Looking at Forgotten Recent Events and Future Strategies Conducive to a Mature Political Culture for Ethiopia: Putting the Cart Before the Horse?
By Maru Gubena*
July 6, 2006 — As Ethiopia’s political historians would acknowledge, to embark on a discussion of the political development and political culture of Ethiopia appears to me a tricky business. This is not only due to the fragility and deficiencies of Ethiopia’s political history itself, but also due to my conviction that an effective examination of Ethiopia’s political history and its development within the many, complex cultures and cultural components of Ethiopia require someone with a specialized background – a historian steeped in the political history of Ethiopia, including the views, behaviours and attitudes of Ethiopians towards the politics of the country, their interpretation of it, and the way the people themselves perceive its evolution within Ethiopian society.
Since I am not a historian of the politics of Ethiopia, my approaches, arguments and assessments of the many complex, historically entangled and culturally created wounds that exist within Ethiopian society, including the freshly developed issues and problems that face Ethiopians today, will be based exclusively upon a general political logic and the internationally accepted procedures, frameworks, norms and processes that govern a nation state that is operating within democratically structured arrangements and agreements reached among political leaders, legal experts and other concerned and involved individuals. It is, at least in my view, such political logic and internationally accepted procedures, including the use of the collectively constructed mechanisms of the constitution and the laws of the land that are conducive to the preparation of effective and reliable grounds for a genuine and widely acceptable election process in a society. Such collectively constructed and approved mechanisms of law are instrumental in safeguarding and protecting the rights of all participating political parties, their leaders and those who support them. In even the simplest political and legal logic, these constitutional and legal mechanisms do not establish a leader or leaders of any dominant or ruling party, but instead define and determine the boundaries of movement and political speech of the political parties’ leaders. It is probably worth adding that in any society where there is mutual agreement among the majority of the people on a wholehearted desire to live in harmony and equality, with lasting peace and prosperity and no one group dominating the other, no constitution or related legal mechanisms will be adopted without public, heated debate and approval by the majority of those who live in that society.
In the case of Ethiopia, however, these internationally accepted arrangements, the standard political norms that are crucial to governing a nation state peacefully and harmoniously, indispensable in guaranteeing the unconditional security and safety of political leaders and citizen participants in the politics of the country, and critical in outlawing the domination by, and imposition of the wills and desires of, one political party upon another have not been taken as a priority, as a requirement and condition for the badly needed, eagerly desired and long awaited process of democratization. This was needed before anything else – before even contemplating holding an election. Based upon the previous three political events, the so called “elections” of the past fifteen years, one tends to argue that the current political turmoil, the sporadic armed conflicts and the emergency due to additional rebel fronts in my country are a direct result of the underdevelopment and/or immaturity of the political culture within Ethiopian society. I would also dare to add that the current worsening of the political crisis and tragedies, which doubtless will persist and continue to test the generation of my daughter, are also a direct result of the endless power struggles among the “cursed children” of Ethiopia, not just between the TPLF leadership and the people of Ethiopia, but also within both the TPLF and the opposition camps. The decision of the TPLF leadership to organize and carry out the previous elections, the will of the opposition political parties to take part, and the willingness of Ethiopians to take part in these elections even though internationally accepted procedures had not been carried out and the required arrangements and mechanisms were not in place can be described with the phrase “putting the cart before the horse.” It is also undeniably true that the willingness of Ethiopians to participate, entertaining the clearly bogus election proposals and plans presented by the TPLF leadership and its cadres before the longstanding injuries and scars that can be found on the backs and heads, and in the hearts and minds, of the majority of Ethiopians had been healed shows not just the underdevelopment of Ethiopia’s political culture and the clashes between the many-sided habits and cultures of Ethiopia and more modern political systems, but suggests also, at least in theoretical terms, that the majority or perhaps even the entire population of the country tends to give the advancement and attainment of their own and/or their family’s short-term well-being a higher priority than the long-term collective national well-being and lasting peace of the country in which they live.
For everyone with a sense of responsibility and belonging, the questions that come up repeatedly are: why is it that Ethiopian opposition parties often seem willing to take risks and to be prepared to be lured into bogus elections fashioned by the TPLF leadership in a country with little or no history of a political culture of compromise? In a country where the majority of the people obviously seem to give a higher priority to short-term individual, family or group well-being than to the collective and national well-being – then subsequently become victims of the election events in which they knowingly or unknowingly have participated – why can’t we see that it is first necessary to wage both diplomatic and political wars for democratization and restructuring of all political systems, legal mechanisms and major public institutions, just as we have been and are still fighting regarding the May 2005 election the jailing of our elected leaders? Why are we so reluctant and negligent in investing our energy, time and other resources under our disposal to work and fight for democratization of political systems and legal mechanisms, which I often call the “power bases of the people and all political parties” – those working for lasting peace and economic dependence? Why is it that we Ethiopians are extremely eager to resist the tyrannical regime of the TPLF leadership and are willing to spend our time, energy and money to see democracy replace the unelected regime of Meles Zenawi in our country, preferably today rather than tomorrow – but reluctant and even allergic to concerted concurrent work on the process of democratizing the various and complex political systems and legal mechanisms within the opposition camps, including finding ways to increase the maturity of the Ethiopian political culture and democratize Ethiopians themselves – their attitudes and cultural behaviours towards each other? Why are we reluctant to acknowledge the existence of a disproportionately high number of little compatriot dictators at every organizational level and in every capacity among us, acting to their own fellows like army generals? We should be engaging them in discussions and debates as a part of a public orientation, public awareness and democratization process.
