Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter Discusses Security Partnership With Leaders in Ethiopia
By Cheryl Pellerin | American Forces Press Service
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 25, 2013 – Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with senior government and military leaders here to discuss the U.S.-Ethiopia security partnership and shared interests in East African security challenges, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today in a statement.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Gen. Samora Yenus, chief of staff for Ethiopia’s defense forces, at the Ethiopian National Defense Force headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 24, 2013. DOD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
Carter’s July 23-24 visit to this Horn of Africa country was the final leg of a three-country trip that began in Israel and included a stop in Uganda.
The deputy secretary is the highest-ranking Defense Department official to visit Ethiopia in more than a decade, Little said.
“My visit here to Addis represents not only the increasing importance we place on our partnership with Ethiopia, but the importance we place on the role of the African Union also in addressing Africa’s security challenges, be it Somalia, Mali, the troubled Sudans, or the Central African Republic,” Carter said after a meeting last night with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Carter characterized the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership as an important bilateral relationship and expressed gratitude to Hailemariam for the critical role Ethiopia has played in addressing regional challenges in Somalia and the Sudans.
“Ethiopia and the United States have shared interests in these countries and we continue to explore additional ways that we can work together to tackle East Africa’s security challenges,” the deputy secretary said.
“I’d like to note that my government recognizes Africa’s strategic importance,” he added, “and we at the Department of Defense recognize its strategic importance today and [for] the future.”
Carter and Hailemariam also discussed next steps in response to recent events in South Sudan and exchanged views on the African Peace and Security Architecture, maritime security, and conflicts in Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic and Africa’s Great Lakes region. The African Peace and Security Architecture is an ongoing Africa-AU framework for crisis management on the African continent.
A senior defense official said that Ethiopia is not a formal partner in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, called AMISOM, it has forces in Somalia and was the first of Somalia’s neighbors to respond against al-Shabaab, even before the African Union pulled together what now is AMISOM. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaida-linked militant group and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization fighting to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia.
“The Ethiopians are the No. 1 peacekeeping contributor in Africa at this point in terms of number of forces,” the official added. “They have substantial forces involved in South Sudan and in Sudan, and they’ve been involved diplomatically there as well.”
Carter also met with Chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces Gen. Samora Yenus to discuss the critical role Ethiopia has played in stabilizing Somalia and providing peacekeepers along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
While in Addis Ababa, home of the African Union headquarters, the deputy secretary met with Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, the most senior DOD leader ever to visit the AU. The African Union, made up of 54 African states, this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of its original Organization of African Unity. The AU took the place of the OAU nearly a decade ago, and one of its objectives is to promote peace, security and stability on the continent.
At the AU, Carter thanked Mwencha for the African Union’s leadership in tackling Africa’s security challenges.
The deputy secretary also met with alumni from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Addis, founded in 1999 and one of five DOD regional centers.
The ACSS is an agency within DOD that serves as a link between military and civilians involved in the security sector from across Africa, Europe and the United States, according to center literature. The goal is to bring people together to maintain a global network of professionals with a shared commitment to addressing security-related challenges facing Africa.
At a breakfast yesterday morning, Carter met with ACSS alumni from across the continent who offered their perspectives on Africa’s progress in addressing its security and development challenges.
“My job in the Department of Defense is to let people have the basic security that allows everything else in life to be possible — economic development, political development, personal development, community development and everything else,” he told the alumni.
None of that is possible, he said, unless people can wake up every morning and go to work and take their children to school and do all kinds of everyday activities in a safe environment. A few places in the world are blessed with such security, and after a while begin to take it for granted, he added, and people who don’t have it think of nothing else.
“So our job in part is to provide that security. Here in Africa, there are so many sources of insecurity and certainly the United States military is not the answer to them,” Carter said. “We try to make contributions where we can, where you teach us that would be a useful thing to do, and I’m very open to that.
“We in the United States are increasingly turning our thoughts to Africa,” he continued, “because we recognize that this is one of the places that is going to determine its future and our future by trade and culture and many other things.”
(Al-Akhbar) — The situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, structured by a lack of protective labor laws and a culture of racial inequality, marks a huge failure in the country’s human rights record. Documentary filmmaker Vanessa Bowles chose to explore this cultural phenomenon and her personal relationship with it, having grown up constantly tended to by migrant domestic workers. Alem & Asrat was first screened in Lebanon January 4, a look at the realities of two women’s experiences.
In February 2012 a video captured on a mobile phone showed Ethiopian domestic worker Alem Dechasa being dragged by her hair and violently forced into a car in front of the Ethiopian embassy. It went viral. Lebanese society and the wider world were shocked by the public scene of abuse.
Days after the video was aired on LBCI, Dechasa, who had been put in a psychiatric hospital, hung herself. Despite the outcry and widespread nature of the video, the murmur soon died away. Though the most public case, Dechasa’s was tragically one of many. Human Rights Watch documented an average of one death a week due to unnatural causes during 2008, which included suicides and falls from buildings. No official count has taken place since.
