House cleaning or window dressing?
Are they playing us like a cheap fiddle again? For a while, it was all about the Meles Dam and how to collect nickels and dimes to build it. That kind of played itself out. (Not to worry. That circus will be back in town. The public has the attention span of a gold fish. So they think.) It’s time to change the flavor of the month. Time for a new game, a new hype. How about “corruption”? It’s a chic topic. The World Bank is talking about it. Everybody is talking about it. Even the corrupt are talking about corruption. Imagine kleptocrats calling corruptocrats corrupt? Or the pot calling the kettle black?
I have been talking and writing about corruption in Ethiopia for years. After dozens of commentaries on some aspect of corruption in Ethiopia, I am still drumbeating anti-corruption. I have been “lasing” corruption in my commentaries in 2013. I was flabbergasted by the World Bank’s 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. I am still reeling from the shocking findings in that report. In my commentary last week, “Educorruption and Miseducation in Ethiopia”, I focused on corruption in the education sector. It is one thing to steal an election or pull off a gold heist at the national bank, but robbing millions of Ethiopian youth of their future by imprisoning them in the bowels of a corrupt educational system is harrowing, downright criminal. Aarrgghh!
“The Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made the full might of its power known last Friday, after ordering the arrest of 10 high and medium ranking officials of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), along with six businessmen, some of whom are well known… Hailemariam wants to prove that there are no holy-cows…” tooted the opening sentence of an online media outlet. My initial reaction was a bemused, “You don’t say!?” (To be perfectly frank, I exclaimed, “Holy cows? Holy _ _ _ t!!”)
The two dozen “corruption” suspects nabbed in the “investigation” include ERCA “director general” with the “rank of minister”, his deputies and the “chief prosecutor” along with other customs officials. A number of prominent businessmen and some of their family members were also snagged in the dragnet. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told the Voice of America Amharic program last week “the suspects had been under surveillance for over two years.”
The anti-corruption crusaders put on quite a show-and-tell on their television service. They put up dramatic footage of wads and stashes of greenbacks and Eurodollars in suitcases allegedly seized at a suspect’s residence. They displayed allegedly fraudulent land records from another suspect and gave interviews on how the suspects engaged in their corrupt practices. (The show-and-tell was reminiscent of the “terrorist” suspects they paraded in “Akeldama” and “Jihadawi Harakat” with caches of guns and explosives. For the “corruption” suspects, it was stashes of cash.)
The regime’s public relations machine kicked into overdrive. Comments by unnamed “Ethiopian activists praising efforts by the government to crackdown on corruption in the East African country” were reported. One anonymous activists declared, “Ethiopia is pushing forward on efforts to help end the rampant corruption within government and business in the country…. We need to clean up our government…” Other anonymous commentators were quoted proclaiming moral victory on corruption. “The arrests are the beginning of a new Ethiopia free from the politics and past craziness and greed that had been part of the country for far too long.”
Divergent viewpoints on the “investigation” and arrest of the suspects were bandied in the Ethiopian Diaspora. Some offered muted praise for “Hailemariam’s government” for launching a “war” on “corruption”. They said the bagging of the two dozen or so suspects represents a shot across the bow for all “corruptitioners” (a neologism to describe professional practitioners of corruption). Others were convinced the suspects were guilty “because everybody knows they are corrupt. They shakedown every businessman importing goods into the country…” They were glad to see these “bad guys” bagged. There were many who dismissed the whole investigation as a sham, a public relations charade. It is political theater staged for the World Bank, the IMF and other donors who are demanding anti-corruption action as a precondition for handouts.
Some even suggested it was a special show staged for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is expected to visit Ethiopia to attend an African Union summit. The regime bosses can bob and weave against any Kerry punches on human rights and the jailing of dissidents, journalists and opposition leaders by touting their “anti-corruption” efforts. Others viewed the arrests as a fallout of the post-Meles power struggle that is raging among ruling party factions. For the suspects to be arrested, their protector “god fathers” must have been vanquished or purged out in the power play. Still others said the arrest of these particular suspects is the low hanging fruit of corruption in Ethiopia. Going after officials of the customs authority, an agency historically stained with corruption, provides the regime an aura of credibility and magnifies its purported anti-corruption efforts.
I see the whole things with a jaded eye. I am convinced the cunning regime power players are gaming corruption. They are showboating and grandstanding. They are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Nail their opponents and get public relations credit and international handouts at the same time. They are desperately trying to catch some positive publicity buzz in a media environment where they are being hammered and battered everyday by human rights organizations, NGOs, international media outlets and others. It is a public relations stunt and political theatre without much substance or seriousness of purpose. It is standard operating window dressing procedure for the regime. It is red meat for the local population to make themselves look good and drum up support. It is a calculated strategy to reinvent “Hailemariam’s government” with smoke and mirrors. After repeated public cathartic confessions that he is the handmaiden of Meles, Hailemariam now wants to show the world he is Mr. Clean, not Mr. Clone (of Meles). He is no longer part of the corrupt-to-the-core ancien regime of Meles. Mr. Clean is going to clean house and he has already bagged his first “Dirty 2 Dozen”. (Reminds one of Pinocchio telling Geppetto he dreams of becoming a real boy. Hailemariam, a real prime minister?!) What better agitprop to mobilize and capitalize on the infamy of a long reviled and hated agency. If they can’t hoodwink and drum up public support by talking ad nauseam about the Meles Dam, perhaps they can pull it off with a “corruption investigation” of the customs authority. It is sleazy investigating greasy and cheesy.
To say the corrupt Meles regime has no credibility with me is an understatement. The anti-corruption crusaders want us to believe only their side of their story and their silly show-and-tell. But every story has two sides or more. In telling a story, credibility is everything. The regime convicted Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and so many others on lies, fabrications and tall tales. They have no credibility.
I believe those corruptoids are interested in clinging to power, not good governance or stamping out corruption. The only reason they are able to remain in power is because corruption courses in their bloodstream. Corruption is the hemoglobin that delivers life-sustaining oxygen to their nerve center. Without corruption, the tyrannical regime will simply wither away.
I take a dim view of the regime’s “anti-corruption” efforts” not because I am its relentless critic or because I will not miss an opportunity to ding them or make them look bad. I make no apologies for my trenchant criticisms. But the truth of the matter is that if I believed in the slightest that they were serious and genuine about rooting (instead of tooting) out “corruption”, I would be the first to raise my pen and lavish them with praise. I would be rooting and tooting for them.
As I have often remarked, corruption is the malignant cancer that has metastasized throughout Ethiopia’s body politic. That’s why the World Bank’s voluminous report was aptly titled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia.” It is a “clinical” diagnosis which has determined the cancer cells of corruption are not confined to one organ of state (customs authority) which can be surgically removed and treated with the penal equivalent of chemotherapy and radiation. The corruption cancer has spread throughout all organs of state.
The chemotherapy for the cancer of corruption in Ethiopia is a free press that can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. The radiation therapy for the cancer of corruption is an independent prosecutorial office that could catch not only the small winnows in the pond but most importantly the big whales and sharks swimming at the highest levels of government. An independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with due process of law is also very much needed. The preventive care for the cancer of corruption involves vigilant civil society institutions which can work freely at the grassroots levels and provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. It also involves a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable.
None of these “medicines” exist in Ethiopia today. That is why I believe the cancer of “corruption” in due course will destroy the regime though it is the very source of its survival now. More on my views on the “anti-corruption efforts” of the regime later; but a word or two about due process, the rule of law and the “corruption” suspects.
Due process and the rights of the accused
As I was drafting this commentary, I was advised by some learned colleagues that any statement I make that seems remotely sympathetic to the suspects accused of “corruption” could send the wrong message and create the misimpression that I would stoop low to defend even the manifestly corrupt just to make political points against the regime. I was told not to bother because “everybody knows the suspects are corrupt…” One of my feisty friends in a moment of rhetorical impetuosity was compelled to ask, “Why should you care if these S.O.B’s get a fair trial? Everyone knows they are guilty. Let them hang!”
That is where I part ways with my learned friends. The last time I parted ways with them was when I defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University in September 2010. At the time, I was roundly criticized by friends and some of my regular readers. “How could you defend the ‘monster’ who had denied millions of Ethiopians the right to speak and even breath?” I insisted I was not defending a “monster” but the principle of free expression. My defense was simple, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” My position is no different now. If we don’t believe in a fair trial for those we despise as corrupt, then we do not believe in fair trial at all.
I believe in fairness and justice. I do not believe in revenge or retribution. I take no position on the factual guilt or innocence of those accused of “corruption”. If they did the crime, they have to do the time. However, I believe they have a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial. In other words, I make no exceptions or compromises when it comes to taking a position in defending the principle and practice of due process of law and respect for fundamental human rights. Those accused of “corruption” now (and those who will certainly face accusations of crimes against humanity and other crimes in the future) are entitled to full due process of law, which includes not only the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination but also the rights to counsel, adequate notice of charges, an impartial and neutral fact-finder, speedy trial and adjudication by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
My deep concern over the arbitrary administration of justice or denial of fair trial to anyone accused of “corruption”, “terrorism”, “treason”, etc., is rooted in the manifest absence of the rule of law in Ethiopia and the harsh realities of Meles’ officialdom. Any petty “law enforcement” official of the regime has the power to arrest and jail an innocent citizen. As I argued in my February 2012 commentary, “The Prototype African Police State”, a local police chief in Addis Ababa felt so arrogantly secure in his arbitrary powers that he threatened to arrest a Voice of America reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. simply because that reporter asked him for his full name during a telephone interview. “I don’t care if you live in Washington or in Heaven. I don’t give a damn! But I will arrest you and take you. You should know that!!”, barked police chief Zemedkun. If a flaky policeman can exercise such absolute power, is it unreasonable to imagine those at the apex of power have the power to do anything they want with impunity. The regime in Ethiopia is living proof that power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In my view, denial of due process (fair trial) is the highest form of “corruption” imaginable because its denial results in the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life, liberty and property. I am unapologetic in my insistence that the suspects accused of “corruption” are entitled to full due process of law under the country’s Constitution and international human rights conventions. The question is: Could they get a fair trial in the regime’s kangaroo courts? Do these “corruption” suspects have the same chance of getting a fair trial today as those accused of “treason”, “terrorism”, “subversion” yesterday?
Article 20 (3) Ethiopian Constitution provides, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” The same right is secured under the Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7(b) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). Disrespect for the presumption of innocence has been the hallmark of the Meles regime. To be accused of a crime by the Meles regime is to be convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. That is why I have often caricatured the Meles’ judicial system as kangaroo court justice. The courts are corrupted through political manipulation, intimidation and domination. The 2012 U.S. State Department Human Rights report concluded, “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courtsremained weak, overburdened, andsubject to political influence.” One of the “corruption” suspects during his first court appearance complained of prejudicial pretrial publicity because “state television showed his house being searched.”
There is a long and predictable pattern and practice of disregard for the constitutional right to presumption of innocence and wholesale abuse and denial of a panoply of constitutional rights to those accused of political crimes in Ethiopia. Following the 2005 election, Meles publicly declared that “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They were charged, appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Meles railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, without so much as a hearing let alone a trial. He sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement and later declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In 2009, Meles’ right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial as “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long prison sentences.
Meles proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while they were being tried and he was visiting Norway in 2011. He emphatically declared the duo “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists.” Persson and Schibbye were “convicted” and sentenced to long prison terms.
Violations of the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes by the regime are not limited to disregard for the presumption of innocence. Internationally-celebrated Ethiopian journalists including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and many others were denied access to legal counsel for months. Ethiopian Muslim activists who demanded an end to religious interference were jailed on “terrorism” charges and denied access to counsel. They were mistreated and abused in pretrial detention. Scores of journalists, opposition members and activists arrested and prosecuted (persecuted) under the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation were also denied counsel and speedy trials and languished in prison for long periods.
Article 20 (2) provides, “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors. In an interview given to the Voice of America Amharic program last week, a lawyer for one of the suspects complained that he and a bunch of other lawyers were denied access to their clients accused of “corruption” after waiting for five hours. They were told to return the following day because the “suspects were undergoing interrogation.” Yet, Article 19 (5) provides, “Everyone shall have the right not to be forced to make any confessions or admissions of any evidence that may be brought against him during the trial.”
Article 19 (1) provides, “Anyone arrested on criminal charges shall have the right to be informed promptly and in detail… the nature and cause of the charge against him… Article 20 (2) provides, “Everyone charged with an offence shall be adequately informed in writing of the charges brought against him. The “corruption” suspects have yet to be “informed promptly and in detail the charges against them”. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told Voice of America Amharic last week that the “suspects have been under surveillance for two years”. Yet at the suspect’s first court appearance, the prosecutors requested a 14-day continuance to gather more evidence. The “court” ruled the suspects can be held in custody “until the Federal Ethics & Anti-”corruption” Commission (FEACC) could collect additional evidence to bring charges against them.”
If it took them 2 years to investigate the case, but couldn’t wait another 14 days to gather the last pieces of vital evidence before arresting and publicly parading the suspects? This is a trick they have used before. It is called arrest and jest. Put the suspects in jail, crucify them in the press and laugh at them as they languish in prison for months on end. There will be endless delays and continuances “to collect more evidence” and the “court” will allow it because the “court” does what it is told by their political bosses.
There is no judicial system in the world where suspects are arrested of committing crimes after being investigated for 2 years and then the prosecution asks for two more weeks to gather additional evidence. The regime’s trial by publicity and demonization will go on. They will keep pumping out unrebutted damaging information in flagrant disregard of the suspects’ constitutional rights to create hostile pretrial publicity. They talk with a loose tongue about the suspects crimes of “tampering with loan-sharking investigations”, “illegal trading and tax evasion”, “improprieties especially involving imports of steel”, etc. Such is the sad fact of corruptoid justice in the regime’s kangaroo courts. Arrest persons presumed to be innocent and go out and look for evidence of their guilt! What a crock of _ _ _ t!
Fall guys or grand fall
There is something strange about the regime’s current “corruption” narrative; and I must say it reflects very badly on Meles himself. According to reports, the “director general” (the alleged kingpin of the “corruption” ring) was appointed by Meles in 2008. He is a “senior cabinet member”. He is credited for “overseeing several tax reforms including widening the tax base, by requiring businesses to install cash registration machines and to become registered for Value Added Tax (VAT).” According to one report, “Under [the “director general”], the amount of revenues the federal government mobilized has reached 71 billion Br in 2011/12, a dramatic increase from the 19 billion Br collected before he took the position.”
Something is not right with that picture. Was Meles so blind and incompetent to select such a “corrupt man” to take the helm of his money making machine? Did Meles select him to oversee his corrupt empire because he knew the “director general” was the just right man for the job? Is it possible that the “director general” is a victim in a political power play? In any case, the arrest of the “director general” and the smear on his character and reputation reflects very poorly on Meles judgment, common sense and integrity. In my view, if the “director general” is truly the corruption ringleader, then he cannot possibly be the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses), perhaps an underboss or a consigliere.
The anticorruption warriors should be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. If they succeed in their corruption crusade, Meles’ legacy may be at extreme risk. When it came to corruption, Meles had a double standard. For instance, when 10,000 tons of coffee vanished from the warehouses, Meles forgave the coffee thieves and others “because we all have our hands in it”. He threatened to cut the hands of coffee thieves if they steal again. Meles was content to rail against “government thieves” without doing much more. Now Hailemariam wants a single standardof corruption applicable to all. For someone who worships Meles, Hailemariam’s move is downright heresy!
It is noteworthy that the last time Meles mounted a “corruption” investigation was over a decade ago when he rounded up some of his former comrades and their business associates and charged them with “corruption” and railroaded them to prison. Back in the mid-1990s, he jailed the “prime minister” of the “transitional government” on charges of corruption. That “prime minister” ate 12 years in Meles’ prisons. Hailemariam now, without warning, wants to go after all corruptitioners and cut off their hands? Is it going to be the legacy of corruption of Mr. Crook against the promise of good governance by anti-corruption crusader Mr. Clean?
Going after corruption, inc. (unlimited) — the real “holy cows” of “corruption”
In 2011, Meles publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statementtold them that he will forgive them this time because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He threatened to “cut off their hands” if they should steal coffee in the future. In 2011, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$8.4 billion from Ethiopia. In 2009, over US $3 billion illicitly left Ethiopia. “The vast majority of the rise in illicit financial flows is a result of increased corruption, kickbacks, and bribery while the remainder stems from trade mispricing.”
In 2008 “USD16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight never to be seen again. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling party in Ethiopia, “Upon taking power in 1991… liquidated non-military assets to found a series of companies whose profits would be used as venture capital to rehabilitate the war-torn Tigray region’s economy…[with] roughly US $100 million… Throughout the 1990s…, no new EFFORT [Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray owned and operated by TPLF] ventures have been established despite significant profits, lending credibility to the popular perception that the ruling party and its members are drawing on endowment resources to fund their own interests or for personal gain.” According to the World Bank, roughly half of the Ethiopian national economy is accounted for by companies held by a business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) cloasely allied with the ruling EPDRF party. EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks. “Generals” and other military leaders have managed to accumulate properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year, a regime general told Voice of America Amharic that he was able to build a number of multistory buildings worth tens of millions of dollars because he was “given bank loans”.
There is an old Ethiopian saying which roughly translates as follows: “There is no beauty contest among monkeys.” A pig with lipstick at the end of the day is still a pig as the old saying goes. There are no good corruptoids. In any power struggle, it is not uncommon for one group of power players to accuse another of being corrupt. Bo Xilai (once touted to be the successor to President Hu Jintao in China) Liu Zhijun and other high level Chinese communist cadres are facing criminal and political sanctions for alleged abuses of power and accepting bribes. Mikhail Khodorkovsky (once considered the “wealthiest man in Russia”) was jacked up on “corruption” charges and given a long prison sentence. Corruption show trials are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of dictators who seek to neutralize their opponents. As I argued in my commentary “Africorruption”, Inc.”, the business of African “governments” including the Ethiopian regime in the main is corruption. Those who seized political power in Ethiopia in 1991 may have believed they were fighting for freedom and democracy, but once they got absolute power, they became absolutely corrupt. They began to function as sophisticated criminal enterprises with the principal aim of looting the national treasury and operating government as a criminal syndicate and a racket. If the regime is serious about corruption, it should go after the real “holy cows” of corruption, not just the unholy cows that have been forced to become scapegoats.
Scapegoating or “anti-corruption”?
The so-called “corruption investigation” appears to be a case of scapegoating. Tradition has it that on the day of atonement a goat would be selected by the high priest and loaded with the sins of the community and driven out into the wilderness as an affirmative act of symbolic cleansing. It made the people feel purged of evil and guiltless. The “corruption” suspects were supporters, defenders and handmaidens of the regime. Now they are made out to be loathsome villains. The sins and crimes of the regime are placed upon their heads and they are driven out into the wilderness. The high priests of the regimes are telling the people they have been cleansed and the community is free from evil. In this narrative, the regime “anti-corruption warriors” become the white knights in shining armor. But no amount of scapegoating can divert attention from the real situation. It is wise for those who live in glass houses not to throw stones.
How to deal with “horruption”
I am compelled to invent a new word to describe the horrible “corruption” in the ruling regime in Ethiopia. That word is, “horruption” (horrible corruption). The extended definition of this word is found in the World Bank’s corruption report on Ethiopia referenced above.
What is the best way to deal with horruption in Ethiopia? Simple. Line up the right social forces to fight corruption. Allow the free press to flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. Establish an independent prosecutorial office properly budgeted and staffed (supported by certified international anti-corruption experts) to go after not only the small winnows but most importantly the big whales and sharks splish splashing in a sea of corruption. Take comprehensive measures to increase the transparency of all public institution and translate into action the mandate of Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution (Functions and Accountability of Government). Reduce the regime’s involvement in the economy. Allow the functioning of an independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with full due process of law. Let civil society institutions flourish so that they can maintain ongoing vigilance and work at the grassroots levels to provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring. Let there be a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable. In short, institutionalize the rule of law. Then we can act against “horruption” instead of talking about corruption.
The regime thinks they can distract attention by talking about “corruption” and selectively arresting a few of their own members and supporters and putting them on show trials. That is nice political theater but it will not solve the problem of horruption unless one believes, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people.”
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
2011: Dictatorship, corruption and the politics of fear and smear
In December 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption?” contrasting two portraits of Ethiopia. At the time, the portrait painted by Transparency International (TI) (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity (GFI) showed Ethiopia as a land blighted by systemic corruption. GFI reported that “Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years.” TI gave Ethiopia a score of 2.7 on the Corruption Index (on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means “highly corrupt” and 10 means “very clean”).
At that time, the dictatorial regime, which is still in power today, sought to portray Ethiopia as a country under siege by traitorous terrorists. In a fear-mongering three-part propaganda “documentary” entitled “Akeldama” (or Land [field] of Blood, taken from Acts 1:19 referring to a field said to have been bought by Judas Iscariot with the thirty pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus) shown on ruling party-owned television service, the regime sought to depict Ethiopia as a country under withering terrorist attack by Ethiopian Diaspora opposition elements and their co-conspirators inside the country and other “terrorist” groups. “Akeldama” began with a proclamation on the arrival of a bloodbath doomsday in Ethiopia: “Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorism. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem….”
“Akeldama” stitched revolting and gruesome video clips and photomontage of terrorist carnage and destruction throughout the world to tar and feather all opponents of the late Meles Zenawi as stooges of Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Gratuitously horrific images of dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 were blended in a toxic video presentation to hypnotize and paralyze the population with fear and loathing. Following an orgiastic presentation of carnage and destruction, that “documentary” pointed an accusatory finger at “ruthless terrorists” who are “destroying our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a haunting voice, the narrator exhorts, “Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.”
By weaving deceitful, deceptive and distorted narratives between grisly spectacles of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality, bestiality and inhumanity from the world over, “Akeldama” hoped to create rabid public hysteria against Ethiopia’s opposition elements and justify the regime’s violent crackdowns on opposition elements. That propaganda hogwash gained little traction in the public mind.
2013: Dictatorship, corruption and the politics of fear and smear
Fast forward to February 2013. A recent exhaustive 448-page World Bank report revealed that Ethiopia has one of the most corrupt-to-the-core regimes in the world. According to this report, Ethiopia’s “Telecommunications Sector” is Corruption Central, the Ground Zero of Corruption: “Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.” Ethiopia’s “Construction Sector exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the “Justice Sector” rears its ugly head in the form of “political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the “Land Sector” is built into the law itself: “The capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.”
On February 5, 2013, the ruling regime in Ethiopia broadcasted a one hour “documentary” entitled “Jihadawi Harakat” (“Holy War Movement”) purportedly aimed at exposing Islamic extremists and terrorists preparing for a “holy war” to establish an Islamic government in Ethiopia. This “documentary” is nothing less than a declaration of an unholy war against Ethiopian Muslims. “Jihadawi Harakat” is a maliciously conceived and executed propaganda campaign right down to the diabolical title which seeks to portray Ethiopian Muslims peacefully demanding respect for their human rights as the handmaidens of such jihadist terrorist movements as Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini and the Abu Sayyaf (terror group in the southern Philippines) group’s Al Harakat al-Islamiyya.
“Jihadawi Harakat” is very similar in tone and content to “Akeldama”. The principal difference is that “Jihadawi Harakat” targets Ethiopian Muslims for persecution and vilification. The “documentary” as a whole argues that Ethiopian Muslims who asked for nothing more than respect for their basic human rights and non-government interference in their religious affairs are merely local chapters of blood thirsty terrorist groups such Boko Haram (Nigeria), Ansar al Din (Mali), Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hamas… Despite the lip service disclaimer that the “documentary” is about a “few terrorists taking cover behind the Islamic faith to commit terrorism” in Ethiopia, this “documentary” stands as an ugly testament to official state religious intolerance and persecution rarely seen anywhere in Africa.
There are lies, naked lies, damned lies and sleazy lies. “Jihadawi Harakat” is all four. After viewing this revolting “documentary”, I recalled the furious words of the late Meles Zenawi when the European Union Election Observer Group confronted him with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent. Meles was so angry that he got caught, he condemned the EU election report as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” This phony, vile, shallow, pretentious, noxious and histrionic docutrash is such a pile of crap that it deserves to be flushed into the sewer.
First, let us establish the facts on the demands of Ethiopian Muslims. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body constituted by the Congress and the President of the United States to monitor religious freedom worldwide:
Since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has sought to impose the al-Ahbash Islamic sect on the country’s Muslim community, a community that traditionally has practiced the Sufi form of Islam. The government also has manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Previously viewed as an independent body, EIASC is now viewed as a government-controlled institution. The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia. Muslims throughout Ethiopia have been arrested during peaceful protests: On October 29, the Ethiopia government charged 29 protestors with terrorism and attempting to establish an Islamic state.
The jihadists are coming, again?!
“Jihadawi Harakat” is not the first time the regime in power in Ethiopia has pulled the jihadist bogeyman out of their back pockets to scare the people of Ethiopia. Back in November 2006, a month before Meles Zenawi’s tanks “blitzkrieged” their way into Mogadishu killing tens of thousands of innocent Somali civilians and displacing over a million, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Jihadists are Coming!” I argued that Meles Zenawi had fabricated the Somali jihadist terrorist threat out of whole cloth to deflect attention from his dismal human rights record and repression and to buy the good will and diplomatic support of the U.S.:
Here we go again! Trot out the Somali jihadist bogeyman (aya jibo). Get out the smoke machine and mirrors. Show time! Act I. Narrator Zenawi: “Somalia is becoming a haven for terrorist. The sheiks of terror have declared an unholy war on Ethiopia, and the U.S. of A. They are on the outskirts. Patriots and countrymen, defend the homeland!…
But the whole jihadist business smacks of political fantasy. It’s surreal. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists and their Al Qaeda partners should be opposed and defeated because they are undemocratic, anti-democratic, oppressive and authoritarian. The jihadists don’t believe in human rights and do not allow political or social dissent. They are fanatics who want to impose one-party rule… Duh!!! Has Mr. Zenawi looked at the mirror lately?…
… Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists are lurking behind every desert rock and boulder. He wants Ethiopians to come out and fight them in every hamlet, town and city. We want Ethiopians to come out of the jails and prisons and rejoin their families. We want them to come out into the streets and peacefully express themselves, show their opposition to government policies and actions, engage in constructive dialogue with their fellow citizens and enjoy basic human rights… Now, we have a choice to make. We can follow along the Zenawi Road Show and entertain ourselves with stories of the Somali jihadist bogeyman, Mickey Mouse and the Easter Bunny. Or we can stay focused on the real issues of human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia.
Meles used the jihadist bogeyman in 2006 to plunge Ethiopia into the civil war in Somalia. In 2013, his disciples hope to use same jihadist bogeyman to plunge Ethiopia into internecine sectarian civil war.
“Jihadawi Harakat” or the art of Islamophobia
“Jihadawi Harakat” is such a revoltingly amateurish piece of propaganda that one could easily dismiss it as dimwitted cartoonish gibberish and sophomoric fear mongering melodrama. But that would be a serious mistake because this vicious docutrash scandalizes, villiainizes, slanders and vilifies Ethiopia’s Muslim community. As lame and as cynical as this docutrash is, its tacit propaganda aim is to present a “morality play” of “evil” Muslims against “good” Christians. It is intended to scare Christians into believing that the same Muslims with whom they have coexisted peacefully for a millennia have now suddenly been transformed into “Islamic terrorists” and are secretly planning to wage a jihadist war on them to establish an Islamic government. Just as “Akeldama” sought to demonize, dehumanize, anathematize, demoralize and barbarize all of Ethiopia’s dissidents and opposition groups as a confederation of blood thirsty terrorists, “Jihad Harekat” seeks to do exactly the same thing to Ethiopian Muslims by creating Islamophobic hysteria in Ethiopia.
Careful review and analysis shows the ruling regime sought to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives with this docutrash: 1) tar and feather all Muslims who demand respect for their basic human rights and regime non-interference in their religious affairs as blood thirsty terrorists, fanatical jihadists and homicidal maniacs, 2) inflame Christian passions to incite hatred and spread distrust and suspicion against Muslims; 3) vilify Muslims and create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance which the regime hopes will trigger mass hysteria, persecution and discrimination against Muslims; 4) divert the attention of the population from the desperate economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding them ugly fantasies of jihadists Ethiopian Muslims planting bombs and planning terrorist acts to create an Islamic state, and 5) establish the moral justification for ruthlessly cracking down and clamping down on Muslims who have asked for nothing more than respect for their religious liberties and official non-interference in the administration of their religious affairs. Of course, the regime desperately wants to divert public attention from its massive corruption documented in the World Bank’s exhaustive 448-page report.
Anatomy of a Docutrash
For those who do not wish to waste their time viewing this pile of bull manure (make sure to hold your nose if you must watch it) passing off as a “documentary”, here is a summary. The docutrash opens with a text-image insert announcing, “An evidence-based documentary on a few individuals who have used the Islamic faith as a cover to conduct terrorist activities. A documentary prepared in collaboration with the national intelligence service, federal police and Ethiopian television and radio organization. It presents evidence on how a few individuals have taken cover behind the Islamic faith and tried to implement the terrorist plans of Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab in Ethiopia.”
For 13 seconds, the text image insert slowly recedes on the screen; and without warning the face of a menacing “terrorist” set against a pitch black background emerges and scrolls to the right on the screen for 8 seconds to inspire a foreboding sense of fear and panic in the viewer. The same man whose picture has been photoshopped to make him look wild-eyed and sinister appears and gives the first “evidence” by “confessing” in a soft voice and gentle demeanor, “The jihad is between Muslims and those who are not Muslims.”
The “evidence” presented consists of “confessions” (mostly 2 0r 3 sentence incriminating admissions by the “suspects” unaccompanied by the questions of the interrogators) of some of the 29 terror suspects mentioned in the report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom referenced above. (The terror suspects giving “confessions” are currently on trial and the regime broadcasted the “documentary” in flagrant violation of a court order not to do so.)
Following the “confession” of the man admitting to a jihad between Muslims and non-Muslims, a video clip of riotous young men (insinuating that they are Muslim rioters) running away from something is shown. Video clips likely scarfed from the internet immediately follow showing turbaned and disguised jihadists from all over the world wreaking havoc in unnamed places. A text-image follows announcing, “Boko Haram in Ethiopia.” Young Ethiopian Muslim men are briefly shown at a peaceful gathering protesting. A young Muslim leader is shown speaking to a group and claiming that Muslims are being “accused of being terrorists, criminals and seeking power.” More photos of turbaned and armed terrorists are shown followed by a video clip of Muslim terrorists digging up a cache of arms from a hole in the ground. A bearded Muslim man appears and states, “We have prepared the weapons and the manpower needed for the war against the government and our aim is to establish an Islamic government.” Photomontage of terrorists from other parts of the world brandishing AK47s and RPGs follow along with more video clips of terrorists blowing up buildings. Civilians are shown running away from scenes of terrorists attacks. Unnamed terrorists are shown marching in the bushes. Photoshopped pictures of the same bearded suspects shown at the very beginning of the video are scrolled time and again across the screen to give the creepy impression that the “confessing” suspects are stalking the viewer like beasts of prey. For another 58 minutes, the same theme is repeated over and over again with snippets of “confessions” sandwiched between scenes of armed terrorists and terrorist devastation.
Rule of Law or Rule of Ignoramuses
Leaders of the ruling regime often trumpet their allegiance to and defense of their Constitution. Last September propaganda meister Bereket Simon, after telling and retelling the world the Big Lie about Meles’ health and death, waxed eloquent day after day about constitutional succession and the game of official musical chairs to be played in the post-Meles period. As “communications minister”, Simon authorized the broadcasting of the “Jihadawi Harekat” docutrash. One really wonders how these “champions of the Ethiopian Constitution” seem to be enlightened only about those provisions they like but are willfully benighted about the parts they don’t like such as the rights of the accused. It reminds one of a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purposes.” Are they cunningly malicious or just plain ignorant? For years, I have been saying that preaching constitutional law (the rule of law) to the regime in Ethiopia is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathen. These vacuous imposters would not recognize the Constitution if it ran them over like a Mac truck.
What needs to be doubly underscored in the case against the 29 Muslim “terror suspects”, including those who allegedly confessed in “Jihadawi Harakat” are three important facts: 1) All of the “suspects” are pretrial detainees entitled to full procedural due process protections provided in the Ethiopian Constitution and various other binding international human rights conventions. 2) There is substantial evidence to show that the “suspects” who allegedly confessed did so under coercion. In the case of one “suspect”, for instance, a video of the interrogation and “confession” shows him handcuffed. 3) All of the 29 “terrorism suspects” in custody are political prisoners.
In terms of the flagrant disregard for the constitutional and human rights of the suspects, one cannot be unimpressed by the abysmal depth of ignorance and depraved indifference of the regime leaders. The Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3) provides: “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” They seem to be totally clueless (or don’t give a damn) of their obligation under international human rights conventions which are incorporated expressly into the Ethiopian Constitution under Article 13. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides under Art. 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Art. 14 (2): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) provides under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible public officials prior to a finding of guilt by a court of law. Moreover, the “confessions” obtained in this docutrash are in flagrant violation of the prohibition on coerced admissions and confessions and the exclusionary rule in Article 19 (5) which provides that the accused “shall not be compelled to make confessions or admissions which could be used in evidence or against them. Any evidence obtained under coercion shall not be admissible.”
The sad irony in the case against the Muslim “terror suspects” is that the kangaroo court which issued the injunction against the broadcasting of the docutrash will not have the integrity or the guts to throw out all of the “confessions” or impose other sanctions including criminal contempt citations against those who willfully disobeyed its order and/or dismiss with prejudice the case against the defendants for such an egregious and outrageous violation of their fair trial rights.
Frankly, I must confess that I take a bit of perverse pleasure in being fully vindicated. For years, I have been saying that there is no rule of law in Ethiopia and the courts are kangaroo courts puppet-mastered by the political bosses. Is there any doubt now that the miscarriage of justice has become justice in Ethiopia?
A desperate dictatorship and the art of sewage politics
With this docutrash, the dictators in Ethiopia have proven not only that they can get lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut but also that they are the grandmasters of sewage politics. The fact of the matter is that the only proven cases of terrorist carnage in Ethiopia were committed by the regime. In “Akeldama”, the regime claimed “131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists” over the preceding decade. However, the official Inquiry Commission established by Meles Zenawi determined that in just a few days following the election in May 2005, security troops under the personal control and command of Meles Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded another 763. The Commission concluded the “shots fired by government forces [which were intended] not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” In September 2011, the world learned “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act. If all other acts of state terrorism committed against Ethiopian civilians were to be included, the body count would be in the hundreds of thousands. Those who point an accusatory index finger to tar and feather others with charges of terrorism should be careful to see which way the other three fingers are pointing.
“Jihadawi Harekat” is a smear campaign designed to vilify, malign, demean and marginalize Ethiopian Muslims. It is a vicious propaganda effort aimed at poisoning the centuries-old peaceful relations between adherents of the Islamic and Christian faiths in Ethiopia. It is an outrageous piece of propaganda designed to promote irrational fears of Muslims and Islam in Ethiopian society and facilitate the creation of conditions that will eventually lead to the persecution, discrimination and exclusion of Muslims from the political, social, economic and public life of the nation. “Jihadawi Harekat” is out-and-out Islamophobia.
We should never tolerate or yield to Islamophobia in Ethiopia!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Alemayehu G Mariam
Last week I had an opportunity to address a town hall meeting in Seattle sponsored by the Ethiopian Public Forum in Seattle (EPFS), a civil society organization dedicated to promoting broad dialogue, debate and discussion on Ethiopia’s future. I was asked to articulate my views on Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorships to democracy in light of my recent emphatic commentaries on the subject.
My views on Ethiopia’s transition to democracy originate in and are shaped by my own deepening concerns over the massive, sustained and gross human rights violations in that country. My active involvement in Ethiopian “affairs” and human rights advocacy dates back to 2005 when troops under the direct personal command and control of Meles Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters and wounded 763 others. Prior to 2005, my interest in Ethiopian “affairs” was academic and involved editorial work in the publication of a scholarly journal and a popular magazine on Ethiopia. The 2005 massacres presented me several stark choices: pretend the massacres did not happen; express fleeting private moral outrage and conveniently forget the whole thing; hope someone will take up the cause of these victims of crimes against humanity, or take an active advocacy role and speak truth to those who abuse and misuse power. I embraced the old saying, “The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing.” I chose to become a human rights defender and advocate.
Democracy (at least in its liberal form) is a form of government based on popular sovereignty (supremacy of the people), but it is an empty shell if it is not infused with the values of freedom (of association, expression, press), and respect for human rights and accountability (rule of law, independent judiciary, transparency and free and fair elections including competitive political parties and civil society organizations). Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forges the link between democracy and human rights: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections…” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties which provide the foundation for meaningful and functioning democracies. More narrowly, I regard the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia to be a struggle for democracy and vice versa. That is why I am interested in Ethiopia’s smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy; for I believe that if there is a successful democratic transition in Ethiopia, human rights will be protected, promoted and defended.
The Bridge on the Road to Democracy
We can conceive of the transition from dictatorship to democracy as a metaphorical journey on the road to progress, freedom and human enlightenment (democracy) or a regression to tyranny, subjugation and bondage (dictatorship). Societies and nations move along this road in either direction. Dictatorships can be transformed into democracies and vice versa. But the transition takes place on a bridge that connects the road from dictatorship to democracy. It is on this bridge that the the destinies of nations and societies, great and small, are made and unmade. If the transition on the bridge is orderly, purposeful and skillfully managed, then democracy could become a reality. If it is chaotic, contentious and combative, there will be no crossing the bridge, only pedaling back to dictatorship. My concern is what could happen on the bridge linking dictatorship to democracy in Ethiopia when that time comes to pass.
I believe Ethiopia is rapidly advancing towards that bridge on the road to democracy hastened by a wide variety of factors: The regime has no legitimacy despite its ridiculous claim that it won 99.6 percent of the parliamentary seats. The economy is in shambles. “Ethiopia had the second-highest inflation rate in , when it peaked at 40.6 percent, according to Addis Ababa-based research group Access Capital SC”. Last month, the IMF reported, “Ethiopia still faces significant challenges, in particular containing still-high inflation, raising savings, and meeting enormous investment needs.” Last year, the IMF warned, “High inflation is undermining poverty reduction efforts. A highly distorted monetary policy represents a severe drag on growth and is undermining macroeconomic stability. Ethiopia’s approach to industrial development is largely ineffective given the extremely low level of manufacturing and industrial development, low productivity levels, and persistent trade deficit.”
The visceral anti-regime attitude is palpable throughout the country and magnified more conspicuously in the regime’s massive crackdown and repression. The displacement of large numbers of people in what some have called “ethnic cleansing” seems to have crystallized definite patterns of antagonism towards the regime from all sides. The complete closure of political space has spawned fear and loathing in the population. The disparity between the ruling regime and its supporters and the masses continues to fuel massive discontent. The regime is completely bereft of any new or creative ideas to overcome the complex social, political and economic problems proliferating in the society; and the cosmetic PR about building dams and expanding investments to mask basic problems has drawn more opposition and ridicule domestically and from external sources. In sum, the evidence and signs of decay in the regime are manifest and numerous. Whether collapse comes from internal implosion, popular uprising or other factors cannot be predicted.
A Bridge Too Near
If we accept the philosophical principle that human history is essentially a struggle for freedom and against tyranny and dictatorship, then the natural human tendency is to seek freedom and avoid tyranny. Tyrants and dictators believe that they can always stifle the people’s yearning for freedom through the use of force or corruption. But the inexorable march towards freedom imposes its own immutable historical laws on tyrants. The foremost law of dictatorships and tyrants is that they always fall. As Gandhi noted: “All through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.” Just over the past year, we have seen dictators fall like dominoes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. The impulse for freedom and human dignity could no longer be contained by the secret police and the armed forces of the dictators in these countries.
The second law is that fallen dictatorships always leave behind chaos, conflict and strife. That has been amply demonstrated in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. The third law is that the outcome of the fall of dictatorships is unpredictable. To be sure, the fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the rise of democracy. In fact, more likely than not, it often leads to the rise of another dictatorship because, more often than not, those who seek to dethrone the dictators aim to enthrone themselves and continue to do business as usual. Stated differently, new bottle old wine.
The fourth law is that some dictators will fight to the end to avoid a fall and cling to power; others are more calculating, cunning and rational. When the jig is up, some dictators will fight and others will catch the next flight. Ben Ali of Tunisia caught the first plane out to Saudi Arabia. Ali Saleh of Yemen fought even after he was singed and disfigured in a rocket attack on his palace. This past February Zenawi granted him asylum after Saleh was denied entry in every other country where he sought refuge. Gadhafi fought to the bitter end until he was captured in a tunnel and killed like a sewer rat. Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire also fought to cling to power until he was collared like a street thug and turned over to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity. Bashir al-Assad continues to fight and cling to power as his security forces kill, maim and displace thousands of Syrians.
The fifth law is that the transition between the fall of dictatorships and transition to democracy can be managed to minimize the effects of the first four laws. The fifth law applies to the bridge on which the transition from dictatorship to democracy takes place and is the most critical phase in determining the destiny of Ethiopia for generations to come. The first four laws are historically predetermined, but the fifth law is entirely in our hands.
Chaos Creates Ideal Conditions for (Power) Thieves
On the bridge to democracy, there is often a collision between individuals and groups doggedly pursuing power, the common people tired of those who abuse and misuse power and the dictators who want to cling to power. The chaos that occurs on the transitional bridge from dictatorship to democracy creates the ideal conditions for the hijacking of political power, theft of democracy and the reinstitution of dictatorship in the name of democracy. There is an instructive Ethiopian adage that helps explain this situation more clearly: “Helter-skelter creates ideal conditions for thieves (gir gir le leba yimechal)”.
On the bridge to democracy, all sorts of actors and players will crawl out of the wood work to jockey for power. All sorts of intrigues, power games and shenanigans will be played out. A probable scenario based on historical evidence in Ethiopia suggests the following: Major outside forces will attempt to control and manage the transitional bridge, the transitional period and the transition itself. They will present themselves as “mediators”, offer their resources to manage the transition by managing the stakeholders. They will likely activate their prearranged “leaders” and groups and stage a transitional drama for the general public who are only too happy to see the end of dictatorship and wishfully hopeful of a new democratic beginning. In such a situation, the “mediators” will be in the driver seat of the transitional bus. They will transport the passengers over the bridge to wherever they want.
The military (at least the leadership) will seek to grab political power with the excuse that there is a need to maintain law and order during the transitional period and with false promises of elections and accountability for corruption and human rights violations in an attempt to win public and donor support. If the military intervenes in the transitional process, there will be no transition, only consolidation of military power over civilians. Political parties will regroup and prepare for a power play. Repressed internal forces will likely resurface after the fall of dictatorship to assert their interests and take a seat at the bargaining table. They will try to take advantage of the transitional chaos to position themselves for power and flex their muscles to demonstrate their intentions. New groups will be constituted and present themselves as power contenders and stakeholders. Regional powers will seek a role in the transition to determine an outcome that is favorable to them. Supporters of the fallen dictatorship will try to regroup and reclaim power, or more likely realign themselves with any group they believe will protect their interests and shield them from accountability.
As the various groups jockey for power and influence, the people will be mere pawns in a gambling game of power theft. They will be mobilized along ethnic, linguistic, religious, regional and communal lines. Historic grievance will be unearthed, threats of secession and acts of insurgency will be undertaken, mutual recriminations, accusations and denunciations will dominate the public airwaves. In the end, the people will be left holding a bag filled with confusion, despair, misery, hardship and heartbreak.
On the chaotic (gir gir) transitional bridge, one thing will surely occur: A power vacuum. It is in the chaos and power vacuum that a few calculating and well-organized groups and individuals will execute a well-planned strategy to swiftly capture the ultimate prize of political power and thwart the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
We need to plan for the inevitable, inescapable and unstoppable transition of Ethiopia from dictatorship to democracy. Dictatorship will end in Ethiopia. It is only a matter of when. Democracy will also rise in Ethiopia. It is a matter of how and what type. Let me use another Ethiopian adage to make my point clear: “Sergena meta, berbere kentisu.” (The wedding party has arrived, let us begin to prepare the meal.) The point is that it necessary to begin a purposeful dialogue and plan ahead about the prerequisites for an effective and smooth transition to democratic governance now, not when the dictatorship falls.
I believe dialogue needs to begin now on at least four major issue areas: 1) how to engage and increase the capacity of key stakeholders in identify potential triggers of violence during political transitions and preventing them; 2) identifying and devising strategies and opportunities for reducing ethnic, religious and communal tension and conflict in anticipation of a transition; 3) enhancing the role of civil society institutions in facilitating public engagement and interaction during the transitional period, and 4) anticipating critical constitutional issues that could significantly impair the transitional process.
The failure to plan for an inevitable opportunity for democratic transition is tantamount to planning to thwart democracy and depraved indifference to the reinstitution of another dictatorship. We must learn from recent historical experience. The Libyans failed to plan for a transition and expediently (with the aid of outside “mediators’) united to bring down the Gadhafi dictatorship. Today, Libya appears to be teetering on the precipice of tribal warfare and deeply beset by political, regional and political antagonisms. Tunisia seems to be doing much better both because Ben Ali left quickly which made the transitional period easier and also because the military was noticeably absent in the transitional process.
Egypt seems stuck on the transitional bridge. After the young demonstrators mobilized to end Mubarak’s dictatorship with great sacrifice, they were sidelined by the very military that kept Mubarak in power for decades. Civil society organizations which were the driving forces of the revolution are now facing persecution and repression by the military. Egypt’s presidential election is scheduled for May but last week an Egyptian administrative court suspended the 100-member constitutional assembly which was supposed to draft a new constitution for post-dictatorship Egypt.
The suspension has thrown things into a tizzy and tensions are growing between the various secular and Islamist groups and the ruling military council which currently holds power. Having a new president without a constitution (worse yet with the old constitution) is like putting the cart before the horse. But there are real problems with the constitutional assembly that is dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist Nour party (who hold a majority in parliament). Secularist members and even Islamic and Christian representatives withdrew from the assembly reading the handwriting on the wall. Women were grossly under-represented on the assembly as were representatives of civil society institutions. Few of the assembly members had adequate knowledge of constitutional law to participate in meaningful drafting of such an important document. Beyond fair representation of stakeholders, there are some deeply divisive issues of constitutional significance in Egypt. The major one is the role of Islamic law (Sharia) in the new constitution. What safeguards will be in place to protect individual freedoms, women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities and other groups? Ethiopians can learn a great deal from the Egyptian transitional experience.
Who Should Lead the Dialogue on the Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy?
Conventional wisdom says the important task of managing the transition from dictatorship to democracy should be left to the elites—the politicians, party leaders, bureaucrats, academics and other institutional leaders. They are believed to have the best and the brightest ideas for developing the “roadmap” and “action plans’ for a transition to democracy. But for there to be a truly a successful transition followed by a durable democracy, the dialogue base must be expanded to broadly include civil society organizations, human rights advocacy groups, women and the youth. In fact, the likelihood of a successful transition is increased manifold if civil society organization, advocacy groups, women and youth take a leading role. The reasons are self-evident. Civil society organizations are critical to civil engagement and citizen action for participatory democracy. They are important in facilitating broad-based mobilization in a transitional period and in ensuring responsive governance in the post-transition period. They are also most effective in giving voice to the poor, the minorities and the vulnerable.
The youth are important because the future belongs to them. As George Ayittey explains, there are two generations in Africa: the Cheetah Generation and the Hippo Generation. “Cheetahs seek knowledge, innovation and look for solutions to their problems while Hippos blame others, seek handouts and generally drive our continent to the ground… The Cheetah Generation is a new breed of Africans who brook no nonsense about corruption. They understand what accountability and democracy is. They are not gonna wait for government to do things for them… Africa’s salvation rests on the backs of these cheetahs.” Ethiopia’s salvation rests in the palms of these Cheetahs.
Women need to be given a prominent role in the transitional dialogue because they have been historically ignored, discounted, overlooked and forgotten though they represent one-half of the population. There could be no true democracy where there is no gender equality, and that is one of the glaring inequalities in Ethiopia today. The evidence is incontrovertible that Ethiopian women today suffer significant sociocultural and economic discrimination and have far fewer opportunities than men for personal growth, education, and employment. But women’s involvement in the transitional dialogue is vital because they bring their own unique insights and perspectives to the problems. I believe women have special leadership qualities which are vital to democratic transition and governance. On balance, they tend to be more honest, intelligent, understanding and trusting than men. They are more compassionate than men and more likely to negotiate and compromise. But we will never know know the leadership potential of Ethiopian women because few have been given a chance to prove themselves. They must have a major role in the dialogue on Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
From One Transitional Bridge to Many Permanent Bridges
All of the dialogue on Ethiopia’s transition to democracy must serve to build bridges across the ethnic divides, the religious chasms, linguistic and cultural cleavages and geographic differences. The dialogue ultimately must lead to a national consensus on a vision of democracy — which I hope will lead to the creation of a government that always fears the people and a political system where the people never fear their government – which promotes peace, understanding and reconciliation of the people of Ethiopia.
So, let the dialogue, discussions and debates continue in the town halls, in the streets, parks and public squares, the villages and hamlets, the neighborhoods, the newspapers, the offices, the youth and women’s organizations, trade and farmers’ associations, meeting halls, the stadiums, restaurants, schools and universities, courthouses and parliaments and on the radio, television, the webpages, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Skype, instant messaging, blog pages and by email…
Let’s get to work building bridges that connect people all across the Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine!!!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G Mariam
Rule of Law, Rule by Law, Rule by Unjust Law, Rule by Man
All of the weekly commentaries I have written over the years have been structured on a single fundamental principle: the rule of law. What is it? How does it configure in Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy?
The phrase “rule of law” is somewhat vague and much overused by scholars and advocates, and casually thrown around in general political conversation. The phrase is so popular that even dictators swear by it. In October 2011, Meles Zenawi told Aftenposten (Norway’s largest paper): “We have reached a very advanced stage of rule of law and respect for human rights. Fundamentally, this is a country where democratic rights of people are respected.” (Ahem!!!)
For lawyers, “rule of law” is a term of art which generally signifies constitutional supremacy and adherence to principles of due process. Political scientists use the phrase to describe institutional mechanisms for policing the state and preventing abuse of power through established accountability procedures and guarantees of basic civil, human and substantive rights. The phrase is gaining popularity among economists who have come to realize that the rule of law is necessary to create a secure environment for business, investments, contracts and market transactions. Where there the rule of law prevails, good governance (accountability, transparency, free and fair elections, etc.) follows and economies grow. Since the 1990s, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, among others, have insisted on implementation of the “rule of law” as a condition of loans and assistance in Africa (largely without much success).
Dictators often jabber about the “rule of law” to shroud their “rule by law” of one man, one party. In a society under the “rule of men”, absolute power is exercised by the privileged few who are above the law. One man, one party, one select group decides for the whole society. That was what Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong and others did; and that is what Africa’s dictators do today.
Rule of Law and Rule by Diktat
African dictators rule by diktat (arbitrary decrees issued by command of the dictator) which they try to palm off as “laws” (legislation enacted by a legitimately elected body engaged in deliberative process). They scribble down their diktats, have it approved by their rubberstamp parliaments and pronounce it “law” or “proclamation”. They use the diktat to play policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Under rule by diktat, dictators use the “law” as a bludgeon — a sledgehammer — to vanquish their opposition. On March 28, 2006, Congressman Christopher Smith, Chairman of House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations recounted a revealing conversation he had with Zenawi which demonstrates rule by diktat:
During my visit to Addis last August , I met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and I asked him why he had not investigated the June shootings of demonstrators by agents of his government. His response was that the investigation might require the arrest of opposition leaders, and he didn’t want to do that while by-elections were still scheduled. He went on to tell me that he had dossiers on all the opposition leaders and could arrest them for treason whenever he wanted. Thus, their arrests were all but certain even before the events that ostensibly led to their being incarcerated.
In a more recent example of rule by dictat, Zenawi visiting Norway in October 2011 proclaimed two freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye awaiting trial were guilty of terrorism. He said the two journalists “are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.” Zenawi seemed to be unfamiliar with Art. 20 (3) of the Ethiopian Constitution which guarantees: “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” In late February 2012, Zenawi made the following incredibly mindboggling statement about the same Swedish journalists:
The government gave a small statement that such people have been put [in] prison… The next day the campaign was launched, ‘Free press, innocent people with no issue at all!’ They just give pronouncements before the case has gone to court, before evidence has been heard. The pronouncement was there; the government is the criminal and the people are innocent. (Well, if the shoe fits, wear it!)
After declaring the two journlaists “terrorists” in October 2011, in February 2012, Zenawi has the audacity to criticize others for commenting on the journalsits’ innocence “before the case has gone to court, before evidence has been heard.” Incredible!
A Practical Understanding of the Rule of Law
As the scholars and lawyers debate the finer points of the rule of law, it is possible to fashion a practical understanding of the principle which could be useful in the dialogue and debate over Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. A practical lesson in the application of the rule of law principle could be learned by examining “anti-terrorism” laws in the U.S. and Ethiopia.
In 2001, President Bush signed an executive order authorizing the creation of military tribunals for the detention, treatment and trial of certain non-citizens (“enemy combatants”) in the war against terrorism. In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the executive order and commissions as unconstitutional (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) holding that the President lacks constitutional or statutory authority. Much to the great disappointment of the Bush Administration, the Court held that these terror suspects were entitled to the protection of the ordinary laws of the United States and the laws of war including the Geneva Convention, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In language that pays homage to deep-rooted American civil liberties, the Court wrote: “Assuming that Hamdan [terror suspect] is a dangerous individual who would cause great harm or death to innocent civilians given the opportunity, the Executive nevertheless must comply with the prevailing rule of law in undertaking to try him and subject him to criminal punishment.”
In 2004, in a similar case of a terror suspect (Rasul v. Bush), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rule of law by requiring the President to honor the writ of habeas corpus (one of the greatest rights Americans have to challenge the government in court unlawful restraint on their liberties). The Court held that a terror suspect detainee may not be denied access to lawyers and civilians courts in violation of the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Simply stated, even wicked villains and evil-doers are shielded by the rule of law in the American Constitution.
In contrast, rule by law (rule by diktat) has made Zenawi’s so-called anti-terrorism law (“Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009”) a sledgehammer to crush dissidents, journalists, opposition political leaders and anyone considered an enemy. In early February 2012, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts (U.N. Special Rapporteurs) made public statements condemning the ongoing use of anti-terrorism laws to curb a broad range of freedoms in Ethiopia. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, said that “the anti-terrorism provisions should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter to internationally guaranteed human rights.” Frank La Rue, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said that “Journalists play a crucial role in promoting accountability of public officials by investigating and informing the public about human rights violations. They should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their legitimate work, let alone be severely punished.” Margaret Sekaggya, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, stated that “journalists, bloggers and others advocating for increased respect for human rights should not be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views are not in alignment with those of the Government [of Ethiopia].” Maina Kiai, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said “The resort to anti-terrorism legislation is one of the many obstacles faced by associations today in Ethiopia. The Government must ensure protection across all areas involving the work of associations, especially in relation to human rights issues.” Gabriela Knaul, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said: “Defendants in a criminal process should be considered as innocent until proven guilty as enshrined in the Constitution of Ethiopia… And it is crucial that defendants have access to a lawyer during the pre-trial stage to safeguard their right to prepare their legal defence.”
The Essence of the Rule of Law
The essence of the rule of law can be summarized in the following simple proposition: Because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the rule of law is essential to prevent power from corrupting and absolute power from corrupting absolutely. The U.N. Secretary-General in a report to the Security Council in 2004 prescribed implementation of the rule of law as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.” In practice, it is necessary to have “measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.” The World Bank says where the rule of law prevails government exercises self-restraint, treats its citizens justly and equally under the law and protects the dignity of each individual in society. Numerous other organizations and institutions involved in the rule of law movement have come to the same conclusion.
Rule of Law Cannot Be “Copycatted”
There are some who believe that blindly “copycatting” laws and regulations from other countries and incorporating them verbatim into their own laws somehow guarantees the existence and prevalence of the rule of law. In justifying his “anti-terrorism law” in February 2012, Zenawi offered the following mindboggling explanation to his rubberstamp parliament:
In drafting our anti-terrorism law, we copied word-for-word the very best anti-terrorism laws in the world. We took from America, England and the European model anti-terrorism laws. It is from these three sources that we have drafted our anti-terrorism law. From these, we have choses the better ones. For instance, in all of these laws, an organization is deemed to be terrorist by the executive branch. We improved it by saying it is not good for the executive to make that determination. We took the definition of terrorism word-by-word. Not one word was changed. Not even a comma. It is taken word-by-word. There is a reason why we took it word-by-word. First, these people have experience in democratic governance. Because they have experience, there is no shame if we learn or take from them. Learning from a good teacher is useful not harmful. Nothing embarrassing about it. The [antiterrorism] proclamation in every respect is flawless. It is better than the best anti-terrorism laws [in the world] but not less than any one of them in any way…
One cringes in total embarrassment at such a stunningly shallow understanding of jurisprudence, glib talk about the law and inattention to a glaring logical fallacy in one’s argument. In seeking to establish that his anti-terrorism law is based on the rule of law, Zenawi commits a logical fallacy known as “argument from authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam). The logic of his argument is that America and Britain are democratic countries with a high degree of adherence to the rule of law principle; and they have anti-terrorism laws that are the “best” in the world. We have “copied word-for-word” the best elements of their anti-terrorism laws and put them to use. Therefore, our terrorism laws are “flawless” and singularly the very best in the world!
By invoking a fallacious authority and creating a manifestly false analogy, Zenawi aims to clothe his anti-terrorism diktat with moral legitimacy and legal respectability. One cannot create a lion by piecing together the sturdy long neck of the giraffe with the the strong jaws of a hyena, the fast limbs of the cheetah and the massive trunk of the elephant. The king of the jungle is an altogether different beast. In the same vein, one cannot clone pieces of anti-terrorism laws from everywhere onto a diktat and sanctify it as “flawless in every respect”.
Imitation may best the highest form of flattery, but to boldly claim that a mindlessly cloned diktat is “flawless” is just mindless. Beyond logical fallacy, Zenawi seems to be totally clueless about elementary principles of jurisprudence in the Anglo-American tradition. The American antiterrorism law (Zenawi does not specifically identify the American antiterrorism law he copied word-for-word, but one may reasonably assume he is referring to the “USA Patriot Act”), is not merely a collection of words, legal phrases, clauses, terms and paragraphs. The Patriot Act was drafted with intense debate and deliberation in the Congress (not scribbled down and sent for rubberstamping), contentious disputes in the media (in the U.S. it not a crime to criticize a law in the media) and amidst outraged public dialogue and debate (not shoved down the public’s throat). Above all, it was crafted within the known boundaries of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments and Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. The legislative language in the Patriot Act derives its vitality not from glib semantic analysis of words and phrases, but from long and storied legal traditions that date back to the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in 1215, the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the vast body of Anglo-American common law. Most importantly, the Patriot Act is subject to the supreme law of the land– the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Paine, one of the revolutionary “Founding Fathers of the United States” and the “voice of the common man” explained it best in Common Sense: “In America, the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”
If Zenawi wants to copycat American and British anti-terrorism laws, he cannot cherry pick words, phrases, sentences and clauses. He has to take the whole package because those words, phrases and clauses he copied so proudly have complex histories, meanings, nuances and implications. Those blindly borrowed words and phrases have special meaning and application when they are considered, contextualized, synthesized and analyzed within the broader framework of Anglo-American common law, judicial precedents, legal principles and doctrines, rules of statutory construction, legal scholarship, legislative intent and numerous other factors. If Zenawi chooses to imitate and clone American law “word-for-word”, he is practically, logically and hermeneutically obliged to give meaning to those laws within the framework of the American Constitution and the body of constitutional law.
But Zenawi simply has no clue. The U.S. “antiterrorism law” is not as perfect as he the thinks it is and may not be worthy of ultimate imitation. In fact, it is quite flawed. For instance, in 2004, a federal judge in New York ruled that a key component of the USA Patriot Act is unconstitutional because it allows the FBI to demand information from Internet service providers without judicial oversight or public review. Another federal judge in Oregon in 2007 ruled that crucial parts of the USA Patriot Act were unconstitutional because they allowed federal surveillance and searches of Americans without demonstrating probable cause required by the Fourth Amendment. The judge wrote, “For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised.”
Unlike Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism” diktat, the Patriot Act had significant limitations in itself, including sunset provisions (expiration dates) of December 31, 2005 on a number of issues including wiretapping, sharing foreign intelligence information, seizure of voice-mail emergency disclosure of electronic surveillance. When it was reauthorized, a new sunset of December 31, 2009 was established and significant amendments added to provide for greater congressional and judicial oversight of orders for roving wiretaps and enhanced procedural protections for “sneak and peek” search warrants, among many others.
Zenawi also fails to understand the power of judicial review and the resolute ferocity of American lawyers dedicated to civil liberties in challenging the government and stopping it from encroaching on the civil liberties of the people. In other words, in America, there are lawyers and judges who are willing, able and ready to hold the Congress’ or the President’s feet to the fire of the supreme law of the land. In Ethiopia, there are only dictators who hold the peoples’ feet, hands and bodies to the fire.
But Zenawi is absolutely right in saying that “there is no shame if we learn or take from them [America, Britain, European model]”. Learning from a good teacher is useful not harmful.” But it is not enough to have good teachers, one must also be a good student and learn all of the substantive lessons, not just a word here, a phrase there and a clause somewhere else.
Do Ethiopians Want a Government of Laws and Not of Men?
The rule of law operates differently in different societies and there is no single “flawless” conception of the principle. I do believe there are some commonalities and universal elements of the rule of law principle that are applicable in all societies. To extract the most universal elements, it is necessary to learn from alternative conceptions and experiences in the application of the rule of law. But the learning process should not be robotic or involve the mindless aggregation of bits and fragments of information and analysis. It should be syncretic, synthesizing divergent and conflicting ideas and practices in the practical application of the rule of law.
The rule of law in Ethiopia, I believe, is an ancient ideal. Ordinary Ethiopians used to invoke the “divine power of the law” (ye heg amlak) against wrong-doers and abusers of power. That was when they could see the faint and distant image of justice painted on a canvas of autocratic rule. But it must also be pointed out that the Ethiopian civic culture has tolerated an insidious exception to the rule of law which persists to the present day. An old Ethiopia adage says, “One cannot plough (farm) the sky nor hold a king to account in court” (semai aye-tares, negus aye-keses). “Negus” Zenawi is the personification of that adage today. In the transition from dictatorship to democracy, Ethiopians will have an opportunity to choose between alternative conceptions of the rule of law.
My view is that rule of law is a quintessential principle of good democratic governance. It is a vital part of statecraft (the art of leading a country). It is a fundamental element in nation-building, state-building, peace-building, democracy-building, justice-building and truth and reconciliation. I do not equate the rule of law with democracy, but I believe it makes genuine multiparty democracy possible through institutional arrangements for conducting clean, free and fair elections. I do not think the rule of law by itself guarantees justice, but it will serve to facilitate the delivery of justice to citizens through an independent and transparent judicial process. It will not guarantee equality, human rights and the rest of it, but without the rule of law there can be no equality or human dignity. I believe respect for human rights is the single important manifestation of the prevalence of the rule of law in any society and the most persuasive evidence of good governance.
Rule of Unjust Laws?
I am persuaded by the works of the great philosophers, thinkers, theologians, theorists, revolutionaries and human and civil rights rights advocates — Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Gandhi, King and even the framers of the U.S. Constitution in their Declaration of Independence — who argued that an unjust law (diktat) is not really a law at all. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws… for an unjust law is no law at all.” So Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy will be a transition from rule by unjust laws to the rule of just laws, and an uprising from degradation to collective elevation. I believe the rule of law will take deep root in Ethiopia when government learns always to fear its citizens and citizens acquire the courage never to fear their government!
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First, Why is Africa Poor?
George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.
For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.
Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….
Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?
A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries. LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”
On “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”
But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed nations in the world. Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”. The World Bank this past June concluded that “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).
That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business), the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).
Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.
Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”
Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.
In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.”
Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance
The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.
Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability. Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.
Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.” On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.
Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.
Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.
LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary, professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.
Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!
 The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.
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