Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: In my last commentary on the theme, “Where do we go from here?” I suggested that the ruling dictatorship in Ethiopia following its 99.6 percent “victory” in the May 2010 parliamentary “election” will continue to do business as usual in much the same way as it has over the last two decades. In this commentary, I focus on the Ethiopian opposition collectively and argue that they must atone and reinvent themselves if they hope to play a significant role in that country’s future.
Always speak truth to power; but sometimes it is necessary to speak it to the powerless too. Truth must be spoken not only because it renders naked the hypocrites and villains, but also because it has a cathartic (cleansing) effect on its defenders. Above all, it must be spoken because it is the quintessential requirement of freedom: “The truth shall make you free.” It is in the spirit of freedom from the burdens of past political blunders and poor judgment and the freedom to invent a new spirit of democracy in Ethiopia that I offer this commentary to the Ethiopian opposition. My aim is not to lecture or to bash; I leave that job to the dictators who are the true experts. When I speak my mind freely about the Ethiopian opposition, it is merely to help “clean out the closet”, as it were, so that we could begin afresh on the long walk to democracy. It is said that the “truth hurts”, but I disagree. I believe the truth heals, empowers and liberates its defenders.
Holding a Mirror to the Ethiopian Opposition
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
In the 2005 election, there was a unifying spirit among the opposition. For that reason, they were able to trounce the ruling dictatorship in a free and fair election. What was monumental about that election was not only the fact that the opposition thumped the ruling party, but they did so with overflowing and overwhelming public support. On May 7, 2005, a week before elections that year, the opposition was able to hold a rally in the capital for an estimated 3 million people. On May 15, over 26 million people voted freely giving the opposition a decisive victory in the parliamentary elections, including a clean sweep of seats in the capital. Of course, the elections were stolen by the current dictatorship after hundreds of unarmed protesters were massacred and shot in the streets and thousands more imprisoned and disappeared. The point is that in 2005 the Ethiopian people put everything on the line– their lives, their livelihoods and their loved ones. Fast forward to 2010: “Where did the people go?” That was the question asked by Awramba Times, the only struggling independent paper in Ethiopia that is the regular object of the dictatorship’s wrath and fury.
The people did not vanish merely because Zenawi had unloosed his trigger-happy goons on the streets. Perhaps they did not show up because they had lost faith in the leadership of the opposition. When Zenawi herded the opposition leaders into his dungeons after the 2005 election, the people kept faith with them. They kept them in their hearts and minds and thoughts and prayers. Did the opposition leaders keep faith with the people after they were “pardoned” and released from prison? That is perhaps the hardest truth for the opposition leaders to face and accept. I have heard it said anecdotally thousands of times. The opposition leaders have deeply and sorely disappointed the people. In their words, deeds and conduct, they have failed to uphold and sustain the people’s dreams, aspirations and longing for justice and democracy. As best as I could summarize it, the people feel betrayed and abandoned by many opposition leaders in whom they placed so much trust.
The Opposition Through Zenawi’s Eyes
Zenawi knows the opposition like the opposition does not know itself. He has studied them and understands how they (do not) work. Careful analysis of his public statements on the opposition over the years suggests a rather unflattering view. He considers opposition leaders to be his intellectual inferiors; he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver them any day of the week. He believes they are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power. In his speeches and public comments, he shows nothing but contempt and hatred for them. At best, he sees them as wayward children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, he will offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses and whatever else it takes to buy their silence. Those he can not buy, he will intimidate, place under continuous surveillance and persecute. Mostly, he tries to fool and trick the opposition. He will send “elders” to talk to them and lullaby them to sleep while he drags out “negotiations” to buy just enough time to pull the rug from underneath them. He casts a magical spell on them so that they forget he is the master of the zero-sum game (which means he always wins and his opposition always loses).
For the first time in nearly twenty years, he is now changing his tune a little because the opposition seems to be wising up and Western donors are grimacing with slight embarrassment for supporting him. The kinder and gentler face of Zenawi is slowly being rolled out. After his “election victory”, he extended an olive branch to the opposition wrapped in his inimitable condescending cordiality, magnanimity and paternalism. He solemnly “pledge[d] to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people… as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, he will set up a “kitchen cabinet” for the nice opposition leaders to come in through the back door and chit-chat with him. But they will never be allowed to get out of the kitchen and sit at the dining table.
Who is the Opposition in Ethiopia, Anyway?
Opposition politics in the African political context is a tragicomedy. Beginning with Nkrumah — the father of the one-man, one-party state in Africa– opposition parties and groups in Africa have been staged, suppressed and persecuted by those in power. Just a few days ago, it was reported that “14 opposition political parties have declared the Meles Zenawi-led EPRDF party as a winner of the 2010 elections, conveying congratulatory message.” This is like the chickens congratulating the fox who snacks on them for doing a good job guarding the henhouse. It is nutty, but quaintly African. Where else on earth could an election universally declared to be a sham and a fraud be blessed by lackeys organized to look like opposition parties? Are these 14 “parties” the Ethiopian opposition? How about those political parties that are permitted to run for elections just to window-dress the ruling party and make it look good and democratic? Is the opposition those parties that are handcuffed and chained at the starting line while the ruling party sprints to the finish line? Is the opposition that amorphous aggregation of weak, divided, squabbling, factionalized and fragmented parties and groups that is constantly at each other’s throats? Or is it the grumbling aggregation of human rights advocates, civic society organizers, journalists and other media professionals and academics? Or are the groups committed to armed struggle and toppling the dictatorship by force the opposition?
What Is to Be Done by the Ethiopian Opposition?
Atonement and Reconciliation With the People: There is the well-known parable of the prodigal son who took riches from his father and squandered it all. He returned home believing his father will reject and disown him. But the son asked for his father’s forgiveness. Filled with compassion and love, the father forgave his son. There may be a good lesson here for the opposition: They need to go back to the people and ask forgiveness for squandering their hopes, dreams and aspirations. They need to say to the people, “We did let you down. We are deeply sorry. We promise to do our very best to earn back your trust and confidence. We will correct our mistakes. ” In my view, atonement is the first thing opposition leaders need to do before they can begin to reconnect with the people. I realize that many of us (including myself) find it exceedingly difficult to admit we have done wrong or made a mistake. We feel that it is a sign of weakness to say “I am sorry, I messed up.” But the real and tragic mistake is to know one has done wrong and irrationally insist that wrong is right. The people deserve the unqualified and public apology of the opposition leaders. They will be forgiven because the Ethiopian people are decent, understanding and compassionate.
Work Collectively for the Release of Birtukan Midekssa and all Ethiopian Political Prisoners: Birtukan Midekksa is the symbol of the democratic opposition in Ethiopia. She is the one paying the ultimate price. Zenawi has made her his object of ridicule. But she is the personification of the spirit of the Ethiopian opposition. We must work tirelessly to get Birtukan and all of the thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia released.
Learn From Past Mistakes: It is said that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat it. Many mistakes have been committed by opposition leaders in the past. They need to be identified and lessons learned from them.
Understand the Opposition’s Opposition: The opposition’s opposition should not be underestimated. Their strength is in dividing and ruling and in playing the ethnic card. If the opposition unites and acts around a common agenda, they are powerless.
Develop a Common Agenda in Support of Issues and Causes: The core issues democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the unity of the people and the physical integrity of the Ethiopian nation are shared by all opposition elements. Why not build collective agenda to advance and support these issues?
Agree to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Opposition leaders and supporters must abandon the destructive principle, “If you do not agree with me 100 percent, you are my enemy.” There is nothing wrong with reasonable minds disagreeing. Dissent and disagreement are essential conditions of democracy. If the opposition can not tolerate dissent within and among itself, how different could it be from the dictators?
Guard Against the Cult of Personality: One of the greatest weaknesses in the Ethiopian opposition has been the cult of personality. We create idealized and heroic images of individuals as leaders, shower them with unquestioning flattery and praise and almost worship them. Let us remember that every time we do that we are grooming future dictators.
Always Act in Good Faith: Opposition leaders and supporters must always strive to act in good faith and be forthright and direct in their personal and organizational relationships. We must mean what we say and say what we mean. Games of one-upmanship will keep us all stranded on an island of irrelevance.
Think Generationally; Act Presently: The struggle is not about winning an election or getting into public office. The struggle is about establishing democracy, protecting human rights and institutionalizing accountability and the rule of law in Ethiopia. It is not about us. It is about the younger generation.
Give Young People a Chance to Lead: The older generation in the opposition needs to learn to get out of the way. Let’s give the younger generation a chance to lead. After all, it is their future. We can be most useful if we help them learn from our mistakes and guide them to greater heights. Zenawi thinks he can mold the young people in his image so that he can establish a Reich that will last a thousand years. He will never succeed. If there is one thing universally true about young people, it is that they love freedom more than anything else. Let the older generation be water carriers for the young people who will be building the “future country of Ethiopia,” as Birtukan would say.
Think Like Winners, Not Victims: Victory is not what it seems for the victors, and defeat is not what it feels for the vanquished. There is defeat in victory and victory in defeat. Both victory and defeat are first and foremost states of mind. Those who won the election by a margin of 99.6 percent project an image of being victorious. But we know they have an empty victory secured by force and fraud. The real question is whether the opposition sees itself as winners or losers. Winners think and act as winners, likewise for losers.
Never Give Up, NEVER: Sir Winston Churchill was right when he said: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
What is NOT to Be Done by the Opposition: “Fool Me once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me!”
There is talk now that Zenawi is shuttling his “elders” (shimagles) to do a deal with the opposition. It is even said that if the opposition leaders have been warned that if they do not negotiate and publicy accept the “election” results, they will soon be joining Birtukan. The last time Zenawi used his Trojan horse “elders” to deal with the opposition, he put a noose around their necks. Birtukan Midekksa is in prison today precisely because she took a “pardon” deal from the “elders”. Now she is doing a life sentence because she allegedly violated the terms of her “pardon” deal. This is how she explained it a day or two before Zenawi threw her back to prison:
… Let me start with the negotiation by the elders; the basic spirit of the negotiation by the elders was to bring about an agreement acceptable to both parties and to create a spirit of reconciliation and to continue the political process. This is why its progress took several months. In this, regarding the problem that was created following the 2005 elections, instead of following the path of making one party wrong and another party right, the country elders mediated with the objective of having each party ask for forgiveness from the people and from each other, presented to both parties points that would bring about a spirit of reconciliation, mediated these points between the parties, toning down the parties’ opinions as much as possible, and move forward by proving their determination to their political outlooks on fundamental issues.
The negotiation through the elders that was focused on reaching a negotiated agreement through a give and take deal was based on not only a willingness on the part of the government but also through its participation. … Nonetheless, even at that stage, the spirit of reconciliation to which the negotiation was directed did not change. Even though other points of agreement were left behind, the elders expressed that if we signed that document which was crafted on the spirit of our country’s culture to say to each other let it be settled, the matter would stop at that stage, the file would be closed, and pushed on with their elderly mediation…. In connection with this, agreement was reached “to release all prisoners in the country put in jail in matters related the CUD [Coalition for Unity and Democracy] without preconditions; to start direct discussions between the government and the former CUD leaders; for the parties leaders to continue their party’s duties without restrictions….
Not only was there no follow up on the “negotiated agreement” and no political prisoners released, Birtukan herself ended up being the number 1 political prisoner in the country. For Birtukan, it was Faustian bargain: In exchange for walking out of prison and staying out, Zenawi demanded her soul. But she would never sell her soul, so she is now back in Zenawi’s underworld. Just remember Birtukan when you see the slithering “elders” come bearing gifts and talk with forked tongues! “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
As I have argued before, much needs to be done to reinvent and revitalize opposition politics in Ethiopia. I raised some questions above about who the opposition is in Ethiopia. I will answer them now. The opposition is anyone who believes in and stands for genuine democracy, protection of human rights and institutionalization of the rule of law, accountability and transparency in government. The Ethiopian opposition is anyone who stands against dictatorship, tyranny and despotism.
Are you part of the opposition?
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: Over the past week, I have received numerous requests from those who read my last commentary “Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History, to share my views on the on the question, “Where do we go from here?” in the aftermath of the so-called May 2010 elections. I am pleased to oblige in a series of forthcoming commentaries. Here I offer my analysis of the “election” and what I perceive to be the ruling regime’s future direction.
The 2010 Election: Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Some say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still a pig.” Others say, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it an ‘election’. It’s still gonna stink.” Well, one can certainly say that you can stampede throngs of “esteemed residents of Addis Ababa” into the public square and lecture them on how the “whole world knows the 4th national election has taken place in a peaceful, democratic and credible manner,” but at the end of the day a phony election with a 99.6 percent win is still a phony election. In fact, the spectacular margin of electoral victory claimed by dictator Meles Zenawi is second only to the victory claimed by the late dictator Saddam Hussien who won 100 percent of the 11,454, 638 yes votes in a referendum in 2002.
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The White House issued a statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.” Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
Only the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:
The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. They did not have freedom to campaign. We had no way of verifying the allegations.
With all due respect to Masire, it seems that he made his declaration clueless of the observation standards he is required to follow in the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines[Guidelines] . If he had done so, he would have known that there is no logical, factual or documentary basis for him to declare the “elections were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards.” For instance, pursuant to Section III 9 (e) of the Guidelines (“MANDATES, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE OBSERVERS”), Masire’s team had a mandatory duty to “observe the political parties and groups as well as the population at large in the exercise of their political rights, and the conditions in which such rights are to be exercised.” Masire by his own admission made no such observation. (“The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period ‘s team made no such observation.”) Under Section V (13), the Guidelines mandate that “AU Observers should ascertain that… (b) all competing political parties have equal access to both the print and the electronic media (radio, T.V.).” Masire said his team “had no way of verifying” pre-election complaints, including complaints of unequal access to state-controlled media. Under Section V (B) (d), the AU observers had a mandatory duty to ascertain “the campaign process is conducted in conditions of serenity, and that there are no acts of provocation or intimidation capable of compromising.” Masire’s team failed to make such inquiries. Under section B (24), the Guidelines mandate: “The atmosphere during the campaign should be carefully observed, and among the factors to consider in this regard include … (iv) persistent or reported cases of human rights violations.” Masire’s team does not appear to be aware of such a requirement, let alone to actually make the observation. It is truly regrettable to say of a former African leader that he showed no evidence of having read or understood the numerous mandatory election observation duties set forth in minute detail in the AU Guidelines before shamelessly and pathetically declaring the elections “were largely consistent with African Union regulations and standards.”
Where Do the Dictators Want to Go From Here?
In his victory speech (an event billed as a public protest against Human Rights Watch for its critical report on the regime), dictator Meles Zenawi boldly stated that he ain’t going nowhere. He is staying put where he has been for the past 19 years. It will be business as usual. The political game will be played out on the same 19 year-old zero-sum field; and his team will always win and everybody else will always lose. But there will be a change in style, form, appearance and public relations in the post- “election” period.
Hide the Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
“Hide the iron fist in a velvet glove. Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the essence of Zenawi’s “victory” speech (a/k/a demonstration against Human Rights Watch) on May 26. It was a grotesquely Churchillian speech. It was Winston Churchill who said, “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity”. In the “election” battle, Zenawi was resolute. For months before election day, he had threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for their “inflammatory” and “hateful” campaign statements calculated to “incite violence”. He even threatened to burn them at the stake if they withdrew from the elections at the last minute and agitated the youth to demonstrate in the streets. In his defeat — that is, the complete loss of credibility that comes from winning an election with 99.6 percent of the votes– he was defiant. (By the way, he gave a solemn promise to the 0.4 percent of the people who did not vote for him: “I would like to confirm to those who did not vote for us that we will work hard to look into your reasons for not voting for us with the view to learning from them and correcting any shortcomings on our part. We will work day and night to obtain your support in the next election.” In 2015, the vote will be 100 percent for Zenawi and his party!) In his 99.6 percent electoral “victory”, he was magnanimous – “let bygones be bygones.” (yalefew alfwal.)
The velvet glove/big stick strategy is based on a simple idea of totally demoralizing and humiliating the opposition, hoodwinking the Western donors and simply fooling the people. Zenawi’s velvety message was that he “does not want to be forced to embark upon the business of tracking down people committing crimes. I would like to appeal to some opposition parties… not to force the Government to take measures against them.” He is still carrying a chip on his shoulder from the drubbing his party got in 2005. The opposition humiliated his party in 2005 by wining every seat in Addis Ababa, and now it is their turn to be humiliated. “It is to be recalled that in the last election, five years ago, we, the EPRDF lost every seat in the capital due to our failure to achieve our goals..” Not this time. We won them all. (Hee…hee). In 2005, the opposition accused him of rigging and stealing the election; well, let them get a load this in 2010: “We all know the destructive role some political parties have been playing so far. [They have] attempt[ed] to mar and discredit the polling process. They have tried to cause delay by instructing their observers to arrive late at the polling stations. They have tried to disrupt the queues, make all sorts of shouts and cries,…[and even] sen[t] in their members with grenades to detonate among people queuing at polling stations… We have also observed successful and unsuccessful attempts by members of some of the opposition parties to snatch away ballot boxes and burn the votes of the people.”
But there is an olive branch extended to the opposition wrapped in condescending cordiality and paternalism. Now that the opposition has been vanquished, they will be allowed to lick the crumbs off the table (and the shoes of the victors) as long as they keep their tails between their legs. “We make this pledge to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people, during this election, that whether or not you have won seats in the parliament, as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, we will let you speak, if we want to; and we’ll shut you up when we want to. Your political existence depends on our good will, whim and fancy.
Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopia’s recorded history and that country’s no. 1 political prisoner had said it all before she was re-imprisoned for life in December 2008:
The message is clear and this message is not only for me but for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party has set and not according to what the country’s Constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.
Now that the “election’ is over, Zenawi will probably trot out the tired old “elders” to begin reconciliation talks to help him buy time until the dust settles around the “elections” controversy. He may even tantalize some opposition leaders with offers of fancy appointments and positions to divide and neutralize them. He is very good at the divide-and-rule thing, which he has successfully used for the past 19 years. Unsurprisingly, some will fall for his tricks, as history shown time and again. He will make promises to democratize, uphold the rile of law and all that just to buy enough time for the opposition and the people to fall deeper into the vortex of hopeless and despair.
The bottom line for Zenawi’s regime is: For the foreseeable future, the opposition will know who the Boss is; and if they have any doubts, the iron fist will be unsheathed from the velvet glove and the big stick pulled out to drive that point home. No political prisoners will be released, including Birtukan Midekssa. More will be added. There will be no independent press. Civic society organizations will not be allowed to operate freely. Judges will remain in the back pockets of the ruling regime. Justice, and pieces of the country, will be up for sale to the highest bidder; and on and on. Business will be conducted in the same way it has for the last 19 years!
Hoodwinking the Donors
The contempt and disregard Zenawi has for the Western donors is exceeded only by his utter scorn for the opposition. He warned the donors with diplomatic finesse: “We have seen those we believed were friends and partners behaving like king makers and an appeal court for Ethiopia’s politics. Our proud people would still like to extend a warm welcome of friendship and partnership. We say to you: Please give due respect to the decision and the sovereign power of the people to elect their own leaders.” His strategy in dealing with the Western donors is simple: He is the only game in town. The donors have no alternatives to him because he has wiped out the opposition. The donors want stability above all things and will tolerate anything he does. They don’t really believe in democracy and human rights anyway; they believe only in advancing their national interests. They do not have the guts to take any action against him because he will threaten to cut them off and go with the Chinese. In any case, they have never taken any serious actions against him and never will. He regards them as a bunch of hypocritical, forked-tongue, double-dealing and double-talking windbags. America is not going to do anything because of her preoccupation with terrorism in the Horn. To ease the criticism on the donors, he will give them diplomatic cover by touting that he has achieved “double digit economic growth”, built roads, schools and other infrastructure. In any case, if push comes to shove, he will attack them by claiming that they are interfering in the country’s sovereignty and affronting the Ethiopian people.
If truth be told, Zenawi would not be necessarily inaccurate in his view. The U.S., Britain and the European Union have poured in tens of billions of dollars of aid to support his regime for nearly two decades while pontificating about democracy and human rights endlessly. They took no action when he passed a so-called press law criminalizing free speech and the free press. They just moaned and groaned about it a little. They took no action when he passed a so-called civic society law that effectively banned civic organizations. They have taken no action against him despite a nearly two decade uninterrupted record of gross human rights violations and criminality. All they have done is dump the blame on the opposition: “There is no viable alternative in the opposition.” They know full well that the opposition is subjected to daily threats, intimidations, arbitrary arrests and detentions and violence, yet they have mustered the audacity to blame them for being “not viable”. As I have argued previously, the Western donors have entered into a conspiracy of silence to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of Zenawi.
You Can Fool All of the People All of the Time on Planet Ethiopia
It is said that “you may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Not so for Zenawi and company on Planet Ethiopia. If you think you have fooled the people for 20 years, you can try and fool them for another five or more. In his speech, Zenawi told the people:
The voters have given us their support freely and democratically. Women are the real backbone of our organization… The youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development. We are ready to learn from [our] mistakes…. The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election. It is Ethiopia’s renewal. The winner is Ethiopia’s democracy and all Ethiopians. We say congratulations to all the electorate and to our country’s forces of peace and democracy… The residents of Addis Ababa are fully aware of our respect for their decision. I believe that the people of Ethiopia, beyond recognizing the efforts of the EPRDF and voting it into power have unequivocally sent a clear message to the opposition parties in our country…
It is all about humility and how they can learn from their mistakes and all of the improvements they will make to earn the trust and confidence of the people and so on. We have heard it all before. No need to recite that litany of lies and false promises. Of course, if Zenawi wants to find out the truth all he has to do is ask the people one simple question: Are they better off today than they were in 2005?
I have expressed my views on the limitations of the regime on previous occasions:
The dictators of Ethiopia are trapped in a historical time warp. They have clutched the reigns of state for two decades and ostentatiously display the trappings of political power and wealth. But they have not been able to transform ‘bushcraft’ into statecraft… In their armed campaign against the Derg junta, decision-making was left in the hands of the few. The few leaders exercised raw, brute power over their followers and the communities they controlled. They silenced dissent and criticism ruthlessly, and leaders who disagreed were marginalised, labeled as traitors and removed. Everything was done in secrecy. Power was understood not as a public duty but as a means of self-enrichment, political patronage and intimidation. Leadership meant the cult of personality. The best they have been able to do is to transform the ‘politics of the bush’ fighting the Derg into a one-man, one-party state, whose guiding motto is, ‘What is good for the TPLF/EPDRF is good for Ethiopia!’
The transition from ‘bushcraft’ to statecraft requires tectonic transformations. Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic democratic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The dictators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles… They never had free elections in the bush; and it is no wonder that they were totally surprised when they got thumped in the 2005 elections. Upholding the rule of law is absurd to them because they believe themselves to be THE LAW… They scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries because they never lived in a system where the powers of government are constitutionally subordinated to the rights of the individual. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect from them the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance.
Mr. Zenawi and company need to understand a simple fact about elections: “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Arrrrgh! The thought of poor Ethiopia wearing the same diapers for another 5 years….
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia.
http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046 ; http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11869
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.