"The enemy of my enemy"

By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji / March 1, 2010
A few months ago, I had a lively debate with a friend of mine regarding the relationship a few Ethiopians in the opposition camp are establishing with Mr. Issaias Afeworki. My friend, whom I didn’t see for a long time, and whom I knew for more than 30 years, was debating ardently in support of these individuals. Though I was surprised with his view, I was more mesmerized by his justification than anything else. After my recent postings on Ethiomedia website, among the barrage of e-mails, one of my friend’s. Once again, he wanted to share his “wisdom” why it is essential for the opposition to be under the wings of Asmara. Though I was thankful for the time he took to enlighten me, I found similar justification from some of the comments made regarding the position I took. One more time, I wanted to go public why it is wrong to ally with Issaias with the concept of “The enemy of my Enemy is my friend”.

Under normal circumstances, such belief may be acceptable. In this case however, the medicine prescribed is more dangerous than the illness that it intends to cure. It is clear that the Ethiopian opposition is frustrated and some are desperate because the regime in Ethiopia is not accommodative to the peaceful struggle. In fact, last week’s speech in Tigray by Mr. Meles clearly shows that he is not willing to give an inch and label the opposition who are working hard in non-violent struggle as “enemies”. In this speech, we can clearly see that Mr. Meles has confused wisdom with arrogance and displayed his utter defiance to the rule of law and to the democratic process. No one in his right mind believes that the EPRDF would allow the opposition to take the majority seat in the parliament even the opposition wins the election. With some strange coincidence even if the opposition takes over the parliament, the country will not be free from the power grip of the EPRDF since the military, the police, and the security apparatus is fully controlled by the EPRDF. I do believe, the opposition has made an enormous blunder the last few years and some of the tragic incidents it is encountering are the opposition’s own making. Concerned Ethiopians need to discuss and debate the entire conduct of the opposition openly and genuinely if our desire is to find a lasting solution. We can label each other, and call names one another until the cows come home, that unfortunately, will not make an iota of difference in the political process. We may preach to the quire day in and day out and demonize the EPRDF in any shape and form we want. However, until the opposition does more than simply demonizing the EPRDF, we will not get rid of the problem that is asphyxiating our nation. The opposition cannot be a saint by only demonizing the EPRDF.

Let us be honest! Even those of us who live in Diaspora do not have the freedom for free speech though we live in a free society. Our freedom of speech is taken away by the extremist elements in our community who are vocal and resort to the lowest level of scam to find a “Skeleton in our closet” and do everything possible to humiliate us in order to silence us. Some are forced to leave the debate arena and remain in their “caves” fearing insult to their honor and dignity. These bright children of Ethiopia are forced to watch, with heart wrenching pain, when serious issues are taken off of the debate shelf and hate mongering drums replacing persuasive and valid point of view. Few of those who resort to character assassinations are telling us that they are the voices of the voiceless. Anyone who dares to challenge their ways of thinking is labeled as the “enemy of Ethiopia” or “Woyane”. If we faille to confront those who claim their “patriotism” simply because they rapped themselves with our nations flag, but engage in a distractive conduct; then, how do we bring about a true democratic change to our nation. As one philosopher said civilized people have no fear to defend democratic values. Thus, the challenge of our time requires us to show courage and defiance to those whose mode of operands is anarchic and obstructionist. We must challenge face to face those who think they are the favorite children of Ethiopia and dare to treat the rest of us as her step children for no one has given them the right to decide who is fit to be an Ethiopian and who is not.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are no genuine debates currently and the flow of free ideas amongst us is eroded. We are held hostage by cynicism of “Super Ethiopians” and utter ignorance by those who do nothing but cry about our nation rapping themselves with Green, Yellow, and Red flag. Loving your country and doing the right things are two different things. I have no doubt that Mengistu loved his country, but he led us to a distractive path. Nor do I question Mr. Issaias’ love for Eritrea, but his leadership has taken Eritrea to unimaginable disaster. I am reminded a story of a mother who hugged tightly her child to show her love and end up smothering him. It is essential that we confront the les and the propaganda to save our people from further distraction. What are we afraid of? How could we forget that millions of people gave their lives so we can exercise our freedom of speech and ideas. For those who resort to name callings, labeling, and attempt to allocate our citizenship in some bizarre mathematical calculations, I say keep at it. We know the price of freedom is not free; we will not dignify your Vagabond behavior with response, and we will not allow you to control the debate and the real issue that is challenging our county and our people.

Having said that, I invite you to indulge us with the justification of allying with Asmara simply because you believe in a demagogic ideology of the “Enemy of my Enemy is my friend”. Before you jump into a bandwagon to the newly found love for Mr. Issaias, I like to remind my fellow Ethiopians that Mr. Issaias betrayed people like Major Dawit Woldegiorgis and his group in mid and late '80s in the name of “Ethiopian Unity”. The idea of working with Mr. Issaias to get rid of tyrants who are ruling our country is not an original one. Major Dawit and his group worked tirelessly with Issaias to get rid of Colonel Mengistu. The 1989 attempted coup was orchestrated by Mr. Issaias. Fortunately, the coup was not a success. In his short book “ANDENET BEANDENET” Major Seleshi has put his disappointment with Issaias in no uncertain terms. Mr. Issaias told Major Dawit then, that what Issaias wanted was the unity of Ethiopia and that the only obstacle standing in the middle was Mengistu.

According to the book, Mr. Issaias told Major Dawit that the EPLF is fighting because Mengistu believes in force and that the EPLF was only taking a defensive position. I do not know how this “brilliant” and well experienced diplomat failed to this ploy. However, Major Dawit found a way to infiltrate the Ethiopian military while he lived in exile and influenced some of the Ethiopian generals to go along with him. What was amazing in this event was that the EPRDF was not even consulted. When Major Dawit raised the issue with Issaias regarding the EPRDF, Mr. Issaias responded by saying “We have a mechanized force in Wollo, if EPRDF forces attempt to interfere, we will crash them."

For any learned Ethiopian, it is mind-boggling how highly educated Ethiopian army major took the words of an egomaniac who slaughtered his fellow Eritreans after he invited them for a peace accord meeting for reconciliation (Mr. Issaias literally slaughtered the MENKEA leadership after he agreed to have a peace and reconciliation meeting with them; The same way the TPLF leadership slaughtered the TLF leadership). It was amazing to me that Major Dawit asked Mr. Issaias to be the president of Ethiopia in his meeting with Issaias in San Francisco. Mr. Issaias had a different agenda; his dream was to see a disintegrated Ethiopia. He wanted to create another Somalia in the region. In the 1989 attempted coup, Mr. Issaias orchestrated the Ethiopian elite Military force that was stationed in Asmara led by the late General Kumlachew Dejene to leave Asmara and to go to Addis Ababa in order to secure the palace should the coup succeed. Issaias’ motive was to leave a vacuum and eliminate this elite military presence in Asmara in order for the EPLF to march in and control the city of Asmara. The plan was “when hell breaks loose” in Addis Ababa, he thought, EPLF would have full control of Eritrea; and Mr. Issaias would feed the necessary hate mongering drum and divisive rhetoric to Ethiopians. Issaias would comfortably rule Eritrea by using Ethiopia’s resources while the people of Ethiopia are embroiled in ethnic conflict amongst themselves. Fortunately, God had his eyes on Ethiopia; thus, some of the Generals who questioned the wisdom of cooperating with the EPLF did not go along with the planned coup d’etat which led to the failure of the evil plan.

As the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Sometimes people who have good intentions do terrible things without realizing it. I have no doubt that Major Dawit’s intention was to save Ethiopia from a civil war and disintegration. Unfortunately, he did not realize that he was dealing with the man who has enormous ill feelings towards Ethiopia. It is amazing to me how someone with the caliber of Major Dawit could forget the evil deeds of Mr. Issaias against his own opponents. This is the man who killed the head of EPLF’s security, Mr. Solomon, after Solomon made the necessary arrangement and played a major role to lure the MENKEA leadership to Issaias’ slaughter house. How any one could fail to see the vanity of this man?

It is a recent memory for Ethiopians, the calamity orchestrated by the EPLF and TPLF after taking power in Ethiopia and Eritrea. What do you think was the motive behind the massacre in Arbagugu, Arsi, and Bedeno? Why do you think the EPLF and the TPLF engaged in ferocious anti Amhara propaganda? It is because the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea are God fearing people that we are saved from the kind of tragic civil war that the world witnessed in Rwanda and Burundi. These mass murderers were preaching hate against the Amharas and promoting ethnic politics in Ethiopia while making it clear that ethnic politics was forbidden in Eritrea. Issaias did not allow any kind of civic or social organizations along ethnic lines, while the TPLF and its surrogates were shoving ethnic politics in our throats.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Issaias poses the characteristics of Adolph Hitler. Before Second World War, Adolph Hitler rolled over Czechoslovakia after he conned the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. After taking over Czechoslovakia Adolph Hitler said, “I did not think it possible that Czechoslovakia would be virtually served up to me on a plate by her friends." I hope you are paying attention to this statement. Hitler did not stop here in conning others to achieve his diabolical objectives. Before he invaded Poland Hitler wanted to sign an alliance pact with fascist Benito Mussolini. At that time, Mussolini did not want to go into war with European powers. Though Hitler gave order secretly to his Generals to invade Poland, his foreign minister convinced the Italian Foreign Minister that Hitler had decided to wait for three years before resorting to war to take over Poland. History teaches us that the Germans were deliberately keeping the Italians in the dark as to their true intentions. The military "Pact of Steel" subsequently signed by Italy and Germany would later have disastrous consequences for the Italian people as they were drawn into Hitler's war to be his ally.

The concept that “The Enemy of my enemy is my friend” may work in some circumstances; in this case however, “the person considered as a “friend” is a brutal dictator who does not value life and who failed to respect the alienable rights of his own citizens. Some have said why do we care about Eritreans? What we want is Issaias to provide us with logistics, with place to organize and train our fighters etc. The paradoxical question is if this man does not value the freedom of his country men, how is he going to value the freedom and the lives of the people that he considers his ardent enemies? Please indulge me with any sort of record you have the time Issaias did something beneficiary for Ethiopia and Ethiopians. After my piece “Mr. Issaias: a Friend of Ethiopia”? was posted on the web, one commentator from Eritrea said “What kind of question is this, we are not even allowed to listen to Amharic music in Eritrea”. Yes ladies and gentleman, Eritreans in Eritrea are not even allowed to listen to Amharic music. Please indulge me in the kind of vision that Mr. Issaias has for the people of Ethiopia.

At the risk of being accused as an “alarmist”, let me sound my warning bell: for some bizarre reason should the Ethiopian opposition achieve its objective by allying with Issaias, I am sure that Mr. Issaias would say “I did not think it was possible that Ethiopia would be virtually served up to me on a plate by her Children." (LEB YALEW LEB YIBEL).

My message to those who have opposing view is this. You and I both have this arena to debate with ideas; and I hope others will join in. My message to those who support Issaias is put it on the table. I challenge you to convince us what the benefit would be for Ethiopia by allying with Mr. Issaias. Stop hiding behind bogus names and engaging in cyber guerrilla warfare. I plead with those serious individuals with sober mind from both sides of the border to engage in dialogue because we have collective interest. Free people will use their ingenuity to bring prosperity. Democracy, Peace Stability and Prosperity in one nation, undoubtedly would bring the same to the other nation.

Despite the bloodshed and the unfortunate war both our people went through, we are one and the same people. For someone like me the sword is double edged. I know that there are millions like me. It is essential that we struggle for collective security for our people. Let us not give-in to hate mongers and to those who want to put a fire wall between Ethiopians and Eritreans. My issue is not with Eritrea as a country or with the Eritrean people. My issue is with the despots who are suffocating the Eritrean people with their guns. Some Eritreans have said “We” do not need this “We” do not need that. Please speak for yourself; you represent yourself. You do not represent the people of Eritrea who are living in one of the biggest prison in the world called “Eritrea”. Those whoa are privileged to be the beneficiary of the regime will fight not to lose their privileges. As Author Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach said “Privilege is the greatest enemy of right”. Do not sell your rights for the privileges that you are offered. I know so many Eritreans who innocently believe in the regime in Eritrea. They are hoping that the way that Mr. Issaias is ruling Eritrea may bear fruit one of these days. My question to you, my good friends, is this: How many “19 years” are you willing to wait until the inalienable rights of the Eritrean people are protected?

Simply by taking evasive and dismissive approaches to issues facing our nations, we will not solve our problems. You like it or not I have a stake in both nations and would like to see peace and harmony between our people. There is no reason for Eritreans to hate Ethiopians and for Ethiopians to hate Eritreans. I know it sounds a cliché, but we have a lot in common; we have more things that unites us than divide us. Let us not be childish; what at stake is the well being of our people. Our nations are bigger than any one man or any political organizations. Both our people are yearning for peace, genuine democracy and freedom. Let us take the Bull by His horn and say “enough is enough.

For those who foolishly believe that we should not be concerned for the rights of the Eritrean people, I would like to remind them Eugene Debs’ 1908 speech:

“Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man's business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ''Am I my brother's keeper?'' That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death”.

The people of Eritrea are starving for freedom, and the people of Ethiopia are yearning for true democratic change and the rule of law to reign. Let the brightest among us show us the right path to make the desired change in both nations. Before our finger meet the key board, let us think through the value that we are going to add to sober conversations. Let us allow our visionaries to lead the way by bringing new ideas and new solutions to the old problem that has entangled our people for years.

I personally do not believe that the opposition has exhausted all the means of non violent struggle. I respect the rights of those who think armed struggle is the way to go; however, I vehemently oppose alliance with Mr. Issaias. Mr. Issaias will not allow any kind of operation unless he fully controls it maneuvers and leads it. It is naivety to honestly believe that a man who does not understand the universal values of democratic rights would help bring justice and democracy anywhere. In 1991, after the EPLF took power, Time magazine asked Mr. Issaias the choice the Eritrean people will have during the referendum. Mr. Issaias declared that the Eritreans would choose from Unity, Federation, Confederation, and Independence. As we all know, this is not what happened. Mr. Issaias had betrayed the enormous sacrifices that the children of Eritrea have paid. The concept of the Enemy is my enemy may be valid in some cases. Though Mr. Issaias may be the enemy of the enemy, he will never be the kind of friend that some absent minded fellow Ethiopians hope for. Peace and prosperity for both the Ethiopian and the Eritrean people. Thank you for your time.

The writer can be reached at tibebesamuel@yahoo.com