By Hailu Kassa
In an ideal situation, who does not rejoice at the prospect of a planned visit to one’s country by the most powerful man on earth and the leader of the free world? It would undoubtedly be a sweet thing, but in the Ethiopian case unfortunately it would not be for more than 90 million Ethiopians when it comes to President Obama’s visit to their country. Before saying why it is bitter, one needs to see some of the reasons.
Understandably, President Obama’s election bid in 2008 was a big deal for Africans due to his African paternal origin. It was the biggest of deals for Kenyans since Obama’s father was a Kenyan. I was in Kenya during his election campaign in 2008 and that gave me the chance to witness firsthand how Kenyans so excitedly followed his every election activities with special interest so much so that it felt like a Kenyan Ambassador to America was making a bid to lead the most powerful country on earth.
I can also remember how I was following his campaigns and rallies from the beginning to the end with avid interest for two main reasons. Firstly I was sharing in the pride of Kenyans and secondly I had some sort of hope that, if he ever succeeded to be a president, Obama would positively influence the political situation in our country. I maintained such a strong hope for I knew how Obama as a senator used to play active roles in an effort to pass bills that would make US Aid conditional on human right issues in Ethiopia.
I remain dismayed as do the vast majority of Ethiopians when it all came to pass for all we saw so far remained so disappointing to say the least. To the disappointment of over 90 million Ethiopians, Obama’s envoys to Ethiopia one after the other repeated and indulged in the same platitude of heaping unearned praise on the tyrants in Ethiopia in exactly the same way it was done by that of his predecessors. From Suzan Rice’s lionizing eulogy of the late Meles Zenawi two years ago to the very recent, “… every time Ethiopian elections get better and better” ill informed gaffe by Wendy Sherman, none of them did anything good to help the wanting politics of Ethiopia. By that they only did more harm than good to the hopes and aspirations of the Ethiopian people for a truly democratic electoral process and a peaceful political transition.
The Horn of African region can easily be described as a politically troubled and geopolitically crucial region due to its location along the Red Sea area and the long running violent activities of Al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya as well as the conflict in Yemen just across the Red Sea. Hence no wonder America pays a good deal of attention to the region as we recently saw John Kerry touring it during the first week of May 2015 visiting Kenya, Djibouti and the war-torn Somalia, now to be followed by President Obama’s visit to the region towards the end of this month. Yet any attempt aimed at putting that part of Africa in order which does not begin by addressing political issues in Ethiopia is doomed to be fruitless. And the only way of addressing Ethiopian issues can only happen by positively influencing and helping every effort made by its citizens to bring that country under an all inclusive responsible government that gets its mandate from the consent of its citizens geared towards fostering a durable peace and stability in the region.
Anything short of this approach in that region amounts to trying to fix different small huts around a big house that precariously stands lopsided on a shaky ground. Obviously such effort is a hopeless exercise that would be counterproductive in the long run. Once the Ethiopian house is in order, all the rest around it would automatically follow suit, for it would be myopic to underestimate the role model and the influence as the superpower of the region that Ethiopia would be either positively or negatively depending on what prevails within her border. Yet as it stands today, Ethiopia can only be part of the problem far from a partner to its solution as it has proved to be over the last two decades.
More so due to the nature of the group that rules Ethiopia today as it irresponsibly predicates its existence in power on courting division and discordance both within the country and beyond its borders having assigned the managerial duty over the division to itself. While governments anywhere have got the moral and legal duty to create an equal society, this is a government that irresponsibly toils day and night to create unequal society by ensuring non-cooperation between and among communities with the sole aim of holding on to power at any cost to rule by coercion forever.
The reality of Ethiopia today
The beginning of this month saw two Ethiopian police officers shooting each other to death in the process of trying to control a public unrest in the Wolkite town of the Eastern Showa province. First they shot a 17 year old boy to death before one of the officers shot his colleague in the leg in response to which the wounded officer shot back killing the one who pulled the trigger first. Then the wounded police man succumbed to his injuries after reaching hospital. Whether their anger at each other was triggered by the killing of the unarmed young man or not was not known. Youngsters from the town and its surrounding have to be herded into prison following all that.
Just at the end of last month came the news of Colonel Tilahun of the Ethiopian Army being paraded in public by Al-Shabab in a small town called Densur in Somalia after defecting to them. But the Ethiopian government kept mum about it. As insignificant as the loss of him to the government may be in terms of number, it also remains difficult to underestimate the trend it sets and the message it sends to whoever is concerned. Though news of ethic related tensions and occasional desertions from the Ethiopian army to the rebels in the bush is fairly frequent, the desertion of an army officer with such a higher rank to Al-Shabab is the first of its kind. When coercion becomes the only way of rule and governance by undermining human being’s free will for disposition of duty, both in the armed force and in the wider society, it would be naïve to not expect such defection on a wider scale even to Al-Shabab. Many people are of the opinion that, the fact that such a high ranking officer chooses Al-Shabab over the government that deploys him only serves as a wakeup call to those who are interested in the satiability of the region.
