An Ethiopian Spring?: Page 2 of 3

By Eskinder Nega

One of the other policemen receives the radioman’s gun. The other policeman seems still to be trying to figure out who I am.

“The commissioner wants to talk to him,” The radioman says. The doorkeeper policeman nods in approval.

“Let’s go!” he says.

Serious faces befitting the Federal Police predominate as the authorities move through the building, here and there, running up and down. They look busy. Some of them pass me with bemused glances: “Who is this guy?” This is not a building typically visited by “customers.” 

Before I get to the commissioner’s office, we meet a civilian guy. He doesn’t salute, but takes us instead to small room with two tables. 

“Empty your pockets. You can’t enter with anything in your pockets,” he says. His voice is soft. Neither his face nor his voice fit this place, both better befitting a university lecturer.

I show him what I have: “Its all papers,” I say. He takes them, my articles now in police possession. 

“What do you have in your back pockets?” he asks.

“Papers,” I say, handing them over.

“That is it?”

“I have my mobile, bank notes, a pen and coins…”

“Take them out!”

Oww, I also have keys. I forgot them. He receives all my items. “Am I going to jail directly from here?” I ask myself.

“You finished?”

“Yes!”

He checks me: my front, back, shirt pockets all checked carefully. He finds more coins. He takes them. Today’s check-up looks serious. 

After checking out my pockets, he says, “I’ve finished!” 

The radio policeman leads me to the commissioner’s office. The secretary welcomes us.

She stands and points to the sofa: “Please sit down,” she says.

I sit.

“The commissioner is with another person,” says the radio policeman.

Minutes pass. Officers who come to talk to the commissioner are told, “He is with someone,” and they leave.

The coffee table is full of Federal Police magazines. I find one which was published as a New Year’s “Special Edition.” Inside is an article about; “Democracy and Ethiopia.” I smile and do a quick read. 

At some point, the secretary answers her boss’ line. “You can go in now,” she says.

We get up. The policeman with the radio enters the office first. The office is smaller than I’d imagined. I expected a big office. The commissioner sits on a fancy office chair. He’s dressed in civilian clothes, and he looks serious. Another person (I think the commissioner’s legal advisor) sits in front of him, dressed in civilian clothes, too. 

“Sit down.” The commissioner points to the leather sofa next to the door. Ahhh! It’s relaxing and luxurious. 

The radio policeman leaves after I sit down. The commissioner’s office echoes with silence for a moment.  

Suddenly, the commissioner shouts at me: “Do you know why you’re wanted here?” 

My eyes move from the commissioner’s to the advisor’s faces. I don’t reply.

There are papers in front of the commissioner’s desk. I see General Tsadekan’s photo and other printouts. Oww, it’s an article of mine published on Ethiomedia’s website last week.  

I nod towards the printouts: “I think it is because of my articles.” 

The commissioner picks up one of the papers. “You wrote about General Tsadekan and General Tsadekan!” The commissioner is angry. “The general deserves all this attention? Who is he, after all? Our government is investigating your movement. We know your plan. Your plan is to incite the people against the government, like what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt.” 

The commissioner keeps talking about the General. 

There is another printout on his desk, another one of my articles. The headline is: "BEN ALI'S 'ADVICE' TO MELES ZENAWI…”

“You are writing about General Tsadekan to divide the army?” says the police commissioner, picking up my article and at the same time using his left hand to turn the next page.

He starts asking me questions: “What did you say here? Down there: ‘The army is ours, and won’t shoot innocent people?’” he stops reading.

We look at each other. Silent.

“The top Army commanders are getting old? It is that what you said?” He throws the paper on the table. He leans over his desk. Now, he starts talking with emotion.

“What about you? Do you think you are going to live young forever? Do you think you will stay long like a dried beef jerky?” The commissioner speaks out his anger and leans back on his chair, ogling me. Then erupts again:

“What about the current General? [General Samora Yenus] Is he nothing? Is he antics to you?”

“The point of the story is different--” I try to explain, responding for the first time, but he doesn’t allow me to speak.

“I know your point. Listen! Let me tell you what will happen if the Arab Spring comes to Ethiopia as you dream of. We won’t kill citizens. First, we will come to you and your likes. We have already discussed this and decided. We are not going to come your house to detain you. We will come and take a serious action." 

He exhales. 

“Are you listening?! We are tired of arresting you. We will take serious measures. Are you listening? We are tired of you! We have already decided!” 

His small office seems to tremble with the boom of his voice. I have no doubt that his secretary in the other room could hear every word. His voice was scaring me.

“Make no mistake: Don’t we won’t do it. We will come down on every activist. This is the decision of the government. Now you know: You have to be careful!” the commissioner says, finally, lowering his voice.   

I felt uncomfortable on the commissioner’s luxurious sofa in the wake of his terrifying words! These words were not just tossed out lightly by a government official. The commissioner is not a person who minces words. He has the aspect of an old soldier. He looks like a person born to take action, not to talk. His threat is serious.

“I follow the rules and media ethics. I am exercising my rights as guaranteed under the Constitution. I hope it will be my guardian,” I say. However, I know that in Ethiopia, law means the law of party officials. They can do whatever they want.

The deputy commissioner answers now, injecting himself for the first time. He didn’t ask permission from his boss.

“You are talking about law. But take a moment and look: Haven’t you noticed your writings and interviews are making influence upon the situation? You are plotting to create public chaos,” he says, speaking as if in fast-forward.

“I am working carefully under the umbrella of the law--” 

The deputy commissioner interrupts me as soon as I start talking: 

“Your message has double intents. It looks like you are following the rules, but your messages are a call to violence and riot. Let’s look at your interview with Voice of America the day before yesterday. It has a double meaning. Your message is a call for riot. On our side, we have enough evidence. If it is necessary…” He points a finger to the printouts of my articles arrayed in front of the commissioner.

Comments

  • Ethiopian forever
    September 19, 2012
    Thanks for sharing Dawit. I'm not a good writer so i do not write lot, i just wanted to say Eskinder is my hero, who stands for what he belives even though he is paying his life for it. I hope one day Eskinder and those who are imprisoned for there beliefs will be free and We ETHIOPIANS will live as an ETHIOPIA not as party supporters. Ethiopia was one, is one and will be one. Segregation based on nation and nationalities is not in the heart of the Ethiopian people, but only in the heart of the woyane rulers. ETHIOPIA forever, "ETHIOPIA TABESHE EDEWIHA HABE EGZIABHER"