For the past several months, I have been commenting on the findings of the World Bank’s “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”, a 448-page report covering eight sectors (health, education, rural water supply, justice, construction, land, telecommunications and mining). In this my sixth commentary, I focus on “corruption in the justice sector”. The other five commentaries are available at my blog site.
Talking about corruption in the Ethiopian “justice sector” is like talking about truth in Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth (“Minitrue”). The purpose of Minitrue is to create and maintain the illusion that the Party is absolute, all knowing, all-powerful and infallible. The purpose of the Ministry of Justice in Ethiopia is to create the illusion that the ruling regime under the command and control of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) masquerading as the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPDRF) is absolute, all knowing, all-powerful and infallible.
I have long caricatured the “justice sector” of the TPLF/EPDRF as a kangaroo justice system founded on a sham, corrupt and whimsical legal process. What passes off as a “justice system” in Ethiopia is little more than a marketplace where “justice” is bought and sold in a monopoly controlled by one man supported by a few nameless, faceless and clueless men who skulk in the shadows of power. It is a justice system in which universal principles of law and justice are disregarded, subverted, perverted and mocked. It is a system where the poor, the marginalized, the audacious journalists, dissidents, opposition and civic society leaders are legally lynched despite the criticism and bootless cries of the international community. It is a system in which regime leaders, their families, friends and cronies are above the law and spell justice “JUST US”.
My first critique of the TPLF/EPDRF “justice system” appeared in 2006 when I wrote a 32-page analysis titled, “Keystone Cops, Prosecutors and Judges in a Police State.” It was written in the first year of what has become my long day’s journey into the dark night of advocacy against human rights violations in Ethiopia and Africa. The piece was intended to be a critical analysis of the trial of the so-called Kality defendants consisting of some 130 or so major opposition leaders, human rights advocates, civic society activists, journalists and others in the aftermath of the 2005 election. I tried to demonstrate that the show trial of those defendants was little more than a third-rate theatrical production staged to dupe the international community. I also tried to show how a dysfunctional and bankrupt judicial system was used to destroy political opposition and dissent. I described the “judicial proceedings” of the Kality defendants as “an elaborate hoax, a make-believe tribunal complete with hand-picked judges, trumped up charges, witless prosecutors, no procedures and predetermined outcomes set up to produce only one thing: a monumental miscarriage of justice.”
A glossy “diagnosis” of corruption in the Ethiopian justice sector
The WB’s “diagnosis” of corruption in “Ethiopia’s justice sector” is based on “interviews of 60 individuals” including “federal judges and prosecutors”, police, private attorneys, etc. in the capital and at another location. No ordinary citizens were included in the interview panel or the smaller focus groups. The study is intended to “explore the incidence of corruption in Ethiopia’s justice sector (including not only the courts but also several other organizations).” The “justice sector” includes, among others, “courts, police, prosecutors, administrative agencies with quasi-judicial powers, and public and private attorneys, prisons, and those in the executive and legislative branches responsible for enacting the laws and regulations governing their operations”.
The report begins with unusual disclaimers and apologia. The author proclaims that “this report begins from an agnostic standpoint—attempting only to document reality in Ethiopia’s justice sector and to compare it… with the situation elsewhere in African and other countries…” It is not clear what she means by “an agnostic standpoint”, but her analysis is frontloaded with servilely apologetic language manifestly intended not to offend or appear to point an accusatory finger at the ruling regime in Ethiopia. The report appears to have been written with some trepidation; perhaps the author was afraid of a backlash (tongue-lash) from the regime. The author timorously tiptoes around well-established and notorious facts about corruption in the regime’s justice sector. In light of the many disclaimers, reservations and contingencies in the report, it is obvious that the author does not want to call a spade a spade, so she calls the spade a bucket. But corruption by any disclaimer is still corruption; and Ethiopia’s justice sectors reeks of corruption.
The author claims an examination of “corruption in the justice sector is important because it undermines the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the control of corruption in other sectors, the strengthening of the normative framework underlying private and public actions (the rule of law), and the creation of a predictable environment for public and private transactions.” According to the study, corruption in the Ethiopian justice sector “takes one of two forms: (a) political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or (b) payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” The study claims the “most common form of corruption involves bribes solicited by or offered to police to ignore a criminal offense, not make an arrest, or not bring witnesses or suspects to court (which can cause a provisional adjournment of the case). Traffic police are the worst offenders.” Another “common form of corruption” involves “payment of court staff to misplace case files or evidence” (a practice that has nearly disappeared because of new judicial policies on archive management introduced under a Canadian International Development Agency program”.
The author provides a catalogue of corrupt practices which she claims are disputed by various respondents in her study but include “(a) sales of judgments or other judicial actions in civil disputes; (b) lawyers’ solicitation of “bribes” that never reached the bench; (c) prosecutors’ misuse of their own powers, in response to bribes or political directives, to advance or paralyze a case; and (d) the corrupt actions of various officials entrusted with enforcement of judgments, especially in civil cases.” She attributes the divergence in viewpoints to a “likely gap between perceptions and reality [which] are partly a function of the persistent lack of transparency in personnel policies.”
What is remarkable about the WB “justice sector” study is the fact that the author, by focusing on the “most common form of corruption” (i.e. petty police, particularly traffic police, corruption), fails to critically probe grand corruption involving party officials and regime leaders and their cronies who routinely subvert the justice system through political interference and pressure to protect their political and economic interests. She circumvents serious inquiry into grand corruption in the “justice sector” by providing catalogues of “potential forms of criminal and civil corruption” and “corruption risks”. She appears averse to investigating high-level corruption that occurs in the process of judicial appointment of handpicked party loyalists and hacks, laws written to aid certain elites in society, or in the debasement and corruption of the integrity and independence of the judiciary. She ignores the type of justice corruption that occurs in “state capture” where economic elites develop cozy relationships with political and judicial officials through whom they obtain favorable judicial decisions to advance their own advantage. For instance, on the issue of political interference in the judicial process, the author demonstrates her “agnosticism” by reporting that “the one who came closest eventually admitted that ‘there was some [political interference], but it was very rare.’” Other responses ranged from ‘a moderate amount’ (limited to the bad apples) to the extreme of holding that ‘every civil judgment is sold.’”
Curiously, the author points an accusatory finger at petty corruption as the “most common form of corruption” distracting attention from the systemic and structural corruption in the justice sector. The importance of petty corruption must not be understated because of the serious impact it has on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary citizens interacting with police, prosecutorial and other petty judicial officials. There is ample anecdotal evidence of petty corruption in which ordinary Ethiopian citizens and businesspersons are “shaken down” by traffic cops or minor functionaries in the judicial or state bureaucracy seeking small bribes. However, though petty corruption may be easier to detect, the real focus should be on grand corruption which is systemic, structural and difficult to detect and nearly impossible to punish. Structural and systemic corruption in the legal institutions, rules, and norms and those who are practitioners in the system create, maintain and sustain a culture of corruption in the justice sector, which the author appears to overlook.
Justice corruption is primarily a systemic failure of judicial institutions, lack of political will and capacity to manage judicial resources, maintain integrity of institutions. The author makes abstract references to the usual catalogue of corruption variables but does not seek to gather data to illuminate the scope, breadth and gravity of the problem of political interference and lack of accountability in the justice system. Grand corruption in the justice sector stems from the fact that political officials have wide authority over judicial officials (from appointment to management of judicial functions); and political officials have little accountability and incentive to maintain the integrity of the justice sector. There are few functional formal systems of control in the relationship between the judicial and political processes in Ethiopia. If there ever were control systems, they have been broken for a long time making it nearly impossible to administer fairly the laws while maintaining accountability in the form of a robust reporting system and transparency in the form of robust management practices. Such institutional decay has promoted the growth of a culture of corruption in the justice sector and continues to undermine not only the broad adjudicatory role of justice sector institutions but also public confidence in the integrity of the justice system itself.
Justice sector in a police state?
Justice in a dictatorship is to justice as military music is to music. No reasonable person would consider martial law (military rule) to produce justice. By definition dictatorship — a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in the hands of a dictator or a small clique — is the quintessential definition of injustice. Any form of government that operates in flagrant disregard of the rule of law is inherently corrupt.
I have on previous occasions tried to expose such corruption in Ethiopia’s “justice sector” with anecdotal evidence of arbitrary administration of justice or denial of fair trial to those accused of “terrorism”, “treason” and even “corruption”, opposition leaders, human rights advocates, journalists, etc. In the kinder and gentler police state that Ethiopia has become, any petty “law enforcement” official of the regime has the power to arrest and jail an innocent citizen. As I argued in my February 2012 commentary, “The Prototype African Police State”, a local police chief in Addis Ababa felt so arrogantly secure in his arbitrary powers that he threatened to arrest a Voice of America reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. simply because that reporter asked him for his full name during a telephone interview. “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”, barked the impudent police chief Zemedkun. If a flaky policeman can exercise such absolute power, is it unreasonable to imagine those at the apex of power have the power to do anything they want with impunity. The regime in Ethiopia is the petri dish of corruption and living proof that power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In my view, denial of due process (fair trial) is the highest form of corruption imaginable in the “justice sector” because it results in the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life, liberty and property. Could anyone (other than those politically connected) really expect to get a fair trial in the regime’s kangaroo courts or fair treatment in the pre-trial process?
The systemic corruption in the “justice sector” is that the law of the land is ignored, disregarded and perverted at the whim and fancy of those in power. For instance, the presumption of innocence (Eth. Const. Art. 20(3)) is openly flouted. The late leader of the regime used to routinely and publicly talk about the guilt of opposition leaders, journalists and others standing trial without so much of an awareness of the suspects’ right to a presumption of innocence or appreciation of the risk of prejudicial pretrial publicity emanating from such inflammatory statements which are prohibited under the Constitution and other international human rights regimes (e.g. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7(b) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)). In 2011, the late leader of the regime proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while they were being tried and he was visiting Norway. He emphatically declared the duo “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists.” Persson and Schibbye were “convicted” and sentenced to long prison terms.
Show trials by publicity and demonization are another hallmark of the regime’s justice system. Following the 2005 election, the late leader of the regime publicly declared that “The CUD (Kinijit) opposition leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They were charged, appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, the late leader railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, without so much as a hearing let alone a trial. He sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement and later declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In making this statement, the late leader proclaimed to the world that he is the law and the ultimate source of justice in Ethiopia. His words trump the country’s Constitution!
In 2009, one of the top leaders of the regime labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial as “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long prison sentences.
Violations of the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes by the regime are rampant. Article 20 (2) provides, “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors.” Internationally celebrated Ethiopian journalists including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and many others were denied access to legal counsel for months. Ethiopian Muslim activists who demanded an end to religious interference were jailed on “terrorism” charges were also denied access to counsel. They were mistreated and abused in pretrial detention. Scores of journalists, opposition members and activists arrested and prosecuted (persecuted) under the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation were also denied counsel and speedy trials and have languished in prison for long periods. Suspects are interrogated without the presence of counsel and coerced confessions extracted. Yet, Article 19 (5) provides, “Everyone shall have the right not to be forced to make any confessions or admissions of any evidence that may be brought against him during the trial.”
