“One War at A Time”
By Workie Briye | March 24, 2007
The Need For A Moratorium On ‘Cross-Suite’
The type and the magnitude of court litigation in this country, to wit USA, offers a large menu of analogy for discussing the kind of chaos that is often witnessed with in our struggle for democracy. As a legal jargon, like any other slang, is not always fun to read for many people, I would like to ask readers to bear with me this once as I try to explain how the overall situation within our struggle provide a huge backdrop for employing the analogy of a type of litigation called ‘cross-suite’ or cross-claim to be precise.
A simplified definition of cross-suite/cross-claim is a claim by one defendant against an other defendant or a codefendant (or by a plaintiff against an other plaintiff, for that matter). Under such circumstances two or more people accused of, say, breach of contract open a claim, in the same dossier, against one an other, in addition or in lieu of a defense they might have to the original claim brought against all of them. In some cases, the level of animosity that is seen in cross-claim litigations is so fierce that many times judges, lawyers and observers alike are compelled to conclude that the most vitriolic fights are those that take place between members of the same side in the legal battle. I hope that rings a bell! On the other hand although the analogy with litigation seems to work on the surface, this analogy limps in a very important way. Allowing cross-claim in litigation serves a very important policy in advancing efficiency and consistency in the administration of justice. Cross-accusation, cross-fire might fit better, with in the realm of a democratic struggle is almost always suicidal.
Although the broader picture of the situation within the opposition camp is a huge setting for this kind of observation, the single and immediate instance that provoked me to write this observation is of a limited significance. Nevertheless, the opportunity presented by such instances in providing the context to convey our concern related to the wider problem of in-fighting is equally significant as those instances that break our heart when occurring from time to time. A recent article posted on Addis Voice under a title that reads Better to starve free than being a fat slave -A brief note to Ethiopian diplomats is the case in my point. While familiarity with the content of that article is presumed, the gist of the comment contained in the said article is summarized here for the benefit of some readers who might have not read the article itself. The author of that article opins that diplomats, both those defected in the past and those who are still in active service are loyal servants of the TPLF regime; the recent mass defection of diplomats was triggered by their being recalled to the Head Office and not out of a concern over the human rights situation in our country; defecting diplomats conjure fake stories of persecution while they all had been enjoying the sweet life of a diplomat…etc. and similar other accusations.
To begin with, accusations along these lines against diplomats are not new. These charge true or not, my objective in writing this piece, however, is not at all defending the diplomats who are the object of those charges. Nor is it to open a debate with the author of the article although I strongly believe that the entire comment is based on wrong assumption and gross generalization. Despite that, the concern I am trying to address here is the over all problem of wasting more energy and time to prosecute a cross-accusation to each other than the energy and other resources we dedicate in fighting the real enemy of our people. According to this writer, the accusation repeatedly heard against diplomats is part of that wider problem of internecine battle that is increasingly pushing the democratic movement towards a self-defeating battle. Therefore, the accusation against diplomats is more of a piece in a bigger jigsaw puzzle than an isolated problem by itself.
As we all know, any struggle for a truly democratic system is not an easy one and the situation in our country is complex. It requires first and foremost strong organization and leadership. Then follow a whole host of tools that are required to ensure victory. Focus, coordination, proper and sound setting of priority, clarity of objective, farsightedness, and the like are just few of the entire arsenals that can ensure success; and a success that is destined to be viable. Victory in the context of a democratic struggle requires defeating only of anti democratic ideologies and their proponents but not the elimination of all kinds views or groups with whom we happen to disagree on each and every issue. This kind of intention is not a vision for a democratic society but a road map to yet an other form of dictatorship.
One of the problems that make a difficult struggle even more difficult is that there are groups or individuals who are preoccupied more with attacking others with in the same camp while doing little or nothing in the fight against the real enemy. What they uniform call ‘friendly-fire’ in a military context, although dangerous and embarrassing, is in most cases unintentional and happens, almost all the time, as an isolated incident. On the contrary, the ‘friendly-fire’ taking place within our struggle is widespread, appears to be premeditated, and is more and more proving to be deadly than a mere source of embarrassment. As we all know, those individuals and groups, especially those that splintered from mainstream parties due to personal greed, have proved to be so efficient in attacking other parties in the opposition camp. It seems to be of no concern to these individuals that they are emboldening the Meles camp with their depraved statements, despicable activities, and baseless accusations against other parties or professional groups.
Setting aside the era before November 2005, our struggle after the incarceration of the CUD leadership is characterized by a situation of a war of all against all. It seems that our note books and organizers can record names of enemies, rivals, adversaries, etc. but not friends and allies. Even if this happens to be true, reading from this kind of skewed data source squarely ridicules ourselves whenever we bid every enemy, real or imagined, for a duel and engage in chicken fighting while we know that we do not have enough potency even for 1 on 1 confrontation. Engaging in chicken fighting is so entertaining, albeit cruel, for spectators that the TPLF leadership is highly skilled in breeding special roosters and unleashing them for igniting the fight in the chicken coop. In deed, breeding the roosters, unleashing the same, and enjoying the spectacle is both a political culture and a question of survival for the TPLF leadership. What is more disheartening, these special roosters are not always the ones bred by Meles. Sometimes volunteers from our ranks serve Meles with equal, if not more, zeal as those bred and groomed by him. That is, without doubt, one of the reasons why a few dozen individuals with in the TPLF leadership have continued to take hostage of an entire nation without an iota of support from the people.
History has it that during the American Civil War in the 1860s many advisers advised President Abraham Lincoln to start war with England so as to entice the patriotic feelings of the Southerners. Lincoln’s reply to this counsel was apparently simple but something that conveys the profound wisdom of a highly thoughtful leader and master strategist. His reply was: “one war at a time.” It now seems a universal truth that victory always eludes those who try to wage many wars and fight many battles at the same time.
The magnitude of this problem sometimes prompts one to conclude that this kind of syndrome has more to do with our political culture in general than being a recent and transient phenomenon surfaced following the incarceration of the CUD leadership .The picture is so complex that it is not easy for an ordinary observer to put it in words. At times, almost all opposition political parties are against one an other. (The recent AFD and its member parties may be considered as an exception and a source of hope at that). This means that almost each of the more than 65 political parties in the country has one or more other objection against all others. The problem does not stop there. Sometimes a binary reproduction of these problems is witnessed within the same party thereby creating in-fighting within it. The logic of the binary reproduction continues and hence one splinter group is again splinted and starts fighting resulting in several fronts within the same party.
Below these front line operators of the fraternal fighting, there are many other social or professional groups that are targets of this feud. These groups include former diplomats, former ‘TPLF/EPRDF’ members, former Dergue-Isepa members, and almost every one who could be suffixed with “former”.
Among the above mentioned catagories the one that is the most misunderstood and subjected to a repeatedly unwarranted attack is former diplomats. First of all, by way of explaining the pros and cons of being a member of the Foreign Service, or the civil service in general, I do not have much to say except referring, those who are interested in a more balanced perspective, to a previous article by this writer and posted on Ethiomedia.com and other major Ethiopian news Web sites. (http://www.ethiomedia.com/addfile/tribute_to_departing_diplomats.html)
This writer does not claim to be counsel in the defense of or a speaker on behalf of all former members of the Ethiopian Foreign Service nor of those who are still serving the regime. Neither have I ever attempted to defend myself for once being a member of the civil service .This writer believes that the most healthy, honest, and easiest way to embark upon fighting for a good cause is confession, not denial or of engaging in a futile self defense. This is not merely a matter of feeling good about oneself by taking the moral high ground and denying critics of the handle, but because that is what is closer to the truth. All of us have wittingly or unwittingly sinned in creating or perpetuating an autocratic and despotic political culture either as members or servants of the regime, or simply as timid, introvert, and quiet possibly as opportunist subjects and followers. Hence, it is only honesty and genuine confession that can absolve us of our past failings and assures us of success in our fight for a democratic and stable country that can feed and ensure the human dignity of its people.
As much as I am trying to resist the temptation of entering into a litigation style of reply and sur-reply with the author of the Addis Voice article, it won’t do justice to readers of Addis Voice to leave them with a comment packed with utterly false assumption, exaggerated belief, and lack of intimate knowledge of the real internal picture of the diplomatic service, or the civil service population in general, of the current regime.
First: it may as well be an affront to thousands of young Ethiopian professionals, dead or alive, who contributed a lot by putting their true loyalty to their people only and often by exposing their life and the welfare of their loved ones. Declaring sweepingly that all members of the foreign service have had “unquestionable loyalty to the [Meles] regime” is not only diametrically opposite to the real picture but far from any rational thinking. Although there might exist few individuals who could fit that caricature, the majority are far from that.
Second: the author of that commentary and many other observers entertain a view that diplomats are a bunch of cadres who are hired and assigned to foreign posts solely for their loyalty to the regime, and provide a loyal service to execute its policies . This is far from the truth and the first person to be taken a back when reading this kind of view would be non-other than Seyoum Mesfin and/or Meles Zenawi. With the exception of a certain number of “cadre-diplomats” continuously join the Ministry through a system of employment that is popularly known as “Ayer-Bayer”, roughly sixty to seventy five persent of the members the foreign service has been drawn from young and educated professionals graduating from various universities of the nation. In most cases, these young professionals are the ones who graduated with distinctions and honors in their respective fields of study. For these professionals, the Foreign Service is first and foremost like any Government institution which an ambitious and hopeful young professional would want to join.
Indeed one of the attractions for joining a Foreign Service institution is the prospect it presents for foreign assignment wich in turn unlocks the opportunity for accomplishing one’s material desires as well as intellectual aspirations. This is the case as well in our country as it is every where in the world. Moreover, most of those young graduates and mid level civil servants who join the foreign service are professionals who do have the chance and the capacity to gain employment and thrive every where, just like those fellow Ethiopians who believe that all diplomats are good for nothing cadres who could not sustain their life once they are thrown out of the TPLF temple through the system of recall or transfer to the “base.”
Third: even if we take the assumption at face value and believe that diplomats take the route of defection on the very day they receive a recall letter, many observers assume that there exist a normal and institutional way of assignment and recall with in the TPLF diplomatic structure. This scenario paints a picture of an institution operating on the basis of transparency, following established rules and regulations, and a democratic institution that is totally insulated from the chaotic and repressive political system within which it operates. The real picture in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the TPLF regime is far from this. Except for those “cadre-diplomats”, in the 99.9 percent of the cases, foreign assignment is not a right but a pure chance of the ‘power ball’ absolutely dependent on the whims of the top leadership. It is arbitrary and always comes after it is longe over due. By the time many diplomats receive the much awaited news of foreign assignment, they had already reached a point of frustration, they are bitter and filled with resentment due to the arbitrary and political nature of promotion, scholarship and foreign assignment they had been subjected to for years prior to that.
The scenario related to recall is not much different either. Those who are “unquestionably loyal to the regime” are never recalled. They had never been recalled and they were not included in the 70 plus diplomats who were recalled against the back ground of the TPLF crack down after the May 2005 Election. Indeed, recall by itself is the way TPLF officials expressly say to unfavored diplomats that “we know you are not with us; we know that you won’t come back to the Head Office, but this is how far we can tolerate you amidst us.” Accordingly, those few individuals who decide to return to their country would often receive the punishment in various forms.
Fourth: many Ethiopians are aware of what happened to nearly 50 young professionals few months ago at the Ministry in Addis. These professionals were summarily dismissed from their job through the TPLF political instrument called “Gemgam”. All of those dismissed had been accused of being members and supporters of OLF, CUD, AFD, and so on. I do not think this paints a picture of a Foreign Service structure filled with loyal servants of the regime.
All this is on top and beyond what many courageous diplomats do at every embassy confronting a TPLF functionary on a daily basis. However, I do not think it is compulsory for those diplomats to woof from the top of the roof narrating what they have done in the aftermath of the genocide committed against the Agnuak people in Gambella; they do not need to brag about what they did when hundreds of AAU students of Oromo origine are banned from the university, tortured and maimed by the regime; diplomats and other civil service employees do not need to seek praise for what they did before and during the May 2005 Election. Because, if those diplomats have done the right thing in the best interest of their country, it was because they owe it to their people and there is no need to seek eulogy from other fellow Ethiopians just to fend-off curse and boo like the one posted on Addis Voice.
In any ways, several diplomats, army officers, and professionals from every corner have left the TPLF regime and contributed a lot in exposing the regime. If there are other fellow Ethiopians who feel they have done more and better job for their country that is normal and commendable.
On the other hand, no matter what the circumstances surrounding the defection of diplomats, the proper way for a smart and wise politician to handle such a situation is not by jeering them no matter how loyal they had been to their previous masters. The smart- alick TPLF used to forge not only a battalion but a whole political party out of captive soldiers and defector civilians. Accordingly, TPLF hands were open, and defectors and captives were most welcomed to the “struggle” no matter who they were in their life before death. The end was evil but the means was pretty smart.
If we have had a good organization and smart leadership, now or in the past, there was and always is a good opportunity to work through thousands of diplomats and other professionals who are physically serving within the various structures of the regime but whose hearts and minds are always with their people. Today more than ever before, there are thousands, if not millions, of Ethiopians who are willing, often at the risk of their life, to contribute to the struggle. The least they need from us who are blessed with freedom and bounty is accusing them of loyal service to the regime. If we have to put it more bluntly, accusing diplomats and other professionals of “loyal service” is, in a way, shifting the blame. If this kind of blame must be associated to a certain object, that object should squarely be all of us who are not, now and in the past, in the grip of the regime and have been operating as parties or politicians over the last several years, at least up until the advent of the CUD.
The entire CUD leadership is now held captive by TPLF and will continue to be so until we accomplish their freedom. In the meantime, no matter how desperately we crave for that leadership at every turn of our struggle, we have to face the fact that we can not clone Prof. Mesfin to get some one who can spot not only the miniature icons in front of him but also the big picture that underlies the much complex problem of our country. We cannot duplicate Dr. Berhanu to have some one who can dissect and understand not only the side of his friends but also of his adversaries and enemies.
Every where, we are screaming that friendly fire is undermining the efforts of our people both abroad and at home. To minimize the impact of this problem first and foremost we, of course, need guidance and proactive leadership from the various opposition parties. But again the gravity of the problem facing our people and the nature of the regime reigning over the country is by itself sufficient to give an objective person, knowledgeable of all the circumstances, a reasonable guidance to be aware of the need to concentrate on the real enemy of democracy in Ethiopia, i.e., the TPLF regime.
Once we establish a democratic system where the rule of law is guaranteed, then we will have a hell lot of time to settle all accounts of minor contradictions that purportedly exist between different parties, within the same party, or between individuals. On that Day of Judgment, all citizens including the pious ones and those who sinned by affording the evil regime with loyal service, will all have their day in court. Until that time, let’s all subscribe to a very simple self-imposed moratorium and be guided by that simple but effective strategy: ” one war at a time:” brothers “o-n-e w-a-r a-t a t-i-m-e!!”
The Author can be reached @ email@example.com