Not at their Expense: Putting the Elected Prisoners of Conscience First!

By the Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) Scandinavian Chapter
Press Release No. 33
August 6, 2006

“But from my first articles to my latest book I have written so much, and perhaps too much, only because I cannot keep from being drawn towards everyday life, towards those, whoever they may be, who are humiliated and debased. They need to hope, and if all keep silent or if they are given a choice between two kinds of humiliation, they will be forever deprived of hope and we with them. It seems to me impossible to endure that idea nor can he who cannot endure it lie down to sleep in his tower. Not through virtue, as you see, but through a sort of almost organic intolerance, which you feel or do not feel. Indeed, I see many who fail to feel it, but I cannot envy their sleep.” By Albert Camus, Philosopher and Writer

1. Budget support only after the political prisoners release and NOT Before!!

Today, the BBC World broadcast the Ethiopian Government plea to get budget support reinstated by giving air time to Meles and a British EU MP, from the donor side, without the inclusion of any opposition voice in the programme. The lack of opposition representation, when the BBC deals with the question of Ethiopia’s aid dependency is a serious omission. This is in part a response to the BBC report on this issue.

In Ethiopia today, elected opposition leaders are in jail. More than 20 journalists of the free press are in prison. Thousands of political prisoners are suffering in prisons throughout the country. They are innocent. They are arrested because they contested the rigging of the election. They are in jail because they express different political views regarding democracy, human rights, rule of law and governance from the regime. The rigging of the election has been endorsed by independent observers who corroborated that the election counting had been subject to heavy irregularities. The regime’s claim to have counted the ballots fairly has been rejected. A significant component of the international community took a symbolic step by suspending budget support to show their disquiet regarding the mishandling and subsequent excessive violence by the regime against those who protested electoral injustice.

As a consequence, Britain, EU and even the World Bank made a symbolic gesture by suspending budget support alleging breakdown of ‘trust’ (Hilary Benn) mainly because of the Government crackdown on democracy, the people and the opposition. They expected the situation not to continue to worsen. As soon as conditions get better and trust can be restored, budget support was to be reinstated. That seemed to be the overall donor position in making the symbolic gesture perhaps as an investment to Ethiopian democracy!

It looks the World Bank has found a trick to say it is not giving budget support to the regime directly while releasing funds to the branch of the local regional government indirectly. The understanding is that budget support to the government will help the Government and not the poor especially at a time when there is such large scale peoples’ resistance and mistrust of the Government. Aid should go directly to the people or to the programmes that yield direct benefits to the people. It should go directly to the health services, schools and other local services to the people, but not to the local government offices, because the centre and the local Government are run by one and the same political party and its overt and covert structures of control. The World Bank is fully aware that the centre and the local Government are run by one and the same party as a number of its own studies on the budgetary flows between the centre and regions attest. The indirect aid agreed by the World Bank now to the regional level also will strengthen the Government against the people, which proves a further barrier to bring the much anticipated democratic transition and framework to the country.

2. The situation has NOT changed yet
The crackdown continues. The elected opposition leaders are in jail. If health and education services are suffering due to budget cuts, who is to blame for this situation? The responsibility falls entirely on the shoulders of the Government. It is not to be ruled out that the Government can play games with these vital services to protest the donor community’s just action to suspend budget support direct to its treasury. It is the position of the government, that wishes the aid to be channelled directly to its coffers, that starves the social services to support their activities and programmes. In the mean time, we encourage the resourceful engagement of the donor community who should try to find avenues to reach directly the people or civil society groups especially community and faith- based and other grass roots groups to support their sanitation, water, health, education, farm support and other local needs. The donors must not give the money to the Government knowing that the regime wants to have complete control of the flow of aid in Ethiopia in order to use the aid to strengthen its dictates over the local people. At the moment until the situation shows demonstrable improvement, budget support by donors means the undermining rather than the building of democracy in Ethiopia. The donors must not reward the arrogance and rigid stance by the regime. Aid should target and empower the public, strengthening civil society, building an independent media, organising independent judiciary and such like.

If Meles wants budget support badly he should not persecute the opposition and put elected opposition leaders in jail. Meles tries to put conditions to the donors on how he should receive aid. He asks them not to put the lid of aid on and off- meaning he indirectly begs them to put it on rather than off. The current development assistance prioritises governance, democracy, human rights as paramount for aid. Meles has been violating these values and principles and most glaringly during the election in May, 2005. If the donors uphold these principles that he has violated, they should be congratulated. When they fail, they should be criticised. At the moment it is the regime in Ethiopia that is violating these principles. The longer the elected leaders are in jail, the journalists are in jail, civil society and other thousands of political prisoners are in jail, it is hard for Meles how he can speak with diffidence and arrogance that donors are cutting budget support without principle. It is principled not to give money to those who kill and violate the rule of law, abuse human rights and put in jail elected leaders of opposition parties and an elected mayor. Why not solve this important affront directly rather than weave convoluted subterfuge of alleged ‘donor lack of principle’ when what it takes is release the innocent and the democratically elected, the journalists and all others who are suffering from injustice.

The BBC should have invited opposition voice to explain and clarify why budget support became suspended in the aftermath of the Ethiopian election in the first place. There was no opposition representative to put the case forward. The BBC should redress this omission in the future.

Generally speaking, the BBC, the donor world and others must understand that the Meles regime has structural and objective weakness that will sooner or later cripple it. Internally the Ethiopian people are against its chicanery and fraudulent actions. There is growing urban and rural resistance that is developing. Externally it has been embroiled with Somalia’s Islamic Court by supporting the losing transitional outfit. It has a war- like relationship with Eritrea for nearly a decade now. It has the Oromos’ fully disaffected by the way they have been mal- treated. There are pockets of resistances sprouting for this or that reason of perceived injustice everywhere. Regardless of what problems the opposition camp may have, the Meles regime has even bigger and more structural problems.

The opposition forces grouped around Kinjit, the new Alliance for Freedom and Democracy and others, have called for a national dialogue with the regime in order to change the political environment for conversation and solving the problems by setting up an all- inclusive democratic framework to bring about a broad collective thrust and assault on the country’s manifold and complex problems.. The regime seemed hell bent to undermine national reconciliation and seemed emboldened in its belief that it can fight on all fronts as long as it can hoodwink the Bush administration as its partner in the ’global war on terror.’ The regime has been blinded by its own arrogance and deception and seemed more desperate to win back its loss of budget support by its inexhaustible willingness to assume a role of regional policeman, than to release the prisoners and create a favourable environment for a broad based all inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation.

The international community must hold firmly to the position by linking budget support to the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia. Nothing else is acceptable than this priority. First the prisoners must be released, and then budget support can follow. Not the other way around. We call upon the international community not to sacrifice the prisoners of conscience who are suffering in crowded jails risking their lives for no other crime than trying to create a sustainable system of democratic transition and national framework for Ethiopia for citizen self-expression and freedom. In order to bring back budget support on the agenda, the pre-condition of an immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners of conscience must be a priority of priorities to free them from suffering being in the hell holes of Kaleti and Alem bekagn!

3. The Struggle for Democracy Continues
At present Ethiopians inside and outside the country are united in the desire and motivation by a no greater noble ambition than to see the birth of a democratic transition within a united national framework in the country to provide the context and engine to try to address all the thorny issues that people have been quarrelling over for decades in our country: Ethiopians want to achieve at a time when their own millennium is just around the corner the following: structurally uproot poverty and inequality by instituting a comprehensive, effective and capable system for fair representation in politics, fair distribution in economics, fair governance in administration, fair treatment in the eyes of an impartial legal/judicial system, and freedom, rights, justice, dignity and security for all.

A lot in the Diaspora tried to strive and act as a moral community by focusing on the larger issues of making our country achieve a major civilization shift from authoritarian and tyrannical traditions to democratic, participatory and people empowering frameworks and traditions. May 15, 2005 saw a massive voter turn out serving as a guidepost and as a huge resource for effectuating the transition from tyranny to democracy. Ethiopians at home and abroad united, struggled tooth and nail to show how debased it was for that massive turn out to be marred by accusations of fraud in the post-election period.

Those who remained true to their principle and fought to the end this gross abuse of peoples trust were thrown into jail. Like the independent observers, they have refused to accept that wasting voter ballots for the sake of extending the tenure of the current incumbents is to be condoned. They say it is un-condonable. For their stand and principles, they have been hurled shamefully by the regime into jail. The donors must not finance this gross injustice by aiding their jailors.

4. Concluding Remark
We call on the international community not to finance injustice owing to unrelated and possible expedient reasons to the development of Ethiopian democracy. We urge the international community to stand firm against injustice. It is only by upholding principle that launching a democratic renaissance in Ethiopia and , indeed in wider Africa would be possible. In Ethiopia, the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners comes first. It actually brooks no delay. Withholding budget support and other well targeted boycotts are necessary to change the rigidity and arrogance of the regime. Financing its rigidity is to court injustice and not to serve justice. The international community must support the people, the opposition and especially those who are languishing in jail such as the renowned human right activist like Prof. Mesfin, the elected mayor of Africa’s capital , Dr. Berhanu, elected party leaders such as engineer Hailu and judge Birtukan, journalists and civil society activists ,and an unaccounted number of innumerable rural and urban young people across the breadth and depth of Ethiopia.Above all the media and others should not exclude and must include the voice of the opposition for justice, freedom, democracy and dignity for all Ethiopians.

Professor Mammo Muchie, Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Berhanu G. Balcha, Vice- Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Tekola Worku, Secretary of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Contact address:
Fibigerstraede 2
9220- Aalborg East
Denmark Tel. + 45 96 359 813 or +45 96 358 331
Fax + 45 98 153 298
Cell: +45 3112 5507
Email: mammo@ihis.aau.dk or berhanu@ihis.aau.dk or tekola.worku@bromma.stockholm.se

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Published in: on August 7, 2006 at 5:00 pm  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Undoubtedly it is a senstive issue. The Political prisoners need to be free prior to any budgetary support if the International community has a positive belief towards democracy and development in Ethiopia. This will indicate committment to peoples’ will and interest.

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