US Policy and Democracy: Ethiopia a Test Case for US policy !! ENPCP

June 11th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

March 11, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

March 11, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

US Policy and Democracy: Ethiopia a Test Case for US policy

Madame Secretary,

On behalf of myself and the eleven constituent civic organizations within the Ethiopian National Priorities Consultative Process, please accept our highest respect.

We write to you seeking to be afforded the opportunity to engage with relevant US authorities at the earliest possible time given recent developments in Ethiopia and the North African sub-region.

Madame Secretary,

With a population of eighty million, Ethiopia is the second largest nation in Sub-Sahara Africa. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Christianity was adopted since the third century of the Christian era and Islam as of the sixth century. Its geopolitical sphere spans over regions of East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle and Near East. Ethiopia holds a special place in the African context as a symbol of independence and for its active role in the liberation of the continent from colonial rule. It is the seat of the African Union, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and many other International Organizations. Ethiopia was a member of the former League of Nations and founding member of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Ethiopian and US relations were established in 1902, the centenary of which was commemorated recently in both countries.

Considered to be a staunch ally of the United States against terrorism, Ethiopia has been the beneficiary of over 35 billion US dollars in emergency aid, financial and economic assistance from the US, the World Bank, the IMF and other donor countries in the past twenty years. Billions of US dollars have been also granted to Ethiopia in debt relief. In addition to these funds Chinese, Libyan, Indian and other bilateral grants and loans amounting to several billions dollars have also been given to Ethiopia. Several hundred NGO’s and consulting firms are active in Ethiopia providing additional grass-roots development programs.

In sectors not considered economic development, the US, Britain, and Germany have also been providing military and security training personnel and equipment to the ruling regime. The promise of reform and establishment of a plural democratic system of government, the rule of law, transparency and a free market economy in Ethiopia was at the core of constant donor and international institution’s tutelage in democracy and pouring of all these political and material assistances. Sadly, few of these basic reforms have materialized so far despite the adoption of a constitution purporting full respect of citizen’s constitutional rights that only exists nominally and citizens however, are bereft of basic human and democratic rights.

Regardless of all this enormous aid and financial support Ethiopia remains one of the poorest and destitute countries in the world.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report on ‘Governance 2010’ shows Ethiopia failing to equate with the average level of 28 other African countries, lagging so far behind that it is one of three countries at the bottom of the line. With regards to freedom of the press Ethiopia ranks 122nd. From amongst the least developed countries Ethiopia ranks 157 out of 173. This enormous infusion of foreign aid has also created an extraordinary income disparity, concentrating an enormous amount of wealth in less than half (0.5) percent of the population, mostly in business enterprises owned by the ruling party and its ethnic affiliates. In spite of a seemingly glittering prosperity in some countries, a glaring example of such exceedingly unequal development in these societies are the cause for dissent for the disastrous downfalls in the Ivory Coast, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Djibouti and the expanding popular revolt in other countries.

Regarded as ‘generally fair’ by certain observers, the first national elections in Ethiopia was held in 2000, where the ruling regime claimed to have garnered ninety percent of the popular vote. Evidence revealed that it was rigged and could hardly have been considered open and free. The opposition parties were forced to boycott the elections because of the serious restrictions and violations exercised by the regime. In May 2005, the second national election in Ethiopia was held with a landslide victory by the opposition. This was the outcome of a provision of ‘A Human Rights Bill HR 5321 introduced in the US Congress authorizing ten million US dollars earmarked for election related activities and urging the Government of Ethiopia to hold orderly, peaceful and free and fair national election. Realizing that the vast majority was against its rule, the regime proclaimed a state of emergency and declared itself the winner, even before the votes were fully counted. Subsequently, after a massive public demonstration all political party leaders were jailed, over fifty thousands were detained without any judicial procedure, over two hundred people were massacred. In the third rigged-up election in May of 2010, the regime claimed to have won by 99.6 percent. As in the 2005 election, funds and training was granted to facilitate the electoral process, even a “code of conduct” was signed between some political parties and the regime, but to no avail. It turned out to be another farcical charade.

