“Hunger is actually the worst of all weapons of mass destruction, claiming millions of victims every year. Fighting hunger and poverty and promoting development are the truly sustainable way to achieve world peace. There will be no peace without development, and there will be neither peace nor development without justice.” – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” – Confucius, Chinese Philosopher
Whether it is a country that is well governed such as the United States where the middle class is squeezed by the one percent rich in whose hands incomes and wealth are concentrated; or in a poorly governed country such as Ethiopia, where corruption and illicit outflow from one of the two poorest countries in Africa, is now endemic, the impacts are the same. Repressive and corrupt governance entails injustice and shame for those who are left out. Poverty and injustice are sources of shame and agony, especially when these are induced by minority ethnic elite that extract billions of dollars each year from the poor, the society and country. Economic plunder is injustice; and where it exists, peace is inconceivable in the long-run. The Oxford University Multidimensional Index identifies Ethiopia as among the two poorest countries in Africa. If one gauges poverty using the African Development measurement of US$2 dollars per capita per day, ninety percent of the Ethiopian people are poor. Poverty affects all segments of society. It is perhaps the one shame that all ethnic and religious groups have in common.
Over the past several months, I offered compelling reasons backed by concrete evidence why Ethiopians must unite; and why they can indeed unite if they are willing. I admit that it is easier to diagnose problems from all sides and suggest alternatives going forward. There must be social forces on the ground and support outside that are bold enough to implement alternatives that would embolden ordinary people to free themselves from the shame of injustice, poverty and destitution. It is within the realm of possibilities.
In my 2010 book Waves; I analyzed the evolution of ethno-nationalism, and the socioeconomic and political architecture of the current government. I strengthened the arguments of its pitfalls and the vulnerabilities it poses to national cohesion, stability, democratic interactions, equitable and inclusive growth and development, and the threats ethno-nationalism poses to the country and to its diverse population. The single most worrisome source of these vulnerabilities that the vast majority of Ethiopians share is endemic poverty. Another is continuous exodus out of the country to escape injustice and poverty. Wide spread and recurring hunger is a glaring example of injustice. Increasingly, poverty is compounded by rising inequality. This emanates from the plunder of national incomes and resources and its concentration in a few at the top of the policy, decision making and resource allocation process. It is a pyramid. Corruption, illicit outflow, gross human rights violations, nepotism and discrimination are a consequence of a system; and the system happens to be ethnic, repressive and corrupt.
For this reason, I concur with President Lula of Brazil that hunger is “actually the worst of all weapons of mass destruction.” I agree that “there will be no peace” without resolving Ethiopia’s endemic corruption and hunger crises. Regardless of one’s political stand with regard to Ethiopia’s future, the urgent need for social justice is embedded in this vicious cycle that is akin to a national tragedy. When a governing party uses humanitarian aid to punish opponents and reward supporters, you know that the governance is not only unjust; but cruel. Those who are left out, unemployed and hungry have no stake in the stability a system that denies them a chance to eat and earn decent living. I share the notion that overcoming hunger is a collective, and not solely, a government responsibility. However, lead accountability and responsibility for destitution, hopelessness and hunger reside with the top leadership of the governing party. It is this leadership that created the ethnic federal political and socioeconomic system that serves it and its allies well while keeping the poor where they are.
No matter how one diagnoses it, ethno-nationalism and ethnic-federalism now contribute to the lack of a level playing field in social and economic life. It is legitimate for the reader to ask a simple question and try to answer it honesty. How did the current income and wealth concentration arise? Why are billions of dollars stolen each year and not recycled within the country to build factories, schools and hospitals and to boost agricultural productivity? Stolen wealth was not inherited or granted by forces from the heavens. It is manmade; and it is only humans who can reverse this corrosive and corrupt economic system that makes poor people even poorer. I keep suggesting that, if things persist as they are, a person born poor in Ethiopia has a higher chance of dying poor. Poor parents cannot transfer real assets; they transfer poverty to their children and the cycle continues. They have no assets that will free them from this vicious cycle.
Capital accumulation and concentration in a few is never accidental. It is systemic and arises from a system that allows it. In their provocative and well researched paper, “Rethinking business and politics in Ethiopia: the role of EFFORT, the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray,” Mesfin Gebremichael and Sarah Vaughan make a direct correlation between Tigrean elite political capture at the top and capture and plunder of economic and financial resources throughout the country. They show public “frustration at persistence of a non-competitive, moribund and oligopolistic market, based on low levels of productivity, and regularly delivering high levels of opportunistic rents.” These “opportunistic rents” emanate from procurement deals and commissions; government sponsored and financed construction of roads, bridges, schools, health facilities, dams, offices; dominant roles in the transport and export and import business; generous and non-collateralized access to and provision of urban and rural lands, credits and loans; biased permits; accesses to foreign exchange and so on. Keep asking what type of system allows this to happen? You will be in a position to unravel the mystery of capital in Ethiopia and the success of EFFORT and other monopolies.
So what is wrong with the EFFORT monopoly story? This monopoly has a specific ethnic designation and conveys the perception that its lead and primary role is the “rehabilitation” of the Tigray region. Instead, it more than rehabs a selected few party officials and their extended families. It is owned by and benefits a specific ethnic elite group, Tigrean. I have consistently made the distinction between Tigrean elite at the top and the rest of the population. Let us be fair and objective.
As much as one cannot associate ‘past ills and mistakes’ on the entire Amhara or any specific group of people that the TPLF ethnic core designates by ethnicity rather than citizenship, it is not justified to attribute the horrendous injustice, plunder, repression, genocide, crimes against humanity, corruption, illicit outflow, transfer of real resources to domestic ethnic elite allies, foreign governments and firms on the entire Tigrean population. Similar to previous regimes, this repressive and plunder-prone system draws support from members of other ethnic elites. It is a ‘Scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ model. The system would not survive for long without providing material and financial incentives to individuals and elites from other ethnic groups. This gives a semblance of shared benefit and shared stake in the future. It is done without devolving real policy and decision making authority from a core Tigrean ethnic elite at the top. In my view, it is among the weakest links in the system.
As one anonymous author put it, the other weakest links in the system are embodied in the personification of social, political and economic ills identified earlier in the top leadership, especially “the Prime Minister and the security and defense establishment” that ethnic Tigrean officers lead and command. In light of this, the vast majority of Tigrean people on whose name and on whose behalf these ills are perpetrated need to wake-up in unison with the rest of the population. By the same token, the rest of the population that wishes to advance justice and political pluralism must reach out and join forces with them. As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It takes all of the Ethiopian people to restore justice and establish a genuine and lasting foundation of democratic governance.
The extraction of rents is national and the beneficiaries are principally Tigrean elites and persons. The bulk of the sources of internal riches and illicit outflow of funds is either funded largely by a central or federal government that is dominated by the same ethnic elite or condoned by it. This unjust system punishes the vast majority of the population while amassing incomes and wealth assets that are simply grotesque and unjust. One should not dismiss the public perception that the Tigrean population as a whole benefits from the largesse of the federal state dominated by the TPLF core. Tigrean nationals who oppose the system must recognize this unfortunate perception and the collateral damage the minority ethnic elite has caused in the short run and will cause in the medium and long term. This collateral damage by association without gaining benefits compels them to side solidly with the rest of the Ethiopian population and abandon the divide and rule strategy of the TPLF core and its allies.
Income redistribution to “us” from “them” through narrow ethnic-based political power has the effect of limiting economic and social opportunities for the rest, including ordinary Tigrean. There is no legitimate or valid argument that any Ethiopian could make that the socioeconomic and political system should result in a zero-sum game. If ethno-nationalism and ethnic-federalism prove to be impediments to shared growth and development, it behooves all political and social leaders to reexamine the model of crony capitalism itself. In the medium and long-term, Ethiopia cannot afford an economic and social model which rewards those with political power and punishes those without one. The system keeps the entire society on a low productivity path. This is why it is labeled as “moribund” and the lead reason why I wanted to tie the hunger issue with ethno-nationalism, and ethnic-federalism. Both are impediments to equitable, inclusive and rapid growth and development for all Ethiopians.
If the current ethnic federal system is a barrier to equitable growth and development; and if it is the lead source of repression and corruption (double whammy), is it at all sensible to propagate ethnic politics as a virtue and a corner stone for democratization? I am afraid to report that there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Studies show that ethnic politics, organization and leadership will not advance justice, equitable accesses to economic and social opportunities. It will not advance political pluralism and the rule of law. It is conflict and instability ridden. Ethnic politics will not lead to the sovereignty of the people. Sovereignty is gained when each person has the right to voice her/his opinion and has the chance to participate in the political, policy and decision-making process freely.
In light of this, I welcomed the recent monumental decision by one wing of the Oromo Liberation Front to abandon narrow ethnic politics and secession and to join other Pan-Ethiopian democratic forces in the quest for political and social justice for all Ethiopians. This is a most welcome development and should encourage others who believe in the independence and territorial integrity of the country and in the unity and sovereignty of the Ethiopian people to coalesce, collaborate and struggle for the same cause. Dissidents must seize the opportunity now. It is among the prime reasons why I am writing this series.
This latest positive development notwithstanding, I am not entirely convinced that, as yet, Ethiopian political and social elites appreciate the economic, social and political forces that are shaping the new world of this century. This unfolding world places enormous emphasis on educated workforces and national cohesion on the one hand and flexibility to manage the risks and harness the benefits from an increasingly integrated world. Globalization is mean unless one has a nationalist government that places singular emphasis on national ownership of assets and on productivity and equity. Globalization is mean for the weak and for those countries whose leaders are not nationalistic. Globalization identifies and exploits opportunistic leaders who place a premium on their wealth and power. The recent recommendation to the Ethiopian government by Access Capital to sell some of the most profitable and national icons such as Ethiopian Airlines to the private sector is not an isolated phenomenon. Access Capital did not say anything about the US$12 billion that was stolen and taken out of the country; and the billions of Birr squandered and diverted internally. Ethiopia does not suffer from shortage of financial capital. It suffers from poor, repressive and corrupt governance. This, Access Capital, the World Bank or IMF do not say. Why?
The next decades call on a new generation of educated people who use science and technology to create and recreate their own societies. The old way of organizing and managing is increasingly out of place. This new and demanding world requires fresh and outside the box rethinking of how Ethiopian society ought to be organized and governed in meeting new challenges. Ethnic governance is not it. The TPLF/EPRDF model of ethnic governance is not suited to respond to this demanding world of change. A few examples from past practice will illustrate this point. The leadership conspired and turned over Eritrea in general and the port of Assab in particular and made the country landlocked. A landlocked economy is a dependent economy. Import and export costs are astronomical because of the regime’s unforgettable and deliberate policy mistake. It offered 1,600 square km of some of the country’s fertile lands, waters, flora and fauna to the North Sudanese government as dividend for Sudanese support when the TPLF was a liberation front. Having failed to achieve food self-sufficiency and security for the Ethiopian people, it embarked on one of the most disastrous policies of any government. It offered millions of ha of the most fertile farmlands and water basins to companies and persons from 36 countries; and to Tigrean elites that are loyal to the TPLF. It is therefore not equipped to deal with the intricacies of managing a society in the 21st century that calls for national cohesion.
Without going much further than the later part of the 20th and the early part of the 21st century, governance in Ethiopia has been based on the principle of political and economic capture by narrow ethnic and ideological elite. This was done through non-peaceful and non-democratic means. Political and economic capture has been about punishments and rewards. In coming to power, successive regimes had to inflict sufficient pain on their enemies so that they will never resurrect. Since the gains realized from continued political capture are substantial, the ruling group must reward itself and its supporters in order to solidify its power base. Correspondingly, it had to deprive its competitors of political and economic roles. In a poor country, financial, budgetary and other economic resources are very limited and are thus strategic tools. The TPLF core is a master at marrying ethnic governance, including ethnic federalism with economic capture.
Traditionally, an ethnic-based regime does not see the duration of its governance as finite and as subject to public consent. Political capture has always been a win-lose strategy. The biggest losers in this strategy are the poor, the society and succeeding generations. Political leaders do not wish to lose with grace through free, fair, open, transparent and competitive elections. The political tradition is for the ruling group to win big by any means necessary, including electoral fraud, intimidation, killings, imprisonment or persecution of adversaries. The TPLF/EPRDF top leadership has perfected this instrument of control at substantial costs for the country, and the vast majority of the population, including the vast majority of Tigrean.
Ethnic-governance and ethnic-federalism embed drawbacks in social, economic and political terms. Elections are always contested and are directly affected by them. Accesses to social and economic opportunities are influenced and directed deliberately. Land leases and allocations are decided through ethnic elite lenses. The concentration and uncontested nature of political and economic power at the executive level has offered the ruling-party the institutional and material means to hold on to power and to refrain from initiating needed socioeconomic and political reforms. Reform would mean sharing power and resources with the rest.
In an effort to appease nations, nationalities and people, the system allows the minimum required. It promotes and allows cultural, linguistic and other forms of freedoms while exercising monopoly over institutions, policies, decision-making and capture of their natural resources. Regional ethnic elites and personalities act as modern vassals and ‘lords’ and are often blamed and sacrificed when things go astray. The succession of Regional Presidents in the Gambella region who have been sucked is a case in point. Their primary role is not to serve the people and region they represent. It is to be loyal to and serve the party in power. Regional ethnic officials are never free or independent to enjoy freedom of choice. I do not underestimate the perceived emotional and real benefits associated with ethnic federalism. I contest its democratic content. Ordinary people on whose behalf pretensions of ethnic amity and freedom are exercised are paying a huge price now; and their children will bear the brunt of exploitation and plunder at play. The system will not initiate radical reforms that will make them masters of their own national resources.
In my assessment, radical reforms are needed urgently to empower Ethiopian society as a whole and to feed the millions who depend on international emergency food aid, hundreds of thousands who leave the country, and millions who are unemployed. Even if one were to ignore the developmental reasons, this back drop is vital for humanitarian causes. To ignore this injustice of recurrent and massive hunger is to deny justice to the affected millions. I do not know of a single Ethiopian who is not ashamed and saddened by the level of destitution, hunger and recurring famine in Ethiopia. While leaders of donor institutions and non-governmental organizations empathize with the hungry or send food or money or both and feed millions, it is a matter of dignity and honor for Ethiopians regardless of ethnic affiliation to reject the system that allows these to occur in the first place.
Ethiopians cannot go on depending on food aid for ever. For those in the Diaspora, it is about a recurrent human tragedy of a country with which they identify and they love. For them, and for millions of concerned people around the globe, the hunger of a child, a mother or a father waiting for emergency food aid is an affront to conscience and human dignity. It is a lead indicator of failed leadership. This failed leadership is fundamentally flawed because it is based on ethnic domination and divide and rule.
For government officials who live in what an Indian economist, Khanna, calls “mansion villas,” destitution has become a normal and acceptable part of life. Someone just wrote a note and told me that this person must have visited Mekele. I said yes; he has. He also visited Gondar, Bahir Dar, and Awassa, Addis Ababa and other cities and towns where ‘villas and mansions’ dot slums. For this reason alone, I will highlight critical policy issues, as a prelude to this series on the devastating impacts of ethnic political and economic capture.
While children, girls, boys, mothers and fathers are starving and dying, the ruling-party continues business as usual. It is more concerned about regime continuity, and less about the bigger and most immediate issues of hunger, famine, starvation, unemployment, slum-like shelters, dependency and endemic poverty. In this sense too, the ruling party’s values are worrisome to most Ethiopians across the ideological and ethnic spectrum. They feel that the regime focuses much more on rewards and punishments to keep itself in power and to extract more wealth and incomes from a broken system. It inflicts punishments on those who dissent and disagree with or oppose its policies and programs. Many Ethiopians say that the ruling-party rewards its members, affiliates and supporters handsomely. In doing this the leadership has elevated the punishment and reward equation to a new and dangerous level. This has the unsettling ingredients of collapse and civil unrest that is unpredictable. In light of this, I conclude that the TPLF/EPRDF socioeconomic and political conception, design, policies and programs have proven to be totally ethnic political elite-based, self-serving, dictatorial, corrupt and dangerous. The executive branch has replaced all institutions with regard to policies and decisions.
The conception of ‘victories I win or defeats me lose’ formula has strengthened the proclivity to hold on to power by all means necessary. Historically, political power in Ethiopia was characterized by a macho culture of defeating enemies. Battling out policies and programs through peaceful and democratic means, with the intent of letting voters decide, has never been the norm. Devaluing and limiting the formation of political pluralism and advancements toward a democratic culture of voter preferences and choices, the ruling-party uses public funds to recruit and mobilize members. It incentivizes and guides voter patterns to its own advantage. It punishes those who challenge the system in any way. It rewards those who support it. Affiliated ethnic parties and elites who lead them facilitate this phenomenon. This way, the political culture of exclusion continues indefinitely regardless of social injustice.
The reader would say that such a punishment and reward route to political power is not unique to Ethiopia. It has been a pattern throughout post-colonial Africa. I agree. My lead argument is that the primary motivating factor in this century as in the past behind the same model continues to be acquisition of wealth assets. On October 16, 2009, the Financial Times (FT) put this succinctly in an article entitled “Affluent Africa: The most reliable route to riches in Africa once lay via politics and “public” service.” No surprise, since “the state in many of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries controlled the principal levers (pillars) of the economy in the decades following independence.” The article cited numerous examples of extraction of riches by and for political elites using “absolute power.” Most African government leaders and elites were famous–many still are–not so much for public trust or public services but for extracting wealth at the cost of the vast majority. While there have been changes in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, Ethiopia remains among the exceptions in not expanding opportunities and tackling endemic poverty. Many African intellectuals rightly ask why the country is unable to feed itself.
Ethiopia is also among the exceptions in prolonging and sustaining direct links between the party in power, the state and ethnicity. I shall show that these links promote and show corrupt practices and allow massive illicit outflow of funds. Similar to other Sub-Saharan African regimes that have not yet changed, those in power are not sole gainers from political and economic capture. They create foreign and domestic alliances and partners to justify their grip. The Ethiopian case mimics such partnerships in globalization as well.
One example might illustrate the point. In the same FT article quoted above, Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi, one of Africa’s wealthiest men is identified as one of the movers and shakers of Ethiopia’s political economy. An Ethiopian newspaper had identified the relationships between Al-Amoudi’s large business empire and monopoly and the ruling-party as a “state within a state”. A capitalist has found a lucrative alliance in a country where there are hardly any large scale domestic or national competitors. “Al-Amoudi is close to the ruling regime and partly funded Ethiopia’s millennium celebrations in September 2000. Al-Amoudi’s business empire centers on the Midroc Global Group, a conglomerate that owns more than 30 enterprises; and employs 24,000 people in four continents. Having leased vast tracts of land for commercial farming, the Sheikh also owns the Legadembi gold mine, which produces roughly 3.5 tons of fine gold a year.” I do not know of many governments that turn over a precious source of foreign exchange for the country to a foreign monopoly. The TPLF does.
The point of the quotation from the FT article is to suggest that the ruling-party allows unrestricted investments and operations, including leases of “vast tracts of land for commercial farming” to foreigners and domestic allies as long as such investments and partnerships pay dividends financially, politically and diplomatically. “Absolute” state political and economic power allows virtual centrally driven investments and economic monopolies to thrive. They crowd-out and undermine national firms and domestic entrepreneurs. In short, the system perpetuates dependency; and suffocates domestic private sector development. How can deserving Ethiopian nationals enter and sustain businesses if monopolies are given special privileges? The gold mine owned and run by Al-Amoudi was once state owned and profitable. Privatization proved to be lucrative for ethnic folks and ethnic endowments that are close to the ruling-party. Massive asset transfers associated with privatization show the dilemma. Among other factors, privatization has not expanded domestic and nationally owned and managed and merit based enterprises. It has not generated large employment. It has not produced a vigorous middle class. There is little benefit for Ethiopian youth, especially girls. Contrast and compare this condition with the Asian Miracle where privatization and indigenous development took advantage of globalization in general and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in particular; and offered enormous employment and incomes opportunities for millions.
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.”
The group of companies listed below are owned by Saudi agent Al Amoudi. These 40 companies are currently busy looting and plundering Ethiopia in partnership with the Woyanne apartheid junta. In the meantime, Al Amoudi’s puppet-masters in Saudi Arabia savagely attack young Ethiopian as shown in this video:
Addid Gas and Plastics Factory PLC
Addis Home Depot PLC
Addis International Catering PL
Blue Nile P.P. & Craft Paper Bags Manufacturing PLC
Daylight Applied Technologies PLC
East West Ethio Transport PLC
Elfora Agro-Industries PLC
Lame Dairy PLC
Mamco Paper Products Factory PLC
Midroc Construction Ethiopia PLC
Midroc Energy House Electro-Mechanical Services PLC
MIDROC Ethiopia PLC
Midroc Ethiopia Tecnology Group PLC
Midroc Foundation Specialist PLC
Midroc Gold Mine
Modern Building Industries PLC
Moha Soft Drinks Industry SC
Mugad Travel PLC
National Mining Corp.
National Motors Corporation PLC
National Oil Ethiopia PLC (NOC)
Rainbow Exclusive Car Rental and Tour Services PLC
(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: