Why it has to be a choice of the lesser of two evils

December 11, 2006

In the seventies, it was a choice between various shade of revolutionary dictators, in the eighties and nineties, it was a choice between a brutal dictator and ethnic warlords. Now we are facing a choice between psychopathic dictator and fanatic Sheikh.

The situation gets complicated as some say “we can avoid making choices by doing nothing” but what they do not know is that it is a big decision by itself. So, in one way or another decision has to be made or some one will impose on us.

But as some one said “choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil”. So we feel trapped and our choice has always been to resign and to leave everything to fate or to God. That has been our traditional way of facing up to the difficult choices.

This time, we need to THINK hard to find a way out. It is with this in mind that I thought I should start a discussion to find a way out.

The purpose of this article is neither to stir a patriotic frenzy to encourage Ethiopians to rally behind Meles Zenawi’s actions nor am I that naïve to say this is “Meles’ war” and “we have nothing to do with it” but to start a rational discussion to find and avoid a trap laid before us.

Sadly, typical to the Ethiopian leftist political culture, many have already made their mind – long before the evidence is presented, to say nothing good can come out of Meles and call their respective ethnic groups to fight for their secession, in line with UIC’s plan. To justify this misguided policy they go further to belittle the danger associated with Jihad. Others say it is not time to ask questions but to rally behind the government to defend sovereignty.

Problem solving starts with problem definition and our problem is: we are trapped between two evils.

Who are the two evils?

On the one hand there is a Meles Zenawi, a Machiavellian dictator, who is torturing the nation and on the other hand an emerging fanatic Sheikh, who is stirring historic enmity towards Ethiopia and declaring Jihad on innocent people, who are already suffering under dictatorship.

Is UIC a threat?

Yes, there is no doubt. To mention few of its intentions, the Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has declared Jihad war on Ethiopia. On Reuters, Monday 9 October 2006, Sheikh Sharif said Starting from today, we have declared Jihad against Ethiopia,” Mind you it is not Fatwa against Meles Zenawi, but Jihad against Ethiopia. Not only that, but also the Islamic Courts have made it clear that it will leave “no stone unturned” to occupy 1/5 of Ethiopian territory by force.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts on November 18, 2006 said to AP “We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia”

What are the motives behind the Islamic Courts provocative statements?

Many Somali Generals, intellectuals and warlords have struggled to create nationalism in Somalia in its conventional sense since the creation of Somalia. A cohesive sense of belongingness hasn’t yet formed. Somalia’s nationalism had been intermittently dependent on degree of hostility towards Ethiopia. That is why Sheik Aweys and his advisors have used Islam and Ethiopia as uniting force to create a Somalia nation.

“Starting from today, we have declared Jihad against Ethiopia”, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed

I, for one, have no problem with UIC’s intention of uniting Somalia to assert some sort of rule and order. Contrary to the Ethiopian student movement, I do not also delude myself to say “nations should be created through willful association of nation and nationalities”. All nations were created with iron fist and I do not see anything wrong in the Islamic Courts approach in the formation of the nation Somalia.

Nevertheless, I see a great danger in UIC’s strategy. In addition to the use of iron fist and Islamic ideology, it is effectively using Ethiopia as bogeyman to unite warring clans.

Temporarily the unity of various warlords has been cemented by fanning hatred towards Ethiopia, which is very disconcerting. The danger with this approach is that UIC needs to hold Ethiopia as perpetual enemy to stop various clans failing with each other. That means war with Ethiopia will not only be a means to create Somalia but also a necessary tool for survival of Somalia, just like Eritrea

No one can dispute the immense pain this strategy could inflict on ordinary Ethiopians. That is why, it is important to see the motive behind UIC’s provocative statement and call for Jihad towards Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

That is why Ethiopians should not shrug off the danger of this threat as if Sheik Aweys were targeting Meles Zenawi. So far, we have not seen Sheik Aweys passing Fatwa against Meles Zenawi and we should not deceive ourselves to say that it has nothing to do with Ethiopia. The Islamic courts target is Ethiopia, for a very good reason I mentioned above.

In the past, semi-literate revolutionaries of the 1970s, like TPLF and EPRP have made big mistakes by backing Ziad Barre. Now OLF and AFD need to be advised not to make the same mistakes. Somalia need enemy to survive.

Why Meles wants to fight UIC or get involved in Somalia’s crisis.

Meles is neither a patriot nor a nationalist or had any core belief. He grew as Albanian Communist, throwing slogans against Imperialism, Feudalism and Bureaucratic Capitalism. Today he is not only a puppet for Imperialism (as he used to say himself, Ye-Imperialism Buchella) but also a Capitalist who acquired wealth through corruption.

For Meles the rise of UIC, a fundamentalist militia; is business, something that he had been praying for. Now his prayers have been answered. Meles wants UIC for the following reason:

“The jihadists have declared war against Ethiopia…”, Ato Meles Zenawi

1. Meles had been lobbying Washington about the presence of Al-Qaeda in Somalia for sometime but this cry did not convince Washington for so long. Instead, as Mr. Herman Cohen revealed, Washington was seeing Meles’s intelligence report with a pinch of salt. Now it appears that Meles’ prayer has been answered for the last time. The rise of Sheik Aweys is god sent opportunity to Meles to bid for Washington’s war against terror and become the next Musharaf. Or to borrow MLLT’s slogan, to become Ye-Imperialism Buchela..

2. After the May/05 election, Meles is the most hated person in Ethiopia. His brutal measures and disregards to human life have brought his worst side to the surface. He is no more “a new bread of African leader”. He has two choices to stay in power: the first one is to listen to the people why they rejected him and work hard to build bridges, meet their demands and earn some respect. That is a hard work which requires wisdom, vision and capacity to think and satisfy 70 million people. The second choice is to find someone worse than him so that he can appear the lesser of two evils. Sheik Aweys, by declaring Jihad on people who have done nothing wrong to Somalia, made Meles to appear the lesser of the two evils.

3. Divert attention from domestic issues and divide the opposition. AFD is divided because ONLF and OLF have hastily taken side with Sheik Aweys, hoping that the Sheik would be a catalyst for break-up of Ethiopia, while KIL remained undecided. In the absence of a uniting political force in Ethiopia, Meles is sure to gather enough support for the war front and prolong his survival.

As shown above there is a vested interest to wage. Both dictators would make profit from war and war may not be avoidable, while the people of Ethiopia and Somalia pay a heavy price.

Appeal to both leaders to have more wisdom and understanding to avert war.

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom” Bertrand Russell

To prepare us for war, we are made to fear the enemy and asked to choose the lesser of the two evils. As shown above Sheik Aweys and his backers are using fear of Ethiopia to unite Somalis, drop their differences and rally behind UIC against Ethiopia. They have gone as far as exploiting religion to achieve this political goal. They are exploiting God to their political ends and bully Ethiopia into submission.

Meles is doing exactly the same. He is pointing to untamed fanatics, to install fear in the minds of the people and demand that they better rally behind him. So there is no point in denying that we fear UIC’s Jihad, since we know what is happening in Darfur. We also fear to hand over more power to a person who does not hesitate to use it against us. So in a way we are trapped.

Solution… Remove the causes of fear by reassuring each other and taking the following concrete measures:

Things to do for Sheik Aweys

Without denying the danger, the way out of this crisis is in the hands of Sheik Aweys in Somalia. He needs to climb down of his high horse to reassure the Ethiopian people that he didn’t mean to harm Ethiopia. That way, he will kill Meles’s desire to engage in endless war and assure himself unlimited power. Continuing in threatening manner is going to jeopardise UIC’s desire to unite Somalia and Ethiopians have no choice but to take precautionary measures.

UIC appears to believe its own hype. A temporary alliance between warlords may appear solid at the moment, but, any weakness in the face of biggest firing power could motivate the warlords to have a go at UIC and return Somalia into perpetual fighting.

UIC’s strategy will have the opposite effect to Shabbia, OLF and ONLF, who are hoping to benefit out of this conflict.

It is time that we all demand UIC stop its rhetoric, without having the means and capability to make it happen. It will only help a dictatorship in Ethiopia to flourish.

Things to do for Meles…

Meles too needs to be told to pull out of Somalia as soon as possible. As shown above, hostility towards Ethiopia is a necessary ingredient for survival of Somalis nationalism. Though it is tempting to be a darling buddy of Washington, Ethiopia’s presence in Somalia is going to unite the Somalis behind the Sheik. Hence, Ethiopia must pull out of Somalia as soon as possible.

Things to do for the opposition parties in the parliament.

Stop the rhetoric, the slogans and please grow up. Meles may start the war but it will not remain Meles’s war. It will be Ethiopian and it is good to think hard before issuing statement. Those who opposed Ethiopia’s involvement need to convince the public why UIC would not be a threat for Ethiopia? Dismissing the threat without assessing the motives and goals of UIC is short sighted and immature.

Those who supported the government decision need to follow up how things are handled on the ground and challenge the government action when it goes beyond agreed document of “defending the national interest”.

Things to do for Shabbia and OLF

Shabbia and OLF also need to review their strategy. Alliance with fanatics is very misguided and bound to backfire. Rather than weakening Meles it will strength his position in the eyes of Washington and the Ethiopian people. We can avert war and dictatorship by having a realist valuation of our capability.

Things to do for UN

UN need to move fast to avert war. UN’s involvement is very important to avert the danger. First it could take the motive of Meles to be a partner in war against terror. Second it could encourage warring factions to talk and third, it stops Ethiopia and Eritrea from having a proxy war in Somalia. Hence, the only way out of this crisis is a speedy deployment of peace keeping force in Somalia.

In conclusion all parties need to play their parts to avert crisis and senseless loss of life. No body is going to benefit from this conflict. It will be a lose-lose outcome.