THE US IN THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY IN ETHIOPIA
3/20/2007 Amoraw Ferede
US Policy in Ethiopia from 1974-1991
Most Ethiopians saw Derg as destructive, undemocratic, incompetent, and an enemy of human rights and democracy. It came up during the Cold War, and, as expected, its Marxist stance did not go well with the US either. Hence, just like the people of Ethiopia, the US appeared to have strongly resented the presence of such a regime in the Horn of Africa. As a result, it had, albeit mostly indirectly, given continuous support to TPLF and EPLF to undermine the Derg.
With the cooperation of the Ethiopians people, Derg was finally overthrown with America’s final official stamp of approval when Assistant Secretary of State Cohen boldly told TPLF from London over the BBC on May 20, 1991 to enter Addis Ababa and take over the reigns of government of sovereign Ethiopia. Thereupon, TPLF entered Addis Ababa, and Meles Zenawi then installed himself in Minilik’s Palace.
Ethiopians had hoped that TPLF’s long-standing radio promises of democracy would be finally realized, and that the sons and daughters of Tigray would finally help to find a political solution that would ensure peace, stability and democracy for a united Ethiopia that owed its history and existence to huge sacrifices of Ethiopians in Gura, Gundet, Dogali, Seatit, Metema, Adwa and several other battlefields for the defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Motherland.
Alas, the grandchildren of Sebagadis, Alula, and Yohannes were, instead, determined to convince us that Ethiopia was only 100 years old and that Eritrea was colonized by Ethiopia which they would, therefore, dismember and land-lock, totally forgetting that Tigray itself might be the first to be suffocated by such acts. Apparently, the blood spilt by, and the broken bones of, those thousands of Ethiopians that fell in Metema, Seatit, Kufit, Dogali, Gura and Gundet, among several others, was regarded of no consequence to TPLF leaders.
The May 1993 Cohen-led London Conference ended up dismembering and land-locking Ethiopia by ignoring the well-reasoned rationale for the far-sighted UN decisions of the 1950s, thereby also violating the UN Charter. Still worse, though the US was a key player in supporting and facilitating the creation of the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia in the 1950s, it was, in 1991 and earlier years, doing just the opposite, probably inadvertently sowing the seeds of serious instability and war in the Horn of Africa, finally leading to a senseless and destructive war between brothers during 1998-2000.
Now, the one-time stable Ethiopia is replaced by two highly unstable and undemocratic regimes, primarily out of vindictive foreign policies against leaders of the short-sighted Derg and due to an equally short-sighted hunger for naked and destructive power on the part of the rebel leaders. As a result, the US also failed to use the London Conference in May 1991 to safeguard democratic development and its long-term interest of ensuring peace, democracy and stability in the Horn of Africa.
US Policy for Ethiopia around 2005
According to policy guidelines of USAID/Ethiopia for 2002-2006, regional stability has been claimed to be the overriding US national interest in the Greater Horn of Africa. The policy paper further states that “support for democracy and governance is its third priority.”?
What is incomprehensible is that the US appears to be working to establish “regional stability”? in the Horn of Africa in collaboration with an unstable regime led by Meles Zenawi, while “support for democracy and governance is its third priority”? in spite of the fact that lasting regional peace and stability is impossible without democracy and good governance. Indeed, the US policy appears to be saying that democracy and good governance are conveniently irrelevant to the creation of stability, and that is where the crucial problem of US policy for Ethiopia resides. Such a policy also contradicts President Bush’s second inaugural address.
Indeed, consistent with this strangely ordered priority, USAID/Ethiopia had decided, in the same policy document ( See Integrated Strategic Plan: FY 2001-2006 of USAID/Ethiopia), before the elections of May 2005, as follows:
” USAID has determined that further sustained assistance to development of Ethiopia’s electoral system is not a high priority. This is in keeping with the preferences of the National Election Board, which much prefers to run Ethiopia’s elections with its own resources”? .
Here, America sold out its principle of free and fair elections in favor of political expediency. Hence, other areas have been chosen by USAID/Ethiopia as its areas of priority since ” they are in accord with the priorities and wishes of the GFDRE”¦”?. That was very unfortunate since Ethiopians regard America as a defender of freedom and democracy and, hence, a defender of free and fair elections. That did not work out to be the case in May 2005 or during the period leading up to it. Most Ethiopians have shocked by that, and they still remain shocked !