Bowles began her project at the exact time of Dechasa’s death and wanted to tell her story. Concurrently, she wanted to delve into her own proximity to the lives of domestic workers. She talks openly about the bonds she formed with the women who have passed through her life and introduces Asrat, the young woman who has been with the Bowles’ family for the past five years. As she works, she talks about her reasons for leaving Ethiopia; a voice too rarely heard.
Bowles’ journey took her to Ethiopia to meet the families of Dechasa and Asrat. She is met by a group of young activists called the Good Ethiopians, who have been campaigning for Dechasa’s family. One of the activists says that if he had one message for Lebanese people, it would be that “Ethiopians are humans, too.”
The group take Bowles to meet Lemesa Ejeta, Dechasa’s partner and father of their two young children. In the small settlement of mud houses and lean-tos in Buraya outside Addis Ababa, Ejeta talks of the six years spent planning and the money borrowed for Dechasa’s move to Lebanon. It had seemed like their only hope of providing for their children.
Recruiting agents often tour the villages of Ethiopia, looking for women to traffic to Lebanon. The women have to pay a hefty charge of 10,000 Ethiopian Birr ($547) for their tickets and agent’s fees. Bowles meets other people from Dechasa’s village who have family members in Lebanon who speak out about their fears for their loved ones in such a hostile environment.
The Good Ethiopians organized a fundraising event and successfully secured the money to ensure that Dechasa’s children will have full educations. At the time of filming, Ejeta had still not told them of their mother’s death. The shots of their faces during the fundraising event where they see a large projected video of their mother being beaten are devastating.
At the end of Bowles’ film she goes to meet Ali Mahfouz, the brother of the head of Dechasa’s recruiting agency and the man who beat her. She described him as very eager to tell his version of the story. He talks, with little pity, of Dechasa’s being moved from one house to another when her employers would change their minds about wanting her. According to him she broke down and tried to harm herself after being sent to a third home within one month of arriving and receiving no wages for her work.
He wanted to send her back to Ethiopia as mentally unwell but said that she resisted, insisting that she could not return as she had not succeeded in sending money back to her family. The infamous scene in front of the embassy he describes as him trying to protect her from herself.
Activist Wissam al-Saliby has kept the blog Ethiopian suicides since 2009 in an effort to document the abuses and deaths of domestic workers. He explained that the there is no official incident tally as the only bodies that have the information are the individual embassies of the countries where the women come from. The vacuum in the reporting on these deaths is shocking, with only the severe cases being mentioned in the media. “So many deaths go unnoticed,” said Saliby.
Domestic workers are not covered by Lebanese labor laws, meaning that they have no minimum wage and no social security. Many of the women working here come from countries that have banned their nationals from working in Lebanon, including Ethiopia, the Philippines, and Madagascar, because of the lack of labor rights. Desperate for work, women are often trafficked into the country and have scant or no protection against abuse. Lebanon’s immigration system does not respect these bans from other countries and once out of their homelands, women are not discouraged from coming to work.
After years of pressure to reform labor laws, on 10 December 2012, International Human Rights Day, parliament announced a national human rights action plan, drawn in conjunction with the UN. The plan as yet is a draft that will be submitted to the government for approval and amendment. After eventually being passed through parliament it will be an annex to the constitution and is expected to take five years to implement.
Point 19 on the action plan concerns the rights of migrant workers. Several NGOs and experts were consulted in the drafting process, including Dima Haddad, senior social worker at Caritas Lebanon Migrant Worker Center, an organization that has long championed the rights of vulnerable workers, Dechasa included.
Haddad explained the framework of the plan put forward to the government concerning migrant workers. The plan recommends that Lebanon signs the two international conventions pertaining to the rights of migrant workers. Also, the labor law must be amended to include domestic workers.
Haddad further explained that, importantly, the sponsorship system must be abolished or replaced with one that respects workers’ rights. The plan calls for the regularizing of domestic workers recruitment agencies as well as working on agreements between Lebanon and the countries migrant workers originate from.
It is also suggested that the Ministry of Labor creates a national committee dedicated to developing a strategy for improving the situation of migrant workers on different levels. There is a further suggestion that social workers might take on the role of inspecting and monitoring homes as places of work.
On January 3, attorney at Caritas, Joyce Geha, finally received a date for a hearing of the case against Ali Mahfouz, which will take place February 11. The process took an exceedingly long time as she had to wait to be granted power of attorney by Dechasa’s parents and the Ethiopian embassy before she could represent her case and submit a request to the court against Mahfouz.
Should Mahfouz be charged with assaulting Dechasa and be implemented as a cause in her suicide, the case would be a precedent, Geha explains. According to Human Rights Watch, Lebanon has a very poor record of punishing those who abuse domestic workers.
2013 shall be the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
“The Cheetah Generation refers to the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective. They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the ‘restless generation’ but they are Africa’s new hope. They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations”, explained George Ayittey, the distingushed Ghanaian economist.
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation includes 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.
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation should move over and make way for the Cheetahs. As Ayittey said, Africa’s “Hippo Generation is intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They are stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old ‘colonialism-imperialism’ paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They lack vision and sit comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure…”
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation is not only astigmatic with distorted vision, it is also myopic and narrow- minded preoccupied with mindless self-aggrandizement. The Hippos in power are stuck in the quicksand of divisive ethnic politics and the bog of revenge politics. They proclaim the omnipotence of their state, which is nothing more than a thugtatorship. Their lips drip with condemnation of “neoliberalism”, the very system they shamelessly panhandle for their daily bread and ensures that they cling to power like barnacles on a sunken ship. They try to palm off foreign project handouts as real economic growth and development. To these Hippos, the youth are of peripheral importance. They give them lip service. In his “victory” speech celebrating his 99.6 percent win in the May 2010 “election”, Meles Zenawi showered the youth with hollow gratitude: “We are also proud of the youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development and also those who are in the process of applying efforts to be productively employed! We offer our thanks and salute the youth of Ethiopia for their unwavering support and enthusiasm!”
The Hippos out of power have failed to effectively integrate and mobilize the youth and women in their party leadership structure and organizational activities. As a result, they find themselves in a state of political stagnation and paralysis. They need youth power to rejuvenate themselves and to become dynamic, resilient and irrepressible. Unpowered by youth, the Hippos out of power have become the object of ridicule, contempt and insolence for the Hippos in power.
Ethiopia’s intellectual Hippos by and large have chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged, mouths sealed shut and eyes blindfolded. They have chosen to remain silent fearful that anything they say can and will be used against them as they obsequiously curry favor with the Hippos in power. They have broken faith with the youth. Instead of becoming transformational and visionary thinkers capable of inspiring the youth with creative ideas, the majority of the intellectual Hippos have chosen to dissociate themselves from the youth or have joined the service of the dictators to advance their own self-interests.
The shameless canard is that Ethiopia’s youth “have started to benefit from the ongoing development.” The facts tell a completely different story. Though the Ethiopian population under the age of 18 is estimated to be 41 million or just over half of Ethiopia’s population, UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five. Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans; or approximately 15 per cent of all children are orphans! Some 800,000 children are estimated to be orphaned as a result of AIDS. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at over 70 per cent. Ethiopia has one of the lowest youth literacy rate in Africa according to a 2011 report of the United Nations Capital Development Fund. Literacy in the 15-24 age group is a dismal 43 percent; gross enrollment at the secondary level is a mere 30.9 percent! A shocking 77.8 per cent of the Ethiopian youth population lives on less than USD$2 per day! Young people have to sell their souls to get a job. According to the 2010 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, “Reliable reports establish that unemployed youth who were not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the ‘support letters’ from their kebeles necessary to get jobs.” Party memberships is the sine qua non for government employment, educational and business opportunity and the key to survival in a police state. The 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report concluded, “According to credible sources, the ruling party ‘stacks’ student enrollment at Addis Ababa University, which is the nation’s largest and most influential university, with students loyal to the party to ensure further adherence to the party’s principles and to forestall any student protest.”
Frustrated and in despair, many youths drop out of school and engage in a fatalistic pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes them to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Poor youths (the overwhelming majority of youth population) deprived of educational and employment opportunity, have lost faith in their own and their country’s future. When I contemplate the situation of Ethiopia’s youth, I am haunted by the penetrating question recently posed by Hajj Mohamed Seid, the prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto: “Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation.”
Unchain the Cheetahs
Many of my readers are familiar with my numerous commentaries on Ethiopia’s chained youth yearning for freedom and change. My readers will also remember my fierce and unremitting defense of Ethiopia’s Proudest Cheetahs — Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Faisl, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others — jailed for exercising their constitutional rights and for speaking truth to power. But in the Year of the Cheetahs, I aim to call attention to the extreme challenges faced by Ethiopia’s youth and make a moral appeal to all Hippos, particularly the intellectual Hippos in the Diaspora, to stand up and be counted with the youth by providing support, guidance and inspiration. In June 2010, I called attention to some undeniable facts:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means. On the other hand, many thousands gripped by despair and hopelessness and convinced they have no future in Ethiopia continue to vote with their feet. Today, young Ethiopian refugees can be found in large numbers from South Africa to North America and the Middle East to the Far East.
In this Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs, those of us with a conscience in the Hippo Generation must do a few things to atone for our failures and make amends to our youth. President Obama, though short on action, is nearly always right in his analysis of Africa’s plight: “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.” We, learned Hippos, must learn that Ethiopia’s destiny will not be determined by the specter of dead dictators or their dopplegangers. It will not be determined by those who use the state as their private fiefdom and playground, or those who spread the poison of ethnic politics to prolong their lease on power. Ethiopia’s destiny will be determined by a robust coalition of Cheetahs who must unite, speak in one voice and act like fingers in a clenched fist to achieve a common destiny.
I craft my message here to the Hippos out of power and the intellectual Hippos standing on the sidelines. I say step up, stand up and be counted with the youth. Know that they are the only ones who can unchain us from the cages of our own hateful ethnic politics. Only they can liberate us from the curse of religious sectarianism. They are the ones who can free us from our destructive ideological conflicts. They are the ones who can emancipate us from the despair and misery of dictatorship. We need to reach, teach and preach to the Cheetahs to free their minds from mental slavery and help them develop their creative powers.
We must reach out to the Cheetahs using all available technology and share with them our knowledge and expertise in all fields. We must listen to what they have to say. We need to understand their views and perspectives on the issues and problems that are vital to them. It is a fact that we have for far too long marginalized the youth in our discussions and debates. We are quick to tell them what to do but turn a deaf ear to what they have to say. We lecture them when we are not ignoring them. Rarely do we show our young people the respect they deserve. We tend to underestimate their intelligence and overestimate our abilities and craftiness to manipulate and use them for our own cynical ends. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to reach out and touch the youth.
We must teach the youth the values that are vital to all of us. Hajj Mohamed Seid has warned us that without unity, we have nothing. “If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything.” That is why we must teach the youth they must unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology, scheme or effort that seeks to divide them on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, language, region or class. We must teach to enlighten, to uncover and illuminate the lies and proclaim the truth. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob the rights of youth who are ignorant and fearful. “Ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of tyrants.” Nelson Mandela has taught us that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Educating and teaching the youth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny and dictatorship. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to teach the Cheetahs to fight ignorance and ignoramuses with knowledge, enlightenment and intelligence.
We must also preach the way of peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency. No man shall make himself the law. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide must be held to account. There shall be no state within the state. Exercise of one’s constitutional rights should not be criminalized. Might does not make right! In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to preach till kingdom come.
We need to find ways to link Ethiopian Diaspora youth with youth in Ethiopia in a Chain of Destiny. Today, we see a big disconnect and a huge gulf between young Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. We need to help organize and provide support to Ethiopian Diaspora youth to link up with their counterparts in Ethiopia so that they could have meaningful dialogue and interaction and work together to ensure a common democratic future.
The challenges facing Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation are enormous, but we must do all we can to prepare the youth to take leadership roles in their future. We need to help them develop a formal youth agenda that addresses the wide range of problems, challenges and issues facing them. All we need to do is provide them guidance, counsel and advice. The Cheetahs are fully capable of doing the heavy lifting if the Hippos are willing to carry water to them.
Ethiopian Youth Must Lead a National Dialogue in Search of a Path to Peaceful Change
I have said it before and I will say is again and again. For the past year, I have been talking and writing about Ethiopia’s inevitable transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have also called for a national dialogue to facilitate the transition and appealed to Ethiopia’s youth to lead a grassroots and one-on-one dialogue across ethnic, religious, linguistic and religious lines. I made the appeal because I believe Ethiopia’s salvation and destiny rests not in the fossilized jaws of power-hungry Hippos but in the soft and delicate paws of the Cheetahs. In the Year of the Cheetahs, I plead with Ethiopia’s youth inside the country and in the Diaspora to take upon the challenge and begin a process of reconciliation. I have come to the regrettable conclusion that most Hippos are hardwired not to reconcile. Hippos have been “reconciling” for decades using the language of finger pointing, fear and smear, mudslinging and grudge holding. But Cheetahs have no choice but to genuinely reconcile because if they do not, they will inherit the winds of ethnic and sectarian strife.
In making my plea to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, I only ask them to begin an informal dialogue among themselves. Let them define national reconciliation as they see it. They should empower themselves to create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines. I underscore the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in the national reconciliation conversations. It is an established social scientific fact that women do a far superior job than men when it comes to conciliation, reconciliation and mediation. Dialogue involves not only talking to each other but also listening to one another. Ethiopia’s Cheetahs should use their diversity as a strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.
Up With Ethiopian Cheetahs!
Africans know all too well that hippos (including their metaphorical human counterparts) are dangerous animals that are fiercely territorial and attack anything that comes into their turf. Every year more people are killed by hippos (both the real and metaphorical ones) in Africa than lions or elephants. Cheetahs are known to be the fastest animals, but their weakness is that they give up the chase easily or surrender their prey when challenged by other predators including hyenas. A group of hippos is known as a crash. A group of cheetahs is called a “coalition”. Only a coalition of cheetahs organized across ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines can crash a crash of hippos and a cackle of hyenas and save Ethiopia.
In this Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs, I expect to make my full contribution to uplift and support Ethiopia’s youth and to challenge them to rise up to newer heights. I appeal to all of my brother and sister Hippos to join me in this effort. As for the Cheetahs, I say, darkness always give way to light. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” Ethiopia’s Cheetahs must be strong in spirit and in will. As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and war planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” Winston Churchill must have learned something from Gandhi when he said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Ethiopian Cheetahs must never give in!
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:
(IWMF) — It was only a matter of time before Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu was sent to prison. Her country has become one of the most oppressive in the world for press freedom, with numbers of jailed journalists rising steadily each year.
Alemu was arrested on June 21, 2011, and accused of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participation in a terrorist organization under the controversial 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Based on no evidence other than her articles criticizing the Ethiopian government, Alemu was sentenced to 14 years in Ethiopia’s notoriously ill-maintained Kaliti prison.
Although the U.S. government has expressed concerns about “the extent to which Ethiopians can rely upon their constitutionally guaranteed rights to afford the protection that is a fundamental element of a democratic society”, Ethiopia remains a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate, which some believe has resulted in an unduly lenient attitude towards Ethiopia’s human rights violations.
The arrest of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, two Swedish journalists, made evident the damage to its reputation the Ethiopian government was willing to accept in its effort to silence independent reporters. They were picked up after crossing the Somali-Ethiopian border illegally while reporting on ONLF rebels and the humanitarian situation in the closed Ogaden region. The 14-month-long diplomatic tug of war under the watchful eye of the international media ended when Schibbye and Persson were pardoned and released in September 2012 after they admitted guilt and were sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Reeyot Alemu refused to admit guilt in exchange for clemency and has, instead, appealed the verdict. In August 2012, to the surprise of many experts in the diplomatic community, and in part due to the international attention Alemu has received, including winning the 2012 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award, two charges against her were dropped and her sentence was reduced to five years. Alemu hasn’t given up – her court dates have been postponed numerous times but there is still a chance that the appeals court will decide to drop the remaining terrorism charges against her on Tuesday, January 8th.
“Reeyot is young and well-educated. She could have easily left her country or chosen a different career – but she loves Ethiopia and her profession. She always held her head high and she gave me strength”, Martin Schibbye said in an interview with the IWMF.
The first time he met Reeyot Alemu was on a prison bus from Makelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, to the Magistrate’s Court where the prosecution repeatedly filed 28-day extensions to keep political prisoners in custody without charge. “What do you do?”, Schibbye remembered asking Alemu on their first encounter. “I am a journalist”, she replied. They quickly realized that everyone on that bus was a journalist or a politician from the opposition and that they were all charged with a crime they hadn’t committed: terrorism. “That was the moment when we realized that we had ended up in a major crackdown against free speech in Ethiopia”, Schibbye told the IWMF.
Despite being separated from each other for the majority of their time in prison, the journalists in Kaliti felt a strong bond and built an emotional support network to help each other through their long days of confinement and uncertainty. “Even locked up in a dark room without shoelaces, deprived of your freedom of expression as well as your physical freedom, you can still keep the most valuable thing that nobody can take from you: the right to determine who you are. Every morning we woke up and said to each other: We are journalists, not terrorists … this is just another day at the office”, Schibbye said.
After spending 438 days in the custody of Ethiopian authorities and closely monitoring the cases of his Ethiopian journalistic colleagues, Schibbye delivers a damning verdict on the state of democracy in Ethiopia. “There is no such thing as an independent justice system, it’s completely politicized. If the order comes from the federal level that Reeyot is to let go, she will be free. But if they feel that they gain more from keeping her in prison, for example to scare other independent journalists, they will keep her locked up. This decision lies entirely in the hands of the Ethiopian government.”
Schibbye suspects that intimidation of independent journalists played a substantial role in Ethiopia’s motivation to jail European journalists like himself and Johan Persson. “Reeyot and some of the other jailed journalists were brought to Johan’s and my sentencing hearing”, Schibbye recalled. “The Ethiopian authorities forced them to witness the rendering of our verdict as if to say: ‘Look what we can do to these European guys … imagine what we can do to you!'”
While organizations such as the IWMF may not have the political clout to provide direct protection or effect instant change in situations like Alemu’s, the value of international attention should not be underestimated. “When you’re locked up as a prisoner of conscience, the greatest fear is to be forgotten,” Schibbye explained. “The support from the outside is what keeps you going, it’s more important than food and medicine. And international recognition such as the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award does in fact provide a certain level of protection. Prison guards and administrators will think twice because they know the world is watching”, he said.
Even though their interactions were very limited due to a strict communication ban in Kaliti prison, Schibbye was deeply impressed with Alemu’s strong moral beliefs. She hasn’t grown tired of pointing out that she is a journalist, not a terrorist. “During the interrogation in Makelawi, Reeyot never broke down. She kept explaining to the police interrogators, some of them younger than her, why she was fighting for freedom of speech and democracy”, Schibbye remembers.
The last time Schibbye saw Alemu was in August 2012, not long before he and Persson were released from prison. They passed each other outside the prison administration offices, being escorted to and from their cells, Schibbye recalled. “She looked fragile but she is a survivor!”
The people of Ethiopia continued to wallow in misery in 2012 and the main cause is lack of freedom. The level of prosperity and quality of life in most countries are in direct parallel to the freedom their people enjoy. The most affluent people with the highest quality of life in the word are those who enjoy the greatest level of freedom. Over 95% of Ethiopians live in abject poverty not because Ethiopia lacks natural resources, or its citizens are lazy. The root cause of Ethiopia’s misery is lack of freedom. Ethiopia is being governed by one of the most brutal and stupid dictatorships in the world. We Ethiopians are unable, so far, to wage a successful struggle to remove the tyrannical regime that is tormenting and brutalizing us partly because of the billions of dollars that the regime is receiving from the United States and European Union. For our struggle to succeed, every bit of support we get from friends of freedom helps a great deal and we have to show our appreciation by giving due recognition. Julian Assange is one of the most important friends of freedom, and as he is currently being persecuted by the U.S. Government (read here), we need to stand with him and show our support and appreciation.
Because of Julian Assange’s effort, the world knows that heroic Ethiopians such as Andualem Aragie, Eskindir Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba and countless others are languishing in jail after being falsely accused of terrorism by a regime that is bankrolled by the U.S. Government and the European Union, and assisted by China.
U.S. diplomatic cables from Addis Ababa confirmed that the U.S. Government is fully aware that the TPLF junta’s terrorism charges against human rights advocates, journalists and political opponents have been fabricated, thanks to Julian Assange (read here). The U.S. cannot deny any more the atrocities that are being perpetrated against the people of Ethiopia by the regime it is financing.
Brave and creative individuals like Julian Assange are playing an important role in shaming the U.S. Government and forcing it to change its anti-human rights foreign policy using the power of information. The U.S. Government’s hypocrisy in regards to human rights is a well established fact before Julian Assange’s Wikileaks came into existence. But when it is confirmed by U.S. officials themselves through leaked documents, the U.S. foreign policy — which has produced more terrorists than the madrasas in Pakistan — will hopefully get heightened scrutiny by the American people.
Julian Assange is now a hunted man by none other than the Obama Administration. He is currently hiding inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London. The U.S. Government, that we all looked up to as a beacon of freedom, is trying to silence a website editor for exposing the crimes that are being perpetrated around the world in the name of the American people.
We understand that the U.S. Government has a legitimate need to keep its secrets, but that is not the job of journalists or website editors. The persecution of Julian Assange by U.K. and U.S. is a setback for press freedom in the world. It’s already giving some governments an excuse to pass laws that would make it a crime for the independent press to publish state secret.
In choosing Julian Assange as “Ethiopian Review’s Person of the Year for 2012,” we say thank you and appreciate his creativity and courage. We also want to add our voice to the calls being made by freedom loving people around the world for Obama to respect America’s most cherished liberty that is enshrined in the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
2012 is gone. 2013 is on the way. Let us ring in redress to all humankind.
I wish a happy and prosperous new year to all of my readers throughout the world. To those who have unwearyingly followed my columns for nearly three hundred uninterrupted weeks, I wish to express my deep gratitude and appreciation. I am thankful for all of the support and encouragement I have received from my readers in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Diaspora and others throughout the world.
I ask my readers to ring in the new year with a firm resolution to seek redress for human rights violations in Ethiopia, other parts of Africa and throughout the world. As Dr. Martin Luther King taught, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
Let us bid farewell to the old year and greet the new one with the poetic words of Lord Alfred Tennyson:
Ring out the old, ring in the new,…
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,…
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws…
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good…
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,…
Ringing Out 2012
I thought I would ring out 2012 by extracting snippets from selected weekly commentaries I wrote during the year.
In January 2012, I wondered aloud if there will be an “African Spring” or “Ethiopian Tsedey (Spring)” in 2012. I cryptically answered my own question taking cover in Albert Camus’ book “The Rebel”. “What is a rebel?”, asked Camus. “A man who says no… A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying ‘no’? He means, for example, that ‘this has been going on too long,’ ‘up to this point yes, beyond it no’, ‘you are going too far,’ or, again, ‘there is a limit beyond which you shall not go.’ But from the moment that the rebel finds his voice — even though he says nothing but ‘no’ — he begins to desire and to judge. The rebel confronts an order of things which oppresses him with the insistence on a kind of right not to be oppressed beyond the limit that he can tolerate.”
Africa’s Spring will arrive when enough Africans including Ethiopians collectively resolve to rise up from the winter of their discontent and make glorious spring and summer by declaring, “No! Enough is Enough!”
The Chinese Dragon is dancing the Watusi shuffle with African Hyenas. Things could not be better for the Dragon in Africa. In the middle of what once used to be the African Pride Land now stands a brand-spanking new hyenas’ den called the African Union Hall (AU). Every penny of the USD$200 million stately pleasure dome was paid for by China. It is said to be “China’s gift to Africa.” Sooner or later China has to come to terms with three simple questions: Can it afford to fasten its destiny to Africa’s dictators, genociders and despots? How long can China pretend to turn a blind eye to the misery of the African people suffering under ruthless dictatorships? Will there be a price to pay once the African dictators that China supported are forced out of power in a popular uprising? To update the old saying, “Beware of Chinese who bear gifts.”
In March 2012, I boldly predicted that Ethiopia will transition from dictatorship to democracy. But I also cautiously suggested that dissolution of the dictatorship in Ethiopia does not guarantee the birth of democracy. There is no phoenix of democracy that will rise gloriously from the trash heap of dictatorship. Birthing democracy will require a lot of collaborative hard work, massive amounts of creative problem solving and plenty of good luck and good will. A lot of heavy lifting needs to be done to propel Ethiopia from the abyss of dictatorship to the heights of democracy. It will be necessary to undertake a collective effort now to chart a clear course on how that long-suffering country will emerge from decades of dictatorship, without the benefit of any viable democratic political institutions, a functional political party system, a system of civil society institutions and an independent press to kindle a democratic renaissance.
Eskinder Nega is my special hero because he fought tyranny with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slew falsehoods with the sword of truth. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fought despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion. I lack the words to express my deep pride and gratitude to Eskinder and his wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil (winner of the 2007 International Women’s Media Foundation “Courage in Journalism Award”), for their boundless courage and extraordinary sacrifices in the cause of press freedom in Ethiopia. It is said that history is written by the victor. When truth becomes the victor in Ethiopia, the names Eskinder Nega and Serkalem Fasil will be inscribed in the Hall of Fame for unfaltering courage and steadfast endurance in the face of Evil.
The “heckler’s veto” is one of the most precious rights of American citizens. The idea is really simple. It is always governments who abuse their power to silence their critics and those who disagree with them. With the “heckler’s veto”, the individual silences the government and the powerful. The tables are turned. Zenawi was silenced by Abebe! In that moment, Abebe gloriously realized the true meaning of the tagline of his website addisvoice.com – “A Voice of the Voiceless”. Ironically, the voice of the voiceless rendered speechless the man who had rendered millions voiceless!
In June 2012, I joyously witnessed the unity of Christian and Muslim religious leaders against those seeking to divide them. Hajj Mohamed Seid, a prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto, made an extraordinary statement that should be a lesson to all Ethiopians: “As you know Ethiopia is a country that has different religions. Ethiopia is a country where Muslims and followers of the Orthodox faith have lived and loved each other throughout recorded history. Even in our lifetimes — 50 to 60 years — we have not seen Ethiopia in so much suffering and tribulation. Religion is a private choice, but country is a collective responsibility. If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything… They [the rulers in Ethiopia] have sold the land [to foreigners] and have kept the most arable land to themselves. The money from the sale is not in our country. It is in their pockets… Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation…
In July 2012, I held a private celebration on the occasion of the ninety-fourth birthday of President Nelson Mandela. May he live long with gladness and good health! Madiba has been a great inspiration for me very much like Gandhi. Madiba and Gandhi were lawyers who spoke truth to power fearlessly. For Madiba, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, true human rights advocacy was devoid of all political ambition. The politics of human rights is the politics of human dignity, not ideology, political partisanship or the pursuit of political office. The committed human rights advocate thrives on hopes and dreams of a better future, not the lust for political power or craving for status, position or privilege. I have been relentlessly “sermonizing” (as some affectionately refer to my weekly commentaries) on human rights in Ethiopia and against dictatorship for many years now. I have done so not because I believed my efforts will produce immediate political results or expected structural changes overnight. I stayed in for the long haul because I believe defending, advocating and writing about human rights and righting government wrongs is right, good and the moral thing to do.
In August 2012, I bade farewell to Meles Zenawi who passed away from an undisclosed illness. It was a difficult farewell to write. For over two hundred seventy five weeks, without missing a single week, I wrote long expository commentaries on the deeds and misdeeds of the man who was at the helm of power in Ethiopia for over two decades. Meles and I would have never crossed paths but for the massacres of 2005 in which some 200 unarmed protesters were shot dead in the streets and another 800 wounded by police and security officials under Meles’ personal command and control.
Meles was a man who had an appointment with destiny. Fate had chosen him to play a historic role in Ethiopia and beyond. He was one of the leaders of a rebel group that fought and defeated a brutal military dictatorship that had been in power for 17 years. In victory, Meles promised democracy, respect for democratic liberties and development. But as the years wore on, Meles became increasingly repressive, intolerant of criticism and in the end became as tyrannical as the tyrant he had replaced. In his last years, he created a police state reinforced by a massive security network of spies and surveillance technology. He criminalized press freedom and civil society institutions. He crushed dissent and all opposition. He spread fear and loathing that penetrated the remotest parts of the countryside. For over 21 years, Meles clutched the scepter of power in his hands and cast away the sword of justice he held when he marched into the capital from the bush in 1991. Meles was feared, disliked and demonized by his adversaries. He was loved, admired, idealized and idolized by his supporters. In the end, Meles died a man who had absolute power which had corrupted him absolutely. In his relentless pursuit of absolute power, Meles missed his appointment with destiny to become a peerless and exemplary Ethiopian leader.
