LEST WE USE APOLOGY AS A POLITICAL SLEIGHT OF HAND
By Tsegaye R Ararssa
(Advocacy4Oromia, 11 March 2016) It was widely reported yesterday that the PM has finally uttered words of apology for the misrule of his government in Oromia and beyond. The apology doesn’t say in words but apparently it is meant to express remorse for his regime’s acts that caused:
a. the death of over 500;
b. injury to hundreds more;
c. the arrest and detention of tens of thousands;
d. the disappearances of numerous Oromos;
e. the destruction, bombing, vandalizing of properties including school and university buildings;
f. the disruption of the normal life of the people;
g. the illegal suspension/removal of the civilian administration of Oromia; and
h. the widespread practice of terrorizing the Oromo civilian population (including by killing children and elderly citizens).
I won’t go into the interpretation of what this statement of apology means and as to whom it is directed (to the people or to his own folks/bosses in the ‘government’). I would rather take him at his word and demand that he matches up his action with his words in the spirit of not letting this pass as a usual political sleight of hand, or an empty political gesture.
I like to stress that, normally, apology comes as an admission of one’s mistake, as a recognition of responsibility for the wrongs done to the victims of one’s acts, and as a first step towards making amends. (At an individual-personal level, apology is a sign of showing remorse.)
When it is done as an act of state, it needs to be done as a matter of principled commitment to justice, sovereignty of the people (supreme importance of their will), accountability of government, and out of a conviction that, we as a country, collectively, seek to atone for, and distance ourselves from, the injustice perpetrated in the name of the state. As such, it requires the existence of a sense of remorse and an unswerving commitment not to let it happen again. This commitment is not just about making amends for the misdeeds of the past but an act of promise, a vow, about the future. It is a way of saying (in the Post-Rwanda language of the now exhausted phrase) NEVER AGAIN!
So, if the PM wants this to be beyond an empty political gesture (and a fake gesture to placate the angry public), he needs to do more. First of all, he should admit that the political road to a solution has long been exhausted. Finding a political solution was supposed to happen way before politics ended and military action has taken over.
Of course, we have been insisting that the politics has undergone closure long ago when the public space was completely occupied merely by TPLF/EPRDF (after the fake election of May 2015). In my view, the politics had experienced total closure since Election 2010 when all legal-political dissent was ruled out of the public sphere. The closure of the public space (facilitated by the constellation of laws on political parties, civil society organizations, freedom of press and information, and counter-terrorism laws) was followed by a form of rule that deploys law as ‘war by other means’. Election 2015 was clearly a ‘war by other means’ especially to the Oromo and all the ‘other’ peoples of Ethiopia (whose land and resources were vetted for ‘legal’ looting and plunder).
So, this new use of the language of apology, coming only after the exhaustion of politics in Ethiopia–only after unscrupulously imposing a military rule on the country, especially in Oromia and Gambella–becomes too little too late, if not amusing altogether.
But if the PM wants to achieve something more than a cheap political sleight of hand (which will never win any Oromo to his side anyway!), then he should do the following:
1. Remove the army from Oromia and send the soldiers back to their camps or to wherever they were relocated from.
2. Restore the civilian administration of Oromia and facilitate for them to make a publicly transparent discussion about the crisis, take a stance, take political responsibility, call a snap election on a short order, and dismiss the parliament leaving the administration of the region in the hands of a care taker government for the interim;
3. Take political responsibility for his own action and for his cabinet’s reckless words and deeds. In other words, he should demand that his wayward Ministers–such as Abay Tsehaye, Getachew Reda, Tewodros Adhanom–resign immediately. If he can’t secure their resignation as a sign of their political responsibility for their utter political and moral failure in handling the protest (which I do not suspect they will do!), then the PM himself should step down. He should resign. Yes, THE PRIME MINISTER SHOULD RESIGN.
4. Immediately establish an impartial and independent inquiry commission in order to investigate the atrocities and ensure the legal responsibility of the perpetrators. Given the fact that all the institutions (including the Human Rights Commission and the Courts) have shown their partiality and lack of independence thus far, we do realize the near-impossibility of forming such a commission. It is therefore imperative for the government to allow an international body (e.g. a UN special rapporteur) to conduct the inquiry and ensure that perpetrators be brought before justice.
6. Repeal the Master Plan, the Oromia Urban Development Law, and all other laws facilitating land grab in Oromia and in the entire country (e.g.the Lease law, investment laws, and other policies and plans to create industrial zones, investment sites, and recreation parks) UNCONDITIONALLY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY. Stop the implementation of the Master Plan even within the confines of the ten sub-cities of what is traditionally known as the suburbs of Addis Ababa. STOP LAND GRAB ACTIVITIES DONE ILLEGALLY with out consultation, consent, or adequate, proper, and effective compensation.
7. Return land taken from farmers back and compensate all of them for their loss. Provide replacements for those whose lands have been developed. Provide all basic social services (housing, health, and education) to all those whose life and livelihoods have been disrupted by the evictions. This ought to be done most urgently.
8. Release ALL persons arrested in relation to the protest against the Master Plan and the land grab attendant to the plan. Release all Oromo political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Interrupt processes of all political trials and release ALL prisoners of conscience that have long suffered in the prisons and detention centers of Ethiopia.
9. Work towards the implementation of the Special Interest of oromia over Addis Ababa in the interim. For a lasting solution, work closely with all political groups and all stakeholders towards finding a more suitable location to serve as a seat for the federal government. This act requires a constitutional amendment taking account of all the possible best practices on choice of capitals in federations.
10. Start a sincere negotiation with all political groups to transit out of this crisis and to let Ethiopia to begin its political life again, anew. This PM has an extraordinary opportunity to win by loosing (because he has lost) and to pave the way for a genuine transformation of the state and democratization of the politics thereby helping Ethiopia to begin again, to start anew, to be at it afresh.
So doing will help us bring politics back to where it belongs. So doing will stop the war the country is languishing in, the war we are all conscripted to by default, owing to the state-sanctioned end of politics.
So doing will help you, Mr Prime Minister, go beyond using apology as a political sleight of hand. And it will, hopefully, provide you the opportunity to redeem yourself, to take the higher road–the road never traveled in Ethiopia–and to make you a statesman in the proper sense of the word.