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Humanity before Ethnicity

SMNE Will not Proceed with Plans for an Ethiopian Stakeholders’ Meeting

July 16, 2010                                                                                          read in Amharic 

The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) announces the decision to not proceed in the planning of a meeting of Ethiopian stakeholders, meant to explore ways to collaborate with each other on achieving shared goals for the purpose of bringing freedom, justice, the rule of law, equality, civility, the respect for human rights and improved living conditions to all Ethiopians.

Only a few civic organizations and no political groups actually indicated their willingness to be involved. Even though many speak of the need to work together; particularly due to increasing repression of all rights and freedoms, the absolute closure of any political space as seen in the recent 99.6% electoral defeat and the daylight robbery of land, natural resources and other national assets by the unelected minority TPLF/EPRDF regime of Meles Zenawi; sad to say, when it comes right down to actually joining with others, it is apparent that few among the Ethiopian opposition are ready to work with one another. What a pity, for nothing holds us back more than clinging to our own turf issues rather than initiating a mass movement of diverse groups who seek shared rights and liberties for all the people of Ethiopia!

From the very beginning, we said we in the SMNE were willing to facilitate the collaborative process by simply initiating the call for a meeting; but welcomed others to join with us in organizing it or to even take it on themselves. This is not about personal ego or power, but about seeing a need and trying our best to engage stakeholders in addressing it together. We would welcome others to take it on if they think they can do it better; which would be okay with us. We in the SMNE would be part of it; but for now, no one has come forward so we have no option but to cancel, or postpone, the call.

Unfortunately, the lack of response points to how difficult it is to give up the “one tribe take all” mentality that resists the creation of a government that is for all citizens. Instead of collaborating, which we may fear will empower someone else—like a competitor; many fragmented and competing groups seem to prefer fighting their “giant” alone; a time-honored tradition in our self-defeating Ethiopian society that has kept us weak, alienated and miserable for too many years. It is grounded in the belief that if you or your group wins, you get everything—power, privilege and the rights to plunder other Ethiopians—like what is going on now with the TPLF; but, if you lose, you get nothing, like the rest of us.

No wonder it is so difficult for us to even attempt to achieve a task together unless “we” are in charge. Until we can collectively agree to seek a different kind of government—a totally new paradigm—that values all its citizens and which bestows the same rights, freedom, justice, privileges and opportunities to all the people, regardless of who “wins” or who is “loyal,” we can only take “baby steps” towards change or worse yet, sabotage each others’ efforts.

This has been the reasons behind the failure and collapse of alliances in the past. Whenever leaders are disingenuous in their call for unity, using the rhetoric only to look good to their constituencies, such leadership will contribute to keeping all of us stuck in the miserable status quo of inner fighting; holding us back from what most are of us are desperately seeking.

The public must step forward and hold all leaders accountable; saying that they will not tolerate any politician or leader who plays with their lives or the future of their children. The people can change this for the future only by refusing to tolerate such attitudes and practices.

Under these conditions, unity must be achieved by taking incremental steps. That is why the goal of this meeting was not “unity” or forming one political alliance, which is much more difficult to attain, but instead, to simply start talking and exploring issues that might be first steps to collaboration. Neither did I call for unanimity of all opinions, methods or priorities; which may always be impossible, but only to begin building trust, cohesion, effectiveness and a more inclusive vision for a “New Ethiopia” through tackling a few shared goals around some shared principles.

Secondly, as part of this new paradigm of government, I called for all Ethiopian stakeholders to be part of this; not believing I should pick and choose who to include or exclude by whether or not I agreed with them on everything. If there are any stakeholders whose names I did not mention, I sincerely apologize; it was not an intentional oversight. In fact, we very much want you involved as you, as well as others we may not have mentioned, are important stakeholders in the future of Ethiopia.

One of the most effective ways to change our country for the better will start through dialogue and reconciliation among such stakeholders—the more people and groups involved, the better it will be. If lasting peace is to come to Ethiopia, we must be willing to listen to diverse and sometimes opposing or aggrieved voices.

Some have told us they want pre-conditions that will exclude those taking an armed approach or seeking independence from Ethiopia; however I contend that they must be included because regardless of what they want now, if Ethiopia were to change for the better, their positions might change. Secondly, as of this moment, they are living within the boundaries of Ethiopia and should be included. We must first listen to what those with grievances say in order to determine if we can come up with some kind of agreement to keep our country intact. The problem is really not about “Ethiopia,” it is about brutality, tyranny and repression. Do not expect peace and acceptance of “Ethiopian-ness” until all our people find freedom and justice. Until all are free within Ethiopia, none of us are free!

This is a dark hour for us; yet, in times of discouragement, confusion and frustration remember the African proverb where the greatest darkness is just before the dawn comes. The SMNE will continue trying to bring the stakeholders together, especially the religious groups, women and youth, most of whom have not been on the frontlines before; but yet, they are the backbone of our society. Without them, we will not survive. They are the least attached to the old failing structure of leadership and the most likely to accept the universal values that call for the respect of the rights of all people. A recent development may be in the newly formed youth movement, who are rejecting the politics of the past and hopefully will endorse a more inclusive vision for a future Ethiopia.

We were also much honored to take part in a recent Paltalk discussion sponsored by Ethiopian Muslims where many questions were asked about the reasons behind the principles and goals of the SMNE and how Muslim Ethiopians might benefit from an Ethiopia built on such a foundation. As we responded to the many questions, we also shared our vision for Ethiopia to become a model for Africa and the world as a place where Muslims, Christians and people of any belief could live in peace, harmony and respect towards each other like the atmosphere that existed when Muhammed’s followers sought refuge in Ethiopia many centuries ago.

During the last few weeks, I have been encouraged by the increasing numbers of people and organizations who have been calling for collaboration. This shows that people may be beginning to acknowledge the failure of the past models and to admit that the mountain we are climbing may be too difficult to climb alone. Some groups show that they are now focusing more on strengthening themselves internally or within specific “pockets” of interest; something that may lead to setting a better climate for future collaborative efforts with others. Two of the most impressive examples are among the Oromo and the Afar.

Just this past week, the Oromo released a newly agreed upon resolution that officially endorses the importance of collaborating with other Ethiopians. More specifically, in the Oromo Resolution they state: “… they announces their readiness for a meaningful cooperation and alliance with serious political organizations fighting and struggling for liberation, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights and human dignity for all the peoples in Ethiopia…rising up in unison and struggle to get rid of the tyrannical minority.”

The Afar also released a press report on July 17, 2010, where they called on traditional and religious leaders, youth, other peace-loving Ethiopians, international human rights organizations and foreign embassies to stand together to expose and prevent the region from disintegrating into another Somalia. These are our people and the fact that they are calling on us to stand with them is encouraging to our overall effort.

In closing, even though we will not proceed with the planning of a collaborative meeting at this time, we will continue the work of building up a movement of people and leaders; committed to the principles of “putting humanity before ethnicity,” or any other distinctions, and caring about others within our society and beyond because “no one will be free until all are free.”

The failure of our government, institutions and civil society to integrate such principles on the ground has exacerbated the tensions and conflicts in the entire troubled region of the Horn of Africa. Therefore, we in the SMNE will support any work being done to further future collaboration between our people in bringing about sustainable good governance in Ethiopia for all—not just a select few. In the meantime, let each of us do our part and set our sights on a bigger vision for Ethiopia and the Horn!

Sincerely yours,
Obang Metho;
Executive Director of (SMNE)
PO Box 50561
Arlington, VA 22205
Phone: (202) 725-1616
Email: obang@solidaritymovement.org


Please respond to this request by emailing the Reconciliation Task Force of SMNE at reconciliation@solidaritymovement.org  or by emailing the Director.   

The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and donations received are tax-deductible. Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, P.O. Box 857, Stillwater, MN 55082 – smne@solidaritymovement.org  Website: www.solidaritymovement.org

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