SECOND CHANCE FOR ETHIOPIA?

By Dr. Solomon Terfa

September 5, 2005

Rarely do opportunities present themselves second time. That is why it is imperative to grab them when they crop up the first time. This is more true in politics for in politics timing is almost everything. In my article of June 27, 2005 entitled “Critical Analysis of Post Election Political Situation in Ethiopia”, I said “....But for some reasons that are not yet clear to this author, the opposition signed an agreement with the government to ‘review the problems’....”. By so doing the opposition, CUD and UEDF, resuscitated and revived the political life of the regime that was rapidly losing its national and international legitimacy. Its arrogance, barbarity and pogrom had no doubt alienated it from its international supporters and financiers. Its dastardly acts were so grave and that its ballot rigging was so shameful that the Carter Center and the European Union were contemplating the possibility of nullifying the election.

   The European Union election confidential report obtained by the Associated Press indicated that the “....EU might have to make a public denunciation of developments to distance itself from the ‘lack of transparency and assumed rigging’ of the vote. The confidential report went on to say “The National Electoral Board does not seem to be in control of the counting operation by constituency electoral committees and limits itself to passively receive the reports from a limited number of constituencies....” The confidential report chided former US President Carter, who had led a 50 election-observer delegation, for undermining the electoral process by “his premature blessing of the elections and early positive assessment of the results.” The report concluded by warning the Ethiopian government. It said “.... Unless there is a drastic reversal toward good democratic practice, EU will have to publicly denounce the situation or else EU and ex-president Carter will be held responsible for the lack of transparency and assumed rigging of the elections.” President Carter also reminded Ethiopia’s authorities that “....Some irregularities in procedures did occur, the most notable being that ID cards were not always checked. While officials consistently asked for voter cards they failed to be equally diligent on the presentation of ID documents....Limited accounts of underage voting were reported”. The former president reminded the government that bags in which the ballots were delivered were opened one day before voting commenced and that there were ‘unconfirmed reports of vote buying.’ He also indicated his readiness “...to declare Ethiopia’s election illegitimate if he had reason to believe that they were marred by widespread irregularities.”

   This is why I argued then that the Ethiopian people and the opposition had the initiative. The government was on the defensive. But the infamous agreement signed between the opposition and the government transferred the initiative back to the government thereby returning the political situation to the status quo ante. This also meant the indefinite cessation of the pressure that was being applied by Ethiopians both naturally and abroad in the Diaspora. It was a time when Ethiopians in the Diaspora  displayed the love they have for their people and their country. From Australia to Israel, South Africa, Canada, Britain, the Nordic countries and America they gracefully and with dignity marched some holding, others hoisting, and still others adorned by the now most popular flag in the world, the Green, Yellow and Red exposing the crime that is being perpetrated by the EPRDF government . Never has the world seen such remarkable demonstration of anger mixed with love and hope. What the Ethiopian communities in Denmark and United Kingdom did to inform and educate the people and governments of their respective host countries is commendable. They have prevailed over the government of UK to stop financing projects in Ethiopia and also convinced the prime minister of Norway and member of his cabinets not to attend attending the award ceremony that is intended to honor the Ethiopian dictator by YARA Prize Committee. Efforts like these had to be suspended until after the infamous National Election Board of Ethiopia declared which of the competing parties had won. I said infamous because the Board is composed of sycophants and political hacks who have slavishly pledged their total allegiance to the prime minister who appointed them to their post some ten years ago.

   The National Election Board after having conducted its insincere and make-believe investigation gave its long awaited verdict. You guessed it. EPRDF is the winner. Didn’t we have a hunch that this was going to happen? Did we have to wait in a limbo for this? Didn’t the interregnum suck out the oxygen out of the protest movement that was in full swing and give the government not only a breathing space but also the time to “legitimize” its claim of having won the election? Didn’t the opposition agree and sign to accept the decision of the Board? Didn’t it also agree to take its grievance, if it would have one, to the court for final ruling? And once the decision is made official and the obvious is declared to be the winner, does the opposition have any grounds to refuse to accept the verdict and worse still to want to establish a national unity government with the declared winner which in effect will be tantamount to asking it to commit suicide?

By the way I vehemently disagree wit the proposal for a couple of reasons. First of all it is non sequitur. It neither follows nor has any relationship with the premise. The peoples’ premise is we are the winners. And hence, the logical conclusion of this is we have to be the ones to form the next government or else we will take to the street. Or better yet call work-stoppage that will paralyze the function of not only of the government but also all others that have working relations with it. This scenario will give the international community and particularly those countries that have special relations with the country, a pretext to intervene. They could help in overcoming the impasse. The model for this is the December 2004 election in Ukraine where opposition leader Mr. Yushchenko won after the ill-fated November 2004 election supposedly won by the then Prime Minister Yanukovch, was annulled due to fraud and vote rigging. Ukrainians who refused to be ruled in the old way kept the pressure using huge rallies in the capital and other cities. They did so under difficult circumstances daring cold weather which, at times, reached zero or below. Collectively the had one objective and one objective only. And that was to establish a government of their choosing. The people are the repository of power and that no government would be legitimate unless and until the people say so. This was very radical for the people of Ukraine who had been, until then, robbed of their sovereignty by the communist party of the former Soviet Union and later by the puppets and surrogates of Russia. This circumstance provided the rational to the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to intervene. OSCE sent about 12, 000 observers. After the election Mr. Bruce George, head of OSCE certified the process and the outcome of the election by saying “.... The Ukrainian elections have moved substantially closer to meet OSCE standards.... The people of this great country made a great step forwards to free and fair elections by electing the next president of Ukraine....”

   This brings me to the second reason why I oppose the proposed National Unity Government. It is because large percentage of your voters and supporters do not like it. Some have called the Voice of America and expressed their outrage and frustration. They feel you are betraying their trust and confidence. You have to know that you can’t play Chief without your Indians as the old adage goes. You have not been mandated, they say, to negotiate with the tyrannical government that has created hell on earth for them. Your mandate is to make sure that every vote gets counted.

   Why is the leadership of CUD and UEDF adamantly insisting on establishing the so called National Unity Government which by now has become to be very curious scenario to many of us in the Diaspora and also the majority of the Ethiopian people? The leadership of the two organizations want to allay our concern by saying its “....only purpose ...is to help us avoid our worst fears for our country and society, and if we are up to the task to seize together the present snug as a historical opportunity to design a political scheme for a better and bright future for ourselves and our children, it will be the greatest achievement of our life time”. Behind these declared motivations is the desire to avoid possible civil war. Though it is not stated in so many words it is implied. Avoidance of conflict is no doubt your paramount and bedrock concern. It is true that the government does not make any distinction between its tough talk and its policies. If one takes stock of the governance of the last fourteen years, it is an eloquent but damning testimony of this.; It is a government that is composed of trigger happy and reckless individuals who have taken leave of absence of their humanity and sanity while they were in the bush fighting the military government. The transition from guerrilla ragtag fighters to statesmanship has been  long and  very difficult.

   Unfortunately, you have no partner to the dance. It takes two to tango. Right now your partner is missing. Hence you are not communicating with the EPRDF with the intent to understand and perhaps, just perhaps, solve the problem. You are convinced beyond a doubt that you have won. But the EPRDF government does not accept that. Instead it insists that it has won and that the Election Board has confirmed this to be the case. Its official position is clearly put as follows. “The question of sharing power through negotiation will not be acceptable, as EPRDF has won the election democratically.” Hence, the EPRDF has put you in an awkward position. What we have here is two diametrically different or opposed and therefore irreconcilable positions. To overcome this impasse, it seems you have two options. The first is defying the ban on peaceful demonstration and taking to the street thereby challenging the government and making it difficult for it to rule. This you do not seem to want to do for the obvious reason i.e., the possible catastrophe it portends. Your second option is to call for work-stoppage that will, no doubt, paralyze the function of the government with, of course, potential collateral problems for the functions and operations of the international organizations that have head quarters in Addis i.e., the Economic Commission for Africa, African Union, and others including the various embassies. This option is your best bet because it will no doubt minimize the loss of lives. I shall come back to this at the appropriate time.

   Your call for the National Unity Government might also be intended to intended to demonstrate to the international community particularly the European Union and the United States that even though you have won the elections, you are willing to accommodate EPRDF’s concern and fear and therefore are willing to work with it until such time when the conditions allow for fair and free election. In other words you want to show that your motivation is not to grab power at all expense. If my guess or hunch of your motivation is correct, I would say it is too idealistic and worse still too quixotic to be taken seriously. Neither the United States nor the European Union will consider this as realistic merely because of a potential civil war in Ethiopia. Let us take the problem in the Middle East. The Americans and the Europeans are engaged in the Middle East not because of what it potentially portends but because of the ragging war that is going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And this is absent in Ethiopia. And I am not by any means proposing for one here. In the absence of this, could there be another scenario which the US could entertain or flirt with in Ethiopia? I believe so. In his recent statement on the May 15 election in Ethiopia, Mr. Herman Kohen had made a very interesting but curious observations. After having characterized the election as one where the ruling party exercised election engineering, vote rigging etc., he said “....Before this election there was virtually no opposition member in the parliament. It was a total monopoly of the TPLF or the EPRDF. This election no matter how flawed it was will have I think 40 percent opposition. I remember in Kenya in 1992 they had an election. They went from one party state to multiparty state. The opposition went from zero to something like 40 percent of the parliament. That changed the whole atmosphere....In Ethiopia they (the government ) allowed the opposition to win a large number of seats. Was it a great election ? No. Was it deeply flawed ? Yes. Was it progress ? Yes. I think it will continue to be that way”. If this is juxtaposed to the possible report that Ambassador Aurelia E. Brazeal would write about the election and the recommendations she might make, to help the government form its policy,  I think the Bush administration could consider the scenario. Ambassador Brazeal said “....Let me tell you what ordinary Ethiopians tell me. They tell me that as parents, they do not want their children to live through the violence and upheavals that they experienced. They tell me politicians should respect one another, talk civilly to one another, and focus on issues important to the people, not focus tearing each other down....they tell me they want the political parties to accept election results, join Parliament, and work from within the system. They value their democratic institutions and the constitution, and they want political parties to do the same. They want peace. They want wise leaders”. US Congressman Chris Smith’s ( R ) observation is no different from Ambassador Brazeal’s. He said “...the opposition would be better off voicing its views within the parliamentary system than from the outside....they can play a positive role by actively participating in debates and other mutual concerns of the country peacefully....”.  I think these observations might give the policy makers of the US administration some things to consider. They might take different policy than their European counterparts. They might the opposition to take its seat in parliament. Like General Musharaaf, the dictator of Pakistan, serves as US lynchpin in the fight against terrorism in South West Asia, so also the EPRDF is the lynchpin in the latter's fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Hence, US national interest could take precedent over the democratic elections in Ethiopia. We need to consider this scenario very seriously.

   This brings me to my opening sentence where I said rarely do opportunities present themselves second time in the same episode i.e., election 2005. And in this connection, the recent European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) preliminary report gives the Ethiopian people a second chance to right the wrong. The report categorically said that the election does not meet international standard against which it was measured.  The report declared that “....The EUEOM regrets that the 15th of May post polling day irregularities, delays, and opacity of the counting and aggregation of data, plus the subsequent flawed handling of complaints and re-runs of elections in some constituencies, and the poorly organized electoral process  conducted in Somali Region, did not live up to international standard and to the aspirations of Ethiopians for democracy clearly manifested by the record number showing up to case their votes on 15 May ”.

   The EUEOM preliminary report has sent shock wave in the EPRDF’s camp. They are rattled and perturbed. They have began shooting venom and are engaged in ad hominum at any and everyone that characterizes the election as rigged and flawed. Their ground and air attack is orchestrated and synchronized from the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Information. It is a standard operating procedure.

   Now returning to the discussion and analysis of work-stoppage and its consequences–the most preferable method of struggle. I will say the following. Sometime in the middle of September, the government will have outlived its legitimacy both nationally and internationally at least in the member countries of the European Union. It means the peaceful struggle at home could be coordinated with the struggle of Ethiopians in the Diaspora. To start of, we could make it difficult for the government to participate in the yearly United Nations General Assembly Session–where all member countries participate– that takes place from mid September to mid December. We could call on the  European governments that have diplomatic and other relations to suspend them. The government cannot represent the people that did not vote for it. We could call for the impoundment of all Ethiopia’s asset that are in European and American banks for they do not belong to the government. We could call on all democratic and peace loving countries to suspend all legal and official contact with the government until the voice of the Ethiopian people is respected and the government of their choice is installed. This could be possible and fruitful if and only if the opposition agrees and decides to commit itself to this method of struggle. It is time for good, sound and principled leadership. The father of peaceful and non violent struggle, Mr. Ghandi said “no one can ride on the back of a man unless it is bent”. And his true disciple Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as having said “if democracy is to survive segregation must end”. In our case if democracy is to survive the voice of the people must be respected. And this is our challenge.

   In conclusion I will say that though parts of EUEOM’s reports may have reminded the prime minister of Tina Turner’s song “what has love got to do with it”, which of course is a tasteless sarcasm, the rest of us are reminded of the songs by Bob Marley and Sam Cook “Get up Stand up, Stand up for Your Right’ and “Change is going to Come” respectively.

Solomon Terfa ( Ph D )

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations.

Mississippi Valley State University

MediaETHIOPIA @2005