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Who jailed Eskinder and the rest?

By Yilma Bekele

The headlines screamed ‘Ethiopian court convicts 24 of terrorism charges’. As usual it was a misleading and incorrect statement. There is no such animal called Ethiopian court. There is a TPLF controlled judicial arrangement in Ethiopia. Prime Minster Meles and his politburo are the directors behind the scene of this farce. For the last twenty-one years they have been using the power of the state to marginalize, terrorize, demean and undermine the Ethiopian citizen. We are so used to their bullying the average Ethiopian does not even dwell on it. We make that peculiar noise with our lips you know that hissing sound and move on.

Our brothers Eskinder Nega, Andualem Arage, Wubshet Taye our sister Reyot Alemu and the others whose names are not publicized were convicted for exercising their right to speak and write freely. They only used their voice and their choice of weapon was the pen and paper. There was no evidence to show otherwise. Ato Eskinder has the audacity to speculate the chance of Arab Spring migrating to Ethiopia. Ato Andualem was simply trying to organize and recruit people to his legally recognized party. Reyot and Wubshet were doing their job as journalist and reporter. In any other country this is a normal and routine kind of job. But we are not like any other country or any other people. Our Ethiopia has always been different. Not only we got strange and bizarre leaders but we also have a different breed of people.

Yes we are different both inside Ethiopia and in the Diaspora. A vast majority of us have decided to accept shame as normal behavior and we even celebrate it loudly and wear it with pride. We victimize each other our country and people and we are the first ones to holler foul. It is done so much and so often it is becoming a little boring. I am afraid we have lost any semblance of respect for our selves and what is sad is others are losing respect for both victim and victimizer. They deserve each other is what comes to mind.

Asians have this philosophy referred to as Ying and Yang to describe how opposites are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Nothing is totally yin or totally yang. Female and male, dark and light, cold and hot, water and fire are manifestations of yin and yang. ‘Just as the state of yin is reached yang begins to grow. Yin contains seed of yang and vice versa. They constantly transform each other. The classics state ‘yin creates yang and yang activates yin’. I am afraid that philosophy is not true in our country. Our yin and yang are not in balance. The harmonious change envisioned in the philosophy has gone haywire when it comes to us. Too much of one is bound to weaken and consume the other. That is happening in our society. This phenomenon is so clearly manifested in the Ethiopian Diaspora community.

Let us start with our yearly soccer tournament. It is such a beautiful and positive activity that it has energized our community for the last twenty-five years or more. It should be our pride and a showcase of how much good we can do when we work together. Unfortunately it is also the other side of us where a few can use this positive energy for negative purpose. Those that have been leading the organization have been using the proceeds as cash cow and also as a vehicle to undermine our unity and sell our country to the highest bidder. We let them do that. We see, we hear but we choose to be silent. We have this notion that ignoring bad deed will make it go away.

Thus the Ethiopian Soccer Federation in North America (ESFNA) governing body at long last voted to start fresh and reform this rogue outfit. Of course those who are so used to working behind the scene in the dark were not willing to go silently. They were taken to a real court that ordered to cease and deceit from using the name of the organization and also answer a few question regarding finances and book keeping. What did they do? They went to their sugar daddy and applied for welfare. The same person that is fully integrated with that other rogue outfit called the TPLF supposedly gave them $2 million US to carry out their mission of dividing us and setting us against each other. They, like their father and mentor Meles Zenawi do not believe in self-imitative but run to the nearest welfare donor to get their funding. He sells our land, borrow in our name and steals in consort with his friends, sells our daughters to Middle East degenerates and ours squander their payment in renting stadium to entertain the rich and greedy. Money can buy you anything including entertainers that got their start from the Diaspora but now serve a new master to undermine their benefactors. Definitely Yin and yang are not in harmony or in balance.

If we look at our Church in exile it is something to be proud of. It is a place where our rich culture and ancient religion is celebrated like never before. It is a place where our fathers and mothers in exile find peace and happiness and every week and mentally transport themselves to that place they call home. It is a place where our children learn how social we are and how we respect and value our culture and country. It is such a beautiful feeling to see our children come in front of the congregation when they graduate from high school to be blessed by the priest and proudly inform us their choice of college. Then we have the troublemakers in every city and town. Their mission is to disrupt and divide us. There is no church spared from these prince’s of darkness that scheme behind the scene and attempt to take over the leadership. If that does not succeed they have no qualms in waging a relentless war to undermine and weaken and disparage all those that stand between them and their evil scheme. Our city is going thru such a painful process and it is sad to see families and friends in turmoil. Most of us allow them to do that by our silence and apathy. It is another instance yin and yangs are not in harmony.

A few days ago we had a fund raising activity for ESAT and also celebrate Ato Abebe’s heroic stand for his people and country by exposing the tyrant in front of his enablers and the whole world. There was no question a vast majority of our people was empowered by his action. There are most certainly over ten thousand Ethiopians in the Bay area where the event was held. Less than two hundred brave souls showed up to help raise fund to make ESAT a powerful force in the struggle against tyranny. A good amount was collected from those who came. We are happy and grateful. But I find it odd that out of all these country and freedom loving folks only a handful showed up. Why do you think it is so?

They all seem to harbor negative feelings against the TPLF regime. It is odd to meet some one that would speak favorably regarding the actions of the dictator or his polices. Every Starbucks and every coffee house is full of these talkers parsing the actions of the TPLF party. How come they don’t take the next logical step, which is to help bring this ugly regime to its knees? Why is there such a wide gulf between talk and action? Here is what President Obama said on his visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington a few months back speaking of the victims of nazi horror:

He said “Let us tell our children not only how they died, but also how they lived—as fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who loved hoped and dreamed just like us — we must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen – because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent – We must tell our children. But more than that, we must teach them. Because remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. In this sense, “never again” is a challenge to us all—to pause and to look within.”

‘Awareness without action changes noting’ is the key phrase and that is what is escaping us. That is so many of us talk but are unable to move beyond that. We kid ourselves or we expect someone else to do the job for us. Is that why when Kinijit kicked Woyane’s ass so many people were pushing each other to get to the center of the action? We had a visitor to our church from Canada. Abune Michael of Calgary gave a memorable sermon a few Sundays back. What stuck in my mind was his saying ‘meswatenet yelelew emnet’ or belief without sacrifice I believe that is ying without yang.

Fear not all is not lost. We also have our Ethiopian Heritage Society of North America (EHSNA). They are celebrating their second anniversary from July 27-29 in Washington DC. Last years event with Judge Bertukan Mideksa was a huge success. This is one venue where our flag fly high our culture is celebrated with all its diversity and our history is told with all its glory. It is a family affair and our young ones and children are given the respect and attention they deserve. The March 2012 Adwa Victory celebration organized by EHSNA gave our ancestors gallant effort the highest honor reserved for such Herculean deed. We salute the organizers for shining a bright light on our accomplishments as people in this time of doom and gloom. This is one organization that is trying to bring balance between our yin and yang. We can see perfect harmony between the opposites.

Each one of us is faced with a choice. We can be carriers of change or we can follow the path of destruction. Change does not happen without effort. Those that are hell bent in bullying and dividing us are not going to leave voluntarily. No one willingly gives up his privileged position. It has never happened. They are unable or unwilling to see the freedom train coming at them at full speed. That is what happened to Mubarak, Gadaffi faithfully believed his people loved him and we see Assad for some reason thinking that he can save himself and his clan by killing all Syrians if necessary. Dictators are a rare breed of people. Meles honestly believes he can last a while longer. Locked in his palace surrounded by his yes men reading his own review and watching his one channel TV he is intoxicated by his own lies. Twenty-one years is a long time to be isolated from normal people. It is possible to create ones own make believe world.

How come we see Libya, Egypt, Yemen and now Syria and do not learn? How come we do not work a little harder to avoid such catastrophe? Why do we allow Eskinder, Andualem and all the other fellow Ethiopians pay the price on our behalf? How come we are unable to say no and show outrage at such act of injustice by a handful of people? Do you think Meles jailed our brothers and sister or do you think we allowed him to do such ugly deed due to our indifference and apathy? Is the blame on the dictator or on the vast majority that lets him gets away with this criminal act? I am sure we are all disgusted with this farce of jailing people for life because they spoke what the regime does not approve of. What is next, to go to prison accused of bad thought? Why not the dictator has no incentive not to follow that route. He knows we will take it silently. Didn’t we when Professor Asrat was denied medical treatment, when Asefa Maru was gunned down, when Judge Bertukan was jailed twice, when Gambella was sold, when our children are left to die in the jungles of Central Africa and their bodies scatted on the highways of Tanzania and the waters of Lake Malawi or Gulf of Aden? Yes no question about it we are responsible for the jailing of Eskinder and all the rest. Frankly I am bored and tired of shifting the blame.

Further reading:

ESFNA – an ugly face of Ethiopia

By Yilma Bekele

ልክ ነው ብዙ የተጣሱ አሰራሮች አሉ። ለዚህም ነው በመጀመሪያም ይቅርታ ለመጠየቅ የፈለኩት። የሥራ አስኪያጅ ኮሚቴው ሥራውን ብቁ በሆነ መንገድ እንዳልስራ እኔ ማመን ፈልጋለሁ። ለድምፅ እንኳን መቅረብ አልነበረበትም። ይሄን ነገር ድምፁን ግን እንደገና የመነጋገር መብት የቦርዱ አባሎች መብት ነው። በሚቀጥለው ቀን ፔትሽን ተፈርሞ ምናምን የሚል ሕግ የለም። ስሜታዊነት ነበረ ተናግሬዋለሁ። ኃይለ ቃሎች ነበሩ። ተናግሬዋለሁ። ማንም ስው ማንም ላይ ጠመንጃ የያዘ የለም። እንደዚያ አይነት ግኑኝነትም ስብሰባ አይደለም። ስሜታዊ ስብሰባ ነበረ። እርግጥ ድምፅ ከፍ ባለ ሁኔታ ነበር የሚነነጋገረው። ግን ዋናው ስው እንዲገነዘብልኝ እናንተም እንድታውቁት የምፈልገው ያንን መጀመሪያ ድምፅ የስጡት ሰዎች ማንም ያስገደዳቻው የለም። አይሆንም በዚያው በድምፃችን እንቀጥላለን ብለው መቅረት ሲችሉ እራሳቸው አንድ ባንድ ተነስተው ማይክሮፎኑን ይዝው እኔ ድምፄን ያመጣሁትን መልሻለሁ በሚል ነው የወስኑት።


It is true lots of illegal things were done. That is why I apologized ahead. I want to admit that the executive committee did not carry its duties in a proper manner. The issue should not have been brought for voting at all on the other hand it is the board’s prerogative to bring the issue back for further discussion. There is no such thing (in the bylaws) as revising the issue at a later date using petition. It was an emotional meeting as I have indicated. Harsh words were exchanged. On the other hand no one was armed with guns. It is not such type of meeting. I want all to understand and you (VOA) to be aware that those who voted for the motion withdrew their support without coercion and it was their decision.

The above is part of the interview granted by Ato Fasil Abebe, the public relations head of ESFNA, to Ato Adissu Abebe and Ato Alula Kebede of Voice of America (VOA). The VOA reporters were patient with Ato Fasil. They asked him probing questions laced with facts from the organization’s past. I am afraid Ato Fasil was not able to answer their questions to the listeners satisfaction. It was a lesson in good journalism when they allowed their guest to escape bloodied but not down so he can contemplate the gravity of the situation. I presume Ato Addisu and Ato Alula felt further probe will not serve the communities interest.

I found Ato Fasil’s answers to be a reflection of our attitude towards the law, rules and regulations and general civility in our community. At the bat he admitted rules were broken, chaos reigned, and the meeting was reduced to a shouting and insulting match, but at the same time he is willing to argue and defend decisions taken under these circumstances as valid and binding. This situation is familiar to us Ethiopians. Might makes right. Rules are inconveniences that can be ignored or redefined after the event to justify what was done.

I am sure ESFNA folks have figured out ‘these Abeshas will complain, really get exited and move on to the next drama and life will go on as usual.’

I am afraid they might be right. If I have to bet I will go with them. Although our country is known for its marathon runners, we in the Diaspora are sprinters. We accelerate and tire easy. We overheat quickly and cool down fast. It is obvious we have created ESFNA in our own image. It is easy to ignore individual madness but when an an organization goes rogue, it sort of exhibits our collective fault for the world to see. We witness this shameful act of betrayal of trust and general hooliganism and we feign surprise. We know it is wrong but somehow we step back and refuse to correct and remedy the situation.

Why? When did we develop this habit of not standing for what is right? Why do we let the criminal elements amongst us to run amok and make our exile existence miserable? How come we always start with good intentions, lofty principles but end up holding a broken organization with members at each others throat? Of all immigrants we are the ones always congregating together, forming little enclaves, running small businesses, worshiping together and generally hanging out like a family. Why are we unable to build on this tremendous reserve of love for country and culture into a formidable organization that reflects the new us? The ‘us’ that left our home land due to civil war, strife, lack of opportunity and dictatorship and settled in a new land and thrive like no one. We work hard, we are an asset to the organizations we work for, the community we live in, but are totally useless when it comes to associating on a new and higher level as Ethiopians.

ESFNA is our challenge. This should be where we draw the line. It is not about what happened yesterday. It is all about what we can build for tomorrow. This is the best opportunity to create an organization built on solid foundation of transparency, accountability and a promise of serving the community and our country. All the parts are there, it is just a matter of having the will and the stamina to put it together for future generations to enjoy and grow.

We are thankful to those that started the organization. We pay our respects to those that kept it going. Today we are focused on improving on it and making it the power house of good will that it should be. We want it to be an organization that will usher a new model of work based on respect for each other, love for each other and hope for all that look up to us. Obviously we can not do that in Ethiopia. We can start the process here. ESFENA should be our prototype of a superior style of organization building.

The current leadership of the organization should admit that the existing format is not sustainable. It was fine when the outfit was operating in the dark. Well the bright light of public awareness and scrutiny is shining on ESFNA. There are two avenues open to the current leadership. Accept the fact that change is coming and help implement the reforms necessary or continue on the path of denial and see the organization implode from inside. That does not serve anybody’s interest. That only confirms the suspicion some have regarding the lawlessness and bad intentions of the leadership. I don’t want to believe that. I am sure there are plenty that mean well but go along with the culture of thuggery that has been practiced for so long. Let us encourage those that want real change and build on that.

The current crisis is not just about whether Birtukan should be invited or not. That just happened to magnify the ‘bad style’ of work that used to be acceptable. It magnified the festering problem inside the organization. I am sure there are plenty of association that would love to see the Birtukan. No, the issue is how the organization dealt with the question. First of all, this argument of ‘non-profit’ and ‘politics’ has been debunked. Our esteemed lawyers have answered that question. There are no attorneys in the executive body, nor have they brought a written opinion from a law firm to support their mistaken take on the issue. Let us put that view to rest.

Second, ESFNA was unable to show what parliamentary procedure it used to overturn the binding vote taken regarding the invitation. Thus the original decision still stands. As far as we are concerned, the invitation is still on the table and it is up to Birtukan to accept or differ for later time. Our concern is how to reform this organization to serve the interest of the community instead of a few individuals that are focused on running it to line up their pockets and protect outside forces that do not reflect the hopes and aspirations of our people and country.

I believe we should concentrate on two fronts. Number one is the issue of ‘empowering’ the clubs to assume responsibility of representing their supporters in a meaningful manner. The ‘clubs’ are the owners of the organization. The executive body is there to implement the decision made by the clubs. As it stands now, the roles have been reversed. The executive committee is a runaway train with the public and the clubs reduced to shoveling more fuel. This train should be derailed in a controlled fashion. We ask the clubs to take over their rightful place and demand accountability.

The second front is to demand release of all financial statement for the last seven years. Our public accountants should be allowed to comb through the income tax returns and draw up a yearly budget based on past records. This is not a witch hunt, but a sincere attempt to build a successful and proud organization. We hope the current executive body will read the writing on the wall and cooperate in a meaningful manner. The aim should be to build, not destroy; to teach, not punish and forgive but not forget. It is up to the executive body to choose. It is up to the ‘sane and reasonable’ among them to curb the misguided enthusiasm and anger of their comrades.

ESFNA is considered and holds the license to operate as a not-for profit outfit. That designation entitles it to lots of tax benefits so it will fulfill the vision it enumerated in its application. The license demands of it to operate in an open and transparent manner. Holding the not-profit license is a privilege not a right.

Atlanta is going to happen. We should make it clear that we are not going anywhere. Atlanta is where we make our stand. We do not boycott our own wedding. We do not split and form another organization. ‘Teletafi’ is not our cup of tea. We should just insist that democratic, transparent and accountable style of work is the only thing acceptable to the majority. Each and everyone of us should work with the clubs to help them achieve the fruits of their labor. Their success is our success. As you know the vast majority of those that attend the yearly festival are the young ones. We should find a way to involve them in this building process so they will experience the value of a democratic style of association and work habit. It is not going to happen in one session. It is not take roots in one season. Growing a strong organization is hard work. We can vow to start it today.

ESFNA and the art of lying

By Yilma Bekele

What is it about us Ethiopians that invite abuse? Is there a big fat lettering stuck on our forehead that proclaims ‘I am stupid?’ It is not some idle question but a subject that requires some soul searching and must be answered if we have to move forward and expect to bring positive change to ourselves, our surrounding and our poor country.

What brought this important question to the surface is the recent action by none other than the infamous ESFNA (Ethiopian sports federation in North America) and its Board of Director’s ongoing dysfunctional behavior. This is not the first time ESFENA have gone the extra mile to humiliate its constituents. What I have in mind is ESFNA’s acceptance of large amount of money from good old Sheikh Al Amudi back in 2008 and the condemnation it received from the North American public. They promised to be mindful of their responsibility to the public and claimed that they will work on the question of accountability. It was an empty gesture.

Here we are 2010 and we can see this wild animal is not tamed yet. They decided to insult and disrespect their cash cow once again. This time it is no other than the honorable Judge/Chairwoman Bertukan they decided to dis.

Very timely and educational articles were written to clarify the situation and encourage rational discussion on the subject. I am referring to the opinion pieces by Ato Ephrem Madebo and Ato Shakespear N. Feyissa on our independent Web sites.

The response to this invitation for reasonable and grown up discussion took a bizarre turn. The article by Ato Tesfaye Abebe, a member of one of the clubs is a little disingenuous to say the least. It is a well-written article as far as the grammar goes but the facts are revised to fit the writer’s bias. That is not an honest thing to do. I spoke to two individuals that were present in Atlanta to have a good understanding of what exactly happened in that meeting.

Is Ato Tesfaye not telling the truth or simply put is Ato Tesfaye lying in his article? He wrote:

‘ As those that nominated Birtukan spoke passionately to underline the importance of inviting her, those that did not believe she should be invited expressed theirs. Reasons for not inviting her, ranged from the inappropriateness of inviting her in the cultural category to her being a leader of a political organization whose invitation might compromise our non-profit and non-political status.
Upon the insistence of those members that nominated Birtukan, and following parliamentary procedure a vote was taken by the Board Members and Birtukan narrowly won.’

In my opinion what Ato Tesfaye is doing is what is called ‘lying by omission’. He is cleverly using ambiguity in order to deceive and mislead the reader. Weizero Bertukan was nominated; the issue discussed and voted upon, that much is true. But there is more to it than that. The issue on the so-called jeopardizing the ‘non profit’ status was mentioned in passing but was not brought as a major hurdle. The main argument by those opposed was the question of ‘timing’. They felt it was not a good idea ‘at this time’ since she was just released from jail and it would create a bad impression on the organization (I guess by the government of Ethiopia) After a lengthy argument the issue was voted upon. When he says ‘Bertukan narrowly won’ that is a bold lie. She won 14 to 4 and that is 77% majority. Some will call it a landslide.

If you noticed I characterized it as an ‘argument’ not a ‘discussion’. According to my sources it was a very shameful meeting fit for gangsters. The Chair was clueless and weak and members were on each other’s face taunting and insulting like kids in a playground. Some members were forced to leave the meeting out of shame and disgust. The real purpose by those who lost was to create chaos so those well meaning individuals will be discouraged and will give in to the demands of the bully’s. If you think about it there is no rational reason or parliamentary procedure that allows an issue that was settled by an overwhelming majority to be brought back for further discussion.

Please notice the fact that Ato Tesfaye qualifies both Ato Ephrem and Ato Shakespear with their political party’s affiliation. What brought that about? They wrote their opinions as concerned individuals not Party officials. We are familiar with that kind of argument, smear rather than answer the charges is the logic behind it.

I have noticed these two characteristics to be a must among TPLF school graduates. None other than junta leader Meles Zenawi practices the best example of ‘lying by omission’. During the question and answer at Columbia University when asked why he jams Ethiopian Satellite TV and our independent web sites he responded by saying ‘the US does not allow VOA to broadcast to the American people either. Yes it is true VOA does not broadcast inside the US but it is not due to jamming. It is because the US government does not think it is appropriate to use taxpayer’s money to distribute the news. There are zillions of news outlets operated privately. Ato Meles on the other hand does not want independent newscasters telling the truth and unravel his house built on sand. Technically he did not lie, but he just subverted the truth.

There was also a second article written by Ato Tibebe Ferenji titled ‘In defense of ESFNA’ I don’t think it is a wining strategy to baselessly attack those who you disagree with instead of presenting one’s opinion and letting the reader be the judge. There is no point in putting words in your opponent’s mouth when the reader can easily go to the source and verify. My copy did not include such allegations as Ato Ephrem claiming to be an attorney nor asking organizations to break their rules.

On the other hand Ato Tibebe gave us a section of IRS rule as if reading those five lines will entitle us to reach a reasonable conclusion. I truly believe my friend Ato Shakespeare’s approach is most appropriate here. Interpreting the law is his domain. That is why he invested time and money to qualify and hold a license to practice the law. This Ethiopian habit of being an expert after a cursory glance is not a good idea. I ask both Ato Tibebe and ESFNA to read Ato Shakespeare’s analysis and correct their mistake and wrong interpretation of IRS code.

What can we do to remedy this unfortunate situation is an important question. The organization is too important to be left to individuals that do not have the interest of the community at heart. It has been a playground of those whose sole aim is to enrich themselves at the expense of others and use the organization as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. In its over twenty-five years of existence it has nothing worthy to show that could be mentioned in public. Its own supporters have no example or instance to mention to convince the public of their good deeds. Ato Tibebe is forced to say ‘more over, ESFNA has been engaged in various charity activities including providing scholarship in Ethiopia.’ Looks like we are a little short on verifiable facts here because there is nothing to show.

The fact that during the Atlanta meeting the financial report showed that the 2009 festival in San Jose showed a profit of just $13.000.00 is cause for alarm. Either the Board is engaged in creative accounting or they are not fit for the position they hold. When you consider they were bilking our local business people $3,000.00 per tent and were charging us $20 for admission one wonders where the money went. As the name implies it is an Ethiopian sports organization. I agree with my friend Ato Ephrem. The use of ‘E’ in the name is not a simple matter. I do believe the use of ‘E’ is a privileges and an honor. Yes my dear Ato Tesfaye it can be taken away too! I don’t think you will put Abuna Petros and some Banda like Dejazmach Gugsa in the same league, would you? The ‘E’ in front of Abuna Petros brings warmth to our heart while the ‘E’ in front of Banda Gugsa looks out of place.

What we should strive for is ‘empower’ the clubs to exercise their right as owners and main actors of this outfit and run it like a business and make us proud. After all it is the clubs and the players that we all gather to see and there is no need for a Board of vultures to lord it over and abuse us all. The clubs can hire professional Ethiopians that are experienced in the hospitality and convention business and produce a better product that what we have now. Twenty-five years have shown that the current leaders are void of new and creative ideas and repeat the same old tired formulae until it is beaten to death. Frankly I don’t see any difference between them and their Woyane masters. It is up to us to work with the clubs and make them aware of their strength. It requires work, perseverance and unity of purpose. Like their Woyane cousins they are good at creating side issues, character assassination and a lot of smoke. On the other hand we have a good cause and the support of the majority of our people. We got work to do. Now quit talking and take the garbage out.