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Day 46: Has Meles Zenawi Gone AWOL?

By Alemayehu G Mariam

An AWOL “Prime Minister”?

What happens when a “prime minister” goes AWOL? That is, absent without constitutional leave of absence. Dictator Meles Zenawi has disappeared from public view for several weeks now. He was last seen in public on June 19 at the G20 Summit in Mexico. His disappearing act has provided more grist for speculation and caused pained and grimaced official obfuscation.

On July 19, in a rambling, disjointed and incoherent press statement, Zenawi’s spinmesiter and “communication minister”, Bereket Simon, stonewalled any information on Zenawi’s health and whereabouts by offering a cryptic and manifestly dubious explanation. Simon said Zenawi was receiving medical care for some undisclosed minor health problem at some undisclosed location. The cause of Zenawi’s health problem is alleged to be exhaustion resulting from long public service. Simon’s statement strangely suggested that Zenawi was simultaneously at a medical facility and a Club Med-type vacation spot. Simon assured the public that Zenawi will return to his duties shortly.

“Deputy prime minister” Hailemariam Desalegn chimed in with the inane observation that “There is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only. As any human being, he has to get medication and he’ll be coming back soon.”

Of course, the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian human beings get no medication whatsoever when they face “serious illness”. Anyway, what exactly is Zenawi’s “not serious illness”? What kind of medication is Zenawi getting? How soon is soon for Zenawi to return to office?

Just to keep things in perspective, on July 18 an Agence France Press report citing “several diplomatic sources” reported that Zenawi “is in a critical state” at a hospital in Belgium and that “his life is in danger” and “might not survive”.

Bereket Simon put on a nice act at the press conference; but his body language betrayed his words. Simon wore a morose face as he monologued his way through his rehearsed statement. His physical gestures showed all of the forensic signs of a suspect under extreme stress fudging the truth. He was manifestly tense and visibly preoccupied. His demeanor was combative, his posture defensive and his words evasive. He was manifestly uncomfortable answering questions about Zenawi. He fidgeted and wiggled his fingers, occasionally gesturing. He squirmed and sat rigidly folding his arms. He avoided eye contact with his questioners. His responses to press questions were repetitive and robotic. He spoke softly and slowly but his words were calculated, halting, artful and guileful. He tried to project the appearance of being forthcoming while actually providing very little substantive information. In other words, Simon windbagged and sandbagged at the press conference but did not say much that was informative. It was obvious that Simon was not coming clean with the real deal about Zenawi’s situation. Was Simon hiding or covering up something? Simon and Co., may expect us to believe their cock and bull story about a vacationing Zenawi, but we know when we are lied to, deceived, duped, hoodwinked, misled and bamboozled.

In a staged interview with a member of party-controlled media on August 1, Simon continued to stonewall release of any meaningful information on Zenawi’s health or whereabouts. Simon said, “the prime minister’s health is in very good condition. The medical treatment and rest have improved his health. He is in a much better health condition than before.” Simon did not say where Zenawi is getting medical treatment, the nature of his illness and the health improvements he gained over the past couple of weeks, or when he is expected to be back in office.

Bereket Simon accused Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), without naming it, of engaging in a “campaign of spreading massive lies and hearsay” about Zenawi. He alleged that ESAT had falsely cited ICJ (sic) [ICG- International Crises Group] as its source of information on the demise of Zenawi which, according to Simon, the ICG had denied. Simon, in characteristic manner, misstated the facts. What the ICG stated in its press release is quite different: “Crisis Group denies media reports about PM’s fate. International Crisis Group has no direct knowledge about the state of health of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.” Any sophisticated reader knows that the phrase “no direct knowledge” is a term of art commonly used by journalists and researchers to protect their confidential sources. “No direct knowledge” simply means the “knowledge” the ICG has on Zenawi is not based on personal observation, direct investigation or surveillance but derived from reliable informant(s). In other words, the ICG does not have direct photographic or physical evidence of Zenawi’s health or fate, but it has indirect informant-based information. This elementary journalistic technique seems to have escaped Simon.

For all his sophistry and obfuscation, Simon seems conveniently oblivious of two simple questions and the old saying that a picture (that is not photoshopped) is worth a thousand words:

1) If Zenawi is in “very good condition”, why not release a photograph of him in that condition?

2) If Zenawi is getting rest and relaxation, why not release a picture of him “vegging out” on the beach or touring the museums?

The fact of the matter is that the last photograph and video of Zenawi taken in Mexico showed him to be in extremely bad condition. Instead of accusing the opposition of lying and exaggerating information about Zenawi’s health or alleged death, would it not be easier to put them all to shame by producing a one-minute video of Zenawi “in very good condition” taking a dip in the swimming pool or hanging out with four of his crew as reported in the last couple of days? Alternatively, how about one-minute audio tape of Zenawi telling the people that he is doing well and enjoying himself on vacation.

Simon warned there will be no change: “The status quo is maintained – there is no change and there will be no change in the near future.”

Is the “status quo” an AWOL “prime minster”, an invisible “deputy prime minister”, a shadowy group of power brokers scheming behind the scenes, a manifest power and leadership vacuum, total confusion and cynicism in the country or the two decade old one-man, one-party dictatorship? At the end of the day, “Stonewall” Simon and Co., will have to answer two questions:

Is Zenawi alive, dead, or has he simply gone AWOL?

Or is Zenawi now functioning in a new capacity as “absentee prime minister”?

What Can Be Done About a “Prime Minister” Gone AWOL?

The cumulative evidence unmistakably points to the fact that Zenawi is “absent” within the meaning of Article 72(b) of the Ethiopian Constitution which provides, “The Deputy Prime Minister shall… (b) act on behalf of the Prime Minister in his absence.” Zenawi was absent from the annual parliamentary session where the country’s budget was approved. Desalegn “acted on behalf of the prime minster” during that parliamentary session. There is evidence that Dessalegn has chaired “Council of Ministers” meetings, an act he can perform only in the “absence” of the “prime minister” under Article 72(b). Zenawi was absent from a scheduled NEPAD [New Partnership for Africa’s Development] conference held in Addis Ababa. Senegalese President, Macky Sall chaired the meeting on Zenawi’s behalf. Zenawi has completely vanished from public view for some 46 days. There is no date certain when Zenawi will be present in his office to resume his duties, a fact which points unmistakably to his “absence” from office.

The evasive, equivocating and misleading statements given by Simon and Dessalegn to the public on Zenawi’s diagnosis, treatment and prognosis provide clear and convincing evidence that Zenawi is not “present” in Ethiopia let alone functioning as a “prime minister”. The fact that Simon and Desalegn downplayed Zenawi’s illness as “minor” without revealing the diagnosis is not only manifestly absurd but also an admission of his “absence” due to serious illness. If Zenawi’s illness is indeed “minor” as Simon and Desalegn insist, they could simply state, for instance, that Zenawi is battling a nasty bout of the flu. The total lack of transparency, the shroud of secrecy and mystery in providing accurate and timely information on Zenawi’s health and whereabouts is compelling proof of Zenawi’s “absence”.

The key constitutional question about Zenawi’s “absence” is not whether he is in “good condition”, “recuperating”, “resting”, on vacation or if he plans to come back tomorrow, next week or next month. The dispositive question is whether Zenawi as “prime minister”, for whatever reason and for whatever length of time, is unable or disabled from performing the “powers and duties of the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic” under Article 74(1) (namely serving as “as head of government, chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces”) within the meaning of Article 75(b). All of the available evidence points to one, and only one, conclusion: Zenawi is not in a position to discharge his powers and duties under Article 74 and has left his office without constitutional leave of absence.

Are There Constitutional Remedies in the Case of an AWOL Prime Minister?

In light of the clear and convincing evidence that Zenawi is absent from office for purposes of Article 75 (b), can he be declared constitutionally AWOL? If such a declaration could be made, who has the constitutional power and duty to make it?

Article 72(2) prescribes, “The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are responsible to the House of Peoples’ Representatives [HPR].” The plain meaning of this provision is that the prime minister is ultimately accountable to the HPR. That accountability imposes, first and foremost, an affirmative duty on the “prime minister” to formally notify and provide the HPR with accurate, ongoing and complete information on his health and whereabouts. The available evidence indicates that netiher Zenawi nor his office has provided such information to the HPR.

Article 55(17) provides that the “House of Peoples’ Representatives has the power to call and to question the Prime Minister and other Federal officials and to investigate the Executive’s conduct and discharge of its responsibilities. Article 55(18) provides, “at the request of one-third of its members, [the House of Peoples’ Representatives] shall discuss any matter pertaining to the powers of the executive. It has, in such cases, the power to take decisions or measures it deems necessary.” (See also Art. 76(3).) Under Article 58(4), “the Speaker of the House may call a meeting of the House when it is in recess” to take up urgent business. The Speaker of the House is also obliged to call a meeting of the House at the request of “more than one-half of the members.”

Under the foregoing provisions of the Constitution, the HPR as a whole, or a subset of its members have the constitutional power to call and question the prime minster, deputy prime minster or any other federal officials to ascertain the exact whereabouts and health situation of Zenawi. The HPR has the power to investigate the actual circumstances surrounding Zenawi’s absence from office and complete disappearance from public view. Launching a formal inquiry into the absence of the “prime minister” is an affirmative obligation and unavoidable constitutional duty of the HPR. Such an inquiry can be initiated at the “request of one-third of [HPR] members” when in session, “more than one-half of the members” when the HPR is in recess and/or by the “Speaker of the House” sua sponte at any time.

There could be other constitutional mechanisms to ascertain and secure a declaration of “absence” under Article 75(b). It is possible for any “concerned” or “interested parties” to raise the issue of the “prime minister’s” “absence” as a constitutional matter and seek adjudicatory relief. Article 82 provides for a “Council of Constitutional Inquiry” (CI) and grants it the power to “to investigate constitutional disputes” and “submit its recommendations to the House of the Federation” pursuant to Article 83(1) which must “within thirty days of receipt, decide a constitutional dispute submitted to it by the Council of Constitutional Inquiry (CI).” Article 17 of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry Proclamation No 250/2001 affirms the CI’s investigatory powers and extends subject matter jurisdiction over “any law or decision given by any government organ or official which is alleged to be contradictory to the constitution…” To seek review in the CI under the Proclamation, a litigant need only be a “concerned party” (Art. 17 (3)) or an “interested party (Art. 20(1); e.g. individual, group, political party, etc.). Such a party can request “inquiry” and adjudication into the constitutionally unexcused “absence” of the “prime minister” from office under Article 75(b).

The “status quo” today, to use “Stonewall” Simon’s phrase, is that the “prime minister” is “absent” and the “deputy prime minster” cannot constitutionally succeed the absent “prime minister” under Article 75(b). As a result, the country has no “head of government” (Art. 74(1)) or a functioning constitutional executive branch. Given the urgent and pressing nature of the issue, a “concerned or interested party” should be able to seek expedited review by the CI. Alternatively, a “concerned or interested party” should be able to seek declaratory relief in the “Federal Supreme Court” which has “the highest and final judicial power over Federal matters” under Article 80. Since Article 75(b) raises an indisputable “Federal matter”, the “Federal Supreme Court” should properly exercise jurisdiction and determine whether the “prime minister” is “absent”.

A separate two-pronged constitutional challenge could also be advanced to determine the “absence” of the “prime minister” under subsection 1 of Article 12 of the Constitution which affirmatively requires “activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public.” The secrecy and shroud of mystery surrounding Zenawi’s whereabouts and health situation is contrary to the constitutional mandate of maintaining an “open and transparent” government. Transparency for purposes of Article 75(b) means providing accurate, complete, timely and ongoing information to the public on the status of the “prime minister” to discharge the duties of his office. The people are entitled to know if their “prime minister” is ill, the general nature of his illness, the general nature of the medical treatment he is receiving, where he is receiving such treatment, the general prognosis and his expected or anticipated date of his return to office and whether he is actually acting as “prime minister” under Article 74(1). For purposes of Article 72(2), transparency means providing accurate, complete, timely and ongoing information to the HPR. As a last resort, under subsection (3) of Article 12 the “people may recall any one of their representatives whenever they lose confidence in him.” A recall undertaking in Zenawi’s election district could also produce the answer to the question of whether Zenawi is “absent”.

“Simon Says…”

I have often said that talking constitutional law to Zenawi and crew is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of Heathen. All of the foregoing constitutional analysis will fall on deaf ears partly due to lack of constitutional comprehension by Zenawi and crew and mostly because they do not give a damn. They could not care less about the Constitution, the rule of law and the rest of it. Their 21-year record of trashing the principle of the rule of law proves that the Constitution to them is not worth the paper it is written on. But as someone who believes in the rule of law, I must defend the principle even in the face of seasoned and inveterate constitutional scofflaws.

