The Imperative of Peace and National Reconciliation in Ethiopia

December 1st, 1998

Statement, December 1, 1998

The TPLF-led government in Ethiopia has made it a habit to dismiss out of hand the deafening calls by responsible citizens and numerous organizations for peaceful dialog on national reconciliation. It would rather engage in a tiresome charade by claiming, with a straight face, that there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia—only those who violated the country’s “laws,” that it governs on the basis of a freely-given electoral mandate, and that the opposition operating outside the country endures a self-imposed exile. And yet, citizens whose only crime is a defiant attempt to exercise rights enshrined in the regime’s own “constitution” continue to be subjected to imprisonment, to the street justice of assassination squads, and to politically-motivated evictions from their ancestral but still nationalized plots of land. The regime sadly continues to be emboldened by the uncritical support, not to mention the patronizing labels, it has received from some foreign governments as an expression of the latter’s geopolitical interests, rather than as an endorsement of TPLF’s domestic political and socioeconomic policies. Just as incredible is the frantic effort of this government to misrepresent the time-honored patriotism of the Ethiopian people in their firm response to the reckless violation of the country’s sovereignty by its ally, the EPLF. The Ethiopian people are, however, savvy enough to recognize the bitter fruits of so many bankrupt policies pursued by a paranoid regime.

The misguided policies the TPLF has been peddling are legendary, including unmitigated attacks on the Ethiopian identity, unprecedented economic giveaways to the EPLF regime in Asmera, mean spirited fanning of ethnic differences, a policy of blatant favoritism toward its home province to the exclusion of the rest, and contemptuous dismantlement or politicization of national institutions which served as symbols of Ethiopian unity and independence. Instead of learning from its mistakes, the regime regrettably wallows in the dangerous delusion of forging a ‘loyal opposition’ through naked intimidation and infantile propaganda.

The Ethiopian Democratic Action League believes that the patience and wisdom of the Ethiopian people will eventually prevail. In the interest of limiting the damage inflicted on our war-weary and impoverished people, we once again appeal to reason and experience. We specifically demand that the following measures be taken immediately in order to put the country on the path of reconciliation:

1. All prisoners of conscience, including thousands of leaders and members of political parties, and religious, civic and professional organizations, must be released. And all harassments, persecutions and assassinations of members of the opposition and persons with opposing views must stop;

2. The government must make public the still classified security and economic accords with the renegade rulers of Eritrea, including all outstanding obligations of the EPLF regime to Ethiopia. More to the point, it should submit for public scrutiny the comprehensive settlement it intends to achieve with EPLF addressing such issues as debt repayment, return of Ethiopian assets, access to the sea, treatment of each other’s citizens, and demarcation of borders; and

3. The right of all political parties, and religious, civic and professional organizations to exercise their functions without any impediment anywhere within the territory of Ethiopia must be respected. This includes the establishment of a non-adversarial framework in which all independent organizations and individuals can participate freely. It has now become conventional wisdom that no self-respecting dictatorship misses the opportunity to disguise this fact by orchestrating elections, done primarily to please foreign donors. The Ethiopian people, having been compelled to go through several such futile exercises of phantom democracy, are hardly impressed by the new promises for the year 2000.

In the interest of speeding up the transition to constitutional rule by a freely elected government, we must also ask the TPLF government:

1. to suspend the operative power and relevant legislations concerning several contentious clauses in its constitution, including the so-called right to secession;

2. to refrain from using its ethnic militia to enforce its political dictat extra-constitutionally, and to return in full value the substantial government assets transferred to party-controlled entities as war booty or through insider privatization; and

3. to restore the positions and pensions of civil servants and teachers fired from their jobs on account of their presumed ethnic identity or political views in an unprecedented violation of one of the best civil service governance procedures in Africa.

These measures will pave the way for tackling more fundamental issues including constitutional reform, creation of an inclusive national defense force, redefinition of an acceptable federal structure, and implementation of aggressive anti-poverty programs.

These are the most urgent demands being voiced by a wide cross-section of the Ethiopian public. We believe that lasting peace and development cannot be achieved in our country unless these conditions are realized in good faith. Seven years of misrule is long enough for TPLF to realize that it would not succeed in imposing its alien and myopic vision on a people whose history is filled with victories against seemingly invincible tyranny. The sooner it closes the enormous gulf of credibility with the electorate, the earlier will the day arrive when Ethiopians at home and abroad join hands jubilantly to reclaim their country and make her whole again.

Ethiopian Democratic Action League