Ambushed Twice: Open Response to Mr. Jon Swain

breath taking and beautiful Ultimately, we were freed unharmed”. What is written beyond this line is fiction at best and mis-information at worst. story is full of inaccurate facts and mis-representations. It does not in any way accurately portray present day Ethiopia and its government. Below are a few of the things that need your attention and response:

1.    If I calculate the cost benefit, I would say gradual change would have been better than revolutionary change when I look back,” he said. “Revolutionary change was meant to transform society quickly, abruptly. But we were naive. You cannot switch on change like electricity; it has its own dynamics. We were not mature enough to see these things.”

Aregawi might have been immature and naïve and that could be the reason why he left the struggle at its infancy, but you can not make that kind of generalization to the other leaders of the organization. Most of the leaders of the struggle were college students who knew what they were doing and who clearly understood the consequences of their decisions. In the mid 80s, they had accurate evaluation of the then leadership (Aregawi) and decided to replace it with more competent leadership that led the struggle to a successful ending. Note that, it is the farsightedness of these college students that lead to the toppling of the biggest army in Africa.  As a side note, it will be a miss on part of you to underestimate the statesmanship of Meles Zenawi, who is hailed by many world leaders including your Tony Blair.

2.    The pity of it, as he now recognises himself, was that he chose to do it by armed struggle. Despite thousands of deaths and regime change, that part of Ethiopia is about as backward and impoverished now as it was then.

You may not have read the recent The Economist report about where Ethiopia stand in its economic development. It has now the 5th fastest developing economy in the World! It is not long time before Ethiopia joins the middle income class of countries. Of course, Ethiopia is still struggling to get out of food self-insufficiency, but it is on the right path. Bob Geldof has visited Ethiopia just recently and he said “Nobody who was here 25 years ago doubted that you could rebuild your lives in the way you have now”. What he heard from the local leaders was also very promising, "There will never be a repeat of 1984, never again.”  Please go and see for your self or check your facts as a journalist.

3.    So, after all these years, what is Aregawi’s story? In exile, unable to go back to Ethiopia for fear of losing his life at the hands of his former comrades, he wonders whether the huge sacrifices he and other young idealists made were worthwhile.

This is blatantly false. Let alone Aregawi, many others have returned back to Ethiopia to invest or involve in politics. Unless there is a crime that he has committed that he is afraid about, I do not see any reasons why he can not travel back to Ethiopia. Even, people who had leadership positions in the brutal Dergue regime are leading political parties in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is now a multi-party democracy with over 90 registered political parties. It has already passed through fairly contested national and local elections. Over 20% of parliamentary seats are occupied by the opposition.

4.    Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is still confronted by extreme poverty and massive rural starvation. Its leader is one of Aregawi’s old revolutionary comrades, Meles Zenawi. This former medical student has turned into a virtual dictator — little better, said Aregawi, than those he replaced.

Grudges, grudges!! Come on. If he is virtual dictator then why is he invited to the G8, G20 meeting year after year? Why is he leading the African position in events like the Climate Summit in Copenhagen?

5.    Aregawi told me that, instead of using the money to save lives, REST gave it to the TPLF. He remembers sitting with central committee members preparing a budget; they agreed that 95% of the Rest money should be used for the cause.

This is false. REST has been the savior of the Tigray people in those tough times. You can easily find the facts about what it is accomplishing right now in Tigray. REST has been building many dams and digging wells. It is providing vocational training to the youth to participate in meaningful way of life.

6.    When, after building up a secret power base of loyalists within the TPLF, Meles Zenawi seized control of it in an internal coup, Aregawi finally split from the movement he had helped to build. He had enough friends to be able to escape with his life, first to Sudan and then to Holland.

Escape? Internal coup?  There are books written that have detailed account and information about how Aregawi was ousted from his leadership position and to twist facts can not in any way help his cause.

7.    Others were not so fortunate. Shawit, the handsome young fighter who in 1976 had led the attack on my bus and made me a prisoner, was imprisoned and killed by Zenawi for opposing his control, Aregawi said.

Can you provide evidence for this? To be imprisoned and killed is a serious allegation.

8.    If I feel personally disappointed that the struggle has not led to something better, how much stronger must the feelings be of a man who has devoted his life to this cause?

It is important to remember that Aregawi left the struggle at its infancy (1984-85). He can not claim he has devoted his life for the cause as he did not pursue it to the end. Those who persevered and scarified to the end have achieved the cause of their life, the road to freedom and prosperity for the Ethiopian people.

9.    Hearing his side of the story helped to lay my old ghosts to rest. At the same time there was something sad about this goodbye.

I am afraid that Aregawi ambushed you for the second time. The first one was physical, this one is intellectual. His claims and characterization of the current political and economic situation of Ethiopia are false and most of his statements are deceitful.

10.  It is my strong wish that this ageing revolutionary, who once held my life in his hands, should be able eventually to go back to Ethiopia in peace. That would be a clear sign that one of Africa’s many shameful scars had begun to heal.

Mr. Swain, Ethiopian scars have long started to heal. Opposition parties have signed accord with the ruling party on how to make the upcoming May 2010 election free and fair. It is Aregawi who could not move on from his grudges.

Finally, I hope you will be able to travel to Ethiopia to see for your self and to meet and hear the story of your other captors. My fear is that Aregawi might have ambushed you again!


Mulu GS