All dictators on the African continent have sought immortality by leaving a legacy that will outlive them and endure for the ages. But all have inherited the wind.
Kwame Nkrumah led the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonialism in 1957. Nkrumaism sought to transform Ghana into a modern socialist state through state-driven industrialization. He built the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, at the time considered the “largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana”. He promoted the cult of personality and was hailed as the “Messiah”, “Father of Ghana and Pan Africanism” and “Father of African nationalism”. He crushed the unions and the opposition, jailed the judges, created a one-man, one-party state and tried to make himself “President for life”. He got the military boot in 1966. He left a bitter legacy of one-man, one-party rule which to this day serves as a model of dictatorship for all of Africa. Nkrumah died in exile and inherited the wind.
Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to create his own brand of Arab socialism and nationalism and propagated it as a secular Pan-Arab ideology. Using an extensive intelligence apparatus and an elaborate propaganda machine, he promoted a cult of personality projecting himself as the “Man of the People.” He built the Aswan High Dam with Soviet aid. He ruled Egypt in a one-man, one-party dictatorship and crushed all dissent, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Today the Muslim Brotherhood is in power and Nasserism is in the dustbin of history. Nasser left a legacy of military dictatorship in Egypt and inherited the wind.
Mobutu Sese Seko proclaimed himself “Father of the Nation” of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), and became dictator for life. He declared, “In our African tradition there are never two chiefs….That is why we Congolese, in the desire to conform to the traditions of our continent, have resolved to group all the energies of the citizens of our country under the banner of a single national party.” Mobutuism consisted of the delusional thoughts of Mobutu and his program of “Zairianization”. He promoted a cult of personality describing himself as the “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. Mobutu built the Inga Dams over the Congo River hoping to create the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. He left a legacy of kleptocracy and inherited the wind.
Moamar Gadhafi proclaimed the “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” and ushered the era of the state of the masses (Jamahiriya). He sought to elevate Libyan society by reducing it to a massive collection of “people’s committees”. He brutally suppressed dissent and squandered the national resources of that country. He launched the Great Man-Made River, the world’s largest irrigation project and proclaimed it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After four decades in power, the “Brother Leader” and author of the Green Book literally suffered the death of a sewer rat. He left a legacy of division and destruction in Libya and inherited the wind.
Idi Amin Dada, the “Butcher of Uganda” and the most notorious of all African dictators, imposed a reign of terror on the Ugandan people and sadistically displayed his tyrannical power to the international press. He pompously described himself as “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He built no dams by damned the Ugandan people for 8 years until he was forced into exile. He left a legacy of death, destruction and ethnic division in Uganda and inherited the wind.
The “Great Leader”?
The late Meles Zenawi, like all African dictators, sought to make himself larger than life. He was not only Ethiopia’s savior but Africa’s as well. He sought to project himself as a “visionary leader”, “inspirational spokesman for Africa” and supreme practitioner of “revolutionary democracy.” Following his death sometime in late Summer 2012, the propaganda to deify, mythologize, exalt, immortalize and idolize him became a theatre of the absurd. Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’ handpicked titular prime minster, in his speech to the party faithful in parliament virtually made Meles a lesser god offering blessings of “Eternal Glory to Our Great Leader.” Even the original “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung of North Korea achieved no more glory than being “The Sun of the Nation”. Desalegn promised to consummate his own divinely delegated mission with missionary zeal: “My responsibility now… is to successfully carry out the aims and ambitions of a great and notable leader… Following in the footsteps of our great leader, we will strive to maintain and develop the influential voice in regional, continental and international forums” and “successfully implement the aims and vision of our great leader. He was not just a brilliant generator of ideas: he was, par excellence, the embodiment of selflessness and self-sacrifice…”
Was Desalegn talking about Meles or the Man of Galilee?
The Vision and Legacy of the “Visionary Great Leader”
Like all African dictators before him, Meles had illusions, delusions and obsessions. He did not have a grand vision; he had illusions of grandeur. Like Mobutu before him, Meles had the illusion of building Africa’s largest dam, the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam, on the Blue Nile at a cost preliminarily estimated (unadjusted for cost overruns) at nearly USD$5 billion. Experts believe such a dam if built will “flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia, near the Sudan border, and create a reservoir that is nearly twice as large as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest natural lake…. The current cost estimate [for the dam] equals the country’s entire annual budget…” Moreover, the dam “could cut the Nile flow into Egypt by 25% during the reservoir filling period” and substantially reduce the reservoir capacity of the Aswan High Dam. According to a document obtained by Wikileaks from the private intelligence group Stratfor, “Sudan’s president Omer Al-Bashir had agreed to build an Egyptian airbase in his country’s western region of Darfur to be used for assaults on The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile water-sharing.” A legacy of regional war and strife?
Meles did not have a growth and transformation plan; he had delusional plans of economic growth and transformation. As I have demonstrated in “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi”, Meles “has been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia based on fabricated and massaged GDP (gross domestic product) numbers, implying that the country is in a state of runaway economic development and the people’s standard of living is fast outstripping those living in the middle income countries.” When the U.S. State Department reported an average inflation rate (FY 2008-2009) of 36 percent, Meles predicted a decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2009/10. His Growth and Transformation Plan (or what I called “Zenawinomics”) which I reviewed in my June 2011 commentary “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, “is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a ‘long-term vision’ of making Ethiopia ‘a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.’ It aims to ‘build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector’ and ‘increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.’ It boasts of ‘pillar strategies’ to ‘sustain faster and equitable economic growth’, ‘maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,’ ‘create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,’ ‘expand infrastructure and social development,’ ‘build capacity and deepen good governance’ and ‘promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.’ Stripped of its collection of hollow economic slogans, clichés, buzzwords and catchphrases, Meles’ growth and growth and transformation plan is plain sham-o-nomics. A legacy of inflation, economic mismanagement, crushing foreign debt and environmental destruction?
Meles had no national vision; he only had a vision of ethnic division. His warped idea of “ethnic federalism” is merely a kinder and gentler reincarnation of Apartheid in Ethiopia. For nearly two decades, Meles toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of Ethiopian society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves. He crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. He wrote in Article 46 (2) of the constitution: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be corralled like cattle in tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of Apartheid South Africa. These tribal homelands are officially called “kilils” (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, the Killilistans ultimately aim to create homogeneous and autonomous ethnic states in Ethiopia, effectively scrubbing out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian national citizenship. Meles’ completely fictitious theory of “ethnic (tribal) federalism)”, unknown in the annals of political science or political theory, has been used to justify and glorify these Kililistans and impose an atrocious policy of divide and rule against 90 million people. A legacy of ethnic balkanization, political polarization, brutalization, and sectarian strife?
Under Meles, Ethiopia became the poster country for international alms and charity and crushing international debt. During his two decades plus tenure, Ethiopia has been among the largest recipients of “economic aid”, “development aid”, “military aid”, “technical aid”, “emergency aid”, “relief aid”, “humanitarian aid” and aid against AIDS in the world. As I argued in my commentary “Ethiopia in BondAid?”, Meles has successfully subverted international aid and loans, particularly U.S. aid, to strengthen his tyrannical rule. A legacy of international aid addiction and beggary?
Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. 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.
In the Construction Sector, “Ethiopia 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 “takes one of two forms: (a) political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or (b) payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the Land Sector is inherent in the law. “The level of corruption is influenced strongly by the way policy and legislation are formulated and enforced. For example, the capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.” In other words, the laws are written to rig the bidding process to give Meles’ cronies, buddies and supporters a significant advantage so that they can pick up state assets at fire sale prices. A legacy of endemic corruption?
Meles’ “revolutionary democracy” as an ideology or policy guide never quite transcended the sloganeering and phrase-mongering stage, but he indulged in its rhetoric whenever he was overcome by revolutionary fervor. In a seminal analysis of “revolutionary democracy” and arguably the “first paper to seriously examine the political programme and political philosophy of EPRDF based on a review of its major policy”, Jean-Nicolas Bach of the Institute of Political Studies (Bordeaux, France) in 2011 described “Abyotawi democracy (revolutionary democracy) [as] neither revolutionary nor democratic.” Bach argued that revolutionary democracy is a ‘‘bricolage’’ (hodgepodge) of “Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, and also liberalism” concocted by a “small group of party ideologists around Meles, and a few agencies.” As an ideology, “revolutionary democracy” “provides justification for fusing political and economic power in the party-state run by EPRDF.” A critical “review of party pamphlets and official party/state discourses reveals the degree to which revolutionary democracy has become an ambiguous doctrine vis-a`-vis ‘liberalism’” and “remains a powerful fighting tool to exclude internal and external ‘enemies’.” One commentator recently likened revolutionary democracy to communism and fascism. Revolutionary democracy is responsible for delivering a 99.6 percent parliamentary victory to Meles’ party in 2010. A legacy of rigged and stolen elections and bad governance?
Melesismo: Meles’ Greatest Legacy
Meles’ singular legacy is Melesismo, a political legacy I foretold in my December 2009 commentary entitled “The Raw Machismo of Power”. Meles perfected Melesismo– the political art of “My way, the highway, no way… or jail!” Melesismo reaffirms the ignoble principle that might makes right.
Meles’ worshippers proclaim they are marching in his footsteps with the same reverence of those who claim to walk in the footsteps of the Man of Galilee. They ostentatiously display raw machismo invoking the divine power Meles. How little things have changed? From a legacy of the divine right of kings to a legacy of the divine rule of a lesser god!
Meles’ worshippers seek to mythologize, canonize and idolize him. But they cannot reincarnate Meles as the “Messiah”. Even the great Nelson Mandela is undeserving of “eternal glory”. He said so himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Neither saints nor demons deserve “eternal glory”. Meles will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history as nothing more than another petty African tyrant.
Meles’ greatest legacy would have been what he said his legacy would be. In 2007, Meles said his “hope is that [his] legacy” would be not only “sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty” but also “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy.” Without radical democratic improvements by Meles’ worshippers, Meles will be remembered in history as a reactionary petty African tyrant.
Is it possible for Meleismo to hold the center after Meles? Will Melesismo survive Meles?
My friend Eskinder Nega, the personification of press freedom in Ethiopia today, who was jailed by Meles, was likely right in foretelling the inevitable implosion of the “EPDRF”. Eskinder wrote, “Scratch beyond the surface and the EPRDF is really not the monolithic dinosaur as it is most commonly stereotyped. [It has become] a coalition of four distinct phenomenon: the increasing confusion of the dominant TPLF [Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front], the acute cynicism of the ANDM [Amhara National Democratic Movement], the desperate nihilism of the OPDO [Oromo People’s Democratic Organization] and the inevitable irrelevance of the incongruent SEPM [South Ethiopian People’s Movement] (a grab bag of some 40 ethnic groups from the southern part of the country).”
Meles was a man with a mission who confused mission with vision. He has completed his mission. History will record his legacy to be human rights violation, press suppression, ethnic division, endemic corruption, obsessive secrecy and a political culture whose lifeblood is impunity, lack of accountability and transparency. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones…” Scripture teaches that “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!
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:
For the past several months, there has been much display of public sorrow and grief in Ethiopia. But not for the millions of invisible Ethiopians who are suffering and dying from starvation, or what the “experts” euphemistically call “acute food insecurity”. These Ethiopians are spread across a large swath of the country (see map above, “Estimated food security conditions, 3rd quarter 2012 (July-September 2012, Famine Early Warning Systems Network FEWS NET).
According to the international “experts”, starving people are not really starving. They are just going through “scientific” stages of food deprivation. In stage one or “Acute Food Insecurity”, people experience “short term instability (“shocks”) but are able to meet basic food needs without atypical coping strategies.” In stage two or “Stressed” situations, “food consumption is reduced but minimally adequate without having to engage in irreversible coping strategies.” In stage three or “Crises” mode, the food supply is “borderline adequate, with significant food consumption gaps and acute malnutrition.” In stage four “Emergency”, there is “extreme food consumption gaps resulting in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality”. In stage five or “Catastrophe”, there is “near complete lack of food and/or other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.” When are people in “famine” situations?
Rarely will the international experts, donors, multilateral organizations, NGOs or ruling regimes use the dreaded “F” word. In Ethiopia, the word “famine” has been deemed politically incorrect because it conjures up images of hordes of skeletal humans walking across the parched landscape, curled corpses of famine victims under acacia trees and children with distended bellies clutching their mothers at feeding camps. It also portends political upheavals. In their analysis of recurrent famines in Ethiopia, Professors Angela Raven-Roberts and Sue Lautze noted, “Declaring a famine was also a complicated question for the Ethiopian government. Famines have contributed to the downfall of Ethiopian regimes… Some humanitarian practitioners gauge their successes, in part, according to ‘famines averted’… President George W. Bush challenged his administration to ensure that famines were avoided during his tenure, a policy known as ‘No Famine on My Watch’; declaring the existence of a famine could be seen as a political shortcoming and, therefore, a political vulnerability.” The one exception to the official embargo on the use of the word “famine” is Wolfgang Fengler, a lead economist for the World Bank, who on August 17, 2011, definitively declared, “This [famine] crisis is man made. Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine.” In other words, the fundamental problem with “acute” or “chronic” malnutrition (short-term or long-term starvation) in Ethiopia is poor governance, not drought.
In January 2010, Mitiku Kassa, the agriculture minister in Ethiopia, declared, “In the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine… It is baseless [to claim hunger or famine], it is contrary to the situation on the ground. It is not evidence-based. The government is taking action to mitigate the problems.’ The late Meles Zenawi was equally dismissive: “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch — emergencies, but no famines.” If a technical definition of “Emergency” was intended, that would mean “extreme food consumption gaps resulting in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality”. To the average observer, that sounds like old fashioned famine. But it is all a semantic game of euphemisms. Kassa made bold assurances that his regime had launched a food security program to “enable chronic food insecure households attain sufficient assets and income level to get out of food insecurity and improve their resilience to shocks…and halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.”
In 2011, according to the U.N., some 12.4 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti were affected by chronic hunger and tens of thousands of people died from starvation (excuse me, “acute food insecurity”; or was it “acute malnutrition”?). Needless to say, there is not a single case in which starving Ethiopians have been surveyed to classify themselves into one of the five neat “scientific” categories. There is little doubt the vast majority of people presumed to be facing “acute malnutrition” would readily declare they are actually facing famine. But the fact of the matter is that the scope and magnitude of the “acute malnutrition” (or whatever fancy term is used to describe plain old starvation) in Ethiopia could never be independently verified because there is a conspiracy of silence between the ruling regime, international donors, NGOs and even some members of the international press who mindlessly parrot the official line and rarely go out into the affected areas to observe and document the food situation on a regular basis. So, the chorus of silent conspirators would chime in saying, “4.2 million people face acute malnutrition and need immediate life-saving help.” They would never say “4.2 million people are facing life ending famine”. The fact of the matter is that famine by any other fancy name is still famine and just as deadly!
The so-called “acute” (short-term) food shortages, malnutrition, insecurity, etc., are now a permanent (chronic) feature of Ethiopia’s food political economy. “Droughts” are blamed year after year for the suffering of millions of Ethiopians and year after year the regime’s response is to stand at the golden gates of international donors panhandling emergency humanitarian aid. The regime has done next to nothing to deal with the underlying problems aggravating the conditions leading to famine (see my July 2010 commentary “Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years?”), including high population growth, environmental degradation, low agricultural productivity caused by subsistence farming on fragmented small plots of land, government ownership of land, poor transportation and dysfunctional markets that drive up the real cost of food for the poor and other factors. Instead the regime’s solution has been to give away the most arable land in the country to so-called international investors who “lease” the land for commercial agriculture and export the harvest for sale on the international market while the local population starves. Alternatively, the regime relies on the so-called Productive Safety Nets Programmes (PSNP) which purportedly aim “to prevent asset depletion at the household level, create assets at the community level” by providing vulnerable populations income through public work projects and direct support. A joint undercover team from BBC’s Newsnight and the bureau of investigative journalism at London’s City University, separate investigations by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have documented that PSNP resources have been used to reward supporters of the ruling party and punish members of opposition parties or non-supporters.
In 2012, to say that millions of Ethiopians will face starvation every year (disguised in the bureaucratic lingo of “acute malnutrition”, “food insecurity”, etc.) is like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow. But it is the long term prospects for “food insecurity” in Ethiopia that are unspeakably frightening. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau made the catastrophic prediction that Ethiopia’s population by 2050 will more than triple to 278 million. Considering the fact that Ethiopia cannot feed its 90 million people today, how could it possibly feed triple that number in less than forty ears? But such facts have not stopped the ruling regime from denying the existence of famine conditions and declaring a crushing victory on famine in just a few years. The late Meles Zenawi in 2011 declared: “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”
Ethiopia and to a lesser extent many African countries face a formidable challenge in feeding their people in the next year or so. In 2011, Africa imported $50 billion worth of food from the U.S. and Europe. Food prices in Africa are 200-300 percent higher than global prices, which means higher profit margins for multinationals that produce and distribute food. With a steady growth in global population, the prospect of transforming Africa into vast commercialized farms is mouthwatering for global agribusinesses and speculators. One of the new “hunger games” that was recently proposed by the G-8 Summit is the “New Alliance for Food Security” aimed at accelerating the “transfer” of hundreds of millions of hectares of arable African land to Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft, Unilever, Syngenta AG and the dozens of other signatory multinationals. Working jointly with Africa’s corrupt dictators, these multinationals aim to “liberate” the land from Africans just like the 19th Century scramble for Africa; but will they really liberate Africa from the scourge of hunger, famine, starvation and poverty?
2013 as a Year of “Catastrophic Global Food Crises”
Scientists are predicting that 2013 will be a “year of serious global crises” with significant food shortages and price hikes. The crises is triggered by recent droughts in the main grain producing countries including the U.S., Russia and Australia. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of the U.S. has undergone some drought or “abnormally dry” conditions this past summer. This has resulted in significant loss of corn, wheat and soybean crops and is expected to reduce exports of grains and trigger increased prices on the global commodities markets. This crises will inflict a double whammy on the food importing countries of Africa. Increases in commodity prices (food, energy) will have a disproportionate impact on large vulnerable populations in Ethiopia because the impoverished households typically spend more than half their total incomes on food.
Two decisive factors for the coming global food crises have been identified. According to a highly regarded recent study by the New England Complex Systems Institute, [NECSI] (a group of academics from Harvard and MIT who specialize in predicting how changes in environment can lead to political instability and upheavals), the global food crises is driven by efforts to replace food crops with biofuel crops and greedy global investors (e.g. hedge funds, investment banks, etc.) who speculate (bet) on commodity (food) prices. NECSI researchers Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam and Yaneer Bar-Yam argue that because “the American breadbasket has suffered debilitating droughts and high temperatures [this summer], leading to soaring corn and wheat prices in anticipation of a poor harvest, we are on the verge of another crisis, the third in five years, and likely to be the worst yet, capable of causing new food riots and turmoil on a par with the Arab Spring.” NECSI researchers predict that in 2013 a “spike in prices is inevitable.”
Catastrophic Famine and Food Riots in Ethiopia in 2013?
On November 24, 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia announced that the number of people in need of emergency food aid had decreased from 5.2 million from earlier in the year to 2.3 million. Agriculture minister Kassa was quoted as saying that the “overall good performance of rains in 2010 and successful disaster management endeavors have reduced the disaster risks and vulnerabilities and decreased the number of food beneficiaries”. In April 2011, the Ethiopian regime appealed for emergency food assistance in the amount of USD 398.4 to meet the needs of some 3.2 million people. Later that year, officials reported that the number of needy people had increased to 4.5. On September 12, 2012, the agriculture ministry announced that 3.7 million Ethiopians will need humanitarian assistance between August and December 2012. According to Kassa, “The country needs 314 million metric tons of food to meet the gap.” Of the 3.7 million “food insecure people”, 47 percent of them are in Somali region followed by 27 percent in Oromiya, 10 percent in Tigray, and 7.7 percent in Amhara regional states.
Food prices have been soaring in Ethiopia for the past three years. In August 2011, the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency reported food prices, which comprise more than half the Consumer Price Index, were up 47.4 percent from 2010. Transportation costs and housing were up more than 40 percent during the past year (the price of a liter of gasoline was 21 birr). In 2011, the regime imposed price controls on basic staples which led to shortages and was subsequently dropped after the controls proved to be ineffective in controlling inflation or increasing supply. Michael Atingi-Ego, head of the International Monetary Fund mission to Ethiopia in a press statement this past June noted, “For 2011/12, the mission projects real GDP growth at 7 percent and end-year inflation at about 22 percent… Gross official foreign reserves have declined to under two months of import coverage… Rebuilding gross official foreign reserves will provide a buffer against potential exogenous shocks given the current volatile global environment.” The fact of the matter is that when the “inevitable global food crisis” hits in 2013 with inflation running at over 20 percent and foreign reserves of two months, the only outcome to be expected is total disaster.
One does not need a crystal ball to predict famine in Ethiopia on the order of magnitude seen in mid-1970s and mid-1980s given the “inevitable price hikes” in the global food markets and the manifest lack of meaningful preparedness and remedial policies by the ruling regime. In a recent “confidential preliminary” report, Tadesse Kuma Worako of the Ethiopian Development Research Institute offers an analysis that exposes the multidimensional effects of food price increases on the population beyond mortality rates:
In Ethiopia, food expenditure of total household income estimated to account for more than 60 percent that any increase in food price has negative effect on the well-being of large majorities… Food-price increases are having serious consequences for the purchasing power of the poor. Affected groups include the rural landless, pastoralists, small-scale farmers and the urban poor. Despite the various causes of food crises, the hardships that individuals and communities face have striking similarities across disparate groups and settings. These include: inability to afford food, and related lack of adequate caloric intake, distress sales of productive assets, and migration of household members in search of work and reduced household spending on healthcare, education and other necessities… Ethiopia is a country which registers one of the highest child malnutrition rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. Child stunting, which is measured as abnormally low weight to height for age in children, is an indicator of poor long-run nutritional status. Although the prevalence of child stunting in Ethiopia decreased during the second half of the 2000s, the prevalence is still significantly high compared to developing countries average. Early childhood malnutrition (among children between six and 36 months) can cause irreversible damage to brain and motor-skill development, stifle human capital formation by causing delays in enrollment and later increasing the probability of grade repetition and drop-out, lower current health status, and increase in lifetime risk of chronic disease associated with the premature mortality.
Tadesse believes that proper policies could have averted much of the hardship on the population yet remains concerend about the decisive role of global food proices and the exchange rate. “The negative effects of high food prices could have been ameliorated if policy makers had been better informed about the food price situation. In the long-run however, domestic food and non-food prices are determined by the exchange rate and international food and goods prices which means that the exchange rate and international prices explain a large fraction of Ethiopia’s inflation.”
An Early Warning for Famine and Political Upheaval in Ethiopia in 2013
On December 13, 2011, NECSI scientists reportedly wrote to the US government alerting policy makers that global food prices were about to cross the threshold they had identified resulting in global political upheavals. Days later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia and set the Middle East on fire in what is now known as the “Arab Spring”. Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1975 because he neglected to address the famine situation in the northern part of the country, which to this day suffers from famine or as they say “acute” and “chronic” malnutrition. The military socialist junta that ruled Ethiopia denied there was a famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and was overthrown in 1991 by those who are in power today. History shows that high food prices often trigger major political upheavals. In a study of the “food crises and political instabilityin North Africa and the Middle East”, NECSI scientists argue:
In 2011 protest movements have become pervasive in countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These protests are associated with dictatorial regimes and are often considered to be motivated by the failings of the political systems in the human rights arena. Here we show that food prices are the precipitating condition for social unrest and identify a specific global food price threshold for unrest. Even without sharp peaks in food prices we project that, within just a few years, the trend of prices will reach the threshold. This points to a danger of spreading global social disruption…. Conditions of widespread threat to security are particularly present when food is inaccessible to the population at large. In this case, the underlying reason for support of the system is eliminated, and at the same time there is “nothing to lose,” i.e. even the threat of death does not deter actions that are taken in opposition to the political order. Any incident then triggers death-defying protests and other actions that disrupt the existing order.
The government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn must come forward and explain how it expects to deal with the effects of the “inevitable global food crises” in Ethiopia in light of its depleted foreign reserves and how his government will avert potentially catastrophic famine in the country. Planning to panhandle more emergency food aid simply won’t cut it. Relying on Productive Safety Nets Programmes simply won’t do it. If the government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn cannot come with a better answer or alternative to the looming famine over the horizon, it should be prepared to face not only a hungry population but also an angry one!
There is no place on planet earth that begs for change like our country Ethiopia. There is no need to itemize all the areas where we stand at the tail end of human achievement. That is the bad news. The good news is we can’t get any lower than where we are at now thus the only way for us is up.
It is obvious that we have all what it takes to improve and make life better for our people. We are blessed with a vibrant population; we possess a beautiful land with plenty of water and untapped resources waiting to be exploited. The ugly and troubling political situation that has engulfed our ancient land the last forty years has forced us to migrate outwards. It is true it has caused plenty of pain and misery to the vast majority of our people. On the other hand it has created its own dynamic too. Today we have managed to acquire real practical knowledge that can be harvested to help our country transition from agricultural to industrial society within a short period of time.
In short there seems to be no reason why our beautiful nation is known for famine, poverty and always on the verge of civil war. The reason we are stuck in this never ending cycle of non-achievement is lack of a political system that enhances our positive aspect. The political condition is our Achilles heel. Our Political system is what is dragging our country down.
The death of Meles Zenawi has opened a new chapter for our country to move forward. I do not need to itemize the many negative qualities of the late tyrant here. The economic, social and psychological state our country finds itself after twenty years of misrule is proof enough. Our new year has brought us a new Prime Minster.
I, with the vast majority of our people wish nothing more than Ato Hailemariam Desalegn to succeed in his new role. Success means a peaceful, prosperous Ethiopia where the citizen is not afraid of his government and is free to pursue happiness. Success means an Ethiopia where equality of all reigns, Human Right is assured and our children are free to achieve their potential.
Is it possible Hailemariam could be the agent of change we so dream and desire? Is this a realistic dream or some kind of delusion our mind is trying to conjure so as to force current circumstances fit reality. I am aware that it usually is not good to be a naysayer. I also understand blaming the messenger of bad news is a common human condition. Blindly going along to preserve peace when the situation does not warrant is also a disservice even between friends let alone a country.
During the Wild West days of the US economic boom of the 1990’s Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan talked about the dangers of what he called ‘irrational exuberance’ that was permeating Wall Street. His frank talk was seen as unnecessary caution. His fear was realized in one of the worst economic downturn the US has seen.
Is the current tendency to blindly wish Ato Hailemariam success despite circumstances not under his control a good idea or is it a recipe for failure due to ‘irrational exuberance’? Is this business of predicting the future based on the past a reasonable idea? If we believe that is a rational assumption I believe looking at the individual’s practices in the recent past could give us clues to how he will deal with his new position of power and authority.
Ever since his election to the position of Prime Minister we have been able to have a glimpse of his style of work while climbing the ladder of leadership. The fact that he has gained his past positions due to appointment rather than being elected makes it a little difficult to know him close and personal. The fact that he was elected to the Presidency of his Kilil is not an indication of real democracy at work. Elections in Ethiopia are mostly affairs of coronation. It is enough to mention the 99.6 landslide by Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) the dominant party and its affiliates in the 2010 elections to see the farce. He did not have to share his views with the citizen but only satisfy the requirements of those that anointed him making our job a little harder.
He has served as assistant Dean and Dean of Arba Minch Water Technology Institute (Now Arba Minch University) until he became Vice President then President of Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) which was followed by Membership to the House of people’s Representatives, advisor to Meles Zenawi and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. From his autobiography I was able to gather he has never worked in the private sector either as wage earner or entrepreneur.
Ato Hailemariam still is Chairman of Southern Ethiopian people’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). It should be noted here that SEPDM like its counter parts such as Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) among others is the creation of TPLF. As a matter of fact the TPLF under Meles Zenawi choose the leaders and run the party’s as a wholly owned subsidiary. (Please read Jawar Mohammed’s article about the growing pains OPDO has faced since the death of dictator Meles).
Ato Hailemariam came into leadership of SNNPR upon the fall of Ato Abate Kisho that made the mistake of siding with Seye Abrha’s splinter group during the TPLF internal struggle. It is fair to conclude that his elevation to the Presidency of SNNPR from 2002-2005 was a show of gratitude by Meles and his TPLF. The following paragraph is taken from Wikipedia entry about our new PM.
‘After his tenure as President of the SNNPR, Hailemariam worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as the advisor on Social Affairs and Civic Organizations and Partnerships for two years. He led the team that drafted the Charities and Societies Proclamation law (CSO law) that limits the interference of international NGO’s in local political activities. The law was adopted by Ethiopian Parliament in 2009. He is also credited in pushing EPRDF re-organize its structure after 2005 elections in ‘1-to-5’ model (one member recruits five new people – አንድ ለአምስት አደረጃጀት) that boosted the number of party membership from 400,000 to 5 million by 2010 elections.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hailemariam_Desalegn
Please note this law that went into effect in 2009 was denounced by Amnesty International, CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Human Rights Watch as ‘stifling human rights work’ in Ethiopia. Thanks to the work of Ato Hailemariam the courts were able to freeze bank assets of Human Rights Council (HRCO) the oldest human rights organization in the country and had crippling effect on such organizations as Ethiopian women Lawyers Association (EWLA) including Save the Children Sweden among many others. It is safe to conclude he has served TPLF admiringly.
It is fair to say Ato Hailemariam Desalegn was again elected into the current position he holds by TPLF and its affiliates. It is also fair to say none of the leaders of these parties or organization were elected by the Ethiopian people in a fair and open contest. Regardless of this irrefutable fact in front of us the reality of the matter is we are stuck with him at his point in our history.
There are discussions on how to deal with this new reality in front of us. There are some that are advocating giving the new PM ‘time’. Some are saying what is there to expect from someone that came to power not by the will of the people? Quite a few are convinced what we are witnessing is reshuffle not change- it is expressed in Amharic as ‘Gulitcha bilewawetu’ situation. As usual our country has entered a very confusing and uncertain future. Accepting something knowing the chances it will succeed to be nil is cowardice while pointing out the futility of the situation and trying to change it is seen as being a naysayer even narrow.
To those who say ‘let us give him time’ the simple question would be to do what? If he was willing to serve a leader (Meles) and a party (TPLF) that ruled with an iron hand, if he was willing to be used as a tool in the degradation of his own southern region and people, and if he was willing and enthusiastic in formulating such a draconian policy (Charities law among others) that restricted independent Human Rights work, why in the world do we hold any hope that he will change his tune once in position of authority?
Furthermore there is this little issue of who actually is in charge here? Chairman Mao said ‘power comes from the barrel of the gun.’ George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta among others that gained their freedom by the barrel all agree with this proposition. It seems like the saying is still valid today. In our country the TPLF party is in charge of the military, state security service, the Federal Police, the Bank, major business entities, all media including television, radio, newspaper, Internet, telecommunications and Foreign affairs. What in the world can a Prime Minster do without the control of these key organizations even if he wanted to?
