I am not making this up You can follow the link below and watch the four part video of the leader for life meeting with Ethiopian business leaders. It is a very interesting video. The video is edited and posted on You Tube by Ethiopian TV. I am very grateful. They should be commended for spending all the time and effort to inform the Diaspora. It is true due to censorship, lack of broadband capability, absence of electricity, and computer the Ethiopian people will not be able to access and watch this revealing video anytime they like. I have taken the time and effort and watched it twice.
I wanted to make sure that I stay true to the discussion. Based on that video it is not correct to call it a discussion. It is more like a monologue. It is presented in four parts. Each part is fourteen minutes for a total of fifty-three minutes and fifty-four seconds. In part one a questioner took five minutes and three seconds and a second one was done in one minute and thirty-six seconds. Forty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds are the musings of the great leader for life.
The meeting was a perfect example of what is wrong with our country. It is a big mirror held in front of us so we can really see ourselves. They say ‘you deserve the leaders you get’. That statement is a poster child for Ethiopia. Our tolerance of injustice has bestowed on us a very unjust situation. What happened in that video is acceptable in a Monarchy. It is the rule under Communism. It is normal in a military dictatorship. Ethiopia is none of those. It is billed as a Federal Democratic Republic. The leaders are elected to serve the people. They serve at the will of the people. The question is why is the Ethiopian leader threatening, scolding and demeaning the people he serves?
That is Ethiopia in a nutshell. We got rid of a Monarchy to replace it with a brutal military dictatorship. After considerable loss of life the military Junta was replaced by the victors organized under TPLF. We were told a new era begun. The democratic way was ushered with much fanfare. That was twenty years ago. That video makes it clear that there was a peaceful transition from Mengistu to Meles. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Ato Meles spoke a lot in that meeting. He revealed to us how his brain is wired. He wanted to make it clear to the merchants and thru that meeting to all Ethiopians that not accepting the decree of the great leader for life have consequences. He expressed it beautifully in Amharic. (Beklo maserewan qoretch bilu, lerasua asterech). He actually said that. We are the Beklo and he is the one with the leash or lasso. A very interesting mind set.
I found it very difficult to decide where to start. You see the one-hour video is mostly lies, misinformation and full of distortions. It is not difficult to refute. Thanks to Google you can search any assertion if true or false. Democratic Ethiopia is built on false premises. It is a house built on sand. This time for added measure he brought out two cadres to set the stage for his conclusion. Both made wrong misinformed statements as a foundation and he built his house of cards on that unstable footing.
The first questioner was a perfect specimen of a self-loathing; clueless and void of self esteem Ethiopian. He spoke good Amharic, was dressed perfectly with his matching suit and ties and can BS like no one. He started by insulting our past sprinkling his language with English words for added measure. Unfortunately a lie is a lie uttered in Amharic or English. After degrading our past he concluded by saying the concept of modernism (zemenawi) and free enterprise came with TPLF. He looks like he is in his thirties so he must be a product of the Derg era and came into maturity with the reign of Emperor Meles. He is excused for his ignorance regarding the history of his country and proud ancestors.
To set the record straight free enterprise means the existence of the freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with minimal government regulation. During the Emperors reign I witnessed the practice of incipient free enterprise system in our country. There was a problem of fair distribution of resources but I assure you land was private, supply and demand were at work and the government generally followed hands off approach. The questioner’s Ethiopia is different. The current TPLF regime is the main engine of the economic system. The regime owns all land and leases it to the citizen, controls all major industries outright or using proxies such as EFFORT and is the biggest and baddest employer in the land.
Our questioner is also fond of misinformation knowing that the citizens have no way of verifying his distortion. He said he belongs to the camp that advocates the government’s intervention in price control for basic items such as oil, sugar, soap etc. and mentioned Thailand as an example of a country with such practice. So I Googled Thailand and price control to check his assertion. He did not disappoint me. He was following the good old Ethiopian habit of concluding without facts and using a broad brush to justify saying anything.
You see Thailand used price control on basic items like sugar, rice and oil. That much is true. That is the only thing common with our country. The control in Thailand is to set the price of sugar below international prices. Thailand is the second largest exporter of sugar in the world after Brazil. The government has a quota for internal consumption and export. The problem faced by the Thais is that some exporters cheat and export sugar allocated for the domestic market thus creating shortage. Now the problem faced with our country is a little different. There is no sugar, oil, and wheat because there is not enough internal production. Also we do not have enough foreign reserve to supply the population to meet its basic needs. Furthermore the TPLF regime is using this opportunity to break the back of the small merchants in its attempt to control the market from above. When he waded into pointing out the futility of the regimes attempt to set artificial prices he was cut off.
The second questioner is a rare breed. I have no idea what he was doing there passing himself as a businessman. He is a typical Woyane sitting as a civilian. But he was there and he asked a question. A little bizarre if you ask me. He was asking his boss to please do something because some merchants are insisting on making a maximum profit. Here is what he said:
We fully support the government’s action regarding wheat this past week. The idea that the government is going to distribute 450 thousand quintal of wheat at $490bir per quintal to us and set the price we sell it to the consumer, I am sure will stabilize the price of flour from today on. I guarantee that. What I would like to tell the government is I am sure many of the mills were hording wheat and some who bought it at $400bir are waiting to sell when it hits $900bir and some even stock it for six seven months and we appeal to the government to create a central trading like ECX (commodity exchange) for wheat …… I am sure there is over a million quintal in stock horded by the Flour mills etc…
There you have it the private entrepreneur begging the state to put him on a leash. Only in Revolutionary Democracy Ethiopia can such a theatre take place. And where he got that million quintal only God knows. It is also possible it is a veiled threat to remind them the calamity that has befallen coffee merchants. All this excitement and it is only six minutes into a one-hour presentation.
