Skip to content

African Dictators

Further discourse on the Washington DC undressing

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 ( 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!

My brother Abebe and his WMD

By Yilma Bekele

I doubt there is an Ethiopian in the Diaspora not familiar with what happened last Friday. As they say the video has gone viral. The act has brought deep satisfaction to the psych of the oppressed and left the evildoers in disarray. Abebe took less than one minute to do what has been tried for over twenty years. His heroic act will be remembered in the history books like that other important event in the annals of our glorious past.

Of course I am talking about the daring act of none other Abraha Deboch, Moges Asgedom and Simeyon Adefres on February 19, 1937. The Fascist Italian Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani was set to celebrate the second anniversary of the occupation of our homeland and the birth of an Italian royal baby at Addis Abeba Palace now Addis Abeba University. That did not sit well with our freedom fighters.

Simeyon who has learned to drive befriended a soldier from the household of the patriot leader Dejazmach Fikre Mariam and was able to secure hand grenades. Abraha and Moges hurled their grenades at the Viceroy during the celebration but the balcony saved the Fascist pig. Their job was done. Honor was restored. The attempt on the Viceroy was followed by the massacre of the citizens of Addis from February 19-21. Their heroism was able to fill the hearts of their people with pride and joy and the number of the patriotic forces swelled until victory was achieved.

What my friend and brother Abebe Gelaw did was no less. It was a different time and place but the generous act on behalf of country and people is noted by all patriotic forces that stand against tyranny by a single individual. The setting was perfect and the delivery was laser guided. The event was a very shameful attempt to humiliate Ethiopia and its people. There was no other way of looking at this act of abdication of responsibility by the President of the US other than to bully our people into submission by affirming this unholy alliance that does not have lasting value to both our Nations. We pleaded, we warned and we tried to teach the administration the folly of this enabling act of a tyrant. It fell on deaf ears. We are aware of the fact Mr. Obama will not be seen with Ahmadinejed. He will not invite Assad for dinner. But he felt no qualms sitting with this criminal leader and place him on the same dais as elected heads of State. Our people and country were insulted. This election Ethiopian Americans should pay attention to this fact.

It was wrong. But our brother Abebe was there to set the record straight. Abebe used the art of ‘political heckling’ in its purest form. Citizens heckle out of anger and frustration. Heckling done right subverts the proceedings and knock the powerful and famous from their stride. In less than a minute Abebe accomplished all that and more. The lion roared and the mouse scurried away. There was no hole to hide no place to take shelter. The intense light showed the paper tiger from Arat kilo for what he is, underneath all that TPLF bravado there sits a little scared soul trying to get out. A bully met his match. The Prime Mister preys on the weak. In Washington DC the playing field was leveled in favor of the silenced and oppressed.

Since Friday all the talk has been about the patriotism, unselfish act and bravery of one individual. Yes it is true some people find the inner strength to rise up for the occasion. Somehow they dig deep inside their soul and come up with earth shaking feat that defies the law of nature and gravity. Do you think I am laying it on heavy? I very much doubt that. Can you think of any setting on that fateful Friday where the eyes of the planet were focused on? A meeting with the President of the US, the most powerful person in the world attended by the major News networks definitely counts as the premier event of the week. One individual put everything else aside and decided to be the voice of eighty million silenced souls. OH did he speak!!

Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Free Eskinder and all political prisoners! You are a dictator! You are committing crimes against humanity! You do not talk about food without freedom! We need freedom more than food! We need Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

It was short, precise and to the point. It is all choice words that conveyed our hopes and wishes. The delivery was forceful and the face was that of an angry lion roaring. Where did Abebe get all that energy is a good question? He got it from us! At that moment eighty million souls converged in the body of my friend and he was transformed into human missile of untold force. I was there. You were there. We were all there. Then it came to me. The message was not really directed at President Obama or anyone else. The message was for his people. Abebe was showing us the power of the individual and the enabling act of taking personal responsibility for you fate.

That is why I compared it to Abraha, Moges and Simeyon. Their heroic act was not just about killing Graziani. Mussolini can always send another Viceroy. They were more focused in teaching us what can be accomplished when individuals set their focus and energy in search of freedom. The fact of the matter was it worked. The patriots were inundated by new recruits. The spirit of “Yes I can” became contagious. Apathy was replaced by action. Darkness was gone and the light shone high and bright. That is what I saw the last three days. Ethiopians walking tall. Ethiopians high Fiving each other. Ethiopians understanding the power of the individual to rise up for the occasion.

What was revealing from this incident was the reaction of two individual. The Prime Minster was left speech less. He was left with his mouth wide open and his brain on freeze mode. He entered uncharted territory and he was on a free fall. Abebe’s timing was perfect. The PM was replying about food. That by itself is a very cruel joke being played on our people by the hapless moderator. The question gave the impression the moderator was chosen for his looks and his talking head not his journalistic credentials. He is the kind who would ask the pilot of the Titanic on the procedure of glacier avoidance or Colonel Gadaffi on the art of confronting a hostile mob.

The PM who is celebrating over twenty years in power is the last person to be asked such question. His ill planned policy is the cause of recurring famine and disaster on our ancient land and people. In a sane setting he should be chided for failure of leadership. But in this Disney land environment we were witnessing he was pontificating how the agriculture system should be set to avoid food insecurity. Even the words they choose are not to expose but hide and play cute games at the expense of our people. They call it food insecurity, mal nutrition, calorie deficiency whereas to our people it is pure famine or the absence of food. Nothing more nothing less.

The PM locked side ways with a look of surprise. How could this happen is his first thought. Then he saw the Lion roaring. Relentless, focused, and imbued with the energy of eighty millions and this was one mighty Lion. The dictator looked down. The dictator shrank. The wrath of the oppressed, the spirit of Eskinder, Andualem, Reeyot and all those ghosts he left behind in his dungeon came screaming to haunt him right there on stage. Evil does not pay. The price of bad deeds is mental anguish.

The reaction of his bodyguard is another revealing moment in this high stake drama. He threatened violence against my brother. He responded the only way he knows. ‘We will kill you’ he uttered! What a weak statement. What an empty threat. What a solution to propose for the problem he found himself in. What would have been accomplished by the killing of my brother? They say you cannot teach an old dog a new trick. Killing is the only language the PM and his associates speak. That is the sort of people President Obama invited to his table. We are saddened by this act. We expected better from the son of Africa. We hoped for better things. What the white leaders have done for their brethren in Europe we thought a black president will bring us respite from this agony our continent finds itself in. Not today. We are on our own. Our destiny is in our won hands. It has always been, but the last few years we have shown the tendency to drop the ball. But when you think the future looks bleak the problems pile up and darkness attempts to engulf our soul there rises a beam of bright light like the star of Bethlehem that led the three wise men to where Jesus was born.

That is what we shall do. We shall follow the spirit of our young friend and take matters into our own hands. We will redouble our efforts to free our country and people by any means necessary. One does not make appointment to be free. We start now. We each vow in our homes, our work place wherever we are to start the day of defiance of the evil system starting now. It is the result of our collective effort that can usher the era of peace, democracy and freedom. We do not act due to hate. We do not act to hurt others. But we have God given right to protect ourselves, our family and our country and people from evil.

Live, I wanna live inspired
Die, I wanna die for something

Facing towards the heavens
I fell into pitch a black
I’m moments from landing and I’m shaking like a heart attack

Is there time, can I turn back
I’ve made mistakes in the past
Need a chance, can’t take it back
Wish I could set things right tonight

Live, I wanna live inspired
Die, I wanna die for something higher than myself
Live and die for anyone else
The more I live I see this life’s not about me

All I know spins out of control
Wonder what’s next for the heart and soul
Nothing I earned can save me now
Hear in what may be my final hour

Don’t want to leave this world, knowing I’ve lived in vain
No time for myself, so sorry, so ashamed
Don’t wanna livee this life, knowing I’ve barely tried
Chase down all my dreams that I’ve hid away on the inside

Live I wanna live on fire
Die, I wanna burn out brighter
Brighter than the Northern Lights
Wanna live to feel the daylight
The more I live
I see, this life is not about me

Note: Ethiopian Politics- Richard Pankhurst

Lyrics: Anberlin- Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights) lyrics

Religion and Ethiopia

By Yilma Bekele

Two important meetings were held a week ago. One was in Addis Abeba and the other in Washington DC. Both were concerning our motherland and the future. That is where the similarities end. One was intended to continue the path of destruction chartered by the current regime while the other was trying to build on what has been achieved throughout millennia and proven to work beyond expectations. The DC conference was an affirmation of the wise and keen insight of our forefathers that laid the foundation for the place we call home.

Christianity and Islam are the two most related faiths that trace their origin in our own neighborhood. Ethiopia is one place where the two have converged in a peculiar manner and have managed to lead a mutually assured loving existence. The bond between the two is so deep no mortal man can break that and live to tell about it. A few have tried to no avail. As evil goes the meeting in Addis was another attempt to create a wedge between the two faiths and their followers. It was vintage TPLF brainchild or brain fart.

Why our country has succeed in this endeavor while most of mankind is still trying to figure out how to come to terms with religion and State issue is a wonderful subject for our historians. I am by no means a historian but I will attempt to share the little I know from my sketchy reading of our glorious past.

Exact date for the emergence of Christianity in Ethiopia is not yet settled. The earliest and reference to the introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia is in the New Testament (Acts 8:26:38) when Philip the Evangelist converted an Ethiopian court official in the 1st Century AD. Credit is given to Saint Frumentius as the first to bringing Christianity to the Axumite Kingdom. Frumentius a Syro-Phoenician Greek from Tyre along with his brother Edesius accompanied by their uncle Meropius were shipwrecked on the Red Seacoast around the year 316 AD. The two boys were taken as slaves to the King of Aksum. Upon the king’s death they were set free but at the request of the queen they stayed to help in the education the young heir Ezana. When Ezana came of age the two brothers returned to Tyre but Frumentius was able to convince the Patriarch of Alexandra, Athanasius to send a Bishop to Ethiopia. In the year 328 Frumentius was sent back as the first Bishop. He succeeded in baptizing King Ezana initiating the spread of Christianity. The Ethiopians refer to Frumentius as Kesete Birhan (Revealer of the Light) and Abbba Selama (Father of Peace) and he is the our first Abune.

Islam came to Ethiopia around 615AD. The first Muslims were immigrants from Mecca due to persecution by the ruling Quraysh tribe. The prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him) felt Ethiopia to be a safe haven for his relatives and companions. Moslem historians refer to it as the first Higra or migration and the Christian Emperor as Ashama ibn Abjar. The prophet instructed his followers to ‘respect and protect Ethiopia and as well as live in peace with Ethiopian Christians. Today Harar, Ethiopia is considered the fourth holy city of Islam with 82 Mosques three of which date from the 10th. Century.

