Zimbabwe had its presidential elections last week. Elections as in rigged. Robert Mugabe, the senile octogenarian and the only president since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, “won” for the seventh time by 61 percent of the vote. His Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) clinched a supermajority in parliament that will allow it to change the constitution. This past May, Mugabe signed a new constitution which sets a term limit of two five-year terms for president (not retroactively applicable to Mugabe) and eliminated the post of prime minister. In 2009, following a violent election aftermath, a coalition government of national unity was formed designating opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, who led the African Union Election Observer team (69 observers) in Zimbabwe certified the election as valid declaring, “I have never seen an election that is perfect. The point has always been and will always be, how much the infractions, imperfections have affected the reflection of the will of the people and up to the point of the close of the polls our observation was that there were incidents that could have been avoided. In fact, up to the close of the polls we do not believe that those incidents will amount to the result not to reflect the will of the people.” Bernard Membe of Tanzania who led the Southern African Development Community (SADC) election observer mission (442 observers) chimed in declaring that the election was “free and peaceful”. The observer mission from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) likewise gave its approval and urged all parties to accept the election result. None of the observer missions used the phrase “free and fair” to describe the elections outcomes.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) (7,000 certified domestic monitors) declared the elections were “seriously compromised” and pointed out a number of serious irregularities. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai called the election “a huge farce” and a “sham that does not reflect the will of the people.”
Only Botsawna called for an investigation
Botswana’s observer team did not buy Mugabe’s election victory or the AU/SADC’s affirmation of it. After reviewing the preliminary report of its 80-member election observer team led by former Botswanan vice-president Mompati Merafhe, the government of Botswana issued an official statement advising that “there is a need for an independent audit of the just concluded electoral process in Zimbabwe. Such an audit will shed light on the conduct of the just ended election and indicate any shortcomings and irregularities that could have affected its result, as well as the way forward.”
This is in sharp contrast to the conclusions of the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire which concluded that the 2010 “election” in which the ruling regime in Ethiopia claimed a 99.6 percent victory was “free and fair”. Masire said his team found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns in Ethiopia and 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. They did not have freedom to campaign. We had no way of verifying the allegations.”
Masire’s report was a travesty of election observation. At the time, I took issue with Masire’s findings and challenged his conclusions:
With all due respect to Masire, it seems that he made his declaration clueless of the observation standards he is required to follow in the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines. If he had done so, he would have known that there is no logical, factual or documentary basis for him to declare the ‘elections were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards’. For instance, pursuant to Section III 9 (e) of the guidelines (‘MANDATES, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE OBSERVERS’), Masire’s team had a mandatory duty to ‘observe the political parties and groups as well as the population at large in the exercise of their political rights, and the conditions in which such rights are to be exercised’. Masire by his own admission made no such observation: ‘The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period’. Under Section V (13), the guidelines mandate that ‘AU Observers should ascertain that: … (b) all competing political parties have equal access to both the print and the electronic media (radio, T.V.).’ Masire said his team ‘had no way of verifying’ pre-election complaints, including complaints of unequal access to state-controlled media. Under Section V (B) (d), the AU observers had a mandatory duty to ascertain ‘the campaign process is conducted in conditions of serenity, and that there are no acts of provocation or intimidation capable of compromising’. Masire’s team failed to make such inquiries. Under Section B (24), the guidelines mandate: ‘The atmosphere during the campaign should be carefully observed, and among the factors to consider in this regard include … (iv) persistent or reported cases of human rights violations.’ Masire’s team does not appear to be aware of such a requirement, let alone actually make the observation. It is truly regrettable to say of a former African leader that he showed no evidence of having read or understood the numerous mandatory election observation duties set forth in minute detail in the AU guidelines before shamelessly and pathetically declaring the elections ‘were largely consistent with African Union regulations and standards.’
I am gratified that vice president Mompati Merafhe’s observer team in Zimbabwe made its recommendation for an audit investigation based not only on observed election irregularities but also because the “various incidents and circumstances [that] were revealed call into question whether the entire electoral process, and thus its final result, can be recognised as having been fair, transparent and credible in the context of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections within the Community.” I would like to underscore that the Zimbabwe election also fails to meet the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines.
No honor among African election thieves?
Are elections in Africa a colossal exercise in futility? Is it possible to have a free and fair election in any African country? Is the African Union (as “African Dictators’ Club”) capable of undertaking an independent and fair observation of elections in an African country? Is electoral democracy a quaint game played by African dictators for the amusement of Western donors and loaners? Is dictatorship in Africa by any other name democracy?
I have long argued that many African governments and regimes including those in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia are thugtatorships. In my February 2011 commentary Thugtatorship: The Highest Stage of African Dictatorship, I sought to explain in simple terms the nature of steroidal African dictatorships:
If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugocracy (thugtatorship) is a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, a thugtatorship is rule by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugs) in designer suits. It is becoming crystal clear that much of Africa today is a thugocracy privately managed and operated for the exclusive benefit of bloodthirsty thugtators. In a thugtatorship, the purpose of seizing and clinging to political power is solely to accumulate personal wealth for the ruling class by stealing public funds and depriving the broader population scarce resources necessary for basic survival.
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is a classic thugtatorship. In March 2008, Mugabe declared victory in the presidential election after waging a campaign of violence and intimidation on his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “a small group of high-ranking Zimbabwean officials (including Grace Mugabe) have been extracting tremendous diamond profits.” Mugabe is so greedy that he stole outright “£4.5 million from [aid] funds meant to help millions of seriously ill people.” In 2010, Mugabe announced his plan to sell “about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage”. Today, Mugabe and his cronies have sucked Zimbabwe dry. Zimbabwe has no national currency of its own and uses the currencies of other countries. When the Zimbabwe Dollar was in circulation, it had denominations of insane proportions. At one point in 2009, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued notes in the amount of 100 trillion dollars, which would not buy a bus ticket. In 2003, Mugabe boasted, “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.” Mugabe with his trademark Hitler moustache (tooth brush moustache) remains President of Zimbabwe.
