3 February 2013

Ethiopia: Attack On Opposition Unjustified


The question "Who is more Ethiopian?" which appeared in a viewpoint article published on January 27, 2013, poses an obsolete question, which most Ethiopians have moved beyond. Such a question, in fact, is not only obsolete, but also offensive to Ethiopians who, ipso facto (by the fact itself), are equal in every sense of the word. An Ethiopian is an Ethiopian no more or no less than the next Ethiopian.

However, nothing in this article strikes one as much as the reference to the Coalition for Unity & Democracy Party (CUDP) and other opposition leaders in the 2005 elections as "irresponsible hooligans". The CUDP leaders are being hit with this word for the second time, the first being by Shimeles Kemal, the now deputy head of the Government Communications Affairs Office (GCAO), who was persecuting, rather than prosecuting them, during their trial in 2005 for attempting to illegally change the constitutional order of the country, for which they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Shimeles, during the hearing, just like the legal advocate Tagel Getahun, referred to the defendants, in Amharic, as gatewot, which translates into English as "hooligans". In an independent court, which answers to the law and evidence only, such serious prosecutorial misconduct would have provoked the ire of the judges, resulting in some sort of censure of the prosecutor. Being a political trial with a predetermined verdict, however, the court was mute, as if nothing had happened.

I would like to remind Tagel that his reference applies to highly respected individuals, such as; Mesfin Woldemariam (Prof), Hailu Shawel (Eng) and others, who, if nothing else, are old enough to be his grandfathers. One cannot rule out that Tagel may have repeated this epithet at the behest of other interest groups.

Tagel characterised the 2005 elections as a smear campaign by the opposition. Objective observers, foreign and local, at the time, characterised the debates and mental tussles between the representatives of the EPRDF and the CUDP as a demonstration of intellectual prowess, eloquence and civility, which the CUDP won hands down.

Only people with an unsavoury motive would deny that this was indeed Ethiopian politics at its best. The debates were popular, so much so that during one of the debates, I remember passengers of an Ethiopian Airlines flight refusing to board the plane until the debate was over.

Tagel chastises the opposition for requesting international observers to witness the election, because he believes that this somehow diminishes the sovereignty of the country. Being human, one may find fault among the opposition in many things, but not in compromising the sovereignty of the country. Compromising the sovereignty of the country, including ceding Asseb to Eritrea, was in fact the Achilles heel of the EPRDF throughout the whole campaign and election process, resulting in its defeat.

Tagel admits that he missed the boat in seeing the 2005 elections as a turning point for Ethiopian democracy. He apparently does not realise that the 2005 elections will live in the Ethiopian history books as one of the finest hours for Ethiopians who were poised to usher in democracy and justice, in a country which has known neither before nor since. It was then, for the first time in a long history, that Ethiopians savoured freedom and liked it and will continue to fight for it 'till kingdom come', if necessary.

The main gripe Tagel has with the opposition, in the 2005 election, is his alleged assertion that they overlooked the interests of minority groups. It was there for anybody to see, that never in the history of Ethiopian politics have minorities played such a pivotal role as in the CUDP.

For anybody who cared to throw as much as a glance at the CUDP's Party Program and Election Manifesto, one could see that the interest of the minorities were well articulated, coupled with the fact that they too were represented within the top leadership of the Party. Indeed, the CUDP leaders would plead guilty as charged if they were to be accused of giving precedence to the interest of the nation as a whole over those, narrow minority ethnic interests.

In fact, this was the dividing line between myopic narrow nationalists in the EPRDF and the CUDP, who regarded all Ethiopians as equal members of one Ethiopian family.

Tagel has made unsubstantiated assertions that the opposition leaders did not care for the rights of minorities, without showing in what way or concerning what were they oblivious to the interests of the minorities. Minorities have the same rights as the majority, and they are free from discrimination.

These are obvious and tired issues by now. Most Ethiopians are fully aware of these rights and have moved past them.

This pretension for the concern of the minorities is in fact a disguised diversionary tactic with the aim of complicating the demand of the whole population for democracy and freedom. The pressing issue for the minorities, as well as for the majorities, in other words, for all Ethiopians, is to throw away the centuries old shackles of oppression, and lack of freedom and justice, which still persist as if they are second nature to us Ethiopians.

Today most of the people of the world enjoy these rights, inherent to all human beings, why not us?

Yacob Haile-Mariam Has Retired As Professor of Business Law At Norfolk University, United States. He Was Also a Senior Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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