Friday, December 3, 2021

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Conflict in Ethiopia: Is the US an honest broker?

By Fisseha Tecle

June 25, 21007 — Rumors are all over about the imminent release of the leaders of Ethiopia’s pro-democracy party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). Whether the prisoners are released at all and under what terms is totally dependent upon secret deals being struck between the United States and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

A campaign to divide and conquer the prisoners also appears to be underway.

The prisoners are essentially hostages of Meles Zenawi. They are being forced to “negotiate” with guns to their heads. The American Embassy in Addis Ababa has been applying tremendous pressure on the opposition leaders to admit “guilt” in order to gain their freedom from Zenawi’s dungeons.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the European Parliament have declared the CUD leaders prisoners of conscience.

The Bush Administration too knows full well that these people are innocent. But instead of calling for the unconditional release of those who stood for democracy and won at the polls, the US is leaning on the prisoners and their families to admit guilt. Why? Because the administration and the Pentagon hold the shortsighted view that a repressive Zenawi is their best bet given the so-called war on terror.

This is the scenario: A top US allies rounds up political opponents who beat him at the polls and throws them in jail. He orders his troops to shoot those demonstrating against the stealing of elections. Government soldiers shoot and kill over 193 civilians and wound some 763. The government also arrests upwards of 30,000. According to Georgette Gagne of Human Rights watch, the actions of Prime Minister Zenawi “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The initial response of the Bush administration was to look the other way. This was followed by attempts at dividing and dismantling the legitimate opposition.

So, for Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, the current situation raises questions of principle, fairness and trust.

Can a big power that has a stake in keeping the current regime in power be an impartial mediator in Ethiopia’s domestic politics?

Past US mediation in Ethiopia was not always in the best interest of the country.
The 1991 London peace conference, under the oversight of Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, brought the current unrepresentative regime to power. In the years leading to the London conference, the US had secret dealings with the Tigrai Liberation Front and Meles Zenawi. So the London negotiations reflected US interests and the interests of some regional powers and not those of the people of Ethiopia.

For the last 16 years, the US has continued to back the same unrepresentative minority regime in spite of systematic and egregious human rights violations.

The Bush administration has invested a lot in Zenawi and it feels duty-bound to prop him up at any cost. After all, Zenawi was the paragon African subcontractor who carried out the Somali invasion on the cheap. But history tells us that American support too has its limits. It had its limits for the likes of the Shah of Iran and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

We should watch the current negotiations with a great deal of care; especially making sure they are not used as a ploy to divide the opposition leaders and to break the will of the resistance. Justice demands that the CUD leaders be released without any preconditions.

Any effort to gain the release of the prisoners is most welcome. They and their families have suffered immensely. The nation too has been traumatized by the post-election reign of terror. But justice has to prevail for the healing to start. There can be no justice if the victims are called upon to atone for the crimes of their tormentors.

What is at stake is the freedom of 78 million Ethiopians. Let’s not forget the tens of thousand of other Ethiopians political prisoners. For any healing to begin, we need first and foremost, a full accounting of all those jailed, tortured and killed under Zenawi. Those responsible must be brought to justice.

An impartial, independent international investigation is a good place to start the reconciliation process for a much-tormented nation.

* The author is based in the USA. He can be reached at [email protected]