The regime in Ethiopia is also a thugtatorship. The ruling “Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front” (TPLF), its handmaiden the “Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Revolutionary Front” (EPDRF) and their supporters pretty much own the Ethiopian economy. “According to the World Bank, roughly half of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” In June 2012, the World Bank released its 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” with substantial evidence showing that Ethiopia under the TPLF regime has become a full-fledged corruptocracy (a regime controlled and operated by a small clique of corrupt-to-the-core vampiric kleptocrats who cling to power to enrich themselves, relatives, friends and supporters at public expense).
Ethiopia 2015: Any chance of a free and fair election?
A year before the 2010 Ethiopian parliamentary election, I predicted the obvious. The 2010 “election” “will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections.” The ruling regime claimed a 99.6 percent victory in that election. The international powers that be accepted the results with muted expressions of concern. The European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The White House issued a statement expressing “concern 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.” Johnnie Carson, then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
The outcome of the 2015 election in Ethiopia will be a repeat of the 2010 and 2005 elections. There will be no level playing field and no transparency and accountability in the electoral process. The regime will intensify its campaign of intimidation, harassment and jailing of opposition leaders, parties and dissidents in the run up to the “election”. The press will remain under even tighter control. The regime will intensify its demonization of opposition parties and depict Ethiopian Muslims as “terrorists”. In short, the 2015 Ethiopina “election” will be a repeat of the Zimbabwean rigged and stolen election. After the daylight election robbery, the U.S., the European Union and the U.K. will shed crocodile tears as they continue to hand over billions of dollars in aid and loans to the Ethiopian thugtatorship. They will maintain their conspiracy of silence to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of the regime in Ethiopia. In 2015, thugtatorship will once again rise triumphant in Ethiopia.
Change is inevitable even though African dictators believe they can remain in power indefinitely by stealing elections and harassing, jailing and killing their opponents. African thugtators believe they can use their military and police to crush their opposition out of existence. Yet many African dictatorships have fallen from their own internal weaknesses and contradictions. Behind the tough and gritty exterior of regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia remain fragile structures and confused and ignorant leaders who are clueless about good governance and what to do to remain in power legitimately. Neither Mugabe’s regime nor the regime in Ethiopia have clear long term goals or strategies to achieve legitimacy. Their deepest aspiration is to transform themselves from bush thugs to urbane statesmen, but there is no political alchemy to do that. As long as the U.S. and Europe continue to provide endless handouts, Africa is doomed to remain a thugocracy.
Change could come through peaceful free and fair elections in Africa. It is more likely that real change in Africa will come through the expression of the tornadic wrath of the people as seen in the “Arab Spring”. African thugtators would be wise to heed a simple advise. “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Arrrrgh! The thought of poor Zimbabwe wearing the same diapers since 1980…
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:
Government hospitals in Addis Ababa reportedly refuse to treat the wounded.
August 8, 2013
Troops loyal to Ethiopia’s ruling Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) launched a concerted attack against Ethiopian Muslims celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. A pregnant woman is among those reported dead. The number of those killed and wounded is still not clear.
The TPLF regime used the last few weeks to prepare a propaganda offensive and to ready its military and intelligence services to break the back of the eighteen-month movement. The Muslim protests are in response to government interference in religious affairs.
Please click on link below for an Amharic audio report
Is Huawei wiring Africa for surveillance? Or just for money?
By John Reed | Foreign Policy
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei may have been all-but-barred from doing business in the U.S. over allegations that it’s basically an intelligence agency masquerading as a tech business. In Africa, however, Huawei is thriving.
From Cairo to Johannesburg, the Chinese telecom has offices in 18 countries and has invested billions of dollars in building African communications networks since the late 1990s. The company’s cheap cellular phones today dominate many of Africa’s most important markets — and that was before Huawei teamed up with Microsoft earlier this year to launch a low-cost smartphone on the continent. Just in the past few months, the firm closed a pair of telecommunications deals in Africa each worth more than $700 million, part of an African business that brings in more than $3.5 billion annually for the Chinese firm. According to Huawei’s marketing materials, the projects are all part of a mission of “Enriching [African] Lives through Communication.” But current and former U.S. officials — as well as outside security analysts — worry there could be another agenda behind Huawei’s penetration into Africa. They suspect that the Chinese telecom could be wiring the continent for surveillance.
“There’s a great deal of concern about Huawei acting to advance the interests of the Chinese government in a strategic sense, which includes not only traditional espionage but as a vehicle for economic espionage,” former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff told FP. “If you build the network on which all the data flows, you’re in a perfect position to populate it with backdoors or vulnerabilities that only you know about, you’re upgrading it, each time you upgrade the network or service it, that’s an opportunity” to install spyware.
“That’s a strategic issue for the countries in Africa and a strategic issue for us,” added Chertoff.
Huawei spokesman William Plummer called such concerns “silliness,” noting that the company “did $35 billion in business last year, 70 percent outside of China. We will not compromise our commercial success for any government.”
China has made no secret of its interest in Africa, investing more than $67 billion into large-scale projects on the continent from 2006 to 2012. Hundreds of Chinese troops are helping keep the peace in Mali, while Beijing’s warships have contributed to the fight against pirates off the coast of Somalia for years. And no wonder: China is becoming increasingly dependent on Africa’s farms to feed its people, on Africa’s minerals to run its industries, and on Africa’s oil to fuel its cars. China needs Africa as a partner — the closer, the better.
“Across Africa — but especially in demographically large or resource-rich nations — Huawei is offering exceptionally competitive prices, generous financing, and fully managed systems to governments that otherwise have grave difficulty expanding into broadband (and the internet in general),” Chris Demchak, co-director of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies at the U.S. Naval War College, told Foreign Policy in an email.
Huawei isn’t just providing cell phones, towers and fiber-optic cable and then turning them over to local businesses. The telecom giant — and sometimes its Chinese rival ZTE — is often running these networks for the local communications providers and the government.
“Generally, most of the employees operating these systems are Chinese and the arrangements usually include delegating maintenance and decisions about future updates to Huawei as well, thus ensuring the Chinese firm’s control of the basic technological architecture’s foundation, evolution, and operations,” Demchak noted.
Donor duplicity and complicity in Ethiopian government crimes
By Graham Peebles | Counterpunch.org
August 2, 2013
“Three quarters of worldwide land acquisitions have taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty ridden and economically vulnerable countries (many run by governments with poor human rights records) are ‘encouraged’ to attract foreign investment by donor partners and their international guides. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor partners, powerful institutions that by “supporting the creation of investment-friendly climates and land markets in developing countries” have been a driving force behind the global rush for agricultural land, the Oakland Institute (OI) report.”
To many people land is much more than a resource or corporate commodity to be bought, developed and sold for a profit. Identity, cultural history and livelihood are all connected to ‘place’. The erosion of traditional values and morality (which include the observation of human rights and environmental responsibility) are some of the many negative effects of the global neo-liberal economic model, with its focus on short-term gain and material benefit. The commercialisation of everything and everybody has become the destructive goal of multi-nationals, and their corporate governments manically driven by the desire for perpetual growth as the elixir to life’s problems.
Land for Profit
Since the food crisis in 2008 agricultural land in developing countries has been in high demand. Seen as a sound financial investment by foreign brokers and agrochemical firms, and as a way to create food security for their home market by corporations from Asia and the Middle East in particular.
Three quarters of worldwide land acquisitions have taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty ridden and economically vulnerable countries (many run by governments with poor human rights records) are ‘encouraged’ to attract foreign investment by donor partners and their international guides. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor partners, powerful institutions that by “supporting the creation of investment-friendly climates and land markets in developing countries” have been a driving force behind the global rush for agricultural land, the Oakland Institute (OI) report in Unheard Voices (UV).
Poor countries make easy pickings for multi-nationals negotiating deals for prime land at giveaway prices and with all manner of government sweeteners. Contracts sealed without consultation with local people, which lack transparency and accountability, have virtually no benefit for the ‘host’ country (certainly none for indigenous groups), and as Oxfam make clear “have resulted in dispossession, deception, violation of human rights and destruction of livelihoods.”
Ethiopia is a prime target for investors looking to acquire agricultural land. Since 2008 The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government has leased almost 4 million hectares, for commercial farm ventures. Land is cheap – they are virtually giving it away, tax is non-existent and profits (like the food grown) are smoothly repatriated. Local people are swept aside by a government unconcerned with human rights and the observation of federal, or international, law. A perfect environment then, where shady deals can be done and large corporate profits made. In their desperation to be seen as one of the ‘growth gang’ and “to make way for agricultural land investments”, the Ethiopian government has “committed egregious human rights abuses, in direct violation of international law,” OI state.
Forced From Home
Bordering South Sudan the fertile Gambella region (where 42% of land is available), with its lush vegetation and flowing rivers, is where the majority of land sales in the country have taken place. Deals in the region are made possible by the EPRDF’s ‘villagisation programme’. This is forcibly clearing indigenous people off ancestral land and herding them into State created villages. The plan has been intensely criticised by human rights groups, and rightly so – 1.5 million people nationwide are destined to be re-settled, 225,000 (over three years) from Gambella.
More concerned to be seen as corporate buddy than guardian of the people, the Ethiopian government guarantees investors that it will clear land leased of everything and everyone. It has an obligation, OI says, to “deliver and hand over the vacant possession of leased land free of impediments”, swept clear of people, villages, forests and wildlife, and fully plumbed into local water supplies. Bulldozers are destroying the “farms, and grazing lands that have sustained Anuak, Mezenger, Nuer, Opo, and Komo peoples for centuries”, Cultural Survival (CS records: and dissent, should it occur, is brutally dealt with by the government, that promises to “provide free security against any riot, disturbance or any turbulent time.” (OI) ‘Since you do not accept what government says, we jail you.’” The elder told from Batpul village told Human Rights Watch (HRW). He was jailed without charge in Abobo, and held for more than two weeks, during which time “they turned me upside down, tied my legs to a pole, and beat me every day for 17 days until I was released.”
Hundreds of thousands of villagers, including pastoralists and indigenous people are being forcibly moved by the regime, HRW reports, they are “relocating them through violence and intimidation, and often without essential services”, such as education (denying children ‘the right to education’), water, and health care facilities – public services promised to the people and championed to donor countries by the government in their programme rhetoric.
Murder, rape, false imprisonment and torture are (reportedly) being committed by the Ethiopian military as they implement the federal governments policy of land clearance and re-settlement in accordance with its ‘villagisation programme’. ”My village was forced by the government to move to the new location against our will. I refused and was beaten and lost my two upper teeth”. This Anuak man told the NGO Inclusive Development International (IDI), His brother “was beaten to death by the soldiers for refusing to go to the new village. My second brother was detained and I don’t know where he was taken by the soldiers”.
To the Anuak People, who are the majority tribal group in the affected areas, their land is who they are. It’s where the material to build their homes is found it’s their source of traditional medicines and food. It’s where their ancestors are buried and where their history rests. By driving these people off their land and into large settlements or camps, the government is not only destroying their homes, in which they have lived for generations, it is stealing their identity. Indigenous people tell of violent intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture in military custody, rape and extra-judicial killing. State criminality breaching a range of international and indeed federal laws, that Genocide Watch (GW) consider “to have already reached Stage 7 (of 8), genocide massacres”, against the Anuak, as well as the people of Oromia, Omo and the Ogaden region.
The Ethiopian government is legally bound to obtain the ‘free, informed and prior consent’ of the indigenous people it plans to move. Far from obtaining consent, Niykaw Ochalla in Unheard Voices, states that, “when [the government] comes to take their land, it is without their knowledge, and in fact [the government] says that they no longer belonged to this land, [even though] the Anuak have owned it for generations”. Consultation, consent and compensation the ‘three c’s required by federal and international law. Constitutional duties and legal requirements, which like a raft of other human rights obligations the regime dutifully ignores. Nyikaw Ochalla confirms that “there is “no consultation at all”, sometimes people are warned they have to move, but just as often OI found the military “instruct people to get up and move the same day”. And individuals receive no compensation “for their loss of livelihood and land.“ In extensive research The Oakland Institute “did not find any instances of government compensation being paid to indigenous populations evicted from their lands”, this despite binding legal requirements to do so.
‘Waiting here for death’
The picture of state intimidation in Gambella is a familiar one. Refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, recount stories of the same type of abuse, indeed as do people from Oromia and the Lower Omo valley. Tried and tested Government methodology used to enforce repressive measures and create fear amongst the people. “The first mission for all the military and the Liyuu is to make the people of the Ogaden region afraid of us”, a former commander of the Liyuu police told me. And to achieve this crushing end, they are told “to rape and kill, to loot, to burn their homes, and capture their animals”. From a wealth of information collated by HRW and the OI, it is clear that the Ethiopian military in Gambella is following the same criminal script as their compatriots in the Ogaden region.
We were at home on our farm, a 17-year-old girl from Abobo in Gambella (whose story echoes many), told HRW “when soldiers came up to us: ‘Do you accept to be relocated or not?’ ‘No.’ So they grabbed some of us. ‘Do you want to go now?’ ‘No.’ Then they shot my father and killed him”, a villager from Gooshini, now in exile in South Sudan, described how those in his settlement “that resisted…. were forced by soldiers to roll around in the mud in a stagnant water pool then beaten”.
The new settlements that make up the villagisation programme, are built on land that is “typically dry and arid”, completely unsuitable for farming and miles from water supplies, which are reserved for the industrial farms being constructed on fertile ancestral land. The result is increased food insecurity leading in some cases to starvation. HRW documented cases of people being forced off their land during the “harvest season, preventing them from harvesting their crops”. With such levels of cruelty and inhumanity the people feel desperate, “as one displaced individual told Human Rights Watch, “The government is killing our people through starvation and hunger . . . we are just waiting here for death”.
And should families try to leave the new settlement (something they are discouraged from doing), and return to their village homes, the government destroys them totally, burning houses and bulldozing the land. “The government brought the Anuak people here to die. They brought us no food, they gave away our land to the foreigners so we can’t even move back,” HRW record in ‘Waiting Here for Death’. People forced into the new villages are fearful of government assault, parents “are afraid to send their children to school because of the increased army presence. Parents worry that their children will be assaulted”. (UV)
In the face of such government atrocities the people feel powerless; but like many suffering injustice throughout the world, they are awakening demanding justice and the observation of fundamental human rights. “We don’t have any means of retrieving our land” Mr.O from the village of Pinykew in Gambella, told The Guardian (22/01/2013). “Villagers have been butchered, falsely arrested and tortured, the women subjected to mass rape”. Enraged by such atrocities, he is bringing what could be a landmark legal case against Britain’s Department for International Development (DfiD). Leigh Day & Co, solicitors based in London, have taken the case, “arguing that money from DfiD is funding the villagisation programme”, that “breaches the department’s own human rights policies.” DfiD administer the £324 million given by the British government to Ethiopia, making it the biggest recipient of aid from the country. They deny supporting forced re-location, but their own documents reveal British funds are paying the salaries “of officials implementing the programme and for infrastructure in new villages”, The Daily Mail 25/05/2013 reports. Allegations reinforced by HRW, who state that “British aid is having an enormous, negative side effect – and that is the forcible ending of these indigenous people’s way of life”. (Ibid)
In an account that rings with familiarity, Mr.O, now in Dadaab refugee camp, says he was forced from his village at gunpoint by the military. At first he refused to leave, so “soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) beat me with guns.” He was arrested, imprisoned in military barracks and tortured for three days, after which time he was taken to the new village, which “did not have water, food or productive fields”, where he was forced to build his house.
Government Duplicity, Donor Complicity
The government unsurprisingly denies all allegations of widespread human rights abuse connected with land deals and the ‘villagisation programme’ specifically. They continue to espouse the ‘promised public service and infrastructure benefits’ of the scheme that “by and large” OI assert, “have failed to materialise”. The regime is content to ignore documentation provided by human rights groups and NGOs and until recently had refused to cooperate with an investigation by the World Bank into allegations of abuse raised by indigenous Anuak people. The Bank incidentally that gives Ethiopia more financial aid than any other developing country, $920 million last year alone. Former regional president Omod Obang Olum oversaw the plan in Gambella and assures us resettlement is “voluntary” and “the programme successful”. Predictable duplicitous comments that IDI said “are laughable”.
An independent non-profit group working to advance human rights in development, IDI, has helped the Anuak people from Gambella “submit a complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel implicating the Bank in grave human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ethiopian Government“. The complaint alleges, “that the Anuak people have been severely harmed by the World Bank-financed and administered Providing Basic Services Project (PBS)”. A major development porgramme, which is described as “expanding access and improving the quality of basic services in education, health, agriculture, water supply and sanitation”, OI report. However IDI make clear that “villagisation is the principle vehicle through which PBS is being implemented in Gambella”, and claim “there is “credible evidence” of “gross human rights violations” being committed in the region by the Ethiopian military. Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that donors are “paying for the construction of schools, health clinics, roads, and water facilities in the new [resettlement] villages. They are also funding agricultural programs directed towards resettled populations and the salaries of the local government officials who are implementing the policy”. (Ibid)
IDI’s serious allegations further support those made by many people from the region and Mr.O in his legal action against the DfID. The Banks inspection panel have said the “two programmes (PBS and villagisation) depend one each other, and may mutually influence the results of the other.” The panel found “there is a plausible link between the two programmes but needs to engage in further fact-finding”. It is imperative the bank’s Inspection Panel have unrestricted access to Gambella and people feel safe to speak openly about the governments brutality.
All groups involved in land sales have both a moral duty – a civil responsibility and – a legal obligation to the people whose land is being leased. The Ethiopian government, the foreign corporations leasing the land and the donors – the World Bank and DfID, who, through PBS are funding the villagisation programme.
The Ethiopian government is in violation of a long list of international treatise that, in- keeping with their democratic pretentions, they are happy to sign up to, but less enthusiastic to observe. From the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and all points legal in between. Investors if not legally obliged, are certainly morally bound by the United Nations (UN) “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, which, amongst other things, makes clear their duty to respect and work within human rights. Donor’s responsibility first and last is, to the people of Ethiopia, to ensure any so-called ‘development’ programmes (that commonly focus on economic targets), support their needs, ensures their wellbeing and observes their fundamental human rights.
To continue to turn a blind eye to widespread government abuse, and to support schemes, whether directly or indirectly, that violate human rights and cause suffering to the people is to be complicit to State criminality that is shattering the lives of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people, in Gambella and indeed elsewhere in the country.
When President Obama recently visited Africa, he announced a “Power Africa” initiative. In his Cape Town University speech, he proclaimed, “I am proud to announce a new initiative. We’ve been dealing with agriculture. We’ve been dealing with health. Now we’re going to talk about power: Power Africa, a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it. We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. We’re going to partner with the private sector, who themselves have committed more than $9 billion in investment.”
In the speech, President Obama used the word “power” 21 times in a variety of contexts. He philosophized about “power that comes from acting on our ideals” and the “power of human beings to affect change”. He urged Africans to act “through the power of your example”. He encouraged support for programs “that empower women”. He mildly chided “those in power who make arguments to distract people from their own abuses.”
He puzzled over “what it will take to empower individual Africans” and enable Africans to have the “power to feed themselves.” He pleaded for “unleashing the power of entrepreneurship and market” and the creation of “partnership that empowers Africans.” He spoke about “the power to prevent illness and care for the sick” and “the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.”
He lamented “Africa’s lack of access to power” and the need “to have power.” He “talked about power — Power Africa” and “doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.” He pitied those Africans who “live currently off the power grid.”
He wistfully spoke about Nelson Mandela “leaving power” which “was as profound as his ability to claim power”. He spoke of Mugabe’s “corruption of power” and Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.
To power Africa or to empower Africans, that is the question
Africa has a power problem. There is no question about that. Africa needs protection from thugs-cum-leaders who abuse power, misuse power, confuse power and excuse and justify their abuse and misuse of power. President Obama is already powering Africa. Every year, he hands out billions of dollars to Africa’s worst dictators (excuse me, he calls them “partners”) who abuse power in countries like Ethiopia. Africa needs people power not thugs in power.
On second thought, Africa does not have a power problem. Africa has a problem of powerlessness. The people are powerless against thugtators who use power to abuse their human rights. Africans are powerless against the powerful forces of corruption – officials and their cronies who “illicitly transfer” (steal and stash) tens of billions of dollars in foreign banks. For instance, “Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009” and “in 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion.” Africans are powerless and disempowered against powerful election thieves who claim electoral victory by 99.6 percent. Africans are powerless against powerful warlords who seek to divide them along ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines. Yes, Africa’s powerless have a big problem with Africa’s powerful thugtators.
President Obama does not seem to get it. The question is not whether to power Africa but how to protect powerless Africans from those dictators America has powered and empowered by doling out billions of dollars in aid, loans and technical assistance every year. If he wants to power Africa, he should begin by empowering ordinary Africans against those who abuse and misuse their power. He should power up the youth grid that remains unused, abused and disused by those who manage the political power grid. He should use the billions of dollars of annual aid to disempower the few powerful African thugtators and empower the hundreds of millions of African youth.
If Obama wants to power Africa, let him empower African youth
President Obama has been talking about empowering African youth for years. In August 2010, he talked about launching “the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) as a signature initiative that supports young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.” In June 2012, some “60 young African leaders” participated in “the Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership with Young African Leaders” for a “three-week professional development program”. To support the “empowerment of young African leaders” and provide them “significant and ongoing professional training, access to mentorship, and networking opportunities in Africa”, USAID “awarded two grants totaling $1.3 million to support the core principles of Young African Leaders Initiative.” In his Cape Town speech, President Obama told Africa’s young people: “You get to decide where the future lies. Think about it — over 60 percent of Africans are under 35 years old. So demographics means young people are going to be determining the fate of this continent and this country. You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene.” But Africa’s young people do not have the numbers on their side. They got $1.3 million from America while Africa’s dictators get billions every year.
In June 2013, President Obama talked about “launching a new program” called the “Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders” which is “going to give thousands of promising young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop skills at some of our best colleges and universities.” A lot of nice talk and promises for African young people; but promises and talk are more convincing when one puts money where one’s mouth is. Since YALI, there has been more talk than action.
But there is another side to the African youth story. President Obama in Cape Town said, “And I’ve traveled to Africa on this trip because my bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story. I’m betting on all of you.” Which segment of the African youth is he betting on? The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders promises to “give thousands of promising young Africans” the “opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills.”
Along the same lines, what does President Obama offer Africa’s young freedom fighters? In 2009, in Accra, Ghana, he warned, “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Does President Obama know of brave young Africans in prison named Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel and so many thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners? President Obama needs to live up to the standards he set for Africans and answer one question: Is he, like history, on the side of brave Africans or is he on the side of Africa’s strongmen. President Obama must choose between making brave young Africans strong or African strongmen stronger.
Would $7 billion make a difference?
Lighting the dark continent is a daunting task. Enlightening the benighted “leaders” of the dark continent is an even more daunting fact. Over 130 years after the invention of the light bulb, the vast majority of Africans remain in total darkness. It is a historical enigma that as technology enlightens the world, Africa is enveloped in darkness. For instance, Ethiopia got a functioning telephone system in 1894 and over the past decade “invested some USD$14 billion in infrastructure development” including communications. Yet today Ethiopia has the worst telecommunications system in Africa and quite possibly the world.
Power outages and blackouts are common in every part of Africa. In June 2012, as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton began her speech at the African Union, she experienced firsthand what Africans face every day. She had to stop her speech because of power outage.
Africa’s electrical power problem is not merely low access and insufficient capacity; it also involves poor reliability and extremely high costs. The regime in Ethiopia windbags day and night about a pie-in-the-sky dam on the Nile. They say it will be the largest dam in Africa and cost USD$6-7 billion. This fantasy dam is supposed to resolve the power supply problems of not only Ethiopia but also the region and beyond. The fact of the matter is that the regime aims to export much of the power produced from the dam and not use it for domestic power self-sufficiency. It is also ironic that the regime seeks to convince the population and the world that it can run the “largest dam” in Africa when it cannot even manage efficiently the few dams that are currently in existence. Yet the regime in Ethiopia keeps on windbagging the Nile dam canard to create the grand illusion of development, hoodwink the population and panhandle China and the international banks for more and more handouts.
The World Bank says Africa needs USD$43 billion annually to improve its power infrastructure. Would dropping USD$7 billion in American tax dollars plus $9 billion from the private sector over five years to “double” the power capacity make a difference in lighting Africa or enlightening Africans? Throwing USD$3 billion a year to help “Power Africa” for 5 years sounds like chicken feed. According to IMANI, the Ghanaian Center for Policy and Education, “If all the electricity generated in Africa was shared equally, each household would have enough to power a normal light-bulb for about 3.5 hours a day per person. With President Obama’s new initiative, this can increase by roughly 18 more minutes if implementation was perfect.”
President Obama cannot power Africa by empowering Africa’s strongmen. To power Africa, he must first help empower Africa’s youth. He cannot empower Africa’s youth with promises and silky words. He cannot power Africa by empowering a few of Africa’s “best and brightest” by providing them leadership training or skills. It is said that more than 600 million of Africa’s one billion population is below the age of 25. The vast majority of these youth are poor, undereducated and with little prospect for lifetime economic viability. Vast numbers of these youths are forced to work in whatever capacity to help their families survive while losing educational opportunities that could free them from poverty. He must come up with a different plan for Africa’s not-so-promising youth. They are the majority of Africa!
The real answer to Africa’s problems lies in creating a power grid among its youth. Any program that is narrowly targeted to Africa’s talented youth will merely perpetuate existing inequalities and keep the sons and daughters of the rich and privileged at the top. The masses of youths at the bottom will not accept this condition. Sooner or later, they will rise, power up and disempower the strongmen who abuse their power. That’s how Africa will be powered and empowered, President Obama!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
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In the construction sector, Ethiopia exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation. In turn, these factors appear in some cases to be driven by unequal or unclear contractual relationships, poor enforcement of professional standards, high multipliers between public sector and private sector salaries, wide-ranging discretionary powers exercised by government, a lack of transparency, and a widespread perception of hidden barriers to market entry.
Ethiopia’s “construction sector” falls into four categories: roads, water supply and irrigation, power, and other public works including construction of universities, schools, hospitals and markets. Annual spending on roads alone is estimated to be US$1.2 billion. The “government” totally dominates the construction sector. “Ethiopia is unusual compared with most other African countries, which have already fully privatized the design and construction of public works.”
There are multiple and “interrelated drivers of corruption in Ethiopia’s construction sector.” These drivers are “related to deficiencies in accountability (transparency based on clear performance criteria), capacity (availability of sufficient material and human resources and proper procedures), and trust (confidence in the market that allows businesses to invest in increasing their own capacity). In Ethiopia, “A lack of capacity makes corruption possible, a lack of accountability makes corruption happen, and a lack of trust allows corruption to take root.”
The WB report highlights corruption in Ethiopia’s construction sector along six dimensions. The policymaking and regulatory processes are at high-risk area of corruption. Such corruption “has a major effect on sector governance.” Policies and regulations could “encourage, or help hide, corrupt practices” and unless corrected perpetuate corruption by groups or individuals. The Ethiopian “government” “controls the price of construction materials, access to finance, and access to equipment. It controls professional and company registrations. It maintains high-level, bilateral infrastructure deals with China and lacks independent performance audits.” According to the WB report, “Many stakeholders are concerned about the possibility of a connection between the dominant role of Chinese contractors in the road sector and high-level links between the Ethiopian and Chinese governments” and the “lack of effective competition, with Chinese contractors dominating the international market and a limited set of domestic contractors dominating the national market.” These problems are compounded by other factors such as poor quality control, weak enforcement of professional standards and overall lack of transparency. Professionals in the construction sector are reluctant to complain “for fear of being victimized” and believing there is no truly independent body to which they can appeal.” Since the “government is a major client”, “there is a reluctance to express dissent.”
The planning and budgeting (P&B) process is the second area of high corruption in Ethiopia’s construction sector. When planning and budgeting “deviates from the use of a rational, objective basis for prioritizing the allocation of limited resources on the basis of need, anticipated rates of return, or other objective criteria,” it opens the floodgates of corruption. In Ethiopia, the P&B process is characterized by “lack of separation between policy making, budget allocation, and implementation functions” and “top-down planning by decree.” There are instances in which “projects that are not responding to a prioritized need and (when combined with weak procurement regulations) can sometimes be negotiated directly between a corrupt official and a specific construction company.” Corruption also occurs in the form of “adoption of inappropriately high construction standards to enhance contract values, construction of new infrastructure while neglecting to maintain existing facilities, conflicts of interest for officials with a stake in the construction sector” and aiding “construction companies with party political allegiances.”
The third area of corruption is found in management and performance monitoring . According to the WB report, management weaknesses can lead to corruption in three main ways: “(a) Without basic good management controls, individuals (whether working for the client, the consultant, or the contractor) can find themselves free to take shortcuts that may cross the line into corruption. (b) Without good data management and reporting systems, the management information needed to identify and address corruption does not exist. (c) If the management is so incompetent that it gives rise to administrative or technical obstacles that are otherwise impossible to address, corrupt activities may be seen as the only realistic way for otherwise professionally minded individuals to deliver results.” In Ethiopia such corruption occurs for a number of reasons including “low remuneration of some managers and procurement staff”, “shortlisting of poorly performing companies and companies without capacity for new work”, “difficulty of obtaining public information about contracts,” and “lack of independent professional bodies and weak enforcement of professional standards”, among others.
The fourth area of corruption is manifest in the tendering and procurement (T&P) process. Among the commonly encountered corruption risks in the T&P process include sale of inside bidding information by corrupt officials to prospective bidders to enhance the prospects for submitting a successful bid. It could also involve “collusion between contractors in the form of price fixing and intimidation of aspiring new entrants, unofficial quota system for the award of contracts on the basis of political affiliation of the companies involved and bribery.” In Ethiopia, the list of corrupt practices in the T&P process is mindboggling. In addition to the “general lack of transparency in procurement processes,” the “government” “shortlists companies known to be poor performers or lacking requisite experience or capability,” excludes “capable companies”, inconsistently applies procurement standards, imposes unfair selective restriction of access to advance information about bidding opportunities and distorts the bidding process to benefit favored bidders, among others.
The fifth area of corruption is manifest in the operations phase. Generally, contractors who have paid bribes to secure contracts “try to recoup his outlay during the construction phase. This is most commonly achieved through various forms of fraud involving client’s staff or the supervising consultant’s staff, including supply of inferior materials, falsification of quantities, inflated claims, and concealment of defects.” In Ethiopia, “contracts are rarely completed on budget”. Significant delays in contract completion are common. There is “often a problem with poor-quality construction” and “some contractors knowingly underbid then recoup costs through variations.” Contractors “conceal construction defects or improperly influence client or consultant to accept substandard materials”. In other cases, a “consultant or contractor submits falsified documentation” and “receives exaggerated payments as result of falsified utilization records.”
The sixth area of corruption in the construction sector involves payment and settlement of certificates. A client “can fabricate a justification for refusing or withholding payment as “a means of punishing companies that have refused to honor understandings.” In the absence of effective complaints adjudication or appeals process, this could result in corruption “related to legal advisers, including in dispute resolution. Such advisers may be implicated in the submission of incorrect claims, concealment of documents, the supply of false witness statements, bribery or blackmail of witnesses, or excess billing, all of which contribute to overall levels of corruption in the project.” In Ethiopia, it is “commonly reported that facilitation payments may be required to speed up settlement of certificates.” Alternatively, “contractors sometimes curtail progress because cash flow problems arise as a result of late payments.”
EthioConstruction Corruption, Inc.
The Ethiopian “government” is not only the single dominant construction client but also the singular policy maker and regulator of the construction sector. The “government” is in effect EthioConstruction Corruption, Inc. Though the WB report is timid in stating the facts as they are and frames the truth in the buttery language of bureaucratese, it is clear that the type of corruption in the Ethiopian construction sector covers the whole gamut including the policy making and budgetary process, project selection, tender specifications, procurement outcomes, contract negotiations and renegotiations and payments. It is manifest from the report that the bidding process is generally rigged and projects are often granted to companies that have more political ties to the ruling regime than qualifications. It is obvious that newcomers and those disfavored by the regime have little chance of securing public works project contracts. It is also manifest from the totality of the evidence in the report that public project money is ingenuously finds its way to the pockets of top regime officials.
The “tofu” road to Kombolcha
In June 2013, the “Ethiopian Roads Authority” signed another agreement with two Chinese companies to upgrade the 133 Km-long Kombolcha-Bati-Mille road to asphalt-concrete level. The Chinese companies will snag a whopping 2.8 billion Br. in the deal. Why aren’t Ethiopian construction companies getting these contracts? In other words, why are Chinese companies eating the lunches of Ethiopian companies? Why is there not an Ethiopia construction consortium organized (with the aid of the “government”) to bid for such construction jobs? Will there ever be Ethiopian construction companies with the capacity for large-scale infrastructure projects? How could the “government” talk about development when the “infrastructure development” is left entirely to foreign contractors? How can the “government” justify use of international bank loans to bankroll foreign companies squeezing out homegrown ones? How is Chinese economic penetration and exploitation of Ethiopia different from the exploitation of the evil neoliberal, imperialist, neocolonial, globalist… exploitation?
It is common knowledge that many state-owned Chinese construction companies engage in shoddy workmanship not only in Africa but also in China. After Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji saw the shoddy workmanship of flood dykes on the Yangtze River in 1998 which resulted in major loss of life and property, he described the work of these companies as “tofu” construction. There is much documented about corruption and shoddy workmanship in the Chinese construction sector. “All across China, everything from sidewalks to apartment buildings to mega dams are compromised corruption.” Chinese construction companies in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa will underbid any other local or international competitors because they are not interested in short-term profits but sector monopoly. They maintain low profits to increase market share (monopolize) at the expense of local companies while driving out of international competitors. That’s how they do business. The blame for Chinese monopoly of the public works sector in Ethiopia should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the ruling regime in Ethiopia which manifestly lacks the technical capacity and competence and political will to do what needs to be done to ensure a reasonably corruption-free and high quality construction sector.
Reducing corruption through CoST accountability
The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) launched by the British Department for International Development (DFID) and taken over by the World Bank in 2012 “seeks to help (9 countries in a pilot program including Ethiopia) participating countries improve the value for money spent on the construction of public infrastructure.” The program aims to create a “multi-stakeholder initiative designed to promote transparency and accountability in publicly financed construction.” At the core of the program “is the belief that the processes involved in the construction of public infrastructure must be made more transparent. The public must be armed with the information they need to hold decision makers to account and to ensure better value for money in the construction sector.” CoST aims to “establish a public disclosure process for the construction sector that is viable and appropriate to country conditions, that is sustainable in the medium and long term as a government system, and that achieves a credible and substantial level of compliance in the relevant sector entities.” Ultimately, CoST seeks to “reduce waste in public budgets, enables fairer competition in the private sector and increased opportunities for investors.”
On November 17, 2012, a CoST consultancy agreement was “signed between Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) and Hagos Abdie (Individual Consultant); the consultant is selected as a preferred candidate among bidders invited through short listing.” The aim of the consultancy agreement is to find ways of maximizing the capacity of government agencies to gather, verify and disclose information into the public realm. (It is unclear why Abdie was “selected as a preferred candidate among bidders invited through short listing” and how much he was paid for his consultancy services.) But the selection of Abdie lends irrefutable proof that only those closely allied to the ruling regime get plum contracts as the World Bank report amply documented in its massive study.
Close examination of Abdie’s 38-page “Assessment of procuring entity capacity to disclose project information in Ethiopia” shows that it is nothing more than a cut-and-paste of bureaucratic documents from a variety of sources. The report stylistically “collates and assembles information” on various projects, a task that could be done efficiently by an adroit college intern. One is hard pressed to show how the “collated and assembled” hodgepodge of information could “arm” the public in “holding decision makers to account and to ensure better value for money in the construction sector.” The recommendations at the end of each section of the “assessment” appear to be unoriginal, cut-and-paste boilerplate recommendations. There is no need to waste time discussing Abdie’s “assessment report”, but one cannot escape the irony of corruption even when corruption is being “assessed”.
Increasing transparency and accountability in Ethiopia’s construction sector
Corruption is dyed in the very fabric of the ruling regime in Ethiopia. It cannot be washed out with the detergent of make-believe anti-corruption programs designed by self-serving, sanctimonious and self-congratulating international poverty pimps. Neither could it be solved by corrupt anti-corruption crusaders. The simplest and most direct approach to dealing with corruption in Ethiopia requires massive involvement of civil society watchdogs and rigorous independent audits. Those countries that have been successful in controlling corruption in the construction sector have implemented have had rigorous compliance audits and made available to the public comprehensive and detailed information on bids, winning bids for government contracts and reports of procurement audits on a timely basis. Most of them disseminate up to date comprehensive public works contract information on line. They also allow civil society representatives to observe the tendering process.
Ethiopia supposedly has a freedom of information law (Proclamation No. 590/2008 – A Proclamation to Provide for Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information.) Anyone who has carefully studied this proclamation will be impressed by the lofty platitudes, truisms and boilerplate legal clichés and verbiage cut and pasted from the laws of other nations. Under the proclamation, citizens supposedly have a right of “access, [to] receive and import information held by public bodies, subject to justifiable limits based on overriding public and private interests.” But the “justifiable limits” include non-disclosure of any Cabinet documents or information (Art. 24), any information relating to the “financial welfare of the nation or the ability of the government to manage the economy of the country” (Art. 25), and any information on the “operation of public bodies [including] an opinion, advice, report or recommendation obtained or prepared or an account of a consultation, discussion or deliberation… minutes of a meetings…” (Art. 26). Simply stated, no information may be released on the activities of government ministers and officials, banks or any other official financial institutions and the internal proceedings or external reviews of public institutions. To top it all off, any public body may refuse a request for information if it determines for any reason the “harm to the protected interest which would be caused by disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” (Art. 28.)
Corruption, like mushrooms, grows best in darkness. The benighted leaders of the ruling regime in Ethiopia have so far provided splendid husbandry to mushrooming corruption in all sectors of the Ethiopian political economy. What the people of Ethiopia need now are “sunshine laws” for their country of 13 months of sunshine!
To track corruption in Ethiopia, follow the money. It leads straight to the top!
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:
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