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Monday September 1st 2014

‘Commentaries/Analyses’ Archive

Ambo under Siege: Daily Activities Paralyzed

(URJII ONLINE)

The brutal attempts of crackdown against Oromo protesters by the Agazi Special Squad continuing unabated in different parts of the regional state of Oromia, reports coming from Ambo in central Oromia indicate that the town and its surrounding has come under virtual seizure by the Agazi Federal Armed Force, daily movements and activities becoming almost impossible.

According to a report by HRLHA (URJII’s close partner in advocating and defending human rights), the Agazi Special Squad has been deployed in Ambo Town and its surrounding in much larger number than before and engaged in indiscriminately kidnapping the local people from along the streets and throwing them into detention centres in the area. There are also reports of widespread rapes being committed against female detainees.

Although the protests against the plan to annex some central small towns of Oromia into the Capital Addis Ababa/Finfinne have been involving Oromos from all walks of life, age and gender, the prime targets have been the youth, university, college, and high school students in particular. Since the protest started in different parts of the regional state of Oromia two weeks ago, more than 50,000 (fifty thousand) Oromos have been arrested and detained from Ambo, Gudar, Tikur Inchini, Ginda-Barat, Gedo, and Bakko-Tibe towns in West Showa Zone of Central Oromia alone. Apart from along the streets in cities and towns, especially students are being picked up even from dormitories and classrooms on universities and college campuses. Reports add that there have been around twenty (20) extra-judicial killings so far that have resulted from brutal actions against unarmed and peaceful protesters by armed forces.

Ever since the violence against Oromo protesters started two weeks ago, and following the release of its first urgent action over the incidents, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has been monitoring the situation through its correspondents in the region; and has been able to obtain some of the names of the Oromos (students and others) who have so far been killed, kidnapped or arrested, and detained or disappeared. There are also cases of beatings and wounds or injuries inflicted on some of the protesters by the heavy-handed federal armed force. The lists of the Oromo victims are available on: www.humanrightsleague.com.

In the meantime, in an effort to show supports and solidarity, Oromos in Diaspora have been holding demonstrations in different countries and cities in Europe and North America condemning the brutalities of the TPLF/EPRDF Government against peaceful Oromo protesters. Inserted are some pictures depicting part of a  demonstration held in Toronto, Canada on the 9th of May, 2014; and the following are links at which some related video clips could be watched:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUXDclT13G4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7vVqGW2v1o&list=UUeiu9oLrDG86ZllW48H6zQg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQlOvsx66wc&list=UUeiu9oLrDG86ZllW48H6zQg

Kenya’s Plan that Might Affect Thousands of Refugees from Ethiopia

(URJII ONLINE)

(HRW) – The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has requested that the Kenyan authorities reconsider a new plan to forcibly move 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers from cities to overcrowded and underserviced refugee camps. News media reported that Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku made the announcement on March 25, 2014, two days after unidentified attackers killed six people in a church near Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa.
Such a move would violate a July 26, 2013 Kenyan High Court ruling, which quashed an identical government refugee relocation plan from December 2012. The court said the relocation would violate refugees’ dignity and free movement rights, and would risk indirectly forcing them back to their respective countries of origin, although the plan in the first place targets Somali refugees. It also said the authorities had not proved that the move, which followed a series of grenade and other attacks in Kenya by unidentified people, would help protect national security. Below is the statement by the human rights agency Human Rights Watch:

“Kenya is once again using attacks by unknown criminals to stigmatize all refugees as potential terrorists,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher. “This plan to force tens of thousands of refugees into appalling conditions in severely overcrowded camps flouts a crystal clear court ruling banning such a move.” Ole Lenku said on March 25 that, “All refugees residing outside the designated refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab are hereby directed to return to their respective camps with immediate effect.” Citing “emergency security challenges” in Kenyan towns, he also said that, “Any refugee found flouting this directive will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

In January 2013, Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to drop their first relocation plan. Human Rights Watch said then that the authorities had failed to show, as international law requires, that the plan was either necessary to achieve enhanced national security or the least restrictive measure possible to address Kenya’s national security concerns. The plan also unlawfully discriminated against refugees because it would allow Kenyan citizens to move freely while denying refugees that right. Kenyan police operations in Nairobi and Mombasa have frequently committed serious human rights violations against both refugees and Kenyan citizens in the wake of attacks.

A May 2013 Human Rights Watch report described how Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees, including women and children, between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013 following grenade and other attacks. The police called the refugees “terrorists” and said they should move to the camps. The new relocation order comes after numerous statements by senior Kenyan officials, going back as far as March 2012, calling on Somali refugees to return to Somalia.

On January 17, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, issued guidelines on returns to Somalia and called on countries not to return anyone before interviewing them and ensuring they do not face the threat of persecution or other serious harm if returned. On January 28, UNHCR also issued a news release about the guidelines, appealing to all governments “to uphold their obligations” not to forcibly return anyone to Somalia unless they are convinced the person would not suffer persecution or other serious harm upon return.

UNHCR said that
southern and central Somalia “remains a very dangerous place” and that it “consider[s] the options for Somalis to find protection from persecution or serious harm within Southern and Central Somalia to be limited.” The agency said that this “is especially true for large areas that remain under the control of the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab,” which “prohibits the exercise of various types of freedoms and rights, especially affecting women” and uses “public whipping, amputation … and beheadings” as punishment. UNHCR also said that al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu, the capital, that killed civilians had increased in 2013 and that the Somali authorities are “reported to be failing to provide much of [the] population with basic security.”

Kenyan authorities should not press refugees to return to Somalia. Such pressure would violate Kenya’s obligations not to forcibly return – or refoule – refugees to situations of persecution or generalized violence. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Dadaab camps in Kenya – where about 400,000 refugees are crammed into space meant for 170,000 – and the lack of properly developed new camps there or near the Kakuma camps means that any transfer of refugees from the cities to the camps would also breach Kenya’s international legal obligations. They require Kenya not to adopt “retrogressive measures” that would negatively affect refugees’ rights to adequate standard of living – including food, clothing and housing – and to health and education.

On March 10, the international humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières, which runs health care programs in the refugee camps, released a report describing the serious humanitarian conditions and insecurity in the camps.

Foreign donors to Kenya and UNHCR should oppose the new relocation plan, based on its inevitable violation of refugees’ rights to free movement, basic social and economic rights, and the right not to be forcibly evicted. “The new plan risks riding roughshod over Kenya’s High Court and a range of refugees’ fundamental rights,” Simpson said. “Foreign donors to Kenya and UNHCR should encourage Kenya to abandon the plan.”

 

 

The Right to Protest: Ethiopian Regime Repression

(URJII ONLINE) -

They speak of democracy, but act violently to suppress dissenting voices and control the people through the inculcation of fear: they ignore human rights and trample on the people, they are a tyrannical wolf in democratic sheep’s clothing, causing suffering and misery to thousands of people throughout Ethiopia. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government repeatedly scoffs at international law and consistently acts in violation of their own Federal constitution – a liberal document written by the regime to please and deceive their foreign supporters. They have enacted laws of repression: the widely condemned Charities and Societies (ATD) law (CSO law) and the Anti Terrorism Declaration, which is the main tool of political control, together with the ‘Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation’ they form a formidable unjust arsenal of government control. Freedom of the media (which is largely ‘state-owned’) is denied and political dissent is all but outlawed.

Against this repressive backdrop, the Semayawi (Blue) party, a new opposition group, organized peaceful protests on the 2nd June in Addis Ababa. Ten thousand or so people marched through the capital demanding the release of political prisoners, “respect for the constitution” and Justice! Justice! Justice! It was (Reuters 2/06/2013 reported), an “anti-Government procession…. the first large-scale protest since a disputed 2005 election ended in street violence that killed 200 people”, a ‘disputed election’ result that was discredited totally by European Union observers and denounced by opposition groups and large swathes of the population.

The Chairman of the Semayawi Party, Yilekal Getachew, told Reuters, “We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs”. In keeping with the recent worldwide movement for freedom and social justice, he stated that, “if these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests. It is the beginning of our struggle”. To the disappointment of many and the surprise of nobody, the government has made no attempt to ‘resolve’ the questions raised, and true to their word a second demonstration was planned for 1st September in Addis Ababa. In the event, as the BBC report, around “100 members of Ethiopia’s opposition Semayawi (Blue) party were arrested and some badly beaten”, and “equipment such as sound systems were confiscated”, ahead of the planned rally, which was banned by the EPRDF. Government justification formed, and a cock and bull story was duly constructed with Communication Minister Shimeles Kemal stating “the venue [for Semayawi’s event) had already been booked by a pro-government group condemning religious extremism”.

Non-interference in religious affairs is one of the key demands of the Semayawi party, a demand based upon the constitutional commitment of religious independence from the State, which Muslim groups claim the government has violated. Enraged by government interference in all matters religious, the Muslim community have organised regular small-scale protests and sit-ins in the capital for the last two years. In early August, Reuters 8/08/2013 reported “Demonstrators chanted "Allahu Akbar" and hoisted banners that read "respect the constitution", referring to allegations that the government has tried to influence the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council”. Around 40% of Ethiopia’s population (around 85 million) are Muslim, for generations they have lived amicably with their Orthodox Christians neighbours, who make up the majority in the country; they are moderate in their beliefs and peaceful in their ways. The EPRDF in contrast are violent, intolerant and ideologically driven; ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ being the particular tune to which the democratic dictatorship hums and drums its partisan rule.

“Name-Calling”

The government’s response to the peaceful demonstrations, has unsurprisingly been intolerant and dismissive; their comments inflammatory and predictable, stating Mail@Guardian 14/07/2013 record, "most of these demonstrators are Islamic extremists”, and showing their own ‘extreme’ tendencies, authoritively declaring that “the protesters aimed to set up an Islamic state in the country and were bankrolled and guided by "extremists" [this time] overseas”. Duplicitous nonsense, which serves to distract attention from the underlying issues being raised and the imperative (and legal requirement) for the government to act in accordance with its own constitution.

Along with such disingenuous comments the regime has responded to the protests in a repressive manner; imprisoning Muslims calling for justice, causing Amnesty International 8/08/2013 to be “extremely concerned at reports coming out of Ethiopia… of further widespread arrests of Muslim protesters”, Amnesty demand that the “on-going repressive crackdown on freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest has to end now”. Despite the fact that the protests have been peaceful and good-natured the regime has consistently described the protesters as violent terrorists, in February the ‘Holy War Movement’ was shown on State Television, it presented protestors and those arrested (including journalists), as terrorists. And in a clear violation of people’s constitutional right to protest, the regime has threatened to take firm action against further protests.

