Africa:No Honor Among Dictators?

Alemayehu G. Mariam

“If I Were the U.S.”

The old saying is that there is no honor among thieves. Is it also true that there is no honor among dictators? Perhaps that is a distinction without a difference. But Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia and Omar Bashir, the dictator of Sudan seemed to be good longtime friends. At least Bashir thought so. When Zenawi went to see him on August 21, 2011, “to resolve South Kordofan’s problem and defuse tension in the Blue Nile,” Bashir told reporters: “Meles is a friend and [he is] keen on peace and stability in Sudan and a strong advocate of Sudan in regional and international occasions.”

Some friend! Back in February 2009, Zenawi was not “advocating peace and stability” in the Sudan. Rather, he was sweet-talking the Americans to “remove the Bashir regime”. According to a Wikileaks cablegram:

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles told Acting AF Assistant Secretary Phil Carter and AF/SPG Director Tim Shortley that with the expected ICC indictment of Sudanese President Bashir either 1) someone within Khartoum would take advantage of the move to attempt to remove Bashir, or 2) such an attempt will either fail or be aborted.  While Meles gave the chances of success for option 1 as nearly zero due to the close knit ties among senior National Congress Party (NCP) officials, he argued that the result would leave the Bashir government a ‘wounded animal’ that is more desperate….

Meles suggested that if he were the U.S., he would either 1) remove the NCP regime or, if that weren’t an option, 2) make clear to the GoS that the U.S. is not out to get it and explicitly lay out what is expected of the GoS on Darfur and the South to avoid continued challenges…[Meles] clearly conveyed the preferred choice would be to ‘remove the Bashir regime.’ … Meles concluded the discussion by highlighting that ‘they don’t trust the Obama Administration’…

In a moment of extraordinary candor, Zenawi also characterized Bashir and the National Congress Party as money-grubbing, power-hungry thugs: “While the ‘Islamic agenda’ may have motivated the regime ten years ago, today they are interested only in money and power.”

Defending the “Wounded Animal”

In July 2008, Zenawi went gung-ho shielding the “wounded animal” from the spear of the  International Criminal Court. Zenawi waxed poetic as he warned the West against the folly of the “single-minded pursuit of justice” by indicting Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Zenawi pleaded that “concern for justice should not trump concern for peace.” He joined the African Union in urging the UN Security Council to suspend Bashir’s indictment. Zenawi’s right hand man Seyoum Mesfin declared:  “The government of Ethiopia believes that ICC’s prosecution process is unbalanced, lacks justice and violates the sovereignty of Sudan.” He lectured, “It is not the duty of ICC to present the image of a legal nation as if illegal.”

In December 2007, Zenawi was defiantly defending Ethiopian sovereignty against a bill in the U.S. Congress that he considered “insulting”.  Zenawi told a member of the U.S. Senate that “H.R. 2003 – The Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act – was an insult and risks jeopardizing the excellent U.S.-Ethiopia relationship if enacted into law.” He protested that the bill “is unfair and unduly singles out Ethiopia.” He “argued that H.R. 2003 effectively represented the United States “kicking its friend” when others have far more egregious records.  He demanded respect from the U.S. and warned the U.S. to not “legislate about the minutia of internal politics in Ethiopia.” It is OK for the Americans to “remove the Bashir regime” for human rights violations in Darfur, but not OK to pass a simple bill requiring human rights accountability in Ethiopia!?!

Regime Change in the Sudan and ?

Zenawi’s “preferred choice” was removal of the Bashir regime. In other words, he wanted  regime change in the Sudan. But the mechanics of ridding Bashir’s regime remained unclear. Would the U.S. instigate a military coup? Undertake a covert CIA operation to eliminate Bashir and his top lieutenants? Coordinate NATO air strikes on critical military infrastructures? Launch a full-scale military invasion? Sponsor, arm and support rebels and dissidents in the Sudan? Support a neighboring nation (with experience in invading neighboring countries) launch a preemptive attack?  Perhaps the U.S. Congress can pass a bill asking Bashir to remove himself?

On the other hand, what happens after the Bashir regime has been removed? Allow for free democratic elections? Leave the Sudanese to their own devices? Install puppets?

In a press release last week, Zenawi’s regime denied counseling Washington to remove the Bashir regime. It is not an uncommon practice to seek plausible deniability when one is caught red-handed. But one must consider Zenawi’s denial in the removal of Bashir in a broader context of his interventionary regional foreign policy pattern and practice. In December 2006, Zenawi invaded Somalia to effect regime change and save Somalia from“Talibanization.” In March 2011, Zenawi “announced a change in its foreign policy to actively advocate the overthrow of the government in neighboring Eritrea.” Is it reasonable to believe that someone who has a proven record of attempting regime change in two neighboring countries in the last few years would seek regime change in a third neighboring country?

But there is an irony in all of the regime change business that Zenawi does not seem to appreciate very well. One cannot  condemn others for doing the same thing one is doing.  Zenawi should not be surprised when others in neighboring countries allegedly plot to seek his removal. Nor should he be shocked at the alleged efforts of “part time amateur terrorists” who seek to remove him from the throne. The old saying goes that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Or is it?

People Who Live in Glass House Should Not Throw Stones

In soliciting the Americans to “remove the Bashir regime”, Zenawi makes the compelling moral argument that Bashir & Crew have no legitimacy whatsoever because they are “interested only in money and power.” How ironic! That is exactly what they say about him and his crew too. “According to the World Bank, roughly half of the rest of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.”

By a strange stroke of coincidence, Zenawi and I finally agree at the most fundamental level: All African dictators are in the business of politics “only for the money and power”.  In one of my most widely-read commentaries over the past four years, Thugtatorship: The Highest Stage of African Dictatorship, I merely fleshed out Zenawi’s fundamental argument that the politics of dictatorship in Africa is only about money, power and privilege:

If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugocracy is a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, a thugtatorship is rule by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugs) in designer suits. It is becoming crystal clear that much of Africa today is a thugocracy privately managed and operated for the exclusive benefit of bloodthirsty thugtators.

There is a great lesson to be learned here. This is not about one African dictator plotting behind the scences with the “imperialist West” to remove another African dictator. It is certainly not about getting justice for the oppressed people of Darfur. It is not even about sovereignty, independence, respect and the rest of it. It is “only about money and power.”

Africans who have suffered the trials and tribulations of colonialism, faced the persecution and repression of military dictatorships and withstand gross abuses of their human rights daily deserve leaders who are in politics to help the poor, defend the rights of the weak and powerless,  uphold the rule of law, practice accountability and transparency and respect the voices of the people. Africa needs leaders who honor and serve the people.


Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and

15 thoughts on “Africa:No Honor Among Dictators?

  1. Simen Bedecha on

    The TPLF is an ethnical fascist organisation and everything must be done to remove it from Ethiopia. Its fascist and racist leader is openly following and implementing discriminating and marginalising policies which are aimed at enriching and empowering his own ethnic group or what he referes to as the golden people. The fascist ethnic leader does not hide his politics of hatred and contempt to certain communities in the country. He describes the Amhara speakers as enemies of the Tigrayans who should be excluded from the political
    and economic lives of the country. He sees and treates the Oromos
    with contempt and considers them as simple tools to be used against the Amharas. His hatred towards the Amharas and contempt towards the Oromos form the foundation for his divide and rule system. So any discussion to coordinate the struggle between the Amhara and Oromo organizations causes unease and fear in TPLF and Meles Zenawi

  2. If one listens to Meles Zenawi speak, by “listen” I mean analyse his speech pattern, one quickly realizes he spends a lot of time projecting himself. This behavior is filtered down to every cadre and so you can tell what they are going through or what they are thinking just by reading what they write.

    The statement about the NCP being motivated by “Money and Power” is clearly a projected statement. It indicates to me, by Zenawi’s assessment, TPLF is now entirely corrupted.

    The thing he said about NCP being a closely knit kleptocracy hence impossible to overthrow, that is clearly him talking about himself. If you look at, even his body guards, he does not trust them unless they have the eye brow scar. He is a very paranoid tyrant who has problem with trust. It is no wonder if he thinks Bashir will be safe due to a closely knit kleptocracy, IT IS the very thing he has banked his tyranny’s sustenance on.

  3. GET UP on

    Get up people, those criminals, don’t care about Ethiopia and people, they just in power to steal and sell our country.

    Stand up!!!

  4. Geremew on

    Dear Prof Al Mariam,

    Thank you and i love you much. you have done a great job in exposing these blood thiristy Tigrea mafias to the whole world. you’re our person of the century. please keep up with your great job. your next step should be to write a persusive and convincing letter to the white house and the state department so that they will stop funding and arming these bruthal minority thugs.

