Seeye Abraha: The Transformative Personality in Ethiopian Politics

By Bereket Kiros

Jan. 24 2008

Introduction

Like many of my compatriots, I had the privilege to attend the meeting organized to have Ato Seeye Abraha address Ethiopians from the Seattle area on January 19, 2008. Thus, my report is that of an eyewitness. The first item that impressed me the most was the fact that there seems to be tremendous interest to listen to the presentation of Seeye. Indeed, it was obvious from his speech that Seeye feels deeply about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. I found him to be a humble and caring person, unlike the propaganda smear by his detractors. Seeye is a person who has been tested and has proven himself as a politician of substance worth listening to, and uniquely qualified to bring together opposing groups and individuals in the singular interest of the unity of Ethiopia. Thus, his one-man mission to meet with fellow Ethiopians in his travels had attracted many thousands in North America, in particularly Washington DC, Denver, and Seattle.

Seeye Abraha captured in his energetic articulation of the inner reality of the diverse political views (lives) of the many feuding Ethiopians and their organizations. Chinua Achebe in his novel :A Man of the People; narrates about two contrasting groups of people in West Africa. In that novel he describes two characters representing the old and the new generations of politicians. The conflict between the old and the new political systems is portrayed through the two characters as they disagree and quarrel over political views. Seeye likewise captured in his articulation the essence of the ever present conflict between Ethiopian politicians, the new against the old, the leftist against the rightist, the Derg against the democratic et cetera that paralleled the main theme of Achebe's novel.

The most fundamental thing that a leader must do is to construct a compelling and winning vision. Seeye is reexamining the present and past effort of the democratization of Ethiopian politics. His idea, he explained, was aimed at the very foundation of structuring a democratic culture first by getting rid of unnecessary squabbles, by tearing down al walls built between individuals due to personal animosity, and by eliminating boundaries of narrow political aggregations in order for all Ethiopians to march down a truly democratic path. In his address, Seeye focused on contemporary Ethiopian politics in a thoughtful and logical manner. He urged Ethiopians to find a common ground. It was indeed an inspiring vision. (Yechallel). It takes a very disciplined person and tough-minded optimist to champion this noble cause of the unity of Ethiopia and at the same time envision a democratic society. His undaunted hopefulness is simply an extension of his resilience, determination, and faith that kept him going and survive the unbelievable human tragedy that he had to endure.

Seeye appreciated the audience and the organizing committee for having such a decent and engaging platform. He explained the challenges he faced as a person, as an ordinary Ethiopian, coming from the ruling party that he had struggled with most of his adult life. Seeye, as a founder and a member of the Central Committee of TPLF and now as an ordinary person outside that organization, was able to reflect and deduce that the apparatus of the EPRDF to be a repressive and divisive regime. He underscored the unity of all Ethiopians by urging all of us to demolish the barriers that is disfranchising and polarizing the Ethiopian community, in particular the Diaspora community. He emphasized that it is impossible to talk about our country・s future in the context or presence of a highly emotional politics of hate. He expressed his concern that in such practice of raw politics and divisive confrontations, our country can slide into crisis. A divided house cannot produce results. He called upon all Ethiopians to put aside their differences and work together on the issues where it matters most to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. The Diaspora community has a great role to play to help Ethiopia's political development. With the help of the Internet and short wave radio, Seeye underscored the possibility of raising the political consciousness of most Ethiopians at home in Ethiopia and elsewhere. He also pointed out the fact that Ethiopians like to concentrate too much on tiny differences rather than focusing on what binds and units us. He also argued that bargaining and flexibility especially in a political process is a sign of maturity and a sure way to avoid frication.

Ethiopia's Constitution: Law and Order

Ethiopia has a constitution and parliament like other countries, however the ruling party is not abiding by the law it has created. It is a law that punishes people because of their beliefs and political stand. The parliament remains a rubber stamp to the ruling party. It detains first and then drafts a law to charge people. Just as Seeye was imprisoned first without any evidence, many fellow innocent Ethiopians are also behind bars; in particular, Oromo dissidents have been imprisoned without any tangible evidence as to their association with OLF. In the Federal Democratic Ethiopia, it seems the authority of the PM above or supersedes the law of the country. Most of the party establishment, by design and default, serve the ruling party, not their constituency. As we are all aware, establishing a party in Ethiopia is just like opening a kiosk. Such unchecked political power of the PM and the EPRDF has weakened the social fabric of our unity. This environment of partisan and destructive politics must be changed and challenged. If left unchallenged, it will create more division and fragmentation of our country.

Many people may argue that the present development of a few economic sectors is a sign of progress; Seeye pointed out, and further asked a rhetorical question on how it is possible to sustain economic development without solid political foundation. Many nations mainly in Africa fall because of political crisis. Look what is happening in Somalia, in particular Mogadishu, and Kenya now. The Ethiopian political landscape is very treacherous and dangerous to operate, but as a concerned Ethiopian I am optimistic with leaders such as Seeye, we may be entering an era where you and me and all of us together can change the volatile situation in our country before it reaches the point of no return. Seeye stated that he is not a jaded idealist but an individual who is pragmatic and hopeful about the future of Ethiopia. He stated modestly that he has the experience to balance war and peace. He asked the audience to focus on his message and not his person.

Political Stability: Ethiopia and Eritrea

We all are aware of the fact that the Eritrean referendum has not addressed many important issues of border demarcation, citizenship, outlet to the sea, the economy such as the exchange of currency and several very important issues that should have been addressed. Seeye stated, without making excuses, that he was part of the EPRDF leadership and takes full responsibility for such failure. Seeye seems to suggest that the war with Eritrea did not start just because of one single attack, rather there was a long running and festering political and economic wound that has not healed even after the 1993 declaration of independence by Eritrea. Because of such unresolved issues, Ethiopians were finally forced to go to war because of the unprovoked attack of Eritrea.

Seeye agonized over formulating his answer on such long-lasting crucial errors of judgment dealing with Eritrea. He said that it was an eye opening experience for him. Regrettably, EPRDF has again committed another costly mistake because the war was stopped half way. The Algiers Agreement was signed without concrete base and not in the best national interest of Ethiopia. The ruling party EPRDF made a strong case that poverty as a number one enemy. However, the problem of poverty will not be solved if there is political instability. This continuation of hostilities between the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments will not help anyone. Seeye emphatically asserted that Eritreans are our close cousins, and that we are destined to live and work together. Thus, he recommended that the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea forget about the two ruling parties and just work together for the benefit of both brotherly people. EPRDF and EPLF could not bring a lasting peace in this volatile region, but the people could.

Question and answer session

During the vigorous question and answer session, both Seeye and the audience displayed great propriety that would put to shame the cantankerous often-recriminatory debate of the Democratic Party nomination Candidates. Some questions asked at that session were tough, but were asked without any agenda except to learn the answer from such a worth political personality or adversary to some. There were indeed some very serious questions as follows: Why it took you so long to understand the TPLF repressive political structure? And why did the PM consolidate so much power? What went wrong? You and your colleagues invented a ticking bomb, now how do we overcome our differences? Such questions are extremely important and must be answered honestly and clearly. Here is where EPRDF leaders failed, for they mostly respond by glossing over such important questions and hiding behind all sorts of rationalization. To this day the error of the Algiers Agreement is at the very center of our problems which the Leadership is toying with.

Seeye reflected on his detention in his speech. Although he suffered greatly, he was able to transform that injustice as a positive point in his life, for it helped him to reflect and contemplate many of those issues raised in such questions. He said that members of his generation mainly are the byproducts of the Ethiopian students・ movement whose political outlook was shaped by such monumental movement in Ethiopia・s political life.

In case of the TPLF, the trend was leftist ideology based on teaching of Mao and Lenin--the communist ideology based on strict military type of hierarchy. Seeye explained that the TPLF has (had) two branches of programs namely the army section and the ideology branch. The army and the political program both implemented tight rules and rigid political structure among its fighters. Democracy was to be established within the boundaries of democratic centralism. "Peaceful and non-violent method of struggle was not the path we embarked on. All the great people like Mahatma Gandhi and others stood firm on their belief against colonizers to emancipate their people from the yoke of servitude." Seeye stated that he was rebellious and never backed to express his dissenting views that got him in trouble.

The Ethiopian Military Forces

According to Seeye, Ethiopian politics is dangerous and risky. It is extremely difficult to navigate. The only solution is to create conditions where we are able to talk and listen. We have to create inclusive atmosphere where all actors play in a level political field. Politics is a contiguous. It is important to recognize our Ethiopian social and cultural reality, such as our ethnic diversity usually portrayed as :nations and nationalities; that ought to be seen as our strength rather than be used as a divisive tool. Recognizing and embracing our Ethiopianness must be the order of the day. Seeye pointed out further that political struggle is not only taking power, but has very many other important dimensions. The issue of empowerment of the people of Ethiopia is the only legitimate reason for assuming power. Wisely, Seeye brought up the issue of the role of the military in the political life of Ethiopia. Too often, Ethiopian politicians seem not to be aware of the decisive role that can be played by the Ethiopian military. It seems that our politicians are oblivious of such vital organization that does have the means and power to effect change in whatever form in EthiopiaXour recent history provides clear examples.

Seeye was at his best when he brought up the issue of the great sacrifices Ethiopia・s military forces have paid through out our long history. He said that many individuals have expressed doubts about the role of our military forces in the new democratic Ethiopia. As a former military commander, Seeye emphasized the fact that undermining our defense forces will not help our Ethiopia, and to disband such a great army and start from scratch will be costly. He pointed out that Ethiopia has highly skilled and strong military forces. He emphasized that the few weaknesses we might have, can be rectified easily. He argued that we must build on our strength. "I cherish the commanders of our forces. They are all dedicated, patriotic, and brave soldiers. I have special emotional attachment to our fallen gallant fighters. After I was released, the first thing I did was visit the family of the martyrs."

It is extremely disconcerting and incomprehensible to read in widely read websites and chat group・s vilification of Ethiopia・s heroic military forces. The euphoric writings about the death of Ethiopian soldiers (e.g. the degrading dragging of fallen Ethiopian heroes in Somalia) that are identified as :Woyane soldiers; in such websites and chat groups are no less than treasonous. How is it impossible for such Ethiopians to appreciate that our military forces are deployed whether in Somalia or elsewhere serving Ethiopia? No matter who is :King; in Ethiopia, we must support our military forces when engaged even in unpopular conflicts. Especially people living here in the United States have all the opportunity to witness how Americans respect and appreciate the sacrifices of their sons and daughters deployed in a very unpopular war in Iraq. We all must learn to appreciate our fellow Ethiopians serving the nation, and not judge them with our narrow political ambition or perspective. Ethiopia・s Military Forces are precisely thatXEthiopia・s Military Forces!

Conclusion

In his final remark, Seeye reminded the audience that our Ethiopian political skirmish has become divisive. He emphasized that he does not wish to see Ethiopia sliding to civil war, and he prefers to struggle before anything of the sort would happen. He concluded by saying: "Let us work together to our beloved country where each of you have great roles to play. I care deeply about my people and country, if that produces unnecessary resentment towards me that is fine. I am not running to get sympathy and popularity. I am not a member of any organization for now, because I believe a party must be created through a process and leadership has to be tasted."

No political journey is easy; Seeye・s journey is no exception either. He is giving us alternative views and approaches: a challenge to opposition parties and the EPRDF on how to achieve a democratic Ethiopia through peaceful political processes. He introduced a set of analytical tools and frameworks that show how to navigate on the unchartered and risky political sea of our Ethiopia. He laid the basis of a modern political process through reconciliation and understanding of our political and cultural diversity.

PROUD TO SAY IT

The Gallant TPLF Fighters

Eternal glory to our martyrs!