Having said that, are we all ready to play the well-known children’s game called “Simon says…”? In that game, one player takes the role of “Simon” and issues instructions (usually physical actions such as “stand up” or “sit down”) to the other players. The instruction should only be followed if prefaced with the phrase “Simon says” as opposed to just making the statement. If a player follows an instruction that is not preceded with the phrase, “Simon says…”, the player is kicked out of the game. The object for the player acting as “Simon” is to get all of the other players kicked “out” of the game as quickly as possible. The winner of the game is the last player who has successfully followed all of the given commands. So “’Stonewall’ Simon says Zenawi will return to his office shortly.” “Zenawi is on vacation…” “Simon says Zenawi has gone AWOL…!!!”

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

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and

Deutsche Welle: A Disgrace to Press Freedom?

Alemayehu G Mariam

In a memorandum sent to Deutsche Welle’s (DW) [Germany’s international broadcaster] “correspondents outside Ethiopia” in late 2010,  Ludger Schadomsky, editor-in-chief of DW’s Amharic program, blasted “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” as a “disgrace” to press freedom.  “The amount of hatred splashed across [ethiomedia] is a disgrace to any politically sober mind,” declared Shadomsky self-righteously.  To shelter his staff from the crazed haters (not of sober mind), Schadomsky issued a strict gag order: “Let me make it very plain that I will not have DW correspondents contribute ‘Letters-to-the editor’ or articles to ethiomedia and similar sites.”

Why is Schadomsky bent out of shape over “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension”? Apparently, he had been chewed out, tongue-lashed, dressed down, squeezed, badgered, blackmailed and “monitored” by none other than dictator Meles Zenawi’s {www:doppelganger} in charge of information. Schadomsky explained to his staff:

You will be aware of the close monitoring of the Ethiopian government of any activities by our staff members perceived to be ‘opposition activities’. I have a number of names thrown at me by Bereket Simon every time I am in Addis… We will be embarking on another attempt to secure additional licenses in Ethiopia. You will appreciate that any activity outside the realm of objective news reporting will harm those efforts, and is generally not in line with our editorial policy.”

In an “Open letter to” in January 2012, intended to refute “a number of articles on Ethiomedia alleging self-censorship at DW Amharic,” Schadomsky triumphantly depicted himself as a fearless defender of press freedom and a {www:paragon} of journalistic integrity. He declared unabashedly:

I would like to go on record as saying that we at DW Amharic neither bow to pressure from the government of Ethiopia, nor give in to the increasingly outrageous demands made by radicalized opposition figures and organizations. Our editorial policy is guided by one principle only, namely: to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.

Schadomsky claimed to be “flabbergasted” by allegations made in an “open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that DW Amharic deliberately shuns voices critical of the [Ethiopian] government in its programmes.” He carped, “One expects a certain degree of harassment from an authoritarian government… (but) I did not expect the same, and worse, harassment from people who claim to champion democracy and freedom of speech.” He pontificated: “You don’t have to be a citizen of a country still struggling with its Nazi past to find the phrase ‘the fascist Woyanne regime in Addis Ababa’ horribly inappropriate, no matter how much one may disagree with the present government.”

Who is a Disgrace to Press Freedom?

As Schadomsky furiously wags an accusatory finger at “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” and vilifies them as a “disgrace”, he fails to notice that three fingers are silently and squarely pointing at him. But closer scrutiny of Shadomsky’s claims reveal some unsettling facts:

Editorial Policy: Shadomsky vaguely alludes to DW’s “editorial policy”, which he claims is “guided by one principle only, namely: to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.” How does he reasonably expect to provide “free and fair information” to the Ethiopian people when is on his hands and knees groveling for  “additional broadcasting licenses”? When did freedom (in any from including expression and the press) become a licensable activity or commodity in Germany?

Editorial policy uninformed by ethical and professional standards and principles of press freedom is pointless and delusional.  The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (which has been in operation since 1909 and universally adopted by professional journalists) urges journalists  to “give voice to the voiceless” and to “tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so”. It instructs professional journalists to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and to “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” Schadomsky does not seem to be aware of these obligations.

Curiously, Schadomsky seems to have a very narrow understanding of journalism as he commands his staff to stay away from “any activity outside the realm of objective news reporting”. In pursuit of political correctness and “additional broadcasting licenses”, he has resolved to sacrifice news analysis, editorials and presentation of divergent viewpoints to his audience. Following Schadomsky’s “objective news theory”, DV Amharic could report that a major Ethiopian opposition political figure has been jailed, but related news or discussions of the legality of the imprisonment and the pattern and practice of official political persecution and human rights violations which nurture such arbitrary arrests and detentions in the country would be off limits.  “Objective news” is meaningless without context, frame of reference. If “objective news” reporting is about fairness, accuracy and minimization of bias, the best way to achieve that is to allow expression of divergent views and opinions, and not underestimate the intelligence of Ethiopian listeners to separate fact from opinion.

The claim of pursuit of “objective news” is contradicted by other facts. For instance, coverage of certain opposition figures including Birtukan Midekssa while she was in prison was off limits. There is evidence showing that members of Zenawi’s embassy in Germany have met with DW’s Amharic staff at least twice and dictated terms and conditions to Schadomsky for their cooperation and granting of additional licenses. Among these conditions include DV’s avoidance of human rights related issues, banning of certain individuals from DV microphones (a fact Shadomsky admits when he stated in his memo, “I have a number of names thrown at me by Bereket Simon every time I am in Addis…”) and glorification of the economic and political progress made under Zenawi’s leadership.

Schadomsky also appears to believe that his editorial policy of tokenism by inviting a handful of Ethiopian opposition representatives from time to time proves journalistic neutrality and inclusiveness. He seems to believe that an occasional interview with Thilo Hoppe, German lawmaker and critic of Zenawi’s regime, opposition leader Berhanu Nega and “sole opposition MP, Ato Girma Seifu” in Ethiopia adequately represents the diversity of  Ethiopian opposition views, or affords opponents of Zenawi’s  regime a fair opportunity to be heard. But this policy of tokenism belies Schadomsky’s systematic and relentless browbeaitng and badgering of the Amharic staff to avoid certain subjects and ban certain critics of Zenawi’s regime from DW’s microphones, including Eskinder Nega, the present author and others.

But Schadomsky’s issues appear to go beyond lack of basic familiarity with professional journalistic ethics, conflict of interest principles, difficulties with truth-telling and imperious and cavalier treatment of his staff. Schadomsky can be challenged in three specific areas: 1) He simply cannot back up his accusatory claims which buttress his conclusion that “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” are a disgrace to press freedom and the politically sober mind. 2) He manifests extreme sensitivity to criticism of his editorial policy or allegations of “self-censorship” and being a regime “mouthpice”.  3) There are significant questions which raise doubt about his professional competence to discharge his duties as editor-in chief of the Amharic program.

Hate Speech: In his January 2012 “Open Letter” Schadomisky alleges: “It is our view that some of the content splashed across certain news sites constitutes hate speech, and DW will not allow opinion pieces by its journalists to be posted alongside hate speech.” This conclusion is unsupported in Art. 5 (1) or other provisions of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (BL). Under the BL, there is a world of difference between offering an opinion and engaging in hate speech. Art. 5(1) guarantees that “Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing…”

On the other hand, hate speech refers to “utterances which tend to insult, intimidate or harass a person or groups or utterances capable of instigating violence, hatred or discrimination.” The German Federal Constitutional Court has held that “opinions are characterized by an element of taking a position and of appraising” and “demonstration of their truth or untruth is impossible.” Consequently, opinions “enjoy the basic right’s (BL) protection regardless of whether their expression is judged to be well-founded or unfounded, emotional or rational, valuable or worthless, dangerous or harmless… and do not lose this protection by being sharply or hurtfully worded.”

Schadomsky’s offers only one concrete example of alleged hate speech by “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” in his hyperbolic allegations of “splashed hate”. He claims: “You don’t have to be a citizen of a country still struggling with its Nazi past to find the phrase the ‘fascist Woyane regime in Addis Ababa’ horribly inappropriate, no matter how much one may disagree with the present government.”

This alleged example of  “hate speech” is nothing more than an opinion — a value judgment, a statement of belief or impression —  and is fully protected by Art. 5(1) of BL.  Fascism is a discredited, though historically a dominant, political ideology. It extolls a party and state led by one supreme leader who exercises dictatorial powers over the party, the government and other state institutions. Fascist regimes reject liberal (“neoliberal”) forms of democracy based on majority rule and egalitarianism in favor of centralized power in the hands of a few.

It is not “hate speech” for one to call a regime a “fascist Woyane regime” (“Woyane” referring to a rebellion in Northern Ethiopia in 1943)  if one holds such an opinion. Neither is it hate speech to lambaste Diaspora  Ethiopian critics as “fundamentalist neo-liberals”, “extremist hardliners” or to bandy other silly but colorful descriptions.

Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism. For reasons that are not apparent, Schadomsky goes ballistic when faced with criticism. He seems to be particularly stung by criticism that his program practices “self-censorship” and has become a “mouthpiece” of Zenawi’s regime, something he claims has “dumfounded him” in light of the fact that the “Government of Ethiopia routinely jams our broadcasts for months at a time… and [has] refused us additional reporter licenses”. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Schadomsky doth protest too much, methinks.” By overreacting to such criticism, caustic and scathing as they may sound, Schadomsky risks validating them. The fact of the matter is that those in the media must tolerate criticism of their work and role because it comes with the territory. They just have to deal with it, not mope around moaning and groaning about it!

Competence to Serve as Editor-in-Chief: There is evidence to suggest that DW has a basic policy of appointing editors-in-chief in its radio programs who have facility in the particular programming language. For instance, the editors of the Africa programs — Hausa, Kiswahili, Portuguese — are said to be fluent in their respective languages. Schadomsky is said to have no fluency whatsoever in Amharic and largely depends on a single subordinate for advice and counsel in making editorial decisions. While this is an administrative matter, it does detract significantly from Schadomsky’s claim “to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.” His handicap in the Amharic language and reliance on the “heavily curtailed” information he receives from a single subordinate makes his claim of serving millions of Ethiopians rather hollow, if not laughable.

Schadomsky’s memo demonstrates that he is obsessed with political correctness, and fearful of unleashing the wrath of the powers that be in Ethiopia. This untenable situation has created a credibility gap for DV and a gullibility gap for Schadomsky. He can claim that there is no “self-censorship” at DV Amharic; but his memorandum is proof positive that there is not only self-censorship but also fear and loathing among his staff who wince at the very thought of expressing their views under his gag order. He can mount a campaign of fear and smear against “ethiomedia and similar websites by extension” and bombard them with verbal pyrotechnics in an attempt to deflect attention from his professional deficits and anemic ethical standards.

The fact of the matter is that the credibility of DV Amharic has been damaged beyond repair after the  revelation of Schadomsky’s sanctimonious memorandum. As long as he remains at the helm, DV Amharic will be regarded by millions of Ethiopians as self-censoring, cowardly and trifling. Those who may listen to DV Amharic may do so not out of thirst for useful information but sheer habit. For most, DV Amharic will remain background static noise over the airwaves.

Apology is Due to Ethiomedia and Other Pro-Democracy Ethiopian Websites 

Schadomsky owes “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” an apology. He has unfairly characterized them as hateful and not having a “politically sober mind”. In other words, he has called them crazy hatemongers. They have their own viewpoints and perspectives as they are entitled to have; and they are passionate about their beliefs. Whatever faults they may have, one of them is not putting on a charade of being an independent news agency.  I am confident that Ethiomedia and the other Ethiopian pro-democracy websites fully subscribe to the proposition that “A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press, must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the right of the people to know.”

There is no disgrace in standing up for one’s beliefs; but it is a disgrace to speak with forked tongue. My deepest gratitude and appreciation goes to all of the pro-democracy Ethiopian websites worldwide.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and

Ethiopia: The Silence of Lying Lips

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Lies, Junk and Cut-and-Paste

Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia, says he does not want to talk about the 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights [Report] in Ethiopia. But speaking through his parrot Hailemariam Desalegn, Zenawi said the Report is a meaningless “cut and paste” exercise and will be treated with “the contempt it deserves”:

The last two years we have engaged ourselves with the authorities of the United States and discussed several meetings on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. We thought we had convinced each other on many of the issues…  If this is not considered at all, then there is no need to accept this report as something that can help us.  So that’s why we dismissed the report totally because it is based on unfounded allegations which are baseless… We said this is a methodology failure. So if the United States is worried about the human rights challenge, then it should be critically evaluated. So if it is ‘cut and paste,’ then it doesn’t give any meaning to anyone. So we said, if it continues like this, it has nothing to do with changing and improving the human rights situation in Ethiopia.

Desalegn said the Report would not affect the “cordial relationship” between Addis Ababa and Washington. With snooty sarcasm he emphasized, “we dismiss the report, we have not dismissed the United States.” Translation: We will gladly pickpocket  American Joe and Jane Taxpayer to the tune of USD$1 billion a year, but they can take their human rights report and shove it.

Last year Zenawi blasted the 2009 human rights Report as “lies, lies and implausible lies.” He even ridiculed the U.S. State Department for not preparing a report based on true lies:

The least one could expect from this report, even if there are lies is that they would be plausible ones. But that is not the case. It is very easy to ridicule it [report], because it is so full of loopholes (sic). They could very easily have closed the loopholes and still continued to lie.”

Zenawi’s consigliere, Bereket Simon, called the 2009 Report “the same old junk” released “to punish the image (sic) of Ethiopia and try if possible to derail the peaceful and democratic election process.”

Defending against unfavorable or critical reports of international human rights and other organizations by delivering a barrage of scorn, sarcasm and derision is standard operating procedure for Zenawi’s regime. In November 2010, Zenawi blitzkrieged the European Union Election Observer Report on the May 2010 election in Ethiopia as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage“.

The State Department human rights report does not “deserve” condemnation in barnyard language, but diplomatic praise for its rigorous analysis and reporting of human rights abuses. The Report is an important policy instrument  submitted by the U.S. Secretary of State to the Speaker of the House of the U.S. Congress annually pursuant to amended sections 116(d) and 502 B (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and 504 of the Trade Act of 1974.  Using the Report, Congress aims to hold U.S. aid recipient “governments accountable to their obligations under international human rights instruments” and promote the rule of law, expressive freedoms,  women’s, children’s and minority rights in recipient countries. The U.S. State Department says it uses the findings and conclusions of the Report in “shaping policy, conducting diplomacy, and making assistance, training, and other resource allocations” and in determining “U.S. Government’s cooperation with private groups to promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights.” But the annual Report has broader significance in the global struggle for human rights. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explained, the human rights

reports are an essential tool – for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places.

Taking cheap shots at the Report by calling it “lies”, “junk” and “cut and paste” is to put on public display one’s abysmal ignorance of the American policy and legal process. To be sure, submitting any document to Congress containing “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry” (i.e. “lies, lies and implausible lies”) is a serious crime subject to a five-year prison sentence under Title 18, section 1001 (a) (3) (c) (1) (2). If there are any statements in the Report that fall under the foregoing section of Title 18, it is incumbent upon anyone with evidence of such statements to lodge a complaint and request a formal investigation with the Office of the Speaker of the U.S. House, among other federal law enforcement authorities. Launching a tirade against the U.S. is no defense against the naked truth that Zenawi’s regime is a notorious violator of human rights, nor is it a substitute for substantial and credible evidence to support a claim of false statement.

Failure of Methodology?

Desalegn parrots his boss when he says there is “a methodology failure” that consigns the Report to the ash-heap of “contempt”. Over the years, Zenawi has used similar vague and unsubstantiated accusations of  “methodological” flaws in a futile attempt to discredit unfavorable human rights reports on his regime. In 2008, Zenawi alleged that methodological flaws in a Human Rights Watch report on the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia amounted to manufactured lies. It is a fact that Zenawi’s regime has thwarted and frustrated every effort by human rights organizations to conduct open and independent investigations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia. By labeling the truth a lie, Zenawi seems to believe that he can indeed change the truth into a lie.

There is nothing secret or sinister about the “methodology” and data collection procedures of the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Report is based on a compilation of information from a variety of sources. U.S. embassies collect “information throughout the year from a variety of sources across the political spectrum, including government officials, jurists, armed forces sources, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.” U.S. Foreign Service Officers undertake investigations of human rights abuses under difficult and not infrequently under “dangerous conditions”. They “monitor elections, and come to the aid of individuals at risk, such as political dissidents and human rights defenders whose rights are threatened by their governments.” The initial drafts of the Reports are completed at the embassies and submitted for review to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department. Information collected by other sources including “US and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the United Nations and other international and regional organizations and institutions and academic, media experts” and other sources are also evaluated and included to ensure accuracy, balance and corroboration.

The Reports reflect the work of hundreds of highly experienced and knowledgeable employees in the State Department and other branches of the U.S. Government. For the Report to be “lies, lies and implausible lies”, there must be a grand criminal conspiracy of hundreds of officials in the U.S. Government, including Secretary of State Clinton.

What’s in the “Contemptible”  2010 Human Rights Report on Ethiopia?

Here are some of the “lies, lies and implausible lies” in the 56-page Report:

There was no proof that the government and its agents committed any politically motivated killings during the year… [but] there were credible reports of involvement of security forces in the killings…in the Somali region…” (p.2.)

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, there were innumerable reports of local police, militia members, and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) seizing… opposition political activists. (p.4.)

On September 10, the federal government and Amhara and Oromia regional governments granted pardons to more than 9,000 prisoners, in keeping with a longstanding tradition for celebration of the new year on September 11. (p. 10.)

The UN Committee Against Torture noted in a November 19 report that it was ‘deeply concerned’ about ‘numerous, ongoing, and consistent allegations’ concerning “the routine use of torture” by the police, prison officers and others. (p.4.)

The country has three federal and 120 regional prisons. There also are many unofficial detention centers throughout the country… Most are located at military camps… Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common… Many prisoners had serious health problems in detention but received little treatment.  (p. 6.)

Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions. (p. 8.)

The Ethiopian government and regional governments began to put in place “villagization” plans in the Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz regions… The plan involves the resettlement of 45,000 households… [T]here were reports of local skepticism and resentment… because much of the land was or was to be leased to foreign companies (pp. 14-15.)

The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals… Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government. (p. 15.)

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, the government did not respect these rights in practice. The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors. (p. 19.)

The government restricted academic freedom during the year. Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and actively prohibited partisan political activity and association of any kind on university campuses. (p. 25.)

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government limited this right in practice. (p. 27.)

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully. In practice the country has never had a peaceful change of government, and the ruling EPRDF and its allies dominated the government. In May [2010] elections, the EPRDF … won more than 99 percent of all legislative seats…. [T]here was ample evidence that unfair government tactics–including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters–influenced the extent of that victory. (p.32.)

The constitution provides citizens the right to freely join political organizations of their choice; however, in practice these rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles and government and ruling party intimidation, harassment, and arrests, with physical threats and violence used by local officials and EPRDF operatives, local police, and shadowy local militias under the control of local EPRDF operatives. (p. 33.)

The World Bank’s 2009 Worldwide Governance Indicators made it clear that corruption remained a serious problem… [S]ome government officials appeared to manipulate the privatization process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit. (p. 37.)

The law provides for public access to government information, but access was largely restricted in practice. (p. 38.)

The government harassed individuals who worked for domestic human rights organizations. (p. 40)

The government denied NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and political prisoners. There were credible reports that security officials continued to intimidate or detain local individuals to prevent them from meeting with NGOs and foreign government officials investigating allegations of abuse. (p. 41.)

There were no further developments in the July 2009 case of the 444 staff members, including high-ranking officials, fired by the Addis Ababa Police Commission for involvement in serious crimes, including armed robbery, rape, and theft. (p.8.)

Women and girls experienced gender-based violence daily, but it was underreported due to cultural acceptance, shame, fear, or a victim’s ignorance of legal protections… Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. The 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 81 percent of women believed a husband had a right to beat his wife. (p. 42.)

Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment; however, harassment-related laws were not enforced. (p. 43.)

Child abuse was widespread. Unlike in previous years there was no training of police officers on procedures for handling cases of child abuse. (p. 45.)

There were an estimated 5.4 million orphans in the country, according to the report of Central Statistics Authority. Government-run orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Due to severe resource constraints, hospitals and orphanages often overlooked or neglected abandoned infants. (p. 47.)

There were approximately seven million persons with disabilities, according to the Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities. There was one mental hospital and an estimated 10 psychiatrists in the country [of 80 million people.] (p. 48.)

If the foregoing facts are “lies, lies and implausible lies”, the U.S. State Department must be held accountable for issuing false, misleading and deceptive reports and those involved in its preparation should be prosecuted. But if it is the truth that keeps the human rights abusers in Ethiopia closemouthed, then as Scriptures counsel, “Let the lying lips be put to silence.”