  5. United We Stand on

    Prof Al, stated “…it is not even about soveriety, independence, respect and the rest of it. It is only about money and power”. The good doc further added, “Africans who suffered the trials and tribulations of colonialism…..deserve leaders who……respect the voices of the people”. He excellently concludes, “African neeeds leaders who honor and serve the people”. We hope so dear Al, the voice of the voiceless and defender of the millions of empty belly downtronden souls.
    When Meles,(with exprience in invading nieghbouring countries), recently pleaded with the Eritrean people who deserve great credit for regretably putting him on his fortune-throne by saying “sorry cousins, i’m totally changed saint now”, it surely looks kind of standing comic actor; a hubitual liar and serial cheater husband. As the saying goes “dlayen geryen, ba’elemariam ybla/corocodile tears”.
    By the way, when was the last time i heard the “we are cousins united against…nonsenses music? (with all due respect to the ER readers, i left the space purposefuly blank for not to incite the sad Rwanda-like…) Anyway, please allow me few hrs to rewind my long memory back to the 21 century. Too many broken promises to retrieve, you know. Yes, i got it. It was during the revolution era against sinior dictator Col. Mengstu. Ofcourse, before the jinior dictator reached unxpectdly the promised land and got a strog grip of it by throwing himself later on the arms of new spoilers singing and playing fake ‘revolutionary democracy’. The prodemocrats freedom advocate for the common good should be very catious about the sweet C-word when it comes from the crooked woyane cadres. (No hard feeling please to our fellow genuine prodemocrat innocent tgrean cousins who are part and parcel of the Beka Movement).
    The woyane dictator clearly seems trying to exploit his half side from across the Tekeze river,too. The trick might worked before, that used to make angry and jelious many of his gang leadership when we were in the bush but now no fairness-lover person can take him seriously. The current drama is ,taking place hidding his toxic intention this time round behind his little temporary for-profit Eritrean freinds whom people suspect that they have strong aspiration of becoming the next Eritrean-Almoudi serving thier Menelik Palace resident bosses as tribal and clil/regional misadministrators.
    Well, don’t take me wrong nice fellas. It’s always good having big expectations no matter how setting the high bar can be unatainable some times. Be warned though that most chunk of your dreams/hmbasha will be eaten by the invisible woyane cadre hands who have huge and obsessive aptite taste only for money and power.
    Remember, never underestimate riding the humble arebia that hopes swallowing alive its former mentors who are just honoring and serving honestly thier people with acounntability and transparancy. There is no such thing called free-fare in this imbalace and double standard justice of our world.
    I wish Alah/God the almighty and merciful build the once bread of the poor with lots of love, equlity, hormony, confidence, unity, respect for ancestral lands/law and human rights so all of us (encluding those wrongly accused patriots of forged terriorism) may be her passengers, sharing our resources together without discriminatory restriction and the humilation of aboarding thru the back door seat.

  6. It is “only about money and power.”
    In one of the past articles here in ER comment side, a father was telling his 12 years old son, that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has been in power for about 20 years. And his son asked him the most logical and healthy question what any normal thinking person would ask, “Why Ethiopians don’t elect another president like the Americans?” The reason the father gave to his son was “we Ethiopians grew up being beaten by our parents for speaking up, so we always lie to please our superiors to survive.”
    The answer this father gave to his son is in my opinion, is an answer of desperation. Desperation of not to be able to find a rational and sane grounds for such animalistic behavior of people who come to power and behave irrational and senseless.
    There are many countries where traditions of raising children are completely different from ours but unfortunately, we see the same trend also in these countries regardless of their upbringings. People suffering from the curse and menace of evil dictatorship.
    No, I think it has nothing to do with the way we were raised alone. With all my understanding to the father who explained to his son in a manner he did will however be a disservice to thousands of our brave and heroic young men and women who fought, protested, imprisoned, tortured and humiliated and ultimately martyred, to fulfill their longing and desire for fairness, human rights, democracy and equality at different time of our recent past and today’s history.
    I assume the reason for collapsed economies, failed states, and dysfunctional governments are the basic fear, greed and power addictions of African leaders, which again leads them to suffer of democratophobia.
    However, to be fair it is worth mentioning the few or the ten percent of all African leaders as visionary and exemplary such as of course Nelson Mandela who presently carries the torch as the best African leader. It is also worth mentioning leaders such as Julius Nyerere as one of the few leaders who voluntarily stepped down of power or leaders like Thomas Sankara or Patrice Lumumba etc.. will always stay in the glory of history. whereby those dictators of a vampire states such as the Kaddafi’s, Idi Amin’s, Mobutu’s, Bokassa, Afeworkie’s and our mini Melles Zenawi etc. will end up in shame and disgrace of future history. Which they actually do not care!
    In our case, it seems to be a dream to have someone like Mandela or Nyerere as our leaders. I am however convinced that everything is possible if we work hard, unite, and stay vigilant to realize it as the other continents and people did it.
    Nevertheless, it is worth fighting for such a dream and hope than to be a sitting duck and be humiliated day in and day out by those greedy and brutal woyane elites! Our so-called leader’s vision is “only about money and power.”
    The day is not far, where democracy prevails in our Ethiopia! Long live the YOUTH!

  7. the patriot on

    united we stand,
    rest assured that when the just beka/geye tnsa’e reached to its logical conclusion succesfully sooner or later by ridding off the parasite weyanne colonizer from our beloved homeland, no need of expriencing the himulation of aboarding behind the rear door seat like once your askari gardeners and house maids grandparents used to do in their own city. i like in general your idea though

  8. Filmon on

    For the record, i’m PRO-BEKA Tgrean Ethiopian born and raised in Asmara. I brought up in ONE-ETHIOPIA unionist/andnet family that opposes separation encluding the misguided woyane’s manisfeso. For reason, shaebia illegally deported us to Mekele claiming we were colaborators of Esepa/Derg.
    My main point that i would to state now is as my grandfather used to say, the Eritreans are the most willing colonized people on the whole world and if it was not for the allied forces, they would be still be enjoying the degrading colonization. No doubt they were gladly riding the train by the back door seat for this was taken as the sign of sivilization, looking down the rest of Africans as backward savages.
    I can explain a bit more in case what i’m taking about is still not making sense. They love to treasure all the himulating legacy of the facist Mosolini as a good sentimental memory entirely made by their frenji masters. For example, my favorite, the former Cinema Addis Abeba, now changed to Cinema Roma; my high school, Lu’ul Mekonen now changed to Keih Bahri (maybe to make them forget about Ethiopia that used to offer them lots of scholarship to abroad). I aslo found out that our beatiful villa in the nieghbourhood of Travelo, the once restricted to Habeshas/blacks is now tookover by shaebiajeneral, tnks to the dictator.
    Isn’t the whole thing make ashamed to any proud tkur/African? Hanti Me’alti Ala(freedom is coming to clean all dictators dirty laundry everywhere!

  9. Anonymous on

    The few fine trusted house negros of mosolini used to celebrate thier much anticipated 4th grade monimental ahievement graduation cermony w/the fanfare of the master’s leftover spaghetti & washing it down w/the another leftover moleti beer. Wat a good time memory!

  10. Geremew on

    To Filmon,
    You’ve uttered unsubstantial allegations about our brothers in Eritera. They are much better than the blood thiristy Tigrean mafias who are brutalizing the entire Ethiopia. Why don’t you talk about the Tigrean mercenaries who are killing, arresting, and torturing innocent people in Ethiopia.
    At least Eriterans have grace and honor by any standard when they are compared with Tigrean beggars who had been working as daily laborers in Asmara until recently. This minority criminal Tigreans are looting everything in order to prosper their beggar people. Why don’t you talk about the 80,000 innocent Ethiopians whom the Woyane mafias sacrificed to liberate a tiny barren land called Badima. And at the same time, these minority Woyane rulers gave a large chunk of land from the Gonder province to the Sudan. What about the crimes these beggar people commit by giving fertile and virgin lands to their Arab and Chinese masters by displacing poor peasants in the Oromo region.
    You know what you don’t belong to this website; you better go to Aiga or other Woyane media. If I were you, I would be ashamed of these blood thirsity beggars who had been uneducated, barbaric and poverty struck people. There will come a time when the people of Ethiopia will rise up and disintegrate the minority Woyane government once and for all.

  11. Filmon on

    To Ato Geremew,
    Are you telling me that there is ‘grace and honor’ riding behind that junk and filthy train seat and become proud of it as a result? It’s true and you got point unfortunately that we have some souls in some part of this world who feels ‘special’ becouse of such himulating expreince. I don’t know what to call this except Iferiority And Identity Crises, man!
    Sir, you can’t argue with me that our previous rulers particularly the Janhoy regime, for some reasons were giving out more opportunities to the Eritreans than at least the Tgreans whom now the shaebia dictatorship Sahel leaders are pretty much scared of not the new Sawa generations finding out. Instead, they’re misinforming them about our beloved anceint motherland good intentions for their own benefits. That’s why Ethiopia should offer scholarships to the Eritean youth to make even the playing field. In my opinion, i think this is a brilliant move for our country interest in the long run.
    Therefore dear brother Geremew, pls get your acts together and come hopfully to your reasonable senses. You are totally loosing your edge, buddy to say the leat.
    One-Ethiopia without tribal clilism and dictatorship forvever! Beka!

  12. Geremew on

    Dear Filimon,
    I am really sorry if you’re annoyed by my recent remarks and it was not intended to make you upset, my dear brother. I was very mad at the Woyane criminal mafia group’s atrocities in Ethiopia and that is why I was very bitter in my comment. But the fact is that these bloods thirsty Woyanes are terrorizing the entire Ethiopia and you cannot deny that almost all of them are from one ethnic group. They mass arrest, torture, and kill innocent Ethiopians.

  13. Dictators Must Go! on

    I’m one of the Eritrean opposition members and ato Filmon is absolutely right that the Sahel fox whole leaders are keeping hostage for their own making fortune indefinetly. Any suprise then why they are streaming to Ethiopia in search of education without offering free labor? You bet brother, HANTI ME’ALTI ALA/there will be one end of judmental day for dictators everwhere!

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