Posts Tagged ‘woubshet taye’

Who is afraid of the E(thiopian) bloggers?

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

E bloggers Who is afraid of  Eskinder Nega, Reeyout Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Zone Nine bloggers…?

The “dean” of independent Ethiopian journalists and blogger extraordinaire, Eskinder Nega, is serving an 18 year sentence for blogging. The late Meles Zenawi personally ordered Eskinder’s arrest and even determined his sentence. Meles Zenawi feared and hated Eskinder Nega more than any other journalist in Ethiopia. Meles feared Eskinder for the same illogical reason elephants “fear” mice.

In a recent “open letter” from prison to his eight year-old son Nafkot, Eskinder wrote, “ I have reluctantly become an absent father because I ache for what the French in the late 18th Century expressed in three simple words: liberté, egalité, fraternité.” Eskinder is a blogger for liberty, equality and brotherhood. That is why he is my personal hero!

Reeyot Alemu, the 34 year-old undisputed Ethiopian heroine of press freedom, was also jailed by Meles Zenawi for 14 years. She has been internationally recognized as  “Ethiopia’s Jailed Truth Teller.”  Reeyot was jailed for writing a  “scathing critique of the ruling political party’s fundraising methods for a national dam project, and drew “parallels between the late Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi and Meles Zenawi.” Reeyot refused to be gagged and muzzled even in prison and courageously kept on speaking truth to the abusers of  power. “I believe that I must contribute something to bring a better future [in Ethiopia]. Since there are a lot of injustices and oppressions in Ethiopia, I must reveal and oppose them in my articles… I knew that I would pay the price for my courage and I was ready to accept that price,” said Reeyot in her moving handwritten letter smuggled out of prison.  The regime has denied Reeyot basic medical care to punish her for unyielding defiance.  According to the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative reported in Al Jazeera, Reeyot “has received severely inadequate treatment for the fibroadenoma she was diagnosed with. She has had surgery without anaesthesia, has been left with surgical stitches in her breast for over a year and never received proper aftercare.” She is my personal heroine!

The indomitable journalist and editor Woubshet Taye has also been silenced and languishes in a hell-hole called Zwai (“Zenawi”) prison. He is sentenced to 14 years. Woubshet would not back down from using his newspaper as a watchdog on the regime’s corruption and abuses of power. Woubshet has also been denied medical care for a severe kidney condition. Denial of medical care (a crime against humanity) is a routine punishment imposed on prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia. Woubshet’s five year-old son Fiteh (meaning “justice”) keeps asking, “When I grow up will I go to jail like my dad?”  Fiteh is too young to realize that he is already in an open air prison now.

A few weeks ago, Ethiopia’s “Zone Nine Bloggers” (named after a prison block  holding political prisoners at  the infamous “Meles Zenawi Kality Prison” a few kilometers outside of the capital) and other journalists including Atnaf Berahane, Zelalem Kibret, Befeqadu Hailu, Abel Wabela, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Tesfalem Waldyes and Edom Kassaye were arrested and detained on unknown charges. The “police” are trying to figure out what charges to bring against them. (Ethiopia is the ONLY country in the world where the police arrest and detain a suspect and then go out looking for evidence of wrongdoing!!! The “courts” deny bail to detainees and grant endless continuances and delays to prosecutors to enable them to fabricate evidence. That’s one of the reasons I call them “kangaroo courts”.) The real crime of the “Zone 9ers” is  “advocating freedom of expression and what they call Dreaming of a Better Ethiopia.” A recent scheduled “court” hearing for the “Zone 9ers” was closed to the public and diplomatic observers.

Why they are afraid of  Eskinder Nega, Reeyout Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Zone Nine bloggers… ?

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets,” fretted Napoleon Bonaparte, dictator of France, as he declared war on that country’s independent press. For the regime in Ethiopia, the pens and computer keyboards of a handful of independent journalists and bloggers are more to be feared than ten thousand bayonets mounted on AK-47s.  All dictators and tyrants in history have feared the enlightening powers of the independent press. The benighted dictators in Ethiopia fear the enlightening powers of an independent press more than the firepower of several fully equipped infantry divisions.

Total control of the media and suppression of independent journalists remains the wicked obsession of the regime. They believe that by controlling the flow of information, they can control the hearts and minds of the people. They believe they can fabricate truth out of falsehood by controlling the media. By crushing the independent press, they believe they can fool all of the people all of the time. But they know deep down in their stone cold hearts that “truth will not forever remain on the scaffold, nor wrong remain forever on the throne.” They live each day in the land of living lies fearful of losing their throne.

The benighted dictators in Ethiopia today confront a reality Napoleon confronted long ago. “A journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns and a tutor of nations.” It was the fact of “tutoring nations” — teaching, informing, enlightening and empowering the people with knowledge– that was Napoleon’s greatest fear of a free press. He understood the power of the independent press to effectively countercheck his tyrannical rule and hold him accountable before the people. He spared no effort to harass, jail, censor and muzzle journalists for criticizing his use of a vast network of spies to terrorize French society. The press exposed his military failures, condemned his indiscriminate massacres of unarmed protesters in the streets and  for jailing, persecuting and killing his political opponents. Ethiopia’s dictators now face Napoleon’s nightmare and are jailing and persecuting young bloggers and independent journalists. They spend sleepless nights in cold sweat afraid of the truth!

The E bloggers and journalists are special Ethiopian heroes and heroines. They are truth-tellers and -warriors. They fight tyranny with their pens and computer keyboards. Their ammunition are truth, words, ideas, facts and opinions. They slay falsehoods with the sword of truth. They chase bad ideas with good ones and advocate replacing old ideas with new ones. They fight the people’s despair with words of hope. They teach the people that fear is overcome with acts of courage. They fight ignorance and powerful ignoramuses with knowledge and reason. They stand up to arrogance and hubris with defiant humility. They seek to transform intolerance with forbearance; resist oppression with perseverance and defeat doubt with faith. They fight with their pens and keyboards on the battleground that is the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people.

Living on Planet denial-istan, lies and fear

The regime in Ethiopia lives on a planet of its own where lies are truth, the truth is mangled daily and the con artists live in fear. The regime has upended the Cartesian principle. “We think, therefore things exist or do not exist.” The demigod of the regime, the late Meles Zenawi, was a master of denial. He always denied the existence of political prisoners in his prisons: “There are no political prisoners in Ethiopia at the moment. Those in prison are insurgents. So it is difficult to explain a situation of political prisoners, because there are none.” He denied the occurence of famine and starvation during his overlordship; he said there were only  pockets of severe malnutrition in some districts in the south and an emergency situation in the Somali region.” He denied any violations of human rights. “We are supposed to have burned villages [in the Ogaden]. I can tell you, not a single village, and as far as I know not a single hut has been burned. We have been accused of dislocating thousands of people from their villages and keeping them in camps. Nobody has come up with a shred of evidence.” The fact that the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirmed the burning of Ogadeni villages with satellite images meant nothing on Planet Zenawi. Meles declared with a straight face that his press law which has resulted in the imprisonment and exile of dozens of  Ethiopia’s topindependent journalists and bloggersa  is “on par with the best [press laws] in the world.” Following the 2010 “election”, Meles said his party won the 2010 “election” by 99.6 percent because the people love his party. Meles was an Orwellian archetype. He used “political language to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

There are certain undeniable truths about those running the regime in Ethiopia today. They all live in FEAR. They live in FEAR of the TRUTH.  They fear the power of the free press as the exposer of the truth. They fear the press as much as their one-time ideological master V.I. Lenin: “Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?”

They fear the TRUTH because they know the TRUTH makes the people free. They fear FREEDOM because they fear new IDEAS. They fear new ideas because they fear CHANGE. A free people armed with the truth, animated with ideas of freedom is free to change its form of government at will.

What is the truth about the regime in Ethiopia? The truth is that they are  criminals against humanity; they have no legitimacy; they cling to power by force of arms; they steal elections; they are corrupt to the core; they abuse and misuse their power;  they flout the rule of law and they are outlaws who rule by the law of the jungle.  The truth is they are total frauds practicing bushcraft as statecraft. The truth is that they are thugtators who operate Africa’s most ruthless thugtatorship.

They fear independent journalists and bloggers because these journalists and bloggers expose the truth about their crimes and corruption, failed policies, incompetence and ignorance. They fear the independent journalists and bloggers as much as the demons who possess their victims fear exorcists and holy water. They have done everything in their power to keep the truth from the people for whom the truth is manifest. They have jammed satellite transmissions, clamped down on internet access, shuttered newspapers and jailed journalists. Just last week, Arabsat informed the International Communication Union and the Arab League that Ethiopia is jamming its transmissions and vowed to take “all appropriate actions to prosecute the culprit” and recover compensation for “any damage already incurred or to be incurred as a result of the jamming.”  The regime is today harassing, threatening and arresting newspaper peddlers on the streets who sell copies of the few newspapers mildly critical of the regime.

The truth is that the Chinese are the invisible hands behind the suppression of free expression in Ethiopia. They provide not only the electronic jamming technology to the regime but also the telecommunication  infrastructure used for mobile and internet services. They are the one stop shop for the whole kit and caboodle used to suppress and constrict the free flow of information into and out of Ethiopia. Two years ago almost to the day, former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visiting Zambia said of China in Africa, “We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave. And when you leave, you don’t leave much behind for the people who are there. We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa.” The truth is that the Chinese are not only staying and expanding their neocolonial hegemony in Ethiopia, they are principally responsible for the suppression of free expression by providing the regime technical support and equipment used in audio and video surveillance and electronic jamming.

They fear FREEDOM. What is freedom? The essence of all human freedom is the freedom from FEAR. In practical terms, freedom is not fearing to speak one’s mind; not fearing to write what one pleases; not fearing to believe or not believe in any idea, religion or philosophy; not fearing to come together with anyone one chooses. The ultimate freedom any human being can experience is to live in a society where those in power fear and respect the people who have given them power.

They fear IDEAS. “Ideas are much more fatal things than guns,” warned Lenin. Ideas power change in science, politics and all other areas of human endeavors. The world is not flat after all. But the dictators in Ethiopia are the new flat-earthers. They think they can rule like kings, czars and maharajahs without the consent (or stolen consent) of the people. They have few wholesome ideas and do not have the intellectual capacity to understand and appreciate new ones. But their minds are supreme diabolical workshops for destructive ideas that create ethnic division, perpetuate bigotry and hatred, incite strife, provoke conflict, spread and proliferate corruption, instigate disunity and animosity and arouse suspicion and distrust among the people. They are incapable of generating ideas that unite people, create ethnic harmony, forge national unity, build consensus, establish solidarity and inspire faith.

The centophobic (those who fear new ideas) dictators in Ethiopia pretend to be visionaries, men of new and grand ideas. They want the people and the world to believe they are forward looking, imaginative and creative dreamers and innovators; but one cannot dream living a nightmare of fear. They are clueless about what it takes to be visionary leaders: integrity, acceptance of personal responsibility, ability to inspire others, learning from mistakes and failures instead of repeating them mindlessly, saying “I am sorry” when they make mistakes, open mindedness, fairness and passion about doing the right thing. They are myopic “leaders” who are passionate about doing the wrong thing. They can clearly see the wads of stolen loot bulging their pockets but they are completely blind to the dire consequences of what they are doing now in the foreseeable future. A powerful idea — an idea whose time has come — is unstoppable. The yearning for freedom by the people of Ethiopia is unstoppable and once unleashed, it will sweep away everything in its path with tornadic force.

They fear CHANGE. What is change? Change is that eternal universal law which governs the processes of growth and decay in all things. The regime in Ethiopia fears change because they fear they will lose their dominant economic and political position in society. They will crush any attempt, including peaceful ones, to bring about change. They fail to understand that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Because of lack of political legitimacy and lack of state capacity, Ethiopia today is in a state of terminal political decay; it has become a failed state. For the past quarter century, the policy of ethnic division (“ethnic federalism”) has left Ethiopia with two options, despite the silly propaganda about the “developmental state” surging forward with  “double-digit growth.” Only their lies are growing with double and triple digits.

Ethiopia stands at the crossroads today. It may go forward as a nation united, or splinter into mini-“thugistans” carved out of the so-called “kilils” (Ethiopia’s version of apartheid-style bantustans). If Ethiopia becomes a collection of mini-thugistans, the biggest losers will be the regime in power, their cronies and supporters. Not only will they lose political power, they will lose all of the loot they have stolen and accumulated, at least inside the country. It is in the rational self-interest of those in power to work for peaceful change and for political regeneration and bring the people together as one nation. It is in their self-interest to harmonize relations with opposition groups and leaders and provide for political space. Change in Ethiopia may be like a train that arrives late. The winds of change that blew over Eastern Europe and the Middle East will certainly blow over Ethiopia too. The only question is whether those winds will be breezy or hurricane-force.

The TRUTH shall make you free if you are free but torments those who are not

It is written that the “truth shall make you free.” Free and fear are mutually exclusive. The sole purpose of the independent press and bloggers is to tell the truth as they see it. They are free to give their opinions of the truth without fear. But the people already know the truth. Despite the bold-faced lies that “Ethiopia is growing by double digits”, the people know the truth. They know they do not have enough to eat and millions starve every day; they do not have adequate water supply or electrical power; they receive little medical care; the young people are under-educated and unemployed;  the regime is corrupt and routinely commits crimes against humanity. The people know they live in an open-air prison.

The crime of the independent journalists and bloggers is disclosing to the people what they already know. Their crime is digging 24/7 at the mine of corruption and abuse, unearthing new evidence of crimes against humanity.  That is why the regime is are afraid of them. The regime wants the truth to remain buried and forgotten. The regime believes  that by suppressing the truth and jailing and silencing the truth-tellers, they could permanently silence and kill the truth. As George Orwell observed, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” The E-bloggers are Ethiopia’s revolutionary vanguards today.

Weaponization of fear in the media

The regime has long decided to use its quintessential weakness into its forte. It has used fear as its preferred weapon of mass confusion, division, deception, demonization and distraction.  The regime has used the public media to conduct a relentless campaign of fear, smear and demonization. They have broadcast much-ballyhooed “documentaries” (“docutrash”) to paint all who oppose the regime as “terrorists”. In a revolting and scandalous docutrash entitled “Akeldama”, they depicted  Ethiopia as a country under withering terrorist attack by Ethiopian Diaspora opposition elements and their co-conspirators inside the country and other “terrorist” groups. “Akeldama” stitched revolting and gruesome video clips and photomontage of terrorist carnage and destruction throughout the world to tar and feather all opponents of the late Meles Zenawi as stooges of Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

In another docutrash entitled  “Jihadawi Harakat”, they tried to stoke the fires of Islamophobia by spreading fear and loathing between Christians and Muslims. They thought they could scare Ethiopian Christians into believing that the same Muslims with whom they have coexisted peacefully for a millennia have been suddenly transformed into bloodthirsty “Islamic terrorists” secretly planning to wage a jihadist war to establish an Islamic government.

They have used Ethiophobia and ethnophobia  to spread fear and loathing among the people, and place themselves as the only salvation to an imaginary ethnic and sectarian strife and carnage. They have played one ethnic group against another. They have used ethnic cleansing in the name of “ethnic federalism”. They have resurrected historical grievances to stoke the fires of ethnic hatred. They have used their own fears as a weapon against the people.

The war on Ethiopian journalists and bloggers is a war on truth itself

The regime’s war on Ethiopia’s independent journalists and bloggers is a war on truth itself. The regime has been the victor in all of the battles and skirmishes over the last quarter of a century. But there will be a final decisive war  between the dictators who swing swords and brandish AK47s and the journalists and bloggers who wield pens and computer keyboards. That war will be waged in the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. I have no doubts whatsoever that the outcome of that war is foreordained. In fact, I believe that war has already been won. For as Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned in his verse, in the war between sword holders and pen holders, final victory always goes to the pen holders:

‘True, This! –
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! – itself a nothing! –
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! – Take away the sword –
States can be saved without it!’

But if the paramount question is to save the regime in Ethiopia or to save Ethiopia’s independent press and bloggers, I would, as Thomas Jefferson chose,  save the latter: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a regime without independent journalists and bloggers or independent journalists and bloggers without a regime, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. After all, I am a hard-core, proud-as-hell, dyed-in-the wool, rootin’-tootin’, foot stompin’, unapologetic, unabashed and unrelenting E-blogger!!! 

Power to independent journalists and E-bloggers!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/amharic/category/%E1%8A%A0%E1%88%8D-%E1%88%9B%E1%88%AD%E1%8B%AB%E1%88%9D/

 

 

EITI or Clare’s Corruption Club?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Clare Short Clare Short has won! Congratulations, Clare! Brava!

Last week, Clare Short, Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), succeeded in bullying the EITI Board members into voting to admit the ruling regime in Ethiopia into her Club.  She did it the old-fashioned way— arm-twisting, browbeating, bulldozing, rear-end kicking, a little bit of jawboning and sweet-talkin’ and a whole lot of temper tantrum throwing. She had learned her lessons well. In 2003, when Short ripped into Tony Blair and threatened to resign her position as Secretary of State for International Development over the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, she fulminated defiantly, “But they were going to war anyway and they were going to bully and pressure countries to vote for it.”

Clare, we knew “you were going to bully and pressure your Board members to vote and let the corrupt regime in Ethiopia into EITI anyway.” Brava! You have won. Take a victory lap. Raise the roof. You have vanquished the “human rights campaigners”, humiliated and mocked the civil society representatives on your Board in front of the whole world and chased those hapless and voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians right out of town. Now, it is time for you to go to Addis and celebrate. You’ve earned it. Let the champagne and cognac flow. You now own EITI. It’s your baby! While you’re at it, make it real. Give EITI a new name. How about Clare’s Corruption Club? Has a nice ring to it. “The Triple C.”

What is truly fascinating is the fact that Short’s philosophy (she calls it “principles”) of controlling corruption in the mining and extractive industries in the most corrupt countries of the world has prevailed. In batting to admit the regime in Ethiopia into the EITI, Short advanced a short-sighted theory of mining corruption control, which can be reduced to the following simple proposition: Admit the most corrupt regimes in the world into EITI by having them playing-acting transparency and accountability. Have them do a little shuffling and song and dance.  Insist that they make a public confession by babbling a few trendy phrases about transparency and good governance. Have them complete a make-believe application form with a lot of feel-good bureaucratic mumbo jambo. Demand that they publicly pledge allegiance to mining best practices. Then wine and dine them. In other words, dress up crooks, thugs and racketeers  in designer suits, parade them in public like respectable national leaders, groom them for three years and re-introduce them to the world as  anti-corruption warfighters in Clare Short’s Army. That’s the Clare Short Way of cleaning up the corrupt mining, mineral and oil sectors in Africa and elsewhere.

The decision to admit the regime in Ethiopia into EITI was a complete fraud done with smoke and mirrors. When the regime’s application was rejected in 2010, the reason given was that the

board concluded that Ethiopia’s ‘Proclamation on Charities and Society’ would prevent civil society groups from being sufficiently independent and meaningfully participate in the process.  The board decided, in effect, not to admit Ethiopia ‘until the Proclamation on Charities and Society is no longer in place.’ This is the only such instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted and the grounds for this action was clearly rights-based. (Emphasis added.)

Was the “Proclamation on Charities and Society” changed to justify admitting Ethiopia now? Of course not. What has changed for civil society in Ethiopia since 2010? As a direct result of the “Proclamation”, in 2010, “the number of civil society organizations in Ethiopia was reduced from about 4600 to about 1400 in a period of three months in early 2010.  Staff members were reduced by 90% or more among many of those organizations that survive.”

In one fell swoop, within a span of three months, the “Proclamation” had wiped out 70 percent of the civil society organizations in Ethiopia. In February 2010, the regime froze the assets of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Council, Ethiopia’s oldest human rights organization, and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, effectively incapacitating these two vital institutions; indeed for all intents and purposes outlawing them.

After the Board rejected the regime’s application in 2010, one thing had changed for sure. In March 2011, Clare Short was elected chair of EITI. Short is a longtime cheerleader and champion of the ruling regime in Ethiopia and a groupie of the late Meles Zenawi. She worshipped Meles, and not necessarily in a figurative way. Perhaps she felt she had to avenge the honor of her comrades and avatar for the drubbing they got in 2010 at the hands of the civil society board representatives. After all, when the regime’s application was rejected, that was “the only instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted” on “clearly rights-based grounds”. Short set out to get even and avenge the “dishonor” of Meles & Co., by humiliating before the entire world the civil society representatives on the EITI Board who were instrumental in defeating Meles’ first application. Clare, the Avenger got even!

When Short launched her brazen lobbying campaign (I did not say bullying) on behalf of the regime in Ethiopia in her March 11 “Open Letter”, she hectored the civil society representatives on the EITI Board like juvenile delinquents. She also made a maddingly flabbergasting observation. “As I look around the EITI implementing countries, I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them,” bloviated Short.  What did she mean by that? Who are the members of EITI?

EITI now has some 40 plus members. A good many of the member countries are under the thumbs and boots of some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. Among them include  Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon,  Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and  Yemen. In her “no worse than a great many of them” parallelism, Short was actually declaring a manifest and undeniable truth: The regime in Ethiopia is no worse than or different from many of the current EITI members who engage in gross and massive abuses of human rights. They are all corrupt to the core; they have all crushed and decimated civil society institutions; and they are thugs and gangsters in designer suits sporting bridle leather briefcases. Her real message to her Board, human rights organizations and the Diaspora Ethiopians was simple. “Chill out y’all. Don’t get bent out of shape. Let’s put lipstick on the corrupt thugs and continue with business as usual. Can’t we just get along?”

I agreed with candidate Barack Obama when he said, “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change; it’s still going to stink.” EITI can dress up thugs in designer suits, put makeup on them and call them “transparent” and “accountable”, but they are still thugs. You can wrap corruption in EITI logo and call it clean, but it is still going to stink. EITI is the lipstick put on African thug regimes to make them look pretty and clean.

In a strange way, Short is actually quite right. Mea culpa! It is true that many of the African countries in EITI are run by a bunch of wolfish corrupt thug regimes. I actually theorized about them in my commentary, “Thugtatorship, the Highest State of African Dictatorship.” Short is right on the money. Why exclude the thug regime in Ethiopia from its rightful place at the EITI Grand Table of Corruption? It is not fair.

In an even stranger way, Short proves my point perfectly. EITI is indeed mining Corruption Club Central. It reminds me of Alibaba and the 40 Thieves.

Strangest yet, I am grateful to Short for what she has done in her Open Letter fighting tooth and nail to get the regime in Ethiopia admitted into the EITI system. I admire her fighting spirit. Short is the type who will take down anybody to the mat if they stand in her way.

In bullying her Board to approve the regime’s application, she did us all a great service. She inadvertently exposed EITI for what it truly is, a protection and extortion racket. In organized crime enterprises, protection rackets  operate in situations where the police and judiciary are unable, unwilling or are incapable of  providing legal protection to the community. In exchange for a  “small protection fee”, the racketeers effectively maintain “law and order” for their clients and ensure that they are not bothered by other gangsters and hooligans.

Many of the EITI member countries are incapable of controlling corruption through their own legal institutions. The vast majority of them are one-man, one-party jobs. Political institutions are corrupted to the core. They have rubberstamp parliaments. Their prosecutors are benighted goons and party hacks with make-believe law books under their armpits. The judiciary is in the back pockets of the regime leaders. The anti-corruption commissions are used as guided missiles to wipe out political opponents, including dissenters within the regimes. There is no rule of law, only the rule of ignorant thugs.

Comes now EITI ready to impose a new world order of morality and integrity on age-old mining corruption in Africa and elsewhere. Supposedly, that is what EITI has been doing for the past decade. Truth be told, EITI is actually a protection racket for all of the corrupt regimes in its Club. It serves as a safe harbor to corrupt thugs who rapaciously plunder and steal their national resources away from any prying eyes. All the corrupt regimes have to do to be born again and attain the kingdom of EITI is go through a rite of passage: 1) Sign up and recite the EITI catechism. 2) Get baptized and be anointed by the Priestess. 3) Perform a few acts of contrition in public. 4) Give indulgencies for all prior acts of corruption. 5) Wait in limbo for three years in preparation for beatification from corrupt to clean.

It is a great scam for the thug regimes. They get to wear the EITI badge of (dis)honor and swagger about pontificating about how free they are from corruption. The EITI badge will give the corrupt thugs in Ethiopia bragging rights. They will flaunt their EITI good housekeeping seal of approval in the face of the international human rights organizations and the voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians. “In your face Human Rights Watch! In your face, Diaspora Ethiopians! We’re clean as a hound’s tooth, and we can prove it. Check out this cool badge!” They will continue to ply their mining corruption above suspicion, aboveground, aboveboard and above the law. EITI membership gives them the license and to steal, wheel and deal their natural resources to unsuspecting investors and the moral legitimacy to squeeze the loaners and donors for some mo’ extra cash.

EITI’s charade about its standards and criteria for admission is its omerta (code of silence) and its method of silencing not only its external critics but also internal dissenters. EITI shrouds itself in a whole litany of bureaucratic mumbo jambo about admissions criteria, accountability and transparency. Short dismissed all that as nice PR verbiage in her Open Letter when she wrote, “the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI.” What about those high-falutin’ and pretentious official standards? Are they mere ritual songs and dances?

By any objective measure, the admission of the regime in Ethiopia into EITI shows that the EITI standards are hollow and vacuous. EITI proclaims that to join the Club, a “government is required to issue an unequivocal public statement of its intention to implement the EITI.” Big deal! A government “must appoint a senior individual to lead on the implementation of the EITI.” Sure, corrupt Tweedle Dee appoints corrupt Tweedle Dum to lead the implementation.  A government is “required to commit to work with civil society.” What civil society? Not a problem. Since the corrupt thugs have decimated all real civil societies in their countries, EITI gives them permission to invent their own. That is precisely what the regime in Ethiopia did when it invented out of whole cloth the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union”. What a joke! The Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality, just outside the capital city of Addis Ababa, warehouses all of the real journalists — internationally celebrated ones and multiple recipients of the most coveted and prestigious press awards in the world — including Eskinder Nega, Reyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye. Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years for criticizing the late Meles Zenawi and for commenting on the Arab Spring. Reeyot and Woubshet were handed 14 year sentences for expressing their views in their weekly magazines.

Expecting the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union” to press for real accountability and transparency in the mining sector is like expecting an accurate accounting of missing hens from the fox guarding the hen house. The basic idea in the EITI regime is to facilitate the publication of accurate and verifiable data on the mining, mineral and oil sectors under strict independent public oversight and scrutiny with direct public engagement. The ultimate aim is to make sure “Revenues generated from the extraction of natural resources are available for the public to see.”

When it comes to data, the regime in Ethiopia is notorious for cooking the books. As I demonstrated in my commentaries “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi” and “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, the Meles regime had been cooking the economic statistics to falsely claim that under his leadership Ethiopia achieved “double-digit economic growth” for a full decade. What is fascinatingly instructive is the fact that Meles cleverly fed his bogus economic growth data to the World Bank (WB)  and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so that they can blow his trumpet. Even though they knew better, the WB and IMF were willing accomplices in the perpetuation of one of the greatest and boldest economic canards in recent times.

I shall argue that the regime in Ethiopia will pull the same tricks and hide behind EITI’s skirt to report all kinds of bogus statistics about mining production and revenues, while siphoning off hundreds of millions and depositing them in their personal offshore accounts. In due course, I expect to write a commentary entitled, the “The Voodoo Statistics of Mining Corruption in Ethiopia Through EITI”.

EITI aims to create the illusion of legitimacy, credibility, transparency and accountability through its lofty-sounding standards while in fact legitimizing and giving cover to corruption in the extractive industries in Africa and other developing countries. EITI is the “stealth technology” the corrupt regimes in Africa and elsewhere having been looking for so that they can cruise in plain view while ripping off the resources of their people without suspicion or detection. EITI is one of the slickest, sleaziest and slimiest con games to be played out on the world stage in a long time.

Demanding a double apology and insisting on one

In my last commentary, Mining Corruption in Ethiopia: A Reply to Clare Short, I suggested that Short should offer an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians for her monstrous fatwa demanding that they be shut out of the debate over Ethiopia’s  admission into EITI. She urged her Board to “listen to [the]…clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.” She effectively argued that the voice of Diaspora Ethiopians should be  silenced.

The  “clear and united voice of civil society of Ethiopia”, of course, is only a figment of Short’s unhinged imagination. There is neither clear, united nor even a voice of civil society in Ethiopia. The real civil society organizations have been muzzled, gagged and bagged years ago. But Short for some reason wants to perpetuate the myth that there is “civil society” in Ethiopia. Perhaps like her bosom buddy Meles Zemawi, she must love telling bedtime stories. I am actually cool with fairy tales. I also like Dr. Seuss. “One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Blue Fish.” One civil society organization. Two. Red civil society organization. Blue.

Really, I was somewhat wishful that Short may issue an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians out of a sense of magnanimity and noblesse oblige. Perhaps she might have said, “Sorry, I have been misunderstood and quoted out of context.” She does not actually have to mean it, just a nice PR exercise. Short does not have the generosity to apologize to the victims of her misguided wrath. She has a long reputation for being a bully bordering on “thuggy”, to use the contemporary parlance of youth. Short is known for being short-fused and short-tempered. Richard Dowden, the respected British Journalist, recounted his experiences with her in 2011. “I once interviewed her on a plane and when I pressed a point about human rights in Rwanda she threatened to have me thrown off. Since we were over Guinea at the time, I backed off. Now we meet in the genteel tranquility of London’s Commonwealth Club and she is calm and reflective – though still capable of taking a swipe at anyone who tries to tinker with her creation.” Short don’t play. She bullied Tony Blair into submission. (No wonder Blair confessed, “I feel like an abused and bullied wife.” It’s Short’s short way or the long highway! I have to give her credit though. She is a formidable apologist for the thugs in power in Ethiopia.

No need to apologize to Diaspora Ethiopians. But Short must apologize to Ali Idrissa, Faith Nwadishi and Jean-Claude Katende, the civil society representatives on her Board,  and the other members of Publish What You Pay. I insist on it! In her “Open Letter”, she unjustly lambasted the trio for being stooges of the international human rights organizations.  She accused them of being “unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a ‘north telling the south what to do mindset’”. She hectored them for putting the fate of EITI in the balance by opposing the application of the regime in Ethiopia.

Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende respectfully replied  to short’s Open Letter and told her she had jumped the gun. They said, “Ethiopia’s application to join EITI was not on our agenda at the regional PWYP meeting in Pointe Noire, although the issue did come up when we held our session on the enabling environment.” They explained that there were two views aired at Pointe Noire, one to admit the other to oppose. They challenged her “neutrality” stating, “You have openly taken a position in favour of admitting Ethiopia as an EITI candidate country, going against the principle of neutrality that should characterise your chairmanship. The trust from which you benefit as a chair is grounded in this essential principle.” They expressed puzzlement over her bizarre Open Letter.  “On this issue, we would like to note that we do not understand to what end the letter was made public when it was only addressed to a few people… We would also appreciate if our letter, like yours, would be published on the EITI website. In addition to that, it will be made available to our coalition members on the PWYP-International website.”

Short responded to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende, not directly, but through her secretary, Jonas Moberg.  It was her way of adding insult to injury. She had no problems writing Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in her Open Letter and hectoring and pleading with them before the whole world, but when they talked back, how dare they?! They needed to be put in their place. Moberg was the man given the dirty job. I personally felt deeply humiliated when I read the following:

Clare has asked me to answer your letter. Your points are fully noted, except the so called neutrality of the chair. As I have mentioned to Jean-Claude, the chair does not need to be neutral. She should not act as a representative of any of our stakeholders, which is not the same as being neutral.  The chair serves the EITI because she believes in its principles. It is her duty to defend those principles and act in the interest of the EITI, which is what she was doing when she wrote to you. There was no breach of her role in her letter.

Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende are not worthy of a direct response from Her Majesty?!

As I re-read Moberg’s letter, I was pissed off like a squirrel with a frozen pine cone. How dare Short respond to them through her secretary! Who the hell does she think she is?! Couldn’t she have had the grace, no! the simple human decency and courtesy to have her secretary draft the letter for her to sign.  Obviously, Short wanted to send Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende a clear message. She wanted to show them who’s the boss and what it’s all about. She is the Boss and it’s all about mind over matter. Short does not mind and Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende don’t matter!

I am going to apologize to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in the name of human decency, respect and honor. I have never met them or talked to them, but as fellow Africans I want them to know that their humiliation is my humiliation. My pride as an African was hurt to see them treated that way, but I want them to know that I am mighty proud of them. Their reply to Short’s off-the-wall Open Letter was an example of  rationality, logic and common sense. In their reply, they showed restraint, professionalism, equanimity and intellectual  honesty. They also showed that their generation of Africans will never say, “Yes! Bwana!”, “Whatever you say Bwana!” Short and her ilk should know that the new generation of Africans will not kowtow to anyone.  The days of “yes suh massah” are long gone. All Africans should be proud of Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende because they showed  dignity and grace in the face of disgrace and outrageous indignity. They did it all in class. Bravissimo! Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende!

I also plead with Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende not be overly offended by Short’s repeated injuries and usurpations.  After all, Short worshiped the late Meles Zenawi. In April 2013, Short spoke of her unbounded admiration for Meles “Superman” Zenawi at a memorial service. She said Meles was  “the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life”.  (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Ed Milliband, David Cameron, John Major, Maggie Thatcher, eat your heart out!) I don’t know about “Meles the Omniscient,” but I have no doubt he was the pick of the litter. Just look around; they are all chasing their tails.

Meles, like Short, was an arrogant man who “thugged” those who opposed or criticized him. He routinely called his opponents “idiots”, “dirty”, “mud dwellers”, “pompous egotists” and “good-for-nothing chaff and husk.” He also called them names that cannot be repeated in polite company. After Meles jailed Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, he called her a  “chicken” who has “gained weight (while she was in solitary confinement in prison) due to lack of exercise.” He took sadistic pleasure in humiliating and demeaning parliamentarians who challenged him with probing questions or even merely offered an alternative perspective. His put-downs, sarcasm and jibes were so humiliating and eviscerating that few parliamentarians dared to stand up to his bullying. When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted Meles with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, Meles condemned the entire EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” What can I say? Like demigod, like acolyte!

Did Short “defend EITI principles” or was she a lobbyist/agent for the regime in Ethiopia?

Short via Moberg’s reply to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende said that she was not being partial to Ethiopia but discharging “her duty to defend [EITI] principles and act in the interest of the EITI” when she wrote her Open Letter. Really?

Was Short “defending EITI principles” or pandering to the regime in Ethiopia when she wrote the following in her Open Letter:

I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them.

I must add that I find the discussion on Ethiopia to have been unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a “north telling the south what to do mindset”.

Rejecting Ethiopia’s application will leave Ethiopian civil society with nowhere to go.

I also believe that we should listen to what strikes me as a clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong group of activists who mean well but are quick to pick on some African countries which, whilst far from ideal, are no worse on human rights than many other countries.

There is also a serious problem of double standards. For example, removing the Occupy protesters from outside St Paul’s Cathedral by force in my own country hardly raised a murmur. The existence of Guantanamo and use of torture has not been mentioned in relation to the US application.

If [EITI] it is seen as a tool of campaigners it will lose effectiveness and support.

Fall on the sword for what?

Short has fought tooth and nail for the regime’s admission into EITI.  She proclaimed in her Open Letter that she is passionate in her advocacy for admission of the regime in Ethiopia. I respect anyone who has passion for a cause and fights for it, even if I disagree with them. I admire Short for having the balls to stand up for what she believes in. But I do wonder, really wonder! What the price is for her passion? What is the price for Short to fall on the sword for the thugs in Ethiopia? What is the price of Short’s soul?

Who really cares about EITI?

EITI, CCC, EEITI, whatever! Who cares? Who gives a damn!? You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can put a whole lot of African thugtators in EITI and call them transparent and accountable. At the end of the day, they are still thugtators in designer suits and fancy briefcases.

The suffering, violence and cruelty is going to go on and on in Ethiopia

Short once ruminated, “I think the suffering, violence and cruelty and Guantanamo and the rest is going to go on and on in Iraq.” Well, I feel the same way about Ethiopia. The suffering, violence and cruelty in Ethiopia is going to go on and on. Journalists will be jailed, civil society will be crushed, opposition leaders will be harassed and jailed, dissidents will be kicked around and elections stolen in broad daylight. That will not stop the struggle for peaceful nonviolent change. That will go on and on and on… Ethiopia’s young daughters and sons will rise up and shout out,

We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry! We need freedom! We need freedom! Free Eskinder! Free Andualem!  Free Abubaker! Free Reeyot! Free political prisoners! We need justice! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Don’t divide us! Ethiopia is One! One Ethiopia! We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry…”

Just as Short holds American presidents responsible for the suffering, violence and cruelty in Guantanamo and Iraq, I hold Short responsible as an accessory after the fact for the  decimation of civil society in Ethiopia.

Clare  Short, “J’Accuse…!”  

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.” Emile Zola

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Ethiopia: Beyond the Hubris of Evil

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Reeyot Alemu When I wrote a commentary on the plight of the imprisoned 32-year old Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu last April, I titled it “The Audacity of Evil in Ethiopia.” At the time, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had sent a letter to the “Minister of Justice” of the ruling regime in Ethiopia pleading medical care for Reeyot and urging them to spare her from a threatened solitary confinement. In that commentary, I explained why I was compelled to “stray from my professional fields of law and politics” to moral philosophy.

In this commentary, I am again compelled to indulge in philosophical musings on the hubris of evil. I am prompted once again by a statement of the Committee to Protect Journalists issued last week protesting the decision by the ruling regime to impose severe visitor restrictions on Reeyot.  CPJ “called upon the Ethiopian authorities to lift these latest restrictions and allow Reeyot Alemu to receive all visitors… She is a journalist, not a criminal, and should not be behind bars.”

Reeyot began a hunger strike to protest an order by regime officials to pre-clear a list of her prison visitors. “In retaliation for the hunger strike, authorities forbade her from having any visitors excluding her parents and priest.” She was subsequently told that “she could receive any visitors except for her younger sister and her fiancé, journalist Sileshi Hagos [who had spoken publicly about the visitor exclusion order]… Sileshi was detained for four hours at the prison later that day when he attempted to visit Reeyot.”

On a number of occasions, I have written about Reeyot’s plight, courage and fearless advocacy of press independence and public accountability in Ethiopia. In the last two years, she has become a heroine of press freedom not only in Ethiopia and Africa but the world. The prestigious international press awards she has received speak volumes on her ferocious defense of press freedom in Ethiopia. Reeyot was the recipient of the  International Women’s Media Foundation 2012 Courage in Journalism Award for “her refusal to self-censor in a place where that practice is standard, and her unwillingness to apologize for truth-telling, even though contrition could win her freedom.” She received the 2012 Hellman/Hammett award administered by Human Rights Watch “in recognition of her efforts to promote free expression in Ethiopia.” She also received the 2013 World Press Freedom Prize awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression”. She and co-political prisoner Eskinder Nega are two of seven journalists and human rights activists nominated for the European Parliament’s 2013 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Virtually every major international human rights and press organization has come to Reeyot’s defense since her arrest in 2011. Human Rights Watch challenged the legal validity of the “terrorism” allegations against her and noted that “the descriptions of the charges [against Reeyot] in the initial charge sheet did not contain even the basic elements of the crimes of which the defendants are accused….”Amnesty International declared that “There is no evidence that [Reeyot and the other independent journalists] are guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. We believe that they are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted because of their legitimate criticism of the government. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.” PEN American Center “protested the harsh punishment handed down to” Reeyot and fellow political prisoner Woubshet Taye and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.” The International Women’s Media Foundation saw Reeyot’s “trial” as an intimidation tactic against all independent women journalists: “The fact that the Ethiopian Government pursues and persecutes courageous, brave and professional women journalists does not bode well particularly for young women who may be interested in journalism. As a result, women’s voices (as reporters, editors, journalists, decision-making chambers) are rarely heard and women’s  issues are often relegated to secondary position.” CPJ demanded, “Writing critical columns about the government is not a criminal offense and is certainly not a terrorist act–Reeyot should be released immediately.” Many other organizations including Reporters Without Borders have expressed similar views and made demands for her immediate release.

Hubris of evil

When I wrote about the audacity of evil last April, I was philosophically concerned about the evils of ordinary human wickedness and bestial human behavior. I was concerned about gratuitous evil (pointless evil from which no greater good can be derived) committed by ordinary and sub-ordinary wicked people whose intellect is corrupted and are bereft of moral discernment and judgment. Here I write about the hubris of evil. In ancient Greece, hubris was the most heinous of crimes. Aristotle described hubris as an abusive act intended to shame and humiliate the victim, not because of anything the victim has done or might do but merely for the gratification and pleasure of the abuser. He wrote that the insolently hubristic “man thinks himself greatly superior to others when ill-treating them. That is why youths and rich men are insolent; they think themselves superior when they show insolence” (Rhetoric 1378b).

Hubris is a malignancy of the heart and depravity of the mind. The hubristically evil have two basic characteristics. First, they believe they are untouchable and accountable to no one. They have a sociopathic personality which prevents them from maintaining a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. For them, there is no law to curtail their excesses because they believe their words and acts are ipso facto law. Feeding at the trough of moral nihilism (whatever they say is right or wrong), they are driven by a deep psychological need to degrade, humiliate, demean, brutalize and dehumanize their victims as a means to self-respect and personal empowerment. When they degrade and humiliate their defenseless and helpless victims, the derive a perverse pleasure of omnipotence, superiority and self-affirmation. For the hubristically evil, indifference is their modus vivendi (way of life) and cruelty their modus operandi (way of doing things).

Second, the hubristically evil are incapable of admitting wrong or accepting responsibility for their wrongful actions. Rather, they take cover in a perverted morality of blaming the victim. Instead of atoning for their misdeeds and accepting responsibility, they demand that the very victims they have humiliated, brutalized and abused get on their knees apologize to them and beg forgiveness. They have the brazen audacity to insist that their victims must take full responsibility for the abuse they have received from their abusers.

The political sadism of the regime in Ethiopia

As I seek to understand the hubris of the ruling regime in Ethiopia, I ask some simple questions. Why do those in power in Ethiopia want to torment and humiliate Reeyot (and the other political prisoners)? Isn’t a 14 year sentence enough punishment for a young woman who committed NO crime? Is the regime punishing her with solitary confinement, visitor restrictions, denial of medical care and subjecting her to daily degradation and humiliation because of her defiance and outright refusal to beg for a pardon to get out of prison? Do they take her defiance as her ultimate expression of contempt and lack of fear of them? What do they gain by locking her up in solitary confinement, an administrative action reserved only for the most violent inmates in any prison in the world? Does the regime resent Reeyot (and the other high profile political prisoners) because she is a shining star of press freedom not only for Ethiopia but also for women journalists in Africa, Latin America and Asia?

Those who insist on tormenting Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other high profile political prisoners do so to force them to make a public confession of guilt for their “crimes” and beg for a pardon. The “pardon” trick was “invented” by the late honcho of the regime. After warehousing dozens of opposition leaders who won the May 2005 parliamentary election, the late regime leader set up an “elders committee” to facilitate a pardon process for them. To get out of prison, the opposition leaders had to sign a confession (“a pardon application”) which stated: “We, leaders of CUD, have accepted our mistake committed following the election disagreement of May 2005 in which we tried to change unconstitutionally various bodies of the government. We will take the responsibility in person and in group for these mistakes.” They signed the “confession” and were pardoned and released!

In December 2008, the late regime leader railroaded opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, to prison on the bogus charge that she had “denied receiving a pardon”. After spending months in solitary confinement and suffering humiliation and degradation for nearly two years, Bitrukan “confessed” and “submitted a second application for pardon” stating: “I express my deep regret for deceiving the Ethiopian people and government by denying my release on pardon. Pledging not to ever resort to such fraudulent and deceptive acts I beg the Ethiopian people and government to grant me pardon.” She was “pardoned” in October 2010 and released!

In October 2011, Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were sentenced to eleven years as “terrorists”.  At the time, I predicted that soon enough the late leader  “will grandstand and declare the two journalists have been pardoned and released after they admitted guilt, expressed remorse and so on.” In September 2012, the two journalists were released after they submitted an “application for pardon”.  The regime put the two journalists on regime-owned television and forced them to confess that they “regretted entering the country with armed separatists of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and without documentation.”

There is no question that Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners can walk out of prison at any time if they “confess” wrongdoing and “submit a pardon application.”  All Reeyot has to do to walk out of prison at any time is to get down on her knees, bow down her head, confess her political transgressions and beg to be “pardoned”. But Reeyot refuses to beg a “pardon” because she has done nothing wrong for which she needs to be pardoned. Following her sentence, Reeyot’s father, responding to a reporter’s question on whether he would advise his daughter to apologize and beg for a pardon, replied:

This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions a parent can face. As any one of us who are parents would readily admit,   there is an innate biological chord that attaches us to our kids. We wish nothing but the best for them. We try as much as humanly possible to keep them from harm…. Whether or not to beg for clemency is her right and her decision. I would honor and respect whatever decision she makes… To answer your specific question regarding my position on the issue by the fact of being her father, I would rather have her not plead for clemency, for she has not committed any crime.

The same goes for Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye. They have done nothing wrong so they shall ask for no pardon!

On another level, I also believe that the regime leaders deeply resent Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other high profile political prisoners for the international attention and support they have been able to command. In many ways, these “bothersome” journalists have created a public relations nightmare for the regime. As I understand, many of the regime leaders believe these journalists have not only discredited them internationally but also taken the international recognition they feel they deserve.

In a comedic way, the regime leaders in Ethiopia remind me of the American comedian and actor, Rodney Dangerfield, known for the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect!” Regardless of what they do, they “don’t get no respect.” They sought world recognition for their single minded determination to build the “largest dam in Africa”, the so-called Renaissance Dam. That fantasy dam has become a potential casus belli (war justification) for Egypt. I called it dam of the damned. The regime trumpeted its 11 percent annual economic growth for the past decade, a canard mindlessly bandied about  by many of the world’s respected news organizations and even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. I totally debunked that bold-faced lie in my commentary “Kerry-ing on With African Dictators”. For two decades, the regime proclaimed a warped doctrine of ethnic federalism as a political panacea for Ethiopia, but it was shown to be nothing more than a kinder and gentler form of Bantustans (kilils) under Apartheid South Africa. The regime and its late honcho sought domestic and international respectability for their “historic” and “monumental” achievements. Regardless of what they did or said, like Rodney Dangerfield, they just “don’t get no respect.”

A win-win proposal for the release of Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and other political prisoners

I believe there is a legal way out of the “pardon” dilemma. Let’s be perfectly honest! We all know what the problem is:  The regime needs to save face for imprisoning Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners without just cause. Their signature way of saving face — namely having the victims confess their guilt in public and apply for a pardon — is not a workable political solution with these young journalists. But a legal solution is what is needed; and the dispositive question is whether the approval of Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners  is a necessary legal precondition for granting them pardon. It is not!

The regime can legally pardon the imprisoned journalists and others suo motu (a fancy legal word which means an act of authority taken without formal prompting from another party). Article 11 of Proclamation No. 395/2004 (“A Proclamation to Provide for the Procedure of Granting Pardon”) provides, “The main purpose of granting pardon is to ensure the welfare and interest of the public.” Article 12 provides that “…  the Ministry of Justice and the Federal prison commission may apply for pardon for persons entitled to it. Where the offices (sic) decides to apply for pardon, it shall deliver a copy of the application letter to the person in whose favour it is to be made.” The “person in whose favour a petition for pardon has been submitted pursuant to Sub-Article 2 of this Article declines it, he shall notify, the same to the Board in writing within fifteen consecutive working days.” Unless the prospective recipient of a pardon expressly refuses the pardon, “the acceptance of the pardon shall be presumed.”

Simply stated, the regime can declare that it has granted pardon and released Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners “to ensure the welfare and interest of the public” and in proper exercise of its prerogative under the Proclamation. I cannot imagine any reasonable person challenging or criticizing the regime for exercising its discretionary legal pardon authority on its own. The simple fact is that the regime does not need the request or approval of Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners to grant them pardon. The regim can simply issue the pardon and tell them they are free to go. No “muss, no fuss”!

My own studies of pardon powers in other societies have led me to the conclusion that pardon is a prerogative of mercy exercised by state authorities to mitigate the severity of the law. It is a discretionary power  that can be exercised at any time to temper retribution with mercy,  correct a miscarriage of justice or reconcile the ends of justice with compelling social and political needs. U.S. presidents have granted amnesties after the Civil War to the Southern rebels and to those who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. President Bill Clinton granted pardon to Patricia Hearst who committed horrendous “terrorist acts” as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

I harbor no illusions that the regime will pay any attention to my “win-win” proposal for the release of Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners. How could they possibly even consider a proposal from their severest and most relentless critic? They will no doubt dismiss anything I have to say because they probably believe I am proposing it to make them look bad or inflexible or show them to be obdurate. But this is not about my personal feelings or attitudes towards them or their governance style. It is all about their own pardon law and what they can do legally, immune from criticism or condemnation by anyone.  

All I am proposing is use of the regime’s own pardon law to face a critical human rights problem in such a way that they will not lose face or face criticism; and in fact by courageously facing the issue, they can gain universal approbation and admiration. The power of “pardon” is not in the hands of Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet and the other political prisoners. It is totally in the hands of the regime; and it can be exercised at will and at any time. Why not right a wrong when one has the unquestioned legal power to right a wrong and do the right thing?

“I believe that I must contribute something to bring a better future in Ethiopia.” Reeyot Alemu

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

 

Corruption in the Ethiopian JUST US Sector

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

For the past several months, I have been commenting on the findings of the World Bank’s “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”, a 448-page report covering eight sectors (health, education, rural water supply, justice, construction, land, telecommunications and mining). In this my sixth commentary, I focus on “corruption in the justice sector”. The other five commentaries are available at my blog site.

Injustice minsitry 3Talking about corruption in the Ethiopian “justice sector” is like talking about truth in Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth (“Minitrue”).  The purpose of Minitrue is to create and maintain the illusion that the Party is absolute, all knowing, all-powerful and infallible. The purpose of the Ministry of Justice in Ethiopia is to create the illusion that the ruling regime under the command and control of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) masquerading as the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPDRF) is absolute, all knowing, all-powerful and infallible.

I have long caricatured the “justice sector” of the TPLF/EPDRF as a kangaroo justice system founded on a sham, corrupt and whimsical legal process. What passes off as a “justice system” in Ethiopia is little more than a marketplace where “justice” is bought and sold in a monopoly controlled by one man supported by a few nameless, faceless and clueless men who skulk in the shadows of power. It is a justice system in which universal principles of law and justice are disregarded, subverted, perverted and mocked. It is a system where the poor, the marginalized, the audacious journalists, dissidents, opposition and civic society leaders are legally lynched despite the criticism and bootless cries of the international community. It is a system in which regime leaders, their families, friends and cronies are above the law and spell justice “JUST US”.

My first critique of the TPLF/EPDRF “justice system” appeared in 2006 when I wrote a 32-page analysis titled, “Keystone Cops, Prosecutors and Judges in a Police State.” It was written in the first year of what has become my long day’s journey into the dark night of advocacy against human rights violations in Ethiopia and Africa. The piece was intended to be a critical analysis of the trial of the so-called Kality defendants consisting of some 130 or so major opposition leaders, human rights advocates, civic society activists, journalists and others in the aftermath of the 2005 election. I tried to demonstrate that the show trial of those defendants was little more than a third-rate theatrical production staged to dupe the international community. I also tried to show how a dysfunctional and bankrupt judicial system was used to destroy political opposition and dissent. I described the “judicial proceedings” of the Kality defendants as “an elaborate hoax, a make-believe tribunal complete with hand-picked judges, trumped up charges, witless prosecutors, no procedures and predetermined outcomes set up to produce only one thing: a  monumental miscarriage of justice.”

A glossy “diagnosis” of corruption in the Ethiopian justice sector

The WB’s “diagnosis” of corruption in “Ethiopia’s justice sector” is based on “interviews of 60 individuals” including “federal judges and prosecutors”, police, private attorneys, etc. in the capital and at another location. No ordinary citizens were included in the interview panel or the smaller focus groups. The study is intended to “explore the incidence of corruption in Ethiopia’s justice sector (including not only the courts but also several other organizations).” The “justice sector” includes, among others, “courts, police, prosecutors, administrative agencies with quasi-judicial powers, and public and private attorneys, prisons, and those in the executive and legislative branches responsible for enacting the laws and regulations governing their operations”.

The report begins with unusual disclaimers and apologia. The author proclaims that “this report begins from an agnostic standpoint—attempting only to document reality in Ethiopia’s justice sector and to compare it… with the situation elsewhere in African and other countries…” It is not clear what she means by “an agnostic standpoint”, but her analysis is frontloaded with servilely apologetic language manifestly intended not to offend or appear to point an accusatory finger at the ruling regime in Ethiopia. The report appears to have been written with some trepidation; perhaps the author was afraid of a backlash (tongue-lash) from the regime. The author timorously tiptoes around well-established and notorious facts about corruption in the regime’s justice sector. In light of the many disclaimers, reservations and contingencies in the report, it is obvious that the author does not want to call a spade a spade, so she calls the spade a bucket. But corruption by any disclaimer is still corruption; and Ethiopia’s justice sectors reeks of corruption.

The author claims an examination of  “corruption in the justice sector is important because it undermines the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the control of corruption in other sectors, the strengthening of the normative framework underlying private and public actions (the rule of law), and the creation of a predictable environment for public and private transactions.” According to the study, corruption in the Ethiopian 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.” The study claims the “most common form of corruption involves bribes solicited by or offered to police to ignore a criminal offense, not make an arrest, or not bring witnesses or suspects to court (which can cause a provisional adjournment of the case). Traffic police are the worst offenders.” Another “common form of corruption” involves “payment of court staff to misplace case files or evidence” (a practice that has nearly disappeared because of new judicial policies on archive management introduced under a Canadian International Development Agency program”.

The author provides a catalogue of corrupt practices which she claims are disputed by various respondents in her study but include “(a) sales of judgments or other judicial actions in civil disputes; (b) lawyers’ solicitation of “bribes” that never reached the bench; (c) prosecutors’ misuse of their own powers, in response to bribes or political directives, to advance or paralyze a case; and (d) the corrupt actions of various officials entrusted with enforcement of judgments, especially in civil cases.” She attributes the divergence in viewpoints to a “likely gap between perceptions and reality [which] are partly a function of the persistent lack of transparency in personnel policies.”

What is remarkable about the WB “justice sector” study is the fact that the author, by focusing on the “most common form of corruption” (i.e. petty police, particularly traffic police, corruption), fails to critically probe grand corruption involving party officials and regime leaders and their cronies who routinely subvert the justice system through political interference and pressure to protect their political and economic interests. She circumvents serious inquiry into grand corruption in the “justice sector” by providing catalogues of “potential forms of criminal and civil corruption” and “corruption risks”. She appears averse to investigating high-level corruption that occurs in the process of judicial appointment of handpicked party loyalists and hacks, laws written to aid certain elites in society, or in the debasement and corruption of the integrity and independence of the judiciary. She ignores the type of justice corruption that occurs in “state capture” where economic elites develop cozy relationships with political and judicial officials through whom they obtain favorable judicial decisions to advance their own advantage. For instance, on the issue of political interference in the judicial process, the author demonstrates her “agnosticism” by reporting that “the one who came closest eventually admitted that ‘there was some [political interference], but it was very rare.’” Other responses ranged from ‘a moderate amount’ (limited to the bad apples) to the extreme of holding that ‘every civil judgment is sold.’”

Curiously, the author points an accusatory finger at petty corruption as the “most common form of corruption” distracting attention from the systemic and structural corruption in the justice sector. The importance of petty corruption must not be understated because of the serious impact it has on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary citizens interacting with police, prosecutorial and other petty judicial officials. There is ample anecdotal evidence of petty corruption in which ordinary Ethiopian citizens and businesspersons are “shaken down” by traffic cops or minor functionaries in the judicial or state bureaucracy seeking small bribes. However, though petty corruption may be easier to detect, the real focus should be on grand corruption which is systemic, structural and difficult to detect and nearly impossible to punish. Structural and systemic corruption in the legal institutions, rules, and norms and those who are practitioners in the system create, maintain and sustain a culture of corruption in the justice sector, which the author appears to overlook.

Justice corruption is primarily a systemic failure of judicial institutions, lack of political will and capacity to manage judicial resources, maintain integrity of institutions. The author makes abstract references to the usual catalogue of corruption variables but does not seek to gather data to illuminate the scope, breadth and gravity of the problem of political interference and lack of accountability in the justice system. Grand corruption in the justice sector stems from the fact that political officials have wide authority over judicial officials (from appointment to management of judicial functions); and political officials have little accountability and incentive to maintain the integrity of the justice sector. There are few functional formal systems of control in the relationship between the judicial and political processes in Ethiopia. If there ever were control systems, they have been broken for a long time making it nearly impossible to administer fairly the laws while maintaining accountability in the form of a robust reporting system and transparency in the form of robust management practices. Such institutional decay has promoted the growth of a culture of corruption in the justice sector and continues to undermine not only the broad adjudicatory role of justice sector institutions but also public confidence in the integrity of the justice system itself.

Justice sector in a police state?

Justice in a dictatorship is to justice as military music is to music. No reasonable person would consider martial law (military rule) to produce justice.  By definition dictatorship — a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in the hands of a dictator or a small clique — is the quintessential definition of injustice. Any form of government that operates in flagrant disregard of the rule of law is inherently corrupt.

I have on previous occasions tried to expose such corruption in Ethiopia’s “justice sector” with anecdotal evidence of arbitrary administration of justice or denial of fair trial to those accused of  “terrorism”, “treason” and even “corruption”, opposition leaders, human rights advocates, journalists, etc. In the kinder and gentler police state that Ethiopia has become, any petty “law enforcement” official of the regime has the power to arrest and jail an innocent citizen. As I argued in my February 2012 commentary, “The Prototype African Police State”, a local police chief in Addis Ababa felt so arrogantly secure in his arbitrary powers that he threatened to arrest a Voice of America reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. simply because that reporter asked him for his full name during a telephone interview.  “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”, barked the impudent police chief Zemedkun. If a flaky policeman can exercise such absolute power, is it unreasonable to imagine those at the apex of power have the power to do anything they want with impunity. The regime in Ethiopia is the petri dish of corruption and living proof  that power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In my view, denial of due process (fair trial) is the highest form of corruption imaginable in the “justice sector” because it results in the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life, liberty and property. Could anyone (other than those politically connected) really expect to get a fair trial in the regime’s kangaroo courts or fair treatment in the pre-trial process?

The systemic corruption in the “justice sector” is that the law of the land is ignored, disregarded and perverted at the whim and fancy of those in power. For instance, the presumption of innocence (Eth. Const. Art. 20(3)) is openly flouted. The late leader of the regime used to routinely and publicly talk about the guilt of opposition leaders, journalists and others standing trial without so much of an awareness of the suspects’ right to a presumption of innocence or appreciation of the risk of prejudicial pretrial publicity emanating from such inflammatory statements which are prohibited under the Constitution and other international human rights regimes (e.g. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7(b) of the  African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)). In 2011, the late leader of the regime proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while they were being tried and he was visiting Norway. He emphatically declared the duo “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists.” Persson and Schibbye were “convicted” and sentenced to long prison terms.

Show trials by publicity and demonization are another hallmark of the regime’s justice system. Following the 2005 election, the late leader of the regime publicly declared that “The CUD (Kinijit) opposition leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They were charged, appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, the late leader railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, without so much as a hearing let alone a trial. He sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement and later declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In making this statement, the late leader proclaimed to the world that he is the law and the ultimate source of justice in Ethiopia. His words trump the country’s Constitution!

In 2009, one of the top leaders of the regime labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial as “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long prison sentences.

Violations of the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes by the regime are rampant. Article 20 (2) provides, “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors.” Internationally celebrated Ethiopian journalists including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and many others were denied access to legal counsel for months. Ethiopian Muslim activists who demanded an end to religious interference were jailed on “terrorism” charges were also denied access to counsel.  They were mistreated and abused in pretrial detention. Scores of journalists, opposition members and activists arrested and prosecuted (persecuted) under the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation were also denied counsel and speedy trials and have languished in prison for long periods. Suspects are interrogated without the presence of counsel and coerced confessions extracted. Yet, Article 19 (5) provides, “Everyone shall have the right not to be forced to make any confessions or admissions of any evidence that may be brought against him during the trial.”

Article 19 (1) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Article 20 (2) provides, “Everyone charged with an offence shall be adequately informed in writing of the charges brought against him. Recently, the regime arrested members of its officialdom and their cronies on suspicion of corruption and kept the suspects in detention for months without informing them “promptly and in detail the charges against them”. Although the regime’s “top anti-corruption official” claimed that the corruption “suspects have been under surveillance for two years”, on their first court appearance, the prosecutors requested a 14-day continuance to gather more evidence! There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested of committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for endless continuances to gather additional evidence.

Injustice impersonating justice

The 2012  U.S. State Department Human Rights report concluded, “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to political influence.”  The WB could have done a much better job of “diagnosing corruption” in Ethiopia’s “justice sector”. Candidly speaking, any deficiency in the report should not reflect exclusively on the World Bank or its consultants but on Ethiopians, particularly the Ethiopian intelligentsia, who do not seem find it worth their time or effort to read, challenge and supplement such reports. It seems few, very few, Ethiopian scholars and analysts take the time and effort to locate, study and critically analyze such important studies done by international institutions and other private research institutions.

I doubt the WB justice sector study will be of much value to policy makers, scholars or the casual reader. Having said that, the burden is on Ethiopian scholars in Ethiopia and abroad to work collaboratively and carefully document corruption in Ethiopia’s justice and other sectors. No study of Ethiopia’s justice sector is worthy of the title if it does not rigorously evaluate the factors that are at the core of corruption in the “justice sector” – absence of the rule of law, lack of independence of the judiciary,  absence of due process, lack of impartiality and neutrality in the judicial process, the culture of corruption and impunity and the lack of accountability, transparency and confidence in the legal system. Such a study is the principal responsibility of Ethiopians, not the World Bank or its consultants. On the other hand, when the sword of justice is beaten into a sledgehammer of injustice, it is the supreme duty of ordinary citizens to expose it!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Power Africa? Empower Africans!

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

youth powerPower, power, power…

When President Obama recently visited Africa, he announced a “Power Africa” initiative.  In his Cape Town University speech, he proclaimed, “I am proud to announce a new initiative. We’ve been dealing with agriculture.  We’ve been dealing with health. Now we’re going to talk about power: Power Africa, a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it.  We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. We’re going to partner with the private sector, who themselves have committed more than $9 billion in investment.”

In the speech, President Obama used the word “power” 21 times in a variety of contexts. He philosophized about “power that comes from acting on our ideals” and the  “power of human beings to affect change”. He urged Africans to act “through the power of your example”. He encouraged support for programs “that empower women”. He mildly chided “those in power who make arguments to distract people from their own abuses.”

He puzzled over “what it will take to empower individual Africans” and enable Africans to have the “power to feed themselves.” He pleaded for “unleashing the power of entrepreneurship and market” and the creation of “partnership that empowers Africans.” He spoke about “the power to prevent illness and care for the sick” and “the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.”

He lamented “Africa’s lack of access to power” and the need “to have power.”  He “talked about power — Power Africa” and “doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.” He pitied those Africans who “live currently off the power grid.”

He wistfully spoke about Nelson Mandela “leaving power” which “was as profound as his ability to claim power”. He spoke of Mugabe’s “corruption of power” and Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.

To power Africa or to empower Africans, that is the question

Africa has a power problem. There is no question about that. Africa needs protection from thugs-cum-leaders who abuse power, misuse power, confuse power and excuse and justify their abuse and misuse of power. President Obama is already powering Africa. Every year, he hands out billions of dollars to Africa’s worst dictators (excuse me, he calls them “partners”) who abuse power in countries like Ethiopia.  Africa needs people power not thugs in power.

On second thought, Africa does not have a power problem.  Africa has a problem of powerlessness. The people are powerless against thugtators who use power to abuse their human rights. Africans are powerless against the powerful forces of corruption – officials and their cronies who “illicitly transfer” (steal and stash) tens of billions of dollars in foreign banks. For instance, “Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009” and  “in 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion.” Africans are powerless and disempowered against powerful election thieves who claim electoral victory by 99.6 percent. Africans are powerless against powerful warlords who seek to divide them along ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines. Yes, Africa’s powerless have a big problem with Africa’s powerful thugtators.

President Obama does not seem to get it. The question is not whether to power Africa but how to protect powerless Africans from those dictators America has powered and empowered by doling out billions of dollars in aid, loans and technical assistance every year. If he wants to power Africa, he should begin by empowering ordinary Africans against those who abuse and misuse their power. He should power up the youth grid that remains unused, abused and disused by those who manage the political power grid. He should use the billions of dollars of annual aid to disempower the few powerful African thugtators and empower the hundreds of millions of African youth.

Last week, in his New York Times opinion piece, Eskinder Nega, the symbol of press freedom in Ethiopia and Africa, made a simple but effective recommendation to President Obama: “I propose that the United States impose economic sanctions on Ethiopia (while continuing to extend humanitarian aid without precondition) and impose travel bans on Ethiopian officials implicated in human rights violations.” This proposal is in line with established U.S. policy. Beginning in 2001, the U.S. has imposed “targeted sanctions on the Government of Zimbabwe, including restrictions on U.S. support for multilateral financing, financial sanctions against selected individuals and entities, travel sanctions against selected individuals, a ban on transfers of defense items and services, and a suspension of non-humanitarian government-to-government assistance.” The official reason for these sanctions is the “Zimbawean Government’s increasing assault on human rights and the rule of law.” The human rights record of the regime in Ethiopia is far worse than the regime in Zimbabwe. That is a fact that can be demonstrated. President Obama should understand that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

If Obama wants to power Africa, let him empower African youth

President Obama has been talking about empowering African youth for years. 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 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 the “empowerment of young African leaders” and provide them “significant and ongoing professional training, access to mentorship, and networking opportunities in Africa”, USAID “awarded two grants totaling $1.3 million to support the core principles of Young African Leaders Initiative.” In his Cape Town speech, President Obama told Africa’s young people: “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.” But Africa’s young people do not have the numbers on their side. They got $1.3 million from America while  Africa’s dictators get billions every year.

In June 2013, President Obama 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.” 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 action.

But there is another side to the African youth story. President Obama in Cape Town said, “And 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? 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? Those young Africans who are leaving the continent for menial employment in the Middle East and elsewhere and are subjected to the most inhumane conditions and treatment. Recently, BBC reported the discovery of a grave in the desert of Yemen containing some 400 bodies of young Ethiopian immigrants escaping the oppressive conditions in Ethiopia. Do the not-so-promising youth matter to President Obama?

Along the same lines, what does President Obama offer Africa’s young freedom fighters? In 2009, in Accra, Ghana, he warned, “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

Does President Obama know of brave young Africans in prison named Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel  and so many thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners? President Obama needs to live up to the standards he set for Africans and answer one question: Is he, like history, on the side of brave Africans or is he on the side of Africa’s strongmen. President Obama must choose between making brave young Africans strong or African strongmen stronger.

Would $7 billion make a difference?

Lighting the dark continent is a daunting task. Enlightening the benighted “leaders” of the dark continent is an even more daunting fact. Over 130 years after the invention of the light bulb, the vast majority of Africans remain in total darkness. It is a historical enigma that as technology enlightens the world, Africa is enveloped in darkness. For instance, Ethiopia got a functioning telephone system in 1894 and over the past decade “invested some USD$14 billion in infrastructure development” including communications. Yet today Ethiopia has the worst telecommunications system in Africa and quite possibly the world.

Power outages and blackouts are common in every part of Africa. In June 2012, as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton began her speech at the African Union, she experienced firsthand what Africans face every day. She had to stop her speech because of power outage.

Africa’s electrical power problem is not merely low access and insufficient capacity; it also involves poor reliability and extremely high costs. The regime in Ethiopia windbags day and night about a pie-in-the-sky dam on the Nile. They say it will be the largest dam in Africa and cost USD$6-7 billion. This fantasy dam is supposed to resolve the power supply problems of not only Ethiopia but also the region and beyond. The fact of the matter is that the regime aims to export much of the power produced from the dam and not use it for domestic power self-sufficiency. It is also ironic that the regime seeks to convince the population and the world that it can run the “largest dam” in Africa when it cannot even manage efficiently the few dams that are currently in existence.  Yet the regime in Ethiopia keeps on windbagging the Nile dam canard to create the grand illusion of development, hoodwink the population and panhandle China and the international banks for more and more handouts.

The World Bank says Africa needs USD$43 billion annually to improve its power infrastructure. Would dropping USD$7 billion in American tax dollars plus $9 billion from the private sector over five years to “double” the power capacity make a  difference in lighting Africa or enlightening Africans? Throwing USD$3 billion a year to help “Power Africa” for 5 years sounds like chicken feed. According to IMANI, the Ghanaian Center for Policy and Education, “If all the electricity generated in Africa was shared equally, each household would have enough to power a normal light-bulb for about 3.5 hours a day per person. With President Obama’s new initiative, this can increase by roughly 18 more minutes if implementation was perfect.”

President Obama cannot power Africa by empowering Africa’s strongmen.  To power Africa, he must first help empower Africa’s youth. He cannot empower Africa’s youth with promises and silky words. He cannot power Africa by empowering a few of Africa’s “best and brightest” by  providing them leadership training or skills. It is said that more than 600 million of Africa’s one billion population is below the age of 25. The vast majority of these youth are poor, undereducated and with little prospect for lifetime economic viability. Vast numbers of these youths are forced to work in whatever capacity to help their families survive while losing educational opportunities that could free them from poverty. He must come up with a different plan for Africa’s not-so-promising youth. They are the majority of Africa!

The real answer to Africa’s problems lies in creating a power grid among its youth. Any program that is narrowly targeted to Africa’s talented youth will merely perpetuate existing inequalities and keep the sons and daughters of the rich and privileged at the top. The masses of youths at the bottom will not accept this condition. Sooner or later, they will rise, power up and disempower the strongmen who abuse their power.  That’s how Africa will be powered and empowered, President Obama!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Ethiopia: Shadowboxing Smoke and Mirrors

Monday, May 6th, 2013

 shadowMeles Zenawi when he was alive and his apostles today (“Melesistas”) keep playing us in the Diaspora like a cheap fiddle. They make us screech, shriek, scream and shout by simply showing their mugs in our cities. How do they do it? Every now and then, the Melesistas suit up a few of their bumbling and bungling zombies from central casting and unleash them into the Ethiopian Diaspora to “sell bonds” for the “Grand Meles Dam” to be built over the Blue Nile. Anytime these zombies show up to panhandle chump change from their supporters, a welcoming committee of defiant and patriotic Ethiopian activists show up to chase them out of town like campers at a national park chasing coyotes scrounging at the trash bin. For the past several weeks, Diaspora activists have been routing these imposters across European and American cities; but incredibly, these brazen con artists show up in the next city like snake oil salesmen at a carnival. That really piqued my curiosity. Why do these scammers show up in city after city knowing that they will be confronted and chased out by young patriotic Ethiopians? Are they really fundraising by “selling bonds” in the Diaspora or are they using “fundraising” as a cover for something altogether different? Ummm!!! 

First, the irrefutable facts about the Meles Dam hogwash.  As I demonstrated in my March 11 commentary, “Rumors of Water War on the Nile?”, the Meles Dam on the Blue Nile (Abay River) was  the exquisite figment of Meles’ imagination, and now the phantasmic idol of worship for his discombobulated apostles. Anyone who bothers to study the facts of this so-called dam project will readily conclude that it is pie in the sky. It is “self-funded” because the multilateral lending institutions and private investors who normally bankroll such major infrastructure projects wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole standing a mile away. They have determined it is a white elephant. Egypt has also used its leverage to block funding sources.  Egypt has contingency military plans to undam the dam if it ever comes on line.

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible for the bumbling regime in Ethiopia, which sustains itself  through international panhandling, to raise the USD$6-10bn needed from the people of the second poorest country in the world. The regime does not even have sufficient foreign reserves to cover the cost of imports for three months. Its foreign debt exceeds USD$12bn; and despite windbagging about an 11 percent annual growth, the “fifth fastest growing economy in the world”, yada, yada, unemployment, inflation, mismanagement and corruption have put on life support an economy addicted to international handouts. The idea that nickels and dimes collected from Ethiopians in the country by staging “musical concerts, a lottery and an SMS campaign” and a buck or two from Diaspora Ethiopians could build such a project is simply nutty. Because the dam builders live in a fool’s paradise, they think Diaspora Ethiopians are all “fools and idiots” who will buy fantasy dam bonds. (Just as an aside, those who are buying Meles Dam junk bonds should first consider buying the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.)  Anyway, the Diaspora “bond sales” effort has been a total failure. The regime recently announced that it had collected $43,160 from its latest bond sales in San Diego, CA. Yeah! Right!

For domestic public relations purposes, the Melesistas’ strategic objective in pushing the Meles Dam hoax is to create patriotic fervor and galvanize the entire population around an object of national pride while deifying Meles and generating political support for themselves to prolong their lease on political power. The Meles Dam would at once be a hydrological temple to worship  “Meles the Great Leader and Visionary” and a symbolic object of national unity that could rally massive support for the regime. The Melesistas have convinced themselves that by talking about the Meles Dam 24/7, 365 days, they can convince the people that the dam is actually under construction.  They blather about building the “largest dam in Africa” and Ethiopia becoming a middle income country and a formidable regional economic power in just a few years. They talk about their “visionary leader” and how they will blindly follow his vision to the end of the rainbow where they will collect their pot of gold in the form of Meles Dam bonds. They march on chanting their mantra: “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.”

They must really think the people are “fools and idiots” (to borrow a phrase from Susan Rice) to be fooled by their silly dog and pony show and talk of pie in the sky.  The Ethiopian people may not know about a “pie in the sky”, but they certainly know about the “cow they have in the sky whose milk they never see.”  But careful analysis shows the Melesistas have pulled this one right out of Joseph Goebbel’s bag of tricks: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Isn’t this exactly what the Melesistas  are doing in Ethiopia now – repeat the dam lie, development lie and repress dissent and persecute journalist who tell the truth?

The Melesistas think they are so smart that they can hoodwink not only Ethiopians in the country but also those in the Diaspora. They put on a dam “bond selling” show to convince Diasporans that the Meles Dam is real and that it is the panacea to Ethiopia’s economic woes. “Buy dam bonds! Ethiopia will be rafting on a river of milk and honey once the Blue Nile is dammed.” But only a damned fool would believe that.  According to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s “power sector alone would require $3.3 billion per year to develop” in the next decade. Currently, power tariffs are so underpriced that they range between “$0.04-0.08 per kilowatt-hour” and are “low by regional standards and recover only 46 percent of the costs of the utility.” For every dollar they spend supplying power, they lose 54 cents! In other words, these guys hawking the Meles Dam junk bonds and promising billions in profits are losing their shirts on the power they are selling right now! Why would anyone trust and buy dam bonds from those who can’t even make a damn profit from existing dams? Why would anyone buy dam junk bonds when the outlook for the energy sector in Ethiopia is so damn bleak? The Melesistas fantasize that they can pay off bondholders by selling power from the dam to the Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. Why the hell would Egypt or the Sudan buy power from a dam that damns them by effectively reducing their water supply for agriculture and their own production of power?

The real aim of the Meles Dam is not the construction of a dam over the Blue Nile but to use the specter of the construction of a gargantuan dam on the Nile to inspire fear, loathing and dread of an imminent regional water war. Simply stated, the dam idea is an extortion scheme to scam the international community and downstream countries for more aid and loans as a price for continued regional stability, avoidance of conflict and maintenance of the status quo. Suffice it to say, one has to be a damned “fool and an idiot” to believe the Meles Dam will ever be built or buy Meles Dam junk bonds and expect a return. (Buying the Brooklyn Bridge is a much better investment.)

Shadowboxing Smoke and Mirrors

So, why do the Melsistas send zombies into the Diaspora on a fool’s errand? They know they will be shamed and disgraced and chased out of every American and European city like stray dogs at a bazaar. They know they will be lucky to squeeze a few hundred dollars at a Diaspora “bond selling” event. Do they do it because they are professional beggars and panhandlers?

There is a deceptively simple method to their madness. They send their zombies in the Diaspora to make us shadowbox smoke and mirrors. They are playing a simple but clever psychological game.

The Melesistas are getting hammered everyday by bad publicity. Hardly a day passes without some report by an international human rights, press or research organization documenting their monumental crimes against humanity. Just in the past few months, there have been numerous reports and press releases by Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and a host of newspaper and television outlets, including Al Jazeera and CNN, on massive human rights violations, land grabs, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedom and other issues in Ethiopia. Recently, the World Bank made public a 448-page corruption report on Ethiopia. A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report on Ethiopia documenting the regime’s “arbitrary killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention, illegal searches, “villagization” (pillagization) program, restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement, interference in religious affairs…” This past week, they got clobbered in the international press for a kangaroo appellate court affirmance of the 18-year sentences of the internationally-acclaimed journalist Eskinder Nega and dynamic opposition leader Andualem Aragie.

The Melesistas have become international pariahs and desperately want to change the topic from Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…, corruption, ethnic cleansing, land giveaways, suppression of religious freedom and interference in religious affairs and critical human rights reports. They want to take control of the international public relations agenda. They want to shed off their international image as corrupt thugs who trample on human rights and steal elections. They want to reinvent themselves as anti-poverty warriors and statesmen of economic development. They want to be seen as the new “new breed of African leaders” toiling indefatigably to eradicate poverty and promote economic development and democracy.

In a Machiavellian maneuver, they have, to some extent, succeeded in getting Diaspora Ethiopians, particularly the activists, to promote their “dam development” agenda for them in America, Europe and elsewhere. Every time Diaspora activists confront the zombie junk bond dealers and brokers, they are seen talking (but saying nothing) about development, growth, infrastructure projects and how the Meles Dam will transform Ethiopia into an economic powerhouse. (They never mention the massive foreign debt, the USD$12bn that has left the country illegally since 2001, the massive youth unemployment, accelerating population growth, etc.). They always sheath their bloody hands in the glove of development talk. When activists protest and confront these zombies, they appear to be anti-development obstructionist agitators. That’s is the exquisite trick of the Melesistas. They want the world to see Diaspora  Ethiopians as a bunch of rowdy, wild, disorderly, loudmouthed, raucous, uncivil and intolerant bunch who will not even allow civil discussions of “development”. They aim to create and nurture the image of a few combative “Diaspora extremists” and an overwhelming number of silent (as a church mouse) regime supporters who are afraid to come forward (or attend their “bond selling” events) and show their support for fear of attack by the “extremists.” In the mix are the hapless Diasporans who have to go back and forth to Ethiopia to secure their property and business interests. Those guys are toast; either they pay protection money (buy dam bonds) or get jacked up on some trumped up charge and lose their properties or worse.

The Melesistas’ strategy to counter bad publicity and capture the domestic and international public relations commanding heights is based on three principles: Distract, distract and distract some more. Distract Ethiopians inside the country from critical political, social and economic issues by bombarding them with inane development propaganda. State television (which is watched by virtually no one in the country) is filled with ceaseless barrages of nauseating and mind numbing amateur development propaganda. It is vintage police state propaganda aimed at convincing a largely illiterate population that famine is plenty, decline is development, poverty is wealth, dictatorship is democracy and the man who destroyed the country is its savior.

The second strategy is to distract Diaspora Ethiopians from vigorously pursuing an agenda that promotes democracy freedom and human rights. They unleash a few smooth-talking empty suits with empty heads and let them wander from one city to another in the U.S. and Europe just to get Ethiopian activists emotionally worked up about a fantasy dam and lose their focus on issues of  human rights violations, abuse of political prisoners, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedoms, and myriad economic problems.  Some Diaspora activists react vigorously whenever they see these hapless empty suits at “bond selling” events believing they are confronting the master criminals. Therein lies the trick. The Melesistas are so clever that they have succeeded in making some of us believe that the puppets are actually the puppet masters. We need to be aware that the empty suits they send into the Diaspora to sell the dam bonds are just schmucks and buffoons who do what they are told; or “zombies” as the great African musician Fela Kuti would have called them (“Zombie go… zombie stop…zombie turn…zombie think…” ) They are bait and are offered as scapegoats to the Diaspora.  By chasing the puppets out of town, some of us feel we have chased out the puppet masters. But the puppet masters laugh at us because our victory is the victory of the shadow boxer who knocked out the shadow.

The third strategy of the Melesistas is to distract donors and human rights organizations from criticizing them on their atrocious human rights record. They want to justify and convince them that the masses of ordinary Ethiopians are interested in the politics of the belly and not the politics of the ballot. Meles declared, “My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically.” They want to convince donors and human rights organizations that the masses do not care about human rights or democracy; they are concerned only about filling their bellies. To them, the masses of poor, illiterate, hungry and sick Ethiopians are too dumb and too damn needy to appreciate “political democracy.”

Legacy of the great manipulator

Manipulation of the Diaspora is one of the chief legacies of Meles. Wikileaks cablegrams portray Meles as a slick, scheming, crafty and cunning hombre. He could have achieved greatness but undid himself because he was unable to tame his voracious appetite for extreme vindictiveness and revenge and could not bridle his bottomless capacity for maliciousness, viciousness and obduracy. Those who claim to know Meles say he knew his opposition better than the opposition knew itself. Distraction, diversion, misdirection, hoodwinking, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry were the hallmarks of Meles’ strategy. The cunning dictator was able to shroud his corrupt empire for two decades by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. As I have long maintained, Meles’ “attitude was that he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver boatloads of Ph.Ds., M.Ds., J.Ds. Ed.Ds or whatever alphabet soup of degrees exist out there any day of the week. He seemed to think that like the opposition leaders, Ethiopian intellectuals are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power.” In a rare moment of candor responding to a journalist’s question about Diaspora Ethiopians protesting his overseas visits,  Meles confessed, “We may be at fault in some way. I am sorry. That maybe we didn’t communicate well enough to those Ethiopians living abroad what is happening, what we are doing here.” Meles’ apostles keep making the same mistake. Like shepherd, like sheep!  Like Meles, like Melesistas!

Criminal violations in selling unregistered securities in the U.S.

There have been questions raised about the legality of the sale of Meles Dam bonds as “securities” in the U.S.  Under federal and most state laws, a “security” is broadly defined and includes stocks, bonds, debt and equity securities, notes, investment contracts, etc. Unless exempted, all securities must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and/or relevant state agencies prior to selling or offering for sale to the public. A security which does not have an effective registration statement on file with the SEC and/or the relevant state agency is considered an unregistered security. Buying or selling unregistered securities is a crime under federal and state laws. The SEC can prosecute issuers and sellers of unregistered securities under section 20(b) of the Securities Act of 1933 (which regulates original issuers) and seek injunctions if the Securities Act has been violated, or if a violation is imminent. Section 8A also allows the SEC to issue orders to issuers of unregistered securities to cease and desist and seek civil penalties under Section 20(d) if an issuer violated the Securities Act, an SEC rule, or a cease-and-desist order.

Like most states, California Corporations Code sections 25110-25118 set strict guidelines for any securities sold in that state. Any person or entity who willfully sells or transports unregistered securities through interstate commerce or buys such securities  could face serious criminal liabilities under California Corporations Code section 25540, subd. (a) with penalties of incarceration for up to three years and a fine up to $1 million. California prosecutors, like their federal counterparts, could also seek injunctive relief and civil penalties.

There are a few limited  exemptions to the registration requirement. One of them is an exemption “for certain foreign government securities brokers or dealers”.  Pursuant to 17 CFR 401.9, “A government securities broker or dealer (excluding a branch or agency of a foreign bank) that is a non-U.S. resident shall be exempt from the provisions of sections 15C(a), (b), and (d) of  the Act (15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a), (b) and (d)) and the regulations of this subchapter provided it complies with the provisions of 17 CFR 240.15a–6…” In other words, the bond “brokers and dealers” sent to the U.S. to sell the Meles Dam bonds must meet the multifarious requirements of  federal securities law and other regulatory requirements including full disclosure, proof of maintenance of required books and records relating to the bond issues and written consent to service of process for any civil action arising from disputes in bond related transactions. It is highly unlikely that the “brokers and dealers” selling the Meles Dam bonds in the United States qualify under 17 CFR 240.15a–6 and 15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a).

Fight the Power, not the smoke and image in the mirror

Diaspora activists should keep their eyes on the prize, not on the smoke and mirrors of the Melesista Road Show, Carnival and Circus.

Ethiopian Americans are fortunate to live under a Constitution that guarantees our right to free expression and peaceful protest. As citizens, it is our moral duty to exercise our constitutional rights. We have recently seen Americans using their right to protest by launching the “Occupy” protest movement. Historically, the civil rights movement relied on sit-ins, sit downs, teach-ins, rallies and marches as a form of direct nonviolent action to bring about change. Nonviolent mass protests eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended racial segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which removed barriers to voting. The anti-war and free speech movements relied on non-violent protests to defend expressive freedoms and end the war in Vietnam. Nonviolent protests were also used in the anti-Apartheid movement in the U.S. resulting in boycotts, divestments in corporations  and spurring legislative and diplomatic action which hastened the end of Apartheid.

The main point is that Diaspora Ethiopians should be laser-focused on the prize and make sure that democracy will in the end triumph over dictatorship in Ethiopia; human rights are vindicated and human rights abusers are held accountable and any government in Ethiopia shall fear the people and the people shall never fear their government. We should not be distracted by empty suits with empty heads lurking in and out of town to scrounge up chicken feed. We should not be angry at programmed zombies at “bond selling” events because they are just wretched flunkies and bootlickers, who given the opportunity will make a beeline to the immigration office to file for political asylum. We should not mistake the puppets for the puppet masters. We should not confuse shadow for reality.

We should be aware not only when we are being abused but also used. We should never let them make us do their dirty jobs because they can cleverly manipulate our psychological disposition to righteous indignation. We should never react because that allows them to take control of our emotions and reactions.  We should always act and never react. Most importantly, we should engage in proactive activism instead of reactive activism. When we are proactive, we plan things out carefully and strategically. Nonviolent protest is a highly disciplined effort. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. taught, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We should educate and train ourselves in the ways of nonviolent protest. When confronting the zombies, we should maintain a high degree of composure and display self-dignity in our expressions of defiance. At dam “bond selling ” events, protesters should adequately prepare pre-event publicity. Serious attention should given to the development of press kits and talking points. Press  and law enforcement liaisons should be trained and designated. Well informed and articulate spokespersons should be selected to give press interviews. Adequate attention should be given to post-event follow up activities.

It is a great disservice to oneself and to our great cause to engage in nonviolent protest without reading and understanding Gene Sharp’s extraordinary work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”available online for free.  An Amharic translation of Gene Sharp’s book is also available online free of charge (here) for anyone to download or print. Ignorance cannot drive out ignorance, only knowledge can. We must educate ourselves in the ways of peaceful protest, or our efforts will produce few results. We are less likely to be manipulated if we keep ourselves informed and develop critical analysis skills that cut through the blather of our adversaries.

While those of us in the older generation (“Hippos”) wallow in self-pity and cynicism, it is inspiring to see young patriotic Diaspora Ethiopians (“Cheetahs”) using their right to peaceful protest to resist the zombies of tyranny. Just as the task of building a fantasy dam belongs to the Melesistas, the construction of the new Ethiopia is a task reserved for the young Cheetahs. It is painful to admit that we Hippos have not been much of a role model for the Cheetahs. We have unkindly criticized the Cheetahs for their lack of engagement, apathy and single-minded pursuit of flash and cash. We grumble that the Cheetah generation is the lost generation and there is no one to save Ethiopia (but it has been a long time since we Hippos looked into the mirror without smoke).

I am afraid there is little that Ethiopian Cheetahs could learn from Ethiopian Hippos. Perhaps Ethiopian Cheetahs can get inspiration from other Cheetahs. In the past 2 years, we have seen inexperienced youth using social media bring down dictators or force them to make radical changes in governance in North Africa and the Middle East. The key to their success was their ability to get in tune and on the same wavelength with each other, and to be able to speak the same beautiful language of peaceful change and protest. As always, I believe Ethiopian youth united — across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, and regional lines — can never be defeated!

“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.” Bob Marley

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

The Audacity of Evil in Ethiopia

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Reeyot Alemu Ethiopian Political PrisonerTriumph of Evil?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, said Edmund Burke. But what happens when evil triumphs over a good young woman journalist named Reeyot Alemu in Ethiopia? Do good men and women turn a blind eye, plug their ears, turn their backs and stand in silence with pursed lips?

In an extraordinary letter dated April 10, 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists pled with Berhan Hailu, “Minister of Justice” in Ethiopia, on behalf of the imprisoned 32-year old journalist urging that she be  provided urgent medical care and spared punishment in solitary confinement at the  filthy Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality just outside the capital Addis Ababa.

Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards, according to sources close to the journalist who spoke to the International Women’s Media Foundation on condition of anonymity.CPJ has independently verified the information. Reeyot has also been denied access to adequate medical treatment after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her breast…

Last week Reeyot was declared winner of the “UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2013.” That award recognizes “a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.” The $25,000 prize will be awarded on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2013.

In May 2012, Reeyot received the prestigious International Women’s Media Foundation “2012 Courage in Journalism Award for “her commitment to work for independent media when the prospect of doing so became increasingly dangerous, her refusal to self-censor in a place where that practice is standard, and her unwillingness to apologize for truth-telling, even though contrition could win her freedom.”

In December 2012, Reeyot, along with three other courageous independent journalists, received Human Rights Watch’s prestigious Hellman/Hammett Award for 2012 “in recognition of their efforts to promote free expression in Ethiopia, one of the world’s most restricted media environments.”

Reeyout Alemu is Ethiopia’s press freedom heroine

In May 2012, when Reeyot received the IWMF’s award, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Reeyot Alemu: Young Heroine of Ethiopian Press Freedom” recounting some of Reeyot’s courageous acts of journalism and denouncing the abuse she received at the hands of those in power in Ethiopia. In June 2011, Reeyot and her co-defendant journalist Woubshet Taye were arrested on trumped up charges of “terrorism” and held incommunicado in the infamous Meles Zenawi Prison. Reeyot’s arrest occurred just after she had written a column in a weekly paper criticizing the late Meles Zenawi’s harebrained fundraising campaign for the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile. That column seemed to have angered the cantankerous and irascible Meles. Reeyot also skewered Meles’ sacred cow, the half-baked “five-year growth and transformation plan” (which I critiqued in “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi in June 2011) . In September 2012, Reeyot and Woubshet were charged with “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participation in a terrorist organization” under Meles Zenawi’s cut-and-paste anti-terrorism law.

Reeyot’s trial in Meles’ kangaroo court was a template for miscarriage of justice. She was held in detention for three months with no access to legal counsel. She was denied counsel during interrogation.  The kangaroo court refused to investigate her allegations of torture,  mistreatment and denial of medical care in pre-trial detention. The evidence of “conspiracy” consisted of  intercepted emails and wiretapped telephone conversations she had about peaceful protests and change with other journalists abroad. Her articles posted on various opposition websites were “introduced” as “evidence” of conspiracy.

Human Rights Watch was confounded by the idiocy of the terrorism charges: “According to the charge sheet, the evidence consisted primarily of online articles critical of the government and telephone discussions notably regarding peaceful protest actions that do not amount to acts of terrorism. Furthermore, the descriptions of the charges in the initial charge sheet did not contain even the basic elements of the crimes of which the defendants are accused….”

Amnesty International denounced the judgment of the kangaroo court: “There is no evidence that [Reeyot and the other independent journalists] are guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. We believe that they are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted because of their legitimate criticism of the government. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

PEN American Center “protested the harsh punishment handed down to” Reeyot and Woubshet and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.” PEN asserted the two journalists “have been sentenced solely in relation to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory.”

The International Women’s Media Foundation saw the kangaroo court trial as an intimidation tactic against all independent women journalists: “The fact that the Ethiopian Government pursues and persecutes courageous, brave and professional women journalists does not bode well particularly for young women who may be interested in journalism. As a result, women’s voices (as reporters, editors, journalists, decision-making chambers) are rarely heard and women’s  issues are often relegated to secondary position.”

Following Reeyot’s kangaroo court conviction, her father told an interviewer his daughter will not apologize, seek a pardon or apply for clemency. “As a father, would you rather not advise your daughter to apologize?”

This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions a parent can face. As any one of us who are parents would readily admit, there is an innate biological chord that attaches us to our kids. We wish nothing but the best for them. We try as much as humanly possible to keep them from harm…. Whether or not to beg for clemency is her right and her decision. I would honor and respect whatever decision she makes… To answer your specific question regarding my position on the issue by the fact of being her father, I would rather have her not plead for clemency, for she has not committed any crime.

Meles offered Reeyot her freedom if she agreed to snitch on her colleagues and help railroad them to prison. She turned him down flat and got herself railroaded into solitary confinement. Even in prison, Reeyot remained defiant as she informed IWMF: “I believe that I must contribute something to bring a better future. Since there are a lot of injustices and oppressions in Ethiopia, I must reveal and oppose them in my articles.”

The problem of evil in Ethiopia

Over the hundreds of uninterrupted weekly commentaries I have written over the years, I have rarely strayed much from my professional fields of law and politics. I make an exception in this commentary by indulging in philosophical musings on evil, a subject that has puzzled me for the longest time (and one I expect to ruminate over from time to time in the future) but one I never considered opining about in my public commentaries.  I am mindful that there is the risk of sounding pedantic when one reflects on “Big Questions”, but pedantry is not intended here.

My simple definition of evil is any human act or omission that harms human beings. For instance, convicting an innocent young journalist on trumped up “terrorism” charges, sentencing her to a long prison term and throwing her into solitary confinement is evil because such acts cause great physical and psychological pain and suffering. Ordering the cold-blooded massacre of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators is evil because that act arbitrarily deprives innocent people of their God-given right to life. Forcibly displacing indigenous populations from their ancestral homes and selling their land to outsiders is evil because that act destroys not only the livelihood of those people but also their history and social fabric. Trashing the rights of individuals secured in the law of nations is evil because it is a crime against humanity and an affront to human decency and all norms of civilization. Discriminating against a person based on ethnicity, language and religion is evil because it deprives the victims of a fundamental right of citizenship. Albert Camus argued evil is anything that prevents solidarity between people and disables them from recognizing the rights or values of other human beings. Stealing elections in broad daylight and trying to deceive the world that one won an election by 99.6 percent is evil because such an act is an unconscionable lie and theft of the voice of the people. Stealing billions from a poor country’s treasury is evil because such theft deprives poor citizens vital resources necessary for their survival.

The evil I struggle to “understand” is that evil viciously committed by ordinary or sub-ordinarypeople in positions of political power. Such persons believe they can cheat, rob, steal and kill with absolute impunity because they believe there is no force on earth that can hold them accountable.

I am also concerned about the evil of passive complicity by ordinary and extraordinary people who stand silent in the face of evil. What is it that paralyzes those “good men and women” who can stand up, resist and defend against evil to cower and hide? Why do they pretend and rationalize to themselves that there really is no evil but in the eye of the beholder? What evil binds the blind, silent and deaf majority? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

I should clarify my use of the word “understand” in the context of evil. One can never understand evil. The Holocaust and the Rwanda Genocide are evils beyond human understanding and reason. To “understand” the deaths of millions or hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings is to implicitly justify it and somehow diminish its enormity.  To “understand” the deliberate and premeditated murder of 193 unarmed protesters is beyond understanding because there could never be adequate reason, explanation or argumentation to justify it. “Understanding” such evil is tantamount to suggesting that there are or could be justifications for its occurrence.

When I use the word “understand”, I mean to suggest only that I am trying to get some insight, a glimpse of the moral makeup of people who live in a completely different moral universe than myself. It is impossible for me to see the world through the eyes of those in power who perpetrate evil in Ethiopia. When I speak of the triumph of evil in Ethiopia, I realize that there is nothing I can say by way of reasoned argument or presentation of evidence to persuade those in power to forsake their evil ways and deeds. I have concluded that those in power in Ethiopia live on a planet shielded by the equivalent of a moral Van Allen radiation belt that  keeps out all cosmic rays of virtue, decency and goodness.

Let me also clarify what I mean when I speak of the audacity of evil in Ethiopia. The evil I am talking about is not the evil that Aquinas’ wrestled with in Questions 48 and 49 of Summa Theologica. Nor I am concerned about the evil Spinoza determined  originates in the mind that lacks understanding because it is overwrought by fickle emotions. Neither am I concerned with evil that, for most of us, is associated with the Devil and his lesser intermediaries. I am not concerned about inanimate non-moral evil which manifests itself in the form of famine, pestilence and plague. I am also not referring to that evil lurking deep in the nihilistic being of those soulless, heartless and mindless psychopaths who are so disconnected from the rest of humanity that they feel justified in slaughtering innocent people at a sports event.

I am concerned about the evils of ordinary human wickedness and bestial human behavior that Aristotle alluded to in Nicomachean Ethics. I am concerned about gratuitous evil (pointless evil from which no greater good can be derived) committed by ordinary and sub-ordinary wicked people whose intellect is corrupted, and their bestial counterparts who are lacking in intellectual discernment. Such evil is cultivated in the soil of arrogance, ignorance, narcissism, desire for domination, self-aggrandizement and hubris. Those who commit gratuitous evil do so audaciously, willfully, recklessly and impulsively because they feel omnipotent; because they fear no retribution; because they anticipate no consequences for their evil deeds. They know they are committing evil and inflicting unspeakable and horrific pain and suffering on their victims but nonetheless go about doing evil with calculation and premeditation because they believe they are beyond morality, legality, responsibility and accountability. Hubristically relying on their power, they have exempted themselves from all rules of civilized society. They believe that their stranglehold on power gives them a license to commit evil at their pleasure and therefore make a habit of doing evil for evil’s sake. They are incapable of remorse or regrets because they have made evil their guiding “moral” principle.

My musings on the audacity of evil in Ethiopia are not intended to be abstract philosophical reflections but observations with practical value for victims of evil. I have an unshakeable belief that there will come a time in Ethiopia when the demands of punishment, blame and justice would have to be weighed against the greater good of peace, harmony and reconciliation. There will come a time when the open wounds of ethnic division, hatred and sectarianism must be healed and safeguards put into place to prevent their future recurrence. I believe insight into the nature of gratuitous evil is an important step in the healing process.  By “understanding” (gaining insight) why individuals and groups in power commit gratuitous evil, it may be possible for Ethiopians to develop the courage, perseverance, fortitude and spiritual strength to move towards a reconciled and peaceful society. That is exactly what the South Africans did by instituting their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after Apartheid ended. Perpetrators of gratuitous evil were given the option to come to a public hearing and confess the evils they have committed and seek not only  amnesty and immunity from civil and criminal prosecution but also forgiveness from their victims and the survivors of their victims. The Commission largely succeeded in that mission. The Rwandan “Gacaca courts” (traditional grassroots village courts composed of well-respected elders) which were established to administer justice to those alleged to have committed genocidal acts similarly sought to achieve “reconciliation of all Rwandans and building their unity” by putting justice partially into the hands of the surviving victims or victims’ families who are given the opportunity to confront and challenge the perpetrators in the open. The Rwandans also achieved a measure of success.

What has been learned from the TRC of South Africa and Rwanda’s Gacaca courts is that the act of forgiving can be an activity that victims of evil can find enormously helpful and beneficial. By publicly confronting the perpetrators, victims gain a sense of psychological satisfaction, moral vindication and physical well-being. The victims are no longer tormented by the desire for revenge and retribution. Coming to terms with the enormity of gratuitous evil makes it easier for a society to reconcile and prevent the recurrence of such evil.

Touched by evil

The Socratic thesis is that no one does evil intentionally. In other words, men and women commit evil out of ignorance which blinds them from doing right and good and deprives them of the practical wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. Evil doers are morally blind and unable to value other human beings while overestimating their own value and worth.

Why do those in power in Ethiopia commit the gratuitous evil of throwing into solitary confinement an innocent young woman who has been internationally honored and celebrated for her journalistic courage? Could it be the evil of misogyny that makes powerful men derive sadistic pleasure from the humiliation, degradation, dehumanization, depersonalization, demoralization, brutalization and incapacitation of strong-willed, intelligent, defiant, principled and irrepressible women who oppose them?

The gratuitous evil that is inflicted on Reeyot by those in power in Ethiopia is only the latest example. The exact same evil was inflicted on Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, who was thrown into solitary confinement for months at Meles Zenawi Prison because she stood up and opposed him. The same evil in different form was inflicted on Serkalem Fasil, another world-renowned female Ethiopian journalist who was imprisoned and forced to give birth in prison. The common denominator between these three women is that they are strong, self-confident, determined and principled and risked their lives to stand up to a brutal  dictatorship. Because they refused to back down, they suffered the most inhumane treatment at the hands of powerful men.

Solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison is used as a psychological weapon to drive the victims mad. By depriving victims of all human contact and by denying them access to any information about the outside world, the aim is to make them feel lost and forgotten. Solitary confinement for women is a particularly insidious from psychological torture intended to humiliate and breakdown their physical, psychological, spiritual and moral integrity. Those in solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison are not allowed to visit with friends. They are denied access to books. They are not allowed to meet their legal counsel. Family visits are interrupted even before smiles are exchanged; and even hugs and kisses with family members are forbidden. Solitary confinement is a dirty psychological game played by those in power to plunge the victims into the depths of despair, sorrow and confusion and make them feel completely helpless and hopeless.

When Meles threw Birtukan into solitary confinement, he just did not want her to suffer. That would be too easy. He wanted to humiliate and dehumanize her. When she was in solitary confinement, he used a cruel  metaphor describing her as a “silly chicken who did herself in”. While in solitary confinement, he mocked and took cheap shots at her telling the press that that she is “in perfect condition” but “may have gained a few kilos”. He wanted her to suffer so much that he told reporters, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” He wanted Birtukan to be the living dead in solitary confinement. Providence had a different plan.

The gratuitous evil perpetrated against Serkalem Fasil is beyond human comprehension. In their letter to President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University opposing Meles Zenawi’s appearance to speak at that institution, Serkalem and her husband the world-renowned journalist Eskinder Nega wrote:

We are banned Ethiopian journalists who were charged with treason by the government of PM Meles Zenawi subsequent to disputed election results in 2005, incarcerated under deplorable circumstances, only to be acquitted sixteen months later; after Serkalem Fasil prematurely gave birth in prison.Severely underweight at birth because Serkalem’s physical and psychological privation in one of Africa’s worst prisons, an incubator was deemed life-saving to the new-born child by prison doctors; which was, in an act of incomprehensible vindictiveness, denied by the authorities. (The child nevertheless survived miraculously. Thanks to God.)

Do those who slammed Reeyot and Birtukan in solitary confinement and forced Serkalem to give birth in one of the filthiest prisons in the world realize what they are doing is evil?  Do they care about the suffering of these young women?

Birtukan has survived and continues to thrive. Serkalem struggles to survive every day as she agonizes over the unjust imprisonment of her husband Eskinder. Reeyot, I believe, will survive in solitary confinement because she is a strong woman of faith and conviction. Solitary confinement to persons of faith and conviction is like fire to steel. It brings out the best in them. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; but is there a man alive who is more compassionate, humane, kindhearted and forgiving than Mandela?

Sigmund Freud wrote about the kind of sadistic gratuitous evil driven by deep-seated hatred and aggression against women. Other psychologists see the root of gratuitous evil in personality “fragmentation” caused by feelings of rejection and inferiority. They say those who commit gratuitous evil seek to “defragment and hold themselves together” by degrading and feeling superior to their victims. Others have argued that beneath the gratuitous evil that perpetrators commit lies a profound emptiness filled by sadistic rage, anger, and hatred.

I believe those in power in Ethiopia commit gratuitous evil to obtain absolute obedience and respect. As Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments (and in other aspects the Zimbardo (Stanford) experiments) have shown, those in authority seek to secure obedience by establishing social models of compliance. In other words, those in power aim to teach by harsh example. If you are an independent journalist and do your job, you will be jacked up on bogus terrorism charges, held in detention, thrown in solitary confinement and tortured. If you challenge a stolen election and protest in the street, you will be shot in the  streets like a rabid dog.  By using extreme violence, those in power in Ethiopia seek to create not only an atmosphere of fear but also a culture of terror. The experiments have also shown that resistance can also be taught by example. Reeyot, Serkalem, Birtukan, Eskinder, Woubshet, Andualem are social models of resistance.

Hanna Arendt observed Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, at his trial in Jerusalem and found him to be  “medium-sized, slender, middle-aged, with receding hair, ill-fitting teeth, and nearsighted eyes, who throughout the trial keeps craning his scraggy neck toward the bench.” He appeared to be a common man  incapable of monstrous crimes. The banality of evil is the capacity of ordinary people to commit monstrous crimes. The audacity of evil is the capacity of ordinary and sub-ordinary people to commit evil not out of necessity, obedience to authority or even adherence to ideology; it is evil committed by those who are absolutely convinced that they will never be held accountable for their crimes.

Doing evil, doing good

I have many unanswered questions. Are the individuals in positions of power in Ethiopia evil by nature? Was evil thrust upon them by a demonic power? Were they victims of evil themselves and now seek to avenge the actual or perceived evil done to them and ended up being evil themselves? Did they become the very monster they slew? Are there persons who are innately incapable of doing good because they are bad seed and are born with a natural disposition to do only wrong and evil? Is gratuitous evil a psychological illness, an incurable sickness of the soul?

My questions do not end there. No one is immune from evil. Those of us who rise up in self-righteous indignation and denounce evil should look at ourselves and ask: If we were shown “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor”, would we succumb to that offer and choose the path of evil? Nietzsche said, “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.”  When we raise our lances at the windmills, do we really see monsters? Let us not forget that “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Are we also brutes, like those we criticize, costumed in a veneer of civilization and morality untested and unseduced by the corrupting power of power? Are human beings innately good, and evil people merely mutations of good ones?

The evil that men do lives after them

The late Meles Zenawi has left a dark and bleak legacy of gratuitous evil in Ethiopia.  The evil he has done shall continue to live in the prisons he built, the justice system he corrupted and the lives of young good Ethiopians he destroyed like Reeyot, Eskinder, Serkalem,  Birtukan, Woubshet, Andualem and countless others. In Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, Antony speaks: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Ceasar.”

When I speak of Meles, I speak not of the man but of the wretched legacy he left and of the pious devotion of his disciples to that legacy. His disciples today speak of his great achievements and his great vision with Scriptural certitude and apostolic zeal. Their mantra is, “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.” One must speak out against pre-programmed robots; but raging against the machine should not be mistaken for raging against the man.

I remain optimistic that in the end good shall triumph over evil because the ultimate battle between good and evil in Ethiopia will not be waged on a battlefield with “crashing guns and rattling musketry”; nor will it be fought and won in the voting  booths, the parliaments, the courts or bureaucracies. The battle for good and evil will be fought, won or lost, in the hearts and minds of ordinary Ethiopian men and women who have the courage to rise up and do extraordinary good.

Elie Wiesel, a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps, and Nobel peace laureate said “indifference is the epitome of evil” and

swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

I have taken the side of Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Fasil, Birtukan Midekssa, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…. and made them the “center of my universe”.

(to be continued….)

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Ethiopia: Right in Prison, Wrong on the Throne

Monday, April 8th, 2013

EskinderLast April, I wrote a “Special Tribute to My Personal Hero Eskinder Nega”.  In that tribute, I groped for words as I tried to describe this common Ethiopian man of uncommon valor, an ordinary journalist of extraordinary integrity and audacity. Frankly, what could be said of a simple man of humility possessed of indomitable dignity? Eskinder Nega is a man who stood up to brutality with his gentle humanity. What could I really say of a gentleman of the utmost civility, nobility and authenticity who was jailed 8 times for loving liberty?  What could I say of a man and his wife who defiantly defended press freedom in Ethiopia, even when they were both locked up in Meles Zenawi Prison just outside of the capital in Kality for 17 months! What could anybody say of a man, a woman and their child who sacrificed their liberties, their peace of mind, their futures and earthly possessions so that their countrymen, women and children could be free!?

Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega is a special kind of hero who fights with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slays falsehoods with the sword of truth. He chases bad ideas with good ones. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fights despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion. Above all, Eskinder speaks truth to power and to those who abuse, misuse, overuse and are corrupted by power.

Now almost a year since I wrote my tribute, I remember my great friend and brother Eskinder Nega as he languishes in Meles Zenawi Prison.  But I do not remember him in sadness or with heartache.  No! No! I remember Eskinder in the hopeful, faith-filled and resolute words of American poet James Russell Lowell (“The Present Crisis”): “When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast…/ Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide…/ In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side… For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands…/ Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne…/

Eskinder and his wife Serkalem did the right deed to defend the right of press freedom in Ethiopia. They spoke truth to falsehood in their newspapers and never backed down. They spoke right to wrong in kangaroo court. The man who tried for 20 years to right the wrongs of tyranny, today, like Lowell’s Truth, hangs on the scaffold in the belly of Meles Zenawi Prison, a place of  “wrath and tears where the horror of the shade looms”, with his head bloodied but UNBOWED!

Last week, Birtukan Mideksa wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera urging the release of Eskinder Nega and  other journalists including Reeyot Alemu (winner of the International Women’s Media Foundation 2012 Courage in Journalism Award) and Woubshet Taye (2012 Hellman/Hammett Grant Award) and all political prisoners in Ethiopia. Birtukan is the first female political party (Unity for Democracy and Justice) leader in Ethiopian history. Birtukan, like Eskinder, was the personal political prisoner of the late dictator Meles Zenawi.   Meles personally ordered Birtukan’s arrest and on December 29, 2008, a year and half after he “pardoned” and released her from prison, he threw her back in jail without even the usual song and dance of kangaroo court.  On January 9, 2010, Meles sent chills down the spines of reporters when he declared sadistically that “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” On January 15, 2010, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an opinion finding that Birtukan Midekksa is a political prisoner.

It is heartwarming to read Birtukan’s moving and robustly principled defense of Eskinder Nega and the other Ethiopian journalists and political prisoners. It is also ironic that Eskinder should replace Birtukan as the foremost political prisoner in Ethiopia today.

Few can speak more authoritatively on the plight of Eskinder and all Ethiopian political prisoners than my great sister Birtukan who also spent years in in the belly of Meles Zenawi Prison, a substantial part of it in solitary confinement. In her Al Jazeera commentary she wrote:

My journey to become a political prisoner in Ethiopia began as a federal judge fighting to uphold the rule of law. Despite institutional challenges and even death threats, I hoped to use constitutional principles to ensure respect for basic rights… [Ethiopian] authorities have detained my friend Eskinder Nega eight times over his 20-year career as a journalist and publisher. After the 2005 elections, Eskinder and his wife – Serkalem Fasil – spent 17 months in prison. Pregnant at the time, Serkalem gave birth to a son despite her confinement and almost no pre-natal care. Banned from publishing after his release in 2007, Eskinder continued to write online. In early 2011, he began focusing particularly on the protest movements then sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Eskinder, who does not belong to any political party because of a commitment to maintain his independence, offered a unique and incisive take on what those movements meant for the future of Ethiopia. Committed to the principle of non-violence, Eskinder repeatedly emphasised that any similar movements in Ethiopia would have to remain peaceful. Despite this, police briefly detained him and warned him that his writings had crossed the line and he could face prosecution. Then in September [14], 2011, the government made good on that threat. Authorities arrested Eskinder just days after he publicly criticised the use of anti-terror laws to stifle dissent. They held him without charge or access to an attorney for nearly two months. The government eventually charged Eskinder with terrorism and treason, sentencing him to 18 years in prison after a political trial. Unfortunately, Eskinder is not alone; independent journalists Woubshet Taye and Reeyot Alemu also face long prison terms on terrorism charges.

Eskinder is a hero to the world but a villain to Meles Zenawi and his disciples 

Who really is Eskinder Nega? In Meles Zenawi’s kangaroo court, Eskinder has been judged a “terrorist”, a “public enemy”. In the court of world public opinion, Eskinder is celebrated as the undisputed champion and defender of press freedom.

When speaking of my brother Eskinder, I could be accused of exaggerating his virtues, hyperbolizing his singular contributions to press freedom in Ethiopia and overstating his importance to the cause of free expression throughout the world. Perhaps I am biased because I hold this great man in such high respect, honor and admiration. If I am guilty of bias, it is because seemingly in Ethiopia they have stopped making genuine heroes like Eskinder Nega, Woubeshet Taye, Anudalem Aragie, Temesgen Desalegn… and heroines like Birtukan Midekssa, Serkalem Fasil, Reeyot Alemu….

Let others more qualified and more eloquent than I speak of Eskinder Nega’s heroism, courage, fortitude, audacity and tenacity in the defense of press freedom.

On December 3, 2012, when Carl Bernstein (one of the two investigative journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon) read at a public forum Eskinder’s last blog before he was arrested, he said:

… No honor can be greater than to read Eskinder Nega’s words. He is more than a symbol. He is the embodiment of the greatness of truth, of writing and reporting real truth, of persisting in truth and resisting the oppression of untruth… So let us marvel at and  celebrate Eskinder Nega. For who among us could write what I am about to read [a blog of Eskinder’s] spirit unbound, faith in freedom and the power of the word untrammeled

When Eskinder was named as the recipient of the prestigious 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Peter Godwin, president of PEN American Center said, “The Ethiopian writer Eskinder Nega is that bravest and most admirable of writers, one who picked up his pen to write things that he knew would surely put him at grave risk…”

Larry Siems, director of PEN Freedom to Write Award, at the award ceremonies groped for words trying to describe Eskinder Nega. “…[This year] one [journalist] really stood out, and that is Eskinder Nega. So tonight we recognize one of the world’s most courageous, most intrepid, most creative advocates of press freedom that I have ever seen…”

In awarding its prestigious Hellman/Hammett Award for 2012,  Human Rights Watch described Eskinder and the other journalists as “exemplifying  the courage and dire situation of independent journalism in Ethiopia today. Their ordeals illustrate the price of speaking freely in a country where free speech is no longer tolerated.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists declared, “The charges against Eskinder are baseless and politically motivated in reprisal for his writings. His conviction reiterates that Ethiopia will not hesitate to punish a probing press by imprisoning journalists or pushing them into exile in misusing the law to silence critical and independent reporting.”

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the American civil rights heroine and former CNN Johannesburg bureau chief defended Eskinder and travelled to Ethiopia to plead for his release:

The specific charge against Eskinder was that he conspired with a banned opposition party called Ginbot 7 to overthrow the government. At his trial, government prosecutors showed as evidence a fuzzy video, available on YouTube, of Eskinder at a public town-hall meeting, discussing the potential of an Arab Spring-type uprising in Ethiopia. State television labeled Eskinder and the other journalists as “spies for foreign forces.” There were also allegations that he had accepted a terrorist mission—what the mission involved was never specified.

United States Senator Patrick Leahy read a lenghty statement into the Congressional Record informing his colleagues that “7,000 miles from Washington, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia… a journalist named Eskinder Nega stands accused of supporting terrorism simply for refusing to remain silent about the Ethiopian government’s increasingly authoritarian drift…”

The U.S. State Department has condemned the imprisonment of Eskinder and the other journalists:

The United States remains deeply concerned about the trial, conviction, and sentencing of Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, as well as seven political opposition figures, under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The sentences handed down today, including 18 years for Eskinder and life imprisonment for the opposition leader Andualem Arage, are extremely harsh and reinforce our serious questions about the politicized use of Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law in this and other cases.

Eskinder is a hero to the heroes of international journalism. In April 2012,  twenty international journalists who have been recognised as “World Press Freedom Heroes” by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) stood by Eskinder’s side, condemned his unjust imprisonment on trumped up terrorism charges and demanded his release and the release of other journalists. These press freedom heroes minced no words in telling Meles Zenawi of their “extremely strong condemnation of the Ethiopian government’s decision to jail journalist Eskinder Nega on terrorism charges.”

On November 21, 2012, the U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a 9-page legal Opinion concluding:

The deprivation of liberty of Eskinder Nega is arbitrary in violation of articles 9, 10, 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9, 14, and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights… The Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which include the immediate release of Mr. Nega and adequate reparation to him.

In December 2012, 16 member of the European parliament demanded the release of Eskinder Nega and journalists Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye.

Who is (are) the real terrorist(s) in Ethiopia?

Meles said Eskinder and all of the journalists he jailed are “terrorists”.  If Eskinder Nega is a terrorist, then speaking truth to power is an act of terrorism. If Eskinder Nega is a terrorist, then advocacy of peaceful change is terrorism; thinking is terrorism; dissent is terrorism; having a conscience is terrorism; refusing to sell out one’s soul is terrorism; standing up for democracy and human rights is terrorism; defending the rule of law is terrorism and peaceful resistance of state terrorism is terrorism. If Eskinder Nega is a terrorist today, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist then. The same goes for all of the other jailed journalists and opposition leaders jailed by Meles Zenawi.

But the real terrorists know who they are. When Meles and his horde of guerilla fighters challenged military dictator Mengistu Hailemariam, they were officially branded as terrorists, bandits, mercenaries, criminals, thugs, murderers, marauders, public enemies, subversives, rebels, assassins, malcontents, invaders, traitors, saboteurs and other names.  Were they?

Let the evidence speak for itself. In an interview Meles Zenawi gave to an Eritrean magazine called Hiwot (which was translated into Amharic and published by Etiop newspaper, (Vol. 5 Issue No. 52), he presented himself as the Willie Sutton of Tigray pulling bank jobs all over the palce. Meles spoke proudly of the banks he and his comrade-in-arms robbed or attempted to rob to finance their guerilla war. Meles boasted of his “victorious” robberies in Shire and Adwa while regretting botched jobs in Axum. Today they own the banks!

The current ruling party, “Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Movement” (TPLF), is listed today in the Global Terrorism Database as a terrorist organization. Documented acts of terrorism by the TPLF include armed robberies, assaults, hostage taking and kidnapping of foreign nationals and journalists and local leaders, hijacking of truck convoys, extortion of business owners and merchants, nongovernmental organizations, local leaders and private citizens and intimidation of religious leaders and journalists.

An official Inquiry Commission established by Meles Zenawi to investigate the deaths that occurred in the post-2005 election period determined that security forces under the personal control and command of Meles Zenawi  massacred 193 unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded another 763. The Commission concluded the “shots fired by government forces were intended not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” On November 1, 2005, security forces in the Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality gunned down 65 inmates while confined in their cells. No one has ever been brought to justice for these crimes against humanity.

In September 2011, the world learned that “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” Following its own investigation and “clandestine reporting”, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act. If all other acts of state terrorism committed against Ethiopian civilians were to be included, the body count would be in the hundreds of thousands.

Who are the real terrorists and criminals in Ethiopia today?

Tale of the Good Wolf and Evil Wolf

The late Meles Zenawi and his apostles remind me of an old Cherokee (Native American) tale of two wolves:  A grandfather tells his young grandson that everyone has a Good Wolf and an Evil Wolf inside of them fighting with each other every day. The Good Wolf thrives on peace, love, truth, generosity, humility and kindness. The Evil Wolf feeds on hatred, anger, greed, lies and arrogance. “Which wolf will win, grandfather?” asked the boy. “Whichever one you feed,” replied the grandfather.

Meles and his disciples have been feeding the Evil Wolf for decades, and now the Evil Wolf sits triumphantly crowned on the Throne of Hatred and Falsehood. They have fattened the Evil Wolf with a lavish diet of inhumanity, barbarity, brutality, ignobility, immorality, depravity, duplicity, incivility, criminality, ethnocentricity, mediocrity, corruptibility and pomposity.

Eskinder, Reeyot, Woubshet, Andualem. Temesgen and the rest have managed to tame the Good Wolf and have followed the path of peace, love and truth. Their wolf thrives on a simple diet of humanity, unity, integrity, authenticity, civility, morality, incorruptibility, dignity, affability, humility, nobility, creativity, intellectuality and audacity.

It is hard for the reasonable mind to fathom why Meles and his disciples chose to embrace and follow the path of the Evil Wolf. Indeed, the Evil Wolf has been very good to them. The Evil Wolf has made it possible for them to accumulate great wealth and amass enormous power. They have unleashed the Evil Wolf to divide and rule the country along ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines. They have used the Evil Wolf to destroy not only the lives and futures of young professionals like Eskinder, Birtukan,  Reeyot, Woubshet, Temesgen and  Andualem but also the future of the younger generation. They have used the Evil Wolf to sell off the country’s most fertile lands for pennies and plunder its natural resources. They have used the Evil Wolf to convict the innocent in kangaroo courts. They have used the Evil Wolf to strike fear and loathing in the hearts and minds or ordinary citizens.

They have given new meaning to the ancient Roman playwright Paluatus’ aphorism homo homini lupus est  (“man is a wolf to his fellow man”).  They have used the Evil Wolf to create war from peace; strife from harmony;  wrong from right; vice from virtue; division from unity;  shame from honor;  immorality from decency; poverty from wealth; hatred from love; ignorance from knowledge; corruption from blessing; bondage from freedom and dictatorship from democracy.  In 21 years, Meles and his disciples have managed to jam a whole nation between the jaws of a snarling, gnarling and howling Evil Wolf.

How long before the Good Wolf wins over the Evil Wolf?

The great Nelson Mandela wondered when Apartheid would end. He told those who had unleashed the Evil Wolf of Apartheid,  “You may succeed in delaying, but never in preventing the transition of South Africa to a democracy.”

My friend Eskinder Nega warned the overlords of the Evil Wolf in Ethiopia, “Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries.  Inevitably freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.

But how long before freedom overwhelms Ethiopia? How long before Ethiopia transitions to democracy? How long before “truth crushed to earth rises again” in Ethiopia? How long before all Ethiopian political prisoners are set free? Before Eskinder is released and joins his wife Sekalem and their son Nafkot? How long before Reeyot, Woubshet, Andualem… rejoin their families? How long before the Good Wolf wins over the Evil Wolf?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. agonized over similar questions during the darkest days of the struggle for civil rights in America. His answer to the question, “How long?” was “Not long!”.

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?”  Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men…?”

Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham… be lifted from this dust of shame…? … How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”

How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”

How long before the Good Wolf wins over the Evil Wolf? Not long, because “once to every man and nation comes the moment” to decide between Good and Evil.

How long before wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Addis Ababa, Mekele, Adama, Gondar, Awassa, Jimma… is lifted from the dust of shame? Not long, “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

How long before truth and right crushed to earth rise up again in Ethiopia? Not long, because truth and right will not remain forever on the scaffold nor wrong and falsehood nest forever on the throne!

I have no greater honor than to stand up, speak up and defend my friends, brothers and sisters Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Fasil, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Temesgen Desalegn, Andualem Aragie and all political prisoners held in Meles Zenawi Prison!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Ethiopia: The Prototype African Police State

Monday, February 25th, 2013

ps2The sights and sounds of an African police state

When Erin Burnett of CNN visited Ethiopia in July 2012, she came face-to-face with the ugly face of an African police state:

We saw what an African police state looked like when I was in Ethiopia last month… At the airport, it took an hour to clear customs – not because of lines, but because of checks and questioning. Officials tried multiple times to take us to government cars so they’d know where we went. They only relented after forcing us to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV gear in the airport…

Last week, reporter Solomon Kifle of the Voice of America (VOA-Amharic) heard the terrifying voice of an  African police state from thousands of miles away. The veteran reporter was investigating widespread allegations of targeted night time warrantless searches of homes belonging to Ethiopian Muslims in the capital Addis Ababa. Solomon interviewed victims  who effectively alleged home invasion robberies by “federal police” who illegally searched their homes and took away cash, gold jewelry, cell phones, laptops, religious books and other items of personal property.

One of the police officials Solomon interviewed to get reaction and clarification was police chief Zemedkun of  Bole (an area close to the international airport in the capital).

VOA: Are you in the area of Bole. The reason I called…

Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes. You are correct.

VOA: There are allegation that homes belonging to Muslim Ethiopians have been targeted for illegal search and seizure. I am calling to get clarification.

Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes (continue).

VOA: Is it true that you are conducting such a search?

Police Chief Zemedkun: No, sir. I don’t know about this. Who told you that?

VOA: Individuals who say they are victims of such searches; Muslims who live in the area.

Police Chief Zemedkun: If they said that, you should ask them.

VOA: I can tell you what they said.

Police Chief Zemedkun: What did they say?

VOA: They said “the search is conducted by police officers; they [the police] threaten us without a court order; they take our property, particularly they focus on taking our Holy Qurans and mobile phones. Such are the allegations and I am calling to get clarification.

Police Chief Zemedkun: Wouldn’t it be better to talk to the people who told you that? I don’t know anything about that.

VOA: I just told you about the allegations the people are making.

Police Chief Zemedkun: Enough! There is nothing I know about       this.

VOA: I will mention (to our listeners) what you said Chief Zemedkun. Are you the police chief of the sub-district ( of Bole)?

Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes. I am something like that.

VOA: Chief Zemedkun, may I have your last name?

Police Chief Zemedkun: Excuse me!! I  don’t want to talk to anyone on this type of [issue] phone call. I am going to hang up. If you call again, I will come and get you from your address. I want you to know that!! From now on, you should not call this number again. If you do, I will come to wherever you are and arrest you. I mean right now!!

VOA: But I am in Washington (D.C)?

Police Chief Zemedkun: I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!

VOA: Are you going to come and arrest me?

End of  interview.

Meles’ legacy: mini Me-leses, Meles wannabes and a police state

Flying off the handle, exploding in anger and igniting into spontaneous self-combustion is the hallmark of the leaders of the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia. The late Meles Zenawi was the icon of spontaneous self- combustion. Anytime Meles was challenged on facts or policy, he would explode in anger and have a complete meltdown.

Just before Meles jailed virtually the entire opposition leadership, civil society leaders and human rights advocates following the 2005 elections for nearly two years, he did exactly what police chief Zemedkun threatened to do to VOA reporter Solomon. Congressman Christopher Smith, Chairman of the House Africa Subcommitte in 2005 could not believe his ears as Meles’ arrogantly threatened to arrest and jail opposition leaders and let them rot in jail. Smith reported:

Finally, when I asked the Prime Minister to work with the opposition and show respect and tolerance for those with differing views on the challenges facing Ethiopia he said, ‘I have a file on all of them; they are all guilty of treason.’ I was struck by his all-knowing tone. Guilty! They’re all guilty simply because Meles says so?  No trial? Not even a Kangaroo court?  I urged Prime Minister Meles not to take that route.

In 2010, Meles erupted at a press conference by comparing the Voice of America (Amharic) radio broadcasts to Ethiopia with broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines which directed some of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Pointing an accusatory finger at the VOA, Meles charged: “We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.” (It seems one of Meles’ surviving police chiefs is ready to make good on Meles’ threat by travelling to Washington, D.C. and arresting a VOA reporter.)

Meles routinely called his opponents “dirty”, “mud dwellers”, “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He took sadistic pleasure in humiliating and demeaning parliamentarians who challenged him with probing questions or merely disagreed with him. His put-downs were so humiliating, few parliamentarians dared to stand up to his bullying.

When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted Meles with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, Meles had another public meltdown. He condemned the EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.”

When Ken Ohashi, the former country director for the World Bank debunked Meles’ voodoo economics in July 2011, Meles went ballistic: “The individual [Ohashi) is used to giving directions along his neo-liberal views. The individual was on his way to retirement. He has no accountability in distorting the institutions positions and in settling his accounts. The Ethiopian government has its own view that is different from the individual.” (Meles talking about accountability is like the devil quoting Scripture.)

In a meeting with high level U.S. officials in advance of the May 2010 election, Meles went apoplectic telling the diplomats that “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.”

Meles’ hatred for Birtukan Midekssa (a former judge and the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history), a woman of extraordinary intelligence and unrivalled courage, was as incomprehensible as it was bottomless. After throwing Birtukan in prison in 2008 without trial or any form of judicial proceeding, Meles added insult to injury by publicly calling her a “chicken”. When asked how Birtukan was doing in prison, Meles, with sarcastic derision replied, “Birtukan Midiksa is fine but she may have gained weight due to lack of exercise.” (When Meles made the statement, Birtukan was actually in solitary confinement in Kality prison on the ridiculous charge that she “had denied receiving a pardon” when she was released in July 2007.) When asked if he might consider releasing her, Meles said emphatically and sadistically, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That's a dead issue.”

Internationally acclaimed journalists Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye are all victims of arbitrary arrests and detentions. So are opposition party leaders and dissidents Andualem Arage, Nathnael Mekonnen, Mitiku Damte, Yeshiwas Yehunalem, Kinfemichael Debebe, Andualem Ayalew, Nathnael Mekonnen, Yohannes Terefe, Zerihun Gebre-Egziabher and many others.

Police chief Zemedkun is a mini-Me-les, a Meles wannabe. He is a mini tin pot tyrant. Like Meles, Zemedkun not only lost his cool but also all commonsense, rationality and proportionality. Like Meles, Zemedkun is filled with hubris (extreme arrogance which causes the person to lose contact with reality and feel invincible, unaccountable and above and beyond the law). Zemedkun, like Meles, is so full of himself that no one dare ask him a question: “I am the omnipotent police chief Zemedkun, the Absolute Master of Bole; the demigod with the power of arrest and detention.  I am Police Chief Zemedkun created in the divine likeness of Meles Zenawi!”

What a crock of …!

When Meles massacred 193 unarmed protesters and wounded 763 others following the elections in 2005, he set the standard for official accountability, which happens to be lower than a snake’s knee. For over two decades, Meles created and nurtured a pervasive and ubiquitous culture of  official impunity, criminality, untouchability, unaccountablity, brutality, incivility, illegality and immorality in Ethiopia.

The frightening fact of the matter is that today there are tens of thousands of mini-Me-leses and Meles wannabes in Ethiopia. What police chief Zemedkun did during the VOA interview is a simple case of monkey see, monkey do. Zemedkun could confidently threaten VOA reporter Solomon because he has seen Meles and his disciples do the same thing for over two decades with impunity. Zemedkun is not alone in trashing the human rights of Ethiopian citizens.  He is not some rogue or witless policeman doing his thing on the fringe. Zemedkun is merely one clone of his Master. There are more wicked and depraved versions of Zemedkun masquerading as ministers of state.  There are thousands of faceless and nameless “Zemedkunesque” bureaucrats, generals, judges and prosecutors abusing their powers with impunity. There are even soulless and heartless Zemedkuns pretending to be “holy men” of faith. But they are all petty tyrants who believe that they are not only above the law, but also  that they are the personification of the law.

Article 12 and constitutional accountability

Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution requires accountability of all public officials: “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.”

Meles when he was alive, and his surviving disciples, police chiefs, generals and bureaucrats today are in a state of willful denial of the fact of constitutional accountability. (Meles believed accountability applied only to Ken Ohashi, the former World Bank country director.) The doltish police chief Zemedkun is clueless not only about constitutional standards of accountability for police search and seizure in private homes but also his affirmative constitutional obligation to perform his duties with transparency. This ignoramus-cum-police chief believes he is the Constitution, the law of the land, at least of Bole’s. He has the gall to verbally terrorize the VOA reporter, “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, unbeknown to police chief Zemedkun, is guaranteed by Article 17 (Liberty) of the Ethiopian Constitution: “No one shall be deprived of his liberty except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law. No one shall be arrested or detained without being charged or convicted of a crime except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law.” Article 19 (Rights of Persons under Arrest) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him... Everyone shall have the right to be… specifically informed that there is sufficient cause for his arrest as soon as he appears in court. Zemedkun is ready to arrest the VOA reporter simply because the reporter asked him for his last name. What arrogance! What chutzpah!

It is a mystery to police chief Zemedkun that arbitrary deprivation of liberty is also a crime against humanity. Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly provides: “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” The deprivation of physical liberty (arbitrary arrest) constitutes a crime against humanity under Art. 7 (e) and (g) of the Rome Statute if there is evidence to show that the deprivation occurred as  a result of systematic attack on a civilian population and in violation of international fair trial guarantees. The statements of the victims interviewed by VOA reporter Solomon appear to provide prima facie evidence sufficient to trigger an Article 7 investigation since there appears to be an official policy of systematic targeting of  Muslims for arbitrary arrest and detention as part of a widespread campaign of religious persecution. The new prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou B. Bensouda, should launch such an investigation in proprio motu (on her own motion).

Meles has left an Orwellian legacy in Ethiopia. Police chief Zemedkun is only one policeman in a vast police state. He reaffirms the daily fact of life for the vast majority of Ethiopians that anyone who opposes, criticizes or disagrees with members of the post-Meles officialdom, however low or petty,  will be picked up and jailed, and even tortured and killed. In “Mel-welliana” (the Orwellian police state legacy of Meles) Ethiopia, asking the name of a public official is a crime subject to immediate arrest and detention!  In “Mel-welliana”, thinking is a crime. Dissent is a crime. Speaking the truth is a crime. Having a conscience is a crime. Peaceful protest is a crime. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is a crime. Standing up for democracy and human rights is a crime. Defending the rule of law is a crime. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is a crime.

A police chief, a police thug  and a police thug state

It seems police chief Zemedkun is more of a police thug than a police chief. But listening to Zemedkun go into full meltdown mode, one cannot help but imagine him to be a cartoonish thug. As comical as it may sound, police chief Zemedkun reminded me of Yosemite Sam, that Looney Tunes cartoon character known for his grouchiness, hair-trigger temper and readiness to “blast anyone to smithereens”. The not-so-comical part of this farce is that police chief Zemedkun manifests no professionalism, civility or ethical awareness.  He is obviously clueless about media decorum. Listening to him, it is apparent that Zemedkun has the personality of a porcupine,  the temper of a Tasmanian Devil,  the charm of an African badger, the intelligence of an Afghan Hound and the social graces of a dung beetle. But the rest of the high and mighty flouting the Constitution and abusing their powers like Zemedkun are no different.

The singular hallmark -- the trademark -- of a police thug state is the pervasiveness and ubiquity of arbitrary arrests, searches and detentions of citizens. If any person can be arrested on the whim of a state official, however high or petty, that is a police state. If the rights of citizens can be taken or disregarded without due process of law, that is a dreadful police state. Where the rule of law is substituted by the rule of a police chief, that is a police thug state.

For well over a decade, international human rights organizations and others have been reporting on large scale  arbitrary arrests and detentions in Ethiopia. The 2011 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (issued on May 24, 2012) reported:

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government often ignored these provisions in practice… The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians… Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and in some cases to family members, particularly in outlying regions… Other human rights problems included torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches

In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch reported: “Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in 2012… The security forces responded to protests by the Muslim community in Oromia and Addis Ababa, the capital, with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and beatings.”

Rarely does one hear human rights abusers publicly showing their true faces and confirming their victims' allegations in such breathtakingly dramatic form. Police chief Zemedkun gave all Ethiopians a glimpse of the arrogant and lawless officialdom of Post-Meles Ethiopia. It is a glimpse of a police state in which an ignorant local police chief could feel so comfortable in his abuse of power that he believes he can travel to the United States of America and arrest and detain a journalist working for an independent agency of the United States Government. If this ill-mannered, ill-bred, cantankerous and boorish policeman could speak and act with such impunity, is it that difficult to imagine how the ministers, generals, prosecutors, judges and bureaucrats higher up the food chain feel about their abuses of power?

But one has to listen to and read the words of those whose heads are being crushed by the police in a police state. When it comes to crushing heads, themodus operandi is always the same. Use “robocops”.  In 2005,  Meles brought in hundreds of police and security men from different parts of the country who have limited proficiency in the country’s official language and used them to massacre 193 unarmed protesters and wound another 763. These “robocops” are pre-programmed killing machines, arresting machines and torture machines. They do what they are told. They ask no questions. They shoot and ask questions later. Hadid Shafi Ousman, a victim of illegal search and seizure, who spoke to VOA reporter Solomon,  recounted in chilling detail what it meant to have one’s home searched by “robocop” thugs and goons who do not speak or have extremely limited understanding the official language of the country:

These are federal police. There are also civilian cadres. Sometimes they come in groups of 5-10. They are dressed in federal police uniform…. They are armed and carry clubs. They don’t have court orders. There  are instances where they jump over fences  and bust down doors… When they come, people are terrified. They come at night. You can’t say anything. They take mobile phones, laptops, the Koran and other things… They cover their faces so they can’t be identified. We try to explain to them. Isn’t this our country? If you are here to take anything, go ahead and take it…. They beat you up with clubs. If you ask questions, they beat you up and call you terrorists… First of all, these policemen do not speak Amharic well. So it is hard to understand them. When you ask them what we did wrong, they threaten to beat us. I told them I am a university student, so what is the problem? As a citizen, as a human being…Even they struggled and paid high sacrifices [fighting in the bush] to bring about good governance [to the people]. They did not do it so that some petty official could harass the people. When you say this to them, they beat you up…

Let there be no mistake. Zemedkun is not some isolated freakish rogue police chief  in the Ethiopian police state. He is the gold standard for post-Meles governance. There are thousands of Zemedkuns that have infested the state apparatus and metastasized through the body politics of that country. For these Meles wannabes, constitutional accountability means personal impunity; illegal official activity means prosecutorial immunity; moral depravity means moral probity and crimes against humanity means legal  impunity.

Cry, the beloved country

In 1948, the same year Apartheid became law in South Africa, Alan Paton wrote in “Cry, the Beloved Country”, his feeling of despair over the fate of South Africa:

Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.”

Cry for our beloved Ethiopia!!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

The Free Press in Ethiopia’s Kangaroo Kourts

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Alemayehu G Mariam

kangctThe Triumph of Lies

Over the past six years, I have written numerous columns defending press freedom in Ethiopia. In a 2009 commentary entitled, “The Art of War on Ethiopia’s Independent Press”, I expressed astonishment over the heavy handed treatment of the free press: “Use a sledgehammer to smash a butterfly! That is the exquisite art of war unleashed on Ethiopia’s independent press by the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi today.”

In a 2007 column entitled “Monkey Trial in Kangaroo Kourt“, I wrote about the Kafkaesque use of the courts by the dictatorship in Ethiopia to crush dissent and suppress criticism. Franz Kafka’s famous novel, The Trial, begins with the sentence, “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” K., is ordered to stand trial before know-nothing judges who do the bidding of their invisible puppet masters. K’s guilt is a foregone conclusion. Everything about the trial is a secret — the charges, the court procedures and the judges. K cannot defend himself because he is never told what crimes he has committed. He is denied access to the evidence against him. K’s trial is delayed time and again. His lawyer is unable to help him in a system where there is neither law nor procedure.

Such is the stark portrait of Zenawi’s prosecution and conviction of journalists, dissidents and opposition political leaders in his Kafkaesque Kangaroo Kourts in Ethiopia (KKK) today.  He uses lies, damned lies and loathsome lies as evidence to convict opponents and those who disagree with him under his cut-and-paste anti-terrorism law.  To add political drama and add insult to injury, “sentencing” is scheduled for mid-July.

Human Rights Watch documented that the “convictions” last week, together with others over the past six months, “bring the total known number of individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges to 34, including 11 journalists, at least 4 opposition supporters and 19 others.” Zenawi can now beat his chest in triumph and do a few victory laps for “convicting” Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, and opposition party leaders and dissdents Andualem Arage, Nathnael Mekonnen, Mitiku Damte, Yeshiwas Yehunalem, Kinfemichael Debebe, Andualem Ayalew, Nathnael Mekonnen, Yohannes Terefe, Zerihun Gebre-Egziabher and many others.

None of this is new even to the casual observer. Over the years, Zenawi has been using his KKK to railroad into prison independent journalists, opposition leaders and dissidents. So say the U.S. Government and various international human rights organizations using diplomatic language. The 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Ethiopia concluded: “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence.” Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report: “In high-profile cases, [Ethiopian] courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.”

Condemnation of the KKK  Verdicts

There has been an outpuring of condemnation against the KKK verdicts and demands for the immediate release of the “convicted” journalists and others from various soruces. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asserting that “The Ethiopian government has once again succeeded in misusing the law to silence critical and independent reporting. Ethiopia will not hesitate to punish a probing press by imprisoning journalists or pushing them into exile.” Human Rights Watch expressed dismay: “This case shows that Ethiopia’s government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism. The use of draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of law.” Amnesty International condemned the “trumped up” charges and declared: “This is a dark day for justice in Ethiopia, where freedom of expression is being systematically destroyed by a government targeting any dissenting voice. The verdict seemed to be a foregone conclusion.”

U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Booth said, “I find the convictions of predominantly journalists and politicians raises questions about the compatibility of the anti-terrorism law with constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression.” According to the Embassy’s posted statement: “The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression. We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society. A U.S. State Department spokesman explained that even though the U.S. works with the regime in Ethiopia “on certain things, you can be straight with them when you disagree with their policies in other areas, as we always are with Ethiopia with regard to press freedom.”

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who two weeks ago in his statement in the Congressional Record,  noted that the ruling regime in Ethiopia has made it impossible for “journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation”, issued a strongly worded press release condemning the travesty of justice:

The Ethiopian Government’s use of vague anti-terrorism laws to silence the press has been widely and rightly condemned.  The conviction of Eskinder Nega and other journalists, who are accused of nothing more than the peaceful exercise of rights clearly recognized under international law, is the work of a regime that fears the democratic aspirations of its own people.  Over the years, United States administrations have provided Prime Minister Meles a veneer of legitimacy due to our shared interest in countering real terrorist threats, but he has exploited the relationship for his own political ends.  It is time to put the values and principles that distinguish us from terrorists, above aid to a government that misuses its institutions to silence its critics.

Eskinder and Andualem, Invictius!

Unlike Kafka’s Joseph K. who met his end helplessly bleating out the words, “like a dog”, Eskinder and Andualem returned to their prison cells like two roaring lions sauntering to their cages. (I say, one caged lion commands more respect than a thousand free hyenas.) They knew long ago that their “conviction” was inevitable and a foregone conclusion. No journalist, dissident or opposition party leaders has ever been found not guilty by Zenawi’s KKK.  Eskinder Nega, a man whose name is synonymous with the word dignity and the irrepressible symbol of press freedom not only in Ethiopia but throughout the world,  had a few words of wisdom to share with the unprincipled hacks in robes: “I have struggled for peaceful democracy, and I have never disrespected any individual and I didn’t commit a crime. My conscience is clear.” The hacks tried to silence him, but as always Eskinder spoke truth to power: “You have to stand for justice, you have to allow us to say what we want… you have no right to limit our freedom of speech.”

Recently, a who’s who of world-renowned journalists who have themselves suffered at the hands of dictatorships came together to express their “extremely strong condemnation of the Ethiopian government’s decision to jail journalist Eskinder Nega on terrorism charges” and demanded his immediate release. This past April, I struggled to find the right words to honor my personal hero:

Eskinder is a hero of a special kind. He is a hero who fights with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slays falsehoods with the sword of truth. He chases bad ideas with good ones. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fights despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion.

It is a crying shame that Eskinder, who is a hero to so many heroes of press freedom throughout the world, should be judged by an unholy trinity of benighted, scheming and pusillanimous judicial puppets.

Andualem Aragie, the dynamic and courageous young opposition leader was defiant and unbowed:

The last six months that we have spent are days when the people of Ethiopia have struggled for their human dignity and human rights. But the people have not been fortunate enough to enjoy their democratic rights. In my generation, I have tried to struggle to the best of my ability for my children and for all the people of Ethiopia. In doing so, I did not start with malice [or ill will]. In doing so, I did not commit a crime. In doing so, I did not aim to undermine the interests of my poor country. In what I have done, I do not believe I have offended my Creator, the people of Ethiopia or my own conscience. I am in total peace. Why I am standing here is because of my yearning for freedom. This is not the first time that I have sought justice in Ethiopian courts and been denied jusitce. I will not ask for mercy [from this court] for I have committed no crime. I will graciously drink from the cup of oppression my persecutors have prepared for me for my conscience will not allow me to do anything else.

Why Does Zenawi Persecute and Prosecute the Free Press and Dissidents?

Why does Zenawi go through hell and high water to crush the few struggling independent newspapers, dissidents and opposition leaders  in the country? Why does he shutter newspapers that have a circulation of just a few thousand copies when he owns ALL of the printing presses and radio and television media in the country? What is he afraid of?

The answer is simple: The Truth! Zenawi can’t handle the truth. He hates the independent press because it reflects the corruption, repression and oppression of his regime. He fears criticism and genuine expression of public opinion because he does not want to see his reflection in the true mirror of the peoples’ eyes. He much prefers to wallow in his own delusional, imaginary and virtual image of the “Great Leader of the Renaissance” reflected in the glazed and bulging eyes of his Yes-men. But as the recent history of the “Arab Spring” has shown, dictatorships are like castles built of sand which dissolve and are washed away when struck by a single sweep of the ocean’s wave. Regardless of how long dictators keep cracking down on the free press and terrorize the people, in the end they are always swept and vacuumed into the dustbin of history by the tornadic force of the people’s fury. Think of it, always!

The War on the Free Press Will Continue…

Zenawi’s war on the free press will continue because his war is on truth itself. The war has now been declared on Feteh, the only remaining independent weekly newspaper in Ethiopia. In an amateurish dirty trick, the regime’s security department circulated a fake email message linking Temesgen Desalegn, the Editor-in-chief of Feteh, with al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group.  The pathetically fabricated email supposedly sent by an al-Shebaab operative to Temesgen and intercepted by security officials claims:

It has to be remembered that AlShebab has assigned me secretly to  make propagation activities in Ethiopia, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda. To accomplish the task we have agreed with you through your representative Ato Mamush Sentie in Eritrea to publish propaganda articles against the Ethiopian government, against the interest of the Ethiopian people and the American government…”

Give us a break!

But we have seen it all before. Zenawi’s MO goes through three stages. First, he demonizes his adversaries. Then he criminalizes them. In the third stage, he dehumanizes them.That is how he did it to Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Dawit Kebede and so many others.

Temesgen and Feteh are now undergoing the demonization stage. In a few weeks or less, a full scale campaign will be waged against them in the regime owned media. They will be called “terrorists”, “insurrectionists”, “agitators”, “foreign agents” “spies” and whatever else the dirty tricks department can manage to fabricate. There will be frenzied “calls” to the regime from “ordinary citizens” to take action against them.

The criminalization stage will begin in a couple of months or less with a videotaped arrest of Temesgen and possibly other Feteh members in the street in much the same way as they did Eskinder Nega and Andualem Aragie. (Someone must really enjoy watching the videotape of those arrests.Eskinder’s official captors videotaped the whole arrest and laughed boisterously as Eskinder’s traumatized six year old child cried his eyes out for his daddy.)

Then, the dehumanization stage takes place in jail as they await “trial” in the KKK — torture and beatings, denial of medical care, denial of family visits, daily insults, humiliation and degradation, solitary confinement and on and on. In the end, there will be a show KKK trial for Temesgen Desalegn et al with ambassadors, representatives of international organizations and family members sitting in the gallery. The verdict and sentnece will be the same as always: Guilty, guilty, guilty… 15 years at hard labor… 20 years at hard labor… life in prison…

It is all so pathetically predictable.

Losing the Battle, Winning the War

This is the unfinished story of the war on the independent free press in Ethiopia, and the victors and the victims in that war. The final struggle between the dictators who wield swords and the journalists who wield pens, pencils and computer keyboards will be decided in a war for the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. I have no doubts whatsoever that the outcome of that war is foreordained. In fact, I believe that war has already been won. For as Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned in his verse, in the war between swordholders and penholders, final victory always goes to the penholders:

‘True, This! –
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! – itself a nothing! –
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! – Take away the sword –
States can be saved without it!’

But if the paramount question is to save the Ethiopian state or to save Ethiopia’s free press, I would, as Thomas Jefferson said, save the latter: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Description: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif

The Actions of Our Enemies, the Silence of Our Friends

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I would add that we will remember and forgive the words and actions of our enemies for they know not what they say and do; but the cowardice, indifference, apathy, disinterest and cold neutrality of our friends who know or should know better but stand in the face of evil with their heads bowed, eyes closed, ears plugged and lips muted, we can neither forgive nor forget!!!

I believe nothing is more important and uplifting to political prisoners than knowledge of the fact that they are not forgotten, abandoned and forsaken by their compatriots. We must stand with Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and the countless political prisoners in Ethiopia. Every day, they are beaten down and brought to their knees. We cannot hear their whimpers of pain and the silence of their desperation. Because they have no voice, we must be their voices and speak on their behalf. Because they are walled behind filthy prisons, we must unfailingly remind the world of their subhuman existence.

We must all labor for the cause of Ethiopian political prisoners not because it is easy or fashionable, but because it is ethical, honorable, right and just. In the end, what will make the difference for the future of Ethiopia is not the brutality, barbarity, bestiality and inhumanity of its corrupt dictators, but the humanity, dignity, adaptability, audacity, empathy and compassion of ordinary Ethiopians for their wrongfully imprisoned and long-suffering compatriots. That is why we must join hands and work tirelessly to free all political prisoners in Ethiopia.

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA! 

FREE THE FREE PRESS IN ETHIOPIA!

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic and

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/  and

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

 

Ethiopia: The Sky(pe) is Falling!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Alemayehu G. Mariam

skyThe Sky is Falling!

Most of my readers know how much I enjoy “bedtime stories”. Recently, I wrote about my favortie bedtime story of Pinocchio in Africa. Ever heard of the story of Chicken Little? One day Chicken Little was scratching around the yard  when something fell on her head. “Oh,” screeched Chicken Little, “The sky is falling. I must go tell the king.”  Chicken Little ran and ran until she met Henny Penny. “Why are you running so fast, Chicken Little?” asked Henny Penny. “Ah, Henny Penny,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling, and I must go and tell the king.”  Chicken Little and Henny Penny told the same story to Ducky Daddles, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy along the way to the king’s house. “I know a shortcut to the palace,” said Foxy Woxy. “Come and follow me.”  But the wicked Foxy Woxy led them right up to the entrance of his foxhole where he planned to dine on the fine feathered friends. Just as they were to enter the hole, they heard the king’s hunting dogs growling and howling. Foxy Woxy ran across the meadows and through the forests with the hounds on his tail. He ran until he was far, far away and never returned.

The story of Chicken Little illustrates the angst, hysteria and paranoia of the ruling regime in Ethiopia.  The sky is always falling whenever dictator Meles Zenawi wants to tighten the screws on news and information reaching the people. In 2010, Zenawi justified electronically jamming Voice of America Amharic broadcasts by making the preposterously outrageous claim that the Voice of America was promoting genocide in Ethiopia: “We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.” In other words, the Voice of America is the Voice of Genocide, Rwanda.     In February 2012,  Lebanon’s Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui served a formal complaint on the ruling regime in Ethiopia and demanded an immediate end to the illegal practice of jamming Arabsat transmission of ESAT (Ethiopian Satellite Television) programming.

In the past year, Zenawi has been telling the world that he has caught and jailed some of the most dangerous and wild-eyed terrorists in Ethiopia today, including the incomparable Eskinder Nega, the 2012 winner of the prestigious Pen’s Freedom to Write Award, the indomitable Reeyot Alemu, a young woman journalist who won the 2012  International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and the intrepid Woubshet Taye, managing editor of the now shuttered Awramba Times. Last week, in his statement in the Congressional Record, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy noted that the ruling regime in Ethiopia has made it impossible for “journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation.”

Zenawi has been running in overdrive trying to plug every nook and cranny by which Ethiopians could get news and information from independent sources. According to recent statements of Reporters Without Borders Africa (RWB), “The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange.” Ethiopia’s Chicken Littles are so paranoid that they are now requiring the printing presses over which they have total monopoly to censor  newspapers printed in the country. Last month, Berhanena Selam, the largest regime-owned printer and other smaller printers were “trying to impose political censorship on media content before publication.” In a proposed “standard contract for printing”, these printers claimed they have the right to refuse to print any text if  they determine they have  “adequate reason” it breaks the law. RWB noted, “This [contract] openly contravenes article 29 of the 1994 federal constitution, which guarantees press freedom and bans censorship in any form…. Only an independent and impartial judge should have the power to impose any kind of sanction or prohibition affecting media freedom.” Nice try by RWB, but talking constitutional law to Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of Heathen.

RWB further reported that the regime-owned internet service provider “Ethio-Telecom” had installed a system for blocking access to the Tor network, which allows users to browse and access blocked websites anonymously. According to data published by Tor, the highest number of Tor users in Ethiopia between March and June 2012 peaked at a little over 350 individuals! All of the trouble and expense to block fewer than 400 individuals out of 85 million from anonymously browsing the internet.

The Skype is Falling!

Skype and other internet-based phone call services and social media are popular among a microscopic segment of the  younger set who have access to the internet cafes in the urban areas and affluent types who could afford a personal computer and internet service.  But the number of users of Skype-type services is infinitesimally small and the available internet service in the country is limited, unreliable and retrograde. A 2010 Manchester University’s School of Education study cited in  Freedomhouse’s Freedom on the Internet 2011 report (FFI 2011) found that “accessing an online e-mail account and opening one message took six minutes  in a typical Addis Ababa cybercafe with a broadband connection.” Anyone who has made or received Skype calls to or from Ethiopia knows that it is like pulling teeth, an exercise in self-aggravation. Ethiopia is only second to Sierra Leone Internet for having the least internet penetration at  0.5 percent of that country’s 85 million population. Internet service is “almost entirely absent from rural areas” where 85 percent of the population lives, according to FFI 2011. Similarly, Ethiopia is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to impose nationwide, politically motivated internet filtering:

Although Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous countries, poor infrastructure and a government monopoly on telecommunications have significantly hindered the expansion of digital media. As a result, Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent… The government has responded  by instituting one of the few nationwide filtering systems in Africa, passing laws  to restrict free expression, and attempting to manipulate online media. These efforts have coincided with a broader increase in repression against independent print and broadcast media since the 2005 parliamentary elections, in which opposition parties mustered a relatively strong showing.

Why would Zenawi want to send a citizen to the slammer for 15 years just for making a phone call using a computer phone? Informed commentators suggest that the “telecom fraud law” is motivated by the bottomless greed and consuming paranoia of those who cling to power in Ethiopia like engorged ticks on an African milk cow. Elizabeth Blunt, a former BBC correspondent in Ethiopia, explains that the telecom fraud law is  intended to suppress competition by “Internet cafes [which] may be allowing people to make calls for far less than the cost of Ethiopia telecom, the state’s telecommunications provider that has the monopoly and charges very high prices – and doesn’t want to have its service undermined. But there is also the issue that Skype can’t be listened to so easily and can’t be controlled.” RWB is concerned that the latest paranoia which has caused the regime to “block access to Tor might be the first step towards creating a system that would allow the regime to intercept any email, social network post or VoIP call made in the country.”

The 2012 “Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences”

The now widely publicized  “Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences” (PTFO) 2012 appears to be in draft form, despite reports to the contrary. The PFTO purportedly repeals provisions in Art. 25 of the Telecommunications Proclamation No. 49/1996 as amended by Proclamation No. 281/2002. But none of that amounts to a hill of beans because there has never been a draft “law” presented to Ethiopia’s rubber stamp parliament that has ever been rejected. Draft or no draft, for the rubber stamp parliament,  Zenawi’s word is law.  The  rubber  stamp parliament will blindly adopt the most nonsensical, illogical, ineffectual and immoral “laws” presented to it by Zenawi. Without a shadow of a doubt, the rubber stamp parliament will unanimously (at least by a margin of 99.6 percent) approve the PTFO . But what the hell is the PTFO?

It appears that the PTFO is another one of those haphazard and slipshod cut-and-paste jobs (similar to the so-called “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No 652/2009) scarfed from the laws of other countries, arguably the U.S. The patches of vacuous phrases and empty clauses interspersed in the PTFO uncannily mimic certain U.S. anti-wire fraud statutes such as 18 U.S.C §§ 1343 (wire fraud), 1029 (fraud and related activity in connection with access devices) and 1030 (fraud and related activity in connection with computers). The U.S. laws, consistent with the presumption of innocence, require the government to prove knowledge, intent and willful participation of the accused in the fraudulent act or scheme using wires or electronic access devices.

The PTFO is completely oblivious of the most elementary requirements of any criminal law: the concurrence of intent (mens rea) and the commission of the criminal act (actus reus). For instance, under Part Two (2) of the PTFO, “whosoever uses or holds any telecommunications equipment without obtaining prior permit… shall… be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 1 to 4 years…” Accordingly, “‘telecommunications equipment’ means any apparatus used or intended to be used for telecommunications services, and includes its accessory and software.” Under these tandem provisions, any person who “holds” a mobile phone, a child “holding” a toy Walki-Talkie, or any person who “holds” a laptop bundled by the manufacturer with communications sofware or encoded in the operating system or hardware without license from the Ministry of Communications would be looking at “1-4 years” in the slammer.  (Obviously, those who drafted the “law” are clueless about the evidentiary distinction between “holding” and “possession”.) Arguably, anyone who uses a tin can phone (which is within the PTFO’s definition of “telecommunications equipment” since “electromagnetic” waves vibrate through the string connecting the cans) would be exposed to the same penalty. The PTFO is the kind of law Charles Dickens would have called “an ass, an idiot”.

On its face, the PTFO is a “law” made necessary by the alleged fact that “the legal provisions in the country are not sufficient to prevent and control telecom fraud.” Telecom services includes “cellular mobile service, internet data communication” and other “transmissions or receptions through the agency of electricity or electromagnetism (sic)…” Anyone who “manufactures, assembles, imports any communications equipment without permit” will be sitting in the penitentiary between 10-15 years in prison. Anyone who “uses or holds” such equipment is looking at  1-4 years. Anyone who provides “telecom service without license” will be locked up between 7-15 years. Anyone who “uses telecom network or apparatus to disseminate any terrorizing message connected with a crime with the anti-terrorism proclamation….” faces 3 to 8 years (Art. 6).  Anyone who “obtains any telecom service without payment of lawful charge or by means of fraudulent payment” will be punished by “rigorous imprisonment from 5-10 years.” (Art. 7).  Anyone who “establishes any telecom infrastructure” or “bypasses the telecommunication infrastructure other than the telecommunication infrastructure established by the telecommunication service provider (sic)” is subject to 10-20 years imprisonment (Art. 9). Anyone who “duplicates SIM cards, credit cards, subscriber identification numbers…” faces 10-15 years imprisonment. “Whoever provides telephone call or fax services through the internet commits an offense punishable by 3-8 years.” The person using the service will cool his heels in the clink for up to 2 years. (Art. 10, 10(3)).

Law Making in a Rubber Stamp Parliament

No one should see how sausages, or laws are made in Ethiopia’s rubber stamp parliament. Perhaps that is an overstatement. The fact is that “laws” are not made in Ethiopia’s parliament. They are rubber stamped. That parliament approves “laws” faster than a Chinese factory can crank out a T-shirt.   But rubber stamping the will of one man does not a law make. As Shakespeare said, “Lawless are they that make their wills  their law.”

The PTFO is a pitiful exercise in lawmaking. In substance and form, it is no different than the dozens of “proclamations” that have been approved by the rubber stamp parliament over the past decade. It is arbitrary, capricious, thoughtless, reckless and, and most of all,  pointless. Having studied so many of these “proclamations” over the years, I am amazed and dismayed by what passes as lawmaking in Ethiopia’s parliament.   In one of my recent commentaries on the cut-and paste anti-terrorism law proudly pirated from the laws of other countries, I stated: “I cringe in total embarrassment at such a stunningly shallow understanding of jurisprudence, glib talk about the law and inattention to a glaring logical fallacy in one’s argument.”

The  deficiencies of the PTFO are not limited to lack of legislative purpose, policy substance or logical structure; they also extend to the cavalier, crude and clumsy approach to legislative draftsmanship. On its face, the PFTO is bereft of any elementary sense of proportionality, the simple idea that the punishment should fit the crime. How can any sensible legislator or executive propose to punish a citizen with 15 years hard labor for talking into a computer phone? This is not just inane, it is insane!

Equally important, the PFTO is unsupported by any discernible legislative need or justification. In its preamble, it states that “the legal provisions in the country are not sufficient to prevent and control telecom fraud.” But that claim is completely speculative and unsupported by any factual findings. There are no studies referenced – independent or regime-sponsored – which show the magnitude of the “internet fraud” problem or the alleged threat to “national security” posed by the improper or illegal use of the internet. There is no research or analysis supporting the proclamation. There is no expert testimony to support it and no opportunity has been made available for public comment or input. It is a “law” based purely on fear and smear.

Catching the Real Con Artists, Scammers, Swindlers and Fraudsters

There is plenty of evidence of massive fraud elsewhere that requires immediate and decisive action. Remember the 2008 cat burglars who heisted “USD$16 million dollars”  worth of gold bars and simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight? Although the heist was widely believed to be an inside job and a number of suspects were fingered, no one was ever prosecuted. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’” The ashes of that “burned money” were never found. In February 2011, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. They drank coffee, sang Kumbaya and went on their merry ways.

Last December,  Global Financial Integrity reported, “Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365,  lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years…” Now, there is a gigantic fraud problem crying out for a law and aggressive prosecution. Last month Zenawi mused philosophically, “What is the poison that leaders face when you go to national palaces, and transforms people with vision sometimes into ordinary thieves?  Let’s start with the total amount of loot in Africa, and what our role as leaders in that looting is…” Great question! The man with the “vision of an Ethiopian Renaissance” should have a ready answer. But for the rest of us, a more mundane question is : Why not start the anti-fraud campaign by going after the looters who are looting millions from the national treasury and the army of  looters illicitly laundering billions of looted dollars in foreign banks before hounding nickel and dime internet cafés which survive by  peddling feckless Skype service for pennies?

The PFTO is wrong-headed and mean-spirited. Its sole aim is to suppress all communication technology the regime believes could be used to provide the people access to indepednent sources of information and news. The infinitesimally small number of Skypers use the service to talk to family members and friends abroad. They pose no threat to anyone. The threat of arrest and harassment against perceived opponents is so pervasive that few would hazard to use Skype or similar technology as a means of political agitation.

The PTFO is vague and overbroad, and cannot pass constitutional muster as RWB has suggested.  Many of its provisions are ambiguous, nonsensical, unintelligible and just plain legal gobbledygook. What is a “terrorizing message” under art. 6? Could a ringtone on a mobile phone which rings by announcing, “Meles Zenawi is a dictator!” (as it appears to be a common ringtone among a segment of  mobile phone users in Ethiopia), result in a 15 year sentence for the hapless user? (On second thought, I may have to concede that legal point in light of the sheer “terror” Zenawi displayed at the G-8 Summit in Washington, D.C. last month when he faced the young lionhearted Ethiopian journalist Abebe Gellaw.)

For me, the principal purpose of the law is to protect liberty and establish a just society. But on that point, I shall defer to Shakespeare:

We must not make a scarecrow of the law,

Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,

And let it keep one shape, till custom make it

Their perch and not their terror.

….

For pity is the virtue of the law,

And none but tyrants use it cruelly.

As to the criminalization of Skype, my practical suggestion to Ethiopians wishing to communicate with their families and friends abroad is to quickly learn the arts of using smoke signals, drum beating, pictogram drawing, pigeon flying, ram’s horn blowing and to drill down on the science of  tin can phones and Morse Code. (Oops! Forget Morse Code, it uses “the agency of electricity or electromagnetism”, whatever that is!)

-…  .  -.-  .-    !

 

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

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

Ethiopia’s Awramba Times: More Powerful Than…

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Alemayehu G. Mariam

 AT1Awramba Times: More Powerful Than Ten Thousand Bayonets

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets,” fretted Napoleon Bonaparte, dictator of France, as he summed up his determination to crush that country’s independent press. For dictator Meles Zenawi, Awramba Times, the tip of the spear of press freedom in Ethiopia, is more to be feared than ten thousand bayonets. Two weeks ago, Awramba Times, the last popular independent weekly, stopped publication after its outstanding managing editor and recipient of the 2010 Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, Dawit Kebede, was forced to flee the country. Dawit was tipped off about  Zenawi’s decision to revoke his 2007 “pardon” for a bogus treason conviction and throw him back in jail.

Needless to say, all dictators and tyrants in history have feared the enlightening powers of the independent press. Total control of the media remains the wicked obsession of all modern day dictators who believe that by controlling the flow of information, they can control the hearts and minds of their citizens.  But that is only wishful thinking. As Napoleon realized, “a journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns and a tutor of nations.” It was the fact of “tutoring nations” — teaching, informing, enlightening and empowering the people with knowledge– that was Napoleon’s greatest fears of a free press. He understood the power of the independent press to effectively countercheck his tyrannical rule and hold him accountable before the people. He spared no effort to harass, jail, censor and muzzle journalists for criticizing his use of a vast network of spies to terrorize French society, exposing his military failures, condemning his indiscriminate massacres of unarmed citizen protesters in the streets and for killing, jailing and persecuting his political opponents. Ditto for Zenawi!

But enlightened leaders do not fear the press, they embrace it; they don’t condemn it, they commend it; they don’t try to crush, trash, squash and smash it, they act to preserve, protect, cherish and safeguard it. Enlightened leaders uphold the press as the paramount social institution without which there can be no human freedom. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” asked Thomas Jefferson rhetorically, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” George Washington was no less enthusiastic in recognizing the vital importance of the free press in “preserving liberty, stimulating the industry, and ameliorating the morals of a free and enlightened people.” It should come as no surprise that the Frist Amendment to the U.S. Constitution imposes a sweeping prohibition: “Congress shall make no law…  abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” NO government, NO official and NO  political leader in America can censor, muzzle or persecute the press.

The American press, protected by the plate armor of the  First Amendment, dutifully serves as the peoples’ eyes, ears and voices. In America, government trembles at the prospect of press scrutiny. In Ethiopia, government terrorizes the press. In America, government fears the press. In Ethiopia, the press fears government. In America, the press censors government. In Ethiopia, government censors the press. In America, the press stands as a watchdog over government. In Ethiopia, government dogs the press. That is the difference between an enlightened government and a benighted one.

Faced with a Jeffersonian choice, dictator Zenawi decided there shall be no independent newspapers or any other independent media in Ethiopia; and the only government that will exist shall be his own enchanted kingdom of venality, brutality, criminality and inhumanity. For years now, Zenawi has been shuttering independent newspapers and harassing, jailing and exiling journalists who are critical of his dictatorial rule earning the dubious title of “Africa’s second leading jailer of journalists.” On September 29, 2011, The Economist reported:

An open letter by international journalists to the Ethiopian foreign minister highlights broader abuses: ‘Ethiopia’s history of harassing, exiling and detaining both domestic and foreign reporters has been well-documented. Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Over the past decade, 79 Ethiopian reporters have fled into exile, the most of any country in the world, according to CPJ data. A number of these have worked as stringers for international news agencies. Additionally, since 2006, the Ethiopian government has detained or expelled foreign correspondents from the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Voice of America, and the Washington Post. We are also concerned by the government’s recent decision to charge two Swedish journalists reporting in the Ogaden with terrorism.’

Zenawi has indefatigably continued to swing the sledgehammer of censorship and finally succeeded in smashing and trashing Ethiopia’s free press. On November 11, 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported, “A judge in Ethiopia’s federal high court charged six journalists with terrorism on Thursday under the country’s antiterrorism law, bringing the number of journalists charged under the statute since June to 10.” On November 15, newspaper satirist Abebe Tolla, better known as Abé Tokichaw, fled Ethiopia fearing imprisonment in retaliation for critical news commentaries. On November 21, Dawit Kebede, was forced into exile. Zenawi had long dangled the bogus 2007 pardon as a Sword of Damocles over Dawit’s head.

3cOver the years, I have written numerous commentaries in defense of the free press and press freedom in Ethiopia. A year ago this month, I penned “The Art of War on Ethiopia’s Independent Press” predicting the eventual shuttering of Awramba Times and Zenawi’s final solution to his problem of press freedom in Ethiopia:

Against the onslaught of this crushing juggernaut [of press repression] stand a few dedicated and heroic journalists with nothing in their hands but pencils, pens and computer keyboards, and hearts full of faith and hope in freedom and human rights. The dictatorship is winning the war on the independent press hands down. Young, dynamic journalists are going into exile in droves, and others are waiting for the other shoe to drop on them. The systematic campaign to decimate and silence the free press in Ethiopia is a total success. One by one, the dictatorship has shuttered independent papers and banished or jailed their editors and journalists. The campaign is now in full swing to shut down Awramba Times. The dictatorship’s newspapers are frothing ink in a calculated move to smear and tarnish the reputation of the Awramba Times and its editors and journalists. For the past couple of years, Awramba Times staffers have been targets of sustained intimidation, detentions and warnings.

Today Zenawi stands triumphant over the ashes of Awramba Times; and the destruction of press freedom in Ethiopia is now complete. There is no doubt Zenawi has won the war on Ethiopia’s independent press by total annihilation. But Awramba Times and its  young journalists also stand triumphant. They have fought and won the most important war of all – the war for the hearts and minds of 90 million Ethiopians. Team Awramba Times fought Zenawi with pens and pencils and computer keyboards. They brought a ray of light into a nation enveloped by the darkness of dictatorship. They defended the truth against Zenawi’s falsehoods and exposed his lies and deceit. They stood up for the peoples’ right to know against the tyranny of ignorance. They  made Zenawi squirm, squiggle, wiggle, fidget, twitch and go through endless sleepless nights. Zenawi persecuted and prosecuted them as enemies of the state, but they shall forever remain the true and loyal friends of the people. Zenawi accused them of being terrorists. That is true: They struck terror with the truth in the dark heart of tyranny. They unleashed terror in the minds of tyrants with demands for legal and moral accountability.

In the title of his commentary in the very last issue of Awramba Times, Dawit asked a simple but profound question: “Frankly, whose country is this anyway?” In the piece, Dawit explored many issues of vital interest to all Ethiopians. But in some of the most stirring words ever written against tyranny, Dawit informed the world why he decided to flee the country he loved so much:

When a man cannot live in his own country in freedom, faces privation and feels completely helpless, and where government, instead of being a shelter and sanctuary to its people, becomes a wellspring of fear and anxiety, it is natural for a citizen to seek freedom in any place of refuge.

Long before Dawit, Benjamin Franklin, “The First American” and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the man who declared, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”, summed it all: “Where liberty is, there is my country.” So Dawit, welcome to America, the land of free press!

A Tribute to Awramba Times and Its Young Journalists 

I write this commentary not to denounce the wicked villains and enemies of press freedom in Ethiopia, but to praise and celebrate the heroes and heroines of Ethiopia’s independent press. I write this commentary not as a eulogy to the late Awramba Times but as a living and loving tribute to the heroic and dedicated young men and women who shed blood, sweat and tears and overcame daily fears to keep Awramba Times and press freedom alive in Ethiopia.

But how does one give tribute to the young heroes and heroines who risked their lives to defend press freedom and human rights in Ethiopia?

I wish I possessed the “eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination or that brilliance of metaphor” to express my deep pride and joy in Awramba Times and its young journalists. I wish I possessed the talent, the insight and sensibility to tell the world of the sacrifices and contributions of these young people for the advancement of press freedom not just in Ethiopia but in all of Africa, and indeed the world.

Lacking that eloquence, I ask myself: What words can I use to express my gratitude and appreciation to these young people who toiled day and night to speak truth to tyranny? What can I possibly say to console these young truth tellers in a country that has been rendered the land of living lies? How can I show my respect, admiration and awe to these young people who soldiered for freedom and human rights in Ethiopia armed only with pens, pencils and computer keyboards? How do I acknowledge the historic contribution of the young journalists of Awramba Times and others like them who struggled beyond measure to keep the candle of press freedom flickering in the darkness of dictatorship?

Thank You Awramba Times!

AT3Team Awramba Times[1] 

Thank you Awramba Times! Thank you Dawit Kebede, Woubshet Taye (recently jailed by Zenawi), Gizaw Legesse, Nebyou Mesfin, Abel Alemayehu, Wosenseged G Kidan,  Mekdes Fisseha, Abe Tokichaw and Mehret Tadesse, Nafkot Yoseph, Moges Tikuye, Tigist Wondimu, Elias Gebru, Teshale Seifu, Fitsum Mammo and [not pictured] Ananya Sori, Surafel Girma and Tadios Getahun. I thank you all; but I thank you not out of  formality, obligation or courtesy.   No, I thank you for

being the voice of the voiceless, the powerless, the voteless, the nameless and faceless. You kept on preaching the good news even when the tyrant sought to replace the peoples’ courage with cowardice, their faith with doubt, their trust in each other with suspicion and their hopes with despair.

teaching us all the meaning of  responsible journalism. You pages shined with integrity, accuracy and truthfulness. You informed us of the most pressing issues of the day. You offered us critical but balanced perspectives to make us think and understand. You did it all with professionalism, with malice towards none.

teaching us the meaning of ethical journalism. You revealed the truth and told the story without sensationalism and distortions. You held yourselves accountable by maintaining high standards and being responsive to your readers. You showed supreme moral strength in the face of corruption, preached truth to tyranny and made superhuman efforts to open the minds of the narrow-minded.

showing Zenawi what it means to have and be a free press. You have taught him that a free press is a mirror to society. Whenever he looked in the mirror of Awramba Times, he saw the image of brutality, inhumanity, criminality and venality. But the mirror does not lie; it only reflects what it sees. Smashing the mirror does not obliterate the image; it only fragments it into 90 million pieces.

giving us a platform on which to exchange policy ideas and discuss problems of governance.

being a class act! When the pathetic, vulgar, pandering and pitiful state media launched its vilification and fear and smear campaign and brayed to have Awramba Times shuttered, you responded with decency, civility, dignity, propriety, honesty, integrity, rationality and humanity. You even treated the tyrants with respect, honor, dignity and courtesy. What a class act you all are! I have never been more proud!

All of the young journalists of Awramba Times are my personal heroes and heroines. As I write these words, I am overcome with emotion of admiration, pride and joy; but Team Awramba Times does not need my praise or recognition. Team Awramba Times does not need my words to document their heroic struggle; they have inscribed their own glorious history of press freedom on the calloused breast of tyranny. Because of Awramba Times, generations of young Ethiopians to come will learn and appreciate the true meaning of human freedom and the need to maintain eternal vigilance over tyranny.

Awramba Times shall rise from the ashes of tyranny, and press freedom will be reborn on the parched landscape of dictatorship in Ethiopia. A new world rising over the horizon as the sun sets on tyranny and dictators sweat to cling to power in the Middle East. The wind of freedom shall blow southward from North Africa. A brave new world of knowledge, information, ideas and enlightenment awaits young people all over Africa. In this new world, ignorance, the most powerful weapon in the hands of African tyrants, is useless. It is easy to misrule, mistreat and enslave a population trapped in ignorance. But “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.” It was the religion of ignorance and its high priests in Ethiopia that Awramba Times and its young journalists were sworn to oppose and expose.

I have never met any member of Team Awramba Times. But I have read every issue of Awramba Times since it became available online. Awramba Times was not only a source of news, informed analysis and opinion for me, I regarded it as the ultimate symbol of press freedom in Ethiopia. Those of us who are blessed to live in a land where press freedom is valued higher than government itself pledge to uphold our oath proudly inscribed on a frieze below the dome at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man [and woman].” Amen!

Thank You Awramaba Times! Thank you Dawit, Woubshet, Gizaw, Nebyou, Abel, Wosenseged, Mekdes,  Abebe, Mehret, Nafkot, Moges, Tigist, Elias, Teshale, Fitsum, Ananya, Surafel, and Tadios. I also thank the indomitable Eskinder Nega (recently imprisoned by Zenawi), Serkalem Fasil, the internationally acclaimed journalist, former political prisoner and wife of Eskinder Nega, Sisay Agena and so many others!

I salute you! I honor you! I stand in awe of  your achievements and struggle for press freedom in Ethiopia!

Long Live Awramba Times! 

[1] Photo Lineup: Standing R to L: Woubshet Taye (deputy editor of AT, recently imprisoned by Zenawi) , Gizaw Legesse, Nebyou Mesfin, Abel Alemayehu, Wosenseged G Kidan,  Mekdes Fisseha, Abe Tokichaw and Mehret Tadesse. Foreground: R to L: Nafkot Yoseph, Moges Tikuye, Tigist Wondimu, Elias Gebru,  Teshale Seifu and Fitsum Mammo.

 

Ethiopia: Kangaroo Justice for Two Swedish Journalists

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye in Kangaroo Court 

The old adage is that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Could it be said equally that arrogance excuses ignorance of the law? Dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi recently proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while visiting Norway. He emphatically declared that the duo had crossed into Ethiopia from Somalia with insurgents of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) as terrorist accomplices and collaborators: “They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.”

At a “court” hearing last week, Persson denied the charges: “My intention was to do my job as a journalist and describe the conflict. Nothing else. Not guilty.” Schibbye admitted “entering the country without proper documentation. For that I am guilty and I apologize to the government of Ethiopia. But I am not guilty of terrorist activity.” Shimeles Kemal, the “chief prosecutor” was full of hyperbole when he laid out his “legal” case in a press conference. He claimed the two journalists “entered the country with a gang of terrorists. They have even been trained in using weapons. They are accused of abetting and rendering professional assistance to terrorists. Their activities go a bit beyond just journalistic news gathering.”

Criminalizing, demonizing and dehumanizing journalists, opposition leaders and dissidents as “terrorists”, “insurrectionists”, “treasonous” traitors, etc. isZenawi’s signature M.O. (method of operation). When Zenawi jailed editors of several newspapers following the 2005 elections, he described them in much the same way: “For us, these are not just journalists. They will not be charged for violating the press laws. They will charged, like the CUD leaders, for treason.” This past June, Zenawi ordered the arrest and detention of two young and dynamic journalists, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the weekly Awramba Times and Reeyot Alemu, columnist for the weekly Feteh, on fuzzy accusations of terrorism. Last month, Zenawi’s “chief prosecutor” ordered the arrest and detention of the distinguished Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega “for conspiring with terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7 and other foreign forces who wanted to wreak havoc in the country through their terrorist activities.” When Zenawi wants to jail journalists, he simply brands them as “terrorists” or smears them with a similar label and carts them off to jail.

The Committee to Protect Journalists roundly condemned Zenawi’s statement as “compromising” the Swedish journalists’ human right to a “presumption of innocence and for predetermining the outcome of their case”. But much more is compromised, including the rule of law, principles of due process and fair trial, the universal principle that it is the accuser, and not the accused, who bears the burden of proof in a criminal case, the principle that guilt is proven in a court of law with an independent judiciary and not before a full court press or the court of international opinion. Ultimately, Zenawi’s statement compromised justice itself.

When Zenawi tagged these two journalists as “terrorist messenger boys” and “participants in the actions of a terrorist organization”, he had in fact sealed their fate and pronounced the final word in kangaroo justice. There is no way that Persson and Schibbye could possibly get a fair trial or not be convicted following such an outrageous and egregiously depraved statement by Zenawi.

Difference Between Journalists and Terrorists 

Zenawi sarcastically mocked the two Swedish journalists by rhetorically asking if what they did is “journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.” Zenawi is entitled to some basic clarification by means of concrete examples. War crimes (“the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military or civilian necessity [Geneva Convention]” are acts of state terrorism. So are crimes against humanity (“widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, murder, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, [Rome Statute]”.  The “systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective” by an “extremely powerful political police against an atomized and defenseless population” is plain old-fashioned terrorism that is familiar to the average Ethiopian citizen.

When journalists are embedded with a regular or an irregular military unit and go into a conflict or war zone, they are engaged in “combat journalism”. When journalists dig for facts in places where there is an official news blackout, they are engaged in investigative journalism. When journalists undertake dangerous assignments and cover stories firsthand from a war zone, they are often called war correspondents. When independent reporters, writers and photojournalists accept specific assignments to cover particular stories, they are engaged in freelance journalism. It is because of freelance journalists that the world has come to know so much about the war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in such places like Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and many other places.

Oftentimes insurgent and rebel groups distrust professional journalists affiliated with established news organizations. They are more likely to cooperate with freelance journalists who often take great risks to their own safety to undertake firsthand investigations by entering a country at war or in conflict without a visa. Schibbye has been a foreign correspondent and freelance journalist for several newspapers, including The Times, Amelia and Proletären. He has worked in Algeria, the Philippines, Cuba, Syria and Vietnam, among other countries. Persson has worked with Kontinent, a Swedish photojournalist agency, for several  years and taken many dangerous assignments in various countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Both are professional journalists, and until now have never been suspected of any terrorist activity or involvement of any kind by any other country or international agency.

The Human Right to a Fair Trial 

Zenawi seems to be uninformed, willfully ignorant or recklessly indifferent to the human rights of the two journalists. The fact of the matter is that Persson and Schibbye are presumed to be innocent of any and all charges of “terrorism” until they have been given a fair chance to defend themselves and their guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt by their accusers in court.  So says the Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3): “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” So says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Art. 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.” So says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Art. 14 (2): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” So says the  African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” Art. 13 (2) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides double guarantees: “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” (Also art. 9 (4).) Ethiopia ratified the UDHR in 1948, the ICCPR in 1993 and the ACHPR in 1998.

Article 13(1)  mandates Zenawi to respect and enforce the provisions of the Constitution, including Article 20 (3). He violated his constitutional duty under Art. 9 (2) by publicly declaring the guilt of  Persson and Schibbye and characterizing them as “messenger boys of terrorists”, “participants in terrorism” and terrorist accomplices before they have had a chance to present a defense and a determination of their guilt made by a fair and neutral tribunal.

The presumption of innocence is the “golden thread” in the laws of all civilized nations. It is the gold standard of fundamental fairness which places the entire burden of proof in a criminal case on the state. It is the singular duty of the prosecution representing the state to present compelling and legally admissible evidence in court to convince the trier of fact that the accused is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Persson and Schibbye guilt is not to be proven in a press conference in Oslo or in the court of public opinion.

The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible officials likely to have a role or influence the judicial process prior to a finding of guilt by a court. Even when prosecutors make statements concerning the defendant to inform the public on the status of their investigation or articulate their suspicion of guilt, they have a legal and ethical duty to do so in a factual manner and narrowly limited to the allegedly violated laws, while always exercising reasonable care not to unduly prejudice the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence or improperly influence the fact finder. 

Trial by Diktat 

Expecting a fair trial in kangaroo court is like expecting democracy in a dictatorship. Persson and Schibbye will be convicted by Zenawi’s diktat just as the journalists and opposition leaders were convicted before them. Following the 2005 election, Zenawi publicly declared: “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Zenawi railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, to prison on the bogus charge that she had denied receiving a pardon. She was not even accorded the ceremonial kangaroo court proceedings. Zenawi sent her  straight from the street into solitary confinement by diktat and sadistically delcared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.”  He “pardoned” her in October 2010.  In 2009, Zenawi’s right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long sentences. For Zenawi, court trials are nothing more than circus sideshows staged for the benefit of  Western donors who know better but go along to get along.

No Fair Trial Possible for the Swedish Journalists in Kangaroo Court 

Everyone knows the charge of “terrorism” against Persson and Schibbye is bogus. It is a trumped up charge made by prosecutors who are directed, pressured, threatened and politically manipulated. Everyone knows there are no independent judges who preside in cases involving defendants facing “terrorism” and other political charges. Everyone knows the so-called judges in terrorism “trials” are party hacks and lackeys enrobed in judicial regalia. This is not the conclusion of a partisan advocate but the considered view of the U.S. Government and various international human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report: “In high-profile cases, courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because  of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.” The  2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices concluded: “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence.”

Everyone also knows that there is no such thing as the rule of law in Ethiopia because dictatorship is very antitheses of the rule of law. Zenawi’s diktat is “The Law”, which trumps the constitution and all  international human rights conventions. Ethiopia’s former president and parliamentarian Dr. Negasso Gidada described the so-called antiterrorism law as a tool of legalized terrorism which “violates citizens’ rights to privacy” and the “ rights of all peoples of Ethiopia…Such laws are manipulated to weaken political roles of opposition groups there by arresting and prosecuting them using the bill as a cover. Another major opposition leader, Bulcha Demeksa, described the same “law” as a “a weapon designed by the ruling party not only to weaken and totally eliminate all political opponents.” In other words, the “anti-terrorism law” under which the two Swedish journalists are charged is a weapon of mass incarceration and intimidation of political opponents and journalists, mass persecution of the political opposition and mass oppression of the civilian population.

The Silence of Sweden

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been severely criticized for his apparent indifference and failure to help the two Swedish journalists or even publicly demand their release in light of the bogus terrorism charges. Critics argue that Bildt dragged his feet and failed to secure their release in the crucial first days of the detention of the two journalists because of a potential conflict of interest as the two journalists were also investigating the activities of a company affiliated to Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish oil group which has natural gas operations in the Ogaden. Bildt is said to have served as board member of Lundin Petroleum, prior to becoming foreign minister. In January 2009, Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister Gunilla Carlsson issued a statement declaring that the “imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa is a source of great concern both for her personally and for democratic development in Ethiopia. The scope for democracy and pluralism is shrinking in Ethiopia. The imprisonment of Mrs Midekssa and the recently adopted law regulating the activities and funding of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are examples of this negative development.”

Swedish journalist and writer Bengt Nilsson has argued that Sweden for decades has turned a blind eye as its development aid has been used to support dictatorships and finance wars in Africa. The Swedish government’s “new policy for Africa” claims to be based upon “economic growth, deeper democracy and stronger protection of human rights as  the basis for development in Africa.” How the Swedish government will “deal” its way out of the “crisis” of the two journalists will show if  Sweden will continue to support African dictatorships or use it aid dollars to help democratize Africa and protect the human rights of the African peoples.

What is the Kangaroo Trial of the Swedish Journalists Really About? 

Back in August 2010, Zenawi announced he will close his embassy in Sweden because “there is no development cooperation program of any substance between us and Sweden. There is no major trading relationship between us and Sweden, and no significant investment coming from Sweden to Ethiopia. It was not worthwhile to have an embassy [in Sweden]”. Diplomacy for Zenawi is striclty business. Without being too cynical, one could surmise that the terrorism charge against the two Swedish journalists is intended to provide a diversionary cover for Zenawi’s real agenda. Given Zenawi’s past M.O., it is manifest that he aims to use this opportunity to extract some major concessions from the Swedes:  “If they want Persson and Schibbye freed, it’s gonna cost ’em. What are the Swedes willing to pay? How about reopneing the aid pipeline? After all, Ethiopia is the first country to have received Swedish aid back in 1954. How about some cash loans? Increased trade? Perhaps new investments? It is said that the largest investor in the whole of Sweden is an Ethiopian.” Let’s make a deal!

There is no way Zenawi could jail Persson and Schibbye for fifteen years as terrorists. He will galvanize Swedish and European Union public opinion against him personally and very possibly trigger devastating sanctions that will completely paralyze his regime. Even the Americans who have been turning a blind eye for all these years may finally take a look and tell Zenawi enough is enough. So, there is no question that after the kangaroo court circus is over Persson and Schibbye will be released. As usual, Zenawi will grandstand and declare the two journalists have been pardoned and released after they admitted guilt, expressed remorse and so on. The Swedes and some of the Western countries will play their part and congratulate him for doing the right thing and acting magnaimously; and he will continue with business as usual—more Ethiopian journalists will be jailed and threatened, dissidents harassed and opposition leaders persecuted. But the lesson remains the same: By manufacturing a bogus crisis, Zenawi, true to form, would have once again outwitted, outfoxed, outsmarted, outmaneuvered, outpoliticked, outtricked, outfinessed and outplayed his timorous Western benefactors. As the old saying goes, one has to give the devil his due for a job well done!  Bravissimo!

Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/


 

Ethiopia: Dictatorship is State Terrorism

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Terrorism by “Anti-terrorism Law”

Lately, Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia, has been rounding up dissidents, journalists, opposition party political leaders and members under a diktat known as “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009”. This diktat approved on a 286-91 vote of the rubberstamp parliament is so arbitrary and capricious that Human Rights Watch concluded “the law could provide a new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy.”

The “anti-terrorism law” is a masterpiece of ambiguity, unintelligibility, obscurity, superficiality, unclarity, uncertainty, inanity and vacuity. It defines “terrorism” with such vagueness and overbreadth that any act, speech, statement, and even thought, could be punished under its sweeping provisions. Anyone who commits a “terrorist act” with the aim of “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and intending to “influence the government”, “intimidate the public”, “destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social institutions of the country” could be condemned to long imprisonment or suffer the death penalty. Making or publishing statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” is a punishable offense under the “law”.

Anyone who provides “moral support or advice” or has any contact with an individual accused of a terrorist act is presumed to be a terrorist supporter. Anyone who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” is deemed a “terrorist”. Peaceful protesters who carry banners critical of the regime could be charged for “promotional statements encouraging” terrorist acts. Anyone who “disrupts any public service” is considered a “terrorist”; and workers who may legitimately grieve working conditions by work stoppages could be charged with “terrorism” for disruption.  Young demonstrators who break windows in a public building by throwing rocks could be jailed as “terrorists”  for “causuing serious damage to property.”  A person who “fails to immediately inform or give information or evidence to the police” on a neighbor, co-worker or others s/he may suspect of “terrorism” could face upto 10 years for failure to report.  Two or more persons who have contact with a “terror” suspect could be charged with conspiracy to commit “terrorism”.

The procedural due process rights (fair trial) of suspects and the accused guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution and  international human rights conventions are ignored, evaded, overlooked and disregarded by the “law”.  ”The police may arrest without court warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects to have committed or is committing a terrorism”  and hold that person in incommunicado detention. The police can engage in random and “sudden search and seizure” of the person, place or personal effects of anyone suspected of  “terrorism”.  The police can “intercept, install or conduct surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal, and similar communications” of a person suspected of terrorism. The police can order “any government institution, official, bank, or a private organization or an individual” to turn over documents, evidence and information on a “terror” suspect.

A “terror” suspect can be held in custody without charge for up to “four months”. Any “evidence” presented by the regime’s prosecutor against a “terror” suspect in “court”  is admissible, including “confessions” (extracted by torture), “hearsay”, “indirect, digital and electronic evidences” and “intelligence reports even if the report does not disclose the source or the method it was gathered (including evidence obtained by torture). The  “law” presumes the “terror” suspect to be guilty and puts the burden of proof on the suspect/defendant in violation of the universal principle that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Such is the “anti-terrorism law” that was used to arrest and jail Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye,  Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, and Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye and thousands of others over the past few months and years. In any country where the rule of law prevails and an independent judiciary thrives, such a “law” would not pass the smell test let alone a constitutional one. But in a world of kangaroo courts, rubberstamp parliaments and halls of vengance and injustice, the diktat of one man is the law of the land. So, 2011 Ethiopia has become George Orwell’s 1984: Thinking is terrorism. Dissent is terrorism. Speaking truth to power is terrorism. Having a conscience is terrorism. Peaceful protest is terrorism. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is terrorism. Standing up for democracy and human rights is terrorism. Defending the rule of law is terrorism. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is terrorism.

Dictatorship is State Terrorism

Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism” diktat is intended to muzzle journalists from criticizing, youths from peaceably demonstrating, opposition parties from political organizing, ordinary citizens from speaking, civic leaders from mobilizing, teachers from imparting knowledge, lawyers from advocating scholars from analyzing and the entire nation from questioning his dictatorial rule. It is a “law” singularly intended to criminalize speech, police thought, outlaw critical publications, intimidate hearts, crush spirits, terrorize minds and shred constitutional and internationally-guaranteed human rights. When the State uses the “law” to silence and violently stamp out dissent, jail and keep in solitary confinement dissenters, opposition leaders and members, suppress the press and arbitrarily arrest journalists, trash human rights with impunity, trample upon the rule of law and scoff at constitutional accountability, does it not become a terrorist state?

“Softness to traitors will destroy us all,” said Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind and architect of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Robespierre justified the use of terror by the state to crush all opposition and those he considered enemies of the state: “Are the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people’s mandate; the traitors who sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people’s cause, to kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?” asked Robespierre rhetorically as he rounded up tens of thousands of innocent French citizens for the guillotine.

Zenawi once provided a definitive answer to his “enemies within and without”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” He is always ready to crush, smash and thrash his opposition.  He  described the leaders of opposition political coalition that won the 2005 elections as a bunch of “insurrectionists” (euphemism for “terrorists”): “The CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law.” When 193 unarmed demonstrators were massacred and 763 grievously wounded by security officers, Zenawi shed crocodile tears but said they were all terrorists lobbing grenades:  “I regret the deaths but these were not normal demonstrations. You don’t see hand grenades thrown at normal demonstrations.” His own handpicked Inquiry Commission contradicted him after a meticulous investigation: “There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade (as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs). The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protester.”

Zenawi has demonized opposition groups as “terrorists” bent on “creating a rift between the government and the people.” He has put on “trial” and sentenced to death various alleged “members” of the Ginbot 7 Movement, and contemptuously described that Movement as an organization of “amateur part-time terrorists”. He has undertaken a systematic campaign of intimidation against his critics describing them in his speeches as  ”muckrakers,” “mud dwellers”, “sooty,” “sleazy,” “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He even claimed the opposition was filthy and trying to  “dirty up the people like themselves.”

In the police state Ethiopia has become, opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24/7  surveillance, and the ordinary people they meet in the street are intimidated, harassed and persecuted. The climate of fear that permeates every aspect of urban and rural society is reinforced and maintained by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making impossible dissent or peaceful opposition political activity. As former president and presently opposition leader Dr. Negasso Gidada has documented, the structure of state terrorism in Ethiopia is so horrific one can only find parallels for it in Stalin-era Soviet Union:

The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….

State terrorism is the systematic use and threat of use of violence and coercion, intimidation, imprisonment and persecution  to create a prevailing climate of fear in a population with a specific political message and outcome: “Resistance is futile! Resistance will be crushed! There will be no resistance! ”  State terrorism paralyzes the whole society and incapacitates individuals by entrenching fear as a paramount feature of social inaction and immobilization through the exercise of  arbitrary power and extreme brutality. In Ethiopia today, it is not just that the climate of fear and loathing permeates every aspect of social and economic life, indeed the climate of fear has transformed the “Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine” in to the “Land of Thirteen Months of Fear, Loathing, Despair and Darkness”.

Inspirational Thought from Nelson Mandela 

Africa’s greatest leader, Nelson Mandela, was jailed for 27 years as a “terrorist” by the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1993, three years after he left the notorious Robben Island prison, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Those jailed as “terrorists” in Ethiopia should draw great comfort and inspiration from the words of the greatest African leader alive:

I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many      people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I   normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for   liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a   terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who   said I was one.

We should all express our admiration, gratitude and appreciation for today’s “terrorists” and tomorrow’s peacemakers, conciliators, hopegivers and nation-builders.

Free Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye, Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, Johan Persson, Martin Schibbye and thousands of other unknown and unnamed Ethiopian political prisoners.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/