Open Letter to the African Union, the Carter Center, and the European Union:
I am writing this open letter to you to extend my sincere and heartfelt thanks for taking your precious time to help my country, Ethiopia, home of over 70 million people, and one of the very few oldest countries in the world, embark upon a new path-a democratic path-and break from its past of political dictatorship and decadence which had condemned her to perpetual poverty.
The May 15 parliamentary election that was observed by about 320 foreign observers and about 3000 nationals would have been truly a remarkable and historic one had the election not been marred by some difficulties. I am afraid that the election has been torpedoed by problems that emanated long before the May 15 voting began which then continued, perhaps intensified, during the election. These problems included beating, torture, imprisonment and harassment of candidates and their supporters. Mr. Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division eloquently put it thus:
The Ethiopian government claims that the elections demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles. But in the run-up to the elections, the authorities have intensified the repression they have used to keep themselves in power for 13 years.
Ms. Ana Gomez, Chief EU Election observer had also voiced her regret by saying that she is concerned about the beating of opposition officials and disruption of their rallies. In fact she had told the AFP that she had spoken to some of those who had been abused and beaten up. I am very hopeful that these undemocratic deeds have been acts of concern and worry to the international community for whom you have taken the responsibility of representing. And in this connection, the unfortunate remark by Mr. Tim Clarke, head of EU delegation ".... yes, there are deficiencies, (but) this is only the third election in the country." is not representative of and or official position of the European Union. However, it is still sad for an official to be cavalierly careless with his statement. It has to be underscored that the 26 million Ethiopians went out to vote hoping that the international community would stand by them and give them equal treatment and respect as it did to the people of Georgia and Ukraine.
The post election controversy, accusation and counter-accusation, the brutal killings of 26 innocent people, the harassment of political leaders, the torture and imprisonment of university and highschool students, the stealing of ballot boxes, and the tense atmosphere that has gripped the country is an eloquent testimony of a dreadful thing about to happen in Ethiopia.
It is my firm conviction that this danger could be avoided only by declaring the May 15 election null and void and not by counting and recounting the ballots that have been tampered with and thus have lost their credibility. The international community should order and or call another election as it did in Ukraine and ascertain that it is fair, free and transparent. In this connection, I dare say that the international community can not escape the blame for not giving paramount attention that the Ethiopian election deserved. This is especially so when the international community is very cognizant of the fact that the government is notorious for rigging elections. The 1995 and 2000 elections are only short distant memory. My fear is that if the international community does not rise to the challenge and declare the election null and void, but instead chooses to go ahead and sanction the inevitable outcome-a third term for the ruling party-it would not only condemn the country to a possible civil war and or a one party dictatorship by alienating and worst yet by driving the people into a perpetual apathy and cynicism. The ripple effect of this is not hard to imagine. The people of Africa, that are curiously and anxiously awaiting to know how the fraud election in Ethiopian is resolved, would lose hope in the international community. You would be condemning the whole of Africa to one party dictatorship.
I believe that the Ethiopian people have ground for holding the international community responsible for whatever befall their country. If the international community could muster the courage and declare the November 2004 Presidential election in Ukraine null and void and order a re-run and assign 12,000 international observers, (from the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ,OSCE), only God knows the motivation of the international community for not sending and or insisting on more international observers in Ethiopia. In fact with 34,000 poling stations, Ethiopia should have deserved more observers. The problems that have gripped and bedevil the nation currently are manifestation and or result of this deficiency. On May 13, 2005, former president Carter had said that"... he would be ready to declare Ethiopia's election illegitimate if he had reason to believe that they were marred by widespread irregularities". And on May 25, 2005, the European Union is quoted by AP as saying that "...unless there is a drastic reverse toward good democratic practice (we) will have to publicly denounce the situation....Otherwise, the EU jointly with ex-president Carter will be held responsible for the lack of transparency, and assumed rigging, of the elections."
The peace loving people of the world awaits your decision anxiously. It is my hope and also the hope of many of my compatriots that you will seriously consider the ramifications of your decisions. This is the time to tell the leaders of Ethiopia and also send a message to the rest of Africa that sovereignty belongs to the people and that they deserve to be governed by their consent and not by a power that tramples upon their rights. If, however, your decision is to give the benefit of the doubt to the government you will be killing the incipient and fledgling democracy that is taking hold not only in Ethiopia but also in some part of Africa. This will be the third opportunity that Ethiopia will be missing to establish a government by the consent of its people. The first one was when the military government hijacked the peoples revolution, in 1974, and established its dictatorship. The second one was when the current regime overthrew the military government some fourteen years ago and chose to establish an ethnically based dictatorship. It is rarely that a nation will get three opportunities to rights its wrongs. If we miss this one, only God knows if there will be another chance.
The United States of America, upon getting its independence from Britain established a confederation. But when that government was to weak to defend life, liberty and property, and when the debtors led by people like Daniel Shay and Thomas Paine not only refused to pay their debt but also began to threaten the stability and security of the new nation, the fathers of the constitution led by George Washington took the initiative to create a federal form of government. A government that limited the power of the federal government with checks and balances. That was not their mandate. Their mandate was to revamp and strengthen the Articles of the Confederation. But they understood that the confederal government would not be the kind of government they were envisioning no mater how much improvement was made to it. Hence they jumped on their second chance and created a government that has not only lasted more than two hundred years but also has been a model for many, many, many countries. Think about this when and or before you make your decision on Ethiopia.
Solomon Terfa ( Ph.D)
Associate Professor of Political Science
Mississippi Valley State University