By Alemayehu G. Mariam
When the going gets tough…
When the going gets tough, the tough go looking for distractions and diversions.
The past few weeks have been tough going for dictator Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Secret cables released by Wikileaks provided stunning revelations on Zenawi’s secret world. The U.S. believes Zenawi’s security forces staged a bomb explosion in 2008 and blamed an opposition group for committing terrorism. Zenawi made a thinly-veiled solicitation to the Americans to “remove the Bashir regime” in the Sudan. The Americans knew Zenawi was cooking the economic numbers to show economic development unseen anywhere in the world. They called his claims “mythic economic growth”. Torture is routinely practiced in Zenawi’s prisons; and the list of horrors goes on and on. Famine is spreading throughout Ethiopia and the Horn according to the recent U.S. Senate testimony of one high level American official. The Ethiopian economy is in shambles, according to a secret International Monetary Fund report which Zenawi has requested not be made public. Inflation is no longer galloping; it is flying high in the Ethiopian stratosphere. Bad news for Zenawi all around.
When the going gets tough, Zenawi always finds something to distract the people’s attention and show that he is still in total control. Last week, he paraded out two Swedish journalists and charged them with terrorism. He also arrested dozens of imaginary opponents. To put icing on the cake, he even jailed Debebe Eshetu (first jailed after the 2005 elections), one of the greatest and much-loved Ethiopian stage and screen actors of all time. Nice try but…
What happened to a “large chunk” of Ethiopian territory” in 2008?
Some of my readers may recall that in July 2008 I gave a long speech challenging Zenawi’s factual basis and the legality of the secret giveaway of Ethiopian land to the Sudan. I argued: “Zenawi’s defiant refusal to be transparent and open in making public an ‘Agreement’ (treaty) that gives away a large chunk of Ethiopian territory to another country is a monumental breach of constitutional duty for which he should be held accountable.”
Wikileaks now provides confirmation to the widely-held belief that Zenawi had secretly handed over Ethiopian land to the Sudan. According to highly placed sources briefing American officials, in a move to deal with “on-going tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan”, Zenawi had turned over land to the Sudan “which has cost the Amhara region a large chunk of territory” and tried to “sweep the issue under the rug.”
This revelation is solid confirmation of the slow and methodical dismemberment of Ethiopia. First, the Port of Assab was given away in the mid-1990s; Ethiopia became a landlocked nation. In 1998, Badme in northern Ethiopia was invaded; and after 80,000 Ethiopians sacrificed their lives and repelled the invaders, Zenawi delivered Badme to the same invaders in international arbitration. In the last several years, Indian, Middle Eastern and other “investors” have been handed free land without even asking for it. Then there is the insidious “ethnic federalism” which has created the equivalent of Bantustans (ethnic homelands) for the Ethiopian people.
On May 11, 2008, Zenawi issued a statement which categorically denied the transfer of any Ethiopian land to the Sudan. That statement accused the “media” and “irresponsible” elements outside the country for creating fear and alarm over something that did not happen. When Sudanese officials publicly announced acquisition of territory from Ethiopia in mid-May, Zenawi’s officials started backpedalling on the initial story. They said only preliminary work on border demarcation had been done, but nothing had been finalized. Within days, they changed the story once more and announced that they were merely “implementing prior agreements” concluded by the imperial/Derg regimes with the Sudan.
As the Ethio-Sudan Border Affairs Committee began to aggressively investigate what was really happening on the ground in the western border areas, Ethiopians victimized by land giveaway began giving interviews to the Voice of America and other international media outlets. They complained bitterly that they had been driven out of their ancestral lands by occupying Sudanese forces. Their farm machinery and tools had been confiscated and scores of Ethiopians had been arrested and detained in Sudanese jails. The victims also reported that they were attacked by helicopter gunships of Zenawi’s regime for defending their homes, farms and towns. At that point, Zenawi had no choice but to “fess” up; and on May 21, Zenawi publicly described his agreement with al-Bashir of the Sudan:
We, Ethiopia and Sudan, have signed an agreement not to displace any single individual from both sides to whom the demarcation benefits… We have given back this land, which was occupied in 1996. This land before 1996 belonged to Sudanese farmers. There is no single individual displaced at the border as it is being reported by some media.
Zenawi insisted on keeping the actual agreement secret, but his public statement provided important clues on the basic terms and nature of the secret agreement. Zenawi’s statement provided solid confirmation of the existence of an actual “Agreement” that has been “signed” either by Zenawi or someone authorized by him. While the detailed terms and conditions of the land giveaway remained secret, Zenawi put on the record the nature of the subject matter in the Agreement which included: 1) the question of non-displacement of persons in the giveaway territories, 2) the preservation of benefits of all persons affected by border demarcation, 3) restoration of land rights to Sudanese farmers on land supposedly occupied illegally by Ethiopian farmers, and 4) cession of lands (“give back of land”) “occupied” by Ethiopia “in 1996” back to the Sudan.
It is important to underscore the fact that “The Agreement” Zenawi “signed” with al-Bashir, by his own description, has nothing to do with the so-called Gwen line (setting the “frontier between Ethiopia and Sudan”) of 1902. It also has nothing to do with any other agreements drafted or concluded by the imperial government prior to 1974, or the Derg between 1975 and 1991 for border demarcation or settlement. Zenawi’s agreement, by his own public statement, deals exclusively with border matters and related issues beginning in 1996, when presumably the alleged occupation of Sudanese land took place under his watch.
Where is the Agreement?
Why has Zenawi kept the actual text of “The Agreement” secret from the public and the “Council of Representatives” in violation of Art. 55 (12) of the Ethiopian Constitution? Zenawi as a “public official” has an affirmative constitutional duty to perform his official responsibilities in an open and transparent manner. This duty is unambiguously mandated under Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution which provides, “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public… Any public official or elected representative shall be made accountable for breach of his official duties.” Article 12 applies to ALL “activities of government” and to ALL government officials. It makes no exceptions for secret deals by “prime ministers”. Transparency and openness in government is a mandatory constitutional duty of ALL public officials, not an optional or discretionary one. The refusal to make public an agreement that gives away a large chunk of Ethiopian territory to another country is a monumental breach and evasion of constitutional duty.
There is one question that needs to be answered now that the world knows the truth: Why does Zenawi keep secret and refuse to make public an Agreement that gave a “large chunk” of Ethiopian territory to the Sudan?
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/