Aklog Birara, PhD
Have you ever wondered, as I have, why Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people are caught in a vicious cycle of disillusionment, dispossession and disempowerment? Have you pondered, as I have, the simple truth that the vast majority of the Ethiopian people have less say and thus less power over their political and economic affairs in their own country compared to a few ethnic elites and foreign investors such as Saudi Star and Karuturi? Have reflected on the implications for this and the coming generation of the virtual control of the pillars of the Ethiopian economy by foreign entities, and a few ethnic elites allied to TPLF Inc.? Have you taken one second of your time to ponder the destruction of the environment by unscrupulous investors and the regime that encourages them? Have you taken a few minutes of your time to reflect why Ethiopian Christians working in Saudi Arabia find themselves in a predicament for praying in a Muslim State while Saudis are free to build mosques and to pray as they wish anywhere in Ethiopia?
Anywhere one looks, Ethiopians within and outside the country cry for a government leadership to protect theirs and their country’s national interests. These and other core policy related questions on Ethiopia and Ethiopians suggest an enormous gap in organization and leadership that is purpose-driven. What we see in every global indicator is a country where there is growth without improvement in wellbeing for the majority. In fact, data shows that the poor are getting poorer; and the no of those in absolute poverty is growing at or above the rate of economic growth that benefits only a few. This is the reason why I suggest consistently that Ethiopia and all Ethiopians are crying for a caring and inclusive alternative in governance.
I would argue that the urgent gap in responsive governance is ethnicity, religious and demography neutral. All Ethiopians feel it in some form or another. So, division makes no sense. Only a strong and prosperous multiethnic state that responds to all stakeholders can survive and thrive. Accordingly, we need to recognize that all Ethiopians have a stake; and are thus responsible in filling the vacuum. In light of this, it is time that we expand and embrace the definition and action steps that will lead the entire society to a better and more promising alternative than the current one. We cannot do this as long as we are guided by the ethnic and divisive script imposed on us by TPLF Inc. This system survives and gains from growth that does not improve the lives of people.
We need to consider the higher moral ground that the same way “families and friends need leaders who model purpose-driven lives,” Ethiopian society and communities anywhere and everywhere should expect to defend their human rights; improve their lot; and chart a more promising future for their children. Can this really be done? Can Ethiopian political, civic and faith leaders and intellectuals surmount their own narrow interests and prejudices for the sake of the country and its diverse population? The simple answer is that there is no other choice. If those who oppose the current system are genuine, they must discard old animosities and forge ahead with renewed optimism and cooperate with one another. Otherwise, we should stop the entire business of protest politics and politics as a business enterprise: the model TPLF Inc. has imposed on each of us.
I suggest in this piece that Ethiopians who wish to be treated with respect and dignity anywhere in the world and who wish a better future for this and the coming generation stop the none sense of ethnic and religious or demographic divisions. What TPLF Inc. has and is doing is enough as it is. They can start with baby steps: stop demeaning and undermining one another. Stop the culture of revenge and innuendos. Reach-out to and talk to one another as adults. Work with and collaborate with one another. Campaign against all forms of injustice collaboratively. Treat individual dissenters as Ethiopians and not as members of this or that tribe. Accept our diversity as a source of strength and celebrate one another. Demand and promote innovative, inclusive, smart and wiser alternative organization and leadership–with demonstrated capability of grasping what is at stake (the bigger picture of the country and its people; and committing self to set aside minor differences; and practicing the discipline and consistency of forging a unity of purpose among all ethnic, religious and demographic groups. Here, it is commitment to the common good that matters most. If we fail to do this fast, we have no one to blame but ourselves. These baby steps will not be easy; but can be done.
In the Ethiopian context, a unity of purpose must affirm failures of the past without being trapped in it. It must affirm commitment to justice, the rule of law, passion for unfettered and equitable access to economic and social opportunities, and representative governance based on free and fair elections. A child in Gambella must believe that he/she is an Ethiopian and deserves the same rights as a child in Tigray or Oromia or Addis Ababa and so on. We must decide and work day and night to create favorable conditions that embrace each child regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation. This has the best chance of safeguarding past gains while advancing a more promising future for the vast majority of Ethiopians that the current system is unable to deliver. This will not happen unless adults show commitment that transcends ethnicity and partisanship. This is not a world for the weak, timid and partisan. A strong, just, inclusive, fair and prosperous Ethiopia will be good for everyone. This is why I suggest that it is not just the so-called “unity crowd” that will benefit from a just, fair and inclusive system. It is all Ethiopians.
The acid test of alternative organization and leadership is readiness and ability of political, civic, religious and other elites to mobilize the country’s mosaic and establish a brighter and more inclusive alternative that restores faith and confidence in the political process of the future. This will not be as easy as it seems. If it were; it would have been achieved by now. Take a look back at political history that is still fresh. MEISONE and EPRPP decided to fight one another rather than to advance the common goals of the Ethiopian people and the sacred interests of the country. I do not have to tell you what happened and who paid a huge price. Division for the sake of power and narrow ideology or ego or tribe is disastrous. Hypocrisy is the mantra of those who are afraid to take a principled stand for a bigger and larger cause.
How does one explain divisions among Ethiopian Orthodox Church leaders and followers? I believe that, within the Ethiopian Orthodox faith, we need one creed and leadership as we need one country. I reject factionalism and tribalism within the Ethiopian Orthodox faith as much as I reject narrow nationalism and big nation chauvinism in political doctrine. Divisions reinforce hypocrisy and cynicism. I will give you a simple example on hypocrisy of faith. A group of activists tried to mobilize the Ethiopian Diaspora in the Washington Metropolitan Area for a protest against Saudi Government mistreatment and human rights violations of Ethiopian Christians. Religious leaders failed to participate and give moral support. How do they explain this to their followers?
Given the formidable forces we face as people , any alternative organization and leadership would have little chance of success unless and until we unlearn the debilitating impacts of divisive ethnic politics: the ‘silent killer.’ How can we do this? Why not embrace and practice such fundamental principles as integrity, purity of heart, spirit of cooperation with one another, commitment to serve the entire population and the country in our day to day lives? Why not show capacity to reject all forms of ethnic, religious, gender and age based bigotry, prejudice, corruption, nepotism and discrimination ourselves? Why not subordinate narrow, personal and group agendas to the common good of saving the country and serving the Ethiopian people as a whole? How difficult are these to do? How would we triumph over TPLF Inc. without dramatic changes in our own mindset, values and how we treat one another as Ethiopians? What form of coalition or transition are we after if we do not answer these and other fundamental questions? I suggest that discussing alternatives without demonstrating real change in our own mindsets and in our dealings with one another will not be credible in the eyes of the Ethiopian people or the global community. The London Conference of 1991 took place without sober analysis and discussion of similar questions. This is a real challenge for all activists and opponents to TPLF Inc.
Seventy Five to Eighty percent reject TPLF Inc.
At the risk of repeating, those of us who wish to pursue a more promising future for all Ethiopians must appreciate that our own bickering and division are the most constraining contributors to the strength of TPLF Inc. By all accounts, less than a quarter of Ethiopians accept the legitimacy of the current governing party (Gallop). It is thus an understatement to say that regardless of ethnic, religious or demographic affiliation, close to 80 percent of the Ethiopian people reject TPLF Inc. and want change. Western powers would want an alternative that would serve their interests best as was the case in London in 1991. The root causes of disillusionment, disempowerment, dispossession, abject poverty, hunger and intellectual and financial capital flight out of Ethiopia is deliberate ethnicization of politics and economics by TPLF Inc., a monopoly.
Almost everyone is reduced to subservient status. If you cannot count in your own homeland; you cannot expect to count anywhere else in the world. This is why nation states that are strong and defend your interests overseas have a voice. Almost everyone anywhere in the world is forced to fear the system that keeps them entrapped and powerless. People know this but cannot contest that the primary motive of ethnicization is to run the country purely as a business monopoly. The formation of political parties on the basis of ethnic affiliation serves the ultimate purpose of command and control over local, regional and national politics, resources and markets. Your rights mean nothing at all. This is by no means to suggest that there are no second class type beneficiaries. Some prefer second class status because they have not experienced a better system; and are suspicious of change. TPLF Inc. is smart enough to remind secondary beneficiaries that they should guard against restoration of the old system. The hidden message is specific to one so called dominant ethnic group. The tragedy is not so much that this camouflage persists; but that the rest of us fall into the trap. The result is a reinforcement of ethnic division and disempowerment that serve TPLF Inc.
Duality of ‘silent violence or killing’
Ethnicization of politics and economics serves two strategic objectives: divide and rule and extract as much rent as possible from the national economy. Please note that division serves TPLF Inc. most. The greater the division among Ethiopians; the larger is the opportunity to extract rents in different forms; and to make people believe that they are beneficiaries. Where have you seen growth that expands poverty? Extraction is hard to do in a multiethnic society unless some of the benefits go to supporters and ethnic elites who serve as intermediaries. If you want to justify a system, hire small beneficiaries who believe that the sky is blue. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) operates within this environment and serves TPLF Inc. best. Whether we accept it or not, it is, largely intermediaries (middle management) who facilitate the policy and decision-making authority of TPLF Inc. When you are a subordinate, the likelihood of dissenting against the dictates of the merged state is negligible. The Constitution, laws and regulations are bendable and changeable in accordance with the demands of TPLF Inc. Anyone who threatens TPLF Inc. risks the possibility of losing his or her private property or citizenship at any time. There is nowhere to hide except fleeing the country. More intellectual flight, especially those who are national leaning means more domestic vacuum that can compete and safeguard national resources and markets. Ethiopia is void of this asset.
What do regulations and laws do?
Under this system, regulations, laws, banks and other financial intermediaries serve political purposes: the staying power of TPLF Inc. They are therefore not value neutral. How else would you explain the phenomenon that generals and high officers–paid modest salaries to defend the country–are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country? Their powerful and wealth status resembles corrupt governance in Egypt and Pakistan than Ghana, Mauritius or Brazil. These generals and high officials are coopted through financial and economic incentives the same way as ethnic elites who belong to the EPRDF and who serve as intermediaries (middle men). Both are among the lead proponents of TPLF Inc. This phenomenon leads me to assert that the business of ethnic politics in Ethiopia today is financial and economic reward. It is the notion of “what is in it for me” that seems to prevail throughout the entire system. Some in the Diaspora reflect the same values. This is why the Diaspora’s role in prolonging the system that divides and disempowers is coming under increasing scrutiny by activists. In any case, it is fair to conclude that the system does not encourage commitment to and service to ordinary citizens, communities and the country.
In this sense, the Ethiopian Prime Minister is absolutely right when he said to business leaders last year that if people are not careful they will more or less lose their country. Why did he say this? Increasingly, foreign firms are assuming the pillars of the economy while Ethiopians with wealth are either investing in consumption oriented ventures or taking their monies out of the country at an alarming rate. They have no confidence in the government or the future of the country. How sad? Contrast this with Indonesian corruption that emphasized growing the economy and benefitting Indonesians as a commitment.
The Prime Minister is right and wrong. The problem is that it is the system he set up that created selfishness, greed, capital flight and unbelievable income inequality. His extended family and ethnic elites are the lead beneficiaries. This phenomenon does not surprise me a bit. It takes an enabling social, economic and political environment to encourage saving and investment in productive sectors that will change the system radically. It takes national leadership to motivate the private sector to do what is right for the country and its diverse population. Some of the most corrupt nations in the world, Indonesia for one, were and are still led by nationalist groups. At least, what is stolen is invested domestically in factories that generate jobs; raise incomes; and expand the middle class. This is not the case in Ethiopia. It seems that the system has created a culture of greed, fear of the future and total disregard for this and the coming generation and the overall development of the country. The current motto is “What is in it for me?” and not “what am I doing for the country and its people while enriching myself?” There is a huge difference between the two.
In this reward and punishment type of arrangement that serves TPLF Inc. and its allies well, the real and potential losses for communities, the society and the country are self-evident. They are everywhere for anyone willing to see. Sad but true, some in the Diaspora who run back and forth on a visit to the country as tourists or to manage their assets or to access opportunities fail to reflect on how the vast majority of the population lives. It is glitz of villas, apartments, eating places, hotels, roads and other physical infrastructure– that needs to be maintained and paid for—that catch their fancy and immediate attention. I often wonder whether Diaspora tourists ask the prudent question of how road infrastructure that lasts an average of five years will be maintained. Who will pay the maintenance costs? Dig deep into the artificial economy; and you will find that most Ethiopians are poorer today than they were 21 years ago. They barely eat one meal a day.
A properly and well integrated and planned economy stimulates productivity and raises individual incomes from large numbers of people. Investments in industry, agro-industry, agriculture and so on trigger structural changes in dramatic and sustainable ways. Infrastructure alone will not do that. The Ethiopian economy is import dependent. Industry accounts for about 4 percent of exports. By structural changes I have in mind factories that offer job opportunities to millions. Factories that produce fertilizers that feed agriculture. I have in mind a smallholder farming revolution that is supported by low cost inputs such as fertilizers, better seeds, access to credits and markets and so on. A smallholder farming revolution would do wonders for the country and the rural and urban population than land giveaways to Saudi Star to feed rich consumers in the Gulf or to Karuturi to supply cheap foods to Indian consumers. For citizens to benefit, Ethiopian smallholders deserve tenure security and freedom to produce and market and gain higher incomes so that they can send their children to school and so on. In short, I suggest that glitz alone does not contribute to sustainable and equitable growth and development regardless of the number of high-rises, condominiums, hotels, eating places for the few well-to-do, including Diaspora tourists, villas etc. Ask a simple question. Who, among the Ethiopian poor or low level civil servants or soldiers or factory workers or Saudi Star employee can afford to live in a condo in Addis Ababa, Mekele or Gondar? Who can afford food that Diaspora visitors or donors or high level government officials can afford? This is among the reasons why the system is a ‘silent killer.”
Portrayal of ‘silent violence or killing’
The Socialist military dictatorship killed innocent people in public and boasted about it. It triggered domestic and global outrage. In contrast, TPLF Inc. learned from this mistake and ‘kills quietly or silently’ than its predecessor. This makes it more dangerous and sinister. We see this vividly in the brutal beating of Andualem Aragie in jail. Given this most recent example, dissidents and reasonable people in the Diaspora cannot afford to forget and neglect enormous losses for the society and the country under TPLF Inc. Loses occur on a recurring basis. The concern I have is that we seem to be in a mode of just accepting loses as normal; and go on as if nothing has happened. Here are clear and harmful examples with devastating impacts. Ethiopia lost its sea ports for which the society pays billions of dollars for services. This loss took place without the consent of the Ethiopian people. No voice.
In a secret deal with the now northern Sudanese government led by President Bashir, Prime Minister Meles’ government granted substantial pieces of Ethiopian territory to Bashir’s regime. During the initial period if TPLF Inc. lands from Gondar, Wollo and other regions, were carved out and reconfigured for the benefit of what is commonly known as “Greater Tigray,” a condition that will not serve the greater good. This ethnic based reconfiguration and incorporation will create animosity among the population for generations to come. The regime will no doubt go; but the animosity will persist for generations.
TPLF Inc. granted millions of ha of the most fertile farmlands and water basins to businesses and individuals from 36 countries and to Tigrean elites. Oakland Institute reported that 75 percent of domestic owners in Gambella are Tigrean. This comes across as internal ‘land colonization.’ Tigreans should not blame other Ethiopians why they perceive that they are part of the problem. The medicine is to contest this outright; and to join others in rejecting TPLF Inc. Like the reset, they should accept the notion that Ethiopians suffer silently from a double whammy: foreign large-scale commercial farm colonization by invitation and real natural resource transfers to ethnic allies. Karuturi, Saudi Star and other foreign owned large-scale commercial farms are the new landlords in the country. These new land lords gain profits by dispossessing Ethiopians. How would an Anuak child feel about a condition that displaces and dispossess her/him? What are the rest of us doing about it? Transparency International, Global Financial Integrity and UNDP all confirm that billions of dollars of scarce foreign exchange is stolen from Ethiopian society each year. Corruption is a net cost to this and the coming generation in multiple ways. It is the current and future generations who will pay a huge price for this.
Ironically, foreign owned large-scale commercial farms are protected by branches of Ethiopia’s police, security and defense forces. In Central America and Pakistan, Special Forces paid for by investors protected such establishment against the population. Those who struggle for alternative organization and leadership ought to ask, “Whose interests do police, security and armed forces protect in Gambella or the Ogaden or anywhere?” It certainly is not the interests of the people who are forced out of their lands or the long-term interests of the country.
Opponents have a moral responsibility to educate ordinary soldiers, police and others that their repressive roles on behalf of TPLF Inc. or foreign investors will alienate them from their own extended families and communities. We cannot do this in meaningful ways if we are detached from the Ethiopian reality on the ground.
‘Silent violence or killing’ does not discriminate
Regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, those who dissent against the above and other social, political and economic injustices are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment without any let up. Andualem Aragie, an individual who hails from Gondar, was beaten up in his cell by an inmate because he stood for justice, democratic freedom and the rule of law. He did not dare to challenge the system because of his ethnic affiliation. He did this as an Ethiopian. His is a prime example of ‘silent killing’ by TPLF Inc. I do not have any proof to suggest that the inmate who assaulted him was planted by the governing party. However, I challenge the notion that anyone imprisoned by the one party state cannot and should not expect safety and security even in jail. It is a travesty that says more about the cruel and unjust system than about the inmate. The system does not tolerate dissent or symbols of dissent whether in jail, in the Diaspora or within the country. It does its job silently and methodically.
This takes me back to the formation and acceptability of ethnic-based political parties under TPLF Inc. I argue that this is part of the strategy of divide and rule; and a clever mechanism to coopt and subordinate the majority by using ethnic elite and other self-serving intermediaries. The more division there is; the less challenge to and dissent against TPLF Inc. Aspiring elites are recruited to the club on the basis of their submission, commitment to defend and serve the system while advancing self-interest. The business of ethnic politics is therefore to ensure that narrow band of-largely ethnic elites- are well served. Those of us who want a better future for all Ethiopians need to accept the truth that ethnic division and narrow self-interest entail enormous costs for the majority of people; and for the long-term viability and security of the country. The economic and financial incentives that accrue from this system are so critical for the beneficiaries that they become both pawns and the most avid supporters of ethnicization of politics and economics. At one level, it is hard to blame secondary beneficiaries. It is a matter of survival. What other option do they have? Those of us who oppose the system do not show consistent commitment to come to the aid of those who suffer within the country. We just react or protest for a day and stop. Secondary beneficiaries who may resent the system know our weakness, namely, our inability to mobilize resources and aid those who advance justice and fair treatment. The challenge for us is to make distinctions between the top leadership of TPLF Inc. and the rest and determine to expose this cruel and repressive system consistently. We can plant seeds of separation among constituent parts that sustain TPLF Inc.
Focus on the system that sustains ‘silent violence and killing’
I suggest that our singular focus should be less on our division and more on the system that sustains repression through division; and breeds social and economic inequality. I further suggest that the real political and social foundation of the struggle for a better and more inclusive society is in Ethiopia and not overseas. TPLF Inc. created the EPRDF to mobilize dissatisfied ethnic-based political elites in order to enlarge the party’s narrow political power base. To some, this strategy gave ethnic politics a democratic façade. This façade has no human face. However, it is, ultimately, the Ethiopian people who should judge in a free and fair election. The system now uses this ethnic architecture against those it perceives inimical to its well-designed political, social, financial and economic goals and interests. This is why Andualem and others are paying with their lives. Like other patriotic and nationalist individuals who stand for justice, the rule of law and political pluralism, he represents the hopes and aspirations we all share. He is thus a symbol of a brighter future for all Ethiopians and must be treated as such. TPLF Inc. applies the same methodology of punishing him, his family and friends and his community by making life totally intolerable. The intent is to make sure that others fear the brutality of the regime. This happens to Anuak, Somali, Amhara, Oromo, Gurage, and Tigray alike. Why can’t we recognize this and collaborate?
Given this recurring history of gross human rights violations against the innocent and the dispossession of the Ethiopian people as a whole, and acknowledging those who stand firm for justice and freedom, I am saddened to note that even Andualem’s dire and deplorable condition does not move and revolt those of us in the Diaspora in meaningful and sustainable ways. We seem to possess souls that do not move; hearts that do not empathize; minds that do not distinguish; and actions that do not make a dent. These are not Ethiopians values. I opine that we can no longer see people such as Andualem or others like him just as another individual activist individual in trouble. Rather, we must see him as a symbol of resistance and defiance from a new generation of potential leaders who represent hope and promise: “purpose-driven lives.”
It is time that we wake up and reject ‘silent violence and killing’ against any Ethiopian such as Andualem who stands for justice and freedom.
By Daniel Kindie
Lorenzo Taezaz could be considered as one of the legendary heroes of the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-1941. From the day he left his homeland in 1925, until his untimely death in Sweden in 1946, he had an unusual life. Few Ethiopians of his generation have enjoyed a life so intense and so productive over a period of 21 years. He contributed more than his share to the liberation of Ethiopia from Italian fascism. Yet, the young generation of Ethiopians, which has grown up after the war, are almost entirely ignorant about him. The reason of his consignment to oblivion, for instance, has never been fully known. Similarly, the manner of his death which invites more questions than answers is passed over in complete silence.
The purpose of this study is limited in scope. First, it is to introduce Lorenzo Taezaz to the general reader, and possibly, to stimulate more discussion about him among scholars who study Ethiopia. Second, to investigate the actual role he played in the 1935-1941 period of Ethiopia’s struggle against fascism. This requires some information about the man’s early life, and the circumstances for his departure from Eritrea. Who was he? And what was his background? I will treat the essentials of his early life and discuss the reasons why he left his homeland, how he met Ras Teferi Mekonnen [the future Emperor Haile Selassie I], and how he started his career with the Ethiopian government.
I have reviewed the existing literature. As will be noticed, it gives him scant coverage. Most of the literature refers to him only in passing. Even important events in which he was involved appear in snippets rather than as a whole, so that their overall impact is diffused, preventing one from ever knowing his full story. For this reason, I had to interview a number of people. These include: his daughter, Mrs. Woizerit Lorenzo, the late Ambassador Ephreim Tewolde Medhin, his lifelong friend, Dr. John Spencer, a war time colleague who knew him from 1936-1946, and Mebratu Taezaz, his brother. Three of them were interviewed in Asmara in 1983, and Dr. Spencer, on 30 August 1987 in New Haven, Connecticut.
There is some controversy about the circumstances of his departure from Eritrea. The controversy has something to do with Italian war plans to invade Ethiopia, and Lorenzo’s alleged understanding of that plan as related to me by his daughter. Before coming to grips with his actual role in the fascist Italy period, therefore, I have found it important to evaluate his daughter’s version of Lorenzo’s immigration to Ethiopia. For this reason, I had also to provide some sketchy information about the historical background of the Italian occupation of Eritrea and the subsequent threat to the rest of Ethiopia.
Lorenzo Taezaz was born on 30 June 1900 in the Akele Guzaie province of Eritrea, then an Italian colony. He received his first education in Italian schools in Asmara and Keren and started his career with the Italian colonial administration when he was still very young. Because of his intelligence and hard work, Lorenzo rose to the rank of Secretary to the Governor of Asmara, the highest position that an Eritrean could reach in the colonial administration.
In 1924, while on vacation in Aden, he met Ras Teferi Mekonnen, the future Haile Selassie, who was there on an official visit, and who encouraged him to go to Ethiopia. A year later, Lorenzo went to Addis Ababa. Subsequently, Ras Teferi Mekonnen arranged for his education, and along with other Ethiopians, he sent him to France on a government scholarship. Lorenzo spent the next eight years at the University of Montpelier where he completed his studies in Law and Philosophy. Apart from his native Tigrigna, he already spoke Amharic, Arabic and Italian, but Montpelier also provided him with an opportunity to master French and English.
He returned to Ethiopia in 1933 and began to serve the Ethiopian government in several capacities: Secretary, Ministry of Justice (1933); member of the Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission which demarcated Ethiopia’s borders with former British Somaliland (1933-34); member of the same Commission which was charged with the duty of surveying the grazing grounds of the Ogaden, and investigating the causes of the Wal-Wal incident of 1934, which led to the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-1941; appointed private secretary of Haile Selassie, and in addition he served as liaison officer to the international press (1935-1936). He even saw action at the Battle of Maichew (1936) that culminated in the defeat of the Ethiopians by the Italians.
