"I got involved in politics for the purpose of helping the Oromo people, to raise their heads up high because they had been oppressed." Obboo Bulchaa Dammaqsaa
Bulcha Demeksa: Eight Decades in Nutshell
15 June 2010
A pillar in Ethiopian and African society, Bulcha Demeksa, refraining from competing in the 2010 National Elections and watching the defeat of his party along with all other opposition parties (save one member of Medrek), announced his resignation from politics. He took an interview with EDEN SAHLE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, in which he talked about his history, his opinions on the current politics of Ethiopia, and his future plans.
When did your involvement in politics begin?
It started during the Emperor's Regime. A minister is a politician and I was deputy minister of Finance at the time. I was part of the political elites at that time.
Were you involved in politics during the Derg Regime?
No, I was outside of the country working for the World Bank at the time. Endalekachew Mekonnen, who was the Prime Minster at the time, offered me the position of Minister of Agriculture, just as the revolution was starting. I came back to Ethiopia and stayed exactly for 40 hours before going back to my job at the World Bank. The situation was really bad. Many of my colleagues and friends were killed after I left.
When did you first join Parliament?
In the 2005 elections, and I became the leader of my party. I was elected in my village Bogidirmagi with 94pc of the vote. The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won only six per cent of the vote in my district.
Why did you choose not to participate in the 2010 elections?
I decided to retire from politics, because I am now nearly 80 years old. I wanted to let younger people do the job and do the fighting because Ethiopian politics is brutal.
What do you mean by "brutal"?
Public observers chosen by candidates to gauge the correctness of the election get beaten up. I have seen them bleeding. The government and the opposition are like enemies. I have never seen such a thing in the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany. I have seen the ruling party and opposition parties fighting for power [in those countries], but they do not hate each other. They sit down and talk and have coffee or tea together. When one wins power genuinely, the defeated party accepts the defeat and tries the next election. But it is not like that in our country. People numbering 195 were killed in the aftermath of the 2005 elections. What is more brutal than that? It is not for me, anymore, and it is not [just because of] my age. I hope my successors do not witness this.
Do you believe that your party will succeed without you?
I do not think the brutality of our politics will disappear. But they are younger and can stand it, resist, and survive, but I have done my share; it is enough for me.
Do you think you have achieved your goal?
No. I am leaving without achieving my goal. Initially, I got involved in politics for the purpose of helping the Oromo people, to raise their heads up high because they had been oppressed. They had been land tillers and not landowners. I wanted to change that situation, but they are still [a] disadvantaged people.
Nevertheless, we have done some good. For example, the Oromo language is accepted today. Medrek as a party accepts that the language should be an official language like Amharic, as it is a widely spoken language. My other goal was to see a strong Ethiopia, which is respected by African and other countries and to see the Oromo people be part of that. I wish all the Ethiopian federal states to be richer and happier in this respect. I think that I have contributed a little. There are some achievements, but the overall goal has not been achieved.
If you had taken part in the 2010 elections, do you think that you would have won a seat in Parliament?
I doubt it. Therefore, I do not regret my decision not to participate in the elections. I also do not think that my party would have benefited had I taken part in the elections. I see that all of the parties that I know, primarily Medrek have lost because of unfair elections.
What is your comment on the recent election?
Medrek, as a party, has agreed not to discuss the issue of the election because we have already started taking legal steps with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and have written a letter to the Federal Supreme Court. I will refrain from answering your question at this point.
Why did you decide to resign now?
Because Ethiopian politics is too rough; nobody at my age can survive it.
Have your party members supported your resignation?
Some of them who like me so much have supported me, and some who only think about the party have asked me to stay.
Do you think your party will be affected by your departure?
Not at all, because we are now part of a coalition (Medrek), a stronger and much bigger party.
What is your next move?
After September, I will no longer be a Member of Parliament, but I will advise and help my party in whatever way necessary. I will finish a book about my personal life.
Have you enjoyed your time in Parliament?
No, I have not enjoyed it. I was stifled. I was given only two minutes on any subject on the basis of the number of seats we have in Parliament, which is unfair. The Constitution does not impose such a limit on Members of Parliament. I have a law degree and a masters degree in Economics, I have 17 years of working experience in the UN and five years at the World Bank, which makes me qualified to advise on almost all economic and legal issues, but not being able to do that was disappointing for me.
What do you think the next Parliament will be like?
I do not know. It is unfair to prejudge. But I know how it should be. It should be like Parliament in Ghana or South Africa where people can oppose [the ruling party] without fear and retribution. It should be a place where parliamentarians debate freely. It should be a place where thinkers express their ideas most vividly.
Do you think that you have served long enough?
No, I could serve until I am 85. I am healthy and my mind works, but due to the brutality of our politics, I cannot continue.
Bulcha Demeksa, 80, was born in western Welega in a village called Bogidirmagi, Oromia Regional State. He was married twice for 14 and 43 years and had five children from his first marriage and one from his second.
He attended elementary education at the Adventist Mission School in Gimbi, Oromia Regional State. He finished his high school education at Akaki Mission School, Addis Abeba.
He obtained his LLB degree from Addis Abeba University (the then University College of Addis Abeba) and did his master's in Economics, after winning a scholarship from Syracuse University in the United States.
Career and political background
He served at the Ministry of Finance (MoF) for 10 years and became a deputy minster of Finance. He joined the World Bank in 1970, representing all English-speaking countries in Africa. Later, he worked at the United Nations in New York for 17 years. He cofounded in 1993 and holds a share in Awash Bank SC and served as its president until 2000.
After resignation, he formed the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM). He also participated in the conference of the formation of the transitional government by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) 19 years ago.