By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn Wednesday told EU parliamentary delegation, headed by Sub-Committee Chairwoman for Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler, for Ethiopia democracy “is a matter of survival”. For a regime hooked on achieving permanence in power, embarrassingly every visitor must have heard this show of the never ending folly and emptiness of the past 22 years , yet again. What is disturbing is that in an otherwise docile country, the prime minister chose to employ it yet again at a time when the people are increasingly vowing enough is enough.
Therefore, those that could read Ethiopia’s situation must be disappointed by this vain attempt at whitewashing the nation’s ugly reality. In the face of Ethiopia’s increasing move into intolerable situation that may result in its eventual self-destruction, this official attitude may increase the worries of those that keep the country going. The outside world is fully aware of the excesses of Ethiopia’s leadership, especially its heavy-handedness, diminished integrity, its allergy to transparency and its attitude of the end-justifies-the means approach to governance.
In simple terms, in the eyes of the outside world this means that the leadership’s notoriety for its record of governance failures and massive official corrupt practices has reached its limits.
The world knows Ethiopia’s governance is mainly characterized by denial of freedoms, flagrant violations of human and civic rights, massive disrespect to domestic property rights, dislocation of citizens and internal deportations. Especially the latter has been systematically encouraged by the ruling party as part of its divide and rule policy in a multi-ethnic state. We have seen this repeatedly happening to the Amharas and Oromos in particular on a grand scale that can no longer elude anyone.
How could a government with such record of violence and barbarity claim virtue for itself especially as giver of “primary attention to democracy” in its governance, as Ato Hailemariam intimated to the visiting EU delegation? The world knows that the regime’s cadres are trained to think and believe that democracy is a poor country’s enemy, an instrument in the hands of latter day colonialists – the so-called neoliberals and their teaching neoliberalism! Who would deny that this has been the teaching of Meles Zenawi, now of his trusted inductee Hailemariam Dessalegn.
Deep-rooted hostility to democracy, human and civil rights
In Ethiopia, it is a fact of life that citizens get routinely imprisoned and tortured under any pretexts and without due process. Because of this, thanks to the raft of laws government introduces – so to say, under fortnightly moons – today prisons in Ethiopia are teeming with innocent individuals. Nonetheless, not many of these individuals are ever allowed to speak to lawyers in years; nor has the state charged them for any crimes.
Unfortunately, think of it what purpose would be served even then, if these individuals speak to lawyers in a country where judges and courts have long become enforces of the wishes of the ruling party, instead of the laws of the land.
Add to those nameless and faceless individuals, the hundreds that are deprived of their human rights and freedoms under the anti-terrorism and anti-civil society laws. In their case, they are officially designated enemies of the state and, therefore, are either locked away long-term sentences or for life.
Consequently, Ethiopia’s law allows democracy activists to be labeled as terrorists and charged as such! This is because, it has been a while in Ethiopia since intolerant behavior towards anyone standing up for his rights or that of all Ethiopians or group interests has become the regime’s special preserve. This has empowered the state to choose the ways and manners it could massacre and destroy human freedoms in Ethiopia.
It is not hence without reason that elimination of poverty, development and democracy are given special meaning and prominence in Ethiopia’s official communication, even when torture has become an officially sanctioned practice.
In the circumstances, given the country’s horrifying reality and citizens rising desperation, what makes this reality in Ethiopia a feature of democracy or the action of a government having whiff of commitment to democratic principles?
It is very sad that so many Ethiopians should continue to suffer this fate. In this mistreatment, time and again Ethiopians saw that their only crime is either belonging to certain ethnic groups the regime views with suspicion. If not that, it is linked to a situation wherein courageous individuals are the victims for daring to write or speak truth to power for abuses of power or corruption.
In its mildest form, we saw this bursting out of hand and all officials had to act as firefighters in the latest example of how the Benishangul-Gumuz anti-corruption commissioner was unlawfully removed from his post by a vote of corrupt senior officials.
It was later confirmed that his only crime, according to evidences that suddenly cropped up in a region where Amhara deportation has zoomed attention on the administration, was that he had swiftly moved to demanding action against corrupt officials, by the admission of the government itself. This happened not because there is real action against corrupt officials. It was cut to size because there is national and international focus of Ethiopians, after the deportation of citizens because they belonged to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group.
