By Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam
I don’t know what is wrong with some people in my generation.
Especially those who claim to be political leaders.
H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed says, “The true test of leadership is the ability for those in leadership positions to create new leaders to replace them and continue to move forward progress.”
Many self-proclaimed leaders in my generation (those of us pushing 60s) think true leadership is exposing our foolishness in full public display.
How true the old saying, “There is no fool like an old fool.”
I don’t have anything against folks in my generation aspiring to become leaders of a country in which nearly 80 percent of the population is under 40 years old and 93 percent under 54.
I do not believe it is against the law to be delusional and live in a la-di-da fantasy world where senile and doddering old men dream of leading a nation brimming with young people.
But I often wonder on which planet these dotards spend most of their time. I guess it must be Planet Denial-istan.
These so-called leaders from my generation have a big problem handling the truth. The truth is they are washed-up, played-out and ready to drop.
Ha! Ha! They want to be leaders (or is it lords?) of a nation full of young people.
They are like those who have eyes but can’t see, have ears but can’t hear and have minds but can’t think.
If they could think straight, they would just move into retirement with dignity.
Alternatively, they should crawl back under the rock from which they came.
But they must face brutal demographic facts about Young Nation Ethiopia with an estimated population of 105 million:
0-14 years: 43.47%
15-24 years: 20.11%
25-54 years: 29.58%
55-64 years: 3.91%
65 years and over: 2.94%
The median age (the age separating the higher half from the lower half) is 18.
Life expectancy for the total population is 62.6 years.
What is the shelf life for doddering political hacks?
“A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.”
Tongues often cause mischief to others. Some people like to tongue-lash themselves with slips of the tongue.
Self-tongue-lashing is exactly what Daud Ibssa, the leader of a radical ethno-nationalist and secessionist group known as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), recently did to himself.
Ibssa, together with his leadership and a ragtag army of some 1300 recently returned to Ethiopia under a general amnesty program implemented by PM Abiy.
In a videotaped interview, Ibssa proved that he has a major problem handling the truth, namely, he and his ragtag army were disarmed and herded back like cattle to Ethiopia with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
Word on the street is that Ibssa was given an ultimatum in Eritrea before getting the boot:
1) Shape up, disarm and return to Ethiopia and engage peacefully in the political process.
2) Shut up, disarm and live out your life in quiet desperation in Eritrea.
3) Ship out of Eritrea to nowhere, disarmed.
4) March back to Ethiopia in chain gangs as a band of terrorists.
That was the stark reality Ibssa and his ragtag army faced before he decided to declare victory and return to a “hero’s” welcome in Ethiopia.
Incidentally, upon crossing the northern border from Eritrea, members of his decrepit army were being wined and dined by the very people who initially chased them out of the country and designated them terrorists.
In a recent interview (move clip to 32:30), Ibssa proved the truth of the old saying that there is no fool like an old fool.
Q. Prime Minister Abiy invited all opposition in and out of the country to return and engage peacefully in the political process. Many groups responded quickly. OLF delayed its response. Did you have doubts?
A. OLF did not delay its response. First, the way we look at the invitation for peaceful engagement is that Dr. Abiy had come to power at the time and he opened the door for peaceful engagement. He deserves big credit for that. Regardless, this movement and [political] change [that has come] is ours. We have a large share in it. When Dr. Abiy’s government made a call for peaceful engagement, we issued a press release. We have on many occasions previously made effort for peaceful resolution with the previous government… The war that was fought for a long time had to end properly. It had to be done at the negotiating table with the assistance of a third-party. We made a call to accomplish this quickly. This has been publicized in the media. We had to wait until the government accepted our call. Later, after we agreed, they sent representatives and the war was ended formally and made public. We also added other related agenda items and concluded the agreement. This was necessary so that we do not have to resort to war another time. We and the government had confidence in the process and make sure the things that needed to be fulfilled.
Q. The delegation led by [foreign minister] Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu met with you in Asmara and you all reached an agreement. What are the main points of your agreement?
A. When Dr. Abiy first came to Asmara, we had raised certain points which became part of the agreement. 1) To make sure the agreement to end the war is put into effect. 2) Related to this, we agreed to prevent repeat of the conditions that had caused the war in the first place. Ensure that the OLF has full rights to operate without any limitation, obstruction or sanction as a peaceful organization or party and mobilize in the country. 3) OLF leaders outside the country to be able to return and those inside could join and operate freely and do their work. Related to this is the creation of a committee to address these issues and work together in the future. 4) We agreed that the OLF and the government must accept the rule of law and work together. We issued a press release on this.
Q. Did you disarm when you return to the country?
A. Disarming is a very, very sensitive question. It can’t be said we disarmed. We don’t want others to say we were disarmed. What this means is that one side disarms and the other side is disarmed. That’s not how we left [Eritrea]. Generally, our agreement was about how OLF can participate peacefully in the political process in the country. That the government will not take any action against citizens or organizations because it has a monopoly on the use of force against citizens or organizations. So that we can have a peaceful process or path and work together and determine what our role is in the process. That is what we agreed upon. We did not talk about arming and disarming. That’s not the good word to use.
On September 8, 2018, Ibsa Negewo, a senior member of the OLF said 1,300 soldiers of the Front will return with the leadership delegation by laying down their arms.
Is the definition of disarm, laying down arms?
The facts according to the Eritrean Government
The Eritrean Government which mediated the “Reconciliation Agreement” between the Ethiopian Government and the OLF stated the OLF had renounced armed struggle and agreed to operate peacefully and legally in Ethiopia to achieve its political goals.
Renouncing armed struggle means one thing only: DISARMING.
There is no renunciation of armed struggle while armed to the teeth!
Eritrean minister of information, Yemane Gebremeskel tweeted:
The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia & the OLF have signed a Reconciliation Agreement today in Asmara. The Agreement, reached between President of the Oromo Region, Mr. Lemma Mergesa & OLF Chairman, Mr. Dawd Ibsa,provides for i) termination of hostilities; pic.twitter.com/J3rnqFAgLQ
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) August 7, 2018
The Agreement further states that ii) the OLF will conduct its political activities in Ethiopia through peaceful means. The two sides also agreed: (iii) to establish a Joint Committee to implement the agreement. Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu participated in the meeting pic.twitter.com/61CcGzpEum
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) August 7, 2018
Ibssa’s understanding of the Reconciliation Agreement is that he can return to Ethiopia and continue the armed struggle by giving lip service to “political activities in Ethiopia through peaceful means”.
In other words, he can play deadly war games by pretending to play friendly peace games.
PM Abiy stated he will not entertain nonsense about participating in the political process armed with an AK-47. The OLF can disarm in dignity or suffer the indignity of being forced to be disarmed.
PM Abiy’s strategic position is crystal clear: “The need for OLF and all other political groups to disarm, to engage in peaceful discourse is a non-negotiable stance of the government which has responsibility to ensure respect for the rule of law and security of its citizens.” No ifs or buts about it.
PM Abiy’s tactical approach is, “Speak softly the language of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, but carry a big stick as a last resort.”
Ibssa seems to intentionally misinterpret PM Abiy’s patience, good will, restraint and magnanimity as weakness and faint-heartedness to use force.
He seems to believe, or at least hopes to publicly project the impression that PM Abiy is a pushover and without the guts to use violence.
Ibssa is tone deaf to PM Abiy’s message that “armed struggle”, killing and causing destruction to grab power is passé, outmoded and left behind with the old generation of Ethiopians.
The young generation of Ethiopians solve their problems and difference at the negotiating table through dialogue in the conference room not in the battlefield in the chatter of AK47’s and machine guns.
When PM Abiy was asked to comment about Ibssa’s denial of being “disarmed”, PM Abiy mockingly responded, “Really?! I don’t believe he said that. We’ll talk to them (and straighten out.”
Ibssa’s position is a “weak square” on the chessboard.
His chances of winning the power chess game against the Grandmaster Abiy Ahmed is nil!
Knowing that he has completely failed in his so-called armed struggle, Ibssa may be resorting to his childish taunts and provocations because he
1) wants to prove to his supporters he is still a force to be reckoned with because he can annoy and get the attention of PM Abiy.
2) He knows he is at the end of his line and has nothing to show for his decades of “armed liberation struggle”. He’s got nothing to lose by making as much political noise and hay as he can. As they say, when you ain’t got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose. So he wags his tongue and releases silly and provocative words like armed missiles.
3) He believes by making provocative statements and stirring public controversy, he could speed up negotiations with the PM Abiy government and cut the best deal he can for himself and his cronies.
4) He wants to go down in blazing glory as his last political act.
My advice to Ibssa and the OLF is a simple one.
Disarm and medemer.
Or in the prophetic tradition, “Put your sword back into its sheath or you will drink from the cup of suffering.”
The facts about the make-believe military prowess of the armed OLF
Is it true barking dogs don’t bite?
Ibssa quibbles over the word “disarmed”. He says it is “a very, very sensitive word”.
He roars like a lion about his “armed” liberation army, although he is not specific where that army is located.
But it is more like the mouse that roared. Or to invoke Shakespeare, it amounts to nothing more than a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
But the army he had in Eritrea is now being integrated into the Ethiopian defense forces.
But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the proposition the OLF is not “disarmed”.
What has the OLF done over the past three decades as an “armed” liberation front to liberate Oromia?
When Oromos were being massacred, jailed, tortured and abused by the government of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front, what “armed” actions did the OLF take to protect and defend Oromos?
On which front lines fronts did the OLF counterattack TPLF forces committing crimes against humanity on the people of Oromia?
Which neighborhood, hamlet, town or city did the OLF liberate in decades of armed liberation struggle?
Has the OLF achieved a single military victory of any kind whatsoever in decades of armed liberation struggle?
The fact of the matter is that Ibssa’s OLF has been a paper tiger when it comes to “arms” and warfare ”. All talk no action.
In America, we call such a person a windbag.
Let the facts speak for themselves.
The Global Terrorism Database, arguably the “most comprehensive unclassified data base on terrorist events in the world” and includes over 170,000 incidents of terrorism globally since 1970, reports the following data on the Oromo Liberation Front.
Date of Attack Location Deaths Injuries
4/1992 Mecera 126 10
4/1992 MechaChat 0 0
6/2002 Dire Dawa 0 0
9/2003 Adi Quala 2 9
5/2004 Bishoftu 1 3
5/2008 Addis Ababa 6 6
Contrast the OLF’s nearly three-decade of terrorism record with the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF).
Just in one incident in Lalibela in October 1984, the TPLF slaughtered 200 innocent citizens!
Now, that is a genuine, top-notch, 24-carat terrorist group!
In September 2006, the TPLF orchestrated a terrorist attack and blamed it on the OLF.
So, is the OLF a faux liberation group with a lot of bark but no bite?
This is not to deny that there are shiftas (bush bandits) styled as OLF members who prey on the ordinary citizens in the countryside.
If the OLF is indeed a liberation front, the burden of proof is on Ibssa to show what his organization has done to liberate or defend the people of Oromia over the decades.
Otherwise, the whole decades-long liberation preachment has been a gigantic fraud!
Talk is cheap, and talk of being an armed liberation front is the cheapest talk of all.
The ball is in Ibssa’s court: “Put up or shut up and disarm!”
Buyer’s Remorse or the last hurrah!
Is Ibssa undergoing a serious case of buyer’s remorse? Or is he just blowing smoke in his recent interview?
The fact of the matter is that Ibssa has been marginalized and sidelined by Team Lemma and the meteoric rise of Abiy Ahmed as a political superstar not only in Ethiopia but in the Horn region and beyond.
The younger generation of Ethiopian leaders descended on the scene and took charge. They transformed the thinking of the people. No more hate. No more division. No more conflict. No more war.
The time now is for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
I can only imagine how that feels for a person who has spent a lifetime talking nonsense about armed struggle, secession and ethno-nationalism.
Ibssa’s denial of the plain facts may suggest he may be regretting the deal he cut to return to Ethiopia.
But he simply did not have a choice.
There was no way Eritrea would allow him to operate as a hostile force against Ethiopia.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have made peace and want peace, reconciliation and prosperity for their peoples.
They have buried the hatchet. They are done with war!
The OLF wants war, carry on the armed struggle. That is so last century!
What a stick in the mud?
I believe Ibssa denies realty because he is washed-up, played-out and made obsolete by the changes ushered in by Abiy Ahmed.
For decades, Ibssa tried to bring political change by terrorism and violence.
In the end, he failed completely.
He now seems to think he can continue the “armed struggle” by wind-bagging in the press.
His threat of “armed” action against the Ethiopian government is nothing more than idle talk of a man left behind at the train station of history.
It is possible that he may have received assurances from the Forces of Darkness that if he makes a move they will mobilize their supporters in the military to topple Abiy Ahmed. Then he would be their puppet?
It is likely Ibssa is either joking or not playing with a full deck.
Perhaps he thinks he can force the government’s hand and create a crisis and an uprising by making inflammatory statements.
There is an old Ethiopian saying, “A mouse that wants to commit suicide will sniff under the cat’s nose.”
I believe Ibssa is being provocative because it is his last hurrah. It is the final act in his final performance.
His 1300 soldiers are already undergoing government training.
The rest of the estimated 2800 ragtag army of mercenaries, shifta bandits, cut-throats and murderers are scattered around in pockets in the western and southern parts of Oromia and continue to commit atrocities. Ibssa must take full responsibility for those crimes against humanity.
Perhaps the OLF and all those mouthing off platitudes about outdated arm struggles and such could learn from the story of the three little pigs.
Like the wolf who huffed and puffed to blow the house down, neither the OLF nor others committed to armed struggle and violence to bring about political change will succeed in blowing down the Ethiopia brick house.
But they can roar, bluster, huff and puff all they want because they have no place to run to or hide.
They are in a trap. They can squeal all they want but the trap door is shut.
It is the end of the line for the coal-fired OLF steam train.
There is a new maglev train in town called “Medemer Peace Train”.
Better to get aboard that train before it leaves the station.
That is the only choice left for the OLF!
It is said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
There is also another wise observation. “A man’s got to know his limitations!”
It is true you can’t teach an old war dog new peace tricks.
And old terrorists? They just fade away into the trash heap of history!
Or maybe they think they can reinvent themselves into young fools and take over the government in 24 hours!
Medemer forever for the New Ethiopia.