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Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption?

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Portrait of A Poor Country

Lately, the portrait of Ethiopia painted in the reports of Transparency International (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity shows a “Land of Corruption”. That contrasts with an equally revolting portrait of  Ethiopia painted in a recent broadcast of a fear-mongering three-part propaganda programentitled “Akeldama” (or Land of Blood) on state-owned television. The program aired on November 26-28 was intended to be a moral, and to some extent legal and political, justification of dictator Meles Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism law”. The program begins with a doleful narrator setting a doomsday scenario:

Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorsim. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem. In this regard, I have three consecutive programs prepared for you my viewers.

Displaying photos of alleged terrorist carnage and simulated blood droplets falling from the title of the program — dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims, a crowd of wailing women mourning at a gravesite, an old man crying his eyes out over the death of his wife at the hand of “terrorsits” and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 and on and on — the narrator accuses “ruthless terrorists” for having “destroyed our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a plaintive tone the narrator  exhorts:

“Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.

By displaying grisly spectacles of acts of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity from years past and by describing those acts with  deceitful, deceptive and distorted narrative, “Akeldama” hopes to tar and feather ALL of Ethiopia’s opposition elements, inflame public passions and offer moral justification for Zenawi’s recent crackdowns and massive and  sustained human rights violations.

The propaganda objective of “Akeldama” cannot be mistaken: Zenawi aims to vanquish from the active memory of the population any traces of popular support or sympathy for his opposition and critics by demonizing, brutalizing, dehumanizing, “villainizing” and virtually cannibalizing them. He wants the population to view the opposition as bloodthirsty gangs of conspirators blowing up defenseless babies, children, women and innocent citizens and unleashing terror and mayhem in every street corner in Ethiopia. The revolting and gruesome scenes and sequences of carnage and destruction stitched into the video are intended to lump together all of Zenawi’s opponents with Al Qaeda and Al Shabbab terrorists in Somalia.

“Akeldama”: Dictatorship, Lies and Videotapes

On the surface, few inquiring minds would disagree that “Akeldama” is sleazy melodrama. It has an exalted hero, dictator Meles Zenawi, the knight in shining armor, waiting in the shadows armed and ready to impale the wicked terrorists with his piercing lance. There is a damsel in distress, Lady Ethiopia. There are an assortment of scheming villains, conspirators, mischief-makers, subversives, foreign collaborators, and of course, terrorists who are cast in supporting roles as opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. It has a sensational and lurid plot featuring cloak-and-dagger conspiracies by neighboring countries, clandestine intrigues by Diaspora opposition elements, sedition and  treason by local collaborators, and of course terrorism. Naturally, in the end, good triumphs over evil. Sir Meles Zenawi, knight errant, political wizard, archer and swordsman  extraordinaire, delivers Lady Ethiopia from the clutches of the evil and sinister Al Qaeda, Al Shabbab and their minions and flunkeys, namely Ethiopia’s opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. Hollywood’s worst horror shows have nothing on “Akeldama”.

It is easy to dismiss “Akeldama” as dimwitted and ill-conceived horror melodrama. But that would be a mistake because as lame and as cynical as it is, its manifest propaganda aim is to present a morality play for the masses in an attempt to drum up support for Zenawi and preempt, prevent or stall the dawn of an “Ethiopian Spring”. Careful review of “Akeldama” suggests that Zenawi aims to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives: 1) tar and feather all who oppose him as terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and fellow travelers, war mongers, blood-letters and genocidal maniacs, and inflame public passions, promote hatred and incite distrust and suspicion against them; 2) create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance and trigger mass hysteria against the opposition by concocting a crude propaganda brew of mass deception, mass distraction and mass demoralization; 3) divert the attention of the population from the pressing economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding their fears, accentuating their anxieties and concerns and encouraging them to passively accept Zenawi’s rule, and 4) provide justification why Zenawi has a moral imperative to ruthlessly crackdown and clampdown on his opposition.

The fact of the matter is that every major international human rights and other independent organizations dedicated to good governance has condemned Zenawi’s regime for gross human rights violations, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and suppression of press freedoms. Zenawi understands that he has no moral legs to stand on and that he is running out of options. He rules by fear, intimidation, lies and deceit. Lacking any moral standing and little public support in the country, Zenawi now seeks to  capture the moral high ground by presenting a pathetic and cynical melodrama.

