Alemayehu G Mariam
The Triumph of Lies
Over the past six years, I have written numerous columns defending press freedom in Ethiopia. In a 2009 commentary entitled, “The Art of War on Ethiopia’s Independent Press”, I expressed astonishment over the heavy handed treatment of the free press: “Use a sledgehammer to smash a butterfly! That is the exquisite art of war unleashed on Ethiopia’s independent press by the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi today.”
In a 2007 column entitled “Monkey Trial in Kangaroo Kourt“, I wrote about the Kafkaesque use of the courts by the dictatorship in Ethiopia to crush dissent and suppress criticism. Franz Kafka’s famous novel, The Trial, begins with the sentence, “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” K., is ordered to stand trial before know-nothing judges who do the bidding of their invisible puppet masters. K’s guilt is a foregone conclusion. Everything about the trial is a secret — the charges, the court procedures and the judges. K cannot defend himself because he is never told what crimes he has committed. He is denied access to the evidence against him. K’s trial is delayed time and again. His lawyer is unable to help him in a system where there is neither law nor procedure.
Such is the stark portrait of Zenawi’s prosecution and conviction of journalists, dissidents and opposition political leaders in his Kafkaesque Kangaroo Kourts in Ethiopia (KKK) today. He uses lies, damned lies and loathsome lies as evidence to convict opponents and those who disagree with him under his cut-and-paste anti-terrorism law. To add political drama and add insult to injury, “sentencing” is scheduled for mid-July.
Human Rights Watch documented that the “convictions” last week, together with others over the past six months, “bring the total known number of individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges to 34, including 11 journalists, at least 4 opposition supporters and 19 others.” Zenawi can now beat his chest in triumph and do a few victory laps for “convicting” Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, and opposition party leaders and dissdents Andualem Arage, Nathnael Mekonnen, Mitiku Damte, Yeshiwas Yehunalem, Kinfemichael Debebe, Andualem Ayalew, Nathnael Mekonnen, Yohannes Terefe, Zerihun Gebre-Egziabher and many others.
None of this is new even to the casual observer. Over the years, Zenawi has been using his KKK to railroad into prison independent journalists, opposition leaders and dissidents. So say the U.S. Government and various international human rights organizations using diplomatic language. The 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Ethiopia 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 significant political intervention and influence.” Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report: “In high-profile cases, [Ethiopian] courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.”
Condemnation of the KKK Verdicts
There has been an outpuring of condemnation against the KKK verdicts and demands for the immediate release of the “convicted” journalists and others from various soruces. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asserting that “The Ethiopian government has once again succeeded in misusing the law to silence critical and independent reporting. Ethiopia will not hesitate to punish a probing press by imprisoning journalists or pushing them into exile.” Human Rights Watch expressed dismay: “This case shows that Ethiopia’s government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism. The use of draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of law.” Amnesty International condemned the “trumped up” charges and declared: “This is a dark day for justice in Ethiopia, where freedom of expression is being systematically destroyed by a government targeting any dissenting voice. The verdict seemed to be a foregone conclusion.”
U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Booth said, “I find the convictions of predominantly journalists and politicians raises questions about the compatibility of the anti-terrorism law with constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression.” According to the Embassy’s posted statement: “The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression. We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society. A U.S. State Department spokesman explained that even though the U.S. works with the regime in Ethiopia “on certain things, you can be straight with them when you disagree with their policies in other areas, as we always are with Ethiopia with regard to press freedom.”
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who two weeks ago in his statement in the Congressional Record, noted that the ruling regime in Ethiopia has made it impossible for “journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation”, issued a strongly worded press release condemning the travesty of justice:
The Ethiopian Government’s use of vague anti-terrorism laws to silence the press has been widely and rightly condemned. The conviction of Eskinder Nega and other journalists, who are accused of nothing more than the peaceful exercise of rights clearly recognized under international law, is the work of a regime that fears the democratic aspirations of its own people. Over the years, United States administrations have provided Prime Minister Meles a veneer of legitimacy due to our shared interest in countering real terrorist threats, but he has exploited the relationship for his own political ends. It is time to put the values and principles that distinguish us from terrorists, above aid to a government that misuses its institutions to silence its critics.
Eskinder and Andualem, Invictius!
Unlike Kafka’s Joseph K. who met his end helplessly bleating out the words, “like a dog”, Eskinder and Andualem returned to their prison cells like two roaring lions sauntering to their cages. (I say, one caged lion commands more respect than a thousand free hyenas.) They knew long ago that their “conviction” was inevitable and a foregone conclusion. No journalist, dissident or opposition party leaders has ever been found not guilty by Zenawi’s KKK. Eskinder Nega, a man whose name is synonymous with the word dignity and the irrepressible symbol of press freedom not only in Ethiopia but throughout the world, had a few words of wisdom to share with the unprincipled hacks in robes: “I have struggled for peaceful democracy, and I have never disrespected any individual and I didn’t commit a crime. My conscience is clear.” The hacks tried to silence him, but as always Eskinder spoke truth to power: “You have to stand for justice, you have to allow us to say what we want… you have no right to limit our freedom of speech.”
Recently, a who’s who of world-renowned journalists who have themselves suffered at the hands of dictatorships came together to express their “extremely strong condemnation of the Ethiopian government’s decision to jail journalist Eskinder Nega on terrorism charges” and demanded his immediate release. This past April, I struggled to find the right words to honor my personal hero:
Eskinder is a hero of a special kind. He is a hero who fights with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slays falsehoods with the sword of truth. He chases bad ideas with good ones. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fights despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion.
It is a crying shame that Eskinder, who is a hero to so many heroes of press freedom throughout the world, should be judged by an unholy trinity of benighted, scheming and pusillanimous judicial puppets.
Andualem Aragie, the dynamic and courageous young opposition leader was defiant and unbowed:
The last six months that we have spent are days when the people of Ethiopia have struggled for their human dignity and human rights. But the people have not been fortunate enough to enjoy their democratic rights. In my generation, I have tried to struggle to the best of my ability for my children and for all the people of Ethiopia. In doing so, I did not start with malice [or ill will]. In doing so, I did not commit a crime. In doing so, I did not aim to undermine the interests of my poor country. In what I have done, I do not believe I have offended my Creator, the people of Ethiopia or my own conscience. I am in total peace. Why I am standing here is because of my yearning for freedom. This is not the first time that I have sought justice in Ethiopian courts and been denied jusitce. I will not ask for mercy [from this court] for I have committed no crime. I will graciously drink from the cup of oppression my persecutors have prepared for me for my conscience will not allow me to do anything else.
Why Does Zenawi Persecute and Prosecute the Free Press and Dissidents?
Why does Zenawi go through hell and high water to crush the few struggling independent newspapers, dissidents and opposition leaders in the country? Why does he shutter newspapers that have a circulation of just a few thousand copies when he owns ALL of the printing presses and radio and television media in the country? What is he afraid of?
The answer is simple: The Truth! Zenawi can’t handle the truth. He hates the independent press because it reflects the corruption, repression and oppression of his regime. He fears criticism and genuine expression of public opinion because he does not want to see his reflection in the true mirror of the peoples’ eyes. He much prefers to wallow in his own delusional, imaginary and virtual image of the “Great Leader of the Renaissance” reflected in the glazed and bulging eyes of his Yes-men. But as the recent history of the “Arab Spring” has shown, dictatorships are like castles built of sand which dissolve and are washed away when struck by a single sweep of the ocean’s wave. Regardless of how long dictators keep cracking down on the free press and terrorize the people, in the end they are always swept and vacuumed into the dustbin of history by the tornadic force of the people’s fury. Think of it, always!
The War on the Free Press Will Continue…
Zenawi’s war on the free press will continue because his war is on truth itself. The war has now been declared on Feteh, the only remaining independent weekly newspaper in Ethiopia. In an amateurish dirty trick, the regime’s security department circulated a fake email message linking Temesgen Desalegn, the Editor-in-chief of Feteh, with al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group. The pathetically fabricated email supposedly sent by an al-Shebaab operative to Temesgen and intercepted by security officials claims:
It has to be remembered that AlShebab has assigned me secretly to make propagation activities in Ethiopia, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda. To accomplish the task we have agreed with you through your representative Ato Mamush Sentie in Eritrea to publish propaganda articles against the Ethiopian government, against the interest of the Ethiopian people and the American government…”
Give us a break!
