Alemayehu G Mariam
At the “World Economic Forum Meeting” in Ethiopia last week, dictator Meles Zenawi lectured:
…. My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically. But my view is that democracy is a good thing in and of itself irrespective of its impact on economic growth. And my view is that in Africa most of our countries are extremely diverse, that may be the only possibility, the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane. Democracy may be the only viable option for keeping these diverse nations together. Sowe need to democratize but not in order to grow. We need to democratize in order to survive as united sane nations. That’s my view. But I don’t believe in this nighttime, you know, bedtime stories and contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy. There is no basis for it in history and in my view no basis for it it in economics. And there is no need to have this contrived argument because the case for democracy and can stand and shine on its own…
While visiting Ghana in 2009, President Obama told the following “contrived bedtime story linking economic growth with democracy” to Africans:
Development depends on good governance. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny. And now is the time for that style of governance to end…. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives…. History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity….
My Favorite Bedtime Stories
I enjoy bedtime stories as much as the next guy. My favorite is “Pinocchio in Africa”. The wooden puppet wanted to become a human boy but could not stop telling lies and tall tales. Whenever Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.
I like the story of “Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies”. Puff took a little girl called Sandy, who lies a lot, to the Land of the Living Lies where honesty and truthfulness are prosecuted. She meets the famous fibbers Pinocchio and the boy who cried wolf; and saw the famous purple cow that no one has ever seen and a pink elephant.
I also enjoy the morality tales of Aesop, the ancient Ethiopian storyteller. Once upon a time there was a wolf who schemed to snatch sheep grazing in the pasture, but could not because the shepherd was vigilant. One day the wolf found the shorn skin of a sheep and dressed himself in it and joined the flock. Soon he began dining on the sheep one by one until he was discovered by the shepherd. That was the end of the wolf; he could no longer steal, kill and eat the sheep.
George Orwell’s allegorical stories of doubletalk and doublespeak told in “political language” are rather delightful because they “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” So, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George could have added, “dictatorship is democracy. Tyranny is liberty. Poverty is wealth. Famine is plenty. Censorship is press freedom. Brutality is civility. Mendacity is veracity. Opacity is clarity. Shadow is reality. Depravity is morality and greed is good.”
Oh, Yes! I like children’s rhymes too:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall….
Sane Nations, Insane Dictators and Democrazy
Zenawi said “democracy is the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane”. Here are some true stories of democrazy from the Land of Living Lies:
Freedom House/U.S. State Department (2010)
In April 2008 local elections were held throughout Ethiopia. Freedom House and USDoS report that opposition candidates were subjected to intimidation and arrest by the government prior to the elections making it difficult for them to compete, leading to the opposition boycotting the elections and resulting in a massive victory for government supporters. The ruling party won 99% of the more than three million seats contested.
World Bank (2012)
The May 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in a 99.6 percent victory for the ruling EPRDF and its allies,reducing the opposition from 174 to only two seats in the 547 member lower house… Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan… At US$390, Ethiopia’s per capita income is much lower than the Sub-Saharan African average of US$1,165 in FY 2010, ranking it as the sixth poorest country in the world.
Amnesty International (2009)
The Ethiopian parliament has adopted a potentially repressive new law which could criminalise the human rights activities of both foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Charities and Societies Proclamation law (2009) is designed to strictly control and monitor civil society in an atmosphere of intolerance of the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The law’s repressive provisions are believed to be an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010.
Human Rights Watch (2010)
Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies—through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views—without fear of reprisal. Democracy’s technical framework will remain a deceptive and hollow façade so long as Ethiopia’s institutions lack independence from the ruling party and there is no accountability for abuses by state officials.
Global Financial Integrity/Wall Street Journal (2011)
Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009. That’s a lot of money to lose to corruption for a country that has a per-capita GDP of just $365. In 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion, double the amount in each of the two previous years. The capital flight is also disturbing because the country received $829 million in development aid in 2008. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth as 38.9% of Ethiopians live in poverty, and life expectancy in 2009 was just 58 years. The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.
Committee to Protect Journalist (2011)
Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as the foremost jailer of journalists in Africa. Ethiopia’s repression of the independent press has also driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world. Yet Zenawi told Aftenposten [Norwegian paper] that ‘We have reached a very advanced stage of rule of law and respect for human rights. Fundamentally, this is a country where democratic rights of people are respected.’
Human Rights Watch (2011)
The Ethiopian government is exploiting its vaguely worded anti-terror law to crush peaceful dissent. The anti-terror law itself is a huge problem. The international community, especially the European Union, United States, and United Kingdom, should ask the Ethiopian government hard questions about why it is using this law to crack down on peaceful independent voices.
Committee Statement of Congressman Donald Payne (2007)
H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, sponsored by Cong. Payne passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2007) requires the secretary of state to support human rights by establishing a mechanism to provide funds to local human rights organizations. The bill supports democratization by directing assistance to strengthen democratic processes, prohibits non-humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia if the ruling party obstructs United States efforts to provide human rights, fosters accountability for the actions the Ethiopian Government has taken that undermine rule of law and fundamental political freedoms…. and holds security forces accountable for human rights abuses related to the demonstrations of 2005…
Statement of U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy on Senate Bill 3457 (2008)
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator LEAHY joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy–an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations…. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region–just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella….
2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report on May 2010 Election
The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities. The ruling party and its partner parties won 544 of the 547 seats to the House of Peoples Representatives and all but four of the 1,904 seats in the State Councils…. As a result, the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.
Zenawi’s response to the 2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report:
The EU report is trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.
Such are the nightmarish bedtime stories of Meles Zenawi’s Democrazy in Ethiopia!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/ and www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
Alemayehu G Mariam
Donald Payne Was a Drum Major for Democracy and Human Rights
Grassroots Ethiopian human rights groups and activists have been stunned by the death last week of Donald Payne, our strongest ally and advocate in the U.S. Congress. His passing marks a major setback to the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia and Africa. But Don Payne has left us a rich legacy of human rights advocacy and legislative action spanning over two decades. It is now our burden — indeed our moral duty — to build, to expand and to deliver on that legacy.
Over the past week, many Ethiopians who have worked with Don Payne and followed his labor of love in Ethiopia and Africa over the years have been asking what Diaspora Ethiopians could do individually or as a community to honor his memory and legacy. They all have great ideas: We should set up a scholarship fund in his name at his alma mater. We should sponsor a human rights conference in his name. We should contribute money in his name to his favorite charity. We should have a special occasion named in his honor. We should have a special memorial church service for him and so on.
These are commendable things to do in his memory; but I believe the greatest honor we can bestow upon our friend Donald Payne is to deliver on his rich legacy with steely resolve. Don Payne’s legacy is the active promotion of democracy and human rights in Africa. His singular legacy in Ethiopia is his unrelenting effort to link human rights to such core American values as the rule of law, accountability and transparency.
Donald Payne lived a life of public service both in his congressional district in New Jersey and in his larger “continental district” of Africa. He crisscrossed the continent to stand up and speak up for Africa’s voiceless, faceless and namelesswho continue to suffer in quiet desperation under ruthless dictatorships. He never sought public recognition or accolade for what he did for Africans and in Africa. He never compalined about the hardships and risks he faced, and patiently deflected the slings and arrows of African dictators who never missed an opportunity to vilify and denounce him for his unwavering stand on democracy and human rights.
Don Payne was a person Dr. Martin Luther King would have described as a drum major for justice, for peace and for righteousness. We know him to be a drum major (leader) for democracy, human rights and freedom in Africa. He was a drum major for free and fair elections in Ethiopia. He was a drum major for an independent judiciary and for press freedom. He was a drum major for the unconditional release of all Ethiopian political prisoners from secret and regular prisons. He was a drum major for stability, democracy, and economic development in the Horn of Africa. He was a drum major for humanitarian assistance and economic development of Africa. He was a drum major for strengthening Ethio-American relations and collaboration in the war on terror. Donald Payne was a drum major for democracy and accountability in Ethiopia.
Delivering on Don Payne’s Legacy
Delivering on Don Payne’s legacy is delivering on America’s human rights promises in Africa, and particularly in Ethiopia. In December 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton clearly set out the foundations of American human rights policy. She said “the idea of human rights and freedoms” is not a “slogan mocked by half the world” and “it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith.” Human rights are universal values. There are no Ethiopian, African, European, American or other national forms of human rights. “Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world which we must not allow any nation to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.” Secretary Clinton urged that the “basis of the new world order must be universal respects for human rights.” Those rights “are simple and easily understood: freedom of speech and a free press; freedom of religion and worship; freedom of assembly and the right of petition; the right of men to be secure in their homes and free from unreasonable search and seizure and from arbitrary arrest and punishment.” These rights are the bedrock principles of human existence anywhere. “Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of information, freedom of assembly–these are not just abstract ideals to us; they are tools with which we create a way of life, a way of life in which we can enjoy freedom.”
The key to democracy is the opportunity for people to make a free choice about their system of governance. Secretary Clinton said, “ The final expression of the opinion of the people with us is through free and honest elections, with valid choices on basic issues and candidates.” These principles are not mere platitudes; they are principles to be preserved, promoted and defended. In countries whose “governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve”, Secretary Clinton said, America “must vigorously press leaders to end repression, while supporting those within societies who are working for change… and support those courageous individuals and organizations who try to protect people and who battle against the odds to plant the seeds for a more hopeful future.” She proclaimed that there are four pillars that support the Obama Administration’s human rights policy:
First, a commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves…. Second, we must be pragmatic and agile in pursuit of our human rights agenda, not compromising on our principles, but doing what is most likely to make them real…. When we run up against a wall we will not retreat with resignation but respond with strategic resolve to find another way to effect change and improve people’s lives…. Third, we support change driven by citizens and their communities. The project of making human rights a human reality cannot be just a project for governments. It requires cooperation among individuals and organizations—within communities and across borders—who are committed to securing lives of dignity for all who share the bonds of humanity…. Fourth, we will not forget that positive change must be reinforced and strengthened where hope is on the rise and… where human lives hang in the balance we must do what we can to tilt that balance toward a better future.
Holding the Obama Administration Accountable for Human Rights
Secretary Clinton said that human rights accountability begins at home with “ourselves”. What has the Obama Administration done to preserve, protect and promote human rights in Africa in general and particularly Ethiopia? What did the U.S. do when Meles Zenawi claimed electoral victory of 99.6 percent in May 2010? Has the U.S. “vigorously pressed” Zenawi to hold free and fair elections? HAs the U.S. sought the release the thousands of political prisoners languishing in Zenawi’s secret and regular prisons? What did the U.S. do when Zenawi decimated the independent press in Ethiopia one by one and electronically jammed the Amharic broadcasts of the Voice of America to Ethiopia?
Responding With Strategic Resolve
Secretary Clinton said that “when we run up against a wall” of repression and see human rights trashed, “we will not retreat with resignation but respond with strategic resolve” to help victims of abuse. In his Statement celebrating World Press Freedom Day (May 2010), President Obama said, “Last year was a bad one for the freedom of the press worldwide. While people gained greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies, governments like Ethiopia… curtailed freedom of expression by limiting full access to and use of these technologies.” Today, Zenawi’s regime has gone beyond limiting access to “connective technologies” to shuttering newspapers and disconnecting broadcasts of the Voice of America from the people of Ethiopia. Has the U.S. responded with “strategic resolve” when it ran smack against Zenawi’s stonewall of press repression and free expression in Ethiopia?
Supporting Change Driven by Citizens and Their Communities
Secretary Clinton said that “human rights” cannot become “a human reality” unless it is possible for “individuals and organizations within communities and across borders” to work cooperatively in the cause of human rights. In February 2010, U.S. Undersecretary of State Maria Otero raised concerns with Zenawi over the so-called civil society organization law which Otero asserted “threatened the role of civil society” in Ethiopia. According to one report, as a result of this “law”, the “the number of CSOs [civil society organizations] has been reduced from about 4600 to about 1400 in a period of three months in early 2010. Staff members have been reduced by 90% or more among many of those organizations that survive according to my informants.” What has the U.S. done to “support citizen driven change” in Ethiopia as CSOs are wiped out?What has the U.S. done to support “courageous individuals and organizations” in Ethiopia, including civic society and human rights organizations, “who try to protect people”?
Tilting the Balance Toward a Better Future
Secretary Clinton said the U.S. will weigh in and work towards a better future “where hope is on the rise and human lives hang in the balance”. In the May 2010 election, the U.S. had an opportunity to help steer Ethiopia towards a better future. Immediately after the election, the U.S. issued a strong statement:
We have a broad and comprehensive relationship with Ethiopia, but we have expressed our concerns on democracy and governance directly to the government… Measures the Ethiopian government take following these elections will influence the future direction of US-Ethiopian relations… To the extent that Ethiopia values the relationship with the United States, then we think they should heed this very direct and strong message… We will continue to engage this government, but we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.
Nearly two years after that election, countless numbers of individuals have been detained under a so-called anti-terrorism law, the independent press has been stamped out and a full-fledged police state established. Is the U.S. tilting the balance in Ethiopia toward a better future or bending it backwards to perpetuate a vicious cycle of the past into the present?
H.R. 2003- Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act Redux
Long before Secretary Clinton eloquently articulated America’s human rights policy, Donald Payne, and before him another New Jersey Congressman, Christopher Smith, were toiling away to make it a reality. In fact, H.R. 2003 (passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2007) neatly and effortlessly combined all four pillars of the Obama Administration’s human rights policy. It is precisely the type of legislative action that could give real teeth to the lofty words of Secretary Clinton.
We can best honor Don Payne’s life and his legacy of human rights by re-committing ourselves to the re-introduction and passage of a bill that incorporates all of the elements of H.R. 2003. What was in H.R. 2003? The Congressional Research Service, a well-respected nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, summarized that the bill is intended to
(1) support human rights, democracy, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, peacekeeping capacity building, and economic development in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; (2) collaborate with Ethiopia in the Global War on Terror; (3) seek the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia; (4) foster stability, democracy, and economic development in the region; (5) support humanitarian assistance efforts, especially in the Ogaden region; and (6) strengthen U.S.-Ethiopian relations.
Human rights accountability legislation for Ethiopia began in earnest in the U.S. Congress following the officially documented massacre of at least 193 victims and wounding of 763 others in the afteramth of the May 2005 elections. In November 2005, Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey, then-Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, introduced H.R. 4423 (“Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005”). That bill focused on, among other things, the use of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and provision of resources to Ethiopia to support civil society institutions, independent human rights monitoring and democratic capacity building for political parties, police and security personnel, development assistance for the construction of dams and irrigation systems and suspension of joint security activities until certification is made that Ethiopia is observing international human rights standards. H.R. 4423 morphed into H.R. 5680 (“Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006”). In 2007 when Congressman Payne chaired the Africa Subcommittee, the bill was renumbered to H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007”) and passed the House in October. It is manifest that the legislative language and provisions in H.R. 2003 offer the perfect vehicle for effective implementation of all four pillars of U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.
In concluding her human rights policy speech, Secretary Clinton described the work that is required to protect human rights with special poingancy:
In the end, this isn’t just about what we do; it’s about who we are. And we cannot be the people we are — people who believe in human rights—if we opt out of this fight. Believing in human rights means committing ourselves to action. When we sign up for the promise of rights that apply everywhere, to everyone, the promise of rights that protect and enable human dignity, we also sign up for the hard work of making that promise a reality.
Upon the death of Congressman Payne, we can rekindle life in H.R. 2003 and finally transform lofty words into practical and concrete actions that will advance American human rights policy in Ethiopia and Africa. We can certainly “opt out of the fight” for human rights in Ethiopia, but then we cannot pretend to believe in human rights. Or we can “sign up” to continue the fight for human rights and human dignity in Ethiopia.
Fighting for a bill patterend after H.R. 2003 will not be an easy task or a fair fight. It will be a steep uphill battle for us as the commanding heights are controlled by some of the mightiest lobbyists in the world who will defend any tinpot dictator for $50,000 a month. Fighting against a formidable invisible army of highly paid lobbyists from “K” Street who lurk and silently creep on the granite floors of Congress to peddle their influence will be very hard. But we faced off with that Army last time on Capitol Hill; and against all odds, we managed to win approval of H.R. 2003 in the House.But fighting in the cause of justice and righteousness has never been easy. It is always hard, very hard. So now Ethiopians, particularly those in the U.S., face a simple choice: sign up for the hard work — to do the heavy lifting — to make Donald Payne’s dream of an Ethiopia democracy and accountability act a reality; or “opt out of the fight” by cutting and running.
Keep Don Payne’s promise of an Ethiopia democracy and accountability act alive!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Amharic translations of recent Monday commentaries may be found at:http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic