By Yilma Bekele
When we see the human tragedy unfolding in Kenya, we can’t help but take pride being an Ethiopian. We feel the pain of our African neighbors. The wanton destruction of human lives and property is a reminder to all of us how fragile States are. Being a member of the UN does not make a Nation State, nor having a flag or a boundary. Recognition by others does not mean a cohesive Nation State has been attained. All that means is that a ‘political and geopolitical entity’ has been established.
Becoming a Nation is a different ball game. It means the processes has gone beyond these outward colorful and feel good manifestations. It means the citizens confined within these boundaries share a common language, culture and values. We are talking about a tightly knit group of people here. Nation building is a long and arduous process. History tells us most of the African’ States came about in the mid eighty’s after the period referred to as ‘the scramble for Africa’ by the conquering European Nations. If you remember this was the time of the infamous ‘Wochale Treaty’ that recognized and left our Ethiopia alone. (Despite the reinterpretation by the Woyane regime) The Kaisers, Kings and other European potentates drew up arbitrary boundaries to suit their needs. Africa is still suffering from this unprecedented crime committed by Europe. Hence we find boarder wars, internal conflicts and recurring civil disturbance through out the continent. It is a never-ending nightmare.
The year 2008 did not start good for our Kenyan neighbors. An election was scheduled. Campaigns were carried. Balloting was done. Well sort of. The real problem comes during the count. Africans do not seem to like simple arithmetic of two plus two is four. Those in power suffer from this strong urge to re invent the mathematical process. Thus starts the stuffing of ballots, the disappearing of ballot boxes and intimidation of poor observers.
Sounds familiar don’t it? You would think that by now they have the process into a science. But no, we are dealing with Africans here. Finesse is not their strong suit. Why bother with subtle means when you can ride rough on everybody and everything. True to form this wretched senile old man, supposedly the champion of democracy resorted to naked thievery like his neighbor to the north. It did not bode well for Kenya. The State is very fragile. It is an amalgamation of different ethnic groups, the result of ‘scramble for Africa’ period we talked about. It does not take much to send it into a tailspin fueled by simmering ethnic animosity, corruption and official indifference. The serene Kenya portrayed as an island of stability and good governance was no more. Kikuyu versus Luo all others against Kikuyu became a sad fact. Mob fueled ethnic cleansing has come to our corner of the world.
When we look back at the May 2005 ‘General Election in Ethiopia’ we see some similarities but glaring major differences too. Like in Kenya elections was called for, campaigns were held and finally balloting was carried out. Exactly like our neighbor when it came time to counting all hell broke loose. Vote rigging was the only option left for the government to win. The similarities between the two stop here. Kibaki sent his police armed with batons and water cannons to disperse the angry crowed. Meles on the other hand felt his infamous militia, ‘Agazi Force’ with their sharp shooters and US supplied Hummers was better at handling stone throwing youth.
Though corrupt Kenya enjoys a more stable and independent civil service, while seventeen years of the ‘Dergue’ and another seventeen years under the so-called EPDRF regime have left Ethiopia with a very weak and politicized bureaucracy. The Kibaki regime was hopeful of wining. On the other hand the Meles regime did not leave anything to chance. Starting with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minster and members of the Cabinet were busy advancing the Rwandan experience and warning all of the negative consequences of the regime losing. The ugly word ‘Interamahwe’ was introduced by the regime. If you remember ‘Interamahwe’ is the name of the extremist Hutu militia that carried out genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. From April to July of 1994 in a matter of 100 days over a million Tutsis were massacred while the world was watching with indifference. Our own leaders were predicting this most horrible crime happening in Ethiopia.
Why would the government predict such unpleasant scenario on its own population? Is it because it has already laid the foundation for such behavior to flourish? The first few items on the TPLF to do list upon coming to power included forcing the secession of Eritrea and rewriting of the constitution. Ethiopia was divided along ethnic lines. Teachers, Civil Servants, including the Police were forced to migrate to their places of ‘origin’. Schools were forced to teach in the local language without due preparation for material and qualified personnel. Local population was encouraged to carry out ‘ethnic cleansing’ (Arsi, Harar, Bali) on the so-called ‘neftegna’. This definitely is not ‘Nation Building’. On the contrary it is a perfect example of ‘divide and conquer’, normally carried out by an invading force.
Predictions of ‘Interamahwe’ were based on these preparations. Thus when those in the leadership utter such evil consequences it is not without merit. They know what they are talking about. It is like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. You can be certain people are going to be hurt scrambling for safety. It is considered a crime to do so. To shout ‘Interamahwe’ is no different. Unfortunate for some the Ethiopian people are full of surprises. Our Nation is very old. Our own Axumite Kingdom (Mengeste Axum) grew from a proto-state from around 4th. Century BC to a prominent trading Empire by the 1st Century AD. Axum enjoyed a strategic trade route between Africa, Arabia and India. Historians site Greek voyagers tale of the splendor of the Empire and the two important ports of Adulis (near Massawa) and Avalites (Assab) that were Africa’s gateway to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Today’s Ethiopia is a continuation of this glorious history.
No matter the goading by the regime, Ethiopians refuse to rise up against each other. Even in our darkest hour we do not stoop down to such level. Our ‘Nation’ is for real, not something imposed from outside but a ‘tightly knit’ group of people formed a long, long time ago. Once in a while we are cruel to each other. At times we have been known go on a killing spree. But ‘Interamahwe’ is not our cup of tea. Those who predict such behavior do not know us well. We are backward technologically. We are behind in science. Our economy is in tatters. But we are one proud Nation. We wish Kenyans would realize the solution is not in hating your neighbor. That ‘ethnic’ cleansing is not the answer. Those in power do not have the welfare of the people or the country in their heart, but purely concerned in prolonging their stay in the ‘State House’ to steal and plunder. We hope the opposition will ‘trust’ the power of the people and continue to apply the pressure until Kibaki is forced into retirement. We are sure that false mediators like Jendayi Frazer only help prolong the sickness not cure the disease. If foreign powers were really concerned about the inequality that exists, the corruption that they finance they would have dropped Kibaki a long time ago. But again there is no point blaming others for ones own action. Only Kenyans can save Kenya.
As for us, we will continue plodding along in this backwardness and misery we seem to manufacture at will. The 2005 election have showed us that united we can forge a new beginning full of hope. The foundation has been laid. It is sort of shaky but we can build on it and make it sturdy. The regime is still operating like yesterday, trying to erase all hope and confidence. The good news is the ‘genie’ of this thirst for freedom and democracy is out of the bottle. You cannot put it back. Erasing a name does not make the idea and principle it stood for go away. It is just another foolish idea. What would they come up with next? May be change the name of the country?
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org