Latest News in Ethiopia (Oct. 17)

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By Yoseph Badwaza, Senior Program Officer, Africa

Addis Ababa has halted a human rights resolution in the House by threatening to break off security cooperation with the United States.

When Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) addressed a gathering of mostly Ethiopian-origin constituents in late September, he told them that according to the Ethiopian ambassador in Washington, Ethiopia would stop counterterrorism cooperation with the United States if Congress went ahead with a planned vote on a resolution calling for human rights protections and inclusive governance in the country (H. Res. 128).

The threat appears to have worked: The floor vote on the resolution has been indefinitely postponed.

This may be viewed as just another instance of an authoritarian government playing the counterterrorism card to avoid international criticism for a bad human rights record. But in the case of Ethiopia, it is more than that.

H. Res. 128 has strong bipartisan support, with 71 cosponsors. The resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously on July 27 and was scheduled for a vote by the full House on October 2. As the author of the measure, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), said during the committee mark-up, the resolution is like a mirror held up to the government of Ethiopia, and it is intended to encourage them to recognize how others see them and move forward with reforms.

While the resolution contains provisions that call for sanctions—under the Global Magnitsky Act—against Ethiopian officials responsible for committing gross human rights violations, the more important reason why the government took the severe step of threatening the U.S. Congress is the damage that this resolution could do to the country’s image.

Defending a lucrative myth

Over the past decade, the government of Ethiopia has carefully crafted its reputation as a development success story, a champion of peace, and a bastion of stability in the troubled Horn of Africa region. In response, international donors have poured in billions of dollars in aid, amounting to roughly 50 to 60 percent of the national budget. The United States maintains a significant geostrategic interest in Ethiopia and considers it a key partner for counterterrorism and international peacekeeping. The country is consequently one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, Ethiopia is a current member of the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council. For the government in Addis Ababa, all this international recognition is not only about looking good and important in the eyes of the international community. It is also a powerful propaganda tool that has been diligently exploited to boost the regime’s increasingly shaky legitimacy at home.

The Ethiopian government vigorously fought all previous attempts to hold it accountable for abuses of human rights and democratic norms, and it has opposed the current measure from its inception. In January 2017, it hired a Washington-based lobbying firm in an effort to kill H. Res. 128 and its companion resolution in the Senate. Senior government officials traveled to the United States and held a series of meetings with American lawmakers and other members of the U.S. government. In April, the minister of foreign affairs proudly told his own parliament that the government’s lobbying campaign had brought an end to two resolutions concocted by “a few scheming members of Congress.”

However, both resolutions were revived over the summer, and H. Res. 128 passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with no opposition in July. Ethiopia’s threat to suspend security cooperation represents a last-ditch effort to prevent this resolution from advancing any further.

An increasingly unstable bastion of stability

Ethiopia’s latest bout of unrest and state repression began when a government development plan for the capital region triggered protests in the surrounding Oromia region, whose residents faced displacement under the plan. The demonstrations continued even after the scheme was rescinded, driven by deep frustration with decades of ethnic exclusion under the authoritarian regime. The ruling party’s formal diversity masks the ethnic Tigrayan elite’s de facto dominance of all aspects of public life, and the protests have drawn much of their support from the sidelined Oromo and Amhara populations—which together form a majority in the country.

Over 1,000 people have died at the hands of security forces since the antigovernment protests erupted in Oromia in November 2015. Some 25,000 people were detained in makeshift prisons and military camps under a state of emergency that was declared in October 2016 to stifle the protests. When the government lifted the state of emergency in August, there were still over 7,000 people in custody and facing criminal charges.

The government rejected repeated calls from the international community for an independent investigation and accountability, claiming that it has systems in place to investigate and punish any abuses. However, the country’s judiciary enjoys no independence from the executive, and to date there is no evidence that any member of the security forces has been brought to justice. Indeed, the police’s standard response to protesters continues to be indiscriminate firing of live ammunition and mass incarceration.

Diplomacy alone has so far failed to change the behavior of the Ethiopian government and to stop its relentless attacks on human rights and prodemocracy activists. H. Res. 128 is important and necessary not just as a response to Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful demonstrators, but also as an incentive for the government to open up civic space and promote inclusive governance.

With antigovernment protests increasingly taking a violent turn in recent months, a strong and unequivocal signal from the United States demanding accountability and concrete reforms is required to avert an all-out crisis and to create a path toward sustainable regional stability. Counterterrorism partnership should not give Ethiopian authorities a pass to continue killing and jailing political opponents with absolute impunity, and Ethiopia may not be of much value as a security partner going forward if the bond between state and society is allowed to disintegrate in this manner.

Passing H. Res. 128 would send a powerful message to Addis Ababa to get serious about undertaking reforms, and the Ethiopian government’s bullying tactics should not derail it. Members of Congress should call the bluff, place the resolution back on the House agenda, and approve it. Experience shows that Ethiopia would never follow through on the threat to halt security cooperation. The government fully understands who would be the ultimate loser if it did.

