By Dula Abdu,
Ethiopia besides being the seat of the African union, cradle of mankind, carries great historical symbol for people of African origin. Ethiopia earned this position as one of the longest independent nations, and for repulsing Western colonial occupation. Despite this legacy, Ethiopians have never enjoyed rule of law or fair and free election.
Representative of warring factions from South Sudan are in Ethiopia to hammer out their differences and to form democratic union where all different groups can live in peace. Unfortunately, Ethiopia is not a place to teach such lessons. The Ethiopian regime pretended for long for things that it is not in order to earn respect and foreign aid.
In Ethiopia the government perfected the Machiavellian system where ethnic groups are pitted one against another, embraced the bantustanization of Ethiopia, resources are controlled like in North Korea and Cuba by the state, where the state owns land, access to Internet, telecommunication, banking and all other vital means of production causing many Ethiopian to live a precarious often miserable economic and political existence. Freedom of the press, free assembly, civil societies, and political parties are barley existent or survive at the whims of the regime.
In 2005, the late Meles Zenawi allowed unfettered debate among candidates believing that he was assured of victory, but when the polls started coming, he realized that he was losing in all major cities and in most of the country side except in Tigre, Silte, Hadre regions, so he stopped the countdown and declared victory. When protest erupted he used deadly force killing over 190 peaceful protesters and arrested hundreds of thousands. The U.S. government and African leaders looked the other way because the sway Ethiopia holds in Africa. After Meles emerged unscathed except condemnation by a few representatives in Europe and the U.S., leaders in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan realized that if Melese can get away by stealing an election, they can do it too. The Kenyan attempt was bloody, others were less bloody, but the pattern for dynasties or one party apparatus were set in motion. Now some elections in Africa are ceremonial because the winner is predetermined.
Ethiopia holds the key to democracy in Africa. So in order to restore democracy in Africa, Ethiopia as the seat of the OAU has to uphold the rule of law, respect free and fair election, then the rest of Africa will follow suit. Ethiopia plays a significant leadership role and that role has to include in promoting democracy in the continent. African leaders come to Ethiopia in a regular basis at least once a year and see Ethiopia’s oppressive system year after year surviving and the West giving a blind eye. So goes the rest of Africa.
Ethiopia will hold its true place in history not as the physical capital of Africa, or as the cradle of man kind, only when it upholds the rule of law and becomes a pride for the rest of the oppressed African masses, as it did during pre-colonial Africa. The Obama administration has tremendous power on Ethiopia, a country landlocked and far dependent on aid ill can afford to alienate the West.
All Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia and others are yearning for democracy and for American leadership. Unfortunately, leadership has been reactionary only willing to put out fires instead of building a roadmap for democracy for the continent.
Some countries like Ethiopia are exempt from respecting the rule of law despite their repeated defiance. Many African leaders are aspiring to anoint themselves and their children for life whether it is good for the country or whether the people support it or not. The West especially Washington is eager to acquiesce in the name of stability, which in this case is a mirage, because there is no stability without respect for rule of law.
Billions of souls from Third World nations are potential terrorists, unless we end their extreme poverty, oppression and suffering. For Africa, the first place to start is Ethiopia.
Unless other African countries including Ethiopia pledge to hold free and fair election, respect the rule of law and respect the rights of their citizens regardless of their tribe or religion, the leaders of South Sudan may not want to be an exception to the norm. In the long run, for Africa to enjoy peace, stability and economic growth, ethnic and/or one party dictatorship has to be forbidden.
Abdu, originally from Africa, is a Houston-based writer on foreign policy. He can be reached at email@example.com.