Ethiopia: The Volcano, the Beast and the Tiger [Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy

Beware what you wish for, you may get it…

MLK40. Almariam 02082016Meles Zenawi, the late thugmaster of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) used to taunt the opposition that if they don’t like his rule they can go into the bush and fight their way to power like his rebel group did in 1991.

“Be careful what you wish for; you may get it,” teaches the old saying.

The events of the past year unmistakably point to the fact that the T-TPLF is getting its wish.

The people of Ethiopia are fighting back T-TPLF rule by engaging in mass demonstrations and protests, acts of civil disobedience, other nonviolent actions and outright-armed resistance.

Open defiance to T-TPLF rule is observed in urban and rural areas.  Just yesterday, a  massive demonstration against T-TPLF rule was held in Gondar. There are also reports  that yesterday the T-TPLF massacred citizens protesting in the town of Awodai, Hararghe, in Eastern Ethiopia.

The T-TPLF’s generic and typical response to peaceful demonstrations and protests has been to engage in indiscriminate shootings and massacres with impunity. I got involved in Ethiopian human rights advocacy after T-TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi personally authorized the massacre of hundreds of people in the post-May 2005 election period.

On June 15, 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a major report on the T-TPLF’s handling of peaceful protests entitled, “‘Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests.”   The report concluded, “Over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.”

The T-TPLF’s preferred method of conflict resolution has been and remains to be massacres, butchery, carnage and murder.

I have long argued that unless the T-TPLF wised up and took opportunities for peaceful change, in the end it will have only one option to stay in power: Operate its killing machine 24/7/365.

The big question is whether the T-TPLF can remain much holding total power through its killing machine?

Can the T-TPLF use its “federal troops” to conduct massacres in every part of the country to ensure its grip on power permanently? It is highly unlikely that T-TPLF local lackeys will turn their guns on their friends and relatives to do the T-TPLF’s dirty work of murder and massacres.

The history of struggle against tyranny teaches some enduring lessons.

The T-TPLF can use its killing machine to remain in power indefinitely is determined by  two, and only two conditions: 1) the capacity of the Ethiopian people to put up with T-TPLF crimes against humanity, corruption, abuse of power, election theft, massive human rights violations and divide and rule, and 2) the extent and rate at which the people of Ethiopia overcome their fear of the T-TPLF.

As the great American revolutionary Thomas Paine instructed:

Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

In his book “The Ethics of Nonviolence” (2013 at p. 226), Robert Holmes argues:

For power dissolves when people lose their fear. You can still kill people who no longer fear you, but you cannot control them. You cannot control dead people. Walk through a cemetery with a bullhorn, if you like. Command people to rise up, clean the streets, pay taxes, report for military duty, and they will ignore you. Political power requires obedience, which is fueled by the fear of pain to be inflicted if you refuse to comply with the will of those who control the instruments of violence. That power evaporates when the people lose their fear

Using historical examples, in my September 2013 commentary  entitled, “The Diplomacy of Nonviolent Change in Ethiopia”, I examined the relationship between nonviolence resistance and overcoming fear of tyrants and dictators.

I have consistently argued over the years that the history of nonviolent social and political change shows people lose the fear of their oppressors when the burden of their material conditions outweigh the fear of their oppressors. Simply stated, people lose their fear of their oppressors when they just can’t take it anymore. They come to a point where, regardless of risk to life, limb or liberty, they stand up and declare their fight song: “Enough is enough! We can’t take it anymore! We’re going to fight back!”

I believe the hour dreaded by the T-TPLF has finally arrived in Ethiopia.

The people of Ethiopia everywhere have declared to the T-TPLF, “Enough is enough! We can’t take it anymore! We’re going to fight back!”

I believe repressed societies and volcanoes behave in much the same way.

Volcanoes may remain dormant for decades without giving the slightest signs an eruption is imminent. A dormant volcano suddenly comes alive when extreme pressure and heat melts rocks in the earth’s mantle and pushes it upwards. In the process, if sufficient gas can escape from the core over time, a full scale eruption is delayed. When the pressure buildup reaches critical mass, a full scale eruption occurs.

Likewise, oppressed societies may remain dormant for decades without giving the slightest indication of  the pressure and heat buildup of deep, widespread, sweeping and pervasive dissatisfaction, anger, resentment and rage. In time, these conditions fermenting and simmering deep in society begin to flare up randomly.

The precursory volcanic activity first observed on Mt. St. Helens in the state of Washington in March 1980 was completely unexpected. That volcano had remained dormant for 123 years. National Park brochures described Mount St. Helens as a beautiful and peaceful mountain to attract tourist attraction. But in March 1980, a series of small quakes were detected for the first time in over a century. On May 18, 1980, without any signs, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake occurred accompanied by a rapid series of events including a huge landslide at the time described as “the largest debris avalanche on Earth in recorded history.”

The precursory activities leading to the current critical situation in Ethiopia were not detected until very recently.  The T-TPLF was doing business as usual kicking people off their land and handing it over to its members, lackeys, supporters and friends. The T-TPLF was operating Ethiopia as a Mafiosi-state or a thugtatorship. It did not expect the kind of determined, fearless, defiant popular eruptions that are visible in the country today.

The T-TPLF’s lack of anticipation of sustained popular uprisings is nurtured by hubris, arrogance and a delusional sense of invincibility.

I was once told by someone claiming to be a T-TPLF insider that the  T-TPLF leaders’ worldview (Ethiopia-view) is shaped by two fundamental assumptions: 1) the T-TPLF organization, its leaders and supporters are heroic, gallant, courageous, daring and united and that is why they are so totally dominant of the society, and 2) the people of Ethiopia in general are cowards, spineless, selfish, easily bought and sold and naturally incapable of unity or collective action. In others, T-TPLF leaders believe as an article of faith that Ethiopians will talk the talk but never walk the talk.

Like the rosy description of the Mt. St. Helens by the National Park Service before its eruption, the T-TPLF and its poverty pimp allies have been proclaiming that Ethiopia under T-TPLF rule is the “fourth fastest-growing in the world… and what is more striking is that if Ethiopia sustains its current pace of growth, it will become a middle income country by 2025.” (Of course, as everyone knows, I have shown  beyond a shadow of doubt that such claims by the T-TPLF and its poverty pimp allies are all a lie, damned lie and statislie.)

In May 2009, I wrote a commentary and detailed the “psychologic of the T-TPLF’s paranoia” of being pushed out of power and prophesied what we are witnessing in Ethiopia in July 2016:

They [T-TPLF] have been riding the Ethiopian tiger for nearly two decades. But one day they know they have to dismount. When they do, they will be looking at the sparkling eyes, gleaming teeth and pointy nails of one big hungry tiger!”

I am afraid that the volcano that has remained dormant for the last 25 years is “growling” and “grumbling” and the T-TPLF has come to the ultimate realization that it is sitting on the cryptodome of the volcano. The heat and pressure is increasing  inside the Ethiopian volcano as the T-TPLF  ramps up its oppression, repression, and brutality.

I am afraid the T-TPLF is now looking straight into the eyes of the tiger.

Behold the eye of the tiger! (Not a happy camper at all!)

In a March 2015 commentary, I repeated what I have been saying for years:

I believe the T-TPLF leaders know with absolute certainty that they are sitting on a powder keg.  As I have written previously, the T-TPLF has built its castles in the sand. The only question is whether those castles will be swept up by a tidal wave of deep public discontent or blown away by the tornadic wind of the people’s fury. In either case, the T-TPLF will be vacuumed and deposited in the dust bin of history. There is an immutable iron law of history the T-TPLF should know if they don’t know it already.  Mahatma Gandhi articulated that law.  “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always.

I claim no power of prophesy in predicting the end of the T-TPLF. The T-TPLF itself has predicted its own doom long before I have.

In June 2005, a month after the 2005 election, Bereket Simon, a one-time T-TPLF  communication minister in justifying the massacre of unarmed protesters that year accused the opposition of stoking the fires of ethnic antagonisms and predicted: “Strife between different nationalities of Ethiopia might have made the Rwandan genocide look like child’s play.”

In 2015, in a secretly recorded conversation which I discussed in my commentary, “The “End of the Story” for the T-TPLF in Ethiopia?”, Berket Simon and his comrade “deputy prime minister” Addisu Legesse, plainly talked about the end of times — the final days, the last days — for the T-TPLF to a group of their supporters. Legesse explained:

Looking at it from our situation, it is already getting out of our hands. There is no question about that.   We can see that plainly from the way the teachers’ organizations are doing things. When 2/3 of educators are our members (of our party), and they are going out and demonstrating against us, that is the end of the story. I don’t think it is only Arena [party]. Ginbot 7 is also there. In Bahr Dar, I think, [anti-T-TPLF] flyers are being distributed. Haven’t you received any? Papers? [Others present at the meeting chime in response.] It is also [distributed] in Bahr Dar. But we do not know that, if you know what I mean. Flyers are being distributed and they are seen. So, I think they have gone down to the cell level everywhere. It seems like there is something that has organized itself. So I think it is coming from the Ginbot 7 area. (Emphasis added.)

My dreams of an Ethiopia at peace 

I am not writing this commentary to recite the crimes, atrocities, villainy, wickedness and depravity of the T-TPLF. I do not believe there is anyone who has documented, exposed, unveiled and relentlessly opposed T-TPLF criminality more than myself.

I write this commentary for a very different purpose.

First, I see Ethiopia rapidly approaching the proverbial Rubicon River (if not in the middle of it), the crossing point beyond which there is no point of safe return.

I will say what everybody is afraid to say because I am in the business of speaking truth to power, to the power hungry and thirsty and the powerless.

I see a looming civil war in Ethiopia.

Second, I see the possibilities of nonviolent change, a personal mission I have undertaken day and night for over 10 years, evaporating before my eyes like the morning dew. Civil strife on any scale in Ethiopia will be a complete and total defeat of every effort I have exerted with every fiber of my being for the last ten years; and I am not going to let that happen without a fight. (Yeah, right. Like the fight of a humming bird is going to matter? Just a humming bird with a big heart!)

When I first decided to engage in Ethiopian human rights advocacy, I declared that I was the humming bird that will do everything possible to douse out the fire slowly consuming the Ethiopia House.

In March 2007, I wrote an allegorical commentary  entitled “The Hummingbird and the Forest Fire”.

It was a story about a humming bird trying to put out a roaring forest fire by carrying water in its tiny beak. (Indeed, how absurd and delusional for a humming bird trying to put out a forest fire?!)

For the past ten years in my weekly Monday commentaries, I have tried to put out the “forest fire” of ethnic hatred and division and sectarian conflict stoked by the T-TPLF in Ethiopia and prevent political implosion. In this task, I have been as successful as the proverbial humming bird which tried to douse out the forest fire with droplets of water carried in its tiny beak.

The “forest fire” that I spoke about in 2007 is today a five-alarm volcanic fire fast approaching the “Ethiopia House.”

If good and patriotic Ethiopian men and women do not come together in aid of their country, there will only be no Ethiopia House; only ashes and dust.

When the T-TPLF did not have much to lose such an outcome would have been their  dream come true. Now that they have become masters of Ethiopia –politically, economically,  militarily – the prospect of the Ethiopia House burning down has become a nightmare of gargantuan proportions for them.

Third, I am extremely concerned about the politics of hate in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian Diaspora.

I don’ like it! I don’ like it! I don’ like it!

The T-TPLF has spewed so much ethnic hate and sectarianism over the last 25 years, it now stands helpless as it is forced by circumstances to harvest the grapes of hate it sowed decades ago.

There is no question that the T-TPLF finds itself trapped in its own web of hate and loathing. The T-TPLF sees itself going down a descending spiral into an abyss of hate and violence.

As Dr. King said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness… The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

T-TPLF hate has begotten more hate; T-TPLF violence has begotten more violence and T-T-TPLF toughness has begotten an iron-willed toughness in the Ethiopian people.

Fourth, I am scared like never before. I am told that if the T-TPLF regime were to collapse swiftly, things will be hunky dory. Opposition forces will come together and take over and set things right.  I am not so sure! I am talking as a scared human rights advocate, not an all-knowing politician. My only concern is preventing loss of life in Ethiopia. Truth be told, I find myself standing in Esther’s shoes in Scripture asking, “How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”

Perhaps some may say I am crying wolf when there is no wolf. Maybe I am mistaking a fox for a wolf.

But there is a wolf. I see the wolf in clothed in the wool of ethnic hatred. I see him dressed in sectarianism. I see him strapped in revenge, in rage ready to pounce and make waste of the innocent poor.

Yes, the wolf is standing at the door; and I will do everything I can as a humming bird to drive him away and never set foot in the Ethiopia House.

But I have always been hopeful. Despite the darkness of the T-TPLF in Ethiopia, I have always believed it will be morning time in Ethiopia when the darkness is finally lifted.

In my July 2012  commentary, I wrote at length about my “dreams of an Ethiopia at peace.”

That commentary was a birthday tribute to Nelson Mandela, my hero, who was celebrating his 94th birthday. I wrote:

To restore Ethiopia to good health, we must begin national dialogue, not only in the halls of power, the corridors of the bureaucracy and the military barracks but also in the remotest villages, the church and masjid meeting halls and other places of worship,  the schools and colleges, the neighborhood associations and in the taverns, the streets and markets and wherever two or more people congregate.  We have no choice but to begin talking to each other with good will and in good faith.

I have written about truth and reconciliation in numerous commentaries over the years.

In my September 2013 commentary, “The Diplomacy of Nonviolent Change in Ethiopia”, I discussed Dr. King’s lessons on achieving nonviolent change and reconciliation.

My purpose in this commentary is to restate with the fierce urgency of now the necessity for beginning to talk to each other with good will and in good faith.

Of course, as someone who has absolutely no political ambitions but as a relentless human rights advocate, I have the intellectual freedom to express my views; or as I like to say, speak truth to power, the power hungry, the powerless and anyone else willing to listen to me preaching.

We are at a moment truth now. And I will speak the truth.

As I see it, there is one and only one question we need to answer: What do we do to get out of the mess we find ourselves in?

We don’t need to rack our brains for the answer. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has given us the one and only answer to that question: “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.”

I prefer living together as brothers and sisters to perishing together as fools.

In a recent commentary written in Amharic, a former general of the T-TPLF, Tsadkan Gebretensaye, offered an extensive analysis of T-TPLF rule and concluded with what appears to be a  “proposal” (?) to pull back Ethiopia from the brink of civil war, though he does not actually use the phrase.

After a recitation of well-established facts about the nature and practices of the T-TPLF over the past 25 years —  including well-known facts about the T-TPLF lack of good governance, inequality,  injustice, corruption, abuse of power, suppression of human rights, absence of the rule of law, mass discontent with regime, internal dissension in the T-TPLF, use of military to stay in power and the T-TPLF military industrial complex, etc.—Tsadkan identifies three scenarios that could occur with different degrees of likelihood, given Ethiopia’s current political circumstances.

In the first scenario, Tsadkan anticipates the dissolution and destruction of the T-TPLF regime because of the explosive volatility of the current political situation in the country combined with foreign agitation. He does not believe such a scenario is likely, only a possibility. He points out that the T-TPLF has managed to suppress recent uprisings in Oromia using federal troops.

In the second scenario, Tsadkan anticipates maintenance of the status quo in which the T-TPLF regime could undertake some cosmetic changes to buy time and prolong its rule. Tsadkan believes such a strategy could delay the inevitable but not prevent it. Indeed, he believes such a scenario could result in the political, social and economic problems taking  deep roots making nonviolent change impossible with potentially incalculable consequences.

Tsadkan’s third scenario is the anchor of his proffered proposals. He argues the best option available now to avert disaster is “to work for a peaceful and orderly change diligently. That means accepting the fact that our country’s politics is in chaos, we must find a way to resolve the chaos by following the constitutional process.”