As I said before The Leader spoke forty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds, at least according to this edited presentation. I believe it will be fair to divide it into two sections and learn from it. The first part will be where The Leader speaks about the failure of the Ethiopian people to grow the economy. The second part will be where he explains the further fine-tuning of the Capitalist system being built by the Government of Ethiopia. This is definitely a first. All eyes are on Ethiopia and The Leader.
I noticed that he speaks very slow and deliberate. Either he wants to make it very clear or he has a very low opinion of his listeners. That is the way most people speak to two year olds. The tone shows that it was more like a lecture than a discussion. It was an upside down situation in that room. They pay his salary and he is threatening them. You would think that he would be nice to them since he wants to be re-elected. He wants their support and cooperation doesn’t he? That is the way it should work in a Democratic setting. You know like employer and employee. If the employee does not like the employer the only option is quitting. On the other hand if the employer does not like the employee firing is best for everybody. In Ethiopia the employee is firing the employer. Go figure that.
Here is Ato Meles in his own words:
The Government is concerned because beyond loss of income it has further meaning. If looked from tax income perspective collected into the National treasury Ethiopia is ranked with Somalia, one cannot compare us with any African country Kenya collects 25% whereas we are less than 10% (pause) under this circumstances the government can only live on alms (pause) this is a big disadvantage (long pause) on the other hand if the issue was just about collecting tax personally I wouldn’t have gotten into this hassle (neterek) I would have no problem in accepting being compared to Somalia. Beyond loss of revenue this has two major consequences. First it negatively affects capital allocation. There are ways of getting out of paying taxes. Manufacturing is one activity where avoiding paying tax is difficult. Even our blind and toothless system will find it by feel. On the other hand businesses like services and construction where taxpaying is lax capital will flow to that. Not getting revenue is a burden we can carry but capital is flowing no growth-oriented direction. Look at Addis. Due to the many buildings people are partying and dancing, they think that is growth and progress on the other hand if only one third has gone to manufacturing it is not difficult to imagine the effect on the country’s growth. Only the Indians, Chinese and Turks are involved in manufacturing. We cannot count on borrowed capital outside capital is not substitute. Unless the pillar of our economy is not ours we will end up being outsiders in our own country. If you ask why more capital is invested in services and construction it is because land is held using bribes and illegal means. If you have enough land you can be very rich if you have buildings you don’t pay rent. If you rent it to the foreigners including Embassy’s you can collect rent outside. Ethiopians hold over $2billion dollars in foreign banks. The burden we can not carry is we are losing the future economic power because our capital is flowing not into growth oriented but to areas that can help avoid paying taxes and the important economy branches are taken over by foreign capitalist. To hide your wealth you involve in high consumption activities Ethiopian Easter, vast amounts spent in big hotels, Ethiopian weddings, Ethiopian memorial services Ethiopian tidbits is comparable to highly developed countries. To save and invest it one thing but money hidden from paying taxes is like gambling money. We are not using our wealth to bring growth. The second thing we are worried about is you can operate like this in the forest. One cannot steal in broad daylight. When there is a forest you not only find Rats and Snakes all kinds of creatures in the forest including Elephants can hide. The forest is black hole to hide wealth. It is difficult to know ownership. Some officials’ steal and when confronted claim the money came from their aunt’s son in America. If we know each individuals income we can get rid of the forest. You can tell who is snake and who is human. In the old system individuals posses more than one business license. Some even register their dogs. Due to these revenue-hiding schemes our corrupt officials were hiding in this big forest thus we cannot cleanse ourselves. If this continues it is only a matter of time before we turn on each other. Where authority is the only means to be wealthy there will no be lasting peace. We can only get rid of corruption when we know each individuals income. The thief will be left naked for all to see. We do not want to involve in search and destroy. Knowing everyone’s income is a solution. Concerning taxes it is a rare exception where correct invoices are submitted. The receipts you submit are automatically suspect. You bring us proof on CD’s. Everybody knows that you can never avoid mistakes when you create CD. No matter how diligent. Our people have a saying. If the Mule cuts off its lasso, it only shortened it for it self. Your cutting the lasso made it shorter for you. We are all hurting.
Let us get something straight before anything is said. The speaker Ato Meles Zenawi has been in charge of the country since 1992. He has never allowed or tolerated any outside party other than TPLF and its creation EPDRF. It has been Ato Meles and his TPLF partners that have been making all major and minor decisions in the name of Ethiopia. Since the split in TPLF after the war with their Eritrean partners Ato Meles was able to vanquish his opponents and enter the one-man rule era. For all practical purposes Ato Meles is Ethiopia and Ethiopia is Ato Meles. The Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is known to have said “Not a leaf moves in Chile if I don’t know about it” You can say the same thing about Ato Meles and Ethiopia.
The question I have is why is The Leader singing the blues now after he has been the main architect of this 12% growth we have been hearing about for the last few years? He was the first to take credit when the news was all about this unheard of growth and peace under his able and smart stewardship. Why talk about the impending loss of sovereignty and specter of disintegration now?
He started by moaning the problem of raising revenues and compared our country to Somalia and Kenya. I have no idea where he got his facts regarding a non-country like Somalia. But his take on Kenya is definitely wrong. Kenya has a highly developed economy than ours. Look at the chart.
Country Population GDP/Capita Budget
Ethiopia 90.8 900 4.3billion
Kenya 41.0 1600 7.01billion
Looks like the only place where we are ahead is in procreating. Is it possible Ethiopia collects less because our people live on subsistence level? The comparison is invalid and misleading.
I am surprised to hear the head of the government saying that it is ok with him if people do not pay their fare share of break the law of the land. I did not know obeying the law was an option. It is a very curious statement to say the least.
Ato Meles seems to have a different understanding of the workings of a free enterprise system. I fail to understand where the confusion is if capital moves where more money is to be made. It is every capitalist’s interest to find a legal way to reduce his/her tax burden. Like any human enterprise there are a few that will find a way to avoid paying their share. His government followed on the footsteps of the Derg and kept all land in the hands of the government. He has been selling it to the highest bidder since coming to power. His family and friends are the premier owners of choice property. His government has been working overtime in the Diaspora arranging land sale gatherings. Constructing what is commonly referred to as ground plus condominiums and office space has been the talk of all Ethiopia. There is not a town not affected by this national madness of concrete and glass in the middle of nowhere.
Wasn’t it true that the construction outfits and banks organized around EFFORT were the number one beneficiary of the Diaspora’s investment in the 12% growth we have been hearing about? Today The Leader tells us that is the wrong road. Did he apologize for this royal screw up? No sir, he is blaming the investor. His theory is that folks are attracted to housing investment to avoid paying taxes. It is a very difficult to understand his assertion. I believe a vast majority invest in building housing because they believe the will come out ahead. It is normally a good investment. Most in the Diaspora invest in Ethiopia for various reasons. Some invest to have a place for retirement, a few to make money and others because it is cheaper and easier than in most foreign lands. I have not met anyone investing large amounts to avoid Ethiopian taxes. Ato Meles mocks people’s patriotism. He even blames people for enjoying their money on lavish weddings and hotel expenses. I thought under capitalism one is free to do what he wants with his earned income.
His preference seems to be manufacturing. He wants Ethiopians to put their money into the manufacturing industry. Again it is a very curious statement coming from the head of the state. There is no need to wish it or complain about its absence. It is in his power to gear the economy towards the direction he wants. From what I understand Governments use various incentives to direct the orientation of the economy where it is most beneficial to the country. Tax incentives, land give a ways; subsidies are but a few methods. Before such methods are tried there is usually groundwork to be done. A few question a capitalist interested in setting up a manufacturing enterprise will ask will go something like is there infrastructure to support the enterprise? This will include things like roads, power and communication. Having an educated work force is plus. So before the invitation is printed is Ethiopia ready to welcome investors? The answer is no. Power is in short supply and the education level is below par. His condemnation of the hand that feeds him is rude and unacceptable.
The talk about the forest Rats, Snakes and Elephants is where he lost me. This is where his imagination kicked in and the talk regarding snakes and humans started to cloud the monologue. I have no idea why he conjured up all these animals when the point he wanted to make was he wants to have a record of every Ethiopian income. It is a very interesting situation we got here. One of the poorest countries wants to invest in building a sophisticated database on it citizens. A country that is looking at over seven million people in a state of famine wants to spend billions on book keeping. It was very interesting to see The Leader telling his tax paying citizen that they are not trust worthy and that they are guilty until proven innocent.
I believe he should be man enough to accept his mistakes. The polices he is putting down and making fun of are none other than his very own. He is the owner the current economic and political policy in place. Starting with his back door deal with Eritrea, the land as government property, the division of our country on ethnic lines, the war with Somalia, the lack of healthy political environment, the suffocating security setup is all the work of Ato Meles and his TPLF partners. Real men accept responsibility for their deeds. The Ethiopian people cannot take the blame for decision they were not consulted or agreed upon. Even as parents we make sure our children understand the value of ‘thank you’ and ‘I am sorry’ early in their developmental stage.
I fully understand The Leader is under tremendous strain. The people’s uprising in the neighborhood is freaking out his outfit. They are coming out with different approaches to bully, frighten and intimidate the population. The fate of Ato Meles is similar to that of Mubarak, Gaddafi, Saleh and Assad. There is no easy way out. So much crime has been done there is no way of whitewashing and going back to the beginning. There is no reset button on governance. Ato Meles and the Ethiopian people are dancing around each other waiting to see who is going to fall first. This sort of situation does not favor tyrants. They are edgy and prone to make irrational and sudden moves that jar the equilibrium. Everyday sees the advent of a new crisis. If it is not inflation it is Kilil revolt. If it is not scarcity of basic items it is fire in Gondar or transformer blow up in Arsi.
It is a shame to see a leader bully his people and distributes the video to show his shameful behavior. Even after editing it does not present a smart picture. Those in the room were grown up people trying to survive in such an environment unsure of what tomorrow will bring. It is a sad scene. The second part will be on the wonderful explanation of how the Ethiopian Government is reinventing itself as Wall Mart, wholesale distributor of oil, bread and sugar. It did not work for Mengistu, no reason to think it will work this time around. Pray for Ethiopia.
When you take an object apart to see how it works, or take software and disassemble it to locate the source code it is referred to as reverse engineering. Basically what you are doing is inverting the system by going backwards the developmental cycle all the way to conception. Reverse engineering begins with a final product and works backwards.
This is done for various reasons. It could be done for learning purpose to see how it works, to enhance the product to make it function better, to copy it which is mostly illegal or for malicious purpose such as infecting it with virus.
I believe we have been reverse engineered by the TPLF government. You can be sure the purpose was not to learn, enhance or integrate but rather to destroy or disrupt. The pie in the sky idea of the Millennium Dam was the malicious code that was inserted into our operating system.
We woke up one morning and were appalled to discover TPLF was clad in our beautiful tri colored flag and we were left covered in Eritrean and Egyptian clothing. My hats off to our Woyane hackers. Today ladies and gentlemen we have TPLF on this corner proudly dressed in green yellow and red and on the other side is the opposition dressed in Eritrean t-shirt top and Egyptian briefs. Watch Ato Meles bouncing around in his new Chinese made uniform jabbing the air with his beautiful tri colored gloves and raising his fist up high and Ato Bulcha Demeksa getting booed by the spectators.
The Americans call it topsy-turvy situation. In Ethiopia it is called the coming of sementegna shi, the eight-millennium. It is uttered to signify a bizarre, unexplainable and totally weird situation. It is a sign of total resignation. What is there to do when you are witnessing the end of the world? I believe that is what we got here. The real sementegnaw shi is upon us.
The theft of our uniform also managed to put the question in a different perspective. All of a sudden the debate became for and against Abay. Did you notice that? To build a dam or not became the issue. That is the way the regime defined the debate.
Now tell me have you met any Ethiopian opposed to building a dam on Abay or any river? The question is absurd. Why would anybody not wish a dam, a factory, a research university and other beautiful things for his country? Then what is all this false debate about?
Like everything else in Ethiopia, due to its monopoly of the media the TPLF regime defines the issues and presents its side using every available means. The Ethiopian people, those that are able or have conquered fear get bits of information from ESAT (www.ethsat.com) VOA, DW and Internet.
The issue is not about building a freaking dam or not but rather it is all about democracy. Such colossal projects require sober discussion and a national consensus. When governments plan such huge and costly endeavors they usually carry out a consorted effort to include the population in a lively debate to build enthusiasm and good will. Again, like everything else TPLF, they have managed to stand the concept on its head. They have put the cart in front of the horse. I know it is nothing new.
We wanted to discuss intelligently and answer the two vital questions of why and how? They don’t have adequate answers so they resorted into stealing the flag and hiding behind it like a coward. We are saying hold on, before we decide shouldn’t we discuss it? Unfortunately, today we are actually forced to discuss an event that is not going to happen. Why it is not going to happen has been analyzed and dissected by Ethiopian experts in the fields of economics, engineering and politics. No one from the regime has presented a compelling reason to use our limited resources on one gigantic project or answered the simple issue of affording it. It cannot be done because there is no study to justify Ato Meles’s delusion.
The purpose of the Abay dam issue is to deflect attention from the current economic failure and the specter of uprising in the vicinity. They have managed to confuse some people. They have used a very important question to win political point. In their tiny little heads they have won the day. How pathetic. Here is a good timely quotation from FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Fair play code.
Winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly. Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure. Playing fair requires courage and character. It is also more satisfying. Fair play always has its reward, even when the game is lost. Playing fair earns respect, while cheating only brings shame. Remember: it is only a game. And games are pointless unless played fairly.
TPLF plays dishonestly. Winning by cheating is second nature to our Woyane warriors. TPLF refuses to grow up. The Ethiopian regime is infected with toxic philosophy of us against them. They spend a lot of time concocting negative ideas and scenarios to confuse, set one up against the other and survive another day. Since Woyane assumed power our people have not seen a single day of peace.
Today democratic Ethiopia is demanding businesses use a cash register furnished and maintained by the government. The cash register costs over seven thousand Bir and maintenance and upgrades cost over two thousand. It is not open for discussion. Today democratic Ethiopia demands the citizen report to Kebele if he has an overnight visitor in his own house. Today democratic Ethiopia determines how much a private merchant should charge for his goods.
The Abay dam theatre is one more abuse to prop up a dying system. The regime has already started to expropriate money from civil servants and the banks to finance its military and security due to the threat of people’s uprising. The willing Diaspora that was lulled over by promise of appreciating real estate values is now coming face to face with TPLF’s ugly side. Forty percent is the current rate of the rip off billed as tax, but it is just the beginning. The song ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ comes to mind. I have a feeling some of my Hodam relatives will soon be singing the Ethiopian blues.
The reality on the ground is that the regime has spent the entire budget appropriated to the dam building project. Transporting Ato Meles and his friends to Benishangul Zone, setting up the necessary prop for television cameras bringing a marching band and two worn out caterpillar tractors is all the investment required to stir up this hollow discussion. The rest is all about fleecing the citizen and the Diaspora. Don’t hold your breath about seeing an actual dam on the mighty Abay.
The mighty Abay is not just another river. Abay is special. Abay is born in Ethiopia. Abay nurtured the Pharos and help build the great pyramids. Abay was close when Jesus walked on Earth. The prophet Mohammed sent his relatives and followers on the first Hijra (migration) for safety to Ethiopia by the shores of the mighty Abay. Without Abay there will be no such thing as Egyptian civilization the fore bearer of World civilization. It is not a good idea to toy with Abay. Abay is not a forgiving River.
Everything else Ethiopian has been debased and degraded so it is nothing new Abay is the current victim. When you think the flag is a playground for some infantile scribble Abay stands no chance.
In December 2008, I wrote a weekly column entitled “Groundhog Year in Prison Nation” summarizing some of my weekly columns for that year. I used the “groundhog year” analogy following the title of the motion picture “Groundhog Day” in which a hapless television weatherman is trapped in a time warp and finds himself repeating the same day over and over. I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each “new” day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray… for deliverance from Evil!
It is December 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. Are Ethiopians better off today than they were in 2009, 2005…2000?
Does bread (teff) cost more today than it did a year ago…, five years ago? Cooking oil, household fuel, beef, poultry, gasoline, housing, water, electricity, public transport…?
Are there more poor people today in Ethiopia than there were a year ago… five years ago? More unemployment among youth, less educational opportunities, less health care?
Is there more corruption, more secrecy, less transparency and less accountability in December 2010 than in December 2009…?
Are elections more free and fair in 2010 than they were in 2008, 2005?
Is there more press freedom today than five years ago? More human rights violations?
Is Ethiopia more dependent on international charity for its daily bread today than a year ago…?
Is there more environmental pollution, habitat destruction, forced human displacement and land grabs in Ethiopia today than there was in 2005?
Are businesses paying more taxes and bribes in Ethiopia today than in years past?
Is Ethiopia today at the very bottom of the global Index of Economic Freedom (limited access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure)?
Let the reader answer these self-evident questions. Suffice it to say, “It is what it is!”
Montage of Scenes From 2010 Time Loop
So here we are in Ethiopian Groundhog Year 2010. As a year-end overview, I decided to select and highlight a few of my columns from the multiple dozens of weekly and other commentaries I wrote in 2010 and published on the various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, and the Huffington Post where all of my commentaries for the year are readily available.
January 2010 – Looking Through the Glass, Brightly
“Ethiopia is the country of the future,” Birtukan Midekssa would often say epigrammatically. Ethiopia’s number 1 political prisoner is always preoccupied with her country’s future and destiny. Her deep concern for Ethiopia is exceeded only by her boundless optimism for its future… To be the country of the future necessarily means not being the country of the past. Birtukan’s Ethiopia of the future is necessarily the categorical antitheses of an imperial autocracy, a military bureaucracy and a dictatorship of kleptocracy. Her vision of the future Ethiopia is a unified country built on a steel platform of multiparty democracy. Birtukan would have been pleased to explain her vision and dreams of the future country of Ethiopia; unfortunately, she cannot speak for herself as she has been condemned to “rot” in jail.
February 2010- Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Ethiopia’s dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the “fastest developing economies in the world”. Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with megawattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of “severe malnutrition”. Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a “human rights” chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’ but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!”
March 2010- Waiting for Godot to Leave
The politics of “succession” to Zenawi’s “throne” has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the “throne” (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up… and the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they cannot remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came. Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain’t happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work.
April, 2010- C’est la Vie? C’est la Vie en Prison!
When Meles Zenawi, the arch dictator in Ethiopia, was asked about Birtukan’s health in his prison on March 23, 2010, he was comically philosophical about it. He said Birtukan health is in “perfect condition”, except that she may be putting on some weight. “The health situation of Birtukan, the last I heard, is in perfect condition. She may have gained a few kilos, but other than that, and that may be for lack of exercise, I understand she is in perfect health… I am not surprised that they [U.S. State Department] have characterized Birtukan as a political prisoner, because I understand they have also characterized Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) terrorists… as political prisoners… But that is life; I think the French say, ‘C’est la Vie.’
May, 2010- Speaking Truth to Power
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” … Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “… I don’t think it was a fair election.”
June, 2010- Speaking Truth to the Powerless
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
July, 2010- Hummingbirds and Forest Fires
World history shows that individuals and small groups — the hummingbirds — do make a difference in bringing about change in their societies. The few dozen leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the government of the United States were driven to independence by a “long train of abuses and usurpations” leading to “absolute despotism” as so eloquently and timelessly expressed in the Declaration of Independence… The Bolsheviks (vultures in hummingbird feathers) won the Russian Revolution arguably defending the rights of the working class and peasants against the harsh oppression of Czarist dictatorship. They managed to establish a totalitarian system which thankfully swept itself into the dustbin of history two decades ago… Gandhi and a small group of followers in India led nationwide campaigns to alleviate poverty, make India economically self-reliant, broaden the rights of urban laborers, peasants and women, end the odious custom of untouchability and bring about tolerance and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo led ANC’s Defiance Campaign and crafted the Freedom Charter which provided the ideological basis for the long struggle against apartheid and served as the foundation for the current South African Constitution. In the United States, Martin Luther King and some 60 church leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the driving force of the American civil rights movement.
August, 2010 – Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in Poland… and singled out Ethiopia along with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others to warn the world that “we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”… She pointed out: “Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights.”… Secretary Clinton said the acid test for the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy is whether “more people in more places are better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?” By this measure, U.S. policy in Ethiopia has been a total, unmitigated and dismal failure. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable…
September, 2010- Indoctri-Nation
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (or education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country… Wholesale elimination of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately bureaucratic fiat, is a flagrant violation of Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. Under this Proclamation, the Ministry of Education and its sub-agencies have the authority to regulate and “revoke accreditation” of a private institution which fails to meet statutory criteria on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process…. I believe the regime has a long term strategy to use the universities as breeding grounds for its ideologues and hatcheries for the thousands of loyal and dependent bureaucrats they need to sustain their domination and rule. The monopoly created for the state in the disciplines of law and teaching (which I will predict will gradually include other disciplines in the future) is a clear indication of the trend to gradually create a cadre of “educated” elites to serve the next generation of dictators to come.
October, 2010- Birtukan Unbound!
Birtukan was held for months in a dark room with no human contact except a few minutes a week with her mother and daughter. Fear, anxiety and despair were her only companions. Heartache knocked constantly on the door to her dark room needling her: “Did you do the right thing leaving three year-old Hal’le to the care of your aging mother?” Self-doubt kept her awake in that dark room where time stood still asking her the same question over and over: “Is it worth all this suffering? Give up!” But a voice in her conscience would echo thunderously, “Like hell you’re going to give up, Birtukan. Fight on. Keep on fighting. ‘Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'” In the end Birtukan signed Zenawi’s scrap of paper making exception to convictions of honor and good sense. We expected nothing less from such a great young woman…. Prisoners can be brainwashed to say anything by those who control them. Prisoners who have endured torture, extreme degradation and abuse have been known to do shocking things to please their captors and ease their own pain and suffering. Abused prisoners have been known to deceive themselves into believing the cruelty of their captors as acts of kindness. It is called the “Stockholm Syndrome.” When the victim is under the total and complete control of her captor for her basic needs of survival and her very existence, she will say and do anything to please her captor.
November, 2010- Remember the Slaughter of 2005
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
December, 2010- “So What!”
So what are the lessons of Groundhog Year 2010? The first decade of the 21st Century?
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Lesson II. If you get into America’s face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
Lesson III. “Democratization is a matter of survival.” If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive.
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
Lesson VI. Elections are like children’s marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, you need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.
Lesson VIII. You want funding, don’t beg for it; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Lesson: IX. There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.
Lesson X: The greatest lesson of 2010 and the first decade of the 21st Century:
DESPAIR NOT! “THERE HAVE BEEN TYRANTS AND MURDERERS AND FOR A TIME THEY SEEM INVINCIBLE BUT IN THE END, THEY ALWAYS FAIL — THINK OF IT ALWAYS.” Mahatma Gandhi.
Note: This is the fourth installment in a series of commentaries I intend to offer on U.S. foreign policy (or lack thereof as some would argue) in Ethiopia. In this piece, I argue that the Obama Administration’s recently announced Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative to go after corruption in Africa and elsewhere could prove to be an extraordinarily effective tool to improve human rights on the continent. By focusing on corruption, the Obama Administration could reasonably demand good governance practices of African “leaders” while maintaining cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues.
The Africa Kleptocracy Project
In June 2008, when presidential candidate Barack Obama was a few months away from electoral victory, I warned those dictators who survive by pickpocketing the American tax payer of the arrival of a “new sheriff” in town and advised them to clean up their acts and “shape up”: “A new sheriff is coming to town. He does not carry a six-shooter but carries a law book. And he’s laying down the law for all the tin-pot dictators of the world.” In April 2009, I “read the tea leaves” again and urged Africa’s panhandling dictators to “ride out before the big roundup” because the “new sheriff and posse are in town.” I am glad to say I read the tea leaves just right.
Barack’s Posse was a little late but finally showed up in Kampala, Uganda last week to lay down the law to Africa’s top kleptocrats (thieves masquerading as “heads of state”) gathered at their annual summit. President Obama’s “undersheriffs”, Attorney General (A.G) Eric Holder and Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, told the huddled kleptocrats that a special Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (KARI) has been established in the U.S. Justice Department to recover the money they and their criminal cohorts have stolen from their citizens and restore it to its intended use:
I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption… I know that prosecution is not the only effective way to curb global corruption. We will continue to work with your governments to strengthen the entire judicial sector… We must also work with business leaders to encourage, ensure and enforce sound corporate governance. We should not, and must not settle for anything less… As many here have learned — often in painful and devastating ways — corruption imperils development, stability, competition and economic investment. It also undermines the promise of democracy… Like President Obama, I believe that the 21st century will be shaped by what happens here in Africa. Your security and prosperity, the health of your people and the strength of your civil society, will have a direct and profound impact on the world’s communities and on the advancement of human rights and human progress everywhere.
A couple of months ago, A.G. Holder addressing the 35-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris said:
Put simply, corruption undermines the promise of democracy. It imperils development, stability and faith in our markets. And it weakens the rule of law. Corruption erodes, even destroys, the faith of citizens in their governments. As I speak, a corrupt official somewhere is enjoying undeserved and illegal proceeds. He may be driving a brand-new luxury car. She may be filling her off-shore bank account with tainted cash. They may be traveling first-class on all-expenses-paid holidays. Bribery in international business, for example, may center on shell companies and wire transfers, but no matter where — or how — it happens, the corrosive result is the same: stymied development, lost confidence and distorted competition. The result is unfairness, not justice; the consequence is economic decay, not development.
African Kleptocrats as Organized Criminals (Mafia)
In my commentary “Africorruption, Inc.”, I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. In other words, the majority of African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. President Obama’s approach to dealing with corrupt African governments is consistent with the informed view that corruption is not only the lifeblood of African dictatorships but also the most important single factor that accounts for gross violations of human rights and violent suppression of democratic institutions on the continent. Just like any organized criminal enterprise, be they street-level or Mafia-style gangsters, African kleptocrats have used threats, fear, intimidation and violence to maintain and perpetuate their corrupt financial empires. In that context, A.G. Holder’s announcement was nothing short of breathtaking. It was as though he was addressing the national convention of the “Commissione” of all the Mafia families from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In Kampala, he was talking directly to the African equivalents of the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families in one place. It was almost surreal.
Though A.G. Holder told the African kleptocrats that he has a posse of special corruption prosecutors saddled up, he omitted telling them what tools he would be using to bring them to justice. They can rest assured that he will be coming after them armed with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (commonly referred to as the RICO Act or RICO; 18 U.S.C. § 1961–1968). RICO was originally enacted to prosecute the Mafia and others actively engaged in organized criminal activity. Over the years its use has been expanded to cover corporate and other crimes; and now its application is likely to be expanded even further to go after the corrupt and thieving African dictators who launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the U.S. buying businesses and homes and making “investments” in legitimate commercial enterprises. Section 1962 of RICO provides in part:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity… to use or invest, directly or indirectly, any part of such income, or the proceeds of such income, in acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce. (b)… through a pattern of racketeering activity… to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any interest in or control of any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce… (c) It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity… (d) It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the provisions of subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section.
Simply stated, African kleptocrats who rob their nations blind and bring their stolen loot to the U.S. to launder it will be tracked down and forced to disgorge and face jail time as well. What is potentially devastating to African kleptocrats is the fact that a RICO charge could be brought not only against them, but also their associates, business partners, investors, and any others in the U.S. or elsewhere who “directly or indirectly” facilitate their criminal enterprises. The penalties are severe: up to $25,000 and 20 years in prison per racketeering count. The racketeers must give up all of the gains from the criminal activity including the hundreds of millions tucked away in U.S. banks. RICO also allows private individuals damaged by the racketeer to file a civil suit and collect treble (three times) damages if they are successful. Proving a RICO charge in court is considered to be relatively easy as it focuses on “patterns” of behavior as opposed to criminal acts. Since conspiracy is one of the charges that could be brought in a RICO case, the kleptocrats’ underlings, accountants, business associates and partners and collaborators could be prosecuted.
Fixing Human Rights Violations by Prosecuting Kleptocrats
A.G. Holder says the Obama Administration is committed to battling corruption as “one of the great struggles of our time.” Holder’s words, if translated into concrete action could have a huge impact not only on governance in Africa but also in improving human rights protections. Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued, “[C]orruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens’ trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions.”
The fascinating thing about the Obama Administration’s approach is its creative use of U.S. criminal statutes to deal with African dictators as organized criminal enterprises. Simply stated, the Administration has decided to deal with African dictators as Mafia bosses! If the U.S. could effectively investigate, vigorously prosecute and aggressively seize the assets of Africa’s kleptocrats, the continent may finally begin to see significant improvements in human rights and governance, a dramatic reduction in corruption and generate significant resources from recovered assets for investment in infrastructure and other social programs for the African population.
As I have previously documented, Transparency International [TI] (the global coalition against corruption) in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) again bestowed upon Africa the dubious honor of being Kleptocracy Central, the continental home of the world’s most corrupt governments in the world. Leading the parade of kleptocracies are the regimes in Ethiopia, the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya and the warlords of Somalia. These countries scored an atrocious 3.0 or less on the index. In certain countries, the corruption trend appears to be irreversible. For instance, in 2002, Ethiopia received a dismal score of 3.5 on the corruption index. In 2009, eight years after the ruling regime had established the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) with great fanfare and after periodic reports of “major accomplishments” in combating corruption, Ethiopia’s score dropped to an abysmal 2.7.
Publicly-owned assets are acquired in Ethiopia 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. Even the U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated last year 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.”
Over the past three years, high profile corruption cases in Ethiopia have been reported in the media. In one case, it was established that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. The official “anti-corruption” agency described the heist as a “huge scandal that took place in the Country’s National Bank and took many Ethiopians by surprise [in which] corruptors dared to steal lots of pure gold bars that belonged to the Ethiopian people replacing them with gilded irons… Some employees of the Bank, business people, managers and other government employees were allegedly involved in this disastrous and disgracing scandal.” In another case involving a telecommunications deal with the Chinese, a high level regime official was secretly tape recorded trying to extort kickbacks for himself and other regime officials. The same “anti-corruption” agency reported that “there was another big corruption case at the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation that took many Ethiopians by surprise” which involved the “competitive tendering for the supply of telecommunication equipment.” After an investigation, FEAC “found out that nearly 200 million USD has been lost to corruption through the entire fraudulent and corrupt process.” No high level official in good standing with the regime has ever been investigated or prosecuted for corruption.
The poor and powerless bear the brunt of corruption in Africa. 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. As for President Obama, it seems that he has finally found the silver bullet to deal with Africa’s corrupt thugs. In a pun, no more cash and KARI for Africa’s kleptocrats.
To be continued….
FREE BIRTUKAN MIDEKSSA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
It has been said that Africa’s natural resources — oil, diamonds, minerals — have often proven to be sources of woe, suffering and misery than wealth, prosperity and progress for the people of the continent. What should have been a blessing for Africa’s poor has become a curse of corruption, malfeasance and bad governance. Could Africa’s new found wealth in farmlands prove to be a curse once again? If so, how could it be averted?
Last week, Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama contended that transparency, public accountability and scrutiny are necessary to ensure the proper use of natural resources in Africa. Speaking to an international conference in Accra on the public’s right of access to official information, Mahama announced that “information on all contracts on the oil find [in Ghana] would be made known to the citizenry for public scrutiny.” He explained that “Lack of access to information will create a gulf of confidence between government and the governed, breed mistrust, suspicion, corruption and lack of faith in the building blocks of democracy… It is against this background that the government of Ghana has started publishing all information on contracts on our oil find.” Mahama praised Ghana’s media for its dogged investigative role in promoting transparency and accountability in government contracting. He topped off his speech by declaring that “legitimate governments would not withhold information from the citizenry.” Ex-President Jimmy Carter praised Ghana’s effort at transparency, and reported that “President Mills also told [him] a third of the [oil] revenue will be put away for posterity, a third will be invested into education to benefit future leaders and a third will go directly into national treasury for current expenses.”
Recent oil and gas exploration deals in Ghana have been mired in serious allegations of corruption and criminality. In 2007, Ghana announced it had discovered offshore oil reserves with the potential to produce more than 2 billion barrels of oil by 2030. In 2004, the Ghanaian government signed an oil exploration agreement with various companies whose activities are now under official scrutiny. Last March, the newly-elected President John Evans Atta Mills pledged to make public all past and future gas and oil exploration agreements.
There are many disturbing questions surrounding the 2004 oil exploration agreements. The fact that the government concluded the complex agreements with the companies in weeks has raised questions about the thoroughness of the negotiating process. The agreements, concluded without parliamentary approval or formal cabinet-level review, have led to allegations of cover-ups. More red flags were raised when it came to public light that certain key players in the oil deals had close association with the former president John Kufuor, but little or not prior experience in the oil business. One of the co-owners of the company awarded an exploration contract was a physician in the U.S. who was later appointed ambassador in various European capitals by Kufuor. Little is known about the identities of the individuals or the financial backers of the companies who received the sole-source exploration contracts. Few details are available to the public on production and distribution rights, payments to the government and share transfer agreements between investors and the various companies involved. One of Ghana’s leading media outlets commented: “The sweetheart deals in the oil sector, which spotted powerful oil barons, whose footprints leads to the office of former President John Agyekum Kufuor, is about to turn sour… with the ‘Kufour boys’ about to face 25 criminal charges, [for actions] bordering on criminality [including] blatant falsification of public records in a mad rush to control Ghana’s black gold…”
Transparency and effective public access to information on official decisions and the decision-making processes used to reach them are cornerstones of international law and the constitutions of most countries. Article 13 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (2003) [ratified by Ethiopia on November 27, 2007] requires signatories to ensure “transparency and effective publicaccess to information”. Article IV of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Resolution on the Adoption of Principles on Freedom of Expression (2002), provides that “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.” Article 29 (3) (b) of the “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” guarantees an all-inclusive duty of disclosure of official information that meets the test of “public interest”: “Freedom of the press shall specifically include the following… (b) access to information of public interest.” Article 29 is bolstered by Article 12 (“Functions and Accountability of Government”), which sweepingly mandates: “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public…”
For the past couple of years, there have been many questions raised concerning the Ethiopian dictatorship’s numerous foreign “investment” deals involving millions of hectares of farmland and a border agreement with the Sudan. Except for those who secretly concluded the so-called farmland “leases” or sales, or signed the border “demarcation” agreement with the Sudan, the negotiation processes and the complete text of the agreements remain shrouded in a veil of secrecy behind a dense fog of official cover-ups, hush-ups and whitewashes. None of the deals and agreements have been subject to public scrutiny. However, there is sufficient evidence gathered by independent sources which raises many disturbing questions about the negotiation process and the terms and conditions of the farmland and borderland deals.
According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the official reports of the dictatorship with respect to the magnitude of the land deals lacks credibility:
In Ethiopia, for example, enquiries at the state-level Oromia investment promotion agency found evidence of some 22 proposed or actual land deals, of which 9 were over 1,000 ha, in addition to the 148 recorded at the national investment promotion agency. It is possible to speculate that state-level agencies in other Ethiopian states may also have records of additional projects, and that some land acquisitions may not have been recorded at all…. For example, in Ethiopia information about the land size of many deals proposed or concluded in 2008 was missing….
There is further evidence to suggest official under-recording and misclassification to conceal the true nature and scope of the land “leases” or sales. The FAO/IFAD report states: “An investment by German company Flora EcoPower in Ethiopia was reported to involve 13,000 ha (hectare), while it is recorded at the Ethiopian investment promotion agency for 3,800 ha only.” Moreover, the dictatorship intentionally misclassifies the lands “leased” or sold to the foreign “investors” as vacant “wastelands” (that is unoccupied by anyone or just wilderness) in an effort to conceal the fact that inhabited lands are part of a grand land giveaway scheme to foreign “investors”. The FAO/IFAD report specifically points out:
In Ethiopia, for example, all land allocations recorded at the national investment promotion agency are classified as involving “wastelands” with no pre-existing users. But this formal classification is open to question, in a country with a population of about 75 million, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas. Evidence collected by in-country research suggests that at least some of the lands allocated to investors in the Benishangul Gumuz and Afar regions were previously being used for shifting cultivation and dry-season grazing, respectively.
On May 21, 2008, Meles Zenawi publicly described his agreement with Omar al-Bashir as follows:
We, Ethiopia and Sudan, have signed an agreement not to displace any single individual from both sides to whom the demarcation benefits…We have given back this land, which was occupied in 1996. This land before 1996 belonged to Sudanese farmers. There is no single individual displaced at the border as it is being reported by some media.
Zenawi insists on keeping the actual Agreement shrouded in absolute secrecy. There is no reason whatsoever why the border Agreement should not be made public in its entirety. If the Agreement is made public, it will either provide support to Zenawi’s claims or negate them, demonstrating that he is misrepresenting facts. The cloak of secrecy surrounding this Agreement raises many questions: Why isn’t the text of the formal Agreement between the two countries available for public scrutiny? What are the specific terms and conditions concerning the border demarcation lines and the rights of individuals living along the border made public since that would be the best evidence of the vicarious representation of them made by Zenawi? Why wasn’t the Agreement ratified by the “House of Peoples’ Representatives” as mandated by the Article 55, section 12 (“House of Peoples’ Representatives… shall ratify international agreements concluded by the executive.”) of the “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”? What conceivable “national security” exceptions apply to an Agreement which has been a subject of public commentary and explanation by the head of the dictatorship? What conceivable justification exists to keep secret an Agreement that merely marks the international borders of the two countries and protects the rights of the population in the border?
The simple point is that the runaway farmland and borderland giveaway deals need to be publicly scrutinized to ensure transparency (detect corruption and criminality) and to make certain that private interests (sweetheart deals) have not overtaken the public interest, or secret deals are not made to harm the Ethiopian national interest.
Mr. Zenawi: TEAR DOWN THE STONEWALL OF SECRECY AROUND YOUR FARMLAND AND BORDERLAND DEALS!” The Ethiopian people have a right to know, and you have a compulsory legal duty to ensure that they have “access to information of public interest.” (See, “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,” Article 29 (3) (b) and Article 12, section (1) (“government activities must be open and transparent to the public); Article 13 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (2003) [ratified by Ethiopia on November 27, 2007].)
“Legitimate governments would not withhold information from their citizenry.” Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama
(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.)