Monday, November 7, 2011

Love Ethiopia, Fear Its Government

(Source, Addis Fortune, 6 November 2011)

It is certainly pleasing to belong to a nation of people known for their hospitality, communal life of sharing and caring, refined social mores, compassionate to faults and longest surviving civilization in the world. With greater initiative and modern marketing, Ethiopia could have been the most preferred tourist destination of Africa, not only for its unique heritages but also for the exceptional value that it offers as a country free from violent street crimes.

The positive values of its culture oblige some of us to be involved in public service no matter how small a contribution we could make in the economic, social, and political life of its people. Similarly, the deeply embedded love of the nation remains the utmost reason for some of us to join the sphere of politics that, traditionally, has been the proclivity of illiterate monarchs, brutal military dictators and unscrupulous thugs.

Even today, Ethiopian politics is shrouded with acrimony and adversaries that can seriously endanger and deprive life and liberty by those who feel threatened for whatever reason their fertile imagination can concote. A case in point is the recent barb Prime Minister Meles Zenawi unloaded in parliament, alleging that two of the credible opposition parties in the country are serving as fronts for terrorist organizations. His gibe focused especially on members of Medrek and the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) parties.

He elaborated that his government has hard evidences to substantiate his claim. As usual, no one could challenge him to the accuracy of his blatant and incriminating statements as MPs can only submit questions in the prevailing Ethiopian parliamentary setting. It is always him that conveys the answers in any format that he wishes; no rebuttal is allowed no matter how fictional his accusations are.

While the ‘dear leader’ can deliver an emotionally loaded deadly blow to the image and reputation of honorable citizens and their organizations, his expressions that castigate, belittle and insult the opposition, have always been tolerated. Often, it is accorded with thunderous applause by his rubber-stamp parliament as an expression of respect and admiration for his eloquence and acumen, to throw at will, and in admirable speed, snide remarks against the political opposition.

The emotional tantrum accompanying his speech is the distinguishing feature of an ordinary man at any corner of the streets of Addis Abeba rather than a leader of a country of 80 million people. No one can dare stop him before he is satisfied with his quarterly presentation of a litany of trashing the opposition. Certainly, the parliamentary rules and procedures on the use of civilized language within the parliament are forgotten and selectively enforced.

For those of us who had the misfortune of listening to him closer, or raise questions that are either too hard for him to answer, too close in exposing the purported lies made to glorify him and his henchmen or challenge his near-paranoia to hold at bay potential threats to his government’s authority from sources his fancy dictates, parliamentary sessions have always been traumatic experiences to be endured.

If what the Prime Minister has alleged in parliament has any substance at all, it should have been the responsibility of the police to investigate and the courts to hear the case, not the Parliament. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, however, he is consolidating his power and stifling any form of dissent to his one party rule as it is becoming the rule, and not the exception, in most sub-Saharan African countries. To those who had the slightest doubt that Ethiopia is ruled by men who wield excessive power, and not by the much touted rule of law, the recent parliamentary session should serve as indisputable evidence.

Even though the constitution of the country clearly and unambiguously states that ‘ne is presumed innocent, until proven guilty at a court of law,’ the Prime Minister, not only in contravention to the constitutional article, but also in a manner that defies any rational thinking, has declared that the accused and their organizations are guilty. His argument came before the defendants had any chance to be heard in a neutral and independent court.

Surely, his allegation has exposed the public and the courts to a prejudicial judgment and conclusion, preempting the authority of the courts to assess guilt or innocence based on evidence.

In a federal system of government, one among the many advantages enjoyed, used to be the separation of power among the three branches of government. It involves checks and balances to tame the unrestrained hunger for power by any branch of a government. To our dismay, all three branches of the federal government in Ethiopia are totally subservient to one party from the center that makes the separation of power theory and practice a charade.

The Prime Minister's emotional accusation of the political opposition is a telling example for his total disregard for rule of law and the authority of the judiciary to address issues on fair and equal bases to all the citizens of the country, without bias. No one can say the he is not aware of this distinction. Arguably, it is the feeling of impunity that compels him to make such disparaging statements in public.

In a world where interdependence of countries for economic, military, and political reasons is the order of the day, the future of democratization and respect for rule of law seem to have fallen exclusively in the hands of the ruling Revolutionary Democrats. They feel no pressure, locally or internationally, to institute multi-party democracy any time soon. The hope and aspirations for justice and equality under the law is fading with no threat of economic, moral or political consequence for their actions from any of the superpowers.

To make matters worse, Western governments seem to attach their support not to democratic values that they are so much fond of repeating with boring redundancy, but to their purported allies in the fight against terrorism. It is all happening despite their knowledge of gross human rights violations and undemocratic practices by ruling parties at the helm of unrestrained power.

Their simplistic view of ‘see no evil, hear no evil,’ as long as ruling parties appear committed to fight terrorism, would eventually boomerang in ways that cannot only be totally forecasted for its long-term effect, but the consequences in the short-term could end up incubating home-grown dictators that would violate universally accepted norms of civilized human behavior in governing their people.

The true measure of leaders’ commitment in fighting global terrorism should have been the respect for the rule of law and commitment to democratization in their own country.

The current indifference of continental organizations and Western powers to the plight of the masses in the hands of undemocratic governments in Africa would have repercussions that would reverberate in the entire world, unless timely measures are taken to correct the injustices.

The aspirations of the people for democracy should not be allowed to be circumvented by the few who seem to have no boundary in subjecting them to economic, political and social deprivations with a blind pursuit to undeserved eminence and unrestrained power.

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