By Jawar Mohammed
The honorable Bulcha Demeksa, a founding Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and a vocal member of the Ethiopian parliamentary, announced his retirement from politics when his term ends in June 2010.
On March 9, 2010, Mr. Bulcha told Namoo Daandii of the Voice of America that he tried his best to fight for the right of the Oromo people, equality of all people and establishment of a just and democratic system in Ethiopia.
However, he stated that due to his age, and the ever tightening political space and increased harassment, he is no longer able to do the things that needed to be done. He said that he is vacating his parliamentary seat for a younger and capable emerging leader that he hopes will take the torch forward.
Although the departure of this giant statesman and vocal advocate is surely a blow to the democratic movement, Mr. Bulcha’s decision is ought to be appreciated in light of the political tradition where leaders die while holding onto some political position and destroy everything they have accomplished, rather than calling it quits.
He has shown once again, as he has done throughout his life that being a statesman is to be courageous, determined and honest. Mr. Bulcha is a dedicated public servant for over five decades. A trained economist, he was one of the reformist bureaucrats brought forward to handle the crisis during the last years of Haile Silassie.
Mr. Bulcha is also a renowned expert who worked as Vice-Minister of Finance, represented Ethiopia on the board of the World Bank and then worked at the United Nations. When the Derg regime fall, he brought back his rich experience and helped establish the first private bank in Ethiopia, Awash International Bank which remains one of the most stable and profitable banks in the country despite the ever increasing competition.
Troubled by the ever marginalization of the Oromo voice within the Ethiopian dialogue, and to fight the worsening human rights violation against his people, Mr. Bulcha retired from business and founded OFDM, that immediately became a credible voice for the Oromo people and won eleven parliamentary and 10 seats at Caffee Oromia (regional parliament), merely eight months after its establishment.
In the parliament, he has been known for his well reasoned objections and criticisms of several of the ruling party’s policies. His staunch opposition to Meles’s invasion of Somalia is one of the most memorable events and will be recorded in history books. He opposed the decision arguing that not only there was no strategic and legal justifications, but also goes contrary to the Ethiopia’s national interest. He predicted that, given the historic relationship between the two countries, Ethiopia’s involvement will raise the anti-Ethiopian sentiment boosting Somalia’s nationalism and could further complicate the conflicts in the region. His position was rudely dismissed by the the defiant Prime Minister, but the wisdom of the old statesman was proven right, as the situation in Somalia has changed from bad to worse. With the rise and consolidation of extremist groups, Ethiopia’s national security is at a grave danger more than ever before.
In 2009, realizing the need to work together in order to effectively fight against the ever-worsening human condition of Oromo people, OFDM merged with Oromo People’s Congress, led by Dr. Merera Gudina, to form the Oromo Federalist Congress. Mr. Bulcha also played a constructive role in helping the formation of the new opposition coalition, Forum, alternatively Medrek.
Seeing its potential, the ruling party heavy handedly targeted OFDM and ruthlessly eliminated the capable strategists and cadres that Mr. Bulcha was able to bring together. The continuous harassment, imprisonment and intimidation drove the mid and lower level members temporarily crippling the organization.
The life time public servant, a respected and unflinching lion of the Ethiopian parliament for the last four years, and a dedicated champion of human rights has made the graceful exit that is expected of a man of truth.
I wish him happy retirement. The Ethiopian people will miss the sole roaring dissenting voice from the rubberstamp parliament.