While the mediation efforts by Professor Ephrem Isaac, Haile Gebresilassie and Ambassador Bekele to get CUD leaders released from jail is yet officially over, there are signs that it is going nowhere. Last week the mediators presented a document for signature by the CUD leaders. It reads:
We apologize for Ethiopians, the government and the mediators for the acts, which were outside of the constitution, committed by some of our members and supporters following elections 2005.
The six people who were representing the jailed leaders all declined to sign it.
Whether the wording of this particular document is too general to allow the jailed leaders to sign it and get out of prison without tarnishing their credibility and moral authority is debatable. What was more important, however, was how the mediators acted afterwards. There was a feeling amongst them that the jailed leaders were stubborn while Meles was willing to bend. The fact that the mediators felt the leaders who were unwilling to impute crime on some members and supporters to leave jail were stubborn showed how the whole mediation process was quite flawed. What would they have said about Nelson Mandela who asked for the unconditional release of himself and fellow political prisoners as precondition for any serious talks with the white minority rulers in South Africa? This blogger was informed that professor Mesfin ruled himself out of the talks saying the whole process was an insult to "shimgilena institution."
I am sure that the mediators were engaged in their efforts with good faith. So what were the problems with the process?
- The mediators had no defined role. Mediators usually act as bridges between the parties by defining issues and guiding the discussions. The traditional Shimgelina in
even goes beyond that. Shimageles study the interest of the parties and sometimes propose their solutions. Here the mediators were acting as messengers of Meles Zenawi. Ethiopia
- They hadn't really understood the complex issues. In one instance, Meles told the mediators that the CUD had called for national unity government and that was unconstitutional. Utterly convinced by him, they tried to pass the message to the leaders. The same confusion was reflected in issues relating to AFD and hate speech. It would have been better if these gentlemen were assisted by professionals (lawyers, political scientists etc)
- The mediation has no grander objective except getting the prisoners released. It made the mediators assume that the jailed politicians are in weaker position and, therefore, need to accept Meles's terms to get out of prison. If grader objectives like national reconciliation had been set, the assumption would have been different
- The jailed politicians weren't allowed to spend time together discussing the issue. They were called from their respective cells whenever the mediators appear and asked to make decisions on the spot with the presence of the mediators. It hampered the leaders from having common positions.
- Mediations generally involve joint sessions where the opposing parties meet to hammer out an agenda and define issues. This particular mediation appeared to be more like a shuttle diplomacy.