Why Ethiopia’s Ethno-Nationalists Will Always Remain Relevant and What Should Be Done About It?

By Yohannes Gedamu, PhD.

1960s was one of the most consequential political periods in Ethiopia’s history. This period showed the emergence of a generation of politically conscious educated class, who despite their privilege vis-à-vis the populace, asserted that cultural, political as well as economic realities of the state had to be addressed. The national question, which would become a popular issue of contention, given the debates raised by some famous tracts from then influential student writers, brought to light the diverging interests between that era’s ruling elite and the demanding educated class composed of many individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds. These crop of Ethiopia’s educated class would eventually organize themselves either in ideological pan-nationalist lines or took on themselves the idea of voicing ethnic grievances through clandestine mobilization efforts that targeted the formation of ethno-nationalist rebel movements.

When put succinctly, throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, two sets of political movements had emerged in the country. 1) Pan-Ethiopian nationalist movements emerged as inclusive political organizations (EPRP). 2) The rebellions with ethnic grievances as their agenda, that mostly emerged from Tigrigna speaking highlands (TPLF and EPLF) as well as the Oromo Liberation Front however, arose as rebel organizations that are exclusive to their ethnic groups’ interests and their ethnocentric views. Today, looking at the history of ethno-nationalist movements in Ethiopia’s contemporary history shows that despite some political actors affiliated with such movements have come to evolve in their views of what the Ethiopian state should be (note: few leaders of OLF), it is crucial to reminisce that their political platforms remain embedded within their old ethnocentric agenda. The last four to five decades of history of ethno-nationalist movements in the country in fact shows that transforming the views of such organizations’ leadership and their die-hard supporters will be the most difficult endeavor.

However, it is also important to note that such ethno-nationalists do comprehend the current realities of the country’s demographic make-up and extremely mixed patterns of settlements, which could deter them from realizing their narrow-nationalistic ethnic interests. Moreover, it is also my belief that most ethno-nationalists understand that ethnic grievances that they are dedicated to address will not be solved without a democratic framework in place. Indeed, such groups understand that the profound focus on their particular ethnic grievances could also unsettle the pan-nationalists, who I believe are the vast majority given this group includes the Amhara, most of the Southern ethnic groups and the urbanites. Furthermore, it is also very imperative to point that the fact that one of the largest groups in the country, the Amhara, still remain categorized as pan-nationalists, is understood as a deterrence by those same ethno-nationalists. As it is evident, some individual actors and political groups (most in the diaspora) within the Amhara have failed to emerge as representative of their ethnic groups’ interests mainly because the vast majority of the Amhara did not buy into ethnic politics at all. This of course, creates a difficult conundrum for the ethno-nationalists who long to see the Amhara follow their path to narrow ethnic nationalism, which in its absence would challenge the realization of dreams’ of narrow nationalists. Altogether, ethno-nationalists understand such critical realities of the Ethiopian state and the challenges that make it less conducive to ethnic nationalism to flourish; however, we see that those political groups and individual actors still remain unyieldingly fixated on their ethnic agenda.

The question now becomes whether it would be possible for such ethno-nationalists to somehow change at some point? My answer to such a question is simple; “they would not”. Why? Because, the organizational nature of ethno-nationalist political movements causes ‘change’ to be an extremely slow process. The political culture that such groups identify with also resists the idea of change. Hence, unfortunately, we should not be surprised to witness such groups continue to remain ardent ethno-nationalists. Political groups and key political actors representing the Oromo as well as the Tigrayan political organizations, that we have come to experience throughout these tumultuous historical periods in the last few decades, all manifest that the way the ethno-nationalists view the future of the Ethiopian state is only via what their ethnic lenses reflect. Those groups I mentioned and many others that had followed their footsteps in organizing along ethnic lines, have also emerged to even cultivate radical solutions in their discussion of what the future of the country holds.

Let’s see one prime example. Most of such groups, for instance, concur with the notion of continuing the failed institutional solution of ethnic federalism as the most viable political arrangement for the Ethiopian state, even at the event that the authoritarian regime in the country would be replaced through a democratic transition. Today, some of the ethno-nationalists at home and abroad believe that the current problem in the country is that the party centralism is making the federal arrangement look like a unitary one. They also mention that if it was not the oppressive nature of the TPLF-EPRDF, the federal structure would have worked for the better. Of course, the regional state leaders are either controlled from the center in Addis Ababa or from Mekelle. And that might influence their complaints of party centralism. Those ethno-nationalists in the opposition are also seen struggling to explain the problems of the current federal arrangement. This is ludicrous to say the least. For Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds, such federal arrangement was the most painfully divisive experience that they have ever faced and endured. The vast majority of Ethiopians are tired of living in ethnic boxes. Thus, I argue that whatever form of genuinely caring and democratic political elites assume political leadership at Menelik II palace, as long as this form of ethnic federal arrangement is in place, more of the same would be the new reality.

