Crying for change

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It has almost been 30 years since Kontie Moussa (Ph.D.) escaped a mass recruitment for the army of the Derg Regime. He is now one of the high-level public health advisors in Europe. He is the founder of Afar People’s Party (APP). His return became possible after the appointment of the new Prime Minister and his call for opposition political parties based overseas to return. Kontie, shared his views about the current political movement in the country when he sat down with Capital’s Haimanot Ashenafi for this exclusive interview. Kontie holds a Ph.D. in Health Sciences with majors in Public Health, Epidemiology and Global Health.

Capital: Tell us about your childhood?

Kontie: I was born in the Awash Dullecha Woreda where the Kesem Sugar factory is now located. I was an ordinary child. I used to herd camels. I studied my elementary education at the Kessem Kebena Farm School before going to Dire Dawa for High School. I think my attraction to politics started in Dire Dawa where we read forbidden books with my friends. Dire has formed me and gave me the base to understand what a global outlook meant. The journey of globalization started there, we spoke French, Arabic, Somali, Oromifa, Afar in one household, where the idea of pluralism, tolerance, and curiosity together made a mosaic of cultural competences.

Capital: How and why did you flee to Sweden?

Kontie: I got out of my country because of the conscripted military service by the military regime. A lot of friends were taken to the war and none of them came back home alive. I remember around Kezira, a venue in Dire Dawa town, was filled with lots of mourning houses on the streets. So, I went to Djibouti and managed to go to France afterward. I went to Sweden from France and obtained refugee status in, which became my second home for the past 30 years.

Capital: I know you are not a fulltime politician now, what are your posts back in Sweden?

Kontie: I was a researcher and lecturer in Faculty of Medicine at Lund University (Sweden), Mbrara University of Science and Technology (Uganda) and Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia). I also worked for the World Bank in South Sudan, WHO, advisor and senior analyst of the health care system for the Swedish government. I am also an author of multiple scientific articles, evaluation reports and served as a reviewer for many scientific journals. I am also an advisor for the European Commission.

Capital: Tell us how you found the APP?

Kontie: It was back in 2006 that we started to operate underground. We made our struggle official in 2009 in Sweden by opposing the land grabbing policies, bad governance, human rights abuses and social injustice taking place in entire Ethiopia. However, our focus was primarily to expose what was happening in the Afar region and how this was associated and connected at the national level. We have been in the forefront to build a coalition with all Ethiopian political opposition groups except with those who have a secession agenda. Our party has members from other nationalities. That is the demonstration of our people which accepts living with any human being.
We work towards improving unacceptable economic, social, political and environmental problems that the Afar people are facing. We envisage the political, economic and social developments should include helping and improving the lives of our pastoralist majority. Achieving justice, liberty, freedom of speech and the right to be heard are our top priories.

Capital: Do you think the people are subjected problems that other regions don’t face.

Kontie: Not only the Afar region but the entire pastoralist regions are strategically suppressed by the government arrangement. You can begin with the name they are given as developing and their category of partner parties. These regions are the ones with a high cattle population. They have too many natural resources both under the ground and over the ground. The lack of attention to the pastoralist economy has left this region bleeding. This must be solved. The other is no matter how much you love your country or how hard you work you don’t have the opportunities to lead the country. This shouldn’t continue this way.

Capital: What do you think of the names given to the developing regions?

Kontie: I don’t like the name at all! Developing in what sense? Economic or Socio-cultural? Every region is developing or a low-income country. I would prefer the term low-income regions which are still stigmatizing. The question remains how do we evaluate the inputs of the pastoral economy when we are quantifying the GDP or how do we calculate the salt revenues, the agricultural assets?  The Afar region is one of the richest regions in Ethiopia but uneven distribution of wealth and power makes it looks poor.

Capital: What do you think about the decision of the 11th EPRDF summit considering the nonvoting representation of the partner parties? Will, it help the Afar People or not with the current status of the ANDP? There is also a promise to give them a vote.

Kontie: These were one of our core political issues and we hope that the EPRDF is going to make an amendment regarding nonvoting representation. These are about Gambelas, Hararis, Benishagul Somali and Afar with a total population of 25 million and 48% on the land mass in Ethiopia. A system that cannot distribute both wealth and power is unproductive and unstable. Therefore, changing this system is not an option rather it’s a must and we will struggle for that.

Capital: Do you think the reports concerning the economic growth of the region are accurate?  

Kontie: I witnessed many educated youth in Afar with no job. Most of the jobs are given to people who are from other regional states. This is not a bad thing, watching a country where everyone can work whenever he/she wants. But while the residents of the region are jobless bringing other human resources with the old fashion “Lack of skilled manpower” is non-acceptable. The people of Afar are a very welcoming society but the abused political leaders took that for granted. What breaks my heart is previously in the salt mining areas the locals will be renting their camels to the miners transporting their salt to the town. Now it is even worse, they bring loading trucks and take it all once. The localities are now just watching. The region supplies salt for the entire nation but it’s not the residents which are benefiting.

Capital: There were reports coming out of Afar Region at the time of your reception of youth being detained and that you were not welcomed there. What actually happened? Also, you are here in your hotel under strict security. Is there any threat?

Kontie: A few old-guard political cadres with a high rank in the Afar region are still in a systemic panic and the culture of hosting an opponent or a competitor doesn’t exist in their world. That is why we are encouraging the federal government to speed up the democratization and reform process further to peripheries including the Afar Region. The regional leaders have tried to obstruct our journey and we were not able to travel further than the main road as we wanted. Some cadres with high rank in the Afar region were still not ready to accommodate different political views such as ours. We have tried to have an open dialogue with President Seyoum Awal and few of his cronies, however, they seemed to be resistant and have not yet embraced the reform process initiated by the government of Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Nevertheless, we were overwhelmed by the reception bestowed to us by ordinary citizens both Afars and others Ethiopians living in the Afar region.

Capital: Will the new relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea help Afrar?

Kontie: We need to push for regional integration, where Horn of Africa can use all its assets to be competitive on the global market and to be a winner in the process globalization. Ports, like Djibouti, Port Sudan, Barbara, and Assab can bring an added value both to the global market and regional development if the service sector is integrated and operated out of common interest.

Capital: Reports from the region show an increase in drug use. Did you notice that as a public health professional?

Kontie: On one hand the state is exporting Chat as a cash crop and on other hand want to prevent people from using it. You cannot have it both ways. We are witnessing a collapsing society where drug addiction is neglected. This should the top priority of the government. There should policy and legal intervention before it is too late.

Capital: There is a new youth movement that arose in the Afar region which looks very similar to the latest Oromo protest. Is there any potential change in the Afar Region?

Kontie: For the first time since the EPRDF took power in the country, the Afar youth could be engaged in a peaceful struggle, that is inspired by the Oromo and Amhara protests. It is a natural process that the protest will continue if the changes we see in Addis do not reach Afar and elsewhere. Therefore responding and listing to the people is the way forward. Many other horrible methods have been tested, we lost many lives but many more are breathing the air of freedom.
Afars are crying for change! Educated Afar youth has started a movement called Xukku Cinna “No to oppression” opposing the increasing unemployment rate, corruption, and exclusion from decision making. The majority of the cabinet of the Afar region have been there since the transition period of 1991 including the incumbent president, the former president, the spokesperson of the regional parliament etc. They are fostered by the revolutionary democracy and are unable to reform themselves. People are saying enough is enough! We don’t feel a security threat in Addis but had it not been for the escort of federal police we might have ended up in Samara prison.

Capital: What is the APP doing to prepare for the next election?

Kontie: Obtaining legal status in accordance with the constitution from the election board is what we are doing now. APP was the first political party among organizations returning home that submitted all necessary requirements in order to get legal status.  Second, we need to open offices and mobilize all segments of our society who aspire for freedom justice and democracy.

Capital: Do you have any plans to serve the nation with your global experiences in the health sector, I mean besides politics?

Kontie: The whole struggle is about serving my country and my people. I’m among well-paid officials in Europe and have been working around the globe. However, my dream is to return back home and work to transfer knowledge. Politics is a means to enhance social justice but not an end by itself.

Capital: How about moving back home? What about your citizenship in Sweden?

Kontie: I`m planning to move back home. For the past 15 years, our struggle has been to bring our political vision to people to choose. We now are successful in that and we can freely communicate without being intimidated and harassed. There are many Afars with better knowledge and capacity to lead the organization if the issue of citizenship become an issue.  This is not about one person; it is rather about the population. So I’m not worried about it. The struggle continues until all Ethiopians enjoy the freedom they deserve.