Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 7 August 2007

Ethiopia: Mediation and the mazes of a dictator


By Messay Kebede

August 66, 2007 — Various Ethiopian websites exhibit articles that highly congratulate and praise the achievements of mediators in the long-drawn-out attempt to free the CUD leaders. According to these articles, thanks to the aggressive and unrelenting effort of the mediators, the dreadful outcome of life imprisonment has been reversed into a happy ending. Had such articles appeared only in websites supporting Meles and the TPLF, I would have no reason to share my perplexity, obvious as it is that Meles alone comes out victorious from the ordeal of CUD leaders. Unfortunately, the consensus among Ethiopians opposing Meles and his regime considers the release as a laudable achievement of Ethiopian negotiators.

Let me begin by expelling a misunderstanding: in a previous article, I stated that the desire to humiliate is behind the liberation of the CUD leaders. Several readers reacted to my interpretation with the suggestion that I do not seem to welcome the liberation. Some such reading of my article is anything but accurate, all the more so as I was convinced for quite some time that their continuous imprisonment had lost any meaning. Outside the exposure of their determination not to recognize the kangaroo court, the prisoners were not achieving anything. As dignified as the refusal to recognize was, I had constantly wondered whether the gain was worth the sacrifice.

The continuous imprisonment of CUD leaders would have had a positive outcome if it had led to a deterioration of Meles’s relation with Western governments of the kind entailing the complete cessation of financial aids and diplomatic support to his government. Nothing of the kind happened: after an initial verbal condemnation, the whole drama of the election did not upset for long the business-as-usual approach of Western governments. I don’t know what is required for Ethiopians to understand, once and for all, that national interests, and not what is right, essentially drive nation-states. Haile Selassie made this same mistake when he believed that democratic states will not tolerate the fascist invasion of Ethiopia.

In my previous article, I also indicated that the intent to humiliate reflected the deep and harrowing embarrassment of Meles and his associates following their unexpected defeat in the election. Meles was humiliated in front of the world, he who thought that the Ethiopian masses had nurtured an eternal gratitude to the TPLF for being liberated from the Derg, not to mention the exacting effort he made to appear as a new African leader to Western governments. Alas, now the whole world knows that he is only another dictator in the long list of bouffons parading as heads of states in Africa’s sickening post colonial history.

The sharp depreciation of Meles’s supersized but bleeding ego in his own eyes and that of the world needed some appeasement, which could come only through the attempt to humiliate those who humiliated him. Neither mere imprisonment nor court procedures would give him the much-needed remedy, since in both cases the prisoners would continue to claim their innocence.

What else could wipe out Meles’s deep humiliation but a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness? Herein lies the major role of the mediators. For Meles had to make sure at the same time that whatever confession is obtained from the prisoners, it must not seem to be extracted by means of force. Confession obtained by force has no soothing effect on him if only because constraint is devoid of vindicating virtue. By contrast, consent can be inferred both from the process of mediation and the involvement of independent and respected people. Since nobody is openly forcing anybody, the outcome can be construed as the product of free admission. Without free consent, the admission of guilt is not usable for the purpose of rehabilitation.

What this means is clear enough: since only Meles comes out as winner, the mediation was nothing but a scheme used by him to obtain confession of guilt. The involvement of independent and respected people put heavy pressure on the prisoners through the argument that the common good, the prospect of reconciliation alone motivates their effort. How could prisoners who fought for peace and democracy refuse for long the appeal for reconciliation? They would agree to anything rather than reject a goal coinciding with their political agenda of peace and democracy.

What other term than soft coercion can characterize a mediation with such a one-sided result? I have read many comments concerning the release, but I have yet to see what concessions Meles made. Yet, mediation is a two-way street; it results in mutual concessions done for the purpose of achieving a higher common goal.

It could be argued that the mediation saved the prisoners from life imprisonment. This argument has no substance given that the prisoners could have obtained the same result without the mediators, if they had admitted guilt. European or American envoys could have easily broken a similar deal even a year ago.

Shrewdly, Meles encouraged mediation because it is all to his advantage. The direct intervention of Western governments would have further exasperated his humiliation by showing that his government is run, to use his own words, “like a banana republic from Capitol Hill.” His oversensitized ego, quite reminiscent of Mengistu Haile Mariam, would further suffer if the prisoners and the Ethiopian people they represent believed that they owe their liberation to Western pressure. No, if he is to pardon the prisoners, it must not be because of Western governments, but because he yielded to the exhortation of his subordinates. In this way, he recovers his original condescending grandeur while appearing concerned with reconciliation.

The way of mediation is all the more advantageous to Meles the more it refurbishes his shattered image in the West. Let no one be misled into thinking that the timing of the release of the prisoners has nothing to do with American politics. The illegal invasion of Somalia and the ousting of the fundamentalists from power was, no doubt, a calculated risk that Meles took to regain American support. This alone would have been enough to sustain the support of the State Department. But the change of majority in the Senate and the House has complicated the issue by reviving the postponed bill known as H.R. 2003. The only way to stop the bill from being voted on as a law was to give some signs that the democratic process is back on track in Ethiopia. In other words, Meles had to make a significant gesture and he did so by releasing the imprisoned elected members of the opposition.

Both to appease his mortified ego and stop the bill, Meles needed a successful outcome from the mediation process. He faced one problem, to wit, the stubborn refusal of the prisoners. To obtain from them the confession he needed, he was compelled to force them, though not directly. So he instructed his court to expedite the process and sentence the prisoners to life imprisonment. The sentence gave him the upper hand he needed to blackmail the prisoners.

We know the rest of the story: Meles pardoned the prisoners in exchange for their admittance of guilt and their plea for forgiveness. At last he had his revenge for the humiliation he suffered, but also much more since he will appear in the eyes of the West as the leader who for the sake of reconciliation reversed the harsh judgment of his own court and even went to the extent of reinstating all the rights of the prisoners, including their right to continue their political struggle. Clearly, thanks to the mediators, Meles emerges, by all accounts, as the only winner.

One last comment: I heard on the radio the chairperson of the mediating team, Professor Ephraim Issac, justifying the mediation effort in nationalist terms. He finds that what the team did revives the old Ethiopian tradition of conflict resolution through elders while ascertaining the ability of Ethiopians to resolve their own problems without the intervention of Western powers.

To begin with, the fact that the professor is in Washington to lobby against the bill clearly shows the link between the liberation of the prisoners and the discussion of the bill in the House. But more yet, his justification is particularly disappointing because it does no more than kill what he claims to revive. One cannot preach the revival of tradition if its outcome hinders progress.

In many of my writings I have tried to show that one of the tragedies of Ethiopia is that it undertook its modernization without the support of its traditions on the ground that the latter are outdated, if not barbaric. Aware of the detrimental effect of this direction, some Ethiopians scholars, among whom I include Professor Ephraim as a precursor, are increasingly involved in the laborious task of rediscovering and refurbishing the traditions of Ethiopia, which are also the secrets of its amazing survival.

One thing must be clearly stated, however: the revival of tradition is good if and only if it couples with the critical spirit separating the good elements of the past from the bad ones. So that, if tradition is used to retard progress or deprive people of their legitimate rights, it must be denounced with utmost firmness.

As regards the liberation of CUD leaders, the tradition of shimagele has indeed favored one side. We should refrain from hailing its outcome while underlining that Ethiopian history testifies that the intervention of mediators has convinced more than one king to even give up the throne for the sake of the common good. What this shows is that the tradition is invoked for normative purpose even as its actual implementation is distorted. So, for the future, let us make sure that the usage of the traditional way of conflict resolution is firmly harnessed to the cause of democracy, freedom, and collective interests.

* The author is a professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Dayton (Ohio). He can be reached at messay.kebede@notes.udayton.edu

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  • 7 August 2007 09:30, by Betty

    Professor, you have well explained the context associated with the release of CUD leaders. The mediators were simply instruments used by Meles to save face. US politics was the only real pressure that led Meles to take the steps he took. One wonders what is going to happen in the next election. Does the EPRDF really think they can win where CUD and others are running for Office. I’m sure they don’t harbor these illusions and they will think of something smart before the next election. Either that or they will eventually be convinced/forced to share power or turn into a real dictatorship with no more multi-party elections.

    I’m eager to see the next election and what it brings!!!!!!!!!!

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    • 7 August 2007 11:49, by Kifly Merhu

      Hi Betty,

      Don’t worry about the next election: the same procedure as the elections in 2005.
      As long as the so called "terrorists" in the neighbourhood exist, the world community will close their eyes, keep silent and wouldn’t care about democray in Ethiopia as well as in Africa (you know, our interest and security has priority).
      I supose, there would be no election observers at all.

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      • 7 August 2007 13:19, by Iwunatu Yiwuxa

        Mr. Mesay has clearly put down all the secrets behind the relaes of CUD leaders. The role of those claming to represent traditional mediation is also presented nicely.

        The purpose of traditional mediation is Meles’s creation and means of indirectly responding to the international community especially the changing balance of force in American politics from the republican to the democratic. Meles feared the with the coming to power of the democratic party, he may not be seen as he has been for the last 15 years.

        To create conducive political environment for the up coming years and to pretend the international community that he is democratizing the country by way being more tolerant to opposition parties through forgivenss of those sentenced to life imprisonment and as well to give the traditional mediators a fabulous picture that they can resolve the problems of the country using traditional mediation techniques which in the Ethiopian case has never suceeded in bringing peace between opposing parties , except by force.

        The reason that Meles stresses more about traditional mediation is that he can reverse the decision he made at any time - the traditional mediators are the supporters of his regime and can not blame him for what he will do in the future. It seems that it is to escape and avoid international observers or mediators in case of other political parties for which the world still didn’t pay much attention may be due the reason that they are not from the traditional Ethiopian ruling classes, Abyssinians.

        Meles wanted to shut off the political questions of the Oromo, Ogaden, Afar, Sidama and other oppressed nations and nationalities as they have no guarantee to deal with Meles thoough his so called traditional mediators like Pro. Ephraim.

        "Our Prof." is telling us that the other opposition political parties would be forgiven in the same way if they agree to ask Meles to get execuse.

        There is no logic that the owner of the country who has been forcefully looted and whose economy blundered by invaders ask for execuse. It would have been rather vice versa - the intruders should ask these political organizations for forgivenss for exploiting and their resources and killing their fellow men at their homestead.

        Has Meles asked the Oromos, Ogadens, Sidams, Affars, Anyuaks, Kaffa Shakicho, etc for killing their people at their homes where they have been born and grown up for the simpl fact they didn’t accept that Meles’ team does not represent their interest?

        As no toher oppressed tyrannies of the Ethiopian Empire has enever admitted their mistakes and asked for forgivenss infornt of the people they subjugate, Meles is not also going to do that.

        So, the effort that he/Meles if doing is futile. His traditional mediators should not lie to these people. For the time being they can try to persuade innocent people who do not understand the narute of the Abbysinian politics during the last 100 years.

        I invite geneuine popliticians who really want to resove the centry old problems of this country by and proactively and positively contributing to the solution of the propblems. I say this because the release of the 38 prisoners is not an end by itself when the whole population who are living in the country are in a wider prison of Tigray tyrannical ruler.


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        • 7 August 2007 18:44, by Endrias Asale

          Hi friends,

          All of you are barking for nothing, you are shouting always beyond the alarm line and trying to teach about democracy that you do not knew at all. One thing I can stress that you are a tissue liar for democracy in this country, if we fold your secret document we can find with full dictatorial ideology that all of you are thought from your ancestors. For sure with in confiscated mind you can not attain your aim/dream¡ ever. Unless and otherwise your mind clean from such natural disease you can not balance and compromise the situation with time and condition.

          ’’When I come to your kinijit politician, our government has done a wise decision pardoning them from over 20 months jailed having final process of legal charge were sentenced. I do hope that all of us here in this country had learned that nothing on earth could be beyond one legitimate country’s rules of law and constitution. The other thing which we learn from this is the attribution of commitment of our democratic government towards the grow of democracy in this country’’. Look if the rules on your politician hands, no doubt to guess that what would happen from leader point of view. Indeed the rule is not on your politician hand to in hurry things as gloomy as the cloud in sky. Now this is challenging issue to you all to learn how our leader far as intelligent from political point of view. Politics is not knowledge that you have acquired from academic performance, and experience from the daily work. The reality is beyond your academic know haw and work experience that you gain from daily stuffs, rather it indicate your big assignment to grew up with political knowledge. Long live with EPRDF (TPLF, ANDM, OPDO, SEPDM, SPDP, BGPDUF, ANDP, GPDM, ANDO, HNL)


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          • 10 August 2007 07:32, by Iwunatu Yiwuxa

            What a man you are! You are aspiring the perpetuation of the Tigrean tyrannical rule that replace that of the Amhara. You are justifying the injustice your government is doing upon the citizens that didn’t approve its political direction and manuever. Except those mercenaries of the TPLF like OPDO, ANDM, or whatever you included in the list for which you were wishing long life, all other citizens don’t approve what is going on in the country.
            By the way, do you know that EPRDF is simply a name and the one that determinesw is the TPLF core leaders? All Ethiopian leaders knows this fact. Even the so called TPLF affilate organizations formed by TPLF knows that they have no full right to decide whatever the people they cliam to represent wants.
            These seemingly independent organizations that fored EPRDF were initialled molded by TPLF. Take for instance the case of OPDO, Southern Regions organizations now working with TPLF and other political organizations called as affiliates are all fabrications of TPLF. They receive order from Meles and execute them in they way Meles wanted them to be.

            OPDO is formed from POW captured by EPLF and TPLF. They are soldiers of the Derg regime who were sent to fight the freedom fighters of then (TPLF, EPLF, OLF and the like). How can these ignorant soldiers who have never thought of liberating their own peole from colonialism and suppression serve the interest of the people for freedom and democracy? They were prisoners of TPLF and amipulated to serve the interest of the TPLF. They didn’t have the objectives of liberating their people. It was not for this objectives that they went to Northern Ethiopia where they were captured and again toled that they will be free citizens if they support the TPLF in taking power in Addsis.

            This is the reality. If at all they were intially for the interest of the the people they were born from, they couldn’t have joined the Derg military and went the war front to fight against TPLF, EPLF, OLF,etc. What this shows is that these POW that wayane organized in the form of political orgaizations didn’t have any political consciousnes and easily maipulated and still serves wayanes. Those who became conscious of the intrigues of wayane already departed and those who reminaed were those who don’t thin more than their own personsl interest to fill their belly.
            They are thinking not in thier own minds but in TPLF’s core leaders minds.

            I am sorry that you, the last one who commnted is one of those who jubilates and barks for the happiness and prosperity that Meles and his clique got.

            Please come to your mind and think before you simply throw trash words.

            Stand for the truth and die for the truth!

            I hope this make you laugh as you don’t use your mind for good things.

            repondre message

            • 11 August 2007 17:50, by Endrias Asale

              Hi Iwunatu Yiwuxa,

              Thank you very much for you advises, I know very well that my comment is bitter to swallow, because I stand with humble heart for truth, stressing to show where you are stand and what your thought seems to be. I believe that if the situation allows to you, you will never detected from revenging those people who plying the major role oppressing the recent incorporated nations. Am not saying these from nothing, all your analysis indicates and assures your emotional wish. This is why am saying your ideology build up of full dictatorial political principle. It is not correct way to reach and attain the target compromising with time and situation. The main things you have to know is, People will live ever, but the ruling class would not, they had passed with their time. So to whom will your revenge could be? If your dream is this way asks yourself and internalize your wrongness and accept my comment any precondition.

              When I come to my stand, time will come to fold the truth side and commitment of the straggle of EPRDF towards the prosperity of nations nationalities of Ethiopia, but it is gloomy to you denying to accept the reality what government tackling with. I will shout and eco always its endless goal towards the development of Ethiopian people. Now we are looking good hope in every economic sector that EPRDF had started from nothing and bring a tremendous progress which a country hadn’t seen for a century. EPRDF never give up realizing and perpetuating these targets and other development agenda in this country.

              Based on these targets, many of your people have seen economic and social development starting from nothing with EPRDF for the last sixteenths year. I can assure to you all over that corner of the country, EPRDF would never stop these march with out sustaining the long dream of its people development.

              But some of your friends including yourself going on the dark side aggravating the situation to bring back the country where it stand choosing many ways once by peace and another time by force killing your own people. Can we expect this from the truth democratic party who stand for their people development and progress? no I don’t think and expect, but you are doing it day and night being unseen political worth. I hope I have been convinced you by telling the reality. Saying the reality is not sin.

              My massage is, think in your own mind, realize the situation and manage yourself saying no to Eritrean cadre.

              Saarro takkaa!!!

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              • 13 August 2007 15:18, by Iwunatu Yiwuxa

                Hello Endrias Asale,

                I am saying to you if at all you can hear me. Please don’t always think that you and your group are the only ones who can bring peace and stability to this troubled country. You are rather the problem of the country as you clique and other Abbysinians who thinks in like their forefathers (neftegnas). You are telling me that your party, EPRDF is a God given and there is no other options for the people of this country except to pursue the path paved by EPRDF. This where you missed.

                I are claiming that your party is an advocate of peace and democracy and you are telling to people that the only way to prosperity is with EPRDF. Is this what is expected from a party member that claims to bring about democracy and stabilit, economic prosperity to the people of this country? I don’t think so.
                It is difficult to expect peace and democracy from tyrannical rulers like Meles, and his predecessors. Becausethe Abbysinian political culture was intriguing and killing each other and coming to power adn balckmailing their preedecesors. This is what we are observing today that Meles’s regime is laying to the people that his party is the only one that can bring to peace, prosperity and democracy and good governance to the people where it can not even have good governance among its party memebrs.

                Please. for heaven sake don’t throw dirty words without analysing them. You cannot fool even a small kind that EPRDF is the sole representative of the oppressed people of the country. It only represented the mercenaries and those who are thinking in their stomachs but not in thier minds.

                You might be one who echoes whatsoever the cadres of Meles tells you. Because you are recruited for that purpose.

                Is this not!


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