Proving them wrong – the Ethiopian way. By Yilma Bekele
They say all kinds of bad stuff about us. It is said so many times and so often some of us start to believe the lie. That is always the problem with being lied to. I am sure by now Woyanes are drunk with their own silly propaganda. The situation with us is that they used to own the means of communication and we were their potted plants waiting to be told, lectured and abused to no end. Thanks to ESAT that is not so anymore.
I have so many instances of this situation I just don’t know where to start. I believe 2005 is day one in recent Ethiopian history. From 1992 to 2005 were the golden years of Woyane where they could do nothing wrong. They could have declared black is white and no one would have challenged them. They held three elections before 2005 and trounced the so called opposition like a beach ball. The loyal opposition led by such luminaries as Dr. Beyene Petros were amenable in a fantastic manner and submitted without much fanfare.
It was the height of believing your own lie to hear the late dictator lament about the lack of a worthy opposition to challenge his TPLF mafia outfit. What is more our benefactor’s embassies were reporting that ‘there is no viable alternative to EPDRF.’ So our people lied low. You know how we operate. We flash that winning smile while in the back ground the brain is on overdrive to find a way out. That is what our people did in 2005.
In a closed door session with the foreigners Ato Meles was so sure of victory this is what he told them regarding his reason for allowing free discussion on his TV “That is why we were so generous in allocating airtime to the opposition. We wanted to give them a long enough rope for them to hang politically, by expressing their views in the ugliest form so that the people can see what they stand for…So as far as our rhetoric is concerned, we have said that they are the Interhamwe. Not because they will send the Tutsis back home, but the Tigrayans back home, normally on all fours.”
This is how much the TPLF was detached from reality. What did our people do? They annihilated the TPLF machine in every corner of our beautiful land. No worthy TPLF was left standing. Bereket Semon was knocked out, Aba Dulla was left for dead, Arkebe was humiliated and Meles Ashebari Zenawi was rendered mute. My best recollection is the letter to the editor to the Ethiopian Herald written by no other than the tyrant himself. Until today I believe that is the best insight into that murky criminal mind of the dear departed leader. I have a printed copy of that infamous letter hanging on my wall. In 2005 the Ethiopian people spoke loud and clear when given a chance. We proved them wrong in no uncertain ways.
Recently I read an editorial by the Ethiopian newspaper ‘The reporter’. Let me say first the Amharic version has a motto above the name and it says ‘Free press, Free thought and Free spirit.’ That motto is absent in the English version. I would think it would be easier to lie in a foreign language but I guess the Reporter thinks otherwise. They have no shame. Here is the title of the editorial ‘የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ ተቃዋሚዎችን እየታዘበ ነው’ According the ‘Fearless Reporter’ here in a nutshell is what the editor is preaching. The opposition claims the government is putting hurdles to keep them weak and the editor says they in good faith cannot claim the government has helped, supported or encouraged the opposition. But the Reporter opines we do not think the government is responsible for the weakness and the problems of the opposition.
In the Reporters opinion ‘the opposition lacks resolve strength and good will and is not ready to sacrifice otherwise they would have been stronger.’ We believe the opposition is responsible for their weakness. The Reporter goes on to say plenty of nasty stuff about the opposition none of it worth repeating. The Reporter that practices what is called ‘yellow journalism’ and is the unofficial mouthpiece of the TPLF is one of those weapons that insistently peddles hate, fear, hopelessness and attempts to kill the spirit of Ethiopianism. I also believe the English version is written by someone with a second grade education.
Who else in his right mind would blame the victims that cannot even rent a meeting hall, that do not have a newspaper, that are denied airtime and cannot even raise funds to operate for being weak? The Ethiopian opposition has paid and is paying a heavy price for freedom. They have been hounded from their homes, fired from their jobs, their children denied schooling some murdered and the jails are full of our brave and resolute comrades in arms. You can see the shameless Reporter that does not even have an iota of honor and that lacks the moral capacity to pass any form of judgment on those that operate under a ruthless and criminal regime using precious paper to spread ignorance.
Despite what is being done to them, despite the power of the state that belittles their efforts 24/7 on national TV, Radio and rags like the Reporter the Ethiopian opposition is alive and well. There are ups and downs in this long journey. Today the torch of freedom is burning bright. We got a few choices that are steeled in the struggle and are raising the banner of hope. Semayawi Party is the new kid on the block. They are redefining the agenda. Despite the Reporters lamentations, the TPLF’s unending threats of dire consequences and the fear mongering by the old guard on June 2nd the Ethiopians came out in droves to support their party. The young and old, men and women, Christian and Moslem regardless of ethnic affiliation all showed under the banner of freedom and democracy. They said it was impossible, cannot be done but we proved them all wrong.
The recent ESFNA’s 30th. Celebration in Maryland is another occasion where we rose up to the challenge. They say we are one combative people. The rumor is we love to fight with each other, we don’t care to unite and we are always badmouthing our own people. They claim there is nothing on earth that will bring us together and we are one selfish people. It is supposed to be common knowledge that Abeshas are envious, uncooperative and hopeless. They say it and we repeat after them. After a certain time we reach a point where we start believing it ourselves. So we thought.
It is lucky for us that those that try to put us down and demoralize us start to be swayed by their own propaganda. Our clueless bandas believed their lies and organized a tournament to compete with ESFNA. They rented the best stadium there is, they bribed youngster from all over America with free ticket and free lodgings, they brought plane load of the nouveau rich from home and waited for the party to begin. They really thought we would sell our soul for a fist full of dollars. They inadvertently gave us a stark choice. Money or country was on the table. The people spoke. You can always buy a few bandas like the Italians did but Ethiopia or death became the cry of the many. How many you asked? Over forty thousand and that was the capacity of the stadium. We might quarrel, we might have disagreements but when it comes to Ethiopia we are tight. How tight you ask? We don’t even allow a skinny Woyane to pass between us. We proved them wrong! Thank you ESFNA, thank you my brothers and sisters, I knew you will not let mother down. Prove them wrong is the battle cry. We shall overcome.
Voice from the grave. By Yilma Bekele
Meles Zenawi is dead. Meles Zenawi is alive. I am afraid in our case both statements are true. We saw the tyrant being buried or placed six foot under and the extraordinary sendoff orchestrated by his politburo in living color. The whole country was on stand still for a week or so to bury the warlord who was in the freezer for a month or so. We witnessed the bullying power of the TPLF party that forced every department, every keble and every household to send a representative and show sorrow for a person hated and reviled by all living Ethiopians.
Well he is not really gone. He is still directing the show from hell or wherever evil resides. It has been said that he vowed to leave us with the seeds of conflict, hate and chaos for a long time after he is gone. It looks like he is right. There is no escaping his presence. I don’t mean the life size posters of his ugly face in every corner of our country. I am referring to his toxic and useless ideas including his insane and childish plans that are trying to drive our politics and economy without him.
I am not talking about his ever chameleon Constitution that is still used to whip the opposition. I am not pointing out to the Kilil system that is creating a country of strangers. There is no need to mention the Keble system that is making every household an extension of the security service. Today I am focused on the use of the king of kings of all rivers, the great nurturer of ancient civilizations the one and only Abay River and its unfortunate use by the evil one to hurt our poor country.
The last week all the talk has been about Abay. We are fortunate to have so many rivers flowing out of our high escarpments that if you look at Google map of Africa you marvel and see how God has favored our ancient country. Our high mountains kept us isolated and free from invaders while nurturing our people when all around us suffered from lack of water. The great Wabishebele, the giving Awash, the beautiful Genalle, the fierce Tekeze and Mereb the homily Gibe are but just a few of our mothers milk flowing to keep us and our neighbors happy and strong.
What can be said about the great Abay? The mighty Abay is not just an Ethiopian phenomena. Good old Abay is the mother of the Pharos and the great Egyptian civilization. The wonder of the world owes its existence to the highlands of Ethiopia that made it possible for such a civilization to flourish. The Pyramids of Giza wouldn’t exist without the wealth made possible by the river Nile. Our Abay contributes two thirds of the Nile water supply.
Mount Gishe at 10,000 feet floats on a lake according to the priests that bless the spring that gives birth to the mighty Abay. It is here Abay starts its thousands of miles journey until it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Abay with its deep gorges numerous waterfalls protected our land from European colonialists, Turkish invaders, Italian fascists and all those that wished ill to our fair land. From mount Gishe to the Sudanese border alone Abay meanders along for over 500 miles (800kM) never in a straight line like most rivers but encircling and hugging our land as if it does not want to leave. Our music and literature is full of praise for the mighty Abay and its force is recognized by all those who come near it and its power felt all over our country.
It is none other than this historic river that today is tossed around like a beach ball by Woyane bastards for their own useless dream and close your eyes lets us fool you story. This what Meles Zenawi planed before his death and this is what he is witnessing from the grave. When Woyane pulled the dam on Abay plan three years ago their leader knew it was his last goodbye wish to our nation that would seal his legacy of evil. It was never mentioned in the five year transformation blueprint they are so proud of. It was never discussed because the idea is so ridiculous any governing body will laugh it off. Thus Meles and company brought it out the last minute and claimed it was kept a secret. Why and from whom is not clear yet. But they damn well knew it was a crazy idea and no one will take it seriously.
Why do you think it is such an insane idea and not even worth refuting? Very simple, our nation is poor and living on welfare even for the food we eat we rely on alms thus no big and complex project like building a dam is possible without the help of outsiders whether the West or the East. No outside Bank or foreign government will finance such a project without adequate studies. Building a dam on a river that crosses an international border complicates the situation in a very big way.
Thus when the warlord came up with the idea that this humongous project was going to be financed by local resources it was time to appreciate the size of his balls for such bravado and empty jive. The claim is so bizarre there is no need to refute such bold face stupidity other than shaking ones’ head and keeping our collective mouth shut. People that survive on a few dollars a day, that look for outsiders to feed them and watch their young and able fleeing their home in droves facing unknown danger are going to save enough to finance a multi-million dollar project is not a good idea to put forward and wait for contributions to pour in. Logic says it ain’t going to happen even when hell freezes over.
Why do you think the dictator pulled this crap out of his hat knowing his days are numbered? He was focused on three important aspects of the future of our country after he is gone and both are shaping as he planned. One is harvesting more enemies for our poor land. Alive he has already managed to get our country entangled into two costly wars. The war with Eritrea that should not have happened has already cost us dearly in both money and lives. Over eighty thousand Ethiopians died and over twenty thousand suffered major injuries. Ethiopia emptied all its foreign reserve buying arms with cash since no weapon dealer accepts credit. For all that investment we won a barren piece of territory that today sits in no mans’ land.
The incursion into Somalia was a no win situation and it was not even in our national interest at all. The dictator to solidify his standing as a ‘terrorist fighter’ and use the situation to clobber the opposition at home had no qualms using Ethiopian lives for his selfish means in order to stay in power. Our solders committed so many war crimes in Somalia the bad felling between the two peoples will take years to wash away. Neighbors that will live for generations in close proximity do not normally engage in such activity that will create animosity and hate between our two people but our great leader was not concerned about that and he showed it by his callous decision.
The second reason for Abay dam madness is to shop for more enemies for our country. You see the idea of building a dam on Abay is not an original idea. Both the Imperial government and the Military regime have exhaustively studied the subject. There are plenty of documents to show their efforts for the project. They have reason why they did not pursue the matter. Today the Woyane regime propaganda makes it look like Meles came up with an original idea and they even coined a catchy phrase ‘Abayen ye defere jegna’ to hype the silly project. So what did he do? He came out with a dam project without asking the rest of Ethiopia or our experts to sit down and define what exactly needs to be done in our nation’s interest. We did not see Ethiopian engineers, hydrologist, geologists, economists, and environmental scientists, political and diplomatic experts being consulted before the ‘secret’ plan was presented in a take it or shut up situation.
Logically a dam on Abay river is a concern to all those upstream countries that rely on the river for survival. Of course the Egyptians did not take the news kindly. Is that a surprise? Put yourself in their shoes would you like it if someone decides to curtail your life line? Our country is not so strong and mighty that it could unilaterally take actions that would negatively affect the lives of so many millions. It was only yesterday in the news that the USA and Mexico signed a negotiated deal on the use of the Colorado river that starts in the rocky mountains of Wyoming and empties into the Baja California in Mexico. It is a shared river and the two governments consult each other on its use. That is what the Egyptians are asking us to do. That is what international treaties require us to do. This political chest thumping and arrogance behavior is not a sign of a great nation that wants to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors far and close. Meles Zenawi planted the seeds of this conflict before his exit.
The third and important reason for this hasty project is all about a Ponzi scheme to gather more money for our Woyane warriors. Where do you think the recently disclosed three billion dollars net worth of the war lord came from? In a nutshell it is all about EFFORT and its continuing quest to amass more money at the expense of our people and country. Mesfin Engineering and the privately held Italian outfit Salini Construction are the two main contractors on the Abay dam project. If you remember Salini is the same no bid winner on the Gibe dam project that had the tunnel collapse exactly one month upon completion. Salini is also the contractor that at the moment is involved building a dam on Tekeze river affecting Waldeba Gedam. Salini does not bode well for Ethiopia.
The current wild talk by the spooked Egyptian regime is creating a stressful and ugly situation to our Ethiopian citizens that are stuck in Egypt. Every ill-conceived idea by the Woyane regime always creates a backlash against our immigrants that are escaping the dire situation in their homeland. It is obvious Woyane cannot stay in power without drama. They always are creating enemy’s both at home and outside to deflect our attention away from their failure to build a sustainable economy, a peaceful nation and a just society. It is also a little depressing to see Ethiopians venting their anger at the Egyptians instead of questioning their own dictators why they are always creating havoc both at home and with our neighbors.
Our creator in his/her infinite wisdom has recalled one of his defective product to spare our country from further destruction but we in our feeble ways are refusing to bury his toxic ideas and burn the memory one and forever. We should pray for the strength to say no, leave us alone. I urge you to watch a wonderful conversation on ESAT with Dr. Getachew Bagashaw regarding the Abay dam project. You can also read a beautiful analysis by the relentless Professor Mesfin WoldeMariam on Abay.
Educorruption and the miseducation of Ethiopian youth
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. For the late Meles Zenawi and his apostles (the Melesistas) in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance is the most powerful weapon you can use to prevent change and cling to power. They have long adopted the motto of George Orwell’s Oceania: “Ignorance is Strength”. Indeed, ignorance is a powerful weapon to manipulate, emasculate and subjugate the masses. Keep ‘em ignorant and impoverished and they won’t give you any trouble.
For the Melesistas education is indoctrination. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. Long ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of African-American History”, warned against such indoctrination and miseducation of the oppressed: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” The rulers in Ethiopia continue to use higher educational institutions not as places of learning, inquiry and research but as diploma mills for a new breed of party hacks and zombie ideologues doomed to blind and unquestioning servility. “Zombie go… zombie stop… zombie turn… zombie think…,” sang the great African musician Fela Kuti. I’d say, “zombie teach… zombie learn… zombie read… zombie dumb… zombie dumber.”
For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance where the people are forced at gunpoint to speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a 2012 report of Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. They have succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to the “Land of Perpetual Darkness”.
But my commentary here is not about the Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopia where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. I am concerned about the systemic and rampant corruption in Ethiopia’s “education sector”. The most destructive and pernicious form of corruption occurs in education. Educorruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
I will admit that in the hundreds of weekly commentaries I have written over the last half dozen or so years, I have not given education in Ethiopia the critical attention it deserved. I have no excuse for not engaging the issue more intensely. In my own defense, I can only say that when an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.
I have previously commented on the lack of academic freedom in Ethiopian higher education and the politicization of education in Ethiopia. In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School. I defended Abigail Salisbury who was a visiting professor at that law school when she was summarily fired by Meles after she published an academic commentary on her experiences at that law school:
…I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands. A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on…
In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) at the time had issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. The regime had also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions. I demonstrated that “directive” was in flagrant violation and in willful disregard of the procedural safeguards of the Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. It did not faze them. (It was time to mint a new legal maxim: “The ignorant are entitled to ignore their own law and invoke ignorance of their own law as a defense.”)
The “directive” was at odds with the recommendations of the World Bank (which has been assisting the regime in improving education administration and delivery of services) for increased emphasis on the creation of a network of “tertiary educational” institutions (e.g. distance learning centers, private colleges, vocational training services, etc.,) to help support the “production of the higher-order capacity” necessary for Ethiopia’s development. In its 2003 sector study “Higher Education Development for Ethiopia”, the World Bank had recommended “a near term goal [of] doubl[ing] the share of private enrollments from the current 21% to 40% by 2010.” By 2010, the Meles regime had decided to reduce private tertiary institutions, particularly the burgeoning distance learning sector, to zero!
In my October 2010 commentary, “Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!”, I was pleasantly surprised but unconvinced by the Meles regime’s apparent change of strategy to abandon its decision to impose a blanket ban on distance learning and reach a negotiated resolution of instructional quality issues with distance learning providers. I pointed out a few lessons Meles and his crew could learn from the bureaucratic fiasco. (Is it really possible for the closed- and narrow-minded to learn?)
I focus on educational corruption in Ethiopia in this commentary for four reasons: 1) I was appalled by the corruption findings in the recent World Bank 448-page report “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. That report, with bureaucratic delicacy and hesitancy, demonstrates the cancer of corruption which afflicts the Ethiopian body politic has metastasized into the educational sector putting the nation’s youth at grave risk. 2) There is widespread acknowledgement that education in Ethiopia at all levels is in a pitiful condition. For instance, a 2010 Newsweek “study of health, education, economy, and politics” showed Ethiopia with a population of 88 million had a literacy rate of 43.3 percent, and ranked 98 out of 100 countries on education. 3) Few Ethiopian educators and scholars are examining the issue of educational corruption and its implications for the future of the country and its youth. Hopefully, this commentary could spur some of them to investigate corruption in education (and other areas) and conduct related policy research and analysis. 4) I had promised in my first weekly commentary of 2013 to pay special attention to youth issues in Ethiopia during the year. Nothing is more important to Ethiopia’s youth than education. Youth without education are youth without a future and without hope. Youth without education are emblematic of a nation in despair.
World Bank findings on corruption in the Ethiopian education sector
The WB report on the education sector alludes to an Ethiopian proverb in assessing the culture of corruption and impunity: “Sishom Yalbela Sishar Ykochewal” — roughly translates into English as follows: “One who does not exploit to the full his position when he is promoted will lament when he no longer has the opportunity.”
Ethiopia’s education sector has become a haven and a refuge for prebendalist (where those affiliated with the ruling regime feel entitled to receive a share of the loot) party hacks and a bottomless barrel of patronage. The Meles regime has used jobs, procurement and other opportunities in the education sector to reward and sustain loyalty in its support base. They have been handing out teaching jobs to their supporters like candy and procurement opportunities to their cronies like cake. “In Ethiopia’s decentralized yet authoritarian system,considerable powers exist among senior officials at the federal, regional, and woreda levels. Of particular relevance to this study is the discretion exercised by politically appointed officials at the woreda level, directly affecting the management of teachers.”
In “mapping corruption in the education sector in Ethiopia”, “the World Bank report cautions that “corruption in education can be multifaceted, ranging from large distortions in resource allocation and significant procurement-related fraud to smaller amounts garnered through daily opportunities for petty corruption and nontransparent financial management.” Corruption in the education sector is quadri-dimensional “affecting the selection of teachers for training, recruitment, skills upgrading, or promotion; falsification of documents to obtain qualifications, jobs, or promotions and fraud and related bribery in examinations and conflict of interest in procurement.”
The “selection of candidates for technical training colleges (TTCs)” is the fountainhead of educational corruption in Ethiopia. According to the WB report, “students do not generally choose to become teachers but are centrally selected from a pool of those who have failed to achieve high grades.” In other words, the regime’s policy is to populate the teaching profession with, for lack of a better word, the “dumber” students. Such students also make the most servile party hacks. But it is a spectacular revelation that the future of Ethiopia’s youth — the future of Ethiopia itself — is in the hands of “those who have failed to achieve high grades”. Ignorant teachers and ignorant students= Ignorance is strength. Could a greater crime be committed against Ethiopia’s youth and Ethiopia?
To add insult to injury, the selection of underachieving students to pursue teacher training institutes is itself infected by “bribery, favoritism and nepotism.” The most flagrant corrupt practices include “manipulation of the points system for selection of students to higher education.” The “allocate[on] of higher percentage points for results from transcripts and national exams than for entrance exams” has “enabled a large number of inadequately qualified students to join the affected institutes, sometimes with forged transcripts. This practice has affected the quality of students gaining entry to higher education and eroded the quality of the training program.” In other words, even among underachievers seeking to become teachers, it is the washouts, the duds and flops that are likely to become teachers!
Fraud and related corrupt practices in matriculation are commonplace. According to the WB report, there is
a significant risk of corruption in examinations…The types of fraudulent practices in examinations include forged admission cards enable students to pay other students to sit exams for them, collusion allowing both individual and group cheating in examinations, assistance from invigilators (exam monitors) and school and local officials (during exams), higher-level interference [in which] regional officials overturned the disqualification of cheaters, fraudulent overscoring of examination papers [by] teachers are bribed by parents and students, fraudulent certification of transcripts and certificates to help students graduate.
Although there are public officials who have considered reporting corrupt practices, they have refrained from doing so because there was “a strong sense that there is no protection to guard against possible reprisals directed at those who report malpractice.” There is no place for whistle blowers in Ethiopia’s edu-corruptocracy.
Recruitment and management of teachers is a separate universe of corrupt practices. “In Ethiopia, the overwhelming bulk of expenditure in education is taken up by salaries of teachers” and there is a “high risk of bribery, extortion, favoritism, or nepotism in selecting teachers for promotion, upgrading, or grants.” The WB report found “nepotism and favoritism in recruitment were broad and frequent—namely that, in some woredas, the recruitment of teachers (and other community-based workers) is based on political affiliation, including paid-up membership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”
What is shocking is not only the culture of corruption in education but also the culture of impunity — the belief that there are no consequences for practicing corruption. The WB report shows not only the “prevalence of fraud and falsification of teaching qualifications and other documents, reflecting weak controls, poor-quality documents (that are easily falsified), [but also] the widespread belief that such a practice would not be detected… For such falsification to go unnoticed, there is a related risk of the officials supporting or approving the application being implicated in the corrupt practice.”
The types of corrupt practices that occur at the management level are stunning. Managers manipulate access to “program of enhancing teacher qualifications through in-service training during holiday periods by using their positions to influence the selection of candidates. Hidden relationships are used in teacher upgrading, with officials at the zonal or woreda level taking the first option on upgradation programs.” The appointment of local education officials is not “competitive” but “politically assigned”. Collusion between local managers and teachers over noncompliance with curriculum, academic calendar, and similar practices is a relatively common practice and “reduces the provision of educational services.” This situation is made worse by “teacher absenteeism [which] is tolerated by head teachers, within the context of staff perceiving a need to supplement their income through private tutoring or other forms of income generation.” Poorly paid teachers supplement their incomes by “private tutoring [which] is widespread, with 40 percent of school officials reporting it as a practice.” Corruption also extends to “teachers paying bribes or kickbacks to management, mostly school directors, to allocate shorter work hours in schools so that they can use the freed-up time to earn fees as teachers in private schools.” The payola is hierarchically distributed: “Bribes received are likely to be shared first with superiors, then with a political party, and then with colleagues, in that order.”
Falsification of documents including forged transcripts and certificates occurs on an “industrial” scale and is “most prevalent in the provision of certification for completing the primary or secondary school cycles” and in generating bogus “documents in support of applications for promotion”.
Procurement (official purchases of goods and services from private sources) is the low hanging fruit. “In the education sector, a number of public actors maybe involved [in procurement], depending on the size and type of the task. These include national and local government politicians and managers.” Some people have a lock on the procurement system. Successful “tendering companies” are likely to have “family or other connections with officials responsible for procurement”. Procurement corruption also takes the forms of “uncompetitive practices” “including the formation of a cartel, obstruction of potential new entrants to the market, or other forms of uncompetitive practices that may or may not include a conspiratorial role on the part of those responsible for procurement.” Other procurement related corruption includes “favoritism, nepotism, or bribery in the short-listing of consultants or contractors or the provision of tender information.” There are some “favored contractors and consultants” who have a “dominant market position” and are “awarded contracts for which they were not eligible to bid.” Corruption also occurs in the form of defective construction, substandard materials and overclaims of quantities.
Construction quality issues are considered a significant problem in the construction of educational facilities, particularly in the case of small, remote facilities where high standards of construction supervision can be difficult to achieve. For example, a toilet block in a school collapsed a month after completion. The contractor responsible for building the facility was not required to make the work good or repay the amount paid, nor was the contractor sanctioned. The matter was not investigated. Such problems are a significant indicator of corrupt practices, particularly when the contractor is not ultimately held to account for its failures…
There is corruption in the “purchase of substandard or defective supplies or equipment. For this to go unchallenged by those responsible for procurement strongly suggests either a lack of capacity, corrupt practices, or both.” According to an example cited in the WB report, “a large fleet of buses purchased by the MOE [“Ministry of Education”] using Teacher Development Program funds and distributed to TTCs were found to be defective. The TTCs complained that the MOE had dumped the buses on them. The MOE subsequently sent auditors to determine whether the complaint was genuine.”
The amazing fact is that the regime reflexively decided to investigate those who filed the complaint, and not the reported crooks. They automatically assumed the technical training colleges were lying and sent their auditors to investigate them for possible false reporting of defective buses!! (Orwelliana: The criminals are the victims and the victims are the criminals.) There is evidence of theft and resale of school supplies or equipment. “One such indication relates to the alleged illegal sale of education facilities, with related allegations of nepotism. A city education office is alleged to have sold valuable heritage buildings in a secondary school to a private developer and then to have requested land to rebuild the school facilities.”
Changing the culture of corruption and impunity
The culture of corruption and impunity in Ethiopia must be changed. The WB report observes,
In Ethiopia, the pattern of perception suggests that outright bribery is perceived to be more corrupt than, for example, favoritism or the falsification of documentation. There is also a sense that some practices, such as expressing gratitude to a client through the giving of a small gift, are normal business practice and not necessarily corrupt. Finally, there is an underlying acceptance among many that the state has the right to intervene in the market if that is considered to be in the national interest, and there is little sense that such interventions could be at variance with ongoing efforts to promote the level playing field needed for effective privatization of service provision, including in the education sector.
It is unlikely that a corrupt regime has the will, capacity or interest to change its own modus operandi. As I have argued elsewhere, having the “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) investigate the architects and beneficiaries of corruption in Ethiopia is like having Tweedle Dee investigate Tweedle Dum. It is an exercise in futility and an absurdity. FEAC is a toothless, clawless and feckless make-believe do-nothing bureaucratic shell incapable of investigating corruption in its own offices let alone systemic corruption in the country.
Pressures for accountability and transparency could come from domestic civil society institutions, but as the WB report points out, a 2009 “civil societies law” has decimated such institutions. The only practical and effective mechanism for accountability and transparency in the education sector is the institutionalization of an independent and energetic teachers’ union. But the regime has destroyed the real teachers’ union. According to the WB report,
Teachers in Ethiopia have historically been represented by the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), founded in 1949. Following a long legal battle, a 2008 court ruling took away the right of the ETA to its name and all of its assets, creating a different organization with an identical name. Most teachers are now members of this replacement organization, for which dues are deducted from teachers’ salaries. The original ETA, now reorganized as the National Teachers Association (NTA), considers the new ETA to be unduly influenced by the government and has complained of discrimination against its members. Such concerns have in turn been expressed internationally through a range of bodies including the International Labour Organization (ILO 2009).
The mis-edcuation of Ethiopia’s youth and stolen futures
Education of Ethiopia’s youth is a human rights issue for me and not just a matter of professional concern as an educator. Corruption in the education sector is so severe that the future of Ethiopia’s youth is at grave risk. As Transparency International admonishes,
Stolen resources from education budgets mean overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools, or no schools at all. Books and supplies are sometimes sold instead of being given out freely. Schools and universities also ‘sell’ school places or charge unauthorised fees, forcing students (usually girls) to drop out. Teachers and lecturers are appointed through family connections, without qualifications. Grades can be bought, while teachers force students to pay for tuition outside of class. In higher education, undue government and private sector influence can skew research agendas.
It is true “ignorance is strength”. The Meles regime seeks to create an army of ignorant youth zombie clones who will march lockstep and follow their orders: “Zombie go, zombie stop, zombie think… zombie learn… zombie dumb… zombie dumber…” If ignorance is strength, then knowledge is power. When “ignorant” youth gain knowledge, they become an unstoppable force.
It may not be manifest to many but Ethiopia’s mis-educated youth are on the rise. A quiet riot is raging among the youth debilitated by overwhelming despair and anguish. The youth look at themselves and their lost futures under a corrupt tyranny. They know things are not going to get better. For now the despair simmers but it will reach a boiling point. Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010. Dictator Ben Ali did not see it coming, but the fire that consumed Bouazizi also consumed and transformed not only Tunisia but also led to an Arab Spring. Moamar Gadhafi, the great “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya” died at the hands of youth he miseducated for 42 years. Informed, enlightened and interconnected Egyptian youth brought down the Mubarak regime in less than two weeks!
Ethiopia’s youth will rise because there is no force that can keep them down. The only question is when not if. That is the immutable of law of history. In the end, I believe Ethiopia’s youth will remember not the deeds and misdeeds of those who miseducated them and robbed them of their futures, but the silence of the scholars, intellectuals, academics, professors and learned men and women who watched the tyranny of ignorance like bronze statutes. I am confident in my conviction that there will come a time when Ethiopia’s youth will stand up collectively, and each one pointing an index finger, shout out, “J’accuse!”
Ignorance is strength but knowledge is power! Fight the tyranny of ignorance. Educate yourself!
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:
Triumph of Evil?
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, said Edmund Burke. But what happens when evil triumphs over a good young woman journalist named Reeyot Alemu in Ethiopia? Do good men and women turn a blind eye, plug their ears, turn their backs and stand in silence with pursed lips?
In an extraordinary letter dated April 10, 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists pled with Berhan Hailu, “Minister of Justice” in Ethiopia, on behalf of the imprisoned 32-year old journalist urging that she be provided urgent medical care and spared punishment in solitary confinement at the filthy Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality just outside the capital Addis Ababa.
Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards, according to sources close to the journalist who spoke to the International Women’s Media Foundation on condition of anonymity.CPJ has independently verified the information. Reeyot has also been denied access to adequate medical treatment after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her breast…
Last week Reeyot was declared winner of the “UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2013.” That award recognizes “a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.” The $25,000 prize will be awarded on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2013.
In May 2012, Reeyot received the prestigious International Women’s Media Foundation “2012 Courage in Journalism Award for “her commitment to work for independent media when the prospect of doing so became increasingly dangerous, her refusal to self-censor in a place where that practice is standard, and her unwillingness to apologize for truth-telling, even though contrition could win her freedom.”
In December 2012, Reeyot, along with three other courageous independent journalists, received Human Rights Watch’s prestigious Hellman/Hammett Award for 2012 “in recognition of their efforts to promote free expression in Ethiopia, one of the world’s most restricted media environments.”
Reeyout Alemu is Ethiopia’s press freedom heroine
In May 2012, when Reeyot received the IWMF’s award, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Reeyot Alemu: Young Heroine of Ethiopian Press Freedom” recounting some of Reeyot’s courageous acts of journalism and denouncing the abuse she received at the hands of those in power in Ethiopia. In June 2011, Reeyot and her co-defendant journalist Woubshet Taye were arrested on trumped up charges of “terrorism” and held incommunicado in the infamous Meles Zenawi Prison. Reeyot’s arrest occurred just after she had written a column in a weekly paper criticizing the late Meles Zenawi’s harebrained fundraising campaign for the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile. That column seemed to have angered the cantankerous and irascible Meles. Reeyot also skewered Meles’ sacred cow, the half-baked “five-year growth and transformation plan” (which I critiqued in “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi in June 2011) . In September 2012, 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.
Reeyot’s trial in Meles’ kangaroo court was a template for miscarriage of justice. She was held in detention for three months with no access to legal counsel. She was denied counsel during interrogation. The kangaroo court refused to investigate her allegations of torture, mistreatment and denial of medical care in pre-trial detention. The evidence of “conspiracy” consisted of intercepted emails and wiretapped telephone conversations she had about peaceful protests and change with other journalists abroad. Her articles posted on various opposition websites were “introduced” as “evidence” of conspiracy.
Human Rights Watch was confounded by the idiocy of the terrorism 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….”
Amnesty International denounced the judgment of the kangaroo court: “There is no evidence that [Reeyot and the other independent journalists] 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.”
PEN American Center “protested the harsh punishment handed down to” Reeyot and Woubshet and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.” PEN asserted the two journalists “have been sentenced solely in relation to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory.”
The International Women’s Media Foundation saw the kangaroo court trial as an intimidation tactic against all independent women journalists: “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.”
Following Reeyot’s kangaroo court conviction, her father told an interviewer his daughter will not apologize, seek a pardon or apply for clemency. “As a father, would you rather not advise your daughter to apologize?”
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.
Meles offered Reeyot her freedom if she agreed to snitch on her colleagues and help railroad them to prison. She turned him down flat and got herself railroaded into solitary confinement. Even in prison, Reeyot remained defiant as she informed IWMF: “I believe that I must contribute something to bring a better future. Since there are a lot of injustices and oppressions in Ethiopia, I must reveal and oppose them in my articles.”
The problem of evil in Ethiopia
Over the hundreds of uninterrupted weekly commentaries I have written over the years, I have rarely strayed much from my professional fields of law and politics. I make an exception in this commentary by indulging in philosophical musings on evil, a subject that has puzzled me for the longest time (and one I expect to ruminate over from time to time in the future) but one I never considered opining about in my public commentaries. I am mindful that there is the risk of sounding pedantic when one reflects on “Big Questions”, but pedantry is not intended here.
My simple definition of evil is any human act or omission that harms human beings. For instance, convicting an innocent young journalist on trumped up “terrorism” charges, sentencing her to a long prison term and throwing her into solitary confinement is evil because such acts cause great physical and psychological pain and suffering. Ordering the cold-blooded massacre of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators is evil because that act arbitrarily deprives innocent people of their God-given right to life. Forcibly displacing indigenous populations from their ancestral homes and selling their land to outsiders is evil because that act destroys not only the livelihood of those people but also their history and social fabric. Trashing the rights of individuals secured in the law of nations is evil because it is a crime against humanity and an affront to human decency and all norms of civilization. Discriminating against a person based on ethnicity, language and religion is evil because it deprives the victims of a fundamental right of citizenship. Albert Camus argued evil is anything that prevents solidarity between people and disables them from recognizing the rights or values of other human beings. Stealing elections in broad daylight and trying to deceive the world that one won an election by 99.6 percent is evil because such an act is an unconscionable lie and theft of the voice of the people. Stealing billions from a poor country’s treasury is evil because such theft deprives poor citizens vital resources necessary for their survival.
The evil I struggle to “understand” is that evil viciously committed by ordinary or sub-ordinarypeople in positions of political power. Such persons believe they can cheat, rob, steal and kill with absolute impunity because they believe there is no force on earth that can hold them accountable.
I am also concerned about the evil of passive complicity by ordinary and extraordinary people who stand silent in the face of evil. What is it that paralyzes those “good men and women” who can stand up, resist and defend against evil to cower and hide? Why do they pretend and rationalize to themselves that there really is no evil but in the eye of the beholder? What evil binds the blind, silent and deaf majority? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
I should clarify my use of the word “understand” in the context of evil. One can never understand evil. The Holocaust and the Rwanda Genocide are evils beyond human understanding and reason. To “understand” the deaths of millions or hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings is to implicitly justify it and somehow diminish its enormity. To “understand” the deliberate and premeditated murder of 193 unarmed protesters is beyond understanding because there could never be adequate reason, explanation or argumentation to justify it. “Understanding” such evil is tantamount to suggesting that there are or could be justifications for its occurrence.
When I use the word “understand”, I mean to suggest only that I am trying to get some insight, a glimpse of the moral makeup of people who live in a completely different moral universe than myself. It is impossible for me to see the world through the eyes of those in power who perpetrate evil in Ethiopia. When I speak of the triumph of evil in Ethiopia, I realize that there is nothing I can say by way of reasoned argument or presentation of evidence to persuade those in power to forsake their evil ways and deeds. I have concluded that those in power in Ethiopia live on a planet shielded by the equivalent of a moral Van Allen radiation belt that keeps out all cosmic rays of virtue, decency and goodness.
Let me also clarify what I mean when I speak of the audacity of evil in Ethiopia. The evil I am talking about is not the evil that Aquinas’ wrestled with in Questions 48 and 49 of Summa Theologica. Nor I am concerned about the evil Spinoza determined originates in the mind that lacks understanding because it is overwrought by fickle emotions. Neither am I concerned with evil that, for most of us, is associated with the Devil and his lesser intermediaries. I am not concerned about inanimate non-moral evil which manifests itself in the form of famine, pestilence and plague. I am also not referring to that evil lurking deep in the nihilistic being of those soulless, heartless and mindless psychopaths who are so disconnected from the rest of humanity that they feel justified in slaughtering innocent people at a sports event.
I am concerned about the evils of ordinary human wickedness and bestial human behavior that Aristotle alluded to in Nicomachean Ethics. I am concerned about gratuitous evil (pointless evil from which no greater good can be derived) committed by ordinary and sub-ordinary wicked people whose intellect is corrupted, and their bestial counterparts who are lacking in intellectual discernment. Such evil is cultivated in the soil of arrogance, ignorance, narcissism, desire for domination, self-aggrandizement and hubris. Those who commit gratuitous evil do so audaciously, willfully, recklessly and impulsively because they feel omnipotent; because they fear no retribution; because they anticipate no consequences for their evil deeds. They know they are committing evil and inflicting unspeakable and horrific pain and suffering on their victims but nonetheless go about doing evil with calculation and premeditation because they believe they are beyond morality, legality, responsibility and accountability. Hubristically relying on their power, they have exempted themselves from all rules of civilized society. They believe that their stranglehold on power gives them a license to commit evil at their pleasure and therefore make a habit of doing evil for evil’s sake. They are incapable of remorse or regrets because they have made evil their guiding “moral” principle.
My musings on the audacity of evil in Ethiopia are not intended to be abstract philosophical reflections but observations with practical value for victims of evil. I have an unshakeable belief that there will come a time in Ethiopia when the demands of punishment, blame and justice would have to be weighed against the greater good of peace, harmony and reconciliation. There will come a time when the open wounds of ethnic division, hatred and sectarianism must be healed and safeguards put into place to prevent their future recurrence. I believe insight into the nature of gratuitous evil is an important step in the healing process. By “understanding” (gaining insight) why individuals and groups in power commit gratuitous evil, it may be possible for Ethiopians to develop the courage, perseverance, fortitude and spiritual strength to move towards a reconciled and peaceful society. That is exactly what the South Africans did by instituting their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after Apartheid ended. Perpetrators of gratuitous evil were given the option to come to a public hearing and confess the evils they have committed and seek not only amnesty and immunity from civil and criminal prosecution but also forgiveness from their victims and the survivors of their victims. The Commission largely succeeded in that mission. The Rwandan “Gacaca courts” (traditional grassroots village courts composed of well-respected elders) which were established to administer justice to those alleged to have committed genocidal acts similarly sought to achieve “reconciliation of all Rwandans and building their unity” by putting justice partially into the hands of the surviving victims or victims’ families who are given the opportunity to confront and challenge the perpetrators in the open. The Rwandans also achieved a measure of success.
What has been learned from the TRC of South Africa and Rwanda’s Gacaca courts is that the act of forgiving can be an activity that victims of evil can find enormously helpful and beneficial. By publicly confronting the perpetrators, victims gain a sense of psychological satisfaction, moral vindication and physical well-being. The victims are no longer tormented by the desire for revenge and retribution. Coming to terms with the enormity of gratuitous evil makes it easier for a society to reconcile and prevent the recurrence of such evil.
Touched by evil
The Socratic thesis is that no one does evil intentionally. In other words, men and women commit evil out of ignorance which blinds them from doing right and good and deprives them of the practical wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. Evil doers are morally blind and unable to value other human beings while overestimating their own value and worth.
Why do those in power in Ethiopia commit the gratuitous evil of throwing into solitary confinement an innocent young woman who has been internationally honored and celebrated for her journalistic courage? Could it be the evil of misogyny that makes powerful men derive sadistic pleasure from the humiliation, degradation, dehumanization, depersonalization, demoralization, brutalization and incapacitation of strong-willed, intelligent, defiant, principled and irrepressible women who oppose them?
The gratuitous evil that is inflicted on Reeyot by those in power in Ethiopia is only the latest example. The exact same evil was inflicted on Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, who was thrown into solitary confinement for months at Meles Zenawi Prison because she stood up and opposed him. The same evil in different form was inflicted on Serkalem Fasil, another world-renowned female Ethiopian journalist who was imprisoned and forced to give birth in prison. The common denominator between these three women is that they are strong, self-confident, determined and principled and risked their lives to stand up to a brutal dictatorship. Because they refused to back down, they suffered the most inhumane treatment at the hands of powerful men.
Solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison is used as a psychological weapon to drive the victims mad. By depriving victims of all human contact and by denying them access to any information about the outside world, the aim is to make them feel lost and forgotten. Solitary confinement for women is a particularly insidious from psychological torture intended to humiliate and breakdown their physical, psychological, spiritual and moral integrity. Those in solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison are not allowed to visit with friends. They are denied access to books. They are not allowed to meet their legal counsel. Family visits are interrupted even before smiles are exchanged; and even hugs and kisses with family members are forbidden. Solitary confinement is a dirty psychological game played by those in power to plunge the victims into the depths of despair, sorrow and confusion and make them feel completely helpless and hopeless.
When Meles threw Birtukan into solitary confinement, he just did not want her to suffer. That would be too easy. He wanted to humiliate and dehumanize her. When she was in solitary confinement, he used a cruel metaphor describing her as a “silly chicken who did herself in”. While in solitary confinement, he mocked and took cheap shots at her telling the press that that she is “in perfect condition” but “may have gained a few kilos”. He wanted her to suffer so much that he told reporters, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” He wanted Birtukan to be the living dead in solitary confinement. Providence had a different plan.
The gratuitous evil perpetrated against Serkalem Fasil is beyond human comprehension. In their letter to President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University opposing Meles Zenawi’s appearance to speak at that institution, Serkalem and her husband the world-renowned journalist Eskinder Nega wrote:
We are banned Ethiopian journalists who were charged with treason by the government of PM Meles Zenawi subsequent to disputed election results in 2005, incarcerated under deplorable circumstances, only to be acquitted sixteen months later; after Serkalem Fasil prematurely gave birth in prison.Severely underweight at birth because Serkalem’s physical and psychological privation in one of Africa’s worst prisons, an incubator was deemed life-saving to the new-born child by prison doctors; which was, in an act of incomprehensible vindictiveness, denied by the authorities. (The child nevertheless survived miraculously. Thanks to God.)
Do those who slammed Reeyot and Birtukan in solitary confinement and forced Serkalem to give birth in one of the filthiest prisons in the world realize what they are doing is evil? Do they care about the suffering of these young women?
Birtukan has survived and continues to thrive. Serkalem struggles to survive every day as she agonizes over the unjust imprisonment of her husband Eskinder. Reeyot, I believe, will survive in solitary confinement because she is a strong woman of faith and conviction. Solitary confinement to persons of faith and conviction is like fire to steel. It brings out the best in them. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; but is there a man alive who is more compassionate, humane, kindhearted and forgiving than Mandela?
Sigmund Freud wrote about the kind of sadistic gratuitous evil driven by deep-seated hatred and aggression against women. Other psychologists see the root of gratuitous evil in personality “fragmentation” caused by feelings of rejection and inferiority. They say those who commit gratuitous evil seek to “defragment and hold themselves together” by degrading and feeling superior to their victims. Others have argued that beneath the gratuitous evil that perpetrators commit lies a profound emptiness filled by sadistic rage, anger, and hatred.
I believe those in power in Ethiopia commit gratuitous evil to obtain absolute obedience and respect. As Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments (and in other aspects the Zimbardo (Stanford) experiments) have shown, those in authority seek to secure obedience by establishing social models of compliance. In other words, those in power aim to teach by harsh example. If you are an independent journalist and do your job, you will be jacked up on bogus terrorism charges, held in detention, thrown in solitary confinement and tortured. If you challenge a stolen election and protest in the street, you will be shot in the streets like a rabid dog. By using extreme violence, those in power in Ethiopia seek to create not only an atmosphere of fear but also a culture of terror. The experiments have also shown that resistance can also be taught by example. Reeyot, Serkalem, Birtukan, Eskinder, Woubshet, Andualem are social models of resistance.
Hanna Arendt observed Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, at his trial in Jerusalem and found him to be “medium-sized, slender, middle-aged, with receding hair, ill-fitting teeth, and nearsighted eyes, who throughout the trial keeps craning his scraggy neck toward the bench.” He appeared to be a common man incapable of monstrous crimes. The banality of evil is the capacity of ordinary people to commit monstrous crimes. The audacity of evil is the capacity of ordinary and sub-ordinary people to commit evil not out of necessity, obedience to authority or even adherence to ideology; it is evil committed by those who are absolutely convinced that they will never be held accountable for their crimes.
Doing evil, doing good
I have many unanswered questions. Are the individuals in positions of power in Ethiopia evil by nature? Was evil thrust upon them by a demonic power? Were they victims of evil themselves and now seek to avenge the actual or perceived evil done to them and ended up being evil themselves? Did they become the very monster they slew? Are there persons who are innately incapable of doing good because they are bad seed and are born with a natural disposition to do only wrong and evil? Is gratuitous evil a psychological illness, an incurable sickness of the soul?
My questions do not end there. No one is immune from evil. Those of us who rise up in self-righteous indignation and denounce evil should look at ourselves and ask: If we were shown “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor”, would we succumb to that offer and choose the path of evil? Nietzsche said, “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.” When we raise our lances at the windmills, do we really see monsters? Let us not forget that “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Are we also brutes, like those we criticize, costumed in a veneer of civilization and morality untested and unseduced by the corrupting power of power? Are human beings innately good, and evil people merely mutations of good ones?
The evil that men do lives after them
The late Meles Zenawi has left a dark and bleak legacy of gratuitous evil in Ethiopia. The evil he has done shall continue to live in the prisons he built, the justice system he corrupted and the lives of young good Ethiopians he destroyed like Reeyot, Eskinder, Serkalem, Birtukan, Woubshet, Andualem and countless others. In Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, Antony speaks: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Ceasar.”
When I speak of Meles, I speak not of the man but of the wretched legacy he left and of the pious devotion of his disciples to that legacy. His disciples today speak of his great achievements and his great vision with Scriptural certitude and apostolic zeal. Their mantra is, “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.” One must speak out against pre-programmed robots; but raging against the machine should not be mistaken for raging against the man.
I remain optimistic that in the end good shall triumph over evil because the ultimate battle between good and evil in Ethiopia will not be waged on a battlefield with “crashing guns and rattling musketry”; nor will it be fought and won in the voting booths, the parliaments, the courts or bureaucracies. The battle for good and evil will be fought, won or lost, in the hearts and minds of ordinary Ethiopian men and women who have the courage to rise up and do extraordinary good.
Elie Wiesel, a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps, and Nobel peace laureate said “indifference is the epitome of evil” and
“swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
I have taken the side of Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Fasil, Birtukan Midekssa, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…. and made them the “center of my universe”.
(to be continued….)
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: