Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia ethnic federalism’

The Poison of Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia’s Body Politic

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

ethnic federalismThe Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation (T-TPLF) adopted its fabricated constitution for Ethiopia on December 8, 1994.

The Preamble to that constitution declares, “We the Nations, Nationalities and People of Ethiopia…” have written the constitution to 1) “secure the right to self-determination” for “people of the nations and nationalities”, 2) ensure the territorial insularity (separateness) of the “people of the nations and nationalities” so that they can “live with our rich and proud cultural legacies” 3) “rectify historically unjust relationships”, and  4) facilitate “liv[ing] as one economic community”.

In contrast, the American Constitution in its Preamble declares, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The T-TPLF constitution is designed to create a perpetual disunion, among the Ethiopian people by dividing and corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”. By corralling the people of Ethiopia into communal, linguistic, cultural and regional groups, the T-TPLF put a constitutional scheme in place that would permanently and irreversibly destroy the social glue of tolerance, harmony and understanding that has kept them united as a people for millennia.

The T-TPLF constitution is designed to destroy the very idea of one Ethiopian nation, one Ethiopian people. It is founded on the quintessential doctrine that there is no “Ethiopian Nation”. There is no “Ethiopian People.” There is no “Ethiopian culture”. There is no “Ethiopian history.” There is no “Ethiopian national identity.” There is no “Ethiopian flag” as a symbol of national identity. There is no “Ethiopian Dream”. There is no Ethiopia! There is only a collection of “nations and nationalities”,  trapped in an arbitrary geographic territory known to international law as “Ethiopia”, just waiting, yearning and itching to breakup into tribal chieftaincies and principalities.  There is only a make believe confederation of “nations and nationalities” in a mythical land called “Ethiopia”.

The American Constitution aspired to forge the people of the 13 colonies-cum-states into one “people of the United States” and make them one people, one nation.  The American Constitution was designed to bring together in a single national political entity the “People” of the 13 states and provide them a road map to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to [them]selves and [their] posterity.” The “united states” of America” started out very disunited following their war of independence from British colonial rule. They had major historical grievances against their former British colonial masters. Their historical grievances became the glue that held them together and compelled them to draft their very first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. They ended up creating a toothless national government believing that their newly-created national government would perpetuate the historical grievances of their colonial masters. In 1787, they resolved to form the “United States of America” so that they could address their historical grievances once and for all.

The T-TPLF constitution self-proclaims to be a weapon for “rectifying historical injustices”. It arms the  “nations and nationalities” with the nuclear option of “self-determination” for the “rectification” of  perceived historical injustices. The “nations and nationalities” are each given the switch box for their own nuclear weapon of mass destruction and literally blow up themselves and the entire country into smithereens.

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Ethiopia: The “liberty of movement”

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

freedom of movement  “Government announces temporary ban on traveling abroad for work”

Last week the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” of the ruling regime in Ethiopia announced:

In an effort to curb the rising tide of abuse and exploitation of Ethiopian migrants, [there will be]  a temporary freeze on citizens traveling abroad for employment. The temporary ban has been issued to prevent abuse and even killings of many Ethiopians who have travelled abroad for work. The ban is intended to remain in force until legal, administrative and institutional gaps in foreign employment have been addressed. These measures had become necessary because previous efforts by the Government to ensure the rights of Ethiopian workers abroad had failed to achieve their aim. Ensuring safe working remains one of the priority areas of the government. The temporary freeze on foreign employment travel and suspension of foreign employment agencies is expected to speed up improvement of working conditions for Ethiopians working overseas.

Is the “temporary freeze on foreign employment travel” constitutional? Does the regime have the constitutional power to suspend the “liberty of movement” of Ethiopian citizens for the purpose of “prevent[ing] abuse and even killings of many Ethiopians who have traveled abroad for work”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO!

I am compelled to write this commentary on the constitutional “liberty of movement” of Ethiopian citizens for  two reasons. First, for quite some time I have been concerned about and very critical of the regime’s policy of forced displacement or internal deportation (that is, the forced expulsion of Ethiopian citizens from locations they have chosen to establish residence and engage in employment and sending them back to their so called “kilils” [“autonomous regional states”] or “homelands”). In April of this year, Prof. Yacob Hailemariam, a prominent Ethiopian opposition leader and a former senior Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda commented that the expulsion of members of the Amhara ethnic group  from Benishangul-Gumuz (one of the nine “kililistans” in Ethiopia) was a de facto ethnic cleansing. “The forceful deportation of people because they speak a certain language could destabilize a region, and if reported with tangible evidence, the UN Security Council could order the International Criminal Court to begin to examine the crimes.”

There is substantial and compelling eyewitness and victim testimony to show the flagitious nature of the regime’s policy of internal deportation from various regions including Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromiya, Somali and the Ogaden and   Benji Maji/Gura Ferda area in Southern Ethiopia, among others.  I have previously addressed the internal deportation of the so-called “sefaris of North Godjam Amharas” by the late leader of the regime from the Benji Maji/Gura Ferda area. On the issue of the regime’s culpability under Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“Deportation or forcible transfer of population”), I opined: “Whether the expulsion of the Amhara ‘sefaris’ is part of a deliberate and systematic policy of ‘ethnic federalism’ in which ethnic purges of a civilian population are undertaken to ensure the ethnic homogeneity of the southern part of the country to the detriment of other Ethiopians of a different ethnic stripe will bear significantly on the question of ethnic cleansing.”

Second, I was puzzled by the regime’s manifestly willful ignorance and/or willful indifference to its constitutional limitations when it recently imposed a “ban on travel abroad for work”. Due to space limitations (yes, I have heard it whispered that my commentaries are too long; but though “brevity is the soul of wit” as Shakespeare commended, it would be witless of me to sacrifice substance for the sake of brevity), I will address the second  issue here and defer my discussion of forced internal deportation and ethnic cleansing for another time.

Ethiopians’ constitutional right to freedom of movement and travel

Article 32 (“Freedom of Movement”) guarantees Ethiopian citizens an untrammeled freedom of movement: “(1) Any Ethiopian or foreign national lawfully in Ethiopia has, within the national territory, the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, as well as the  freedom to leave the country at any time he wishes to.”  This “liberty of movement” is further secured and reinforced in two binding international conventions to which Ethiopia is a signatory. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which is explicitly incorporated into the Ethiopian Constitution under Article 13(2) provides, “The fundamental rights and freedoms specified in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner conforming to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenants on Human Rights and International instruments adopted by Ethiopia.” Article 13 of the UDHR similarly provides, “1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights incorporates the identical language of the UDHR, except in subsection 3 makes certain exceptions for national security and public order.

Article 9 of the Ethiopian Constitution (“Supremacy of the Constitution”) provides, “(1) The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or a public official which contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect.”

Can the regime impose a “temporary freeze on foreign employment travel” on Ethiopian citizens without flagrantly violating Article 32 of the Ethiopian Constitution and other international conventions?

The language of Article 32 is clear and unambiguous. No special interpretive aid or analytical method is needed to understand the plain meaning of the words. Article 32 is sweeping and comprehensive in its  guarantee of complete freedom of movement. “Any Ethiopian has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, as well as the freedom to leave the country at any time he wishes to.” There are absolutely no preconditions that a citizen must meet before “choosing his residence”, moving from one part of the country to another or in deciding to “leave the country”. The only precondition, if there is one, is that the citizen “wishes” to travel or exercise his/her freedom of movement.

Article 32 also requires no additional legislative act to effectuate its purpose  with such conditional operative clauses as “in a manner to be prescribed by law”. Article 32 is self-executing, which means it fully operative by virtue of its constitutional declaration. It cannot be changed, altered, modified or suspended by legislation or executive fiat.

The regime’s “temporary ban on travel” reviewed within the mandatory language of the supremacy clause of Article 9 (“any decision of an organ of state or a public official which contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect”), is manifestly offensive and flagrantly repugnant to the sweeping guarantees of Articles 32. The right of law abiding Ethiopian citizens who “wish” to travel cannot be “frozen”, “suspended temporarily” or otherwise  subjected to encroachment. The regime’s travel ban should be roundly condemned and legally declared null and void. (I will not waste ink or time writing about why proper constitutional adjudication of this issue is impossible in the regime’s kangaroo courts or its make-believe “Council of Constitutional Inquiry” under Article 82.)

The plight of Ethiopian domestic workers abroad

There is no question that over the last few years many young Ethiopian women who have voluntarily traveled to or have been  trafficked into various Middle Eastern countries as domestic workers have suffered and continue to suffer horrific abuse and inhumane treatment. I commented on the subject and expressed my outrage over the maltreatment of these  workers nearly three years ago in my commentary “From the International Slave Trade to the International Maid Trade”. Even today, countless Ethiopian domestic workers throughout the Middle East suffer forcible detention by their employers, sexual violence, denial of wages and economic exploitation, demonization in the host countries as criminals and other unspeakable abuse. Their situation is not only heart aching, it is heartbreaking!

However, trashing the unfettered liberty of movement of citizens will not alleviate the suffering of Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East nor prevent their abuse or exploitation. The policy rationale that because “previous efforts have failed to ensure the rights of Ethiopian workers abroad” a  “temporary freeze on travel is expected to speed up improvement of working conditions for Ethiopians working overseas” is a nonsensical non sequitur (does not logically follow). To argue that  “Freezing (stopping) employment travel” in its tracks domestically “will speed up improved working conditions overseas” is like saying standing water will cause a flood. The policy justification makes very little sense because the Ethiopians being “exploited and abused” are already in the various countries suffering exploitation and abuse.

It is true that the regime has been the target of intense criticism for its years of depraved and callous indifference to the suffering of these workers. The regime’s “embassies” in that part of the world have turned a deaf ear, blind eyes and muted lips to Ethiopians who have sought their help and support.

Will a “temporary freeze” materially improve the abject conditions of those Ethiopian domestic workers already suffering abuse and exploitation? It will not! Will it facilitate the prosecution of the abusive employers? It will not! Will the “freeze” prevent human trafficking in “forced labor” by criminal elements and their official protectors inside Ethiopia and in the host countries? It will not! Is the “freeze” much of a bargaining chip in negotiations with host governments that allow such abuse and continue to deny basic and minimal legal protections to such workers? It is not! At best, the “freeze” is a last-ditch public relations stunt by the regime to cover up its years of depraved indifference towards the plight of these workers. It is a clever ploy to distract attention from the fact that the regime has done diddly-squat in the face of daily reports and revelations of suicides, homicides and abusive treatment of these workers throughout the Middle East.

The need for special protection of Ethiopian domestic workers abroad  

I believe the exploitation and abuse of migrant domestic workers is among the most important human rights issues of the Twenty First Century. The estimated 150 thousand Ethiopian domestic workers scattered throughout the Middle East and elsewhere are part of the millions of migrant domestic workers facing human rights abuses throughout the world. However, in contrast to the indifference and inaction of the regime in Ethiopia, other legitimately elected governments facing similar problems have taken affirmative action to deal with the problem.

If the regime in Ethiopia is serious about its claims of  “curbing the rising tide of abuse and exploitation of Ethiopian migrants workers”, it must go beyond window dressing and take actions commensurate with the professed concern. First, the regime should accede to  the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) “Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97). That Convention provides a comprehensive framework for the implementation of legislation which provides robust protections to such workers including a “system of supervision of contracts of employment between an employer, or a person acting on his behalf, and a migrant for employment”. Second, the regime should also accede to the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. That convention provides, among other things, “No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The elements of this Convention should be incorporated by reference or included by enumeration in any agreements the regime enters with host countries with migrant domestic workers programs.

Third, the regime should take advantage of available opportunities to learn from the experiences, policies and laws of other countries with large numbers of migrant workers deployed abroad. Here I use the word “learn” advisedly. By “learning”, I do not mean cutting and pasting the laws and policies of other countries mindlessly and robotically and rubberstamping them.  To this day, I cringe with embarrassment and shame when I recall the braggadocio of the late leader of the regime in February 2012 explaining to his parliament how he had crafted a “flawless” “anti-terrorism law” by plagiarizing and cannibalizing the laws and policies of other countries: “In drafting our anti-terrorism law, we copied word-for-word the very best anti-terrorism laws in the world. We took from America, England and the European model anti-terrorism laws. …Because they have experience, there is no shame  if we learn or take from them. Learning from a good teacher is useful not harmful. Nothing embarrassing about it. The [antiterrorism] proclamation in every respect is flawless. It is better than the best anti-terrorism laws [in the world] but not less than any one of them in any way…” Of course, there was no “drafting” of an “anti-terrorism law”. It was all “copied word for word” (plagiarized) from the laws of other countries. It was a shameless cut and paste job. Today, thousands are imprisoned on the authority of a “law” mindlessly pieced together by ignoramuses who believe laws and policies are mere random words strung together in sentences and paragraphs.

My simple suggestion here is that the regime should carefully study the policies of those governments that have taken effective action to protect the rights of their migrant workers. I believe there is much to be learned from the laws and policies of the Government of the Philippine (GoP) designed to protect the human and economic rights of their migrant workers. In 1982, the GoP established the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The central aim of the POEA is to promote and monitor the overseas employment of Filipino workers. In 1995, the GoP enacted The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 with the aim of expanding “overseas employment and establish[ing] a higher standard of protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos in distress”. This Act was amended in 2009 by  REPUBLIC ACT No. 10022  reaffirming the GoP’s intent to “deploy overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected.” To ensure the rights of these workers are respected, the GoP requires host countries to adopt  “labor and social laws protecting the rights of migrant workers”, ratify or accede to “multilateral conventions, declarations or resolutions relating to the protection of migrant workers” and take “concrete measures to protect the rights of migrant workers.” In 2011, pursuant to the Republic Act No. 10022,  POEA issued a list of countries where Filipino workers may not be deployed owing to the failure of host countries in adopting domestic laws that protect migrant workers. Among the countries where Filipino workers may not be deployed or deployment to be reconsidered include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Republic Act No. 10022 provides for a comprehensive scheme of detection, surveillance, investigation, apprehension and prosecution of “illegal recruiters” and human traffickers in forced labor. It also provides services for reintegration of returning overseas Filipino workers, legal support for Filipino migrant workers who may need assistance in the enforcement of contractual employment obligations by agencies or employers and victims of illegal recruitment, compulsory insurance for migrant workers at no cost to the workers and establishes a legal assistance fund for the migrant workers.

The significance of the “liberty of movement”

Let me briefly return to the subject of “liberty of movement”, a topic near and dear to my heart. Having practiced  immigration law and represented or consulted with individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. or facing deportation, I understand and empathize  with those persons who have “voted with their feet” to escape some of the most ruthless and wicked regimes in the world. The “liberty of movement” has special significance and meaning for me. It is at the core of what I consider makes a human being free; it quintessentially defines the free man/woman from those who are not free. Prisoners (including political prisoners) have no liberty of movement. They are confined within the prison walls; often political prisoners in countries like Ethiopia are placed in solitary confinement for long periods. Ultimately, the deprivation of the liberty of movement is the essence of the deprivation of liberty. The wages of crime is deprivation of the liberty of movement.

Indeed, liberty of movement transcends the narrow confines of the prison walls. A free citizen is free to roam about the cities and the countryside of his/her country and establish residence, seek gainful employment or earn a legitimate living without fear of official harassment, expulsion or displacement. A free citizen cannot be forced to move from his/her choice of residential or employment location by any official without due process of law.

The liberty of movement occupies a central position in the history of liberties of the most advanced societies in the world today. Over 2000 years ago, Plato wrote of the liberty of the Athenian who “does not like us when he has become of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, [to] go where he pleases and take his goods with him. None of our laws will forbid him or interfere with him.”  The greatest scholars and seminal thinkers of international law including Hugo Grotious and Emmerich de Vattel  have defended the individual’s liberty of movement. Vattel argued, “Every man is born free; and the son of a citizen, when come to the years of discretion, may examine whether it be convenient for him to join the society for which he was destined by his birth. If he does not find it advantageous to remain in it, he is at liberty to quit it…”  William Blackstone, arguably the most influential commentator on the development of  English law and whose work profoundly shaped the American legal system defined the essence of “personal liberty” “consist[ing] in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, of removing one’s person to whatever place one’s inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law.”

America, the great Land of Immigrants is founded on the very idea of liberty of movement. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “[O]ur ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right, which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as, to them, shall seem most likely to promote public happiness.” Today we find that poem familiar to all Americans inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty, “… Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!/…”

I perceive one of the gravest threats to human rights emanating from attacks on the liberty of movement. The greatest weapon of control and subjugation in apartheid South Africa was the creation of a pernicious system of movement control which deprived black  south Africans the liberty of movement. Indeed, apartheid (policy of “separate development of blacks and whites”) was based on an ideology of keeping black South Africans confined to the “homelands” and townships. For decades, black South Africans were virtual prisoners in their own country. The apartheid regime incapacitated them by restricting their liberty of movement in a variety of ways. They were forcibly corralled in bantustans (“homelands”) like cattle. They were legally prevented and sanctioned severely if they relocated from their “homeland” to another part of their country. They were forced to carry passes (internal passports of sorts) just to have the privilege of moving from one part of their country to another to work. They were subjected  to curfews and random stops. They were arrested and jailed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The apartheid regime incapacitated the leadership of the African National Congress and other organizations by declaring them “banned persons”, which meant house arrest, no association with more than one person at a time or communicating with any group.

Black South Africans had no right to travel outside of South Africa and were ineligible to receive  a passport under the apartheid regime. If they wanted to get a passport and travel, they had to first become “citizens” of one of the four “independent homelands”, renounce their South African citizenship or accept the revocation of South African citizenship imposed upon them by the apartheid regime. Only then would they receive the passports” of their “independent homelands”. In 1962, after arrangements were made for Nelson Mandela to enter Ethiopia for military training, H.I.M. Haile Selassie granted him an  Ethiopian passport under the name “David Motsamayi”. Mandela later fondly remembered, “Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting [it] attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.” Today, for millions of Ethiopians Ethiopia is not a “special place” and so they uproot themselves and seek refuge in France, England, America, the Middle East… Such is the irony of history!

“Free to come and go as one wishes”: Hope springs eternal

I have often criticized the ruling regime in Ethiopia for its willful ignorance of its own Constitution, willful indifference and oversight of its duties under the “supreme law of the land” and flagrant disregard of its obligations under international law. For more years than I care to remember, I have hectored and “sermonized” them  on the sanctity of the rule of law and the inviolability of the supreme law of the land. Needless to say, I harbor no illusion that they will ever pay any attention to my admonitory exhortations, moralizing discourses or constitutional edifications. Nor do I labor under any fantasy that they have the political will, technical sophistication or administrative competence to deal with the enormous problems facing Ethiopian migrant workers in the Middle East. I have long concluded that “evangelizing” the “gospel” of the rule and supremacy of law to the benighted and misbegotten is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathen or pouring water over a slab of granite. However futile, vain and bootless my efforts may be, I shall continue to “sermonize” for I believe “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blest…”, to quote a verse from Alexander Pope. I also believe in the essential truth of an old Chinese saying, “Dripping water penetrates the stone.” One must cherish the hope that it is possible to save those lost in the wilderness of tyranny, trapped in a wasteland of brutality and cruelty and adrift on a sea of crimes against humanity.

Is it not wonderful to be a utopian Ethiopian? 

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

A Renaissance for Ethiopia’s Youth

Monday, September 16th, 2013

eth youth demoFor the past one-half decade, Ethiopia has been awash with talk of renaissance. There has been a lot of windbagging about a “Renaissance Dam” over the Blue Nile. Our ears nearly fell off listening to the endless gab about an “economic renaissance” with “11 percent” plus annual growth. There has also been much talk of a political and social renaissance complete with slogans of “ethnic federalism”, multiculturalism, pluralism and other “isms” (excluding neoliberalism). Of course, all of it is talk! That is exactly what I am talking about. How come there is no talk about a renaissance for Ethiopia’s youth?

The term “renaissance” is generally used to signify rebirth and revival in culture and learning. Immediately following the Middle Ages (“Dark Ages”), Europeans had a “Renaissance” which led to the flourishing of art, science and astronomy and expansion of global trade and exploration. Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop minted the concept of “African Renaissance” in 1946 to advocate the cultural, scientific, economic, and political renewal of the continent. It later evolved to become a philosophical and political movement for the establishment of democratic societies free of strife, corruption and poverty on the continent. Aparently, the idea of “Ethiopian Renaissance” is the figment of the late dictator in Ethiopia.

It seems to me that if Ethiopia is to have a “renaissance”, a “rebirth” or “revival” of any kind, it could only come through the blood, sweat and tears of her young people, and not from fables invented by despots and their mouthpieces. I believe young Ethiopian entrepreneurs are the tip of the spear in leading the country into an economic renaissance. Young Ethiopians scholars should lead the forces of intellectual transformation. Young Ethiopian scientist and engineers should lead the country into self-sufficiency and global competitiveness. Young Ethiopian lawyers should carry the sword of justice. Young Ethiopian leaders must be the dynamic agents of social and political change and lead Ethiopia into a bold and brave 21st Century.

Unfortunately, the older generation — in or out of power, inside or outside of the country — do not want to talk about Ethiopian youth, let alone an Ethiopian Youth Renaissance. Again, I am just talking about an Ethiopian youth renaissance, not doing anything to make the renaissance happen. (It is said that “action speaks louder than words”; but when everyone is silent, silence itself becomes action and speaks louder than words.)

I must confess that there are some in the older generation who disapprove and are somewhat offended by my irrevocable commitment to Ethiopia’s youth. I have heard it said that in my complete and shameless partisanship in favor of Ethiopian youth (“Ethiopian Cheetahs and Hippos”), I have invented a new and dangerous division in society between the young and old in a land already fractured and fragmented by ethnic, religious and regional divisions. “Methinks they doth protest too much”, to invoke Shakespeare.

To me youth is a state of mind, not necessarily chronological age. As Robert Kennedy told South African students in 1966, youth is “a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” Not long ago,  I pleaded for a renaissance of the older generation by restoring faith with the younger generation. “We must unlearn to hate each other because we belong to different ethnic groups or worship the same God with different names. To restore faith with ourselves, we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones, comfort groups, comfort communities and comfort ethnicities and muster the courage to say and do things we know are right.” (I guess my generation is hard of hearing.)

So much for a renaissance of my generation. Back to talking about a renaissance for Ethiopia’s youth. Nobody is talking about it.  That does not just cause me concern, it alarms me (or as young people might say, “it freaks me out”). Why aren’t Ethiopia’s youth front and center in public policy-making, political debate and discourse? Why aren’t the regime, the opposition and the Ethiopian Diaspora taking youth issues as the most urgent and critical facing the country?

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated population approaching 90 million. It is reported that over one-half of Ethiopia’s population is between the ages of 15-24 years. An estimated 70 percent of the population is under 40 years old. Ethiopia’s youth suffer from all sorts of deprivations and social maladies. Youth unemployment continues to grow as youth landlessness in rural areas    has opened the floodgates to increasing in-migration to urban areas. According to a 2012 USAID study, “Ethiopia has one of the highest urban youth unemployment rates at 50 percent and there is a high rate of youth under­employment in rural areas, where nearly 85 percent of the population resides.”  Another 2012 study of youth unemployment by the International Growth Center reported that the “current 5 year [Ethiopian] development plan 2010/11-2014/5, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), does not directly address the issue of youth unemployment, but rather implicitly through improved performance of the various sectors in the economy.” That study found “in 2011, 38 percent of youth were employed in the informal sector” which “often provides low quality, low paying jobs.”

The underemployment rate among the youth is extremely high; “approximately 50 percent of youth reported being available and willing to work more hours.” There is a substantial segment of the youth population that is not only unemployed but also unemployable because they lack basic skills. Youth access to public sector jobs requiring training depends not so much on merit or competition but connections and party membership. Without job or educational opportunities in the urban areas, large numbers of youth are rendered jobless, homeless, helpless and hopeless.

Problems faced by Ethiopia’s youth cover the gamut of social maladies. According to the humanitarian agency GOAL, there are 150,000 children living on the streets, some  60,000 of them in the capital. The average age at which children first find themselves homeless is between the age of 10 and 11 years. Health risks for youth from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. Large numbers of young people who lack opportunities are involved in drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and other criminal activities. The school dropout rate is unacceptably high, and those who finish high school have diminished opportunities for higher education.

In my view, the problem of 21st Century Ethiopia is quintessentially the problem of Ethiopian youth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in less than 40 years, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. Ethiopia’s population growth has been spiraling upwards for decades. In 1967, the population was 23.5 million. It increased to 51 million in 1990 and by 2003, it had reached 68 million. In 2008, that number increased to 80 million. Since 1995, the average annual rate of population growth has remained at over 3 percent. The catastrophic events that could take place in Ethiopia in just four decades is not hard to imagine.

In 2004, the ruling regime in Ethiopia issued its “National Youth Policy” and asserted that “44% of the population is below the absolute poverty line. Under this situation of poverty, the youth is the hardest hit segment of society… The fact that the majority of the unemployed youth constitute females indicates the magnitude to which young women are the main victims of the problem.”

Taken as a whole, the National Youth Policy is nothing more than a blueprint for the recruitment of youth to become supporters of the regime and the ruling party. The policy directs that the “Government shall have the responsibility to direct, coordinate, integrate and build the capacity for the implementation of this policy.” Yet, as the International Growth Center study showed, the “current 5 year [Ethiopian] development plan 2010/11-2014/5, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), does not directly address the issue of youth unemployment.”

Though there has been little talk about a youth reneaissance in Ethiopia, President Barack Obama has been talking about a renaissance of sorts for Africa’s youth. During his recent visit to Africa, he told students at  Cape Town University, “You get to decide where the future lies.  Think about it — over 60 percent of Africans are under 35 years old.  So demographics means young people are going to be determining the fate of this continent and this country.  You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene.” Obama promised to “launch a new program that’s going to give thousands of promising young Africans opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills at some of our best colleges and universities.”

President Obama has been talking about empowering African youth for a while. In August 2010, he talked about launching “the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) as a signature initiative that supports young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.” In June 2013, he talked about “launching a new program” called the “Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders” which is “going to give thousands of promising young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop skills at some of our best colleges and universities.”

Presidential talk has not been followed by much presidential action. In June 2012, some “60 young African leaders” participated in “the Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership with Young African Leaders” for a “three-week professional development program”. To support YALI and the “empowerment of young African leaders” and provide them “significant and ongoing professional training, access to mentorship, and networking opportunities in Africa”, USAID has awarded two grants totaling $1.3 million. A lot of nice talk and promises for African young people; but promises and talk are more convincing when one puts money where one’s mouth is. Since YALI, there has been more talk than money.

But even in the Obama narrative of Africa’s youth, there is an important side to the African youth story that is overlooked and ignored. President Obama in Cape Town said, “I’ve traveled to Africa on this trip because my bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story.  I’m betting on all of you.” Which segment of the African youth is he betting on? The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders promises to “give thousands of promising young Africans” the “opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills.” What about the millions of not-so-promising African youths who waste away in the urban areas without educational and employment opportunities? What about those African youths mired in rural poverty unable to get even the most basic educational services? What about those young Africans who have acquired college education but are unable to find employment because they are not connected to the ruling parties in Africa?

All I am saying is that we need to be laser-focused on Ethiopia’s youth and seek ways of improving their condition. Headshaking, teeth gnashing, fist raising, bellyaching and finger pointing is simply not enough. It is time for all to join hands in the cause of Ethiopia’s youth. We need to have serious talk, better yet, serious debate about the problems of youth in Ethiopia and what can be done to alleviate them. We need todirectly engage the “promising” and not-so-promising youth in Ethiopia and work collaboratively with them in finding solution to the myriad problems they face. An old Ethiopian adage says, “The youth are today’s flowers and tomorrow’s seeds.” When the vast majority of the Ethiopian flowers are wilting on the stem, there can be no seeds for the future, for change, for hope, for peace, for freedom, for democracy, for reconciliation, for…

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Ethiopia: They Shall Inherit the Wind

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
windThe Sandcastles and Dams of African Dictators

All dictators on the African continent have sought immortality by leaving a legacy that will outlive them and endure for the ages. But all have inherited the wind.

Kwame Nkrumah led the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonialism in  1957. Nkrumaism sought to transform Ghana into a modern socialist state through state-driven industrialization. He built the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, at the time considered the “largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana”. He promoted the cult of personality and was hailed as the “Messiah”, “Father of Ghana and Pan Africanism” and “Father of African nationalism”.  He crushed the unions and the opposition, jailed the judges, created a one-man, one-party state and tried to make himself “President for life”. He got the military boot in 1966. He left a bitter legacy of one-man, one-party rule which to this day serves as a model of dictatorship for all of Africa. Nkrumah died in exile and inherited the wind.

Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to create his own brand of Arab socialism and nationalism and propagated it as a secular Pan-Arab ideology. Using an extensive intelligence apparatus and an elaborate propaganda machine, he promoted a cult of personality projecting himself as the “Man of the People.”  He built the Aswan High Dam with Soviet aid. He ruled Egypt in a one-man, one-party dictatorship and crushed all dissent, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Today the Muslim Brotherhood is in power and Nasserism is in the dustbin of history.  Nasser left a legacy of military dictatorship in Egypt and inherited the wind.

Mobutu Sese Seko proclaimed himself “Father of the Nation” of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), and became dictator for life. He declared, “In our African tradition there are never two chiefs….That is why we Congolese, in the desire to conform to the traditions of our continent, have resolved to group all the energies of the citizens of our country under the banner of a single national party.” Mobutuism consisted of the delusional thoughts of Mobutu and his program of “Zairianization”. He promoted a cult of personality describing himself as the “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. Mobutu built the Inga Dams over the Congo River hoping to create the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. He left a legacy of kleptocracy and inherited the wind.

Moamar Gadhafi proclaimed the “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” and ushered the era of the state of the masses (Jamahiriya). He sought to elevate Libyan society by reducing it to a massive collection of “people’s committees”. He brutally suppressed dissent and squandered the national resources of that country. He launched the Great Man-Made River, the world’s largest irrigation project and proclaimed it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After four decades in power, the “Brother Leader” and author of the Green Book literally suffered the death of a sewer rat. He left a legacy of division and destruction in Libya and inherited the wind.

Idi Amin Dada, the “Butcher of Uganda” and the most notorious of all African dictators, imposed a reign of terror on the Ugandan people and sadistically displayed his tyrannical power to the international press. He pompously described himself as “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He built no dams by damned the Ugandan people for 8 years until he was forced into exile. He left a legacy of death, destruction and ethnic division in Uganda and inherited the wind.

The “Great Leader”?

The late Meles Zenawi, like all African dictators, sought to make himself larger than life. He was not only Ethiopia’s savior but Africa’s as well. He sought to project himself as a “visionary leader”, “inspirational spokesman for Africa” and supreme practitioner of “revolutionary democracy.” Following his death sometime in late Summer 2012, the propaganda to deify, mythologize, exalt, immortalize and idolize him became a theatre of the absurd. Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’ handpicked titular prime minster, in his speech to the party faithful in parliament virtually made Meles a lesser god offering blessings of “Eternal Glory to Our Great Leader.” Even the original “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung of North Korea achieved no more glory than being “The Sun of the Nation”. Desalegn promised to consummate his own divinely delegated mission with missionary zeal: “My responsibility now… is to successfully carry out the aims and ambitions of a great and notable leader… Following in the footsteps of our great leader, we will strive to maintain and develop the influential voice in regional, continental and international forums” and “successfully implement the aims and vision of our great leader. He was not just a brilliant generator of ideas: he was, par excellence, the embodiment of selflessness and self-sacrifice…”

Was Desalegn talking about Meles or the Man of Galilee?

The Vision and Legacy of the “Visionary Great Leader”

Like all African dictators before him, Meles had illusions, delusions and obsessions. He did not have a grand vision; he had illusions of grandeur. Like Mobutu before him, Meles had the illusion of building Africa’s largest dam, the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam, on the Blue Nile at a cost preliminarily estimated (unadjusted for cost overruns) at nearly USD$5 billion. Experts believe such a dam if built will “flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia, near the Sudan border, and create a reservoir that is nearly twice as large as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest natural lake…. The current cost estimate [for the dam] equals the country’s entire annual budget…” Moreover, the dam “could cut the Nile flow into Egypt by 25% during the reservoir filling period” and substantially reduce the reservoir capacity of the Aswan High Dam. According to a document obtained by Wikileaks from the private intelligence group Stratfor, “Sudan’s president Omer Al-Bashir had agreed to build an Egyptian airbase in his country’s western region of Darfur to be used for assaults on The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile water-sharing.”  A legacy of regional war and strife?

Meles did not have a growth and transformation plan; he had delusional plans of economic growth and transformation. As I have demonstrated in “The Voodoo Economics  of Meles Zenawi”, Meles “has been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia based on fabricated and massaged GDP (gross domestic product) numbers, implying that the country is in a state of runaway economic development and the people’s standard of living is fast outstripping those living in the middle income countries.” When the U.S. State Department reported an average inflation rate (FY 2008-2009) of 36 percent, Meles predicted a decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2009/10. His Growth and Transformation Plan (or what I called “Zenawinomics”) which I reviewed in  my June  2011 commentary “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, “is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a ‘long-term vision’ of making Ethiopia ‘a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.’ It aims to ‘build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector’ and ‘increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.’ It boasts of ‘pillar strategies’ to ‘sustain faster and equitable economic growth’, ‘maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,’ ‘create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,’ ‘expand infrastructure and social development,’ ‘build capacity and deepen good governance’ and ‘promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.’ Stripped of its collection of hollow economic slogans, clichés, buzzwords and catchphrases, Meles’ growth and growth and transformation plan is plain sham-o-nomics.  A legacy of inflation, economic mismanagement, crushing foreign debt and environmental destruction?

Meles had no national vision; he only had a vision of ethnic division. His warped idea of “ethnic federalism” is merely a kinder and gentler reincarnation of Apartheid in Ethiopia. For nearly two decades, Meles toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of Ethiopian society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves. He crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. He wrote in Article 46 (2) of the constitution: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be corralled like cattle in tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of Apartheid South Africa.  These tribal homelands are officially called “kilils” (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, the Killilistans ultimately aim to create homogeneous and autonomous ethnic states in Ethiopia, effectively scrubbing out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian national citizenship. Meles’ completely fictitious theory of “ethnic (tribal) federalism)”, unknown in the annals of political science or political theory, has been used to justify and glorify these Kililistans and impose an atrocious policy of divide and rule against 90 million people. A legacy of ethnic balkanization, political  polarization, brutalization, and sectarian strife?

Under Meles, Ethiopia became the poster country for international alms and charity and crushing international debt. During his two decades plus tenure, Ethiopia has been among the largest recipients of  “economic aid”, “development aid”, “military aid”, “technical aid”, “emergency aid”, “relief aid”, “humanitarian aid” and aid against AIDS in the world. As I  argued in my commentary “Ethiopia in BondAid?”, Meles has successfully subverted international aid and loans, particularly U.S. aid, to strengthen his tyrannical rule.  A legacy of international aid addiction and beggary?

Corruption under Meles Zenawi has put Ethiopia on life-support. The World Bank recently issued a 448-page report entitled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” . The cancer of corruption has metastasized in the Ethiopian body politics.  The Telecommunications Sector of Ethiopia is in terminal stage:

Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.

In the Construction Sector, “Ethiopia exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the Justice Sector “takes one of two forms: (a) political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or (b) payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the Land Sector is inherent in the law. “The level of corruption is influenced strongly by the way policy and legislation are formulated and enforced. For example, the capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.” In other words, the laws are written to rig the bidding process to give Meles’ cronies, buddies and supporters a significant advantage so that they can pick up state assets at fire sale prices. A legacy of endemic corruption?

Meles’ “revolutionary democracy” as an ideology or policy guide never quite transcended the sloganeering and phrase-mongering stage, but he indulged in its rhetoric whenever he was overcome by revolutionary fervor.  In a seminal analysis of “revolutionary democracy” and arguably the “first paper to seriously examine the political programme and political philosophy of EPRDF based on a review of its major policy”, Jean-Nicolas Bach of the Institute of Political Studies (Bordeaux, France) in 2011 described “Abyotawi democracy (revolutionary democracy) [as] neither revolutionary nor democratic.” Bach argued that revolutionary democracy is a ‘‘bricolage’’ (hodgepodge) of “Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, and also liberalism” concocted by a “small group of party ideologists around Meles, and a few agencies.” As an ideology, “revolutionary democracy”  “provides justification for fusing political and economic power in the party-state run by EPRDF.” A critical “review of party pamphlets and official party/state discourses reveals the degree to which revolutionary democracy has become an ambiguous doctrine vis-a`-vis ‘liberalism’” and “remains a powerful fighting tool to exclude internal and external ‘enemies’.”  One commentator recently likened revolutionary democracy to communism and fascism.  Revolutionary democracy is responsible for delivering a 99.6 percent parliamentary victory to Meles’ party in 2010. A legacy of rigged and stolen elections and bad governance?

Melesismo: Meles’ Greatest Legacy

Meles’ singular legacy is Melesismo, a political legacy I foretold in my December 2009 commentary entitled “The Raw Machismo of Power”. Meles perfected Melesismo– the political art of  “My way, the highway, no way… or jail!” Melesismo reaffirms the ignoble principle that might makes right.

Meles’ worshippers proclaim they are marching in his footsteps with the same reverence of those who claim to walk in the footsteps of the  Man of Galilee. They ostentatiously display raw machismo invoking the divine power Meles. How little things have changed? From a legacy of the divine right of kings to a legacy of the divine rule of a lesser god!

Meles’ worshippers seek to mythologize, canonize and idolize him. But they cannot reincarnate Meles as the “Messiah”. Even the great Nelson Mandela is undeserving of “eternal glory”. He said so himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Neither saints nor demons deserve “eternal glory”. Meles will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history as nothing more than another  petty African tyrant.

Meles’ greatest legacy would have been what he said his legacy would be. In 2007, Meles said his “hope is that [his] legacy” would be not only “sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty” but also “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy.”  Without radical democratic improvements by Meles’ worshippers, Meles will be remembered in history as a reactionary petty African tyrant.

Is it possible for Meleismo to hold the center after Meles? Will Melesismo survive Meles?

My friend Eskinder Nega, the personification of press freedom in Ethiopia today, who was jailed by Meles, was likely right in foretelling the inevitable implosion of the “EPDRF”. Eskinder wrote, “Scratch beyond the surface and the EPRDF is really not the monolithic dinosaur as it is most commonly stereotyped. [It has become] a coalition of four distinct phenomenon: the increasing confusion of the dominant TPLF [Tigrayan People's Liberation Front], the acute cynicism of the ANDM [Amhara National Democratic Movement], the desperate nihilism of the OPDO [Oromo People's Democratic Organization] and the inevitable irrelevance of the incongruent SEPM [South Ethiopian People's Movement] (a grab bag of some 40 ethnic groups from the southern part of the country).”

Meles was a man with a mission who confused mission with vision. He has completed his mission. History will record his legacy to be human rights violation, press suppression, ethnic division, endemic corruption,  obsessive secrecy and a political culture whose lifeblood is impunity, lack of accountability and transparency. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones…” Scripture teaches that “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”  Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Ethiopia: Rise of the Chee-Hippo Generation

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The Silent World of Hippos on Planet Cheetah

In my first weekly commentary of the new year, I “proclaimed” 2013 “Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation” (young people). I also promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth this year and exhorted members of the Ethiopian intellectual class (particularly the privileged “professorati”) to do the same. I have also been pleading with (some say badgering) the wider Ethiopian Hippo Generation (the lost generation) to find itself, get in gear and help the youth.

The SOS I put out in June 2012 (Where have Ethiopia’s Intellectuals Gone?) and now (The Irresponsibility of the Privileged) has been unwelcomed by tone deaf and deaf mute “Hippogenarians”. My plea for standing up and with the victims of tyranny and human rights abuses has been received with stony and deafening silence. I have gathered anecdotally that some Hippos are offended by what they perceive to be my self-righteous and holier-than-thou finger wagging and audacious, “J’accuse!”.  Some have claimed that I am sitting atop my high horse crusading, pontificating, showboating, grandstanding and self-promoting.

There seems to be palpable consternation and anxiety among some (perhaps many) Hippos over the fact that I dared to betray them in a public campaign of name and shame and called unwelcome attention to their self-inflicted paralysis and faintheartedness. Some have even suggested that by using the seductively oversimplified metaphor of cheetahs and hippos, I have invented a new and dangerous division in society between the young and old in a land already fractured and fragmented by ethnic, religious and regional divisions. “Methinks they doth protest too much”, to invoke Shakespeare.

My concern and mission is to lift the veil that shrouds a pernicious culture and conspiracy of silence in the face of evil. My sole objective is to speak truth not only to power but also to those who have calculatedly chosen to disempower themselves by self-imposed silence. I unapologetically insist that silently tolerating wrong over right is dead wrong. Silently conceding the triumph of evil over good is itself evil. Silently watching atrocity is unmitigated moral depravity. Complicity with the champions of hate is partnership with haters.

The maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent” (qui tacet consentiret). Silence is complicity.  Silence for the sake of insincere and hollow social harmony (yilugnta) is tantamount to dousing water on the quiet riot that rages in the hearts and minds of the oppressed. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” I say nothing strengthens tyranny as much as silence —  the silence of the privileged, the silence of those who could speak up but choose to take a vow of silence.  One cannot speak to tyrants in the language of silence; one must speak to tyrants in the language of defiant truth. Silence must never be allowed to become the last refuge of the hypocritical scoundrel.

There have been encouraging developments over the past week in the crescendo of voices speaking truth to power. Several enlightening contributions that shed light on the life and times of tyranny in Ethiopia have been made in “Ethiopian cyber hager”, to borrow Prof. Donald Levine’s metaphor. A couple of insightful analysis readily come to mind. Muktar Omer offered a devastating critique of the bogus theory of “revolutionary democracy.” He argued convincingly  “that recent economic development in Ethiopia has more to do with the injection of foreign aid into the economy and less with revolutionary democracy sloganeering.” He demonstrated the core ideological nexus between fascism, communism and revolutionary democracy. Muktar concluded, “Intellectuals who are enamored with the ‘good intellect and intentions’ of Meles Zenawi and rationalize his appalling human rights records are guilty of either willful ignorance or disagree with Professor John Gray’s dauntingly erudite reminder: ‘radical evil can come from the pursuit of progress’”. My view is that revolutionary democracy is to democracy as ethic federalism is to federalism. Both are figments of a warped and twisted imagination.

An Amharic piece by Kinfu Asefa (managing editor of entitled “Development Thieves” made a compelling case demonstrating the futility and duplicity of the so-called “Renaissance Bond” calculated to raise billions of dollars to dam the Blue Nile. Kinfu argued persuasively that there could be no development dam when the people themselves are damned by the damned dam developers.

I am told by those much wiser than myself that I am pursuing a futile course trying to coax Hippos to renounce their vows of silence and speak up. I am told it would be easier for me to squeeze blood out of turnip than to expect broad-gauged political activism and engaged advocacy from the members of Ethiopia’s inert Hippo Generation. The wise ones tell me I should write off (and not write about) the Hippos living on Planet Cheetah. I should stop pestering them and leave them alone in their blissful world where they see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil!

Should I?

Restoring Faith With the Cheetahs

We have a problem! A big one. “We” are both Cheetahs and Hippos. Truth must be told: Hippos have broken faith with Cheetahs. Cheetahs feel betrayed by Hippos. Cheetahs feel marginalized and sidelined. Cheetahs say their loyalty and dedication has been countered by the treachery and underhandedness of Hippos. The respect and obedience Cheetahs have shown Hippos have been greeted with  disdain and effrontery. Cheetahs say Hippos have misconstrued their humility as servility; their flexibility and adaptability have been countered by rigidity and their humanity abused by cruel indignity.  Cheetahs feel double-crossed, jilted, tricked, lied to, bamboozled, used and abused by Hippos. Cheetahs say they have been demonized for questioning Hippos and for demanding accountability. For expressing themselves freely, Cheetahs have been sentenced to hard labor in silence. Cheetahs have been silenced by silent Hippos! Cheetahs have lost faith in Hippos. Such is the compendium of complaints I hear from many Ethiopian Cheetahs. Are the Cheetahs right in their perceptions and feelings? Are they justified in their accusations? Are Hippos behaving so badly?

A word or two about the youths’ loss of faith in their elders before talking about restoring faith with them.  Ethiopia’s youth live in a world where they are forced to hear every day the litany that their innate value is determined not by the content of their character, individuality or humanity but the random chance of their ethnicity. They have no personality, nationality or humanity, only ethnicity. They are no more than the expression of their ethnic identity.

To enforce this wicked ideology, Apartheid-style homelands have been created in the name of “ethnic federalism”. The youth have come to realize that their station in life is determined not by the power of their intellect but by the power of those who lack intellect. They are shown by example that how high they rise in society depends upon how low they can bring themselves on the yardstick of self-dignity and how deeply they can wallow in the sewage of the politics of identity and ethnicity. They live in a world where they are taught the things that make them different from their compatriots are more than the things they have in common with them. Against this inexorable message of dehumanization, they hear only the sound of silence from those quietly professing allegiance to freedom, democracy and human rights. To restore faith with Ethiopia’s youth, we must trade silence with the joyful noise of protest; we must unmute ourselves and stand resolute against tyranny. We must cast off the silence of quiet desperation.

But before we restore faith with the young people, we must restore faith with ourselves. In other words, we must save ourselves before we save our young people. To restore faith with ourselves, we must learn to forgive ourselves for our sins of commission and omission. We must believe in ourselves and the righteousness of our cause. Before we urge the youth to be courageous, we must first shed our own timidity and fearfulness. Before we teach young people to love each other as children of Mother Ethiopia, we must unlearn to hate each other because we belong to different ethnic groups or worship the same God with different names. To restore faith with ourselves, we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones, comfort groups, comfort communities and comfort ethnicities and muster the courage to say and do things we know are right. We should say and do things because they are right and true, and not because we seek approval or fear disapproval from anyone or group. George Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”  We live in times of national deceit and must become revolutionaries by speaking  truth to abusers of power, to the powerless, to the self-disempowered and to each other.

To be fair to my fellow Hippos, they defend their silence on the grounds that speaking up will not make a difference to tyrants. They say speaking truth to tyranny is a waste of time, an exercise in futility.  Some even say that it is impossible to communicate with the tyrants in power with reasoned words because these tyrants only understand the language of crashing guns, rattling musketry and booming artillery.

I take exception to this view. I believe at the heart of the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is an unending battle for the hearts and minds of the people. In the battlefield of hearts and minds, guns, tanks and warplanes are useless. History bears witness. The US lost the war in Vietnam not because it lacked firepower, airpower, nuclear power, financial power, scientific or technical power.  The U.S. lost the war because it lacked the power to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and American peoples.

Words are the most potent weapon in the battle for hearts and minds. Words can enlighten the benighted, open closed eyes, sealed mouths and plugged ears. Words can awaken consciences. Words can inspire, inform, stimulate and animate. Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest military leaders in history, feared words more than arms. That is why he said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”  That why I insist my fellow privileged intellectuals and all who claim or aspire to be supporters of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law to speak up and speak out and not hide behind a shield of silence. I say speak truth to tyranny. Preach faith in the divinity of humanity and against the bigotry of the politics of identity and ethnicity; champion loudly the causes of unity in diversity and practice the virtues of civility, accountability, amity and cordiality. Never stand silent in the face of atrocity, criminality, contrived ethnic animosity and the immorality of those who abuse of power.

It is necessary to restore faith with the Cheetahs. The gap between Cheetahs and Hippos is not generational. There is a trust gap, not generational gap. There is a credibility gap. There is an expectation gap, an understanding gap and a compassion gap. Many bridges need to be built to close the gaps that divide the Cheetah and Hippo Generations.

Rise of the Chee-Hippo Generation

There is a need to “invent” a new generation, the Chee-Hippo Generation. A Chee-Hippo is a hippo who thinks, behaves and acts like a Cheetah.  A Chee-Hippo is also a cheetah who understands the limitations of Hippos yet is willing to work with them in common cause for a common purpose.

Chee-Hippos are bridge builders. They build strong intergenerational bridges that connect the young with the old. They build bridges to connect people seeking democracy, freedom and human rights. They build bridges across ethnic canyons and connect people stranded on islands of homelands. They bridge the gulf of language, religion and region. They build bridges to link up the rich with the poor. They build bridges of national unity to harmonize diversity. They build bridges to connect the youth at home with the youth in the Diaspora. Chee-Hippos build social and political networks to empower youth.

Are You a Chee-Hippo or a Hippo?

You are a Chee-Hippo if you believe

young people are the future of the country and the older people are the country’s past.

the future is infinitely more important than the past.

a person’s value is determined not by the collection of degrees listed after his/her name but by the   person’s commitment and stand on the protection of the basic human rights of a fellow human being.

and practice the virtues of tolerance, civility, civic duty, cooperation, empathy, forgiveness, honesty, honor, idealism, inclusivity and openness.

You are a Chee-Hippo if you are

open-minded, flexible, and humble.

open to new ideas and ways of communicating with people across age groups, ethnic, religious, gender and linguistic lines.

unafraid to step out of your comfort zone into the zone of hard moral choices.

courageous enough to mean what you say and say what you mean instead of wasting your time  babbling in ambiguity and double-talk.

prepared to act now instead of tomorrow (eshi nege or yes, tomorrow).

prepared to blame yourself first for your own deficits before blaming the youth or others for theirs.

eager to learn new things today and unlearn the bad lessons of the past.

committed to finding opportunity than complaining about the lack of one.

able to develop attitudes and beliefs that reflect what is possible and not wallow in self-pity about what is impossible.

fully aware that the world is in constant and rapid change and by not changing you have no one to blame for the consequences except yourself.

Any Hippo can be reinvented into a Chee-Hippo. Ultimately, being a Chee-Hippo is a state of mind. One need only think, behave and act like Cheetahs. The credo of a true Chee-Hippo living on Planet Cheetah is, “We must not give only what we have; we must give what we are.”

Damn proud to be a Chee-Hippo!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:


Ethiopia: On the Road to Constitutional Democracy

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Alemayehu G Mariam

roadOver the past few months, I have been penning occasional commentaries in a series I called  “Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship and democracy”. In my last such commentary, I argued that “on the bridge to democracy, there is often a collision between individuals and groups doggedly pursuing power, the common people tired of those who abuse and misuse power and the dictators who want to cling to power.  The chaos that occurs on the transitional bridge from dictatorship to democracy creates the ideal conditions for the hijacking of political power, theft of democracy and the reinstitution of dictatorship in the name of democracy.” In this commentary, I focus on the need for constitutional “pre-dialogue” (preparatory conversations) in anticipation of some potential roadblocks on Ethiopia’s inexorable march to a constitutional democracy.

Roadblocks to Democracy

Most societies that have sought to make a transition from tyranny and dictatorship to democracy have faced challenging and complex roadblocks. After the Americans effectively ended Britain’s tyrannical rule in 1776, the 13 colonies experimented on their own until 1781 when they signed articles of confederation creating a loose political association and a national government. That effort failed because the states had reserved important powers over commerce, foreign trade and affairs to themselves and denied the national government the power to tax, raise an army or regulate trade.  They overcame these and other major problems when they adopted their current constitution in 1787.

More recent history shows the extraordinary difficulties countries face in transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain, the transition democracy has been difficult and incomplete. The wave of democratization in the Eastern Bloc countries and the former Soviet states in the 1990s lifted only a few of them into the ranks of liberal democracies with free elections, multiparty democracy, independent media and judiciary and so on. Various explanations have been offered for the stillbirth of democracy in these countries. One persuasive explanation suggests that in those countries where democracy succeeded, there were strong democratic forces with sufficient power to  impose hegemony on supporters of the moribund communist dictatorships. Dictatorships reinvented themselves and reemerged in new configurations where supporters of the previous dictatorship maintained a decisive power advantage.

The “Arab Spring” that signaled the dawn of democracy in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries today faces formidable challenges. In Egypt, the “interim” military government runs the transition to constitutional civilian rule. The sly military fox is guarding the henhouse of democracy in Egypt. Many Egyptians openly question whether the military is window dressing democracy to whisk Egypt back to the old Mubarak-style dictatorship with a democratic façade. The fact that Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, is a leading candidate (and widely perceived as shoo-in) in the presidential race in mid-June lends support to the cynical view that the more things change in Egypt, the more they remain the same. But more alarming is the fact that since the onset of the revolution in Tahrir Square in January 2011, there have been more than 12,000 Egyptians arrested and many brought to trial before military courts on a variety of questionable charges. Many respected human rights organizations have been subjected to harassment and investigation for “treason” by the state security prosecutor’s office. Is Egypt skating on the slippery slope of dictatorship?

In Tunisia, the Constitutional Assembly elected last October to draft a new Constitution within one year seems to show some hopeful signs. The most encouraging sign comes from the fact that the constitutional drafters do not seems  preoccupied with time consuming divisive political issue but instead are focusing their efforts on establishing a robust constitutional structure that addresses potential abuses of power and prevent the future rise of a dictatorship. Using different “commissions”, the drafters are discussing the suitability of parliamentary or presidential systems, the structural controls needed to  maintain the balance of power in the branches of government and institutionalizing  legislative oversight of the executive branch, the need for a constitutional court, decentralization of power and other issues.

Libya’s progress on the road to democracy is not very encouraging. In August 2011, an anonymously  published “Draft Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Stage” of Libya was circulated widely. It seemed to be a cut-and-paste job festooned with the buzzwords of Western liberal democracies about the rule of law, personal freedoms of speech and religion, multiparty democracy and so on. Other drafts are also in circulation. This past March a 60-person constitution drafting committee was appointed  equally representing Libya’s three main regions. But it seems the Libyans have more urgent problems of stability and security. In the absence of an effective national army, the ragtag army of revolutionary fighters and militiamen who overthrew Gadhafi continue to clash with each other and operate in their respective areas with impunity. The silver lining in the dark constitutional cloud over Libya appears to be the existence of independent groups of Libyan lawyers, jurists, scholars, intellectuals and others hard at work preparing draft constitutions. Though such disparate efforts could contribute to the existing constitutional chaos and confusion, it could ultimately contribute to broader public awareness and participation in the constitution-making process in Libya.

Roadblocks to Constitutional Democracy in Ethiopia?

Not unlike the “Arab Spring” countries, Ethiopia will likely face the critical question of what to do with the current constitution after the fall of the ruling dictatorship. One could reasonably expect vociferous calls for the adoption of an interim constitution (assuming the military will not make a naked power grab) and establish a transitional government.  The Ethiopian Constitution was originally engineered by one-man to divide, rule and control and for one party to exert total domination. Its general application has been minimal. Its provisions are systematically and routinely ignored, avoided and overlooked by the ruling dictatorship (see reference below to the recent U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ethiopia). There is widespread dissatisfaction about its uses, misuses and abuses by the ruling party and its iron-fisted leader; and there are compelling reasons for dissatisfaction. In 2009,the International Crises Group, a highly respected non-partisan and independent organization which gives advice on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict to the United Nations, European Union and World Bank, pinpointed one of the most contentious issues that has caused wide dissatisfaction:

The EPRDF’s ethnic federalism has not dampened conflict, but rather increased competition among groups that vie over land and natural resources, as well as administrative boundaries and government budgets. Furthermore, ethnic federalism has failed to resolve the “national question”. The EPRDF’s ethnic policy has empowered some groups but has not been accompanied by dialogue and reconciliation. For Amhara and national elites, ethnic federalism impedes a strong, unitary nation-state. For ethno-national rebel groups like the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front; Somalis in the Ogaden) and OLF (Oromo Liberation Front; the Oromo), ethnic federalism remains artificial.

Accountability for abuses of power, human rights violations and corruption are equally likely to be compelling reasons for an interim constitution. This is evident in the findings of the recently issued U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011:

Membership in the EPRDF [the ruling party] conferred advantages upon its members; the party directly owned many businesses and was broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. The opposition reported that in many instances local authorities told its members to renounce their party membership and join the EPRDF if they wanted access to subsidized seeds and fertilizer; food relief; civil service job assignment, promotion, or retention; student university assignment and postgraduate employment; and other benefits controlled by the government… Some government officials appeared to manipulate the privatization process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit…

The law requires authorities to obtain judicial warrants to search private property; however, in practice police often ignored the law… The government reportedly used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals… Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government…The national government and regional governments continued to put in place “villagization” plans in the Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Somali regions… According to the [Human Rights Watch] report, security forces beat (sometimes leading to death), threatened, arrested without charge, and detained persons who were critical of planned villagization of their communities, and this caused persons to fear speaking out against the process… While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government did not respect these rights in practice… The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors… Students in schools and universities were indoctrinated in the core precepts of the ruling EPDRF party’s concept of ‘revolutionary democracy’…

Learning From the Mistakes and Successes of Others: Pre-Dialogue for a Constitution-Making Process in Ethiopia

If the recent history of upheavals in North Africa offers a lesson to Ethiopia, it is the fact that it will likely necessary to establish a “caretaker government” to lead in the transitional period. Such a government could facilitate governance during the transitional period, expedite the drafting of a permanent constitution and address critical political and security issues that may arise until a democratically elected government is installed. Although one could endlessly speculate on alternative scenarios in the aftermath of the fall of dictatorship in Ethiopia (including direct military intervention, installation of  pre-arranged leaders by international interests, severe political strife, a “unity government”, etc.,), the important thing in my view is to start an informed constitutional conversation (a “pre-dialogue”) now, and not wait for  some some dramatic event to happen to begin discussion.

One of the important lessons of the “Arab Spring” is that those who led the struggle against dictatorship had failed to seriously consider the question of who should lead the constitutional review and drafting process in the transitional period. Western nations were too eager to bridge the gap by sending their  constitutional experts, specialists, scholars and tons of instructional materials on how to structure a robust democratic constitution. National stakeholders representing political parties and organizations were quickly organized as transitional governments and allowed to operate within the parameters set by the military backing them up. This approach to “democratization” has not been particularly conducive to giving voice and allowing meaningful participation by ordinary citizens, civic society and grassroots organizations. As a result, it appears the constitution-making efforts in those countries undergoing the proverbial “Spring” reflects the general desires and wishes of the elites much more than the ordinary citizens who do not have sufficient familiarity with the process or the substance of the draft constitutional provisions.

This underscores the importance of inclusiveness of all segments of society in any constitutional pre-dialogue (and dialogue) in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian Diaspora. An elite and expert-driven dialogue which excludes or underrepresents grassroots and civil society organizations is likely to be an exercise in constitutional window-dressing. While expert and elite participation is necessary because of the technical skills required in drafting and compromises that need to be made by the major stakeholders, the debates and conflicts  between political parties, organizations and leaders should not and must not be allowed to dominate or overshadow the vital need for mass public participation in the constitutional dialogue. In the “Arab Spring”, civil society and grassroots organizations, women, the youth, and other underrepresented groups have not been adequately included in the formal dialogue and will likely not be involved in the final negotiations and drafting of a new constitution. Is it not ironic that the young Egyptians who sparked the revolution and sacrificed their lives in overthrowing Mubarak now have so little voice in the drafting of the new constitution?

There are other important lessons Ethiopians can learn from the general experience of the “Arab Spring”. Public civic education on a new constitution must be provided in the transitional period.  Ethiopian political parties, organizations, leaders, scholars, human rights advocates and others should undertake a systematic program of public education and mobilization for democratization and transition to a genuine constitutional democracy.  They must initiate and lead broad and ongoing dialogue on the current constitution, its advantages and disadvantages and present constitutional alternatives for a new and genuinely democratic Ethiopia.

Political polarization of society is a predictable outcome in a post-dictatorship period. To overcome conflict and effect a peaceful transition, competing factions must work together, which requires the development of consensus on core values. The “Arab Spring” experience shows the difficulty in developing consensus as they seem to be bogged down in all sorts of divisive issues rooted in religion, identity, ethnicity and so on.  What should be the core values of a new democratic Ethiopia? How does one transform subnational fragmentation and disintegration into national cohesion and integration?

To have a successful transition from dictatorship to constitutional democracy, Ethiopians need to practice the arts of civil discourse and negotiations. As difficult and embarrassing as it is to admit, many Ethiopian elites on all sides seem to suffer from a culture of inflexibility and zero sum gamesmanship. In other words, one has to win always, and the rest must always lose. We have seen absurd zero sum games played over the past 21 years. In May 2010, the ruling party claimed it had won 99.6 percent of the legislative seats!  In 2008, the same ruling party claimed that in the local and by-elections it had won all but four of 3.4 million contested seats! A clean break from such zero sum culture and zero sum mentality is needed. Such absurdity and rigidity is also the perfect breeding ground for the re-emergence of a new dictatorship. It must be replaced by a culture of tolerance, good will, civility and respect in national dialogue.

One of the criticism aimed at the interim and transitional governments in the “Arab Spring” countries is lack of transparency in the constitution-making process. In Egypt, it seems clear that regardless of any new constitution, the military is unlikely to give up its control to civilian supremacy and risk losing its massive economic holdings in real estate and the services sector. In a transitional period, the public is often left in the dark about the constitution drafting process process and transitional governments tend to be somewhat secretive about their activities. In Libya, political activists in major cities have held demonstrations demanding more transparency in the transitional council’s decision-making process.

The absence of transparency diminishes public confidence and increases popular cynicism. Broad citizen engagement is one of the most effective ways of maximizing transparency. Ethiopian political parties and organizations, civic and grassroots organizations, advocacy groups and the independent press could play a decisive role in promoting and maintaining transparency in the constitutional dialogue and constitution making process. They could play important roles in educating and informing the public and by monitoring official activities to safeguard against manipulation and underhandedness by those entrusted with drafting the constitution.

Kenya’s Constitutional Model for Ethiopia?

Kenya’s constitutional reform in the aftermath of the crises in the 2007-07 presidential elections has been praised by various international organizations and governments. The Kenyans formed a “national unity” government before embarking on a constitutional drafting process. Most independent commentators have noted the inclusiveness and transparency of the constitution drafting process, the extensive consultations among stakeholders, the wide availability of constitutional civic education and the high level of civic engagement. The new constitution adopted in 2010 makes significant changes by imposing constitutional limits on executive power, replacement of powerful provincial governments with smaller counties, a citizens’ Bill of Rights and a landcommission to return stolen property and review past abuses, among others. The Constitution was approved by 70 percent of the Kenyan electorate.

The Search of a Democratic Constitution and a Constitutional Democracy in Ethiopia 

The search for a democratic constitution and the goal of a constitutional democracy in Ethiopia will be a circuitous, arduous and challenging task. But it can be done! My views on the subject are pretty straightforward: A constitution is the supreme law of the land, which simply means that it is the fountainhead of all laws and all other laws in the land are subordinate to it. A constitution is fundamentally a limitation on government (not an empowerment of government). I think of it as the people’s iron chain leash on the “government dog”. The shorter the leash, the better and safter it is for the dog’s masters. A constitution is also the sword that guarantees individual liberties and human rights against abuse by those exercising power. Only when those who are entrusted with the sacred duty of governance are put on a short leash and guarded by an independent judiciary wielding the sword of accountability will there be a true constitutional democracy in Ethiopia.

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:


Missing a “Large Chunk” of Ethiopian Territory?

Monday, September 12th, 2011

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

When the going gets tough…

When the going gets tough, the tough go looking for distractions and diversions.

The past few weeks have been tough going for dictator Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Secret cables released by Wikileaks provided stunning revelations on Zenawi’s secret world. The U.S. believes Zenawi’s security forces staged a bomb explosion in 2008 and blamed an opposition group for committing terrorism. Zenawi made a thinly-veiled solicitation to the Americans to “remove the Bashir regime” in the Sudan. The Americans knew Zenawi was cooking the economic numbers to show economic development unseen anywhere in the world. They called his claims “mythic economic growth”. Torture is routinely practiced in Zenawi’s prisons; and the list of horrors goes on and on. Famine is spreading throughout Ethiopia and the Horn according to the recent U.S. Senate testimony of one high level American official. The Ethiopian economy is in shambles, according to a secret International Monetary Fund report which Zenawi has requested not be made public. Inflation is no longer galloping; it is flying high in the Ethiopian stratosphere. Bad news for Zenawi all around.

When the going gets tough, Zenawi always finds something to distract the people’s attention and show that he is still in total control. Last week, he paraded out two Swedish journalists and charged them with terrorism. He also arrested dozens of imaginary opponents. To put icing on the cake, he even jailed Debebe Eshetu (first jailed after the 2005 elections), one of the greatest and much-loved Ethiopian stage and screen actors of all time. Nice try but…

What happened to a “large chunk” of Ethiopian territory” in 2008?

Some of my readers may recall that in July 2008 I gave a long speech challenging Zenawi’s factual basis and the legality of the secret giveaway of Ethiopian land to the Sudan. I argued: “Zenawi’s defiant refusal to be transparent and open in making public an ‘Agreement’ (treaty) that gives away a large chunk of Ethiopian territory to another country is a monumental breach of constitutional duty for which he should be held accountable.”

Wikileaks now provides confirmation to the widely-held belief that Zenawi had secretly handed over Ethiopian land to the Sudan. According to highly placed sources briefing American officials, in a move to deal with “on-going tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan”, Zenawi had turned over land to the Sudan “which has cost the Amhara region a large chunk of territory” and tried to “sweep the issue under the rug.”

This revelation is solid confirmation of the slow and methodical dismemberment of Ethiopia. First, the Port of Assab was given away in the mid-1990s; Ethiopia became a landlocked nation.  In 1998, Badme in northern Ethiopia was invaded; and after 80,000 Ethiopians sacrificed their lives and repelled the invaders, Zenawi delivered Badme to the same invaders in international arbitration.  In the last several years, Indian, Middle Eastern and other “investors” have been handed free land without even asking for it. Then there is the insidious “ethnic federalism” which has created the equivalent of Bantustans (ethnic homelands) for the Ethiopian people.

What really happened in Western Ethiopia in May, 2008?

On May 11, 2008, Zenawi issued a statement which categorically denied the transfer of any Ethiopian land to the Sudan. That statement accused the “media” and “irresponsible” elements outside the country for creating fear and alarm over something that did not happen. When Sudanese officials publicly announced acquisition of territory from Ethiopia in mid-May, Zenawi’s officials started backpedalling on the initial story. They said only preliminary work on border demarcation had been done, but nothing had been finalized. Within days, they changed the story once more and announced that they were merely “implementing prior agreements” concluded by the imperial/Derg regimes with the Sudan.

As the Ethio-Sudan Border Affairs Committee began to aggressively investigate what was really happening on the ground in the western border areas, Ethiopians victimized by land giveaway began giving interviews to the Voice of America and other international media outlets. They complained bitterly that they had been driven out of their ancestral lands by occupying Sudanese forces. Their farm machinery and tools had been confiscated and scores of Ethiopians had been arrested and detained in Sudanese jails. The victims also reported that they were attacked by helicopter gunships of Zenawi’s regime for defending their homes, farms and towns. At that point, Zenawi had no choice but to “fess” up; and on May 21, Zenawi publicly described his agreement with al-Bashir of the Sudan:

We, Ethiopia and Sudan, have signed an agreement not to displace any single individual from both sides to whom the demarcation benefits… We have given back this land, which was occupied in 1996. This land before 1996 belonged to Sudanese farmers. There is no single individual displaced at the border as it is being reported by some media.

Zenawi insisted on keeping the actual agreement secret, but his public statement provided important clues on the basic terms and nature of the secret agreement. Zenawi’s statement provided solid confirmation of the existence of an actual “Agreement” that has been “signed” either by Zenawi or someone authorized by him. While the detailed terms and conditions of the land giveaway remained secret,  Zenawi put on the record the nature of the subject matter in the Agreement which included: 1) the question of non-displacement of persons in the giveaway territories, 2) the preservation of benefits of all persons affected by border demarcation, 3) restoration of land rights to Sudanese farmers on land supposedly occupied illegally by Ethiopian farmers, and 4) cession of lands (“give back of land”) “occupied” by Ethiopia “in 1996” back to the Sudan.

It is important to underscore the fact that “The Agreement” Zenawi “signed” with al-Bashir, by his own description, has nothing to do with the so-called Gwen line (setting the “frontier between Ethiopia and Sudan”) of 1902. It also has nothing to do with any other agreements drafted or concluded by the imperial government prior to 1974, or the Derg between 1975 and 1991 for border demarcation or settlement. Zenawi’s agreement, by his own public statement, deals exclusively with border matters and related issues beginning in 1996, when presumably the alleged occupation of Sudanese land took place under his watch.

Where is the Agreement?

Why has Zenawi kept the actual text of “The Agreement” secret from the public and the “Council of Representatives” in violation of Art. 55 (12) of the Ethiopian Constitution?  Zenawi as a “public official” has an affirmative constitutional duty to perform his official responsibilities in an open and transparent manner. This duty is unambiguously mandated under Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution which provides, “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public… Any public official or elected representative shall be made accountable for breach of his official duties.” Article 12 applies to ALL “activities of government” and to ALL government officials. It makes no exceptions for secret deals by “prime ministers”. Transparency and openness in government is a mandatory constitutional duty of ALL public officials, not an optional or discretionary one. The refusal to make public an agreement that gives away a large chunk of Ethiopian territory to another country is a monumental breach and evasion of constitutional duty.

There is one question that needs to be answered now that the world knows the truth: Why does  Zenawi keep secret and refuse to make public an Agreement that gave a “large chunk” of Ethiopian territory to the Sudan?

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and