By Yilma Bekele
The Washington DC incident with Ato Meles is the talk of all Ethiopians in the Diaspora. I found out there is no reason for me to raise the issue, every one I met sooner or later will say something about it. I have made it a point to notice the different reaction both live and virtual on the Internet. It has been a fascinating week to say the least. Our varied response is what got me interested.
For those that are not familiar with the incident, here is a brief description. President Obama organized ‘food security symposium’ at the Regan center in Washington DC. The Ethiopian PM Meles was one of the guests arrayed to discuss the issue. During one of his responses Ato Abebe Gellaw, a reporter in the press box stood up and shouted slogans regarding the lack of human rights in his native land Ethiopia. The program was interrupted for a few minutes due to the incident.
My analysis is regarding how Ethiopians in the Diaspora viewed this situation. Due to the absence of free media in our homeland it is a little difficult but not impossible to gauge the reaction of the Ethiopian people. Based on what we observed outside it will not be unfair to extrapolate the impression to our people in general.
The incident was caught beautifully both on video and still photography. To state it is a dramatic confrontation is an understatement. It has everything one can think of for an unrehearsed play. It was loud, full of action and priceless expressions both from the victim and the conqueror. We were all captivated by this gift from God to help poor old Ethiopia recover a semblance of pride and respect.
The protagonist Ato Abebe Gellaw is a consummate professional. He is a very successful individual that has excelled in the field he choice to fulfill his life’s calling. He has been exiled from his homeland and currently resides in Washington DC. He in charge of the Ethiopian Satellite Television (www.esat.com) that has steadily been winning hearts and minds of Ethiopians both at home when available and in the Diaspora. It is a publicly funded enterprise that is mostly stocked by highly educated professionals most of whom are victims of arbitrary and capricious actions by the Meles regime.
The victim is Ato Meles Zenawi, a dictator from Ethiopia and currently holds the title of Prime Minster and Chairman of Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). He has led this rogue mafia outfit for the last forty years or so and is known to be a ruthless boss with out an ounce of empathy towards his comrades or followers. He basks in his show of arrogance and is known to enjoy berating and putting his people and country down. In other words he is a serial bully of the highest magnitude. He resides in a palace and is completely isolated from the people he has put himself in charge of. He travels in a convoy, all streets are cleared of any traffic when he ventures out and his security is visible even to the blind. It is possible to conclude he lives in constant fear.
The venue was Washington DC and the discussion was food and the lack of it in Africa. Ato Meles is one of the architects of this human disaster. Theoretically the Country Ethiopia has a capability to feed all of East Africa and more. It is blessed with good weather, plenty of rivers and vast virgin land that awaits human ingenuity. In real terms the country in underdeveloped with all land and resources controlled by the government under Ato Meles. Over 80% of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture. Education is very rudimentary and health care is non-existent. The average peasant owns a plot as big as a football field and uses farming implement that has been in existence since millennia. The vast majority of the population relies on less than 300 calories a day and is a recipient of food aid donated by the West.
This is the background to our story. During a question and answer period in the proceedings the Ethiopian reporter Ato Abebe Gellaw used the occasion to interrupt the Prime Minster and speak his mind regarding the personhood of the TPLF leader and his actions against the interest of the Ethiopian people. Ato Abebe spoke loud, his expression was intense and his delivery was flawless. The incident took exactly twenty-five seconds and there was no question all-present heard every word that was said. Ato Abebe was promptly removed by the secret service and handed over to the local police for questioning.
The Prime Minster was caught off guard. This has never happened to him. When he speaks in front of his kangaroo Parliament or organizes his press conference everything is choreographed and control is the key. You can hear a pin drop in his briefings. When he heard the first shout his face jerked to the left in the direction of the noise. His eyes bulged wide open. He turned back to the front and realized there is no possibility of help coming to rescue him. In his panic all he could do was look down and avoid any eye contact. He stayed down. The color left his face. His agony was visible in High Def. and can be heard in Dolby sound.
That was the situation in the gathering place. Ato Abebe was questioned by the police and released without much fanfare. There was no crime committed other than speaking out of order but under the circumstances it is considered ‘seizing the moment’ to advocate what one holds dear to his heart. ESAT and reporter Ato Sisay Agena were waiting out side to give their audience perspective on what happened. Over all the presentation was as expected the work of professionals doing what they do best, keeping their people informed.
The response by the Ethiopian community both inside and the Diaspora is both heartwarming and beyond expectations. In my limited survey I can proudly say the vast majority were pleased by Ato Abebe’s heroic and self less act and were pleasantly surprised by the reaction of Ato Meles. The individual has made his mark in belittling people and here he was seen without his clothes and it was a painful sight. You can’t help but cringe at his cowardice. He can dish it out but it is obvious he cannot take it. Some one said he looked ‘like a deer caught in a head light’ and I agree. He was at a loss and it showed. Without his gun-totting pose around him he was just another garden-variety bully that lacks spine.
Our people have all sorts of take on the incident. As I said the vast majority were empowered by Ato Abebe’s action. The direct translation from Amharic would run like “our heart was laced with butter.” It is meant to show the highest form of satisfaction. A few questioned the appropriateness of Ato Abebe’s action. They reasoned since he was invited as a reporter he should have stuck to asking questions instead of humiliating the tyrant. They claimed he debased his profession. A few called it ‘uncivilized’ behavior. In their opinion as a reporter he should be unbiased and not taken side.
For some of our people the situation was a little confusing. Our culture dictates that we speak softly and keep differences low key. We abhor washing dirty linen in public, and felt this exposition of the tyrant’s actions should be kept behind high walls. That is why some felt the embarrassment of Ato Meles as their own. A few felt pity. It is human to feel the pain of others. A very small minority as usual brought ethnicity into the picture, but it did not get traction.
The response from the TPLF supporters was as usual as far removed from reality as possible. Without question the best take on this incident is by none other than Mimi Sebehatu, a low level TPLF functionary peddling her ‘bed time for Bozo’ stories on her FM station in Addis. It is claimed this puppy ranted like never before calling Ato Abebe every name she can think of. She compared his actions to that of Italians jeering our Emperor at the League of Nations assembly in Rome. Yes she did that. Makes you wonder about her grasp of reality or her understanding of history. On the other hand when you think both are foreign subjects to our Woyane warriors her displaced analogy is understandable. We will laugh it off.
Cadre Mimi is the owner an FM station that she uses to attack the free media and signal consorted campaign against our reporters on behalf of her party. She peddles useless music and stuff to keep the youth docile and wastes a broadband on triviality instead of in the service of our people. Ato Abebe is the perfect candidate for her moronic editorial and pedestrian analysis of realty. The positive aspect of her stupid barking is that it confirmed the heroic deed of our hero to the Ethiopian people. The formula is ‘if it upsets’ the TPLF mafia it must be good for the rest of us! Thank you Cadre Mimi. May I suggest you hold another session and invite Bereket, Shimeles and Azeb? Please note Cadre Mimi has her US passport in her purse ready to bail out when the ship starts to sink.
Last but not least there is the response by the vast majority of the rest of us. I am assuming no response to be a form of response here. A lot were happy, exited, tickled and discussed it with anybody close by. That is right, this was the extent of their involvement. Case closed, another story please, another excitement is what they requested. In this era of a twenty-four hrs news cycle we are always waiting for something new, something different to happen. We get bored easy. We find hard work and sustained involvement is not our cup of tea. We have this tendency to leave a task unfinished. This is one instance this behavior manifested itself glaringly. We are not interested in formulating a plan to channel our response so we can build on this accomplishment by Ato Abebe. That is not part of our makeup.
Seattle is one place that is showing signs of positive vibrations. Seattle has always been the lion’s den and it is leading the way with our newfound activism. In Seattle they are working on holding a public meeting to bring all of us together and take activism to higher level. That is what is called taking advantage and transforming our movement into an all-inclusive mass based venture against tyranny. That is how we show appreciation to the wonderful work by Ato Abebe and reward his sacrifice in a meaningful manner. Talk is cheap. Temporary feel good is fleeting satisfaction. Consorted effort to do what is needed to continue the fight against tyranny is what the situation calls for.
We are also emboldened by the actions of our people in South Africa. It was to Johannesburg the little tyrant slinked into after his DC public flailing. That is what he has been doing the last twenty years. He always got a bag ready to attend meetings, conferences, symposiums any place where they will give him a chair and allow him talk trash. That is how he proves to the Ethiopian people how ‘important’ and ‘respected’ he is by rubbing shoulders with democratically elected leaders. Never mind his formula in Ethiopia is to earn their love by terrorizing them. Fear is what he peddles in Ethiopia. Anyway he had the nerve to show up in South Africa. Our fifty thousand strong exiles were ready for him. He was unceremoniously booted out of his speaking slot. He was declared ‘persona non grata.’ That is a fancy way of saying ‘you are not wanted’ in Latin. Go back to your gilded cage is the message Ethiopians are sending to the killer, abuser, and tyrant. Let us all resolve to make the little chat addicted tyrant ‘persona non grata’ on plane Earth. Amen!