Like many concerned Ethiopians, I have been following the developments facing the people of Ethiopia today silently and with a degree of detachment, but with keen interest and a deep feeling of involvement. I have remained silent because of my views and convictions regarding a situation in which political parties participate in an election without preparing the ground for a free and fair election. Instead the election has been used as an instrument of the existing leadership, even helping to maintain and prolong the power structure of the ruling party intact, as it is today and as it was yesterday. The additional factor for my silence, for remaining aloof, looking at events and developments from afar, is what has happened in the media. The countless articles posted in a variety of Internet sites since the commencement of the May 2005 Ethiopian national election campaign have not just been immature and lacking in rationality; I have been amazed and even appalled by the cruelties of the media war being waged by the competing political parties, and the methods and techniques being employed, each one making all possible efforts to convince the general population of Ethiopia and the international community to join its side and help to incapacitate the enemy.
Apart from my personal principles and conviction, the leaders of the opposition political parties who participated in the 15 May 2005 Ethiopian national election, in my view, deserve profound admiration and high respect for their bold decisions to participate, lead and mobilize people to vote in a hostile political climate with complex obstacles, and in a country that lacks an independent, mature judiciary system. The bold decision made by the opposition leaders to take personal risks and mobilize the people, and the willingness of the people who in huge numbers walked miles and stood for long hours to vote on their representatives, clearly indicate the determination of the entire Ethiopian people to resist repression and free themselves from the yoke of glaring poverty and persistent harassment and domination by a single political party. The mass participation of the people of Ethiopia also clearly shows their profound need and readiness for further cultivation of a new culture of democracy, and for the foundation and bringing to maturity of a neutral electoral system capable of carrying out a free and fair election. The participation of the opposition political parties in the May 2005 election also deserves a great deal of admiration because for the first time, whether it is for good or bad, they have brought about dramatic changes in the political map of Ethiopia, including the socio-political, economic and psychological relations of the people of Ethiopia with the ruling party – the EPRDF.
In writing this article, in part my purpose is a simple desire to be a part of the contemporary intellectual and political struggle, attempting to help reverse the course of the current policy of the ruling party in my country, which is moving towards war, and instead to contribute to peace making movements and processes; and to add my voice, sharing the complexity, challenges and anxieties being experienced today by an ever-wider cross section of Ethiopian society. The cardinal objective of this paper, however, is to illustrate the major bottlenecks of the 15 May 2005 Ethiopian national election. In my view, this election was held without restructuring and reorganizing the major determining forces that are instrumental to the democratization process and essential to free and fair elections in any society. I would also argue that the May 2005 election was held without the recognition and reorganization of vitally important legal and civic organizations and institutions, and without appropriately preparing the ground for political and leadership change. Finally, an attempt will also be made to provide rationally formulated responses to those who persistently and emotionally argue that the May 2005 Ethiopia national election was free and fair, and that the majority of Ethiopians willingly and freely chose the current ruling party to further its oppressive policy and forcefully rule as their leaders for another five years. With the sole purpose of forcing opposition leaders and those who elected them to accept the EPRDF version of events – that it won the May 2005 election – the ruling party and its cadres are waging both physical and political war against the leaders of the opposition parties and the people of Ethiopia. The periodic killing and mass arrests of supporters and employees of opposition parties, along with the destruction of their offices and office properties, are undoubtedly also intended to weaken and gradually obliterate peaceful resistance from the land of Ethiopia, using the argument that the current leaders of the major political parties and their supporters are remnants of the previous regime(s) and are not abiding by the constitution – a constitution conceived, written and implemented by the members of TPLF alone, which became the constitution of the country. Thus an argument similar to repeated statements by the Bush administration that the United States has brought freedom and democracy to the Middle East (and to the people of Iraq in particular) has also been employed and is clearly manifested in the current election entanglement of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian ruling party leaders and their supporters are of the opinion that they are the ones who brought “freedom” and democracy to the people of Ethiopia by the ultimate sacrifice of so many sons and daughters from the region where their armed struggle commenced, expanded and eventually managed to overthrow the brutal regime of Mengistu Hailemariam. Consequently, the ruling EPRDF party and its cadres are directly or indirectly demanding from Ethiopians that they should be given the right to rule Ethiopia and its people for an unlimited period of time in exchange for the “freedom” and “democracy” they brought to Ethiopia in May 1991. The ruling party, including some sections among the western world, further insists that the opposition parties – although they represent the bulk of Ethiopian society – should be happy with the representation they have gained from the election for the first time in the history of Ethiopian politics, and should be a part of the new parliament opened on the 10th of October 2005.
