Democracy is founded on principles of freedom, justice, social inclusion and participation in civil society. Where these qualities of fairness are absent so too is democracy.
To agree to elections, and speak of democratic values is easy enough. To honour their expression is quite another thing.
The EPRDF government of Ethiopia knows little of democracy, human rights or the manifestation of democratic principles and much of repression and intimidation.
They claim to govern in a democratic pluralistic manner, but the regime systematically violates fundamental human rights, silences all dissenting voices and rules the country in a suppressive violent fashion which is causing untold suffering to millions of people throughout the country.
There is no freedom of the media. The judiciary, which is constitutionally and morally bound to independence, operates as an unjust arm of the government. Public assembly is all but outlawed. Political dissent at any level is not tolerated and the major opposition party leaders are behind bars.
The May election, contrary to US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s ignorant recent comments (that “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive”), is a hollow piece of democratic theatre, a sham, with no credibility whatsoever. The result, as everyone in the country and amongst the diaspora knows, is a forgone conclusion.
2. Increasing Anger
To the untrained eye the economy appears to be developing, and the country gives the appearance of stability in a region of almost total instability. But this is a misleading image of development and social steadiness, and masks deep-seated inequalities, endemic corruption, widespread bitterness and simmering fury towards the ruling party.
And, as the regime intensifies its violent suppression of the populace in the lead up to the elections, there are many within the country and the diaspora who believe that a popular armed uprising is the only way to overthrow the EPRDF and bring about lasting democratic change.
Violent incidents are already being reported in provincial cities, with police and officials being attacked by angry mobs.
Large numbers are gathering inside Eritrea on the border with Ethiopia. Ginbot 7 and the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF) have now merged to form one group, and are building, what is described as ‘a united armed force’, an army in other words, an army of many
thousands of men. Armed and receiving training to engage in combat with the Ethiopian forces.
Given the repressive picture in the country and the regime’s total intransigence, the frustration felt inside and outside Ethiopia is not surprising. But is an armed uprising the way forward, would it be successful in ousting the ruling regime, or would there be a tightening of repressive legislation – the ‘rebel group’ branded as terrorists, large numbers of deaths and arrests and perhaps a long drawn out civil war igniting conflicts between one ethnic group and another? Indeed is violence and hate ever the way to counter violence and hate?
My view is consistent with that of Martin Luther King, who maintained that “hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” An armed campaign in Ethiopia, I believe, would be a terrible mistake.
But the people’s frustration and anger is understandable, as is their bewilderment at the neglect and complicity of Ethiopia’s major donors. America, the European Union and Britain, who collectively give almost half of Ethiopia’s federal budget in various aid packages, are well aware of the regime’s brutal form of governance and shamefully do and say nothing.
3. Social responsibility and collective action
The regime, seeks, as all isolated, paranoid dictatorships do, to centralise power and suppress the people by intimidation and violence. Disempowerment and fear are their aim; the means are well known, crude and unimaginative – keep the people frightened, uneducated and divided, restrict their freedom of association and expression and keep them entrapped.
With between 70 and 80 tribal sets within the seven major ethnic groups, and a 45/35% Christian-Muslim split, cooperation, tolerance and unity are essential factors in the country. However, a united civilian population is a threat to the ruling elite, who therefore separate the ethnic groups, fragment the people and make them compete for resources, including aid; and thus maintain dominion. This divide and rule strategy is the methodology employed by the highly centralized EPRDF regime.
And the answer to such crude means of control is not an armed uprising. It is unity.
Unity of the people, rich in diversity united in purpose, is the need and song of the time, for Ethiopia and indeed for the world. Now is the time for the Ethiopian people to unite, and, overcoming the fear that has inhibited them for so long, demand an end to tyranny and their right to justice, freedom and fundamental democratic change.
Together there is safety and strength beyond measure. “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you,” proclaims an African proverb. This truth applies to the individual, the family, the people of a nation. Brothers and sisters of one humanity we are, and no government can withstand the unified strength of a people held together by a common and just cause.
Democracy is not an ideology, an ‘ism, it is in truth a way of living, a creative living expression of certain perennially accepted values: Social responsibility, participation and peaceful
collective action are key principles in any democratic environment. The EPRDF government is a shameful, brutally repressive regime, that must either fundamentally reform, or be removed from office. It is the responsibility, indeed the duty I would say, of the people, both inside the country and within the diaspora, to overcome their apathy and fear, organize themselves and take responsibility for their own destiny. We are living in unprecedented times, times of tremendous opportunity and potential change; out of step with the times the days are numbered for regimes like the EPRDF – it is simply a question of when they collapse – not if.
Because change is afoot: people throughout the world are uniting against social injustice, repression, greed and corruption, taking to the streets in huge numbers to demand change, and a new political/economic system, which is inclusive and just.
“Nothing happens by itself, man must act and implement his will.” Thus said a wise man. It is time for the Ethiopian people to implement their will, to unite and cry out with one voice; The people of Oromo and Amahra, Ogaden and Gambella, look to each other and fear not, look to your neighbour’s and friends, share your concerns, your hopes, and fear not; for fear is the weapon of the bully the enemy of the good. Look to the next village, communicate and organize, fear not, for fear inhibits and controls. Look to the adjoining street and neighborhood where live others, who too shiver in fear of government spies, the police and armed forces. Unite and act. Be creative in you protest, be consistent in your efforts, be resolute.
Be inspired by the movements in Tunisia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere, and find the courage to peacefully stand up against what is a brutal group of men, who are despised by the majority and have no legitimacy to govern Ethiopia. It is only then, when the people act, that the donor countries – America, Britain and Europe – will take their neglectful, complicit heads out of the sand and stand together with the people, who have suffered far too much for far, far too long.
European Parliament Talk 23rd April 2015