Friday, 15 June 2007

An Urgent and Serious Problem Demanding Our Immediate Attention

A Personal Call to Action

As you all know, on June 11, 2007, the EPRDF/TPLF controlled court passed a guilty verdict against 38 peaceful individuals on false charges ranging from “outrage against the constitution” to “aggravated high treason”. Most of them face life in prison or death.

We need an immediate plan of Action


Since May 1991, Meles Zenawi has been trying to impose his ethnic policy as the right to self-determination, an old fashioned Stalinist-style control in Ethiopia. The peasant, women, youth, organizations have become embroiled in and victimized by the evil ethnic politics of Meles Zenawi. The federal army and the security guards and the administrative organs down to the village level have become branches of the TPLF party. This is the new apartheid. Regarding this “trial” we know that Meles Zenawi will not hesitate to kill all of them unless we do something very soon. The international human rights groups are on our side and they have entirely condemned this sham trial.

Diaspora Ethiopians therefore must tell their respective governments that Meles Zenawi is a mass murderer himself who has terrorized his people for so long and does not qualify as an ally against terror. He regime does not believe in or exercise democracy and the rule of law. He deprives famine victims of emergency aid and cheats donors. He is harmful for the struggle against poverty in Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi exploits ethnic diversity for his policy of divide and rule. He is a danger to the existence of Ethiopia as a state. His courts have convicted pro-democracy political and civic leaders for exercising their rights, accusing them of the same crimes that he ordered be committed against those who dared challenge him in a peaceful manner. They did not commit those crimes. His forces did.

Despite several calls--peaceful demonstrations, vigils and a variety of appeals--- to get our leaders released, the mainstream media, the international community and especially the US ignored these appeals.

This means that worldwide action needs to be changed into non-violent civil disobedience.

The anti-apartheid movement of the 80s which itself was built upon the powerful and empowering use of civil disobedience by the civil rights movement of the 60’d has a lot to teach us. Diaspora South Africans together with Members of Congress, national labour and religious leaders, students, community leaders, and teachers were involved in civil disobedience every weekday for over a year. Some were fined and others risked arrest. However, in a short period of time, they managed to change the agenda of the international media and the US foreign policy towards South Africa, followed by the subsequent withdrawal of over $4 billion from the South African economy. Today, we see what their efforts have been worth--- an exemplary peaceful transition from the apartheid’s horror-filled regime into a majority democratic government.

Now, I suggest that civil disobedience be the strategy. This struggle is not easy but it is very effective. It comes from our willingness to take personal risk without threatening other people. It also comes from our sustained commitment to the cause and to the strategy. In 2005, our own students at Addis Ababa University and students in Awassa, Jimma, Bahirdar, Gonder and Mekele risked and sacrificed their lives when they got involved in civil disobedience by boycotting classes, participating in sit-ins and blocking the gates of their respective universities. In turn, their actions were reported by CNN, BBC, Channel 4 UK, Al Jazeera and other major news channels followed by an immediate response from the European Parliament and US officials. The question for us now is, what are we willing to pay for the success of this struggle? When so many have suffered and paid so dearly, we can surely contribute a fraction of what they have paid so far. I am sure you will agree.

Learning from the apartheid movements and from our own student heros, the diaspora should set up an immediate plan of action for civil disobedience before the final sentencing, scheduled for June 8, 2007. This is the only way we can get the attention of the international media, the White House and the European Commission in order to get our leaders released.

Most of you live in prosperous and democratic states and the consequence of your participation in non-violent civil disobedience and will face little or no risk at all. Even if you get fined or arrested, it is nothing compared to the death penalty our leaders are facing. It is nothing, compared to what so many people, young and old have paid for the continuity, unity, liberty and prosperity of our country, Ethiopia. I know that you all have to continue to provide for your families, and be there for them, to raise your children, to care for your sick and elderly, to make sure that they are not lacking in anything. For that, your presence in the typical daily routine and your ability to earn a living are critical. However, I respectfully remind you that thousands have sacrificed all of this for the same cause that we all believe in. The challenge now before us is then; Can we sacrifice a fraction of that? If somebody has lost a life or limb and can no longer do that, how could we not sacrifice at least two weeks, if we believe in the same cause? We need to examine ourselves.

My Recommendation

Just like Ethiopia, I know that there are a variety of civic and political groups in the Diaspora. This is a good thing. This is a cause that should unite us, without having to lose our identity in that unity. I respectfully urge each group and organization to call an urgent meeting to discuss right away, as there is no time to waste. We are all in danger.

Each group should discuss their commitment to the cause, and make their own plan, and choose a day or a week when they will engage and contribute the largest possible number of people to participate in actions of civil disobedience.

Each should then reach out to the other. This effort should not be about who the leader is, but how we can launch a successful campaign. Therefore, I urge you to set aside possible differences that are not relevant for this plan.

With a designated core group of volunteer coordinators, the specific actions and the scheduling of groups can begin.

It is important to do this especially in places like Washington DC, Brussels and London.

It is also important to recognize that it takes a long time to see results, but the result will be lasting.

Stay in the fight until the fight is won!!

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