In the Government’s view, the following are the major determinants of corruption: a poorly functioning legal and judicial system inconsistent with the 1994 Constitution; an overregulated bureaucracy, emphasising regulation rather than service delivery; a low-paid civil service; a new yet rudimentary government, based on a federal structure; and weak budgetary and financial control, with an outdated procurement structure, and poorly trained financial staff…
That WB report made a number of recommendations to combat corruption including, “strengthening links with civil society and the private sector to identify critical areas relating to corruption”, “elimination of excessive regulation”, “promotion of competitive market conditions and greater transparency”, and facilitation of “dialogue among Parliament, Civil Service, Civil Society, the Private Sector, the Media, the government, the Chamber of Commerce, other members of the business community, and civil society on implementing the anti-corruption program and developing complementary activities.”
By 2013, the “overregulated bureaucracy” of 1998 had become even more over-regulated. Government service delivery remains abysmally poor. The “new rudimentary government” had grown tentacles that crushed and pulverized everything in its reach. The “procurement structure” across agencies had been transformed into a bottomless vortex of corruption, fraud, waste and abuse of public funds, including foreign aid and international loans. The “poorly functioning legal and judicial system” evolved to become an exquisite kangaroo court system which permits arrest and incarceration of suspects without sufficient evidence. (Ethiopia is the only country in the world where the prosecution can arrest and jail suspects indefinitely while repeatedly asking leave of court to gather evidence of guilt on the suspects!) The “poorly trained staff” evolved into a sophisticated band of official thieves and swindlers. The regime that cemented itself in power in Ethiopia since 1998 is so corrupt that its venality is arguably exceeded only by the regime of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria in the mid-1990s who, alongside his family members, associates, cronies and supporters, looted Nigeria’s coffers to the tune of over USD$16 billion.
The two most effective anti-corruption institutions recommended in the 1998 WB report — the independent media and civil society organizations — have been totally decimated. In its January 2013 report, Human Rights Watch concluded, “The ruling party has passed a host of laws attacking the media and civil society, including the Charities and Societies Proclamation that has made independent human rights work in the country almost impossible. The state has frozen the assets of the last two remaining groups – the leading women’s rights organization, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association EWLA) – which has provided free legal aid to over 17,000 women – and the Human Rights Council (HRCO).” Ethiopia’s independent media has been annihilated with dozens of journalists in jail or in exile. According to Freedom House, “Ethiopia [in 2012] is currently the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea.”
Since the WB’s 1998 study, the cancer of corruption has metastasized throughout the Ethiopian body politic like cancer. In 2011, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the renowned organization that reports on “illicit financial flows” (illegal capital flight, mispricing, bulk cash movements, hawala transactions, smuggling, etc.) out of developing countries, reported: “Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009… The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.” The economy heaves under excessive regulation and taxation. The regime has a stranglehold on power and its supporters and cronies have sucked the economy dry. The regime operates in total secrecy and with no transparency and accountability for its official activities.
Over the past several months, I have commented on the 2012 WB’s corruption findings in the land and education sectors in Ethiopia. Here I comment on corruption in the telecommunications sector.
According to the WB, corruption in the Ethiopian telecommunication sector specifically “includes bribery, extortion, fraud, deception, collusion, cartels, abuse of power, embezzlement, trading in influence, money laundering, and similar unlawful actions.” Billions of dollars have been lost in the telecommunications sector from outright theft, fraud, waste, abuse, profiteering, nepotism, kickbacks, sweetheart deals, shady dealings, malfeasance, mismanagement and mindboggling incompetence. There is little accountability and transparency in the “Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation”; and it has become the home and playground of the most avaricious corruptoids in Ethiopia.
The 2012 WB report attributes corruption in the ETC to a number of factors including an “environment where there is a combination of exceptionally high investment costs and poor service delivery”, “lack of accountability for the sole service provider”, “anticompetitive practices in the market” and “serious mismanagement within the telecommunications sector.”
In its assessment of corruption in the telecommunications sector, the WB begins its analysis with the following ironic observation:
Ethiopia boasts the oldest functioning telephone system in Africa. In 1894, just 17 years after the invention of the telephone, work began on the provision of telephone and telegram communication between Addis Ababa and Harar, a distance of some 477 kilometers. [The regime]… invested some US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006” [amounting to] about 10 percent of GDP in the sector, an unusually high level of investment by international standards…. [The investments] are currently directed into fixed, wireless and mobile network infrastructure, including third-generation (3G) mobile technology as well as a national fiber-optic backbone…”
Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. And it boasted the first privately owned public telecoms service in Africa, yet is now the only nation on the continent still permitting a state-owned company to maintain a monopoly on all telecoms services. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.
Ethiopia established its telecommunications infrastructure the same year Europe laid its plan for the “Scramble for Africa”. In 1894, the Berlin Conference was held to enable European nations to chop up Africa and colonize it without the need for imperialistic wars among themselves. By 1904, telegraph lines ran into the capital Addis Ababa from Harar in the east, Tigray in the north and Jimma in the south.
According to Freedom House, in 2011, mobile, internet, and fixed line telecommunications in Ethiopia is the second lowest in all of Africa. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “in 2011, there were only 829,000 fixed telephone lines in actual operation (a decrease from 908,000 lines in 2010), serving a population of 83 million for a penetration rate of less than 1 percent.” Internet penetration in Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa with a population approaching 90 million in 2013, is less than 1 percent (0.7%), keeping that country at the tail end of all African countries; and for that matter all countries in the world. The bar graph displayed below (obtained from the WB report) shows that in 2009, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Djbouti and Eritrea were ahead of Ethiopia in the percentage of internet users, and for all practical purposes in mobile and fixed line telecommunication services as well.
For crying out loud, how is possible for a country that has had telecommunications services for 119 years and “boasted having the oldest functioning telephone system in Africa” to have the lowest telecommunications penetration rate in Africa today?
In the name of the Almighty, how is that possible for a country that has invested “US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006” and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure” to have the lowest telecommunications penetration rate in Africa?
How is that possible for a country whose economy has allegedly been growing at galloping double-digit annual rates for the past decade and whose population is pushing 90 million to trail at the tail end of the most vital element of technology in the modern world?
All things being relative, and in all earnestness, was Ethiopia better off in telecommunications in the Nineteenth Century than it is in the 21st?
What a low down dirty shame!!!
Anatomy of tele-corruption in Ethiopia
Tele-corruption in Ethiopia occurs at the structural level. The WB report reveals that the systemic cause of corruption is attributable to a “combination of monopolistic service provision and apparently weak accountability mechanisms.” The ETC is a state-owned monopoly and “the sole provider of telecommunications services in Ethiopia (including fixed-line, mobile, Internet, and data communications).” Telecommunications “equipment is provided and installed by international suppliers.” Anyone who seeks to “operate any telecommunications service” must obtain a “license” from the ETC. Some “20 entities, including Ethiopian Airlines and the World Bank, have been granted special authorizations to operate independent communication links.”
Corruption in the telecommunications sector in Ethiopia manifests itself in a number of ways. ETC charges excessively “high rates for its services. International bandwidth costs in Ethiopia were approximately double those in neighboring Kenya.” The regime was hell-bent on “seeking to curtail and control communication services” following the disputed 2005 elections and “banned telephony (telecommunication services for the purpose of electronic transmission of voice, fax, or data, between distant parties) and created a new organization, the Network Operation Centre, to control internet service.” The ETC’s billing system has been a total disaster. According to the WB report, “In 2006, the system failed completely, resulting in a revenue loss of US$6.3 million. The entire customer database was lost and there was no backup, even though the equipment for such a backup had reportedly been procured.” The procurement system (the process involving in advanced planning, scheduling, and purchasing of goods and services with the aim of cost savings, more efficient business operation, etc.), is completely corrupted particularly in light of “Ethiopia’s increasingly close political relationship with China.” In sum, the ETC is the most sacred cash cow for the regime members, their cronies and fat cat associates in the business sector. The WB report notes that “Although the ETC has been unable to keep pace with demand, there are no firm plans to allow another operator to enter the market.” So, Ethiopia, the first to have telecommunications in all of Africa in 1894 today finds itself at the tail end of the telecommunications revolution in all of Africa!
Rigged contracts: ground zero for corruption in the telecommunications sector
Ground zero for corruption in the Ethiopian telecommunications sector is the procurement process. According to the WB report, in 2006 the ruling regime entered into a “highly unusual” “Vendor Financing and Supply Agreement for financing, supply, and installation of telecoms equipment up to a value of US$1.5 billion.” (The expected expenditure on improvements to the telecommunications sector by 2012 was USD$4 billion.) Among the “unusual” characteristics of the “high value” Vendor Agreement include, “granting one supplier the right to supply all telecoms equipment to the ETC over a three-year period.” The regime agreed “for a period of three years, to place all telecoms contracts with the supplier. Specifically, the agreement required the ETC to place nine prespecified equipment packages with the supplier.” According to the WB report, there was “no commercial justification for the award of such a large contract to one supplier”. The Agreement was signed without “competitive tender taking place” and there was no “effective contractual mechanism for price protection and technical compliance.” The Agreement “as signed provided for a 13-year loan period, with the first three years being interest-free.”
The rigging of telecommunications procurement is mindboggling. What is amazing is not only the fact that there was no competitive tender for either financing or equipment supply or even that the whole telecommunications kit and caboodle was handed over to one vendor; rather it is the cavalier, disdainful arrogance of unaccountability of the regime in making the deals. The regime dealt with the sole source vendor as though they were betting their own money at a crap table in a Las Vegas casino. According to the WB report:
The procurement process for the vendor finance contract was initiated by the ETC through a request to several suppliers. The equipment to be supplied under the proposed financing was not specified in detail at that time, and the process was kept informal for the most part… The ETC’s financial requirements were not provided in detail to those suppliers (other than possibly the winning supplier) that had been approached to consider providing such financing. There is no evidence of a formal tender procedure for the finance package. The supplier selected by the ETC to supply the finance package was the only company that offered a financing package that suited the ETC’s purposes. The equipment supply element of the vendor financing contract was not put out to competitive tender. This absence of competitive tender means that there is a considerable risk of overpricing and unfavorable contract terms for the ETC…
The ETC committed to purchase all telecoms equipment over a three-year period from one supplier. Such a wide-ranging commitment without competitive tender is highly unusual. There does not appear to be any commercial necessity to place the whole US$1.5 billion contract with one supplier. The nine different equipment packages being sought (for example, mobile, customer data center, and Internet) could have been placed with different suppliers and still have resulted in a compatible and efficient network. This sole sourcing commitment means that there is a considerable risk of overpricing and unfavorable contract terms for the ETC in relation to each supply contract.
The details of the rigged Agreement are madding. The “contract was awarded before agreement on either the specification or price—and without a sufficient contractual price protection mechanism.” The “contract was not in accordance with the ETC’s procurement procedure. Procurement procedures are bypassed allowing sole-source purchasing instead of competitive tendering. In some cases, the ETC purchases new equipment when it already has the necessary equipment in the warehouse. The ETC’s procurement procedures allow for the debarment of poorly performing suppliers, but the ETC does not appear to exercise this right. Some prequalifications and tenders allow too much room for subjective assessment, potentially causing some suppliers to be inappropriately eliminated from the tender list.”
There were no ascertainable “procedures for ensuring technical quality and competitive pricing.” There was no way of determining “whether prices far exceed reasonable industry prices.” The supplier had “no incentive to provide a competitive price.” Implementation of the Agreement remained shrouded in a veil of total secrecy.
For obvious reasons, the WB report could not come out and say it, but the truth of the matter is that somebody or somebodies had a BIG payday when the Vendor Agreement was signed! Somebody or somebodies got a BIG cut worth millions of dollars in kickbacks. The USD$1.5 billion Vendor Agreement was rigged by rip-off artists who never thought they would be discovered or someday prosecuted.
According to the WP report in July 2007, the “ETC allegedly dismissed 16 high-level employees for corruption as a result of an 2007 audit report that suggested irregularities in purchases from international suppliers. The contracts in question allegedly were worth US$54 million.” In January 2008, the so-called anti-corruption agency “brought charges” against a “former ETC CEO and 26 former ETC executives for allegedly procuring low- quality equipment from companies that were supposed to be rejected on the basis of procurement regulations.” The contracts in question were worth US$154 million. In August 2008, the so-called anti-corruption agency “arrested a senior ETC manager after receiving an audio recording and transcript from an anonymous source in which the manager is allegedly recorded soliciting a bribe from an international supplier.” Assuming that the money reportedly lost to corruption and low quality equipment is not lowballed, one can make a rough guestimate of 10-14 percent of the cost of the Vendor Agreement of USD$1.5 billion ending up in the pockets of a few officials and their fat cat cronies and/or being lost through fraud, waste, abuse and gross incompetence.
Rooting out corruption in telecommunications sector
The war against corruption in Ethiopia cannot be won by selectively “catching” a few token corrupt officials out of power and their associates and putting them on show trials. The solution to corruption in Ethiopia is not having Twiddle Dee investigating and prosecuting Twiddle Dum. As the late Meles Zenawi once remarked in the context of 10,000 tons of coffee which disappeared from the warehouses, “We all have our hands in its disappearance.” Those in power and those removed from power on allegations of corruption have their hands deep in the cookie jar. Everyone knows they are two sides of the same coin. The only difference is that when the coin is flipped, one side is down and out and the other up and about. Those in power cannot aspire to sainthood by crucifying their buddies who were feeding with them at the same trough of corruption just weeks ago. Those in the regime pointing an index finger of corruption on their former brethren should be aware that three fingers are pointing directly at them. They are not above suspicion or reproach when it comes to corruption. They are as guilty or as innocent of corruption as the ones they have arrested and jailed.
The World Bank prescribed the right medicine for corruption in its 1998 report. (Those who do not want to face facts can try to distract attention from corruption in Ethiopia by criticizing the World Bank for being a “neoliberal” institution and casting aspersions on it.) The fact of the matter is that the WB identified the most important and proven components of any anti-corruption efforts: civil society and media institutions.
In the fight against corruption, it is vital to “strengthen the links with civil society and the private sector to identify critical areas relating to corruption”. Vigilant civil society institutions which work freely at the grassroots levels and provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring are the first line of defense and the first responders against corruption. The independent press must flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. In the democratic countries, it is the independent media which seeks out and exposes corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government. It is the independent media that provides the public a voice to speak out against corruption and empower ordinary citizens to pursue their corruption complaints against officials and work with government to promote good practices.
The WB is right in prescribing the “elimination of excessive regulation” and “promotion of competitive market conditions and greater transparency”. In the telecommunications sector in Ethiopia, regulations are used to ensure regime officials and their cronies can suck dry a particularly lucrative sector of the economy. Telecommunications is a cash cow that can be milked endlessly. Deregulating and de-monopolizing the telecom sector means competitive rates, cheaper operational costs and greater public access to and expansion of telecom services. It also means less cash in the pockets of regime officials and their cronies. There is no economic or commercial reason why the telecom sector cannot be de-monopolized and full competition by domestic and foreign companies allowed to provide cost-effective and efficient nationwide telecommunications services.
The WB is correct in urging “dialogue among Parliament, Civil Service, Civil Society, the Private Sector, and the Media” and “facilitating dialogue among government, the Chamber of Commerce and other members of the business community, and civil society on implementing the anti-corruption program and developing complementary activities.” Anti-corruption efforts must be multipronged and not left to an anti-corruption agency which itself is corruption suspect. “Outsourcing” the management of the telecom sector for a couple of years is no cure for corruption. It has been reported that the regime agreed to pay some 30 million euro to a European company to manage its telecommunications sector through 2012, much of it to cover the salaries and expenses of 24 personnel. Another boondoggle to continue corruption?
In my recent commentary “The Corruption Game”, I questioned whether the arrest of a couple dozen corruption suspects in the Customs Authority was a shot across the bow in the “war against corruption” or a public relations stunt. I concluded that the regime was “showboating and grandstanding the corruption issue to nail its opponents and get public relations credit and international handouts at the same time.” I opined that the whole effort was a “public relations political theater” by the regime “desperately trying to catch some positive publicity buzz in a media environment where they are being hammered and battered everyday by human rights organizations, NGOs, international media outlets and others.” I still believe that deciding on the integrity of a corruption investigation of one group of corrupt officials in power against another group of corrupt officials out of power is like trying to select a beauty queen in a pageantry of monkeys, to allude to an old Ethiopian proverb.
But even if the whole effort is window-dressing, I will give Hailemariam credit for aspiring to achieve a goal of clean government instead of clone government. Even though Hailemariam has said many times he will unwaveringly follow Meles’ footsteps, it is possible for him to rise up from a quagmire of corruption and walk on the path that could lead to “radical improvements in terms of governance and democracy.” In the meantime, ordinary citizens, those out of power, abused by power, who fell from power, who could not care less about power, the powerless, the disempowered or the powerful, should heed Edward Griffin’s counsel: “To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.”
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
“Everyday, everyday I have the blues” sang B.B. King on his faithful guitar Lucille. Everyday, everyday for the last eight years I’ve had the blues, the “193/763 Blues”. “Ain’t gonna stop until the twenty-fifth hour, ‘Cause now I’m living on blues power,” belted out Eric Clapton. I am feeling blue power too!
I am blue and happy as a blue lark. I mean blue as in the Blue Party (Semayawi Party) of young people in Ethiopia. They chose blue to symbolize their ideals of unity, peace and hope in Ethiopia. Just like U.N. blue for all nations united in peace and hope for the future. Like European Union blue, over two dozen states working for a more perfect economic and political union. Like Ethiopian blue — all Ethiopia united, peaceful and hopeful in the Twenty-first Century. Go Blues! Onward!
Follow the blue line
Y’all remember me talking, writing and raving about Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, the young generation, for years now. (How hip is it for a venerable member of Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation to rave about the Cheetahs?) Well, I want to make it official. I done crossed the generation gap and gone over to the Cheetahs’ lair. Yep! I sold out. Double-crossed them Hippos. Hippos ain’t hip enough for me no more. I am now a “Chee-Hippo” (A hip Hippo who likes to hang out with Cheetahs). Surprised?! Didn’t see it coming?
Here is the deal. I saw them Cheetahs leaping and rising, rising higher and higher. I recently watched them prowl the streets, but didn’t see them growl or howl. I said, “What a beautiful sight!”
I heard them purring though the streets. (Ever heard Cheetahs purr songs of justice, freedom and human rights?) I said, “What a beautiful sound! They are purring my song!”
I am with the Cheetahs. Well, actually, I am just tagging along. More like dragging behind the fast and furious Cheetahs.
Oooh! See them Cheetahs run! Watch ’em rise and shine like the sun. Watch them Cheetahs “soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Imagine rising, flying Cheetahs with a Hippo in tow! Funny, I know.
In my first commentary of the year, I declared 2013 “Ethiopia’s Year of the Cheetah Generation”. This is their year, I proclaimed. Some hippos disagreed. “Ignore the Cheetahs. They are into flash and cash.” I say look into the mirror.
I asked Ethiopia’s Cheetah’s, “What time is it?” “It’s Cheetah Time!”, they thundered. I can’t hear yoooou! “IT’S CHEETAH TIME!” Say it loud and proud! “IT’S CHEETAH TIME!” RIGHT ON!
I said in 2013 Ethiopia’s Cheetahs will rise and shine and soar to new heights. They will lift up and carry Ethiopia on their wings. They are doing just that. Just who are these Cheetahs?
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation include not only graduates and professionals — the ‘best and the brightest’ — but also the huddled masses of youth yearning to breathe free; the millions of youth victimized by nepotism, cronyism and corruption and those who face brutal suppression and those who have been subjected to illegal incarceration for protesting human rights violations. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is Eskinder Nega’s and Serkalem Fasil’s Generation. It is the generation of Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others like them. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.
In January, I made my own solemn “Chee-Hippo Pledge”. “I promise to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth in 2013.” I kept my promise. I kept faith with Ethiopia’s Cheetahs even when they were down for the count. 1-2-3… Rise Cheetahs, rise! Rise and shine bright on Ethiopia!
I made it “official” in late January and reclassified myself from a Hippo to a “Chee-Hippo”. I made my announcement in “Rise of the Chee-Hippo Generation”. I sent out an urgent SOS. “Emergency! Cheetahs in peril! Need help PDQ!” I was down on my knees pleading with them to restore faith with the Cheetahs:
Truth must be told: Hippos have broken faith with Cheetahs. Cheetahs feel betrayed by Hippos. Cheetahs feel marginalized and sidelined. Cheetahs say their loyalty and dedication has been countered by the treachery and underhandedness of Hippos. The respect and obedience Cheetahs have shown Hippos have been greeted with disdain and effrontery. Cheetahs say Hippos have misconstrued their humility as servility; their flexibility and adaptability have been countered by rigidity and their humanity abused by cruel indignity. Cheetahs feel double-crossed, jilted, tricked, lied to, bamboozled, used and abused by Hippos. Cheetahs say they have been demonized for questioning Hippos and for demanding accountability. For expressing themselves freely, Cheetahs have been sentenced to hard labor in silence. Cheetahs have been silenced by silent Hippos! Cheetahs have lost faith in Hippos. Such is the compendium of complaints I hear from many Ethiopian Cheetahs. Are the Cheetahs right in their perceptions and feelings? Are they justified in their accusations? Are Hippos behaving so badly?
Perhaps they thought SOS meant Silence Over Silence?
When I see Ethiopia’s Cheetahs today, I feel blue all over. Blue is my favorite color now. Blue Cheetahs of Ethiopia, the rarest Cheetahs in all of Africa. When I see the blue Cheetahs, I feel peaceful and hopeful. When I feel Cheetah blue, I don’t see division. I see one nation. I really like blue, but I love green, yellow and red in that order a thousand times more. Check it out. It’s green, yellow and red, all wrapped in velvet blue. I’m just loving it.
I say follow the blue line crowd. Get on the blue train, y’all! First stop, Justice. Second stop, Democracy. Third stop, Free Speech/Press. Fourth stop, Free Political Prisoners. Fifth stop, Religious Freedom. Sixth stop… Seventh stop… There is no stopping us now!
Them Cheetahs know where they are going. They got GPS. We got old maps. They have a destination. We have detour loops. We keep going in circles. Talk that way too. They walk and talk straight. We talk riddles with forked tongues. They were once lost, but now they are found. We are lost and never found. At the end of the rainbow, we look for a pot of gold bleary-eyed. They are just looking for a rainbow nation bright-eyed. Aarrgh! Old people, old times, old maps.
It’s a new day, a blue day. The day belongs to the Cheetahs with GPS. Let’s get the hell out of the way! Let’s follow the Cheetahs. Let’s get on the blue train. Onward, Blue Cheetahs. Onward!
Got to give credit where it is due
I have often been accused of being unfair to the regime in Ethiopia. I have been criticized for criticizing them “harshly”. They say I have never given the regime a break. Never given them credit for anything. If that were ever true, it has changed now. (A person who can’t change his/her mind can’t change anything.) Just as I may have been “harsh” when I felt they did wrong, I am unreservedly supportive when they do right. They did right by Ethiopia’s young people when they let them have their peaceful march on June 1. I give full credit to Hailemariam Desalegn and his team for making possible what many believed was impossible. I can’t imagine it was an easy thing to do. There must have been enormous pressure on them. I can imagine the prophets of gloom and doom saying, “Don’t do it! You’ll be sorry. If we let them protest, the sky will fall and the stars will come down crashing! It will open the door for more protests and there will be more trouble… Let’s crackdown like 2005. Let’s teach them a lesson they will never forget.”
I respect Hailemariam’s decision to let the peaceful protest take place. He and his team did the right thing. Fairness requires they be given full credit. (If I cannot be fair to those with whom I disagree when fairness requires it, then I don’t believe in fairness.) I commend Hailemariam and his team for having the courage, foresight, and will power to let the protest take place. It takes guts to do what they did. That’s what I call leadership. Doing the right thing when it is easier to do the wrong thing, that is real leadership! I wish them more power to do the right thing.
The leaders and supporters of the Blue Party deserve a whole lot of credit. The party leaders showed their mettle. They proved they know what they want. They proved they know how to do it. They were civil in delivering their messages. No angry denunciations or recriminations. They played it by the book, by the Constitution. Their attitude was not antagonistic or bellicose. They did not come to the protest with a chip on their shoulder. They carried their cause on their shoulder. They were not itching or sniffing for fights. They just wanted to defend their human rights.
The party leaders, members and supporters were exemplary in every way. They were well-disciplined and well-regulated. There was no mob unruliness or hooliganism. Not a single person threw rocks. Not a single fight occurred. Not a single window was broken. No property was destroyed. Not a single crime was committed. Not a single person carried a weapon. Protesters walked and assembled and sang patriotic songs and chanted freedom slogans. Even the police assigned to monitor them stood on the sidelines watching nonchalantly. Some of them appeared to be yawning, struggling to stay awake. That’s how peaceful the protests were. I lack the words to honor and complement the leaders, members and supporters of the Blue Party. They have shown the world it is possible to protest peacefully and with dignity. Yes, with dignity! They have affirmed my fundamental belief that the peaceful path is always better than the violent path. Always.
Think (human) right, do (human) right
I am on the side of right regardless of who does right. I am against the side of wrong regardless of who does wrong. For me, it is about the act, not the actors. It’s about the deed, not the doers. It’s about the “sin, not the sinners.” Good deeds deserve appreciation and encouragement. Bad deeds deserve condemnation and discouragement. On June 1, 2013, both the Blue Party and the regime did the right thing. Both deserve appreciation and encouragement. You can’t go wrong doing right by human rights!
I care about doing the right thing so much that I believe it is okay to do right even for the wrong reasons. I have my dear naysayers telling me I am naïve. They say I “don’t understand these people.” They are playing games. I should not trust this one gesture. I should sit, wait and see what they will do next. Hell, I am not going to wait. I call it as I see it, when I see it. If and when they crackdown, then I will speak my peace.
I say, “So, what if they are playing games?” Action speaks louder that thoughts, intentions or words. Perhaps this is their trial balloon to see how change on their part will be viewed by their own supporters and reciprocated by their opponents. I can speculate about their reasons for letting the Blue Party members and supporters have their protest until the cows come home, but won’t. That is their business. In my view, letting the Blue Party conduct its peaceful demonstrations is a good first step to build a teeny-weeny bit of confidence between those in power and those on the outside. Where absolute distrust and mistrust rules in the relations between opponents, the tiniest gesture that appear to dispel doubt and plant the seeds of trust should be nurtured. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface of the moon, his first words were, “One small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.” I hope and pray that the fact the Blue Party protested peacefully on June 1, 2013 will be one small march for the Blue Party and a giant leap of faith for all parties in Ethiopia. “Hope always springs eternal in my breast”, to paraphrase a line from Alexander Pope’s verse.
When the Blue Party members successfully held their protest, it was a moment of truth for the Blue Party and the regime. They had their test and both passed with flying blue colors!
Plan for peace, not strife; plan for “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy”
I have sought for some signs that Meles at least believed in human rights in the abstract. I shall give him the benefit of doubt that he did. In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2007, Meles said, ‘I’d hope that my legacy would be one of sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty that it was mired in, full and total stabilization of the country, radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy. I’d hope by the time I retire, we’d have made significant strides in all of those in the future.’
It is time now to make “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy” had seen a radical regression into tyranny and despotism. The “future” Meles spoke of is now. We should all work collectively to implement his aspirations for “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy” now.This is Meles’ legacy his surviving officials should acknowledge openly and work with others to implement as the ultimate tribute to Meles’ leadership. The ‘radical improvement in good governance and democracy’ begins with the release of all political prisoners, repeal of antiterrorism and civil society and other oppressive laws and declaration of allegiance to the rule of law. As the Ethiopian new year is just around the corner, we can all begin afresh on the road to “radical improvements in good governance and democracy.
The Blue Party seeks the same goal of radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy that Meles wanted. I have no doubts Meles’ successors want such improvements as well. So do all others in the opposition. There is perfect consensus about what needs to be done between those in power, those out of power, the powerful and the powerless and those who couldn’t care less about the powerful or the powerless. So, why is it not possible to put our collective noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel and work for radical improvements in good governance and democracy?
The simple question is how to bring about “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy”? How do we bring about change?
Change comes whether we like it or don’t want it. Change can come the right or wrong way. It is wiser to come to change before it comes to us. Change in Ethiopia is now inevitable because the young people are demanding it. They have changed their minds and hearts about their own situation. “They can’t take it anymore!” No force can stop them because they are commanded by history to take charge of the destiny of their country.
Change is unkind to those who fear it, reject it. Those who feared and rejected change ultimately became the architects of their self-destruction. H.I.M. Haile Selassie was advised to change and he steadfastly refused. His regime self-destructed. Junta leader Mengistu Hailemariam was advised to change. He turned arrogant. His regime also self-destructed. Meles was advised to change. He too refused. Now it is up to his successors to make the choice he wanted and yearned to make but couldn’t. Their choice is clear: Make radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy or face the verdict of history. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
It is in human nature to fear change. People once feared electricity and machines that fly in the air. Those riding horses and buggies said, “If man were made to fly, he would have wings.” Once they overcame their fears, they made those changes part of their lives.
Many of those in power in Ethiopia today are afraid of change because they feel they will lose their power and privilege. (Some truly believe they can remain in power for one hundred years by sheer force. What a pity!) They are not willing to take any chances. Those who are demanding change also have their own fears and anxieties. They don’t know what change will bring, but they are willing to take a chance. Neither those in power nor those out of power should be prisoners of fear of change. They must break out of their prison of fear and cross the threshold of courage holding hands with faith in their hearts.
Rarely does change come by accident. As Dr. Martin L. King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Ethiopia’s Cheetahs have launched their peaceful struggle for rights and against wrongs. Change will not be easy, but “The harder the struggle [for change], the more glorious the triumph.” We cannot afford to be paralyzed by the fear of fear. We have brave young Ethiopians ready, willing and able to build a brave new Ethiopia. With them out in full force, we have nothing to fear but the fear in our own hearts.
Africa is littered with stillborn change. We see change without a difference all over Africa every day. African dictators come and go like the seasons. Some move like hurricanes destroying everything in their path. Others burn like the desert sun. A few hang around like blinding fog. But real change remains elusive in Africa. Real change is not mere regime change. It requires heart and mind change.
We must embrace change for the good, not fear it. Ethiopia’s young people are rising for good and necessary change. Today Ethiopia is poised for a special kind of change. It is change that flows form the fertile imagination of the youth. They are imagining a brave new Ethiopia. They don’t want the old Ethiopia built on a foundation of ethnic division, tribal affiliation, religious sectarianism and communalism. They want gender equality. They have their own blueprint for the kind of Ethiopia they want. Why shouldn’t they have their Ethiopia? We had ours, isn’t it time they have theirs? It’s just fair.
Regardless of what we do or don’t, the ultimate triumph of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is assured. The numbers are on their side. Seventy percent of Ethiopia’s population is under 35 years of age. History is on their side. Millions of young people before them spilled their blood and poured sweat and tears to build a democratic and just Ethiopia. The forces of our universe — justice, freedom, democracy — are on their side. We should be on their side too.
Change cannot be stopped by guns or tanks. “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.” The time for fresh ideas, fresh young faces, fresh leadership for a refreshed Ethiopia is now. Though change can be delayed, thwarted and deferred, it can never be stopped. To paraphrase one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes:
What happens to a change (dream) deferred? Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Those who survive change are not those with the guns or the money. They are those who can adapt to change, roll with the punches and prevent an explosion.
I can spend my time thinking and worrying about things that can go wrong. Could there be a 2005 in 2013? It is easy to think about how things that can go wrong. It is far more difficult to think about how things can go right. We must think right not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Doing right is often harder than doing wrong.
It is my duty as a human rights advocate to promote and support right and oppose wrong. That is a choice one has to make in becoming a human rights defender. I care about human beings, not parties, politicians, ideologies or whatnot. Power is a means not an end in itself. It is neither good nor bad.
I believe in using power to do good; to protect the powerless from the powerful; to use power to prevent the abuse of power; to use power to bring together the powerless with the powerful; to use power to empower the youth. I believe in the irresistible power of ideas and have little faith in the power of gunpowder. I believe in the use of power to heal, not to kill or to steal. I believe in the power to give people hope. I believe in the power of peace.
I am told I will eat these words I have written soon enough when “they start cracking down”. If I am proven wrong in my optimism, it won’t be the first time. But I am an incorrigible optimist. I shall maintain a fixed gaze on the “long arc of the universe that bends towards justice.”
When I got involved in human rights advocacy headlong seven or so years ago following the killings of the young unarmed protesters, I gave the longest speech I have ever given (nearly eight thousand words). It was titled, “Awakening Giant! Can Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans living in America make a difference in their homeland (also available here)?” I could summarize it all in one sentence. “We prove the righteousness of our cause not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.” I am still guided by those simple ideas.
There are great lessons to be learned from the Blue Party protests. The biggest one is: Peaceful protest need not be feared; it must be embraced. We may not be able to march the streets with the Blue Party members and supporters, but we should not hesitate to declare our solidarity with their peaceful movement. The young people in the Blue Party cannot do it alone. They need us all as partners and helpers. “We” are those in power and those out of power. We should not only rise with the rising Cheetahs, we should also stand by them!
Ethiopians are at the crossroads. We can choose to remain stuck in the crossroads nursing our bigotry, stewing in our hatred and sizzling in violence, conflict and strife. Or we can choose the blue line, join the blue crowd and head in the direction of reconciliation, accommodation and consultation. I say, we should all get on the blue line because it is the road less travelled, the road of the future. To paraphrase Robert Frost’s verse,
We shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and we—
We took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated. Power to the youth! Blue Cheetah Power!
“Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent change inevitable.” JFK
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
I enjoy watching American diplomats chilling out and kicking it with African dictators. I like seeing them kumbaya-ing, back-patting and carrying on. Their body language, more than their forked diplomatic tongue, speaks more honestly and eloquently. I have learned to take their words with a grain of salt and a dash of pepper. (Is it true that a diplomat is an honest gentleman (woman) sent to lie abroad for the good of their country?)
Not to be misunderstood, I get a kick listening to American diplocrats (practitioners of human rights diplomacy by hypocrisy) pontificating about human rights. I enjoy listening to them talk as much as I like reading Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky”. The diplocrats say, “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people… We will work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders… History is on the side of brave Africans…” These words, like “The Jabberwocky”, are nonsense; but I enjoy fairy tales, like Alice in Wonderland. (If history is on the side of a few brave Africans, what is on the side of the millions of frightened Africans? Just curious.)
With respect to the economic growth, we [U.S.] would love to have Ethiopia’s economic growth. Ethiopia’s one of the ten fastest growing countries in the world. It’s up in the double digits in growth. It’s really quite an extraordinary story.
To paraphrase William F. Buckley, I do not want to insult Kerry’s intelligence by suggesting that he really believes what he said about Ethiopia’s economic growth and “extraordinary story”. I am just not sure he meant what he said. Actually, I am totally confused. Was he being artfully glib, patronizingly humorous, graciously disingenuous or congenially accommodating in his hyperbole? Could he be so woefully uninformed or willfully ignorant about Ethiopia? Could he be engaging in barefaced diplomatic mendacity?
If he really believes the canard, it is shocking because it shows a reckless disregard for elementary facts bordering on gullibility. If it is an attempt at humor, it is pretty lame. If he is being disingenuous, no one is amused. If he said it to patronize his hosts, he does great disservice to U.S. foreign policy by lending the credibility of his high office to legitimize a manifest and notorious fraud.
A fact check by the Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper following Kerry’s press conference showed a disturbing pattern of loosey-gooseyness with the facts. Kerry seemed to be sleepwalking facts. Klapper cites numerous instances of factual lapses at the press conference in which “Kerry exaggerated the U.S. record on climate change, appeared to conflate past U.S. policy on drones with President Barack Obama’s new policy and gave an incomplete account of how he opposed the Iraq war (and how) he struggled with economic data as well as the contents of his own department’s terrorism blacklist.” Klapper gave a big smack down to Kerry’s assertion that “Ethiopia is up in the double digits in growth.” According to Klapper: “THE FACTS: Ethiopia’s economic growth was 7 percent last year, following several other years of growth in the mid to high single digits.”
American Diplocrisy by Kerry-speak?
Let me say at the outset that I have no intention of “swiftboating” Kerry. I am not criticizing him because he was waltzing with the dictators in Ethiopia on the marbled floors of the African Union Hall. I appreciate the need for diplomatic decorum. Diplomatic language must be used with delicacy. I also bear no malice towards Kerry. I supported and voted for him in the 2004 presidential election. Though I fiercely opposed Susan Rice’s potential nomination to become Secretary of State earlier this year (soon to be National Security Advisor), I raised no objection when Kerry’s name was submitted for Senate confirmation. I was not overly concerned about his foreign policy credentials since he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I followed his confirmation hearing closely.
I am, however, concerned about Kerry’s “factamnesia” (to coin a new word to describe the selective recollection of fantasy facts intentionally or to unwittingly paint a rosy picture of thorny policy issues and problems), loosey-gooseyness with facts in general and a penchant for “doublethink” and “doublespeak” (kerryspeak) on important issues. Kerry has a history of fudging facts which troubles me in light of his statements at the AU press conference. For instance, in October 2002, Senator Kerry said he voted to give President Bush authority to use force against Saddam Hussein because he “believed that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.” In February 2003, he said, “If you don’t believe…Saddam Hussein is a threat with nuclear weapons, then you shouldn’t vote for me.” (I did not believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but voted for Kerry anyway.) In March 2004, Kerry said “I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for Iraq war] before I voted against it. …” (Should I say I actually did vote for Kerry before experiencing pangs of remorse for voting for him?) In September 2004, Kerry branded the Iraq war, “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
What really concerns me about Kerry as America’s diplomat-in-chief particularly in the human rights area is the same concern many of those closest to him had during the 2004 presidential election. Kerry has a penchant for being namby pamby on critical policy issues. During the second presidential debate in 2004, Kerry was asked by ABC news moderator Charles Gibson, “Senator Kerry, after talking with several co-workers and family and friends, I asked the ones who said they were not voting for you, “Why?” They said that you were too wishy-washy. Do you have a reply for them?” (I voted for Kerry despite the same misgivings.) Now that Kerry is America’s chief diplomat, I am worried about what a “wishy washy” Secretary of State could mean for African human rights.
Kerry-talking the myth of double-digit growth in Ethiopia
I am not suggesting that Kerry follow Meles’ prescription to “easily close the loopholes and continue to lie” about Ethiopia’s “extraordinary story”. (It is a boldfaced lie to say the Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia are “lies, lies and implausible lies”.) Kerry is an honorable man and incapable of such chicanery.
Meles was a master of mendacity. He had perfected the art of lying. He had incomparable skills in creating “loopholes” in the truth and transforming lies into half- truths. Double-digit growth is the greatest “lie, lie and implausible lie” ever created by Meles while he remained in the saddle of power for over two decades. In a spectacular public relations coup, Meles managed to insert a bogus narrative of Ethiopia’s stratospheric economic growth in the international media and policy circles which continues to be repeated ad nauseam today by some of the most respectable news organizations and magazines in the world, and top policy makers like Kerry who should know better. I realize that talk of double-digit economic growth statistics for Africa in general is part of the “Afro-optimism” (a/k/a African Renaissance) Western media, donor and loaner communities are trying to push to influence Africans and world opinion. By reporting double-digit growth rates, they hope to mask the cataclysmic income inequalities and poverty in Africa. They are trying to make dictatorial rule acceptable and chic in Africa in the name of economic growth and development. (Remember the hype about the “new breed of African leaders”? Or was it “new breed of African dictators”?)
Joseph Goebbels taught, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” The BIG LIE about Ethiopia’s stratospheric economic growth continues to be repeated through a silent conspiracy of mendacity and/or the willful ignorance of high level policy makers in the donor and loaner communities and in the Western media. (I wish they would stop insulting our intelligence and treating us as “fools and idiots.)
Despite the irrefutable facts, the BIG LIE about Ethiopia’s “extraordinary story” has taken on a life of its own. It continues to be repeated mindlessly in the media and policy circles like some mystical mantra: “Ethiopia’s one of the ten fastest growing countries in the world… double digits in growth….” Meles managed to hoodwink everybody, almost. Even the mighty Economist Magazine fell for Meles’ elaborate hoax. In its November 7, 2006 editorial, The Economist minced no words in describing the Meles regime. Editorializing in the context of the Starbucks coffee row, The Economist bluntly stated: “The Ethiopian government, one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world, would do well to take Starbucks’s advice.” In May 2012, The Economist wrote, “Long benighted, Ethiopia is attracting attention for a better reason. It has become Africa’s fastest-growing non-energy economy (see chart).” The “chart” drawn up by the Economist attributes its data source to the “IMF” which gets its data from the regime in Ethiopia! In its ebullient appraisal, the Economist fails to explain how the regime it described in 2006 as “the most economically illiterate regime in the modern world” was able to create “Africa’s fastest non-energy economy” in just six years! (Do they really think we are so dumb that we could not figure this out?!)
The “economic illiteracy” of the Ethiopian regime was also the talk of diplomats behind closed doors in 2009. At a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin, there was debate about Meles’ economic knowledge and competence. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. How such an “economically illiterate” regime pulled off the economic miracle of Africa is a mystery worthy of a Dan Brown novel. (How about the title, “Economic Illiterates and the Mystery of Double-Digit Growth”?)
I have made several attempts over the past few years to expose, debunk, deconstruct and unpack this pack of “lies, lie and implausible lies” about “Ethiopia’s extraordinary story”. In my commentary “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi”, I exposed the double-digit canard and demonstrated how Meles exquisitely finessed it:
In March 2009, for instance, Zenawi bragged that he expected the Ethiopian economy to grow by 12.8 per cent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) disagreed in the same month, stating that given the global economic crisis Ethiopia could expect only about 6 per cent economic growth. Zenawi dismissively countered those who pointed out the discrepancies: ‘We have differences with the international financial institutions when we predict our economic growth, but we usually agree on the economic growth statistics at the end of each year.’ In March 2010, Paul Mathieu, the IMF team leader for Ethiopia, diplomatically told the regime in Ethiopia to stop cooking the books on economic growth. He said, ‘Statistics collection of the country requires transformations, and we advised the government to do that.’
In my commentary, “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, I demonstrated that Meles’ economic planning (“Growth and Transformation Plan”) was based on juggled figures, massaged statistics and irrational exuberance about overrated and illusory economic development. Systematic falsification of economic data, fraudulent statistics and creative accounting in economic reports by the Meles regime have largely gone unchallenged by Ethiopia’s learned economists. (I still lament the fact that there has been little systematic analysis and critique done by Diaspora Ethiopian economists to entomb this cock and bull economic narrative and discredit the regime’s theatrical swagger and wind-bagging about stratospheric economic growth and development.)
Meles cunningly orchestrated his message of Ethiopia’s economic prowess and unrivalled economic success under his personal leadership to the world using the International Monetary Fund as a mule. For instance, the IMF’s Country Report (Ethiopia) No. 08/264 (July 2008) states: “Growth has averaged 11 percent since 2003/04, far exceeding the minimum target of 7 percent in the Program for Accelerated and Sustainable Development (PASDEP), that is estimated to be consistent with keeping the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within reach.” On pp. 20–24 of this report, the source of the data for an 11 per cent growth is not some independent data collection and analysis agency or organization but Meles’ own Central Statistics Office. The footnotes in the above-referenced pages state: “Sources: Ethiopian authorities; and IMF staff estimates and projections.” Similarly, the data source for “Financial Soundness Indicators for Banking” is identified as the “National Bank of Ethiopia; and IMF calculations.”
It is true that “everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, but not to his/her own facts.” A high level policy maker like Kerry is entitled to his opinion but he is not entitled to cherry pick facts and embellish them with hyperbole in making official statements that are reasonably likely to mislead the American people. He is not entitled to distort facts to present only one side of a foreign policy issue or paint a rosy picture for Africa’s most corrupt leaders without talking about the thorns on that rosy story. Kerry is not entitled to put out to the American people half-truths, discredited hyperboles and tall tales to defend a collaborating dictatorship. Kerry is not entitled to propagate and perpetuate a BIG LIE, a manifest hoax, misinformation and disinformation to humanize the inhuman face of a bloodthirsty regime in Ethiopia from his exalted bully pulpit.
Does Kerry really care about U.S. human rights in Ethiopia, Africa?
I am also bewildered by Kerry’s exuberance and morbid fascination with Ethiopia’s “extraordinary story”. He says the U.S. “would love to have Ethiopia’s economic growth.” Really?
Ethiopia “achieved” its stratospheric economic growth following the “China Model”, NOT the “Washington Consensus [neoliberal] Model” (which demands fiscal discipline (limiting budget deficits), increasing foreign direct investments, privatization, deregulation, diminished role for the state”). If the “China Model” produced an “extraordinary story” in Ethiopia, it is because that story was written by a brutal one-party system that has a chokehold on all state institutions including the civil service and the armed and security forces and rules by instituting a vast system of controls and censorship. Meles, the arch foe of “neoliberalism” in Africa said “neoliberalism” is a death trap for Ethiopia and the continent. In a 2012 article, Meles declared “the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to effect a revival.” In a 51-page monograph, he expounded on his argument for the consignment of the “neoliberal paradigm” to the dustbin of history and its replacement by the economics of the “developmental state” (“China Model”).
When Kerry wistfully yearns for Ethiopia’s double-digit growth, is he openly advocating the importation of the “China Model” into America?
Given Ethiopia’s “extraordinary story”, is Kerry openly endorsing the “China Model” for Ethiopia and the rest of Africa to produce even more “extraordinary stories”?
The fact of the matter is that the “China Model” in Africa is a demonstration not of the success of African economies but China’s economic conquest of Africa and the triumph of praetorian klepto-capitalism — a form of militarized capitalism in which African dictators and their cronies maintain a stranglehold on the state apparatus and have privatized the economy for their personal use. The dictators in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, etc. rule by coercion and their coercive power derives almost exclusively from their control and manipulation of the military, police and security forces, party apparatuses and bloated bureaucracies which they use for political patronage. They have successfully eliminated rival political parties, civil society institutions and the independent press.
The “China Model” or the “developmental state” has become the ultimate smokescreen for African Dictators, Inc. It has provided a plausible justification for circumventing transparent and accountable governance, competitive, free and fair elections and suppression of free speech and the press. Simply stated, the “China Model” in Africa is a huge hoax perpetrated on the people with the aim of imposing absolute control and exacting total political obedience while justifying brutal suppression of all dissent and maximizing the ruling class’ kleptocratic monopoly over the economy. In my opinion, it is downright unpatriotic for Kerry to confer any legitimacy on a watered-down, kinder and gentler reinvention of klepto-communism in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is touting stratospheric economic growth driven by exports (including land giveaways to multinational agro-businesses) and sustained by handouts and crushing debt loans to finance infrastructure projects and build shiny buildings in urban areas that lack the most basic sewage facilities. Does Kerry really believe Ethiopia could continue with its “extraordinary story” by having state-controlled banks printing money? Not long ago, in Zimbabwe, China’s “biggest and arguably most important trade and diplomatic partner in Africa”, a USD$5 bill was worth a 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars. Does Kerry believe such reckless economic planning is sustainable for Ethiopia which is expected to treble its population to 278 million in less than 40 years according to U.S. Census estimates?
Whatever happened to President Obama’s “New Alliance”?
In May 2012, President Obama invited the leaders of Ghana, Tanzania, Benin to a Summit for a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to spark a Green Revolution and achieve “sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years by aligning the commitments of Africa’s leadership to drive effective country plans and policies for food security.” American multinational giants including Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft, and others signed a “Private Sector Declaration of Support for African Agricultural Development”. Kerry did not even mention a word about it. Is the “New Alliance” dead like “neoliberalism”?
I agree with President Obama that what Africans need are policies that balance economic growth with human needs including food security and nutrition, reasonable access to health care and education and employment opportunities. But Africans can’t eat policies on paper nor could they have a Green Revolution when their most fertile lands are being sold and leased to multinational corporations who will commercially farm millions of hectares only to export the harvest. Africans will starve as their land is used to produce food for the rest of the world and the U.S. continues to provide food aid to Africans year after year. When will Africa ever become self-sufficient in food production? (When America stops feeding them?) Just a historical footnote: Africans fed themselves on their own and without handouts during the worst days of colonialism. (Ummm!)
I do not think President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are on the same page on African issues. President Obama said Green Revolution first. Kerry said in his press conference that “our private sector businesses need to focus on Ethiopia and recognize the opportunities that are here.” Is it going to be a Green Revolution or a Trade Revolution? I believe expecting to “strengthen the trade and investment relationships between the U.S. and Ethiopia” under the “China Model” is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Skerry U.S. human rights policy in Africa
The next four years for human rights in Africa under Kerry look pretty scary to me. At the AU Summit, I hoped to hear an announcement or a statement from Kerry that points to some meaningful shift in U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia. I expected to hear a little bit of the usual babble about “history is on the side of brave Africans.” Nothing doing. Under Kerry, it seems human rights in Ethiopia and Africa have been sacrificed at the altar of political convenience and the “global war on terror.” That is why Kerry is downplaying and soft-pedaling human rights in Ethiopia. It is manifest to me that the U.S. is willing to turn a blind eye, deaf ears and muted lips to restrictions on civil society, theft of elections, repression of dissent and opposition politics, suppression of free expression, press and the Internet and the blossoming of corruption in Ethiopia.
To borrow a line from Alexander Pope’s verse, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. I hoped Kerry would make a strong case for the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents in Ethiopia. I hoped Kerry would demand an end to ill-treatment and abuse of dissidents, opposition leaders and journalists. I hoped Kerry would plead for an end to the crackdown on civil society organizations and press for the free functioning of domestic and international human rights organizations to operate in the country without undue official interference. I hoped Kerry would insist on an end to suppression of media, harassment of journalists and strongly argue in favor of allowing publication of opposition newspapers in Ethiopia. (Oh, yes! I had faint hope Kerry would call attention to the need for the arrest and prosecution of the police and security officers who massacred 193 unarmed demonstrators and wounded 763 others in 2005.)
… I’ve occasionally wrestled with that when I made a visit to one country or another and we have a primary objective and we’re trying to get it done, but I’ve never hesitated in any visit to raise human rights concerns, usually in the context of particular individuals where we are trying to get them out of a jail or trying to get them, you know, out of the country. And I obviously will continue to do that, as I know Secretary Clinton has. And she’s been diligent about it. And I intend to continue…
Secretary Kerry, I ask you a simple question:
When you visited Ethiopia last week, did you “work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders such as” Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa, Kamil Shemsu and so many others?
***My regular Monday Commentary scheduled for June 3 was delayed and a special commentary posted on that date in recognition of the peaceful mass human rights protest organized by the Blue (Semayawi) Party in Ethiopia over the past weekend. ***
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
On Ginbot 20, 1983 (Ethiopian calendar; [5/28/1991]), Meles Zenawi and thousands of his guerilla fighters marched into Addis Ababa toting AK-47s, RPGs and hand grenades. They marched into the capital promising democracy, freedom and liberation from a brutal military dictatorship. The people of the capital welcomed them with some anxiety; but they were greatly relieved to see a regime that had brutalized them for 17 years finally consigned to the dustbin of history.
On Ginbot 25, 2005 (Ethiopian calendar; [6/1/2013]), over one hundred thousand young men and women marched in the streets of Addis Ababa demanding the release of political prisoners, religious freedom, respect for human rights and the Constitution and public accountability. They demanded action on youth unemployment, inflation and corruption. They marched armed with cell phones, placards and banners. They cried out for justice. They sang songs of unity: “Ethiopia! Our Country!” They marched for their rights and the rights of their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. What a sight to behold! Tens of thousands of young people demanding their rights in a peaceful demonstration.
The long youth march to freedom and dignity has begun in Ethiopia. It is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is peaceful. It is beautiful because it is motivated by love of country and love of each other as children of one Mother Ethiopia. It is beautiful because Ethiopia’s youth in unison are shouting out loud, “We can’t take anymore! We need change!” History shall record that on Ginbot 25, 2005 Ethiopia rose from the pit she has fallen into on the wings of her youth.
I do not know if those in power had ulterior motives in allowing the unprecedented demonstration. The last time there was a street demonstration to protest stolen elections held on Ginbot 7 , 1997 (5/15/2005), 193 people were shot dead in cold blood and 763 wounded.
I frankly do not care about the motives of those in power in allowing the protest demonstration. I do not question if the right thing is done for the wrong reason. It is never too late to do the right thing, but there is never a right time to do the wrong thing.
I hope those in power have learned some positive lessons from the youth protest. There is nothing to fear from our young people. They are our children. They are the future. How could we fear our children and the future? Young people express themselves by marching in the streets because they feel ignored, neglected and overlooked. They feel they are not being heard. When those in power today went into the bush in the 1970s, they did so because they felt exactly the same way as these young people do now. These young people marching in the streets are now hoping they might be heard in the gilded halls of power if they shouted loud enough in a chorus of one hundred thousand voices. Perhaps echoes of their bootless cries might faintly resonate on the eardrums of the powerful and mighty. The fact of the matter is that young Ethiopians today feel the unbearable pain of their lives wasting away, their future fading into a chasm of despair and hopelessness. They need to be heard not just seen cowering before the baton of policemen and running away from the gunfire of security officials. Ethiopia belongs to her young people.
Gene Sharp, the founder of The Albert Einstein Institution, a man dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action said, “Dictatorships are never as strong as they think they are, and people are never as weak as they think they are.” Dictatorships rule only because the people they rule fear them and believe the dictators are all powerful and untouchable. Regardless of how powerful a dictatorship is, it cannot rule without some degree of genuine cooperation and support of the people. Popular support for the regimein Ethiopia, if there ever was one, evaporated long ago. Few recognize the legitimacy of the regime today. The regime cannot expect to remain in power indefinitely without accepting the need for change.
Change is inevitable. On balance, change is good. But there are eternal and inescapable truths about change. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Ethiopia’s young people have straightened their backs and are struggling. We should join and work together with them to bring about peaceful change through dialogue, openness, civil debate and consultations.
I believe real change begins in the hearts of individuals — the powerful and the powerless — not in political systems or ideologies. It is said that a person who cannot change his/her mind cannot change anything. I would add, a person who cannot change his heart — from hate to love, from anger to understanding, from indifference to compassion, from doubt to faith, from grief to forgiveness, from insincerity to honesty, from extremes to moderation, from pride to humility, from silence to righteous indignation, from intolerance to tolerance, from a belief in ethnicity instead of humanity — cannot change his/her mind and therefore can change nothing. The heart and mind must work together, but if we must make a choice, we should always strive to give the heart the right of way. Change is a choice we choose to make. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Let us always choose the peaceful path.
Every single week for years, I have argued that peaceful change is possible in Ethiopia. I have said that if Ethiopia is destined to rise and shine, it will be on the wings of her young people. I have an unquestioning faith in the intelligence, judgment and resoluteness of Ethiopia’s young people to continue their peaceful struggle.
On Ginbot 25, 20o5, Ethiopia’s youth flapped their colorful wings for the first time in two decades, with the resplendent colors of their ethnic, religious and linguistic heritage. They spoke in voice. They marched to the beat of the same drummer for human rights, democracy and freedom. You can no longer keep Ethiopia’s youth down. You can kick them and knock them down. But you can’t keep them down. They will get up and fight for their rights. Yilekal Getachew, chairman of the Semayawi (Blue) party, which organized the protests said, “We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs. If these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests. It is the beginning of our struggle.” The peaceful struggle will go on so that “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”
Ethiopia Has Arisen!
Ethiopia Africa’s bright gem
Shall rise up from the ashes of tyranny
Like the spring sun rising at dawn over the African horizon
Like the full moon rising over the darkness of the African night
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia shall rise from the heights of Ras Dejen
To the peaks of Kilimanjaro
From the pits of the politics of identity
To the summit of national unity and diversity
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia of the wise
Shall rise above the streetwise
Its people to galvanize, mobilize and organize
To humanize, harmonize and compromise
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia Africa’s hope and destiny
Shall rise and its tyrants shall fall
Their lies, cruelty and corruption
Buried with them in the steel coffin of history
For “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”