Seize the time: Challenge the dictator

By Yilma Bekele

The Ethiopian Prime Mister has been a very visible figure lately. If there is such thing as frequent flyer marketing by Ethiopian Airlines Ato Meles is sure to have enough to go to the moon and back. Stop wishing it were a one-way ticket ok? The period after the 2005 general election has not been good to Ato Meles.

The sure win situation was spoiled by the upstart and spoiled brat called Kinijit. Kinijit took the wind out of Ato Meles and his ethnic entourage. TPLF (EPDRF) was shown to be a house built on sand. A little strong wind and the whole thirteen years Hollywood style façade were shattered to pieces. Kinijit victory was total. The Ethiopian people knew it. The foreign observers concurred. The only one denying reality was TPLF.

Ato Meles always keeps something in his back pocket for a rainy day. He was able to whip out the predicted ‘Interhawme’ scenario to overcome the defeat. He used the threat of Interhamwe (conspiracy to kill all Tigreans by Kinijit) to declare state of emergency. Of course one evil deed leads to another and in a panic he ordered the murder of unarmed protesters by his security force, imprisoned over forty thousand fellow citizens and jailed the whole opposition including human right advocates and civic leaders. The charge included ‘attempted genocide’.

It was a return to the yesteryears of African strong man scenario. Sham elections, rejection by the population, the use of force to change the natural outcome and finally hiding to sit out the shame associated with such barbaric and ugly deed against fellow human beings. The illegal acts ushered in a long winter of exile and lock down. Ato Meles went into hibernation. Let alone Europe and America he was not welcome in most parts of the country. He settled for Adwa as a vacation spot. Talk about downgrading. His party used the down time to fine-tune the repressive machine. The ‘kind’ image cultivated for the election was jettisoned to be replaced by the ‘mean’ not forgiving TPLF.

New programs were designed to satisfy the donors and the Diaspora was actively cultivated to bring needed dollar and euro. Elections were held with new safeguards to assure victory. There is nothing better than to run unopposed and win resoundingly. The ferenjis were happy and were able to fill the necessary forms to continue business as usual. TPLF was happy that once again victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. The Ethiopian people were depressed and started their geography lesson to scan for a quick way out of the Africa.

Ato Meles emerged from his cocoon around 2007. The world was flush with money and the ferenjis were throwing it out as if it grew on trees. The job market was such that new immigrants were working two jobs. It was planet wide party time. The fantastic amount of remittance flowing into the country and the surge in commodity prices were making the TPLF regime delirious. No one was willing to challenge the fantasy of 12% economic growth thrown around by the regime.

The fight against terror came at an opportune time too. Ato Meles jumped on the bandwagon and declared Jihad on ‘Islamists’ wherever they are. In a split second he was re incarnated as defender of the faith and slayer of Al Qaeda and whatever dada. Not bad for an old Marxist whose religion was dialectic materialism. Jesus was in Marx was out. Condoleezza Rice and Jendayi Frazier were happy to declare Ato Meles No. 1 Jihad fighter in Africa. The fearless leader promised the Pentagon Somalia on a silver platter. It was supposed to be a weekend excursion, a quick jaunt with enough time to be home for dinner. Well, the drive to Mogadishu was a freeway. In fact our Somali friends waited at roadsides to wave at the invaders and wished them a quick trip to the Indian Ocean resort.

Something went wrong. After the heroic arrival in Mogadishu those tricky Somalis closed all the exits. The African Union solders dug in and refused to budge out of their camp. The West said ‘you broke it, you fix it.’ The UN said not now we got more pressing problems. There goes your name, your reputation and the little savings in the coffer. Life is not fair.

At least something good came out of this debacle. Ato Meles was out and about. The Chinese turned out to be real friends in times of need. They were willing to forward loans and collaborate with TPLF and World Bank to show economic activity. Remember most are not sustainable enterprises but who is to complain. Ato Meles leveraged Ethiopia’s position as the seat of African Union to get involved in environmental and aid issues.

By hiring advisors and lobbyists in the West he was able to rehabilitate his image. He started by visiting fellow African dictators. Then he moved in to the periphery like China, Russia or the Middle East. He was worming his way. He always made sure that it was a locality with no civil liberties where his people are not allowed to confront him. For a time it was a days visit to Europe. It was never announced and was done fast. Then he ventured to America under the guise of attending the UN. The ice was broken.

The last year we have seen him in London, Rome and now Pittsburgh. He is seating with who is who on this planet. He wants to be admitted into the Major league. Play with the big boys. All attending G8, G20 meetings are legitimately elected heads of states. None have served more than two terms. Except for the Russian and the Chinese all are dependent on the good will of their people to maintain their status as a leader. In all major meetings Ato Meles is the only ‘leader’ that has clung to power for more than ten years. The vast majorities are new to the job. The meetings are a venue where they jockey to score good deals for respective countries. Ato Meles can sit and watch.

Ato Meles was happy to sit on the same table. He can have his picture taken, attend dinners and such but he cannot speak or vote. Sitting with the big boys have its price. There is certain behavior that is not tolerated unless of course one is either strong or rich neither of which Meles can claim to be. Yes there are always exceptions. That is real life. On the other hand a complete disregard of basic decency is not tolerated even for the rich. The Chinese leaders were shunned after the Tienamen affair. They are very careful and conscious about their dark side since that incident. Despite the ugly display before the dinner in Pittsburgh, I am sure he is happy with his performance.

In that case let us take him for his word. Let us agree that he has matured enough as a leader that he can be included in such gathering. I believe deeds should follow the rhetoric regarding the rule of law, the need for a free and fair elections and observance of the declaration of human rights that Ethiopia is a signatory of. That is good enough for starters. Democracy is the price to sit on that table unless of course you got a few nuclear warheads in your back yard. Suffice to say Ato Meles couldn’t even whip a disorganized Somali rag tag police force. He can only bully un armed civilians.

I believe we should seize the time and use this opportunity for the Ethiopian people to take advantage of the many liberties and rights promised by the Constitution. Meetings by political party’s, associations and organization should be automatic and free. Political parties should be free to lobby the system by using such methods as marches, sit ins and public gatherings.

We know that Ato Meles is preparing to position himself as a selfless leader to assume some positions in international organization when he retires. It is to be commended. Surely a leader that sits with the Barrack Obamas, Angela Merkels and Gordon Browns will not allow his solders to shoot and kill citizens demanding justice. It will definitely affect the next G20 meeting or next climate conference. You just don’t wash your hands with people’s blood and expect a seat with the big guys. It is highly unlikely such deed will go unnoticed. It is definitely a conundrum. This is what is called between a rock and a hard place. Leadership sometimes calls for tough solutions.

It is a tough choice isn’t it? To do the right thing and live in harmony or commit a transgression that will result in being ostracized once again. The decision to use the iron fist will add a lot of uncertainty in what comes after. The call for the International Criminal Court to act will be loud. Other matters that have been pushed under the rug will start to surface. Do we really want that? There are some forces urging Ato Meles to stay the course, but aren’t they sacrificing him to save their behind?

I hope the real opposition will use this opportunity to call Ato Melese’s bluff regarding democracy and freedom and test how real the promise of Woyane ‘Constitution’ is. I hope Ato Meles realizes his legacy is on line. I hope the nightmare decade will be replaced by a long period of prosperity and real peace. With TPLF in charge there is no such thing as a sure bet. Anything is possible.