Sunday, June 2, 2024

Short-Lived Victory: A Case of Mistaken Progress

 Befekadu Hailu 

My friends and myself, who passed through Maekelawi's torturous experience, along with others campaigned and had the government decide to close the most notorious Detention Center that live three regimes and almost half a century in Ethiopia. In February 2019, Five years after I was detained and tortured in Maekelawi, I went to the closing Center to fetch my laptop confiscated five years before. I arrived while the name tag of the Center was being shattered and one of the uniformed guards said to me, “you have this place closed”; I shrugged like ‘proudly’. That little moment gave me a sense of victory, telling me that the activism and its subsequent sacrifice was not in vain. I felt we actually effected a change. Six years later, I started to doubt it all retrospectively. 

The political transition that started six years ago is known by many as ‘the change’ (lewtu in Amharic), but what really explains it is ‘the violence’ (newtu in Amharic). 

How Did We Get Here? 

I have gotten the chance to take part in the Human Rights Forum 2024 hosted by The Carter Center in the third week of May 2024 in Atlanta, US. In my keynote address, I have spoken to participants with my reflection on the works of human rights defenders based on my experience in Ethiopia. I don’t know how resonating my speech was to the audience but it was my moment to pause and reflection. 

Telling the story of how fast we dived from optimism to pessimism, I said: 

“After 2018, the growing expectations of human rights defenders were dashed by a false promise of change. 

“Retrospectively speaking, Ethiopian HRDs are not the only ones to lose momentum for a false promise of change. In the MENA region, most of the revolutions of 2011 have led to worse crises in their respective countries.  

“Ethiopia's neighboring Sudan had had a very exciting street revolution against Omar al-Bashir’s 26 years of dictatorship. A couple of years later, two power mongering generals are waging war on each other and their people. In all their defense, the Sudanese activists have tried their best to ensure the establishment of a civil government but it was not as easy.  

“The point is - we, human rights defenders, can force changes in protests or pressures; but, our commitment to maintain the changes with principles remains weak. We get fragmented, our priorities fast change, we retire early, we get burned out, we trust people in power forgetting that power corrupts people, and most importantly we forget that there won’t be democratization without the institutions. Then, we have the changes stolen and regret them.”

Apparently, Ethiopia was not an exception. Its opportunity to transition to a democratic settlement has been stolen by power mongering, violent preaching, political leaders. We lost the opportunity to progressive change because we were deceived by a false sense of victory. We didn’t know that most dictators ascend to power as liberators. They consider themselves like Messiah who saves the people from misery. However, the answer to people’s questions are never change of leading figures; it is change of institutions.

Lewtu vs. Newtu

The transition in Ethiopia which government authorities remember as ‘lewt’ (equivalent of ‘change’) is actually characterized by the different features of ‘newt’ (equivalent of violence) it brought on the people of Ethiopia. 

Newtu (the violence) in Ethiopia started with mob violence having individuals stoned to death, and hanged upside down in a public rally, then communal conflicts among ethnic/tribal groups displacing millions of people, and then political assassinations targeted at officials like Amhara region’s president and his cabinet members and individual figures like the renowned singer Hachalu Hundessa of Oromia, and ending up with a fully-fledged war in Tigray. The war in Tigray was concluded (at least until now) with a peace deal and it is followed by the fighting in Amhara between armed groups and the government. The Oromia fighting between armed groups and the government is also continued after it started before the Tigray war. Therefore, to say that newt (violence) characterizes the transition is fair. 

Sadly, whether the Ethiopian government starts the violence or not, there is little that deters Abiy Ahmed’s administration from using violence as a means of consolidating power. The administration used spreading of [mob] violence as a justification to disregard rule of law. The administration declared three state of emergencies in its six years. I will also demonstrate, in a couple of examples, how the government used violence to its advantage of consolidating power - encouraging it to embrace violence than dialogue and negotiation.

Firstly, the government used the violence in Oromia to justify its operations to dismantle the most prominent political party of Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and to weaken the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). Many leaders of OLF are still detained after court released them several months ago by the time of this writing. The regime had also arrested popular resistance figures like Jawar Mohammed (from OFC) and Eskinder Nega (Balderas Party for Genuine Democracy in Addis Ababa) following the violence triggered by Hachalu Hundessa’s murder in 2020. The two people could have potentially led big resistances during the general elections in Oromia and Addis Ababa, respectively. The elections were won by the ruling party in landslide votes while they were in detention. Then after about a year and half of imprisonment, the both of Jawar and Eskinder as well as their respective co-defendants were released because the Attorney General discontinued their cases. It sounds as if the government already achieved its goals and is not interested in the legal proceedings that was hugely followed because of its ‘association’ with the preceding violence that cost about 200 lives. Now, Eskinder Nega became one of the leaders of armed rebels in Amhara region, while Jawar is spending most of his time abroad only preaching for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts. Both have consequently been partially or completely removed from their popular constituency.

Second example is the Tigray war. Prime Minister Abiy removed TPLF and its affiliates from the civil service bureaucracy and intelligence apparatus following the Tigray war; this means also that the administration replaced these vacant places with his loyalists and minimized the risk of being challenged from within the public system. His government also waged a huge propaganda against his targets using state-run and affiliate media and taken full control of the intelligence apparatus. Now, the Tigray war has ended in a peace agreement after loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. But, Abiy’s administration is one power challenger less.

I had to write the above stories to explain why I decided newtu is a better expression for the past years than the lewtu. 

In Conclusion, 

EPRDF decided to close Maekelawi detention Center and to turn it in to a museum after its acclaimed 17 days of meeting in December 2017. Even though it is not turned into a museum, the Center is now closed. Maekelawi’s closing news and ceremony was more like a political stunt. There are now many detention centers that held prisoners of conscience. The trend of arbitrarily arresting dissents has worsened than before. What most of us thought is a change, a progressive one, is not. Perhaps, today is a moment when the trajectory of peace, human rights, and democracy falls down in the history of Ethiopia. 

Personally, I acknowledge my initial optimism about the Maekelawi closure and the need to adjust my perspective on Ethiopia's progress. However, these setbacks shouldn't deter the ongoing fight for a better future. As Nelson Mandela said, the long walk to freedom is neither short nor easy. Yet, history demonstrates that positive change is inevitable when people speak out and act.

Dictatorships often crumble, empires fall paving the way for republics with greater citizen rights, and even barbaric practices like slavery eventually end. Each struggle, though marked by sacrifices and setbacks, contributes to a slow but undeniable march toward progress.

The fight for a just Ethiopia requires continued action, not hollow victories. We must remain pragmatic and committed to the long haul, recognizing that the path to a truly free society may leave scars on future generations too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Smear Campaign Against the Smallest Attempt to Pacificism in Ethiopia

My observation of the repressive culture of political groups in order to monopolize the political narrative in and around Ethiopia. 

As I mostly do, I write this piece to express my frustration, not my surprise. 

Recently, starting in mid-August 2022, a few civil society organizations leaders have gathered to consult to make our voices for peace collectively; for sustainable peace. To come up with a shared statement was not an easy task to do. We have done it on the eve of the Ethiopian new year in early September 2021 and it was difficult; it is difficult again a year later even though for the past few months, major warring parties in the Tigray war, have silenced their guns for humanitarian truce after the Ethiopian government unilaterally declared and the TPLF later accepted it conditionally. Even though the guns were temporarily silenced, the war propaganda was escalating slowly. We were worried because if the war starts again, we are going back to the era which is worse than we are in. That time, even though a peacebuilding process didn't start, at least people were not dying on daily basis. Therefore, we wanted to be stronger in our calls. The purpose was to renew the peace call from last year but also to actually encourage involved parties to resume their peace talk and stop the heated exchange of words. 

In the planning meeting, everyone has their own interpretation of words and phrases to be used. Everyone is overly concerned about how that party or this party misunderstands our messages; we are worried about the reactions of the media, social media, and every other stakeholder. We didn't want the controversies over anecdotes to cover the message. We thought it is our chance to make 'peace' at the epic center of the political discourse. By doing so, we thought we can make violent conflicts difficult for any party that might choose it. 

