Ethiopia’s May 2005 elections, It was not your normal election

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It was not your normal election: Was It a Dress Rehearsal for the Coming Freedom “Revolution”?

By Yared Tibebu

Jan 24, 2006 — This article is initiated by CUD’s, Coalition for Unity and Democracy Vice President, Ms. Bertukan Mideksa’s prison letter from Kaliti and Professor Terrence Lyons January 2006 article on the CSIS – Center for Strategic and International Studies – Africa Notes under the heading “Ethiopia In 2005: The beginning of a Transition”. It is common knowledge that the un-elected Ethiopian Prime Minister is talking about an “Orange Revolution that went wrong”, and that leaders of the- CUD (Kinijit) are incarcerated on charges of treason for attempting to overthrow a constitutional order. For anyone interested in Ethiopian studies, it is hard to escape the question “was it really a normal election?” or a revolution that went wrong as the PM suggests, or a dress rehearsal for the coming “Freedom Revolution” as this article attempts to conclude.

When one deals with a country like Ethiopia that has one of the oldest civilizations of mankind, understanding the cultural set up and the psychological make up is more important to one’s study. What makes the task more daunting for a foreigner engaged on Ethiopian studies today is that he/she is faced with a very abnormal state of realities, of which one is the complex nature of the current rulers and their origin. The current rulers of Ethiopia are bizarre mongrels of backward culture, low level education and a perverse attraction to ideologies of extremism. These leaders carry conflicting values. They display the appearance of self assurance and yet they are so insecure. They ooze the air of being knowledgeable but are despicably ignorant. They call them selves freedom- fighters but their love for enslaving others have no bound. They talk about being equal to others but they harbor ethnic vengeance fueled by inferiority complex. The leadership survival instinct is well ingrained in the culture of the Abyssinian peasantry and its Tigrean narrow nationalism is complicated by its “Internationalist” Albanian Marxism. The lessons it learnt from its successful guerilla (rebel) past; its opportunism to get what it wants from the international institutions has made it behave arrogantly towards its subjects and its benefactors. Its study by rote of De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and by the same token its commitment to Stalin’s precepts of conflict resolution as laid down in “On the Opposition” and its ability to quote from the first and to act unashamedly according to the latter make the understanding of the leadership a formidable task. No foreigner is well prepared to handle the study of such an intricate mind of a group and as a result the foreigners throw their hands, up in despair or defeat. In the confusion more than few had ended up admiring the Prime Minister (PM) for his understanding of world politics and history. The New Jersey Congressman was one who regretted how his innocence was abused by Meles. I heard to his angry remarks at the start of the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict.

Some societies do not take seriously social studies done by foreigners who do not speak their language, I heard that China and Japan are said to be such. Some others do not allow other races to indulge in their study at all, even if they speak their language better than their presidents; a case in point may be the USA. Of course United States is known for utilizing foreign scientists in the pure sciences. Africa is the exception to the rule, where a colonial viceroy who administered from an ivory tower, a three day tourist who spent his days on the white sand dunes of the Indian or Atlantic coast, and a hunter for a week who spent all his time in the Serengeti, and an International Observer that never left the asphalted roads in a country where 85% of the population live in the rural areas, will all have the courage to distinguish themselves as African Scholars or Subject matter experts on Africa. And it shows a difference when one understands the language and culture, one will have a deeper understanding of events as it is displayed by the author of Wax and Gold, Donald Levine.

Professor Lyons has come a long way in his present analysis compared to his NPR interview back in the days of the June killings, and compared to the overall performance of The Observer Mission of the Carter Center. This time Prof. Lyon’s recommendation to US Policy makers is right on the money, but there are gaps in his analysis that I felt would have helped to strengthen his recommendation and his conclusions. I also take the liberty to criticize the general spirit of the Carter Center observer mission’s statement on Ethiopian election in this article, a criticism revived due to Prof. Lyons participation in its making. In professor Lyons article, CUD documents like the eight point preconditions were not raised at all, and there were no mentions of the substantive debates that were held in pre-election period, the election-night emergency measure of the PM is totally ignored while that was the salvo for the” day-time robbery” of the ballots; and a danger of “lumping” all the opposition as one remains. I say danger because the “People’s Power” and “Orange Revolution” calls made by Dr. Negede, from UEDF, were not adopted by CUD, but they have become ground for criminalizing the CUD leadership.

I also want to show the three forces in action, and how the interest of one pushes the agenda of another. These forces are the incumbent, the opposition as represented by the CUD, and the people or the revolutionary situation. In conclusion, I will show how the UEDF understood the revolutionary situation but abandoned it at the home-front, how the CUD did not understand the need for revolution but found itself at the center, and how the incumbent has understood the revolutionary situation and tries to kill it through legal and violent means. I will also try to draw similarities between the coming Ethiopian revolution and the American Revolution in areas of leadership and principles arguing the CUD leaders as the founding fathers of the 21st century modern Ethiopia.

The Foundation of the CUD and its historic significance

The Coalition for Unity and Democracy – CUD, an umbrella organization of four Ethiopian political parties emerged in October 2004, to centralize efforts for the May 2005 national election. The hall mark of this movement was, it negated “diasporizing” Ethiopian politics, and also rejected politics based on ethnicity. Its appeal to Ethiopian Nationalism based on a new non-ethnic federal arrangement, its insistence on individual liberties, and its capability to draw not politicians but statesmen to its leadership electrified the citizenry, and awakened the nation. CUD brought rare individuals to the plate, like the 75 year-old human rights activist Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam; a female Veterinarian called Dr. Mulu; A Gurage business law professor from Norfolk who served as chief investigator for the International tribune for the genocide cases of Rwanda, Yakob Wolde Mariam; an Amhara Economics Professor who had written numerous studies on the Ethiopian economy, Dr. Befekadu Degfe; an Oromo female judge & lawyer who had the stamina to free a TPLF politburo member who was imprisoned on trumped-up charges, Bertukan Mideksa; an Oromo Muslim member of parliament who individually fought on the parliament platform for five years, Bedru Adem; a Gurage economist and entrepreneur who led with distinction the Ethiopian Economics Association for four years, Dr. Berhanu Nega; a Tigrayan educator and political scientist, Dr. Hailu Araaya; and above all the Amhara/Oromo wealthy Engineer and International Consultant, Hailu Shawel as its first President. All of them are in prison on trumped-up genocide/treason charges except Dr. Mulu. Their age, their professional distinction, their “wealth”, and their principles and vision, and above all their commitment placed them not as politicians who run for office, but as statesmen who had the interest of their nation at heart. It didn’t take long for the public to start seeing them as the “founding fathers” of 21st century Ethiopia, and realizing: “if these wise, old and rich individuals are willing to perish in the fight for their freedom and liberty, what do I have to loose by joining them except ?the chain of slavery’ that anchored me in poverty and hopelessness?” This was the question asked time and time again between October and May, and support was instantaneous.

Let me remind you the scene by taking a quote from Berhanu Nega’s March 12 speech. A retired gentleman went for a thousand birr a plate dinner gala that was prepared by Rainbow Ethiopia, a member organization of the CUD, on February 12, and told the Organizers that: “I attended the gathering here tonight not because I can afford a 1000 Birr dinner, it is my two months retirement income, but because I was initiated by the fact that when people of high education and high achievement in life take a risk to save the nation from injustice, I felt the obligation to assist in a way possible, it is just to show my support”. Over 1.2 million peasants gave six birr from their income during the harvest months of January and February. That was the fund that assisted the election and not Diaspora money as the regime suggests, and as many foreign observers assert. As the female Vice President of the CUD beautifully coined on her recent prison letter:

“Kinijit was just an alternative political party before the election debates. Its transformation to being the spirit of resistance
against tyranny was both dramatic and intense.”

I say these leaders of Kinijit are regarded as “Founding Fathers” of modern 21st century Ethiopia, because like the American Founding Fathers, they are men of principle, men and women of vision. Meles might have out-maneuvered them in the short-run, but their vision will persist and will out-live him. Like the American founding fathers they are led by ideas, and not tactical political interests. Like the American Founding fathers they were:

1 – “Educated for freedom; they had been thought to read and think critically and write clearly” – the election manifesto and the Rainbow Ethiopia political program is a monument to this

2 – “They were educated to think historically. They used the past to illuminate the present. They viewed world history as inexhaustible storehouse of wisdom.”

3 – They saw the immediacy to act to save the situation, despite possible harm to themselves and to their loved ones.

4 – They invoked God in their political discourse with the sincerity of old wise men, something of a novelty compared to the pro-soviet regime and these pro-Albania narrow-minded nationalists who use religion as a wedge to promote tactical interests alone. And to a religious society like Ethiopia that was denied its God from public utterance, it was like a revolution.

In the 1770s Americans were the freest and the most lightly taxed people in the world, but they were willing to risk it all in search of liberty and freedom. The grand daughters and grand sons of these risk-taking geniuses should not be in a position to limit the appetite and vigor of a people whose hunger for liberty is awakened by the God of their conscience. And Washington policy makers should understand that Ethiopians have found that, the risk they are taking for their liberation far outweighs the ?stability’ of poverty and despair they find themselves in under the minority ethnic dictatorship of the TPLF (Tigrai People’s Liberation Front). Ethiopians have no problem with the TPLF administering the region of Tigray, if in a free and fair election the TPLF wins the hearts and minds of these Ethiopians, but they also know and are determined not to live under TPLF’s minority rule, and Ethiopians are certain their aspiration for liberty and freedom will prevail soon.

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During the American Revolution, the statesmanship of the Founding fathers helped to win the support of France, the worst enemy of the British, and it made a difference. As colonists with close ties to England and almost all of them British nationals, it bordered treason to have solicited the support of France for their fight for freedom. But it was the only ally available that could make a difference. Ethiopians have learnt their lesson from this and are searching for their natural allies. I say beyond temporary emotions statesmanship will win the day.

Pre-Election Debates and Mass mobilizations

I do not know to what extent the West was transcribing, translating and studying the pre-election debates and speeches, and even if such documents exist to what extent they will be distributed among the “experts” who study Ethiopia. But one thing is certain. They have misunderstood our purpose and intentions as we went into the election. And surprisingly it is not only them, we, I mean the political elite, were not clear ourselves, as to what we wanted from the election? It is said that hindsight is 20/20, and now it may be proper to ask was it your normal competition of policies, or was it a peaceful revolution to be enacted on the stage of a “democratic” election.

Dr. Negede Gobeze was clear on this and had influenced the Diaspora wing of the UEDF on his project, but the CUD was totally opposed to his notion of a peaceful revolution. On his March 12 speech in DC Dr. Berhanu made this clear, just a week after the Information Minister charged with a hidden intent of the opposition’s readiness to call for a revolution even if it looses on the ballot. Even though the CUD was not prepared to assume the leadership of the peaceful revolution, the mass mobilization was “littered” with calls for individual liberty, for Ethiopian nationalism, joining the modern world, for new type of federalism, against ethnicism, and party businesses etc. And these calls were not to be resolved through the ballot, but through revolt; by organizing the people for a radical change. The CUD was not ready for such leadership, and the ruling party was not ready to leave office to a force that will be compelled to radically alter the constitutional settings by the mass movement.

The Ethiopian revolution for freedom is a revolution in the making that is being waged for the sake of ideas and principles in line with the American Revolution. And this revolution is not to be led by politicians but by statesmen. These statesmen have stabbed their political will of liberation and freedom in the body politics of ethnic dictatorship. They had only their sheer courage and their trust in their people and divinity. They knew well the nature of the beast they were fighting, that it can devour them; but they were willing to try it. Just like the American revolution, “ when the continental congress met on May 10, 1775, there was still strong feeling that the relation with England could be repaired”; so was in Ethiopia, on November 2004, when the first Kinijit (CUD) congress met, EPRDF was well feared, dominated the rural areas, and its security forces strong. Five months into the creation of Kinijit, a sea of revolt had already reached at the gates of the Menelik palace. Come May 8th, you have witnessed the yearning for freedom, and the turn out of millions in peace and harmony to assert their God-given right. Who is going to reduce them to “noon-time robbery” of their votes, and ask them to kneel down for minority rule?

Like the founding Fathers of America, these founders of kinijit are invoking the redemption of the nation from ethnic strife and ultimate balkanization, and also inserted the issue of natural law in their debates. They told the public that some rights are inalienable given by the Creator, and that they have a duty to defend them. They invoked God in their concluding remarks, a notion that captured the imagination of a society that has been religious for thousands of years. They uplifted the poor by telling them God’s intention in his creation is to give humanity the best life possible using his/her endowed power of creation, by creating and recreating better life tools be it in production, laws, or government. It was this appeal for the citizenry to rise to the occasion, that electrified millions to register and tens of millions to go out and vote.

For fourteen long years, the Ethiopian people have heard political machinations, doomsday theories, balkanization possibilities from the PM himself. But then CUD emerged from nowhere on the last minute, with the news of the gospel, with the news of hope, love, and unity. And the people embraced the gospel in great numbers, and with a determination unknownth in the history of the nation. And that was what you observed during the May 8th demonstration, and a week after on election-day. Deep inside you must have felt that it was not your normal election. It was a display of one’s hunger for freedom.

CUD will be remembered for posterity for being the only political party that ran on the platform of LOVE and coined love as a political agenda. For a society that needs reconciliation it was a fitting slogan, and has successfully captured the imagination of many. But despite an overwhelming support for reconciliation, the doomsday incumbent and its hateful PM crafted a new slogan called the “Intra-Hamwe conspiracy”, to consolidate support within an ethnic group that consists 7% of the nation.

I visited Ethiopia during the months of February and March 2005, and have attended a couple of the captivating speeches made by the CUD leaders. I attended one in the town of Debre Berhan and another in the city of Dessie. On both occasions I was taking pictures of the attendees, and studying their responses to the message. The leaders were not engaged only in election rhetoric and policy issues, but also in disseminating the news of hope and change. In Dessie I heard Dr. Berhanu preaching the gospel of liberation addressing: “I am not here to liberate you from your inhuman condition, you know better how to do that for yourself. I do not claim to lead a liberation movement, but I am a compatriot in the fight for freedom. I am not fighting for your freedom, but for my own sake. I came back to my country with a determination to live in peace, harmony, and freedom. I want to pass over to my kids a country that makes them proud, a country that allows them to live to the limits of their dreams and beyond. I am in this fight not to liberate others but to fulfill my own desire to live in freedom. Those of you who want to stand and be counted as free individuals can join me and my compatriots in this honorable endeavor, but you have to decide in person and in full consent with your God. And when each one of us reach that level of yearning for freedom there is no limit to the sky we can reach, to the stars we can approach”, and the cinema hall that was packed over its capacity erupted to a standing ovation that lasted for minutes. Such were the pre-election preparations.

The messages were not simple policy issues, but also appeals for the human conscience, appeals for freedom, and war against despair, hopelessness, and against the threat of balkanization that was being talked by the PM and his party. As a result millions were engulfed by the message, tens of thousands rose to the task and joined the party, and within weeks party committees mushroomed around big cities and rural towns. Come May 8, the nation displayed its readiness to the world. As usual it was ignored by the international media, for the PM is the darling of the West, and he was expected to sweep the countryside, and win in a landslide victory.

The question here is, should we live to the expectation of the West or to the yearning of our conscience? Should the Ethiopian people respond to the call of their God, and start honoring themselves as human beings this instant, to look for better life now, for a better day today, or to the time table of the “donors”? For the time table of the God that awakens freedom in us is greater than the time table of our “Donors’ Ambassadors”, Ethiopians chose to heed the call now. We cannot submit to two Gods, and we have made our choice. We say no to the god of our sac of wheat, and yes to our God of conscience, for we are human beings endowed with the power of the Creator Himself.

Post-Election Independent Movement of the People

It was with this misunderstanding of its role as the leader of a peaceful revolution that the CUD leadership entered into election-day. The President of the party knew all along that election night will attest to his hard work and crown him with success. On election night from early returns from the capital and small towns it became obvious that the CUD is scoring victories in wide margins (by a six to one average), a symptom that the incumbent is loosing in the election. That very night, the PM went on public TV and radio to read his emergency measures that snatch civil liberties from the people. The emergency measure was also a salvo to ruling party cadres to stop ballot counting in rural districts, and eventually declaring victory.

The next day (May 16, 2005) around noon, CUD declared that it had swept the capital as the counts were completed, and within hours the information Minister came out with a strange number of 327 and declared that the ruling party had won in four states and that it had gained majority seats in parliament. It was only in response to this strange proclamation of the ruling party that the CUD responded with: “If present trends are to show who will prevail in the overall count, then one can say the opposition will win; but as we all know the counts have stopped in rural areas, and no one can claim victory at this point.” The CUD never declared victory and Prof. Lyons assertion that: “Both the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the opposition claimed victory” is wrong. It was only the ruling party that declared victory, the opposition cautiously talked about “trends” instead of victory. Perhaps, if the CUD had understood that it was at the helm of a peaceful revolution, it would have been acceptable to match the arrogance of the incumbent and raise the stakes higher, but the CUD leadership was working totally within legality and with honor, without resorting to tactical maneuvers and political machinations.

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Three weeks after the election the public would not wait any more, and went into its own independent action, calling for strike by transportation workers in the city. The Government alleged it was the beginning of the insurrection by CUD, at a time when the CUD was engaged in documenting election irregularities in preparation to challenge the incumbent’s claim to victory. The CUD leadership also denounced the strike, calling it “provocative”, to dissuade the public from engaging in the strike, believing it will distract the investigative process. CUD’s senior cadres were arrested, and its supporters killed on June 8th. Cornered by International mediators, and to display its good will, on June 10, 2005, the CUD leadership sat for a talk with the government, and agreed to a “peaceful resolution” of post election crisis. The CUD leadership failed to even put a precondition for the freeing of thousands of its members and supporters while “helping” the government to contain the mass protest. The CUD had too much confidence on the negotiators to deliver on their empty “promises”.

The Role of the International Mediators and CUD’s Mistakes

What the CUD never understood was that the mediators, especially the Carter Center negotiators wanted to buy time for the incumbent, and that they were not sincere and non-partisan in their mediation. For the US observers, their national interest comes first, and in some weird way they were of the belief that that interest was best guarded by the incumbent. CUD’s willingness to pull its pre-conditions on June 11 and put it as an addendum, revealed its weakness both to the government and to the mediators. As a result the Government became more abusive of its power in the coming weeks, when the NEBE was to engage in addressing the issues of vote irregularities, while the Carter Center Observers hurried to legitimize the assault. The Carter Center Observers came up with a compromised document that looks like the pros and cons of RAPE. A document ill prepared to save a client, and one that is devoid of the democratic spirit of America.

The President of CUD suspected that the mediators are trying to buy time for Meles, a time Meles needed to wield his forces from the disarray at the polls. One should also be honest to tell that Lidetu Ayalew might have been the only “political-minded” figure among the CUD leadership, who saw the danger of abandoning the mass movement; but was isolated from the leadership as he was under arrest in his office at such a critical juncture. But contrasting his utterance at that critical point, with the measures he took to liquidate the CUD and join parliament at a later date, it is hard to take his “political-mindedness” to heart. Meles showed his maneuver capability, identifying whom to arrest whom to leave freely etc. Those who trust the mediators had the upper hand, and Meles was allowed to get a respite from the mass movement. At this stage CUD’s weaknesses were in reading the interest of the mediators, especially the Americans, thinking their interest in democracy is greater than their short-term wrongly articulated “national” interest.

The CUD leadership wanted to avoid confrontation, and wanted to use every opportunity for peaceful engagement. They couldn’t see a way out, outside “negotiated settlement”. This was a question of principle for them. They were against upheavals, loss of life, instability, destruction of property, and these were issues of principle as well. Apart from this, the infancy of the organization, and its incapacity to stand confrontation was also a factor that always worried them. Its internal weaknesses were a factor that also consolidated the belief of those in leadership to go the peaceful, negotiation way.

The CUD committed the same mistake in October when it succumbed to the mediation of the “Donor Ambassadors”, calling off the October stay-at-home strike and frustrating the mass movement. Partly the problem arose because the CUD leaders, especially the ones who command influence in the movement, were not politicians, but statesmen with deep convictions and higher principles. Finally, when the call for the stay-at-home strike was called for November, a section of the population had already lost confidence; and the arrest of the leaders can only lead to psychological harm and helplessness and not to immediate protest. Only the youth could keep its promise, while other sectors of society had to go back to work under duress. The whole country changed into one humongous “Lekso Bet”.

Intervention is needed now and not later

We are not engaged in electoral politics anymore, it has already transformed into a quest for freedom. In the Lockean fashion, we have found the government to lack the necessary ingredients to rule in peace. It has given Ethiopians the mission of a revolution. According to John Locke, a people have a right to revolution when the ruler:

“1 – It substitutes arbitrary will for law

2 – It hinders the legislative power from acting freely

3 – It alters mode of electing freely

4 – It delivers the people into the jurisdiction of a foreign power

5 – It abandons the trust to govern its people”

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous “Declaration of Independence” he used these five criteria to establish the ground for the American Revolution for freedom. Are Ethiopians entitled to the same? Why would the Carter Center and its Observer Mission force Ethiopians to submit to a tyrant who “ abrogated” his own constitution, who hinders the legislative power from acting freely, who forced the rural population to re-elect incumbents who lost in the initial round, , and who ultimately abandons the trust to govern its people? WHY? Do the proud Ethiopians of the 21st century have the same natural rights endowed by their Creator, the same rights the Anglo-Saxons of the 1770s fought for?

Why should, the wrongly “perceived” national interest of the United States, comes ahead of the democratic aspiration of Ethiopians? Who said if the national interest of a democratic state goes contrary to the democratic interest of a sovereign people, the former gets precedence over the latter? Shouldn’t the interest of democracy govern “perceived” national interest? But above all who said the Ethiopian people’s aspiration for rule of law & good governance is inherently in collision with US national interest? Wouldn’t a government of the people, by the people, and for the people be a better ally in the fight against terrorism, if that is the real national interest of the US? Wouldn’t a government that has the support of its people, a government that awakens their creativity, a government that elevates their energy, a better partner in the fight against aids, poverty, unemployment, and terrorism? Why does the US State Department blink on this issue when it comes to Ethiopia? It is high time for the US to dissociate from such ineptitude in foreign policy. A cloud of despair is amassing in the region, and the US does not even have an Ambassador to take “charge” of the situation. How can Ethiopians take the United States seriously?

As a Conflict resolution expert on Africa, I expect Prof. Lyons to be more cautious as to following events and recording and reporting them. On the one hand he says “Earlier elections in 1995 and 2000 were marked by government harassment of opposition parties and a boycott of the polls by the most influential opposition organizations.” And before he goes too far, in the fashion of a Western reporter he says “Despite increasing its share of seats in the parliament from 12 to 172, the opposition refused to accept this outcome, claiming it had irrefutable evidence that it had defeated the incumbent regime and that massive fraud had taken place. International observers from the European Union and the Carter Center also noted problems with the count and with intimidation of the opposition, although they stopped short of accepting the opposition’s claim that it had won the election.”

The mantra ?despite increasing its share…’ is totally incongruent with the aspiration of Ethiopians, and neglects the nature of the regime which never allowed the opposition to participate in elections. Prof. Lyons made it sound as if in an earlier election that was free and fair the opposition had won only 12 seats (in 2000) and that it should be happy to have garnered 172 seats after five years. The truth is that, and he has mentioned correctly that in the 2000 election the opposition had boycotted the election, and it was a new party that was formed in November 1999, four months before the election, that won those infamous twelve seats. The goodwill that this new party displayed to go against the current to participate in the 2000 election should not be taken advantage of, and historical records should not be willing to show that the opposition had 12 seats. The opposition would have won the 2000 election if the incumbent was not “harassing of opposition parties and a boycott of the polls by the most influential opposition organizations.” Hence the insistence that says “despite increasing its share of seats…” should not be ground to force the opposition to join parliament. If Britons of the 1770s ask the Americans “you are the most free and lightly taxed people, why are you so impetuous?” what would have been the response of Jefferson, Adams, and Washington? I am definite they would have responded that “their God of freedom has ushered them to the occasion” and I believe they just did that through the Declaration of Independence. The Ethiopian people want liberty and freedom NOW, and they will reject any supposition that postpones their urgent desire. It is God’s “mistake” to have kindled or ignited the passion of freedom in their heart, and CUD might have been just the messenger.

Prof. Lyons asserted that “the opposition refused to accept this outcome, claiming it had irrefutable evidence that it had defeated the incumbent.” This is at least an exaggeration or a total misunderstanding. The opposition never said that. Since the counts were stopped in the rural areas, the opposition was not in a position to make such a claim, and at best what it could have said is that there are major irregularities, and at most talk of trends on the known quantities. Records also show that the opposition talked about trends and never about having “irrefutable evidence” of “defeating the incumbent”. The burden is on Professor Lyons to prove otherwise.

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Prof. Lyons said: “Violence erupted again in the first week of November, with a further 48 people killed (including several policemen) and the arrests of most of the CUD leadership” What is missing between the two events of the PM alleging “treason” and the November riots is that, in a last minute ditch to save the political impasse (towards the end of October) the CUD council decided to enter Parliament if the eight point preconditions are met. And these conditions were written by council members who have knowledge of the international observers, and who were able to come up with recommendations that are acceptable to the PM. The eight point preconditions of the CUD were:

The necessary and sufficient conditions for joining the parliament include:

1. The legal system must be able to operate independently without any coercion from the ruling party.

2. All forms of media should be free and available to all political parties.

3. The Election Board needs to be restructured and be able to operate independently

4. All political prisoners should be released.

5. Opposition party offices that had been closed should be opened.

6 Repression and intimidation of opposition party members must be stopped.

7. An independent commission to be established to investigate the June 8, 2005 killings of innocent Ethiopians.

8. Ensure the police and armed forces do not favor and take sides with the ruling party.

In order to ensure the above listed conditions are fulfilled, the Meles government agrees for an establishment an independent commission which would be charged with such responsibilities.

Four members of the CUD Executive Committee have been assigned to submit these necessary conditions to the Prime Minister.

These demands were crafted in such a way that it will be easily acceptable to the PM. Some of them like freeing political prisoners, he could have implemented right away; others like forming a commission, after accepting in principle, he could have killed its spirit in the weeks and months after the political impasse was resolved. But that was not the intention of the PM. He saw an Amhara party that needs to be mutilated, he saw an enemy that needs to be incarcerated, and raising the stake was his interest. He immediately responded “no” to the demands, and forced the CUD to call a stay-at-home strike to rally support for its demands. Hence Prof. Lyons’ assertion that “the CUD called strike to form people’s power” is wrong. Here one has to dissect between two events; that of the demands and tactics of the UEDF (Hibret) and that of the CUD. The PM lumps the two together to take advantage of the weaknesses, but a conflict resolution specialist like Prof. Lyons is not allowed to do that.

Negede has called for “People’s Power” and he may be right in reading the Ethiopian political landscape, but the CUD never adopted that line. The CUD called the stay-at-home strike to garner political support to force the government accept its pre-conditions to enter parliament. Hence Meles was relying on his schizophrenic mind rather than the reality on the ground when he asserted and Prof. Lyons quoted “This is not your run-of-the-mill demonstration. This is an Orange Revolution gone wrong,” The truth is, it was not a revolution yet, but a dress-rehearsal for the coming revolution, and Meles has hurried to a conclusion before he has a taste of the real revolution for freedom and liberty that is gaining ground.

Prof. Lyons said “Ethiopians in the Diaspora actively supported opposition parties by providing funding and by mobilizing the power of Web sites and e-mail to campaign against the ruling party. While the Diaspora is diverse, many of the most vocal and best-funded groups pressed for hard-line positions and polarizing rhetoric.” In terms of having websites, while the opposition has the Ethiopian Review and EthioMedia, sites that are under the tight control of the individual editors and owners, the government had all the others. Blogging has become a post-election phenomenon driven by the terror of the state. The fact is that before the May 15 election the only significant fund collected by the Diaspora was on March 12, in DC when a 100k dollar was raised for the first time. By the time the fund reached its destination, it was 4 weeks before election-day, and it did not make a difference in the performance of the opposition. Since the Diaspora’s funding capability was weak, its political impact on the parties was also weak. As a result there was no polarizing rhetoric that was initiated by the opposition, in order to persuade the flow of money from the Diaspora.

Actually contrary to this perception of Diaspora hegemony in internal politics, CUD (kinijit) in its first press statement articulated its position that the struggle has to be on home ground and that the actors need to be home grown, and that CUD will not allow foreign based political groups to even become part of its coalition; and that articulation had initially created commotion among the Diaspora. Hence the charge that the extremists in the Diaspora had their say in the election and that they used their money and influence to polarize the politics back home is further from the truth. They didn’t have an iota of influence; they haven’t contributed a single line to the debates, a single paper to the many presentations.

The PM made the allegation that it was Diaspora money and influence that created the polarization, and his lieutenants like the infamous Minister of Information, publicized a critique that was written by Dr. Negede Gobeze, a member of UEDF. The critique was on the Ethiopian constitution, but Bereket publicly cried that the opposition is getting ready for an orange revolution, to dismantle the constitution altogether. It is important to note that, during the book signing ceremony in DC, it was CUD supporters like myself and Ato Wondayehu kassa who publicly opposed the notion of rewriting a new constitution, and voiced our concern on the document. Negede’s document was not read by “anybody” inside Ethiopia up to that point, and it was the ruling party which made it an important document, and people started looking for it. As Negede’s books were not available, photo copy prints started circulating, and the debates were directed towards “you are preparing for an orange revolution” and “No, but if you snatch the people’s voice, we will go for civil disobedience” response.

Why did the ruling party opt to emerge with a document no body had idea about, and why did it make it appear as if it is the manifesto of the opposition? I sincerely believe that, the incumbent must have analyzed the kind of support that the opposition is garnering, and must have believed it needs to derail a possible victory by the opposition. At least the regime succeeded in changing the direction of the debates in the manner that fits its interest. And at last when it lost in the election, it used the spirit of that same charge to arrest the CUD leaders with trumped-up treason charges.

Prof. Lyons said: “Most observers expected the EPRDF to win the May 15 elections handily. The ruling party had what was presumed to be the overwhelming advantages of incumbency; particularly in the rural areas where 85 percent of Ethiopians live and where local government and party officials control access to land and fertilizer, keys to survival for small farmers. Contrary to these expectations, however, huge numbers of farmers and small town residents voted against the ruling party that had appeared to be so strong in their day-to-day life. Widespread and deeply felt anger about how the EPRDF operated explains a large part of this pattern…After 14 years and a record of poor economic performance, many Ethiopians had had enough and were ready for a change.”

How can one understand these events unless one is willing to accept that the election was held in a revolutionary atmosphere, at a time when people had enough of the status quo? What was demanded was not a change of horses, but a change in structure and ideology. The pessimist propaganda of the PM and his “revolutionary democracy” minority rule was what was negated. And the solution is for the ruling party to do away with its PM, and come to the negotiating table to form a provisional reconciliation government that incorporates all opposition elements that includes the groups which were not party to the election like the OLF (The Oromo Liberation Front).


Prof. Lyons concluded with a beautiful remark saying: “Washington officials must speak clearly and critically, both in public and in private, regardless of the predictable umbrage with which the EPRDF will respond. It is imperative to lay out to Addis Ababa a clear set of options and to specify what types of relationships and assistance the regime will lose if it continues on a path that suppresses internal dissent and threatens regional stability.” I hope Prof. Lyons will live to his words and push this agenda whenever his expertise is sought either by the White house or the State Department. There is a saying: “a camel is a horse created by a committee”, and the Carter Center Observers’ Mission statement was written by a committee and as a result compromised. I wish Prof. Lyons had written that document with the same honesty and vigor he displayed here. Had the Carter Center Observer Mission had this understanding and attitude during its many weeks presence in Addis during and after the election, a strong message from the Center along with the EU observer mission’s stance would have saved lives and the downward spiral of events that all of us witness today. It is never late to engage constructively, and it is better late than never. The US still has leverage to help reform the situation.

One thing should be clear, if the CUD leadership is not allowed to contain the action of the public, since it is the only trusted authority listened by the people; here one should also recognize that the OLF has an important role to play; the deterioration of the situation could go at a geometric pace. There is also the danger where the current false image of strength and unity the army portrays could break into ethnic lines in a fortnight. The only option is to bring all stake holders to a round table discussion to agree on alternatives and to chart the way forward. And for this to realize the first step is for Washington to pressure the Meles regime to free all political prisoners, and agree to the democratization of all institutions that guarantee freedom. Anything less will only consolidate the downward spiral of events and the region’s instability. The situation cannot be saved by decking the cards within the status quo alone. It is too late for that.

* Yared Tibebu resides in the USA and can be reached at

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