Further, as the majority of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia will acknowledge, the historical socio-cultural bonds among Ethiopians, including the respect and love Ethiopians have had for each other, have partially or more likely fully been shattered by the inhumane, cruel and uninvited Ethiopian revolution of 1974. The destruction of these socio-cultural values and irreplaceable Ethiopian cultural assets was completed in an accelerated fashion by the arrival of another uninvited quasi-foreign enemy – the TLF leadership. Since then our traditional feelings for each other have been replaced with additional animosities and hostilities – an official repressive system called “ethnic policy:” this limits the possibility for one ethnic group to live or do business in a region inhabited by another ethnic group. Consequently, Ethiopians today live with scars and gashes all over, if not their bodies then their hearts and minds. They live with deep-seated resentments, not only towards the unelected regime of Meles Zenawi, but also towards each other. The question that then deserves to be raised is whether our common enemy, the TPLF leadership, should be the only thing creating the bonds of our resistance and among all Ethiopians? Or, should I and others consider Kinijit alone to be the indispensable source of our common and future bonds – as a future source that can revive the many-sided lost cultural values and assets of Ethiopia? Is that really the case? Is that really convincing? Why is then that we always seem to be willing and ready, and even become excited when we are lured to follow the short roads that are most likely to lead us to a failure, instead of actively and collectively attacking the sources of our longstanding differences and grievance and crafting strategies and mechanisms that may be conducive to uprooting those unhappy attitudes from the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and from the land of Ethiopia? Why is it that many Kinijit leaders and Chapters in the Diaspora prefer to discourage active supporters who are making all possible efforts to contribute to the overall efforts of Kinijit from discussing the inhumane, incalculable crimes inflicted upon them, their families and friends by those living with us today in the same countries, cities and even streets – the cadres of the previous regime – the Dergue? Why do we tend to underestimate the pain and injuries inflicted upon most of us by those cadres of the former military regime? Is that fair? Finally, why is it that while we live in the western world, we often tend to employ the cultural rules and behaviours we brought with us from our country of origin, rather than looking for new methods that might help us to heal? Why are we prepared and ready to talk only about the positive directions and our achievements, but not our challenges, failures and their sources and causes?
Since I may not be able to answer all of these long and complex questions as effectively as many of my readers would like and expect, I sincerely hope some of you will help me respond to them, since in recent times these questions have become a source of persistent concern and anxiety not only to me, but to other Ethiopians as well.
Before embarking on a brief exploration of the above issues, however, let me make a few key remarks related to e-mail messages, some brief and some very long, sent to me by many of my compatriots in response to my recent articles, which have been posted on most of the Ethiopian pro-democracy websites. Before anything else however, I will reveal a bit about myself, not on my own initiative, but because some of my readers have forced this.
Some Problems Related to my Surname: Will Revealing Something About Myself Help?
I began posting articles on various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites in 2005, with the simple objective of adding my voice to the Ethiopian resistance against the tyrannical regime of Meles Zenawi. Since that time, I have been receiving polite e-mail requests from a few individuals engaged in research, requesting help with, or a review of, the theoretical and methodological applications of research proposals that are exclusively focused on the history of Oromia and its people, and which will be carried out in the Oromia region. This was probably due to my surname, Gubena, which sometimes causes others to decide certainly but mistakenly that I am an Oromo. Despite such misunderstandings, I always have responded to these e-mails from authors politely, with pleasantly worded e-mail messages, telling them which specific areas of their proposals I can help with. The problem that motivates, or more accurately, forces me to reveal at least a portion of my personal profile and intellectual ideology to my readers is not the requests from those innocent individuals. The problem is- also due to my surname – that I have also been receiving e-mails containing unpleasant and disturbing statements, which accuse me of being “treacherous, treasonous” and “disloyal” to the Oromo people, their history and struggle. Most of these e-mail messages have contained not only accusations and charges, but also warnings and serious requests, asking or telling me in the strongest terms to join and help the Oromos’ struggle before its too late, not for them, but for me – for Maru Gubena. There are even e-mails from TPLF cadres, informing me about the temporary nature of the current confrontation between the people of Tigray and Amhara, and that peace will soon break out between them. These messages however make it clear to me that the TPLF leadership will never negotiate with “terrorists” like the OLF leaders and the “Gubenas;” they too are based on the conviction that I am an Oromo. And even though I have had no direct experience of the era of Mengistu Hailemariam and never saw Mengistu Hailemariam himself even on Ethiopian television after he left Harar for Addis, some TPLF cadres also e-mail me with charges of being a former cadre of Mengistu Hailemariam’s regime. But this is not what concerns me most; in fact I have no reason to pay any attention. What bothers me is the assumption that leads to a conviction that I am an Oromo, based simply on my name.
I am sorry if this comes as a disappointment to those who have always thought that I am an Oromo. I am in fact a quite representative, pure Gondarie. All my ancestors are Gondaries. I was told by my grandmother (the mother of my mother) – who was always fond of me and used to tirelessly and joyfully tell me the most exciting, fascinating (and sometimes scary) stories – that her mother came from Tigray to Begemider through marriage to her father – to my great-grandfather, named Sinue Gebrehana, the son of Aleka Gebrehana. The house of my grandmother used to be located not far from the house of Dejazmatch Gebre, the father of Bezabeh Gebre, who was the head of the Bahir Dar textile factory throughout the 1960s and the first two years of the 1970s, and who later became the governor of Gondar during the very early years of the Provisional Military Administrative Council, otherwise known as the Dergue or Committee. I was in fact born to a settled nomad family in Fogera, the lowland or flat landscape in the west part of Woreta town. My father, Maru Gubena became a well known and highly respected lawyer, representing enormous numbers of people from Fogera and other regions in the courts of Woreta, Yifag and Addis Zemen towns. He later became a judge. My father also had a reputation as a well-known writer and producer of powerful defense documents and letters. Gondaries who admired my father often speak in an exaggerated fashion, saying of him “Maru Gubena starts and finishes writing his letters and defense cases or documents while riding his horse to court.”
In fact, I have always asked myself how the parents of my grandfather came up with the idea of naming my grandfather “Gubena.” Much to my regret, I have never found an answer. But I sometimes imagine that the parents of my grandfather, having heard many stories about the enormous achievements of general Gobena, who later received the title of “Ras,” and is said to have originated from the Oromo ethnic group, in helping to integrate the many southern and western regions of Ethiopia into a single central administration. This included his role in the process of permanent resettlement of people from various parts of central Ethiopia, where he made incalculable contributions. This included relatives of the parents of my grandfather, who went to the west and southern parts of Ethiopia; the family were probably fascinated by his bravery and perhaps also by his name, “Gobena.” But in any case I don’t see the Oromo people as any different from other Ethiopians, or from Gondaries for that matter. More importantly, I am in fact a Pan Africanist. My feelings of belonging, for example, with Emperor Tewodros, Emperor Haile Selassie, Girmame Neway, Mengistu Neway, or General Aman Mikael Andom are more or less the same as my feelings of belonging with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and many other founding fathers of African liberation movements and Pan-Africanism itself.