The conference held in Washington DC by The Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Exile was an affirmation of this historical bond between the two religions and people. It was a proud moment building on the strong and unshakeable foundation laid centuries back that still endures despite the attempt by a few to break what God and Allah has willed.

On the other hand the meeting held in Addis was a flagrant attempt to saw dissent and weaken the bond between religion and people. It was an embarrassing moment and a shameful act that has brought shame and sorrow to country and people. It was the reflection of Kilil brought to the realm of religion. It was another ill hatched plan by Meles and company to bully our ancient land and a feeble attempt to divide and conquer. That it fell on deaf ears is no surprise. As I said our house is not built on sand but on sold granite that no amount of man made idiot trick will cause any harm. I would venture to say it ends up making it stronger and mightier burning the usperes to recoil with shame and horror.

Our Abun’s in Washington DC were celebrated for their forceful solidarity with our Moslem brothers and sisters while the usurper in Addis was shouted down by our Abun’s that steadfastly stood their ground despite the threat of violence including death. Our deep appreciation to the Abun’s strength in withstanding such ugly behavior by the usurper Paulo’s and his henchmen fills our heart with pride and reminds us of our beloved father Abune Petros and his unyielding faith in country and people in front of the Fascist firing squad.

The leader of the Italian Invasion of our land Gen. Rodolfo Graziani proclaimed “The Duce (Mussolini) will have Ethiopia, with or without Ethiopians.” Abune Petros replied, “The cry of my countrymen who died due to your nerve-gas and terror machinery will never allow my conscious to accept your ultimatum. How can I see my God if I give a blind eye to such a crime?’ That is the footsteps our current Abune are following. We thank them for making us proud both in Addis and Washington DC. We praise them for their leadership and their timely message to stir that strong feeling of what it means to be an Ethiopian both as a Christian and a Moslem. No one can break apart that God and Allah has joined together.

As he has done with an appointment of a cadre Patriarch the Meles regime is busy sawing dissent and animosity in the Moslem community. There is no trick left unturned. Churches have been burnt to put the blame on our Moslem citizens and Moslems have been accused of being terrorists, wahabists etc. As he has put Cadre Paulos in power today the regime is protecting the illegal Moslem leader and placing his internal security around him.

All politics is local. It is with this in mind Ethiopians in the Bay Area are traveling to Los Angles to attend a World Wide demonstration the weekend of June 4th. against the regime’s interference in religion in general and the attempt to destroy our ancient heritage, Waldeba Monastery in Northern Ethiopia. Those interested in attending this event can email Waldeba Monastery [email protected].

Southern Ethiopia — the playground of Meles Zenawi

By Yilma Bekele

Most locations are just bland places. There is not much variation in the topography. Look at Google satellite map of Africa and you will see what I mean. Endless flat land, a stretch of desert, an occasional river or a few hills is the norm. Our Ethiopia is different. In the North we have the Semen Mountains rearing high as if trying to reach heaven. With their rugged nature and sharp escarpments they kept us safe for centuries. They were our natural defense. The North is keeper of our old history. With its exotic monasteries, ancient obelisks it is here Jesus walked and Mohamed (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him) sent his family for safety.

In the East our low lands are as fierce as the warriors they give birth to. There is no place lower than Afar depression on mother Earth. Loo and behold today it is considered the birthplace of the Human race. It is here mankind is thought to have become bipedal.

The West is where the mighty Nile flows with our water and soil to nurture that other civilization in the land of the Pharos and the great pyramids. It is also home to the famous tropical forests of Gambella and every animal life one can think of. With its lush landscape and colorful people this is where man feels one with nature.

The South is where God took his sweet time to create paradise. Who would deny that after visiting the Rift Valley? The lakes of Langano, Shala and Hawasa, the caves of Wolayeta, the natural splendor of Arba Minch, the hot springs of Wondo Genet make a grownup cry with joy. Our creator blessed us with beauty and wealth when he made our home.

The South is also where God’s curse has befallen us for all our sins. He sent us Meles Zenawi to teach us the price of vanity. I am really sorry to write in such a way in this week of Easter. But truth has to be told. Meles Zenawi is a curse on the land of the Habeshas. Such venomous hate one might say. I believe I am entitled to that. For twenty years the regime has rained death and destruction on our land and people. I am not imaging it. All what I say is verifiable fact and recorded history. Spare me your tolerance and indignation please. You wouldn’t think that if you stand in the shoes of the discarded and displaced.

You see my friend our TPLF leaders grew up isolated and alone in their little hamlets up north. There was no diversity. To Adwa and vicinity as Gertrude Stein will say ‘there is no there, there.’ That is why when they conquered our country they did not know what to do with the South. The diversity confounded our warriors. They know that they hated the Amhara, they loathed the Oromo, they were not really concerned about the Afar, the Gambellan, or the Somali but the South was a foreign land to our northern warriors. That is why when they created the Bantustans they lumped all the Southerners into one big bowl and named it ‘Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region.’ What a defangled name is what comes to mind when you hear this twisted designation.

The South is where TPLF asserted total control unlike in the other Bantustans. The South is where Meles Zenawi exercises his renowned divide and rule principles as an art. TPLF arrived with ready-made political Parties for every Bantustan they created. Local faces were chosen from the prisoners of war they have acquired during their struggle. The puppets were already versed in accepting their TPLF masters as the final word on any and all issues. Thus all the local boys were assigned a baby sitter or a minder from Adwa. The South has Abate Kisho a Sidama with Bitew Belay as the real power. Corporal Kuma Demeksa of Oromia was taken under the wing of Solomon Tsimo and Hilawi Yesuf lorded it over Addisu Legesse in the Amhara Bantustan.

Abate Kisho was a simple sports teacher from the town of Leku near Yirgalem. He was not at all ready for prime time and it showed. He even has the audacity to side with one faction over the other during the TPLF drama. It was pathetic to see Meles haul his ass to jail with some trumped up charge. The current Foreign Minster replaced him as the new toy. By 2001 the Sidama people were becoming hip to this patronizing practice and demanded a certain amount of autonomy or self-administration as granted by the Constitution. Meles replied with tough love and sent his Agazi forces to teach them a lesson. Even the US State Department noted this wanton murder of unarmed protesters in Hawasa. Melese Marimo the vice president and perpetrator of this crime was rewarded for his ordering of the massacre by being sent to South Africa as an Ambassador, of course with the First Secretary a TPLF cadre in charge. That is the normal operating procedure in all the Embassies.

The issue percolated and during the election of 2005 the Southerners answered by siding with CUD (Kinijit) and were able to trounce the regime’s candidates. In 2006 Meles convened a meeting in Hawasa and was able to mollify the locals with some bizarre actions. The renaming of ‘Southern University’ to ‘Hawasa University’ was seen as a triumph of Sidama assertiveness. The current puppet Shiferaw Shigute was crowned as the new face of Southern independence. Abate Kisho was released from Federal prison and sent back home poor but alive and a good symbol of what could happen when natives fill their head with funny notion of being equal.

Of course the raping and pillage of the south continued unabated. There was no stone left unturned to cultivate animosity between the different tribes and keep them at each others throat. The Sidamas were made to compete with the Wolaitas, the Siltes were divorced from the Gurages, and the Konsos were made to envy the Derasas etc. etc. The cadres encouraged turmoil and civil war. As in the rest of our country Southern Ethiopia was full of drama with the TPLF active in every village fanning the hate flame.

Ethiopianess was discouraged while allegiance to tribe was glorified. Meles and company have done their homework in how to create havoc on our country while in their caves. They did not dream of building hospitals, schools or factories but were busy drawing maps, creating language barriers and perfecting the Kilil concept. The South was their dream come true. Our common language was their first casualty. It was deemed inappropriate. Trained teachers were sent away to their respective Bantustans and the English alphabet became the language of the schools in Sidama. Without adequate preparation, without trained teachers, without books available the Southern children were left to fend for themselves. It was sad to witness a simple application that has to be written in one language to be translated to another when it reaches Hawasa the capital city. The South was made unable to communicate within its own Bantustan. It was a crime. The TPLF party was the orchestrator of such tragedy.

Shiferaw Shigute is the Frankenstein monster Meles created. He is the son of Meles Zenawi. Like his parent he is devoid of empathy and proud of his betrayal of his people. Look at him closely and you will see Meles – indifferent, arrogant and know it all. From his expensive Savile raw suit with matching ties to his air of superiority he is the kind that makes his maker proud. When his own Party found him guilty of abuse of power and voted to oust him, our fearless step child thumbed his nose at the assembly and said “I did not do this alone, we shared the money with the wife of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Azeb Mesfin. If we are going to be accountable, we should both judged by the law. If we have to return the Birr, we both have to return it” and stormed out of the meeting. His stepfather reversed the decision of the assembly. Like father like son! It is Shiferaw Shigute practicing ethnic cleansing today or rather it is Meles Zenawi using his toy boy that is displacing our people. It is the concept of Kilil coming home to roost.

Why am I going thru all this recounting our ugly history is a valid question? It is because the past is important to avoid making the same mistakes again. We learn so we don’t repeat that which has not worked. I am not obsessing about the things that we cannot control but rather I am hoping we learn from it so we can focus on tomorrow where we have the power to build a better Ethiopia. The do’s and don’ts of today are based on the lesson from the success and failures of yesterday.

Thus we learn from human history to see what works and what to avoid. The quest for liberation and a building a better Ethiopia for all will be accomplished if based on that principle. Each and every one of us is the building stone for it to succeed. Some folks were upset because I criticized a few physicians for their enabling activity regarding building a ‘referral hospital’ in our country. People feel upset when asked to boycott Ethiopian Airlines or avoid drinking Woyane beer. We advocate such action not out of hate but precisely because such form of ‘peaceful resistance’ have proven to work. There was a time when the West led by Britain and the US tried to justify their investment in South Africa by claiming they were creating jobs for the poor African masses. It was not true. They were realizing huge profit from slave labor.

What did Black South African say about that? Steven Biko, the charismatic young leader wrote ‘those who professed to worry over Blacks suffering if the economy deteriorated had missed the point. We’re already suffering’ He often reminded us ‘those who live in constant fear of being shot, beaten, or detained without charge, for those whose children already live in abject poverty and near starvation, an economic downturn is not the major area of concern.’ Nobel Laureate Albert Lutuli, president of the African National Congress in one of his speeches said:

“The economic boycott of South Africa will entail undoubted hardship for African. We do not doubt that. But if it is a method which shortens the day of bloodshed, the suffering to us will be a price we are willing to pay.”

We are not saying anything different. Your investment in Meles’s land scheme, your patronizing Meles’s Airlines, your partying in Alamudi’s hotels, your support of the so-called hospital is hurting our people. No need to qualify it with good and bad investment, it all goes to the same pot.

As some of us are preparing to celebrate Easter let us not forget what it really means. Easter is Jesus Christ’s victory over death. It is a time of renewal and rebirth. Let us work for the rebirth of our glorious history. Let us resurrect the spirit of our forefathers that stood united and were able to hand us a proud history. Our love for each other our tolerance of the little imperfections in each of us is what our country needs in this time of hopelessness and apathy. Happy Easter.

Resources used:

The displaced Ethiopians

By Yilma Bekele

I am sure we are all familiar with what is known as the ‘{www:melting pot}’ concept when it comes to describing how America functions. The term is a metaphor ‘for a {www:heterogeneous} society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with one common culture.

The concept was popularized in the 1900 with the influx of immigrants from all over. It was challenged in 1970’s with some questioning the idea of total meld and wanted to preserve cultural differences as valuable part of a civil society and proposed an alternative metaphor the ‘mosaic or salad bowl’ concept. This term has come to dominate the Canadian experience. It proposes the mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures that can harmoniously co-exist. It advocates multiculturalism.

Both approaches have managed to build a robust and prosperous society. Over the weekend I had a medical issue and went to the hospital. I, the patient is an immigrant from Ethiopia. My admitting nurse was another Ethiopian. The nurse that took my vitals was from Nigeria. The person who took my x-ray was from Eritrea. My emergency room doctor was a white American. The individual who took me thru the discharge process was a female Hispanic immigrant. The hospital functioned like a well-oiled machine.

I was impressed. It made me see how the US has managed to become such a big powerhouse. There is plenty that needs to change but it is obvious the system is based on a solid ground of willingness to accommodate change while not losing a common vision of one country one people.

It did not take me long to come back to ground. My homeland came to jar me back to reality. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ in southern part of my country was a reminder that all is not well on the home front. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a loaded term. I am not invoking it lightly. But it to so aptly describes the plight of our citizens that happen to be ‘Amhara’ and their current tribulations. The Benji Maji Zone Administration has seen it fit to expropriate their land and property and drive them out of their homes. Go back to your Kilil they said. Today they are refugees in their own country. The actual term is ‘internally displaced.’

“Internally displaced” is a strange concept to grasp. How could you be a refugee in your own land? In an emerging Democracy like Ethiopia anything is possible. The government led by TPLF (Tigrai Peoples Liberation Movement) is the Party in charge. When they took power they were not into the concept a ‘melting pot’ nor did they appreciate the idea of a ‘salad bowl.’ Our ḥizbāwī weyānē ḥārinet tigrāy ሕዝባዊ ወያኔ ሓርነት ትግራይ leaders were enamored by the concept of ‘Apartheid’. Building enclaves was their brilliant solution. The plight of the Amhara’s is Apartheid in practice. That is what Meles Zenawi is constructing in Ethiopia. Separate disjointed entities at war with each other while his single ethnic based party fans the hate flame.

Do you think I am being an alarmist? Do you think I am falling into the trap of ethnic identification? I do not think so. If people are forced to flee due to their ethnicity be it in Benji Maji, Gambella, Sarajevo or Kigali you have to call it what it is ‘ethnic cleansing.’ The Serbian Military’s attempt to drive Moslems out of Sarajevo was defined as practicing ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Hutus targeted Tutsis and the blood bath was judged as an ugly attempt at ‘ethnic cleansing.’ During the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea both countries carried out limited form of ‘ethnic cleansing’. May I remind you some of us showed total indifference while a few cheered. Ethnic cleansing is an International crime. It is crime against humanity. What has happened to the Amhara’s of Benji Maji Zone is ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Their only crime is being an Amhara and finding them selves in the wrong Apartheid designated ‘Home Land”.

This abhorrent crime is committed by the TPLF party, which is led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They set such system in place. They designed it. Some are claiming the TPLF party has gone rouge and become the party of one family. I beg to differ. The TPLF was born a monster, grew up to be a monster and will die as a monster. It has never ever done anything that could be seen as a positive contribution to the people of Tigrai in particular and the people of Ethiopia in general.

Kilil is not a new idea. It was copied from the book of the Nationalist Party of South Africa. The White people’s party. Their creation of the ‘Apartheid’ system set up ten Bantustans or homeland for Black people. It kept the Blacks apart. It made them strangers to each other. There was no Black South African but an ethnic based homeland citizen. Leaders like Chief Buthelezi of the great nation of Kwa Zulu were reduced to serving the White masters at the expense of their people. Exile some, corrupt a few and bully the rest was the hallmark of Apartheid. Kilil is the son of Apartheid. In today’s Ethiopia Kilil defines who you are and that of being an Ethiopian is secondary. Benji Maji is the outcome of Kilil at work. You area a citizen of your Kilil not your Country.

TPLF’s system is working like a charm. The folks displaced from Benji Maji are living proof. The cultivation of hate has made us mistrust each other. The insistence on separate Kilil’s has caused us plenty of civil strife. No place is immune from this sickness. Even places of higher learning such as the University and Kilil based Colleges are the hot bed of ‘ethnic’ clashes. I am writing about it. It has become our everyday experience. We are in the process of becoming strangers to each other. The meaning of being an Ethiopian is being deflated, downsized, given negative connotations and made something to hide out of shame.

Why some people in leadership do that should be left to psychologists, social scientists and historians to explain. Our problem is here and now. We are all affected by this devaluation of a beautiful proud country. We are not the first to be under this type of calamity. Look Iraq was once a proud nation. Today Iraqis avoid Iraq. Syria is entering that zone of madness on a national scale. Ethnic strife is the common thread between the two. Kilil is the breeding ground for ‘ethnic strife’. The TPLF party is the fertilizer.

Are you inoculated against this virus? What do you think when you hear of Benji Maji? Upset? Depressed? Confused? Hope less? You see the current leaders of Ethiopia are free to do what they want. The only way to stop them is by showing them there are consequences to their action. There is a price to pay for bad deeds. The people organized around Timret are building an all-inclusive Front as a solid foundation for our future Ethiopia. ESAT has managed to be our voice. Andenet is still operating under dire circumstances. All these groups and organizations are helping the people of Benji Maji by doing their share so there will be no more Benji Maji’s. Change will not happen with out involvement. We can work together as one to create a “melting Pot’ or a ‘Salad Bowl’ or continue on building Apartheid. It is up to you. Show me rather than tell me.

The Dam and the Damned: Gibe III Ethiopia

Alemayehu G Mariam

Cry Me a River, Cry Me a Lake

Three years ago to the week, I wrote a weekly commentary entitled, “Cry Me a Lake: Crime Against Nature”. That commentary focused on the plight of tens of thousands of Ethiopians who are sick and dying from drinking  the polluted waters of Lake Koka, once a pristine lake, located some 50km south of Addis Ababa. A world renowned scientist from the University of Durham, U.K., analyzed water samples from Lake Koka and found “high concentrations of the microcystis bacteria”, which he said are among “some of the most toxic molecules known to man.” I argued:

The Lake Koka environmental disaster is only the tip of the iceberg. Ethiopia is facing an ecological catastrophe: deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, overgrazing and population explosion. The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute says Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.

Dam, Dams and Damned Dams

omoLike the people who are dying around Lake Koka, the people who live in the Omo River Basin in Southwestern Ethiopia are facing an environmental disaster that could push them not only to hunger, starvation, dislocation and conflict, but potentially to extinction through habitat destruction. According to International Rivers, a highly respected environmental and human rights organization committed to “protecting rivers and defending the rights of communities that depend on them”:

“The Omo River is a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in southwest Ethiopia and northern Kenya. The Gibe 3 Hydropower Dam, already under construction, will dramatically alter the Omo River’s flood cycle, affecting ecosystems and livelihoods all the way down to the world’s largest desert lake, Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The Lower Omo Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to an estimated 200,000 agro-pastoralists from eight distinct indigenous groups who depend on the Omo River’s annual flood to support riverbank cultivation and grazing lands for livestock.”

The Omo River and its tributaries are being exploited for their hydro electrical potential, and the surrounding areas are handed out to so-called international investors for export commercial agriculture. “Gilgel Gibe I” was built at a cost of nearly USD$300 million provided by the World Bank and other European investment banks. It became operational in 2004 after 6 years of construction and generates 183 MW. The 63 square-kilometer reservoir created for the dam displaced some 10 thousand people. “Gilgel Gibe II”, according to Salini Costruttori, the Italian company that built it, “is a continuation of Gilgel Gibe I project” and is “not a dam” but “instead will use the water discharged by the Gilgel Gibe I channeled through a 26km tunnel under Fofa mountain to Omo River Valley.” It was built at a cost of 373 million euros provided by Italy and the European Investment Bank. Gilgel Gibe II collapsed in February 2010 just weeks after its official inauguration.

The “Gibe III” Dam is the one that has raised the most concern among environmentalists and multilateral institutions because it poses the most serious hydrological risks to the quarter of a million people and the flora and fauna of the Omo Basin. Experts fear that Gibe III could destroy the fragile ecosystem for an additional 300,000 people downstream in Lake Turkana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a site of special cultural or physical significance to the world at large) which gets up to 90% of its water from the Omo River.

“Gibe III”- A Dam Environmental Disaster Under Construction

In 2006, construction began on the Gibe III Dam. In July 2008, Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority issued the Gibe III Environmental Social Impact Assessment approving the project. The report was a shameless whitewash which rubber-stamped the project. The report unabashedly concluded that there will be little adverse environmental impact and that the reservoir area for Gibe III is unfit for human habitation because it is infested by deadly mosquitoes and tsetse flies (which cause “sleeping sickness”):

In 2006, an estimated 253,412 people around the Gibe III… However, as a result of steep slope and Tsetse fly infestation, there is no settlement in the future reservoir area and settlements are concentrated on the highland in areas outside the valley… As the result of the less favorable rainfall, Tsetse fly infestation and the consequent occurrence of cattle disease, trypanosomiasis, there is very little farming activity around the Omo valley bottom lands. The project areas are highly endemic for malaria with continuous transmission and malaria is by far the most common of the diseases… The presence of several rivers (tributaries to Omo River) provides ideal breeding habitats for mosquitoes…The the population living within the proposed dam and the reservoir areas are not in close proximity to this UNESCO designated heritage site. No visible archaeological remains, which have scientific, cultural, public, economic, ethnic and historic significances, have been observed in the area and dam sites. The sites have no archaeological importance… A wide range of livestock diseases affect animal in the Lower Omo.

This “environmental impact statement” has been roundly criticized for “its poor preparation and belated release two years after construction began, a flagrant violation of Ethiopian environmental law, which requires an impact assessment be approved prior to construction.”

Tewolde Geber Egziabher, the General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of  Ethiopia, is dismissive of human rights groups and other international institutions who have expressed doubt or criticized the lack rigorous environmental analysis in the construction of  Gibe III. Geber Egziabher said:

I doubt if they [international rights groups] know where Gibe III is except on the map. Those who have been shouting about Gibe III Hydroelectric Project they know it only from thousands miles away. I really do not take their voices seriously… None of the opponents of the Project are from Ethiopia. I  know one from Kenya and several others from Europe. The only person who claimed to have gone to the Gibe III dam site was the BBC reporter; and he can also not judge such measure undertakings from one –day- visit… The interest behind the adverse comment against Gibe III Dam is ignorance. Therefore, I simply dismiss the complaints as they are irrelevant.

An independent study by the African Resources Working Group (ARWG), an expert group of “scholars and consultants from the United States, Europe and  eastern  Africa, with extensive experience in  large hydrodam and  river basin  development research  and  policy issues in the Horn and East Africa,” presented a detailed rebuttal pointing out numerous flaws:

The document [Environmental Impact Assessment] rests on a series of faulty premises and that it is further compromised by pervasive omissions, distortions and obfuscation. The downstream EIA is laced with tables and figures with multiple types of ‘quantitative data’, creating the illusion of a scientific work. While this practice is well known to increase the likelihood of approval by development, finance and oversight agencies, it is fully unacceptable…

An accurate assessment of environmental and social processes within the lower Omo Basin indicates that completion of the Gibe III dam would produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic in the tri-country region where Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya intersect… The indigenous peoples of the lowermost Omo Basin are dependent on riverside and delta recessional cultivation, as well as grazing resources, food gathering, fishing  and other activities wholly  dependent on flooding  by  the Omo  River. This population would face massive economic losses, with widespread severe hunger, disease and loss of life occurring on a regional scale, if the Gibe III dam is completed.

In June 2011, UNESCO concluded that “GIBE III dam is likely to significantly alter Lake Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic species and associated biological systems” and “urged the State Party of Ethiopia to immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam [and not] damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage located on the territory of another State Party.” Terri Hathaway, director of International Rivers’ Africa program, said Gibe III is “the most destructive dam under construction in Africa.” The project would condemn “half a million of theregion’s most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict.” 

Other regional and international organizations have similarly concluded that Gibe III will have “catastrophic consequences for the tribes of the Omo Riverwho already live close to the margins of life in this dry and challenging area.” They assert that the “dam would dramatically alter the Omo River’s flood cycle, affecting ecosystems and livelihoods and ultimately destroy the local food security and economy. The dwindling of resources caused by the dam is likely to increase local conflicts between ethnic groups.” Even the traditional sources of funding – the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, the World bank, the Italian government and others – have withdrawn their support for Gibe III.

Dictator Meles Zenawi responded to the international critics of Gibe III in his usual demeaning and contemptuous style. He claimed those who call for a halt to the construction of the dam “don’t want to see a developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum.” Zenawi’s representatives followed suit directing their ire at the “vociferous campaigners against the dam: International Rivers and Friends of Lake Turkana”. They charged, “Western activists have no monopoly of concern of environmental issues. Nor do they have any monopoly on accuracy.” They claimed that the international environmentalists make unsubstantiated “assertions” and are “ignorant”.

Verbal pyrotechnics against critics is stock-in-trade for Zenawi and his regime. When the European Union declared in November 2010 that the May 2010 election in which Zenawi claimed victory of 99.6 percent does not meet international standards for fair elections, Zenawi frothed at the mouth calling the report “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.” Last month, Zenawi shredded Human Rights Watch for criticizing his flagrant abuse of a so-called anti-terrorism law to decimate the independent press and political dissent in Ethiopia:

A campaign has been launched against us… There’s a reason behind it.  This institution [Human Rights Watch] is playing a role of [promoting] ideologies.  This organization and its friends’ world view are playing a role to speak against some countries, if they look to be on the road to success on an ideology that is different from the current world view.  So it’s a campaign to [bring] those of us to our knees that deviate from the current world view.  There’s no connection with human rights.”

So the official view is that all of the opposition to Gibe III is an international conspiracy by the usual boogeymen suspects of  “neocolonialists” “neoliberals”, and perhaps “neoideologists” and “neonates.”

African Dictators and African White Elephants

African dictators like to build big projects. It is part of the “Big Man” syndrome in Africa where public office is a means to private gain and personal glory. Africa’s “Big Men” undertake big projects as a means to achieving glory, greatness,  immortality, and more importantly, as a means of accumulating wealth for themselves and cronies. But these projects in the main are “white elephants” (wasteful, and useless projects).  In the Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny built the largest church in the world, The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, at a cost of USD$300 million. It stands empty today. Mobutu built the The Inga Dams in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) on the largest waterfalls in the world (Inga Falls). Inga I and Inga II were advertised to provide vast amounts of power domestically; today operate at low output.  When civil war broke out in the late 1990s, these dams went unmanaged and fell into disrepair. Bujagali dam in Uganda had a devastating effect on communities in the area. The backflow submerged a huge area of cultivable and settled land forcing migration and resettlement of large numbers of people. Self-appointed Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic built a 500-room Hotel Intercontinental for hundreds of millions of dollars in the middle of a residential district while millions of his people suffered from starvation.

African dictators like to build dams, shiny glass buildings and commission all sorts of extravagant projects as their people remain trapped in a relentless cycle of poverty. They do it to accumulate great personal wealth, increase their prestige, feed their fragile and insatiable egos, mask their gross incompetence, cover their bloody hands and justify their clinging to power indefinitely. They seek to clothe their naked dictatorships by displaying veneers of progress and development. These dictators could not care less if the people starve, are displaced from their ancestral homes, remain in poverty or go to hell. They could not care less if the environment is destroyed, cultural and archaeological relics are lost or the  ways of life of indigenous people and communities are obliterated. Zenawi wants to be known for having built the “240-meter  Gibe III, the tallest dam in Africa.” He wants to be known as an “African Messiah”. In February 2011, announcing the development of a massive 245,000 hectare sugar plantation in the lower Omo Basin, Zenawi declared with rapturous certainty: “In the coming five years there will be a very big irrigation project and related agricultural development in this zone. I promise you that, even though this area is known as backward in terms of civilization, it will become an example of rapid development.”

The price to be paid for “rapid development” by the Mursi, Suri and Bodi agro-pastoralists and others – those damned by the dam — in the Omo Basin is dislocation, displacement, destruction of traditional ways of life, persecution, loss of ancestral lands, starvation, conflict and potential extinction.

More Power for Ethiopians, No Power for Dictators

Ethiopia, like all other African countries, needs to develop its energy resources to meet the needs of its people,  support its long range economic development plans and improve the standard of living of the people.Ethiopia’s population is expected to triple to 280 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There is no question that the country needs diverse sources of energy, including renewable energy sources, for its future.

But Gibe III is not intended to meet domestic power needs. Rather, much of the estimated 1,870MW is planned for “export” to Djibouti, Sudan and Kenya, presumably generating 300 million euros annually in profits. That is not particularly reassuring. A recent report by the Global Financial Integrityshowed that between 2000 and 2009, 11.7 billion was stolen out of the country.  In light of this evidence, those claiming to develop Gibe III for national economic development are fooling no one. As the old saying goes, “We may have been born yesterday, but not last night.”

The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships 

In December 2009, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships”:

The inconvenient truth about Africa today is that dictatorship presents a far more perilous threat to the survival of Africans than climate change. The devastation African dictators have wreaked upon the social fabric and ecosystem of African societies is incalculable…. Africans face extreme privation and mass starvation not because of climate change but because of the rapacity of power-hungry dictators. The continent today suffers from a terminal case of metastasized cancer of dictatorships, not the blight of global warming…. The fact of the matter is that while the rest of the world toasts from global warming, Africa is burning down in the fires of dictatorship. While Europeans are fretting about their carbon footprint, Africans are gasping to breathe free under the boot prints of dictators. While Americans are worried about carbon emission trapped in the atmosphere, Africans find themselves trapped in minefields of dictatorship… Africa faces an ecological collapse not because of climate change but because of lack of regime change.

Geber Egziabher, the General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority, made a comment which Ethiopians should heed carefully. He said those who criticize Gibe III “know it only from thousands miles away. I really do not take their voices seriously… None of the opponents of the Project are from Ethiopia.” He said critics of the dam were “ignorant”.

The fact of the matter is that Zenawi’s regime provided little public information on Gibe III prior to the start of construction and stonewalled any request for information once the project got underway. There has been little  consultation with the people in the Omo River Basin, and the few locals who were “consulted” got the opportunity long after construction was under way. Obviously, in the absence of free speech and a free independent press, it is difficult to discuss, propose alternatives or criticize the dam project. But the evidence is clear that those locals who disagreed with Gibe III and/or the Omo land-grab were treated harshly. A report by the Oakland Institute, a US-based think-tank, has documented how regime soldiers “arrived at Omo Valley villages (and in particular Bodi, Mursi and Suri villages) questioning villagers about their perspectives on the sugar plantations. Villagers are expected to voice immediate support, otherwise beatings (including the use of tasers), abuse and general intimidation occurs”.

Geber Egziabher’s criticism that “none of the opponents of the Project [Gibe III] are from Ethiopia” should be clearly understood. What he is saying is that Ethiopians (including those in the Diaspora) are so environmentally unaware and uninformed that outsiders are making the case for them. Obviously, environmental advocacy is best done by civil society institutions (an Amnesty International report issued last week concluded, “Human rights organizations in Ethiopia have been devastated by the impact of the Charities and Societies Proclamation  passed in January 2009”) but such institutions have been decimated, leaving Ethiopians uninformed about the environmental impact and potential risks of public projects, including free land give-aways to foreign “investors”. It is said that the Chinese will complete work on Gibe III. But there are many environmental challenges looming in Ethiopia; and in addition to taking on the enormous political, social and economic challenges, Ethiopians must now take on the environmental challenge.

We should be grateful to the great international human rights organization that have created awareness on Ethiopia’s precarious environmental situation, particularly on the destruction of Omo River Basin. But we cannot have them do all of the heavy lifting for us. We need to join them and help them help us, and engage in vigorous environmental activism of our own. That means we must create our own environmental civil society organizations, particularly in the Diaspora, and ensure that Ethiopia’s rich and diverse ecosystem is preserved and protected today and for future generations. If we fail to do that, we will all find ourselves in the same  position as the people of the Omo River Basin who are damned by the dam.

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and