2013 shall be the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
“The Cheetah Generation refers to the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective. They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the ‘restless generation’ but they are Africa’s new hope. They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations”, explained George Ayittey, the distingushed Ghanaian economist.
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation includes not only graduates and professionals — the “best and the brightest” — but also the huddled masses of youth yearning to breathe free; the millions of youth victimized by nepotism, cronyism and corruption and those who face brutal suppression and those who have been subjected to illegal incarceration for protesting human rights violations. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is Eskinder Nega’s and Serkalem Fasil’s Generation. It is the generation of Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others like them. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation should move over and make way for the Cheetahs. As Ayittey said, Africa’s “Hippo Generation is intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They are stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old ‘colonialism-imperialism’ paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They lack vision and sit comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure…”
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation is not only astigmatic with distorted vision, it is also myopic and narrow- minded preoccupied with mindless self-aggrandizement. The Hippos in power are stuck in the quicksand of divisive ethnic politics and the bog of revenge politics. They proclaim the omnipotence of their state, which is nothing more than a thugtatorship. Their lips drip with condemnation of “neoliberalism”, the very system they shamelessly panhandle for their daily bread and ensures that they cling to power like barnacles on a sunken ship. They try to palm off foreign project handouts as real economic growth and development. To these Hippos, the youth are of peripheral importance. They give them lip service. In his “victory” speech celebrating his 99.6 percent win in the May 2010 “election”, Meles Zenawi showered the youth with hollow gratitude: “We are also proud of the youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development and also those who are in the process of applying efforts to be productively employed! We offer our thanks and salute the youth of Ethiopia for their unwavering support and enthusiasm!”
The Hippos out of power have failed to effectively integrate and mobilize the youth and women in their party leadership structure and organizational activities. As a result, they find themselves in a state of political stagnation and paralysis. They need youth power to rejuvenate themselves and to become dynamic, resilient and irrepressible. Unpowered by youth, the Hippos out of power have become the object of ridicule, contempt and insolence for the Hippos in power.
Ethiopia’s intellectual Hippos by and large have chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged, mouths sealed shut and eyes blindfolded. They have chosen to remain silent fearful that anything they say can and will be used against them as they obsequiously curry favor with the Hippos in power. They have broken faith with the youth. Instead of becoming transformational and visionary thinkers capable of inspiring the youth with creative ideas, the majority of the intellectual Hippos have chosen to dissociate themselves from the youth or have joined the service of the dictators to advance their own self-interests.
The shameless canard is that Ethiopia’s youth “have started to benefit from the ongoing development.” The facts tell a completely different story. Though the Ethiopian population under the age of 18 is estimated to be 41 million or just over half of Ethiopia’s population, UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five. Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans; or approximately 15 per cent of all children are orphans! Some 800,000 children are estimated to be orphaned as a result of AIDS. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at over 70 per cent. Ethiopia has one of the lowest youth literacy rate in Africa according to a 2011 report of the United Nations Capital Development Fund. Literacy in the 15-24 age group is a dismal 43 percent; gross enrollment at the secondary level is a mere 30.9 percent! A shocking 77.8 per cent of the Ethiopian youth population lives on less than USD$2 per day! Young people have to sell their souls to get a job. According to the 2010 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, “Reliable reports establish that unemployed youth who were not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the ‘support letters’ from their kebeles necessary to get jobs.” Party memberships is the sine qua non for government employment, educational and business opportunity and the key to survival in a police state. The 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report concluded, “According to credible sources, the ruling party ‘stacks’ student enrollment at Addis Ababa University, which is the nation’s largest and most influential university, with students loyal to the party to ensure further adherence to the party’s principles and to forestall any student protest.”
Frustrated and in despair, many youths drop out of school and engage in a fatalistic pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes them to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Poor youths (the overwhelming majority of youth population) deprived of educational and employment opportunity, have lost faith in their own and their country’s future. When I contemplate the situation of Ethiopia’s youth, I am haunted by the penetrating question recently posed by Hajj Mohamed Seid, the prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto: “Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation.”
Unchain the Cheetahs
Many of my readers are familiar with my numerous commentaries on Ethiopia’s chained youth yearning for freedom and change. My readers will also remember my fierce and unremitting defense of Ethiopia’s Proudest Cheetahs — Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Faisl, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others — jailed for exercising their constitutional rights and for speaking truth to power. But in the Year of the Cheetahs, I aim to call attention to the extreme challenges faced by Ethiopia’s youth and make a moral appeal to all Hippos, particularly the intellectual Hippos in the Diaspora, to stand up and be counted with the youth by providing support, guidance and inspiration. In June 2010, I called attention to some undeniable facts:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means. On the other hand, many thousands gripped by despair and hopelessness and convinced they have no future in Ethiopia continue to vote with their feet. Today, young Ethiopian refugees can be found in large numbers from South Africa to North America and the Middle East to the Far East.
In this Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs, those of us with a conscience in the Hippo Generation must do a few things to atone for our failures and make amends to our youth. President Obama, though short on action, is nearly always right in his analysis of Africa’s plight: “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.” We, learned Hippos, must learn that Ethiopia’s destiny will not be determined by the specter of dead dictators or their dopplegangers. It will not be determined by those who use the state as their private fiefdom and playground, or those who spread the poison of ethnic politics to prolong their lease on power. Ethiopia’s destiny will be determined by a robust coalition of Cheetahs who must unite, speak in one voice and act like fingers in a clenched fist to achieve a common destiny.
I craft my message here to the Hippos out of power and the intellectual Hippos standing on the sidelines. I say step up, stand up and be counted with the youth. Know that they are the only ones who can unchain us from the cages of our own hateful ethnic politics. Only they can liberate us from the curse of religious sectarianism. They are the ones who can free us from our destructive ideological conflicts. They are the ones who can emancipate us from the despair and misery of dictatorship. We need to reach, teach and preach to the Cheetahs to free their minds from mental slavery and help them develop their creative powers.
