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In Defence Of Meskerem Abera (Once Again)

Meskerem Abera _ Ethiopia Politics
Meskerem Abera (file)

Solomon Gebreselassie

In an article dated February 12, 2023, I published an article on Borkena.com with the subject title defending Meskerem Abera against Yonas Biru’s slander. What prompted me to write the current article once again in her defence is a June 13, 2024 article on Borkena.com by Amoraw (Sisay Mulu) taking exception to her article titled, “ The Fate of Ethiopia: Negotiated or Brokered Peace?”, and dated June 11, 2024.

In her article, Meskerem shows how the National Dialogue Commission is tainted and exclusionary, and instead suggests a negotiated settlement as a path to redress Ethiopia’s, especially Amharas’ grievances. In his article titled, “In the Shadow of Meskerem Abera: Debating the Viability of a Negotiated Settlement in Ethiopia”, dated June 13, 2024, Amoraw takes exception and lays out his counter arguments.

Among his counter arguments, he says “The systemic issues ingrained in Ethiopian government bred from decades of ethnic animosity and exacerbated by the constitutional framework demand not a bandage but a surgical overhaul”. Well-said. But throughout his article, Amoraw does not tell us how this is going to be effectuated. He does not even mention FANO once, a force that is likely to play a huge role in this “surgical overhaul”. Amoraw continues:

“Proposing a negotiated political settlement under the guise of inclusivity and peace while the same repressive system remains intact is akin to decorating a house that is structurally sound”. While Amoraw may get brownie points for his metaphor, Mekerem or any other serious advocate for negotiations did not and would not argue  “to negotiate a political settlement while the same repressive system remains intact”. Amoraw should realize that negotiations are done to precisely dismantle the system of oppression and not to keep it intact. Perhaps a brief history lesson on how negotiations dismantled the South African apartheid system, aided and abetted by the struggle of the people there, is in order.

First a word of caution about discussing the experience of other countries: We don’t live in a vacuum; we live in an inter-related world learning from the experiences of each other and pedestrian talk about the irrelevance of others’ experience is anti-epistemic.

The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of bilateral and multi-party negotiations between 1990 and 1993. There have indeed been half-baked negotiations in the 1970s and 1980s -for instance, Western countries attempted to compel ANC to accept piecemeal reforms by the apartheid government but the ANC refused.  Also, between 1984-1989, secret meetings at bringing down apartheid took place between the ANC and the governing National Party both at home and abroad.

The negotiation process, however, accelerated in 1990 when the country was ungovernable with mass actions and the government took unilateral steps towards reform, including releasing Nelson Mandela from prison and unbanning the ANC. In 1990-91, bilateral “talks about talks” between the ANC and the government established the preconditions for substantive negotiations, codified as the Pretoria Minute.  So, for FANO, or any Amhara activist, to foreclose negotiations outright and ignorantly say “we cannot negotiate with a genocidal regime” is foolish and ahistorical. At the minimum, one can say, “Yes, we love peace. We understand the suffering of our people. However, these are our preconditions for talks” and list the preconditions.

Getting back to South Africa, the first multi-party agreement on the desirability of a negotiated settlement was a 1991 National Peace Accord, consolidated later by the formation of the Convention for multi-party-CODESA. As the South African experience shows, if the negotiations do not go well, the liberation front can withdraw at any time and revert to its form of struggle. This is exactly what happened in the second plenary session of CODESA in May 1992 when there was a deadlock over the constitution making process and the ANC withdrew from the negotiations and called the people for mass action.

Today, South Africa is a vibrant democracy that just ushered in its 7th Parliament where 17 parties got seats in a 400-seat parliament and where a Government of National Unity is formed. There are some persistent problems such as inequality and delivery of basic services, but these will be a bone of contention between the left Progressive Caucus as the opposition and the ANC and the mostly white Democratic Alliance as the governing party.

In his criticism of Meskerem, Amoraw says “failing to demand the dismantling of the current oppressive system that has been the progenitor of these problems for over the decades”. Amoraw knows more than I do (since he  personally knows Meskerem, and I don’t) that all her adult life she has been struggling to “dismantle the oppressive system”. Moreover, what the South African experience shows us is that one enters into negotiations to precisely dismantle an apartheid system, not to “leave it intact” as Amoraw seems to imagine.

Finally, Amoraw at the start of his article says, “this article beckons us to critically analyze the viability of negotiating peace in a landscape where historical grievances and contemporary atrocities cast long shadows”. In my closing arguments jut before I rest my case, I say no country than South Africa had “historical grievances” and had “contemporary atrocities”, and yet negotiations were a big part of the solution as shown above.

Sadly, Meskerem seems to be under tremendous pressure from hardline thought that categorically rejects negotiations.  In her June 19 article titled, “Excuse and Clarity on My Previous Commentary, she says “negotiation with the anti-Amhara insidious government cannot be (will not be) my intention” and promises us to come back soon with an updated version of her June 11 article. My only hope for my sister is not to buckle under hardline pressure on top of her horrific prison conditions and stay steadfast with her core beliefs.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com


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