Alemayehu G Mariam
The Plight of Andualem Aragie and Other Political Prisoners in Ethiopia
The “Gulag” prison system in the old Soviet Union was infamous for warehousing and persecuting dissidents and opponetns. The gulags were used effectively to weed out and neutralize opposition to the Soviet state. They were the quintessential tools of Soviet state terrorism. Some called them “meat-grinders” because of the extremely harsh and inhumane conditions. Torture, physical abuse by prison guards, solitary confinement, inadequate food rations and officially instigated inmate-on-inmate violence were the hallmarks of the gulags.
Ethiopia’s prison system today are reminiscent of the Soviet gulags in their abuse and mistreatment of political and other prisoners. Let the facts speak for themselves: In a recent column on two Swedish journalists arbitrarily held in one of the Ethiopian prisons near the capital, N.Y. Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristoff described the prsion conditions as
filthy and overridden with lice, fleas and huge rats… a violent, disease-ridden place, with inmates fighting and coughing blood… 250 or so Ethiopian prisoners jammed in the cell protect the two [Swedish] journalists, pray for them and jokingly call their bed ‘the Swedish embassy’.
The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia (April 2011) documented:
…Human rights abuses reported during the year included unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias, which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention… Numerous reliable sources confirmed in April 2009 that in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions.
In its 2010 World Report-Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that
… torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups… Secret detention facilities and military barracks are most often used by Ethiopian security forces for such activities.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture (November 2010) validated HRW’s conclusions.
The Dewar Report on an Ethiopian Gulag
The regular and secret prisons maintained by the ruling regime in Ethiopia today are among the most inhumane, primitive, barbaric and sadistic in the world. In July 2008, the regime of dictator Meles Zenawi secretly commissioned retired British colonel Michael Dewars, an internationally recognized security expert, to undertake an assessment of the prison system and make recommendations. In his report, Col. Dewars expressed total horror and shock over what he witnessed in one of the prisons he visited in Addis Ababa. He recounted:
I asked to go into the compound where the prisoners are kept. This consisted of a long yard with a shed to one side which provided some sort of shelter. The compound had a wall around it and a watchtower for an armed sentry overlooking it. Inside must have been 70 – 80 inmates, all in a filthy state. There was insufficient room for all these people to lie down on a mat at once. There was no lighting. The place stank of faeces and urine. There appeared to be no water or sanitation facilities within the compound. There was a small hut in an adjacent compound for women prisoners but there had been no attempt by anybody to improve the circumstances of the place. The prisoners were mostly on remand for minor crimes, in particular theft. Some had been there for months….
Col. Dewars concluded:
Detention conditions of prisoners are a disgrace and make the Federal Police vulnerable to the Human Rights lobby…. The prison I saw was a disgrace. No one is recommending a Hilton Hotel, but, if any human rights organization were to get inside an Ethiopian jail, they would have enough ammunition to sink all our best efforts.
recommended that the Government should investigate this situation with the intention of improving the current appalling conditions inside Ethiopian prisons, which must brutalise prisoners and their goalers equally… and that senior Ethiopian Ministers and Police Officers visit the prison that I visited.
Over the past several years, I have written extensively on torture and mistreatment of political prisoners in Ethiopia. In my numerous columns on the incarceration of former judge Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, and other political prisoners, I have pointed out the “soft torture” techniques used to crush her spirit and break her body. She was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, visitation deprivation, daily humiliation and mindless interrogation. Birtukan faced untold suffering in prison. Zenawi could not bear the thought of Birtukan going free; and in a moment frustrated defiance declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In the end she prevailed and became free. Just last week in Washington, D.C., she presented her study on the challenges confronting the Ethiopian opposition and offered specific recommendations for strengthening multi-party democracy in Ethiopia as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy.
Andualem Aragie Inside the Belly of the Beast
Zenawi has replaced Birtukan by another young Ethiopian leader, to be sure several dozens of young opposition leaders, journalists, activists and others. Last week, the former Ethiopian President and current leader of the Unity and Democracy Party (UDJ) Dr. Negasso Gidada reported that Andualem Aragie was severely beaten by a death-row-inmate-turned-lifer while confined in his cell. The facts of Andualem’s abuse are shocking. According to Dr. Negasso, Andualem was held in a “windowless cell for 14 people with a number of other political prisoners including Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and Tilahun Fantahun.” About a month ago, a convicted murderer whose life sentence had been commuted to life in prison was allowed to join Andualem’s cell. This criminal savagely assaulted Andualem inflicting severe injuries to his head. He was reported to lost consciousness following the assault.The Voice of America reported that “Relatives who have seen Andualem say his head injury appears to have affected his ability to maintain his balance.”
This inmate is notorious for his assaultive behavior inside the prison. He has a long record of violence and abuse of inmates. He is known to receive special accommodations for being a prison enforcer for the authorities. Rumors are rife that prison authorities paid the criminal a substantial sum for beating Andiualem.
Prior to his arrest on bogus terrorism charges, Andualem was a rising leader in the UDJ and served as its spokesperson and external relations officer. Andualem is among a new breed of young Ethiopian political leaders, journalists and civil society advocates who are widely respected and accepted. In the months leading up to the May 2010 “election” in which Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, Andualem demonstrated his unflinching commitment to democracy and the rule of law. With breathtaking clarity of thought, razor-sharp intellect, incredible courage, mesmerizing eloquence, piercing logic, stinging wit, masterful command of the facts and steadfast adherence to the truth, Andualem made mincemeat out of Zenawi’s vacuous lackeys in several televised pre-“election” debates. It was a sight to behold.
In September 2011, Andualem and 23 other individuals were “accused under the anti-terrorism law of being members of a terrorist network and abetting, aiding and supporting a terrorist group.” Earlier this month, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts (U.N. Special Rapporteurs) condemned the so-called anti-terrorism law and diplomatically cautioned 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.” Andualem and the others are expected to have their day in kangaroo court on March 5.
Torture, Abuse and Plausible Deniability
Plausible deniability is the ability to deny a fact or allegation, or previous knowledge of a fact by shifting blame on someone else. In Andualem’s case, plausible deniability allows Zenawi’s regime to deny any awareness or knowledge of a criminal or criminally negligent act by its officials or unofficial agents in the prison. By allowing a notoriously violent criminal to assault Andualem, they aim to plausibly avoid responsibility. In other words, they have sought to remove their fingerprints, handprints, palmprints and footprints from the cowardly criminal act perpetrated on Andualem. But their MO (modus operandi) is well known. Whether they acted through their goons uniformed as prison guards or their deputized convicted thugs, they are exclusively responsible for the safety of all pretrial detainees like Andualem. Regardless of how one looks at it, what happened to Andualem, and has happened to other political prisoners countless times, represents a clear case of extrajudicial punishment (torture) in violation of Ethiopia’s Constitution and international human rights conventions.
Speaking of Constitutional and International Law…
The Ethiopian Constitution provides specific safeguards for the safety and protection of pre-trial detainees awaiting trial. Article 16 guarantees that “Everyone has the right to protection against bodily harm..” Andualem has the constitutional right to be secure from violence while awaiting trial. Article 110 of the Ethiopian Criminal Code (Proclamation No.414/2004) specifically requires that “prisoners who are sentenced to rigorous imprisonment or special confinement shall be kept separate from prisoners who are serving a sentence of simple imprisonment or awaiting judgment.” The criminal thug who assaulted Andualem should have never been allowed in the area reserved for pre-trial detanees. Article 18 provides, “Everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The savage beating of Andualem in plain sight of prison guards constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Article 20 provides that, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law…” Since Andualem has not been found guilty “according to law”, he is innocent of the charges and should have been accorded his rights consistent with that presumption. Article 21 guarantees that “All persons held in custody and persons imprisoned upon conviction and sentencing have the right to treatments respecting their human dignity.”
International law protects all prisoners, and particularly political prisoners, from inhumane and barbaric treatment. Under Article 13 of the Ethiopian Constitution, the “fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated… shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” Article 5 of the UDHR (incorporated by express reference in Art. 13 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) prescribes that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (ratified by Ethiopia on June 11, 1993 and similarly incorporated) provides that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
The U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988) (Principle 8) specifically provides: “Persons in detention shall be subject to treatment appropriate to their unconvicted status. Accordingly, they shall, whenever possible, be kept separate from imprisoned persons.” Article 1 of the Declaration Against Torture (1975) defines torture as “… any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by, or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as …punishing him for an act he has committed; or intimidating him or other persons…” Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (acceded to by Ethiopia on April 13, 1994) mandates that signatories “shall undertake to prevent… acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…” Article 5 of the African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratified by Ethiopia on June 15, 1998) prohibits, “all forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly… torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.” The U.N. Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990) provide that “all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Covenants. Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court include torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
I write about the law on the protection of the rights of political prisoners to set the record; for I know that preaching the law to outlaws is like pouring water over granite.
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned…
In August 2009, I spoke at a town hall meeting organized by “Gasha for Ethiopia”, a civic organization, on the importance of remembering Ethiopian political prisoners:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” said Dr. Martin Luther King… Nothing is more important and uplifting to political prisoners than knowledge of the fact that they are not forgotten, abandoned and forsaken by the outside world. Remembrance gatherings at town hall meetings such as this one serve to remind all of us who live in freedom the divine blessings of liberty and the unimaginable suffering of those trapped in the darkness of dictatorship.
Andualem Aragie and countless political prisoners in Ethiopia reamin trapped in the darkness of dictatorship. They have been beaten down and brought to their knees. We cannot hear their whimpers of pain and desperation. Few, other than their tormentors, will be able to see their mangled bodies. Because they have no voice, we must be their voices and speak on their behalf. Because they are walled in behind filthy and subhuman prison institutions, we must unflaggingly remind the world of their suffering. We must all labor for the cause of Ethiopian political prisoners not because it is easy or fashionable, but because it is ethical, honorable, right and just. In the end, what will make the difference for the future of Ethiopia is not the brutality, barbarity, bestiality and inhumanity of its corrupt dictators, but the humanity, dignity, adaptability, audacity, empathy and compassion of decent Ethiopians for their wrongfully imprisoned compatriots. That is why we must join hands and work tirelessly to free all political prisoners held in Ethiopia’s public and secret gulags. “Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.”
Uncage Andualem Aragie and All Political Prisoners in Ethiopia!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
In 1987 when Time Magazine featured a famine-stricken Ethiopian mother on its cover page, it failed to ask the most important question of all: What should Ethiopians do and not do to help themselves?
It is the privilege of those who give to pity those who receive. One of the great indignities of being a perennial object of charity and handouts is the perception by those lending a hand that handout recipients are not only moneyless and helpless but also hopeless and clueless about what they need to do to help themselves. Well-intentioned donors and benefactors often mistakenly assume that recipients of charity should “ask what the world can do for them, and not what they can do for themselves.” But history shows that all societies that have succeeded economically, socially and politically had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps with a little help from friends. Ethiopians are no exception; they must do all of the heavy lifting by themselves if they are to permanently cast off the burdens of poverty, famine, disease, dictatorship and corruption. What should Ethiopians do to save themselves?
Ten Things Ethiopians Can Do to Help Themselves 
It is all about humanity, community and civility, NOT ethnicity, nationality, sovereignty, animosity or disunity.
If Ethiopians have a chance of overcoming their enormous economic and political problems, they must first make fundamental choices. They can choose the politics of their common humanity and collectively build a harmonious civil community, or remain trapped in the dungeon of identity politics and become pawns in the ethnic chess game of uber-dictator Meles Zenawi. If Ethiopians affirm their common humanity, they will see that human rights abuses do not have an ethnic face, nor poverty a nationality. They will understand religion is not a weapon of animosity but a way to divinity. National disunity will never produce prosperity, but it will surely keep the people in perpetual poverty. Ethnicity and identity add diversity in a genuine democratic system. Under a dictatorship, they become powerful tools of dehumanization breeding fear, hatred and distrust among the people. Ethiopians must choose to climb up and steer the Ship of Ethiopia into the horizon or remain lost in their ethnic boats on a sea of tyranny, poverty and famine. That is why I believe Ethiopians need a new unifying civic ideology that transcends ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, language and other classifications susceptible to insidious use. Ethiopians inside the country and in the Diaspora must build a civic culture based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the most translated document in the world. If the values of the UDHR are widely accepted and practiced, Ethiopia will be able to overcome poverty, famine and internal division and achieve prosperity and greatness within a generation.
Ethiopians must become a little bit utopian.
Ethiopia is today a dystopia– a society that writhes under a dictatorship that trashes human rights and decimates all opposition ruthlessly. Last year, Zenawi told two high level U.S. Government officials what he will do to his opposition: “We will crush them with our full force.” All Ethiopians, regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, class or region must be able to imagine an Ethiopia where no petty tyrant will ever have the power or even the audacity to say he will “crush” another fellow citizen, or has the ability to use “full force” against any person just because he can. Ethiopians must be able to dream of a future free of ethnic strife, famine and oppression; and strive to work together for a little utopia in Ethiopia where might is NOT right but the rule of law shields the defenseless poor and voiceless against the slings and arrows of the criminally rich and powerful. It is true that Utopians aspire for the perfect society, but Ethiopians should aspire and work collectively for a society in which human rights are respected, the voice of the people are heard and accepted (not stolen), those to whom power is entrusted perform their duties with transparency and are held accountable to the law and people.
Learn from the past, prepare for the future.
More often than not, many Ethiopians tend to dwell on the past than imagining an alternative future. The past is a great teacher; we must learn from past mistakes and do things better and differently. But the past can also be a mental prison. Zenawi always reminds us how we have been wicked to each other in the past and waxes eloquent on the alleged crimes, cruelty and inhumanity of long gone kings and princes. He never tires to tell us how this king, that aristocrat or soldier has been cruel and barbaric. He thinks he can make himself angelic by demonizing past leaders. Perhaps he does not see it, but when one points an index finger outwards, three fingers are pointing inwards. The moral lesson is that we need to find a way out of the mental prison of past grievances and liberate our minds with a new civic ideology to embrace a brave new democratic Ethiopia under the rule of law. As the old saying goes, “One can’t drive forward on the road of life if one is fixed looking in the rear view mirror.” So, we have to make another simple choice: Live in the past chewing on the cud of historical grievances or hold hands, learn from the past and put our collective shoulders to the grindstone and forge a new Ethiopia. If we fail to do that, those who cling to power will entrench and enrich themselves and laugh at the rest of us who remain trapped in the dungeons of our historical grievances.
No country or society ever got prosperity by begging or receiving alms.
No country or society ever got prosperity by begging or receiving alms. But recent evidence from Wikileaks cablegrams shows that Zenawi plans to bulldoze his way into economic development at an annual growth rate of 15 percent by panhandling the West. According to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Treasury Andy Baukol, the “Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has become more vocal about its need for sustained aid flows from the West and more recalcitrant about implementing any reforms or liberalization of key sectors such as banking and telecommunications.” A recent IMF report, which Zenawi wants kept hidden from public scrutiny, concluded that Ethiopia’s “macroeconomic performance has deteriorated markedly” because of loose monetary policy which has fueled stratospheric inflation and mindless government control and regulations which have undermined confidence in the private sector.
Foreign aid as a development vehicle has been thoroughly discredited. As Dambissa Moyo has argued, the “evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment.” Countries that have achieved rapid economic development have managed to create favorable politico-legal environments for business, industry and commerce, maintained low state debt and accumulated substantial fiscal reserves to meet emergency needs. The spirit of official mendicancy in Ethiopia must be replaced by a public spirit of unfettered entrepreneurship.
As long as Ethiopia remains under a dictatorship, there will always be famine, and not just of food.
Western aid bureaucrats like to sugarcoat the famine in Ethiopia in the politically correct bureaucratese of “extreme malnutrition”, “food crises”, “green drought” and so on. Interestingly, in a recent official blog and testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto and presently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State acknowledged “famine [is] spreading across the Horn of Africa.” That should not come as a surprise as Yamamoto had long concluded that Ethiopia is trapped in a permanent and unbreakable cycle of famine and starvation. In a recently released Wikileaks cablegram,Yamamoto advised his superiors: “Ethiopia’s perennial emergency food dependence is, de facto, a permanent condition.” He outlined that the U.S. has three choices in light of the permanence of famine in the Ethiopian political economy: 1) “continue to provide massive food aid, which is unsustainable, in meeting Ethiopia’s permanent state of emergency food need each year,” 2) “provide significantly greater assistance for sustainable agricultural productivity”, or 3) “robustly to push for a shift in economic and agricultural policies (regarding land tenure, agricultural technologies and practices, agricultural inputs, etc.) to increase domestic agricultural productivity.” The bottom line is that as long as Ethiopia remains in the chokehold of the current dictatorship, there will always be a famine not only of food but also of democracy, human rights, rule of law, accountability, transparency and vision. Western donors must stop supporting oppression, corruption, persecution and repression in famine-stricken Ethiopia.
Plant and water the seeds of genuine multiparty democracy on the parched landscape of famine.
It is oft-repeated that “there has never been a famine in a functioning multi-party democracy” with a robust free press. In a competitive multi-party political process, there is a much higher degree of political and electoral accountability. A government that ignores or fails to prevent famine is surely destined to lose power. A free press will mobilize public opinion for official and civic action to deal with the problem. Multiparty democracy does not mean the six dozen ethno-tribal “parties” organized by the Zenawi dictatorship to serve as a Tower of Babel and facilitate its divide and rule strategy. It does mean the functioning of political organizations that compete for electoral support and have appeal across ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional lines. Ethiopia can learn a great lesson from Ghana in this regard in light of shared socio-economic and political experiences. Article 55 (4) of the Ghanaian Constitution expressly mandates political parties to have “national character”: “Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.” Any multiparty system to be established in Ethiopia must be guided by such constitutional language.
Ethiopia’s youth are the flowers of today and the seeds of hope tomorrow.
The old Ethiopian saying that the “youth are the flowers of today and the seeds of tomorrow” is true. They need to be carefully cultivated and grown. But the the data on these seeds of hope are discouraging. Forty six percent of Ethiopia’s 91 million population in 2011 is estimated to be under the age of 18. UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five. An estimated 5 million children are orphans, a little less than one-fifths from AIDS. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at 70 per cent. The vast majority of Ethiopian adolescents live in rural areas. Some regions in the country have extremely high rates of early marriage. Frustrated and in despair of their future, many urban youths drop out of school and engage in risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency. The ruling dictatorship’s youth, sports and culture agency concedes that youth issues have been long neglected: “In Ethiopia, because of the fact that proper attention has not been given to addressing youth issues and their organizations, therefore, mutual cooperation and networking among youth, family, society, other partners and government had hardly been created.” Much needs to be done to give Ethiopia’s youth hope in the future. Whatever is to be done to help the youth, the starting point must necessarily be a de-marginalization of youth through an explicit acknowledgement of their role in solving problems affecting them. They must be included in all decision-making concerning youth issues and consulted extensively in the policy planning and implementation stages. The bottom line is that without the youth, Ethiopia has no future. Those who ignore the youth should understand that hungry children grow to be angry children and a ticking demographic time bomb.
Empower Ethiopian women.
Birtukan Midekssa, Ethiopia’s foremost political prisoner until her release last year and first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, enjoyed talking about an allegorical ‘future country of Ethiopia’ that would become an African oasis of democracy and a bastion of human rights and the rule of law in the continent. In Birtukan’s ‘future Ethiopia’ women and men would live not only as equals under the law, but also work together to create a progressive and compassionate society in which women are free from domestic violence and sexual exploitation, have access to adequate health and maternal care and are provided education to free them from culturally-enforced ignorance, submissiveness and subjugation. But if the situation of women in the ‘present country of Ethiopia’ is any indication, Birtukans “future country” is in deep trouble.
The 2000 US State Department Human Rights Country Report on Ethiopia described the status of women in appallingly disheartening terms: “The Constitution provides for the equality of women; however, these provisions often are not applied in practice… Discriminatory regulations in the civil code include recognizing the husband as the legal head of the family and designating him as the sole guardian of children over five years old. Domestic violence is not considered a serious justification under the law to obtain a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years the marriage has existed, the number of children raised and the joint property, the woman is entitled to only 3 months’ financial support should the relationship end.”
The 2010 US. State Department Human Rights Country Report on Ethiopia described the status of women in similar stark terms: “The constitution provides women the same rights and protections as men. Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) such as FGM (female genital mutilation), abduction, and rape are explicitly criminalized; however, enforcement of these laws lagged. Women and girls experienced gender-based violence daily, but it was underreported due to shame, fear, or a victim’s ignorance of legal protections. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. The 2005 Demographic and Health Survey found that 81 percent of women believed a husband had a right to beat his wife. Sexual harassment was widespread [and] harassment-related laws were not enforced.”
The current dictatorship in Ethiopia manifested its latent misogyny not only by giving lip service to women’s issues but also by dehumanizing the symbol of women in Ethiopia, young Birtukan Midekssa. During her incarceration, the U.S. Government regarded Birtukan a political prisoner because she was imprisoned for her political beliefs as did all other major international human rights organizations. But Zenawi threw Birtukan straight into solitary confinement after arresting her on the streets, and boasted to the world: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” He later literally added insult to injury by mocking her that she was in “perfect condition” in solitary confinement and was eating and sitting around idly and likely to “have gained a few kilos”.
Ethiopian women need to be empowered in all spheres of life. But without young women leaders like Birtukan who can fight for Ethiopian democracy and human rights, and women’s rights, talk of improving the status of women in Ethiopia is a mockery of women.
Only Ethiopians can save themselves.
Ethiopians should know that the West and its billions in aid and loans will help but not save them from a famine of food and democracy. Ethiopians in the Diaspora can help by becoming the voice of Ethiopia’s voiceless. But only Ethiopians can save themselves from famine, poverty, dictatorship and division. Only they can solve their problems by creating common cause, building consensus and forging genuine brotherhood and sisterhood among themselves regardless of ethnicity or other factors. Only when they are able to forge unity of purpose and are irrevocably committed to democracy and the rule of law will they be able to cast off the boots of dictatorship from their necks. There is no need to look for answers to what troubles Ethiopia in Washington, D.C., London, Bonn or Beijing. The solution for Ethiopia’s problems is in Ethiopia.
Give hope. Always keep hope alive.
The old saying is true that “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” When dictators swagger arrogantly to show the people that they are omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, they are telling them they have no hope. Their message is the same as the one inscribed on the gates of Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” But Ethiopians must never abandon hope. To abandon hope is to lose faith in Ethiopia’s children. When the dictators say, “Look how powerful we are. Give up!”, hope says “keep on keeping on. Tyrants for a time seem invincible but in the end, they always fall.” As Martin L. King said, “We are now experiencing the darkest hour which is just before the dawn of freedom and human dignity.” That is why it is important to keep hope alive in Ethiopia.
Tyrants always fall, but what happens the morning after?
Gandhi spoke an eternal truth: “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS.” In just the past few months, Ben Ali fell in Tunisia; Hosni Mubarak fell and is standing trial in Egypt. Moammar Gadhafi fell and is hiding out in a spider hole somewhere in southern Libya. Bashir Al-Assad is teetering as he continues to butcher Syrians who have kept up the pressure through acts of mass civil disobedience. He too will fall. The question is never, never whether tyrants fall. The question is always, always what happens after they fall!
 This commentary builds upon my set of ten reasons to questions posed by Time Magazine nearly a quarter of a century ago: “Why are Ethiopians starving again? and “What should the world do and not do” to help them?
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/