Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The OLF, AFD and democratic and United Ethiopia: Are they antithetical?

Many Ethiopians welcome the formation of AFD with a sigh of relief over the Meles regime that thrives by pitting one ethnic group against the other. The recent interview by one of the top officials of the OLF in the Alliance for Democracy (AFD), Dr. Beyan Asoba with the US based Nesanet radio has stirred a lot of opinion and exchanges of ideas particularly among those who support and oppose the AFD.

Those who firmly oppose the joining of the pan-Ethiopian CUD in the AFD were jubilant as the interview by the OLF official provided ample ‘evidences’ about the ‘secret’ objective of the OLF behind the formation of the AFD, i.e. ‘to further its separatist agenda by undermining the pro-democracy and unity CUD’. Even the pro-EPRDF Aigaforum.com, which officially advocates for ethnic politics and the respect of the rights of the nations, nationalities, and peoples for self determination up to and including secession reported a ‘freighting’ breaking news in which it asserted that ‘the OLF does not recognize Ethiopian sovereignty as a precondition’.

On the other hand those who wished the AFD would constitute a new beginning of tolerance and reconciliation felt let down. One of the supporters of the AFD in a given circle even said that in the interview Dr, Beyan gave ‘ammunition’ to our critics.

I listened the interview and also followed the exchange of opinions on the interview in different circles and wanted to share my opinion about the interview and also the difficult task of the OLF in defining what it really wants in the post-EPRDF period in Ethiopia.

Firstly, I did not find the interview freighting or confirming the ‘secret’ agenda of the OLF in the formation of the AFD. What I saw in the interview was an angry Oromo politician who has been isolated from ‘Ethiopian’ politics for a long period and has been rehearsing for numerous times the ‘colonial’ thesis of Oromia which has been hashed and rehashed by the likes of Paul Baxter and Assafa Jalata. I think at this stage of the struggle the OLF should develop a forward looking ideology rather than lamenting about how a free and independent state of Oromia was colonized by Menelik one hundred years ago. I do not want to go into historical debates. That is not the purpose here. Even the purpose of the interview on Nesanet radio was not to debate about the history of Ethiopia or Oromia. Thus intermixing controversial historical and political statements with the political aspirations behind the formation of the AFD did not help meet the public relations objectives of the AFD, i.e. to expand its support base. In fact the OLF official was torn in between of ‘telling’ the OLF usually call the ‘Neftegna’ what they abhor to listen—the colonization of Oromia one hundred years back—by the way it is now more than one hundred years even by the counting of the ‘liberation discourse’ since Oromia was ‘colonized’ and also as the same time showing the commitment of the OLF about democracy and peace in the post-EPRDF period.

In addition to the ‘public relations’ disaster—such as denying the existence of pan-Ethiopian political organizations or ideologies, the interview showed an important problem which the OLF has been grappling for several years now. The OLF to play a central role in Ethiopian politics or even to achieve what it calls the ‘self determination’ of the people of the Oromo; the political space in Ethiopia should be democratized. The OLF to have meaningful role in the democratization of Ethiopia, it has to break from the ‘liberation’ and ‘colonial’ shell it created for itself. Breaking this shell would not be an easy ride-it would an agonizing process for a number of reasons. For instance, the OLF has promised ‘independence’ for its followers for many decades that reversing its old position requires time and most importantly assurances from the other Ethiopian political players such as the TPLF and the CUD that the Oromo would not be once again sidelined from the mainstream Ethiopian politics. Many Oromo and the OLF felt that they were fooled by the TPLF when they joined the Transitional Government.

Today, many ‘hard core’ members of the OLF still regard any cooperation with pan-Ethiopian political movements and for that matter with Ethiopian issues as unnecessary or treachery. The ‘hardcore’ OLF leadership—the faction led by the previous chairman of the OLF - Gellassa Dilbo for instance denounces the move which has been put forward by Daud Ibasa which is based in Asmara. One of the reasons for their split was the promotion of the idea of exercising the self determination (administration) of the Oromo within a federal arrangement which has been put forward by the younger leadership which is now in charge. For many insiders and close observers of the OLF the formation of the AFD by the initiation of the OLF was an important development in the path created by the current leadership of the OLF.

In fact, the Woyane radio Fana Afan Oromo program carries statements from the ‘hardcore’ OLF which denounces the formation of the AFD. In that propaganda, the present leadership of the OLF which joined the AFD is accused of ‘selling out’ the quest of the Oromo for statehood. It is indeed surprising that the ‘hard core’ unity forces and the ‘hard core’ separatist forces are opposing the AFD. This is natural as hardliners from both camps are afraid of change and also challenge.

The propaganda of the so-called unity forces also hampers the coming of the OLF to the center-stage of Ethiopian politics. This pro-unity forces seem to advocate for the reversal of the ‘old’ unitary order in Ethiopia. The creation of the Oromia regional state, the usage of the Oromo language for education and administration have been some of the major achievements for the Oromo for that matter for Ethiopia in the last 15 years.

