The defining moment

By Dawit Wolde-Giorgis | 11 November 2011 | PDF [Part One]
[Part Two]

I have been inspired to write this article after watching the interview of Dr Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, by Abebe Gellaw on ESAT. Dr Gregory Stanton is also a professor, an accomplished diplomat who has extensive experience in Africa.

When I listened to what Dr Gregory Stanton had to say, it brought to mind all the places I have worked under the UN, places where crimes of humanity or genocide have taken place, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Rwanda and Angola. In all the places where it happened people were caught by surprise at the extent a government would go to defend its authority over the majority. The Ethiopian situation has reached the tipping point. And I decided to say:

Mr Meles Zenawi, it is time to go!

Ethiopia and Ethiopians have reached once gain a defining moment. If it has not been clear to some until now, recent phenomena in North Africa and the Middle East have made it abundantly clear that dictators not only come to a disgraceful end but in the process they take their countries down. History is replete with cases of dictators who listen to different voices than those of the people.

“ why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function? “Barbara Tuchman, a noted historian and author of The March of Folly. Such is the case of one of our own, PM Mels Zenawi as with all other dictators.

There are three very general types of transition from a dictatorship to democracy: reform, compromise and overthrow. Reform will not be an option to the people because in this scenario the dictator will determine the condition, the type and pace of change. This may be the scenario most comfortable to Meles but not acceptable to Ethiopians. Compromise may be the best way out for him and the country. This scenario entails the democratization by the combined actions of the regime and the opposition forces. This would mean that the current regime will generally negotiate protection for itself in terms of amnesties or protection from prosecution. Being overthrown is the fate of regimes who refuse to compromise or reform.

The choices for PM Meles have become very clear. Either he makes history by resigning or handing over to a democratically elected government, (election under the direct supervision of independent international organizations and/ or governments) or he decides to stay on and face the inevitable disgrace for himself with a possible anarchy and conflict in the country. A majority of Ethiopian activists, political pundits, journalists and all those who have followed keenly the development of events in Ethiopia over the last several years agree with this. There is no running away from this absolute truth. Meles will go down and so will all his associates. The question that is being asked now is: “Does he want to go out like Mwalimu Nyrrere ofTanzania, who left the position as President at a prime age and as a result of this bold decision left behind a country united and the most peaceful in the continent, or like President Jerry Rowling of Ghana, now a respected citizen of Ghana or like President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia who gave up the presidency to pave the way for today’s democracy and President Sam Nujoma of Namibia, respected veteran freedom fighter who lives as an honored citizen in one of the most stable and organized country in Africa.. I cannot mention Nelson Mandela because he has established a higher standard. The other choice is to be forced to leave and be killed like Siad Barre of Somalia, Samuel Doe of Liberia or be forced to leave, like President Mobutu of Zaire (DRC) or Idi Amin of Uganda, in disgrace and die in exile reviled and hated and face a lonely death, or face the international court of justice like Charles Taylor of Liberia, or be placed in an animal cage and brought to justice like Mubarak of Egypt, or get caught in a gutter like Sadam Hussein of Iraq or Mummaar Gadaffi of Libya or like Meles’s predecessor Mengistu Haile Mariam flee somewhere (though difficult these days) and live like a scare crow and be in the list “ History’s most evil Men and Women” (MONSTERS by Simon Sebag Montefrore.) Mengistu is already in the list. Prime Minster Meles has a chance to be in the good books if he does what is best for the nation; compromise before overthrow.

Genocide Watch

Those who have listened to what Dr.Gregroy had to say regarding the stages of genocide must have been asking themselves which stage Ethiopia is in. According to him, and I have found out most learned people on the subject agree with his stages, there are eight stages to genocide. First, is Classification of society ( Tigre, Amahra, Oromo, Gambella, Gurage, people from Southern Regions etc.,) Second, Giving names to classifications (Weyane, oppressor, colonialist, etc..) Third, dehumanization of certain groups of people ( i.e. some are more equal than others in work, education, promotion etc..) Fourth, Organizations (i.e. TPLF, EPRDF, Youth League, etc) Fifth, polarization of society ( i.e. lower rates of intermarriages, affiliation only with own ethnic group, using own languages only, separate churches etc..) Sixth, preparation Seventh, killing begins and Eight denial by the perpetrators. Watch the interview and try to see where we are in the context of current Ethiopian realities. Whether we are in the first or fourth stage all of us should be scared of what is yet to come. According to Genocide Watch the hundreds of Anwak killed in Gambella have been determined as genocide. It was committed under the direct order of Meles. So Melels has clearly demonstrated his capacity and resolve to commit genocide. He has organized a youth league in the Nazi youth league style (bought, bribed) and his TPLF cadres are in every agency, government and nongovernmental, he has distributed arms to his ‘militia ‘and his TPLF cadres, has amassed enough money to buy and bribe people, the government machinery is firmly under his control, he has launched a Nazi style media and propaganda machinery, he has declared that people are with him or against him, he has escalated his arrogance and his disregard to the basic rights of people and has launched arbitrary actions against all presumed to be against him or the TPLF. He has clearly created the environment for a civil war which can lead to another genocide.

It does not really matter whether the killings and the tortures and the imprisonments are termed as genocide or crimes against humanity, what matters is that people die and suffer at the hands of this dictator because they don’t conform to established polices, don’t belong to a certain ethnic group and are not willing to be second hand citizens in their own country.

Hatred and hostilities amongst people is a choice leaders make. It is one of their instruments to cling to power. Ethnic differences are not necessarily ethnic hostilities. They are made so by leaders. I have worked in almost all the conflict areas of Africa and, invariably, what I have witnessed and observed is that ethnic conflicts are created by leaders who don’t have statesmanship and visions for their countries; leaders that have made a choice to put their own interests above the interest of their people.

I was assigned to Rwanda by the UN a two weeks after the genocide was stopped (by the RPF) and the perpetrators left the country. I arrived there when the streets were still littered with corpses, houses full of hacked bodies, when churches were full of rotting bodies, and road blocks with human corpses were not yet removed and dogs were all over, feasting on human corpses. I stayed in Rwanda for over two years doing my work but also listening to the harrowing stories of the genocide survivors. During the colonial period of the 1930s to 1960s the Germans and later the Belgians instituted a form of divide and rule by giving the minority, the Tutsis, who comprised 15% of the population, a special privilege in education in ownership of land and in local government. The 80% majority Hutus were deprived of their land and all other privileges and remained oppressed both by the Tutsis and the colonialists. In Rwanda, hatred amongst the Tutsi and Hutus were sponsored first by the colonialists and after independence by governments who allowed the colonial polices of segregation to continue and manipulating it for their own benefits.

Though, Tutsis and Hutus share a common culture and language the colonialists took the physical appearance of the Tutsis to determine that Tutsis are of a superior race and therefore deserve a special status in the social and economic life of the country. Over the years the some of the Tutsis really believed that they were entitled to power and privilege and that they were better people than all the rest. Although Rwanda was definitely not a land of peace and harmony before the arrival of the Europeans, there were no incidents in its pre colonial history of systematic violence between Tutsis and Hutus. There were plenty of wars both domestic and against foreign invaders but they were either defense against foreign invasion or internal power struggles. There is indeed a very interesting similarity between Ethiopia and Rwanda on this aspect though the context of Rwanda is much more complex.

Deprived of political power and materially exploited by the Tutsi minority and repeatedly told that they deserved their fate the Hutus began to hate all Tutsis, even those who were as poor as they were. At independence a time bomb had already been set and it was now only a question of when it would go off. It happened in 1959 in a relatively smaller extent but in 1994 it exploded as the worst genocide since the Second World War. Close to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in the most brutal way. The ideas, the myths and the attempt of the minority to disgrace and exploit a majority of the population erupted into a collective madness that remains inexplicable.

A French historian on Rwanda (Gerard Punier) writes,

“Ideas and myths can kill, and their manipulation by the elite leaders for their own material benefit does not change the fact that in order to operate they first have to be implanted in the souls of men.”

This, of course is very relevant to Ethiopia under the TPLF.

The Rwanda of today had to be very creative to mend the wrongs of the past and establish a sense of equality, justice and security amongst its people and a lot has been achieved so far but it will be a long healing and reconciliation process.

Ethnic conflict is not inevitable. Tanzania has many ethnic tribes but it had never experienced ethnic conflict because the politicians did not make that choice. South Africa has four distinctly different races and yet there has not been any notable conflict. There is a long list of countries in Africa that fall in to this category. The Rwandan genocide could have been avoided. It was the result of the predatory politics of the leadership. The genocide was meticulously planned by politicians who exploited and manipulated the feelings of the people to launch a brutal massacre on the Tutsi minority.

Like Dr Gregory stated the Syrian uprising has significant similarities with the current Ethiopian situation. Syria has a multiplicity of religious and ethnic groups. The Assad family’s regime belongs to the Alawi Muslim minority and has ruled ruthlessly for over 41 years. Syria’s religious minorities, the Alawis in particular are worried that the demise of the Assad regime could be a long and bloody affair, and that it could result in civil war. It is believed that the protests against the Assad regime is leading to religious and ethnic tensions, that would be difficult to reverse with possible acts of revenge on the Alawis in particular who genuinely fear being targeted, since the Assad family itself is Alawi. Bashar al- Assad has filled most key positions in the government, military and secret service with Alawis. Assad is arming Alawi villages that are geographically near Sunni villages. Those are dangerous tendencies. Normal members of a minority group, who don’t profit from the regime, are afraid of it – and rightly so. ” Syria’s leaders knowingly play on the peoples’ fears of interreligious conflict – and that makes the demonstrators even more angry”, said Syria expert and journalist Kristin Helberg.

Minority governments usually go to any extent to protect their interests because they are fearful of the consequences of losing power. Bahrain has a minority government with 60 to 70% Shiite and 30 to 40% Sunni. The Shiites revolted and look at the carnage that is taking place. The sectarian divide has become even wider and nothing can stop short of a democratically elected government which will obviously bring the minority to power. Yemen has a slightly Sunni majority but it is fighting a proxy war supported by Iran on one side and Saudi on the other. As President Salah refuses to give up power and in the process has brought the country to its knees and crimes against humanity is underway. Yemen is one hour flight from Addis.

Ethiopia’s problems is the unwillingness and inability of the TPLF government to learn from such lessons and refuse to abandon its ethnic policy, allow freedom of expression, enforce the rule of law and allow its citizens to exercise their freedom to choose their own government. Ethiopians may have to pay a heavy price for this misguided policy unless steps are taken now to stop the policies and excesses of this government by removing it peacefully.

The Plight of Our People

I have been working in Sudan for three years until end of 2007 I have witnessed the unprecedented exodus of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees. Though there is no precise figure, there are, at any given time close to 200,000 Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in Sudan. For some it is an opportunity to earn a living as housekeepers, guards and waiters and support families back home but for many Sudan is a transit point, for the long arduous walk across the treacherous Sahara desert to Libya. Hundreds of young men and women trek the desert with the intention of reaching one of the Libyan ports and beyond across to the Mediterranean Sea to one of the European coast. I have seen hundreds of young boys and girls, determined souls, who have decided that there are no other options but to move on. Nothing I can say can explain the ordeal of our people walking in the sands of the Sahara in search of hope. For the lucky ones it might take 4 months to reach the Libyan border nowadays because of restrictions that were in place then. I am quite sure many Ethiopians and Eritreans are trapped in the ongoing conflict. Many perish along the way and some are caught at borders and imprisoned and or deported. Those who make it to the cites of Libya hustle for a few months and once they have saved some money, they pay the smugglers and make the final push with unlicensed boats to one of the coasts of Europe. If the sea is rough or the security is high, they get back to where they started and try again and again. There have been several incidents where the boats have capsized and many died. These are young Ethiopians who are unwanted or unwelcome in their own country, young people who have nothing to eat and live for driven out and forced to take this kind of drastic measures. This movement of people across our national boundary and their death and suffering is caused by the deliberate action or in action of the government and therefore can be considered as a crime against humanity if not genocide.

However it is refreshing to note that in the field (Sudan, Kenya, South Africa and other places in Africa where I have been) Ethiopian refugees of all ethnic backgrounds are the closest allies. In the comforts of our homes here in America and elsewhere we talk about differences between Amharas, Oromos, Tigreans and Eritreans, but out there the people have already decided that they are destined to be together. They struggle, they work together, watch each other’s back, support each other, worship together and celebrate holidays together just like we used to a long time ago.

But for how long is the plight of our people going to continue? For how long are our people going to be on the run to every corner of the world searching for hope, safety and better life? as the second largest number of African refugees.

The future of Ethiopia is together. Our ruling elites have monopolized state power and used it to feed their own appetite for status, wealth and domination. They are short sighted and therefore do not care about the consequences of their actions on the future of their people. But this generation of Ethiopians have options: either to build a country of united people or at war with each other, giving a chance for despotism and terror to take over our lives.

Today, information technology has transformed the way and the speed business is done. The emergence of China, India and Brazil as major economic powers has challenged the dominant influence of Europe and the United States. The trend is that nations are moving rapidly toward national and regional integration. This is essential not only for their survival but also to strengthen their ability to end poverty, increase production, prevent conflict, negotiate, create new markets, promote foreign investment and be effective players in global politics and economy. SADEC, COMESA, EAC and ECOWAS are going forward from strength to strength. Ethiopia is not playing any significant role in this. There is no question at all that the countries in the Horn can establish a strong and dynamic economic community, which may be the envy to the rest of Africa and an economic nucleus for the Horn of Africa. But that can come only with democracy and peace in our respective countries.

Recognizing how much the Tigreans, the Amharas, Oromos, Gurages and the Southern People have in common, let us aspire to grow together in peace and friendship and for prosperity and the defense of freedom, and to stop the plight of the young Ethiopians who are now seen as destabilizing forces in their own countries because they are largely unemployed, unskilled or unwanted.

Our leaders have refused to learn from the repeated mistakes of history. They have acted contrary to the way reason points. It has been repeatedly demonstrated, more recently in North Africa and the Middle East, “that power corrupts and it breeds folly and causes the failure to think rationally and reasonably in the interest of the state and its citizens.” (Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly.) Eventually history catches up with them and they come to a disgraceful end but at a high cost to the people and the countries.

Let us prevent paying such high prices by calling for change through mass protests and demonstrations and building the blocks for a peaceful transition to democracy because democracies reduce conflicts and tend to treat their citizens more fairly and do not tend to fight one another. If we act in unity we will succeed but there is no unity the ruling class will exploit the differences and lead us to the worst of our fears. Let us teach those who don’t know of our common history and what we have achieved together. Oromos, Amharas, Tigreans, Gurages, and Southern People of Ethiopia and all other smaller ethnic groups have struggled, suffered, rejoiced at their glories, shared, fought, and worshipped together for centuries. We have been together at every major event in the glorious history of our peoples. In the process numerous errors have been made. Let us learn from the errors of the past and move forward. The rest of the world is moving forward but we are moving backwards. Let us not be fooled by the propaganda of this regime. We remain the poorest country on earth, one of most oppressed people on earth. Look at the numbers and the reality on the ground and not the manna from the sky.

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self deception… consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden head of all sovereigns: “ No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.” The March of Folly by B.T

Let us not allow the wooden headedness of this regime to destroy our country and the future of our children. Let us make this the cause for a common struggle for freedom and democracy and a life of peace and growth and pledge that we will not allow ourselves to be pawns of the Weyane because we know that the power of the collective will always prevail. The early warning signs are there and the world cannot say we did not know.

Let us heed the words of a person who was there in Rwanda: “I remembered information I had obtained on the genocide since 1994. Militia men were trained to kill and had succeeded in killing between 800,000 and one million people in three months. I imagined big, muscular individuals holding huge machetes in their large hands, their eyes filled with blood and hatred. But in the Rwandan prisons, I met young thin men with shyness in their eyes, fragile and hesitating, who responded to my questions softly and touchingly. These were simple people like you and me, who were students, famers, teachers, doctors, judges, lawyers and civil servants the day before and who suddenly became blood thirsty beasts.

“For me behind these observation lies the issue that each of us has the capacity to commit such crimes. …..it is always the same mechanism, the same phenomenon where man once again becomes his own predator. The stakes involved here entail our very humanity. We agree we have to be more human… For the “never gain” to be finally true, so that we cannot say that we saw and could do nothing, we have to protect our intelligence and our progress to humanity,” an extract from a speech given by Jean-Jacques Badibanga, originally from the DRC but lives in Rwanda currently working with Advocates sans Frontier.

(Read also in PDF The defining moment (Part One)
The defining moment (Part Two))

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Posted by on November 13, 2011. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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