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Ethiopia: Asking ‘Why’ in the land of ‘No Way’

30May 2013

Only Boethius – that Roman philosopher of fickle fate and the vicissitudes of fortune – could have consoled a puny man in Ethiopia, who woke up to the malignancy of fate on the first week of May 2013.

Boethius sat at the pinnacles of power in Rome before treachery brought him down. Accused of treason, he was imprisoned and horrifically executed within a year of his downfall. But, not before he wrote “The Consolation of Philosophy”, a monologue between himself and “Lady Philosophy” in which he recounts his experience. The allegorical Lady consoles the fallen consul of the Ostrogothic king – the Master of Italy – by “discussing the transitory nature of fame and fortune, and the ultimate superiority of things of the mind”; the gist of her counsel being do good when you can, never trust fate.

I will answer for the crimes I have committed. … But, why my family? … Why? What have they done? …what kind of a country are we turning out to be?”

The words of a man with a name difficult to pronounce: Gabrewahed Wolde-Giorgis.

Gabrewahed was the feared Deputy Director-General of Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority. He was also something more relevant to this discussion. Gabrewahed was the political “advisor” of successive Presidents of Somali Regional State of Ethiopia in late 1990s and early 2000s, before he was given more enriching portfolios in the Federal Government. An advisor in name, a decider in deed, Gabrewahed was the mentor and the political God-father of many of today’s young stooges in the region.

Gabrewahed was arrested on 12 May 2013 in Addis Ababa, as part of a highly publicized crackdown on corruption. A week later, Ethiopian TV reported that Gabrewahed’s wife – a certain Colonel Haimanot – was arrested for obstruction of justice. The TV alleged that she was apprehended while trying to hide or destroy incriminating evidence. It displayed caches of local and foreign currencies and bags full of land title deeds and ownership certificates of building complexes, which it said were exhibits on the move to safe houses.

As the rotating wheels of fate indifferently pushed Gabrewahed from the cliffs of absolute power – acquired on account of affinity and lineage association to the Palace and the ruling tribe – and threw him down headlong to the forbidding prisons of Addis Ababa, the tumbling man rediscovered vocabulary which he has not known nor used for decades. He asks ‘why’!  He remembers ‘why’, in a land that has long suspended the use of this word; among people who have long erased questions of reason from their daily language.

This immanent amnesia of abusers of power invokes the words of the thoughtful George Steiner.

In “Grammars of Creation”, Steiner posits that “when barbarism becomes so domesticated, it can only change our language for the worse”. Steiner highlights the example of a thirsty prisoner in one of the death-camps of Nazi Germany, who having watched his torturer pouring water on the floor asks, “ why are you doing this?”, only to be told “ there is no ‘why’ here’.

There is no ‘why’ in Ethiopia. There has not been ‘why’ for a long, a long time. Enveloping and erratic fate has finally woken Gabrewahed – a mere rider of this malignant wayfarer – to the real master of life’s ebb and flow. It is not Ethiopia that changed. It is Gabrewahed’s circumstances that changed irreversibly. Fate has uncaringly turned its wheels, in the process taking one more man down, lifting some others up.

Otherwise, Ethiopia is the same country. The rules of the game are intact. The status quo has not vanished. TPLF’s Ethiopia is not evolving into a monster that is has not been before. It remains a land where injustice and oppression reign. It is a country where the proverbial enigma of “suffering good men and successful bad men, ironically in a world overseen by God” is lived every day. It is not a different Ethiopia. We are living in the same Ethiopia Gabrewahed’s TPLF built. We are living in the same Ethiopia where the medieval rule of vicarious liability applies in the 21st century; a country where one is hanged for the real or perceived crimes of his kin.

Only a series of equally poignant ‘whys’ can answer Gabrewahed’s tragic ‘why’, and his subsequent question ‘what kind of a country are we turning out to be’.

Why were students who protested election results in Addis Ababa massacred on a broad daylight in 2005? Why did Professor Asrat Woldeys die in prison for speaking his mind? Why have you, Gabrewahed, fired from their jobs through shoddy ‘evaluation sessions’ and ordered the arrest of men and women – whose only crime was to be brothers or relatives of perceived political opponents of the regime you served – in your prime days in Somali Regional State of Ethiopia? Why were and are Ethiopian Somalis, mainly from the Ogaden clan, killed? Why were and are Ogaden women raped?  Why is Sultan Fozi Ali Abdi rotting in detention? Why is Bashir Dool suffering in a prison in a lifeless village? Why is Abdi Bakool not seeing his children for once? Why did the elderly Nadiir die in prison?

These and many other ‘whys’ will lead the distressed Gabrewahed, and the wider terrified Ethiopian public, to the answers of the ostensibly esoteric ‘whys’. These answers, will hopefully help us to solve more substantive ‘Whys?’, which we – the oppressed people of Somali Regional State – grapple with every day.

Why is a psychopathic clown, anointed as our ‘leader’ and ‘king’, and is arresting and killing our elders and intellectuals? Why are mad men controlling the means of mental production through their control of material production (resources), thereby sowing the seeds of moral degeneration in our youth? What kind of a society will emerge when social rejects shape society’s values?  Why are rowdy children in Palaces and the mature men in prisons?

Why are abusers of own people hailed as leaders by diaspora members of the same people they abuse, while those who speak for the weak are labeled malcontents? Why this inexplicable transposition of fates?

Why is every small road that gives a veneer of progress and economic development being broadcasted, blown out of value and touted for phenomenal notice, while the rampant atrocities and violations of human rights in the Somali Region and the wider Ethiopia are not covered by media and are not causing a global outcry?

Why what is wrong in Darfur is right in Somali (Ogaden) region? Why what is good for the goose is bad for the gander?

Why do only guests, who come from far lands, like Asli Hassan Abade, see good things in a house whose hosts swear is a hell? Why are some of our elders and intellectuals turning into a modern-day Coriolanus – the vengeful Roman warrior who vowed to destroy the same Rome which nurtured and revered him, out of hubris, out of foolhardy conceit? Could they not have departed without deserting the cause they fought for so long? Why did they discard the noble ideal of self-determination, or at least the attainment of genuine autonomy? Why embrace puppet politics, simply because you disagree with the strategy of a struggle? Why forfeit communal aspirations to “address” failures of a liberation front?

Why do they glorify a petty thief and market him to his victims through enforced endearment? Why speak loudly about the roads built but remain silent about the violations of human rights? Why erase the language of justice and dignity from our daily use and affectedly recite grammars of ‘development’? Why give new and opposite meaning to old words? Why make ‘peace’ a subterfuge for submission? Why make ‘struggle’ synonymous with confusion and delusion?

Even more frustrating, why do our liberation leaders cling to doctrinite politics – a politics dictated by inert conviction, not by realism and attendant flexibility in policy and strategy?

We, too, have many unanswered ‘whys’.

We are equally confused, Gabre.

Muktar M. Omer

WardheerNews Contributor




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