Ethiopian American Forum

Senator Feingold failed to make impartial assessment of Ethiopia.

Senator Feingold failed to make impartial assessment of Ethiopia.
Mekonnen Kassa                                                                   

 March 5. 2008

On March 3, 2008, Wisconsin Senator Feingold took the respected Senate floor to spread fear citing unconfirmed "credible accounts", to defame the Ethiopian government, and to declare his cynical appraisal of state of affairs in Ethiopia to date as "the political crisis that has been quietly growing and deepening over the past few years may be coming to a head."


Contrary to the Senators alarmist declaration, there is abundant evidence that corroborates the bright direction Ethiopia is headed.  Unless Senator Feingold has been acting like the proverbial ostrich by burying his head in the sand, or got duped, once again, by the ever conniving and power hungry expatriate politicians here in the US, how could he have missed the excellent progress taking place in Ethiopia including the genuine democratization effort, efficient good governance policies, respect for human rights, and outstanding economic development.

Ethiopia's legal institutions, the anchors that keep the democracy ship stable and the backbone of rule of law, are increasingly asserting their independence after 60 years of serving as surrogates for both the monarchy and later the communist junta.  The courts are now in the business of deliberating by interpreting the Ethiopian constitution, and have passed judgments by carefully examining evidence presented to them. 

The judges who presided over the trial of election related violence rendered a guilty verdict against the accused.  Following the traditions and customs of Ethiopia, the elders got involved and mediated a pardon for the convicted criminals.  The Ethiopian government and the Ethiopians elders deserve the full and complete credit for getting the democratic political process back on track after the impasse created after the 2005 election.  But Senator Feingold bestowed it to illegal and infringing pressure of foreign powers as the scheme that secured the pardon and release of imprisoned "opposition leaders."

These so-called opposition leaders are the ones who tried to create resentment between diverse ethnic people of Ethiopia without regard to the "destructive and far-reaching consequences" of their actions.  How come Senator Feingold did not sound his alarm in 2005 when Ethiopia was on the verge of impending ethnic violence?

The Senator conveniently ignored the violent protest in 2005 was instigated by the opposition leaders.  Seven policemen lost their life, public property worth million was destroyed.  The opposition leaders pleaded guilty for their actions and begged for forgiveness from the Ethiopia people, and were subsequently pardoned and released with their citizen right fully restored.

The timing of Senator Feingold's statement could not have been more off the mark.  Right now, Ethiopians are getting ready to hold election for local public offices next month, and the National Election Board (NEB) and the ruling party have done their level best to ensure free and fair election.  Tens of thousands of candidates from a multitude of political parties have registered to contest for these offices.  Both radio and Television air time has been allotted to all proportionately to the number of candidates registered by the respective parties.

Despite the glaring current reality on the ground, in what can be characterized as a mother of all partisan speeches, Senator Feingold mentioned very old tainted incidents to paint an image of the Ethiopian government while elevating the convicted criminals as those whose "pursuit of transparency and democracy was again thwarted, however, when they tried to register their concerns about the election process." 

The Chicken Little like "the sky is falling" speech of Senator Feingold falls flat on its face once one takes a reality check on the political situation in Ethiopia. 

By his deliberately attempt to conceal this fact; Senator Feingold further eroded our confidence in the American congress as the impartial guardian of democracy and rule of law.

The relationship Ethiopia needs, and currently has, not only with US but with the rest of the world is anchored in mutual respect and the protection and promotion of national interest.  As we have said before, democratization of the Ethiopian political system is not done to please any foreign friend or foe.  But it is precisely because it is the only sure system that can guarantee a united and stable existence of Ethiopia for generation to come.

The gentle Senator from Wisconsin stated "the US-Ethiopian partnership is an incredibly important one - perhaps one of the more significant on the continent given not only our longstanding history but also the increasingly strategic nature of our cooperation in recent years.  Ethiopia sits on the Horn of Africa - perhaps one of the roughest neighborhoods in the world, with Somalia a failed state and likely safe haven for terrorists, Eritrea an inaccessible authoritarian regime that exacerbates conflicts throughout the region, Sudan a genocidal regime, and now Kenya descending into crisis. By contrast, Ethiopia seems relatively stable with its growing economy and robust poverty reduction programs."

Albeit, despite his accurate assessment above, the proposed action by him against Ethiopia is in quite contrast to the US interest, and his unfounded accusation against the Ethiopian government of the tendency to portray political dissent as "extremist uprisings" and the government's war against a terrorist organization that murdered 77 civilians as "brutal counterinsurgency operation led by Ethiopia's military in the Ogaden" will end up damaging the US-Ethiopian relationship-the most important US ally in Africa if not the world..

In addition to the interest of Ethiopia's own domestic security, at the invitation of the legitimate government of Somalia, the Ethiopian government is the only party in the world that took action to change the chaos in Somalia and attempting to bring semblance of peace and stability by denying Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic Court Union the total control of Somalia.  I am at a loss what logic Senator Feingold used to accuse "Ethiopia is contributing to increased regional instability." 

Democracy does not flow from the fountain pens of US Senators sitting in mahogany decorated offices located inside the marble halls of US congress.  The real work of takes place far from there and gets done in the huts, valleys and mountains of Ethiopia. 

I like to give Senator Feigngold the benefit of the doubt and assume he may be genuinely concerned about the situation in the Horn of Africa region in general, and the process of democratization in Ethiopia in particular.  But his accusation and condemnation on the Senate floor was grossly distorted and misdirected.  Instead, he should encourage the Ethiopia government and the local opposition to continue working together to cultivate a democratic culture, and at the same time, he should condemn the rightwing Ethiopian Diaspora so called opposition from playing a harmful role.    

In the future, I like to advice Senator Feingold and other congressmen with similar inclinations, to solicit input from all Ethiopians, including Ethiopian government and EPRDF supporter, before taking on the Senate floor and proposing misguided measures be taken that may cause irreparable damage both to the interests of US and Ethiopia.