By Robele Ababya, 17 July 2009 – This writer has worked in Eritrea at the time of raging armed conflict there. He has also witnessed the goodness and generosity of the people. He has met patriots sworn to the unity of Eritrea with its motherland, Ethiopia. It is therefore his ardent wish and fervent prayer that the young generation of Ethiopia and Eritrea will freely create a truly democratic environment in which they will reap and savour the fruits of liberty, freedom and prosperity by relegating hatred and animosity to the dust bin of history.
That said, with all due respect, this writer is finds himself in out of step with some enthusiasts calling for engaging dictator Isaias in a political dialogue at this time when the overarching priority in Ethiopia and for that matter in Eritrea is to get rid off tyranny. At this time when the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners is top priority.
Overarching urgency for Ethiopia
This piece is mainly meant for young readers on whose shoulders the responsibility has fallen to build a democratic future. A new mindset underpinned by truth is essential for that purpose. The young, intelligent, educated and charismatic icon Judge Birtukan is committed to carrying that responsibility because she believes in truth. The overriding urgency now is to secure her immediate and unconditional release and indeed of all political prisoners languishing in TPLF jails in order to usher in an era of civilized political debate and a self-reliant compassionate society under the rule of law that is committed to holistic development in a peaceful and stable environment where individuals are free to unleash their energy and creativity freely for the benefit of all.
Ethiopians at present are at a critical stage in the process of completing the unfinished work of the historic election of 15 May 2005 at which the people spoke in no uncertain terms about their demand for democratic change. The short victory of that historic day belongs to the Ethiopian people; it is the baseline for building internal cohesion and strength of our country so that we can negotiate from position of strength. So fellow Ethiopians, it is imperative and urgent to build our unity and internal strength in all aspects first before we venture in engaging with unpredictable dictators. Nothing should derail us from our noble journey necessary to reclaim our dignity and the territorial integrity of Ethiopia for all – where the tenet of private property shall be upheld as guarantee never to return to the current serfdom under the TPLF misrule.
Ruler without constitution
Isaias Afeworki rules by decree without a constitution. In fact he makes a mockery of the constitution of TPLF citing the rampant breach thereof by the thugs at Arat Kilo without shame. Isaias is quite right in his derisive reference to the said lawlessness of his ex-compatriot Meles. But he too has his dissidents both at home and in the Diaspora. Therefore an environment of the rule of law should first prevail in both countries and people must decide the conditions for any engagement.
Experience in the aftermath of the Eritrean independence has shown that the diabolical strategy of Isaias is to keep Ethiopia a weak agrarian society producing raw materials for sale to his industry at cheap price; hold monopoly over the Ethiopian market to sell industrial goods produced in Eritrea; ensure the market remains lucrative to his exported products by weakening Ethiopia and at same time bolstering his army with the proceeds received from sales of those products.
The point is what will make him abandon such a strategy! After all it was with conviction that this strategy will work for him that he declined persuasion by a popular African Head of State to opt for a federal arrangement and become its President. Isaias spurned his golden chance, which the Great Ethiopian people would have given him in much the same way as they embraced General Aman Michael Andom of Eritrean ethnic origin whose reign was unfortunately cut short by the coward Mengistu Hailemariam.
More reasons for mistrust
Eritreans voted for independence with a staggering 99.83 %, which result was proudly declared by Dr. Amare Tekle – a person this writer knew well. This was hardly unexpected given that the choice to be made was between “slavery” or “freedom” and the people obviously went for the latter- freedom.
What is unforgettable perhaps is that Eritreans shocked their Ethiopian friends of decades by shunning the latter immediately upon declaration of the referendum. It was shocking because even those on both sides that were plotting the cessation of the feudal order became adversaries overnight. One now hopes for the better for, as it were, so much water has flown under the bridge since the referendum – some people are dead or old; still aggressive or repentant.
Their dream of becoming a Singapore of Africa quickly vanished and most are facing a bleak future. No body would have thought that so many would flee into exile; that the architects of the secession who sought better relations with Ethiopia would be incarcerated; and that formation of dissident groups would occur quite so soon. Can Isaias who caused all these to the people under his rule be trusted to engage? In the opinion of this writer the answer is no.
The original Eritrean dissidents like Woldeab Woldemariam fled to Ethiopia’s historical enemy, Egypt, in protest of dissolution of the federal arrangement in favour of unity with Ethiopia. They got financial and political support from oil-rich Arab countries with which the interest of Western powers was primary to that of Ethiopia. The defunct USSR and its satellite communist countries were unfriendly to Ethiopia because of their close relations with Syria and Iraq due to socialist inclinations of the latter two vis- á-vis Ethiopia’s closeness to the West.
It is amazing how Ethiopia could survive against so many formidable odds. It is only that God is keeping his covenant with our Motherland that we have survived so far.
The point to be made is that ordinary and freedom-loving people bound by blood and common cultural heritage were and are still being kept in political darkness by their respective power-hungry leaders.
Say enough to dictators
Sour relations leading to abject poverty, political upheaval, corruption and exodus of citizens are perpetuated by myopic and dictatorial leaders at the helm of power. They grab power promising liberty, freedom and prosperity the people. When they fail to fulfil their promises made in the course of bloody ascendancy to power, dictators come up with a series of empty slogans designed to shift blames to a concocted ‘enemy’ as a root cause for persisting miseries of the ruled.
Ethiopian and Eritrean dictators are examples of brinkmanship committing gross violation of basic human rights not only in their respective countries they have been misruling but also in the entire region of the Horn of Africa.
Engaging in a civilized debate with the aim of bringing political stability to the region is welcome. However, given that civilized debate is anathema to dictators, the question is who would qualify to take part in the debate. As long as the old politics petrified in the old mind is not categorically set aside, the search for a new political order would be futile. A new mindset equipped with fresh ideas is sine qua non for ushering in democracy and upholding the rule of law.
The past decades have shown us that those empty promises of liberty, freedom and prosperity did not materialize. On the contrary, things have gone mortally wrong that today we see an exodus of Eritreans and Ethiopians to escape tyranny in hell created by dictators.
In the face of crimes against humanity including genocide and destabilization of the entire region of the Horn of Africa, for which tyrant Meles and Isaias are being held accountable, it would be foolhardy to believe that any trust can be vested in the duo to bring lasting relationship between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two have demonstrated their allegiance to Bashir by the kind of lavish reception they have given him in their respective capitals. Their in cahoots with other retrogressive and corrupt African dictators who are vehemently opposing any cooperation with the International Criminal Court in the case of Bashir who has committed genocide against the black people of Darfour.
Shifting epicentre of politics
Emperor Haile Selassie warned that the danger to the sovereignty of emanates from the north. It is time that the epicentre of Ethiopian politics moved elsewhere. Its traditional mainstay in the northern part of our country should end in favour of a federal arrangement involving countries in the Horn of Africa as a distant goal of future leaders.
This writer recalls that a brilliant Ethiopian, born to parents of Eritrean ethnic origin and raised there, mooted the idea in his flyers under the title “Horn of Africa League”. He was adviser to the coward Mengistu on the Eritrean question. He fled the country just before the launching of “Key Kokeb” (Red Star) operation because he could not agree with that strategy. In his speech to a very attentive audience in the City Hall of Addis Ababa, he exposed the intrigues of Eritrean nobilities, EPLF, and ELF and the immaturity of the EPRP leaders for treating the case of Eritrea as a colony. Oh! He fleeced the EPRP leaders who he said carried the briefcase of Saleh Sabeh begging money from conservative wealthy Arabs in the Middle East. He pleaded to the jam-packed audience and the Ethiopian people to save Eritrea. His inspiring speech was interrupted by deafening applauses and standing ovations. What a loss of an intellectual giant!
This writer had the opportunity to meet with this visionary pundit on several occasions. May be he will read this article and comment, or seize the moment to join the struggle.
In the context of AU, federalism in the Horn of Africa involving Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia is not a farfetched idea to start with. Of course a lot of work needs to be done and the peoples of each of these countries will have to put their houses in order and then create an environment conducive to genuine talks, bilaterally or multilaterally.
Views in closing
Time is changing now. There is political upheaval in the camps of historical adversaries of Ethiopia. Therefore, new breeds of young leaders are now critically needed who can capitalize on contemporary political development underpinned by respect for universal human rights.
Assuming for example that credible partners will emerge on the political scenes of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia in the future, it is prudent to ask what the parameters would be for negotiating in view of unsettled issues like boarder demarcation, access to the Red Sea, et al.
Identifying priorities, defining vision for regional peace and stability, setting the stage for the debate are huge tasks that need careful approach with a new thinking in the context of contemporary world politics and wide participation of interested parties in the region of the Horn of Africa. Any outcome of the debate shall not be an imposition of the elites on the people as in the past; the people as the sole source of power and determinants of their future shall scrutinize and approve the outcome
The struggle is for an all-inclusive new political culture to prevail throughout Ethiopia. Gone are the days when the five or so regions in northern Ethiopia decided the fate of Ethiopia. The historic election of 15 May 2005 shall always be the base line or foundation to build a strong and democratic Ethiopia. The new thinking is that Ethiopians can choose individuals with merit to assume the highest of office in the land regardless of creed and ethnic origin.
The time now is to seek justice for our unforgettable martyrs; to bring political criminals to justice and foster democracy. Putting our house in order first is imperative as we contemplate on dialogue of better relations with our neighbours.
Given the argument that democratic countries settle their differences through dialogue without recourse to armed conflict, Ethiopians and Eritreans have the arduous duty of subduing their dictators first before setting the agenda for substantive talks for desired relations. It is a Herculean task which will require goodwill and objective analysis of all identifiable options for lasting relations among countries in the Horn of Africa.
This is an important agenda for the likes of Judge Birtukan, her peers and the younger generation who were born into the political hell created by the older generation.
Free Birtukan and all political prisoners!
LONG LIVE ETHIOPIA!!!
Robele Ababya can be reached at: email@example.com