Aklog Birara (Dr)
“Should the constitution be amended? Revised? Or reformed?”
A cardinal question posed to the late Dr. Negaso Gidada in 2016.
“I am not of the view that the constitutions be thrown into the wastebasket only to make another constitution. I know that there are unresolved controversies – for example on the question of the definition of nations and nationalities; controversies also abound on the type of federalism this country should have. There are many organizations and sections of the society who are against the form of federalism we have which is based on language and ethnicity…. Questions also remain on the sovereignty of the people – whether individual citizens should have the right to sovereignty or not. The constitution says “all sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia” but what does that mean? The question of Article 39 – the right to self-determination up to secession; the question of ownership of land; the question of state structure – division of power between the central government and federal states, among others. These are but few of the most outstanding issues in the constitution that need to be debated upon again,” Dr. Negaso responded more than five years ago.
Ethiopia’s problem has gotten worse since then. My concern is that, unless Ethiopian political elites, intellectuals, and civil society soul search now, Ethiopia’s destruction seems imminent. The current US Government one sided support of the TPLF, and the proposal of a transitional government by some Oromo political groups, the relentless proxy wars by Egypt and Sudan, hyperinflation, jobless among youth etc. portend trouble for Ethiopia.
The ideal would be for Ethiopian nationalism to emerge out of the ashes of tribal and identity politics. I am afraid this will not happen as readily as some may think. It takes statesmanship and a radical shift in mindset among Ethiopians. Are we doing our part to change?
Part I of my commentary focuses on the question of whether Ethiopia’s quarrelling ethnic elites are willing and ready to initiate dramatic constitutional, structural and administrative changes today compared to yester years?
In Part II I shall discuss the ramifications of Ethiopia’s unilateral declaration of a ceasefire. While I welcome the ceasefire as a credible and defensible option, the preparation of this huge announcement is a complete disaster. For example, the New York Times showed Ethiopian soldiers herded like cattle and forced to parade in the streets of Mekele. The Economist wrote a piece declaring that the “TPLF routed the Ethiopian Army.” What is the response from Ethiopia?
The Federal Government of Ethiopia has yet to speak with a single and coherent voice defending its ceasefire. The fragmented Ethiopian Diaspora can help bridge the glaring void in public relations and public diplomacy. But it cannot serve as a substitute for Ethiopia’s broken system. A broken system must be rectified at a state level.
The argument for Constitutional and structural change
More than five years ago, and following the flawed elections of 2015, Dr. Negaso who had played a pivotal role in drafting the current ethnicity and language-based Constitution said this. “I am of the view that we have to open up and have a democratic atmosphere in which different political and civil society organizations and the media freely discuss with the people of Ethiopia. There is no alternative than having the different forces – Ethiopian organizations, abroad or underground, or in the forest or registered legally – should come and seat together and discuss these outstanding controversial issues of the constitution. The time is long overdue.”
Herman J. Cohen, the American who represented his country, engineered TPLF’s access to power and supported ethnic federalism tweeted this in the aftermath of Ethiopia’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire. “It is clear from recent events that further armed conflict will not bring peace and stability to Ethiopia. There should be an all-parties conference chaired by the African Union that should write a new Constitution, schedule elections and plan a peaceful transition.”
This same sentiment has been expressed by numerous Western policy and decision-makers and by a slew of Ethiopian academics and think-tanks in the Diaspora. Is anyone within the Ethiopian political establishment listening though? I am afraid not!
The election must prompt Constitutional and structural change
I further suggest that, if left unchanged, further conflict and the current Constitution will lead to Ethiopia’s break-up. It behooves each one of us to learn from the mistakes of the past and extract learnings that had emanated from several windows of opportunity and prepare ourselves for dramatic and immediate change. Change is inevitable. By this change, I mean uncompromising national commitment to save Ethiopia from collapse or change to break it apart as some in the West are suggesting.
The cardinal question is what type of change would serve Ethiopia’s national interests and advance the welfare of 117 million people? The answer must come from Ethiopian authorities.
The most compelling negative lesson I draw in shaping Ethiopia’s future comes from the treasonous and treacherous war instigated by the TPLF and from the catastrophic humanitarian crisis that ensued. I have no doubt that the TPLF will continue to be relentless in campaigning against Ethiopia. It is showcasing its so-called victory against the Ethiopian Army as depicted by the New York Times.
The TPLF that championed the Constitution demonstrated to the Ethiopian people and to the international community that conflict and ethnic federalism cannot hold Ethiopia together. Both are hugely costly propositions that Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people cannot afford any more.
You do not need more evidence than the treason, selective murders, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the destruction of immense investment properties committed thus far, the declaration of war against the Amhara and Eritrea and the lingering effects of the psychology of fear and revenge that have enveloped Ethiopian society to demand for immediate changes. The TPLF served Ethiopians as a devastating model of what not to do. It reveals the fault lines that bedevil Ethiopia and poses danger for its very existence as a geopolitical entity. Add to this Egyptian and Sudanese aggression against Ethiopia to subvert the GERD. This may in fact be the “Elephant in the room.”
The TPLF just announced that over the coming weeks, they will champion their martyrs including those killed in Mai Kadra by the TPLF youth wing, Samra. They plan to do the opposite by flipping the facts on the ground, namely that it is Tigreans who were massacred there and not Amhara or day laborers. The TPLF gets away with such lies because it has amassed billions of dollars from the Ethiopian poor, and it has garnered support from American policy and decision makers. Why else would the TPLF destroy a bridge?
What is not entirely clear to me is the end game that the Biden Administration is after. I recall that, under President Clinton, the US was instrumental in supporting the Croats against the Serbs.
Today, the Biden Africa team is supporting Tigreans against Amhara. Eventually, the Croat against Serb conflict financed by the West and led by the USA under Clinton led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. The current Biden Africa team consists of major policy and decision makers who served under President Obama. So, the ominous signs are out there. All the evidence on the ground and across the globe shows that Ethiopia faces an existential threat of fragmentation.
I came to this unfortunate conclusion because the Biden Administration Africa team knows fully well of the enormous costs of the war in Tigray. It also knows who initiated the war and the humanitarian crisis that ensued. It has never, never officially and publicly demanded that the TPLF commit to a cease fire. It has never and ever demanded that the TPLF ceases to destroy investment property. To my knowledge, it has not demanded publicly that the TPLF stops threatening the Amhara region and Eritrea. Who benefits from permanent war?
In summary, there is a reason for “deaf ears and blind eyes” regarding the war, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the unilateral ceasefire by Ethiopia that is largely forced by the West that is not yet matched by a similar gesture by the TPLF and other indicators that are likely to harm Ethiopia in an irreversible manner.
For the USA, costs are immaterial measurements. If the sole measurement of the problem was human and or financial cost, then, the Government of the United States would have by now demanded that the TPLF declares ceasefire too.
You need to be relentless in demanding answers to the question of what is behind all this? Is it the China factor? Is it the Russia factor? Is it the Egypt factor concerning the GERD? Is it the potential that Ethiopia will become a powerful and prosperous nation in Africa?
The bottom-line question I shall pose is this: “What lies ahead for Ethiopia?”
July 3, 2021
Part II will follow soon