As the regime in Ethiopia is set to celebrate its 23rd Ginbot 20, discussions about the meaning and significance of the day is dominating conversations among Ethiopians in Social media.
For those of you who are not familiar to Ethiopian politics, Ginbot 20 is post military Ethiopia yearly political ritual. It’s a reference to the day that marked the end of decades of civil war and total collapse of military regime in May 1991.
Theoretically, and in retrospect, the day was meant to represent transformation from a repressive military rule to a democratic civilian government. Unfortunately, the then “liberating” guerrilla force did not take much time when it turned itself into a regime at par with the collapsed military rule- almost by all measures of repression. And that is what makes the collective narcissism in regards to the day nonsense–at least in the case of the dominant TPLF party.
The trend, in the discussion, is that many Ethiopians feel indifferent to the day, if not totally irreverent. In view of multifarious repression, at times very systemic and at times outright repressions, in the past 23 years, it is not surprising that majority of Ethiopians are rather embittered about what Ginbot 20 brought about. For these groups of Ethiopians, which comprises of majority, the day represents continuity of repressions virtually in all its forms, not change. In fact under the current regime, repression even manifested itself in worst forms.
The lust for ethnic supremacy with unshakable military, economic and political power is new. The tendency to employ colonial era psychological and physical forms of repression is totally new. That pattern of governance manifested itself culturally, socially and economically – among other things. When the supposedly institution of justice is reduced to repressive tool for the regime, repression cannot get worse.
Ironically, as I am writing this update, John Kerry’s congratulatory message, on “behalf of the people of United States and government”, to the regime in Ethiopia is published on US State Department website. Kerry seem to be clueless, careless or reckless or all at once that he took Ginbot 20 seriously and too far, and that in line with the narrative of the ruling party. He described it as “national day.” Well, it might sound too naïve on my part to expect more from the world of diplomacy and especially from the US government.
Among other things members of opposition parties are harassed and arbitrarily detained on a regular basis. Press freedom is near to total collapse. Freedom of expression is virtually becoming criminal offense, even an offense that constitutes “terrorism.”
Many journalists are behind bar for trumped up charges of “terrorism.” Many Ethiopians in social media have to use pen name to express their political opinion for fear of reprisal.
Of course we do not have to forget that hundreds and even thousands of citizens have lost their lives due to brutal a forceful measure of the same Ethiopian government which many hail for its ‘economic miracle.’
Ogaden, in south eastern part of Ethiopia, has a story of massacre to tell. Gambella, in south western Ethiopia, has a story of massacre to tell. Addis Ababa has repeated stories of massacre to tell. Gondar, Gojjam, Ambo, Harar, Dessie, Jimma, Arba Minch, Awassa …you name it; they have all stories of repression involving death of dozens of civilians.
So what is it that the Ginbot 20 fundamentally changed as far as freedom and dignity of Ethiopians is concerned? What is to be celebrated?
Of course, what comes to mind for many working for the ruling TPLF party and expatriates yearning to invest in Ethiopia or those who have already invested is economic performance which is increasingly becoming like a veil of tyranny in the case of Ethiopia.
Whether the much talked about economic performance is organic and has a reasonably good prospect of sustainability is something Economists need to figure out. However, there are questions that do not take expertise in economics. Do we have less debt that we used to? Do Ethiopians even know the amount of money the regime took in the form of loan from international lenders and states? What is the concentration of wealth like in Ethiopia? Why is it that we now have landless farmers? There is more to the economic story. [nextpage]