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Ethiopia Rigged Elections

A note to President Obama

By Yilma Bekele

Dear President Obama,

I am sure you do not have time to read my letter nonetheless it gives me a certain amount of release from the pain I am feeling and the little chance of this letter getting to you fills my soul with great amount of joy and hope. I am an Ethiopian immigrant currently living in California. I came to your country to go to college. I am always grateful to the American people in general and the citizens of the State of Oregon in particular that supported me in fulfilling my dream. Their graciousness in welcoming me and their generosity in helping me with financial aid to finish my education will stay in my heart forever.

Upon finishing my education I have become a productive member of society and hopefully contributed my share in making your nation a beacon of light for all of mankind. I have been blessed enough to get married to a beautiful person and raise a family. I am glad to claim I am the personification of the American dream come true. I am not writing you to ask a favor for myself but I want to tell you about the dire situation regarding the homeland I left behind a long time ago. I want to give you an idea about my country Ethiopia and the horror faced by my people in the year two thousand twelve as the rest of humanity thrives.

The source of this unbearable pain forced on my country is none other than the individual that shows up in every meeting the heads of the advanced industrialized countries attend to solve problems and plan the future. I am sure you have noticed him during picture sessions and dinner parties. He is the one who claims to represent Africa and is usually given the corner seat in the back to keep quiet and observe.

His name is Meles Zenawi and his title is chairman of TPLF party and Prime Minster of Ethiopia. He has been in power for the last twenty years. It is not that he was elected to that position since free democratic elections are not allowed but he has managed to organize sham election and rigged voting not once but five times in a row. I will tell you a few things to give you an idea of how he manages to do that.

1) Press: There is no free press in Ethiopia. There is only one local TV controlled by his party. The only radio-broadcasting unit is under his communications department. There are no independent newspapers in the country. The few that are allowed to exist are routinely harassed and their publishers and editors spend most of their time in his rubberstamp court. Today a few are in his dungeon accused of fabricated charges and plenty are forced out of the country. There is only one Internet provider and his outfit controls that. He uses Chinese technology to block any foreign TV or Radio broadcast and Internet sites. Your Voice of America broadcast is routinely jammed. Today there are more journalists and Independent Web sites outside the country than in our homeland. The Ethiopian people are kept in the dark by design.

2) Political Party and Civic organizations: The dictator does not allow real independent political parties. On paper there are over eighty political parties in the country, but they are all the creations of the dictator. The few that dare to organize independently are subjected to harassment, imprisonment and even murder. His claim that there are no worthy opposition parties is a cruel joke. In Ethiopia being an opposition party leader is a death wish. We have lost many worthy leaders in the last twenty years. Independent labor unions, civic organizations and non-government affiliated associations are not allowed. If they dare to organize they are brought under government control within a short time.

3) Administration: He has divided the country into what is known as Kilil. Kilil is a black version of Apartheid; the system the White South African set up to control black citizens. The individual appoints all Kilil administrators usually local lackeys for show purpose. His party and ethnic group controls the Army and Security service with all commanders’ hand picked from his ethnic group. Ninety nine percent of high-ranking military officials belong to the dictators ethnic group. The individual and his party inherited the dreaded Kebele system set up by the departing military dictatorship to control neighborhoods and enhanced its capability using modern means. Today the Kebele system is the eyes and ears of the TPLF party and is present in every household to terrorize and control.

4) Economy: All land belongs to the state. The Ethiopian people are sharecroppers. When he took power twenty years ago facilitated by your State Department he created a congramolate called EFFORT controlled by his ethnic group. All major confiscated business and property were given to EFFORT and today it is the premier corporation in the country involved in banking, transportation, manufacturing, import export and the hospitality business. EFFORT is bigger than Ethiopia. Unable to grow the economy, ill prepared to unleash the creative potential of his people the dictator is currently selling our fertile and virgin land to foreign investors. This is despite the billions of aid dollars given by your country and Western Europe and the billions more written off the book from the IMF and World Bank. His sole purpose is to stay in power by bullying and enrich his ethnic group, family and friends.

Dear Mr. President, you might think what a coward people we are to allow such and individual to do us so much harm and accept it with silence. That is not so. We were not always that docile. The simple explanation I can offer you is that he came on the scene at a very unfortunate time for us. The twenty years of military dictatorship has sapped our strength to fight back. We were caught at a time when in the name of socialism our people and country had gone thru a very traumatic process. Our moral compass was left in disarray. No one was willing to continue the self-inflicted agony we experienced. The current dictator also showed up carrying an olive branch that promised to form an all-inclusive government. Your State Department was the premier facilitator of such transfer of power from the Military to the new liberators.

Unfortunate for Ethiopia your country still is coddling and enabling the dictator. He is considered the front line in the fight against terrorism The Pentagon is pouring money and resources to train his army. He is given the green light to interfere in Somalia in the so-called war against terror. We pay the price. The US is not made safer with all the support given to the regime but the Ethiopian people are made insecure and hopeless. Today the Ethiopian people are migrating out of their homeland at an alarming rate. The young and able and the educated are leaving their country in search of a better tomorrow. Washington DC your capital is living proof of the flight of our people outwards.

We ask you to intervene and stop this human catastrophe. We believe it is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. Ethiopian Americans were in the forefront of your campaign for the presidency. We were filled with hope that you will intercede and help our motherland enter the twenty first century with dignity. It has not happened. Your State Department never fails to record and publish the crimes of the Ethiopian regime. The annual report is a very alarming detailed testimony of the nature of the illegal regime and the crimes it commits against its own people. Thanks to Wikileaks we are made conscious of the terrorist acts of the security department’s involvement in setting up explosives on its own citizens and blaming the opposition. Your Ambassador was part of the cover up of this crime. It is wrong.

We would like to call your attention to the policy the US followed in the aftermath of the Second World War when it came to Europe. The US was instrumental in encouraging democratic forms of government. US aid was based on the rule of law. Sixty years later Europe enjoys the fruits of such progressive and forward-looking policy. We ask your administration follow the same principle when it comes to Africa. We deserve nothing less. We ask your administration stop coddling and enabling dictators, misfits and loathsome individuals from terrorizing their own people.