Despite this opposition, from the two groups, the formation of the AFD and the decision of the OLF to engage with pan-Ethiopian political organizations should be supported and welcomed. The OLF should however even go further and demonstrate that a democratic and united Ethiopia where peoples or individuals would not be prosecuted because of their political objectives is not antithetical to the Oromo people and the OLF itself. In this respect, the denial of the presence of pan-Ethiopian political organizations and ideologies by the OLF and its officials as reported by Dr. Beyan is not only unnecessary but also destructive. Likewise, the dismissal of the ‘question’ of such nationalist movements like the OLF by the so-called pro-unity forces as ‘ unnecessary’ and ‘elitist’ does not only reflect the reality but also destructive. As lack of mutual recognition and tolerance between these seemingly opposed positions leaves the problem to be dealt with by the barrel of the gun, which the AFD was supposedly established to root out.

Indeed, it is important to note that what Ethiopia needs is to provide space for both who advocate a multiethnic struggle (like the CUD, EPRP, MEISON) and those who are organized on ethnic basis like the TPLF, ONC, OFDM, ONLF, OLF, SLM, etc. Patriotic and learned Ethiopians should advocate understanding and tolerance between these two views.

Finally, it is worthwhile to note that Ethiopia would neither democratize nor maintain its unity without answering the quest of the Oromo who have been the underdogs for centuries to reclaim their rightful place within a united and democratic Ethiopia . Likewise the OLF and the Oromo people cannot claim their rightful place or indeed without democratizing Ethiopia . That is why we should support the AFD and the coming of the OLF to the center stage of Ethiopian politics from the sidelines.

-------The writer can be reached for comments at ashebir_alemu@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The TPLF and the Mekele Institute of Techonology (MIT): Admission only for 'pure' Tigreans

For a long time much has been said about the Mekele Institute of Techonology(MIT). The MIT is a symbol of the grandiose TPLF agenda for Tigray. As the same time its instrumetn of divisng the people of Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia. For the people of Tigray and the so-called intellectuals abroad, the MIT is considered as an attemtp by the TPLF to provide world class technology and science education for the crime of Tigrayan youth. But the purpose of the TPLF is not at all about the educational and trainig values of the MIT is to but how the regime seeks to build a talented and technology savy Tigrean professionals for the future. Provision of scholarship for talented young people is good and should be encouraged. But the problem of the TPLF is its exclusionist policy and its lack of vision for both Ethiopia and for that matter for Tigray. The TPLF has so far only opened an elite school for the Tigray region. There are no other MITs in the other regions. This makes it the whole notion of the MIT discriminatory and ethnicist. What I recently found out the Institute was much worse than I expected. A certain bright young student from Tigray passed the intense competitive examiniations to get the scholarship and join the MIT along with other close to 240 students. This student was dismissed from school before he barely begins his study as the school authorities found out that he is from a mixed parentage of a Tigrean father and a Gondere mother. For all purposes, the young lad is a Tigrean, he was born and raised in Tigray. He speaks Tigrigna. But was not allowed to pursue his studies at the MIT just because of the heritage of his mum. How do you expect such TPLF officials who are the brain masters and managers of the MIT to farily and equitably adminster Ethiopia.

‘Ethiopiawinet’: Citizen vs. Subject?

‘Ethiopiawinet’: Citizen vs. Subject?

Those who seek to sell their ideas on Ethiopian issues play their words in some very abstract terms—like ‘Ethiopianness’, ‘unity’, ‘self determination’ and tend to brand those people who differ from there preconceived definitions, as ‘enemies of Ethiopia’, ‘evil’, ‘secessionist’, ‘Banda’, ‘Neftegna’, ‘colonizer’, ‘oppressor’ etc. This makes our politics is very polarized and divided. I particularly focus here on the issue of ‘Ethiopiawinet’. For me all of these concepts—like ‘Ethiopianness’, ‘unity’ evoke different meanings and emotions from different group of people. That is natural and happens anywhere in the world. What makes our problem unique and interesting is the lack of willingness by different groups to listen to each other. The lack of willingness to compromise. Our history through out the last five decades has been a history of lost opportunities. Particularly because of lack of willingness to compromise and appreciate the position of the others. Sadly, the tendency of branding forces or individuals who differ from the opinions of others groups in biblical terms such as evil, devil is still continuing.

