Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Once Upon a Letter

Very Engineer Shawel Hailu, Chairman of the main Ethiopian opposition party-the CUD, was in the United States a few weeks ago for medical treatment. Things started getting heady in Addis Abeba about whether the CUD should join parliament so he decided to fly back. Before he left the US he sent this letter to his colleagues:

(My translation… I very much apologize and am open to criticism here if I lost anything in translation.)

Our organization has been able to scale to these heights because we have been working though discussions, debates and consensus.

At this stage, the decision we make will require great accord. We will be accountable to history if we make this decision in haste, without the requisite debate but through sheer majority vote. For this reason, I am cutting short my medical treatment and have started the journey back home. Therefore, in deference to Ethiopian politics, development and CUD’s strengthening, I strongly ask that this final and important vote be postponed for two days. It is my hope that we go through this together.


Hailu Shawel.

It is a stunning letter.

Not even the most elastic of minds can imagine a scenario in which Prime Minister Meles would consider it worthy to hold his party members in such high esteem. The last time there was strife within the TPLF, Ato Meles’ opponents were either killed or are still languishing in prison.

The only way automaton TPLF/EPRDF cadres are allowed to exist is if they goosestep to every party line and squeal “how high?” when they are asked to jump. They follow edicts and raise their hands in unison to whatever prevailing bullshit shoveled their way. To Ato Meles and his messenger boys, concepts such as intellectual debate, consensus building and discussion is an anathema, a modern day heresy, punishable by being burnt at the stake. How else can you explain Ambassador Kassahun Ayele’s latest nauseatingly obsequious commentary in the Washington Times?

Our embrace of democracy is both principled and practical.


I find myself morbidly fascinated by how much people are willing to be humiliated in order to tow a party line. I am only comforted by the wistful hope that when Ambassador Kassahun eventually writes his memoir, he will be profoundly mortified by his paper trail.

I would be fascinated to know how the EPRDF nerfs reacted when they read Ato Hailu’s letter. Did they for one fleeting moment wonder what it would be like to be treated with respect by their leader?

Ato Hailu’s letter is historical documentation that Ethiopian politics has indeed jumped a major hurdle. A leader who sees his counterparts are equals? Who asks and not orders? Who measures his party’s success using “discussions, debates and consensus” as yardsticks instead force, guns and brutality? Wait. A political party that tolerates dissent? It is extraordinary.

But because he is blinded by power, Ato Meles does not have the wherewithal to assess how history will judge him. Whether it is three months from now or five years from now, Ato Meles will leave power, and will have to deal with the legacy he has left not just Ethiopia, but his children. It’s hard to imagine the Prime Minister living among civilians when he eventually leaves power. He will probably end up holed in a mansion in a foreign land having exiled his children from a land that will never love him or respect him.

But that’s never been important to the EPRDF. And it is not just Ato Meles who will be held accountable. His enablers and those who continue to venerate him as a messiah will also eventually be harshly judged by history… and the legacy they leave their children.

I hope Ato Hailu’s children have framed that letter. It heralded the true Ethiopian renaissance. To paraphrase ethiopundit, we Ethiopians have finally realized who we have always been, and not what we have been told we are by the barrel of the gun.


Anonymous yaazee said...

ET Wonkette,

The greatest contribution of the opposition to Ethiopian democracy and history is that the leaders changed the tone with which we speak to each other. I, Too, hope that Ato Hailu's children have framed that letter. It will remind us, "It's not busness as usual."

11:09 PM, October 25, 2005  
Anonymous not genet zewdie said...

Gigi had a song.. "fiqir new yanesegn."

innayen yenafeqegn chewinet neber.

as always, wonqqiye.

2:45 AM, October 26, 2005  
Anonymous BeG_AraJ said...

Leadership is not about a title, a position, or having people under your authority. It is not about waiting for someone else to do the job. Leadership is about looking inward for solutions and not outward for excuses.

8:56 AM, October 26, 2005  
Anonymous metabirra said...

i know u've not always been a fan of hailu. it was gracious of you to point out his strong points.

10:25 AM, October 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



As always,...

3:11 PM, October 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you went overboard in your praise of Ato Hailu. Your assessment is in sharp contrast to various reports of his dictatorial behaviour (e.g. Ato Lidetu's interviews). There is a lot of positive things to say about many of the leaders of the opposition. But I doubt if Ato Hailu's leadership qualities is one of them.

Meles Zenawi is no doubt a dictator. What guarantee do you have that Hailu Shawl will not be the next dictator unless we Ethiopians avoid building personality cults and instead focus our attention gradually building democratic institutions and the tradition that goes with them?

11:06 PM, October 26, 2005  
Blogger kuchiye said...

Ethiopians are better known for their skeptisism when it comes to "leader- worship" - with probably one or two marginal exceptions. Let's not forget that all of our leaders including the current one were impositions. As a result we never had the right or the luxury of filling out performance appraisal reports. If the leaders built personality cult of some kind, they did it on their own, using a well- lubricated propaganda machine. You can take the people out of this.

I yearn for the time when we will be able to reward good performance and punish the lousy.

As to quoting Ato Lidetu to pass verdict on Ato Hailu's democratic credentials, I will excersice my Ethiopian virtue of skepticism.

11:39 AM, October 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Selam Kuchiye:

You said "Ethiopians are better known for their skeptisism when it comes to "leader- worship" - with probably one or two marginal exceptions". Yes, you have some point. But we have also time and again seen that the rush with which we Ethiopians are ready to heap praises on our leaders is only matched by the speed with which we condemn them as evils in one simple stroke. Witness the adulations and now condemnations of Lidetu, Dr. Beyene and Dr. Merara.

With respect to Ato Shawl, I see dictatorial tendencies in the way he is dealing with differences of opinion with CUD. How do you rationalise retroactively changing the coalition's rule to decide on whether or not to join parliament to 2/3 majority after the majority had made a decision. In fact, I am surprised that ET Wonkette did not even make a passing comment on that. Do you think CUD applied the 2/3 rule when it today suspended Lidetu from his membership? What do you also think about the Ethiopian Review's call to give emergency powers to Ato Hailu?

In short, it debases ET Wonkette's stature as an independent and insightful (not to mention witty)bloggers to give a tribute to Ato Hailu's letter.

From an admirer,

9:10 PM, October 28, 2005  
Anonymous Metasebia said...

Dear ET:

While I do agree that “leader-worship” or “individual-worship” is a trap to avoid falling into I am not so sure the problem is that simple. In times of crisis or change or other times for that matter, it is natural to focus on individuals, who for personal, situational or other reasons “rise to the top” or find themselves rising to the top of the pile. As we have seen, rising to the top of the pile is one thing but the challenge in leadership integrity and quality is how you use the power, position and influence that come with it.

I for one don’t see anything negative about having challenging discussions about the strengths and weakness of either present or future leaders of Ethiopia. However, what is new to me, and may I add interesting is CUD and Hailu Shawel’s perspective. I see a beginning to address a change to the established views about how to reach consensus and agreement.

I think I heard Ato Shawel say that CUD’s efforts are not simply targeted at bringing about change in the political spheres but also in the culture and the society. I understand this comment to mean a desire for a major shift in the way people have been programmed to think, view politics and perceive leaders and individuals in positions of authority. I don’t think it is headline news to anyone to say that African culture has a much narrower definition of the concept of authority and leadership. Thus said, the media, Ethiopians in diaspora, and blogs such as this one are helping to create the type of atmosphere that allows a healthy exchange of ideas to take place.

If I am sounding like a medrek refugee it’s probably because I am one.

1:56 PM, October 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply put the fundamental difference between Meles and HailU Shawl is one is clinging to power at any cost while the other striving for it. If what we have seen thus far is any indication, he would do the very repressive actions and style of governance that characterise Meles.

Ethiopians should focus on gradually building democratic institutions and culture. That requirse stability and acceptance incrementalism.

They way things are going in Addis both the CUD and EPRDF are on a collission course that could trigger developmens both sides cannot control.

I hope I am wrong!

2:39 PM, October 29, 2005  
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9:32 PM, February 10, 2009  

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