We have managed to reach the last draft and started to disseminate it to other CSOs who want to endorse it via email. The number of signatories started to grow and we have finally reached 35. Last year, only 24 CSOs have signed on it. This year, on May 3 when we renewed the call to hold on to the humanitarian truce with a call for sustainable peace and unfettered access to media freedom, we have 20 signatories. This is by far the biggest number but we didn't do enough effort, to keep it growing. We were competing with time. We believe people have had enough to reach the fatigue of war. 

The press conference was scheduled for September 6, 2022. It was scheduled to be held in the Interluxury Hotel (aka Intercontinental hotel). Unfortunately, some plain-clothed security officers had reached the hotel before representatives of the CSOs and journalists invited arrived. They already notified the hotel that the event cannot be held and denied us permission to enter the press conference room. It was a scary moment as we are familiar with what this means. This means that the government is not only happy about what we do - it is expected as we are putting pressure on it because it is our mandate as civil society organizations - but also it has decided to be bold about it. We know the ban on this press conference is not legal, but we are aware that we live in a country where rule of law can simply be undermined by the decision of the executive branch of the government. 

Personally, I was terrified. I always lived in traumatic fear of prosecution for trying to contribute to the achievement of the dignified citizenry and democratization of Ethiopia because it is well known that the attempt for genuine contribution cannot be taken as a good sign by all political actors. They, both government and other political actors, react in accordance with their interests. Both use disinformation, smear campaigns, and physical intimidation as they find convenient. This time, the government is banning a press conference and many questions came to my mind. Would they jail me for this? No, they don't, they will make other excuses, I answer my own question. Would they shut down the organization I work for? I couldn't be sure of anything but my mind couldn't take the issue less seriously. 

Fast rewind a few days earlier, just after we have jointly started to draft the call for peace, the war in Tigray broke out. One of our colleagues at the Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD) raised the issue that we need to urgently issue a quick call for de-escalation; we agreed and it was posted on our socials. 

That quick call for peace and de-escalation of conflicts and war propaganda, rather, attracted unexpected backlash from one of the biggest opposition groups, namely the Ethiopian Citizens' for Social Justice Party (known as Ezema) and a party that is strongly criticized for its unprincipled affiliation with the ruling party of Abiy Ahmed, the Prosperity Party. Senior members of Ezema, including the Head of Public Relations, Mulualem Tegegnework, who on his Facebook post accused CARD of "passing the redline". The former head of the party's PR also said the people behind the statement "a bunch of comfortable hypocrites". Another member of the party wrote an open letter to CARD with the accusation that claimed that our call for peace has systematically supported a group that is labeled by the Ethiopian parliament as a terrorist group. Other party members cheered their opinions in their own posts and comments to these posts. The commentators included Girma Seifu, a member of Ezema's executive committee and Prosperity Party appointed Commissioner of Investment Commission of Addis Ababa, who said "they [CARD] are trying to please their payers... isn't it their job?" sarcastically implying that CSOs receive funding from international partners like the Ethiopian government does. Girma and others said this repeatedly as if a genuine peace call cannot be imagined from Ethiopians. This opinion of them cannot be changed however we tried to initiate the call by and from all Ethiopian-led and locally established civil society organizations. The smear campaign by the members of Ezema and by some supporters of the Prosperity Party continued until today when I wrote this piece of a personal note. The government seems to have heard them. 

The controversial meeting at the Elilley hotel came after the release of the banned press conference which was released virtually on the same day. On September 9, hundreds of CSOs representatives, including myself, gathered in the meeting hall of the Elilley hotel with the invitation from the Authority to the Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) informing us that the meeting was called by the Prime Minister Office (PMO). The meeting started when Alemu Sime, Coordination Minister of the Democratic System Building Center at the PMO, Jima Dilbo, General Director of the ACSO, and Fassikaw Molla, Deputy General Director of ACSO took over the podium. Minister Alemu Sime did a brief story of how the conflict between the TPLF and the Federal Army started reinforcing that the TPLF started it and asked the audience to argue if there is a difference between 'the established fact' or demanded to abide by it if there isn't. He further asserted that "the 35 CSOs" who have come up with "an urgent peace call" have made the sin of "equating the TPLF with the Federal Army that is dying to protect the sovereignty of Ethiopia". Minister Alemu reassured that the use of the term "warring parties" is not acceptable by the government of Ethiopia. The tone of the Minister speaking this to us has been more than the mentioned criticism. He surely wanted to be very obvious about the fact that we are not allowed to make such kinds of statements. "Call us dictators if you want," he said, "we will suppress you for the country". He concluded the daily briefing after the floor was opened for question and answer by saying that "if you want to back the Ethiopian Army, you are welcome; otherwise shut up!"

It was more shocking to hear other CSOs who conformed to the messages of the official who threatened the CSOs. Most of the CSO representatives who have spoken reaffirmed Minister Alemu's messages. Some of them accused us of 'selling our country for leftover food', a metaphorical expression to say that we are like paid agents, denying our agency to make thoughtful decisions. A representative of a CSO from Bishoftu was even blatant that he is a supporter of the Prosperity Party and showed it by reading a poem he wrote for the Prime Minister of Ethiopia for which the crowd applauded. 

It is not surprising that some of the local CSO representatives wanted to comfort the Minister at the cost of "the 35 CSOs" who requested a genuine peaceful resolution to conflicts. The same people have survived the repressive age of CSOs between 2009 and 2019 with a similar gesture of assurance that they stand with the narrative of the then-ruling party. 

Similarly, we have been experiencing defamatory campaigns from the political camps of the TPLF supporters online. They accused us of working for the ruling party without a single shred of evidence for the mere fact that we existed in Ethiopia. Some others laughably expected us to spare the TPLF while we demand peace from the Ethiopian government as if the conflict is happening from only one side. Others do not want us to speak anything about conflicts and its cost in many parts of Ethiopia other than the war in the North.  Though, without evidence, some have continuously, tried to kill our repetition among international human rights organizations by writing mass emails with their labels against us. None of them knew that, with or without local or international allies, some of us are here to the long struggle against violence, towards dignified life and liberty. 

I should close out this piece by reminding my personal determination for non-violent civic-engagement. I have always despised violent means of struggle. Actually, my resentment against any kind of violence has shaped most of my opinions. Back in 2015, when I was in prison for my blogging activity, I used to argue with other inmates that non-violence means of struggle is the only way forward to a stable political system building that will guarantee the safety of its citizens. My debates there even motivated me to smuggle a long piece of article on non-violent disobedience for democratization. Later, I stressed that my struggle is not motivated by a hero's adventure of violence but by the fear of violence. Many people argue in favor of the Machiavellian approach that "the end justifies the means" to mean that liberty comes after a probable victory of a war that sacrifices humans for other surviving humans' freedoms. This is far-fetched from the truth. There is no empirical evidence that warriors have brought liberty to their subjects.  Most wars end up changing repressive figures, not systems of repression. I can not support anyone's offer of violence in the name of liberty; I will die with my pacifist beliefs if that is what it takes.  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

‘አገናዛቢነት’ የሌለው ተዋስዖ

ሁሉም ሰዎች ይናገራሉ፤ ሁሉም ሰዎች ብሶት አላቸው። ነገር ግን የሁሉም ንግግር እና ሐሳብ የሁሉንም ሁኔታ ያገናዘበ አይደለም። በዚህም ምክንያት ተናጋሪ እንጂ አዳማጭ የለም፤ ብሶት እንጂ አዘኔታ የለም። ምክንያቱምአገናዛቢነትየለም፤ አንዳቸው የሌላኛቸውን ሁኔታ እና እውነታ ለማገናዘብ ሲሞክሩ አይታይም።

አገናዛቢነት የሚናገሩት ነገር ያለበትን ጥቅል ሁኔታ ከግምት ውስጥ ለማስገባት መሞከር ነው። ብዙዎቹ በኢትዮጵያ ቀውስ ውስጥ የሚያነጋግሩን ክስተቶች ድንገታዊ መነሻ ይኑራቸው እንጂ ታሪካዊ፣ ባሕላዊ፣ ሃይማኖታዊ፣ ኢኮኖሚያዊ፣ ወይም አካባቢያዊ አንድምታ ይኖራቸዋል። እነዚህን ማገናዘብ ያስፈልጋል፤ የፖለቲካ ተዋስዖዎቹ የአንድን ወገን በደል፣ የአንድን ክስተትን አደገኝነት፣ ወዘተርፈ አተኩረው ሊናገሩ ይችላሉ። ጉዳዮቹ ግን ከአንድ ወገንም፣ ከአንድ ክስተትም የሰፉ እና ውስብስብ ናቸው። ውስብስብነታቸውን ያላገናዘበ ንግግር ችግሩን የመፍታት አቅም ከማጣቱም ባሻገር፣ ምናልባትም ችግሩ ላይ ተጨማሪ ችግር ሊቆልል ይችላል።

ግጭት አገናዛቢነት

የነውጥ አዘል ግጭቶች ቦታዎችና ክስተቶች ዳታ (ACLED) የተባለ እ.አ.አ. በ2019 ኢትዮጵያ ውስጥ 300 ገደማ የፖለቲካ ነውጦች፣ 680 ያህል ሰዎች መገደላቸውን ሪፖርት አድርጎ ነበር። የ2020ውን ገና ቆጥረው የጨረሱት አይመስለኝም፤ ሆኖም ከዚህ ጽሑፍ ጋር ሕዳር ወር ላይ ያወጡትን ግጭቶች ያሉባቸውን ቦታዎች የሚያመለክት ካርታ አስቀምጥላችኋለሁ።

ግጭቶች የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካ እውነታዎች ናቸው። ግጭቶች እዚህም እዚያም አሉ። ነገር ግን የፖለቲካ ተዋስዖዎቹ ግጭት አገናዛቢ አይደሉም። መጀመሪያ ግጭት አገናዛቢነት ስንል ምን ማለታችን እንደሆነ ግልጽ ለማድረግ ልሞክር።

ግጭት አገናዛቢነት ማለት “ንግግሮች እና ተግባራት ፖለቲካዊ፣ ታሪካዊ፣ ማኅበራዊና ነባራዊ ዐውዱን ከግምት ውስጥ በማስገባት፣ በተናጋሪዎቹ ወይም በተግባራቱ አከናዋኞች ላይም ይሁን በተደራሲዎቻቸው ላይ ወይም በሌሎች ሦስተኛ ወገኖች ላይ የሥነ ልቦናዊም ይሁን የአካላዊ ጥቃት ሊያደርስ የሚችል ቋንቋ ባለመጠቀም ወይም ተግባር ባለማከናወን ግጭት አስወጋጅ የንግግር እና አሠራር ሒደት” ማለት ነው።

ብዙዎቹ በፖለቲከኞች፣ በአክቲቪስቶች፣ ወይም ጋዜጠኞች የሚደረጉት ተዋስዖዎች ንግግሮቹ ስለሚያስከትሉት ጦስ እምብዛም አይጨነቁም። በዚህም ምክንያት በግጭት ላይ ግጭት፣ በቀውስ ላይ ቀውስ እየተደራረበ ይሔዳል። በነገራችን ተፅዕኖ ፈጣሪ ሰዎች የተናገሯቸው ንግግሮች የጥላቻ ወይም ሐሰተኛ መረጃ በውስጣቸው ሳይኖር ነባራዊውን እውነታ እና ዙሪያ ገቡን ከግምት ውስጥ ያላስገቡ በመሆናቸው ብቻ - በሌላ አነጋገር ግጭት አገናዛቢ ባለመሆናቸው ሳቢያ በርካታ ግጭቶች ተከስተዋል። ለግጭቶቹ ግን ማንም ኃላፊነት አይሰማውም፣ በነርሱ ግጭት አለማገናዘብ ምክንያት ለጠፋው ሕይወትም ይሁን ንብረት መፀፀትም የተለመደ አይደለም።

ግጭት አገናዛቢነት የታመቁ ወይም ይፋዊ ግጭቶችን እንዲሁም ነውጥ አልባ ወይም ነውጥ አዘል ግጭቶችን መኖራቸውን፣ ንግግሮች ወይም ተግባራት እነዚህን ሊያባብሱ ወይም ሊያከስሙ እንደሚችሉ መረዳት እና በተቻለ መጠን ግጭቶቹን ሊያባብሱ የሚችሉ ነገሮችን በመቀነስ፣ ሊያከስሙ የሚችሉትን በመጨመር ላይ ማተኮር ነው።

“እኛ” ብቻ እንዳልሆንን ማገናዘብ

ማገናዘብ የሚገባን ይፋዊ ግጭቶችን ብቻ አይደለም። የታመቁ በርካታ ግጭቶች አሉ። የታመቀ ግጭት ብዙ ጊዜ ግጭት ውስጥ በሚገቡት ወይም ውጥረት ውስት ባሉ ቡድኖች መካከል ያለ፣ ያልተገለጠ አንዳንዴ ውጥረቱ በመሐከላቸው ባለው የተዛባ የኃይል ግንኙነት ምክንያት እንዳለ ባልተረዱ ወይም ባልተነጋገሩ አካላት መካከል የሚገኝ ያደፈጠ ግጭት ነው።

በኢትዮጵያ ነባራዊ ሁኔታ በተለያዩ ብሔሮች፣ በተለያዩ እምነት ተከታዮች፣ በተለያዩ የፖለቲካ ርዕዮተ ዓለም አራማጆች፣ በተለያየ የኢኮኖሚ መደብ አባላትና ፆታን መሠረት ያደረገ፣ ወዘተ ያደፈጠ፣ ያልተገለጠ፣ እምቅ ግጭት አለ። ለዚህ ነው ንግግሮቻችን እና ተግባራቶቻችን ሁሉ “እኛ” ብቻ ሳንሆን “ሌሎችም” እንዳሉ እንዲሁም እነርሱም ፍላጎቶች እና ስሜቶች እንዳሏቸው ማገናዘብ የሚኖርብን።

የፖለቲካ መዝገበ ቃላታችን ውስጥ የብሔር ልዩነቶችን ማገናዘብ፣ የእምነት ልዩነቶችን ማገናዘብ፣ የፖለቲካ ርዕዮተ ዓለም ልዩነቶችን ማገናዘብ፣ የኢኮኖሚ መደብ ልዩነቶችን ማገናዘብ፣ የፆታ ልዩነቶችን ማገናዘብ የሚል ነገር እምብዛም አይታይም። በነዚህ ሁሉ መሐል የኃይል ግንኙነት እርከኖች አሉ፣ የታሪክ እና የአረዳድ ትርክርት ልዩነቶች አሉ፣ የመደብ ልዩነቶች አሉ። ባላገናዘብን ቁጥር የምንጨፈልቃቸው ብዙዎች አሉ።

የትግራይ ጦርነት ጥቅምት 24 ሕወሓት የሰሜን ዕዙን ስታጠቃ ይጀመር እንጂ ብዙዎቻችን ከዛሬ ነገ ተጀመረ እያልን ስንፈራው የቆየነው ጉዳይ ነው። የሕወሓት ተቃዋሚዎችም፣ የሕወሓት ወዳጆችም የሌሎችን ጥቅምና ጉዳት፣ ስጋትና ተስፋ አገናዝበን አናውቅም። ጦርነቱ ከመቀስቀሱ በፊትም ይሁን በኋላ ለዚህ ወይም ለዚያ ቡድን የሚያስከትለው ድል ወይም ሽንፈት፣ አልያም የትርክትና መልካም ገጽታ መቆጣጠሩ እንጂ በዚህ የሥልጣን ሽኩቻ ሰለባ የሚሆነው ሕዝብ፣ በዚህ ሳቢያ በሕዝቦች መካከል የሚመባባሰው ዘላቂ የወዳጅነት መሻከር አላሳሰበንም። በዚህ አስተሳሰብ፣ አነጋገር፣ እና አተገባበር ሰላም ማግኘት በጣም አስቸጋሪ ነው የሚሆነው። የትግራይ ጦርነት የግጭት አላገናዛቢነታችን ዋና ማሳያ እንጂ ብቸኛው አይደለም።

በቤኒሻንጉል ጉሙዝ በተደጋጋሚ የሚፈነዳ እና የብዙዎችን እልቂት ያስከተለ ነውጥ አለ። ስለ ነውጡ ባለን ቁንፅል መረጃ ላይ ተመሥርተን ከመቋሰል በቀር ግጭት አገናዛቢ የሆነ እርምጃ ተራምደን አናውቅም። በአካባቢው ያለው ማኅበራዊ፣ ኢኮኖሚያዊ፣ ፖለቲካዊና አካባቢያዊ ሁኔታ ምን ይመስላል? በሕዝቦች መካከል ያለው ታሪካዊ ግንኙነት እንዴት ነበር? እነዚህን ያላገናዘቡ ድምዳሜዎች እና ብሶቶች የቁራ ጩኸቶች ከመሆን አያልፉም።

አገናዛቢነት “እኛ” ያለንበት ሁኔታ እና “እኛ” ነሮችን የምንመለከትበት አምባ ላይ ሁሉም ሰው አለመኖሩን ማገናዘብንም ይጨምራል። ይህ በተለይም ገደኝነቶችን (privileges) አምኖ ከመቀበል ጋር ይያያዛል። “እንዴት እነዚህ ሰዎች እንዲህ ማድረግ ተሳናቸው?” ብለን የምንላቸው ነገሮች “ከኛ ገደኝነት” (our privileges) የመነጨ መሆን አለመሆኑን ማገናዘብ ያስፈልጋል። “እነዚህ” ያልናቸው ሰዎች “እኛ” ያለን የመረጃ፣ የትምህርት፣ የቴክኖሎጂ፣ የኢኮኖሚ፣ የፖለቲካ ዕድሎች አላቸው ወይ የሚለውን ማገናዘብ ምናልባትም ወደ ችግሩ ምንጭ ሊመራ የሚችል አብርኆት ሊያመጣልን ስለሚችል ደጋግሞ መመርመር ያስፈልገናል።

አገናዛቢነት ከፖለቲካዊ ትክክለኝነት በምን ይለያል?

ፖለቲካዊ ትክክለኝነት (politically correctness) የሚባለው ንግግሮች ወይም ገለጻዎች የተገለሉ ወይም ተጋላጭ የማኅበረሰብ ክፍሎችን እንዳይዘነጋ ወይም እንዳያገልል የሚደረግ ጥንቃቄ ነው። መጥፎ ነገር ባይሆንም ጥንቃቄው ችግሩን በመቅረፍ ላይ የተመሠረተ ሳይሆን፣ ፖለቲካዊ ንግግሮች በተጋላጭ እና የተገለሉ የማኅበረሰብ ክፍሎች መካከል ተቀባይነት እንዳያጣ ወይም ለትችት እንዳይዳረግ ለመጠበቅ ያለመ ነው።

ግጭት አገናዛቢነትም ይሁን ሌሎች ነባራዊ ሁነታዎችን ማገናዘብ ግን ግጭቶች ወይም ሌሎች ማኅበረፖለቲካዊ፣ ወይም ማኅበረኢኮኖሚያዊ ልዩነቶች እና ልዩነቶቹ የማኅበረሰብ ክፍሎቹ ላይ የሚያሳርፏቸው አሉታዊ፣ ሥነ ልቦናዊም ይሁን አካላዊ ተፅዕኖዎች እንዳይባባሱ ሆነ ተብሎ የሚደረግ ለፍትሐዊነት የቀረበ የፖለቲካዊ ተዋስዖ እና ተሳትፎ ዘዴ ነው።

አገናዛቢነት ችግርን ከሁሉም አቅጣጫዎች ለማየትና ለመቅረፍ መሞከር ነው።

አገናዛቢነት እውነታውን መካድ ወይም መሸሸግ አይደለም፤ አወዛጋቢ ሊሆን ከሚችል ነገር መጠበቅም አይደለም። ይልቁንም ለእውነታው ለመቅረብ መሞከር ነው። በኢትዮጵያ እየተከሰቱ ያሉ ግጭቶችን ብንመለከት አንድ ወገን ብቻውን ተጠቂ፣ ሌላ ወገን ብቻውን አጥቂ የሆነባቸው አጋጣሚዎች በጣም ጥቂት ናቸው። ብዙዎቹ ድንገተኛ ክስተቶች ሳይሆነ ታሪካዊ ዳራ ያላቸው ናቸው። አንዳንዶቹ የብሔር ናቸው ስንል የሃይማኖት፤ የሃይማኖት ናቸው ስንል የኢኮኖሚ መደብ፤ የኢኮኖሚ ናቸው ስንል የአካባቢያ (geographic)፤ የአካባቢ ናቸው ስንል የባሕል፤ የባሕል ናቸው ስንል የፆታ ሁነው እናገኛቸዋለን። ይህ የሚያሳየው የኢትዮጵያውያን ችግር የአንድ ጉዳይ ወይም የአንድ ወገን አለመሆኑን ነው። ይህንን ውስብስብነት ለማገናዘብ በሞከርን ቁጥር ወደ ችግሮቹ እውነተኛ መንስኤ መጠጋት እንችላለን።

Friday, January 8, 2021

US and the Social Media, Lessons for Ethiopia

(Click here to read in Amharic.)

Freedom of expression is a non-negotiable matter for the Americans. It is something they needed to do “the first amendment” of their constitution for. The first amendment states that "Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…". On January 6, 2021, Facebook and Twitter had suspended President Trump’s profiles for a day after his supporters forcefully raided Capitol Hill while Congress is at a meeting. While Americans are shocked by the incident, the social media corporations have been the ones that have denied a platform for the president who was accused by many of passing inciting messages. 

The Americans have not seen such a scandal for more than two hundred years since 1814 when British troops attacked Capitol Hill. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the social media conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns have resulted in this chaos. In this note, I will briefly explore the necessity of freedom of expression and the contradicting challenge posed by social media.

Why We Need the Freedom of Expression?

There are four main reasons why freedom of expression must be respected. (1) because it is a natural right – for personal fulfillment, (2) to discover the truth, (3) to increase the decision-making power of individuals, 4) to avoid the violent consequences of the repression of the freedom of expression, and additionally (5) because it is a necessary condition to also watch the respect other rights.

Inciting speech and misinformation contradict the reasons why freedom of expression must be respected. That is why international conventions seek to establish a cautious framework for restricting freedom of expression (incitement to war and hate, racism, etc.) as well as principles (legality, legitimacy, and necessity). However, while Europeans who had experienced genocide have taken serious legal actions, the Americans have always said that the solution is more freedom.

By the way, although the differences between Europe and the United States are broad in terms of the law, this does not mean Europeans (such as Germany) are jailers of journalists. Nor their citizens are afraid to speak out their critics to the government. Americans have also created a culture of countering irresponsible public speaking with an attempt to counter even many micro-aggressions through public scrutiny. It is in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes that restrictions of freedom of expression target journalists, or speeches can be left unaccounted for (mostly, in cases where the speaker is power). Of course, the ethics and professionalism of journalists is also low in these semi-authoritarian regimes, again driven due to the behavior of the governments.

Conspiracy Theories

One of the pitfalls of social media is the promotion of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Misinformation is not a new phenomenon; rather it is fundamentally old-aged. Benjamin Franklin is one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, who actually signed on the four most important documents of the Independence Declaration. Authors of “Like War”, a book that has analyzed the power of propaganda on social media, named Franklin as “the founding father of fake news in America”. Many states-persons have used misinformation as a tool to build a political and social system. Almost all political structures or social systems have been justified with propaganda backed by misinformation.

QAnon Conspiracy

Many supporters of Trump have been deceived by the QAnon conspiracy. It is “a wide-ranging, completely unfounded theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business, and the media”. At the end of his reign, they believe that the president will win and Satan-worshipers and elites will end up jailed. Political arguments, ideology, and policy do not mean anything to the fast-growing believers of this conspiracy theory. Trump supporters come out to the streets wearing T-shirts or hats with the letter Q printed on them. Trump was asked to say that there was no such deep-state and that he was not at war with it, but he covered it up so as not to lose his supporters (saying that he doesn’t know about the movement but that he knows that ‘they like him’). In November 2020, one of the more than 70 candidates of the QAnon movement run for and one of them was elected to Congress. According to Pew Research, more than half of Americans have heard about the movement which started with unsubstantiated claims by an anonymous social media user about three years ago.

Beyond Conspiracy Theories…

Neither Trump's candidacy for the presidency in the US nor Britain's exit from the European Union would have been possible without social media. Despite the attempts of the fellow countries' citizens to convince us that it is Russia’s social media bots and propaganda machines that have created the dividing narratives on the social media, it is the citizens on the social media who have widened the preexisting divisions in their respective societies. Social media has empowered the extremists and gave them a platform to radicalize the less-informed members of each community.

Unlike before, activists of conspiracy write misinformation on social media and build up as many followers as they wish. It is usually the followers who are the real victims of misinformation and who pay the price for the interests of these conspiracy activists. "We are storming the Capitol; it is a revolution," said a woman who was asked by the media why she entered the building on January 6 as she got out crying. For those who are blinded by misinformation and propaganda, the election is not credible unless the result is what they want. Because the propaganda made them doubt everything that was coming from the other side.

Chinese Counterstrategy: Another Trouble

China has banned American social media from operating in its territory. In place of them, it has provided its own social media platforms that censors every political content not friendly to the government. The artificial intelligence behind the Chinese social media platforms doesn’t allow posting of contents that are not ‘allowed’ by the state; and, in cases, they are managed to be, they will soon be removed. This is something that many authoritarian regimes want to have. However, this is not the better alternative to the wild social media which radicalizes the youth and nurtures violent extremism. Rather, guided by the principles of restricting freedom of expression we have mentioned above (legality, legitimacy, and necessity), it is necessary to use artificial intelligence to filter out manipulative contents from the social media to make it a healthy platform as it needs to be (like countering computer viruses with antiviruses).

It is possible to build an ethical algorithm that filters out racist, hateful, organized disinformation, and inciting contests from the social media. Just as verified pages or profiles can be marked with a blue badge, it is also possible to reduce the impact of pages and profiles that repeatedly disseminate incitement, hateful content, false information, conspiracy theories, and the likes with yellow and/or red badges, periodically or permanently.

Social media is a unique and important platform for challenging authoritarian regimes. But, they have been a dangerous challenge for democratic institutions and for consolidating democracy in states that are trying to do transition to democracy.

The Test of Ethiopia

Ethiopians have used social media to force reform by the government. However, social media has been an instrument for fanning conflicts on the ground ending up reversing the progress of an optimist reform.

As a person who has been leading a monitoring team of social media activities in Ethiopia, I have observed that politicians and interest groups are manipulating the platform for undeserved political gains. In Ethiopia’s social media sphere, almost all political figures and groups have their own propaganda teams who often use misinformation and incitement as a strategy. These social media warriors, if not fabricate total lies, exaggerate information, and narratives that support their advantages while ignore or suppress those that disfavors them. This is the new normal to the so-called post-truth era, but not acceptable.

The impact of social media narratives will not be easy in the next election of Ethiopia that is scheduled for June 5, 2021. As far as current trends are concerned, in this general election, it is most probable that voters will cast their ballots ill-informed than well-informed. The social media’s influence in dictating this misinformation of voters is higher as the mainstream media is largely influenced by the social media in Ethiopia.

The misinformation trend can be halted in the joint efforts of many stakeholders’ activities. This includes transparency and accountability (upon failure) of the government entities, the fact-checking effort of the media and journalists, the media literacy activities of civil societies, and an increased and quick moderation effort of the social media platform. Otherwise, laws such as the recently adopted “anti-hate speech and suppression of dissemination of false information” will only end up being instruments of the ruling party in Ethiopia. Moreover, laws are not effective ways of prevention of disinformation everywhere in the world.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

አሜሪካ እና ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ

ሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነት ጉዳይ አሜሪካውያን የማይደራደሩበት ጉዳይ ነው። ሕገ መንግሥታቸውን መጀመሪያ ያሻሻሉትም በዚሁ ጉዳይ ነው። "ፈርስት አሜንድመንት" (አንደኛው ማሻሻያ) "ኮንግረስ ሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነትን የሚገድብ ሕግ ማውጣት አይችልም" ይላል። ዛሬ የአሜሪካ ፕሬዚዳንት በአሜሪካውያኑ ኩባንያዎች ፌስቡክ እና ትዊተር ታግደዋል። አሜሪካውያንም ደንግጠዋል።  

ካፒቶል ሒል የሚሉት የፌዴራል መንግሥቱ ሕግ አውጪ (ኮንግረስ) በነውጠኞች የሰው መንጋ ተደፍሯል። አሜሪካውያኑ ከሁለት መቶ ዓመታት በላይ እንዲህ ዓይነት ቅሌት አይተው አያውቁም። ለዚህ የዳረጋቸው ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ያገነነው የሴራ ትንተና እና የተዛባ መረጃ ልቅ ፍሰት ነው ቢባል ማጋነን አይሆንም። በዚህ ድንገቴ መጣጥፍ የሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነት ፋይዳ፣ የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ጦስ እና የነውጥ መከላከል ጉዳይን በጨረፍታ እዳስሳለሁ። 

የንግግር ነጻነት ለምን? 

ሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነት መከበር አለበት የምንለው ለአራት ወይም አምስት ዐቢይ ምክንያቶች ነው። 1ኛ) ተፈጥሯዊ ፍላጎት ስለሆነ፣ 2ኛ) እውነቱን በነጻነት ሳይነጋገሩ መረዳት ስለማይቻል፣ 3ኛ) የግለሰቦችን የውሳኔ ሰጪነት አቅም ለማሳደግ፣ 4ኛ) አፈና የሚያስከትለውን ነውጥ ለማስቀረት፣ እና በቀደሙት ውስጥ ሊካተት ቢችልም፣ 5ኛ) ለሌሎች መብቶች መከበር አስፈላጊ ስለሆነ ነው። 

አመፅ ቀስቃሽ ንግግሮች እና የተዛቡ መረጃዎች ሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነት መከበር አለበት የሚያስብሉ ምክንያቶችን ይቃረናሉ። ለዚህ ነው ዓለም ዐቀፍ ሥምምነቶች ሐሳብን የመግለጽ ነጻነቶች ስለሚገደቡባቸው ረገዶች (የጦርነት እና አመፅ ቅስቀሳ፣ የዘር ጥላቻ፣ ወዘተ…) እንዲሁም መርሖዎች (ሕጋዊነት፣ ቅቡልነት፣ አስፈላጊነት ላለው ዓላማ) ጥንቃቄ የተመላበት መዋቅር ለመዘርጋት የሞከሩት። ይሁንና የዘር ጭፍጨፋ አሰቃቂ ገጠመኝ ያላቸው አውሮጳውያን ሕጋዊ ጥንቃቄ ሲያበዙ፣ አሜሪካኖቹ ግን መፍትሔው ሁሌም ተጨማሪ ነጻነት ነው እያሉ ከርመዋል። 

በነገራችን ላይ የአውሮጳ እና የአሜሪካ ልዩነት በሕግ ረገድ ሰፊ ቢሆንም አውሮጳ (ለምሳሌ አክራሪዋ ጀርመን) ውስጥ ጋዜጠኞች በሙያቸው ይታሰራሉ ማለት አይደለም፤ ፖለቲካዊ ትችት ለመሰንዘርም ዜጎች አይፈሩም። አሜሪካውያንም ንግግሮችን በነጻነት ፈቅደው ለእያንዳንዱ ጥቃቅን ነገር (micro aggression) ሳይቀር በመልስ ምት እያብጠለጠሉ የአደባባይ ንግግሮች በንግግር እንዲመከቱ የሚያደርግ ባሕል ፈጥረዋል። የሐሳብን የመግለጽ አፈናዎች ጋዜጠኞች ላይ የሚያርፈው፣ ወይም ንግግሮች ያለ ምንም ተጠያቂነት ሊቀሩ የሚችሉት በአምባገነናዊ ወይም ከፊል አምባገነናዊ ስርዓቶች ውስጥ ነው። በርግጥ የጋዜጠኝነት ሥነ ምግባር እና ሙያዊ ብቃትም ዝቅተኛ የሚሆነው በነዚሁ ከፊል/አምባገነን አገራት ነው። 

ሴራ መጎንጎን… 

ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ካመጣቸው ጦሶች መካከል ምንም ማስረጃ የሌላቸው መላምታዊ ሴራዎችን እንደ እውነት ማራገብ ማስቻሉ ነው። የተዛቡ መረጃዎች በመሠረቱ ጥንታዊ ናቸው። ቤንጃሚን ፍራንክሊን ከአሜሪካ "መሥራች አባቶች" ሁሉ አራቱም ቁልፍ የአሜሪካ ነጻነት እወጃ ሰነዶች ላይ የፈረሙ ሰው ናቸው። 'Like War' የተሰኘ የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ዘመን ፖለቲካን የሚያትት መጽሐፍ ደራሲዎች ፍራንክሊንን "የአሜሪካ የተዛቡ መረጃዎች መሥራች አባት" ይሏቸዋል። ፍራንክሊን ለአሜሪካ ነጻነት የፕሮፓጋንዳ ዘመቻውን በተዛቡ መረጃዎች እያዋዙ ሲጽፉ ከርመዋል። ብዙዎቹ የአገር ምሥረታ እና ሥልጣን ማደላደያ፣ እንዲሁም ሥልጣን መያዣ የፕሮፓጋንዳ ዘመቻዎች ባይዋሹ እንኳ የማይሥማማቸውን እውነት ይገድፋሉ፣ የሚሥማማቸውን ያጋንናሉ። የትኛውም ፖለቲካዊ መዋቅር ወይም ማኅበራዊ ስርዓቶች በዚህ ዓይነት መንገድ ነው የተገነቡት። ሆኖም የሰው ልጅ ሥልጣኔም ይሁን ስርዓተ ማኅበሮች እየተሻሻሉ የሔዱት ቢያንስ ባለፉት ዘመናት ላይ ያሉ ቅራኔዎች ላይ በከፊል እየተሥማሙ እና የተሻለ ስርዓተ ማኅበር ለመመሥረት ያልተጻፈ ቃል ኪዳን ገብተው ነው። ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች ግን በሴራ ትንተና ተተብትበው አሻግሮ ማየት የተሳናቸውን ሰዎች እንዲደራጁ እና ተፅዕኖ እንዲፈጥሩ ዕድል በመስጠት የዓለምን ስርዓት ባፍጢሙ እንዲደፉት አቅም ሰጥቷቸዋል። 

ኪውኤኖን (QAnon) የሚባል የሴራ ወግ አለ። ነገርዬው በአሜሪካ ሰይጣን አምላኪ ዝነኛ እና ተፅዕኖ ፈጣሪ ሰዎች ድብቅ መንግሥት አላቸው ብሎ በማመን ላይ የተመሠረተ ነው። የዚህ ሴራ አማኞች ትራምፕ ከነዚህ ከሰይጣን አምላኪዎች ጋር ውጊያ ላይ ናቸው ብለው ያምናሉ። በስተመጨረሻም ፕሬዚዳንቱ ያሸንፉና ሰይጣን አምላኪዎቹ ይታሰራሉ ብለው ያምናሉ። ለዚህ ሴራ ትንተናቸው ምንም ማስረጃ አይፈልጉም። ከኪውኤኖን አማኞች ጋር ፖለቲካ፣ ርዕዮት ዓለም፣ ፖሊሲ አውርቶ መግባባት አይቻልም። ቁጥራቸው ደግሞ እየጨረመ ነው የሚሔደው። የትራምፕ ድጋፍ ሰልፎች ላይ ኪው (Q) የሚል ፊደል ያለበት ቲሸርት ወይም ኮፍያ ለብሰው ይወጣሉ። ትራምፕ እንዲህ ዓይነት ሰይጣን አምላኪ ማኅበር እንደሌለ እና እርሳቸውም ጦርነት ላይ እንዳልሆኑ እንዲናገሩ ቢጠየቁም ደጋፊዎቻቸውን ላለማጣት ሲሉ ("ይወዱኛል" ብለው) ሸፋፍነው አልፈውታል። ሕዳር ወር ላይ ከ70 በላይ የኪውኤኖን ንቅናቄ ደጋፊዎች ለኮንግረስ ተወዳድረው አንዷ ተመርጠዋል። በቅርቡ ፒው ሪሰርች እንደገመተው ከግማሽ በላይ አሜሪካውያን ስለንቅናቄው ቢያንስ ሰምተዋል። ይህ ሁሉ የጀመረው አንድ ራሱን የደበቀ ሰው በማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ላይ የዛሬ ሦስት ዓመት ገደማ ባወራው ያልተረጋገጠ ወሬ ነው። 

ከሴራ ጉንጎና ባሻገር… 

የትራምፕ ፕሬዚደንት ሆኖ መመረጥም ሆነ የእንግሊዝ ከአውሮፓ ኅብረት መውጣት ያለ ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ የሚሆን ነገር አይመስልም። ነገር ግን የየአገራቱ ዜናዎች ሊያሳምኑን እንደሚፈልጉት የጠላቶቻቸው የእነ ራሺያ ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያን ተጠቅሞ ክፍፍል ለመፍጠር መጣር [ብቻውን] የፈጠረው ችግር አይደለም። የተጠራቀሙ ማኅበራዊ ቅራኔዎች እና አድኃሪነት ሲጋጩ እና ሲፋለሙ፣ ያለምንም አርትኦት እና ይዘት ቁጥጥር (moderation) እንዳሻቸው እንዲፈነጩ መደረጉ ያመጣው ጦስ ነው። 

ሚዲያ የተነፈጋቸው የሴራ ንቅናቄ አራማጆች እና ያለማስረጃ ተሟጋቾች ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ላይ የፈለጉትን የተዛባ መረጃ ጽፈው የፈለጉትን ያክል ተከታይ ያፈራሉ። የተዛባ መረጃቸው ሰለባ የሆኑ ተከታዮች የሚከፈለውን ሰብኣዊ መስዋዕትነት ከፍለው ለመሪዎቹ ግብ ይሰዋሉ። ትላንት ካፒቶል ሒል ገብታ በአስለቃሽ ጭስ እያለቀሰች ስትወጣ ሚዲያ የጠየቃት አንዲት ሴትዮ ለምን ወደ ሕንፃው እንደገባች ስትጠየቅ "ዐብዮት ላይ ነን" ("we are in revolution") ነበር ያለችው። ለነዚህ በተዛባ መረጃ እና ፕሮፓጋንዳ የታወሩ ሰዎች የምርጫው ውጤት እነሱ የሚፈልጉትን ውጤት ካላመጣ በስተቀር ምርጫው ተአማኒ አይደለም። ምክንያቱም፣ ፕሮፓጋንዳው ከሌላ ወገን የሚመጣውን ነገር በሙሉ እንዲጠራጠሩ አድርጎ ሠርቷቸዋል። 

የእነቻይና ተቃራኒ ጥፋት… 

ቻይና የአሜሪካውያኑን ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች አገሯ ላይ አግዳለች። የራሷን ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች በምትኩ አኑራለች። የቻይና ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች ላይ መንግሥትን ተቃውሞ መጻፍ አይቻልም። እንዲህ ያሉትን ይዘቶች የሚያነፈንፈው 'አርቲፊሻል ኢንተሊጀንስ' መጀመሪያውንም እንዳይለጠፍ ይከለክላል። አምልጦ ቢለጠፍ እንኳን ቆይቶ ያወርደዋል። ይህ ተሞክሮ አምባገነናዊ እና ተፈጥሯዊ ነጻነትን የሚጋፋ ነው። አምባገነኖች ቢያገኙት ለምን እንደሚያውሉት ስለሚታወቅ ተቀባይነት የለውም። ነገር ግን ቢያንስ መሆን የሌለበትን ነገር ለማወቅ እና ቴክኖለጂውን ከላየረ በጠቀስነው መርሕ (ሕጋዊነት፣ ተቀባይነትና አስፈላጊነት ላላው ዓላማ) ማዋል እንደሚቻል መማሪያ ይሆናል (የኮምፒዩተር ቫይረስን በአንቲቫይረስ እንደመመከት)። 

በሌላ በኩል ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች የጥላቻ ንግግሮችን እና ነውጠኛ ፅንፈኝነትን (violent extremism) የሚኮተኩቱ ሴራዎችን የሚያጠልሉበት ስርዓት ያስፈልጋል። የማጥለል ሥራው ሐሳብ እንዳያፍን ስለሚያስፈልግ የተለያዩ ዘዴዎችን በመጠቀም የተረጋገጡ ገጾች ሰማያዊ ባጅ እንደሚደረግባቸው ሁሉ፣ ተደጋጋሚ ሴራ ጉንጎናዎች እና ሴራ ተንታኞችን መለየት የሚያስችሉ፣ ቢጫ እና ቀይ ባጆችን እስከመለጠፍ እና ለተደራሲያኑ ማስጠንቀቂያ ደወል በመስጠት ተፅዕኗቸውን መቀነስ ያስፈልጋል። አለበለዚያ ከ'ሦስተኛው የዴሞክራሲ ሞገድ' ( 'Third Wave of Democracy') ወዲህ የታየው የዴሞክራሲ እመርታ በቀኝ ዘመም አክራሪነት፣ በሴራ ጉንጎና፣ በተዛቡ መረጃዎች፣ እና በጥላቻ ንቅናቄዎች ይቀለበሳል። 

ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች አምባገነን መንግሥታትን ለመታገያ አቻ የሌላቸው መድረኮች ናቸው። ለዴሞክራሲያዊ ተቋማት ግን አደገኛ ተግዳሮት ሆነዋል። 

የኢትዮጵያ ፈተና… 

የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ወጎች የኢትዮጵያ ፈተና አልሆኑም ማለት ክህደት ይሆናል። በርግጥ አምባገነናዊ አሠራሮችንም በመገዳደር አቻ የለውም። ሆኖም መሬት ላይ ግጭት ለመቆስቆስ የሚያበቁ ሴራዎችን በመፍጠር እና የተፈጠሩ ግጭቶችን በማባባስ በቀውስ ላይ ቀውስ እንዲፈጠር መድረክ ሆኗል። ሕዝበኝነት የፖለቲካው አዲስ ባሕሪይ እንዲሆን ያደረገውም ማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ነው። ከገዢዎቹ እስከ ተቃዋሚዎቹ ድረስ በነፍስ ወከፍ የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ፊት አውራሪዎች አሏቸው። የሥልጣን ሽኩቻዎች የሚራገቡት በፌስቡክ ነው። 

መጪው ምርጫ የፈለገውን ያክል ቢቀዘቅዝ የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ተፅዕኖ ቀላል አይሆንም። መራጮች ወደ ድምፅ መስጫ ጣቢያዎች የሚሔዱት የተወዳዳሪዎችን አማራጮች ምንነት እና ልዩነት በቅጡ ተረድተው ከመሆኑ ይልቅ፥ በማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ፕሮፓጋንዳዎች የተፈጠሩ እውነትም፣ ውሸትም አዘል ማንነቶች እና ፍረጃዎች ተማምነው የመሆን ዕድሉ ሰፊ ነው። በዚህ ረገድ ምርጫውን በቅጡ ተረድተው (well-informed ሆነው) ከሚመርጡ ሰዎች ይልቅ፣ በክፋት ተሳስተው (ill-informed ሆነው) የሚመርጡ ሰዎች ይበዙበታል ማለት ንፉግነት አይደለም። ይህ የሚሆነው የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያ ምፅዓትን መመከት የሚችል የመንግሥት ግልጸኝነት፣ የሚዲያ ሐቅ አረጋጋጭነት፣ የብዙኃን የመረጃ ይዘት ተረጂነት እና የማኅበራዊ ሚዲያዎች በቂ አደገኛ ይዘት አጥላይነት በሌለበት በመሆኑ ችግሩ የከፋ ነው። በኢትዮጵያ የፍትሕ መከታ ሳይሆን የገዢዎች በትር የሆነው ሕግም ቢሆን የፖለቲካ ከመሆን አይተርፍም። ሕግ እንኳን በኢትዮጵያ፣ ገለልተኛ ፍርድ ቤት ባላቸው አገራት ሳይቀር እንዲህ ዓይነቱን የተዛባ ወረርሽኝ ለመመከት ፍቱን መድኃኒት አይሆንም። 

ለዚህ ነው ስለአሜሪካ ሲወራ ለእኛ ብለን እንስማ የምለው!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Oligarchy of the Harari

 Befekadu Hailu

Most of the world countries' constitutions begin with the phrase "We the People…"; the constitution of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) begins with "We, the Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia…" This is not accidental. The constitution is deliberately framed this way so that the government look at the people of Ethiopia in the eyes of the collection of groups, but no collection of individuals. But, if you think this makes the Ethiopian constitution the worst, you are wrong. Constitutions of regional states in Ethiopia are actually the worst manifestation of its intent. The Harari state, its constitution, and the administrative methodologies are good examples of how the FDRE’s constitutional philosophy is manifested in regional constituencies.

Why Harari?

The Harari Regional State seems to be a gift to the Harari people. Sidama, Wolayita, and other ethnic groups with millions of population size have no chance of becoming regional states, while members of the Harari ethnic group, which has a few tens of thousands of people, have become a state. (I would like to point out that I refer to the region as a state with ownership of specific ethnic groups because that is the spirit of their constitutions.)

The history of Harar is often overlooked as the history of Ethiopia follows the path of power in the Christian kingdom. Harar has more to say about the relationship of Islam and Ethiopia than Nejashi, the Abyssinian king who welcomed the first Islamic pilgrimage where followers of Mohammed fled from the persecution of the ruling Quraysh tribe of Mecca in the 7th century. Harar is a world heritage city that has existed for over a thousand years. Before the conquest of Menelik II, Harar has a continuous rule at least 72 named successive Sultanates. The people who are associated with Harar’s ancient civilization ('the natives') are the Harari ethnics. The Harari ethnics are people with a rich history and cultural heritage. However, in today's Ethiopia, they are a minority.

During the Census in 2007, there were only 15,863 members of the Harari ethnic group out of a population of more than 183,000 in Harari; they make up only 9 percent of the region's population. (There was a total of 31,722 Harari ethnic members at the time, including those  live out of the region; half of them live outside Harari). More than 103,000 Oromos and more than 41,000 Amhara ethnic members live in the region. But the region belonged only to the Harari people, both spiritually and legally. Members of the ethnic group may be the president of the region. The regional state has two chambers, and only members of the Harari ethnic group can be members of one of them, Harari National Council. It is not also necessary to be a resident of the region to be a member of the National Council. Members of the Harari ethnic group living out of the region are allowed by the state constitution to vote and be elected to the Council.

Article 50/2 of the Harari Constitution states:

"The members of the National Council of the Harari are elected from among the Harari ethnic groups living in the region and outside of the region." (my translation)

By the way, the Harari people living out of the region have the right to vote and to be elected wherever they live. This way, they may be able to become members of two distinct administrative districts at the same time. The next article, 51/2, states that the People’s Representatives Council (the other chamber) has no significant power other than to approve the president nominated by the National Council. In this way, being born into the Harari ethnic group is the only way to become president of the region. What makes democracy the best of all systems is that it does not close the door on the opportunity of any citizen or resident of the country from becoming president. In a democracy, citizenship or permanent residence is a more important element than ethnicity. This makes the Harari region a test of Ethiopia's ethnic federalism and its compatibility with democracy.


The Oligarchy of the Harari

What is the administrative category of the Harari region? In his book ‘Politics’, Aristotle mentions six political categories. Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle was not a fan of democracy. Plato (as he argued in his book ‘Republic’) believes it is a 'philosopher who has to be king, or the king has to become a philosopher’ (philosopher-king) to establish working order. In the same philosophy, Aristotle categorized three kinds of empires based on their contribution to a common interest.

First, there is monarchy (one-man leadership for the common good), second, aristocracy (the leadership of a few for the common good), and third, polity (majority leadership for the common good). However, when all three forms of government degenerate or corrupt, the monarchy will be a tyranny (one man's leadership for personal interest), the aristocracy will be an oligarchy (the rule of the few for their own benefits), and polity will be a democracy. For Aristotle, democracy is the rule of many for their own benefits; a corrupted version of the rule of majority for the common good.

Democracy is not the best system in the world. As Winston Churchill pointed out, ‘it is the best of those who have been tried’. But we can debate it is multiple times better than oligarchy. Democracy, as many say, do not actually bring majority rule. That’s an overstatement. It is rather a system where majority consent is usually granted. In any case, it is the most widely accepted, and constitutionally granted system for Ethiopia. However, by any standard, the administration in Harari regional government is not a democracy, but an oligarchy.


Protection of the Minority Groups

Harari people are rich in history and culture. There is a real concern that ethnic minorities like Harari and others may be oppressed and/or assimilated by other dominant cultures and civilizations. However, it would be unfair to establish a system that would reverse the democratic process in order to preserve the identity, history, and heritage of the Harari people. So how can one solve this dilemma?

Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992, reaffirms in its Article 1/1 that:

“States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”

Article 1/2 reads:

“States shall adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to achieve those ends.”

These articles show that it is the responsibility of governments to protect the rights of minorities. But does these justify undermining rule with majority consent? No.

When the Declaration was passed, its intention is protecting minorities from marginalization by hegemonic groups.  Harari has that risk; Abdullah Sherif, in his article published on Ethiopia-Insight, "Harari without Hararis", wrote:

“the issue of who gets to govern over Harar might be philosophical arguments about true democracy and equitability for some communities. For Hararis, it is an existential matter. .

The author's response to the dilemma, however, does not take into account the injustices of minority rule over a majority. Harari ethnics may have a strong historical contribution to the historical city of Harar, but in no way the current members of the group deserve superior entitlement over other legal residents of the region. Legacy rewards are not compatible to a democratic system.


The Tale of Two Constitutions

Although the member states of Ethiopia were created by the central government itself, it is important to assume that the power source of the federal government is the member states. However, as long as the member states are living under the shelter of unity, they must also be abided by the FDRE’s constitution. Article 9 of Harari’s constitution, accordingly, recognizes the supremacy of the constitution of the FDRE. In comparison to regional constitutions, FDRE’s constitution is liberal. On the contrary, Harari’s constitution falls short from recognizing universally respected rights such as ‘universal suffrage’.  

The Harari constitution violates the equal rights of its residents. While the Harari people are given the right to vote and be elected for the Harari National Council whether they are permanent residents of the regional state or not, non-Harari ethnics will never vote or be elected to the Council. This Council has the highest authority in the region. The constitution states that only the Harari ethnics can decide on the right to the secession of the regional state.

According to Article 49 of Harari’s constitution, the region has two chambers: The Peoples' Representatives and the Harari National Council. This is unusual for other regional states in Ethiopia. Many federal systems, including Ethiopia, have two (bicameral) councils, which balances their common and individual administrative interests. For example, in the House of Peoples' Representatives in FDRE are elected from each election districts. The House of Federation, on the other hand, gets its members from representation by regional governments (technically representing each nationalities). The Harari National Council, on the other hand, was established to provide special political privilege to the Harari ethnic members. If we are forced to put these in parallel, the National Council may resemble the House of Federation; however, other ethnic groups are not represented at the National Council of Harari.

The right to vote and to be elected by all citizens is one of the most important aspects of democracy. The majority give consent to their representatives or single citizens get consent of the majority to represent the whole only when universal suffrage enacted. Universal Suffrage not only ensures the right to equality but also helps the government to resemble its citizens.

Article 38 of the Harari State Constitution provides for the right to vote and to be elected in line with international conventions; it does not allow discrimination of anyone on the basis of race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, or other backgrounds. However, Article 50 denies the same right of non-Harari ethnics to vote members of the National Council and gives the Council the most important roles in the government; the right to nominate the president of the state and to secede from the federation is vested in the Council (Article 39/5/a of the Harari State Constitution). "Once the request for secession is approved by a two-thirds vote in the Harari National Council," the federal government must hold a referendum within three years. Ninety percent of the region's population has no say in such a fundamental decision. The regional council of peoples representatives, too, has no authority in regard to secession.

Let’s assume Harari secedes from Ethiopia; it would never seem to be possible for 90 percent of the population to be ruled by 9 percent of its population in the new sovereign-to-be. Our times do not allow any sovereign state to discriminate against its citizens based on ethnicity.

Although the Peoples' Representatives Council in Harari is, in principle, constituted by all Harari residents, its seats are actually divided between the Oromia ruling party (OPDO or ODP or PP) and the Harari National League parties. They call this quota system "fifty-fifty." This seems something that can easily be resolved through democratic elections. 


Democracy and Federalism

Nationalities and cultures that have a large number of speakers and are historically, culturally, and/or economically dominant or privileged have the potential of assimilating others. Minority groups must be protected. Harari ethnic members have a serious risk of being assimilated. But the region also needs a government that has the consent of the majority.

The late prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi argued that 'democracy is not optional for Ethiopia'. He also often argued Ethiopia cannot exist without the federalism. However, democracy certainly contradicts Harari's administrative principles. Furthermore, the thought in Harari’s administration is rooted in the philosophy of the ethnic federalism, i.e. nativism and natives’ privilege over other legal and permanent residents. If the Harari’s did not have a state created for them, the offer the ethnic federalism would have for them is a status of “special zone” or “special woreda”

“Special Zone” or “Special Woreda” alternatives as a means of minority protection somewhat work for people living in rural settlements with little mix with other ethnic groups. The Harari, on the other hand, are urban dwellers; they are always expected to live in harmony with others. The government they form should always be inclusive and representative of the people who live in the same territory. This makes the dilemma even complex.

Democracy has ‘Affirmative Actions’ as a means of protection of minority groups. The best way to ensure the survival issue of Harari ethnics as a collective and exercise democracy is ensuring affirmative actions in form of promoting and preserving the language and culture of Harari people; not making their elites governors of the regional states. The current system doesn’t require majority consent for leadership, it clashes with universal and constitutional rights. Even though the constitutional provisions of Harari, its administration and, philosophical argument for it are all reflections of FDRE’s constitutional framework, it just doesn’t work in a democratic framework. 

[This story is published in Amharic on today's issue of the weekly Feteh Magazine.]