TOO LATE, TOO SUPERFICIAL (A Brief Comment on the ICG Report on Ethiopia)

Hama Tuma

 “The ideological identikit of some of the rebel forces is alarming. The TPLF, for example, are considered as ferocious local replicas of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge”. (Domenico Quirico, La Stampa, Italy, 26/4/1991) 

 ”Ethiopia sadly is one of the most politically repressive countries in the world”. Makau wa Mutua in Ignoring the Lessons of History, December 1994

 “Tribalism is an atavism, retrogression back to the embryo. Tribal thinking is extremely primitive.” (Mwalimu Julius Nyrere, September 1994)

 “I am convinced that there are better ways to address Ethiopia’s ethnic problems without giving ethnicity primacy above all issues in the political system. The danger of an ethnic based system is that it encourages disunity and hostility, especially in a country such as Ethiopia“, (US Senator Harry Johnstone, September 1994).

 The Ovambos of Southern Africa say the fool laughs at himself.  Some present day Ethiopians seem to enjoy doing just that. A number of Ethiopian web sites of the Diaspora have recently posted a September 4 report by the International Crisis group on “Ethnic Federalism and its Discontents””. None of these sites have ventured a critic on the 45 pages report but it is safe to assert that they seem to be delighted. Not surprisingly though, the clique in power in Addis Ababa has cried foul because the ICG criticizes it though it gives it credit that it does not deserve at all (see Aiga Forum article on the subject). However, this report of the ICG is too late and very confused and superficial and therefore one more evidence of how and why such so called experts and the US administration have failed to understand the reality of Ethiopia.

An objective appraisal of the Ethiopian situation has been lacking for long from foreign quarters. Their premises have often been flawed and their conclusions quite mistaken. The International Crisis group had in the past an analyst/member called John Prendergast (now with Enough Project) who was a State Department official at the time when the Tigrean front took power (1991). He backed the repressive and ethnic chauvinist Tigrean front to the hilt and wrote, with the Meles Zenawi advisor Paul Henze (former CIA and Rand Corporation employee), articles attacking as “Amhara chauvinists” those who stood against the TPLF.  Here is what Prendergast and Henze wrote back in September-December 1993 (Ethiopian Commentator–a TPLF funded magazine):

”Heated rhetoric is raising the political temperature in Addis Ababa. Through the deceptively named All Amhara People’s Organization and the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces, this possessed elements who have vested interests in the maintenance of the Mengistu regime, are baiting the new government with racially and religiously divisive rhetoric. They are being funded and encouraged by exiles abroad, some of whom were collaborators with Mengistu. They hope to provoke violent reactions which will lead donor governments and agencies to cut off aid to the Transitional government and to isolate it diplomatically” (p.58).

Racial rhetoric? What does that mean? The apologists of the repressive regime ( it is being provoked) do fail to mention (as they lie shamelessly)  that the All Amhara People’s Organization was formed after the TPLF takeover and worked legally in the country while the Coalition (COEDF) was made up forces like the EPRP, the EDU, and others who had for years struggled against the Mengistu regime.

That bias and prejudice seem to have lingered on within the ICG. While the ICG report does criticize the Meles Zenawi regime, it should be said that the basic criticism is superficial and confused and continues to echo the TPLF’s insidious assertions and fallacies. The ICG report is soaked with the TPLF’s Amhara oriented prejudicial conclusions. The report states that Amhara elite opposed ethnic federalism because it goes against and impedes, in their view, a strong unitary state. The conclusion is that the opposition (designated as Amhara in the ICG report) wants a “strong unitary state “and is opposed to ethnic federalism on this ground. This is totally baseless and false. The Ethiopian opposition with the EPRP included called for years for decentralization. In fact, almost all the programs of the EPRP advocated for a federal system. The EPRP also proposed a federal solution for Eritrea, a stand for which both the TPLF and the EPLF (Eritrea) attacked it as chauvinist and more.  The ICG writers could have made some research before making such a fallacious assertion. The ICG report shares so much of the TPLF prejudicial positions against Amharas that it concludes that “the 2005 elections were shaped by Amhara and nationalist discontent with the loss of Eritrea…”  Shame on the writers of this report! At least one should research, try to get an objective appraisal. Let us briefly deal with the mistaken assertions and conclusions.

The 2005 elections were historic in that the majority of the Ethiopian people confronted all odds and cast their vote against the TPLF/EPRDF. It was not an Amhara nationalist affair at all. The assertion that all opposition is Amhara is a basic line of the Tigrean ruling front and it assumes that the Amharas, as a people and/or ethnic group, ruled over Ethiopia and benefited from it. This is just an echo of the anti Amhara propaganda of the ethnic fronts and secessionist forces who tried to rewrite history through their skewered ethnic prism (their fantasy of Ethiopian colonialism, Abyssinian settler colonialism, etc). Any decent research would show that the majority of Amharas (poor peasants like most other Ethiopians, suffered from the repressive regimes and if truth be told the Amhara peasant of rural Shoa and mountainous Semien/Dashen was worse off than the peasant in Tigrai or Eritrea. The ICG report goes on to refer to the Diaspora as dominated by Amharas and Amharanized urbanites. Take it this way, read it in any other way, the ICG reports strongly asserts, directly and otherwise, that the Ethiopian people’s opposition struggle is Amhara or Amhara dominated and we all know that these ‘devilish Amharas exploited and oppressed the vast majority and are now furious because they lost their privileges’!!! It smells of Henze and Prendergast doesn’t it? No wonder the ICG report quotes the likes of John Young who were pathetic TPLF scribes.

The 2005 elections in which the opposition CUD and UEDF were able to mobilize the majority against the TPLF was a historic occasion whose dimension and impact has escaped the ICG report writers. Millions of Ethiopians of almost all ethnic groups took part in the election and the EPRDF was resoundingly defeated. Even thousands of Tigreans in cities like Addis Ababa voted for the CUD and unless the ICG calls them Amharanized urbanites they hailed from the birth province of Meles Zenawi. The loss of Eritrea was not the main and biggest issue of the 2005 election–the repressive and ethnic discriminatory rule of the TPLF was. By the way, the ICG takes the EPRDF fiction as fact and refers to the satellites of the TPLF gathered within the EPRDF as TPLF -friendly forces. The reality is that there is no EPRDF (in fact some even argue that the TPLF per se does not exist) as a bona fide front made up of independent organizations. During the 2005 elections, the Ethiopian people rose as one to defeat the TPLF at the ballot box and it is grossly unfair to designate this event as “shaped by Amharas and nationalists”.  Who are these nationalists if not the “damned” Amharas? Amharanized urbanites? The ICG shames itself!

The ICG report is also flawed in its analysis of the pre 1991 situation. Its reference to EPRP and Meisone as “student organizations” is  surprising to say the least; though it is true that both organizations emerged from the student movement and intelligentsia they were by mid seventies mass based parties in opposite camps. The defeat of the Derg regime was not the work of the TPLF alone either as the report bluntly asserts. The ICG report states also that by mid 1990s the only party with an identifiable program was the EPRDF. Really? What happened to the OLF, the EPRP/COEDF, and the legal opposition groups? None of them had a program or was it all invisible? A certain kind of myopia, heavily influenced by the TPLF and the ethnic groups, seems to have afflicted the ICG personnel who wrote this report. Their appendix on rebel groups presents the history (and formal and superficial at that) of only the OLF and the ONLF. Are there no other rebel groups now? Were there not then during the time of the Derg? The ICG tendency to assume as true certain TPLF assertions goes as far as taking at face value the present TPLF/EPRDF claim that it now has 5 million or so members and the Meles resignation charade (he wanted to step down but has been pressurized to stay is how the ICG report presents it with no desire to be funny). But this is not the only problem.

The ICG reporters start out seemingly with a desire to criticize the ethnic federalism of the ruling Tigrean clique but they end by doing the opposite. They credit the TPLF/EPRDF with “radically transforming the political system” and assert that it was not the principle of ethnic federalism per se that has proved problematic.  This is how they elaborate on it: ethnic federalism has dramatically enhanced service delivery as well a rural inhabitants’ access to the State allowing the EPRDF to extend its authority deep into the countryside: Are these experts writing about Ethiopia? What extension of services? All existing services are actually in the pits. The rural population having access to the State can be read as fiction. The ruling group has spread and extended its authority mainly based on and through its repressive power and apparatuses. For anyone who has any inkling of the Ethiopian reality the above assertion of the ICG report jars and offends. They go on to claim that “economic growth and expansion of public services are to the regime’s credit”. Such wild statements make their declared attempt to be critical of the regime and objective a sham.

The ICG report is, despite claims of on place interviews, a tattered piece which gives more credit to the repressive regime than criticizing it. Moreover, the focus and sympathy is again on other ethnic groups and not on the right or struggle of the Ethiopian people as a whole. That ethnic federalism is bankrupt and the base of the whole problem of bad governance has been denied by the ICG report which tries to blame the alleged Amhara yearning for a unitary state to be the core of the problem.  This done and even the historic 2005 election reduced to an Amhara protest, there was no chance for the report to redeem itself. Diaspora web sites (Amhara and Amharanized in the ICG view) must be accused of masochism for giving publicity to this report that does injustice to the people of Ethiopia. Back in the seventies groupies of the ethnic and secessionist fronts (Peter Niggli, Dan Connell, Kristy Wright, Gayle Smith, Firebrace and Holland. Abdurahman Babu, etc) and later Prendergast and the Paul Henzes were attacking the Amhara people at every opportunity. In the process, the TPLF and company have slyly sold their unholy diatribe against the Amhara. Their falsification of history has been taken as the truth by so called experts who apparently are prejudiced and totally disinterested in facts and do not make any effort to research on the truth of the situation. Thus, the ICG report may please some of the usual quarters, but is flawed, impaired and an affront to the people of Ethiopia.

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4 Responses to TOO LATE, TOO SUPERFICIAL (A Brief Comment on the ICG Report on Ethiopia)

  1. Fernando says:

    Thanks the info.

  2. Fernando says:

    Tribalism-cultural consumer, religious and socio-political tribal isolation. One of the manifestations of tribal hatred. I think that Ethiopia must change the political system. Then Ethiopia will be able to raise to the level of moderately developed countries. At I found information about the development of Ethiopia, my opinion is such that this country needs to develop.

  3. Anna M. Bond says:

    Tribalism-cultural consumer, religious and socio-political tribal isolation. One of the manifestations of tribal hatred. I think that Ethiopia must change the political system. Then Ethiopia will be able to raise to the level of moderately developed countries. At I found information about the development of Ethiopia, my opinion is such that this country needs to develop.

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