Shooting the messenger

Shooting the messenger


by Mohammed Abdel Kadir


Walta, 10 Sep, 2001


   In polities with where there is a degree of transparency and of accountability among

   politicians, and a conscious public capable of giving them a prod lest they forget, ministers

   tender their resignations if their ministries display incompetence or behavior resulting in a loss

   of public confidence.  This is so irrespective of whether the minister him or her self was

   personally involved in the affair.


   Thus we had ministers in India or Europe offering their resignations after train crashes, or the

   justice minister in Belgium offering to resign because of police incompetence in the case of a

   child killer.


   In Ethiopia we clearly still have some way to go in fostering the culture of accountability and

   transparency among public servants, as evidenced in the recent attempt by the Ministry of

   Justice to gag the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA). 


   EWLA’s crime was to reveal a case of staggering incompetence by the police and justice

   system as a whole, and to indicate that this reflected an underlying bias against the rights of

   women from those entrusted to implement a system of justice for all.


   A young girl and her sisters faced a serious of aggravated assaults by a psychopath who in

   any normal situation should have been detained for the safety of the public.  Conditions for

   bail vary from country to country, but internationally there are some general points of

   agreement in limiting bail: the seriousness of the offence, whether the accused is likely to

   repeat the offence if released, and whether he or she will interfere with witnesses.  Time and

   time again this violent and clearly seriously disturbed young man committed assaults, was

   arrested, bailed out, only to re-offend against the same victims, and then to be re-arrested,

   bailed out again, and so on ad nauseam.


   Heads should have rolled here: whether of the judges who kept putting this dangerous man

   back on the streets, or of the police who failed in their duty to protect members of the public

   they knew to be at risk.


   If you have a culture of accountability, and an appreciation that “the buck stops here”, in

   such a case the Minister of Justice could have offered his resignation, which would probably

   then be refused.


   But an investigation would have been launched into how government departments had failed

   so disastrously, why warning bells had not been heeded, and whether crimes against women

   are somehow not accorded sufficient attention. 


   Here the only heads to roll are those of the bell ringers, or messengers.  


   The people responsible for the decision to shoot the messenger and shut down EWLA need to

   be given a shake and asked: What is the real issue here?  Is it that the justice system

   singularly failed on its duty to some citizens of this country? Does this in itself reflect an

   attitude that needs to fought, “a harmful traditional practice?” And does the prevalence of

   this attitude among government institutions, to play down the significance of crimes against

   women, contribute to the high incidence of such crimes?  (Recent figures show that 3 women

   are raped every day in each of Addis Ababa’s woredas).


   Or is the issue that EWLA (a bunch of women, after all) did not show the fawning, butt

   kissing, feudal deference that too many of those in authority in this country still expect and

   demand, 27 years after the demise of the feudal regime? 


   My message to the Ministry of Justice, and I believe that the general public will go along with

   this, is:


   “Get real.  We know what the issue is.  And although this is a domestic issue, a lot of foreign

   friends of Ethiopia known what the issue is.  You’re going to come out of this looking a lot

   worse than EWLA, here and abroad.  In fact you’re damaging the reputation of Ethiopia and

   Ethiopians.  Resignations would be too much to expect, but let’s now have some serious back

   peddling, a settlement dressed up however you like, by which EWLA is allowed to get on with

   its work, and from your side a declaration that this particular case and the broader issue of

   appropriate punishment for crimes against women be looked into. If you want to exercise your

   authority, get macho and kick butt, there are a lot of very dodgy foreign NGOs up to God

   knows what that you can start with.”


   Whether they buy this message or not, believe me, its time has come.