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Ethiopia Corruption

Ethiopia: They Shall Inherit the Wind

windThe Sandcastles and Dams of African Dictators

All dictators on the African continent have sought immortality by leaving a legacy that will outlive them and endure for the ages. But all have inherited the wind.

Kwame Nkrumah led the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonialism in  1957. Nkrumaism sought to transform Ghana into a modern socialist state through state-driven industrialization. He built the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, at the time considered the “largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana”. He promoted the cult of personality and was hailed as the “Messiah”, “Father of Ghana and Pan Africanism” and “Father of African nationalism”.  He crushed the unions and the opposition, jailed the judges, created a one-man, one-party state and tried to make himself “President for life”. He got the military boot in 1966. He left a bitter legacy of one-man, one-party rule which to this day serves as a model of dictatorship for all of Africa. Nkrumah died in exile and inherited the wind.

Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to create his own brand of Arab socialism and nationalism and propagated it as a secular Pan-Arab ideology. Using an extensive intelligence apparatus and an elaborate propaganda machine, he promoted a cult of personality projecting himself as the “Man of the People.”  He built the Aswan High Dam with Soviet aid. He ruled Egypt in a one-man, one-party dictatorship and crushed all dissent, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Today the Muslim Brotherhood is in power and Nasserism is in the dustbin of history.  Nasser left a legacy of military dictatorship in Egypt and inherited the wind.

Mobutu Sese Seko proclaimed himself “Father of the Nation” of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), and became dictator for life. He declared, “In our African tradition there are never two chiefs….That is why we Congolese, in the desire to conform to the traditions of our continent, have resolved to group all the energies of the citizens of our country under the banner of a single national party.” Mobutuism consisted of the delusional thoughts of Mobutu and his program of “Zairianization”. He promoted a cult of personality describing himself as the “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. Mobutu built the Inga Dams over the Congo River hoping to create the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. He left a legacy of kleptocracy and inherited the wind.

Moamar Gadhafi proclaimed the “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” and ushered the era of the state of the masses (Jamahiriya). He sought to elevate Libyan society by reducing it to a massive collection of “people’s committees”. He brutally suppressed dissent and squandered the national resources of that country. He launched the Great Man-Made River, the world’s largest irrigation project and proclaimed it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After four decades in power, the “Brother Leader” and author of the Green Book literally suffered the death of a sewer rat. He left a legacy of division and destruction in Libya and inherited the wind.

Idi Amin Dada, the “Butcher of Uganda” and the most notorious of all African dictators, imposed a reign of terror on the Ugandan people and sadistically displayed his tyrannical power to the international press. He pompously described himself as “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He built no dams by damned the Ugandan people for 8 years until he was forced into exile. He left a legacy of death, destruction and ethnic division in Uganda and inherited the wind.

The “Great Leader”?

The late Meles Zenawi, like all African dictators, sought to make himself larger than life. He was not only Ethiopia’s savior but Africa’s as well. He sought to project himself as a “visionary leader”, “inspirational spokesman for Africa” and supreme practitioner of “revolutionary democracy.” Following his death sometime in late Summer 2012, the propaganda to deify, mythologize, exalt, immortalize and idolize him became a theatre of the absurd. Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’ handpicked titular prime minster, in his speech to the party faithful in parliament virtually made Meles a lesser god offering blessings of “Eternal Glory to Our Great Leader.” Even the original “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung of North Korea achieved no more glory than being “The Sun of the Nation”. Desalegn promised to consummate his own divinely delegated mission with missionary zeal: “My responsibility now… is to successfully carry out the aims and ambitions of a great and notable leader… Following in the footsteps of our great leader, we will strive to maintain and develop the influential voice in regional, continental and international forums” and “successfully implement the aims and vision of our great leader. He was not just a brilliant generator of ideas: he was, par excellence, the embodiment of selflessness and self-sacrifice…”

Was Desalegn talking about Meles or the Man of Galilee?

The Vision and Legacy of the “Visionary Great Leader”

Like all African dictators before him, Meles had illusions, delusions and obsessions. He did not have a grand vision; he had illusions of grandeur. Like Mobutu before him, Meles had the illusion of building Africa’s largest dam, the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam, on the Blue Nile at a cost preliminarily estimated (unadjusted for cost overruns) at nearly USD$5 billion. Experts believe such a dam if built will “flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia, near the Sudan border, and create a reservoir that is nearly twice as large as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest natural lake…. The current cost estimate [for the dam] equals the country’s entire annual budget…” Moreover, the dam “could cut the Nile flow into Egypt by 25% during the reservoir filling period” and substantially reduce the reservoir capacity of the Aswan High Dam. According to a document obtained by Wikileaks from the private intelligence group Stratfor, “Sudan’s president Omer Al-Bashir had agreed to build an Egyptian airbase in his country’s western region of Darfur to be used for assaults on The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile water-sharing.”  A legacy of regional war and strife?

Meles did not have a growth and transformation plan; he had delusional plans of economic growth and transformation. As I have demonstrated in “The Voodoo Economics  of Meles Zenawi”, Meles “has been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia based on fabricated and massaged GDP (gross domestic product) numbers, implying that the country is in a state of runaway economic development and the people’s standard of living is fast outstripping those living in the middle income countries.” When the U.S. State Department reported an average inflation rate (FY 2008-2009) of 36 percent, Meles predicted a decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2009/10. His Growth and Transformation Plan (or what I called “Zenawinomics”) which I reviewed in  my June  2011 commentary “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, “is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a ‘long-term vision’ of making Ethiopia ‘a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.’ It aims to ‘build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector’ and ‘increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.’ It boasts of ‘pillar strategies’ to ‘sustain faster and equitable economic growth’, ‘maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,’ ‘create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,’ ‘expand infrastructure and social development,’ ‘build capacity and deepen good governance’ and ‘promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.’ Stripped of its collection of hollow economic slogans, clichés, buzzwords and catchphrases, Meles’ growth and growth and transformation plan is plain sham-o-nomics.  A legacy of inflation, economic mismanagement, crushing foreign debt and environmental destruction?

Meles had no national vision; he only had a vision of ethnic division. His warped idea of “ethnic federalism” is merely a kinder and gentler reincarnation of Apartheid in Ethiopia. For nearly two decades, Meles toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of Ethiopian society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves. He crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. He wrote in Article 46 (2) of the constitution: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be corralled like cattle in tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of Apartheid South Africa.  These tribal homelands are officially called “kilils” (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, the Killilistans ultimately aim to create homogeneous and autonomous ethnic states in Ethiopia, effectively scrubbing out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian national citizenship. Meles’ completely fictitious theory of “ethnic (tribal) federalism)”, unknown in the annals of political science or political theory, has been used to justify and glorify these Kililistans and impose an atrocious policy of divide and rule against 90 million people. A legacy of ethnic balkanization, political  polarization, brutalization, and sectarian strife?

Under Meles, Ethiopia became the poster country for international alms and charity and crushing international debt. During his two decades plus tenure, Ethiopia has been among the largest recipients of  “economic aid”, “development aid”, “military aid”, “technical aid”, “emergency aid”, “relief aid”, “humanitarian aid” and aid against AIDS in the world. As I  argued in my commentary “Ethiopia in BondAid?”, Meles has successfully subverted international aid and loans, particularly U.S. aid, to strengthen his tyrannical rule.  A legacy of international aid addiction and beggary?

Corruption under Meles Zenawi has put Ethiopia on life-support. The World Bank recently issued a 448-page report entitled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” . The cancer of corruption has metastasized in the Ethiopian body politics.  The Telecommunications Sector of Ethiopia is in terminal stage:

Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.

In the Construction Sector, “Ethiopia exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the Justice Sector “takes one of two forms: (a) political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or (b) payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the Land Sector is inherent in the law. “The level of corruption is influenced strongly by the way policy and legislation are formulated and enforced. For example, the capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.” In other words, the laws are written to rig the bidding process to give Meles’ cronies, buddies and supporters a significant advantage so that they can pick up state assets at fire sale prices. A legacy of endemic corruption?

Meles’ “revolutionary democracy” as an ideology or policy guide never quite transcended the sloganeering and phrase-mongering stage, but he indulged in its rhetoric whenever he was overcome by revolutionary fervor.  In a seminal analysis of “revolutionary democracy” and arguably the “first paper to seriously examine the political programme and political philosophy of EPRDF based on a review of its major policy”, Jean-Nicolas Bach of the Institute of Political Studies (Bordeaux, France) in 2011 described “Abyotawi democracy (revolutionary democracy) [as] neither revolutionary nor democratic.” Bach argued that revolutionary democracy is a ‘‘bricolage’’ (hodgepodge) of “Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, and also liberalism” concocted by a “small group of party ideologists around Meles, and a few agencies.” As an ideology, “revolutionary democracy”  “provides justification for fusing political and economic power in the party-state run by EPRDF.” A critical “review of party pamphlets and official party/state discourses reveals the degree to which revolutionary democracy has become an ambiguous doctrine vis-a`-vis ‘liberalism’” and “remains a powerful fighting tool to exclude internal and external ‘enemies’.”  One commentator recently likened revolutionary democracy to communism and fascism.  Revolutionary democracy is responsible for delivering a 99.6 percent parliamentary victory to Meles’ party in 2010. A legacy of rigged and stolen elections and bad governance?

Melesismo: Meles’ Greatest Legacy

Meles’ singular legacy is Melesismo, a political legacy I foretold in my December 2009 commentary entitled “The Raw Machismo of Power”. Meles perfected Melesismo– the political art of  “My way, the highway, no way… or jail!” Melesismo reaffirms the ignoble principle that might makes right.

Meles’ worshippers proclaim they are marching in his footsteps with the same reverence of those who claim to walk in the footsteps of the  Man of Galilee. They ostentatiously display raw machismo invoking the divine power Meles. How little things have changed? From a legacy of the divine right of kings to a legacy of the divine rule of a lesser god!

Meles’ worshippers seek to mythologize, canonize and idolize him. But they cannot reincarnate Meles as the “Messiah”. Even the great Nelson Mandela is undeserving of “eternal glory”. He said so himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Neither saints nor demons deserve “eternal glory”. Meles will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history as nothing more than another  petty African tyrant.

Meles’ greatest legacy would have been what he said his legacy would be. In 2007, Meles said his “hope is that [his] legacy” would be not only “sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty” but also “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy.”  Without radical democratic improvements by Meles’ worshippers, Meles will be remembered in history as a reactionary petty African tyrant.

Is it possible for Meleismo to hold the center after Meles? Will Melesismo survive Meles?

My friend Eskinder Nega, the personification of press freedom in Ethiopia today, who was jailed by Meles, was likely right in foretelling the inevitable implosion of the “EPDRF”. Eskinder wrote, “Scratch beyond the surface and the EPRDF is really not the monolithic dinosaur as it is most commonly stereotyped. [It has become] a coalition of four distinct phenomenon: the increasing confusion of the dominant TPLF [Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front], the acute cynicism of the ANDM [Amhara National Democratic Movement], the desperate nihilism of the OPDO [Oromo People’s Democratic Organization] and the inevitable irrelevance of the incongruent SEPM [South Ethiopian People’s Movement] (a grab bag of some 40 ethnic groups from the southern part of the country).”

Meles was a man with a mission who confused mission with vision. He has completed his mission. History will record his legacy to be human rights violation, press suppression, ethnic division, endemic corruption,  obsessive secrecy and a political culture whose lifeblood is impunity, lack of accountability and transparency. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones…” Scripture teaches that “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”  Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!

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:

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic

http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24

The Ethiopians and moral conduct

By Yilma Bekele

I dreamt about my uncle. He has been dead for over ten years so I was wondering what brought him to my conscious now. It was a vivid dream and I awoke both sad and happy. So all day long I kept wondering what is it that made me dream about him. I really think I was able to come up with a reasonable explanation why this memory was triggered in my brain. I believe it is due to what I have been reading lately that awaken this memory about service, integrity and today’s Ethiopia.

The night before the dream I read a very revealing article on goolgule.com about the land grab in Oromia region. It is a depressing tale of what those in position of power and authority do to our people. The story was told to give us perspective about Ato Junedin Sado, who seems to find himself in a very precarious position lately. His problem that started before the death of the tyrant has escalated to his being dismissed from that TPLF satellite organization OPDO. It looks like this puppet who has been serving his TPLF masters faithfully betraying the Oromo people is now paying the price for his sins.

I also have been reading about the Deputy Mayor of Addis Abeba Ato Kefyale Azeze defecting and moving to the US as a fellow refugee. I have also been informed about Ato Getachew Belay, a high ranking TPLF official, who decided to stay in the US abandoning his post. Ato Getachew has served his party as head of the Privatization Agency and head of EFFORT. Both are posts normally reserved for party loyalists.

The defections must have been what got me to think about service to people and country. That must be what triggered this deeply held memory to surface in the middle of the night. My uncle is one of the few people that have left a mark in my brain. I always think of him in a very pleasant manner. The earliest I remember of him from is the picture hanging on our living room wall. It was taken before he left for Korea as part of the United Nations peace keeping force. He was dresses in a greenish uniform sitting on a chair with medals on his chest. It was a serious picture but his boyish face betrayed the stern garish looking uniform and made him look like a kind solder unlike a warrior he was supposed to be. No question that picture impressed all of us growing children.

Upon his return from Korea he was recruited to work at our embassy in Egypt. He must have stayed there a long time because when we met next I was already in high school. He was working as administrator at Paulos Hospital in Addis Abeba. He got married and built a beautiful bungalow in Gulele. My brother and I used to love going over to visit him in the weekends and spend the day listening to him talk and observe the disciplined and meticulous way he lived.

He built the house himself and for us it was like a Ferenji place. It has a beautiful bathroom with toilet, bathtub and bidet with working plumbing system including hot water. The house has a beautiful dining area and a living room for entertainment with couches and a radio. His flower garden was a marvel to look at. We sat and ate in the dining room and washed our hands in the bathroom without a maid fetching water and towel to our table.

A few years later he built an addition on his land to rent for income and help raise his three beautiful daughters. He was making an honest living and looking forward to enjoying his retirement. I finished High school and came to America.

The appearance of the Derg changed everything. The turmoil that followed affected my uncle and his contemporaries in a negative manner. The Derg expropriated all wealth created regardless of how it was achieved. My uncle became the victim of this haphazard and meaningless policy. The Derg became the landlord of his property and his tenant started paying rent to the government. My uncle was forced to retire due to the turmoil in the country.

When I visited him next I couldn’t help but notice how fast he has aged. He was still living in his house but there was no incentive to do any repair or make his house into his own castle. It was shocking to see the deterioration of both man and property. Such a vibrant and go getter of a person was reduced to spending his days on trifle affairs and mundane subjects. It was odd to see his previous tenant subleasing the house and making money. The coming of Woyane did not make things any better. They took over where the Derg left off. That is how much things have turned topsy turvy.
May be I am grasping for straws, maybe I am letting my imagination go wild but the truth is I saw a connection between my dreaming of yester year and the current news coming out of Ethiopia. My uncle’s life was a simple straight line of service and hard work with rewards of stable and fulfilling end until it was rudely interrupted. His achievement was on merit and his honest service is what makes the wheels of society turn in predictable manner. His honorable way of life was an example to all our family. We all learn by example and he was a proud mentor.

Why am I writing about my uncle is a good question. I wanted to tell you we have not always been the way we are now. Lawless, corrupt, shifty, no roots and void of faith, this is what has become of us. I believe this describes the new Ethiopia. Not long ago our country and people were different. Yes there was inequality, there was injustice and we were definitely backward. But we were not degraded, self-loathing and hopeless.
What do we have today? There is no sense of public service but public robbery, there is no sense of do the right thing but a sense of what can I get away with, there is no sense of pride in workmanship but cheap labor for fast money, there is no sense of us but it is all about me. That is what the TPLF regime cultivates. That is why they could do all kinds of damage to our people and at the end of the day abandon all and move out of the country.
When I read about the likes of Junedin, Kefyalew and Getachew I start to wonder about the future of my country and people. What do our people learn from such disgraceful action? What kind of society produces such individuals? How did our country find itself putting such people in charge?
Let us take Ato Junedin. Let us also remember the entire OPDO leadership was rejected by the Oromo people during the 2005 elections. They were restored to their position after Ato Meles ordered recount of the ballots. It was in the aftermath of this event that the OPDO leadership decided to teach the people a lesson. Land is the only wealth the Ethiopian peasant owns. He has no bank account, no capital in machinery and no stocks and bonds. People like Junedin robed the land from the simple peasant. The stolen land was leased to grow flower for the export market while some was used to build condominiums and town houses.

The same peasant that lost his land was recruited to work as a day laborer while his children were let loose in the green houses where they grew flowers. Fifteen and sixteen year old Oromo girls were exposed to chemicals and fertilizers without adequate or no protection. The land given to the developers with fancy names puts the children’s fable Alice in wonderland to shame. In a country where the per capita income is less than $700 a year our developers are constructing housing that costs five million to twenty million. That is what a company called Country Club Developers is building in Legetafo, Oromia. It is also true that over 95% of the residents of Oromia cannot afford to purchase their dream house in Legetafo. Ato Junedin made all this possible.

Folks like Kefyalew and Getachew are the engines that facilitated the working of the TPLF anti Ethiopian machine. Today they come to America as victims. They followed high officials of the Derg regime that left before the fall of Mengistu. Derg era criminals today are respected members of our community. I assure you in a few years Kefyalew and Getachew will join our Church, Mosque and Eder as ordinary fellows in exile. How could a lesson be learnt if yesterday’s criminals are today’s freedom fighters?

Do you think the problem is with them or with us? Do you think people like Junedin, Kefyalew and Getachew can exist with us? There is no ying without yang, there is no smoke without fire and there is no criminal without a victim. Our indifference, our apathy makes people like the above flourish. When we keep quiet while observing injustice we encourage such evil act to continue. When we participate in buying stolen land, building on stolen land we facilitate the coming to death of our homeland. We mock our people’s plight because we ventured out and collected a fist full of dollars.

It does not require a fortune teller to predict sooner or later the injustice, the famine; the hopelessness will force our people to resort to force as they have done before. Today’s Ethiopia is reaching that boiling point. This is not because it is written but it is so because her children failed her, because her children refused to act because her children looked the other way. The solution lies in each one of us. We all know what is right and what is wrong. We all know we cannot judge the Junedins and the Kefyalews and the Getachews if we would act like them given the chance. The question to ask ourselves is would I be different? Am I a better human being aware, conscious, and keeper of my brother?

Ethiopia: The Art of Bleeding a Country Dry

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Ethio-Corruption, Inc. (Unlimited)

The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage”, wrote Economist Sarah Freitas who co-authored an upcoming report with  Lead Economist Dev Kar of Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The GFI report entitled, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” previewed in the Wall Street Journal, found that

Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365,  lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years… In 2008, Ethiopia received  US$829 million  in official development assistance, but this was swamped by the massive illicit outflows.  The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the  US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009.”

Two weeks ago in my commentary, “Why is Ethiopia Poor?”, I highlighted the fact that the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, had recently ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries on its 2011 Prosperity Index (LPI). Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%.  Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”.

The cancer of corruption is deeply embedded in the marrow of the Ethiopian body politic. The recently released  Transparency International (TI) 2011 Corruption Perception Index report on Ethiopia confirms the findings of GFI and other anti-corruption international organizations. For the past decade, TI has ranked Ethiopia at the bottom of the barrel of countries ruled by the most corrupt governments. In fact, for the past ten years Ethiopia’s score on the TI index has remained virtually unchanged (TI ranks countries on a 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”) scale.

TI Corruption Index Score for Ethiopia by Year

2011     2.7

2010     2.7

2009     2.7

2008     2.6

2007     2.4

2006     2.4

2005     2.2

2004     2.3

2003     2.5

2002     3.5

In light of the 2011 GFI and TI reports, is there any doubt today why Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world? Is it rocket science to figure out why Ethiopians are the second poorest people on the planet? Ethiopians are poor because they have been robbed, ripped off, flimflammed, bamboozled, conned, fleeced, scammed, hosed, swindled, suckered, hoodwinked, victimized, shafted and taken to the cleaners by those clinging to power like bloodsucking ticks on an African milk cow. Is it not mindboggling that the US$3.26 billion stolen out of Ethiopia in 2009 was double the amount stolen in 2008 and 2007!?!

The Art of Bleeding Ethiopia Dry

I have long argued that the business of African dictatorships is corruption. In a November 2009 commentary entitled “Africorruption Inc.”, I wrote the following about corruption in Ethiopia:

The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. For instance, reports of widespread corruption in Ethiopia in the form of outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments and gain are commonplace. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Doctors are unable to treat patients at the public hospitals because medicine and supplies are diverted for private gain. Tariffs are imposed on medicine and medical supplies brought into the country for public charity. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners.

Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Two months ago, Ethiopia’s former president Dr. Negasso Gidada offered substantial evidence of systemic political corruption by documenting the misuse and abuse of political power for partisan electoral advantage. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.” [As of December 2011, over two years after the investigation was launched, the State Department has not publicly released the results of its  investigation.]

Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia. The cunning dictator has been able to shroud his corrupt empire by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. Zenawi has successfully distracted public attention from rampant corruption by

Making wild allegations of terrorism against his critics, persecuting and prosecuting his opponents and by jailing and exiling independent journalists (a couple of weeks ago, Zenawi shuttered Awramba Times);

Proclaiming a bogus Growth and Transformation Plan that will “double economic growth by an annual average of  14.9 percent” by 2015;

Selling Ethiopia’s most fertile land for pennies above the table and for millions under the table;

Panhandling the international community for famine and humanitarian aid and misusing that aid for political purposes;

Taking massive loans from international banks without     any significant accountability on how it is spent;

Trying to shame and intimidate Western bankers and donors by hectoring them of the evils of  “neoliberalism”;

Proclaiming the construction of an imaginary hydroelectric dam over the River Nile;

Sending troops to occupy Somalia and threatening war with other neighboring countries;

Vilifying international human rights groups, election observers and officials of multilateral organizations who disagree with him;

Dispatching swarms of officials to panhandle the Ethiopian Diaspora for nickels and dimes to buy dam bonds;

Systematically extracting foreign remittances sent by Diaspora Ethiopians;

Staging political theatre by a toothless anti-corruption agency to hoodwink complicit Western donors and loaners.

Etc., etc.

The Economics of Corruption

The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial described “the Ethiopian government as one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world.”  In 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. They are all wrong!

No one knows corruption, the economics of kleptocracy, better than Zenawi.  The facts of Zenawi’s corruptonomics are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of businesses owned or dominated by Zenawi family members, cronies, supporters or hangers-on. According to the World Bank, business enterprises affiliated with Zenawi’s regime control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” Dataprovided by Zenawi’s regime  showed that by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s  outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. The USD$11.7 billion stolen over the past decade could easily retire that debt. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid at nearly $USD4 billion in 2009, and the second largest foreign aid recipient in the world after Afghanistan.

Is There a Way to Stop Ethiopia from Bleeding?

The international community “naively” believes that corruption in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa could be controlled and significantly reduced by anti-corruption programs. The U.N. Convention Against Corruption (2003)requires signatories to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.” Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention in 2003. The Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (2003)  established a regime to empower African countries to “prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors.”  The Convention prescribes that “in order to combat corruption and related offences in the public service, State Parties” shall “require public officials to declare their assets at the time of assumption of office during and after their term of office  in the public service.” Ethiopia signed the AU Convention in 2004. Neither of these Conventions has even made a dent in controlling the metastasizing corruption in Ethiopia.

Zenawi knows the power of corruption. He has effectively used corruption allegations to neutralize and eliminate his political opponents. He used his “Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission” to railroad his comrade-in-arms and former defense minister, Seeye Abraha, to jail for six years on unsubstantiated allegations of  corruption. When then-Judge Birtukan Midekssa, and later Ethiopia’s first female political party leader and long suffering political prisoner, released Seeye for lack of evidence, Zenawi rammed legislation through his rubberstamp parliament  to deny Seeye bail and keep him in pretrial detention. He later fired Judge Birtukan.  In 2008, Zenawi’s anticorruption commission reported that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A number of  culprits were fingered for the inside bank job, but no one was ever prosecuted. In February 2011, Zenawi 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 statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he will “cut off their hands”.

For years, I have documented and railed against corruption in Ethiopia. In December 2008, three years to the month, in a weekly commentary entitled, “The Bleeping Business of Corruption in Ethiopia”, I wrote:

The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi in the Ethiopian body politics. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada clearly understood that when he declared in 2001 that ‘corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,’ adding that the government would show ‘an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic’. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’…. Ironically, in 2003, Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption; and a couple of months ago, a conference on institutions, culture, and corruption was hosted jointly in Addis Ababa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.

The fact of the matter is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Zenawi has absolute power in Ethiopia.  Pleading for transparency and issuing moral exhortations against corruption will have no effect on the behavior of Zenawi or any of the other African dictators. Indeed, to plead the virtues of accountability, transparency and good governance with Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathens. It means nothing to them. They are unfazed by moral hectoring or appeals to conscience. They sneer and jeer at those who rail and vociferate against corruption. Preaching to the corrupt, to put it simply, is an exercise in total futility!

In my November 7 commentary “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!”, I discussed the importance of initiating and cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in civil forfeiture actions to seize corruptly obtained cash, personal or real property of any person or entity that can be traced to “specified unlawful activity”. These civil court actions extend to foreign offenses involving extortion, money laundering, or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.)  The U.S. has recently filed action to seize personal and real property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

Carefully review and analysis of GFI and TI data sources reveals that public assets and funds stolen from many African countries, including Ethiopia, are often hidden in banks located in the U.S. and Europe, although the clever African dictators are now diversifying by taking advantage of  financial havens in countries experiencing rapid growth and industrialization. Much of the corruption activity centers around money laundering (that is,  illegal or dirty money is put through a complex cycle of financial transactions or washed and is transformed into legitimate or clean money).

The basic idea in money laundering is to minimize the chances of detection of stolen public assets and funds by breaking the direct link between the kleptocrats or “corruptocrats” and their collaborators by disguising the true ownership. Using financial consultants, shell companies (bogus companies that exist to simply create the appearance of legitimate transactions through fake invoices and balance sheets), fraudulent official documentation, wire transactions, and “smurfing” techniques (breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts in the names of multiple persons) etc., those who have stolen public assets and funds try to sever or camouflage their loot from its illegal source by placing it in international financial institutions. The aim in money laundering is at least twofold: 1) gain anonymity and hide the audit trail in case of a criminal investigation, and 2)  plough the “clean money” into the legitimate economy by buying homes, investing in legitimate businesses, starting businesses and so on.

If the problem of corruption is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, it is not going to be at the fountainhead of the corruption itself but in the ocean where the river of corruption terminally flows. As one cannot expect the fox to safeguard the henhouse, one cannot similarly expect Africa’s dictators and corruptocrats and their collaborators to safeguard public assets and funds. A big part of the answer to the question of corruption lies in the Laundromats of financial institutions where the dirty money is washed. That’s why I believe it is the civic and moral duty of every Ethiopian and African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves hiding in America. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously.  Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: [email protected] If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199  

BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!

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Why is Ethiopia Poor?

First, Why is Africa Poor?

George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.

For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the  highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.

Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….

Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?

A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries.[1] LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”

On  “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”

But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed  nations in the world. Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%.  Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”. The World Bank this past June concluded that  “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).

That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business),  the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).

Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the  fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.

Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”

Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.

In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.

Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance

The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.

Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability.  Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.

Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.”   On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are  disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets.  But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of  food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.

Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations  in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little  investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The  International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.

Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.

LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread  poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary,  professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating  poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.

Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!

—————————

[1] The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.

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Ethiopia: Unfreedom of Information

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Life and Times of Democracy in Africa

The long march of democracy in West Africa seems to be well underway. In July 2009, I wrote a weekly commentary marveling about Ghana’s multiparty democracy. Wistfully, I asked the {www:rhetorical} question: “Why is democracy in motion in Ghana, and on life-support in Ethiopia?”

In May 2011, in another commentary I expressed my admiration for Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara when he publicly asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct an investigation into gross human rights violations in his country, despite the high risk that he and his top leaders and supporters could potentially be implicated in such an investigation. I rhetorically asked: “Could the election of Alassane Ouattara signal the beginning of Africa’s second independence?  Is there hope for the end ofthugtatorship in Africa and the beginning of a new era of democratic {www:governance}, openness and political accountability?”

Hope springs {www:eternal} in Africa and light is now visible at the end of Africa’s thugtatorship tunnel. On May 31, 2011, Nigeria’s newly-elected president Goodluck Johnathan’s lifted the dark curtain of secrecy that had shrouded Nigerian politics for decades by signing a freedom of information act (FOIA). Nigerians now have the legal right to demand open government, political accountability and transparency.

Meanwhile, democracy in East Africa remains on life support. It suffered a massive stroke in Ethiopia in May 2010 when dictator Meles Zenawi declared election victory by 99.6 percent. Since 2005, Zenawi has put that country’s tiny private independent press on the ventilator and {www:tethered} the rule of law to the heart-lung machine. He put human rights in intensive care and has managed to anesthetize the population into silence. A couple of weeks ago, he secretly sought to negotiate a deal with the Governing Board of the Voice of America (VOA). If the VOA blacklists and blackballs his critics in the U.S. and banishes them from ever appearing on VOA broadcasts, the electronic jamming will be lifted. Last week, Zenawi’s henchmen appeared before the Human Rights Committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to boldly claim that the independent press operates freely in the country, there is not a single instance of official torture and so on.

In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who seized power in 1986, became president-for-life in 2011. In Kenya, democracy survived by the skin of its teeth after 1,500 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in election-related violence in 2008. Somalia? What more can be said about Somalia?

Freedom of Information in Nigeria

Nigeria’s FOIA, like Ouattara’s request for an ICC investigation, is one of those {www:bellwether} events that could be used to determine whether Africa is poised for a second independence from thugtators in uniform or designer suits. The law has been in the planning and deliberation process for over a decade. It aims to deal with the core problems of governance in Nigeria – endemic corruption, lack of accountability and transparency and official secrecy.  Gbenga Adefaye, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, explained that the Act “has expanded the frontiers of press freedom for Africa’s most vibrant press.” He praised Johnathan for his “personal commitment to openness, transparency, accountability and good governance.”

The consensus among Nigeria’s opinion leaders is that the law will not only serve to improve governance but also empower citizens and enhance their ability to effectively participate in the democratic process. Armed with critical information on the functions and operations of government institutions and performance of political leaders, citizens could help keep government clean, expose and fight corruption and hold accountable those officials who rob the public treasury and abuse their powers.

The law establishes “the right of any person to access or request information” from “any public official, agency or institution.” One need not give a reason to request information. A public agency must provide the requested information within 30 days. If the information is not turned over, the person requesting can get a court order to compel disclosure. The law makes a narrow exceptionfor information that is likely to “ jeopardise national security, affect the conduct of international affairs or would amount to the release of trade secrets of the country.”

All “public institutions” are required to keep “records and information on all of their activities, operations and businesses”. The information to be kept include a wide variety of documents ranging from organizational manuals, official decisions, rules, regulations, planning documents, reports and studies to applications for any contracts, permits, grants, licenses or funds and even the names and  salaries of public employees. Such information must be “widely disseminated and made readily available in print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”

A public institution may deny a request but must “state reasons for the denial.” If a “wrongful denial of access is established, the defaulting officer or institution shall on conviction be liable to a fine of N500,000.00].” Any public employee who “willfully destroys any records kept in his/her custody or attempts to doctor or otherwise alter same before they are released” is subject to imprisonment for one year.

Unfreedom of Information in Ethiopia

In 1991, Zenawi as a victorious rebel leader declared, “Now is the beginning of a new chapter. It is an era of unfettered freedom.” Twenty years later today, we have an era of “unfettered” unfreedom of information. While Nigeria is opening its political process to the light of public scrutiny, Zenawi has blanketed the country with an electronic information blackout and kept busy drawing up blacklists of imaginary enemies he wants censored and gagged in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Since 2010, Zenawi has electronically jammed the broadcasts of the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT). Following the 2005 elections, he managed to totally decimate the independent press by shuttering newspapers and jailing journalists. Last month he jailed two young journalists, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of Awramba Times (a struggling weekly paper) and one of the few female journalists in the country, Reyot Alemu of Feteh (another struggling weekly paper) newspapers, on bogus charges that they were “organizing a terrorist network.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Alemu had recently criticized the ruling party’s public fundraising method for a major dam project on the Nile, and Taye has critically covered local politics as the deputy editor of his newspaper.”

Last week, Zenawi jailed Swedish photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye on charges that they crossed over the border from Somalia without accreditation. Press repression in Ethiopia is so massive and intense that Zenawi even censored World Press Freedom Day events this past May. Ethiopia has the second lowest Internet penetration rate (after Sierra Leone) in sub-Sahara Africa. Every Ethiopian pro-democracy website is blocked from access in Ethiopia.

President Ronald Reagan said, “Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders.” If that is true, Ethiopians today must be suffering from an acute case of hypoxia and breathing through the heart-lung machine. Supposedly, Ethiopia has a freedom of information law (Proclamation No. 590/2008 – A Proclamation to Provide for Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information.) Anyone who has carefully studied this proclamation will be impressed by the lofty platitudes, truisms and boilerplate legal clichés and verbiage borrowed from the laws of other nations. But as a piece of legislation, it is hollow, vacuous and meaningless. In Article 4, it provides, “Freedom of the mass media is constitutionally guaranteed. Censorship in any form is prohibited.” Yet the proclamation bursts with heavy-handed censorship. Onerous burdens are placed on “editor-in-chiefs”, “media owners”, “publishers”, “importers”, “printers”, “distributors” and ordinary citizens who seek to gather or disseminate information through an elaborately camouflaged system of registration, certification and licensing requirements. It compels self-censorship through direct threats of serious criminal and civil prosecution for “offenses committed through the mass media” (Arts. 6-9; 41.)

Under the proclamation, citizens supposedly have a right of “access, [to] receive and import information held by public bodies, subject to justifiable limits based on overriding public and private interests.” But the “justifiable limits” include non-disclosure of any Cabinet documents or information (Art. 24), any information relating to the “financial welfare of the nation or the ability of the government to manage the economy of the country” (Art. 25), and any information on the “operation of public bodies [including] an opinion, advice, report or recommendation obtained or prepared or an account of a consultation, discussion or deliberation… minutes of a meetings…” (Art. 26). Simply stated, no information may be released on the activities of government ministers and officials, banks or any other official financial institutions and the internal {www:proceedings} or external reviews of public institutions. To top it all off, any public body may refuse a request for information if it determines for any reason the “harm to the protected interest which would be caused by disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” (Art. 28.) Such is freedom of information by smoke-and-mirrors.

Nigeria now has a reasonable chance of having openness and transparency in government with its FOIA. For decades, Nigeria’s government has suffered a reputation as one of the hopelessly corrupt in the world. Allegations of massive {www:graft}, fraud, abuse, waste and conflict of interest in government have persisted year after year. Despite anti-corruption laws and enforcement efforts, the problem of corruption in Nigeria has not diminished. The Nigerian judiciary and law enforcement agencies are criticized widely for lack of integrity and professionalism.

There are many who say implementation of the law will be nearly impossible because of the prevailing culture of corruption in Nigeria. No one believes the FOIA is a panacea to the problem of corruption or governance in Nigeria, but the availability of a legal tool that can be used aggressively by a determined few in the media could put a big chill on the criminal activities of the thugs and gangsters that have a chokehold on power. Minimally, Nigeria’s FOIA could be used to name, shame and prosecute some of the most corrupt officials and create broad public awareness for clean honest government.

It is said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Freedom of information is the principal tool by which the absolute powers of dictators can be curbed. African dictators, like hyenas on the African plains, like to operate in the dark invisible to the prying public eye. It is through freedom of information laws that these hyenas could be forced out of the dark and into the public square and be held accountable.

Hope springs eternal in Africa. The rising sun of democracy over North Africa is casting rays of hope on West Africa. The sun that rises for North and West Africa will also rise for East Africa. The African Lords of Darkness should not feel victorious because keeping a nation in the dark does not mean the people are blind, deaf and dumb. The light of freedom shines in the hearts and minds of the oppressed during the day and at night; and there is no power on earth that can put out that light. Those condemned to live in darkness should always remember that night always turns into light; the moon, the stars and the heavens shine brightly in the darkest of nights, and it is always darkest before the dawn. Until dawn breaks, let us reflect on the words of Shakespeare: “There is no darkness but ignorance…I say, this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say, there was never man thus abus’d.” I say there was never nation thus abus’d.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

 

 

Ethiopia’s ruling junta ramps up the fear machine

By Yilma Bekele

… within an established totalitarian regime the purpose of propaganda is not to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate. From this point of view, propaganda should not approximate to the truth as closely as possible: on the contrary it should do as much violence to it as possible. For by endlessly asserting what is {www:patently} untrue, by making such untruth {www:ubiquitous} and unavoidable, and finally by insisting that everyone publicly {www:acquiesce} in it, the regime displays its power and reduces individuals to nullities. Who can retain his self-respect when, far from defending what he knows to be true, he has to applaud what he knows to be false – not occasionally, as we all do, but for the whole of his adult life?” – Anthony Daniel

That is the capability the Meles regime is trying to build in Ethiopia. Anthony Daniel observed this and other strange behaviors by human beings during his travels inside totalitarian regimes of East Germany, Albania, North Korea and Cuba. The Ethiopian regime is modeled after them. All the above countries were/are economically backward, single party dominated with a sick {www:megalomaniac} in charge and highly armed. Cultivation of fear was their number one industry. The fear administered by these regimes is studied for its effectiveness and meant to strip the individuals of his/her self-respect. To dehumanize the person into submission was the main goal of the totalitarian state.

In Ethiopia the regime has all the tools of coercion at its disposal. The regime is the number one employer in the country. All our cousins rely on the goodwill of the regime. All land belongs to the State, thus ninety percent of Ethiopians live at the whims of the Federal government, the Kilil, all the way to the Kebele level. One false move and it is the end of the world, as they know it. They are victims of engineered fear.

Part Three of the video with ‘Ethiopian Merchants’ was all what the meeting was about. It is the Crown Jewel display of a regime bullying its own citizens that contribute the most. It was to give a public spanking to the people that have been operating under tremendous pressure to eek out a living. It was a moment to emasculate the Ethiopian merchants. We are talking about a breed of people that survived the socialist, military, and ‘strong man’ rule Ethiopia only to be administered a public flogging by The Leader himself. I am sure there are some that take the short cut. They are a few. The biggest and insurmountable threat was coming from the State subsidized, Privately owned {www:conglomerate}s like EFFORT and its offsprings.

Despite all this our merchants were finding ways of going around obstacles and supporting family and friends. Our merchants are our best ambassadors. They travel to the remotest of Chinese villages to get a bargain. These naturally smart people seasoned in the art of trade on international level by sheer determination and drive were declared unnecessary and irrelevant by Ato Meles. He said the regime would rather involve in meaningful development rather than ‘being a soap peddler’ like the merchants. That was said in contempt, which is very sad. I guess we all can’t be Prime Ministers.

The meeting was to humiliate our merchants. Ato Meles was hitting hard. He meant to completely obliterate the middle class. This meeting was the unfurling of his new scheme. His new attempt to copy Wal-Mart and incorporate that success into nation building scheme. I told you he was {www:unconventional}. To go with our new flag, we will have a new name. Welcome to the Federal Democratic Republic of Wal-Opia where the regime ‘buys in bulk, repackage it, determine the profit margin and allow the worthless peasants to distribute it.

Fasten your seat belt; Ato Meles is the driver this time around. Looks like Colonel Mengistu jettisoned off a while back. If you close your eyes, you are excused, no one likes going off a cliff without a parachute. So sorry about that, there is only one parachute in this bus. Hope you enjoyed your final ride.

In Part Three Ato Meles was using the power of his office, the absolute control of Parliament and security under him to bully the merchants into submission. At the end of Part Two He called them common thieves that present false vouchers never to be trusted (7:37) then went into bully mode right away. In Part Three he started off by mentioning the last meeting with the same merchants and remembered it this way:
We assumed that the road from the existing system to the correct system would be a rocky one when we discussed with you earlier, and we agreed on the ‘price set’ I remember the questions some of you asked. You said if this policy does not work what are you going to do next, the question might have been innocent on the other hand it might have hidden messages like we are going to sabotage the price controls so what we are you going to do next. I would say this type of approach does not encourage frank discussions especially if the PM sees ulterior motive behind every question? He said that to lay the ground rules for this meeting. The story he told next is the map of economic activity under the rule of TPLF new and improved formulae.

He said the economic policy he had in place for the last twenty years assumed that by shielding the trade sector from foreign capital our people would accumulate enough capital and move into industry, farming and manufacturing. It did not happen. (1:01) Thus the blame lies on the merchant class for not involving in those activities. He reminded them of what he said before of the possibility of opening the market to foreign competition or the State being forced to participate in the trade sector. Thus due to the sabotage by the merchants against his ‘price control policy’ and the general lack of competition he announced, “we have decided to pick a few main commodities such as Oil, Sugar and Wheat and restructure the system how they are imported. What that means is one central authority purchases for all of Ethiopia and in bulk and we will have several choices to get cheap price in other words like what the Koreans do. (Please note he did not specify which Korea and what exactly they do?) We can buy it unrefined and refine and repackage it here.” (4:14)

Next is where the theory is seen in its practical form. The plan is as elegant as any devised by a committee of academicians sitting in their high tower and equating ants to human activity. You can see the problem a mile away. Looks like he forgets the pesky ugly trait humans possess that is known as ‘free will’ and it never fails to show up. This is what the Great Leader for life said “Upon buying it in bulk we do not want to assume the distribution end of it. We want plenty of distributors and retailers in every town what we don’t want is vertical integration between retailer and distributor. (5:03). It will be done in all the Kilils. We want your cooperation here. In the future we are not going to worry about the price of beer here and meat over there we want to make a fundamental solution. (9:03). We want to start slow and include all commodities.”

The Ethiopian government just declared a section of its most vibrant and creative citizens irrelevant. This is not the first time. Ato Meles and company have this nasty habit of taking a section of society and making an enemy out of. There was a time when Ato Meles declared University professors unnecessary. The best and experienced were fired. We kept quiet. Independent Trade Unions were deemed superfluous and leaders like Ato Assefa Maru were fatally shot in public. We turned a blind eye. Political Parties not organized by TPLF were seen as the enemy and Ato Meles used state power to murder leaders (Professor Asrat Woldeyes) Imprison elected leaders (Kinijit) jail leader of an opposition Party (Judge Bertukan Mideksa) disrupt (All Ethiopia, OFDM, OPC, Andenet) and we turned our face away. Independent News Paper editors, publishers, reporters and even street venders were systematically eliminated and we betrayed all by our silence.

Is there room for optimism here? Do you think our bosses found the secret formula to grow our economy and usher in a period of peace and harmony? You know the answer. If it has not borne fruit in twenty years it is not going to happen even if you give it additional hundred years. I am not being a naysayer, just realistic. There comes a time where you swallow your pride and admit defeat and get out of the way. That time has arrived. Ato Meles and company were given a clean sheet and given the power and authority to draw any picture they wanted. There was no opposition, no organized force to stop them and no external enemy to threaten them.

When you consider Meles and company never have any experience running a little kiosk let alone a national economy there is no surprise for that uneasy feeling we all have. There is one thing al the TPLF leaders have in common before they assumed power. They never had a bank account, they have never worked for wages, and they have never paid rent, bought a car, shopped for insurance or received utility bills. All their knowledge comes from theory not real life experience. There is no substitute for actual experience.

When Ato Meles speaks of being a distributor of oil and sugar and when he talks about vertical integration and stuff you know it all came from books, not real life situation. The fact of the matter is Wal-Mart is successful because it is driven by purely personal interest. The central motive is making a profit. Wal-Mart faced competition and relied on the creative potential of the founder and his associates to build such a colossal successful enterprise. It is testimonial to the power of the individual to excel when given the chance. Cadres are not capable of understand that fact.

The Ethiopian people are under tremendous pressure. The Meles regime has used the last twenty years to sharpen its weapons of coercion. They might have failed in growing the economy but they have excelled in constructing a prison that passes itself as a country. They might not have enough books for our children, they might not have medicine for our sick, they might not have enough food in storage for our people, they might not have enough teachers, doctors and other professionals to make our peoples life better but they have the best army fully equipped, they have the best security force that is embedded in every house hold and even have the latest and fastest computers to spy on, collect information and intimidate the population.

That is in Ethiopia. How about outside? What is the situation with those that escaped from this national jail? Have they managed to conquer the fear? What do you think? I am asking you my reader, yes, you! Are you afraid of Ato Meles? Shouldn’t distance from the source of fear relieve us of some of that anxiety? I see, you claim you are not afraid. Good, I will take your word for it. But I got a question for you. Now tell me when Ato Meles and company are abusing your cousins, squandering your wealth, exposing your parents to famine and starvation, exiling the young and able how did you respond? Did you say hold on a minute this does not sound right?

Some did. A vast majority of us choose the road of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Why? Because Fear cannot be wished away. Fear has become part of our persona. Fear of authority, fear of elders and the tendency to conform is a sickness we are unable to overcome. Most of us are aware that the current regime under the TPLF is not the way out. We all talk of the incoming apocalypse. We are always predicting civil war, internal strife, bloodshed around the corner and implosion from inside. What is so curious is that most of us are not willing to do what is necessary to avoid this horrible scenario unfolding in front of us. May be it will be a good idea if we take the time to self analyze and find the reason for this self-destructive behavior.

It is not true that the individual is helpless to do anything about it. That is a cover we give our self to avoid responsibility. As it is said not a single raindrop will admit to be the cause of the flood. The same with us, we might think our individual action is insignificant in the scheme of things but how wrong we are. It is our individual action that empowers the tyrant, plus you can only answer for your actions not for mine, so what do you say fellow country person? Are you contributing to your liberation or slavery?

The last few days we are really happy that Secretary of State Clinton told the AU and Ato Meles about the importance of Democracy. I am very happy. But why do I get this feeling that her words do not match her deeds? Isn’t Ato Meles coddled and propped up by our foreign friends? Who trains and equips his army, who grants him loans from World Bank and IMF, who lets him sit with elected leaders in International settings, who bestows legitimacy on him? So tell me what is all this excitement about?

I understand now. It is that old habit of wishing others to do the dirty job for us. It is that dysfunctional tendency we have acquired to outsource the liberation struggle. It is not going to work. It has been tried for the last twenty years with nothing to show for it. Looks like the burden is on us again. May be it is about time we do some growing up and face responsibility? May be it is about time we cut out this pretension and stand up to be counted. No one can force you to do the right thing. No one can make you see the light. No one can help you regain your self-esteem. It is one thing to play dead, what I don’t understand is this tendency we have to feverishly oppose even those that are trying to stand up for our rights.