Monday, February 14

but the Constitution says ... oh, nevermind

This item “National Army Expresses Support To New Peace Proposal” just does not seem right. Ideally, it should not matter where the armed forces of any country stand on any political issue. Realistically, in a non-democratic system, the military may be the guarantors of government rule so military pronouncements on civilian policy are actually even more disturbing. This is crucial for a country like Ethiopia which for 17 years experienced a particularly vicious military junta.

After the Eritrean invasion of 1998, Ethiopia became one of the few victims of aggression to ever gain an expensive victory on the battlefield who willingly submitted to binding arbitration. All members of the panel, including Ethiopia’s appointees, voted for Eritrea so a stalemate resulted. In late 2004, the Ethiopian government announced a Five Point Peace Proposal which either does or doesn‘t accept the arbitration - no one knows for sure.

The Army Chief of Staff makes some statements that raise all manner of questions. Why must the military have “an in-depth discussion” before it supports their government? Are the soldiers going to VOTE on it? How can an army NOT be “at the disposal of a public agenda“? Finally, why must the army strive to serve “the interests of the people AND government of Ethiopia?” Are the people and the government being acknowledged to have separate interests?

The issue here is not the Chief of Staff, but a political system that would place such an able and professional soldier in the uncomfortable position of commenting on the byzantine world of politics. Has the subject of Eritrea stirred such passions that supporters of civilian rule must be comforted? Maybe opponents of current government are being warned that both military and civilian forces are independently arrayed against them.

It is all too confusing and like the Kremlin and Kremlinologists of old, this too requires a dedicated Gibee-ologist to sort out. One clear point is that this whole business is unconstitutional anyway. Article 74 of that document says that the Prime Minister is “the Commander-in-Chief of the national armed forces“. Article 87 adds that “[t]he armed forces ... shall carry out any responsibilities as may be assigned to them [by whom?] under any state of emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.” and that they should “ obey and respect the Constitution” while “ free of any partisanship to any political organization(s)”.

Not one word is written there about the armed forces making up their own minds unless the bit about who assigns them in an emergency is some kind of a loophole. Civilians all over the world may respect their own country's military (in a free society only if they choose to) but the military has the absolute duty to serve civilian authority. Even rhetoric to the contrary is dangerous.

It seems that the parts of the constitution that deny Ethiopians the right to private property and that divide them by ethnicity are meant to be taken seriously while other parts are disposable. The constitution promises all manner of human rights that aren’t respected. It also promises an absolute right to secession on demand ... but any of the 'nations, nationalities and peoples' who count on that are likely to be unpleasantly surprised.

It is clear that the rule of law is not to be taken seriously by any serious observer. If anyone out there really thinks for a second that the army is not totally and utterly under party control - there's this bridge for sale in Brooklyn you might want to take a look at. We can get you a great price too.

UPDATE: A reader alerted us to this April 5, 2003 Economist article (no link available) on the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and the utility of the myth of armed forces independence as a political factor.
To diplomats from aid-giving countries, [the Ethiopian Prime Minister] argues that his generals will not accept the loss [of Badme - one of the towns given to Eritrea by arbitration]. If Badme goes to Eritrea, his government may fall, he claims, causing chaos, Ethiopia is large and volatile, and its region, the Horn of Africa, has some strategic importance, so foreigners do not dismiss this plea out of hand,
Essentially then, the principal consumers of Ethiopian policy are aid-giving countries - who may at times have the wool pulled over their eyes quite willingly. That is why defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory in accepting arbitration and why the Five Point Peace Plan even exists.

Any single member of the armed forces who could possibly be a threat to the already united political / military center of the ruling party would long ago have 'disappeared' or be in prison. Revolutionary parties don't win wars and stay in power tolerating any internal dissent at all. If an observer can't seperate the party from government, the military definitely can not be separated from the party.

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