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The Limits of Forgiveness

The Limits of Forgiveness

 

Dawit Elias 06-27-18

 

Mercy, detached by justice, becomes unmerciful.

 

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, felt compelled to open the prisons and release thousands of people charged and convicted under the Terrorism Act of 2006. Along with these prisoners released were those tried and convicted of public corruption.

 

What is the message being sent to the Ethiopian people from the Office of the Prime Minister?

 

Ginbot 7 spent years trying to build an army to wage violence against the Ethiopian people, training young men to set off bombs in public places. Their objective was to overthrown the government “by any means necessary.” This included tactics of violence and terror against the very people they claimed to represent.

 

The terrorist organization Ginbot 7 was hosted by none other than Eritrean strongman Isayas Afewerki, a sworn enemy of Ethiopia. Their treason was traded for a safe haven in Asmara where they could sit back and enjoy day-to-day life unlike their beleaguered and oppressed Eritrean neighbors. Their access to internet, alcohol and good food kept them comfortable while waiting to “save” the Ethiopian people from the tyrannical EPRDF. All the while, paying obeisance to their Eritrean master.

 

To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister, according to Andargachew Tsige in an interview with the BBC’s Hardtalk, threatened to resign if Andargachew was not released from prison. They sealed their friendship with a photo opportunity at the palace, smiling and shaking hands. Why did the Prime Minister risk his office to release a self-confessed terrorist? Why didn’t the Prime Minister just take him from prison straight to the airport and send him home to Great Britain, the country that issued his passport? Why was he given a hero’s welcome after betraying his country and his people?

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This is the same man who publicly expressed his desire to dig up the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and beat him in the streets. Welcome to the palace, Andargachew Tsige.

 

Also released from prison are people trued and convicted of public corruption. How will the Prime Minister and his government address corruption when there are no legal consequences of corruption? The message is loud and clear: you can be corrupt with impunity!

 

The Prime Minister is trying to appease everyone who had a grievance with the previous leadership. At the Parliament last week, Prime Minister Abiy, when questioned about the release of terrorists such as Andargachew Tsige, replied that the government itself engaged in terrorist activities. But the prime Minister was an official—a high level member of the Cabinet—of the very government he indicted at the legislature. Did he speak up and protest? Did he resign his position? Why was he silent?

 

It is easy to say things to please people. In the current political atmosphere, anything that disparages past governments seems to be welcome by many people in Ethiopia. It is human nature, and not the best of our human nature, to look for villains and scapegoats to elevate another.

 

More difficult is the nuts and bolts of governing, especially in a country like Ethiopia where 100 million people live together in diverse communities and compete for scarce resources.

 

Yet leadership means making the hard decisions that come with governance.

 

Releasing people charged and convicted of violent acts has an impact on their local communities. While most people think of the youth—many still students of recent graduates—who took part in the disturbances during the past several years, what about more hardened purveyors of violence and destruction?

 

Berhanu Nega and his band of terrorists are welcome back into the country to participate in politics. What happens when they become unhappy with the prime Minister and his government? Will he take up arms inside the country; calling upon the terrorist “cells” Neamin Zeleke talks about during his interviews? Will Ginbot 7 walk back from the violence they have rained on the Ethiopian people for the last decade?

 

In a country where the people assume that every government official is corrupt, releasing those tried and convicted is sending a mixed message. Is the prime Minister implying that these corrupt officials were not corrupt at all but victims of a corrupt government? Are corrupt officials today becoming more boldface in their public theft in the absence of legal consequences?

 

The Prime Minister talks again and again about forgiveness. It is a quality every person should strive to attain. Yet, Ethiopians, at first enthralled with this new political discourse, are beginning to ask about the dividing line between church, or mosque, and state. Our priests and imams are expected to exhort us to forgive transgressions against us. However, our political leaders need to temper forgiveness with out national interests and the public good.

 

Governance is not easy. It means making decisions that cannot please everyone in a society of plural interests. It means making policies that are based on the best evidence of their advantages available—with some political considerations as well.

 

No one wants to see the new Prime Minister fail. If he fails, Ethiopia fails. The Prime Minister needs to consider more careful the impact of his generosity on the broad masses of the Ethiopian people and curb his embrace of those who wish to do Ethiopia harm.


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