Lorenzo had presented a plan to Haile Selassie to transfer the government center to Gore (1) – a remote and inaccessible town in western Ethiopia from where the counter-offensive could be prosecuted. However, the costs and risks of fighting the mechanized Italian army was debated and measured against the risks and costs of not fighting. When the Council of Ministers agreed by twenty one to three vote(2), that the risks were too grave and the costs too high, it was decided that Haile Selassie should go and personally present Ethiopia’s case to the League of Nations. In May 1936, therefore, Lorenzo left Ethiopia and accompanied Emperor Haile Selassie in his exile to Europe. There, he was appointed Ethiopia’s Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations and subsequently took an active role in the struggle against Italian fascism. During the occupation, Lorenzo secretly entered Ethiopia on several occasions. After Ethiopia’s liberation in 1941, he was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs (1941-1943), Minister for Posts, Telephones and Telegrams (1943), President of the Chamber of Deputies (1943-1944), Minister to Moscow, USSR (1944-1946), and Delegate to the Paris Peace Conference (May 1946). A month later, he died in a hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.(3)
When I visited the late Ambassador Ephreim Tewolde Medhin at his residence in Asmara, he was ninety years of age. The following is a summary of what I was able to gather from him:
Interview I. Ambassador Ephreim Tewolde Medhin:
Lorenzo was my life long friend. Ever since we left Eritrea, we shared adversity and happiness together. There was no future for both of us in Eritrea. In 1925 we escaped to Aden. It should be recalled that Lorenzo had met Ras Teferi Mekonnen in Aden a year earlier and had thus invited him to go to Addis Ababa. I took the boat and waited for him in Djibouti. When we met in Djibouti, both of us were in tears. From there, we took the train and went to Addis Ababa. Ras Teferi Mekonnen asked us what we wanted to do. Both of us requested him to send us abroad to school, which he did. I went to Beirut. Lorenzo went to France… What we did for Ethiopia during the war, is for history to judge. We stayed in Europe to help intensify the diplomatic struggle, but Lorenzo was exceptional. He even traveled inside Italian occupied Ethiopia on secret missions. I can assure you that he was a selfless patriot. At a time when an entire generation of educated Ethiopians was simply wiped out by fascism, he was Ethiopia’s eyes and ears. The British only talked to him.(4)
Dr. John Spencer knew Lorenzo for some ten years. The following provides what he could recall from memory:
Interview II: John Spencer:
I met Lorenzo on 15 January 1936 in Dessie at the headquarters of His Majesty the Emperor Haile Selassie. I remember everything very well. Even the place where we met was kept dark for fear of Italian air raids. In general, he gave me the impression of an extremely reserved man. Perhaps his inner nature needed privacy and solitude for reflection. He had a quick mind and a sharp tongue. He impressed me as being an intellectual. He spoke excellent French and English. We collaborated on the war bulletins for some months in Addis Ababa. We met again in London in June 1936 where we worked together. He was very meticulous. It was easy to work out a sentence with him. He helped draft Haile Selassie’s 1936 address to the League of Nations, translated his speeches and led the Ethiopian delegation to Geneva. In 1938, Haile Selassie wanted to return to Ethiopia to lead the resistance, and so, he sent Lorenzo to Ethiopia to assess the situation and to help organize the Arbegnoch (the patriots). He did a thorough job. As a result, the Emperor decided to move. However, the British strongly objected to the plan, contending that it was premature. But the truth is, since they were negotiating with the Italians over the Mediterranean, they did not want the talks to be prejudiced. Lorenzo again spent some months inside Ethiopia in 1939 and re-organized the resistance. He did a marvelous job. The Italians left Ethiopia in 1941, and I met Lorenzo in Addis Ababa in 1943. This time, he was the foreign minister. He performed very well. It was not an easy task to evict the British from Ethiopia. He had a terrible time as they were toying with the idea of establishing a protectorate over Ethiopia. But, nevertheless, he came out with flying colors. The last time I met him was at the Paris Peace Conference in May 1946. A month later, he died in Sweden.(5)
There is an enormous literature on Italian fascism and Ethiopia. But as pointed out earlier, however, the coverage on Lorenzo is scanty, and where it is not, disconnected details are not united.
Kebede Tesema, an important Ethiopian intelligence officer of the time, who was later to occupy several ministerial posts in Haile Selassie’s government, published Historical Notes (Addis Ababa, 1955). Among other things, his book contains invaluable information on how the Ethiopians managed to sustain effective guerrilla warfare against the mechanized Italian Army. Although he fully recognizes Lorenzo’s vital contribution to the prosecution of the war, strangely enough, he does not say much about his role in making that operation effective. Similarly, the Italian journalist, Del Boca, in his illuminating book, The Ethiopian War 1935-1941, (London, 1965), mentions Lorenzo three times. Even then, this is done in the context of his exile to Europe along with Haile Selassie, the speech he made at the League of Nations in 1938, and how he distributed arms to the insurgents in Western Ethiopia in 1939.
In the same way, Richard Greenfield, in his Ethiopia, A new Political History, (New York, 1965), provides some insight into the valuable information Lorenzo brought out of Ethiopia describing the extent of guerrilla operations and the poor morale of the Italians.
John Spencer, who served the Ethiopian government for many years as advisor in foreign affairs, as has already been pointed out, knew Lorenzo from 1936-1946. In his informative book, Ethiopia At Bay (Algonac, Michigan 1984), he writes of Lorenzo’s French education, the information he used to collect from the war fronts (1934-35) for the publication of war bulletins, his translation of Haile Selassie’s speeches into French in Geneva, and the detailed information he brought out of Ethiopia in 1939 regarding the status and operations of the patriotic forces. He also mentions the invaluable contributions Lorenzo made to the military campaigns through which the emperor returned to Ethiopia in 1941, and Haile Selassie’s praise of the significant role played by Lorenzo in the liberation campaign of Ethiopia.
In his recent book on the Italo-Ethiopian War, Haile Selassie’s war: The Italian-Ethiopian Campaign, 1934-1941 (New York, 1984), Anthony Mockler provides Lorenzo’s biographical sketch in just six lines and dismisses his activities with the Ethiopian refugees in the Sudan and Kenya, in just a couple of paragraphs. Beyond that, there is nothing. There is also the autobiography of Haile Selassie, My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress, 1892-1937 (London, 1976). In this book, Haile Selassie praises Lorenzo’s diplomatic skill and the outstanding services he rendered to the country.
Let us then begin with a brief survey of Italy’s involvement in the affairs of the area – an involvement which probably caused Lorenzo’s departure from his place of birth.
Background to the Italian Occupation of Eritrea and the Threat Against Ethiopia
The Eritrea of the 1920s that Lorenzo left, was a sad place. Eritreans were constantly reminded of their inferiority in their own country by their colonial masters, the Italians. The Asmara municipality excluded them from all participation. In the central government hierarchy, they had no part. Eritreans could at best aspire to be low-paid clerks or orderlies. There was no trace when they could advance towards participation in government, or of administration scheme which could lead to it. There was to be, in perpetuity, only rulers and the passive ruled.(6) The combined effect of the policy of colonial oppression, social humiliation and material deprivation had several results in Eritrea. Of immediate concern to us during this particular period is the immigration of some 200,000 Eritreans to Ethiopia. One such Eritrean was Lorenzo Taezaz.
Why did he escape from Colonial Eritrea? Was his immigration to Ethiopia largely inspired by personal feelings of hopelessness in his future in colonial Eritrea, or by some other purpose? Was he conscious of a specific threat against Ethiopia at the time? How was it possible for him to play an outstanding role in the resistance movement against fascism, and eventually to become Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister? These questions are pertinent. It is useful to consider them in the context of the historical background that led to Italy’s involvement in the affairs of the people of the region.
As far as Italy was concerned, Asmara was merely a stepping-stone to bigger designs: Eritrea was acquired with the larger objective of the whole Ethiopia in mind.(7) The fact that between 1890 and 1896 Italy launched a series of assaults against Ethiopia from Eritrea is a sufficient testimony to that design. In any event, the series of intolerable military encroachments on Ethiopia’s sovereignty culminated in the Battle of Adowa of 1896, in which the Italians were routed.
As The Spectator of March 7, 1896 observed regretfully:
The Italians have suffered a great disaster – greater than has ever occurred in modern times to white men in Africa. Adowa was the bloodiest of all colonial battles. (8)
Italy’s pride was wounded. If ever Rome was to occupy a respectable place in the councils of Europe, that national humiliation and disgrace had to be avenged. Thereafter, propelled by Mussolini’s 1922 dictum, that “Italy must either expand or explode,”(9) fascism came to power. In such a situation, the first policy declaration el Duce made was to settle once and for all, the great account which has been left open since 1896.(10) “If only Italy had 6,000 more soldiers in Adwa, the result would have been different,” he was to say later.
To that end, he gave the necessary directives for building up Eritrea’s economic infrastructure in order to facilitate military mobility for the conquest of Ethiopia. Such a direction can be discerned from a letter Mussolini wrote in 1925 to the Prince of Scala, the Minister of the Colonies, in which Mussolini called his attention to the poor defensive conditions of Eritrea, and to correct such deficiencies as might exist.(11) Since nobody was threatening Eritrea, one can only interpret that message to mean preparations for committing aggression against Ethiopia.
Similarly, Pietro Badoglio, the Chief of Staff of the Italian Armed Forces, had instructed General Malladra in 1926 to carry out a thorough study of Eritrea’s defenses (read preparations for war), including the possible use of poison gas, either through aerial bombing or through artillery shelling.(12) Ten years later, Badoglio, who directed Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia from Colonial Eritrea and Somaliland, did precisely that.
Lorenzo’s Departure from Eritrea
I had heard contradictory accounts about Lorenzo’s departure from Eritrea. Since the evidence provided by anyone of the people I talked to was insufficient to prove any point, I decided to interview Woizerit Lorenzo, his daughter. In response to my question why her father, who was privileged by the standards of many Eritreans, because he was working at the Civil and Political Affairs Department of the colonial administration, left Colonial Eritrea and went to Ethiopia, Woizerit Lorenzo explained her father’s immigration in the following way:
One day, while he was filing papers, he read a secret military document which spelt out Italian war plans against Ethiopia, including the intention to use poison gas. Taken by shock and horror, while he was weeping, his tears dropped on the papers and spoiled the document. No sooner had this taken place than his Italian boss discovered what had happened and asked him why he was sprinkling water on vital government document? Being naive and innocent, he confessed that it was not water that spoilt the pages, but his tears. “Why did you have to weep”? asked the Italian. “Because I read the secret document which tells a lot about what you intend to do against Ethiopia,” he replied. “Yes, but that has nothing to do with you Eritreans. You are worried about a different people and society, which should not be of concern to you,” retorted the Italian. Three days later, Lorenzo told Ephreim Tewolde Medhin about what he had read. After that, both discussed the matter and escaped to Aden and from there they went to Addis Ababa where they met Haile Selassie.(13)
How much reliance could be attached to the information, especially that provided by his daughter? Did he really escape from Eritrea because of what he had read? And did such information ever exist? The 1925 letter of Mussolini to the Minister of the Colonies may provide a clue. There is also Badoglio’s handwritten instruction to General Malladra regarding the use of poison gas. These clues, when considered along with the fact that mustard gas that had been shipped into Massawa was utilized to substitute for the mountain warfare in which Italians lacked training (14), may lend considerable weight to what Woizerit Lorenzo contends. However, when Italy launched its unprovoked aggression against Ethiopia in 1935, the country was not prepared to resist the aggression. In fact, the primary cause of Ethiopia’s defeat was that it had no arms, and was allowed none. The secondary cause of its defeat was that it had no aviation.(15) It therefore appears very unlikely that Lorenzo had access to secret war plans. For, if he did, he would have made it available to Hale Selassie, and that would have given Ethiopia a span of ten years with which to strengthen its defenses.
One is inclined to think that his daughter has read back into the past on the basis of the actual use of poison gas, the likely Italian preparations to do something against Ethiopia and Lorenzo’s patriotic role against fascism. In such a set-up, it becomes easy within the family to make Lorenzo into an even more prescient hero. While one does not deny the utility of oral sources, perhaps the most one can say in this particular case is that her information cannot be used to supply adequate answers to the type of questions we raised earlier.
That Lorenzo served the Italian authorities from 1920-1925, is not debatable, and that he met Haile Selassie in Aden in 1924 is not also in dispute. But what cannot be sustained is the contention that he escaped from Eritrea because of the “secret document” he had read. Available evidence does in fact support the view that his escape from his home land was likely motivated by his daily exposure to constant humiliation, provocation and racial discrimination.
In this regard, let us consider the views of the London Times correspondent George Steer, who was expelled from Addis Ababa by the Italians in 1936, and who later participated in the liberation campaign of Ethiopia in the capacity of a British Intelligence Officer in charge of Offensive Propaganda. Steer who knew Lorenzo both in Europe and in Africa has this to say:
He rose to be Secretary to the Governor in Asmara when he was still very young, for Lorenzo is quick as lightening. It was the highest position that he could reach: Lorenzo is not a white man. Embittered by his servile condition, he could bear it no longer after a scene in a small cinema to which Italian friends had invited him. Other Italians hissed them for bringing in a colored man. Lorenzo was already miserable enough. With his savings he fled to Aden and waited there in poverty until [Haile Selassie] picked him up.(16)
One is inclined to accept this version of Lorenzo’s escape from Colonial Eritrea. It is also likely that Steer heard it from the man himself. Since impressions of youth are more lasting that those of the immediate past, it seems that such an experience had a chilling effect on his outlook. It made him resent the Italians very deeply. In expecting him to treat them not as an equal, but with a submissiveness demanded of a subject, the Italians succeeded in converting him into an envenomed and resolute enemy for all time.
Thereafter, and as mentioned earlier, Lorenzo went to school in France, and having returned to Ethiopia in 1933, he began to serve the government in several capacities until he was forced into exile again by the Italians, this time to Europe along with Haile Selassie.
Lorenzo’s Role Against Italian Fascism
Haile Selassie’s moving address to the League of Nations that stirred the conscience of the world and which was drafted by Lorenzo in part reads:
I am here to give Europe warning of the doom that awaits it, if it bows before force. I ask the fifty-two nations assembled here to give my country the support they promised her. There is not on this earth any nation that is higher than any other, apart from the kingdom of God. God and History will remember your judgment.(17)
It should be noted here that after delivering this historic address to the League of Nations, the Emperor Haile Selassie settled in Bath, England. As far as the League was concerned, therefore, it was Lorenzo, who in his capacity as Permanent Delegate of Ethiopia accredited to that world body, who continued the diplomatic struggle in Geneva. To that end, he even carried his credentials signed and sealed in his pocket. If any motion prejudicial to Ethiopia were to be tabled at the Council, he had all the intention of walking into the Assembly Hall and occupying the vacant post.(18) However, he was also impatient with the obstacles that loomed on all sides. As was to be expected, when Ethiopia was sacrificed by the League at the altar of political expediency, Lorenzo could not but agree with those few Ethiopian ministers who saw the virtues of guerrilla warfare.
With regard to the situation inside Italian occupied Ethiopia, it should be noted that Italian atrocities that were regarded by many as the apogee of fascist barbarity had reached a climax. The Ethiopian nationalist movement was gaining ground. There was continuous rebellion, even if it was uncoordinated, bedeviled as it was by factions which adhered to personalities rather than programs. Italian censorship was so strict that little information reached the outside world. It was therefore assumed that the fascists were making good their occupation of the country. Hence, in February 1938, Haile Selassie decided to dispatch Lorenzo to make a secret visit to Ethiopia and to explore the possibilities of his return to lead the resistance. Lorenzo had to succeed in this mission, if only because the prospect of failure was too grim to contemplate. Accordingly, he went to Ethiopia and spent several months inside the country. He delivered Haile Selassie’s messages to the various leaders of the resistance, assessed their strength and weakness, mediated their disputes, distributed arms at strategic points, helped to integrate them into a cohesive fighting force, and left the country.(19) Three months later, Lorenzo was back in Europe. Haile Selassie was so impressed by what he had to tell him, that he decided to report the whole situation to the League of Nations, some of whose members had started recognizing Italian occupation of Ethiopia. But since the emperor was ill, Lorenzo had to read the speech for him, which in any case, he had drafted:
Is the League, the appointed guardian of the principles of international justice, about to sign its own death warrant by tearing up with its own hands the covenant which is the sole justification of its being? Is right to triumph over Might, or Might over Right? [Let me reiterate to you here and now] that an implacable guerrilla warfare is being waged and will continue to be waged until either the [country] is evacuated by the Italians, or the Ethiopian people have been exterminated.
… The Italian government exercises no control over the greater part of Ethiopia… Its troops merely control the towns (where) garrisons can only be supplied with provisions and munitions by means of aircraft. (I am annexing to this statement) the petitions presented by the Ethiopian warrior chiefs setting forth the situation and asking for the assistance of the League of Nations.(20)
The petitions, no doubt, were written by warrior chiefs, at Lorenzo’s suggestion. He took the petitions with him and annexed them to Haile Selassie’s speech. And from the point of view of those States that were hesitating to recognize Ethiopia’s occupation by Italy, the speech and the petitions mush have had a restraining influence. Countries like Sweden, Mexico, the USA, USSR and others never recognized Italian occupation of Ethiopia.
In 1939, Lorenzo went back to Ethiopia on a similar mission. According to George Steer, who seems to have closely following his activities:
Lorenzo, a lively man who used to worry where to get the next stamp to send a letter to the Secretariat of the League of Nations, came to Paris by arrangement. His timing was good. The League of Nations did not meet that year. He went off dressed in a tarboosh, saying that he was a Sudanese of the Eritrean frontier tribe of the Habab.(21) The volcano (the Ethiopian resistance movement) permanently simmered, and Lorenzo’s coming gave it a poke. He poked it all around – north and south, east and west, skillfully exploiting the resentment that had been simmering. Among other things, he composed the quarrels of the resistance leaders in Gojjam after three days of negotiation. Elsewhere, he promised the people that the end is not far off.(22)
Similarly, Christopher Sykes, who describes Lorenzo as “an Ethiopian of high character and distinguished record,” reports that he was known at this time as Wolde Michael, elsewhere as Thompson and correctly as Lorenzo Taezaz.(23) The French intelligence officer, Colonel Robert Monnier, who had also made a clandestine journey in the interior of Ethiopia in July 1938, taught Lorenzo how to use a compass in his arduous travels. Lorenzo therefore extensively traveled inside Ethiopia. He constantly disguised himself in order to elude the Italians.
But in areas where he felt secure, he appeared in an Ethiopian army officer’s uniform with a considerable escort of Ethiopian soldiers. The fact that Lorenzo was able to wonder about Ethiopia in uniform and with an escort, it was said, is an indication of the state of affairs prevalent inside the country.(24) At other times, he traveled disguised as a priest or as a peasant.(25) After several months in the country, and after having established an Ethiopian Intelligence Bureau in Khartoum Lorenzo proceeded to Cairo to give full account of his discoveries to the skeptical British Middle East Headquarters.(27)
By the winter of 1939, he was back in England with news to gladden and inspire. Again Haile Selassie wanted to move, but this time, the British were not convinced that he had a large following in the country. In 1938, if Britain did not act in support of Haile Selassie, it must have been certainly acting, when it argued that the emperor’s wish to move to Ethiopia and to lead the resistance was premature. But the truth is, as Spencer remarked, since Britain was negotiating with the Italians over the Mediterranean, it did not want the talks to be prejudiced. However, British reluctance a year later had some merit worthy of note. At a meeting of some 900 patriotic commanders which took place in Gondar, the need to abolish the monarchy and declare Ethiopia a republic was discussed. To that end, even a document was prepared for the League of Nations touching on the form which a future government of the country might take.(28) Since Britain was aware of that, London did not want to end up by backing a man whose leadership was challenged. To dispel their doubts, however, Lorenzo was sent back to Ethiopia. This time, he was to provide evidence that important members of the resistance affirmed their allegiance to the emperor. He collected 10,000 signatures in a matter of weeks and helped to persuade the British to support Haile Selassie’s claim to the throne.
On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on France and Britain. As a result, Haile Selassie was allowed to go to Khartoum to organize and lead a liberation army. He immediately asked for the battalion of trained Eritreans which had deserted from the Italian army in 1937, but which was kept in internment in Kenya.(29) Who else but Lorenzo could go to Kenya? He went there and read them Haile Selassie’s invitation requesting them to join the resistance. They responded with wild cries of delight,(30) and they did. Back in Khartoum, more work was waiting for Lorenzo, and more duties that needed his attention. He wrote the decrees and the military mobilization orders of Haile Selassie, which the British Royal Air Force effectively utilized in the propaganda warfare against the Italians. Eritreans in Kassala, for instance, were seen to kiss the seal, press it to their foreheads and weep.(31) At long last, as the British army moved to evict the Italians from Ethiopia, it entered the country along the tracks blazed by Lorenzo Taezaz.(32)
It was pointed out earlier that because the existing literature gives scant coverage to Lorenzo’s background in general, and to the actual role he played in the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-1941 in particular, this study would attempt to rectify that limitation. From the discussion we have already had, we can therefore make the following conclusions.
Although Lorenzo’s escape from Eritrea was largely motivated by the reality of an empty future in his homeland, his uncompromising position against fascism seems to have been largely inspired by his early experience of constant humiliation and racial discrimination. Those painful memories have lived with him for very many years. In those days, Haile Selassie needed educated young Ethiopians to help him in his modernization program. He sent several of them to Europe to study European methods of administration, science and technology. As fate would have it, in sending Lorenzo to France, he did make a wise decision. It paid off.
Lorenzo, who lacked neither ideals nor insight, successfully played several roles as a pressman, diplomat, intelligence officer, agitator, and counselor, and discharged his responsibilities with great distinction. In the process, he displayed great fortitude and endurance. For no one can dispute the key role he played in Ethiopia’s liberation. But more than most, Lorenzo’s commitment to duty must have strengthened Haile Selassie’s faith in education.
By delivering the Emperor’s messages to the various leaders of the resistance, Lorenzo provided the movement with a sense of direction and helped co-ordinate the internal and external struggle against Italian fascism. Whenever disputes arose among the leaders, by appealing to their sense of patriotism and by mediating their conflicts, he helped in the emergence of a cohesive and formidable fighting force that carried out devastating guerrilla operations against a mechanized army considered invincible at the time.
If thousands of peasants could turn into soldiers overnight, fight with limitless courage, and turn the tide of the war, they owe it to Lorenzo’s organizational and agitation ability and to the arms he distributed to them at critical times and places. If Eritrean soldiers, who were in the service of fascism, could desert the Italian army and join the Ethiopian forces of resistance, it was in part because of the knowledge that Lorenzo was around.
As a lawyer, and fluent in several European languages, Lorenzo effectively argued Ethiopia’s case in Geneva, and gained for his country considerable sympathy and support.
When the British government hesitated in supporting Haile Selassie’s return to Ethiopia, contending that the emperor had no power base inside the country, Lorenzo was instrumental in changing London’s mind. He went to Italian occupied Ethiopia, collected the signatures of 10,000 important members of the resistance who affirmed their allegiance to the emperor, and convinced the British to go along with Haile Selassie. Is there any wonder then, if the late Prime Minister Endalkachew Mekonnen could immortalize Lorenzo’s name in the funeral oration by paying tribute to his memory in words that are both fitting and deserving?(33)
Bibliography and Endnotes
1. Steer, G. L. Caesar in Abyssinia, Hodden and Stoughton Ltd., London 1936, p. 356.
2. Ibid, p. 364.
3. The rumor mills in Ethiopia have been grinding out conflicting stories about his death. It is strongly alleged by many Ethiopians that Lorenzo was poisoned by Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes, Haile Selassie’s powerful Minister of the Pen, who deeply resented Lorenzo’s wide popularity with Haile Selassie. Spencer for one is convinced that he died a natural death. He claims that Lorenzo suffered from intestinal adhesions.
4. Interview I, December 10, 1983, Asmara. The Ambassador was very sick, but still he was kind enough to talk to me for some minutes. While trying to recall the circumstances of their departure
from Eritrea, tears were constantly in his eyes.
5. Interview II was conducted on August 30, 1987, New Haven, Connecticut.
6. Longrigg, H. Stephen: A Short History of Eritrea, the Claredon Press, 1945, p. 135.
7. Marcus, Harold: Haile Selassie I, the Formative Years, 1892-1936, University of California Press, 1987, p.84.
8. The Spectator, March 7, 1896.
9. Coffey, M. Thomas: The Lion by Tail, the Story of the Italo- Ethiopian War, Viking Press, New York. 1970, p.7.
10. Kirkpatrick, Ivor: Mussolini, A Study in Power, Hawthorn Books, New York, 1964.
11. de Bono, Emilio: The Conquest of the Empire, London 1937, p.2.
12 Instructions for General Malladra, Rome, 10 July, 1926, IFM/MAI, 50/24/64, ibid., Marcus, p.76.
13. Interview III, July 15, 1983, Asmara.
14. Barker, A.J.; The Civilizing Mission: A History of the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-1936, the Dial Press, New York, 1968, p.242.
15. Ibid, Caesar in Abyssinia, p.8.
16. Ibid, p.73.
17. The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Selassie I, translated by Edward Ullendorff, Oxford University Press, 1976, pp.299-312.
18. Sanford, Christine: Ethiopia Under Haile Selassie, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd. London, 1946, p.100. His brother, Mebratu Taezaz whom I interviewed in Asmara on August 15, 1983, informed me: “Between 1937 and 1941, Lorenzo entered Ethiopia several times. He had to disguise himself sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a peasant, and sometimes as a priest. The Italians could not tolerate his activities and had to issue an award for anyone who could catch him.”
19. An important Italian source that provides interesting reading about Lorenzo especially from the Italian point of view is Angelo del Boca’s Gli italiani in Africa Orientale, Vol. I: Dall’Unita alla marcia su Roma, Bari, Laterza, 1976, pp.97, 189, 246, 691; Vol. II: La conquista dell Impero: (1979); pp. 336-339, Vol. III (1982), La caduta dell’ impero, pp.27-28.
20. League of Nations, Provisional Agenda of the 101st Session of the Council, May 9th, 1938, Geneva: Document C. 193. M. 104. 1938. VII.
* Why Paris? Britain also was not making much progress in its negotiations with Mussolini. Haile Selassie was still in England and he could be used against Italy. Since Steer was working for the British Intelligence Service, he must have been instructed to contact Lorenzo.
21. Steer, G.L.: Sealed and Delivered, Hodden and Stoughton Ltd. London, 1942, pp. 8-41.
23. Sykes, Christopher: Orde Wingate, A Biography, The world Publishing Co., 1959, New York, pp. 240-244. Wingate commanded the British army in the liberation campaign of Ethiopia.
24. Ibid, Sanford, p. 104.
25. Ibid, Baker, p. 309.
26. Gabre Meskel Habtemariam was from Seraie, Eritrea. He completed his studies in engineering, University of Paris in 1928. In the 1940s he was editor of the Voice of Eritrea, which demanded Eritrea’s unification with Ethiopia.
27. Sanford, Christine: The Lion of Judah Hath Prevailed, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1955, p.86.
28. Greenfield, Richard: Ethiopia, a New Political History, Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, New York, 1965, pp. 247-48.
29. Ibid, Sykes, p. 244.
30. Ibid, Sealed and Delivered, p. 103.
31. Ibid, The Lion of Judah, p. 33.
32. Ibid, p.26.
33. Lorenzo! You are no more with us. But history will remember you as a great patriot. You stand head and shoulders above us all. The outstanding services you rendered to the cause of Ethiopia’s liberation have already occupied a prominent place in the history of Ethiopia. Your tenacity, bravery and single mindedness of purpose, will, forever, inspire millions of Ethiopians. For more of the oration, see Sendick Alamatchin, Amharic Weekly, June 25, 1946.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While Ethiopia’s regime cooks up fantastic numbers to show double digit growth, the realities on the ground are more sobering and depressing. The political elite is addicted to foreign handouts and human trafficking. In an economy where unemployment runs as high as 50% and foreign exchange is continuously in short supply, the regime has embarked on a major initiative to export young women for profit. Within Ethiopia itself, poverty, bad cultural practices and the presence of so many alms givers in a destitute country is exposing poor and vulnerable children to exploitation.
Stolen Childhoods: Child Prostitution And Trafficking In Ethiopia
By Graham Peebles
Prostitution, perhaps the most distressing form of child abuse, is an epidemic throughout Ethiopia. The innocence of a childhood shattered, causing a deep feeling of shame, poisoning the sense of self and excluding the child from education, friends and the broader society. A society, which stands idly by whilst children suffer, speaking not in the face of extreme exploitation, denying the truth of extensive child exploitation and acts not, is a society in collusion.
In the capital, prostitution abounds, “It is difficult to give an exact figure for the prevalence of child prostitution in Addis Ababa but observation reveals that the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate in the city”1 The joint Save the Children Denmark and Addis Ababa City administration (SCD) study states: “Interviewing children revealed that over 50% started engaging in prostitution below 16 years of age. The majority work more than six hours per day”
There are many grades or levels of prostitution, “Some children engage in commercial sex in nightclubs, bars and brothels, while others simply stand on street corners waiting for men to pick them up.” (CPAA)
The SCD study “identified types of child prostitution: working on the streets; working in small bars; working in local arki or alcohol houses; working in rented houses/beds and; working in rent places for khat/drugs use. Each location exposes the children to different risks and hazards.”
“The major problems that have been faced by children engaged in prostitution include: rape, beating, hunger, etc. Based on the responses of children engaged in prostitution, about 45% of them have been raped before they engaged in the activity”. (CPAA)
The dangers associated with child prostitution affect the girls physical and mental/emotional health. Violent physical abuse, being hit and raped is common, Birtuken a 17 year old child sex worker (CSW), “prostitution is disastrous to the physical and social wellbeing of a person.” (CPAA)
The impact on the long-term mental health of a child working in prostitution, can often cause chronic psychological problems, “the emotional health consequences of prostitution include severe trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, self-medication through alcohol and drug abuse; and eating disorders.2
The risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) and HIV/Aids is great, so too the chances of unwanted pregnancies, as men, immersed in selfishness and ignorance, refuse to wear condoms. Their arrogance and macho bravado is a major cause in the spread of HIV/Aids in Ethiopia USAID3 suggests, “1.3million people are now living with the virus in the country”. It is estimated that “70 per cent of female infertility is caused by sexually transmitted diseases that can be traced back to their husbands or partners.”4 “Women in prostitution have been blamed for this epidemic of STDs when, in reality, studies confirm that it is men who buy sex in the process of migration who carry the disease from one prostituted woman to another and ultimately back to their wives and girlfriends.” (EoP)
There are various causes for the growth in child prostitution in urban and rural areas as well as Addis Ababa, arranged marriages, illegal under Federal Law is cited as a key factor, “Research carried out in 2005 established that most victims of commercial sexual exploitation found in the streets of Addis Ababa had been married when they were below 15 years of age” (SAACSEC) In highlighting the factors that drive children away from their homes and into commercial sex work, the CPAA study found that “Most of the child prostitutes came from regions to look for a job, due to conflicts at home, early marriage and divorce.
Poverty, death of one or both parents, child trafficking, high repetition rates and drop out from school and lack of awareness about the consequence of being engaged in prostitution are key factors that push young girls to be involved in commercial sex work”. (CPAA)
In addition to arranged marriage, which is a significant cause, the study found that “the major reasons identified by the children themselves for engaging in commercial sex work are: poverty (34%), dispute in family (35%), and death of mother and/or father. 40% joined prostitution either to support themselves or their parents. Quite a large number of girls (35%) have joined prostitution due to violence within the home. Thus violence within the family is the main cause for children fleeing from home.”
The causes listed are complex and interrelated. At the epicenter of these diverse reasons though sits the family. Conflict at home is for many girls (and boys) the force driving them away from family and onto the streets of Addis Ababa, or one of the provincial towns and cities. Division and conflict grow from many seeds, repeated physical abuse at the hands of a parent or stepparent, rape at the hands of a Father, stepfather or extended family member, physical and verbal abuse, all are factors that force girls to leave the home and seek release from what has become a prison like existence of servitude, intimidation and fear. “When physical and psychological punishment becomes intolerable, it may lead to the child running away from home. Girls tend to become prostitutes when they run away from home.” (VACE2)
Another burgeoning group from which many children fall into the net of prostitution is that resulting from HIV-orphans who have lost their parents to the virus. “Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world: 13 per cent of Ethiopian children have lost one or both parents…the number of children orphaned solely by HIV/AIDS has reached over 1.2 million. These children find themselves at a very high risk of entering commercial sex to survive, yet there is very limited support available for them either from government [emphasis mine}.”(AACSE)
Coherent or dysfunctional, the social fabric is a tapestry of interrelated, interconnected strands. Neglect by the Ethiopian Government in areas diverse, and fundamental is the glue that is binding together a polluted stream of suffering and pain.
Bussed in Married off
In 2006/7, I worked with the Forum for Street Children Ethiopia (FSCE), running education projects for the children in their care. Girls living and working on the streets, mainly the hectic cobbled broken pathways around the Mercato Bus station. “This extremely poor neighborhood in the city has become ‘the epicentre of the capital’s illegal [emphasis mine] industry of child prostitution’5
The children at FSCE ranged in age, although many did not even know their date of birth; most the children do not have documentation “the problem is further aggravated by a widespread lack of birth registration” (CPAA). Some were as young as 11 years old, “over 50% started engaging in prostitution below 16 years of age” the study states. “In almost every case the girls come to the city from the countryside, their families cast many out, others sent to Addis to work”.
Arriving at the city’s main bus-station, shrouded in naivety and fear, with little or no education, the girls make easy pickings for the men that greet them, with a warm smile, and a cunning mind only to mistreat, use and exploit them. With nowhere else to go, and no alternatives, the girls find themselves working the street and the journey into the painful, destructive prison of prostitution has begun.
Many, according to Save the Children Denmark (STCD), come from the Amhara region, the second most populated region, with a population of over 20 million. These children arrive in the capital knowing nobody, with (probably) no money and no contacts.”Enforced child marriages, abuse, and the prospects of ending their days in the grip of poverty are factors pushing Ethiopian girls as young as nine years of age’” (VACE), to risk their childhood and their lives in the city.
According to (CPAA) “There are many factors pushing the girls away from the region, (Amhara) including poverty, peer pressure and abuse. But child marriage is one of the most common explanations we hear when interviewing the girls,” Arranged marriages are widespread in the (Amhara) region in the north of Ethiopia, where young girls, children are forced to marry adult men, all too often this ‘union’ results in rape, abuse and violence, from which the innocent child is forced to flee, only into the clutches of exploitation, violence and abuse. And do they recover, is there healing and release, is a childhood stolen, a childhood lost, let us pray it is not so.
Marriages entered into unwillingly by extremely young girls, some as young as seven years old usually in exchange for reparations of some kind, money, cattle, land, lead all too often to abuse and violence, “traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage, are causes for the increased violence against children.” 14-year-old boy 6 “in Wolmera Woreda, the practice of FGM is nearly universal since girls must be circumcised before marriage.” (VACE2) Once committed to a marriage, by parents who often regard the child as no more than an object to be traded, the girl is frequently raped and mistreated and treated as a servant. “Abduction, rape and early marriage may ultimately lead many girls to prostitution. Early marriage and abduction seldom produce successful marriages. In fact, such relationships are short-lived. As a result, most of these young girls run far away from their husbands in an attempt to start a new and happier life elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of them end up as prostitutes.’ (VACE2)
“Early marriage is illegal (except under particular circumstances), weak law enforcement [Emphasis mine] allows this practice to be widely followed throughout Ethiopia; the phenomenon is reported in almost every region of the country.
Nationwide, 19 per cent of girls were married by the age of 15 and about half were married by the age of 19; in Amhara region, 50 per cent of girls were married by the age of 15. “When the marriage finally collapses, the girls usually migrate to urban areas since breaking a marriage arranged by their relatives is considered a shameful act and they are no longer welcome within their families and communities.
Once in larger towns they end up living in the streets given their lack of skills to find employment. Such dire circumstances lead many girls to be exploited in commercial sex.” (CPAA)
To break free of a forced marriage entered into against the child’s will, and be punished by banishment from the family home, is a form of social injustice based on traditions, which have long failed to serve the children, the family or the community at large. It is time long since past that these practice’s where changed. Education, cultivating tolerance and understanding of the Human Rights of the Child are keys to undoing such outdated destructive sociological patterns, together with the enforcement of the law to deter parents and prospective ‘husbands’.
No options, no hope
No child enters into prostitution when they have a choice, “prostitution is seen as a social ill that is unaccepted, prohibited and fought in most parts of our continent. Prostitution is not only a question of morality but a human problem, a problem of human exploitation, a problem of societal failure in providing equal opportunities.” (CPAA) “At the end (of the interview) Belaynesh said that no girl/woman would like to be a prostitute but the problems force them to be in such a situation.” The circumstances that lead a young girl away from the games and innocence of childhood and what should be, the love and gentle kindness of her family, into the shadows of prostitution, may vary and circumstances differ, suffering though is common to all those forced into such a lifestyle, the impact long lasting and severe, the consequences dire, destroying many lives.
The children at FSCE in Mercato told us their stories, often with shame, through tears and embarrassment, always with pain. A thread connected them all, yes poverty, was a major issue, so too poor education however, the stream that united the group of wonderful 11 to 18 year olds, was a breakdown in human relationships, of one kind or another.
Once outside the family, and society, young girls desperate to survive have little choice but to work as CSW. For those recruiting and selling girls It is a business, for the children on the streets it a torture. “Almost all respondents do not like prostitution (99%). Almost all the girls are involved in prostitution not because they like what they are doing but due to other factors, to support themselves or their families.” (CPAA) “Child prostitution [is] a big business involving a whole series of actors from abductors at bus stations, to blue taxis and bar/hotel owners who tend to see children as the spices of their trade. The business actors, oblivious to pervasive taboos, have long abandoned recruiting adult prostitutes.” (CPAA)
Child prostitution and trafficking of children are inextricably linked. They are of course both illegal. All international conventions, from The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to International Labor Organisation (IL0), as one would expect, outlaw them. So too do Ethiopia’s Federal laws, “The 1993 Labor Proclamation forbids employment of young persons under the age of 14 years.
Employment in hazardous work is also forbidden for those under 18. The Penal Code provides means for prosecuting persons sexually or physically abusing children and persons engaging in child trafficking including juveniles into prostitution. Federal Proclamation no.42/93 protects children less than 14 years not to engage in any kind of formal employment.” (CPAA) And yet both child prostitution and the trafficking of minors goes on, and on and on. “The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that girls are trafficked both within the country and abroad to countries in the Middle East and to South Africa.”7
Children are brought from rural areas of Ethiopia to the capital city by brokers, “ttraffickers, who feed on parent’s low awareness with false promises of work and education for their offspring.” The numbers are staggering, the money tiny, the damage unimaginable “up to 20,000 children, some 10 years old, are sold each year [for around $1.20 to $2.40] by their parents and trafficked by unscrupulous brokers to work in cities across Ethiopia.”8 And who would do such a thing. Who would ‘sell’ an innocent child; condemn a child to slavery and brutal exploitation, pain and acute distress? “These traffickers are ‘typically local brokers, relatives, family members or friends of the victims. Many returnees are also involved in trafficking by working in collaboration with tour operators and travel agencies.”9
“The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism has not been signed by any travel and tourism company in Ethiopia.” (CPAA) The Ethiopian Government acting in the interest of the children upon their homeland, and their responsibilities under international law, should rightly and immediately make all tour operators sign the afore mentioned treaty, or face closure, and criminal prosecution.
“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that Ethiopian children are being sold for as little as US$ 1.20 to work as domestic servants or to be exploited in prostitution.” The Middle East is the major international destination of choice for traffickers, “Many Ethiopian women working in domestic service in the Middle East face severe abuses indicative of forced labor, including physical and sexual assault, denial of salary, sleep deprivation, and confinement. Many are driven to despair and mental illness, with some committing suicide. Ethiopian women are also exploited in the sex trade after migrating for labour purposes – particularly in brothels, mining camps, and near oil fields in Sudan – or after escaping abusive employers in the Middle East.”10 “At least 10,000 have been sent to the Gulf States to work as prostitutes.”(CTE)
Let us not even begin to look at the complicity of such states in the destruction of the lives of these children and women, the ‘little ones’ that dance upon the waters of life, seeking only a gentle heart to trust, finding the dark days of Rome, and in despair we cry “Men’s wretchedness in soothe I so deplore,”11
Meles Zenawi loves to ‘talk the talk’ to his western allies, the US, Britain, the European Union and the like, whilst turning a blind eye, a deaf ear to the cries of the child being beaten, the young girl being raped and traded for sex and the teenager separated from her family, her friends and her childhood, sold into servitude and abuse within Ethiopia and across the Red Sea in the oil rich ‘Gulf States’.
(This article is part of a series).
1. Addis Ababa City Admin Social & NGO Affairs Office (SNGOA), Save the Children Denmark (SCD) and ANNPPCAN-Ethiopian. Child Labor in Ethiopia with special focus on Child Prostitution Study. ‘Child Prostitution in Addis Ababa 2006 (CPAA)
2. Health Effects of Prostitution (EOP), Janice G. Raymond
4. Jodi L. Jacobson, The Other Epidemic
5. Sofie Loumann Nielsen. The Reporter 10 September 2010
6. Violence against children in Ethiopia (VACE). Africa Child Policy Forum
8. ILO. http://www.childtrafficking.org/cgi-bin/ct/main.sql?file=view_document.sql&TITLE=-1&AUTHOR=-1&THESAURO=-1&ORGANIZATION=-1&TOPIC=-1&GEOG=-1&YEAR=-1&LISTA=No&COUNTRY=-1&FULL_DETAIL=Yes&ID=2067. (CTE)
9. Ecpat Global Monitoring report status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children, Ethiopia. (AACSE)
11. Faust Part One, Mephistopheles.
(About the author: Graham Peebles 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])