By Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Berlin Conference of 2009
In 1884, the Berlin Conference was convened by the European imperial powers to carve out colonial territories in Africa. It was called the “Scramble for Africa”.
In 2009, another Berlin Conference was convened by a high level group of diplomats (referring to themselves as the “partners”) from the U.S. and several European countries to hammer out an “agreement” on what to do (and not do) in the Horn of Africa.
According to a recently released Wikileaks cablegram, with respect to Ethiopia, the partners “agreed [on] Ethiopia’s key role in the region” and “the need to support and observe its May 2010 elections.” They acknowledged “Meles as a regional leader, pointing out he would represent Africa on climate change in Copenhagen.” They agreed Meles is “intent on retaining power” and that he is “a guy you can do business with”. They expressed doubts about “being associated with a likely imperfect process” that could result from the May 2010 elections (which subsequently produced a 99.6 percent win for Meles’ party), but “they nonetheless agreed on the importance of international involvement in the elections.”
The German and French partners debated “Ethiopia’s economic situation, namely [the] hard currency and the poor investment climate.” The German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic problems could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. The French diplomat argued that “Meles actually had a good understanding of economics, but was hampered by his ideological beliefs.” In a single sentence, out of the blue, the partners ganged up and whipsawed the entire Ethiopian opposition: “The [Ethiopian] political opposition is weak, disunited, and out of touch with the average Ethiopian, partners agreed.”
For quite some time, foreign journalists have been reporting wholly disparaging and categorically dismissive remarks about Ethiopia’s opposition by anonymous Western diplomats. In February 2010, I wrote a commentary decrying and protesting the cowardly and scandalous statements issued by Western diplomats hiding behind the veil of journalistic anonymity. I complained that the derisive characterizations were not only unfair, inaccurate and self-serving, but also dispiriting, disheartening and demeaning of Ethiopia’s besieged opposition. It is gratifying to finally put faces to the surly anonymous lips.
Is the Ethiopian political opposition “weak and disunited”?
It is true that the Ethiopian “political opposition is weak and disunited”, an issue I have addressed on previous occasions. But Western governments seem to be conveniently oblivious of the reasons for the disarray in the opposition. For two decades, Meles Zenawi and his regime have done everything in their power to keep the opposition divided, defeated, discombobulated and dysfunctional. Zenawi has pursued the opposition relentlessly often comparing them to Rwanda’s interhamwe (meaning “those who stand/work/fight/attack together”) genociders. In 2005, he rounded up almost all of the major opposition political and civic leaders, human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents in the country and jailed them for nearly two years on charges of genocide, among many others. Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission has documented that hundreds of peaceful opposition demonstrators were massacred in the streets and over thirty thousand suspected opposition members jailed in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. In 2008, Zenawi jailed Birtukan Midekssa, the first female opposition political party leader in Ethiopian history, on the ridiculous charge of “denying a pardon”. He put her in solitary confinement and categorically and absolutely ruled out any possibility of freedom for her declaring: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” (He let go in October 2010.)
Zenawi has demonized a major opposition group as a “terrorist” organization bent on “creating a rift between the government and the people of Oromiya.” In his pursuit of the opposition, he has “used extreme force trapping the civilian population between the insurgents and the government forces.” He put on trial and sentenced to death various alleged “members” of Ginbot 7 Movement, and contemptuously described the Movement as an organization of “amateur part-time terrorists”. He has intimidated and verbally shredded his former comrade-in-arms who have stood with the opposition and rhetorically clobbered his critics as “muckrakers,” “mud dwellers”, “sooty,” “sleazy,” “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He even claimed the opposition was “dirtying up the people like themselves.” Opposition parliamentarians are routinely humiliated in public and treated like delinquent children. In parliamentary exchanges, they are mocked for their pronunciation of English words.
When opposition leaders went on the campaign trial in 2010, they were prevented from meeting with voters in their districts as former president Dr. Negasso Gidada and others have documented. Opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24-hour surveillance, and the people they meet are intimidated and harassed. The culture of fear that permeates every aspect of society is reinforced by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making peaceful opposition impossible. Unless one is a member of the ruling party, the chances of higher education, employment and other privileges are next to nil. By becoming part of the opposition, the average and not-so-average Ethiopian invites political persecution, economic hardship and social isolation. Under such circumstances, is it any wonder that the Ethiopian opposition is weak and disunited? Is it not ironic that Western donors are unwilling to help the opposition in any way (including giving moral support) yet skulk behind journalistic anonymity to heap dismissive contempt on them while turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to flagrant abuses of human rights and misuse of their aid money to buy votes?
Is the Ethiopian opposition “out of touch with the average Ethiopian”?
The gratuitous backhanded slap on the face of the Ethiopian opposition as “out of touch with the average Ethiopian” has caused disappointment among some political and civic leaders. But the evidence shows that the Western “partners” may actually be right! For instance, Birtukan Midekssa was completely out of touch with any Ethiopian, except her mother and young daughter, for nearly two years. She was spending time in solitary confinement in Kality prison, a/k/a Kality Hilton, feasting on gourmet food and “putting on weight”, according to one highly placed source. Following the May 2005 elections, for almost two years, nearly all of the country’s opposition party leaders, leading journalists, human rights activists and civic society advocates were completely out of touch with any Ethiopian, except their jailors, at the same Kality Hilton. As to opposition party members and dissidents, tens of thousands of them have completely disappeared from the face of the earth over the past decade alone and are out of touch with anyone. Tens of thousands more are held incommunicado as political prisoners in secret jails. In light of this evidence, could it be denied that the Ethiopian opposition is completely out of touch with the average and not-so-average Ethiopian?
Is the ruling regime in touch with the average Ethiopian?
One would have to answer that question in the affirmative. The whole idea of a police state is to make sure that the rulers stay in very close touch with the average citizen. Zenawi’s regime stays in close touch with the average Ethiopian using the services of hundreds of thousands of secret police operatives and informants spying on each individual. Dr. Gidada has documented one of the common ways the regime stays in extremely close touch with the people:
The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….
The average and not-so-average Ethiopian looking for a government job or applying for a business license needs to be in close touch with the powers that be to get one. The regime is so in touch with the average and not-so-average Ethiopian that they want them to hear only what they have to say. They have jammed the transmissions of the Voice of America, opposition satellite broadcasts and filtered out websites of regime critics.
Are the Western donors “in touch with the average Ethiopian”?
Western donors are very much in touch with the average Ethiopian, that is in the same way as they were in touch with the average Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni, Bahraini and so on. They were so in touch with the average citizens of these countries that they anticipated and correctly predicted the recent popular uprisings. That was the reason President Obama “applauded” the people for throwing Ben Ali out of Tunisia. The U.S. was so in touch with the realities of the average Egyptian over the past 30 years that President Obama and his foreign policy team froze in stunned silence, flat-footed and twiddling their thumbs and scratching their heads for days before staking out a position on the popular uprising. They could not bring themselves to use the “D” words (dictator, democracy) to describe events in Egypt. Western governments were also very much in touch with Hosni Mubarak floating his ship of state on an ocean of corruption and repression with billions of dollars in military and economic aid. They are very much in touch with Zenawi; after all he is the “guy you can do business with,” a partner. Truth be told, they have done tons of business with him over the past 20 years, no less than $26 billion!
Who is “the average Ethiopian”?
Who is the “average Ethiopian” whose contact is so highly prized and coveted? It seems s/he has an average life expectancy at birth of less than 45 years. S/he lives on less than $USD 1 per day. S/he is engaged in subsistence agriculture eking out a living. S/he survives on a daily intake of 800 calories (starvation level). S/he can neither read nor write. If s/he is sick, she has a 1 chance in 39,772 persons to see a doctor, 1 in 828,000 to see a dentist, 1 in 4,985 chance to see a nurse. She has little or no access to family planning services, reproductive health and emergency obstetric services and suffers from high maternal mortality during childbirth. She is a victim of gender discrimination, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. She has fewer employment and educational opportunities than the “average” man and is not paid equal pay for equal work. S/he is likely to die from malaria and other preventable infectious diseases, severe shortages of clean water and poor sanitation. The “average” Ethiopian youth is undereducated, underemployed and underappreciated with little opportunity for social mobility or economic self-sufficiency. The “average” urban adolescent is unemployed and a drop out from school. S/he is frustrated and in despair of his/her future and is likely to engage in a fatal pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes him/her to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. The “average” child has a high likelihood of being orphaned and die from malnutrition and is vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, including child labor and sexual. So, who really is in touch with the “average Ethiopian”!?!
Be In Touch With the Youth
Regardless of how the Western donors define the “average Ethiopian”, the fact is that s/he is a young person. An estimated 67 percent of the population is under the age of 30, of which 43 percent is below the age of 15. Two of history’s evil men understood the importance of staying in touch with the youth population. Vladmir Lenin, the founder of the totalitarian Soviet state said, “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” His counterpart in the Third Reich said, “he alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Both failed because they wanted to use the youths as cannon fodder for their warped vision of world domination. Africa’s dictators have ignored and neglected the youths and consigned them to a life of poverty and despair. They have tried to put in the service of their dictatorial rule Africa’s best and brightest. They too will fail.
The demographic data on Africa’s youth is frightening. As Africa urbanizes rapidly and its population population continues to grow uncontrollably (expected to increase from 294 million to 742 million between 2000 and 2030), the number of young people trapped in poverty, hungry and angry will multiply by the tens of millions per year. Frustrated, desperate and denied political space, they will become the powder keg that will implode African societies. African dictators and their Western partners continue to delude themselves into believing that the youth will continue to passively accept and tolerate corruption, repression, abuse of power and denial of basic human rights. But a new generation of African youths is rising up declaring: “Enough is Enough!”
Revolutionary Democracy Meets “Facebook” Democracy in Ethiopia
If Tunisia and Egypt are an indication, Zenawi’s vision of revolutionary democracy will in due course collide with the “Facebook” democracy (tech savvy young people creating a functioning civic community using information technology) taking over Africa’s youth. Zenawi wrote:
When Revolutionary Democracy permeates the entire society, individuals will start to think alike and all persons will cease having their own independent outlook. In this order, individual thinking becomes simply part of collective thinking because the individual will not be in a position to reflect on concepts that have not been prescribed by Revolutionary Democracy.
This is not democracy (revolutionary or reactionary). In the old days, such “democracy” was called fascism where the national leader (Der Fuhrer) sought to create “organic unity” of the body politic by imposing upon the people uniformity of thought and action through violence, legal compulsion and intense social pressure. It is no longer possible to brainwash, mind control and indoctrinate impressionable young people with meaningless ideology as though they are helpless and fatuous members of a weird religious cult. The days of programming human beings as jackbooted robots marching to the order of “Der Fuhrer” are long gone.
“Facebook” democrats reject any totalitarian notions of “individual thinking becoming part of collective thinking”. They do not need a single mind, a single party, a single operating system to do the thinking for them. Africa’s youths have their own unique outlook and independent voice on their present circumstances and their future. History shows that every regime that has sought to force unanimity of opinion and belief among its citizens has found the unanimity of the graveyard. When free speech, free press and the rule of law permeate society, and human rights and the voices of the people are respected and protected, citizens will experience dignity and self-respect and muster the courage and determination to forge their own destinies.
There are enough young Africans with the idealism, creativity, knowledge, technical ability and genius to transform the old fear-ridden Africa into their own brave new Africa. In this effort, they do not need the guiding hands or the misguided ideas of ideologues from a bygone era. Western partners have the choice of supporting a brave new Africa of young people on the march or they can continue their “partnership” in the crime of democricide with the old “stable” police states careening to the dustbin of history. With the recent departure of two of the most powerful and entrenched police chiefs, and others teetering, the West may not be able to shoehorn the youths of (the Horn of) Africa into silence and submission from boardrooms in Berlin, Washington, London, Rome, Paris…
Power to Africa’s Youths!
By Yilma Bekele.
As you all know Ethiopia held what is referred to as ‘elections’ last May. The ruling TPLF party won 545 of the 547 seats in Parliament. One can tell from the results that either the TPLF party is the most popular association in the country or the election was rigged and the outcome was tainted.
Ethiopians were resigned to the fact that the Prime Minster’s Party will be declared the winner. It was also assumed the regime will allow the so-called opposition to win some seats to save face and appease the Ferenji donors. Those aligned with Medrek actually were willing to look the other way when Ato Meles jailed their leader, murdered their candidates, denied them gathering places and threatened them with criminal charges if they criticized the regime’s polices in the heat of the moment. It did not save them from extinction.
Ato Meles did not stop there. He picked and choose the international observers and trained his own cadres to be election observers. He tried but was unable to deny the European Union from sending independent observers. Welfare recipients sometimes have limited choices. He did mange to curtail their activities to show his people that he will not be pushed around.
Well the report by European Union election observers was made official last week. For us Ethiopians there was nothing new there. We live the nightmare thus there is no need to read about it. Our collective response was a loud duh!
On the other hand our ‘fearless leader’ for life has a different response to this carefully written report. According to Barry Malone of Reuters, the PM chosen words were ‘”trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” He did not stop there, elucidating further, he went on to say “The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party… anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.”
Charming isn’t he. You would not expect such ‘trash talk’ from a leader of a country do you? One would think when you ascend to be a leader there are certain diplomatic norms to be maintained and style of talk to abide. One can disagree without being crass. The office one holds dictates one’s behavior and choice of words. Well, it is Ethiopia and international norms, rules and regulations are suggestions left to the individual’s discretion.
It took the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) six months to issue the official report. EU EOM was headed by Thijs Berman, a Dutch member of European Parliament and 10 Core Team members (analysts) 90 Long Term Observers and more than 60 Short Term Observers from 22 EU member states, as well as Norway, Switzerland, and Canada. The report is a carefully written document giving credit where credit is due and pointing out some discrepancies where improvement is needed to make the system work better. None of the observers hold any bias against our country and people that we know of. Their stated mission was to observe and report so what ever happened will be well documented and help future decision makers to see where to put their resources to help Democracy take root in our country.
When it comes to our country things just don’t move in a reasonable and rational way. You can sense the crudeness of the TPLF regime when it denied the team access to Ethiopia to present their findings. According to Mr. Berman ‘”This is the first time that a host country has denied the EU observation mission access to return to present its report,”
The regime chose to impeach the character of the EU mission instead of responding to the detailed findings by the observers. First to comment was our good friend Shimeles Kemal (yes he is still around), the mentally unstable paranoid Communication Affairs Minster who said ‘the report is nothing but a biased political analysis of Ethiopia and was made under pressure from Human Rights Watch (HRW) which led the government to reject the report.” He was not satisfied with one enemy thus he threw in HRW for added effect.
The PM decided to lower bar further down. He was not about to be outdone by a junior miscommunication chief. He decided to leave the insulting and name calling to me. Twenty years at the helm has given him the license to dispense insults, demeaning words and bully his people with immunity. That is what he did five years ago in response to EU’s report regarding the 2005 elections. In fact he was so proud of his penmanship he published his response on his newspaper ‘The Ethiopian Herald.’ This is what he wrote:
The statement has come as a great surprise to me. I had expected that the statement would have very few if any nuggets of truth, and, if any, that these would be buried under so much garbage that it would be virtually impossible to excavate them. As it turned out, the statement has some big, really big, lumps of truth in it, and it is relatively easy to remove the garbage that has covered those lumps of truth. While I was expecting a huge garbage dump all I got was newly started garbage dump that was unable to bury the truth. The letter cannot but therefore start by identifying and highlighting the lumps of truth in the statement.
There you have it a head of state calling the Honorable Ana Gomez and her team’s report ‘garbage’.
Looks like time has not mellowed the PM. Why do you think he is stuck in this funky mode? Do you think just may be we have something to do with it? Is it possible we encourage this dysfunctional behavior? Are we part of the problem?
These are good points to ponder while we look at the PM and his isolated existence in a bubble. You see the truth is verbal abuse, demeaning of fellow citizens is nothing but the first step leading towards higher forms of criminal behavior. Ato Meles has made it a habit of knocking down our flag, country and culture. We are so enamored by his crass behavior that we ascribe such adjectives as ‘wend new’ ‘jegna new’, etc. that only emboldens his crudeness. He of course thinking it is cute goes on to apply it in his relationship with foreign dignitaries. It is true children repeat what they hear. Thus one is always careful about language around two-year-olds. They blurt out that ‘new’ word they just heard in a public setting.
We are ashamed that the PM did not find a grown up method of disagreeing in a civilized manner. Language is very important in diplomatic circles. Words carry great weight.
By Yilma Bekele
My friend came from out of town for a visit. I took him around to all the tourist places, including our local Museum of Modern Art. Lucky for us there was a Picasso exhibit the critics were raving about. It was a delight to view Picasso’s work in living color.
I was transfixed by the painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ or the chicks from d’ Avignon. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chicks-from-avignon.jpg)
Even though Picasso denied it, this work shows a strong resemblance to African art. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the maestro at his best. By some it is considered his most daring and outrageous work. The use of bold colors and brash diagonal lines makes the painting full of activity and perpetual motion. Pablo Picasso was a genius. Looking at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon one is left with the impression that Picasso was developing a new means of artistic expression. He is considered a maestro or ‘king of his craft.’
Then it came to me. I know some one that fits the description. It is no other than our dear leader for life Meles Zenawi. Picasso used his god given talent to bring joy to humanity while Meles uses his devil inspired negatively charged machinations to create chaos, mistrust and uncertainty to his subjects. The maestro our very own ‘prince of darkness.’
It was a sad realization but nevertheless a realization that will at eat my heart for the next two weeks. No matter how hard I tried to push it out of my head, it wouldn’t go away. I have to admit it was an apt comparison. There was no escaping from the fact that we are witnessing the scientific evolution of the ‘art of terror’ and our very own Meles Zenawi is achieving the rank of maestro in his chosen field. OK I concede, we can qualify it by creating a new classification of ‘mal maestro’. It must be a proud moment for his friends and family. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some just cheat, lie, push, shove, and kill just to make it. We have a winner amongst us.
Bestowing the title of maestro on our ‘Dear leader’ might be offensive to some. But ladies and gentlemen, if you will forgive me, I don’t see anything wrong in giving credit where credit is due. The tightly choreographed play that passed for a democratic and free election is worthy of mention in any history book. Mal maestro sounds like a perfect title to me. Our friend Picasso introduced the African sense of unrestricted vibrant wild energy into the ‘Cubist’ style of the time. Last weekend humanity watched in living color the modern drama of unabashed robbery as witnessed by distinguished guests from Europe and Africa. The opposition candidates were led to the sacrificial pooling booth accompanied by neatly dressed and well-fed toy solders adorned in their best-imported uniforms.
Just to add a little bit of drama our mal maestro erected video cameras in every major corners to watch, record and intimidate while a low flying helicopter supposedly equipped with video camera and automatic weapons was thrown in for special effect. The 2010 fourth general election in Ethiopia is another milestone in our history that will be judged as the best work of mal maestro Meles Zenawi by generations to come.
It took five years of preparation to put paint to canvas, and come up with such glorious achievement of 99.6% purity. Many have tried it but none have achieved such pure nirvana. Sudan’s Al Bashir was awe stricken, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe was flabbergasted, Mymar’s nameless Generals demanded the blueprint, and the Chinese Communist Party was humbled. Iran’s Ahmadinejad called a cabinet meeting upon hearing such colossal achievement, and Kyrgyzstan’s petty tyrant is said to have wept openly from his hiding place in Belarus. Solomon Tekaligne is right ‘the eye browed’ one is one cool hombre.
Watching the mal maestro at work is a delight. Professionals make a difficult task look so easy. The election drama was played out to a mesmerized audience with such passion that it left the feeble opposition dumbstruck and shell-shocked. Mal maestro Meles displayed such bold moves as TV debates in undisclosed location to be edited and broadcasted at a later time. His use of vibrant colors full of energy was evident in his ‘warning’ of contestants that they will be held liable for their negative uttering regarding his policy. The only location they could campaign without being taunted, beaten or abused was thousands of miles away in North America among non-voting supporters. Even there, they were reminded of the penalty of ‘mis- speaking’ that will await them. They were forced to relearn the art of speaking without saying anything of value. The fact that the opposition sacrificed a few die-hards was compared to the 2005 election and declared an improvement.
Our mal maestro was so sure of success that he organized a victory celebration before the ballots were in. The neat beautiful tri-color posters were printed months back, the participants paid ahead and the beautiful dais at Meskel Square lit with special lighting. The bulletproof vest was adorned with a casual jacket, the baseball hat was lined with silk and the big Israeli gun was brought out openly to make a bold statement of ‘don’t thread on me.’ The picture of the little dictator behind the bulletproof glass in front of his adoring fans was a symbol of our insanity taken to a higher level.
Mal maestro Meles is not faint hearted. That is his undoing. Why pussyfoot around when you can overwhelm and relieve the peasants of their misery is his motto. He is daring but lacks wisdom. Crude is the word I am looking for. He is void of ingenuity, creativity and nuance. A wise person searches a clever way out of an unpleasant situation. Our mal maestro is not blessed with subtlety. By any standards a blunt force such as 99.6% is the least elegant solution. It is like calling upon the US Air Force to settle a bar room brawl.
What did his subjects do, you might ask? I will try to answer that delicately. For a people who have been trampled upon for the last thirty years, we have developed a very fragile ego. Who would blame us if we turn around and fault ourselves? Victim blaming certainly did not start with us. Didn’t the Europeans blame Africans for the slave trade? Didn’t Hitler blame the Jews for his atrocities? Didn’t Meles blame Kinijit for planning Interhamwe? Well it is no surprise that some are blaming the opposition for losing.
Please tell me something new. Isn’t self-flagellation our national past time? No one can surpass Ethiopians in that field. We leave our homeland empty handed, we settle in strange places, we build a life, we raise a family and we still bad mouth each other. Do you notice that we live together in humongous apartment complexes, eat Tibs and Kitfo in our own restaurants, buy insurance from our cousins but without pause, we talk about the uselessness of Abeshas. Why stop there while you are at it why not blame the University massacre, the war with Eritrea, the genocide in Hawasa, Ogaden and Gambella the over 40% unemployment, the debacle of Gibe Dam and other mal maestros misdeeds on the opposition. Hey why not include the lack of rain in the mix. That should show everybody the only smart choice is the gang from Adwa.
So how did we deal with our current debacle? I am afraid I have nothing positive to report. We have decided to direct the rage on each other. Our programming was so complete we were ready to accept any crumbs thrown by the mal maestro. The contestants openly admitted the impossibility of wining. The issue was presented how much less was acceptable. Talks about low expectations, our gallant parties were reduced to dampening the enthusiasm of some of their hotheaded supporters that took the fake election to heart.
Where do we go from here? Do we go back to old habit of passing the blame around, knocking each other down and hiding our head under the sand or try something new for a change. Something like looking at the glass half full rather than half empty. Do we dare building on what we have instead of raising the bar so high and setting ourselves for another failure?
I am an optimist. I see the glass half full. I believe the mal maestro due to arrogance of power or the freelance nature of his well-trained zombie cadres committed a slight error. 99.6% was not the intention. But you can’t undue what is already done. He has made it difficult to his foreign benefactors to turn the usual blind eye. So they will complain a little, wring their hands a little and advise his victims to be a little patient. Some of us have already started to crow about the few isolated statements foreign office junior officials regarding the lack of ‘level playing field’ yadi yada. We seem to revelle when the Ferenjis tell us how brutal the mal maestro is. Ferenjis enable the victimizer then tell us how painful it is.
Now the ball is in our court so to say. It is about time somebody shows they got tooth too, that we can and we will bite back. We want our own ‘shock and awe’ moment. The time for talk is over. Baby steps are not the solution. Condemnations, outrage, anger are so yesterday. Today should be ‘look mom I can stand up with no support’ display moment. It is to show the world we are not dead, that we are capable of sacrifice and when we set our minds to the task we can do it! The issue is not how strong the enemy is but how committed we are for freedom. It is about hitting him in his most vulnerable spots and creating uncertainty and doubt. His benefactors will abandon him the first whiff of trouble. Our people will rally around the first inkling of trouble brewing. We ask someone to step forward and do the maestro a favor. He is tired, let us relieve him of such a heavy burden of bullying eighty million souls and let him get his deserved rest in a four by six room at Kaliti. We will include weight watchers manual in case of a few kilos from such comfort.
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
There is an old morality tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes about a king who is so self-absorbed, vainglorious and obsessed with his appearance that he hired two suit makers and gave them vast amounts of money to sew him the finest silk robes. They agreed to make the robes but warned the king that the types of robes they make are invisible to anyone who is unfit for their official position or hopelessly stupid. As they set out to sew their make-believe robes, the king and his ministers would drop in from time to time and offer their admiration for the suit makers’ craftsmanship of the invisible robes. None would dare challenge the suit makers afraid of being called incompetent or stupid. Finally, the suit makers dressed the king in their pretend silk robe and marched him down the street with his courtiers to the applause and cheers of his obedient subjects. The people could see that the king was naked but were afraid to say so fearing his anger. A child in the crowd suddenly yelled out that the king is naked; and the crowd began chanting: “The king is naked!” The king cringed with shame and embarrassment, but held himself up proudly as he continued to walk naked in the royal procession.
The tale of the naked emperor is an apt allegory for the so-called Ethiopian election being held on May 23. The ruling regime in Ethiopia has been blowing its horn about an invisible “democratic election” for over a year. They brought in the best European “election” tailors to embroider the finest “election code of conduct.” They threatened, cajoled, bribed and withheld food aid from the people to force them out into the street and clap and ululate for them as they paraded themselves in their invisible majestic robe of democratic election. Some Western and African representatives volunteered to line up the streets cheerleading for the king. The European Union (EU) sent a delegation of 150 observers to observe 32 million voters vote at 43,000 polling stations in an election that was won by the ruling regime long before it was even conceived. The African Union (AU) deployed 60 observers to do the same in flagrant disregard of its own Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines, Section V (14). Both the EU and AU boogied down at the naked king’s parade with full knowledge that “the people who cast the votes (and observe the votes) decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
Dictator Meles Zenawi prohibited diplomatic representatives from traveling outside the capital during the “election”. He told Al Jazeera a few days ago that it was a bad idea for diplomats to observe the elections because it was disapproved by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Swedish organization which helped him devise the “election code of conduct”: “I know that some diplomats in Addis are offended when they are told they [can not go outside Addis Ababa], but I am sure [allowing them to travel] is not internationally [IDEA] accepted best practice.” That is simply not true! It is a verifiable fact that IDEA strongly encourages all individuals, organization and governments who conduct or are involved in elections to maintain openness, transparency and neutrality because “The public will measure the legitimacy of an election on the basis of both the actual integrity of its administration and the appearance of integrity of the election process.” IDEA emphatically urges “each person or organization using its code of conduct to apply it flexibly, together with good common sense, to meet the requirements of each situation.” By IDEA’s own standards, allowing the diplomats to observe would be “best practice” because they could help ensure and verify the integrity of the election process.
The fact of the matter is that we have witnessed an election in terrorem for the past year in which the ruling party has harassed, intimidated, threatened and inflicted violence against opposition party leaders and members. On April 13, 2010, Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he will hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May, 2010 “election”, or agitate the youth for political action. Weeks before “election” day, the ruling regime mounted a sustained campaign of smear and fear, distortions and lies, fabrications and accusations and allegations and charges of incitement to violence, “acting against the constitution” and other malicious hyperbole and propaganda against opposition leaders. All this was manifestly intended to prepare public opinion (and the donor community) for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralization and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in the post-“election” period. As usual, Western donors have covered their eyes with their hands pretending not to see, but peeking at this travesty of democracy between their fingers. They know the whole election farce is staged for their cynical amusement and to beg them later for more handouts. They have become willing collaborators in their own manipulation. So the king proudly marches down the boulevard to applause; but alas! he has no clothes.
Of course, the issue is not whether the emperor has clothes, but whether the people have clothes to cover their backs withered by two decades of dictatorship, enough food to quell the hunger in their stomachs, adequate shelter from the elements and enough oxygen of freedom to breath. In the final analysis, there is one and only one question of consequence in this “election”:
Are the people of Ethiopia better off today than they were 5 years ago?
Do Ethiopians have more food to eat today than they did five years ago? Is there less unemployment in the country today than five years ago? Less inflation? More health care? More press freedom? More human rights protections today than five years ago? Is there more accountability, transparency and openness in government today than five years ago? Do young Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future than they did five years ago? Do Ethiopia’s youth have more employment opportunities today than they did five years ago? More academic freedom in the universities? Do Ethiopians have more access to the vast universe of information available on the internet than they did five years ago? (On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, President Obama singled out Ethiopia as one of four countries in the world that have prevented their citizens from “gaining greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies.”) Do Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future, their rulers and public institutions than they did five years ago?
The answer is a resounding NO.
After 19 years of one-man, one-party rule, does the same crew of kleptocrats cling to power like barnacles to the sunken Ethiopian ship of state? Do the dictators continue to use more violence, intimidations, threats and arbitrary arrests and detentions against their opposition to maintain themselves in power? Do those who massacred 193 innocent protesters and wounded hundreds more after the 2005 elections still walk the streets free? Are the country’s prisons full of political prisoners? Are the members of the ruling party and their allies getting richer, and the masses growing hungrier and poorer everyday? Are the robbers who stole millions of dollars worth of gold bars from the national bank in broad daylight in 2007 still roam the streets free enjoying their loot? Is the environment more degraded today than it was five years ago? Is corruption so endemic in Ethiopia that the country for the last five years has been ranked at the very bottom of the International Corruption Index? Does Ethiopia still rank at the very bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index (in 2005 (169/177 countries; in 2009 (171/182) ?
The answer is a resounding YES!
The fact of the matter is that talking about elections in a police state is like talking about a fish riding a motorcycle. It is silly. It is sheer madness. 
But Ethiopia today stands at the crossroads of history; and as the old African saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” At this crossroad, Ethiopians can choose to take the right way or the wrong way. The right way is the way of national reconciliation, compromise, mutual understanding and tolerance. The wrong way is the way of force, violence, brutality, threats, intimidation and persecution. Ethiopians can choose the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to follow and live by the rule of law and ensure everyone’s human rights are respected and all are held to account for their actions and omissions. The hard way is the way of dictatorship, despotism, deceit and conceit. Ethiopians can take the high road or the low road. The high road is the way of morality, ethical conduct, common sense and compassion. The low road is the way of dishonesty, lies, distortions and trickery. We can take the road to somewhere or the road to nowhere. The road to somewhere take us to national unity, commonality of purpose, harmony, coalition-building and cooperation. The road to nowhere takes us to ethnic division and tribal conflict, irrational fear and hatred and needless violence and destruction. We can take the superhighway or the dirt road. The superhighway will take us on a wonderful journey to a brave new world of information, ideas and knowledge on the wings of modern technology. The dirt road has a one-way ticket to dictatorship, tyranny, darkness and ignorance. We can walk together on the united way or remain stranded on a divided highway.
Ultimately, we can choose the way of all our ancestors — the Ethiopian Way — or join the way of the ignoramuses who arrogantly proclaim that “if it is not my way, there ain’t no way but the highway.” We must choose the Ethiopian Way — the way of humanity, unity, solidarity, integrity, honesty, cordiality, empathy, fraternity and congeniality.
If we choose to take the Ethiopian Way, we must collectively make our roadmap to get us to our preferred destination. We will need to set the mileposts and detail out the rules of the road. We must brightly mark the “yield” and “stop” signs together with the “no crossing” and “danger” signs along the way. We must be prepared to take the “the road less traveled” to get to our destination. That is the road of tolerance, good will, broad-mindedness, patience and understanding. We must avoid the beaten path of personal attacks, hatred and prejudice, recriminations, accusations and pettiness. We can not begin a new journey along the Ethiopian Way with the old mindset: “If you don’t agree with me in everything, you are my enemy.” We must trade it in for a new spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood across ethnic, linguistic, class and regional lines. We must reinvent a new mentality that substitutes the concerns of ethnicity and partisanship with the needs of our basic humanity, our unity in our Ethiopian nationality and our personal authenticity.
Let us use this bogus election as the impetus for the development of a comprehensive political, economic, social and legal agenda for Ethiopia that is based on a compelling vision of a better future for this and coming generations. Let us cast off the shortsightedness and narrow partisanship of the past. Let us gather ideas from all segments of society — and not just from the intellectuals and the elites – and pursue them inclusively and aggressively with a common sense of purpose and destiny. If desperate times require desperate actions, times of great opportunity such as this one require quick, bold and determined action. Carpe diem! Let us seize the moment and set a new course for Ethiopia.
The future is bright for Ethiopia regardless of the already-won election of 2010. No doubt some will be disheartened and dispirited; but it is illogical to be disappointed about an “election” outcome that has always been a foregone conclusion. It is natural to anguish over the loss of such a great opportunity to plant the seeds of democracy in Ethiopia. But we must always be mindful of the fact that nothing will give the dictators greater pleasure than having us all depressed and dejected about their “victory” in this “election”. Their ardent wish is that we abandon and give up the struggle for the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. But they fail to grasp a simple fact: These causes are much larger and greater than any one election, one dictator, one party or one regime. These causes represent the quintessential, timeless and universal yearning of all humanity in recorded history. As the great Nelson Mandela said, “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” We must never let the sun set on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.
As for the “election”: Let us just say that it ain’t the votin’ that makes for a free and fair election. It is the countin’. We sure know who will be burning the midnight oil on May 23 counting, double-counting, triple- and quadruple-counting the same ballots to proclaim victory at the crack of dawn on May 24. This Ethiopian election caper aside, it has been said that a “politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” Let us all strive to develop in earnest the true attributes of genuine statesmanship and stateswomanship so that we may be able to help the next generation become Ethiopia’s Greatest Generation!
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
 See http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046
(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.)
Alemayehu G. Mariam
It is a staple of the criminal defense bar to represent thieves, robbers, burglars, muggers, pickpockets, shoplifters, embezzlers, con men, fraudsters and swindlers. It is also the ineluctable lot of the defense lawyer to learn about the M.O. (modus operandi, techniques) of the criminal classes with professional detachment. But few defense lawyers could claim the dubious honor of representing criminals that specialize in election heists. So, when the Carter Center issued its post-mortem “Ethiopia National Elections Observation Mission 2005 Final Report” recently, a unique academic opportunity became available to learn about how an election is actually stolen.
First, a detailed discussion of the specific findings of that Report is unnecessary. Anyone who has followed the May 2005 electoral process and observed the post-election period even with marginal interest is familiar with the facts presented and reviewed in the Report. Second, the diplomatically finessed conclusion of the Report tells the whole story. The 2005 Ethiopian election was stolen in broad daylight:
In spite of the positive pre election developments, the Center’s observation mission concludes that the 2005 electoral process did not fulfill Ethiopia’s obligations to ensure the exercise of political rights and freedoms necessary for genuinely democratic elections.
The real value of the Report lies in its plain depiction of how the 2005 Ethiopian election was stolen. One could say the Report is a sort of manual on the anatomy of election theft. To be sure, the Report effectively shows the “dos and don’ts” of a successful election heist and the specific things one must do in the “pre-election”, “election day” and “post-election” period. Carrying out the perfect election theft, however, is not for the faint of heart. One must have the cunning of a smiling villain, the audacity of a desperado outlaw and the brutality of a back alley thug to successfully steal an election in broad daylight. Above all, the accomplished election thief understands, masters and applies five basic principles.
Principle #1 (The Setup): Pander to your Western donors who bankroll you.
Elections in dictatorships are all about pleasing and trying to hoodwink Western donors, who are themselves all too willing to oblige with a wink and smile. They know elections in dictatorships are always stolen, but need an “election” charade to make plausible denials that they knew the election is stolen. In other words, they need a convenient cover story to shroud their hypocrisy in a garb of moral and intellectual virtue while concealing their criminal complicity in the theft. They pretend to maintain the appearance of neutrality and mediation in public while doing business as usual with the election thieves after dark. The smart election thief understands these basic facts and will do everything to make the donors happy, give them all the diplomatic cover they need and eventually squeeze more cash out of them.
The smart election thief will do just the right symbolic things to please the donors such as opening up “political space” for “competition and dialogue”, making grand pronouncements of “reforms”, giving lip service to open and vigorous electoral campaigns, not overtly interfering with civil society groups and the independent press and so on. It is a big deal for Western donors to see that “international election observers” are on the ground “watching” the “election” (from being stolen?!), and hopefully giving their blessings at the end. Western donors are kind of funny though: They want the local people to believe that an election could be stolen just a little and still be “free and fair.” But the people know that just as there is no such thing as a woman who is a little bit pregnant, there is also no such thing as an election that is a little bit stolen that is “free and fair”.
The Carter Center Report describing the 2005 pre-election period in Ethiopia stated:
The early pre-election period saw indications of growing space for political competition and dialogue. Government leaders, and opposition leaders met face-to-face to discuss the electoral process and needed reforms, with government agreeing to implement some of the key reforms called for by the opposition. International observers were invited and freedom of movement was assured. The Carter Center assessment team found the country’s political conditions conducive for an improved election. Government representatives exhibited openness to constructive criticism, and a willingness to consider recommendations for reforms. The opposition appeared ready to participate in the elections, and civil society was positioned to conduct voter and civic education and to observe the process…
Oh! What about democracy, free and fair elections, the people’s voice and all that good stuff? Not a problem. Western donors know the Ethiopian people are too poor, too hungry and too ignorant to understand or appreciate democracy. It is actually a simple problem of mind over matter: Western donors don’t mind (a stolen election) and the Ethiopian people don’t matter.
Principle #2 (Setting up the Heist): Use lots of smoke and mirrors.
Razzle-dazzle and theatricality are critical props before an election takedown. This requires keeping “the people” and the opposition distracted with all sorts of cute election games and amusements. One of the best election games is called “election code of conduct”. It is similar to a children’s game of marbles in which one player owns all the marbles. The game has only one rule: The guy who writes the “code” always wins the elections. As the election date nears, it is necessary to create hoopla and hype. The Carter Center Report describes:
The pre-election period witnessed unprecedented participation by opposition parties and independent candidates, and an unmatched level of political debate in the state-dominated electronic and print media and at public forums held across the country. Political parties agreed to a Party Code of Conduct, committing themselves to compliance with provisions calling for fair play and supporting peaceful political competition. Ethiopian civil society organizations were active in the pre-election period, observing election preparations and sponsoring a series of televised debates on public policy issues between government officials and opposition leaders.
Principle #3: (The Takedown) Snatch the election, faster than a New York pickpocket.
The smart election thief is lightening fast when it comes to the takedown. He does not wait for election returns, results or tabulations. He does not wait for verification reports and analysis of international observers or resolutions of vote challenges. On election day, he moves swiftly and declares victory before the votes are counted, imposes martial law and runs away with the prize in broad daylight in view of millions of stunned voters who look on in total disbelief. The Carter Center Report describes:
The May 15 voting process progressed relatively smoothly with Carter Center observers reporting that polling was calm and peaceful in the polling stations visited, with only limited incidents of disturbances reported. However, problems began to emerge during the counting and tabulation phases, with significant irregularities and delays in vote tabulation and a large number of electoral complaints. Preliminary but unconfirmed reports of election results from the political parties began to circulate on election night suggesting that the opposition parties had scored significant electoral gains, especially in Addis Ababa and other urban areas. On the night of the election, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared a one-month ban on public demonstrations in the capital and brought the Addis Ababa security forces (soon to be under the command of the opposition that won Addis Ababa) under the control of the office of the Prime Minister.
Principle #4 (The Getaway): Run them down if they get in your way!
As in any daylight crime, there may be witnesses. The smart election thief will use “shock and awe” to make a successful getaway. He will use extreme violence to deal with anyone standing in the way of his getaway. He will destroy any evidence of the theft and make it impossible to determine the full magnitude of the crime. He will boldly declare that it is necessary to kill unarmed demonstrators and jail nearly all of the opposition leaders to save democracy!
It’s very obvious now that the opposition tried to change the outcome of the election by unconstitutional means. We felt we had to clamp down. We detained them and we took them to court. In the process, many people died, including policemen. Many of our friends feel that we overreacted. We feel we did not. There is room for criticism nevertheless it does not change the fact that this process was a forward move towards democracy and not a reversal. Recent developments have simply reinforced that. The leaders of the opposition have realized they made a mistake. And they asked for a pardon, and the government has pardoned them all.
The official Inquiry Commission set up to investigate the post-2005 election violence reported:
There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs. The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.
Principle #5: Deny, deny, then lie.
The smoothest criminals always deny, deny and lie that they have done anything wrong. It is no different for the smart election thief. In other words, once you get away with the heist, follow the wisdom of the Amharic saying “Ye leba ayne derek meles o leb adrik.” (A boldface thief will tax your patience by persistent denial.) Deny having stolen the election. Distract attention from oneself by pointing an accusatory finger at others and make ridiculous claims about “interhamwe” conspiracies, “blind hatred” and so on. Follow the teachings of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
As any criminal defense lawyer knows, the criminal perpetrator gains special psychological advantages by following a strategy of denial. The act of denial enables the criminal to shield himself from the shocking reality of his wrongdoing. It also offers him an opportunity to admit a fact but deny the seriousness of the crime (rationalization). In many cases, denial enables the criminal to admit a wrongdoing and its seriousness while avoiding moral responsibility altogether.
Everyone, including the most ardent critics of the government, agrees that right up to election day the democratic elections in Ethiopia were exemplary, by any standard. The issue arises as to whether the counting of the vote was done in a fair and transparent fashion. Here, there are varied assessments. We argue that while there may have been mistakes here and there, on the whole it was a credible and fair count. The opposition did not agree. So we said: ‘Let’s check. Let’s review the counting in the presence of foreign observers.’ We did that. After we did that, two groups of observers the African Union and the Carter Center said that while there had been some mistakes, the outcome of the election was credible.
Principle # 5.5: Go back to Principle #1.
If at first you succeed in stealing an election, steal and steal again! Welcome to Ethiopia Election May 2010!
Whoever said “crime does not pay” has not tried stealing an election! Steal an election and you can steal everything in sight (or out of sight) with impunity, indefinitely!
“The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.” Joseph Stalin
 See footnote 2.
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.