We are publishing here a very thoughtful letter to the U.S. Congress from Mr. Kebede Yiman on the current situation in Oromia and attempts by some extremist member of the Ethiopian diaspora to sabotage relations between the United States and Ethiopia. Tell us what you think.


 Following a week of violent student protest in January which regrettably claimed precious human lives and destruction of property, there are calls from some extremist elements in the diaspora opposition pressing the US government into taking harsh political and diplomatic measures to disengage, reprimand or punish the Ethiopian government, apparently on lack of democratization and good governance and human rights abuse grounds. This letter is therefore my first petition against the wisdom of such an approach, if any is being contemplated, God forbid.

Having come as a refugee to escape from political persecution in Ethiopia in the early 1980s, I have now lived more than half of my life in the United States and became a humble naturalized citizen just two years ago. It is my sincere hope and solemn political disposition to promote and strengthen the friendly and mutually beneficial ties between the peoples  and governments  of the two  countries.  I owe at least this much to both of them because I believe I have a  stake,  albeit  a  big one,  in their friendship.

I am a lifetime student of Ethiopian political affairs and I don’t  belong  to  any political organization inside or outside of Ethiopia. I consider  myself  as  a concerned observer and reasonably pragmatic critique of the current EPRDF government.

I believe it is a government we deserve and under the circumstances, the best we can get. I am saying this in order to dispel the utility of  any  inclination  at entertaining an alternative and/or seeking a hypothetical entity from  the  current  crop of wanna bee nebulous  “candidates”.

Peace and security challenges in the Horn of Africa require that  Ethiopia  be stable at any cost. And any ambiguity  in this  rather strategic  imperative would be nothing short of political recklessness. The US should not encourage it, condone  it, or equivocate  about it.

The present constitutional architecture of the  government  is  republican,  federal and (I dare say in the Ethiopian context) democratic. Any attempt  at  political  change or reform, it follows, has to be both peaceful  a nd  incrementally  legal. These are precepts that are sufficient to premise and promise a rewarding all­ rounded Ethio-US diplomatic relationship. To breathe life and  viability  into Ethiopia’s current framework and to sustain its evolution into  maturity  is  by definition a difficult undertaking.  It  entails  above  all  a  comprehensive development effort  of all the  human and  material  resources  of the country  under a visionary, steady and committed political leadership. Democratization in this  regard therefore, is a delicate balancing act which should be pursued deliberately, with continuous  education,  creative  institutionalization  and  justified  legalization  of all modern  political  instruments of the  Ethiopian society.

Given the inherent ethnic, religious and political diversity of the Ethiopian people, democracy becomes both a theoretical destination and a formidable reality challenge – a sort of bitter pill to swallow but swallow it nonetheless. As our world-class Olympian athlete, Haile Gebre Sellassie, plainly stated in one of his recent interviews with a BBC correspondent, democracy can be a “luxury” but good governance, an aspect of it, is a “must have”. I concede that there is a lot to be desired in this respect from both the federal and state administrations running the country. It would be irresponsible to ignore and/or to tolerate its shortcomings.

There is too much malfeasance, incipient corruption and lack of transparency that is visibly threatening both its development credentials and its democratic credibility in the eyes of the public. Left unaddressed, immediately and thoroughly, this can be, in and of itself, not only an obstacle to the phenomenal Growth and Transformation Agenda of the ruling party but also potentially one factor in political destabilization that feeds into the nefarious schemes of its enemies, domestic and foreign.

The US could and should engage the Ethiopian government directly through existing diplomatic channels without emboldening the political nihilism of its adversaries, including known terrorists in the Horn and their enablers. I can name names if necessary but you would rather figure them out for now – they don’t  miss an opportunity to precipitate chaos and discord to promote their   zero-sum

politics. In a nutshell, Ethiopia cannot afford a political blunder of the “spring awakening” variety of the Maghrub or the Levant or the Arabian Peninsula. Ethiopia’s extremist groups sought and are on record during their social media  blitz as to where they wanted to take the country riding on the back of even legitimate public demonstrations protesting policy issues concerning their lives, right or wrong,clear or unclear, misunderstood or misconceived. It was not their demonstrations per se that led to those tragic deaths and the gory pictures that saturated the mass media. It was rather a few agent provocateurs who infiltrated into the unsuspecting and pliable youth, who took the  initiative,  and  set  the stage, provoked and incited hostilities against law enforcement forces by stoning and knifing them, by trying to disarm them, by setting fire to businesses, farm houses and killing some, including local civilians, whom they targeted as blameworthy government  supporters.

The media circus of the extremist diaspora opposition, however short-lived, was enormously damaging to Ethiopia’s improved global profile. It picked the most horrific and atrocious images to amplify the “cruelty and impunity” of the government law-enforcement agencies. Devoid entirely of any  context,  it saturated the media with shocking pictures carefully  selected and  manipulated  for maximum psychological impact while at the same time  calling  for  a generalized escalation of hostilities. Some have even video-paraded their “liberation armies” to galvanize the protesters into an insurrectionary climax and launched renewed (and opportunistic) fund-raising campaigns abroad to that end.

The craziest of them all, who have long ago flocked to Asmara, Eritrea, to solicit support and insight on how to fish in troubled political waters, did not  even hesitate to declare that their “day of reckoning is now”. These treasonous groups, adding insult to injury, are partially harbored in the United States while they are openly engaged in subversive “regime-change” activities (putting it mildly that is)  in collusion with Eritrea’s lsayas Afewerki, whose government has been under United Nations Security Council sanctions for, among other things, sponsoring terrorism  in the Horn of Africa.

Sense and sensibilities aside, these radicals have also injected the ugly vocabulary of “race and genocide” into contemporary Ethiopian political discourse. Their use of hateful language in the propagation of their politics hasreached such disturbing levels that I personally think are no longer tolerable without  risking the potentially disastrous consequences  of hate in the future.

Thank God, the Ethiopian people are a lot wiser than these self-appointed diaspora politicians who claim to speak on their behalf from thousands of miles away. The contagion of visceral hatred and vengeance that we observe in America has not yet found convenient vectors to transplant itself, and contaminate innocent folks at home. The fact that such anything goes politics is confined to disgrace itself in distant lands is therefore a blessing in disguise even if the audacity of its appearance here is a sure sign of the lunacy, desperation and intellectual bankruptcy of its hatemongering crowd. In their obsession to out-fox one another as to who among them would emerge as the most uncompromising bigot by thrashing Woyane-EPRDF, their rhetoric often loaded with “race and ethic slander.11   has shaded all conceivable ethical, legal and democratic  norms.

It is sad that US free speech rights are allowing to nest these sinister characters.  The paradox is that fellow immigrants who sometimes pretend to have “melted in the melting pot11 here could remain so crude and puritanical at the same time and indulge in such apparently schizophrenic, destructive and sectarian politics of “race and ethnic identity11  in their country of origin.

However laughable, the goals of the leaders in particular is to effect  regime­  change by any means necessary, including fanning inter-ethnic and/or religious hostility to render the country ungovernable. For many of these  leaders,  the country is considered to be under a foreign occupation akin to  Imperial  Italy of world war II. Despite the immense progress the country made over two decades, they see literally nothing good in order  to  deny  credit  to  the  ruling  party. Their itch for power in combination with their highly inflated egos, is obviously playing tricks  to  their thinking.

How else can one surmise that these same leaders whose coalitions ebb and flow solely on fleeting anti-woyane – EPRDF platforms of hate and prejudice forming (over the last two post-Mengistu decades) four ‘governments in waiting1, all still­ born without seeing the light of day. It is no wonder that some of them have been desperately searching for a foreign entity to surrogate them to power. The Chalabi1s of Ethiopia are now seething with both rage and frustration. They are so far unable to hitch-hike to Addis because they could not find any such sponsor to openly commit to their delusion except perhaps Eritrea’s lsayas. They therefore may plead and please at one time only to be ugly and obnoxious at another. Even though one hopes and expects that they at least have a slow learning curve and wise up over time, it is unnaturally obvious that they have stopped learning at all.

Opposition leaders, almost without exception were at one time known to run to foreign embassies to prostrate themselves and beg for intervention in matters of Ethiopia’s sovereign jurisdiction, just like some  extremist  elements  now  spend their days screaming in front of the State  Department, the White  House, and the  US Congress in Washington D.C. It is baffling how these fellow Ethiopians can square this anomalous behavior with the age-old tradition and glorious history of independence  of  our forefathers.

What does “Obama, don’t betray Ethiopia” mean? what does “stop the genocide in Ethiopia” likewise imply? I don’t want to reiterate the many other spiteful and scandalous slogans, out of sheer respect to Ethiopia and its people. All I say is ignore them for what they are: disgraceful. They dishonor the past, they don’t reflect the present and contribute nothing beneficial to our future.  America should not dignify such fantasy of the deranged by offering them a fair hearing. They are a nuisance we are condemned to live with, period. After all, isn’t political fanaticism displaying such nasty flights of imagination again and again, and yet expecting a different outcome doing so?

The vast majority of Ethiopians in the diaspora live in the real world and are tied to their real Ethiopia in 95 million strings. For them, Ethiopia is a beautiful mosaic of nations and nationalities trying its best to accommodate their natural linguistic, religious, cultural and social diversities and create a harmonious society of democratic citizens i.e. a “more perfect union between them”, I believe. It is a country fighting its way out of real poverty, real disease, and real backwardness in all their complex manifestations, among which political backwardness is one. Even though all transitions are difficult, Ethiopia’s could have been worse, given the political deformities of its recent past history and the present shortcoming of its political elite. Arguably, the road to democratization could have been less bumpy under less confrontational and more visionary and pragmatic leadership of the diverse political organizations competing for power. One has to weigh the relative   democratic   predisposition,   threshold   of   tolerance   and   quality  of leadership of these divers groups in view of the challenges the country faced to assess their contributions or lack thereof towards the progress achieved in this regard. In my opinion, the country has been better off under EPRDF and as things stand at present and perhaps also in the foreseeable future, I personally cannot envision one or a coalition of stable, responsible and mature alternative players emerging.  And  that  is out  of the  75  parties currently  legally  registered  including

58 that peacefully participated during the last election cycle. Clearly, these organizations have a lot of soul searching to do to be both viable and constructive partners and/or rivals to the EPRDF. Though long overdue, one of their immediate tasks is to be resolutely vigilant and to guard against the negative spell cast by the rather noisy engineers of chaos now dancing in the fringes to seduce them around their grievances, real or otherwise and risk peace and stability. The ruling party  must also engage them more positively, particularly  under  prevailing  circumstances where it enjoys control of the Ethiopian parliament. Such  engagement should encompass expanded regular and substantive consultations over issues of policy by encouraging their input as well as criticism under the National Council of Ethiopian Political Parties already in place.  Such  forum, perhaps including observer status during parliamentary deliberations could go a  long way  to  build  mutual  understanding,trust  and cooperation.

The January demonstrations began with the legitimate concerns of the public in connection with the Addis Abeba and Oromia Special Zone Integrated Master Plan in some parts of Oromia Regional State. To my knowledge, the Master Plan was prepared to synchronize the Addis Abeba city plan with adjacent  towns  and  districts in Oromia Special Zone and to streamline future growth in infrastructural connectivity.

Some aspects of the plan, particularly those involving issues of eminent domain could be expected to cause controversy even  under  more favorable  situations. Lack of adequate clarification by the Addis Abeba city administration and Oromia Regional State with regard to the importance of the  Master  Plan to  the  public, even if baffling, is a serious error of both judgement and competence. More generally, preexisting perceptions of corruption and nepotism  of  some  officials  may have also contributed to the prevailing climate  of  suspicion  and dissatisfaction.

Granted that government authorities had been negligent to communicate with them, the people in the affected localities have the right to protest and express their concern about the Master Plan peacefully. And this they did. It is the level of hostility and the unwarranted animus created by a few opportunistic radical elements in order to launch nationwide lawlessness and anarchy that is hardly justifiable.

To their credit, government authorities responded flexibly and suspended the contentious Master Plan while engaging the public in extensive discussions about their grievances once the initial worrisome conflagration was contained. The role played by the people, not only to stop the  hostilities  but also to reverse them  and to restore law and order has been very crucial. Schools have resumed normal operations. Victims of the violence are being compensated and rehabilitated with government assistance. More importantly, investigations are underway  to  hold those who incited and orchestrated the violence legally accountable in a fair, transparent and timely manner. We would soon  know who  did what,  how  and  why during those tragic days, including of  course,  whether  or  not  law  enforcement handling of them was appropriate. In any case, January has come to pass as a grim reminder of the paramount importance of good governance and social stability,

For more than 15 years now, Ethiopia has been a growth story despite numerous formidable challenges. The current El-Nino induced massive drought is the latest among them but to a large extent, Ethiopia is still in a rendezvous march for its own renaissance.

Truth be told, this internationally acknowledged growth story is written by hard working Ethiopians under the EPRDF leadership with little or no input from the so called political opposition. It would be a historic tragedy, if willful indifference to good governance by the governing party combined with the obscurantist chatter of forces longing for its demise were to sap and/or slow the country’s growth momentum. And this should not be allowed to occur whatsoever.

Fortunately, a long overdue reform agenda which was in the making prior to the January protests has been launched soon after (and perhaps because of it) with unprecedented vigor and political reach. According to Prime Minister Haile Mariam  Desalegn, the  EPRDF  has vowed  “to  re-invent  itself”  by addressing problems of good governance and has appealed to the people to rally behind this effort. Preliminary report indicates that a sweeping rectification program is  underway at all level of both federal and Regional governments.  Corrupt bureaucrats and their cohorts are being held legally accountable by a transparent process that involves an enthusiastic population, while proponents of “regime­ change” elsewhere are as usual chanting songs of war and painting doomsday scenarios to grab  attention.

In the meantime, Ethio-US bilateral relations have never been so good and more purposeful since the days of Emperor Haile Selassie. President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia last year went a long way to cement their friendship and give depth and scope to their mutual interests. The US, I am informed, is fully appreciative of the role played by Ethiopia to promote peace and stability in the Horn of Africa along with its IGAD partners. Ethiopia’s record as a responsible member of the International community is evidently beyond reproach even though it had been let down at times when it expected respect and responsibility from others. Jealously guarding its age-old independence, it is no wonder that the country is sensitive to foreigners meddling in its affairs. For Ethiopia of history, sovereign dignity matters and a friend indeed is a friend in need. It is gratifying that Mr. Obama highlighted this core principle and offered to be Ethiopia’s partner at a time when its singular focus is toward development and modernization. Ethio-US long term mutual interests are better served by a sober and comprehensive evaluation of the realities in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia’s role in it, in tandem with the latter’s peace and stability, and not by heeding to the narrow-minded and often dubious motives of a notoriously sectarian, vulgar, unruly and fractured diaspora crowd masquerading as a respectable political opposition. Needless to say, it may take “divine intervention” for this destructively irrational opposition to change course, grow-up and become a positive factor in Ethiopian politics.

Kebede D. Yimam March 05, 2016

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