Viewpoint

US Members of Congress send letter to Meles


"The Government of Ethiopia must expeditiously allow private radio and television licensing and end its monopoly on electronic media. Independent media is essential to democracy and good governance. It is unacceptable, in our view, that after fourteen years since the ouster of the military dictatorship only one private radio, which is owned by the ruling party, is allowed to function." - US Members of Congress in an October 5, 2005 letter addressed to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

(Caption and photo montage: Ethiomedia; Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Heavens)

His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive NW
Washington DC 20006

Dear Prime Minister Zenawi,

We are writing to you to encourage you to resolve your political differences through a legal and democratic process. Ethiopia is at a critical stage in its modern history; what the Government and opposition parties choose to do to resolve this crisis will determine the country's political future and survival. Ethiopia, the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, with its rich histgory, could bring stability and peace to a region that has been devastated by war and humanitarian crises for decadres. Moreover, Ethiopia's success will have significant impact on the continent as a whole. However, if the parties choose to engage in partisan and destructive politics, the consequences for Ethiopia and the region could be disastrous.

We believe Ethiopia made signficant progress in its third multi-party elections, although post-election violence and the government's handling of disputed seats were disappointing. We agree with the Department of State that politial parties should participate in the political process and the government should reach out to the opposition parties. Tens of millions of Ethiopians stood in the long lines and walked for miles to vote for their representatives, fulfilling their civic duties. Ethiopia's political leaders have a responsibility and obligation to their constituencies to resolve their differences peacefully and to respect the law and the constitution of the country.

We are very encouraged by and welcome the recent decision of opposition groups to call off the October 2nd demonstration and the proposed three-day strike, and the government of Ethiopia's decision to start dialog with opposition groups. In our opinion, this represents a very important breakthrough and we encourage both sides to build on this important progress. While constructive engagement by the international community, especially the United States, is important, we strongly believe that it is the responsibility of Ethiopia's political leaders to find lasting peace and to strengthen Ethiopia's democratic institutions. It is important that the engagement of the international community should not be taken as an open ended facilitation and mediation by the international community; it is critical that political leaders take their seats in parliament and participate fully in the political in the political process. It is also crucial that the government of Ethiopia and opposition groups restrain from unnecessary and arbitrary measures that would suffocate the democratic process and make reconciliation difficult.

We believe elections alone will not bring democracy to Ethiopia. The Government of Ethiopia must ensure that the laws and the constitution of the country must be respected and implemented fully. The Government of Ethiopia must expeditiously allow private radio and television licensing and end its monopoly on electronic media. Independent media is essential to democrac and good governance. It is unacceptable, in our view, that after fourteen years since the ouster of the military dictatorship only one private radio, which is owned by the ruling party, is allowed to function. Opposition parties should be allowed use of government-controlled electronic media as was the case during the election period, when government officials and opposition groups engaged in a lively debate on a wide-range of issues on government-controlled media. Moreover, opposition parties have the right to engage their constituencies throughout the country without harassment, intimidation, violence, and arbitrary arrests often carried out by regional and local officials. We recognize the federal government's occasional intervention to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes; but more must be done in this regard.

We welcome the recent government decision to reach out to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Reconciliation is pivotal for Ethiopia's democracy and political stability, and reaching out to all groups outside the political process that are prepared to renounce violence and respect the laws and constitutition of the country will unify the country and strengthen democracy. Responsibilities for the welfare of the country, however, do not rest solely on the shoulders of the government; opposition parties have an obligation and responsibilty in building democratic institutions, engaging in the economic development of the country, and in ensuring respect for fundamental human rights. Inflammatory satements will only lead to violence and chaos. The people of Ethiopia have suffered for far too long, it is time that their leaders focus their attention on fighting abject poverty and the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is devastating Ethiopia.

As Ethiopia moves toward a more democratic country, the United States government and the American people will be at your side to help you and encourage you to do the right thing for we value the more than 100 years of friendship between our two countries.


Mike Honda
Chair, Congressional Ethiopia and Ethiopian American Caucus

Tom Lantos
Ranking Member, Committee on International Relations

Donald Payne
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations

Zoe Lofgren (Member of Congress)
Gregory Meeks (Member of Congress)
Diane Watson (Member of Congress)
Albert R. Wynn (Member of Congress)
Chris Van Hollen (Member of Congress)


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