US support for a divisive ethnic/apartheid regime was practically unconditional, and the US appeared to be condoning even the repeated massacres by Meles like the genocide in Arba gugu, Assebot, Wotter, Bedeno, Eastern Wollega, including the destructive actions in Addis Ababa university since the 1990s. The US Embassy turned its eyes away when Mels’s Government resorted to mass dismissals of thousands of professionals on grounds of ethnicity, or when Meles destroyed the independence of labor and teachers Associations and that of the free press.
Indeed, the US appeared to lack a commitment to its own principles and policies of enhancing global democratization, as reflected in its continued refusal to answer opposition calls to help build lasting democratic institutions prior to, and after, May 2005. It had clearly stated ( See Integrated Strategic Plan: FY 2001-2006 of USAID/Ethiopia) its chosen areas of principal focus in Ethiopia are civil society, the judiciary and human rights.
Can one build democracy without democratic institutions ? Or can the US hope to build democracy by building the capacities of undemocratic institutions like the judiciary, the parliament or the police ? Or, better still, can the USA, the Land of the Boston Tea Party of the late 18th. century, expect to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians by simply helping fill their stomachs when they are completely denied from exercising their political will to elect their leaders and solve their famine problems?
What good is material aid if the people are condemned as slaves of a divisive and oppressive regime ? If “Taxation without Representation”? were so unimportant, and if filling their stomachs were all that mattered, the Boston Tea Party would not have been launched in America. Why does USAID/Ethiopia and its friends and allies think that, unlike America of the 18th. Century, Ethiopians can do without democratic rights ? Fortunately, though, the US Congress is presently gearing up to stand solidly behind the Ethiopian people, thanks to the far-sighted leaderships of Chris Smith, Donald Payne and several other congressmen.
US’s continued disregard for its own democratic principles and practices was also clearly seen when three internationally-acclaimed America election observation institutions were thrown out of Ethiopia by EPRDF in 2005. This blind and undemocratic act happened again because America had chosen to keep quiet in 2000 when election observers of the African American Institute were thrown out in like manner. Was all that a design to cover for EPRDF election fraud ?
Likewise, US commitment to its own democratic principles was challenged when it showed no courage to condemn wide-spread election fraud by EPRDF in May 2005, especially in the country-side. There was also the laughable 3-member Complaints’ Review Body and the Complaint Investigation Panels of three which were all designed to ensure EPRDF dominance in all decisions, and they did just that. Why shout at Robert Mugabe then ?
Given only a modest level of intelligence and given some reasonable knowledge of the conditions that prevailed at the time, neither the US Ambassador nor her staff could have missed the undemocratic structure forced on CUD and other opposition parties to ensure the continued iron-fisted oppressive rule of EPRDF. The failure to stand for democracy occurred not only in Addis Ababa, but also across the Atlantic in the US Department of State.
The US Department of State wrongly quoted the Report of the Carter Center’s Observation Team to fully endorse the elections as free and fair when the Carter Center report itself said only the following:
: ” For election day on May 15, the Center deployed 50 international observers “¦.Due to logistical constraints , Carter Center observer teams were deployed to largely urban areas. Coverage of the more rural areas of the country was limited.”?( See P. 3: Final Statement on the Carter Center Observation of the Ethiopia 2005 National Elections, September 2005).
Rural Ethiopia is about 85% of Ethiopia ! There were over 500 election constituencies in all in May 2005 so that the Carter center could cover only some 50 of them on election day. Hence, the Carter Center’s concluding statement ( See p. 10) that
“The Carter Center’s assessment of the elections suggests that the majority of the constituency results based on the May 15 polling and tabulation are credible and reflect competitive conditions”?
can relate only to urban Ethiopia since the Carter Center Observation team of 50 was “”¦ deployed to largely urban areas”?.
How did the US Department of State expect the Carter Center to pronounce itself on the entire country when all it had were only 50 observers in a country where communications are very difficult, to put it mildly ? Or was this an intentional twist of the facts to give further blind support to EPRDF ?
Only the EU and Carter Center fielded the only two credible international election observer teams in May 2005. On the other hand, the EU election report states that:
” On the two election days ( 15 May and re-runs/Somali Region elections on 21 August) . EU observers visited more than 1150 polling stations throughout the country”¦ On the main election day (15 May), more than 200 European observers were deployed in total.”?.
Further, the Executive Summary of the EU final report (pp. 3 and 5) had this to say:
“”¦the elections fell short of international principles for genuine democratic elections. “¦ EU observers assessed the closing and counting processes negatively in almost half of urban polling stations observed, a very high figure for international observers to record, and even worse in rural polling stations observed.”?.
Indeed, Carter Center covered only some 15% of the election constituencies in the country and there was, therefore, no logical ground for the US Department of State to accept the elections as free and fair based on Carter Center’s election report. It was valid only for urban Ethiopia !
Still another discrepancy between US democratic principles and practices is its failure to support Kinijit’s offer to ignore the extensive election fraud if EPRDF agreed to participate in building democracy in Ethiopia by sitting at a negotiating table to discuss Kinijit;’s 8-point proposal whose sole purpose has been to build democratic institutions that ensure free and fair elections in future. Kinijit forwarded those proposals as a precondition for entering Parliament and those proposals included ensuring the creation of an independent
(i) National Election Board according to Article 102(1) of the Constitution,
(ii) judiciary according to Article 78 of the Constitution,
(iii) free press according to Chapter 2 of the Constitution,
(iv) public mass media to provide equitable service to all Ethiopians, and
(v) police force and national defense forces that are free from the influence of any political party.
These issues continue to bedevil Ethiopia even today, and they continue to be the principal causes for instability in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Surely, the US Embassy and USAID/Ethiopia could have played a meaningful role in a manner that is consistent with widely held American promises, democratic principles and practices at home.
These are the root causes for the sacrifice being paid by Kinijit’s leaders today ! EPRDF wants to hear about no such genuine reforms and it has found it best, with American and World Bank support, to put its strongest opposition behind bars and pretend that all is well. Vicki Huddleston’s office has also been an accomplice in this game since the US Embassy, according to Reporter, has reportedly assisted in organizing a satellite Kinijit leadership to be formed to sit in Parliament and give a semblance of normalcy to the political environment when some 129 of Kinijit’s leaders and other democrats from NGOs and the free press languish in jail just because they have dared to stand up to EPRDF peacefully to win the elections on May 15, 2005.
Principal outcomes of the Ethiopians Elections of May 2005
The principal outcomes of the May 15, 2005 elections were as follows:
1 EPRDF’s Ethnic Federalism as well as its economic and social policies were roundly rejected. Indeed, there has never been any ethnic-based federal structure in practice since only 9 ethnic groups were given regions of their own by EPRDF, just like gifts of feudal Ethiopia, and the remaining 74 continued to be subservient to the whims and wishes of the privileged 9 ethnic groups under policies emanating from, and supervised by, the center of power in Addis Ababa.
2 Ethiopians were more determined than ever before to choose their own national leaders through the ballot box. On May 8, 2005, over 2 million supporters came out in support of Kinijit at Meskel Square, and this astonishingly high level of public interest in the elections was further demonstrated on May 15, 2005 when more than 90% of the registered voters actually came out to vote. There was an outpour on May 8, 2005 compared to only about a quarter as many that had come out on May 7, 2005 in support of the Ruling Party which had reportedly provided t-shirts, caps, transport and even daily allowance to several thousand.
3 It was made abundantly clear to all in Ethiopia and those abroad that Ethiopians were ready for peaceful democratic elections. However, this national commitment was not matched by the Ruling Party which resorted to guns, intimidation, harassment and brute force to retain its hold onto political power with tacit approval and support from its external supporters.
4 Ethiopians overwhelmingly voted for multi-ethnic Kinijit and thereby rejected EPRDF’s ethnic and divide-and-rule policies.
5 Ethiopians in the Diaspora came to learn that Ethiopians at home were united against oppressive forces, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender, age, etc”¦
6 EPRDF was so shocked by the results of the elections that (i) it overturned a parliamentary proclamation on taxation right after May 15, 2005 with a simple directive, bringing down taxes from some 40% to some 2% in some cases, (ii) it was also forced to further review its decadent economic policies though the inefficiency, partisanship and corruption in its incompetent bureaucracy has dampened any noticeable positive effect, and, most importantly, (iii) threw 129 Kinijit leaders and supporters into jail for daring to put it to shame on May 15, 2005.
7 Ethiopians are now convinced that a peaceful change of government is possible through the ballot box if only Ethiopia can come up with the democratic institutions pinpointed in Kinijit’s 8-point proposal.
Consequences of Continued External support to Meles
There was nothing to stop the oppressive regime of Meles to overturn the Constitution and
1, imprison the political leadership of the winning opposition party, leaders of CSOs and almost all journalists an publishers of the entire free press using trumped-up charges.
2, resort to sham court procedures against the political prisoners using irrelevant audio, video and individual evidence, but it was forced to abruptly wind up last month with a witness who bravely testified that he told the court only what he was trained to say by the prosecutor’s office.
3, Continue with State-sponsored terrorism, as seen repeatedly after May 15, 2005.
4, push armed groups to continue to fight EPRDF since they appear to have obtained a further boost from the failure to achieve free and fair elections on May 15, 2005. They continue to strongly argue that EPRDF will not bow to public pressure to allow free and fair elections unless it is forced with guns, and that is a disastrous route to go for democratic development. That is what Kinijit wants to avoid by all means.
While Kinijit’s leaders languish in jail without committing any crimes other than handsomely defeating EPRDF in the May 2005 elections,
1, Lidetu, former Vice-President of Kinijit up to October 2005 and the only Kinijit leader who publicly suggested employing an Orange Revolution is free and comfortably seated in Parliament,
2, EPRDF’s leaders who had tried to instigate inter-ethnic conflict through their interhamwe interjection in the political debates are also free and continue to drive state-sponsored terror.
3, Some of Kinijit’s CC members have been thrown into jail because of allegations that they have made unconstitutional decisions against the government, but several of their colleagues in the CC and even a few members of the Executive Committee are still free so that the case against the accused is not really their official role in Kinijit’s CC.
4, VOA’s journalists and others in the Diaspora have also been originally included in the list of 129 charged for treason, decision to overthrow the government by force, decision to change the Constitution by force, etc, but those in VOA have been subsequently dropped from the list under US pressure while several in the Diaspora and dozens at home continue to suffer in dirty jails for also doing their professional duty, again demonstrating that the charges are false and groundless.
5, Audio, video and 365 witnesses were to be presented, but neither the video-audio show, depicting the political debates and newspapers’ reports, nor the witnesses were really relevant so that the Public Prosecutor dropped the sinister design of dragging out the court hearings after the last witness last month boldly admitted that he had told the court what the Prosecutor had told him to say. Indeed, if there were any tangible cause for imprisonment, only a few witnesses would have been adequate to prove the Prosecutor’s case. However, the real intention of the 365 witnesses and the irrelevant audio-video pile appears to be to prolong the hearings and keep the prisoners of conscience in jail for years to give EPRDF enough time to crush all meaningful opposition before the next elections.
6, Legal procedures and the evidence presented against Kinijit and the rest was found irrelevant by international jurists, the former Deputy Chief Prosecutor and by several other legal professionals.
7, EPRDF’s Chairman had repeatedly told the international media that he would be unable to release the prisoners because the Judiciary was independent from the Executive. Recently, however, a reconciliation team has been going back and forth from the Prime Minister to Kinijit’s leaders in jail to negotiate terms for their release, and this clearly demonstrates that the courts are appendages of the Prime Minister’s office. Rumor has it that the Prime Minister is ready to release the leaders of Kinijit if they agree to stay out of politics, or if they publicly apologize to EPRDF so that he may then get vindicated for his criminal actions.
8, The charges were so ridiculous that EPRDF had to modify the genocide charges and remove VOA’s journalists out of its list of potential prisoners of conscience. Out of more than 129 prisoners of Kinijit, NGOs and the free press accused of plotting against the Government, there are several who have never ever met at all, and live in Europe, America and Ethiopia under various degrees of isolation and threat from EPRDF’s harsh rule.
What can the US do today to promote lasting peace, Democracy and Stability in Ethiopia ?
The evidence presented against Kinijit and its supporters has been irrelevant. Kinijit had committed no crimes and all Ethiopians know that, and so do the diplomatic community in Addis Ababa. The US Government, EU, the World Bank Group and IMF
(i) can prevail on Meles to release Engineer Hailu immediately so that he may have access to medical service before his eyes are destroyed from diabetic complications.
(ii) can pressure Meles Zenawi to immediately order the unconditional release of all Kinijit leaders, NGO activists and members of the free press, and
(iii) further prevail on him to sit with Kinijit and all other political parties to negotiate on the 8-point proposal submitted in November 2005 by Kinijit’s leaders.
Such an act will save Ethiopia from further chaos and arms struggle by groups that increasingly see no hope of support from the West for genuine democratization or for free and fair elections. However, Ethiopians acknowledge the strong support and commitment of EU Parliament in its resolutions of December 15, 2005 and thereafter, and that of the US House of Representatives with regard to HR. 5680 which still remains to be enacted. We are grateful to both, and Ethiopians shall always remember such valuable and timely support !
The US government, the EU Commission and the World Bank may be afraid of losing Meles if they choose to stand for their own democratic principles since he pretends to be a firm supporter in the struggle against international terrorism, but they should all derive greater comfort from the support of over 70,000,000 Ethiopians who will become even more formidable allies against international terrorism if only the West can give them a timely and strong hand in democratizing Ethiopia today, thereby also unleashing a very powerful democratizing influence in the Greater Horn of Africa.