There were very many memorable statements made by Medrek Leaders and also by members of the audience at the Medrek Conference of April 18 in Arlington, Virginia. The one statement that captured my imagination, which was also greatly appreciated by the audience, was the one stated by Dr. Negasso Gidada very eloquently that it was pure beauty on its own other than the fact that it was profoundly wonderful idea on the beauty of diversity in our Ethiopian setting. In that one simple sentence, Negasso encapsulated not only the mood of the moment but also the very essence of the up-swelling of hope and aspirations of the people of Ethiopia. Negasso identified Ethiopia as “a wreath of flowers,” whereas each flower is beautiful on its own, but in the garland connected as one by strong ties all the diverse flowers transcend their individual limitations and become a field of greater beauty. I pondered that image long after the conference was over, and it still is fresh in my memory as I write, and I am ecstatic in having that profound image in my arsenal of love for our Motherland when I think of Ethiopia. Thank you my brother Negasso for such profound insight.
I often hear from friends about a mythical principle that holds that history does not give a people that many second chances, and if one has the good fortune to come upon one, then, one should grasp it with singular enthusiasm. I think we must carve out an exception to that principle, for Ethiopia and Ethiopians it seems that “second chances” are our second nature (pardon the pun). On April 18, 2010 Medrek leaders Dr. Negasso Gidada, Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw, Ato Gebru Asrat, and Ato Seeye Abraha graced us all by their presence at a conference held at Sheraton National Hotel, in Arlington, Virginia. In attendance were the great sons and daughters of Ethiopia, ever loving and ever loyal to the Motherland, and some of the attendees had traveled from distant States for just that occasion. These attendees are true believers in whose heart Mother Ethiopia never fades or tarnishes. My respect and admiration goes first to them. Second, I was truly impressed by the coordinated effort of the organizers who pulled together within few days such tremendous crowed and conducted such a successful conference. Then there is Shambel, the song master, with his moving lyrics and his most talented Band adding electrifying energy to the Conference. He rocked the place literally.
The Conference started with a welcome introduction of our Master of Ceremony (MC) Yilma Adamu, who charmed us all right away with his concise and eloquent introductory remarks about the Conference with a brief background feedback on each of the Medrek Leaders. Yilma Adamu is my childhood friend whom I have not seen for over thirty years. Most touching to me was also the fact that he acknowledged my attendance to the audience by way of illustrating how far the Conference had gathered Ethiopians from allover, people that he had not seen for years. May be old age becomes us all, for Yilma was the best MC I had ever witnessed, he had perfected his craft extremely well, his great mastery of language and his ability in summarizing views of the distinguished guests and adding his own learned observations from recent memories (for he was a key figure in Kinjit, I was informed) was brilliant.
II. Life Affirming and Invigorating Presentations
A. Ato Gebru Asrat
The first presenter was Ato Gebru Asrat. He addressed the eager audience and was received with great enthusiasm. He delivered a brief history of the struggle of Medrek against entrenched and unscrupulous political party machinery and the Government of Meles Zenawi. He used the minimum program of Medrek to highlight specific areas of concern and interest, such as the concept of federalism, individual democratic rights and the rights of nations and nationalities, democratic governance, economy policy, land policy, Constitutional Article 39, and the difficulties facing all Ethiopians and their opposition political parties including Medrek. Gebru spent a bit more time addressing the political goals of EPRDF controlled Government as guided by what it has publicized as “revolutionary Democracy.” He pointed out many of the deficiencies of that principle and its devastating effect on the people of Ethiopia. He further zeroed in on the foundational fallacy of designating the people of Ethiopia into two categories: those who support EPRDF as friends, and those who have different views as enemies. This means that labeling the opposition as an enemy leads to abuse and denial of both fundamental and democratic rights by the ruling body. Medrek by contrast has adopted the liberal democratic principle.
Gebru, quoting Dr. Merrara Gudina (a Member of the Medrek Leadership), analogized “revolutionary democracy” to a mule that it is a product of unnatural association of two different animals of a horse and a donkey. The resulting offspring is a mule that does not reproduce and in a situation where its rider falls it will trash the fallen rider and will bolt off by contrast to a horse who would gently hang around the fallen rider. The EPRDF is analogized as a mule that is no more productive and had eaten up its political asset. Gebru further stated that Ethiopia has a right to have its own coastal territory and the Port of Assab. Medrek believes in that as the only way to insure peace in the region. Peaceful struggle is the method of the struggle of Medrek. It would be difficult but is a winning strategy for Medrek. He further identified two important issues that are under discussion:
1. On the issue of land ownership, Medrek had reached an agreement that land belongs to the farmer, however whether the farmer can sell land has been held as an agenda for further discussion,
2. On the issue of the rights of nations and nationalities, Medrek recognizes those rights but also believes in the Sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Article 39 will be further discussed to refine the relationships of individual rights to community or ethnic and nation based rights and the political ramifications
B. Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw
The second presenter was Engineer Gizachew who took on the difficult task of moping-up all outstanding issues not covered by Gebru. Gizachew was authoritative and professorial in the positive sense. His first focus was on the subject of deprivation and poverty in Ethiopia. He forcefully stated without any ambiguity how depraved of comfortable life Ethiopians endured for the last seventy years, that no meaningful change had taken place in such a long period. He placed in our face the grim reality how our fellow Ethiopians live by pointing out as a sample example his to one market area in the South, in that huge gathering he noticed that almost 90% of the people were barefooted, that their clothing was in tatters and patched. He further illustrated how poor Ethiopian rural population is by looking into the reality at a typical home of an Ethiopian peasant and his family. It was a sobering powerful description of the poverty and the suffering of Ethiopians, and for most a pause-and-think moment. He combined both the emotional and the cerebral. One of the most moving statements in the entire conference was his homage to a fellow founding member of Andenet and its first Chairman, Judge Birtukan Mideksa.
Gizachew citing Amartya Sen [Development as Freedom, (1995); Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981)] emphasized the close connection between democracy and development. He emphasized the fact that no democratic country starves in the world; it is only where there is repression and violent tyranny that people starve. He ridiculed the exaggerated and highly misleading boast by Meles Zenawi, in his recent Report to the House of Representative and in his interviews or statements in the Media over the years, of two digit growth by pointing out that Ethiopia yearly report over six million people of its population starving and often in famine to the world community in the over fifteen years begging for donations. Howe could such horrible economic situation be a source of pride and boasting about double digit growth? He further pointed out that about 14 million young Ethiopians having no work in a recent assessment of unemployment in Ethiopia which is the highest in the world next to Zimbabwe. He also emphasized with visible great pain in his voice and demeanor that even the agricultural sector had declined year by year because of soil degradation and mismanagement. In that connection he recited a poem by an Ethiopian who had heard of the two digit growth boasted by Meles Zenawi that made fun of the reported wealth and growth of the economy of Ethiopia. The audience convulsed with laughter.
Yilma summarized with clarity and precision of the representations of both Gebru and Gizachew. He shared with us also his impression of Gebru after a meeting of a year ago. Yilma reminded us that Gebru was not only just a freedom fighter out in the bush for years but also a person with tremendous grasp of the dynamic process of history. As our able MC put it that Gebru did not just spent his time shooting but also studying, discussing, analyzing and sharpening his intellectual grasp of history and the political situation. In case of Gizatchew Yilma informed us he had long working relationship during Kinijit’s shinning moments and that he admires the talent and ability of Gizatchew in making complex issues and ideas clear that people could understand easily. And that talent and ability he alluded might be due to Gizachew’s background as a great educator. With such beautifully done summary, Yilma opened the conference to the public for questions and answers.
Tecola W. Hagos
April 20, 2010
The Author can be reached at [email protected]
To be continued