Skip to content

Author: Selam Beyene

Eskinder’s Wail from the Gulag irks ‘Tyrants on the Throne’

At a time when patriotic Ethiopians like Eskinder Nega are languishing in Gulag-style prisons for exercising their rights to express their opinions, those of us living beyond Woyane’s reach are blessed with the freedom to read books that stimulate the mind, shed light on our rich heritage, expose the treasonous policies of the Woyane regime in power, and, above all, enlighten us on the triumphs of those luminous sons and daughters of Ethiopia who built a country that was once Africa’s beacon of hope but is now being torn asunder by the treacherous TPLF cadres.

One such book is “Republicans on the Throne: A Personal Account of Ethiopia’s Modernization and Painful Quest for Democracy” by Tekalign Gedamu (Tsehai Publishers, 2011). To read the book is to go on a journey through time filled with traumatic events, dashed hopes, lost opportunities and excessive greed on one side, and patriotism, optimism, Ethiopian ingenuity and love of country on the other. The memoir, which has the mark of an unusual flare of literary brilliance and unmatched elegance, is punctuated with ubiquitous gems of trivia only an essayist of the author’s experience and intellect can muster and encapsulate in mesmerizing prose. More importantly, it offers a pragmatic roadmap for a democratic Ethiopia in which the philosophy of ethnocentrism will have no place, individual rights will be respected, and lasting peace and stability for the region will be secured.

As we read in this magnificently written book the gripping account of the journey Ethiopia has undertaken over the past several decades, we can’t help but wonder how from a land that had once produced such great leaders as Aklilu Habte-Wold, Yilma Diressa, Ketema Yifru and numerous others, including the author himself, could emerge tyrants and traitors in the likes of Mengistu Haile-Mariam, Meles Zenawi and his TPLF cadres, whose deviant policies have led the country to a path of destruction. Today’s Ethiopia is a country where ethnic politics is the official ruling party platform; corruption, nepotism and greed are instruments of anti-Ethiopianism; reading pro-democracy Websites is criminalized; and speaking truth to power is a certain ticket to the country’s Gulag. Nothing captures the sense of totalitarianism and hopelessness reigning in the country today better than the recent posting by Eskinder Nega in The New York Times (July 24, 2013):

‘I was arrested in September 2011 and detained for nine months before I was found guilty in June 2012 under Ethiopia’s overly broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which ostensibly covers the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of terrorist acts. In reality, the law has been used as a pretext to detain journalists who criticize the government. Last July, I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. … all I did was report on the Arab Spring and suggest that something similar might happen in Ethiopia if the authoritarian regime didn’t reform. … I also dared to question the government’s ludicrous claim that jailed journalists were terrorists.’

It is in the backdrop of such a horrendous and uncertain condition in the country that we are presented with Republicans on the Throne. This is a book that will put to shame our generation for ignorance of our heritage, and enlighten current and future generations about the heroic achievements of their forefathers and their obligation to fight and die for their proud and precious legacy.

In the early chapters of the memoir, the author reminiscences about his youth in Gore, one of the remotest provincial cities during Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign, and takes the reader back to an age of innocence when citizens were not categorized by their ethnicity but by the social bond that tied them closely together, and when leaders and followers revered the sanctity of our tricolor and the inviolability of our sovereignty. In contrast, the treasonous tyrants “on the throne” today denigrate the flag that countless generations protected with blood and sweat, parcel out precious land to foreigners at dirt cheap prices, aggressively promote inter-ethnic strives, and loot the cherished wealth of the country.

The subsequent chapters that depict Gedamu’s early life as a student in the US and the ensuing decades of career in the United Nations, successive governments in Ethiopia and eventually the African Development Bank, paint the picture of a man who epitomizes all the qualities of that unique Ethiopian we all grew up to venerate — one who values hard work over leisure, esteems public service over personal wealth, relishes integrity over treachery, and, above all, reveres love of country over caustic ethnic politics. In due course, the memoir elucidates the strengths and weaknesses of the Imperial system, the chaos that followed the 1974 revolution, and the emergence of successive brutal dictatorships.