We must reach out to the Cheetahs using all available technology and share with them our knowledge and expertise in all fields. We must listen to what they have to say. We need to understand their views and perspectives on the issues and problems that are vital to them. It is a fact that we have for far too long marginalized the youth in our discussions and debates. We are quick to tell them what to do but turn a deaf ear to what they have to say. We lecture them when we are not ignoring them. Rarely do we show our young people the respect they deserve. We tend to underestimate their intelligence and overestimate our abilities and craftiness to manipulate and use them for our own cynical ends. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to reach out and touch the youth.
We must teach the youth the values that are vital to all of us. Hajj Mohamed Seid has warned us that without unity, we have nothing. “If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything.” That is why we must teach the youth they must unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology, scheme or effort that seeks to divide them on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, language, region or class. We must teach to enlighten, to uncover and illuminate the lies and proclaim the truth. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob the rights of youth who are ignorant and fearful. “Ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of tyrants.” Nelson Mandela has taught us that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Educating and teaching the youth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny and dictatorship. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to teach the Cheetahs to fight ignorance and ignoramuses with knowledge, enlightenment and intelligence.
We must also preach the way of peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency. No man shall make himself the law. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide must be held to account. There shall be no state within the state. Exercise of one’s constitutional rights should not be criminalized. Might does not make right! In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to preach till kingdom come.
We need to find ways to link Ethiopian Diaspora youth with youth in Ethiopia in a Chain of Destiny. Today, we see a big disconnect and a huge gulf between young Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. We need to help organize and provide support to Ethiopian Diaspora youth to link up with their counterparts in Ethiopia so that they could have meaningful dialogue and interaction and work together to ensure a common democratic future.
The challenges facing Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation are enormous, but we must do all we can to prepare the youth to take leadership roles in their future. We need to help them develop a formal youth agenda that addresses the wide range of problems, challenges and issues facing them. All we need to do is provide them guidance, counsel and advice. The Cheetahs are fully capable of doing the heavy lifting if the Hippos are willing to carry water to them.
Ethiopian Youth Must Lead a National Dialogue in Search of a Path to Peaceful Change
I have said it before and I will say is again and again. For the past year, I have been talking and writing about Ethiopia’s inevitable transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have also called for a national dialogue to facilitate the transition and appealed to Ethiopia’s youth to lead a grassroots and one-on-one dialogue across ethnic, religious, linguistic and religious lines. I made the appeal because I believe Ethiopia’s salvation and destiny rests not in the fossilized jaws of power-hungry Hippos but in the soft and delicate paws of the Cheetahs. In the Year of the Cheetahs, I plead with Ethiopia’s youth inside the country and in the Diaspora to take upon the challenge and begin a process of reconciliation. I have come to the regrettable conclusion that most Hippos are hardwired not to reconcile. Hippos have been “reconciling” for decades using the language of finger pointing, fear and smear, mudslinging and grudge holding. But Cheetahs have no choice but to genuinely reconcile because if they do not, they will inherit the winds of ethnic and sectarian strife.
In making my plea to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, I only ask them to begin an informal dialogue among themselves. Let them define national reconciliation as they see it. They should empower themselves to create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines. I underscore the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in the national reconciliation conversations. It is an established social scientific fact that women do a far superior job than men when it comes to conciliation, reconciliation and mediation. Dialogue involves not only talking to each other but also listening to one another. Ethiopia’s Cheetahs should use their diversity as a strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.
Up With Ethiopian Cheetahs!
Africans know all too well that hippos (including their metaphorical human counterparts) are dangerous animals that are fiercely territorial and attack anything that comes into their turf. Every year more people are killed by hippos (both the real and metaphorical ones) in Africa than lions or elephants. Cheetahs are known to be the fastest animals, but their weakness is that they give up the chase easily or surrender their prey when challenged by other predators including hyenas. A group of hippos is known as a crash. A group of cheetahs is called a “coalition”. Only a coalition of cheetahs organized across ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines can crash a crash of hippos and a cackle of hyenas and save Ethiopia.
In this Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs, I expect to make my full contribution to uplift and support Ethiopia’s youth and to challenge them to rise up to newer heights. I appeal to all of my brother and sister Hippos to join me in this effort. As for the Cheetahs, I say, darkness always give way to light. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” Ethiopia’s Cheetahs must be strong in spirit and in will. As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and war planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” Winston Churchill must have learned something from Gandhi 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 honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Ethiopian Cheetahs must never give in!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
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
Waiting for the Dawn of “Africa’s Spring” in 2012? How about an “Ethiopian Tsedey” in 2012?
In 2011, we witnessed the “Winter of Arab” discontent made glorious by an “Arab Spring” followed by an increasingly hot “Arab Summer” and deeply troubled “Arab Fall”. Bashir al-Assad continues to massacre his people by the dozens daily in plain view of Arab League “observers”. The Egyptian junta is increasingly baring its teeth and mauling protesters guarding the Egyptian Revolution, and raiding the offices of human rights organizations in that country. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia “arm-twisted” Ali Saleh in Yemen to accept a deal to give up power in “return for immunity from prosecution” (he will not face justice for any of his crimes) and “medical care” in the U.S. When tens of thousands of Yemenis expressed outrage over the deal, Saleh unleashed his Republican Guardsmen who responded with the usual deadly gunfire. Tunisia, the cradle of the “Arab Spring”, is wobbling on its feet as the Constitutional Assembly approved a new caretaker government tasked with drafting a new constitution to replace the original one that has been in place since independence in 1956. Libya’s National Transitional Council is facing the daunting task transitioning Libya from Gadhaffi’s madcap Jamahiriya system (“direct rule of the masses”) to a functioning multiparty democracy against a backdrop of entangled tribal politics.
Is an “African Spring” Looming on the 2012 Horizon?