Here, let’s for once imagine the prospect of remaking the post-TPLF/EPRDF reality of the Ethiopian state, with the re-institutionalization of the country in the ideals of Ethnic federalism. The answer would be, the country’s future will not be different from our experiences from the last twenty-six years and counting. Well, such a federal arrangement, which many argue not only failed the country, but instead served as a platform for authoritarian survival in the last two and half decades, have in fact achieved nothing but created winners and losers[1]. Such an arrangement simply did not also pass its elongated period of experimentation that lasted 26 years. The undisputed reality is that even the new generation of youth who were newborns at the advent of the post-1991 Ethiopia have come to repudiate the divisiveness and false promises of ethnic federalism.

Most of the ethnic questions that we have come to learn and that were centered on political and economic grievances of the diverse groups should have also been history if the ethnic federal solution was to work. To the contrary, the gap in political and economic equality among the diverse citizenry have worsened. The notion that ethnic federal arrangement could solve possible ethnic tensions and emergence of ethnic conflict has also failed as that would be evident via the series of evictions of ethnic groups (mostly Amharas, and now Oromos) from their historic lands and habitats as perpetrated by some federal and regional political elites. Sadly, such elites who have accepted ethnic hatred as a way to assert their political legitimacy and survival, still proudly present the ethnic arrangement as a way forward. The political violence that has come to emerge as the new reality across regional state borders within today’s Ethnic Federal arrangement also attests to the fact that such form of ethnic arrangement as a viable solution for the nation of over eighty ethnic groups will never be an option.

Such reality, as alarming as it is however, invites us to question what the solutions need to be. And the question of how to address the ethno-nationalists’ concerns in a meaningful way therefore need to remain an important topic of discussion given the groups’ stubborn inclination towards maintaining such a failed arrangement as a critical alternative on the negotiation table among many others we can list. Here, let’s also keep in mind the international realities that are creating enormous political storms in Europe (Catalonia in Spain) and the Middle East (The Kurds’ struggle for their own state). Such realities indeed show that despite the age of globalization creating a one village like global reality, ethnic questions and ethno-nationalist movements still remain relevant points of contention across many states. That is why I call for the diverse political groups, individual actors, intellectuals and political activists to come to realize that the future of the Ethiopian state would only be solved via continued negotiations and compromises. As Christopher Clapahm (2009) stated, “The deeper problem facing Ethiopia is that it is now too complex and diverse a society to be managed without the extremely adept deployment of the political skills – of discussion, bargaining, compromise and simultaneous recognition of alternative sources of authority – that are needed to create some kind of workable synthesis of the different elements of which it is composed”[2].

Indeed, the future of the Ethiopian state must require some level of compromises that at the end would lead to an emergence of a strong and united country that is very much representative of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural interest that remain rooted within the ethno-nationalists’ concerns. The persistent nature of patterns of elite interaction within the old Ethiopian state as well as the current ethnocentric politics could also remain a problem even after a desired democratic transition takes place. However, I am confident that by incorporating democratic values to political party platforms with genuine intent, by employing tactics of political reconciliation through give and takes, chances that such political actors can play a role in reviving the democratic fortunes of the state could be higher moving forward. As such, the ethno-nationalist groups must be considered an integral actor in this negotiation process occupying the place they deserve on the reconciliation and compromises table.

One particular issue that explains the problem of lack of understanding among the elites when it comes to the future of the country is also this notion of ‘we have to agree on everything’. Given that could be a tougher challenge in negotiations, the elites must also come to an understanding that most of the difficult issues that divide public opinion need to be left for the citizenry to decide. Periodic elections, besides their service in determining who assumes particular political positions across different levels of government offices, must also be considered as a platform for the people to vote on series of important issues that remain challenging problems for both ethno-nationalists and Pan-Ethiopian advocates to reach certain levels of agreements. The issue of national language, national flag, the need for a forward looking national reconciliation process as a viable transitional justice process, the nature of government structure (what form of federalism or system of government), and even the type of electoral system in our democratic future should be left for the people to decide.

Yohannes Gedamu teaches Political Science at Georgia Gwinnett College and you can email your comments or questions to him at:

[1] Gedamu, Yohannes (2017). Ethnic Federalism and Authoritarian Survival. Georgia State University, Atlanta Georgia (Not publicly available yet).
[2] Clapham, Christopher. “Post-war Ethiopia: the trajectories of crisis.” Review of African Political Economy 36, no. 120 (2009): 181-192. (Look at page 191 for the quote).

Written by Mohammed Ademo,

Tension between ethnic federalism and a centralised Ethiopian identity threaten the unity of Ethiopia. Can it be resolved?

In a recent op-ed for TRT World, a former Ethiopian opposition leader Teshome M. Borago asks: Is Ethiopia a Rwandan genocide in the making?

The Rwandan comparison is not surprising. The deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Ethiopia should in fact alarm everyone. What is surprising, however, is Teshome’s reasons for sounding the alarm: ethnic federalism.

Ethiopia has 99 problems but ethnic federalism is the least of them. Teshome’s partisan commentary is irresponsible, riddled with factual inaccuracies and removed from the reality as lived by the majority of Ethiopians in 2017.

He uses two recent events to illustrate the supposed dangers posed by ethnic federalism. First, Teshome cites the alleged killing and eviction of ethnic Sidamas from Bale, in southeastern Oromia by what he calls “Oromo extremists.” Second, he blames ethnic federalism for the ongoing crisis along the border between Oromia and Somali regional states. He also admonishes the federal experiment as “an apartheid-style separation of land that divides people based on tribe.”

Teshome is known for his avowed opposition to ethnic federalism. In fact, his now defunct party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy was formed in 2004, vowing to abolish the federal system. Opposition to federalism has been the rallying cry for Ethiopia’s former ruling class that is finding it difficult to navigate their way back to political power under the new dispensation put in place in 1991.

Teshome is certainly entitled to his opinions but not his own facts. For one, his use of the terms tribe and tribal to characterise Ethiopia’s ethnic groupings speaks to Teshome’s penchant to play to a Conrad-style western stereotyping about Africa’s endless and irrational tribal trouble—not to mention his nostalgia for the feudal order—which divided the people of Ethiopia into citizens and imperial subjects.

Second, any administrative demarcation can separate and unite people. And no one formula is inherently superior to another. If Teshome’s favourite feudal demarcation, which was replaced by a multi-ethnic federation, was any better, it would not have stoked three decades of civil war.

Third, officials from Oromia state and the Sidama zone have acknowledged minor disputes over resources in the Bale region. But no deaths were reported as he alleges. And the dispute was quickly settled by local elders through established conflict resolution mechanisms.

Besides, in Ethiopia, like elsewhere in Africa, sporadic clashes over scarce resources predate the advent of ethnic federalism. Teshome’s golden imperial era was also not all glitter, as it too saw some of the most horrific abuses.

Fourth, hundreds of Oromos have been killed and close to 225,000 displaced in the last few months alone in the conflict between the Oromia and the Somali states. The clashes were instigated by predatory central authorities facing popular dissent through its proxy, a Somali paramilitary force that is seeking to illegally expand that state’s jurisdiction into Oromia—obviously worried about its absolute hold on power should its benefactors succumb to popular pressure.

Teshome conveniently sidesteps these facts and deliberately misrepresents the issue. Locals on both sides say the Oromo-Somali conflict is a scheme orchestrated by predatory central leaders to divert attention from the regime’s growing maladies and its refusal to demarcate the two state’s border per the outcome of a 2004 referendum that awarded the disputed areas to Oromia.

To understand the sweeping and unprecedented political shocks taking shape in Ethiopia, one needs to go back to the early 1990s.

Following the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam’s communist regime in 1991, for the first time in its long history, Ethiopia formally recognized the right to self-determination, a contentious demand for over three decades, including the right to secede for every nation, nationality, and people in Ethiopia. Accordingly, the country was reconfigured as a multi-national federation. Its governing institutions were divided into 12 linguistic motherland states and two self-governing cities.

The model was forged as a compromise between two competing forces: Those seeking total independence or secession from Ethiopia, and those who wanted to maintain Ethiopia’s territorial integrity. More importantly, it was an effort to redress century-old structural imbalances and historical injustices in the country.

Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic and linguistic groups. However, in its recorded history, state power has been controlled solely by ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans. By devolving power to regional states, at least theoretically, the new model sought to finally address longstanding quest for self-rule by the majority Oromos and other ethnic groups in the south of the country.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders reneged on the promises of federalism. Hence, power remained centralized in the hands of ethnic Tigrayans, who make up about six percent of the population. Meanwhile, to stem growing discontent over reluctance to implement the federal arrangement, Ethiopia embraced a developmental state model, which is characterized by strong state intervention in the economy and severe restrictions on civil and democratic rights.

Despite the lack of its full implementation, however, ethnic federalism allowed a generation of young Ethiopians to learn in their native tongues. Unlike their parent’s generation, Ethiopia’s millennials studied in their mother tongues. (Until 1991, Amharic was the only language of instruction and commerce. Non-Amhara Ethiopians were forced to assimilate and learn Amharic to fit in.) That in turn led to growing cultural self-awareness and resistance to the hegemonic and exclusive “Ethiopian” identity championed by urban and Amhara elites in which they don’t self identify with.

In 2014, 71 percent of the population was under the age of 30. In other words, those born in the early 1980s onward or Ethiopia’s “millennials,” have distinct experiences. Experiences that Teshome and urban Amhara elites, who to this day long for the return of a unity imperial state, find hard to accept or relate to.

Today’s youth are keenly aware of their state’s territorial boundaries, thanks in part to the opportunity to be educated about their distinct cultures, in their own languages. They grew up singing their respective state’s anthems. In Oromia, the Oromo homeland, informed by long-standing national grievances toward the central state, the millennial generation exhibits pure allegiance to the Oromo question, a demand for the end of Oromo people’s economic and political marginalization in the Ethiopian state.

It’s this disenfranchised generation that’s now revolting against the central government. The sustained protests in 2014, 2015, and 2016, in which security forces killed more than 1,000 people in Oromia and Amhara states, have radically altered Ethiopia’s political landscape.

Popular mobilization has reached a point of no return. There is growing consensus across the political spectrum on ending the hegemony of ethnic Tigrayans. Ethnic Tigrayans currently hold all key government positions, including the national intelligence, the defence, foreign ministry and until 2012 the office of the prime minister since 1991.

The bottom line: contrary to Teshome’s assertions, the overarching demands of ethno-nationalists in Ethiopia are not about land per se. Rather, to build a more perfect union – a kind of mosaic, where all of Ethiopia’s eight dozen ethnic groups can coexist while retaining their cultural and religious diversity.

Ethnic federalism is and remains the only glue that is holding Ethiopia together. Unfortunately, Teshome and his right-wing protagonists want to take us back to the era of a unitary, feudal, and Christian state. That ship has sailed and the port no longer in view.

The fight now is for justice, freedom and equality of all people in Ethiopia and for the genuine application of the country’s constitution that established the federal system. Ethiopia’s right-wing politicians can help avert a Rwanda-like scenario by joining hands with ethno-nationalists to hasten the end of a rule by an entrenched Tigrayan business and political elite.

Written by Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban

Leading opposition figure in Ethiopia, Dr. Merera Gudina, has asked a Federal High Court to allow him visits from friends and family whiles in detention.

The court subsequently ordered that he puts his request in written format. On his latest appearance in court, he pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against him by the state.

Gudina, leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) has been in custody for close to a year pending the commencement of his trial on multiple criminal charges.

Ethiopia’s prisons has a notoriety for abusing prisoners. There are reports of widespread abuse and even torture of inmates according to local media reports and human rights groups.

READ MORE: Oromo leader Merera Gudina: Biggest victim of Ethiopia state of emergency?

Gudina’s team had sought the list of prosecutors’ witnesses to be used in his case, the court sought parliament’s position on witness protection.

The council of the House of Federation in response said prosecutors could refuse to produce the accused’s request because witness protection did not amount to constitutional violation.

The court has thus set November 3, 2017 for commencement of the trial. His lawyer told the court that his client’s plea of innocence had been unnecessarily delayed. He has been in custody for 11 months after he was arrested on December 1, 2016.

At the time, he was arrested on charges of terrorism and also for flouting state of emergency rules imposed in October 2016. He was said to have met persons Addis Ababa considered as terrorist groups whiles on an European tour in Brussels.

He is charged along with two others individuals – Jawar Mohamed and Berhanu Nega, and two institutions – Oromo Media Network and Ethsat channel, the trial of the four others are to be heard in absentia.

By 'The Auditor',

Rep. Chris Smith won House Foreign Affairs Committee approval in July of a resolution highlighting human rights violations by the current government in Ethiopia and calling for punitive actions against those government officials carrying out the abuses.

"For the past 12 years, my staff and I have visited Ethiopia, spoken with Ethiopian officials, talked to a wide variety of members of the Ethiopia diaspora and discussed the situation in Ethiopia with advocates and victims of government human rights violations," said Smith, R-4th Dist.

"Our efforts are not a response merely to government critics, but rather a realistic assessment of the urgent need to end very damaging and in some cases inexcusable actions by the government or those who act as their agents."

Ethiopian-Americans are ready to say thank you.

They're holding a $100 per person fundraiser for the lawmaker in Washington later this month.

Smith "has done more for Ethiopia, and taken a greater interest in Ethiopian human rights and democracy, than any American politician," the invitation reads. "Now the Ethiopian-American community has a chance to thank him, to hear his thoughts about the future, and to tell him how we want Congress to help Ethiopians fight for freedom, human rights, democracy and dignity."

Smith is up for re-election next year. So far, he is the only New Jersey Republican incumbent not targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

He is being opposed by former Asbury Park Councilman Jim Keady, who famously was told to "sit down and shut up" by Gov. Chris Christie; and Navy veteran Josh Welle, co-founder of a software company.

Latest News in Ethiopia (Oct. 16)

By Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban,

Another top advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has resigned from his post.

Bereket Simon according to BBC Amharic submitted his resignation as the PM’s advisor in charge of Policy Studies and Research, leaving a post he has held for the past four years.

Local media reports indicate that Simon, a veteran politician has thus resigned from two top positions in just a week. Last week, he gave up his position as board chairman of the government-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.

A member of the ruling Ethiopia Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), he has served the government in different capacities including as Minister of Communication.

The move comes weeks after two major political shifts around the Prime Minister. The Protocol Chief of the PM, Baye Tadesse Teferi, sought asylum in the United States for fear of political persecution.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abadulla Gemeda, also resigned his post following ‘disrespect’ to members of his ethnic group and his party in the ruling coalition.

October 2017 asylum move of Baye Tadesse and the fear of political persecution

Baye Tadesse Teferi, was part of the Ethiopia’s official delegation to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York weeks ago.

The Ethiopian delegation returned to Addis Ababa but he remained in the U.S. He confirmed to the Voice of America’s Amharic service that for political reasons he had opted to seek asylum in the United States.

The Protocol Chief of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn thus quit a role he had served in for over two years. Ethiopia’s economic successes have long been eclipsed by what political and rights watchers call a systemic and institutionalized crackdown on media and political dissent.

The East African nation has been severally called upon to open their political space and to tolerate dissenting political views.
Siding with the Ethiopian people will pay dividends

Written by Aklog Birara (Dr.),

Ethiopian-American relations relations were established in 1903, after nine days of meetings in Ethiopia between Emperor Menilik II and Robert P. Skinner, an American diplomat appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. These relations have blossomed over more than a century and will continue to flourish in the decades ahead as long as the United States defends Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and as long as the government of the U. S. sides with all of the Ethiopian people and support their aspirations for justice, the rule of law, equality of treatment and democracy. Relations between the American and Ethiopian people are stronger today than they have ever been. Ethiopian culture and food are as common in Peoria as they are in Washington D.C. Ethiopian-Americans have begun to participate in the electoral process in a systematic way. In the decades ahead, Ethiopian-Americans will use their voting power to influence policy.

In this commentary I strongly suggest that it is no longer in America’s long-term strategic and national security interests to continue to bankroll the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated regime in Addis Ababa. This regime is cruel, repressive, corrupt, tribal and anti-democratic. It undermines peace and stability. It has made Ethiopia more unstable and susceptible to terrorism, fundamentalism and extremism. A regime that terrorizes its own people can no longer serve as a reliable ally in the struggle against terrorism.

Senators James Inhofe(R-O), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Michael Enzi paid a visit to Ethiopia and met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. The Senators emphasized the importance of American-Ethiopian bilateral relations and underscored the bonds between the American and Ethiopian people that span more than a century. It is these people to people relations that buffet US and Ethiopian government partnerships. Regimes change; people to people relations endure.

In this regard, the Government of the United States must begin to recognize that the welfare and wellbeing of the Ethiopian people is paramount to a durable partnership; peace and stability in the Horn of Africa; and that this principle of placing Ethiopians in the forefront of American foreign policy is consequential for both nations. Regional security should go hand in hand with citizens’ welfare and their just and fair treatment by their own government. This is not the case in Ethiopia today.

The “ongoing tensions” and civil conflict, most notably between Oromo and Somali Ethiopians that resulted in the senseless deaths of “hundreds of Oromo civilians” and the displacements of at least 100,000 Oromo Ethiopians is a travesty for which the regime in Addis Ababa should be held accountable. Who is behind the killings and displacements of Oromo Ethiopians? Land grab and expansionism are both triggered by the TPLF core leadership that mirrors a political narrative and practices of ethnic elite political and economic capture. The impact of this model is uneven regional development and gaping social and income inequality, says the World Bank for the first time.

These conditions of bad, exclusionary and repressive governance breed resentment, civil conflicts, worsen instability and embolden extremist and fundamentalist groups to establish beachheads in an already volatile and conflict-ridden region. It allows external forces to encircle Ethiopia.
When Senators Inhofe and Enzi “expressed a sincere desire to provide whatever assistance” Ethiopia needs to address the ongoing conflict, many Ethiopians understood them to mean endorsement of a guiding principle on Ethiopia that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced earlier this year. “We remain committed to working with Ethiopia to foster liberty, democracy, economic growth, protection of human rights, and the rule of law.” The same was said by President Obama.

This is well and good. However, the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy towards Ethiopia is the struggle against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. This strategy was crafted and put into effect by America’s National Security Agency in partnership with the TPLF-led and commandeered security system. “In the aftermath of 9/11, according to classified U.S. documents published Wednesday by The Intercept, the National Security Agency forged a relationship with the Ethiopian government that has expanded exponentially over the years. What began as one small facility soon grew into a network of clandestine eavesdropping outposts designed to listen in on the communications of Ethiopians and their neighbors across the Horn of Africa in the name of counterterrorism.”

The U.S. provided the latest electronic surveillance technology, operational support and training to Ethiopia. In return, Ethiopia opened itself up and granted the U.S. access to its strategic lands and locations with no monitoring mechanism in place. The TPLF-dominated security forces were completely free to use the surveillance system as well as the large number of trained federal police, special security units and personnel under the leadership of TPLF officers to do as they wish. Consequently, this Orwellian type of surveillance by the TPLF leadership poses enormous risks for the U.S. in that its partnership would be abused, misused and misdirected. It afforded the TPLF to apply the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation under which any opponent, political dissident, journalist or human rights advocate was arrested, accused and sentenced as a terrorist. Many innocent people were tortured and incapacitated under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and others offer a plethora of documentary evidence linking U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia and recurrent human rights abuses by the Ethiopia’s rulers. Felix Horne of Human Rights Watch put it succinctly. “The Ethiopian government uses surveillance not only to fight terrorism and crime, but as a key tactic in its abusive efforts to silence dissenting voices in-country…..Essentially anyone that opposes or expresses dissent against the government is considered to be an ‘anti-peace element’ or a ‘terrorist.”

The more extensive America’s security and surveillance assistance to Ethiopia, the greater and more intrusive the TPLF’s reach has become. Edward Snowden released secret documents that show the expansive nature of U.S. security and surveillance assistance to Ethiopia that the regime used to spy on its own citizens. It was no longer counter-terrorism. It was a full-fledged spy network (5 to 1 etc.) on Ethiopians by their own rulers. By 2005, America’s operation had evolved into eight U.S. military personnel and 103 Ethiopians, working at “46 multifunctional workstations,” eavesdropping on communications in Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. By then, the outpost in Addis Ababa had already been joined by “three Lion’s Pride Remote Sites,” including one located in the town of Gondar, in northwestern Ethiopia.”

According to an NSA expert report by Katie Pierce dated 2005, “The benefit of this relationship is that the Ethiopians provide the location and linguists and we provide the technology and training.” Ethiopia located American outfit Lion’s Pride “produced almost 7,700 transcripts and more than 900 reports” based on its regional spying effort in the Horn of Africa. This surveillance system in Ethiopia is among the most sophisticated in the world; and it gives the U. S. superiority over other nations. Intercept’s investigative journalism shows the involvement of numerous high level American military and intelligence officers in the establishment of this counterterrorism, intelligence and security system that continues to this day.

Do ordinary Ethiopians object to America’s surveillance system in their country? I do not really know. No one has asked for their opinion. I remember as a young leftist that I objected to the American Kagnew Military establishment in Asmara that spied on the Soviet Union at the time. It was closed after in 1975, just shortly after the Military Junta took power in Addis Ababa. Lion’s Pride is an expanded and a much more sophisticated version of the same surveillance system. Its facilities are now nationwide, including Gondar in the North, Addis Ababa in the middle and Dire Dawa in the strategic Southwest. An NSA internal report made public under the Snowden phenomenon says this “The state of the art antenna field surrounded by camels and donkey-drawn carts is a sight to behold.” Intercept adds,” The effort, code-named “LADON” was aimed at listening in on communications across a larger swath of Somalia, down to the capital Mogadishu, the Darfur region of Sudan, and parts of eastern Ethiopia.”

What Ethiopians should find objectionable and unacceptable is the decision by American officials and their Ethiopian counterparts to scale up surveillance on Ethiopians in Ethiopia and elsewhere under the pretext of fighting terrorism. “At a May 2006 planning conference, the Americans and Ethiopians decided on steps to “take the partnership to a new level” through an expanded mission that stretched beyond strictly counterterrorism. Targeting eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and the nearby Somali borderlands, the allied eavesdroppers agreed on a mission of listening in on cordless phones in order to identify not only “suspected al-Qaida sympathizers” but also “illicit smugglers.”

This carte blanche support by the U.S. to a most hated and illegitimate regime in Addis Ababa put all Ethiopians at risk. It should worry American policy and decision-makers that the war against terrorism is equally used by the regime in Ethiopia to terrorize, torture, maim, forcibly evict and cause other harms to Ethiopians in the Amhara, Afar, Gambella, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Omo Valley and Konso, Oromia and Somali regions. The regime’s harm to its own citizens is so egregious that it has made the entire country a living hell. There isn’t any part of Ethiopia where there is peace and a sense of lawfulness. In some parts of the country, there is literally no government authority.

While it is reasonable to assume that ordinary Ethiopians want and support strategic relationships with the U.S., it is highly doubtful that they support continued surveillance, military and other financial support to a government that abuses them. A regime whose military personnel rape women, burn villages, slaughter cattle and other animals in the Ogaden, murder men, women and children in Oromia, Konso and Amhara regions, forcibly evict Ethiopians from their homes in Addis Ababa to make room for lavish and palatial homes for the newly rich, pit Oromo Ethiopians against Somali Ethiopians, Tigreans against Amhara, Christians against their Muslim brothers and sisters etc. is not worthy of America’s support. The reason is simple. A regime that kills or maims or imprisons or evicts forcibly its citizens from their lands, steals from the poor, and takes out billions of dollars illicitly from one of the poorest nations on the planet is a liability to the U.S. A regime that lacks a sense of statesmanship to mediate internal conflicts is not worthy to govern 105 million Ethiopians. Just imagine this. “Between the years 2007-2008 the Ethiopian army committed possible war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in this region during its conflict with the Ogaden National Liberation Front.”

Atrocities against Ethiopian Somalis have been condemned by numerous groups including the U.S. Department of State. In 2005, the Department reported that “The Government’s human rights record remained poor. … Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press. … The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association.”

The regime did not respond to this criticism by changing its ways of dealing with conflicts. Instead, it became harsher and more brutal. “A separate State Department report on Ethiopia’s counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities, issued in November 2013 and obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, noted that there were “inconsistent efforts to institutionalize” anti-terrorism training within Ethiopian law enforcement and added that while the Ethiopian Federal Police use surveillance and informants, “laws do not allow the interception of telephone or electronic communications.” The readable sections of the redacted report make no mention of the NSA program and state that the U.S. “maintains an important but distant security relationship with Ethiopia.”

Most recently, high officials of the party, state and government have begun the unprecedented procedure of offering their resignations. Others have fled the country with their families and ill-gotten wealth.

I cannot find any Ethiopian who is convinced that the relationship between U.S. and Ethiopian surveillance activities are distinct or distinguishable from one another. One seems to reinforce the other. The regime’s uses them as fungible. The TPLF deploys agents within and outside the country and infringes on citizens’ rights by ignoring international human rights laws. Within the country’s borders, the agents are free to apply inhumane measures in extracting information. Extrajudicial killings are so common that during the 2016-2018 popular uprisings more than 1,000 innocent Oromo, Amhara and Konso youth were summarily executed by TPLF forces. Tens of thousands were jailed.

Following its takeover of the government in 1991 and before, the TPLF committed crimes against the Amhara population in Gondar and in numerous parts of Southern and Eastern Ethiopia, many being thrown alive into ditches. Tens of thousands of Amhara were evicted from their lands and property in Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Gambella, Gura Ferda of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples. Lands were grabbed from the peoples of Gondar, Gojjam and Wollo and incorporated into Greater Tigray.

All told, extrajudicial measurers, human rights violations, continued eavesdropping on Ethiopian civilians, especially youth, abducting dissenters from neighboring countries such as Kenya and South and North Sudan, recurring displacements of innocent people from their lands; as well as party, state and government corruption contribute to the chaos, disorder and instability that now threaten the durability of Ethiopia as a unified and viable country.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that U.S. surveillance and security assistance to the TPLF dominated one party state and government undermines American-Ethiopian relations. It has emboldened the regime while creating favorable conditions for extremist, fundamentalist and terrorist groups to establish underground networks that will be harder to contain in the long-term. Ethiopia’s human rights situation is worse today than when President Obama visited Ethiopia in the summer of 2015. He said two things that his government never translated into action. “Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption.” Ethiopia is amongst the most corrupt nations on the planet. He also said “I believe Africa’s progress will also depend on democracy, because, Africans, like people elsewhere, deserve the dignity of being in control of their livers.” It is impossible to enjoy dignity without human rights and the protection of fundamental freedoms under the law.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senators Inhofe and Enzi as well as Secretary of State Tillerson. It is about time that American policy makers do the right thing by siding with the Ethiopian people in order to serve their own long-term national interests while gaining the respect and admiration of the Ethiopian people at the same time. This is why I propose that siding with 105 million Ethiopians now will pay dividends in the long-run.

I am encouraged by the Congressmen and Senators who respectively champion HR 128 in the House and S.R 168 in the Senate. It is time to pass these resolutions without much delay.

I agree with Felix Horne of HR Watch that governments that bankroll dictatorships under the pretext of fighting terrorism are complicit and therefore accountable for harm. “Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses…..The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

Written by Addis Standard,

Appearing in court for the first time after the court’s summer recess, Dr. Merera Gudina has pleaded his innocence against all criminal charges brought by the federal prosecutors.The defense team told the court that Dr. Merera’s plea of innocence was late by eleven months since the charges were brought against him.

The Federal high court 19th criminal bench adjourned next hearing to begin to hear prosecutor’s witnesses for Nov. 03/2017.

It is to be remembered that on July 07, Dr. Merera’s defense team had requested the court to get the full list of prosecutors’ witnesses. The court then refereed the request to the council of the house of federation for constitutional interpretations.

Today’s hearing happened after the decision by the council of the House of Federation, which ruled that witness protection is not in violation of the constitution and that the court can proceed the hearing while protecting the identities of prosecutor’s witnesses.

Accordingly, the court will begin the hearing of prosecutor’s witnesses on Nov. 03 without having to avail the full list of witnesses to Dr. Merera Gudina’s defense team. The court also decided to continue hearing of co-defendant’s case in absentia.