One Ethiopia

This is a log of the lonely thoughts of a man who has grown old in a foreign land.

February 17, 2006

The Newest Props in Ethiopian Political Theatre

So we are now in the stretch drive, in the last few innings of the contest for the soul of Ethiopia. Lined up on one side are the disjointed and sometimes dispirited remains of opposition parties, the unrecognizable remnants of what once were civic society organizations and the tarred and feathered but always resilient public trying to save the day with a last ditch effort. Crouching on the other side is none other than the badly wounded and terribly humiliated Mr. Zenawi, the Hurricane Katrina of African politics. His is hunched over from exhaustion, having just run roughshod over everything in the field of play, over the other team, over the arbiters, over the cheer leaders and over the spectators. Yet he is swinging away hoping that the opposition will be tired of serving as his punching bag, worn out from taking all of the arrows and bullets coming their way and submit to his will, and declare “No mas, no mas” ala Roberto Duran in that 1980 boxing classic.

If one forgets where we came from, if one does not look back and recall where we were even a year ago, it is quite easy to be discouraged by the current scene. But take a look around the internet and examine what the prognosticators, our cyber talking heads, were saying last year this time. Examine what was the consensus view just three months before Election’05 and you will recognize the unmistakable progress we have made in the march towards our final destination. If truth be told, last year this time, few of us outside Ethiopia even knew just when the election was to take place let alone take active roles in its orchestration. Most of us had a vague idea of a forthcoming election. All of us believed that Meles and company would not allow any serious opposition to organize let alone seriously challenge for the people’s vote. A year ago this time, most of us had so little respect for the strength of the opposition, we would not donate money or read its literature. A year ago this time, most of us in the Diaspora had little idea of the extent of disdain the voting public had for the EPRDF gang. We traveled back home, saw the shinny airport terminal and pretty people walking around with cell phones stuck to their ears and falsely concluded that Ethiopia was on the rise again. We wrongly assumed that people felt secure, comfortable and positive about their prospects and about their government.

Our travails over the last ten months have helped us attain one of the key requirements for ultimate success. A well known maxim stipulates that to succeed in battle you must “know yourself and know your enemy”. That we now have done.

We now know what lied beneath the façade of political serenity and appearance of emerging economic prosperity. Today, we also know that our people are determined to be free of fear, free of poverty and free of tyranny and are united in their pursuit of freedom. A year of watching, reading and listening later, we now know that there are among us many men and women who have the vision, the intellect, the tenacity, the love of country and the bravery to lead us in our struggle. Today we know that those who come everyday face to face with their oppressor, with their brother’s killer have no fear of their adversary – only disdain and ever intense determination.

Nine months after their election victory was stolen, eight months after the other side declared an open season on them and launched a campaign of harassment, beating and killing, and three months after they were unceremoniously rounded up and thrown into prison, the leaders of the opposition show no sign of surrender. Today we see the ONC reduced to a shadow of its former self, all of the offices of the CUD closed and the CUDP practically band as a domestic organization and the OFDM apparently destined to meet the same tricky fate as the ONC. The other side is busy trying its utmost to break up and frustrate the opposition. Yet, the leaders of these organizations and the people who support them take every thing in stride and march forward undeterred.

The other side did not stop at reversing the peoples’ will expressed in Election’05. It has dug in and is putting to use the power which comes with sitting in Menelik’s Ghibi in its effort to stay in office well beyond 2010. As always, the other side is playing smoke and mirrors in its effort to weather the political storm it unleashed trying to cow a determined citizenry. It is setting up an elaborate stage with all the customary props as it gears up to orchestrate a grand show – a show of “fair trials, outside observers and independent investigations”. Only the very uninitiated will believe the story line that would be told in this stage production to be anything but a grand show rivaling in its wizardry anything a Broadway production could come up with.

The stakes are very high for the producers and directors of this planned show. Yet they know that for them to survive and indeed to thrive, the show does not have to be a hit. It just has to be staged. It matters not whether the plot line is convincing. They care very little whether the patrons or the critics find the show enjoyable. What matters is that there is a show. They have had a long laid plan to take care of the rest. They have a network of very effective apologist who can spin anything. They are the ones who were able to get the outside world to get hang up on the point that the opposition increased its presence in parliament ten fold or twenty fold. Never mind the obvious flaws in the process; much progress has been made in the democratization process just because the opposition has won more than 200 seats.

All they want is a chance to stage the show. The show actually has multiple plot lines unfolding concurrently – just like one of those Law and Order episodes. One of these plots will have a group of independent investigators review the Addis Ababa massacres of June 6-8, 2005 and of November 1-4, 2005 with a view to vindicating the commander in chief who ordered the security forces of the country to shoot into crowds of unarmed civilians. This plot will conclude by finding Mr. Meles to have had good cause for killing several dozen of his subjects who were threatening no one or nothing. Perhaps, the investigation would even stumble on to some “critical clue” which would be helpful for the other plots that will be running concurrently. And if they stumbled onto something, they are sure not to sweep it under the rug. After all, these are independent investigators who were selected by the independent parliament to look into two very disturbing outbreaks of state directed violence.

The second plot line calls for “a fair” trial of those accused to have been engaged either in an act of treason and genocide or in conspiracies to engage in treason and genocide. Perhaps this is the most difficult act for the producers and directors of this play to launch. Their problem is not because they would not find “a fair district attorney” who would agree to prosecute the case. It would not be for lack of a “fair judge” to hear the case. Nor would it be for lack of “fair and reliable witnesses” or a fair amount of evidence. The biggest problem the director of this play is going to have is finding those who would be cast as villains in the show to agree to take part in staging their own vilification.

We saw a couple of weeks ago, the leaders of the CUD who find themselves in the grip of the producers and directors of this show refuse to take up their assigned roles. They announced that they are not going to take part in this show which is masquerading to be a trial. Certain in their knowledge of the law which insists that the court try criminals, not citizens who hold political views different from the prime minister, the CUD leaders concluded that to continue to participate in the charade is to legitimize the show. They announced that they will not give cover to the political cabal or afford even an appearance of legitimacy and pretext to the spin-misters by agreeing to take up the roles of criminals in Meles’ grand show.

So Meles and his gang have been huddling to come up with a strategy for disarming the CUD leaders. As luck would have it, one Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for International Development, came strolling to town this week and seemed to agree with Meles’ plan to prosecute the leaders of CUD and their compatriots who are unjustly jailed and illegally denied bail. Or perhaps it is not luck at all; perhaps that is what Meles trekked to Brussels last week for. In any event, Meles dropped the other shoe, the other piece of the puzzle, and gave us a hint of the third plot line. He suggested and Michel anxiously agreed (or was it the other way around) to have “independent outside” jurists to observe the “fair trial” by a “fair court” following the “fair and independent investigation”.

The only problem that the Great Leader must now solve is getting these patriots to agree to the plan and to play their roles. If they refuse to acquiesce to the demands of the producers of this show, if they stand firmly on their announced decision not to take part in the exercise henceforth, they will throw a monkey wrench into that plan. The show would then have to be canceled. In that instance, the plan for 2010 would also need to be revisited.

Yes, we have come a long way, indeed. We have taken the tiger by the tail and we won’t let go. Mr. Meles has no idea how close he comes to the truth every time he brags about how Ethiopia is nearing to be a real democracy. And when you think that only last year we would have settled for a few more seats and just a little more opening up of the economy. We have come a long way, baby!


Post a Comment

<< Home