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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Interview: "I believe that we have to prepare, and if things turn worse and we have to…

Dr. Negasso Gidada, former president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

"I believe that we have to prepare, and if things turn worse and we have to … declare war, the parliament should deliberate on it according to the constitution"Dr. Negasso Gidada, former president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is now a member of the Ethiopian parliament as an independent. When last Thursday the ruling party whip in parliament, Ato Shiferaw Jarso, proposed the adjournment motion for giving the government the green light to go to war with the Union of Islamic courts (UIC) of Somalia, if and when the situation demands, Dr. Negasso opposed on the ground that the request and the way it was proposed to parliament violated the constitution.

Dr. Negasso talked to Bruck Shewareged on the motion and the implication for Ethiopia's security, should war break out. Excerpts:

Some parliamentarians warned on Thursday that the adjournment motion for preparation for possible war with Somalia's Islamic Courts Union could be misinterpreted for virtual declaration of war. How did you understand it? Is it a clear-cut case for you?

Recently, we see intensive propaganda on TV with respect to Somalia. There are many announcements, interviews with experts and so on. Given this and the announcement on TV on Wednesday that the PM would be addressing parliament, I sensed that something was coming. But that is not a problem for me. What bothers me is this: What is the content of this motion? The content is, "since they (Somalis) declared war against us, let us declare war in return."

The government made it clear that it will not enter the war immediately but it will deliver "proportional response" when it deems it necessary. Well, one way or another, it is war. If you put it another way, they are saying, "we are prepared for war. If it comes, we will enter the war. For this to happen, give us a free hand."

Do you interpret it as asking parliament to declare war?

Yes, that is the interpretation. If parliament gives consent to their demand to enter war whenever they see it fit, this amounts to a declaration of war.

During the debate over the motion, you objected to it on the ground that it violated the constitution. Where is the violation?

Article 55(9) of the constitution says that parliament declares war when the Council of Ministers proposes the passing of a law for such a measure. There are procedures for this. First, the council must come up with draft proposal. There are also other considerations such as new security measures or state of emergency. And from time to time, the progress of the war must be reported to parliament whose responsibility also includes whether everything is being carried out according to the law.

What the government is requesting is that since it takes time for the motion to go through all the committees, parliament should grant the go-ahead immediately.

If we respect the constitution, we should not give any place for precedence, ie, we shouldn't bypass the requirements or procedures laid out by the law of the land.

When you see who proposed the motion, it did not come from the council of ministers. It was proposed by the ruling party's parliamentary whip, Ato Shiferaw Jarso. This is where the problem lies with respect to the constitution.

Every country has the right to defend itself. But if there is aggression and we have to respond, it must be done according to the constitution. We shouldn't just give the government a free hand to handle the situation and set a bad precedent.

There was one example of such a precedent. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, President Bush declared war on terrorism. And when the US invaded Iraq together with what they call the "Coalition of the willing," Ethiopia allowed its air space to be used by the coalition forces because we joined the coalition without the knowledge of parliament. This includes, for instance, the entering of the coalition's forces into Ethiopia for medication or other purposes.

This is a matter of our sovereignty. Either directly or indirectly we entered the war.

Another case is the warlords in Somalia. Up to June, the US and Ethiopia were allegedly involved in banding the warlords together and assisting them supposedly to contain terrorists. That amounts to joining the US war on terror.

In essence, are you saying that the Ethiopian government entered a war without a declaration by parliament?

Yes, it has already entered into a war. Again, recently the prime minister openly stated that we are technically at war. This is wrong. We just can't go to war by bypassing what the constitution requires. We shouldn't do it again. We must respect the constitutional order. This is a breach of the constitution.

Last Thursday, the PM told parliament repeatedly that we are at war with the Islamists even though we didn't respond. In your opinion, does the present situation constitute a war-like situation? And does it warrant the parliament to declare war?

Well, four reasons were given to justify it as a war. The first one is that they declared jihad on Ethiopia. But when they declared jihad on Ethiopia, they qualified it to have meant only on Ethiopian soldiers who entered Somalia. As for their declaring jihad on Ethiopia, I don't know: it could be a matter of interpretation.

Did they really declare jihad against Ethiopia and crossed the border? Is that the fact? I don't think so. As comparison, if you take the conflict with Eritrea, that country, in fact, crossed the border and took control of parts of our territory. But we don't see similar situation this time around.

The other thing that amazes me is that Ethiopia is under repeated attack from the Somali forces and that we are absorbing those attacks according to the prime minister. If that is the truth, then why did the government keep silent? An emergency session of the parliament should have been called and the problem must have been dealt with.

The second reason given is that the Islamic Courts are assisting and sending here anti-Ethiopia forces. This was not clearly explained. What kind of anti-Ethiopia forces are these. Are they snicking in Somali or foreign jihadists into Ethiopia? Or are they supporting and sending other local opposition forces such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)? These local opposition forces have long existed. Did they train and send fresh forces during the summer? Despite this, I believe that going to the extent of declaring war ought to be reconsidered. I don't think there is a situation currently which forces us to go to war. I see a problem with the request forwarded to parliament to give the green light.

But the way I see it, the motion is almost through as parties, in essence, agreed to pass it with consensus?

Well, Prof. Beyene of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) said that since his party did not deliberate on the motion, they may vote against it and their intention can be misunderstood. So they ask for more time for deliberation. Then it was decided that party representatives in parliament can iron out the final statement. My hope is that the motion will not end up in dragging us into war.

I believe that we have to prepare, and if things turn worse and we have to declare war, the parliament should deliberate on it according to the constitution. If the motion is passed in its present form which may put us in the middle of war directly or indirectly, then the parties are mistaken. When we say "consensus" in parliament, it practically refers to the decision made by parties. Those individual MPs like me do not have a voice. But as for me, if it doesn't follow the correct procedure, I will oppose it.

According to recent UN report, 8-9 countries are supporting the Islamic Courts. And if war breaks out between Ethiopia and the Islamic Courts, what would be the consequences or its implication for Ethiopia's security?

The UN report is not mentioned in our media. Many countries are listed in the report as having been involved in Somalia's crisis. Ethiopia is one. The report says that it sent 6,000-8,000 soldiers to Somalia. There was also the allegation that while Ethiopia officially supports the transitional government, it simultaneously used to assist warlords in Mogadishu. That has a bad implication for me. If we don't get involved properly in Somalia, it will foment the animosity between the two countries given their past conflictual history.

If war breaks out, the problem or threat will not necessarily come from Somalia only. There could be sympathizers here and they could create problems. Nowadays there is the threat of terrorism which you can not stop by military action only. There could be incursions and this is also not something which can be stopped at one stroke. This could put the country in a situation where there is lack of peace permanently.

I believe that if we solve our local problems, we would not give way to outside influence or interference. For instance, there is the persistent question of self-determination amongst the Oromo and Somali people. We must seek a political solution. The people must elect their leaders. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and ONLF must be approached and their demand addressed. And the self-determination question must be handled. The people must decide that, not the parties. If it is done, then outside forces cannot take advantage of the local problem here.

By the way, the Somali Islamic Forces can raise their question of putting all Somali people under Greater Somalia. They can stick to their illusion as long as they didn't interfere in Ethiopia's affairs. Even they can't decide for the Ethiopian Somalis. Not even Ethiopia Somali political forces can decide the people's fate. Only Ethiopian Somalis can decide about their fate.

Any one can support the Islamic fronts. But if we can address our own problems, the support for Islamic Courts won't have an effect on Ethiopia.

You just discussed reassessing our local policy. But how about our foreign policy. How do we need to realign our regional policy?

Let me be frank. Europe and America have their own interest in the region, ie, securing a safe route for the transportation of oil starting from Suez Canal to the Gulf of Eden. We shouldn't be involved in their interest. We shouldn't burn our finger for the sake of others. In light of this, we need to carefully handle our foreign policy.

Whether Somali people must be administered by Sharia Law or not is none of our business. There are other countries like Saudi Arabia which is administered by Sharia law. And we have a relationship with the Saudis. Whether the Somalis want to be governed by Sharia or not, it must be left to the people. We should only be involved in matters that are pertinent to us.
When there was no central authority or force in Somalia, the UN and AU molded the transitional government. When the Islamic courts began to challenge the authority or legitimacy of the transitional government, these two organization did not go to the extent of supporting it. They are insisting that they need to hold a dialogue and solve their differences. In this case, why should Ethiopia alone insist on assisting the transitional government. Sending troops in the name of "training" might create a problem for us. We need to be very careful. And the thing is that our foreign policy must emanate from our strength locally. And local strength comes when constitutional order is truly observed, democratic society is created and when solve our political problems.

In Ethiopian Reporter Posted on Saturday, November 25 @ 11:32:20 EAT by staff

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