Wither Ethiopia?

By Yilma Bekele

The Russians and East Europeans have definitely made their opinions known. They would rather forget about it. The Cubans have always experimented with it and continue to craft their own version. The Chinese are fine tuning it or trying to bend it to their will. You can feel the Chairman shaking in his grave. The Vietnamese do not want to talk about it. Only the North Koreans are forging full steam ahead. What I am talking about is dictatorship and the absence of the rule of law. The questions for us is why is poor Ethiopia flirting for the umpteenth time that one-man rule is the way forward?

All indications are our country is withering away as we speak. How could a country with over three thousand years of history decay and shrivel? Well, it is not unheard of. It has happened before. We have no idea where the early Egyptians went nor do we know what happened to the Mayan civilization. The Roman Empire is no more and the Greeks are a shadow of their former self. Ethiopia as we know it is on its way out if this trend continues.

It is not good to dwell so much on the negative is a good saying. On the other hand pretending life is good and everything is dandy is postponing the inevitable clash with reality. Speaking from experience, if I might be presumptuous enough to generalize about us in the Diaspora we have learnt that reality is unforgiving. No amount of pretension, glossing over problems or side steeping over issues will make it go away. Life forces each one of us to grow and accept responsibility. We learn not to panic when faced with failure or shortcoming. Our strength comes from getting up and forging a new path. There is no recipe for success as failure.

The problem is our current Ethiopia does not seem to have the capacity to learn from the past. We are the poster country for repeating failure. We change the language but not the action. We think renaming the problem is like coming up with a new solution. We have a saying ‘gulechawen bekeyayerut wotun ayattafetem.’ How true, the secret is in changing the recipe or the cook.

We are at it again. I mean repeating what does not work. Suffice to say we brave Ethiopians expect a different result. We seem to say ‘why not it did not work last time, we will just pray and leave it to fate and it will work this time.’ After over thirty years of the same solution to the same problem we find ourselves where we started. The problem is getting bigger while our solution stays constant.

What brought about this rumination is the constant unceasing jabber regarding the so-called general elections scheduled in our country. Even the term ‘election is a misnomer; it should be referred to as a ‘coronation’. I have no idea where everyone has been the last four years but the preparations by the ruling TPLF party not to repeat the ‘calculated risk’ taken in 2005 started the same day as the voting ended. The following laws were enacted to unlevel the playing field of free and democratic elections.

1. The free independent media was crushed. Methods used were killing of editors, jailing and intimidation of journalists, forced exile, increase the price of paper and ink and using the judiciary to bankrupt news organizations by forceful seizure of property.
2. Enact new ‘laws’ to make the news business expensive and the process lengthy to start a newspaper or any independent journal.
3. Enact new laws to restrict the role of NGO’s.
4. Jail and intimidate the opposition. Use all government resources to create disarray in the opposition by means of blackmail, bribery and character assassination.
5. Enact new laws under the cover of fighting ‘terrorism’ to restrict political activity.
6. Come up with a so-called ‘code of conduct’ to further confuse intimidate the opposition.
7. Use the judiciary to imprison opposition leaders and party members.
8. Use foreign diplomats to meddle in our internal affairs and water down our demands while keeping our country in a state of perpetual poverty and welfare.

For those who are willing to listen, brave enough to accept reality the TPLF regime has made it abundantly clear that the idea of free and democratic election in Ethiopia is not acceptable. The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear that the only way he will vacate the palace is by force and on several occasions he has invited his countrymen to go ahead and try it. So much for participatory democracy.

The current TPLF regime in power has shown that it is not capable of solving the many problems facing our country. It is not for lack of trying; rather it is about lack of basic practical knowledge and know-how. It was not long ago when the regime declared ‘agriculture will drive modernization’. You would think that they will revisit the infantile idea of the state ownership of land and change the policy. No they were referring to ‘leasing land’ to grow flowers for the European market. Poor farmers were evicted from their ancestral land and a generous tax benefit was given to the foreign investors and their local agents. The theory was the income in foreign currency would be used to buy food items to feed the country or something like that.

What was the net effect of this adventure? The poor peasant farmers joined the unemployed migration to the city, the use of banned chemicals was a disaster on the eco system and the few young women workers in this hazardous environment were poisoned for life. The melt down of the European economy rendered the project useless while the long-term negative effect on our country and people is immeasurable. Future generations will pay the price. You don’t hear the regime-touting flower as a savior anymore.

Now the talk is all about ‘leasing’ agricultural land to foreigners. We are in the process of clear-cutting our national resource so the Saudis can harvest wheat and barley. A Reuters report said:

‘The three investors met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi late last month, Mohamed al-Musallam, who chairs Dar Misc Economic and Administrative Consultancy firm, “They approved to lease us the farm land. They will exempt us from paying taxes and lease fees in the first years of production and they will allow us to export all our production,” Musallam told Reuters.

Our ancestors escaped the scrooge of colonialism our generations is selling our land to the new breed of colonialists. What they could not do with weapons they are doing it with dollars and Euros.
Both solutions prescribed by the regime have something in common. The need for dollars is what drives the TPLF machine. The Ethiopian government is a very expensive venture. Remember the regime is the number one employer in the country. Loyalty is paid for. Like a drug addict needs his fix and will do anything to acquire drug, so will the TPLF regime sell land, sell children, sell sovereignty to acquire dollars and Euros.

Do we have to sell our land and our children to build a better Ethiopia? There is no precedent where countries have traded sovereignty to improve the life of their people. The lesson for us is to follow the example of India where investment was made in education and the Diaspora was encouraged to invest in knowledge based ventures. The example by South Korea where the government systematically nurtured the big conglomerates (Chaebols) like Hyundai-Kia, Samsung, LG and others to grow big and strong to be able to compete in the international scene. Both India and South Korea are ancient country like us. Both value nationalism and sovereignty very much. Unlike us, both are blessed with forward looking, people and culture loving leaders.

How come our solutions do not require our involvement? Why are we relying on foreign benefactors to develop our country? Why are we allergic to crafting our own solution to our problem? Again we in the Diaspora are familiar with such mentality. There are those who work hard and build a prosperous business a successful carrier and energize their people. We are also aware of the welfare bums, the short cut artists, the fast talkers and flimflam swindlers. The Ethiopian regime falls in the second category. Intoxicated by its own lies and always stretching its hands for a spare change from the foreigners.

All we need is one example to show the bankruptcy of the TPLF regime and the hopelessness of counting on the clueless regime to get us out of the hole we are in. Let us take the Internet. It is only twenty years old. The new technology is what is driving the economies of the advanced countries.

Here in California the new technology of computer hardware, World Wide Web and its many application software with the venture capitalists have been driving the economy at a very fast pace. Is this something our Ethiopia can emulate? The answer is a resounding YES we can! The proof is the many Diaspora Web sites populating cyber space. They are the result of our people’s capacity to master the new technology and the fertile ground of freedom that allows us to soar like an eagle. You open any one of our Web sites and you are bound to find hundreds of destinations to go to.
How does this compare with Woyane land? Like day and night. We got Walta for the cadres and Aiga for their children in the Diaspora, nothing else! They are not willing to innovate and they block our people from learning.

If the Ethiopian people are free to learn and experiment with the new technology where would our country be? How many jobs will be created? All this can be accomplished with no cost to the regime. But that is not what they want. Information and knowledge is the number one enemy of a totalitarian system. They would rather invest in purchasing Internet traffic filtering technology to block knowledge.

Our fearless leader is going to Copenhagen representing African dictators. He is going to blame the world for the impoverished state the Africans are in. He is going to demand reparations to be paid over many years. The people of Africa will not see a cent. The money will be used to buy weapons and useless trinkets. What is left will be deposited in the West. The developed countries will laugh all the way to the bank while the poor impoverished Africans will cry all the way to the grave.