Ethiopians can indeed unite if they choose Part VI-a – By Aklog Birar, Ph.D
I should like to set the framework for the set of specific suggestions promised in Part Five (b) of Six. Unity does not occur by chance. It takes commitment, hard work, a sense of belonging; and cooperation from each of us. We cannot hate the ‘other’ and expect unity. The core principle in a multiethnic society is that one cannot possibly love one’s country without recognizing, accepting and welcoming the interests of others as part of the whole. The missing link in advancing national unity and cohesion is finding common ground and moving from rhetoric to action. What do I mean by that? I will be specific and give this a human dimension.
A child in the Afar, Somali or Gambella area should have the same rights and privileges of access to economic, social and political opportunities as a child in the so-called Tigray, Amhara or Oromia Region. Good governance enables each to succeed. Discriminatory and tribal governance offers special privileges to its ethnic group disproportionately and steals from every Ethiopian child. It thus invites disaster for itself and its beneficiaries in the long-run. It cannot advance equity or unity. On the contrary, it makes everyone vulnerable and insecure. Ethiopians who wish to reverse this disaster that comes from political and economic capture by narrow ethnic-based elite no longer need additional material evidence.
These narrow elites have become enormously affluent by capturing the state and its institutions to advance and protect their interests. The governing party designs and shapes public policies, laws, rules and regulations to its narrow advantage. It selects who wins and who loses systematically. Parliament, political parties, the executive branch, security, police, defense, the judiciary and ministries all operate in tandem at the exclusion of the vast majority. It bars civil society from influencing policies and investments. For growth to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by public policies that reduce poverty, eliminate hunger, reduce inequality, raise individual incomes and raise individual capabilities to enhance wellbeing. What does the current system do?
The TPLF/EPRDF developmental state’s growth and eventual fair distribution of individual incomes and capabilities after–hundreds of thousands of children and females have perished; thousands have immigrated; and billions of American dollars stolen and taken out of the country illegally will not help the vast majority. By definition, it is discriminatory and inequitable.
The December 5, 2011 Financial Integrity and Economic Development press release says it all. “Illicit outflow (that I had highlighted in Waves last year,” from Ethiopia “nearly doubled in 2009 to US$3.26 billion” from 2008. This “African nation lost US$11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000 to 2009” alone. How did this happen? It happened through “corruption, kickbacks, bribery and trade mispricing.” Remember that Ethiopia is one of the “hungriest, unhealthiest and un-freest” countries in the world, with GDP per capita of US$365. What is really lost? And why should we care?
What are lost are scarce resources that should go to education, health, sanitation, factories, agriculture, private sector development, infrastructure, youth employment and so on. The illicit outflow in 2009 exceeds all export earnings of US$2 billion and net Official Development Assistance of US$829 million combined. This is what led to the conclusion by the co-leader of the investigation, Sarah Freitas, that “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry.” You dry resources; you deny opportunities to this and the coming generation of Ethiopians. The system is so corrupt that only direct participation and engagement by the vast majority of the Ethiopian people will reverse this morally bankrupt downward spiral for decades to come. Civic engagement is thus urgent and a matter of survival.
The country and its resources must be shared fairly, equitably and justly. This is why, for unity to take deep roots,” humanity is more powerful than ethnicity.” Unity without justice and equity is only a wish. Those of us in the Diaspora should ask simple questions and answer them ourselves. Why are Ethiopians forced to immigrate in droves? Why so much corruption and illicit outflow? There are two principal causes: poverty and repression.
In my view, the destiny of any Ethiopian should not be forced immigration because of lack of opportunities at home and because of government repression, period. No one should accept this verdict of the TPLF/EPRDF core as an acceptable and normal fate. The leadership and its supporters demean, brutalize and character assassinate each of us–even abroad–for a strategic reason: they are the lead beneficiaries of an oppressive system that steals billions. They like the way things are. Look at Burma and how long it took for the Burmese to gain a modicum of freedom that compelled the Obama administration to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma for the first time in half a century. It is freedom. It is common Burmese people and their political and civic leaders who did it; and no one else. Activists were jailed, murdered and forced to leave their homeland for decades.
By the same token, Ethiopians and people of Ethiopian origin must reject imprisonment and forced immigration as a fate and challenge the system that causes it. They must be bold enough to say that no child should go hungry and no one who advocates social justice should be arrested and jailed or forced to leave his/her country. Getting upset and reacting only when a relative is hungry or arrested does not advance unity. This is why empathy for and sustained support to those who fight for social justice and civil liberties, and for unity that embraces diversity in Ethiopia is critical. This is why it would make enormous sense to set aside differences and focus on commonalities. Those differences can be ironed out in public space once democratic change becomes real.
For the person who wrote a rejoinder to my series instead of the usual insult and innuendo that is typical of the TPLF and its kind (to which I am used), I say that Ethiopia must belong to all of Ethiopians. We must be courageous enough to say that plunder, illicit outflow, discrimination, corruption, and repression is not the way to advance national unity, sustainable and equitable development that will put a brake on forced immigration. Sustained, coordinated and unified peaceful resistance is the key. What do I suggest?
The best strategy to save this and the coming generation for every Ethiopian child in the country is to do the unthinkable: to accept one another; to listen to one another; to cooperate and collaborate with one another; to work with one another as citizens. How hard is this to do if we are open and willing? There is another reason why cooperation is vital. The strongest guarantee for peace, stability, security and unity for all ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia– that has many traditional enemies that wish to keep it divided, poor and weak–is internal unity and sustainable and equitable development. Every Ethiopian child deserves a chance to succeed within his/her country. No government can afford to leave any child or group out, as is the case with the TPLF/EPRDF ethnic policy.
What can the Diaspora do?
I am fully aware that those of us within the opposition camp agree on one thing and one thing only. That is, we oppose the TPLF/EPRDF. This is not enough. Do we agree on the alternatives going forward except on generalities? I am not convinced we do. Those of us who lived through the Imperial and Socialist Military Dictatorship should know. We opposed; we helped depose. Where did we end up? Ethiopia lost its entire sea cost and became land-locked for the first time in its long history. This is the reason for my thesis that there is yet no shared understanding of the problem among opposition groups. This leads me directly to my first suggestion to the Diaspora community that, in large measure, enjoys freedom. This community has no excuse not to appreciate, promote and nurture life beyond ethnicity and parochialism. In other words, it has no reason not to cooperate across ethnic, religious, professional, gender and demographic lines. Yet, behaviors and actions counter cooperation and collaboration. Narrow mindedness reduces the effectiveness of the community in advancing social justice and freedom back home. It undermines social cohesion as Ethiopians, and deters human potential. It makes us less credible globally.
It goes without saying that as individuals and families, Ethiopians and people of Ethiopian origin are highly successful. In my own extended family, I counted six medical doctors and two PhDs in one event alone. We can build on our successes and advance social justice; and leave a legacy for this and the coming generation.
This success is not the same thing as community and country social capital formation and mindset. We are largely aliens to one another, if we diagnose how we relate to one another as people from different language and religious groups. We go to the extent of establishing different churches within the same religious group; and seem to be proud of it. We tend to exclude. This kind of division is exactly what the TPLF/EPRDF strategists want us to do. We do it for them for free, at a cost to the country. We play political theatrics on the country and its hungry and poor population and do not even acknowledge it. Division that undermines cooperation is selfish. We can do the division debate once the country is free from repression and oppression. I am not convinced we can afford such luxury now. We need to pull together and advance the democratization cause first and provide sustained and coordinated support to those who struggle for peaceful democratic transformation within the country as the Burmese are doing. It goes without saying that support should be based on clarity of alternatives.
Within the above context, below are a set of twelve suggestions for all Ethiopians in general and political and civic groups in the Diaspora in particular. All are action and results oriented.
Let us stop demonizing and name-calling one another:
All opponents of the TPLF/EPRDF agree that its governance must go. I am not convinced that they recognize that their own divisions are agreeing are among the lead causes of why it survives. They spend as much time demonizing, demeaning and undermining one another as they do condemning the governing party. The first priority is therefore to look at one self in the mirror and stop insulting, undermining and badmouthing one another. I suggest strongly that we stop this disastrous behavior and practice now. It only helps the governing party. We should listen to one another; work with one another; and focus on the bigger picture of saving the country and supporting its diverse population. The struggle for Ethiopia’s future is not in the Diaspora. It is in Ethiopia. Singular focus on Ethiopia and all of the Ethiopian people strengthens mutual trust and confidence; and contributes to national unity.
There are numerous practical things activists and others in the Diaspora can do. Websites and radio stations can collaborate with one another; civic groups can pull their talent and financial resources and advance the common cause; political groups can set their feuds aside and move in the same direction, urging their supporters to do the same. The rest will follow; and those who struggle back home and the Ethiopian people will have confidence in the Diaspora. TPLF/EPRDF’s agents and paid detractors will have no place to go. They can no longer divide us. It is our division that offers them space to operate abroad as they do at home. Each of us can say no to badmouthing, character assassinations and undermining within the opposition camp if we are willing and daring. Say no to division now and you will see a dramatic shift both abroad and at home.
Let us leave a legacy and support the home front:
All Ethiopian activists who struggle for national unity of a diverse population, inclusive social justice and the rule of law–and suffer as a consequence–deserve our undivided attention, financial, moral, technical, diplomatic and intellectual support. If we stop demeaning one another and cooperate in these and other areas, we can leverage our resources and make a huge difference in advancing a peaceful democratic transition. Is it not conceivable for as few as 200,000 members of the Diaspora to contribute just one American dollar per month and channel it to those who advance the democratization process peacefully? It is then that they can influence vision and direction. This will help build capacity and capability.
Let us debunk ethnic antagonism:
Priority number one in my book is to debunk the TPLF/EPRDF alien philosophy and debilitating (incapacitating) strategy of irreconcilable differences among Ethiopia’s 80 nationality groups. Ethnic-based political formation, and organization works against national cohesion, optimal economic performance and sustainable and equitable development. Among other things, it deters capital and labor mobility and raises the cost of doing business. It nurtures elite based corruption and nepotism. It undermines national unity and keeps the country in constant suspense. It serves political elites at the cost of constituents. Ethnic-based thinking, political formation and economic mismanagement, civil conflict and wars are among the most devastating episodes in African history: Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo illustrate the human and economic costs. Yugoslavia fractured into tiny states.
In light of these and more, let us start with what each one of us can do; instead of blaming the regime for all our ills. That the regime is corrupt and repressive is well documented. It is what we each can do that is not. We each can take baby steps and reach-out to one another as Ethiopians and agree to disagree in a civil manner. We can stop demonizing other ethnic groups including Tigrean nationals. Why would we, for instance, suspect those who reject TPLF governance? There is evidence to suggest that some of us in the Diaspora who oppose the regime manifest such behaviors. We can stop the toxic like transmission of information to our children and urge them to accept one another as people of Ethiopian origin (humans and individual citizens). We can tell them that we speak different languages and dialects but have something much stronger in common: we hail from one country, Ethiopia, and we are all Ethiopians. We want to save Ethiopia. How hard is this to do?
The Ethiopian Diaspora is a model in some areas and a disaster in others. As individuals and families, we excel. We are almost all educated and owe this education and individual and family success to Ethiopian society, especially the poor. With a tiny exception, a majority of us in the Diaspora who enjoy freedom are cynical and are detached from the agonies of the people we left behind. Political actors are among the causes of this detachment and cynicism. Those who can afford to travel to the country as the ‘new tourists’ return and report the glitz they see as development. They do not engage themselves in a conversation with unemployed youth, beggars in the streets, the homeless next to the Sheraton, the farmer outside Addis Ababa whose land is too small to support a family, the small business person whose shop was just demolished to make room for a high rise owned by a member of the new elite. Some are not conscious of the fact that the mansion they build as a retirement home may contribute to escalating prices. Someone put this paradox of a Diaspora that is detached from the agonizing reality of the Ethiopian people not too long ago thus. “It is a great day in paradise in hell,” so to speak. All these and more are within our control to change. It takes will and determination. We can stop being part of the problem.
2. Let us embrace Ethiopia’s diversity as a national asset. The premium I place on national unity of thinking as Ethiopians over ethnic-political and economic formation should not be interpreted as a proposal for homogeneity or the supremacy of one ethnic group over others. What I have in mind is the principle and value that my compatriot, Obang Metho lives by: “Humanity over ethnicity.” Ethiopia’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths. Those of us who believe in national unity must recognize, defend, preserve, strengthen and promote the institutionalization of genuine diversity of the unique cultural heritage, identity and interests of each and every nationality group in the country.
If we wish for the country to be strong and prosperous and for all Ethiopians to move out of hunger and poverty, we must safeguard the economic, cultural, social and political interests of all ethnic groups; and make a compelling case of the ultimate benefits of national cohesion over ethnic-fragmentation. Each of us can build on the positive traditions of the country’s diverse culture.
Here is the good news that debunks “irreconcilability of nationality groups.” Ordinary Ethiopians are not inimical to one another. If they were the country would have experienced social turmoil by now. Those who are hungry will go house to house and rob their neighbors. Those angry with repression would go out and kill or murder members of the governing party and ethnic elites who benefit from their misery. Those whose lands are given out to foreigners would go out and destroy large commercial farms and make the lives of the new landlords untenable and so on. Their refrain comes from a strong culture of peaceful coexistence; despite the seeds of animosity the regime tries to sow. I find no substantial evidence of major ethnic hatred or conflict among the country’s mosaic. It is ethnic elites who form ethnic based parties that cause mutual suspicion, mistrust and antagonism. It serves their narrow interests. The governing party and allied ethnic-elites fuel ethnic and religious conflicts as part of its strategy of ‘divide and rule.’ Throughout Ethiopia’s long and proud history, different ethnic and religious groups have co-existed side by side peacefully for thousands of years; and will in the future. What they need is good, participatory and inclusive governance. Opposition parties, civic groups and individuals who love the country and its diverse population must resolve not to contribute or be party to ethnic-based political organization, leadership and attitudes. They can build on their commonalties.
The Diaspora can and should play a constructive role by promoting multiethnic and religious harmony. Weddings, holiday celebrations, graduation ceremonies, religious services and other social events can bridge relations; promote mutual confidence and trust; break taboos that come from our individual and group ignorance and so on. Those of us who live in the most diverse country (USA) on this planet but cannot even acknowledge and celebrate events with one another as Ethiopians and as people of Ethiopian origin. How difficult is it for us to sit together and to talk to one another in the same event whether we are Afar, Annuak, Somali, Oromo, Tigrean, Amhara or any other? I do not believe that Prime Minister Meles’ government can dictate to us how we behave toward one another; how we can embrace our diversity while contributing to our collective and individual identity as Ethiopians who speak different languages but belong to the same geopolitical space that is Ethiopia. It is our own choice to include or to exclude. Inclusion is fundamental to sustainable and equitable development. The Diaspora can and should take the higher road of social capital formation beyond ethnic, religious, gender, professional and demographic affiliation. I genuinely believe that such change in mindset will contribute to meaningful national unity; while retaining diversity. It will undermine the regime.
3. Let us be courageous enough to defend national unity. National unity contributes to national cohesion and is the cornerstone for sustainable and equitable development. It is a matter of survival in a hostile world of competing national and group interests. In my view, national cohesion whose institutional foundation is human freedom and political pluralism is critical for durable peace, stability, sustainable and equitable development and prosperity. A new, promising, all inclusive, just and fair and forward looking society will open up enormous possibilities for everyone, especially for the country’s bulging young generation.
The party in power will not advance sustainable and equitable development. Its model works against national unity and cohesion. This is the reason why I suggest that only national leaning political and civic formation, organization and leadership would pose a challenge to the TPLF formulae of ethnic divide and conquer and establish the foundation for national unity that is based on genuine freedom for each member.
Those of us in the Diaspora who enjoy freedom can and should reject narrow self-interest, elite power grab, egos and hidden agendas wherever they emanate. Success can only come from cooperation and collaboration and not from brutal rivalry. There are no substitutes to cooperation across ethnic, religious, gender, demographic and professional lines. If one rejects fragmentation, it goes without saying that cooperation–while embracing Ethiopia’s diversity–is critical if we wish to preserve the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and long-term interests of the country and its population. If we all do this, Ethiopians will overcome poverty and hunger. 
Here is the first step that we can take. Let us try to imagine that genuine cooperation and collaboration among political and civic groups and the rest will go a long way in understanding the problem we are trying to fix and in arriving at probable solutions. This will not happen if we do not trust one another; if we do not listen to one another; if we do not talk to one another as ‘adults’ with wisdom. Suppose we all agree that national unity is essential for sustainable and equitable development; and to change the current system. Suppose we endorse a vision of a democratic, just, fair, equitable and inclusive and rule of law based Ethiopia.
What would it take to get there? How do we get there without reaching out and talking to one another? The preoccupation with “Only my vision, my program and my party” will lead us nowhere. Independent thinkers and civil society groups and others in the Diaspora can and must insist that political and civic groups–at least in the Diaspora– must break this silo mentality of “my way or the highway” if they wish to be relevant to those who struggle daily in Ethiopia. I have had the privilege of listening to and conversing with a new generation of Ethiopians, who possess courage and stamina; who believe in advancing the democratization process regardless of the human cost. It is this new generation that is willing to sacrifice; collaborate among one another; learn from and work with their elders that should give all of us hope. This leads me to the question of relevance opposition groups within the Diaspora.
I suggest that, if they wish to contribute as catalysts to the democratization process–that should be anchored within Ethiopia among Ethiopians–political and civic groups and individuals in the Diaspora should dare to be bold and advocate Ethiopian national unity and identity, always embracing diversity and the rights of all citizens. They should all be comfortable with the notion of one country with a diverse population; and one destiny. They must have the courage, wisdom, perseverance, patriotism and discipline to reject nationality or tribe based political formation, as Ghana has done in its constitution. They must have the courage to apply moral and material pressure on all political parties and civil society organizations such that they recognize the notion that the TPLF/EPRDF formula leads only to a dead end in which no one, except the governing party wins. Unity comes when the rights, social and economic interests of every citizen are recognized and protected under the law.
4. Let us all campaign against corruption and nepotism
I and others have provided ample evidence that show the economic, social and political costs of tribalism and ethnic based discrimination and exclusion. The governing party’s claim that its developmental state advances the common good is totally misleading and false. In fact, it has strengthened administrative and state capture based corruption to the tune of between US$8.345 and US$11 billion since the TPLF/EPRDF took power. In 2011, Ethiopia ranked 116th from 60th in 2000, a substantial decline. The country is more corrupt; and increases in aid flow aggravate the situation. Corruption is so rampant that nothing is done without greasing someone in the hierarchy and at all levels of government. Moral decay that reached an alarming level is a consequence of corrupt practices. The cost to the society is incalculable.
Compounding corruption is concentration of incomes and wealth in a few hands; and a monopolistic economy that is dominated by the party, its endowments and favored individuals including foreigners. One of TPLF’s creations is EFFORT, a dominant player in all sectors of the economy. It epitomizes ethnic affliction and undermines confidence and trust in the economic system of the country. It curtails fair and open competition.
Therefore, political and civic activists in the Diaspora as well as ordinary persons who care about their country and its starving poor can and should come together and campaign against corruption. If they agree on a common cause, there is nothing to prevent them from working together against a suffocating system that affects most Ethiopians. They have the human, financial, material and diplomatic potential within their hands to shame the regime. Here is where, good will, determination, commitment, cooperation, collaboration and a unity of purpose to do something good and concrete will go a long way to show the world that Ethiopians in the Diaspora do really care about their home country and its poor and hungry millions. Those who support the governing party should recognize that the ethnicization and concentration of income and wealth, and the monopoly over the pillars of the economy will undermine national unity and cohesion.
This recommendation to the Ethiopian Diaspora in general and to activists in particular is not done in a vacuum. Anti-corruption campaigns have gone global. This “globalized spring” that began in North Africa and the Middle East has spread to India, 900 cities and towns in the USA, Europe and Africa. Ethiopian activists should exploit this trend that has gone ballistic. The key is to understand the trend and act and not just react and moan. Greed, income and wealth concentration and inequality drive these spontaneous uprisings. What seems to be leaderless and virtual indignations and popular uprisings can be unstoppable force that will change Ethiopia too. Even in the authoritarian state of China, there were 87,000 incidents of popular unrest in 2005 alone. What is common among these protests is social and economic injustice.
5. Let us insist on aid that meets human needs. The TPLF/EPRDF regime has received more aid than any in the country’s history. The question is whether or not this massive aid flow estimated in excess of US$40 billion, US$3.5 billion this past year, has made a dent in boosting incomes, reducing poverty and in creating domestic capabilities that will create the foundation for sustainable and equitable development. By all accounts, the answer is no. The 2011 UN Human Development Index ranked Ethiopia 174th out of 185 countries. This alone suggests that the primary beneficiaries from aid and growth are party favored individuals and families, the governing party and its endowments. Aid has, often, been used to punish opponents and to reward loyalists.
Political parties, civic groups, followers of different faiths, academics, professional groups and the rest can play a prominent role by campaigning actively and systematically in donor capitals, in front of foundations, Non-governmental organizations, human and economic rights groups, churches, state capitals, tax payers and so on that donor monies should go directly to the poor and should no longer be used to enrich the few; to reward friends and to punish opponents. They should insist on independent oversight either by donors themselves or by neutral groups. They should be guided by the tested principle that equitable access to social and economic opportunities is one of the most powerful tools toward national unity and cohesion.
I will provide a simple human example why this is doable, practical and essential. Think of a child in Gambella who is forced to work on an Indian commercial farm for less than US$1 per day; below the poverty wage. Imagine if aid money was channeled to the poor in his community. He would go to school and will have the possibility of becoming an engineer, a lawyer, a medical doctor, a teacher, a mechanic and so on. The Diaspora must appreciate the devastating impact of hunger on millions of children, hundreds of thousands of who are stunted. UNICEF reports that “a child in Ethiopia that is stunted is less able to fulfill its potential. Its ability to learn at school and later earn a living and contribute to the nation’s wealth is forever held back.” The TPLF/EPRDF regime has no empathy for these children. We should make it our business to care. Corruption that diverts aid monies and illicit outflow of funds deprives the child from Gambella and millions of others of opportunities. The developmental state’s claim that the benefits of growth will, ultimately trickle down to this child and to millions of other children is sheer madness. I wonder how many of us in the Diaspora give credence to the popular phrase “Ediget kale dabo yet ale?” (If there is growth, where is the bread?) Growth is about enough food to eat.
The pursuit of an uneven development strategy in a country where a single party dominates politics and economics does not at all advance fair and equitable investments. The chance of the child escaping poverty is almost zero. Born poor; he will die poor. The national outcome of the model is alarming disparity in development, incomes and wealth. Aid that is not governed by an independent oversight tends to aggravate inequality and uneven development. In turn, this will lead to insecurity and instability. The business of aid is not to perpetuate dependency. It is to make the aid business obsolete by boosting domestic capabilities, including the domestic private sector and smallholders. Aid that does not advance human potential and freedom is dependency.
Here is another dilemma the society will face if the current trend continues. Uneven investment, income and wealth concentration in a few hands and in selected ethnic regions will lead to civil unrest and conflict that no one can contain. For this reason, each of us in the Diaspora: business women and men, teachers, medical professionals, taxi drivers, artists and so on has an obligation to let our voice heard as the opportunity arises. What is required is good will. If we speak with a single voice, we can change minds. Look at the brave women and men, girls and boys in the “Occupy Wall Street Movement.”
Ethiopia is in worse shape than the USA; but here young people fight for a cause. The Diaspora has all the freedom in the world to do the right same thing. Is it not reasonable for those who are in the forefront of the struggle within the country to expect that those of us who live in freedom sacrifice time, money and labor to advance their cause? Is it not time for us to be bold enough to question one another how hundreds and sometimes thousands would go to a musical concert for hours but cannot spare time for a common social and humanitarian cause: Human and economic rights? Love of country and the diversity of people for which it is home require that we devote some time and spare some monies and expend know-how to advance the need of a child regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation. Unity and national cohesion does not just happen; it takes people to make it happen.
6. Let us promote freedom of the press in Ethiopia.
A quote from Ralph Barton Perry is most appropriate for this recommendation. “Ignorance deprives men of freedom because they do not know what alternatives there are. It is impossible to choose what one has never heard of.” The governing party arrests, sentences and jails journalists because it does not want the Ethiopian public to know alternatives to repression and oppression. Those of us who enjoy freedom know that a free press is the cornerstone of civil society. This fundamental right contained in the Ethiopian Constitution does not exist in practice. The governing party knows well that an informed public, especially youth, demands transparency, the rule of law, fair treatment, a level playing field in accessing opportunities and accountability. Ethiopia today is “one of the un-freest societies in the world.”
Have you ever wondered if the rest of the world knows the shameful and tragic conditions of Ethiopian girls and women? In a country where human life has been degraded and devalued, girls and women fare far worse than boys and men. Thousands are shipped to the Middle East each month to work as domestic workers. As someone put it in an Ethiopian newspaper, “They move from one form of death (poverty) to another (servitude).” When and if they die (as is too often the case) from physical and mental abuse, their government does not protest. Prime Minister Meles was asked about the deteriorating and humiliating condition of girls and women under his watch. He was told of the unprecedented case of five and six year old girls putting acid on their bodies and dying. He said that he did not know. Clearly, the Prime Minister does only about his own and his extended family and not the rest. If your own government does not care about you, why would a Saudi or any other master care? It is the same thing that he said about hunger. “There is drought but not hunger” in a country that is home to “one of the hungriest populations on the planet.”
The bottom line is this. Ethiopian life, especially those of females, has become cheap at home and abroad. Increasingly, foreigners with resources get away with any human rights violation on commercial farms and in factories. Ethiopians cannot command respect in their own homeland. Those who hire and abuse Ethiopian girls and women in the Middle East, North Africa and other places know the priorities of the Ethiopian government: it is not to defend the rights of its citizens. This is why a free and independent press is so vital. This is why the rest of us should care and defend human rights with vigor and consistency. If we do not value ourselves, no one in the world will respect or value us.
Opposition groups, civil organizations, academics and youth in the Diaspora can and should take the lead and shame the regime. There are numerous cases one can cite. For example, they can use the shameful and degrading situation of girls and women who are brutalized at home and abroad to rally supporters across the globe. Their situation is underreported because there is no independent and free press in the country.
There is a second area of opportunity for the Diaspora as a whole and activists to cooperate and scale up communication to Ethiopia. I propose that advocates of freedom and democracy and the rest pool their talent, monies and know-how together and support satellite television and short wave radio transmissions to Ethiopia relentlessly. ESAT is an excellent model. The Diaspora can boost the capacities of other modern communication technologies such as websites, Internet penetration and social media through Facebook and others by providing funds and knowledge. This too takes good will as freedom does not come cheap or free.
I admire the efforts of activists around the globe who spend their scarce resources and time to keep the Diaspora informed about the home country. It shows an indomitable spirit to keep connected with the home country. This collective know-how and experience should, equally, zero in on the home front. This is where the greatest gap for information and knowledge resides. It is time that we fill this gap.
7. Let us empower the youthful generation to lead.
We accept the traditional model of leadership that is totally hierarchical and top down. The struggle for democratization requires that we mentor, coach and prepare a new generation of leaders that live and breathe democratic values. They values place premium on cooperation rather than rivalry and personality. Roles and responsibilities rather than personalities are critical today than they have ever been. The Arab Spring teaches us that it is young people with passion, technological savvy and commitment to country, people and cause that brought down dictators. Ethiopian youth possess these attributes and more. Youth in North Africa and the Middle East worked closely with all sectors of society and attracted millions to their side. They died in the streets fighting for a better day; and a promising future for themselves and for their society. Ethiopian youth have the same potential as we see among those the regime arrests and jails in droves. However, there is a gap. I am not convinced that my generation has done anything meaningful to transfer knowledge and experience; and to equip the young generation with leadership and management skills. My generation has been totally insular and preoccupied with individual and parochial interest. This is the reason why we have failed in creating sustainable grassroots movements of any kind.
Ethiopia’s demographic composition suggests that the social wave of the future resides in its youth age population. It is this social group within the country that receives no quality education that leads to jobs or the ability to set up new enterprises that poses challenge and opportunity. It must have a promising future. Otherwise, it is a potential time-bomb waiting to explode any time, as in North Africa and the Middle East. It is this same age group that triggered and led peaceful and popular uprisings in Indonesia, the Philippines and Central Europe. These young ‘Turks’ did not lead revolts without training and preparation.
The older generation in the Diaspora has a wealth of knowledge and experience to transmit to the new generation within and outside the country. Among other things, it can launch a systematic and well-designed program of leadership training and mentoring in public service and other leadership skills. Political and civic organizations have the capability and capacity to integrate youth, especially females, in leadership roles. This is within their control and is cost effective. In turn, youth must reach out to and learn from their elders. They must appreciate the need to anchor their efforts in their peers within Ethiopia. Leadership training I have in mind must serve a social common purpose. It is a partnership between youth and their elders that has enormous promise; and we cannot afford to squander it.
8. Let us provide sustainable and effective support to national leaning political parties and civil societies in Ethiopia.
I am convinced that the battle for Ethiopia’s future is being waged within the country. The hearts and minds of the vast majority of the population are not with the ruling party. Only less than 21 percent of the voting age population shows trust and confidence in their government and its institutions. Qualify enticement
Those of us in the Diaspora must put our monies, knowledge, technical know-how and diplomatic leverage where these will add value in the home front. While I am not prepared to provide detailed plans in this venue, the opportunities are out there and opposition groups, individual activists and the rest of us must mobilize resources and transfer them to the home front in sustainable ways.
9. Let us persuade all opposition and civic groups outside the country to convene a global all inclusive conference to come up with a road map in support of the home front
If there is one thing the majority in the Diaspora and the people of Ethiopia detest and reject, it is political brinkmanship, silos, and hypocrisy. Fragmentation, narrow group think, personality cults, arrogance, hidden agendas, one group trying to undermine the other and so on will not advance the common and or respond to the urgent causes of the Ethiopian people, especially Ethiopia’s youth that is in desperate need of model leadership and guidance from the vast human capital that resides outside the country. Fragmentation must give way to cooperation, collaboration and solidarity.
In light of the adverse effects of fragmentation, it is reasonable to call on activist youth and civic groups to push for two sets of global conferences: one, consisting of only civic groups and well known community, spiritual and intellectual leaders that will discuss and agree on the a shared definition of the problem Ethiopia faces and to recommend a set of solutions going forward. Second, this civic group should then empower itself to call on all political parties–ideally, those within and outside the country and if not, those outside the country–to convene a meeting on peace, national reconciliation and a democratic future for the country. This conference should, in my view, invite international observers and extend the same to representatives of the governing party. Youth must feature prominent in both conferences.
10. Let us resole to institutionalize a strong global outreach
The Diaspora possesses enormous intellectual, technical, professional and financial capital that it can deploy across the globe and make all of the above recommendations material and meaningful. It cannot do this with the current fragmentation of resources and efforts. Civic groups are especially well suited to advance this cause and to come up with a specific set of doable recommendations for success.
The strategic objective is not only to expose the governing party’s misdeeds; but more important about the framing of alternatives going forward. Those within the opposition camp can persuade and shift international public opinion from the governing party to the Ethiopian people and to champions of freedom and democracy through sustained and well- coordinated lobbying. The outreach effort requires a dedicated and credible champion. I am aware of a couple of such champions with global credibility; and will disclose their names at the appropriate time and to the appropriate persons or groups.
For those interested in providing feedback and in ordering my new book, “The Great Land Giveaway: yemeret neteka ena kirimit in Ethiopia,” the author can be reached at: Biraraa@yahoo.com .