The wonderful act of empowerment

By Yilma Bekele

It is celebration time for Ethiopians outside their homeland especially for those in the democratic West. The recession has been brutal on immigrants more so on those that are in the service sector. We have learned to be resilient. We bend but we do not break. Most of all we are emboldened when we see success. We are made to believe that with hard work, determination and a free democratic system anything is possible. And when our brethren excel in life we are filled with such pride that it becomes the talk of the town.

I am talking about our pride Alfa Demmellash. Weizero Alfa Demmellash and her husband run “the Community Business Academy, an intensive training session coupled with year-round coaching and mentorship to help individuals “really work on the hands-on management side of their business,” Weizero Alfa and her organization Rising Tide Capital were highlighted by the White Hose as an non profit program that are making a difference.

President Obama was gracious enough to single out Alfa and recognize her. The reporter wrote “Mr. Obama pointed out Demmelash to the crowd with his trademark self-deprecating humor: “We’ve got Alfa Demmellash from Rising Tide Capital … where’s Alfa … right over there. Did I pronounce your name right? Good. When your name’s Barack Obama, you’re sensitive to these things.”

Then there is Meheret Mandefro. Dr. Meheret was appointed as a White House Fellows for 2009-2010. The program was set to “give promising American leaders first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the Federal government, and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs. The Fellows also take part in an education program designed to broaden their knowledge of leadership, policy formulation, military, and current affairs.” My friend Missy Dr. Meheret’s cousin said the whole family is beyond happy and proud. We are all proud.

There is also the Ethiopian scientist Dr.Gebisa Ejeta who won the 2009 World Food Prize given by the U.S. Department of State. Dr. Gebisa is a product of Jimma Agricultural and Technical School and beautiful Alemya Agricultural College.

When you include the thousands of Graduates all over the world you can say June is a beautiful month. Our achievers shone bright in a sky full of stars. To be recognized for your best efforts is the ultimate reward. Our heroes displayed our Ethiopia in all its glory. I am so tired of the adjectives that accompany the mention of our country. It is always the poorest, the hungriest, the civil war addicted, democracy challenged or such putdown. Alfa, Dr Mehret and Dr. Gebisa are showing us what is possible when you are allowed to soar like an Eagle.

Now contrast that from what is coming out of our homeland and you know why we despair. Nothing good has come out of there for a long time. It is famine time again. The ‘US Famine Early Warning Systems Network’ (FEWS NET) is ringing the warning bell loud for all to hear. They wrote ‘Ethiopia continues to face high levels of food insecurity. A total of 7.5 million chronically food insecure people receive assistance through employment in public works under the productive safety-Net Program (PSNP. An additional 4.9 million people require emergency food assistance through June 2009.’

“The rainy season will start late particularly in the northeastern part of our country. That means the cropping season for some types of crops may not be appropriate this year.” So declared the Prime Minster from his palace. I always thought he fancied himself as an economist, I guess he is a meteorologist too. Dare I say ‘knows everything about nothing’ is an apt description.

As for the alarm regarding the food shortage Ato Meles said “We have hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat in our store houses here in Ethiopia.” Both World Food Program (WFP) and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) agree the situation is cause for alarm. They have asked the government to release 11,000 tons. The government denies the existence of the problem. The question is who is not telling the truth? Who benefits from spreading false hood? The two organizations have no reason to lie. Food is an expensive commodity and it is in short supply and they are doing their best to get a fair share for our people. They are doing the government’s job. Suffice to say if we were self-sufficient they wouldn’t be there.

Due to congestion at Djibouti Port the food they have begged on our behalf will not reach those in need. The Ethiopian Government has given priority to transport fertilizer instead of food. In his own words Ato Meles said “We have given priority to the transportation of fertilizers because we need fertilizers now. If [WFP] is facing any problem in terms of transport… go to these [strategic reserve] warehouses and take out loans to be replenished later when their food in the port is transported to the country.” So WFP borrows from Ethiopian reserves to feed Ethiopians and they will pay it back when “their” food arrives. The key word here is “their food”. The Ethiopian government takes no responsibility for its own people. On the other hand would you say it is a better choice to use military trucks to ferry needed food or ferry solders to invade a neighbor?

There is more. Instead of dealing with famine, high inflation, drying up of capital and dwindling remittance the fearless regime wastes its precious time in drafting draconian laws to muzzle the right of its citizens. They have what is called ‘draft counter terrorism law’ ready to be rubber-stamped by the kangaroo parliament. The terrorist regime is concerned about terrorism. The mighty TPLF with all its Generals, Internal Security, Federal Police, Agazi special Force, and paid informer around every corner is afraid of terrorism. Meles has created a perfect catch-22.

Catch-22 is a satirical novel by Joseph Heller. It has entered everyday usage to mean a ‘no-win’ situation. It is like you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t. In Heller’s book the main protagonist named Yossarian an Air Force pilot is trying to get discharged by claiming insanity. Unfortunate for him he there is a little rule called Catch-22. Yossarian, by claiming he is insane, he is proving that he is sane. Catch-22 specifies that a concern for one’s safety is the work of a rational mind. Catch-22 has come to mean ‘any paradoxical, circular reasoning that catches its victim in its illogic and serves those who have made the law.’ That is Ethiopian law in a nutshell.

Ato Meles’s currently proposed so-called ‘counter terrorism law’ is a perfect example of catch-22. It is heads Meles wins and tails Ethiopia loses. No matter how the coin lands the outcome is the same for Meles and company. On one hand the ‘Constitution’ gives the citizen the right to peaceful assembly, peaceful protest and peaceful gathering (Article 30) on the other hand the new law criminalizes public gatherings or public protest as ‘disruption or interference of a public service’ to be a terrorist act. A peaceful protest that will ‘hinder the normal flow of traffic’ can be defined as a terrorist act by the authorities. The TPLF state will be the prosecutor, the jury and the judge all at the same time.

It is time we empower ourselves. Up to now we have been acting as enablers. Victim forever is not cool. Alfa, Dr Mehret and Dr. Gebisa have empowered themselves. They are showing us by example that hard work, dedication, resolve and empathy for fellow human does wonders. True empowerment is developing confidence in ones own capacity. It is not whether the US government will withhold support from the apartheid government or not, it is not whether Ato Meles will retire or not. It is about what you do to empower yourself. For a change it is all about you. Step forward and take responsibility.

Ato Meles is caught in his own catch-22. He can’t leave nor can he stay. He has created his own paradox. All this bravado regarding two more years, pointing out future heirs, and dumping it on phantom EPDRF is nothing but the last gasps of an expiring model. It did not work for Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu sese Seko, Nicolae Ceausescu, Augusto Pinochet or Alberto Fujimori. There is no reason to think it is going to work in 2009. There are several ways to get out of a predicament or self-inflicted wound. But it is not by passing useless laws that can be overturned before the ink dries or by imprisoning and exiling opponents. That is a dead end street.

Judge Bertukan Mideksa has been in TPLF prison for one hundred eighty five days. She is in a dark cold room because we are silent here. We are a well-informed people thanks to our free websites. They are doing an excellent job of exposing the illegal acts of our UN elected leaders. Knowledge should be translated into action. Alfa, Dr Mehret and Dr. Gebisa did not acquire all that knowledge for heck of it. They are using their knowledge to make a difference. Shouldn’t we follow the example of these Ethiopian giants and double our efforts to liberate our country? Please do not lament about yesterday’s inaction. Today is what matters. What we do today lays the foundation for a better tomorrow. We can do it!