By Dilwenberu Nega
April 20, 2012
Dilwenberu Nega 20th April 2012- Should the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) bend the law and release the two Swedish journalists for fear of a reprisal (cutback or stoppage of aid), or should it stand its ground and refuse to be arm locked into submission? Should the GoE kneel down and disown its allegiance to developmental state so that pressure groups, like Human Rights Watch are pacified, or should it once again showcase to the international community its time-tested “Tsenat” (perseverance)? These, according to Ethiopia’s “iron gentleman” are questions that currently challenge the Ethiopian in us.
In a sterling performance at the House of Peoples Representatives on Tuesday 18th April 2012, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi yet again proved a hard nut to crack as he responded to a range of questions by Members of Parliament. Questions ranging from what anti-inflationary measures the Government were adapting to why the African Union chose to erect in the precinct of its new Headquarters a statute of President Kwame Nkrumah, rather than Emperor Haile Selassie. To a roar of laughter by backbenchers, he also rebutted the opposition’s claim that the Government was using the its video recordings of meetings that it had as evidence against it by stating that the video evidence the prosecutor presented to the open court in the case of People versus Andualem Aragaye were “no wedding videos” but of a cabal to circumvent the constitutional and democratic order in Ethiopia.
But nothing touched the raw nerve of patriotic fervour of those who, like me, were watching at PMQT (Prime Minister’s Question Time) on ETV as when no-nonsense Meles began to cite ongoing pressure by foreign countries and pressure groups to frogmarch Ethiopia into accepting the unconditional release of the two Swedish journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson. The current stand off between Ethiopia and Sweden must, therefore, be viewed in light of the anticipated impact it would have on the primacy of law and sovereignty if GoE succumbs to pressure from Sweden or any other quarter and sets the journalists free. On the other hand, efforts to secure their release on compassionate grounds, as the Prime Minister has stated unequivocally, is quite a different matter and will be treated according to pardon procedures. Here again, it must be made abundantly clear to intermediaries that Ethiopia will be ill disposed to a pardon request that is gift wrapped with threats and ultimatums.
Nothing can, therefore, be sadder to Ethiopian friends of Sweden than to see the gradual freezing of bilateral relations between two otherwise historical friends. Sweden is not a new development partner of Ethiopia. Swedish development aid to Ethiopia has been behind a see change in the construction of schools and agricultural improvements in Ethiopia long before Ethiopia adopted pluralistic democracy, respect to human rights and the rule of law – attributes that dovetail with everything Sweden had been supporting for centuries. But is it morally right for Sweden to threaten Ethiopia with cutback/stoppage of aid if the two journalists are not set free? After all isn’t Swedish aid to Ethiopia – like all aid to developing nations – meant to be disinterested aid? What has happened to Swedish values of fairness and respect to the rule of law? We hate to think that the land of freedom, fairness and equality has suddenly tuned into a neo-colonial mode.
Let me now pose you a conundrum. What do you think Sweden would have done if a British court handed out prison sentences to Martin and Johan for being caught in a battle the British Army was engaged with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in 1988? Would Sweden have withdrawn her Ambassador to the Court of St. James? Would Sweden have suspended trade with Britain? The answer is, of course nothing at all. That is why we, who are sandwiched between our allegiance to the Motherland and our friendship to Sweden, find Sweden’s line of argument not only untenable, but we can’t help view it with a twinge of racism. The sooner Sweden comes to terms with the fact that because Ethiopia happens to be poor and a recipient of Swedish aid doesn't make her come under the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Sweden, the better for the two nations.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi also told backbenchers listening with rapt attention to PMQT (Prime Minister’s Question Time) the chicaneries HRW had set in motion to force Ethiopia veer away from developmental state and adopt their bankrupt neo-liberalist policies. This “ideological warfare” is launched on countries that out of their own volition have chosen a political economy which is the very antithesis of neoliberals. So, expect to hear more mendacious accusations against ‘unruly EPRDF government’ to continue for some time to come. As this is something that can’t be cured, we must endure it. And talking about endurance, who better than EPRDF can be a paladin of endurance. GoE never give in to threats and blackmail and NEVER KNEEL DOWN!
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