A few minutes with Birtukan Mideksa

By Eskinder Nega / October 8, 2010
Birtukan - You are our hero.
Birtukan shook her head sideways as I spoke: "We are proud of you," I told her. "You are our hero." There was pained expression on her face. Something is visibly bottled up in her, pushing to explode. But there were too many people in her living room for an intimate conversation. She nodded when I finished, her head slightly inclined downwards to avoid eye contact.” Thank you,” she finally said faintly. I could barely hear her.

And suddenly I felt guilty. Though I meant what I said, I worried whether I was making things worse by sounding patronizing. This is not what Birtukan needs right now. Sitting next to me is a woman at what is one of her worst moments in her life. A woman suffering profoundly on the inside -- exactly what coldhearted aging men, addicted to unaccountable power after two decades at the helm of a nation they have persistently pushed towards dysfunction (so far unsuccessfully), intended in their pitiless drive to destroy their “enemies.”

Birtukan is happy to be with us -- her mother, to whom she is an only daughter; her beautiful daughter, Hale, who is just beginning to understand what has happened to her mother over the past two years; her friends, who cherish and admire her openly; and her supporters, who number in the millions -- but it’s easy to see that she feels she has wretchedly fallen below expectation.

But the staggeringly vulgar wording of the “pardon” says more about the kind of people this undying ancient nation has fallen to rather than Birukan. Here is an irremediable proof -- if more is needed -- of their petty cruelty. Here they stand not only at their normally diminished height but stooped even lower. What kind of heartless men would threaten a woman with indefinite imprisonment until their demise unless she admits to “deceiving the nation and the government?” Where is their moral compass?

For the record, this is no pardon. This is self-incrimination under duress -- a bald-faced human rights violation.

The essence of pardon is forgiveness. By so obviously seeking to inflict emotional pain -- by humiliating her -- the EPRDF has made it clear that it does not seek forgiveness. There is no spite in the act of forgiveness -- a standard that the wording of Birtukan’s “pardon” does not meet. EPRDF’s durable rancor sticks out like a sore thumb. This is why it could reasonably be said that the “pardon” granted to Birtukan is no more than the outcome of the international campaign to free her. In reality, she has not been pardoned -- forgiven -- but let go grudgingly. And obviously the price the EPRDF demanded was an illegal act of self-incrimination -- the alleged act of deceit -- in breach of the law; which protects citizens against self-incrimination. Clearly, the illegal party here has never been Birtukan from the very beginning up to the very end. To paraphrase Castro, history will absolve her -- very loudly!

The EPRDF will fail when it is denied what it seeks:

  1. Break Birtukan’s will.
  2. Create a gulf between Birtukan and her supporters.
  3. Demoralize the democratic camp

Citizens have an obligation to see to it that none of theses things come to pass. Beware Citizens!