Ethiopia: Reflecting on our past and fighting for our future. Belay Berhanu Wmariam

January 25th, 2013 Print Print Email Email

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow” (Albert Einstein).

Let me start by introducing myself. I immigrated to U.S. in 1988 for political reasons and I have been living in New York City for several years. Repression, imprisonment, and forced exile-this is a common story of my generation and others after that in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is always in my mind and I have been through a lot due to my involvement in the struggle for freedom in my country. I have a sporadic education for many years, but recently completed my BA degree in Sociology and I am a student at Hunter College, School of Social Work, Masters in Social Work Program. I am also a hardworking man who at times holds two jobs; until recently I worked for non-for-profit organization as Assistant Director and I want to contribute to my people and country as a professional Social Worker. My areas of interests are sustainable development of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular, Social Justice, and Social Change. Currently, I work as Students’ Adviser at Bank Street College’s Liberty Leads Program.

Our country Ethiopia is one of ancient and very divers countries in the world. It is called a “cradle of humanity” and “Mosaic of peoples.” However, the Ethiopian people have been ruled brutally for centuries by Monarchs and Dictators. I was born in the time of the last monarch of Ethiopia, Heileselasse I (1945-1974) and lived in Ethiopia at the time of the consecutive military junta known as Derg. I throw my first rock of protest against the feudal regime as elementary student, I was also a member of EPRP which fought against Derg, and I was the youngest prisoner of conscious in southern city of Ethiopia called Bedela, in 1970s. I joined the Ethiopian Medhin democratic Party (Medhin) since its inception in early 1990s and served for two consecutive terms as a council member. Now, I am a part of Ethiopian National Transitional Council (ENTC) leadership council.

In 2012, I sat down to reflect and reminisce on our common past, to think about the future of our country Ethiopia, and wrote this piece in my message to a group of Ethiopian friends around New York. Nothing much changed in Ethiopia since last year and I decided to update it and share with you all. In last 40 years, especially in last 20 years, there were repeated discussions among Ethiopians at home and abroad about missed opportunities and mistakes we have made in the past and lessons we should learn for the future. First in my memory is the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution which meant to solve the old problems, end the misery of the people, and build a foundation for a new Ethiopia. However, our good intentions and efforts failed by misguided Socialist ideology and our dream has been hijacked through use of force, by the then military
Government. It was a time where a progressive and forward thinking was not a favorable approach and any bright idea other than Marxism and Leninism is condemned as “tesfena” or wishful thinker. What follows after the infighting between the only two leftist opposition parties at that time, the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (MESON) and the subsequent suppression and a joint military assault on the armed wing of EPRP, by TPLF and EPLF, and the Red terror by DERG was a long pose of direct action by Unity and Democratic Forces in Ethiopia. On the other hand, the ethnic based organizations lead by TPLF and EPLF marched to power in Addis Ababa and Asmara, in 1991. We Ethiopians regretted our support for those secessionist groups and we talked about the importance of unity and persistence in the struggle against dictatorship. However, a few us dared to look for a new alternative and continue our struggle after CODUFE failed.

In the end of 1980s, the wind of change was blowing through Eastern Europe and Gorbachov paved the way for change and the good news of “Perestroika” or “openness” spread in Russia and other communist countries around the world. The popular music by one of exiled young Russian rock band “Rego Park” from Queens, New York, called “Winds of Change” raised to number one on the music charts and appropriately captured what happened in East Europe and around the world at that time. While we Ethiopians were happy about the fall of the Derg regime, our hopes were dashed again by the fabrications of ethnic based organizations and exclusion of Multi-ethnic parties from the Transitional Government.

Moreover, in the year 2000, I was sitting at home in New York, when Boris Yeltsin of Russia came on live television and gave a new year’s gift speech to the next generations of Russians by ending the very long history of tyranny in Russia, when he became the first Russian president to resign from office. I remember thinking why Melese Zenawi of Ethiopia will not do the same, and many Ethiopians ask themselves: “When will be this kind of democratic change will take place in our country?” I also remember sitting in front of TV screen in Washington DC, and seeing the celebration of the Ethiopian New Millennium, were by Melese Zenawi danced to Tigrean and Sudanese songs, which seems to me a celebration of the assurance of TPLF’s military victory and willingness to stay in power as long as it could. By then it was clear why Boris Yeltsin chose the democratic path and a better future for his people, while Melese Zenawi chose one ethnic party hegemony, wanted to rule Ethiopia forever, and another era of misery for next generation of Ethiopians. It is because, Boris Yeltsin is a Russian democrat, but Melese is a mercenary, an ethno-centric traitor (Banda) and a root-less dictator. Then, came the election of 2005 which for the first time in our history, we Ethiopians held a democratic election and CUD won, but its leaders, supporters and journalists who reported the truth ware jailed. It was another missed opportunity to fulfill our dream for democratic government of Ethiopians, by Ethiopians, and for Ethiopians. The years of post-2005 Ethiopian election turn out to be the continuation of another Ethiopian sad story of misrule by one individual, and one party ethno-fascistic dictatorship. In August of this year, dictator Meles Zenawi died and many Ethiopians felt relived, even though our people forced to hold a North Korean style funeral. The newly “appointed” prime minister, Ato Hailemariam Desalegn had a chance to take measures to the right direction and the country to democratic path, but he turn out to be a servant of the Woyanes and promised to carry on the vision of Meles. The ethno-chauvinist is to assure the dominance of one party and one ethnicgroup and to strengthen the gripe on power by the ruling tigrean elite and to continue robbing the resources of other Ethiopians and to make the Tigray region an industrial zone while others starve to death.

Now, we are celebrating second year of “The Arab Spring” of freedom which a self-immolation in Tunisia led to weeks of protests and the fall of the government. Also, a man has set himself on fire in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in an apparent protest over poor living conditions. The action echoes that of a Tunisian student whose self-immolation sparked a wave of protest in the country that brought down the government. We Ethiopians talked about how the living and political conditions lead to the Egyptian revolution is existing in Ethiopia even in worst form and magnitude, but was not much action yet. On the other hand, the tribal junta is taking measures everyday resulted from fear of losing power and the life of our people is sinking below inhumane condition of degrading extreme poverty, humiliation, and oppression. Since EPRDF took power
in 1991, the situation in Ethiopia is getting from bad to worse every day. After the split of Kinijit that severely demoralized our people, Ethiopia seemed to me like a “Zombie land” and Woyane turn our country to a land of a living dead. One elderly women in Southern Ethiopia described the situation as “We {Ethiopians} are dead alive – Enna bekumachen motenal.”

However, on 11/11/11, Yenesew Gebre, a 29 year-old Ethiopian school teacher and human rights activist set himself ablaze outside a public meeting hall in the town of Tarcha located in Dawro Zone in Southern Ethiopia. He died three days later from his injuries. According to eye witnesses, he said: “In a country where there is no justice and no fair administration, where human rights are not respected, I will sacrifice myself so that these young people will be set free.” Since then, I ask myself every day, why Yenesew’s action could not bring the instant results of nationwide revolutions that has been witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt? How long do we live like this? And,
when is it that we say enough is enough-BEKA?

Currently, there is a creditable report that TPLF is continuously divided and fractured. The Muslim protest has been going strong for over a year. The TPLF appointed bishop of Ethiopian Orthodox Church died soon after Meles and Woyane is trying to appoint another agent against fierce opposition by all Christians. Another action of Woyane turning the ancient Waldeba monastery into a sugar cane plantation is also generating many different forms of protest from members of Orthodox church and I believe more is to come soon. There has been a sporadic protest against the Woyane regime at Addis Ababa in the center, Deradewa in the East, Jima in the south, and other Universities all over Ethiopia. Beyond the recent ethnic clashes in Addis Ababa University, there is a good news that the youth is determined to be united and organized. Moreover, the Woyane army is disintegrating. In addition, there is a fresh fire from Ginbot 7 Peoples Force and other armed groups that include a non-Wayne Tigrian group. In general, an all-round civil disobedience and armed straggle that can’t be stopped by the Woyanes is underway. I believe, the “African spring” that will be lead by the new generation of Ethiopian freedom fighters will start in Ethiopia soon. Recall that as it is made clear above in this writing, our nation had missed several opportunities of transition to democracy. ENTC wants us to get prepared this time and make sure that we will not miss another chance. Our mission is to “Facilitate conditions for an all inclusive transition process where the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and human rights of its citizens are protected.”

Wake up Ethiopians! This is our future and we have to fight for it. If we want to see a democratic, united, and strong Ethiopia and we envision freedom, equality, respect for human rights, and fair treatment for all ethnic groups in our country, we have to fight for it. We have to march to Meskel Square and protest as Tunisians and Egyptians did. We have to also fight the tribal junta like Libyans did against Gadhafi and his deadly forces, like Yemenies against Saleh’s government, and like Syrians are doing against the brutal Assad’s regime. Then, and only then slowly but surely victory will come. I want to remind all of you that the Ethiopian people staged their peaceful protest, in front of American Embassy, the very first day EPRDF touched the ground of Addis Ababa. Moreover, too many sacrifices have been made by young and old, men and women, even children for freedom in Ethiopia. Just think the students of Addis Ababa University and other Colleges who paid the ultimate sacrifices since 1960s to 1992, to 2005, and present.

I agree with the intellectual analysis of many Ethiopian scholars that our major problem is being victimized by divisive policies and ethnic politics of TPLF. It is repeatedly said that TPLF is on power today because of disunity among opposition groups, but not by its own strength. However, I have seen and witnessed many Ethiopians here in New York and other major cities of North America and around the world united for collective action against the tyrannical Wayne regime. Moreover, Ethiopians turn out in great number to polling booths around the country, stood on line up to 10 hours, and voted EPRDF out of office, in 2005. The question for me is: what more could we had done? Probably the more fitting question will be: what needs to be done now? I conclude that there is lack of collaborative and ethical leadership among us, opposition groups, which hindered us from achieving our dreams for our beloved country in the past. Thus, there is a need to build a new generation of emerging, effective, and ethical leaders. So, lets talk how!

I believe that leaders are made, not born. To begin with, consider this statement: “I suggest in the strongest terms possible that those of us who wish the new generation of Ethiopians a better life, and for the survival of a unified and democratic country have a moral obligation and duty to come together and arrive at a shared understanding of the nature, and origin of the problem that emanates from ethnic minority elite political and economic capture.” (Ethiopians Can Indeed Unite if they are Willing, Part Six (c) of Six. Aklog Birara, PhD). Thus, can fostering Ethiopian unity, assuring it’s territorial integrity, respect for Human rights, and an all-inclusive transitional processes to democracy be our minimal agenda for the way forward together?

Dear, Ethiopian brothers and sisters, Ethiopia is at cross-roads again. The ruling TPLF strategy is to use EPRDF as camouflaged covers and increase its repressive capacity of spying and military assault on our people. The secret meetings among top TPLF leaders reveals their plan to turn Ethiopia to the China-like rigid state by strengthening more the power of the Tigrian elite to the level of the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party. If we are not actively participate in the struggle for freedom in Ethiopia and save our country, EPRDF will succeed turning our people to human machines or slaves of the Woyanes in the name of economic development. Also, if TPLF felt it could not stay in power, they will instigate a civil war along tribal and ethnic lines and our country will disintegrate. The current report from National Intelligence, an umbrella organization of US intelligence agencies, conforms this fact and justifies the fear and argument of many Ethiopians that the illegal secession of Eritrea sets a dangerous precedent in Africa. Thus, please come to ENTC and participate actively to save our people and country. This is an organization where everyone is a leader in many different ways and capacities. Come with your families and friends, and come with free spirit. It does not matter if you are a member of any political or civic organizations. Expect the worst which is to gain something positive but little, and hope for the best that our efforts will be successful in removing the Woyane regime and replacing it with an all-inclusive democratic transitional government that leads to a democratically elected government in Ethiopia.

Victory to the Ethiopian people!

We Ethiopians shall overcome and we shall win!!


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