Recalling the History of African Leadership
Before dealing with the above arguments and the preposterous accusations and demands that continue to be pressed by the ruling party and its ardent cadres, let me first point out one important aspect. This is undeniably a daily ugly reality of Africa, and deserves unreserved attention from all of us, including the ruling party itself. It is indeed most unfortunate that we, the people of Africa and our leaders, seem to remain incapable of learning from our own history and from events that took place not long ago but just yesterday; we prefer to believe that such events will never happen to us, whether as a society or as individuals. The harassments and arrests, the daily criminalization, intimidation, and appalling statements that our current leaders direct at their victims – the people of Ethiopia and their party leaders – are precisely the same as the statements and characterizations that previous African dictators, such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre, Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central Africa, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Mengistu Hailemariam of Ethiopia directed at their compatriot opponents. As has been apparent in the cases of so many previous dictators, it is undeniable that current dictators as well, along with their cruel and repressive regimes and their cadres, will vanish today or tomorrow without enjoying the fruits of the wealth accumulated during their reign. Quite often, as history shows, these dictators will not leave anything useful even for the future of their own children and the rest of their immediate family: instead, the end of the reign often brings their destruction. Generally the immediate family of past dictators, including those mentioned above, are either killed by their fathers’ victims or live in hiding in foreign countries. The saddest of all, however, is that these dictators, as history shows, cause massive losses of innocent lives before they disappear from the land of the innocent.
Who Determines the Election of a Political Party Leader in Ethiopia?
Let me now return to the arguments and accusations that have often been made by the ruling parties and their dependents, and attempt to provide some rational responses. Despite the cries of Ethiopians across the world and the statements provided by respected and reliable foreign observers, the ruling party insists that it won the 15 May 2005 national Election. The cardinal issues are undoubtedly who determines who won, under what election board and laws, and according to whose courts and judges? This is the core of the problem facing Ethiopia and Ethiopians today, and which will be treated more closely along with the subject of the need to restructure and reorganizethe forces – major institutions, the media and the legal system – that are conducive to a widely acceptable election process and to free and fair elections.
As we have seen, in recent times the ruling party has been (and is still) engaged in the most outrageous aspects of character assassination of opposition leaders as Derguists and remnants of previous regimes, in an attempt to convince Ethiopians at home and abroad and donor nations, upon which the ruling party is highly dependent for its existence; it is also hoped that there will be a green light to gradually marginalize and wipe out the opposition parties and root out their leaders. Quite contrary to these accusations, the undeniable truth is that a good number of former Dergue members who worked in hands and glove with Mengistu Hailemariam, who separated mothers from their children and who were the actors and forces that drove a huge number of Ethiopian youth of the period into exile, are to be found within the ruling party – the EPRDF leadership, enjoying various ministerial and other governmental positions. One can also argue, as the dominant figures among the EPRDF/TPLF leadership, including the Prime Minister himself, have often stressed, that it is they who decide whom it is appropriate to nominate to ministerial or party positions. Why is it then that the board or executive committee of the opposition parties, which are elected by the people, cannot select individual leaders that they feel are capable of leading their parties and articulating their political views, socio-economic programmes, foreign policy and general party positions? Isn’t it up to the political parties to judge the curriculum vitae, the work experience and criminal or life history of individual candidates for leadership? Or is it the ruling party? If the answer is the later, if it is the ruling party that decides the leadership that the opposition parties are supposed to elect, how real is the freedom given to the opposition parties by the law of the land, the government and the constitution in general?
Harassment on Grounds of “Violation of the Rules and Laws” of the Ruling Party
Another unique technique that is employed time and again as an important tool intended to harass and arrest opposition leaders and their supporters, with the aim of incapacitating the political parties of the people of Ethiopia, is the often-heard accusation of “violation of the rules, laws and the constitution” of the country – Ethiopia. Violation of the law of a given country, as we all know and understand, occurs when an individual, a group or a political party attempts or implements an activity that is defined in law as criminal. This might be for example to carry out a desire to take the property of an individual or institution by arms or force, or to damage that property; or to endanger or hurt physically or psychologically, socially or economically the members of a society or a functioning institution or government of a country. But none of these have occurred in the case of the current Ethiopian political opposition parties, who are operating peacefully and intellectually in the country – Ethiopia. Even though not a single member of the ruling party has given a clear definition of their “violations of the law” on paper or in media appearances, in practical terms, it is nevertheless understood in today’s Ethiopian politics that any disagreement by an individual with a decision of the Prime Minister, or any rejection by an opposition political party of a decision of the Ethiopian election board – a creation of the Prime Minister himself – is seen as tantamount to violation of rules and laws and a rejection of the constitution of the country. What a tragic development! Even making a request to certain governmental organs for permission to organize a demonstration or to take other peaceful resistance measures so as to demand from the ruling party an honest implementation of the law and the constitution, and respect for the freedom of the members of Ethiopian society, has come to be regarded as tantamount to violation of the rules, and an attempt to overthrow the governing ruling party of the country. To give more weight to charges against those who disagree with decisions of the national election board and who plan to take part in demonstrations and other means of peaceful resistance, the ruling party has been and is engaged in the production of false evidence so as to be able to put its opponents in its filthy prisons for lengthy periods. This is another and most harmful method that is being actively and effectively employed by the ruling party as an indispensable weapon in silencing and rooting out its opponents.
The important question is, of course, whether the methods of criminalization being used by the ruling party – charging opposition leaders and their supporters with creatively invented words and statements, including falsely produced evidence such as photos of victims taken by cadres of the ruling party, using force to dress the victims in military uniforms and make them carry arms – will be of any assistance in combating the real and most horrifying enemies of the people of Ethiopia: poverty and disease. This is certainly not the case. Such methods are rather, as they have always been, a major obstacle to furthering the cultivation and development of a mature political and judiciary system, and a potential source of increasing resentment and hostility that is moreover responsible for spreading fear among the general population of Ethiopian, leading them gradually towards internal conflicts and wars.
“We got Power by spilling the true Blood of Tigray’s Children”
There is direct and indirect evidence, not just from the opposition parties but also from national and foreign journalists and foreign election observers, that the national election of May 2005 was held just to fulfill the requirements of donor nations, and that the ruling party lost that election. In the face of this evidence it is somewhat remarkable that the ruling party has declared openly that the political and military power under its control, the economic wealth its members are currently enjoying and the freedom gained for the people of Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole have come as a result of the ultimate sacrifice of young men and women just from one region – Tigray. In furthering the arguments and accusations being used as a cover for snatching the people’s vote by force, to remain in power, well-known leading figures of the ruling party continue to say that it is “unthinkable for us” to share or relinquish power through a one-man, one-vote system alone. “We got power and freedom by spilling the true blood of our brothers and sisters from Tigray. Those who disagree with us and refuse to be ruled by the constitution and the rules and laws we made and wish to take power from us should do it exactly as we did – by taking arms and waging a guerrilla war against us. But they (the people of Ethiopia and their opposition leaders) should not dream in daylight of sharing power with us, or of taking power from us. Ethiopians are not even thankful to us for the sacrifice paid by the children of Tigray to free them from the inhuman regime of Mengistu Hailemariam.” What is even more outrageous is that, neglecting or even totally denying the incalculable contribution of Ethiopians, including the members of the Ethiopian armed forces, in the struggle to bring the brutal regime of Mengistu Hailemariam to an end, a good number of individuals within the ruling party are loudly and repeatedly shouting at Ethiopians and their opposition leaders, asking irritating nonsensical questions such as “where were you, and where were your opposition leaders during our bloody years of the 1970s and 1998s, when TPLF was waging an armed struggle against the dictator Mengistu Hailemariam?” Such arguments are entirely wrong and out of context and inconsistent with the historical records. The truth, as can be found in various historical documents, is that without the enormous direct and indirect help and cooperation from the armed forces of Ethiopia and other Ethiopians, it would have been impossible for TPLF and EPLF to bring down the dictatorial government of Mengistu Hailemariam. Due to the ruthless nature of Mengistu’s leadership, even though Ethiopians understood the apartheid-style political programmes and economic policy of the TPLF, including its hostile attitude towards certain sections of the Ethiopian population, the ruthless nature of Mengistu’s leadership meant that civil employees of his regime persistently assisted the TPLF leadership and its guerrillas with enormous amount of inside and helpful information, especially during the years of the 1980s. Further, during this period many of Ethiopia’s armed forces, including high ranking officers, defected from Mengistu’s army and joined the TPLF guerrilla force so as to speed up the defeat of the ruthless rule of Mengistu Hailemariam.