Throughout these illegal and fraudulent proceedings the US, Donor countries, the IMF and World Bank and the international community did nothing but acquiesce to the regime, albeit some remarks about their irregularity and their lack to meet international standards. In spite of these glaring misdeeds by the regime, the flow of foreign aid continues unabated and aid to Ethiopia will be 3.4 billion dollars for 2011. Foreign aid has become an instrument of political oppression as well as a source of large income to members of the regime, who control every phase of its implementation at local level, (rentals, transportation, sub-contracts, distribution, employment etc.)

Therefore, as the regime is in full control of a) the government apparatus including the media, the army, the police and security units; b) the state ownership of the land, and therefore control over the peasantry which forms 85 percent of the population; c) the ruling party ownership of the major sectors of the economy, and control over all foreign aid funds, a fair and free election is utterly impossible. Besides, the political clique in power is a minority within a minority that is highly unpopular, even amongst its own ethnic constituency in Tigray. There is absolutely no way that it can win a national election except by fraudulent means.

For the Ethiopian people, these elections were looked upon with great hope and high expectations and as defining their future governance. Unfortunately, the regime has provoked a great popular disappointment that will cause turmoil and instability in the country. It will also undermine US and donor countries policy for the development of democracy and free society in Africa and elsewhere; resulting ultimately in another cycle of mayhem and violence, leading to the proliferation of radical and extremist elements.

The present US policy towards Ethiopia seems to confer the highest priority to the stability of the country, rather than the achievement of successful democratic change through fair and free elections. Strangely enough this notion is based, first on the assumption that the country will disintegrate if free elections are held and a multiparty government emerges, resulting into a chaotic situation; and secondly that the opposition is weak and ill organized. Despite opinions expressed by would-be experts in support of this hypothesis, we argue that these assumptions are completely misleading and out of touch with the country’s realities. The experts have given little attention to the public mood and to the concerns of ordinary people, who are looking for freedom and justice to conduct their daily lives, without the government’s denial of their basic rights to property, and control of their livelihood through party owned monopolistic corporations. The experts have not given weight to the mismanagement and corruption of government officials; and at the inefficiency and incompetence of the administration. No account is taken of the frustration and despair caused by such abuses, and to the grinding existence of people who have to pay bribes at every step of their daily life. Neither have they asked why the regime is so pervasively unpopular across the land.

Threats of civil strife by separatist political factions are taken at face value, despite the fact that their claim to represent this or that ethnic group is generally unsubstantiated. The very large majority of people in Ethiopia oppose the ethnic division of the country. They have proven it clearly throughout ages and as recently as in the recent conflict with Eritrea, when the whole nation rose in defense of the country. Then, why is it that no importance is given to the evident popularity and increasing growth of pan-national parties? Yet, reliance is placed on a minority clique, whose mainstay in power is very doubtful against an inevitable popular uprising. On their part, although fragmented, the opposition parties are firmly and unanimously committed to democracy and its tenets, and to peace and stability, and a proven stand for no tolerance for any kind of terrorism. Moreover, they are perfectly able to mobilize all the human resources required for good and efficient governance. In spite of the ceaseless harassment and violence exerted by the regime on their members, they are creating alliances and building very large constituencies.

We understand and share fully the concern for stability that worries policy makers; particularly at the present time when a global anti-terrorism war is being waged. However, in view of past experience in Africa and elsewhere, we firmly believe that a democratically elected popular government can guarantee lasting peace and stability, instead of a dictatorship imposed by force and economic pressure. Thanks to the extraordinary broadening of communications, there is a growing new world wide awareness amongst people about the dire conditions in which ordinary people are living, and what kind of conditions could improve their future plight. It is mostly out of hopelessness and desperation that people resort to extreme acts of violence on others and on themselves.

As the world leader, the US must demonstrate clearly and actively that it stands unequivocally for the principles of democracy and freedom that it advocates. Successful democratic elections have been carried in several countries, in spite of ongoing wars and serious tribal and political frictions. In contrast to that in Ethiopia the situation appears momentarily stable, with no imminent terrorist threats. The sole opponent to democracy in Ethiopia is the ruling EPRDF party, who after twenty years of misrule and corrupt governance still seeks to remain in power at all costs. The regime is universally unpopular with the Ethiopian people; the only way it has ruled so far is by coercion, unmitigated violence and indiscriminate foreign support; conditions that may not last much longer. It is hoped that the US and other democratic powers will do their utmost to do justice to the people of Ethiopia, who so far, have endured with exemplary patience the abuses and injustices befallen upon them. However, it is evident that now this passivity has reached a critical mass and may explode at any time.
Therefore, in view of the critical situation in Ethiopia, and the initiative taken by the US to work out some arrangement between the opposition and the regime, we would like to suggest the following procedure to be taken, both by the US and the opposition elements, in order to find a viable solution to the Ethiopian crisis.

The United States

In order to have the required credibility and acceptability by all concerned, this must be primarily a US initiative with its full endorsement. EU countries and other donors will undoubtedly follow suit.

1. The US must seek an alternative to the EPRDF regime and support unequivocally the restoration of democracy in Ethiopia.
2. It must insist on the liberation of all political prisoners and the freedom and resumption of all political activities.
3. Freedom of expression, assembly, full access to mass media and freedom of all newspapers and magazines.
4. Release of all restrictions on legitimate civic organizations.
5. Instead of accommodation between the opposition parties and the regime, it must promote a national conference in which all stakeholders civil and political inside and outside of the country will participate.
6. The regular Defense Forces of Ethiopia and the Civilian Police must be guaranteed their status and must be neutral to any political activity. The party cadre and militia must be disbanded and criminal elements prosecuted.
7. Human rights, the Rule of Law must be enforced vigorously with a restructuring of the judicial system and the election board.
8. New elections to be held within one year. In the mean time joint commissions to be established pro-tempore to manage major government departments and act as caretaker administration.
9. In order to achieve the above the US must adopt appropriate measures, including the resources of the substantial and influential Ethiopian community in the US and abroad.

The Opposition

1. The opposition parties must agree with the above conditions and concur actively to establish an all inclusive National Provisional Council.
2. It must guarantee emphatically the establishment of Plural Democratic System of Government, the respect of Human Rights, the Rule of Law and a market economic system conducive to rapid development. For instance the adoption of Bill of Rights as suggested in the Citizens Charter presented by a civic group concerned about the future of the country.
3. It must guarantee to fight against and struggle any terrorist activity in Ethiopian national territory and abroad.
4. It will cooperate fully and transparently with the US and other countries to achieve this end.
5. Will respect all international obligations and seek peaceful solutions to all outstanding problems.
6. Will seek national reconciliation and refrain from any vengeful acts against anyone, and will prosecute criminal cases with proper judicial process and transparency.

Probable results:

Politically this new policy will be a big plus for the US initiative to promote democratization in Africa, and given lieu to suspicion and incredulity. A freely elected democratic government with mandate from its people would assuredly conduct effective campaign against terrorism than an unpopular dictatorial regime.
There is no material or financial cost involved. Hopefully, there will not be any reductions in aid granted to the country but probably for an in-depth revision of projects and their implementation.
The ultimate result of the new policy will be the permanent stability of Ethiopia and the area of the Horn of Africa, a promising future for the people as whole and a lasting friendship and respect for the United States of America.

With Our Highest Respect

Imru Zelleke

Imru Zelleke, Ambassador (Retired)
Chairman, ENPCP

ENPCP Secretariat:
ENPCP Web Site:,
ENPCP Constituent member Civic Society Organizations:
Advocacy for Ethiopia (AFE)
Citizens Charter
Constituents for Democracy (Dejen Le Democracy)
Ethiopian Forum for Peace, Democracy and Development (EFPDD)
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFPJA)
Ethiopian National Congress (ENC)
Ethiopian Women for Peace and Development (EWPD)
International Ethiopian Women Organization (IEWO)
Network of Ethiopian Scholars-Scandinavia (NES-Global)
Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners-Canada (SOCEPP-CAN)
Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia (SMNE)

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