The Ethiopian people are faced with a sad dilemma. How could they fight back against a terrorist regime armed and supported by a big power like your country? It is not a fair fight by any stretch of imagination. They find it confusing that on one hand you preach democracy and human rights while on the other hand you furnish the weapons and facilitate loans from World Bank and the IMF to the their tormentor. Wouldn’t you say the US would have a lasting and worthy relationship with a strong and democratic Ethiopia rather than a country always on the verge of civil war and a pitiful hand stretched begging for food and medicine?

The Prime Minster is showing up at your dinner table next week. We all know he has nothing to contribute to such discussion. The country he has been leading for the last twenty years is beset with famine, double digit unemployment, runaway inflation and human misery in a large scale. He has no record to be proud of. He has no opposition to shame him. His presence at this gathering is unexplainable and undeserved. His single TV station and his sole Radio broadcast will present a different picture. They will use the occasion to bully the Ethiopian people. There is no other voice to set the record straight.

We wish you would UN invitee or dis invite him. We know that will not happen. On the other hand we ask you use the occasion to make it clear to him that your constituents are not happy with his actions. We wish that you explain to him US aid goes hand in hand with the existence of the rule of law and respect for human rights. The American people are blessed to have such a caring and honorable person as a leader. You lead a very honorable and generous nation that has stood with Ethiopia in its time of need. We ask you to step forward and do the right thing at this critical moment in our history. We ask you to think of the eighty million Ethiopians that are made to suffer because on man and his ethnic based party is enabled by your country and others to run amok and brutalize. History will not look kindly at such abdication of responsibility.

Dear Mr. President, we are aware of what happened to dictator Gaddafi. We are witnessing the unfolding human misery in Syria. That is what is waiting Ethiopia if the regime continues its maltreatment of its won citizens. That is what we are trying to avoid from happening in Ethiopia. You can help us.

Finally we are not asking you to fight our war. We are perfectly capable of doing the job ourselves. We are simply petitioning you not to stand with the dictator. Not to give him lethal aid and training to turn his fire on us. We know it is in your power to make a stop to this enabling activity. The children of Ezana, Tewodros, Yohanes, Minilik, Aba Jifar, Tona and many others are up to the task given the opportunity. We have taken care of our business for over three thousand years and there is no reason to think we will not rise up to the occasion now. Just give us a level playing field and Green Yellow and Red will fly high on our ancient mountains and fields.

P.S. We have a petition on line to be presented to your office along this letter. The Web address is as follows:

Syria and Ethiopia–two peas in a pod.

