New politics, new milestone for Ethiopia (Ethiopian Reporter’s Interview with obboo Bulchaa Dammaqsaa)
Saturday, 27 October 2012
By MERGA YONAS
Photo: Obboo Bulchaa Dammaqsaa
Bulcha Demeksa, in his early septuagenarian age, is still an outspoken politician besides his role as a business figure. After Serving as a deputy minister of Finance in 1960s, he joined the World Bank and UNDP and served in different African countries before he made his way back to Addis Ababa after 20 years of staying abroad.
Following the coming of EPRDF to power Bulcha had also actively participated in the political and economic life of the country that ranged from forming an opposition political party to founding the first private commercial Bank in Ethiopia- Awash International Bank.
Though he is still taking part in the politics of the country, he says he is not reallyactive these days. So he now prefers to look from behind while working on his new book that he expects to be published soon. Bulcha sat down with Merga Yonas of The Reporter to discuss issues ranging from politics to socio-economic that the country has been facing and what remedies should be.
Many people say that your have an impressive professional biography. Looking back to the start of your professional, what do you think could be the reason for your success?
Well I don’t know how well I’m liked, but I know that I have been around. That means, I worked with different organization. My first organization to work for was the Ministry of Finance. When I came back from US in 1960, I joined the ministry of finance. And in the Ministry I worked for nine and half years before I became deputy minister.
They say all roads takes you to the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance was at the time (time of emperor) was a very key ministry . It is key because, while the country was still poor, the emperor has expanded the government vastly. Before we had the means, the government had become very big. So we didn’t have enough money to finance this big government and everybody came to the ministry of finance. The ministry was very popular or notorious, depending on who is speaking.
In 1961, when I joined the ministry the name Bulcha was very well known. In 1970, I joined the World Bank. I went to Washington DC, where the World Bank headquarters is found as a representative of Ethiopia in addition to representing other 16 English speaking African countries. Then I stayed there for five years and the Emperor was over thrown. In 1974, I joined United Nation DevelopmentProgram (UNDP) and as UNDP resident I was sent to Gambia, Nigeria, and then to Tanzania.
In 1991, when the EPRDF took power in Addis Ababa, I went back to my country. I came to Ethiopia representing a party called Ethiopian National Democratic Organization (ENDO). I was not really a member of this party; I tell you, a friend of mine who was responsible for ENDO named Derje Dheresa, begged me to come to Addis Ababa at that time. Because at that time Derje had founded a party called Ethiopian People Democratic Alliance (EPDA) the other fellow, Kifle Wodajo who founded a party called KITET.
Though they were not friends, they had merged this two party naming it ENDO. Then, as I said Dereje requested me to represent ENDO, I tell you again, I was not a member of this party, I didn’t believed in ENDO at all. My desire at that time was to come back to Addis Ababa after staying abroad for 20 years. Then representing the country, I took part in the conference during the transitional government but not leading ENDO.
So, can we conclude from this that you joined the political scene as a matter of lack, as you were more of finance and economic person the time?
No, No, No…I was very active even before that. As I said Dereje had EPDA and he had a radio station in Sudan that airs the agenda of the party. And I used to speak in Oromiffa for 150 hours. I usually talk about EPRDF at that time, I say “you people think that you are the only one who overthrew Mengistu, but no we EPDA did a lot on the radio inKhartoum, because we were broadcasting to Addis Ababa Ethiopia.” Before that were broadcasting how bad Mengistu was, how bad communism was and how badly Ethiopia was deteriorating. So I was well know through out this periods.
It has been a while now, since you left the political discourse of the country. Have you ever felt detached, leaving the political scene after decade, plus as a founder of opposition political party, formerly known as Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement?
No. I didn’t left the political discourse of the country, but not very active. I initiated my departure, I found people who would replace me which no body else did. So I begged Dr. Moga Firisa to take my place as a chairman of the party and I begged other people to help him such as Bekele Gerba, a very talented, able man and a linguist. But EPRDF knew that he was a great guy, they would not allow him to go forward.
Though you left the political environment of the country, we know that you are also a successful business personality. Hence, in general, what are you currently doing really?
Well, I just finished writing a book, but it is still in the process to be published. The book is titled “My Life”, it is my memoir that touches what I did during my carrier, whom I met, what has been making sad or happy, who hurt, who helped me, who were my colleagues and who were my supervisors. Luckily, when I joined the Ministry of Finance, it was His Excellency Yilma Deressa, a minister of Finance, a highly able man, who led me through all my success. He graduated from London school of Economics in the 1930s, he was running the ministry very well, tightly, and in a very well manner.
So when do you expect this new book to hit the shelves?
First we expected it to be finished at the end of October, but for various reasons the publisher, the Red Sea Press, a publishing company in the US, failed. It is hard to make a follow-up, yet to some extent we are contacting them through email and other means. So it might go up to the end of December.
Recently, the party that you founded and the one used to be lead by Dr. Merera Gudina-named have merged under the name Oromo Federalist Congress. This party chaired by Dr. Merera, but also from behind the scene you have been elected chairman of the advisory council of elders. So, can you tell me how far you have traveled since making the amalgamation? What far do you really think this party is playing its role in the political discourse of Ethiopia?
This council follows the old Oromo concept called Ayuu, so I’m a chairman of the Ayuu. Since we had the national congress of the two parties merged, the they have been working with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia on fulfilling the formalities to finish the amalgamation process. Formalities of merging tow party are very difficult. The election board has not opposed our merger, but there are so many things to do which are taking time.
So, as of today, Dr. Merera is not chairman of the combined party, rather he is still chairman of Oromo National Congress and Dr. Moga Firisa is still the chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement. Because of this legal entanglement, these two party stays separated until meeting the legal procedures and approved by the Board to form the amalgamation.
I have been informed that on September 16th, you and Dr. Merera to a trip to Minnesota, US to make a speech to the Oromo Community residing there. What was the agenda of your travel or what did you talk about?
We didn’t do that. This is false and it is just a rumor. I went to America in August to facilitate things for my new book and other matters as well.
Politician, analyst argue that the Anti-terrorism law of Ethiopia remains to be a major concern for politicians, journalists, civil right activists and citizen. Plus members of your party, Bekele Gerba and Lalisa Olbana, were charged with terrorism and were sent to jail. What could be your reaction on this matter? Are you following their cases closely? And in general, what kind of the future does this law hold for the country’s socio-political environment?
You see, this terrorism law must be condemned by all Ethiopian residing everywhere whether rich or poor, small or big, farmers or urbanites all of them must condemn this anti-terrorism law. According to this Anti-terrorism law, let me make it very clear, if five people are standing on the street and talking, and a man or a woman makes a phone call to the police station and claim that she saw the five people who are talking about something that I don’t understand, but I heard it was about OLF or other organization listed in the law as terrorist group, the police will come and arrest those five peoples.
That is what is happening now in the country and this is a curse for the nation. A nation who has this kind of law can’t call itself free. Because according to the constitution, the police can not just arrest you without the warrant paper from the court. This anti-terrorism law violates that law; it is probably the worst law I have ever encountered in my life. And every Ethiopian I have met and talk to is against this law. Our friends country, meaning America, UK, France, Germany and others are against this law from the point of view of human right.
It is a very high handed power of government. It is misuse of power of government. Bekele and Olbana, what did they do? They just talk to a group of Americans representing the Amnesty International, who were here to find out the violation of human right. Bekele was called from office while meeting the group and he told them that there are thousands of Oromos, who are in prison unlawfully and illegally.
That was all they did. They did nothing. They never violated the law and they don’t want to ever violate the law. In their Oromo movement violating the law means seceding or trying to secede. This people are not for secession, if their movement was for secession they didn’t organize a party and lead it. Then what is their crime.
Whenever both appear in court, I attend but the court neither made a conviction nor released them. The court once asked me to witness who really was Bekele Gerba. I told them, probably one of the finest intellectual young man in Ethiopia. I told them Bekele would not hit back anyone who hurt him, I do. I do hit back who hit me, so his such a gentleman.
So can you share some peoples’ views who assert that EPRDF don’t tolerate those who are educated and gentleman as you said, as it see them to be a threat?
I concur100 percent. The Ethiopian government, meaning the EPRDF, is never comfortable with the opposition, specially with those individuals in the opposition side who has good leadership quality, intelligent and love for their country. They don’t really like such smart people; rather they want to be the only people who are smart people.
Many individuals claim that there are tens of hundreds of Oromo prisoners behind bars, particular charged with issues in relation to politics, and there are even a case where many of them spending years without being convicted, they claim. So as an opposition politician, who represents Oromos, what is you reaction on this matter?
It is bad for Ethiopia that so many Oromos are in a prison. It is bad because young men today, I say not in tens and hundreds, but in thousands are suffering in jail for doing nothing wrong. And I say, what could these young-men have done? And I say they could do many things because of anger. I say the current generation is shy and timid, that was why we don’t have the situation like the one in North Africa.
The people are timid, respect leaders of their country. But the young generation that are coming up would not be, so I fear for the future of Ethiopia. I fear because, the coming generation would be not be so shay and timid, and they are going to demand the same thing the North African people demanded of their government. Seeing from what the country is currently undergoing, it might create turmoil. So this government should think of the future, not only about today.
Opposition politicians, civil right activists and some individuals among the public are calling for the suspension of the anti-terrorism law, plus pardoning of all the political prisoners for the sake of national reconciliation and unity. How do you see these matters?
Reconciliation really should take place now, because it is very difficult to make peace with the same people who were perpetrates of the crime. You can make peace more easily with new people, meaning the new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, his followers, new ministers. So I think the best time is now. So the new PM should take his advantage as premiership and call for opposition parties here and abroad to make peace. The same way the South Africans had made peace through reconciliation.
I don’t think, the new Prime minister should think everything is okay. I think things are not like that, everything is not okay. He should not think his party has answers for all the problems in the country. His party doesn’t have all the solution for Ethiopians problems. Ethiopian leaders everywhere should be united together to come up with new ideas in order to make peace and reconciliation and to start a new road.
The Prime Minister and the deputy prime minster, I suspect also there would be new foreign minister, new intelligence minister could not stay back and relax now. I believe, all the ethnic groups in the country have very angry young men, so they must be pacified as well. PM Hailemariam should not think everything is fine and just continue with the vision of his predecessor. The Ethiopian government is conducting reconciliation program with the ONLF, they must also do that with OLF, other Oromo affiliated parties, and the Amharas, Tigres, and other ethnic group affiliated opposition parties.
During the Meles administration, opposition political parties have been echoing for the inclusiveness of the multi-party system into the political discourse of the country? Being one among them, what do you expect PM Hailemariam administration could come up with in entertaining multi-party system in the country?
I’ll insist on what I have already said. But, I’ll expand it! As I said Hailemarim should not think every thing is fine, as it is not in my opinion or in others for that matter. He should start listening to not only the call of the rich people, but the multitude of people and millions of people who are not happy. They my not come out and say we are not but it is known that they are unhappy. Are the Oromo people happy, are the Amahra people happy, are the Tigray people happy, are the southern people all happy and are the other ethnic groups happy? No, they are not. I know it is impossible to make everyone happy, but the most of the people of the country should be satisfied with the ongoing situation be it in socio-political or in economic issues.
At his parliament speech, Haliemariam confirmed that no change will be made, we will continue to stick to the objectives of late PM Meles Zenawi. That is not true. When the late PM died and before he was buried, one of the local magazines called Addis Guday asked me did you cry for the PM and I said no I didn’t cry for him. I cry for friends and relatives in Wollega, who were crashed in 2005.
Thousands had been put to jail and many died, crops have brunt down, fathers and mothers had been beaten in front of their children. I remember that day, I wrote a letter by my hand to the PM office and to the office of Oromia President, that time led by Abadula Gamada, stating those issues and related matter. And nothing was done. They have established a committee to investigate the case, but months later the committee has died a natural death, without doing anything.
Many say that they are hoping the country could make a little bit of a chnage from its formerly blurred political situation, say in terms of respect for human rights and democratic rights in the country, what would your take on this matter?
The new government needs a new approach and policy. If not, what is so special about being a Prime Minister of one country, because anyone can sit on that chair. If he say I have nothing to do, but continue the program crafted under the Meles’s administration, there is nothing special, they could have elected you or some other person since the job is only leading the implementation of the crafted programs. Rather Hailemarim needs to come up with new idea, craft new policies and new relationship with the people of Ethiopia.