Date of Interview: June 8, 2020
Tigiray Mass Media: What led you to your decision to resign?As I made it clear in my statement of resignation, we have arrived at a historic time when the constitution is being subverted and the constitutional order being dismantled. I felt that to participate in the act of subverting the constitution and dismantling the federal system would not only be a historic mistake but it would also be a treasonable act against the country and the peoples. One may ask if this is the first time the constitution has been undermined. The constitution has continuously been undermined for some time now and I have been fighting for the rule of law and for constitutional order. Prior to the law establishing the so called Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission was enacted, I argued that it went against the basic principles of the constitution and that it encroached on the sovereignty of the House of Federation as well as misappropriating the peoples’ right on making decisions on such matters. This was a blow to the constitutional order and to the peoples’ right for self-determination, but it was only one of many. What makes the current challenge to the constitution special is that it is not only endangering the federal system, but it also leading to the establishment of a dictatorship and the breaking up of the country. It aims to supplant the rights of nations and nationalities with a dictatorial regime. Therefore, I felt that to participate in the subversion of the constitution, violation of the peoples rights, and the dismantling of the country would not only be an affront to my conscience but also an abdication of my responsibility and accountability to the people I represented. One may question my decision to resign now when I didn’t know what the House of Federation would decide in the next few days. But it is the process [for constitutional interpretation] that was wrong – a regrettable historic error that undermined the constitution. The House had previously been providing constitutional interpretations by way of its decisions as well as affirming group and individual rights, so any kind of request for constitutional interpretation could be brought to it. However, it must first decide whether there is a constitutional ambiguity regarding any of the cases and whether each case meets the requirement to be considered for constitutional interpretation. Therefore, it is the sovereign right of the House to decide whether or not it would embark on the interpretation of any constitutional matter. However, during the process [that led to the constitutional interpretation being referred to the House of Federation], especially the announcement by Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed, was a violation of the rights of the peoples as well as the sovereignty of the House of Federation. Perhaps it would have been acceptable if such an announcement was made after a decision was made by the House of Federation – if it had mandated the need for a constitutional interpretation. So even if the House would decide in error, it would be legal to make such announcements. However, at a time when the House of Federation had not made a decision one way or the other, for the government to announce that the means to extend its legitimacy was through a constitutional interpretation meant that I effectively lost my authority as Speaker of the House of Federation. What has been taken away is the sovereignty of the people of Tigiray that I represented, as well as of all the peoples of Ethiopia, through whose representatives I was elected Speaker of the House. It is this sovereignty that was taken away by an individual, the prime minister, whose unilateral decision was presented as an announcement. By cleverly presenting so called expert opinions, experiences of various countries and examples of foreign constitutional interpretations masqueraded as ways to develop our constitutional culture and deciding, based on these, for a constitutional interpretation was utterly wrong because the House of Federation has not made any decision. Moreover, and as a sign of his pre-determined decision, he has made another decision, which is to militarily crush a people who had stated their desire to hold a regional election. Where does this come from? For all we know, the House of Federation can decide that the matter doesn’t need a constitutional interpretation – it may decide that there is no clause in the constitution that would allow for the extension of the government’s term limit – so the decision could be for elections to be held as originally scheduled or for other political solutions to be considered. At such an early stage of the process, for the government to declare war on the people of Tigiray for declaring their desire to abide by the constitution and to hold a regional election so that they are led by a local government of their choice indicates that the federal government had already made up their mind and were simply trying to use the constitutional institutions to extend their grip on power – this is utter despotism. So for me, to stay in my position and to participate in the decisions of the House would be to collaborate in the dismantling of the country – so I felt that this would not only be an historic error but also treason – so my decision to resign was a matter of formality, since I had already lost my authority when the prime minster made the announcement which was a sign of despotism and tyranny. We are at the cusp of a complete breakdown of the constitutional order and the establishment of a dictatorship and so I didn’t want to make an historic mistake. Tigiray Mass Media: So you resigned in order not to lend a hand to the crime of dismantling the country? Yes, but it wouldn’t just be called crime, it would be treason – a historic mistake. It would be an abhorrent historic mistake and a breach of the trust I was given by the people I represented. Tigiray Mass Media: What is the position of the rest of the member of the House of Federation and how are they handling their constitutional responsibility? If the member of the House of Federation decide for the people they represent, the constitution and their conscience, the executive branch would show respect to the institution, but if the Hose of Federation has no self-respect, then the members would be subservient to the despot merely deciding in his favor, instead of the people, the constitution or their conscience. The government’s not so covert message has been ‘you follow my lead or you will pay the price – you have absolutely no other choice!’ So the question is who is going to make what kind of decision? In principle, everyone is supposed to listen to their conscience since the authority they have is the authority of the people and not their own. The current situation is not good because the process has been corrupted; and if the process has been corrupted, the decision will be corrupt. Since during the process, the prime minister announced as if decision has been made, he has effectively closed the case. So we will see it in the next few days, whether or not the member of the House of Federation will decide for the people and the constitution or if they will be decide in toe with the prime minister. I believe that it will be a colossal historic mistake to decide in favor of what the prime minister wants but I hope that the House will learn from my decision to resign by voting for their conscience. Otherwise, I have no doubt that the decision they will make will be catastrophic for the country. Tigiray Mass Media: If this situation continues, where will the country be heading and what will be the fate of the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia? Other systems have been tried in our country, including a forcefully imposed Unitarian system, which didn’t work. In fact it almost destroyed us and the country was close to disintegration, so the peoples of Ethiopia know very well that that system will not work for them. What is happening currently is a move in that direction – in the direction of the old system – which will take us back to civil war and distraction. The rights of the peoples are being violated so they must decide for themselves. Tigiray Mass Media: What is expected of nations and nationalities in the current political climate of the country? Nations and nationalities as well as those political parties and individuals that subscribe to the federal system must struggle with absolute determination because the struggle is not for personal gain but for the peoples and the country. Unless a concerted effort is made now to save the constitutional order, we may end up in a bloody lost fight. It is sad that the government declared war on people who indicated their desire to hold an election, instead of making a peaceful constitutional counter-claim, which is the only right thing to do. In this day and age, war will benefit neither those who declared war nor those who must defend themselves.