Selam Beyene, PhD
Without regard to the opportunity presented by the death of the late autocrat Meles Zenawi to initiate dialogue, atone for the crimes committed by the ethnic-based regime, and reach out to the vast majority of the Ethiopian people they have disfranchised, impoverished and subjected to untold levels of oppression and misery in over two decades tyranny, the cadres of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that still hold the reins of power in Ethiopia are harassing the people as they frantically prepare to make a distasteful spectacle of the despot’s funeral services, fashioned after the theatrics of North Korea’s Kim dynasty.
In a bizarre and primitive public relations ploy, the cadres kept in the dark a country of over eighty million people and the rest of the world about the circumstances of the tyrant’s ailment and death for months, thereby revealing a collective state of mind that is unstable and a leadership cohort that lacks human decency and the basic elements of governance and good diplomacy.
When the death of the dictator was eventually disclosed, largely under pressure from the international donor community, the cadres again stunned the world by their lack of tactfulness, understanding of the nuances of the occasion and ability to conceal their panic, shame and naked desire to perpetuate the failed policies of an ethnic-based and corrupt system.
As a venomous serpent that has most of its head severed, the TPLF is now convinced that its continued survival hinges only on the portrayal of a larger-than-life picture of the fallen tyrant and taking refuge in the shadow of such a portrait. Accordingly, while waging fierce internal struggles for control and leadership positions, the cadres are mobilizing all resources at their disposal to bid a dramatic and repugnant sendoff to their deceased boss in the vain hope of carrying on his wicked legacy.
Since the official announcement of the dictator’s expiration, Ethiopia has been in a state of siege. From the smallest villages in central Shoa to such regional towns as Debre Berhan, Jimma, Gondar, Adwa, Nazareth and Addis Ababa, all citizens from the unemployed to the professional, from famous singers to renowned athletes, from the army to the clergy, are ordered to display their grief over the death of the tyrant during the lengthy mourning and funeral periods. Their embassy employees in major capitals of the world are busy persuading foreign dignitaries to attend the sendoff, while corrupt African diplomats in Addis are urged to persuade their respective autocratic leaders to eulogize the life of a fallen colleague. To critical observers, the unfolding dramatic events are reminiscent of the North Korean “Great Leader” phenomenon, with the veiled but unmistakable intention of continuing the repressive policies of the deceased despot.
A Teachable Moment
If the TPLF minority rulers believe that they can continue the discredited ethnic-based policies of Zenawi with business as usual, then they have not learned from their short history or the unfolding events in their neighborhood. They should wake up from decades of denial about the crimes they have committed and the immeasurable pain and suffering they have inflicted on the people of Ethiopia, and use this occasion to build bridges between them and the rest of the country. The sinister gambit to hide under the cover of fake growth figures, phony democracy, and fanciful invincibility cannot last for much longer.
Thanks to the infantile and irresponsible ethnic policy of Zenawi, Ethiopia today is a tinderbox. The propaganda machinery and security apparatus notwithstanding, the harsh realities of life under TPLF authoritarian rule have created favorable conditions for a mass insurrection, with unpredictable and grave consequences. The sources of the billions of dollars aid money diverted to buy informants and train and maintain militias would soon dry up, and there would be no force strong enough to continue to thwart the people’s desire for freedom and democracy.
The TPLF cadres should, therefore, come to their senses and divert a calamity by integrating themselves into the Ethiopian society. It is high time they understand that a rule by a minority ethnic group, with a philosophy of inter-ethnic disharmony, corruption and anti-Ethiopianism, is doomed to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
The Hypocrisy of the West
Over that last few days, we have watched with great consternation as gullible Western diplomats made attempts to lionize the brutal dictator, instead of demonizing him for the crimes he had committed against humanity. While their expression of admiration for the late dictator as an African intellectual and economic reformer is, of course, a measure of the contempt they harbor for Africa, their irresponsible statements have the potential to send the wrong signals to the followers of the dictator who still believe they can promote the failed ideology of their deceased leader.
Much has been written about the phony growth and development figures that the despot fed to naïve donor nations and so-called development experts. The West showered the dictator with billions of dollars in direct and indirect aid, in part as payment for his mercenary role in the “fight against terror”. The tyrant used part of the money to strengthen his grip on power, while he either stashed away the rest in his foreign bank accounts or used it to enrich his multi-billion dollar business conglomerates, such as the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). In a country that had been struggling to emerge from decades of civil war and a Soviet-style bureaucracy, a fraction of the aid money that was spent on superficial construction and other development activities, bolstered by statistics fabricated by party loyalists, was sufficient to give the impression of double-digit growth. To the naive donor institutions that are ever hungry for numbers, and to the phony academicians who are desperate to validate flawed development ideas, the fudged figures were essential inputs to complete annual reports or to corroborate fanciful theories, and hence were uncritically accepted at face value.
Sadly, the facts on the ground are horrifying. According to a recent report of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project, Ethiopia is ranked among the bottom of 213 economies over the period 1996–2010, i.e., on Zenawi’s watch, with respect to such governance dimensions as Voice and Accountability, Government Effectiveness, Rule of Law and Control of Corruption. And more shockingly, Ethiopia is ranked as the second poorest country in the world, just above Niger, based on the new international measure of poverty, the Multidimensional Poverty Index( MPI), developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.
With respect to human rights, Zenawi had the most despicable record of any leader in recent history. Since he snatched power from the previous despot, he had systematically wiped out all forms of opposition, and established a totalitarian state the likes of which had not been seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 2005, when he was humiliatingly defeated at the polls, he massacred over 190 peaceful protesters, sent hundreds of thousands of suspected opposition supporters to concentration camps, and jailed all major opposition leaders. In the most recent elections, he decimated any potential rivals, and claimed 99.6% of the votes in openly rigged elections.
It is time for the West to abandon the contemptible policy of cuddling dictators in private while professing democracy and freedom in official communications. The career diplomats in the US State Department and in foreign offices of Western powers should take heed of the plight of the people under the yoke of tyranny and recalibrate their policies to ensure lasting peace and stability in these fragile parts of the world. The Pentagon in particular should immediately sever its ties with a criminal regime that does not represent the will of the people, and refrain from tarnishing its time-honored responsibility as a bulwark of freedom and democracy in an imprudent aim of achieving short-term tactical objectives.
A Golden Opportunity for the Opposition
The fractured opposition groups, both inside and outside of Ethiopia, have hitherto never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to bring an end to the tyrannical rule of the TPLF. Now these groups have a golden opportunity to join forces and work toward the formation of a system of government that is based on democratic principles, respect of individual rights, and equal opportunity for all citizens, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other prejudices. It is imperative that all opposition groups come together under a common platform and press the international community and the TPLF cadres to chart a robust framework for a stable, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia. In this regard, the recent announcement by the Oromo Dialogue Forum should be viewed as a step in the right directions and followed by all concerned groups. Without a united front among opposition groups, in which individual ambitions are subservient to the common good, the TPLF cadres are likely to perpetuate Zenawi’s agenda of repression, and the West will continue to thwart any internal movement for freedom and democracy.
A Call to Action
All Ethiopians back home and in the Diaspora should use this opportunity to exert pressure on the TPLF cadres and their foreign backers to chart a democratic path for Ethiopia. They should not be distracted by the misguided drama of the TPLF diehards who are futilely attempting to perpetuate the destructive ethnic policy of the late tyrant. No lavish funeral ceremony, or memorial edifices to immortalize one of the most vicious dictators in modern times should distract the people of Ethiopia from demanding their fundamental rights to live in freedom and choose their leaders without coercion and repression.
We call upon Ethiopian intellectuals to engage more aggressively in the struggle to free our people from the shackles of tyranny, deprivation and perpetual misery. Seldom in the history of the struggle against tyranny has a generation of intellectuals demonstrated such a level of inexcusable apathy as has been the case among many of the Ethiopian intellectuals in the face of unparalleled repression of the society they are a product of. Any segment of a society that is guided only by selfish principles, without regard to the common good, is destined to condemn itself and its progeny to perpetual servitude and slavery.
Lastly, we call upon donor nations and institutions to withheld any and all aid to the criminal regime until it agrees to abide by international norms of good governance, invites all opposition groups to form a government of national reconciliation, unconditionally frees all political prisoners, and immediately guarantees the rights and freedoms of all Ethiopians that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without the subsidy of Western aid, the Stalinist system of government will crumble overnight, and a new era of democracy, stability and prosperity will dawn on that ancient land in the Horn of Africa.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])