2009 Become the Year of Ethiopian
Independence from Dictators?
Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia
| January 4, 2009
Human rights cannot be fought alone, but
will require all people to come together… Ethiopians
should stand in solidarity and fight together against
the human rights abuses committed against all of them…
Ethiopians deserve a much better government than what
they have now, but Ethiopians have to speak with one
voice and then we will help them if they do this. (Mr.
Chris Smith, U.S. Congressman)
Will 2009 be different from 2008—a year filled
with increasing misery, repression and violence in Ethiopia
and of apathy, disillusionment and division in the Diaspora?
I say, yes, but only if we Ethiopians now demonstrate
that we are prepared for new solidarity around shared
goals, principles and values so we can speak with “one
voice” that Congressman Chris Smith says has been
During this period in 2008 of our relative inactivity,
the Meles regime has dared to become increasingly more
repressive and abusive. Why? Because Meles has continued
to get a free pass on criticism despite UN claims that
the Ogaden in southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia have
become a “silent Darfur.” Robert Mugabe,
Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been widely
condemned in the news, but not Meles Zenawi.
At the same time, disillusionment with Ethiopian politics
resulted in Ethiopians replacing their passion for Ethiopian
freedom and justice with a focus on the Obama campaign
in hopes that a “President Obama” would
“free the country.” Unfortunately, our neglect
of Ethiopia has further enabled Meles and his regime
to operate with impunity in 2008. It is now up to us
Ethiopians to make sure 2009 is not the same.
Now the election is over and suddenly, the grim realities
of Ethiopia have forced their way back to the forefront
with the high publicity imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa.
She is not the first. Look at the case of Teddy Afro.
He has many supporters rallying for him. There were
Oromos who were arrested last month and I have spoken
to concerned Oromos who are seeking their release. I
am sure there were also many others in unknown places
who were arrested and detained for political reasons.
Think of the additional hundreds or thousands who have
been there for many months or years!
The question is—who should rally for them—their
own independent groups, their own ethnic groups, their
own political parties, their families or all of us?
Do we pick just one or a few of them or do we speak
up for all political prisoners? What if we combined
our efforts and spoke up for all political prisoners?
How you answer these questions makes a world of difference
to what kind of year 2009 will be!
Injustice in Ethiopia is everywhere and it is an astounding
testimony of EPRDF arrogance—how they seem to
believe they can continue to operate as they please
within their self-established “culture
of impunity,” even boldly imprisoning
leaders on absurd grounds such as Birtukan. Let 2009
be the year we say, “We have had enough!”
Birtukan has modeled courage and conviction. I do not
think she is asking the Ethiopian people to personally
rescue her; but instead, on behalf of others, she is
challenging this corrupt government by becoming a representative
example of its injustice. She challenged this corrupt
system knowing that she would be imprisoned, but her
goal is bigger than her own personal freedom or she
could have stayed in Europe or recanted her statement.
Now, as a known public leader, she has called international
attention to the fact that there is no freedom in Ethiopia.
It is surprising that some have been blaming her, the
victim, for her own imprisonment, but that is probably
out of guilt or fear for not demonstrating the same
moral courage. Instead, I am convinced that selfless
and brave actions, on behalf of others, are exactly
what Ethiopians must do to make 2009 the year of change
Let this be the rallying cry for Ethiopians to join
together in solidarity to call for the release of every
political prisoner being unjustly detained within Ethiopia
from every ethnic group, political group, region and
What has held us back before now? According to a recently
Canadian parliamentarian, it is not about proving Meles
unfit, but is about “us” and our divisions.
In a recent conversation with him he told me:
“Canada gives lots of money to the
Meles regime, but we know very well about how brutally
Meles is treating his own people; however, the division
of the Ethiopians and other Africans based on tribal
lines, gives policy makers in the West, reason to not
do anything. When one political party and one ethnic
group asks for help, we, the policy makers, always ask,
who are we going to accommodate when there are many?
It becomes a reason for us not to do anything; but,
with solidarity and one voice, we have no choice but
to respond. I wish Ethiopians good luck!”
We, in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE),
are willing to take the initiative to call on policymakers
to ask for their support in exerting pressure on the
Meles regime for the unconditional release of all political
prisoners, but the greater the backing, the more likely
it is that the effort will be successful.
In order to strengthen this request, we will be drafting
a letter, summarizing the key points of this case. The
letter will then be made public and an invitation will
be extended to Ethiopians—political groups, community
organizations, religious organizations, women’s
groups, student and youth organizations and other interested
parties to sign this letter in support of this joint
action, requesting the EPRDF regime to free, not just
Birtukan and Teddy, but all political prisoners within
We will then present the case, accompanied by the signed
letter of supporters, to policymakers in key donor countries,
including to the new Obama administration, asking them
to no longer ignore what Meles is doing, but to expose
it and take action against it. The more signers, the
more it will show our solidarity of purpose.
A UK parliamentarian who is known for speaking out
against injustice in Ethiopia recently made the following
comments in regards to the Solidarity Movement:
“Solidarity is the only way out for
Ethiopians. The westerner will not bring peace and security
to the Ethiopian people, but the Ethiopians must do
it and when they succeed, there is no question about
it, but that the west will support it.”
Solidarity is also the way to gain the support of the
new Obama administration. Less than three weeks are
left until Obama’s inauguration and we Ethiopians
should be ready. We already have some connection to
the incoming Obama administration and believe there
will be opportunity to follow up.
In a recent conversation with an Obama representative,
someone who is fully aware of the problems with the
Meles regime, he emphasized to me the importance of
Ethiopians presenting their case to this administration
with one voice. He explained that Obama was someone
really inspired by the Civil Rights Movement in America
and as a university student, he was an active advocate
against apartheid in South Africa. He further explained
that Obama knew firsthand about ethnic politics in Africa
from his own father who was very opposed to tribalism.
He is also someone who is highly concerned about human
rights, genocide, corruption and dictatorship.
Based on these views, this Obama representative explained
the need for Ethiopians to put forward their plan in
a clear manner; Obama will not need a translation and
will know how to respond. He already fully understands
the strategic importance of Ethiopia and the Horn of
Therefore, it is our responsibility to provide a strong
case for changing US policy from the bankrupted or the
cowboys’ one of George W. Bush that is closely
tied to Meles to something better not only for us Ethiopians,
but for the US as well. We can do it, but it will not
be convincing if proposed by competing factions. We
must go above politics to free the country first so
political parties can be free to operate later.
My fellow Ethiopians, the job ahead of us is not easy,
but will be very difficult and require hard work and
sacrifice. There is still a long way to go and I assure
you, it cannot be done by any one group that is not
representative of all Ethiopians. God-given principles,
values and human rights—not leaders—must
undergird such a movement or we can easily lose our
way. We must all be held accountable to uphold such
Additionally, it will require the widespread participation
and support of Ethiopians from all different backgrounds.
Obama was not supported and elected by only one group,
but from people of varied race, region, religion and
background. Here is what a previous Congressional staff
person recently said in support of the concept behind
the formation of the Solidarity Movement:
“This is a great step—the Solidarity
Movement being not a political party, but a bottoms-up
approach—to bring all the Ethiopians together
in unity is what has been needed to fight this brutal
regime. The only way to fight Meles is with a united
front. He will come to negotiate or to accommodate the
opposition who want change only through this means.
Look at what he did during the election, when he saw
that the CUD was so strong. He called to negotiate with
the Oromo who he had previously ignored and mistreated
for years. If this Solidarity Movement is nurtured very
well, it could be an example, not only to Ethiopia,
but to the whole continent that desperately needs change.”
We are calling on any of you who think we may not have
a country if Meles continues in power. Let us come together,
help as each is able and do something never before done
The following are some of the planned action steps
of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia and beyond
your words of encouragement; we need your financial
contributions and action to make it happen:
- Contact key people to check on Birtukan’s
health: We will contact the US Ambassador
to Ethiopia, other key donor country ambassadors who
have embassies in Addis Ababa, Amnesty International
and the International Red Cross to check on the condition
of Birtukan Midekssa due to reports of health problems
related to her hunger strike.
- Draft letter with Ethiopian signatures for
Obama and other key leaders: We will draft
a letter asking for the unconditional release of Birtukan,
Teddy Afro, and all prisoners of conscience within
Ethiopia and then extend an invitation to Ethiopian
groups to sign it if they are in support of its content
so it can be presented as a collective request from
the Ethiopian people to key public policymakers in
the US, Canada, UK, EU and in other donor countries.
We will also organize or assist other interested groups
in advocacy efforts in other countries where opportunities
- Creation of SMNE chapters: We are
asking Ethiopians to help create SMNE chapters in
your area, combining with other local groups in a
joint effort. The SMNE is planning on developing a
website with roles, guidelines and ideas for chapters.
Groups have already begun in Oakland, Minnesota and
in London, but all that is needed to begin a group
is a few interested and committed persons who support
the principles of the SMNE and agree to abide by them—recognizing
that this is non-political movement to free the country,
not for political office.
- Launch media campaign: We will
campaign the western media to not ignore the Ethiopian
crisis like has been done over the last several years,
informing them that:
a. their silence is not only hurting Ethiopians, but
is killing them,
b. that the War on Terror should not be reason to
align with dictators who deny their own people their
basic human rights, security, justice and freedom,
c. to let them know that Ethiopians are standing in
- Compile a comprehensive human rights report: We are initiating a project to compile existing and
newly documented human rights reports allegedly perpetrated
by the EPRDF into one comprehensive summary report
to present to Obama and donor countries to show if
a pattern of human rights violations exists and if
Meles has created a system of impunity. The purpose
would be to convince them to withhold support, to
enforce sanctions or to exercise other measures in
support of restoring the rights of the Ethiopian people.
- Organizing a 100,000 person Ethiopian March
for Freedom, Justice and Peace in Washington D.C.: In September of 2009, we are calling for a 100,000
Ethiopians to march in Washington D.C. to bring world
attention to expose the tyranny and oppression of
Ethiopians. The purposes of this rally are:
a. To unify Ethiopians because participants will be
coming as Ethiopians, not as members of a tribe, political
party, certain religion or as members of certain educational
or economic classes.
b. To motivate and empower the people within Ethiopia.
Each of the 100,000 participants will have at least
one family member back home and the message will get
home whether Meles tries to stop it or not.
c. To show Meles we have had enough and are ready
for change! We know he will hear our voice if we can
bring these people together. It alone would be a powerful
statement that no one could deny.
d. To tell the western donor countries that we are
on our way, to not continue to support this government,
to not be a roadblock to our freedom, to isolate this
government and to treat them like Zimbabwe or Sudan.
e. To gain news coverage in the western media so that
the world knows that Ethiopians are ready for change
and that such a demonstration must take place outside
of Ethiopia, because it would never be allowed within
f. To let the Obama administration and other donor
countries see 100,000 Ethiopians in solidarity in
Washington DC, so he will know that Ethiopians are
ready “for change we can believed in”
before it is too late, just like when he saw 100,000
or more show up for a rally during his campaign, he
was assured that Americans were ready such change.
g. To invite participation from non-Ethiopians from
different religious groups, social justice groups,
student groups and civic organizations to join in
support of freedom and justice for Ethiopians.
I am convinced that these plans are achievable, but
only through the efforts of Ethiopians. The commitment
to be at this march has already been made by some Ethiopians
in London who told me they would be there and would
bring family members as well.
If every Ethiopian in the Diaspora, capable of getting
to Washington D.C. in September, would devote themselves
to be there, we can meet our goal of 100,000 people.
Religious leaders, community leaders, political party
leaders, civic organizations, women’s organizations,
student and youth organizations can organize their members,
even planning group transportation for those unable
to fly as well as assist in planning for lodging and
meals while there. What a celebration this would be!
We in the SMNE will try to find volunteers throughout
the world who would be willing to be coordinators of
this event. It is our goal to start such planning this
month of January.
If there are people willing to volunteer to collect
funds, to organize and to eventually arrange to rent
buses or caravans of cars from all over North America,
please let us know and start acting on it. We will be
coming up with firm dates; hopefully by the end of this
Overall, if Ethiopians are ready and willing, it can
be done. The rally will not be the end of the struggle,
but will be followed with calls for other actions until
Ethiopia is ready to choose their own government the
way the Americans did with Obama.
Until we have that, we in the SMNE will continue working
with a final goal that SMNE become an Ethiopian institution
committed to being watchdog for Ethiopian truth, freedom,
justice, equality, civility and human rights—a
“voice for the voiceless” of Ethiopia.
As 2009 begins, we have a chance for a different kind
of year than last. Are you ready?
We cannot undo the past, but we can change the future
through reaching out to others and through acting as
agents of reconciliation between alienated people and
groups. We have to stop blaming, accusing, attacking
and devaluing each other in order to move on. This does
not mean that we do not hold each other to high standards
of accountability, but it is done with respect and civility.
If you are willing to move on and to embrace the principles
of “humanity before ethnicity” and that
“no one is free until we are all free,”
come and join us.
As one European union parliamentarian said to me recently:
“This idea of coming together around
principles is long overdue. I hope now that Ethiopians
will come to it for what is in it for ALL Ethiopians,
rather than coming into it for who is leading it or
what it means to “my tribe” or “my
The SMNE is ready to lead in these proposed actions,
but we cannot do it without the support from Ethiopians,
especially financial support. I would hope that people
would understand the need for such support without having
to even say it, for everyone knows that without basic
financial support we can have “great ideas”
that go nowhere!
You can help make it happen or in waiting for someone
else to do it, make it fail! It is your choice! No major
movement has been possible without people making sacrifices
for a greater purpose!
“Much has been documented about the
gruesome human rights abuses by Meles; for example,
the massacre of the Anuak, the massacre of the innocent
people protesting in Addis and the ongoing killing in
the Ogaden region. Everybody knows very well about the
human rights crimes committed by Meles, but so far,
there is no one mobilizing body fighting back. I hope
that the Solidarity Movement will be that body that
is missing—like the Civil Rights movement that
stopped the abuse and brought our country back to justice.
I hope it can be like what Ghandi did in India and the
ANC did in South Africa. I hope the Ethiopians will
nurture the principles of the Solidarity Movement and
reclaim the justice they deserve. We on the outside
will always support whoever is fighting for justice.
(United States Senator)
This is a life and death decision of saving the country.
It is in the interest of all of us to have peace, security,
justice and stability in the country. What
we have in the free world is possible in Ethiopia if
Ethiopians devote themselves to it. All we ask is that
you step up and do your share. Will you?
Depending on your answer, you may be able to answer
the question posed in the title of this article—“Will
2009 become the year of Ethiopian independence from
dictators?” What will you say? Yes or no?
Our prayer for Political prisoners:
May we cry out to God for His help in releasing all
our fellow Ethiopians being unjustly held as prisoners
throughout the country. May He nurture, comfort and
strengthen the weak and hurting, reassuring them of
Our prayer for Ethiopians:
May God help us overcome our divisions, hatred and
apathy towards others, forgive us and transform us.
May God open our blinded eyes to see the precious humanity
of each person we encounter. May God free us in our
minds, hearts, souls and bodies. May He overcome the
darkness over Ethiopia with His light and make the Ethiopian
people become a blessing to others!
Our prayer for Meles and the EPRDF:
May God help Meles and the TPLF respond to our call
by releasing all political prisoners, by halting all
human rights abuses, by agreeing to a genuine mediated
dialogue and a national reconciliation effort that might
lead to a transitional government until a fair and free
election process can be established. We present this
in hope of finding a win-win solution before the situation
worsens beyond remedy.
May God bless Ethiopia!
Please do not hesitate to email me
if you have comments to: Obang@solidaritymovement.org
Obang Metho, Executive Member of the Solidarity Movement
for a New Ethiopia