By Abraham Berhe – It is said that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Most Ethiopian folks can relate this to current political cravings. It is safe to assume that most Ethiopians have fixated their mind on Assab Port until they finally got their fill of it. Likewise, my political cravings typically come in the same tune. I dream to see it happening now or never. To our dismay, this popular carving for Assab seaport and the urge Ethiopians consistently show for it thus far has come nowhere near getting its force-field decision and appropriate response by the current regime. Indeed, as far as Ethiopia’s rightful and legitimate access to the sea is concerned, Both Meles Zenawi and his political associates within the TPLF keep on shrugging their shoulders and nodding their heads in contempt. Each time Assab Port issue comes to their attention either directly or indirectly, they adamantly grumble Ethiopia’s rightful ownership of it as its outlet to the sea. In my view, probable justifications to reclaim the Assab port still can be looked at from the following 4-standpoints:
On the eve of referendum, well hidden from most European observers, the Eritrean people were intimidated by EPLF forces; according to some foreign observers at that time, the referendum exercise was highly threatening to those who might waver in casting their vote. Actually, the referendum slogan, “if you vote red you will be dead” was well-known to every Eritrean. But I don’t want to delve into this matter here as my focus is more on the Assab seaport issue.
What is democracy after all, if the very existence and economic interest of the Ethiopian people is threatened? What are all the development gains to offer ultimately if Ethiopia’s presumable leader (Meles Zenawi) gives away at will Ethiopia’s legitimate outlet to the sea; simply to keep Ethiopia (with its nearly 80 million populations) as a land-locked nation? Regardless of presenting himself as an enlightened leader of our time, what are the most vital national priorities Meles Zenawi secured as such? What are the verifiable achievements Meles Zenawi did to Ethiopia that we can proudly pronounce?
In principle, the significance of the national socio-economic and political strategic priorities of Ethiopia is basically founded on its strategic national security and long-term socio-economic interests including Ethiopia’s legitimate outlet to the sea. During his nearly three decades of TPLF/Woyane leadership, Meles Zenawi has utterly failed by initially collaborating with anti-Ethiopia forces while at the same time fighting for power to remove the Derg regime. For instance, soon after assuming the office of the Presidency in Addis Ababa, and ascertaining the cabin-sit for himself where he maneuvers the driving wheel, Meles Zenawi implemented political discourses that have serious long-term political and economic repercussions on the very country he happens to be the leader (the driver).
Looked at from a democratic constitutional principle perspectives, just as any individual citizen, Meles Zenawi never had the mandate to do what he did on his own; without bringing this crucial issue to the decision forums of the Ethiopian people; and as a resolute, Meles Zenawi’s legacy remains tainted and the impact of his dubious actions regarding Assab remains as a huge debacle to Ethiopia’s current and future geo-political economy.
Regardless of repeated urging messages consistently coming from both Ethiopians at home and in Diaspora, Meles Zenawi has given deaf-ears to the seaport issue; and failed mercilessly by not taking corrective measures to redeem his earlier major national political mistakes. To the contrary, in most cases, he seems to choose short-term benefits instead of considering lasting and enduring national solutions. But, what makes him think that he alone is right and that the rest of the country is wrong? Why does Meles keep on arguing that Assab Port belongs to Eritrea while the vast majority of the Ethiopian people unflinchingly and persistently believe the contrary? Actually, what was the rationale for the 1998-2000 border war he made with Eritrea? And why did he go to Algiers afterwards? What is the long term result of Article 39 passed by his regime’s constitution? Which developing country on the whole wide world would accept secession at demand the way the Meles regime’s Article 39 invites ethnic groups to act upon? Which progressive democracy does guarantee ethnic groups the right to secede at demand?
To the contrary, what we know is countries defending their rightful geo-political position. For instance, Nigerians paid with 3 million peoples’ lives to retain Nigeria in the form we know it today. Obviously, one of the key difficult tasks of a political leader like Meles Zenawi is the inevitable accountability of events, including the unintended results he has to face. During the heydays of the 1980s, Meles Zenawi was in love with Isaass Afeworki as brothers in arms. This however has detrimental effect on the popular causes as the objective of the two (TPLF and EPLF) was radically different. To my understanding, in spite of the mutually demanding socio-political circumstances the warring parties of the time, TPLF should have known its goal difference from that of EPLF; and it should have created an edge on serious national issues. This is because TPLF’s question is Ethiopian by its nature while EPLF’s quest is for complete secession of Eritrea.
In principle, the main task of a leader like Meles is to fulfill his people’s vested interest. For long time, the people of Ethiopia have believed in Assab Port as part of the Ethiopian edifices. There are still many political, geographical, historical, strategic and economic reasons to claim Assab Port. So, I have hard time to accept Meles Zenawi’s key mistakes that has finally jeopardized Ethiopia’s geo-political and socio-economic interests thus far. Better late than never, Assab Port’s significance to Ethiopia must be taken into momentous consideration; and be given topmost priority in order to arrive at meticulous and monumental decisions carving the national interests for the betterment of Ethiopia. Without any doubt, Assab Port is one of the crucial life-lines of Ethiopia. It was illegally given away without arriving at any visible or convincing deal.
