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Is the Velvet Glove Coming Off the Iron Fist to Face Mob Anarchy in Ethiopia? Professor Al Mariam

Let’s help PM Abiy Ahmed fight fake news and disinformation. ጠቅላይ ሚኒስትር አብይ አሕመድን የዉሸት ወሬዎች እና የማወናበጃ መረጃዎችን በመዋጋት  እናግዛቸው!

Throwing the gauntlet of the rule of law

For weeks, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been hectored, lectured and exhorted to “uphold the rule of law”, particularly in Eastern Ethiopia.

The call has come from all sectors — opposition leaders, civil society and human rights  activists, local and foreign journalists, the man and woman in the streets, and most surprisingly, a gathering of top interdenominational religious leaders in the country.

In an unprecedented action in the country’s history, on August 13, 2018, prominent religious leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, the Ethiopian Catholic Church, the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and Ethiopian Kalehiwot Church issued a statement  demanding “the government uphold the rule of law and to take all the necessary steps to stop the violence in different parts of the country.”

They say, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”  And what do we make of the voice of faith leaders?

But lo and behold!

Even the Forces of Darkness have joined the chorus demanding PM Abiy take measures to uphold the rule of law. Their rallying cry today is, “Lawlessness is taking root in the country. The Constitution is being violated.”

Their fake news rumor mill everyday proclaims the country is going to hell in a hand basket.

Why? Because PM Abiy has not taken “action” to deal with those causing death and destruction in certain parts of the country.

Of course, they say nothing about the fact that they are the root cause of the lawlessness and trashing of the constitution.

Abdi Illey, the recently removed president of Somali region in his public confession  fingered and named exactly who is responsible for the violence, death and destruction in Eastern region of Ethiopia.

The alleged lack of “action” by PM Abiy is said to be proof positive that he is a weak, spineless and fainthearted leader who is afraid to face and confront those who are putting the country’s peace, stability and integrity at risk.

PM Abiy did not disappoint

Two days ago, in his statement at a military graduation, PM Abiy did not disappoint. He threw the gauntlet of the rule of law at the “shiftas” (thugs) who have been wreaking havoc, particularly in Eastern Ethiopia.

He took advantage of a military graduation ceremony to send out his message, which sounded more like final warning.

Flanked by the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, General Saere Mekonen clad in battle fatigues, PM Abiy issued a thinly-veiled “don’t push me” last warning to those engaged in anarchy, death and destruction throughout the country.

But PM Abiy was speaking softly in his signature tone of peace and reconciliation. For the first time since taking office in early April, he made it clear that inside the velvet glove he wears is an iron fist.

His message to the “shiftas” (thugs) was unmistakable. “Don’t be fooled by the silky velvet glove on my hand. Don’t test me. Don’t mistake my soft talk about love, reconciliation and peace for wimpiness. There is a solid iron fist you don’t want to see inside my velvet glove.”

He gave the shiftas two choices. “Stop your violence, death and destruction now or our defense forces will drop the sledgehammer on your head hard!”

The Abiy Ahmed we saw in the past few days is unlike the Abiy Ahmed we have seen over the past six months who spoke softly. The Abiy Ahmed we have seen in the past few days still speaks softly but carries a big stick.

For the first time, we saw Abiy Ahmed, the combat veteran, spoke the hard truth softly to hardened thugs in the “thugese” language they understand.

PM Abiy said (author’s translation):

… Those who confuse freedom with anarchy and engage in lawlessness, disregard the rule of law and due process must stop their  street politics of mob justice (rule) must stop. If we weaken the rule of law, tolerate mob rule and allow vigilante justice, we would be adding insult to injury which will result in (social and political) bankruptcy for our blossoming peaceful (democratic) transition. It is the obligation of each and every citizen to know, preserve and uphold the law. In this regard, our defense forces have a double obligation.

The absence of rule of law and a government that tolerates anarchic insurrection will nullify (gravely harm) our country. It must be our daily mission to keep our national unity in a manner consistent with the rule of law. To be modern is to respect the rule of law. Those who refuse to uphold the rule of law will invite dictators who rule with an iron fist, but they will never be victorious.

When I say “Enedemer” (count up/let’s stand together), let us and reconcile and build one (united) country, it does not mean we go into anarchy, disregard the rule of law or allow the proliferation of (shiftas) thugs in the streets.

The aim of our reconciliation is to regain (the freedom) what we have lost and not to destroy what we have preserved. It is the daily obligation of every citizen to love and support our military sacrificing their lives for low pay…

When there was no rule of law in Ethiopia

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The clearest way to show what the Rule of Law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no Rule of Law.”

Let us recall the past 27 years without the rule of law in Ethiopia.

There was one-man, one party rule.

There was rule by dictat.

There was rule of the jungle/bush.

There was rule by a kleptocracy.

There was ethnic apartheid rule.

There was rule by a state of emergency and command post.

The rule was shoot first and ask questions later.

But there was never the rule of law in Ethiopia over the past 27 years.

They trashed their supreme law of the land, their constitution. Now, they moan, groan and whine about “constitution is being violated”.  They demand respect for the rule of law. They are like the proverbial Ethiopian wolf priest who prays among lambs.

When there is rule of law in Ethiopia

Today, for the first time in living memory, Ethiopia is experiencing the rule of law under a young leader.

The Economist two days ago wrote, “Abiymania Ethiopians are going wild for Abiy Ahmed.”

Ethiopians love Abiy Ahmed so much they become hysterical and exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they don’t see him in public for a just a few days.

Why do the people of Ethiopia love Abiy Ahmed?

Because his entire world view is based on the rule of law.

For Abiy Ahmed, keeping tens of thousands of citizens as political prisoners is against the rule of law. What did he do? He emptied the jails of political prisoners!

For Abiy Ahmed, arresting and jailing journalist and shuttering newspapers and other independent media is against the rule of law. What did he do? He opened the media wide open and invited opposition media outside of the country to come and open an office.

For Abiy Ahmed, violently clamping down on opposition leaders and parties, harassing and intimidating is against the rule of law. What did he do? He gathered opposition leaders and pleaded with them to come together, organize and be ready for a fair and free election in 2020.

For Abiy Ahmed using a bogus anti-terrorism law to suppress all opposition is against the rule of law. What did he do? He issued amnesty to all persons accused of terrorism.

For Abiy Ahmed guilt by association and collective punishment are against the rule of law.

In 2008, the Meles Zenawi/TPLF regime, following an attack on Chinese-run oil installation in Somali Region by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), launched a scorched earth policy of guilt by association and collective punishment.

Human Rights Watch reported, Meles Zenawi’s regime launched a “brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the five zones of Somali Region primarily affected by the conflict: Fiiq, Korahe, Gode, Wardheer, and Dhagahbur. In these zones the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have deliberately and repeatedly attacked civilian populations in an effort to root out the insurgency.”

What does Abiy Ahmed believe? An indiscriminate campaign of counterinsurgency that deliberately and repeatedly attacks civilian populations in an effort to root out an insurgency is against the rule of law.

What does Abiy Ahmed want to do? He wants to bring to the bar of justice each and every shifta (thug), street criminals and looter who is responsible for causing violence, death and destruction and the fat cat criminals who

have used their official positions and stolen wealth to support, organize and financing the violence, death and destruction.

In 2009, 40 individuals accused of planning to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc” were all convicted in kangaroo courts and given long prison sentences. At the time, I wrote, “There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested for  committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for two more weeks to gather additional evidence.”

Police officials accused of involvement in a failed assassination attempt on PM Abiy in June 2018 are today free on nominal bail. Two persons died in that cowardly attempt and more than 160 were injured.

There is definitely rule of law in Ethiopia under the Abiy Ahmed administration!

Rule of law is not a suicide pact

When push comes to shove and shove becomes death, destruction and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, the velvet glove must be taken off and the street and official criminals must not be allowed to escape the long arm of the law.

The late distinguished Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who also served as Chief United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II,  reflecting on the rule of law – the American Bill of Rights – mob violence and riots wrote that civil liberty does not mean “crowds who engage in riot and looting cannot be subjected to restraints” or that

all local attempts to maintain order are impairments of the liberty of the citizen. The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.

In my view, PM Abiy Ahmed perfectly captured the essence of the rule of law when he warned dire consequences to “those who confuse freedom with anarchy, engage in lawlessness and disregard the rule of law and due process choosing to practice the  street politics of mob justice.”

The principle of the rule of law is not and must not be a suicide pact for Ethiopians.

In defense of the rule of law

I pride myself for two things: 1) speaking truth to power and 2) defending the rule of law.

I do not bite my tongue when it comes to these two things. I always say what I mean and mean what I say. I tell it like it is.

The principle of the rule of law is something that is very special to me.

I have spent a good part of my adult life defending, promoting and litigating the rule of law in American courts.

I have spent as much time teaching it in the classroom and lecturing and sermonizing it in the court of public opinion at least every Monday for the last 13 years.

I have written extensively on the rule of law in Ethiopia and in America.

I have defended the rule of law in the International Criminal Court Forum and relentlessly pursued African criminals against humanity and did everything I could to ensure they faced justice.

I have made a special trip to The Hague to observe the rule of law in action and come face to face with former Congolese general Bosco Ntganda and former Cote d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo, the monstrous criminals against humanity.

I have seen Ntganda and Gbagbo in a rule of law tribunal. Those were the two smallest big men I have seen in my life. When they pretended to be the rule of law —  the givers and takers of life — they looked so big. They were feared for their brutality, cruelty, atrocity and inhumanity.

But sitting just a few feet away from them separated by a plate glass at the ICC, I stared into their eyes as my heart ached and rage roiled in my mind.

All I could see through their eyes were the dead souls of the thousands of people they murdered, massacred and tortured.

How I deeply envied the ICC prosecutor laying out the evidence against Ntganda and Gbagbo.

But I am proud to defend PM Abiy’s conception of the rule of law and his method of preaching and practicing it every day. Last month he said:

Given our current politics, there is no option except pursuing a multiparty democracy supported by strong institutions that respects human rights and rule of law. This will allow us to mediate our differences peacefully and to ensure lasting progress.

I could not have said it better!

The choice is between the rule of law and the rule of the lawless

In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi faced a similar moral dilemma reflected on the use of violence when the alternative choice is cowardice, fear of doing the right thing because of one reason or another. Gandhi said:

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier…But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature….

But I do not believe India to be helpless….I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature….Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

We do want to drive out the beast in the man, but we do not want on that account to emasculate him. And in the process of finding his own status, the beast in him is bound now and again to put up his ugly appearance.

The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence.

In 1939, Gandhi explained further:

For I cannot in any case tolerate cowardice. Let no one say when I am gone that I taught the people to be cowards… I would far rather that you died bravely dealing a blow and receiving a blow than died in abject terror…fleeing from battle is cowardice and unworthy of a warrior… cowardice is worse than violence because cowards can never be non-violent.”

PM Abiy’s message to the beast in shiftas (street/bush thugs) and official criminals organizing and financing the street thugs

The shiftas (thugs), street and official criminals who are wreaking havoc in Ethiopia may mistakenly believe PM Abiy is afraid to take decisive action against them.

They may believe he does not have the guts to hammer them down.

They may underestimate him because he speaks the language of love, peace and nonviolence.

How so sorely mistaken they are!

I have listened to PM Abiy’s speeches over the past few days many times to fully discern his message.

He is acutely aware of the grim realities of using military action to solve a problem that can best be addressed through dialogue, discussion and compromise.

He is acutely aware that military action must be the absolute last resort.

His message to the criminals who are causing violence, death and destruction resonates Gandhi’s prescription.

There always comes the time to deal with the beast in those men who wreak havoc in society.

There always comes a time to deal with those who mistake patience, restraint, good will, moderation, humility, forbearance and leniency for cowardice.

PM Abiy said those thugs and the thugs in designer suits who finance them will never win, but they will surely invite the hand that will lower the hammer down on them.

I would imagine violence is nothing new to a man who spent two decades of his life in combat in the military.

I would imagine violence is nothing new for a man who lost his family members fighting in a war, witnessed his fellow soldiers die in battle before his eyes, witnessed the deaths of thousands of people in a needless border war and stood tall in the face of a bomb thrower.

As Gandhi said, “Forgiveness adorns a soldier.”

Violence is the easiest thing to do. It is nonviolence that is the most difficult.

They say still water runs deep. Those who want to test Abiy Ahmed should tread lightly into the deep.

When push comes to shove, the velvet glove will be taken off

I have never believed in the use of violence to solve any problem.

Those who renounce and abhor violence should not be mistaken as cowards.

Those who believe and practice nonviolence are the most courageous people in the world.

But when the rule of law is flouted, mocked and disregarded, the only alternative becomes the rule of men – nasty, ruthless and bloodthirsty men.

Ethiopians know what it means to have no rule of law over the past 27 years.

Those shiftas (thugs), street and official criminals should take heed. DON’T TREAD ON ABIY AHMED!

Abiy Ahmed wants to take the path of Gandhi.

Abiy Ahmed believes that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence and forgiveness is more manly than punishment.

Abiy Ahmed believes forgiveness adorns a soldier.

Abiy Ahmed also believes abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish.

Ethiopia is not helpless. Abiy Ahmed is not helpless creature. He has 100 million people having his back.

Abiy Ahmed does not believe strength does not come from physical capacity, the power to unleash violence.

Abiy Ahmed believes strength comes from an indomitable will. The will to say to street and official thugs, “We will never give in to your violence, death and destruction. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour, good sense and the rule of law. We will never yield to your violence, death and destruction.”

Abiy Ahmed wants to forgive, not exact vengeance.

Abiy Ahmed wants peace, not war.

Abiy Ahmed wants reconciliation, not bloodshed.

Let’s all join hands with Abiy Ahmed in his blessed mission of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace for all Ethiopians!



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