Alemayehu G. Mariam
(This is the second installment in a series of commentaries I pledged to offer on U.S. policy in Africa under the heading “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa”. In Part I, I argued that democracy and human rights in Africa cannot be subordinated to the expediency of “engaging” incorrigible African dictators whose sole interest is in clinging to power to enrich themselves and their cronies.)
African Status Quo Broken
When U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a brief stop at the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago, she was talking my language: human rights, democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rest of it. She announced to the coterie of African dictators that the “status quo had broken” and she had come to talk to them about how they can regain democracy, achieve economic growth, and maintain peace and security.
Clinton said democracy in Africa is undergoing trial by fire despite a few successes in places like “Botswana, Ghana, and Tanzania.” She told the swarm of jackbooted African dictators that their people are gasping for democracy: “[W]e do know that too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future. Some even claim to believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.” She said Africa’s youth are sending a “message that is clear to us all: The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go.” The alternative for Africa’s “long standing rulers who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people” is to face the types of “changes that have recently swept through North Africa and the Middle East. After years of living under dictatorships, people have demanded new leadership; in places where their voices have long been silenced, they are exercising their right to speak, often at the top of their lungs.”
U.S. Sounding Like a Broken Record
For some time now, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have been doing the same song and dance about dictatorship and poor governance in Africa. In July 2009 in Ghana, President Obama declared, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Today Secretary Clinton says: “Good governance requires free, fair, and transparent elections, a free media, independent judiciaries, and the protection of minorities.”
Two years ago, President Obama lectured African dictators: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.” Today Secretary Clinton sarcastically notes, “Too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers… [who] believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.”
Two years ago, President Obama berated African dictators: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Today Secretary Clinton warns the same dictators, “If you do not desire to help your own people work and live with dignity, you are on the wrong side of history.”
Two years ago, President Obama threatened African dictators: “I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption… People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” Today Secretary Clinton pleads with the same dictators: “We are making [corruption] a priority in our diplomatic engagement, and we look to our partners to take concrete actions to stop corruption.”
Last year, President Obama told a delegation of African youths: “Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges… and strengthen grassroots networks of young people…” Today Secretary Clinton laments, “A tiny [African] elite prospers while most of the population struggles, especially young people…”
When it comes to Africa, the Obama Administration is increasingly sounding like a broken record.
Empty Words and Emptier Promises
The U.S. has been talking a good talk in Africa for the last two years, but has not been walk the walk; better yet, walking the talk. Following the May 2010 “elections” in Ethiopia in which dictator Meles Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said, “We value the cooperation that we have with the Ethiopian government on a range of issues including regional security, including climate change. But we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.” The U.S. “clearly” took no action as Ethiopia has become a veritable police state behind a veneer of elections.
Following the rigged elections in Uganda in February 2011, Crowley said, “Democracy requires commitment at all levels of government and society to the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, independent media, and active civil society.” The U.S. promptly congratulated Yoweri Museveni on his election victory and conveniently forgot about the rule of law and all that stuff.
Following the elections in Cote d’Ivoire last November and Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down (calling it a “mockery of democracy”) Crowley said, “The U.S. is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Gbagbo, his immediate family and his inner circle, should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.” The U.S. imposed a travel ban, but that did not matter much since Gbagbo had no intention of leaving the Ivory Coast. Months later he was collared and dragged out of his palace like a street criminal.
In July 2009, the White House in a press statement said, “The United States is concerned about the recent actions of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja to rule by ordinance and decree and to dissolve the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court as part of a bid to retain power beyond his constitutionally-limited mandate.” The U.S. took no action against Tandja, but Niger’s military did.
A couple of weeks ago, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon visited the U.S. and received a warm reception at the White House which put out a press statement applauding the “the important partnership between the United States and Gabon on a range of critical regional and global issues.” Ali is the son of the notorious Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for 42 years before his death in 2009.
Not long ago, Crowley called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea a “dictator with a disastrous record on human rights.” Nguema’s son, Teodorin frequently travels to his $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California flying in his $33 million jetliner and tools around town in a fleet of luxury cars. He earned a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister. Forbes estimates his net worth at $600 million.
America Should Stop Subsidizing African Kleptocracies
The U.S. should stop subsidizing African kleptocratic thugtatorships through its aid policy and hit the panhandling thieves in the pocketbook. In one of my weekly commentaries in November 2009 (“Africorruption, Inc.”), I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. Most African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. As Geroge Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist and arguably one of the “top 100 public intellectuals worldwide who are shaping the tenor of our time” recently noted, Africa’s “briefcase bandits” run full-fledged criminal enterprises. Sani Abacha of Nigeria amassed $5 billion, and the Swiss Supreme Court in 2005 declared the Abacha family a “criminal enterprise”. Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan has stashed away $7 billion while Hosni Mubarak is reputed to have piled a fortune of $40 billion. In comparison, Ayittey says, “The net worth of 43 U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama amounts to a measly $2.5 billion.”
Foreign aid is known as the perfect breeding ground for corruption in Africa.According to the Brussels Journal (“Voice of Conservatism in Europe”), “Most serious analysts of the failures of development aid [in Africa], including a number of government commissions, not only identified corruption in recipient governments as a reason the aid programs failed but, in fact, found the projects actually fueled additional corruption and increased the plight of the people.” Africa’s thugtators not only siphon off foreign aid targeted for critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets, they also use the aid they receive to fortify their regimes and suppress the democratic aspiration of the people. In its October 2010 report on Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch reported:
Foreign aid has become one of the government’s most effective tools in suppressing and punishing criticism. Human Rights Watch’s research found that local officials often deny assistance to people they perceive as political opponents – including many who are not actually involved in politics at all. Impoverished farmers know they risk losing access to aid which their livelihoods depend on if they speak out against abuses in their communities. Most respond by staying quiet; aid discrimination has made freedom of speech a luxury many Ethiopians quite literally cannot afford.
Simply stated, an endless supply of the hard earned cash of American Joe and Jane Taxpayer is making it possible for African thugtators to cling to power and crush the legitimate aspirations of African peoples. The thugtators know that as long as billions of American taxpayer dollars (free money) keep flowing into their pockets, they do not have to do a darn thing to improve governance, respect human rights or institute accountability and transparency.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering of African dictators in Uganda in 2010 that “the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended and proper use.” More power to Holder. It is great to grab the corrupt and thieving African dictators and their cronies in the U.S. as they launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year buying businesses and homes and making “investments”. But it is more important to hold them accountable for the billions of aid dollars they receive from U.S. every year.
If the Obama administration is committed to battling corruption as ‘one of the great struggles of our time’, as it has so often declared, it needs to undertake a thorough and complete investigation of aid money given to African dictators. In November 2009, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current [Ethiopian] prime minister’s party.” There exists no official report in the public domain today concerning the outcome of that investigation. (If any such report exists, we are prepared to scrutinize it.) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must logically assume that no one for sure knows what happened to the USD$850 million handed over to Zenawi. Since the State Department does not seem to be up to the job of investigating aid-related corruption allegations in Ethiopia, it is appropriate for the General Accounting Office (the independent nonpartisan Congressional watchdog) to undertake a full investigation of the Human Rights Watch allegations.
When the U.S. hands out billions of dollars of free money to countries like Ethiopia without any meaningful accountability and discernable performance requirements, the effect on governance and observance of human rights is disastrous as evidenced in the fact that Zenawi used American aid money to suppress dissent and steal elections in 2010. In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, establishing the scope of corruption in aid is absolutely necessary. Such accountability could have a huge impact not only on improving governance in Ethiopia but also in all other U.S. aid recipient countries on the continent.
Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued:
Corruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens’ trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions.”
By turning a blind eye to endemic aid-related corruption, the U.S. is unintentionally promoting disregard for human rights protections and undermining the growth of democratic institutions and institutionalization of the rule of law and good governance in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. When foreign aid provides 90 percent of the regime’s budget in Ethiopia, is it any wonder that Zenawi’s regime “won” the May 2010 “elections” by 99.6 percent?
As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I regret to say that aid given to Africa with the best of intentions in the name of the most generous people in the history of the world has made the continent a heaven for bloodthirsty dictators and hell for the vast majority of poor Africans. I wonder if the American people would tolerate and approve of the the crimes that are being committed in Africa using their hard earned dollars year after year if we took it upon ourselves to educate them!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: Over the past week, I have received numerous requests from those who read my last commentary “Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History, to share my views on the on the question, “Where do we go from here?” in the aftermath of the so-called May 2010 elections. I am pleased to oblige in a series of forthcoming commentaries. Here I offer my analysis of the “election” and what I perceive to be the ruling regime’s future direction.
The 2010 Election: Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Some say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still a pig.” Others say, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it an ‘election’. It’s still gonna stink.” Well, one can certainly say that you can stampede throngs of “esteemed residents of Addis Ababa” into the public square and lecture them on how the “whole world knows the 4th national election has taken place in a peaceful, democratic and credible manner,” but at the end of the day a phony election with a 99.6 percent win is still a phony election. In fact, the spectacular margin of electoral victory claimed by dictator Meles Zenawi is second only to the victory claimed by the late dictator Saddam Hussien who won 100 percent of the 11,454, 638 yes votes in a referendum in 2002.
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The White House issued a statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.” Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
Only the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:
The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. They did not have freedom to campaign. We had no way of verifying the allegations.
With all due respect to Masire, it seems that he made his declaration clueless of the observation standards he is required to follow in the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines[Guidelines] . If he had done so, he would have known that there is no logical, factual or documentary basis for him to declare the “elections were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards.” For instance, pursuant to Section III 9 (e) of the Guidelines (“MANDATES, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE OBSERVERS”), Masire’s team had a mandatory duty to “observe the political parties and groups as well as the population at large in the exercise of their political rights, and the conditions in which such rights are to be exercised.” Masire by his own admission made no such observation. (“The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period ‘s team made no such observation.”) Under Section V (13), the Guidelines mandate that “AU Observers should ascertain that… (b) all competing political parties have equal access to both the print and the electronic media (radio, T.V.).” Masire said his team “had no way of verifying” pre-election complaints, including complaints of unequal access to state-controlled media. Under Section V (B) (d), the AU observers had a mandatory duty to ascertain “the campaign process is conducted in conditions of serenity, and that there are no acts of provocation or intimidation capable of compromising.” Masire’s team failed to make such inquiries. Under section B (24), the Guidelines mandate: “The atmosphere during the campaign should be carefully observed, and among the factors to consider in this regard include … (iv) persistent or reported cases of human rights violations.” Masire’s team does not appear to be aware of such a requirement, let alone to actually make the observation. It is truly regrettable to say of a former African leader that he showed no evidence of having read or understood the numerous mandatory election observation duties set forth in minute detail in the AU Guidelines before shamelessly and pathetically declaring the elections “were largely consistent with African Union regulations and standards.”
Where Do the Dictators Want to Go From Here?
In his victory speech (an event billed as a public protest against Human Rights Watch for its critical report on the regime), dictator Meles Zenawi boldly stated that he ain’t going nowhere. He is staying put where he has been for the past 19 years. It will be business as usual. The political game will be played out on the same 19 year-old zero-sum field; and his team will always win and everybody else will always lose. But there will be a change in style, form, appearance and public relations in the post- “election” period.
Hide the Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
“Hide the iron fist in a velvet glove. Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the essence of Zenawi’s “victory” speech (a/k/a demonstration against Human Rights Watch) on May 26. It was a grotesquely Churchillian speech. It was Winston Churchill who said, “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity”. In the “election” battle, Zenawi was resolute. For months before election day, he had threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for their “inflammatory” and “hateful” campaign statements calculated to “incite violence”. He even threatened to burn them at the stake if they withdrew from the elections at the last minute and agitated the youth to demonstrate in the streets. In his defeat — that is, the complete loss of credibility that comes from winning an election with 99.6 percent of the votes– he was defiant. (By the way, he gave a solemn promise to the 0.4 percent of the people who did not vote for him: “I would like to confirm to those who did not vote for us that we will work hard to look into your reasons for not voting for us with the view to learning from them and correcting any shortcomings on our part. We will work day and night to obtain your support in the next election.” In 2015, the vote will be 100 percent for Zenawi and his party!) In his 99.6 percent electoral “victory”, he was magnanimous – “let bygones be bygones.” (yalefew alfwal.)
The velvet glove/big stick strategy is based on a simple idea of totally demoralizing and humiliating the opposition, hoodwinking the Western donors and simply fooling the people. Zenawi’s velvety message was that he “does not want to be forced to embark upon the business of tracking down people committing crimes. I would like to appeal to some opposition parties… not to force the Government to take measures against them.” He is still carrying a chip on his shoulder from the drubbing his party got in 2005. The opposition humiliated his party in 2005 by wining every seat in Addis Ababa, and now it is their turn to be humiliated. “It is to be recalled that in the last election, five years ago, we, the EPRDF lost every seat in the capital due to our failure to achieve our goals..” Not this time. We won them all. (Hee…hee). In 2005, the opposition accused him of rigging and stealing the election; well, let them get a load this in 2010: “We all know the destructive role some political parties have been playing so far. [They have] attempt[ed] to mar and discredit the polling process. They have tried to cause delay by instructing their observers to arrive late at the polling stations. They have tried to disrupt the queues, make all sorts of shouts and cries,…[and even] sen[t] in their members with grenades to detonate among people queuing at polling stations… We have also observed successful and unsuccessful attempts by members of some of the opposition parties to snatch away ballot boxes and burn the votes of the people.”
But there is an olive branch extended to the opposition wrapped in condescending cordiality and paternalism. Now that the opposition has been vanquished, they will be allowed to lick the crumbs off the table (and the shoes of the victors) as long as they keep their tails between their legs. “We make this pledge to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people, during this election, that whether or not you have won seats in the parliament, as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, we will let you speak, if we want to; and we’ll shut you up when we want to. Your political existence depends on our good will, whim and fancy.
Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopia’s recorded history and that country’s no. 1 political prisoner had said it all before she was re-imprisoned for life in December 2008:
The message is clear and this message is not only for me but for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party has set and not according to what the country’s Constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.
Now that the “election’ is over, Zenawi will probably trot out the tired old “elders” to begin reconciliation talks to help him buy time until the dust settles around the “elections” controversy. He may even tantalize some opposition leaders with offers of fancy appointments and positions to divide and neutralize them. He is very good at the divide-and-rule thing, which he has successfully used for the past 19 years. Unsurprisingly, some will fall for his tricks, as history shown time and again. He will make promises to democratize, uphold the rile of law and all that just to buy enough time for the opposition and the people to fall deeper into the vortex of hopeless and despair.
The bottom line for Zenawi’s regime is: For the foreseeable future, the opposition will know who the Boss is; and if they have any doubts, the iron fist will be unsheathed from the velvet glove and the big stick pulled out to drive that point home. No political prisoners will be released, including Birtukan Midekssa. More will be added. There will be no independent press. Civic society organizations will not be allowed to operate freely. Judges will remain in the back pockets of the ruling regime. Justice, and pieces of the country, will be up for sale to the highest bidder; and on and on. Business will be conducted in the same way it has for the last 19 years!
Hoodwinking the Donors
The contempt and disregard Zenawi has for the Western donors is exceeded only by his utter scorn for the opposition. He warned the donors with diplomatic finesse: “We have seen those we believed were friends and partners behaving like king makers and an appeal court for Ethiopia’s politics. Our proud people would still like to extend a warm welcome of friendship and partnership. We say to you: Please give due respect to the decision and the sovereign power of the people to elect their own leaders.” His strategy in dealing with the Western donors is simple: He is the only game in town. The donors have no alternatives to him because he has wiped out the opposition. The donors want stability above all things and will tolerate anything he does. They don’t really believe in democracy and human rights anyway; they believe only in advancing their national interests. They do not have the guts to take any action against him because he will threaten to cut them off and go with the Chinese. In any case, they have never taken any serious actions against him and never will. He regards them as a bunch of hypocritical, forked-tongue, double-dealing and double-talking windbags. America is not going to do anything because of her preoccupation with terrorism in the Horn. To ease the criticism on the donors, he will give them diplomatic cover by touting that he has achieved “double digit economic growth”, built roads, schools and other infrastructure. In any case, if push comes to shove, he will attack them by claiming that they are interfering in the country’s sovereignty and affronting the Ethiopian people.
If truth be told, Zenawi would not be necessarily inaccurate in his view. The U.S., Britain and the European Union have poured in tens of billions of dollars of aid to support his regime for nearly two decades while pontificating about democracy and human rights endlessly. They took no action when he passed a so-called press law criminalizing free speech and the free press. They just moaned and groaned about it a little. They took no action when he passed a so-called civic society law that effectively banned civic organizations. They have taken no action against him despite a nearly two decade uninterrupted record of gross human rights violations and criminality. All they have done is dump the blame on the opposition: “There is no viable alternative in the opposition.” They know full well that the opposition is subjected to daily threats, intimidations, arbitrary arrests and detentions and violence, yet they have mustered the audacity to blame them for being “not viable”. As I have argued previously, the Western donors have entered into a conspiracy of silence to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of Zenawi.
You Can Fool All of the People All of the Time on Planet Ethiopia
It is said that “you may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Not so for Zenawi and company on Planet Ethiopia. If you think you have fooled the people for 20 years, you can try and fool them for another five or more. In his speech, Zenawi told the people:
The voters have given us their support freely and democratically. Women are the real backbone of our organization… The youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development. We are ready to learn from [our] mistakes…. The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election. It is Ethiopia’s renewal. The winner is Ethiopia’s democracy and all Ethiopians. We say congratulations to all the electorate and to our country’s forces of peace and democracy… The residents of Addis Ababa are fully aware of our respect for their decision. I believe that the people of Ethiopia, beyond recognizing the efforts of the EPRDF and voting it into power have unequivocally sent a clear message to the opposition parties in our country…
It is all about humility and how they can learn from their mistakes and all of the improvements they will make to earn the trust and confidence of the people and so on. We have heard it all before. No need to recite that litany of lies and false promises. Of course, if Zenawi wants to find out the truth all he has to do is ask the people one simple question: Are they better off today than they were in 2005?
I have expressed my views on the limitations of the regime on previous occasions:
The dictators of Ethiopia are trapped in a historical time warp. They have clutched the reigns of state for two decades and ostentatiously display the trappings of political power and wealth. But they have not been able to transform ‘bushcraft’ into statecraft… In their armed campaign against the Derg junta, decision-making was left in the hands of the few. The few leaders exercised raw, brute power over their followers and the communities they controlled. They silenced dissent and criticism ruthlessly, and leaders who disagreed were marginalised, labeled as traitors and removed. Everything was done in secrecy. Power was understood not as a public duty but as a means of self-enrichment, political patronage and intimidation. Leadership meant the cult of personality. The best they have been able to do is to transform the ‘politics of the bush’ fighting the Derg into a one-man, one-party state, whose guiding motto is, ‘What is good for the TPLF/EPDRF is good for Ethiopia!’
The transition from ‘bushcraft’ to statecraft requires tectonic transformations. Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic democratic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The dictators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles… They never had free elections in the bush; and it is no wonder that they were totally surprised when they got thumped in the 2005 elections. Upholding the rule of law is absurd to them because they believe themselves to be THE LAW… They scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries because they never lived in a system where the powers of government are constitutionally subordinated to the rights of the individual. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect from them the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance.
Mr. Zenawi and company need to understand a simple fact about elections: “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Arrrrgh! The thought of poor Ethiopia wearing the same diapers for another 5 years….
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia.
http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046 ; http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11869
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.