The book is also a treasure trove of anecdotal accounts of important events and personalities that shed further light on the modus operandi of the time and the lives and moral fibers of some of the extraordinary leaders that ran the day-to-day business of the nation. As one flips through the pages one is frequently reminded of how little did most of us know about those leaders, not to mention the foibles of Aman Andom, the remarkable professionalism of Haddis Alemayehu, the statesmanship of Aklilu Habte-Wold or the gumption of Michael Imru.

As the writer transitions his focus to the post-Derg era, he momentarily leaves the reader with a sense of puzzlement as to why he would choose to return to Ethiopia and embark on major entrepreneurial projects under the tyrannical rule of Zenawi. In light of the stellar background of the author as an accomplished technocrat who had served under or lived through disparate systems of government, the reason for such seemingly foolhardy decision is hard to justify, and even more difficult to attribute to a manifestation of plain naiveté. However, a perceptive reader would soon be sympathetic on the knowledge that the sinister and elusive propaganda Zenawi perfected has hoodwinked many seasoned technocrats of Gedamu’s caliber and eventually landed them in prison. Even today, it is with a sense of unfathomable astonishment and compunction that we witness the tragic transfer of hard-earned Diaspora money into Woyane’s coffers, in the name of investing in the home country, by credulous Ethiopian émigrés in the West, who have yet to fully appreciate the true nature of the regime and the cancerous ethnic agenda it has espoused to irreparably harm the long-term viability of the nation.

While the book by and large abounds with a wealth of information about the recent past and present history of the country, some of the most significant contributions come in the last few chapters, in which breaking from tradition, the author tackles head on Woyane’s totalitarianism and duplicity, and masterfully analyzes the internal and external challenges that must be confronted to build a “promising future”. Unlike most writers of the same genre whose pens are woefully timid when it comes to underscoring the true nature of Woyane, Gedamu boldly exposes the most dangerous aspect of the regime, viz, its anti-Ethiopianism. “Closely wedded to ideology, perhaps even its principal raison d’être, is TPLF’s commitment to the politics of ethnic identity,” he affirms. He goes on to caution: “A one-dimensional perception of identity puts greater emphasis on the rights of groups and correspondingly less on the rights of the individuals that make up these groups; and lesser still on those outside the group.” He then reminds us of Amy Gutman’s wise words: “Subordinating individual [rights] to group [rights] is another name for tyranny.”

In debunking the anti-Ethiopia agenda that “extremist TPLF members” espouse, Gedamu warns them of the “… tragic backlash that is bound to ensue if they persist in their policy,” and notes:

“An independent Tigrai built on assets plundered from Ethiopia is the surest prescription for a potent reprisal that would be an unending source of conflict for the new state. More menacingly, Tigreans living in Ethiopia would be exposed to vengeful acts of violence too fearful to contemplate. The silent majority of Tigreans is doubtless conscious of this and will hopefully prevail upon the party fanatics to pursue a policy of multiethnic collaboration and accommodation.”

To those who try to find answers to the present predicament of Ethiopia, where totalitarianism, corruption and anti-Ethiopianism define the Woyane leadership, the author candidly expounds Woyane’s barricade against the struggle for democracy, fundamental freedoms, national cohesion and the fight against poverty. He authoritatively declares that “[N]either Marxism nor identity politics is likely to respond to the challenges facing Ethiopians today: autocracy, poverty, and communal antagonisms,” and boldly charts a pragmatic roadmap that can inform genuine dialogue to extricate the country from the current quagmire of ethnocentric rule, naked tyranny and gloomy prospects of national collapse.

Admittedly, Gedamu’s roadmap is only one of many admirable ideas put forth by many genuine Ethiopians to accelerate the victory for democracy and national salvation that has proved so elusive so far. Such a victory, however, can only be possible through the discreet activities of a strong organization that enjoys the participation of a well-informed membership about their heritage and the true nature of the regime. While the works of writers like Gedamu are a good start, it is the responsibility of every legitimate Ethiopian to ensure the messages are spread far and wide.

The enemy is well armed, superbly organized and lavishly financed, and has controlled the population through a Soviet- style security system and sinfully alluring entitlements that may make the tasks of pro-democracy forces exceedingly onerous. However, as the recent history of the Arab Spring has shown, no power can pent up the rage of an oppressed people for much too long.

The writer may be reached at [email protected]

Woyanne’s Anti-Ethiopianism and the Italo-Ethiopian War

The history of Ethiopia is replete with contradictions and paradoxes. There are accounts galore of heroism and meekness, patriotism and treachery, devotion and apathy, and, above all, fear of God and acts of brutality in that ancient country. These chronicles may help provide clues about the root causes of the Woyane anti-Ethiopia schema and the appropriate plan of action needed to deracinate them.

By anti-Ethiopianism we purport the systematic and government-sanctioned weakening of the national fabric by pitting one ethnic group against another, as was witnessed recently in such areas as Benishangul-Gumuz and Gura Ferda zones. Anti-Ethiopianism is the appalling government policy of dislocating natives from their ancestral lands and transferring national wealth to foreigners at dirt cheap prices. It is anti-Ethiopianism to frame a constitution whose central object is to promote the disintegration and land-lockedness of the country. Most importantly, anti-Ethiopianism implies the deviant system of government under which all major economic, political and military institutions are controlled by the minority Woyane group, and through which fundamental human rights are suppressed and the people are denied their basic rights to participate in free and fair elections.

Confucius sagaciously advised: “Study the past if you would define the future.” Accordingly, when we consider the current predicaments of the country, which are characterized by ethnocentrism, totalitarianism, corruption, nepotism and absence of a feeling of Ethiopian patriotism amongst the rulers; and, most importantly, when we search for a viable solution to them, we should go no further for clues and explanations than the recent past events, beginning with the invasion of Italy in 1935-1940.

Much has been documented about the infamous Fascist aggression by notable Ethiopian and Western historians, journalists and novelists, as well as other writers who had taken active parts in the actual war. While well-researched history books and journal articles may serve as the ultimate sources for academic exercise, there is considerable information that may be gleaned from anecdotal accounts narrated by individuals based on their personal experiences. In this regard, we are fortunate to have at our disposal now the writings of three foreigners who had the opportunity to witness firsthand the savagery of the Fascist aggression, the heroism of the Ethiopian fighters, and the betrayal by local collaborators.

The three foreigners, whose paths had crossed several times in the battles of Tembien, Maichew and other fronts, had fought on the side of Ethiopia under the leaderships of such eminent Ethiopians as Ras Kassa Hailu Darge, Ras Seyoum Mengesha and Ras Mulugeta Yiggezu, the War Minister. In so doing, they were able to record considerable historical data and to leave behind intriguing accounts of bravery and treachery that could inform present and future researchers seeking answers to some of the most complex questions about present-day Ethiopia. Most importantly, they provide critical insights into the underlying reasons for the anti-Ethiopian agenda Zenawi and his Woyane entourage successfully exploited to catapult themselves to power; the continued damage to the long-term viability of the country that is caused by the misguided fiscal, economic, educational and military policies implemented by the TPLF-led regime; and the institutionalization of ethnic-based governance that is portentously promoted to nurture inter-ethnic animosity among brothers and sisters who have lived in relative harmony for many centuries.

Recently, the works of two of the foreigners were made accessible to Amharic readers. The first, ቀይ አንበሳ (Alpha, 2003) was translated by Tesfaye M. Bayileyegn from the original narration of Colonel Alejandro del Valle1. The second book, የሃበሻ ጀብዱ (AAU Press, 2010), is a translation by Techane J. Mekonnen based on Adolf Parlesack’s memoir in Czech entitled Habesska Odyssea (Praha : Panorama, 1989). The third, and most controversial, memoir was written by Colonel Feodor Konovalov, a Russian military adviser to Ras Seyoum Mengesha and other leaders. While there is no accessible Amharic translation of Konovalov’s writings, relevant excerpts are available in various sources (see, e.g., Clarke III, 2008 2).

Excepting a few and infrequent inconsistencies among the renditions of the three foreigners about shared events that they had jointly witnessed, there is a remarkable degree of consistency in their accounts of the breathtaking gallantry of Ethiopian fighters, as well as the distressingly heartrending treachery of domestic collaborators, especially from Tigray, Rayya, and Azebo regions, in the early days of the war.

Although Konovalov was generally silent on the contribution of the traitors to the defeat of Ethiopia, he was in remarkable concord with the other two in expressing awe and admiration at the inimitable valor and fearlessness of the Ethiopian army in the face of an infinitely better armed enemy. Quoting a Western diplomat, Konovalov was unhesitant to affirm: “… the Ethiopian soldier, well-taught and well-led, had no equal anywhere in the world.” The memoirs of all three abound with their eyewitness accounts of how, defying all odds against them, waves of primitively armed Ethiopian fighters, composed of men and women from every ethnic group, religious persuasion and social ladder, stormed, time and again, well fortified Italian positions, sending terror and confusion among the enemy. As one reads about the surreal exploits of those brave fighters, the knowledge of belonging to a people of such valiance and heroism fills one’s heart with a sense of immense pride. In one instance, for example, del Valle tells of a story in which the Ethiopians ferociously and unstoppably climbed up a hill to engage the enemy that was assailing them from above with automatic weapons and mustard gas. In summarizing his amazement at the extraordinary scene he was witnessing, he wrote: “The efforts of the invaders to try to stop those brave Ethiopians, who were charging uphill over the bodies of their fallen compatriots, was like firing bullets from machine guns to futilely slow down the gushing of water downhill.”

The foreigners also documented heroic accomplishments of ordinary citizens, whose names never made it to the history books, but who had demonstrated unimaginable bravery on the battlefields. Among such stories eloquently told by Parlesack, none is probably as fascinating as that of a young Oromo boy from the Sellale region by the name of Abichou. Parlesack describes with a Homeric touch the valiance of the boy as he terrorized the Fascist aggressors, chased to their deaths many of the traitors, coordinated a multi-ethnic army from Hamassen, Tigray, Gojjam and Sellale, and scored countless victories against the invading army.

Parlesack and del Valle were also unreserved in their expression of disgust at the degree of betrayal and treachery perpetrated by some members of the Tigray, Rayya and Azebo regions that made the campaigns of the great armies of Ras Seyoum, Ras Kassa and Ras Mulugetta immeasurably arduous. Parlesack even hinted that the balance of power at the battle of Maichew was tipped in favor of the invaders, thanks in great part to the sabotage of the traitors from Rayya and Azebo, who inflicted considerable damage on the advancing Ethiopian army coming from behind at critical moments.

Among the most notorious traitors of the era was Dejazmach Haile Sellasie Gugsa, a great grandson of Emperor Yohannis IV, who gave his allegiance to Benito Mussolini in the early days of the war. This traitor facilitated the invasion of Mekelle in November of 1935, and later joined the invading army that marched on Addis Ababa in April of 1936. Throughout the occupation, he provided invaluable service as a trusted adviser to both Rodolfo Graziani and the Duke of Aosta. Remarkably, his first demonstration of treachery was to raise the Italian flag in Mekelle, desecrating the Ethiopian tri-colors. Over six decades later, another traitor, the late Meles Zenawi, would defile that same flag.

Indeed, in the face of the well-known anti-Ethiopian sentiment unabashedly exhibited by Zenawi, and now aggressively implemented by his successors, it is not beyond the realm of rational proclivity to wonder whether the turncoats of the Italo-Ethiopian war did not influence the imprudent minds of the current traitors.

Much has been disclosed about the dubious family tree of the late dictator and the backgrounds of some of those in the Woyane leadership. Regarding the notorious heritage of Zenawi, Gebremedhin Araya, a one-time TPLF fighter and an accomplished authority on the late dictator’s family history, has given gripping testimonials, in a series of ESAT interviews, how the dictator’s mind might have been poisoned while growing up in a family that had always betrayed the land they lived in. There are also troubling accounts of the backgrounds of most of the Woyane leaders, including the notorious Bereket Simon, Sibhat Negga and several others.

At a time when there is a lot of confusion among some sectors of the Ethiopian community about the true nature of the Woyane regime and its hidden agenda, it is absolutely critical to see the treachery of the rulers through the prism of their treasonous forefathers. This is especially indispensable in any effort to raise the awareness of the people of Tigray in whose name these traitors are causing immeasurable damage. Although there were several traitors who, like Haile Sellasie Gugsa, sided with the enemy and fought against the Ethiopian army, there were also exemplary patriots from the same region who valiantly fought and died in defense of their motherland against Fascist invasion. Similarly, despite the common perception that many Tigreans today are backers of the evil dictatorship, it should be incontrovertibly affirmed that there is a large proportion of Tigreans who abhor the destructive and anti-Ethiopian path followed by the Woyane regime.

The late dictator and his party have always projected themselves as saviors of the people from the tyrannical rule of the Derg. Unfortunately, many genuine Ethiopians have overlooked the fact that the Woyane regime is not only a most vicious authoritarian system, as the Derg was, but also an atrocious organization whose ultimate objective is the destruction of Ethiopia as a nation. In actual fact, no rational government in history has unilaterally advocated the dismemberment of the country it rules, made attempts to justify its isolation through land-lockedness, parceled out precious lands to foreigners at dirt cheap prices, or systematically used ethnicity, famine, illiteracy and disease as instruments to enslave the people it governs, to the extent the Woyane rulers have done so. It is therefore vitally important to effectively establish the anti-Ethiopian identity of the regime, and to reignite the patriotism of those members of the society who have been hoodwinked by the pervasive propaganda campaign that the regime has successfully, but spitefully, launched to portray itself as a better alternative to the brutal Derg dictatorship.

A major weakness of the pro-democracy movement thus far has been its hopeless ineptitude to articulate precisely why the Woyane philosophy is anti-Ethiopian, and how dangerous that philosophy is to the long-term viability of the country. The suppression of basic human rights, the codification of ethnocentrism in the constitution, the irresponsible policy of land grabs, the pitting of one ethnic group against another, and the unfettered corruption among the leaders of the regime have not been effectively communicated to the people as manifestations of this general scheme of anti-Ethiopianism that the Woyane leadership has perfected over the past several decades.

Indubitably, the only realistic strategy that would guarantee the certain destruction of the Woyane regime is one that successfully establishes and communicates to the people of Ethiopia this abhorrent nature of the regime. Without a thorough understanding of the TPLF as a perfidious organization by the people of Ethiopia in general, and those of Tigray in particular, there cannot be a unified front that is a prerequisite for a successful outcome of the struggle to save the country, liberate the oppressed, and establish a democratic system where individual freedoms would flourish and the long-term survival of Ethiopia would be guaranteed. As they have heroically demonstrated to the world before, during and after the Italo-Ethiopian war, there is nothing that unifies and arouses the fighting spirit of the people of Ethiopia more than a sense of direct threat to their heritage and independence either by foreign aggressors or domestic connivers. Pro-democracy forces, Websites, and other groups and individuals, therefore, have the moral imperative to reignite the ardor of the people to defend their country by raising their awareness as to the true nature of the treasonous organization that is Woyane.
[1]In “Un hombre blanco en el infierno negro por el Coronel Alejandro del Valle” as told to Arturo Alfonso Roselló (Havana: Impreso en los Talleres Tipograficos, 1937)).
[2] Clarke III, JV, “Feodor Konovalov and the Italo-Ethiopian War (Part I), World War II Quarterly, 2008; 5:4-37

The writer may be reached at [email protected]