The Paradox of History: When Chauvinists Shift Positions and Forge Unholy Alliances

I always have said to my friends and colleagues in the academia that history, at intervals, comes up with surprises and the latter are often revealed when relatively unpredictable phenomenon appears on the horizon and when what is brewing in a given political crisis is not clearly perceived. What we are witnessing at this juncture of Ethiopian history is a more obscure political atmosphere in which chauvinist actors seemingly have taken center stage in politics, especially among the Ethiopian Diaspora.
The Ethiopian chauvinists are a rare breed of opportunists, shamefaced, undignified, and without remorse, but it looks they have now created a new political agenda under the guise of Ethiopian-Eritrean relations. These actors, who were either Derg members, that is, comrades-in-arms with the Henchman Mengistu HaileMariam who presided over the Red Terror and consumed an entire generation of Ethiopians; or ex-Mesione members who were advisors and mentors to the Derg but who later became victims of the man-eating Megistu politics; or former EPRP members, who were the number one enemy of the Derg and who resolutely fought for a people’s democratic Ethiopia, but have now created a rainbow coalition of unholy alliance with Eritrea. All the above groupings, of course, don’t represent organizations, but they are engaged in politics fraught with drawbacks and contradictions. Just few years ago, they adamantly opposed the secession and/or independence of Eritrea to the extent of rejecting the new Ethiopian map without Eritrea and continued to uphold the old Ethiopian map that includes Eritrea in all their illustrious flyers, memos, circulars, websites, street demonstrations, and conferences. These flag-waving demagogues and charlatans have now turned 360⁰ and began to recognize Eritrean sovereignty, but they use to condemn some of us who supported Eritrean independence and the self-determination of Ethiopian nationalities. Surprisingly, these newly born politicians have now become advocates for Eritrean nationhood.

I very well understand that principles and political expediency conflict and political actors could careless of moral principles. Writing on ‘courage and resistance’, Susan Sontag once wrote, “while everyone one professes to have them [the perennial destiny of principles], they are likely to have sacrificed when they become inconveniencing. Generally a moral principle is something that puts at variance with accepted practice.”1

So, it looks that the Ethiopian destabilizing marauding forces that have now forged unholy alliance with Eritrea, have encountered tremendous impediment and inconvenience in their attempt to attack or unseat the EPRDF Government, and resorted to trampling over principles, and wittingly or unwittingly, they have chosen to undermine the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.

Some of these charlatans are extremely naïve and they suffer from the paradox of mental vision. Their presentations are full of incongruous and infantile texts, for I can see their limited scope in understanding the complex Horn of Africa politics. Some of them, who just yesteryear use to tell us that Isaias Afeworki was the number one enemy of Ethiopia, are now telling us that he is the best friend of Ethiopia. Some of them have gone further against all powers of reason and history and explicitly stated that Ethiopia is dependent on foreign (Western) powers while Eritrea remains independent, and for her stance she is paying a price.

Do these people understand the political history of our modern world? If they do, they must have some sense of the essence of contemporary world history. They must grapple with the hard fact that only China (and to some extent India and Brazil that are staggering to become fully independent) has escaped Western dominance, and the rest of the Third World countries, in one form or another, are dependent on the still powerful European nations and the United States. This unfortunate global political phenomenon continues in the form of hegemony (as opposed to naked colonialism) and it does not uniquely affect Ethiopia; it affects it in conjunction with all other countries that are collectively known as developing countries, and most certainly Eritrea could not escape this fate and encounter of history. In fact, just recently Eritrea got financial aid from the European Union and the latter’s gesture definitely has strings attached to it and that entails Eritrea’s dependence on European powers.

As far as I am concerned, the chauvinists’ admiration of the Eritrean leader is meant to demonstrate their nascent friendship to him in return for a favor, but they will not be successful. They don’t know Isaias, but he has studied them carefully and craftily. He is that good! He may offer them some material and moral support but he knows too well that they are not in a position to overthrow the Ethiopian government by means of armed struggle, a guerrilla warfare that he himself mastered in the past but knows that it is outmoded and antiquated now. Thus, whatever admiration the chauvinists extend to the Eritrean head of state, he will not be impressed.

In the ESAT sponsored conference of “Ethiopia-Eritrea Relations”, in light of the presentations and arguments the panelists forwarded to their audience, I have come to conclude that the speakers have constructed their own political world behind a wall of intellectual detachment.

To further elaborate the above rationale, I like to involve Michael G. Schatzberg, who, in no uncertain terms, tells us that sometimes we can confuse our mental perception with reality and enter into the realm of delusion. This is how Schatzberg puts it: “at the risk of vast oversimplification, people can and do construct a phenomenon, believe in its existence and then act on their perceptions and beliefs, then – at least for them – the phenomenon in question is very much a reality.”2

When these so-called Ethiopian opposition groupings realize that their perception is a mere mental construct that does not correspond to reality, they will understand that the paradox they have entered into is a self-negating condition; and they will also recognize that they have reached a vanishing point; a dead end. That will be the day!

I may have indigestible differences with the panel of chauvinists, but I believe they are entitled to their opinion and ideas, although I still maintain they are on the wrong track of history. I also believe that they will not accomplish any meaningful goal given their present political agenda, and as a result they could neither redeem nor mend the damaged Ethiopian-Eritrean relations. Contrary to their agenda that ring hollow, I strongly believe the Ethiopian and Eritrean relations could be repaired if the following criteria are met:

1. Conflict resolution between Ethiopia and Eritrea could be realized only via peaceful means and not through armed struggle or violence.

2. Negotiations and dialogue should be conducted between the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments by their own initiative or with the help of a third party, preferably the United States or the US and China. The African Union (AU) would have been an ideal mediator, but given the complex global scenario and Africa’s disadvantaged position in the global arena, the AU would continue to countenance a weak political role even in resolving African problems. This is not to justify Africa’s own weaknesses but to contextually highlight Africa’s paradoxical position in global affairs.

3. Preliminary talks between Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities should take place before a full-fledged Negotiation and dialogue involve the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments; more specifically between the two delegations led by Prime Minister HaileMariam of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea.

4. If possible, talks between the Ethiopian and Eritrean people should be conducted in order to reinforce official negotiations. Involving the people could have two advantages: a) the people will have a chance in determining their future in due course of the official dialogue; b) the people-to-people talks could create a fertile ground for a meaningful and constructive negotiation.

5. The negotiation and dialogue should take place in a neutral country and/or city for the comfort and confidence of the two parties. By way of suggestion, the ideal venue could be Nairobi, Khartoum, or Cairo; or any other venue (e.g. Abidjan, Dakar, Pretoria etc.) of the two parties choosing.

6. The Ethiopian and Eritrean negotiating diplomats should not create unnecessary preconditions and lame excuses, if indeed they will commit themselves to a meaningful and lasting peace for Ethiopia and Eritrea and for the Horn of Africa region, a troubled region whose peoples desperately yearn for peace.

7. The negotiating Ethiopian and Eritrean diplomats should use the dialogue and negotiation roundtable as a golden opportunity to seize the moment and go beyond mere peaceful talks and agree rather on joint development agendas, trade exchanges, regional security etc.

8. Both Ethiopian and Eritrean negotiating delegations should ignore and avoid the so-called pandering opposition and initiate a genuine dialogue in an effort to once and for all resolve the antagonistic & inimical relationship between the two countries.

As I have discussed in my book, peaceful coexistence begins with the principle of negotiation, and that, in turn, “entails group discussion and collective plan based on mutual respect and benefit. …In the event of a problem, a common discussion platform is employed to overcome any real or perceived encounter. The principle of negotiation is followed by the cooperation game and the ultimate objective is to benefit equally, win concurrently even after some exchange of propaganda and/or satire.”3 It is in this spirit that the Ethiopian and Eritrean peace dialogue and negotiation should be initiated.

Recommendation for Ethiopia and Eritrea dialogue and round table negotiations may imply hope against hope for cynics, but we cannot dismiss it as an impossible deadlock. Anything is possible, and if at all the negotiation is ushered between the two countries, their respective negotiating diplomats are best advised to explore “topics such as hard-bargaining vs. problem-solving approaches, interests vs. positions, coercive leverage vs. normative leverage, short-term agreements vs. long-term agreements,”4 as the US Peace Institute aptly puts it.

Finally, I just want to express my concerns in regards to the overall unstable Horn of Africa region and convey my modest message to the peoples in the region. I have written several articles on conflict resolution in relation to Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, and Zimbabwe, and the leitmotif in all these articles was the significance of alternative perspectives of the negotiating parties, but most importantly I have underscored what the dynamics of negotiations should be, and that they must also lead toward constructive outcomes via collaboration and peace engaging political language.

Notes:

1. Susan Sontag, “Courage and Resistance”, The Nation, May 5, 2003, p. 12

2. Michael G. Schatzberg, Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa, Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 3

3. Ghelawdewos Araia, Ethiopia: Democracy, Devolution of Power, and the Developmental State, Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), 2013, p. 40

4. United States Institute of Peace, “Negotiation: Shaping the Conflict Landscape,” online course.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) 2015. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for educational and constructive feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org

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