Responding to Reactions to my Article “The Changing Face of Kinijit….”
As most of you can imagine, since the appearance of my article titled “The Changing Face of Kinijit: Constructive Self-Criticism on the way we work can help to prevent Self-Destruction” on various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, I have been and am still receiving e-mail messages in numbers beyond my expectations or capacity to respond thoroughly to each one on an individual basis. Although I have managed to respond to over 95 percent of the brief messages, a few remain unanswered. Given the number of messages and the question of these lengthy ones – three messages were respectively 5, 18 and 21 pages long – perhaps it will be appropriate to include my response in this article, especially given that one of the letters I received as an e-mail message has already been posted as an article on Kinijit’s website and presented as a forum for debate. In my view, almost all of these messages – perhaps 98 percent or more, including e-mails authored by those among the Kinijit leadership – were most supportive of the views and observations expressed in my article. These e-mails, which I find to be a huge source of energy, were not only encouraging, but are also formulated appreciatively, thankfully and respectfully. A few messages, presumably from the loved ones of our unlawfully jailed elected leaders contained some diplomatic, politely worded criticisms and disagreements with the posted article, saying “this is not the time for debate about the internal issues and problems of Kinijit. This is the wrong time to talk about the mistakes made previously. You should understand and have respect for our families languishing in Woyane’s prisons. We are the ones suffering most.” I nevertheless appreciate the enormous number of messages sent to me. I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of you for the profound interest shown, and for your kind, warmly worded statements, comments and encouragement. I would also like to express my gratitude to Yilma Begashaw for his interest and for writing and posting an article in support of the views highlighted in my article.
Since however the story related to the article does not end with the appreciative and pleasant comments, encouragement, and disagreements, let me now do my best to briefly respond to those few lengthy letters.
These three letters appear to me not only in direct conflict with the large majority of the e-mails I received, but also to be full of emotions and contradictions, and far from the facts and realities of Kinijit’s current political position both at home and within the Ethiopian Diaspora. Because I have the highest respect for our elected, unlawfully jailed leaders, I have chosen to be selective and not to respond publicly to certain emotional words and statements. What I would like to share with my readers is particular comments, put forward in the strongest terms in these three lengthy letters, because they resemble with remarks I have heard repeatedly from many of my compatriots – even those who are long time friends whom I love dearly and respect completely, but which I find strange and in direct contradiction with the socio-political and economic values generally held by members of modern societies.
For example, one author of a lengthy letter, in addition to disagreeing with the views and observations I expressed, based on personally participating in meetings and engaging in discussions with those involved in the Chapters or Support Groups, assures me that she or he is ready to do everything for Kinijit. Even to the point of giving up her or his job, selling her or his house, car and other personal properties, and being ready to sacrifice the lives of her or his family as well as her or his own, ”just for Kinijit.” My response to this statement is simple: that is great! What a highly devoted person you are! But my problem is that the author also warns me again and again not to misunderstand her or him and think that she or he is “either a member nor a supporter of Kinijit, or any of the Ethiopian political parties.” What a complete contradiction! My question is then: what could then be the reason to be so emotional, to be prepared to sacrifice one’s entire family and one’s own life, if one is not involved in or associated with a political party? Why? The writer of the same letter kindly also provides me with lengthy lessons about the brief history and political structure of Kinijit as a political organization, including a profile of chairpersons, secretaries of each of the political parties that came together to form Kinijit as a major political party. But for reasons that I cannot ascertain – or perhaps with the intention to confuse me – she or he again stresses that she or he has never had any connection or relations either with the individual political parties or with the individual political leaders. What a tragic contradiction! The writer concludes her or his emotional letter with the most exciting promises which are at the same time the usual sleeping tablets of some of my compatriots – that Meles and his cadres will be removed from power within less than three months by “something powerful,” while the author is reluctant to disclose what precisely that “something powerful” might be. I should, however, add that the author did also extend an invitation to me with little or no hesitation – to meet in Addis Ababa, with Meles Zenawi removed from power.
While completely agreeing with the criticism reviewed in my article, “The Changing face of Kinijit……,” the author of the second letter insists that the repercussions of such open criticism directed at Kinijit and written by its own members and supporters will be irreparable. The writer appears to feel that if we direct criticism and conflicts towards Kinijit and make this public, this internal criticism can be exploited to the maximum by our enemies – by Woyane and Shabia. The author therefore warns that every patriotic Ethiopian should keep silent as long as our enemy is in power. Whatever internal problems we might have, whatever conflicts there might be within Kinijit, and despite the intolerably dominant, dictatorial behaviours of certain individuals within the various Chapters and Support Groups, Ethiopians and all the enemies of Ethiopia’s enemy – Woyane – should talk to each other only privately, not in public. Our criticisms and collective work, says the writer, should only be directed at our enemy, not at each other. The author ends this long letter with exactly the same statement as the first author, telling me that she or he is simply a devoted Ethiopian patriot, and not a member or a supporter of Kinijit or any other Ethiopian political parties.
While understanding the great concern of the second author, I would still argue that that such reasoning has always been and is still employed by most, if not all, African dictators, including Meles Zenawi, with the aim of extending their stay in power. Unelected dictators such as Meles Zenawi make all possible efforts to avoid public discussion and debates related to the day-to-day movements and freedoms of individual Ethiopians. Meles Zenawi and other African dictators often argue that this not the time for discussion of internal issues and conflicts, saying “we have been in power for only five years; for only ten years; for only fifteen years,” and so on. With all due respect to many of my readers, I still insist on arguing that space and opportunities should be available within Kinijit to be able to debate among ourselves and correct misunderstandings, mistakes or wrongdoing in a timely fashion before they get out of hand.
The third and last letter to be reviewed is said to have been authored by “Andinet Semere,” which I take to be a pseudonym. I will do my best to respond as effectively as possible. The initial response was sent to me as an e-mail, and my polite, warmly worded response was sent to the author. The letter was, I believe, initially intended as a review of my article, with the aim of providing a critical and a well grounded response to it; however, in about 75 percent or more of the text the attention of the author was devoted to disparaging some political figures and leaders within UEDF and other Ethiopian political parties. I personally find this undesirable, unnecessary and even undemocratic. What is worse, and much to my surprise and perhaps also to the disappointment of many Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, the same letter, with all its insulting sentences and paragraphs, full of cynicism, with no editing and without the needed diplomatic wording, was posted on 20 May 2006 on Kinijit’s website. The outright rejection of the letter by moderate, professional and internationally respected Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, including the Sudan Tribune and their refusal to post this letter, supports the description I have given above and clearly suggests the defensive, slanderous nature of this letter. Although the author insists, just as the writers of the other two letters discussed above, that she or he is neither a member nor a Kinijit insider, the impression I have from various statements made in the letter (for example, regarding unsuccessful attempts of Kinijit to negotiate with other opposition parties to form a united front against the tyrannical regime of Meles Zenawi) is that the author is someone with unrestricted access to Kinijit’s most highly classified documents and bedrooms. It is also interesting that while the author stresses neutrality, saying that she or he is a non-member – definitely does not belong to the party – yet Kinijit is spoken of in terms of “us” and “we,” as in ….“tell us exactly about the unsubstantiated transmissions, the conflicting views, the one-man reports, etc… so that we may all join hands to correct them.” My question to the Kinijit leadership is: how is it possible that individuals like this author, who suggests that she or he is living somewhere in Ethiopia and is not a member of Kinijit, can just come, influence and even redirect the policies and strategies of Kinijit that are kept locked in rooms in Washington DC, Atlanta or London?
For my readers’ information, I did not produce my text “The changing Face of Kinijit….,” without having solid evidence, participating in many meetings, and engaging in serious discussion with those involved in various Chapter or Support Groups. Also, I am almost always present in Kinijit demonstrations and public meetings. In addition, it should be obvious that I am probably more concerned about Kinijit as well as involved in and informed about the issues, developments and events underway in my country than the author. Therefore it is very strange to talk about “us” and “we.” Despite “Andinet Semere’s” access to Kinijit’s files and documents, I still argue that it was very irresponsible and foolish of Kinijit webmasters to post such a letter, while posting only the first two pages of my article “The Changing Face of Kinijit…… “ and cutting out the parts critical to Kinijit’s policy. How is it possible that my article was immediately posted on all well visited, highly professional and internationally respected websites, while Kinijit webmasters were reluctant to post this article in its entirety? Kinijit webmasters and policy makers did not even respond to the questions raised in my e-mail of the 23rd of May 2006, but were quick to send me another copy of the letter I received from Andinet Semere, to be sure I knew that the letter has been posted on the Kinijit website. In this respect, one may wonder whether the Kinijit leadership in the Diaspora operates with an independent and democratic mind. I must also add that the dark, clouded prospects of our country at present are partly a direct result of our defensive, arrogant and irresponsive behaviours. Why are we so good at persistently hurting each other, denying the facts on the ground over and over? For what and for whom is that good?
Further, the author, Andinet Semere, insists that the views and observations expressed in my article can also be seen as an “unsubstantiated,” unless I am willing to provide specific cases citing which Chapters and which cities and countries have produced, posted and transmitted unsubstantiated texts as news. My question is then: why is it necessary to be specific when the many mistakes and missing elements are being publicly discussed and debated in many gatherings and website forums? Why should it be necessary for me to point at certain individuals and groups so publicly, as if I were blackmailing them when each Chapter or Support Group themselves are well aware of the problems and know perfectly what I am talking about? Many of them, including elected Kinijit leaders, have in fact written to me, sending very supportive and encouraging e-mails saying that they have shared my frustrations and experiences about Kinijit.
Further, it is unhealthy, if not perhaps damaging, for a farmer to arrogantly persist in talking only about his good harvests of last year, while he and his family members are starving to death today. Since we have not carried out a single scientific survey related to the views of Ethiopians on Kinijit and their degree of support for it one year after, one tends to question whether it is wise and desirable to stress repeatedly that there is no problem that might weaken or even destroy Kinijit when Kinijit “resides so comfortably in the minds of Ethiopian in millions of homes all over the country?” It is also unwise and most destructive for Kinijit and its leadership to constantly tell active, productive and devoted Kinijit supporters and sympathizers that “Kinijit does not need you. You don’t have to support Kiniji unless you want to. All Ethiopians are behind Kinijit. We don’t need you.” Such behaviour from Kinijit’s Diaspora leadership is not only destructive, but also totally out of line with management methods and techniques that are routinely employed by political parties, their leaders and supporters in modern societies. Are you, or are other Kinijit leaders actually telling me that the extent of involvement, the moods, motivation, excitement and emotions of Ethiopians today are the same as they were six or more months ago?
Finally, some points in Andinet Semere’s letter are relevant to fundamental arguments in my article but appear to be based on misreadings or misinterpretations. Yes, I have repeatedly argued and written, both before and after the 15 May 2005 Ethiopian general election, that elections in Ethiopia, as in many African countries, were organized and held without reorganizing, restructuring and indeed without democratizing to achieve the most indispensable, fundamental conditions for relatively peaceful elections – including guarantees for a relatively reliable process for collecting and counting ballots and the possibility of a transfer of power or change in leadership. These are the elements that I often call the “people’s power bases.” This is not meant to indicate the hundreds of thousands or millions of registered members and supporters each opposition parties might have. Such numbers are not relevant to me; I don’t consider them to be the power bases for political parties. To help support my arguments, let me first just briefly swim in and review the forgotten recent history of my country. I will incorporate additional points relevant to the questions raised above and other issues.
Reviewing some Forgotten Recent Events in Ethiopia
As shown by the historical records of the past three decades, the people’s power has not been effective in Ethiopia. It is therefore difficult to consider this power as a source of protection for political leaders who are ready to take risks. In practical terms, the people’s power in Africa, and in Ethiopia in particular, is radically different from the experience in Latin America, Asia and, as seen in recent political events, in many countries of the former East Block.
Looking at political events and developments in my country retrospectively, one sees that Ethiopians have never been to collectively share and enjoy the fruits of political events that have resulted from the people’s action, uprising and power. It is to be remembered that the people outright rejected the forceful imposition of power and rule by the undesired, uninvited military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam – yet he managed to rule my country with an iron hand for a long 17 years, with little or no effective, meaningful challenge from those being ruled. By using viciously crafted mechanisms of destruction to eliminate both intellectuals and the youth of Ethiopia – the future assets of the country – with the cooperation of our own families and relatives, the regime of the Dergue also managed to permanently divide and demoralize the people of Ethiopia, to the point of becoming unable either to rise up and challenge the Dergue itself, or to fight against external enemies such as the TPLF and EPLF. It is indeed depressing to painfully recall and admit that so many, perhaps millions, of Ethiopians were used by the cruel regime as tools to willingly expose their own friends, neighbours and colleagues, and hand them over to the killing machines of the Dergue. It was these actions of the Dergue regime that created permanent wounds and animosities among Ethiopians to the point that it seems difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile and cure. Perhaps because of this, we remain persistently reluctant to talk, write and debate about those painful histories and still fresh memories.
Even worse and more painful, in addition to these unhealed wounds and unforgettable scars in our recent history, we also know so little about the sources and causes that contributed to the abrupt resignation of Prime Minster Aklilu Habte-Wold’s entire cabinet on the 26 or 27 (embarrassingly, no exact date of resignation is to be found anywhere) of February 1974. Although this became a fertile ground for the emergence of the people’s enemy, the Dergue, and the subsequent structural crisis within Ethiopian society, this has not been explored and written up. Except through verbal stories and jokes told in family get-togethers and around coffee tables, most, if not all, Ethiopians have had no factual account – for example, based on meeting reports or recorded videos showing when, at which date and time, or indeed the exact reasons that led to the resignation of the late Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet. And who was or were precisely responsible for this resignation of then Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold and his ministers? Many Ethiopians say it was the Dergue that forced the entire cabinet to resign. But surely there was no Dergue or military committee at that time of their resignation? There was not someone in Addis Ababa at that time by the name of Mengistu Hailemariam. I saw him with my own eyes in early March 1974, a simple army officer or an obscure major, together with another officer from the Dire Dewa anti-aircraft division, talking to my uncle and his wife at the Harar Military Hospital while we were visiting my uncle’s wife younger brother, a member of the Ethiopian Air Force who was stationed in Dire Dewa. The Provisional Military Administrative Council had not yet been founded. There was as yet nothing in the compound of the fourth army division which was, and perhaps is still, located in Meshwalekia, Addis Ababa. The political tensions and crises that existed from January to the very day of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet resignation were nothing compared to the persistent and quite explosive political challenges, combined with armed confrontations – often with deadly results – that have faced and tested the unelected leadership of the TPLF since its arrival in May 1991. In 1974, there were only three or four demonstrations. The last (and a major) one, probably held on 26 or 27 February, is said to have resulted in the culmination of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet by resignation: it was indeed supported by the various sections and divisions of the Ethiopian armed forces. Can such demonstrations alone be seen as the decisive source and cause of the resignation of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet? How then? How come measures were not taken by the Emperor himself, as well as by Aklilu’s cabinet, in an attempt to silence the uprising? And why did Emperor Haile Selassie return home from the OAU African Heads of States Summit held in Mogadishu in late June 1974, knowing that the political temperature was heating up so dangerously and irreversibly? Didn’t he have reasonably wise advisors at that time?
Other Ethiopians argue that Aklilu Habte-Wold and his ministers were forced by Emperor Haile Selassie himself to give up their responsibilities. But how? Where are the documents, the written and recorded evidence? Does Ethiopia lack all historical records related to such resignations and the subsequent tragedies? What a huge embarrassment and deficiency for Ethiopia and its people! How is it possible that such extremely fascinating tragedies, such historically valuable and important events are not documented? How can they be so neglected, so that they are forgotten by entire generations, even that of my father? How in the world is it possible that the multiple, incalculable contributions to Ethiopia’s political development and political history, including the enormous achievements and respect my country gained from the international community through the hard, devoted work realized by those irreplaceable Ethiopian figures, can be so neglected and forgotten? Why is that? Where is the concern, the respect and the love Ethiopians generally have for the people and the history of Ethiopia, and towards those who played a crucial role in representing our country on the world political stage, who made history for our country?
The story surrounding the tragic, untimely and sudden murder of ministers, together with their compatriot army generals and civil servants, by the power hungry and power intoxicated Dergue members under the leadership of the most inhumane, cruel, anti-social animal called Mengistu Hailemariam, has remained buried, in exactly the same way as the story of the resignation of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet. No books, no films or video recordings based on facts seem to have been produced. It is probably due to our resulting ignorance that most Ethiopians of my generation often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, to talk or engage in debates involving these two tragic events. Yes, since there are no written meeting reports or video records that might indicate why and how the members of the Dergue reached their extremely cruel conclusions and decided to murder their own compatriots, most of us know little or nothing about the precise facts behind the killing of those 60 Ethiopian citizens in just a few minutes on the 23rd of November 1974 – we only know that they never faced due process in a court of law for the crimes of which they were accused
As time passes, later generations, including that of my daughter, will know even less. What is most remarkable of all is the lack of concern and the disinterest of Ethiopians in boldly confronting, exploring and writing about these painful events, the history of our own crises, which are also our own creations. Isn’t it tragic, even shameful, to realize that we Ethiopians still live without books, professionally produced films or video records of such important, fascinating but painful historical events?
I would further be interested in understanding why the Ethiopian Diaspora, including the opposition political parties and the Diaspora media outlets and websites, are so reluctant to provide forums that would bring together individual Ethiopians who have information about those two important historical events, so that they can be widely discussed and more deeply explored? It is to be remembered that in recent times Chapters of Ethiopian political parties and the Ethiopian Diaspora in general have been engaged in exploring and explaining the origins of TPLF and its founding fathers, as well as the later historical developments. How is it then possible that the personalities and immense historical contributions of those 60 or more Dergue victims, the events themselves, the whys and hows of their resignations and murders, can be seen as irrelevant, or less important than the history of the TPLF and its founding figures? Why is that our interest and fascination are more profound with respect to the histories of our enemies than regarding the historical achievements, contributions and personalities of our own people? What kind of Ethiopianess is that?
