Power, power, power…
When President Obama recently visited Africa, he announced a “Power Africa” initiative. In his Cape Town University speech, he proclaimed, “I am proud to announce a new initiative. We’ve been dealing with agriculture. We’ve been dealing with health. Now we’re going to talk about power: Power Africa, a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it. We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. We’re going to partner with the private sector, who themselves have committed more than $9 billion in investment.”
In the speech, President Obama used the word “power” 21 times in a variety of contexts. He philosophized about “power that comes from acting on our ideals” and the “power of human beings to affect change”. He urged Africans to act “through the power of your example”. He encouraged support for programs “that empower women”. He mildly chided “those in power who make arguments to distract people from their own abuses.”
He puzzled over “what it will take to empower individual Africans” and enable Africans to have the “power to feed themselves.” He pleaded for “unleashing the power of entrepreneurship and market” and the creation of “partnership that empowers Africans.” He spoke about “the power to prevent illness and care for the sick” and “the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.”
He lamented “Africa’s lack of access to power” and the need “to have power.” He “talked about power — Power Africa” and “doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.” He pitied those Africans who “live currently off the power grid.”
He wistfully spoke about Nelson Mandela “leaving power” which “was as profound as his ability to claim power”. He spoke of Mugabe’s “corruption of power” and Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.
To power Africa or to empower Africans, that is the question
Africa has a power problem. There is no question about that. Africa needs protection from thugs-cum-leaders who abuse power, misuse power, confuse power and excuse and justify their abuse and misuse of power. President Obama is already powering Africa. Every year, he hands out billions of dollars to Africa’s worst dictators (excuse me, he calls them “partners”) who abuse power in countries like Ethiopia. Africa needs people power not thugs in power.
On second thought, Africa does not have a power problem. Africa has a problem of powerlessness. The people are powerless against thugtators who use power to abuse their human rights. Africans are powerless against the powerful forces of corruption – officials and their cronies who “illicitly transfer” (steal and stash) tens of billions of dollars in foreign banks. For instance, “Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009” and “in 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion.” Africans are powerless and disempowered against powerful election thieves who claim electoral victory by 99.6 percent. Africans are powerless against powerful warlords who seek to divide them along ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines. Yes, Africa’s powerless have a big problem with Africa’s powerful thugtators.
President Obama does not seem to get it. The question is not whether to power Africa but how to protect powerless Africans from those dictators America has powered and empowered by doling out billions of dollars in aid, loans and technical assistance every year. If he wants to power Africa, he should begin by empowering ordinary Africans against those who abuse and misuse their power. He should power up the youth grid that remains unused, abused and disused by those who manage the political power grid. He should use the billions of dollars of annual aid to disempower the few powerful African thugtators and empower the hundreds of millions of African youth.
Last week, in his New York Times opinion piece, Eskinder Nega, the symbol of press freedom in Ethiopia and Africa, made a simple but effective recommendation to President Obama: “I propose that the United States impose economic sanctions on Ethiopia (while continuing to extend humanitarian aid without precondition) and impose travel bans on Ethiopian officials implicated in human rights violations.” This proposal is in line with established U.S. policy. Beginning in 2001, the U.S. has imposed “targeted sanctions on the Government of Zimbabwe, including restrictions on U.S. support for multilateral financing, financial sanctions against selected individuals and entities, travel sanctions against selected individuals, a ban on transfers of defense items and services, and a suspension of non-humanitarian government-to-government assistance.” The official reason for these sanctions is the “Zimbawean Government’s increasing assault on human rights and the rule of law.” The human rights record of the regime in Ethiopia is far worse than the regime in Zimbabwe. That is a fact that can be demonstrated. President Obama should understand that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
If Obama wants to power Africa, let him empower African youth
President Obama has been talking about empowering African youth for years. In August 2010, he talked about launching “the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) as a signature initiative that supports young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.” In June 2012, some “60 young African leaders” participated in “the Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership with Young African Leaders” for a “three-week professional development program”. To support the “empowerment of young African leaders” and provide them “significant and ongoing professional training, access to mentorship, and networking opportunities in Africa”, USAID “awarded two grants totaling $1.3 million to support the core principles of Young African Leaders Initiative.” In his Cape Town speech, President Obama told Africa’s young people: “You get to decide where the future lies. Think about it — over 60 percent of Africans are under 35 years old. So demographics means young people are going to be determining the fate of this continent and this country. You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene.” But Africa’s young people do not have the numbers on their side. They got $1.3 million from America while Africa’s dictators get billions every year.
In June 2013, President Obama talked about “launching a new program” called the “Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders” which is “going to give thousands of promising young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop skills at some of our best colleges and universities.” A lot of nice talk and promises for African young people; but promises and talk are more convincing when one puts money where one’s mouth is. Since YALI, there has been more talk than action.
But there is another side to the African youth story. President Obama in Cape Town said, “And I’ve traveled to Africa on this trip because my bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story. I’m betting on all of you.” Which segment of the African youth is he betting on? The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders promises to “give thousands of promising young Africans” the “opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills.”
What about the millions of not-so-promising African youths who waste away in the urban areas without educational and employment opportunities? What about those African youths mired in rural poverty unable to get even the most basic educational services? Those young Africans who have acquired college education but are unable to find employment because they are not connected to the ruling parties in Africa? Those young Africans who are leaving the continent for menial employment in the Middle East and elsewhere and are subjected to the most inhumane conditions and treatment. Recently, BBC reported the discovery of a grave in the desert of Yemen containing some 400 bodies of young Ethiopian immigrants escaping the oppressive conditions in Ethiopia. Do the not-so-promising youth matter to President Obama?
Along the same lines, what does President Obama offer Africa’s young freedom fighters? In 2009, in Accra, Ghana, he warned, “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Does President Obama know of brave young Africans in prison named Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel and so many thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners? President Obama needs to live up to the standards he set for Africans and answer one question: Is he, like history, on the side of brave Africans or is he on the side of Africa’s strongmen. President Obama must choose between making brave young Africans strong or African strongmen stronger.
Would $7 billion make a difference?
Lighting the dark continent is a daunting task. Enlightening the benighted “leaders” of the dark continent is an even more daunting fact. Over 130 years after the invention of the light bulb, the vast majority of Africans remain in total darkness. It is a historical enigma that as technology enlightens the world, Africa is enveloped in darkness. For instance, Ethiopia got a functioning telephone system in 1894 and over the past decade “invested some USD$14 billion in infrastructure development” including communications. Yet today Ethiopia has the worst telecommunications system in Africa and quite possibly the world.
Power outages and blackouts are common in every part of Africa. In June 2012, as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton began her speech at the African Union, she experienced firsthand what Africans face every day. She had to stop her speech because of power outage.
Africa’s electrical power problem is not merely low access and insufficient capacity; it also involves poor reliability and extremely high costs. The regime in Ethiopia windbags day and night about a pie-in-the-sky dam on the Nile. They say it will be the largest dam in Africa and cost USD$6-7 billion. This fantasy dam is supposed to resolve the power supply problems of not only Ethiopia but also the region and beyond. The fact of the matter is that the regime aims to export much of the power produced from the dam and not use it for domestic power self-sufficiency. It is also ironic that the regime seeks to convince the population and the world that it can run the “largest dam” in Africa when it cannot even manage efficiently the few dams that are currently in existence. Yet the regime in Ethiopia keeps on windbagging the Nile dam canard to create the grand illusion of development, hoodwink the population and panhandle China and the international banks for more and more handouts.
The World Bank says Africa needs USD$43 billion annually to improve its power infrastructure. Would dropping USD$7 billion in American tax dollars plus $9 billion from the private sector over five years to “double” the power capacity make a difference in lighting Africa or enlightening Africans? Throwing USD$3 billion a year to help “Power Africa” for 5 years sounds like chicken feed. According to IMANI, the Ghanaian Center for Policy and Education, “If all the electricity generated in Africa was shared equally, each household would have enough to power a normal light-bulb for about 3.5 hours a day per person. With President Obama’s new initiative, this can increase by roughly 18 more minutes if implementation was perfect.”
President Obama cannot power Africa by empowering Africa’s strongmen. To power Africa, he must first help empower Africa’s youth. He cannot empower Africa’s youth with promises and silky words. He cannot power Africa by empowering a few of Africa’s “best and brightest” by providing them leadership training or skills. It is said that more than 600 million of Africa’s one billion population is below the age of 25. The vast majority of these youth are poor, undereducated and with little prospect for lifetime economic viability. Vast numbers of these youths are forced to work in whatever capacity to help their families survive while losing educational opportunities that could free them from poverty. He must come up with a different plan for Africa’s not-so-promising youth. They are the majority of Africa!
The real answer to Africa’s problems lies in creating a power grid among its youth. Any program that is narrowly targeted to Africa’s talented youth will merely perpetuate existing inequalities and keep the sons and daughters of the rich and privileged at the top. The masses of youths at the bottom will not accept this condition. Sooner or later, they will rise, power up and disempower the strongmen who abuse their power. That’s how Africa will be powered and empowered, President Obama!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Alemayehu G Mariam
(This week my regular Monday commentary is presented for the second time in the form of a “flash drama” on Obama (a sub-genre of theatrical play sometimes described as a “ten minute one-act play”). The first “act” of this “flash drama” was presented in my June 23 commentary, “Obama is Coming! Obama is Coming to Africa!!”
The scene in the second act is a neighborhood tearoom somewhere in Africa. The two young African college friends two weeks later have a chance meeting. Their conversation shifts from the critical health condition of President Nelson Mandela to President Obama’s departure from Africa after he completed his “Africa Visit”. (I have opted to use “flash drama” to add creative range to my commentaries and expand my reach to the younger generation of Ethiopians and other African youth. The names of the characters have special meaning.)
Act I: Obama is Coming! Obama is Coming to Africa!!
Duma: I am worried sick Mandela is sick.
Shudi: I just wonder what will happen to South Africa after Mandela is gone.
Duma: The same thing that will happen when the father of any family is gone.
Shudi: You mean there will be some family feud, discord and falling out…
Duma: But the family will survive. The South African family is strong.
Shudi: The Spirit of Mandela will keep the family together!
Duma: And guide South Africa as it always has.
Shudi: Guide the conscience of South Africans.
Duma: And their hearts and minds too.
Shudi: Mandela may be gone but his Spirit will live forever!
Duma: Africans say, “A good chief is a reward of God.”
Shudi: South Africa has been blessed!
Duma: “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God bless Africa.)
Shudi: Obama has come and gone…
Duma: Obama came and saw but did he conquer?
Shudi: He came. He saw. He left.
Duma: Back to the U.S. of A?
Shudi: Where else?
Duma: Ethiopia? Nigeria? They are America’s best partners in Africa.
Shudi: Not even Kenya! He says he’s “got three and half years to come back to Kenya.”
Duma: Hope he had a better reception than his first Africa visit in Accra, Ghana in 2009.
Shudi: Someone told him in Soweto, “the euphoria that engulfed this continent when President Obama was elected is fading.”
Duma: Yeah! The thrill is gone with the Obama drama.
Shudi: He visited three countries in one week, you know.
Duma: What’s up with that? Is he making campaign stops?
Shudi: With all the promises and pledges he made, you could say he was stumping.
Duma: He is the best at making promises.
Shudi: And not keeping them?
Duma: And breaking them. What did he promise this time?
Shudi: He promised to “launch a new program that’s going to givethousands of promising young Africans opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills at some of our best colleges and universities.”
Duma: Too little, too late!
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: China has already snatched 12,000 young Africans.
Shudi: Promising ones?
Duma: The crème de la crème.
Shudi: What about the millions of not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own.
Shudi: Promises only for promising young Africans in the Promised Land?
Duma: But it’s all promises. Don’t mean nothing.
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: How many promises has Obama made?
Shudi: Too many?
Duma: How many has he broken?
Shudi: Too many.
Duma: Ever heard of the “talented tenth”, Shudi?
Shudi: No. What’s that?
Duma: It’s an old idea about one in ten black men becoming leaders of their race in the world and solving the “The Negro Problem”.
Duma: Through education, entrepreneurship, scholarship and direct involvement in social change.
Shudi: Talented tenth for the “African Problem”?
Duma: Bring the most promising young Africans to America and teach them about “civic leadership and public administration and business and entrepreneurship”.
Shudi: And solve the “African Problem”?
Duma: With the help of the “connections” they “make in America… Americans from all walks of life… leaders in business and nonprofits and government.”
Shudi: And the great African brain drain continues…?
Duma: That’s old school, Shudi. It is now called “human capital flight”.
Shudi: Young promising Africans taking flight to America…
Duma: Whatever happened to Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010?
Shudi: That’s an old promise. That was about “engaging young African leaders who will shape the continent’s future.”
Duma: How many young African leaders were engaged in the last three years?
Shudi: You’re always digging up old promises. Fresh promises about old broken promises are the best kind of promises, if you know what I mean.
Duma: Promises are bliss to youth. Africa’s “talented tenth” better watch out.
Duma: Obama says, “The world will be watching what decisions you make. The world will be watching what you do.”
Shudi: Does that mean the U.S. is watching too?
Duma: Secretary of State John Kerry said America is watching.
Duma: “Brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them.”
Shudi: Will the U.S. be watching the brave, suffering and not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own. They don’t matter.
Shudi: You mean it’s mind over matter?
Duma: I mean Obama don’t mind and they don’t matter!
Shudi: Do you think Mandela will make it through?
Duma: Why not? He pulled through 27 years of hard labor and solitary confinement.
Shudi: Mandela is a man of courage. He can do anything!
Duma: Isn’t that what Obama said? “Nelson Mandela showed us that one man’s courage can move the world.”
Shudi: The man imprisoned for 27 years and on life support today can move the world but…
Duma: Why can’t the most powerful man in the world be able to move Africa?
Shudi: Obama says, courage is “the power that comes from acting on our ideals. That’s what Mandela understood.”
Duma: Why can’t Obama act from his ideals?
Shudi: Maybe he lost them. Maybe he doesn’t have any.
Duma: When he accepted the Nobel Prize, didn’t he say: “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”
Shudi: Did Obama compromise his ideals?
Duma: Did he lose himself?
Duma: He wants young Africans to act from their ideals?
Shudi: He wants them to “think of how many times ordinary people pushed against those walls of oppression and resistance, and the violence and the indignities that they suffered; the quiet courage that they sustained. Think of how many ripples of hope it took to build a wave that would eventually come crashing down like a mighty stream.”
Duma: What does that mean? A mighty tidal wave of angry youth crashing on African dictators?
Shudi: And hungry youth? Don’t know what it means.
Duma: It’s “Obamanese”. Empty words always sound good.
Shudi: Just like cotton candy tastes good?
Duma: Just like the sight of floating butterflies make you feel good.
Shudi: Obama said, “The struggle against apartheid, for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, his country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation, has been a personal inspiration to me.”
Duma: Obama was once an inspiration to me too.
Shudi: “Yes We Can!” “We are the change we have been waiting for.” “Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire; what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation…” “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”
Duma: “History is on the side of brave Africans.” “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”
Shudi: Where do you get courage?
Duma: The same place you get your ideals.
Shudi: Obama said, “Africa is rising”.
Duma: From tyranny? Dictatorship? Corruption?
Shudi: From “poverty to a growing, nascent middle class.”
Duma: Are the 80 percent of Africans living under less than $2 a day rising or falling?
Shudi: You can’t fall if you’ve always been down.
Duma: Only way is up.
Shudi: Up from tyranny. Injustice. Abuse of power.
Duma: And the not-so-promising young Africans?
Shudi: They are on their own and down?
Duma: They are all down and out.
Shudi: Obama said, “there is no question that Africa is on the move”?
Duma: I have a question. Which Africa?
Shudi: The African middle class is on the move.
Duma: How about the African “80 percenters”?
Shudi: They can’t move.
Duma: Well, the “80 percenters” are like the “47 percenters”, if you know what I mean.
Shudi: Don’t know what you mean.
Duma: “They depend on government handouts; they believe that they are victims; they believe government has a responsibility to care for them; they believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Shudi: Didn’t the 47 percenters elect Obama?
Duma: Obama wasn’t elected in Africa.
Shudi: Shouldn’t the real question be if democracy is on the move in Africa?
Duma: And human rights are rising and dictatorships falling?
Shudi: Obama says, he will “partner with governments and regional organizations here in Africa and foundations and civil society to amplify your voices as you stand up for democracy and equality.”
Duma: Partner with the foxes guarding the henhouse?
Shudi: Partnership of eagles and foxes?
Duma: Eagles and hyenas.
Shudi: Amplify the voices of silenced civil society institutions? I don’t understand…
Duma: What’s there not to understand? Silence is the voice of the voiceless.
Shudi: Obama says Africa is not moving fast enough “for the protester who is beaten in Harare [Zimbabwe], or the woman who is raped in Eastern Congo”?
Duma: And for the unfortunate and untalented 80 percenters?
Shudi: Them too.
Duma: But moving fast enough for young, talented and jailed Ethiopian journalists like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, opposition and civic society leaders and dissidents Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel and so many thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners…?
Shudi: Are there good and bad African dictators?
Duma: You mean does Obama think there are good and bad African dictators?
Shudi: Obama said, “Governments that respect the rights of their citizens and abide by the rule of law do better, grow faster, draw more investment than those who don’t. That’s just a fact.”
Duma: As a matter of fact, which African governments respect the rights of their people?
Shudi: You’re missing the point, Duma. Obama told the South Africans, “Just look at your neighbor, Zimbabwe, where the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy.” Zimbabwe is on the move with a new constitution and new elections.
Duma: An elected constitutional democratic dictatorship!
Shudi: Just a promise of an elected constitutional democratic dictatorship?
Duma: Mugabe is a dictator.
Shudi: And a thief. He has been stealing elections for decades. How can Zimbabwe move forward with a thieving dictator?
Duma: The dictators in Ethiopia have been stealing elections for decades too, but they are America’s best partners in Africa.
Shudi: But Mugabe is a dictator and an S.O.B.?
Duma: And those guys in Ethiopia?
Shudi: They are dictators too. “But they are our S.O.B.s”?
Duma: You sound like President Franklin Roosevelt.
Shudi: Obama said 85 percent of Africans need power and he is going to give it to them?
Duma: Power? Africans have all the power they need, if it weren’t stolen by the dictators…
Shudi: I meant electric power, not real power. You know what I mean?
Duma: What do you mean?
Shudi: He said, Africans “must have the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.”
Duma: Another promise?
Shudi: He said, “Now we’re going to talk about power — Power Africa — a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it.”
Duma: Talked about Africa. Talked about brave young Africans.
Shudi: Now, talk about power? Doubletalk about power?
Duma: Why not talk about the absolute power of African dictators?
Shudi: Obama said, “We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. And in partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy.”
Duma: The youth are the new sources of energy. Why not develop them?
Shudi: Develop the not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own.
Shudi: He is going to take “$7 billion in U.S. government resources” and give it to stinking rich African dictators?
Duma: Who are “U.S. government resources”?
Shudi: American taxpayers?
Duma: Take from toiling American taxpayers and give to stinking rich African dictators.
Shudi: Reverse Robin Hood for Africa.
Duma: That’s not fair…
Shudi: You mean…
Duma: Detroit needs the money more than African dictators. Don’t you agree?
Duma: I am not worried.
Shudi: Why not?
Duma: It’s all talk. Doubletalk. Empty promises. Cotton candy for African dictators!
Shudi: Obama said, “If anyone wants to see the difference between freedom and tyranny, let them come here, to South Africa. Here, citizens braved bullets and beatings to claim that most basic right: the ability to be free, to determine your own fate, in your own land.”
Duma: That’s an odd thing to say?
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: Is he saying that if Africans want to end tyranny and get their freedom, they should be “brave” enough to “brave the bullets and beatings”?
Shudi: I think he meant what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”
Duma: I got no problems with that.
Shudi: Obama told Africans as it is.
Duma: What did he say?
Shudi: “These are things that America stands for… We don’t tell people who their leaders should be, but we do stand up with those who support the principles that lead to a better life. And that’s why we’re interested in investing not in strongmen, but in strong institutions: independent judiciaries that can enforce the rule of law — honest police forces that can protect the peoples’ interests instead of their own; an open government that can bring transparency and accountability. And, yes, that’s why we stand up for civil society — for journalists and NGOs, and community organizers and activists — who give people a voice… I want you to know that you will always find the extended hand of a friend in the United States of America. ”
Duma: Give me a break!! He said exactly the same thing in Accra in 2009.
Shudi: He did?
Duma: Same exact thing! “Good governance is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny. I know there are those who argue that ideas like democracy and transparency are somehow Western exports. I disagree. Those in power who make those arguments are usually trying to distract people from their own abuses. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives. Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Shudi: Obama told Africa’s youth to use their “imagination, your optimism, your idealism. The future of this continent is in your hands. Don’t lose those qualities of youth, the imagination, the courage, the ‘yes, we can’ attitude of young Africans like you.”
Duma: The future of Africa in the hands of Africa’s youth? Don’t think sooo!
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: The future of Africa is in the hands of China, India, Saudi Arabia…
Shudi: China came, saw and conquered.
Duma: India and Saudi Arabia too.
Shudi: Not America?
Duma: America is chasing terrorists in Africa.
Shudi: It should be chasing after Africa’s youth?
Duma: The promising and the not-so-promising ones.
Shudi: What do you say to Africa’s youth?
Duma: Obama came, Obama saw but did he conquer Africa’s youth?
Shudi: But really…
Duma: I’d say to them what Percy Bysshe Shelley said poetically to those young people who faced impossible odds:
Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words, that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free!
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few”
Rise and shine African Cheetahs and Lions!! And Hippos too?!
(The meaning of the names of the characters: “Shudi” in the Hausa language (Nigeria) means Blue. “Duma” in Swahili means Cheetah. Blue Cheetahs!)
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:
2013 shall be the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
“The Cheetah Generation refers to the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective. They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the ‘restless generation’ but they are Africa’s new hope. They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations”, explained George Ayittey, the distingushed Ghanaian economist.
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation includes not only graduates and professionals — the “best and the brightest” — but also the huddled masses of youth yearning to breathe free; the millions of youth victimized by nepotism, cronyism and corruption and those who face brutal suppression and those who have been subjected to illegal incarceration for protesting human rights violations. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is Eskinder Nega’s and Serkalem Fasil’s Generation. It is the generation of Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others like them. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation should move over and make way for the Cheetahs. As Ayittey said, Africa’s “Hippo Generation is intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They are stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old ‘colonialism-imperialism’ paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They lack vision and sit comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure…”
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation is not only astigmatic with distorted vision, it is also myopic and narrow- minded preoccupied with mindless self-aggrandizement. The Hippos in power are stuck in the quicksand of divisive ethnic politics and the bog of revenge politics. They proclaim the omnipotence of their state, which is nothing more than a thugtatorship. Their lips drip with condemnation of “neoliberalism”, the very system they shamelessly panhandle for their daily bread and ensures that they cling to power like barnacles on a sunken ship. They try to palm off foreign project handouts as real economic growth and development. To these Hippos, the youth are of peripheral importance. They give them lip service. In his “victory” speech celebrating his 99.6 percent win in the May 2010 “election”, Meles Zenawi showered the youth with hollow gratitude: “We are also proud of the youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development and also those who are in the process of applying efforts to be productively employed! We offer our thanks and salute the youth of Ethiopia for their unwavering support and enthusiasm!”
The Hippos out of power have failed to effectively integrate and mobilize the youth and women in their party leadership structure and organizational activities. As a result, they find themselves in a state of political stagnation and paralysis. They need youth power to rejuvenate themselves and to become dynamic, resilient and irrepressible. Unpowered by youth, the Hippos out of power have become the object of ridicule, contempt and insolence for the Hippos in power.
Ethiopia’s intellectual Hippos by and large have chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged, mouths sealed shut and eyes blindfolded. They have chosen to remain silent fearful that anything they say can and will be used against them as they obsequiously curry favor with the Hippos in power. They have broken faith with the youth. Instead of becoming transformational and visionary thinkers capable of inspiring the youth with creative ideas, the majority of the intellectual Hippos have chosen to dissociate themselves from the youth or have joined the service of the dictators to advance their own self-interests.
The shameless canard is that Ethiopia’s youth “have started to benefit from the ongoing development.” The facts tell a completely different story. Though the Ethiopian population under the age of 18 is estimated to be 41 million or just over half of Ethiopia’s population, UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five. Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans; or approximately 15 per cent of all children are orphans! Some 800,000 children are estimated to be orphaned as a result of AIDS. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at over 70 per cent. Ethiopia has one of the lowest youth literacy rate in Africa according to a 2011 report of the United Nations Capital Development Fund. Literacy in the 15-24 age group is a dismal 43 percent; gross enrollment at the secondary level is a mere 30.9 percent! A shocking 77.8 per cent of the Ethiopian youth population lives on less than USD$2 per day! Young people have to sell their souls to get a job. According to the 2010 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, “Reliable reports establish that unemployed youth who were not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the ‘support letters’ from their kebeles necessary to get jobs.” Party memberships is the sine qua non for government employment, educational and business opportunity and the key to survival in a police state. The 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report concluded, “According to credible sources, the ruling party ‘stacks’ student enrollment at Addis Ababa University, which is the nation’s largest and most influential university, with students loyal to the party to ensure further adherence to the party’s principles and to forestall any student protest.”
Frustrated and in despair, many youths drop out of school and engage in a fatalistic pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes them to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Poor youths (the overwhelming majority of youth population) deprived of educational and employment opportunity, have lost faith in their own and their country’s future. When I contemplate the situation of Ethiopia’s youth, I am haunted by the penetrating question recently posed by Hajj Mohamed Seid, the prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto: “Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation.”
Unchain the Cheetahs
Many of my readers are familiar with my numerous commentaries on Ethiopia’s chained youth yearning for freedom and change. My readers will also remember my fierce and unremitting defense of Ethiopia’s Proudest Cheetahs — Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Faisl, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others — jailed for exercising their constitutional rights and for speaking truth to power. But in the Year of the Cheetahs, I aim to call attention to the extreme challenges faced by Ethiopia’s youth and make a moral appeal to all Hippos, particularly the intellectual Hippos in the Diaspora, to stand up and be counted with the youth by providing support, guidance and inspiration. In June 2010, I called attention to some undeniable facts:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means. On the other hand, many thousands gripped by despair and hopelessness and convinced they have no future in Ethiopia continue to vote with their feet. Today, young Ethiopian refugees can be found in large numbers from South Africa to North America and the Middle East to the Far East.
In this Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs, those of us with a conscience in the Hippo Generation must do a few things to atone for our failures and make amends to our youth. President Obama, though short on action, is nearly always right in his analysis of Africa’s plight: “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.” We, learned Hippos, must learn that Ethiopia’s destiny will not be determined by the specter of dead dictators or their dopplegangers. It will not be determined by those who use the state as their private fiefdom and playground, or those who spread the poison of ethnic politics to prolong their lease on power. Ethiopia’s destiny will be determined by a robust coalition of Cheetahs who must unite, speak in one voice and act like fingers in a clenched fist to achieve a common destiny.
I craft my message here to the Hippos out of power and the intellectual Hippos standing on the sidelines. I say step up, stand up and be counted with the youth. Know that they are the only ones who can unchain us from the cages of our own hateful ethnic politics. Only they can liberate us from the curse of religious sectarianism. They are the ones who can free us from our destructive ideological conflicts. They are the ones who can emancipate us from the despair and misery of dictatorship. We need to reach, teach and preach to the Cheetahs to free their minds from mental slavery and help them develop their creative powers.
We must reach out to the Cheetahs using all available technology and share with them our knowledge and expertise in all fields. We must listen to what they have to say. We need to understand their views and perspectives on the issues and problems that are vital to them. It is a fact that we have for far too long marginalized the youth in our discussions and debates. We are quick to tell them what to do but turn a deaf ear to what they have to say. We lecture them when we are not ignoring them. Rarely do we show our young people the respect they deserve. We tend to underestimate their intelligence and overestimate our abilities and craftiness to manipulate and use them for our own cynical ends. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to reach out and touch the youth.
We must teach the youth the values that are vital to all of us. Hajj Mohamed Seid has warned us that without unity, we have nothing. “If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything.” That is why we must teach the youth they must unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology, scheme or effort that seeks to divide them on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, language, region or class. We must teach to enlighten, to uncover and illuminate the lies and proclaim the truth. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob the rights of youth who are ignorant and fearful. “Ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of tyrants.” Nelson Mandela has taught us that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Educating and teaching the youth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny and dictatorship. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to teach the Cheetahs to fight ignorance and ignoramuses with knowledge, enlightenment and intelligence.
We must also preach the way of peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency. No man shall make himself the law. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide must be held to account. There shall be no state within the state. Exercise of one’s constitutional rights should not be criminalized. Might does not make right! In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to preach till kingdom come.
We need to find ways to link Ethiopian Diaspora youth with youth in Ethiopia in a Chain of Destiny. Today, we see a big disconnect and a huge gulf between young Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. We need to help organize and provide support to Ethiopian Diaspora youth to link up with their counterparts in Ethiopia so that they could have meaningful dialogue and interaction and work together to ensure a common democratic future.
The challenges facing Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation are enormous, but we must do all we can to prepare the youth to take leadership roles in their future. We need to help them develop a formal youth agenda that addresses the wide range of problems, challenges and issues facing them. All we need to do is provide them guidance, counsel and advice. The Cheetahs are fully capable of doing the heavy lifting if the Hippos are willing to carry water to them.
Ethiopian Youth Must Lead a National Dialogue in Search of a Path to Peaceful Change
I have said it before and I will say is again and again. For the past year, I have been talking and writing about Ethiopia’s inevitable transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have also called for a national dialogue to facilitate the transition and appealed to Ethiopia’s youth to lead a grassroots and one-on-one dialogue across ethnic, religious, linguistic and religious lines. I made the appeal because I believe Ethiopia’s salvation and destiny rests not in the fossilized jaws of power-hungry Hippos but in the soft and delicate paws of the Cheetahs. In the Year of the Cheetahs, I plead with Ethiopia’s youth inside the country and in the Diaspora to take upon the challenge and begin a process of reconciliation. I have come to the regrettable conclusion that most Hippos are hardwired not to reconcile. Hippos have been “reconciling” for decades using the language of finger pointing, fear and smear, mudslinging and grudge holding. But Cheetahs have no choice but to genuinely reconcile because if they do not, they will inherit the winds of ethnic and sectarian strife.
In making my plea to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, I only ask them to begin an informal dialogue among themselves. Let them define national reconciliation as they see it. They should empower themselves to create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines. I underscore the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in the national reconciliation conversations. It is an established social scientific fact that women do a far superior job than men when it comes to conciliation, reconciliation and mediation. Dialogue involves not only talking to each other but also listening to one another. Ethiopia’s Cheetahs should use their diversity as a strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.
Up With Ethiopian Cheetahs!
Africans know all too well that hippos (including their metaphorical human counterparts) are dangerous animals that are fiercely territorial and attack anything that comes into their turf. Every year more people are killed by hippos (both the real and metaphorical ones) in Africa than lions or elephants. Cheetahs are known to be the fastest animals, but their weakness is that they give up the chase easily or surrender their prey when challenged by other predators including hyenas. A group of hippos is known as a crash. A group of cheetahs is called a “coalition”. Only a coalition of cheetahs organized across ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines can crash a crash of hippos and a cackle of hyenas and save Ethiopia.
In this Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs, I expect to make my full contribution to uplift and support Ethiopia’s youth and to challenge them to rise up to newer heights. I appeal to all of my brother and sister Hippos to join me in this effort. As for the Cheetahs, I say, darkness always give way to light. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” Ethiopia’s Cheetahs must be strong in spirit and in will. As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and war planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” Winston Churchill must have learned something from Gandhi when he said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Ethiopian Cheetahs must never give in!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Alemayehu G Mariam
The Plight of Andualem Aragie and Other Political Prisoners in Ethiopia
The “Gulag” prison system in the old Soviet Union was infamous for warehousing and persecuting dissidents and opponetns. The gulags were used effectively to weed out and neutralize opposition to the Soviet state. They were the quintessential tools of Soviet state terrorism. Some called them “meat-grinders” because of the extremely harsh and inhumane conditions. Torture, physical abuse by prison guards, solitary confinement, inadequate food rations and officially instigated inmate-on-inmate violence were the hallmarks of the gulags.
Ethiopia’s prison system today are reminiscent of the Soviet gulags in their abuse and mistreatment of political and other prisoners. Let the facts speak for themselves: In a recent column on two Swedish journalists arbitrarily held in one of the Ethiopian prisons near the capital, N.Y. Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristoff described the prsion conditions as
filthy and overridden with lice, fleas and huge rats… a violent, disease-ridden place, with inmates fighting and coughing blood… 250 or so Ethiopian prisoners jammed in the cell protect the two [Swedish] journalists, pray for them and jokingly call their bed ‘the Swedish embassy’.
The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia (April 2011) documented:
…Human rights abuses reported during the year included unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias, which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention… Numerous reliable sources confirmed in April 2009 that in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions.
In its 2010 World Report-Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that
… torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups… Secret detention facilities and military barracks are most often used by Ethiopian security forces for such activities.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture (November 2010) validated HRW’s conclusions.
The Dewar Report on an Ethiopian Gulag
The regular and secret prisons maintained by the ruling regime in Ethiopia today are among the most inhumane, primitive, barbaric and sadistic in the world. In July 2008, the regime of dictator Meles Zenawi secretly commissioned retired British colonel Michael Dewars, an internationally recognized security expert, to undertake an assessment of the prison system and make recommendations. In his report, Col. Dewars expressed total horror and shock over what he witnessed in one of the prisons he visited in Addis Ababa. He recounted:
I asked to go into the compound where the prisoners are kept. This consisted of a long yard with a shed to one side which provided some sort of shelter. The compound had a wall around it and a watchtower for an armed sentry overlooking it. Inside must have been 70 – 80 inmates, all in a filthy state. There was insufficient room for all these people to lie down on a mat at once. There was no lighting. The place stank of faeces and urine. There appeared to be no water or sanitation facilities within the compound. There was a small hut in an adjacent compound for women prisoners but there had been no attempt by anybody to improve the circumstances of the place. The prisoners were mostly on remand for minor crimes, in particular theft. Some had been there for months….
Col. Dewars concluded:
Detention conditions of prisoners are a disgrace and make the Federal Police vulnerable to the Human Rights lobby…. The prison I saw was a disgrace. No one is recommending a Hilton Hotel, but, if any human rights organization were to get inside an Ethiopian jail, they would have enough ammunition to sink all our best efforts.
recommended that the Government should investigate this situation with the intention of improving the current appalling conditions inside Ethiopian prisons, which must brutalise prisoners and their goalers equally… and that senior Ethiopian Ministers and Police Officers visit the prison that I visited.
Over the past several years, I have written extensively on torture and mistreatment of political prisoners in Ethiopia. In my numerous columns on the incarceration of former judge Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, and other political prisoners, I have pointed out the “soft torture” techniques used to crush her spirit and break her body. She was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, visitation deprivation, daily humiliation and mindless interrogation. Birtukan faced untold suffering in prison. Zenawi could not bear the thought of Birtukan going free; and in a moment frustrated defiance declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In the end she prevailed and became free. Just last week in Washington, D.C., she presented her study on the challenges confronting the Ethiopian opposition and offered specific recommendations for strengthening multi-party democracy in Ethiopia as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy.
Andualem Aragie Inside the Belly of the Beast
Zenawi has replaced Birtukan by another young Ethiopian leader, to be sure several dozens of young opposition leaders, journalists, activists and others. Last week, the former Ethiopian President and current leader of the Unity and Democracy Party (UDJ) Dr. Negasso Gidada reported that Andualem Aragie was severely beaten by a death-row-inmate-turned-lifer while confined in his cell. The facts of Andualem’s abuse are shocking. According to Dr. Negasso, Andualem was held in a “windowless cell for 14 people with a number of other political prisoners including Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and Tilahun Fantahun.” About a month ago, a convicted murderer whose life sentence had been commuted to life in prison was allowed to join Andualem’s cell. This criminal savagely assaulted Andualem inflicting severe injuries to his head. He was reported to lost consciousness following the assault.The Voice of America reported that “Relatives who have seen Andualem say his head injury appears to have affected his ability to maintain his balance.”
This inmate is notorious for his assaultive behavior inside the prison. He has a long record of violence and abuse of inmates. He is known to receive special accommodations for being a prison enforcer for the authorities. Rumors are rife that prison authorities paid the criminal a substantial sum for beating Andiualem.
Prior to his arrest on bogus terrorism charges, Andualem was a rising leader in the UDJ and served as its spokesperson and external relations officer. Andualem is among a new breed of young Ethiopian political leaders, journalists and civil society advocates who are widely respected and accepted. In the months leading up to the May 2010 “election” in which Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, Andualem demonstrated his unflinching commitment to democracy and the rule of law. With breathtaking clarity of thought, razor-sharp intellect, incredible courage, mesmerizing eloquence, piercing logic, stinging wit, masterful command of the facts and steadfast adherence to the truth, Andualem made mincemeat out of Zenawi’s vacuous lackeys in several televised pre-“election” debates. It was a sight to behold.
In September 2011, Andualem and 23 other individuals were “accused under the anti-terrorism law of being members of a terrorist network and abetting, aiding and supporting a terrorist group.” Earlier this month, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts (U.N. Special Rapporteurs) condemned the so-called anti-terrorism law and diplomatically cautioned that “the anti-terrorism provisions should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter to internationally guaranteed human rights.” Andualem and the others are expected to have their day in kangaroo court on March 5.
Torture, Abuse and Plausible Deniability
Plausible deniability is the ability to deny a fact or allegation, or previous knowledge of a fact by shifting blame on someone else. In Andualem’s case, plausible deniability allows Zenawi’s regime to deny any awareness or knowledge of a criminal or criminally negligent act by its officials or unofficial agents in the prison. By allowing a notoriously violent criminal to assault Andualem, they aim to plausibly avoid responsibility. In other words, they have sought to remove their fingerprints, handprints, palmprints and footprints from the cowardly criminal act perpetrated on Andualem. But their MO (modus operandi) is well known. Whether they acted through their goons uniformed as prison guards or their deputized convicted thugs, they are exclusively responsible for the safety of all pretrial detainees like Andualem. Regardless of how one looks at it, what happened to Andualem, and has happened to other political prisoners countless times, represents a clear case of extrajudicial punishment (torture) in violation of Ethiopia’s Constitution and international human rights conventions.
Speaking of Constitutional and International Law…
The Ethiopian Constitution provides specific safeguards for the safety and protection of pre-trial detainees awaiting trial. Article 16 guarantees that “Everyone has the right to protection against bodily harm..” Andualem has the constitutional right to be secure from violence while awaiting trial. Article 110 of the Ethiopian Criminal Code (Proclamation No.414/2004) specifically requires that “prisoners who are sentenced to rigorous imprisonment or special confinement shall be kept separate from prisoners who are serving a sentence of simple imprisonment or awaiting judgment.” The criminal thug who assaulted Andualem should have never been allowed in the area reserved for pre-trial detanees. Article 18 provides, “Everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The savage beating of Andualem in plain sight of prison guards constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Article 20 provides that, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law…” Since Andualem has not been found guilty “according to law”, he is innocent of the charges and should have been accorded his rights consistent with that presumption. Article 21 guarantees that “All persons held in custody and persons imprisoned upon conviction and sentencing have the right to treatments respecting their human dignity.”
International law protects all prisoners, and particularly political prisoners, from inhumane and barbaric treatment. Under Article 13 of the Ethiopian Constitution, the “fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated… shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” Article 5 of the UDHR (incorporated by express reference in Art. 13 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) prescribes that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (ratified by Ethiopia on June 11, 1993 and similarly incorporated) provides that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
The U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988) (Principle 8) specifically provides: “Persons in detention shall be subject to treatment appropriate to their unconvicted status. Accordingly, they shall, whenever possible, be kept separate from imprisoned persons.” Article 1 of the Declaration Against Torture (1975) defines torture as “… any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by, or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as …punishing him for an act he has committed; or intimidating him or other persons…” Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (acceded to by Ethiopia on April 13, 1994) mandates that signatories “shall undertake to prevent… acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…” Article 5 of the African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratified by Ethiopia on June 15, 1998) prohibits, “all forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly… torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.” The U.N. Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990) provide that “all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Covenants. Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court include torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
I write about the law on the protection of the rights of political prisoners to set the record; for I know that preaching the law to outlaws is like pouring water over granite.
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned…
In August 2009, I spoke at a town hall meeting organized by “Gasha for Ethiopia”, a civic organization, on the importance of remembering Ethiopian political prisoners:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” said Dr. Martin Luther King… Nothing is more important and uplifting to political prisoners than knowledge of the fact that they are not forgotten, abandoned and forsaken by the outside world. Remembrance gatherings at town hall meetings such as this one serve to remind all of us who live in freedom the divine blessings of liberty and the unimaginable suffering of those trapped in the darkness of dictatorship.
Andualem Aragie and countless political prisoners in Ethiopia reamin trapped in the darkness of dictatorship. They have been beaten down and brought to their knees. We cannot hear their whimpers of pain and desperation. Few, other than their tormentors, will be able to see their mangled bodies. Because they have no voice, we must be their voices and speak on their behalf. Because they are walled in behind filthy and subhuman prison institutions, we must unflaggingly remind the world of their suffering. We must all labor for the cause of Ethiopian political prisoners not because it is easy or fashionable, but because it is ethical, honorable, right and just. In the end, what will make the difference for the future of Ethiopia is not the brutality, barbarity, bestiality and inhumanity of its corrupt dictators, but the humanity, dignity, adaptability, audacity, empathy and compassion of decent Ethiopians for their wrongfully imprisoned compatriots. That is why we must join hands and work tirelessly to free all political prisoners held in Ethiopia’s public and secret gulags. “Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.”
Uncage Andualem Aragie and All Political Prisoners in Ethiopia!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/