What Does the Kinijit Crisis Need, Dialogue or Outrage? – By Fekade Shewakena
A recent call by Professor Messay Kebede for an honest dialogue about the Kinijit crisis has come too late and after the crisis has taken its toll. (more…)
A recent call by Professor Messay Kebede for an honest dialogue about the Kinijit crisis has come too late and after the crisis has taken its toll. I don’t doubt he meant well and wanted to be constructive. In my view, the problem at this stage is anything but salvageable. The problem progressed beyond the breaking point the moment it started. I don’t even think the central problem is the absence of enough dialogue for that matter. For any dialogue to take place there have to be competing ideas between contending groups. There is no political or philosophical difference to talk of or start a dialogue on. More importantly, there is hardly any secret in the crisis that we need to explore. Everything, including a lot of dirty laundry, is out in the open. All sides to the conflict have told us their side of the story. I think we have regurgitated a lot of material already. I for one had enough. There are hundreds of audio, video and written records for anyone to see. I lost count of the number of Ato Hailu’s interviews and speeches after the 20th. What else do we need? If we cannot see the problem through this mass of evidences and see where the problem and the solution lie, then we are simply cheating ourselves. There is enough information for anyone interested to arrive at a verdict. The pathogen causing the sickness can be very easily isolated. Some of it is too glaring to miss unless we willfully close our eyes.
In my view this whole thing lacks one serious input from the public. It lacks enough outrage – enough outrage at the senseless wrecking of an organization that millions of our fellow citizens have made huge emotional investment and sacrifice for. We are aiding and abating this problem to fester more than it should. We are simply providing it a fertile ground to flourish. Let’s face it. It is the failure of those of us who wish democracy, good governance and civilized politics for our country that are a huge part of the problem. We have an amazing tolerance for white lies, hearsays, innuendos and the character assassination of good people and even fan some of these back as truths. I really don’t know where we got this from. A community of people often places boundaries and declares some things unacceptable and off limits in its normal social or political discourses? When something goes off limits normal communities often express outrage. I cannot understand why we don’t. In our case it is this complacency and our inability to call wrongs by their name that is killing and humiliating us.
There may be enough blame to go around in this crisis. But we the people that are letting this happen to us and to our country have to take a chunk of this blame. By tolerating lies, corruption and arrogance in our midst, we are letting ourselves be insulted and degraded. People who want to feed us false and obscene information with the hope of changing our mind basically think we are stupid.
Our history is replete with instances where we as a people, particularly the Ethiopian elite, failed our country in many ways. But the saddest part is that we have also become a country and people that does not learn from its past mistakes. What has happened to us as a people and where is all that pride in ourselves of rich heritage and cultural decency and honesty and age old religious morality gone?
Look at one case for example. Some individuals who apparently support Ato Hailu Shaul have thought it is ingenious to call and exploit those poor families of victims of the June and November massacres to make their faction’s case. One of them is here, on the website Kinijit.org. If you listen to it and that doesn’t make you sick to the stomach, I don’t know what will. This is obscene and should disgust every sane person, political or not. I have literally begged another person from the other side who decided to retaliate by calling other victim families he knows have misgivings about Ato Hailu Shaul’s actions. Have we become a society without thresholds and limits to allow ourselves to be invaded by such nauseating indecencies and lies? There are always cheap people in society who are capable of doing this. That won’t surprise me. But what kind of people are the people who put it out as a headline on a website which claims to be the official organ of Ato Hailu’s faction? I know there are some “educated” people and others in white hairs that manage the site. Shame on them!
Then the question is what should we do other than dialogue? First we have to realize that there is no middle ground to stand on between irresponsible recklessness on the one hand and decency and reasonableness on the other. There is only one ground to stand on in the Kinijit crisis and that is to stand against this recklessness.
I will do mine here. I will talk straight. I am sure some would accuse me of pushing factional interests or supporting some individuals against others. Some of you may think I am defending Mrs. Birtukan or Dr. Berhanu and the rest on the other side. These are people who are capable of defending themselves. They don’t need my help. That is the least of my concerns. First among my objective is to keep my moral authority to be able to criticize Meles Zenawi and his authoritarian leadership that is wrecking havoc in my poor country. I do these often as most of you who read my articles know. I will be a hypocrite if I keep my mouth shut when I see a Bokassa or a Mengistu creeping inside the organization I support. My second reason is fear. I fear that young women who see Birtukan being demonized would be reluctant to come forward and join the struggle. They will be discouraged. Women in politics are already rare and I fear we are destroying an entire future for the women being inspired by her. I also fear that bright, reflective and passionate intellectuals may reconsider joining the struggle by looking at what the irresponsible reckless among us are trying to make off of people like Dr. Berhanu and Dr. Befekadu. That should worry us more than what is being done to these individuals personally. That should worry all of us the most.
Let me do my part of a straight talk here and do my responsibility. I know for some this may be like a taboo. The central problem, the pathogen, in this sickness and crisis in Kinijit is clearly and unambiguously Ato Hailu Shawul. Yes, I repeat, the problem is Ato Hailu Shaul. By virtue of his position as chairman of the organization, Ato Hailu has had a lot of leverage to command in the organization and solve many of the problems. His position comes with a lot of responsibility. He has failed to measure up to that. Add to that also his age which is an additional asset of respect at his disposal. He has enough authority to convene any discussion on any issue and challenge the rest of the leaders or supporters. What use do we have for a leader who refuses to talk to the committees he leads and allows deliberations at a time of a crisis?
Here is an example of his recklessness from a firsthand experience. As most informed people know very well, the geographic location and inception of the problem for Kinijit is North America. As an active supporter of Kinijit, I know Ato Hailu was fed with a lot of misinformation by a group in North America while he was still in prison. These are public secrets detailed elsewhere and I don’t want to rehash them here. Among other innuendoes, we know that Ato Hailu was told that Dr. Berhanu was going to overthrow him using his friends in the KIL (Kinijit International) and a lot of other crap. I never had any personal encounter with Ato Hailu, but I have always trusted and believed the problem would unravel as soon as he arrived in Washington DC and everything will be ok. I trusted he had the desire, training and quality of leadership to do that. I expected he would talk to and ask questions of all sides to the conflict and make an informed decision like any leader must. Instead he did the unthinkable. He went straight into the hands of one group of people who have been mismanaging the support movement and feeding him with their side of stories. He sat fenced there and also placed aids to screen even his phone calls to select the kind of people he would talk to. His favorite radio station was one run by an outcast thief who stole public money from fund raised to help famine victims in Ethiopia. Many of us in Washington DC who put the bulk of the fight for their release and raised the funds they needed were locked out from talking to him. I also know that he was begged to attend the September 16 gathering in DC along with the five other delegates. He refused. I know this for sure but to my surprise and to the determent of my respect for him, I heard him repeatedly say that he has not been invited. That in plain language is a lie. Thousands of Ethiopians gathered in Virginia on that day, a size that I have rarely seen, but Ato Hailu was full of his egos to even come for five minutes and say thank you for supporting Kinijit. What kind of politician does refuse to talk to you when at the same time he uses the money you raised and the labor you put in to help his organization? This is the peak of feudal arrogance and hubris that should be detested by any self respecting Ethiopian.
Even for a casual observer of his actions, it is clear that Ato Hailu is a stubborn person who wants to run Kinijit like a foreman of daily laborers rather than the democratic and modern political organization that Kinijit told us it was. As much as he deserves respect for his position and age, he should also show respect for the younger people in the leadership who, whether he likes it or not, are going to replace him tomorrow. Ethiopia’s problems are not going to be solved during his life time and he should be the first to understand that encouraging younger people must be a vital duty of a responsible person of his age and position.
But in all of these cases we as a people and community appeased him. Because of our failure to ask him to account, Ato Hailu grew more corrupt and continued to gallop from one reckless action to the other. When he saw he could get away with public badmouthing of his colleagues, he flew some of the most venomous attackers from Addis Ababa to Washington DC and had an entire afternoon of feasts on their fellow prisoners without saying any word about the real problems in the country. We sat and listened to that without any outrage. When Ato Hailu saw he could get away with that recklessness, he tried to suspend the organization’s laws and attempted to suspend the key leaders of the organization. When many good people kept silent again and refused to be outraged he went even further. He thought of running the organization like a private company, and appointed an acting president until he gets out of his hospital. See this document (here). Ato Hailu and his friends are acting like feudal barons because they found complacent people that do nothing and never get outraged. Look further and see one of the accusations he made against the individuals he tried to suspended – refer to accusation number 11 of 20. He says the 5 delegate he suspends made the crime of failing to receive him at the Airport in Washington DC when he arrived from Minnesota. Is this the kind of issue a responsible leader of a party bases the fate of a nationally respected democratic organization? Think about it. What would a man with this propensity do if he gets to a position of leading a country and commanding an army? Maybe we would have saved some lives had we shown some outrage when Mengistu massacred 60 people in one day the first time. I think we paid for our complacency.
Bringing in civilized politics, resolving political problems through open dialogue and building the country along the path of mutual respect and love were the common themes we repeatedly heard inside Kinijit. I for one decided to support Kinijit on these grounds as I am sure many did. I never knew it was being lead by such an irresponsible and abusive person. Many people confuse courage and stubbornness and portray him as a courageous person I heard some people call him by Mengisu’s favorite names – “koratu”.
I do not see a classical kind of faction making inside Kinijit. I see two groups inside it – a backward and out of date force led by Hailu Shaul and a progressive visionary force trying to wrench itself off of this and move forward. Ato Hailu wants a party that he can run like a private company and call it Kinijit. This is the little sophisticated strategy being pursued.
I think it is time to see Kinijit the organization and the Ethiopian democracy movement separately. There is a huge and unstoppable quest for democracy in Ethiopia which lacks leadership. In my view, the democracy movement must be led intelligently by a carefully crafted program and competent leadership. I think we need to focus on that and spend more time organizing. The kind of thinking I see from the “thinkers” around Ato Hailu is incompatible with the kind of leadership this democracy movement needs. Even if you let them have their way they will soon implode into a disaster. They have not shown us the ideas and alternatives they have offer for this movement. I am sorry Ato Hailu is not in good health and I wish him fast recovery. But he is the last person I will go anywhere near to look for solving the huge and complex problems of Ethiopia. Those of us who sincerely want our country to change have to understand that our complacency and indifference will have long term negative consequences on the aspirations of our people and tormented country. We need to assert our respect for our people and our own individual dignity by refusing to be a part of this recklessness.