Article 19 (1) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Article 20 (2) provides, “Everyone charged with an offence shall be adequately informed in writing of the charges brought against him. Recently, the regime arrested members of its officialdom and their cronies on suspicion of corruption and kept the suspects in detention for months without informing them “promptly and in detail the charges against them”. Although the regime’s “top anti-corruption official” claimed that the corruption “suspects have been under surveillance for two years”, on their first court appearance, the prosecutors requested a 14-day continuance to gather more evidence! There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested of committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for endless continuances to gather additional evidence.
Injustice impersonating justice
The 2012 U.S. State Department Human Rights report concluded, “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to political influence.” The WB could have done a much better job of “diagnosing corruption” in Ethiopia’s “justice sector”. Candidly speaking, any deficiency in the report should not reflect exclusively on the World Bank or its consultants but on Ethiopians, particularly the Ethiopian intelligentsia, who do not seem find it worth their time or effort to read, challenge and supplement such reports. It seems few, very few, Ethiopian scholars and analysts take the time and effort to locate, study and critically analyze such important studies done by international institutions and other private research institutions.
I doubt the WB justice sector study will be of much value to policy makers, scholars or the casual reader. Having said that, the burden is on Ethiopian scholars in Ethiopia and abroad to work collaboratively and carefully document corruption in Ethiopia’s justice and other sectors. No study of Ethiopia’s justice sector is worthy of the title if it does not rigorously evaluate the factors that are at the core of corruption in the “justice sector” – absence of the rule of law, lack of independence of the judiciary, absence of due process, lack of impartiality and neutrality in the judicial process, the culture of corruption and impunity and the lack of accountability, transparency and confidence in the legal system. Such a study is the principal responsibility of Ethiopians, not the World Bank or its consultants. On the other hand, when the sword of justice is beaten into a sledgehammer of injustice, it is the supreme duty of ordinary citizens to expose it!
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:
In his 1981 farewell speech, President Jimmy Carter said, “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America.”
In a New York Times op-ed piece in June 2012, Carter cautioned, “At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.”
Carter also raised a number of important questions: Has the U.S. abdicated its moral leadership in the arena of international human rights? Has the U.S. betrayed its core values by maintaining a detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and subjecting dozens of prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and leaving them without the “prospect of ever obtaining their freedom”? Does the arbitrary killing of a person suspected to be an enemy terrorist in a drone strike along with women and children who happen to be nearby comport with America’s professed commitment to the rule of law and human rights?
In 1948, the U.S. played a central leadership role in “inventing” the principal instrument which today serves as the bedrock foundation of modern human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” in terms of equality, dignity and rights. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the committee that drafted the UDHR. Eleanor remains an unsung heroine even though she was the mother of the modern global human rights movement. Without her, there would have been no UDHR; and without the UDHR, it is doubtful that the plethora of subsequent human rights conventions and regimes would have come into existence. Remarkably, she managed to mobilize, organize and proselytize human rights even though she had no legal training, diplomatic experience or bureaucratic expertise. She used her skills as political activist and advocate in the cause of freedom, justice and civil rights to work for global human rights.
Is America disinventing human rights?
It seems the U.S. is “disinventing” human rights through the pursuit of double (triple, quadruple) standard of human rights policy wrapped in a cover of diplocrisy. In Africa, the U.S. has one set of standards for Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan. Mugabe and Bashir are classified as the nasty hombres of human rights in Africa. The U.S. has targeted both regimes for crippling economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure. The U.S. has frozen the assets of Mugabe’s family and henchmen because the “Mugabe regime rules through politically motivated violence and intimidation and has triggered the collapse of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”
The U.S. calls “partners” equally brutal regimes in Africa which serve as its proxies. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yuweri Museveni of Uganda and the deceased leader of the regime in Ethiopia are lauded as the “new breed of African leaders” and crowned “partners”. Uhuru Kenyatta, recently elected president of Kenya and a suspect under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity is said to be different than Bashir who faces similar ICC charges. In 2009, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, demanded Bashir’s arrest and prosecution: “The people of Sudan have suffered too much for too long, and an end to their anguish will not come easily. Those who committed atrocities in Sudan, including genocide, should be brought to justice.” No official U.S. statement on Uhuru’s ICC prosecution was issued.
The U.S. maintains excellent relations with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea who has been in power since 1979 because of that country’s oil reserves; but all of the oil revenues are looted by Obiang and his cronies. In 2011, the U.S. brought legal action in federal court against Obiang’s son to seize corruptly obtained assets including a $40 million estate in Malibu, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a luxury plane and a dozen super-sports cars worth millions of dollars. The U.S. has not touched any of the other African Ali Babas and their forty dozen thieving cronies who have stolen billions and stashed their cash in U.S. and other banks.
Despite lofty rhetoric in support of the advancement of democracy and protection of human rights in Africa, the United States continues to subsidize and coddle African dictatorships that are as bad as or even worse than Mugabe’s. The U.S. currently provides substantial economic aid, loans, technical and security assistance to the repressive regimes in Ethiopia, Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda and elsewhere. None of these countries holds free elections, allow the operation of an independent press or free expression or abide by the rule of law. All of them are corrupt to the core, keep thousands of political prisoners, use torture and ruthlessly persecute their opposition. Yet they are deemed U.S. “partners”.
“Principled disengagement” as a way of reinventing an American human rights policy?
If the Obama Administration indeed has a global or African human rights policy, it must be a well-kept secret. In March 2013, Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor said American human rights policy is based on “principled engagement”: “We are going to go to the United Nations and join the Human Rights Council and we’re going to be part of it even though we recognize it doesn’t work… We’re going to engage with governments that are allies but we are also going to engage with governments with tough relationships and human rights are going to be part of those discussions.” Second, the U.S. will follow “a single standard for human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it applies to all including ourselves…” Third, consistent with President “Obama’s personality”, the Administration believes “change occurs from within and so a lot of the emphasis… [will be] on how we can help local actors, change agents, civil society, labor activists, religious leaders trying to change their societies from within and amplify their own voices and give them the support they need…”
On August 14, according to Egyptian government sources, 525 protesters, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were killed and 3,717 injured at the hands of Egyptian military and security forces. It was an unspeakably horrifying massacre of protesters exercising their right to peaceful expression of grievances.
On August 15, President Obama criticized the heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protesters with the usual platitudes. “The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians.” His message to the Egyptian people was somewhat disconcerting in light of the massacre. “America cannot determine the future of Egypt. We do not take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it’s tempting inside Egypt to blame the United States.”
In July 2009, in Ghana, President Obama told Africa’s “strongmen”, “History offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not…. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality… Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans [citizens and their communities driving change], and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
President Obama has a clear choice in Egypt between “those who use coups to stay in power” and the people of Egypt peacefully protesting in the streets. Now he says, “We don’t take sides…” By “not taking sides”, it seems he has taken sides with Egypt’s strongmen who “use coups to stay in power”. So much for “principled engagement”!
Obama reassured the Egyptian military that the U.S. does not intend to end or suspend its decades-old partnership with them. He cautioned the military that “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets.” He indicated his disapproval of the imposition of “martial law” but made no mention of the manifest military coup that had ousted Morsy. He obliquely referred to it as a “military intervention”. He made a gesture of “action” cancelling a symbolic military exercise with the Egyptian army. There will be no suspension of U.S. military aid to Egypt and no other sanctions will be imposed on the Egyptian military or government.
I am not clear what Obama’s human rights policy of “principled engagement” actually means. But I have a lot of questions about it: Does it mean moral complacency and tolerance of the crimes against humanity of African dictators for the sake of the war on terror and oil? Is it a euphemism for abdication of American ideals on the altar of political expediency? Does it mean overlooking and excusing the crimes of ruthless dictators and turning a blind eye to their bottomless corruption? Does “principled engagement” mean allowing dictators to suck at the teats of American taxpayers to satisfy their insatiable aid addiction while they brutalize their people?
The facts of Obama’s “principled engagement” tell a different story. In May 2010, after the ruling party in Ethiopia declared it had won 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament, the U.S. demonstrated its “principled engagement” by issuing a Statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments” and promised to “work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.” There is no evidence that the U.S. did anything to “strengthen democratic institutions and open political dialogue to become a reality for the Ethiopian people.”
When two ICC indicted suspects in Kenya (Kenyatta and Ruto) won the presidency in Kenya a few months ago, the U.S. applied its “principled engagement” in the form of a robust defense of the suspects. Johnnie Carson, the former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said the ICC indictments of Bashir and Uhuru/Ruto are different. “I don’t want to make a comparison with Sudan in its totality because Sudan is a special case in many ways.” What makes Bashir and Sudan different, according to Carson, is the fact that Sudan is on the list of countries that support terrorism and Bashir and his co-defendants are under indictment for the genocide in Darfur. Since “none of that applies to Kenya,” according to Carson, it appears the U.S. will follow a different policy.
President Obama says the U.S. will maintain its traditional partnership with Egypt’s military, Egypt’s “strongmen”. At the onset of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, Obama and his foreign policy team froze in stunned silence, flat-footed and twiddling their thumbs and scratching their heads for days before staking out a position on that popular uprising. They could not bring themselves to use the “D” word (dictator as in Hosni Mubarak) to describe events in Egypt then. Today Obama cannot bring himself to say the “C” word (as in Egyptian military coup).
Obama is in an extraordinary historical position as a person of color to advance American ideals and values throughout the world in convincing and creative ways. But he cannot advance these ideals and values through a hollow notion of “principled engagement.”
Rather, he must adopt a policy of “principled disengagement” with African dictators. That does not mean isolationism or a hands off approach to human rights. By “principled disengagement” I mean a policy and policy outcome that is based on measurable human rights metrics. Under a policy of “principled disengagement”, the U.S. would establish clear, attainable and measurable human rights policy objectives in its relations with African dictatorships. The policy would establish minimum conditions of human rights compliance. For instance, the U.S. could set some basic criteria for the conduct of free and fair elections, press and individual freedoms, limits on arbitrary arrests and detentions, prevention of extrajudicial punishments, etc. Using its annual human rights assessments, the U.S. could make factual determinations on the extent to which it will engage or disengage with a particular regime. “Partnership” status and the benefits that come with it will be reserved to those regimes that have good and improving records on specific human rights measures. Regimes that steal elections, win elections by 99.6 percent, engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions and other human rights violations would be denied “partnership” status and denied aid, loans and technical assistance. Persistent violators of human rights would be given a compliance timetable to improve their records and provided appropriate assistance to achieve specific human rights goals. If regimes persist in a pattern and practice of human rights violations, the U.S. could raise the stakes and impose economic and diplomatic sanctions.
Obama’s “principled engagement” seems to be a justification for expediency at the cost of American ideals. Until he decides to stand for principle, instead of standing behind the rhetoric of “principled engagement”, he will continue to find himself on a tightrope of moral, legal and political ambiguity. The U.S. cannot “condemn” and “deplore” its way out of its human rights obligations or global leadership role. Yes, the U.S. must take sides! It must take a stand either with the victims of human rights abuses throughout the world or the human rights abusers of the world. If Obama wants to save the world from strongmen with boots and in designer suits with briefcases full of cash, he should pursue a policy of “principled disengagement”. But he should start by reflecting on the words he spoke during his first inauguration speech:
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”
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:
Are they playing us like a cheap fiddle again? For a while, it was all about the Meles Dam and how to collect nickels and dimes to build it. That kind of played itself out. (Not to worry. That circus will be back in town. The public has the attention span of a gold fish. So they think.) It’s time to change the flavor of the month. Time for a new game, a new hype. How about “corruption”? It’s a chic topic. The World Bank is talking about it. Everybody is talking about it. Even the corrupt are talking about corruption. Imagine kleptocrats calling corruptocrats corrupt? Or the pot calling the kettle black?
I have been talking and writing about corruption in Ethiopia for years. After dozens of commentaries on some aspect of corruption in Ethiopia, I am still drumbeating anti-corruption. I have been “lasing” corruption in my commentaries in 2013. I was flabbergasted by the World Bank’s 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. I am still reeling from the shocking findings in that report. In my commentary last week, “Educorruption and Miseducation in Ethiopia”, I focused on corruption in the education sector. It is one thing to steal an election or pull off a gold heist at the national bank, but robbing millions of Ethiopian youth of their future by imprisoning them in the bowels of a corrupt educational system is harrowing, downright criminal. Aarrgghh!
“The Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made the full might of its power known last Friday, after ordering the arrest of 10 high and medium ranking officials of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), along with six businessmen, some of whom are well known… Hailemariam wants to prove that there are no holy-cows…” tooted the opening sentence of an online media outlet. My initial reaction was a bemused, “You don’t say!?” (To be perfectly frank, I exclaimed, “Holy cows? Holy _ _ _ t!!”)
The two dozen “corruption” suspects nabbed in the “investigation” include ERCA “director general” with the “rank of minister”, his deputies and the “chief prosecutor” along with other customs officials. A number of prominent businessmen and some of their family members were also snagged in the dragnet. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told the Voice of America Amharic program last week “the suspects had been under surveillance for over two years.”
The anti-corruption crusaders put on quite a show-and-tell on their television service. They put up dramatic footage of wads and stashes of greenbacks and Eurodollars in suitcases allegedly seized at a suspect’s residence. They displayed allegedly fraudulent land records from another suspect and gave interviews on how the suspects engaged in their corrupt practices. (The show-and-tell was reminiscent of the “terrorist” suspects they paraded in “Akeldama” and “Jihadawi Harakat” with caches of guns and explosives. For the “corruption” suspects, it was stashes of cash.)
The regime’s public relations machine kicked into overdrive. Comments by unnamed “Ethiopian activists praising efforts by the government to crackdown on corruption in the East African country” were reported. One anonymous activists declared, “Ethiopia is pushing forward on efforts to help end the rampant corruption within government and business in the country…. We need to clean up our government…” Other anonymous commentators were quoted proclaiming moral victory on corruption. “The arrests are the beginning of a new Ethiopia free from the politics and past craziness and greed that had been part of the country for far too long.”
Divergent viewpoints on the “investigation” and arrest of the suspects were bandied in the Ethiopian Diaspora. Some offered muted praise for “Hailemariam’s government” for launching a “war” on “corruption”. They said the bagging of the two dozen or so suspects represents a shot across the bow for all “corruptitioners” (a neologism to describe professional practitioners of corruption). Others were convinced the suspects were guilty “because everybody knows they are corrupt. They shakedown every businessman importing goods into the country…” They were glad to see these “bad guys” bagged. There were many who dismissed the whole investigation as a sham, a public relations charade. It is political theater staged for the World Bank, the IMF and other donors who are demanding anti-corruption action as a precondition for handouts.
Some even suggested it was a special show staged for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is expected to visit Ethiopia to attend an African Union summit. The regime bosses can bob and weave against any Kerry punches on human rights and the jailing of dissidents, journalists and opposition leaders by touting their “anti-corruption” efforts. Others viewed the arrests as a fallout of the post-Meles power struggle that is raging among ruling party factions. For the suspects to be arrested, their protector “god fathers” must have been vanquished or purged out in the power play. Still others said the arrest of these particular suspects is the low hanging fruit of corruption in Ethiopia. Going after officials of the customs authority, an agency historically stained with corruption, provides the regime an aura of credibility and magnifies its purported anti-corruption efforts.
I see the whole things with a jaded eye. I am convinced the cunning regime power players are gaming corruption. They are showboating and grandstanding. They are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Nail their opponents and get public relations credit and international handouts at the same time. They are desperately trying to catch some positive publicity buzz in a media environment where they are being hammered and battered everyday by human rights organizations, NGOs, international media outlets and others. It is a public relations stunt and political theatre without much substance or seriousness of purpose. It is standard operating window dressing procedure for the regime. It is red meat for the local population to make themselves look good and drum up support. It is a calculated strategy to reinvent “Hailemariam’s government” with smoke and mirrors. After repeated public cathartic confessions that he is the handmaiden of Meles, Hailemariam now wants to show the world he is Mr. Clean, not Mr. Clone (of Meles). He is no longer part of the corrupt-to-the-core ancien regime of Meles. Mr. Clean is going to clean house and he has already bagged his first “Dirty 2 Dozen”. (Reminds one of Pinocchio telling Geppetto he dreams of becoming a real boy. Hailemariam, a real prime minister?!) What better agitprop to mobilize and capitalize on the infamy of a long reviled and hated agency. If they can’t hoodwink and drum up public support by talking ad nauseam about the Meles Dam, perhaps they can pull it off with a “corruption investigation” of the customs authority. It is sleazy investigating greasy and cheesy.
To say the corrupt Meles regime has no credibility with me is an understatement. The anti-corruption crusaders want us to believe only their side of their story and their silly show-and-tell. But every story has two sides or more. In telling a story, credibility is everything. The regime convicted Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and so many others on lies, fabrications and tall tales. They have no credibility.
I believe those corruptoids are interested in clinging to power, not good governance or stamping out corruption. The only reason they are able to remain in power is because corruption courses in their bloodstream. Corruption is the hemoglobin that delivers life-sustaining oxygen to their nerve center. Without corruption, the tyrannical regime will simply wither away.
I take a dim view of the regime’s “anti-corruption” efforts” not because I am its relentless critic or because I will not miss an opportunity to ding them or make them look bad. I make no apologies for my trenchant criticisms. But the truth of the matter is that if I believed in the slightest that they were serious and genuine about rooting (instead of tooting) out “corruption”, I would be the first to raise my pen and lavish them with praise. I would be rooting and tooting for them.
As I have often remarked, corruption is the malignant cancer that has metastasized throughout Ethiopia’s body politic. That’s why the World Bank’s voluminous report was aptly titled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia.” It is a “clinical” diagnosis which has determined the cancer cells of corruption are not confined to one organ of state (customs authority) which can be surgically removed and treated with the penal equivalent of chemotherapy and radiation. The corruption cancer has spread throughout all organs of state.
The chemotherapy for the cancer of corruption in Ethiopia is a free press that can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. The radiation therapy for the cancer of corruption is an independent prosecutorial office that could catch not only the small winnows in the pond but most importantly the big whales and sharks swimming at the highest levels of government. An independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with due process of law is also very much needed. The preventive care for the cancer of corruption involves vigilant civil society institutions which can work freely at the grassroots levels and provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. It also involves a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable.
None of these “medicines” exist in Ethiopia today. That is why I believe the cancer of “corruption” in due course will destroy the regime though it is the very source of its survival now. More on my views on the “anti-corruption efforts” of the regime later; but a word or two about due process, the rule of law and the “corruption” suspects.
Due process and the rights of the accused
As I was drafting this commentary, I was advised by some learned colleagues that any statement I make that seems remotely sympathetic to the suspects accused of “corruption” could send the wrong message and create the misimpression that I would stoop low to defend even the manifestly corrupt just to make political points against the regime. I was told not to bother because “everybody knows the suspects are corrupt…” One of my feisty friends in a moment of rhetorical impetuosity was compelled to ask, “Why should you care if these S.O.B’s get a fair trial? Everyone knows they are guilty. Let them hang!”
That is where I part ways with my learned friends. The last time I parted ways with them was when I defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University in September 2010. At the time, I was roundly criticized by friends and some of my regular readers. “How could you defend the ‘monster’ who had denied millions of Ethiopians the right to speak and even breath?” I insisted I was not defending a “monster” but the principle of free expression. My defense was simple, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” My position is no different now. If we don’t believe in a fair trial for those we despise as corrupt, then we do not believe in fair trial at all.
I believe in fairness and justice. I do not believe in revenge or retribution. I take no position on the factual guilt or innocence of those accused of “corruption”. If they did the crime, they have to do the time. However, I believe they have a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial. In other words, I make no exceptions or compromises when it comes to taking a position in defending the principle and practice of due process of law and respect for fundamental human rights. Those accused of “corruption” now (and those who will certainly face accusations of crimes against humanity and other crimes in the future) are entitled to full due process of law, which includes not only the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination but also the rights to counsel, adequate notice of charges, an impartial and neutral fact-finder, speedy trial and adjudication by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
My deep concern over the arbitrary administration of justice or denial of fair trial to anyone accused of “corruption”, “terrorism”, “treason”, etc., is rooted in the manifest absence of the rule of law in Ethiopia and the harsh realities of Meles’ officialdom. Any petty “law enforcement” official of the regime has the power to arrest and jail an innocent citizen. As I argued in my February 2012 commentary, “The Prototype African Police State”, a local police chief in Addis Ababa felt so arrogantly secure in his arbitrary powers that he threatened to arrest a Voice of America reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. simply because that reporter asked him for his full name during a telephone interview. “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”, barked police chief Zemedkun. If a flaky policeman can exercise such absolute power, is it unreasonable to imagine those at the apex of power have the power to do anything they want with impunity. The regime in Ethiopia is living proof that power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In my view, denial of due process (fair trial) is the highest form of “corruption” imaginable because its denial results in the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life, liberty and property. I am unapologetic in my insistence that the suspects accused of “corruption” are entitled to full due process of law under the country’s Constitution and international human rights conventions. The question is: Could they get a fair trial in the regime’s kangaroo courts? Do these “corruption” suspects have the same chance of getting a fair trial today as those accused of “treason”, “terrorism”, “subversion” yesterday?
Article 20 (3) Ethiopian Constitution provides, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” The same right is secured under the Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7(b) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). Disrespect for the presumption of innocence has been the hallmark of the Meles regime. To be accused of a crime by the Meles regime is to be convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. That is why I have often caricatured the Meles’ judicial system as kangaroo court justice. The courts are corrupted through political manipulation, intimidation and domination. The 2012 U.S. State Department Human Rights report concluded, “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courtsremained weak, overburdened, andsubject to political influence.” One of the “corruption” suspects during his first court appearance complained of prejudicial pretrial publicity because “state television showed his house being searched.”