In September 2012, I explained why I supported President Obama’s re-election. I tried to make an honest case for supporting the President’s re-election despite deep disappointments over his human rights records in Africa in his first term. Did President Obama deliver on the promises he made for Africa to promote good governance, democracy and human rights? Did he deliver on human rights in Ethiopia? No. Are Ethiopian Americans disappointed over the unfulfilled promises President Obama made in Accra, Ghana in 2009 and his Administration’s support for a dictatorship in Ethiopia? Yes. We remember when President Obama talked about the need to develop robust democratic institutions, uphold the rule of law and the necessity of maintaining open political space and protecting human rights in Africa. We all remember what he said: “Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions.” “Development depends on good governance.” “No nation will create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy.” Was he just saying these words or did he truly believe them? Truth be told, what the President has done or not done to promote good governance, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is no different than what we, the vast majority of Ethiopian Americans, have done or not done to promote the same values in Ethiopia. That is the painful truth we must face.
In October 2012, I wrote about breast cancer awareness for Ethiopian women and men. There is a strange and confounding culture of secrecy and silence about certain kinds of illnesses among many Ethiopians in the country and those in the Diaspora. Among the two taboo diseases are cancer and HIV/AIDS. The rule seems to be hide the illness until death, even after death. We saw this regrettable practice in the recent passing of Meles Zenawi. Meles’ illness and cause of death remain a closely guarded state secret. It is widely believed that he died from brain cancer. This culture of secrecy and silence has contributed significantly to the needless deaths of thousands of Ethiopians. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that far too many Ethiopian women living in the U.S. have needlessly died from breast cancer because they failed or avoided to get regular breast cancer screening fearing a positive diagnosis. Secrecy and silence when it comes to breast cancer is a self-imposed death warrant!
In November 2012, I remembered. I remembered the hundreds of unarmed citizens murdered in the streets by police and security officials under the personal command and control of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia on June 6-8 and November 1-4, 2005, following the Ethiopian parliamentary elections in May of that year. According to an official Inquiry Commission, “There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs. [The shots fired by government forces] were not intended to disperse the crowd but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” I also remembered Yenesew Gebre, a 29 year-old Ethiopian school teacher and human rights activist set himself ablaze outside a public meeting hall in the town of Tarcha located in Dawro Zone in Southern Ethiopia on 11/11/11. He died three days later from his injuries. Before torching himself, Yenesew told a gathered crowd outside of a meeting hall, “In a country where there is no justice and no fair administration, where human rights are not respected, I will sacrifice myself so that these young people will be set free.” I remembered why I was transformed from a cloistered armchair academic and hardboiled defense lawyer to a (com)passionate human rights advocate and defender.
In December 2012, I fiercely opposed the potential nomination of Susan Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. I argued that Rice has been waltzing (or should I say do-se-do-ing) with Africa’s slyest, slickest and meanest dictators for nearly two decades. Rice and other top U.S. officials knew or should have known a genocide was underway or in the making once RAF and interahamwe militia began killing people in the streets and neighborhoods on April 6, the day Rwandan President Juvenal Habyiarimana was assassinated. They were receiving reports from the U.N. mission in Rwanda; and their own intelligence pointed to unspeakable massacres taking place in Kigali and elsewhere in the country. Rice feigned ignorance of the ongoing genocide, but the irrefutable documentary evidence showed that Rice, her boss Anthony Lake and other high level U.S. officials knew from the very beginning (April 6, 1994) that genocide was in the making in Rwanda. On September 2, 2012 at the funeral of Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa and at a memorial service for Meles in New York City on October 27, 2012, Rice delivered a eulogy that virtually canonized Meles. In her blind eulogy, Rice turned a blind eye to the thousands of Ethiopians who were victimized, imprisoned and killed by Meles Zenawi. Rice could not see the police state Meles had created. To literally add insult to injury, Rice called Meles’ opponents and critics “fools and idiots”. Truth be told, I was deeply offended by Rice’s hubristic remarks and her audacity, pomposity, nerve and insolence to insult and humiliate Ethiopians in their own country in such callous and contemptuious manner. Ethiopians have been robbed of their dignity for 21 years. But I will be damned if any foreigner, however high or exalted, should feel free to demean, dehumanize and demonize my people as “fools and idoits”. Recently, Rice explained: “I know I’m vilified for having said anything other than, ‘He [Meles] was a tyrant,’ … which would’ve been a little awkward, on behalf of the U.S. government and in front of all the mourning Ethiopians.” Rice has no qualms calling Ethiopians “fools and idiots” but she writhes in agony just thinking about calling Meles a tyrant?!? Some people just don’t get it!!!
In 1994, Rice was willfully blind to the genocide in Rwanda. In 2012, she was willfully blind to the long train of human rights abuses and atrocities in Ethiopia.
America does not need a friend and a buddy to African dictators as its Secretary of State. America does not need a Secretary of State with a heart of stone and tears of a crocodile. America does not need a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” Secretary of State. America needs a Secretary of State who can tell the difference between human rights and government wrongs!
Let us join hands to ring in redress to all mankind in 2013. Let us all work together for human rights for all and against all government wrongs!
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: