Prof. Tecola Hagos, former legal adviser to Meles Zenawi, has written an eye-popping article, in a form of book review, that calls on Ethiopians of Tigrean origin to take accountability for allowing Meles Zenawi to loot Ethiopia for this long [read below]. If most Tigrean intellectuals come out and a take a similar stand, the resentment many Ethiopians feel toward Tigreans would disappear. Most Tigreans, perhaps over 90% of them, are as much victims of Meles and other Ethiopians. Unfortunately, however, the Tigrean elite has been blindly supporting Meles only out of ethnic loyalty and some crumbs. — Elias Kifle
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BOOK REVIEW: Ethiopia’s Endemic Poverty that Globalization Won’t Tackle, But Ethiopians Can
By Tecola Worq Hagos
It is rare, indeed, that a captivating non-fiction socio-politico-economics book on Ethiopia appears on the market, and at a bargain price of twenty five dollars, at this age of blogging and chatting where most Ethiopians get their information. I am not exaggerating at all to state that Aklog Birara Ph.D. [hereafter “Aklog”], who recently retired after thirty years with the World Bank, has written a monumental book titled appropriately WAVES: ETHIOPIA’S ENDEMIC POVERTY THAT GLOBALIZATION WON’T TACKLE, BUT ETHIOPIANS CAN [here after “Waves”]. This is a serious book that should be read by Ethiopians and others interested to know the facts and the reasons why Ethiopia , a nation that was never colonized with a long history of independence and in that part of the World endowed with great natural resources, remained poor and starving for decades.
Aklog’s book is a work of love and compassion for a great nation and a people who have fallen on excruciatingly painful times perpetrated by violent and brutal successive Governments, the latest being the worst. The sheer size of the book, of five hundred pages, which is densely packed in small prints with very narrow margins, would require stamina and dedication to read from beginning to end. Fortunately, Aklog is a consummate writer of brilliant analysis delivered in beautifully crafted language. It is a mark of the mastery of a language where style is subordinated to content and one reads with eagerness an author without being overwhelmed with technicalities. Nevertheless, Aklog’s book is not for the faint hearted, the one who would give up after few chapters. I pride myself for being a fast reader, with the paradox the faster I read the better I retain the content of a book. Even then it took me a while to finish Aklog’s book. I could say that if the book had been formatted properly with wide margins and larger font size, it would have easily been in three volumes.
I came to know Aklog in person only recently. I realized what a great human being he is as an individual, a person with great charm and humility. I am amazed having witnessed on few occasions in conferences and/or group meetings how well he relates with ordinary mortals like me. I can understand how he was and still is a great asset for the World Bank having to deal with often cantankerous and difficult national government representatives and experts in all sorts of disciplines. One of the most attractive aspects of Waves is the narrative about Aklog’s own beginnings in rural Gondar nearby village and his transformation over the years going through high school both in Ethiopia and in the United States and ending up finishing his formal schooling with a Ph.D. at one of America ’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, the Johns Hopkins University . He has lived a full life of growing up in an Ethiopian extended family structure surrounded with nurturing parents and relations and neighbors. What makes Aklog’s book endearing to me is its unselfconsciousness and honesty.
In fact, what was striking to me, the first time I met Aklog, was his appearance with his massive head and prominent brow/forehead. I hope no one accuses me of being a student of Francis Galton, for associating such configurations with great intelligence. In Aklog’s case, I am right. I am probably younger albeit with few years from Aklog, and yet he treated me from the very beginning with undeserved respect. In fact, he should have been angry with me, for years earlier I had written a piece misidentifying his role during the time of the Derg, in a piece I wrote about Kinijit and the leadership of Hailu Shawel who had appointed Aklog as a member of Kinijit International Leadership (KIL), while Hailu was detained along with other CUD leaders after the 2005 National Election. [See Tecola W. Hagos, “Revisiting the Political Opposition: on the Conviction of CUD Leaders,” tecolahagos.com, June 22, 2007.]
A lot could be learned about a person by looking at the list of books he would read and the concepts he would question. The number of books cited by Aklog in Waves gives us a fair picture of his political inclinations, and the form of economic system he might prefer. It is in that light that I was much interested in the names of authors Aklog had read. A sample of his reading revels that Aklog seems to favor liberal-democracy on the subject of political systems and issues of individual rights, and controlled market economy on the subject of national economies. He quoted often in his book outstanding visionaries and experts in socio-economic matters and also those courageous human rights champions who dare speak to power, such as Robert Calderisi, Ha-Joon Chang, Hernando de Soto, William Easterly, Thomas Friedman, Dambisa Moyo, David Rothkope, Amartya Sen et cetera. Having admired his range and depth of reading, I find one author that Aklog cited often as objectionable and extremely annoying to me. The author Michela Wrong is the most despicable individual who hides her racist biases in the jargon of human right activist language. I hope Aklog would rub out in his future reprint or edition of his book that Neanderthal creature from his book.
The Gentle Narrative of Ethiopian Life
In Chapter One, Aklog set the tone of his book by first describing how he thinks of himself as “idealistic, principles centered, stubborn, and controversial.” [P11] Though it is very difficult for me to see myself in well defined terms, I do appreciate Aklog’s perception of himself with such degree of clarity. Knowing oneself is the beginning of wisdom as the ancients had surmised, as inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi : “γνῶθι σεαυτόν,” in translation “know thyself.” I am not talking about some superficial self knowledge, but a deep understanding of ones frailty as well as strength, and ones motives and goals.
Aklog started his Chapter One with a quotation from the greatly loved and universally respected Ethiopian author Haddis Alemayehu, from his famous and endearing book ፍቅር እስከ መቃብር [Fiqqer Eske Meqqaber]. Aklog tells us how he grew up in the rural setting of a farming village in Gondar area. We do not know exactly the name of the locality, but that does not diminish the narrative process, for his story is typical of highland Amharas from North to South and East to West. What he left unsaid though about his home area, which is atypical from the rest of the Amhara region, is the fact that he came from the home area of some of the greatest Ethiopian Emperors and also renowned great Ethiopian scholars—Debre Tabor and vicinity.
On its own, Gondar (including the city by that name) is a region of Ethiopia with fabulous history. Gondar the City itself is the home base of several illustrious Emperors and Queens including Emperor Fasiledas (1625-1660 EC), the founder of the City, Iyasu the Great (1674-1698 EC), Empress Mentwab the beautiful, et cetera. To me it is the home base of my favorite Emperor Dawit III (1708-1713 EC), a truly renaissance man who invigorated the art of “living” in his very short reign of six years with his patronage of great art works, musicians and musical compositions, and literary works. Great writers, such as Samuel Johnson (Rasselas) and L. R. R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) either based their fabulous stories in Gondar or named their fictitious realm after Gondar . Johnson described Gondar in the very first chapter of his allegorical novel, “Rasselas” by stating that Rasselas the main character “was the fourth son of the mighty emperour, in whose dominions the Father of waters [Blue Nile] begins his course; whose bounty pours down the streams of plenty, and scatters over half the world the harvests of Egypt .” It is a fact that at the time when Johnson wrote Rasselas, the Emperors of Ethiopia were young Eyoas (1747-1761 EC) the son of Emperor Bekafa (1713-1723 EC), followed by Yohannes II (1761- 1762 EC). At that time, Ethiopia was in great turmoil, which was the time of the beginning of the Age of Warlords. But Johnson would not know about the situation. He based the story of Rasselas from reports of Portuguese missionaries, from the period of Emperor Minas, the brother of Emperor Gelawdewos, from the 1550s and 1560s, which report Johnson translated from the Portuguese.
Aklog did not say much about Gondar the city itself. I wish he had. I have a special place in my heart for Gondar . The first time I visited Gondar was with a family friend who took me to see this fabulous City of Forty Four Cathedrals and great Castles of Emperors and Empresses. Having read so many fairy tales by that tender age of twelve about castles and dragons and knights in shining armors, I had a sharpened imagination and expectations though fashioned after illustrations in books of European settings. Nevertheless, I was not at all disappointed, but thrilled with the real live Gondar Castles of my own history. I sensed that I was visiting a very historical city; my depth of understanding how great a history came much later.
There is something more to Ethiopia if one could read the subscript in Aklog’s book, for it is not narrative for narrative sake what Aklog attempted and succeeded in writing about his life growing up in rural Ethiopia . What he has succeeded in a way of establishing that Ethiopia is no pushover nation, but a country of great history and a social structure that had withstood the assaults of Centuries of highly corrosive political and economic systems.
III. Ethiopiawinet [ኢትዮጵያዊነት]
Aklog did not devote a specific chapter or sub-section to the concept of “Ethiopiawinet.” However, one can say without exaggeration, his whole book is about “Ethiopiawinet.” For example, if we consider what Aklog stated as the thesis of his book, we can easily see that Ethiopiawinet is at the center of it all. I am setting this issue by itself because in the past all those who wanted to destroy us first attacked our national ethos, our sentiments of nationhood, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity, and undermined our unity by encouraging local leaders to identify more with their ethnic group than the Empire of Ethiopia of then.
“The thesis of this book is that no amount of foreign humanitarian and development assistance will eliminate hunger, abject poverty and technological backwardness. Aid by itself will not propel the country towards a path of rapid and equitable social and economic transformation and shared prosperity. It is harnessing the resources and capacities of the Ethiopian people that can move the country forward. This requires a dedicated and highly committed and nationalistic state and governmental leadership.” [p2-3]
As we will discover reading this monumental work, Aklog’s fight is to preserve the territorial integrity and Sovereignty of Ethiopia foremost, and to do that he argues through out the book the Ethiopian Government and the people of Ethiopia have the singular responsibilities to develop the country to feed itself first.
I believe, as Aklog pointed out in so many ways, self awareness in knowing ones history and ones struggle is the core of all development. The heart warming narration of Aklog’s own life story, the route that he took to be the man he is now, all tell us the story of Ethiopia in miniature. His story is our story too. Very many Ethiopians have expressed what it means to be Ethiopian in words and in direct actions for centuries, it includes Emperors, Queens, Church leaders, Christians and Moslems, Scholars, Soldiers, Simple Folks, and even Children. The last group in the list being the Children of the Old Airport Area, Addis Ababa, who in defiance to Meles Zenawi’s ersatz remark that our flag is just “a piece of cloth,” hoisted their own Ethiopian Flag on a home mad flagpole in the middle of a traffic square and guarded it day and night. I saw that with my own eyes, and there is no measure to my pride then and now of the patriotic feeling of “Ethiopiawinet” in so young members of our community. Out of curiosity and trying to learn what motivated the children to do such a bold act, I asked a few of them, and their answer was that Ehadeg meaning EPRDF insulted the national Flag and on that they will challenge anyone. The children were mostly ten to twelve year olds.
No one should undermine the pull and power of identity. It is not without reason why Meles Zenawi and his TPLF members tried to undermine our Ethiopian identity with all kinds of processes and underhanded tools, such as the establishment of the Killel system, the requirement that individuals have to identify themselves in all official documents with their ethnic identity rather than their Ethiopian identity, the willingness to give up Ethiopian territory claiming that such territory does not belong to Ethiopia when the facts on the ground show other wise thereby reducing our size and importance and our national pride, the indoctrination within the TPLF undermining Ethiopia’s history and territorial sovereignty to this day whereby even ex-officials of the TPLF still repeat as a mantra. Our Ethiopian Identity is our best weapon against all those who want to see us destroyed.
Ethiopiawinet is both a philosophy and a way of life, and to a few a religious experience. Americans have their “America Dream” where they weave a unifying matrix. In Ethiopia we have something much older and not just a dream. Ethiopiawinet is expressed and daily affirmed in the way we live. Ethiopiawinet does not mean having a single culture, or a single religion and a single God, or speaking a single language, et cetera. We have a wonderful expression about Ethiopiawinet from the Former President of Ethiopia Dr. Negasso Gidada, who stated at a conference in Washington DC that Ethiopia resembles a wreath of flowers, each bloom distinct and identifiable but interconnected with other blooms bringing in such beauty and wholeness as part of a wreath. We read similar sentiment in Aklog’s writing. “I identified and defended the policy need to agree on Ethiopia ’s multi-ethnic based centrality while ensuring political pluralism, genuine decentralization and the unfettered freedom of each nationality group to enjoy its own languages, cultural heritage and benefits from its natural and human resources endowments.” [p491] The extreme form of such ethnic aggregation is not the desirable form, what is desirable is the one formulated to work under the umbrella of Ethiopian unity, territorial integrity and political plurality.
IV. Articulation of Ethiopia ’s Problems
Aklog spent considerable time and energy in Chapter Three after having laid out his own life experience and the setting of our recent history in Chapters One and Two. He identified what he designated as “national policy mistakes” of the executives of the ruling-party i.e., Meles Zenawi and his Government. I see in those articulations not only “mistakes” but also deliberate acts of destruction of a great nation by a malicious hateful individual. Aklog considered the many stupendous problems facing our Ethiopia as a result of anti-democracy collective leadership. I see the problem differently in that all of the problems identified by Aklog are the brain-child of Meles Zenawi—the manipulative and vicious work of a single man. There is no doubt in my mind looking at the mountain of evidence that it is the hateful activities of a single individual who used at every stage his own political Party and the people and wealth of Ethiopia to serve his only agenda of unfettered greed for power no matter the price. Let me list first the five problems identified by Aklog before I suggest my evaluation of those problems.
1. The willful and deliberate turnover of Ethiopia ’s access to the Port of Assab to the Eritrean Government. The support and advocacy of Eritrea secession from Ethiopia . [p76ff]
2. The legalization and institutionalization of an ethnic-state, ethnic-politics, and ethnic federalism. [79ff]
3. The legitimization of party-owned, supported and endowed enterprises and non-profit organizations. [80ff]
4. The bogus claims by the ruling-party of the creation of institutional foundation for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, equality of nationalities, a free market economy, respect of civil liberties and human rights, administrative efficiency, and rapid socio-economic development.[89ff]
5. The leasing and/or selling of millions of hectares of fertile arable land to foreign investors. [92ff]
No doubt the five items that Aklog identified are extremely serious problems facing Ethiopia ; however, they are not the only ones. Nevertheless, Aklog developed to the full each of the problems he identified as mistakes of policy, in several chapters including Chapter Five that pointedly deals with well reasoned critique of “ethnic federalism” that is the main them of the Government of Meles Zeanwi and resulting in his most destructive political program.
In fact, I have identified additional two problems no less devastating than the five well articulated problems, which are elaborated and explained quite well by Aklog. I would include poor education system and population explosion as real threats to the very existence of Ethiopia . Aklog did discuss the problems of poor education and the growth of the population of Ethiopia in Chapter Five and elsewhere. He saw the problem as an obstacle that can be overcome through governmental and public participation. He even suggested population growth as some kind of an asset that could be used to promote economic development.
“A country’s population growth could be either a risk or an asset depending on the performance of the economy. Some foreign experts believe that Ethiopia ’s explosive population growth is ‘the elephant in the room’ that keeps the country poor and its people hungry. I disagree with this thesis and have shown why population size is not a curse.” [p392]
I disagree strongly with that type of association of numbers with development or wealth, for its biblical connotation of unchecked multiplication. I see great social and economic problem in unchecked reproduction as an inherent problem of underdevelopment, disfranchisement, and the setting or prelude to devastating human rights violations. Overpopulation in the case of Ethiopia represents to me a society losing its control on the sexuality of its citizens. A traditional society, which had perfected taboos, mores, and rituals controlling the sexuality of its community members, is literally at the mercy of the devastating effect of modernity and the rise of urban centers. Population explosion is a symptom of loose sexual mores, taboos, and ritual control. In other words, population explosion is a symptom of far deeper problems of a society because of the loss of fundamentals due to the drastic introduction of modernity without the complexity that had it working for Western societies effectively. The modernity of traditional societies overnight results only in vulgarity and the deformity of the indigenous culture.
One must look at the Ethiopian people themselves not just the leadership in order to read correctly why Ethiopia is underdeveloped and in perpetual shortage of food. In fact, I believe none of the five problems identified by Aklog would be seriously devastating and threatening if Ethiopia had an improved education system and drastic population control. These two problems are insurmountable with out proper paradigm shift. To some extent, Aklog did fall into the same trap of piling all the problems of Ethiopia on the rulers of Ethiopia, such is the trap that is often overlooked by many Ethiopian scholars critical of the rulers of Ethiopia from earlier period including the current Ethiopian Government headed by Meles Zenawi. Meles Zenawi may well be the symptom of a very sick society rather than being the cause of it.
As a generalized solution to all the problems facing Ethiopia , Aklog offered a fourteen-point solution in his final Chapter, Chapter Ten. Those solutions are dependant on the general framework of the type of state governmental structure Aklog is suggesting—political plurality. Aklog seems to be convinced that form of “plurality” [Aklog did not discuss what the word means or elaborate the concept it embodies] will advance the “socioeconomic and political development suited to the 21st century, they owe it to the country and their constituents that they move from tribalism multi-nationalism and a pluralist political culture that will accommodate competing interests.” [p211] That may be a very difficult undertaking, for the task of functioning as a state with such necessarily two diametrically opposed and forcefully different and antagonistic systems or approaches may be insurmountable. To hold together an ever fracturing Ethiopia from within, an Ethiopia victimized by a leader actively pursuing such goals since 1991, would be impossible to check and control in promoting unity (sovereignty and territorial integrity).
On that score, I have a fundamental disagreement with Aklog, for I treat the concept of “nations, nationalities and peoples” within a state as pure creation of the élites of the Ethiopian society in the 1960s and 1970s and not reflective of the interests nor sentiments of the Ethiopian population from whatever ethnic enclaves. May be the exception could be Eritrea due to its sixty years under the yoke of a colonial master and his imposition of some divisive structures on the local population. For me, the only force that has its base in the sentiments of the Ethiopian population is the idea of being an Ethiopian. The ethnic identification that people had used in all of our history was simply done as means of social identity and not as a “nationalist identity.” What ever rational we bring into the debate, or what ever label we put on it, any form of political structure that is based on nationality or ethnic identity will not be any different than the present Killel system that is destroying Ethiopian unity.
In a way, either Aklog is making subtle differences or is contradicting himself, for he had argued vehemently that the 1995 Constitutional Articles 2 and 8 undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, because such articles claim that such prerogatives reside in “the nations, nationalities and peoples” thereby marginalizing the fact of the “State of Ethiopia.” [p236] The phrase “the nations, nationalities and peoples” thus found in the Ethiopian Constitution is a legacy from the writings of immature and juvenile diatribe of badly educated and socially disfranchised and radicalized students of Haile Selassie I University of the 1970s. It is the ersatz voice of Meles Zenawi forcing himself through the 1995 Constitution on the People of Ethiopia his narrow and ignoramus ideas on the history of Ethiopia and the process of nation building. Aklog may have to rethink and clarify his stand on such sensitive issues. His book does not give clear guidance on the conflicting ideas of pluralist political culture against the challenge of inherent fragmentations of Ethiopia due to ethnic politics.
V. The Role of TPLF/EPRDF
No one man or political organization had devastated Ethiopia as much as Meles Zenawi and his political organization the TPLF/EPRDF have done in the last eighteen years. I am not writing here about the suffering of millions of Ethiopians whose human rights and political rights are abused or violated daily, but about much more serious processes of the destruction of the very fiber of Ethiopia as a nation. Aklog did give us ample evidence and analysis to reach that conclusion. In fact, the great contribution of Aklog to us is his meticulous documentation of the several ways implemented by the current Government eroding the unity and cohesiveness of Ethiopia as a political, economic, and cultural entity.
Once upon a time there was arguably some redeeming value in the TPLF, but since 1992 it had atrophied until it was completely corrupted and gutted by 1999 and Meles Zenawi became the dictator doing what ever pleased him to do. Most of the Western nations had turned a blind eye to the atrocities and the gross human rights violations by Meles Zenawi and his psychopathic enforcers. Meles Zenawi is a truly depraved man with psychopathic personality. It is beyond imagination how a short boy with an extended belly and bulging eyes from a rustic poor environment could get to the pinnacle of power and acquire such fabulous wealth. Meles Zenawi’s success is not a testament to his abilities, but a sad commentary on our deficiencies. As a people, since the time of the destructive romp of Gragn Mohammed for thirteen years, we have failed for centuries from consistently and successively developing responsible and mature leadership. What had happened in our history is sporadic and unpredictable leadership, which at times inspiring and at other debouched and destructive.
For a long time, I had accused indiscriminately anyone criticizing Meles Zenawi based on his ethnic background. For me then to identify Meles Zenawi’s destructive leadership by his ethnic background only, without substantial evidence of his narrow ethnic affinity, would be totally wrong. When I criticized Menilik II, I based my criticism on facts (supported by incontrovertible evidence of international treaties, signed letters addressed to foreign government leaders often hostile to the interest of Ethiopia) that his activities were geared to promote the interest of a particular area. However, compared to the types of the anti-Ethiopia activities of Meles Zenawi and his Government, such as the signing if the Algiers Agreement, the half-hearted representation of Ethiopia’s interest at the hearings of the Boundary Commission, the declaration of the acceptance of a corrupt decision of the Commission, the fracturing of the nation by ethnic segregation, the looting of the wealth of the nation by TPLF controlled entities et cetera, with that of Menilik’s very few questionable treaties, the destruction caused by Meles Zenawi is humongous. Now, considering the many anti-Ethiopia and ruthless disfranchisement of Ethiopians, I believe Meles Zenawi is the worst leader Ethiopia had ever seen in its long history. Even Menilik II, whom I had criticized because of his signing of a few international treaties and conventions that adversely affected the vital national interest of Ethiopia , is an honorable man and patriotic in his own way to the nth degree compared to Meles Zenawi.
Aklog is rightly indignant due to Meles Zenawi and his TPLF organization’s lack of zeal to defend Ethiopian territorial integrity and its sovereignty. In no uncertain terms Aklog stated, “Until the TPLF took power, the tradition of defending Ethiopia ’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and interest had never been compromised or bounded by ethnic-affiliation or origin.” [p158] This is absolutely true, that Ethiopia ’s territorial integrity had never been so vulnerable and opened up for negotiation as much as Meles Zenawi had tried to do. What makes Meles Zenawi so much anti-Ethiopia may have to do with his family and his upbringing in a family of Bandas who worked for the Italian occupying Army during the Italian aggression of Ethiopia in 1935 to 1941. Aklog has also provided us with a table listing the names of military commanders. It is a highly ethnicized military, where nearly all of the Commanders are Tigrayans. [p382ff] It is impossible to explain to people why so many are from a particular ethnic group. Such military is very weak, for Ethiopians through out our history had fought enemies with an army composed from several ethnic groups. Even the earliest record of Ezana, from before the time of the Christ, stated that one of his well respected wing of cavalry were Bejas from North Ethiopia, present day Eritrea.
The devastating suppression and Stalinist form of penetration and destruction of the Opposition political groups after the fiasco of the 2005 national election is well discussed by Aklog. Aklog believes that the Ethiopian public has deep philosophical disagreement or disengagement with the TPLF/EPRDF run Government of Ethiopia and predicted that they will be in opposition across ethnic lines against the ruling party, TPLF/ EPRDF. [p232-245] One reason I tagged Aklog as an optimist is due to his faith in the ordinary people of Ethiopia . Especially, after the dismal sheepish behavior of Ethiopian voters in the 2010 National Election, I am convinced that this generation of Ethiopians is very different than previous generations, and as such the current Ethiopian public in general is an opportunist ready to betray friends if there is some monetary gain or if there is a turn of events that it might join if safe. There are only handfuls of principled Ethiopians back home or abroad at this crucial time. I wish I could see the same Silver-lining of hope that Aklog seems to see around the dark-gloomy cloud of political and economic disaster hovering over Ethiopia .
The raping and looting of Ethiopia by Meles Zenawi and his TPLF Party organization is exhaustively documented and analyzed by Aklog in Chapters Six and Seven. These Chapters are exceptional in that Aklog in over seventy pages has compiled and analyzed first the merging of ethnicity with economic structures showing the monopoly of the Ethiopian economy by the TPLF using non-profit entities, such as EFFORT to acquire and control vast areas of commerce, agro-industries, and export trades. Here is one source of objective look how far the TPLF pretending to be a national political organization looted the wealth of a nation for the benefit of the very few individuals. It will be very difficult to explain such a corrupt structure to the people of Ethiopia claiming that all is done in their best interest.
“Ever since he abandoned his communist principles a long time ago, Meles Zenawi has been looking for a new ideological frame of reference. A few years ago he was a supporter of ‘revolutionary democracy’ in whose name he imprisoned his rivals in the EPRDF governing coalition. Now he has just found a new credo. Feeling that ‘liberal capitalism’ was of no use to his country, the Ethiopian Prime Minister stated that he was opting for what he called the ‘developmental state’ as had been expounded in South Africa . He also stated that the path to development adopted by China was the best. Full circle, so to speak!” [The Indian Ocean Newsletter, January 21, 2009.]
With much closer examination, and by allowing also sufficient time for the dust to settle down, it is now much clearer to me that Meles Zenawi would not have stayed in power for so long devastating Ethiopia and looting its wealth and planting the seed of the disintegration of Ethiopia across ethnic lines without the help or acquiescence of most of the people of Tigray. From now on the onus of proof is on Tigrayans to establish their loyalty to the rest of Ethiopia . The rest of the people of Ethiopia have given them for the last twenty years a chance to show their true allegiance, to make a clear choice between localized and narrow selfish interest or the unifying all embracing Ethiopian concern and firm commitment to the Motherland, and they have not been forthcoming.
The Development State and its Discontents
The “development state” is not something new, but an old fallout from the communist-socialist mold adopted as fallback position in the aftermath of the devastation and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1986. It is true that it is after the 2005 Ethiopia ’s national election fiasco that Meles hammered at the concept of development state. The preliminary draft of Meles Zenawi’s change of policy was stated in advance extract he presented at a development forum organized by Initiative for Policy Dialogue in 2006. There were extracts from his book manuscript African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (Preliminary Draft)and one such extract stated.
“The political and economic renaissance of Africa is an issue that continues to preoccupy Africans’ and non-Africans alike. Various methods of achieving such a renaissance have been proposed. Most of these proposals are variations of the dominant neo-liberal paradigm of development. My argument is that the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.”
In discussing some of the activities of Meles Zenawi’s Government, Aklog stated clearly that he acknowledged several meritorious constructions, such as main highways, dams, et cetera that are assets for the people of Ethiopia undertaken by the TPLF/EPRDF Government. “Evidence shows that the ruling-party has done a commendable job in many sectors: infrastructure, construction, education, health services, among others.” [p289] [p452] However impressive those constructions might be, they are not as outstanding as Aklog depicts them to be. The fact is that they were schemes to move public fund and foreign exchange to private hands to companies controlled by Meles Zenawi and his wife, with close associates from the TPLF leadership.
Here is where Aklog seems to have been taken by the deceptive practices of Meles Zenawi and seems to overlook the layers of deceptions and fraudulent manipulation by Meles Zenawi once again looting the wealth of the nation. Aklog did not discuss the personal fortune amassed by Meles Zenawi and Company. This is one item this brilliant author did not discuss and enlighten us on the specific corruption of the crime infested leadership of the TPLF. What is the financial take of all the minions and barracudas clinging to the white shark of corruption—the Government of Meles Zenawi? One answer is to be found in Aklog’s comment where he cited the report of Philip Thornton that money flowing from on deposit in Banks in England was on the rise by over one hundred percent. And Aklog rightly asked, “Where does the money come from?” [p371]
Although Aklog has discussed the corrupting influence of Mohammad Hussein Al’Amoudi in connection with the leasing of tens of thousands of hectares of land, he did not go into the detail of the devastation caused by a con-man no different than a common street pick-pocket. It would have been appropriate and enlightening to have discussed the looting of our gold by Al’Amoudi and also to have investigated in depth any private arrangements or deals with Meles Zenawi and associates, and the role played in all these debacles and corrupt relationships with the TPLF. I would have liked to read also about the money-laundering schemes, if any, these characters might be involved in. There are, for example, shady real-estate corporations allegedly involved in money laundering schemes working for the private accounts of some of the members of the Leadership of TPLF. The corruption in Addis Ababa real-estate market had spread out to Baher-Dar, Awassa, Mekele, et cetera. There need be thorough investigation in that area too.
Aklog’s brief statement on one of the worst rapist of Ethiopia and looter of the wealth of Ethiopia , Al-Amoudi, revel to us what Ethiopians have been suspecting all along. Of course, Aklog did provide us with valuable evaluation of how much gold is looted by this Saudi National with claims of Ethiopian mother, to be about 3.5 ton a year. [p205] I was hoping to read a global picture of Al-Amoudi’s corporate structure and how he moved hundreds of millions of dollars and Euros, around the World, and how he looted Ethiopia blind. I will fill in some aspects of Al-Amoudi’s entry into the Ethiopian market working his way up the ladder from 1991 to the pinnacle of the TPLF leadership by 1993. Here we can have a glimpse of some of the forty corporations and partnerships owned by Al-Amoudi through his holding corporation MIDROC-Ethiopia: Sheraton Addis, Midroc Construction, Ethiopia Moha Soft Drinks S.C., National Mining Corp., National Motor Companies, Ethio Leather Industries (ELICO) P.L.C., Dashen Bank, Elfora Agro-Industries P.L.C., Bauer-Midroc, Sara Lamps, Ethio Coffee & Tea Plantation & Marketing P.L.C. and Kombolcha Steel Products Industry (KOSPI). [Source: Tiret Magazine]
In 1998 Al-Amoudi bought a twenty year concession of the Lege Dembi Gold Mine for a measly 172 million dollars. At the beginning of this year, Al-Amoudi’s gold company, MIDROC Ethiopia , announced its discovery from two mining sites a total of 28,000 Kg gold reserve. [See Addis Fortune, http://www.addisfortune.com/MIDROC Strikes Gold Big in Two Reserves.htm as retrieved on Feb 28, 2008] This could easily top a return of over a billion dollars on an investment of 172 million dollars, which does not include existing mining operations that have been producing gold for Al-Amoudi since 1998. This is over 500% return on investment, which is extremely lucrative by any standard of measurement of risky businesses. The Ethiopian Government should not renew that Concession at all and simply take over the operation.
The one extremely sensitive item that concerns most Ethiopians is the issue of the ownership of land. Ethiopian scholars, ordinary Ethiopians, political organizations and civic associations, and business leaders et cetera are divided in their stand on the issue of land ownership. Generally Oromo nationalists do not want to change the current system of leasing land and all title of ownership of land being controlled by the State/Government, in other words by the collective. However, in reality it is the Leadership of the TPLF in the Ethiopian Government that has the ultimate power about land ownership or lease. Aklog clearly favors private ownership of land and would like to see such change as part of the general change in the development of the nation’s natural resources. [pp178-180]
Referencing Alfredo De Soto, the renowned economist on the suppressed hidden asset of the rural poor, Aklog made his most poignant and heart wrenching remarks on the desperate situation of Ethiopia ’s poor farmers, who are ever threatened of eviction and losing their tenured land at the whims of local TPLF/EPRDF representatives. He wrote, “They are afraid of expropriation or at least a perception that land cannot be transferred to children and others. Land cannot be used as collateral to access credit. This perception has a great deal to do with the politicization and ethnicization of land.” [p179] If the very backbone of the economy of the country, the small scale farmers of Ethiopia are in constant threat, insecure in their land, and at the mercy of the whims of local and national political leaders, how is the nation going to feed itself?
It is not surprising that Aklog’s bold stand both in his book [155ff] and in his public addresses in conferences focused on the issue of Ethiopian land grabbing by foreigners. I agree with Aklog completely that it is unconscionable to lease/sale millions of hectares of fertile land to foreign governments, especially to those governments, such as those of Egypt , Saud Arabia et cetera, that are historic enemies of Ethiopia . Now, one wonders what happened to all those poor Ethiopians who are landless, and some being forced out from their land holdings that they have either farmed or used for pasturing their animals in order to make way to foreigners? The contract for such giveaway of Ethiopian land is kept secret by the parties. Only Meles Zenawi and his co-conspiratorial enforcers would know the contents of such contracts. What had been leaked tells us a grim story of unimaginable stupidity on the part of Meles Zenawi and enforcers on how they have leased for over eighty years for rates as cheaply as one US Dollars per year per hectare, where a comparable land in Indonesia would cost over three hundred US Dollars. [P338-342]
It is absolutely revolting to witness the disposed Ethiopians working for Indian or Arab owners and overseers in nightmarish exploitative plantations in their own country in the 21st Century Ethiopia , under the Dictatorship of Meles Zenawi and his TPLF organization. I could say without any reservations, “Shame on you Meles Zenawi and all you members of the TPLF for doing to Ethiopia and Ethiopians what even Fascist Italy would not have done.” Aklog is also actively involved in the Border Committee fighting to preserve the territorial integrity of Ethiopia on the Western borders of the Nation currently under the attack of Meles Zenawi who is bent on ceding over sixty thousand square kilometers of great Ethiopian territory to Sudan in a secret deal he is making. [p222]
It is truly astounding that Sudan that is a beneficiary of unimpeded freely flowing waters of the Blue Nile that delivers over 85% of the water of the Nile yearly inundating Sudan and Egypt with millions of tons of fertile soil is now being rewarded further by Meles Zenawi with millions of hectares of Ethiopian land. With the right leadership, it should have been the other way round that both Egypt and Sudan pay annual fees to Ethiopia for the use of the water and fertile soil of Ethiopia delivered by the Blue Nile . Such demand is not at all unreasonable considering the fact that Ethiopia has to halt or limit her own development projects to feed her own people, in trying to accommodate the needs of both Egypt and Sudan .
What is creative in Waves is the fact that Aklog saw colonialism as an aspect of globalization albeit of an earlier era. He was able to identify certain features of colonial expansion with globalization, which may be labeled in the jargon of the 1960s and 1970s as “imperialism” of the capitalist West. Aklog wrote in his book “ Africa suffered from the globalizing influences of colonialism.” [p13] He devoted considerable energy and time discussing and elaborating the myth of globalization. He brought into the discussion not only his own deep insight, but also the views of several renowned scholars with clarity of text enviable for its depth and scope.
In Chapter Five Aklog took up the issue of how Meles Zenawi implemented his scheme of ethnic-federalism of the current Ethiopian state structure in his globalization mantra to carry out full scale looting of the wealth of a nation to benefit the few, sharing in the polarization of the rights of the many, camouflaging his activities as if there is equitable distribution among the many ethnic enclaves created by the TPLF leadership. [p227] He pointed out also the fact that the initial ethnic-federalism had “evaporated while the tide in favor of multi-ethnic politics is in the rise.” [p234] Chapter Five is in a matter of serialization a prelude to Aklog’s Chapter Nine, his most astute and brilliantly stated commentary on globalization and ethnic politics. Chapter Nine is Aklog’s best Chapter in Waves, incomparable for its clarity, precision, and depth. There are several memorable statements in Chapter Nine, and the one that jumped out at me is a statement dealing with the conflict and contradiction inherent in the fracturing of Ethiopia into ethnic enclaves and the globalization sweep of our time. “Unified, they [Ethiopians] would have a better chance in defending their interests. Divided, they will be swallowed by forces over which they will have little if any control. Globalization is not for the week and submissive.” [p398] [emphasis in the original]
And yet even in Chapter Nine, Aklog seems to hold contradictory views. One explanation for such paradoxical views could be the fact of the grand scope of the Book, which is overwhelming. This would result in what may seem to be contradictory views. For example, if we start with the first paragraph of Chapter Nine we read the statement, “The country is highly polarized by ethnic-based politics and geopolitical structure.” [p375] Ethnic-based politics and geopolitical structure was the basis of the 1995 Federal Constitution imposed by the EPRDF, which legalized and formalized that narrow perception of the elements of the State of Ethiopia. Further down we read also the puzzling statement, “I do not share the consensus view within the opposition camp of political, civil, professional, intellectual leaders and opinion makers that the ruling party is singularly responsible and accountable for the country socio-economic and political ills.” [p375] I cannot see how any one else could be accountable for the dreadful state Ethiopia is in other than the ruling-party, especially Meles Zenawi and his sycophantic supporters within the TPLF leadership.
Under the subsection “Dreadful Model,” Aklog laid out the tragedy of the “aid business in Ethiopia [that] can only be described as vast, reflecting the depths of poverty and unparalleled destitution.” [p379] He further pointed out to us that there are “close to 24,000 associations, NGOs and other groups” involved in Ethiopian society providing highly needed services. When we take into account the amount of money poured into Ethiopia from outside sources, we expect as much progress in capacity building and social and political development. My understanding from information available from different sources as well as Aklog, the donor countries mainly the United States, Britain, Germany, Nordic countries have pumped in about 2.5 billion dollars into Ethiopia last year alone, and have done so an average of 1.5 billion dollars yearly since 2000, and the Diaspora Ethiopians have remitted to the country over one billion dollars yearly as well in the same period. [p275] This is not some little change, but major financial assistance infusion. The result is to behold, other than glitzy buildings and highways that go nowhere, and hydroelectric dams with innumerable problems, a fractured and extremely vulnerable society where tens of millions are starving and/or underfed.
Aklog is positively inclined to some extent toward the involvement of China in Africa . [p331-32] China has moved into Africa in a major way. In East Africa its major partner seems to be the Government of Meles Zenawi. However, the local report from Ethiopians is not that encouraging, for China seems to have undermined its great projects by its activities competing in retail and small scale enterprises cutting into the mercantile and cottage industries of the local Ethiopian population.
“Cheap imports, especially from China , dominate the domestic market. The Government’s unwillingness and inability to promote the national private sector inhibit domestic manufacturing and industrialization at paces corresponding to the country’s needs. Domestic demand is met largely through imports.” [p134]
Although Aklog did not discuss the issue of devaluation in this context, one of the reasons for the steep demand for hard currency is the fact of the import business mostly owned by TPLF Corporations controlled by Meles Zenawi and his Wife. There is more to the devaluation of the Ethiopian Birr recently, and one must devote time to that debacle on its own.
China has leased land from the Government of Meles Zenawi to grow sesame. [p486] In other words, China is in competition with Ethiopian producers of sesame in their own backyard using their own land. To allow such arrangement with China , I can only say that Meles Zenawi must have tremendous hate for Ethiopia and Ethiopians or he is totally insane. On the international arena China seems to provide Meles Zenawi with a backup financing scheme if he falls into some kind of disfavor with the West thereby neutralizing what ever leverage the West might have against the Ethiopian regime. The political game might favor Meles in the short term, but he is risking permanently damaging the long term interest of Ethiopia with the United States and Europe .
Some Ethiopians believe that Ethiopia is paying too steep a price with its new found interlude with China . China is the new darling of the Government of Meles Zenawi. The recent publication of the Economist (“ Ethiopia and China , Looking east: Meles Zenawi’s new best pal,” Oct 21, 2010) asserted as much. The Economist, is not to be trusted in all of its writings because a year ago it had an article titled “Resilient Prime Minister: The Two Sides of Meles Zenawi,” in its August 14, 2009 issue, rather flattering portrayal of Meles Zenawi that was far from his brutal and violent reality on the ground in Ethiopia. The article is also cited by Aklog. [p329] And a number of Ethiopians in the import and export business believe that China is dumping its goods on Ethiopia depressing all kinds of industrialization that would have been the proper development program for Ethiopia . However, China picked where the West left, Ethiopia was in dire circumstances and was on the brink of collapse. It is a fact that China was waiting in the wings during the period of the rule of the Derg. Then the key player was the Soviet Union . After the defeat of Mengistu and the establishment of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in 1991, China ’s place was assured despite the fact that at one point Meles Zenawi had scorned the Chinese form of socialist movement favoring Albania .
No one would question the fact that the United States was involved with Ethiopia for far longer period than the period China was involved with Ethiopia . Nevertheless, it is to the credit of China that within a decade it has become a major partner for Ethiopia ’s effort to develop its hydropower and other natural resources. The United States by contrast, even though it has spent tens of billions of dollars in humanitarian contributions, did not make much headway in its investment in Ethiopia . Aklog discussed President Obama’s policy in regard to corruption citing the address he gave when visiting Ghana . [p316] How much of that speech would have been appropriate address to Meles Zenawi and his Party members is anybody’s guess. What is puzzling is the fact that the Government of Meles Zenawi continues to get financing from the World Bank and the IMF.
One may ask of Aklog whether international aid/assistance (from both Governments and NGOs) can be considered as an aspect of globalization. Aklog did not tackle the issue of international aid/assistance in those terms, but he takes up the issue in several chapters pointing out the corruption of the benevolent gesture from donor countries by the officials of the TPLF/EPRDF led Government. For example, Aklog pointed out the cozy and unhealthy relationships that existed at one point between the Ethiopian Government officials and the managers of NGOs who acquiesced to the political and economic suppression of the millions of Ethiopians by the current Government and its political Parties. [p196] Well, all that was changed with the enactment of Proc No. 621/2009, [p355] which legislation drastically limited the activities of NGOs even making some innocent activities as potential subversive criminal acts. In case of the rising star Dambisa Moyo, Aklog pointed out his disagreement with Moyo’s thesis that international aid causes corruption in national economies. Aklog explained his disagreement in that international aid per se is not the cause of corruption. [p433] I agree with Aklog to some extent that international aid has a role in the development of nations, but it is also akin to putting great temptation where there is serious need and minimal institutional control that end up “tempting the Devil.”
In an article I wrote a few months back I tried to draw analogy between a bonsai tree and Ethiopia . The starvations, the torture, the binding by wire, all seem to be similar to the daily lives of the Ethiopian nation and the victimized population. Helen Epstein in her heart wrenching article “Cruel Ethiopia” is simply holding the mirror of truth to our faces. It is alarming that sixty percent of all Ethiopian children are suffering from stunted growth due to malnutrition and starvation in millions of instances. This is not a simple tragedy but a frightening national security matter. I always held the view that comparing “miseries” does not help or improve the quality of life of anyone. But it does inform; awareness is the first step in the process of revolutionary changes.
In the final Chapter like a great Fianale, Aklog bear down on us with his fourteen point solutions. The suggested solutions are long, medium, and short term solutions. However Aklog left it to us to determine which is which. Most importantly he believes the solution to alleviate poverty must involve everyone including the Government. This is all fine, but the one question that Aklog did not answer to my satisfaction is why anyone should help poor people. This question requires some in depth discourse. There is just a presumption that people have simply used as their starting point when discussing development and modernization and combating poverty. I am asking such a question because if we have a clear answer to that basic question, we may be able to come with profoundly fundamental answers to many of our problems. I want that examined and restated with clear rational.
Aklog has given as a list of solutions in Chapter Ten that we must consider in all seriousness. In discussing each of his solutions Aklog used and referred to numerous works by experts. Some of the experts he discussed are very familiar to me, but others I still have to read. What we have here in the person of Aklog is an author with great depth and learning with great capacity to interpret and apply that knowledge in the service of our Motherland. This is not an easy fete for anybody, but an accomplishment born of discipline and cognitive excellence in real time. These solutions suggested by Aklog would require a life time commitment and hard work with the guidance of new Government leaders who must be totally dedicated to the people of Ethiopia .
1. Promote and build an inclusive society beyond ethnicity [p442]
2. Negotiated settlement with Eritrea on the issue of Ethiopia being landlocked [p446]
3. New land policy [p447]
4. Industrialization policy [p450]
5. Infrastructure policy [p451]
6. Social capital formation – education policy [p454]
7. Free access to information – freedom of speech and press [p458]
8. Basic health services [p461]
9. Stop the brain drain [p462]
10. Feminine liberation and rights [p467]
11. Managing the population explosion or ‘bubble’ [p474]
12. Encourage private enterprise [p481]
13. Sovereignty [p484]
14. Learning from other [p489]
There is no question that the above solutions to such identified problems are all valid and would certainly help eradicate hunger, disease, and pestilence et cetera from Ethiopia . The secret is how to prioritize which programs, and work out the details of appropriate projects. As far as I am concerned the first item that need be on anybodies list of solutions must start with Aklog’s Number Ten starting at page 467 dealing with steps to be taken against gender-based inequalities. I sincerely believe that there is nothing more important than bringing to the forefront as a matter national emergency the tragedy of the treatment of Ethiopian females inhumanly at home and abroad. The entire Ethiopian society must be galvanized to fight for the rights of our sisters and mothers, for the respectful and the humane treatment of females in Ethiopia , even before worrying about feeding the Ethiopian population.
The cultural frameworks dealing with family life, marriage et cetera was meant to insure that only those that are capable of maintaining a family have access to sex. Such formulation and control of the sexuality of the members of a society had kept men (women) in their prime in all successful societies. The simple biological process would require only those that are capable of maintaining stable homes would be in bonding with female counterparts and produce well looked after offspring. When sex becomes easily accessible and even exportable such a society is on its way to destruction, as is the case with Ethiopia . The traditional structure for marriage and mating rites had all been discarded with the modernization effort of Emperor Haile Selassie. The country has been a hotbed of prostitution losing its moral compass for the last fifty years ever since.
As Aklog has identified, “Girls and women are the social fabric of Ethiopian society and have been for generations.” [p467] I will add to that statement that without proper respect and humane treatment of Ethiopian females, proper care of Ethiopian mothers and children there cannot be an Ethiopian nation worthy of its name. The beginning of all wisdom is the respect and humane treatment of females and children in Ethiopia . Aklog put it succinctly, “Development is meaningless without the wellbeing of [Ethiopian] girls and women.” [p390] Nothing else matters at this stage of our political and economic life than this most devastating cruelty and degradation facing Ethiopian females both in Ethiopia and in Arab nations and else where in the World.
We must demand first and foremost to stop any kind of employment of Ethiopian females in Arab Countries and in all other abusive nations with dismal human rights record, and the second step is repatriate all Ethiopian females from abusive Arab/Gulf States. At the same time during such period of rehabilitation, the Ethiopian Government should setup funds to help the returnees from Arab countries with living assistance, homes, stipends and work programs et cetera. I wish Aklog had shared his views with us about solving the monumental problem of prostitution and discussed in depth how it has degraded the value of womanhood in Ethiopia .
It will indeed be an oversight not to emphasize Aklog’s devotion and concern for a system of education responsive to the needs and aspirations of individual Ethiopians and helpful in fulfilling the national vital interest of Ethiopia . He identified first the defect of the ethno-education systems that had totally distorted the education system in Ethiopia creating all forms of dilatory obstacles in other sectors of development also.
“The current educational and training system incentivizes small and narrow economic and social sizes to the detriment of the national economy. … An education system that does not allow academic freedom to debate economic ignorance fails to produce leaders, technical and professional citizens with the confidence, competence and independence of devising a strategy for changing it in fundamental ways.” [p457]
It is a fact that in the Oromo region the alphabet in use is not the Ethiopian-Geez Alphabet but Latin Alphabet and as a result even written communication had become difficult across ethnic populations. The fact that the Government of Meles Zenawi is actively discouraging the use of Amharic as a unifying national language is another major obstacle set by the ruling-party, TPLF/EPRDF. These are all social issues that should have been left to the people to decide freely in completion in the free market of cultural ideas.
Nothing Meles Zenawi has done will stand the test of time; what ever he has done will die with him in ignominy. What the current political leaders in Ethiopia have succeeded in doing is to create an illusion of an ongoing vigorous economic activity in Ethiopia . The Ethiopian economic structure, which generates and registers some statistical data for the benefit of Western governments and their banks (e.g., World Bank, IMF) that are willing to hang on to straws in order to justify their involvement in Ethiopia shelling out billions of dollars or Euros, is simply a house of cards that will collapse if Meles Zenawi stops to exist. That might even happen sooner than we think, for the rumor is that he is very seriously ill from some form of incurable disease. The people that he had now lined up as members of his Cabinet are not in any way capable of maintaining the country under the thumb of the TPLF/EPRDF. All personality based governments will sooner or later bite the dust and nothing is left as their legacies except fracturing, civil strive and civil war, and another turn of a brutal dictator.
Meles Zenawi seems not to have abandoned his youthful foolish dream as his fall back strategy—the creation of an independent State of Tigray—a juvenile view of a megalomaniac whose political horizon does not go any higher beyond the bridge of his pug nose. If he is relaying on Sudan , the day he declared the independence of Tigray is the last time Al-Bashire will speak to him. Eritrea will be all over his front yard and Ethiopia from the South will be in Mekele in no time. More importantly, Tigrayans themselves will make minced meat out of him in few days. I emphasize this particular thought process of Meles Zenawi because of the fact that it is a sore point among the Diaspora population as well as local politicians at home.
The problem with dictatorship is the fact that no national or human concern ever moves a dictator to take actions. It is always his own insatiable appetite that overrides everything else. Meles Zenawi’s interest is Meles Zenawi. Recent article by Professor Ghelawdewos Araia, seems to court the idea of reconciliation between the Government of Meles Zenawi and the Opposition that has been decimated with no political clout. What is to reconcile under the circumstances? The only viable and rational action is to remove Meles Zenawi by all means. In fact, prayer seems to be the most effective way to carry out that noble action. Let Ethiopians from every where mark a particular time of a particular day and pray for fifteen minutes stopping what ever they are doing. If all Ethiopians from all over the World carry out that simple activity, in less than six months, Meles Zenawi will be history.
It might look frivolous to bring up the “Cover” of a book as a topic of discussion, especially in a review of a very important and extremely serious book. Nevertheless, I justify my decision to comment on the book-cover of Waves because I have worried about the way we (Ethiopians) depict ourselves in our art, in books, in films, in videos et cetera. There are situations where I have seen Ethiopia being depicted solely as a country populated by very light skinned beautiful people, and at others with Nilotic or Bantu people image of painted primitive people, stark naked, with revolting culture. Neither is the right depiction or representative sample of Ethiopians. This is not meant in any way to depreciate or to glorify any one ethnic group but to set the record straight and represent the reality of Ethiopian life correctly.
The book cover of Waves is similarly not representative of the Ethiopian population. My comment here is not in any way meant to impinge on the nobility of the gesture by Aklog as a sign of inclusion of our minority Ethiopian brothers and sisters who have been long disfranchised in our history. On the cover, there are twenty seven individuals that are clearly Nilotic and Bantus out of the total figures of fifty. The rest being highlanders and/or lowlanders Amharas, Tigrayans, Afars, Oromos et cetera. If that is meant to be a representative depiction of Ethiopia ’s diversity of population, it is totally misleading. I have seen similar misrepresentations of the ethnic identities of Ethiopians in Websites and in pictures or brochures issued by tourist agencies. Statistical data from the official census of Ethiopia 2007 shows the following approximate distribution of the population: of Ethiopia that is represented on the cover making up over fifty percent of those depicted in the pictures:
By contrast, the Amhara population by itself is more than thirty million, the Oromo population will be also over thirty million, and yet the representation of those population groups is far less than half of what is depicted on the Cover of the Book.
In an effort to give honor and credence to minority groups, such representation is creating a false image of Ethiopia and its diversity. The minority groups represented in the picture could barely make up five hundred thousand in absolute number out of a total population of over eighty million people. On the book cover of Waves the Nilotic and Bantu tiny fraction of the total Ethiopian population is made to represent over fifty percent of the individuals depicted on the book cover. In other words, such tiny minority groups are misrepresented as if they are over forty million when in reality they are only half a million or half of one percent (0.55%) of the total population of Ethiopia.
Thus, such type of depiction of Ethiopia as if it is populated with a majority of Nilotic and Bantu people is gross misrepresentation of our Ethiopian population. Ethiopians mostly are Agew/Beja not Nilotic or Bantu. Taking the book cover of Waves as sample, and if we want to have a correct depiction of Ethiopia’s demography in pictures with a total of fifty individuals to be depicted on a cover of a book, for example, only one individual would represent the Nilotics and Bantus of Ethiopia, about twenty eight individuals will depict Amharas, Afars, Gurages, and Tigrians, and about twenty individuals will represent Oromos which includes Bale and Harar-Diredawa and Somali areas as well. I would like to see the incredibly beautiful people from Afar, Ambasel, Axum, DebreMarkos, Gondar , Lasta, Menz, Raya, Sodo, Wag et cetera featured prominently. I want to see the core people that make up more than eighty percent of the total population of Ethiopia taking up eighty percent of the publication space and promoted widely, not just those from the fringes.
It is tragic that Ethiopia, the land of great heroes, could become the play ground of the likes of Meles Zenawi and Al-Amuodi. What would our ancestors think of us turning our country into a sandbox for traitors and rich kids to use it as a playground? My Patriotic Father who fought the Italians continuously during the five years occupation of our sacred Motherland, and who died recently, included. Is it not shameful to turn a nation that has been forged out of the very blood, flesh, and bones of countless brave Ethiopians into a brothel? Is it not shameful to turn our many sisters into prostitutes earning us the scorn of the world? I have spent countless nights brooding over the humiliation I feel when I consider my fellow Ethiopians being shoved aside and suffering in silence as second-class citizens, while foreigners, children of bandas, and sleek arada individuals, who do not give a hoot about Ethiopia, are now the leaders and the beneficiaries of all the sacrifices of our ancestors, in the current Ethiopia.
There are very many lines of actions that Ethiopians can take in the best interest of Ethiopia . It is not necessary that individual Ethiopians as individuals or as members of a group need be in power in order to bring some solution to our serious national problems. The first line of defense against abusive political and business practices is to develop the right frame of mind for protest, which would require objective evaluation of the characteristics and motives of people who affect our lives. What emboldens our political leaders to be ruthless and abusive is the fact that there seems to be no retaliatory action by Ethiopians as individuals or as groups against such leaders or their families. There ought to be consequences against leaders who abuse their public trust of brutal governance that will check such brutal leaders from hurting our country or citizens.
Our Ethiopia is at historical crossroads, and is being held hostage by a single man who seems to acquire absolute power and immense wealth at the cost of our Motherland. Meles Zenawi has absolutely no loyalty to the State of Ethiopia and to the people of Ethiopia. In his addresses he hardly ever mentioned Ethiopia, even when he does a few times it drips from his fangs like some poison. The more this particular individual stayed in power, he will do more irreversible harm to our Motherland. Now going back to the Book under review, there are few suggestions I would make that would help us manage to retain much of the important facts and analysis in reading this great work by Aklog.
As I have stated many times, Waves is truly a remarkable book that must be read by everyone capable of handling a complex, highly intellectual, deeply provocative, and analytical book. Aklog is a very optimistic individual as one can see his personality reflected and embedded in his brilliant book, and despite the fact that he ended his book with a pessimistic sentence:” The bleak socioeconomic reality presented in this book makes it urgent.” The effect of this monumental book on me, however, is to lose totally my hopes for Ethiopia. I was depressed for days, dazed, and brooding over some of the statements of Aklog in his incredible book, which ideas seem to have been glued to me. The truth about the fragility of Ethiopia is simply unbearable to me—obviously, a person of weak constituency. How could a nation buried under so much suffering and poverty, and horrible governmental policies, and corruption ever find its way out from such nightmare? One may think of that overwhelming unvarnished truth presented by Aklog as the one deficiency of this great work for it forces us to look at ourselves and lose hope.
There is nothing that can be overlooked or discarded from Aklog’s book for it is full of important facts and rigorous analysis and synthesis as well. It is this very fact of the wealth of information and discourse that overwhelms the mind. It is quite exhausting to deal with the complexity of the issues and the extent of the breadth of factual matters presented in the book. As I read the book, I wondered at times whether it would have been better to have this great opus in bite-size morsels that most Ethiopians would be able to chew and swallow. It would have been wise to have reorganized the book under specialized titles at the very least into three volumes. And by reformatting it into three volumes would not have taken away any of its vigor and great depth, and importance. No question that Waves is a master work.
Furthermore, I do have few suggestions for few structural changes for the book that will make it easy for readers to go through the humongous amount of information Aklog earnestly labored to enrich us with. It may be advisable to rearrange the Chapters and subsections under a point by point system rather than the mixed method utilized by Aklog. Two important features missing in the book are an “Index” and a “Bibliography.” A book without an index is like a ship without rudder.
Reviewing a book of this size and complexity is not an easy task. I am not trying to toot my own achievement, but rather to ask forgiveness from my readers for my being clumsy or for overlooking some important aspects of the Book, and for not being far more precise and brief. Brevity at times is an overrated quality. In this case of reviewing a great book, longevity or duration is preferable. My last words are saved for the Author of this remarkable work, my hard working, brilliant, and decent fellow Ethiopian Dr. Aklog Birara: Bravo! And thank you for a book so fulfilling!