What has the government to hide from the EU delegation that it is not aware of?
The EU delegation visiting the county, which came with schedule agreed with the government was stopped from visiting prisons. They were also refused to visit with and talk to the political prisoners. This group of prisoners is composed of some opposition leaders, members and supporters of opposition parties and journalists.
When the EU delegation raised the question of how much the anti-terrorism and anti-civil society laws have hurt Ethiopians, the prime minister had no choice but to expose himself with his defensiveness, which forced him into smearing all activists and civil society groups as criminals.
This does not mean that law breakers should not be held accountable or their actions, provided that the law is intended to benefit or protect everyone equally and advance the interests of all citizens.
Unfortunately, that is not the case in Ethiopia today. Some individuals and groups are more equal than others. This is because of power of the gun and ill-gained wealths – not the power of laws. The old Roman idea of protecting the benefits and privileges of the primus inter pares (the first among equals) in Ethiopia has gone too far and has evidently become source of grave danger to the country’s stability, sovereignty and its long-term interests.
Therefore, in this situation the prime minister’s defensive behavior during his exchange of ideas with the EU delegation simply shows the sharp contrast between the delusion politics has been suffering in Ethiopia and the reality that increasingly is becoming intolerable.
In essence, Prime Minister Hailemariam’s weaker and defensive position, employing studied line to show that 22 years after the TPLF seized power Ethiopia has remained a primer in democracy and the rule of law is simply the poorest subterfuge. He is in better position to be fully aware that his predecessor had squeezed its lemon dry, having thus effectively exhausted its usefulness for today, when he managed to prolong his stay in power and without considerable challenge.
Ethiopia’s changed reality cannot stand the same thing all over again
If Prime Minister Hailemariam thought he was getting away with something to serve his interests, tiptoeing with untruths, as had done Meles, he is making a big mistake. The current Ethiopian reality no longer allows the luxury of adding insult to injury.
It is also doubtful if also the interests of foreign powers that for the greater part of the past two decades have kept Ethiopia on the ventilator, would close their eyes when everything is going down the drain. As a citizen of that unfortunate country, I saw the beginning of the end, as I discussed in my article ????? ?????? ???? ????? ?? when the regime sought to benefit from turning ethnic divisions into violence, with internal deportations of citizens, which is a crime in both national and international laws.
The important point here is that Hailemariam must know that he was in tune with the reality, when he reiterated to the visiting delegation the claim that Ethiopia is giving “primary attention” to democracy – a matter also recorded on the Ethiopian media.
Surely, no one would be duped into believing this. Like Ethiopian citizens, visitors to the country also see that Ethiopians are the most repressed and oppressed people in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries have attained important progress in the plurality they have begun to tolerate and making independence of their media a reality.
Such suffocation in Ethiopia results from the denial of freedoms by an insecure regime. That it has successfully passed onto citizens – a major adversity the nation has been suffering especially in the past decade.
How could this be a necessary feature – even if we totally forget democracy – of even a government committed to modest reforms in its governance?
If what the government is claiming about the building of democracy in Ethiopia through infinity (in this 22 years) were to be true and if it had slightest confidence in the support of the people and the truth were on its side, the Ethiopian reality would have been entirely different today. That not being the case, our country is now where it is, when it could have attained much better results.
To start with, today Ethiopian mothers would not have been crying and lamenting about their children drowning in the Red Sea, or dying in the Sinai desert, or ending up in prisons as illegal entrants into other African countries. Most of all, the country would not have lost so many bright youngsters – its future and its builders of tomorrow to misfortunes elsewhere or certain indescribable demises.
If it were not this, why do our youth bolt out in the hundreds every few months, if one were to check UNHCR reports. Who in his/her right mind would think that they would be better off even in un-pacified and ungovernable Somalia, troubled Yemen, or other medieval states in the Middle East in servitude – if it were not for the fear and insecurity, social injustices, hopelessness and the bitterness caused by nepotism the regime has been habitually, purposely and selfishly promoting?
By Keffyalew Gebremedhin