Whilst the majority of actions during the last two years have been without incident, protests in Kofele in the Oromia region on 8th August ended in “the deaths of an unconfirmed number”, there have also been reports of large numbers of people being arrested in Kofele and Addis Ababa, including two journalists. Following the Kofele deaths Amnesty called for “an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the events in Kofele, as well as into the four incidents last year which resulted in the deaths and injuries of protestors”. Legitimate demands which the regime has duly ignored.

The EPRDF does not tolerate any independent media coverage within the country and indeed does all it can to control the flow of information out of Ethiopia and restrict totally dissenting voices. And they don’t care who the journalist is working for, key allies or diaspora media; In October 2012 a reporter from the Voice of America (VOA) covering a protest in Anwar Mosque in Addis was arrested and told to erase her recorded interviews, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report. This was not the first time a VOA journalist had been detained. “They are criminalizing journalism,” said Martin Schibbye a Swedish freelance journalist who was jailed [in 2011] along with a colleague for more than 14 months in Ethiopia”, for entering the Ogaden region. A heavily militarized area where wide ranging human rights violations constituting crimes against humanity are taking place, which has been hidden from the International media and aid organisations since 2007. Fearing imprisonment, many journalists have left Ethiopia, CPJ report that in 2012, along with Eritrea, it was were Africa’s ‘top jailer’ of journalists”, coming in eighth worldwide.

Unjust Laws of Control

In July last year, hundreds of protesting Muslims peacefully demanding that the government stop interfering in their religious affairs and allow them to vote freely for representatives on the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Most were released, but 29 members of the protest committee were charged on 29th October under the universally criticized Anti Terrorist Declaration (ATD), accused of “intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause” by force, and the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of terrorist acts.” Their arrest has been slammed by human rights groups as well as the United States Commission on religious Freedom, who “are deeply concerned that Ethiopia’s government is seeking to silence peaceful religious freedom proponents by detaining and trying them in secret under trumped-up terrorism charges.  They should be released now and their trials halted”. The men claim to have been “tortured and experienced other ill-treatment in detention”.

The ambiguous ATD was introduced in 2009 and has been used by the Ethiopian government, “to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) state. It violates dues process, which like a raft of other internationally recognized and legally binding rights, is enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. The legislation cause outrage amongst human rights groups and the right minded when it was proposed. HRW (30/06/2009) said of the draft law, (which un-amended found its way onto the statute books) that it would “permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms”, – precisely the reason for it’s introduction, and it provides “the Ethiopian government with a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy”.

The unjust law allows for long-tem imprisonment and the death penalty for so called crimes that meet some EPRDF definition of terrorism, and denies in some cases a defendants right to be presumed innocent – the bedrock of the international judicial system. Torture is used without restraint by the military and police, under the ATD evidence obtained whilst a prisoner is being beaten, hanged, whipped or drowned is admissible in court, this criminal act contravenes Article 15 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (ratified by Ethiopia in 1994), which ‘requires that any statement made as a result of torture is inadmissible as evidence’. Terrorism is indeed an issue of grave concern in Ethiopia, it is not rooted in the Muslim community, the media, the Blue Party or the Universities, it is State Terrorism that stalks this land, that kills and falsely imprisons, tortures and rapes the innocent, it is the EPRDF; the rebel group that ousted a communist dictator in 1991 only to take up his tyrannical mantle, who manipulate the law to serve their repressive rule and who violates a plethora of human rights, consistently and with impunity. Ethiopia’s donors and international friends, (primarily America and Britain) have other, larger fish on their minds, and even though they give the country over a third of its federal budget they seem unconcerned by the criminality being committed, much of which is taking place under the cloak of development. Violent rule however is a storm that is imploding throughout the world, the people, who have suffered long enough, sense their collective strength and are awakening.

Need for Unity

Although completely contrary to the EPRDF’s pledge of Ethnic Federalism, divide and rule is the effective methodology of division employed by the regime. In a country with dozens of tribal groups, various ethnicities and different religious beliefs (Islam and Christianity), unity is the key to any popular social revolution, much needed and ardently longed for by millions throughout the land. We are witnessing a worldwide protest movement for change; age-old values of freedom, equality and social justice, brotherhood and peace are the clarion call of many marching and protesting. And so it is in Ethiopia, the Blue party and other opposition groups, the Muslim community and the students on the streets demanding Justice! Justice! Jusitce! are in harmony with the rhythm of the times. Out of step and blind to the needs of the people and their rightful demands, the ruling party acts with violence to drown out their voices and suppress their rights: in Addis Ababa, where thousands marched in June, in Oromia and the Ogaden, where the people seek autonomy, in Amhara, where thousands have been displaced, in Gambella and the Lower Omo Valley, where native people are being driven off their ancestral land into state created villages, women raped and men beaten.

Unity is the song of the day, rich with diversity united in intent, the collective will of the people of Ethiopia and indeed throughout the world is an unstoppable force for change. All steps need to be taken to remove the obstacle to the realization of unity throughout the country, ethnic prejudices and tribal differences; all need to be laid aside. The Ethiopian regime may succeed in subduing the movement for change that is simmering throughout the country, however with sustained unified action, peacefully undertaken and relentlessly expressed, freedom and social justice, longed for by millions throughout the country, will surely come.

Author: GRAHAM PEEBLES

Source: Counterpunch Online

The Ethiopian Land Giveaway: “Reflective of the TPLF Policy”

URJII, September 19, 2012.

By: Graham Peebles

 “What’s yours is mine; what’s mine’s my own.”

It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.

Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the ‘new rulers of the World’ large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, ‘The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers’ “80 per cent (of worldwide land) –about 2 billion hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop production” is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it’s report states “By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”

This contemporary ‘Land Grab’ has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting pressures. 1. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘Land Banking’, sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in its report ‘The Great land Grab’ found “along with hedge funds and speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%”. Land not as home, land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of commercialisation.

Chopping Trees Cutting Costs

As well we know everything and indeed everyone ‘has its price’. Even the people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report, “In Mali one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere “$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate.” According to The Guardian (21/3/2011) “The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher.”

Ethiopia: For sale

The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to wheat and rice. All let us state clearly, for export to Saudi Arabia, India, China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of Ethiopia not.

The Oakland Institute research “shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land (an area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” The government claims that the land available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense. Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by small holders, subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report ‘Waiting Here For Death’ states, “The Ethiopian federal government’s current villagization program is occurring in four regions—Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar. This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country—500,000 in Somali region, 500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in Gambella.” Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.

Level growing field

There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares) is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares (ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where 200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced to clear rail.

With the land grab crucially goes water – and the appropriation of this vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers, digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore holes. The Oakland Institute in its report ‘Land Investment in Ethiopia quotes Saudi Star stating “that water will be their biggest issue, and numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River).” There are no controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure for ‘appropriating’ water is in place. These politically favoured investors are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods. There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia, distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.

In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin, fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO of Karuturi described “the incentives available to the floriculture industry in Ethiopia as “mouthwatering,” including low air freights on the state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties,” reports Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 “20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton… “We could feed a
nation here”, says Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles – generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found “the [land] concessions are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.”

Unstable supply of staples

Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report “commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land investments” and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he ‘predicted that “large-scale farming could bring some employment, but “not much”. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity.” Intensifying food insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible for costs of Teff (used to make injera – the daily bread) quadrupling in the last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the Earth International “The result (of land sell offs) has often been … people forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural poverty and greater risk of food shortages” Food security will be realised when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report ‘Land Power Rights’ points out, “Small-scale producers, particularly women, can indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage, extension, and research.”

Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see them flourish.

Land rights, human cost, environmental damage

The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the 1960s and ‘70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article 40, 3 states “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange. And 4) “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.” And in regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5) “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article 26/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.” And paragraph 2.”Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” The declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article 28/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” Paragraph 2. “Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”

The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor countries to Ethiopia.

Land and People

People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, that states in Article 92/3. “People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly”. Hollow words to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012, he “insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their land. “Nobody came to tell us what was happening.” He goes on to say “This land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days’ walk.” Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued, “two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we only have fish to sell.” And with the company draining the wetlands, the fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the Meles regime and as The Observer states “to smooth the wheels of commerce, Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi’s former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as chief executive of Saudi Star.”

Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations are not being paid.

Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime will hand over the land free of any ‘encumbrances’ – people and property that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports “Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving.” The Government says any movement is voluntary and not enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the government’s criminality “mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.”

A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at graham@thecreatetrust.org

Source: Eurasia Review News and Analysis online – http://www.eurasiareview.com/30052012-the-ethiopian-land-giveaway-oped/

The Ethiopian Land Giveaway – OpEd

URJII, June 2nd, 2012.

 “What’s yours is mine; what’s mine’s my own.”

It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.

Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the ‘new rulers of the World’ large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, ‘The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers’ “80 per cent (of worldwide land) –about 2 billion hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop production” is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it’s report states “By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”

This contemporary ‘Land Grab’ has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting pressures. 1. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘Land Banking’, sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in its report ‘The Great land Grab’ found “along with hedge funds and speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%”. Land not as home, land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of commercialisation.

Chopping trees cutting Costs

As well we know everything and indeed everyone ‘has its price’. Even the people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report, “In Mali one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere “$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate.” According to The Guardian (21/3/2011) “The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher.”

Ethiopia. For sale

The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to wheat and rice. All let us state clearly, for export to Saudi Arabia, India, China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of Ethiopia not.

The Oakland Institute research “shows that at least 3,619,509ha of land (an area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” The government claims that the land available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense. Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by smallholders subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report ‘Waiting Here For Death’ states, “The Ethiopian federal government’s current villagization program is occurring in four regions—Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar. This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country—500,000 in Somali region, 500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in Gambella.” Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.

Level growing field

There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares) is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares (ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where 200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced to clear rail.

With the land grab crucially goes water – and the appropriation of this vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers, digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore holes. The Oakland Institute in its report ‘Land Investment in Ethiopia quotes Saudi Star stating “that water will be their biggest issue, and numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River).” There are no controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure for ‘appropriating’ water is in place. These politically favoured investors are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods. There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia, distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.

In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin, fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO of Karuturi described “the incentives available to the floriculture industry in Ethiopia as “mouthwatering,” including low air freights on the state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties,” reports Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 “20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton… “We could feed a nation here”, says Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles – generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found “the [land] concessions are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.”

Unstable supply of staples

Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report “commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land investments” and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he ‘predicted that “large-scale farming could bring some employment, but “not much”. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity.” Intensifying food insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible for costs of Teff (used to make injera – the daily bread) quadrupling in the last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the Earth International “The result (of land sell offs) has often been … people forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural poverty and greater risk of food shortages” Food security will be realised when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report ‘Land Power Rights’ points out, “Small-scale producers, particularly women, can indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage, extension, and research.”

Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see them flourish.

Land rights, human cost, environmental damage

The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the 1960s and ‘70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article 40, 3 states “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange. And 4) “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.” And in regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5) “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article 26/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.” And paragraph 2.”Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” The declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article 28/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” Paragraph 2. “Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”

The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor countries to Ethiopia.

Land and People

People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, that states in Article 92/3. “People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly”. Hollow words to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012, he “insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their land. “Nobody came to tell us what was happening.” He goes on to say “This land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days’ walk.” Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued, “two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we only have fish to sell.” And with the company draining the wetlands, the fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the Meles regime and as The Observer states “to smooth the wheels of commerce, Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi’s former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as chief executive of Saudi Star.”

Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations are not being paid.

Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime will hand over the land free of any ‘encumbrances’ – people and property that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports “Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving.” The Government says any movement is voluntary and not enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the government’s criminality “mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.”

A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.

Article: By Graham Peebles

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at graham@thecreatetrust.org

Source: Eurasia Review News and Analysis online – http://www.eurasiareview.com/30052012-the-ethiopian-land-giveaway-oped/

Trapped in a Soured Relationship

URJII, March 09, 2012.

Four days before Christmas last year Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were sentenced to 11 years in prison in Ethiopia, charged with entering the country illegally and supporting terrorism. I do not grasp the full impact of oil prospecting in Ogaden, or the controversial link between Lundin Petrolium (the company the journalists were investigating) and Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister. Likewise, I am unable to judge the legitimacy of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, with which the journalists were in contact, in breach of Ethiopian law.

Yet, as a daughter of both countries, who is generally suspicious of oil multinationals and silencing people by law, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the drama that has unfolded since Persson and Schibbye’s arrest in July last year. It is a drama that resonates with certain aspects of being a Swede of Ethiopian origin, in the same way that the case of Eritrean-Swedish journalist and writer Dawit Isaak does.

Incarcerated since 2001 in Eritrea, which became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, Isaak, like Persson and Schibbye, was drawing attention to sensitive issues. The difference is that Persson and Schibbye have had their charges tried in court, but Isaak has yet to appear before one. Among the first to be adopted from Ethiopia to Sweden in the 1970s, I am linked to a relationship that dates back more than a century. In the 1860s Swedish missionaries first settled in Ethiopia and in 1954 it became the first country to receive Swedish development aid. When the two nations celebrated 50 years of “partnership” against poverty in 2004, the relationship between the countries was still one of unilateral aid and modest bilateral trade.

Replacing the word “aid” with “partnership” reflects an admirable effort and approach to humanitarian aid, but it also distorts reality. The rapport between Ethiopia and Sweden was never mutually beneficial and the “partnership” is dysfunctional in the way any relationship in which one party gives and the other receives is dysfunctional. It is inevitably tainted by a dose of donor arrogance and passivity on the part of a disempowered receiver. It is also dented by the stubbornness of a receiving country that emphasises its autonomy to avoid drowning in a sea of gratitude and by the anxiety of a giving nation known as one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. Theirs is a complicated friendship that threatens the self-image of an African country that was never colonised and a European nation with a colonising past so far back in time that it does not view itself as a former coloniser.

My being adopted to Sweden, with my twin brother, was a manifestation of the interest in and solidarity with the outside world that partly, but not completely, characterised Sweden during the 1970s. Over the years we became a family of seven: apart from my brother and me, our Swedish parents, two sisters from Guatemala and an older brother from the Philippines (he has since moved back). This was before anyone talked about “rainbow” nations or families and long before Angelina and Brad made such constellations fashionable.

Many of us were offered far better lives than we would have had in our countries of origin, but the problematic aspect of international adoption cannot be ignored. To some extent it can be viewed as a reproduction of the worst crime of colonialism — appropriating the colonised nation’s potential for growth. This was done through natural resources during the days of colonialism and children in the post-colonial era. What internationally adopted Swedes also have to deal with is that our very existence in Sweden is proof of the failure of our own countries — countries that inevitably are a part of us.

My relationship with Ethiopia has always been clouded by shame about a country that seemed incapable of getting its act together. It was a shame rooted in the general Swedish perception of Ethiopia as a basket case. Throughout my life I have been reminded of this perception by concerned, friendly people, by large images of suffering Ethiopians in the subway every Christmas and by not-so-well-meaning fellow Swedes sharing racist jokes about starvation and Africa. Similarly, my bond to my adoptive country has always been rather fragile: my belonging is constantly being questioned and I am constantly reminded of a debt of gratitude I seem to owe to so many people.

I have lost count of how many sweet old ladies asked me to assess exactly how happy I am to have been saved and more than once I have been blamed for the failure of my country of birth by other guests at dinner parties who “frankly have given up hope on Africa”. Others projected their low expectations of Ethiopia and Africa on to me and rejoiced in the slightest progress, such as my speaking Swedish — my first language — fluently and having Swedish friends. This persistent and widespread paternalistic attitude towards Ethiopia and the rest of Africa has had a negative impact on my ability to identify myself fully as a Swede among others. It is an attitude not just shown by ordinary people, but also by the current foreign minister, who refers to the minister for development co-operation as “the minister for Africa”.

I have since reconnected with Ethiopia through friends and several visits to the country. One of the phrases I know in Amharic is “I don’t speak Amharic” — useful in a country where almost everyone looks as if they could be my brother or sister. To witness what I knew intellectually but failed to realise emotionally, that I come from a place where people laugh, cars drive in the streets, and high-rise buildings reach to the sky, has been a healing experience. Ethiopia is a country of which I am immensely proud, but one that also makes me sad and disillusioned.

Terrible events sometimes lead to positive outcomes, even if they may not be worth the sacrifices of those directly concerned. In the case of Persson and Schibbye, their incarceration will hopefully bring some attention to Ethiopians in the same situation. What is more, the increasing number of Swedes calling for easy solutions, such as cutting aid to Ethiopia immediately, might encourage Ethiopia and Sweden to revisit and redefine their relationship. It has changed during the course of the years as both countries have made new friends, identified new enemies and changed their priorities. I am not suggesting that Persson and Schibbye’s prison sentence is a direct consequence of Ethiopia and Sweden’s failure to address the changed expectations of their complicated relationship.

I do, however, view their imprisonment as an almost perfect metaphor for the arrested, or at least severely delayed, development of the two countries’ deadlocked relationship and Ethiopia’s transformation into a democratic, freer and more equal society. I hope that 2012 will be the year when Ethiopia, Sweden and I will learn to embrace ambiguity while facing the world with open eyes and minds, hoping to find new and creative ways to tackle 150-year-old issues. And, hopefully, Persson and Schibbye, who have decided to seek pardon instead of appealing their sentence, as well as Isaak, from whom no one has heard in years, will be reunited with their families.

 Article: By KATARINA HEDRéN

Source: Mail & Guardian Online

Web Address: http://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-09-trapped-in-a-soured-relationship

OROMIA: A NATIONAL CRISIS, OPEN DIALOGUE, AND BUILDING NATIONAL CONSENSUS

Urjii 20, Dec 2011

Dr.  Asafa Jalata

By Asafa Jalata | December 18, 2011           

 We have reached at the dead end in our national struggle. The Oromo national movement has lost its steam and direction as its leadership and ideology have faced deep crises. The leadership of the Oromo national movement, specifically the OLF, could not effectively lead an Oromo revolution due to some external and internal factors. The external factors have included regional, domestic and international forces (i.e. Ethiopian, regional and global forces) that are determined to destroy the Oromo struggle. The internal factors have included the lack of substantial coherent revolutionary Oromo elites, the explosion of opportunist and mercenary Oromos, the failure to transform Oromo awareness to Oromummaa (Oromo nationalism), the lack of ideological clarity, and the political ignorance, passivism, and the fatalism of the populace. These internal problems were mainly caused by the policies of the successive Habasha governments that have conspired against the Oromo people by destroying their independent leadership and institutions and by denying an education to the Oromo majority. This piece focuses on the problems of the human agency the Oromo elites and society, and proposes some urgent practical solutions.

The Oromo Elites: Recognizing Shortcomings and overcoming them

The division of the OLF into three wings due to political ineptness and immaturity, the lack of understanding of the complexity of the Oromo nation and its politics, false competition for political power, low level of nationalist consciousness, and the use of the cheap politics of clan and region have created deeper crises and confusions among the Diaspora Oromo. Furthermore, the inability of one of these branches to develop itself as a formidable liberation front has complicated the crisis of the Oromo national movement. In addition, the three branches of the OLF have failed to learn from their past mistakes and to reconcile in order to unify and rebuild the Oromo national movement. Unfortunately, other Oromo independent organizations have also drastically failed to carry out their political missions and objectives. All these conditions have given an ample opportunity for the external and the internal enemies of the Oromo nation to attack clandestinely and openly the Oromo movement in order to reduce its effectiveness or to destroy it totally. What are our national responsibilities for those of us who have understood these chains of problems and dangers for our struggle and our nation? To solve our internal problems and to mobilize and organize our people in the Diaspora in this age of apathy and confusion are going to be an upward battle.

The Oromo elites whether they are in leadership or not lack ideological coherence, political maturity, and skills for national consensus building. They focus on their narrow perceptions and agendas. Hence they jump to form political organizations that promote such perceptions and agendas at the cost of the national interest. Those in leadership position are determined to maintain their dead-end politics and status quo without effective contributions. There are also some Oromo elites who have commitment to serve the enemies of the Oromo people. In the 1970s, some Oromo elites joined Ethiopian and Somali organizations while a few created the OLF. Furthermore, the lack of ideological and political maturity led to the division of the OLF in the 1970s, and recently, in the 2001 and 2008. Without creating the Oromo national power, the Oromo elites fight on non-existence power. Some Oromo elites have also formed several nominal liberation fronts and other political organizations without engaging in armed and real political struggles. Overall, the Oromo elites did not yet establish a political and cultural mechanism that helps in resolving their contradictions. Consequently, they have failed to understand that they are on one team that must work together to organize the Oromo nation for its self-defense and liberation.

It is impossible to build an effective institutional order or organization without integrating formal and informal rules of the society. As a result of the lack of bureaucratic codes and procedures in Oromo tradition, Oromo political leaders and the Oromo community at-large have had no immediately-available, culturally-consistent models to draw upon when confronted with the need for establishing the bureaucratic structures that are an essential part of the overall liberation struggle. As a result, the Oromo elites have reacted in a number of different and contradictory ways. This lack of coherence in the leadership in turn has created conditions in which suspicion has flourished creating conditions that have prevented open and honest dialogue among leaders and between leaders and followers. In the absence of a coherent organizational milieu, rumor, gossip, and impression management have replaced a critical and open dialogue within the movement. Like any movement, the Oromo national movement must develop a collective identity that results in collective action. Oromo nationalists cannot develop an Oromummaa that facilitates collective action without critical discussion and open dialogue.

The role of the leader is very important in building a leadership core through persuasion, analytical capacity, capacity to communicate, and capacity to listen and learn. The leader is responsible for the creation of formal and informal networks that allow for the development of an effective leading political team by bringing together layers of people who share strategic ideas to win over others. Recently, the Oromo movement has tried to create an exclusivist leadership that does not fit Oromo-centric democratic values. While the Oromo love their heroes and heroines and admire them, they expect open dialogue and interaction consistent with their democratic political tradition. The Oromo also reject the leadership style of the Habasha. The Oromo dislike exclusivist leaders who equate their personal interests with the interests of the organization they lead and separate themselves from the rank and file members. Practically speaking, the Oromo political leadership is neither coherent nor exclusivist, although there has been an attempt by a few leaders to develop an exclusivist leadership modeled on the Habasha political culture. However, there is no question that the leadership of the Oromo national movement manifests some exclusivist characters. Just as the Oromo nationalist leadership lacks political coherence, some Oromos lack organizational discipline and engage in political anarchism or passivism. Without challenging anarchism and passivism among the Oromo populace and the exclusivist political tendency of the leadership, the Oromo nationalist movement cannot search for combinations of forms of organization and leadership, which are practically compatible with larger struggles for popular self-emancipation. Oromo nationalists need to speak up and struggle to develop leadership for self-emancipation through facilitating the integration of “leading” and “led” selves of the Oromo political leadership. While struggling to build a democratic and coherent political leadership, Oromo nationalists must fight against political anarchism, passivism, and anti-leadership sentiment that emerge in some Oromo sectors. Anarchist and anti-leadership Oromo elites discourage the emergence of strong leadership by engaging in endless debate on secondary issues—such as clan, religious, and regional identity—and by making personal attacks on prominent Oromo leaders and organizations as a means of avoiding substantive debate. While demanding accountability from their leadership, the Oromo must fight publicly against an anti-leadership ideology. The Oromo need to acknowledge, value, encourage, and support an emerging democratic Oromo political leadership since strengthening the leadership of the Oromo movement is essential in the struggle to defeat dangerous enemies. Since an amorphous and less structured leadership is functionally ineffective, the Oromo national struggle must have a more structured leadership that can provide the organizational capacity necessary to eventually take state power and establish a functioning democracy consistent with the principles of Oromummaa.

Oromo nationalists cannot build a more structured leadership without clearly understanding the processes of leadership and followership. Just as Oromo leaders do not adequately understand the essence and characteristics of their followers, the followers lack information about their leaders and leadership. While Oromo political leaders like to lecture their followers and sympathizers, they are less interested in establishing formal and informal relationships with their followers and sympathizers in order to engage them in dialogical conversation. Because they care little about the opinions and experiences of their followers, they fail to ask for the input from their followers. Leadership is a processing of influencing followers and others by changing their perceptions through closely relating and communicating with them. Similarly, much of the Oromo populace has yet to develop constructive mechanisms by which they can influence their political leaders and hold them accountable. As a result, sometimes they engage in personal attacks and debates on peripheral issues blunting the impact of their personal political efforts and delaying the development of an effective political leadership. It is difficult to identify the weaknesses of the leadership without identifying those of the followership. I recognize that the role played by the Oromo national political leadership is dangerous, complex, and difficult. This leadership has been politically, ideologically, and militarily attacked both internally and externally.

To date the movement has been able to survive by developing shared meaning, purpose, language, and symbols. But as the complexity of the Oromo movement increases and as the number of Oromo nationalists expands, the leadership will not be able to improve its organizational capacity without simultaneously developing a degree of internal cohesion, leadership expertise, and widespread support through the establishment of effective coalitions within and beyond the Oromo nationalist movement. Without (1) changing the past habits, ideologies and approaches, (2) building internal cohesion by developing Oromummaa on the individual, relational and collective levels, and (3) fully mobilizing Oromo human and economic resources, the current Oromo political leadership will continue to face more crises and may eventually become a political liability. The Oromo national political leadership must be challenged to abandon its reliance on a narrow political circle and borrowed political ideologies and practices. In addition, it must be encouraged to embrace Oromo-centric democratic values, using them to develop different forms of organizational leadership in Oromo society thus making the dynamic connection between the values of Oromo society and its organizational structure. The Oromo leadership should be pressured to speak with the Oromo people and listen as well, allowing the Oromo community at-large to engage in the process of self-emancipation by participating in and owning their national movement. More than any time in its history, the Oromo national struggle now requires a more centralized structured organization and matured national leadership that can learn about the Oromo people in order to organize and lead them to take any necessary actions for national survival and liberation. The maturation of the Oromo national leadership will be recognized by many factors; one of these factors is to know the defining characteristics of Oromo society.

The Main Characteristics of Oromo Society

After the Oromo were colonized and until Oromo nationalism emerged, Oromoness (Oromumma – Oromo identity and culture) primarily remained on the personal and the interpersonal levels since the Oromo were denied the opportunities to form national institutions. Oromoness was targeted for destruction and colonial administrative regions that were established to suppress the Oromo people and exploit their resources were glorified and institutionalized. As a result, Oromo relational identities have been localized, and not strongly connected to the collective identity of national Oromummaa. The Oromo have been separated from one another and prevented from exchanging goods and information on national level for more than a century. Their identities have been localized into clan families and colonial regions. They were also exposed to different cultures (i.e., languages, customs, values, etc.) and religions and adopted some elements of these cultures and religions. Consequently, today there are members of Oromo society and elites who have internalized clan and externally imposed regional or religious identities because of their low level of political consciousness or political opportunism and the lack of clear understanding of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism. What makes these problems complex is that some Oromos who claim that they are nationalists confuse their sub-identities with the Oromo national identity. Oromo relational identities include extended families and clan families. Historically and culturally speaking, Oromo clans and clan families never had clear geopolitical boundaries among themselves. Consequently, there are clans in Oromo society that have the same name in southern, central, northern, western and eastern Oromia. For example, there are Jarso, Gida, Karayu, Galan, Nole and Jiru clans all over Oromia. The Ethiopian colonial system and borrowed cultural and religious identities were imposed on the Oromo creating regional and religious boundaries. Consequently, there were times when Christian Oromos were more identified with Habashas (Amhara-Tigray) and Muslim Oromos were more identified with Arabs, Adares, and Somalis than they were with other Oromos. Under these conditions, Oromo personal identities, such as religion replaced Oromoness, central Oromo values, and core Oromo self-schemas. There are Oromos who still confuse such identities with the Oromo central identity.

Colonial rulers saw Oromoness as a source of raw material that was ready to be transformed into other identities. In the colonial process, millions of Oromos lost their identities and assimilated to other peoples. Consequently, the number of Amharas, Tigrayans, Adares, Gurages, and Somalis has increased at the cost of the Oromo population. The Oromo self was attacked and distorted by Ethiopian colonial institutions. The attack on Oromo selves at personal, interpersonal and collective-levels has undermined the self-confidence of some Oromo individuals by creating an inferiority complex within them. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals from this inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that their enemies imposed on them, they cannot have the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. Because of internal cultural crises and external oppressive institutions, Oromo collective norms or organizational culture is at rudimentary level at this historical moment. So some comrades in an Oromo organization do not see themselves as members of a team, and they engage in undermining members in their team through gossips and rumors. For sake of self- promotion, they belittle their comrades in his or her absence. Such individuals do not have strong organizational culture or norm. Such individuals cannot develop a core of Oromo leadership that is required in building a strong liberation organization.

Today, the Oromo are diverse and heterogeneous people, and it is impossible to organize them for liberation without understanding these complexities. Some Oromo elites do not understand these issues. Collective identities are not automatically given, but they are essential outcomes of the mobilization process and crucial prerequisite to movement success. Oromo nationalists can only reach a common understanding of Oromoness through open, critical, honest dialogue and debate. Fears, suspicions, misunderstandings and hopes or aspirations of Oromo individuals or groups should be discussed through invoking Oromo cultural memory and democratic principles. Through such discussion a single standard that respects the dignity and inalienable human rights of all persons with respect to political, social, and economic interaction should be established for all Oromos and their neighbors who support the rights to national self- determination. Oromo personal and social identities can be fully released and mobilized for collective actions if reasonable Oromos recognize that they can freely start to shape their future aspirations or possibilities without discrimination. This is only possible through developing an Oromo identity on personal and collective levels that is broader and more inclusive than gender, class, clan, family, region, and religion.

While recognizing the unity of Oromo peoplehood, it is important to recognize the existence of diversity in Oromo society. The lack of open dialogue among Oromo nationalists, political leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens on the issue of religious differences and/or the problems of colonial regional identities have provided opportunities for those who profit from the continued subjugation of the Oromo people to employ a divide and conquer strategy by exploiting religious and regional differences among the Oromo people. Since Turks, Arabs, Habashas, and Europeans imposed both Islam and Christianity on the Oromo in order to psychologically control and dominate them, Oromo nationalists must encourage an open dialogue among adherents of an indigenous Oromo religion, Islam and Christianity and reach a common understanding of what it means to be an Oromo and the positive role religion can play in Oromo society. Also, issues of clans and colonial regional identities must be addressed openly and honestly. Since these issues are not openly addressed, reactionary forces and opportunist Oromo individuals and groups turn Oromo on one another to use them. Basing our understanding of these Oromo issues on Oromummaa eliminates differences that may emerge because of religious plurality and regional differences.

The Ethiopian colonial regions do not correspond to Oromo group or regional identities. As a result, the political diversity of Oromo society can and should transcend regional identities based on the boundaries of colonial regions. The Oromo political problems have emerged primarily from low level of political consciousness, attitudes, behavior, and perceptions that have been shaped by a culture that valued domination and exploitation and have seen diversity and equality as threats to the colonial institutions most Oromos passed through. These problems still play a significant role in undermining the development of Oromummaa and the organizational capacity of the Oromo national movement. The behavior and political practices of most Oromos and elites and leaders of Oromo institutions in the Diaspora—like churches and mosques, associations, and political and community organizations—demonstrate that the impact of the ideology of domination and control that was impacted by Ethiopian colonial institutions and organizations is far-reaching. Despite the fact that the Oromo are proud of their democratic tradition, their behavior and practices in politics, religion, and community affairs indicate that they have learned more from Habashas and Oromo chiefs than from the gadaa system of democracy.

While the social and cultural construction of the Oromo collective identity is ongoing process, this process cannot be completed without the recognition that Oromo society is composed of a set of diverse and heterogeneous individuals and groups with a wide variety of cultural and economic experiences. Hence, Oromo nationalists need to recognize and value the diversity and unity of the Oromo people because “people who participate in collective action do so only when such action resonates with both an individual and a collective identity that makes such action meaningful.” Today, those Oromo political leaders who are fragmenting the OLF into three branches and those who are claiming to have nominal political organizations cannot adequately understand the crisis and danger that the Oromo national movement is facing.

In every society, personal and social identities are flexible, and are not rigid and monolithic. Similarly, Oromo self-identity exists at the personal, interpersonal, and collective levels with this confederation of identity being continuously shaped by Oromo historical and cultural memory, current conditions, and hopes and aspirations for the future. The Oromo social selves emerge from the interplay between intimate personal relations and less personal relations. The former comprise the interpersonal or relational identity and the latter are a collective identity. The relational-level identity is based on perceptions or views of others about an individual. Thus, individual Oromos have knowledge of themselves from their personal viewpoints as well as knowledge from the perspective of significant others and larger social groups. The concept of individual self emerges from complex conditions that reflect past and present experiences and future possibilities. The self-concept allows individuals to have “the capacity to reinstate a past situation and locate themselves in it; they also have the capacity to project the self into future contexts, anticipating possible actions and their consequences for the self.” Some Oromos are more familiar with their personal and relational selves than they are with their Oromo collective self, because their level of Oromummaa is rudimentary.

Oromo individuals have intimate relations with their family members, friends, and local communities. These interpersonal and close relations foster helping, nurturing, and caring relationships. Without developing these micro-relationships into the macro-relationship of Oromummaa, the building of Oromo national organizational capacity is illusive. Organizing the Oromo requires learning about the multiplicity and flexibility of Oromo identities and fashioning from them a collective identity that encompasses the vast majority of the Oromo populace. This process can be facilitated by an Oromo political leadership that is willing to develop an understanding of the breadth of the diversity of Oromo society looking for those personal and relational identities that can be used to construct an Oromo collective identity, expanding Oromummaa. Change starts with individuals who are both leaders and followers. Culture, collective grievances, and visions connect leaders and followers in oppressed society like the Oromo. Consequently, to be effective the Oromo political leadership must be guided by Oromo-centric cardinal values and principles that reflect honesty, fairness, single standard, equality and democracy in developing Oromummaa. As one source notes, “a critical task for leaders may be to construct group identities for followers that are both appealing and consistent with a leader’s goals. Indeed, this is a critical aspect of political leadership. Effective political leaders do not simply take context and identity as given, but actively construct both in a way that reconfigures the social world.”   The political leadership of Oromo society needs to understand the concept and essence of the changing selves of the Oromo. These self- concepts include cognitive, psychological and behavioral activities of Oromo individuals. Collective grievances, the Oromo language and history, the historical memory of the gadaa system and other forms of Oromo culture, and the hope for liberation have helped in maintaining fragmented connections among various Oromo groups. The emergence of Oromo nationalism from underground to public discourse in the 1990s allowed some Oromos to openly declare their Oromummaa without clearly realizing the connection between the personal and interpersonal selves and the Oromo collectivity. This articulation occurred without strong national institutions and organizational capacity that can cultivate and develop Oromummaa through transcending the political and religious barriers that undermine the collective identity of the Oromo. Oromo nationalists cannot build effective national institutions and organizations without taking Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective-level Oromo selves to a new level. Oromo collective selves develop through relations with one another.

Good interpersonal relations and good treatment of one another create sense of security, confidence, sense of belonging, strong and effective bonds, willingness to admit and deal with mistakes and increase commitment to political objectives and organizations. The individuality of an Oromo can be observed and examined in relation to the concept of self which is linked to psychological processes and outcomes, such as motivation, affection, self-management, information processing, interpersonal relations, commitment, dignity and self- respect, self-preservation and so forth. The Oromo self-concept as an extensive knowledge structure contains all pieces of information on self that an individual Oromo internalizes in his or her value systems. Every Oromo has a self-schema or a cognitive schema that organizes both perceptional and behavioral information. An individual’s self-schema can be easily captured by accessible knowledge that comes to mind quickly to evaluate information on any issue. The Oromo self is the central point at which personality, cognitive schema and social psychology meet. The Oromo self consists both personal or individual and social identities, and the former is based on an individual’s comparison of oneself to other individuals and reveals one’s own uniqueness and the latter are based on self-definition in relation to others or through group membership.

Without recognizing and confronting these issues at all levels, the Oromo movement cannot build its organizational capacity. The social experiment of exploring and understanding our internal selves at individual, relational and collective selves must start with the Oromo elites who aspire to organize and lead the Oromo people. Since the ideological and organizational tools that Oromo elites have borrowed from other cultures have reached their maximum limit of capacities and cannot move the Oromo movement forward in the quest for achieving self- determination and human liberation, Oromo nationalists must reorganize and practice their approaches based on Oromummaa and the gadaa democratic heritage. The Oromo elites have passed through schools that were designed to domesticate or “civilize” them and to mold them into intermediaries between the Oromo people and those who dominated and exploited them. They have been disconnected from their history, culture, language, and worldviews, and have been trained by foreign educational and religious institutions that glorified the culture, history, language and religion of others. Consequently, some Oromo elites do not adequately understand Oromo history, culture and worldview. Today, some of such individuals have emerged as agents of the Tigrayan elites by joining the OPDO and are terrorizing the Oromo people.

Although the Oromo movement has achieved many important accomplishments, the organizational and ideological tools that it has used did not provide an effective basis for organizing the Oromo people and enabling them to defend themselves from their enemies. At present, the Oromo human and material resources are scattered and used by the enemies of the Oromo nation. Without a structured organization and national leadership, the Oromo people cannot take effective political actions that involve national self-defense and a popular and wide rebellion through the total mobilization of the nation. For many generations, young Oromos have been forced to fight as mercenaries and defended the interest of the Ethiopian state elites that have repressed and exploited their society. Even the Siad Barre government of Somalia used Oromo fighters as mercenaries. The Habasha elites and their Oromo collaborators claim that the Oromo fighters have built Ethiopia, and hence they are Ethiopians like Amharas and Tigrayans. To be forced to fight for their colonizers cannot make a people to share identity and to own a country with their colonizers. Therefore, fighting for the Ethiopian state could not make Oromo fighters equal citizens with their colonizers; the Ethiopian state they have fought for has maintained their second-class citizenship status through violence. Therefore, the Oromo elites and society must stop the utilization of the Oromo youth as raw materials by the Ethiopian state elites or others. The Oromo national movement by learning from the gadaa system must be able to mobilize and organize the Oromo youth to fight for the liberation of their nation and their fatherland, Oromia. In addition to the major problems that I have discussed above, the Oromo national movement has some constraints that it must overcome and some opportunities that it must capture to be successful.

The Major Opportunities and Constraints for the Oromo Struggle

The Oromo national movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s by a few determined nationalists reached the Oromo populace in the early 1990s. It took almost three decades and heavy sacrifices in the lives and sufferings of these few nationalists to resurrect the Oromo name, language, nationhood, and the name of Oromia from the dustbin of history. In this process, Oromummma—Oromo national identity, culture, and nationalism—has been resurrected. Currently, the external and internal enemies of the Oromo people use the resurrected names and the Oromo language while attacking and suppressing the Oromo nationalists and self-respecting Oromos. Since they could not stop the rising wave of Oromummaa, the Tigrayan colonial elites have used Oromo mercenaries to gradually destroy it.

Ethiopian colonialism had disconnected the Oromo nation from the international community for more than a century. However, with the resurrection of the Oromo national identity, culture, and nationalism, the Oromo people have started to be represented in the world by its political refugees. For the first time in Oromo history, the Oromo people started to have its Diaspora that has a great potential to link Oromia to the global community. The imposition of Ethiopian state terrorism on the Oromo to suppress Oromo nationalism created and expanded the Oromo Diaspora in the world. In this process, a few serious Oromo intellectuals emerged on the global level and dug the graveyards of history to uncover Oromo history and culture and to publish books and journals that are stored in world libraries. Furthermore, in Oromia, millions of the qubee generation (Oromo youth educated in the Oromo language) emerged as demonstrated by the recent Oromo student movement. The national projects that were designed by the Oromo national movement have produced fundamental results that have become the cornerstones of the Oromo national struggle. These achievements are great political opportunities for the Oromo nation.

Unfortunately, since the Oromo national struggle did not yet achieve its main objectives, the enemies of the Oromo people have created political constraints to abort the struggle. There are millions of Oromos who have betrayed their nation to satisfy their economic interests. By creating and building the OPDO and recruiting such Oromos to this subservient organization, the Meles regime uses them to attack the OLF and other organizations and to suppress and control the Oromo people. The regime has also mobilized several ethnonations against the Oromo people and their movement. There are also anti-Oromo forces such as Amhara colonial organizations and others who use any opportunity to undermine the interest of the Oromo nation. The constraints of the Oromo struggle are not limited to these problems. The Oromo national movement did not yet secure adequate sympathy and support for the Oromo cause from the international community.

It is very clear that the Tigrayan-led government with the support of global powers and its agents terrorize and rule the Oromo not because of their strengths but because of the weaknesses of the Oromo movement, political leadership, and Oromo society. If some elements of Oromo society are well organized under one structured organization and leadership, they can rebel and dismantle the Meles regime within a short period. The Tigrayan soldiers, cadres, and their agents can be easily dismantled in Oromia if substantial numbers of Oromos engage in self-defense and coordinated uprising. If the Oromo people intensify their struggle, the international community will recognize the political problem of the Oromo nation. The Oromo people will achieve their national self-determination by intensifying their national struggle by any means necessary and by receiving international recognition.

The crisis of the Ethiopian Empire that started in the early 1970s still continues. The popular uprisings of ethnonations, classes, and social groups have challenged the collapsing Ethiopian state for several decades and introduced some changes. These uprisings have resulted in the overthrowing of the Haile Selassie and Mengistu regimes and caused the emergence of the Meles government and Tigrayan ethnocracy. But these changes have failed to change the nature of Ethiopian colonialism. Ethiopia is still ruled by an authoritarian-terrorist government that practices colonial terrorism and clandestine genocide on the colonized peoples such as the Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Annuak and others. The Tigrayan-led regime that emerged in 1991 has intensified the crisis of the Ethiopian state and created the conditions that will give a death-below for this state. We know that the Oromo nation lost its political opportunities in the 1970s and the 1990s and remained politically insignificant force.

Learning from the past experiences of the Ethiopian state, we can understand that the Meles regime has already dug its own grave. This regime is already rotten from inside, and it only survives because of the weaknesses of different political forces in the empire and financial and diplomatic support it receive form powerful countries. What will happen if the Meles regime collapses? Are the Oromo liberation fronts and political organizations ready to use this political opportunity? Oromo nationalists, liberation fronts, political organizations, community organizations and associations should start a serious national political dialogue to overcome their political naiveté and immaturity in order to build a national political consensus that will enable them to capture state power in Oromia by any means necessary and to build multinational democracy with other nations that accept the principles of self-determination and democracy. While preparing themselves to use any available political opportunity, the Oromo national movement and society must start to fashion a national Gumii Gayyo to produce a designed political results. These designed political results can be produced through determination, hard work, sacrifice, and a collective effort of all Oromo liberation fronts, political organizations, and associations.

Immediate Political Tasks for Genuine Oromo Nationalists

History demonstrates that the determined people can liberate themselves. The Oromo elites in general and that of the Diaspora in particular must start to determine the destiny of their nation by taking the following concrete steps immediately. First, in the Diaspora, they must initiate town hall meetings in every town where the Oromo community lives and discuss about the fate of the Oromo people by focusing on their achievements, failures, challenges, opportunities, and constraints as a nation. This is not possible in Oromia because the Oromo people are denied the freedom of self-expression, organization, and the media. Second, the Oromo in the Diaspora must stop the politics of self-destruction by avoiding engaging in clan, religious, and regional politics, and by isolating the Oromo mercenaries from every Oromo community. Since the Oromo mercenaries use clan, religious, and regional politics to divide the Oromo people and turn them against one another, the Oromo community must reject them and their politics. The Oromo community must ostracize them by not relating to them and by refusing to participate in their social events such as death and marriage. Every Oromo community must identify, expose, and expel the Oromo mercenaries from their networks, churches, mosques, associations, and other social worlds.

Third, the Oromo Diaspora must challenge the Oromo activists who have built their separate organizations in order to break down barriers among different Oromo organizations and unite them under one structured organization and leadership. Fourth, Oromo youth and women should be mobilized in order to actively participate in national dialogues and town hall meetings; they must play a leading role since they are less corrupted by the ideologies of egoism, clan, religious and regional politics. Fifth, Oromo nationalists must establish the rule of law fashioning on the principles of gadaa and other democratic traditions to use it in running their national affairs. Sixth, since unconscious people cannot liberate themselves from colonial domination, the Oromo Diaspora should receive liberation knowledge through regular dialogues, seminars, conferences, workshops, lectures, and study circles. The Oromo must learn their history, culture, language, and traditions; they also need to learn about the world around them. At this historical moment, the number one enemy of the Oromo people is political ignorance; Oromo nationalists must smash this enemy.

When this is accomplished, the Oromo people are going to play their historical roles that will commensurate with their number. When this sleeping giant nation will be awakened, others cannot use the Oromo as raw materials. One of the main reasons why the forty million Oromos are terrorized and ruled by the elites that emerged from about four million Tigrayans is the low level political consciousness. Low level of political consciousness results in passivism and fatalism. Seventh, every self-respecting Oromo must realize that he or she has power to determine the destiny of Oromia. Every Oromo must be educated about his or her potential power and what he or she must do to translate it to real power. Eighth, the Oromo Diaspora movement must start building from bottom-up a confederation of Oromo political, religious, community, and self-help organizations to create a Global Gumii Gayyo of Oromia that will contribute ideological, organizational, and financial resources for consolidating the Oromo struggle and the Oromo Liberation Army and self-defense militias in Oromia.

Ninth, most members of the Oromo Diaspora must engage in public diplomacy by introducing the Oromo and their plight to the international community. Tenth, Oromo nationalists in the Diaspora must start to build a well-regulated system that can provide support and security for Oromo’s who are determined to advance the Oromo national interest whenever they face hardship beyond their control. Finally, the Oromo must believe that they will liberate themselves by any means necessary. There is no any doubt that, despite hardships and sacrifices, the Oromo “social volcano” that is being fermented will soon burn down Ethiopian colonial structures that perpetuate terrorism, genocide, diseases, absolute poverty, and malnutrition in Oromia and beyonders.

Asafa Jalata  (ajalata@utk.edu) is a Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.He has published and edited eight books and authored sixty refereed articles in regional and international journals and several book chapters.

Ethiopian man burns himself to death in protest

URJII, November 20, 2011.

Events in Ethiopia have taken a disturbing turn following reports that a teacher in his late 20s burnt himself alive last week in protest against the ongoing brutal clampdown on dissent in the country. According to reports Yenesew Gebre made an impassioned plea at a protest gathering before dowsing himself in petrol and setting himself on fire. Addressing fellow protestors he is reported to have said:  ’I want to show to all that death is preferable than a life without justice and liberty and I call upon my fellow compatriots to fear nothing and rise up to wrench their freedom and rights from the hands of the local and national tyrants.’

It is understood that Gebre died from his injuries three days later at the Tercha city local hospital. Ethiopia’s terrorism charges against journalists critical of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government are becoming vague and ludicrous. The authorities have failed to provide any hard evidence and should drop these charges immediately.
Tom Rhodes, Committee to Protect Journalists

Renewed crackdown
According to sources who spoke to the satellite TV station, ESAT, Yenesew had been campaigning against injustice at the hands of ruling party officials. It also appears that he had been fired from his teaching position because of his political views. The event happened at a public meetng on November 11, aimed at resolving a series of local protests. It was during the meeting that Yenesew Gebre reportedly spoke out against President Meles Zenawi’s regime. When security agents tried to stop him, Yeneneh walked out of the meeting hall and set himself alight infront of the other protesters gathered in the compound.

‘While fire was engulfing his whole body, he was calling for justice, freedom and democracy and urged people to rise up against the oppressors. He wanted martyrdom … he chose to sacrifice his life for the sake of liberty and justice,’ a local source who witnessed the shocking incident told ESAT. According to close friends, Yenesew Gebre was widely respected and well known for raising serious issues and challenging authorities. In a bid to quash any further protests in the area, the federal police and the security services have reportedly sealed off the town. The regime has cut telephone lines to prevent the news of Yenesew’s death from spreading across Ethiopia, according to ESAT. Zelalem Tessema, spokesman from Mass Advocacy of Communities, Ethiopia (MACE) a Diaspora group based in the UK, told the Bureau: ‘This unprecedented form of self-sacrifice has caused shock and anger amongst his compatriots both at home and abroad. Gebre’s action demonstrates the high level of despair prevailing amongst the public at large that is firmly under the brutal rule of Meles Zenawi.’

Concerted Crackdown
Yenesew Gebre’s death follows a recent investigation by the Bureau and BBC Newsnight into allegations of torture, repression and the political manipulation of foreign aid. The report was strongly denied by representatives of President Meles Zenawi.

Read the full investigation Ethiopia Aid Exposed here.

The Bureau has been told of a concerted crackdown following the broadcast, particularly in the southern region. ‘Sadly there has been a crackdown by the security forces on people who have suspected to have cooperated with the programme,’ said Zelalem Tessema. ‘And certainly we’ve got reports that people have been arrested, some people have been questioned by security forces and some people have left the area in fear of what would follow.’

Widespread Oppression
The crackdown has intensified and spread to other areas of the country, according to members of the Ethiopian community in the UK. The Bureau has learned that at least 40 opposition politicians, their supporters and journalists have been arrested by security forces in recent months. Many are being held in the Central Investigation Centre in Maikelawi where allegations of torture are rife. The most prominent are Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa, opposition leaders in Oromia, Andualaem Arage the vice chairman of Unity Democracy and Justice Party and the prominent journalist Eskinder Nega.

Related article: Reign of terror in Maikelawi detention centre

The government has been accused of using sweeping anti-terror legislation passed in 2009 to crush dissent. The definitions of terrorist activity under the law are broad and ambiguous. It permits a clamp down on political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy. The law criminalises any reporting that authorities deem to ‘encourage’ or ‘provide moral support’ to groups the government has labelled ‘terrorists.’ 

Media Targeted
The legislation is also being used to stifle Ethiopia’s media. Last week a judge in Ethiopia’s federal high court charged six journalists with terrorism. According to the New York based campaign group – the Committee to Protect Journalists, (CPJ), 10 journalists have now been charged with terrorism related offences since June. ‘Ethiopia’s terrorism charges against journalists critical of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government are becoming vague and ludicrous,’ said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. ‘The authorities have failed to provide any hard evidence and should drop these charges immediately.’ In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the journalists of ‘abetting, aiding, and supporting a terrorist group.’ And the crack-down is not confined to Ethiopian nationals. Earlier this month an Ethiopian court said two Swedish journalists must face charges of helping a terrorist group and entering the country illegally. Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were charged with terrorism after they were arrested crossing from Puntland into Ethiopia’s troubled Ogaden region with members of the banned Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in July. If found guilty, they could face a maximum of 15 years in jail.

Related article: Ethiopian media gagged by anti-terror laws

In August, a delegation from Amnesty International was expelled from Ethiopia. Speaking shortly after her expulsion from the country, Amnesty’s Claire Beston told the Bureau: ‘Civil society activists have said the situation is rapidly deteriorating – to use their words. Journalists are more afraid even than they were before, and we are even talking about a significant climate of fear – all those groups are already operating in a climate of fear.’

Foreign Tourists under Surveillance
In a separate move it has also been reported that the government is targeting tour operators to monitor the movements of foreign nationals on holiday following the Bureau’s original investigation. The Bureau/Newsnight team entered the country on tourist visas posing as holidaymakers. While fire was enulfing his whole body, he was calling for justice, freedom and democracy and urged people to rise up against the oppressors. He wanted martyrdom … he chose to sacrifice his life for the sake of liberty and justice.  Witness to Yenesew Gebre’s self-immolation 

According to the Indian Ocean Newsletter, representatives of the tour operators active in the country were summoned to a meeting at the ministry of transport in Addis Ababa last month. It says that during the meeting the tour operators were blatantly asked to include an Ethiopian intelligence officer from now on. It says: ‘According to one source present at the meeting, the instructions from the government official specified that the tour operators should meet the agent’s expenses. The agent’s job will be to keep a watch on all the movements of the visitors and determine their reason for going to Ethiopia. ‘This measure follows on a recent BBC report criticising the situation in the Ogaden region and the political use the Ethiopian government made of international aid,’ states the Newsletter. ‘It would appear that from now on the Ethiopian authorities want to prevent foreign journalists from entering the country with tourist visas and travelling around the country.’ The Bureau asked the Ethiopian Embassy in London for a response to the death of Yenesew Gebre and the allegations concerning the current government crack-down. It is yet to respond.

Source: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/11/15/ethiopian-man-burns-himself-to-death-in-protest/

Ethiopia: “So What!”

URJII, 20 Dec. 2010

“So what! Soo what!! Sooo whaaat!!!” was the repetitive mantra of dictator Meles Zenawi recently in response to pesky questions lobbed at him in parliament about his so-called Growth and Transformation Plan[1] (GTP), which will presumably make Ethiopia self-sufficient in food production in the next five years and expand the “industrial-led export sector”, infrastructures and what have you. It was vintage Zenawi. He gets a few challenging questions and he ignites into spontaneous self-combustion, a meltdown: “So what if the GTP doesn’t work! So what if we don’t have the money to implement it? So what if don’t have the institutional capacity to do it?! So what? I don’t have to tell you diddly squat. I will do as I please. It’s my way or you’re hitting the friggin’ highway!”

So what about Wikileaks?

The latest droplet of Wikileaks cable leak shows that back in January 2010, Zenawi met[2] with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson for a couple of hours and gave them a piece of his mind, or a tongue lashing depending on your point of view. There were two fascinating things about the meeting: 1) the summary of the discussions (or hectoring monologue), and 2) the ambiance of the meeting of which we get a glimpse.

After carefully studying and analyzing the cable summaries, one is immediately struck by the absence of any meaningful dialogue on the issues. Rather one is overwhelmed by a sense of unrestrained monologue directed at the Americans with rhetorical flair. Extrapolating from Zenawi’s known demeanor, behavior and pattern and practice in Q & A sessions in parliament (particularly when he is asked challenging questions or is on the receiving end of an unexpected reposte from a member), media interviews, speeches and his recent shocking verbal assault on the European Union Election Observer Mission as “garbage”, one can retrospectively imagine that Otero/Carson must have had a traumatizing 2 hours. Reasoning deductively and reading between the lines in the cable summaries, Zenawi appears angry, frustrated, defensive and defiant. He tries to persuasively convince Otero/Carson of his good intentions for the country, but ends up hectoring, lecturing and talking down to them on elementary principles of democracy. The tone of his voice seemed condescending and contemptuous. His words were tinged with bitterness, and he seemed impatient with his guests. Overall, the meeting seems to have been a 2-hour monologue delivered with rhetorical fury as Otero/Carson cringed in stunned disbelief.

In response to Otero/Carson’s concerns about the crackdown on civil society organizations, narrowing political space and the imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, Zenawi tries to outplay them with clever sophistry. He said “his government placed no restrictions on its citizens’ democratic and civil rights, only the right of foreign entities to fund them.” He seemed conveniently oblivious to the fact that he receives billions in foreign aid annually which he uses to entrench his political party, a notorious fact known to the population and donors since the stolen election of 2005. He counseled “those Ethiopians who want to engage in political activity to organize and fund themselves”. He said “foreign funding of charities” is welcome as long as the money is given to his side, and not to the other guys. It seems he lost his temper at one point haranguing Otero/Carson: “Ethiopians must organize and fund themselves and defend their own rights” because they “were not too poor to organize themselves and establish their own democratic traditions, recalling that within his lifetime illiterate peasants and poor students had overthrown an ancient imperial dynasty.”

Zenawi made it clear to Otero/Carson that he had nothing but contempt for his opposition. They are all just a bunch of whiners and wimps. He pontificated, “When people are committed to democracy and forced to make sacrifices for it, they won’t let any leader take it away from them.” He preached that in “our own struggle against the Derg regime, we received no foreign funding, but were willing to sacrifice and die for [our] cause.” He matter-of-factly declared that Ethiopians must “take ownership of their democratic development, be willing to sacrifice for it, and defend their own rights.”

Zenawi flashed a moment of reasonableness as he assured Otero/Carson not to be concerned about the 2010 election because it “will be free, fair, transparent, and peaceful…” But a question about potential violence caused by the opposition sent him into total spontaneous self-combustion: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election,” Zenawi vowed, “We will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” He asserted with bombastic bravado that there is no power on earth that can save them. “Nothing can protect them except the laws and constitution of Ethiopia!” Capisci! Otero? Carson? One can imagine Zenawi pounding his desk and screaming, “Capisci! Capisci!”

It is apparent from the cablegram that Otero and Carson were stunned into silence by Zenawi’s obstinacy and dogmatic single-mindedness in refusing to allow more political space, ease restrictions on opposition groups and civil society organizations and release Birtukan. As the two representatives of the World’s Greatest Superpower left the 2-hour verbal mauling, there could be no doubt in their minds that they had just met the “law and constitution of Ethiopia.” There is no indication that Otero/Carson learned any lessons from their close encounter of the fourth kind, but there are many to be learned indeed.

Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.

Anyone who opposes Zenawi will be crushed. Not with a teeny weeny bit of force. Not with reasonable force. Not even partial force. They will be crushed “with full force”. They will be crushed like roaches, bedbugs or spiders. Squish!

If you can’t crush them, then cage them like ferrets or rabbits; and sit back and watch them vegetate. Throw them in the dungeons. Let them rot in jail. So what! Who is going to save them? Better yet, coop them in solitary confinement and watch them turn into potted plants. See them go brain dead. Watch them go raving nuts, crazy. So what!

Lesson II. If you get into America’s face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!

American politicians like to talk big; but they rarely back up their talk with action. They have forked tongues, like serpents. They will jibber jabber about democracy, human rights and all that, but when things are down for the count, you will find them standing around twiddling their fingers and whistling Dixie. In fact, if you stand up to them, they will back down. There was a time when American foreign policy was guided by the old West African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Now, they just speak softly, and instead of carrying a big stick they carry a big wad of cash, billions of it, and hand them out to those who have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

The whole thing works backwards with the Americans. The more bad stuff you do, the more you are rewarded. Take the May 2005 Ethiopia election and all the nasty stuff that happened after that: an election stole, hundreds of citizens massacred in the streets, tens of thousands imprisoned, nearly all opposition leaders rounded-up and vegetated for nearly two years, anti-free press and anti-civic society laws enacted, Birtukan Midekssa incarcerated for 21-months incluyding prolonged periods of solitary confinement, Somalia invaded against the strong advise and disapproval of the U.S. (wink, wink) and on and on. So what did the folks at the U.S. State Department do? They patted Zenawi on the back and handed him blank checks for billions of American tax dollars. So what are the Americans going to do after the May 2010 elections? Send billions more in American tax dollars, of course. Duh!!!

Lesson III. “Democratization is a matter of survival.”

Zenawi says, “democratization is a matter of survival.” Zenawi’s survival, that is. If there is real democracy in the country, Zenawi’s regime will not survive because he will be voted out of office in heartbeat. If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive. Stated more plainly, democracy and dictatorship cannot exist together in the same place and at the same time. Democracy necessarily means the end of dictatorship and vise versa. Therefore, there will be no democracy in Ethiopia as long as Zenawi’s regime survives. So what!

Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.

Democracy is not something you get in a ballot casting match. All that pluralism and multipartyism stuff is hogwash. If you want democracy, you must “struggle, sacrifice and die for it”. What Zenawi is really saying is that “You ain’t gonna get the democracy we got through the bullet by stuffing ballots in a box.” There is no problem playing the whole election thing. It makes everybody happy, especially the American and European moneybags who dole out billions every year. But when push comes to shove, that is, if your idea is to push, shove and vote us out of power, it ain’t happening because “We will crush you with our full force.”

Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!

The opposition has been told, retold, advised and warned that the “international community will not be able to save them,” says Zenawi. But it is not just the international community that is powerless to help them. International law, international human rights treaties, international conventions, international diplomacy, the International Criminal Court, international public opinion, whatever – they are all useless to the opposition. So what if their rights are violated?

Lesson VI. Elections are like children’s marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.

So what is all this hoopla and fuss about elections and democracy? The opposition is always whining, groaning and moaning about “free, fair, transparent, and peaceful” elections. The election business is not complicated. It is like playing marbles, except one guy owns all of the marbles and makes one rule: “He who owns the marbles wins all the time.”(a rule that is sometimes referred to as the “laws and constitution of Ethiopia”). In his election “victory” speech this past May, Zenawi proclaimed, “The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election.” In other words, elections are not about winning or losing; they are about how you play the game. The opposition played the game, very badly and lost. So what if they don’t want to play anymore? It’s all good. They can hit the highway. We will bring in players who are willing to play the game and never expect or want to win.

Lesson VII. If you want to win, organize…

So what do you need to do if you want to win? Moaning, groaning, whining, wailing and sobbing ain’t going to do you much good. You need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.

Lesson VIII. You want funding, don’t beg for it like we do; dig deeper into your own wallets.

Cash? That is always a problem. It is OK to beg and collect billions in aid every year. It is OK to get Safety Net cash and Emergency Food Assistance and give it out to poor farmers in exchange for their votes. But no outside funds for the opposition because they and the “leaders of CSOs [civil society organizations] that receive foreign funding are not accountable to their organizations.” It is all about accountability and transparency. Zenawi is accountable for all of the aid money he gets, the opposition and the CSOs are not accountable for the meager international donations they get. So what if they need cash? Let them dig deep into their wallets.

Lesson: IX. The Rule and Power of One.

Everybody, dig this: “There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.”

Lesson X: If you don’t like lessons I-IX?

“So what!”

The Humanitarian Aid Industry’s Most Absurd Apologist

URJII, November 29, 2010.

By:David Rieff

Writing in his diary of his erstwhile friend and wartime comrade-in-arms Randolph Churchill’s surgery for lung cancer, Evelyn Waugh noted acidly, that it was a “typical triumph of medical science to find the one part of Randoph that was not malignant and remove it.”

The BBC’s recent abject apology to Bob Geldof for the claim made last March 4 on the ‘Assignment’ program, that the vast majority of the money raised, perhaps as much as 95 percent, during the 1984/85 Ethiopian famine by Geldof’s Band Aid concerts that went to fund relief projects in areas held by the Tigrayan rebels had in fact been diverted by the guerrillas to purchase arms, has something of the same quality.

Given the credible bill of indictment that could have been leveled against Geldof, using as evidence only his own words and those of the officials from the aid agencies that received Band Aid funding, that the BBC would choose to charge Geldof with something they could not possibly prove, and was in any case most certainly wildly exaggerated, suggests a degree of self-destructiveness that would seem to call for the services of a corporate psychologist (as Geldof rightly pointed out, shades of another recent scandal at the BBC, that of abusive phone calls made on air by the comedian Russell Brand). That said, some of the more heated statements by mainstream British relief groups supporting Geldof’s complaint when it was filed and now welcoming the BBC’s apology have been absurdly sanctimonious and self-regarding.

Whether or not they are prepared to acknowledge the fact, and it speaks volumes about how inflated is their sense of themselves and of their role that so many mainline NGOs largely remain unwilling to do so publicly, diversions of aid monies and supplies by combatants in war zones (globally, not just in Ethiopia in the mid-’80s), are and probably always will be an occupational hazard of relief work—the price frequently exacted of aid agencies for being allowed to work by men with the power of life and death over both relief workers and those they are trying to serve.

As John James, Band Aid’s Field Director in Ethiopia between 1985 and 1991 told the Daily Mail, “You couldn’t help the hungry in the rebel-held areas without helping the rebels. You have to be realistic about that. It is probable that some money was diverted to buy arms,” he said, adding that he thought it was “ridiculous for anybody to claim that not one penny of aid money was diverted.” James was scarcely endorsing the figure put forward by ‘Assignment’ or claiming that the aid money had not done far more good than harm. But he insisted that, “I would be surprised if it were any less than 10-20 percent of funds that were diverted to the rebels.”

In fact, what would have been extraordinary was had a diversion of the magnitude James described not taken place. This is why when Phil Bloomer, Oxfam’s campaigns and policy director, asserted confidently that with its 60 years of field experience his organization had “systems in place to safeguard against diversion,” his comment, though doubtless true, begged more questions as it resolved. No matter how good such safeguards may look on paper, in the field it is rarely possible to implement them fully. Only in the current environment, where aid agencies choose or are forced (it is probably a combination of both) to sell themselves by making exaggerated claims for what they have or can hope to accomplish, and by simplifying the complexities they confront every day on the ground, could this sad fact of life, about which, again, the NGO’s themselves can do very little, be something that needed to be denied or glossed over.

Bloomer was at pains to say that, “The British public who in good faith donated money to help distressed, starving people need to know that these allegations are preposterous.” But what is truly preposterous is not the allegations themselves, but instead Bloomer’s own sanctimonious and, in reality far more preposterous fairy tales about the possibility of ever guaranteeing full effectiveness for these safeguards. Somehow, one doubts the founders of Oxfam would have taken refuge in language far better suited to politicians’ press releases and ad agency spin.

The irony is that the real problem with Live Aid’s role in Ethiopia in the mid-’80s has nothing to do with the diversion of aid toward purposes Geldof and his colleagues clearly never intended (even the Assignment program doesn’t go that far), but instead with programs and purposes that Geldof was entirely transparent about at the time and continues to fiercely defend to this day. Again, whatever aid officials may say publicly, privately they all know that some diversions are inevitable. In contrast, the relief world still remains badly divided over Live Aid’s decision to help fund the activities of international relief agencies, notably the Irish NGO Concern, in providing assistance to the victims not just of the famine—itself as much a man-made, or, more precisely, Ethiopian government-made, disaster as a natural one, despite the way reporters like Michael Buerk presented it at the time—but of the massive resettlement program undertaken by Ethiopia’s Stalinist tyrants, both as refugees were transported south from the conflict and famine zones and in the camps into which they were forced after their deportation.

Geldof prides himself on being “Everyman,” or, rather an everyman who could go and do what people “would have liked to do themselves,” as he puts it in his memoir, Is That It? As for Band Aid, he has written that its ideal state is the way it will lodge in people’s memories, “where it will live as something that was wholly good and incorruptible and that worked.” Believing that, it should not be surprising that he has been so utterly, so ferociously committed to defending Band Aid against all criticisms great and small, rejecting even those criticisms that readily concede how much good Band Aid did but also insist that, wittingly or unwittingly, its actions did harm as well.

To say that this is the fate of all human endeavors would seem like commonsense, but Geldof will have none of it. And so far he has been fortunate that his best-publicized critics, like the ones featured on the ‘Assignment’ program, have wildly over-stated their case, and that the most devastating critiques of Band Aid, most notably that made by Doctors Without Borders France (MSF), have not received the same kind of media attention.

MSF’s argument has been that if the past 20 years has taught aid workers anything, it is that aid can sometimes do more harm than good. For them, Ethiopia in 1984-85 was precisely where this lesson was rammed home. As MSF’s former president, Rony Brauman, who was constantly in Ethiopia during this period, crossing swords repeatedly with Oxfam and Concern has put it, the Ethiopian crisis, both the famine itself and the Derg’s resettlement campaign, forced MSF to face the fact that “aid could be turned against those toward whom it was directed and those delivering the aid integrated into a system of oppression.”

In 1984 and ‘85, the idea that the work of relief agencies, no matter how well-intended, could turn NGOs, and, by extension, their funders, into “part of the problem, not just part of the solution,” as Brauman put it, was a controversial one. Today, within the relief world it has quite rightly become a commonplace of relief work, generally accepted throughout what Alex de Waal has called the Humanitarian International.

But decade in and decade out, Geldof has remained impervious, not just rejecting but never giving any sign of having considered seriously the possibility that the Band Aid phenomenon could have done harm as well as good. As far as he is concerned, there was nothing morally problematic about any of this, and anyone who says differently has lost the plot. He has been adamant that, “The resettlement programme would [have continued] whether or not we chose to help, just as Hitler’s extermination of the Jews would have continued whether or not aid workers had contrived to help alleviate the sufferings in the camps. … Our work [in Ethiopia] employed the same argument.” And Geldof implies strongly that it was he who won Concern over to his point of view. “Father Jack Finucane of Concern,” he writes, “said while I was [in Ethiopia] in January that they would never help in resettlement areas. …Twelve months later, [Concern became] the main agency working there.”

Modesty never having been an attribute with which Geldof has had even a nodding acquaintance, the claim should doubtless be viewed with extreme caution. Fr. Jack Finucane and his brother, Fr. Aengus, were vastly experienced aid workers. They are quite simply the last people who could be talked into such a serious course of action by anyone from the inside or, indeed, from other NGOs.

The bitter conflict between Concern, which believed it was right to remain, and MSF, which insisted that the time had come for the relief NGO’s to stop collaborating with the regime and pull out, thus no longer providing the dictatorship with humanitarian cover, is a matter of historical fact. That certainly would have included Geldof. As I understand it, Concern’s view was then, and remains now, that the moral duty of relief groups must always (or virtually always) be to remain, no matter how terrible the regime is. They make this argument on the grounds that NGO’s can do much to alleviate suffering if they stay, but little to influence political outcomes if they go. Predictably, Geldof takes a morally serious dispute, with respectable arguments on both sides (though full disclosure, I am entirely with MSF on the matter) and turns it into a pissing match in an alley behind a pub.

Hypersensitive to criticism himself and so boastful of his own willingness to “shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right to get to the people who need help,” Geldof has been quick to accuse MSF of “seeming to allow itself to be used as pawns” by opponents of the Mengistu regime. It is impossible to say for certain whether this is pure speculation on his part, or whether he is repeating in more lurid detail what NGO and Ethiopian government officials told him privately about MSF.

In reality, what Brauman understood, and Geldof shows no signs of ever having seriously considered, is that it is simply not good enough to say, as Geldof has repeatedly, that aid should be given without strings—“graciously [and] without conditions,” Geldof once put it. Indeed, what the experience of humanitarian action over the past thirty years from Ethiopia, through Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Rwanda, to Iraq and Afghanistan (again) today suggests is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Geldof is of course entirely correct when he says that the relief agencies could not have prevented the Derg from committing the crimes that led to the famine and the crimes of the resettlement campaign that followed. MSF never said they could. Instead, what it argued was that had the relief agencies withdrawn en masse and denounced publicly and collectively what the dictatorship was doing, the major donors to Ethiopia, above all the United States and the European Union, which certainly had the power to act, might have been mobilized to do something to halt the deportations and the forced resettlement. That is why it is so grotesque of Geldof to continue to insist that, because his intentions, and those of relief agencies he helped fund like Concern, were good, he and they cannot in at least a sense be considered to have made things worse for the Ethiopian deportees, even while self-evidently this was the last thing they wanted to do.

What Geldof should really have been brought to account for was this moral arrogance and what he doubtless thinks of as principled stubbornness but what in fact has become little more than invincible self-regard (in fairness, these were the qualities that allowed Geldof to mount Band Aid in the first place), and not the bogus controversy about whether some Band Aid money did or did not make its way into the hands of the Tigrayan rebels. About that, Geldof really does have the right to ask, ‘Is that it?’ But that isn’t it, not by a long shot.

David Rieff is the author of eight books including A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.

Source: The New Republic

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