By Abebe Gellaw
After the news about the first known politically motivated self-immolation in Ethiopian history spread across the globe like wild fire, the shock-wave the rare tragedy caused has been unprecedented. As much as 29-year old Yenesew Gebre’s self-sacrifice created a sense of outrage among ordinary Ethiopians, the Meles regime turned no stone unturned to discredit a defenseless dead man, who publicly chose horrific death than being abused and dehumanized in his own country.
The late teacher and activist, Yenesew, paid the ultimate price. And yet the TPLF launched a coordinated fabrication scheme. But the irresponsible reaction of the regime has caused a backlash against the regime.
The activist teacher
Your browser may not support display of this image. Born in Jimma, Yenesew spent much of his teens in Dawro Zone, where his elder half-sister Tadelech Bekele lives. After completing high school, he joined the Awassa Teacher Training College. During the 2005 national elections, his passion for change and activism shined in Awasa. He proved to be an orator and organizer. But his activism attracted unwanted attention from local officials and TPLF’s secret agents, who blacklisted Yenesew and other activists.
Yenesew was said to be exceptionally well-rounded. Close friends and relatives unanimously say that he was a highly intelligent, conscientious, articulate and well-read young man. Though he used to teach English language at Tercha Technical and Vocational College, he was fired around two years ago, reportedly due to his strong political convictions and critical views. Losing his job in one of the poorest communities in Southern Ethiopia, had obviously been a depressing challenge that seriously affected and outraged him.
A former teacher of the late Yenesew, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says that he was not only conscientious but also one of the most outstanding students he has ever taught. Yenesew was an activist in the Waka movement, which was mainly triggered by the injustice and oppression that ethnic Dawros felt at the hands of local and regional officials.
The Dawros have a longstanding issue with the Southern regional administration. According to Dawro activists, a number of futile efforts were made to undermine development and self-rule of Dawro Zone, one of the most impoverished and marginalized communities in Southern Ethiopia. The activists particularly blame Hailemariam Desalegn and his close associates like Alemayehu Assefa, a man who is widely known to be taking highly divisive measures in the so-called “Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region”. Hailemariam, who was the regional president from 2001 to 2006, has been blamed for fanning ethnic animosity between Wolaytas and Dawros that want to assert self-rule and get attention in terms of development,.
Four months ago, the current organized resistance in Waka town began in earnest as a result of administrative grievances. Despite the fact that Yenesew was of mixed Oromo and Amhara parentage, he was one of the grassroots organizers in charge of coordinating the youth. As a result of this, he was thrown in jail by local officials along with other activists and community elders. Some of the detainees including Yenesew were released after a couple of weeks in jails following intense pressure by the community that sent two groups of community elders to the Prime Minister’s office in Addis Ababa to lodge complaints. But many still remain in jails despite the appeals of the community to the regional and federal governments.
A fateful day
In the morning of November 11, 2011 (11/11/11), Yenesew, family members of the detainees and community activists travelled to Mareka Wereda Court, in Tercha town, which is around 17 km from Waka town. There were high hopes that the court would release the detainees. But to the dismay of so many people, the judge accepted the request of prosecutors to keep the detainees for two more weeks for “further investigation.” Yenesew stood up in the packed courtroom and condemned the injustice of keeping innocent people in jails. He loudly demanded the court to end the injustice by releasing the detainees without further delay. He was reprimanded for contempt of court but that never scared the passionate activists who used to lament the oppression and injustice the people of Ethiopia were subjected to under the TPLF.
In the afternoon, there was a meeting of six Wereda administrators and local community representatives chaired by the Alemayehu Assefa, a controversial character accused of pitting one ethnic group against others. Yenesew vented out his anger at the lack of freedom, rampant injustice and maladministration. He told them that it was better for him to die than live in a country where people suffer oppression, indignities, and injustice.
According to British investigative journalist Angus Stickler, Yenesew was quoted as saying: “I want to show to all that death is preferable than a life without justice and liberty and I call upon my fellow compatriots to fear nothing and rise up to wrench their freedom and rights from the hands of the local and national tyrants.”
The hospital that never was
He vented out his anger with a rousing speech. Around 2 pm, it took Yenesew seconds to douse himself with petrol and set himself ablaze . Shocked people on the scene tried to put out the fire. He was rushed to Tercha Hospital. Records show that Yenesew was admitted to Tercha Hospital at around 3 pm. But there are still many issues that overshadow the death of the young activist. Tercha Hospital is not a hospital in the real sense of the word. Despite the fact that it serves well over 550,000 people, it has only two young doctors, Dr. Wondimagegn Sisay and Dr. Bahru Legesse, who is a fresh graduate with little experience. When Yenesew was admitted, Dr. Wondimagegn was on duty. Dr. Bahru was away due to the death of a family member.
Dr. Wondimagegn was reportedly horrified by the severity of the burns that Yenesew had suffered. He recommended that Yenesew be transferred immediately to a hospital with the facilities and expertise of treating horrific burns. But he was reportedly over-ruled by security agents who never worried about the survival of Yenesew. From the moment he was admitted into hospital, i.e. 11th November around 3 pm to his last gasp, at around 2 pm local time on 14th November, he was surrounded by security agents. One can conclude that the security arrangement was a contributing factor to his death.
Tercha Hospital has no burn unit, no maternity unit and not even clean water provision let alone a psychiatric unit. Glimmer of Hope is an anti-poverty US-based nonprofit organization trying to raise funds for Tercha Hospital. On its website, Glimmer of Hope says:
“Tercha is home to the only hospital in the entire region which serves over 550,000 people in the Dawro Zone located in southern Ethiopia… They currently do not have a separate facility for women giving birth or the resources should any complications occur. What is most horrifying is the hospital does not have access to a constant source of clean water or electricity…
Your browser may not support display of this image. “It is hard to imagine a hospital not having clean water, but that is the reality in Tercha. Water must be brought to the hospital. Additionally, the hospital itself needs work. As the hospital in Tercha serves all of the surrounding areas, which accounts for more than half a million people, it is imperative that this hospital has a maternity ward. Currently there is no place for women to get maternal care and this is a pressing and urgent need. In addition to the maternity ward, new equipment is also needed at the hospital so that it can better attend to the hundreds of thousands of people that it serves.”
Fabrication of the highest order
According to reliable sources within Walta, who want to remain strictly anonymous, Bereket Simon and his right-hand man, Shimelis Kemal, gave an order to senior managers to do everything in their power to discredit not only the martyred hero, but also the movement rocking Dawro. So the local authorities as well as members of TPLF security apparatus were involved in the scam.
It was after the news about Yenesew’s death went global that the TPLF regime concocted fabrications. Dr. Wondimagegn was asked to issue a death certificate stating that the self-immolation of Yenesew was linked to the mental illness he patient had suffered. This was intended to say that Yenesew did not know what he was doing due to mental incapacity at the time he set himself alight. A leader of the Waka movement admiringly says that Dr. Wondimagegn was true to the Hippocratic Oath he took as a physician. He threatened that he would rather resign than give a forged document that contains false medical testimony.
But it was Dr. Bahru Legesse who was made to issue the death certificate that contains screaming lies. The fresh doctor did not clearly live up to his oath unlike Dr. Wondemahegn he refused to be part of the scheme. This writer called him on his cell phone and tried to speak to him on the matter but declined a comment. But informed sources say that he is consumed with regret for being used in an ethnical manner.
In what appears to be a wicked act of desecrating the sacrifice of Yeneneh and diminishing the cause for which he gave the ultimate, Walta Information Center, one of the ruling party’s mouthpieces, has stocked anger among the people of Dawro and Ethiopians across the world by going to great lengths to attack a dead man.
Your browser may not support display of this image. One of Walta’s fabricators, EPRDF loyalist Etsegenet Tesfaye, who infamously did a hack interview with Solomon Tekalign and Shimelis Kemal few months ago, was assigned to do a pre-arranged interview and write stories that are contrary to the truth. Etsegenet had already raised eye-brows by eagerly facilitating Solomon Takalegn’s, vulgar Diaspora bashing.
According to an unattributed report, supplemented by an audio file, posted on Waltainfo.com, Yenesew’s half-sister, Ms. Tadelech Bekele, Tercha Hospital’s Administrator, Mebratu Masebo, and Dawro Zone Deputy Commander, Bako Tina, were presented as witnesses. But the story has an interesting twist. ESAT has been able to confirm from various sources that all the witnesses have been compromised and were forced to be part of Walta’s fabrication.
After Yenesew passed away, security agents arrested Ms. Tadelech Bekele, who lives with her children in Tercha town. She works at the Tercha administration finance bureau. Her husband, Demissie Dando, heard the tragic news in the regional capital, Awassa, where he works for the health bureau. As soon as he heard the sad news and the troubles his wife was facing, he rushed back to Wako, which is over 315 km from Awasa. The reason why he works far from home leaving behind his wife and children was political. Demissie has been an outspoken critic of Wako town’s officials. As a result, he was transferred to Awasa despite the fact that his wife and children remain in Wako.
Tadelech,who was put in detention and seclusion after the self-immolation of Yenesew, and Mebrahtu Masebo were taken to the Zonal Administrators office escorted by security agents. Tadelech was particularly warned that if she refused to give a statement purporting that Yenesew burned himself out of insanity than any political cause, she and her husband would lose their jobs. The woman who was blaming local officials for the death of her brother was made to change her story. But family members have said that she has been traumatized and haunted by what she was forced to do to trash her brother.
The other testimony came from Mr. Mebratu Masobo, administrator of Tercha Hospital. Local sources say that Mr. Masobo cannot provide a credible testimony regarding hospital matters. Before he joined the Southern region branch of the ruling party a few years ago accelerated in promotion, Mr. Masebo was apparently a health officer who was convicted of stealing and selling medicines that belonged to the same hospital he now manages. He served jailed terms but became trusted enough to be a hospital administrator when he joined the ruling party.
Another thing that has been a talking point among Waka residents was not only being denied to bury their hero, but also the refusal of security agents to have been buried in accordance with the norms of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Despite the fact that he was a follower of the Tewahdo Orthodox Church, the security agents insisted that he be buried at a protestant church cemetery. Informed sources say that Tadelech, a congregant of Kalewihot Protestant Church, was allowed to hold a quick funeral in the presence of a few people. He was buried in an unmarked grave, an action which further provides testimony to the fact that Yenesew’s self-immolation was not an ordinary event.
One can easily surmise from the facts that Yenesew has been a victim of an atrocious regime while alive as well as in death. A government is supposed to treat its citizens, regardless of their opinions, social status, religion or ethnic origin, with respect and dignity. But TPLF never cares for ordinary people but the sustaining the unacceptable tyranny it has imposed on the people of Ethiopia. Whatever the regime says and does, Yenesew Genbre’s self-immolation will loom large in the struggle for freedom, justice and dignity. With his self-immolation Yenesew has raised the bar of self-sacrifice to an extreme level.