A promise of better days with Obama!

By Tibibir Yilemlim, 2 December 2008–I had always wanted to see the day when America would truly lead the world by example. The stunning development on November 4, 2008 was a clear answer to my prayers. The world was given an extraordinary lesson in democratic elections.

I hope our ethno-centric dictators and their supporters in Europe and America who have sheepishly echoed TPLF and preached ethnicity as an element of good governance will also note the message from America, the home of over 300 ethnic groups; there was no discussion on ethnicity in the long election campaigns of both presidential candidates because ethnicity was irrelevant in a democracy; it is used as a divisive tool only by dictators that want to rule until they drop dead in office, or are pushed out of office by force.

The election of November 4, 2008 has sent a clear message to the world: (i) American democracy is not a sham, (ii) Africa and people of African origin anywhere can no more point at America as being racist; a few racists exist in any land, including all countries of Africa, and (iii) America is, indeed, a land of liberty, democracy and opportunity, and the American people have no hesitation to give the most powerful office on earth to a promising son of America like Mr. Obama.

No nation, not even the old European democracies, can match this historic election. America’s world prestige has soared higher than ever before in 21 decades ! Credit is particularly due to white America without which Senator Obama would never have been elected ! Senator Obama also takes the lion’s share since he had the courage, the political genius, big dreams for America and the world, and the charisma to enable America come up with that stunning development.

Today, America has shown, by example, that it surely is the leading democracy on Earth. This is a great lesson for Europe, and an even greater lesson for African leaders who refuse to leave office peacefully, and resort to corrupt practices and zero-sum games which always result in chaos and the continued misery of Africa. A good example of such power-hungry, corrupt and brutal regimes is the ethnic-driven dictatorship of Ethiopia, in power since 1991; it has always been propped up by misguided foreign governments which prcatise democratic principles at home while doing the opposite by supporting regimes responsible for extensive brutality, and even genocide. These same governments continue to condemn Mughabe, who is surely a brutal dictator, but their seemingly democratic standards fail them when it comes to Meles Zenawi and several others on the globe.

Thank you, America, for making our days look brighter through Mr Obama’s a promise of making a break with past misguided American foreign policies and double standards which have been anti-democratic, thereby frequently destroying the democratic hopes and aspirations of millions, as it has done in Ethiopia in 2005. That Embassy’s involvement in 2005 in Addis Ababa had strong similarities with US support for thieves like Mobutu and the coup against the democratically elected government of Iran decades back. Such acts have badly damaged the image of America for decades !

The America diplomatic mission to Ethiopia in 2005 encouraged and executed the destruction of Kinijit by first condoning the imprisonment of the entire Kinijit leadership in November 2005, then inviting a few Kinijit members to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa to cook up a new Kinijit leadership to replace those in prison to sit in parliament and give the false impression in the US that Kinijit is in parliament and working smoothly with EPRDF. That practice openly betrayed America’s time-honored principles of freedom and democracy by supporting a regime that stole elections and murdered its citizens in broad daylight using military vehicles given by America itself.

The right to free and fair elections is more valuable than billions of Dollars of foreign aid. Only racists would regard food aid, or aid for the expansion of social services or to fight hunger as a substitute for democratic rights in Africa. Since the root cause of our problems is the absence of democracy, the only way to help us in the fight against hunger and poverty is political empowerment in free and fair elections. That is the change we want to see urgently in American foreign policy towards Ethiopia !

A nation that went to war with Great Britain in the 18th. century to ensure “No taxation without representation” should not have been an accomplice in the destruction of the democratic hopes and aspirations of the Ethiopian people in 1992, 2000 and 2005. America should not be a party to ethnic-driven dominance, genocide, war, oppression, murder, famine and backwardness. The new Secretary of State will, hopefully, rededicate America to the principles of the US Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. President Bush’s promises failed badly; we pray that US Department of State will no more partner with brutal and corrupt regimes in Africa any more.

Another great lesson of November 4, 2008 comes from the concession speech of Senator McCain who had nothing but praise for Senator Obama, and promised to work with the new President in solving America’s pressing problems; Senator Obama’s victory speech was equally gracious: he spoke of the heroism and huge sacrifices of Senator McCain for America; he also emphasized that America has never been a collection of individuals, that America has always forged one out of many, and that America is, and will always be, a United States of America.

These two speeches provide, in part, the secrets of the greatness of America: America has no partisan election board, no partisan electoral law, no partisan election courts, no partisan public mass media and no vote rigging; no ethnic demagogues, and no minority dictatorship imposing its will over the rest for decades. It is no surprise, therefore, that America’s Presidential candidates have no cause for a fight after the open verdict of America. On the other hand, Ethiopia has all of the above problems.

Over the last few weeks alone, well-known organizers of AEUP, including members of its Policy Committee, have been imprisoned by police in Afar, Eastern Gojjam, Sidamo, Gamu Gofa and Wellega, and Ethiopian flags at AEUP branch offices have been taken down by force by EPRDF officials; that is what EPRDF has done ever since 1991! Indeed, EPRDF is still brutal and savage!

Meles is a zero-sum game player and the chief architect for the absence of the essential democratic institutions that are prerequisites for free and fair elections. The very thought of free and fair elections or a united and democratic Ethiopia drives Meles crazy, and that explains why we have nation-wide starvation, hyperinflation and a police state in 17 years of one-party rule.

Ethiopia’s prevailing backwardness and misery today are entirely due to lack of democracy: We have had no free and fair elections; all elections to-date have been managed by Meles himself; the election board, the courts, the public mass media, the police and militia are controlled by the minority ethnic party; the partisan electoral law continues to ensure victory for EPRDF, and all of these have had the blessing of almost all western diplomatic missions in Addis Ababa, including, unfortunately, that of the USA, For example, it is clear that flooding partisan courts with computers will not create independent courts, but donors continue to pour such aid into these courts and other partisan institutions to further strengthen their partisan functions. The donors’ lame excuses are that Meles is an ally in the fight against terrorism; it was, therefore, alright for him to terrorize and kill his own people.

In 2005, election problems were further aggravated by mercenaries planted by EPRDF within the opposition. At least two of the topmost leaders of Kinijit spent the day with other Kinijit leaders, but used the nights with EPRDF’s top political cadres to map out strategies against Kinijit, and they succeeded admirably well since those individuals were also responsible for Kinijit’s election campaigns, for all its negotiations with EPRDF, the Prime Minister, the EU ambassador and other pro-EPRDF diplomats. Indeed, Kinijit’s loss of the elections of May 15, 2005, its failure to register in September 2005 and its final demise in 2007 had nothing to do with poor management, but largely with the rotten eggs in Kinijit’s Executive Committee; Kinijit inherited an efficient party machinery in November 2004, about 90% being from the Chairman’s AEUP and some 10% from UEDP. Those rotten eggs killed Kinijit since they were after money and power rather than for Kinijit or for Ethiopia.

Most Ethiopian political leaders and some greedy men in the Diaspora in support groups, have no trace of love for Ethiopia; if they loved Ethiopia, internal democracy would have been no excuse to crush the Nation’s hopes, and there would have been no need to create factions, no need to fight for Kinijit’s leadership when Kinijit was at its death-bed, and no need to wine and dine those on a deceptive 2-month tour in 2007 while the legalization of Kinijit was in limbo, and no need to form other mediocre parties since Ethiopia had over 65 of those. They were all dishonest; the truth is that they had a treacherous agenda right from the start.

On the other hand, our people’s suffering is intensifying day by day ; failure to unite in the Diaspora and at home, and the mercenaries that sold out Kinijit between 2005 and 2007 have made large contributions. Cost of living has sky-rocketed primarily because production of food crops is below that of even the early 1970s and also because food crops are exported.

Indeed, the high price of food is also due to a serious shortfall in agricultural production. In 1970/1971, the population then was under 27 million and cultivated land under cereals was 7,147,600 hectares, and Ethiopians had enough to eat. However, the cultivated land under cereals in 2005/6 was 8,081,000 hectares for a population of well over 75,000,000; the cultivated land in 2006/7 was 8,461,000 hectares for a population of over 77,000,000. No wonder we are starving today!

Cereal production per capita in 1970/1971 was 2.22 Quintals; in 2004/3005, it was a miserable 1.37 quintals, 1.55 quintals per capita in 2005/2006, and it was only 1.67 quintals in 2006/2007. The Government had planned to produce 207,000,000 quintals in 2006/2007, but actual production was only 128,658,000 quintals, which is 62% of that planned. This partly explains the current level of starvation; a quintal of teff costs 1,300 Birr in Addis Ababa today. (It was only 60 Birr per quintal, the highest in the land, in Dessie in 1974, and the Emperor was thrown out for that !).

This prolonged starvation appears to have been ignored by USAID whose policy document, Integrated Strategic Plan – FY 2001-2006, has the following Mission Performance Plan (MMP):

  • 1st. Priority: Regional stability
  • 2nd. priority: Effective Response to food Emergency
  • 3rd. Priority: Support for Democracy and Governance
  • 4th. Priority: Protection of human health
  • 5th. Priority: Promote broad-based economic research.

Looking at Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa since 1991, USAID has achieved neither regional stability, food security, democracy, good governance nor social development. Indeed, all new and old clinics, health centers, schools, hospitals and universities are so bad that none of the members of the ruling clique ever use them; these were the contributions of those confused priorities. Despicable practices in support of EPRDF are also revealed in its own implementation review of the Democracy and Governance strategic objective (DG SO) on which USAID/Ethiopia wrote as follows:

Continued support to democracy and governance in Ethiopia is in line with US National interests and Agency goals. … Three areas: civil society, judiciary and human rights … form the crux of the new DG SO. These areas are chosen because they are in accord with the priorities and wishes of GFDRE ( Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) …USAID has determined that further sustained assistance to development of Ethiopia’s electoral system is not a high priority.

As we saw in 2005, and as expected, our electoral system was a sham. Further, the quotation above also reveals that USAID/Ethiopia was effectively a blind supporter of EPRDF since it worked in “… accord with the priorities and wishes of GFDRE…”. That was totally unexpected from the diplomatic mission of the most powerful nation on Earth that was publicly committed to stand for freedom and democracy all over the globe.

USAID’s determination to regard Ethiopia’s electoral system as of low priority is also an indication of either poor insensitivity to our core problem, or bad USAID management. Indeed, it was a shame that the USA spent tax funds to keep USAID open in Ethiopia in 2005, only to make it an agent of a regime which eventually stole the elections in May 2005. We hope President-Elect Obama will avoid such damage to American prestige.

In his book, “The Audacity of Hope“, Senator Obama promises (pp. 316-317) the world as follows:

We can inspire and invite other people to assert their freedom; …;we can provide funding to fledgling democracies to help institutionalize fair election systems, train independent journalists, and seed the habits of civic participation; we can speak on behalf of local leaders whose rights are violated; and we can apply economic and diplomatic pressure to those who repeatedly violate the rights of their own people.

In 2005, Ethiopians did assert their freedom; they did have civil society behind them; but they had no democratic institutions like a neutral election board, a neutral electoral court, a neutral public mass media, neutral police, militia and defense forces and they had no democratic electoral law. USAID/Ethiopia knew all this, but it still chose to side with the masters of fraud and oppression.

With the in-coming President, we do hope for honest support for our democratic cause in Ethiopia; the President-Elect will, hopefully, respect his promises, and Ethiopians will not fail to make a peaceful and orderly change through the ballot box, as they have done in 2005. We hope to see no Vicky Huddleston or a Yamamoto, or a mediocre USAID/Ethiopia supporting 15 years of dictatorship. We want America to help us persuade Meles to establish free democratic institutions that are prerequisites for free and fair elections in collaboration with the entire opposition. We respect America, and even more so after November 4, 2008; we hope America will also respect and support our struggle for freedom and democracy. That is the surest way to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa; siding with 80,000,000 Ethiopians is more valuable to America than partnering with a tottering brutal regime.

Today’s problems in the Horn of Africa may be traced to the Cohen-mangled negotiations in London in May 1991, and to the subsequent illegal separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia under US sponsorship. If the UN and OAU Charters had been respected, and had Ethiopia kept its historic Red Sea frontier,

  1. Ethiopia might have had a navy strong enough to protect its part of the Red Sea,
  2. our countrymen in Afar would not be split into three unstable parts,
  3. Ethiopia would not have lost fertile land to Sudan as a gift by an illegitimate regime,
  4. there would have been no unstable Eritrea to fuel the chaos in the Horn,
  5. there would have been no stupid and costly war in 1998 with Eritrea,, and
  6. an ethnic-driven and divisive government would have been less likely.  

President-Elect Obama can undo part of this damage to Ethiopia by helping us create a durable, stable, united and democratic Ethiopia. Eritrea was never a colony of Ethiopia and official America knew that all along, but its short-sighted foreign policy experts in the US Department of State never saw the long-term damage done to international peace by creating two unstable and undemocratic states. All they wanted was to punish the Marxist dictator at any cost, and reward the two guerrilla groups for doing the job. Blinded by primitive vindictiveness, US’s Assistant Secretary of State Cohen opted to destroy both Ethiopia and the Marxist dictator, but Ethiopia was only an unfortunate victim of the Dictator !

We will continue to expect Senator Obama’s promised support in our struggle to institute freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, but the lion’s share of that struggle still rests on the shoulders of Ethiopians at home and abroad. We tried hard in 2005, but mercenaries within Kinijit, western diplomats and EPRDF connived to dash our hopes for free and fair elections. America can help us by standing, for the first time, with the people of Ethiopia to establish all democratic institutions that will ensure free and fair elections in May 2010. Ethiopians, on the other hand, still need to do their own homework and show that they do, in fact, love Ethiopia and its people !

Those who love Ethiopia will not give in to business gains or bribes, or factionalism, or to dreams of ethnic power, or be victims of laughable excuses like those used by the five former Kinijit leaders to justify a 2-month unauthorized and destructive tour in the US in 2007. The failure of Kinijit was not due to poor management, as also amply testified by Yenetsanet goh siked, but largely because of EPRDF and mercenaries. If you love Ethiopia, there can be no excuses for division; the only other option is to be crushed one by one by EPRDF and prolong the Nation’s woes. This appeal is to all, including ARDUF, OLF, ONLF, MEISON, EPRP and all other parties and fronts.

Let all parties work together to prepare Ethiopia for free and fair elections by first ensuring the establishment of all essential democratic institutions and laws – independent election board, democratic election law, independent electoral court, free public mass media, free private press, neutral security forces. Ethnicity is clearly irrelevant in democratic USA where all combating Ethiopian ethnic groups live with each other in perfect peace, and it will be irrelevant in democratic Ethiopia as well. Let us learn from the South Africans whose 27 blood-stained parties got together between 1992 and 1994 to prepare the ground for free and fair elections in April 1994; they prepared well enough to avoid election fraud by any party; democracy won on election day in April 1994. Together, they succeeded in creating a united and democratic Rainbow Nation, while retaining their separate identities as ethnic parties, communists, socialists and democrats to this day. Ethiopians can do the same !

Happy X-mas!

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