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Ethiopia: In Defense of the Voice of America

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Meles Zenawi seems to have a morbid fascination with genocide. Whenever the going gets tough — bad news, tightening election campaigns, stiffening political opposition — he whips out the specter of Rwandan-style “interhamwe” (which in Kinyarwanda or Rwanda means “those who stand, work, fight, attack together”) in Ethiopia to change the subject. Predictably, as recent news of his rebel group’s use of famine aid money in 1984 for weapons purchases received massive international coverage, the opposition stepped up its campaign for the so-called May elections, the U.S. State Department issued its condemnatory human rights report on his regime and Bob Geldof went bananas, Zenawi resurrected his favorite “interhamwe” bogeyman to justify his decision to jam the Voice of America:

We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.[1]

The last time Zenawi pulled the same “interhamwe” cock-and-bull story, he was smacked down by the European Union Election Observation Mission for engaging in “unacceptable and extremist rhetoric”. The EU Final Mission Report on Ethiopia’s Legislative Elections (2005) stated[2]:

The end of the campaign became more heated, with parties accusing each other of numerous violations of campaign rules. Campaign rhetoric became insulting. The most extreme example of this came from the Deputy Prime Minister, Addisu Legesse, who, in a public debate on 15 April, compared the opposition parties with the Interhamwe militia, which perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Prime Minister made the same comparison on 5 May in relation to the CUD. The EPRDF made the same associations during its free slots on radio and TV… Such rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic election.

Welcome back to the future. We are still living in 2005, except in 2010 Zenawi is trying sneak into the political arena  the ghosts of Rwanda using a new spiritual medium, the Voice of America’s Amharic Radio Service. Nice try, but nothing doing. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

What is this “interhamwe” Zenawi is talking about?

In 1993, a year before the Rwandan genocide, a notorious “privately-owned” radio station calling itself Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines began broadcasting hate messages to incite Hutus to commit violent acts against Tutsis. It also broadcast racist and hateful messages against moderate Hutus, Belgians and the U.N. mission in the country. When President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed after his plane was shot down in April, 1994, Mille Collines began calling for a “final war” to “exterminate the (Tutsi) cockroaches.” The station read on the air the names of people to be killed, and helped direct the murderous militias to different locations where victims could be found. It also emboldened and encouraged the killers by providing them updates on their genocidal activities: “In truth, all Tutsis will perish. They will vanish from this country … They are disappearing little by little thanks to the weapons hitting them, but also because they are being killed like rats.”

When Zenawi says, “the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines,” he is asserting that the Amharic service has called for a “final war” and the “extermination” of certain groups of Ethiopians like “cockroaches”, “vermins” and “rats”. He is also saying that the Amharic service is directing and coordinating murderous militias and groups for genocidal activities to make sure that some Ethiopians “will perish and vanish from the country.”

Has the VOA Amharic service in its history ever called for such genocidal and criminal actions?

Since Zenawi is accusing the VOA of the “worst practices” of genocidal radio, we challenge him to produce a single word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, story, analysis, commentary, editorial or any other broadcast whatsoever in audio, written or symbolic form to back up his reckless and irresponsible charges. We pledge to bring to the bar of American  justice the VOA or any individual in that organization and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law if Zenawi could produce a single molecule or speck of evidence, or a single example of the “worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines” committed by the VOA!

The U.S. response to Zenawi’s bizarre allegations was uncharacteristically bold, and gave Zenawi a much needed  introductory lesson in his own constitution.

The United States opposes Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles’ decision to jam Voice of America’s Amharic Service and condemns his comparison of their programming to Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda. Comparing a respected and professional news service to a group that called for genocide in Rwanda is a baseless and inflammatory accusation that seeks only to deflect attention away from the core issue… The Minister may disagree with news carried in Voice of America’s Amharic Service broadcasts; however, a decision to jam VOA broadcasts contradicts the Government of Ethiopia’s frequent public commitments to freedom of the press. We note that the Ethiopian Constitution states that all citizens have the right to freedom of expression ‘without any interference’ and that this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, ‘regardless of frontiers.’ The Constitution further notes that freedom of the press shall specifically include ‘prohibition of any form of censorship.’ We look to the Government of Ethiopia to abide by its constitution.[3]

But while we are on the subject of “interhamwe”, who gave the following speech recently?[4]:

There are those who maintain an eagle eye on the regime with bitter animosity and sully it by painting and drenching it in soot. Regardless, our country has marched into democracy confidently and irreversibly. Anti-democratic and anti-people forces have so much contempt that they badger our uneducated people telling them chaff is wheat. However, our people are used to winnowing the chaff in the wind and keeping the wheat. Our enemies are peddling chaff to the people and trying to find holes to sabotage our peoples’ democracy, peace and development. But since our organization knows that our operation is airtight, we are not concerned. The chaff hope to provoke the people into anger and incite them to undemocratically resort to violence. Although they (the ‘chaff’) can not dirty up the people like themselves, they may try to smear the people with mud in the hope of inciting them into lawlessness.

Could it be that “dirty chaff”, “anti-democratic and anti-people forces”, “enemies”, “saboteurs of the peoples’ democracy”, “inciters of violence” and “mud smearers” are kinder and gentler words for Radio Mille Collines’ “cockroaches, rats and vermins” who need to be “exterminated”?

The U.S. should demand proof of the allegations against the VOA or a prompt apology and a solemn promise never to pull this loony “interhamwe” hoax again.  In the alternative, it is time for the U.S. to take decisive action against Zenawi’s dictatorship.

Zenawi can try to jam the VOA Amharic broadcast at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, resources that could be used to aid famine victims and provide health care and education. But we know the whole thing is a futile attempt to distract public attention from the recent stories about the millions of dollars stolen from famine aid to buy guns in 1984, the fantastic reception Medrek candidates are getting in Tigray, the murder of Aregawi Gebreyohannes in Tigray, the fact that no credible international observers will be coming to observe the “elections” in May, the damning U.S. State Department human rights report, the soaring inflation, corruption and on and on. Suffice it to say that Zenawi can fool some of the Ethiopian people all of the time, and all of the Ethiopian people some of the time, but it is unlikely that he will be able to fool the VOA, the BBC, Deutche Welle, Bloomberg News, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Associated Press, ABC, CBS, The Huffington Post….

In the name of decency, those of us who have listened to VOA’s Amharic service broadcasts over the years offer the VOA and its Amharic service our profound apologies for the deeply offensive and scurrilous remarks. Though we may have had reasonable differences of opinion with the Amharic service, we have never had cause to doubt the professionalism of the service’s reporters, editors and management, their commitment to fairness and accuracy in reporting and their strict adherence to the principle of fair play. For these qualities demonstrated consistently over the years, we express our deepest appreciation, gratitude and respect to the VOA and its Amharic service.





Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on,, and other sites.

4 thoughts on “Ethiopia: In Defense of the Voice of America

  1. Sleepless Meles may get enough sleep when he goes to Qaliti Jail!

    Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) has been lately squeezed from all directions, and he cannot breathe or stretch out his feet.

    The spectacular fire that has recently burned down the Humera city into ashes signals to him that an overwhelming force is gathering from the north, and to counterattack this heavenly force, the frightened Meles has amassed thousands of soldiers at the borders between Sudan and Humera city.

    On the eastern front, the people of Ogaden, Harar, and Oromia have been pushing forward and causing heavy casualties on the demoralized Woyanne soldiers.

    The clean water shortages, the daily food shortages, the electricity shortages, and the health care shortages are also causing havoc among the citizens of the Ethiopian people, and they have a legitimate right to oust Meles Seitanawi from his corrupt office and make his presence in Ethiopia shorter than ever before.

    The defections of hundreds of Woyanne soldiers to join the Ethiopian Freedom Fighters have been an alarming event and a great concern for all the Woyanne officials and Meles’ death squad. In fact, some of the Woyanne officials have been secretly applying for passports to flee the country because of the serious and deteriorating conditions of the country.

    Out of his desperation and out of fear that he might lose the Election of May 23, 2010, Meles Seitanawi has jammed the VOA and has been severely criticized by his old friend, the United States of America, for jamming the Amharic program from VOA that has been enlightening the Ethiopian people for decays. He took this illegal action without consulting the Ethiopian parliament after he had already shut down the Ethiopian independent media and had sent several journalists to prison.

    The speech he gave at Mekelle University was a speech of intimidation, threat, and hopelessness to galvanize the people of Tigray to vote for him out of fear that he might liquidate them if they indeed fail to vote for him. Of course, some of the people who opposed his policy and his leadership had been already killed and some of them sent to jail.

    To deflect the opposition’s gathering force against him, the criticism from Washington for jamming the VOA, and the uneasiness and the uncertainty within his own political party, Meles has sent a green light to meet his arch enemy, Isaiah’s Afewerki, assuming the meeting with the president of Eritrea may save Meles from losing his collapsing power.

    Will indeed Isaiah meet Meles Seitanawi after that two-year-bloodiest war between the two countries? I doubt Isaiah Afewerki will do such a shameful act; yes, Isaiah wants peace, but not with the criminal Meles, perhaps with the next leader of Ethiopia.

    As a cornered beast, Meles may harm indiscriminately the Amharas, the Oromos, and the other Ethiopian tribes within these few days, at least, until the election is over; therefore, Ethiopians as well as foreign journalists must avoid places such as bars and night clubs where Meles and his death squad frequent and never ask a night club-lady dancer who has love affair with Meles or with one of his death squad for a dance or for a love; if one does such a foolish thing, one is bringing death upon himself because some Ethiopians by nature get easily angry when they see some ones dancing with the girls these Ethiopians have had love affairs with; for this reason, one is advised never to touch what belongs to Meles and to his criminal gang squad. So, any place, be it Church, schools, hospitals or court where Meles is present, one must be absent, and where Meles is absent, one must be present.

    This time, Meles may not be able to cheat during this coming election because the whole world is watching him: America is watching him; the Europeans are watching him; the rest of Africa except Sudan is watching him; the Ethiopians are watching him, the Ethiopians in diaspora are closely watching him; the mountains, the valleys, the birds, and all living and non living things are watching him, and above all, the heavens are watching him. He cannot steal the ballots while all the eyes of the world are watching him. Of course, the Ethiopian Arab Muslims are not watching him; the Sudanese, the Saudis, and the other Arab-Muslim world are not watching him because they want him to stay in power until they have bought all the fertile lands of Ethiopia and until they have bought all the Ethiopian girls to be their domestic servants.

  2. The speech of Meles indicates the beginning of the end of his barbaric regime. It also indicates that the guy is loosing his adrenalin and his white blood corpuscles are weaking from time to time.
    Can he name by the way which media in Ethiopia under his regime renders balanced information to the public?
    How are journalists are treated by the regime. Is there any independent journalism in Ethiopia? How is the media open to the opposition as well as the public?
    Does M. Zenawi care about the freedom of the press, freedom of assembly in the entire nation?
    Why is then he embarked on condemning foreign media,such as VOA and label it and compare it with nasty news propaganda of the 2003 in Ruwanda.
    It is a grotesque.

    The crowning of the matter is that he is gonna emprison his opponents after the election, no matter how and who win the election.

    So the guy is already prepared to decare “State of Emergency” for the second time in the evening of May 23, 2010 if he survives the challenges he face till that time.

    After 20-year-dictatorship as head of state plus 10 -year- Rebel leader Meles is still not satisfied with his 30-year of imperium.

    ya es suficiente. dejar la silla a los demás antes de que sea demasiado tarde.

  3. Meles, must be fooling himself this time by acusing Voice of America. Rewandan radio did contribute to genocide in that country, also Mr. Zenawi have ordered in mass killings in Ethiopia to stay in power for nearily 20 years, almost 40 years all together. He Mr. Zenawi and his death squads are responsible far more that radio rewanda. All we Ethiopians need to look is to list every citizen of Ethiopia that has been murdered via all means, which shows the man is in power and wadging intehamiwe on the Ethiopian people for too long. The families have no capacity due to fears or retributions from god father of genocide, there are millions of Ethiopian grievanced supressed under the gun burrels.

    America and voice of America ought to further disect the crime sprees Mr. Zenawi enjoying far away from bigger media spotlights.

    The so called election is nothing more than stunts to impress donor countries and fool them into beliefs that Mr. Zenawi is democrat.

    Zenawi is not democrat, nor human in his deeds. His killer assassins are no less. The EPRDF must be held into accounts for all Ethiopians butchered at the regime’s hands as well as stopped the lootings they are unleashing, by selling meager plots Ethiopian farmers owned since the beginings of time.

    Zenawi is interhamiwe himself who sawed inter conflicts among brotherily ethenics that butchered each other in welaga, sidamo, harar many more places.

    The butcherings of Addis Ababa University students, Mekelle students, Jima Awassa, Alemaya, Gondar, Bahir Dar have all his hand prints on of Mr. Zenawi.

    The AGNUAKS MASSACRE, Awassa massacres, the poisonings of Guji Rivers, the Illubabor massacres, the wollo massacres are few of Zenawi’s past times.

    Zenawi and his EPRDF killers must be exposed and sent back whereever bush the came from.

  4. Assta, I agree with u in almost everything. Except these few issues: 1. U mentioned the ethiopian parliament and Meles consulting them on a subject. My question is : which parliament? Do u really believe there´s a parliament worth it´s name in Ethiopia today? 2. U seem much harsher in ur criticism of the arab countries than western countries about their behaviour in Ethiopia. Am not trying in any way to soften ur criticism on those arab countries but I believe how the west, especially the US, is treating ethiopians is ten fold worse.

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