Quest for a Genuine Multiparty Democracy in Ethiopia!
A single party (Front), known as the TPLF has been fully in control of the country since 1991 after seizing power by violent means. In the last 25 years of its repressive rule, the TPLF regime has never been willing to create a conducive atmosphere for fruitful engagement and a genuine political dialogue with all stakeholders in the country. This blog is mainly focused on raising awareness, driving change and creating impact for the realization of a genuine multiparty democracy in Ethiopia.
For the past six months, thousands of people have taken to the streets
in Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia, to protest alleged abuses by their
government. The protests, unprecedented in recent years, have seen Ethiopia’s
security forces use lethal force against largely peaceful protesters, killing
hundreds and arresting tens of thousands more.
The government is inexorably closing off ways for Ethiopians to
peacefully express their grievances, not just with bullets but also through the
courts. In recent weeks, the Ethiopian authorities have lodged new, politically
motivated charges against prominent opposition politicians and others, accusing
them of crimes under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.
Just last week, Yonatan Tesfaye Regassa, the head of public relations
for the opposition Semayawi Party (the Blue Party), was charged with “planning,
preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of a terrorist act. The
authorities citied Yonatan’s Facebook posts about the protests as evidence; he
faces 15 years to life in prison, if convicted.
In April, Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist
Congress (OFC), Oromia’s largest registered political party, and 21 others,
including many senior OFC members, were charged under the counterterrorism law,
four months after their arrest on December 23, 2015. Bekele is accused of
having links with the banned Oromo Liberation Front, a charge frequently used
by the government to target ethnic Oromo dissidents and others. Deeply
committed to nonviolence, Bekele has consistently urged the OFC to participate
in elections despite the ruling party’s iron grip on the polls. Bekele and the
others have described horrible conditions during their detention, including at
the notorious Maekalawi prison, where torture and other ill-treatment are
The authorities also charged 20 university students under the criminal
code for protesting in front of the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa in
March, 2016. The “evidence” against them included a video of their protest and
a list of demands, which included the immediate release of opposition leaders
and others arrested for peaceful protests, and the establishment of an
independent body to investigate and prosecute those who killed and injured
peaceful protesters. They face three years in prison if convicted.
The Ethiopian government is sending a clear message when it charges
peaceful protesters and opposition politicians like Bekele Gerba with
terrorism. The message is that no dissent is tolerated, whether through social
media, the electoral system, or peaceful assembly.
Author’s Note: This is the third installment  in a series of ongoing commentaries that I expect to post regularly under the rubric, “Apartheid in Ethiopia”.
The twin aims of the series “Apartheid in Ethiopia” are:
1) to demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that the political system created and maintained by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) is a slightly kinder and gentler ethnic form of the racial apartheid system practiced by the white minority regime in South Africa before the establishment of black majority rule, and
2) to engage Ethiopia’s Cheetah (younger) Generation in broad and wide ranging conversation, debate and discussion necessary for the creation of the New Ethiopia cleansed of ethnic apartheid.
In the series, I aim to go beyond mere critical political and legal analysis and intellectual and academic examination of the objective political, social and economic conditions in Ethiopia under T-TPLF rule. Indeed, I aim to make a clarion call to Ethiopia’s Cheetah (young) Generation work hard and usher the New Ethiopia where the rule of law is supreme and the rule of tyrants ancient history. I call on all Ethiopian Cheetahs to put their shoulders to the wheel and build a city upon a hill in the Land of 13-Months of Sunshine for the entire world to see.
Apartheid white minority use of “anti-terrorism law” to terrorize black South Africans
John Dugard in his book “Human Rights and the South African Legal Order” (1978, p. 136), perfectly summarized the repressive use of the “law” to maintain a vast system of repression: “Although designed to combat terrorism, the Terrorism Act [of 1967] has itself become an instrument of terror and a symbol of repression.”
The 1948 white minority parliamentary election in South Africa was transformational. Whites were offered two choices. The United Party offered a political pathway which accepted the inevitability of racial integration (if not black majority rule) and urged relaxation of the most repressive laws which limited black African freedom of movement. The National Party favored strict racial segregation and complete disenfranchisement of black South Africans. The National Party won and legislated its system of racial segregation in a series of “apartheid” (apart-hood; being apart) laws which aimed to entrench absolute white rule in South Africa.
In 1950, the apartheid white minority government passed the “Suppression of Communism Act, No 44 of 1950 (three decades later renamed “Internal Security Act, 1982” expanding the scope of application to anyone “endangering the security of the State or the maintenance of public order”). The Communist Party of South Africa composed of the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and others were established in 1921 and opposed racial segregation and apartheid. The Suppression of Communism Act criminalized the advocacy of “any political, industrial, social or economic change in the Union by the promotion of disturbances or disorder.” In practice, anyone who dared to criticize or challenge white minority rule was classified as a “communist” and jailed. The Rivonia Trial of 1963-4 and conviction of African National Congress leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki was accomplished principally through this Act. Thousands of other ordinary black South Africans were also prosecuted and banned (subject to extreme restrictions on their movement, political activities, and associations) under this law.
The apartheid regime passed other laws to clampdown on dissent and protest. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, No. 8 of 1953 sought to suppress public protests against repressive laws and policies. The General Law Amendment Act, No. 39 of 1961 suspended habeas corpus (a legal process to challenge illegal government detention) and bail and authorized a 12-day arbitrary detention. The General Law Amendment Act, No. 37 of 1963 allowed the warrantless arrest and detention of anyone suspected of violating the Suppression of Communism Act. Warrantless detention of 180 days was authorized by the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act, No. 96 of 1965.
In the lead up to passage of the Act in 1967, the apartheid South African government made repeated claims regarding “terrorist attacks on South Africa’s borders”. The 1967 Terrorism Act (Act No. 83 of 1967) was enacted to control and suppress terrorism from within and outside of South Africa. The Act became singularly the most repressive law enacted by the apartheid regime to terrorize black South Africans.
Under the Terrorism Act, a “terrorist” is “(a) any person [who] with intent to endanger the maintenance of law and order in the Republic… [engages in any act which] incites, instigates, commands, aids, advises, encourages or procures any other person to commit, any act; or (b) [engages in any training which] endangers the maintenance of law and order… or (c) possesses any explosives, ammunition, fire-arm or weapon and fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt [that he has possessed such things for a lawful purpose].
The Terrorism Act lists a dozen specific terrorist offenses including:
(a) hampering or deterring any person from assisting in the maintenance of law and order;
(b) promoting by intimidation the achievement of any object;
(c) causing or promoting general dislocation, disturbance or disorder;
(d) crippling any industry or the production or distribution of commodities or foodstuffs at any place;
(e) causing or encouraging an insurrection or forcible resistance to the Government or the Administration of the territory;
(f) encouraging the achievement of any political aim, including the bringing about of any social or economic change, by violence or forcible means;
(g) causing serious bodily injury or endangering the safety of any person;
(h) causing substantial financial loss to any person or the State;
(i) causing or encouraging feelings of hostility between the White and other inhabitants of the Republic;
(j) damaging, destroying, etc., the supply or distribution at any place of light, power, fuel, foodstuffs, water, etc.;
(k) obstructing or endangering the free movement of any traffic on land, at sea or in the air;
(l) embarrassing the administration of the affairs of the State.
Section 6 of the Act gave police complete and unquestioned power over “terrorist” suspects who could be arrested without a warrant and held for 60 days (which could be renewed) “until the Commissioner orders his release when satisfied that he has satisfactorily replied to all questions at the said interrogation or that no useful purpose will be served by his further detention, or until his release is ordered in terms of subsection .” A police officer at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel or above who believes a person to be a “terrorist” could order the arrest and detention of that person. No court on its own could order the release of detainees; only the Minister of Justice had final authority.
The Act excluded any habeas review or pretrial judicial intervention even to adjudicate detainee allegations of abuse and torture. Information blackout on detained “terrorism” suspects was imposed and the identities and number of detainees could not be publicly revealed. Many detainees, in the absence of public accountability, simply disappeared without a trace (and their whereabouts unknown until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was able to track down the fate of some of the disappeared victims).
The Terrorism Act made admissible in court “any document” as evidence if such document is acquired from any person or organization suspected of terrorism. Any person alleged to have directly or indirectly assisted in any way a person suspected of terrorism receives same punishment as the accused. Regardless of the location of the occurrence of the alleged terrorist act, a South African court or attorney general could prosecute the case.
The Terrorism Act placed the burden of proof not on the prosecution or the police but on the defendant. The Act presumed the terrorism guilty until the suspect can prove himself innocent of the charges.
For decades, the Terrorism Act was used by apartheid police and security forces to detain, harass, intimidate, persecute and prosecute black South African opposition leaders and organizations and facilitate sweep up ordinary protesters and citizens, labor leaders, clergymen. Winnie Mandela, Steve Biko and Cyril Ramaphosa, among many others, were arrested under Section of the Act Section 6 of the Act.
The horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the white minority apartheid regime in South Africa are documented in three massive volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation commission. 
T-TPLF use of “anti-terrorism law” to terrorize Ethiopians FIRST INDISPUTABLE FACT: The T-TPLF is itself a certified terrorist organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database.
So there is no question whatsoever that the T-TPLF is a terrorist organization clinging to power in Ethiopia!
How can a certified terrorist organization use “anti-terrorism law” to go after others it calls “terrorists”? (That is the million dollar question!)
The whole “terrorism” thing was a god-send for TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi in the mid-2000s. “Terrorism” in the Horn of Africa was both Meles’ get-out-of-jail-card for his crimes against humanity and a welfare card to get maximum handouts from the United States.
Like the apartheid regime which raised the specter of terrorism crossing into South Africa from neighboring countries before enacting the Terrorism Act in 1967, Meles also invoked jihadists terrorism in Somalia as a pretext for his anti-terrorism measures.
In a November 2006 in commentary entitled “The Jihadists are Coming”, I argued Meles was using the Somali “terrorism” thing to divert attention from his own crimes against humanity, particularly the massacres he personally authorized in the post-2005 election period in Ethiopia. I opposed Meles’ War in Somalia in the name of fighting terrorism while he is conducting terrorism of his own in Ethiopia: “The problem is the Ethiopian people cannot fight two wars at once: defend themselves in a political war declared on them by Zenawi and his regime, and mount an attack on a distant and invisible enemy rattling sabers somewhere in the “failed state” of Somalia.”
In December 2006, Meles invaded Somalia to prop up the so-called transitional government in Baidoa. Meles justified his invasion of Somalia as an act of pre-emptive self-defense: “Ethiopian defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation. We are not trying to set up a government for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalia’s internal affairs.”
In 2008, I debunked Meles’ justifications for prosecuting a proxy war for the U.S. in Somalia. But Meles continued his slick public relations offensive that without him the plague of global terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism will consume the Horn of Africa. Meles and his T-TPLF terrorized the Somali people and committed against them unspeakable crimes against humanity as documented in the Human Rights Watch report, “So Much to Fear’: War Crimes and the Devastation of Somalia”. Meles’ proxy war in Somalia failed in its objective of crushing terrorism and by 2009 T-TPLF troops were withdrawn.
By 2009, Meles and T-TPLF had invented a terrorist threat in Ethiopia. Anyone who criticized, opposed, openly disagreed or dissented with Meles and the T-TPLF was branded “TERRORIST”!
The T-TPLF has used a diktat (a personal order of the late TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi) known as “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009” to invent terrorists and fabricate terrorism. That diktat was approved on a 286-91 vote in the T-TPLF rubber stamp parliament. The diktat was so repressive on its face that Human Rights Watch in 2009 criticized the draft as a “new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy.”
The T-TPLF has used its “Proclamation” to muzzle the press, shutter independent newspapers, suppress dissent and neutralize opposition leaders and parties over the past seven years. Hundreds of T-TPLF opponents have been openly charged and convicted while tens of thousands have been secretly arrested and left to rot in T-TPLF jails.
Terrorism by Facebook!
Yonatan Tesfaye is a spokesperson for Blue Party in Ethiopia. The 29-year old is the latest victim of T-TPLF’s “anti-terrorism” Proclamation.
Last week the T-TPLF charged Yonatan with multiple counts of terrorism. His alleged crime is he used Facebook to incite violence, disrupt the social, economic and political stability of the country, criticized the EPRDF (the shell front organization of the T-TPLF).
Among the specific terrorist allegations against Yonatan include the following statements he posted on his Facebook page:
Our Muslim citizens are complaining that they have been deprived of their houses of worship. They are crying out, “Let our voices be heard.”
Our Oromo citizens are complaining about land grabs in their areas. They are saying “We do not want the [Addis Ababa] Master Plan.”
Amhara people are saying ‘Because of those practicing ethnic division, they are being displaced. Where can they go if they can’t live in their own country?’
The people of Gambella are being uprooted from their land. They are saying, “We do not want to be villagized.
[Ethiopian] in Tigray, Afar, Wello, Harargie and Somali regions are dying from famine. They are saying “Give us bread (injera).”
Young [Ethiopians] are perishing in the deserts and seas. Terrorists are beheading them. They are saying “Don’t kill me. Let me live for my poor mother country.”
Ethiopians have their rights trampled, humiliated, disappeared and exiled. They are suffering oppression. They are saying “We have had enough”.
Two weeks ago, the T-TPLF filed bogus terrorism charges against Bekele Gerba and 21 others.
T-TPLF monkey see, monkey do “anti-terrorism” law
Meles claimed his anti-terrorism diktat was not only the best in the world but also “flawless”. Yes, he used the word “flawless” to describe his diktat!
Meles was the consummate charlatan and a phrase-monger. He was shockingly clueless about the law.
Meles believed by wholesale plagiarism, cherry picking words, phrases, sentences and clauses from the “anti-terrorism” laws of different countries, he could craft a “flawless” one for himself.
In January 2012, Meles offered the following description (video of Meles’ statement to “parliament in Amharic, translation below) of his “flawless” anti-terrorism law:
In drafting our anti-terrorism law, we copied word-for-word the very best anti-terrorism laws in the world. We took from America, England and the European model anti-terrorism laws. It is from these three sources that we have drafted our anti-terrorism law. From these, we have chooses the better ones. For instance, in all of these laws, an organization is deemed to be terrorist by the executive branch. We improved it by saying it is not good for the executive to make that determination. We took the definition of terrorism word-by-word. Not one word was changed. Not even a comma. It is taken word-by-word. There is a reason why we took it word-by-word. First, these people have experience in democratic governance. Because they have experience, there is no shame if we learn or take from them. Learning from a good teacher is useful not harmful. Nothing embarrassing about it. The [anti-terrorism] proclamation in every respect is flawless. It is better than the best anti-terrorism laws [in the world] but not less than any one of them in any way…
When I heard Meles saying these words on video, I was not sure if I should laugh or cry.
I knew Meles’ “tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile”, to borrow from Shakespeare, but I was not prepared to see him give a video testament of his total and abysmal ignorance of the law.
Then I thought of Goethe’s maxim: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” Meles and T-TPLF are the apotheosis of ignorance in action.
At the time, I tried to tutor Meles that though imitation may best the highest form of flattery, to boldly claim that a mindlessly patched diktat as “flawless” is just mindless. I tried to explain to him on his level that his cut-and-paste anti-terrorism law could be likened to an imaginary biological creature:
One cannot create a lion by piecing together the sturdy long neck of the giraffe with the strong jaws of a hyena, the fast limbs of the cheetah and the massive trunk of the elephant. The king of the jungle is an altogether different beast. In the same vein, one cannot clone pieces of anti-terrorism laws from everywhere onto a diktat and sanctify it as “flawless in every respect”.
The fact of the matter is that the laws Meles scarfed his “flawless” anti-terrorism law are as flawless as piece of industrial diamond.
I gave copy cat Meles and his T-TPLF minions a lecture on the subject, but I doubt they understood a word I wrote!
Where in America, the U.K. or Europe has anyone ever been arrested and prosecuted for posting words on Facebook? Where?!
“Flawless” anti-terrorism law, my foot!
Of course, Meles did not “copy word-for-word the very best anti-terrorism laws in the world”. Meles did not take the “very best” from America, England and Europe.
Meles took the absolute worst from apartheid South Africa’s 1967 Terrorism Law.
T-TPLF terrorism by “anti-terrorism law”
Like the apartheid 1967 Terrorism Act, the T-TPLF anti-terrorism Proclamation under section (3) classifies as “terrorist” anyone or “group intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause [seeks] to destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional or, economic or social institutions of the country” and “causes damage to public property, natural resource, environment… [or] disrupts public service.”
In section (5), the T-TPLF law condemns as “terrorist” anyone who “provides a skill, expertise or moral support or gives advice… makes available any property in any manner… monetary, financial or other related services … provides any training or instruction or directive”. Section (6) criminalizes as a terrorist act publication of “a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public as a direct or indirect encouragement… of an act of terrorism…” Section (7) criminalizes the “recruitment” of any person “for the purpose of a terrorist organization or committing a terrorist act.”
Like the apartheid 1967 Terrorism Act, the T-TPLF anti-terrorism Proclamation authorizes warrantless searches and seizure. Section (14) allows warrantless “interception and surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal and similar communications of a person suspected of terrorism”, “enter into any premise in secret to enforce the interception” or “install or remove instruments enabling the interception.” (I am not sure about this one. It seems Meles scarfed the digital surveillance thing from the 1988 Chinese law on the Protection of State Secrets. It further allows any “police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a terrorist act may be committed and deems it necessary to make a sudden search…, stop vehicle and pedestrian in an area and conduct sudden search at any time, and seize relevant evidences.”
Section (19) of the T-TPLF Proclamation authorizes any police officer to “arrest without court warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects of terrorism.” Section (20) allows the court to grant endless continuances and postponements so that the police/prosecutor “for sufficient period to complete the investigation.” Section (23) allows the admission of unverified intelligence reports, hearsay or indirect surveillance evidence including those gathered by “foreign law enforcement bodies” and “confessions of suspects, including coerced confessions. Section (25) authorizes the “House of Peoples’ Representatives” the power to list and de-list an organization as terrorist organization. Section (37) allows the “Council of Ministers” to issue “regulations necessary for the implementation of this Proclamation.” (In other words, Tweedle Dee makes regulation for Tweedle Dum.)
Application of the T-TPLF “anti-terrorism law”
Proclamation No. 652/2009 in nearly identical ways to the apartheid Terrorism Act is replete with ambiguous, vague and overbroad language. Under the sweeping provisions of the Proclamation, any act, speech, statement, and even thought, could be punished. Anyone the T-TPLF prosecutor/police believe or make-believe is engaged in “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and intending to “influence the government”, “intimidate the public”, “destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social institutions of the country” could be condemned to long imprisonment or suffer the death penalty. That was precisely what the apartheid Terrorism act did. The apartheid police and prosecutors could charge anyone they wanted without so much as a scintilla of evidence of wrongdoing.
Making or publishing statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” is a punishable offense. Anyone alleged to have provided “moral support or advice” or has had any contact with an individual accused of a terrorist act is presumed to be a terrorist supporter. That was exactly how the apartheid regime used the Terrorism Act to sweep up suspected anti-apartheid activists in the urban areas.
Under the T-TPLF Proclamation, anyone who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” is deemed a “terrorist”. Peaceful protesters who carry banners critical of the regime could be charged for “promotional statements encouraging” terrorist acts. Anyone who “disrupts any public service” is considered a “terrorist” (Section 3); and workers who may legitimately grieve working conditions by work stoppages could be charged with “terrorism” for disruption. That was exactly what the apartheid regime did with its Terrorism Act to arrest peaceful protesters, students, labor union activists, journalists and other dissidents.
Under the T-TPLF Proclamation, a person who “fails to immediately inform or give information or evidence to the police” on a neighbor, co-worker or others s/he may suspect of “terrorism” could face up to 10 years for failure to report. Two or more persons who have contact with a “terror” suspect could be charged with conspiracy to commit “terrorism”. That was exactly what the apartheid regime did with its Terrorism Act charging family members, neighbors, friends and acquaintances of suspected terrorists.
The procedural due process rights (fair trial) of suspects and the accused guaranteed under the T-TPLF constitution and international human rights conventions are ignored, evaded, overlooked and disregarded by the “law”. “The police may arrest without court warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects to have committed or is committing a terrorism” and hold that person in incommunicado detention. The police can engage in random and “sudden search and seizure” of the person, place or personal effects of anyone suspected of “terrorism”. The police can “intercept, install or conduct surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal, and similar communications” of a person suspected of terrorism. The police can order “any government institution, official, bank, or a private organization or an individual” to turn over documents, evidence and information on a “terror” suspect. Section 6 of the apartheid terrorism Act gave complete power to the police to search and seize persons and evidence at any time and in any place from anyone suspected of terrorism.
A “terror” suspect can be held in custody without charge for up to “28 days” with unlimited renewals. Any “evidence” presented by the regime’s prosecutor against a “terror” suspect in “court” is admissible, including “confessions” (extracted by torture), “hearsay”, “indirect, digital and electronic evidences” and “intelligence reports even if the report does not disclose the source or the method it was gathered (including evidence obtained by torture). The “law” presumes the “terror” suspect to be guilty and puts the burden of proof on the suspect/defendant in violation of the universal principle that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Under the apartheid Terrorism Act, a terrorism suspect could be held on a warrantless detention for 180 days (renewable by order of police and prosecutorial authorities). Any evidence including involuntary confessions and hearsay could be used in court as evidence. Like the apartheid Terrorism Act, the T-TPLF Proclamation bars habeas review or pretrial judicial intervention even to adjudicate detainee allegations of abuse and torture.
In apartheid South Africa and apartheid Ethiopia, terrorism suspects got kangaroo (monkey) court trials.
Today, T-TPLF prisons are full of opposition leaders, journalists, activists and dissidents falsely charged and/or convicted as “terrorists.” Among the thousands of people falsely accused of terrorism include Eskinder Nega, Bekele Gerba, Ahmedin Jebel, Woubshet Taye, Temesgen Desalegn, Andualem Aragie, Andargachew Tsgie, Emawayish Alemu, Deldessa Waqo Jarso, Akello Akoy Uchula, Zone 9 bloggers, Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye.
For a partial list of hundreds of T-TPLF political prisoners held under the Proclamation, click HERE
For an additional list, click HERE. Victims of T-TPLF “anti-terrorism law”
The T-TPLF “anti-terrorism” diktat form its inception was intended to muzzle journalists from criticizing, youths from peaceably demonstrating, opposition parties from political organizing, ordinary citizens from speaking, civic leaders from mobilizing, teachers from imparting knowledge, lawyers from advocating scholars from analyzing and the entire nation from questioning his dictatorial rule. It is a “law” singularly intended to criminalize speech, police thought, outlaw critical publications, intimidate hearts, crush spirits, terrorize minds and shred constitutional and internationally-guaranteed human rights.
In the police state Ethiopia has become, opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24/7 surveillance, and the ordinary people they meet in the street are intimidated, harassed and persecuted. The climate of fear that permeates every aspect of urban and rural society is reinforced and maintained by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making impossible dissent or peaceful opposition political activity. As former president under the T-TPLF and currently an opposition leader Dr. Negasso Gidada has documented, the structure of state terrorism in Ethiopia is so horrific one can only find parallels for it in Stalin-era Soviet Union:
The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….
Apartheid South Africa and T-TPLF state terrorism
In any country where the rule of law prevails and an independent judiciary thrives, such a diktat would not pass the smell test let alone a constitutional one. But in a world of kangaroo courts, rubberstamp parliaments and halls of vengeance and injustice, the diktat of one man, one party is the law of the land. So, in 2016 Ethiopia has become George Orwell’s 1984: Thinking is terrorism. Dissent is terrorism. Speaking truth to power is terrorism. Having a conscience is terrorism. Peaceful protest is terrorism. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is terrorism. Standing up for democracy and human rights is terrorism. Defending the rule of law is terrorism. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is terrorism.
State terrorism is the systematic use and threat of use of violence and coercion, intimidation, imprisonment and persecution to create a prevailing climate of fear in a population with a specific political message and outcome: “Resistance is futile! Resistance will be crushed! There will be no resistance! ”
State terrorism paralyzes the whole society and incapacitates individuals by entrenching fear as a paramount feature of social inaction and immobilization through the exercise of arbitrary power and extreme brutality.
In Ethiopia today, it is not just that the climate of fear and loathing permeates every aspect of social and economic life, indeed the climate of fear has transformed the “Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine” in to the “Land of Thirteen Months of Fear, Loathing, Despair and Darkness”.
When the State uses the “law” to silence and violently stamp out dissent, jail and keep in solitary confinement dissenters, opposition leaders and members, suppress the press and arbitrarily arrest journalists, trash human rights with impunity, trample upon the rule of law and scoff at constitutional accountability, does it not become a terrorist state? Welcome to Apartheid Ethiopia! (To be continued…)  Parts I and 2 available at the following links:
The current government in
Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), often
claims the multi-national constitutional federalism that it introduced a
quarter century ago answered the country’s age-old question – famously known as
the ‘national question’ – once and for all.
Ethiopia’s constitution, the government further claims, is
multi-foundational by its nature and adequately addresses the politics of
recognition and inclusion for Ethiopia’s long marginalized nations; better yet
it guarantees the right to self-determination up to secession. States are now
autonomous and free from the yolk of a centralized state and the notion of “one
country, one people, and one language”, a notion that had violently governed
Ethiopia’s oppressed mass for at least a century.
Today’s Ethiopia is a ‘federal democratic republic’ of nine autonomous
national regional states: Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Harari,
Oromiya, Somali, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) and
Tigray. All of them home to an incredibly diverse and free people, so the story
For the last two decades, therefore, anyone who questions the accuracy
of these narratives is labeled as an outright enemy of this unique polity, a
polity born out of its people’s age-old grievances where “unity in diversity”
is the order of the day.
Trouble in paradise
But a five month persistent protest by the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest
ethnic group, for whom the inaugural of a multi-national constitutional
federalism was a long awaited victory, which started in Nov. 2015 has laid bare
the otherwise flawless narrative Ethiopians have believed in for more than two
decades. What began as an opposition against a The Addis Abeba Master Plan,
which was, by any legal standard, prepared in a clear violation of the
fundamental principles of federalism, led to historical questions that the
Oromo of a federated Ethiopia continued demanding an answer for, including the
questions of national identity, of economic injustice and land ownership as
well as a genuine political representation.
However, a look back at just the last eighteen months alone reveals
that the Oromo are not the only ones that seem to be haunted by the re-opening
of the old wounds that Ethiopians thought were treated two decades ago.
Incidents that resulted in the killings of hundreds, mass arrests and
disappearances as well as displacements of thousands of Ethiopians in the hands
of the state security apparatus show that the questions of national identity,
the urge for self-administration and equitable use of resources (mainly land)
and lack of adequate political representation have re-emerged afresh in five
out of the nine independent regional states in the federated Ethiopia.
The ever restive Gambella
Home to around 200, 000 people, the Nuer, Agnuak, Apana, Mezhenger, and
Komo are the main indigenous peoples of Gambella. But it is also home to other
ethnic groups from the country such as the Amhara, Oromo and Tigray. According
to a 2007 census, of the total ethnic composition in Gambella the Nuer consists
40%, followed by the Agnuak who make up 27%, Amhara 8%, Oromo 6%, Mezhenger
5.8%, Keffa 4.1%, Mocha 2%, and Tigray 1.6%, as well as other ethnic groups
mainly from various regions in Southern Ethiopia who constitute 5.5%.
Unlike the triumphant declaration of a constitutional federalism
however, Amharic, which is the mother tongue of neither the Nuers, nor the
Agnuaks, is the working language of the State.
Historically, Gambella is a region prone to ethnic conflicts. The 2003
unprecedented massacre of more than 400 Agnuaks in the hands of government
security forces and ‘highlanders’, according to the HRW, left Gambella stuck in
crisis watch list of several international organizations including the United
What happened at the end of January 2016 can therefore be easily taken
for the usual sporadic skirmishes between the two dominant ethnic groups; it
involved both and covered vast areas in the region, touching villages from
Abobo to Itang, Gog to Jor, and a refugee camp in Pugindo, as well as a prison
cell in the capital, Gamebella town. By the government’s account 14 people,
including Gatdet Gony, Deputy Head of the Transport and Road Development
Office, were killed in the clash. Several other accounts put the number as high
The federal government quickly dismissed the cause as a simple
confrontation between two men from both tribes, but the cumulative fear by the
Agnuaks about the Nuer’s political dominance (which is often alleged to be
supported by the federal government) and near absolute control over resources
by the Nuer plays a significant role in instigating these conflicts.
Gambella’s small nuisances
While the rest of Ethiopia was welcoming the Ethiopian New Year of 2007
on Sept 11, 2014 with jubilant festivities, Meti, a small town in Godere
District in Mezhenger Zone of Gambella was struggling to contain a chaos that
besieged the villagers. Around 8 AM that morning a group of men broke into a
prison located in Kebele 01 and released several inmates who then went door to
door to residences of the ethnic Mezhengers, killing many including women and
children, according to charges brought against the perpetrators.
The Mezhenger consider people who came from various parts of the
country, mostly from the highland areas of the North and Central Ethiopia and
had settled there as ‘highlanders.’ Some of these ‘highlanders’ had lived in
the district for decades.
Although the flare ups of many of these conflicts always come in the
form of petty individual confrontations between the ethnic Mezhengers and these
‘highlanders’, the fundamental problem is one that Ethiopia’s two decades old
constitutional federal dispensation failed to address effectively.
The Mezhenger zone is one of the three zones in Gambella bordering in
its southeastern part the Sheka and Bench Maji zones of SNNPR, as well as the
Agnuak of Gambella and Illubabor of Oromiya to the north. Endowed with abundant
natural resources it is a region where the long arms of the federal government
easily tampers with. The area is home to large scale tea plantations owned by
foreign companies and fertile lands contracted to both local and foreign
companies without much say from the Gambella regional state.
A recent report by Fortune newspaper, a private
weekly, revealed that “Nearly 100 commercial farming investors in Gambella are
losing thousands of hectares of land because the region leased by mistake lands
under federal jurisdiction.” When asked to comment on the issue, Gatluak Tut
Kon, president of the Gambella regional state, told the newspaper, “You should
talk to the federal government. I wish to give no comment on the case.” For
many who believed in the principles of constitutional federalism that Ethiopian
officials claim to have instilled, this was no ordinary news headline.
Critics also lament that the demands of the Mezhenger people to want to
forcefully evict “highlanders” from their native land comes from the insecurity
of resource distribution and a sense of political exclusion. They were always
Ethiopia’s marginalized periphery.
Konso, Qucha, Wolkait, Qimant and all that demand
Following the creation by
the SNNPR regional state of the Segen Area Peoples Zone in March 2011, the
Konso community in the south was staging peaceful protests for the last 10 months. The Konso people fear the creation of the new zone forces them to lose
their “right to self-administration and their right to advance their culture,
language and national identity, enshrined in the constitution.”
The response from the regional government was similar to the response
the federal government often avails to contain similar demands elsewhere:
deploying the region’s Special Forces who asnwered the community’s constitutionally
legitimate demands with violence.
Although to a lesser extent, the Qucha people, who also reside in the
SNNPR regional state, are demanding a similar question: the right to
self-administration. Forty elected representatives of the community have come
to Addis Abeba at the end of 2014 and have raised the question of national
identity and self-rule with the House of Federation.
In the north of Ethiopia the Qimant people in the Amhara regional
state, north of Gondar, also demand what the Konsos and Quchas were demanding
for years. A recent conflict that flared up in Nov. 2015 between the Qimant
people and the regional administration is believed to have resulted in the
death of several community members of the Qimant people.
However, contrary to the people of Konso and Qucha, (and rather
uncharacteristic of the regime), the Qimant peoples’ demand for
self-administration was addressed in March 2015 when the Amhara Regional state
granted them a status of nationality and ruled that they can exercise self-administration.
According to the ruling, the Qimant have a right for self-administration in 42
Kebeles in the adjacent Armachiho and Chilga Districts. They can also enjoy the
full rights of developing their language as well as their culture.
In north western Ethiopia, the simmering question of national identity
by the Wolkayit community has recently reached a new peak. In what’s largely
believed to be a forceful decision by the federal government, the Wolkayit
people are to stay under the Humera Zone of the Tigray regional state. It is a
decision that quashed the community’s two decades old demand to join the Amhara
regional state, as they identify themselves as Amharas. A few weeks into the
protest the people of Wolkayit were paraded in front of the national TV
carrying placards that declared all their questions, including their questions
of identity, as have been answered once and for all.
But as the bumpy road continues to stretch from the North to the South
to the West (and seem to grow by frequency as well as magnitude) the first –
and perhaps most uncomfortable – step would be to probe if Ethiopia, where the
concept of “unity in diversity” avails itself for all to indulge on an equal
footing, was ever born in the first place.
Worry or not worry?
Ezekiel Gebissa, a Professor of History and African Studies at
Kettering University, argues that the constitutional federalism the incumbent
introduced doesn’t originally belong to it; it dates back to “the Ethiopian
student movement” of the early seventies.
Prof. Ezekiel Gebissa
At the pinnacle of the student movement the question of national
identity took center stage, especially among the movement’s leaders such as
Walelign Mekonnen. Walelign’s prescription of self-administration up to
cessation for the politically marginalized became the rallying factor for the
would-be guerrilla fighters, who later defeated the Marxist Derg regime, Prof.
Although the Derge tried self-administration based on different regions
called ‘autonomous provinces’, it was a system that didn’t save the center from
an eventual collapse. With the coming to power in 1991 of the ruling EPRDF,
therefore, having constitutional federalism was not an option but a necessity,
according to Ezekiel.
Tamrat Kebede, Executive Director of InterAfrica Group, a think tank,
agrees. In addition, he sees the country’s journey from an absolute
monarchy through military dictatorship to a constitutional federalism as “a
quantum jump”. He believes that with the coming into power of the EPRDF
questions of national identity and self-determination were put to the test for
the first time. Himself a former member of the seventies’ student movement,
Tamrat argues that as much as the questions were debated and discussed, the
approach was purely theoretical.
Both Tamrat and Ezekiel find the government’s claims that the current
constitutional federalism has answered Ethiopia’s age-old questions as
A careful look at the lingering cases of the Konso, Qucha, Wolkait and
Qimant reveal the uncanny similarity each community’s approaches share to put
their constitutionally guaranteed demands to the attention of the federal
government; they all invoked legal mechanisms enshrined in the structures of
the constitutional federalism. “The skeleton of the structure is in place. But
putting it into policy is one thing, implementing it is another,” Ezekiel says.
When the Konso people began to protest the demotion of their
administrative area from the status of Special District to a mere District,
they formed a representative committee to advance their demand for
self-administration and managed to collect signatures from more than 5% of the
community, well above the constitution’s requirement. The committee then
appealed to the Federal House of Federation here in Addis Abeba but the House
sent the people (and their questions) back to the regional government.
Similarly the Qucha people, who are currently administered under the
Gamo Gofa zone of the SNNPR, say that they are not ethnic Gamos, as the current
arrangement dictates; they are their own nationality – Qucha. Qucha District,
which is home to the Qucha people, has close to 150, 000 people, according to
the 2007 national census.
And a committee gathered to address the question by the Wolkait people
has written a letter on December 2015 to the House of Federation demanding
proper response to their question of identity. The committee says that the
Wolkait’s right to work and learn in their own language as well as their right
to promote and advance their culture have been suppressed in the past,
including the 20 plus years of the rule by the EPRDF.
But these glitches do not make Tamrat of InterAfrica Group lose faith
in the constitutional federalism Ethiopia is following. In his interview with
this magazine Tamrat says practicing a complex federal system such as that of
Ethiopia’s will “inevitably run into enormous constraints and challenges.”
“[such a system] entails decentralization; it is sensitive; it requires
capacity, both in human terms and resource terms, which are not all readily
available when you launch into such a complex arrangement,” Tamrat said.
Prof Ezekiel shares Tamrat’s view: adjusting the system itself as
needed, “requires a careful, thoughtful, deeply concerned implementation” he
says. But Ezekiel is critical because that never happened in the last two
decades. “The question that brought the very existence of Ethiopia into a
country was never fully answered”.
The reason for this, according to Ezekiel, lies in the undemocratic
nature of the incumbent. Once in power the EPRDF “thought that they could do
whatever they want; they could engineer any outcome; they could muzzle dissent;
they could decimate opposition and tell the politically marginalized
nationalities on the highland and on the lowland that ‘you have a constitution,
your questions have been answered and you have no other question’”.
He believes that the questions raised now in different parts of the
country are indeed not “new questions”. “They are the same questions” he told
this magazine. However he doesn’t “believe for one minute that questioning the
very foundation of the federal arrangement is the answer. It is whether it
should be implemented or not.”
Darkness before dawn?
Analysts who follow Ethiopia closely argue that recent incidents happening
in all corners of the country: the demands for economic justice,
self-administration and national identity are symptoms of a disease far deeper
than the current government dares to admit. Tamrat is one of them.
“These signs should force us to question what it is that we are not
doing right,” he says, “or why is this structure we have created to precisely
avoid these kinds of problems creating these problems? Could it be that we
issued rights that are not being exercised? Have we not prepared ourselves for
the manner in which they are to be exercised? That could very well be,” he
For him the recognitions of the identity and equality of nationalities
as well as the rights to exercise self-administration up to the level of
cessation manifests “strong rights which demand fair resource sharing, fair
political participatory process, needless to say a democratic culture, in the
absence of [which] they are bound to erupt.”
Ethiopians’ questions of national identity and the demand for self-rule
are re-emerging frequently because they have never been answered in the right
way, argues Ezekiel. “Ethiopia is still a one party state” in which not only
its marginalized but also a great many are simply excluded from the political
process. And it is not just a theoretical exclusion, he said, “it is a
totalitarian control of the assets of the state to give permanency to the
exclusionary politics that the regime has put in place.”
The ruling party, Ezekiel further said, “uses the state resources to
co-opt the military, the security apparatus and the business class” to “create
a total hegemony of structure and discourse” and to “emasculate the very
constitution it celebrates.” The ruling party also puts an executive
manned by “ill-educated party cadres that simply parrot the leaders’
pronouncements without any understanding of the complexities of implementing
[federalism] policies.” The trajectory of this direction is one that’s “leading
Ezekiel believes that the disastrous handling by the federal government
of almost all of these incidents (such as disarming regional police,
intervention without due parliamentary process, committing crimes with an
absolute sense of impunity and several other signs showing excessive control of
the federal government against these national regional states) show that the
party that likes to take total credit for creating Ethiopia’s constitutional
federalism is becoming the system’s enemy number one.
Tamrat too shares Ezekiel’s concerns. The government’s ways of handling
public resentments, which include the application of excessive force, does not
manifest proper and competent handlings.
Campaigners and activists say the recent widespread public protest in
Oromiya, which saw the federal army being quickly deployed, left more than 400
killed, twice that number injured, and thousands incarcerated. The federal army
roamed many of the streets where protests broke out; and the whereabouts of
hundreds of people remains unknown.
Members of the Konso community said that several of their people,
including their leader, are incarcerated or have unjustly lost their jobs
following their demand for self-rule, although many of them were released since
the writing of this story.
According to a December 2015 letter addressed to the House of
Federation by a committee gathered to discuss the question of the Wolkait
people, there were about 116 people whose whereabouts were unknown because they
raised “a question of identity.”
Going to the
Qucha community in the South, in January 2015 the Gamo Area High Court has
sentenced 27 members of the community to up to 16 years imprisonment for
allegedly instigating violence and causing damage on people and properties
fourteen months earlier. According to the charges presented against them, they
were trying to operate illegally to forcefully obtain a status of nationality
for the Qucha community. And to advance their cause, the charges add, they
attacked residences of Kebele officials.
For Tamrat, some of the challenges the country is
struggling with currently require an expanded political space, “to be debated,
to be discussed, to [bring forth] appropriate responses. I see a deficit in
that regard,” he says.
The government’s dogmatic obsession with the
constitution is another “often overlooked” aspect for Tamrat. For the
incumbent, the Constitution is non-debatable, fixed entity, probably because it
mistakenly equates “the Constitution for law and order. So whenever it says the
constitution [is beyond any discussion], it is actually saying that law and
order are [beyond any discussion].”
Yet, the Constitution is an embodiment of a document
that entails the compromise of different views and it is not static, argues
Tamrat; it could be and should be amended when issues demand so. In fact “there
is a provision that stipulates its own amendment” because amendment was “an
envisaged process.” Article 104 clearly states the legality of “initiation of
“Any proposal for constitutional amendment, if
supported by two-thirds majority vote in the House of Peoples’ Representatives,
or by a two-thirds majority vote in the House of the Federation or when
one-third of the State Councils of the member States of the Federation (by a
majority vote in each Council) have supported it, shall be submitted for
discussion and decision to the general public and to those whom the amendment
of the Constitution concerns,” the Article reads.
A change towards democracy is a must if the country is
to avoid regrettable tragedy, Ezekiel says. “People at the top of the
government must know that thestatus quois not sustainable”, he argues,
“because there is too much discontent, too much dissatisfaction, a lot of
desperation, a lot of deprivation,” Ezekiel said, adding that the government
must stop listening to the reverberation of its own voices and understand that
this is not a sustainable path.
“It should begin by decriminalizing dissent, open up
the political space, expunge the draconian laws that are muzzling the press,
start from the freedom of the press, release political prisoners. These are the
measures the government could take in order to win the good will of the
public,” Ezekiel said. “This is not an option, this is an imperative. The
window will close sooner or later. But, would the government be able to see
that? Well, I always say absolute power dements more than it corrupts.”
No turning back
Several Ethiopian critics of the government assert
that the fundamental problem of the recent conflicts that besieged several
areas is the constitutional federalism itself. According to these critics, it
focuses more on differences than unity. Some fear it may even lead to an
eventual disintegration of the country. A return to the old unitary system of
administration is an idea whose appeal seems to gain increasing popularity
among many Ethiopians.But it is an idea both Tamrat and
Ezekiel strongly disagree with.
“The [current] federal arrangement was a response to a
historic question of nationalities,” Ezekiel says, “to deny that there is a
question of nationalities is to deny the sun rises in the East.” The country,
according to him, has tried the unitarists as well as the assimilationists
track for decades and it actually led to “proliferation of centrifugal forces”.
Thus, “the claim that says we need a unitary state is a flight of fancy that
collides with reality.”
Tamrat adds “a unitary government has not yielded the
desired, harmonious and peaceful relationship. We can’t go back to a unitary
system that’s held by force. We have travelled enough distance in this federal
system in which national senses of identities have taken a right recognition
and it is this right recognition which is manifesting itself as demands of
But back in the power corridors of the government in
Ethiopia exhausting propaganda is being relentlessly produced and aired through
state affiliated media claiming that the federal arrangement not only answered
the ‘national question’ but also put the burning question of land ownership,
and the nation’s quest for self-rule, which saw the previous two regimes
toppled by the will of the people, to their final resting place.
But to put Ezekiel’s words in this context, this one
too seems “a flight of fancy that collides with reality.”