by Zekarias Ezra
They stole millions to fund their lavish lifestyles and build their extravagant homes. They wantonly depleted the country’s resources. They tortured, maimed, and killed thousands. While keeping up the veneer of democracy with their sham elections and laughable ‘peaceful transfer of power’, they managed to retain power for long 27 years and counting. In the process, they quashed the hopes and dreams of citizens to freely elect their own leaders.
Ethiopians know full well for years now this bunch had been on the take – often in cahoots with business leaders and others in their network. What happened to Gen Kinfe et al is the tip of the ice berg.
Dictators, like the EPRDF bunch, used to think they would end up their days somewhere they would be safe. But now instead of having a house in Harare, like Mengistu, they might end up in The Hague in the International Criminal Court.
Ethiopia is in defacto transition resembling the ones it had in 1974 and 1991. As in any transition, a political debate must center on two key issues. That is, the issue of how to deal with past human rights abuses and looting and how to prevent abuses from occurring in the future. Countries in the past have dealt with this issue by establishing commissions of inquiry. There is still debate among international human rights practitioners on the effectiveness of such commissions.
The issue of Retribution vs. Reconciliation has now come to the forefront with the arrest, first, of the Abdi Ali and now with Gen Kinfe and others. The issue is an old one that haunts all emerging democracies. In January 1793, the French parliament spent three agonizing days debating how to punish King Louis XVI before deciding to send him to the guillotine.
How do we now proceed? Curbing flared up emotions and passions, Ethiopians must hold ‘town hall’ debate in their communities to chart a path for a long-lasting solution. In 1991, Meles Zenawi and his team were struggling with the same issue in the aftermath of the Mengistu regime having in custody thousands of people suspected of committing serious crimes.
Have they learned anything? The answer must now be clear. We are, as a nation, in the same predicament as we were in 1991. We must avoid the repeat of that mistake. That is exactly why, as a nation we must answer once and for all the issue of Retribution vs Reconciliation. The appropriate moral response is but to dispense justice.
How do we achieve a just solution that is acceptable to a long-suffering population and at the same time steers clear of both witch-hunts and whitewashes? However, moving the victims’ demand for justice might be, we, as a nation, must still weigh the risks of starting a process that could frighten the military or other forces linked to the crimes enough to jeopardize the democratic transition. That should be a decision the Ethiopian people must make.
Now that the government has started taking into custody those suspected of crimes, we must but ask the question ‘what about the rest of the gang members?
It is an official secret hat the arrested people did not commit the ‘crimes’ alone. There is a web of network from one corner to another that scramble the country as a hyena devours its prey. More importantly, EPRDF and its leaders and its cadres must be held to account as well. It would be a mockery of justice to see top echelon of the mafia group go unpunished and even disgusting to see them still at the helm of power.
EPRDF simply has no moral ground to execute a just retribution. I believe that might be why Dr Abiy correctly preached about and called for forgiveness.
I agree in principle with Dr Abiy when he said
“I call on us all to forgive each other from our hearts; to close the chapters from yesterday, and to the forge ahead to next bright future through national consensus.”
Should the facts on the ground necessitates a course change it then ought to be done in a transparent and just manner. That entails knocking at the doors of every top leader, past and present, within EPRDF. Is the government ready to turn against itself in such a dramatic way?
EPRDF could go in the annals of history as a political organization that right its wrong if it were to prepare a path for a free and fair election, by taking itself out of competition from the upcoming election, and hand over power to a freely elected government while in the interim facilitating a ‘National Reconciliation’ in the manner of South Africa.