Ethiopia – In search of a common ground. By Yilma Bekele

August 22nd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

How to manage and resolve conflict has always been our Achilles Heel. That is part of the reason why we stumble from one crisis to another. Last week was a perfect example of an attempt to try to find out a reasonable solution to a problem that arose in our region here in Northern California. I hope it will give us an insight into an exercise in positive behavior that will probably end up in a win-win situation. It made me realize that the scorched earth policy we seem to favor when it comes to resolving differences between us is not a winning strategy and it has not brought us any positive results.

The public transit system serving our area (BART) has been facing mounting criticism from the public due to the strong arm tactics used by the Transit Police. A few weeks ago BART police fatally shot an individual during an arrest. People were not happy about that. A public demonstration was held, a BART station was temporarily closed, and rail service disrupted. The organizers who were using social media as a tool to come together vowed to return the following Friday to continue their public demonstration.

How BART responded to the imminent gathering of angry people is what brought this important discussion into the forefront. BART management decided to meet the threat by pulling the plug on cell phone service for a portion of its stations to disrupt electronic communication. That act completely changed the nature of the problem. Folks wanted to know under whose authority those in charge are allowed to shut down a communications system. It opened a lively constitutional discussion regarding the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.

Public discussions were held to define the problem. Experts in Constitutional Law were called to clarify the issue. BART board of Directors called a hearing to discuss the ramifications. The people demanded clarity. The core issue became how the First Amendment of the US Constitution was interpreted in action. I will present you the text of the First Amendment as well as two opinions by experts on the Constitution.
Here is the text of the First Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

According to Michael Risher of ACLU of Northern California “To be clear, the First Amendment doesn’t protect the right of people to disrupt train service, and the government may impose reasonable restrictions on protest. But they can’t simply shut down a park because they don’t want an unpopular group to come protest there; they shouldn’t be shutting down a communications network just because they don’t like what’s being said on it. That’s contrary to the First Amendment.”

Professor Eugene Volokh of University of California at Los Angles (UCLA) response was “As to the federal constitution, based on press accounts of what the facts are, it seems to be that BART was acting within its constitutional power. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea… but the important thing is that BART was turning off cell phone hardware that was on its property that it either owned or had control over. That’s very different from the government shutting down private networks or interfering with communications on private property or for that matter on streets and parks, which are treated similar to private property in this respect under the First Amendment.”

Watching the discussion and trying to digest the information to make a reasonable assessment has been a teachable moment for me. I noticed the language that the participants used to make their respective points were measured and non-provocative. There were no good guys and bad guys, but people trying to resolve a common problem. There was no anger and none questioned the motives of their opponent. The task at hand was to try to find a lasting solution and avoid future problems. BART directors were not vilified while their decision making process was brought under public scrutiny. This type of environment creates a fertile ground for good ideas to blossom. It brings out the best in all of us and enhances possibility of a positive resolution of the problem. Might I add that the existence of a free and equal environment is what made it all this possible?

I believe that is what is lacking in our social discourse. A civilized way of handling conflicting ideas to be able to reach a reasonable and common ground. Why do I think we suffer from this disease of rigidness and lack of respect for other people’s ideas and opinions? I have two examples of the weakness of our system when it comes to dealing with ideas different than our own.

I wrote an opinion regarding the wisdom of our independent Web sites disseminating interviews with Shaleka Mengistu. I was not dealing with the individual’s right to grant an interview. I believe that is a different issue. Here in California the law does not allow a criminal to profit from his misdeeds. I understand the Shaleka has written a book and part of the interview was to market the product. My issue was the fact of our inability to say enough! That was what I questioned. On the other hand, the discussion that ensued was full of insults, hatred and unreasonable diatribe. I found out folks just don’t disagree and let it go but they take the extra step of questioning my lineage, my integrity and everything associated with me. Unfortunately, the original issue gets lost in this acrimonious festival.

Some said I should stop being angry, a few have forgiven him and they want all of us to do so while others championed his right to speak. I do not agree at all. I believe anger is a reasonable response. Remember, we are the victims. I think a certain amount of disgust is good for the psyche; otherwise, one is bound to be treated like a door mat. You know everybody stepping on you kind. ____I almost said that is so like us, but I won’t. I will consider the possibility of forgiveness when the criminal shows remorse for his actions and confesses for his untold crimes. I also believe it is my responsibility to speak for my dead people and it is not my place to forgive on their behalf. I truly believe the Shaleka does not have any right to speak. He lost that right when he committed crimes against humanity. Justice demands that he be put on trial, and be hanged until he is dead. His death will serve as a deterrent to future tyrants. That will leave a lasting impression on how not to treat Abeshas. I also believe that asking the Shaleka to advise us in the intricate art of Nation building is the same as asking Ato Meles’s advice on economic growth and the best policy to achieve that goal. Good luck my clueless friends.

The next example is the discussion that has been going around the question of creating a united front against the common enemy and whom to include in this tent. I am assuming we all believe that our country is being mis-governed by the TPLF mafia and that we all want to change that. Please bear in mind the current abusers have been in power for twenty years and we have tried different methods to get rid of them. No one can accuse us of not trying. Failing yes, but definitely most have been doing their best to get rid of this cancer. Reasonable people will look at this situation and try to find out why a very tiny minority of criminals have succeeded in routing the many freedom seekers.

Well some are trying to find the formula that will succeed where others have failed. As the concept implies ‘United Front’ means an amalgamation of those that have a common goal and their attempt to find a way to work together. Organizations have a life of their own. They have their own peculiarities, needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and that is why it has been difficult to achieve unity. It is difficult but not impossible. It has been done before by others and they have succeeded. Why are we having this difficulty time and time again? Is our enemy that formidable or are we that dysfunctional? Is this our first instance to try to unite together, or have we done it before? Is our goal so unappealing that we have problems attracting the many, or does our recurring inability and failure turn people off? We have to mull over all of these are reasonable questions and come up with answers so we can move forward.

Some organizations are in the process of working on such issues to come up with answers that will enhance our ability to confront our abusers. It seems like the folks of Ginbot7, Oromo Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front and Ogaden Liberation Front are in deep discussion to find a common ground. I am sure the TPLF mafia group is not happy with such a prospect. Reasonably so too! The part I find a little puzzling is the anger by those that are supposedly working to get rid of the same Woyane cancer. One would think they will be overjoyed others are getting together to help them in their common quest. It is even rational to think that they will probe ways of becoming part of such group and try to influence decisions in a democratic and equal manner.

True to our character a few organizations are contorting into knots and showing signs of hysteria beyond reason. Some claim to love Ethiopia more than others and are willing to destroy it to save it. A few are purity police and are constantly on guard to avoid pollution by others whoever they are. The Amhara super Nationalists and the Oromo steroid enhanced separatists are the two interesting groups to watch. When you consider it is these two groups that will greatly benefit from the demise of the mafia system, it is sort of difficult to rationally understand their respective hysteria.
For some of us without any ethnic identity other than being an Ethiopian the whole exercise is a little difficult to digest. For a Nation that is as old as the universe, it is a disconcerting to think today’s arrivals who are questioning the work of their forefathers. When you consider the fact that our country was there before others and by all acceptable standards have a set of internationally recognized boundary; why its own citizens are trying to tear that apart is not clear to many. When the current rulers are in the process of holding a garage sale of our fertile land, and when millions of our people are facing the scourge of famine, is this a good time to come together and avoid catastrophe or revert back into drawing imaginary lines on imaginary Oromia, Tigrai or Amhara enclave?

The lesson I learned from the BART incident in our area is that reasonable people do disagree, but reasonable people hold a quiet and balanced discussion to come up with a solution that might not satisfy all, but that has a reasonable chance of being accepted by many. The point of the exercise was not to win at any cost but find a solution that will bring peace and harmony in the community. All the parties were willing to listen to each other’s concerns and addressed the issue in an even handed manner. There were no losers or winners in this equation. Why couldn’t we do that? Why do we allow the nay Sayers and the belligerent amongst us to hijack the issue and define it in such a way that states that either I am for or against it. Can I be left alone to find a common ground where I can work with all Ethiopians to bring peace, harmony and love to all her children? That is not too much to ask, is it?

Please note that this discussion for good or bad is held on a free Diaspora Media. Here we are free to discuss any issue in a respectful and reasonable manner. Here ideas are not feared or censored. Just because I disagree with some, the sky is not going to fall. I believe we all are intelligent enough to decide what is good for ourselves without undermining others. Our people in Ethiopia cannot do that. There is a communications department that decides what people should view or hear. The Ethiopian government spends millions to block, jam or interfere with free flow of ideas. When our children are hungry the government spends money on technology to keep them dead or alive in the dark. A few decide for eighty million people. Being silent about that is acceptance of abuse. It is wrong. Encouraging our independent Web sites, giving what we could to ESAT and keeping an open mind and a positive outlook on the discussion for unity is what our country demands. That is if you care.

  1. Nahuda
    | #1

    “I noticed the language that the participants used to make their respective points were measured and non-provocative.”
    “The lesson I learned… is that reasonable people do disagree, but reasonable people hold a quiet and balanced discussion to come up with a solution… that has a reasonable chance of being accepted by many.”

    Why then such an un-measured and provocative name calling: “The Amhara super Nationalists and Oromo steroid”???

  2. aha!
    | #2

    What common ground are you talking about, when the current alighnment of political models may be lumped into two political forces: the of negative forces of disintegration and positive forces of integration, other than to tip the balance from the negative forces of disintegration of the multi-layer, hierachical political model of TPLF/eprdf regime and its mirror images, with the hope of those parties mirror imaging TPLF/eprdf, merge with KAEUP and others with national agenda and those liberation movements merge with Ginbot-7 and EPPF with national agenda for unity, territorial integrity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians, united over the common goals and strategies to achieve those goals is called a merger, not finding a common ground between those contributing implicitely to the neagative forces of disintergation and those that are engaged in a non-violent uprising for freedom and those engaged in armed struggle for freedom and democracy from autocratic rule, ethnocratic rule/ethnic dictatorship with underying totaliarinism under ethnic federalism instead State fedralism and secessionism. I suggest you look at your narratives from the above mentioned prism/paradigm, not from the perspective of Forum for Democratic Dialogue, nor from the prodemocracy movement of “no change but durable democracy”, hammering on the subset of national agenda: democracy, human right and justice, which are by products of non-violent uprising to freedom.

  3. Tenes
    | #3

    Another excellent piece! Thank you and keep it up, Ato Yilma.

    The lack of an effective mechanism for conflict prevention and resolution is the basic essence of our problem, among Ethiopians, be it for political, spiritual, social or economic issues. A great deal of effort is needed including the need for a special focus in the context of public conversations as well as academic discourse to adopt a new culture of conflict resoluion.

    One specific effort can be checked at where one can read about an international conference on conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa.

  4. Sheger
    | #4

    You are wright we have a right to raise our objection on Mengistu and Meles. A lot have been demonstratiing for the last
    Thirty eight years against this to people or GOVTS. Even while Ethiopia at war with Shabia and TPLF no body liked Mengistu either, not Shabia or Woyanay or TPLF. And the EPRDF is a mafia group too. Which mainly was or still domineated by some Badas or Bands and racist people. And by the so called Ethiopians that are some kind of Eritirians.
    Any real Ethiopian cars for Ethiopia trust me.

  5. Sheger
    | #5

    Or let’s say any real human being cars for justice and freedom of his rights

  6. ምምምምምም
    | #6

    The writer says separatist OLf has been the main stumbling block for unity of the struggle of the people.Then he praises the discussion between G7 , OLf and others as some thing we should support.

    I find it strange that the writer also criticise the amhara as the only nationalist group in the whole of Ethiopia. Does the writer mean that only the amhara are pushing for unity. what about the rest of us.

    The whole piece is full of contradidtion which leads one to ask many questions.

  7. Sam
    | #7

    I understand Yilma’s anger, and I do not undersand it at all on the other hand. Am I a confused soul? Not really. Yilma wrote eloquently about the lawyers who discussed the First Amendement of the US Constitution in Northern California. That is well and good left by itself. Comparing the Northern California residents understanding of sound constitutional discussion, and the Ethiopian diaspora agreeing or disagreeing with Yilma’s opinion is a comparison which should not be made. That is the reason I fail to understand Yilms’s anger. The Northern California residents were born into this democratic culture. The Ethiopian diaspora emigrated to it, but the community is far away from understanding how to resolve political and opinion diferences through constructive discussion as yet. The learning curve of the diaspora in understanding to resolve political differences in civilized manner is around zero. But I understand Yilma’s anger because he is frustrated because the sources of his anger are, as he put it, his “clueless friends.” In our Ethiopian diaspora community, it seems, “being clueless” seems a badge of honor. That might frustrasted Yilma. I understand that frustration.

  8. Sheger
    | #8

    But the thing is it doesn’t take a a lot to figure out what we have been against too and dealing with if you put all of this things together.

    Wether that is Italy, Socialisim, Rusia, and the black movement and so on and all together or some thing. Though to much and to bad to our little and beautiful Ethiopia.

  9. haq
    | #9

    The writer has overlooked the danger inherent in an alliance of armed separatist and unarmed exiled groups that intend to see a united country following a change in government. Talking might do no harm and the whole issue is academic at present. However, if the situation changes and the armed groups get stronger, the exiled unity seeking groups might end up legitimizing secession and even if brought to power on the bayonets of the separatists would only preside over the breakup of the country and perhaps civil war. The writer of this article brands legitimate concerns of many decent people as Amhara super nationalists. However, this is a subtle form of anti Amhara propaganda sweetened by pseudo philosophical mambo-jumbo. If, God forbid, a civil war takes place at the center of the country, based on a combination of ethno-religous or regional separatism, the previous wars we have passed through would look like child’s play. Not only Amharas but all Ethiopians would suffer immensely.

    The writer claims that people concerned about unrepentant and incorrigible separatists getting together with exiled groups are ‘willing to destroy the country in order to save it’. On the contrary it is precisely groups like Ginbot 7 who seem to ready to do this.

    Another weak point in the writer’s argument is that is his characterization of woyanne as a cancer. First of all woyanne is something that happened for a set of reasons and is not a cancer. A thinking political analyst would try to find out why and how to change it to the better or replace it than just state it is a cancer. This implies something that has to be removed at any cost. Would the writer consider, civil war dismemberment of the country and ethnic and religious cleansing legitimate treatment? If the writer insists on a medical symbolism, does he know the saying, ‘do not make the treatment worse than the illness.’

    Apart from this crucial objection to the writer , I share with him a distaste for what the Shaleka has done and did not have the stomach to read his prof erred advice.

  10. Dawi
    | #10

    [ alliance of armed separatist and unarmed exiled groups...]

    G7, by creating such an alliance will end up taming the extremists in the Meles Dictatorship.

    At present the Government is blinded with some of its achievement and is ignoring all negotiation calls such as Messay’s. Sooner or later they will come to terms.

    The opposition that include the extremists will create an alliance to defend itself. That idea is taken from a page of TPLF BOOK. “The fastest way to Arat Kilo by uniting with secessionists”.

    I have no doubt a G7 alliance will also build trust among people and may even convince the extremists in them to turn around and be part of a United Struggle for Ethiopia .

  11. aha!
    | #11

    I share the view point of Haq, as the name implies, the outcome alliance rather than a merger, which the built in physchie of Medrek/fdd/fdre or the prodemocray movements of “nochange but durable democracy” of UDJP, coalition and/or alliance is aconglomeration of factions with different objectives, and if and only if the forces sposored by EX-EPLF over the ruling TPLF/eprdf regime, which armed to its teeth, organised, and the military, the police and security under the control of the party, looses the outcomes choatic in terms of secessionist aspiration for self determination over the TPLF/eprdf regime’s demarcated illdefined boundries and the ethnic federalists, who want to live under ethnic federalism and those with national agenda, which want to maintain unit, territorial integrity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

    With the secessionist movements together with Ginbot 7 riding high but accommodating TPLF/eprdf after the defeat, a second scenario of eprdf2 will be created much in what Yared presented in the “politicisation of ethnicty, I presume with Ex-EPLF/Ginbot 7 and the liberation movements as teletafi parties in the newly formed bicameral chamber of parliament
    of TPLF/eprdf on one side Medrek/fdd/fdre on the other, if only if the secessionist movements settle for the current ethnicfederalism by abandoning secessionism. Dejavu, all over again, after the blood shed.

  12. aha!
    | #12

    I do not understand what is there to be discussed between the positive forces of integration and the negative forces of disintegration, where one side is for Ethiopian Unity, territorial intergrity, soveregnity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians under liberal and/or social democracy and the other side is set on ethnic agenda of respecting ethnic and secessionist rights with ethnic federalism and secesionism with underlying totoaliarinism from the Derg regime and its own inclination of Marxist/Stalinist ideology soearding the liberation movements bent on the oppression of nations and nationalities, rather than class struggle that led to the current system of govenment, psing as Ethiopian Peoples(nations and nationalities) Revolutionary Front (not party), with no independent branches of government to speak off; other than to convince each other for the teletafi and loyalist oppsition parties and the liberation parties to abandon their entiltlements crafted for them by by TPLF and EPLF, perhaps and merge with those with national agenda to save Ethiopia from the path to disintegration to a path for integration with soveregnity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians restored.

  13. Gobena Abadachew
    | #13


    You said,
    “I have no doubt a G7 alliance will also build trust among people and may even convince the extremists in them to turn around and be part of a United Struggle for Ethiopia.”Where is the evidence that gives clue for the formation of such clevage? As far as I see none at this moment.Many nationalist Ethiopians who may be members of various ethinic groups are doubltful about the direction of such undertaking.
    In all likely hood peaceful struggle ,that may include mass uprisng is perhaps the sensble way to go about remnoving the junta.The most important mission for Ethiopians among aother things now is to lay the ground work for democracy to florish.

  14. Sheger
    | #14

    Dear Aha not that I disagree with you, I am just tayerd of thou politics.

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