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Aug-01-2011 18:56printcomments

Open letter to all Ugandan Members of Parliament

Background information by relating apparently unrelated events.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Reuters courtesy: The Guardian UK

(UGANDA) - While most despots throughout the world faced serious threats to their power base, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa which in fact dispatched two of them in the dustbins of history, there is one exceptional despot in the Horn of Africa.

Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea

On top of the apparent success this despot seems to have achieved, particularly since 2005, to consolidate his power into a fully blown tyranny without any meaningful resistance internally, he also appeared externally to gain astonishing diplomatic feats that give carte blanche to his dictatorial rule. This despot is Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Perhaps the only other despot that can surpass his ruthless dictatorship is Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea, his former mentor and comrade-in-arms who catapulted him to power and installed him in the Menilik palace in Addis Ababa.

If one collates reports of human rights violations, one would think that the two seem to be in rivalry to stifle dissent and all forms of free expression like the famous rivalry between the two neighborly and brotherly athletes; Haile Gebresellasie of Ethiopia and Paul Tergat of Kenya.

Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat of
Kenya during the 10,000 metres at the Sydney Olympics

The global realpolitik that always acts out of expediency rather than principle failed once again to see the divisive and destabilizing nature of these two Horn of Africa regimes when they waged their deadly war against the Ethiopian State during the cold war.

Mengistu Hailemariam

The Western world, particularly the United States government that was unable to see beyond the toppling of Mengistu Hailemariam who was under the Soviet sphere of influence, created another problem child for Africa at the expense of the Ethiopian State.

Until the Eritrean despot fell out of favors, both enjoyed cozy relationship in the power corridors of the West.Indeed, Isaias was one of the current despots hailed in Kampala as “the new breed leader” of Africa in 1998.

Unfortunately, in that same year it dawned on Isaias as a terrible realization that the Trojan horse he created and installed in Ethiopia began to have an ambition of his own;that is to extricate himself from the control of his forces in a bid to amass the untapped resources of Ethiopia contrary to their secret deal that envisaged to create a sovereign Tigrigna speaking nation by joining the Tigrigna speaking territory of Ethiopia with Eritrea or alternately to build an African Singapore in Eritrea at the expense of Ethiopia.

The biggest blunder Isaias and his secessionist cohorts in Eritrea made is to entrust the vast lands of Ethiopia to Meles Zenawi rather than changing tack out of their parochial “independent State” for Eritrea. With the upper hand they enjoyed militarily in 1991, they should have assumed the mantle of power in Addis.

That way, Ethiopians would have been left to contend with only one agenda; a struggle for genuine democracy since their historical and territorial unity would remain preserved with a guaranteed outlet to the sea. Eritreans too would have continued to enjoy economic privileges in their own motherland.

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No matter how this may sound naïve which had been suggested by numerous patriotic Ethiopians to the Eritrean secessionists, both then and in hindsight it was the best suggestion that Eritreans should have embraced, had they been smart. It would have saved them from launching another senseless war in which they tasted ignominious defeat.

On the other hand, in spite of suffering defeat at the battle field, the Eritrean regime came out victorious following the armistice by the Algiers agreement in 2000. Both regimes agreed to be bound by a ruling of the Boundary Commission waiving their right of appeal.

When the Boundary Commission ruled in favor of Eritrea by awarding the hitherto unknown town and bone of contention called Badme, the Ethiopian regime recanted and refused to execute the ruling. In a typical hypocrisy that characterizes realpolitik, the so-called International Community neglected to pressure the Ethiopian regime to comply as per the agreement.

Instead Meles Zenawi managed to remain the darling of the “international community” while Isaias was made pariah. While both regimes in Addis and Asmara was hatched, flourished and sustained by methods so ruthless to the extent of recruiting underage kids, using civilians as shields, destroying infrastructure indiscriminately and using proxy wars by driving wedges between people of the same creed and color.

Today Meles Zenawi is portrayed as a statesman and peacemaker while his former comrade Isaias Afeworki is tainted as a warmonger and sponsor of terrorists. I have no problem with the Eritrean regime being described as such.

However, the “international community” ignores the fact that Meles Zenawi’s readiness to do business with leaders of Oromo Liberation Front/OLF/who ordered for the execution of ethnic cleansing of Amharic speaking Ethiopians in a south-west town called Asosa in 1985 with the Eritrean People Liberation Front/EPLF/, then a close partner of Meles Zenawi’s Tigray People Liberation Front/TPLF/.

When the “international community” ignores the fact that Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front/EPRDF/dominated by his minority ethnic faction TPLF, excluded peaceful and unarmed multiethnic democratic groups from the formation of the so-called transitional government in June 1991 while inviting OLF against a backdrop of bloody history which it condemns today as a terrorist group.

This, as the “international community” turns a blind eye when the same OLF committed another crime of ethnic cleansing on Amharic speaking Ethiopians in a town called Arbagugu while being part of the so-called transitional government with a tacit approval from Meles Zenawi’s TPLF; then I have plenty of problem to take this “international community” and its institutions such as the United Nations and African Union seriously.

View of Addis Ababa

To my further disenchantment, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea released a report accusing Eritrea of plotting to turn Addis Ababa into Baghdad-like scenario on the eve of AU summit last January.

The report which suggested “a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics” to spread terror by producing “mass civilian casualties” through the “use of explosives,” also added that the men recruited for this purpose belonged to OLF who confirmed this fact to the “Monitoring” group from their “detention centre.”

Considering the Eritrean regime’s and OLF’s background, I have no intention of speculating on whether they are capable of unleashing such diabolical acts of terror.

Yet, if one confronts me with “yes, they are capable of doing that,” then my response would be “so is Meles Zenawi’s TPLF.”

In fact, I contend that if the so-called monitoring groups of UN had done their job with no ulterior motive, they would have unearthed without much effort evidences that Meles’s regime itself had used terror tactics by planting explosives and actually bombing public facilities thus spread scaremongering for dual purposes;

1. To maintain the loyalty of the minority ethnic group called Tigray whom he claims to be its liberator by creating a myth that the loss of power from TPLF would entail the annihilation of this group by other ethnic groups, namely “Amhara.”

2. To blame it on opposition groups and dissidents that earned the respect of their community.Sadly,we would only be told of these facts when Meles falls out of favor or when it no longer matters. Then possibly we would read about it by a fancy researcher as “bestseller” as we read about the sordid crimes of Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines as to how he bombed public facilities and blamed it on “commies” with the acquiescence of his American benefactors in World on Fire by Amy Chua.

Flag of Ethiopia

Getting back to the UN Monitoring report, one crucial point made me doubt its credibility. According to BBC, the UN investigators spent 22 hours of “sifting” through evidences availed to them by the Ethiopian regime along with interrogating the men who confessed to them from the “detention center” where they are captive of the Ethiopian régime. In other words, the “investigators” didn’t make any findings independently of themselves.

They have just reported what they have been fed by the Ethiopian régime. Also despite innumerable reports by credible human rights organizations including the UN human rights agency itself on the routine practice of judicial persecution on opposition groups and dissidents via trumped up charges along with arbitrary arrest and torture, the Monitoring Group tells us that the detained people admitted to membership of the OLF wherein they undertook to blow up Addis Ababa on behalf of Eritrea.

In what appears to be worse than the time of the military regime that used to incarcerate Tigrigna speaking people arbitrarily during the height of the insurgency in Eritrea and Tigray, the present regime too is engaged in the cruelest persecution of Oromiffa speaking people.

It’s also a fact that the more persecution and repression the Oromiffa speaking people faced that they tend to join or blindly support OLF like the Tigrigna speaking people who were pushed to the precipice due to the cruel persecution of the military régime. Above all, the persecution this regime commits against Ethiopians perceived to be sympathizers of secessionist forces makes it more of a heinous crime than the one committed during the previous regime since this regime inserted a clause that acknowledges the “right of secession” in its “constitution.”

ICG's Eritrea; The siege State

As the International Crisis Group/ICG/ in its Africa Report titled Eritrea; The siege State on September 21, 2010 aptly put it, in what appears to be an effort to further make the Eritrean regime as “the whipping boy in a region where no state’s external dealings are beyond reproach,” the UN not only stooped so low in being the mouthpiece of Meles Zenawi.

It had also written off the genuine grievance of Ethiopians, particularly people in Oromia region and Ogaden have with this régime. By so doing, it implied that those Ethiopians determined to resist the oppressive regime are terrorists. Where does this lead us?

And how come Meles Zenawi succeeded to have the “international community” so easily in his pocket? Reports have indicated recently that he has even come close to using American officials to gag their own radio, Voice of America Amharic Service as well as using German officials to do the same to the Amharic service of Deutsh Welle.

In addition to arresting two Ethiopian journalists on a bogus charge of terrorism, he also incarcerated two daring Swedish journalists who tried to access Ogaden that has been closed to all independent journalists and human rights agencies.Amazingly,the “international community” that would have made a lot of noise, had the Swedish journalists been incarcerated by Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Isaias, chose to keep a low profile on this matter. To the best of my knowledge, not even the Swedish government made a significant move to condemn the brutal arrest of its own citizens.

Is it because Meles Zenawi plays a greater role by posturing himself as an ally in the “war against terror?” After all, he took a severe beating in Mogadishu from where he withdrew ignominiously while exacerbating the Somali situation by his uncalled for interference. Could it be the millions of dollars he reportedly splashes around for Western lobbyists? Since I have no intention of providing answer to this question at the moment, let me move to my main and final theme.

Appeal to the Ugandan Lawmakers

In what appears to be a continuation of his massive efforts to silence his critics wherever they are, Meles Zenawi recently made a deal described by a newspaper called Addis Fortune as “a high profile agreement” through his deputy and foreign affairs minister Hailemariam Desalegn with the government of Uganda. On the surface, the signed accord dubbed as “Strategic Framework Agreement” looks nothing more than a document desirous of promoting business relations through the smooth movement of people and goods.

On closer scrutiny,however,one hardly fails to notice that it harbors a sinister implication far from the promotion of investment.

Naturally,since the two regimes vie for attention from Washington by heavily involving in the debacle in Somalia as allies in the “war on terror,” they had also made a deal on “defence and security.” In the process, they broached the subject of “extradition” under the principle of “reciprocity” on immigration and visa.

Though, this writer has never been shy of expressing his reservation on the establishment of his host country, unlike the regime in his own motherland, he hasn’t lost faith completely. On the contrary, he is happy to note that there are independent institutions that don’t trade off easily with basic human rights such as the judiciary, parliament including some members of the ruling party itself who have the courage to dissent on matters of high principle.

It’s in this spirit that I appeal to all Ugandan members of parliament to scrutinize every angle of the agreement their government enters into with its counterpart in Addis Ababa before ratifying it. I would also like to remind them that since Uganda has not many dissidents in exile least of all in Ethiopia, the only party who can benefit out of this deal by witch-hunting its critics is the Ethiopian régime.

On the other hand, though, since the Ugandan establishment itself has become increasingly intolerant of dissent and apparently unable to resolve accumulated grievances since the recent election, one can never guarantee that Uganda too will not move from a host country of exiles to one producing its own exiles.

In other words, whatever agreement is to be made with the Ethiopian regime regarding this matter, it should be carefully analyzed like the Ugandan President’s proposal to scrap bail in which everybody can become its victim including those who may approve it.

It’s my fervent hope, therefore, that Ugandan lawmakers will not make the same mistake like they did by passing a legislation called Refugee Act 2006 in which refugees have been singled out among all other “aliens” to be barred from “any kind of political activity against any country including their own.”

An Ethiopian Human Rights Defender exiled in Uganda

Kiflu Hussain is an attorney based in Uganda. He says his passion for writing came from reading, and that it’s inevitable that the more one reads, the more one develops the urge to write. Kiflu has published articles in Ethiopia on the English Reporter, then a weekly newspaper along with a few Amharic articles on the defunct Addis Zena. It was after he and his family found refuge in Uganda, that he began contributing writings to the local papers and various websites such as Daily Monitor, Uganda Record, The New Vision, Ethioquestnews, Garowe Online, WardheerNews etc.

The reason for this is clear. Ethiopia, despite being a seat of the African Union had never produced a regime that allows even the minimum space for dialogue that other people in Africa enjoy so naturally. So Kiflu's ending up as a refugee in Uganda is a blessing in disguise for it accorded him with the opportunity to write. He says at the same time he learned, unfortunately, that his refugee status would be what showed how deep the hypocrisy of the “international community” goes. We at are honored to carry this gentleman's work and we hope that in the process, western people may come to appreciate the struggle of refugees throughout the world.

You can write to Kiflu at this address: E-mail;

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Yetemonamonew August 2, 2011 4:49 am (Pacific time)

...And this dude is writing this diatribe about a dictatorship to Yuweri Musevini's parliament? In his mind he's playing 'skillful' diplomacy. What he may not know is who ever in the Ugandan parliament, who receives this letter is going to practice shooting hoop by throwing it in to a trash can. No wonder Meles Zenawi, eats their lunch and send his opponents home crying every time, when it comes to diplomacy..

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