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A bad precedent set in Ethiopia: ‘Like Oromia, Like Sidama’

By Kalayu Yohannes
Tigrai Online, June 17, 2018

Less than two weeks after Ethiopia lifted the state of emergency, unrest returns in South Ethiopia..

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The Machiavellian adage- ‘the end justifies the means’- may have worked well for many who want to come to power and retain it as long as they could. Nevertheless, not all have been fortunate. The violence and sheer hooliganism that almost broke Ethiopia into pieces is celebrated as a peaceful color revolution by those who blindfolded themselves to the obvious difference between rioting and protesting. What happened in Oromia and Amhara, by organized and politically supported youth movements, was burning of social and economic infrastructure, destroying and looting property of unarmed civilians who were considered as aliens in their own HOME COUNTRY.

The top to bottom political leadership of the respective regional states considered this as a blessing in a bad guise to help them overthrow their own comrades in arms in the TPLF. None of the regional leaders condemned the criminal acts of the hooligans. Protest is acceptable and a civil right; but crime is not. The regional leaders were fuelling the violations of the Constitution and the Country’s civil and criminal codes by attributing the crimes to their ‘own bad governance’. They felt that there was no need to stop this by the declaration of a state of emergency. Although I remain appreciative of many of his actions, the PM went to the extent of violating the byelaws of the HOPR as a member and boycotted that particular session of parliament on the declaration of the state of emergency. It is tolerable, because this is Ethiopia! In USA no law breaker becomes a president.

It is possible to classify laws as those that are meant to protect people and those that are meant to protect government in power. The latter may be violated by political action of the opposition; but no political opposition has the right to violate the former. The leadership change is claimed to have been the success of the “youth movement” in Oromia. Whoever perished by it, whatever was destroyed by it, whatever long lasting trauma precipitated from it, the violence was praised from many directions as leading to a ‘desirable’ political change. The new leadership was swept to power as a result; and so overwhelmed by emotions by this easy gain it is engaged in mass release of prisoners without changing Parliament approved laws. The question is not whether or not the parliament was right or wrong in approving those laws. The question is once they are approved by the Parliament, unless otherwise one considers the members of Parliament as inconsequential, the decisions have to be implemented. If one thinks that the laws are wrong, it is unlawful to violate them by means executive authority ‘for the sake of peace’. The laws have to be changed in the Parliament first and the prisoners who were jailed on the basis of the laws be released next.

Five political organizations were dubbed as “terrorist” and the laws were so severe that even having coffee with members of these organizations could put you in deep trouble. Without these laws being annulled (even if they are considered to be “TPLF laws”, everyone has raised hands to vote in favor) the chief executive is inviting back home, shaking hands, embracing, discussing power sharing with the leaders of the outlawed organizations. No policeman arrested him; but they had to! There cannot be immunity for breaking the law at all levels. Even God does not have that right to break his own laws (This is not blasphemy; I just want to hammer my point home)!

Appeasement is lame, but understandable. However, no laws can be sacrificed for it. Those engaged in such acts were very noisy opposing what former PM Meles Zenawi did to keep Commander Seye Abreha in detention. He was blamed for changing the law in parliament prior to the action. Although unacceptable by the established standards of law making, wasn’t it much better than not doing so at all? Violating Acts of parliament by executive decision is nothing less than a dictatorship. This results in the loss of credibility of the members of Parliament, the judiciary, and the police, and disables them from implementing the laws which are still active in their hands as guidelines for action.  We are vulnerable because the law enforcement bodies must have become confused about who to and who not to arrest and take to court. Attorneys and Judges must have become at a loss about whether the trials and sentences on anyone will have any validity from now on. 

After coming to power the new leadership is determined to end what it considers to be “unpopular decisions and actions” by the TPLF. The Ag’azi brigade was condemned as a “cruel arm of the TPLF”; even the army was condemned for trying to control the dangerous violence. Their actions were considered to be motivated by TPLF interests. However, no one can prove that what the police, the army, and national security were doing were all self-serving when the rule of law is now being compromised much more than ever before after the hands of the army and police are tied behind their backs by the new leadership. Youth violence brought the leadership to power. If a violent path to power is so justified then others are going to follow suit. There will not be any limit if one is allowed by precedent to take the law into its own hands. There are many political and economic interests, harmful to public safety and peace, which were held down by the iron hand of the army, police, and national security. If law enforcers are made impotent in the face of dangerous politically motivated violence, for sure, this will have a “boomerang effect” on the new leadership itself. How is Alkaida and/or ISIS to be prevented from taking root in Ethiopia through native recruits if the laws meant to control terrorism are made toothless lions? It requires skill, experience, and firm laws to distinguish between who is a genuine apposition and who is a terrorist. It is naive to say the least to engage in benevolence in a complex Country located in a complex geopolitical settings.

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What is happening in that peaceful and beautiful Hawassa is a clear precedent of what happened in Oromia. If the Oromos get to Arat Kilo through youth violence, the Sidamas can get to a “Sidama Kilil” in the same style.  I heard to my dismay that the law enforcers, already there in the City, are not taking actions because they were told by their superiors that they cannot shoot anyone. They may not be able to arrest anyone either. What kind of democratic experiment is this which allows and even tacitly encourages violence? Even the mature democracies in Europe and North America do not tolerate such kinds of lawlessness because they have a responsibility to protect the public and keep their nations from chaotic disintegration.

Amhra and Oromia states set bad precedent for Sidama in 2017
Amhra and Oromia state set bad precedent for the rest of Ethiopia including Sidama in 2017

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