Ethiopia:Pursuing terrorism under the guise of democracy can never be justified


Andargachew Tsige

Over the past two weeks, the detention and extradition of Andargachew Tsige, the Secretary General of the Ginbot 7 political party, designated as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives, has been headline news in local and foreign media outlets. Andargachew was apprehended through the cooperation of Ethiopian and Yemeni intelligence operatives while he was in transit in Sana’a on his way from the United Arab Emirates to Asmara in Eritrea.

A press release issued by the Joint Counter-terrorism Force of the Federal Police and National Intelligence and Security Service, revealed that Andargachew was using several false names, including Tufa, Derebaba, Jean-Paul, James-Franci, Robi and Wedi Harina. The statement noted that Andargachew had been based for five years in Asmara where he had been engaged in all sorts of activity in recruiting training and organizing terrorists in collaboration with the regime in Eritrea and other anti-terrorist forces, with the aim of destabilizing Ethiopia and derailing its development process. The statement recalled that a person by the name Abebe Wendmagegn, a British national of Ethiopian origin, had been trained by Andargachew and sent on a bombing mission in the Bole-Medhanialem neighborhood of Addis Ababa. He, and his collaborators, had been captured in January this year. They were later tried and convicted of attempting to kill innocent civilians.

Andargachew’s detention by the Yemeni authorities and his extradition invites several questions arising from the mixing of terrorist missions with peaceful acts of political struggle. Time and again, Ginbot 7 has reiterated that its objective is to overturn the constitutional order of Ethiopia through violent and non-constitutional means. As part of its determination to destabilize Ethiopia, it has even gone to the extent of forming alliances with the regime in Asmara which has also made no secret of its own interest in destabilizing Ethiopia. Indeed, Ginbot 7 has formed marriages of convenience with almost all other anti-Ethiopian forces which are prepared to serve as surrogates of the Eritrean regime. Ginbot 7 leaders have repeatedly stated that they would carry out any sort of act of terror as long as it would help to move their objectives forward. The organization’s determination to kill and terrorize was clearly demonstrated in the failed attempt to carry out assassinations of government officials and stir up insurrection against the constituted government. The terrorist group’s top leadership including Andargachew Tsige, Melaku Tefera, Berhanu Nega, Eyoel and Mesfin Aman were sentenced to death in absentia in December 2009 after a fair trial in which the defendants’ rights were fully observed. 33 others including Brigadier General Tefera Mamo and Asaminew Tsige were 10


sentenced to life imprisonment by due process of law. This was followed by a designation of Ginbot 7 as a terrorist organization by the House of People’s Representatives in 2011 along with OLF, ONLF, Al Shabaab and Al-Qaida.

The return of Andargachew to Ethiopia, an example of successful counter terrorism cooperation between Yemen and Ethiopia has been the subject of a certain amount of ill-informed criticism. There have been calls from the usual sources for the release of a person who has himself acknowledged his role in masterminding a failed attempt to overthrow the Ethiopian government. We shouldn’t need to be reminded yet again that terrorism can never be justified for any reason whatsoever as a means for a political end. Nor is there any basis, legally, morally or for any other reason, to uphold terrorist activity, particularly in a country that provides, and implements, constitutional guarantees for peaceful political dissent. It was this understanding that prompted Prime Minister Hailemariam’s statement to the BBC on July 11 that there is no room for conflating terrorism with the exercise of political rights.

Ginbot 7, with its leader Andargachew, is an organization that plots to carry out acts of terror against innocent civilians and the infrastructure of the country. The struggle it always alludes to can only be understood as a struggle that aims to bring anarchy under the guise of democracy. It must be stated loud and clear that terrorism is the antithesis of democratic values. It is a deliberate attempt to impose the will of a minority by instilling fear and insecurity among the general public. The gravity of the crimes of Ginbot 7, and of Andargachew, is particularly evident in the demonstration of its willingness to join ranks with the regime in Asmara. A group that forms an alliance with the regime in Asmara, known for supporting terrorists, and often classified as one of the most repressive in the world, cannot claim any close acquaintance with the values of democracy. Equally, in the context of Eritrea’s activity towards Ethiopia, this can only be described as treasonable.

Those who have criticized Andargachew’s detention need to be reminded that the call they are making for his release is based on a misunderstanding of the case. Calling for release in such a situation can only be equated with endorsing, even supporting, terrorism as a tactic of struggle as well as becoming a stooge of an Eritrean government, widely branded as a ‘spoiler’ in the region. Equally, calls for his release on the basis that the person holds a foreign passport and that this should exonerate them from detention and legal liability, also demonstrates a simplistic understanding of the case. Citizenship under Ethiopian law has never given immunity to one’s liability for grave criminal offences like terrorism. Andargachew’s detention and extradition was carried out on the basis of the bilateral treaty between Yemen and Ethiopia which allows for extradition of wanted criminals.

Another issue that it is important to raise here is that of the double standards that still continue to prevail globally as far as designating terrorist organizations are concerned. While almost all nations agree that terrorism is a global menace that continues to be a real challenge to international peace and security, on a practical level cooperation in counter terrorism leaves a lot to be desired. Organizations like the Oromo Liberation Front, the Ogaden National Liberation Front and Ginbot 7, all of which have been involved in extensive killing of innocent civilians and other terrorist activities, are allowed to roam freely around the world despite the fact that the Ethiopian parliament has designated them as terrorist organizations. Despite the fact that other countries have cooperated with Ethiopia in the fight against international jihadists like Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, the threat emerging from Ginbot 7 and other Ethiopian terrorist organizations operating in Ethiopia has not been given the consideration and cooperation it deserves despite the overwhelming evidence of their terrorist activity. The Ethiopian Government believes that whoever might commit terrorist acts, or wherever they are carried out, the battle against terrorism is the same, and all should cooperate in a genuine spirit, irrespective of whether an organization is designated in Ethiopia or in other country. If nothing else, the emerging trend of cooperation among terror groups across the globe should set off warning signals of the need for greater cooperation among the nation of the world.

Indeed, the extradition of Andargachew, the Secretary-General of Ginbot 7, should be seen as an impressive example of successful counter-terrorism carried out by Yemen and Ethiopia. Calls for his release are no more than an endorsement of terrorist activities long ignored by outsiders. Ethiopia is a multi-party democracy and provides constitutional guarantees to democracy, the free operation of dozens of political parties, and to the rule of law. Any attempt to portray Ginbot 7 and Andargachew as 11


fighting for democracy has no validity as their own repeated assertions make very clear. We should not have to remind the defenders of Ginbot 7 that a democratic culture can only flourish under a political dispensation that respects democratic institutions. Here, important strides have been made in building the institutions of democracy including home–grown civil society organizations and mass organizations and a free press. Those who claim the contrary have clearly not bothered to read what is actually published in Addis Ababa. Indulging in terrorist plots is not the way to nurture any democracy, young or old. This can only be done through pursuing political goals within the bounds of the law. Even more, mixing terrorism with claims of democratic struggle is no justification for treason or as the Prime Minister said, serving as a Trojan horse for the regime in Asmara. The detention of Andargachew is, in fact, an act that in the circumstances should be seen as contributing to democracy in upholding the rule of law, respect for the constitutionalism and the rights of peaceful struggle.

Finally, it is pertinent to refer to the international consensus that has developed over the past two decades on the issue of combating terrorism. The UN Security Council in Resolution 1373 (2001) reaffirmed that “such acts, like any act of international terrorism, constitute a threat to international peace and security”. It calls on all states to “(f) Take appropriate measures in conformity with the relevant provisions of national and international law, including international standards of human rights, before granting refugee status, for the purpose of ensuring that the asylum-seeker has not planned, facilitated or participated in the commission of terrorist acts: (g) Ensure, in conformity with international law, that refugee status is not abused by the perpetrators, organizers or facilitators of terrorist acts, and that claims of political motivation are not recognized as grounds for refusing requests for the extradition of alleged terrorists.”

The UN General Assembly passed Resolution 49/60 in December 1994, the Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism. This notes (Section 3): Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the consideration of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.” The General Assembly in its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (Resolution 60/288 of September 8, 2006) reiterates “its strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purpose, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.” Earlier, the Organization of African Union in its Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism (July 14, 1999) states that “terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances and, consequently, should be combated in all its forms and manifestations, including those in which states are involved directly or indirectly, without regard to its origins, causes and objectives.”

development projects of the nation have been taken. As part of this and in order to activate maximum use of Diaspora resources, the Government has realized the need for the relationship to be institutionalized. It has, therefore, established formal mechanisms to encourage and facilitate Diaspora engagement, setting up a specific department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mandated to assist and cooperate with the Diaspora.

The aim of the General Directorate for Diaspora Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to ensure that Diaspora issues are considered in the nation building process; to disseminate accurate information to the Ethiopian community abroad through various media outlets; and to keep them informed of issues relevant to them. It also serves as a liaison between different federal Ministries, Regional State Diaspora Coordinating Offices and Ethiopians in the Diaspora; encourages the active involvement of Ethiopians in Diaspora in socio-economic activities in the country; and works to mobilize Ethiopian communities abroad for sustained and organized image building.

As part of the government’s effort to facilitate involvement of members of the Diaspora, the Foreign Ministry recently tabled a draft framework for discussion to set up an internship program that will enable Ethiopian nationals and foreign citizens of Ethiopian origin to work at the Ministry and Ethiopian missions abroad. This framework is thought to be an effective tool to familiarize the members of Diaspora with the country’s current state of affairs. Moreover, the program will shed light on the country’s policies, strategies and its development directions.

It has been in recognition of the need to involve the federal states fully in Diaspora activities, the Government has also encouraged replication of the federal level initiatives and systems at regional level. Each Regional State has created an office specifically to deal with Diaspora activities and encourage the Diaspora to engage at regional as well as national development level. These efforts, accompanied by a range of policy reforms and other measures to facilitate Diaspora participation, have been widely welcomed by the Diaspora.

Ethiopia is also making progress in reaching out to its expatriates through targeted campaigns seeking investment in development projects in the home country, through its formal Diaspora policies, and its efforts in supporting global Diaspora networks to forge strong connections between those at home and their foreign-born populations. The Ethiopian Diaspora Directorate-General now has a web portal ( to provide information for the Diaspora on investment and trade opportunities in Ethiopia, details of development projects, details of the Government’s Diaspora policy and of the support services are available in Ethiopia. Foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin can apply for a “yellow card”, allowing them virtually all the rights and privileges of a citizen including entering the country without a visa and employment without a work permit.

State-level Diaspora engagement policies have also gained in popularity over the last decade as the regional states increasingly seek to capitalize on the resources that migrants can offer their country and their state of origin. It has become widely accepted that Diaspora members can offer significant value to their countries of origin and help in economic and social development. In the past, the greatest focus has perhaps been on international remittance flows, but now there is also general recognition that knowledge transfer programs and a more general Diaspora investment is of equal or greater value. Just as the African Union has recognized the African Diaspora as the sixth region of the continent, countries, including Ethiopia, have realized the importance and the value of the Diaspora.


  1. Oromos are being sent to Somalia after being infected with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. More than 30,000 ethiopian Oromos are set to be in the process to be sent to Somalia and Sudan refugee camps after their head was shaven by infected blades. The government says they are homeless and are sent to Afar region while some of them are cvalling their families from Somalia and Sudan. The government took their food farm lands and converted it into Khat farms


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