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U.S. Double-talking Human Rights in Ethiopia, Again!

dt3As my readers know, I enjoy watchin’ American diplomats chillin’ out and kickin’ it with African dictators. I like watchin’ ‘em kumbaya-ing, back-pattin’ and fist bumpin’. I have trained myself to decipher their cryptic diplomatese spoken with forked tongue. I have also learned to chew on their indigestible words with a whopping spoonful of salt and pepper.

Despite years of relentless effort, I have been unable to fathom their mendacity. I am mystified and spellbound by the depth of their duplicity and height of hypocrisy. Bewildered and frustrated, I was compelled to engage in a neologistic exercise and create a word that captured their culture of mendacity. I coined the term “diplocrisy” to refer to the deliberate and calculated use of double-talk, double-speak and double-dealing to misrepresent facts and mislead the inattentive public about what the U.S. is doing to actively promote human rights in Africa.

Diplocrisy is diplomatic hypocrisy in “lights, camera and action”. For instance, the diplocrites say, “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people…” Yet they turn a blind eye (or pretend to be legally blind) to the complete “closure of political space” in Ethiopia. (The euphemism “closure of political space” is what used to be called in the old days, oppression, repression and suppression.) The diplocrites promise to “work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders…”, but when Africa’s ruthless dictators tongue-lash them, the diplocrites become tongue-less (or tongue-tied) and their lips are sealed.

The diplocrites say, “When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere. That is why the United States joins its global partners in calling for the release of all imprisoned journalists in every country across the globe and for the end to intimidation.” The truth is they plug their ears to avoid hearing the pained whimpers of heroic journalists like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and so many other political prisoners chained deep in the bowels of Meles Zenawi Prison in Ethiopia. When they proclaim, “History is on the side of brave Africans…” and conveniently position themselves on the right side of the bed with Africa’s brutal dictators, I marvel at the height of their diplocrisy.

On June 20, 2013, I had another distressing opportunity to witness American diplocrisy in lights, camera, action when Donald Yamamoto, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs (and former ambassador to Ethiopia) testified before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. Yamamoto presented testimony to answer a single question:  What is the U.S. prepared to do to improve the prospects for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia following the death of dictator Meles Zenawi?

Mr. Yamamoto’s answer, ungarnished with the sweet ambiguity of diplomatic argot, was “Not a damn thing!!!”

I find nothing surprising in U.S. inaction and aversion to action to help improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia or elsewhere in Africa. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Obama Administration does not give a rat’s behind about Ethiopian or African human rights. That does not bother me anymore. I am cool with it! I also do not mind if the diplocrites think we are “fools and idiots”, as the former U.S. U.N. Ambassador (currently National Security Advisor) Susan Rice chose to vicariously describe those of us who opposed the regime of Meles Zenawi. But I do mind when we are treated as “fools and idiots.” What I find outrageous is the audacity of diplocrites who give testimony under oath which insults our intelligence (or what little scrap of gray matter they think we have).

On January 20, Mr. Yamamoto gave testimony which went beyond insulting our intelligence. He testimony gave new meaning to the phrase “speaking with forked tongue.” When Mr. Yamamoto was an ambassador in Ethiopia in 2009, his position on what could and should be done to improve human rights in that country was crystal clear and radically different than was revealed in his testimony in 2013.

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto was confident, forthright, frank, veracious and scrupulous as he advised Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew about what could and should be done to promote human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. In June 2013, Yamamoto’s testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa  evasive, patronizing, platitudinous and clichéd and amounted to nothing more than an elaborate obfuscation of the truth about what the U.S. needs and has the capacity to do to help improve human rights in Ethiopia. In effect his entire testimony before the Subcommittee could be reduced to one simple proposition: The U.S. is not able, willing or ready to use its resources to help improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia!

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (6/23/2009):

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto, assessing the political and human rights situation, instructed Deputy Secretary Jacob Lew:

Your visit to Ethiopia comes at a time when the Ethiopian Government’s (GoE) growing authoritarianism, intolerance of dissent, and ideological dominance over the economy since 2005 poses a serious threat to domestic stability and U.S. interests.  The GoE has come to believe its own anxieties about a fundamental shift in U.S. policy against it.  This self-induced crisis of confidence has exacerbated the GoE’s natural tendency of government control over politics, the economy and personal freedoms.  To pre-empt retaliation, the GoE has increasingly purged ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and others perceived as not supporting the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) from the military, civil service, and security services…

… The May 2005 elections and their aftermath continue to weigh heavily on Ethiopia’s domestic political scene, and as a result, the government is systematically closing political space in Ethiopia.  The U.S. Embassy has taken the lead in advocating for transparent and open national elections in 2010, the next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process… Since 2005, the government has enacted laws which limit and restrict party politics, the media, and civil society… The April 2008 local elections saw the ruling party take over all but three of over three million seats

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013):

In assessing the political and human rights situation in Ethiopia in 2013 for the Subcommittee on Africa, Mr. Yamamoto stated:

Ethiopia’s weak human rights record creates tension in our relationship and we continue to push for press freedom, appropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation, a loosening of restrictions on civil society, greater tolerance for opposition views, and religious dialogue. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controls all aspects of government, including the legislative branch where the EPRDF and its allies hold 545 of 547 parliamentary seats. Political space in Ethiopia is limited and opposition viewpoints are generally not represented in government. In recent years, Ethiopia has passed legislation restricting press freedoms and NGO activities. 

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Is the “Ethiopian government” less intolerant of dissent and less authoritarian and less ideologically dominant over the economy in 2013 than it was in 2009?

Does the “Ethiopian government” in 2013 have any “anxieties about a fundamental shift in U.S. policy against it”?

In the April 2008 local elections, the ruling party in Ethiopia took all but three of over three million seats. In 2010, the ruling party won 545 of 547 parliamentary seats (99.6 percent). What result does the U.S. expect in a “post-Meles” 2015 election?

In light of the “GoE’s natural tendency” to exercise total “control over politics, the economy and personal freedoms”,  when did the “GoE” stop its “preemptive retaliation of purging ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and others perceived as not supporting the ruling party from the military, civil service, and security services”?

In 2009, the “U.S. Embassy took a leading role in advocating for transparent and open national elections in 2010” which it described as “the next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process”. The ruling party claimed victory in the 2010 election with a margin of  99.6 percent. Does the U.S. expect a 100 percent victory margin for the ruling party in the “next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process” in 2015?

What specific measures or steps has the U.S. taken since 2009 in its “continued push for press freedom, appropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation, a loosening of restrictions on civil society, greater tolerance for opposition views, and religious dialogue” in Ethiopia?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (6/23/2009)

In 2009, Mr. Yamamoto advising Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew argued for swift, decisive and forceful action and urged a no-nonsense approach to dealing with the “Ethiopian Government” on the issue of human rights:

 …   Since 2005, the government has enacted laws which limit and restrict party politics, the media, and civil society… Laws have been passed regulating political financing, access to the press, and ability of civil society organizations (NGOs) to receive funding from foreign sources and participate in the political process… Without significant policy reform to liberalize the economy and allow mounting political dissent to be vented… [there could be] major civil unrest.  The United States can induce such a change, but we must act decisively, laying out explicitly our concerns and urging swift action.  Because the GoE has enjoyed only growing international assistance and recognition despite its recent record, it currently has no incentive to veer from the current trajectory to which the EPRDF is so committed.  If we are to move the GoE, we must be willing to use USG resources (diplomatic, development, and public recognition) to shift the EPRDF’s incentives away from the status quo trajectory….

If we are to move them, though, we need to deliver an explicit and direct (yet private) message that does not glad-hand them.  We must convey forcefully that we are not convinced by their rhetoric, but rather that we see their actions for what they are…  We should [assure them]… that we are not trying to promote regime change, and that we are delivering a similarly explicit message of the need for change to opposition groups.

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/13):

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa that the best the U.S. could do was to “encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record”:

Post-Meles Ethiopia presents the United States with a significant opportunity to encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record, liberalize its economy, and provide increased space for opposition parties and civil society organizations. Post-Meles Ethiopia also presents a significant challenge since Ethiopia plays an important role in advancing regional integration and mitigating regional conflict in Somalia and Sudan. Our partnership with Ethiopia balances these interests by focusing on democracy, governance, and human rights; economic growth and development; and regional peace and security.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

What “significant policy reform” has been taken by the “GoE” since 2009 to liberalize the economy and allow mounting political dissent to be vented?

In what ways has the U.S. acted decisively to get the “GoE” to relax application of its draconian media, civil society and other repressive laws in Ethiopia?  Have any of the “laws enacted in Ethiopia after 2005 limiting and restricting party politics, the media, and civil society” been repealed, modified or in any way tempered or mitigated?

Since 2009, what “incentives” (or disincentives) (including “diplomatic, development, and public recognition”) has the U.S. used to “induce change” or redirect the “GoE from the status quo trajectory”? Alternatively, how has the U.S. “acted decisively, laying out explicitly our concerns and urging swift action” by the “Ethiopian Government”?

Could Ethiopia experience a “spark of major civil unrest” in 2013-14 if the “GoE does not undertake significant policy reform to liberalize the economy, allow mounting political dissent to be vented”, competently manage the economy and “control inflation”?

When and why did the U.S. stop trying to promote “regime change” in Ethiopia?

When did the U.S. stop “glad-handing” and start fist bumping with the leaders of the regime in Ethiopia?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto told Deputy Secretary Lew that the “Ethiopian government” maintained a chokehold on the economy and that its claims of double-digit growth are fabrications:

Foreign investment restrictions are widespread, including key sectors such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications.  The state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is the only service provider in the sector, creating an environment of poor telecom service and access.  In a country of nearly 80 million people, there are only 920,000 fixed phone lines, 1.8 million cell phones, and 29,000 internet connections.  The GOE maintains a hard line stance on these key sectors…

The GOE publicly touts that Ethiopia has experienced double-digit real GDP growth of over 11 percent in recent years.  The GOE predicts real GDP growth of 10 percent this year.  Many institutions, including the World Bank and IMF, dispute the GOE’s growth statistics, stating that Ethiopia’s real GDP growth rate will most likely range between six and seven percent this year.

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013)

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa that

Ethiopia ranks among the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 10 percent GDP growth over the last five years. State-run infrastructure drives much of this growth. Our bilateral trade and investment relationship is limited by investment climate challenges and the lack of market liberalization… Currently about 100 U.S. companies are represented in Ethiopia. Total U.S. exports to Ethiopia in 2012 were $1.29 billion; imports from Ethiopia totaled $183 million.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Mr. Yamamoto: Which one of the following statements is false: 1) “Ethiopia ranks among the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 10 percent GDP growth over the last five years.” 2) Over the past five years, “Ethiopia’s real GDP growth rate  most likely ranged between six and seven percent.”

Why is “foreign investment” from China (instead of the U.S.) more widespread in Ethiopia in 2013?

Ethiopia has “invested some US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006 and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure” and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure”? What accounts for the fact that Ethiopia has the worst “telecom service and access” in all of Africa and quite possibly the entire world?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto advised Deputy Secretary Lew how to leverage U.S. aid to bring about human rights improvements in Ethiopia:

Ethiopia is now the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the preponderance of this assistance is humanitarian, including food aid… of which a significant share supplements the Government of Ethiopia budget…. The increasingly difficult operating environment and growing transaction costs for non-budgetary foreign aid and, in particular, the proposed tight restrictions on non-governmental organization (NGO) implementing partners, call for a reassessment of the mix and effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Ethiopia in order to support U.S. foreign policy objectives…

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013)

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa one of the proudest achievements of U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia:

On democracy and human rights, we recently secured agreements to do media development training and open two community radio stations.Mechanisms such as our bilateral Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights Working Group, bilateral Economic Growth and Development Working Group, and Bilateral Defense Committee are useful tools for advancing our policy objectives in our three focus pillars. At the same time, we are public in our support for an improved environment for civil society, those we believe to have been subjected to politically motivated arrests, inclusive democratic processes, and rule-of-law. Making progress on this area will continue to be challenging and will require a great deal of creativity…. Ethiopia is a significant recipient of U.S. foreign aid, having benefited from over $740 million in FY 2012 assistance…

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

In 2009, you stated that a significant amount of U.S. humanitarian aid “supplemented the Government of Ethiopia’s budget….” Doesn’t use of “humanitarian aid” to “supplement the Government of Ethiopia’s budget” flagrantly violate 22 USC § 2151n et seq. (Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended) which provides in relevant part:

No assistance may be provided under subchapter I of this chapter to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.

Do you deny that the “Government of Ethiopia” has engaged and continues to “engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”?

Is U.S. “humanitarian aid” still used in 2013 to “supplement the Government of Ethiopia’s budget”?

If the U.S. could use its aid leverage (through “a reassessment of the mix and effectiveness of U.S. assistance”) to bring about improvements in human rights in Ethiopia in 2009, why can’t it do the same in 2013?

You stated, “On democracy and human rights, we recently secured agreements to do media development training and open two community radio stations.” Is this the singularly proud outcome of “working diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people”?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Yamamoto cautioned Deputy Secretary Lew to understand the “Ethiopian Leadership’s Guiding Philosophy”:

Understanding Ethiopia’s domestic political and economic actions, and developing a strategy for moving the ruling party forward democratically and developmentally, requires understanding the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) prevailing political ideology: Revolutionary Democracy. Hard-line TPLF politburo ideologues explain the concept in antiquated Marxist terms reminiscent of the TPLF’s precursor Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray…. As an extension of this philosophy, to the ruling party, development is their gift to Ethiopia, and their first priority.  While they accept assistance from the international community, they resent attempts by donors to tell them how development should be done.  The leadership believes that only they can know what is best for Ethiopia, and if given enough time, Ethiopia will transform itself into a developed nation.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Has the “Ethiopian leadership’s guiding philosophy” changed since the passing of Meles Zenawi?

Is the “Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s prevailing political ideology of Revolutionary Democracy” compatible with the values of the Founders of the American Republic?

You stated that “while the GoE accepts assistance from the international community, they resent attempts by donors to tell them how development should be done.  The leadership believes that only they can know what is best for Ethiopia.” Does the TPLF “leadership” in 2013 believe that “only they can know what is best for Ethiopia”?

Does the U.S. share the TPLF “leadership’s” belief that “only the TPLF can know what is best for Ethiopia?

Of Fools and Idiots

I don’t mind them double-talking us as though we are “fools and idiots”. If they must relate to us as such, we demand to be treated as “Shakespearean fools”. Our silence in the face of outrageous lies may give the misimpression that we are ignorant, witless, fainthearted and without much sense or sensibility. But we know the simple truth; and that truth is human rights in Ethiopia is an afterthought for the Obama Administration. There is no need to double-talk us on human rights anymore. Just tell us straight that human rights in a world in which the U.S. is at war with terrorism is for the birds, not Ethiopians! We’d understand. In the final analysis, in the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, we must draw our inspiration from our tower of power Nelson Mandela and keep walking that long road.  We keep on walking, let them keep on talking, double-talking…!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

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

Watching American Diplocrisy in Ethiopia

Hypocrisy America is Watching!?

Diplomacy by hypocrisy is “diplocrisy”.

Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, said “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” We’ve heard many promises on human rights in Africa from President Obama and his Administration over the past four years.  “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people… We will work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders… We align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect…. Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth… Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. We support strong and sustainable democratic governments…. America will be more responsible in extending our hand. Aid is not an end in itself… [Dictatorship] is not democracy, [it] is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end… America is watching…” All empty promises and cheap talk.

Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report for 2013. In his remarks launching that report, Secretary of State John Kerry announced

…[These] reports show  brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them that America is watching

So anywhere that human rights are under threat, the United States will proudly stand up, unabashedly, and continue to promote greater freedom, greater openness, and greater opportunity for all people. And that means speaking up when those rights are imperiled. It means providing support and training to those who are risking their lives every day so that their children can enjoy more freedom. It means engaging governments at the highest levels and pushing them to live up to their obligations to do right by their people…

Is America really watching and standing up?

I am always curious when someone is watching. Big Brother is watching! Aargh!!

When Kerry tells “brave citizens” in Ethiopia like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Wobshet Taye, Sertkalem Fasil, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa and so many others   “America is watching”, what does he  mean? Does he mean America is watching them rot in Meles Zenawi Prison #1 in Kality and/or #2 in Zewai? Does he mean America is watching Ethiopia like birdwatchers watch birds? Or like amateur astronomers watching the starry night sky? Perhaps like daydreaming tourists at the beach watching the waves crash and the summer clouds slowly drifting inland?

Is “watching” a good or a bad thing? If we believe Albert Einstein, watching is no good. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” (Silent watchers, watch out!) Like Nero Claudius Caesar who watched Rome burn from the hilltops singing and playing his lyre. Or, (I hate to say it but it would be hypocritical of me not to) like  Susan Rice who watched Rwanda burn.  Her only question was, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [Congressional] election?”

I like it when Human Rights Watch (HRW) watches because when they watch they witness. They saw the genocide and crimes against humanity in the Ogaden and Gambella and they have witnesses. They watched independent journalists jacked up in kangaroo court and railroaded to Meles Prison #1 or #2. (Sounds like the equivalent of a hotel chain? Well, they do put chain and ball on innocent people at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.)

I like watching watchdogs watch crooks, criminals and outlaws. I mean “watchdog  journalists” like Eskinder, Reeyot, Serkalem,  Woubshet and many others. These journalists used to watch power abusers and alert citizens of the crimes they were watching. Now the criminals  are watching them in solitary at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.

I also like the way the watchdogs’ watchdog watch those who dog the watchdogs. I am referring to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ guys are like McGruff, the crime watchdog, always tracking to “take bites out of crimes” committed against journalists. Not long ago, they watched and sounded the alarm that Reeyot Alemu was heading to solitary confinement just because she complained about inhumane and inhuman treatment in Meles Zenawi Prison.  Last week, the CPJ watched Woubshet Taye being hauled from the Meles Zenawi Prison #1 to Meles Zenawi Prison #2.   (They think he will be forgotten by the world lost in the armpits of Meles Zenawi Prison #2.)

I pity those who just watch. Like the “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” or those who may “indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand.” I have no idea what the Obama Administration is watching, perceiving or seeing in Ethiopia? I would like to believe they are watching human rights abuses and abusers and the criminals against humanity. But how is it possible to watch with arms folded, ears plugged and wearing welding goggles? I wonder: Could they be watching the tragicomedy, “The Trials and Tribulations of the Apostles of Meles”? Perhaps they are watching kangaroo courts stomping all over justice and decency? I am certain they are not watching the political prisoners. Perhaps they are watching the horror movie, “Dystopia in Ethiopia”? Sure, it’s a scary movie but it really isn’t real. But if it is real, what’s the big deal? The same horror film has been playing all over Africa since before independence. Get over it!

From where I am watching, the Obama Administration seems to be watching Ethiopia peekaboo style; you know, cover your face with the palms of your hand and “watch” between the fingers. “I seee yooou!” That is, stealing elections, sucking the national treasury dry, handing over the best land in the country to bloodsucking multinationals,  jailing journalists and ripping off the people.

Doesn’t “America is watching,” sound like Orwellian doublespeak. You know, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Dictatorship is democracy. Watching is turning a blind eye.

When America is watching, those being watched in Ethiopia are watching America watching them. They watch America waffling and shuffling,  double-talking, flip-flopping and dithering, equivocating, pretending, hemming and hawing and hedging and dodging. But those chaps in Ethiopia watch like George Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four) who watched  everybody and everything in Oceania. Well, Big Brother Meles is gone from Ethiopiana but the “Little Brothers of the Party of Meles”  keep on watching and yodeling:

…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

Oceania Ethiopiana!

I have been watching America watching Ethiopia for a very long time. I have been watching the Obama Administration watching and coddling the criminals against humanity in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.   I must confess that I enjoy watching and re-watching President Obama’s  speeches in Accra, Cairo, Istanbul and elsewhere. “History is on the side of brave Africans…” (whatever that means).

I liked watching former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declare moral victory on the Chinese and capture the commanding moral heights. “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa… It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave… and not  leave much behind for the people who are there.” Right on! Power to the people of Africa! Down with colonialism! (I think that may be a bit passé.)

Sometimes I feel bad watching. When I watch hard earned American tax dollars bankrolling ruthless African dictators who laugh straight to the bank to deposit their American tax dollars, I really get bummed out. I am peeved when I watch the American people being flimflammed into believing their tax dollars are supporting democracy, human rights and American values in Africa. But when I watch those miserable panhandlers “enfolded in the purple of Emperors” bashing  and trashing America on their way back from depositing their foreign aid welfare checks, I just plain get pissed off!!

“America is watching,” but is America watching where its tax dollars are going? It is NOT.  According to an audit report by the Office of the Inspector General of US AID in March 2010 (p. 1), there is no way to determine the fraud, waste and abuse of American tax dollars in Ethiopia:

The audit was unable to determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s Performance Plan and Report were valid because agricultural program staff could neither explain how the results were derived nor provide support for those results. Indeed, when the audit team attempted to validate the reported results by tracing from the summary amounts to the supporting detail, it was unable to do so at either the mission or its implementing partners… In the absence of a complete and current performance management plan, USAID/Ethiopia is lacking an important tool for monitoring and managing the implementation of its agricultural program.

Watching diplocrisy in Technicolor 

There is nothing more mind-bending and funny than watching hypocrisy in Technicolor. Earlier this month, in an act of shameless diplocrisy, Secretary Kerry expressed grave reservations about the legitimacy of the election of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro won the election by a razor thin margin of 50.66 percent of the votes. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the results alleging irregularities and demanding a recount of all votes.

Kerry supported Capriles’ demand for a recount. “We think there ought to be a recount… Obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that [Maduro] government.” White House spokesman Jay Carney also issued a statement calling for a recount of all the votes.

… Given the tightness of the result — around 1 percent of the votes cast separate the candidates — the opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for a 100 percent audit of the results.  And this appears an important, prudent and necessary step to ensure that all Venezuelans have confidence in these results. In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome.

In May 2010 when the late Meles Zenawi claimed 99.6 percent victory in the parliamentary elections and  leaders from Medrek, the largest opposition coalition, and the smaller All Ethiopia Unity Party alleged glaring election fraud, vote rigging and denial of American food aid to poor farmers unless they voted for the ruling party, the U.S. response was “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” White House National Security Spokesman Mike Hammer could only express  polite “concern” and muted “disappointment”:

We acknowledge the conclusion of Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections on May 23, 2010…

We are concerned 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.  The limitation of independent observation and the harassment of independent media representatives are deeply troubling.

An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place even before Election Day. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has taken steps to restrict political space for the opposition through intimidation and harassment, tighten its control over civil society, and curtail the activities of independent media. We are concerned that these actions have restricted freedom of expression and association and are inconsistent with the Ethiopian government’s human rights obligations.

…We urge the Ethiopian government to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights. We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.

Victory by 50.66 percent is irrefutable evidence of election fraud in Venezuela but “all Ethiopians should have confidence” in the 99.6 percent election victory of Meles Zenawi? Sounds like election certification in Oceania. Rigged elections are free and fair elections!    

Watching “fools, idiots” and sanctimonious diplocrites

If Susan Rice is to be believed, critics of Meles Zenawi and his regime (and by implication critics of U.S. policy that supports the regime) are “fools and idiots”. I guess if one must choose between being a “fool/idiot” and a hypocrite/diplocrite, one is well-advised to choose the former. A fool does or does not do the right thing because s/he lacks intelligence and understanding. S/he has the potential to learn and make right choices. But the cunning diplocrite does the wrong thing with full knowledge and understanding of the wrongfulness of his/her acts. S/he is unteachable and incorrigible. No one knows more about the difference between right and wrong than diplocrites, yet they do wrong because they don’t give a   _ _ _ _!

The U.S. has been practicing diplocrisy in Ethiopia for the past two decades. It has propped up the regime of  Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of “development” and “humanitarian” aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises.  Since 1991, the West in general has provided Meles’ regime nearly $30 billion in aid.  In 2008 alone, $3 billion in international aid was delivered on a silver platter to Meles, more than any other nation in sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2011, Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program declared Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance. In 2010, the EU delivered £152m to Meles Zenawi.

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia to “independently investigate allegations that the Ethiopian government is using development aid for state repression.” In July 2010, a DAG-commissioned study issued a whitewash denying all allegations of improper use of aid. In August 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC reported the “Ethiopian government is using millions of pounds of international aid to punish their political opponents.” The report presented compelling evidence of how “aid is being used as a weapon of oppression propping up the government of Meles Zenawi.” Despite numerous documented reports of aid abuse and misuse, Western leaders and governments continue to hide behind a policy of plausible deniability and the massaged and embellished reports of swarms faceless international poverty-mongers creeping invisibly in Ethiopia.

The Center for Global Development in its comprehensive 2012 report cautioned, “The United States could be making a dangerous long-term bet with its assistance dollars by placing so little emphasis on governance in Ethiopia”, and US policymakers should temper their expectations for future development prospects in Ethiopia under the current regime. Sorry, no one is listening at  the U.S. State Department, only watching.

Watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne

“America is watching.” But is anybody watching America?  The people of Ethiopia are watching America asking,  “Is America watching? Watching what?”

The powerful don’t believe the powerless are watching them because they equate powerlessness with blindness. The powerless do watch because that is all they can do. They watch boots pressing down on their necks. They watch crimes committed against them as they sit helplessly with empty stomachs and hearts filled with terror. When Kerry says, “America is watching”, he should be mindful that  Ethiopia’s poor and powerless are watching America with outrage on their faces, sorrow in their hearts and resentment in their minds.

I have watched Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” fall silent, deaf and mute watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne. They have been watching the scaffold and throne like bystanders watching a crime scene — horrified, terrified and petrified. Perhaps they should heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s counsel, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

But if Robert Lowell is right, it does not matter who is watching silently, watching peekaboo style, watching by turning a blind eye, watching for the sake of watching or not watching at all, because there is One who standing within the shadow watches the watchers, the watched and the unwatched:

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—                     Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,               Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

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