One Gitmo at a Time Let Justice Ring from Every Mountain Top

By Oromsis Adula

President Barack Obama and his vanquished onetime rival, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has promised to restore American standing in the world by pursuing aggressive but smart power diplomacy. To his credit so far he has moved swiftly ordering the closure of Gitmo on first full day of work and the investigation of the CIA prison cells famously called “black sites”.

The few but decisive moves made by Obama administration show a radical shift in tone from the previous administration that supported petty dictators around the world in the name of war on terror. The appointment of Middle East and South Asian envoys on the first day of work at the State Department sends a message that Obama era would be different. And that the new President is serious in his ambitions.

Throughout the long months of campaigning, President Obama had also stated time and again in the most clear of terms that the United States would stand along those who seek justice, freedom, peace and equality. In his now famous inaugural address he stated the following;

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Even if everything else fades away after the festivities are over, I hope that President Obama would keep this simple promise. Just as much as the whole of Africa has joyously celebrated the rise of African American Senator to the highest office on earth, that message must have sent some chilling message to African dictators. I am not naïve to expect Obama to change African dictators to democracies. But I think we can be certain about one thing. If the Obama administration is indeed going to be different, pragmatic and compassionate; the dictators will cease to enjoy the US aid to cling to power and suppress dissent.

The first test of Obama’s policy on Africa will soon come to light with the appointment of Assistant Secretary of State to Africa. President Obama and madam Secretary can send a clear message to African dictators’ right from the outset by appointing an independent minded, knowledgeable and pragmatic person.

In her speech to State Department employees, Sec. Clinton vowed that “development aid” would be an “equal partner” with US diplomacy in an effort to do away with anti-American sentiments around the world. However, it would be a gross oversight and nothing more than a “business as usual” if the Obama administration increased funding for USAID without revitalizing the works done by the agency around the world. Simply increasing the funding for the agency may only send a wrong message to tyrants who depend on foreign donors and will not alleviate the lives of those who are often forgotten, oppressed and bitten down.

In the aftermath of Obama’s executive order to close Gitmo, I write to urge him to work for the closure of African Gitmo. The 2008 US election and Barack’s campaign was more than anything about hope and change. As such, I believe that there are ample reasons to hope that President Obama would be different. I also hope that his historic election and the manifestation of true democracy would enable African leaders to do some soul searching…work to build roads, schools and bridges than build more prisons.

Ethiopian dictators are among those who unlawfully clung to power for two decades by force; imprisoning opposition leaders, suppressing dissent beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and outlawing prominent political organizations. This is the fact that is well acknowledged by the State Department and the US senate itself with prominent senators writing to the Prime Minister expressing their concerns couple of times in 2008 alone.

Speaking at a conference in Minneapolis in July 2007, former Ethiopian President Mr. Negaso Gidada disgracefully admitted that there were more than “25 thousand Oromo political prisoners when he was in power” some 8 years ago. In line with former President’s belated confession just a year later, Seye Abraha a former Defense Minister who served six years in prison for politically motivated charges acknowledged that Ethiopian Prison Speaks Oromo – clearly underscoring the enormity of the number of Oromo political prisoners at various detention centers around the country. These are just two of the numerous reports on file.

Having successfully jumped on the war on terror bandwagon, Ethiopia had enjoyed a free pass and funding from Washington to build African Gitmo to covertly detain and interrogate those perceived to be threats to the tyrant regime during the Bush era. One prime example comes from the invasion of Somalia.

When Ethiopia invaded Somalia undeterred; its security agents rounded up innocent civilians who originally fled the country due to fear of persecution. Publicly giving contradicting reports as to whether there are terror suspects detained in Ethiopia and later releasing some Kenyan nationals, Ethiopia had set for itself a yet another distinctive identifier for being the seat of African Gitmo. This has been evidenced by constant cry from human rights groups and an investigation by BBC journalist Robert Walker.

Now the Bush era is over and the new era of American leadership on the world stage has finally began, I write to His Excellency President Barack H. Obama to urge him to move Ethiopian dictators to close the African Gitmo, free all political prisoners, remand all restrictions on free press, public speech, NGO movement inside the country and follow suit with the revitalization of true democracy in next year’s election.

In closing, I would also like to urge African leaders in general and Ethiopian tyrants in particular to recognize what it really means to be on “the wrong side of history”. It is time to embrace the new era and the change that had taken place in the least imaginable of places like America whose history has been that of slavery and segregation.

One Gitmo at a time, Let justice Ring from Every Mountain Top!



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