Does the constitution apply to the EPRDF?
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
“Disregard for human beings is the first qualification of a dictator.”
Milton S. Eisenhower
In the current debate related to the issue of public uprising in Ethiopia, we have read comments and articles as diverse as our population. Apparently, in most of the comments made by the EPRDF supporters, it is not unusual to read insults, threats, and an attempt to intimidate EPRDF opponents. They often invoke the threats of blood shade, and massacre in the street of Ethiopian cities should there be any civil disobedience. Since they cannot argue with a straight face that the EPRDF is not brutal, by omission and by their own reckless assertion, they affirm the brutality of a government that they vehemently support.
It is an aroma of blood that they are planning to smell from the comfort of their palace, villas, and luxury hotel rooms. It is tragic that these people yarn for the blood of their own citizens, massacred mercilessly, should they exercise their God given rights. I am sorry to say, most of the regime supporters bring “a knife to a gun fight”. They take their arrogance as courage, and their willful ignorance as wisdom. They bring to the table child like immature comments, instead of bringing concrete and useful ideas to rebuttal the serious issues that are challenging our nation. It is clear that the enormous disregard for lives of our citizens by the brutal regime is considered a heroic act by those who advocate violence against innocent citizens. Mind you, those of us who feel and know that there is an enormous similarity between Ethiopia, Egypt and other oppressed countries are asking the public to revolt peacefully. We are not asking for violence. Ironically, the regimes supporters are the one asking the army and the regime to spill blood should there be any uprising in Ethiopia. This was exactly what Mubarek’s supporters were looking for.
To his credit, Ato Yared Ayicheh has brought a gun to a gun fight, although his ammunition is blank and he is shooting everywhere missing his target. In his article titled “Ethiopia is not Egypt” Yared missed the fundamental point and contradicted himself by precisely pointing out the similarity between Ethiopia and Egypt. The difference between and Egypt is not debatable; what is apparent is that the condition that existed in Egypt during the Mubarek reign is similar to that of Ethiopia. In that sense, make no mistake, that “Ethiopia is Egypt.” In his article, Yared states “It’s a fact that the initiating causes for the Egyptian uprising are also all present in Ethiopia. But Ethiopia is not Egypt.” Such statement by itself is self defeating and missed its mark to the argument that “Ethiopia is not Egypt”.
In his piece, Yared argues and try to imply that the major problem in Ethiopia is the failure of the opposition to accept the Constitution including Article 39. I don’t know if Yared has been following Ethiopian politics the last 15 years. Since 1995, several political organizations accepted the “Constitution” including Article 39 and attempted to function in the political arena. They accepted the demands of the ruling party and tried their very best to engage in civilized political discourse. However, the EPRDF functioned as a school yard bully and continued to harass, intimidate, abduct, imprison and kill members and supporters and leaders of the opposition parties. Organizations like The All Amhara People Organization (AAPO) led by the late professor Asrat Woldeyes, Southern Ethiopian People Democratic Union (SEPDU) led by Dr. Beyene Petrose, the Oromo National Congress (ONC) led by Dr. Merara Gudina, the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) led by Lidetu Ayalew, and Council of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia (CAFPDE), accepted the constitution including article 39 (AAPO, EDP, and some CAFPDE member organizations did not accept Article 39) and tried to exercise their constitutional right.
Despite their immense effort to continue to challenge the regime by participating in the legal political process, the regime assaulted the opposition political parties with an enormous disregard to the rule of law; and it allowed them to exist only hanging by a piece of thread. The Zenawi regime wanted a democratic image and used the opposition parties and “the constitution” as a facade to advance its own narrow agenda and to simply sell itself to the Westerners as “new democrat in Africa.” The regime’s brutal security forces did everything possible to weaken the opposition and destroy them in violation of the constitution that the regime itself single handedly established.
Instead of saying that the opposition should accept the Constitution, Yared should demand that the regime uphold its own constitution and practice it. Article 15 of the Ethiopian Constitution states: “Every human being has the right to life. No one shall be deprived of his life except by reason of his conviction in accordance with the law for a serious crime committed by him.” Yet, in 1997, Assefa Maru was assassinated in a broad day light by cruel mercenaries; so far no one has been accountable to this crime. In 1997, Tesfaye Tadesse was also gun down by the brutal security forces of Zenawi’s regime. I am mentioning these two individuals because there case is well known. There are several unknown and countless citizens of Ethiopia who are deprived their lives by the regime that is in power in violation of its own constitution.
The Ethiopian constitution Article 31 states that everyone has the right to form an association; ironically, the regime has been the culprit to dismantle the Ethiopian Teachers Association and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council. I can go on citing the violation of Ethiopia’s constitution by the regime since 1995. This is the regime that allowed a foreign country like Eritrea to devalue Ethiopia’s currency. Instead of Ethiopia, Eritrea was the beneficiary of hard currency at the expense of Ethiopia. The EPRDF established a prison for the Eritrean government thugs to imprison, torture, and kill Ethiopian and Eritrean citizens. If anything, among other things, Mr. Meles and his cronies should be charged with treason.
In April 1995, I had a private discussion with his Excellency ambassador Berhane Gebrechristose at the Ethiopian embassy. I, a native Eritrean was arguing for the benefit of Ethiopia listing the crimes committed by the Eritrean regime assisted by the EPRDF; He, the ambassador of Ethiopia was arguing for the benefit of a foreign nation. When I posed a question how Eritrea became an exporter of Coffee, the ambassador could only smile and ignore my question. It is only when the regime in Eritrea got greedy and wanted to suck more from the Ethiopian economy that the EPRDF began to say no and we entered into a war. This tragic war cost both nations enormous human lives. Who is responsible to this debacle? Who cared about the constitution then?
For the sake of Time, I would like to move forward to the election of 2005. The people of Ethiopia wanted their voice to be heard when they became aware that the EPRDF rigged the election. The whole world knows the fact that the EPRDF took power in 2005 illegitimately in violation of its own constitution. Using their constitutional rights, the people of Ethiopia wanted to demonstrate peacefully and petition their government. The EPRDF brought its merciless security forces and used live bullets to silence them and crash the protest.
The Ethiopian Constitution Article 30 number 1 states “Everyone shall have the freedom, in association with others, to peaceably assemble without arms, engage in public demonstration and the right to petition. Appropriate procedure may be enacted to ensure that public meetings and demonstrations do not disrupt public activities, or that such meetings and demonstrations do not violate public morals, peace and democratic rights.”
Everyone knows that the protest in 2005 was nonviolent; the killing started by the security forces. The protesters were the same protesters that demonstrated with an immense discipline on May 8, 2005, to show their support for the opposition. This was the largest demonstration in the world. There was no term to it when it was dubbed Tsunami. There was no violence. The people expressed their support for CUD and went home. These are the same people who wanted to petition their government peacefully, when the election was rigged before their eyes; the government’s response was brutality. Even if the protest was illegal as alleged by the regime, why was it necessary to use live bullets? The intention was not to disperse; it was to kill, to spill blood. This is not a sign of democratic governance.
In comparison to the demonstration that took place in France at the same time in 2005, it is clear how governments who care for the welfare of their people act even when the people engage in violent protest. The protesters in France were burning cars, destroying stores and homes. The French police did not use a single bullet; they were using police batons and water to disperse the protesters. Only one person died in France in the 2005 protest; and he was killed by the protestors. May be this is the kind of civilized politics that Yared should lecture the EPRDF.
During all the public protests that took place in Ethiopia since the EPRDF took power, its security forces came with sinister intent to kill and massacre innocent citizens. This is the clear sign of dictators, disregard to human beings. After the brutal security forces killed youngsters in the 2005 protest, the prime minister, who is supposed to be the leader to all the people, made an announcement in public broadcasting stating the youngsters that were killed by the police were killed when they attempted to rob a bank. This was one of the most insensitive and disgusting announcement any leader could make without having an iota of evidence. He did not say “it is sad that this youngsters died and that we will investigate” like any states man would. He simply said, the killing was justifiable. Later we learned that the youngsters who were killed were studentes who were minding their own business. Did any one held the prime minister accountable for his disgusting comment and for the action of his brut security force? Of course not. I hate to say it, the fact is Mr. Meles acted like an occupier than a states man.
Was there a problem the way the opposition conducted itself, yes; but the fundamental purpose of the government is to look after the welfare of its people. It is not the oppositions’ job to look after the well being of the people, it is the government’s job. In that regard, the regime failed enormously. After an enormous pressure form the international community, the regime established “an independent commission” led by Judge Frehiwot Samuel. Fortunately for us, the regime selected someone with a conscious to lead the commission. Judge Frehiwot’s finding is clear that the regime security forces used excessive force and killed more than 200 people unjustly with a clear intent to kill. The regime threatened the commission members not to release their findings. The regime failed to silence them and now it is public knowledge that the killing was brutal, uncalled for, and the act of a blood thirsty merciless security forces.
I can go on and tell you the killings in Wolayta in 1999, the Wolayta people exercising their constitutional rights protested when the regime tried to impose a new language on them. The People of Gambela, the people of Gojam even the Tigreans who opposed the regime exercising their constitutional rights have been dealt with brut. In March 2010, Aregawi Gebreyohanes was killed because he made an effort to exercise his constitutional right.
The problem is not with the opposition accepting the Constitution; the problem is with the regime; a regime that continues to violate its own constitution and rule with iron fist. A country’s constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land in any nation. And again, as President Issaias Afeworki stated, for all dictators, a Constitution is nothing but a piece of paper.
It is because we want the rule of law to reign in our country; because we want any party that takes power to be accountable; it is because we want to get rid of favoritism and corruption; it is because we want freedom, liberty, and the right to life, the right for the people to be part of the political process that we want the people of Ethiopia to exercise Article 30 of the constitution and engage in peaceful protest. We want them to petition their government and air their grievances peacefully. We have seen the brutality of the security forces in Bahrain to crash the revolt; here in the US, there is another revolution ringing from Madison, Wisconsin to Ohio. No violence, simply a peaceful protest. May be EPRDF supporters could learn something from that.
I am reminded the comment made by someone who was a civil right activist in 1960s. In an interview he gave regarding the riot that took place in the 60s, he said “we were peacefully protesting, the police were rioting.” This statement hold truth what took place in 2005, and all other protests that took place in Ethiopia. The people were exercising their God given rights and protested peacefully, the security forces perpetrated violence and caused the rioting.
I completely agree with Yared, all the ingredients that triggered the public revolt in Egypt exist in Ethiopia today; thus, in this regard, the notion that Ethiopia is not Egypt however defies commonsense. All we are asking is for the people of Ethiopia to exercise their constitutional right and defy the illegal State of Emergency Rule imposed by Mr. Zenawi and occupy Meskel Square like the Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square. It is time to show solidarity with the oppressed people in every corner of the world.