Coming to the point I raised at the beginning. As for me in Ethiopian politics those who are self appointed advocates of both ‘unity’ and ‘separation’ usually lament about their cause and do not consider what do these really mean to the other groups. This ‘sickness’ appears to be more profound in the so-called ‘unity camp’. I wonder why those who always lament about ‘Ethiopiawinet’ and ‘Andinet’ do not dare to consider what these really mean to others. Particularly for those who have been historically suppressed by the political center. What does ‘Ethiopiawinet’ really mean for the Ogaden nomad, whose people are under effectively military occupation (military administration) ever since the territory was incorporated into Ethiopia. What does Ethiopiawinet really mean to the Suri who are still condemned to continue their primitive life without getting any government social services? What does Ethiopiawinet really mean the over 85% of Ethiopian peasants who regularly suffer from famine and drought and their main stay for survival is food handout by international agencies. I believe it is time for us to tie the concept of ‘Ethiopiawinet’ with citizenship. We should all struggle to create Ethiopia which considers its entire people as citizens not subjects. Let our struggle be to get equal and fair citizenship. For me Ethiopia has a troubled history of citizenship. The vast majority of Ethiopians irrespective of their differences in terms of culture, ethnicity and religion, were/are simply subjects of the Ethiopian state. Not citizens! The struggle today is claim our equal citizenship right. For me the concept of ‘Ethiopiawinet’ is problematic unless it is streamlined in terms of citizenship. Even today, at the beginning of the 21st century, Ethiopian citizenship is an empty rhetoric. How would one become an Ethiopian without being a citizen? Bringing a citizen whose vote matters; a citizen who could influence decision making; a citizen who is equally and fairly and without discrimination is treated by the state and society should be the main agenda of any political struggle. If one considers ‘Ethiopiawinet’ in terms of this, the issue is problematic. Almost all ‘Ethiopians’ are mere tax paying subjects, not citizens. An ‘Ethiopiawinet’ without citizenship is bound to be challenged and can only be maintained by force of naked power. I believe the agenda for all political forces, ethnic based or not should be to expand citizenship to make all Ethiopians, Ethiopian citizens. That is why I support whatever little progress is made in terms of coming together between the ethnic ‘liberation’ movements and the pan-Ethiopian political organizations like the CUD. Some may have already branded me as ‘secessionist’, stooge of the OLF and Shabia. I do neither take offence nor care by such character assassination. That has been the culture for a long time. It may change some time in the future. This forum contributes its share by dispassionately discussing such complicated and difficult issues. As I have said earlier I do not personally support secession. That is my true feeling and conviction. I do not either believe that those forces which have secessionist objectives should be crushed and wiped out. That have been tried in Eritrea by the Haile Selassie and Derg regime, it did not work out. The only way out is discussion and compromise from both sides. The beginning for compromise is talking and working together.

Selam for all

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Reply to critics of AFD

I feel I share your belief that Ethiopian unity should be maintained. But I differ from you on how we should maintain the unity of the country which we all love. For me the way forward is all inclusive politics. A political system and culture which tolerates both those who are ethnically oriented and those who put their Ethiopianness first and dismiss ethnic politics. Maintaining the right balance is always difficult as has been seen from the experiences of India and Canada. But there is no way out. The policy of suppressing ethno-nationalist movements has been tried but did not work. Likewise complete ethnicization of politics as followed by Meles does not help the country. So the alternative is creating balance and understanding. That is why I am cautiously optimistic about the decision of the OLF to engage in national/Ethiopian politics. If you were following the policies of the OLF, you would notice the present dispensation is a major change from its policies in the past. The so-called unity forces should not be freighted when the OLF is coming to the center stage of Ethiopian politics. If the unity forces are genuinely committed to an all inclusive unity they should encourage the OLF and other 'liberation movements' when they decide to come to the center stage of Ethiopian politics. I see the AFD in this light. I do not think demanding the OLF to change its policies or objectives before it is accepted as a legitimate player in Ethiopian politics by the so called 'unity' camp is not fair or for that matter constructive. This is just a small beginning. There would be a long and difficult road ahead. The result of that process depends on the actions and interactions of all actors. That is my position on the AFD.

Yosef said, ' What I mean is the very agenda [of self determination/referendum] is illegal and wrong'. You are entitled to your opinion. But there is both theory and practice where groups within non-colonial countries using self determination and seceding from the established state. The question regarding such issues is not really about legality and morality, it is about what is available on the ground. The issue of power- and the interests of domestic players and international actors. That is why I support engagement of the OLF--encouraging its decision to play a role in Ethiopian politics. The decision of the OLF in joining the AFD is in quite contrast to its previous position which was not concerned about Ethiopian issues other than Oromia.

Meron asked me 'Why do you speak OLF and Oromo interchangeably' --this is a good question. I have been in Ethiopia since throughout the last fourteen years since the coming to power of the EPRDF. I left the country at the beginning fo this year. From my visits in several areas of Oromia and from my own observation the OLF has a wide following. Throughout the last fourteen years--there are regular and period student protests within Oromia-the youth and the educated people of Oromia to a large extent seem to support the OLF. That is why Meles who was so frustrated by the situation said that if you scratch a member of the OPDO (Meles's Oromo organization) you find an OLF. You also look at the situation of the Diaspora--do members of the Oromo community intermingle with the other members of the Ethiopian community. Whom do they support? I think the argument that the OLF does not have supporters of Oromia is illusory. But the real test the OLF is in the field of voting and democratic election. Let there be a democratic process in which the OLF and the other Ethiopian political forces including the Woyane fully and equally participate. All the anxieties about secession and others would be I think vanish, if we have an all inclusive political process. The alternative to this exclusion of those organizations which we think are less Ethiopian than others--this lead to the way to fight them- suppress them and this brings endless conflict.

The issue of referendum and Oromia independence-- I do not think that neither the Oromo nor the OLF would press on independence. The issue of Oromia is a make or break thing to Ethiopia. I do not think that would happen.

Gelila--you have branded the alternative of AFD is alternative of destruction and war. I ask you what your alternative is. But the alternative of many who avowedly oppose dialogue and cooperation is war and destruction. Some in the Diaspora and some of the veteran organizations fo the 1960s are now propagating such divisive and destructive propaganda 'secessionist' and 'pro secessionist'. I think their alternative and road map is--- Beat and defeat the TPLF next fight the OLF and defeat it, then fight the ONLF and defeat it, then fight the SLM and defeat it, then fight the EPLF and take back Asmara and the red sea, then fight with ----- and wow finally maintain the glory of Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity. God save us from this. God save the next generations from such politicians. Such politicians should learn from the history of Serbian nationalists and Slobodan Milosevic--who sought to suppress all the members of the Yugoslav federation and finally ended up losing all of them- even the tiny and blood related Montenegro.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The discussion about the AFD has been very polarized as any thing else in Ethiopian politics. The ambivalence of people about the effort of the CUD and the OLF to form a common front is natural, as this change is a major turnaround in Ethiopian politics. The politics in Ethiopia for a long time was framed in terms multiple but cross cutting dichotomies such as “Abyssinia colonizers” vs. “colonized southerners”; “ethno nationalist separatist movements vs. multinational unitarist forces”; “revolutionary democrats” vs. “ liberal democrats” etc.

Where is the place of the CUD and the OLF in these confusing and complex categories? The OLF is/was pursuing a separatist agenda on the basis of national self determination. While the CUD albeit its young age it is firmly established on the platform of Ethiopian nationalism—with the vision of a democratic Ethiopia where all of its citizens would be equally and democratically treated.

Both of these political approaches to Ethiopian politics have been tried but they are not as such able to address in a meaningful and effective way Ethiopia’s intricate political problems. That is why these seemingly contradictory approaches to Ethiopian politics should be synthesized or should be balanced. In addition to this, the existing division between multiethnic political organizations and nationalist movements like the OLF has helped the consolidation of the position of the TPLF/EPRDF rule. It is because of the rather mutual exclusionary approach of Ethiopian opposition forces that the minority government of Mr. Zenawi has managed not only to divide and rule the country but also pit the Oromos against the Amhara and other ethnic groups. The previous position of the OLF not to engage with non-ethnic based political parties in Ethiopia was advantageous to the TPLF minority regime. The OLF gradually but surely was coming to the center stage of Ethiopian politics over the last few years. The desire of the OLF not to be used by the TPLF minority regime was clearly exemplified by its rebuff to the invitation of Mr. Zenawi to enter into dialogue and create what was dubbed as the “anti Neftegna alliance” right after the electoral setback of the TPLF. Moreover, when top OPDO officials of the TPLF and their propagandists like Junedin Saddo, Aba Dulla Gemeda, Gemechu Megerssa and others were trying to incite the Oromo people in Arssi against the Amhara who live in the region by saying that we lost the election because of the Neftegna the OLF made clear to its members and supporters that the Oromo people do not have enmity with the Amhara people but only with political systems which oppressed them and urged people to desist from any inter-ethnic conflict. That was a major blow in the face of the Mr. Zenawi who was then clamoring for a major inter-ethnic conflict between the Oromo and the Amhara which would able to transform his brutal army and federal police as peacekeepers and mediators between these two difficult and ‘backward’ ethnic groups. Let me then come to some of the major criticisms against the AFD.

Firstly, the separatism of the OLF and the ONLF. Some demand the OLF should disassociate itself form separatism or even ethnic politics before it is considered as a legitimate player in Ethiopian politics. Some even think that the OLF is anti-Ethiopian. Some even suggest that the OLF should apologize for its earlier actions and policies. I think these types of demands are destructive. People who promote such ideas are those who are not interested to consider the OLF as an organization which has its own wide constituency and of course a cause/grievance. Why not we ask apology from the EPRP, MEISON and other organizations of the 1960s when they seek to play a major role in Ethiopian politics. Those who voice these demands are those who seek the kneeling down and surrender of the OLF. As a result criticisms of such individuals for that matter organizations should not be counted as they are not well intentioned and do not respect the position of the other.

But for those who are genuinely concerned, the key to all these questions could be found in the declaration of the AFD itself. The AFD is calling for the convening of a national conference-which could if properly handled lead to a multiple process of political democratization, national reconciliation and mutual understanding. In fact the OLF is sliding away from separatism. The decision of the OLF to call the meeting that led to the formation of the AFD is a clear testimony of this. Moreover, all the above issues would be considered more thoroughly once the process and the framework leading to reconciliation and national healing are underway. Such a process of national reconciliation and healing not only considers our history of violence in the immediate past but also unequal and unjust relationships between different ethnic groups of the country in our history. Such a process of reconciliation would help to create mutual confidence between different groups of people.

Secondly, the UDEF opposition: “civic organization”? The tug of war between those who support the AFD and the UDEF is going out of the proportion beyond what it really deservers. Let me just address one of the pillars of UDEF’s opposition not to endorse the AFD, i.e. the issue of civic organizations. The civic organizations should have a very strong role in Ethiopia’s transition to democracy. They should, however, first assemble themselves—at least those who operate in the Diaspora and voice their concerns collectively. The civic organizations should not enter into partisan opposition politics--they should serve as the conscience of the people—serve as watchdogs of public interest. Should civic organizations join political fronts and alliances? My answer is an empathic no! The moment they join political alliances they cease to be civic organizations. It would endanger their own survival and integrity. It is my sincere wish that the civic organizations should not be entangled in this unnecessary tug of war between the supporters of the AFD and the UDEF. It would be also helpful if the UDEF and the AFD could sort out their differences in a civil manner.

Thirdly, Isayas and the Eritrean factor--we Ethiopians for a long time unfortunately failed to agree among ourselves and work out the necessary political and legal framework which would provide security for all groups and make politics non-violent. The result of this failure is mass exile, seeking of refugee throughout the world. The lack of civic and political space in Ethiopia during the time of the emperor, the Derg and the TPLF has forced opposition political groupings to go to neighboring countries to pursue their objectives. The neighboring countries also either support or suppress such movements depending of their own interest. The EPLF, TPLF, EPRP, and many others in their history used neighboring countries and others to pursue their political objectives. Ethiopians hope for peaceful and democratic transition by the killing of innocent children on the streets of Addis Ababa by the Agazi tribal militia dashed the prospect of peaceful and democratic transition in Ethiopia. I think those who argue that peaceful and democratic transition under the tutelage of Mr. Zenawi is possible should join the UDEF in Addis Ababa and negotiate with Mr. Zenawi as leaders of the UDEF in Ethiopia. What is now needed is a coordinated and all round struggle. The armed opposition groups should strengthen their military activities and those who are still pursuing a non-violent struggle should also strengthen their activities. The operation of the OLF and the EPPF from Asmara should be considered in this context. These organizations cannot operate from anywhere else other than Asmara. The Eritreans have their own interest in supporting the OLF and the EPP. The interest of the Eritreans is undermining the TPLF. Eritrea being a small country would not fathom of ruling Ethiopia indirectly through the AFD or OLF. That could not happen. The best thing they could achieve from a change of Mr. Zenawi in Addis Ababa is the coming of a friendly or less hostile regime in Addis Ababa to Asmara. Those who are suspicious of the Eritreans I think should join the AFD and see from inside what is going to happen and engage in old rhetoric and propaganda war that the Shabia was responsible for all our woes. That is now history. We do not have to battle history but look the future.

It is in the context of my above discussion I consider the AFD. The AFD is a good beginning. It needs to further develop itself. The parties within the AFD need to work to develop mutual understanding and tolerance not only among themselves but also among their wide followers.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Zenawi’s Courts and Political Dissent: Ethiopian Judiciary without Justice

I. Introduction

This month (May 2006), according to many reports, the trial of the unlawfully detained leaders of the Coalition of Democracy and Unity (CUD), Civil Society Organizations and Journalists will be started. The Western Embassies in Addis Ababa are giving contradictory statements. In the one hand, they demand the release of the political prisoners; on the other hand they talk of a “speedy, fair, and transparent trial” for the political prisoners. The Western governments, including the United States, consider the detainees as political prisoners. If then, could there be speedy, fair, and transparent trial for political prisoners? The answer is an emphatic no! No where in the world, from the Soviet Union to China, political prisoners were given a fair and transparent trial. In the first place, there could not be an independent judiciary in a country where people are detained for their conscious. These contradictory statements are exemplary testimonies of western hypocrisy in its dealings with the Ethiopian people. This western hypocritical position makes it necessary to revisit, how Mr. Zenawi used in the last fourteen years the judiciary as an important instrument of quashing political dissent and violating the rights of opponents and critics of the government.

Since the coming to power of Mr. Zenawi in 1991, we have been told over a thousand times that the golden era of justice has been ushered by the EPRDF. Despite this continued pretense, the Ethiopian people as ever are denied of justice. The justice system under Mr. Zenawi is not only corrupt but also dysfunctional. In its effort to completely subdue the judiciary to its wishes, Mr. Zenawi’s regime—summarily fired trained and experienced judges; opened a “law school” for its cadres at the “Ethiopian Civil Service College” ; and the government routinely intervenes in court proceedings that the judges cannot operate independently. The testimony of one ex-judge under Mr. Zenawi is in order:

"In coming to decisions, we have been forced to give wrong verdicts against innocent citizens. In 1995, I was appointed as a Federal High Court Judge. During my tenure on the Bench, I was ordered to pass verdicts of 15 years in prison, on three defendants accused of killing supporters of the party in power (The Ethiopian People's Democratic Revolutionary Front). But, to label people as criminals without any substantiated evidence is against my moral and professional standards. As a result, I was dismissed from office, having been informed by certain politicians who were entirely ignorant of any legal training, that I was "incompetent". They said that's why I had been dismissed"

In addition to lack of independence, the court system under Mr. Zenawi is completely dysfunctional. As a result, there are hundred of thousands of backlog of cases which are awaiting sentencing in both the regional and the federal courts. Because of the long litigation, thousands of business went bankrupt and more importantly societal peace disturbed as hundreds of thousands of offenders were let go unpunished for their crimes.

The record of the judiciary regarding political dissent is abysmally negative. The judicial system consistently failed in its conduct to adhere to the constitution and the numerous international conventions which Mr. Zenawi’s regime “jovially” acceded to. For the last fourteen years, it has been a standard practice for the government to arrest political opponents without proper court procedures. A close observer the judicial system in Ethiopia notes: “… for opposition political suspects …there’s no question of producing a legal warrant before arrest, and the ‘due process of law’ is conveniently ignored. That's why today, there are thousands of clandestine detention centers in Ethiopia. Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations have at times exposed the human rights abuses, existing in such places. It's curious that the Meles government denies they even exist! But everyone knows that, daily; people are taken from their homes or work places, and dragged off to detention centers. Why? Because they support opposition political parties”

The court system in Ethiopia under Mr. Zenawi was engineered and tailored to be a partner in the violation of the human rights of the Ethiopian people and the leaders of the opposition and the civil society. The record of the courts itself testifies this. A quick look at how the courts dealt with people whom the regime branded as its opponents reveals the instrumentality of the courts in crushing political dissent.

II. Zenawi’s courts and Some Prominent Political Dissidents

1. Professor Asrat Woldeyes, President of the then All Amhara Peoples’ Organization, (APPO) [1992-1998]

Professor Asrat Woldeyes was arrested in 1992 and falsely accused of inciting inter-communal violence following an AAPO rally speech in Debre Berhan. Amnesty International all along maintained that the Professor was prisoner of conscience. Despite the trumped up charges by Mr. Zenawi’s government, the “independent” court gave Professor Woldeyes more than one prison sentence. While he was hospitalized in the Black Lion Hospital in 1998, Professor Asrat said to one US journalist the following about the charges and the performance of the court:

Well, I have multiple sentences. All those three charges... for which I have been sentenced, those sentences I have finished legally. In actual fact, given the date of parole, I have finished my prison sentence according to the law. I finished it about four months ago, five months ago. But I now have a fourth case, which is still going on after over two-and-a-half years. I am waiting for that sentence. That is why I am in prison. Because I have got a pending charge and because it is considered serious, I am not allowed to be out. The parole is given by the court and is dependent only on behavior in prison, not obeying rules and regulation, so nobody can deny me. Simply, politically, I am refused. All of my charges are the same charge, that I have opposed the government. Now in true legality, they should all be gathered under one charge, because it is one government and I am one person and the accusations are one. But they are divided purposely, so that I'll have multiple cases and so that I will stay in prison for the rest of my life. Everybody else who is in prison, his case takes only six months or one year, but mine is every month. I go to court, I have an appointment, but even then it is not finished, and it's two and a half years. I am still going every month to the court, except now while I've been in hospital.

The only crime of Mr. Woldeyes was opposing the policies of the regime and exercising his right of speech. What was the performance of the “independent court” in the multiple charges of Mr. Woldeyes—rubber stamping the false accusation of Mr. Zenawi. No shred of objectivity and impartiality was observed in the court’s treatment of Mr. Woldeyes case..

2. Dr. Taye Woldesemayat, President of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA) [1996-2002]

Professor Taye was arrested on May 30, 1996, and formally charged with terrorism and armed conspiracy against the government. The actual reason for his arrest, however, was his peaceful activities as president of the ETA. In the early 1990s, the ETA became a target of government repression when it peacefully protested against education policy changes made by the government. Following a three-year trial, during which no credible evidence was produced to support the charges against him; Dr. Taye was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment.
Dr. Taye’s appeal hearing was postponed nine times until the verdict was finally handed down in May 2002. During most of his incarceration Dr. Taye was held under extremely harsh conditions which included lengthy solitary confinement, greatly reduced family visits, being handcuffed regularly, and being held in an unsanitary, overcrowded, and poorly ventilated cell with some 200 other prisoners. In September 2001, Dr. Taye was relocated to a private and more comfortable cell as a result of an agreement between the Dutch and Ethiopian governments. The Dutch authorities, who were working with the Ethiopian government to improve the education program in the Ethiopian prison system, reportedly agreed to provide funding for the program only if Dr. Taye was appointed its coordinator. Dr. Taye accepted the position with the understanding that he would be allowed to meet regularly with the teachers who would be assisting him in implementing the program.

Dr. Taye Woldesemayat was released from prison in Addis Ababa on appeal, after spending almost six years in prison. The Ethiopian government instructed its “independent court” to release Mr. Woldesemayat because of mounting international pressure. Subsequently, the Supreme Court “overturned” Dr. Taye's 15-year prison sentence given by the Federal High Court and subsequently he was released from jail on May 14, 2002. What was the performance of the courts in this case? Instrumentality to the regime—when instructed to give a harsh sentence by Mr. Zenawi the court gave a harsh sentence, and again when the international pressure was unbearable Mr. Zenawi instructed the court to reduce the sentence and release Dr. Woldesemayat, the court released the Professor.

3. Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam (Ex-Head of EHRCO) and Dr. Berhanu Nega (Ex-president of Ethiopian Economic Association) [2001-?]

Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, founder and former head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and Dr. Berhanu Nega, a prominent economist and former president of the Ethiopian Economic Association were detained by Mr. Zenawi’s regime on May 8, 2001 following student protests and riots in Addis Ababa in April 2001. For weeks prior to their detention, the two academics have been targets of blatant accusations by the government security and law enforcement apparatus and by the state media, and their detention only constituted a logical conclusion of these campaigns of character assassination.

According to the charges filed against Prof. Mesfin and Dr. Berhanu, they were arrested in connection with their presentation at a meeting at the auditorium of the National Lottery Administration where both allegedly “agitated AAU students into violence." As far as the AAU students are concerned there has not been any violence perpetuated by them. In fact, they were victims of violence, committed by police, who broke into the University campus. This is a well-established fact, and the Addis Ababa Police Commission has even admitted its action in this regard.

Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam and Dr. Berhanu were released on bail in June 2001 because of international pressure and media outcry. The case on which they were charged is not yet closed.
4. The TPLF Dissidents and the Seye Family and business persons [2001-?]

Mr. Zenawi’s government found a new and jovial strategy of quashing political dissent, i.e. accusing them of corruption. Following the internal power struggle within the TPLF and the emergence of the Mr. Zenawi’s group as a victor, a new legislation was rushed to ‘parliament’ which provided for the establishment of the “Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission” on May 24, 2001. Following the declaration of war on “corruption” by Mr. Zenawi’s regime, Mr. Seye Abraha and many members of his family were thrown into jail on corruption charges.
It was fairly clear to any observer of Ethiopian politics that the detentions of Mr. Tamarat Layne, ex-Prime Minister, earlier and Mr. Seye Abraha later were politically motivated. As many prominent officials of the government like Mr. Sebehat Nega and the regime’s top friendly business partner, Sheik Mohammed Alamoudi are officially and openly engaged in corrupt practices, corruption is not a “crime” in Ethiopia for politicians as far as they follow the official line maintained by Mr. Zenawi. In fact, the whole system is built on corruption, if one removes corruption from the system, the system would crumble down. The sole reason for the detention of Mr. Abraha and many members of his family is political and the fears of Mr. Meles’ group of the support which Mr. Seye may garner within the TPLF dominated army and Tigray, if he is left free.

Interestingly, when Mr. Seye was granted bail by the courageous young judges of the federal instant court, which includes, the one of the present CUD detainees, Brtukan Midekssa, the Federal Supreme Court which is presided by the President of the Electoral Board, Mr. Kamal Bedri overturned the bail given to Mr. Abraha and the Prime Minister, Mr. Zenawi rushed an amendment to Anti-corruption law to prohibit bail for those suspected of corruption. Mr. Seye is still in detention and the Supreme Court has not yet given its ruling, though Mr. Abraha was detained for more than five years now. For more than a dozens of times his trial was postponed because of “lack of judges”. What was the performance of the court in the case of Seye and his family members? It is revolting political loyalty to Mr. Zenawi.

5. Mecha and Tulema Development Association (MTDA) Leaders [2004-?]

The President of the Mecha and Tulema Development Association, Mr. Diribi Demissie and other leaders of the Association are under detention since April 2004. They were arrested on trumped up accusation of “terrorism” and “perpetrating violence”. The main reason for their detention was, however, the MTDA’s opposition of the relocation of the capital of the Oromia regional state from Addis Ababa to Adama and the summary expulsion of Oromo students from the Addis Ababa University in 2004. There are numerous credible reports which indicate that the leaders of the MTDA and the Oromo students who were arrested with them were tortured and maltreated. In one of their over delayed court appearance in the past two-three months, the detainees appealed to the court that they were regularly tortured by the prison officials, the presiding judge instructed the head of the prison, who himself was allegedly engaged in the torturing of the Oromo detainees to investigate the matter and report back to the court. This shows the extent to which the courts are part of Mr. Zenawi’s torture and terrorizing machinery. If the court has a shred of independence, it would have independently investigated complaints of torture within prisons. Even if Mr. Zenawi after his electoral fiasco in May 2005 decided to relocate back the seat of the regional capital of Oromia back to Addis Ababa, the MTDA remained banned and its leaders are illegally detained. What was the action of the court in politically motivated detention and torture of the officials of the MTDA? It condones their illegal detention and torturing by prison officials.

III. Conclusion

The track record of the courts under Mr. Zenawi shows that the judiciary is neither independent nor capable of providing impartial judgment for those who were branded as “anti-peace”, “anti-democratic” and “terrorist” by the government. The western governments well know of this fact. The problem with Ethiopian courts is not a problem of capacity building or computer file management system for which the Canadians invested millions of Dollars. The old adage about computing suffices here, “garbage in –garbage out”. The capacity building funds of the Canadians was used to expedite the retrieving of the garbage emitted by the political court of Mr. Zenawi. In a recent interview to a pro Zenawi News Paper, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Menbere Teshay Tadesse, who is as the same time, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, Director of the Judges and Prosecutors Training Center, COMESA Judge and also a fourth year Ph.D. student in law said that Ethiopia is the first African country in linking the courts by a Wide Area Network. The computerization of the work of the courts might be good but does not qualitatively change their performance and make them independent.

In a country which is run by a dictator, in a country the whole security apparatus, i.e. the police, the secret service and the army are under the private possession of one man; in a country where there is no freedom of speech, assembly and association; in a country where there is no rule of law, there cannot be an independent court. As a result, the double talk of donors for the release of the political prisoners and at the same time their speedy, transparent, and fair trial is ludicrous. The trial of the leaders of the CUD, civil society organizations and the journalists is sham and the courts are sham. The decision of the opposition leaders not to engage in this fraudulent exercise is a right one. Boycotting the illegitimate “judicial process” is a peaceful resistance. The opposition leaders should continue denying legitimacy to the sham institutions of Mr. Zenawi. If the American Embassy is confident of the independence of Mr. Zenawi’s court, it may perhaps outsource some of the lingering cases of Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib detainees to the tribunals of Mr. Kamal Bedri.

Building an “independent” court is only possible where is an all inclusive political dialogue about the future of democratization in Ethiopia. All Ethiopian political groups (CUD, UDEF, OLF, ONLF, TPLF, etc.) should come to the drawing board and find out a workable framework. This is the only way which leads the country out of the current malaise. Mr. Zenawi is a spent card; he lost all the opportunities to facilitate reconciliation and peaceful and democratic transition.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bird Flue in Meles’s Inquiry Commission

The last week has been a week of fiasco for the Meles regime. First, we saw the grilling of his Ambassador in the congressional hearing of March 28, 2005. Mr. Smith and the other representatives came up with the hard facts and were not ready to compromise themselves and cover up Mr. Zenawi’s abhorring human rights records. The hearing was also a good one as it provided us the opportunity to see the true colors of the State Department officials. Mr. Donald Yamamato’s defense of the indefensible was simply a good testimony to the failure of US foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. The Undersecretary and junior officials of the State Department who are given the task of managing US foreign policy in the Horn of Africa have miserably failed to come to terms with the reality. But the congressmen and women at least showed to us the vitality of American values of human rights and democracy. That is all Ethiopians want. We did not ask the US to come and liberate us, what we asked for the US officials is simply to reclaim their conscience and stop pampering a dying tyrannical regime which kills and incarcerates its youth. At least we saw that conscience in the person of Mr. Christopher Smith and the other representatives.

The next and most important news about Meles’s regime last week was the fiasco which happened to the carefully constructed ‘independent’ commission of inquiry which was established to investigate the violence in June and November 2005. Five out of the eleven members withdrew themselves from the commission tarnishing the findings of the commission, even before the report is published.

The eleven members of the commission inquiry which was established in December 2005 in order to whitewash the atrocities of Meles’s security forces were:

• Frehiwot Samuel (President of the SNNPR Supreme Court)
• Shiferaw Jamo (private consultant),
• Abuna Elsa (Bishop, Ethiopian Orthodox Church),
• Abel Musse (Catholic Church),
• Hikmet Abedlla (Business woman),
• Tamrat Kebede (formerly African Development Bank Employee),
• Sheik Elias Remedan (Deputy Chairman of the Ethiopian Islamic Council),
• Dereje Jenberu (Deputy President of the Ethiopian Mekane Eyesus Church),
• Gemechu Megerssa (former official of Ministry of Education and AAU),
• Abdu Seid (works for Pastoralist Concern Association of Ethiopia),
• Wolde Michaeal Meshesa (Deputy President of the Federal First Instant Court.

Last week it was announced that five of the eleven members of the commission withdrew themselves from the commission because of ‘health problems’. I wonder what type of ailment conspired against the commission. It must be the deadly strain of the H5N1 bird flue. Nothing else! The interesting part of the story was those five members of the commission who were afflicted by the ailment were the ones who seemed to have more independence than the other members of the commission.

The five members who felt the political sickness were: (1) Shiferaw Jamo, who is a respected economist and an independent consultant. Though he has strong connection with people like Girma Birru and other top cabals of the OPDO, he seemed to have maintained his sanity which led him to his present ‘sicknesses’. (2) Abuna Elsa is one of the monks of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, like other archbishops who are in the black gown he is unknown quantity. He might just have a rude awakening of what he is doing and feared for his soul. Abel Musse works for the Ethiopian Catholic Church, and as his Church was one of the few Ethiopian institutions which deplored Meles’s violence in those trying days, his position is understandable. Hikmet Abdella who is a business woman and Tamrat Kebede who worked in the past for the African Development Bank are relatively independent and might have decided not to undermine their names by supporting the white wash project of Mr. Zenawi.

Sources close to the works of the commission indicate that the report has already been written and absolves the Meles regime from the crimes it committed against the Ethiopian people and blames the CUD and other opposition forces for the killing of innocent civilians. Had it not been to the opposition of the members of the commission who have now left because of their ‘sicknesses’ the report would have been presented to Mr. Zenawi’s sham parliament. According to the same sources, on the advice of foreign consultants which Mr. Zenawi hired, it was agreed to include some slight criticism on the Police and the Security Forces. This is meant to provide credibility to the sham report.

The mass defection of the members of the commission is, however, an important development. It just shows that the commission was not independent and the members the commission who had differing opinions were coerced to go out instead of influencing the report. Like the Meles’s enquiry commission which was set up to investigate the Gambella genocide the findings of this commission are all too evident, white wash. Sham parliament and sham commission of inquiry!