They repeatedly say ‘democracy not an option in Ethiopia’: How much people pray that were true! by Keffyalew Gebremedhin
This article is a reaction to Ato Abay Tsehaye’s planned lecture on democracy in a seminar to be organized “to train university presidents, deans and department heads at Civil Service University on policies, directions and leadership tactics.” The Sugar Corporation Director General told Walta Information, the TPLF’s news agency, “Establishing a democratic system in Ethiopia is not an option; it is a matter of death and life in Ethiopian context.”
The article is wondering if at all the TPLF has ever been a democratic organization. Starting from that point, it resentfully questions the lies underlying the Front’s claim of building democracy in Ethiopia.
Am I missing something?
Since May 2005, Ethiopians have endlessly heard this vacuous claim with outer politeness but certainly with inner contempt. Each time, this phrase is uttered by very senior officials, normally at the level of the prime minister or his deputy, those who hear them are disappointed by the claimants’ lies and the falsehoods Ethiopia is being subjected to.
‘Democracy [is] not an option in Ethiopia. It is a matter of its survival’ used to be one of Meles Zenawi’s favorite refrains. It was coined, after he directly ordered the massacre of 200 Ethiopians in Addis Abeba alone within a few hours. They were sniffed out by security forces, while protesting the freest ever election in the country, whose results the TPLF forcibly rewrote. Because of that, May 2005 has become a watershed moment, when Ethiopia began to move away from building democracy.
The clearest implications of this for Ethiopia today is its standing amongst the worst violators of human rights in the world. For example, on Freedom House metrics of human rights, Ethiopia since 2011 has transitioned from its long-term status as Partly Free to Not Free, where it has deeply heeled itself ever since. Data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that Ethiopia since 2011 has been identified as one of the ten worst suppressors of internet freedom. It is also one of the foremost jailers of journalists.
The fact of most international indices arriving uniform conclusions in 2011 is not without reason. That period coincides with consolidation by Meles in 2010 of power in his hands, as the sole decision maker in the country. That is also linked to the official launching of the Ethiopian developmental state. As history has shown from the experiences of such countries, its prerequisite for success is dictatorial powers, which Meles had it and was, which he effectively utilized to make his will the state’s writ.
Ethiopia is also one of the countries causing huge concerns to the United Nations for ‘widespread use of torture and impunity of acts of torture and ill-treatment’, deeply regretting “the State party’s persistent failure to investigate allegations of torture and prosecute perpetrators, including members of ENDF and military or police commanders”, according to the Organization’s official report. It is not a coincidence that the country’s main ally and bankrooler, the United States, in its Annual report on human rights should state:
“Although the law prohibits the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. Opposition political parties reported frequent and systematic abuse of their supporters by police and regional militias.”
While the regime tries to cover this with engagement in development activities, it is with this in view that a ruling party, which has been in power since 1991, on July 10, 2013 again finds the temerity through the prime minister to tell the world that Ethiopia “gives primary attention to democracy.”
Regarding Meles’s legacy, Freedom House wrote in its The Unhappy Legacy of Meles Zenawi on August 22, 2012, following announcement of his death:
“Meles leaves behind a complicated record that includes notable achievements as well as consequential errors, particularly with respect to democracy … While showing authoritarian tendencies from the beginning of his rule, Meles’s government initially adhered to a range of democratic standards. As the years passed, his leadership style became increasingly iron-fisted. Ethiopia’s designation in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report declined from Partly Free to Not Free for events in 2010, as the government grew more hostile toward political opponents, media critics, and civil society activists.”
I should be forgiven for writing this article, like those people who are concerned by Ethiopia’s suppression and denial of democratic rights to its citizens, I fail to see what democracy they have been building in these 22 years. If they persist in their claims, that actually is what they are doing, it means that Ethiopian democracy has all along been a needle in haystack. Therefore Abay Tsehaye is taking turns to help us find it.
Abay Tsehaye assumes his place to defend the TPLF’s powers
abay tsehaye This is the first time for the king-maker, as the grapevines have it, to assume such a formal role openly. As indicated above, in the days of Meles and after the claim that ‘democracy is a matter of survival’ for Ethiopia comes only from the first top two. This time Abay Tsehaye, officially the Director General of the national Sugar Corporation, has also been licensed to say “democracy is mandatory in Ethiopia.”
Therefore, Abay Tsehaye, the man of power behind the TPLF facade, as it is claimed, and as ‘Meles’s successor theoretician’ has come forth, according to Walta – the TPLF’s news agency – to train “university presidents, deans and department heads at Civil Service University on policies, directions and leadership tactics.”
One cannot see exactly what lessons those university presidents, deans, and lecturers acquire from this training. One guess, coming to understand how the TPLF works, it obviously would be propaganda and the defense of the powers of the TPLF/EPRDF. It is reported that the training would last 20 days and attract 800 participants from around the country’s universities.
It is no surprise that Ethiopia happens to be a country, where a local cadre in rural countryside or in an urban locality spends his day condemning liberalism and neo-liberalism, as enemies of the country. If one has the courage to ask him/her in the meeting what the terms mean, it would be misconstrued as challenge to his authority. But he would be good in throwing words, without understanding both the meanings and the motive of his or her employers why they have sent him or her out on such a mission.
Today and tomorrow, therefore, the problem in Ethiopia is that the TPLF is determined to stay in power. To do so, it has to rely on its uses of brute force, while politically it makes false claims about the democracy it has been building – with national development as its convenient justification. The motive of this is to ensure its continuation in power, although the donors know its brutality they have chosen to look the other way because of their own interests.
Unfortunately for the TPLF/EPRDF, this convenience has increasingly become its albatross, the very source of its unmaking, with every passing month heavily weighing it down as unbearable burden by the degree the resentment and frustrations of Ethiopians has increased.
The records show TPLF/EPRDF ethnicists cannot befriend democracy
For obvious reasons, ethnicists (believers in the supremacy of their ethnic group) and dictators abhor and reject democracy both as personal principle and a system of government. This has been clearly demonstrated by social scientists, among others, Seyla Benhabib (The Rights of Others – 2007) and Carl Schmidt (The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy – 1923).
Anti-democratic groups or leaders that oppose democracy do not necessarily claim or show their being anti-democratic. Instead they create all sorts of subterfuges to cloak their anti-democratic stance.
Most striking is the extent to which these elites use the state and its apparatuses for their purpose. For example, they portray liberalism or neo-liberalism, as Meles has done as cause for Ethiopia’s exploitation, the country’s profound poverty, backwardness or the absence of peace. Also out falsehoods, the spread fear and concerns that country X or Group B is conspiring to endanger their peace and stability. When it suits such leaders, they blame past governments. These kinds of official accusations have found them supporters that rally behind them.
For instance, when Meles Zenawi was rising to the apex of power in Ethiopia especially after 2006, he labored day and night to ensure his hold onto power. He went beyond installing and strengthening security and defenses of the state, the tools of which he personally controlled. He also designed laws that could enable him to punish to the maximum on those opposed to him, or were suspected of posing challenges to his authority.
Politically, the 2009 Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is one such product and tool that to this day his successors use to sniff out dissent and opposition. Using that law, Meles targeted influential opposition politicians and incisive journalists, many of them he relegated to long-term prison or exile, charging of them with involvement in terrorism. They were and are still being accused of membership in Ethiopian armed groups such as the ONLF, OLF, Ginbot 7, etc., or serving as foreign agents especially Eritrea and international enemies of Ethiopia’s development – whoever they may be.
By 2010, Meles had turned his campaign against liberalism and neo-liberalism, as ideology.
When the author of Ethiopia’s ethnicization moved in this direction, even before he had realized he had become a fervent anti-everything – beginning with capitalism, rent seeking, democracy, human rights … there is nothing much left, while terrorism was his most rewarding.
The motive behind their antipathy to democracy and respect for fundamental human rights is their ideological opposition to individual freedoms and citizens’ choice of a democratic path for the country. Clearly, this would subject indivuídual leaders and the TPLF/EPRDF to public control and accountability, which they very much hate. Thus, they fear that respect of these rights would get them booted out of power.
There are evidences to show that from day one, Meles and the TPLF were totally opposed to the independence and freedom of individual citizens. This was clearly seen during the writing of the constitution. They were fiercely opposed to implementability of any such notions, because of which the constitution unclear or the implementation of its provisions could not find enforcement mechanism, or ensure independence of the courts with the appropriate degree of separation of powers, or term limitation for the chief executive of the state.
Consequently, the Ethiopian constitution ended up in a convoluted language, where individual citizens were reduced to invisibility, deprived of their internationally recognized rights. The constitution makes reference to sovereignty eight times – all of it specifically and squarely resting by design on groups (ethnic groups) and the people (the collective). This has been a long-term goal of the TPLF, as far as the rights of individual citizens are concerned. This does not mean that there are no references to “democratic rights”, which as a matter of fact have been mentioned five times – in articles 10, 29, 30 and 93 and bereft of the residual powers inherent in sovereignty.
The dumbest of all is Article 8, which makes three references to sovereignty. It states:
“(1) All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia. (2) This Constitution is an expression of their sovereignty. (3) Their sovereignty shall be expressed through their representatives elected in accordance with this Constitution and through their direct democratic participation.”
A good example of the anomaly of this situation is the fact that, in exercising what is provided in Article 30, citizens who organized or joined rallies were and still are in prison to discourage the exercise of those constitutional rights. What makes such state democratic or is building democracy?
Even when one comes from the people’s angle, there is neither simplest manifestations of the sovereignty, in the above-mentioned articles. Since we know what has been happening to the equality of nations and representativeness in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the political system too, this would not require any elaboration. It only requires stating that anyone who believes an Amhara, Oromo, Afari or Gambellan, etc., enjoys equal status to a Tigrean, especially members of the TPLF in this Ethiopia, would only be fooling oneself.
By what right and achievements does the TPLF speak now about democracy building?
Strategy to counter the absence of reforms after Meles’s death
We have a sense of why the TPLF is now dabbling in lies and mischief in reviving the notion that democracy is not an option in Ethiopia. For now, Abay Tsehaye has been recruited to provide the senior cadres with arguments. This has now become part of the TPLF/EPRDF strategy to counter the criticisms by disappointed Ethiopians and foreign observers that expected reforms, after the dictator Meles Zenawi’s expiry.
The disappointment in Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s failure, as Meles’s successor, is strong on account of not being able to introduce some reforms Ethiopia badly needs, after 22 years of oppressive rule and significant violations of human rights.
In fact, when Hailemariam received on July 10, 2013 the delegation of the European Parliament, headed by Sub-Committee Chairwoman for Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler, he pretentiously repeated this slogan knowing full well – as do the people of Ethiopia and the rest of the world – that he was not sincere in what he was saying.
As part of their false propaganda, the TPLF/EPRDF have made this strategy now this summer’s party line to be repeated like crescendo by ill-prepared choral groups. It is now directed at their own followers, who enjoy derivative benefits and privileges of power.
Among the teachers is the new minister of education Shiferaw Shigute, until recently regional president of SNNPR. He says the training would enable the leadership of universities in the country to be clear with leadership issues so that they can best help meet the targets and objectives of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).
It is no surprise that the minister himself is a person, who must some day stand trials at home or abroad because of crimes against humanity. He has been accused of initiating with his hand signed letter, the internal deportation of thousands of Amhara Ethiopians from Gura Ferda. The Reporter on July 29, 2013 released a story that this practice has continued at this very moment.
While this is a crime under national and international law, in April 2012 Meles defended this action, falsely stating that they had been accused of destroying forests. If for a moment we assume that he was right, why should citizens be expelled from where they are domiciled? Should they not have been punished for their alleged crimes?
What is mind-boggling is why these officials chorus trying to portray themselves as democrats? The do so persistently, despite the regime suffering credibility crisis, as has been the case especially since 2005.
Ethiopians are not asking the perfect democracy, or that of Western practices that have been perfected over several decades, if not centuries.
What Ethiopians ask is proper representational system, transparency in government, functional parliament (not a motley of handpicked representatives, kind of indebted and ‘indentured servants’ of the party. Ethiopians as individual citizens would like to live in freedom, dignity, peace and security, with equal access rights to opportunities such as good education at home and abroad and work possibilities without any discrimination based on ethnicity or religion, freedom to receive genuine information and the right to inform.
These demands are in the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians – excluding TPLF members and their potted plants. Most Tigreans in Tigrai are also at the receiving end of TPLF’s abusiveness. Because of these problems official lack of integrity, Ethiopia is one of the few countries in this modern world that wants to get by without any proper system of representation. This is not to say that the TPLF is not running elections, which it does with the precision of clock every five years and as necessary, only to determining the outcomes to remain in power.
Why do we resent our country’s situation?
If we take the military, TPLF’s members constitute over 98 percent of the top to mi-level ranks. The entire security apparatus is run by TPLF members. Similarly, while some non-Tigrean Ethiopians are sprinkled across ministerial portfolios, with their deputies and other heads of departments, sections units, etc. are TPLF members. In brief, their control of the government has been complete. In other words, non-Tigrean Ethiopians are looked upon down and second class citizens in their own country.
In other words, being a Tigrean has been sign of qualification to assume responsibilities of governing, exercising power and enjoying the luxuries of life and privileges in safety and security.
Other Ethiopians, who have been reduced to second class citizenship in their own country cannot be expected to be happy with this. Murmurs, protests and speaking out against such anti-Ethiopian colonial system entails the dangers of harassment, imprisonment, exile or enslavement. People imprisoned because of this are labeled as terrorists, Eritrean or OLF agents. The are routinely are routinely mistreated and beaten in prison, where torture is a routine practice.
Several members of opposition parties that recently held rallies were and some still are in prison, although the demonstrations were officially sanctioned.
Ethiopians are forced to live in a world of official lies and hypocrisy.