No one predicted an “Arab Spring” last Fall, and hazarding a prediction of the arrival of “Africa’s Spring” this Winter may be like predicting the arrival of the Spring season by watching the proverbial groundhog watching his shadow. Is an “African Spring” looming on the 2012 horizon? There is a short and a long answer to this question. The short answer was provided by Albert Camus, the French philosopher and Nobel laureate, in his book “The Rebel”, over one-half century ago. “Africa’s Spring”, like the “Arab Spring”, will arrive when Africans rebel. “What is a rebel?”, asked Camus.
A man who says no… A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying ‘no’? He means, for example, that ‘this has been going on too long,’ ‘up to this point yes, beyond it no’, ‘you are going too far,’ or, again, ‘there is a limit beyond which you shall not go.’ But from the moment that the rebel finds his voice—even though he says nothing but ‘no’ —he begins to desire and to judge. The rebel confronts an order of things which oppresses him with the insistence on a kind of right not to be oppressed beyond the limit that he can tolerate.
In other words, “Africa’s Spring” will arrive when enough Africans wake up, stand up and say, “No! Enough is Enough!”
The Power of the Powerless is the Power to Say “No, Enough is Enough!”
Africa’s great independence struggle against colonialism was essentially a reification (realization) of the rallying cry, “No! Enough is enough!”: Enough of colonial exploitation, colonial dehumanization, colonial discrimination, colonial segregation, colonial division, colonial ethnic fragmentation, colonial polarization and colonial corruption. In his independence speech in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the leader of the first sub-Saharan African colony to gain independence declared, “We have awakened. We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world!” A succession of “new Africans” followed in Guinea, Cameroon, Togo, Mali, Madagascar and 39 others countries on the continent.
If there is to be an “African Spring” in 2012, there must be “new Africans” in Africa who must awaken from the forced hibernation of dictatorship and oppression, stand up and say to the ruthless dictators, “No! Enough is enough!”. Enough of African dictators exploiting Africans, dehumanizing them, dividing and ruling them, ethnically balkanizing, polarizing and fragmenting them, and enough of robbing them — of elections, the public treasury and peace of mind (terrorizing them) — blind.
The Calculus of an “African Spring”
In his study of resistance and rebellion, MIT professor Roger D. Petersen asked: “How do ordinary people rebel against powerful and brutal regimes?” Petersen was interested in understanding “ordinary people and the roles they come to play during times of rebellion and resistance against powerful regimes.” He wanted to know how and why do individuals (not the “nation”, the “people”) decide to take a variety of risks by participating in a struggle against an oppressive regime.
Using an interdisciplinary approach, Petersen examined the threshold or decision points of an individual within the broader context of his community and socio-economic system. Petersen identified seven threshold points of individual roles in a rebellion against or in collaboration with an oppressive regime. At Zero level, the individual remains neutral and does nothing for or against the repressive regime or the uprising/ rebellion. At Plus one, the individual is engaged in relatively low risk anti-regime activities such as attending mass rallies and protests, graffiti writing, passing out or seeking out anti-regime literature and participating. At Plus two, the individual becomes involved in locally based armed resistance units or providing direct support for such a unit. At Plus three, the individual becomes part of an armed resistance group.
Conversely, individuals may also collaborate with oppressive regimes. At Minus one level, the individual is involved in low level cooperation with the repressive regime by participating in such activities as officially sponsored mass rallies and working in some capacity for the repressive regime. At Minus two level the individual could be involved in locally based armed militia units organized to protect the regime. At Minus three level, the individual participates in extreme actions such as extrajudicial killings and torture on behalf of the regime or chooses to join the regime’s armed and security forces.
Facing extreme repression, individuals undergo a dual-stage process “moving first from neutrality to acts of nonviolent resistance and then to participation in community-based rebellion organization.” Petersen concluded that “whether individuals come to act as rebels or collaborators, killers or victims, heroes or cowards during times of upheaval is largely determined by the nature of their everyday economic, social, and political life, both in the time of the upheaval and the period prior to it.”
African Dictators’ Calculus of Individual Control
African dictators are fundamentally “briefcase bandits”, as George Ayittey describes them. These dictatorships function essentially as Mafioso-type criminal syndicates and cartels and are run and operated by and for members of the dictators’ families, friends, cronies, tribal, ethnic and religious group members. Stated simply, African dictatorships are kleptocracies or thugtatorships whose principal aim is to cling to power so that they can freely plunder the public treasury and the national economy. They cling to power by disempowering individuals and denying and violating their human rights, including universally-recognized and internationally guaranteed rights of self-expression and due process of law.
The power of fear is the supreme power in the hands of African dictators. The entire society is monitored by a vast network of secret police enforcers and informants (police state) who operate completely outside of constitutional or other legal constraints. For instance, dictator Meles Zenawi assured high level American policy-makers that “We will crush them [opposition leaders] with our full force, and they will vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” Uganda’s dictator Yoweri Museveni echoed the same message when he told a press conference: “There will be no Egyptian-like revolution here. We would just lock them up. In the most humane manner possible, bang them into jail and that would be the end of the story.” Such resolute expressions of brutalization are intended to strike fear and trepidation in the heart of every individual in society. The message is clear: Resistance by any individual is futile. All resistance will be crushed.
African dictators understand that charismatic and ideologically driven individuals and small dissident circles are often “first actors” in the streets and catalysts for uprisings and rebellions. They understand that such dissidents could lead large numbers of dissatisfied citizens cross the bridge of fear to the land of freedom. They do not want a repetition of the Bouazzi syndrome in Tunisia. When Yenesew Gebre, a young Ethiopian teacher in Southern Ethiopia burned himself to death protesting human rights violations, the dictatorship paraded his alleged family members on the airwaves to testify that Yenesew was crazy as a loon. Yenesew was only mad as hell at those who had denied him his basic human rights. Gadhaffi said the young people protesting his regime were dope fiends who were being manipulated by outside forces.
Africans dictators maintain their kingdoms of fear through a system of informants, secret police forces and security agents. They create and maintain a pervasive climate of fear and loathing in society, and use every means at their disposal to completely disempower, disenfranchise and dehumanize the individual. They penetrate every nook and cranny of society to monitor fully the activities of each individual and household. Spies and informants are planted in village-level organizations, schools, universities, civil and religious institutions, the bureaucracy and military and beyond. Dr. Negasso Gidada, former Ethiopian president and presently the leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, has documented that in his parliamentary election district “the police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household using structures called “shane” in which five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on them. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in…” Robert Mugabe’s notorious Central Intelligence Organization maintains a similar system of monitoring and surveillance. The irony of it all is that African dictators who rule by fear and are feared by the people in turn fear the people who fear them.
One of the prominent Founders of the American Republic said, “This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.” Africa’s dictators understand that an ignorant population is the most fertile soil upon which they can plant themselves and flourish. Controlling a society teeming with ignorant individuals is much easier than controlling a nation of well-informed and inquisitive men and women. “Ignorance is bliss,” is the slogan of the high priests of African dictatorships. They toil to keep their subject population as ignorant as possible while providing and reserving extraordinary educational and learning opportunities for themselves and their supporters. It is a well-known fact that a young person in Ethiopia is unlikely to have access to higher education unless s/he becomes a party member and supporter of the dictatorship. Upon graduation, civil service jobs are generally off limits to non-party members. Banks will favor party members in giving out loans for business enterprises or other ventures over all others. African dictatorships aim to entrench themselves by cultivating their own enlightened elites while plunging the rest of society in a state of blissful ignorance.
On the other hand, African dictators will spare no effort to keep the population ignorant and benighted. They shutter independent newspapers and block any potential sources of critical information, including filtering of internet communication to prevent dissemination of critical information and jamming of external radio and television broadcasts. Zenawi jammed the broadcasts of the Voice of America (Amharic program), an official agency of the U.S. Government, by claiming that the VOA was advocating genocide. “Ethiopia has the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa (only Sierra Leone’s is lower).” Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema has done exactly the same thing by banning the independent press and blocking the foreign media. Such extreme actions are taken to keep individuals in society dumb, dumbfounded, uninformed, unenlightened and ignorant.
George Ayittey’s “Law” on Defeating African Dictatorships
George Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist argues that African dictatorship says African dictators cannot be defeated through “rah-rah street demonstrations alone.” To purge Africa from the scourge of dictatorships, Ayittey says three things are required:
First, it takes a coalition to organize and coordinate the activities of the various opposition groups. It is imperative that you have a small group of people– call them an elders’ council to coordinate the activities– [composed] of eminent and respectable personalities who have no political baggage. They must be able to reach out to all the opposition groups. We formed one in Ghana called the Alliance for Change… Second, you got to know the enemy, his modus operandi, his strengths and weaknesses… You find his weaknesses and exploit it…. All dictators [operate] by seiz[ing] the civil service, media, judiciary, security forces, election commission and control the bank. They pack these institutions with their cronies and subvert them to serve their interests. For a revolution to succeed, you have to wrest control of one of more of these institutions. Third, you have to get the sequence of reform correct…
Last year, there were ten elections in Africa. The dictators won all ten… Why? Because the opposition was divided. In Ethiopia, for example, there were 92 political parties running to challenge the dictator Meles Zenawi… It shouldn’t be this way. The council should bring all of the opposition into an alliance…
Before an “African Spring”, an African Reawakening From Hibernation
The power of the powerless individual is the power to say “No. No More! No Way. No How! Enough is Enough!” As Prof. Petersen suggests, each individual has a tipping point when s/he will fight or collaborate. For Bouazizi in Tunisia and Yenesew in Ethiopia, they reached their individual tipping points and, tragically, burned themselves to death. The question for every African living under a dictatorship is not whether to remain neutral (for there can be no neutrality in the face of evil), but whether to become or not to become part of a system of oppression, brutality and injustice. The university professor makes that choice when s/he waxes eloquent justifying that dictatorship is indeed democracy. The judge makes that choice when s/he imposes a judgment directed by the political bosses. The police or security officer makes that choice when s/he is ordered to shoot innocent civilians. The soldier make that choice when s/he occupies a village in search of “rebels.” The bureaucrat makes that choice when s/he uses official power to empower the powerful and disempower the powerless. The man and woman in the street will make that choice every day in everything s/he does and thinks about.
Kwame Nkrumah was right when he declared in 1957, “We have awakened. We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world!” Nkrumah himself, the international symbol of African freedom and Pan-Africanism, could not bear to see an awakened Africa. In 1964, he declared himself president-for-life, banned opposition parties and jailed labor and opposition party leaders and judges. Justifying his dictatorial actions he wrote, “Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind.” The great Nkrumah was fatally infected by the terminal disease known as “absolute power”. But Nkrumah was right before he started roller skating on the wrong side of history; and like all dictators who came after him, he underestimated the will and resistance of individual citizens and their ability to unite and wrest their freedom.
All African dictators mistake decades of fear-enforced silence for surrender and resignation. Their arrogance blinds them to the palpable anger, loathing and pent-up rage of their citizens. They ignore and sneer at the immutable law of history: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Africa’s Spring will arrive when Africans “have awakened; [when Africans] will not sleep anymore; [when] today, from now on, there is a new African in [Africa]” who is willing to stand up and say, “No! Enough is enough!”.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
First, Why is Africa Poor?
George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.
For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.
Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….
Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?
A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries. LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. 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 very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has 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.”
But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed nations in the world. 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 World Bank this past June concluded that “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).
That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business), the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).
Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.
Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”
Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.
In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.”
Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance
The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.
Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability. Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.
Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.” On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.
Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.
Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.
LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary, professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.
Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!
 The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.
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Alemayehu G. Mariam
(This is the second installment in a series of commentaries I pledged to offer on U.S. policy in Africa under the heading “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa”. In Part I, I argued that democracy and human rights in Africa cannot be subordinated to the expediency of “engaging” incorrigible African dictators whose sole interest is in clinging to power to enrich themselves and their cronies.)
African Status Quo Broken
When U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a brief stop at the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago, she was talking my language: human rights, democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rest of it. She announced to the coterie of African dictators that the “status quo had broken” and she had come to talk to them about how they can regain democracy, achieve economic growth, and maintain peace and security.
Clinton said democracy in Africa is undergoing trial by fire despite a few successes in places like “Botswana, Ghana, and Tanzania.” She told the swarm of jackbooted African dictators that their people are gasping for democracy: “[W]e do know that too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future. Some even claim to believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.” She said Africa’s youth are sending a “message that is clear to us all: The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go.” The alternative for Africa’s “long standing rulers who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people” is to face the types of “changes that have recently swept through North Africa and the Middle East. After years of living under dictatorships, people have demanded new leadership; in places where their voices have long been silenced, they are exercising their right to speak, often at the top of their lungs.”
U.S. Sounding Like a Broken Record
For some time now, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have been doing the same song and dance about dictatorship and poor governance in Africa. In July 2009 in Ghana, President Obama declared, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Today Secretary Clinton says: “Good governance requires free, fair, and transparent elections, a free media, independent judiciaries, and the protection of minorities.”
Two years ago, President Obama lectured African dictators: “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 it to end.” Today Secretary Clinton sarcastically notes, “Too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers… [who] believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.”
Two years ago, President Obama berated African dictators: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Today Secretary Clinton warns the same dictators, “If you do not desire to help your own people work and live with dignity, you are on the wrong side of history.”
Two years ago, President Obama threatened African dictators: “I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption… People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” Today Secretary Clinton pleads with the same dictators: “We are making [corruption] a priority in our diplomatic engagement, and we look to our partners to take concrete actions to stop corruption.”
Last year, President Obama told a delegation of African youths: “Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges… and strengthen grassroots networks of young people…” Today Secretary Clinton laments, “A tiny [African] elite prospers while most of the population struggles, especially young people…”
When it comes to Africa, the Obama Administration is increasingly sounding like a broken record.
Empty Words and Emptier Promises
The U.S. has been talking a good talk in Africa for the last two years, but has not been walk the walk; better yet, walking the talk. Following the May 2010 “elections” in Ethiopia in which dictator Meles Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said, “We value the cooperation that we have with the Ethiopian government on a range of issues including regional security, including climate change. But we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.” The U.S. “clearly” took no action as Ethiopia has become a veritable police state behind a veneer of elections.
Following the rigged elections in Uganda in February 2011, Crowley said, “Democracy requires commitment at all levels of government and society to the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, independent media, and active civil society.” The U.S. promptly congratulated Yoweri Museveni on his election victory and conveniently forgot about the rule of law and all that stuff.
Following the elections in Cote d’Ivoire last November and Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down (calling it a “mockery of democracy”) Crowley said, “The U.S. is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Gbagbo, his immediate family and his inner circle, should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.” The U.S. imposed a travel ban, but that did not matter much since Gbagbo had no intention of leaving the Ivory Coast. Months later he was collared and dragged out of his palace like a street criminal.
In July 2009, the White House in a press statement said, “The United States is concerned about the recent actions of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja to rule by ordinance and decree and to dissolve the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court as part of a bid to retain power beyond his constitutionally-limited mandate.” The U.S. took no action against Tandja, but Niger’s military did.
A couple of weeks ago, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon visited the U.S. and received a warm reception at the White House which put out a press statement applauding the “the important partnership between the United States and Gabon on a range of critical regional and global issues.” Ali is the son of the notorious Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for 42 years before his death in 2009.
Not long ago, Crowley called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea a “dictator with a disastrous record on human rights.” Nguema’s son, Teodorin frequently travels to his $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California flying in his $33 million jetliner and tools around town in a fleet of luxury cars. He earned a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister. Forbes estimates his net worth at $600 million.
America Should Stop Subsidizing African Kleptocracies
The U.S. should stop subsidizing African kleptocratic thugtatorships through its aid policy and hit the panhandling thieves in the pocketbook. In one of my weekly commentaries in November 2009 (“Africorruption, Inc.”), I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. Most African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. As Geroge Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist and arguably one of the “top 100 public intellectuals worldwide who are shaping the tenor of our time” recently noted, Africa’s “briefcase bandits” run full-fledged criminal enterprises. Sani Abacha of Nigeria amassed $5 billion, and the Swiss Supreme Court in 2005 declared the Abacha family a “criminal enterprise”. Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan has stashed away $7 billion while Hosni Mubarak is reputed to have piled a fortune of $40 billion. In comparison, Ayittey says, “The net worth of 43 U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama amounts to a measly $2.5 billion.”
Foreign aid is known as the perfect breeding ground for corruption in Africa.According to the Brussels Journal (“Voice of Conservatism in Europe”), “Most serious analysts of the failures of development aid [in Africa], including a number of government commissions, not only identified corruption in recipient governments as a reason the aid programs failed but, in fact, found the projects actually fueled additional corruption and increased the plight of the people.” Africa’s thugtators not only siphon off foreign aid targeted for critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets, they also use the aid they receive to fortify their regimes and suppress the democratic aspiration of the people. In its October 2010 report on Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch reported:
Foreign aid has become one of the government’s most effective tools in suppressing and punishing criticism. Human Rights Watch’s research found that local officials often deny assistance to people they perceive as political opponents – including many who are not actually involved in politics at all. Impoverished farmers know they risk losing access to aid which their livelihoods depend on if they speak out against abuses in their communities. Most respond by staying quiet; aid discrimination has made freedom of speech a luxury many Ethiopians quite literally cannot afford.
Simply stated, an endless supply of the hard earned cash of American Joe and Jane Taxpayer is making it possible for African thugtators to cling to power and crush the legitimate aspirations of African peoples. The thugtators know that as long as billions of American taxpayer dollars (free money) keep flowing into their pockets, they do not have to do a darn thing to improve governance, respect human rights or institute accountability and transparency.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering of African dictators in Uganda in 2010 that “the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended and proper use.” More power to Holder. It is great to grab the corrupt and thieving African dictators and their cronies in the U.S. as they launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year buying businesses and homes and making “investments”. But it is more important to hold them accountable for the billions of aid dollars they receive from U.S. every year.
If the Obama administration is committed to battling corruption as ‘one of the great struggles of our time’, as it has so often declared, it needs to undertake a thorough and complete investigation of aid money given to African dictators. In November 2009, 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 [Ethiopian] prime minister’s party.” There exists no official report in the public domain today concerning the outcome of that investigation. (If any such report exists, we are prepared to scrutinize it.) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must logically assume that no one for sure knows what happened to the USD$850 million handed over to Zenawi. Since the State Department does not seem to be up to the job of investigating aid-related corruption allegations in Ethiopia, it is appropriate for the General Accounting Office (the independent nonpartisan Congressional watchdog) to undertake a full investigation of the Human Rights Watch allegations.
When the U.S. hands out billions of dollars of free money to countries like Ethiopia without any meaningful accountability and discernable performance requirements, the effect on governance and observance of human rights is disastrous as evidenced in the fact that Zenawi used American aid money to suppress dissent and steal elections in 2010. In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, establishing the scope of corruption in aid is absolutely necessary. Such accountability could have a huge impact not only on improving governance in Ethiopia but also in all other U.S. aid recipient countries on the continent.
Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued:
Corruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens’ trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions.”
By turning a blind eye to endemic aid-related corruption, the U.S. is unintentionally promoting disregard for human rights protections and undermining the growth of democratic institutions and institutionalization of the rule of law and good governance in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. When foreign aid provides 90 percent of the regime’s budget in Ethiopia, is it any wonder that Zenawi’s regime “won” the May 2010 “elections” by 99.6 percent?
As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I regret to say that aid given to Africa with the best of intentions in the name of the most generous people in the history of the world has made the continent a heaven for bloodthirsty dictators and hell for the vast majority of poor Africans. I wonder if the American people would tolerate and approve of the the crimes that are being committed in Africa using their hard earned dollars year after year if we took it upon ourselves to educate them!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
This is my third commentary on the theme, “Where do we go from here?”, following the rigged elections in Ethiopia last month. In this piece, I urge Ethiopian intellectuals to exchange their armchairs for the public benches and leave their comfort zones of passivity and silence to become advocates of peaceful change and democracy in their homeland.
Where Have the Ethiopian Intellectuals Gone?
The Greek philosopher Diogenes used to walk the streets of ancient Athens carrying a lamp in broad daylight. When amused bystanders asked him about his apparently strange behavior, he would tell them that he was looking for an honest man. Like Diogenes, one may be tempted to walk the hallowed grounds of Western academia, search the cloistered spaces of the arts and scientific professions worldwide and even traverse the untamed frontiers of cyberspace with torchlight in hand looking for Ethiopian intellectuals.
Intellectuals — a term I use rather loosely and inclusively here to describe the disparate group of Ethiopian academics, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, physicians, philosophers, social and political thinkers and others — often become facilitators of change by analyzing and proposing solution to complex problems and issues facing their societies. Their stock-in-trade are questions, endless questions about what is possible and how the impossible could be made possible. There are engaged and disengaged intellectuals. Those engaged are always asking questions about their societies, pointing out failures and improving on successes, suggesting solutions, examining institutions, enlightening the public, criticizing outdated and ineffective ideas and proposing new ones while articulating a vision of the future with clarity of thought. They are always on the cutting edge of social change.
The purpose of this commentary is not to moralize about the “failure of Ethiopian intellectuals”, or to criticize them for things they have done, not done, undone or should have done. The purpose is to begin public discussion that will make it possible to find ways of making them a powerful force of peaceful change in Ethiopia. I make no attempt here to conceal my agenda with the Ethiopian intellectual community; in fact, I proudly proclaim it. I believe Ethiopian intellectuals have a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye to the government wrongs in their homeland, and an affirmative duty to act in the defense of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I see many of them religiously practicing self-censorship and self-marginalization. I would like to see them enter the public arena and take on the issues. I see an artificial deficit in the supply of transformational and visionary Ethiopian thinkers, with revolutionary ideas to re-invent Ethiopian society. Such thinkers are out there but have chosen to remain disengaged. I would like to see them engaged more. At this critical time in Ethiopia’s history, I believe Ethiopian intellectuals must take a leading and active role in the public debate to shape the future of their homeland. I am unapologetic in demanding their intense involvement in teaching, inspiring and preparing Ethiopia’s youth within and outside the country to build a fair and just society and forge a united Ethiopian nation. I always pray that Ethiopian intellectuals will never become “whores” to dictators as the distinguished Ghanaian economist George Ayittey has warned of African intellectuals in general.
As a member of the Ethiopian “intelligentsia” and now its humble critic, I do not want to sound “holier-than-thou”. I will admit that I am just as guilty as any other for the sins of commission or omission I ascribe to others. Truth be told, I was just as invisible and silent on the issues in Ethiopia as those with whom I plead here until dictator Meles Zenawi slaughtered 196 unarmed demonstrators, and shot and wounded nearly 800 more in the streets after the 2005 election in Ethiopia. That act of total depravity, cold-blooded barbarity and savagery, vicious inhumanity and pure evil was a pivotal point in my own transformation from a complacent armchair academic to an impassioned grassroots human rights advocate, as the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which apartheid policemen opened fire on a crowd of unarmed black protesters killing 69 was a transformational event in the lives of so many South Africans
Role of Intellectuals in Africa
An old Jewish saying teaches that “A nation’s treasure is its scholars (intellectuals).” Unfortunately, in Africa that “treasure” has taken a decidedly loathsome character. Well over a decade ago, George Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist, and arguably one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” worldwide who “are shaping the tenor of our time”, likened African intellectuals to “hordes of prostitutes.”
Time and time again, despite repeated warnings, highly “educated” African intellectuals throw caution and common sense to the winds and fiercely jostle one another for the chance to hop into bed with military brutes. The allure of a luxury car, a diplomatic or ministerial post and a government mansion often proves too irresistible…
So hordes of politicians, lecturers, professionals, lawyers, and doctors sell themselves off into prostitution and voluntary bondage to serve the dictates of military vagabonds with half their intelligence. And time and time again, after being raped, abused, and defiled, they are tossed out like rubbish — or worse. Yet more intellectual prostitutes stampede to take their places….
Vile opportunism, unflappable sycophancy, and trenchant collaboration on the part of Africa’s intellectuals allowed tyranny to become entrenched in Africa. Doe, Mengistu, Mobutu, and other military dictators legitimized and perpetuated their rule by buying off and co-opting Africa’s academics for a pittance. And when they fall out of favor, they are beaten up, tossed aside or worse. And yet more offer themselves up.
The Crises of Ethiopian Intellectuals
Perhaps Prof. Ayittey takes poetic license in his analogies to provoke serious debate over the role of intellectuals in Africa. I much prefer to think of Ethiopian intellectuals as their country’s “eyes” in the sense of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The office of the scholar (intellectual) is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amid appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation. He is the world’s eye.” Though I will not challenge the fact that some Ethiopian intellectuals have “sold themselves off into prostitution and voluntary bondage”, I do not believe that the vast majority of them are the wretched members of the world’s oldest profession ready to “hop” in bed with the dictators lording over Ethiopia. I do believe, however, that many of us in the Ethiopian intellectual community could be fairly accused of turning a blind eye to the injustices in our homeland, not having a vision for our people and walking with blinders on so as to avoid making eye contact with the unpleasant facts of the current dictatorship in Ethiopia.
Many of us in the Ethiopian intellectual community have lost our “eye” sights because we are in crises. Some of us are mired in a moral crisis of knowing what is right but being afraid to do the right thing, and ultimately doing nothing. When Zenawi massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters and jailed tens of thousands more, few of us stood up to publicly protest. When elections are stolen in broad daylight and the country sold in bits and pieces and given away, far too many of us stood by in silent indifference. It seems many of us have developed titanium-clad consciences to keep out the reality of corruption and brutality of the dictatorship in Ethiopia.
Some of us suffer a crisis of critical thinking. We are quick to make conclusions based on hunches and speculations than rigorous analysis based on facts. We are given more to polemics and labeling than evidence-based analysis. We rarely examine and re-examine our assumptions and beliefs but cling to them as eternal truths and propagate them as such. It is embarrassing to admit that the rigorous intellectual challenge to Zenawi’s neatly packaged lies has come not from Ethiopian intellectuals but from the empirical research and analysis of foreign social scientists, researchers, journalists and human rights organizations. By failing to take a rigorous approach to the study and analysis of the myriad issues in Ethiopia, we have made it possible for Ethiopia’s dictators to write a gospel of lies and erect monuments to celebrate the living lies of non-existent accomplishments.
In one form or another, many of us in the Ethiopian intellectual community suffer a crisis of self-confidence and a deficit of intellectual courage. We criticize and castigate the dictatorship in private but are afraid to repeat our strongly-held views in public. Even in the Diaspora, some of us feel compelled to use pen names to express our opinions in the blogosphere. We would like others to admire us and accept and act on our ideas while we hide our real identities behind aliases and fictitious names. Many of us are afraid to make our views known because we fear the ridicule and ostracism of our associates and peers. We are afraid to take ownership and responsibility for our ideas for fear of being proven wrong and mask our intellectual cowardice with meaningless dogmas and abstractions. Lacking self-confidence, many of us have resolved to live out our lives quietly and anonymously on remote islands of self-censorship and self-marginalization.
Most of us also suffer from a crisis of foresight. We can argue the past and criticize the present, but we do very little forward-thinking. As Ethiopia’s “eyes”, we are ironically afflicted by myopia (nearsightedness). We can see things in the present with reasonable clarity, but we lack the vision to see things in the distance. We can see the potential problems of ethnicity in Ethiopia, but we are blinded to its solutions in the future. We see the country being dismembered in pieces but lack the vision to make it whole in the future. We can see ethnic animosity simmering under the surface, but we have been unable to help create a new national consciousness to overcome it. We can articulate a present plan for accession to political power but we lack the foresight and contingency planning necessary to ensure democratic governance.
We have a serious crisis of communication. Many of us talk past each other and lack intellectual honesty and candor in our communications. We pretend to agree and give lip service to each other only to turn around and engage in vile backbiting. We speak to each other and the general public in ambiguities and “tongues”. Often we do not say what we mean or mean what we say. We keep each other guessing. We do not listen to each other well, and make precious little effort to genuinely seek common ground with those who do not agree with us. We have a nasty habit of marginalizing those who disagree with us and tell it like it is. We hate to admit error and apologize. Instead we compound mistakes by committing more errors. We tend to be overly critical of each other over non-essentials. As a result, we have failed to nurture coherent and dynamic intellectual discourse about Ethiopia’s present and future.
We have a crisis of intellectual leadership. There are few identifiable Ethiopian intellectual leaders today. In many societies, a diverse and competing intellectual community functions as the tip of the spear of social change. In the past two decades, we have seen the powerful role played by intellectual leaders in emancipating Eastern Europe from the clutches of communist tyranny and in leading a peaceful process of change. No society can ever aspire to advance without a core intellectual guiding force. The founders of the American Republic were not merely political leaders but also intellectuals of the highest caliber for any age. They harnessed their collective intellectual energies to forge a nation for themselves and their posterity. Their conception of government and constitution has become a template for every country that aspires for the blessings of liberty and democracy. Despite some major shortcomings, the Americans got it right because their founders were visionary intellectuals.
Ethiopian Intellectuals Through Zenawi’s Eyes
Zenawi regards himself to be an intellectual par excellence based on the available fragmentary corpus of his written work, numerous public statements and anecdotal narratives of those who have interacted with him. In August 2009, the Economist magazine described him as silver-tongued conversationalist with a “sharp mind, elephantine memory and ability to speak for two hours without notes. With his polished English, full of arcane turns of phrase from his days at a private English school in Addis Ababa, the capital, he captivates foreign donors.” Jeffrey Sachs, the celebrated shaman of Western aid to Africa and Columbia University professor, often patronizes Zenawi for his “intellect” and “vision”. (In January 2008, Sachs expressed euphoric fascination over “Ethiopia’s 11 or 12 percent economic development year after year [which makes] people say oh…what’s going on there?” under Zenawi’s leadership. Zenawi is said to be an assiduous autodidact. He reputedly harbors much distaste and contempt for the Ethiopian intellectual community in much the same way he does for his political opposition. His attitude is that he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver boatloads of Ph.Ds., M.Ds., J.Ds. Ed.Ds or whatever alphabet soup of degrees exist out there any day of the week. He seems to think that like the opposition leaders, Ethiopian intellectuals are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power.
Regardless of the merits of Zenawi’s purported views, the fact of the matter is that few Ethiopian intellectuals have bothered to scrutinize his ideas or record in a systematic and rigorous manner. When he made manifestly false and outrageous claims of “economic growth” and “development”, few Ethiopian economists challenged him on the facts. It took foreign scholars, researchers and journalists to undertake an investigation to expose Zenawi’s fraudulent claims of success in health, education and social welfare programs. Few Ethiopian historians, political scientists, sociologists and others have come forward to challenge his bizarre theory of “ethnic federalism”. Nor have there been any rigorous analyses of the slogan of “revolutionary democracy” palmed off as a coherent political theory. Few Ethiopian lawyers have examined his constitution and demonstrated his flagrant violation of it. Given these facts, all that can be said in defense of Ethiopian intellectuals is: “If the shoe fits, wear it!”
The Challenge: Becoming Public Intellectuals
The challenge to Ethiopian intellectuals is to find ways of transforming themselves into “public intellectuals.” In other words, regardless of our formal training in a particular discipline, we should strive to engage the broader Ethiopian society beyond our narrow professional concerns through our writings and advocacy efforts. We should strive for something far larger than our disciplines, and by speaking truth to power metamorphosise into “public intellectuals.” Here are a few ideas for this enterprise:
Get involved. I hear all sorts of excuses from Ethiopian intellectuals for not getting involved. The most common one is: “I am a ‘scholar’, a ‘scientist’, etc., and do not want to get involved in politics.” Albert Einstein was not only one of the most influential and best known scientists and intellectuals of all time, he was also a relentless and passionate advocate for pacifism and the plight of German-Jewish refugees. Others plead futility. “Nothing I do could ever make a difference because Ethiopia’s problems are too many and too complex.” The answer is found in an Ethiopian proverb: “Enough strands of the spiders’ web could tie up a lion.” Let each one do his/her part, and cumulatively the difference made will be enormous.
Articulate a Vision. Ethiopian intellectuals need to articulate a vision for their people. It is ironic to be the “eyes” of a nation and be visionless at the same time. What are our dreams, hopes and aspirations for Ethiopia? What are the values we should be collectively striving for? Why are we not able to come up with an intellectual framework that can provide a bulwark against tyranny, and restore good governance to a nation of powerless masses and broken institutions? As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Create and Maintain a Think Tank. Think tanks are “policy actors in democratic societies assuring a pluralistic, open and accountable process of policy analysis, research, decision-making and evaluation.” There are thousands of them worldwide. It is necessary to establish such organizations for Ethiopia to conduct research and engage in advocacy and public education. On various occasions, I have publicly called for the establishment of an informal policy “think tank” to research and critically evaluate current and emergent issues in Ethiopia. Would it not be wonderful if there could be union of concerned Ethiopian scholars, scientists, intellectuals and professionals who could come together as the tip of the spear in seeking to institutionalize democracy, human rights and rule of law in Ethiopia?
Create a Legal Defense Fund. Frequently, I am asked why Ethiopian lawyers do not get together and from a legal action group to study and litigate human rights issues. Wherever I give a speech, I am always asked the question about why “you Ethiopian lawyers are not doing something about human rights, political prisoners, violations of international law….in Ethiopia? There are many examples in the U.S. of global campaigns for human rights undertaken by groups of dedicated lawyers supported by dozens of cooperating attorneys across the country. Ethiopian lawyers need to step up to the plate.
Establish Expert Panels. We have few experts available to serve as resources on issues affecting Ethiopia. Many Ethiopian experts are unwilling to come forward and give interviews to the media or to offer testimony in official proceedings. We need a roster of experts to represent Ethiopia on the world stage.
Teach the People. Zenawi often claims that Ethiopian intellectuals, particularly in the West, do not really understand the situation in the country and are merely speculating about conditions. He says our notions of democracy based on Western models are fanciful, desultory and inappropriate for Ethiopia and an “ethnic basis of Ethiopia’s democracy [is necessary] to fight against poverty and the need for an equitable distribution of the nation s wealth: peasants must be enabled to make their own decisions in terms of their own culture. Power must be devolved to them in ways that they understand, and they understand ethnicity….” It our role as intellectuals to discredit such manifestly nonsensical political theory by teaching the people the true meaning of democracy based on popular consent. We must teach the Ethiopian people that it is a travesty and a mockery of democracy for one man and one party to remain in power for 25 years and call that a democracy. We must find ways to empower the people by teaching them.
Act in Solidarity With the Oppressed
As intellectuals, we are often disconnected from the reality of ordinary life just like the dictators who live in a bubble. But we will remain on the right track if we follow Gandhi’s teaching: “Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man you have seen and ask yourself whether the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore to him a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj (independence) or self-rule for the hungry and spiritually starved millions of your countrymen? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.” Let us always ask ourselves if what we do and whether our actions will help restore to the poorest and most helpless Ethiopians a control over their own life and destiny.
As I point an index finger at others, I am painfully aware that three fingers are pointing at me. So be it. I believe I know “where all the Ethiopian intellectuals have gone.” Most of them are standing silently with eyes wide shut in every corner of the globe. But wherever they may be, I hasten to warn them that they will eventually have to face the “Ayittey Dilemma” alone: Choose to stand up for Ethiopia, or lie down with the dictators who rape, abuse and defile her.
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 and other sites.