The presser given earlier this week by the Federal Attorney General has left the public aghast at the extent of the horrifying acts committed during the reign of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The egregious violations of human rights and grand corruption that the Attorney General explained in detail are a desecration of the moral values Ethiopians hold in high regard. While the alleged perpetrators are entitled to due process, it’s important to deliberate on the appalling acts they are accused of having carried out. In one of the worst chapters in Ethiopia’s recent history a generation experienced untold horrors including the Red Terror massacres, incarcerations, tortures and arbitrary property seizure following the ousting of the government of Emperor Haile-Selassie by the Derg regime in 1974. Although the EPRDF, which toppled the Derg in May 1991 after 17 years of armed struggle, erected the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial vowing “never again”, the acts that the state security and intelligence apparatuses are said to have perpetrated are abominable. History will never forgive the misdeeds that go against the very grain of what Ethiopianness represents. For an organization that claims to have fought to free the people from oppression it’s paradoxical and indeed proof of blatant abuse of power to have put them through to such atrocities.
Ethiopia’s hope to transition from an autocracy to a democracy was first dealt a blow with the establishment of a transitional government in June 1991 and buried after the contentious May 2005 general elections. In particular, thousands were jailed and forced to flee overseas due to the measures that were taken after the enactment of the draconian anti-terrorism, mass media and freedom of information as well as civil society laws in the wake of the 2005 elections. Countless citizens have died and suffered from both physical and psychological trauma in the 27 years the EPRDF has been in power; many have been subjected to ghastly torture techniques and vile acts that flout the culture, beliefs and values of Ethiopians; numerous detainees and inmates have been denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to be provided with food and medical treatment as well as to have the opportunity to communicate with, and to be visited, by their spouses, relatives, friends, religious councilors and legal counsel.
The Attorney General has alleged that institutions and public officials vested by law with the power and duty to protect the security of the nation and its people are guilty of horrendous crimes like unlawful detention and forcible disappearance, perpetration of inhuman and degrading punishment in secret facilities, and having innocent citizens sentenced to long prison terms on trumped-up charges. The leadership and members of the EPRDF should cringe in shame at the fact that their organization, which had demonized its predecessors as tyrannies, has been besmirched in such deplorable offences. True Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) once acknowledged at a parliamentary session that the government itself was responsible for terrorizing its people and offered an apology. The apology clearly demonstrates the degree to which the EPRDF-led government was eschewed by the public. If the EPRDF is unwilling to reinvent itself, its bad reputation is bound to dog it always. The damage inflicted by the gross violations of human rights shall be seared in the minds of Ethiopians forever.
The grand corruption that the Attorney General said took place at the state-owned Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC) is illustrative of the excesses of unchecked power. The revelation that some 37 billion birr (over 1.3 Billion USD) worth foreign procurement was undertaken without a bid process in infringement of legally mandated procedures beggars belief. A documentary that aired this Tuesday detailing the widespread embezzlement, nepotism and economic treason that purportedly took place at the military-run industrial conglomerate has left the public reeling with shock and disbelief. Naturally, everyone is asking where the government was while this mind-boggling scandal more fitting in a movie script was unfolding right under its nose. Needless to say, the government’s negligence in putting in place and enforcing accountability mechanisms that serve as deterrents was certain to embolden the persons in charge of the behemoth into thinking that they were untouchable and could get away with anything.
At this critical juncture in Ethiopia’s history it’s of the vital importance to uphold the rule of law. The lax attitude towards enforcing the law has enabled a handful of individuals to put themselves above the law country and harm the national interest. It’s common knowledge that unimaginable horrors have been visited on the victims who bore the brunt of the harm. Anyone who genuinely believes that the rule of law must be respected ought to do their part in ensuring that the holders of public office abide by the law in discharging their obligations and answer for their actions as well as in maintaining law and order. Criminal liability rests upon the person who committed the crime; it should never be associated with his ethnicity, religious belief or other factors. Failure in official duties should be answerable no matter who the offender is. Repeating the injustices which prompted deadly conflicts must be avoided at all costs lest the country’s is disgraced. Ethiopians’ aspiration for peace, democracy and prosperity can be realized insofar as the rule of law and good governance become ingrained in their culture. Democracy will remain a pipedream where crime and lawlessness thrive. The public cannot be hoodwinked by forces which claim that they will liberate it from oppression or know what’s best for it. The days of indiscriminate violation of basic liberties and daylight robbery need to come to an end. Power has to be restrained through a strict enforcement of accountability. It should always be kept in mind that unchecked power begets egregious acts!