Aklog Birara (Dr)
November 1, 2019
“Today I am deeply grieved. I have the urge to weep like a child. My heart is crushed by grief. My eyes have had no sleep, but many tears. In the day to day hopes for improvement, we have been asking the government to put a stop to it [the violence]. However we have seen nothing change. Instead I have caused my children to be massacred. While I was preaching to you about peace, those that do not know peace have deprived you of peace.”
Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, October, 2019
Ethiopia’s Patriarch, Abune Mathias, expressed Ethiopia’s tragedy better than political actors, intellectuals and activists. It is a heartfelt condemnation of atrocities that the EPRDF government led by the Oromo Democratic Party and its leader Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed was unable to express or contain.
The Ethiopian people are bleeding and crying for justice. Imagine this. In Harar alone a mother, her husband and child were murdered brutally. In September 2018, a few months after Abiy Ahmed was appointed Prime Minister, scores of innocent civilians were murdered brutally in the town of Burayu. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes have yet to be punished in a court of law. Bringing the culprits to justice would have sent a powerful signal that no one can and should get away with murder.
In June this year, Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen and his comrades in the city of Bahir Dar and Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff of the Defense Forces and his colleague in Addis Ababa were murdered brutally. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy dressed his military fatigue and proclaimed that a coup d’etat had ensued. Hundreds of Amhara were arrested and incarcerated; and many of them were released only recently. As far as I know, those who orchestrated the plot and murdered the Amhara regional President and his colleagues as well as the Chief of Staff have not been held accountable.
Contrast the massive arrests of Amhara youth with the glove treatment of Jawar Mohamed and members of the Qeerro movement who created havoc and destruction. Justice and the rule of law become meaningless when and if applied selectively on the basis of ethnicity, religion and power. Justice and morality are inseparable. International human rights law, common decency and “civilized governance” compel leaders to treat each citizen as a human being. No part of Ethiopian society should be allowed to live in the “Dark age” that most of the world has overcome and passed.
Coup d’états are a common phenomenon in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister was a target of assassination, purportedly, at least twice.
I contend that the recent upheaval engineered by Jawar Mohamed that resulted in the targeted and deliberate murders of at least 78 innocent civilians (latest figure), including children and mothers of whom 53 were at last count Christians and Amhara; is a form of insurrection or a coup d’etat against the federal government, with ethnic and religious violence as a dual objective. The Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa cum Oromia tragedies as well as the mysterious death of Engineer Semeghew Bekele in charge of the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) have one thing in common: the targeted murders of Amhara and other minorities; and the destruction of their institutions, including the National flag, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, private properties, leaders and members.
This commonality shows features of ethnic cleansing; and a deliberate and systematic preparation of ground work that may lead to outright ethnic genocide. How else does one explain that federal, regional and local police stand by idle and numb while ethno-nationalists, fundamentalists and homegrown terrorists are free to murder, close streets with burning tires and stones, harass ordinary citizens, intimidate and spread fear and terror among Ethiopians. This is the first of its kind in Ethiopia’s long and distinguished history.
In this commentary, I argue that there is a frightening and dangerous institutional void in state and government leadership; and in civil society. Ethiopia has a weak, incompetent, timid and dysfunctional central government that also lacks a coherent and compelling vision. Tragically, the TPLF dominated EPRDF has also succeeded in decimating civil society organizations to their core. Ordinary citizens, especially those who are victims of ethno-nationalists and fundamentalists cannot therefore resort to either the center or to civil society. They are at the mercy of those who possess resources, monies, weapons, organizations, the media and other modern tools in order to survive. These voids allow criminals to thrive; and to get away with murder.
Why is a strong and competent state needed? Why do we need strong and independent civil society?
Regardless of the type of regime, Ethiopia’s modern governments and national institutions had made a valiant effort to defend and preserve the country’s territorial unity, its independence and sovereignty until the TPLF dominated EPRDF began to dissolve them piece by piece. Ethiopia lost its parts and accesses to the sea. The country’s regions have been divided into antagonistic ethnic enclaves. Ethno-nationalism and fundamentalism have been allowed; and in some cases, encouraged to blossom.
Ethiopia’s dangerous journey towards Balkanization, civil war and possible genocide is a consequence of the EPRDF ethnic-Constitution and Kilil system. As noted above, the system has degraded the capability and competency of the state and government; and eroded civil society organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, independent media etc.
In their newly released book, The Narrow Corridor: states, societies and the fate of liberty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson contend persuasively that “A strong state is needed to control violence, enforce laws, and provide public services that are critical for a life in which people are empowered to make and pursue their choices.”
I have consistently argued that the first priority of the central government is to maintain peace, personal security and the stability of the country. People who are insecure for their lives cannot produce. They cannot defend their country. A further priority of central government is to create jobs and or to empower ordinary people to create employment and live productive lives. For these to happen, the state and government must dismantle unfair, unrepresentative and inequitable institutions; combat racial, ethnic and religious prejudices, exclusions, ethnic or party based nepotism, graft and corruption boldly and frontally. Public officials must apply the highest standards in governance by walking the talk.
In a similar vein, societies, including and especially Ethiopia, require strong, competent, independent and credible civil society in order to hold the state and government accountable and to demand that the state and government defend and pursue the common and not the tribal good. Removing one form of ethnic leadership by another makes little difference in transforming Ethiopian society. The Amharic proverb “ጉልቻ ቢቀየር ወጥ አያሳምርም” is appropriate.
This leads me to Prime Minister Abiy’s challenge. The primary one is to balance between the imperative requirement of establishing and sustaining a strong and competent state and government on the one hand; and to allow, encourage and empower an independent, credible and competent civil society on the other.
If the state, party and government are incapable of defending, preserving and institutionalizing the excesses of political, economic, social and cultural dominations by a segment of the population, it is inevitable that violence, chaos, disruption and instability would ensue. This is where accountability in pursuing the public good over the private or ethnic good matters the most. A competent, credible and inclusive state, party and government cannot serve two masters at the same time: an ethnic group and the nation and the entre society.
Empowerment must be inclusive and impartial. For example, Ethiopian youth, most of whom are either unemployed or underemployed must be encouraged and allowed to establish grassroots level organizations and associations with a view of engendering justice, equity and democracy; while accepting the responsibility to observe and accept the rights of others to do the same peacefully and constructively. Freedom is not a free good. It entails responsibility to respect the rights of others to live and work anywhere in the country.
Why accountability matters
Based on the above parameters, Ethiopia today is a country without accountability. Accountability has two dimensions: one is personal and the other public. At a personal level, we are accountable for our behaviors and actions. For example, a person is accountable for going out into the street and shooting someone or for calling or for asking or for hiring or for enabling someone else to commit such crime. He or she is accountable for preaching ethnic or religious hatred and for inciting ordinary people to rise-up and murder others of a different race, ethnicity or faith. He or she is accountable for instigating ethnic cleansing, murders, rapes, forcible evictions and other heinous crimes.
A normal human being does not preach ethnic or religious hatred or ask others to do the same. If he or she preaches and champions such animosity that causes deaths and destruction, the person or persons should be held responsible and accountable in a court of law. Both the act and the behavior have adverse consequences for society. People are murdered or are hacked to death.
Hate speech is freedom gone mad. Hate speech leads to the burning of churches or property; and or to the desecration of symbols that are dear to others. In many cases, hate speech and incitement of others to hate, rebel against others, kill or maim others selectively and systematically lead to genocide. The most recent cases are Bosnia and Rwanda.
On October 27, 2019, a “secret video “was transmitted from Bale/Robi. The 10 point Declaration sends a chilling, dangerous, irresponsible and Al-Shabab or Boko Haram or ISIS type message to non-Oromo Ethiopians including me. I do not believe that most Oromo subscribe to this terrifying message that mimics occurrences in the past.
I do not for certain know who engineered the Bale Declaration to target “Neftegna and Dorzies.” The binding and religious edit like resolution to boycott their shops, not to rent houses or to sell lands or to grind their grains is a form of economic strangulation. It is therefore a crime. Those behind this dangerous declaration must be held accountable too.
Accountability is accepting responsibility to accept basic human norms, behaviors, actions and standards that govern and bind modern societies; and to apply them wherever one lives. The law of the jungle had no such norms or standards. Murder of innocent people; the burning of churches and mosques and the deliberate incitement of one ethnic group to boycott economic interactions among Ethiopian citizens who live and work peacefully and strangulate them is jungle law. It is freedom gone amok.
Freedom in behavior and or action is a right to the extent that the person or group exercising this freedom does not abuse by harming others.
The second dimension of accountability refers to public discourse and government action. Governments are organized to regulate and administer policies and decisions that affect citizens. Government and its officials are accountable for decision-making and for the execution of laws and regulations that affect citizens. The rule of law means implementing the law in real terms and equitably so that citizens as individuals and groups are held accountable for misdeeds such as bank robbery, theft and corruption, human or arms trafficking, burning churches and mosques, raping women, murders, economic sabotage, burning bridges and other infrastructure, campaigning to commit ethic genocide etc. etc. etc.
If the state and the government fail to hold those who commit these and other crimes accountable in a court of law, then it is considered to be a failure.
This is the core reason why millions of Ethiopians opine that there is “no government in Ethiopia.”
I remind the reader to recall what Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church said. “In the day to day hopes for improvement, we have been asking the government to put a stop to it [the violence]. However we have seen nothing change. Instead I have caused my children to be massacred. While I was preaching to you about peace, those that do not know peace have deprived you of peace.”
He is absolutely right. The Abiy state and government allowed the massacre; and continue to explain the inexplicable. For example, he and the defense minister Lemma Megersa were asked in Harar “why Jawar Mohamed’s security detail was withdrawn?” The audience failed to express remorse for the loss of innocent lives; and the respondents defended their position that the “criminal” with dual citizenship still enjoys state and government protection. This is the face of immorality and cowardice.
The questions and responses both send another chilling and dangerous message to the vast majority of the Ethiopian people, namely that Jawar and the culprits around the Qeerro movement will not be held accountable for crimes against humanity in Ethiopia’s domestic ethnic-dominated courts.
What is the option then?
First and foremost, the Ethiopian state and government must enforce the rule of law; ensure public safety and security; and defend the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ethiopia.
Second, the state and government of Ethiopia must enforce its laws by asserting firmly and boldly that every and each Ethiopian has the right to live and work in any Kilil; and must hold officials who defy the law accountable.
Third, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has been accused of being “timid, weak, indecisive and pro Amhara or neftegna” among other characterizations. This is in part because he gyrates between advocating Ethiopian unity and Ethiopiawinnet on the one hand (qualities I support); and ethno-nationalism and ethnic prejudices on the other. He can no longer serve two tendencies and two masters. Abiy must show the moral fortitude and ethics to stand firm and tall by siding with the forces of unity within diversity regardless of the personal cost this may entail.
Fourth, it is time for Tigrean, Oromo and other intellectuals, civic and opinion leaders who believe in one country, in the application of the rule of law and in advancing democracy based on individual rights to speak up against injustice, murders, home grown terrorists and fundamentalists regardless of ethnic or religious or party affiliation. Addressing the root causes of Ethiopia’s tragedy requires from each of us intellectual honesty and integrity; and not cynicism, opportunism and total silence
Fifth, in the battle of ideas, the struggle is between Ethiopian nationalism and Ethiopiawinnet associated primarily with the Amhara on the one hand; and ethno-nationalism on the other. The second is buffeted by external forces including Egypt and religious fundamentalists. This bifurcation has been allowed to take roots in a manner that manifests itself in a youthful population that is increasingly intolerant of differences; dismissal of the notion that ethnic and religious violence will serve no one. It is time for those who believe in the former to unite against ethno-nationalism, intolerance, home grown terrorism and fundamentalism.
Sixth, in the absence of a bold decision by the Ethiopian government to hold persons who commit criminal acts including murders accountable, the other option is for Ethiopians in the Diaspora to mobilize funds; to hire internationally renowned human rights lawyers; and to lodge formal charges against Jawar and his associates as well as Getachew Assefa already charged in Ethiopia for crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice in Brussels, Belgium. No one should get away with murder and theft.
Seventh, the Oromo Media Network (OMN) propagates ethnic and religious animosity; and incites violence. It shreds to pieces historical bonds among Ethiopians. It is time for Ethiopia’s Parliament to meet, discuss and either close OMN or instruct its leader or leaders to operate in a professional and constructive manner in accordance with international standards, ethics and protocol to inform audiences accurately and factually; and to help bridge relations among people.
Eighth, I contend that the current ethnic-federal Constitution and the Kilil administrative structure can no longer hold the country together. The Constitution does not advance democracy. Therefore, I recommend that Ethiopian stakeholders within and outside the country have the courage to conduct open and frank public discussions with a view of presenting a new Constitution; and an alternative administrative structure that will devolve real policy and decision-making authority to citizens; and that will strengthen socioeconomic resiliency and equity for the entire society.
Ninth, Ethiopia is a conflict prone country. For a long time, I have argued that ethnic elites, intellectuals, civil society leaders, single ethnic-based and multiethnic parties bar none, including the EPRDF as currently constituted, must discuss internally whether they embrace a united Ethiopia or not. It is based on frank and open discussion within and among political elites that a binding consensus on the future of Ethiopia that is home to its diverse population would emerge.
This consensus, peace, security and stability should precede free and fair elections.
Last, but not least, there is incontestable proof that the TPLF in the North has assembled a concert of ethno-nationalists, homegrown terrorists, violent extremists and fundamentalists including Jawar Mohamed and his supporters against a perceived resurgence of “neftegna Amhara nationalism,” the federal government led by Abiy Ahmed and all Ethiopian patriots, democrats and nationalists. It has deployed a massive arsenal of tools including cyber warfare; arms trafficking; and the propagation of false and misleading narratives that lead to crimes against humanity; and to the destruction of economic and social infrastructure.
This concerted plot is intended to halt fundamental reforms; and to restore political and economic capture and hegemony. The TPLF core leadership must be held accountable for untold atrocities, for states of emergency that resulted in untold suffering, including the deaths of hundreds and hundreds of Ethiopian youth; the incarcerations of tens of thousands; and the destruction and the siphoning off of billions of dollars in assets. Some of the stolen billions is now being used to wage another cycle of violence and devastation.
Having inflicted untold pain against the Oromo, the TPLF reverted back to its political Manifesto of targeting Amhara, neftegna etc., with a deliberate intent of assembling Oromo youth and unsuspecting elites to its fold. This is a masque. The TPLF document called “ሳይቃጠል በቅጠል (Contain the Flame with Leaves) provides guidance for this new assembly of lawlessness and violence.
Whether past or present, I believe that accountability for crimes against humanity must no longer be left to the timid, fractured, fragmented, wishy washy and indecisive state and government of Ethiopia. It is everyone’s business. So is the survival and durability of Ethiopia.
I am deeply concerned that the consequences of not taking a principled, bold, determined and unified public position by Ethiopian civil society organizations, activists and other concerned Ethiopians and their friends now will be catastrophic.
Long live Ethiopia and the Unity of the Ethiopian people!!!!
November 1, 2019
Join the conversation. Like borkena on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly. As well, you may get Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @zborkena