Sadiq Abdirahman: Ethiopian government’s Disingenuous Peace Overture
The following article is reprinted with permission from the author.
Ethiopian government’s Disingenuous Peace Overture
© Sadiq Abdullahi Abdirahman
Source: Ogaden Online
August 6, 2010
In Ethiopia, Al-Itihad, a notorious former religious group led by Sheikh Ibrahim Mohamed, who was deported a few years back from the United States, had unequivocally accepted to surrender the group to Ethiopia.
Despite a mindboggling editorials bombarded via the internet by Al-Itihad supporters which tried to hide facts that the peace negotiation between Al-Itihad and the Ethiopian government signed at the Ghion Hotel was in truth a public humiliation for the group. According to a BBC Somali reporter present at the signing, Mr. Abdirizaak Atosh stated that “the negotiation seemed lopsided and there was nothing to the effect of the peace treaty that is literally meaningful to the group, except a single stipulation to release prisoners lingering in government jails”. Moreover, the Ethiopian Federal Affairs Minister Dr. Shiferaw Teklemariam confirmed that the government had agreed to grant amnesty to all leaders of Al-Itihad, and as he put it, agreed to rehabilitate and integrate the Front’s soldiers into the community.
At the outset, the shameful surrender and humiliation of the last remnant of Al-Itihad seems a win for the government. But, aside from orchestrated handshakes that were conducted in the view of media, which is choreographed to mislead the international community to presume that the government is finally taking steps to encourage dialogue, and is willing to negotiate. This is something that the government falsely wants to project to the international community. The Ethiopian government fears the crimes they’ve committed against the Ogaden civilians are now being discussed in the world stage. Both the United States and European Union had had a hearing on the crimes against humanity that are taking place in Ethiopia. Therefore, the government wants to redeem its shattered image as the international community gains awareness and it is beginning to demand an end to the genocide taking place in the Ogaden.
The problem with the Ethiopian government is that it has in the past successfully used Al-Itihad for its own domestic and foreign policy benefits. The Ethiopian government has intentionally hyper-inflated Al-Itihad’s capacity and overreached as an organization. They had painted the group as a religious fanatic’s danger to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity. The government claimed Al-Itihad practiced irredentism policy, and were eager to wage a protracted war against them in Ogaden. Even though, this was in fact false, Al-Itihad was never a threat to Ethiopia, and it was indeed Ethiopia who attacked the group inside Somalia in 1996.
The Ethiopian government’s dishonesty received a sympathetic ear among the unsuspecting power heads in the West who flooded it with a large financial assistance. The Ethiopian government wanting to keep these financial incentives going had practically made Al-Itihad, its number one enemy. They used to amplify the danger the group posed not only to Ethiopia, but to the whole region. For many years, the government did not relinquish talks of eradicating Al-Itihad from the region. Even as to a greater extent, when the accusation from the government got more and more outrageous, it still continued to find a receptive ear among the Western counterparts who granted billions of aid money to the Ethiopian government every year. Those funds were used to build one of the mightiest military machines in Africa. The Ethiopian government had forcefully used this to guard their power and dehumanize the population in the country.
The purpose of the Ethiopian government’s deception also has a hidden domestic agenda. The government wants to use Al-Itihad to show as one tired group who had carried out an endless armed struggle it could not win. This is what the government wants in this so called negotiation with Al-Itihad; a good PR, full of misinformation that it could perfectly use towards the public as a campaign to discourage any future armed struggle. The government is specifically targeting those pro-democracy Ethiopians who lost faith in the peaceful struggle, averted by the government. They are now contemplating if such option is vital to liberating themselves from the current dictatorship. The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has intentionally closed down all paths leading to any genuine dialogue to take place in Ethiopia, and has so far not shown the willingness and care to end the tension that is ravaging under his leadership.
It is for this fact that the sentiment in the wider Ethiopian public is boiling. They are fed up with a fake democratization process that has made it possible for this brutal regime to remain in power for almost twenty years. They are now fuming for a positive change by any means, including conceding to an armed struggle as a way to defend their rights. And to stand up to this undemocratic power that holds them for hostages. It is a well published and well known fact that the government of Ethiopia has discouraged dialogue, good governance, and the supremacy of law. It has closed down all avenues leading to a genuine reconciliation to end old and new conflicts that are eating up Ethiopia’s future. It has disregarded the democratic rights of the people to peacefully elect their government which is enshrined in the constitution.
The will of the pro-democracy groups have been lost in the 2005 election when the government stuffed the ballot box and stole votes belonging to the opposition. In the run off to the election, the Ethiopian government practiced intimidation, arrest, killings of the opposition members, and their supporters. They had members of the opposition who won arrested and put in jail for winning their seats and contesting the results after it had been illegally taken away. This is a clear indication on why the simplest hope of democratization ever taking its root in Ethiopia had been unjustly repealed. And for one last time, those who had any doubt that this government was undemocratic had to rethink their steps. Even when it became clear that the Ethiopian government was fooling no one including the international community, the Ethiopian public was willing to give a second chance to right government wrongs. The Ethiopian government did not recuperate considering the repeat of the same result had transpired in the 2010 election, only this time in much worst form.
The government has all together buried any hope for democratization and good governance to evolve in Ethiopia. It had posted results that will make Zimbabwe’s Rober Mugabe as an amateur in stealing elections. The government claimed it won 99.6% including every seat except one in the House of Representatives. In the proceeding to the election, the Ethiopian public was privy to the conduct of the government and knew that any opportunity for a free and fair election was slim.
Meles Zenawi came to power through an armed struggle and therefore understands that the public sentiment against his government is growing and fears it might be tilting in favor of an all out armed struggle. During the 1970s and 80s Meles himself was a rebel leading his Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the former Marxist leader of Ethiopia, Col. Mingistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu’s biggest enemy besides Somalis was his group, the TPLF who were ingrained in Tigray. The Mingistu army launched continuous offensives against TPLF rebels. They attacked, and attacked to destroy the rebels. The brutal fighting created massive displacements, hunger, and killings of innocent civilians.
In his own tribute, Dawit Wolde Giorgis who was a member of Mengistu’s Central Committee, and probably still living today, made a tour to inspect the region as the head of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) a government agency set up in Addis Ababa in the aftermath of the 1973 drought, and said, they were aware of an impending crisis in Tigray. He recalled witnessing the plight of thousands of refugees crowding into the relief centers, but in fear of repercussion from Mingistu, had gutlessly attributed the cause not to the army’s campaign of repression but to the long-term failure of rains in the Tigray. What TPLF juntas who govern Ethiopia today are doing to Ethiopians, particularly the Ogaden civilians, is exactly what they’ve been on the receiving end of. What is very difficult to absorb is the fact: how the victim grows to become the victimizer, and never attempts to learn from its own past.
If anyone, the Prime Minister Zenawi must remember to learn from his own past, and try to find better ways to break the cycle of violence in Ethiopia. Resorting to the same old strategies he fought against will only accelerate the downfall of his government. Moreover, the questionable tactics such as using ineffective an organization like Al-Itihad as a propaganda tool will not provide a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems. If the Prime Minister and his government want to pursue the right course of action to resolve these issues, it has the power to reverse the past for Ethiopia, including the Ogaden.
The Ogaden conflict needs a comprehensive undertaking that requires an international mediation. A third party mediator is a must, to facilitate the agenda and to enforce results for parties in the conflict to honor it. The Ogaden Somalis aren’t a threat to Meles Zenawi’s center of power. They have no ambition of taking over his government to rule Ethiopia. In the past, they have peacefully participated in the process until the government started to kill its elected representatives who actually worked for them. Therefore, the question needing an answer is how the government can justify on burning civilian homes, raping innocent women, starving young children, kicking out NGOs, killing and displaying corpses of young men, and refusing to allow independent observers to investigate these horrific conditions? The human rights abuses taking place there are the substance behind the problem not the surrender of Al-Itihad. If the Ethiopian government is serious about peace negotiation, it must end this nonsense and address the real issue with those stakeholders who can bring peace to the Ogaden.
The writer, Sadiq Abdullahi Abdirahman is a Human Rights activist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org