Alemayehu G Mariam
The past two weeks have been glorious days for Africans. Eskinder Nega, the heroic Ethiopian journalist was honored with Pen America’s Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. The award honors writers throughout the world who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression. Charles Taylor, warlord-turned-Liberian-president, was convicted of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the U.N. Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone. Yesterday Reeyot Alemu, the young Ethiopian journalist, became the winner of the International Women’s Media Foundation 2012 Courage in Journalism Award.
Reeyot, 31, is a teacher and columnist for the independent Ethiopian newsweekly Feteh. When she and her co-defendant Woubshet Taye were arrested in June 2011, they were accused of plotting to sabotage telephone and electricity lines and held incommunicado. In a June 17 column in Feteh, Reeyot criticized Zenawi’s harebrained public fundraising campaign for the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam on Abay River project. That column seemed to have gotten Zenawi’s goat. But Reeyot has been persistent in her criticisms. She even had the audacity to nick Zenawi’s scared cow, the half-baked so-called five-year growth and transformation plan. In September, Reeyot and Woubshet were charged with “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participation in a terrorist organization” under Meles Zenawi’s cut-and-paste anti-terrorism law.
The so-called evidence of “conspiracy” against Reeyot in kangaroo court consisted of intercepted emails and wiretapped telephone conversations she had about peaceful protests and change with other journalists. Reeyot’s articles in Feteh and other publications on the Ethiopian Review website on the activities of opposition groups were also introduced as evidence.
Reeyot and Woubshet had no access to legal counsel during their three months in pretrial detention. Both were denied counsel during interrogations. The kangaroo court refused to investigate their allegations of torture, mistreatment and denial of medical care in detention.
Regime mouthpiece Shimeles Kemal blathered in interviews about Reeyot and Woubshet’s certain involvement in planning terrorist acts while the case was pending in court. He seemed totally clueless of Art. 20 (3) of the Ethiopian Constitution which guarantees: “During proceedings accused persons have a right to be presumed innocent.” The kangaroo court sentenced Reeyot to a 14 year prison term and fined her birr 33,000.
As to the judgment of the kangaroo court, Amnesty International was appalled: “There is no evidence that they are guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. There is no evidence that they are guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. We believe that they are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted because of their legitimate criticism of the government. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.” Human Rights Watch was confounded by the idiocy of the charges: “According to the charge sheet, the evidence consisted primarily of online articles critical of the government and telephone discussions notably regarding peaceful protest actions that do not amount to acts of terrorism. Furthermore, the descriptions of the charges in the initial charge sheet did not contain even the basic elements of the crimes of which the defendants are accused….”
In recognizing Reeyot for its Courage in Journalism Award, the IWMF’s stated:
Women are grossly under-represented in journalism and the media in Ethiopia. There are few Ethiopian journalists in Ethiopia (state media), and even fewer in the independent media. Journalism in Ethiopia is traditionally dominated by males and societal and cultural expectations discourage women from choosing the field of journalism. Cultural stereotypes are particularly discouraging to young women interested in journalism. The fact that the Ethiopian Government pursues and persecutes courageous, brave and professional women journalists does not bode well particularly for young women who may be interested in journalism. As a result, women’s voices (as reporters, editors, journalists, decision-making chambers) are rarely heard and women’s issues are often relegated to secondary position.
Congratulations to Press Freedom Heroine Reeyot Alemu!
After her sentence, Reeyot’s father, Ato Alemu, in an interview said that his daughter will not apologize, seek a pardon or apply for a clemency. “As a father, would you rather not advise your daughter to apologize?” Ato Alemu replied:
This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions a parent can face. As any one of us who are parents would readily admit, there is an innate biological chord that attaches us to our kids. We wish nothing but the best for them. We try as much as humanly possible to keep them from harm…. Whether or not to beg for clemency is her right and her decision. I would honor and respect whatever decision she makes… To answer your specific question regarding my position on the issue by the fact of being her father, I would rather have her not plead for clemency, for she has not committed any crime.
When Zenawi jailed Birtukan Midekssa in December 2008, he emphatically and sadistically guaranteed that “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” No doubt Zenawi would like to make Reeyot, Eskinder, Woubshet, the Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson , the 193 unarmed protesters massacred in 2005…. a dead issue. But they shall live in our hearts, in our spirits and even our souls, for they are freedom of expression personified.
This past Monday I raised my pen to salute my hero Eskinder Nega. Today I rise up to salute my heroine Reeyot Alemu. In the face of the wicked enemies of press freedom, my cup runneth over! Two home runs in one week! It just doesn’t get better than that!
FREE REEYOT ALEMU! FREEYOT ALEMU!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Time Magazine on its cover page asked two weighty questions about recurrent famines in Ethiopia: “Why are Ethiopians starving again? What should the world do and not do” to help them? In my commentary last week, I gave ten reasons in response to the first question; here I offer ten more for the second.
For the past one-half century, the “Western world” has been the principal source of charity and handouts in Ethiopia. For the last two decades, the West has been feeding the regime of dictator Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of development and humanitarian aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises. Now that another famine is spreading like wildfire in that country, the question remains: “What should the Western world do and not do to help Ethiopians permanently escape the endless cycles of famine described in the sugarcoated language of the self-serving international aid agencies as “acute food insecurity, extreme malnutrition, green drought and food crisis”.
Ten Things the World Should Do and Not Do to Help Starving Ethiopians
Take the moral hazard out of Western aid in Ethiopia.
Western taxpayers have been footing the bill to provide a fail-safe insurance policy for the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi on the theory that he is too servile to fail (not unlike the notion of corporations that are too big to fail). Zenawi has proven to be a reliable proxy warfighter for the West in the Horn. He has received hearty congratulations for a “fantastic Somalia job” even though his invasion created the worst humanitarian crises in Africa in the last decade. Tony Blair appointed him to his Commission for Africa. He has been the West’s man in Africa on climate change. In return, the West has provided Zenawi billions of dollars in “safety net” aid, multilateral loans and a perpetual supply of relief handouts to insulate his regime from the natural consequences of a mismanaged economy, debilitating corruption and proliferating poverty and famine. The West should now stand back and let Zenawi face the consequences of chronic budget deficits, galloping inflation, corruption and empty grain silos. Turning a blind eye to gross human rights violations and Western complicity in the regime’s denial of democratic rights to Ethiopians presents not only a moral hazard but also irrefutable evidence of moral bankruptcy.
Put humanity and human rights back in Western humanitarian aid in Ethiopia.
The West should treat the starving people of Ethiopia as human beings, not as pawns in a strategic regional chess game or as pitiful objects of charity and handouts. The root cause of the food famine in Ethiopia is an underlying political famine of democracy, rule of law, lack of accountability and transparency and flagrant human rights abuses. More democracy and greater respect for human rights necessarily means less famine and starvation because a government that is not able, willing and ready to feed its people will be swept out of office by a hungry and angry electorate. The West should tie its aid to specific and measurable improvements in human rights observances and properly functioning democratic institutions. If Western aid and loans are decoupled from human rights and good governance, they become powerful tools of oppression, persecution and subjugation in the hands of dictators.
Promote and support a stable and healthy Ethiopian society through aid, not entrench an iron-fisted and malignant dictatorship.
Western donors believe that they can buy “stability” in the Horn of Africa region by spending billions of aid dollars to support the Zenawi dictatorship. But they remain willfully ignorant of the lessons of history. Supporting a dictator is as risky as carrying an open powder keg at a fireworks festival. As we have recently seen, the West for decades supported dictators Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubark in Egypt and Gadahafi in Libya. For a time, these dictators staged the illusion of stability, control and permanence for the West. But they all went up in smoke when young Mohammed Bouazizi torched himself to end a life of oppression and indignity. In the long run, the West knows no amount of foreign aid or loans could possibly buffer Zenawi’s dictatorship from a tsunami of popular upheaval. Shouldn’t they stand on the right side of history as President Obama often exhorts?
Never bankroll bad actions by dictators with good Western taxpayer money.
The West has a bad habit of rewarding the bad acts of African dictators with more and larger amounts of Western taxpayer-supported aid and loans. After Zenawi stole the 2005 elections in broad daylight, jailed nearly all of the opposition leaders, human rights advocates, civic society leaders in the country and mowed down nearly two hundred unarmed demonstrators and wounded nearly eight hundred, the West gave him billions in aid and loans. In 2008 alone, Zenawi received $3 billion, the largest amount of aid in Africa. Zenawi must indubitably believe that there is a linear cause and effect relationship between his human rights abuses and increased foreign aid and loans. It seems to be a simple case of operant conditioning in which behavior and actions follow a system of rewards and disincentives. If human rights violations are always reinforced by the positive reinforcement of increasing amounts of aid, there will be more and more outrageous abuses committed to obtain that outcome.
Make partnership with the Ethiopian people, not the Zenawi dictatorship.
There is documentary evidence from Wikileaks cablegrams to show that the West basically wants a “guy they can do business with” in Ethiopia. The core business of the West in Ethiopia and the Horn is counterterrorism. Zenawi invaded Somalia in 2006 and neraly three years later packed up and left. Today Al Shabab and the other warlords still operate in Somalia with impunity. A partnership with a dictator on a single issue is not only short-sighted but also counterproductive to the long-term strategic interests of the West in Ethiopia and the Horn. That is why the West should nurture a long-term partnership with the Ethiopian people based on a demonstrable commitment to good governance, the rule of law, accountability, anti-corruption practices, private sector development, basic education and health services and so on. The easiest way to sever a relationship with the people is to give a fat welfare check (free money) to a depraved dictatorship year after year.
Hold the local paymasters of aid accountable.
Zenawi’s regime today is accountable to no one for the famine that is spreading throughout the country or the aid that it receives from the West. The international aid bureaucrats dare not question Zenawi fearing his legendary torrent of scorn, mockery and insults. They are mere rubberstamps of Zenawi’s regime. Recently, when Ken Ohashi, the World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia said Zenawi’s economic plan (“Growth and Transformation Plan”) is unsustainable, Zenawi derided him as a neocolonial overseer: “The World Bank [country] director is used to having other developing nations simply listen to his orders and is not used to nations refusing implement policy based on their wishes.” Last year Zenawi called the European Union Election Observers’ report “garbage”.
Whenever questions are raised about the misuse and abuse of aid money, the international aid bureaucrats run for cover or get into high gear to deny any improprieties and wrongdoing. For instance, Human Rights Watch and more recently BIJ/BBC have made serious and well-supported allegations of political weaponization of the so-called “safety net” aid. In July 2010, the Development Assistance Group, a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia, issued a whitewash report which concluded that the administration of the aid programs is the “supported by relatively robust accountability systems.” In the past couple of weeks, USAID Deputy Administrator Gregory Gottlieb spoke to the Voice of America and declared, “There is no famine in Ethiopia.” Yet an audit report by the independent Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of US AID in March 2010 came to the distressing conclusion that USAID has no idea what is happening to its agricultural programs in Ethiopia. By rejecting the data generated by the regime and local USAID officials, the OIG implicitly indicts them for manufacturing data to make things look good. The West must call a spade a spade, insist on the truth and let the chips fall where they may!
Condition aid and loans on the implementation of comprehensive family planning programs in Ethiopia.
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau had frightening predictions for Ethiopia. By 2050, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. Ethiopia’s population growth has been spiraling upwards for decades. Since 1995, the average annual rate of population growth has remained at over 3 percent. Comprehensive family planning services are essential to avoiding the predicted doomsday forty years from now. Such services educate, train and prepare couples and families when and how many children to have, provide them contraceptive counseling and help them acquire skills to prevent and manage sexually transmitted diseases, among other things. A decade ago, the World Health Organization and the World Bank estimated that $3.00 per person per year would provide basic family planning, maternal and neonatal health care to women in developing countries, including contraception, prenatal, delivery and post-natal care and postpartum family planning and promotion of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections. A decade or two from now when it is too late, providing such services in Ethiopia will be prohibitively expensive.
To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopian women.
The distressing status of women in Ethiopian society has been documented over the past decade. The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2000) reported: “Violence and societal discrimination against women, and abuse of children remained problems, and female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread.” The situation remains pretty much the same in 2011. Western aid should seriously focus on improving the status of women and go beyond empty rhetoric. For instance, there is a lot of talk and window-dressing by the USAID about the empowerment and advancement of women in Ethiopia, but the rhetoric falls short of demonstrable outcomes. USAID claims to have helped thousands of rural women obtain microfiance, and through its extension services enabled hundreds of families adopt better technologies to improve their productivity. USAID also claims to have helped remove “road blocks to development” by improving gender integration, expanding educational opportunity, increased awareness of legal rights and so on and by “providing high-impact, results-oriented technical assistance that promotes participation and transparency.” There is little convincing evidence in the public reports of USAID to support any of these claims. In any case, given the chummy and cozy relationship between the local USAID operatives and Zenawi’s regime and the OIG’s audit referenced above, one would have to take USAID’s word not just with a grain but a big sack of salt.
To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopia’s youth.
Seventy percent of Ethiopia’s population is said to be under the age of thirty. This past May, USAID announced that it will partner with Pact (an NGO) and UNICEF to implement five-year, $100 million program to benefit over 500,000 Ethiopian orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. The program “will support efforts by the Ethiopian Government and civil society to standardize comprehensive care and support services for vulnerable children and their families.” Reliance on a combination of donor-funded NGOs, regime-managed and –owned civil society organizations and bloated bureaucracies to implement such a program is manifestly unconvincing. The fact of the matter is that Ethiopia’s youth need access to better educational and employment opportunities now. Youth alienation, joblessness, nihilism breed despair and anarchy which the country can ill-afford.
The West should know that aid and loans will not save Ethiopia.
The West should know that neither aid nor loans will save Ethiopia. Only Ethiopians, poor and famished as they are, can save Ethiopia and themselves.
Starve the Beast, Feed the People.
The West should heed the words of Helen Epstein:
The problem with foreign aid in Ethiopia is that both the Ethiopian government and its donors see the people of this country not as individuals with distinct needs, talents, and rights but as an undifferentiated mass, to be mobilized, decentralized, vaccinated, given primary education and pit latrines, and freed from the legacy of feudalism, imperialism, and backwardness. It is this rigid focus on the ‘backward masses,’ rather than the unique human person, that typically justifies appalling cruelty in the name of social progress.
Stop the cruelty. Starve the beast and feed the people.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
In 1620, one hundred and two prospective settlers left England and set sail for over two months to come to the New World. They landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Nearly one-third of them were religious dissenters escaping persecution. A group of English investors had provided the voyagers transportation, provisions and tools in exchange for 7 years of service upon arrival at their destination. The settlers’ principal concern in the New World was potential attacks by the Native American Indians, who proved to be peaceful and accommodating. Their first winter proved to be wickedly cold. Unable to construct adequate habitation, sick and hungry, nearly one-half of the settlers died in the first year. The following year the settlers had a successful harvest and were living harmoniously with their Indian neighbors. They celebrated their good fortune and good neighbors with prayers of thanksgiving establishing that tradition.
Three and one-half centuries later, thousands of Ethiopians made their “pilgrimage” to America. In the early 1970s, many came to pursue higher education. In the late 1970s and 1980s, tens of thousands fled escaping political persecution. That trend continued in the 1990s with the entrenchment of one of the most ruthless dictatorships on the African continent. By the beginning of the new century, America had not only become a destination of choice for any Ethiopian who could manage to get out, but also the dream country of a new generation of Ethiopians.
Regardless of our reasons for coming to America, we have much to be thankful. If we exert ourselves, few of us have to worry about our daily bread or a roof over our heads. If we are determined to improve ourselves, the opportunities are readily available. Our children have more opportunities in America than anywhere else in the world. Above all, we should be thankful for living in a free country. We don’t have to fear the wrath of vengeful dictators. Our liberties are protected; and we have the means to defend them in the democratic process and in the courts of the land. To be sure, we should be thankful not because we live a dreamland, but because we are free to seek and make true our own dreams.
Reflecting on the meaning of the Thanksgiving in America, the question for me is not whether Ethiopians in America have reason to be thankful for the blessings of liberty and the opportunities they have to make material progress. The question for me is whether they should be thankful to America for providing billions of dollars to a repressive dictatorship that has its crushing boots pressed against the necks of their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends living in their native land.
Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid. It received well over $3 billion in handouts in 2008. According to U.S.AID statistics, the “FY 2008-09 USAID-State Foreign Assistance Appropriations” for Ethiopia was $969.1 million in 2008 and $916.1 million in 2009. The latest U.S.AID brag sheet reports that U.S. aid money in Ethiopia has “helped build the capacity of institutions such as the Parliament and National Election Board to democratize and improve governance and accountability” and “strengthened judicial independence through legal education training for judges and students, and promote greater understanding of and respect for human rights among police and the courts.” U.S.AID claims that in 2009 it “led advocacy efforts that contributed to pardons for 15,600 prisoners who had been languishing in federal and state prisons.” U.S.AID reports that “about 450,000 [Ethiopian] children die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable infectious diseases complicated by malnutrition. One in three Ethiopians has tuberculosis, and malaria and HIV/AIDS contribute significantly to the country’s high rates of death and disease.” Among the major U.S.AID projects in Ethiopia today include an “integrated health care program [which] focuses on improving maternal and child health, family planning and reproductive health, preventing and controlling infectious diseases, and increasing access to clean water and sanitation.” U.S.AID is one of the major participants “in Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program, a donor-government partnership to reduce the economic and environmental causes of chronic food insecurity that affects 7.5 million Ethiopians.”
Such is the “newspeak”, the glossy, rose-colored narrative, of the U.S. aid bureaucracy. The most recent evidence paints a different picture: American tax dollars have done little to help the people of Ethiopia, and much to strengthen the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. As the Economist Magazine noted this past July, “there is no escaping the fact that Ethiopia remains almost as fragile and underdeveloped as it was when an Irish musician, Bob Geldof, set up the first global pop concert, Live Aid, to help the drought-benighted nation 25 years ago.” Stated plainly, billions of American (and Western European) tax dollars later, Ethiopia is in no better shape than it was a quarter of a century ago despite the construction boom in glitzy buildings with few utilities in the capital begging for occupancy and the comic display of economic development that is skin deep.
The fact of the matter is that U.S. tax dollars in Ethiopia, combined with aid from other donors, is doing harm to the Ethiopian people by “financing their oppressors.” Summarizing the evidence in the recent Human Rights Watch Report on Ethiopia, the renowned development economist, Prof. William Easterly of the New York University wrote :
Human Rights Watch contends that the government abuses aid funds for political purposes–in programs intended to help Ethiopia’s most poor and vulnerable. For example, more than fifty farmers in three different regions said that village leaders withheld government-provided seeds and fertilizer, and even micro-loans because they didn’t belong to the ruling party; some were asked to renounce their views and join the party to receive assistance. Investigating one program that gives food and cash in exchange for work on public projects, the report documents farmers who have never been paid for their work and entire families who have been barred from participating because they were thought to belong to the opposition. Still more chilling, local officials have been denying emergency food aid to women, children, and the elderly as punishment for refusing to join the party.
Prof. Easterly concluded:
This blatant indifference to democratic values is particularly tragic since there are many ways the aid community might help Ethiopians rather than their rulers. First and foremost, donors could insist that investigations into aid abuse be credible, independent and free from government interference, and then cut off support to programs they find are being used as weapons against the opposition. They could speak out forcefully against recent legislation that smothers Ethiopian civil society. They could also seek to bypass the government altogether, channeling funds through NGOs instead, or giving direct transfers or scholarships to individuals… For not only is foreign aid to Ethiopia not improving the lives of those most in need, by financing their oppressors, it is making them worse.
U.S.AID and Aid Without a Moral Compass
In his inaugural address in 1961, President John Kennedy set the moral tone of American aid policy, which now seems to be a distant historical echo: “To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required, not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.” The Kennedian sense of altruistic morality in foreign aid is probably forgotten or unknown by those managing America’s foreign aid programs today. President Kennedy set a great ideal to guide America’s hand in helping others who need help. It was a simple and powerfully principled message: We should help the poorer nations of the world because helping our fellow humans is the morally right thing to do. Stated differently, if we cannot help “those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery”, we should not hurt them in the name of helping them.
Today, it seems the one measure of all things in U.S. foreign policy, including aid policy, is the “war on terror.” Any regime or dictator who claims to be an ally of the U.S. in the war on terror can expect to receive not only the full support of the U.S., but full absolution for all sins committed against democracy and human rights. Last December, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said:
First, a commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves… By holding ourselves accountable, we reinforce our moral authority to demand that all governments adhere to obligations under international law; among them, not to torture, arbitrarily detain and persecute dissenters, or engage in political killings. Our government and the international community must counter the pretensions of those who deny or abdicate their responsibilities and hold violators to account.
The fact is that the U.S. has stood by passively and idly witnessing elections being stolen in Ethiopia time and again in broad daylight. It has turned a blind eye to repeated gross violations of human rights by Zenawi’s regime. Though the U.S. has substantial evidence that its aid money is being used, misused and abused for political purposes, it has chosen not to hold Zenawi accountable. For the U.S., it is all business as usual: Give out the blank checks to the grinning and palm-rubbing panhandlers standing outside the gates of U.S.AID.
I am appalled by the lack of moral criteria in U.S. aid policy because I believe states have moral obligations, ethical standards and legal duties to uphold, contrary to what is taught in the school of realpolitik. I believe it is the lack morality in U.S. aid policy that has contributed significantly to the triumph of tyranny and dictatorship in Ethiopia. It is self-evident that over the past five years the U.S. has shown little willpower and moral power in its dealings with the Zenawi dictatorship. Zenawi has taken advantage of this psychological weakness and simply finessed the U.S. into silence and policy paralysis. He has in fact cunningly turned the tables on the U.S. Just as the U.S. has made Zenawi its principal ally on the war on terror in the Horn, Zenawi has made the U.S. his principal ally in his war against democracy, freedom and human rights in Ethiopia.
The morality of aid to me is not some metaphysical abstraction but a practical expression of the accountability of recipient countries and the U.S. itself of which Secretary Clinton often talks about in her speeches. I frame the moral issue along two questions: Should American taxpayer money be used directly or indirectly to support a repressive dictatorship in Ethiopia? Does the U.S. Government have a moral and legal duty to make sure American tax dollars are not used to repress “those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery”, as President Kennedy so eloquently articulated it?
In pursuit of the war on terror, the U.S. has gone to extremes of subservience to Zenawi’s regime to ignore these two questions. Instead of standing up for American bedrock principles of democracy and human rights and promotion of economic growth and poverty reduction through good governance, the U.S. has adapted its principles to fit the dictates of dictatorship and tyranny. The U.S. continues to pour billions as elections are stolen, the independent press shuttered, constitutions trashed, political parties and opposition leaders persecuted and civic society institutions and leaders criminalized. The U.S. denies facts about poor farmers who are held in perpetual dependence on aid doled out based on a political litmus test. For the U.S., development is operationally defined as dumping aid money into a kleptocratic economy. The “success” of U.S. aid in Ethiopia is measured not by evidence of the right things that have been done (good governance) to promote political and economic freedom and protect human rights, but by how much money has been handed out with no questions asked.
In its aid policy in Ethiopia, the U.S. seems to be more interested in generating “newspeak” and photo ops than producing the right results (good governance). As I reflect upon it, I am more convinced than ever before that U.S. aid is in good part responsible for keeping Ethiopia “almost as fragile and underdeveloped as it was when an Irish musician, Bob Geldof, set up the first global pop concert, Live Aid, to help the drought-benighted nation 25 years ago.” The evidence assembled by Dambissa Moyo, William Easterly, Peter Buaer and others compellingly show that in Africa foreign aid corrupts; and in Ethiopia, the largest recipient in Africa, aid has corrupted governance absolutely.
For U.S. aid policy to succeed in Ethiopia and Africa in general, it must have a moral imperative which requires holding the corrupt leaders and institutions in recipient countries accountable for their past and present actions. U.S. aid policy must also insist on future compliance with high standards of financial and ethical accountability. The U.S has the tools to convert aid-driven public corruption in Ethiopia into a shining example of public integrity for all of Africa. It is called the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (as amended). Section 116.75 of that law provides:
No assistance may be provided under this part to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or de-grading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.
U.S. aid today does not “directly benefit the needy people” of Ethiopia. It benefits directly, indirectly and massively the dictatorship that denies the “needy people” of Ethiopia basic human rights. The U.S. helping hand no longer heals the “needy people” of Ethiopia; regrettably, it has become the brass knuckle of ironfisted dictators. So, I will just say, “Thanks for the thought U.S.A(ID), but no thanksgiving.”
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
September 17, 2010
President Lee C. Bollinger
Office of the President
202 Low Library
535 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
By Fax: (212) 854-9973 and
Email: [email protected]
Dear President Bollinger:
On September 22, 2010, Mr. Meles Zenawi is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at an event sponsored by Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought. There is widespread belief among Ethiopian Americans that Mr. Zenawi’s invitation to speak at this event necessarily implies the University’s endorsement and support of Mr. Zenawi’s views, policies and actions in Ethiopia. I am writing to request your office to issue an official statement clarifying your position concerning Mr. Zenawi as you so eloquently did when Mahmood Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke on your campus on September 24, 2007.
Let me say at the outset that I believe Mr. Zenawi has a “right” to speak at your university, though he is not a United States citizen or lawful resident. I firmly believe, though others may reasonably disagree with me, that any individual who is present in this great country has the right to free expression under the protective umbrella of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I make no exceptions for Mr. Zenawi.
In your prefatory remarks preceding Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech in 2007, you offered an exposition on free speech that is instructive to all who believe in freedom of expression. You said that the “genius of the American idea of free speech” is to empower us not “to retreat from engagement with ideas we dislike and fear” and “to have the intellectual and emotional courage to confront the mind of evil.” Nowhere is your statement true than in a university where the denizens “have a deep and almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth.” I believe, as you do, that there must be no obstruction to the free exchange of ideas in the university setting. . As you correctly pointed out to Mr. Ahmadinejad, open inquiry, debate and dialogue are “required by existing norms of free speech in the American university.”
In your remarks you specified five substantive issue areas for which Mr. Ahmadinejad deserved just condemnation and censure. One of them was Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “brutal crackdown on scholars, journalists and human rights advocates” in Iran. Citing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, you deplored the execution of more than 200 persons in Iran in 2007, including at least two children. You also expressed just outrage over his denials and mockery of irrefutable facts about the Holocaust, his failure to adhere to international regimes on nuclear power and his support for terrorism. In righteous indignation, you told Mr. Ahmadinejad: “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”
Petty and cruel dictators, Mr. President, have also infested the African continent and threaten the lives of African peoples on a daily basis. In Ethiopia, for nearly two decades, Mr. Zenawi has lorded over one of the cruelest dictatorships in the modern world. Let the facts speak for themselves:
In 2005, security forces under the personal command and control of Mr. Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters and inflicted severe gunshot wounds on 763 others. Today, the murderers walk the streets free.
In May 2010, Mr. Zenawi made a travesty of democracy by claiming that his party won the parliamentary election by 99.6 percent. The European Union Election Observation Mission described the same election in its preliminary report as “marred by a narrowing of political space and an uneven playing field.”
In December 2008, Mr. Zenawi arrested and reinstated a life sentence on Birtukan Midekssa, the only woman political party leader in Ethiopian history. He kept her under extreme conditions in prison. In describing Birtukan’s situation, the most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report stated: “She was held in solitary confinement until June , despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights. She was also denied access to visitors except for a few close family members, despite a court order granting visitor access without restrictions.” Birtukan is considered to be a political prisoner by the various international human rights organizations. “Amnesty International considers her a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and association.”
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Zenawi shut down all distance education programs in the country, including those providing higher education and technical training to over 75,000 students in flagrant violation of the applicable laws of the country on the pretext that such programs were interested “only in collecting money.”
For the past several years, Mr. Zenawi has misused the legislative process in Ethiopia to institutionalize repression and legitimize gross human rights violations. According to Human Rights Watch:
In 2009 the government passed two pieces of legislation that codify some of the worst aspects of the slide towards deeper repression and political intolerance. A civil society law passed in January is one of the most restrictive of its kind, and its provisions will make most independent human rights work impossible. A new counterterrorism law passed in July permits the government and security forces to prosecute political protesters and non-violent expressions of dissent as acts of terrorism.
Mr. Zenawi has shuttered private newspaper in Ethiopia and effectively eliminated the independent press. The Committee to Protect Journalists in its recent report stated:
The government enacted harsh legislation that criminalized coverage of vaguely defined “terrorist” activities, and used administrative restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments to induce self-censorship… The government has had a longstanding practice of bringing trumped-up criminal cases against critical journalists, leaving the charges unresolved for years as a means of intimidating the defendants… Ethiopia as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with ‘consistent’ and ‘substantial’ filtering of web sites…
In your remarks, you challenged Mr. Ahmadinejad on his abuse of the Press Law to ban writers for criticizing the ruling system and rhetorically asked: “Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?” You need to pose the same question to Mr. Zenawi: “Why are you so afraid of Ethiopian citizens expressing their opinions for change?”
Mr. Zenawi has jammed the Voice of America, the official external radio and television broadcasting service of the United States Government, claiming that the 68 year-old service is the equivalent of the Radio Mille Collines, which coordinated the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Mr. Zenawi said: “We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.”
When Mr. Ahmadinejad outrageously denied the occurrence of the Holocaust, you told him without mincing words: “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” Mr. Zenawi needs to be similarly rebuked for equating the Voice of America with the wicked and loathsome Radio Mille Collines.
Mr. Zenawi runs one of the most repressive regimes in Africa. Human Rights Watch in its recent report stated: “Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies–through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views–without fear of reprisal.” The report described Mr. Zenawi’s regime as one masquerading in “a veneer of democratic pretension hiding a repressive state apparatus.”
Since 2006, a number of bills have been introduced in the United States Congress to restrain Mr. Zenawi from engaging in gross and sustained human rights violations, and to help him move towards democracy. H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007”) co-sponsored by 85 members passed the House of Representatives in 2007, but failed to clear the Senate. That bill sought to
support human rights, democracy, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, peacekeeping capacity building, and economic development in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; strengthen U.S. collaboration with Ethiopia in the Global War on Terror; secure the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia; foster stability, democracy, and economic development in the region; support humanitarian assistance efforts, especially in the Ogaden region; and strengthen U.S.-Ethiopian relations.
Just last month, Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy introduced S.B. 3757 (“Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2010”) to
to ensure the autonomy and fundamental freedoms of civil society organizations, to respect the rights of and permit non-violent political parties to operate free from intimidation and harassment, including releasing opposition political leaders currently imprisoned; to strengthen the independence of its judiciary, and to allow Voice of America and other independent media to operate and broadcast without interference in Ethiopia [and] to promote respect for human rights and accountability.
It is vitally important for academics to speak truth to power. When you stood up and spoke truth to Ahmadinejad on September 24, 2007, you proved to the world the value of “hav[ing] the intellectual and emotional courage to confront the mind of evil.” On September 22, 2010, you have another golden opportunity to show the world that you and Columbia University will “confront the mind of evil” regardless of its origin on the planet. As millions of Iranians and others rejoiced hearing your words on September 24, 2007, so now millions of Ethiopians eagerly await your statement on September 22, 2010 that Columbia University condemns all violations of human rights, repression and theft of elections in Ethiopia by Mr. Zenawi and his regime.
Permit me to conclude my letter by paraphrasing your eloquent words when you expressed your disgust for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s actions: “I am only a professor and a lawyer, and today I feel all the weight of the Ethiopian people yearning to express their revulsion for what Mr. Zenawi has done to them over the past two decades.”
Alemayehu G. Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor and Attorney at Law
Department of Political Science
California State University, San Bernardino
Cc: Profs. Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, William Easterly (NYU)
Columbia Daily Spectator
 http://www.hrw.org/en/node/89126/section/1 (Human Rights Watch, “One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure, Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia (2010)), pp. 2,3