Safeguarding the Vision to Our Future
Our Hope for Ethiopia in the New Year Should Be No Less than a Fully Transformed Society
September 11, 2012
We, the leaders, members and friends of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), want to wish all of our beloved Ethiopian people throughout the world, a wonderful and blessed Ethiopian New Year. This year we have much to think about as we enter a post-Meles era. A year ago, who would have thought such a change would be upon us. We now have a multitude of choices before us. How will each of us choose between them? Some will have better outcomes than the others. Are there any criteria we should be considering? Will we be satisfied with quick solutions? Are we willing to settle for a transition to a new prime minister or new party leading our government or will we demand nothing short of building a new society where healing, reconciliation, restored justice and renewed life is seen throughout the villages of Ethiopia?
In 1991, the people of Ethiopia yearned for freedom and democracy, but the movement was hijacked by Meles and the TPLF. The rhetoric was lofty and filled with talk about freedom, justice, equality and working together to liberate a nation from dictatorship. There were good, genuine and hardworking people involved. What happened? In this New Year, how can we distinguish between the “voices”, the suggested “means to our end” and the goals we must achieve? What amount of progress are we willing to settle for? How will we know when we have sold ourselves—or others—short? There will be opportunities to “strike up deals” but are they road blocks to sustainable solutions? We have much to think about!
Our society is gravely ill and we have many who are wounded. How will we get our sick and wounded to a place where they can be healed? For example, in the remote villages of Gambella, when someone is sick or wounded, there is often no modern transportation to carry the person to a clinic or hospital; instead, the person’s family must find a means to carry the sick person to a place where they can access medical care. In these cases, a sheet enfolding the person would be tied to either end of a pole which would hang from the pole as the person was transported by two or more strong men to a clinic, hospital or modern transportation which could be used to transport the person even further away for medical treatment. In the highlands part of Ethiopia, it is often similarly done, but with two poles and four men, resting the ends of the poles on their shoulders as the patient lay on the hanging sheet in between. Those carrying the patient must be committed, in good shape and able to have the strength and perseverance to travel the distance or all the effort would be in vain.
In the larger villages or more urban settings, family members find a vehicle of transport—a car or a bus—and a reliable driver to get them to their destination. The person must not only be dependable but should also know how to drive or the patient may end up in a ditch. The vehicle itself should be working well or no matter how good the driver is, if the bus or car breaks down, it will have to be fixed before starting up again. If you have a good driver and a reliable, well-functioning vehicle, but the roads are full of potholes or are washed out or if your driver does not know the direction or how to read a map you may end up in a dead end with nowhere to go but to back where you came from.
You should know where you want to go, how much it costs and what kind of medical care you need so you do not end up with a foot doctor when you need heart surgery or short of money or find out they do not take patients from your village. Our loved one will never get the healing needed to recover and in some cases, may die. If we want healing for the wounded in our villages, towns, cities and nation, who should be the driver, what vehicle should we use and what roads should we take to get us to our destination?
In Ethiopia, we have had a bad driver, Meles, who drove our country to his own destination for the last twenty years, only pretending to care about the 80 million Ethiopian passengers in the back seat. The vehicle he used was the broken-down, non-inclusive model of ethnic-federalism—an ethnic apartheid system which was defective from the start—which has now broken down and needs major repairs: ethnic division, land grabbing, crony capitalism, intellectual tyranny, religious interference and the imprisonment and exile of any promising drivers. The direction he drove us took us on bad roads, which led us to a dead end. We are now stuck without a driver, with a malfunctioning vehicle in a place we never wanted to go in the first place. Most all of us are angry passengers.
Why did we ride behind a reckless driver? Now with his death, those within the system are trying to find a new driver, salvage the vehicle, restart the engine and resume its travel on the same bad roads to destruction. They are trying to make the driver, who lost countless passengers along the way, a hero, but we have options.
We do not have to simply wait for a new driver to jump in; it is time to get out of the vehicle! We are the paying passengers and we have a say, the entire “system” is broken and cannot be fixed; it must be reformed, refueled and redirected. Will we accept anything less for our future?
No one is excluded from our present-day crisis—opposition groups, the people and the TPLF/EPRDF. Everyone is now asking, “What now?” “How can we find the way?” The passive passengers in the back seat must come forward to take control of their destiny. In Ethiopian history, this is not the first opportunity, but the fourth or fifth. When the monarchy of Haile Selassie fell, the passengers did not take a lead and the dictatorship of Mengistu jumped into the driver’s seat. When Mengistu was overthrown, the revolutionary movement of the people was hijacked and Meles jumped into the seat.
