Hallo! It is only a conference

By Fekade Shewakena

TPLF supporters and embassy personnel have been frantically but naively trying to subvert a planned conference in Washington DC to be held from April 9 to April 11, 2010. Listening to these supporters and staff of the embassy on the DC airwaves and reading what they write on the TPLF website, one thinks that a huge meteor is heading their way. They make it look like the government is about to collapse and the sky is going to fall on them. They seem to think that instead of going home after the conference, participants will march eight thousand miles to the Minilik palace in Addis Ababa to chase Meles Zenawi out. This people are really laughable. In fact, someone among them with a quarter of a brain could have realized that they are doing the opposite of what they intend to do. Instead of derailing the conference, they have publicized it and brought it more supporters and sponsors. The organizers actually told me that it is a windfall. I was told that they are getting floods of calls and emails from around the world to express support for the conference.

In one of perhaps the most laughable attempts, the regime supporters resorted to a complete uninformed individual named Kofi Agyapong who claims to lead some obscure organization named “Sons and Daughters of Africa” to help them dissuade sponsors and participants of African Diaspora groups from participating in the conference and sponsoring it. This person pulled by TPLF supporters to save them from the impending “Armageddon” is a someone who, in one of his incoherent complaints against white people and Arabs, wrote among other garbage that “our [African] names and culture are all Euro Arab names” (see here). Does anyone think this guy, who certainly has zero knowledge of Ethiopia, even knows parts of Africa beyond his own village? That he has even shared his personal communication with the conference organizing committee with the TPLF functionaries and allows it to be published on their website also makes him a paragon of quintessential African ethics. He almost made me puke. It appears the TPLF is fast running out of better expatriate hit men. Where is Mr. Paul Henze these days?

But seriously, I cannot for the life of me understand as to why such a conference whose content and participants are all announced in public and the topics of the papers to be presented are publicly posted weeks before the conference, should be such a threat to the government and the livelihood of TPLF functionaries. In fact the call to present papers was made public months ago. Conference organizers told me they were expecting some papers from regime supporters. None showed up. Perhaps it is due to that well talked public secret that intellectuals are in short supply among the supporters of TPLF/EPRDF. But they complain most participants of the conference are critics and opponents of the regime. Well duh! What else do you expect if you, the supporters of the regime, refuse to show up? Some forget that the largest numbers of scholars participating outside Ethiopia are exiles who left their country because of persecution and lack of freedom.

TPLF supporters and functionaries need to understand that this is not Ethiopia where academic freedom is completely shut down including even in universities. As I see it academic freedom in Ethiopia has to go a long way to reach the levels it has reached during the reign of Emperor Haile Silassie. Instead of accusing Haile Silassie day and night for not introducing the internet, it is better to climb to the levels of academic freedom that we enjoyed at his time. But this conference is held in America, a land where freedom is worshiped. It is a surprise that TPLF supporters are surprised that we will do ruthless examination of Meles Zenawi’s policies and the functioning of his government. We will dissect it to the best of our ability. We will peel it off layer after layer like onion until we get to the core. We will tell our people and every person including the donor nations of our best evaluations of realities in Ethiopia and how best to solve problems. Don’t forget there are hundreds of competent and brilliant Ethiopians across professions capable of doing that.

And surprise, surprise, the conference has a keen interest in the upcoming election in Ethiopia. Everybody who knows Ethiopia understands that this election is consequential in many ways and we worry about the direction of our country given current circumstances. Many of us expect intensified conflicts in the country if this farce is allowed to stand and worry it will exacerbate the country’s problems. The death of 200 unarmed protestors and the thousands brutally interned in concentration camps during the 2005 election is also still fresh in our minds. Regime supporters may want to scratch the record and moved on, we have not forgotten. And yes, I expect Birtukan’s name and spirit will be hanging all over the halls of the conference. You can’t have a conscience and avoid thinking about her plight. The only way to stop making her case a pain in the proverbial back of Meles Zenawi and the whole woyane system is to release her out of that dungeon immediately.

TPLF supporter brothers and sisters,

You should understand that it is not necessarily a bad idea to have varied and strongly held opposing views on the state of governance and a range of policies and politics in Ethiopia. The more we debate the less violent we will become. For now the only entity that has a monopoly of violence in Ethiopia is the regime you support. If you continue with chocking and silencing people, this monopoly will soon be broken. It is a shame that you are so much exercised and throw temper tantrum for the simple reason that we came together and exchanged ideas. By being so angry at our coming together for a discussion you are simply proving to us what you are capable of doing to our people.

If there is any iota of sense of genuineness and respect for your ideas, I strongly suggest that you come to the conference and challenge the participants. I will lobby for waiver of registration fees for those of you who are courageous enough to tell us you are supporters of Zenawi’s regime. As to who funds the conference, you should know that this is taking place in America where though freedom of information you have every right to know where every penny comes and goes. That you resort to phantom lies and conspiracy theories only indicates that you are very backward. May be you will meet friends from the diverse group of people at the conference. You will find literally a person from the varied ethnic groups of Ethiopia including from our neighbors, Eritreans, Somalis, Kenyans etc. You see, none of our neighbors are going to be towed and removed from the Horn of Africa. We have to start discussing our future and how to peacefully live together in the space God gave us without being perpetual enemies. Please come to the conference and come forward with courage. This is a civilized country where physical violence is not allowed and you have to fear nothing. Don’t send spies as you often do. There is nothing to be spied on. Everything is public.

There is something fundamentally wrong with people who hate heated and impassioned debate on issues of national importance particularly in a country like that of ours where we have a mountain of problems. Consider yourselves sick if you hate this.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])