Alemayehu G Mariam
At the “World Economic Forum Meeting” in Ethiopia last week, dictator Meles Zenawi lectured:
…. My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically. But my view is that democracy is a good thing in and of itself irrespective of its impact on economic growth. And my view is that in Africa most of our countries are extremely diverse, that may be the only possibility, the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane. Democracy may be the only viable option for keeping these diverse nations together. Sowe need to democratize but not in order to grow. We need to democratize in order to survive as united sane nations. That’s my view. But I don’t believe in this nighttime, you know, bedtime stories and contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy. There is no basis for it in history and in my view no basis for it it in economics. And there is no need to have this contrived argument because the case for democracy and can stand and shine on its own…
While visiting Ghana in 2009, President Obama told the following “contrived bedtime story linking economic growth with democracy” to Africans:
Development depends on good governance. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny. And now is the time for that style of governance to end…. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives…. History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity….
My Favorite Bedtime Stories
I enjoy bedtime stories as much as the next guy. My favorite is “Pinocchio in Africa”. The wooden puppet wanted to become a human boy but could not stop telling lies and tall tales. Whenever Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.
I like the story of “Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies”. Puff took a little girl called Sandy, who lies a lot, to the Land of the Living Lies where honesty and truthfulness are prosecuted. She meets the famous fibbers Pinocchio and the boy who cried wolf; and saw the famous purple cow that no one has ever seen and a pink elephant.
I also enjoy the morality tales of Aesop, the ancient Ethiopian storyteller. Once upon a time there was a wolf who schemed to snatch sheep grazing in the pasture, but could not because the shepherd was vigilant. One day the wolf found the shorn skin of a sheep and dressed himself in it and joined the flock. Soon he began dining on the sheep one by one until he was discovered by the shepherd. That was the end of the wolf; he could no longer steal, kill and eat the sheep.
George Orwell’s allegorical stories of doubletalk and doublespeak told in “political language” are rather delightful because they “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” So, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George could have added, “dictatorship is democracy. Tyranny is liberty. Poverty is wealth. Famine is plenty. Censorship is press freedom. Brutality is civility. Mendacity is veracity. Opacity is clarity. Shadow is reality. Depravity is morality and greed is good.”
Oh, Yes! I like children’s rhymes too:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall….
Sane Nations, Insane Dictators and Democrazy
Zenawi said “democracy is the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane”. Here are some true stories of democrazy from the Land of Living Lies:
Freedom House/U.S. State Department (2010)
In April 2008 local elections were held throughout Ethiopia. Freedom House and USDoS report that opposition candidates were subjected to intimidation and arrest by the government prior to the elections making it difficult for them to compete, leading to the opposition boycotting the elections and resulting in a massive victory for government supporters. The ruling party won 99% of the more than three million seats contested.
World Bank (2012)
The May 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in a 99.6 percent victory for the ruling EPRDF and its allies,reducing the opposition from 174 to only two seats in the 547 member lower house… Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan… At US$390, Ethiopia’s per capita income is much lower than the Sub-Saharan African average of US$1,165 in FY 2010, ranking it as the sixth poorest country in the world.
Amnesty International (2009)
The Ethiopian parliament has adopted a potentially repressive new law which could criminalise the human rights activities of both foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Charities and Societies Proclamation law (2009) is designed to strictly control and monitor civil society in an atmosphere of intolerance of the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The law’s repressive provisions are believed to be an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010.
Human Rights Watch (2010)
Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies—through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views—without fear of reprisal. Democracy’s technical framework will remain a deceptive and hollow façade so long as Ethiopia’s institutions lack independence from the ruling party and there is no accountability for abuses by state officials.
Global Financial Integrity/Wall Street Journal (2011)
Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009. That’s a lot of money to lose to corruption for a country that has a per-capita GDP of just $365. In 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion, double the amount in each of the two previous years. The capital flight is also disturbing because the country received $829 million in development aid in 2008. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth as 38.9% of Ethiopians live in poverty, and life expectancy in 2009 was just 58 years. The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.
Committee to Protect Journalist (2011)
Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as the foremost jailer of journalists in Africa. Ethiopia’s repression of the independent press has also driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world. Yet Zenawi told Aftenposten [Norwegian paper] that ‘We have reached a very advanced stage of rule of law and respect for human rights. Fundamentally, this is a country where democratic rights of people are respected.’
Human Rights Watch (2011)
The Ethiopian government is exploiting its vaguely worded anti-terror law to crush peaceful dissent. The anti-terror law itself is a huge problem. The international community, especially the European Union, United States, and United Kingdom, should ask the Ethiopian government hard questions about why it is using this law to crack down on peaceful independent voices.
Committee Statement of Congressman Donald Payne (2007)
H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, sponsored by Cong. Payne passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2007) requires the secretary of state to support human rights by establishing a mechanism to provide funds to local human rights organizations. The bill supports democratization by directing assistance to strengthen democratic processes, prohibits non-humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia if the ruling party obstructs United States efforts to provide human rights, fosters accountability for the actions the Ethiopian Government has taken that undermine rule of law and fundamental political freedoms…. and holds security forces accountable for human rights abuses related to the demonstrations of 2005…
Statement of U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy on Senate Bill 3457 (2008)
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator LEAHY joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy–an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations…. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region–just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella….
2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report on May 2010 Election
The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities. The ruling party and its partner parties won 544 of the 547 seats to the House of Peoples Representatives and all but four of the 1,904 seats in the State Councils…. As a result, the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.
Zenawi’s response to the 2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report:
The EU report is trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.
Such are the nightmarish bedtime stories of Meles Zenawi’s Democrazy in Ethiopia!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/ and www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
Alemayehu G Mariam
The new African Union (AU) headquarters was inaugurated last week. It was “China’s gift to Africa.” China picked the entire USD$200 million tab for the building, fixtures and furniture. The China State Construction Engineering Corporation constructed the building using nearly all Chinese workers. Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia, waxed poetic as he blessed the new building and consecrated the “continuing prosperous partnership” between Africa and China:
… This magnificent edifice is built on the ruins of the oldest maximum security prison in our country. People in Ethiopia used to call it Alem Bekagne, loosely translated it means I have given up on this world- this life. This building which will now house the headquarters of our continental organization is built on the ruins of a prison that represented desperation and hopelessness…
This magnificent new head quarters (sic) of our continental organization- the AU which has been at the center of the struggle for the African renaissance (sic) is a symbol of the rise of Africa. The face of this great hall is meant to convey this message of optimism, a message that is out of the decades of hopelessness and imprisonment a new era of hope is dawning, and that Africa is being unshackled and freed not only from the remnants of colonialism but also from want and violence. It is very interesting to note, that just as Africa is rising from the ruins of the desperation and Afro-pessimism this magnificent new head quarter (sic) of the AU is rising from the ruins of a prison of desperation and hopelessness.
… It is therefore very appropriate for China to decide to build this hall — the hall of the rise of Africa — this hall of African renaissance — (sic) and the adjoining office building for us. I am sure I speak for all of you when I say to the people and government of China thank you so very much. May our partnership continue and prosper.
The current AU chairperson, Equatorial Guinea’s three-decade plus dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, praised the “generosity of the Chinese government”, and described the building as marking “a qualitative leap in the relations between China and Africa”. He raved about the building as “a reflection of the new Africa, and the future we want for Africa”.
Why didn’t the African countries chip in to build this “magnificent” symbol of an “Africa Rising” and an “African Renaissance”? Well, they do not have the money; they are poor. (Incidentally, a few months ago, the U.S. Government filed legal action against Teodorin Obiang, AU Chair Nguema’s son for racketeering (illegal business). While the Chinese were sweating it on the new AU hall, Teodorin had commissioned construction of a yacht [the second most expensive in the world] at the cost of 380 million dollars, [nearly twice as much as it cost to build the AU building] for his rest and relaxation.)
Africa Rising or Africa Panhandling?
Far from being a symbol of African hope, renaissance, optimism and glory, the new AU building reinforces the world’s indelible perception of Africa as the continent of poverty, famine, corruption and dictatorial extravagance. Reporter Richard Poplak insightfully observed the new AU building is the ultimate architectural symbol of Africa as a beggar continent and the moral decay of its dictators:
… The new African Union headquarters in dusty Addis Ababa is a structure in which form perfectly marries function – the building means nothing, and nothing will ever get done inside it…. The building doesn’t need to symbolize anything further than its existence, wherein it becomes a staggeringly articulate representation of Africa’s greatest skill: begging…. The first thing we notice is the tiled silver dome that acts as the building’s centerpiece. This reminds us of nothing so much as an overturned beggar’s bowl, left in the street after a solid day of mewling at the feet of passersby… Then there’s the tower. Stretching up 20 storeys… it resembles… a beggar’s outstretched hand… None of this could we have achieved by ourselves. Instead, in order to raise this fine structure – this symbol of continental unity – from the bare African earth, we used the one skill that unites us all. We stretched out our collective hands, batted our eyelashes, looked simultaneously cute and hungry. And we begged.
A Monument to a Do-Nothing African Union
The AU has 54 members. It was formed in 2002 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The AU’s declared aim is to “accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent, promote and defend African common positions to achieve peace and security in Africa, and promote democratic institutions, good governance and human rights.”
In its decade of existence, the AU has little to show for itself. It sent peacekeeping troops to various hotspots in Africa including Burundi, Uganda, Somalia and Darfur, Sudan. The AU dumped its Darfur mission on the United Nations in 2008 unable to deal with that tragic situation. In 2007, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was established to promote “stabilization of the country in furtherance of dialogue and reconciliation, facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance, and create conditions for long-term stabilization, reconstruction and development in Somalia.” Suffice it to say, “Mission stuck in the quagmire of Somali clan politics.” The AU also adopted various documents intended to remediate the problems of corruption, poor governance and economic development in the continent including the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its associated Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance. Yet the theft of elections and billions of dollars in Africa has continuedover the past decade.
George Ayittey, the internationally acclaimed Ghanaian economist does not mince words in sizing up the AU:
Please, please, don’t ask about the African Union. It is the most useless organization we have on the continent. It can’t even define “democracy” and it is completely bereft of originality. It is imbued with “copy-cat” mentality. Europe has the European Union (EU), so we must have the African Union (AU). The AU forgot that to become a member of the European Union, a country must meet very strict requirements. But in the case of the African Union, there are no requirements. Any rogue and collapsed state can be a member. And when the African Union unveiled NEPAD (the New Economic Partnership for African Development), it boasted that NEPAD was an “African crafted program.” But as it turned out, NEPAD was modeled after the Marshall Aid Plan. When the Darfur crisis flared up, the AU was nowhere to be found. It was doing the watutsi [dance] in Addis Ababa. After much international condemnation, the AU finally managed to cobble together some troops to send to Darfur.
The “uselessness” of the AU is evident not only in its political impotence and economic ineptitude but also in its steadfast refusal to maintain observance of minimum standards of human rights in member countries. The AU has openly instructed member countries to “disregard” the International Criminal Court’s warrant of arrest issued against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who is sought for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It did the same thing when an ICC arrest warrant was issued against Gadhafi. The AU yelped from the sidelines as Cote d’Ivoire descended into civil war following the 2010 presidential election. France, a former colonial power, had to come to the rescue. The AU was among the last to recognize the Libya’s National Transitional Council. No doubt, the AU was deeply distressed by the sudden demise of Gadhaffi, its longtime patron and sugar daddy. When Zenawi declared a 99.6 percent election victory in the May 2010 Ethiopian elections, the AU monitoring team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire praised him and declared: “It is recognised that 2010 Ethiopia’s legislative elections reflected the will of the people. Conditions existed for voters to freely express their will.”
The AU is managed by an inept and bungling commission which acts as the executive/administrative branch with empty suit commissioners lording over different areas of policy. According to news reports, “of the $256 million the commission was allocated in 2011, the AU used less than 40 percent. The commission has about 1,000 staff members, 328 posts have been vacant for the past eight years.” (One can surmise that the unused $154 million could have been a nice down payment for an all-African financed AU building. Talking about African countries not having “enough resources” for public projects, the International Monetary Fund recently reported that there was an unexplained USD$32 billion discrepancy in the Angolan government’s accounts from 2007 through 2010. Does “discrepancy” mean stolen? According to Global Financial Integrity, 11.7 billion was stolen from Ethiopia in the last decade. The same story is repeated in the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and many other African countries.)
Is Begging Africa’s Eternal Destiny?
For a long time, the Western world regarded Africa as the “Dark Continent”, not because of the complexion of the people but because little was known about Africa. Sadly, much of the world today regards Africa as the “Beggar Continent”. African dictators can wax eloquent about the “new Africa”, “Africa Rising” and the “African Renaissance”, but nobody is buying it. Everyone can see today that Africa is gasping to breath under the trampling boots of brutal dictators. Africa is not a continent in “renaissance”; it is a continent on a tightrope. Let the facts speak for themselves:
Over one-half the population of Africa lives on less than USD$1 a day. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where poverty has increased in the past 25 years. In 1960, Africa was a net exporter of food; today the continent imports one-third of its grain. Today, more than 40 percent of Africans do not even have the ability to obtain sufficient food on a day-today basis. Declining soil fertility, land degradation, and the AIDS pandemic in Africa have led to a 23 percent decrease in food production per capita in the last 25 years while population has increased dramatically. Among the 38 of the world’s heavily indebted poor countries, 32 are in Africa. The average life expectancy at birth for Sub-Saharan Africa is 52.5 years. Slums are home to 72% of urban Africans. Primary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only two-thirds of children who start primary school reach the final grade.
Africa loses an estimated 20,000 skilled personnel a year to developed countries. A woman living in Sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy, compared to 1 in 3,700 for a woman in North America. On average, women in Sub-Saharan Africa have two more children than the rest of world. More than 40 percent of women in Africa do not have access to basic education. There are an estimated 5,500 AIDS deaths a day in Africa. Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday. More than 50 percent of Africans suffer from water-related diseases such as cholera and infant diarrhea. The prevalence of HIV for people ages 15-49 in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 7 times the world’s prevalence.
Ethiopia remains at the very bottom of the world’s poorest nations. Under the “leadership” of the dictator Zenawi, for the past two decades Ethiopia has achieved the dubious honor of being the second poorest country in the world (after Mali) and the largest recipient of net official development assistance in Africa at USD$3.82 billion in 2009. The World Bank reported: “At US$380, Ethiopia’s per capita income is much lower than the Sub-Saharan African average of US$1,165 in FY 2010.”
According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, in just four decades, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. A recent report by the Legatum Institute presents some sobering and heartbreaking findings on the situation in Ethiopia today: Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”
On “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs abysmally poor. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, places Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population suffers from high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”
Africa Rising, African Uprising
African dictators want the world to believe there is an “Africa Renaissance” and “Africa is Rising.” They want to hoodwink the world into believing that Africa is “unshackled and freed”. They proclaim the “façade of the great Africa Union hall conveys a message of optimism out of the decades of hopelessness”. They insult our intelligence. We know Africa shall remain in the dark ages so long as dictators cling to power like ticks on an African milk cow. We know Africa is not rising while under the deadweight of dictatorship; but nothing can stop an African uprising. Despite the deceptive and beguiling words of pompous and imperious dictators, we know Africa is shackled and not free. How can Africa “rise” or undergo a “renaissance” when she is bound, gagged, chained, straightjacketed and hog-tied by gangs of ruthless dictators?
Behind the façade of the great AU hall stand a giggling gang of beggars with cupped palms, outstretched hands, forlorn eyes and shuffling legs looking simultaneously cute and hungry, and begging. The stark truth of the matter is that dictatorship has birthed a shiny tower of desperation and hopelessness on the very “ruins of a prison of desperation and hopelessness”. Teodoro Obiang said the AU building represents the “future we want for Africa”. Excuse me, but begging ain’t much of a future!
China’s economic investment in Africa is said to exceed USD$150 billion. Thousands of Chinese companies do business in all parts of the continent. We know that business is business, and money talks. But as to “China’s gift to Africa”, it is best to heed the old adage: Beware of those bearing gifts. On the other hand, it is bad from for a recipient of charity not to be grateful and amiable. So in the customary words of all palm-rubbing, belly scratching and kowtowing panhandlers, it is appropriate to say to the gift-givers:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Portrait of A Poor Country
Lately, the portrait of Ethiopia painted in the reports of Transparency International (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity shows a “Land of Corruption”. That contrasts with an equally revolting portrait of Ethiopia painted in a recent broadcast of a fear-mongering three-part propaganda programentitled “Akeldama” (or Land of Blood) on state-owned television. The program aired on November 26-28 was intended to be a moral, and to some extent legal and political, justification of dictator Meles Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism law”. The program begins with a doleful narrator setting a doomsday scenario:
Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorsim. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem. In this regard, I have three consecutive programs prepared for you my viewers.
Displaying photos of alleged terrorist carnage and simulated blood droplets falling from the title of the program — dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims, a crowd of wailing women mourning at a gravesite, an old man crying his eyes out over the death of his wife at the hand of “terrorsits” and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 and on and on — the narrator accuses “ruthless terrorists” for having “destroyed our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a plaintive tone the narrator exhorts:
“Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.
By displaying grisly spectacles of acts of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity from years past and by describing those acts with deceitful, deceptive and distorted narrative, “Akeldama” hopes to tar and feather ALL of Ethiopia’s opposition elements, inflame public passions and offer moral justification for Zenawi’s recent crackdowns and massive and sustained human rights violations.
The propaganda objective of “Akeldama” cannot be mistaken: Zenawi aims to vanquish from the active memory of the population any traces of popular support or sympathy for his opposition and critics by demonizing, brutalizing, dehumanizing, “villainizing” and virtually cannibalizing them. He wants the population to view the opposition as bloodthirsty gangs of conspirators blowing up defenseless babies, children, women and innocent citizens and unleashing terror and mayhem in every street corner in Ethiopia. The revolting and gruesome scenes and sequences of carnage and destruction stitched into the video are intended to lump together all of Zenawi’s opponents with Al Qaeda and Al Shabbab terrorists in Somalia.
“Akeldama”: Dictatorship, Lies and Videotapes
On the surface, few inquiring minds would disagree that “Akeldama” is sleazy melodrama. It has an exalted hero, dictator Meles Zenawi, the knight in shining armor, waiting in the shadows armed and ready to impale the wicked terrorists with his piercing lance. There is a damsel in distress, Lady Ethiopia. There are an assortment of scheming villains, conspirators, mischief-makers, subversives, foreign collaborators, and of course, terrorists who are cast in supporting roles as opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. It has a sensational and lurid plot featuring cloak-and-dagger conspiracies by neighboring countries, clandestine intrigues by Diaspora opposition elements, sedition and treason by local collaborators, and of course terrorism. Naturally, in the end, good triumphs over evil. Sir Meles Zenawi, knight errant, political wizard, archer and swordsman extraordinaire, delivers Lady Ethiopia from the clutches of the evil and sinister Al Qaeda, Al Shabbab and their minions and flunkeys, namely Ethiopia’s opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. Hollywood’s worst horror shows have nothing on “Akeldama”.
It is easy to dismiss “Akeldama” as dimwitted and ill-conceived horror melodrama. But that would be a mistake because as lame and as cynical as it is, its manifest propaganda aim is to present a morality play for the masses in an attempt to drum up support for Zenawi and preempt, prevent or stall the dawn of an “Ethiopian Spring”. Careful review of “Akeldama” suggests that Zenawi aims to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives: 1) tar and feather all who oppose him as terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and fellow travelers, war mongers, blood-letters and genocidal maniacs, and inflame public passions, promote hatred and incite distrust and suspicion against them; 2) create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance and trigger mass hysteria against the opposition by concocting a crude propaganda brew of mass deception, mass distraction and mass demoralization; 3) divert the attention of the population from the pressing economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding their fears, accentuating their anxieties and concerns and encouraging them to passively accept Zenawi’s rule, and 4) provide justification why Zenawi has a moral imperative to ruthlessly crackdown and clampdown on his opposition.
The fact of the matter is that every major international human rights and other independent organizations dedicated to good governance has condemned Zenawi’s regime for gross human rights violations, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and suppression of press freedoms. Zenawi understands that he has no moral legs to stand on and that he is running out of options. He rules by fear, intimidation, lies and deceit. Lacking any moral standing and little public support in the country, Zenawi now seeks to capture the moral high ground by presenting a pathetic and cynical melodrama.
His strategy is simple: To canonize himself, he demonizes his opposition and critics. By casting the opposition in the moral sewer, he hopes to capture the moral commanding heights. By portraying the opposition as bloodthirsty terrorists and baby killers, he hopes to mask his own bloody hands. By showing gruesome pictures of alleged atrocities by his opponents and by creating a message of fear and loathing, he aims to manipulate and frighten the population into supporting him. Ultimately, he hopes to create the public impression that all of the crackdown and clampdown on dissent, the violence against opponents and the complete closure of political space is morally defensible and necessary as measures needed to protect the population from “terrorism that has destroyed our daily peace” and “killed our loved ones”. Simply stated, “Akeldama” is Zenawi’s slick moral justification for his two decades of dictatorial rule, shutting down every independent newspaper and exiling journalists, jailing dissidents, muzzling critics and thumbing his nose at the rule of law and international human rights conventions.
The Strategic Use of Propaganda by Dictators
Hateful depiction of opposition elements by dictators is nothing new. In fact, all dictatorships in modern history have employed the media — everything from posters and newspapers to films, radio programs and now internet technologies — to moralize and pontificate about their rule while demonizing and mobilizing against their opposition, dissidents and critics. Joseph Goebbles, the grand master of propaganda, undertook a massive media campaign of fear and smear against the Jews which led directly to the Holocaust. The communists used “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda using drama, film, art, music) to win the support of the masses and to rail against the evils of liberal democracy (“neo-liberalism”), capitalism, human rights and so on. Agosto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allede in 1974 was followed by massive media propaganda campaigns depicting the liberal opposition as a bunch of communists and terrorists. Over 130 thousand Chileans and foreigners were tortured, imprisoned, killed or disappeared by Pinochet’s security forces.
For decades, South Africa’s Apartheid regime successfully used a slick propaganda campaign against the African National Congress (ANC) by “convincing” Western governments that the only choice to be made was between ANC communists and terrorists and freedom-loving Apartheid racists. Both John Vorster and P. W. Botha had the mindboggling audacity to portray the Apartheid system as a victim of terrorism, turning logic and facts on their heads, in their efforts to build and maintain Western support. They succeeded for a long time, but in the end their propaganda effort to delegitimize the ANC by legitimizing their illegitimate Apartheid system failed totally. “Akeldama” is no different. Zenawi portrays his regime as the victim of terrorism unleashed by the opposition, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab to bolster domestic and international support. He undertakes a fear and smear campaign aimed at tarring and feathering specific journalists, opposition party leaders, critics and dissidents as terrorists and enemies of the state while seeking to conceal and absolve himself of any culpability for massive and comprehensively documented human rights violations over two decades.
Dictators and Propaganda
But why do immoral and amoral dictators seek moral redemption? Political psychologists who have studied dictators point to a number of factors. One major reason is that all dictators are self-delusional and narcissistic (afflicted by morbid self-absorption and an over-inflated sense of self-importance). They believe their own PR (press release). They conveniently “convince” themselves that they are loved and venerated by their people, destined by Providence to save their nations and usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity (some call it a “Renaissance”). Gadhaffi swore until his last breath, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” Gadhaffi was so narcissistically delusional that he declared, “I am the creator of tomorrow, I am here, I am here, I am here…. Libya is my country. I created it, and I can destroy it.” Rarely, if ever, was it about Gadhaffi’s love for Libya or Libyans.
All dictators see outside conspiracies being hatched against them every day. If there are protests, it is not because “my people no longer love me” or “they have come to outright hate me”, rather it is because outside agitators are making them do it. Gadhaffi was so detached from reality that he claimed the young people protesting against him were doing so because they were taking drugs. Mubarak, Gadhaffi, Ben Ali, Assad and Gbagbo claimed the protests in their countries were guided and manipulated by evil outside forces. Before his swift fall from power, Mubarak appeared on state television and accused foreign journalists, human rights activists, and foreign hands for fomenting the unrest. Assad in Syria blamed “saboteurs” backed by foreign powers for fomenting widespread civil unrest and chaos. He claimed the unrest were the result of “conspiracies designed outside and perpetrated inside Syria.” Gbagbo accused foreign envoys of seeking to turn the military aganist him. Ali Saleh of Yemen accused foreign agitators for protests that were taking place in the country. In a speech on Libyan state television, Gadhaffi declared al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in Libya. Likewise, Zenawi’s message in “Akeldama” is that the people love him, and the mischief-makers are primarily outside agitators, namely Diaspora opposition leaders, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab terrorists and their local minions and collaborators.
As I have previously argued,
Dictators see only what they want to see; and to avoid what they don’t want to see, they create their own convenient world of illusions cut out of the whole cloth of their personal beliefs, opinions and fantasies. As they continue to abuse power without any legal restraints and convince themselves that they are above the law and accountable to no one but themselves, they transform their world of illusion into a world of delusion. In their delusional world, they become both the “lone ranger” of the old American West “cleaning up bad towns and riff-raff” and the only custodians of the Holy Grail, with miraculous powers to save their nations. In their delusional world, there is room only for themselves and their cronies….
“Akeldama” II: Let Us See All of the Evidence of Atrocities Committed in Ethiopia
If “Akeldama” is indeed an accurate depiction of Ethiopia as the “Land of Blood”, it is manifestly lacking in evidence. That is why we MUST follow the exhortation of the narrator in “Akeldama” to take a “look at the evidence in the past several years.” It may be true that there were “131 terrorist attacks in which 339 citizens were killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.” But is that all the body count? Let us really look at the evidence — not in bits and pieces, not in slivers and shreds, not in fragments and scraps — but the whole body of evidence, the totality of the evidence. Let us have an “Akildama II” and examine
the evidence of post-2005 election massacres of June and November 2005, documented by the Inquiry Commission appointed by Zenawi, in which at least 193 persons were shot and killed, 763 wounded and 30,000 imprisoned by security forces under the direct command and control of Zenawi;
the December 2003 massacre, 8 years to the month, of the Anuak in Gambella in which 424 persons were massacred and some 16,000 displaced to the Sudan.
the extra-judicial killings in the Ogaden including reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and the killings of at least 37 others in Labiga, Faafann Valley and Hunjurri, and the burning of the villages of Daratoole, Qamuuda, Neef-Kuceliye, Laanjalelo, Aado, Jinnoole among many others in 2007; the October 2006 alleged terrorist deaths of three individuals;
the status of numerous detainees in three documented secret jails where they were held without due process of law and in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions;
the Treatment of “desperado terrorists” in 2009;
the use of foreign aid as a weapon of oppression and starvation of the opposition into submission;
Let the truth be told about ALL atrocities committed in Ethiopia, without exception. Let the chips fall where they may!
Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity
Instead of wasting time and resources hate-mongering and demonizing the opposition, critics and dissidents, Zenawi could have used the opportunity to highlight and brag about his achievements and accomplishments over his two decades at the helm. Instead of showing mayhem, dismembered bodies, dead babies and destruction, he could have showed the people what he is doing (and has done) to bring down inflation and eliminate economic privation. Instead of promoting national enmity by depicting brutality, he could have used the opportunity to promote national unity. Instead of spreading a propaganda of hate, he could have been a peace and reconciliation advocate. Instead of demonizing his opponents, he could have humanized them. He could have showcased all of his achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, establishing universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability. Exhibition of such achievement could discredit any opposition claims and actions to legitimacy than the display of gratuitous horror, carnage, mayhem and destruction. But it seems Zenawi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do good, the right thing, the moral thing, the compassionate and humanistic thing.
It is not clear if “Akeldama” is the first in an endless series of melodramas calculated to demonize and dehumanize the opposition. It would be great to have an “Akeldama II”. But that is unlikely. There is little evidence to show that the lame and cynical piece of propaganda has gained any traction in the public. There is substantial anecdotal evidence which suggests most viewers in Ethiopia and the Diaspora are turned off by the gory scenes and deceitful exhortations of “Akeldama”. Even friends of Zenawi are said to have raised eyebrows by the excessive and extravagant display of gratuitous violence in the program.
At any rate, Tamagn Beyene’s masterful review of “Akeldama” delivers a totally devastating critique by pointing out numerous lies, factual errors, wholesale fabrications, distortions, exaggerations and fallacies. But credit must be given where it is due. Zenawi has once again succeeded in distracting us all from the real issues. Now, can we get on with the discussion of the issues that really matter such as of inflation, corruption, arbitrary detention, intimidation, maladministration, truth adulteration, balkanization, and the need for better collaboration, improved harmonization, effective communication and, most of all, genuine reconciliation….?
Land of Corruption or Land of Blood?
This past Summer, Zenawi, responding to an interviewer’s question about his feelings concerning the use of the word “famine” by the Oxford Dictionary synonymously with Ethiopia, said:
It is a mixed up situation. On the one hand, like any citizen, I am very sad. I am ashamed. It is degrading. A society that built the Lalibela churches some thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. A society that built the Axum obelisks some 2-3 thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. That is very sad. It is very shameful. Of all the things, to go out begging for one’s daily bread, to be a beggar nation is dehumanizing. Therefore, I feel great shame.
It is a crystal clear situation for me. I feel great shame that a society that built the magnificent Lalibela churches (one of the great wonders of the ancient world) and the obelisks of Axum should be known throughout the world not only as a “beggar nation” but also as land of corruption, land of blood, land of famine and land of living lies.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Ethio-Corruption, Inc. (Unlimited)
“The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage”, wrote Economist Sarah Freitas who co-authored an upcoming report with Lead Economist Dev Kar of Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The GFI report entitled, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” previewed in the Wall Street Journal, found that
Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years… In 2008, Ethiopia received US$829 million in official development assistance, but this was swamped by the massive illicit outflows. The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009.”
Two weeks ago in my commentary, “Why is Ethiopia Poor?”, I highlighted the fact that the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, had recently ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries on its 2011 Prosperity Index (LPI). Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”.
The cancer of corruption is deeply embedded in the marrow of the Ethiopian body politic. The recently released Transparency International (TI) 2011 Corruption Perception Index report on Ethiopia confirms the findings of GFI and other anti-corruption international organizations. For the past decade, TI has ranked Ethiopia at the bottom of the barrel of countries ruled by the most corrupt governments. In fact, for the past ten years Ethiopia’s score on the TI index has remained virtually unchanged (TI ranks countries on a 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”) scale.
TI Corruption Index Score for Ethiopia by Year
In light of the 2011 GFI and TI reports, is there any doubt today why Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world? Is it rocket science to figure out why Ethiopians are the second poorest people on the planet? Ethiopians are poor because they have been robbed, ripped off, flimflammed, bamboozled, conned, fleeced, scammed, hosed, swindled, suckered, hoodwinked, victimized, shafted and taken to the cleaners by those clinging to power like bloodsucking ticks on an African milk cow. Is it not mindboggling that the US$3.26 billion stolen out of Ethiopia in 2009 was double the amount stolen in 2008 and 2007!?!
The Art of Bleeding Ethiopia Dry
I have long argued that the business of African dictatorships is corruption. In a November 2009 commentary entitled “Africorruption Inc.”, I wrote the following about corruption in Ethiopia:
The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. For instance, reports of widespread corruption in Ethiopia in the form of outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments and gain are commonplace. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Doctors are unable to treat patients at the public hospitals because medicine and supplies are diverted for private gain. Tariffs are imposed on medicine and medical supplies brought into the country for public charity. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners.
Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Two months ago, Ethiopia’s former president Dr. Negasso Gidada offered substantial evidence of systemic political corruption by documenting the misuse and abuse of political power for partisan electoral advantage. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.” [As of December 2011, over two years after the investigation was launched, the State Department has not publicly released the results of its investigation.]
Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia. The cunning dictator has been able to shroud his corrupt empire by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. Zenawi has successfully distracted public attention from rampant corruption by
Making wild allegations of terrorism against his critics, persecuting and prosecuting his opponents and by jailing and exiling independent journalists (a couple of weeks ago, Zenawi shuttered Awramba Times);
Proclaiming a bogus Growth and Transformation Plan that will “double economic growth by an annual average of 14.9 percent” by 2015;
Selling Ethiopia’s most fertile land for pennies above the table and for millions under the table;
Panhandling the international community for famine and humanitarian aid and misusing that aid for political purposes;
Taking massive loans from international banks without any significant accountability on how it is spent;
Trying to shame and intimidate Western bankers and donors by hectoring them of the evils of “neoliberalism”;
Proclaiming the construction of an imaginary hydroelectric dam over the River Nile;
Sending troops to occupy Somalia and threatening war with other neighboring countries;
Vilifying international human rights groups, election observers and officials of multilateral organizations who disagree with him;
Dispatching swarms of officials to panhandle the Ethiopian Diaspora for nickels and dimes to buy dam bonds;
Systematically extracting foreign remittances sent by Diaspora Ethiopians;
Staging political theatre by a toothless anti-corruption agency to hoodwink complicit Western donors and loaners.
The Economics of Corruption
The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial described “the Ethiopian government as one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world.” In 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. They are all wrong!
No one knows corruption, the economics of kleptocracy, better than Zenawi. The facts of Zenawi’s corruptonomics are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of businesses owned or dominated by Zenawi family members, cronies, supporters or hangers-on. According to the World Bank, business enterprises affiliated with Zenawi’s regime control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” Dataprovided by Zenawi’s regime showed that by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. The USD$11.7 billion stolen over the past decade could easily retire that debt. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid at nearly $USD4 billion in 2009, and the second largest foreign aid recipient in the world after Afghanistan.
Is There a Way to Stop Ethiopia from Bleeding?
The international community “naively” believes that corruption in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa could be controlled and significantly reduced by anti-corruption programs. The U.N. Convention Against Corruption (2003)requires signatories to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.” Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention in 2003. The Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (2003) established a regime to empower African countries to “prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors.” The Convention prescribes that “in order to combat corruption and related offences in the public service, State Parties” shall “require public officials to declare their assets at the time of assumption of office during and after their term of office in the public service.” Ethiopia signed the AU Convention in 2004. Neither of these Conventions has even made a dent in controlling the metastasizing corruption in Ethiopia.
Zenawi knows the power of corruption. He has effectively used corruption allegations to neutralize and eliminate his political opponents. He used his “Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission” to railroad his comrade-in-arms and former defense minister, Seeye Abraha, to jail for six years on unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. When then-Judge Birtukan Midekssa, and later Ethiopia’s first female political party leader and long suffering political prisoner, released Seeye for lack of evidence, Zenawi rammed legislation through his rubberstamp parliament to deny Seeye bail and keep him in pretrial detention. He later fired Judge Birtukan. In 2008, Zenawi’s anticorruption commission reported that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A number of culprits were fingered for the inside bank job, but no one was ever prosecuted. In February 2011, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he will “cut off their hands”.
For years, I have documented and railed against corruption in Ethiopia. In December 2008, three years to the month, in a weekly commentary entitled, “The Bleeping Business of Corruption in Ethiopia”, I wrote:
The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi in the Ethiopian body politics. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada clearly understood that when he declared in 2001 that ‘corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,’ adding that the government would show ‘an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic’. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’…. Ironically, in 2003, Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption; and a couple of months ago, a conference on institutions, culture, and corruption was hosted jointly in Addis Ababa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
The fact of the matter is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Zenawi has absolute power in Ethiopia. Pleading for transparency and issuing moral exhortations against corruption will have no effect on the behavior of Zenawi or any of the other African dictators. Indeed, to plead the virtues of accountability, transparency and good governance with Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathens. It means nothing to them. They are unfazed by moral hectoring or appeals to conscience. They sneer and jeer at those who rail and vociferate against corruption. Preaching to the corrupt, to put it simply, is an exercise in total futility!
In my November 7 commentary “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!”, I discussed the importance of initiating and cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in civil forfeiture actions to seize corruptly obtained cash, personal or real property of any person or entity that can be traced to “specified unlawful activity”. These civil court actions extend to foreign offenses involving extortion, money laundering, or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.) The U.S. has recently filed action to seize personal and real property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.
Carefully review and analysis of GFI and TI data sources reveals that public assets and funds stolen from many African countries, including Ethiopia, are often hidden in banks located in the U.S. and Europe, although the clever African dictators are now diversifying by taking advantage of financial havens in countries experiencing rapid growth and industrialization. Much of the corruption activity centers around money laundering (that is, illegal or dirty money is put through a complex cycle of financial transactions or washed and is transformed into legitimate or clean money).
The basic idea in money laundering is to minimize the chances of detection of stolen public assets and funds by breaking the direct link between the kleptocrats or “corruptocrats” and their collaborators by disguising the true ownership. Using financial consultants, shell companies (bogus companies that exist to simply create the appearance of legitimate transactions through fake invoices and balance sheets), fraudulent official documentation, wire transactions, and “smurfing” techniques (breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts in the names of multiple persons) etc., those who have stolen public assets and funds try to sever or camouflage their loot from its illegal source by placing it in international financial institutions. The aim in money laundering is at least twofold: 1) gain anonymity and hide the audit trail in case of a criminal investigation, and 2) plough the “clean money” into the legitimate economy by buying homes, investing in legitimate businesses, starting businesses and so on.
If the problem of corruption is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, it is not going to be at the fountainhead of the corruption itself but in the ocean where the river of corruption terminally flows. As one cannot expect the fox to safeguard the henhouse, one cannot similarly expect Africa’s dictators and corruptocrats and their collaborators to safeguard public assets and funds. A big part of the answer to the question of corruption lies in the Laundromats of financial institutions where the dirty money is washed. That’s why I believe it is the civic and moral duty of every Ethiopian and African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves hiding in America. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: [email protected]. If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199
BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Two historic events are unfolding before our eyes in Africa today. The new president of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, is asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct an investigation into gross human rights violations in his country. In a letter to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Ouattara wrote: “It appears the Ivorian justice system, at the moment, is not best placed to consider the most serious crimes committed over the recent months, and that any attempts to bring to justice those who are most responsible would risk running into all kinds of difficulties.” He emphatically urged the prosecutor to bring the “people who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes before the International Criminal Court.”
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s iron-fisted dictator for three decades, and his sons are expected to stand trial in an Egyptian court for human rights violations. The Egyptian Attorney General announced that Mubarak & Sons will face charges of “intentional murder, attempted murder of demonstrators, abuse of power to intentionally waste public funds and unlawfully profiting from public funds for themselves and others.”
Bernard Munyagishari, one of the most notorious leaders of the genocidal Rwandan Interahamwe, was apprehended last week (along with, in a separate incident, Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Srebrenica (Bosnia)) of the Democratic Republic of Congo after nearly 16 years on the lam. According to a 2005 ICC indictment, Munyagishari “masterminded a virulent hate campaign against the Tutsis” and trained and distributed weapons to Interahamwe groups to enable them “more efficiently to attack and kill the Tutsis and Hutu opponents.”
Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan remains a fugitive from justice following his ICC indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity. Bashir is accused of “masterminding with absolute control” a criminal plan “to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups” and causing the deaths of 35,000 people “outright” in the Darfur region since 2003.
A number of former Kenyan officials including the deputy prime minister and two other ministers, the cabinet secretary, police chief and others stand accused of murder, rape and persecution by the ICC. They are suspected of orchestrating the post-election violence that resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 Kenyans and displacement of over 600,000.
There is no question that Moammar Gadhafi & Sons will soon be indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with the massive atrocities that are taking place in Libya today. In his ICC application for an arrest warrant, Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampos argued: “The evidence shows that Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians. His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in the public space, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers.”
The trial of the ruthless Liberian warlord Charles Taylor before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes recently concluded in The Hague after three and one-half years of litigation. A verdict is expected in the foreseeable future.
Africa’s dictators who once sneered at the very notion of legal accountability for their flagrant human rights abuses are now waking up at night in cold sweat. They keep interrogating themselves in the middle of the night: First it was Bashir. Now it is Mubarak. Next is Gadhafi and after him… Ben Ali, Ali Saleh and then…?
Lady Justice “is like a train that is nearly always late”, but she has finally arrived at her African destination with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other, and without her blindfold to see the atrocities that continue to be committed by Africa’s thugtators. A new dawn is rising over the darkness of dictatorship that envelopes Africa.
The Beginning of Africa’s Second Independence?
For much of the six decades of independence, much of Africa has been under the thumbs and boots of ruthless military and civilian thugs palming themselves off as leaders while sucking the continent dry as their private estate. There have been over 80 military coups in Africa and hundreds of attempted, plotted and alleged coups. A 2002 African Union study estimated that corruption cost the continent US$150 billion a year. Last week, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$ 8.4 billion from Ethiopia, the second poorest country on the planet.
Could the election of Alassane Ouattara signal the beginning of Africa’s second independence? Is there hope for the end of thugtatorship in Africa and the beginning of a new era of democratic governance, openness and political accountability?
Ouattara’s letter to Moreno-Ocampo is in itself an extraordinary act of leadership, courage, audacity and supreme self-confidence. It is a monumental event in Africa’s modern political history. No African leader has ever asked or invited the ICC to investigate human rights abuses and prosecute the violators. In fact, in August 2010, the African Union (AU) thumbed its nose at the ICC stating: “The AU Member States shall not cooperate pursuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to immunities, for the arrest and surrender of President Omar El Bashir of the Sudan”. In other words, Africa’s leaders will shelter the Butcher of Darfur from facing justice.
Against the backdrop of the AU denunciation, Ouattra’s invitation for an ICC investigation is refreshing and reassuring. Manifestly, Ouattra is aware of the fact that an ICC investigation is a double-edged sword that could cut him and his supporters just as easily as Gbagbo and his crew. To be sure, there are serious allegations of human rights abuses by Ouattara’s current prime minister, Guillaume Soro. An ICC investigation could potentially implicate Ouattara himself, possibly casting a long dark shadow over the remainder of his presidency. Regardless, Ouattara says full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes. Let the chips fall where they may!
Why is Ouattra doing this? Does he have something up his sleeve? I am still reeling from the fact that an African leader is actually upholding human rights instead of trashing them, calling for an independent investigation instead of putting out a whitewash. Could it be that Ouattara is a truly new breed of African leader? Is it possible that he genuinely believes in the rule of law, human rights and full legal accountability? Maybe he wants to end the culture of impunity in his country and set a shining example of a new culture of respect for human rights for the continent. Just maybe Ouattra’s leadership role model is Nelson Mandela.
On May 21, the day of Ouattara’s formal inauguration, the ICC Prosecutor lodged an application with the ICC to investigate “crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that have been committed in the Ivory Coast since 28 November 2010.”
Nature of Human Rights Violations in the Cote d’Ivoire
The human rights violations alleged in Cote d’Ivoire are of the most egregious types. According to a January 2011 Human Rights Watch Report, security forces and militia under the control of Laurent Gbagbo have allegedly committed extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and rape. Gbagbo’s supporters are accused of undertaking an “organized campaign of violence targeting members of opposition political parties, ethnic groups from northern Côte d’Ivoire, Muslims, and immigrants from neighboring West African countries.” Seven women supporters of Ouattara engaged in peaceful demonstration were gunned down before the cameras by Gbagbo’s forces in February 2011.
According to an April 2011 Human Rights Watch Report, “forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 alleged supporters of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, and burned at least 10 villages in Côte d’Ivoire’s far western region.” The report alleged “in one particularly horrific incident, hundreds of ethnic Guéré civilians perceived as supporting Gbagbo were massacred in the western town of Duékoué by a mixture of pro-Ouattara groups.” Credible reports by charity groups who visited the location put the number at over one thousand.
The Ivorian human rights violators will likely face war crimes and crimes against humanity charges similar to those lodged against the former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. For purposes of war crimes (Convention III, Article 3 Geneva Convention (1949) and of Additional Protocol II), charges will likely include unlawful killings, terrorizing the civilian population, physical violence, sexual violence, abductions and pillage, among others. Other particularized charges may include ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents, the killing of prisoners and wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages. Charges of crimes against humanity (Article 7, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court) will likely include murder, rape, abductions, political or religious persecution and other inhumane acts and practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. There is substantial evidence to show the occurrence of widespread and systematic practices of atrocity by both sides of the Ivorian conflict in the post-election period to justify vigorous prosecutions.
No Truth, No Reconciliation. No Justice, No Peace.
What Ouattra has done in Cote d’Ivoire could be the most significant act in the cause of the freedom, democracy and human rights in Africa’s modern history. By the stroke of his pen, Ouattra has the raised the bar for legal accountability and may have begun a new era and tradition of the rule of law in the continent. By letting justice take its course, Ouattara has taken the first decisive step to heal the wounds and divisions of Ivorian society.
There are many lessons to be learned from Ouattara’s heroic act. First, without revealing the truth about human rights abuses, there can be no reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire or any other society victimized by massive human rights violations. The South Africans managed to make an effective transition to democracy and heal a society torn apart by the vile and inhuman ideology of apartheid in their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Second, if Africa’s dictators believe they will face justice for their criminal actions regardless of how long it takes, they will think a hundred times before ordering massacres of peaceful unarmed demonstrators in the streets, jailing of thousands of innocent people and indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Third, legal accountability under international human rights standards means Africa’s dictators will have no place to run to or hide and enjoy their billions in stolen loot. The world will be their prison.
When the rule of law is deep-rooted in Africa, the tables will finally turn. The people will no longer fear their leaders and governments. Rather, the leaders and government institutions will fear the people. That will mark Africa’s long overdue transition from thugtatorship (“the highest stage of African dictatorship”) to democracy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice has yet to arrive for 193 unarmed Ethiopian protesters massacred in the streets in 2005 and 763 shot and wounded. These victims are not some nameless individuals buried in shallow graves. Their identities are well known to all and shall never be forgotten. The identities of the 237 policemen who committed the massacre are also well known. There is overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses in Gambella in western Ethiopia and in the Ogaden region in the east as well as many other parts of the country. There are thousands of political prisoners languishing in secret prisons in Ethiopia today.
The monstrous crimes committed against these victims will not remain forever shrouded in the fog of history because the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice. That is why I believe justice delayed in Ethiopia is NOT justice denied. Paraphrasing the great African American poet Langston Hughes, justice delayed in Ethiopia is a “sore that festers and runs, and sags” like a heavy load ready to explode.
Keep Hope Alive in Ethiopia!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam