By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The inspiration for this commentary comes from Ethiopia’s current preparations to assume for the third time its seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from January 1, 2017 for two-year term. As one of the 15 members of the Security Council and a full participant in its work, Ethiopia is also required to represent the interests of the peoples and governments of Africa. For a founding member of the Organization that signed the Charter on June 26, 1945, along with two other African nations – Egypt and Liberia – to my mind, this third term is either a reflection of our nation’s inadequacies, or a record of its poor performance within the 71-year old United Nations, or perhaps an issue that requires resolution within itself.
For the record: During this 71 years of the Organization’s history, Nigeria that became independent in October 1960 has served five times; Egypt that received its independence from Britain in February 1922 was Council member nearly five terms (1946 and four full terms). At least, also a number of the who-is-who of African countries have had three terms, while Ethiopia was in the Council for only two terms.
Troubling as this is, its reality has given its back to the longstanding role Ethiopia had in and its selfless contributions to the independence of several African countries from colonialism and apartheid – a legacy that, in his autobiography (Long Walk to Freedom (1994)), Nelson Mandela has honored, describing Ethiopia as “the birthplace of African nationalism.”
On a second thought, perhaps with that in mind, this irreconcilable Security Council stint may only symbolize our country’s lack of confidence in itself, or certainty about its future direction. I feel strongly about this and think that the better it would be the sooner Ethiopians come to grips with this national inhibition or blinder and see its end in a nation we all have a stake in as citizens.
It is important to note here that in terms of the law and practice the idea of this rotating UNSC membership, honorable and influential as it is, is supposedly intended to help ensure the maintenance of international peace and security. In that context, Article 24 (1) of the Organization’s Charter states:
“In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.”
Why this piece now?
As a person who had served in the Council on behalf of my country, Ethiopia, during its second term, I am contending in this piece against my country’s present fait accompli membership of the UNSC.
This originates from my conviction that Ethiopia today lacks, even what unwritten laws expect, because it has lost what it takes to be a bona fide Council member. Advisedly, I use the term ‘bona fide’, as judgement upon and measurement of the degree of a Security Council member state’s commitment to the objectives of the United Nations Charter, the various international instruments the Organization has helped mediate and a nation’s respect for its citizens and the nation’s laws and its international obligations, especially the human rights instruments it has signed and voluntarily ratified through its legal mechanisms.
My rationale for opposing Ethiopia’s efforts to secure a seat in the Council began on January 1, 2016, right from the time of declaration of its interest in public through the then foreign minister Tedros Adhanom, now its unlikely and dubitable candidate to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general post. In the subsequent months I have written a number of articles, even when I knew it was futile to go against a lone candidate once it has gone through the regional candidature mechanism. And yet, I believed in the importance of bringing the opposition to international attention, especially anticipating that the Council may take up the Ethiopian situation, given the heap of crimes against humanity committed, worsening and tragic situation inside the country.
My opposition is based on the explosive situation in the country. For a long time, I have seen a clear and dangerous line of separation drawn in ‘ethnicized’ Ethiopia between civil society and the militarized Ethiopian state. To me, remote as it its, it is akin to France’s historical Maginot Line. It constructed new military fortification in the 1930s along the German border to avoid a repeat of France’s terrible defeat in the hands of the Germans in World War I. Unfortunately, it could not stop the Germans from rolling into Paris during World War II.
This very much is also what the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has done in Ethiopia in the past quarter century. The TPLF is a curious kind of political party, a business club of its members engaged even in exchanging for their benefits the state itself, and sort of mafia club of people pulled together by ethnicity with the goal of total control over Ethiopia, robbing and uprooting others.
Today, such actions have awarded the TPLF full control of the nation’s institutions, laws, economy and weapons, thereby putting itself apart from the rest of Ethiopians. Initially, people protested timidly, with their typical Ethiopian deference, only asking to be allowed to live in peace, take care of their families, their lands and properties not robbed by TPLF officials and cadres.
In time, things got worse, people seriously resented the situation and rose up in anger; they refused to be defined by the mafia regime who and what they are. This is TPLF’s way of exercising its superiority, while showing everyone else they are second class citizens in their own ancestral homeland.
That is why the year 2016 has become the year of Ethiopian resolve; in public people chanted and demanded their human dignity to be respected.
The truth is that since April 2014, the TPLF has responded only in the language it knows best – well-fed and armed commandos firing at the people. Those it took as prisoners have been tortured, some of them permanently disabled. This is TPLF’s response, when a thief breaks into your apartment (i.e., the TPLF) and if you apprehend him or kill him, its anti-terrorism law says you are a terrorist, since when it comes to it the Front has invalidated the right of the time-honored principle of self-defense.Once the situation has reached that stage, the Amhara and Oromo people that comprise over 60 percent of the nation adopted the Oromo protesters’ crossed-hands symbol of demanding peace, thereby making the nation’s protest symbol. Internationally, the honor and credit belongs to Lilesa Feyisa, who has familiarized it during the 22nd Rio Olympiad in 2016 as the Ethiopians’ symbol of resistance. He won second place, he crossed the finishing line both hands crossed over his head to make known to the world the sad plight of Ethiopians and their peaceful struggle for human dignity and freedom, democracy and rule of law.
Not surprisingly, at this very moment the added evidence corroborating my view of the continuing turmoil in Ethiopia is The Guardian article from Thursday, Dec 22/2016 edition, reveals how much popular sentiments have soured against the regime. While in different parts of the country fighting is continuing, the paper quotes a prosperous businessman in Gondar telling the journalist, “We don’t feel like it is our country. We feel like it is the time when the Italians invaded [Ethiopia]. We are like second-class citizens.”
I have come across added information on the social media and even from serious researchers, which indicate the above is a widely-shared sense of Ethiopians against those operating the Ethiopian state, a formal ally and clientele of the United States.
To put it briefly, as relates to the UNSC membership, I deeply resent TPLF’s lawlessness and its politics of deceit and ‘greed is good’ ideology and state violence. On completing his latest visit to Ethiopia, in an interview of December 17, 2016, US State Department official Tom Malinowski aptly likened the Ethiopian situation and the dilemma it is facing to “to a boiling pot”.
Ethiopians especially in these past few years have been through a lot trials and tribulations; these have cost the country dearly in lives and properties, the overall tally now showing the severity of Ethiopia’s uncertain future.
In the face of this, the fundamental question is where could an unstable state draw strengths and inspirations from to shoulder its responsibilities for international peace and security, when its own internal situation is fraught with the danger either of collapse or civil war?
January 2017 must be one of the worst embarrassing moments for United Nations, when Ethiopia assumes its seat in the Security Council. A murderer regime is sitting in such lofty place to speak about peace and security and respect for fundamental human rights! It means that a government with record of atrocities and no credibility whatsoever is taking responsibility under Articles 23 and 24 of the United Nations Charter to serve two-year term – THE JOKE BEING – to ensure maintenance of international peace and security!
It is already embarrassing enough for the United Nations Human Rights Council, where Ethiopia since 2013 has been a member sitting along with other nations as judge and jury on the international community, as it exterminates even peaceful protestors, fired upon in a Nazi-like manner, including children under age 10.
Therefore, it is my considered view that Ethiopia is coming into the Council with enormous challenges on its hand. Even if we overlook its sparse human resources and weak institutional capacities, which could limit its contributions and the UNSC’s efficiency, it is a living and walking horror not a state member of the UNSC in the real meaning of the word.
For that matter, although a founding member of the United Nations Organization, over the years either because of the disruptive nature of power transfers or repression, as is the case at the present, Ethiopia sadly remains incorrigible and disloyal to the United Nations Charter.
Ethiopia is unprepared for UNSC membership
The work in the UN Security Council imposes huge responsibilities on individual nations, which are elected as its members on an intermittent basis – that is unlike its Permanent Members. As a poor least developed country, afflicted by internal conflicts between heavily armed state power and a badly beaten civil society, where gross and flagrant violations of human rights are the norm, these inadequacies have become serious causes for concern for the United Nations itself.
That said, under a single party rule in Ethiopia constituted on the basis of ethnicity, what matters is not education, but loyalty to the ruling. This has produced all sorts of half-baked individuals as heads of offices and experts in the TPLF bureaucracy. In defending his vision for ‘occupied’ Ethiopia as a developmental state, once the chief architect of Ethiopia’s misfortune dictator Meles Zenawi argued before his death in 2012 about the need for fierceness in protecting “autonomy of the state”. The poison is in these benign sounding words.
It is the code language for the TPLF – autonomy to do anything they like, to rob banks, carry luggage full of foreign currency to foreign countries as happened not long ago in England on Ethiopian Airlines and not penalized after the judge asked whether there was a bank at all in Ethiopia! For strange reasons, the violation did not entail any charges under British law!
What the TPLF has been doing ever since is increasingly rendering itself ‘sovereign’ and ‘autonomous’, because of which Ethiopia could not be governed by law; nor has the state been law abiding. In States and Markets: Neoliberal Limitations (2012), Meles Zenawi justified this by using a ‘false dichotomy’, dwelling on inordinately bizarre links to help him create the sort of nexus between his ideology and state /institutional structures to justify this as the TPLF’s sources of legitimacy and thus its freedom of action.
If we take one aspect of the Ethiopian problem, i.e., the internal incoherence of Ethiopia, the foreign service staff would make good example. They are selected not on the basis of a must qualifications and personal qualities essentials for diplomacy – but personal loyalty to the ruling party.
Unfortunately, young as many of them could be, they lack an understanding of what a civil servant is and how they should approach their tasks. Keep in mind that nations have their long held dispositions, positions and convictions on different issues – values, freedom, slavery, democracy, human rights, individual freedoms, state responsibilities, sovereignty, domestic jurisdictions, international law, human solidarity, etc., that they bring along into the Council chamber.
These days, the TPLF bureaucrats are treated like robots that are fed codes by uninformed code clerks/masters. These too are driven by TPLF interests and instructions, not policies derived from examination of history, national and international laws, human destiny, the people’s and the nation’s interests as drivers. That is why I have grave reservations about the capacities inspired by the developmental state of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in its bureaucrats, whose capacity has hardly been honed to shoulder such national and international responsibilities.
In better times, when in 1967 Ethiopia for the first time was elected member of the Security Council, Lij Endalkachew Mekonnen was Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Ato Kifle Wodajo – who later served as foreign minister – his deputy on the Council.
In July 1967, not even a full month after the end of the Six-Day war between Israel and Arab countries, Ethiopia’s turn came to assume the monthly rotating chairmanship of the Council. A bright middle-aged person, an Oxford University graduate – reportedly known by some as the ‘Oxonian’ as his substitute name, according to back room gossips. That chairmanship only became a season Ethiopia shone due to their distinguished contributions to the work of the Council. In difficult and stressful environment, following the tense month of the Six Day War, some acknowledged them for their wits, wisdom and energy in July helping hammer resolutions, consensus presidential statements, effectively participating in the endless negotiations and keeping the Council focussed on the challenges before it.
Ethiopia had served as president of the Security Council on three occasions: June 1967, December 1968 and April 1990.
During the second term in the UNSC from 1989-1990, Ethiopia rallied Africa in the struggle to mobilize Africa, increasing pressure to be exerted on the apartheid regime. Two most important issues were the longstanding task of ending apartheid South Africa’s illegal occupation of South West Africa (Namibia), which in earlier decade or so Ethiopia and Liberia had taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
There was also the invasion by Iraq of Kuwait, which had kept the Council weeks on end in day and night meetings.
Both issues created a full agenda. Apartheid fell on its last days. In February 1990, first this culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela from 27 years of imprisonment. Secondly, main work of the Council followed handling the independence of Namibia – a gratifying series of activities that have consumed the focus and energies of the UNSC. It was the Ethiopian delegation in the Council that suggested to the government as Ethiopia’s contribution to the African struggle against apartheid and colonialism the use of the Ethiopian Airlines flights to transport Namibian refugees from some African nations.
Of course, as an issue of war and peace the Iraqi invasion was a serious matter of engagement for the Council. In the global sense, most nations have experienced its consequences, which reverberate to this day.
That said, does the TPLF-run Ethiopia, which has declared war on Ethiopians, have the moral authority to think and speak now in terms of the need for respect for the fundamental human rights and the peace of other people around the world from with the chamber of the Security Council?
If its answer to this question is in the affirmative, why has the TPLF refused to cooperate with the United Nations that has repeatedly requested to undertake investigations of the killings by its security forces of peaceful protesters in Amhara and Oromia regions?
Right at this moment, there are four outstanding requests to the TPLF regime from the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner, the highest authority in the United Nations Secretariat under the General Assembly, on matters pertaining to human rights issues.
The first of these was from January 2016 by which the TPLF was asked investigation to be carried out about the November 2015 massacre in Oromia. Then came the summer of bloodshed in Ethiopia in August 2016, when peaceful protesters in Amhara and Oromia were brutally massacred.
In October, the Ireecha Massacre took place, which broke the heart of Ethiopians; it aroused anger at the brutality against peaceful citizens, whose crime was singing and thanking God for his kindness and grace.
What the UN has requested, which the majority of Ethiopians very much support, is investigation into the killings of Ethiopian citizens, especially in the current year. In asking the Ethiopian regime to cooperate in the investigations of these killings, in his August 19, 2016 interview with Reuters, the High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein highlighted the degree of the crime by the state officials by their “use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromiya and Amhara, … a very serious concern for us,” restraining himself from uttering in legal terms that convey the sense of commission of crime against humanity.
The UN High Commissioner (OHCHR) also requested reforms essential in Ethiopia, for the country to see peace between state and civil society. He offered the assistance of the experts in his office to help “towards opening up the political and democratic space” in Ethiopia. All that was rejected, first ‘violently’ on Al Jazeera through Getachew Reda and ever since through the efforts of the regime’s time buying deceits, given Western support to the regime.
On what principle is the TPLF freedom to kill its way into continued overlordship of the country, and now a member of the Security Council, formulated while violating every rule in the book and refusing to cooperate with the United Nations of its own investigation?
Could the TPLF delegation in the Council be in a position to recommend investigation into the killings in Africa, for example in the Congo DR, where the Kabila lust for power has ended up in the loss of lives that were demanding respect for the country’s constitution?
We surely know the answer, but not how we got into this mess and sorry state of affairs, first as Ethiopians and, secondly from the perspective of the Council, and third as the international community?
The reality is that in the coming two years Africa would face a number of constitutional and political crises. What role is Ethiopia to play as Africa’s representative on the Security Council?
It all boils down to the illegal manner in which power has been seized, every five years fraudulently renewed through deceitful electoral engineering.
All said and done, with the TPLF itself as a party in power without legitimate electoral mandate, what advice it would give to its allies, African strongmen in Burundi, Congo, Congo DR, Gambia, etc., when civil wars break out, because the leaders in these countries cannot allow themselves to be governed by the rule of law?
God help the Security Council and Africa!
(to be continued)