Syria and Ethiopia–two peas in a pod. By Yilma Bekele
Tahrir Square, Misrata, Darra, Homs are becoming a household name. They are home of the brave and the bold. History will show epic battles were fought in this locations and the people won. The battles were not against foreign aggressors but rather it was the people against one of their own. Movies will be made, musicals will be composed and poetry written chronicling the taste of freedom and the average person’s sacrifice to keep it. They are locations we should all be proud of. They are places where the word ‘NO’ resonated to be heard all around the world. Some will say they are places of shame. No one likes to wash dirty linen in public. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria showed us sometimes it is necessary. It has to be done to cleanse the country from of years of accumulated spiritual dirt.
We in Ethiopia have a lot of cleaning to do. Our house is filled with dirt and grime. Sweeping the dirt under the rug did not work. Painting over the dirt only aggravated the existing illness. In our case reform is not such a good idea. It can be said that we introduced the concept of remodeling a crumbling house. We did not have a prototype to test our design. Our model failed twice. Fear no more. A final design is emerging in the Arab World. We have a successful prototype to adapt to our situation.
We thank our Arab neighbors for the heavy lifting. We envy their success while we are not ashamed to bask in their reflected glory. Our self-esteem is enhanced by their success. We are ready to learn and implement the final battle. The question is not if there is going to be a war but how best to prepare for it is our issue. What better teacher than our Arab friends can one ask for?
All three countries have their own story to tell. There is a common thread running thru out their story. All three were cursed with evil men in charge. Two have overcome and one is on the verge. We have watched all three closely and here is the lesson I have grasped from this unfolding event. As I write this Gadhafi and family are on the run but by the time you read it he could be in custody either in Tripoli, Benghazi or The Hague, even dead. A sorry ending to a sorry life.
Tunisia is the spoiler. Ben Ali is not a good prototype. He loved himself too much. He was able to see the writing on the wall. He bailed out the first instance of trouble. As a dictator he was not the pride of his club. Mrs. Leila Ben Ali did not fare any better. While the mob was outside the walls she was busy hauling gold from the National Bank. At least she got her priorities right. They took the last train out of town. We noticed Tunisians don’t have the stomach for violence. Compared to what came after, theirs is the quiet revolution. Even the name given to their uprising is so laidback. What do you expect from a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ other than love? The world will never forget Mohamed Bouazizi our hero that lit the fuse which is still burning.
Egypt is a different matter. Mubarak was a formidable foe. Unfortunate for him his opponents were more formidable and savvy. He had plenty of tricks in his bag and used them all. First he was belligerent. He dismissed the whole incident as another attempt by the feeble. Then he brought the old Moslem Brotherhood into the picture with al Qaeda thrown in to please the West. That did not get traction. It was time for good old cabinet shuffle. The people of Egypt went into collective yawn. It was time to bring out the tugs on camel back. Single handedly our Mubarak ignited Tahrir Square like never before. It was a matter of time before the dominos started to fall. The Generals grabbed the last parachute and bailed out. Egypt is too educated and advanced for us. The lesson for us is dictators are paper tigers.
Now Libya is very interesting. The resemblance to our Ethiopia is borderline freaky. They are not our twin but close. The Leader is someone existing in his own zone. Why not, he has been hallucinating for the last forty years. He had the nerve to scold the Tunisians for chasing Ben Ali and Leila. That requires balls made of titanium. Too bad the brain is a mush. Gadhafi thought he has all his ducks lined up. Nothing can go wrong in Libya. What – me worry he said. Delusion was his undoing. He has his elder son berating his people, his middle son with his own battalion rearing to burn and pillage and his only daughter screaming on National TV. Libya was a family affair.
Vain, selfish, spoiled and totally mad is a few of the adjectives used to explain this dysfunctional family. The oil money helped fuel their eccentric behavior. For forty years Libya was run like a family business. For forty years ‘The Leader’ was allowed to bully his people, bully his neighbors and entertain humanity. The West accommodated him when it suits their interest. The Libyan people suffered quietly. Today it is payback time.
Gadhafi felt he was safe why? Because he thought he did his homework that is why. He had all that is needed to run a police state. No independent Parties are allowed. Check. No independent media permitted. Check. No independent civic organizations tolerated. Check. Country divided among tribal lines. Check. Secret police let loose on the population. Check. Those that can be bribed, black mailed or exiled taken care of. Check. What in heaven went wrong? Sometimes it is not all about the belly. Mental and spiritual freedom is another necessary component. That is what is lacking in oil rich Libya. That is what Senor Gadhafi is finding out as he is hiding in a cold and wet underground bunker with no light and no TV to watch himself bully his people. Today he is the rebel and they are the State. Life has a way of catching up, you think? The Leader has a date to keep with International Court of Justice or a single bullet. He brought it on himself.
Syria is a different animal. Syria is our identical twin. Ato Meles meet Dr. Assad your long lost brother. Their resemblance is uncanny. Syria is our prototype. What Assad does Meles will do, you can be sure of that. What is being done to the Syrian people will be done to us, no question about that. Because the primitive nature of our society we get double dose. What exactly is Assad and company doing to their people is a good question.
Hafez al Assad the father of the current president died in 2000 after thirty years of brutal dictatorship. The Parliament amended the constitution reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34 to allow his son to succeed him. In a referendum in which he ran unopposed he was able to ‘win’ 97.29%. You can say amending the constitution and rigging elections are a common trait shared by our brave leaders.
The Assad’s belong to the Alawi tribe. The Alawi are Arabic speaking ethno-religious community. According to Daniel Pipes writing in The Middle Eastern Studies ‘Alawis were the weakest, poorest, most rural, most despised, and most backward people of Syria. In recent years, however, they have transformed themselves into the ruling elite of Damascus. Today, Alawis dominate the government, hold key military positions, enjoy a disproportionate share of the educational resources, and are becoming wealthy.’
You see what I mean. Substitute Alawi with some people we know and you got a mirror image. The Alawi constitute 12% while ours account for 14%. Assad got Maher and Rifaat his two brother and other Alawi tribesmen in key positions controlling the Army and security while we got Smora Yunus, Tadese Worde and Gebre Dela. Where their allegiance lies is not difficult to guess. The Nation or the Tribal Leader is a hard choice to make. Sometimes but not today.
Here is where we and our Syrian cousins break ranks with Tunisia and Egypt. Ben Ali and Mubarak were measured in their response. The killing was a last resort. It was not a first response. An argument can be made for the two being a peaceful revolution or change thru non-violence. Without the population resorting to picking up arms. The regime of course killed but it was a half-hearted attempt. The nature of the Army made a big difference in the regimes psychology. Cairo and Tunis have a professional army loosely chained to the dictators while in Syria and Ethiopia the Army/State Security and the political leadership are peas in a pod. One cannot exist without the other. So what has Hafze’s son been up to? Nothing good at all!
His problem started when Tunisia erupted with Ben Ali fatigue. Bashir felt the heat all the way in Syria. It has been percolating ever since. All the standard responses have been tried. Nothing seems to work. He has tried sending tanks into neighborhoods, mass arrest, snipers on every tall building, concessionary speeches on TV, promises of coming election, lifting of draconian laws, setting up meetings with selected ‘opposition’ groups and encouraging inter-ethnic strife. None worked. There is no reason to think he is capable of meeting the demands of the people. The situation he has boxed himself does not allow compromise. The two thousand people his security has killed since the onset of the uprising have completely changed the situation.
Is there a formula that allows Assad to escape from this unfortunate situation? There is always a chance, isn’t that what Doctors tell you even when the diagnosis is terminal cancer? The truth is that there are not that many instances where serial criminals such as Assad or Gadhafi have negotiated a safe exit. A few have managed to negotiate a way out. Chile and South Africa are good examples. Assad’s Syria is a little different.
Both Augusto Pinochet and F.W de Klerk agreed to free and fair elections. They also received guarantees that the new regime will be measured in its dealings regarding the past. Their organizations and most of the upper class that benefited from the current order agreed ‘democracy with guarantees’ was a better way out. Is this possible in Syria?
The answer is a guarded no. There are factors that complicate the situation. How does the minority but highly visible Alawis react? They supplied the muscle to the regime wouldn’t a new situation complicate that? The resentful Sunni majority is not going to sit idle when they see a crack on the wall. Notice the role of the Mosques in this confrontation. How about the powder keg of the young and unemployed, what do they have to lose? Assad is between a hard place and a rock.
The opposition is becoming bold and relentless. The foreigners are putting a squeeze on him by freezing his account and threatening a few of his accomplices. The economy is tanking due to the strife economic and isolation and the Arab League has turned left. His Army is stretched thin and money is running low. Inflation is here.
Due to his and his father’s iron rule there is no credible opposition he can negotiate with. The mob on the street is not going to listen to his chosen leaders of the legal opposition. Accepting free and fair election is out of the question. Why would his Alawi base accept that? What guarantee do they have the Sunni majority will be so forgiving for years of abuse? Why would the criminal elements in the Security and Army expose themselves to trial and punishment? How about those paper millionaires both Alawi and Sunni, would they sit and watch while their wealth crumbles?
As you can see the similarities between the two countries is very scary. It is clear Assad is cornered. It has not occurred to him that further resistance is futile. The least we can do in Ethiopia is watch and learn and devise ways of turning our coming disaster into a positive moment. It is no use to pretend things are hanky dory. They are not. When a single Banana costs $10 bir, a liter of cooking oil costs $130 or so a kilo of coffee costs $140 it is not all right. It is not going to be all right in the near future. We have to discuss ways of confronting the problem and have a solution ready. We buy insurance in case we have an accident. When it happens, if it happens we are ready. Let’s us look at our country the same way. In case it starts to implode from inside, like the last two times I believe it is better to anticipate situations and devise appropriate response. This knee jerk response based on hate and insufficient knowledge and expertise is not rational or winning strategy.

The ‘domino effect’ in living color

By Yilma Bekele

What is referred to at the domino effect is “a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then cause another similar change, and so on in a linear sequence.” We are witnessing that phenomenon right now.

Fear of the domino effect is what got the US involved in Vietnam in the ‘60’s. When The Vietminh under Ho Chi Minh took over North Vietnam and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the US was convinced the communists will over run South Vietnam then continue on to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and so on. The war was to arrest the Communist juggernaut. Whether it failed or was a success is a matter of interpretation.

A recent example of the fear of the domino effect is the bailout of the Banking system here in the US and Western Europe. The US Treasury came up with the term ‘too big to fail.’ It was felt that allowing a major bank to go bankrupt would start a chain reaction that will threaten the capitalist system, as we know it. The taxpayer was compelled to prop up the banks with no interest loans and a guarantee by the Federal Reserve to do what is necessary to protect the integrity of the system.

This last week the domino effect came home to roost in every capital city where freedom and civil rights have been put in the back burner. Our beautiful and brave friends in Tunisia started the ball rolling in a spectacular fashion. May the almighty bless Tunisians and their ancestors. The elegant system they devised to topple a tyrant of over twenty years was awe inspiring in its simplicity and ease of application. It was a work of art. They are still fine tuning their copy righted manual “Seven Easy Steps to Get Rid of A Tyrant©”

An ordinary citizen named Mohamed Bouaziz set himself on fire because he decided it was not worth living in such an environment. I have no idea if he saw the bigger implication of his one-person defiance. For whatever reason he did it for, his public immolation set the domino effect in motion. Let us just say tyrants everywhere are rethinking their future prospects. No matter what brave face they present or pretend to do business as usual Tunisia has scared the pants out of them.

There was no fighting force in Tunisia. There was no opposition party that seized the leadership. Religion was not a factor. There were no glaring signs that things were simmering. But in less than thirty days the eruption of dis-content engulfed a whole nation. In a blink of an eye el macho, full of himself, the leader for life, tyrant and bully Ben Ali was stripped of his humanity.

It looks like Egypt is the next domino piece to fall. May be not. It really don’t matter, the foundation is showing cracks as big as Abbay gorge. Sooner or later it will crumble. As I write this, it is the third day of spontaneous protests and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Mubarak and company. His son who was considered the heir apparent left for London with his wife and family. Now Mrs. Mubarak is reported to be in London too. I assume the tyrant of thirty years will join them soon enough. I will also venture to state that dictator Mubarak and family will settle in the US for the rest of their life in exile. Welcome fellow refugees.

Since I am in this euphoric mood may I predict the fall of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the demise of “The Leader”. For you not in the know, that is how they refer to Corporal Gaddafi of Libya to be followed by Saleh of Yemen. Even Lloyds of London will deny King Abdallah II and Colonel Gaddafi’s life insurance coverage.

With all this excitement twirling in North Africa and the Middle East it was strange to listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clintons advice to the Egyptian people. Reuters reported that “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

It sounds familiar to Ethiopians. In the aftermath of the 2005 elections the US and European Diplomats were urging Kinijit to show restraint. It is sort of strange advice after her forceful statement congratulating the Tunisian people. It would not be surprising if the Department of State condemns the abuse of power by former President Mubarak and his associates of course after his downfall. It is not only dictatorships that refuse to learn, super powers are short sighted too.

With all this drama around us, it is not asking a lot to see if we can learn a few lessons so we can make our transformation less painful. The last two times we tried this game of change we sort of stumbled and fell hard. Let us hope the third time it will be a charm.

We have a lot in common with both Tunisia and Egypt. All our leaders have abused their welcome by twenty years and over. The regimes are based on single party rule. Opposition is not tolerated. They speak the language of democracy and emerging economies. They trade heavily with the current currency of being anti terrorism. They are favored by both the IMF and the World Bank. The youth unemployment hovers 30% and more. No matter how much rosy picture the IMF and their propaganda machines paint, the reality is their economy has stagnated. It cannot support the aspirations of the people.

Compared to the two, Ethiopia is a little different. We are lot poorer. Ethiopia is still a peasant society. Communication like Internet, Television, and Radio are deliberately suppressed. Our leader understands knowledge is power. In Ethiopia there is a Communications Department that oversees what is being said and printed in the country.

In both Tunisia and Egypt what is being called ‘Social Media’ played a big role in the citizens ability to be informed and organize. Facebook and twitter are the new heroes. That is what we lack in Ethiopia. The Meles regime was aware of the power of information and suppressed the media. The 2005 general elections proved to Meles and company the danger of even a half free press.

But we are innovative people. We will always find a way out. We created ESAT. I know Voice of America and Deutche Welle are doing an excellent job of informing our people. But ESAT is different. ESAT is you and I. It is the result of our own labor and sweat. It is accountable to no one but us. ESAT is our Facebook and twitter. The TPLF regime knows that. They will spare no amount of expenses to shut ESAT down. They have done it once. They will try again. We will deny them that pleasure.

You know how we do that? We make ESAT strong. We make ESAT independent. We contribute to make ESAT to have the best capability to inform our people. It is easy. Go to and you can give using pay pal, bank transfer or just call them. It is not how much you give. That is not the issue. It is all about building from scratch and encouraging the best in us. There is no point feeling good about Tunisia and hoping for Egypt. We can help them by contributing our share of liberating our corner of the world. Go to and give your share. It could be ten dollars or a thousand but what matters is you gave. Are you up to the challenge?

Ethiopia’s Meles and Picasso – masters of their art

By Yilma Bekele

My friend came from out of town for a visit. I took him around to all the tourist places, including our local Museum of Modern Art. Lucky for us there was a Picasso exhibit the critics were raving about. It was a delight to view Picasso’s work in living color.

I was transfixed by the painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ or the chicks from d’ Avignon. (
Even though Picasso denied it, this work shows a strong resemblance to African art. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the maestro at his best. By some it is considered his most daring and outrageous work. The use of bold colors and brash diagonal lines makes the painting full of activity and perpetual motion. Pablo Picasso was a genius. Looking at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon one is left with the impression that Picasso was developing a new means of artistic expression. He is considered a maestro or ‘king of his craft.’

