A leaked Cable of US Embassy Addis Ababa, dated September 30, 2009 and classified as ‘Confidential’, reveals opposition party leaders want food aid to be halted.
The Cable presents a September 22 luncheon hosted by the US Embassy ‘to discuss the domestic political environment, current talks regarding an electoral Code of Conduct, and 2010 elections’ with representatives of an opposition coalition ‘Forum for Democratic Dialogue’(now renamed, Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum), abbr. as ‘Forum’.
The guests were: Professor Beyene Petros – Chairman, United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), Dr. Merera Gudina – Chairman, Oromo Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Bekele Jerata – Secretary General, Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw – Acting Chairman, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDF), Gebru Asrat – Chairman, Arena Tigray, Dr. Negasso Gidada – Former President of Ethiopia, Seeye Abraha – Former Defense Minister, Boh Hussein – Chairman, Somali Democratic Alliance Forces (SoDAF), Tilahun Endashaw – Chairman, Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Union (SEPDU), Guesn Gebresalassie – Chairman, Ethiopian Democratic Union Movement (EDUM), and Hadmina Mohammed – Vice Chairman, Ethiopian Democratic Union Movement (EDUM). The latter two came uninvited, however.
In the course of the discussion, the opposition leaders ‘predictably charged that there has been regression of democracy in Ethiopia’, though, the Cable notes, they ‘did not articulate a particularly coherent vision of an alternate future, and certainly had no unified positions in terms of political or social programs, or even political tactics.’
Interestingly, explaining why the Forum walked out of the inter-party talks on Electoral Code of Conduct, they were quoted as saying:
[Beyene Petros stated] the Forum was not willing to allow their presence at the talks to serve as a tool for the [ruling party] EPRDF to claim to the international community that they consulted opposition parties.’
Seeye Abraha noted that particularly with Meles [Zenawi] going to the [UN General Assembly], the Forum was unwilling to give him the opportunity to claim that the ruling party was productively engaged in discussions with the opposition.
But the Forum leaders’ animosity to the ruling party and urge for power is so strong that they went as far as explicitly urging United States to ‘cut Humanitarian assistance’ from the people they claim to represent.
The Cable reveals:
Vice-Chairman of the Somali Democratic Alliance Forces Boh Houssein expressed disapproval of continued U.S. humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia. He felt that continued U.S. food aid would enable the EPRDF to remain in power and use humanitarian assistance as a political tool, asserting that cutting off international assistance was essential to Ethiopia’s democratization process.
The other leaders didn’t counter the statement. In deed, this is not an isolated case, rather shared by other opposition leaders and repeated at other occasions.
The Cable notes that:
Several opposition leaders have expressed this sentiment to EmbOffs(Embassy Officials) recently on different occasions, claiming that U.S. assistance enables the GoE to continue harming the Ethiopian people.
How further low can one go?
Read the full text of the Cable below.
Reference ID – 09ADDISABABA2342
Created - 2009-09-30 12:01
Released - 2011-08-30 01:44
Classification – CONFIDENTIAL
Origin – Embassy Addis Ababa
DE RUEHDS #2342/01 2731201
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 301201Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6334
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUZEFAA/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ADDIS ABABA 002342
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: OPPOSITION WANTS INTERNATIONAL HELP, BUT LACKS A UNIFIED MESSAGE
REF: ADDIS 898
Classified By: CDA Roger Meece for Reasons 1.4 B/D.
¶1. (C) On September 22, CDA hosted a lunch for 9 opposition political leaders at the CMR to discuss the domestic political environment, current talks regarding an electoral Code of Conduct, and 2010 elections. The two-hour event provided an opportunity the CDA and new country team members to meet opposition leaders, and gain a better sense of personalities and relationships. All the opposition leaders predictably charged that there has been regression of democracy in Ethiopia as the ruling EPRDF pursues its agenda of ‘revolutionary democracy.’ Some detailed at length examples of EPRDF intimidation and lamented what they see as a lack of international community response. The group, however, did not articulate a particularly coherent vision of an alternate future, and certainly had no unified positions in terms of political or social programs, or even political tactics. CDA encouraged coalition Forum members to reconsider their position to-date to boycott electoral code talks, and more generally take advantage of opportunities for dialogue, if only to obviate EPRDF claims that the opposition refuses to engage, despite offers to discuss a broad range of issues. Responses were mixed, with an implication that decisions on tactics would evolve as the Forum gains more cohesion. It is unclear at this point whether the Forum’s lack of engagement in fact reflects a policy decision, or is a default result of an inability to reach a consensus position. In general, internal division and an inability to-date to offer a compelling alternative governance program suggests a relative weak opposition ability to challenge, or possibly even erode, the EPRDF,s solid lock on the Ethiopian political system in 2010. End summary.
¶2. (SBU) On September 22, CDA, DCM, and EmbOffs met with representatives of each of the eight political parties that comprise the Forum for Democratic Dialogue representatives. The guests were: Professor Beyene Petros – Chairman, United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), Dr. Merera Gudina – Chairman, Oromo Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Bekele Jerata – Secretary General, Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw – Acting Chairman, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDF), Gebru Asrat – Chairman, Arena Tigray, Dr. Negasso Gidada – Former President of Ethiopia, Seeye Abraha – Former Defense Minister, Boh Hussein – Chairman, Somali Democratic Alliance Forces (SoDAF), Tilahun Endashaw – Chairman, Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Union (SEPDU), Guesn Gebresalassie – Chairman, Ethiopian Democratic Union Movement (EDUM), and Hadmina Mohammed – Vice Chairman, Ethiopian Democratic Union Movement (EDUM).
Opposition Committed to Peaceful Struggle Despite Odds
——————— ——————— ———-
¶3. (C) UEDP Chairman Beyene Petros said that the Forum stands by the Ethiopian constitution and is committed to a peaceful, non-violent struggle for political change. Former President of Ethiopia and Independent Parliamentarian Dr. Negasso Gidada stressed that the Forum stands for the same democratic principles that the ruling EPRDF claims to stand for, but that the EPRDF,s persistent willingness to violate the rule of law to ensure its dominance of Ethiopia’s political and economic space is an offense to the constitution and Ethiopian people. Several of the participants said they consider the Ethiopian Government’s (GoE) actions since 2005 – including adoption of the media law, CSO law, electoral law, political parties registration law, and banking law – to reflect this EPRDF will to monopolize political space. Participants emphasized that they do not want to overthrow the GoE but rather seek, against admittedly long odds, a level political playing field for the coming 2010 national elections. They insisted the opposition could win an election held under those conditions because Ethiopians would not support the ruling party unless coerced. All expressed a desire for more active international community support, and all were ready to supply extensive example of EPDRF intimidation and abuses.
¶4. (C) Participants explained the Forum’s common political
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agenda, which includes striving for the separation of powers in government, an independent judiciary, an apolitical security and defense apparatus that is responsive to the state, broad-based economic growth, and free and fair elections. Beyond this statement of adherence to admirable general principles, however, there were few specifics regarding alternative programs or policies for Ethiopia,s future. Insofar as at least some members did have such ideas, there appeared to be little unanimity among the opposition leaders as to what these proposals should be.
Little Optimism for Free and Fair 2010 Elections
¶5. (C) Detailing the Forum view that the electoral playing field is tilted in favor of the EPRDF, representatives from the Oromo and Somali opposition parties said that the GoE and EPRDF keep opposition sympathizers in a state of intimidation by regularly arresting supporters and claiming they are members of the insurgent Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). OFDM Secretary General Bekele Jirata, who was arrested in October 2008 and accused supporting the OLF, told EmbOff that his recent imprisonment and ongoing trial is baseless. OPC Chairman Merera Gudina complained of consistent arrests of his supporters in Western Oromiya and the use of National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) as a tool of political oppression. He also said that his constituents are growing more and more disillusioned with peaceful struggle in the face of oppression and are increasingly advocating for change through other options. (Note: During a field visit by PolOff, to Western Oromiya earlier this year, several OPC members complained to PolOff of severe harassment, beatings, and arbitrary arrests of OPC leadership and members by local authorities. End Note.) Merera said that if the coming electoral process is not at least partially credible, the opposition will not engage in future elections because it will unnecessarily put its supporters at risk.
¶6. (C) Citing as evidence of the GoE’s lack of respect for the rule of law, UDJ Acting Chairman Gizachew Shiferaw raised the continued detention of Birtukan Mideksa (UDJ Chairperson), noting that the Prison Commission has still not honored the High Court,s April 15 decision to grant her full access to visitors. He lamented that after nine months of virtually solitary confinement, the international community, including the U.S., has still not even publicly protested her detention. Gizachew also pointed to Birtukan’s case as an example of the lack of separation of powers, as the executive branch also serves informally as the investigating and enforcing arm of the GoE.
Code of Conduct Talks Move Into Implementation Phase
¶7. (C) Explaining why the Forum walked out of the Code of Conduct talks, UEDP’s Beyene Petros said that the EPRDF had refused to discuss the unpermissive political environment in which the code of conduct would be implemented. The Forum was not willing to allow their presence at the talks to serve as a tool for the EPRDF to claim to the international community that they consulted opposition parties. Based on past experiences, Forum representatives felt strongly that their recommendations would not be accepted by the GoE. Beyene cited examples of a previous inter-party dialogue in 2006 and engagements over the National Electoral Board in 2006, when opposition comments and recommendations were rejected. He also cited what he said was a standing practice in Parliament in which the EPRDF rejects all opposition comments and recommendations and then presents its conclusions, and argues that it was developed with full consent/consultation with the opposition. Independent Parliamentarian and Former Minister of Defense Seeye Abraha noted that particularly with Meles going to the UNGA, the Forum was unwilling to give him the opportunity to claim that the ruling party was productively engaged in discussions with the opposition. Building on these points, some of the leaders asserted that a full range of issues needed to be discussed. The CDA noted that discussions are indeed needed, but to be held need to have discussants at the table.
CDA Encourages Parties to Engage
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¶8. (C) CDA encouraged the opposition leaders to engage with the EPRDF on election issues, in the interests of seeking to advance a democratic process, as well as more practically precluding the EPRFD to claim the high ground with its own outreach and transparency efforts. A failure to engage risked handing an easy victory to the EPRDF. To replies that the Forum had twice written to the EPRDF to propose agenda items for the Code of Conduct talks only to receive no replies, CDA suggested that the opposition leaders develop a broader array of political tools because a walkout that has hardly been noticed by the public leaves them little room to maneuver. The CDA suggested the leaders consider, for example, agreeing on issues of common ground, while potentially reserving full agreement pending discussion of related issues, including important &implementation8 provisions. (Comment: The opposition claim of a lack of EPRDF response is a bit disingenuous; in that EPRDF leaders have told various diplomats that they have compromised, agreeing to discuss a broad range of issues of general interest, including prisoners, media rights, etc. in the &multilateral8 electoral code talks. International observers have been present at these talks. The Forum, however, has to-date insisted that the talks on other issues be confined to &bilateral8 talks including only the EPRDF and the Forum. End comment).
Opposition Questions U.S. Commitment to Core Values
¶9. (C) OPC Chairman Merera Gidina frankly questioned U.S. commitment to core democratic values. He said that several opposition leaders had hoped that with a new administration the U.S. would have "broken from seeming blind support for, and lack of public criticism of, the EPRDF" despite the clear anti-democratic and authoritarian actions of the GoE. Other participants complained that while the U.S. claims to be engaging in quiet diplomacy with the GoE on political space, they have yet to see the impact of that approach. Some also recognized that Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa more broadly, face security problems, but agreed that without human rights, democracy, and respect for the voice of the people, security will be compromised in any case.
Elements of Opposition Urge U.S. to Cut Humanitarian Assistance
———- ———————– ——————-
¶10. (C) Vice-Chairman of the Somali Democratic Alliance Forces Boh Houssein expressed disapproval of continued U.S. humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia. He felt that continued U.S. food aid would enable the EPRDF to remain in power and use humanitarian assistance as a political tool, asserting that cutting off international assistance was essential to Ethiopia’s democratization process. He added that despite massive U.S. foreign assistance to Ethiopia, he felt that the U.S. did not lay out adequate expectations of what it wanted or expected from the GoE in response. (Note: Several opposition leaders have expressed this sentiment to EmbOffs recently on different occasions, claiming that U.S. assistance enables the GoE to continue harming the Ethiopian people. End Note.)
Forum Keeps Growing
¶11. (C) Two uninvited guests arrived at the luncheon with Boh Hussein — Guesh Gebreselassie and Hadima Mohammed, Chairman and Vice Chair, respectively of the Ethiopian Democratic Union Movement (EDUM). Both are new members of the Forum. Post welcomed them in the interest of achieving representation from all corners of the still-evolving Forum, which now comprises the eight parties represented at this lunch. The parties themselves are approximately two years old. Guesh told Deputy PolEconCouns that EDUM currently had offices in Addis Ababa and Bahadar and is planning to open a third in Gonder.
¶12. (C) The Forum plans to hold its first general assembly on October 9 in order to ratify a common platform, vote on bylaws, and set the stage for a formal application to
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register as a political entity. Since each of the eight component parties of the Forum are already registered, the National Electoral Board would seem to have little grounds for denying legal status to the larger group. The component parties differ greatly on fundamental issues such as reform of land ownership and the right of regional secession, and it is not at all clear that the Forum can define a common electoral platform. The Forum’s general assembly promises to be the first serious test of its capacity to organize itself into a coherent whole that can find a message that resonates with the public, raise money, and generally emerge as a credible alternative to the EPRDF.
¶13. (C) The Forum,s action to boycott the electoral code talks are counterproductive in terms of a democratic process, and for that matter their own interests as they are de facto ceding high ground to the EPRDF. The apparent lack of unity within the Forum and the lunch discussion at the CMR, however, raised the question of whether the boycott was in fact a Forum decision, or perhaps a default action, representing a Forum inability to reach a decision on the mode or specifics of engaging. Either way, it suggests a weakness that augurs poorly for the Forum, and perhaps the opposition more broadly, to present a compelling case or pursue effective tactics to challenge meaningfully the EPRDF in the 2010 elections, or possibly even erode the EPRDF,s solid lock on the political scene. Our own message to encourage the Forum to reconsider its position parallels that of the British, who were instrumental in getting the talks started. We are coordinating with other diplomatic missions to ensure complementary messages to the EPRDF and opposition to the maximum extent possible both on the immediate talks, and with an eye on the electoral process more generally as the season progress. End comment.
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