Ethiopia : Understand the hijack for what it is

News of hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane bound to Rome broke yesterday. Hijack is not something very strange even in the aviation history of Ethiopian Airlines. Perhaps what is strange, not just in Ethiopian aviation history but also in the aviation history of commercial flights, is a hijack carried out by a co-pilot.

Why would a thirty-one years old guy with prestigious job and unrivaled benefit package in the country venture into hijacking a plane he is co-piloting – thereby risking his career and all his future? The issue appeared ludicrous for some ; a case of insanity for others.

Uncalled for and frivolous ridicule and politically motivated judgements aside, addressing the above question does not even need stretching ones imagination; nor it is a brainer. Probably,all it needs is understanding the political reality in Ethiopia.

And what is the political reality in Ethiopia?

A minority ethnic based dictatorship with unprecedented (it does not seem that way but it is true) level of political repression and corruption ; that is what people live in most parts of Ethiopia including in the very part of Ethiopia where the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front claims ethnic political fiefdom for reasons of legitimacy.

The question why political repression in Ethiopia does not really seem to matter, which one can tell from the trickling untied aid to the regime in Addis in the form of grants and loans, for the “international community” and for relevant state actors is perhaps related to business interest; and the influence and power that business people have over foreign policy formulation! There are billions of dollars worth of potentially lucrative investments in Ethiopia in mining sector, energy sector and even in agriculture. Then Ethiopia, as hell as it is for millions of Ethiopians living repression, is a piece of cake for investors both in the Orient and in the Occident.

Understanding the level of repression in Ethiopia is not complex at all for anyone interested in shaking off indifference and embrace real activism for human rights. Just put aside rhetoric of double-digit economic growth for a moment, forget the flowering statements in the gatherings of heads of state and consult piles and piles of records,with reputable human rights organizations, of gross human rights violations by the ruling party in Ethiopia; then you will have a clue why co-pilot Hailemedhin wanted the world know about the repression in Ethiopia.

Apart from physical and mental repression, the regime constantly manufactures ethnic conflicts and is sowing discords among Ethiopians as part of its power game. it was extensively in the news that over a year ago thousands of settled farmers were displaced from their farming settlements apparently simply for being from a particular language speaking groups.

Public servants are living,and expected to (for the regime), like loyal vassals and the concept of political neutrality of the public service is nowhere in the political dictionary of the government. Not subscribing to the politics of the ruling party and being a public servant is made to seem almost unthinkable; and the regime has always a way to abuse public servants with opposition mentality.

Press freedom is actually crippled and many journalists are serving ridiculous prison terms for phony “terrorism” charges and ironically some of them are recipients of award for excellence in journalism.

Opposition members are persecuted in many parts of Ethiopia. Recently a former member of leadership of the opposition , Asrat Tassie, vented his views about how the courts have become irrelevant vis-a-vis justice and instead preoccupied themselves with serving the interest of ruling party. Would you guess that he was thrown to jail on charges of court contempt? He was not even in court when commenting about reality of the courts and what they have become.

The story of repression can go on and on. The worst of it all is that it has ethnic manifestation. Apparently, the co-pilot is a victim on a personal level too. He could have requested political asylum during his trip to one of Ethiopian Airlines destination across the Atlantic or Mediterranean without hijacking the plane. In fact, many from different walks of life – including government officials have done that. However, an act like that remains personal and does not send strong message regarding the political climate in Ethiopia. Co-pilot Hailemedhin was just thinking differently and challenging the moral claims and rhetoric about human rights, I would say.

Very regrettably, because moral corruption, greed and selfishness are so entrenched as part of the value system of the world we are living in, selfless act is made to seem more like insanity and/or foolishness. It is not insane for a person with well paying jobs by the standard of his country, traveling west and east as co-pilot to forget it all and even be ready to accept the worst for the sake of bringing the story of repression in Ethiopia into a limelight.

Besides, while getting the message across, the pilot reasonably and professionally measured the safety of passengers and did what he did without harming a single passenger. What more can prove his humanism?! on a professional level, and as a product of the best aviation school in Africa, he has demonstrated his talent.

Despite all that, the story we are hearing does not seem to be fair at all. Citing a certain prosecutor, AFP hinted that the co-pilot is unlikely to get asylum. If that does come down to anything like extradition, it amounts to killing innocent person so brutally. That should never happen! He is in fact a selfless young man and a hero for the whole of humanity. Who would throw away the job he/she loves in the service of others? Only selfless man! Understand his acts for what it really is. Because the world proved to be indifferent to what is happening to millions of Ethiopia, because he is unable to speak freely in Ethiopia, he dared to sacrifice his life and career in service of millions of Ethiopians. All he deserves is respect.

The case would be another test in the history of activism at the intentional level.

Also members of the Ethiopian community in the diaspora with links to policy makers and human rights activists and organizations are presented with a test too.

I really hope that the Swiss government will honor its humanitarian tradition and upheld his right to have access to legal opinion and meet with community members, relatives and families. Also I am hopeful that the Swiss government would grant him asylum in light of his well founded fear of persecution in Ethiopian under the brutal ethnocentric dictatorship.

Dimetros Birku
writer can be reached on twitter @dimetros

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