His strategy is simple: To canonize himself, he demonizes his opposition and critics. By casting the opposition in the moral sewer, he hopes to capture the moral commanding heights. By portraying the opposition as bloodthirsty terrorists and baby killers, he hopes to mask his own bloody hands. By showing gruesome pictures of alleged atrocities by his opponents and by creating a message of fear and loathing, he aims to manipulate and frighten the population into supporting him. Ultimately, he hopes to  create the public impression that all of the crackdown and clampdown on dissent, the violence against opponents and the complete closure of political space is  morally defensible and necessary as measures needed to protect the population from “terrorism that has destroyed our daily peace” and “killed our loved ones”.  Simply stated,  “Akeldama” is Zenawi’s slick moral justification for his two decades of dictatorial rule, shutting down every independent newspaper and exiling journalists, jailing dissidents, muzzling critics and thumbing his nose at the rule of law and international human rights conventions.

The Strategic Use of Propaganda by Dictators

Hateful depiction of opposition elements by dictators is nothing new. In fact, all dictatorships in modern history have employed the media — everything from posters and newspapers to films, radio programs and now internet technologies — to moralize and pontificate about their rule while demonizing and mobilizing against their opposition, dissidents and critics. Joseph Goebbles, the grand master of propaganda, undertook a massive media campaign of fear and smear against the Jews which led directly to the Holocaust. The communists used “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda using drama, film, art, music) to win the support of the masses and to rail against the evils of liberal democracy (“neo-liberalism”), capitalism, human rights and so on. Agosto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allede in 1974 was followed by massive media propaganda campaigns depicting the liberal opposition as a bunch of communists and terrorists. Over 130 thousand Chileans and foreigners were tortured, imprisoned, killed or disappeared by Pinochet’s security forces.

For decades, South Africa’s Apartheid regime successfully used a slick propaganda campaign against the African National Congress (ANC) by “convincing” Western governments that the only choice to be made was between ANC communists and terrorists and freedom-loving Apartheid racists. Both John Vorster and P. W. Botha had the mindboggling audacity to portray the Apartheid system as a victim of terrorism, turning logic and facts on their heads, in their efforts to build and maintain Western support. They succeeded for a long time, but in the end their propaganda effort to delegitimize the ANC by legitimizing their illegitimate Apartheid system failed totally. “Akeldama” is no different. Zenawi portrays his regime as the victim of terrorism unleashed by the opposition, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab to bolster domestic and international support. He undertakes a fear and smear campaign aimed at tarring and feathering specific journalists, opposition party leaders, critics and dissidents as terrorists and enemies of the state while seeking to conceal and absolve himself of any culpability for massive and comprehensively documented human rights violations over two decades.

Dictators and Propaganda

But why do immoral and amoral dictators seek moral redemption? Political psychologists who have studied dictators point to a number of factors. One major reason is that all dictators are self-delusional and narcissistic (afflicted by morbid self-absorption and an over-inflated sense of self-importance). They believe their own PR (press release). They conveniently “convince” themselves that they are loved and venerated by their people, destined by Providence to save their nations and usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity (some call it a “Renaissance”). Gadhaffi swore until his last breath, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” Gadhaffi was so narcissistically delusional that he declared, “I am the creator of tomorrow, I am here, I am here, I am here…. Libya is my country. I created it, and I can destroy it.” Rarely, if ever, was it about Gadhaffi’s love for Libya or Libyans.

All dictators see outside conspiracies being hatched against them every day. If there are protests, it is not because “my people no longer love me” or “they have come to outright hate me”, rather it is because outside agitators are making them do it. Gadhaffi was so detached from reality that he claimed the young people protesting against him were doing so because they were taking drugs. Mubarak, Gadhaffi, Ben Ali, Assad and Gbagbo claimed the protests in their countries were guided and manipulated by evil outside forces. Before his swift fall from power, Mubarak appeared on state television and accused foreign journalists, human rights activists, and foreign hands for fomenting the unrest. Assad in Syria blamed “saboteurs” backed by foreign powers for fomenting widespread civil unrest and chaos. He claimed the unrest were the result of “conspiracies designed outside and perpetrated inside Syria.” Gbagbo accused foreign envoys of seeking to turn the military aganist him. Ali Saleh of Yemen accused foreign agitators for protests that were taking place in the country. In a speech on Libyan state television, Gadhaffi declared al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in Libya. Likewise, Zenawi’s message in “Akeldama” is that the people love him, and the mischief-makers are primarily outside agitators, namely Diaspora opposition leaders, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab terrorists and their local minions and collaborators.

As I have previously argued,

Dictators see only what they want to see; and to avoid what they don’t want to see, they create their own convenient world of illusions cut out of the whole cloth of their personal beliefs, opinions and fantasies. As they continue to abuse power without any legal restraints and convince themselves that they are above the law and accountable to no one but themselves, they transform their world of illusion into a world of delusion. In their delusional world, they become both the “lone ranger” of the old American West “cleaning up bad towns and riff-raff” and the only custodians of the Holy Grail, with miraculous powers to save their nations. In their delusional world, there is room only for themselves and their cronies….    

“Akeldama” II: Let Us See All of the Evidence of Atrocities Committed in Ethiopia 

If “Akeldama” is indeed an accurate depiction of Ethiopia as the “Land of Blood”, it is manifestly lacking in evidence. That is why we MUST follow the exhortation of the narrator in “Akeldama” to take a “look at the evidence in the past several years.” It may be true that there were “131 terrorist attacks in which 339 citizens were killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.” But is that all the body count? Let us really look at the evidence — not in bits and pieces, not in slivers and shreds, not in fragments and scraps — but the whole body of evidence, the totality of the evidence. Let us have an “Akildama II” and examine

the evidence of  post-2005 election massacres of June and November 2005, documented by the Inquiry Commission appointed by Zenawi, in which at least 193 persons were shot and killed, 763 wounded and 30,000 imprisoned by security forces under the direct command and control of Zenawi;

the December 2003 massacre, 8 years to the month, of the Anuak in Gambella in which 424 persons were massacred and some 16,000 displaced to the Sudan.

the extra-judicial killings in the Ogaden including reprisal  “executions of 150 individuals” and the killings of at least 37 others in Labiga, Faafann Valley and Hunjurri, and the burning of the villages of Daratoole, Qamuuda, Neef-Kuceliye, Laanjalelo, Aado, Jinnoole among many others in 2007; the October 2006 alleged terrorist deaths of three individuals;

the status of numerous detainees in three documented secret jails where they were held without due process of law and in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions;

the Treatment of “desperado terrorists” in 2009;

the use of foreign aid as a weapon of oppression and starvation of  the opposition into submission;

Etc., etc.

Let the truth be told about ALL atrocities committed in Ethiopia, without exception. Let the chips fall where they may!

Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity

Instead of wasting time and resources hate-mongering and demonizing the opposition, critics and dissidents, Zenawi could have used the opportunity to highlight and brag about his achievements and accomplishments over his two decades at the helm. Instead of showing mayhem, dismembered bodies, dead babies and destruction, he could have showed the people what he is doing (and has done) to bring down inflation and eliminate economic privation. Instead of promoting national enmity by depicting brutality, he could have used the opportunity to promote national unity. Instead of spreading a propaganda of hate, he could have been a peace and reconciliation advocate. Instead of demonizing his opponents, he could have humanized them. He could have showcased all of his achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, establishing universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability. Exhibition of such achievement could discredit any opposition claims and actions to legitimacy than the display of gratuitous horror, carnage, mayhem and destruction. But it seems Zenawi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do good, the right thing, the moral thing, the compassionate and humanistic thing.

It is not clear if “Akeldama” is the first in an endless series of melodramas calculated to demonize and dehumanize the opposition. It would be great to have an “Akeldama II”. But that is unlikely. There is little evidence to show that the lame and cynical piece of propaganda has gained any traction in the public. There is substantial anecdotal evidence which suggests most viewers in Ethiopia and the Diaspora are turned off by the gory scenes and deceitful exhortations of “Akeldama”. Even friends of Zenawi are said to have raised eyebrows by the excessive and extravagant display of gratuitous violence in the program.

At any rate, Tamagn Beyene’s masterful review of “Akeldama” delivers a totally devastating critique by pointing out numerous lies, factual errors, wholesale fabrications, distortions, exaggerations and fallacies. But credit must be given where it is due. Zenawi has once again succeeded in distracting us all from the real issues. Now, can we get on with the discussion of the issues that really matter such as of inflation, corruption, arbitrary detention, intimidation, maladministration, truth adulteration, balkanization, and the need for better collaboration, improved harmonization, effective communication and, most of all, genuine reconciliation….?

Land of Corruption or Land of Blood?

This past Summer, Zenawi, responding to an interviewer’s question about his feelings concerning the use of the word “famine” by the Oxford Dictionary synonymously with Ethiopia, said:

It is a mixed up situation. On the one hand, like any citizen, I am very sad. I am ashamed. It is degrading. A society that built the Lalibela churches some thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. A society that built the Axum obelisks some 2-3 thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. That is very sad. It is very shameful. Of all the things, to go out begging for one’s daily bread, to be a beggar nation is dehumanizing. Therefore, I feel great shame.

It is a crystal clear situation for me. I feel great shame that a society that built the magnificent Lalibela churches (one of the great wonders of the ancient world) and the obelisks of Axum should be known throughout the world not only as a “beggar nation” but also as land of corruption, land of blood, land of famine and land of living lies.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

and

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

 

Ethiopia: The Art of Bleeding a Country Dry

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Ethio-Corruption, Inc. (Unlimited)

The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage”, wrote Economist Sarah Freitas who co-authored an upcoming report with  Lead Economist Dev Kar of Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The GFI report entitled, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” previewed in the Wall Street Journal, found 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… In 2008, Ethiopia received  US$829 million  in official development assistance, but this was swamped by the massive illicit outflows.  The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the  US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009.”

Two weeks ago in my commentary, “Why is Ethiopia Poor?”, I highlighted the fact that the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, had recently ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries on its 2011 Prosperity Index (LPI). 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 cancer of corruption is deeply embedded in the marrow of the Ethiopian body politic. The recently released  Transparency International (TI) 2011 Corruption Perception Index report on Ethiopia confirms the findings of GFI and other anti-corruption international organizations. For the past decade, TI has ranked Ethiopia at the bottom of the barrel of countries ruled by the most corrupt governments. In fact, for the past ten years Ethiopia’s score on the TI index has remained virtually unchanged (TI ranks countries on a 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”) scale.

TI Corruption Index Score for Ethiopia by Year

2011     2.7

2010     2.7

2009     2.7

2008     2.6

2007     2.4

2006     2.4

2005     2.2

2004     2.3

2003     2.5

2002     3.5

In light of the 2011 GFI and TI reports, is there any doubt today why Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world? Is it rocket science to figure out why Ethiopians are the second poorest people on the planet? Ethiopians are poor because they have been robbed, ripped off, flimflammed, bamboozled, conned, fleeced, scammed, hosed, swindled, suckered, hoodwinked, victimized, shafted and taken to the cleaners by those clinging to power like bloodsucking ticks on an African milk cow. Is it not mindboggling that the US$3.26 billion stolen out of Ethiopia in 2009 was double the amount stolen in 2008 and 2007!?!

The Art of Bleeding Ethiopia Dry

I have long argued that the business of African dictatorships is corruption. In a November 2009 commentary entitled “Africorruption Inc.”, I wrote the following about corruption in Ethiopia:

The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. For instance, reports of widespread corruption in Ethiopia in the form of outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments and gain are commonplace. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Doctors are unable to treat patients at the public hospitals because medicine and supplies are diverted for private gain. Tariffs are imposed on medicine and medical supplies brought into the country for public charity. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners.

Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Two months ago, Ethiopia’s former president Dr. Negasso Gidada offered substantial evidence of systemic political corruption by documenting the misuse and abuse of political power for partisan electoral advantage. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.” [As of December 2011, over two years after the investigation was launched, the State Department has not publicly released the results of its  investigation.]

Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia. The cunning dictator has been able to shroud his corrupt empire by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. Zenawi has successfully distracted public attention from rampant corruption by

Making wild allegations of terrorism against his critics, persecuting and prosecuting his opponents and by jailing and exiling independent journalists (a couple of weeks ago, Zenawi shuttered Awramba Times);

Proclaiming a bogus Growth and Transformation Plan that will “double economic growth by an annual average of  14.9 percent” by 2015;

Selling Ethiopia’s most fertile land for pennies above the table and for millions under the table;

Panhandling the international community for famine and humanitarian aid and misusing that aid for political purposes;

Taking massive loans from international banks without     any significant accountability on how it is spent;

Trying to shame and intimidate Western bankers and donors by hectoring them of the evils of  “neoliberalism”;

Proclaiming the construction of an imaginary hydroelectric dam over the River Nile;

Sending troops to occupy Somalia and threatening war with other neighboring countries;

Vilifying international human rights groups, election observers and officials of multilateral organizations who disagree with him;

Dispatching swarms of officials to panhandle the Ethiopian Diaspora for nickels and dimes to buy dam bonds;

Systematically extracting foreign remittances sent by Diaspora Ethiopians;

Staging political theatre by a toothless anti-corruption agency to hoodwink complicit Western donors and loaners.

Etc., etc.

The Economics of Corruption

The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial described “the Ethiopian government as one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world.”  In 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. They are all wrong!

No one knows corruption, the economics of kleptocracy, better than Zenawi.  The facts of Zenawi’s corruptonomics are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of businesses owned or dominated by Zenawi family members, cronies, supporters or hangers-on. According to the World Bank, business enterprises affiliated with Zenawi’s regime control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” Dataprovided by Zenawi’s regime  showed that by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s  outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. The USD$11.7 billion stolen over the past decade could easily retire that debt. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid at nearly $USD4 billion in 2009, and the second largest foreign aid recipient in the world after Afghanistan.

Is There a Way to Stop Ethiopia from Bleeding?

The international community “naively” believes that corruption in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa could be controlled and significantly reduced by anti-corruption programs. The U.N. Convention Against Corruption (2003)requires signatories to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.” Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention in 2003. The Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (2003)  established a regime to empower African countries to “prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors.”  The Convention prescribes that “in order to combat corruption and related offences in the public service, State Parties” shall “require public officials to declare their assets at the time of assumption of office during and after their term of office  in the public service.” Ethiopia signed the AU Convention in 2004. Neither of these Conventions has even made a dent in controlling the metastasizing corruption in Ethiopia.

Zenawi knows the power of corruption. He has effectively used corruption allegations to neutralize and eliminate his political opponents. He used his “Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission” to railroad his comrade-in-arms and former defense minister, Seeye Abraha, to jail for six years on unsubstantiated allegations of  corruption. When then-Judge Birtukan Midekssa, and later Ethiopia’s first female political party leader and long suffering political prisoner, released Seeye for lack of evidence, Zenawi rammed legislation through his rubberstamp parliament  to deny Seeye bail and keep him in pretrial detention. He later fired Judge Birtukan.  In 2008, Zenawi’s anticorruption commission reported that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A number of  culprits were fingered for the inside bank job, but no one was ever prosecuted. In February 2011, Zenawi 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 statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he will “cut off their hands”.

For years, I have documented and railed against corruption in Ethiopia. In December 2008, three years to the month, in a weekly commentary entitled, “The Bleeping Business of Corruption in Ethiopia”, I wrote:

The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi in the Ethiopian body politics. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada clearly understood that when he declared in 2001 that ‘corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,’ adding that the government would show ‘an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic’. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’…. Ironically, in 2003, Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption; and a couple of months ago, a conference on institutions, culture, and corruption was hosted jointly in Addis Ababa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.

The fact of the matter is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Zenawi has absolute power in Ethiopia.  Pleading for transparency and issuing moral exhortations against corruption will have no effect on the behavior of Zenawi or any of the other African dictators. Indeed, to plead the virtues of accountability, transparency and good governance with Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathens. It means nothing to them. They are unfazed by moral hectoring or appeals to conscience. They sneer and jeer at those who rail and vociferate against corruption. Preaching to the corrupt, to put it simply, is an exercise in total futility!

In my November 7 commentary “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!”, I discussed the importance of initiating and cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in civil forfeiture actions to seize corruptly obtained cash, personal or real property of any person or entity that can be traced to “specified unlawful activity”. These civil court actions extend to foreign offenses involving extortion, money laundering, or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.)  The U.S. has recently filed action to seize personal and real property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

Carefully review and analysis of GFI and TI data sources reveals that public assets and funds stolen from many African countries, including Ethiopia, are often hidden in banks located in the U.S. and Europe, although the clever African dictators are now diversifying by taking advantage of  financial havens in countries experiencing rapid growth and industrialization. Much of the corruption activity centers around money laundering (that is,  illegal or dirty money is put through a complex cycle of financial transactions or washed and is transformed into legitimate or clean money).

The basic idea in money laundering is to minimize the chances of detection of stolen public assets and funds by breaking the direct link between the kleptocrats or “corruptocrats” and their collaborators by disguising the true ownership. Using financial consultants, shell companies (bogus companies that exist to simply create the appearance of legitimate transactions through fake invoices and balance sheets), fraudulent official documentation, wire transactions, and “smurfing” techniques (breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts in the names of multiple persons) etc., those who have stolen public assets and funds try to sever or camouflage their loot from its illegal source by placing it in international financial institutions. The aim in money laundering is at least twofold: 1) gain anonymity and hide the audit trail in case of a criminal investigation, and 2)  plough the “clean money” into the legitimate economy by buying homes, investing in legitimate businesses, starting businesses and so on.

If the problem of corruption is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, it is not going to be at the fountainhead of the corruption itself but in the ocean where the river of corruption terminally flows. As one cannot expect the fox to safeguard the henhouse, one cannot similarly expect Africa’s dictators and corruptocrats and their collaborators to safeguard public assets and funds. A big part of the answer to the question of corruption lies in the Laundromats of financial institutions where the dirty money is washed. That’s why I believe it is the civic and moral duty of every Ethiopian and African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves hiding in America. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously.  Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: [email protected] If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199  

BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

and

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/