaye mentions the word constitution fifteen times in his three-page uncalled for rant! He even inserts articles and sub articles from the “supreme law of the land” to say that it is not lawful to release the ex-Derg officials!

But, does Mr.Tesfaye want to be reminded that his government is also one of the most barbaric regimes of our time? Did Mr.Tesfaye bother to read the recent 32-page report secretly released by concerned staff members of the Ethiopian security apparatus, a report that details some of the most horrific crimes being committed against Ethiopians among them innocent children under the age of sixteen? How would Mr.Tesfaye react if these teenagers were his daughters or sons, if he has one? Isn’t Mr.Tesfaye aware of such tortures, physical and psychological abuses and degrading mistreatments that are happening all over the country including the notorious-federal-torture centre of Maekelawi in Addis? Will Mr.Tesfaye accept that torture and dehumanization are the hallmarks of brutal and totalitarian regimes, and not of democratic countries? Will Mr.Tesfaye ever recognize the trials and tribulations of most Ethiopians who are currently being robbed of their farms and pastures as a result of the greed and betrayal of his government? Will Mr.Tesfaye muster an iota of courage to acknowledge the massacres and pogroms that have occurred since 1991 in different parts of the country? Can Mr.Tesfaye testify to the supreme court of his conscience that we are devoid of any “constitution” when aid money has been used to punish political opponents? Does Mr.Tesfaye understand that there was also an “Ethiopian constitution” during the Ethiopian Student Movement, in which he was also (an obscure) participant?

Mr.Tesfaye is some four decades older than I am. If he were “lucky,” this was the time that he would have been playing the role of a shimagle or an arbiter in accordance with our traditions and social norms. He should have been more tolerant in his views, more truthful in his accounts, more merciful in his personal and political encounters. Even if this is beyond his ability, he should have put his facts and evidences straight. No one has said that the former Derg officials are blameless. They have committed numerous inhumane crimes and atrocities against our people, and for that they have been punished appropriately, spending twenty years in jail. And I do not believe that twenty or even thirty years in jail is commensurate with the crimes they went away with for seventeen solid years. But, what do we, as Ethiopians, benefit from hoarding these officials in jail for life and from propagating hatred and vindictive messages to our children and grandchildren? Do we get our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers who were brutally killed by these officials back?

For Mr.Tesfaye, the TPLF/EPRDF government might be democratic, accommodating, plural and inclusive. But beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and we might not be surprised that someone who benefits immensely from the status quo will defend it by all means necessary so that they could continue to milk the system to sustain their material rewards and social-political privileges. But for those Ethiopians, who have been directly or indirectly on the receiving end, the system has been exploitive, oppressive, inhumane and vindictive.

My late father, though he eventually died of natural cause, was a victim of the barbaric system that Mr.Tesfaye defends with amazing zeal and enthusiasm. He was subjected to a number of physical and psychological tortures. He was summoned to court several times based on trumped up charges—at one time they accused him of trying to restore the feudal system by anointing a parish/church leader and giving him the title “Blata!” When they failed to produce any evidence to the kangaroo courts, they started to chase him from his life-time professional field. He was responsible for administering and managing church affairs at Woreda level (you can think of it as the equivalent of Woreda administrator in the carnal life) and had served in that capacity since the last years of Haile Selassie I. After obtaining collaborators from higher church officials (the main reason behind my assertions that church and state are re-united under TPLF/EPRDF regime), the Woyane cadres finally succeeded in demoting him to a less important position, and to make matters worse, they recruited his much younger secretary to take over his position. They also found another collaborator who claimed to have lent my father seven thousand Birr. Without his knowledge, without even giving him the chance to challenge the plaintiff in the kangaroo courts, they confiscated our house and gave it to the claimant (imagine for seven thousand Birr!). Upon my father’s death, an event which looked like an Epiphany than a funeral ceremony, the man who produced false documents to get our house, was a keynote speaker and “Qine” producer in the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

The judicious reader might be wondering what caused all this litany of persecutions as well as the egregious violation of my father’s human and property rights. All his crime was that he had opened an opposition political party office in Mekane Birihan, Janamora (remember Deresgie Mariam, the city of Dejach Wubie?) and had turned the whole community rebellious. Mind you, opposing injustice and waging peaceful struggle is illegal in Ethiopia and my father was condemned to go through all this suffering because of his bold decision to challenge the unjust system.

But despite all these injustices against my father and my family, I have never narrated my personal story out of my belief that all Ethiopians, including ordinary Tigreans, are leading similar nauseating life styles and mine is no different. You see, in today’s Ethiopia, not in Mr.Tesfaye’s Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, TPLF/EPRDF is everything: they are the courts, the plaintiffs, the testimonies, the prosecutors, the forgivers, the interrogators, the electoral administrators, the observers, the competitors, the judges, and what you have. They can do anything to eliminate anyone who opposes their parochial rule or to silence anyone who dares to criticize their poor human rights handling processes and procedures.

Why do I narrate my personal story? Because I believe that Mr.Tesfaye can learn something. Because I want to tell him that I nurse no grudge or revenge against any Woyane official, party functionary or against my fathers’ long time friends who had collaborated with the system to hasten his demise. Because I want to remind him that there is no “constitution” in Ethiopia, and even if there was one, it is we the people who can write or abrogate a constitution depending on the times and circumstances in the course of our history. I hope Mr.Tesfay remembers that a few years ago his rubber stamp parliament had passed a new law to deny his former comrade, Mr.Seeye Abraha, a bail grant. What if the same rubber stamp parliament passes another bill, this time round to promote national consensus through reconciliation?

As a school boy I was (and still am) convinced that education is the key to solve many of our multi-faceted social and economic problems. As I grew up I see that it is not so much the lack of educated and skilled man power that has hindered our progress and kept our people in poverty and endless hardships. The problems are hateful and crooked politicians and their dilettantish cheerleaders who waste our scarce resources and destroy our dynamic generations that could have been harnessed positively and productively to contribute to the country’s social and economic revival.

Lack of capital is a drawback in many developing countries including Ethiopia but the klepto/plutocrats make it worse by looting the limited money and stashing it away in foreign banks. The absence of peace and reconciliation is fertile ground for the vindictive and revengeful. Congo and Sudan are known for their bottomless poverty but Mobutu and Al-Bashir have stolen 8 and 9 billion dollars respectively because heightened conflict and crisis present a great window of opportunity for thieves. This amount of money has been looted at a time when the majority of their subjects have no access to clean water or a roof over their head. Regarding our leaders, we do not know the size of their overseas bank deposits but we know for sure that they are ruthless thieves bereft of any moral scruples to the extent of diverting 95 percent of the 1984 Band Aid humanitarian aid for arms purchase deals. The future of Ethiopia and other poor countries depends on efforts aimed at fighting and removing these kleptocratic and revengeful elements for reconciliation is their nightmare.

Wondemhunegn Ezezew

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