Then it came to me. I know some one that fits the description. It is no other than our dear leader for life Meles Zenawi. Picasso used his god given talent to bring joy to humanity while Meles uses his devil inspired negatively charged machinations to create chaos, mistrust and uncertainty to his subjects. The maestro our very own ‘prince of darkness.’

It was a sad realization but nevertheless a realization that will at eat my heart for the next two weeks. No matter how hard I tried to push it out of my head, it wouldn’t go away. I have to admit it was an apt comparison. There was no escaping from the fact that we are witnessing the scientific evolution of the ‘art of terror’ and our very own Meles Zenawi is achieving the rank of maestro in his chosen field. OK I concede, we can qualify it by creating a new classification of ‘mal maestro’. It must be a proud moment for his friends and family. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some just cheat, lie, push, shove, and kill just to make it. We have a winner amongst us.

Bestowing the title of maestro on our ‘Dear leader’ might be offensive to some. But ladies and gentlemen, if you will forgive me, I don’t see anything wrong in giving credit where credit is due. The tightly choreographed play that passed for a democratic and free election is worthy of mention in any history book. Mal maestro sounds like a perfect title to me. Our friend Picasso introduced the African sense of unrestricted vibrant wild energy into the ‘Cubist’ style of the time. Last weekend humanity watched in living color the modern drama of unabashed robbery as witnessed by distinguished guests from Europe and Africa. The opposition candidates were led to the sacrificial pooling booth accompanied by neatly dressed and well-fed toy solders adorned in their best-imported uniforms.

Just to add a little bit of drama our mal maestro erected video cameras in every major corners to watch, record and intimidate while a low flying helicopter supposedly equipped with video camera and automatic weapons was thrown in for special effect. The 2010 fourth general election in Ethiopia is another milestone in our history that will be judged as the best work of mal maestro Meles Zenawi by generations to come.

It took five years of preparation to put paint to canvas, and come up with such glorious achievement of 99.6% purity. Many have tried it but none have achieved such pure nirvana. Sudan’s Al Bashir was awe stricken, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe was flabbergasted, Mymar’s nameless Generals demanded the blueprint, and the Chinese Communist Party was humbled. Iran’s Ahmadinejad called a cabinet meeting upon hearing such colossal achievement, and Kyrgyzstan’s petty tyrant is said to have wept openly from his hiding place in Belarus. Solomon Tekaligne is right ‘the eye browed’ one is one cool hombre.

Watching the mal maestro at work is a delight. Professionals make a difficult task look so easy. The election drama was played out to a mesmerized audience with such passion that it left the feeble opposition dumbstruck and shell-shocked. Mal maestro Meles displayed such bold moves as TV debates in undisclosed location to be edited and broadcasted at a later time. His use of vibrant colors full of energy was evident in his ‘warning’ of contestants that they will be held liable for their negative uttering regarding his policy. The only location they could campaign without being taunted, beaten or abused was thousands of miles away in North America among non-voting supporters. Even there, they were reminded of the penalty of ‘mis- speaking’ that will await them. They were forced to relearn the art of speaking without saying anything of value. The fact that the opposition sacrificed a few die-hards was compared to the 2005 election and declared an improvement.

Our mal maestro was so sure of success that he organized a victory celebration before the ballots were in. The neat beautiful tri-color posters were printed months back, the participants paid ahead and the beautiful dais at Meskel Square lit with special lighting. The bulletproof vest was adorned with a casual jacket, the baseball hat was lined with silk and the big Israeli gun was brought out openly to make a bold statement of ‘don’t thread on me.’ The picture of the little dictator behind the bulletproof glass in front of his adoring fans was a symbol of our insanity taken to a higher level.

Mal maestro Meles is not faint hearted. That is his undoing. Why pussyfoot around when you can overwhelm and relieve the peasants of their misery is his motto. He is daring but lacks wisdom. Crude is the word I am looking for. He is void of ingenuity, creativity and nuance. A wise person searches a clever way out of an unpleasant situation. Our mal maestro is not blessed with subtlety. By any standards a blunt force such as 99.6% is the least elegant solution. It is like calling upon the US Air Force to settle a bar room brawl.

What did his subjects do, you might ask? I will try to answer that delicately. For a people who have been trampled upon for the last thirty years, we have developed a very fragile ego. Who would blame us if we turn around and fault ourselves? Victim blaming certainly did not start with us. Didn’t the Europeans blame Africans for the slave trade? Didn’t Hitler blame the Jews for his atrocities? Didn’t Meles blame Kinijit for planning Interhamwe? Well it is no surprise that some are blaming the opposition for losing.

Please tell me something new. Isn’t self-flagellation our national past time? No one can surpass Ethiopians in that field. We leave our homeland empty handed, we settle in strange places, we build a life, we raise a family and we still bad mouth each other. Do you notice that we live together in humongous apartment complexes, eat Tibs and Kitfo in our own restaurants, buy insurance from our cousins but without pause, we talk about the uselessness of Abeshas. Why stop there while you are at it why not blame the University massacre, the war with Eritrea, the genocide in Hawasa, Ogaden and Gambella the over 40% unemployment, the debacle of Gibe Dam and other mal maestros misdeeds on the opposition. Hey why not include the lack of rain in the mix. That should show everybody the only smart choice is the gang from Adwa.

So how did we deal with our current debacle? I am afraid I have nothing positive to report. We have decided to direct the rage on each other. Our programming was so complete we were ready to accept any crumbs thrown by the mal maestro. The contestants openly admitted the impossibility of wining. The issue was presented how much less was acceptable. Talks about low expectations, our gallant parties were reduced to dampening the enthusiasm of some of their hotheaded supporters that took the fake election to heart.

Where do we go from here? Do we go back to old habit of passing the blame around, knocking each other down and hiding our head under the sand or try something new for a change. Something like looking at the glass half full rather than half empty. Do we dare building on what we have instead of raising the bar so high and setting ourselves for another failure?

I am an optimist. I see the glass half full. I believe the mal maestro due to arrogance of power or the freelance nature of his well-trained zombie cadres committed a slight error. 99.6% was not the intention. But you can’t undue what is already done. He has made it difficult to his foreign benefactors to turn the usual blind eye. So they will complain a little, wring their hands a little and advise his victims to be a little patient. Some of us have already started to crow about the few isolated statements foreign office junior officials regarding the lack of ‘level playing field’ yadi yada. We seem to revelle when the Ferenjis tell us how brutal the mal maestro is. Ferenjis enable the victimizer then tell us how painful it is.

Now the ball is in our court so to say. It is about time somebody shows they got tooth too, that we can and we will bite back. We want our own ‘shock and awe’ moment. The time for talk is over. Baby steps are not the solution. Condemnations, outrage, anger are so yesterday. Today should be ‘look mom I can stand up with no support’ display moment. It is to show the world we are not dead, that we are capable of sacrifice and when we set our minds to the task we can do it! The issue is not how strong the enemy is but how committed we are for freedom. It is about hitting him in his most vulnerable spots and creating uncertainty and doubt. His benefactors will abandon him the first whiff of trouble. Our people will rally around the first inkling of trouble brewing. We ask someone to step forward and do the maestro a favor. He is tired, let us relieve him of such a heavy burden of bullying eighty million souls and let him get his deserved rest in a four by six room at Kaliti. We will include weight watchers manual in case of a few kilos from such comfort.

Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

There is an old morality tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes about a king who is so self-absorbed, vainglorious and obsessed with his appearance that he hired two suit makers and gave them vast amounts of money to sew him the finest silk robes. They agreed to make the robes but warned the king that the types of robes they make are invisible to anyone who is unfit for their official position or hopelessly stupid. As they set out to sew their make-believe robes, the king and his ministers would drop in from time to time and offer their admiration for the suit makers’ craftsmanship of the invisible robes. None would dare challenge the suit makers afraid of being called incompetent or stupid. Finally, the suit makers dressed the king in their pretend silk robe and marched him down the street with his courtiers to the applause and cheers of his obedient subjects. The people could see that the king was naked but were afraid to say so fearing his anger. A child in the crowd suddenly yelled out that the king is naked; and the crowd began chanting: “The king is naked!” The king cringed with shame and embarrassment, but held himself up proudly as he continued to walk naked in the royal procession.

The tale of the naked emperor is an apt allegory for the so-called Ethiopian election being held on May 23. The ruling regime in Ethiopia has been blowing its horn about an invisible “democratic election” for over a year. They brought in the best European “election” tailors to embroider the finest “election code of conduct.” They threatened, cajoled, bribed and withheld food aid from the people to force them out into the street and clap and ululate for them as they paraded themselves in their invisible majestic robe of democratic election. Some Western and African representatives volunteered to line up the streets cheerleading for the king. The European Union (EU) sent a delegation of 150 observers to observe 32 million voters vote at 43,000 polling stations in an election that was won by the ruling regime long before it was even conceived. The African Union (AU) deployed 60 observers to do the same in flagrant disregard of its own Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines, Section V (14). Both the EU and AU boogied down at the naked king’s parade with full knowledge that “the people who cast the votes (and observe the votes) decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Dictator Meles Zenawi prohibited diplomatic representatives from traveling outside the capital during the “election”. He told Al Jazeera a few days ago that it was a bad idea for diplomats to observe the elections because it was disapproved by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Swedish organization which helped him devise the “election code of conduct”: “I know that some diplomats in Addis are offended when they are told they [can not go outside Addis Ababa], but I am sure [allowing them to travel] is not internationally [IDEA] accepted best practice.” That is simply not true! It is a verifiable fact that IDEA strongly encourages all individuals, organization and governments who conduct or are involved in elections to maintain openness, transparency and neutrality because “The public will measure the legitimacy of an election on the basis of both the actual integrity of its administration and the appearance of integrity of the election process.” IDEA emphatically urges “each person or organization using its code of conduct to apply it flexibly, together with good common sense, to meet the requirements of each situation.” By IDEA’s own standards, allowing the diplomats to observe would be “best practice” because they could help ensure and verify the integrity of the election process.

The fact of the matter is that we have witnessed an election in terrorem for the past year in which the ruling party has harassed, intimidated, threatened and inflicted violence against opposition party leaders and members. On April 13, 2010, Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he will hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May, 2010 “election”, or agitate the youth for political action.[1] Weeks before “election” day, the ruling regime mounted a sustained campaign of smear and fear, distortions and lies, fabrications and accusations and allegations and charges of incitement to violence, “acting against the constitution” and other malicious hyperbole and propaganda against opposition leaders. All this was manifestly intended to prepare public opinion (and the donor community) for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralization and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in the post-“election” period. As usual, Western donors have covered their eyes with their hands pretending not to see, but peeking at this travesty of democracy between their fingers. They know the whole election farce is staged for their cynical amusement and to beg them later for more handouts. They have become willing collaborators in their own manipulation. So the king proudly marches down the boulevard to applause; but alas! he has no clothes.

Of course, the issue is not whether the emperor has clothes, but whether the people have clothes to cover their backs withered by two decades of dictatorship, enough food to quell the hunger in their stomachs, adequate shelter from the elements and enough oxygen of freedom to breath. In the final analysis, there is one and only one question of consequence in this “election”:

Are the people of Ethiopia better off today than they were 5 years ago?

Do Ethiopians have more food to eat today than they did five years ago? Is there less unemployment in the country today than five years ago? Less inflation? More health care? More press freedom? More human rights protections today than five years ago? Is there more accountability, transparency and openness in government today than five years ago? Do young Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future than they did five years ago? Do Ethiopia’s youth have more employment opportunities today than they did five years ago? More academic freedom in the universities? Do Ethiopians have more access to the vast universe of information available on the internet than they did five years ago? (On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, President Obama singled out Ethiopia as one of four countries in the world that have prevented their citizens from “gaining greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies.”) Do Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future, their rulers and public institutions than they did five years ago?

The answer is a resounding NO.

After 19 years of one-man, one-party rule, does the same crew of kleptocrats cling to power like barnacles to the sunken Ethiopian ship of state? Do the dictators continue to use more violence, intimidations, threats and arbitrary arrests and detentions against their opposition to maintain themselves in power? Do those who massacred 193 innocent protesters and wounded hundreds more after the 2005 elections still walk the streets free? Are the country’s prisons full of political prisoners? Are the members of the ruling party and their allies getting richer, and the masses growing hungrier and poorer everyday? Are the robbers who stole millions of dollars worth of gold bars from the national bank in broad daylight in 2007 still roam the streets free enjoying their loot? Is the environment more degraded today than it was five years ago? Is corruption so endemic in Ethiopia that the country for the last five years has been ranked at the very bottom of the International Corruption Index? Does Ethiopia still rank at the very bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index (in 2005 (169/177 countries; in 2009 (171/182) [2]?

The answer is a resounding YES!

The fact of the matter is that talking about elections in a police state is like talking about a fish riding a motorcycle. It is silly. It is sheer madness. [3]

But Ethiopia today stands at the crossroads of history; and as the old African saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” At this crossroad, Ethiopians can choose to take the right way or the wrong way. The right way is the way of national reconciliation, compromise, mutual understanding and tolerance. The wrong way is the way of force, violence, brutality, threats, intimidation and persecution. Ethiopians can choose the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to follow and live by the rule of law and ensure everyone’s human rights are respected and all are held to account for their actions and omissions. The hard way is the way of dictatorship, despotism, deceit and conceit. Ethiopians can take the high road or the low road. The high road is the way of morality, ethical conduct, common sense and compassion. The low road is the way of dishonesty, lies, distortions and trickery. We can take the road to somewhere or the road to nowhere. The road to somewhere take us to national unity, commonality of purpose, harmony, coalition-building and cooperation. The road to nowhere takes us to ethnic division and tribal conflict, irrational fear and hatred and needless violence and destruction. We can take the superhighway or the dirt road. The superhighway will take us on a wonderful journey to a brave new world of information, ideas and knowledge on the wings of modern technology. The dirt road has a one-way ticket to dictatorship, tyranny, darkness and ignorance. We can walk together on the united way or remain stranded on a divided highway.

Ultimately, we can choose the way of all our ancestors — the Ethiopian Way — or join the way of the ignoramuses who arrogantly proclaim that “if it is not my way, there ain’t no way but the highway.” We must choose the Ethiopian Way — the way of humanity, unity, solidarity, integrity, honesty, cordiality, empathy, fraternity and congeniality.

If we choose to take the Ethiopian Way, we must collectively make our roadmap to get us to our preferred destination. We will need to set the mileposts and detail out the rules of the road. We must brightly mark the “yield” and “stop” signs together with the “no crossing” and “danger” signs along the way. We must be prepared to take the “the road less traveled” to get to our destination. That is the road of tolerance, good will, broad-mindedness, patience and understanding. We must avoid the beaten path of personal attacks, hatred and prejudice, recriminations, accusations and pettiness. We can not begin a new journey along the Ethiopian Way with the old mindset: “If you don’t agree with me in everything, you are my enemy.” We must trade it in for a new spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood across ethnic, linguistic, class and regional lines. We must reinvent a new mentality that substitutes the concerns of ethnicity and partisanship with the needs of our basic humanity, our unity in our Ethiopian nationality and our personal authenticity.

Let us use this bogus election as the impetus for the development of a comprehensive political, economic, social and legal agenda for Ethiopia that is based on a compelling vision of a better future for this and coming generations. Let us cast off the shortsightedness and narrow partisanship of the past. Let us gather ideas from all segments of society — and not just from the intellectuals and the elites – and pursue them inclusively and aggressively with a common sense of purpose and destiny. If desperate times require desperate actions, times of great opportunity such as this one require quick, bold and determined action. Carpe diem! Let us seize the moment and set a new course for Ethiopia.

The future is bright for Ethiopia regardless of the already-won election of 2010. No doubt some will be disheartened and dispirited; but it is illogical to be disappointed about an “election” outcome that has always been a foregone conclusion. It is natural to anguish over the loss of such a great opportunity to plant the seeds of democracy in Ethiopia. But we must always be mindful of the fact that nothing will give the dictators greater pleasure than having us all depressed and dejected about their “victory” in this “election”. Their ardent wish is that we abandon and give up the struggle for the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. But they fail to grasp a simple fact: These causes are much larger and greater than any one election, one dictator, one party or one regime. These causes represent the quintessential, timeless and universal yearning of all humanity in recorded history. As the great Nelson Mandela said, “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” We must never let the sun set on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.

As for the “election”: Let us just say that it ain’t the votin’ that makes for a free and fair election. It is the countin’. We sure know who will be burning the midnight oil on May 23 counting, double-counting, triple- and quadruple-counting the same ballots to proclaim victory at the crack of dawn on May 24. This Ethiopian election caper aside, it has been said that a “politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” Let us all strive to develop in earnest the true attributes of genuine statesmanship and stateswomanship so that we may be able to help the next generation become Ethiopia’s Greatest Generation!

Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia!

[3] See

(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,,, and other sites.)

Ethiopia: Waiting for Godot to Leave?

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Last week, a couple of interesting political statements grabbed the cyber headlines. One was a truly entertaining piece entitled “Letter from Ethiopia,” by the indomitable Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega. Eskinder’s “Letter” sought to make sense of the power jockeying that is apparently taking place backstage to replace dictator Meles Zenawi. The other was a bombastic speech given by Zenawi to a captive audience in Mekele in observance of the 35th anniversary of the founding of his liberation movement. In that speech, Zenawi unleashed a torrent of vitriol against his opponents and critics to rival Hugo Chavez’s, and indulged in a little bit of megalomaniacal braggadocio and self-glorification for democratizing Ethiopia and inundating it with prosperity.

Using the so-called election scheduled for May, 2010 as a backdrop, Eskinder crystal-balled the inevitable implosion of the ruling “EPDRF” party, and sketched out the qualifications of the motley crew of droll characters standing in line as heirs-apparent to succeed Zenawi on the “throne”.

Scratch beyond the surface and the EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] is really not the monolithic dinosaur as it is most commonly stereotyped. [It has become] a coalition of four distinct phenomenon: the increasing confusion of the dominant TPLF [Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front], the acute cynicism of the ANDM [Amhara National Democratic Movement], the desperate nihilism of the OPDO [Oromo People’s Democratic Organization] and the inevitable irrelevance of the incongruent SEPM [South Ethiopian People’s Movement] (a grab bag of some 40 ethnic groups from the southern part of the country). ”

In the battle royal for the “throne” are a number of goofy and cagey characters including “OPDO’s Girma Biru” who is said to be “managerially competent” but a dud and a wimp when it comes to formulating a “grand vision and [lacks] the ruthlessness deemed crucial to keep the EPRDF vibrant and intact.” OPDO chairman Abadula Gemeda, the butt of “the city’s political jokes”, is considered a possible contender and given full credit for his own “comical intellectual pretensions.” ANDM’s Addisu Legesse is said to be held in “particular high esteem” by Zenawi for his servility and slavish loyalty beyond and above the call of duty. Then there is the Svengalian master of intrigue, Bereket Simon whose “influence is expected to wane once Meles eventually leaves the limelight.” The crocodilian Sebhat Nega, “king maker for two decades”, has apparently “chosen to leave TPLF’s politburo” but remains a member of the Central Committee as puppet-master extraordinaire.

In other words, the politics of “succession” to Zenawi’s “throne” has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the “throne” (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up, but each day a young messenger comes to tell them Godot will be there tomorrow. As they wait each day, they try to find something to do. They keep busy chatting, arguing, singing, playing games, swapping hats, taking their shoes off, napping and doing all sorts of trivial things just “to hold the terrible silence at bay”. Each day, the characters tell each other that they can not go on waiting. They are so tired of waiting day after day that they contemplate suicide. Godot never shows up but the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they can not remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came.

Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain’t happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work. In his Mekele speech, Zenawi made it clear that he is staying put and the great business of state business will go on as usual; and but for the wicked opposition elements and pesky critics, how things could really be awesome! But he did not hold back in visiting his wrath on his opposition and critics. With rhetorical flourish, he lambasted his former comrade-in-arms, opposition elements and critics with the Amharic equivalent of “muckrakers”, “mud dwellers” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk”. He accused them of being “anti-democratic”, “anti-people” fomenters of “interhamwe”. He called them “sooty”, “sleazy”, “gun-toting marauders”, “pompous egotists” and every other name than could be pumped out of the Insulto-Matic machine. He repeatedly denounced his opposition for rolling in a quagmire of mud and trying to smear mud on the people. After all was said in that speech, it was clear that he was the one doing all the mud-slinging and mud-rolling (chika jiraf and chika mab-kwat). (It must have been a bad hair day for him [no pun intended]!)

Zenawi pulled no punches slamming and vilifying his opponents and critics:

There are those who maintain an eagle eye on the regime with bitter animosity and sully it by painting and drenching it in soot. Regardless, our country has marched into democracy confidently and irreversibly.

Anti-democratic and anti-people forces have so much contempt that they badger our uneducated people telling them chaff is wheat. However, our people are used to winnowing the chaff in the wind and keeping the wheat. Our enemies are peddling chaff to the people and trying to find holes to sabotage our peoples’ democracy, peace and development. But since our organization knows that our operation is airtight, we are not concerned.

The chaff hope to provoke the people into anger and incite them to undemocratically resort to violence. Although they (the “chaff”) can not dirty up the people like themselves, they may try to smear the people with mud in the hope of inciting them into lawlessness.

It was an unstatesmanlike speech, to say the least. But there were a few odd things about the speech itself. Even though the speech was given to a captive audience in Mekele, the clear impression that is created for the listener is that the people of Tigray will be doing the winnowing of the useless “chaff” from the valuable “wheat.” The contextualization of the speech subtly cuts off the people of Tigray from the rest of the country. The incredible amount of venom in the speech could make a snake puke. The allusion-fest to “mud”, “soot,” “chaff”, “wheat”, etc., and the thinly veiled ad hominem attacks, derision and disparagement of opponents and critics points to a deficit of intellectual discipline and rigor to argue and fiercely debate the issues in the court of public opinion. Instead of name-calling, one ought to use hard evidence and logical analysis to disprove the allegations, contentions or analysis of the opponents and critics. In this regard, there is a rather humorous tu quoque (two wrongs make a right) logical fallacy that infuses the whole speech. Zenawi takes the position that since his critics “wallow” in mud and keep slinging it at him, it is right for him to wallow in and sling mud and muck back at them while professing to command the moral high ground. In other words, it is right to “fight mud with mud.” The problem of a mud fight is that everybody gets dirty. It is morally superior and infinitely more pragmatic to fight the “mud slingers” by slinging back at them, not mud pies, but facts, evidence, data and logical analysis.

The speech is also noteworthy for its self-righteousness, messianic fervor and dogmatic certitude in the speaker’s rectitude: Everybody is chaff except the winnowed wheat. Everyone is a member of the Evil Empire except the anointed Jedi Knights of the TPLF who are the guardians of peace and justice in the Republic (to borrow from a popular American motion picture “Star Wars”). Such a Manichean worldview (Weltanschauung) of good and evil and chaff and wheat is symptomatic of narcissistic self-absorption, a behavioral pattern well documented in the psychological literature; and empirically observed in terms of faulty reasoning, acute hostility towards others groups, rigid character attributes and blindness to one’s failings.

The real issue is not about name calling, mudslinging or even determining the true bearers of the democratic cross. The real issue is about the accountability of a personalist dictatorship that is sustained through a self-aggrandizing oligarchy that now craves a veneer of legitimacy by staging a democratic “election” for international donors. The fact remains that no amount of mudslinging, soot smearing or bombastic speech can mask the true nature of an election in a dictatorship. One can put the finest lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day the pig is still a pig.

As Zenawi’s speech shows, he exercises absolute imperial power for self-gratification and self-glorification; and his declared aim is to mold Ethiopian society in his own image. His ruling regime fundamentally believes that political power grows out of the barrel of the gun (not from the consent of the people), fully aware of their own feebleness without the gun. Their raison d’etre is to amass and centralize political and economic power at all costs and maintain themselves in power by greed, fear and blind ambition.

We fully accept the metaphor of “chaff” and “wheat” as a judicious and appropriate way not just to understand Ethiopian politics today but also as a practical way of resolving the crises of confidence in governance and proper determination of leadership succession. It is the right time now to put the metaphor to a real test: Let the Ethiopian people winnow the “chaff” from the “wheat” in the calm winds of a genuinely free and fair election in May 2010! That seems highly unlikely; and the chaff that stands in the way of the people “shall inherit the wind”.

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,, and other sites.