Reasons to support Ethiopia’s AFD
By Boru Jobir*
June 14, 2006 — The formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) has unleashed so much reaction from all walks of the Ethiopian political landscape that it makes you wonder if the need for a dialog is way over due. We have seen the flow of opinions on the very nature of the Alliance, the motivation and aspirations of its founders, its political program, the practicality of the whole scheme, etc. The level of concern on issues that have not been made abundantly clear from the Alliance members gave ground to the torrent of opinions that covers the broad spectrum of one extreme to the other. I can site a number of positive outcomes from the deluge of opinions from various web sites, but I believe we are fortunate to break the communication barrier and have a lively exchange of ideas at this moment rather than after the assumption of power by one or more of the organizations that formed the Alliance.
Ideas and opinions posted by some of our learned elites and some who are not need some resolution and a meeting of the mind; and if we can not achieve that, to try to walk on the other person’s shoe and understand his or her position. In other words, if all fails, to disagree without being disagreeable. In light of that, I would like to raise a number of issues both on the speeches and interviews of some of the founders of the Alliance and as well as the opinions of my fellow countrymen who have somehow taken their strong views as conventional wisdom.
1. The Sovereignty and Unity of Ethiopia
We are aware that some of the liberation fronts that have formed the Alliance have openly expressed their intent for their right to self-determination up to and including cession. And so far, I have not read anything that contradicts their position on the subject. And in order for the Alliance to have any viability and practicality, we need to have their position clearly stated on the matter. Is it possible and believable for them to make change of their previous stance on the issue? I, for one, do not see any problems if they choose to do so. History has given us numerous examples whereby liberation fronts making strategic shifts in their political programs depending on the changing circumstances of the day. The leader of the Zulu people, Butalezi was holding his ground to secure independence for his land against the wishes of ANC during the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa and had to let go of his plan because of overwhelming political factors. The PLO which was bent on destroying Israel finally settled on the notion of the two states side by side when conditions changed on the nature of the struggle. And in our country, the TPLF changed its original position of independence from Ethiopia when they found out the advantages of ruling the whole country was a better deal. In a nutshell, it is not really uncommon to change political programs and plans to accommodate a given set of condition. But, I, like everyone else would like clarification on the matter from some of the Alliance members if they have changed their position at all.
While on the subject of the unity of Ethiopia, I would like to express my thoughts on some of the views I have read on some forums regarding the national question in Ethiopia. During the height of the student movement in Ethiopia, an article appeared by Waleleign Mekonen in the HS University Student’s newspaper, Struggle, for the first time dealing with the subject of the national question. To put it lightly, it was an eye opening learning experience even for those who were deeply involved in the student movement. As it was clearly stated by Waleleign, Ethiopia was indeed a prison for all its nationalities except for those who were at the helm of political power. But that label is being slowly shaded because of Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution which partially empowered the different nationalities to self-determine their fate and become masters of their destiny. The only drawback with Article 39 is in its implementation or lack thereof. Whenever it suits its purpose and when something goes against the intended objectives, the EPRDF took it upon itself to meddle in the internal affairs of the regional states in contravention of the constitution. The only reason the article was put to practice by EPRDF was to make its governance easier and to make us believe that the regime is at the forefront of the struggle for equality of all nations. If we are going to implement any system of government worthy of the name democracy in Ethiopia, the regional states should be fully empowered to realize their aspirations and dreams and given all the necessary assistance from the federal government. I am aware that what I have stated is not quite the music some ardent supporters of AEUP would like to hear, but bear with me for a moment and let me clarify further.
A cross section of the writers from most of the forums holds the view that Article 39 should be a watershed to filter those who are for the unity or for dismemberment of the nation. I am not sure how this ended up being the only two choices on the matter; in fact it does not have to be one or the other at all. The right of nations to self-determination is an inherent right that should not be translated to mean secession. The question of secession only comes to the forefront when the rights of nations are trampled upon by the ruling regime and it becomes clear that there are no other viable alternatives except separation. A good example of how that unfolded to become reality in recent times is the case of Yugoslavia, which splintered into many pieces, a reminder that even the so-called developed nations of the west are not immune if we make a mockery of the rights of the people.
On the other hand, if all the nationalities and ethnic groups inside of a nation enjoy their rights as equal partners with all others and are full beneficiaries of the political, economic and social benefits that the country could provide, the need for separation does not make any sense at all. And therefore, the question should have been are we ready to adopt democracy, equality and justice for all or we just going to give lip-service to the issues and continue with business as usual? I believe it is up to all of us to make that choice.
So, my contention is let us not jump on the bandwagon of condemning Article 39, and instead give it some teeth so that the forgotten nationalities of Ethiopia can assert their rightful place in this land we all would like to call our own. It is very common to hear of the phrase that we Ethiopians have lived as brother and sisters in peace for centuries without much incident. Yes, indeed, we lived peacefully, because we, the forgotten ones have accepted the status-quo and the second-class citizenship as normal. But if we want to change the state of affairs as it exists now, we should support and help the empowerment of all nationalities to realize their aspirations and be a real partner in the newly-formed Ethiopia.
I have read in so many web sites that the CUDP won the last election hands down across the board. I am not sure if it’s a landslide, but obviously they won all the seats in the capital and the majority in some of their strongholds. But how did the CUDP equally fare in other areas such Oromia, Somali, Affar, Beni-Shangul, Tigrai, etc. If we believe the official results from the Election Commission, the final tally was EPRDF-327; CUD-109;UEDF-52;SPDP-24, etc. I have not seen the exact percentage by how much the CUDP claimed to have won the election, but I am sure even with the best of intentions for the organization, it would not be by much, if it had won the majority votes at all, taking into consideration that the areas I mentioned went for their respective organizations. And moreover, had the OLF took part in the election, I am sure the results would have been dramatically different because of the obvious influence and support they have with their constituencies. For anyone interested to have a better understanding of the results of the election, I refer readers to the following three articles:
The Beginning of a Transition: By Terrence Lyons
Some Comments, “The Beginning of a Transition” Antony Shaw
Some Thoughts on CUD and other Opposition Parties: By Antony Shaw
The reason I am bringing all this is to learn why the role of a vanguard was bestowed on CUDP considering that its support base is limited to the center and some parts of highland Ethiopia. I am sure this observation has a lot of merit in the minds of the CUDP leaders because if they assume political power in the next election, they know full well that they will encounter the same problems that the present regime is facing right now. That’s why I think it is a very clever move on the part of CUDP, and not only OLF, to be a part of the alliance and have a chance of building a democratic society with fair representation for all. And speaking of democracy, some one long ago said it is the rule of the people, by the people, and to the people. And if the people of the regional states decided to administer their affairs by themselves, teach their heritage and culture to their children in their own language, dance to their own music, how is that contrary to the rule of democracy? Or rather isn’t that what democracy is all about? And how does that affect the unity of the nation except in a positive way by supporting the wishes of the people and thus make them feel to be a part of the nation that has long forgotten their existence? Well, some might say how were they forgotten? They were forgotten when all they used to hear on the mass media for which they have paid their taxes with their meager income is the adulation and supremacy of one ethnic group at the expense of all others. They were forgotten when they were forced to learn the history and magnanimity of their oppressors in language they are forced to adopt. They are forgotten and trodden upon when their masters were making fun of their culture, religion, heritage and told to adopt the culture of the ruling elite if they want to get anywhere in life. They were forgotten when they were thrown in jail for a crime they had not committed in a court-room the language of the proceedings they were unable to understand. They are forgotten and at a loss when they are told that they live in the Island of Christianity when they know full well that their numbers are equal or may be greater than their Christian counterparts and their whole existence doesn’t mean much to the rulers of the land. I can go on, but you get my drift.
On this note, let me bring a somewhat similar issue that is related to the way we treat differently the people according to the region they come from. The dictatorial and ruthless nature of the regime of Meles Zenawi has been noted time and again particularly in the action it took in the aftermath of the election by gunning down the supporters of the opposition and imprisoning the leaders on framed up charges. That was totally against what the Ethiopian people had in mind who erroneously though that the dawn of democracy was finally shining on them right until it they found that it was just a mirage. The reactions of the population both at home and abroad was again as expected; outrage, disbelief and out in force in opposition to the dictatorial and arbitrary nature of the measures taken. This is all magnificent and as expected on the part of all Ethiopians who have the good of their people in the mind. But one wonders where all this force of reaction and compassion was when the people of the Ogaden were dying by the hundreds due to a famine that was artificially made up and brought about by the Meles regime? And where was this outrage bottled up when the Affar people were being decimated on a man made drought wantonly brought by the government? Where were the demonstrators who were crowding the streets of the western capitals when the Annuak people were indiscriminately gunned down and forced to flee their land because of the utter disregard for the rule of law on the part of the regime? How did we end up being so suddenly sensitive? Was the nature of the regime a sudden revelation because of the measure it took against the protestors in Addis? Or was there another hidden justifiable reason? Those who are following the developments in our country have heard and read about these and other incidents in the news media and therefore, let us not plead ignorance. Somehow, when we talk about the people of Ethiopia, it is the reality that the people of the south do not get the same level of indignation to their suffering as we have witnessed in the reaction of Ethiopians to the recent events. Therefore, if you did not see Ethiopians who are not from the center and the highlands in your demonstrations raising the flag of Juda, please understand that we consider all sufferings as sufferings, and we should be swift and quick to protest and make it known to the rest of the world and try to bring about change irrespective of the region. I just hope we do not hold the belief that the populations of the south are expendable and maybe children of a lesser god.
The idea that CUDP is making a favor by participating in the Alliance to the other groups is baseless if one takes into account the relative importance of each and every organization. As I have outlined, the CUDP is fully cognizant of the fact that they have marginal support in the southern areas of the land and need the support and cooperation of others. Unless they want to subjugate these people by force of arms like what we are witnessing the EPRDF is doing in some parts of these areas (Somali, Oromiya, Gambella, etc), the only option available to the CUDP is to form an alliance and govern with the consent and participation of others who are as important as the CUDP. One should bear in mind the strategic importance of all these regions to the welfare of the nation and the contribution they would make to the very existence of Ethiopia if freedom, fairness and justice are the norm of the land. Although some might take it as if I am being harsh on CUDP, believe me, I have nothing against the organization except to give them credit for being realistic and practical on their recent move. As for the other organizations in the Alliance, I say it is about time they have seen the light of day and decided to join to work together for the welfare of all in a united Ethiopia.
I have always believed that, the OLF, as the leader of the Oromo people, should also spearhead the struggle of the Ethiopian people for freedom, democracy and justice since they are the major ethnic group, if not the majority in the nation. And I have always found it strange why the OLF opted for secession from Ethiopia since it makes little political and economic sense to cut off a major portion of the land from the rest. The same goes for the SLF. Although I fail to see the practicality of their political programs in terms of implementation, one should be careful not to shun the damages that are inherent in a state of constant war that we find ourselves right now. Taken separately, neither the CUDP nor the OLF will be effective in assuming political power and governing peacefully, but together they could become a formidable force in putting the nation in a rightful path.
2. The Eritrean Issue
Like every other Ethiopian, I felt deeply saddened when Eritrea broke away from the mainland and started its journey as a sovereign nation. I am a living eye-wintess of the devastation that the military regime unleashed on Eritrea and its people; suffice it to say, one has to see to believe what the thirty plus years of war has done to the land. Believe me, if I had been from that region, I would have opted for independence like every other Eritrean. If I am forced to play the blame game, I would put all the blame for the sesseceion of Eritrea on the shoulders of the junta and its henchmen. The year was early 1975 and the EPRP was barely known by its name but its members and supporters took to the streets of Addis in protest of the war against Eritrea and made urgent call to solve the matter peacefully. Time and again, the junta had all the opportunity to find a peaceful solution to the problem by granting a limited autonomy to the region, but it chose to crush the movement by force which eventually contributed to its own downfall. So, I say, to my fellow Ethiopians, don’t blame the Eritreans for divorcing themselves from the motherland, the junta helped a great deal in doing that.
A good number of Ethiopians hold the belief that the TPLF gave Eritrea away without a fight. I am sure a majority of Eritreans have a different take on the matter; they believe they won the battle fair and square by force of arms. But to its credit, the TPLF was not in a position to fight against the wishes of EPLF. The fate of Eritrea has been decided long before the TPLF came into power. If the junta was unable to contain the advancement of the EPLF with the armaments worth billions that it had received from the Soviet-block thus bankrupting the country and with a standing army that had no parallel in Sub-Sahara Africa, what was the chance that the TPLF, which was under the full control of EPLF, had to go against the wishes of its masters and emerge victorious?
None whatsoever. In fact, one could argue that the EPLF was in control of Ethiopia during the first few years of EPRDF because the TPLF was a marginal force that took orders from Issayas.
Now, let us come back to reality and ask ourselves on how best to handle the issues with our northerly neighbor. First and foremost, let us be honest to ourselves and accept that Eritrea is a sovereign nation like all others. That’s how the UN and all other international organizations recognize it. I am really at a loss to understand some of my friends harboring never-ending intentions to take the port of Assab by force. Normally, we would not make that kind of assertion in regards to the port of Dijibouti or Port Sudan because they are part of a sovereign nation and we would not go on attacking another country because we hate the idea of being land-locked. Therefore, are some of us under the impression that we can not attack any other country but we can do it to Eritrea because it is doable? I know some of you would like to argue that Assab should have been left to Ethiopian when Eritrea was separated because it rightfully belonged to Ethiopia. I am afraid we are not going anywhere with this line of argument because one would argue that the whole of Eritrea belongs with Ethiopia and it’s a matter of time before Eritrea joins the motherland. Believe me, I would like to see that in my lifetime. But this brings me back to my original assertion that the junta drove away the Eritreans into independence and we should not repeat the mistake all over by following its example and use force to settle our disputes.
The idea of using force to regain Assab or Eritrea makes a good bar conversation and I hope it is only entertained by AEUP supporters and not the official line of CUDP.
I hate to imagine the consequences of war if we are bent on using force whatever the outcome. We have not yet gone over the trauma of the last war that was fought for almost nothing but ended up costing us thousands of lives and unimaginable misery on both sides. The only way we can bring Eritrea into our fold is by establishing the best government there is for ourselves and teach by example. Let us not forget that what led the Eritreans to separation in the first place is the oppression that they have suffered through successive regimes, and if we manage to change that in our land, I do not see any reason why Eritrea might not join us in some form of confederation or as an autonomous region in the future. Let us remember that the majority of Eritreans are let down by the one man rule of Issayas and the utter destruction he brought on their land. Having an Eritrean flag and a malfunctioning airline does not make a country and its inhabitants prosperous. Most Eritreans are smart and savvy enough to know the political and economic advantages of being a part of greater Ethiopia and we should be careful not to inadvertently force them to side more with Issayas by our arrogant behavior.
Therefore, let us do away with the political naivete and not rush to blame the OLF and other liberation fronts for having good relations with the EPLF. I have seen the changing of alliances from different organizations so many times that it is hard to keep up with what is going on. EPRP used to have strong relationship with both EPLF and ELF. TPLF and EPLF were almost one entity and joined forces to attack EPRP in the late seventies. And look at their relationship right now. TPLF and EDU were once partners until the latter’s destruction by the former. At one moment part of ELF joined the Dergue to attack EPLF. OLF joined forces with TPLF when it came into power and left when condition changed. I warned you it’s really hard to follow the shifting sands of political alignments in Ethiopia .For me, I take a long look and say this is all in the family. I have always considered Eritrea to be a member of the family that has left because of minor squabble. There are so many things that we share with the Eritreans that it is difficult to point out our differences. If we lay down the foundations to put our houses in order, and prepare the ground so that we can all thrive in squabble- free environment, members of the family who did not get along will eventually come back into the fold. Therefore, let us stop this chit chat that so and so is siding with this and that and should refrain from pushing them too far in their position. One should try to see beyond what is the obvious and think for the distant future. No one needs to use force to regain the confidence of our brothers and sisters in Eritrea; if we put our houses in order, I am more than confident that not only Eritrea but the whole neighborhood will be on top of each other to join the club. The rest of the world is scrambling to form unions and alliances to better compete and secure a prosperous place in the global economy and we should be careful not to loose sight of that.
3. Amharigna, the official language.
I am aware some of you are wondering what I was going to say next after I expressed ideas that are contrary to mainstream and most of the time taken for granted. The only request I make of you is to hear me out and reflect a bit before you instinctively react. Let me start by asking what is the criterion that elevates a language among so many others into the level of being the official language of the land? We have more than seventy nationalities and ethnic groups in Ethiopia each with its own culture, language, life-style, psychological makeup, etc. etc. Although I must say I traveled quite a bit across the nation, I have not seen everything that I always wanted to see to explore and appreciate the depth of this beautiful land. But from my own experience, I have found that the language I grew up using outside of my home was no use to converse with most of the people who are living all over the country. It would be a safe assumption to say that most of the people in Ethiopia do not speak Amharic. In fact there was a question during the town hall meeting in Washington, DC that went along the lines of why the Alliance members did not use Amharic in their communication with each other during their meeting in Holland. But on of the representative from the CUDP responded by saying they actually used Amharic but had to translate for others who did not speak the language. But I find the whole episode to be so strange in that why is anyone obligated to know and utilize Amharic in the first place? Is that the litmus taste for someone to be an Ethiopian? And who decides that and what is the premise? And I ask myself, are some people this much blinded by their own igrnorance that they trample on the feeling of others and try to change them into their own image? The only reason I am using Amharic in my conversation with my fellow Amharas is because they do not speak my mother tongue or for that matter most of them do not speak any other indigenous Ethiopian language. I would like to think that I am making a favor to my Amhara friends speaking their tongue and getting them involved in a conversation, and a thank you would have sufficed for the effort. But on the contrary, some of you are demanding that the issue of using Amharic in an official capacity should never be a matter of discussion, but used as a criterion to separate those who are “true” Ethiopians from the pretenders. I hope you see the silliness in that line of argument. But to come back to the matter at hand, if most of the people in Ethiopia do not speak Amharic, what should be done to have a language so that we can understand each other? I believe we should get out of the box that we have confined our thought process and come up with alternatives for a real solution.
Obviously, the use Amharic as the only language is not going to be the solution unless we force upon everyone to learn the language and infringe upon his or her desire of using its language. Again, we come back to the issue of the right of nations to use their language in their everyday life. I have an idea that goes against the mainstream as a solution to this problem and that might not be in total agreement to the ideas that have been taken for granted. Taking into consideration the fact that a good majority of Ethiopians claim either Afan Oromo or Amharic as their mother tongue, why not make both of them official languages and ecourage members of all other nationalities to learn either one or both so that everyone understands when they deal with each other and in an official capacity. For those who do not want to use either languages for whatever reasons - remember we are trying to build democracy here - we can throw English as a third official language so that it could help us bridge the gap of misunderstanding in our everyday life. Except for the fact that English is not an indigenous language, it is the preferred medium of our schooling and official business since the time of Haile Selassie. And as the school age population grows by the millions, the advantages of using English become clearer because of the availability of English conversant population already in place. And let us be honest, most of us have little problem expressing ourselves in English in this and other forums and in our everyday life in countries all over the globe. I am in no way an expert in the area of languages and am just suggesting ideas that need solution. We can brain storm and come up with the modalities of how the idea could be put to practice and leave the details to the experts.
4. The Flag of Ethiopia
If there is an issue that is dear and touches the soul of many Ethiopians, there is nothing that comes close as the flag; the green, yellow and red. I underlined the word many for emphasis because not all Ethiopians share the same feeling towards the flag. I have seen the flag come in some varieties, some have the lion in the middle and the EPRDF came with its own emblem, but most of the time the flag is just green, yellow and red. And lately, I have seen the flag adorning parts of some Church buildings in Addis, although I am not sure what the reason behind it was. I can fully understand if the people of the center and the highlands of Ethiopia have special affinity to the present Ethiopian flag, but I am sorry to say I am not one who shares that feeling. Let me briefly say why and make up your mind if I make any sense at all.
Of the three varieties, I will say the flag with the lion in no way represents me and millions of Ethiopians. As most Ethiopians are aware, the lion is a representation of the symbol of Judah (Lion of Judah). Let me be brief and to the point; millions of us Ethiopians are not followers or admirers of Judah, therefore, I do not see his role in the flag that I want to be identified with. Although the TPLF came with its own emblem as a replacement to the Lion of Judah and as an appeasement to those who hold the flag very dear, I regard the Ethiopian flag as a sign of oppression and a sad reminder of what happened to our ancestors in the southern part of Ethiopia during the empire building period of Menelik II. Menelik II fought under the banner of the present Ethiopian flag to subjugate and enslave most of the south and we have lost thousands of our ancestors by expansionists who held the flag as their emblem. Therefore, you see, for some of us the flag does not bring good memories that we cherish as an Ethiopian, but instead acts as a reminder that we were once a proud and independent people who were forced to join Ethiopia and suffer together with the rest. The only reason I would raise the present flag would be to applaud the expansionist war of Menelik II and the resulting massacres of my ancestors. And unless there is some hidden psychological satisfaction in the sad memories of our past, I am not going to raise the Ethiopian flag and dance on the graves of my ancestors. But I will be the first one to raise a new Ethiopian flag high that is going to promise me hope for the future.
A good parallel of what the present flag of Ethiopia symbolizes for millions of Ethiopians is what the Confederate flag of America means to all of African-Americans. The Confederate flag was a symbol of slavery for our fellow Black Americans in the south. And to this day, it is the official flag of the state of Georgia and flies at the state capitol. And there are segments of a very conservative American population including the KKK in the south that hold very dear to this symbol and what it represents. But there is also a movement by freedom and peace loving Americans to remove and change the state flag of Georgia, but the change is slow to come. The point is the present flag of Ethiopia is not a uniting force that brings all of us together. My suggestion is we should come up with a new flag that we all agree is the representation of all of us and be proud to hold it high. Those who have deep attachment to the green, yellow and red should adopt it as their regional flag and carry on as usual. But what I am asking the reader is to reflect on what I have said and concentrate on issues that bring us together. I am aware that issues of the Ethiopian flag was not a widely discussed topic by most for fear of being labeled unpatriotic, but it should be visited very soon so that we can all can have a flag that we all can call our own..
And finally, I have come across some views that champion the establishment of AFD for the wrong reasons and I was tempted to give my reactions and help and convince some to bring them to my point of view. Since I have already written a lengthy article, I will leave that for another time. But I would like to stress that we should not support AFD for the wrong reasons because that is just a failure waiting to happen. Depending on the partisanship of readers, I have read views that elevate the power and influence of either CUDP or OLF and the negative consequences for either party if one is not following the other. As I have clearly stated in my piece, it needs repeating that both are equally necessary for the good of our country and their efforts to bring their power together is a win-win proposition for all of us. Although some subjects I dealt with are controversial and untouchable, I tired to express my views as clearly and honestly as I can without being disagreeable and condescending, I urge readers to do the same and deliberate deeply having only one objective in mind, to bring a lasting peace, stability, democracy and prosperity for all of us.
* Boru Jobir is a a freelance political writer of events in the Horn of Africa, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org