Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: In my last commentary on the theme, “Where do we go from here?” I suggested that the ruling dictatorship in Ethiopia following its 99.6 percent “victory” in the May 2010 parliamentary “election” will continue to do business as usual in much the same way as it has over the last two decades. In this commentary, I focus on the Ethiopian opposition collectively and argue that they must atone and reinvent themselves if they hope to play a significant role in that country’s future.
Always speak truth to power; but sometimes it is necessary to speak it to the powerless too. Truth must be spoken not only because it renders naked the hypocrites and villains, but also because it has a cathartic (cleansing) effect on its defenders. Above all, it must be spoken because it is the quintessential requirement of freedom: “The truth shall make you free.” It is in the spirit of freedom from the burdens of past political blunders and poor judgment and the freedom to invent a new spirit of democracy in Ethiopia that I offer this commentary to the Ethiopian opposition. My aim is not to lecture or to bash; I leave that job to the dictators who are the true experts. When I speak my mind freely about the Ethiopian opposition, it is merely to help “clean out the closet”, as it were, so that we could begin afresh on the long walk to democracy. It is said that the “truth hurts”, but I disagree. I believe the truth heals, empowers and liberates its defenders.
Holding a Mirror to the Ethiopian Opposition
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
In the 2005 election, there was a unifying spirit among the opposition. For that reason, they were able to trounce the ruling dictatorship in a free and fair election. What was monumental about that election was not only the fact that the opposition thumped the ruling party, but they did so with overflowing and overwhelming public support. On May 7, 2005, a week before elections that year, the opposition was able to hold a rally in the capital for an estimated 3 million people. On May 15, over 26 million people voted freely giving the opposition a decisive victory in the parliamentary elections, including a clean sweep of seats in the capital. Of course, the elections were stolen by the current dictatorship after hundreds of unarmed protesters were massacred and shot in the streets and thousands more imprisoned and disappeared. The point is that in 2005 the Ethiopian people put everything on the line– their lives, their livelihoods and their loved ones. Fast forward to 2010: “Where did the people go?” That was the question asked by Awramba Times, the only struggling independent paper in Ethiopia that is the regular object of the dictatorship’s wrath and fury.
The people did not vanish merely because Zenawi had unloosed his trigger-happy goons on the streets. Perhaps they did not show up because they had lost faith in the leadership of the opposition. When Zenawi herded the opposition leaders into his dungeons after the 2005 election, the people kept faith with them. They kept them in their hearts and minds and thoughts and prayers. Did the opposition leaders keep faith with the people after they were “pardoned” and released from prison? That is perhaps the hardest truth for the opposition leaders to face and accept. I have heard it said anecdotally thousands of times. The opposition leaders have deeply and sorely disappointed the people. In their words, deeds and conduct, they have failed to uphold and sustain the people’s dreams, aspirations and longing for justice and democracy. As best as I could summarize it, the people feel betrayed and abandoned by many opposition leaders in whom they placed so much trust.
The Opposition Through Zenawi’s Eyes
Zenawi knows the opposition like the opposition does not know itself. He has studied them and understands how they (do not) work. Careful analysis of his public statements on the opposition over the years suggests a rather unflattering view. He considers opposition leaders to be his intellectual inferiors; he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver them any day of the week. He believes they are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power. In his speeches and public comments, he shows nothing but contempt and hatred for them. At best, he sees them as wayward children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, he will offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses and whatever else it takes to buy their silence. Those he can not buy, he will intimidate, place under continuous surveillance and persecute. Mostly, he tries to fool and trick the opposition. He will send “elders” to talk to them and lullaby them to sleep while he drags out “negotiations” to buy just enough time to pull the rug from underneath them. He casts a magical spell on them so that they forget he is the master of the zero-sum game (which means he always wins and his opposition always loses).
For the first time in nearly twenty years, he is now changing his tune a little because the opposition seems to be wising up and Western donors are grimacing with slight embarrassment for supporting him. The kinder and gentler face of Zenawi is slowly being rolled out. After his “election victory”, he extended an olive branch to the opposition wrapped in his inimitable condescending cordiality, magnanimity and paternalism. He solemnly “pledge[d] to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people… as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, he will set up a “kitchen cabinet” for the nice opposition leaders to come in through the back door and chit-chat with him. But they will never be allowed to get out of the kitchen and sit at the dining table.
Who is the Opposition in Ethiopia, Anyway?
Opposition politics in the African political context is a tragicomedy. Beginning with Nkrumah — the father of the one-man, one-party state in Africa– opposition parties and groups in Africa have been staged, suppressed and persecuted by those in power. Just a few days ago, it was reported that “14 opposition political parties have declared the Meles Zenawi-led EPRDF party as a winner of the 2010 elections, conveying congratulatory message.” This is like the chickens congratulating the fox who snacks on them for doing a good job guarding the henhouse. It is nutty, but quaintly African. Where else on earth could an election universally declared to be a sham and a fraud be blessed by lackeys organized to look like opposition parties? Are these 14 “parties” the Ethiopian opposition? How about those political parties that are permitted to run for elections just to window-dress the ruling party and make it look good and democratic? Is the opposition those parties that are handcuffed and chained at the starting line while the ruling party sprints to the finish line? Is the opposition that amorphous aggregation of weak, divided, squabbling, factionalized and fragmented parties and groups that is constantly at each other’s throats? Or is it the grumbling aggregation of human rights advocates, civic society organizers, journalists and other media professionals and academics? Or are the groups committed to armed struggle and toppling the dictatorship by force the opposition?
What Is to Be Done by the Ethiopian Opposition?
Atonement and Reconciliation With the People: There is the well-known parable of the prodigal son who took riches from his father and squandered it all. He returned home believing his father will reject and disown him. But the son asked for his father’s forgiveness. Filled with compassion and love, the father forgave his son. There may be a good lesson here for the opposition: They need to go back to the people and ask forgiveness for squandering their hopes, dreams and aspirations. They need to say to the people, “We did let you down. We are deeply sorry. We promise to do our very best to earn back your trust and confidence. We will correct our mistakes. ” In my view, atonement is the first thing opposition leaders need to do before they can begin to reconnect with the people. I realize that many of us (including myself) find it exceedingly difficult to admit we have done wrong or made a mistake. We feel that it is a sign of weakness to say “I am sorry, I messed up.” But the real and tragic mistake is to know one has done wrong and irrationally insist that wrong is right. The people deserve the unqualified and public apology of the opposition leaders. They will be forgiven because the Ethiopian people are decent, understanding and compassionate.
Work Collectively for the Release of Birtukan Midekssa and all Ethiopian Political Prisoners: Birtukan Midekksa is the symbol of the democratic opposition in Ethiopia. She is the one paying the ultimate price. Zenawi has made her his object of ridicule. But she is the personification of the spirit of the Ethiopian opposition. We must work tirelessly to get Birtukan and all of the thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia released.
Learn From Past Mistakes: It is said that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat it. Many mistakes have been committed by opposition leaders in the past. They need to be identified and lessons learned from them.
Understand the Opposition’s Opposition: The opposition’s opposition should not be underestimated. Their strength is in dividing and ruling and in playing the ethnic card. If the opposition unites and acts around a common agenda, they are powerless.
Develop a Common Agenda in Support of Issues and Causes: The core issues democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the unity of the people and the physical integrity of the Ethiopian nation are shared by all opposition elements. Why not build collective agenda to advance and support these issues?
Agree to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Opposition leaders and supporters must abandon the destructive principle, “If you do not agree with me 100 percent, you are my enemy.” There is nothing wrong with reasonable minds disagreeing. Dissent and disagreement are essential conditions of democracy. If the opposition can not tolerate dissent within and among itself, how different could it be from the dictators?
Guard Against the Cult of Personality: One of the greatest weaknesses in the Ethiopian opposition has been the cult of personality. We create idealized and heroic images of individuals as leaders, shower them with unquestioning flattery and praise and almost worship them. Let us remember that every time we do that we are grooming future dictators.
Always Act in Good Faith: Opposition leaders and supporters must always strive to act in good faith and be forthright and direct in their personal and organizational relationships. We must mean what we say and say what we mean. Games of one-upmanship will keep us all stranded on an island of irrelevance.
Think Generationally; Act Presently: The struggle is not about winning an election or getting into public office. The struggle is about establishing democracy, protecting human rights and institutionalizing accountability and the rule of law in Ethiopia. It is not about us. It is about the younger generation.
Give Young People a Chance to Lead: The older generation in the opposition needs to learn to get out of the way. Let’s give the younger generation a chance to lead. After all, it is their future. We can be most useful if we help them learn from our mistakes and guide them to greater heights. Zenawi thinks he can mold the young people in his image so that he can establish a Reich that will last a thousand years. He will never succeed. If there is one thing universally true about young people, it is that they love freedom more than anything else. Let the older generation be water carriers for the young people who will be building the “future country of Ethiopia,” as Birtukan would say.
Think Like Winners, Not Victims: Victory is not what it seems for the victors, and defeat is not what it feels for the vanquished. There is defeat in victory and victory in defeat. Both victory and defeat are first and foremost states of mind. Those who won the election by a margin of 99.6 percent project an image of being victorious. But we know they have an empty victory secured by force and fraud. The real question is whether the opposition sees itself as winners or losers. Winners think and act as winners, likewise for losers.
Never Give Up, NEVER: Sir Winston Churchill was right when he said: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
What is NOT to Be Done by the Opposition: “Fool Me once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me!”
There is talk now that Zenawi is shuttling his “elders” (shimagles) to do a deal with the opposition. It is even said that if the opposition leaders have been warned that if they do not negotiate and publicy accept the “election” results, they will soon be joining Birtukan. The last time Zenawi used his Trojan horse “elders” to deal with the opposition, he put a noose around their necks. Birtukan Midekksa is in prison today precisely because she took a “pardon” deal from the “elders”. Now she is doing a life sentence because she allegedly violated the terms of her “pardon” deal. This is how she explained it a day or two before Zenawi threw her back to prison:
… Let me start with the negotiation by the elders; the basic spirit of the negotiation by the elders was to bring about an agreement acceptable to both parties and to create a spirit of reconciliation and to continue the political process. This is why its progress took several months. In this, regarding the problem that was created following the 2005 elections, instead of following the path of making one party wrong and another party right, the country elders mediated with the objective of having each party ask for forgiveness from the people and from each other, presented to both parties points that would bring about a spirit of reconciliation, mediated these points between the parties, toning down the parties’ opinions as much as possible, and move forward by proving their determination to their political outlooks on fundamental issues.
The negotiation through the elders that was focused on reaching a negotiated agreement through a give and take deal was based on not only a willingness on the part of the government but also through its participation. … Nonetheless, even at that stage, the spirit of reconciliation to which the negotiation was directed did not change. Even though other points of agreement were left behind, the elders expressed that if we signed that document which was crafted on the spirit of our country’s culture to say to each other let it be settled, the matter would stop at that stage, the file would be closed, and pushed on with their elderly mediation…. In connection with this, agreement was reached “to release all prisoners in the country put in jail in matters related the CUD [Coalition for Unity and Democracy] without preconditions; to start direct discussions between the government and the former CUD leaders; for the parties leaders to continue their party’s duties without restrictions….
Not only was there no follow up on the “negotiated agreement” and no political prisoners released, Birtukan herself ended up being the number 1 political prisoner in the country. For Birtukan, it was Faustian bargain: In exchange for walking out of prison and staying out, Zenawi demanded her soul. But she would never sell her soul, so she is now back in Zenawi’s underworld. Just remember Birtukan when you see the slithering “elders” come bearing gifts and talk with forked tongues! “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
As I have argued before, much needs to be done to reinvent and revitalize opposition politics in Ethiopia. I raised some questions above about who the opposition is in Ethiopia. I will answer them now. The opposition is anyone who believes in and stands for genuine democracy, protection of human rights and institutionalization of the rule of law, accountability and transparency in government. The Ethiopian opposition is anyone who stands against dictatorship, tyranny and despotism.
Are you part of the opposition?
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: Over the past week, I have received numerous requests from those who read my last commentary “Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History, to share my views on the on the question, “Where do we go from here?” in the aftermath of the so-called May 2010 elections. I am pleased to oblige in a series of forthcoming commentaries. Here I offer my analysis of the “election” and what I perceive to be the ruling regime’s future direction.
The 2010 Election: Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Some say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still a pig.” Others say, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it an ‘election’. It’s still gonna stink.” Well, one can certainly say that you can stampede throngs of “esteemed residents of Addis Ababa” into the public square and lecture them on how the “whole world knows the 4th national election has taken place in a peaceful, democratic and credible manner,” but at the end of the day a phony election with a 99.6 percent win is still a phony election. In fact, the spectacular margin of electoral victory claimed by dictator Meles Zenawi is second only to the victory claimed by the late dictator Saddam Hussien who won 100 percent of the 11,454, 638 yes votes in a referendum in 2002.
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The White House issued a statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.” Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
Only the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:
The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. They did not have freedom to campaign. We had no way of verifying the allegations.
With all due respect to Masire, it seems that he made his declaration clueless of the observation standards he is required to follow in the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines[Guidelines] . If he had done so, he would have known that there is no logical, factual or documentary basis for him to declare the “elections were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards.” For instance, pursuant to Section III 9 (e) of the Guidelines (“MANDATES, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE OBSERVERS”), Masire’s team had a mandatory duty to “observe the political parties and groups as well as the population at large in the exercise of their political rights, and the conditions in which such rights are to be exercised.” Masire by his own admission made no such observation. (“The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period ‘s team made no such observation.”) Under Section V (13), the Guidelines mandate that “AU Observers should ascertain that… (b) all competing political parties have equal access to both the print and the electronic media (radio, T.V.).” Masire said his team “had no way of verifying” pre-election complaints, including complaints of unequal access to state-controlled media. Under Section V (B) (d), the AU observers had a mandatory duty to ascertain “the campaign process is conducted in conditions of serenity, and that there are no acts of provocation or intimidation capable of compromising.” Masire’s team failed to make such inquiries. Under section B (24), the Guidelines mandate: “The atmosphere during the campaign should be carefully observed, and among the factors to consider in this regard include … (iv) persistent or reported cases of human rights violations.” Masire’s team does not appear to be aware of such a requirement, let alone to actually make the observation. It is truly regrettable to say of a former African leader that he showed no evidence of having read or understood the numerous mandatory election observation duties set forth in minute detail in the AU Guidelines before shamelessly and pathetically declaring the elections “were largely consistent with African Union regulations and standards.”
Where Do the Dictators Want to Go From Here?
In his victory speech (an event billed as a public protest against Human Rights Watch for its critical report on the regime), dictator Meles Zenawi boldly stated that he ain’t going nowhere. He is staying put where he has been for the past 19 years. It will be business as usual. The political game will be played out on the same 19 year-old zero-sum field; and his team will always win and everybody else will always lose. But there will be a change in style, form, appearance and public relations in the post- “election” period.
Hide the Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
“Hide the iron fist in a velvet glove. Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the essence of Zenawi’s “victory” speech (a/k/a demonstration against Human Rights Watch) on May 26. It was a grotesquely Churchillian speech. It was Winston Churchill who said, “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity”. In the “election” battle, Zenawi was resolute. For months before election day, he had threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for their “inflammatory” and “hateful” campaign statements calculated to “incite violence”. He even threatened to burn them at the stake if they withdrew from the elections at the last minute and agitated the youth to demonstrate in the streets. In his defeat — that is, the complete loss of credibility that comes from winning an election with 99.6 percent of the votes– he was defiant. (By the way, he gave a solemn promise to the 0.4 percent of the people who did not vote for him: “I would like to confirm to those who did not vote for us that we will work hard to look into your reasons for not voting for us with the view to learning from them and correcting any shortcomings on our part. We will work day and night to obtain your support in the next election.” In 2015, the vote will be 100 percent for Zenawi and his party!) In his 99.6 percent electoral “victory”, he was magnanimous – “let bygones be bygones.” (yalefew alfwal.)
The velvet glove/big stick strategy is based on a simple idea of totally demoralizing and humiliating the opposition, hoodwinking the Western donors and simply fooling the people. Zenawi’s velvety message was that he “does not want to be forced to embark upon the business of tracking down people committing crimes. I would like to appeal to some opposition parties… not to force the Government to take measures against them.” He is still carrying a chip on his shoulder from the drubbing his party got in 2005. The opposition humiliated his party in 2005 by wining every seat in Addis Ababa, and now it is their turn to be humiliated. “It is to be recalled that in the last election, five years ago, we, the EPRDF lost every seat in the capital due to our failure to achieve our goals..” Not this time. We won them all. (Hee…hee). In 2005, the opposition accused him of rigging and stealing the election; well, let them get a load this in 2010: “We all know the destructive role some political parties have been playing so far. [They have] attempt[ed] to mar and discredit the polling process. They have tried to cause delay by instructing their observers to arrive late at the polling stations. They have tried to disrupt the queues, make all sorts of shouts and cries,…[and even] sen[t] in their members with grenades to detonate among people queuing at polling stations… We have also observed successful and unsuccessful attempts by members of some of the opposition parties to snatch away ballot boxes and burn the votes of the people.”
But there is an olive branch extended to the opposition wrapped in condescending cordiality and paternalism. Now that the opposition has been vanquished, they will be allowed to lick the crumbs off the table (and the shoes of the victors) as long as they keep their tails between their legs. “We make this pledge to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people, during this election, that whether or not you have won seats in the parliament, as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, we will let you speak, if we want to; and we’ll shut you up when we want to. Your political existence depends on our good will, whim and fancy.
Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopia’s recorded history and that country’s no. 1 political prisoner had said it all before she was re-imprisoned for life in December 2008:
The message is clear and this message is not only for me but for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party has set and not according to what the country’s Constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.
Now that the “election’ is over, Zenawi will probably trot out the tired old “elders” to begin reconciliation talks to help him buy time until the dust settles around the “elections” controversy. He may even tantalize some opposition leaders with offers of fancy appointments and positions to divide and neutralize them. He is very good at the divide-and-rule thing, which he has successfully used for the past 19 years. Unsurprisingly, some will fall for his tricks, as history shown time and again. He will make promises to democratize, uphold the rile of law and all that just to buy enough time for the opposition and the people to fall deeper into the vortex of hopeless and despair.
The bottom line for Zenawi’s regime is: For the foreseeable future, the opposition will know who the Boss is; and if they have any doubts, the iron fist will be unsheathed from the velvet glove and the big stick pulled out to drive that point home. No political prisoners will be released, including Birtukan Midekssa. More will be added. There will be no independent press. Civic society organizations will not be allowed to operate freely. Judges will remain in the back pockets of the ruling regime. Justice, and pieces of the country, will be up for sale to the highest bidder; and on and on. Business will be conducted in the same way it has for the last 19 years!
Hoodwinking the Donors
The contempt and disregard Zenawi has for the Western donors is exceeded only by his utter scorn for the opposition. He warned the donors with diplomatic finesse: “We have seen those we believed were friends and partners behaving like king makers and an appeal court for Ethiopia’s politics. Our proud people would still like to extend a warm welcome of friendship and partnership. We say to you: Please give due respect to the decision and the sovereign power of the people to elect their own leaders.” His strategy in dealing with the Western donors is simple: He is the only game in town. The donors have no alternatives to him because he has wiped out the opposition. The donors want stability above all things and will tolerate anything he does. They don’t really believe in democracy and human rights anyway; they believe only in advancing their national interests. They do not have the guts to take any action against him because he will threaten to cut them off and go with the Chinese. In any case, they have never taken any serious actions against him and never will. He regards them as a bunch of hypocritical, forked-tongue, double-dealing and double-talking windbags. America is not going to do anything because of her preoccupation with terrorism in the Horn. To ease the criticism on the donors, he will give them diplomatic cover by touting that he has achieved “double digit economic growth”, built roads, schools and other infrastructure. In any case, if push comes to shove, he will attack them by claiming that they are interfering in the country’s sovereignty and affronting the Ethiopian people.
If truth be told, Zenawi would not be necessarily inaccurate in his view. The U.S., Britain and the European Union have poured in tens of billions of dollars of aid to support his regime for nearly two decades while pontificating about democracy and human rights endlessly. They took no action when he passed a so-called press law criminalizing free speech and the free press. They just moaned and groaned about it a little. They took no action when he passed a so-called civic society law that effectively banned civic organizations. They have taken no action against him despite a nearly two decade uninterrupted record of gross human rights violations and criminality. All they have done is dump the blame on the opposition: “There is no viable alternative in the opposition.” They know full well that the opposition is subjected to daily threats, intimidations, arbitrary arrests and detentions and violence, yet they have mustered the audacity to blame them for being “not viable”. As I have argued previously, the Western donors have entered into a conspiracy of silence to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of Zenawi.
You Can Fool All of the People All of the Time on Planet Ethiopia
It is said that “you may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Not so for Zenawi and company on Planet Ethiopia. If you think you have fooled the people for 20 years, you can try and fool them for another five or more. In his speech, Zenawi told the people:
The voters have given us their support freely and democratically. Women are the real backbone of our organization… The youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development. We are ready to learn from [our] mistakes…. The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election. It is Ethiopia’s renewal. The winner is Ethiopia’s democracy and all Ethiopians. We say congratulations to all the electorate and to our country’s forces of peace and democracy… The residents of Addis Ababa are fully aware of our respect for their decision. I believe that the people of Ethiopia, beyond recognizing the efforts of the EPRDF and voting it into power have unequivocally sent a clear message to the opposition parties in our country…
It is all about humility and how they can learn from their mistakes and all of the improvements they will make to earn the trust and confidence of the people and so on. We have heard it all before. No need to recite that litany of lies and false promises. Of course, if Zenawi wants to find out the truth all he has to do is ask the people one simple question: Are they better off today than they were in 2005?
I have expressed my views on the limitations of the regime on previous occasions:
The dictators of Ethiopia are trapped in a historical time warp. They have clutched the reigns of state for two decades and ostentatiously display the trappings of political power and wealth. But they have not been able to transform ‘bushcraft’ into statecraft… In their armed campaign against the Derg junta, decision-making was left in the hands of the few. The few leaders exercised raw, brute power over their followers and the communities they controlled. They silenced dissent and criticism ruthlessly, and leaders who disagreed were marginalised, labeled as traitors and removed. Everything was done in secrecy. Power was understood not as a public duty but as a means of self-enrichment, political patronage and intimidation. Leadership meant the cult of personality. The best they have been able to do is to transform the ‘politics of the bush’ fighting the Derg into a one-man, one-party state, whose guiding motto is, ‘What is good for the TPLF/EPDRF is good for Ethiopia!’
The transition from ‘bushcraft’ to statecraft requires tectonic transformations. Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic democratic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The dictators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles… They never had free elections in the bush; and it is no wonder that they were totally surprised when they got thumped in the 2005 elections. Upholding the rule of law is absurd to them because they believe themselves to be THE LAW… They scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries because they never lived in a system where the powers of government are constitutionally subordinated to the rights of the individual. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect from them the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance.
Mr. Zenawi and company need to understand a simple fact about elections: “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Arrrrgh! The thought of poor Ethiopia wearing the same diapers for another 5 years….
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia.
http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046 ; http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11869
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: Except for elements inserted in the nature of narrative license, syntax and independently established facts, this “interview” is based on English or Amharic translations of public statements, hearing testimony, speeches and other declarations[ 1] of Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history and that country’s most famous political prisoner. Her re-imprisonment in December 2008 on allegations of denying a pardon was a tactical move by dictator Meles Zenawi to incapacitate and eliminate his only serious and formidable challenger in the May 2010 “elections”. In March 2010, the U.S. State Department declared Birtukan a political prisoner. In January 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council listed her as a victim of arbitrary detention. Amnesty International named Birtukan a prisoner of conscience in 2009.
This “interview” is done partly for the benefit of Western governments and their diplomatic representatives in Ethiopia in light of the May 2010 “elections”. It seems that Western governments in general have taken a solemn vow to say nothing, see nothing and hear nothing about Birtukan. As they hide behind a diplomatic shield of shame and give lip service to democratic ideals while coddling a dictator, I hope with this “interview” they will at least begin to appreciate this extraordinarily brilliant, thoughtful, enlightened, perceptive, humorous, cultured, humble and compassionate Ethiopian woman political leader.
I had the great honor and privilege to meet Birtukan in the Fall of 2007 when she led a delegation of Coalition for Unity and Democracy (Kinijit) party leaders visiting the United States. On numerous occasions, I have publicly expressed my highest respect, greatest admiration, deepest gratitude and boundless appreciation for Birtukan’s sacrifices in the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.
Q. Let’s start by talking about your situation in Akaki federal prison over the past year and half. We are told that your “health is in perfect condition”, you have picked up a “few kilos” and could use some physical exercise. How is life in prison?
Birtukan: Correction! You mean life at the Akaki Hilton Spa and Resort? Well, the food here is excellent and so are the accommodations. I have my own special room. I like to call it my boudoir. They call it “Solitary Confinement”. It is true that I have “gained a few kilos”, but that is because I spend all of my time in my room. “C’est la vie” at the Akaki Hilton, as they say in French.
Q. The reason you were returned to prison to serve out a life term is that you allegedly denied receiving a pardon when you were released in July, 2007. Did you deny receiving a pardon?
Birtukan: I have never denied signing the pardon document as an individual prisoner. I, along with the other opposition political prisoners, asked for pardon through the elders according to the document that was written on June 18, 2007. This is a fact I can not change even if I wanted to. In my opinion the reason why all these illegal intimidations and warnings were aimed at me have nothing to do with playing with words, inaccurate statements I made or any violations of law. The message is clear and this message is not only for me but for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party has set and not according to what the country’s Constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.
Q. As you know, elections are scheduled for May 23, 2010. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Birtukan: It is hard for me to say much locked up at the Akaki Hilton. I get no newspapers, magazines or books. I have no radio or television. But I can tell you how it was in 2005 and you can judge for yourself what the situation is like today.
In 2005, public interest and participation in the electoral process was massive. The European Union Observer team estimated voter registration at no less than 85% of all eligible voters, based on lists containing 25,605,851 names of registered persons. The total number of candidates for the House of Peoples’ Representatives was 1,847. A total of 3,762 candidates ran for Regional Councils. The total number of women candidates to the House of Peoples’ Representatives was 253, and 700 in the Regional Councils.
To its credit the government in 2005 allowed limited media access, established a Joint Political Party Forum at national and constituency levels, regular consultations with electoral authorities to resolve problems in campaign and election administration, special elections-related training programs for the police and the judiciary, pledges of non-violence between the ruling and opposition parties for election day and invitation of international election observers and so on.
As election day approached, the government started to use its power to influence the outcome of the election. There was widespread interference by local authorities in the conduct of public gatherings and opposition party rallies, threats and intimidations by some local public officials. In some instances, force was used to disrupt public gatherings and detain opposition supporters throughout the country. In the days preceding the elections, there was a spike in negative campaigns on radio and television using images and messages designed to intimidate by associating the genocide in Rwanda with opposition politics.
Even though the Election Board was required to announce the official results on June 8, that requirement was superseded when Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared a state of emergency, outlawed any public gathering, assumed direct command of the security forces, and replaced the capital city police with federal police and special military units. The Elections Board simultaneously ordered the vote tallying process to stop, and on May 27, the Board released its determination that the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front had won 209 seats, and affiliated parties 12 more. The report indicated opposition parties had won 142 seats. Our party filed complaints in 139 constituencies, the UEDF lodged 89 complaints, while the EPRDF raised concerns over irregularities in more than 50 seats.
That’s how it was back in 2005.
Q. The ruling regime continues to make public accusations that the opposition in the current “election” is inciting violence as it did in 2005. Recent public statements from the highest levels of the ruling regime indicate that any attempts by opposition parties to boycott the election, complaints of harassment and intimidations and agitations of youth to engage in violence will be dealt with harshly after the elections. How do you assess the situation?
Birtukan: As the 2005 elections have shown, if there is any violence to occur in the current election it is not going to come from the opposition. The Inquiry Commission established by the government in 2005 to look into the killings and excessive use of force against demonstrators decided that there was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as alleged by the government. The shots fired by government forces were not intended to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill them by targeting their heads and chests. The historical facts speak for themselves. If there is election related violence today, one need look no further than the usual suspects.
Q. The ruling regime likes to trumpet to the world that Ethiopia is governed democratically, human rights are fully protected and the rule of law observed. Do you agree with these claims?
Birtukan: Dictatorship and democracy are not the same thing. There is no democracy in Ethiopia today, despite empty claims of “recent bold democratic initiatives taken by our government, the immense progress in creating a competitive, pluralistic system of government and a more open civil society.” The fact of the matter is that there is neither pluralism nor commitment to democratic principles and practices in Ethiopia. The government’s claim of political pluralism has not gone beyond the stage of political sloganeering. If pluralism involves widespread participation and a greater feeling of commitment from citizens, it does not exist today in Ethiopia. If pluralism means increased and diverse participation in the political decision-making process and giving everyone a stake in the political process, it does not exist in Ethiopia. If pluralism means a process where every voice is heard, conflict is resolved by dialogue and compromise and an atmosphere of tolerance, understanding and respect is nurtured, that does not exist either. But democracy in Ethiopia today must not only reflect the values of pluralism, it must also be genuinely participatory, transparent, accountable, equitable and based on the rule of law. We are all aware that democracy in Ethiopia will not be accomplished overnight. But we must start the process now in earnest by installing its critical pillars of support.
Q. What are the pillars you believe are important in establishing democracy in Ethiopia?
Birtukan: The are many. Let me start by mentioning the need for an independent judiciary. I know a thing or two about that having served as a judge and also being a victim of a judicial system that has me imprisoned for life. In 2005, I and the various opposition leaders were prosecuted for various state crimes including genocide, treason, incitement to violence, leading armed rebellion and other charges. Our prosecution occurred in a court system that has little institutional independence, and one subject to political influence and manipulation from the ruling regime. It is a judiciary that is used as a tool of political harassment, intimidation and persecution. Judges are selected not for professionalism or legal knowledge but for their loyalty to the government.
It is universally accepted that an independent and professional judiciary is a key element in the institutionalization of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of human rights and even in implementing social and economic reform in society. The U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents recognize the central importance of an independent judiciary as the guarantors of due process and justice. Judicial independence is guaranteed by Article 78 of the Ethiopian Constitution but it does not exist in reality. Although judges are supposed to be free of party politics, many are under the direct control of the party in power, if not outright members. With the judiciary under effective political control, there is little confidence in its institutional powers or the legitimacy of its rulings. If we can not have serious judicial reforms, not only will we be unable to protect the rights of citizens, we will always live under the rule of the gun instead of the rule of law.
Q. What other pillars of democracy do you believe are missing in Ethiopia?
Birtukan: Press freedom is another essential requirement necessary for building democracy in Ethiopia. Without a free press, there can be no meaningful democracy. People in Ethiopia, particularly in the rural areas, do not have access to important political information because of exclusive government control of the media. Political parties need to have equal access to media controlled by the government so that they can effectively communicate with the people. Various international human organizations have ranked Ethiopia at the top of the list of countries where there is little freedom of press. The U.S. and other Western governments can help by promoting private electronic media and supporting the emergence of private newspapers, weeklies and magazines to help develop a well-informed public.
Q. What are your views on the electoral process, and what improvements to that process do you believe are needed?
Birtukan: First, all elections must be free and fair in order for citizens to meaningfully participate in shaping the political makeup and future policy direction of government. People must be free to register to vote or run for public office. Candidates and parties must be free to engage the voters without intimidation or harassment. There must be an independent free press to provide information to the voters. The freedom to assemble for political rallies and campaigns must be guaranteed. There must also be an impartial system of conducting elections and verifying election results. It was the lack of independence, impartiality and transparency of the Ethiopian National Electoral Board that was one of the factors that complicated the resolution of the dispute in the 2005 elections. We need an elections board that is representative of all the political parties and enjoys the public trust. People need to have confidence that their votes are counted properly and there is no elections fraud.
Q. How do you assess the human rights situation in Ethiopia?
Birtukan: Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. Many of these rights are secured under international law and the Ethiopian Constitution. The ruling regime has sought to put up a façade of commitment to human and democratic rights. But its practices contravene all of its obligations under the Ethiopian constitution and the human rights conventions that bind Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 14 enumerates all of the “human rights” enjoyed by Ethiopian citizens. Arts. 14-28 enumerate these rights and include basic protections against arbitrary government actions and guarantees of due process. Art. 13, sec. 2 states “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.”
The fact is that the ruling regime observes neither its own constitution nor the requirements of well-established international human rights conventions. The regime’s own Inquiry Commission in 2005 has documented widespread excessive use of force by government security forces. The human rights violations committed by the ruling regime are so numerous and egregious that it would be too difficult to list them all here. But I wish to cite a few examples documented in the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for 2006.
That report stated that “Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees.” Massive arrests and detentions are common, and the Report concluded, “Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice…. Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions… The independent commission of inquiry… found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to three months in detention centers located in remote areas… Other estimates placed the number of such detainees at over 50,000.”
Q. Do you think Western governments, particularly the U.S., can play a role in improving the overall situation in Ethiopia?
Birtukan: As the largest donor country, the U.S is in the best position to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. In general, Western governments must insist on the release of all political prisoners and the immediate restoration of democratic rights. They must insist on accountability and transparency since they provide substantial aid to keep the government afloat. They must promote human rights by supporting civic society organizations and implementing other mechanisms that can facilitate adequate monitoring and reporting of human rights violations. The West must insist on the functioning of a free press without censorship and restrictive press laws, and help strengthen private media in Ethiopia. The West can also play a central role in the electoral process by ensuring fraud-free elections, helping political parties build more effective organizations and campaigns, strengthening civil society groups to function as facilitators in the democratic process and professionalization of the National Election Board to help it become fair and balanced. On the other hand, we want to make sure that U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia be used for peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations, and never against the civilian population.
Q. What are your views on the future of Ethiopia?
Birtukan: I believe Ethiopia is the country of the future. Ethiopia has many problems, including a legacy of repression, ethnic division, corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability and transparency. It will not be easy for us to confront the past and move on with lessons learned. The most important task now is to build the future country of Ethiopia by fully embracing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Only through dialogue, negotiation and compromise can justice, stability and peace be guaranteed in Ethiopia.
Thank you Birtukan for this “interview”. Stay strong!
 See e.g., http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/110/mid100207.htm
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Last week, in a piece reporting on the eerie silence of Western diplomats in Addis Abeba on Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history and Ethiopia’s # 1 political prisoner, Xan Rice, a reporter for the Guardian wrote:
That foreign embassies, including Britain’s, which have been refused permission to visit Mideksa, have barely made a public complaint about the case appears to back opposition complaints that when it comes to Ethiopia, donors favour stability over democratic reforms or human rights… ‘The [Ethiopian] government says the more we make noise the more difficult it will be to get her [Mideksa] out,’ said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘Are we going to risk our entire aid budget for one person? No.’”
Rice questioned in the caption to his piece whether Birtukan is “Ethiopia’s jailed victim of Western realpolitik.”
What kind of double doubletalk is this phrase, “speaking on condition of anonymity?” Is the climate of fear and loathing so oppressive and pervasive in Ethiopia that even emissaries with full diplomatic immunity are scared pantless to mention Birtukan’s name in public? Are these anonymous diplomats so afraid of calling a spade a spade that they have themselves become virtual political prisoners in their own embassies? Has a segment of the Western diplomatic community in Addis turned into pusillanimous pussyfooters and gossipy nabobs of cowardice?
One speaks “on condition of anonymity” when the situation justifies it. For instance, police sometimes “speak on condition of anonymity” to provide information of value to the community as part of their criminal investigations. During policy negotiations or in formal decision-making settings, stakeholders may engage in anonymous disclosures to obtain strategic advantage. Whistleblowers often report corruption, criminal wrongdoing, fraud, waste or abuse in government anonymously to avoid retribution. Could it be that these anonymous informants are actually diplomats-cum-whistleblowers? One really wonders about the palpable diplomatic rationale for speaking about Birtukan behind a veil of diplomatic anonymity. The fact of her notorious imprisonment is well known to the world. Many Western governments have publicly condemned her imprisonment and called for her immediate release. Just last week, the new U.S. ambassador-designate to Ethiopia, Donald Booth, told Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Africa, that he will aggressively take up the case of Birtukan and other political prisoners with the dictators in Ethiopia. Yet some of the resident Western diplomats in Addis choose to cloak themselves in anonymity while pontificating about “realpolitik.”
It seems these gossipy diplomats have adopted a version of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” game plan. Everybody knows many nasty and raunchy things happen in Vegas, but no one will care enough to tell about them. Gross abuses of human rights are daily occurrences in Ethiopia and the jails are full of political prisoners, but no diplomat dares speak openly about them or finger the criminals and abusers. Rather, the Western diplomatic community has ensconced itself around this obscene question: “Are we going to risk our entire aid budget for a bunch of nameless, faceless, hopeless, moneyless and powerless nobodies? Hell, No!”
The real reason for invoking anonymity, while enjoying full immunity, is diplomatic omerta — a conspiracy and code of silence, not unlike that time-honored tradition of the criminal societies in southern Italy where no one will tell the truth in public or finger the criminals because they are afraid of the Capo di Tutti Capi (boss of all bosses). The conspiracy of silence has transformed these anonymous diplomats into the proverbial wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”. This odious culture of diplomatic omerta in Addis must end!
The “realpolitik” (pragmatic) justification of the diplomats to “speak on condition of anonymity” is flawed and logically untenable. The principles of “realpolitik” apply in the relationship between powerful nations who find it advantageous to deal with each other in a practical and pragmatic manner so as to avoid costly conflict. It is silly to conceptualize the relationship between Western countries collectively and one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of “realpolitik”. Without the budgetary support and massive economic and humanitarian aid of the West, no dictatorship in Africa can survive even for a single day. These anonymous diplomats now want to convince us that “realpolitik” prevents them from exercising their political will on the dictators. Poppycock! We know, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
On the other hand, if the diplomats are “speaking on condition of anonymity” because they believe they can finesse the dictators with reason and logic, they are tripping (or in diplomatic parlance, “it is lunacy”). They ought to know (as they pretend not to know) that they are dealing with some of the rock-hard, dyed-in-the-wool, unyielding and incorrigible ideologues in modern Africa history. These dictators are impervious to reason and common sense; they are driven by the maniacal and insatiable hunger for power. The lessons the dictators draw from the invocation of diplomatic anonymity is that they have succeeded in intimidating the Western diplomatic corps into silence, not that they are buying time to negotiate and craft a fair resolution to the fundamental political problems of the country. Let’s put it bluntly: The dictators are convinced that on the whole Western diplomats in Addis are a klatch of spineless, wimpy, double-talking, forked-tongue equivocators who would rather grovel and wheedle than stand up for principle.
The cunning dictators understand the wishy-washiness of the diplomats and take advantage of their apparent timidity. They carefully orchestrate a program of manipulation, subtle intimidation, vague threats of expulsion and clever misdirection to string them along. “Sure, we let Birtukan out, mañana (tomorrow). Excellencies! Don’t worry, be happy! Did you say ‘Stop human rights abuses’? Not a problem. Consider it done, mañana. Clean elections? Hoo-Hah! Check out our Election Code of Conduct. Any other questions?!”
As Joseph Stalin sarcastically observed, “A sincere diplomat is like dry water or wooden iron.” We are not foolish enough to believe that Western diplomats will work sincerely to help bring change, democratization and hope in Ethiopia. But they need to know that their diplomatic chicanery and double-dealing will not go unchallenged in the court of international public opinion. Let us look at their do-nothing, kiss derrière policy in Birtukan’s case. The anonymous diplomat speaking to reporter Rice said that the West would “not risk [its] entire aid budget for one person.” This is not an idiosyncratic attitude or the view of a single diplomat. It is a wrong-headed outlook widely shared in the general diplomatic community in Addis.
But we should set the record straight: The issue of Birtukan is not a matter of one individual political prisoner. Birtukan is a national symbol of thousands of political prisoners that are held in detention in official and secret prisons throughout the country without due process of law. Birtukan is not a lone dissident on a moral crusade against a dictatorship. She is the head of the principal opposition party in the country and the leader of the largest coalition of political parties. On a level electoral playing field, Birtukan is the kind of leader who could easily beat the pants off the ruling dictatorship. By not raising her righteous cause in public and repeatedly, these veiled diplomats enable and embolden the dictators to remain bullheaded and continue in their gross human rights violations spree. In the end, these diplomats show themselves to be toothless tigers who are afraid of their own shadows and would rather meow than speak the truth in public.
Western diplomats in Addis have the choice of speaking up and standing up for the principles they advocate so passionately and vociferously at the cocktail parties, or remaining silent. It is their right to remain silent to the thundering screams of the torture victims, the faint whimpers of the political prisoners rotting in the dungeons, the cries and lamentations of the opposition leaders and the tormented wails of journalists who flee the country. They can even game us by shedding a few crocodile tears and assuring us that they are doing everything they can to help change things. We know in the final analysis they will wring their hands, pat themselves in the back and tell each other everything is fine and dandy and things in Ethiopia will definitely change, mañana. But they should spare us the crock of anonymous palaver because all they are doing is prove to the world that they do not possess the least scrap of conscience or integrity.
There is a price for silence, which is loss of credibility with the people of Ethiopia. That may not mean much to the hoity-toity excellencies; but they should know that their empty cocktail party rhetoric about democracy and rule of law has as much credibility with us. Diplomatic hypocrisy built on a foundation of anonymity, in our book, is called complicity and compounding a crime. Ethiopians understand and like straight talk, not anonymous talk (and not silence). They don’t like those who talk with “butter on their tongues and dagger in their hearts” (Afu kibe, lebu chube). We hope these invisible diplomats will emerge from the dark side and muster the courage to speak on the record and call a spade, a spade. If they don’t, we will understand. Silence in the face of inconvenient truths is a hallowed tradition in the Western diplomatic corps.
Excellencies, never mind if the dictators say, “the more [you] make noise the more difficult it will be to get Birtukan out.” Go ahead, make a whole lot of noise, not silence. Birtukan and the thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners are on pins and needles (no pun intended) waiting to hear your rapturous noise.
I have said it before Excellencies, and I will shout it out again: J’Accuse!
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.