House cleaning or window dressing?
Are they playing us like a cheap fiddle again? For a while, it was all about the Meles Dam and how to collect nickels and dimes to build it. That kind of played itself out. (Not to worry. That circus will be back in town. The public has the attention span of a gold fish. So they think.) It’s time to change the flavor of the month. Time for a new game, a new hype. How about “corruption”? It’s a chic topic. The World Bank is talking about it. Everybody is talking about it. Even the corrupt are talking about corruption. Imagine kleptocrats calling corruptocrats corrupt? Or the pot calling the kettle black?
I have been talking and writing about corruption in Ethiopia for years. After dozens of commentaries on some aspect of corruption in Ethiopia, I am still drumbeating anti-corruption. I have been “lasing” corruption in my commentaries in 2013. I was flabbergasted by the World Bank’s 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. I am still reeling from the shocking findings in that report. In my commentary last week, “Educorruption and Miseducation in Ethiopia”, I focused on corruption in the education sector. It is one thing to steal an election or pull off a gold heist at the national bank, but robbing millions of Ethiopian youth of their future by imprisoning them in the bowels of a corrupt educational system is harrowing, downright criminal. Aarrgghh!
“The Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made the full might of its power known last Friday, after ordering the arrest of 10 high and medium ranking officials of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), along with six businessmen, some of whom are well known… Hailemariam wants to prove that there are no holy-cows…” tooted the opening sentence of an online media outlet. My initial reaction was a bemused, “You don’t say!?” (To be perfectly frank, I exclaimed, “Holy cows? Holy _ _ _ t!!”)
The two dozen “corruption” suspects nabbed in the “investigation” include ERCA “director general” with the “rank of minister”, his deputies and the “chief prosecutor” along with other customs officials. A number of prominent businessmen and some of their family members were also snagged in the dragnet. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told the Voice of America Amharic program last week “the suspects had been under surveillance for over two years.”
The anti-corruption crusaders put on quite a show-and-tell on their television service. They put up dramatic footage of wads and stashes of greenbacks and Eurodollars in suitcases allegedly seized at a suspect’s residence. They displayed allegedly fraudulent land records from another suspect and gave interviews on how the suspects engaged in their corrupt practices. (The show-and-tell was reminiscent of the “terrorist” suspects they paraded in “Akeldama” and “Jihadawi Harakat” with caches of guns and explosives. For the “corruption” suspects, it was stashes of cash.)
The regime’s public relations machine kicked into overdrive. Comments by unnamed “Ethiopian activists praising efforts by the government to crackdown on corruption in the East African country” were reported. One anonymous activists declared, “Ethiopia is pushing forward on efforts to help end the rampant corruption within government and business in the country…. We need to clean up our government…” Other anonymous commentators were quoted proclaiming moral victory on corruption. “The arrests are the beginning of a new Ethiopia free from the politics and past craziness and greed that had been part of the country for far too long.”
Divergent viewpoints on the “investigation” and arrest of the suspects were bandied in the Ethiopian Diaspora. Some offered muted praise for “Hailemariam’s government” for launching a “war” on “corruption”. They said the bagging of the two dozen or so suspects represents a shot across the bow for all “corruptitioners” (a neologism to describe professional practitioners of corruption). Others were convinced the suspects were guilty “because everybody knows they are corrupt. They shakedown every businessman importing goods into the country…” They were glad to see these “bad guys” bagged. There were many who dismissed the whole investigation as a sham, a public relations charade. It is political theater staged for the World Bank, the IMF and other donors who are demanding anti-corruption action as a precondition for handouts.
Some even suggested it was a special show staged for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is expected to visit Ethiopia to attend an African Union summit. The regime bosses can bob and weave against any Kerry punches on human rights and the jailing of dissidents, journalists and opposition leaders by touting their “anti-corruption” efforts. Others viewed the arrests as a fallout of the post-Meles power struggle that is raging among ruling party factions. For the suspects to be arrested, their protector “god fathers” must have been vanquished or purged out in the power play. Still others said the arrest of these particular suspects is the low hanging fruit of corruption in Ethiopia. Going after officials of the customs authority, an agency historically stained with corruption, provides the regime an aura of credibility and magnifies its purported anti-corruption efforts.
I see the whole things with a jaded eye. I am convinced the cunning regime power players are gaming corruption. They are showboating and grandstanding. They are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Nail their opponents and get public relations credit and international handouts at the same time. They are desperately trying to catch some positive publicity buzz in a media environment where they are being hammered and battered everyday by human rights organizations, NGOs, international media outlets and others. It is a public relations stunt and political theatre without much substance or seriousness of purpose. It is standard operating window dressing procedure for the regime. It is red meat for the local population to make themselves look good and drum up support. It is a calculated strategy to reinvent “Hailemariam’s government” with smoke and mirrors. After repeated public cathartic confessions that he is the handmaiden of Meles, Hailemariam now wants to show the world he is Mr. Clean, not Mr. Clone (of Meles). He is no longer part of the corrupt-to-the-core ancien regime of Meles. Mr. Clean is going to clean house and he has already bagged his first “Dirty 2 Dozen”. (Reminds one of Pinocchio telling Geppetto he dreams of becoming a real boy. Hailemariam, a real prime minister?!) What better agitprop to mobilize and capitalize on the infamy of a long reviled and hated agency. If they can’t hoodwink and drum up public support by talking ad nauseam about the Meles Dam, perhaps they can pull it off with a “corruption investigation” of the customs authority. It is sleazy investigating greasy and cheesy.
To say the corrupt Meles regime has no credibility with me is an understatement. The anti-corruption crusaders want us to believe only their side of their story and their silly show-and-tell. But every story has two sides or more. In telling a story, credibility is everything. The regime convicted Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and so many others on lies, fabrications and tall tales. They have no credibility.
I believe those corruptoids are interested in clinging to power, not good governance or stamping out corruption. The only reason they are able to remain in power is because corruption courses in their bloodstream. Corruption is the hemoglobin that delivers life-sustaining oxygen to their nerve center. Without corruption, the tyrannical regime will simply wither away.
I take a dim view of the regime’s “anti-corruption” efforts” not because I am its relentless critic or because I will not miss an opportunity to ding them or make them look bad. I make no apologies for my trenchant criticisms. But the truth of the matter is that if I believed in the slightest that they were serious and genuine about rooting (instead of tooting) out “corruption”, I would be the first to raise my pen and lavish them with praise. I would be rooting and tooting for them.
As I have often remarked, corruption is the malignant cancer that has metastasized throughout Ethiopia’s body politic. That’s why the World Bank’s voluminous report was aptly titled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia.” It is a “clinical” diagnosis which has determined the cancer cells of corruption are not confined to one organ of state (customs authority) which can be surgically removed and treated with the penal equivalent of chemotherapy and radiation. The corruption cancer has spread throughout all organs of state.
The chemotherapy for the cancer of corruption in Ethiopia is a free press that can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. The radiation therapy for the cancer of corruption is an independent prosecutorial office that could catch not only the small winnows in the pond but most importantly the big whales and sharks swimming at the highest levels of government. An independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with due process of law is also very much needed. The preventive care for the cancer of corruption involves vigilant civil society institutions which can work freely at the grassroots levels and provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. It also involves a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable.
None of these “medicines” exist in Ethiopia today. That is why I believe the cancer of “corruption” in due course will destroy the regime though it is the very source of its survival now. More on my views on the “anti-corruption efforts” of the regime later; but a word or two about due process, the rule of law and the “corruption” suspects.
Due process and the rights of the accused
As I was drafting this commentary, I was advised by some learned colleagues that any statement I make that seems remotely sympathetic to the suspects accused of “corruption” could send the wrong message and create the misimpression that I would stoop low to defend even the manifestly corrupt just to make political points against the regime. I was told not to bother because “everybody knows the suspects are corrupt…” One of my feisty friends in a moment of rhetorical impetuosity was compelled to ask, “Why should you care if these S.O.B’s get a fair trial? Everyone knows they are guilty. Let them hang!”
That is where I part ways with my learned friends. The last time I parted ways with them was when I defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University in September 2010. At the time, I was roundly criticized by friends and some of my regular readers. “How could you defend the ‘monster’ who had denied millions of Ethiopians the right to speak and even breath?” I insisted I was not defending a “monster” but the principle of free expression. My defense was simple, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” My position is no different now. If we don’t believe in a fair trial for those we despise as corrupt, then we do not believe in fair trial at all.
I believe in fairness and justice. I do not believe in revenge or retribution. I take no position on the factual guilt or innocence of those accused of “corruption”. If they did the crime, they have to do the time. However, I believe they have a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial. In other words, I make no exceptions or compromises when it comes to taking a position in defending the principle and practice of due process of law and respect for fundamental human rights. Those accused of “corruption” now (and those who will certainly face accusations of crimes against humanity and other crimes in the future) are entitled to full due process of law, which includes not only the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination but also the rights to counsel, adequate notice of charges, an impartial and neutral fact-finder, speedy trial and adjudication by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
My deep concern over the arbitrary administration of justice or denial of fair trial to anyone accused of “corruption”, “terrorism”, “treason”, etc., is rooted in the manifest absence of the rule of law in Ethiopia and the harsh realities of Meles’ officialdom. Any petty “law enforcement” official of the regime has the power to arrest and jail an innocent citizen. As I argued in my February 2012 commentary, “The Prototype African Police State”, a local police chief in Addis Ababa felt so arrogantly secure in his arbitrary powers that he threatened to arrest a Voice of America reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. simply because that reporter asked him for his full name during a telephone interview. “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”, barked police chief Zemedkun. If a flaky policeman can exercise such absolute power, is it unreasonable to imagine those at the apex of power have the power to do anything they want with impunity. The regime in Ethiopia is living proof that power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In my view, denial of due process (fair trial) is the highest form of “corruption” imaginable because its denial results in the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life, liberty and property. I am unapologetic in my insistence that the suspects accused of “corruption” are entitled to full due process of law under the country’s Constitution and international human rights conventions. The question is: Could they get a fair trial in the regime’s kangaroo courts? Do these “corruption” suspects have the same chance of getting a fair trial today as those accused of “treason”, “terrorism”, “subversion” yesterday?
Article 20 (3) Ethiopian Constitution provides, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” The same right is secured under the Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7(b) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). Disrespect for the presumption of innocence has been the hallmark of the Meles regime. To be accused of a crime by the Meles regime is to be convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. That is why I have often caricatured the Meles’ judicial system as kangaroo court justice. The courts are corrupted through political manipulation, intimidation and domination. The 2012 U.S. State Department Human Rights report concluded, “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courtsremained weak, overburdened, andsubject to political influence.” One of the “corruption” suspects during his first court appearance complained of prejudicial pretrial publicity because “state television showed his house being searched.”
There is a long and predictable pattern and practice of disregard for the constitutional right to presumption of innocence and wholesale abuse and denial of a panoply of constitutional rights to those accused of political crimes in Ethiopia. Following the 2005 election, Meles publicly declared that “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They were charged, appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Meles railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, without so much as a hearing let alone a trial. He sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement and later declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In 2009, Meles’ right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial as “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long prison sentences.
Meles proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while they were being tried and he was visiting Norway in 2011. He emphatically declared the duo “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists.” Persson and Schibbye were “convicted” and sentenced to long prison terms.
Violations of the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes by the regime are not limited to disregard for the presumption of innocence. Internationally-celebrated Ethiopian journalists including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and many others were denied access to legal counsel for months. Ethiopian Muslim activists who demanded an end to religious interference were jailed on “terrorism” charges and denied access to counsel. They were mistreated and abused in pretrial detention. Scores of journalists, opposition members and activists arrested and prosecuted (persecuted) under the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation were also denied counsel and speedy trials and languished in prison for long periods.
Article 20 (2) provides, “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors. In an interview given to the Voice of America Amharic program last week, a lawyer for one of the suspects complained that he and a bunch of other lawyers were denied access to their clients accused of “corruption” after waiting for five hours. They were told to return the following day because the “suspects were undergoing interrogation.” Yet, Article 19 (5) provides, “Everyone shall have the right not to be forced to make any confessions or admissions of any evidence that may be brought against him during the trial.”
Article 19 (1) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Article 20 (2) provides, “Everyone charged with an offence shall be adequately informed in writing of the charges brought against him. The “corruption” suspects have yet to be “informed promptly and in detail the charges against them”. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told Voice of America Amharic last week that the “suspects have been under surveillance for two years”. Yet at the suspect’s first court appearance, the prosecutors requested a 14-day continuance to gather more evidence. The “court” ruled the suspects can be held in custody “until the Federal Ethics & Anti-”corruption” Commission (FEACC) could collect additional evidence to bring charges against them.”
If it took them 2 years to investigate the case, but couldn’t wait another 14 days to gather the last pieces of vital evidence before arresting and publicly parading the suspects? This is a trick they have used before. It is called arrest and jest. Put the suspects in jail, crucify them in the press and laugh at them as they languish in prison for months on end. There will be endless delays and continuances “to collect more evidence” and the “court” will allow it because the “court” does what it is told by their political bosses.
There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested of committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for two more weeks to gather additional evidence. The regime’s trial by publicity and demonization will go on. They will keep pumping out unrebutted damaging information in flagrant disregard of the suspects’ constitutional rights to create hostile pretrial publicity. They talk with a loose tongue about the suspects crimes of “tampering with loan-sharking investigations”, “illegal trading and tax evasion”, “improprieties especially involving imports of steel”, etc. Such is the sad fact of corruptoid justice in the regime’s kangaroo courts. Arrest persons presumed to be innocent and go out and look for evidence of their guilt! What a crock of _ _ _ t!
Fall guys or grand fall
There is something strange about the regime’s current “corruption” narrative; and I must say it reflects very badly on Meles himself. According to reports, the “director general” (the alleged kingpin of the “corruption” ring) was appointed by Meles in 2008. He is a “senior cabinet member”. He is credited for “overseeing several tax reforms including widening the tax base, by requiring businesses to install cash registration machines and to become registered for Value Added Tax (VAT).” According to one report, “Under [the “director general”], the amount of revenues the federal government mobilized has reached 71 billion Br in 2011/12, a dramatic increase from the 19 billion Br collected before he took the position.”
Something is not right with that picture. Was Meles so blind and incompetent to select such a “corrupt man” to take the helm of his money making machine? Did Meles select him to oversee his corrupt empire because he knew the “director general” was the just right man for the job? Is it possible that the “director general” is a victim in a political power play? In any case, the arrest of the “director general” and the smear on his character and reputation reflects very poorly on Meles judgment, common sense and integrity. In my view, if the “director general” is truly the corruption ringleader, then he cannot possibly be the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses), perhaps an underboss or a consigliere.
