The prospect of the imminent pardon
for repentant former Derg members has roused heated
debate in Ethiopia’s print media and blogosphere.
However, the point for everyone to remember in
debating such an emotive and knotty issue is to
attempt to disagree without being disagreeable.
The people of Ethiopia need to be
courageous and to forgive those who committed
heinous crimes against them. There is no reason to
be “ashamed” of a willingness to forgive. In fact,
one is fortunate to be blessed with the spirit of
However, the road to forgiveness was
a complex one. Resolving to forgive the former Derg
officials, who had summarily killed my father and
six close relatives, imprisoned my mother, myself as
well as two of my younger brothers and sisters came
about in the midst of a voyage of personal discovery
which I had taken during the course of my
Thirty six years ago, out of the
blue, the comfortable lifestyle that I, rather
naively, thought would see me through from cradle to
the grave, came to an abrupt end. The leaders of the
popular uprising of 1974, arrested my father, a
cousin of Emperor Haile Selassie and president of
the Crown Council, on June 30, 1974. Three months
later they decided to round up his family and
expropriate all his assets, including the family
home in Entoto.
There was no need to be a Marxist,
then, to know that in a violent anti-feudalism
movement, the scions of the nobility are slated to
be among the first to be gobbled-up by a revolution.
I owe my present life entirely to God, the licence
which has allowed me to let go of pent-up feelings
of hate, anger, and resentment.
However, I am dismayed by some of
the reactions of individuals who, like me, were
victims of the Derg’s heinous crimes. To some of
them even my attendance at major court hearings of
the former Derg officials was condemned for they
viewed it as tantamount to lending publicity to the
EPDRF government. Now these same people have the
nerve to accuse me of cowardice.
I am saddened to see my dear young
and gregarious cousin, Makonnen Endalkatchew, who
was spared imprisonment and retained the family home
and who was nowhere to be seen at court hearings,
still bears an ancient grudge and resentment 36
years after his dear father was mowed down alongside
my dear father.
His opinion published in this
newspaper headlined, “What price justice? What value
life?” (Volume 11, Number 556, December 26, 2010) is
nothing more than an adversarial kneejerk reaction
to the call for the prevalence of a national
consensus on the issue of forgiving and pardoning
former Derg officials. While the crux of the matter
was to concentrate not on who is right, but on what
is right, Makonnen deemed it proper to fire a salvo
of innuendoes at those whose right it is to air
views which happen to be anathema to his opinion.
As forgiveness is a long drawn-out
process, I hope and pray that he will soon have what
it takes to rise above vindictiveness.
The general public suffers from a
dearth of information on the circumstances which
spurred the religious leaders to embark on a crusade
of forgiveness. The repentant convicted former Derg
officials had requested a visit by Ethiopia’s
religious leaders - one of whom, The Patriarch of
Ethiopia, was himself a victim of the Derg’s
arbitrary detention – during which they pleaded for
the chance to say sorry to the people of Ethiopia.
Surely, such a turnaround by
hitherto pompous Derg officials is in itself proof
that their repentance is genuine. The way the
religious leaders went about executing their role as
intermediaries may be subject to criticism, but what
must be above and beyond all criticism is the aim of
their sacred mission. It is the right thing to do
for a society where, if pardoned, the former Derg
officials are expected to coexist peacefully.
No sane individual believes that
forgiving the repentant former Derg officials is an
attempt to absolve them from the heinous crimes they
committed against the people of Ethiopia.
The religious leaders’ call to
Ethiopians is not and cannot possibly be to ignore
the crimes, to ditch the memory of the trials and
tribulations, and to become oblivious to the “blood,
sweat, and tears.” Rather, it is to seize this
unique opportunity to salvage future generations of
Ethiopians from being caught in a vicious cycle of
retribution. The call is to subdue personal
interest so that national interest can prevail.
The burning question is: Would the
patriot in the likes of dear Makonnen Endalkatchew
allow them to do that or do they want to condemn
future generations to wallow in a state of
The reward for the sacrifices made
by the fathers of Ethiopians is an Ethiopia at
peace with itself, and for Ethiopians to pick up the
pieces of their gory past and march ahead with
gusto. Ethiopia will only be able to do that if they
all accept that without mercy the country would be a
harsh place. Never should it be forgotten that
extreme justice can more often than not mean extreme
In a way, the convicted former Derg
officials are today the un-dead of Ethiopian
society. For the past 20 years they have suffered
enormous humiliation in the eyes of those whom they
had tortured and left for dead; they are aging and
the family lives of most are ruined simply because
it could not be sustained over two decades of
Is 20 years not long enough to watch
the withering away of “enemies?”
Everyone is aware - are they not? -
that the execution of 17 former Derg officials would
in no way exhume and give life back to their
deceased near and dear ones. These past two weeks,
raised the questions if, as a people, Ethiopians are
so inebriated with sadism that nothing short of
these people’s death or rotting in prison can quench
the thirst to ensure that justice is seen to be
Avengers’ penchant for an eye for an
eye and a tooth for a tooth will leave Ethiopia
blind and toothless.
Children of Ethiopia forgive. There
is nothing to lose but everything to gain.
Ethiopians are blessed that many are others renowned
for doing the impossible right away while miracles
take 20 years. Today, Ethiopia is on the cusp of
celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the
Derg, a milestone occasion.
What better way to celebrate the
dawn of the Ethiopian Renaissance by drawing a line
underneath that bloody episode?
The time for magnanimity to follow
victory is now. Come on: out-Mandela-Mandela and
proclaim to the world “We did it our way!”
Mulugeta A. Kassa is the son of
Aserate Kassa (Prince), one of the 60 senior
government officials summarily executed by the Derg
in 1974. Having served as a member of the now
defunct Secretariat of the Ethiopian Millennium
Celebration, he now resides in Dublin, Ireland,
where he is a Counsellor at the Ethiopian Embassy.