But we have seen it all before. Zenawi’s MO goes through three stages. First, he demonizes his adversaries. Then he criminalizes them. In the third stage, he dehumanizes them.That is how he did it to Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Dawit Kebede and so many others.
Temesgen and Feteh are now undergoing the demonization stage. In a few weeks or less, a full scale campaign will be waged against them in the regime owned media. They will be called “terrorists”, “insurrectionists”, “agitators”, “foreign agents” “spies” and whatever else the dirty tricks department can manage to fabricate. There will be frenzied “calls” to the regime from “ordinary citizens” to take action against them.
The criminalization stage will begin in a couple of months or less with a videotaped arrest of Temesgen and possibly other Feteh members in the street in much the same way as they did Eskinder Nega and Andualem Aragie. (Someone must really enjoy watching the videotape of those arrests.Eskinder’s official captors videotaped the whole arrest and laughed boisterously as Eskinder’s traumatized six year old child cried his eyes out for his daddy.)
Then, the dehumanization stage takes place in jail as they await “trial” in the KKK — torture and beatings, denial of medical care, denial of family visits, daily insults, humiliation and degradation, solitary confinement and on and on. In the end, there will be a show KKK trial for Temesgen Desalegn et al with ambassadors, representatives of international organizations and family members sitting in the gallery. The verdict and sentnece will be the same as always: Guilty, guilty, guilty… 15 years at hard labor… 20 years at hard labor… life in prison…
It is all so pathetically predictable.
Losing the Battle, Winning the War
This is the unfinished story of the war on the independent free press in Ethiopia, and the victors and the victims in that war. The final struggle between the dictators who wield swords and the journalists who wield pens, pencils and computer keyboards will be decided in a war for the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. I have no doubts whatsoever that the outcome of that war is foreordained. In fact, I believe that war has already been won. For as Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned in his verse, in the war between swordholders and penholders, final victory always goes to the penholders:
‘True, This! –
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! – itself a nothing! –
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! – Take away the sword –
States can be saved without it!’
But if the paramount question is to save the Ethiopian state or to save Ethiopia’s free press, I would, as Thomas Jefferson said, save the latter: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The Actions of Our Enemies, the Silence of Our Friends
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I would add that we will remember and forgive the words and actions of our enemies for they know not what they say and do; but the cowardice, indifference, apathy, disinterest and cold neutrality of our friends who know or should know better but stand in the face of evil with their heads bowed, eyes closed, ears plugged and lips muted, we can neither forgive nor forget!!!
I believe nothing is more important and uplifting to political prisoners than knowledge of the fact that they are not forgotten, abandoned and forsaken by their compatriots. We must stand with Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and the countless political prisoners in Ethiopia. Every day, they are beaten down and brought to their knees. We cannot hear their whimpers of pain and the silence of their desperation. Because they have no voice, we must be their voices and speak on their behalf. Because they are walled behind filthy prisons, we must unfailingly remind the world of their subhuman existence.
We must all labor for the cause of Ethiopian political prisoners not because it is easy or fashionable, but because it is ethical, honorable, right and just. In the end, what will make the difference for the future of Ethiopia is not the brutality, barbarity, bestiality and inhumanity of its corrupt dictators, but the humanity, dignity, adaptability, audacity, empathy and compassion of ordinary Ethiopians for their wrongfully imprisoned and long-suffering compatriots. That is why we must join hands and work tirelessly to free all political prisoners in Ethiopia.
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA!
FREE THE FREE PRESS IN ETHIOPIA!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Portrait of A Poor Country
Lately, the portrait of Ethiopia painted in the reports of Transparency International (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity shows a “Land of Corruption”. That contrasts with an equally revolting portrait of Ethiopia painted in a recent broadcast of a fear-mongering three-part propaganda programentitled “Akeldama” (or Land of Blood) on state-owned television. The program aired on November 26-28 was intended to be a moral, and to some extent legal and political, justification of dictator Meles Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism law”. The program begins with a doleful narrator setting a doomsday scenario:
Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorsim. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem. In this regard, I have three consecutive programs prepared for you my viewers.
Displaying photos of alleged terrorist carnage and simulated blood droplets falling from the title of the program — dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims, a crowd of wailing women mourning at a gravesite, an old man crying his eyes out over the death of his wife at the hand of “terrorsits” and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 and on and on — the narrator accuses “ruthless terrorists” for having “destroyed our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a plaintive tone the narrator exhorts:
“Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.
By displaying grisly spectacles of acts of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity from years past and by describing those acts with deceitful, deceptive and distorted narrative, “Akeldama” hopes to tar and feather ALL of Ethiopia’s opposition elements, inflame public passions and offer moral justification for Zenawi’s recent crackdowns and massive and sustained human rights violations.
The propaganda objective of “Akeldama” cannot be mistaken: Zenawi aims to vanquish from the active memory of the population any traces of popular support or sympathy for his opposition and critics by demonizing, brutalizing, dehumanizing, “villainizing” and virtually cannibalizing them. He wants the population to view the opposition as bloodthirsty gangs of conspirators blowing up defenseless babies, children, women and innocent citizens and unleashing terror and mayhem in every street corner in Ethiopia. The revolting and gruesome scenes and sequences of carnage and destruction stitched into the video are intended to lump together all of Zenawi’s opponents with Al Qaeda and Al Shabbab terrorists in Somalia.
“Akeldama”: Dictatorship, Lies and Videotapes
On the surface, few inquiring minds would disagree that “Akeldama” is sleazy melodrama. It has an exalted hero, dictator Meles Zenawi, the knight in shining armor, waiting in the shadows armed and ready to impale the wicked terrorists with his piercing lance. There is a damsel in distress, Lady Ethiopia. There are an assortment of scheming villains, conspirators, mischief-makers, subversives, foreign collaborators, and of course, terrorists who are cast in supporting roles as opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. It has a sensational and lurid plot featuring cloak-and-dagger conspiracies by neighboring countries, clandestine intrigues by Diaspora opposition elements, sedition and treason by local collaborators, and of course terrorism. Naturally, in the end, good triumphs over evil. Sir Meles Zenawi, knight errant, political wizard, archer and swordsman extraordinaire, delivers Lady Ethiopia from the clutches of the evil and sinister Al Qaeda, Al Shabbab and their minions and flunkeys, namely Ethiopia’s opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. Hollywood’s worst horror shows have nothing on “Akeldama”.
It is easy to dismiss “Akeldama” as dimwitted and ill-conceived horror melodrama. But that would be a mistake because as lame and as cynical as it is, its manifest propaganda aim is to present a morality play for the masses in an attempt to drum up support for Zenawi and preempt, prevent or stall the dawn of an “Ethiopian Spring”. Careful review of “Akeldama” suggests that Zenawi aims to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives: 1) tar and feather all who oppose him as terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and fellow travelers, war mongers, blood-letters and genocidal maniacs, and inflame public passions, promote hatred and incite distrust and suspicion against them; 2) create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance and trigger mass hysteria against the opposition by concocting a crude propaganda brew of mass deception, mass distraction and mass demoralization; 3) divert the attention of the population from the pressing economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding their fears, accentuating their anxieties and concerns and encouraging them to passively accept Zenawi’s rule, and 4) provide justification why Zenawi has a moral imperative to ruthlessly crackdown and clampdown on his opposition.
The fact of the matter is that every major international human rights and other independent organizations dedicated to good governance has condemned Zenawi’s regime for gross human rights violations, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and suppression of press freedoms. Zenawi understands that he has no moral legs to stand on and that he is running out of options. He rules by fear, intimidation, lies and deceit. Lacking any moral standing and little public support in the country, Zenawi now seeks to capture the moral high ground by presenting a pathetic and cynical melodrama.
His strategy is simple: To canonize himself, he demonizes his opposition and critics. By casting the opposition in the moral sewer, he hopes to capture the moral commanding heights. By portraying the opposition as bloodthirsty terrorists and baby killers, he hopes to mask his own bloody hands. By showing gruesome pictures of alleged atrocities by his opponents and by creating a message of fear and loathing, he aims to manipulate and frighten the population into supporting him. Ultimately, he hopes to create the public impression that all of the crackdown and clampdown on dissent, the violence against opponents and the complete closure of political space is morally defensible and necessary as measures needed to protect the population from “terrorism that has destroyed our daily peace” and “killed our loved ones”. Simply stated, “Akeldama” is Zenawi’s slick moral justification for his two decades of dictatorial rule, shutting down every independent newspaper and exiling journalists, jailing dissidents, muzzling critics and thumbing his nose at the rule of law and international human rights conventions.
The Strategic Use of Propaganda by Dictators
Hateful depiction of opposition elements by dictators is nothing new. In fact, all dictatorships in modern history have employed the media — everything from posters and newspapers to films, radio programs and now internet technologies — to moralize and pontificate about their rule while demonizing and mobilizing against their opposition, dissidents and critics. Joseph Goebbles, the grand master of propaganda, undertook a massive media campaign of fear and smear against the Jews which led directly to the Holocaust. The communists used “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda using drama, film, art, music) to win the support of the masses and to rail against the evils of liberal democracy (“neo-liberalism”), capitalism, human rights and so on. Agosto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allede in 1974 was followed by massive media propaganda campaigns depicting the liberal opposition as a bunch of communists and terrorists. Over 130 thousand Chileans and foreigners were tortured, imprisoned, killed or disappeared by Pinochet’s security forces.
For decades, South Africa’s Apartheid regime successfully used a slick propaganda campaign against the African National Congress (ANC) by “convincing” Western governments that the only choice to be made was between ANC communists and terrorists and freedom-loving Apartheid racists. Both John Vorster and P. W. Botha had the mindboggling audacity to portray the Apartheid system as a victim of terrorism, turning logic and facts on their heads, in their efforts to build and maintain Western support. They succeeded for a long time, but in the end their propaganda effort to delegitimize the ANC by legitimizing their illegitimate Apartheid system failed totally. “Akeldama” is no different. Zenawi portrays his regime as the victim of terrorism unleashed by the opposition, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab to bolster domestic and international support. He undertakes a fear and smear campaign aimed at tarring and feathering specific journalists, opposition party leaders, critics and dissidents as terrorists and enemies of the state while seeking to conceal and absolve himself of any culpability for massive and comprehensively documented human rights violations over two decades.
Dictators and Propaganda
But why do immoral and amoral dictators seek moral redemption? Political psychologists who have studied dictators point to a number of factors. One major reason is that all dictators are self-delusional and narcissistic (afflicted by morbid self-absorption and an over-inflated sense of self-importance). They believe their own PR (press release). They conveniently “convince” themselves that they are loved and venerated by their people, destined by Providence to save their nations and usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity (some call it a “Renaissance”). Gadhaffi swore until his last breath, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” Gadhaffi was so narcissistically delusional that he declared, “I am the creator of tomorrow, I am here, I am here, I am here…. Libya is my country. I created it, and I can destroy it.” Rarely, if ever, was it about Gadhaffi’s love for Libya or Libyans.
All dictators see outside conspiracies being hatched against them every day. If there are protests, it is not because “my people no longer love me” or “they have come to outright hate me”, rather it is because outside agitators are making them do it. Gadhaffi was so detached from reality that he claimed the young people protesting against him were doing so because they were taking drugs. Mubarak, Gadhaffi, Ben Ali, Assad and Gbagbo claimed the protests in their countries were guided and manipulated by evil outside forces. Before his swift fall from power, Mubarak appeared on state television and accused foreign journalists, human rights activists, and foreign hands for fomenting the unrest. Assad in Syria blamed “saboteurs” backed by foreign powers for fomenting widespread civil unrest and chaos. He claimed the unrest were the result of “conspiracies designed outside and perpetrated inside Syria.” Gbagbo accused foreign envoys of seeking to turn the military aganist him. Ali Saleh of Yemen accused foreign agitators for protests that were taking place in the country. In a speech on Libyan state television, Gadhaffi declared al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in Libya. Likewise, Zenawi’s message in “Akeldama” is that the people love him, and the mischief-makers are primarily outside agitators, namely Diaspora opposition leaders, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab terrorists and their local minions and collaborators.
As I have previously argued,
Dictators see only what they want to see; and to avoid what they don’t want to see, they create their own convenient world of illusions cut out of the whole cloth of their personal beliefs, opinions and fantasies. As they continue to abuse power without any legal restraints and convince themselves that they are above the law and accountable to no one but themselves, they transform their world of illusion into a world of delusion. In their delusional world, they become both the “lone ranger” of the old American West “cleaning up bad towns and riff-raff” and the only custodians of the Holy Grail, with miraculous powers to save their nations. In their delusional world, there is room only for themselves and their cronies….
“Akeldama” II: Let Us See All of the Evidence of Atrocities Committed in Ethiopia
If “Akeldama” is indeed an accurate depiction of Ethiopia as the “Land of Blood”, it is manifestly lacking in evidence. That is why we MUST follow the exhortation of the narrator in “Akeldama” to take a “look at the evidence in the past several years.” It may be true that there were “131 terrorist attacks in which 339 citizens were killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.” But is that all the body count? Let us really look at the evidence — not in bits and pieces, not in slivers and shreds, not in fragments and scraps — but the whole body of evidence, the totality of the evidence. Let us have an “Akildama II” and examine
the evidence of post-2005 election massacres of June and November 2005, documented by the Inquiry Commission appointed by Zenawi, in which at least 193 persons were shot and killed, 763 wounded and 30,000 imprisoned by security forces under the direct command and control of Zenawi;
the December 2003 massacre, 8 years to the month, of the Anuak in Gambella in which 424 persons were massacred and some 16,000 displaced to the Sudan.
the extra-judicial killings in the Ogaden including reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and the killings of at least 37 others in Labiga, Faafann Valley and Hunjurri, and the burning of the villages of Daratoole, Qamuuda, Neef-Kuceliye, Laanjalelo, Aado, Jinnoole among many others in 2007; the October 2006 alleged terrorist deaths of three individuals;
the status of numerous detainees in three documented secret jails where they were held without due process of law and in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions;
the Treatment of “desperado terrorists” in 2009;
the use of foreign aid as a weapon of oppression and starvation of the opposition into submission;
Let the truth be told about ALL atrocities committed in Ethiopia, without exception. Let the chips fall where they may!
Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity
Instead of wasting time and resources hate-mongering and demonizing the opposition, critics and dissidents, Zenawi could have used the opportunity to highlight and brag about his achievements and accomplishments over his two decades at the helm. Instead of showing mayhem, dismembered bodies, dead babies and destruction, he could have showed the people what he is doing (and has done) to bring down inflation and eliminate economic privation. Instead of promoting national enmity by depicting brutality, he could have used the opportunity to promote national unity. Instead of spreading a propaganda of hate, he could have been a peace and reconciliation advocate. Instead of demonizing his opponents, he could have humanized them. He could have showcased all of his achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, establishing universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability. Exhibition of such achievement could discredit any opposition claims and actions to legitimacy than the display of gratuitous horror, carnage, mayhem and destruction. But it seems Zenawi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do good, the right thing, the moral thing, the compassionate and humanistic thing.
It is not clear if “Akeldama” is the first in an endless series of melodramas calculated to demonize and dehumanize the opposition. It would be great to have an “Akeldama II”. But that is unlikely. There is little evidence to show that the lame and cynical piece of propaganda has gained any traction in the public. There is substantial anecdotal evidence which suggests most viewers in Ethiopia and the Diaspora are turned off by the gory scenes and deceitful exhortations of “Akeldama”. Even friends of Zenawi are said to have raised eyebrows by the excessive and extravagant display of gratuitous violence in the program.
At any rate, Tamagn Beyene’s masterful review of “Akeldama” delivers a totally devastating critique by pointing out numerous lies, factual errors, wholesale fabrications, distortions, exaggerations and fallacies. But credit must be given where it is due. Zenawi has once again succeeded in distracting us all from the real issues. Now, can we get on with the discussion of the issues that really matter such as of inflation, corruption, arbitrary detention, intimidation, maladministration, truth adulteration, balkanization, and the need for better collaboration, improved harmonization, effective communication and, most of all, genuine reconciliation….?
Land of Corruption or Land of Blood?
This past Summer, Zenawi, responding to an interviewer’s question about his feelings concerning the use of the word “famine” by the Oxford Dictionary synonymously with Ethiopia, said:
It is a mixed up situation. On the one hand, like any citizen, I am very sad. I am ashamed. It is degrading. A society that built the Lalibela churches some thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. A society that built the Axum obelisks some 2-3 thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. That is very sad. It is very shameful. Of all the things, to go out begging for one’s daily bread, to be a beggar nation is dehumanizing. Therefore, I feel great shame.
It is a crystal clear situation for me. I feel great shame that a society that built the magnificent Lalibela churches (one of the great wonders of the ancient world) and the obelisks of Axum should be known throughout the world not only as a “beggar nation” but also as land of corruption, land of blood, land of famine and land of living lies.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Terrorism by “Anti-terrorism Law”
Lately, Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia, has been rounding up dissidents, journalists, opposition party political leaders and members under a diktat known as “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009”. This diktat approved on a 286-91 vote of the rubberstamp parliament is so arbitrary and capricious that Human Rights Watch concluded “the law could provide a new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy.”
The “anti-terrorism law” is a masterpiece of ambiguity, unintelligibility, obscurity, superficiality, unclarity, uncertainty, inanity and vacuity. It defines “terrorism” with such vagueness and overbreadth that any act, speech, statement, and even thought, could be punished under its sweeping provisions. Anyone who commits a “terrorist act” with the aim of “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and intending to “influence the government”, “intimidate the public”, “destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social institutions of the country” could be condemned to long imprisonment or suffer the death penalty. Making or publishing statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” is a punishable offense under the “law”.
Anyone who provides “moral support or advice” or has any contact with an individual accused of a terrorist act is presumed to be a terrorist supporter. Anyone who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” is deemed a “terrorist”. Peaceful protesters who carry banners critical of the regime could be charged for “promotional statements encouraging” terrorist acts. Anyone who “disrupts any public service” is considered a “terrorist”; and workers who may legitimately grieve working conditions by work stoppages could be charged with “terrorism” for disruption. Young demonstrators who break windows in a public building by throwing rocks could be jailed as “terrorists” for “causuing serious damage to property.” A person who “fails to immediately inform or give information or evidence to the police” on a neighbor, co-worker or others s/he may suspect of “terrorism” could face upto 10 years for failure to report. Two or more persons who have contact with a “terror” suspect could be charged with conspiracy to commit “terrorism”.
The procedural due process rights (fair trial) of suspects and the accused guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights conventions are ignored, evaded, overlooked and disregarded by the “law”. “The police may arrest without court warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects to have committed or is committing a terrorism” and hold that person in incommunicado detention. The police can engage in random and “sudden search and seizure” of the person, place or personal effects of anyone suspected of “terrorism”. The police can “intercept, install or conduct surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal, and similar communications” of a person suspected of terrorism. The police can order “any government institution, official, bank, or a private organization or an individual” to turn over documents, evidence and information on a “terror” suspect.
A “terror” suspect can be held in custody without charge for up to “four months”. Any “evidence” presented by the regime’s prosecutor against a “terror” suspect in “court” is admissible, including “confessions” (extracted by torture), “hearsay”, “indirect, digital and electronic evidences” and “intelligence reports even if the report does not disclose the source or the method it was gathered (including evidence obtained by torture). The “law” presumes the “terror” suspect to be guilty and puts the burden of proof on the suspect/defendant in violation of the universal principle that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Such is the “anti-terrorism law” that was used to arrest and jail Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye, Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, and Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye and thousands of others over the past few months and years. In any country where the rule of law prevails and an independent judiciary thrives, such a “law” would not pass the smell test let alone a constitutional one. But in a world of kangaroo courts, rubberstamp parliaments and halls of vengance and injustice, the diktat of one man is the law of the land. So, 2011 Ethiopia has become George Orwell’s 1984: Thinking is terrorism. Dissent is terrorism. Speaking truth to power is terrorism. Having a conscience is terrorism. Peaceful protest is terrorism. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is terrorism. Standing up for democracy and human rights is terrorism. Defending the rule of law is terrorism. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is terrorism.
