Skip to content

Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Tower in the Sky by Hiwot Teffera

By Selam Beyene, PhD

Following the publication of Hiwot Teffera’s widely acclaimed book, Tower in the Sky (AAU Press, 2012), several reviews have been posted in the Internet and other media, both by government propagandists [1] and others in the Diaspora and elsewhere, see, e.g., [2] and [3]. In this commentary we provide a brief elucidation of how the historical significance of the bona fide message of the book is wickedly tainted by apologists of the ethnocentric regime in power in Ethiopia, and the extent to which a totalitarian regime can go to corrupt historical records for the sole purpose of legitimizing subjugation and repression.

In the literary world, it is a long-established tradition to opine on, express approbation of, or accentuate misrepresentation of facts in the works of others, with a view to advancing a trend of thought, promoting the sharing of knowledge, enhancing the development of a discipline, or bestowing due credit upon the originator of the work. This is generally done in strict adherence to time-honored protocols for critical reviews that have universal allure, regardless of culture, ideology, language or other pertinent persuasions. One exception to the rule often tends to be the practice in totalitarian regimes, where knowledge generation is tolerated to the extent that it is in the service of the ruling elite and the illuminating endeavor of critical reviews is coercively consigned to those mundane tasks performed by paid propagandists.

In democratic societies, seldom is this medium of literary interaction distorted for the illicit purpose of advancing a personal agenda or promoting odious political and ideological objectives. In the singular cases where this happens, the culprits invariably are either individuals of blinkered disposition or those who have indifference to academic integrity or established norms of civilized discourse.

Before we delve into the central themes of some of the reviews by apologists of the ethnocentric regime in Ethiopia, it may be fitting to recognize the contribution of the book to the growing body of knowledge about a turbulent era and an enigmatic generation in the history of that country.

To most Ethiopians who were witnesses of or participants in the tumultuous events that the author so vividly and eloquently narrated, the book conjures up painful memories of a traumatic epoch that was simultaneously defined by unparalleled idealism, youthful gallantry, government brutality, aborted dreams and an insidious disillusionment.

To the generations that came after the harrowing period and grew up under successive dictatorships, the book is permeated with latent messages that the youth, as an engine of social change, have an immutable responsibility and the duty de rigueur to altruistically challenge repression and injustice. Further, the book mesmerizingly underpins the venerable truism that the struggle for freedom is arduous and not without cost, and that in a struggle for freedom there are often unintended consequences. Most importantly, it ominously, but divinely, promulgates the ethereal message that the sacrifices paid by the golden generation would be in vain only if the youth of our time failed to carry and advance the torch of freedom passed to them by their forerunners.

A book about a fateful period in the history of a country is likely to engender angst, apprehension and introspection in a number of disparate circles — and this seems to be the case with this book. To those players who share responsibility for the miscalculations of the EPRP that led to the catastrophic collapse of the party, and who now cohabit with the current tyrants, the book has provided several outlets to vent off indignity and discomfiture. To others, who had played prominent roles in the struggle of yesteryear, but now have closed their eyes to the continued injustice against the very people they had fought to liberate, the book appears to offer an affirmation of their egotistical thinking that, having paid their dues as naïve youngsters, no cause at the present is worth dying for, and that they are justified in turning their backs to the prevailing tyranny.

To the ethnocentric dictators in power, the book indubitably is a double-edged sword that needs to be managed with care and prudence. On one hand, the potent lesson that the current generation can learn from the experiences of those gallant young boys and girls, who selflessly fought a vicious dictatorship with the lofty goal of liberating their people and establishing a utopian state, is a dangerous phenomenon that must be nipped in the bud. On the other hand, the graphic description in the book of the vicious measures taken by the brutal government of the Derge to suppress the popular movement can now complement the scare tactics the Woyane propaganda machinery has effectively used as a means of silencing and thwarting any semblance of resistance to the atrocious dictatorship in power.

It is, therefore, in the above framework that the reviews of the book posted by various individuals should be scrutinized and evaluated. Understandably, most of the reviewers shower the writer with well-deserved accolades for her literary fineness, extraordinary faculty to reminisce detailed events of the era, and cogent elucidation of the follies of the EPRP leadership.

However, a few of the reviewers tended to jumble propaganda with historical facts, sycophantly embellishing the records of a dictator and, hence, contravening basic tenets of critical reviews of a book of this nature. Among the latter category belong some apologists whose brazen remarks were so contemptible as to manifestly put to shame even those in power they are trying to flatter.

In one instance, for example, one reviewer [1] wrote a scathing castigation of the EPRP for lack of tolerance of dissent and excessive measures against dissenting members, while praising the late dictator, Meles Zenawi, for his exemplary leadership before and after imposing his vicious ethnic agenda over the people of Ethiopia. This, is of course, a deliberate act of misinformation and a despicable transgression of the fêted literary tradition. In his haste to praise his masters in the guise of a literary exercise, the reviewer has expediently ignored the shameful and bloodthirsty history of the TPLF in which numerous acts of violence were perpetrated by the dictator and his party against their dissenting comrades, both during and after the formative years of the ethnic-based party. Indeed, based on credible accounts of those in the know, the crimes committed by Zenawi and his party have few parallels in their viciousness in the annals of totalitarian organizations.

In another vain attempt to posthumously paint a larger-than-life picture of the late dictator, that same reviewer made perhaps one of the most egregious statements ever made about Zenawi’s role in the student movement of the era. While there is no denial of the early ambitions of the dictator, and his efforts to get visibility as an immature sophomore, it is emphatically and utterly preposterous to suggest that he was ever elected as a congressman to the University Students Union of Addis Ababa (USUAA). His failed campaign to represent the students in his constituency, if anything, revealed early signals of his arrogance that later became his trademark of unstatesmanlike deportment.

The dishonorable reviewer also bestowed upon Zenawi the credit of granting freedom of expression to the people of Ethiopia, unlike the predecessor, Mengistu Haile Mariam. In point of fact, there is no misapprehension about the brutality of the latter; however, it is a travesty of commonsense and a defiance of basic human decency to anoint Zenawi and his party as defenders of basic human rights. In essence, Mengistu’s Derge and Zenawi’s TPLF are two sides of the same coin. As has been repeatedly remarked, both regimes are vicious dictatorships, whose only differences lie in the approaches they follow to suppress the basic rights of the people of Ethiopia. One major divergence between the two is that the TPLF, under the guise of fighting terrorism, enjoys the full support of the West as it hones and perfects the machinery of oppression contrived by the Derge to harass, intimidate and subjugate an entire nation. The reality is that even the recent issue of the U.S. State Department Country Reports was unable to conceal the fact that, in 2012 alone, the TPLF regime had arrested more than 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers. No reasonable person could deny the imposition of severe restrictions on civil society and nongovernmental organization activities, thanks to the draconian Charities and Societies Proclamation issues by Zenawi’s repressive regime. No human being with an iota of decency would write about the existence of freedom expression in Ethiopia in the face of the continued detentions of journalists and bloggers in the likes of Eskinder Nega and others on trumped up charges. Tragically, this is an example of the dreadful use of a form of literary exercise as an instrument of state machinery designed to misinform, inhibit flourishing of ideas and promote horrendous and venomous ethnic ideology.

“Tower in the Sky” is a veritable monumental contribution to our understanding of the sacrifices paid in those auspicious years with a vision to establish a system of government where individual freedoms would be respected, everyone would enjoy the equal protection of the law, and all citizens would have the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As one admires the intensity with which the writer conveys the true essence of the revolutionary fervor that swept the country at that time, one cannot help but express one’s disenchantment in the lack of interest, on the part of many surviving members of that generation, in the present predicament of the people of Ethiopia. It is indeed mindboggling how any member of that generation who once demonstrated superhuman fits and discipline in their formative years to build a just system, would turn blind eyes to the appalling abuse of human rights by the current regime. Can the follies of a handful of EPRP leaders justify the condoning of the atrocities being committed by the present rulers? Unlike the struggle for personal success, from which one can walk away in the face of adversity, there can be no turning back in the search for justice and liberty. Only hypocrisy, hedonism, vanity and egoism would explain the motives of a person who dithers about a noble cause he or she once embraced. And, there is no cause that is nobler than fighting for justice, equality and freedom; and there is no action that is more pusillanimous and reprehensible than turning away from such a cause on frivolous ruses.

At a time when there is much to be learned from the experience of those momentous years in the search for a solution to the present crisis in Ethiopia, anyone who focuses only on the blunders of EPRP leaders as a central theme of any treatise about the upheavals of the time should be either a political neophyte or a baleful minion paid to prolong the Woyane ethnocentric totalitarianism. Centuries ago, Plutarch observed: “To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.” Plutarch’s observation is especially germane in the struggle for freedom and justice in Ethiopia — a struggle that requires persistence and continued sacrifice to liberate the people from a pernicious manacle of totalitarianism. Parties rise and fall, and ideologies flourish and perish. However, the lofty ideal of liberating men and women from the yoke of tyranny and authoritarian rule is an absolute dictum that cannot be cloaked in a patina of relative expediency. If there is any message to be drawn from the events of those extraordinary years, or any exposition of them such as “Tower in the Sky”, it is the need to organize, inculcate discipline in the youth, raise awareness of the dangers of ethnic-based totalitarianism, and extol the inviolability and sublimity of paying the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of justice, equality and freedom.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]


As fear of uprising spreads, Ethiopia’s dictator bans Skype

By Craig Wilson | Techcentral

The Ethiopian government has clamped down on Internet-based voice-calling services, making their use a criminal offence.

Ethiopia’s state-owned Internet service provider, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (Ethio-Telcom), has begun performing deep-packet inspection of all Internet traffic in the country. The country’s government recently ushered in new legislation that criminalises the use of services such as Skype, Google Talk and other forms of Internet phone calling.

The new law, which came into effect on 24 May, makes use of Internet voice services punishable by hefty fines and up to 15 years in prison.

The official line from the government is that the move is intended to protect national security and protect the national, state-owned telecoms carrier from losing revenue to Skype and similar services; this, despite the fact that Ethiopia’s fixed-line penetration rate is the second worst in Africa (after Sierra Leone) at an estimated 1% of its 85m strong population.

Ethiopia has instituted numerous restrictions on its digital community in recent years. The government has previously closed down Internet cafes offering voice-over-Internet protocol services and, in December 2006, made it obligatory for Internet cafes to keep records of the names and addresses of their customers in an effort to clamp down on bloggers and other users critical of the regime.

The new law prohibits all VoIP traffic along with audio and video data traffic via social media. The Africa Review reports that the law also gives the government the right to inspect any imports of voice communication equipment and accessories.

The OpenNet Initiative, which tracks Internet filtering and surveillance, says in a report on Ethiopia that the country already blocks all blogs hosted at and at, a site that aggregates Ethiopian news and has space for blogs and forums.

The new legislation is no doubt also motivated by the events of the Arab Spring that saw mass protests organised via social media. With many bloggers critical of Ethiopia’s current government, censorship by the state looks likely to increase.

Isaias Afwerki: Reports of my death are highly exaggerated

Recent rumor regarding his state of health “attests to the mounting frustration on the part of its authors.” – President Isaias

By Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Asmara, 28 April, 2012 – In a brief interview he conducted tonight, 28 April 2012, with the national media outlets, President Isaias Afwerki underscored that the recent rumor regarding his state of health attests to the mounting frustration on the part of its authors.

