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Kangaroo Court

Ethiopia: Kangaroo Justice for Two Swedish Journalists

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye in Kangaroo Court 

The old adage is that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Could it be said equally that arrogance excuses ignorance of the law? Dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi recently proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while visiting Norway. He emphatically declared that the duo had crossed into Ethiopia from Somalia with insurgents of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) as terrorist accomplices and collaborators: “They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.”

At a “court” hearing last week, Persson denied the charges: “My intention was to do my job as a journalist and describe the conflict. Nothing else. Not guilty.” Schibbye admitted “entering the country without proper documentation. For that I am guilty and I apologize to the government of Ethiopia. But I am not guilty of terrorist activity.” Shimeles Kemal, the “chief prosecutor” was full of hyperbole when he laid out his “legal” case in a press conference. He claimed the two journalists “entered the country with a gang of terrorists. They have even been trained in using weapons. They are accused of abetting and rendering professional assistance to terrorists. Their activities go a bit beyond just journalistic news gathering.”

Criminalizing, demonizing and dehumanizing journalists, opposition leaders and dissidents as “terrorists”, “insurrectionists”, “treasonous” traitors, etc. isZenawi’s signature M.O. (method of operation). When Zenawi jailed editors of several newspapers following the 2005 elections, he described them in much the same way: “For us, these are not just journalists. They will not be charged for violating the press laws. They will charged, like the CUD leaders, for treason.” This past June, Zenawi ordered the arrest and detention of two young and dynamic journalists, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the weekly Awramba Times and Reeyot Alemu, columnist for the weekly Feteh, on fuzzy accusations of terrorism. Last month, Zenawi’s “chief prosecutor” ordered the arrest and detention of the distinguished Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega “for conspiring with terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7 and other foreign forces who wanted to wreak havoc in the country through their terrorist activities.” When Zenawi wants to jail journalists, he simply brands them as “terrorists” or smears them with a similar label and carts them off to jail.

The Committee to Protect Journalists roundly condemned Zenawi’s statement as “compromising” the Swedish journalists’ human right to a “presumption of innocence and for predetermining the outcome of their case”. But much more is compromised, including the rule of law, principles of due process and fair trial, the universal principle that it is the accuser, and not the accused, who bears the burden of proof in a criminal case, the principle that guilt is proven in a court of law with an independent judiciary and not before a full court press or the court of international opinion. Ultimately, Zenawi’s statement compromised justice itself.

When Zenawi tagged these two journalists as “terrorist messenger boys” and “participants in the actions of a terrorist organization”, he had in fact sealed their fate and pronounced the final word in kangaroo justice. There is no way that Persson and Schibbye could possibly get a fair trial or not be convicted following such an outrageous and egregiously depraved statement by Zenawi.

Difference Between Journalists and Terrorists 

Zenawi sarcastically mocked the two Swedish journalists by rhetorically asking if what they did is “journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.” Zenawi is entitled to some basic clarification by means of concrete examples. War crimes (“the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military or civilian necessity [Geneva Convention]” are acts of state terrorism. So are crimes against humanity (“widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, murder, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, [Rome Statute]”.  The “systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective” by an “extremely powerful political police against an atomized and defenseless population” is plain old-fashioned terrorism that is familiar to the average Ethiopian citizen.

When journalists are embedded with a regular or an irregular military unit and go into a conflict or war zone, they are engaged in “combat journalism”. When journalists dig for facts in places where there is an official news blackout, they are engaged in investigative journalism. When journalists undertake dangerous assignments and cover stories firsthand from a war zone, they are often called war correspondents. When independent reporters, writers and photojournalists accept specific assignments to cover particular stories, they are engaged in freelance journalism. It is because of freelance journalists that the world has come to know so much about the war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in such places like Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and many other places.

Oftentimes insurgent and rebel groups distrust professional journalists affiliated with established news organizations. They are more likely to cooperate with freelance journalists who often take great risks to their own safety to undertake firsthand investigations by entering a country at war or in conflict without a visa. Schibbye has been a foreign correspondent and freelance journalist for several newspapers, including The Times, Amelia and Proletären. He has worked in Algeria, the Philippines, Cuba, Syria and Vietnam, among other countries. Persson has worked with Kontinent, a Swedish photojournalist agency, for several  years and taken many dangerous assignments in various countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Both are professional journalists, and until now have never been suspected of any terrorist activity or involvement of any kind by any other country or international agency.

The Human Right to a Fair Trial 

Zenawi seems to be uninformed, willfully ignorant or recklessly indifferent to the human rights of the two journalists. The fact of the matter is that Persson and Schibbye are presumed to be innocent of any and all charges of “terrorism” until they have been given a fair chance to defend themselves and their guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt by their accusers in court.  So says the Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3): “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” So says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Art. 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.” So says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Art. 14 (2): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” So says the  African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” Art. 13 (2) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides double guarantees: “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” (Also art. 9 (4).) Ethiopia ratified the UDHR in 1948, the ICCPR in 1993 and the ACHPR in 1998.

Article 13(1)  mandates Zenawi to respect and enforce the provisions of the Constitution, including Article 20 (3). He violated his constitutional duty under Art. 9 (2) by publicly declaring the guilt of  Persson and Schibbye and characterizing them as “messenger boys of terrorists”, “participants in terrorism” and terrorist accomplices before they have had a chance to present a defense and a determination of their guilt made by a fair and neutral tribunal.

The presumption of innocence is the “golden thread” in the laws of all civilized nations. It is the gold standard of fundamental fairness which places the entire burden of proof in a criminal case on the state. It is the singular duty of the prosecution representing the state to present compelling and legally admissible evidence in court to convince the trier of fact that the accused is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Persson and Schibbye guilt is not to be proven in a press conference in Oslo or in the court of public opinion.

The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible officials likely to have a role or influence the judicial process prior to a finding of guilt by a court. Even when prosecutors make statements concerning the defendant to inform the public on the status of their investigation or articulate their suspicion of guilt, they have a legal and ethical duty to do so in a factual manner and narrowly limited to the allegedly violated laws, while always exercising reasonable care not to unduly prejudice the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence or improperly influence the fact finder. 

Trial by Diktat 

Expecting a fair trial in kangaroo court is like expecting democracy in a dictatorship. Persson and Schibbye will be convicted by Zenawi’s diktat just as the journalists and opposition leaders were convicted before them. Following the 2005 election, Zenawi publicly declared: “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Zenawi railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, to prison on the bogus charge that she had denied receiving a pardon. She was not even accorded the ceremonial kangaroo court proceedings. Zenawi sent her  straight from the street into solitary confinement by diktat and sadistically delcared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.”  He “pardoned” her in October 2010.  In 2009, Zenawi’s right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long sentences. For Zenawi, court trials are nothing more than circus sideshows staged for the benefit of  Western donors who know better but go along to get along.

No Fair Trial Possible for the Swedish Journalists in Kangaroo Court 

Everyone knows the charge of “terrorism” against Persson and Schibbye is bogus. It is a trumped up charge made by prosecutors who are directed, pressured, threatened and politically manipulated. Everyone knows there are no independent judges who preside in cases involving defendants facing “terrorism” and other political charges. Everyone knows the so-called judges in terrorism “trials” are party hacks and lackeys enrobed in judicial regalia. This is not the conclusion of a partisan advocate but the considered view of the U.S. Government and various international human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report: “In high-profile cases, courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because  of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.” The  2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices concluded: “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence.”

Everyone also knows that there is no such thing as the rule of law in Ethiopia because dictatorship is very antitheses of the rule of law. Zenawi’s diktat is “The Law”, which trumps the constitution and all  international human rights conventions. Ethiopia’s former president and parliamentarian Dr. Negasso Gidada described the so-called antiterrorism law as a tool of legalized terrorism which “violates citizens’ rights to privacy” and the “ rights of all peoples of Ethiopia…Such laws are manipulated to weaken political roles of opposition groups there by arresting and prosecuting them using the bill as a cover. Another major opposition leader, Bulcha Demeksa, described the same “law” as a “a weapon designed by the ruling party not only to weaken and totally eliminate all political opponents.” In other words, the “anti-terrorism law” under which the two Swedish journalists are charged is a weapon of mass incarceration and intimidation of political opponents and journalists, mass persecution of the political opposition and mass oppression of the civilian population.

The Silence of Sweden

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been severely criticized for his apparent indifference and failure to help the two Swedish journalists or even publicly demand their release in light of the bogus terrorism charges. Critics argue that Bildt dragged his feet and failed to secure their release in the crucial first days of the detention of the two journalists because of a potential conflict of interest as the two journalists were also investigating the activities of a company affiliated to Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish oil group which has natural gas operations in the Ogaden. Bildt is said to have served as board member of Lundin Petroleum, prior to becoming foreign minister. In January 2009, Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister Gunilla Carlsson issued a statement declaring that the “imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa is a source of great concern both for her personally and for democratic development in Ethiopia. The scope for democracy and pluralism is shrinking in Ethiopia. The imprisonment of Mrs Midekssa and the recently adopted law regulating the activities and funding of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are examples of this negative development.”

Swedish journalist and writer Bengt Nilsson has argued that Sweden for decades has turned a blind eye as its development aid has been used to support dictatorships and finance wars in Africa. The Swedish government’s “new policy for Africa” claims to be based upon “economic growth, deeper democracy and stronger protection of human rights as  the basis for development in Africa.” How the Swedish government will “deal” its way out of the “crisis” of the two journalists will show if  Sweden will continue to support African dictatorships or use it aid dollars to help democratize Africa and protect the human rights of the African peoples.

What is the Kangaroo Trial of the Swedish Journalists Really About? 

Back in August 2010, Zenawi announced he will close his embassy in Sweden because “there is no development cooperation program of any substance between us and Sweden. There is no major trading relationship between us and Sweden, and no significant investment coming from Sweden to Ethiopia. It was not worthwhile to have an embassy [in Sweden]”. Diplomacy for Zenawi is striclty business. Without being too cynical, one could surmise that the terrorism charge against the two Swedish journalists is intended to provide a diversionary cover for Zenawi’s real agenda. Given Zenawi’s past M.O., it is manifest that he aims to use this opportunity to extract some major concessions from the Swedes:  “If they want Persson and Schibbye freed, it’s gonna cost ’em. What are the Swedes willing to pay? How about reopneing the aid pipeline? After all, Ethiopia is the first country to have received Swedish aid back in 1954. How about some cash loans? Increased trade? Perhaps new investments? It is said that the largest investor in the whole of Sweden is an Ethiopian.” Let’s make a deal!

There is no way Zenawi could jail Persson and Schibbye for fifteen years as terrorists. He will galvanize Swedish and European Union public opinion against him personally and very possibly trigger devastating sanctions that will completely paralyze his regime. Even the Americans who have been turning a blind eye for all these years may finally take a look and tell Zenawi enough is enough. So, there is no question that after the kangaroo court circus is over Persson and Schibbye will be released. As usual, Zenawi will grandstand and declare the two journalists have been pardoned and released after they admitted guilt, expressed remorse and so on. The Swedes and some of the Western countries will play their part and congratulate him for doing the right thing and acting magnaimously; and he will continue with business as usual—more Ethiopian journalists will be jailed and threatened, dissidents harassed and opposition leaders persecuted. But the lesson remains the same: By manufacturing a bogus crisis, Zenawi, true to form, would have once again outwitted, outfoxed, outsmarted, outmaneuvered, outpoliticked, outtricked, outfinessed and outplayed his timorous Western benefactors. As the old saying goes, one has to give the devil his due for a job well done!  Bravissimo!

Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!

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Ethiopia: Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

Alemayehu G. Mariam

A Comedy of Errors: (Act I)

Rodney King’s videotaped brutal beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) eventually triggered the L.A. riots of 1992. Rodney made a public appearance on the third day of the anarchy and pleaded in his inimitable style:

People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? It’s just not right…. Let’s try to work it out.

I never thought I would appeal to Rodney King for political wisdom and insight in seeking an end to the internecine warfare in the Ethiopian opposition and plead for reconciliation, understanding and common sense. True, Rodney King is no Martin King, but in this instance I am going to invoke Rodney while pleading Martin to get Ethiopia’s opposition leaders to re-think and re-examine their strategy of mutual assured destruction (MAD).

It was amusing to read this past week a story about criminal charges filed against one faction of the Unity and Democracy Party [UDJ] (Andenet) by another faction of the same party in Ethiopia. Charged with disturbing the peace this past April are some of the prominent leaders and members of the UDJ. It is alleged that the defendants threw rocks at the party office and created disturbances while party members worked inside. Several witnesses testified for the prosecution at a hearing and the matter was continued to a later date.

There had been prior confrontations between UDJ members. In late 2009 when UDJ held its Extraordinary Congress at the Imperial Hotel, it was alleged that certain “expelled” members had attempted to disrupt the meetings. The police were reportedly called to intervene, but failed to show up. The meeting was cancelled and there were no prosecutions. But state-controlled television was on hand to record the bizarre spectacle for broadcast.

I am sure the whole zany rock-throwing affair gave dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi and his crew much needed comic relief in the weeks before the May 2010 “election”. Today, Zenawi watches a command performance opera buffa of some of the champions of the Ethiopian opposition duking it out in kangaroo court. It is humiliating and embarrassing for many of us to see some of the giants of the opposition who have sacrificed so much of themselves pointing accusatory fingers at each other in the Zenawi’s Halls of Injustice. Of course, one would have expected all opposition leaders to get the message after the “election” and get their acts together. After all, Zenawi won by 99.6 percent, and they “lost” by 100 percent. But that is another matter. I only wish the accusers and the accused could see themselves from the outside as they spar in the three-ring circus of Zenawi’s kangaroo court.

Master Stroke of Public Relations (Act II)

The timing of the UDJ “prosecution” is curious, to say the least. The final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission Team [EU EOM] is expected to be released sometime in September. Staging a three-ring kangaroo circus over a rock-throwing incident to coincide with the release of the EU EOM report is a master stroke of public relations. It provides a nice distraction to the findings and conclusions of the forthcoming report. The criminal case will be dragged out to coincide with the release of the report and cushion the hard landing Zenawi is going to have in the report. We already know from the from the preliminary statements of EU EOM that the May 2010 “election” “failed to provide a level playing field”. Major donor governments have declared the election “does not meet international standards”. That is just diplomatic-speak for a stolen election. Regardless of what the final report will document, the incontrovertible fact is that an “election” that gave Zenawi a victory of 99.6 percent is not an election; it is a travesty of election.

But the sting of the EU EOM report could be lessened and world attention distracted by depicting opposition leaders as a bunch of bumbling and bungling lightweights (or worse) who are not only incapable of leading the country but are spending their time like children throwing rocks at each other. It is a brilliant public relations move by Zenawi to make a complete laughing stock out of some of the most respected leaders of the opposition. Let us just watch Zenawi showcasing the “rock throwers” freak show in his kangaroo court circus as the release date for the EU EOM report draws near: “Come one, come all to the greatest show in Ethiopia! Marvel and thrill at the rock-throwing Ethiopian opposition leaders! Stare in awe… Do you want these guys to run the country!?” Barnum and Bailey never had so much fun!

Justice in Kangaroo Court? (Act III)

Time was that opposition leaders were dragged in chains into kangaroo court to become victims of injustice. Some of the UDJ members in this criminal case were sentenced together to long prison terms in kangaroo court not long ago and served nearly two years before being “pardoned”. It is an eerie feeling to see them now standing on their hind legs pointing accusatory fingers at each other. UDJ members going to kangaroo court to seek justice is like Rodney King going before LAPD’s Internal Affairs to press charges against the cops who beat him to a pulp. It just makes no sense. I am dismayed and embarrassed by the sight of UDJ members brawling in a kangaroo cage match as Zenawi calls the count. What a low-down dirty shame for all whoare toiling for democracy, human rights and justice in Ethiopia to view this spectacle. What comic relief for Zenawi and his crew. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

I want to laugh too, but it hurts to laugh. In fact, I would like to cry at the sight of these distinguished members of the opposition wagging fingers and exchanging verbal missiles in kangaroo court. What were they thinking?

But to add humiliation to a crying shame, I agonize over the possible outcomes of the criminal case. If the UDJ defendants are convicted and sentenced to jail, who wins? Zenawi does. He will step up to the podium and announce to the world that his justice system worked “fairly” and the criminal wrongdoers were held to account. He can walk up to his Western donors (a/k/a partners-in-crime) and smugly say, “Behold my opposition (chuckle)! See real justice at work!”

Who loses if they are convicted? The opposition does. The people will shake their collective heads in dismay and disbelief and ask: “What were they thinking? Why can’t they get along? If they can’t get along out of power, how could they get along if they get into power?”
Who wins if the UDJ defendants are acquitted? Zenawi does. He can show the world that justice was served in his court with impartiality and the innocent set free. Who loses if they are acquitted? The opposition does. The people will scratch their collective heads and ask: “Why did they do it? Was it worth their humiliation in kangaroo court?” In short, the kangaroo court criminal case is a win-win for Zenawi, and a lose-lose for the opposition!

But there is a less obvious conclusion to be drawn to the credit of the UDJ members. In the heat of the moment, certain party members may or may not have thrown rocks or exchanged harsh words. But to their collective credit, there was no shooting or extreme violence, as it often happens among opposition elements in so many parts of Africa. The UDJ members did not take to street justice to resolve their disagreements; they went to court (admittedly the kangaroo variety). I applaud them for that. They had the right idea, but went to the wrong place. Courts of law (in contrast to kangaroo courts) are the proper and civilized place to bring disputes for resolution. Independent judges (in contrast to hacks wearing judicial robes) can properly administer justice impartially and neutrally.

But the proper place for resolution of political disputes among Ethiopia’s opposition is never in kangaroo court, but in intra- and inter-organizational mediation and reconciliation processes or other civil society institutions. Throwing rocks or vilifying each other with abusive words is never justified. They do not need to beat each other up; they need to stand together and cover each other’s back. They need to shield each other from the ceaseless barrages of the slings and arrows of an outrageous dictatorship.

So I am going to “sermonize” a little bit here. If the bickering, name calling, rock throwing and all the other silly stuff continues, the opposition will end up in mutual assured destruction as the dictators look on with glee. It is mad to follow the path of MAD. The opposition has far too many important tasks to accomplish. They have already lost precious time in internal strife and fragmentation; they need to be doing more by way of uniting, mobilizing, motivating and inspiring the people with their ideas and plans. The people want to hear messages of hope and redemption from opposition leaders, not accusations and recriminations. The people want to be assured that it is possible, with dedication and effort, to overcome the seemingly insurmountable mountain of dictatorship; that change, peaceful democratic change, is possible and the people themselves hold their destiny in their collective hands. The people want to be shown these possibilities through leadership examples of optimism, dedication, tolerance, tenacity and patriotic zeal. That is the way to do it!

The kind of legal warfare we see in kangaroo court with opposition leaders and members is demoralizing; it is not uplifting for the people. It robs the people of their faith in the future and saps their energy, enthusiasm and hopes for democracy. Opposition leaders should be less concerned about their partisan interests and more engaged in addressing the needs of the masses of unemployed youth, the urban poor that have little to eat; the poor farmers scratching the earth for seedlings; the masses of women who face domestic violence daily; the educated professionals who can barely eke out an existence on salaries that are gobbled up by stratospheric inflation and the state workers who are forced to supplement their incomes by payments under the table. These people are looking for visionary leadership. They want to see clear-thinking and dignified opposition leaders charting the course to a better future. They do not want to see opposition leaders brawling in freak shows in a kangaroo circus court. Stated simply, opposition leaders and parties need consolidation, not fragmentation; they need reconciliation not accusation and recrimination.

Can’t We Just Get Along? (Act IV)

I see no need for opposition leaders to act in a vaudevillian comedy show directed by Zenawi. That is why I am asking them to develop and adopt a voluntary “code of conduct” to govern their relationships as they face a formidable common adversary. Such a code should address matters of civility, tolerance of dissent, non-use of inflammatory language, avoidance of personality clashes, constructive criticism of programs and policies, avoidance of personal attacks, establishment of formal and informal dispute resolution mechanisms, grievance complaint procedures and so on. Under no circumstances should they air their “dirty political laundry” in kangaroo court.

Political leaders and followers who are truly committed to democracy and human rights and work for the betterment of the Ethiopian people need to get along with each other and cooperate for a common purpose. They do not need to agree with each other on all issues or even the majority of issues. It is not even necessary for them to socialize and hang out together; but it is mandatory that they find effective ways of collaboration to advance their common causes of democracy, human rights, accountability, transparency and the rule of law.
Working together requires creating a harmonious working relationship founded on mutual respect, tolerance and understanding. If there are differences on issues, as there should be, all effort must be exerted to discuss and resolve them without degenerating into personal attacks. If issues cannot be resolved, it is best to agree to disagree and move on with other issues.

Teamwork and collegiality among opposition leaders are essential if dictatorship is to be defeated and real democracy established in Ethiopia. When opposition leaders attack and disrespect each other, they not only make themselves laughing stocks for the dictator and his crew but also look silly in the eyes of the public and set a bad example. The kind of dysfunctionality that is visible in the opposition today is not only pathetic but also harmful to the prospects of democracy in the future. Opposition leaders need to answer a simple question: How can they expect to work collaboratively in the interests of the country and fight dictatorship when they have hardened partisan politics among themselves so much? The road of hardened partisan politics leads to MAD. They may have been in separate boats before the May “election”, but now they are all in the same boat cruising up that famous creek without a paddle.

It is time now to transition to the politics of multi-partisanship, cooperation and collaboration. Practically, this means advancing the interests of the people over partisan politics or advancement of one’s agenda, status, career or ambitions. It means showing the people that the opposition is NOT the flip side of the ruling dictatorship. Stated simply, the people need to be reassured that in the opposition they are not swapping Tweedledee for Tweedledum. Democracy and dictatorship are not interchangeable. The most effective way of getting the trust and support fo the people is by proving to them what it means to work together harmoniously while opposition leaders and parties are on the outside, and before they have tasted the sweet intoxicating nectar of power.

That’s why I pose some simple questions to Ethiopia’s opposition leaders: “Why can’t you all just get along? Can you stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? It’s just not right…. Why can’t you try to work it out?”

As the old saying goes, “Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not ours, what we have is today.” Can we all begin to mend fences today and come together not only to oppose and defeat an ephemeral dictatorship, but most importantly, to put our collective shoulders to the grind wheel and work for democracy, justice and human rights in Ethiopia? Can we all get along!