There is a long and predictable pattern and practice of disregard for the constitutional right to presumption of innocence and wholesale abuse and denial of a panoply of constitutional rights to those accused of political crimes in Ethiopia. Following the 2005 election, Meles publicly declared that “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They were charged, appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Meles railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, without so much as a hearing let alone a trial. He sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement and later declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In 2009, Meles’ right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial as “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long prison sentences.
Meles proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while they were being tried and he was visiting Norway in 2011. He emphatically declared the duo “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists.” Persson and Schibbye were “convicted” and sentenced to long prison terms.
Violations of the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes by the regime are not limited to disregard for the presumption of innocence. Internationally-celebrated Ethiopian journalists including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and many others were denied access to legal counsel for months. Ethiopian Muslim activists who demanded an end to religious interference were jailed on “terrorism” charges and denied access to counsel. They were mistreated and abused in pretrial detention. Scores of journalists, opposition members and activists arrested and prosecuted (persecuted) under the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation were also denied counsel and speedy trials and languished in prison for long periods.
Article 20 (2) provides, “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors. In an interview given to the Voice of America Amharic program last week, a lawyer for one of the suspects complained that he and a bunch of other lawyers were denied access to their clients accused of “corruption” after waiting for five hours. They were told to return the following day because the “suspects were undergoing interrogation.” Yet, Article 19 (5) provides, “Everyone shall have the right not to be forced to make any confessions or admissions of any evidence that may be brought against him during the trial.”
Article 19 (1) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Article 20 (2) provides, “Everyone charged with an offence shall be adequately informed in writing of the charges brought against him. The “corruption” suspects have yet to be “informed promptly and in detail the charges against them”. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told Voice of America Amharic last week that the “suspects have been under surveillance for two years”. Yet at the suspect’s first court appearance, the prosecutors requested a 14-day continuance to gather more evidence. The “court” ruled the suspects can be held in custody “until the Federal Ethics & Anti-”corruption” Commission (FEACC) could collect additional evidence to bring charges against them.”
If it took them 2 years to investigate the case, but couldn’t wait another 14 days to gather the last pieces of vital evidence before arresting and publicly parading the suspects? This is a trick they have used before. It is called arrest and jest. Put the suspects in jail, crucify them in the press and laugh at them as they languish in prison for months on end. There will be endless delays and continuances “to collect more evidence” and the “court” will allow it because the “court” does what it is told by their political bosses.
There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested of committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for two more weeks to gather additional evidence. The regime’s trial by publicity and demonization will go on. They will keep pumping out unrebutted damaging information in flagrant disregard of the suspects’ constitutional rights to create hostile pretrial publicity. They talk with a loose tongue about the suspects crimes of “tampering with loan-sharking investigations”, “illegal trading and tax evasion”, “improprieties especially involving imports of steel”, etc. Such is the sad fact of corruptoid justice in the regime’s kangaroo courts. Arrest persons presumed to be innocent and go out and look for evidence of their guilt! What a crock of _ _ _ t!
Fall guys or grand fall
There is something strange about the regime’s current “corruption” narrative; and I must say it reflects very badly on Meles himself. According to reports, the “director general” (the alleged kingpin of the “corruption” ring) was appointed by Meles in 2008. He is a “senior cabinet member”. He is credited for “overseeing several tax reforms including widening the tax base, by requiring businesses to install cash registration machines and to become registered for Value Added Tax (VAT).” According to one report, “Under [the “director general”], the amount of revenues the federal government mobilized has reached 71 billion Br in 2011/12, a dramatic increase from the 19 billion Br collected before he took the position.”
Something is not right with that picture. Was Meles so blind and incompetent to select such a “corrupt man” to take the helm of his money making machine? Did Meles select him to oversee his corrupt empire because he knew the “director general” was the just right man for the job? Is it possible that the “director general” is a victim in a political power play? In any case, the arrest of the “director general” and the smear on his character and reputation reflects very poorly on Meles judgment, common sense and integrity. In my view, if the “director general” is truly the corruption ringleader, then he cannot possibly be the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses), perhaps an underboss or a consigliere.
The anticorruption warriors should be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. If they succeed in their corruption crusade, Meles’ legacy may be at extreme risk. When it came to corruption, Meles had a double standard. For instance, when 10,000 tons of coffee vanished from the warehouses, Meles forgave the coffee thieves and others “because we all have our hands in it”. He threatened to cut the hands of coffee thieves if they steal again. Meles was content to rail against “government thieves” without doing much more. Now Hailemariam wants a single standardof corruption applicable to all. For someone who worships Meles, Hailemariam’s move is downright heresy!
It is noteworthy that the last time Meles mounted a “corruption” investigation was over a decade ago when he rounded up some of his former comrades and their business associates and charged them with “corruption” and railroaded them to prison. Back in the mid-1990s, he jailed the “prime minister” of the “transitional government” on charges of corruption. That “prime minister” ate 12 years in Meles’ prisons. Hailemariam now, without warning, wants to go after all corruptitioners and cut off their hands? Is it going to be the legacy of corruption of Mr. Crook against the promise of good governance by anti-corruption crusader Mr. Clean?
Going after corruption, inc. (unlimited) — the real “holy cows” of “corruption”
In 2011, Meles publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statementtold them that he will forgive them this time because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He threatened to “cut off their hands” if they should steal coffee in the future. In 2011, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$8.4 billion from Ethiopia. In 2009, over US $3 billion illicitly left Ethiopia. “The vast majority of the rise in illicit financial flows is a result of increased corruption, kickbacks, and bribery while the remainder stems from trade mispricing.”
In 2008 “USD16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight never to be seen again. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling party in Ethiopia, “Upon taking power in 1991… liquidated non-military assets to found a series of companies whose profits would be used as venture capital to rehabilitate the war-torn Tigray region’s economy…[with] roughly US $100 million… Throughout the 1990s…, no new EFFORT [Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray owned and operated by TPLF] ventures have been established despite significant profits, lending credibility to the popular perception that the ruling party and its members are drawing on endowment resources to fund their own interests or for personal gain.” According to the World Bank, roughly half of the Ethiopian national economy is accounted for by companies held by a business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) cloasely allied with the ruling EPDRF party. EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks. “Generals” and other military leaders have managed to accumulate properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year, a regime general told Voice of America Amharic that he was able to build a number of multistory buildings worth tens of millions of dollars because he was “given bank loans”.
There is an old Ethiopian saying which roughly translates as follows: “There is no beauty contest among monkeys.” A pig with lipstick at the end of the day is still a pig as the old saying goes. There are no good corruptoids. In any power struggle, it is not uncommon for one group of power players to accuse another of being corrupt. Bo Xilai (once touted to be the successor to President Hu Jintao in China) Liu Zhijun and other high level Chinese communist cadres are facing criminal and political sanctions for alleged abuses of power and accepting bribes. Mikhail Khodorkovsky (once considered the “wealthiest man in Russia”) was jacked up on “corruption” charges and given a long prison sentence. Corruption show trials are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of dictators who seek to neutralize their opponents. As I argued in my commentary “Africorruption”, Inc.”, the business of African “governments” including the Ethiopian regime in the main is corruption. Those who seized political power in Ethiopia in 1991 may have believed they were fighting for freedom and democracy, but once they got absolute power, they became absolutely corrupt. They began to function as sophisticated criminal enterprises with the principal aim of looting the national treasury and operating government as a criminal syndicate and a racket. If the regime is serious about corruption, it should go after the real “holy cows” of corruption, not just the unholy cows that have been forced to become scapegoats.
Scapegoating or “anti-corruption”?
The so-called “corruption investigation” appears to be a case of scapegoating. Tradition has it that on the day of atonement a goat would be selected by the high priest and loaded with the sins of the community and driven out into the wilderness as an affirmative act of symbolic cleansing. It made the people feel purged of evil and guiltless. The “corruption” suspects were supporters, defenders and handmaidens of the regime. Now they are made out to be loathsome villains. The sins and crimes of the regime are placed upon their heads and they are driven out into the wilderness. The high priests of the regimes are telling the people they have been cleansed and the community is free from evil. In this narrative, the regime “anti-corruption warriors” become the white knights in shining armor. But no amount of scapegoating can divert attention from the real situation. It is wise for those who live in glass houses not to throw stones.
How to deal with “horruption”
I am compelled to invent a new word to describe the horrible “corruption” in the ruling regime in Ethiopia. That word is, “horruption” (horrible corruption). The extended definition of this word is found in the World Bank’s corruption report on Ethiopia referenced above.
What is the best way to deal with horruption in Ethiopia? Simple. Line up the right social forces to fight corruption. Allow the free press to flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. Establish an independent prosecutorial office properly budgeted and staffed (supported by certified international anti-corruption experts) to go after not only the small winnows but most importantly the big whales and sharks splish splashing in a sea of corruption. Take comprehensive measures to increase the transparency of all public institution and translate into action the mandate of Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution (Functions and Accountability of Government). Reduce the regime’s involvement in the economy. Allow the functioning of an independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with full due process of law. Let civil society institutions flourish so that they can maintain ongoing vigilance and work at the grassroots levels to provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. Let there be a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable. In short, institutionalize the rule of law. Then we can act against “horruption” instead of talking about corruption.
The regime thinks they can distract attention by talking about “corruption” and selectively arresting a few of their own members and supporters and putting them on show trials. That is nice political theater but it will not solve the problem of horruption unless one believes, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people.”
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:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, said Edmund Burke. But what happens when evil triumphs over a good young woman journalist named Reeyot Alemu in Ethiopia? Do good men and women turn a blind eye, plug their ears, turn their backs and stand in silence with pursed lips?
In an extraordinary letter dated April 10, 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists pled with Berhan Hailu, “Minister of Justice” in Ethiopia, on behalf of the imprisoned 32-year old journalist urging that she be provided urgent medical care and spared punishment in solitary confinement at the filthy Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality just outside the capital Addis Ababa.
Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards, according to sources close to the journalist who spoke to the International Women’s Media Foundation on condition of anonymity.CPJ has independently verified the information. Reeyot has also been denied access to adequate medical treatment after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her breast…
In December 2012, Reeyot, along with three other courageous independent journalists, received Human Rights Watch’s prestigious Hellman/Hammett Award for 2012 “in recognition of their efforts to promote free expression in Ethiopia, one of the world’s most restricted media environments.”
Reeyot’s trial in Meles’ kangaroo court was a template for miscarriage of justice. She was held in detention for three months with no access to legal counsel. She was denied counsel during interrogation. The kangaroo court refused to investigate her allegations of torture, mistreatment and denial of medical care in pre-trial detention. The evidence of “conspiracy” consisted of intercepted emails and wiretapped telephone conversations she had about peaceful protests and change with other journalists abroad. Her articles posted on various opposition websites were “introduced” as “evidence” of conspiracy.
Human Rights Watch was confounded by the idiocy of the terrorism charges: “According to the charge sheet, the evidence consisted primarily of online articles critical of the government and telephone discussions notably regarding peaceful protest actions that do not amount to acts of terrorism. Furthermore, the descriptions of the charges in the initial charge sheet did not contain even the basic elements of the crimes of which the defendants are accused….”
Amnesty International denounced the judgment of the kangaroo court: “There is no evidence that [Reeyot and the other independent journalists] are guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. We believe that they are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted because of their legitimate criticism of the government. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
PEN American Center “protested the harsh punishment handed down to” Reeyot and Woubshet and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.” PEN asserted the two journalists “have been sentenced solely in relation to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory.”
The International Women’s Media Foundation saw the kangaroo court trial as an intimidation tactic against all independent women journalists: “The fact that the Ethiopian Government pursues and persecutes courageous, brave and professional women journalists does not bode well particularly for young women who may be interested in journalism. As a result, women’s voices (as reporters, editors, journalists, decision-making chambers) are rarely heard and women’s issues are often relegated to secondary position.”
Following Reeyot’s kangaroo court conviction, her father told an interviewer his daughter will not apologize, seek a pardon or apply for clemency. “As a father, would you rather not advise your daughter to apologize?”
This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions a parent can face. As any one of us who are parents would readily admit, there is an innate biological chord that attaches us to our kids. We wish nothing but the best for them. We try as much as humanly possible to keep them from harm…. Whether or not to beg for clemency is her right and her decision. I would honor and respect whatever decision she makes… To answer your specific question regarding my position on the issue by the fact of being her father, I would rather have her not plead for clemency, for she has not committed any crime.
Meles offered Reeyot her freedom if she agreed to snitch on her colleagues and help railroad them to prison. She turned him down flat and got herself railroaded into solitary confinement. Even in prison, Reeyot remained defiant as she informed IWMF: “I believe that I must contribute something to bring a better future. Since there are a lot of injustices and oppressions in Ethiopia, I must reveal and oppose them in my articles.”
The problem of evil in Ethiopia
Over the hundreds of uninterrupted weekly commentaries I have written over the years, I have rarely strayed much from my professional fields of law and politics. I make an exception in this commentary by indulging in philosophical musings on evil, a subject that has puzzled me for the longest time (and one I expect to ruminate over from time to time in the future) but one I never considered opining about in my public commentaries. I am mindful that there is the risk of sounding pedantic when one reflects on “Big Questions”, but pedantry is not intended here.
My simple definition of evil is any human act or omission that harms human beings. For instance, convicting an innocent young journalist on trumped up “terrorism” charges, sentencing her to a long prison term and throwing her into solitary confinement is evil because such acts cause great physical and psychological pain and suffering. Ordering the cold-blooded massacre of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators is evil because that act arbitrarily deprives innocent people of their God-given right to life. Forcibly displacing indigenous populations from their ancestral homes and selling their land to outsiders is evil because that act destroys not only the livelihood of those people but also their history and social fabric. Trashing the rights of individuals secured in the law of nations is evil because it is a crime against humanity and an affront to human decency and all norms of civilization. Discriminating against a person based on ethnicity, language and religion is evil because it deprives the victims of a fundamental right of citizenship. Albert Camus argued evil is anything that prevents solidarity between people and disables them from recognizing the rights or values of other human beings. Stealing elections in broad daylight and trying to deceive the world that one won an election by 99.6 percent is evil because such an act is an unconscionable lie and theft of the voice of the people. Stealing billions from a poor country’s treasury is evil because such theft deprives poor citizens vital resources necessary for their survival.
The evil I struggle to “understand” is that evil viciously committed by ordinary or sub-ordinarypeople in positions of political power. Such persons believe they can cheat, rob, steal and kill with absolute impunity because they believe there is no force on earth that can hold them accountable.
I am also concerned about the evil of passive complicity by ordinary and extraordinary people who stand silent in the face of evil. What is it that paralyzes those “good men and women” who can stand up, resist and defend against evil to cower and hide? Why do they pretend and rationalize to themselves that there really is no evil but in the eye of the beholder? What evil binds the blind, silent and deaf majority? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
I should clarify my use of the word “understand” in the context of evil. One can never understand evil. The Holocaust and the Rwanda Genocide are evils beyond human understanding and reason. To “understand” the deaths of millions or hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings is to implicitly justify it and somehow diminish its enormity. To “understand” the deliberate and premeditated murder of 193 unarmed protesters is beyond understanding because there could never be adequate reason, explanation or argumentation to justify it. “Understanding” such evil is tantamount to suggesting that there are or could be justifications for its occurrence.
When I use the word “understand”, I mean to suggest only that I am trying to get some insight, a glimpse of the moral makeup of people who live in a completely different moral universe than myself. It is impossible for me to see the world through the eyes of those in power who perpetrate evil in Ethiopia. When I speak of the triumph of evil in Ethiopia, I realize that there is nothing I can say by way of reasoned argument or presentation of evidence to persuade those in power to forsake their evil ways and deeds. I have concluded that those in power in Ethiopia live on a planet shielded by the equivalent of a moral Van Allen radiation belt that keeps out all cosmic rays of virtue, decency and goodness.
Let me also clarify what I mean when I speak of the audacity of evil in Ethiopia. The evil I am talking about is not the evil that Aquinas’ wrestled with in Questions 48 and 49 of Summa Theologica. Nor I am concerned about the evil Spinoza determined originates in the mind that lacks understanding because it is overwrought by fickle emotions. Neither am I concerned with evil that, for most of us, is associated with the Devil and his lesser intermediaries. I am not concerned about inanimate non-moral evil which manifests itself in the form of famine, pestilence and plague. I am also not referring to that evil lurking deep in the nihilistic being of those soulless, heartless and mindless psychopaths who are so disconnected from the rest of humanity that they feel justified in slaughtering innocent people at a sports event.
I am concerned about the evils of ordinary human wickedness and bestial human behavior that Aristotle alluded to in Nicomachean Ethics. I am concerned about gratuitous evil (pointless evil from which no greater good can be derived) committed by ordinary and sub-ordinary wicked people whose intellect is corrupted, and their bestial counterparts who are lacking in intellectual discernment. Such evil is cultivated in the soil of arrogance, ignorance, narcissism, desire for domination, self-aggrandizement and hubris. Those who commit gratuitous evil do so audaciously, willfully, recklessly and impulsively because they feel omnipotent; because they fear no retribution; because they anticipate no consequences for their evil deeds. They know they are committing evil and inflicting unspeakable and horrific pain and suffering on their victims but nonetheless go about doing evil with calculation and premeditation because they believe they are beyond morality, legality, responsibility and accountability. Hubristically relying on their power, they have exempted themselves from all rules of civilized society. They believe that their stranglehold on power gives them a license to commit evil at their pleasure and therefore make a habit of doing evil for evil’s sake. They are incapable of remorse or regrets because they have made evil their guiding “moral” principle.
My musings on the audacity of evil in Ethiopia are not intended to be abstract philosophical reflections but observations with practical value for victims of evil. I have an unshakeable belief that there will come a time in Ethiopia when the demands of punishment, blame and justice would have to be weighed against the greater good of peace, harmony and reconciliation. There will come a time when the open wounds of ethnic division, hatred and sectarianism must be healed and safeguards put into place to prevent their future recurrence. I believe insight into the nature of gratuitous evil is an important step in the healing process. By “understanding” (gaining insight) why individuals and groups in power commit gratuitous evil, it may be possible for Ethiopians to develop the courage, perseverance, fortitude and spiritual strength to move towards a reconciled and peaceful society. That is exactly what the South Africans did by instituting their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after Apartheid ended. Perpetrators of gratuitous evil were given the option to come to a public hearing and confess the evils they have committed and seek not only amnesty and immunity from civil and criminal prosecution but also forgiveness from their victims and the survivors of their victims. The Commission largely succeeded in that mission. The Rwandan “Gacaca courts” (traditional grassroots village courts composed of well-respected elders) which were established to administer justice to those alleged to have committed genocidal acts similarly sought to achieve “reconciliation of all Rwandans and building their unity” by putting justice partially into the hands of the surviving victims or victims’ families who are given the opportunity to confront and challenge the perpetrators in the open. The Rwandans also achieved a measure of success.
What has been learned from the TRC of South Africa and Rwanda’s Gacaca courts is that the act of forgiving can be an activity that victims of evil can find enormously helpful and beneficial. By publicly confronting the perpetrators, victims gain a sense of psychological satisfaction, moral vindication and physical well-being. The victims are no longer tormented by the desire for revenge and retribution. Coming to terms with the enormity of gratuitous evil makes it easier for a society to reconcile and prevent the recurrence of such evil.
Touched by evil
The Socratic thesis is that no one does evil intentionally. In other words, men and women commit evil out of ignorance which blinds them from doing right and good and deprives them of the practical wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. Evil doers are morally blind and unable to value other human beings while overestimating their own value and worth.
Why do those in power in Ethiopia commit the gratuitous evil of throwing into solitary confinement an innocent young woman who has been internationally honored and celebrated for her journalistic courage? Could it be the evil of misogyny that makes powerful men derive sadistic pleasure from the humiliation, degradation, dehumanization, depersonalization, demoralization, brutalization and incapacitation of strong-willed, intelligent, defiant, principled and irrepressible women who oppose them?
The gratuitous evil that is inflicted on Reeyot by those in power in Ethiopia is only the latest example. The exact same evil was inflicted on Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, who was thrown into solitary confinement for months at Meles Zenawi Prison because she stood up and opposed him. The same evil in different form was inflicted on Serkalem Fasil, another world-renowned female Ethiopian journalist who was imprisoned and forced to give birth in prison. The common denominator between these three women is that they are strong, self-confident, determined and principled and risked their lives to stand up to a brutal dictatorship. Because they refused to back down, they suffered the most inhumane treatment at the hands of powerful men.
Solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison is used as a psychological weapon to drive the victims mad. By depriving victims of all human contact and by denying them access to any information about the outside world, the aim is to make them feel lost and forgotten. Solitary confinement for women is a particularly insidious from psychological torture intended to humiliate and breakdown their physical, psychological, spiritual and moral integrity. Those in solitary confinement in Meles Zenawi Prison are not allowed to visit with friends. They are denied access to books. They are not allowed to meet their legal counsel. Family visits are interrupted even before smiles are exchanged; and even hugs and kisses with family members are forbidden. Solitary confinement is a dirty psychological game played by those in power to plunge the victims into the depths of despair, sorrow and confusion and make them feel completely helpless and hopeless.
When Meles threw Birtukan into solitary confinement, he just did not want her to suffer. That would be too easy. He wanted to humiliate and dehumanize her. When she was in solitary confinement, he used a cruel metaphor describing her as a “silly chicken who did herself in”. While in solitary confinement, he mocked and took cheap shots at her telling the press that that she is “in perfect condition” but “may have gained a few kilos”. He wanted her to suffer so much that he told reporters, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” He wanted Birtukan to be the living dead in solitary confinement. Providence had a different plan.
We are banned Ethiopian journalists who were charged with treason by the government of PM Meles Zenawi subsequent to disputed election results in 2005, incarcerated under deplorable circumstances, only to be acquitted sixteen months later; after Serkalem Fasil prematurely gave birth in prison.Severely underweight at birth because Serkalem’s physical and psychological privation in one of Africa’s worst prisons, an incubator was deemed life-saving to the new-born child by prison doctors; which was, in an act of incomprehensible vindictiveness, denied by the authorities. (The child nevertheless survived miraculously. Thanks to God.)
Do those who slammed Reeyot and Birtukan in solitary confinement and forced Serkalem to give birth in one of the filthiest prisons in the world realize what they are doing is evil? Do they care about the suffering of these young women?
Birtukan has survived and continues to thrive. Serkalem struggles to survive every day as she agonizes over the unjust imprisonment of her husband Eskinder. Reeyot, I believe, will survive in solitary confinement because she is a strong woman of faith and conviction. Solitary confinement to persons of faith and conviction is like fire to steel. It brings out the best in them. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; but is there a man alive who is more compassionate, humane, kindhearted and forgiving than Mandela?
Sigmund Freud wrote about the kind of sadistic gratuitous evil driven by deep-seated hatred and aggression against women. Other psychologists see the root of gratuitous evil in personality “fragmentation” caused by feelings of rejection and inferiority. They say those who commit gratuitous evil seek to “defragment and hold themselves together” by degrading and feeling superior to their victims. Others have argued that beneath the gratuitous evil that perpetrators commit lies a profound emptiness filled by sadistic rage, anger, and hatred.
I believe those in power in Ethiopia commit gratuitous evil to obtain absolute obedience and respect. As Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments (and in other aspects the Zimbardo (Stanford) experiments) have shown, those in authority seek to secure obedience by establishing social models of compliance. In other words, those in power aim to teach by harsh example. If you are an independent journalist and do your job, you will be jacked up on bogus terrorism charges, held in detention, thrown in solitary confinement and tortured. If you challenge a stolen election and protest in the street, you will be shot in the streets like a rabid dog. By using extreme violence, those in power in Ethiopia seek to create not only an atmosphere of fear but also a culture of terror. The experiments have also shown that resistance can also be taught by example. Reeyot, Serkalem, Birtukan, Eskinder, Woubshet, Andualem are social models of resistance.
Hanna Arendt observed Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, at his trial in Jerusalem and found him to be “medium-sized, slender, middle-aged, with receding hair, ill-fitting teeth, and nearsighted eyes, who throughout the trial keeps craning his scraggy neck toward the bench.” He appeared to be a common man incapable of monstrous crimes. The banality of evil is the capacity of ordinary people to commit monstrous crimes. The audacity of evil is the capacity of ordinary and sub-ordinary people to commit evil not out of necessity, obedience to authority or even adherence to ideology; it is evil committed by those who are absolutely convinced that they will never be held accountable for their crimes.
Doing evil, doing good
I have many unanswered questions. Are the individuals in positions of power in Ethiopia evil by nature? Was evil thrust upon them by a demonic power? Were they victims of evil themselves and now seek to avenge the actual or perceived evil done to them and ended up being evil themselves? Did they become the very monster they slew? Are there persons who are innately incapable of doing good because they are bad seed and are born with a natural disposition to do only wrong and evil? Is gratuitous evil a psychological illness, an incurable sickness of the soul?
My questions do not end there. No one is immune from evil. Those of us who rise up in self-righteous indignation and denounce evil should look at ourselves and ask: If we were shown “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor”, would we succumb to that offer and choose the path of evil? Nietzsche said, “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.” When we raise our lances at the windmills, do we really see monsters? Let us not forget that “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Are we also brutes, like those we criticize, costumed in a veneer of civilization and morality untested and unseduced by the corrupting power of power? Are human beings innately good, and evil people merely mutations of good ones?
The evil that men do lives after them
The late Meles Zenawi has left a dark and bleak legacy of gratuitous evil in Ethiopia. The evil he has done shall continue to live in the prisons he built, the justice system he corrupted and the lives of young good Ethiopians he destroyed like Reeyot, Eskinder, Serkalem, Birtukan, Woubshet, Andualem and countless others. In Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, Antony speaks: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Ceasar.”
When I speak of Meles, I speak not of the man but of the wretched legacy he left and of the pious devotion of his disciples to that legacy. His disciples today speak of his great achievements and his great vision with Scriptural certitude and apostolic zeal. Their mantra is, “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.” One must speak out against pre-programmed robots; but raging against the machine should not be mistaken for raging against the man.
I remain optimistic that in the end good shall triumph over evil because the ultimate battle between good and evil in Ethiopia will not be waged on a battlefield with “crashing guns and rattling musketry”; nor will it be fought and won in the voting booths, the parliaments, the courts or bureaucracies. The battle for good and evil will be fought, won or lost, in the hearts and minds of ordinary Ethiopian men and women who have the courage to rise up and do extraordinary good.
Elie Wiesel, a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps, and Nobel peace laureate said “indifference is the epitome of evil” and
“swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
I have taken the side of Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Fasil, Birtukan Midekssa, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…. and made them the “center of my universe”.
(to be continued….)
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:
Ethiopia today is a “prison of nations and nationalities with the Oromo being one of the prisoners”, proclaimed the recently issued Declaration of the Congress of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF). This open-air prison is administered through a system of “bogus federalism” in which “communities exercise neither self-rule nor shared-rule but have been enduring the TPLF/EPRDF’s tyrannical rule for more than two decades.” The jail keepers or the “ruling party directly and centrally micro-manage all communities by pre-selecting its surrogates that the people are then coerced to ‘elect’ at elections that are neither free nor fair”. Ethiopians can escape from “prison nation” and get on the “path to democracy, stability, peace, justice, and sustainable development” when they are able to establish a democratic process in which “all communities elect their representatives in fair and free elections.”
The ODF is a “new movement” launched by “pioneers of the Oromo nationalist struggle” who “have mapped out a new path that embraces the struggle of all oppressed Ethiopians for social justice and democracy.” Central to the collective struggle to bust the walls and crash the gates of “prison nation” Ethiopia is a commitment to constitutional democracy based on principles of “shared and separate political institutions as the more promising and enduring uniting factor” and robust protections for civil liberties and civil rights. Shared governance and the rule of law provide the glue “that will bind the diverse nations into a united political community” and return to the people their government which has been privatized and corporatized by the ruling regime “to advance and serve their partisan and sectarian interests.”
The Declaration foresees genuine federalism as the basis for freedom, justice and equality in Ethiopia. It argues that the ruling Tigriyan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) hijacked the federalism, which was originally birthed by the “mounting pressures of the struggles for self-determination by the Oromo and other oppressed nations”, and subsequently corrupted it into a political scheme that serves the “present ruling elite’s aspiration of emerging and permanently remaining as a new dominant group by simply stepping into the shoes of those that it replaced.” The ODF “aspire[s] to build on the positive aspects of Ethiopia’s current federal set-up” by “remov[ing] the procedural and substantive shortcomings that stand in the way of democracy and federalism.”
The Declaration finds traditional notions of unity inadequate. “Invoking a common history, culture or language has not guaranteed unity. We similarly reject the present ruling party’s presumption that it serves as the sole embodiment and defender of the so-called ‘revolutionary democratic unity.’” It also rejects “the ruling party’s illusory expectation that the promotion of economic development would serve as an alternative source of unity in the absence of democratic participation.” The Declaration incorporates principles of constitutional accountability, separation of powers and check balances and enumerates “bundles” of participatory, social and cultural rights secured in international human rights conventions. It proposes “overhauling” the civil service system and restructuring of the military and intelligence institutions to serve the society instead of functioning as the private protective services of the ruling party and elites. The Declaration broadly commits to economic and social justice and condemns the mistreatment and “eviction from ancestral lands of indigenous populations, and environmental degradation.”
Significance of the Declaration
The world is constantly changing and we must change with it. Henry David Thoreau correctly observed, “Things do not change; we change.” We change by discarding old and tired ideas and by embracing new and energetic ones. The old ideas which demonize other ethnic groups as mortal enemies are no longer tenable and are simply counterproductive. In a poor country like Ethiopia, the vast majority of the people of all ethnic groups get the shaft while the political and economic elites create ethnic tensions and conflict to cling to power and line their pockets. We change by casting away self-deception and facing the truth. The truth is that “united we stand, divided we fall”. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” For the past 21 years, we have been falling like a pack of dominoes. They have been hanging us separately on the hooks of “ethnic federalism”.
We must be prepared to change our minds as objective conditions change. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” We must change our ideas, beliefs, attitudes and perspectives to keep up with the times. The alternative is becoming irrelevant. No organization can achieve unanimity in making change because change makes some in the organization uncomfortable, uneasy and uncertain. However, change is necessary and unavoidable.In line with George Ayittey’s metaphor, we can change and remain viable and relevant like the Cheetahs or suffer the fate of the hopeless Hippos.
It is refreshing and inspiring to see a transformative and forward-looking declaration forged by some of the important founding members and leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) emphatically affirming the common destiny of all Ethiopians and underscoring the urgency for consolidating a common cause in waging a struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. These leaders show great courage and conviction of conscience in changing their minds with the changing political realities. The reality today is that the “economic and security interests of the Oromo people are intertwined with that of other peoples in Ethiopia. In addition, their geographic location, demography, democratic heritage and bond forged with all peoples over the years make it incumbent upon the Oromo to play a uniting and democratizing role.” It must have taken a staggering amount of effort to overcome internal discord and issue such a bold and positively affirmative Declaration signaling a fundamental change in position. These leaders deserve commendation for an extraordinary achievement.
I believe the Declaration is immensely important not only for the principles it upholds and articulates but most importantly for the fact that it represents a genuine paradigmatic shift in political strategy and tactics by the founders of the OLF. The Declaration signals a tectonic shift in long held views, ideology and political strategy. It represents a profound change in the perception and understanding of politics, change and society not only in Ethiopia but also in the continent and globally. By emphasizing inclusiveness and common struggle, the Declaration rejects the destructive politics of ethnicity and identity (the bane of Africa) for politics based on issues of social, political and economic justice. By embracing a common struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights, the Declaration rejects ethnocentrism (the arrogant philosophy of narrow-minded African dictators) and fully accepts federalism as a basis for political power and shared governance.
What are we to make of the Declaration? Is it merely an aspirational statement, an invitation to dialogue, a call to action or all of the above? It appears the Declaration is not merely a statement of principles but also an invitation to dialogue and a call to action. It affirms the universal truth that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and acknowledges that “struggling for justice for oneself alone without advocating justice for all could ultimately prove futile”. It urges Oromo groups to stop “trivial political wrangling” and “join hands with us in strengthening our camp to intensify our legitimate struggle and put an end to sufferings of our people.” It counsels the “ruling regime to reconsider its ultimately counterproductive policy of aspiring to indefinitely stay in power by fanning inter communal and interreligious suspicion and tension.” It proposes a “country-wide movement sharing” a common “vision, principles and policies” to “propel Ethiopia forward and ending the current political paralysis.” It pleads with the “international community to stand with us in implementing our vision and proposal of transforming the Ethiopian state to bring peace and sustainable stability in Ethiopia and Horn of Africa.”
Dialoguing over “Federalism” or the futility of putting lipstick on “bogus federalism”
It is the privilege of the human rights advocate and defender to speak his/her mind on all matters of human rights. I should like to exercise that privilege by raising an important issue in the Declaration and respectfully taking exception to it. The Declaration states:
We aspire to build on the positive aspects of Ethiopia’s current federal set-up. However, to make the simultaneous exercise of self-rule and shared-rule possible it is necessary to remove the procedural and substantive shortcomings that stand in the way of democracy and federalism… [which] can be accomplished by [allowing] subject nations, in due course, freely elect delegates to their respective state and central constitutional assemblies. When this process is completed, the present “holding together” type of bogus federalism will be transformed into a genuine ‘coming together’ variety.
I consider myself a hardcore federalist who believes in a clear division of power between a national and sub-national (local, state) governments. In fact, I consider the “Federalist Papers” written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution as unsurpassed works of political genius on the theory and practice of federalism. Having said that, I do not believe there is an alchemy that can transmute “bogus federalism” into “genuine federalism”. Just as there is no such thing as being a “little bit pregnant”, there is also no such thing as building upon “bogus federalism”. Either it is genuine federalism or it is bogus federalism.
As I argued in my May 2010 commentary “Putting Lipstick on a Pig, Ethiopian Style”, discussing the elections, “You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. You can jazz up a bogus election in a one-man, one-party dictatorship with a ‘Code of Conduct’, but to all the world it is still a bogus election under a one-man, one-party dictatorship… They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. They think lipstick will make everything look pretty.” You can put lipstick on “ethnic federalism” and call it “federalism”, but it is still bogus federalism.
As I have often argued, the late Meles Zenawi, the chief architect of “ethnic federalism” in Ethiopia was driven by a “vision of ethnic division. His warped idea of ‘ethnic federalism’ is merely a kinder and gentler reincarnation of Apartheid in Ethiopia. For nearly two decades, Meles toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of Ethiopian society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves.” He crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. He wrote in Article 46 (2) of the Constitution: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be corralled like cattle in tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of Apartheid South Africa. Ethiopia’s tribal homelands are officially called “kilils” (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, Ethiopia’s 9 killilistans ultimately aim to create homogeneous and autonomous ethnic states in Ethiopia, effectively scrubbing out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian national citizenship. You can put lipstick on bantustans and call them “ethnic federalism” but at the end of the day a Killilistan with lipstick is a Bantustan without lipstick.
Before committing to “build up on the positive aspects of Ethiopia’s current federal set-up”, I urge the ODF and all others interested in institutionalizing genuine federalism in Ethiopia to carefully study and consider the long line of Apartheid laws creating and maintaining bantustans in South Africa. I commend a couple of illustrative examples of such laws to those interested. The Bantu Authorities Act, 1951(“Black Authorities Act, 1951”) created the legal basis for the deportation of blacks into designated homeland reserve areas and established tribal, regional and territorial authorities. This Act was subsequently augmented by the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act, 1970 (“Black States Citizenship Act & National States Citizenship Act, 1970) which sought to change the legal status of the inhabitants of the bantustans by effectively denaturalizing them from enjoying citizenship rights as South Africans. These laws imposed draconian restrictions on the freedom of movement of black South Africans. These laws further sought to ensure that white South Africans would represent the majority of the de jure population of South Africa with the right to vote and monopolize control of the state machinery. The Group Areas Act of 1950 (as re-enacted in the Group Areas Act of 1966), divided South Africa into separate areas for whites and blacks and gave the government the power to forcibly remove people from areas not designated for their particular tribal and racial group. Under this Act, anyone living in the “wrong” area was deported to his/her tribal group homeland. The law also denied Africans the right to own land anywhere in South Africa and stripped them of all political rights. The lives of over 3.5 million people were destroyed by this law as they were forcibly deported and corralled like cattle in their tribal group bantustans.
The perils and untenability of Meles’ “bogus federalism” have been documented in the International Crises Group’s report “Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and Its Discontents”. That report points out the glaring deficiencies and problems engendered by “ethnic federalism” in “redefine[ing] citizenship, politics and identity on ethnic grounds.” The study argues that “ethnic federalism” has resulted in “an asymmetrical federation that combines populous regional states like Oromiya and Amhara in the central highlands with sparsely populated and underdeveloped ones like Gambella and Somali.” Moreover, “ethnic federalism” has created “weak regional states”, “empowered some groups” and failed to resolve the “national question”. Aggravating the underlying situation has been the Meles dictatorship’s failure to promote “dialogue and reconciliation” among groups in Ethiopian society, further fueling “growing discontent with the EPRDF’s ethnically defined state and rigid grip on power and fears of continued inter-ethnic conflict.”
“Ethnic federalism” is indefensible in theory or practice. While intrinsically nonsensical as public policy, “ethnic federalism” in the hands of the Meles regime has become a dangerous weapon of divide and rule, divide and control and divide and destroy. Those in power entertain themselves watching the pitiful drama of kililistans compete and fight with each other for crumbs and preoccupying themselves with historical grievances. The ICG report makes it clear that in the long term “ethnic federalism” could trigger an implosion and disintegration of the Ethiopian nation.
The truth of the matter is that ethnic balkanization, fragmentation, segregation and polarization are the tools of trade used by the Meles regime to cling to power while lining their pockets. In a genuine federalism, the national government is the creature of the subnational governments. In Ethiopia, the “kilil” (regional) “governments” are creatures and handmaidens of the national “government”. In a genuine federalism, the national government is entrusted with limited and enumerated powers for the purpose effectuating the common purposes of the subnational “governments”. In Ethiopia, the powers of the national “government” are vast and unlimited; and there are no barriers to its usurpatory powers which it exercises at will. There are no safeguards against encroachment on the rights and liberties of the people by the national or subnational “governments”. Simply stated, “ethnic federalism” as practiced in Ethiopia today is not only a recipe for tyranny by the national “government” but also the creed for secessionists in the name of self-determination. “Ethnic federalism” is an idea whose time has passed and should be consigned to the dustbin of history along with its author. “Well, back to the old drawing board!”
The Curse of Meles
According to those in the know, the late Meles Zenawi used to say “Diaspora Ethiopians can start things but never manage to finish them.” Regardless of the veracity of the attribution, there is a ring of truth to the proposition. Since 2005, we have read lofty declarations and heard announcements on the establishment of political and advocacy groups and organizations. We have welcomed them with fanfare but they have come and gone like the seasons.
I do not believe those who drafted the Declaration of the Congress of the Oromo Democratic Front will be visited by the Curse of Meles. The Declaration seems to be the product of an enormous amount of organizational soul-searching, discussion, debate, introspection and contemplation. The ODF has come up with an honest, practical, bold and hopeful declaration. I have some questions as do others; but the fact that questions are being raised is proof that the Declaration has considerable appeal, credibility and traction. I ask questions to engage in dialogue and discussion, not to undermine or cause doubt about the worth or value of the Declaration. To be sure, I raise questions about the Declaration in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s counsel: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” My questions originate from the question: “What does the Declaration do for all of our people? With sustained effort and the good will and cooperation of all stakeholders, there is no reason why new alliances cannot be created and old ones reinvigorated to move forward the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. I am inspired by the Declaration’s commitment to wage a united struggle: “We will exert all efforts in order to pull together as many advocates and promoters of the interests of diverse social sectors as possible in order to popularize and refine the principles and processes that would transform Ethiopia into a genuinely democratic multinational federation.”
I understand “to pull together” means to stop pushing, shoving, ripping, picking and tearing each other apart. That is why I have an unshakeable faith in the proposition that “Ethiopians united — pulling together — can never be defeated by the bloody hands of tyrants!”
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:
For the past several months, there has been much display of public sorrow and grief in Ethiopia. But not for the millions of invisible Ethiopians who are suffering and dying from starvation, or what the “experts” euphemistically call “acute food insecurity”. These Ethiopians are spread across a large swath of the country (see map above, “Estimated food security conditions, 3rd quarter 2012 (July-September 2012, Famine Early Warning Systems Network FEWS NET).
According to the international “experts”, starving people are not really starving. They are just going through “scientific” stages of food deprivation. In stage one or “Acute Food Insecurity”, people experience “short term instability (“shocks”) but are able to meet basic food needs without atypical coping strategies.” In stage two or “Stressed” situations, “food consumption is reduced but minimally adequate without having to engage in irreversible coping strategies.” In stage three or “Crises” mode, the food supply is “borderline adequate, with significant food consumption gaps and acute malnutrition.” In stage four “Emergency”, there is “extreme food consumption gaps resulting in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality”. In stage five or “Catastrophe”, there is “near complete lack of food and/or other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.” When are people in “famine” situations?
Rarely will the international experts, donors, multilateral organizations, NGOs or ruling regimes use the dreaded “F” word. In Ethiopia, the word “famine” has been deemed politically incorrect because it conjures up images of hordes of skeletal humans walking across the parched landscape, curled corpses of famine victims under acacia trees and children with distended bellies clutching their mothers at feeding camps. It also portends political upheavals. In their analysis of recurrent famines in Ethiopia, Professors Angela Raven-Roberts and Sue Lautze noted, “Declaring a famine was also a complicated question for the Ethiopian government. Famines have contributed to the downfall of Ethiopian regimes… Some humanitarian practitioners gauge their successes, in part, according to ‘famines averted’… President George W. Bush challenged his administration to ensure that famines were avoided during his tenure, a policy known as ‘No Famine on My Watch’; declaring the existence of a famine could be seen as a political shortcoming and, therefore, a political vulnerability.” The one exception to the official embargo on the use of the word “famine” is Wolfgang Fengler, a lead economist for the World Bank, who on August 17, 2011, definitively declared, “This [famine] crisis is man made. Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine.” In other words, the fundamental problem with “acute” or “chronic” malnutrition (short-term or long-term starvation) in Ethiopia is poor governance, not drought.
In January 2010, Mitiku Kassa, the agriculture minister in Ethiopia, declared, “In the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine… It is baseless [to claim hunger or famine], it is contrary to the situation on the ground. It is not evidence-based. The government is taking action to mitigate the problems.’ The late Meles Zenawi was equally dismissive: “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch — emergencies, but no famines.” If a technical definition of “Emergency” was intended, that would mean “extreme food consumption gaps resulting in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality”. To the average observer, that sounds like old fashioned famine. But it is all a semantic game of euphemisms. Kassa made bold assurances that his regime had launched a food security program to “enable chronic food insecure households attain sufficient assets and income level to get out of food insecurity and improve their resilience to shocks…and halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.”
