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Who decides who is wrong in Ethiopia?

Who decides who is wrong in Ethiopia?

Yohannes Aberra, PhD  12-16-19

Exactly 14 years ago I posted a commentary entitled “the wrong sense of wrong” on the then Deki Alula.com. I never thought that the article would provoke so much anger among the EPRDF opposition.Although that has never been my intention I was branded as anti-Menilik; and by extension anti-Ethiopia. A very close friend of mine said “Won’t this article make you misunderstood by the public? People are talking about you!”.  By “the public and the people” I know what he was referring to.  No one was ready to give me the freedom to have an idea of my own. It was like in the old days when someone who says “enachenefalen” was no doubt an “anarchist” (EPRPmember) and one who says “enshenefalen” was branded as “Dergist”. The syllogism that I was subject to went like this: TPLF is “anti-Menilik”; Yohannes is anti-Menilik; therefore Yohannes is a TPLF. I am not; but in case I am, don’t I have the right to criticize Menilik regardless of being a member of the TPLF? Was he a demigod?

The premise is wrong in the first place. TPLF is not anti-Menilik. Like any critic it curses his bad and blesses his good deeds. So do I! I don’t become a member of the TPLF by syllogism; no one does! Party membership has its own procedures. What is happening here is that there are particular genus of individuals and groups who are “by their very nature” always right and others who are always wrong. I am classed in the latter and whatever I wrote did not make any sense.  The content of the article was a comparison between Meles Zenawi and Menilik II. One morning in October 2005 I boarded a mini-bus taxi and saw pictures of Menilik II, H.S.I, and Mengistu and their spouses posted above the wind screen of the car. I saw that Meles was missing in that line of leaders. I could not understand why Meles was missing because Haile Selassie and his killer Mengistu were posted side by side. Meles did not kill any of these. I had to ask myself whose right and wrong is wrong and whose wrong is right?

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In that article I wrote: “Meles helped his friends in the EPLF to liberate Eritrea and Menilik allowed his friends (Italians) to colonize Eritrea. Score: One-to-One. Next, both  of their friends advanced and tried to annex the rest of Ethiopia. Menilik repelled them at Adwa and Meles repelled them at Badme. Score: Two-to-Two. Both were wrong first and both were right next. Unfortunately, the sense of right and wrong has become so partisan that Menilik got his man-size statue while Meles got none. Meles was considered to be wrong in both instances and Menilik was blessed for the two instances. The latter’sactions are celebrated by the annually observed day of the Wuchale Treaty (as if article 3 of the treaty was a great act of patriotism) and the day of the Battle of Adwa.

After 14  years nothing has changed in this regard. Still people are denied the basic civil right to differ.  Supporting the TPLF has been considered as always wrong and a betrayal of Ethiopia condemned by all kinds of dirty adjectives under the sun.  It is quite clear that some are more equal than others when it comes to the possession of Ethiopia. Even if you see some unmistakable constructive contributions by the TPLF you are expected to say “No! what I see is a phantom, a visual illusion created by the TPLF to deceive Ethiopians”.  You are expected, by a pressure to conform, to condemn the TPLF for deception. That is how people save their souls from being social outcasts. The wordings and phrasings of the condemnations sometimes become so vulgar, and often poetic.  The diction exhausts the thesaurus of its strongest and nastiest terminology in the list. It is a formidable propaganda edifice that is in place!

The “paragon group” determines who is right and who is wrong. Its evaluation method of what is right and what is wrong is not based on the statement made or the action taken; but on who is saying it and who is doing it. In addition and more importantly, whether the words spoken and the actions taken are favorable or unfavorable to the “paragon group”. This is how truth and untruth is determined.  The members of the TPLF splinter group in 2000 were welcomed by the opposition for leaving the TPLF whatever their reason for doing so was. Although the opposition wouldn’t like it when such splits happen to their own parties. They righted the wrong for its convenience to their goal of weakening the TPLF. Later on they wronged the right when the members of the TPLF splinter group gained their composure soon enough and were not easily manipulated against their comrades.

The defection of Seye Abraha from the TPLF was righted and the defection of Lemma Megerssa from the PP is wronged.  Even Siamese twins do not think alike. Lemma Megerssa is not a child whose difference should create so much alarm. The problem is the “agents of change” consider themselves as divinely ordained to be the ultimate bearers of the truth. It would be belittling Lemma’sintellect to consider his defection as an act misled by the devil. “When Lemma comes to his senses and realizes that he was wrong he will come back home”. This was the tone of the you-tube video analysis of Lemma’s defection. The loss of Lemma was not taken so much seriously just for losing Lemma per se.  So much commotion was the fear that it will boost TPLF’s morale; the last thing they want to see. Many are wondering why the Lemma they know, who was the standard bearer of Ethiopianism, and the key leader of the “change” from back stage which ousted the TPLF, is acting so “weirdly”.  Lemma’s defection is wrong because what he opposed-the merger of EPRDF and the Medemer political economy-are considered to be absolute truths. So, those in the PP and adopted Medemer consider those non-converts and rebels as harboring evil spirit of hatred of Ethiopia.

Jawar Mohammed is always wrong even when sometimes what he says makes sense. First, assigning guards for Jawar was considered right for the “change group”, although it is clear to any reasonable mind that the action was wrong. It is funny for a journalist to have body guards. He must be on the Guinness Book of Records for that. Soon enough, when Jawar started to move out of servitude and continued to ride his own horse, his protection was summoned awkwardly in the middle of the night. What was considered by the “change group” to be right-assigning guards to a journalist-suddenly became wrong and it was decided that the “fault” should not see the light of the day. When Jawar took a desperate action feeling that he was exposed to grave danger, the consequences of which became disastrous, Jawar was wronged for acting as a human being in a state of fear of death. Those that had to be wrong were those who attempted the inflammable action at that dead night hour. It was the wrong they righted that went rightly wrong.

Jawar led a violent anti-TPLF youth movement, which was a criminal act by all world measures. The self-anointed arbiters of truth elevated Jawar to the rank of savior of Ethiopia, like Saint George, from the “TPLF dragon”. The criterion for righting the lawlessness employed by the group, with Jawar as the chief priest, was ridding the “greater evil” (TPLF) at whatever cost. Jawar was no servant of any one as it was wrongly perceived before. Like every one of them he has his power ambitions. The Jawar who was absolute right before is now an absolute wrong judged by the self-anointed arbiters of truth. The truth is, Jawar remained the same as he ever was. It was the perception of how useful he was for the pretenders to the Ethiopian throne that has changed. When he started openly challenging the leadership none of those who adored him could believe that he was doing this on his own. They preferred to believe that it was the TPLF who “twisted” Jawar to “misbehave”. When the two match in their standpoints about the current government it was branded as an “unholy alliance” against truth (their “divine” truth). Jawar was the arch enemy of TPLF. He still could be. However, why Jawar’s ideas came to gradually match with that of the TPLF’s is not as a tactical alliance but as a sudden realization of on whose side truth lies.

Creating a demographic block of two regional states, with the evil goal of dominating the rest of Ethiopians in the quest for the Ethiopian throne dubbed “Oromara”, was a criminal act by all global standards of the acceptable behavior of statehood. It is parties that normally form alliances or coalitions to get a majority in parliament. This wrong was righted, and still is post-mortem, as no one has the power to question its legitimacy. The block constituted more than 60% of the active politicians in Ethiopiaand almost 90% of the expert propagandists. Oromara was a mixture of oil and water although many ordinary fans thought it was a compound serving as a potion to cure all Ethiopia’s political ills. It was felt very strongly that if Ethiopia is to collapse due to the “irresponsible actions” of TPLF and its allies it will remain standing as “Ethioromara” retaining a majority of its population. Here, what is considered as important is not the diversity of the rest of the 80 nations and nationalities, however small each one of them are, but the sheer numerical majority that adds up from the joining of Amhara and Oromia regions enough to rule Ethiopia jointly forever!

The first huge crack in the Oromara edifice started to appear soon after the oil in the mixture settled at the top forcing the water to remain as sub-stratum. The water boiled to make way through the oil but succeeded only to heat the oil not remove it. To the relief of the rest of the trivialized Ethiopian nations and nationalities Oromara almost became history except in the minds of a few diehards who couldn’t bear the thought that the collapse has pleased the TPLF. In fact it pleased the rest of Ethiopians as well. They were considered as inconsequential in the face of the “super-Ethiopian” Oromara. 

When the Prime Minister declared that the terrorist was the government itself, not the prisoners, he was referring to the”TPLF-led” government. Then the government was “wrong” and the prisoners were “right”. When TPLF was gone out of the picture the same thing that had been happening to the “TPLF-led” government is happening to the “new” government which branded its predecessor as terrorist. While jailing hundreds of people the new government, that is doing the same thing, does not consider itself as a terrorist! Jailing is right now; but jailing was wrong previously.

In Ethiopia many groups and individuals demonize nationalism as dangerous to Ethiopia’s survival. Of course, not all kinds of nationalism are benign; some are destructive and must be shunned. My point here is not to justify nationalism or otherwise. I am focused on those who curse nationalism of others as “anti-Ethiopian” while they bless their own ultra nationalism as “pro-Ethiopian”. One cannot help to be confused what the parameters to distinguish “anti-Ethiopian nationalism” and“pro-Ethiopian nationalism”.

Today I found myself watching a video related to the Stockholm Nobel Award entitled “The journalist and spy Girmay Berhe”. I was stunned when I saw the photo of Girmay Berhe, who was a popular student when we were in the Yohannes IV comprehensive secondary school in Meqele in the 1960s. The last contact I had with him was three years ago on face-book. Girmay Berhe was loved for his funny jokes and friendly character. We teased him for spending most of his time with girls because he was in the commerce stream which was then the favorite of female students. The video was posted on Mereja TV and was narrated by somebody who claimed to have done “research” on Girmay and found out that he was the brother of Eyasu Berhe (the late vocalist in the TPLF music band). He blamed him for being different from his brother who according to the narrator was “anti-TPLF”. When you lie you lie like this! He denied Girmay the right to demonstrate against the award of Nobel Prize to the PM. I am not saying he is right or wrong for doing that but I feel very strongly that it is his inalienable right as a human being to do so. The narrator was accusing Girmay Berhe for opposing “his PM” in front of the Swedish public as an act of treason. If opposing the PM in public outside Ethiopia by an Ethiopian journalist is a criminal act, why was it not considered to be so when the journalist Abebe Gelaw roared at PM Meles Zenawi in a public in the USA? As a journalist Girmay Berhe may have had to be neutral; but how is it possible for Girmay to be neutral when no journalist in Ethiopia is neutral? Journalists who are not neutral are expecting other journalists to be neutral. Their wrong is always right because independent evaluations are suffocated by persistent, debilitating, and overwhelming make-believe media campaigns.

One thing that “change agents” are trying to conceal is that there was a mass jailing and torture during Military Rule. Well, many of the “victors in the change”, who enjoyed VIP reception at the airport were former Derg officials. The former PM posed for a photo with the former dictator in Zimbabwe probably congratulating him that he has helped remove his enemies from Arat Kilo. They have no intention of naming their comrades in arms against TPLF as criminals after so much of smiles and embracing. They are trying hard by every available means at their disposal to brainwash the youth that the first and the last torture in the history of Ethiopia was done by the TPLF security apparatus. The TV channels, especially ESAT, are busy with replacing nightmarish memories of the Derg legacy by sweet ones.  No one with a sober mind can support torture of any kind by any group. Torture is evil by all standards; but what is more evil is to conceal torture done by some and reveal torture done by others.

Everyone that opposed the Derg was tortured in the Central Prison: EPRP, EPLF, ELF, TPLF, OLF, etc. Even war disabled from “JegnochAmba” were packed in one cell in Central Prison. They murdered very old men like Dj. Asegahegn Araya, who could have died a natural death a few weeks later. They killed OLF’s Gezahegn and Muhiyu after jailing them for more than eight years. Gezahegn was hoping to be released. I was asking that brave and friendly Muhiyu if he also hopes to be released. He knew the Derg much better than Gezahegn did. His murder damaged my morale for a very log time. I still remember him with grief. Key members of the OLF leadership like Hussien, Abiyu Geleta, Eshdetu Letu, Shero (Nigus), Zegeye Asfaw, Ebsa Gutema, Ababiya AbaJobir, Fekadu, Hailu and others (some of these were ministers during the Transitional Government) were packed only in one cell, No.1, for over eight years without any due process. They tortured and Killed Tadesse G/Egziabher and were nearly on the verge of jailing Col. Fesseha Desta. 

The Central Prison of 1984-91 teemed with Tigrean prisoners who were accused as TPLF members without any proof. They were torturing them to sign confession; many did out of extreme pain from torture. The torturers hung the prisoners’ sole up, beat them on the soles, and go for beer in the nearby Semien Hotel and return to beating while drunk. We were always ready with water, floor cleaning mop, and massage cream to massage the tortured feet of prisoners quick enough to prepare them for the next cycle of torture. The cells were like hospital emergency rooms for the wounded in battle. When the tortured arrive at their cells either limping or crawling they were picked from the door by a group of fellow prisoners in order to massage their feet as quickly as possible. Any delay could cause permanent crippling of the prisoners. None of the prisoners went to court. The chief justice occasionally visited the prisoners to see the “handling of prisoners”. That day we were all treated like dear brothers and sisters! In fact the chief justice knows what was happening behind the high walls of the Central Prison, hidden behind buildings lining Dj. Belay Zeleke Street.

TPLF security people were torturing. Is that wrong? Yes it is! Derg security were torturing. Is that wrong? In principle yes; but according to the strange evaluators, who set the standards for right and wrong, Derg’s torture was right!! Why? Because it was done on “the enemies of Ethiopia”.  The video narrator accused Girmay Berhe for acquiring documentation that proves he was jailed and tortured in Central Prison by Derg security. According to the narrator the document was given to him by the TPLF security apparatus. What is this accusation for? Girmay Berhe was not lying that he was jailed and tortured in Central Prison. Doesn’t he have the right to get documentation about his imprisonment? I was there in that notorious Central Prison for four years. I know who was there and who wasn’t. I saw with my bare eyes what was being done to prisoners and what was not. In the Central Prison no one could know when you are going to be killed or released. Every day and every hour you live with fear of death that can happen any hour of the day or night. More agonizing than the prison life and the torture is the fear of death for as long as you stay. Why is this being hidden from the public? Is it again that  bizarre evaluation that whatever Derg did should remain obscure because it was the work of “Ethiopian nationalists” and every bit of TPLF’s actions be exposed as wrong not for the action per se but for the universal hatred directed at whatever is Tigraian.

Even the separation of Tigray from Ethiopia has had its share of the right-wrong evaluation. When a professor living in the USA drew a map of Ethiopia, circled Tigray, and called for a struggle to separate Tigray from Ethiopia there was defeating silence, except for my reaction: “If you come to Ethiopia”I threatened the professor, “I will sue you for treason”. The silence seemed to me like consent. So, when a professor posts such treason on Ethiopian Review he did go away with it and it was “right”; when some disenchanted politicians in Tigray mention the possibility of separation of Tigray from Ethiopia hell breaks loose! It becomes the mother of all wrongs!

Recently Professor Mesfin Woldemariam said in an interview: “God will bring back the betrayers (Eritrea) to Ethiopia”. We are all tired of going over and over again about the story of Eritrean colonization, war of independence from Ethiopia, and the final separation. Did Eritreans betray Ethiopia and become colonized willingly? Who is branding who as a betrayer? There does not seem to be any foreseeable end to the throwing of the same bomb back at the thrower again and again and again and again.  The wild race to blame first and to curse first only brings about more distrust and wider divergence. When some monarchs amputated it was human legs and hands (too bad!); when others did the same thing it was onions and tomatoes (great!). When some leaders fight foreign invaders they were fighting for their own religious goals (wrong); when others do the same they were motivated by patriotism (right). When some leaders protect the economic sovereignty of Ethiopia from gross external intervention they are branded as dictators (wrong), when others open doors widely for external dictation they are considered as democrats (right). When OPDO and ANDM forged an alliance to beat TPLF it was blessed as a historic right move for Ethiopia; when TPLF did the same thing to counter the alliance it was turned into a political crisis brewed by TPLF to break up Ethiopia. Albert Einstein once said: “Lean the rules of the game and play better than everybody else”. This is what TPLF is doing, playing by the rules of the game. For the last two years TPLF has been a learner of the rules not the teacher. Like a student who excels its teacher it has always surprised everyone in the classroom for outwitting those who started it. The teacher who is not ready to admit curses the smart student as a naughty boy!  We have got lost in Ethiopia, and probably got lost for ever, with the way wrong and right are assigned to the same words and actions. Vice or virtue becomes right or wrong by context and its doer not by its very nature. 

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