It is nevertheless interesting to hear statements like “Those who disagree with us…” (above) from government leaders of a country of over 70 million people, pushing those who felt oppressed for fourteen long years, those who were unlawfully jailed and released, and those whose children and other immediate family members had been killed, to take arms and wage war. Such statements are not only shocking but also show not only the irresponsible behaviour but also the nature of the ruling party, including its total disregard for the peace of Ethiopia and its peace-loving people. It therefore no wonder that many foreign observers find the behaviour of the ruling party difficult to understand and raise questions like “by what kind of leaders are the people of Ethiopia being governed? Are those leaders really part and parcel of the people who make up Ethiopian society, or are they colonizers of foreign origin?” Indeed, Ethiopians themselves are also raising these questions.
What is more outrageous and needs to be stressed is that even in the face of a well-documented historical record and other evidence that clearly shows the hostile attitude of Ethiopians have had towards TPLF since its initiation, its leaders today appear to be demanding directly or indirectly that Ethiopians should be thankful for freeing them from Mengistu’s rule. It should also be abundantly clear that, even though Ethiopians did everything they could to be rid of Mengistu Hailemariam himself and his ruthless regime, from the very beginning they never wanted to be ruled, or even associated with, TPLF and its leaders. The ruling party members who came to power in my country by the barrel of the gun appear to have totally forgotten the mass protests and daily demonstrations by Ethiopians at home and abroad against the accession of TPLF to power in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia as a whole.
Finally, some serious questions related to the issues above deserve to be raised to the ruling party and its cadres. Firstly, did the people of Ethiopia or a group of concerned Ethiopians ever request the founders of TPLF – who later became guerrilla leaders – to go into the bush of Tigray and wage war against Mengistu’s regime in collaboration with the ELF (later EPLF, currently in power in Eritrea and now a permanent enemy of Ethiopia) so as to free Ethiopia from military rule? Were the initial and the later objectives of the founders of TPLF, now leaders of Ethiopia, really to free Ethiopians from the yoke of the then dictatorial military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam? Are Ethiopians really responsible for the sacrifice TPLF fighters paid in their war against Mengistu’s leadership?
It should be abundantly clear that asking Ethiopians to be thankful to the ruling party for freeing them from Mengistu’s rule is more or less the same as asking the people of Iraq to be thankful to the Bush administration for invading their country, killing a good portion of the population, making their country a permanent battlefield of opposing groups and destroying their infrastructure in an irreparable fashion, and of course meanwhile for freeing them from the prolonged oppression of Saddam Hussein. To be honest to my Ethiopian compatriots, if I were the President Gorge W. Bush, I would not have had the courage to ask the people of Iraq to be thankful to the United States of America for what the United States did for or to them, to their country and to the future of their children. The same is true with regard of the ruling party of Ethiopia and its cadres. If I were the leader of the current ruling party of Ethiopia, I would not have dared to come up with such absurd demands as asking that Ethiopians should be thankful for what TPLF did to Ethiopia as a nation, its unity, its territorial integrity and culture, and indeed to its people. But it’s politics that determines and regulates both peace and war, and without which none of us can live!
Posted by Tadesse Yimer