Ethiopia: The Bedtime Stories of Meles Zenawi
Alemayehu G Mariam
At the “World Economic Forum Meeting” in Ethiopia last week, dictator Meles Zenawi lectured:
…. My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically. But my view is that democracy is a good thing in and of itself irrespective of its impact on economic growth. And my view is that in Africa most of our countries are extremely diverse, that may be the only possibility, the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane. Democracy may be the only viable option for keeping these diverse nations together. Sowe need to democratize but not in order to grow. We need to democratize in order to survive as united sane nations. That’s my view. But I don’t believe in this nighttime, you know, bedtime stories and contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy. There is no basis for it in history and in my view no basis for it it in economics. And there is no need to have this contrived argument because the case for democracy and can stand and shine on its own…
While visiting Ghana in 2009, President Obama told the following “contrived bedtime story linking economic growth with democracy” to Africans:
Development depends on good governance. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny. And now is the time for that style of governance to end…. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives…. History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity….
My Favorite Bedtime Stories
I enjoy bedtime stories as much as the next guy. My favorite is “Pinocchio in Africa”. The wooden puppet wanted to become a human boy but could not stop telling lies and tall tales. Whenever Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.
I like the story of “Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies”. Puff took a little girl called Sandy, who lies a lot, to the Land of the Living Lies where honesty and truthfulness are prosecuted. She meets the famous fibbers Pinocchio and the boy who cried wolf; and saw the famous purple cow that no one has ever seen and a pink elephant.
I also enjoy the morality tales of Aesop, the ancient Ethiopian storyteller. Once upon a time there was a wolf who schemed to snatch sheep grazing in the pasture, but could not because the shepherd was vigilant. One day the wolf found the shorn skin of a sheep and dressed himself in it and joined the flock. Soon he began dining on the sheep one by one until he was discovered by the shepherd. That was the end of the wolf; he could no longer steal, kill and eat the sheep.
George Orwell’s allegorical stories of doubletalk and doublespeak told in “political language” are rather delightful because they “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” So, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George could have added, “dictatorship is democracy. Tyranny is liberty. Poverty is wealth. Famine is plenty. Censorship is press freedom. Brutality is civility. Mendacity is veracity. Opacity is clarity. Shadow is reality. Depravity is morality and greed is good.”
Oh, Yes! I like children’s rhymes too:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall….
Sane Nations, Insane Dictators and Democrazy
Zenawi said “democracy is the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane”. Here are some true stories of democrazy from the Land of Living Lies:
Freedom House/U.S. State Department (2010)
In April 2008 local elections were held throughout Ethiopia. Freedom House and USDoS report that opposition candidates were subjected to intimidation and arrest by the government prior to the elections making it difficult for them to compete, leading to the opposition boycotting the elections and resulting in a massive victory for government supporters. The ruling party won 99% of the more than three million seats contested.
The May 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in a 99.6 percent victory for the ruling EPRDF and its allies,reducing the opposition from 174 to only two seats in the 547 member lower house… Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan… At US$390, Ethiopia’s per capita income is much lower than the Sub-Saharan African average of US$1,165 in FY 2010, ranking it as the sixth poorest country in the world.
The Ethiopian parliament has adopted a potentially repressive new law which could criminalise the human rights activities of both foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Charities and Societies Proclamation law (2009) is designed to strictly control and monitor civil society in an atmosphere of intolerance of the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The law’s repressive provisions are believed to be an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010.
Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies—through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views—without fear of reprisal. Democracy’s technical framework will remain a deceptive and hollow façade so long as Ethiopia’s institutions lack independence from the ruling party and there is no accountability for abuses by state officials.
Global Financial Integrity/Wall Street Journal (2011)
Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009. That’s a lot of money to lose to corruption for a country that has a per-capita GDP of just $365. In 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion, double the amount in each of the two previous years. The capital flight is also disturbing because the country received $829 million in development aid in 2008. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth as 38.9% of Ethiopians live in poverty, and life expectancy in 2009 was just 58 years. 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.
Committee to Protect Journalist (2011)
Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as the foremost jailer of journalists in Africa. Ethiopia’s repression of the independent press has also driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world. Yet Zenawi told Aftenposten [Norwegian paper] that ‘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.’
The Ethiopian government is exploiting its vaguely worded anti-terror law to crush peaceful dissent. The anti-terror law itself is a huge problem. The international community, especially the European Union, United States, and United Kingdom, should ask the Ethiopian government hard questions about why it is using this law to crack down on peaceful independent voices.
Committee Statement of Congressman Donald Payne (2007)
H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, sponsored by Cong. Payne passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2007) requires the secretary of state to support human rights by establishing a mechanism to provide funds to local human rights organizations. The bill supports democratization by directing assistance to strengthen democratic processes, prohibits non-humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia if the ruling party obstructs United States efforts to provide human rights, fosters accountability for the actions the Ethiopian Government has taken that undermine rule of law and fundamental political freedoms…. and holds security forces accountable for human rights abuses related to the demonstrations of 2005…
Statement of U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy on Senate Bill 3457 (2008)
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator LEAHY joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy–an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations…. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region–just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella….
2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report on May 2010 Election
The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities. The ruling party and its partner parties won 544 of the 547 seats to the House of Peoples Representatives and all but four of the 1,904 seats in the State Councils…. As a result, the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.
Zenawi’s response to the 2010 European Union Election Observer Commission Report:
The EU report is trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.
Such are the nightmarish bedtime stories of Meles Zenawi’s Democrazy in Ethiopia!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/ and www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/