By Ethiopia Yegna
August 2, 2007 — The best news so far from Ethiopia in 2007 has been the partial release of political prisoners, mostly of the leadership of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). These leaders have been victims of a cunningly vicious dictator, causalities of chains of stormy events and the helpless saviors of a people under bondage.
However, the regime that thought it would interrupt their momentum and support found that their imprisonment had a solidifying effect on the opposition it faced and a justification for its immorality. Their release was as imminent as the light of day as the regime found it unsustainable in the face of the domestic isolation it faced and the growing contempt from the international community.
Now that part of the leadership of the CUD has been released, what would be their next step. That questions seems to linger in the minds of all Ethiopians. Considering the ice-cold brutality of the Meles regime (why does Meles has a softer image than Mengistu – because of his light-skin or because of his expensive suits?), it would not be hard to imagine the difficulty that these leaders are in.
But what is that the people expect from these leaders? In short, it is nothing more than what people desire and expect from any government on earth. We expect these leaders to bring the administrative apparatus in Ethiopia to a state where the people would be the decision makers and the government is the tool through which the will of the people would be enforced. To elaborate on this, I am afraid we have to return to the basics.
What is Government?
Government, for a starter, is the apparatus through which the people exercise authority in a microcosm. So how did it start? Initially, peoples of the world were living in a fluid state of existence where no one wielded authority and no one was above or below anybody. But with the diversification of communities and the growing complexity of their relations, there arose the need to have a solid structure where a group of people should oversee and enforce authority to bring about order, predictability and direction for communities.
In a fairytale kind of way, it was when Adam and Eve and their descendants sought that the various communities needed a structure where their social, communal and collective needs and desires shall be met that they came to devise ways of implementing such. Hence, as people came to see that they needed to institute an apparatus responsible for the welfare of citizens through programs in public health and public housing and pensions and unemployment compensation and to counter any attacks against their safety from criminals and foreign incursions. Thus, people from different constituencies gathered and agreed to hire a group of people among them to be their servants to provide public services and to uphold law and order. In the west, they call this group of people as public servants or civil servants (“Ye’hizb geredoch”).
To complete the full circle, the citizens agreed to pay the expenses for these public servants by paying the public servants in the form of taxes. This tax money is to be strictly used by public servants to build schools, clinics, roads and to purchase guns to protect citizens from criminals and outside forces. But what is the taxpayer’s money used for in Ethiopia? Are not the guns bought by citizens used to mow down the citizen himself?
When citizens gathered from different constituencies to establish government, they were concerned that the public servants for whom they are to give authority and tax money would abuse the trust they bestow upon them. Hence, they thought to write a form of social contract where they would limit the powers of the public servants. So when citizens hired these servants, they made clear that there are territories where the public servants cannot cross. Thus they signed this contract in the form of a Constitution where they said that the servants could not abuse the right of the citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In most constitutions, the citizens stated that the servant called government cannot arrest, detain kill or harm a citizen without cause; the servant called government cannot stop people from speaking or writing their opinion; that the servant called government cannot prohibit citizens from forming organization; the servant called government cannot stop people from exercising their right to change their servants…. Thus in the Constitution, it is the citizens who write what the servant called government can and cannot do, and not the other way around. Additionally, citizens stated how the servant named government comes and goes in elections and how elected representatives are keeping the interest of citizens. Thus, it is understood that people who pay taxes shall have their elected representatives (“enderasiewoch”) who would make sure the servant is doing its job and using the tax money properly. The Constitution is a respectful document where citizens list the instructions to their servant named government. It is not the other way around. So, when regimes act like they received the Constitution from above like Moses received the 10 Commandments to intimidate their subjects, it means there is something wrong.
Taxation Without Representation
That is why it is stated that citizens whose elected representatives are not working for them have the right not to pay taxes. Thus follows the maxim that “Taxation Without Representation is Illegal!” That means, it is illegal to force people to pat taxes if they do not have elected representatives or enderasiewoch. That is what is meant by democracy roughly defined as the “rule of the people.”
So What do Leaders Do?
So it is under this context that political leaders come to the scene. Political Leaders are the vehicles through whom the government is ensures its true meaning – that of being the servant of the people. What grand cause than bringing governments to their natural and proper place?
In Ethiopia, the CUD leaders, by choice or by chance, are called upon by the people to redefine the meaning of “Seyoume Egziabher”, “Mengiste”, “Balesiltan” and the likes, which put the Servant named Government above the Lord named the Citizen. However difficult the path to power could be for a given group, the institution of government is not an inheritance of blood, iron or virtue. It is the property of the people and any blood, iron or virtue does not warrant the ownership of the institution to a group but to the rightful owners – citizens. The people of Ethiopia shall be the owners of their destinies. They shall fight to ensure that the both hold their natural places – the Government to be the Servant, and the Citizen to be the Lord.
CUD and the Fight for Democracy
The struggle to redefine the role of government is the fight of all citizens, inside and outside the folds of the government. That is the only way through which permanent security and freedom for all could be ensured.
In Ethiopia, the human and democratic rights of citizens are being mutilated by the EPRDF government. We are being killed, maimed and abused with the Kalashnikovs we bought for our protection. Our tax money is funding the killers and abusers of our rights. Our elected representatives are arrested and released at whim. The institutions of courts, Parliament, ministries, commissions… are being used wrongly or improperly. What more is there than to be a leader of such subjugated people?
In Ethiopia, the government of the EPRDF, which was naturally meant to be a tax-collector for the benefit of the people is submerged in a systemic sickness of corruption by being a business entity itself. In the Constitution, citizens warranted their servants named government to collect tax and work for them. To the contrary, EPRDF is engrossed in money making businesses while it itself is a tax paying entity while at the same time being a tax collecting entity. Here comes the systemic fallacy of this government – swimming in a conflict of interest. Have you ever seen a football referee who is playing for one of the teams? That is the EPRDF which is involved in business whereas it is supposed to be a regulator of the economy.
Hence, this is the basic desire of a citizen under siege? Leaders are catalysts to the struggle of the people. Leaders are meant to take sacrifices and ponder and implement practical strategies. It could take time but, in the end, the people are the winners. We call upon our peoples inside and outside the country to spearhead the struggle of the people for the respect of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
*The author is based in Ethiopia, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.