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 endlessly asserting what is patently untrue, by making such untruth ubiquitous and unavoidable, and finally by insisting that everyone publicly acquiesce in it, the regime displays its power and reduces individuals to nullities. Who can retain his self-respect when, far from defending what he knows to be true, he has to applaud what he knows to be false – not occasionally, as we all do, but for the whole of his adult life?” – Anthony Daniel
That is the capability the Meles regime is trying to build in Ethiopia. Anthony Daniel observed this and other strange behaviors by human beings during his travels inside totalitarian regimes of East Germany, Albania, North Korea and Cuba. The Ethiopian regime is modeled after them. All the above countries were/are economically backward, single party dominated with a sick megalomaniac in charge and highly armed. Cultivation of fear was their number one industry. The fear administered by these regimes is studied for its effectiveness and meant to strip the individuals of his/her self-respect. To dehumanize the person into submission was the main goal of the totalitarian state.
In Ethiopia the regime has all the tools of coercion at its disposal. The regime is the number one employer in the country. All our cousins rely on the goodwill of the regime. All land belongs to the State, thus ninety percent of Ethiopians live at the whims of the Federal government, the Kilil, all the way to the Kebele level. One false move and it is the end of the world, as they know it. They are victims of engineered fear.
Part Three of the video with ‘Ethiopian Merchants’ was all what the meeting was about. It is the Crown Jewel display of a regime bullying its own citizens that contribute the most. It was to give a public spanking to the people that have been operating under tremendous pressure to eek out a living. It was a moment to emasculate the Ethiopian merchants. We are talking about a breed of people that survived the socialist, military, and ‘strong man’ rule Ethiopia only to be administered a public flogging by The Leader himself. I am sure there are some that take the short cut. They are a few. The biggest and insurmountable threat was coming from the State subsidized, Privately owned conglomerates like EFFORT and its offsprings.
Despite all this our merchants were finding ways of going around obstacles and supporting family and friends. Our merchants are our best ambassadors. They travel to the remotest of Chinese villages to get a bargain. These naturally smart people seasoned in the art of trade on international level by sheer determination and drive were declared unnecessary and irrelevant by Ato Meles. He said the regime would rather involve in meaningful development rather than ‘being a soap peddler’ like the merchants. That was said in contempt, which is very sad. I guess we all can’t be Prime Ministers.
The meeting was to humiliate our merchants. Ato Meles was hitting hard. He meant to completely obliterate the middle class. This meeting was the unfurling of his new scheme. His new attempt to copy Wal-Mart and incorporate that success into nation building scheme. I told you he was unconventional. To go with our new flag, we will have a new name. Welcome to the Federal Democratic Republic of Wal-Opia where the regime ‘buys in bulk, repackage it, determine the profit margin and allow the worthless peasants to distribute it.
Fasten your seat belt; Ato Meles is the driver this time around. Looks like Colonel Mengistu jettisoned off a while back. If you close your eyes, you are excused, no one likes going off a cliff without a parachute. So sorry about that, there is only one parachute in this bus. Hope you enjoyed your final ride.
In Part Three Ato Meles was using the power of his office, the absolute control of Parliament and security under him to bully the merchants into submission. At the end of Part Two He called them common thieves that present false vouchers never to be trusted (7:37) then went into bully mode right away. In Part Three he started off by mentioning the last meeting with the same merchants and remembered it this way:
We assumed that the road from the existing system to the correct system would be a rocky one when we discussed with you earlier, and we agreed on the ‘price set’ I remember the questions some of you asked. You said if this policy does not work what are you going to do next, the question might have been innocent on the other hand it might have hidden messages like we are going to sabotage the price controls so what we are you going to do next. I would say this type of approach does not encourage frank discussions especially if the PM sees ulterior motive behind every question? He said that to lay the ground rules for this meeting. The story he told next is the map of economic activity under the rule of TPLF new and improved formulae.
He said the economic policy he had in place for the last twenty years assumed that by shielding the trade sector from foreign capital our people would accumulate enough capital and move into industry, farming and manufacturing. It did not happen. (1:01) Thus the blame lies on the merchant class for not involving in those activities. He reminded them of what he said before of the possibility of opening the market to foreign competition or the State being forced to participate in the trade sector. Thus due to the sabotage by the merchants against his ‘price control policy’ and the general lack of competition he announced, “we have decided to pick a few main commodities such as Oil, Sugar and Wheat and restructure the system how they are imported. What that means is one central authority purchases for all of Ethiopia and in bulk and we will have several choices to get cheap price in other words like what the Koreans do. (Please note he did not specify which Korea and what exactly they do?) We can buy it unrefined and refine and repackage it here.” (4:14)
Next is where the theory is seen in its practical form. The plan is as elegant as any devised by a committee of academicians sitting in their high tower and equating ants to human activity. You can see the problem a mile away. Looks like he forgets the pesky ugly trait humans possess that is known as ‘free will’ and it never fails to show up. This is what the Great Leader for life said “Upon buying it in bulk we do not want to assume the distribution end of it. We want plenty of distributors and retailers in every town what we don’t want is vertical integration between retailer and distributor. (5:03). It will be done in all the Kilils. We want your cooperation here. In the future we are not going to worry about the price of beer here and meat over there we want to make a fundamental solution. (9:03). We want to start slow and include all commodities.”
The Ethiopian government just declared a section of its most vibrant and creative citizens irrelevant. This is not the first time. Ato Meles and company have this nasty habit of taking a section of society and making an enemy out of. There was a time when Ato Meles declared University professors unnecessary. The best and experienced were fired. We kept quiet. Independent Trade Unions were deemed superfluous and leaders like Ato Assefa Maru were fatally shot in public. We turned a blind eye. Political Parties not organized by TPLF were seen as the enemy and Ato Meles used state power to murder leaders (Professor Asrat Woldeyes) Imprison elected leaders (Kinijit) jail leader of an opposition Party (Judge Bertukan Mideksa) disrupt (All Ethiopia, OFDM, OPC, Andenet) and we turned our face away. Independent News Paper editors, publishers, reporters and even street venders were systematically eliminated and we betrayed all by our silence.
Is there room for optimism here? Do you think our bosses found the secret formula to grow our economy and usher in a period of peace and harmony? You know the answer. If it has not borne fruit in twenty years it is not going to happen even if you give it additional hundred years. I am not being a naysayer, just realistic. There comes a time where you swallow your pride and admit defeat and get out of the way. That time has arrived. Ato Meles and company were given a clean sheet and given the power and authority to draw any picture they wanted. There was no opposition, no organized force to stop them and no external enemy to threaten them.
When you consider Meles and company never have any experience running a little kiosk let alone a national economy there is no surprise for that uneasy feeling we all have. There is one thing al the TPLF leaders have in common before they assumed power. They never had a bank account, they have never worked for wages, and they have never paid rent, bought a car, shopped for insurance or received utility bills. All their knowledge comes from theory not real life experience. There is no substitute for actual experience.
When Ato Meles speaks of being a distributor of oil and sugar and when he talks about vertical integration and stuff you know it all came from books, not real life situation. The fact of the matter is Wal-Mart is successful because it is driven by purely personal interest. The central motive is making a profit. Wal-Mart faced competition and relied on the creative potential of the founder and his associates to build such a colossal successful enterprise. It is testimonial to the power of the individual to excel when given the chance. Cadres are not capable of understand that fact.
The Ethiopian people are under tremendous pressure. The Meles regime has used the last twenty years to sharpen its weapons of coercion. They might have failed in growing the economy but they have excelled in constructing a prison that passes itself as a country. They might not have enough books for our children, they might not have medicine for our sick, they might not have enough food in storage for our people, they might not have enough teachers, doctors and other professionals to make our peoples life better but they have the best army fully equipped, they have the best security force that is embedded in every house hold and even have the latest and fastest computers to spy on, collect information and intimidate the population.
That is in Ethiopia. How about outside? What is the situation with those that escaped from this national jail? Have they managed to conquer the fear? What do you think? I am asking you my reader, yes, you! Are you afraid of Ato Meles? Shouldn’t distance from the source of fear relieve us of some of that anxiety? I see, you claim you are not afraid. Good, I will take your word for it. But I got a question for you. Now tell me when Ato Meles and company are abusing your cousins, squandering your wealth, exposing your parents to famine and starvation, exiling the young and able how did you respond? Did you say hold on a minute this does not sound right?
Some did. A vast majority of us choose the road of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Why? Because Fear cannot be wished away. Fear has become part of our persona. Fear of authority, fear of elders and the tendency to conform is a sickness we are unable to overcome. Most of us are aware that the current regime under the TPLF is not the way out. We all talk of the incoming apocalypse. We are always predicting civil war, internal strife, bloodshed around the corner and implosion from inside. What is so curious is that most of us are not willing to do what is necessary to avoid this horrible scenario unfolding in front of us. May be it will be a good idea if we take the time to self analyze and find the reason for this self-destructive behavior.
It is not true that the individual is helpless to do anything about it. That is a cover we give our self to avoid responsibility. As it is said not a single raindrop will admit to be the cause of the flood. The same with us, we might think our individual action is insignificant in the scheme of things but how wrong we are. It is our individual action that empowers the tyrant, plus you can only answer for your actions not for mine, so what do you say fellow country person? Are you contributing to your liberation or slavery?
The last few days we are really happy that Secretary of State Clinton told the AU and Ato Meles about the importance of Democracy. I am very happy. But why do I get this feeling that her words do not match her deeds? Isn’t Ato Meles coddled and propped up by our foreign friends? Who trains and equips his army, who grants him loans from World Bank and IMF, who lets him sit with elected leaders in International settings, who bestows legitimacy on him? So tell me what is all this excitement about?
I understand now. It is that old habit of wishing others to do the dirty job for us. It is that dysfunctional tendency we have acquired to outsource the liberation struggle. It is not going to work. It has been tried for the last twenty years with nothing to show for it. Looks like the burden is on us again. May be it is about time we do some growing up and face responsibility? May be it is about time we cut out this pretension and stand up to be counted. No one can force you to do the right thing. No one can make you see the light. No one can help you regain your self-esteem. It is one thing to play dead, what I don’t understand is this tendency we have to feverishly oppose even those that are trying to stand up for our rights.