The anticorruption warriors should be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. If they succeed in their corruption crusade, Meles’ legacy may be at extreme risk. When it came to corruption, Meles had a double standard. For instance, when 10,000 tons of coffee vanished from the warehouses, Meles forgave the coffee thieves and others “because we all have our hands in it”. He threatened to cut the hands of coffee thieves if they steal again. Meles was content to rail against “government thieves” without doing much more. Now Hailemariam wants a single standardof corruption applicable to all. For someone who worships Meles, Hailemariam’s move is downright heresy!
It is noteworthy that the last time Meles mounted a “corruption” investigation was over a decade ago when he rounded up some of his former comrades and their business associates and charged them with “corruption” and railroaded them to prison. Back in the mid-1990s, he jailed the “prime minister” of the “transitional government” on charges of corruption. That “prime minister” ate 12 years in Meles’ prisons. Hailemariam now, without warning, wants to go after all corruptitioners and cut off their hands? Is it going to be the legacy of corruption of Mr. Crook against the promise of good governance by anti-corruption crusader Mr. Clean?
Going after corruption, inc. (unlimited) — the real “holy cows” of “corruption”
In 2011, Meles publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statementtold them that he will forgive them this time because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He threatened to “cut off their hands” if they should steal coffee in the future. In 2011, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$8.4 billion from Ethiopia. In 2009, over US $3 billion illicitly left Ethiopia. “The vast majority of the rise in illicit financial flows is a result of increased corruption, kickbacks, and bribery while the remainder stems from trade mispricing.”
In 2008 “USD16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight never to be seen again. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling party in Ethiopia, “Upon taking power in 1991… liquidated non-military assets to found a series of companies whose profits would be used as venture capital to rehabilitate the war-torn Tigray region’s economy…[with] roughly US $100 million… Throughout the 1990s…, no new EFFORT [Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray owned and operated by TPLF] ventures have been established despite significant profits, lending credibility to the popular perception that the ruling party and its members are drawing on endowment resources to fund their own interests or for personal gain.” According to the World Bank, roughly half of the Ethiopian national economy is accounted for by companies held by a business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) cloasely allied with the ruling EPDRF party. EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks. “Generals” and other military leaders have managed to accumulate properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year, a regime general told Voice of America Amharic that he was able to build a number of multistory buildings worth tens of millions of dollars because he was “given bank loans”.
There is an old Ethiopian saying which roughly translates as follows: “There is no beauty contest among monkeys.” A pig with lipstick at the end of the day is still a pig as the old saying goes. There are no good corruptoids. In any power struggle, it is not uncommon for one group of power players to accuse another of being corrupt. Bo Xilai (once touted to be the successor to President Hu Jintao in China) Liu Zhijun and other high level Chinese communist cadres are facing criminal and political sanctions for alleged abuses of power and accepting bribes. Mikhail Khodorkovsky (once considered the “wealthiest man in Russia”) was jacked up on “corruption” charges and given a long prison sentence. Corruption show trials are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of dictators who seek to neutralize their opponents. As I argued in my commentary “Africorruption”, Inc.”, the business of African “governments” including the Ethiopian regime in the main is corruption. Those who seized political power in Ethiopia in 1991 may have believed they were fighting for freedom and democracy, but once they got absolute power, they became absolutely corrupt. They began to function as sophisticated criminal enterprises with the principal aim of looting the national treasury and operating government as a criminal syndicate and a racket. If the regime is serious about corruption, it should go after the real “holy cows” of corruption, not just the unholy cows that have been forced to become scapegoats.
Scapegoating or “anti-corruption”?
The so-called “corruption investigation” appears to be a case of scapegoating. Tradition has it that on the day of atonement a goat would be selected by the high priest and loaded with the sins of the community and driven out into the wilderness as an affirmative act of symbolic cleansing. It made the people feel purged of evil and guiltless. The “corruption” suspects were supporters, defenders and handmaidens of the regime. Now they are made out to be loathsome villains. The sins and crimes of the regime are placed upon their heads and they are driven out into the wilderness. The high priests of the regimes are telling the people they have been cleansed and the community is free from evil. In this narrative, the regime “anti-corruption warriors” become the white knights in shining armor. But no amount of scapegoating can divert attention from the real situation. It is wise for those who live in glass houses not to throw stones.
How to deal with “horruption”
I am compelled to invent a new word to describe the horrible “corruption” in the ruling regime in Ethiopia. That word is, “horruption” (horrible corruption). The extended definition of this word is found in the World Bank’s corruption report on Ethiopia referenced above.
What is the best way to deal with horruption in Ethiopia? Simple. Line up the right social forces to fight corruption. Allow the free press to flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. Establish an independent prosecutorial office properly budgeted and staffed (supported by certified international anti-corruption experts) to go after not only the small winnows but most importantly the big whales and sharks splish splashing in a sea of corruption. Take comprehensive measures to increase the transparency of all public institution and translate into action the mandate of Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution (Functions and Accountability of Government). Reduce the regime’s involvement in the economy. Allow the functioning of an independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with full due process of law. Let civil society institutions flourish so that they can maintain ongoing vigilance and work at the grassroots levels to provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. Let there be a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable. In short, institutionalize the rule of law. Then we can act against “horruption” instead of talking about corruption.
The regime thinks they can distract attention by talking about “corruption” and selectively arresting a few of their own members and supporters and putting them on show trials. That is nice political theater but it will not solve the problem of horruption unless one believes, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people.”
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:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Educorruption and the miseducation of Ethiopian youth
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. For the late Meles Zenawi and his apostles (the Melesistas) in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance is the most powerful weapon you can use to prevent change and cling to power. They have long adopted the motto of George Orwell’s Oceania: “Ignorance is Strength”. Indeed, ignorance is a powerful weapon to manipulate, emasculate and subjugate the masses. Keep ‘em ignorant and impoverished and they won’t give you any trouble.
For the Melesistas education is indoctrination. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. Long ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of African-American History”, warned against such indoctrination and miseducation of the oppressed: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” The rulers in Ethiopia continue to use higher educational institutions not as places of learning, inquiry and research but as diploma mills for a new breed of party hacks and zombie ideologues doomed to blind and unquestioning servility. “Zombie go… zombie stop… zombie turn… zombie think…,” sang the great African musician Fela Kuti. I’d say, “zombie teach… zombie learn… zombie read… zombie dumb… zombie dumber.”
For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance where the people are forced at gunpoint to speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a 2012 report of Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. They have succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to the “Land of Perpetual Darkness”.
But my commentary here is not about the Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopia where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. I am concerned about the systemic and rampant corruption in Ethiopia’s “education sector”. The most destructive and pernicious form of corruption occurs in education. Educorruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
I will admit that in the hundreds of weekly commentaries I have written over the last half dozen or so years, I have not given education in Ethiopia the critical attention it deserved. I have no excuse for not engaging the issue more intensely. In my own defense, I can only say that when an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.
I have previously commented on the lack of academic freedom in Ethiopian higher education and the politicization of education in Ethiopia. In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School. I defended Abigail Salisbury who was a visiting professor at that law school when she was summarily fired by Meles after she published an academic commentary on her experiences at that law school:
…I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands. A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on…
In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) at the time had issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. The regime had also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions. I demonstrated that “directive” was in flagrant violation and in willful disregard of the procedural safeguards of the Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. It did not faze them. (It was time to mint a new legal maxim: “The ignorant are entitled to ignore their own law and invoke ignorance of their own law as a defense.”)
The “directive” was at odds with the recommendations of the World Bank (which has been assisting the regime in improving education administration and delivery of services) for increased emphasis on the creation of a network of “tertiary educational” institutions (e.g. distance learning centers, private colleges, vocational training services, etc.,) to help support the “production of the higher-order capacity” necessary for Ethiopia’s development. In its 2003 sector study “Higher Education Development for Ethiopia”, the World Bank had recommended “a near term goal [of] doubl[ing] the share of private enrollments from the current 21% to 40% by 2010.” By 2010, the Meles regime had decided to reduce private tertiary institutions, particularly the burgeoning distance learning sector, to zero!
In my October 2010 commentary, “Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!”, I was pleasantly surprised but unconvinced by the Meles regime’s apparent change of strategy to abandon its decision to impose a blanket ban on distance learning and reach a negotiated resolution of instructional quality issues with distance learning providers. I pointed out a few lessons Meles and his crew could learn from the bureaucratic fiasco. (Is it really possible for the closed- and narrow-minded to learn?)
I focus on educational corruption in Ethiopia in this commentary for four reasons: 1) I was appalled by the corruption findings in the recent World Bank 448-page report “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. That report, with bureaucratic delicacy and hesitancy, demonstrates the cancer of corruption which afflicts the Ethiopian body politic has metastasized into the educational sector putting the nation’s youth at grave risk. 2) There is widespread acknowledgement that education in Ethiopia at all levels is in a pitiful condition. For instance, a 2010 Newsweek “study of health, education, economy, and politics” showed Ethiopia with a population of 88 million had a literacy rate of 43.3 percent, and ranked 98 out of 100 countries on education. 3) Few Ethiopian educators and scholars are examining the issue of educational corruption and its implications for the future of the country and its youth. Hopefully, this commentary could spur some of them to investigate corruption in education (and other areas) and conduct related policy research and analysis. 4) I had promised in my first weekly commentary of 2013 to pay special attention to youth issues in Ethiopia during the year. Nothing is more important to Ethiopia’s youth than education. Youth without education are youth without a future and without hope. Youth without education are emblematic of a nation in despair.
World Bank findings on corruption in the Ethiopian education sector
The WB report on the education sector alludes to an Ethiopian proverb in assessing the culture of corruption and impunity: “Sishom Yalbela Sishar Ykochewal” — roughly translates into English as follows: “One who does not exploit to the full his position when he is promoted will lament when he no longer has the opportunity.”
Ethiopia’s education sector has become a haven and a refuge for prebendalist (where those affiliated with the ruling regime feel entitled to receive a share of the loot) party hacks and a bottomless barrel of patronage. The Meles regime has used jobs, procurement and other opportunities in the education sector to reward and sustain loyalty in its support base. They have been handing out teaching jobs to their supporters like candy and procurement opportunities to their cronies like cake. “In Ethiopia’s decentralized yet authoritarian system,considerable powers exist among senior officials at the federal, regional, and woreda levels. Of particular relevance to this study is the discretion exercised by politically appointed officials at the woreda level, directly affecting the management of teachers.”
In “mapping corruption in the education sector in Ethiopia”, “the World Bank report cautions that “corruption in education can be multifaceted, ranging from large distortions in resource allocation and significant procurement-related fraud to smaller amounts garnered through daily opportunities for petty corruption and nontransparent financial management.” Corruption in the education sector is quadri-dimensional “affecting the selection of teachers for training, recruitment, skills upgrading, or promotion; falsification of documents to obtain qualifications, jobs, or promotions and fraud and related bribery in examinations and conflict of interest in procurement.”
The “selection of candidates for technical training colleges (TTCs)” is the fountainhead of educational corruption in Ethiopia. According to the WB report, “students do not generally choose to become teachers but are centrally selected from a pool of those who have failed to achieve high grades.” In other words, the regime’s policy is to populate the teaching profession with, for lack of a better word, the “dumber” students. Such students also make the most servile party hacks. But it is a spectacular revelation that the future of Ethiopia’s youth — the future of Ethiopia itself — is in the hands of “those who have failed to achieve high grades”. Ignorant teachers and ignorant students= Ignorance is strength. Could a greater crime be committed against Ethiopia’s youth and Ethiopia?
To add insult to injury, the selection of underachieving students to pursue teacher training institutes is itself infected by “bribery, favoritism and nepotism.” The most flagrant corrupt practices include “manipulation of the points system for selection of students to higher education.” The “allocate[on] of higher percentage points for results from transcripts and national exams than for entrance exams” has “enabled a large number of inadequately qualified students to join the affected institutes, sometimes with forged transcripts. This practice has affected the quality of students gaining entry to higher education and eroded the quality of the training program.” In other words, even among underachievers seeking to become teachers, it is the washouts, the duds and flops that are likely to become teachers!
Fraud and related corrupt practices in matriculation are commonplace. According to the WB report, there is
a significant risk of corruption in examinations…The types of fraudulent practices in examinations include forged admission cards enable students to pay other students to sit exams for them, collusion allowing both individual and group cheating in examinations, assistance from invigilators (exam monitors) and school and local officials (during exams), higher-level interference [in which] regional officials overturned the disqualification of cheaters, fraudulent overscoring of examination papers [by] teachers are bribed by parents and students, fraudulent certification of transcripts and certificates to help students graduate.
Although there are public officials who have considered reporting corrupt practices, they have refrained from doing so because there was “a strong sense that there is no protection to guard against possible reprisals directed at those who report malpractice.” There is no place for whistle blowers in Ethiopia’s edu-corruptocracy.
Recruitment and management of teachers is a separate universe of corrupt practices. “In Ethiopia, the overwhelming bulk of expenditure in education is taken up by salaries of teachers” and there is a “high risk of bribery, extortion, favoritism, or nepotism in selecting teachers for promotion, upgrading, or grants.” The WB report found “nepotism and favoritism in recruitment were broad and frequent—namely that, in some woredas, the recruitment of teachers (and other community-based workers) is based on political affiliation, including paid-up membership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”
What is shocking is not only the culture of corruption in education but also the culture of impunity — the belief that there are no consequences for practicing corruption. The WB report shows not only the “prevalence of fraud and falsification of teaching qualifications and other documents, reflecting weak controls, poor-quality documents (that are easily falsified), [but also] the widespread belief that such a practice would not be detected… For such falsification to go unnoticed, there is a related risk of the officials supporting or approving the application being implicated in the corrupt practice.”
The types of corrupt practices that occur at the management level are stunning. Managers manipulate access to “program of enhancing teacher qualifications through in-service training during holiday periods by using their positions to influence the selection of candidates. Hidden relationships are used in teacher upgrading, with officials at the zonal or woreda level taking the first option on upgradation programs.” The appointment of local education officials is not “competitive” but “politically assigned”. Collusion between local managers and teachers over noncompliance with curriculum, academic calendar, and similar practices is a relatively common practice and “reduces the provision of educational services.” This situation is made worse by “teacher absenteeism [which] is tolerated by head teachers, within the context of staff perceiving a need to supplement their income through private tutoring or other forms of income generation.” Poorly paid teachers supplement their incomes by “private tutoring [which] is widespread, with 40 percent of school officials reporting it as a practice.” Corruption also extends to “teachers paying bribes or kickbacks to management, mostly school directors, to allocate shorter work hours in schools so that they can use the freed-up time to earn fees as teachers in private schools.” The payola is hierarchically distributed: “Bribes received are likely to be shared first with superiors, then with a political party, and then with colleagues, in that order.”
Falsification of documents including forged transcripts and certificates occurs on an “industrial” scale and is “most prevalent in the provision of certification for completing the primary or secondary school cycles” and in generating bogus “documents in support of applications for promotion”.
Procurement (official purchases of goods and services from private sources) is the low hanging fruit. “In the education sector, a number of public actors maybe involved [in procurement], depending on the size and type of the task. These include national and local government politicians and managers.” Some people have a lock on the procurement system. Successful “tendering companies” are likely to have “family or other connections with officials responsible for procurement”. Procurement corruption also takes the forms of “uncompetitive practices” “including the formation of a cartel, obstruction of potential new entrants to the market, or other forms of uncompetitive practices that may or may not include a conspiratorial role on the part of those responsible for procurement.” Other procurement related corruption includes “favoritism, nepotism, or bribery in the short-listing of consultants or contractors or the provision of tender information.” There are some “favored contractors and consultants” who have a “dominant market position” and are “awarded contracts for which they were not eligible to bid.” Corruption also occurs in the form of defective construction, substandard materials and overclaims of quantities.
Construction quality issues are considered a significant problem in the construction of educational facilities, particularly in the case of small, remote facilities where high standards of construction supervision can be difficult to achieve. For example, a toilet block in a school collapsed a month after completion. The contractor responsible for building the facility was not required to make the work good or repay the amount paid, nor was the contractor sanctioned. The matter was not investigated. Such problems are a significant indicator of corrupt practices, particularly when the contractor is not ultimately held to account for its failures…
There is corruption in the “purchase of substandard or defective supplies or equipment. For this to go unchallenged by those responsible for procurement strongly suggests either a lack of capacity, corrupt practices, or both.” According to an example cited in the WB report, “a large fleet of buses purchased by the MOE [“Ministry of Education”] using Teacher Development Program funds and distributed to TTCs were found to be defective. The TTCs complained that the MOE had dumped the buses on them. The MOE subsequently sent auditors to determine whether the complaint was genuine.”
The amazing fact is that the regime reflexively decided to investigate those who filed the complaint, and not the reported crooks. They automatically assumed the technical training colleges were lying and sent their auditors to investigate them for possible false reporting of defective buses!! (Orwelliana: The criminals are the victims and the victims are the criminals.) There is evidence of theft and resale of school supplies or equipment. “One such indication relates to the alleged illegal sale of education facilities, with related allegations of nepotism. A city education office is alleged to have sold valuable heritage buildings in a secondary school to a private developer and then to have requested land to rebuild the school facilities.”
Changing the culture of corruption and impunity
The culture of corruption and impunity in Ethiopia must be changed. The WB report observes,
In Ethiopia, the pattern of perception suggests that outright bribery is perceived to be more corrupt than, for example, favoritism or the falsification of documentation. There is also a sense that some practices, such as expressing gratitude to a client through the giving of a small gift, are normal business practice and not necessarily corrupt. Finally, there is an underlying acceptance among many that the state has the right to intervene in the market if that is considered to be in the national interest, and there is little sense that such interventions could be at variance with ongoing efforts to promote the level playing field needed for effective privatization of service provision, including in the education sector.
It is unlikely that a corrupt regime has the will, capacity or interest to change its own modus operandi. As I have argued elsewhere, having the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) investigate the architects and beneficiaries of corruption in Ethiopia is like having Tweedle Dee investigate Tweedle Dum. It is an exercise in futility and an absurdity. FEAC is a toothless, clawless and feckless make-believe do-nothing bureaucratic shell incapable of investigating corruption in its own offices let alone systemic corruption in the country.
Pressures for accountability and transparency could come from domestic civil society institutions, but as the WB report points out, a 2009 “civil societies law” has decimated such institutions. The only practical and effective mechanism for accountability and transparency in the education sector is the institutionalization of an independent and energetic teachers’ union. But the regime has destroyed the real teachers’ union. According to the WB report,
Teachers in Ethiopia have historically been represented by the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), founded in 1949. Following a long legal battle, a 2008 court ruling took away the right of the ETA to its name and all of its assets, creating a different organization with an identical name. Most teachers are now members of this replacement organization, for which dues are deducted from teachers’ salaries. The original ETA, now reorganized as the National Teachers Association (NTA), considers the new ETA to be unduly influenced by the government and has complained of discrimination against its members. Such concerns have in turn been expressed internationally through a range of bodies including the International Labour Organization (ILO 2009).
The mis-edcuation of Ethiopia’s youth and stolen futures
Education of Ethiopia’s youth is a human rights issue for me and not just a matter of professional concern as an educator. Corruption in the education sector is so severe that the future of Ethiopia’s youth is at grave risk. As Transparency International admonishes,
Stolen resources from education budgets mean overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools, or no schools at all. Books and supplies are sometimes sold instead of being given out freely. Schools and universities also ‘sell’ school places or charge unauthorised fees, forcing students (usually girls) to drop out. Teachers and lecturers are appointed through family connections, without qualifications. Grades can be bought, while teachers force students to pay for tuition outside of class. In higher education, undue government and private sector influence can skew research agendas.
It is true “ignorance is strength”. The Meles regime seeks to create an army of ignorant youth zombie clones who will march lockstep and follow their orders: “Zombie go, zombie stop, zombie think… zombie learn… zombie dumb… zombie dumber…” If ignorance is strength, then knowledge is power. When “ignorant” youth gain knowledge, they become an unstoppable force.
It may not be manifest to many but Ethiopia’s mis-educated youth are on the rise. A quiet riot is raging among the youth debilitated by overwhelming despair and anguish. The youth look at themselves and their lost futures under a corrupt tyranny. They know things are not going to get better. For now the despair simmers but it will reach a boiling point. Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010. Dictator Ben Ali did not see it coming, but the fire that consumed Bouazizi also consumed and transformed not only Tunisia but also led to an Arab Spring. Moamar Gadhafi, the great “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya” died at the hands of youth he miseducated for 42 years. Informed, enlightened and interconnected Egyptian youth brought down the Mubarak regime in less than two weeks!
Ethiopia’s youth will rise because there is no force that can keep them down. The only question is when not if. That is the immutable of law of history. In the end, I believe Ethiopia’s youth will remember not the deeds and misdeeds of those who miseducated them and robbed them of their futures, but the silence of the scholars, intellectuals, academics, professors and learned men and women who watched the tyranny of ignorance like bronze statutes. I am confident in my conviction that there will come a time when Ethiopia’s youth will stand up collectively, and each one pointing an index finger, shout out, “J’accuse!”
Ignorance is strength but knowledge is power! Fight the tyranny of ignorance. Educate yourself!
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:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
The selling of Ethiopia to the highest bidder. By Yilma Bekele
Actually that statement might not be true. We do know our country is being sold but we have no idea if the bidding has been open or closed. We have sold almost all of Gambella, we have leased half of Afar and Oromia has been parceled out bit by bit. Our Beer factories are under new owners, our gold mines belong to the fake Ethiopian sheik, Telephone is under the Chinese and our Airlines is looking for a suitor. Have we always looked for outsiders to own us?
Not really when you consider that we celebrated the victory at the battle of Adwa a few weeks back and that was the mother of all wars that made it clear this African country is not for sale. We might not have contributed much to the industrial revolution but we did manage to rely on our own ingenuity to follow along and do things our own way. You might not believe this but there was a time when Ethiopians actually used to be involved in making stuff from scratch. You think I am making things up don’t you? I don’t blame you because today you cannot even come up with one name that stands out as an Ethiopian entrepreneur, go getter or someone that shines like the north star based solely on his own sweat and blood.
The things that were accomplished by earlier Ethiopians are all around us but we don’t see them. All the things the current government brags about have their roots in the yester years they so much condemn and brush off. I don’t know where to start but here we go. Let us start with hospitals. Bella Haile Selassie (Bella), Leelt Tshay (armed Forces), Paulos, Haile Selassie Hospital (Yekati 12), Balcha, Ghandi, Tikur Anbessa, Ras Desta, Minilik etc. The vast majority of the doctors were Ethiopians, the hospitals were clean, well equipped and you don’t even have to take your own sheets and blankets.
How about Hotels? Ethiopia, Ghion, Wabi Shebele, Ras, Bekele Molla were the premier destinations. They were owned and operated by Ethiopians. When it comes to Ethiopian Airlines the Pilots were proud Ethiopians and the technicians were the envy of Africa. The Imperial government built the Airlines from scratch. Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a partner until we were able to train and staff our own and we did manage to do that.
If we talk about agriculture we did manage to establish the Sugar estates of Metehara and Wonji not to mention Setit Humera, the wheat and corn fields of Arsi, the fiber plants of Sidama and the cotton fields of Awash Valley are testimonial to our ingenuity. The sixties saw the emergence of the new educated Ethiopians that raised the bar of excellence.
The establishment of Africa Hall was how Africans showed respect to our Emperor and our old history when they choose Addis Abeba as the head quarter for the continent. The University at sadist Kilo was a gift to his people by the Emperor and it was a spectacular success. All the teachers were highly educated Ethiopians and the graduates were the pride of our country.
Why am I discussing such subject today? It is because two items reported by the media caught my eye a few days back. Both are an assault on our sovereignty and our ability to grow our own economy by Ethiopians for Ethiopians. Heineken a Dutch conglomerate is building the biggest brewery in Ethiopia and Guangdong Chuan Hui Group from China is given 41,000 Sq. meter of land to construct hotel and industrial complex. The way the story is being reported we should be jumping with joy. What could be better than those two benevolent multi nationals investing so much in our poor destitute country?
Is that how we should look at it? Is there another aspect to this story? In order to see the pros and con of the question posed In front of us it would have been nice if there has been a nationwide discussion to see if the plan makes sense when it comes to our homeland. That is how smart decisions are made. Open and vibrant nationwide discussion regarding such important issues that impact our national economy and our people’s well-being assures a better outcome.
That usually is not the case in our country. There are no checks and balances. There is no independent legislative body and the judiciary is a government tool. A single party the TPLF controls all and everything in the country. Our political leaders have no faith in the ability of the people to know what is good for them. That is why they approach their job as being a ‘baby sitter’ and are constantly fretting about what the people hear and read. Decisions are made by a few TPLF politburo members to be approved by the rubber stamp Parliament. Anyone that questions such a decision is branded as enemy of the people and dealt with.
Let us start with our beer story. You know beer is nothing but European Tella. It is bottled fancy and costs a little bit more. How long ago do you think we acquired the idea of brewing for a larger crowd? Eighty years ago my friend! St George brewery was started in 1922. Meta Abo Brewery was founded in 1963. Meta Abo was a partnership between government and private capital and started with a base capital of 2million Birr. The military junta nationalized both and the current TPLF Woyane regime inherited them with the rest of Ethiopia. What do you think these successive regimes did with our own old industry and land? Did they build on what was started? Did they reinvest the profit to make the enterprises bigger and better? Did they run our industries, enterprises and farms in a responsible and judicious manner?
Both St. George and Meta Abo are no more Ethiopian enterprises. BGI (an internationally acclaimed Brewing Company that operates in many countries.??) bought St George in 1998 for US 10 million ‘through foreign direct investment’(??) Meta Ambo was sold to Diego Industries-a British congalmorate for US 225 million. Heineken a Dutch multi-national acquired 18% of Bedele and Harar breweries for US 163 million in 2011. Raya Brewery an idea that has not materialized yet but promoted by Lt. General Tsadkan W.Tensai and investors such as Yemane (Jamaica) Kidane and other TPLF officials sold 25% interest to BGI for 650 million Br and invited Brewtech a German company as a partner.
As you can see the TPLF regime collected close to US 400 million from the sale of our home grown breweries. By all imagination that is chump change when you consider the ownership is lost and the profit for eternity belongs to the foreigners. Is this a good way to grow a national economy? Has it been done before or is this another of that failed ‘revolutionary democracy’ pipe dream?
BGI, Diego or Heineken are investing in our country to realize profit for their shareholders. What is our country getting out of this? The beer manufacturing business is a highly automated enterprise so it is not about job creation. Most if not all of the high paying managerial jobs will be occupied by the parent company. The malt, barley and other ingredients are imported and are considered a trade secret. We all know about creative accounting thus I am sure our country does not even benefit from the profit because the bookkeeping is rigged to minimize taxes.
Let us not even think of technology transfer since we cannot learn what we have already mastered. Remember we have been brewing beer since 1922. I will tell you what we got out of this unequal relationship. We as a people got royally screwed. The TPLF party officials got paid plenty for their pimping effort. The regime in its insatiable appetite for foreign currency bought a few months of respite to purchase oil, wheat, cooking oil etc. to postpone its inevitable collapse.
There are certain things we know how a growing economy with a nationalist government operates. We have seen how China, India, Malaysia, Brazil and other emerging economies handled their growth potential. They use what is known as subsidy to protect their infant industries from foreign predators. They allowed investment where technology transfer will bring benefit to their people but shielded their home grown industries from foreign competition.
Why do you think the TPLF bosses are interested in selling our sovereignty? I doubt it is because they are anti-Ethiopian even though the late evil PM used to suffer from inferiority complex when it comes to central highlanders. I believe it is because of their ‘get rich quick’ philosophy. They are in a hurry to accumulate before their Ponzi scheme comes crashing down. According to the UN billions of dollars are leaving our country. They are buying properties in the US and Europe, sending their children to expensive schools abroad and vacationing in exotic places with the money they steal from our country.
What are we the victims doing about this rape and pillage of our resources and the degradation of our national pride? I am afraid other than insistently talking there is nothing more most of us are doing about it. Why do you think that is so? I could think of a few things but ignorance comes to mind first and foremost. Our ignorance prevents us from connecting the dots and looking at the bigger picture. Our misplaced pride does not allow us to listen to others and learn to be able to formulate better solutions to our problems.
Today we have a population that is not familiar with its history. Sixty four percent (64%) of our people are under twenty five years old while twenty nine percent (29%) are under the age of 54 years. We have a toxic population on our hands. Those under twenty five grew up under the Woyane regime where being an Ethiopian is taken as a liability. While those under fifty four are the result of the Derge era of undermining religion, family, and stability. Ninety three (93%) of our population is a fertile ground for evil Woyane to plant shame, doubt and insecurity about being Ethiopian.
It is this population that is sitting on the side and cheering the selling of their country. For most people what bothers them is not what is lost but they spend endless energy to get a piece of the action. In Ethiopia stealing, lying, being part of a criminal enterprise is encouraged by the regime. When the recently dead Meles Zenawi said ‘even being a thief requires being smart’ he was giving a green light to his cadres and the population at large. The so called Diaspora is the number one enabler of the criminal Woyane machine. They use their new found riches to bribe Woyane so they could acquire stolen land to build their flimsy unsustainable condominiums and spend endless nights worrying if the next highest bidder will in turn take it away in broad day light.
This is exactly the reason we are having a problem forming a united front to get rid of this cancerous body in our midst. This is the reason even in exile we are unable to form a democratic, inclusive and worthy association that will benefit the many. The ninety three percent are in need of education in civic affairs and a dose of what it means to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.
May be it is the lords way of teaching us little humility and humbleness as he did with the children of Israel when he left them to wonder for forty years in the wilderness so they know what is in their heart. It is a choice we have-to be humble or perish due to pride.
The sights and sounds of an African police state
When Erin Burnett of CNN visited Ethiopia in July 2012, she came face-to-face with the ugly face of an African police state:
We saw what an African police state looked like when I was in Ethiopia last month… At the airport, it took an hour to clear customs – not because of lines, but because of checks and questioning. Officials tried multiple times to take us to government cars so they’d know where we went. They only relented after forcing us to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV gear in the airport…
Last week, reporter Solomon Kifle of the Voice of America (VOA-Amharic) heard the terrifying voice of an African police state from thousands of miles away. The veteran reporter was investigating widespread allegations of targeted night time warrantless searches of homes belonging to Ethiopian Muslims in the capital Addis Ababa. Solomon interviewed victims who effectively alleged home invasion robberies by “federal police” who illegally searched their homes and took away cash, gold jewelry, cell phones, laptops, religious books and other items of personal property.
One of the police officials Solomon interviewed to get reaction and clarification was police chief Zemedkun of Bole (an area close to the international airport in the capital).
VOA: Are you in the area of Bole. The reason I called…
Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes. You are correct.
VOA: There are allegation that homes belonging to Muslim Ethiopians have been targeted for illegal search and seizure. I am calling to get clarification.
Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes (continue).
VOA: Is it true that you are conducting such a search?
Police Chief Zemedkun: No, sir. I don’t know about this. Who told you that?
VOA: Individuals who say they are victims of such searches; Muslims who live in the area.
Police Chief Zemedkun: If they said that, you should ask them.
VOA: I can tell you what they said.
Police Chief Zemedkun: What did they say?
VOA: They said “the search is conducted by police officers; they [the police] threaten us without a court order; they take our property, particularly they focus on taking our Holy Qurans and mobile phones. Such are the allegations and I am calling to get clarification.
Police Chief Zemedkun: Wouldn’t it be better to talk to the people who told you that? I don’t know anything about that.
VOA: I just told you about the allegations the people are making.
Police Chief Zemedkun: Enough! There is nothing I know about this.
VOA: I will mention (to our listeners) what you said Chief Zemedkun. Are you the police chief of the sub-district ( of Bole)?
Police Chief Zemedkun: Yes. I am something like that.
VOA: Chief Zemedkun, may I have your last name?
Police Chief Zemedkun: Excuse me!! I don’t want to talk to anyone on this type of [issue] phone call. I am going to hang up. If you call again, I will come and get you from your address. I want you to know that!! From now on, you should not call this number again. If you do, I will come to wherever you are and arrest you. I mean right now!!
VOA: But I am in Washington (D.C)?
Police Chief Zemedkun: I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!
VOA: Are you going to come and arrest me?
End of interview.
Meles’ legacy: mini Me-leses, Meles wannabes and a police state
Flying off the handle, exploding in anger and igniting into spontaneous self-combustion is the hallmark of the leaders of the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia. The late Meles Zenawi was the icon of spontaneous self- combustion. Anytime Meles was challenged on facts or policy, he would explode in anger and have a complete meltdown.
Just before Meles jailed virtually the entire opposition leadership, civil society leaders and human rights advocates following the 2005 elections for nearly two years, he did exactly what police chief Zemedkun threatened to do to VOA reporter Solomon. Congressman Christopher Smith, Chairman of the House Africa Subcommitte in 2005 could not believe his ears as Meles’ arrogantly threatened to arrest and jail opposition leaders and let them rot in jail. Smith reported:
Finally, when I asked the Prime Minister to work with the opposition and show respect and tolerance for those with differing views on the challenges facing Ethiopia he said, ‘I have a file on all of them; they are all guilty of treason.’ I was struck by his all-knowing tone. Guilty! They’re all guilty simply because Meles says so? No trial? Not even a Kangaroo court? I urged Prime Minister Meles not to take that route.
In 2010, Meles erupted at a press conference by comparing the Voice of America (Amharic) radio broadcasts to Ethiopia with broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines which directed some of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Pointing an accusatory finger at the VOA, Meles charged: “We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.” (It seems one of Meles’ surviving police chiefs is ready to make good on Meles’ threat by travelling to Washington, D.C. and arresting a VOA reporter.)
Meles routinely called his opponents “dirty”, “mud dwellers”, “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He took sadistic pleasure in humiliating and demeaning parliamentarians who challenged him with probing questions or merely disagreed with him. His put-downs were so humiliating, few parliamentarians dared to stand up to his bullying.
When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted Meles with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, Meles had another public meltdown. He condemned the EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.”
When Ken Ohashi, the former country director for the World Bank debunked Meles’ voodoo economics in July 2011, Meles went ballistic: “The individual [Ohashi) is used to giving directions along his neo-liberal views. The individual was on his way to retirement. He has no accountability in distorting the institutions positions and in settling his accounts. The Ethiopian government has its own view that is different from the individual.” (Meles talking about accountability is like the devil quoting Scripture.)
In a meeting with high level U.S. officials in advance of the May 2010 election, Meles went apoplectic telling the diplomats that “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.”
Meles’ hatred for Birtukan Midekssa (a former judge and the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history), a woman of extraordinary intelligence and unrivalled courage, was as incomprehensible as it was bottomless. After throwing Birtukan in prison in 2008 without trial or any form of judicial proceeding, Meles added insult to injury by publicly calling her a “chicken”. When asked how Birtukan was doing in prison, Meles, with sarcastic derision replied, “Birtukan Midiksa is fine but she may have gained weight due to lack of exercise.” (When Meles made the statement, Birtukan was actually in solitary confinement in Kality prison on the ridiculous charge that she “had denied receiving a pardon” when she was released in July 2007.) When asked if he might consider releasing her, Meles said emphatically and sadistically, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.”
Internationally acclaimed journalists Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye are all victims of arbitrary arrests and detentions. So are opposition party leaders and dissidents Andualem Arage, Nathnael Mekonnen, Mitiku Damte, Yeshiwas Yehunalem, Kinfemichael Debebe, Andualem Ayalew, Nathnael Mekonnen, Yohannes Terefe, Zerihun Gebre-Egziabher and many others.
Police chief Zemedkun is a mini-Me-les, a Meles wannabe. He is a mini tin pot tyrant. Like Meles, Zemedkun not only lost his cool but also all commonsense, rationality and proportionality. Like Meles, Zemedkun is filled with hubris (extreme arrogance which causes the person to lose contact with reality and feel invincible, unaccountable and above and beyond the law). Zemedkun, like Meles, is so full of himself that no one dare ask him a question: “I am the omnipotent police chief Zemedkun, the Absolute Master of Bole; the demigod with the power of arrest and detention. I am Police Chief Zemedkun created in the divine likeness of Meles Zenawi!”
What a crock of …!
When Meles massacred 193 unarmed protesters and wounded 763 others following the elections in 2005, he set the standard for official accountability, which happens to be lower than a snake’s knee. For over two decades, Meles created and nurtured a pervasive and ubiquitous culture of official impunity, criminality, untouchability, unaccountablity, brutality, incivility, illegality and immorality in Ethiopia.
The frightening fact of the matter is that today there are tens of thousands of mini-Me-leses and Meles wannabes in Ethiopia. What police chief Zemedkun did during the VOA interview is a simple case of monkey see, monkey do. Zemedkun could confidently threaten VOA reporter Solomon because he has seen Meles and his disciples do the same thing for over two decades with impunity. Zemedkun is not alone in trashing the human rights of Ethiopian citizens. He is not some rogue or witless policeman doing his thing on the fringe. Zemedkun is merely one clone of his Master. There are more wicked and depraved versions of Zemedkun masquerading as ministers of state. There are thousands of faceless and nameless “Zemedkunesque” bureaucrats, generals, judges and prosecutors abusing their powers with impunity. There are even soulless and heartless Zemedkuns pretending to be “holy men” of faith. But they are all petty tyrants who believe that they are not only above the law, but also that they are the personification of the law.
Article 12 and constitutional accountability
Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution requires accountability of all public officials: “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public… Any public official or elected representative shall be made accountable for breach of his official duties.”
Meles when he was alive, and his surviving disciples, police chiefs, generals and bureaucrats today are in a state of willful denial of the fact of constitutional accountability. (Meles believed accountability applied only to Ken Ohashi, the former World Bank country director.) The doltish police chief Zemedkun is clueless not only about constitutional standards of accountability for police search and seizure in private homes but also his affirmative constitutional obligation to perform his duties with transparency. This ignoramus-cum-police chief believes he is the Constitution, the law of the land, at least of Bole’s. He has the gall to verbally terrorize the VOA reporter, “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”
Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, unbeknown to police chief Zemedkun, is guaranteed by Article 17 (Liberty) of the Ethiopian Constitution: “No one shall be deprived of his liberty except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law. No one shall be arrested or detained without being charged or convicted of a crime except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law.” Article 19 (Rights of Persons under Arrest) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Everyone shall have the right to be… specifically informed that there is sufficient cause for his arrest as soon as he appears in court. Zemedkun is ready to arrest the VOA reporter simply because the reporter asked him for his last name. What arrogance! What chutzpah!
It is a mystery to police chief Zemedkun that arbitrary deprivation of liberty is also a crime against humanity. Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly provides: “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” The deprivation of physical liberty (arbitrary arrest) constitutes a crime against humanity under Art. 7 (e) and (g) of the Rome Statute if there is evidence to show that the deprivation occurred as a result of systematic attack on a civilian population and in violation of international fair trial guarantees. The statements of the victims interviewed by VOA reporter Solomon appear to provide prima facie evidence sufficient to trigger an Article 7 investigation since there appears to be an official policy of systematic targeting of Muslims for arbitrary arrest and detention as part of a widespread campaign of religious persecution. The new prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou B. Bensouda, should launch such an investigation in proprio motu (on her own motion).
Meles has left an Orwellian legacy in Ethiopia. Police chief Zemedkun is only one policeman in a vast police state. He reaffirms the daily fact of life for the vast majority of Ethiopians that anyone who opposes, criticizes or disagrees with members of the post-Meles officialdom, however low or petty, will be picked up and jailed, and even tortured and killed. In “Mel-welliana” (the Orwellian police state legacy of Meles) Ethiopia, asking the name of a public official is a crime subject to immediate arrest and detention! In “Mel-welliana”, thinking is a crime. Dissent is a crime. Speaking the truth is a crime. Having a conscience is a crime. Peaceful protest is a crime. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is a crime. Standing up for democracy and human rights is a crime. Defending the rule of law is a crime. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is a crime.
A police chief, a police thug and a police thug state
It seems police chief Zemedkun is more of a police thug than a police chief. But listening to Zemedkun go into full meltdown mode, one cannot help but imagine him to be a cartoonish thug. As comical as it may sound, police chief Zemedkun reminded me of Yosemite Sam, that Looney Tunes cartoon character known for his grouchiness, hair-trigger temper and readiness to “blast anyone to smithereens”. The not-so-comical part of this farce is that police chief Zemedkun manifests no professionalism, civility or ethical awareness. He is obviously clueless about media decorum. Listening to him, it is apparent that Zemedkun has the personality of a porcupine, the temper of a Tasmanian Devil, the charm of an African badger, the intelligence of an Afghan Hound and the social graces of a dung beetle. But the rest of the high and mighty flouting the Constitution and abusing their powers like Zemedkun are no different.
The singular hallmark — the trademark — of a police thug state is the pervasiveness and ubiquity of arbitrary arrests, searches and detentions of citizens. If any person can be arrested on the whim of a state official, however high or petty, that is a police state. If the rights of citizens can be taken or disregarded without due process of law, that is a dreadful police state. Where the rule of law is substituted by the rule of a police chief, that is a police thug state.
For well over a decade, international human rights organizations and others have been reporting on large scale arbitrary arrests and detentions in Ethiopia. The 2011 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (issued on May 24, 2012) reported:
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government often ignored these provisions in practice… The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians… Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and in some cases to family members, particularly in outlying regions… Other human rights problems included torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches…
In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch reported: “Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in 2012… The security forces responded to protests by the Muslim community in Oromia and Addis Ababa, the capital, with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and beatings.”
Rarely does one hear human rights abusers publicly showing their true faces and confirming their victims’ allegations in such breathtakingly dramatic form. Police chief Zemedkun gave all Ethiopians a glimpse of the arrogant and lawless officialdom of Post-Meles Ethiopia. It is a glimpse of a police state in which an ignorant local police chief could feel so comfortable in his abuse of power that he believes he can travel to the United States of America and arrest and detain a journalist working for an independent agency of the United States Government. If this ill-mannered, ill-bred, cantankerous and boorish policeman could speak and act with such impunity, is it that difficult to imagine how the ministers, generals, prosecutors, judges and bureaucrats higher up the food chain feel about their abuses of power?
But one has to listen to and read the words of those whose heads are being crushed by the police in a police state. When it comes to crushing heads, themodus operandi is always the same. Use “robocops”. In 2005, Meles brought in hundreds of police and security men from different parts of the country who have limited proficiency in the country’s official language and used them to massacre 193 unarmed protesters and wound another 763. These “robocops” are pre-programmed killing machines, arresting machines and torture machines. They do what they are told. They ask no questions. They shoot and ask questions later. Hadid Shafi Ousman, a victim of illegal search and seizure, who spoke to VOA reporter Solomon, recounted in chilling detail what it meant to have one’s home searched by “robocop” thugs and goons who do not speak or have extremely limited understanding the official language of the country:
These are federal police. There are also civilian cadres. Sometimes they come in groups of 5-10. They are dressed in federal police uniform…. They are armed and carry clubs. They don’t have court orders. There are instances where they jump over fences and bust down doors… When they come, people are terrified. They come at night. You can’t say anything. They take mobile phones, laptops, the Koran and other things… They cover their faces so they can’t be identified. We try to explain to them. Isn’t this our country? If you are here to take anything, go ahead and take it…. They beat you up with clubs. If you ask questions, they beat you up and call you terrorists… First of all, these policemen do not speak Amharic well. So it is hard to understand them. When you ask them what we did wrong, they threaten to beat us. I told them I am a university student, so what is the problem? As a citizen, as a human being…Even they struggled and paid high sacrifices [fighting in the bush] to bring about good governance [to the people]. They did not do it so that some petty official could harass the people. When you say this to them, they beat you up…
Let there be no mistake. Zemedkun is not some isolated freakish rogue police chief in the Ethiopian police state. He is the gold standard for post-Meles governance. There are thousands of Zemedkuns that have infested the state apparatus and metastasized through the body politics of that country. For these Meles wannabes, constitutional accountability means personal impunity; illegal official activity means prosecutorial immunity; moral depravity means moral probity and crimes against humanity means legal impunity.
Cry, the beloved country
In 1948, the same year Apartheid became law in South Africa, Alan Paton wrote in “Cry, the Beloved Country”, his feeling of despair over the fate of South Africa:
Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.”
Cry for our beloved Ethiopia!!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
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