Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa: Prospects for Stable, Democratic and Prosperous Future
Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa
The Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio organization (ESAT) in collaboration with Ethiopian academics and other notables hosted a successful two-day Symposium from May 9-10, 2015 on the theme “Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa: Prospects for a Stable, Democratic and Prosperous Future.” The event was represented by a cross-section of participants reflecting the tapestry of peoples, cultures, and diverse views of the region. The Symposium took into account the reality that the Horn of Africa is intertwined by geography, people-to-people intermingling, and economic interaction, religions and other shared heritages.
This timely Symposium focused on a) human rights, governance, civil society, ethnic polarization, socioeconomic problems, human exodus, corruption and illicit fund outflow; b) the façade of Ethiopia’s 2015 parliamentary elections; c) perspectives on new policies and directions; and d) a general direction on the way forward. Participants analyzed and debated the systemic causes that fuel social unrest and rebellion, terrorism, secessionist tendencies, and instability that may ultimately lead to the status of a failed or failing state. On the positive side, participants agreed that Ethiopia is politically and strategically important for the entire sub-region, and underscored its potential as a stabilizing and moderating force with enormous untapped natural resources and human capital.
The Symposium restated the fact that the EPRDF regime, which gathers massive foreign aid exceeding $4 billion per year, uses foreign aids and loans to ferment foment animosities and hatred among various ethnic and religious groups. Furthermore, it was noted that the dictatorship squanders national resources through corruption, and closes political and social spaces, through blatant suppression of fundamental freedoms, and violation of human rights, the rule of law and political pluralism.
The Symposium has unanimously agreed that the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has been illegally imposed on the Ethiopian people in 1991, has no legitimacy to govern. The symposium emphasized that the regime endangers the stability and the very existence of the multi-ethnic nation and continues to create polarizing conditions that breed fear, intolerance, extremism, terrorism and civil unrest—all factors that counter sustainable and equitable development for Ethiopia’s 100 million people. The sentiment was echoed in a May 6, 2015 editorial by Human Rights Watch that stated: “Since the last election, the ruling party has exerted more control and increased its repression of basic liberties, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association.” Indeed, dissidents that pose challenge to the ruling party are always blatantly accused of “terrorism,” beaten, jailed under trumped up charges or forced to flee. In 2014 alone, more than 30 journalists fled Ethiopia; and an unknown number of dissidents are in jail. Ethiopia’s politicized judicial system provides no relief. The 2009 Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Organizations Proclamations are used as thought-out instruments to crush dissent and civil society.
The Symposium noted that the upcoming election to be held on May 24, 2015 is not going to be any different from the past and agreed with HRW’s findings. “As Ethiopians go to the polls in late May 2015, prospects for the opposition to fully and fairly campaign are grim.” One Ethiopian activist told HRW the disheartening story of fear and repression. “If we go to the streets, we are arrested, and if we go to their offices to question policy, we are called ‘terrorists’.” If we go to the courts, there is no independence—we go to jail…. So, what can we do? … The elections are just another sign of our repression.” The reality on the ground conforms to the Symposium’s conclusion that Ethiopians are ruled harshly by what the Guardian Newspaper called an “Orwellian” one-party surveillance State. Each year, the State spends hundreds of millions of Birr on a 1:5 System of spying where one person monitors and reports on expressions, communications, associations and movements of five individuals. Anyone suspected of being an enemy= of the ruling party is arrested, often beaten and jailed without due process. Monitoring and surveillance of telephone, Internet, television and social media communication within and outside Ethiopia are pervasive. This suffocating environment creates a fertile ground for social unrest, terrorism, rebellion, and national and regional stability.
The Symposium appreciated the reflective and overwhelming presentation of the keynote speaker from Oakland Institute that detailed the myriads of problems Ethiopians are facing through the ill-advised land grab and villagization policies of the EPRDF government, and elucidating the link between the government’s continued violations of basic human rights and possible regional conflicts and instability. Also, the conference applauded the latest critique of Ethiopia’s parliamentary election by HRW that corroborates a similar editorial comment “Make-believe in Ethiopia” May 1, 2015 by the Washington Post: “The regime’s repression deserves condemnation, not praise, from Washington.” The editorial is in response to the Department of State’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, who wrongly said: “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair, credible, open and inclusive.” Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, U.S.A., the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ethiopia Human Rights Project, Freedom Now, International Rivers and Ethiopians have sent protest letters to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to retract Ms. Sherman’s statement. Participants at the Symposium agreed with the above editorials and opined that there is no documentary evidence that Ethiopia is a “democracy.” On the contrary, the Ethiopian government has created a suffocating environment of fear and hopelessness that engenders terrorism and may lead to the fracturing of an already polarized and volatile country. Ethiopia’s false sense of peace and stability is maintained through sheer repression and application of force.
The Symposium is, nevertheless, convinced that instability that could potentially lead to fragmentation; and repression that could potentially lead to unstoppable and catastrophic civil unrest, can be averted if Western democracies, especially the United States Government, use their immense leverage to demand that the Ethiopian government respect human rights, the rule of law and democracy. In light of the dire conditions facing Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people and the rest of the Horn, the Symposium resolves and recommends the following:
1. While we condemn the atrocities committed on Ethiopian Christians including one Ethiopian Muslim by ISIS Libya, the murder of law abiding Ethiopians in South Africa, the bombing of Ethiopian and other civilians in Yemen, we hold accountable the EPRDF regime for failing to protect Ethiopian citizens victimized in those incidents.
2. We call on all Ethiopian opposition, civic, professional and religious groups, human rights advocates, activists and academics to work together, to craft an all-inclusive democratic system for Ethiopia.
3. We contend it is the long-term interests of the Ethiopian people, the Horn of Africa and Western democracies to promote and defend the unconditional respect for human rights and freedoms, as well as good, accountable and representative governance in Ethiopia. We call upon the US government to abandon the failed and “make-believe statements of a-go-softly approach” towards the Ethiopian government, and stop the unconditional funneling of aid to a regime that has continued to choke off the media, hamper the participation of opposition parties and silence its critics”.
4. We call on the global community, especially Western donors, governments and foreign investors to consider withholding aid for the unsustainable and inequitable growth model that has left millions unemployed and poor; and that forces hundreds of thousands to flee.
5. We call on the Ethiopian government to release unconditionally all political prisoners, journalists, bloggers and Muslim leaders (Dimsachin Yisema), unlawfully imprisoned; and to rescind the Anti-Terrorism and CSO laws.
6. We call on the UNHCR, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to do all they can to provide a safe haven for Ethiopian refugees stranded in Libya and Yemen; and facilitate migration of individuals who fear persecution in Ethiopia to third countries.
7. We call on members of the U.S. Congress to reintroduce the 2007 Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Legislation that was intended to advance the protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.
8. Finally, we call on all Ethiopian political and civic organization, religious institutions, and well-meaning Ethiopians to close ranks and unite in finding durable solutions for all the political, economic, and social problems facing Ethiopia.
The organizing committee was asked to arrange conferences on topics that attracted enormous interests from participants but could not be covered adequately due to time constraint. The organizing committee has noted the following themes to discuss in detail in future conference. Some of these areas include:
1. Ethio- Eritrean relation for lasting peace and sustainable development
2. Peace and Reconciliation in the Horn of Africa
3. Governance, Democracy and Human Rights in the Horn of Africa
4. The role of Social Media (Face book, Twitter, YouTube etc…) in promoting Democratization and exposing Human Rights abuses in the Horn of Africa
May 18, 2015, Contact information: Via email: email@example.com or by telephone at 571- 335-4964