Ethiopians’ Hopes and Expectations of the Dergue Armed Forces as the Quasi-Foreign Powers Approached
What measures were undertaken by the Ethiopian armed forces and other Ethiopians to prepare and confront the approaching uninvited quasi-foreign enemy – the EPLF and TPLF forces – prior to the total defeat of the Dergue regime by those forces in May 1991? In effect, nothing, except that scattered small, abruptly organized meetings and demonstrations were held in London, with today’s TPLF lover, Mulugeta Aserate Kassa, as a leading figure opposing the takeover of power by the newly emerging quasi-foreign forces. Similar events also took place in the US and other European cities. Many Ethiopians had the hope and expectation that the highly respected, professionally trained Ethiopian armed forces would soon come out of their hidden places and fortresses, bringing their sophisticated weapons; and that they would face and test the power of the EPLF and TPLF forces with military reorganization and new morale, in the same way as the remnants of the armed forces of Saddam Hussein are today facing and gallantly challenging the highly sophisticated and complex weapons and forces, policies and strategies of world power nations – the United States and Britain. The well-trained and highly determined former Iraqi armed forces have shown the superpower nations how their hearts and minds, blood and bones are deeply fixed in and intertwined with the land and soil of Iraq, and above all, with the historically maintained national bride and culture of the people and nation of Iraq. Consequently, the Iraqi forces, whom European colonizers, who are addicted to the property, national wealth and resources of other nations, call “insurgents” and “foreign terrorists,” are denying the United States and Britain both the use of exit strategies that would allow them to leave Iraq peacefully and with dignity – without paying for the consequence of their actions, that is, without paying compensation for the incalculable damage they have inflicted – and the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the former Iraqi forces themselves.
As for the well-trained and well-armed Ethiopian armed forces of the former Mengistu Hailemariam regime, there is little reliable and well-written information. But we all know one thing: they suddenly and unexpectedly melted like snow lying on mountains, disappearing into various Ethiopian small and medium-sized towns and major cities. It is also said that a few of them managed to leave the country to join the Ethiopian Diaspora, dashing the hopes and expectations Ethiopians had of them.
Ethiopians’ Measures in Response to the Jailing of Current Ethiopian Leaders
What about measures undertaken by Ethiopians at home and Ethiopians living abroad after the arrest of our elected leaders, and the imposition of the creatively invented charges? Looking in retrospect at the processes, the factors and actors that led to the jailing of our leaders, both the overall outcome of the measures undertaken and the resistance carried out by Ethiopians are, in my view, disappointing. It is to be remembered that, before our elected and respectful leaders were thrown into disease-infected TPLF jails, they were engaged in consultation with the Ethiopian urban population who elected them about what to do with their votes and voices – to decide whether they should take the parliamentary seats officially announced as having been won by Kinijit. It was however, obvious that wherever they went, whether in medium-sized or large gatherings, the voices and responses of those who elected them were always the same and always firm – “don’t enter Woyane’s parliament, unless the votes stolen from the people who voted for Kinijit are recovered.” Participants in various gatherings had also expressed not only their firm, unconditional support to Kinijit and Kinijit leaders; they had also promised that they would be the first to die or to be arrested in the event that the tyrannical TPLF leadership were to unwisely attempt to hurt, arrest or kill our elected leaders. More or less the same messages, advice and recommendations were sent or given directly to our currently jailed leaders by their core supporters among the Ethiopian Diaspora community. These messages and recommendations were repeatedly repeated on phone calls, transmitted by media outlets, and posted and discussed intensively on pro-democracy websites.
The tyrannical leader of TPLF, Meles Zenawi, was however quick to translate our fears and nightmares into reality. While rampaging through the city of Addis Ababa and killing 45 or more innocent Ethiopians, and with complete disrespect for the entire population of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi and those surrounding him chose to throw our leaders into intensely crowded jails, charging them with the heaviest crimes – charges that seldom occur in today’s world community, with the intention of completely blocking the opportunity of release on bails. Listening to the transmission of the news on the arrest of our elected leaders, many Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia predicted – quite wrongly – that Ethiopians across the country would come out together in their hundreds of thousands or even millions, to peacefully and boldly demand the immediate, unconditional release of our leaders by the tyrannical TPLF regime. Much to the shock and deep disappointment of the peace-loving world community, however, this did not happen.
To rub salt into the wounds, most Ethiopians at home, including those who had previously given their unconditional support to our jailed leaders, have in recent times been more engaged by organizing expensive, huge events of their own such as family weddings; they dance every weekend to the music of a land that is still ruled by the enemy of the people. What is more remarkable and embarrassing is that many within the resistance camp of the Ethiopian Diaspora who used to demonstrate, standing and walking in the heavy rain with us, today are flying home in search of wives, husbands and new opportunities for investments. Aren’t such observations heartbreaking? The obvious overall consequence for the costly struggle, whose results are yet to be seen, is that the bells of our resistance are currently ringing far more softly than in the three or five month period just before and after the arrest of our leaders.
Although far from being research that can be regarded as representative, I can offer my own somewhat unstructured sampling of about 400 people carried out through e-mail exchanges and telephone calls from the 15th of February to the 15th of June 2006, with Ethiopians who have been moderately concerned and involved in the activities and well-being of Kinijit. The results suggest a substantial shift from a profound interest, active involvement, and contribution to the activities of Kinijit, to a degree of disengagement with political activities related to Ethiopia. The habits of those in the Ethiopian Diaspora were seen to have changed: the majority used to tune in to Diaspora media outlets every day, this has declined to an average of once in three days. They also no longer visit our pro-democracy websites as they used to some months ago when the political temperature had reached its climax. Too, the number of participants in meetings and demonstrations has been gradually but surely decreasing. Most respondents are of the opinion that the extent to which pro-democracy websites are disseminating information has shown a degree of decline during the past three or more months, probably due to the restrictions on communication between the Diaspora media outlets and the people at home. For reasons that are not yet clear to most of us, access to the opposition’s radio transmission via the internet has also been made increasingly difficult, sometimes it has been unavailable for as long as for three days.
What Do Ethiopians mean by “great” Ethiopians?
When I hear on the media outlets of the Ethiopian Diaspora about “great” Ethiopians, I often wonder exactly which generation they mean. If our media outlets are talking about the generation of my grandfather and before, I will happily agree. But if they mean my generation and that of my father, then I am seriously disappointed. I don’t believe that characterization fits either of these generations at all. Personally, I prefer not to live in false hope, with illusions of patriotism and greatness that in fact are scarcely to be found in the hearts and minds of today’s Ethiopian society.
The reasons and arguments I have now given -boldly and sincerely, and indeed with concern and involvement – should explain why I fully reject any assertion that consider simply because huge numbers of Ethiopians are registered as members of Kinijit and other opposition political parties, they constitute a reliable power base. As has been argued, such numbers are meaningless in the case of Ethiopia – a country where any form of democracy is completely absent and where the political culture of the people is said to be irresponsive or “laid back.” It should therefore be abundantly clear that when I employ the phrase “power base” in my work or my articles with regard to Ethiopia, I am talking about carrots and sticks – in my view, the best way to guarantee relatively reliable and relatively successful parliamentary elections in such a situation. An election held without preparation and without having in one’s hands either the carrots or the sticks should be regarded as “putting the cart before the horse,” as discussed earlier. It is in fact senseless, even childish, to imagine that TPLF leaders would hand over power to the people because 60 million or more Ethiopians voted for opposition political parties, or wanted to. Why on earth should the TPLF, knowing perfectly that handing over, or even sharing power with, the people is the equivalent of going into exile, whether immediately or in the longer term – or perhaps losing their own lives, since they know they have committed the most heinous, unforgivable crimes against the land and the people of Ethiopia. As we all know, Meles Zenawi and his cadres are perfectly well aware that the only way they can remain safe and alive is a heavy dependence on their weapons and on the help of some foreign friends, maintaining their power and persisting in their repression against my people for as long as possible. And as long as we Ethiopians remain foolishly selfish, self-oriented, family-oriented, divided, dishonest and hostile to each other this will be easier for them.
In my socio-political logic, a sustainable power base is therefore the political gains agreed and achieved peacefully through nationally and internationally organized debates and negotiations; persistent lobbying of donor nations; uninterruptedly staged demonstrations and political campaigns; national and continuous civil disobedience, including stay-home actions by all Ethiopian workers and students; and the closure of all private businesses and services – together aimed exclusively at challenging the TPLF leadership and forcing them to agree to reorganize, restructure and democratize the major public institutions, including the Election Board, the Media, the entire Judiciary System and the Ethiopian Armed Forces and their related departments, all of which are the people’s property and the very backbone of Ethiopian society – long before contemplating the organization of an election. The negotiating components mentioned above should and must include some concrete, irreversible and convincing incentives, or carrots, directed not only at guaranteeing the safety of the TPLF leadership, but also towards the future socio-economic positions and political roles of its entire leadership within Ethiopian society, building a foundation for stable government and peaceful transfer of power in the future. If, in the process of transforming the four major public institutions, this sort of agreement could be reached between Ethiopian opposition political parties and the TPLF leadership, what I call the “people’s power bases” would be realized. This has not been done in previous elections. Ethiopian opposition political parties instead participated in an election that did not have such a power base, with unpredictable, incalculable risks that were much greater than the political gains we were able to realize from the May 2005 national election.
A few of our elected leaders, currently languishing in TPLF’s jail, have told me, as have many other Ethiopians, that Meles and his cadres were asked questions about this by opposition leaders, and that the issue of restructuring those four major public institutions was discussed and debated prior to the 15 May 2005 national election. But the TPLF leadership, convinced that it cannot rule Ethiopia without controlling those institutions, has repeatedly and flatly rejected changes of the sort I have described. But then a more appropriate response for the leaders of the Ethiopian opposition political parties to Meles’s rejection would have been, and would be still, that “with due respect, we will not be a part of your election games.” In their place, I would then have continued intensive engagement in a peaceful political campaign together with my people inside and outside Ethiopia, heating up Ethiopia’s political temperature through such campaign components. It should also be abundantly clear that it is only when major and minor public institutions (Teqawams) are permanently transferred from the hands of the TPLF leadership to the people that a degree of democratization can be realized and relatively reliable elections can be peacefully held.
The other alternative, to which many conservative and relatively wealthy Ethiopians appear to be allergic, is the sticks: that is, face and test the most challenging experiences of many of the current African tyrants, including Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Isaias Afwerki, and Meles Zenawi himself, with those around him. That is, in this case the armed struggle is the only option left for Ethiopia and Ethiopians to use in seriously confronting the unelected TPLF leaders. The armed struggle can be brief and fruitful, if strategies are wisely and carefully fashioned and if the physical armed struggle are effectively combined with concerted efforts on the diplomatic front.
Concluding Remarks: Strategies Conducive to a Mature Political Culture for Ethiopia
One thing both friends and enemies of Kinijit can agree on is that Kinijit is a very young political organization. And, as Ethiopians have often acknowledged, to most of us some fourteen months ago Kinijit was an unknown political phenomenon. It is also undeniably true that despite the brevity of Kinijit’s existence, our jailed leaders had the undisputed capacity to link and reconcile the modern political system with traditional Ethiopian political thinking; they had the knowledge and charisma to galvanize the moods, emotions and the deep-seated historical memories of Ethiopians. Our jailed leaders had both the ability and experience to carefully fashion the future socio-economic policy of Ethiopia, as well as its future political and diplomatic relations with African countries and the rest of the international community. Our jailed leaders had the ideas and vivid visions conducive to reviving cultural pride and feelings of Ethiopianess. It is these bright visions of our jailed leaders, with their willingness and open mindedness, that helped Kinijit not only to be embraced by a large section of Ethiopian society, but more importantly, to make Kinijit our most influential and widely respected political organization. Due to its substantial influence with Ethiopians and on the politics of Ethiopian society, and due to the huge respect Kinijit has been able to accumulate within its brief period of existence, Melese Zenawi, the tyrannical leader of the TPLF, and other dictators in Africa and in the region of the Horn of Africa in particular have been forced to reassess and redirect both the course and direction of their repressive policies. It is also undeniably true that due to the enormous impact of the vision of our elected leaders and their wisely and strategically crafted political programmes on the entire population of Ethiopia, many unexpected, explosive and dramatic events and developments have taken place in our country for the first time since the emergence of the TPLF’s tyrannical leadership in May 1991. The accommodating personalities of our jailed leaders and Kinijit’s inclusive socio-cultural, economic and political programme has had the strategic capacity to shake both the power structure and threaten the very survival of the entire TPLF leadership. The reaction of the inexperienced TPLF leadership in handling the intensely heated political temperatures, combined with its hostile attitude towards the people of Ethiopia, was another factor: this resulted in the murder of so many of our compatriots, mostly the young, by the machines of the tyrannical leadership in sunny daylight, while they were defending the people’s struggle.