In 2011, according to the U.N., some 12.4 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti were affected by chronic hunger and tens of thousands of people died from starvation (excuse me, “acute food insecurity”; or was it “acute malnutrition”?). Needless to say, there is not a single case in which starving Ethiopians have been surveyed to classify themselves into one of the five neat “scientific” categories. There is little doubt the vast majority of people presumed to be facing “acute malnutrition” would readily declare they are actually facing famine. But the fact of the matter is that the scope and magnitude of the “acute malnutrition” (or whatever fancy term is used to describe plain old starvation) in Ethiopia could never be independently verified because there is a conspiracy of silence between the ruling regime, international donors, NGOs and even some members of the international press who mindlessly parrot the official line and rarely go out into the affected areas to observe and document the food situation on a regular basis. So, the chorus of silent conspirators would chime in saying, “4.2 million people face acute malnutrition and need immediate life-saving help.” They would never say “4.2 million people are facing life ending famine”. The fact of the matter is that famine by any other fancy name is still famine and just as deadly!
The so-called “acute” (short-term) food shortages, malnutrition, insecurity, etc., are now a permanent (chronic) feature of Ethiopia’s food political economy. “Droughts” are blamed year after year for the suffering of millions of Ethiopians and year after year the regime’s response is to stand at the golden gates of international donors panhandling emergency humanitarian aid. The regime has done next to nothing to deal with the underlying problems aggravating the conditions leading to famine (see my July 2010 commentary “Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years?”), including high population growth, environmental degradation, low agricultural productivity caused by subsistence farming on fragmented small plots of land, government ownership of land, poor transportation and dysfunctional markets that drive up the real cost of food for the poor and other factors. Instead the regime’s solution has been to give away the most arable land in the country to so-called international investors who “lease” the land for commercial agriculture and export the harvest for sale on the international market while the local population starves. Alternatively, the regime relies on the so-called Productive Safety Nets Programmes (PSNP) which purportedly aim “to prevent asset depletion at the household level, create assets at the community level” by providing vulnerable populations income through public work projects and direct support. A joint undercover team from BBC’s Newsnight and the bureau of investigative journalism at London’s City University, separate investigations by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have documented that PSNP resources have been used to reward supporters of the ruling party and punish members of opposition parties or non-supporters.
In 2012, to say that millions of Ethiopians will face starvation every year (disguised in the bureaucratic lingo of “acute malnutrition”, “food insecurity”, etc.) is like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow. But it is the long term prospects for “food insecurity” in Ethiopia that are unspeakably frightening. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau made the catastrophic prediction that Ethiopia’s population by 2050 will more than triple to 278 million. Considering the fact that Ethiopia cannot feed its 90 million people today, how could it possibly feed triple that number in less than forty ears? But such facts have not stopped the ruling regime from denying the existence of famine conditions and declaring a crushing victory on famine in just a few years. The late Meles Zenawi in 2011 declared: “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”
Ethiopia and to a lesser extent many African countries face a formidable challenge in feeding their people in the next year or so. In 2011, Africa imported $50 billion worth of food from the U.S. and Europe. Food prices in Africa are 200-300 percent higher than global prices, which means higher profit margins for multinationals that produce and distribute food. With a steady growth in global population, the prospect of transforming Africa into vast commercialized farms is mouthwatering for global agribusinesses and speculators. One of the new “hunger games” that was recently proposed by the G-8 Summit is the “New Alliance for Food Security” aimed at accelerating the “transfer” of hundreds of millions of hectares of arable African land to Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft, Unilever, Syngenta AG and the dozens of other signatory multinationals. Working jointly with Africa’s corrupt dictators, these multinationals aim to “liberate” the land from Africans just like the 19th Century scramble for Africa; but will they really liberate Africa from the scourge of hunger, famine, starvation and poverty?
2013 as a Year of “Catastrophic Global Food Crises”
Scientists are predicting that 2013 will be a “year of serious global crises” with significant food shortages and price hikes. The crises is triggered by recent droughts in the main grain producing countries including the U.S., Russia and Australia. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of the U.S. has undergone some drought or “abnormally dry” conditions this past summer. This has resulted in significant loss of corn, wheat and soybean crops and is expected to reduce exports of grains and trigger increased prices on the global commodities markets. This crises will inflict a double whammy on the food importing countries of Africa. Increases in commodity prices (food, energy) will have a disproportionate impact on large vulnerable populations in Ethiopia because the impoverished households typically spend more than half their total incomes on food.
Two decisive factors for the coming global food crises have been identified. According to a highly regarded recent study by the New England Complex Systems Institute, [NECSI] (a group of academics from Harvard and MIT who specialize in predicting how changes in environment can lead to political instability and upheavals), the global food crises is driven by efforts to replace food crops with biofuel crops and greedy global investors (e.g. hedge funds, investment banks, etc.) who speculate (bet) on commodity (food) prices. NECSI researchers Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam and Yaneer Bar-Yam argue that because “the American breadbasket has suffered debilitating droughts and high temperatures [this summer], leading to soaring corn and wheat prices in anticipation of a poor harvest, we are on the verge of another crisis, the third in five years, and likely to be the worst yet, capable of causing new food riots and turmoil on a par with the Arab Spring.” NECSI researchers predict that in 2013 a “spike in prices is inevitable.”
Catastrophic Famine and Food Riots in Ethiopia in 2013?
On November 24, 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia announced that the number of people in need of emergency food aid had decreased from 5.2 million from earlier in the year to 2.3 million. Agriculture minister Kassa was quoted as saying that the “overall good performance of rains in 2010 and successful disaster management endeavors have reduced the disaster risks and vulnerabilities and decreased the number of food beneficiaries”. In April 2011, the Ethiopian regime appealed for emergency food assistance in the amount of USD 398.4 to meet the needs of some 3.2 million people. Later that year, officials reported that the number of needy people had increased to 4.5. On September 12, 2012, the agriculture ministry announced that 3.7 million Ethiopians will need humanitarian assistance between August and December 2012. According to Kassa, “The country needs 314 million metric tons of food to meet the gap.” Of the 3.7 million “food insecure people”, 47 percent of them are in Somali region followed by 27 percent in Oromiya, 10 percent in Tigray, and 7.7 percent in Amhara regional states.
Food prices have been soaring in Ethiopia for the past three years. In August 2011, the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency reported food prices, which comprise more than half the Consumer Price Index, were up 47.4 percent from 2010. Transportation costs and housing were up more than 40 percent during the past year (the price of a liter of gasoline was 21 birr). In 2011, the regime imposed price controls on basic staples which led to shortages and was subsequently dropped after the controls proved to be ineffective in controlling inflation or increasing supply. Michael Atingi-Ego, head of the International Monetary Fund mission to Ethiopia in a press statement this past June noted, “For 2011/12, the mission projects real GDP growth at 7 percent and end-year inflation at about 22 percent… Gross official foreign reserves have declined to under two months of import coverage… Rebuilding gross official foreign reserves will provide a buffer against potential exogenous shocks given the current volatile global environment.” The fact of the matter is that when the “inevitable global food crisis” hits in 2013 with inflation running at over 20 percent and foreign reserves of two months, the only outcome to be expected is total disaster.
One does not need a crystal ball to predict famine in Ethiopia on the order of magnitude seen in mid-1970s and mid-1980s given the “inevitable price hikes” in the global food markets and the manifest lack of meaningful preparedness and remedial policies by the ruling regime. In a recent “confidential preliminary” report, Tadesse Kuma Worako of the Ethiopian Development Research Institute offers an analysis that exposes the multidimensional effects of food price increases on the population beyond mortality rates:
In Ethiopia, food expenditure of total household income estimated to account for more than 60 percent that any increase in food price has negative effect on the well-being of large majorities… Food-price increases are having serious consequences for the purchasing power of the poor. Affected groups include the rural landless, pastoralists, small-scale farmers and the urban poor. Despite the various causes of food crises, the hardships that individuals and communities face have striking similarities across disparate groups and settings. These include: inability to afford food, and related lack of adequate caloric intake, distress sales of productive assets, and migration of household members in search of work and reduced household spending on healthcare, education and other necessities… Ethiopia is a country which registers one of the highest child malnutrition rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. Child stunting, which is measured as abnormally low weight to height for age in children, is an indicator of poor long-run nutritional status. Although the prevalence of child stunting in Ethiopia decreased during the second half of the 2000s, the prevalence is still significantly high compared to developing countries average. Early childhood malnutrition (among children between six and 36 months) can cause irreversible damage to brain and motor-skill development, stifle human capital formation by causing delays in enrollment and later increasing the probability of grade repetition and drop-out, lower current health status, and increase in lifetime risk of chronic disease associated with the premature mortality.
Tadesse believes that proper policies could have averted much of the hardship on the population yet remains concerend about the decisive role of global food proices and the exchange rate. “The negative effects of high food prices could have been ameliorated if policy makers had been better informed about the food price situation. In the long-run however, domestic food and non-food prices are determined by the exchange rate and international food and goods prices which means that the exchange rate and international prices explain a large fraction of Ethiopia’s inflation.”
An Early Warning for Famine and Political Upheaval in Ethiopia in 2013
On December 13, 2011, NECSI scientists reportedly wrote to the US government alerting policy makers that global food prices were about to cross the threshold they had identified resulting in global political upheavals. Days later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia and set the Middle East on fire in what is now known as the “Arab Spring”. Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1975 because he neglected to address the famine situation in the northern part of the country, which to this day suffers from famine or as they say “acute” and “chronic” malnutrition. The military socialist junta that ruled Ethiopia denied there was a famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and was overthrown in 1991 by those who are in power today. History shows that high food prices often trigger major political upheavals. In a study of the “food crises and political instabilityin North Africa and the Middle East”, NECSI scientists argue:
In 2011 protest movements have become pervasive in countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These protests are associated with dictatorial regimes and are often considered to be motivated by the failings of the political systems in the human rights arena. Here we show that food prices are the precipitating condition for social unrest and identify a specific global food price threshold for unrest. Even without sharp peaks in food prices we project that, within just a few years, the trend of prices will reach the threshold. This points to a danger of spreading global social disruption…. Conditions of widespread threat to security are particularly present when food is inaccessible to the population at large. In this case, the underlying reason for support of the system is eliminated, and at the same time there is “nothing to lose,” i.e. even the threat of death does not deter actions that are taken in opposition to the political order. Any incident then triggers death-defying protests and other actions that disrupt the existing order.
The government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn must come forward and explain how it expects to deal with the effects of the “inevitable global food crises” in Ethiopia in light of its depleted foreign reserves and how his government will avert potentially catastrophic famine in the country. Planning to panhandle more emergency food aid simply won’t cut it. Relying on Productive Safety Nets Programmes simply won’t do it. If the government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn cannot come with a better answer or alternative to the looming famine over the horizon, it should be prepared to face not only a hungry population but also an angry one!