As we know one of the usual sham elections had taken place on May 24, 2015 with TPLF/EPRDF ‘winning’ 100% as expected. That has been followed by a spate of killings which saw six key opposition figures clobbered to death in cold blood from Tigray and Amhara regions in the north to the Oromiya and Southern Nations and Nationalities in the South, all in a time span of about less than two weeks. The fairly distributed killing spree across the regions in itself is a strong indicator of how people are united in their opposition to the prevalent misrule and the tyrants’ futile attempt to respond to it with terror in all regions of the country. From our knowledge of how the TPLF/EPRDF behaved over the last 25 years, this criminal act has been planned well ahead of time meant to send a massage of terror to the wider populace in order to cow them into silence in the face of the stolen election result that left law abiding citizens silently mulling over a future organised action which will more likely be a popular up-rise and violence across the nation.
If the group of men and women running the Ethiopian government were believers, they would have already committed the worst of sins in front of God five times over the last 25 years for claiming the phrase ‘we won election’ to their name which they have never done. However, we know there is one former believer, a used to be devoted Protestant Christian, in their company who has accepted to commit apostasy in exchange for a nominal power as a PM and the privilege of sipping Scottish Whisky with foreign dignitaries. But I have no objection to that what so ever as I am merely doing a statement of fact. Yet, his is a good indicator of the level of decadence in the moral standing of our generation that can readily give up on anything including God at the beckoning of a mere semblance of power and material benefit, even when there is no real power but name.
This government has never won nor can it ever win elections in Ethiopia in true sense of it. Apparently, Election Day is the most essential day for the citizens of any country in that it is the only day they are called upon to have their say about the government that rules over them. As such it should happen with absolute freedom for choice in an environment of no fear what so ever. Sadly, one could have easily mistaken Addis for a battle front if one were to go by the number of fully armed military men in the city during the last so called election. Unfortunately this is the day the Ethiopian people are most terrorised in their life and wish it never comes around or goes away sooner than later whenever it comes. Having struggled and fought for this fundamental human right for so long Ethiopians are no longer with the patience to accept the deprivation of it indefinitely.
Following the stolen election result, public anger stands at its peak as it started manifesting itself by the actions of the TPLF/EPRDF’s own security forces themselves. On May 29, 2015 a police officer in Tigray region had gunned down six bank employees who operate hands in glove with corrupt officials as well as shooting his fellow police woman in the leg before handing himself in. This was followed by an organised attack on a police station in the Western Oromiya Region of Jimmaa province which resulted in the death of three police officers including the station commander before it culminated in the release of over a hundred prisoners and the seizure of a cache of fire arms.
Again sometimes during mid June 2015 another Federal Police Officer had to escape with his fire arms after shooting dead a Chinese contractor who was working on a rail-way line that was happening by uprooting local people in the Eastern Hararge Province of Oromiya region. The police officer was charged with the duty of guarding the Chinese man with two other fellow officers whom he had also gunned down after they refused to act with him. These are symptomatic of what is waiting to come in Ethiopia on a wider scale as people remain muzzled with all peaceful avenues for change of government blocked and citizens remain invited to violence as the only means of any possible political transition. This leaves a possible national crisis looming large on the horizon.
In spite of this facts, Obama has chosen to grace the Ethiopian tyrants by his presence turning a blind eye to the plight of over 90 million Ethiopians who are subjected to the wanton violation of their basic human rights, deprived the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to hold a rally – political or otherwise, the freedom and right to have their vote respected during elections, the right to be lead by the people they elect in a fair and free democratic process, the freedom to protest against stolen ballot results without being harassed, detained or killed for exercising such fundamental human rights which the US government purports and claims to champion across the globe.
The Ethiopian case is not so much of a tribal issue in the same way those who are in charge want the rest of the world to believe. Rather it is a case of a cabal of self-seeking individuals in unholy alliance at the helm of the nation literally from all communities in the country with some of them having accepted a subordinate position and role to live by worshipping the others like God thereby ensuring the submissiveness of their respective communities to the oppressive system. In return for that they are treated to a cut of the widespread loot from the national coffer which runs all the gamut of corruption from land grab to urban real estate monopoly, from tax evasion to dubious business deals, from subornment to nepotism and crony economy, the list goes on and on.
The Ethiopian people are thoroughly law abiding and peace loving lot. Their struggle for a just and democratic government is long standing as it began by deposing the government of Emperor Haile Sillassie thru the renowned Ethiopian student movement of the 1970s before the mass movement was hijacked by the military dictatorship. Then the struggle took a new turn for the worst as it had to continue in a bloodletting manner when Ethiopians had to fight the former military regime by all means they could with the hope of having in its place a government that would rule by the consent of the people.
Unfortunately that hope has been dashed 25 years ago when the country fell into the tight grips of TPLF (The Tigrean Liberation Front) a guerrilla force that has gunned its way into power. Twenty five years down the road TPLF remained there as the guerrilla force that it was refusing to transform itself into a responsible government that rules for all citizens. It has resisted reform by sitting behind the façade called EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) which is TPLF’s own making in the first place, meticulously purpose designed to help and ensure the divide and rule policy from the very inception. EPRDF was meant to remain subordinate and sub-servant to TPLF and it does so in all aspects of national decision-making and the effective control of the state machinery – particularly the judiciary, security, police and armed forces as well as issues to do with economy, foreign affairs and the diplomatic corps.
This is a government that does not want to hear or see anything apart from the hollow talk of economic development miracle it has created in the country which does not reflect in the lives of the vast majority of the citizens. Having emerged from a debilitating civil war and a socialist ideological background 25 years ago and having started from the scratch towards a free market economy, Ethiopia with its massive potential resource and man power could have developed tenfold without the straightjacket of narrow and partisan policies TPLF is devoted to promoting. That is why even in the development front with its highly exclusive nature this government comes out as a liability far from an asset for development.
We talk of men and women in the Ethiopian government into whose hands aid money has been pouring from the US, the UK and the EU from the day they have set foot in Addis in May 1991. In spite of all that money, they have gone on with the orgy of borrowing with abandon as if there is no tomorrow nearly from all major banks and economies in the world (the most recent one from Turkey) leaving the country laden with the burden of unimaginable amount of debt which the future generation is doomed to pay for their irresponsibilities.
Corruption is a widely accepted way of governance with cost of living artificially skyrocketed. Citizens are being fleeced by inflated VAT and taxation system for the TPLF and its cronies to hoard billions of dollars in overseas bank accounts that includes diverted aid money donated by the USA under Obama’s leadership and his predecessors. This very fact has been repeatedly reported by International Financial Integrity on capital flight from Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. Ethiopia under TPLF rule remains the only country on Earth to slice a large swaths of its fertile land and give it away to a neighbouring country as it happened for Sudan in no war situation, not to mention the fertile land give away to Indian and Saudi companies by uprooting locals – 600,000 and 500,000 hectares to India and Saudi companies respectively as recently reported by CNN under a catchy heading: Starving Ethiopia helping India feed its 1.2 billion people.
Ethiopia is a country in which tens of thousands languish in hellish jails for having a political view different from the ruling party. Far from considering a due process for the prisoners of conscience more are being sent in, nearly on daily basis, to join them as if they are on holiday. Ethiopia is a country where journalists are either in jail or banished out of the country with the remaining few highly censored and constantly harassed. Ethiopia is a country where government is not only above the law but also it is the law, the police and the judge. It is the land in which the rule of law and justice suffers the most.
What is President Obama doing in response to all these? He is going to salute tyranny and reward it personally. That is why it is a bitter taste for over 90 million Ethiopians to imagine Obama’s visit to Ethiopia even for a second. There are those who hold the view that while visiting Ethiopia President Obama will be able to raise issues of human right behind the scene. I tend to agree with this line of opinion. But with the knowledge of how TPLF has honed and perfected the art of saying yes and no at the same time which is self-evident in the elections they held one after the other over the last 25 years saying ‘yes-to-the-election’ and no-to-its-results, I don’t see much hope in what President Obama would do behind the scene. Though I believe President Obama would not wish to go down in history as someone who failed to avert a national disaster in one of the poorest African countries when he had the opportunity and the power to wield.
Finally, as opposition we know the Ethiopian officials do not like what we say about them. But we don’t say anything they don’t have. All we say is the bitter truth as it is. If they don’t like it the best thing is for them to pause for a while, think rationally and change course towards the path that leads to peaceful resolution of all political issues and national reconciliation. They should always remember that government belongs to all its citizens not to a few individuals who are able to wield gun. That is how it happens anywhere in the world and that is how it should happen in our country, too.
In my previous article, where I commented on the issues of Ethiopian immigrants in South Africa, due to lack of proper refining, I gave the impression that I am against immigration. Understandably immigration has been part of human life since time immemorial. Personally having benefited immensely as an immigrant myself far more than I can imagine saying here, I would be the last person to be against immigration.
But I am against the type of immigration Ethiopians go thru into South Africa leaving a trail of swollen jail population from Kenya and Tanzania in the east to Malawi and Zimbabwe in the south. I am against the type of immigration Ethiopians go thru into the Middle East only to be subjected to a degrading and dehumanizing conditions in the hands of their employees (slave masters). It has been a regular occurrence to hear Ethiopian girls jumping into their death from fourth or fifth floor buildings as a way of escaping from their predicament in that part of the world not to mention the beheading of at least 30 Ethiopians in Libya in April this year. That is why generally Ethiopians strongly oppose immigration to the Middle East in particular.