Regrettably and much to the growing and deepening sadness of all Ethiopians, however, and as if stealing the votes of the Ethiopian people and killing innocent Ethiopian youths were not criminal enough, the frightened and uncertain enemy of Ethiopia and its people, the TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, went further, arresting and heavily charging our leaders attempting to imprison their ideas and visions of leadership. Our elected and jailed leaders were locked away before they had an opportunity to share their ideas, visions and knowledge with us; before they were able to expand their political tactics, methods and systems throughout the land of Ethiopia. Being shaken, terrified and uncertain about its very survival, the TPLF leadership chose to completely separate these accommodating, influential and galvanizing forces, their views and visions and indeed their physical bodies from the people of Ethiopia – from the people that they love so dearly. The political party our jailed leaders have collectively founded and named “Kinijit” has, along with their ideas and visions, been forbidden by the enemy of the land to operate in Ethiopia.
Given the brief period our jailed leaders had to introduce and expand their ideas, visions and policy strategies, and given that the majority of their ideas and visions on the many complex issues and problems facing Ethiopia and Ethiopians were never put on paper, it is fundamentally important to revisit and review Kinijit’s political programme, exploring various avenues and adjusting or even adding a few carefully crafted, strategically important policy components so to accommodate the personalities, ideas, and visions of our new Diaspora Kinijit leaders. Most of us badly want to see Kinijit and our collective resistance accepted, supported and embraced by a broad spectrum of Africans and Black American political activists from moderately progressive to conservative, as well as social-political scientists. To keep these and other supporters, Kinijit’s political analysis and debates should not only be honest, but also rational, and whenever possible its arguments should be based upon evidence or verifiable events on the ground. For example, the repeatedly stated comparison between the ethnically based socio-economic and political policies and power structures of the TPLF leadership and the previous racist regime in South Africa should not be incorporated in any of Kinijit’s written materials – booklets, press releases, prepared speeches or policy components. As can be recalled and read in enormous numbers of books, the cardinal foundation of the apartheid system in South African was “race” – differentiation between blacks and whites. The whites were and are children and family members of European colonial powers. Consequently, the United States and almost all European countries supported the apartheid system in South Africa for a very long time. The problem with irresponsible attempts to compare the this system with situation in Ethiopia is related not only to the very foundation of apartheid itself, but even more to the practical instruments and symbols of apartheid, such as geographic separation, housing, means of transportation, and the separation of blacks and whites in workplaces, schools, churches, all places of sanitation and so on. The rational question is then whether some or all of these instruments and symbols exist in the case of Ethiopia. Do they?
In addition to such specific strategies, we also need a general communication policy to help us face and surmount our most challenging obstacles. It would be healthy and wise to develop a policy that is relatively honest and, importantly, open to the people of Ethiopia and to those highly concerned, involved and motivated intellectuals who may become contributing forces on the diplomatic warfront of Kinijit itself, as well as in the future reconstruction of Ethiopian society. It is essential to listen to the heartbeats of Ethiopians, including those who still live with painful injuries to their hearts and minds due to the unforgettable crimes committed against them and/or their family members by the forces of the former regime, the Dergue. Many of those former active members of the Dergue are still with us – taking part in meetings and demonstrations, shouting and charging the TPLF leaders with being criminals and murderers of women, children and babies – reminding me constantly of the perfect English saying “the pot calling the kettle black.” It is important, for Kinijit and for Ethiopians at large, to devise a screening strategy to deal with those who have committed crimes in the past, including a strategy of reconciliation; this should at least be directed at those who have committed minor crimes, but to help in healing our society it would be worth attempting to go further. To remain defensive and in denial is unhealthy, unwise and can even be very destructive. It is also de-motivating for the most concerned and involved Ethiopians to often hear the characterization of Kinijit as “Silent Dergue Lovers.” It would also be helpful for Kinijit itself and Ethiopians in general to engage in educationally oriented communications with each other and to organize seminars and conferences with lectures and courses for Ethiopians, directed at maturing Ethiopia’s political culture. This might include orientations to and expansion on the ideas and visions of our jailed leaders, and what precisely their strategies were in areas like harmonizing a modern political system with Ethiopian traditional thinking and mentalities to the greatest extent possible. Such educationally oriented gatherings should also have the aim of encouraging Ethiopians to be more knowledgeable, politically responsive and participatory.
A final note. I have been asked by some compatriots, including two political figures, to express my views about the recently founded political organization, carefully and strategically named the ”Alliance for Democracy and Freedom,” and abbreviated using the three initial letters – ADF. I have responded to each of these requests saying that I prefer not make public my views at this very early stage of the organisation. This is partly due to my lack of knowledge about what is in the minds of the political leaders who were collectively responsible for shaping the strategies that helped to form the ADF, regarding the future face and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and the unity of its people. I also feel it would be unwise to give extensive comments, especially at this critical period, which is very menacing given the uncertain and clouded prospects and directions of our resistance. Although this is not without risks, it is probably better to give our existing leaders a chance to work out and clarify the many challenging questions and components of negotiation. This suggests it is better to adopt a wait and see attitude, at least for a while.
* Dr. Maru Gubena, from Ethiopia, is a political economist, writer and publisher. He is reachable at email@example.com