I understand that many native Amhara speakers have negative attitude towards the people of Tegray. They even use the word ‘Woyane’ to insult or intimidate Tigrians. Well, I assure you such actions are futile. If the Amhara harm any Tegraway because the person is Tegre, I am afraid if there would be any ground where they could stand on. To my understanding, there is no derogatory Tegrigna word used at Amharu. It is not our culture to harm anyone even during the struggle times. Although some of our Amhara brothers and sisters are heeding to the hate monger fanatics venomous propaganda, I have faith on the majority of the Ethiopian peoples to differentiate facts from fiction and abstain from hateful acts. Rather we should gather momentum and bound to regain our legitimate Assab Seaport as this is hurting deeply Ethiopia’s geo-political and economic stand by each hour, each day, each month, and each year that goes by without any significant achievement to this effect.
As to the mindset of Tegrians, trust me, I know it very well. This is a point that puzzles me persistently as to why Meles Zenawi and his close associates are so arrogant enough not to understand the behavior of the Eritrean? Back then, during the struggle the latter proved their hate towards all others by using different expressions and actions. As you may know, during the mid-1980s if I am not mistaken, EPLF prevented TPLF from using Eritrean lands to transport food. Furthermore, they have used disparaging words like “Adgi” against our brothers – the Amhara people. While knowing all this, why is it then Meles expects an egg from a venomous serpent and baby-sit these eggs only to poison Ethiopia forever? I think if Meles wants to leave a legacy, he needs to design realistic strategies for mutual benefit and apply it now or never. I believe his government has serious responsibility to employ effective, diverse and well-informed Ethiopians (who believe in stronger and united Ethiopia).
As a Tegrain born Ethiopian I would always be so delighted to see Assab Port to remain as Ethiopia’s legitimate outlet to the sea. However, as any rational minded and objective visionary person may judge, Meles Zenawi’s major actions on this particular issue prove the opposite. In fact, I’m forced to suspect that Meles Zenawi’s hidden allegiance is not for Ethiopia but for Eritrea. Although subjective and blunt, my views are based for the good of Ethiopia. More, I am learning informally about the intertwined issues faced by Ethiopia as a sovereign nation. Enough to mention the financial loss incurred and comparative disadvantage faced by the commercial and trade sector due to Ethiopia’s stay as land-locked nation for nearly two decades now. In this respect, Meles Zenawi’s hitherto negligence on Ethiopia’s access to the sea simply has left Ethiopia to where it is situated in this Globalization era. At this critical time, this indifferent and unpardonable attitude manifested by Meles Zenawi and his associates is unacceptable to any rational minded Ethiopian.
To say the least, and as we know it well, international law is not stagnant. To the contrary it can be codified to satisfy popular, acute, and priority needs of a given nation. But at different times, Meles Zenawi takes it lightly and keeps on arguing that Ethiopia can live and grow without an outlet to the sea. Meles’s mistake is compounded one over the other. Instead of listening to the people’s interest and apply fitting strategies, out of contempt, Meles kept on making lame and apologetic statements about Assab. To hear him make such upsetting, arrogant and apolitical statements is maddening. To me, border demarcation with Eritrea is less of a concern; whether Ethiopia or Eritrea has made an incursion of a kilometer here or a kilometer there in a barren region. Border demarcation with Eritrea to me or even for the majority of Ethiopians is nothing more or nothing less than ensuring Ethiopia’s right of access to the sea through its own Assab Port, period. Assab Port is symbolic, it is historic, it is our own and further more it is the blood vessel of our economic survival.
Meles Zenawi’s give-away actions of Assab Port have already caused huge economic devastation on Ethiopia; both in terms of economic comparative advantages the country should have gained thus far; and in terms of currency values that would have accrued from foreign exchange). Besides, in its historical terms alone, Ethiopia, one of the oldest countries in the world, is finally forced to cripple as an amputated and land locked nation by the damage Meles and his associates caused to this great nation. By forcing the Ethiopian public to kneel down and accept the new face of Ethiopia that Meles and his close associates have crafted instantly, they continue to keep Ethiopia as a land locked nation without any legislative reasoning or approval. Indeed this act alone has left incurable scar in the minds of Ethiopians that shows-up and continues to show for generations to come. To the extent, Meles is bold enough than during his earlier premiership periods to down-play on Assab issue because he believes for sure that we are good for nothing. To this day, all he tells his followers and the opposition groups alike is: Go my way or take the highway – as he clearly reiterates this very statement in Amhara: ‘Mengdun Cherk Yadirglachihu’! So considering his repeated failures on numerous key national issues that deserve timely corrections I’m inclined to call Meles Zenawi – a stubborn political figure. The boys of Dedebit are not ready to listen to Ethiopia’s heart-bits and respond accordingly. Rather, they have given a deaf-ear and a closed mind to this burning national issue. Whatever the circumstance, I suggest that we Ethiopians shouldn’t resort to reclaim Eritrea. Let the Eritrean people join us at will; when the time is ripe enough for them to reconcile with their Ethiopian brothers and sisters. We have paid dearly for it. Now it is up to them to decide whether to remain on their own or to reconcile with the rest of Ethiopia. Rather our focused should be focused on Assab; whatsoever it takes, we should continue to reclaim it; and act upon strategies that strengthen our arguments for regaining Assab by hock or crock.
That means, at the end of the day, we have nothing to lose; but gather momentum and rise up beyond our differences. We should work on how we can unite ourselves for only one cause: ETHIOPIA. Let everyone try the way they understand to become successful; Let us put our hands and heads together on a lasting purpose; be it peaceful struggle or otherwise. Together we can bring Ethiopia to its rightful position. And in the spirit of Obama’s recent campaign slogan let me say: ‘Yes we can’ – Yichalal!