Dictatorship is State Terrorism
Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism” diktat is intended to muzzle journalists from criticizing, youths from peaceably demonstrating, opposition parties from political organizing, ordinary citizens from speaking, civic leaders from mobilizing, teachers from imparting knowledge, lawyers from advocating scholars from analyzing and the entire nation from questioning his dictatorial rule. It is a “law” singularly intended to criminalize speech, police thought, outlaw critical publications, intimidate hearts, crush spirits, terrorize minds and shred constitutional and internationally-guaranteed human rights. When the State uses the “law” to silence and violently stamp out dissent, jail and keep in solitary confinement dissenters, opposition leaders and members, suppress the press and arbitrarily arrest journalists, trash human rights with impunity, trample upon the rule of law and scoff at constitutional accountability, does it not become a terrorist state?
“Softness to traitors will destroy us all,” said Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind and architect of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Robespierre justified the use of terror by the state to crush all opposition and those he considered enemies of the state: “Are the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people’s mandate; the traitors who sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people’s cause, to kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?” asked Robespierre rhetorically as he rounded up tens of thousands of innocent French citizens for the guillotine.
Zenawi once provided a definitive answer to his “enemies within and without”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” He is always ready to crush, smash and thrash his opposition. He described the leaders of opposition political coalition that won the 2005 elections as a bunch of “insurrectionists” (euphemism for “terrorists”): “The CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law.” When 193 unarmed demonstrators were massacred and 763 grievously wounded by security officers, Zenawi shed crocodile tears but said they were all terrorists lobbing grenades: “I regret the deaths but these were not normal demonstrations. You don’t see hand grenades thrown at normal demonstrations.” His own handpicked Inquiry Commission contradicted him after a meticulous investigation: “There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade (as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs). The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protester.”
Zenawi has demonized opposition groups as “terrorists” bent on “creating a rift between the government and the people.” He has put on “trial” and sentenced to death various alleged “members” of the Ginbot 7 Movement, and contemptuously described that Movement as an organization of “amateur part-time terrorists”. He has undertaken a systematic campaign of intimidation against his critics describing them in his speeches as “muckrakers,” “mud dwellers”, “sooty,” “sleazy,” “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He even claimed the opposition was filthy and trying to “dirty up the people like themselves.”
In the police state Ethiopia has become, opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24/7 surveillance, and the ordinary people they meet in the street are intimidated, harassed and persecuted. The climate of fear that permeates every aspect of urban and rural society is reinforced and maintained by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making impossible dissent or peaceful opposition political activity. As former president and presently opposition leader Dr. Negasso Gidada has documented, the structure of state terrorism in Ethiopia is so horrific one can only find parallels for it in Stalin-era Soviet Union:
The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….
State terrorism is the systematic use and threat of use of violence and coercion, intimidation, imprisonment and persecution to create a prevailing climate of fear in a population with a specific political message and outcome: “Resistance is futile! Resistance will be crushed! There will be no resistance! ” State terrorism paralyzes the whole society and incapacitates individuals by entrenching fear as a paramount feature of social inaction and immobilization through the exercise of arbitrary power and extreme brutality. In Ethiopia today, it is not just that the climate of fear and loathing permeates every aspect of social and economic life, indeed the climate of fear has transformed the “Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine” in to the “Land of Thirteen Months of Fear, Loathing, Despair and Darkness”.
Inspirational Thought from Nelson Mandela
Africa’s greatest leader, Nelson Mandela, was jailed for 27 years as a “terrorist” by the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1993, three years after he left the notorious Robben Island prison, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Those jailed as “terrorists” in Ethiopia should draw great comfort and inspiration from the words of the greatest African leader alive:
I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.
We should all express our admiration, gratitude and appreciation for today’s “terrorists” and tomorrow’s peacemakers, conciliators, hopegivers and nation-builders.
Free Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye, Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, Johan Persson, Martin Schibbye and thousands of other unknown and unnamed Ethiopian political prisoners.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/