On the Question of "inciting" AAU students
University of Tromso, Norway
Within the current political situation in Ethiopia it has become a commonplace to hear the "media", police and government bodies and personalities attributing the actions and moves of individuals and groups of different interests and positions as being a part or cause for "political unrest", "hatred among people", "racism", "ethnicisim" etc. Among those whose view or action is attributed as inciting or being causes for the so-called unrests are association leaders, journalists, political activists, civic activists etc.
There may be a lot of questions that can be taken as a public concern in relation to democracy and rights. Nevertheless, what I am interested here is to bring forth for discussion questions like: what does "inciting" really mean in different contexts? Who has the power and privilege to determine that an action or a state-of-affairs is indeed a factor in causing something undesirable by the public?
Let us take the case of the recently occurred phenomenon. According to the government media it is stated,
(a) "The Federal Police Commission disclosed today that it has detained Prof. Mesfin W/Mariam and Dr. Berhanu Nega on
Charges of inciting the Addis Ababa University students into creating chaos in the capital."
(b) "Reports abounded in the past two weeks, alleging that they were engaged in acts of inciting students riots in their meetings with University students at the National Lottery Auditorium on April 8,2001." (From Walta (/May 2001)
When we analyze the implicit and explicit information these statements reveal to a critical reader, we can primarily select five terms referring to the actors and actions involved in (what is referred as) the "inciting" processes.
(a) The two men
(b) Students (who came to the meeting)
(c) What was going on in the meeting
(d) Chaos in the capital
(e) The police
The information stated in the above two statements is therefore the arrangement of these designations of actions and actors into "cause and effect" pattern. Hence the police detained the two persons by convincing the concerned body that it has evidence which corroborate (to believe and therefore act in accordance to it) the "two men" and "what was going on in the meeting" are factors without any reasonable doubt can be taken as "provoking and urging" students to the effect the phenomena called "chaos in the capitals" inevitably occurred.
Nevertheless, let us take a meticulous care in analyzing the presumed notions implicitly contained in this information. There are two assumptions contained in the above information given by the government media:
1) All Students, who are involved in the action of demanding their right and freedom are really influenced by the two men or what was going on in the meeting, through some students, who came to the meeting.
This assumption on the one hand positions the students as passive and receptive and denies their willful and reflexive capacity as human agents, and especially as intellectuals, while on the other gives power to the two men or the ideas, or what was said and discussed in the meeting.
Moreover this assumption though doesn't show the necessary link between "the two men"/"what was going on in the meeting," on the one hand and the Chaos in the capital on the other, implies that there is something real which persuade, the students to move on to some undesirable effect. Nevertheless, the perception and construction of "something real" remains to be dependent on the position of the police and government in relation to the "detained".
2) The motive of the two men and what was going on in the meeting must have been negative or undesirable to the public in terms of what they speak, say, discuss etc.
This presumption is based on a power to define the motive and content of the meeting. But what was the intention and what was going on there, according to the two men themselves?
"Asked whether the meeting was organized to instigate students to protest, Professor Mesfin said, "We believe that we have carried out our duties," adding that they taught students to know and understand their rights. The issues we spoke about at the forum were, "pertinent to the human rights provisions of the Constitution," he noted. According to Prof. Mesfin, some students had asked them what they should do about the violation of their rights. They responded by saying, "We are entitled only to tell you your constitutional rights." EHRCO had organized similar seminars for teachers and journalists, he said. Prof. Mesfin underlined that the seminar was organized upon the request of students themselves." (Reporter)
What I learn from the statement of Prof. Mesfin is that they have intentionally told or advised what the constitutional rights of the students mean. Though this remains to be investigated we have to relate this position in relation to some other questions (1) Is there any evidence that the students right is violated if this is yes in any form, then follows (2) What does the constitution say when the rights are violated? (3) What is the voice of those students, who came to the meeting (4) what was the voice of all students who, are believed to be influenced by the "two men"/"what was going on in the meeting"? Though it will be a premature endeavor to reach at any conclusion without real and fair investigation, there are some points that can be brought to the public debate.
From the different sources, including the government there seems to be violation of students' rights. Then did the two men tell the students who came to the meeting something to do practically, if yes what was it in practical terms? This will be the task of the court or any committee looking into the matter.
Nevertheless, if what they did was only teaching them not to be silent when their rights are violated, if what they did was advising them that they have "the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably unarmed," then the question would be to determine weather they were carrying out their duty as civic organization or, involved in the "act of inciting" any nature.
I presume that any activist in current Ethiopia does not support or must condemn the riot in Addis. But if the two men are accused with the intention that they shouldn't teach students to stand for their rights peacefully (despite the fact that weather that is what they did or not) so that it finally mean a challenge to the government, for its failure in carrying out its responsibility to make sure its premises that citizens rights are respected, then people living in that country indeed have ground to claim the government as not only undemocratic but also dangerous.
In order to build up democracy one element would be to teach people know their right and responsibility of building democratic culture. From the experience of many countries, democracy demands knowledgeable citizenry, who are consciously involved in the political processes. In this case, it will not only be the duty of EHRCO, but also the responsibility of the elite to show the endeavor to actively and constructively engage themselves in the development of democratic culture. Indeed if there is any force which is going against such an endeavor it is tantamount to standing against democracy.
Otherwise, the tradition, which is metaphorically expressed as "silence is gold," is not helpful in this respect. Rather, we shouldn't be lulled by the seemingly good "value" some people attach to silence (by which I mean Zimita, in Amharic) as if it were complementary to tolerance. Silence is not tolerance, and tolerance in democracy makes sense only in relation to difference among people and their view not in relation to activity that goes against inalienable human rights.
In this case viewed from the position of engaging oneself actively for his or her rights and responsibilities, Silence (and secrecy) is not gold. If in everyday life context, each of us (Ethiopian citizens) has been silent on the ground of "what concerns me" "for no change" and if each of us consider openness and engaging oneself actively in constructive manners as naivety and gullible then there is still in the public a negative ground that militate against the development of democratic culture.