Saturday, April 30, 2011
Dear participant of the ECDC-CARI conference:
March4Freedom is a civic organisation seeking to contribute to the empowerment of Ethiopians in Ethiopia and abroad to exercise their human rights and rights as citizens and to bring the world attention to the gross human rights abuses, tyranny and oppression of Ethiopians under the current brutal government.
We are concerned and disappointed that you have chosen to share the stage with Ethiopian Ambassador Girma Birru on the conference organised by ECDC-CARI (Ethiopian Development Community-Council – Centre for African Refugees and Immigrants, www.ecdc-cari.org ) to take place on 2-4 May 2011 in Arlington, VA. The Ethiopian government, which Mr. Birru represents in the U.S., is an autocratic dictatorship, with the current ruler, Meles Zenawi, having been in power for the last 20 years, ever since seizing power following the overthrow of a previous dictatorship.
Under Mr. Zenawi's rule, several devastating massacres and mass killings have been committed by the ruling TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front), the party leading the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front). These mass violations of human rights, deaths of innocent civilians, and distruction of poor farmers' livelihoods have been very well documented in the international media such as BBC, New York Times, and many other outlets, by reputed human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and by the annual U.S. Department of State's Human Rights Report. The mass killings of Ethiopian civilians, including the least powerful in society such as impoverished pastoralists and farmers and the urban poor, include the 2003 massacre of a small remote ethnic group, the Anuak (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4379119.stm ), the mass rape of women and children and destruction of livestock of the pastoralists in the Ogaden region (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/17/world/asia/17iht-addis.4.6177525.html ), and the arbitrary murder of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Addis Abeba and the detention and mistreatment of 40,000 in remote malaria infested camps following a rigged election (http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGAFR250192005 , http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/dec/04/ethiopia ). In addition to well-documented large scale atrocities, the Ethiopian dictatorship has engaged in tight control over the population through party leaders of local cells at the sub-village level, eliminated all free press, and tortured NGO workers, human rights advocates, and opposition leaders.
But most relevant of all in the context of this conference: Due to the severe repression by Mr. Zenawi's government, there have been floods of refugees out of Ethiopia in all directions seeking protection from imprisonment, physical abuse or the threat of being killed for the political beliefs they hold or their exercise of their inalienable human rights. Refugees include the Anuak in the Gambella region who have fled to Sudan, Ogadeni Ethiopians who fled to neighbouring Somalia, and masses of human rights defenders who seek refuge in various parts of Africa, Europe, and North America. It strikes us thus as ironic and insulting of all refugees, that the pro-government ECDC-CARI organisation invites the representative of the Ethiopian government, to speak on the plight of refugees. But most of all, we are deeply troubled that ECDC-CARI has succeeded in bringing your respected organisation on board onto the forum together with Mr. Birru, lending him and his government an air of legitimacy to speak with moral authority on the topic, a legitimacy he does not have for the reasons mentioned above. While the also invited South African ambassador represents a free and democratic country which does not brutalise its own people, and does not generate a vast flood of refugees out its country due to repressive tactics, obviously the same can't be said of Mr. Birru and the government he represents.
It may be that you were not aware that you would be speaking on the same platform with Mr. Birru, or it may be that you were not aware of the drastic refugee problems due to the Ethiopian government massacres—although the latter is unlikely given the well-documented nature of the Ethiopian dictatorship. We want to let you know about our concern regarding your appearance with the Ethiopian government on this forum and the fact that you did not steer clear of this unsalutary association, at a time when, in light of the subjugation of citizens across North Africa and the Middle East, respected and legitimate countries and organisations have become more sensitive about actions which may inappropriately connect them to brutal and repressive regimes.
We would be more than happy to discuss this with you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at the below contact information.
Mekdese Kassa, Pharm.D. Kassa Ayalew, M.D., M.P.H
1218 Missouri Avenue, NW,
Office # 3
Washington, DC 2011
All participants of the ECDC-CARI conference
 The references in this letter are only few selected ones, but the amount of evidence is vast and is easily accessible through the internet sites of the relevant media and rights organisations.
Published: April 30, 2011
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — A whiff of North African-style protest came to this sun-baked sub-Saharan capital on Saturday as about a thousand demonstrators descended on a central square to demand the departure of President Blaise Compaoré, who has held power for 24 years in one of the world's poorest countries.
A popular reggae tune, "Quitte le Pouvoir!" or "Give Up Power," the jaunty anthem of African protesters, alternated with a variation of the slogan used in Tunisia four months before: "Blaise, give it up!" Some protesters held up signs comparing Mr. Compaoré, a former army captain who has been regularly re-elected with 80 percent of the vote, to the ousted Tunisian ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Politicians from many of the country's 34 opposition parties joined local pop music stars in a demonstration that lasted for hours under a blazing sun. They condemned Mr. Compaoré's lengthy rule and accused him of corruption and patronage politics. Trucks of friendly soldiers waved to the protesters, many of them young people.
The demonstration came on the heels of two months of ferment among the usually quiet population, as students, soldiers, merchants and most recently the police have all taken to the streets to protest high prices, low wages and Mr. Compaoré's undivided rule in a country that is ninth from the bottom on the United Nations' Human Development Index.
A political crisis in neighboring Ivory Coast — which landlocked Burkina Faso depends on for food shipments — has forced up living costs, adding to the unrest.
The previous protests have been violent, with soldiers rampaging through the capital and provincial cities earlier in April, looting and burning offices of Mr. Compaoré's ruling party, and even co-opting his elite presidential guard. The ruler, who seized power in a 1987 coup, has been shaken: he has dismissed his government, named a former journalist as his new prime minister and met with army officers — he did so on Friday — to promise better pay.
Those measures did not impress Saturday's fist-waving crowd, assembled in a giant asphalt plaza. "Since Blaise Compaoré took power, by the method that you know" — and the crowd shouted "murder, murder!" — "there's a tiny minority that has robbed and pillaged, while the majority has stagnated in misery," said Tahirou Barry of the National Renaissance Party.
"The people are fed up! The soldiers are fed up! The students are fed up! The shopkeepers are fed up!" yelled Norbert Tiendrebeogo of the Social Forces Front. The crowd cheered a local rap star, S'Mockey, when he yelled: "The problem is, it's not a democracy. It's been tropicalized."
Still, the heterogeneous nature of the protest's organizers, including politicians from several dozen different parties, points to the central problem of the opposition, in the view of analysts: it is deeply divided after years of Mr. Compaoré's rule.
"I'd be very surprised if the Compaoré regime collapses," said Pierre Englebert, a political scientist at Pomona College and a Burkina Faso expert. "At the core of his regime, he's repressive. But he handles things with a certain distance. You can be corrupted. He'll let steam off."
Among the opposition's strongest cards are the unsolved killings of two popular men: Thomas Sankara, Mr. Compaoré's predecessor and army comrade, who was killed during the 1987 coup that he helped lead; and Norbert Zongo, a crusading journalist who was killed in 1998 while he was looking into the Compaoré family's finances. There were frequent references to the two men on Saturday.
The high price of rice was also a focus of complaints. "Life has just become too hard," said Moussa Lingani, a printer. Rice, he said, was now over $40 a bag.
"I haven't eaten in two days," said Remy Kafando, a farmer. "To eat, it's just hard. We want a complete change. We don't want anymore of this. We're ready for civil war."