If one is talking about Human rights on the bases of UN charter and the conventions and covenants, neither democracy nor accountability is to be expected from Ethiopia. Individual rights and liberties are violated not only targeting the individual but also the people to whom the individual belongs. The empire is composed of nations and nationalities in which majority were colonized. The mother country, Habashaa had never had democratic governance. Power is always captured not bestowed through democratic process.
The American legislature is trying to impose a strange practice from the outside. In this paper the writer is trying to follow the process of HR 2003, what it addresses and what it overlooks. The Bill that was sent from the House to the Senate on October 2, 2007 has 8 sections.
To pass or block a Bill requires great effort from those who are for and against. To initiate and push it through requires courage and perseverance. Even assuming that there are no external pressures obtaining a large enough majority in the House that agrees on the objective of the proposed Bill would be a painstaking endeavor. In the case of HR 2003 Ethiopia, first there are members who believe the theory that each people get a government it deserves. So there is no need to interfere under any pretext. Second, there are those who idolize imperial Ethiopia where the Amaara were politically and socially dominant. That is the Ethiopia they claim to love and so support. They believe that the regime is suppressing supporters of that ideal.
The third know Ethiopia through the present regime alone. They include those who identify themselves with the struggle that brought TPLF to power and those impressed with the approach of Mallas to democracy. The later are easily deceived by the canning Tigrian cadres. What is now tabled in the House is an entirely different picture for them. Fourth and final group include those keen observers for whom it did not take time to understand the deceptive character of the regime and the atrocities being committed by it. Majority of members with different outlook and experience indicated above have to be convinced to pass a Bill. Such presentation has to appeal to the conscience of each and every individual, despite their varied understanding of the Ethiopian human right situation.
The House however is not limited to internal pressure alone. There are forces externally that have interest in the Bill. Some want it to pass because they are worried about the image of US being marred by maintaining friendship with the regime that violets human rights of citizens. Others probably have friends, acquaintances and interests affected by the regime. In addition to these are the most vocal Habashaa Diaspora representing the fallen group. These had conducted continuous vigils and demonstrations and lobbied every member of Congress ad nauseam. The others are those who believe the service the regime gives US in its war against terrorism worth tolerating the alleged violations by the regime. Such legislation for them only jeopardizes the diplomatic process of engaging the regime in a constructive way. These include diplomats that lied about the progress being made in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian regime is the vanguard in opposing passing of the Bill. Millions of aid money is spent on lobbyists that can put the utmost pressure on the representatives.
The logical presentation and the harm the regime’s practice could bring to US image must outweigh all the benefits and promises of external pressure. Mallas has taken for granted that his American friends will overlook his criminal acts for his great service. But the people’s representatives proved him wrong. They were unanimous on their stand against human rights violations that affect the image of their country, though modest in their criticism.
It is in appreciation of the existence of such obstacles that we view Bill HR 2003 concerning Ethiopia that passed the House and sent to the Senate on October 2, 2007. Members of Congress are mostly those who stand for unity and territorial integrity of countries of their UN collogues, however they were formed and being governed. Ethiopia is a member of the UN. It is also ruled by Christians. Therefore their view about Ethiopia is preformed.
Oromiyaa is bigger and more resourceful than Ethiopia proper or Absiinian. It is a multi-national multi religious country, probably Christians and Moslems sharing equal numbers. For both Oromummaa (being Oromo) is the common uniting factor that overrides all other differences, extremism is not in their nature. Since Oromo are the most abused, massacred, and their rights trampled upon as a people it was natural to expect their country’s name to be mentioned in a human rights Bill.
But even the death in Qaallittii prison mentioned was only in connection with election 2005. Many Oromo nationals have lost their lives from torture and negligence by the government in power around the same period in the same prison. One of the biggest civic Organizations in the empire Maccaa and Tuulamaa Association was disbanded and its leaders and many members were imprisoned for demanding the capital of Oromiyaa not to be relocated from Finfinnee to Adaamaa. It was during the same time that several Oromo students were thrown out of school and imprisoned for expressing there opinion against injustice. Even now killings no less than genocide is being carried out in Oromiyaa.
But when Ogaadeen is mentioned four times and the death as a result of election 2003 is the central theme of the Bill, not a single reference to Oromiyaa was made despite the American Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights Organizations repeated reports of the atrocities being committed against the Oromo. This is simply to show that the present Bill has specific target and doesn’t include Oromo tragedies. Human right abuse in Oromiyaa has become part of the inhabitants’ daily life.
Could it be because Oromo did not make loud and jarring noise?
Is it because planned peaceful transfer of power was disturbed unexpectedly in 2005 that the Habashaa case was given such attention? Is it the possibility of existence of oil in Ogaadeen which is not yet discovered in Oromiyaa or is it to keep Ogaadeen away from the troubled Somalia that it was recognized all of a sudden? What should the Oromo do to get attention from international community like the US system? These are questions Oromo are raising within themselves. Here let it not be taken as if the writer is belittling the atrocities in Ogaadeen or condoning the after election massacre of Qinijjit supporters. Daily, Ogaadeenies are subjected to cruel and humiliating human rights violation by alien occupation force since their conquest. EPRDF didn’t have mercy for Habashaa opposition since its inception. They had been one of the major targets for crippling. But the question is why the plight of over forty million people is yet being ignored? This is a question whose answer, if known is beneficial for all actors. As for the Bill, even the Oromo may expect some fringe benefits provided the target group yields to its pressure and the rule of law is established.
The Bill and Oromo interest
In 1992 after leaving the transitional arrangement OLF went around knocking at the doors of foreign ministries of the Western World including USA. With each of them it filed its complaint about the failure of democracy in that empire and the developing dangerous trend. Believing, “a stitch in time saves nine”, it asked them to deny cooperation for that failure. But OLF was told to wait and see for some time and the regime will improve if we constrictively engage it. Again after fifteen years we are being told the same thing. There are even those who dare tell the world of advancement made in matters of democracy and human rights. For such, advancement means totally subduing society clearing the way for uninhibited global cooperation. These include its muffling freedom of expression and the press. Such thinking invites totalitarian rule where people lose control over their rulers and the rulers always remain at the mercy of external forces. Domestically situation had come deteriorating, how come they are advancing externally. How many people should EPRDF massacre for the international community to stop supplying EPRDF with finance, weapons and advice? Oromo organizations had been fooled and had sacrificed their names, freedom and all they have to the extent of getting entrapped. As an Oromo saying goes “I failed to find my ox for I was guided in the search by a person who slew and ate it”.
The present regime is ruling by terror even before the appearance of Osama bin Laden on world stage. State terror is lauded as long as it does not cross boarders. But nationalists who rise against injustice are branded terrorists. Thus a local terrorist can be a partner in global anti-terror as long as it is willing to engage its national force across its boarder and be absolved from local sins. That is how the terrorist state changes position with the terrorized and the terrorized becomes a sinner. One life lost and interest affected on global level worth thousands sacrificed in the jungles of the Ethiopian empire. The Ethiopian empire was founded with the help of imperialist powers. It seems global powers are now saying that it is incumbent upon them to keep it intact and use it as an outpost for war for oil and war on terror. It is more than half a century that the world declared colonialism as an evil practice. But colonialism of the Ethiopian empire is being considered as a blessing in disguise. Always its being the oldest independent country is told, not that it is also the only country that maintains colonies up to now.
The Oromo are peace loving, cool tempered people but situations do not encourage them to forget their gloomy past. Its population was reduced to half during the initial resistance against invasion. It experienced then the most brutal treatments in the hands of its colonizers. Killings, disappearances, mutilations, tortures and imprisonments that started then have come down to this day. Millions were sold in Absinian and markets across the Red Sea that includes Europe. Then only a few witnessed and applauded for the victor.
Now the victim is also heard thanks to globalization of information. That being so the Oromo are still the single national majority population. That is why they adore democracy unlike their tormenters. They had also led the most democratic life when they were free people.
This majority factor is reflected in those aspects of the empire which are not rewarding but punishing. It forms the majority of foot soldiers that die in the battle fronts that are of no concern to it. It is the majority to die of malaria, tuberculosis, aids etc. diseases that are wiping out the population as a result of neglect and bad governance. It is the majority as a tax payer. Its land and resources are the major targets for plundering. Yet it is the most productive force in the region. It is the Atlas of the empire state. They are Oromo mercenaries that are making Ethiopia to continue, in words of a Senator, “to be the central bulwark in the fight to deter the growth and disrupt the influence of Islamic extremists in the region.” Ignoring Oromo interest could bring this claim to a stop.
Oromo population is the minority in forming the officer corps. It is in the minority in getting health services. It is in the minority in getting returns for what it contributed. It is in the minority to run business, own land and get educational services. As a nation the Oromo are not given due share in governing themselves. It has never been a partner in the empires affairs but for a year of the transitional period of 1991/92. Individual mercenaries had always been recruited but they had served only the interest of the colonial masters. That leaves the Oromo as one of the political minorities in the Ethiopian empire state. In alien propaganda it is an Absiinian ethnic group while in truth it is an enslaved lot to be dispensed off at will by the rulers.
In the name of free market it is being evicted from its ancestral land with excuse of investment. Its farm land that has supported thousands in food had now turned into flower beds. What Oromo needs was food to feed its hungry, not flowers to fill the volts of its conquerors. The indigenous is being displaced for foreigners and its own Diaspora to fill its space. The practice satiates the greed for land and wealth of the colonizers but it is a great suffering for the indigenous. The Bill mentions about privatization (Section 5/ c/2) but does not seem concerned about this episode that is taking place not more than ten miles away from American Embassy at Finfinnee.
The Oromo quest to be master over their own labor and resources and their right to national self determination is intentionally being ignored. There must first be freedom and peace to discuss economic theories and principles. Ignoring Oromo interest could affect all.
The purpose of the HR 2003 as stated is, “To encourage and facilitate the consolidation of peace and security, respect for human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia.” It is too much demanding from the present regime for the Bill requires from it to change the way of governance which has come down to it from time immemorial. The executive branch of US government understands the system better. It does not ask it to change but make use of it as it is. Therefore the House Act is a futile exercise. It might have helped to partially clear their conscience not to be blamed for being indifferent in spite of observed atrocities. Even if it is passed by all branches the Bill does not address the Oromo quest for realization of their rights to national self determination. It was prompted by the flawed election of 2003. This election was a competition for power between Absiinian groups. It could have helped in bringing up one autocratic group of colonizers and bringing down another. As for democracy it has never been in Habashaa tradition.
Freeing Oromo is freeing the majority. It is only a free majority that can keep the balance between freedom and democracy. The only solution is to clean the mess created by imperialist powers in the “scramble for Africa”. The Ethiopian empire must be dismantled and all imprisoned in it freed. An entity or entities based on the free will of the peoples has to be formed. That was the spirit of UN charter article 1.2, on principles of national self determination and universal peace. That is democracy in the true sense. Any other solution is only politicking and serving the interest of today’s powerful. Any one who wants to change the situation in Ethiopia must first deny recognition to the empire state. Otherwise any suggestion could be taken as breach of a country’s sovereignty and meddling in internal affairs. If one has to correct mistakes, it has to change the status that had been illegally assumed for over a century. To take the regime for an ally and brag about that relation is no less than endorsing its criminal acts. Over and above that it is no less meddling in the life of oppressed peoples than the Bill’s alleged open interference in affairs of a sovereign state.
To conclude, members of Congress have to be commended for their courage and persistence in unanimously opposing human rights violation in Ethiopia against all odds enumerated above and many others. It is now up to the Senate and the President to resist existing pressures and take the Bill to the finish. There is no other force other than that of the US that understands the benefits of the rule of law. Over considering its national interest and problems globally facing it, the Oromo problem might not be its priority. But the problem of the Ethiopian empire cannot be solved unless the Oromo question is responded to. The Ethiopia regime cannot also remain an enduring friend. For now the world is silent on that issue in favor of the status quo. The Oromo did not yet exploit their potential.
Some leaders had endured more than their capacity and so might succumb to pressure and abandon their set goal. That can never end a struggle for which thousands were sacrificed until Oromo question gets unequivocal reply. The cause that ignited the struggle must be addressed to peacefully advance any interest in the region.
Today Oromo may be at their worst period because of lack of internal harmony in their organizations in general and the OLF in particular. It will not take them as long as it has taken them so far to overcome the predicaments. Now there are many alternatives.
They will learn from others how to be heard on international level and on how to make the loudest noise. The cacophony of chattering boxes in the empire cannot turn Oromo into Habashaa as some wish. False promises and swearing cannot convert Habashaa governance into democracy overnight. Oromo cannot wait until eternity for them to change. They are cornered and have to breakout to reclaim their dignity and their proper place among nations. From HR 2003 Oromo may get fringe benefits though it was not meant to address their problems.
Honor and glory for the fallen heroines and heroes; liberty equality and freedom for the living and nagaa and araaraa for the Ayyaanaa of our forefathers!
Ibsaa Guutama is a member of the generation that drew the first Political program of the OLF.