Special Commentary |
We've met the enemy!
Editorial commentator: Alemayehu G. Mariam | July 28, 2008
Lately, there has been talk about “The Enemy." Some say, the Woyane regime of Zenawi is “The Enemy.” Others say it is not. If woyane is the “The Enemy," what to do? If it is not, then what? Does it matter whether one calls Zenawi's regime “The Enemy”?
When Zenawi canned the leaders of Kinijit, human rights advocates and civic society leaders in prison on trumped up charges of treason and insurrection, and jailed without trial hundreds of thousands of other ordinary citizens on suspicion of opposition to his regime, they became “enemies of the state”. Earlier this year, Zenawi said “Eritrea has been actively destabilising the African nations of the Horn. They are on record as saying they would be happy to equip, arm and deploy armed groups in Ethiopia to destabilise Ethiopia.” Eritrea must be the arch “enemy” of Ethiopia, if Zenawi is to be believed. May be not. In international politics, they say, “nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.” The author of the definitive work on war, Carl von Clauswiz, taught the science of war to destroy the “enemy” in battle. Sun Tzu taught the art and philosophy of war to vanquish the “enemy” and achieve victory, and not necessarily on the battlefield.
There are other kinds of “enemies”. Richard Nixon had an official “Political Enemies Project” with the aim of “screwing” his political opponents, including journalists, politicians, anti-war protesters and others who criticized him. Malcom X urged Blacks to “unite against a common enemy, the white man.” John Kennedy said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” There is the old saying about “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Today’s friend could be tomorrow’s “enemy."
Then there is the “enemy” who is not. Christ taught “Love your enemies and pray for those whose persecute you.” Gandhi said the “enemy” is not out there but resides deep within us and every time we hate, it grows larger until one day it consumes us completely. Dr. King explained that “love your enemy” means “discover the element of good in him”. In the final analysis, King said, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Then two mortal “enemies”, Nelson Mandela -- the most feared “enemy” of white South Africans -- and F. W. deKlerk, -- the most hated symbol of white supremacy for blacks in South Africa -- shocked the world when they joined hands and buried the common “enemy” of apartheid; and on its grave built a multiparty democratic government for 35 million South Africans. In the nick of time, two lifelong sworn “enemies” came together to save their country from the annihilation of a race war. Enemies!? Not enemies!?
What does it mean to say the woyane regime is the “enemy”?
Those who say Zenawi’s Woyane regime is the “enemy” of the Ethiopian people point to a mountain of evidence of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide committed against the people of Ethiopia. They point to massive violations of human rights and political repression, rigged and stolen elections, systemic corruption, economic mismanagement and the rapacious plunder of the country’s resources by a syndicate of criminals who try to palm themselves off as a legitimate “government”. They say the top corps of the woyane leadership consists of cunning, ruthless, vicious and stone-cold criminals who maintain themselves in power by force of arms only. They say the woyane regime is far more brutal and cruel than the Italian Fascist army that invaded Ethiopia, and no different in its aims to completely destroy the social, economic and political fabric of the country. They believe Zenawi will never give up power through the ballot box, only at gun point. As illustrative proof, they point to an arrogant invitation once extended by Zenawi himself to the effect that anyone who wants get rid of him must do what he did to the previous regime: Fight all the way from the bush and eject him from power. But a military victory over the woyane would not be particularly difficult, they say, pointing to the fact that the woyane army has been bogged down in Somalia and unable to defeat a ragtag coalition of Somali insurgents.
What does it mean to say the woyane regime is not an enemy?
Those who say the woyane regime is not an “enemy” reject the idea of using the word “enemy” in political dialogue to characterize political opponents. They believe the woyane, however misguided or depraved they are, are first and foremost Ethiopians and must be treated as “political adversaries”. They strongly condemn the dastardly crimes and corruption of the woyane regime. But they also see the woyane trapped in an inescapable predicament: Riding on the back of the tiger. They say the woyanes’ hands are dripping with the blood of innocent Ethiopians, and they know they will be held accountable if they give up power. The woyane have also become obscenely rich from corruption and theft of state resources. They simply will not give up the stolen loot without a fight. And most importantly, they say, the woyane are scared silly. “They fear their own shadows. They see man-eating lions in tree stumps. They see hordes of demons in an empty dark room. They see a precipitous cliff over every hill.” They say, possessed by such fear, the woyane leaders will react dangerously and recklessly like wild animals. Political survival requires them to be cruel, depraved and brutal.
But they argue that using the word “enemy” to describe them only plays into their hands 1) by validating and reaffirming the sense of pervasive fear and loathing widely shared among the woyane leadership and their supporters, and 2) by giving the woyane a propaganda windfall to engage in an all-out fear mongering campaign to scare other Ethiopians. They say the woyane will use the “enemy” characterization to tell Ethiopians living in the north of the country, minority ethnic groups and Muslims that their compatriots, and particularly the Christian elites, think of them as “enemies” and given the chance will do them great harm and drive them out of their ancestral lands. They say that is exactly what Zenawi told the Ambassadors' Donors Group on May 9, 2005, and campaigned on in the elections of that same year1:
But the facts were different, they say. On the same day (May 9), Ana Gomez condemned Zenawi's "Rwanda talk" and said, "hundreds of thousands of people attended rallies in the capital, Addis Ababa, without incident," an event described in the international press as a "miracle." Indeed, after the polls closed on May 15, it became clear that Kinijit had swept the local and parliamentary seats in Addis Ababa. It was equally clear that the rest of the country had delivered a similar message ending Zenawi's rule. But when Zenawi declared a state of emergency with talk of interhamwe after the elections, the real fear among many Tigreans, particularly in Addis Ababa, was that they would be targets of violence by the woyane forces in the dark of night, which would later be blamed on Kinijit and others to justify woyanes' continued hold on power.
Nonetheless, those who would like to treat the woyane as political adversaries give two reasons to avoid armed confrontation with them: 1) Innocent civilians will be massacred by the woyane in large numbers in much the same way as it is happening in the Ogaden region currently. 2) Removal from power of the woyane regime will merely repeat the violent history of political struggles and change in Ethiopia. They point to the May, 2005 elections as an example of the only way to do it. “Let the people vote in a fair and free election. Respect their judgment. That is the only legitimate way for any government to have and to hold power in Ethiopia,” they say. Otherwise, they argue, the next group that violently overthrows the woyane will be the mirror image of the woyane.
Knowing and Fighting the “Enemy”
Is there only one way to know and fight “The Enemy”? Ought one fight the “enemy” through an armed struggle? Should one fight the “enemy” by non-violent means? These are not new questions. Modern world history offers compelling insights. First, it is important to understand that to hold a belief is not necessarily to act on the beliefs. Take Mandela, for instance. He founded Umkhonto We Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) in 1960 in response to the Sharpeville Massacre; and became the leader of the armed wing of the ANC. He planned a guerilla war, coordinated a campaign of sabotage and military action against the apartheid government and was jailed for life for those activities. On the day of his release in 1990, in his very first speech, he declared his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the country’s white minority, but made it clear that the ANC’s armed struggle will go on: “Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC (Umkhonto We Sizwe) was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.” Soon thereafter he joined hands with deKlerk, and in a negotiated settlement peacefully transitioned South Africa to majority rule!
Martin Luther King waged the civil rights struggle in the U.S. by nonviolent means. He led mass protests and engaged in acts of civil disobedience. Many who actively participated in the fight against segregation, discrimination and racial injustice in the civil rights movement were jailed, beaten, lynched and persecuted. Malcom X, on the other hand, said black people can not negotiate with the “white enemy”. Blacks should fight back and exact an eye for an eye, Malcom said. But Dr. King and Malcom shared common ground; they had a common cause. Malcom said, “Dr. King wants the same thing I want -- freedom!... I want Dr. King to know that I didn't come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.” But Malcom was clear about one thing: Black people must have “complete freedom, justice and equality by any means necessary.” Dr. King’s civil rights movement resulted in massive changes in the American legal system which guaranteed to all Americans, but particularly African Americans, a whole range of civil rights and the mechanisms to enforce them. Malcom’s efforts unleashed the black consciousness movement. MAlcom’s black nationalism kindled a new sense of self-identity in young African Americans and helped engage them in the politics of liberation. Both King and Malcom played critical and vital roles in the struggle for justice in America.
Who is right?
“Who is right?” is the wrong question to ask. It is a matter of opinion. Those who choose to perceive the woyane regime as an enemy have a perfectly legitimate right to hold that belief. Others could disagree with them, but that does not deny the fact that they have an absolute right to hold and convince others of their beliefs. That is the meaning of freedom of expression. Malcom X had as much right to say the “white man is the enemy” to be resisted “by any means necessary” as Dr. King had the right to say, the white man is not the enemy, and that “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy (white man) into friend,” not violence and war. This is one of the greatest qualities of the United States of America. We all have the constitutionally and statutorily protected right to hold and propagate our beliefs, however sublime or silly they may be, without fear of any government or person.
Who is wrong?
“Who is wrong?” is the right question to ask. S/he who heaps insults on another for believing woyane is the enemy is wrong. S/he who demonizes another for believing woyane is not the enemy is wrong. It is wrong to cast aspersions on someone for believing woyane must be resisted by any means necessary. It is wrong to impugn the motives of another for believing nonviolent civil disobedience is the best course of action. It is wrong to be intolerant and accusatory. But it is not wrong to argue passionately and civilly about the horrible crimes of Zenawi and his regime, or the need for peaceful engagement of his regime. Our ideas do not gain acceptance or face rejection because we embellish the truth, garnish it with insults or spike it with anger. Our ideas rise and fall on the cold hard evidence and the persuasive logic marshaled to support them.
We Have Met the Enemy!
Many years ago, there used to be an old comic strip called “Pogo” which appeared regularly in American newspapers. The funny animal characters in Pogo lived in a swamp community, which figuratively represented the diversity of American society and issues facing it. That community began to disintegrate because its residents were incapable of communicating with each other to deal with the most important and urgent issues facing them. They wasted valuable time on non-issues. One day, Pogo saw the swamp they live in filled with debris and litter. In reflective frustration he sighed, “We have met the enemy. He is us!”
Pogo has a very good point. As members of the Ethiopian pro-democracy movement we should look in the mirror and ask basic questions of ourselves: Why can’t we unite as a global force for justice and human rights advocacy in Ethiopia? Why can’t we build strong bridges across ethnic lines and use the language of human rights to communicate with each other? Why don’t we shout together -- and often -- a mighty shout of protest when the human rights of our Oromo brothers and sisters are trampled by Zenawi day in and day out? Or defend the Amharas when they are maligned as the persecutors of “Tigreans, minority groups and Muslims”? Or speak unreservedly against those who seek to paint all Tigreans with a broad brush of ethnic hatred? Why are we politely silent about the plight of our people in the Ogaden, the Afar and Gambella regions? Where is our outrage -- where are our tears -- when they were bombed, strafed and slaughtered? Driven from their homes and made refugees by the hundreds of thousands? Why aren’t we joining hands -- locking hands -- to defend the territorial integrity of the motherland? And so on… Is Zenawi to blame for any of the above? Pogo is right: “We have met the enemy!”
Beyond Enemies and Foes: Let’s Talk About Us!
There is a future for Ethiopia that is beyond enemies and foes. It is a future that we can all shape, mold, create and build for ourselves and generations to come. It is a future free of fear, violence, hatred and religious and ethnic bigotry. It is a future firmly founded on the consent of the people, the rule of law and vibrant democratic institutions. It is a future very much similar to the one envisioned by Nelson Mandela for South Africa: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.” It is a future about a society where government respects the rights of its citizens and protects individual liberties; and leaders are accountable to the people and the law of the land. It is a future where our young people will take over the helm of state and society.
We are wasting too much time and energy talking about enemies from without. We should be talking about us -- our cause, who we are and who we are not, what we stand for and believe in, how we can help each other and avoid harming ourselves, cooperate and collaborate with each other to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. We should not have a conversation about enemies. Our victory is in our unity, not enmity. We should be talking about friends who seek to reach the same destination at the end of the rainbow of green, yellow and red. We should be talking about the pot of priceless treasure at the end of the rainbow: human rights protected by law, democratic institutions sustained by the consent of the people and public accountability secured by the rule of law and law of the land. But we can not get to our destination traveling the same old road paved with accusations, recriminations and insults. Nor can we get there on the wings of bitterness and pettiness. We must take a different road, the road less traveled. In the verse of Robert Frost:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Now that we have met the enemy, let’s hold hands in friendship and head into the future on the road less traveled by, the road not taken. It will make all the difference for us as human beings! It will make all the difference for us as a people, and as a nation!
One Ethiopia Today. One Ethiopia Tomorrow! One Ethiopia Forever!
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