Explaining that in the past week he had been abroad on a 3-day working visit, and that upon return home he has been on a tour of inspection to Gash-Barka, Anseba and the Northern Red Sea regions from 21 to 22 April, the President said: “I am lucky; I enjoy robust health. The speculated ill-health is only in the minds of the authors of such a baseless rumor.”

Elaborating that the issue has nothing to do with his health status but designed to create anxiety among members of the public, President Isaias pointed out that it is but a continuation of the coordinated psychological warfare and anti-Eritrea smear campaign that has been going on for the past decade under various guises. He further indicated that the fabricated ploy was concocted at a time when the nation is registering impressive development stride, coupled with the mounting popular resistance, and that the recent enemy speculation is intended to put their frustration on others.

He went on to underline that as information technology is becoming an instrument of the special interest forces, members of the public should not fall into the trap of being misled by such fabricated misinformation for acts of this nature may be repeated from time to time on the part of the same authors.

Commending the perseverance and resistance of the Eritrean people against all enemy conspiracies, the President called on citizens to continue the national development endeavors without being distracted by futile enemy ploys.


With much to hide, Zenawi suffocates Ethiopia with information control

Editor’s Note: 

Meles Zenawi has a lot to hide.  There is much stealing and naked brutality that needs to be kept under wraps. There is torture, imprisonment, murder and the trafficking of women for profit.  Western donors, who sustain the regime with a wink and a nod, can claim ignorance as long as the brutish nature of Ethiopia’s own Joseph Koni is kept out of public view. The ruling dictatorship believes in total control of information.  Brute force and information control sustains rule by a heartless ethnic minority.

Media Control In Ethiopia

Democracy Denied

By Graham Peebles | Eurasia Review

Democracy sits firmly upon principles of freedom, justice, social inclusion and participation in civil society. Where these qualities of fairness are absent so too is democracy, for the word is not the thing, to speak of democratic values is easy enough, to dismantle repressive methods and State practices that deny there expression is quite another.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres of Ethiopia knows little of democracy, human rights or the manifestation of democratic principles and much of repression and intimidation. The EPRDF government rules Ethiopia with a heavy hand of control, restricting completely free assemble – a universal right written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), inhibiting the freedom of the media and denying the people of Ethiopia freedom of expression in manifold ways.

Media freedom is a basic pillar of any democratic society. Freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are essential elements of a democracy. Whilst media independence throughout the world is contentious at best, autonomy from direct State ownership and influence is a crucial element in establishing an independent media. The Ethiopian State owns and strictly controls the primary media of television and radio.

Not only is there no independent TV and radio in Ethiopia, but access to information is also tightly controlled, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) makes clear in its report, One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure. Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia, “the independent media has struggled to establish itself in the face of constant government hostility and an inability to access information from government officials.” Since the 2005 elections in Ethiopia the government has systematically introduced tighter and tighter methods of control, HRW continues, over the past five years the Ethiopian government has restricted political space for the opposition, stifled independent civil society, and intensified control of the media.

Owning information

Since the end of the civil war in 1991 privately owned newspapers and magazines have been appearing and despite heavy regulation by the Meles government, this area of Ethiopian media is expanding. This the government reluctantly tolerates, knowing that print media is of little significance, due to low literacy of the adult population (48%), a shameful figure that the EPRDF is no doubt delighted with, high levels of poverty and poor infrastructure making distribution difficult, newspapers are not widely circulated or read, consequently the main source of information for the majority of people is the state owned television and radio, which serve as little more than a mouthpiece of propaganda for the resident regime, the EPRDF.

Internet media is also restricted, with access to the web the lowest in Africa; Research & Markets found “Ethiopia has the lowest overall teledensity in Africa. The population is approaching 90 million, but there are less than 1 million fixed lines in service, and a little more than 3.3 million mobile subscribers. The number of internet users is dismal – below 500,000 at the end of 2009.” 1 The World Bank puts the figure a little higher at 7.5% of the population. In another demonstration of democratic duplicity, the government of Ethiopia controls all telecommunications. Internet and telephone systems must run through the State owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation.

The vast majority of the population – 82.40% in 2010, according to a World Bank report released in 20112, live in rural areas and have no access to the ‘worldwide web’ at all. By maintaining monopoly control of telecommunications the Ethiopian Government is denying the majority of the population access to another key area of mass information. This is an additional infringement of basic democratic principles of diversity and social participation, as Noam Chomsky makes clear “The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations.”3

Party dictatorships fits the Ethiopian government tailor-made, although their arrogance and vanity would no doubt prefer the title of ‘kings and princes’, Emperor Meles perhaps, following in the brutal glow of that other conceited controller Halie Sellassie. The EPRDF regime is in fact a dictatorship and known as such to the majority of Ethiopians living inside and indeed outside the country, who are courageous enough to speak out and make their views known. Courageous indeed, for as with all cowardly brutal states, the EPRDF rules by violence, intimidation and fear, HRW again Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views without fear of reprisal. Such is democratic living under the Meles machine.

Law Breakers

Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and of information is a basic requirement under the UDHR. Article 19 makes this clear “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Although the UDHR is not in itself a legally binding document, it provides moral guidance for states and offers a clear indication of what we as a world community have agreed as the basic requirements of correct governance and civilized living. In the preamble is stated “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” Tyranny and oppression is the cloud under which the good people of Ethiopia are living and have lived for the twenty-year rule of Prime Minister Meles and co. It is through the implementation and enforcement of international law, established to safeguard the people’s basic human rights that the suffering and injustices may and will be brought to an end. The sister document to the UDHR the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides such legal protection and is indeed legally binding. There we find, Article 19, paragraph 1 ” Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.” And paragraph 2 “ Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Ethiopia ratified this international treatise on 11th June 1993, and is therefore legally bound by its articles. By imposing tight regulatory controls on media inside and indeed outside of Ethiopia, the case of ESAT TV based in Holland, whose satellite signal is repeatedly [illegally} blocked by the EPRDF, is an important case in question. Not only is the Ethiopian government in violation of international law, but by completely restricting the freedom of the media and inhibiting completely any hint of dissent, the regime is also in contradiction of its own constitution. Article 29, entitled rather optimistically ‘Right of Thought, Opinion and Expression’ states, 1. Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice. 3. Freedom of the press and other mass media and freedom of artistic creativity is guaranteed. Freedom of the press shall specifically include the following elements: (a) Prohibition of any form of censorship. (b) Access to information of public interest.4 Clear and noble words, indeed democratic in content and tone, however words that sit filed neatly upon the shelf of neglect and indifference, as the people suffer and cry out to their mother country, serve only as a mask of convenience and deceit allowing the betrayal of the many to continue. Human Rights Watch gently states, the 1995 constitution incorporates a wide range of human rights standards, and government officials frequently voice the state’s commitment to meeting its human rights obligations. But these steps while important, have not ensured that Ethiopia’s citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights.

State suppression

In 2009 the EPRDF passed two inhibiting pieces of legislation that embody some of the worst aspects of the governments decent towards greater repression and political intolerance. The controversial CSO law, is according to HRW, one of the most restrictive of its kind, and its provisions will make most independent human rights work impossible. A ‘counterterrorism’ law was introduced at the same time; this second piece of repressive legislation allows the government and security forces to prosecute political protesters and non-violent expressions of dissent as terrorism. Since the introduction of these internationally criticised laws, the UN Jubilee Campaign in its report ‘Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Ethiopia’ recommends the adoption of this law [emphasis mine] be repealed,” the umbrella term ‘terrorist’, meaning anyone who disagrees with the party/state line continues to be used and manipulated as justification for all manner of human rights violations and methods of suppression and control – the aim of all dictatorships. What defines a terrorist or an act of terrorism remains vague and ambiguous, enabling the Meles regime to construct definitions that suit them at any given time. Amongst other travesties of justice the legislation, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals, “permits a clamp down on political dissent, including political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy, it also deprives defendants of the right to be presumed innocent.“5 A primary function of the media in a democratic society is to examine and criticise the government and provide a public platform for debate and participation. This law denies such interaction and freedom of expression. The law is in violation of the ICCPR and blatantly contravenes the much-championed Ethiopian constitution; idealised images of goodness, remaining un-manifest, stillborn.

The anti-terror law is a pseudonym for a law of repression and control, made and enforced by a paranoid regime, that is determined to use all means in its armoury to quash any dissent and maintain a system of disinformation and duplicity. Media organisations that disagree with the EPRDF party line run the risk of being branded, under this law ‘terrorists’, arrested and imprisoned as such. Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of Awramba Times, says “the law provides a pretext for the government to intimidate and even arrest journalists who fall afoul of its wording. Kebede said the regulations were a government campaign to oppress all forms of dissident activity.” (Ibid) This new unjust law completely inhibits ability of the media to report anything that is deemed critical of the current government. All opposing voices to policy are stifled; journalists are frightened and the facility to expose and criticize the many serious violations of human rights, to provide a balanced view of the issues facing the country are denied. The rights to freedom of expression and association are completely restricted, all independent voices have been virtually silenced and freedom of speech and opinion are denied. Human Rights Watch makes clear its concern, over the past five years the Ethiopian government has restricted political space for the opposition, stifled independent civil society, and intensified control of the media.6

Control flows from fear, the greater the dishonesty, corruption and greed the more extreme the controls become. Under the neglectful corrupt governance of the EPRDF, Ethiopians are subjected to a range of human rights abuses and violations political opposition has been unofficially banned, making this democracy sitting in the Horn of Africa a single party dictatorship. The UN in its human rights report finds, “resistance to opposition has become the primary source of concern regarding the future of human rights in Ethiopia” and confirms the view of HRW, stating “The CSO law directly inhibits rights to association, assembly and free expression.” The Meles regime seek, as all isolated corrupt dictatorships do, to centralize power, deny dissent and freedom of expression and suppress the people by intimidation, violence and fear. Creating an atmosphere of apprehension, extinguishing all hope of justice, true human development and freedom from tyranny. Disempowerment is the aim, the means are well known, crude and unimaginative, keep the people uneducated, deny them access to information, restrict their freedom of association and expression and keep them entrapped.

Demanding justice

The downtrodden suppressed people of Ethiopia, living under the brutality of the Meles regime, whose human rights are being ignored, without an effective media, have no voice. The controls that deny media freedom and the people the freedom of association and expression, guaranteed under the Ethiopian constitution and international law, must be repealed, HRW in its detailed report makes a series of basic demands of the Ethiopian government, which reinforce this, key among them is the call to “Guarantee unrestricted access to Ethiopia to international media and independent human rights investigators, and cease harassment of Ethiopian media.”

The days of the dictator are over no amount of repressive legislation can any longer safeguard a regime that rules through violence and inhibition. Meles and his cronies ensconced behind armed walls of duplicity may well seek control, the fearful always do. The will of the people is for freedom, peace and the observation of their human rights, it must and shall be done for justice and the rule of law underlies their call.




3. Domestic Constituencies Noam Chomsky.–.htm

4. Constitution of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.…/Constitution%20Ethiopia.pdf

5. The bureau of investigative journalism

6. Human Rights watch (HRW)

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at [email protected]

Ethiopia: Copyrights and CopyCrimes

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Crimes Against the Mind

If a person were to {www:maliciously} burn or {www:vandalize} another’s house, it would be regarded as a serious property crime under the laws of any nation. If one were to walk into a bookstore and steal thousands of books and give them away to any passerby, that would also be a major property crime. How about taking a copyrighted book, scanning it and making it available to anyone in digital form online? Is that a serious criminal act? Is it also an immoral and depraved act?

Is it fair?

When a publisher, author or artist produces a book, a piece of music, a painting or other similar work, s/he is creating intellectual property which is as valuable as any other kind of property recognized by law. Just as doctors, lawyers, engineers and others make a living by practicing their professions, those in the literary, artistic and publishing communities make their living from marketing their intellectual creations. But the total disrespect and contempt shown by some individuals to the intellectual property rights of Ethiopian musicians, artists and authors is downright sickening and maddening.

Today, the music of the legendary Ethiopian artists, including Tilahun Gessesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, Bizunesh Bekele, Alemayehu Eshete, Kiros Alemayehu, Kassa Tessema, Ketema Makonnen, Asnaketch Worku, Mary Armede, Hirut Bekele, Ali Birra, Aster Aweke, Kuku Sebsebie, Muluken Melesse, Teodros “Teddy Afro” Kassahun, Shambel Belayneh and so many others, are illegally and casually stored online and made freely available. The artists receive no payments and their work is distributed without their permission and often to the financial benefit (selling ads on websites, subscriptions, etc.) of the music pirates. The individuals who store  the music illegally and those who download them illegally work together to not only impoverish these great artists but also destroy their creative potential and ability to enrich the culture.

Crimes Against the Press

This contemptible culture of online piracy passed another shameful milestone recently when an entire book was scanned and posted on the internet in clear violation of international and national copyright laws. The book in question was the recently published memoir of former Ethiopian junta leader Mengistu Hailemariam. The website that scanned and posted the book online justified its action as follows:

Mass murderer and brutal dictator Mengsitu Haile Mariam (exiled in Harare, Zimbabwe) has written a 500+ pages book that has been published by Tsehai Publisher of Los Angeles. This mass murderer has not yet atoned or paid for his horrendous crimes and the mass killings of the Red Terror. He now hopes to benefit from the sale of his book of lies. We strongly feel that this criminal should be tried before a court of law and should be hindered from benefitting from his crime. Thus, we have published the book in PDF and we are posting it for free usage of all interested readers.

The website operators defended their illegal copying and posting by claiming that they had a right to do so under American law:

Our action is protected by Son of Sam Law in the USA which prohibits criminals from profiting from their crimes by selling their stories to publishers. Accessories to such actions are also included in the prohibition and in certain cases the law can be extended beyond the criminal to include friends, neighbors and family members of the lawbreaker. Denying the holocaust is a crime in many countries and Mengistu denies firmly the Red Terror and the mass murders. Concerned Ethiopians are studying the possibility of a law suit against Mengistu and his LA based publisher who may also be a target of boycott by all Ethiopians. Assisting and helping mass murderers to profit from their crimes by publishing their book of lies is a crime by itself.

The illegal posting is allegedly motivated by the desire to prevent Mengistu from getting a “benefit from the sale of his book”, despite the fact that posting the digital copy of the book will give wider dissemination of  what they described as a “book of lies”. Ironically, by posting the book online for all to read, the copyright infringers more likely gave great credibility to Mengistu’s claims about them than actually discrediting him. But the real target of the vengeance is the publisher, Tsehai Publishers, and not Mengistu. The copyright violators’ twisted message is simple: If they do not like the message of an author, they will retaliate by scanning and posting the author’s book online and bankrupt the publisher.

One can disagree deeply with Mengistu and the facts or lies contained in his memoir. Having read the book, I am critical of the accuracy and selective recollection of many of his “facts”; and disagree with his attempt to avoid personal and regime accountability for his gross violations of human rights. But that is the way of all dictators. They always try to tell their stories in heroic terms and attempt to justify their crimes as patriotic acts.

Although I disagree with Mengistu on numerous “facts” and unreservedly condemn his human rights record, I will be the first one to stand up and defend his right to write a book and publish it, even if it is all lies. To be sure, I defend Mengistu’s right to express himself just as vigorously as I defended the free speech rights of his successor Meles Zenawi when he spoke at Columbia University in September 2010. Why shouldn’t these two dictators be allowed to express themselves? Who is afraid of their “facts”, “lies”, ideas or opinions?  Don’t the people have the right to hear these dictators and make their own judgment?

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” “Everyone” includes dictators and human rights violators. It is the moral duty of those of us who are committed to freedom, democracy and human rights to expose the lies, fabrications and brutality of dictators at every opportunity. By suppressing the views of the dictators, we not only undermine our own moral legitimacy against their lies but also prove to the world that we are indeed their clones. “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

Those who posted Mengistu’s book online are absolutely wrong on the law. The so-called “Son of Sam Law” they tout as authority for posting the book online was adopted in the State of New York in 1983 to prevent convicted criminals from selling their stories to publishers and profiting from the notoriety of their crimes. That law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. New York adopted a narrowly tailored law in 2001 requiring, among other things, victim notification whenever  a person convicted of a crime receives a certain amount of money. A similar law in California was struck down by that state’s highest court in 2002. Under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 3681 (2000) [Special Forfeiture of Collateral Profits of Crime]), the U.S. attorney may seek a federal court order authorizing “forfeiture of all or any part of proceeds from a contract relating to a depiction of such crime in a movie, book, newspaper, magazine, radio or television production…” There is no law in the United States that gives private parties the right to become “Special Prosecutors” to catch “mass murderers” who “profit from their crimes by publishing their book of lies” online, or violate the copyright of publishers in the name of preventing “mass murderers” from profiting. As a matter of law, no state or federal court has personal jurisdiction over Mengistu to deprive him of  any “profits” he may get from the sale of the book. Even if such jurisdiction could be had, Mengistu would still be entitled to full due process of law before any court orders denial of proceeds from the sale of his book. Yes, dictators are also entitled to full due process before they are deprived of life, liberty and property.

Crimes Against Copyright Laws

The illegal posting of Mengistu’s memoir is not about lies, truths or criminals profiting from their crimes. It is about criminal infringement of copyrights. Since 1886, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works “Berne Convention”, see Art. 2) has been in place to protect literary and artistic works. Under 17 U.S.C. §506 (a )(1 )(B), “Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed… (B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180–day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000.”

The whole idea in copyright law is to give the creator of an original work exclusive intellectual property rights  for a specified amount of time, which in the U.S. is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.  During this period, the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, license, and prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work. Under the “fair use” rule, others may make limited use of the material for critical reviews of a work or for news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Crimes Against Culture

I suspect there may be some who are not familiar with Tsehai Publishers and the young man who has toiled so hard for so many years to create a publishing outlet to Ethiopian, African and other academics dedicated to scholarship on Ethiopia and the continent in general. Elias Wondimu started Tsehai Publishers in 1998. His aim was to create an institution that will “provide a venue for writers whose works may otherwise go unpublished.” Through these efforts, Elias hopes to achieve our goals of fostering intercultural dialogue and social justice.

Elias has an extraordinary and unrivalled record in seeking to enhance Ethiopian culture. He came to the U.S. in September 1994 to participate in the 12th International Ethiopian Studies Conference held at Michigan State University. Shortly thereafter, he began service as an editor for Ethiopian Review magazine, which appeared in print form until 2000. After closing out the print version of the magazine, he dedicated his time towards the  establishing Tsehai Publishers, which is named in memory of his mother who died in Ethiopia in 1997. Over the past decade, Tsehai publishers, now based at Loyola Marymount University in California, has made available nearly 60 scholarly and literary works on a variety of topics, the vast majority of them concerned with Ethiopian and African affairs. The publications cover the entire political cross-section without partisanship and censorship.

Among the dozens of original scholarship and reprints of some classic works on Ethiopian and African history, politics, anthropology, sociology, economics, religion and culture include: Tradition & Change in Ethiopia (2010), Feudalism and Modernization in Ethiopia (2006), Wit and Wisdom of Ethiopia (1999), Enough with Famines in Ethiopia (2006), The Survival of Ethiopian Independence (2004), A Political History of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (2010), A History of the Beta Israel (Falasha) (2010), Protestant & Catholic Missions in Orthodox Ethiopia (2007), Life and Culture in the Townships of Cape Town (2007), AIDS Orphans and their Grandparents (2006), Wax and Gold (2005), Civil Wars and Revolution in the Sudan (2005), Ethiopia in Wartime (2004).  A complete list is available here.

In 2004, Tsehai Publishers established The International Journal of Ethiopian Studies (IJES), currently available on JSTOR, the international online system for archiving academic journals.  A number of Ethiopian academics and scholars including myself and professors Maimire Mennasemay, Worku Negash and Alula Pankhurst have served as senior editors. IJES is an interdisciplinary, refereed journal which is published twice a year and dedicated to scholarly research relevant to or informed by the Ethiopian experience. IJES publishes articles in English and Amharic. The Journal’s mission statement explains that

IJES will, for the first time, provide Ethiopian scholars with an Ethiopian venue for reflecting seriously on Ethiopian issues from a scholarly perspective… One  of the deepest obstacles to African (including Ethiopian) progress towards democracy and economic prosperity is the peculiar situation of Africans being reduced to an object of knowledge by contemporary social science. The absence of Africans, including Ethiopians, as self-examining, self-evaluating, self-defining, and self-propelling subjects of history [has resulted in our] total dependence on external (European and American) definitions, interpretations, explanations, evaluations of who we are and what our problems and their solutions are.”

Tsehai Publishers has also organized a number of number of national conferences covering a wide range of issues and topics and sponsored a film festival for young filmmakers. The list of Elias’ contributions to the intellectual life of the Ethiopian, African and international communities is significant and much appreciated.

Those of us who take great pride in what Elias has accomplished could be faulted for speaking very highly of him. Perhaps others who have looked at his efforts could offer a more objective assessment. Prof. Wendy Belcher of Princeton University writes:

Elias is doing something unusual and important. There are very few publishers from the African continent, and, in the U.S., there are [only] a handful which are run by Africans and are publishing African texts. For an Ethiopian to have a press is more appropriate than almost any other nationality. They’ve had a written language going back 3,000 years and have long been in the business of printing and preserving the written word. He’s in a long, honorable line.

Such is the contribution of Elias and Tsehai Publishers to the preservation, conservation and glorification of Ethiopian and African history and culture. Those who illegally copied and posted the book are not attacking the author of the book, but Elias and Tsehai Publishers. Their crimes are against the very essence of Ethiopian and African culture and those scholars and authors who spend years researching their works. All Ethiopians and Africans are victims of this cowardly crime.

It is important to know that Elias has brought great honor and pride to all Ethiopians. In 2007, he was named  Ambassador for Peace by the Universal Peace Federation and the Interreligious and International Federation for  World Peace to help establish lines of dialogue between African scholars, poets, historians, academics,  aesthetes, journalists and scholars. In 2008, he was profiled in the inaugural edition of Who’s Who in Black Los Angeles along with such distinguished individuals as Steve Wonder, Tavis Smiley, Kobe Bryant, Isaiah Washington and Dr. Maulana Karenga. He was also profiled in a special edition of the LA Weekly as one the leading independent presses in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed on the Voice of America, National Public Radio, Deutsche Welle Radio, SBS Australia and other media on various cultural topics.

Let’s Right a CopyWrong: A Special Plea to All Ethiopians and Others Who Value a Free Press

This past week, the U.S. Congress considered two laws aimed at the type of copyright crime committed against Tsehai Publishers. The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA”) would have allowed the U.S. Attorney General to require domain name registries to “suspend operation of, and lock, the domain name” of a website “dedicated to infringing activity.” The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would have expanded the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property. While lawmakers wrestle with the issues, we can all do our part to support, protect and preserve a unique and irreplaceable institution in the Ethiopian/African Diaspora. Above all, we should defend the right to press freedom and free speech against not only dictators who shutter newspapers and close down publishing houses but also those who use copyright blackmail and the threat of financial bankruptcy against publishers.

Let us do the right thing!

Those who have downloaded the book in digital or print form aware or unaware of the criminality of the act should delete it permanently from your computers and discard the printed version.

Those who have read the book online should have the courage of their convictions to contact Tsehai Publishers  pay what is justly due at the link here.

Most importantly, we all need to show moral outrage by speaking out against such copyright criminality and moral courage by doing our part to support Tsehai Publishers for it is a treasure we cannot afford to lose.

Let us make our donations in any amount we can by pressing on this link.

On a personal note, I ask those who have followed my weekly commentaries and essays over the past six years to help me help Tsehai Publishers. I believe in Tsehai Publishers and fully support the efforts of Elias Wondimu and his associates who have toiled for years to make a gift of light (Tsehai) to all of us. It is a simple choice we face: We can do nothing and let darkness overwhelm our history, culture and future. Or we can do something and keep the sun shining brightly on Ethiopia, Africa and beyond!

Would you please help me help Tsehai Publishers?  Please donate by pressing here.  Any amount will do. THANKS….

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and

Ato Bereket writes a book?

By Yilma Bekele

Did you see what was coming out of North Korea this week? Someone referred to it as the ‘world’s largest display of uncontrollable grief.’ Kim Jung un ‘the Brilliant Comrade’ succeeded his father Kim Jung il ‘the Dear Leader’ who took over from his Grand Father the ‘Great Leader.’ The Korean people are celebrating sixty years under the stewardship of the Kim family? Do you wonder why? How is that possible in this day and age that one family can control a whole nation?

The Korean people are no different than the rest of humanity. There is no outward sign that sets them apart from the rest of us except the system they live under. That is the key to their dilemma. The Kim family and the system they perpetuate is the cause of all this freaky display being beamed out.

The Korean people are kept in ignorance by design. The Kim family motto is ‘Military first.’ It is not because North Koreans have enemies ready to conquer them. In fact North Korea have no enemies other than the Kim family and those aligned with them. The military ‘s mission is to bully, frighten and intimidate the Korean people into submission. The people are the enemy.

There is no independent Television broadcaster, no independent Radio station, no independent Newspaper and no independent Internet provider in the Kingdom of Korea. The Kim family and friends control all of the communications media. They figure that ignorant people are easier to control. You can’t argue with sixty years of success. I was looking and marveling at this phenomenon when I heard the news that Ato Bereket has written a book. You know me I was delirious with joy with the news. I have found my own Kim in my backyard. For some reason Kim of Korea and Meles of Ethiopia converged.

Mind you Ato Bereket have no compelling reason to stick his neck out and display his normal unfamiliarity with rational thought process and his utter contempt for facts and put all that down on paper for all to see. The only explanation I have is this disease of contempt for truth, self-aggrandizement, ego trip and simple garden-variety madness.

I have not read the book yet. To tell you the truth, I have no intention of reading it either. Judging from the inaugural ceremony when the book was made public I figured reading is not a requirement to talk or write about it. I am not going against convention here and read the damn book. My sincere hope is Ato Bereket himself has read the book.

The setting for the unveiling (Addis Sheraton, Lalibela Room) more than made up for the pedestrian quality of the content. It is reported that ‘who is who’ of the Ruling Party was present. The most esteemed benefactor of our motherland, Dr. Sheik Al Amoudi was there. The report does not say if Ato Meles was present or was watching from a remote site. I know from sources that videotaping is standard procedure. The First lady was not present either. I assume they were watching from their bunker.

The book is titled ‘A tale of the two elections.’ The dilemma faced by librarians all over is which category to file the book under. Fact or fiction is a valid question. It purports to be based on facts but from the reviews I get the feeling there is no research and data to support the thesis presented but rather it is a matter of taking the authors assertion as facts. Simple faith is what is called for.
Dr. Sheik Al Amoudi paid for the printing that was done in Kenya for quality purpose. According to the Dr. Sheik who confessed that he has not read the book it is a work of such importance that he recommended it as a ‘must reading’ for our youth. Judging by the glossy cover, beautiful fonts and pretty soft paper its function, as a doorstop will be invaluable. I know I am hating but deservingly.

Next to give his lofty recommendation was none other than Ato Demeke Mekonen, Minster of Education. Unfortunately he has not read the book either but it did not stop him from offering his praise and opinion. In fact he went a step further and added stuff that was not even in the book. Ato Demeke was glad and praised the author for dedicating the book to his comrades from the liberation movement when the reality is that Ato Bereket dedicated his book to his brother. Needless to say the Minster is in favor of adapting it as a textbook for our children.

I knew my friends at Aiga would add their share of cheerleading to this work of historic proportion. I am grateful to Ato Reta Sisay for his blind review. No adjective was spared in his haste to pile the accolades. He boldly compares and equates the book to the work of the celebrated English author Charles Dickens. I have no idea how and why. The only reason why Charles Dickens would be mentioned can only be due to the similarity of the title because the two works have nothing in common what so ever. The Englishman’s book is a work of fiction while Ato Bereket’s book purports to be a historical analysis of what happened yesterday in front of all of us. Ato Reta got carried away.

In my opinion the best un read review is done by none other than Ben of Ethiopia First. He wanted to stay true to the theme of fiction and continued to weave his own tale. When the book was unveiled in Addis, Ben said he was visiting the Great Wall of China. We are grateful he stopped his tourist activity and stayed in his room to write his Blog. How he got hold of the book in China is not clear and to top it all he was writing a testimonial before he even finished reading the book. He said so himself. Ben, Ben, Ben, how many times have you been told to not make shit up!

I found the review written by an individual named Daniel Berhane to be mildly interesting. He seems to be a Party functionary and goes out of his way to show Ato Bereket in a good light despite his failings as the ‘main strategist’ for the 2005 elections. Daniel seems to take advantage of his ethnic affiliation and gives us inside information regarding the Prime Minster’s plan to be called Doctor and the many fiction he has written and are awaiting publication. Ato Daniel states that there was no need for Ato Meles to review the work since Bereket is a premier ‘spin doctor’ in his own right. It is a little confusing when Bereket claims that Ato Meles is the busiest person in the service of his country and Ato Daniel asserts that the PM is busy studying for his PHD. We got a part time student and Prime Minster, and a part time spin-doctor and historian author.

May be I should also mention the write up by Addis Fortune newspaper ‘gossip’ columnist. We are after all in Ethiopia where a few papers are allowed to function pretending all is honky dory and normal while some are hounded out of existence. Our Columnist took a different take on the whole issue. The concern was not what was in the book but rather the perception. It boldly claims the ‘recently released book, the launch of which, at Sheraton Addis, caused so much furor among members of the public.’ Over the top statement considering ‘members of the public’ are eighty million of which seventy nine million nine hundred thousand are not aware of the book nor do they give a damn. Furthermore the Columnist was ticked off and wrote ‘there has been a passionate disapproval by many after seeing a well-heeled businessman speak of a senior government official in a manner that was distasteful, if not repulsive.’ I am sure this disapproval was not followed by not eating the lavish dinner, not drinking the free booze and not lining up to buy an autographed copy. A room full of spineless sycophants is what it looks like. A little harsh but you know what I mean.

The following paragraph from the Fortune article I would like to leave it intact and you the reader be the judge of this madness:
‘Equally, he has been criticised for reaching out to a businessman while his own party, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), could have paid for the printing of the book. He could have received the services of Mega Printing, a subsidiary of the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a party-affiliated company, others criticised.’ I have nothing to add to this crap.

It will be considered rude to finish without saying something about our dear friend, newly minted author and Head of Government Communications Minster good old Bereket Semeon. I will start from the beginning and rely on Ato Tesfaye Gebreab’s first hand description of the times and events. I have no reason to doubt Ato Tesfaye’s meticulous research and incredible memory. We are lucky.

Ato Bereket was born in Gondar to Aboy Gebrehiwot and Weizero Werknesh. He was named Mebrehatu Gebrehiwot. He came of age when our country was in turmoil. Like the youth of his time he joined the struggle to topple the Military regime or Derg. He has an older brother named Kasahune and the book is dedicated to him. Kasahune was born in the province of Eritrea and grew up in Gondar. He joined the EPRP to liberate his country. In my opinion history will show EPRP to be the first modern multi national movement that understood the richness, diversity and strength of the new Ethiopia to be built. Ato Mebrehatu died in a battle between EPRP (EPRF) militia and TPLF army.

History will also show TPLF was established, formed and founded to liberate the province of Tigrai. George Orwell wrote ‘to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.’ The folks of TPLF have the whole of Ethiopia under their nose but they choose to liberate a small sliver of land. This myopic vision never left our fearless leaders.

Back to our tale, upon joining TPLF Mebrehatu changed his name to Bereket. This was a common practice at the time but Mebrehatu went a step further and changed his fathers name too. He wanted a complete transformation I guess. He choose the name of an EPRP combatant from Eritrea that has mysteriously disappeared. It was normal to assume that he might have been killed in battle. It is good to know that the real Ato Bereket Semeone is still alive and was even the Ambassador to France representing the State of Eritrea. Not even Hollywood can dream of such a tale.

Ato Bereket/Mebrehatu did not bother to go into these matters. His book is about the 2005 election and the 2010 Coronation. It is very strange that TPLF folks are trying hard to revise history right under our nose. They have this guilt feeling if at all possible mixed with real fear and are constantly working hard to make us believe they were the victims. I have this strange notion this fiction is authored by none other than Ato Meles/Legesse Zenawi. I consider myself a skilled observer of The TPLF in general and the Politburo in particular. In fact I specialize on three and half individuals as my object of interest.

Based on extensive review of the reviews I have concluded Ato Meles to be the author. The tone and language is vintage Meles. The length (over 300 pages) is standard Meles diatribe and the evil ways he attacks perceived opponents is familiar to us. The book was written to whitewash the crimes of 2005 settle scores with ‘enemies’ and gauge the reception from the one percent. The 99 percent are not part of the equation. I believe Ato Bereket is not wired to come up with such absurd tale and commit it to paper. It requires someone with a lot of time in his hands and the expertise to think smart and act damn. It is a worthy digression from the current malaise. But it is temporary. The economy is stuck, the remittances are still anemic, the constant jabbering of “Spring” is unnerving and the Gadaffi picture is difficult to shake. Most of all I truly enjoy their paranoia regarding Dr. Berhanu. They imprisoned him again and again, they exiled him and they still obsess about him. The more you hate him the more I love him. Bring it baby let us have some more fiction.

I have a few suggestions to our authors. It is easy to talk trash when you are the only one allowed to speak. I will fight for your right to write any book you want but please let others tell their side of the story too. You see your denial of the same rights to others cheapens your work. No one will believe it. What is the point of writing it if it doesn’t shed some light? You might think forcing schools, work places and associations to buy it might give you boasting rights but what is the point if everyone knew it is fake. It will be like your Tehadso project. You call a meeting of the faithful you give them money to donate and you shout how successful it was. This Mamo Kilo moment is not a wining strategy. I will read Ato Bereket’s fiction when he allows others to write their version of reality.

Let Eskinder out of prison, he will show you how to write. Let Reiyot Alemu and Zerihune Gegziabeher out your dungeon and they will show you how to publish using their sweat. Let Andualem Arage out of his confinement and he will teach you how to organize without using force and bribery. This trash publishing business using welfare is not the way of the Ethiopia we envision. I suggest Ato Bereket read his book if nothing else to know what is being said in his name.