The Reporter, of course, is owned and published by Amare Aregawi who once was a TPLF official. The news paper is known for its close relationship with the clique currently in power in Ethiopia. “The panel of elders” it referred to is a group of Ethiopians which purportedly secured the release of CUDP (Kinijit) leaders from TPLF dungeon after they were convicted by Melles Zenawi’s court and applied for clemency.
This blogger would have dismissed the news as TPLF propaganda had it not been for the source cited in that news piece. That source is none other than Prof. Ephrem Isaac, the man who heads the supposed “panel of elders” and who also declared “My mother is an Oromo.”
However, given history of the mediator(s) and past TPLF behavior during negotiations /mediations, there is a need for acute awareness of the risks involved in moving into mediation with the TPLF particularly with the good professor and his team as mediator(s) for two reasons.
First, it has often been said that one major factor determining the success of third party mediation efforts is the perceived impartiality of the mediator(s). One of the Standards of Mediation Practice is that “A mediator shall avoid conduct that gives the appearance of partiality towards one of the parties.” As you will see below, the good professor has already failed to meet this standard of mediation practice and has shown partiality toward TPLF.
Second, if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then mediation with TPLF will get no where but will harm the opposition parties and benefit TPLF. In the seventeen years it has been ruling the Ethiopian Empire, the TPLF regime has initiated or held negotiations with various internal opposition groups and liberation fronts. All of these efforts have two things in common. First, none of them came to fruition. Secondly, they all resulted in splitting and weakening the opposition parties and presenting TPLF to the international community as a regime interested in peaceful resolution of conflicts. In all these efforts, mediation was used as a tactic by TPLF without any genuine desire at all to settle the century old political problems of the empire and only to attempt to split the opposition into 'hawks' and 'doves' and force the 'doves' faction of the splintered opposition to join one of TPLF’s PDOs or join TPLF parliament. As you will see shortly, this has happened or has been attempted in almost every mediation/negotiation between the TPLF and its oppositions.
So, who is Prof. Ephrem Isaac? Imagine this.
It is the 1940s. You are born from an Oromo mother. You are uprooted from your birth place in a small town in Oromia at about 13 years of age and taken away to Finifinnee for “education.” At the educational institution you joined, you are probably the only Oromo boy. You are forced to learn the Amhara language because it was the medium of instruction and without it you cannot communicate with others around you. You look all around you and find out that no one speaks your language. Those that you hear speaking it once in a while are ridiculed and laughed at. At such a tender age, you are not old enough to have formed and be comfortable with your identity. You grow up with the feeling that your culture and language are not as good as theirs. No mention of your people’s history in your history class while the Habasha history is glorified. Then you start believing your people have no history or you find your people’s history embarrassing. You want to be like “them.” You try as hard as you can to dissociate yourself from this “embarrassing” history, culture and language. Before you know it, you have become an assimilado. You have become more Habasha than the Habashas around you. They, the habasha masters, are so happy with your performance (academic and assimilation wise) they ship you off to America for further education. You are very grateful and want to make them happier. Once in America you “fall in love with Ethiopian [habasha] culture” all over again. To you Ethiopian costume is the Habasha shammaa, Ethiopian history is Habasha history, Ethiopian food is the Amhara dooroo wax, Ethiopian dance is the Amhara skisttaa, etc …
In short, this is the story of Prof. Ephrem Isaac as gleaned from an interview he once gave to Ethiopian Television Network (ETN) in the Amhara language and other sources. (Listen HERE)
In this interview he proudly talks about “his history” - Abyssinian history. He reminisces about Minilik’s, Yohannes’ and Tekla-haymaanot’s culture of reconciliation with each other but no mention of their crimes against the Oromo and other Southern peoples in the empire. No mention of Oromo peace loving and reconciliation traditions either. Regardless of whether his mother is Oromo or not, Prof. Ephrem’s bias against the Oromo and for the Habasha is in the open.
Even with in the Habasha society, I doubt Prof. Ephrem can be considered an unbiased mediator.
In the same interview, the good professor rains praises on Melles Zenawi as a very bright, intelligent and “libbe saffii” leader. This is a man who presented the heads of the CUDP leaders on a silver platter to Melles Zenawi. He has also been lobbying the united states congress against “H.R. 2003- Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007” (Read about it HERE)
It is one thing to move into mediations with the help of well-meaning and impartial intermediaries and quite another getting involved in one mediated by a third party like Prof. Ephrem Isaac who really is not a mediator but a messenger for one side.
Mediation/Negotiation as a tactic to split the opposition
In 1995 the ONLF split into two over negotiations with the EPRDF. The “hawks” under the leadership of Sheik Abrahim Badalla continued armed struggle, while the “doves” led by Bashir Abdi Hassan joined the EPRDF after merging with the Pro-TPLF Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL) of Abdulmejid Hussein. “TPLF succeeded in fragmenting the ONLF by engaging its more moderate members in negotiations and into the region’s patronage and spoils system.” (Read HERE)
In 1997, TPLF engaged ARDUF in negotiations. The negotiation resulted in splitting ARDUF. The “hawks” continued the struggle, while the “doves” led by Muhyadin Maftah Kedir (The Deputy Secretary General of ARDUF who was arrested in Djibouti where he was undergoing medical treatment and spent one year in TPLF prison.) signed peace agreement with EPRDF. The peace agreement died after TPLF tried to force this faction of ARDUF to merge with the pro-TPLF Afar People’s Democratic Organization (APDO).
After many failed attempts at splitting the OLF, TPLF succeeded in 2001. According to observers of Oromo politics, the 2001 OLF split traces its roots back to a letter signed by the ‘doves’ group of the OLF leadership in early 1998 accepting TPLF pre-conditions in an effort jump start negotiations. The two preconditions TPLF always insisted, and continues to insist, upon are acceptance of the TPLF constitution and renouncing armed struggle. When the “doves” signed the pre-conditions, the “hawks” opposed it and convened OLF general Assembly in “Southern Oromia.” But by then the damage has already been done. The “hawks” vs. “doves” dichotomy has already set in. It is said that OLF never recovered from that division. Then, in 2000, came another olive branch to TPLF from the “doves” in the OLF leadership in the form of “Agenda for peace.” OLF’s “Agenda for Peace” became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and led to its final split.
Then there is Kinijit. First came the UEDP-MEDHIN (Lidetu Ayalew’s party) split from CUDP (Coalition for Unity and Democracy.) According to many observers, Lidetu was engaged in negotiations with TPLF long before the split. Eventually, Lidetu and his party joined the TPLF parliament.
A word to the wise
Obviously, mediation/negotiation is a civilized way of resolving differences. In politics mediation/negotiation can be brutal. However, that is no reason to avoid them. On the other hand, past dialogues and negotiations with TPLF achieved nothing and undermined the oppositions’ organizational unity. Conversely, they strengthened TPLF politically and diplomatically. If you are going to engage in negotiations/mediations with TPLF, obviously; (a) The need for unbiased and impartial mediator(s) is paramount; (b) the risk of exposing your group to the danger of internal splits should be upper most in your minds.
Remain united to win.