Breaking Political Barriers and Political Taboos By Tecola W. Hagos
I watched on ETV with great fascination the recent presentations by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to the Ethiopian House of Representatives, especially the question and answer session wherein a representative asked the Prime Minister to expound on the hot issue of ethnic cleansing against the Amhara in the Benshangul Killil. I also read snippets of the report on that same subject by the lucid Redwan Hussien of the EPRDF‘s Secretariat. What both leaders stated without any equivocation was that removing Ethiopian “peoples” from an area based on their ethnic identity is an act by anti-people groups; the phrase they used was ፀረ ሕዝብ, and they emphasized the fact that every Ethiopian has a Constitutional right to work freely anywhere in Ethiopia. Both political leaders are from SEPDM (Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement) the Former is its Chairman and the later Member of its Central Committee.* In referring to the citizens of Ethiopia, I reject the pseudo Leninist-Stalinist designation “peoples” that the EPRDF and its constitutive members use as their political mantra. The term “peoples” is passé and anachronistic.
What Hailemariam stated was a direct repudiation of Meles Zenawi’s core policy and work of twenty years of ethnic cleansing and Killilization (bantustanization) of Ethiopia. Such question to come from the floor let alone getting unequivocal and clear response were unthinkable a few months back. This is one clear instance that the Ethiopian Government after the death of Meles Zenawi is facing clear challenges on its past activities and undergoing profound changes. In fact, during the 9th Conference of the EPRDF held in Bahredar, there was a clear indication of malcontent (despite the exaggerated accolade and cult-worship of Meles Zenawi) of the policies and governmental actions of the EPRDF lead Ethiopian Government. One very honest and disconcerting address that I remember clearly because of its directness and clarity in delivery was made by ANDM’s Representative Ambassador Hilawi where in short of directly naming Meles Zenawi as a failed leader, nevertheless, insisted that time for cover-up and docility is over and that they must muster some courage in facing up to the many serious errors of policy and operation by the leaders of the EPRDF of the last twenty years.
The main reason for that type of open challenge within the hitherto regimented party organizational leadership is the fact that the overwhelming presence of Meles Zenawi is no longer the millstone that crushed anyone and everyone within the TPLF, or the EPRDF, or in the opposition. I argued repeatedly that the Ethiopian opposition leaders both in the Diaspora and back at home within Ethiopia must look at the profoundly changed circumstance [rebus sic stantibus] with a fresh mind and not just as a simple empirical extension of the Meles era. The present post–Meles era has been in dialectical fermentation for almost a year now that has progressed or developed in to qualitatively different political brew. We have now a chance to be involved in real Politick.
II. The New Era with Hailemariam Desalegn
The current political situation in Ethiopia offers us with very many possibilities. For a game to be played well, the ground rules for the game must be clearly understood. Real Politick requires adroitness without being opportunistic, subtlety rather than vulgarity, fact-based knowledge rather than rumor or wild-inferences et cetera. I read very many essays by passionate defenders of Ethiopian unity. And the essays of indefatigable authors promoting the respect and safe-guard of human rights in Ethiopia are no less. In addition, the views of highly learned economists insisting on economic development with a human face are always inspiring. These are all worthy causes, but writing and speaking of such subjects is also a route mined with explosive inner conflicting issues. For example, in defending and promoting some community interest leads to abrogating or crushing individual rights. This is where “subtlety” of approach matters.
I believe what we have now in SEPDM is a game-changer political organization that is also the best miniature representative of Ethiopia due to the fact that it is a multi-ethnic organization. Moreover, there seems to be no other agenda in the politicks or the ethos of that multi-ethnic aggregation other than the fact of “Ethiopiawinet”. I am much more comfortable in the leadership of such organization leaders due to the fact that they are already functioning quite well in a multi-ethnic oriented structure fully aware of the reality of Ethiopia’s historic constituents. The former APDM (the current ANDM) would have evolved in that same dynamic change had it not been forced to adopt an ethnic identity by Meles Zenawi and his TPLF supporters when it associated itself with the TPLF by breaking away from the EPRP. You can still see some of its lost features in its Central Committee members, such as Bereket Simon who is born of an Eritrean family who chose to fight for Ethiopia as a whole as a member of the EPRP when he could have easily joined the EPLF. In fact, that is why I still have grudging respect for that political choice he made at such a young age in the 1970s. Nevertheless, almost all of the people of Ethiopia, with very few exceptions do understand the destructiveness of ethnic based politics.
I believe it is wise for us that we take fresh look at the current political situation in Ethiopia. Statesmanship after all is the art of making the impossible dream of political freedom and economic development possible. There is no question this period in Ethiopian history is one of those numerous crossroads that we have crossed and come through not so very successfully. However, all those crucial moments in our long history should not be considered only as points of failure, but also as new starting points for new era. Let us all be serious, wise, and magnanimous and talk with each other with sincerity.
My suggestion is to engage the new Ethiopian leaders in some form of dialogue rather than condemn them in toto as a group. Let us start with factual recognition that Hailemariam Desalegn and Redwan Hussien are very different personalities than Meles Zenawi and his entourage. They did not grow up in a hierarchical male dominated households or communities. Their formative years was spent in the hub of a multiethnic and diverse people. Moreover they have proven that they are very intelligent individuals who survived the untamed power and antiques of Meles Zenawi and his entourage. That is no small fete.
III. The Abay (Blue Nile) Dam Project
The idea of building dams on the Abay River is a very old concept. Having dreams is different from realizing such dream in reality. The issue of dam building on the Abay River is no easy matter. Even among friends, Ethiopian Diaspora is divided into supporters and detractors. I see the issue of building dams in ones own rivers as an attribute of sovereign power and issue of national security no different in having coastal territories with ports and naval establishments. In case of the current Abay Dam building it has also the added economic development dimension. We should not dismiss it on the ground that our building of dam on our own river to be subjected to the exclusive prerogatives of riparian states. I am aware of the complexity of the issues dealing with international rivers, but complexity does not negate the basic sovereign rights of Ethiopia on its rivers. Most importantly as long as our intentions are development of our rivers and with consideration of the welfare of people in the region, we should not be deterred by any fear of any one state attacking us in our legitimate pursuit of developing our rivers.
I believe it is a great disservice to all of us not to consider carefully and discuss intelligently the scope of our sovereignty on our natural resources including our rivers. Whether the project is started by Meles Zenawi is irrelevant, he could not role up any of the other constructions either and take them with him. When he was buried he was laid in a seven feet by four feet ground/crypt. Moreover, building the Abay Dam is not an original idea of Meles , Emperor Haile Selassie I had actually commissioned dam construction companies for extensive studies on the Abay river, and had tried for years to acquire international funding for such dams.
I do not mean to belittle the learned individuals who have addressed the issue of the Abay dam in their several essays. In fact, I understand their concern very well. And I respect their patriotic zeal. Nevertheless, I would like to point out the question of benefiting from a criminal or a crime has been a moral issue for thousands of years. We find this moral dilemma being played out over and over through out human history. All the great religions of the world and belief systems did entertain similar heart wrenching paradox of morality.
In our recent past, for example, there were many people who did not want anything to do with Nazi inventions after the end of the Second World War because of the horrendous atrocities committed by the Nazis in research projects that produced many of the modern technology advancements, such as the jet engine, the rocket system, the electronic devices, refined combustion engines et cetera. Are we not using the full benefit of such Nazi innovations? Are not some of our great Churches, Mosques, Temples, Museums, et cetera built with slave-labor? For example, should the Church or the Temple, or the Mosque accept/reject gifts from criminals and criminal activities? It will be absurd if we frame our perception of human limitations in such a narrow contingency and necessity, and that we end up confining ourselves to primeval existence. Let us not forget the cardinal truth that almost all technological advancement is tainted with unethical or immoral activities.
IV. The Cases of Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, et al
The human rights abuse of the last EPRDF led Government of Meles Zenawi has continued casting long shadows of its horrendous violation of the human rights of far too many Ethiopians even after almost a year of a new government. The current Ethiopian Government led by Hailemariam Desalegn has inherited a truly shameful tradition of the violation of basic and fundamental rights of Ethiopian citizens. The recent Court decision rejecting the appeals of Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie and several other journalists and political leaders is a political blunder and a serious violation of fundamental human rights.
It is never late to remedy an injustice. In the case of Eskinder, Andualem et cetera the injustice of their continued imprisonment would only hurt the reputation and image of the current Ethiopian leaders and undermine all development effort in Ethiopia. The immediate release of all political prisoners especially Eskinder, Andualem et cetera is most urgent. It is important that we continue discussing the human rights violations in Ethiopia and bring about tangible results.
I am not offering any conclusion at this point, for this essay is simply an invitation for discourse on issues/subjects already itemized above. I am very hopeful that reason will prevail over political opportunism. I am encouraged by obvious signs of change taking place in Ethiopia that the future for Ethiopia is bright and full of opportunities for profound political and economic development. Long Live Ethiopia and All.
Tecola W. Hagos
*The 36 seat EPRDF Executive Committee is elected by the Executive Committees of its four members parties – namely, SEPDM (Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic movement), ANDM (Amhara Nation Democratic Movement), TPLF (Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front) and OPDO (Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization).