The Ethiopian People’s Forum first historic meeting in Seattle was completed with a stunning success. By Kirubel Bekele
Seattle had its first Forum meeting last Saturday November 12, 2011. This meeting was highly anticipated mainly due to its unique nature of trying something new that has never been tried before. It brought three different political organizations that may have differences but are willing to sit together and if possible resolve their disagreements. Or at least talk about them in a civilized manner and agree to disagree without resorting to the usual cheap shots, name calling, and character assassinations that has tormented the opposition for so long.
Dr. Berhanu Nega of Ginbot 7, Ato Amin Jundi of OLF, and Dr. Aregawi Berhe of Hibret presented their positions in some detail to the public that came to the meeting in great numbers. It is followed by an exciting and sometimes tasty and humorous question-and-answer session. This is the first time Seattle has attracted such a big audience since the days of Kinijit. The expectation and the aura of optimism were very contagious. It seem like people drove to the meeting hall with a sense of hope to ignite the momentum of unity they displayed during and just before the 2005 election in Ethiopia.
Dr. Berhanu argued to accept our differences in ethnic heritage and refrain from imposing our will on others who may disagree with us. He asked for respect, understanding, and dialogue to get to some compromise that is mutually beneficial. He recommended patience and tolerance to work on this difficult process of building trust between ethnic and political organizations as we strive to change the prevailing absolute and racist dictatorship that exists in Ethiopia today into a one-man-one-vote democracy.
Ato Amin Jundi, secretary of OLF, asked all of us to respect each other. He also argued that the Oromo people in Ethiopia, like all the other ethnic groups, have the freedom to exercise their rights as they deem necessary without any unacceptable imposition from any one. By the same token, he also described how we can affect each other’s destiny in a profound way and even possibly disagree as we pursue goals that may go in different or even opposite directions. But he said this is not the end of the world. We can always come to the table and hammer out our differences without giving up our identity. Ato Amin Jundi said that the only way a united Ethiopia will exist is only if we respect each other genuinely expressing it in our daily political actions and practices. And he stressed the fact that is the only way a truly United Ethiopia can be established is when a truly democratic Ethiopia exists where the rights of all ethnic groups are respected not only in speech but in practice. And OLF is working to achieve that goal by coming to the table and discuss with all parties who have a stake in this critical issue.
For Dr. Aregawi, a united Ethiopia is a very important and critical matter to his organization which is true to Ginbot 7 as well. But unlike the so-called unity forces, Hibret does not seem to put Ethiopian unity as a precondition to start a dialogue with those parties like OLF who may be suspicious of unity without democracy based on their perceived experiences in their history.
All the three political leaders asked the audience in the Seattle meeting as well as the Diaspora to start to actively supporting the Ethiopian People’s Forum in Seattle and elsewhere to be established in other areas. They strongly argued this kind of forum is now our best vehicle to communicate, discuss and hammer out our points of disagreements which may gradually lead to some form of a common front. If this front is able to withstand the test of the challenges it is going to face, it may even lead to some form of unity that will form the bases for a united and democratic Ethiopia waiting to be built in the future.
Blaming the political leaders and using them as a scapegoat whenever we get a chance will not solve anything. Responsibility is a two way street. Before blaming politicians, we should ask ourselves if we are doing anything to solve the problem. Are we financially supporting any organization of our choice? Do we come to meetings and demonstrations? How many of us are approaching our community members and ask them to participate in this difficult process of bringing democracy in Ethiopia? How many us contact our city and government representatives on behalf of Ethiopia and the difficulties our people are going through?
If our answers to all these questions are in the affirmatives, then we have every right to challenge these political leaders. If not, then the problem is ours as well. We can’t hide behind the political figures and blame them when we ourselves have not met our obligations. God forbid, if Ethiopia becomes like Somalia, not only politicians but we will all be responsible. Blaming the politicians every time is a cheap trick to avoid responsibility. Let us avoid it and come clean. Let us become responsible citizens to meet our obligations and avoid excuses. An excuse is a lie no matter how you slice and dice it. We should be honest ourselves before we demand integrity and honesty from our leaders.
Seattle patriots are proud to successfully complete this first meeting of its kind that has gotten so much attention in the Diaspora. It was a courageous and risky undertaking. It was a lot of work that cost us a considerable amount of time, money and some heartache. The price was not cheap but it was all worth it. The Ethiopian People’s Forum in Seattle has pioneered such an ambitious and challenging but highly rewarding adventure. It may be still premature to speculate but this type of Forum may be the only panacea we are looking for to solve our forty years old problem- lack of unity and purpose.