By Yilma Bekele I hope you are sitting down while reading the story I am about to tell you. Unfortunately it is a true story and it couldn’t have happened anywhere but in good old Ethiopia. When it comes to laying down like a doormat and letting everyone walk all over us we Ethiopians wrote [...]
Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia Corruption’
Bahr Dar and the wonderful art of silence. By Yilma Bekele
Last Sunday May 12 a Federal police officer opened fire and murdered twelve or eighteen people depending on who is doing the counting in the City of Bahr Dar by the shores of Lake Tana. It was a random killing and the only reason he stooped shooting was because he run out of bullets. What makes this crime unique is that it was committed by some one that is trained to protect and serve. At least in most places that is what we think of the armed officers that move around with loaded guns amongst us. I said in most places, our Ethiopia is not such a place.
The Federal Police serve the TPLF party that is in charge of our country. Meles Zenawi set up the Federal Police to be accountable to him and his party and used this force to quell down any kind of native unrest against his group. The Federal Police is the most fearsome weapon of the TPLF party. Like everything else concocted by the late criminal the Federal Police is a uniquely Ethiopian force supposedly created to resemble other Federal institutions in the developed West. The name is the same but the purpose and mission is different.
In Ethiopia the TPLF party’s Federal Police is an instrument of terror. Their motto is shoot first, ask questions later. You will not find a single Ethiopian that would not be engulfed with fear when the Federal Police is mentioned. The force was purposely designed to instill fear. From what I know of the Federal system here in the US the FBI does not involve itself in local matters. The local Police that are answerable to the Mayor or elected official is the first line of response. The State Police is under the elected Governor who is accountable to the citizen. There is a clear line of jurisdiction built into the system.
Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia is different. The Federal Police force under him is the ultimate arbitrator of justice or injustice in this case. The Different Kililis or Bantustans have no power or authority on this rogue force. No sane Kilil head will challenge the power of the Federal Police. I can safely say that regarding all Killis except the Sovereign State of Tigrai. Abay Woldu would not allow a Kenbata, Oromo, Amhara or Somali Federal Police to roam around in his State with immunity.
When the late dictator copied the Kilil system from Mussolini with upgrades from the South African Bantustan system he made a few improvements of his own. Bahr Dar is the capital city of the Amhara Kilil. What in the world is a Federal Police doing in the streets of Bahr Dar with a loaded is gun is one of the peculiarities of the Ethiopian scene. That practice is one copied from Apartheid system. Why the local Police are not enough to keep the citizens of Bahr Dar safe is not clear at all.
Thus on the evening May 12 a certain Federal Police officer opened fire and killed all he can find in his aim of fire. No one confronted the individual and once he run out of bullets in his high capacity gun he left the area. Things got more interesting after that. First there was a lot of argument regarding the numbers killed. Apparently counting dead bodies lying on the street is not an easy task. Before the blood was dry on the highway Awramba a new and obscure Website here in the US that seems to be on the know felt it was important to label the ethnic origin of the killer as if that will make the heinous act more palatable or clear.
This childish attempt to misinform was followed by the TPLF party in a more bizarre press release that defiantly can only happen in a country where there is no independent press to raise questions and demand answers or by a government that does not have an iota of respect for its citizens.
According to the Ethiopian government the above is the picture of individual that committed the crime. His dead body was fished out of a river. They did not bother to name the river. A body left in the water for a day or two will show all the symptoms of death by drowning. Our killer shows none of the effects of being in the water dead. His shoes are polished, his uniform is crisp and the blood on his face is not of someone left in water for any length of time. Do you think the rope tied around his feet is how he was dragged out? It is just curious he did not get dirty and with all that blood on his face no fish bothered to nibble. It is a miracle.
The story did not end there. While the Federal Police was displaying his dead body the Kilil administrator was issuing press release regarding the ongoing search to look for the criminal. It is just two versions of the same lie. The newly minted Prime Minter whose force murdered fourteen people did not even bother to go to the scene and console the victims’ families. He choose to send a high sounding message promising further investigation. What is the death of fourteen citizens when you can stay in the palace and play host to some Arab delegation? To add insult to injury several high ranking officers of the Federal Police in full uniform showed up at the funeral location the next day. I can see the whole drama from here with the officers arriving in their four wheel Range Rovers accompanied by zillions of security while descending on the poor folks sitting in a tent trying to console each other.
A week later the Federal Police put out a press release that they have detained ten members of their force for ‘neglecting and failing to act’. Do you mean to tell us there were armed police around while he was shooting randomly and they just watched, or did they know he was intending to do just that and they kept quiet which one is it my dear Workeneh?
No matter how you look at it the whole story is bizarre. Starting with the action of the insane individual to the conflicting press reports by the officials and the reporting by ETV that doesn’t even ask why the criminal’s clothes don’t show any signs of being in the water – it is vintage Woyane drama.
The report by the Diaspora press was something to behold too. We were told the citizens of Bahr Dar were fuming. They were showing signs of anger and were seating ready to let of steam. No adjective was spared to describe the mental and physical anguish of Bahr Darians. Thus I waited to see how this criminal act of an invading force was going to manifest itself by the citizen reacting back. Pictures of Palestinian citizens under the watchful eyes of the Israeli Army burying their dead clad in their beloved flag and defiant in their tone passed thru my head. I remembered the scene from Cairo where the citizens carried the dead bodies of their martyrs shot by the Mubarak’s police during the Arab spring as it flashed vividly in front of my eyes.
Nothing like that happened. Someone once said we Ethiopians have even lost our capacity to be angry. The best explanation that comes to mind is what was said by our Holy Father Abune Melkesedek explaining the silence of his people a while back as ‘Bechelema Gelmecha’. That is what took place in the city of Bahr Dar ‘Bechelema Gelmecha’. It must be very satisfying to the individuals but no one saw it. What is the point is a good question to ask. How is the evil doer going to understand the hurt inflicted on those families and the entire city? Is a simple defiant procession to protest and let the regime know the citizens feeling much to expect? Isn’t there one brave soul in the whole of Bahr Dar that is not afraid to respond in kind?
Well to settle the matter once and for all the Woyane government brought in ‘Special Forces’ unit to Bahr Dar to even control the thought of defiance let alone the act. I still do not understand the presence of all this armed groups in such an idyllic location. Bahr Dar is far from any border and currently there is no one threating the peace and harmony of the city. I just don’t understand why our cities are military camps during a peaceful time. I also don’t understand why we have so many people serving the military while so many of our schools are starving for teachers and books, our hospitals and clinics are poorly stocked and our children and grandparents are fed once a day if lucky. I guess it is all about priorities. The regimes first order is to protect itself from the people and it is perfectly understandable budget allocation favors security over anything else. As for the citizens of Bahr Dar I say to you no one can save you from yourself you just have to figure a way out of the current dilemma of occupation by an outside force of course in collaboration with you present day bandas. It has been done before and I have no reason to think you will not rise up to the challenge. We can echo your scream from afar but there is just no one like you to do the job. Good Luck!
Educorruption and the miseducation of Ethiopian youth
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. For the late Meles Zenawi and his apostles (the Melesistas) in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance is the most powerful weapon you can use to prevent change and cling to power. They have long adopted the motto of George Orwell’s Oceania: “Ignorance is Strength”. Indeed, ignorance is a powerful weapon to manipulate, emasculate and subjugate the masses. Keep ‘em ignorant and impoverished and they won’t give you any trouble.
For the Melesistas education is indoctrination. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. Long ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of African-American History”, warned against such indoctrination and miseducation of the oppressed: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” The rulers in Ethiopia continue to use higher educational institutions not as places of learning, inquiry and research but as diploma mills for a new breed of party hacks and zombie ideologues doomed to blind and unquestioning servility. “Zombie go… zombie stop… zombie turn… zombie think…,” sang the great African musician Fela Kuti. I’d say, “zombie teach… zombie learn… zombie read… zombie dumb… zombie dumber.”
For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance where the people are forced at gunpoint to speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a 2012 report of Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. They have succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to the “Land of Perpetual Darkness”.
But my commentary here is not about the Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopia where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. I am concerned about the systemic and rampant corruption in Ethiopia’s “education sector”. The most destructive and pernicious form of corruption occurs in education. Educorruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
I will admit that in the hundreds of weekly commentaries I have written over the last half dozen or so years, I have not given education in Ethiopia the critical attention it deserved. I have no excuse for not engaging the issue more intensely. In my own defense, I can only say that when an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.
I have previously commented on the lack of academic freedom in Ethiopian higher education and the politicization of education in Ethiopia. In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School. I defended Abigail Salisbury who was a visiting professor at that law school when she was summarily fired by Meles after she published an academic commentary on her experiences at that law school:
…I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands. A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on…
In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) at the time had issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. The regime had also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions. I demonstrated that “directive” was in flagrant violation and in willful disregard of the procedural safeguards of the Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. It did not faze them. (It was time to mint a new legal maxim: “The ignorant are entitled to ignore their own law and invoke ignorance of their own law as a defense.”)
The “directive” was at odds with the recommendations of the World Bank (which has been assisting the regime in improving education administration and delivery of services) for increased emphasis on the creation of a network of “tertiary educational” institutions (e.g. distance learning centers, private colleges, vocational training services, etc.,) to help support the “production of the higher-order capacity” necessary for Ethiopia’s development. In its 2003 sector study “Higher Education Development for Ethiopia”, the World Bank had recommended “a near term goal [of] doubl[ing] the share of private enrollments from the current 21% to 40% by 2010.” By 2010, the Meles regime had decided to reduce private tertiary institutions, particularly the burgeoning distance learning sector, to zero!
In my October 2010 commentary, “Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!”, I was pleasantly surprised but unconvinced by the Meles regime’s apparent change of strategy to abandon its decision to impose a blanket ban on distance learning and reach a negotiated resolution of instructional quality issues with distance learning providers. I pointed out a few lessons Meles and his crew could learn from the bureaucratic fiasco. (Is it really possible for the closed- and narrow-minded to learn?)
I focus on educational corruption in Ethiopia in this commentary for four reasons: 1) I was appalled by the corruption findings in the recent World Bank 448-page report “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. That report, with bureaucratic delicacy and hesitancy, demonstrates the cancer of corruption which afflicts the Ethiopian body politic has metastasized into the educational sector putting the nation’s youth at grave risk. 2) There is widespread acknowledgement that education in Ethiopia at all levels is in a pitiful condition. For instance, a 2010 Newsweek “study of health, education, economy, and politics” showed Ethiopia with a population of 88 million had a literacy rate of 43.3 percent, and ranked 98 out of 100 countries on education. 3) Few Ethiopian educators and scholars are examining the issue of educational corruption and its implications for the future of the country and its youth. Hopefully, this commentary could spur some of them to investigate corruption in education (and other areas) and conduct related policy research and analysis. 4) I had promised in my first weekly commentary of 2013 to pay special attention to youth issues in Ethiopia during the year. Nothing is more important to Ethiopia’s youth than education. Youth without education are youth without a future and without hope. Youth without education are emblematic of a nation in despair.
World Bank findings on corruption in the Ethiopian education sector
The WB report on the education sector alludes to an Ethiopian proverb in assessing the culture of corruption and impunity: “Sishom Yalbela Sishar Ykochewal” — roughly translates into English as follows: “One who does not exploit to the full his position when he is promoted will lament when he no longer has the opportunity.”
Ethiopia’s education sector has become a haven and a refuge for prebendalist (where those affiliated with the ruling regime feel entitled to receive a share of the loot) party hacks and a bottomless barrel of patronage. The Meles regime has used jobs, procurement and other opportunities in the education sector to reward and sustain loyalty in its support base. They have been handing out teaching jobs to their supporters like candy and procurement opportunities to their cronies like cake. “In Ethiopia’s decentralized yet authoritarian system,considerable powers exist among senior officials at the federal, regional, and woreda levels. Of particular relevance to this study is the discretion exercised by politically appointed officials at the woreda level, directly affecting the management of teachers.”
In “mapping corruption in the education sector in Ethiopia”, “the World Bank report cautions that “corruption in education can be multifaceted, ranging from large distortions in resource allocation and significant procurement-related fraud to smaller amounts garnered through daily opportunities for petty corruption and nontransparent financial management.” Corruption in the education sector is quadri-dimensional “affecting the selection of teachers for training, recruitment, skills upgrading, or promotion; falsification of documents to obtain qualifications, jobs, or promotions and fraud and related bribery in examinations and conflict of interest in procurement.”
The “selection of candidates for technical training colleges (TTCs)” is the fountainhead of educational corruption in Ethiopia. According to the WB report, “students do not generally choose to become teachers but are centrally selected from a pool of those who have failed to achieve high grades.” In other words, the regime’s policy is to populate the teaching profession with, for lack of a better word, the “dumber” students. Such students also make the most servile party hacks. But it is a spectacular revelation that the future of Ethiopia’s youth — the future of Ethiopia itself — is in the hands of “those who have failed to achieve high grades”. Ignorant teachers and ignorant students= Ignorance is strength. Could a greater crime be committed against Ethiopia’s youth and Ethiopia?
To add insult to injury, the selection of underachieving students to pursue teacher training institutes is itself infected by “bribery, favoritism and nepotism.” The most flagrant corrupt practices include “manipulation of the points system for selection of students to higher education.” The “allocate[on] of higher percentage points for results from transcripts and national exams than for entrance exams” has “enabled a large number of inadequately qualified students to join the affected institutes, sometimes with forged transcripts. This practice has affected the quality of students gaining entry to higher education and eroded the quality of the training program.” In other words, even among underachievers seeking to become teachers, it is the washouts, the duds and flops that are likely to become teachers!
Fraud and related corrupt practices in matriculation are commonplace. According to the WB report, there is
a significant risk of corruption in examinations…The types of fraudulent practices in examinations include forged admission cards enable students to pay other students to sit exams for them, collusion allowing both individual and group cheating in examinations, assistance from invigilators (exam monitors) and school and local officials (during exams), higher-level interference [in which] regional officials overturned the disqualification of cheaters, fraudulent overscoring of examination papers [by] teachers are bribed by parents and students, fraudulent certification of transcripts and certificates to help students graduate.
Although there are public officials who have considered reporting corrupt practices, they have refrained from doing so because there was “a strong sense that there is no protection to guard against possible reprisals directed at those who report malpractice.” There is no place for whistle blowers in Ethiopia’s edu-corruptocracy.
Recruitment and management of teachers is a separate universe of corrupt practices. “In Ethiopia, the overwhelming bulk of expenditure in education is taken up by salaries of teachers” and there is a “high risk of bribery, extortion, favoritism, or nepotism in selecting teachers for promotion, upgrading, or grants.” The WB report found “nepotism and favoritism in recruitment were broad and frequent—namely that, in some woredas, the recruitment of teachers (and other community-based workers) is based on political affiliation, including paid-up membership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”
What is shocking is not only the culture of corruption in education but also the culture of impunity — the belief that there are no consequences for practicing corruption. The WB report shows not only the “prevalence of fraud and falsification of teaching qualifications and other documents, reflecting weak controls, poor-quality documents (that are easily falsified), [but also] the widespread belief that such a practice would not be detected… For such falsification to go unnoticed, there is a related risk of the officials supporting or approving the application being implicated in the corrupt practice.”
The types of corrupt practices that occur at the management level are stunning. Managers manipulate access to “program of enhancing teacher qualifications through in-service training during holiday periods by using their positions to influence the selection of candidates. Hidden relationships are used in teacher upgrading, with officials at the zonal or woreda level taking the first option on upgradation programs.” The appointment of local education officials is not “competitive” but “politically assigned”. Collusion between local managers and teachers over noncompliance with curriculum, academic calendar, and similar practices is a relatively common practice and “reduces the provision of educational services.” This situation is made worse by “teacher absenteeism [which] is tolerated by head teachers, within the context of staff perceiving a need to supplement their income through private tutoring or other forms of income generation.” Poorly paid teachers supplement their incomes by “private tutoring [which] is widespread, with 40 percent of school officials reporting it as a practice.” Corruption also extends to “teachers paying bribes or kickbacks to management, mostly school directors, to allocate shorter work hours in schools so that they can use the freed-up time to earn fees as teachers in private schools.” The payola is hierarchically distributed: “Bribes received are likely to be shared first with superiors, then with a political party, and then with colleagues, in that order.”
Falsification of documents including forged transcripts and certificates occurs on an “industrial” scale and is “most prevalent in the provision of certification for completing the primary or secondary school cycles” and in generating bogus “documents in support of applications for promotion”.
Procurement (official purchases of goods and services from private sources) is the low hanging fruit. “In the education sector, a number of public actors maybe involved [in procurement], depending on the size and type of the task. These include national and local government politicians and managers.” Some people have a lock on the procurement system. Successful “tendering companies” are likely to have “family or other connections with officials responsible for procurement”. Procurement corruption also takes the forms of “uncompetitive practices” “including the formation of a cartel, obstruction of potential new entrants to the market, or other forms of uncompetitive practices that may or may not include a conspiratorial role on the part of those responsible for procurement.” Other procurement related corruption includes “favoritism, nepotism, or bribery in the short-listing of consultants or contractors or the provision of tender information.” There are some “favored contractors and consultants” who have a “dominant market position” and are “awarded contracts for which they were not eligible to bid.” Corruption also occurs in the form of defective construction, substandard materials and overclaims of quantities.
Construction quality issues are considered a significant problem in the construction of educational facilities, particularly in the case of small, remote facilities where high standards of construction supervision can be difficult to achieve. For example, a toilet block in a school collapsed a month after completion. The contractor responsible for building the facility was not required to make the work good or repay the amount paid, nor was the contractor sanctioned. The matter was not investigated. Such problems are a significant indicator of corrupt practices, particularly when the contractor is not ultimately held to account for its failures…
There is corruption in the “purchase of substandard or defective supplies or equipment. For this to go unchallenged by those responsible for procurement strongly suggests either a lack of capacity, corrupt practices, or both.” According to an example cited in the WB report, “a large fleet of buses purchased by the MOE [“Ministry of Education”] using Teacher Development Program funds and distributed to TTCs were found to be defective. The TTCs complained that the MOE had dumped the buses on them. The MOE subsequently sent auditors to determine whether the complaint was genuine.”
The amazing fact is that the regime reflexively decided to investigate those who filed the complaint, and not the reported crooks. They automatically assumed the technical training colleges were lying and sent their auditors to investigate them for possible false reporting of defective buses!! (Orwelliana: The criminals are the victims and the victims are the criminals.) There is evidence of theft and resale of school supplies or equipment. “One such indication relates to the alleged illegal sale of education facilities, with related allegations of nepotism. A city education office is alleged to have sold valuable heritage buildings in a secondary school to a private developer and then to have requested land to rebuild the school facilities.”
Changing the culture of corruption and impunity
The culture of corruption and impunity in Ethiopia must be changed. The WB report observes,
In Ethiopia, the pattern of perception suggests that outright bribery is perceived to be more corrupt than, for example, favoritism or the falsification of documentation. There is also a sense that some practices, such as expressing gratitude to a client through the giving of a small gift, are normal business practice and not necessarily corrupt. Finally, there is an underlying acceptance among many that the state has the right to intervene in the market if that is considered to be in the national interest, and there is little sense that such interventions could be at variance with ongoing efforts to promote the level playing field needed for effective privatization of service provision, including in the education sector.
It is unlikely that a corrupt regime has the will, capacity or interest to change its own modus operandi. As I have argued elsewhere, having the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) investigate the architects and beneficiaries of corruption in Ethiopia is like having Tweedle Dee investigate Tweedle Dum. It is an exercise in futility and an absurdity. FEAC is a toothless, clawless and feckless make-believe do-nothing bureaucratic shell incapable of investigating corruption in its own offices let alone systemic corruption in the country.
Pressures for accountability and transparency could come from domestic civil society institutions, but as the WB report points out, a 2009 “civil societies law” has decimated such institutions. The only practical and effective mechanism for accountability and transparency in the education sector is the institutionalization of an independent and energetic teachers’ union. But the regime has destroyed the real teachers’ union. According to the WB report,
Teachers in Ethiopia have historically been represented by the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), founded in 1949. Following a long legal battle, a 2008 court ruling took away the right of the ETA to its name and all of its assets, creating a different organization with an identical name. Most teachers are now members of this replacement organization, for which dues are deducted from teachers’ salaries. The original ETA, now reorganized as the National Teachers Association (NTA), considers the new ETA to be unduly influenced by the government and has complained of discrimination against its members. Such concerns have in turn been expressed internationally through a range of bodies including the International Labour Organization (ILO 2009).
The mis-edcuation of Ethiopia’s youth and stolen futures
Education of Ethiopia’s youth is a human rights issue for me and not just a matter of professional concern as an educator. Corruption in the education sector is so severe that the future of Ethiopia’s youth is at grave risk. As Transparency International admonishes,
Stolen resources from education budgets mean overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools, or no schools at all. Books and supplies are sometimes sold instead of being given out freely. Schools and universities also ‘sell’ school places or charge unauthorised fees, forcing students (usually girls) to drop out. Teachers and lecturers are appointed through family connections, without qualifications. Grades can be bought, while teachers force students to pay for tuition outside of class. In higher education, undue government and private sector influence can skew research agendas.
It is true “ignorance is strength”. The Meles regime seeks to create an army of ignorant youth zombie clones who will march lockstep and follow their orders: “Zombie go, zombie stop, zombie think… zombie learn… zombie dumb… zombie dumber…” If ignorance is strength, then knowledge is power. When “ignorant” youth gain knowledge, they become an unstoppable force.
It may not be manifest to many but Ethiopia’s mis-educated youth are on the rise. A quiet riot is raging among the youth debilitated by overwhelming despair and anguish. The youth look at themselves and their lost futures under a corrupt tyranny. They know things are not going to get better. For now the despair simmers but it will reach a boiling point. Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010. Dictator Ben Ali did not see it coming, but the fire that consumed Bouazizi also consumed and transformed not only Tunisia but also led to an Arab Spring. Moamar Gadhafi, the great “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya” died at the hands of youth he miseducated for 42 years. Informed, enlightened and interconnected Egyptian youth brought down the Mubarak regime in less than two weeks!
Ethiopia’s youth will rise because there is no force that can keep them down. The only question is when not if. That is the immutable of law of history. In the end, I believe Ethiopia’s youth will remember not the deeds and misdeeds of those who miseducated them and robbed them of their futures, but the silence of the scholars, intellectuals, academics, professors and learned men and women who watched the tyranny of ignorance like bronze statutes. I am confident in my conviction that there will come a time when Ethiopia’s youth will stand up collectively, and each one pointing an index finger, shout out, “J’accuse!”
Ignorance is strength but knowledge is power! Fight the tyranny of ignorance. Educate yourself!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
The selling of Ethiopia to the highest bidder. By Yilma Bekele
Actually that statement might not be true. We do know our country is being sold but we have no idea if the bidding has been open or closed. We have sold almost all of Gambella, we have leased half of Afar and Oromia has been parceled out bit by bit. Our Beer factories are under new owners, our gold mines belong to the fake Ethiopian sheik, Telephone is under the Chinese and our Airlines is looking for a suitor. Have we always looked for outsiders to own us?
Not really when you consider that we celebrated the victory at the battle of Adwa a few weeks back and that was the mother of all wars that made it clear this African country is not for sale. We might not have contributed much to the industrial revolution but we did manage to rely on our own ingenuity to follow along and do things our own way. You might not believe this but there was a time when Ethiopians actually used to be involved in making stuff from scratch. You think I am making things up don’t you? I don’t blame you because today you cannot even come up with one name that stands out as an Ethiopian entrepreneur, go getter or someone that shines like the north star based solely on his own sweat and blood.
The things that were accomplished by earlier Ethiopians are all around us but we don’t see them. All the things the current government brags about have their roots in the yester years they so much condemn and brush off. I don’t know where to start but here we go. Let us start with hospitals. Bella Haile Selassie (Bella), Leelt Tshay (armed Forces), Paulos, Haile Selassie Hospital (Yekati 12), Balcha, Ghandi, Tikur Anbessa, Ras Desta, Minilik etc. The vast majority of the doctors were Ethiopians, the hospitals were clean, well equipped and you don’t even have to take your own sheets and blankets.
How about Hotels? Ethiopia, Ghion, Wabi Shebele, Ras, Bekele Molla were the premier destinations. They were owned and operated by Ethiopians. When it comes to Ethiopian Airlines the Pilots were proud Ethiopians and the technicians were the envy of Africa. The Imperial government built the Airlines from scratch. Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a partner until we were able to train and staff our own and we did manage to do that.
If we talk about agriculture we did manage to establish the Sugar estates of Metehara and Wonji not to mention Setit Humera, the wheat and corn fields of Arsi, the fiber plants of Sidama and the cotton fields of Awash Valley are testimonial to our ingenuity. The sixties saw the emergence of the new educated Ethiopians that raised the bar of excellence.
The establishment of Africa Hall was how Africans showed respect to our Emperor and our old history when they choose Addis Abeba as the head quarter for the continent. The University at sadist Kilo was a gift to his people by the Emperor and it was a spectacular success. All the teachers were highly educated Ethiopians and the graduates were the pride of our country.
Why am I discussing such subject today? It is because two items reported by the media caught my eye a few days back. Both are an assault on our sovereignty and our ability to grow our own economy by Ethiopians for Ethiopians. Heineken a Dutch conglomerate is building the biggest brewery in Ethiopia and Guangdong Chuan Hui Group from China is given 41,000 Sq. meter of land to construct hotel and industrial complex. The way the story is being reported we should be jumping with joy. What could be better than those two benevolent multi nationals investing so much in our poor destitute country?
Is that how we should look at it? Is there another aspect to this story? In order to see the pros and con of the question posed In front of us it would have been nice if there has been a nationwide discussion to see if the plan makes sense when it comes to our homeland. That is how smart decisions are made. Open and vibrant nationwide discussion regarding such important issues that impact our national economy and our people’s well-being assures a better outcome.
That usually is not the case in our country. There are no checks and balances. There is no independent legislative body and the judiciary is a government tool. A single party the TPLF controls all and everything in the country. Our political leaders have no faith in the ability of the people to know what is good for them. That is why they approach their job as being a ‘baby sitter’ and are constantly fretting about what the people hear and read. Decisions are made by a few TPLF politburo members to be approved by the rubber stamp Parliament. Anyone that questions such a decision is branded as enemy of the people and dealt with.
Let us start with our beer story. You know beer is nothing but European Tella. It is bottled fancy and costs a little bit more. How long ago do you think we acquired the idea of brewing for a larger crowd? Eighty years ago my friend! St George brewery was started in 1922. Meta Abo Brewery was founded in 1963. Meta Abo was a partnership between government and private capital and started with a base capital of 2million Birr. The military junta nationalized both and the current TPLF Woyane regime inherited them with the rest of Ethiopia. What do you think these successive regimes did with our own old industry and land? Did they build on what was started? Did they reinvest the profit to make the enterprises bigger and better? Did they run our industries, enterprises and farms in a responsible and judicious manner?
Both St. George and Meta Abo are no more Ethiopian enterprises. BGI (an internationally acclaimed Brewing Company that operates in many countries.??) bought St George in 1998 for US 10 million ‘through foreign direct investment’(??) Meta Ambo was sold to Diego Industries-a British congalmorate for US 225 million. Heineken a Dutch multi-national acquired 18% of Bedele and Harar breweries for US 163 million in 2011. Raya Brewery an idea that has not materialized yet but promoted by Lt. General Tsadkan W.Tensai and investors such as Yemane (Jamaica) Kidane and other TPLF officials sold 25% interest to BGI for 650 million Br and invited Brewtech a German company as a partner.
As you can see the TPLF regime collected close to US 400 million from the sale of our home grown breweries. By all imagination that is chump change when you consider the ownership is lost and the profit for eternity belongs to the foreigners. Is this a good way to grow a national economy? Has it been done before or is this another of that failed ‘revolutionary democracy’ pipe dream?
BGI, Diego or Heineken are investing in our country to realize profit for their shareholders. What is our country getting out of this? The beer manufacturing business is a highly automated enterprise so it is not about job creation. Most if not all of the high paying managerial jobs will be occupied by the parent company. The malt, barley and other ingredients are imported and are considered a trade secret. We all know about creative accounting thus I am sure our country does not even benefit from the profit because the bookkeeping is rigged to minimize taxes.
Let us not even think of technology transfer since we cannot learn what we have already mastered. Remember we have been brewing beer since 1922. I will tell you what we got out of this unequal relationship. We as a people got royally screwed. The TPLF party officials got paid plenty for their pimping effort. The regime in its insatiable appetite for foreign currency bought a few months of respite to purchase oil, wheat, cooking oil etc. to postpone its inevitable collapse.
There are certain things we know how a growing economy with a nationalist government operates. We have seen how China, India, Malaysia, Brazil and other emerging economies handled their growth potential. They use what is known as subsidy to protect their infant industries from foreign predators. They allowed investment where technology transfer will bring benefit to their people but shielded their home grown industries from foreign competition.
Why do you think the TPLF bosses are interested in selling our sovereignty? I doubt it is because they are anti-Ethiopian even though the late evil PM used to suffer from inferiority complex when it comes to central highlanders. I believe it is because of their ‘get rich quick’ philosophy. They are in a hurry to accumulate before their Ponzi scheme comes crashing down. According to the UN billions of dollars are leaving our country. They are buying properties in the US and Europe, sending their children to expensive schools abroad and vacationing in exotic places with the money they steal from our country.
What are we the victims doing about this rape and pillage of our resources and the degradation of our national pride? I am afraid other than insistently talking there is nothing more most of us are doing about it. Why do you think that is so? I could think of a few things but ignorance comes to mind first and foremost. Our ignorance prevents us from connecting the dots and looking at the bigger picture. Our misplaced pride does not allow us to listen to others and learn to be able to formulate better solutions to our problems.
Today we have a population that is not familiar with its history. Sixty four percent (64%) of our people are under twenty five years old while twenty nine percent (29%) are under the age of 54 years. We have a toxic population on our hands. Those under twenty five grew up under the Woyane regime where being an Ethiopian is taken as a liability. While those under fifty four are the result of the Derge era of undermining religion, family, and stability. Ninety three (93%) of our population is a fertile ground for evil Woyane to plant shame, doubt and insecurity about being Ethiopian.
It is this population that is sitting on the side and cheering the selling of their country. For most people what bothers them is not what is lost but they spend endless energy to get a piece of the action. In Ethiopia stealing, lying, being part of a criminal enterprise is encouraged by the regime. When the recently dead Meles Zenawi said ‘even being a thief requires being smart’ he was giving a green light to his cadres and the population at large. The so called Diaspora is the number one enabler of the criminal Woyane machine. They use their new found riches to bribe Woyane so they could acquire stolen land to build their flimsy unsustainable condominiums and spend endless nights worrying if the next highest bidder will in turn take it away in broad day light.
This is exactly the reason we are having a problem forming a united front to get rid of this cancerous body in our midst. This is the reason even in exile we are unable to form a democratic, inclusive and worthy association that will benefit the many. The ninety three percent are in need of education in civic affairs and a dose of what it means to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.
May be it is the lords way of teaching us little humility and humbleness as he did with the children of Israel when he left them to wonder for forty years in the wilderness so they know what is in their heart. It is a choice we have-to be humble or perish due to pride.
The 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:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
2011: Dictatorship, corruption and the politics of fear and smear
In December 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption?” contrasting two portraits of Ethiopia. At the time, the portrait painted by Transparency International (TI) (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity (GFI) showed Ethiopia as a land blighted by systemic corruption. GFI reported that “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.” TI gave Ethiopia a score of 2.7 on the Corruption Index (on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means “highly corrupt” and 10 means “very clean”).
At that time, the dictatorial regime, which is still in power today, sought to portray Ethiopia as a country under siege by traitorous terrorists. In a fear-mongering three-part propaganda “documentary” entitled “Akeldama” (or Land [field] of Blood, taken from Acts 1:19 referring to a field said to have been bought by Judas Iscariot with the thirty pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus) shown on ruling party-owned television service, the regime sought to depict 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” began with a proclamation on the arrival of a bloodbath doomsday in Ethiopia: “Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorism. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem….”
“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. Gratuitously horrific images of dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 were blended in a toxic video presentation to hypnotize and paralyze the population with fear and loathing. Following an orgiastic presentation of carnage and destruction, that “documentary” pointed an accusatory finger at “ruthless terrorists” who are “destroying our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a haunting voice, the narrator exhorts, “Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.”
By weaving deceitful, deceptive and distorted narratives between grisly spectacles of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality, bestiality and inhumanity from the world over, “Akeldama” hoped to create rabid public hysteria against Ethiopia’s opposition elements and justify the regime’s violent crackdowns on opposition elements. That propaganda hogwash gained little traction in the public mind.
2013: Dictatorship, corruption and the politics of fear and smear
Fast forward to February 2013. A recent exhaustive 448-page World Bank report revealed that Ethiopia has one of the most corrupt-to-the-core regimes in the world. According to this report, Ethiopia’s “Telecommunications Sector” is Corruption Central, the Ground Zero of Corruption: “Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.” Ethiopia’s “Construction Sector exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the “Justice Sector” rears its ugly head in the form of “political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the “Land Sector” is built into the law itself: “The capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.”
On February 5, 2013, the ruling regime in Ethiopia broadcasted a one hour “documentary” entitled “Jihadawi Harakat” (“Holy War Movement”) purportedly aimed at exposing Islamic extremists and terrorists preparing for a “holy war” to establish an Islamic government in Ethiopia. This “documentary” is nothing less than a declaration of an unholy war against Ethiopian Muslims. “Jihadawi Harakat” is a maliciously conceived and executed propaganda campaign right down to the diabolical title which seeks to portray Ethiopian Muslims peacefully demanding respect for their human rights as the handmaidens of such jihadist terrorist movements as Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini and the Abu Sayyaf (terror group in the southern Philippines) group’s Al Harakat al-Islamiyya.
“Jihadawi Harakat” is very similar in tone and content to “Akeldama”. The principal difference is that “Jihadawi Harakat” targets Ethiopian Muslims for persecution and vilification. The “documentary” as a whole argues that Ethiopian Muslims who asked for nothing more than respect for their basic human rights and non-government interference in their religious affairs are merely local chapters of blood thirsty terrorist groups such Boko Haram (Nigeria), Ansar al Din (Mali), Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hamas… Despite the lip service disclaimer that the “documentary” is about a “few terrorists taking cover behind the Islamic faith to commit terrorism” in Ethiopia, this “documentary” stands as an ugly testament to official state religious intolerance and persecution rarely seen anywhere in Africa.
There are lies, naked lies, damned lies and sleazy lies. “Jihadawi Harakat” is all four. After viewing this revolting “documentary”, I recalled the furious words of the late Meles Zenawi when the European Union Election Observer Group confronted him with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent. Meles was so angry that he got caught, he condemned the EU election report as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” This phony, vile, shallow, pretentious, noxious and histrionic docutrash is such a pile of crap that it deserves to be flushed into the sewer.
First, let us establish the facts on the demands of Ethiopian Muslims. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body constituted by the Congress and the President of the United States to monitor religious freedom worldwide:
Since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has sought to impose the al-Ahbash Islamic sect on the country’s Muslim community, a community that traditionally has practiced the Sufi form of Islam. The government also has manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Previously viewed as an independent body, EIASC is now viewed as a government-controlled institution. The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia. Muslims throughout Ethiopia have been arrested during peaceful protests: On October 29, the Ethiopia government charged 29 protestors with terrorism and attempting to establish an Islamic state.
The jihadists are coming, again?!
“Jihadawi Harakat” is not the first time the regime in power in Ethiopia has pulled the jihadist bogeyman out of their back pockets to scare the people of Ethiopia. Back in November 2006, a month before Meles Zenawi’s tanks “blitzkrieged” their way into Mogadishu killing tens of thousands of innocent Somali civilians and displacing over a million, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Jihadists are Coming!” I argued that Meles Zenawi had fabricated the Somali jihadist terrorist threat out of whole cloth to deflect attention from his dismal human rights record and repression and to buy the good will and diplomatic support of the U.S.:
Here we go again! Trot out the Somali jihadist bogeyman (aya jibo). Get out the smoke machine and mirrors. Show time! Act I. Narrator Zenawi: “Somalia is becoming a haven for terrorist. The sheiks of terror have declared an unholy war on Ethiopia, and the U.S. of A. They are on the outskirts. Patriots and countrymen, defend the homeland!…
But the whole jihadist business smacks of political fantasy. It’s surreal. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists and their Al Qaeda partners should be opposed and defeated because they are undemocratic, anti-democratic, oppressive and authoritarian. The jihadists don’t believe in human rights and do not allow political or social dissent. They are fanatics who want to impose one-party rule… Duh!!! Has Mr. Zenawi looked at the mirror lately?…
… Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists are lurking behind every desert rock and boulder. He wants Ethiopians to come out and fight them in every hamlet, town and city. We want Ethiopians to come out of the jails and prisons and rejoin their families. We want them to come out into the streets and peacefully express themselves, show their opposition to government policies and actions, engage in constructive dialogue with their fellow citizens and enjoy basic human rights… Now, we have a choice to make. We can follow along the Zenawi Road Show and entertain ourselves with stories of the Somali jihadist bogeyman, Mickey Mouse and the Easter Bunny. Or we can stay focused on the real issues of human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia.
Meles used the jihadist bogeyman in 2006 to plunge Ethiopia into the civil war in Somalia. In 2013, his disciples hope to use same jihadist bogeyman to plunge Ethiopia into internecine sectarian civil war.
“Jihadawi Harakat” or the art of Islamophobia
“Jihadawi Harakat” is such a revoltingly amateurish piece of propaganda that one could easily dismiss it as dimwitted cartoonish gibberish and sophomoric fear mongering melodrama. But that would be a serious mistake because this vicious docutrash scandalizes, villiainizes, slanders and vilifies Ethiopia’s Muslim community. As lame and as cynical as this docutrash is, its tacit propaganda aim is to present a “morality play” of “evil” Muslims against “good” Christians. It is intended to scare Christians into believing that the same Muslims with whom they have coexisted peacefully for a millennia have now suddenly been transformed into “Islamic terrorists” and are secretly planning to wage a jihadist war on them to establish an Islamic government. Just as “Akeldama” sought to demonize, dehumanize, anathematize, demoralize and barbarize all of Ethiopia’s dissidents and opposition groups as a confederation of blood thirsty terrorists, “Jihad Harekat” seeks to do exactly the same thing to Ethiopian Muslims by creating Islamophobic hysteria in Ethiopia.
Careful review and analysis shows the ruling regime sought to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives with this docutrash: 1) tar and feather all Muslims who demand respect for their basic human rights and regime non-interference in their religious affairs as blood thirsty terrorists, fanatical jihadists and homicidal maniacs, 2) inflame Christian passions to incite hatred and spread distrust and suspicion against Muslims; 3) vilify Muslims and create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance which the regime hopes will trigger mass hysteria, persecution and discrimination against Muslims; 4) divert the attention of the population from the desperate economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding them ugly fantasies of jihadists Ethiopian Muslims planting bombs and planning terrorist acts to create an Islamic state, and 5) establish the moral justification for ruthlessly cracking down and clamping down on Muslims who have asked for nothing more than respect for their religious liberties and official non-interference in the administration of their religious affairs. Of course, the regime desperately wants to divert public attention from its massive corruption documented in the World Bank’s exhaustive 448-page report.
Anatomy of a Docutrash
For those who do not wish to waste their time viewing this pile of bull manure (make sure to hold your nose if you must watch it) passing off as a “documentary”, here is a summary. The docutrash opens with a text-image insert announcing, “An evidence-based documentary on a few individuals who have used the Islamic faith as a cover to conduct terrorist activities. A documentary prepared in collaboration with the national intelligence service, federal police and Ethiopian television and radio organization. It presents evidence on how a few individuals have taken cover behind the Islamic faith and tried to implement the terrorist plans of Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab in Ethiopia.”
For 13 seconds, the text image insert slowly recedes on the screen; and without warning the face of a menacing “terrorist” set against a pitch black background emerges and scrolls to the right on the screen for 8 seconds to inspire a foreboding sense of fear and panic in the viewer. The same man whose picture has been photoshopped to make him look wild-eyed and sinister appears and gives the first “evidence” by “confessing” in a soft voice and gentle demeanor, “The jihad is between Muslims and those who are not Muslims.”
The “evidence” presented consists of “confessions” (mostly 2 0r 3 sentence incriminating admissions by the “suspects” unaccompanied by the questions of the interrogators) of some of the 29 terror suspects mentioned in the report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom referenced above. (The terror suspects giving “confessions” are currently on trial and the regime broadcasted the “documentary” in flagrant violation of a court order not to do so.)
Following the “confession” of the man admitting to a jihad between Muslims and non-Muslims, a video clip of riotous young men (insinuating that they are Muslim rioters) running away from something is shown. Video clips likely scarfed from the internet immediately follow showing turbaned and disguised jihadists from all over the world wreaking havoc in unnamed places. A text-image follows announcing, “Boko Haram in Ethiopia.” Young Ethiopian Muslim men are briefly shown at a peaceful gathering protesting. A young Muslim leader is shown speaking to a group and claiming that Muslims are being “accused of being terrorists, criminals and seeking power.” More photos of turbaned and armed terrorists are shown followed by a video clip of Muslim terrorists digging up a cache of arms from a hole in the ground. A bearded Muslim man appears and states, “We have prepared the weapons and the manpower needed for the war against the government and our aim is to establish an Islamic government.” Photomontage of terrorists from other parts of the world brandishing AK47s and RPGs follow along with more video clips of terrorists blowing up buildings. Civilians are shown running away from scenes of terrorists attacks. Unnamed terrorists are shown marching in the bushes. Photoshopped pictures of the same bearded suspects shown at the very beginning of the video are scrolled time and again across the screen to give the creepy impression that the “confessing” suspects are stalking the viewer like beasts of prey. For another 58 minutes, the same theme is repeated over and over again with snippets of “confessions” sandwiched between scenes of armed terrorists and terrorist devastation.
Rule of Law or Rule of Ignoramuses
Leaders of the ruling regime often trumpet their allegiance to and defense of their Constitution. Last September propaganda meister Bereket Simon, after telling and retelling the world the Big Lie about Meles’ health and death, waxed eloquent day after day about constitutional succession and the game of official musical chairs to be played in the post-Meles period. As “communications minister”, Simon authorized the broadcasting of the “Jihadawi Harekat” docutrash. One really wonders how these “champions of the Ethiopian Constitution” seem to be enlightened only about those provisions they like but are willfully benighted about the parts they don’t like such as the rights of the accused. It reminds one of a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purposes.” Are they cunningly malicious or just plain ignorant? For years, I have been saying that preaching constitutional law (the rule of law) to the regime in Ethiopia is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathen. These vacuous imposters would not recognize the Constitution if it ran them over like a Mac truck.
What needs to be doubly underscored in the case against the 29 Muslim “terror suspects”, including those who allegedly confessed in “Jihadawi Harakat” are three important facts: 1) All of the “suspects” are pretrial detainees entitled to full procedural due process protections provided in the Ethiopian Constitution and various other binding international human rights conventions. 2) There is substantial evidence to show that the “suspects” who allegedly confessed did so under coercion. In the case of one “suspect”, for instance, a video of the interrogation and “confession” shows him handcuffed. 3) All of the 29 “terrorism suspects” in custody are political prisoners.
In terms of the flagrant disregard for the constitutional and human rights of the suspects, one cannot be unimpressed by the abysmal depth of ignorance and depraved indifference of the regime leaders. The Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3) provides: “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” They seem to be totally clueless (or don’t give a damn) of their obligation under international human rights conventions which are incorporated expressly into the Ethiopian Constitution under Article 13. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides 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.” 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.” The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) provides under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible public officials prior to a finding of guilt by a court of law. Moreover, the “confessions” obtained in this docutrash are in flagrant violation of the prohibition on coerced admissions and confessions and the exclusionary rule in Article 19 (5) which provides that the accused “shall not be compelled to make confessions or admissions which could be used in evidence or against them. Any evidence obtained under coercion shall not be admissible.”
The sad irony in the case against the Muslim “terror suspects” is that the kangaroo court which issued the injunction against the broadcasting of the docutrash will not have the integrity or the guts to throw out all of the “confessions” or impose other sanctions including criminal contempt citations against those who willfully disobeyed its order and/or dismiss with prejudice the case against the defendants for such an egregious and outrageous violation of their fair trial rights.
Frankly, I must confess that I take a bit of perverse pleasure in being fully vindicated. For years, I have been saying that there is no rule of law in Ethiopia and the courts are kangaroo courts puppet-mastered by the political bosses. Is there any doubt now that the miscarriage of justice has become justice in Ethiopia?
A desperate dictatorship and the art of sewage politics
With this docutrash, the dictators in Ethiopia have proven not only that they can get lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut but also that they are the grandmasters of sewage politics. The fact of the matter is that the only proven cases of terrorist carnage in Ethiopia were committed by the regime. In “Akeldama”, the regime claimed “131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists” over the preceding decade. However, the official Inquiry Commission established by Meles Zenawi determined that in just a few days following the election in May 2005, security troops 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 [which were intended] not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” In September 2011, the world learned “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa 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.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and 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. Those who point an accusatory index finger to tar and feather others with charges of terrorism should be careful to see which way the other three fingers are pointing.
“Jihadawi Harekat” is a smear campaign designed to vilify, malign, demean and marginalize Ethiopian Muslims. It is a vicious propaganda effort aimed at poisoning the centuries-old peaceful relations between adherents of the Islamic and Christian faiths in Ethiopia. It is an outrageous piece of propaganda designed to promote irrational fears of Muslims and Islam in Ethiopian society and facilitate the creation of conditions that will eventually lead to the persecution, discrimination and exclusion of Muslims from the political, social, economic and public life of the nation. “Jihadawi Harekat” is out-and-out Islamophobia.
We should never tolerate or yield to Islamophobia in Ethiopia!
Release all political prisoners in 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:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
By Yilma Bekele
I dreamt about my uncle. He has been dead for over ten years so I was wondering what brought him to my conscious now. It was a vivid dream and I awoke both sad and happy. So all day long I kept wondering what is it that made me dream about him. I really think I was able to come up with a reasonable explanation why this memory was triggered in my brain. I believe it is due to what I have been reading lately that awaken this memory about service, integrity and today’s Ethiopia.
The night before the dream I read a very revealing article on goolgule.com about the land grab in Oromia region. It is a depressing tale of what those in position of power and authority do to our people. The story was told to give us perspective about Ato Junedin Sado, who seems to find himself in a very precarious position lately. His problem that started before the death of the tyrant has escalated to his being dismissed from that TPLF satellite organization OPDO. It looks like this puppet who has been serving his TPLF masters faithfully betraying the Oromo people is now paying the price for his sins.
I also have been reading about the Deputy Mayor of Addis Abeba Ato Kefyale Azeze defecting and moving to the US as a fellow refugee. I have also been informed about Ato Getachew Belay, a high ranking TPLF official, who decided to stay in the US abandoning his post. Ato Getachew has served his party as head of the Privatization Agency and head of EFFORT. Both are posts normally reserved for party loyalists.
The defections must have been what got me to think about service to people and country. That must be what triggered this deeply held memory to surface in the middle of the night. My uncle is one of the few people that have left a mark in my brain. I always think of him in a very pleasant manner. The earliest I remember of him from is the picture hanging on our living room wall. It was taken before he left for Korea as part of the United Nations peace keeping force. He was dresses in a greenish uniform sitting on a chair with medals on his chest. It was a serious picture but his boyish face betrayed the stern garish looking uniform and made him look like a kind solder unlike a warrior he was supposed to be. No question that picture impressed all of us growing children.
Upon his return from Korea he was recruited to work at our embassy in Egypt. He must have stayed there a long time because when we met next I was already in high school. He was working as administrator at Paulos Hospital in Addis Abeba. He got married and built a beautiful bungalow in Gulele. My brother and I used to love going over to visit him in the weekends and spend the day listening to him talk and observe the disciplined and meticulous way he lived.
He built the house himself and for us it was like a Ferenji place. It has a beautiful bathroom with toilet, bathtub and bidet with working plumbing system including hot water. The house has a beautiful dining area and a living room for entertainment with couches and a radio. His flower garden was a marvel to look at. We sat and ate in the dining room and washed our hands in the bathroom without a maid fetching water and towel to our table.
A few years later he built an addition on his land to rent for income and help raise his three beautiful daughters. He was making an honest living and looking forward to enjoying his retirement. I finished High school and came to America.
The appearance of the Derg changed everything. The turmoil that followed affected my uncle and his contemporaries in a negative manner. The Derg expropriated all wealth created regardless of how it was achieved. My uncle became the victim of this haphazard and meaningless policy. The Derg became the landlord of his property and his tenant started paying rent to the government. My uncle was forced to retire due to the turmoil in the country.
When I visited him next I couldn’t help but notice how fast he has aged. He was still living in his house but there was no incentive to do any repair or make his house into his own castle. It was shocking to see the deterioration of both man and property. Such a vibrant and go getter of a person was reduced to spending his days on trifle affairs and mundane subjects. It was odd to see his previous tenant subleasing the house and making money. The coming of Woyane did not make things any better. They took over where the Derg left off. That is how much things have turned topsy turvy.
May be I am grasping for straws, maybe I am letting my imagination go wild but the truth is I saw a connection between my dreaming of yester year and the current news coming out of Ethiopia. My uncle’s life was a simple straight line of service and hard work with rewards of stable and fulfilling end until it was rudely interrupted. His achievement was on merit and his honest service is what makes the wheels of society turn in predictable manner. His honorable way of life was an example to all our family. We all learn by example and he was a proud mentor.
Why am I writing about my uncle is a good question. I wanted to tell you we have not always been the way we are now. Lawless, corrupt, shifty, no roots and void of faith, this is what has become of us. I believe this describes the new Ethiopia. Not long ago our country and people were different. Yes there was inequality, there was injustice and we were definitely backward. But we were not degraded, self-loathing and hopeless.
What do we have today? There is no sense of public service but public robbery, there is no sense of do the right thing but a sense of what can I get away with, there is no sense of pride in workmanship but cheap labor for fast money, there is no sense of us but it is all about me. That is what the TPLF regime cultivates. That is why they could do all kinds of damage to our people and at the end of the day abandon all and move out of the country.
When I read about the likes of Junedin, Kefyalew and Getachew I start to wonder about the future of my country and people. What do our people learn from such disgraceful action? What kind of society produces such individuals? How did our country find itself putting such people in charge?
Let us take Ato Junedin. Let us also remember the entire OPDO leadership was rejected by the Oromo people during the 2005 elections. They were restored to their position after Ato Meles ordered recount of the ballots. It was in the aftermath of this event that the OPDO leadership decided to teach the people a lesson. Land is the only wealth the Ethiopian peasant owns. He has no bank account, no capital in machinery and no stocks and bonds. People like Junedin robed the land from the simple peasant. The stolen land was leased to grow flower for the export market while some was used to build condominiums and town houses.
The same peasant that lost his land was recruited to work as a day laborer while his children were let loose in the green houses where they grew flowers. Fifteen and sixteen year old Oromo girls were exposed to chemicals and fertilizers without adequate or no protection. The land given to the developers with fancy names puts the children’s fable Alice in wonderland to shame. In a country where the per capita income is less than $700 a year our developers are constructing housing that costs five million to twenty million. That is what a company called Country Club Developers is building in Legetafo, Oromia. It is also true that over 95% of the residents of Oromia cannot afford to purchase their dream house in Legetafo. Ato Junedin made all this possible.
Folks like Kefyalew and Getachew are the engines that facilitated the working of the TPLF anti Ethiopian machine. Today they come to America as victims. They followed high officials of the Derg regime that left before the fall of Mengistu. Derg era criminals today are respected members of our community. I assure you in a few years Kefyalew and Getachew will join our Church, Mosque and Eder as ordinary fellows in exile. How could a lesson be learnt if yesterday’s criminals are today’s freedom fighters?
Do you think the problem is with them or with us? Do you think people like Junedin, Kefyalew and Getachew can exist with us? There is no ying without yang, there is no smoke without fire and there is no criminal without a victim. Our indifference, our apathy makes people like the above flourish. When we keep quiet while observing injustice we encourage such evil act to continue. When we participate in buying stolen land, building on stolen land we facilitate the coming to death of our homeland. We mock our people’s plight because we ventured out and collected a fist full of dollars.
It does not require a fortune teller to predict sooner or later the injustice, the famine; the hopelessness will force our people to resort to force as they have done before. Today’s Ethiopia is reaching that boiling point. This is not because it is written but it is so because her children failed her, because her children refused to act because her children looked the other way. The solution lies in each one of us. We all know what is right and what is wrong. We all know we cannot judge the Junedins and the Kefyalews and the Getachews if we would act like them given the chance. The question to ask ourselves is would I be different? Am I a better human being aware, conscious, and keeper of my brother?
By Alemayehu G. Mariam Life and Times of Democracy in Africa The long march of democracy in West Africa seems to be well underway. In July 2009, I wrote a weekly commentary marveling about Ghana’s multiparty democracy. Wistfully, I asked the rhetorical question: “Why is democracy in motion in Ghana, and on life-support in Ethiopia?” In [...]
By Yilma Bekele … within an established totalitarian regime the purpose of propaganda is not to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate. From this point of view, propaganda should not approximate to the truth as closely as possible: on the contrary it should do as much violence to it as possible. For by [...]
By Yilma Bekele I am not making this up You can follow the link below and watch the four part video of the leader for life meeting with Ethiopian business leaders. It is a very interesting video. The video is edited and posted on You Tube by Ethiopian TV. I am very grateful. They should [...]
By Yilma Bekele
When you take an object apart to see how it works, or take software and disassemble it to locate the source code it is referred to as reverse engineering. Basically what you are doing is inverting the system by going backwards the developmental cycle all the way to conception. Reverse engineering begins with a final product and works backwards.
This is done for various reasons. It could be done for learning purpose to see how it works, to enhance the product to make it function better, to copy it which is mostly illegal or for malicious purpose such as infecting it with virus.
I believe we have been reverse engineered by the TPLF government. You can be sure the purpose was not to learn, enhance or integrate but rather to destroy or disrupt. The pie in the sky idea of the Millennium Dam was the malicious code that was inserted into our operating system.
We woke up one morning and were appalled to discover TPLF was clad in our beautiful tri colored flag and we were left covered in Eritrean and Egyptian clothing. My hats off to our Woyane hackers. Today ladies and gentlemen we have TPLF on this corner proudly dressed in green yellow and red and on the other side is the opposition dressed in Eritrean t-shirt top and Egyptian briefs. Watch Ato Meles bouncing around in his new Chinese made uniform jabbing the air with his beautiful tri colored gloves and raising his fist up high and Ato Bulcha Demeksa getting booed by the spectators.
The Americans call it topsy-turvy situation. In Ethiopia it is called the coming of sementegna shi, the eight-millennium. It is uttered to signify a bizarre, unexplainable and totally weird situation. It is a sign of total resignation. What is there to do when you are witnessing the end of the world? I believe that is what we got here. The real sementegnaw shi is upon us.
The theft of our uniform also managed to put the question in a different perspective. All of a sudden the debate became for and against Abay. Did you notice that? To build a dam or not became the issue. That is the way the regime defined the debate.
Now tell me have you met any Ethiopian opposed to building a dam on Abay or any river? The question is absurd. Why would anybody not wish a dam, a factory, a research university and other beautiful things for his country? Then what is all this false debate about?
Like everything else in Ethiopia, due to its monopoly of the media the TPLF regime defines the issues and presents its side using every available means. The Ethiopian people, those that are able or have conquered fear get bits of information from ESAT (www.ethsat.com) VOA, DW and Internet.
The issue is not about building a freaking dam or not but rather it is all about democracy. Such colossal projects require sober discussion and a national consensus. When governments plan such huge and costly endeavors they usually carry out a consorted effort to include the population in a lively debate to build enthusiasm and good will. Again, like everything else TPLF, they have managed to stand the concept on its head. They have put the cart in front of the horse. I know it is nothing new.
We wanted to discuss intelligently and answer the two vital questions of why and how? They don’t have adequate answers so they resorted into stealing the flag and hiding behind it like a coward. We are saying hold on, before we decide shouldn’t we discuss it? Unfortunately, today we are actually forced to discuss an event that is not going to happen. Why it is not going to happen has been analyzed and dissected by Ethiopian experts in the fields of economics, engineering and politics. No one from the regime has presented a compelling reason to use our limited resources on one gigantic project or answered the simple issue of affording it. It cannot be done because there is no study to justify Ato Meles’s delusion.
The purpose of the Abay dam issue is to deflect attention from the current economic failure and the specter of uprising in the vicinity. They have managed to confuse some people. They have used a very important question to win political point. In their tiny little heads they have won the day. How pathetic. Here is a good timely quotation from FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Fair play code.
Winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly. Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure. Playing fair requires courage and character. It is also more satisfying. Fair play always has its reward, even when the game is lost. Playing fair earns respect, while cheating only brings shame. Remember: it is only a game. And games are pointless unless played fairly.
TPLF plays dishonestly. Winning by cheating is second nature to our Woyane warriors. TPLF refuses to grow up. The Ethiopian regime is infected with toxic philosophy of us against them. They spend a lot of time concocting negative ideas and scenarios to confuse, set one up against the other and survive another day. Since Woyane assumed power our people have not seen a single day of peace.
Today democratic Ethiopia is demanding businesses use a cash register furnished and maintained by the government. The cash register costs over seven thousand Bir and maintenance and upgrades cost over two thousand. It is not open for discussion. Today democratic Ethiopia demands the citizen report to Kebele if he has an overnight visitor in his own house. Today democratic Ethiopia determines how much a private merchant should charge for his goods.
The Abay dam theatre is one more abuse to prop up a dying system. The regime has already started to expropriate money from civil servants and the banks to finance its military and security due to the threat of people’s uprising. The willing Diaspora that was lulled over by promise of appreciating real estate values is now coming face to face with TPLF’s ugly side. Forty percent is the current rate of the rip off billed as tax, but it is just the beginning. The song ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ comes to mind. I have a feeling some of my Hodam relatives will soon be singing the Ethiopian blues.
The reality on the ground is that the regime has spent the entire budget appropriated to the dam building project. Transporting Ato Meles and his friends to Benishangul Zone, setting up the necessary prop for television cameras bringing a marching band and two worn out caterpillar tractors is all the investment required to stir up this hollow discussion. The rest is all about fleecing the citizen and the Diaspora. Don’t hold your breath about seeing an actual dam on the mighty Abay.
The mighty Abay is not just another river. Abay is special. Abay is born in Ethiopia. Abay nurtured the Pharos and help build the great pyramids. Abay was close when Jesus walked on Earth. The prophet Mohammed sent his relatives and followers on the first Hijra (migration) for safety to Ethiopia by the shores of the mighty Abay. Without Abay there will be no such thing as Egyptian civilization the fore bearer of World civilization. It is not a good idea to toy with Abay. Abay is not a forgiving River.
Everything else Ethiopian has been debased and degraded so it is nothing new Abay is the current victim. When you think the flag is a playground for some infantile scribble Abay stands no chance.
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Groundhog Year in Prison Nation
In December 2008, I wrote a weekly column entitled “Groundhog Year in Prison Nation” summarizing some of my weekly columns for that year. I used the “groundhog year” analogy following the title of the motion picture “Groundhog Day” in which a hapless television weatherman is trapped in a time warp and finds himself repeating the same day over and over. I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each “new” day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray… for deliverance from Evil!
It is December 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. Are Ethiopians better off today than they were in 2009, 2005…2000?
Does bread (teff) cost more today than it did a year ago…, five years ago? Cooking oil, household fuel, beef, poultry, gasoline, housing, water, electricity, public transport…?
Are there more poor people today in Ethiopia than there were a year ago… five years ago? More unemployment among youth, less educational opportunities, less health care?
Is there more corruption, more secrecy, less transparency and less accountability in December 2010 than in December 2009…?
Are elections more free and fair in 2010 than they were in 2008, 2005?
Is there more press freedom today than five years ago? More human rights violations?
Is Ethiopia more dependent on international charity for its daily bread today than a year ago…?
Is there more environmental pollution, habitat destruction, forced human displacement and land grabs in Ethiopia today than there was in 2005?
Are businesses paying more taxes and bribes in Ethiopia today than in years past?
Is Ethiopia today at the very bottom of the global Index of Economic Freedom (limited access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure)?
Let the reader answer these self-evident questions. Suffice it to say, “It is what it is!”
Montage of Scenes From 2010 Time Loop
So here we are in Ethiopian Groundhog Year 2010. As a year-end overview, I decided to select and highlight a few of my columns from the multiple dozens of weekly and other commentaries I wrote in 2010 and published on the various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, and the Huffington Post where all of my commentaries for the year are readily available.
January 2010 – Looking Through the Glass, Brightly
“Ethiopia is the country of the future,” Birtukan Midekssa would often say epigrammatically. Ethiopia’s number 1 political prisoner is always preoccupied with her country’s future and destiny. Her deep concern for Ethiopia is exceeded only by her boundless optimism for its future… To be the country of the future necessarily means not being the country of the past. Birtukan’s Ethiopia of the future is necessarily the categorical antitheses of an imperial autocracy, a military bureaucracy and a dictatorship of kleptocracy. Her vision of the future Ethiopia is a unified country built on a steel platform of multiparty democracy. Birtukan would have been pleased to explain her vision and dreams of the future country of Ethiopia; unfortunately, she cannot speak for herself as she has been condemned to “rot” in jail.
February 2010- Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Ethiopia’s dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the “fastest developing economies in the world”. Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with megawattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of “severe malnutrition”. Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a “human rights” chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’ but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!”
March 2010- Waiting for Godot to Leave
The politics of “succession” to Zenawi’s “throne” has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the “throne” (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up… and the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they cannot remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came. Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain’t happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work.
April, 2010- C’est la Vie? C’est la Vie en Prison!
When Meles Zenawi, the arch dictator in Ethiopia, was asked about Birtukan’s health in his prison on March 23, 2010, he was comically philosophical about it. He said Birtukan health is in “perfect condition”, except that she may be putting on some weight. “The health situation of Birtukan, the last I heard, is in perfect condition. She may have gained a few kilos, but other than that, and that may be for lack of exercise, I understand she is in perfect health… I am not surprised that they [U.S. State Department] have characterized Birtukan as a political prisoner, because I understand they have also characterized Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) terrorists… as political prisoners… But that is life; I think the French say, ‘C’est la Vie.’
May, 2010- Speaking Truth to Power
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” … Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “… I don’t think it was a fair election.”
June, 2010- Speaking Truth to the Powerless
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
July, 2010- Hummingbirds and Forest Fires
World history shows that individuals and small groups — the hummingbirds — do make a difference in bringing about change in their societies. The few dozen leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the government of the United States were driven to independence by a “long train of abuses and usurpations” leading to “absolute despotism” as so eloquently and timelessly expressed in the Declaration of Independence… The Bolsheviks (vultures in hummingbird feathers) won the Russian Revolution arguably defending the rights of the working class and peasants against the harsh oppression of Czarist dictatorship. They managed to establish a totalitarian system which thankfully swept itself into the dustbin of history two decades ago… Gandhi and a small group of followers in India led nationwide campaigns to alleviate poverty, make India economically self-reliant, broaden the rights of urban laborers, peasants and women, end the odious custom of untouchability and bring about tolerance and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo led ANC’s Defiance Campaign and crafted the Freedom Charter which provided the ideological basis for the long struggle against apartheid and served as the foundation for the current South African Constitution. In the United States, Martin Luther King and some 60 church leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the driving force of the American civil rights movement.
August, 2010 – Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in Poland… and singled out Ethiopia along with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others to warn the world that “we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”… She pointed out: “Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights.”… Secretary Clinton said the acid test for the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy is whether “more people in more places are better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?” By this measure, U.S. policy in Ethiopia has been a total, unmitigated and dismal failure. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable…
September, 2010- Indoctri-Nation
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (or education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country… Wholesale elimination of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately bureaucratic fiat, is a flagrant violation of Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. Under this Proclamation, the Ministry of Education and its sub-agencies have the authority to regulate and “revoke accreditation” of a private institution which fails to meet statutory criteria on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process…. I believe the regime has a long term strategy to use the universities as breeding grounds for its ideologues and hatcheries for the thousands of loyal and dependent bureaucrats they need to sustain their domination and rule. The monopoly created for the state in the disciplines of law and teaching (which I will predict will gradually include other disciplines in the future) is a clear indication of the trend to gradually create a cadre of “educated” elites to serve the next generation of dictators to come.
October, 2010- Birtukan Unbound!
Birtukan was held for months in a dark room with no human contact except a few minutes a week with her mother and daughter. Fear, anxiety and despair were her only companions. Heartache knocked constantly on the door to her dark room needling her: “Did you do the right thing leaving three year-old Hal’le to the care of your aging mother?” Self-doubt kept her awake in that dark room where time stood still asking her the same question over and over: “Is it worth all this suffering? Give up!” But a voice in her conscience would echo thunderously, “Like hell you’re going to give up, Birtukan. Fight on. Keep on fighting. ‘Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.’” In the end Birtukan signed Zenawi’s scrap of paper making exception to convictions of honor and good sense. We expected nothing less from such a great young woman…. Prisoners can be brainwashed to say anything by those who control them. Prisoners who have endured torture, extreme degradation and abuse have been known to do shocking things to please their captors and ease their own pain and suffering. Abused prisoners have been known to deceive themselves into believing the cruelty of their captors as acts of kindness. It is called the “Stockholm Syndrome.” When the victim is under the total and complete control of her captor for her basic needs of survival and her very existence, she will say and do anything to please her captor.
November, 2010- Remember the Slaughter of 2005
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
December, 2010- “So What!”
So what are the lessons of Groundhog Year 2010? The first decade of the 21st Century?
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Lesson II. If you get into America’s face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
Lesson III. “Democratization is a matter of survival.” If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive.
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
Lesson VI. Elections are like children’s marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, you need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.
Lesson VIII. You want funding, don’t beg for it; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Lesson: IX. There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.
Lesson X: The greatest lesson of 2010 and the first decade of the 21st Century:
DESPAIR NOT! “THERE HAVE BEEN TYRANTS AND MURDERERS AND FOR A TIME THEY SEEM INVINCIBLE BUT IN THE END, THEY ALWAYS FAIL — THINK OF IT ALWAYS.” Mahatma Gandhi.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: This is the fourth installment in a series of commentaries I intend to offer on U.S. foreign policy (or lack thereof as some would argue) in Ethiopia. In this piece, I argue that the Obama Administration’s recently announced Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative to go after corruption in Africa and elsewhere could prove to be an extraordinarily effective tool to improve human rights on the continent. By focusing on corruption, the Obama Administration could reasonably demand good governance practices of African “leaders” while maintaining cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues.
The Africa Kleptocracy Project
In June 2008, when presidential candidate Barack Obama was a few months away from electoral victory, I warned those dictators who survive by pickpocketing the American tax payer of the arrival of a “new sheriff” in town and advised them to clean up their acts and “shape up”: “A new sheriff is coming to town. He does not carry a six-shooter but carries a law book. And he’s laying down the law for all the tin-pot dictators of the world.” In April 2009, I “read the tea leaves” again and urged Africa’s panhandling dictators to “ride out before the big roundup” because the “new sheriff and posse are in town.” I am glad to say I read the tea leaves just right.
Barack’s Posse was a little late but finally showed up in Kampala, Uganda last week to lay down the law to Africa’s top kleptocrats (thieves masquerading as “heads of state”) gathered at their annual summit. President Obama’s “undersheriffs”, Attorney General (A.G) Eric Holder and Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, told the huddled kleptocrats that a special Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (KARI) has been established in the U.S. Justice Department to recover the money they and their criminal cohorts have stolen from their citizens and restore it to its intended use:
I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption… I know that prosecution is not the only effective way to curb global corruption. We will continue to work with your governments to strengthen the entire judicial sector… We must also work with business leaders to encourage, ensure and enforce sound corporate governance. We should not, and must not settle for anything less… As many here have learned — often in painful and devastating ways — corruption imperils development, stability, competition and economic investment. It also undermines the promise of democracy… Like President Obama, I believe that the 21st century will be shaped by what happens here in Africa. Your security and prosperity, the health of your people and the strength of your civil society, will have a direct and profound impact on the world’s communities and on the advancement of human rights and human progress everywhere.
A couple of months ago, A.G. Holder addressing the 35-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris said:
Put simply, corruption undermines the promise of democracy. It imperils development, stability and faith in our markets. And it weakens the rule of law. Corruption erodes, even destroys, the faith of citizens in their governments. As I speak, a corrupt official somewhere is enjoying undeserved and illegal proceeds. He may be driving a brand-new luxury car. She may be filling her off-shore bank account with tainted cash. They may be traveling first-class on all-expenses-paid holidays. Bribery in international business, for example, may center on shell companies and wire transfers, but no matter where — or how — it happens, the corrosive result is the same: stymied development, lost confidence and distorted competition. The result is unfairness, not justice; the consequence is economic decay, not development.
African Kleptocrats as Organized Criminals (Mafia)
In my commentary “Africorruption, Inc.”, I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. In other words, the majority of African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. President Obama’s approach to dealing with corrupt African governments is consistent with the informed view that corruption is not only the lifeblood of African dictatorships but also the most important single factor that accounts for gross violations of human rights and violent suppression of democratic institutions on the continent. Just like any organized criminal enterprise, be they street-level or Mafia-style gangsters, African kleptocrats have used threats, fear, intimidation and violence to maintain and perpetuate their corrupt financial empires. In that context, A.G. Holder’s announcement was nothing short of breathtaking. It was as though he was addressing the national convention of the “Commissione” of all the Mafia families from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In Kampala, he was talking directly to the African equivalents of the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families in one place. It was almost surreal.
Though A.G. Holder told the African kleptocrats that he has a posse of special corruption prosecutors saddled up, he omitted telling them what tools he would be using to bring them to justice. They can rest assured that he will be coming after them armed with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (commonly referred to as the RICO Act or RICO; 18 U.S.C. § 1961–1968). RICO was originally enacted to prosecute the Mafia and others actively engaged in organized criminal activity. Over the years its use has been expanded to cover corporate and other crimes; and now its application is likely to be expanded even further to go after the corrupt and thieving African dictators who launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the U.S. buying businesses and homes and making “investments” in legitimate commercial enterprises. Section 1962 of RICO provides in part:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity… to use or invest, directly or indirectly, any part of such income, or the proceeds of such income, in acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce. (b)… through a pattern of racketeering activity… to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any interest in or control of any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce… (c) It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity… (d) It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the provisions of subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section.
Simply stated, African kleptocrats who rob their nations blind and bring their stolen loot to the U.S. to launder it will be tracked down and forced to disgorge and face jail time as well. What is potentially devastating to African kleptocrats is the fact that a RICO charge could be brought not only against them, but also their associates, business partners, investors, and any others in the U.S. or elsewhere who “directly or indirectly” facilitate their criminal enterprises. The penalties are severe: up to $25,000 and 20 years in prison per racketeering count. The racketeers must give up all of the gains from the criminal activity including the hundreds of millions tucked away in U.S. banks. RICO also allows private individuals damaged by the racketeer to file a civil suit and collect treble (three times) damages if they are successful. Proving a RICO charge in court is considered to be relatively easy as it focuses on “patterns” of behavior as opposed to criminal acts. Since conspiracy is one of the charges that could be brought in a RICO case, the kleptocrats’ underlings, accountants, business associates and partners and collaborators could be prosecuted.
Fixing Human Rights Violations by Prosecuting Kleptocrats
A.G. Holder says the Obama Administration is committed to battling corruption as “one of the great struggles of our time.” Holder’s words, if translated into concrete action could have a huge impact not only on governance in Africa but also in improving human rights protections. Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued, “[C]orruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens’ trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions.”
The fascinating thing about the Obama Administration’s approach is its creative use of U.S. criminal statutes to deal with African dictators as organized criminal enterprises. Simply stated, the Administration has decided to deal with African dictators as Mafia bosses! If the U.S. could effectively investigate, vigorously prosecute and aggressively seize the assets of Africa’s kleptocrats, the continent may finally begin to see significant improvements in human rights and governance, a dramatic reduction in corruption and generate significant resources from recovered assets for investment in infrastructure and other social programs for the African population.
As I have previously documented, Transparency International [TI] (the global coalition against corruption) in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) again bestowed upon Africa the dubious honor of being Kleptocracy Central, the continental home of the world’s most corrupt governments in the world. Leading the parade of kleptocracies are the regimes in Ethiopia, the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya and the warlords of Somalia. These countries scored an atrocious 3.0 or less on the index. In certain countries, the corruption trend appears to be irreversible. For instance, in 2002, Ethiopia received a dismal score of 3.5 on the corruption index. In 2009, eight years after the ruling regime had established the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) with great fanfare and after periodic reports of “major accomplishments” in combating corruption, Ethiopia’s score dropped to an abysmal 2.7.
Publicly-owned assets are acquired in Ethiopia by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Even the U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated last year that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.”
Over the past three years, high profile corruption cases in Ethiopia have been reported in the media. In one case, it was established that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. The official “anti-corruption” agency described the heist as a “huge scandal that took place in the Country’s National Bank and took many Ethiopians by surprise [in which] corruptors dared to steal lots of pure gold bars that belonged to the Ethiopian people replacing them with gilded irons… Some employees of the Bank, business people, managers and other government employees were allegedly involved in this disastrous and disgracing scandal.” In another case involving a telecommunications deal with the Chinese, a high level regime official was secretly tape recorded trying to extort kickbacks for himself and other regime officials. The same “anti-corruption” agency reported that “there was another big corruption case at the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation that took many Ethiopians by surprise” which involved the “competitive tendering for the supply of telecommunication equipment.” After an investigation, FEAC “found out that nearly 200 million USD has been lost to corruption through the entire fraudulent and corrupt process.” No high level official in good standing with the regime has ever been investigated or prosecuted for corruption.
The poor and powerless bear the brunt of corruption in Africa. The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. As for President Obama, it seems that he has finally found the silver bullet to deal with Africa’s corrupt thugs. In a pun, no more cash and KARI for Africa’s kleptocrats.
To be continued….
FREE BIRTUKAN MIDEKSSA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
It has been said that Africa’s natural resources — oil, diamonds, minerals — have often proven to be sources of woe, suffering and misery than wealth, prosperity and progress for the people of the continent. What should have been a blessing for Africa’s poor has become a curse of corruption, malfeasance and bad governance. Could Africa’s new found wealth in farmlands prove to be a curse once again? If so, how could it be averted?
Last week, Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama contended that transparency, public accountability and scrutiny are necessary to ensure the proper use of natural resources in Africa. Speaking to an international conference in Accra on the public’s right of access to official information, Mahama announced that “information on all contracts on the oil find [in Ghana] would be made known to the citizenry for public scrutiny.” He explained that “Lack of access to information will create a gulf of confidence between government and the governed, breed mistrust, suspicion, corruption and lack of faith in the building blocks of democracy… It is against this background that the government of Ghana has started publishing all information on contracts on our oil find.” Mahama praised Ghana’s media for its dogged investigative role in promoting transparency and accountability in government contracting. He topped off his speech by declaring that “legitimate governments would not withhold information from the citizenry.” Ex-President Jimmy Carter praised Ghana’s effort at transparency, and reported that “President Mills also told [him] a third of the [oil] revenue will be put away for posterity, a third will be invested into education to benefit future leaders and a third will go directly into national treasury for current expenses.”
Recent oil and gas exploration deals in Ghana have been mired in serious allegations of corruption and criminality. In 2007, Ghana announced it had discovered offshore oil reserves with the potential to produce more than 2 billion barrels of oil by 2030. In 2004, the Ghanaian government signed an oil exploration agreement with various companies whose activities are now under official scrutiny. Last March, the newly-elected President John Evans Atta Mills pledged to make public all past and future gas and oil exploration agreements.
There are many disturbing questions surrounding the 2004 oil exploration agreements. The fact that the government concluded the complex agreements with the companies in weeks has raised questions about the thoroughness of the negotiating process. The agreements, concluded without parliamentary approval or formal cabinet-level review, have led to allegations of cover-ups. More red flags were raised when it came to public light that certain key players in the oil deals had close association with the former president John Kufuor, but little or not prior experience in the oil business. One of the co-owners of the company awarded an exploration contract was a physician in the U.S. who was later appointed ambassador in various European capitals by Kufuor. Little is known about the identities of the individuals or the financial backers of the companies who received the sole-source exploration contracts. Few details are available to the public on production and distribution rights, payments to the government and share transfer agreements between investors and the various companies involved. One of Ghana’s leading media outlets commented: “The sweetheart deals in the oil sector, which spotted powerful oil barons, whose footprints leads to the office of former President John Agyekum Kufuor, is about to turn sour… with the ‘Kufour boys’ about to face 25 criminal charges, [for actions] bordering on criminality [including] blatant falsification of public records in a mad rush to control Ghana’s black gold…”
Transparency and effective public access to information on official decisions and the decision-making processes used to reach them are cornerstones of international law and the constitutions of most countries. Article 13 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (2003) [ratified by Ethiopia on November 27, 2007] requires signatories to ensure “transparency and effective public access to information”. Article IV of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Resolution on the Adoption of Principles on Freedom of Expression (2002), provides that “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.” Article 29 (3) (b) of the “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” guarantees an all-inclusive duty of disclosure of official information that meets the test of “public interest”: “Freedom of the press shall specifically include the following… (b) access to information of public interest.” Article 29 is bolstered by Article 12 (“Functions and Accountability of Government”), which sweepingly mandates: “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public…”
For the past couple of years, there have been many questions raised concerning the Ethiopian dictatorship’s numerous foreign “investment” deals involving millions of hectares of farmland and a border agreement with the Sudan. Except for those who secretly concluded the so-called farmland “leases” or sales, or signed the border “demarcation” agreement with the Sudan, the negotiation processes and the complete text of the agreements remain shrouded in a veil of secrecy behind a dense fog of official cover-ups, hush-ups and whitewashes. None of the deals and agreements have been subject to public scrutiny. However, there is sufficient evidence gathered by independent sources which raises many disturbing questions about the negotiation process and the terms and conditions of the farmland and borderland deals.
According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the official reports of the dictatorship with respect to the magnitude of the land deals lacks credibility:
In Ethiopia, for example, enquiries at the state-level Oromia investment promotion agency found evidence of some 22 proposed or actual land deals, of which 9 were over 1,000 ha, in addition to the 148 recorded at the national investment promotion agency. It is possible to speculate that state-level agencies in other Ethiopian states may also have records of additional projects, and that some land acquisitions may not have been recorded at all…. For example, in Ethiopia information about the land size of many deals proposed or concluded in 2008 was missing….
There is further evidence to suggest official under-recording and misclassification to conceal the true nature and scope of the land “leases” or sales. The FAO/IFAD report states: “An investment by German company Flora EcoPower in Ethiopia was reported to involve 13,000 ha (hectare), while it is recorded at the Ethiopian investment promotion agency for 3,800 ha only.” Moreover, the dictatorship intentionally misclassifies the lands “leased” or sold to the foreign “investors” as vacant “wastelands” (that is unoccupied by anyone or just wilderness) in an effort to conceal the fact that inhabited lands are part of a grand land giveaway scheme to foreign “investors”. The FAO/IFAD report specifically points out:
In Ethiopia, for example, all land allocations recorded at the national investment promotion agency are classified as involving “wastelands” with no pre-existing users. But this formal classification is open to question, in a country with a population of about 75 million, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas. Evidence collected by in-country research suggests that at least some of the lands allocated to investors in the Benishangul Gumuz and Afar regions were previously being used for shifting cultivation and dry-season grazing, respectively.
On May 21, 2008, Meles Zenawi publicly described his agreement with Omar al-Bashir as follows:
We, Ethiopia and Sudan, have signed an agreement not to displace any single individual from both sides to whom the demarcation benefits…We have given back this land, which was occupied in 1996. This land before 1996 belonged to Sudanese farmers. There is no single individual displaced at the border as it is being reported by some media.
Zenawi insists on keeping the actual Agreement shrouded in absolute secrecy. There is no reason whatsoever why the border Agreement should not be made public in its entirety. If the Agreement is made public, it will either provide support to Zenawi’s claims or negate them, demonstrating that he is misrepresenting facts. The cloak of secrecy surrounding this Agreement raises many questions: Why isn’t the text of the formal Agreement between the two countries available for public scrutiny? What are the specific terms and conditions concerning the border demarcation lines and the rights of individuals living along the border made public since that would be the best evidence of the vicarious representation of them made by Zenawi? Why wasn’t the Agreement ratified by the “House of Peoples’ Representatives” as mandated by the Article 55, section 12 (“House of Peoples’ Representatives… shall ratify international agreements concluded by the executive.”) of the “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”? What conceivable “national security” exceptions apply to an Agreement which has been a subject of public commentary and explanation by the head of the dictatorship? What conceivable justification exists to keep secret an Agreement that merely marks the international borders of the two countries and protects the rights of the population in the border?
The simple point is that the runaway farmland and borderland giveaway deals need to be publicly scrutinized to ensure transparency (detect corruption and criminality) and to make certain that private interests (sweetheart deals) have not overtaken the public interest, or secret deals are not made to harm the Ethiopian national interest.
Mr. Zenawi: TEAR DOWN THE STONEWALL OF SECRECY AROUND YOUR FARMLAND AND BORDERLAND DEALS!” The Ethiopian people have a right to know, and you have a compulsory legal duty to ensure that they have “access to information of public interest.” (See, “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,” Article 29 (3) (b) and Article 12, section (1) (“government activities must be open and transparent to the public); Article 13 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (2003) [ratified by Ethiopia on November 27, 2007].)
“Legitimate governments would not withhold information from their citizenry.” Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama
(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.)