Aklog Birara (Dr.)
PART I OF II
“Communities need leaders who create a better place to live. Children need leaders who help
them reach their potential. Family and friends need leaders who model purpose-driven lives.”
— John Maxwell, Leadership for Every Day
“Ethiopian needs ‘greater freedom of people’ and not less.”
U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 8, 2018
I have consistently argued that, more than aid and Foreign Direct Investment, Ethiopia needs freedom, justice and democracy. The rest will follow from good, inclusive and empowering governance. In a commentary entitled “TPLF Inc. as a” silent killer” posted by several websites including Ethiomedia and Zhabesha on February 26, 2012, I warned ordinary Ethiopians at home and the world community at large that the TPLF party, state and government (they are one and the same), in tandem serves as a “killing and robbery machine” that robs human dignity; and puts a premium on material and financial possessions over human worth and life. Since then, this machine is responsible for the deaths, maiming, tortures, imprisonments and other forms of dehumanization of thousands of innocent Ethiopians some as young 3 months old. Imagine a regime that doesn’t have an ounce of moral compunction in murdering children; and in murdering a mother expressing grief over a murdered child. Even buried a murdered child is a crime under the current system.
There is no human development without freedom
Governments that advance freedom and empower youth and women to create, innovate and produce serve their societies much better than those that suppress and punish them. Far from enabling Ethiopia’s youth and children to ‘fulfil their God-given potential,’ the TPLF killing
machine has moved from a “Silent killer” to that of an open killer in which peaceful expression of dissent, movement from one part of the country to the other, boycotts and other forms of peaceful expressions have become a crime.
Ethiopia’s dictatorship has declared a third state of emergency this time giving the TPLF defense, security and other allied forces supremacy to rule and license to kill. Whether the country’s rulers and their ardent supporters admit it or not, Ethiopia is now a police state. The entire country is under a state of siege. The dictionary defines “A state of siege as a situation in which a government or other authority puts restrictions on the movement of people into or out of a country, city, or building. Under the state of siege, the police could arrest suspects without charges or warrants.” So, no one is safe, but some are less safe than others. Today, the assault
is concentrated on the Oromo population, especially youth. Tomorrow’s target will no doubt be the Amhara people, especially youth. This type of selective and targeted assault on freedom and the degradation of human life is so routinized and normalized that Ethiopians have become almost immune.
It is incontestable that a state of siege allows the TPLF dominated and commanded defense, security, special command and federal and allied police to set-up command posts in any part of the country where peaceful citizens express their frustrations, hopes and aspirations through the only instrument they can exercise, namely, peaceful protests and boycotts. Given the license to go after anyone suspected of defiance of the dictatorship, no one is safe at home either. The police state hunts the person down.
Would this latest state of emergency stop the popular tide? The answer is no. Because, regardless of the sacrifice it takes, human freedom is ultimately triumphant over tyranny. A deliberate war against the current generation of Ethiopians is a war against the inevitable tide or wave of freedom. Those who stand against this tide are effectively siding against history.
On March 3, 2018, Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban reported that “The government of Ethiopia has admitted a violent pushback to a recently “ratified” state of emergency (SOS). A number of security forces have reportedly been attacked and their weapons confiscated.”
The regime’s defense minister, Siraj Fegessa admitted the pushback and noted that the resistance against the new SOS is a form of a “coloured revolution.” The resistance took place immediately after the SOS was proclaimed. The defense minister cannot be expected to admit that this so called “coloured revolution” that in reality is some popular grassroots based and youth led revolution for freedom, justice and democracy actually begun more than two years ago and has continued unabetted. The SOS is doing exactly the opposite. It is making Ethiopian society more defiant and more resilient than ever before.
To repeat, freedom is unstoppable. The real question is at what cost?
Ethiopia’s popular revolution to undo the damage inflicted on the society over the past 27 years
has intensified since November 2015; and is likely to succeed in bringing fundamental
democratic changes. But this quest for freedom, justice and the rule of law won’t be achieved
without sacrifices in human life and in property. Fortunately for Ethiopia and the Ethiopian
people, Ethiopia’s youth is determined to pay any price in order to achieve freedom, justice, the rule of law and genuine democracy. Regardless of the “killing machine’s” inexcusable and criminal propagation of a false and damaging ideology of hate and mutual suspicion, Ethiopia’s youth has shown a remarkable sophistication in separating the TPLF from the people of Tigray.
Sadly, members of the Tigrean community refuse to reject the TPLF. In fact, a recent statement from a group in the U.S. vowed to support the state of emergency thereby inflaming the situation and deepening unnecessary animosity among Ethiopians. It weighed in heavily on the
loss of Tigrean owned property and gave no acknowledgment to the loss of innocent lives by TPLF dominated and commandeered forces.
It needs repeating again and again that ordinary Tigreans have nothing to fear from their Ethiopian brothers and sisters. What they should fear is the hate-mongering ideology of the TPLF and its latest declaration of a state of siege on the Ethiopian people. Politically motivated ethnic hate has a short-life span. State and government policy of ethnic hatred and divide and rule inevitably leads to genocide and the destruction of any country.
In order to rule by force of arms, the TPLF has no other choice but to murder tens of thousands and perhaps millions. It sadly believes this objective can be achieved through a variety of extrajudicial measures such as:
- Selective killing, maiming, tortures and imprisonments of activists especially in the Oromia and Amhara regions;
- Going house to house and disarming households, most notably in the Amhara region;
- Re-arresting and jailing notable individuals who were released recently;
- Shutting off basic services to specific communities considered inimical to the TPLF;
- Reigniting animosity among the Oromo and Amhara population;
- Arming allies to revolt against the federal system and using this as a vehicle to frighten Ethiopian society and to bolster foreign support
These measures are counterproductive and will reveal the weakness and fragility of the system. Rwanda, Somalia, Syria and others are prime examples. The “illegal” latest state of emergency facilitates the license to kill; but is never a cure. The SOS tries to repair and salvage a hopelessly broken, hated, illegitimate and inhumane system. It is not a cure. The root causes of the popular revolt against TPLF dictatorship remain unaddressed. Zeroing in and trying to crush Ethiopia’s youth that constitutes 70 percent of 110 million people won’t work. The way out is an all-inclusive form of transition that will facilitate a fair and free election.
The TPLF dictatorship and its ardent supporters are on the losing side of history. This trend- setting and transformative history led by Ethiopia’s youth demands that the current regime and future governments of Ethiopia pay singular attention to the aspirations and hopes of the country’s youth. It is their world view that should guide and shape history; and not the political and economic preponderance of ethnic elites, middle men and corrupt officials at all levels.
The series of state of emergencies imposed on the Ethiopian people have demonstrated that citizens no longer fear or respect the dictatorial party, state and government. They tolerate it as an “inconvenient truth” or system that is dominated by ignorant and backward thinking officials. They do not accept it as a legitimate system of governance that will shape and determine their lives and their destiny.
As noted earlier, a state of siege is indicative of failure in government officials and their institutions. Dictatorship revert back to the only thing they know and control, repression and
oppression by force of arms. When you sink to the bottom as a regime, you resort to the only instrument over which you have control, namely, crushing your opponents through extrajudicial measures and forcing submission. Disarming the population is a form of forcing submission. Going house to house and arresting or killing opponents is a form of forcing submission to a dying regime. These measures can never be a cure to a malignant and sick system.
The TPLF has learned nothing from the Imperial and Socialist Dictatorships. It created and wants to retain a rigged system that has enslaved the vast majority of Ethiopians. The only reliable and durable determinant to this rigged system is the power of the population; and not the barrel of the gun. The military socialist dictatorship commanded one of the largest armies in Africa; but was crushed, mostly by a popular resistance.
As witnessed in Oromia and some parts of the so-called Amhara regional state, under the new state of emergency the TPLF deployed forces to punish and force surrender. Anyone and everyone who defies the dictates of the TPLF dominated regime takes enormous risks. The killing machine is merciless and simply kills without any reservation or mercy.
The latest and third state of emergency imposed on Ethiopia’s 110 million people, the second largest in Africa and the 13th in the entire world escalates the wave of potential crimes against humanity to a dangerous level; and threatens the very existence of Ethiopia as a country. If and when massive and relentless assaults begin, the TPLF would have no place to hide either. Sadly, the TPLF endangers Tigreans as well. If plan B is secession, this option will be a total disaster for Tigreans and a welcome development for Ethiopia’s traditional enemies. This is insanity of the worst kind.
This option aside, my commentary is to alert Ethiopians of the extraordinary danger they face; and their country faces. This time around, ordinary Ethiopians should be weary that no one will be safe in their homes whether they live in Addis Ababa, Gondar, Awassa or other.
Escalation of ethnic conflict and the use of new instruments by the TPLF
For example, what guarantee is there that the “silent killer” that decided that the Amhara population should be reduced by an estimated 2.4 million to 5 million; that forced Amhara girls and women in their primes to take short-acting contraceptives (Depo-Provera pills) so that they do not reproduce; that encouraged ethnic elites in Gambella, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, SNNP and other locations of targeting the Amhara to move out of their premises; that trained Ogaden Somali Special forces to wage war against their Oromo brothers and sisters and caused the displacements of nearly a million people; that, much earlier, ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Wolkait-Tegede and other locations throughout the “Amhara” region etc. etc. would not deploy new and dangerous instruments to kill?
What guarantee, if any, is there that drinking water won’t be contaminated deliberately and
selectively by the TPLF and its agents?
What guarantee is there that the TPLF and its agents won’t cut electricity to cities and towns selectively and deliberately? What guarantee is there that the TPLF and its agents have not begun training special units in selected regions to revolt and declare secession? What guarantee is there that the TPLF and others with billions of dollars in assets are not using the state of emergency to move capital out of Ethiopia thereby compounding the massive illicit outflow of billions of dollars already stolen and hidden overseas? Based on its disastrous past, there is nothing to offer us confidence that it won’t resort to any means necessary to prolong its punishing governance and or to destroy and move on.
Against these questions is to consider recently leaked ‘reports from reliable sources’ within Ethiopia say that the TPLF ‘plans to use the SOS to do as much damage as possible and to transfer funds and other strategic resources to the home base of Tigray.’ It is also reported by ‘credible sources’ that the TPLF has trained as many as “20,000 to 30,000 females, primarily Tigreans, and deployed them in strategic locations in Addis Ababa and other urban areas with explicit instructions to wait for orders from the TPLF leadership to take specific actions against specific pre-identified and preselected valuable targets.” The purported plan of action includes “placing explosives under high rise buildings, bridges and other infrastructure; applying poisons to drinking water supply facilities; dismantling all electric and communication transmission lines and infrastructure in targeted and pre-selected communities.”
If true (this is not validated by independent third parties or by the global media), these acts of total destruction will constitute total war on the Ethiopian people and on Ethiopia. It will also be a crime against humanity that will affect generations to come. The intent should be prevention before any of these dangerous acts take place.
In my commentary more than 5 years ago, I posed the following set of questions that are as relevant today as they were at the time.
“Have you ever wondered, as I have, why Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people are caught in a vicious cycle of disillusionment, dispossession and disempowerment? Have you pondered, as I have, the simple truth that the vast majority of the Ethiopian people have less say and thus less power over their political and economic affairs in their own country compared to a few ethnic elites and foreign investors such as Saudi Star and Karuturi? Have you taken a few minutes of your time to reflect why Ethiopian Christians and Muslims alike working in Saudi Arabia find themselves in a predicament for praying in a Muslim State while Saudis are free to build mosques and to pray as they wish anywhere in Ethiopia?”
We may no longer reflect on the dominance of Sheikh Al-Amoudi “Who Stole the Nile” for the benefit of the Saudi market and Saudi investors or the role of the Indian investor Karuturi who borrowed from Ethiopian banks and went belly-up etc. but the traumas persist in different forms.
“Anywhere one looks, Ethiopians within and outside the country cry for a government leadership to protect their lives and their country’s national interests. These and other core
policy related questions on Ethiopia and Ethiopians suggest an enormous gap in organization and leadership that is socially relevant and purpose-driven. I would argue that the urgent gap in responsive governance is the ethnicity and language-based system that pits one group against another. This persistent state and government led division and assault on civil society is felt by all Ethiopians in some form or another. All Ethiopians have a stake; and are thus responsible in filling the vacuum with a better and empowering system.
In light of this, it is time that we expand and embrace the definition and action steps that will lead the entire society to a better and more promising alternative than the current TPLF dictatorship. We cannot do this as long as we are guided by the ethnic and divisive script imposed on us by TPLF Inc. We need to consider the higher moral ground that the same way “families and friends need leaders who model purpose-driven lives,” Ethiopian society and communities anywhere and everywhere should expect to defend their human rights; improve their lot; and chart a more promising future for their children.
Can this really be achieved? Can Ethiopian political, civic and faith leaders and intellectuals surmount their own narrow interests and prejudices for the sake of the country and its diverse population? The simple answer is that there is no other choice. Otherwise, we should stop the entire business of protest politics and politics as a business enterprise: the model TPLF Inc. has imposed on each of us.”
There are no such things as separate but equal human rights or the rule of law or democracy. Justice, equality and the rule of law have meaning to the extent that these are indivisible principles. An assault on the Oromo is an assault on each of us. Ethnic cleansing against the Amhara is a crime against all Ethiopians. The sooner we, together, echo these fundamental precepts the better for all Ethiopians.
I suggest in this piece that Ethiopians who wish to be treated with respect and dignity anywhere in the world and who wish a better future for this and the coming generation stop the nonsense of ethnic, religious or other forms of “irreconcilable divisions.”
The current oppressive system has created a pronouncedly dangerous class division building and trying to replace the ethnic and linguistic divide and rule that served it well in the first two decades of TPLF and allied dominance. It created ethnic-parties to champion its narrow interests; and most are still unable or unwilling to free themselves from its grip. They are vested in the system and have practically abandoned their responsibilities to their constituents. But we should always be careful that we do not lump together all Tigreans as direct beneficiaries of the TPLF machine.
For instance, the TPLF conglomerate called the Endowment for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) controls tens of industrial, manufacturing, agricultural, import and export, banking, insurance and other companies throughout Ethiopia. It started with a small amount of capital and now commands a minimum of $3 billion in assets. It has made a few Tigreans super rich while leaving millions of Tigreans poor and marginalized. The make-believe fast growth
championed by the TPLF and its agents says little about the millions of Tigreans and other Ethiopians left-out of the development process. Ethiopia is still one of the poorest, least developed and most closed economies on the planet. This phenomenon of a closed and literally ethnic elite captured economy allows a minority ethnic group from Tigray that represents less than 6 percent of Ethiopia’s 110 million people to enjoy a disproportionate share of incomes and wealth. Income inequality is a threat to Ethiopia.
Sadly, this disproportionate share of wealth and riches gained from outside the Tigray region gives TPLF a legitimacy in Tigray that it actually does not deserve at all. The sooner non- beneficiary Tigreans realize that they have been duped or deceived by the TPLF the better for them and for the rest of Ethiopia. EFFORT continues to propagate the make-believe notion that it is still rehabilitating a “devastated region” while masking the reality that it serves a selected few within the TPLF and other loyalists who benefit from a closed system.
These beneficiaries are vested and invested in the system and will do all they can in their power to prolong its political and economic dominance. Because they are vested financially and politically, they see their fate as one that is intrinsically linked to the survival and dominance of the TPLF.
So, what can and should we do?
“We can start with baby steps: stop demeaning and undermining one another. Reach-out to and talk to one another as adults. Work with and collaborate with one another as adults. Campaign against all forms of injustice and inequality collaboratively. Accept our diversity as a source of strength and celebrate one another. Demand and promote innovative, inclusive, smart and wiser alternative organization and leadership–with demonstrated capability of grasping what is at stake and with commitment to set aside minor differences; and use the discipline and consistency Ethiopia deserves by forging a unity of purpose among all ethnic, religious and demographic groups. If we fail to do this fast, we have no one to blame but ourselves. These baby steps will not be easy.”
However, Ethiopians, especially youth are showing us the way forward by sacrificing their lives for a better tomorrow. What more compelling social force do we need in rejecting TPLF dictatorship and the state of emergency that it imposed again?
“A unity of purpose must affirm failures of the past without being trapped in it. It must affirm commitment to justice, the rule of law, unfettered and equitable access to economic and social opportunities, and representative governance based on free and fair elections. A child in Gambella must believe that he/she is an Ethiopian and deserves the same rights as a child in Tigray or Oromia or Addis Ababa and so on. Creating favorable conditions that embrace each child as a human-being regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation would have the best chance of safeguarding past gains while advancing a more promising future for the vast majority of Ethiopians that the current system is unable to deliver. This will not happen unless adults show commitment that transcends ethnicity.”
The World community is on our side
Ethiopian-American diplomatic relationships span over 115 years. Established in 1903, after nine days of meetings in Ethiopia between Emperor Menelik II and Robert P. Skinner, an emissary of President Theodore Roosevelt, this relationship has endured the test of time and will endure for decades to come as long as Ethiopia’s governance changes for the better. Long before the TPLF took power in 1991, Ethiopia enjoyed the much coveted “Most Favored Nation status.” The distinguished Ethiopian statesman and diplomat, Workneh Eshete is deservedly credited for welcoming the African-American community to Ethiopia during his visit in 1927.
The African-American community dedicated itself in helping modernize the Ethiopian economy before and after the Italian invasion in 1935. This relationship cannot be ignored or understated. Sadly, the military socialist dictatorship squandered the relationship by being vitriolic and antagonistic.
Against the lull in relations, the TPLF exploited diplomatic measures to forge a strategic agreement in the fight against terrorism, while terrorizing Ethiopians. For the first time over the past decades, the Government of the United States sees the enormous long-term benefits of “freedom,” the rule of law and democracy in strengthening mutual national security, sustainable and equitable growth and development in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. During an official press briefing with Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa on March 8, 2018, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson affirmed the American commitment that Ethiopia needs “greater freedom and not less.” This is a welcome and an unprecedented position that all other countries, including the European Union ought to take.
The U.S. Secretary of State also affirmed the expressed position of America’s Ambassador to Ethiopia who disagreed with the regime in Addis Ababa on the “re-imposition of the state of emergency” and asked Ethiopian officials to consider a “‘voluntary transition” that allows inclusion of all stakeholders. “We recognize the transition that is underway in Ethiopia, the first ever voluntary transfer of power, and I view this as a very positive symbol of this very
young democracy in Ethiopia – a peaceful transition of power…. We share concerns raised by government over the incidence of violence, loss of lives and we do firmly believe the answer is greater freedom of people not less.”
The key message is “greater freedom, not less.” It is therefore inconceivable for Ethiopia to enjoy a peaceful transition regardless of who becomes the next Prime Minister. Secretary of State Tillerson is right when he stated the American position in the clearest terms possible. “During recent events, the United States have expressed our concerns with the government’s decision to impose another state of emergency because it does put restrictions on fundamental rights like assembly and expression…. We formally believe that democratic reforms, economic growth and lasting stability are best addressed through an inclusive political process rather than through the imposition of restrictions.” His plea extends to
Ethiopian citizens as well; and indirectly to Ethiopia’s opposition. “We encourage the Ethiopian people as well to maintain patience, maintain support for your government
through this change or this transition but also through this journey of pursuing democracy which takes time and effort. Democracy is not easy, it takes a lot of work.”
The first priority then is for the TPLF dominated regime to rescind the state of emergency and to stop killing innocent civilians immediately and unconditionally.
The second is to allow a peaceful and all-inclusive dialogue that will frame a transition towards a government of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace; and that will facilitate the first free and fair election in Ethiopian history.
Part II of this series will be posted soon March 9, 2018