Skip to content


Ethiopian Telecom Corporation or Tele-corruporation?

ethiopian telecommunication corporation

“Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation” (ETC)

In August 1998, the World Bank (WB) issued a corruption report on Ethiopia and summarized:

In the Government’s view, the following are the major determinants of corruption: a poorly functioning legal and judicial system inconsistent with the 1994 Constitution; an overregulated bureaucracy, emphasising regulation rather than service delivery; a low-paid civil service; a new yet rudimentary government, based on a federal structure; and weak budgetary and financial control, with an outdated procurement structure, and poorly trained financial staff…

That WB report made a number of recommendations to combat corruption including, “strengthening links with civil society and the private sector to identify critical areas relating to corruption”,  “elimination of excessive regulation”, “promotion of competitive market conditions and greater transparency”, and facilitation of  “dialogue among Parliament, Civil Service, Civil Society, the Private Sector, the Media, the government, the Chamber of Commerce,  other members of the business community, and civil society on implementing the anti-corruption program and developing complementary activities.”

By 2013, the “overregulated bureaucracy” of 1998 had become even more over-regulated. Government service delivery remains abysmally poor. The “new rudimentary government” had grown tentacles that crushed and pulverized everything in its reach. The “procurement structure” across agencies had been transformed into a bottomless vortex of corruption, fraud, waste and abuse of public funds, including foreign aid and international loans. The “poorly functioning legal and judicial system” evolved to become an exquisite kangaroo court system which permits arrest and incarceration of suspects without sufficient evidence. (Ethiopia is the only country in the world where the prosecution can arrest and jail suspects indefinitely while repeatedly asking leave of court to gather evidence of guilt on the suspects!) The “poorly trained staff” evolved into a sophisticated band of official thieves and swindlers. The regime that cemented itself in power in Ethiopia since 1998 is so corrupt that its venality is arguably exceeded only by the regime of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria in the mid-1990s who, alongside his family members, associates, cronies and supporters, looted Nigeria’s coffers to the tune of over USD$16 billion.

The two most effective anti-corruption institutions recommended in the 1998 WB report — the independent media and civil society organizations — have been totally decimated. In its January 2013 report, Human Rights Watch concluded, “The ruling party has passed a host of laws attacking the media and civil society, including the Charities and Societies Proclamation that has made independent human rights work in the country almost impossible. The state has frozen the assets of the last two remaining groups – the leading women’s rights organization, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association EWLA) – which has provided free legal aid to over 17,000 women – and the Human Rights Council (HRCO).” Ethiopia’s independent media has been annihilated with dozens of journalists in jail or in exile. According to Freedom House, “Ethiopia [in 2012] is currently the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea.”

Since the WB’s 1998 study, the cancer of corruption has metastasized throughout the Ethiopian body politic like cancer.  In 2011, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the renowned organization that reports on “illicit financial flows” (illegal capital flight, mispricing, bulk cash movements, hawala transactions, smuggling, etc.) out of developing countries,  reported: “Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009… The people of Ethiopia are being bled dryNo matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.” The economy heaves under excessive regulation and taxation. The regime has a stranglehold on power and its supporters and cronies have sucked the economy dry. The regime operates in total secrecy and with no transparency and accountability for its official activities.

In June 2012, the World Bank issued its comprehensive 448-page “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. It was a study of extraordinary depth and scale. It was a “clinical” diagnosis of cancerous corruption that has has metastasized throughout the country’s “health, education, rural water supply, construction, telecommunications, justice and land sectors”.

For crying out loud…

Over the past several months, I have commented on the 2012 WB’s corruption findings in the land  and education sectors in Ethiopia. Here I comment on corruption in the telecommunications sector.

According to the WB, corruption in the Ethiopian telecommunication sector specifically “includes bribery, extortion, fraud, deception, collusion, cartels, abuse of power, embezzlement, trading in influence, money laundering, and similar unlawful actions.” Billions of dollars have been lost in the telecommunications sector from outright theft, fraud, waste, abuse, profiteering, nepotism, kickbacks, sweetheart deals, shady dealings, malfeasance, mismanagement and mindboggling incompetence. There is little accountability and transparency in the “Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation”; and it has become the home and playground of the most avaricious corruptoids in Ethiopia.

The 2012 WB report attributes corruption in the ETC to a number of factors including an “environment where there is a combination of exceptionally high investment costs and poor service delivery”, “lack of accountability for the sole service provider”, “anticompetitive practices in the market” and “serious mismanagement within the telecommunications sector.”

In its assessment of corruption in the telecommunications sector, the WB begins its analysis with the following ironic observation:

Ethiopia boasts the oldest functioning telephone system in Africa. In 1894, just 17 years after the invention of the telephone, work began on the provision of telephone and telegram communication between Addis Ababa and Harar, a distance of some 477 kilometers. [The regime]… invested some US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006” [amounting to] about 10 percent of GDP in the sector, an unusually high level of investment by international standards…. [The investments] are currently directed into fixed, wireless and mobile network infrastructure, including third-generation (3G) mobile technology as well as a national fiber-optic backbone…”

Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. And it boasted the first privately owned public telecoms service in Africa, yet is now the only nation on the continent still permitting a state-owned company to maintain a monopoly on all telecoms services. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.

Ethiopia established its telecommunications infrastructure the same year Europe laid its plan for the “Scramble for Africa”. In 1894, the Berlin Conference was held to enable European nations to chop up Africa and colonize it without the need for imperialistic wars among themselves. By 1904, telegraph lines ran into the capital Addis Ababa from Harar in the east, Tigray in the north and Jimma in the south.

According to Freedom House, in 2011, mobile, internet, and fixed line telecommunications in Ethiopia is the second lowest in all of Africa. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “in 2011, there were only 829,000 fixed telephone lines in actual operation (a decrease from 908,000 lines in 2010), serving a population of 83 million for a penetration rate of less than 1 percent.”  Internet penetration in Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa with a population approaching 90 million in 2013, is  less than 1  percent (0.7%), keeping that country at the tail end of all African countries;  and for that matter all countries in the world. The bar graph displayed below (obtained from the WB report) shows that in 2009, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Djbouti and Eritrea were ahead of Ethiopia in the percentage of internet users, and for all practical purposes in mobile and fixed line telecommunication services as well.  

eth telecom comparison chartFor crying out loud, how is possible for a country that has had telecommunications services for 119 years and “boasted having the oldest functioning telephone system in Africa” to have the lowest telecommunications penetration rate in Africa today?

In the name of the Almighty, how is that possible for a country that has invested “US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006” and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure” to have the lowest telecommunications penetration rate in Africa?

How is that possible for a country whose economy has allegedly been growing at galloping double-digit annual rates for the past decade and whose population is pushing 90 million to trail at the tail end of the most vital element of technology in the modern world?

All things being relative, and in all earnestness, was Ethiopia better off in telecommunications in the Nineteenth Century than it is in the 21st? 

What a low down dirty shame!!!

Anatomy of tele-corruption in Ethiopia

Tele-corruption in Ethiopia occurs at the structural level. The WB report reveals that the systemic cause of corruption is attributable to a “combination of monopolistic service provision and apparently weak accountability mechanisms.” The ETC is a state-owned monopoly and “the sole provider of telecommunications services in Ethiopia (including fixed-line, mobile, Internet, and data communications).” Telecommunications “equipment is provided and installed by international suppliers.” Anyone who seeks to “operate any telecommunications service” must obtain a “license” from the ETC. Some “20 entities, including Ethiopian Airlines and the World Bank, have been granted special authorizations to operate independent communication links.”

Corruption in the telecommunications sector in Ethiopia manifests itself in a number of ways. ETC charges excessively “high rates for its services. International bandwidth costs in Ethiopia were approximately double those in neighboring Kenya.” The regime was hell-bent on “seeking to curtail and control communication services” following the disputed 2005 elections and “banned telephony (telecommunication services for the purpose of electronic transmission of voice, fax, or data, between distant parties) and created a new organization, the Network Operation Centre, to control internet service.” The ETC’s billing system has been a total disaster. According to the WB report, “In 2006, the system failed completely, resulting in a revenue loss of US$6.3 million. The entire customer database was lost and there was no backup, even though the equipment for such a backup had reportedly been procured.” The procurement system (the process involving in advanced planning, scheduling, and purchasing of goods and services with the aim of cost savings, more efficient business operation, etc.), is completely corrupted particularly in light of  “Ethiopia’s increasingly close political relationship with China.” In sum,  the ETC is the most sacred cash cow for the regime members, their cronies and fat cat associates in the business sector. The WB report notes that “Although the ETC has been unable to keep pace with demand, there are no firm plans to allow another operator to enter the market.” So, Ethiopia, the first to have telecommunications in all of Africa in 1894 today finds itself at the tail end of the telecommunications revolution in all of Africa!

Rigged contracts: ground zero for corruption in the telecommunications sector

Ground zero for corruption in the Ethiopian telecommunications sector is the procurement process. According to the WB report, in 2006 the ruling regime entered into a “highly unusual” “Vendor Financing and Supply Agreement for financing, supply, and installation of telecoms equipment up to a value of US$1.5 billion.” (The expected expenditure on improvements to the telecommunications sector by 2012 was USD$4 billion.)  Among the “unusual” characteristics of the “high value” Vendor Agreement include, “granting one supplier the right to supply all telecoms equipment to the ETC over a three-year period.” The regime agreed “for a period of three years, to place all telecoms contracts with the supplier. Specifically, the agreement required the ETC to place nine prespecified equipment packages with the supplier.” According to the WB report, there was “no commercial justification for the award of such a large contract to one supplier”. The Agreement was signed without “competitive tender taking place” and there was no “effective contractual mechanism for price protection and technical compliance.” The Agreement “as signed provided for a 13-year loan period, with the first three years being interest-free.”

The rigging of telecommunications procurement is mindboggling. What is amazing is not only the fact that there was no competitive tender for either financing or equipment supply or even that the whole telecommunications kit and caboodle was handed over to one vendor; rather it is the cavalier, disdainful arrogance of unaccountability of the regime in making the deals. The regime dealt with the sole source vendor as though they were betting their own money at a crap table in a Las Vegas casino. According to the WB report:

The procurement process for the vendor finance contract was initiated by the ETC through a request to several suppliers. The equipment to be supplied under the proposed financing was not specified in detail at that time, and the process was kept informal for the most part… The ETC’s financial requirements were not provided in detail to those suppliers (other than possibly the winning supplier) that had been approached to consider providing such financing. There is no evidence of a formal tender procedure for the finance packageThe supplier selected by the ETC to supply the finance package was the only company that offered a financing package that suited the ETC’s purposes. The equipment supply element of the vendor financing contract was not put out to competitive tender. This absence of competitive tender means that there is a considerable risk of overpricing and unfavorable contract terms for the ETC…

The ETC committed to purchase all telecoms equipment over a three-year period from one supplierSuch a wide-ranging commitment without competitive tender is highly unusual. There does not appear to be any commercial necessity to place the whole US$1.5 billion contract with one supplier.  The nine different equipment packages being sought (for example, mobile, customer data center, and Internet) could have been placed with different suppliers and still have resulted in a compatible and efficient network. This sole sourcing commitment means that there is a considerable risk of overpricing and unfavorable contract terms for the ETC in relation to each supply contract.

The details of the rigged Agreement are madding. The “contract was awarded before agreement on either the specification or price—and without a sufficient contractual price protection mechanism.” The “contract was not in accordance with the ETC’s procurement procedure. Procurement procedures are bypassed allowing sole-source purchasing instead of competitive tendering. In some cases, the ETC purchases new equipment when it already has the necessary equipment in the warehouse. The ETC’s procurement procedures allow for the debarment of poorly performing suppliers, but the ETC does not appear to exercise this right.  Some prequalifications and tenders allow too much room for subjective assessment, potentially causing some suppliers to be inappropriately eliminated from the tender list.”

There were no ascertainable “procedures for ensuring technical quality and competitive pricing.” There was no way of determining “whether prices far exceed reasonable industry prices.” The supplier had “no incentive to provide a competitive price.” Implementation of the Agreement remained shrouded in a veil of total secrecy.

For obvious reasons, the WB report could not come out and say it, but the truth of the matter is that somebody or somebodies had a BIG payday when the Vendor Agreement was signed! Somebody or somebodies got a BIG cut worth millions of dollars in kickbacks. The USD$1.5 billion Vendor Agreement was rigged by rip-off artists who never thought they would be discovered or someday prosecuted.

According to the WP report in July 2007, the “ETC allegedly dismissed 16 high-level employees for corruption as a result of an 2007 audit report that suggested irregularities in purchases from international suppliers. The contracts in question allegedly were worth US$54 million.” In January 2008, the so-called anti-corruption agency “brought charges” against a “former ETC CEO and 26 former ETC executives for allegedly procuring low- quality equipment from companies that were supposed to be rejected on the basis of procurement regulations.” The contracts in question were worth US$154 million. In August 2008, the so-called anti-corruption agency “arrested a senior ETC manager after receiving an audio recording and transcript from an anonymous source in which the manager is allegedly recorded soliciting a bribe from an international supplier.” Assuming that the money reportedly lost to corruption and low quality equipment  is not lowballed, one can make a rough guestimate of 10-14 percent of the cost of the Vendor Agreement of USD$1.5 billion ending up in the pockets of a few officials and their fat cat cronies and/or being lost through fraud, waste, abuse and gross incompetence.

Rooting out corruption in telecommunications sector

The war against corruption in Ethiopia cannot be won by selectively “catching” a few token corrupt officials out of power and their associates and putting them on show trials. The solution to corruption in Ethiopia is not having Twiddle Dee investigating and prosecuting Twiddle Dum. As the late Meles Zenawi once remarked in the context of 10,000 tons of coffee which disappeared from the warehouses, “We all have our hands in its disappearance.” Those in power and those removed from power on allegations of  corruption have their hands deep in the cookie jar. Everyone knows they are two sides of the same coin. The only difference is that when the coin is flipped, one side is down and out and the other up and about. Those in power  cannot aspire to sainthood by crucifying their buddies who were feeding with them at the same trough of corruption just weeks ago. Those in the regime pointing an index finger of corruption on their former brethren should be aware that three fingers are pointing directly at them. They are not above suspicion or reproach when it comes to corruption. They are as guilty or as innocent of corruption as the ones they have arrested and jailed.

Those in the regime should not insult our intelligence by trying to pass off Mickey Mouse corruption investigations for real professional no-stones-left-unturned investigations of corruption using state-of-the-art forensic accountancy and white collar crime investigative techniques. I say Mickey Mouse not to ridicule but to describe accurately a state of facts. The so-called anti-corruption agency, having investigated two dozen Customs officials and their alleged collaborators for 2 years, arrested and jailed  them has yet to produce credible evidence of their criminal culpability. In an incredible affront to the principle of the rule of law, the “anti-corruption” agency has taken repeated leaves of court to gather evidence on the guilt of these suspects. Could there be a more Mickey Mouse system of justice (even worse than a kangaroo court) in the world?

The World Bank prescribed the right medicine for corruption in its 1998 report. (Those who do not want to face facts can try to distract attention from corruption in Ethiopia by criticizing the World Bank for being a “neoliberal” institution and  casting aspersions on it.) The fact of the matter is that the WB identified the most important and proven components of any anti-corruption efforts: civil society and media institutions.

In the fight against corruption, it is vital to “strengthen the links with civil society and the private sector to identify critical areas relating to corruption”. Vigilant civil society institutions which work freely at the grassroots levels and provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring are the first line of defense and the first responders against corruption. The independent press must flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. In the democratic countries, it is the independent media which seeks out and exposes corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government. It is the independent media that provides the public a voice to speak out against corruption and empower ordinary citizens to pursue their corruption complaints against officials and  work with government to promote good practices.

The WB is right in prescribing the “elimination of excessive regulation” and “promotion of competitive market conditions and greater transparency”. In the telecommunications sector in Ethiopia, regulations are used to ensure regime officials and their cronies can suck dry a particularly lucrative sector of the economy. Telecommunications is a cash cow that can be milked endlessly. Deregulating and de-monopolizing the telecom sector means competitive rates, cheaper operational costs and greater public access to and expansion of telecom services. It also means less cash in the pockets of regime officials and their cronies. There is no economic or commercial reason why the telecom sector cannot be de-monopolized and full competition by domestic and foreign companies allowed to provide cost-effective and efficient nationwide telecommunications services.

The WB is correct in urging “dialogue among Parliament, Civil Service, Civil Society, the Private Sector, and the Media” and “facilitating dialogue among government, the Chamber of Commerce and other members of the business community, and civil society on implementing the anti-corruption program and developing complementary activities.” Anti-corruption efforts must be multipronged and not left to an anti-corruption agency which itself is  corruption suspect.  “Outsourcing” the management of the telecom sector for a couple of years is no cure for corruption. It has been reported that the regime agreed to pay some 30 million euro to a European company to manage its telecommunications sector through 2012, much of it to cover the salaries and expenses of 24 personnel. Another boondoggle to continue corruption?

In my recent commentary “The Corruption Game”, I questioned whether the arrest of a couple dozen corruption suspects in the Customs Authority was a shot across the bow in the “war against corruption” or a public relations stunt. I concluded that the regime was “showboating and grandstanding the corruption issue to nail its opponents and get public relations credit and international handouts at the same time.” I opined that the whole effort was a “public relations political theater” by the regime “desperately trying to catch some positive publicity buzz in a media environment where they are being hammered and battered everyday by human rights organizations, NGOs, international media outlets and others.” I still believe that deciding on the integrity of a corruption investigation of one group of corrupt officials in power against another group of corrupt officials out of power is like trying to select a beauty queen in a pageantry of monkeys, to allude to an old Ethiopian proverb.

But even if the whole effort is window-dressing, I will give Hailemariam credit for aspiring to achieve a goal of clean government instead of clone government. Even though Hailemariam has said many times he will unwaveringly follow Meles’ footsteps, it is possible for him to rise up from a quagmire of corruption and walk on the path that could lead to “radical improvements in terms of governance and democracy.”  In the meantime, ordinary citizens, those out of power, abused by power, who fell from power, who could not care less about power, the powerless, the disempowered  or the powerful, should heed Edward Griffin’s counsel: “To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.”

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:

Ethiopia Has Arisen!

Ethiopia Youth Demonstration On Ginbot 20,  1983 (Ethiopian calendar; [5/28/1991]), Meles Zenawi and thousands of his guerilla fighters marched into Addis Ababa toting AK-47s, RPGs and hand grenades. They marched into the capital promising democracy, freedom and liberation from a brutal military dictatorship. The people of the capital welcomed them with some anxiety; but they were greatly relieved to see a regime that had brutalized them for 17 years finally consigned to the dustbin of history.

On Ginbot 25, 2005 (Ethiopian calendar; [6/1/2013]), over one hundred thousand young men and women marched in the streets of Addis Ababa demanding the release of political prisoners, religious freedom, respect for human rights and the Constitution and public accountability.  They demanded action on youth unemployment, inflation and corruption. They marched armed with cell phones, placards and banners. They cried out for justice.  They sang songs of unity: “Ethiopia! Our Country!” They marched for their rights and the rights of their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. What a sight to behold! Tens of thousands of young people demanding their rights in a peaceful demonstration.

The long youth march to freedom and dignity has begun in Ethiopia. It is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is peaceful. It is beautiful because it is motivated by love of country and love of each other as children of one Mother Ethiopia. It is beautiful because Ethiopia’s youth in unison are shouting out loud, “We can’t take anymore! We need change!” History shall record that on Ginbot 25, 2005 Ethiopia rose from the pit she has fallen into on the wings of her youth.

I do not know if those in power had ulterior motives in allowing the unprecedented demonstration. The last time there was a street demonstration to protest stolen elections held on Ginbot 7 , 1997 (5/15/2005), 193 people were shot dead in cold blood and 763 wounded.

I frankly do not care about the motives of those in power in allowing the protest demonstration. I do not question if the right thing is done for the wrong reason. It is never too late to do the right thing, but there is never a right time to do the wrong thing.

I hope those in power have learned some positive lessons from the youth protest. There is nothing to fear from our young people. They are our children. They are the future. How could we fear our children and the future? Young people express themselves by marching in the streets because they feel ignored, neglected and overlooked. They feel they are not being heard. When those in power today went into the bush in the 1970s, they did so because they felt exactly the same way as these young people do now. These young people marching in the streets are now hoping they might be heard in the gilded halls of power if they shouted loud enough in a chorus of one hundred thousand voices. Perhaps echoes of their bootless cries might faintly resonate on the eardrums of the powerful and mighty.  The fact of the matter is that young Ethiopians today feel the unbearable pain of their lives wasting away, their future fading into a chasm of despair and hopelessness. They need to be heard not just seen cowering before the baton of policemen and running away from the gunfire of security officials. Ethiopia belongs to her young people.

Gene Sharp, the founder of The Albert Einstein Institution, a man dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action said, “Dictatorships are never as strong as they think they are, and people are never as weak as they think they are.” Dictatorships rule only because the people they rule fear them and believe the dictators are all powerful and untouchable. Regardless of how powerful a dictatorship is, it cannot rule without some degree of genuine cooperation and support of the people. Popular support for the regimein Ethiopia, if there ever was one, evaporated long ago. Few recognize the legitimacy of the regime today. The regime cannot expect to remain in power indefinitely without accepting the need for change.

Change is inevitable. On balance, change is good. But there are eternal and inescapable truths about change.  Dr. Martin Luther King said, “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.” Ethiopia’s young people have straightened their backs and are struggling.  We should join and work together with them to bring about peaceful change through dialogue, openness, civil debate and consultations.

I believe real change begins in the hearts of individuals — the powerful and the powerless — not in political systems or ideologies. It is said that a person who cannot change his/her mind cannot change anything. I would add, a person who cannot change his heart — from hate to love, from anger to understanding, from indifference to compassion, from doubt to faith, from grief to forgiveness, from insincerity to honesty, from extremes to moderation, from pride to humility, from silence to righteous indignation, from intolerance to tolerance, from a belief in ethnicity instead of humanity — cannot change his/her mind and therefore can change nothing. The heart and mind must work together, but if we must make a choice, we should always strive to give the heart the right of way. Change is a choice we choose to make. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Let us always choose the peaceful path.

Every single week for years, I have argued that peaceful change is possible in Ethiopia. I have said that if Ethiopia is destined to rise and shine, it will be on the wings of her young people. I have an unquestioning faith in the intelligence, judgment and resoluteness of Ethiopia’s young people to continue their peaceful struggle.

On Ginbot 25, 20o5, Ethiopia’s youth flapped their colorful wings for the first time in two decades, with the resplendent colors of their ethnic, religious and linguistic heritage. They spoke in voice. They marched to the beat of the same drummer for human rights, democracy and freedom. You can no longer keep Ethiopia’s youth down. You can kick them and knock them down. But you can’t keep them down. They will get up and fight for their rights. Yilekal Getachew, chairman of the Semayawi (Blue) party, which organized the protests said, “We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs. If these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests. It is the beginning of our struggle.” The peaceful struggle will go on so that “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”

Ethiopia Has Arisen!

Ethiopia Africa’s bright gem

Shall rise up from the ashes of tyranny

Like the spring sun rising at dawn over the African horizon

Like the full moon rising over the darkness of the African night

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!

Ethiopia shall rise from the heights of Ras Dejen

To the peaks of Kilimanjaro

From the pits of the politics of identity

To the summit of national unity and diversity

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!

Ethiopia of the wise

Shall rise above the streetwise

Its people to galvanize, mobilize and organize

To humanize, harmonize and compromise

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!

Ethiopia Africa’s hope and destiny

Shall rise and its tyrants shall fall

Their lies, cruelty and corruption

Buried with them in the steel coffin of history

For “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”

Ethiopia shall rise by the sinews of her youth

Up-rise on the wings of her persevering children

Ethiopia shall rise and rise

Her youth will up-rise

Rise Ethiopia, up-rise.

(Poem from my commentary “Ethiopia Shall Rise”)

(My regular Monday Commentary will appear by mid-week.)

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:

Ethiopia Shall Rise!

Ethiopia rise 1H.I.M. Haile Selassie and bronze statue of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah

Ethiopia Rising! 

The Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU replaced OAU in 2002) began celebrating its Golden Jubilee in Addis Ababa this past week. In May 1963 when the OAU was founded, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah accentuated his closing remarks by reciting a poem he had specially commissioned as a crowning tribute to an ascendant Ethiopia. Addressing H.I.M. Haile Selassie, President Nkrumah said, “It only remains for me, Your Majesty, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to convey to the Government and people of Ethiopia especially to His Imperial Majesty, my sincere expression of gratitude for a happy and memorable stay in Addis Ababa…” With confident cadence, Nkrumah recited a poem of such exquisite eloquence and grace that my eyes well up every time I read it.  These were Nkruma’s own words.

Ethiopia shall rise

Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem

Set high among the verdant hills

That gave birth to the unfailing

Waters of the Nile

Ethiopia shall rise

Ethiopia, land of the wise;

Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule

And fertile school

Of our African culture;

Ethiopia, the wise

Shall rise

And remould with us the full figure

Of Africa’s hopes

And destiny.

ethiopia rise 2HI.M. Haile Selassie (C) and Ghana’s first President  Kwame Nkrumah (L) at the OAU (1963)

When the erection of a commemorative statue on the grounds of the AU was proposed for H.I.M. in 2011, the late “great visionary leader” in Ethiopia opposed it saying, “It is only Nkrumah who is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism. It is a shame not to accept his role.” He succeeded in denying H.I.M. Haile Selassie the simple recognition of a bronze statute. What a shame to be black hearted! What a shame to be shameless! What a crying shame to minimize, trivialize and marginalize the contributions of the prime architect of African unity! History bears witness that H.I.M. exterted extraordinary effort and brought together the “Casablanca” and “Monrovia” Groups making itpossible to launch the OAU. He worked tirelessly for the cause of African unity. At that historic inaugural conference, H.I.M.  made the most compelling case,  the most passionate plea for African unity, independence and Pan-Africanism:

…We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity… Our efforts as free men must be to establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples…

As I reflect on the efforts of the Founding Fathers of the OAU, I am nary concerned about erecting bronze or marble statues for them. I am concerned about and outraged by the mangling and distortion of history by self-important blind “visionaries” who hide behind the robes of the giants of African unity (instead of standing on their shoulders) to ply their mission of Ethiopian disunity.  If history were about symbols and titles, H.I.M. Haile Selassie had more of it than any African leader. He was elected by his peers as the “Father of African Unity” at the 1972 Ninth Heads of States and Governments meeting of the Organization of African Unity. He was elected the first chairman of the OAU in 1963 and elected again in 1966 to serve in the same position, making him the only African leader to have held that position twice. He was the African face of resistance, defiance and victory over European colonialism. He does not need the advocacy or opprobrium  of a myopic Johnny-come-lately to erect a statute in recognition of his singular contributions to the continent.

History is full of ironies. Those who championed a statue for Nkrumah because “only (he) is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism” would roll over in their graves if they only knew of Nkrumah’s deep love for Ethiopia. Nkrumah had a special place for Ethiopia in his heart. Though he was the foremost Pan-Africanist, he also saw Ethiopia as a special beacon of light and freedom for all of Africa in its defiant struggle against European colonialism . He took pride in the fact that Ethiopia was able to defend its sovereignty and independence against repeated incursions by European colonialists. He saw Ethiopia as the spoke in the wheel of African unity.

Nkrumah was passionate about Pan-Africanism, but he never commissioned a poem for Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah was passionate about Africa, but he never commissioned a poem for Africa Rising. Nkrumah loved Pan-Africanism and Africa, but he had a love affair with Ethiopia. That is why he commissioned a special poem in honor of her beauty and bounty for his final words at the closing of the very first OAU summit.  Nkrumah is the only leader in the world who has ever commissioned a panegyric poem for Ethiopia!  We  should all be happy and proud to have Nkrumah’s statue on the grounds of the AU in Ethiopia. H.I.M. Haile Selassie will no doubt get his statue in time because “truth cannot remain forever on the scaffold nor wrong remain forever on the throne.”

Looking back, I believe Nkrumah was not only an ardent Pan-Africanist but also an African “prophet”. Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before the blind visionaries made her slip and fall into the quagmire of ethnic politics. Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before the shameless declared “Africa is rising… The African Renaissance has begun…” Nkrumah knew Africa should beware of  neocolonial and imperialist ambitions, machinations and designs lest she fall, long before the witless panhandlers sought to make a name for themselves by maligning “neoliberalism” while sucking its teats dry.

Nkrumah’s poem is indeed “prophesy”. “Ethiopia shall rise!” Like the morning sun and the full moon at midnight, Ethiopia shall rise. She shall rise up and shake off the sooty dust of dictatorship that covers her. Ethiopia shall rise again and brightly shine like a precious gem. She shall rise above sectarianism and communalism.  She shall rise from the depths of doubt to heights of faith. Ethiopia shall rise, and stretch out her arms and embrace all her children and in turn be embraced by Providence.

Nkrumah is a true son of Ethiopia. When they said Ethiopia’s history is only one hundred years old, Nkrumah said “No. Ethiopia is the cradle of Africa’s ancient rule.” When they tried to shroud Ethiopia in the darkness of tyranny and dictatorship, Nkrumah said, “No can do. Ethiopia is Africa’s bright gem.” She must shine. Let her rise and shine! When they said, “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people,” Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the land of the wise.” When they hatched plans to make the Nile a source of war, death and destruction,  Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the birthplace of the Nile” which gives the gift of life to Africa. When they toiled day and night to crush our spirits and cast our souls into the pit of despair and misery, Nkrumah said, “Hold on! Ethiopia is Africa’s hope and destiny. ” We must forge ahead.  Nkrumah is not only Ghana’s son, but also Ethiopia’s. When we sometimes lose faith and feel downcast, let our spirits rise and be carried on Nkrumah’s prophetic words, “Ethiopia shall rise.” So, there is no competition between H.I.M. and Nkrumah. They are both Ethiopia’s distinguished sons. Honoring Nkrumah is honoring H.I.M. Haile Selassie.

As I read Nkrumah’s poem from May 1963, I also remember H.I.M. Haile Selassie’s speech  before the United Nations General Assembly in October 1963. In that speech, H.I.M. passionately defended the cause of Pan-Africanism and articulated the ideology needed for the ongoing struggle to protect and defend African independence and secure world peace:

… Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nature; until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, and until the basic human rights are guaranteed to all without regard for race… the dream of lasting peace … will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained…. That until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and South Africa in subhuman bondages have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding, tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men as they are in Heaven — until that day the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil…

Bob Marley used these words as lyrics to his song “War”, which became the battle hymn of African unity and independence. (I wish someone could put Nkrumah’s poem to music: “Ethiopia shall rise…rise…” Up-rise!)

In a risen Ethiopia, there shall be no place for a philosophy that holds one ethnic, religious, linguisitc or gender group superior to another. There shall no longer be first class and second-class citizens in Ethiopia. In a risen Ethiopia, ethnicity, religion, language, region or gender shall have no more significance than the color of  one’s eyes. In a risen Ethiopia, human rights shall be guaranteed to all.

Aah! The OAU/AU

It is heartbreaking for me to comment on the OAU/AU. In 2013, of the 47 countries in the world with the lowest human development index, 36 of them are in Africa! President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania once described  the OAU as “a talking Club of Heads of States”. Others have described it as the  “Dictators’ Club”  or “Dictator’s Trade Union”. George Ayittey, the internationally acclaimed Ghanaian economist does not mince words sizing up the AU: “Please, please, don’t ask about the African Union. It is the most useless organization we have on the continent. It can’t even define ‘democracy’ and it is completely bereft of originality.”

I expressed deep disappointment and disillusionment when the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa was constructed by the Chinese government at a cost of USD$200 million and delivered to the AU in February 2012  as “China’s gift to Africa.” Not only was I ashamed to learn that the China State Construction Engineering Corporation constructed the building using nearly all Chinese workers, I was also distressed to find out China picked up the entire tab for the building, fixtures and furniture. At the dedication ceremony, Africa’s shameless “leaders” lined up to shower praise on China. “Africa is rising… The African Renaissance has begun and we have the means to keep it going…”

I said Africa is not rising. Africa has fallen into beggary. China is rising in Africa. China has the means to keep itself going in Africa. China’s Renaissance in Africa has begun. The new AU building in Addis Ababa is a symbol of African shame not fame. Its claim of renaissance glory is illusory. If the African Union and its leaders cannot afford to chip in and collectively build the most visible, iconic and symbolic edifice for an Africa Rising,  there is not much I could say except to call it, as I did, “African Beggars Union Hall”.

The OAU/AU and Human Rights

Despite OAU/AU aspirations to secure the political, economic and social integration of African countries and lead the continent into development and prosperity, I view the organization as having at its core a human rights mission. I do not believe there can be African development or unity as long as the human rights of ordinary Africans are trampled and trashed every day. OAU’s core values of anti-colonialism, -neo-colonialism, -imperialism and Pan-Africanism were essentially human rights values in the struggle against European dehumanization of Africans. Colonialism (neocolonialism) had no regard for the human rights of colonized (neocolonized) peoples.

The OAU/AU has been ineffective and largely irrelevant in African human rights. In many parts of Africa civil and border wars have raged for decades costing the lives of millions as the OAU/AU looked on with folded arms. The OAU/AU has  turned a blind eye, deaf ear and muted lips as African dictators massacre their own citizens.  The OAU stood fidgeting as the Rwanda Genocide consumed a million innocent Africans, without plans to avert or  stop that genocide. The OAU did not even want to label it “genocide”!

For over two decades, the OAU/AU has watched Somalia spiraling into chaos, unable to help free the suffering people of Somalia  from the clutches of competing warlords and protect them from aggression. The AU  could not even deliver a sufficient number of peacekeeping troops in Somalia to secure peace and begin its reconstruction. The AU twiddled its thumbs as French troops entered Cote d’Ivoire to restore democratic rule. The AU sat on its rear end as France sent less than 5 thousand soldiers to expel a ragtag army of terrorists  from Mali. The OAU stood by idly as elections were stolen in broad daylight in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda.

The AU closed ranks to coddle criminals against humanity.  When Omar Bashir of Sudan was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, the official line was “The AU Member States shall not cooperate pursuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to immunities, for the arrest and surrender of President Omar El Bashir of the Sudan”. The AU will protect and shelter the Butcher of Darfur from facing justice in the name of “African sovereignty”. Because the AU has failed miserably to curtail flagrant violations of human rights, the ICC had to step in to protect Africans.  As of 2011, the ICC has opened investigations in seven African countries.

The AU’s idea of human rights is having endless conferences, meetings and issuing declarations, resolutions and MOUs on human rights. There is an African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) with all sorts of protocols for children and women. There is an African Human Rights Commission. It has little to show for itself except lofty declarations and resolutions. There is an AU Department of Political Affairs which is supposed to deal with human rights, democracy and elections. It claims as one of its core missions election observance in member states. In 2010, when the late Meles Zenawi declared electoral victory by 99.6 percent, the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:

The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the   will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. We had no way of verifying the allegations.

Today Africa is more disunited and fragmented than ever. Pan-Africanism is dead. A new ideology is sweeping over Africa today. Africa’s dictators are furiously beating the drums of “tribal nationalism” all over the continent to cling to power. In many parts of Africa today ideologies of “ethnic identity”, “ethnic purity,” “ethnic homelands”, ethnic cleansing and tribal chauvinism have become fashionable. In the Cote d’Ivoire, an ideological war has been waged over ‘Ivoirité’  (‘Ivorian-ness’) since the 1990s. Proponents of this perverted ideology argue that the country’s problems are rooted in the contamination of genuine Ivorian identity by outsiders who have been allowed to immigrate freely into the country.

In Ethiopia, tribal politics has been repackaged in a fancy wrapper called “ethnic federalism.” Ethiopians have been segregated by ethno-tribal classifications in grotesque political units called “kilils” (reservations) or glorified apartheid-style Bantustans or tribal homelands. This sinister perversion of the concept of federalism has enabled a few corrupt kleptocratic dictators to oppress, divide and rule some 80 million people for over two decades.

The great African author Chinua Achebe wrote a book (Things Fall Apart) asking why things keep falling apart in Africa. My answer is simple. Over the past one-half century of independence, it has been nearly impossible to hold Africa’s so-called leaders accountable and institute the rule of law. For fifty years, African “leaders” have evaded accountability and hoodwinked the people into believing that Africa’s problems are all externally caused. Africa is what it is (or is not) because of its colonial legacy. It is the white man.  It is neocolonialism, capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism, globalization… It is the International Monetary Fund. It is the World Bank… The continent’s underdevelopment, poverty,  corruption and  mismanagement are all caused by evil powers outside the continent.

Things fall apart in Africa because African “leaders” do not respect the human rights of their people. To paraphrase Achebe, Africa is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” Few African leaders respect the dignity and humanity of their people. How can Africa rise when her leaders trip and make her fall every time, and keep her from rising up by pressing their boots on her neck. But things that fall apart also  come together and rise.

So, here is my anniversary poem on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the OAU/African Union, which I dedicate to H.I.M. Haile Selassie and President Kwame Nkrumah, the undisputed Champions of Pan-Africanism) .

Ethiopia up-Rising! Africa Rising!

Ethiopia Africa’s bright gem

Shall rise up from the ashes of tyranny

Like the spring sun rising at dawn over the African horizon

Like the full moon rising over the darkness of the African night

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!


Ethiopia shall rise from the heights of Ras Dejen

To the peaks of Kilimanjaro

From the pits of the politics of identity

To the summit of national unity and diversity

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!


Ethiopia of the wise

Shall rise above the streetwise

Its people to galvanize, mobilize and organize

To humanize, harmonize and compromise

Ethiopia shall rise and shine!


Ethiopia Africa’s hope and destiny

Shall rise and its tyrants shall fall

Their lies, cruelty and corruption

Buried with them in the steel coffin of history

For “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”


Ethiopia shall rise by the sinews of her youth

Up-rise on the wings of her persevering children

Ethiopia shall rise and rise

Her youth will up-rise

Rise Ethiopia, up-rise.


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:

Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia

educEducorruption 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 transcriptsThis 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 sanctionedThe matter was not investigatedSuch 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:

Ethiopia: Shadowboxing Smoke and Mirrors

 shadowMeles Zenawi when he was alive and his apostles today (“Melesistas”) keep playing us in the Diaspora like a cheap fiddle. They make us screech, shriek, scream and shout by simply showing their mugs in our cities. How do they do it? Every now and then, the Melesistas suit up a few of their bumbling and bungling zombies from central casting and unleash them into the Ethiopian Diaspora to “sell bonds” for the “Grand Meles Dam” to be built over the Blue Nile. Anytime these zombies show up to panhandle chump change from their supporters, a welcoming committee of defiant and patriotic Ethiopian activists show up to chase them out of town like campers at a national park chasing coyotes scrounging at the trash bin. For the past several weeks, Diaspora activists have been routing these imposters across European and American cities; but incredibly, these brazen con artists show up in the next city like snake oil salesmen at a carnival. That really piqued my curiosity. Why do these scammers show up in city after city knowing that they will be confronted and chased out by young patriotic Ethiopians? Are they really fundraising by “selling bonds” in the Diaspora or are they using “fundraising” as a cover for something altogether different? Ummm!!! 

First, the irrefutable facts about the Meles Dam hogwash.  As I demonstrated in my March 11 commentary, “Rumors of Water War on the Nile?”, the Meles Dam on the Blue Nile (Abay River) was  the exquisite figment of Meles’ imagination, and now the phantasmic idol of worship for his discombobulated apostles. Anyone who bothers to study the facts of this so-called dam project will readily conclude that it is pie in the sky. It is “self-funded” because the multilateral lending institutions and private investors who normally bankroll such major infrastructure projects wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole standing a mile away. They have determined it is a white elephant. Egypt has also used its leverage to block funding sources.  Egypt has contingency military plans to undam the dam if it ever comes on line.

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible for the bumbling regime in Ethiopia, which sustains itself  through international panhandling, to raise the USD$6-10bn needed from the people of the second poorest country in the world. The regime does not even have sufficient foreign reserves to cover the cost of imports for three months. Its foreign debt exceeds USD$12bn; and despite windbagging about an 11 percent annual growth, the “fifth fastest growing economy in the world”, yada, yada, unemployment, inflation, mismanagement and corruption have put on life support an economy addicted to international handouts. The idea that nickels and dimes collected from Ethiopians in the country by staging “musical concerts, a lottery and an SMS campaign” and a buck or two from Diaspora Ethiopians could build such a project is simply nutty. Because the dam builders live in a fool’s paradise, they think Diaspora Ethiopians are all “fools and idiots” who will buy fantasy dam bonds. (Just as an aside, those who are buying Meles Dam junk bonds should first consider buying the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.)  Anyway, the Diaspora “bond sales” effort has been a total failure. The regime recently announced that it had collected $43,160 from its latest bond sales in San Diego, CA. Yeah! Right!

For domestic public relations purposes, the Melesistas’ strategic objective in pushing the Meles Dam hoax is to create patriotic fervor and galvanize the entire population around an object of national pride while deifying Meles and generating political support for themselves to prolong their lease on political power. The Meles Dam would at once be a hydrological temple to worship  “Meles the Great Leader and Visionary” and a symbolic object of national unity that could rally massive support for the regime. The Melesistas have convinced themselves that by talking about the Meles Dam 24/7, 365 days, they can convince the people that the dam is actually under construction.  They blather about building the “largest dam in Africa” and Ethiopia becoming a middle income country and a formidable regional economic power in just a few years. They talk about their “visionary leader” and how they will blindly follow his vision to the end of the rainbow where they will collect their pot of gold in the form of Meles Dam bonds. They march on chanting their mantra: “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.”

They must really think the people are “fools and idiots” (to borrow a phrase from Susan Rice) to be fooled by their silly dog and pony show and talk of pie in the sky.  The Ethiopian people may not know about a “pie in the sky”, but they certainly know about the “cow they have in the sky whose milk they never see.”  But careful analysis shows the Melesistas have pulled this one right out of Joseph Goebbel’s bag of tricks: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Isn’t this exactly what the Melesistas  are doing in Ethiopia now – repeat the dam lie, development lie and repress dissent and persecute journalist who tell the truth?

The Melesistas think they are so smart that they can hoodwink not only Ethiopians in the country but also those in the Diaspora. They put on a dam “bond selling” show to convince Diasporans that the Meles Dam is real and that it is the panacea to Ethiopia’s economic woes. “Buy dam bonds! Ethiopia will be rafting on a river of milk and honey once the Blue Nile is dammed.” But only a damned fool would believe that.  According to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s “power sector alone would require $3.3 billion per year to develop” in the next decade. Currently, power tariffs are so underpriced that they range between “$0.04-0.08 per kilowatt-hour” and are “low by regional standards and recover only 46 percent of the costs of the utility.” For every dollar they spend supplying power, they lose 54 cents! In other words, these guys hawking the Meles Dam junk bonds and promising billions in profits are losing their shirts on the power they are selling right now! Why would anyone trust and buy dam bonds from those who can’t even make a damn profit from existing dams? Why would anyone buy dam junk bonds when the outlook for the energy sector in Ethiopia is so damn bleak? The Melesistas fantasize that they can pay off bondholders by selling power from the dam to the Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. Why the hell would Egypt or the Sudan buy power from a dam that damns them by effectively reducing their water supply for agriculture and their own production of power?

The real aim of the Meles Dam is not the construction of a dam over the Blue Nile but to use the specter of the construction of a gargantuan dam on the Nile to inspire fear, loathing and dread of an imminent regional water war. Simply stated, the dam idea is an extortion scheme to scam the international community and downstream countries for more aid and loans as a price for continued regional stability, avoidance of conflict and maintenance of the status quo. Suffice it to say, one has to be a damned “fool and an idiot” to believe the Meles Dam will ever be built or buy Meles Dam junk bonds and expect a return. (Buying the Brooklyn Bridge is a much better investment.)

Shadowboxing Smoke and Mirrors

So, why do the Melsistas send zombies into the Diaspora on a fool’s errand? They know they will be shamed and disgraced and chased out of every American and European city like stray dogs at a bazaar. They know they will be lucky to squeeze a few hundred dollars at a Diaspora “bond selling” event. Do they do it because they are professional beggars and panhandlers?

There is a deceptively simple method to their madness. They send their zombies in the Diaspora to make us shadowbox smoke and mirrors. They are playing a simple but clever psychological game.

The Melesistas are getting hammered everyday by bad publicity. Hardly a day passes without some report by an international human rights, press or research organization documenting their monumental crimes against humanity. Just in the past few months, there have been numerous reports and press releases by Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and a host of newspaper and television outlets, including Al Jazeera and CNN, on massive human rights violations, land grabs, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedom and other issues in Ethiopia. Recently, the World Bank made public a 448-page corruption report on Ethiopia. A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report on Ethiopia documenting the regime’s “arbitrary killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention, illegal searches, “villagization” (pillagization) program, restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement, interference in religious affairs…” This past week, they got clobbered in the international press for a kangaroo appellate court affirmance of the 18-year sentences of the internationally-acclaimed journalist Eskinder Nega and dynamic opposition leader Andualem Aragie.

The Melesistas have become international pariahs and desperately want to change the topic from Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…, corruption, ethnic cleansing, land giveaways, suppression of religious freedom and interference in religious affairs and critical human rights reports. They want to take control of the international public relations agenda. They want to shed off their international image as corrupt thugs who trample on human rights and steal elections. They want to reinvent themselves as anti-poverty warriors and statesmen of economic development. They want to be seen as the new “new breed of African leaders” toiling indefatigably to eradicate poverty and promote economic development and democracy.

In a Machiavellian maneuver, they have, to some extent, succeeded in getting Diaspora Ethiopians, particularly the activists, to promote their “dam development” agenda for them in America, Europe and elsewhere. Every time Diaspora activists confront the zombie junk bond dealers and brokers, they are seen talking (but saying nothing) about development, growth, infrastructure projects and how the Meles Dam will transform Ethiopia into an economic powerhouse. (They never mention the massive foreign debt, the USD$12bn that has left the country illegally since 2001, the massive youth unemployment, accelerating population growth, etc.). They always sheath their bloody hands in the glove of development talk. When activists protest and confront these zombies, they appear to be anti-development obstructionist agitators. That’s is the exquisite trick of the Melesistas. They want the world to see Diaspora  Ethiopians as a bunch of rowdy, wild, disorderly, loudmouthed, raucous, uncivil and intolerant bunch who will not even allow civil discussions of “development”. They aim to create and nurture the image of a few combative “Diaspora extremists” and an overwhelming number of silent (as a church mouse) regime supporters who are afraid to come forward (or attend their “bond selling” events) and show their support for fear of attack by the “extremists.” In the mix are the hapless Diasporans who have to go back and forth to Ethiopia to secure their property and business interests. Those guys are toast; either they pay protection money (buy dam bonds) or get jacked up on some trumped up charge and lose their properties or worse.

The Melesistas’ strategy to counter bad publicity and capture the domestic and international public relations commanding heights is based on three principles: Distract, distract and distract some more. Distract Ethiopians inside the country from critical political, social and economic issues by bombarding them with inane development propaganda. State television (which is watched by virtually no one in the country) is filled with ceaseless barrages of nauseating and mind numbing amateur development propaganda. It is vintage police state propaganda aimed at convincing a largely illiterate population that famine is plenty, decline is development, poverty is wealth, dictatorship is democracy and the man who destroyed the country is its savior.

The second strategy is to distract Diaspora Ethiopians from vigorously pursuing an agenda that promotes democracy freedom and human rights. They unleash a few smooth-talking empty suits with empty heads and let them wander from one city to another in the U.S. and Europe just to get Ethiopian activists emotionally worked up about a fantasy dam and lose their focus on issues of  human rights violations, abuse of political prisoners, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedoms, and myriad economic problems.  Some Diaspora activists react vigorously whenever they see these hapless empty suits at “bond selling” events believing they are confronting the master criminals. Therein lies the trick. The Melesistas are so clever that they have succeeded in making some of us believe that the puppets are actually the puppet masters. We need to be aware that the empty suits they send into the Diaspora to sell the dam bonds are just schmucks and buffoons who do what they are told; or “zombies” as the great African musician Fela Kuti would have called them (“Zombie go… zombie stop…zombie turn…zombie think…” ) They are bait and are offered as scapegoats to the Diaspora.  By chasing the puppets out of town, some of us feel we have chased out the puppet masters. But the puppet masters laugh at us because our victory is the victory of the shadow boxer who knocked out the shadow.

The third strategy of the Melesistas is to distract donors and human rights organizations from criticizing them on their atrocious human rights record. They want to justify and convince them that the masses of ordinary Ethiopians are interested in the politics of the belly and not the politics of the ballot. Meles declared, “My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically.” They want to convince donors and human rights organizations that the masses do not care about human rights or democracy; they are concerned only about filling their bellies. To them, the masses of poor, illiterate, hungry and sick Ethiopians are too dumb and too damn needy to appreciate “political democracy.”

Legacy of the great manipulator

Manipulation of the Diaspora is one of the chief legacies of Meles. Wikileaks cablegrams portray Meles as a slick, scheming, crafty and cunning hombre. He could have achieved greatness but undid himself because he was unable to tame his voracious appetite for extreme vindictiveness and revenge and could not bridle his bottomless capacity for maliciousness, viciousness and obduracy. Those who claim to know Meles say he knew his opposition better than the opposition knew itself. Distraction, diversion, misdirection, hoodwinking, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry were the hallmarks of Meles’ strategy. The cunning dictator was able to shroud his corrupt empire for two decades by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. As I have long maintained, Meles’ “attitude was that he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver boatloads of Ph.Ds., M.Ds., J.Ds. Ed.Ds or whatever alphabet soup of degrees exist out there any day of the week. He seemed to think that like the opposition leaders, Ethiopian intellectuals are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power.” In a rare moment of candor responding to a journalist’s question about Diaspora Ethiopians protesting his overseas visits,  Meles confessed, “We may be at fault in some way. I am sorry. That maybe we didn’t communicate well enough to those Ethiopians living abroad what is happening, what we are doing here.” Meles’ apostles keep making the same mistake. Like shepherd, like sheep!  Like Meles, like Melesistas!

Criminal violations in selling unregistered securities in the U.S.

There have been questions raised about the legality of the sale of Meles Dam bonds as “securities” in the U.S.  Under federal and most state laws, a “security” is broadly defined and includes stocks, bonds, debt and equity securities, notes, investment contracts, etc. Unless exempted, all securities must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and/or relevant state agencies prior to selling or offering for sale to the public. A security which does not have an effective registration statement on file with the SEC and/or the relevant state agency is considered an unregistered security. Buying or selling unregistered securities is a crime under federal and state laws. The SEC can prosecute issuers and sellers of unregistered securities under section 20(b) of the Securities Act of 1933 (which regulates original issuers) and seek injunctions if the Securities Act has been violated, or if a violation is imminent. Section 8A also allows the SEC to issue orders to issuers of unregistered securities to cease and desist and seek civil penalties under Section 20(d) if an issuer violated the Securities Act, an SEC rule, or a cease-and-desist order.

Like most states, California Corporations Code sections 25110-25118 set strict guidelines for any securities sold in that state. Any person or entity who willfully sells or transports unregistered securities through interstate commerce or buys such securities  could face serious criminal liabilities under California Corporations Code section 25540, subd. (a) with penalties of incarceration for up to three years and a fine up to $1 million. California prosecutors, like their federal counterparts, could also seek injunctive relief and civil penalties.

There are a few limited  exemptions to the registration requirement. One of them is an exemption “for certain foreign government securities brokers or dealers”.  Pursuant to 17 CFR 401.9, “A government securities broker or dealer (excluding a branch or agency of a foreign bank) that is a non-U.S. resident shall be exempt from the provisions of sections 15C(a), (b), and (d) of  the Act (15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a), (b) and (d)) and the regulations of this subchapter provided it complies with the provisions of 17 CFR 240.15a–6…” In other words, the bond “brokers and dealers” sent to the U.S. to sell the Meles Dam bonds must meet the multifarious requirements of  federal securities law and other regulatory requirements including full disclosure, proof of maintenance of required books and records relating to the bond issues and written consent to service of process for any civil action arising from disputes in bond related transactions. It is highly unlikely that the “brokers and dealers” selling the Meles Dam bonds in the United States qualify under 17 CFR 240.15a–6 and 15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a).

Fight the Power, not the smoke and image in the mirror

Diaspora activists should keep their eyes on the prize, not on the smoke and mirrors of the Melesista Road Show, Carnival and Circus.

Ethiopian Americans are fortunate to live under a Constitution that guarantees our right to free expression and peaceful protest. As citizens, it is our moral duty to exercise our constitutional rights. We have recently seen Americans using their right to protest by launching the “Occupy” protest movement. Historically, the civil rights movement relied on sit-ins, sit downs, teach-ins, rallies and marches as a form of direct nonviolent action to bring about change. Nonviolent mass protests eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended racial segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which removed barriers to voting. The anti-war and free speech movements relied on non-violent protests to defend expressive freedoms and end the war in Vietnam. Nonviolent protests were also used in the anti-Apartheid movement in the U.S. resulting in boycotts, divestments in corporations  and spurring legislative and diplomatic action which hastened the end of Apartheid.

The main point is that Diaspora Ethiopians should be laser-focused on the prize and make sure that democracy will in the end triumph over dictatorship in Ethiopia; human rights are vindicated and human rights abusers are held accountable and any government in Ethiopia shall fear the people and the people shall never fear their government. We should not be distracted by empty suits with empty heads lurking in and out of town to scrounge up chicken feed. We should not be angry at programmed zombies at “bond selling” events because they are just wretched flunkies and bootlickers, who given the opportunity will make a beeline to the immigration office to file for political asylum. We should not mistake the puppets for the puppet masters. We should not confuse shadow for reality.

We should be aware not only when we are being abused but also used. We should never let them make us do their dirty jobs because they can cleverly manipulate our psychological disposition to righteous indignation. We should never react because that allows them to take control of our emotions and reactions.  We should always act and never react. Most importantly, we should engage in proactive activism instead of reactive activism. When we are proactive, we plan things out carefully and strategically. Nonviolent protest is a highly disciplined effort. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. taught, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We should educate and train ourselves in the ways of nonviolent protest. When confronting the zombies, we should maintain a high degree of composure and display self-dignity in our expressions of defiance. At dam “bond selling ” events, protesters should adequately prepare pre-event publicity. Serious attention should given to the development of press kits and talking points. Press  and law enforcement liaisons should be trained and designated. Well informed and articulate spokespersons should be selected to give press interviews. Adequate attention should be given to post-event follow up activities.

It is a great disservice to oneself and to our great cause to engage in nonviolent protest without reading and understanding Gene Sharp’s extraordinary work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”available online for free.  An Amharic translation of Gene Sharp’s book is also available online free of charge (here) for anyone to download or print. Ignorance cannot drive out ignorance, only knowledge can. We must educate ourselves in the ways of peaceful protest, or our efforts will produce few results. We are less likely to be manipulated if we keep ourselves informed and develop critical analysis skills that cut through the blather of our adversaries.

While those of us in the older generation (“Hippos”) wallow in self-pity and cynicism, it is inspiring to see young patriotic Diaspora Ethiopians (“Cheetahs”) using their right to peaceful protest to resist the zombies of tyranny. Just as the task of building a fantasy dam belongs to the Melesistas, the construction of the new Ethiopia is a task reserved for the young Cheetahs. It is painful to admit that we Hippos have not been much of a role model for the Cheetahs. We have unkindly criticized the Cheetahs for their lack of engagement, apathy and single-minded pursuit of flash and cash. We grumble that the Cheetah generation is the lost generation and there is no one to save Ethiopia (but it has been a long time since we Hippos looked into the mirror without smoke).

I am afraid there is little that Ethiopian Cheetahs could learn from Ethiopian Hippos. Perhaps Ethiopian Cheetahs can get inspiration from other Cheetahs. In the past 2 years, we have seen inexperienced youth using social media bring down dictators or force them to make radical changes in governance in North Africa and the Middle East. The key to their success was their ability to get in tune and on the same wavelength with each other, and to be able to speak the same beautiful language of peaceful change and protest. As always, I believe Ethiopian youth united — across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, and regional lines — can never be defeated!

“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.” Bob Marley

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:

Watching American Diplocrisy in Ethiopia

Hypocrisy America is Watching!?

Diplomacy by hypocrisy is “diplocrisy”.

Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, said “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” We’ve heard many promises on human rights in Africa from President Obama and his Administration over the past four years.  “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people… We will work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders… We align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect…. Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth… Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. We support strong and sustainable democratic governments…. America will be more responsible in extending our hand. Aid is not an end in itself… [Dictatorship] is not democracy, [it] is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end… America is watching…” All empty promises and cheap talk.

Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report for 2013. In his remarks launching that report, Secretary of State John Kerry announced

…[These] reports show  brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them that America is watching

So anywhere that human rights are under threat, the United States will proudly stand up, unabashedly, and continue to promote greater freedom, greater openness, and greater opportunity for all people. And that means speaking up when those rights are imperiled. It means providing support and training to those who are risking their lives every day so that their children can enjoy more freedom. It means engaging governments at the highest levels and pushing them to live up to their obligations to do right by their people…

Is America really watching and standing up?

I am always curious when someone is watching. Big Brother is watching! Aargh!!

When Kerry tells “brave citizens” in Ethiopia like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Wobshet Taye, Sertkalem Fasil, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa and so many others   “America is watching”, what does he  mean? Does he mean America is watching them rot in Meles Zenawi Prison #1 in Kality and/or #2 in Zewai? Does he mean America is watching Ethiopia like birdwatchers watch birds? Or like amateur astronomers watching the starry night sky? Perhaps like daydreaming tourists at the beach watching the waves crash and the summer clouds slowly drifting inland?

Is “watching” a good or a bad thing? If we believe Albert Einstein, watching is no good. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” (Silent watchers, watch out!) Like Nero Claudius Caesar who watched Rome burn from the hilltops singing and playing his lyre. Or, (I hate to say it but it would be hypocritical of me not to) like  Susan Rice who watched Rwanda burn.  Her only question was, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [Congressional] election?”

I like it when Human Rights Watch (HRW) watches because when they watch they witness. They saw the genocide and crimes against humanity in the Ogaden and Gambella and they have witnesses. They watched independent journalists jacked up in kangaroo court and railroaded to Meles Prison #1 or #2. (Sounds like the equivalent of a hotel chain? Well, they do put chain and ball on innocent people at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.)

I like watching watchdogs watch crooks, criminals and outlaws. I mean “watchdog  journalists” like Eskinder, Reeyot, Serkalem,  Woubshet and many others. These journalists used to watch power abusers and alert citizens of the crimes they were watching. Now the criminals  are watching them in solitary at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.

I also like the way the watchdogs’ watchdog watch those who dog the watchdogs. I am referring to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ guys are like McGruff, the crime watchdog, always tracking to “take bites out of crimes” committed against journalists. Not long ago, they watched and sounded the alarm that Reeyot Alemu was heading to solitary confinement just because she complained about inhumane and inhuman treatment in Meles Zenawi Prison.  Last week, the CPJ watched Woubshet Taye being hauled from the Meles Zenawi Prison #1 to Meles Zenawi Prison #2.   (They think he will be forgotten by the world lost in the armpits of Meles Zenawi Prison #2.)

I pity those who just watch. Like the “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” or those who may “indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand.” I have no idea what the Obama Administration is watching, perceiving or seeing in Ethiopia? I would like to believe they are watching human rights abuses and abusers and the criminals against humanity. But how is it possible to watch with arms folded, ears plugged and wearing welding goggles? I wonder: Could they be watching the tragicomedy, “The Trials and Tribulations of the Apostles of Meles”? Perhaps they are watching kangaroo courts stomping all over justice and decency? I am certain they are not watching the political prisoners. Perhaps they are watching the horror movie, “Dystopia in Ethiopia”? Sure, it’s a scary movie but it really isn’t real. But if it is real, what’s the big deal? The same horror film has been playing all over Africa since before independence. Get over it!

From where I am watching, the Obama Administration seems to be watching Ethiopia peekaboo style; you know, cover your face with the palms of your hand and “watch” between the fingers. “I seee yooou!” That is, stealing elections, sucking the national treasury dry, handing over the best land in the country to bloodsucking multinationals,  jailing journalists and ripping off the people.

Doesn’t “America is watching,” sound like Orwellian doublespeak. You know, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Dictatorship is democracy. Watching is turning a blind eye.

When America is watching, those being watched in Ethiopia are watching America watching them. They watch America waffling and shuffling,  double-talking, flip-flopping and dithering, equivocating, pretending, hemming and hawing and hedging and dodging. But those chaps in Ethiopia watch like George Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four) who watched  everybody and everything in Oceania. Well, Big Brother Meles is gone from Ethiopiana but the “Little Brothers of the Party of Meles”  keep on watching and yodeling:

…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

Oceania Ethiopiana!

I have been watching America watching Ethiopia for a very long time. I have been watching the Obama Administration watching and coddling the criminals against humanity in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.   I must confess that I enjoy watching and re-watching President Obama’s  speeches in Accra, Cairo, Istanbul and elsewhere. “History is on the side of brave Africans…” (whatever that means).

I liked watching former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declare moral victory on the Chinese and capture the commanding moral heights. “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa… It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave… and not  leave much behind for the people who are there.” Right on! Power to the people of Africa! Down with colonialism! (I think that may be a bit passé.)

Sometimes I feel bad watching. When I watch hard earned American tax dollars bankrolling ruthless African dictators who laugh straight to the bank to deposit their American tax dollars, I really get bummed out. I am peeved when I watch the American people being flimflammed into believing their tax dollars are supporting democracy, human rights and American values in Africa. But when I watch those miserable panhandlers “enfolded in the purple of Emperors” bashing  and trashing America on their way back from depositing their foreign aid welfare checks, I just plain get pissed off!!

“America is watching,” but is America watching where its tax dollars are going? It is NOT.  According to an audit report by the Office of the Inspector General of US AID in March 2010 (p. 1), there is no way to determine the fraud, waste and abuse of American tax dollars in Ethiopia:

The audit was unable to determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s Performance Plan and Report were valid because agricultural program staff could neither explain how the results were derived nor provide support for those results. Indeed, when the audit team attempted to validate the reported results by tracing from the summary amounts to the supporting detail, it was unable to do so at either the mission or its implementing partners… In the absence of a complete and current performance management plan, USAID/Ethiopia is lacking an important tool for monitoring and managing the implementation of its agricultural program.

Watching diplocrisy in Technicolor 

There is nothing more mind-bending and funny than watching hypocrisy in Technicolor. Earlier this month, in an act of shameless diplocrisy, Secretary Kerry expressed grave reservations about the legitimacy of the election of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro won the election by a razor thin margin of 50.66 percent of the votes. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the results alleging irregularities and demanding a recount of all votes.

Kerry supported Capriles’ demand for a recount. “We think there ought to be a recount… Obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that [Maduro] government.” White House spokesman Jay Carney also issued a statement calling for a recount of all the votes.

… Given the tightness of the result — around 1 percent of the votes cast separate the candidates — the opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for a 100 percent audit of the results.  And this appears an important, prudent and necessary step to ensure that all Venezuelans have confidence in these results. In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome.

In May 2010 when the late Meles Zenawi claimed 99.6 percent victory in the parliamentary elections and  leaders from Medrek, the largest opposition coalition, and the smaller All Ethiopia Unity Party alleged glaring election fraud, vote rigging and denial of American food aid to poor farmers unless they voted for the ruling party, the U.S. response was “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” White House National Security Spokesman Mike Hammer could only express  polite “concern” and muted “disappointment”:

We acknowledge the conclusion of Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections on May 23, 2010…

We are concerned that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.  The limitation of independent observation and the harassment of independent media representatives are deeply troubling.

An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place even before Election Day. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has taken steps to restrict political space for the opposition through intimidation and harassment, tighten its control over civil society, and curtail the activities of independent media. We are concerned that these actions have restricted freedom of expression and association and are inconsistent with the Ethiopian government’s human rights obligations.

…We urge the Ethiopian government to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights. We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.

Victory by 50.66 percent is irrefutable evidence of election fraud in Venezuela but “all Ethiopians should have confidence” in the 99.6 percent election victory of Meles Zenawi? Sounds like election certification in Oceania. Rigged elections are free and fair elections!    

Watching “fools, idiots” and sanctimonious diplocrites

If Susan Rice is to be believed, critics of Meles Zenawi and his regime (and by implication critics of U.S. policy that supports the regime) are “fools and idiots”. I guess if one must choose between being a “fool/idiot” and a hypocrite/diplocrite, one is well-advised to choose the former. A fool does or does not do the right thing because s/he lacks intelligence and understanding. S/he has the potential to learn and make right choices. But the cunning diplocrite does the wrong thing with full knowledge and understanding of the wrongfulness of his/her acts. S/he is unteachable and incorrigible. No one knows more about the difference between right and wrong than diplocrites, yet they do wrong because they don’t give a   _ _ _ _!

The U.S. has been practicing diplocrisy in Ethiopia for the past two decades. It has propped up the regime of  Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of “development” and “humanitarian” aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises.  Since 1991, the West in general has provided Meles’ regime nearly $30 billion in aid.  In 2008 alone, $3 billion in international aid was delivered on a silver platter to Meles, more than any other nation in sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2011, Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program declared Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance. In 2010, the EU delivered £152m to Meles Zenawi.

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia to “independently investigate allegations that the Ethiopian government is using development aid for state repression.” In July 2010, a DAG-commissioned study issued a whitewash denying all allegations of improper use of aid. In August 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC reported the “Ethiopian government is using millions of pounds of international aid to punish their political opponents.” The report presented compelling evidence of how “aid is being used as a weapon of oppression propping up the government of Meles Zenawi.” Despite numerous documented reports of aid abuse and misuse, Western leaders and governments continue to hide behind a policy of plausible deniability and the massaged and embellished reports of swarms faceless international poverty-mongers creeping invisibly in Ethiopia.

The Center for Global Development in its comprehensive 2012 report cautioned, “The United States could be making a dangerous long-term bet with its assistance dollars by placing so little emphasis on governance in Ethiopia”, and US policymakers should temper their expectations for future development prospects in Ethiopia under the current regime. Sorry, no one is listening at  the U.S. State Department, only watching.

Watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne

“America is watching.” But is anybody watching America?  The people of Ethiopia are watching America asking,  “Is America watching? Watching what?”

The powerful don’t believe the powerless are watching them because they equate powerlessness with blindness. The powerless do watch because that is all they can do. They watch boots pressing down on their necks. They watch crimes committed against them as they sit helplessly with empty stomachs and hearts filled with terror. When Kerry says, “America is watching”, he should be mindful that  Ethiopia’s poor and powerless are watching America with outrage on their faces, sorrow in their hearts and resentment in their minds.

I have watched Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” fall silent, deaf and mute watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne. They have been watching the scaffold and throne like bystanders watching a crime scene — horrified, terrified and petrified. Perhaps they should heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s counsel, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

But if Robert Lowell is right, it does not matter who is watching silently, watching peekaboo style, watching by turning a blind eye, watching for the sake of watching or not watching at all, because there is One who standing within the shadow watches the watchers, the watched and the unwatched:

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—                     Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,               Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

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: