In my commentary last week, “Interpreting and Living MLK’s Dream”, I discussed, among other things, Dr. Martin Luther King’s (MLK) philosophy of nonviolent social change. MLK argued that the “crucial political and moral question of our time” is the “need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.” I believe the crucial political and moral question for Ethiopians today is how to transform Ethiopia into an oasis of democratic governance in the middle of a sub-Saharan desert of African tyranny in a nonviolent struggle.
MLK dreamt about creating the “Beloved Community”– a community that has rid itself of racism, poverty and militarism. He said, “The end of nonviolent social change is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.”
The question I seek to address here is whether and how Ethiopians, particularly young Ethiopians, could use MLK’s “diplomacy” of love, brotherhood, sisterhood and nonviolence in their struggle against an entrenched and depraved dictatorship in their country. I use the word “diplomacy” here advisedly to signify the importance of dialogue, negotiations, compromise, bargaining, concessions, accommodations, cooperation and ultimately peace-making and reconciliation. (I plan to offer my views on the “diplomacy of nonviolent change” in Ethiopia on a regular basis in the future.)
Recent clampdown on Semayawi (Blue) Party
According to a BBC report, last week “some 100 members of Ethiopia’s opposition Semayawi party were arrested and some badly beaten.” In June of this year, Semayawi (Blue) Party (BP), a political party comprising of young people and openly committed to nonviolent social change, had organized its first major street demonstration against the ruling regime demanding the release of political prisoners, journalists and human rights activists. Regime police raided the BP headquarters to prevent a scheduled “rally” by the party to demand political reforms. According to BP chairman Yilekal Getachew, regime police assaulted party members and confiscated sound systems, computers and other equipment. The rally has been rescheduled for September 21.
Regime official Shimeles Kemal “denied there had been a crackdown” and explained that the BP party could not engage in protest activity because the “venue had already been booked by a group condemning religious extremism.” The pro-government counter demonstration was organized by the “Addis Ababa Inter-Religious Conference”, a regime front organization.The regime-staged counter-demonstration was an effort aimed at showing the “vehement opposition of Addis Ababa resident against [religious] radicalism recently observed in the country”.
MLK’s “first step” in nonviolent social change
How relevant are MLK’s teachings in undertaking a nonviolent moral and political struggle in Ethiopia? Can Ethiopians inform their struggle against tyranny with MLK’s ideas of nonviolence, love, civil resistance and disobedience? I believe MLK’s teachings are relevant to any society suffering under tyranny, dictatorship, racism, poverty and militarism.
MLK taught that the first step in a nonviolent struggle is a commitment to truth which requires “information gathering”. He understood that a struggle based on facts (in contrast to propaganda and ideological indoctrination) is a struggle based on truth. He believed that one must thoroughly and methodically research, investigate and gather vital information on the scope, magnitude and severity of problems facing the community before contemplating action. More importantly, one must gain understanding and insight into the lives of the people who are impacted by conditions of oppression and work with social, civic and political organizations engaged in seeking to bring about change. Without fact-finding and community support, the struggle for nonviolent social change is likely to lead not only to uninformed and erroneous decisions but also end up in counterproductive and ineffective actions driven by anger, resentment and impatience.
MLK’s prescription for “gathering information” is consistent with the old adage that there is power in “information” and “knowledge”. Nelson Mandela said it best: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education is ultimately about acquiring, imparting, accumulating and disseminating systematized knowledge and information. In as much as formal education is important, as Albert Einstein said, “imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Yet there can be neither information, knowledge, education nor imagination if the human mind is gripped and made captive to the tyranny of fear and ignorance. Before taking the first step of “information” gathering, those committed to nonviolent change must overcome their fear of tyrants and dictators.
The regime in Ethiopia has ruled by fear (not the rule of law) for over two decades. Dissenters and members of the opposition are harassed, intimidated, arrested, placed in prolonged pre-trial detention, tortured and put on show trials and subjected to extrajudicial killings. As I argued in my commentary “Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia”, the regime has used “ignorance as its most powerful weapon to prevent change and cling to power. They have long adopted the motto of George Orwell’s Oceania: ‘Ignorance is Strength’. Indeed, ignorance is a powerful weapon to manipulate, emasculate and subjugate the masses. Keep ‘em ignorant and impoverished and they won’t give you any trouble.”
Overcoming the tyranny of fear: Precursor to MLK’s first step in nonviolent social change
MLK said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Oftentimes, the oppressed are too fearful, too traumatized and too confused to demand their freedom. For 30 years, Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt by spreading fear and loathing among the population. Invoking a “State of Emergency (“Law No. 162 of 1958”), Mubarak wielded unlimited power and imposed his iron will through a vast network of secret police, spies, informants and honor guards who used torture, intimidation and extrajudicial killings to make sure he stayed in power and his opposition decimated. By the time he was thrown out of office in 2011, he held an estimated 20,000 persons under the emergency law; and according to human rights organizations, he held over 30,000 political prisoners. When Egyptian youth overcame their fears of Mubarak and stood up to his secret police, spies, informants and bloodthirsty thugs, it was all over for him and his kleptocratic regime. In less than three weeks, Mubarak’s empire of fear, terror and torture crumbled like an Egyptian ghorayebah cookie.
Most of the nonviolent social and political changes we have seen over the past three decades were the direct result of the people losing their fear of the tyrants who oppress them. The Poles succeeded in their nonviolent struggle when they lost their fear of their communist tyrants. In 1981, the Soviets put General Wojciech Jaruzelski in charge to crackdown on Solidarity, a non-communist controlled trade union established a year earlier. Jaruzelski immediately declared martial law and arrested thousands of Solidarity members, often in in the middle of the night, including union leader Lech Walesa. Jaruzelski flooded the streets of Warsaw, Gdansk and elsewhere in Poland with police who shot, beat and jailed strikers and protesters by the tens of thousands. The crackdown drove the opposition underground. Where the jailed union leaders left off, others including priests, students, dissidents and journalists took over. Unable to meet in the streets, the people gathered in their churches, in the restaurants and bars, offices, schools and associations. By 1988, Poland’s economy was in shambles as prices for basic staples rose sharply and inflation soared. In August of that year, Jaruzelski was ready to negotiate with Solidarity and met Walesa. In December 1990, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected president of Poland. It took nearly a decade to complete the Polish nonviolent revolution. When Poles overcame their fears of Jaruzelski and his Soviet backers and stood up to his secret police, spies, informants and bloodthirsty thugs, it was all over for him and his iron-fisted regime.
Nonviolent social and political change came to many of the former Soviet republics and post-communist countries in Eastern Europe through the so-called “color revolutions” (people wearing symbolic colors to show their demand for change) over the past decade. In Serbia (2000) Georgia (“Rose Revolution” 2003), Ukraine (“Orange Revolution” 2004) and Kyrgyzstan (“Tulip Revolution” 2005), ordinary people engaged in defiant massive nonviolent street protests which culminated in the removal of oppressive and corrupt regimes. Not long ago, the “Arab Spring” dawned in the Middle East when Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia was swept away in the “Jasmine Revolution.” The one common element in the “color revolutions” was the fact that they were led by youth who had lost their fear of their tyrannical oppressors.
How do the people lose fear of their oppressors?
The history of nonviolent social and political change shows that people lose the fear of their oppressors when the burden of their material conditions outweigh the fear of their oppressors. Simply stated, people lose their fear of their oppressors when they just can’t take it anymore. They come to a point where they stand up and say, “Enough is enough!”
During the civil rights movement, African Americans lost their fear of police thugs, police dogs, police informants and police brutality when they became sick and tired of the dehumanization, discrimination and segregation they faced daily. When the bus driver threatened to have Rosa Parks arrested if she did not go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, her answer was, “You may [have me] arrested.” She ain’t moving; and she will no longer accept second class citizenship. MLK’s essential message at the 1963 March on Washington was the same. It was equality and justice for black people under the Constitution or escalating civil resistance, civil disobedience and protest. He announced, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality… and our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity…”
Gandhi launched the salt march of 1930 to protest the British salt tax which charged ordinary Indians for a basic necessity of life. Instead of paying the tax submissively, Gandhi engaged in a massive act of civil disobedience leading tens of thousands of people to the sea to make salt. The British arrested over 60,000 people, but thousands more took the places of those arrested forcing the British to come to terms with Gandhi’s demands.
In the past two years, the youth that led the “Arab Spring” mustered the courage to confront their long-standing dictatorships because they felt hopeless, helpless and futureless. The Middle East, like much of Africa, is experiencing a youth bulge (large segment of the population comprised of children and young adults). Neither the leaders nor the political economy of those countries is capable of accommodating the needs of this burgeoning population. There are few productive employment opportunities for young people. The vast majority of the people could no longer afford the basic essentials of life while the ruling elites and their cronies wallowed in a sea of corruption, oil revenue and Western aid.
I have long and repeatedly argued that Ethiopia’s youth will be the tip of the spear of nonviolent social change in Ethiopia (no pun intended). The youth bulge is estimated at 70 percent of the population. According to a 2012 USAID study, “Ethiopia has one of the highest urban youth unemployment rates at 50 percent and there is a high rate of youth underemployment in rural areas, where nearly 85 percent of the population resides.” Another 2012 youth unemployment study in Ethiopia reported that the “current 5 year [Ethiopian] development plan 2010/11-2014/5, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), does not directly address the issue of youth unemployment, but rather implicitly through improved performance of the various sectors in the economy.” The study found that “in 2011, 38 percent of youth were employed in the informal sector” which “often provides low quality, low paying jobs.” The study reported high underemployment rates; “approximately 50 percent of youth reported being available and willing to work more hours.” There is a substantial segment of the youth population that is not only unemployed but also unemployable because they lack basic skills. On the other hand, access to public sector jobs depends not so much on merit or competition but connections and party membership. The youth will no doubt demand greater economic justice and radical political reforms that will enable them to have increasing input in governance.
It is unlikely that the regime can remain indefinitely in power by using repression and violence, particularly against the youth. No amount of force can crush or subdue a rising tide of young people in the population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. Demographic changes, persistent unemployment and galloping inflation, limited educational opportunities, ever increasing cost of living and expanding social media will make the youth in Ethiopia a powder keg on short fuse.
Overcoming fear together and finding courage together
I do not want to suggest here that fear and loathing resides only in the hearts and minds of the oppressed. Fear strikes not only the victims but also the victimizers. Those who run the regime in Ethiopia and their cronies have their own fears and tribulations. As I argued in great detail in my commentary, “Terminal Paranoia”, regime leaders have used fear to cement their ugly and divisive ethnic politics. By setting one group against another and inspiring distrust and hatred, they have managed to cling to power for a long time. Today, the façade of political institutions they have created for the various ethnic groups to maintain their control no longer works. Their appeal to ethnic loyalty inspired by fear of what other groups might do to one group no longer holds sway. They are overwhelmingly rejected by every single ethnic group in the country, bar none. The people have come to the obvious realization that the regime’s “ethnic federalism” (Bantustan-style regions) has only served the interests of a few kleptocratic ruling elites and their cronies. Thus, the ruling elites fear “payback” for their nasty games of ethnic division.
The innermost fear of the regime operators is the likelihood of a spontaneous mass uprising. Regime leaders are terrified by the prospect of a sudden popular uprising breaking out and literally consuming them. They have deep fears of accountability and retribution. They know they have committed unspeakable crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious crimes punishable under their own criminal laws and the Constitution. They also know that they will be held accountable for their corruption and abuse of power if a mass uprising takes place. The specter of prosecution and punishment for crimes they have committed keeps them in a state of high anxiety and sleeplessness. In the final analysis, the regime’s problem is the same as the proverbial tiger rider’s. They have been riding the Ethiopian tiger for over two decades. They know one day they have to dismount; and when they do, they will be looking straight into the angry eyes, gleaming teeth and pointy nails of one big hungry Ethiopian tiger!
Truth and Reconciliation
MLK dreamed about creating a “Beloved Community”. Ethiopians cannot aspire to create a “Beloved Community” permeated with fear. My understanding is that many regime leaders and their supporters are gripped by fear and desperately seek an “exit strategy”. They seek assurance that they will not face extreme retribution in the event of change; indeed, they hope to get some accommodation that will allow them to retain their wealth while having an opportunity to play a role in the future of the country. The victims of the regime fear the use of indiscriminate violence to cling to power as seen after the elections in 2005 where hundreds of people were gunned down in the streets.
Perhaps there is a way to “negotiate fear itself.” Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk managed to negotiate their fears in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela had to make distasteful moral choices and tough political compromises. de Klerk had to convince his diehard Apartheid racists that change is not easy but their choice was to abandon their ways and come to terms with the new reality or lose everything. He told his people, “In order for change to happen, you must really accept the need for change. Yes, it’s scary.” By negotiating their fears, Mandela and de Klerk made significant strides to create their “Beloved South African Community.” South Africans have a long way to go; and two decades later, they are still struggling with the economic and political legacy of Apartheid.
If Ethiopians are to create their own “Beloved Community”, they must begin to “negotiate their fears”, which requires a reckoning with the history of the past 22 years and an open and honest discussion of their innermost fears. MLK said, “The end of nonviolent social change is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved which transforms opponents into friends.” I believe it is time to invent a “new diplomacy of nonviolence” which facilitates the creation of a Beloved Community in Ethiopia. It is a diplomacy that stresses dialogue, negotiations, compromise, bargaining, concessions, accommodations, cooperation and ultimately peace-making and reconciliation. MLK said, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.” It has also been said that the “only thing to fear is fear itself.” I believe the only thing to fear is fear of each other; and the only thing to be courageous about is to communicate with each other without fear, with honesty and in good faith.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Educorruption and the miseducation of Ethiopian youth
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. For the late Meles Zenawi and his apostles (the Melesistas) in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance is the most powerful weapon you can use to prevent change and cling to power. They have long adopted the motto of George Orwell’s Oceania: “Ignorance is Strength”. Indeed, ignorance is a powerful weapon to manipulate, emasculate and subjugate the masses. Keep ‘em ignorant and impoverished and they won’t give you any trouble.
For the Melesistas education is indoctrination. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. Long ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of African-American History”, warned against such indoctrination and miseducation of the oppressed: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” The rulers in Ethiopia continue to use higher educational institutions not as places of learning, inquiry and research but as diploma mills for a new breed of party hacks and zombie ideologues doomed to blind and unquestioning servility. “Zombie go… zombie stop… zombie turn… zombie think…,” sang the great African musician Fela Kuti. I’d say, “zombie teach… zombie learn… zombie read… zombie dumb… zombie dumber.”
For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance where the people are forced at gunpoint to speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a 2012 report of Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. They have succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to the “Land of Perpetual Darkness”.
But my commentary here is not about the Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopia where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. I am concerned about the systemic and rampant corruption in Ethiopia’s “education sector”. The most destructive and pernicious form of corruption occurs in education. Educorruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
I will admit that in the hundreds of weekly commentaries I have written over the last half dozen or so years, I have not given education in Ethiopia the critical attention it deserved. I have no excuse for not engaging the issue more intensely. In my own defense, I can only say that when an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.
…I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands. A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on…
In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) at the time had issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. The regime had also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions. I demonstrated that “directive” was in flagrant violation and in willful disregard of the procedural safeguards of the Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. It did not faze them. (It was time to mint a new legal maxim: “The ignorant are entitled to ignore their own law and invoke ignorance of their own law as a defense.”)
The “directive” was at odds with the recommendations of the World Bank (which has been assisting the regime in improving education administration and delivery of services) for increased emphasis on the creation of a network of “tertiary educational” institutions (e.g. distance learning centers, private colleges, vocational training services, etc.,) to help support the “production of the higher-order capacity” necessary for Ethiopia’s development. In its 2003 sector study “Higher Education Development for Ethiopia”, the World Bank had recommended “a near term goal [of] doubl[ing] the share of private enrollments from the current 21% to 40% by 2010.” By 2010, the Meles regime had decided to reduce private tertiary institutions, particularly the burgeoning distance learning sector, to zero!
In my October 2010 commentary, “Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!”, I was pleasantly surprised but unconvinced by the Meles regime’s apparent change of strategy to abandon its decision to impose a blanket ban on distance learning and reach a negotiated resolution of instructional quality issues with distance learning providers. I pointed out a few lessons Meles and his crew could learn from the bureaucratic fiasco. (Is it really possible for the closed- and narrow-minded to learn?)
I focus on educational corruption in Ethiopia in this commentary for four reasons: 1) I was appalled by the corruption findings in the recent World Bank 448-page report “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. That report, with bureaucratic delicacy and hesitancy, demonstrates the cancer of corruption which afflicts the Ethiopian body politic has metastasized into the educational sector putting the nation’s youth at grave risk. 2) There is widespread acknowledgement that education in Ethiopia at all levels is in a pitiful condition. For instance, a 2010 Newsweek “study of health, education, economy, and politics” showed Ethiopia with a population of 88 million had a literacy rate of 43.3 percent, and ranked 98 out of 100 countries on education. 3) Few Ethiopian educators and scholars are examining the issue of educational corruption and its implications for the future of the country and its youth. Hopefully, this commentary could spur some of them to investigate corruption in education (and other areas) and conduct related policy research and analysis. 4) I had promised in my first weekly commentary of 2013 to pay special attention to youth issues in Ethiopia during the year. Nothing is more important to Ethiopia’s youth than education. Youth without education are youth without a future and without hope. Youth without education are emblematic of a nation in despair.
World Bank findings on corruption in the Ethiopian education sector
The WB report on the education sector alludes to an Ethiopian proverb in assessing the culture of corruption and impunity: “Sishom Yalbela Sishar Ykochewal” — roughly translates into English as follows: “One who does not exploit to the full his position when he is promoted will lament when he no longer has the opportunity.”
Ethiopia’s education sector has become a haven and a refuge for prebendalist (where those affiliated with the ruling regime feel entitled to receive a share of the loot) party hacks and a bottomless barrel of patronage. The Meles regime has used jobs, procurement and other opportunities in the education sector to reward and sustain loyalty in its support base. They have been handing out teaching jobs to their supporters like candy and procurement opportunities to their cronies like cake. “In Ethiopia’s decentralized yet authoritarian system,considerable powers exist among senior officials at the federal, regional, and woreda levels. Of particular relevance to this study is the discretion exercised by politically appointed officials at the woreda level, directly affecting the management of teachers.”
In “mapping corruption in the education sector in Ethiopia”, “the World Bank report cautions that “corruption in education can be multifaceted, ranging from large distortions in resource allocation and significant procurement-related fraud to smaller amounts garnered through daily opportunities for petty corruption and nontransparent financial management.” Corruption in the education sector is quadri-dimensional “affecting the selection of teachers for training, recruitment, skills upgrading, or promotion; falsification of documents to obtain qualifications, jobs, or promotions and fraud and related bribery in examinations and conflict of interest in procurement.”
The “selection of candidates for technical training colleges (TTCs)” is the fountainhead of educational corruption in Ethiopia. According to the WB report, “students do not generally choose to become teachers but are centrally selected from a pool of those who have failed to achieve high grades.” In other words, the regime’s policy is to populate the teaching profession with, for lack of a better word, the “dumber” students. Such students also make the most servile party hacks. But it is a spectacular revelation that the future of Ethiopia’s youth — the future of Ethiopia itself — is in the hands of “those who have failed to achieve high grades”. Ignorant teachers and ignorant students= Ignorance is strength. Could a greater crime be committed against Ethiopia’s youth and Ethiopia?
To add insult to injury, the selection of underachieving students to pursue teacher training institutes is itself infected by “bribery, favoritism and nepotism.” The most flagrant corrupt practices include “manipulation of the points system for selection of students to higher education.” The “allocate[on] of higher percentage points for results from transcripts and national exams than for entrance exams” has “enabled a large number of inadequately qualified students to join the affected institutes, sometimes with forged transcripts. This practice has affected the quality of students gaining entry to higher education and eroded the quality of the training program.” In other words, even among underachievers seeking to become teachers, it is the washouts, the duds and flops that are likely to become teachers!
Fraud and related corrupt practices in matriculation are commonplace. According to the WB report, there is
a significant risk of corruption in examinations…The types of fraudulent practices in examinations include forged admission cards enable students to pay other students to sit exams for them, collusion allowing both individual and group cheating in examinations, assistance from invigilators (exam monitors) and school and local officials (during exams), higher-level interference [in which] regional officials overturned the disqualification of cheaters, fraudulent overscoring of examination papers [by] teachers are bribed by parents and students, fraudulent certification of transcripts and certificates to help students graduate.
Although there are public officials who have considered reporting corrupt practices, they have refrained from doing so because there was “a strong sense that there is no protection to guard against possible reprisals directed at those who report malpractice.” There is no place for whistle blowers in Ethiopia’s edu-corruptocracy.
Recruitment and management of teachers is a separate universe of corrupt practices. “In Ethiopia, the overwhelming bulk of expenditure in education is taken up by salaries of teachers” and there is a “high risk of bribery, extortion, favoritism, or nepotism in selecting teachers for promotion, upgrading, or grants.” The WB report found “nepotism and favoritism in recruitment were broad and frequent—namely that, in some woredas, the recruitment of teachers (and other community-based workers) is based on political affiliation, including paid-up membership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”
What is shocking is not only the culture of corruption in education but also the culture of impunity — the belief that there are no consequences for practicing corruption. The WB report shows not only the “prevalence of fraud and falsification of teaching qualifications and other documents, reflecting weak controls, poor-quality documents (that are easily falsified), [but also] the widespread belief that such a practice would not be detected… For such falsification to go unnoticed, there is a related risk of the officials supporting or approving the application being implicated in the corrupt practice.”
The types of corrupt practices that occur at the management level are stunning. Managers manipulate access to “program of enhancing teacher qualifications through in-service training during holiday periods by using their positions to influence the selection of candidates. Hidden relationships are used in teacher upgrading, with officials at the zonal or woreda level taking the first option on upgradation programs.” The appointment of local education officials is not “competitive” but “politically assigned”. Collusion between local managers and teachers over noncompliance with curriculum, academic calendar, and similar practices is a relatively common practice and “reduces the provision of educational services.” This situation is made worse by “teacher absenteeism [which] is tolerated by head teachers, within the context of staff perceiving a need to supplement their income through private tutoring or other forms of income generation.” Poorly paid teachers supplement their incomes by “private tutoring [which] is widespread, with 40 percent of school officials reporting it as a practice.” Corruption also extends to “teachers paying bribes or kickbacks to management, mostly school directors, to allocate shorter work hours in schools so that they can use the freed-up time to earn fees as teachers in private schools.” The payola is hierarchically distributed: “Bribes received are likely to be shared first with superiors, then with a political party, and then with colleagues, in that order.”
Falsification of documents including forged transcripts and certificates occurs on an “industrial” scale and is “most prevalent in the provision of certification for completing the primary or secondary school cycles” and in generating bogus “documents in support of applications for promotion”.
Procurement (official purchases of goods and services from private sources) is the low hanging fruit. “In the education sector, a number of public actors maybe involved [in procurement], depending on the size and type of the task. These include national and local government politicians and managers.” Some people have a lock on the procurement system. Successful “tendering companies” are likely to have “family or other connections with officials responsible for procurement”. Procurement corruption also takes the forms of “uncompetitive practices” “including the formation of a cartel, obstruction of potential new entrants to the market, or other forms of uncompetitive practices that may or may not include a conspiratorial role on the part of those responsible for procurement.” Other procurement related corruption includes “favoritism, nepotism, or bribery in the short-listing of consultants or contractors or the provision of tender information.” There are some “favored contractors and consultants” who have a “dominant market position” and are “awarded contracts for which they were not eligible to bid.” Corruption also occurs in the form of defective construction, substandard materials and overclaims of quantities.
Construction quality issues are considered a significant problem in the construction of educational facilities, particularly in the case of small, remote facilities where high standards of construction supervision can be difficult to achieve. For example, a toilet block in a school collapsed a month after completion. The contractor responsible for building the facility was not required to make the work good or repay the amount paid, nor was the contractor sanctioned. The matter was not investigated. Such problems are a significant indicator of corrupt practices, particularly when the contractor is not ultimately held to account for its failures…
There is corruption in the “purchase of substandard or defective supplies or equipment. For this to go unchallenged by those responsible for procurement strongly suggests either a lack of capacity, corrupt practices, or both.” According to an example cited in the WB report, “a large fleet of buses purchased by the MOE [“Ministry of Education”] using Teacher Development Program funds and distributed to TTCs were found to be defective. The TTCs complained that the MOE had dumped the buses on them. The MOE subsequently sent auditors to determine whether the complaint was genuine.”
The amazing fact is that the regime reflexively decided to investigate those who filed the complaint, and not the reported crooks. They automatically assumed the technical training colleges were lying and sent their auditors to investigate them for possible false reporting of defective buses!! (Orwelliana: The criminals are the victims and the victims are the criminals.) There is evidence of theft and resale of school supplies or equipment. “One such indication relates to the alleged illegal sale of education facilities, with related allegations of nepotism. A city education office is alleged to have sold valuable heritage buildings in a secondary school to a private developer and then to have requested land to rebuild the school facilities.”
Changing the culture of corruption and impunity
The culture of corruption and impunity in Ethiopia must be changed. The WB report observes,
In Ethiopia, the pattern of perception suggests that outright bribery is perceived to be more corrupt than, for example, favoritism or the falsification of documentation. There is also a sense that some practices, such as expressing gratitude to a client through the giving of a small gift, are normal business practice and not necessarily corrupt. Finally, there is an underlying acceptance among many that the state has the right to intervene in the market if that is considered to be in the national interest, and there is little sense that such interventions could be at variance with ongoing efforts to promote the level playing field needed for effective privatization of service provision, including in the education sector.
It is unlikely that a corrupt regime has the will, capacity or interest to change its own modus operandi. As I have argued elsewhere, having the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) investigate the architects and beneficiaries of corruption in Ethiopia is like having Tweedle Dee investigate Tweedle Dum. It is an exercise in futility and an absurdity. FEAC is a toothless, clawless and feckless make-believe do-nothing bureaucratic shell incapable of investigating corruption in its own offices let alone systemic corruption in the country.
Pressures for accountability and transparency could come from domestic civil society institutions, but as the WB report points out, a 2009 “civil societies law” has decimated such institutions. The only practical and effective mechanism for accountability and transparency in the education sector is the institutionalization of an independent and energetic teachers’ union. But the regime has destroyed the real teachers’ union. According to the WB report,
Teachers in Ethiopia have historically been represented by the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), founded in 1949. Following a long legal battle, a 2008 court ruling took away the right of the ETA to its name and all of its assets, creating a different organization with an identical name. Most teachers are now members of this replacement organization, for which dues are deducted from teachers’ salaries. The original ETA, now reorganized as the National Teachers Association (NTA), considers the new ETA to be unduly influenced by the government and has complained of discrimination against its members. Such concerns have in turn been expressed internationally through a range of bodies including the International Labour Organization (ILO 2009).
The mis-edcuation of Ethiopia’s youth and stolen futures
Education of Ethiopia’s youth is a human rights issue for me and not just a matter of professional concern as an educator. Corruption in the education sector is so severe that the future of Ethiopia’s youth is at grave risk. As Transparency International admonishes,
Stolen resources from education budgets mean overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools, or no schools at all. Books and supplies are sometimes sold instead of being given out freely. Schools and universities also ‘sell’ school places or charge unauthorised fees, forcing students (usually girls) to drop out. Teachers and lecturers are appointed through family connections, without qualifications. Grades can be bought, while teachers force students to pay for tuition outside of class. In higher education, undue government and private sector influence can skew research agendas.
It is true “ignorance is strength”. The Meles regime seeks to create an army of ignorant youth zombie clones who will march lockstep and follow their orders: “Zombie go, zombie stop, zombie think… zombie learn… zombie dumb… zombie dumber…” If ignorance is strength, then knowledge is power. When “ignorant” youth gain knowledge, they become an unstoppable force.
It may not be manifest to many but Ethiopia’s mis-educated youth are on the rise. A quiet riot is raging among the youth debilitated by overwhelming despair and anguish. The youth look at themselves and their lost futures under a corrupt tyranny. They know things are not going to get better. For now the despair simmers but it will reach a boiling point. Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010. Dictator Ben Ali did not see it coming, but the fire that consumed Bouazizi also consumed and transformed not only Tunisia but also led to an Arab Spring. Moamar Gadhafi, the great “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya” died at the hands of youth he miseducated for 42 years. Informed, enlightened and interconnected Egyptian youth brought down the Mubarak regime in less than two weeks!
Ethiopia’s youth will rise because there is no force that can keep them down. The only question is when not if. That is the immutable of law of history. In the end, I believe Ethiopia’s youth will remember not the deeds and misdeeds of those who miseducated them and robbed them of their futures, but the silence of the scholars, intellectuals, academics, professors and learned men and women who watched the tyranny of ignorance like bronze statutes. I am confident in my conviction that there will come a time when Ethiopia’s youth will stand up collectively, and each one pointing an index finger, shout out, “J’accuse!”
Ignorance is strength but knowledge is power! Fight the tyranny of ignorance. Educate yourself!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
The selling of Ethiopia to the highest bidder. By Yilma Bekele
Actually that statement might not be true. We do know our country is being sold but we have no idea if the bidding has been open or closed. We have sold almost all of Gambella, we have leased half of Afar and Oromia has been parceled out bit by bit. Our Beer factories are under new owners, our gold mines belong to the fake Ethiopian sheik, Telephone is under the Chinese and our Airlines is looking for a suitor. Have we always looked for outsiders to own us?
Not really when you consider that we celebrated the victory at the battle of Adwa a few weeks back and that was the mother of all wars that made it clear this African country is not for sale. We might not have contributed much to the industrial revolution but we did manage to rely on our own ingenuity to follow along and do things our own way. You might not believe this but there was a time when Ethiopians actually used to be involved in making stuff from scratch. You think I am making things up don’t you? I don’t blame you because today you cannot even come up with one name that stands out as an Ethiopian entrepreneur, go getter or someone that shines like the north star based solely on his own sweat and blood.
The things that were accomplished by earlier Ethiopians are all around us but we don’t see them. All the things the current government brags about have their roots in the yester years they so much condemn and brush off. I don’t know where to start but here we go. Let us start with hospitals. Bella Haile Selassie (Bella), Leelt Tshay (armed Forces), Paulos, Haile Selassie Hospital (Yekati 12), Balcha, Ghandi, Tikur Anbessa, Ras Desta, Minilik etc. The vast majority of the doctors were Ethiopians, the hospitals were clean, well equipped and you don’t even have to take your own sheets and blankets.
How about Hotels? Ethiopia, Ghion, Wabi Shebele, Ras, Bekele Molla were the premier destinations. They were owned and operated by Ethiopians. When it comes to Ethiopian Airlines the Pilots were proud Ethiopians and the technicians were the envy of Africa. The Imperial government built the Airlines from scratch. Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a partner until we were able to train and staff our own and we did manage to do that.
If we talk about agriculture we did manage to establish the Sugar estates of Metehara and Wonji not to mention Setit Humera, the wheat and corn fields of Arsi, the fiber plants of Sidama and the cotton fields of Awash Valley are testimonial to our ingenuity. The sixties saw the emergence of the new educated Ethiopians that raised the bar of excellence.
The establishment of Africa Hall was how Africans showed respect to our Emperor and our old history when they choose Addis Abeba as the head quarter for the continent. The University at sadist Kilo was a gift to his people by the Emperor and it was a spectacular success. All the teachers were highly educated Ethiopians and the graduates were the pride of our country.
Why am I discussing such subject today? It is because two items reported by the media caught my eye a few days back. Both are an assault on our sovereignty and our ability to grow our own economy by Ethiopians for Ethiopians. Heineken a Dutch conglomerate is building the biggest brewery in Ethiopia and Guangdong Chuan Hui Group from China is given 41,000 Sq. meter of land to construct hotel and industrial complex. The way the story is being reported we should be jumping with joy. What could be better than those two benevolent multi nationals investing so much in our poor destitute country?
Is that how we should look at it? Is there another aspect to this story? In order to see the pros and con of the question posed In front of us it would have been nice if there has been a nationwide discussion to see if the plan makes sense when it comes to our homeland. That is how smart decisions are made. Open and vibrant nationwide discussion regarding such important issues that impact our national economy and our people’s well-being assures a better outcome.
That usually is not the case in our country. There are no checks and balances. There is no independent legislative body and the judiciary is a government tool. A single party the TPLF controls all and everything in the country. Our political leaders have no faith in the ability of the people to know what is good for them. That is why they approach their job as being a ‘baby sitter’ and are constantly fretting about what the people hear and read. Decisions are made by a few TPLF politburo members to be approved by the rubber stamp Parliament. Anyone that questions such a decision is branded as enemy of the people and dealt with.
Let us start with our beer story. You know beer is nothing but European Tella. It is bottled fancy and costs a little bit more. How long ago do you think we acquired the idea of brewing for a larger crowd? Eighty years ago my friend! St George brewery was started in 1922. Meta Abo Brewery was founded in 1963. Meta Abo was a partnership between government and private capital and started with a base capital of 2million Birr. The military junta nationalized both and the current TPLF Woyane regime inherited them with the rest of Ethiopia. What do you think these successive regimes did with our own old industry and land? Did they build on what was started? Did they reinvest the profit to make the enterprises bigger and better? Did they run our industries, enterprises and farms in a responsible and judicious manner?
Both St. George and Meta Abo are no more Ethiopian enterprises. BGI (an internationally acclaimed Brewing Company that operates in many countries.??) bought St George in 1998 for US 10 million ‘through foreign direct investment’(??) Meta Ambo was sold to Diego Industries-a British congalmorate for US 225 million. Heineken a Dutch multi-national acquired 18% of Bedele and Harar breweries for US 163 million in 2011. Raya Brewery an idea that has not materialized yet but promoted by Lt. General Tsadkan W.Tensai and investors such as Yemane (Jamaica) Kidane and other TPLF officials sold 25% interest to BGI for 650 million Br and invited Brewtech a German company as a partner.
As you can see the TPLF regime collected close to US 400 million from the sale of our home grown breweries. By all imagination that is chump change when you consider the ownership is lost and the profit for eternity belongs to the foreigners. Is this a good way to grow a national economy? Has it been done before or is this another of that failed ‘revolutionary democracy’ pipe dream?
BGI, Diego or Heineken are investing in our country to realize profit for their shareholders. What is our country getting out of this? The beer manufacturing business is a highly automated enterprise so it is not about job creation. Most if not all of the high paying managerial jobs will be occupied by the parent company. The malt, barley and other ingredients are imported and are considered a trade secret. We all know about creative accounting thus I am sure our country does not even benefit from the profit because the bookkeeping is rigged to minimize taxes.
Let us not even think of technology transfer since we cannot learn what we have already mastered. Remember we have been brewing beer since 1922. I will tell you what we got out of this unequal relationship. We as a people got royally screwed. The TPLF party officials got paid plenty for their pimping effort. The regime in its insatiable appetite for foreign currency bought a few months of respite to purchase oil, wheat, cooking oil etc. to postpone its inevitable collapse.
There are certain things we know how a growing economy with a nationalist government operates. We have seen how China, India, Malaysia, Brazil and other emerging economies handled their growth potential. They use what is known as subsidy to protect their infant industries from foreign predators. They allowed investment where technology transfer will bring benefit to their people but shielded their home grown industries from foreign competition.
Why do you think the TPLF bosses are interested in selling our sovereignty? I doubt it is because they are anti-Ethiopian even though the late evil PM used to suffer from inferiority complex when it comes to central highlanders. I believe it is because of their ‘get rich quick’ philosophy. They are in a hurry to accumulate before their Ponzi scheme comes crashing down. According to the UN billions of dollars are leaving our country. They are buying properties in the US and Europe, sending their children to expensive schools abroad and vacationing in exotic places with the money they steal from our country.
What are we the victims doing about this rape and pillage of our resources and the degradation of our national pride? I am afraid other than insistently talking there is nothing more most of us are doing about it. Why do you think that is so? I could think of a few things but ignorance comes to mind first and foremost. Our ignorance prevents us from connecting the dots and looking at the bigger picture. Our misplaced pride does not allow us to listen to others and learn to be able to formulate better solutions to our problems.
Today we have a population that is not familiar with its history. Sixty four percent (64%) of our people are under twenty five years old while twenty nine percent (29%) are under the age of 54 years. We have a toxic population on our hands. Those under twenty five grew up under the Woyane regime where being an Ethiopian is taken as a liability. While those under fifty four are the result of the Derge era of undermining religion, family, and stability. Ninety three (93%) of our population is a fertile ground for evil Woyane to plant shame, doubt and insecurity about being Ethiopian.
It is this population that is sitting on the side and cheering the selling of their country. For most people what bothers them is not what is lost but they spend endless energy to get a piece of the action. In Ethiopia stealing, lying, being part of a criminal enterprise is encouraged by the regime. When the recently dead Meles Zenawi said ‘even being a thief requires being smart’ he was giving a green light to his cadres and the population at large. The so called Diaspora is the number one enabler of the criminal Woyane machine. They use their new found riches to bribe Woyane so they could acquire stolen land to build their flimsy unsustainable condominiums and spend endless nights worrying if the next highest bidder will in turn take it away in broad day light.
This is exactly the reason we are having a problem forming a united front to get rid of this cancerous body in our midst. This is the reason even in exile we are unable to form a democratic, inclusive and worthy association that will benefit the many. The ninety three percent are in need of education in civic affairs and a dose of what it means to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.
May be it is the lords way of teaching us little humility and humbleness as he did with the children of Israel when he left them to wonder for forty years in the wilderness so they know what is in their heart. It is a choice we have-to be humble or perish due to pride.
Please follow the link above and watch the YouTube video before reading this article.
This is Debretsion Ethiopian Orthodox Church in London England. The picture seems to have been taken on a cold winter day. It is such a beautiful church. Doesn’t it look so serene and peaceful? I am sure it is that most of the time. But according to this video it was nothing but serene a few weeks back. The best way to express the twenty one minute video is it felt like was watching a scene where the mental patients have taken over the asylum.
I agree it is totally depressing to see all classic Ethiopian behavior on display in a controlled environment. The location being a church gives it that special quality of raising the bar to show how low we have sunk. Such a brawl in some obscure hall, how ugly it is, normally is not worth a mention. I guess we get so consumed with the righteousness of our cause that we toss out all civilized behavior out of the window regardless of the place or the time.
The video is not intended to be a work of art. It is not fiction that jumped out of some ones imagination. This play does not have a director, a producer or a lead actor. This video is real unrehearsed presentation of Ethiopians and their social interaction. The setting adds to the drama of the moment. We thank the individual who had the patience to record reality in that hallow ground.
If you care to dig deep deeper into the story you will find out the reason to the madness you are subjected to watch but that is another story all by itself. Unfortunately having an excuse does not justify bad and shameful behavior. Wrong or right does matter but with this short presentation that we are left with all we can do is watch and marvel at the utter stupidity our situation at home and abroad. I am interested in parsing out what fate has presented us- a way to watch ourselves from afar. It is priceless.
As I said before the setting is Debretsion Church in London, England and all those present are immigrant Ethiopians. All come to Debretsion by their own free will. We assume they are followers of Christ AKA Christians. For Christians a church is a most hallowed place. It is God’s home. Christians go to church to pray, praise the lord and cleanse their soul of evil thought and bad feelings. We expect love, understanding, forgiveness and chartable acts to flourish in such a location. Is that too much to ask?
It looks like Debretsion is not such place. The fathers and mothers the sons and daughters of Debretsion are not one happy family. Obviously they got a problem. The twenty one minute video is a general example of how the unhappy group went about cooling tempers and looking for solution. It speaks plenty on how we go about resolving differences in a civilized manner. I think it is safe to conclude this gathering to be a microcosm of the bigger Ethiopian society both at home and in the Diaspora. We take pride in our dysfunctional behavior. Look at the combatants of Debretsion. They make us all proud.
After watching twenty one minutes of the meeting do you think there is a lesson to be learnt? I know it looks totally hopeless doesn’t it? How could all those adults act in such a lawless manner? How do they justify such shameless behavior in front of the young people? How do you think their kids are going to act in a social gathering when they have seen their parents foaming at the mouth inside a holy church? What kind of anger forces a sane human being to be so hating and threating with all sorts of nasty acts?
The last forty years have been a time of upheaval in our country. It has affected our culture in a profound manner. The last two dictators although lacking in the art of leadership were richly endowed with mental deficiency, mental illness and were given to delusion of grandeur. Our old culture has experienced disruption in a major way. We are the result of an aborted development.
The biography for Debretsion London church give nineteen seventy six as day one making it about thirty seven years in the making. It also says it is paid for. My first reaction is how fortunate they have such a united and generous community and are able to worship in such a beautiful church. I am sure some people worked hard thru the years to make it happen. Not all of us can put time, effort and money to achieve such goal. Because of the hard work of the few now they have a place of their own to enjoy and grow. They make their congregation and all of us in the Diaspora proud.
You would think the Board of governors and the clergy deserve a heartfelt thank you. You would think the members will strive to build on that success and plan bigger and better things to come. You would think even if there is a problem it will be dealt with in a careful manner so as not to destroy what has already been achieved.
That scenario works among civilized people. By civilized I don’t mean high rise buildings, airplanes, factories, highways and stuff. I mean people with culture and pride. People that don’t have to shout to be heard. People that know their place in history. People that have already lost so much by being displaced from their homeland that a little compassion and caring for each other in a strange land will be the norm.
We are unable to do that. Debretsion is just one example of the disfunctionality that has taken over our social interaction. Debretsion has been repeated in every Diaspora assembly no matter the cause we are trying to create a common ground. This sickness of demeaning each other, belittling our efforts, slandering those who work on our behalf and routinely dismissing any and all ideas has become something to be proud of.
Debretsion Church is an example of a confused and rudderless crowed easily whipped into frenzy by a few anti-social elements. Why do you think that is so? Yes I am asking you the reader why do you think a few can disturb the peace of the many? My simple answer is because we let them! We know something has gone wrong, we know things are not right but our first response is to sit quiet and watch. We seethe inside, our stomach turns, we are very much disgusted but we keep quiet. We don’t dare tell the rowdy ones they have gone too far, we are not familiar with the word NO!
I am also sure after the assembly and meeting we will find plenty that will show disgust and alarm with the noise makers. They will even become animated explaining how offended they felt. There is a saying in our country ‘jib kehede wusha chohe.’ That is the story of our existence.
I can see all this because our Church was a victim of the same ruffian type behavior. Those who felt change is necessary were too lazy to work within the system. They felt a short cut was acceptable since their position was such that ‘by any means necessary’ was an acceptable method. They packed the assembly, they registered new members and they brought their loud mouth to silence anybody that stood on their way. Winning was the only outcome acceptable to them and the price did not matter. Destroying the church to save the church seemed to be a good idea.
Out of the millions of options in front of us we seem to choose the one that hurt ourselves and those around us. We can leave an association if we don’t agree with the direction it is heading. We can relocate to a new neighborhood if we don’t like the location we are in. We can quit a job if it does not meet our monetary and social needs. One is free to change a church if the current one does not satisfy one’s spiritual need. We Ethiopians do not exit with grace. Most of us will wreak havoc on the association, burn our home, badmouth our employer and destroy our house of worship before we leave. We are not programed to accept a simple amicable divorce. In the end we all lose.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about a video in living color? This video is priceless. It says many things about us in the Diaspora. There is no reason to assume we are any different over there either. By over there I mean Áger Bet, Ethiopia. In fact we are a duplicate, warts and all.
It is definitely a surreal scene to watch some taking a video of this madness as if to preserve it for future reference while a few were sitting in silence seeming un affected by the chaos. I knew I was entering a new dimension when I saw the Metropolitan Police walking among the combatants. He was not asking for silence, not demanding attention or clearing the scene but quietly showing his presence but allowing the play to go forward.
So the question in front of us is- are we going to learn from this madness and change? Are we going to be responsible for our actions not to be led by the crazy and idiots among us? Are we going to judge matters on their merit or base our stand on ethnicity, marriage and friendship? Are we going to sit and listen to each other as adults or pace around like a wounded animal? Are we going to work thru the system we ourselves set up or improvise as needed and change the rules to suit an individual? Are we going to give respect to those that work hard to create something and give them credit or demean their efforts and slander their work?
I will give you an example you can try. The next assembly of Ethiopians you meet weather in a coffee shop, Lekso bet or Eder mention any of the organizations working on our behalf like Ginbot 7, Andenet, ESFNA and see the reaction. The first thing that comes out is a barrage of insults, demeaning language and put down. Most probably the individual has never attempted to know, read and find out the goals and plans of the organization. Has never contributed monetary and other help to help them achieve. It does not stop them from being rude. They are always willing to vent out insult and defamation no matter what. Our community needs help. God help Debretsion and God help our country. Now watch the video below and see Debretsion in all its splendor.
For some time now, I have been heralding Ethiopia’s irreversible march from dictatorship to democracy. In April 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Bridge on the Road(map) to Democracy”. I suggested,
We can conceive of the transition from dictatorship to democracy as a metaphorical journey on the road to progress, freedom and human enlightenment (democracy) or a regression to tyranny, subjugation and bondage (dictatorship). Societies and nations move along this road in either direction. Dictatorships can be transformed into democracies and vice versa. But the transition takes place on a bridge that connects the road from dictatorship to democracy. It is on this bridge that the destinies of nations and societies, great and small, are made and unmade. If the transition on the bridge is orderly, purposeful and skillfully managed, then democracy could become a reality. If it is chaotic, contentious and combative, there will be no crossing the bridge, only pedaling backwards to dictatorship. My concern is what could happen on the bridge linking dictatorship to democracy in Ethiopia when that time comes to pass.
In June 2012, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: On the Road to Constitutional Democracy”. I argued with supporting historical evidence that “Most societies that have sought to make a transition from tyranny and dictatorship to democracy have faced challenging and complex roadblocks.” Focusing on the practical lessons of the “Arab Spring”, I proposed a constitutional pre-dialogue and offered some suggestions:
The search for a democratic constitution and the goal of a constitutional democracy in Ethiopia will be a circuitous, arduous and challenging task. But it can be done… To overcome conflict and effect a peaceful transition, competing factions must work together, which requires the development of consensus on core values. Public civic education on a new constitution must be provided in the transitional period. Ethiopian political parties, organizations, leaders, scholars, human rights advocates and others should undertake a systematic program of public education and mobilization for democratization and transition to a genuine constitutional democracy. To have a successful transition from dictatorship to constitutional democracy, Ethiopians need to practice the arts of civil discourse and negotiations….”
They are pedaling backwards on the low road of dictatorship, but are we marching forward on the highway to democracy?
It is easy for some people to speak truth to power, or the powers that be. Without great difficulty, they can preach to abusers of power why they are wrong, what they are doing wrong, why they should right their wrong and do right by those they have wronged. But it is not so easy to speak truth to powers that could be, particularly when one does not know who “they” are. Instead of speaking truth to the powers that could be, I will simply ask: They are pedaling backwards on the low road of dictatorship, but are we marching forward on the highway to democracy? Where do we go (or not go) from here?
Ordinarily, this question would be put to Ethiopia’s “opposition leaders”. For some time now, I have been wondering who those leaders are and are not. In my commentary last September entitled, “Ethiopia’s Opposition at the Dawn of Democracy?”, I asked out loud (but never got answer), “Who is the Ethiopian ‘opposition’?” I confessed my bewilderment then as I do now: “There is certainly not a monolithic opposition in the form of a well-organized party. There is no strong and functional coalition of political parties that could effectively challenge both the power and ideology of the ruling party. There is not an opposition in the form of an organized vanguard of intellectuals. There is not an opposition composed of an aggregation of civil society institutions including unions and religious institutions, rights advocates and dissident groups. There is not an opposition in the form of popular mass based political or social movements. There is not…”
Stated differently, is the “opposition that amorphous aggregation of weak, divided, squabbling, factionalized and fragmented parties and groups that are constantly at each other’s throats? The grumbling aggregation of human rights advocates, civic society organizers, journalists and other media professionals and academics? The groups committed to armed struggle and toppling the dictatorship by force the opposition? Anyone who thinks or self-proclaims s/he is the opposition?” All or none of the above?
I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that the disciples of the late Meles Zenawi would have no problems explaining where they are going from here. They would state with certainty, “Come hell or high water, we’ll pedal backwards lockstep in Meles’ ‘eternally glorious’ footsteps to the end of the rainbow singing Kumbaya to grab the pot of gold he has left for us under the Grand Renaissance Dam. We will fly high in the sky on the wings of a 10, 12, 15 percent annual economic growth and keep flying higher and higher…” I say it is still better to have a road map to La-La Land than sitting idly by twiddling one’s thumbs about the motherland.
Is the question to be or not be in the opposition? What does it mean to be in the “opposition”? What must one do to be in the “opposition”? Is heaping insults, bellyaching, gnashing teeth and criticizing those abusing power the distinctive mark of being in the opposition? Is frothing at the mouth with words of anger and frustration proof of being the opposition? How about opposing the abusers of power for the sake of opposing them and proclaiming moral victory? Is opposing the abusers of power without a vision plan, a plan of action or a strategic plan really opposition?
I have often said that Meles believed he “knew the opposition better than the opposition knew itself.” Meles literally laughed at his opposition. He considered the leaders of his opposition to be his intellectual inferiors. He believed he could outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver them all, save none, any day of the week. He believed them to be dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential; he never believed they could pose a challenge to his power. In his speeches and public comments, he ridiculed, scorned and sneered at them. He treated his opposition like wayward children who needed constant supervision, discipline and well-timed spanking to keep them in line. Truth be told, during his two decades in power, Meles was able to outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver, and neutralize his opposition at will. Meles’ disciples today trumpet their determination to walk in his footsteps and do exactly the same thing.
Where is the “opposition” now?
Perhaps it is premature to pose the question, “Where do we go from here?” to Ethiopia’s “opposition”. It may be more appropriate to ask where the “opposition” is (is not) now. From my vantage point, the “opposition” is in a state of resignation, stagnation, negation, frustration and alienation. I see the “opposition” watching with hypnotic fascination the abusers of power chasing after their tails. The “opposition” seems anchorless, agenda less, aimless, directionless, dreamless and feckless. The “opposition”, it seems to me, is in a state of slumber, in crises and in a state of paralysis.
Time was when the “opposition” got together, stood together, put heads together, worked together, campaigned together, negotiated together, compromised together, met the enemy together and even went to jail together. Flashback 2005! The “opposition” set aside ethnic, religious, linguistic, ideological and other differences and came together to pursue a dream of freedom and democracy. That dream bound the opposition and strengthened the bonds of their brotherhood and sisterhood. The “opposition” mobilized together against factionalism and internal conflicts and closed ranks against those who sought to divide and split it. By doing so, the opposition thumped the ruling party in the polls.
In the past seven years, the dream of democracy and freedom among the “opposition” seems to have slowly faded away and the strength of its champions sapped away in mutual distrust and recrimination. Dialogue in the “opposition” has been replaced with monologue and deafening silence; action with inaction; cooperation with obstruction; coalition with partisanship; unity with division; amity with enmity and civility with intolerance.
The “opposition” wants change and rid Ethiopia of tyranny and dictatorship. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent. … We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The Ethiopian “opposition” needs to stand up erect and make demands with steely backbone and stiff upper lip.
There are many ways to stand up and show some backbone. To speak up for human rights and against government wrongs is to stand up. To demand that wrongs be righted is to stand up. To open up one’s eyes and unplug one’s ears in the face of evil is standing up. To simply say “No!” even under one’s breath is standing up. Speaking truth to power is standing up. Dr. King said, “A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Standing up against an unjust law is standing up for justice.
In January 2011, I wrote a weekly column entitled, “After the Fall of African Dictatorships” and posed three questions: “What happens to Africa after the mud walls of dictatorship come tumbling down and the palaces of illusion behind those walls vanish? Will Africa be like Humpty Dumpty (a proverbial egg) who “had a great fall” and could not be put back together by “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men”? What happens to the dictators?”
The mud walls of dictatorship in Ethiopia have been exhibiting ever expanding cracks since the death of the arch architect of dictatorship Meles Zenawi sometime last summer. The irony of history is that the question is no longer whether Ethiopia will be like Humpty Dumpty as the “king” and “king’s men” have toiled to make her for two decades. The tables are turned. Despite a wall of impregnable secrecy, the “king’s men and their horses” are in a state of disarray and dissolution. They lost their vision when they lost their visionary. The old saying goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Well, the king is no more; and the “king’s men and horses” are lost in the wilderness of their own wickedness, intrigue and deception.
The “fierce urgency of now” is upon Ethiopia’s opposition leaders to roll out their plans and visions of democracy. Now is the time for Ethiopia’s human rights advocates to bring forth their vision of a society governed by the rule of law. Now is the time for Ethiopia’s civil society leaders to build networks to connect individuals and communities across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender and regional lines. Now is the time for Ethiopia’s intellectuals to put forth practical solutions to facilitate the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Now is the time for all freedom loving Ethiopians to come forward and declare and pledge their allegiance to a democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Now is the time to unchain ourselves from the burdens of the past. Now is the time to abandon the politics of identity and ethnicity and come together in unity for the sake of all of Ethiopia’s children. Now is the time to organize and mobilize for national unity. Now is the time for truth and reconciliation. Now is the time to assert our human dignity against tyrannical barbarity.
Now is not the time to for division, accusation and recrimination. Now is not the time for finger pointing, bellyaching and teeth gnashing. Now is not the time to remain silent. Now is not the time to turn a blind eye. Now is not the time to turn a deaf ear.
Where should we go from here?
I will try to answer my own question in brief form for now. The opposition should get on the highway that leads to democratic governance. The opposition should roll out its action plan for a democratic, post-dictatorship Ethiopia. The principal lesson to be learned from the experiences of the past seven years is that the opposition’s role is not simply to “oppose, oppose and oppose” for the sake of opposing. The opposition’s role and duty goes well beyond simply proclaiming opposition to the abusers of power. The opposition’s role goes to the heart of the future democratic evolution and governance of the country. In that role, the opposition must relentlessly demand accountability and transparency of those absuing power. The fact that the abusers of power will pretend to ignore demands of accountability and transparency is of no consequence. The question is not if they will be held to account but when. The opposition should always question and challenge the actions and omissions of those abusing their powers in a principled and honest manner. The opposition must analyze, criticize, dice and slice the policies, ideas and programs of those in power and offer better, different and stronger alternatives. It is not sufficient for the opposition to publicize the failures and of the ruling party and make broad claims that they can do better.
For starters, the opposition should make crystal clear its position on accountability and transparency to the people. For instance, what concrete ideas does the opposition have about ending, or at least effectively controlling, endemic corruption in Ethiopia. In an exhaustive 448-page report, the World Bank recently concluded that the Ethiopian state is among the handful of the most corrupt in the world. I cannot say for sure how many opposition leaders or anyone in the opposition has taken the time to study this exquisitely detailed study of corruption in Ethiopia; but anyone who has read the report will have no illusions about the metastasizing terminal cancer of corruption in the Ethiopia body politics. The opposition should issue a white paper on what it would do to deal with the problem of corruption in Ethiopia.
Speaking truth to the powers that could be
I know that what I have written here will offend some and anger others. Still many could find it refreshing and provocatively audacious. Some critics will wag their tongues and froth at the mouth claiming that I am attacking the “opposition” sitting atop my usual high horse. They will claim that I am weakening and undermining the “opposition” preaching from my soapbox. Others will say I am overdramatizing the situation in the “opposition”. Still others will claim I am not giving enough credit or am discrediting those in the “opposition” who have been in the trenches far longer than I have been involved in human rights advocacy. They will say I am doing to the opposition what the power abusers have done to them. They will say I don’t understand because I have been sitting comfortably in my academic armchair and have not been on the front lines suffering the slings and arrows of an outrageous dictatorship. Be that as it may!
Though I acknowledge such claims could be convenient diversions, there are two essetnial questions all of us who consider ourselves to be in the “opposition” can no longer ignore and must be held to answer: They are pedaling backwards on the low road of dictatorship, are we marching forward on the highway to democracy? Is the “opposition” better off today than it was in 2005?
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
In my first weekly commentary of the new year, I “proclaimed” 2013 “Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation” (young people). I also promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth this year and exhorted members of the Ethiopian intellectual class (particularly the privileged “professorati”) to do the same. I have also been pleading with (some say badgering) the wider Ethiopian Hippo Generation (the lost generation) to find itself, get in gear and help the youth.
The SOS I put out in June 2012 (Where have Ethiopia’s Intellectuals Gone?) and now (The Irresponsibility of the Privileged) has been unwelcomed by tone deaf and deaf mute “Hippogenarians”. My plea for standing up and with the victims of tyranny and human rights abuses has been received with stony and deafening silence. I have gathered anecdotally that some Hippos are offended by what they perceive to be my self-righteous and holier-than-thou finger wagging and audacious, “J’accuse!”. Some have claimed that I am sitting atop my high horse crusading, pontificating, showboating, grandstanding and self-promoting.
There seems to be palpable consternation and anxiety among some (perhaps many) Hippos over the fact that I dared to betray them in a public campaign of name and shame and called unwelcome attention to their self-inflicted paralysis and faintheartedness. Some have even suggested that by using the seductively oversimplified metaphor of cheetahs and hippos, I have invented a new and dangerous division in society between the young and old in a land already fractured and fragmented by ethnic, religious and regional divisions. “Methinks they doth protest too much”, to invoke Shakespeare.
My concern and mission is to lift the veil that shrouds a pernicious culture and conspiracy of silence in the face of evil. My sole objective is to speak truth not only to power but also to those who have calculatedly chosen to disempower themselves by self-imposed silence. I unapologetically insist that silently tolerating wrong over right is dead wrong. Silently conceding the triumph of evil over good is itself evil. Silently watching atrocity is unmitigated moral depravity. Complicity with the champions of hate is partnership with haters.
The maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent” (qui tacet consentiret). Silence is complicity. Silence for the sake of insincere and hollow social harmony (yilugnta) is tantamount to dousing water on the quiet riot that rages in the hearts and minds of the oppressed. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” I say nothing strengthens tyranny as much as silence — the silence of the privileged, the silence of those who could speak up but choose to take a vow of silence. One cannot speak to tyrants in the language of silence; one must speak to tyrants in the language of defiant truth. Silence must never be allowed to become the last refuge of the hypocritical scoundrel.
There have been encouraging developments over the past week in the crescendo of voices speaking truth to power. Several enlightening contributions that shed light on the life and times of tyranny in Ethiopia have been made in “Ethiopian cyber hager”, to borrow Prof. Donald Levine’s metaphor. A couple of insightful analysis readily come to mind. Muktar Omer offered a devastating critique of the bogus theory of “revolutionary democracy.” He argued convincingly “that recent economic development in Ethiopia has more to do with the injection of foreign aid into the economy and less with revolutionary democracy sloganeering.” He demonstrated the core ideological nexus between fascism, communism and revolutionary democracy. Muktar concluded, “Intellectuals who are enamored with the ‘good intellect and intentions’ of Meles Zenawi and rationalize his appalling human rights records are guilty of either willful ignorance or disagree with Professor John Gray’s dauntingly erudite reminder: ‘radical evil can come from the pursuit of progress’”. My view is that revolutionary democracy is to democracy as ethic federalism is to federalism. Both are figments of a warped and twisted imagination.
An Amharic piece by Kinfu Asefa (managing editor of ethioforum.org) entitled “Development Thieves” made a compelling case demonstrating the futility and duplicity of the so-called “Renaissance Bond” calculated to raise billions of dollars to dam the Blue Nile. Kinfu argued persuasively that there could be no development dam when the people themselves are damned by the damned dam developers.
I am told by those much wiser than myself that I am pursuing a futile course trying to coax Hippos to renounce their vows of silence and speak up. I am told it would be easier for me to squeeze blood out of turnip than to expect broad-gauged political activism and engaged advocacy from the members of Ethiopia’s inert Hippo Generation. The wise ones tell me I should write off (and not write about) the Hippos living on Planet Cheetah. I should stop pestering them and leave them alone in their blissful world where they see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil!
Restoring Faith With the Cheetahs
We have a problem! A big one. “We” are both Cheetahs and Hippos. Truth must be told: Hippos have broken faith with Cheetahs. Cheetahs feel betrayed by Hippos. Cheetahs feel marginalized and sidelined. Cheetahs say their loyalty and dedication has been countered by the treachery and underhandedness of Hippos. The respect and obedience Cheetahs have shown Hippos have been greeted with disdain and effrontery. Cheetahs say Hippos have misconstrued their humility as servility; their flexibility and adaptability have been countered by rigidity and their humanity abused by cruel indignity. Cheetahs feel double-crossed, jilted, tricked, lied to, bamboozled, used and abused by Hippos. Cheetahs say they have been demonized for questioning Hippos and for demanding accountability. For expressing themselves freely, Cheetahs have been sentenced to hard labor in silence. Cheetahs have been silenced by silent Hippos! Cheetahs have lost faith in Hippos. Such is the compendium of complaints I hear from many Ethiopian Cheetahs. Are the Cheetahs right in their perceptions and feelings? Are they justified in their accusations? Are Hippos behaving so badly?
A word or two about the youths’ loss of faith in their elders before talking about restoring faith with them. Ethiopia’s youth live in a world where they are forced to hear every day the litany that their innate value is determined not by the content of their character, individuality or humanity but the random chance of their ethnicity. They have no personality, nationality or humanity, only ethnicity. They are no more than the expression of their ethnic identity.
To enforce this wicked ideology, Apartheid-style homelands have been created in the name of “ethnic federalism”. The youth have come to realize that their station in life is determined not by the power of their intellect but by the power of those who lack intellect. They are shown by example that how high they rise in society depends upon how low they can bring themselves on the yardstick of self-dignity and how deeply they can wallow in the sewage of the politics of identity and ethnicity. They live in a world where they are taught the things that make them different from their compatriots are more than the things they have in common with them. Against this inexorable message of dehumanization, they hear only the sound of silence from those quietly professing allegiance to freedom, democracy and human rights. To restore faith with Ethiopia’s youth, we must trade silence with the joyful noise of protest; we must unmute ourselves and stand resolute against tyranny. We must cast off the silence of quiet desperation.
But before we restore faith with the young people, we must restore faith with ourselves. In other words, we must save ourselves before we save our young people. To restore faith with ourselves, we must learn to forgive ourselves for our sins of commission and omission. We must believe in ourselves and the righteousness of our cause. Before we urge the youth to be courageous, we must first shed our own timidity and fearfulness. Before we teach young people to love each other as children of Mother Ethiopia, we must unlearn to hate each other because we belong to different ethnic groups or worship the same God with different names. To restore faith with ourselves, we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones, comfort groups, comfort communities and comfort ethnicities and muster the courage to say and do things we know are right. We should say and do things because they are right and true, and not because we seek approval or fear disapproval from anyone or group. George Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.” We live in times of national deceit and must become revolutionaries by speaking truth to abusers of power, to the powerless, to the self-disempowered and to each other.
To be fair to my fellow Hippos, they defend their silence on the grounds that speaking up will not make a difference to tyrants. They say speaking truth to tyranny is a waste of time, an exercise in futility. Some even say that it is impossible to communicate with the tyrants in power with reasoned words because these tyrants only understand the language of crashing guns, rattling musketry and booming artillery.
I take exception to this view. I believe at the heart of the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is an unending battle for the hearts and minds of the people. In the battlefield of hearts and minds, guns, tanks and warplanes are useless. History bears witness. The US lost the war in Vietnam not because it lacked firepower, airpower, nuclear power, financial power, scientific or technical power. The U.S. lost the war because it lacked the power to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and American peoples.
Words are the most potent weapon in the battle for hearts and minds. Words can enlighten the benighted, open closed eyes, sealed mouths and plugged ears. Words can awaken consciences. Words can inspire, inform, stimulate and animate. Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest military leaders in history, feared words more than arms. That is why he said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” That why I insist my fellow privileged intellectuals and all who claim or aspire to be supporters of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law to speak up and speak out and not hide behind a shield of silence. I say speak truth to tyranny. Preach faith in the divinity of humanity and against the bigotry of the politics of identity and ethnicity; champion loudly the causes of unity in diversity and practice the virtues of civility, accountability, amity and cordiality. Never stand silent in the face of atrocity, criminality, contrived ethnic animosity and the immorality of those who abuse of power.
It is necessary to restore faith with the Cheetahs. The gap between Cheetahs and Hippos is not generational. There is a trust gap, not generational gap. There is a credibility gap. There is an expectation gap, an understanding gap and a compassion gap. Many bridges need to be built to close the gaps that divide the Cheetah and Hippo Generations.
Rise of the Chee-Hippo Generation
There is a need to “invent” a new generation, the Chee-Hippo Generation. A Chee-Hippo is a hippo who thinks, behaves and acts like a Cheetah. A Chee-Hippo is also a cheetah who understands the limitations of Hippos yet is willing to work with them in common cause for a common purpose.
Chee-Hippos are bridge builders. They build strong intergenerational bridges that connect the young with the old. They build bridges to connect people seeking democracy, freedom and human rights. They build bridges across ethnic canyons and connect people stranded on islands of homelands. They bridge the gulf of language, religion and region. They build bridges to link up the rich with the poor. They build bridges of national unity to harmonize diversity. They build bridges to connect the youth at home with the youth in the Diaspora. Chee-Hippos build social and political networks to empower youth.
Are You a Chee-Hippo or a Hippo?
You are a Chee-Hippo if you believe
young people are the future of the country and the older people are the country’s past.
the future is infinitely more important than the past.
a person’s value is determined not by the collection of degrees listed after his/her name but by the person’s commitment and stand on the protection of the basic human rights of a fellow human being.
and practice the virtues of tolerance, civility, civic duty, cooperation, empathy, forgiveness, honesty, honor, idealism, inclusivity and openness.
You are a Chee-Hippo if you are
open-minded, flexible, and humble.
open to new ideas and ways of communicating with people across age groups, ethnic, religious, gender and linguistic lines.
unafraid to step out of your comfort zone into the zone of hard moral choices.
courageous enough to mean what you say and say what you mean instead of wasting your time babbling in ambiguity and double-talk.
prepared to act now instead of tomorrow (eshi nege or yes, tomorrow).
prepared to blame yourself first for your own deficits before blaming the youth or others for theirs.
eager to learn new things today and unlearn the bad lessons of the past.
committed to finding opportunity than complaining about the lack of one.
able to develop attitudes and beliefs that reflect what is possible and not wallow in self-pity about what is impossible.
fully aware that the world is in constant and rapid change and by not changing you have no one to blame for the consequences except yourself.
Any Hippo can be reinvented into a Chee-Hippo. Ultimately, being a Chee-Hippo is a state of mind. One need only think, behave and act like Cheetahs. The credo of a true Chee-Hippo living on Planet Cheetah is, “We must not give only what we have; we must give what we are.”
Damn proud to be a Chee-Hippo!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: