By Selam Beyene
By all indications, these are desperate times for Zenawi and his corrupt and crumbling regime. An evil dictatorship that is founded upon an ideology of ethnic hatred, cronyism, repression, lies, and corruption is unraveling faster than even the most positive predictions have hoped for. For pro-democracy forces, there has never been a more favorable moment than now to polish off the cancerous appendage of the Ethiopian society by forging democratic alliances, formulating innovative strategies, and laser focusing all available resources on the weakest links of the tremulous regime at this junction in history. The consequences of failure to learn from past missed opportunities and to seize this golden prospect to free our people from the shackles of tyranny would be immeasurable.
What are the tell-tale signs signaling the imminent collapse of this accidental phenomenon of history?
The signals include the increasingly apparent infirmity and psychological instability of the despot; the ongoing onslaught by the desperate regime on the independent press, journalists and other democratic forces on trumped up charges; the frenzied pillage of the country’s wealth through misguided and egotistic economic and fiscal policies; the bizarre ideological and propaganda campaigns the despot and his shameless cadres are waging; the spontaneous uprisings by various sectors of the society; and the intensifying corruption and nepotism manifested at every-level of the illegitimate government.
Zenawi’s Infirmity and Delusional Behavior
There are rumors galore, both back home and in the Diaspora, that the dictator is terminally ill and under intensive care in a foreign country. Although there have always been such rumors about the mental and physical frailty of the dictator, the most conclusive evidence about the terminal nature of his illnesses had not been officially available until the recent release of the U.S. State Department documents by WeakiLeaks. Most lately, the Associated Press gave credibility to the ongoing rumors on the conspicuous absence of the dictator quoting the Senegalese President Macky Sall who reportedly told participants of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) meeting that Meles was unable to be present due “to health conditions.”
There is a general consensus now that the dictator has been suffering from cardiovascular and other complications, which in part are attributed to his appalling lifestyle. His infirmity and mental instability became even more apparent to the world when he literally broke down following a confrontation by the audacious Abebe Gelaw at the World Economic Forum in May of 2012. His infirmity was further confirmed when he was observed as a ghost-like figure in a video clip of his meeting with Chinese officials following the G20 meeting in Mexico. Many observers believe that the lack of credible explanation about the conspicuous absence of the dictator from official appearances or about severity of his mental and physical condition by the state-controlled media is an attempt by the Woyanne public relations office to thwart the abrupt disintegration of his jittery power base and to calm down his increasingly edgy followers.
The relationship between mental and physical diseases and tyrannical personality has been a subject of considerable research. In their book entitled A Brotherhood of Tyrants: Manic Depression and Absolute Power, D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb give a persuasive account of this phenomenon with reference to the three tyrants: Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. In that remarkable study, it is argued that certain psychiatric disorders can be explanatory factors for such bizarre behaviors as those that characterize tyrants, including mass killings, grandiosity and megalomania. Further, it is well documented that tyrants manifest fantastic and delusional behavior patterns as they sense their imminent demise. The most glaring example is Hitler’s delusions of racial purity and his contempt for democracy, which he considered a sign of weakness. It was this delusional behavior that led him to profess the concept of a “Third Way” as a compromise between socialism and democracy. Similarly, Zenawi’s increasingly delusional behavior became apparent when he recently stunned even his most ardent foreign supporters with his new theory that he hopelessly formulated to justify tyranny as a sine quo non for development. According to published reports, he insolently asserted: “There is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy, historically or theoretically. I don’t believe in bedtime stories, contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy.”
While the death of the dictator may or may not be imminent, the current state of his health and his delusional behaviors have considerable import for the next stage of the ongoing struggle for democracy and justice in Ethiopia. Unlike most dictatorships where the cult of personality is principally built on a projection of nationalism, Zenawi’s totalitarian rule has in large measures been constructed on anti-Ethiopianism and inter-ethnic animosity. The army, whose leadership is dominated by a single minority ethnic-group, is unlikely to be in a position to prop up the continued dominance of the totalitarian rule perfected by Zenawi. In essence, the vast majority of the military leaders have either failed to shed their guerilla mentality or have completely been absorbed in the ongoing pillage of the country’s resources, thereby making them insensitive to the democratic aspirations of the people. As such, the allegiance of these officers, who have not been properly integrated into the Ethiopian society, is to the dictator or to their narrow self interests. Further, since the immense network of internal security apparatus and others in the civil service are basically sustained by the power of money rather than by ideological convictions or love of country, their loyalty to the tyrannical regime is predicted to evaporate as soon as favorable conditions are created in the country for a democratic alternative. Therefore, the continued survival of the TPLF under an ailing dictator is extremely precarious.
Increasing Repression of the Free Press and Journalists
Faced with the beginning of the end, Zenawi’s regime has predictably resorted to heavy-handed measures to silence dissenting voices. A case in point is the recent draconian measures taken against Eskinder Nega and several other journalists and political activists using vague anti-terrorism laws that have made the regime an embarrassment even to those in the West who have thus far turned blind eyes to the crimes committed by the dictator.
In desperate times, dictators do demonstrate frantic behaviors to project an image of strength, as was the case with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in their final hours. As lucidly stated by the PEN American Center President Peter Godwin: “By sentencing Eskinder Nega to 18 years in prison, the Ethiopian government clearly means to send a signal to its people: speak against us, and you, too, could be jailed as a terrorist. But is that a signal of strength or of weakness?”
Of course, dictators never act completely alone. Hitler was able to come to power and maintain his grip over Germany, thanks in part to such ardent supporters as Rommel, Von Manstein, Himmler, and most importantly, his propagandist Goebbels. It was Joseph Goebbels who justified the delusional aspirations of the Führer declaring: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” It was also this same miscreant who promulgated: “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” Unsurprisingly, Gobbels’ sentiment about the free press was echoed recently by Zenawi’s despicable propagandist, the contemptible Bereket Simon. In justifying the draconian press rule that sent journalists like Eskender Nega to prison, the shameless scoundrel ignorantly proclaimed to the world: “I don’t think that type of media [i.e., the free press] will help the developing world.”
The Moslem Factor
There is no better predictor of the looming demise of a dictatorship than the occurrence of spontaneous uprisings by the various sectors of an oppressed society. The ferocious and determined resistance demonstrated by the Moslem community in Addis and other parts of the nation has shaken the oppressive machinery of the totalitarian regime to its core. A remarkable feature of the Moselm uprising in Ethiopia today is that it is in total contradiction to the divide-and-rule policy that Zenawi has futilely implemented to foment inter-ethnic and inter-religious animosity. To this day, despite the brutal attacks by the regime against their faith and religious institutions, Moslem Ethiopians have unswervingly expressed their determination to stand hand in hand with their Christian compatriots, as they have estimably done so for centuries, to deracinate the evils of totalitarianism once and for all.
In the absence of a credible alternative to the collapsing TPLF regime, democratic forces inside and outside of Ethiopia should now formulate a cohesive transition plan to avoid a scenario akin to the one that replaced Mengistu Haile-Mariam’s dictatorship by Zenawi’s style of totalitarianism. With the army leadership in the hands of a minority ethnic group, and immeasurable resources at the disposal of Zenawi’s cronies, the potential for chaos and re-emergence of tyranny are within the realm of possibilities. It is therefore critical that the pro-democratic forces immediately join forces to accelerate the collapse of the tyrannical regime and to ensure the formation of a government of national salvation. At a minimum, the immediate focus of attention should include:
Agreement on a platform for the creation of a unity government that guarantees individual freedom, equality, and justice for all citizens of Ethiopia, without regard to ethnicity, race, religion, party affiliation or other prejudices.
Formulation of short and long-term plans to influence donor countries and foreign backers of the dictator to immediately discontinue support and aid of any kind to the totalitarian regime. Those in the United States with voting rights should particularly take advantage of the current electoral process to influence Congress and the Obama administration, including the State Department and the Pentagon, to desist from aiding the dictator and to censure his tyrannical policies.
In this regard, we trust that pro-democracy journalists and Websites will play a more proactive and aggressive role to bring together the fragmented opposition groups and to enlighten the wider freedom-loving community about the significance of this historic opportunity.
(The writer, Selam Beyene, Ph.D., can be reached at [email protected])