Ethiopia: Time for peaceful action. By Eskinder Nega

September 2nd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

“Of course, you may change the subject of your presentation,” told me a UDJ official affably over his cell phone.

“Thanks. Believe me, this is more topical. Anything else would almost be a waste,” I went on, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

“What do you have in mind,” he asked cautiously.

“How to realize peaceful change in Ethiopia,” I exploded.

There was a pause. Few seconds elapsed.

“Sure. Why not? I see no problem. But I will have to clear it with the others first,” he said.

UDJ, one of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties, has been organizing weekend-town-hall-like-meetings on the premises of its head office in Addis now for a couple of months. No permit is required. A video presentation by University of Dayton’s Professor Messay Kebede had drawn a respectable crowd. So did the editor of Awramba Times, Dawit Kebede. A presentation by Professor Al Mariam is in the pipeline, possibly next week. I am due early Sunday.

A curious and interesting aspect of these meetings is the increasing involvement of the youth. Perhaps this says something about the restive times we live in. But this is also the age of visibly shortened attention spans. Engaging and sustaining their interest is a formidable task.

Here was my dilemma. The youth are primarily the people I wish to address on Sunday. But the topic I had agreed to dwell on, the role of civic society in a democratic society, while sensible and important, offered little chance of broad reflection. And yet, with events in Libya and Syria dominating headlines, its time for Ethiopians to at least assess the six months since the advent of the Arab Spring and reflect on the future. I had to change the subject of my presentation.

Friends offered a wide range of advice. Oppression, inflation, corruption, hunger dominated their thoughts. They thought any one of these subjects would suffice. But most preferred I address the exasperating issue of weak opposition groups.

“There would have been an Ethiopian Spring had it not been for the weakness of opposition groups,” many opined. “The people need the reassurance of a viable alternative to press for immediate change. Challenge them to rise up to the occasion.”

“But were opposition groups any better in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria?” I always countered.” Did the Arab masses have feasible option?”

Silence always ensued.

The missing ingredient, I believe, is neither weak opposition nor absence of political and economic push factors. The shortcoming lies in absence of people who have so far failed to hazard the first steps. Ordinary citizens took the initiative all over North Africa and the Middle East. The results made history. They are powerful precedents for the rest of humanity.

While inspiring words, sober analyses and robust debates are indispensable as ever, they will remain exactly no more than mere words unless translated into actions. To Ethiopia this means risking the core of a much cherished collective vision—peaceful transition to democracy. In the event of prolonged absence of peaceful action, an implosion, perhaps violent and no doubt dangerous, is unavoidable. Needless to say, the status-quo is increasingly untenable.

The time to call for peaceful and legal action has arrived in Ethiopia. History can not be postponed indefinitely.

Stay tuned.



While working on my presentation I came across an interesting 2006 US embassy cable released by
Wikileaks last week. Revealed is what the US department really thought about the 2005 treason trail.
There was no call for violence and genocide in 2005. There was only a stolen election.





E.O. 12958: N/A





Six months after arrest, federal prosecutors began presenting the High Court with evidence it said would substantiate capital charges ranging from treason and attempted genocide against CUD chairman Hailu Shawel and other opposition members, independent journalists, and civil society representatives. The first two weeks of prosecution arguments have been underwhelming: more than 20 hours of seized CUD videotapes have shown public campaign speeches by opposition leaders mobilizing voters to participate in national elections, as well as town hall meetings in which local residents throughout the country discuss a littany of human rights abuses (including detentions, intimidation, and arbitrary killings of opposition supporters by security forces). While showing public criticism of the government’s policies, in none of the evidence presented thus far has there been any call for violence or genocide.


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  1. Tenes
    | #1

    Peaceful change is a must!

    My perspective is that even Melles would be delighted to have such a change. He has acheived all his objectives: (a)he has succeeded in getting Eritrea’s cessation; (b) he has established, albeit for the moment, an ethnic government structure in Ethiopia; (c)he has fully succeeded in taking control of the Ethiopian economy using Effort and his cronies; (d)he has, using highly corrupt methods, syphoned off billions of US$ from poor Ethiopia; and (e)he has fully utilized the “international terrorism” fobia to his advantage making himself the darling of the west. Therefore, he would be delighted to retire in luxury somewhere else such as Malaysia, China, South Africa, etc.

    What’s stopping him from such a heavenly retirement is, unfortunately, his fear of what would happen to him and his cronies. The latter are most likely to include members of his family and colleagues who have enriched themselves beyond belief. They know the crimes they have committed including the Ethiopians they have killed, tortured, illegally imprisoned, etc. It’s like the Ethiopian saying: “yeneberen chira keyazk atteleqqem!”.

    The challenge to those who persue the peace process, therefore, need to work out a reliable mechanism through which Melles and his cronies will feel safe enough to relinquish power and allow democracy to flourish in Ethiopia.

    Any ideas?

  2. አንጻሩ
    | #2

    Well said!

    I have read the Wikileaks cable about election 2005, and I must say it is damning for the EPRDF.

  3. demisse
    | #3

    let meles go wherever he wants to go. we will even accompany him to his destination, as long as he peacefully leaves office and the suffering of the people is stooped.

  4. Tekle
    | #4

    people who are commited to safe guarding their basic human rights never question what method of struggle they would choose. They will pay ultimate sacrifice (like 50,000 dead in Libya just to get rid of a person who enjoyed ruling with iron fist for 42 years). Lets come together and define our needs and goal, move to the next step which is working together for a common good. Let me use Henry Ford’s famous say here:- coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success…

  5. Anonymous
    | #5

    The ideal leader or leaders are not that wait for dear god or the bullets to change them but who teach others to follow them and in the end let their fruits speak for itself; as for Ethiopia or in that case the whole Africans (aside S. Africa) even if god would come and tell them it is time to leave I strongly believe they would let their agazis to arrest him or in that case murder him! Meles and his boss Bereket will never allow peacefull transition of power but blood after blood- if theier wish come true!!!

  6. Bravo2nd
    | #6

    Tenes #1,

    People like Melles and Issayas have no blessing as such what they have done so far will fall when they fall. I think their dictatorial rule is the last cures Ethiopia and Ethiopians along Eritreans are facing. The Ethiopia after them is to be a united country under one flag whose people will enjoy the fruits of democracy and assert their human dignity and liberity under just rule collectively. A time when there will be no cry for Assab or other lost toritory or right.

    Dear our history is our history, but some are trying to look as the sole makers and owners of this history and try to show arrogant attitude especially towards Eritrea and Eritreans. I think it is because of this weak way of thinking from them they are advocating for The port city of Assab as if it is a cancer that have to be removed from a human body. Yes under Issayas Eritrea is humulated more than the notorious Imperial and Dergue era. People with two tongues in one head can not and will not bring any success to unify the two separated peoples. Those who used to call the Emperor fuedal yesterday and who at the same time capitalize on his efforts to unify this country and try to use his efforts as a catalyst for their sinter ideals. Those who were yesterday crying of a red and white terror under Megistu and want to make out a hero out of him. If we go back to history until the year 1975 G.C. the role of Eritreans in building Ethiopia is second to none, be it in defending Ethiopian borders, or in the development of education, or health, or commerece and other sectors. So those true Ethiopians who should wish to see a united and prosperious country, either they have to love us i.e Eritrea and Eritreans as a whole or leave us all.

    God bless medre habesha.

  7. Sheger
    | #7

    I love you all for what I have heard. ” peaceful change? Nice” thanks a million.

  8. Sheger
    | #8

    It will change any ways, at least when Meles die’s.

    So change Meles change!!!!!!!!!

  9. aha!
    | #9

    Tenes is right TPLF/eprdf regime is there to maintain ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies with the underlying totaliarinism inscribed in the constitution of ethnicfederalism and secessionism and avoiding charges for human right violations, should a true democratic government that allows for individual freedom free of the ethnic and secssionist politics resulting from a non-vionet uprising for freedom with restoring Ethiopian Nationalism< Ethiopian National Interests and the spvereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians in mind and undergoing of oneself to look at ones Ethiopiawinent first and ones ethnicity second with due respect to ones citizenship to Ethiopia.

    The elites mentioned in this article are not cut for that process of raising awareness of the masses/the silent majority of Ethiopians to freedom rather than democracy. The dignitaries mentioned except the Awramba times of which I do not know anything about, the rest are from the camp of UDJP, who settle for democracy, human rights and Justice, a product of the main goals of unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. They either operate from a slogan of “nochange but durable democracy, in a country where economic development takes precedence over democracy in East Asian style of Developmental State Theory/Capitalism, which sort adopted economic path with capital and humanitarian aid from the Western Democracies.

    With latest articles coming from these elites were political pluralism, and powersharing, meaning with the current regime, I suppose with the opposition party Mederk/fdd/fdre? is not apparent to me. Or constitutional monarchy and participatory democracy in a country where freedom of speech and peacefull demostration is a rare commodity, what is driving force for peaceful action, meaning non-violent uprising for freedom from the context of what these elites are driving at. I rather appreciate the seminar like approach of training programs to raise awareness about capitalism, democracy and (perhaps individual right and human rights), I presume.

  10. Seken
    | #10

    Whatever the people of Ethiopia do will come to pass. It is absolutely essential to be open minded and to the best of our ability without bias arrive at conclusions. Let all of us share our minds unfettered by the powerful and loudest.
    I think it is a bit early to talk about success in the Arab Spring movement. Certainly it had toppled the dictators that the majority didn’t want. What will happen next remains to be seen. Just today we learn the Libyan rebel leader had ties to Al-Qaeda. One can say “ህልም(ቅዠት) ተፈርቶ ሳይተኛ አይታደርም” “የመጣው ይምጣ ከዚህ አይብስም”. Well it may or may not be so.

  11. bimm
    | #11

    if one studies all the issues ,the ethno-nationalists view is no different from the views of the Ethiopian nationalism. we all face the same problems whether we belomg to the oromo tribe, guraghie tribe , gambella of afar tribe. we all face repression, murder, imprisonment, man made famine and starvation.

    I dont understand when the ethno-nationalists say their ethnic group is more oppressed than other ethnic groups. The ethno-nationalists present their issues as unique and something that requires unique solution. some go as far as saying seccession is the only solution. can their problem not be solved within the Ethiopian framework.
    They go their own separate ways to achieve their desired end, even though the majority of the Ethiopian public do not share their views. This approach I believe will not work.

    If Olf or ONlf manage to get what they want, they face an uphill struggle to maintain peace. Border issues are not resolved easily. the eritran issue is a case in point. there will be several wars going on all at the same time in the horn region if the separatists succeed, and the whole region will explode into ethnic warfare.

    what are the Ethiopian nationalist parties offering to stop this happening. are they ready to counter-act the destructive policies of the ethno-nationalists.It is their responsibility to make sure that peace is maintained by providing a framework that accommodates all views.

  12. Choma
    | #12

    You cowards, if you believe in a true democracy in which all can participate without the fear of censorship as you alleged the GoE is doing, then post my previous remarks already. Your double standards and hypocrisy is really unparalleled. Shame on you!

  13. Garo
    | #13

    So long as we keep denying that national or ethnic movements are part of democratic movements that should be listned to but demonised as evil, I don’t see how the gaps can be bridged. Some of the so called unity forces keep telling us that the majority of the people of that country support their views. This is just their view. Others also can cliam that the people are on their side. So how do we overcome these two opposing claim? By creating conditions for people to decide what is best for them selves. But I doubt the so called leaders will opt for that because they may not trust the people they cliam to fight for.If we want peace and democracy for that country we would put every issue that is relevant to all sides to referendum when the time comes and live with consequence.We can’t keep playing judge and jury role. We should know who the jury is.

  14. beles
    | #14

    For the first time Eskinder got it wrong. There are 100s of intiatives every day taken by ordinary people. The problem is organizing and channeling this random actions towards a goal. And that is possible only through training. Opposition organizations spend their time trying to organiz support for themselves instead of to the struggle. create training materials (pamphlets, videos, audio, group training…etc). And they have the resources to do it. the rest will take care of itself.

  15. aha!
    | #15

    Turning my attention on your article in which you are calling for peaceful action, which I want to have the liberty to paraphrase to mean non-violent uprising to freedom in order to translate debates on divergent ideas into actions to bring about peaceful transition to democracy. You are presenting this thesis from the vantage point of UDJP and/or Medrek/fdd/fdre, where the former is vouching for democracy and justice, with a slogan of “no change but durable democracy”, and you are talking of the town hall meeting arranged Medrek/fdd/fdre to mobilise the youth population in terms of peacefull action to what ultimate end?
    Is it to bring democracy and Justice? Is to alleviate oppression, eventhough TPLF/eprdf regime was the champion for spearheading the liberation movements for oppression of nations and nationalities, and established ethnicfederalism and secessionism as well as incorporating totaliarinism of the Derg regime?

    Is it to engage in peaceful action to against corruption, inflation, hunger, to which may be added youth unemployment?

    Or is it a call of the youth populations to restore Ethiopian Nationalism, Ethiopian National Interests, the sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians, with the mantra of changes of ones political outlook in Ethiopiawinet first and ones ethnicity second inorder to stand up against ethnicfederalism, secessetionism with underlying totaliarinism, that curtails capitalism and democracy, let alone freedom to the silent majority of Ethiopians, which is currently available to the feww TPLF and TPLF affiliated enteprises and foreign corporations to which land and/or capital is availble, and the telecommuniction sevices and freedom of access to the intenet is monopolised by TPLF/eprdf regime, when there are ideological differences between ethnic federalists and ethnic secessionists and divergent ideology prevails between ethnic federalists/teletafi and loyalist oppostion parties over each others stand on ethnicfederalism, secessionism and totaliarianism?

    From that perspective would not the town hall meeting deal with merger of the teletafi and loyalist oppostion parties with the goals for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians together with strategies to achieve those goals precede before rallying the youth population to peacefull action or as might call it as non-violent urprising to freedom and/or democracy for the silent majority of Ethiopians with the above mentined goals and strategies.

  16. kentu
    | #16

    1991 weyane and shaibia controlle ethiopia they where very scary even they cooperated in military, econimical, socialy, interligence.they thought ethiopians united and regroup and they fight us at that time i told them you dont know ethiopian just talk but a lot of leadership they call me crizy so they wait 7 years all ethiopians from ordinary to profeser redy to became servant then they call me at home ask me apology and they say you are not crizy you are in 20 century poletical analises then shaibia and weyane realise ethiopians are not a violence . then they say let us try each other and they tray both of them lost human live and money . no winner then never tray again. but inprevoice war with derg they dont warry about money becouse it comes from arab world now war with your own pocket that is why meles say we never fight back again

  17. kentu
    | #17

    weak mind in ethiopian opposition they claim that we dont have a base to start war against weyane but this is excuse what about egypt, libia, yemen all this they dont have base training camp, money but they did it if you are realy to make chang you need only one thing ,,ditermination;

  18. kentu
    | #18

    mountain and ethiopian are the same but they have difernce and similarty both of them they leave forever, support big stone, soile trees, dictaters, seperaters, tyrynes, criminals their difernce mountain they didnt talk

  19. kentu
    | #19

    we ethiopians lost 2 big aportunity to brick back our land with its 2 ports but we didnt use it properly 1; border war with shaibia at that time difence force was 78% was oromo, amhara, welayta, kambata somoli, afar we have enough wepons so we need that force to wipe out by force weyane but we didnt. 2 ; 2005 election almost weyane was colapse but at the end the leadership of opposition make negocisian big mistake so weyane gate a chance to thing and take action 1; mobilize the army majorty from amhara, oromo, we gave him time now we dont lose our 3 and last chance it is coming soon. be praper to wipeout both shaibia and weyane

  20. beles
    | #20

    The key is in organizing random actions not people. To do that we have to train ourselves in the art of civil disobedientce. Each one can act in a scale that is comfortable to oneself. In time it will increase in individual level and snowball in national level overwhelming meles and cronies.

  21. Samuel
    | #21

    What Eskinder is looking for looks like the following action in Kenya.
    A democratic government allows its citizens to express their displeasure with the actions of government through peaceful demonstration. Kenya is far civilized than Ethiopia in this regard.


    Kenyan teachers strike due to overcrowded classes
    By TOM ODULA – Associated Press | AP – 30 mins agotweet3Share0EmailPrintRelated ContentPupils at the Toi Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday Sept. 6, 2011, sit in …

    Kenya Teachers marching in the street of Nairobi during the Strike holding banners …

    NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — More than 200,000 Kenyan teachers went on strike Tuesday to protest the diversion of government funds meant to hire more teachers and ease classroom overcrowding, a union official said.
    The money has instead gone to the ministry of defense, whose spending is not publicly scrutinized.

    The protest will affect more than 10 million children in primary and secondary schools and will continue until the government agrees to hire more teachers, said Wilson Sossion, who heads the Kenya National Union of Teachers. The children were due to return to class this week after holidays in August.

    In the capital of Nairobi, classrooms were empty Tuesday morning at St. Mary’s Karen Primary School in the wealthy suburb of Karen. At the Toi Primary School in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, a teacher said gifted students were conducting classes without teachers. Students could seen studying in groups.

    The union wants the government to give full-time jobs to 18,000 teachers hired on temporary contracts and hire an additional 9,040 teachers, Sossion said. Some 79,000 teachers are needed to reach the internationally recommended teacher to student ratio of one teacher to 35 students. Kenya’s public schools see an average of 50 students for every teacher, though some classes have only one teacher for 100 pupils.

    The union projects a shortfall of 115,000 teachers in the next couple of years as the population increases.

    Sossion said the overcrowding deepens social divisions. Poor children in overcrowded public-school classes receive little time with teachers, while children in private schools are lavished with attention, he said.

    “Children of this country are not enjoying equal opportunities,” Sossion said. “This is the struggle. We are not doing it this time around for a salary increment. We are doing it for the poor child of this country and for the poor parent of this country.”

    Nearly 10 percent of 13-year-old Kenyan students cannot complete a math problem meant for 7-year-olds, according to research done earlier this year by Uwezo, a pressure group that aims to improve literacy among children in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

    Kenya received international praise when it made public primary school free in 2003. The program enrolled more than 1 million children who had never entered a classroom. The country adopted a free secondary school policy for day students in 2008. But the influx of students led to severe overcrowding.

    Parliament had allocated around $53 million for hiring more teachers last week, Sossion said, but the ministry of finance diverted the money to the ministry of defense, even though the ministry had not requested it.

    Now taxes will have to be increased if the teachers are to be hired, said Joseph Kinyua, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance. Spiraling food and fuel prices are already causing great hardship for many Kenyans.

    Kinyua did not say in his televised address Monday why the government decided to reallocate the money to the defense ministry. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said he was in a meeting and could not discuss the issue.

    The ministry of defense budget cannot be scrutinized for national security reasons, said John Mbadi, a member of parliament who is on the budget committee.

    “The security docket is getting increased allocation because there is no proper scrutiny and I repeat there is no proper scrutiny… I dare challenge them to explain to the public how this additional (money) is going to be spent,” Mbadi said last week.

    Britain suspended payments to the Kenyan government intended to help poor schoolchildren after $45 million in international donor money went missing. The U.K., a major donor to Kenya, said the cash would be given to aid agencies instead and the portion of stolen funds that it donated must be repaid.

    Some poor families have even been asked to pay their children’s public school teachers, Sossion said.


    Associated Press Television News journalist Jospat Kasire contributed to this report.

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