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Reflection on Mrs Birtukan’s Re-arrest!!

January 25, 2009

By Yeneneh Woldegebriel
It was with great anxiety that I was following the tug of war between various cyber communities over the alleged statement made by Mrs Birtukan about the condition of her pardon. I was hoping against hope that it would not escalate into an ego war to result in sending Mrs Birtukan back to prison.
Regrettably my hope was misplaced. Now it seems to me pointless to cry over spilt milk. The damage is already done and I believe once again the Diaspora have pushed Mrs Birtukan to sacrifice herself over the issue that has no significant relevance to the struggle. Now, we need to ask ourselves what lesson we can learn from this incident. I beg others as well to reflect on the following points.

To be honest, are we fully aware of the very difficult situation the political parties are facing in Ethiopia? Wouldn’t it be right to say the Diaspora should not have asked questions that would put Mrs Birtukan into a tight corner? If the Diaspora were after the truth, all the information is in the public domain and wasn’t necessary to corner the good lady!  If the intention was to confront the regime vis-à-vis Mrs Birtukan, they should have thought over the matter twice since they were running a great risk of exposing Mrs Birtukan to unnecessary danger over a ‘moot’ issue.

I said it is a moot issue since everybody knows that Kinijit leaders were thrown into jail for winning the election and at the time it was felt that there was no a better choice other than securing their freedom at any cost to restart the stalled struggle.

True, we, in the Diaspora, are living in Western ‘safe havens’ and we have a luxury to ask such questions. But for those who struggle at home under the close scrutiny of the regime the modus operandi is totally different.

The Diaspora needs to understand that those who opted for peaceful struggle at home are placed in a very unique position. It is not as easy as some in the Diaspora think. They need to navigate through the minefield while trying to build their constituency and sell their vision to bring about a democratic and peaceful transition.  Engagement and confrontation on trivial issues and egoistical bravado serve no purpose to the party official or the vision they want to promote.

Of course, they are fully aware of the implications of waging a peaceful struggle in an oppressive system. At times it may seem futile to exercise caution and a price has to be paid over a worthy agenda. Nevertheless they still need to exercise caution and their cautious move should not be hastily interpreted as fear at all by the Diaspora and they should not be forced to take part in a collective delusion to prove that they are neither “lady surrender” or a “sell out”. Exercising caution at such a difficult time is not a sign of weakness but a political wisdom. It should be applauded and interpreted as political prudence and foresight than encourage them to take a tangential flips to please the Diaspora’s appetite for bravado.

On Mrs Birukan’s part, her inexperience in handling the Diaspora might have contributed to such an end. It could have been better if she had evaded the question in the first place. True, she may have been cornered and she may have been even branded as “lady surrender” if she didn’t live up to the expectation of the Diaspora rhetoric, but she could have saved herself to re-organise her support base back at home for the peaceful struggle. Going to prison on legalistic interpretation of what a pardon means should have been left for academicians.

I do not think it was right to pick a fight with the regime particularly over a ‘silly’ and an academic interpretation of the meaning of a pardon. What purpose does it serve?  As it stands now, there are massive problems on the table to solve. The opposition has to primarily focus on itself and put its home in order. Compared to the run into and immediately after the May/05 election, no one can sensibly deny that the opposition was in disarray. Once again political apathy is at its peak and the public has lost trust of politicians. Most importantly the opposition first has to work hard and invest a lot of energy to transform itself so that it can be perceived as viable alternative.  To the extent possible, reaching out to the public and re-organising the public for positive change have to be a priority compared to confronting the system on agenda that has barely any relevance to the struggle.  

In light of this background, I argue, it could have been better if she was not drawn into this controversy. The party she is leading is a very young party. Her youthful energy should have been better spent in organising the party. There is no doubt that her party would have been better off if she remained outside prison. But this is not the case now.

Finally her party leaders should learn a lesson from past mistakes. After the arrest of Kinijit leaders, the struggle was wholly reduced to securing the release of the detained leaders. The demand to respect the people’s vote was thrown out of the agenda!!! The release of the detained leaders by itself was taken as an end. The danger in such a strategy is that it will essentially degenerate the people’s struggle into a campaign to release prisoners and lose sight of the bigger picture. Who knows it may be a calculated act on the part of the EPRDF to reduce the agenda of the opposition into a movement of releasing the imprisoned leaders. If the opposition has to succeed, it needs to think first and then act, not react to events or chase agendas set by others; be it by the regime or Diaspora.  

In the Ethiopian context, ETA can and should be taken as a good case study and example of a peaceful struggle. ETA was vigorously campaigning for the release of their leader, Dr Taye, at the same time advancing the causes of the teachers. They never lost sight of advancing their Trade Union movement. ANC did also the same thing. While campaigning for the release of Mandela, they were intensifying their struggle against the apartheid regime. Mrs Birtukan’s party needs to learn the lessons.

In conclusion, the Diaspora should be sympathetic by taking into account the unique position of political parties engaged in peaceful struggle at home. Those leaders at home should also think twice the implications of their actions when dealing with the Diaspora. UJD should also act wisely by not reducing its political agenda to a single issue of the release of Mrs Birtukan. Of course, the party should do whatever it can to get her released. But, they should never also lose sight of the bigger picture. The party needs a fine balancing act.

Lastly, Mrs Birtukan is in prison now. She is paying the ultimate sacrifice. She was the only bread winner of the family supporting her old mother and her small daughter. While losing her to prison is big enough by itself to her family, going through economic hardship as a result of her arrest is heart breaking. I believe the public at large has a moral duty to look after her family financially and emotionally. Above all, those who argued in the Diaspora that Mrs Birtukan should face prison than apologising to the regime should put their money where their mouth is.      

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21 comments on “Reflection on Mrs Birtukan’s Re-arrest!!

  1. I am disappointed the writer tried to blame our Biru as well.That is not right. As Birtu is paying the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the Ethiopian people, i sugget to the writer to leave our Birtu alone.

  2. I think it is high time to stop propagating TPLF’s lies by condemning the Diaspora. The Diaspora is also concerned about their country and a such they are part of the overall struggle. No one can take this civil duty of the diaspora from them. Hands off the Diaspora!!!

  3. i have never seen the problem from this angle previously. It is a valid point. I thank the writer for opening our eyes.

  4. Some times I tend to say no more peaceful struggle. But, unfortunatly that is what makes the regime happy. Peaceful struggle is feared even in what we call “democratic countries. So I am not surprized if EPRDF spends much of its energy indirectly trying to convince the public that Peaceful struggle has no place in Ethiopia.

  5. Firstly, it’s is inappropriate to make a generalization about the entire Diaspora as if it is a monolithic group. Secondly, the writer completely misses the actual fact that the prisoner’s release has never been a simple pardon case. I suggest the writer reads the excellent and detailled analysis that Prof Alemayehu wrote on this issue. Thirdly, regardless of Birtukan’s deeds, Woyane would have fabricated another reason for imprisoning her. Blaming Birtukan or the diaspora community for the crimes committed by Woyane is incredible. Fourthly, I agree with the suggestion that we all have no a responsibility to support (both financially and emotionally) Birtukan’s family.

  6. PhiLiMon, I read the article again but I couldn’t find any sentence that blames Birtukan for any crimes. What the author is trying to say is that politicians should not fall easily into the trap. You mentioend Professor Alemayehu’ article. I haven’t read that but the problem of politians who are struggling at home starts when they start taking lectures from the Diaspora.

  7. How do you reach to the conclusion that Woyzerit Birtukan imprisonment is due to the speech she made to the diaspora?
    Is it not parotting what woyane saying?

  8. I don’t see any problem with this article at all. The writer, in my opinion wanted to underscore the need for extreme caution in dealing with the weyane. Had Birtukan committed any mistake, it wouldn’t have been disappointing to me as she is relatively very young for the level of leadership she assumed.
    It was also proper to blame the Diaspora for questioning Birtukan about the pardon—which happened to be a good cause for Weyane to lock up this rising-star.

  9. though the dispora is not holly to blame in the past i have tried to covey my addvice to those politicians giving interviews on pall talk rooms. specially during the time of the kinijit crises after the leaders release. this interviews has raised some people to fame and made them think as if they are every thing of Ethiopian Politics. also contributed to widen the crises further. there fore i still say cut them off. imagine the those who became famous on our blood.

  10. A very good point.

    I can say the writer articulated the PARDON issue of Birtukan. Going to prison for such an irrlevant issue – puts Mr. Birtukan’s ability in question on how to deal with a variety of complex poltical issues in Ethiopia. Beside her lack of expeirence, there seems also to exist a lack of poltical shrewdness. Birtukan should have learned a big lesson about how to deal with the Diaspora back in 2007. She was set up on an embarassing tele-confernce by the likes of Elias Kiflie to preserve their own selifish ego on her US tour representing the CUD. I was surprised when she made a trip to Europe almost 4 months after the creation of the UDJ – her second trip abroad in just one year.

    Now the party has to move on the biggest picture of the struggle, while also demanding for her release. The problem is some of the notable personalities have quit on the party. Prof. Mesfin totally abondoned the UDJ, Yacob is always in a power struggle with Gizachew, Temsgen is dissappointed on the whole issue of leadership. They should grow up and be an alternative for Ethiopians.

  11. Thank you for thinking out of the box. Problem solving requires questioning, analysing, critical thinking of the issue. If the author repeats what everybody says, of course, it makes him acceptable but groupthinking is a major pitfall of the Ethiopian politics. The author has detached from emotive issues to ask question like the virtues of going in to prison for issue that has no political relevance? The virtues and contribution of the Diaspora in demanding answer for such issue and subsequent publicisation of the agenda to re-redefine a year and half year old “pardon”. In fact, campaign of a certain sector of Diaspora in questioning the bravery, commitment and loyalty of the good lady for the cause of the struggle must have contributed to such unnecessary confrontation (lady surrender). The author does not stop there but also propose solutions, such as, the need for the party to continue the struggle. In my view the article is food for thought for those who want to think, reflect and act. Of course, the article is discomforting for those who demand groupthinking, rationalised conformity and collective rituals at expense of rational discussion.

  12. Diaspora politics, (same is true to all Diaspora politics, not only Ethiopian) is led by elements that have no a real understanding of the country in objective terms. Many are led by renegades of past regime(s).
    Diaspora supported political group in Ethiopia is under a lotof stress to show its allegiance to its outside funder (Diaspora) rather than its true constituents (ethiopians at home). Bertukan is a test case for that.

  13. I think the writer has missed many points. First, Woyane arrested Birtukan not because she spoke about pardon case but because the regime understood the momentum. Secondly, do you think Diaspora should ask get questions from TPLF? Anyone can ask such questions;it was asked before and some Kinjit leaders have said it boldly. Ato Yeneneh you misunderstood Woyane. Anyone can be arrested on fabricated charges as they did to Teddy Afro or Bekele Jirata. Unless immatured mind, no one should blame diaspora. They are in need of Unity which Woyanne Opposes.

    So the article does not have any valid point!!!!

  14. Yes, agree that we should take extra care not to reduce the whole agenda into releasing the imprisoned. Well said.

  15. I support EPRDF and i think EPRDF is the solution to Ethiopia’s problem. However, I do not agree with EPRDF on the arrest of Bertukan.

  16. W/rt Birtukuan’s last speech in Sweden, and next the eventual crack down of UDJ, proves the lack of “Master Mind” in the party.What ever she breaths to the public, should come next after having “all” possible questions that might be raised consulted with her party officials.I am sorry,this is a clear sign of NO leader and NO follower scenario.

  17. WE need to stop blaming every diaspora. Not all the diaspora are at fault. I expect the writer should have known this ABC of common sense.

  18. Shenkute:
    Firstly, the main point of this writer is aimed at blaming the diaspora community for the imprisonment of Birtukan. This in my opinion is an absurd logic as this crime is committed by Woyane. One may legitimately criticize certain strategies or approaches by certain groups. Yet, the notion of generalizing and blaming a diverse diaspora community as if it is a singular entity is immature at best.
    Secondly, suggestions should be judged based on their merit..not based on where they are from. Therefore, your suggestion that political parties should discount ideas coming from people like Prof Alemayehu is strange.

  19. Belete,

    Your comment: “Dr Berhanu Nega is a great leader period”.

    I would ask you – on what merit? What is your measurment? Leaders or potential leaders can only be measured based on what they achieved. For example in any democratical country – most leaders are choosen or they presented themselves as a candidate based on what they achieved in life – as a business leader or non governmental organizations. And even being a leader of students council in college or university they have attended can be a credit – but not enough to prepare them for the complex job of poltical leadership. In Dr. Nega’s case – we can not say he has achieved anything before he came to poltics. And in poltics also he has not achieved anything. If any – please let us know.
    -He came to Ethiopia from the US when the TPLF took power back in 1991 to replace a wrongly dimissed university professors. What is his achievement as a university prof.? Pls. back it up.
    -After a brief occupation as a teacher, he went on to be the chair of Ethiopian Economomic Council. Pls. Back up his achievement there. Nothing.
    -After a brief stay there, he joined his father business. There too the father was not happy.
    -In poltics, most said he is the reason for the split up of the CUD.
    -G7 is still not a party and not a movement. I personally written of G7 because I believe you can not wage any form of stuggle peacful or armed from Washington DC.

    People, please becareful when you praise personalities. And when you choose a leader – make sure you have a standard measurment.

    So far from all the opposition leaders – there is only one man who has a proven credential and the expirence to be the true leader of Ethiopia – of coarse if he gets the consent of Ethiopian people.

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