Dictatorship 101

By Yilma Bekele

According to Wiki “in contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.” That is what we have in Ethiopia. That is what we are used to in Ethiopia. We have never known any other type of system.

Emperor Menilik is considered the father of modern day Ethiopia. He was crowned in 1889 and reined till 1910. His title was Neguse Negest or king of kings. He was followed by Haile Sellasie who acted as a regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1074. His title was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God” (Ge’ez ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር; girmāwī ḳadāmāwī ‘aṣē ḫaile śelassie, mō’ā ‘ambassā ze’imneggede yehūda negus negast ze’ītyōṗṗyā, tsehume ‘igzī’a’bihēr)

The French absolute Monarch Louis the XIV of France defined the term when he said L’État, c’est moi (the state, it is me). All power was vested on the individual and the citizen is referred to as a subject.

Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was the next de facto Emperor. His ascension to power was, as far as I am concerned definitely a freak accident. He was cunning enough to use ruthlessness as a calling card. We witnessed his purges. We became part of his convoluted worldview. We did a lot of harm to each other. Everybody carries a scar. Indifference carries its own baggage too. Colonel Mengistu and his minions abused us till his departure in 1991. If you are keeping count Mengistu precedes Ben Ali of Tunisia as the original deportee from his own country. He was thrown out. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is scheduled to join us the next few days. Frankly I am tired of welcoming tyrants. Hosni rest assured we are in no mood to furl the welcome mat. You are on your own.

Our current leader tormentor Meles Zenawi became President of the Transitional Government from 1991 to 1995 and has been the Prime Minister and kingmaker since 1996. He controls the army, banking thus the economy, the judiciary and the parliament (legislative body). He is the new emperor in a different guise. That is the condensed version of our history of the last one hundred twenty two years.

It looks like we are conditioned to accept the rule of a single individual. We are bred to follow power and authority. Subservient to someone because of age, wealth, education, heredity is part of our DNA. We invite what is known as ‘strong leader.’ We insist on it. The more abusive those leaders are the more our appreciation and respect out of fear.

This abusive relationship is not confined to the political realm alone. It permeates our social and family life too. We allow unscrupulous individuals to climb into position of leadership even in our civic and religious organizations. We know they are up to nothing good but we pretend, ignore and deny. We just wait for the crap to hit the fan and we come out of our hiding place and feign surprise. Our women tolerate their abusive partners; our children suffer under a suffocating and irrational family life.

This ugly trait we cultivate is carried over to the highest office in the land. Our leaders whether Emperors, solders or ordinary garden variety criminals are our own products. We gave birth to them. We coddled them, nurtured them and let them loose on ourselves. It looks like it is not them alone that have to change. We have to change too. We have to learn to respect our selves. We have to believe we deserve the best. How could we demand change when we ourselves are not willing to change? How could we respect strangers when we don’t respect those around us?

Our current Emperor is in a dilemma? We have allowed him to mistreat, abuse and kick us around for the last thirty years or more. He fine-tuned his style of bullying way back when he was an ordinary member of a study group. Now it has gone to his head and I am afraid he does not know the difference between right and wrong. There is no point in psychoanalysis. It is right in front of us for all to see. His habit of resorting to force at the drop of a hat, his tendency to be little others and his show of contempt for those that disagree with him is a glaring example of an individual with no moral compass. You cannot reason with such person.

Let us be clear that any show of good will and compromise is seen as a weakness by such individuals and will be dealt with harshly. Such people are not interested in just wining but require the absolute destruction of their perceived enemy. They get a jolt of adrenalin rush from delivering such a devastating blow. Do we need examples of such behavior? If you insist.

The utter humiliation of comrade in arms Tamrat Laine, the public flogging of Abate Kisho, the imprisonment of the whole clan of Seye Abraha and confiscation of their ill gotten wealth, the harsh treatment of Kinijit leaders and the over forty thousand young people in the aftermath of the 2005 elections and the re imprisonment of Bertukan are symptoms of a sick mind at work. The fact that the ‘leader’ was even keeping tab of Bertukan’s diet and weight is an indication of a very disturbed mind at work.

I dealt with dictatorship because of the current trend of emerging from the yoke of abuse and humiliation in our neighborhood. The example set by Tunisia knows no sign of slowing down. It took Tunisians twenty eight days to topple a twenty-three years old dictatorship. It looks like the Egyptians might do it in less than fifteen days. They were exactly in the same boat like us. Some pundits are trying to show how different we are. I disagree. Our similarities are more than our differences. All three dictators used fear as their potent weapon. All three used excessive force for minor offenses. Murdering, imprisoning or exiling opponents is common to all three. All three economies were on the verge of collapse.

Trying to compare who is the most autocratic between the three misfits is a useless exercise. All three would not blink when it comes to killing to stay in power. Ours is a little primitive due to the backward economic condition of our country. Using ethnic divide, economic disparity or education level is the hallmark of a dictatorship. Nothing-new there.

We learned from Tunisia that the yearning for freedom is a universal wish. We also found out that the people united speak with one loud voice. There was no lamentation regarding the lack of a viable opposition party or leader. No one except Ben Ali and company was worried what would come after the demise of the rotten system. There was no sign of lawless ness because there was a ‘void’. The dictator was sent packing and Tunisians are slowly trying to undo years of mismanagement.

We are learning additional lessons from our Egyptians brothers and sisters. We are beginning to witness the correct approach to dealing with the military. We are finding out the average solder is committed to protecting his country and flag not the tyrant. We are also watching closely the emergence of an independent individual to coordinate the various actors in this drama. Notice that he is someone that is not associated with the dictator or the opposition. It is a very interesting development.

It is a very important and timely lesson for our country. Some would like to scare us with the specter of a military dictatorship upon the demise of TPLF. Egypt is a good example of not looking at the military as a simple tool of the ruling class. It is a living organism with different independent parts not always controlled from the center. When it comes to our country what we see is a beautiful picture. Our job is to build on that discontent and appeal to the good in all of us. We know the Generals and officers are from the ruling ethnic group. Fortunately the ordinary foot solders are just like us. A rainbow of nations and nationalities.

Let us resolve to approach this situation with hope and anticipation of a better tomorrow. Let us ignore the naysayers, the scaremongers and the negative merchants. Our country is ripe for change. Our people are ready for change. Our situation cries out for change. We are going to bring about positive change. We are going to use every available means to help our people and ourselves to emerge as a shining light in East Africa. That is our destiny.

We are in the process of organizing a ‘peaceful occupation’ of Ethiopian Embassy’s all over the world. We are going to use ESAT, Facebook, our independent websites and Ginbot7 short wave radio to gather our forces. Our intention is to show the lack of democracy and civil rights in our ancient land. Our hope is those who are clinging to power will realize change is inevitable and they will see the writing on the wall and go wherever dictators go without a futile attempt to deny reality. We are not into revenge but are committed never to allow the rule of a single individual. We also realize those who still stand with abusers even at the last hour will not receive mercy from us. It is time all decide where they stand at this hour of change. Enough is enough.