In 2005, the people tried to change the driver and the vehicle by nearly two million showing up in Addis to demand change. Over 36 million Ethiopians chose to vote for change of driver, vehicle and direction. What happened? Nearly two hundred people were murdered, 40,000 or more were arrested, opposition leaders, activists and journalists were imprisoned and the regime hijacked the hopes of the people. Now, we suddenly have a God-given opportunity for significant change. If we are not vigilant, our hopes for a free and democratic Ethiopia will again be hijacked by the regime or someone else who wants power and an opportunity to exploit the people.
Right now, there are political vultures waiting to prey on this new opportunity or trying to cling to the old, failing system. This is why it is important to create “a vehicle” to empower the people to take charge.We have failed in the past because the people failed to own and control the process; never dismantling the system of dictatorship, thus paving the way for a new Meles. It is possible to adopt a different way like was done successfully in other African countries like Ghana, Benin, Zambia and South Africa. In these places, the people took hold of the process until they achieved their objectives. They used an African solution to an African problem.
It is time for the people’s process, starting with finding trusted people, without political baggage, who will operate independently of a political group, to form a “command center” or council made up of people who are credible and who believe in the objectives. It is not unlike the village elder system, common all over Africa where the village chief and elders are held accountable by the people. In these afore-mentioned countries, the council chose the route of a Sovereign National Conference, a mechanism to drive the process that included intellectual reforms, political reforms, constitutional reforms, institutional reforms and economic reforms. Mandates and timelines were part of the outcome.This is what our very good and close friend and SMNE advisor, Professor George Ayittey, has been telling us and others is the way to go—within the context of Ethiopia.
I am hopeful that the people, including our political and civic leaders, will take the lead and not allow opportunists to deceive them, to lie to them, to manipulate them or to drive all of us off the road. In the past, Meles so effectively used division to advance his own objectives that we stopped seeing each other as Ethiopians. When I was in Minnesota, last week I met with a number of leaders from the Oromo community. I could see a marked difference between 2007, when I first spoke at an Oromo meeting in the Twin Cities and now. In 2007, a good number of my Oromo brothers and sisters were in strong disagreement with me. They told me they were not in the same struggle as I was because they were fighting for separation, not for unity. Some did not consider themselves as Ethiopians and distanced themselves from everything Ethiopian, including the national language, the flag and others outside their own ethnicity. Now, the climate has changed and many expressed their openness to being part of the shared struggle for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.
After these few days of meetings with them as well as with members of the Ogadeni and Gambella communities in the Twin Cities who used to think this way, I now see great hope of sharing in the reformation of our country of birth. The change is overwhelming. I was repeatedly told that what they want is an Ethiopia, not for only one tribe, but one where all people are valued, where “humanity comes before ethnicity” and where we care about others because “no one is free until all are free.” I was also told by some that they no longer see their only alternative to be “giving up on their country”; but instead, they refuse to be manipulated or deceived any longer that separation is the only way for Oromos to achieve regional self-determination.
Some Oromo, as well as some from other diverse groups, are still not convinced; believing that separation remains the best option to ensure their well being. Now it is time to empower these people to take ownership of the country of their birth. What was wrong was not the land, the name “Ethiopia” or the “Ethiopian flag” or the Ethiopian national language of Amharic, but instead, what was wrong was the system. If we the people are in control of the process, we must dismantle the system if we are to build a better Ethiopia for all; not a beggar Ethiopia for a few.
Meles has been buried in the same soil from which he came. We all will go the same way—from dust to dust. This man must now face justice before God. Even though this man has done terrible things—taking so many lives, dividing the people and favoring his own group over everyone else—we should not take revenge.
This is a time to reconcile. Instead of being a time to destroy, it is a time to rebuild. Instead of being a time for hostility and revenge, it is a time to reach out to others. Instead of being a time of isolation, it is a time to start talking with each other. Instead of being a time for vigilante justice or a perversion of justice, it is a time to restore justice to our courts. We are faced with an Ethiopian crisis and it requires us Ethiopians to fix it; others can join us but we must set the direction and not be satisfied with getting only part of the way to our destination.
Here are a few guidelines for safeguarding the movement from dictatorship to a free and democratic Ethiopia:
- The people of Ethiopia must own, manage and control the journey.
- Dismantling only part of the system of dictatorship will jeopardize the future of freedom and democracy. It must be complete.
- Reconciliation and the restoration of justice go hand in hand and should be integrated into all aspects of the transition to a free and democratic Ethiopia.
- No more ethno-centrists, where one-party or one tribe controls everything. Will we learn this time that we must discard the “ethnic-model” of politics? The TPLF spoke the language of shared grievances, but once in power, as an ethnic-based power structure, they repeated the cycle.
- Many will be vying for power; both within the TPLF, the EPRDF and among opposition groups. How should Ethiopians judge between them and on what basis can they unite? Here are some questions to consider:
- How effective has been their work?
- What concrete things have they accomplished?
- Do you trust them?
- Have they been consistent?
- Have they changed with the political winds?
- Who has benefitted from their accomplishments?
- What are their core principles?
- Do they follow them?
- Do they care about the people?
- Do they speak for your concerns?
- Are they reconcilers?
- Do they have a vision for the future?
- Do they have political baggage? If so, have they resolved it satisfactorily?
- If they are to work together, do they share common values, principles, goals and vision?
- Do you want a peaceful solution, which includes those in the armed movements, which would perseveringly be followed in order to avert violence if possible?
- Are you willing to become involved?
It is not time to recycle a failing system—we need not only a new driver, but a new vehicle, a new direction and paying passengers who will invest in bringing needed reforms without stopping so short that our movement is hijacked. We should reconsider the traditional African models of “accountable governance.” All villages, communities, regions and nations require accountability—to protect ourselves and others from ourselves and others! There are countless examples in Africa. For example, in the Anuak villages of my youth, there were checks and balances of power.
There were the wise in the village, who were recognized as such, and became the chosen elders of the people. We can start doing the same on the local level even now. Look for leaders among your villages, communities and regions. There will be some who speak the truth, who can be trusted, who are wise, who have the best interests of the village at heart, who can be depended upon to help when there is a need, who are respected, who stand up for the weak, who are reconcilers, and who do what is right rather than what will please people or put unearned money in their pockets.
These people must be empowered at the local levels to start organizing for good. We have such people around us. Let us identify them and utilize their skills and gifts. Support what is morally true, right and good and those who practice these virtues. At the village level, begin to reach out to others, whether pro-regime or anti-regime. We the people of Ethiopia must begin the process of change, transformation and reconciliation at the village level. People of faith can help by word and deed. Start pressuring at the local level for reforms that will not only be rhetoric or confined to a few places and a few privileged people. Healing, through reconciliation and reforms, will not be felt as a nation until they reach the villages. Be the one who starts it.
Who will carry the wounded and sick Ethiopian child of the future to a New Ethiopia? Will you do your share? We are talking today about the future of your own children and grandchildren. No one would ever want anything bad to happen to one’s own offspring, but instead would want to leave a better place to them.
Do not pass on the curse. Pass on the blessing and that blessing starts with reconciling with our Creator and with other people as we take part in building a healthy, free and democratic Ethiopia.
Send this message to ten people inside Ethiopia—even use the slow mail if necessary. Help organize and empower the people in the valleys, by the rivers, on the mountains, in the forests, in the desert, in the bush, in the city, in the villages, on the streets, on the paths, in their high-rises, in their huts—wherever Ethiopians are, pass on the message until it reaches to all the beautiful people of Ethiopia!
Today, I received a phone call from the sister of a great Ethiopian woman I had met in 2006; later exchanging some emails with her. It was sad news. She had died of breast cancer in Ethiopia. Her family had paid considerable money for medical care in the country, but that care was poor. Yes, she had made it to the hospital, but the hospital lacking; in a western country, her life would have likely been saved or significantly prolonged, but this was Ethiopia. Before she died, she asked her sister to give me a message from her.
Her message was to please continue the struggle because the entire system—including the medical care—was rotting. She said, "Please continue the struggle and do whatever you can to make sure this system—including the medical system—does not continue like this. I am losing my life because of it and it doesn’t have to be this way. Even the prime minister had to leave the country for his medical care. Do whatever you can to make sure this does not happen to others.” This amazing woman was part of the struggle for change and was, even as she was dying, passing on the message to others. Will you do the same?
May God have mercy on our wounded society; healing, caring and protecting us as we choose our paths in this New Year so they do not lead us to a divided, wounded and bitter society. May it be a year of deep repentance, forgiveness, reparations, corrections and revitalization! As Ethiopians humble themselves to reach out to God for help, may He lift them up to stand strong and live in harmony as one people!
Please do not hesitate to e-mail your comments to Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE, at: Obang@solidaritymovement.org.