Tsadkan offers some “ideas as solutions”. He says it is necessary to open broad democratic space. He proposes that individual and political rights must be fully respected and observed. Citizens must be able to engage in free expression, political participation and open avenues in which the people could express their grievances. Such activities could lead to free and fair elections. He proposes that individuals with expertise in these areas should be engaged to draft methods.

I have no objection to these lofty ideals. After all, I have been hammering them for over ten years week after week, without missing a single week.

I have explained my views on Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy and things that must happen to ensure a successful transition in my March 2012commentary, “Ethiopia: From Dictatorship to Democracy” and April 2012 commentary“The Rule of Law in Ethiopia’s Democratic Transition”, among others.

There have been mixed reactions to Tsadkan’s “proposals” in the Ethiopian Diaspora.

Many commentators have been extremely critical of him personally as well his analysys and proposals for going forward.  A sampling of the critical reviews could be summarized along the following lines. Tsadkan

is a T-TPLF messenger with a mission of sending a trial balloon to gauge public reaction to the ideas presented in his analysis.

is trying to throw a lifeline for the T-TPLF as the T-TPLF faces a tidal wave of opposition and resistance.

is making proposals in the twilight of the T-TPLF regime to prolong its rule and buy it more time.

is disingenuous at best and maliciously dishonest his proposal for peaceful and orderly change guided by the T-TPLF’s  make-believe constitution which the T-TPLF routinely ignores and trashes.

is at best misguided and delusional in believing the core political problem in Ethiopia is the gross failure of implementation of the constitution.

is only pretending to criticize a regime of which he was and is a core member to gain credibility with the opposition.

is pleading for the untenable proposition of  letting bygones be bygones and starting fresh without any mention of accountability for crimes committed over the past 25 years.

is unwilling to accept the brutal reality that the Franeknstein of ethnic politics the T-TPLF  created and nurtured over the past 25 years is about to swallow it up.

unwilling to face the fact that the T-TPLF made its bed of ethnic divide and rule and now refuses to lie in it.

There are a few who have applauded his analysis and viewed his proposals favorably.

Those with a favorable view give him credit for seeking “genuine solutions for the numerous and serious problems besieging Ethiopia.” Others suggest that Tsadkan’s “assessment of current conditions in Ethiopia pertinent, and somewhat unique”.

I believe the critical reviews of  Tsadkan’s analysis and proposals are cogent, legitimate and appropriate.

I see little added value in adding my own critique to the existing body of exhaustive critical commentary on Tsadkan’s piece.

But for the record, I want to register my principal objection to Tsadkan’s seminal proposal and bedrock position, namely his insistence that solutions to Ethiopia’s problems must necessarily originate within the framework of the T-TPLF constitution.

As I state below, the real solution begins with  a simple act of compassion.

Of course, my views on the T-TPLF’s constitution are well known.

Most recently, I set forth my views in my May 22, 2016 commentary, “Does Ethiopia Need a Constitution?”. To quote myself, “The T-TPLF constitution is one of the slickest constitutional scams in history.” Need I say more?

But I do agree with Tsadkan in his view that, “As can be clearly seen, the current situation [in Ethiopia] is a matter of extreme concern. We must engage in civilized discussion [and resolve problems] before incalculable damage is caused.”

I must confess that hearing a plea for “civilized conversation” from a former or current member of the T-TPLF is just as disconcerting as listening to Atilla the Hun pleading plea for the establishment of the rule of law. Touche!

But I believe in open debate and conversation with my adversaries. I believe in the free expression of all ideas, including the ideas of my adversaries.

Many of my readers will recall that I defended the right of the late Meles Zenawi to speak at Columbia University in September 2010 despite vitriolic Diasporic condemnation for defending Meles’ right to speak his mind freely.

The late thugmaster Meles Zenawi used to say, “it is impossible to talk to the opposition”.

Meles was dead wrong. The truth is it is impossible to talk to the T-TPLF, unless of course, the chattering of machine guns is considered talking.

I have always believed that Meles when he was alive and the T-TPLF have always believed opposition leaders, dissidents and opponents  are their intellectual inferiors. They believe they can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver them any day of the week. They believe the opposition is hopelessly divided, dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power. They have shown nothing but contempt and hatred for them. At best, they see the opposition as a bunch of wayward children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, they will offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses and whatever else it takes to buy their silence. Those he cannot buy, he will intimidate, place under continuous surveillance and persecute. Mostly, they try to fool and trick the opposition.

So I have no illusions about the T-TPLF and its modus operandi or the possibility of honest, forthright, honorable and sincere conversation with current or former T-TPLF leaders.

But as a hardcore believer in nonviolent change, I am steeped in the philosophy that one must necessarily engage in open, public, transparent conversation with an adversary.

First, a few caveats.

I do not know Tsadkan Gebre Tensae.

What little I know of the man comes from examination of “opposition research” and anecdotal evidence from those who claim to have first-hand knowledge of him.

“Opposition research” suggests Tsadkan as a T-TPLF general has committed war crimes and assembled substantial illicit wealth through his T-TPLF connections. He is said to be one of the majority shareholders in Hibir Sugar Share Company and owns other profitable assets.

I have reviewed Tsadkan’s undated CV  posted online on letterhead bearing the name and logo International Chamber of Commerce Czech Republic.

In the CV, Tsadkan is listed as “Chairman of the Board of RAYA Brewery s.c, South Sudan”.

The “professional skills/experience” listed in his CV are principally related to military operations although there are also references to “research” he has purportedly “done on the impact of HIV/AIDS on national security and implemented a program to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces.”

I have tried to locate online any political writings or analysis Tsadkan may have done, without success.

I am a bit surprised to see his latest article at this particular point in time. I thought to myself, “What took him so long to come up with this analysis and “proposal” ? Where has he been all these years ?”)

I don’t know if Tsadkan in his analysis and “proposals” is speaking for himself as a private person, echoing the thinking of the T-TPLF echo chamber or directed by “others” to release a trial balloon.

I do not know if he is formally or informally representing the T-TPLF in his expressed views.

I have certainly not read any official commentaries by T-TPLF sources disapproving his view or even acknowledging them.

I do not know if Tsadkan is making his proposals in good faith or is having read the handwriting in bold letters on the wall.

I do not know if Tsadkan’s  critical review of T-TPLF rule is genuine or if he is just shedding crocodile tears.

I don’t know if Tsadkan is making his proposals in a last ditch effort to protect his economic interests and the interests of the members and supporters of the T-TPLF.

I do not know if Tsadkan is engaging in elaborate rhetorical posturing or playing mind games. I am only all too familiar with T-TPLF’s zero sum games.

With all due respect, I must say that I do not know if Tsadkan personally wrote his article or affixed his name to a document written by a committee. (It is the professional lot of the lawyer to question the authenticity every document s/he examines.)

Suffice it to say that if Tsadkan is trying to engage in gamesmanship in his analysis and “proposals”, he has indeed wasted his time and ink.

In May 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Beware of Those Bearing Olive Branches!”. That commentary had to do with my response to Meles Zenawi’s offer to “negotiate” with the opposition following his 99.6 election “victory” in 2010.

If Tsadkan’s proposals are another batch of Meles-style olive branches, all I can say is, Nice try. No can do!”

I tend to believe it is probably hard to con a constitutional lawyer.

Having expressed only the tip of the iceberg of my doubts about Tsadkan’s motives and proposals, I offer my own simple, easy-as-pie proposal for having a dialogue.

If Tsadkan or any T-TPLFers want to engage in genuine conversation about saving Ethiopia (some might say “saving Ethiopia from the T-TPLF), the starting point is not talking (talk is cheap) big and saying nothing, but taking one very simple act that requires no more than a single signature. As they say, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

If Tsadkan and the T-TPLF want to talk, they should start talking not with words but ACTION. For action speaks louder than words.

There is one thing and only one thing that can serve as a decisive and irreversible breakthrough, a game changer,  in the urgent need for coming together in solving the diverse political problems of Ethiopia: RELEASE ALL, ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, NOW! Stop massacring unarmed protesters. Stop arresting, abusing and harassing  peaceful dissidents, journalists and opposition leaders and members.

There can be no conversation or communication without establishing minimal trust. No amount of silver-tongued analysis and argumentation could establish cooperative effort for the common good unless there is minimal TRUST between adversaries.

Tsadkan, T-TPLF, whomever: If you want to save Ethiopia, if you want to save yourselves, take one simple act which you can accomplish with the stroke of a pen: RELEASE ALL, ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, NOW.

There can be no conversation, dialogue or negotiation or even pretension to such when thousands of citizens are taken political prisoners and held hostage.

Let’s start with “hostage negotiation” to free the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia.


If Tsadkan can arrange the release of all, all political prisoners, I say “Game’s On!”

If the T-TPLF frees all political prisoners, it will then itself become free to sit in civil dialogue with the opposition to save Ethiopia and itself.  Those who run a prison camp cannot expect to be free themselves watching over their prisoners. The prison guards are just as unfree as those whose freedom they have taken.

Of course, in articulating the foregoing position, I am strictly speaking for myself and for my cause of nonviolent social change.

I am a human rights advocate, and an unabashed and dogged one at that. I have absolutely no political ambitions which makes me free to say whatever I want to say; to say whatever  my conscience tells me and to say whatever the truth commands me.

I am sure there will be some who disagree with me. I recall my critics back in September 2010 who said I was betraying my life’s struggle by defending Meles Zenawi’s right to speak unobstructed at Columbia University. Critics are free to think whatever they wish.

Personally, my love for my Ethiopian brothers and sisters boundlessly exceeds any criticisms against me personally.

Today, I feel like Esther in Scripture when she pleaded, “For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”

Speaking for myself and the cause of my struggle for nonviolent change in Ethiopia, I say to Tsadkan and the T-TPLF leadership, “If you want to save yourselves and Ethiopia, there is no better time to start than now. You can do it! You must do it! Release all political prisoners now and  pull back our country from the brink of civil war. From the darkness of civil war. That is my proposal.”

The alternative is civil war, yes civil war.  That is a matter of life and death!

Let me conclude with a story about a little bird. (I like bird stories, especially Humming bird stories.)

Gerry Spence, one of America’s great trial lawyers, once delivered a closing statement in a criminal case which captures my innermost feelings about what could happen to Ethiopia if Ethiopians, as usual, miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity:

Spence argued to the jury (as I would now to all Ethiopians):

Ladies and gentlemen:  I am about to leave you, but before I leave you I’d like to tell you a story about a wise old man and a smart-alec boy.

The smart-alec boy had a plan, he wanted to show up the wise old man, to make a fool of him. The smart-aleck boy had caught a bird in the forest. He had him in his hands. The little bird’s tail was sticking out. The bird is alive in his hands.

The plan was this: He would go up to the old man and he would say, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?” The old man would say, “You have a bird, my son.”

Then the boy would say, “Old man, is the bird alive or is it dead?”

If the old man said that the bird was dead, he would open up his hands and the bird would fly off free, off into the trees, alive, happy.

But if the old man said the bird was alive, he would crush it and crush it in his hands and say, “See, old man, the bird is dead.”

So, he walked up to the old man and said, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?”

The old man said, “You have a bird, my son.” He said, “Old man, is the bird alive or is it dead?” And the old man said, “The bird is in your hands, my son.”

I say to all Ethiopians and the T-TPLF, Ethiopia is in your hands.

Only you know if she is alive or dead or if she will be alive or dead.

Only you can ensure she lives forever!

But I am only a humming bird.

I will continue to do what I promised to do and have done every single week for over ten years, without missing a single week: I will continue to try and put out the Ethiopia House fire carrying water in my little beak.

That is all I can do without 100 million of my Ethiopian brothers and sisters joining me.

I do not complain. I do not grumble or gripe. Not one bit. It is a cross I have chosen to bear until I see Ethiopia free, free like the humming bird, and at peace with itself.

May we all be wise like the old man? Think about it: Don’t we have one and only one option: “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.” MLK


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