As I wrote earlier the past is a powerful tool to look at the future. It looks like Prime Minister’s Hailemariam résumé does not bode well for our country. We are hoping he will change his mode of operation even though we have no data to indicate that to be possible. On the other hand his meek service the last fifteen years to those that held power in complete disregard to the wishes of our people shows the individual to lack independent initiative and a tendency to be used against his people’s interest.
I realize this to be un-pleasant conclusion that has a disturbing effect on our morale. I also believe one should follow the facts where ever that might lead to. It was not long ago when a rag tag army deposed of a hated military regime and we all cheered. We all wanted change and ascribed our wishes and dreams on the new leaders. ‘’Give them time’’ was the cry of the many. Time proved us all wrong. We paid a heavy price. After twenty long years we find ourselves where we started. My simple question is shouldn’t we learn from the past and prescribe a new medicine this time around? As Lincoln said “you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
There is the economics of Adam Smith, the intellectual father of capitalism. There is Levitt & Dubner’s freakonomics of weird stuff. Then there is the fakeonomics (economics by gimmickry) of Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia and author of the five-year “Growth and Transformation Plan” (GTP). Zenawi forecasts a “not unimaginable” 14.9 percent economic growth for Ethiopia over the next five years after devaluing the currency by 20 percent, slapping price controls on many food items and watching from the sidelines annual inflation galloping at 34.7 percent. He has accused the country’s business community of price gauging and hoarding and threatened to shut them down, jail them and literally cut the hands of any business person caught in the illicit trade of coffee.
The GTP is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a “long-term vision” of making Ethiopia “a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.” It aims to “build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector” and “increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.” It boasts of “pillar strategies” to “sustain faster and equitable economic growth”, “maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,” “create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,” “expand infrastructure and social development,” “build capacity and deepen good governance” and “promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.”
The ‘economic plan’ (“GTP”) itself floats on a sea of catchphrases, clichés, slogans, buzzwords, platitudes, truisms and bombast. Zenawi says his plan will produce “food sufficiency in five years.” But he cautions it is a “high-case scenario which is clearly very, very ambitious.” He says the ‘base-case’ scenario of ‘11 percent average economic growth over the next five years is doable” and the ‘high-case’ scenario of 14.9 percent is ‘not unimaginable’. The hype of super economic growth rate is manifestly detached from reality. The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranks Ethiopia as second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid last year and many millions will need food aid this year. An annual growth rate of 15 percent for the second poorest country on the planet for the next five years goes beyond the realm of imagination to pure fantasy. The IMF predicts a growth rate of 7 percent for 2011, but talking about economic statistics on Ethiopia is like talking about the art of voodoo.
Strong growth has continued in 2010/11 that the mission estimates at 7.5 percent (compared to an official estimate of 11.4 percent)…. The mission sees lower growth for 2011/12, at about 6 percent, on account of high inflation, restrictions on private bank lending, and a more difficult business environment… The growth and investment objectives of the new five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) are ambitious. The mission urged the authorities to the pace implementation of the plan to avoid any further overheating of the economy. Success will also hinge on allowing room for the private sector to thrive and maintaining a low risk of debt distress…
Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable… I can’t see it’s sustainable short of discovering huge oil reserves, essentially an unexpected windfall… I don’t see how they can sustain such an aggressive investment plan without getting into serious problems… If you’re not as a nation saving enough, you are dependent on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way… That’s the sort of trap they seem to be falling into… On debt there is a danger… If this public investment-led growth at some point really stumbles or stagnates for a while then all these debt equations could unravel. … I do worry that without the private sector expanding much more vigorously then rapid growth is not likely to be sustainable and if that’s the case then all these debt balances could go out of control.
On June 6, Zenawi’s finance chief said the WB and IMF are all wrong. He insisted the GTP will “double economic growth by registering 14.9 percent growth on average”. He proclaimed that in the next five years there will be “fast and sustainable economic growth,” and “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.”
On June 9, Zenawi’s deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, offered assurances that “economic expansion won’t drop below 9 percent in the fiscal year to July 7, 2012, from 11.4 percent this year.” He boasted that “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.”
Cutting Through the Diplomatic Bull
For the last several months, Zenawi has been staging one farcical political theatre after another to distract attention from his brutal repression and to pretend that he is the one immovable object in the Sub-Saharan universe come the gusting southerly winds of change from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya or high water. He has been engaged in belligerent talk of regime change in Eritrea, inflammatory water war-talk with Egypt, wild allegations of terrorist attacks, proclamations for the construction of an imaginary dam over the Blue Nile, vicious attacks on international human rights organizations and wholesale jailing and intimidation of opponents.
Now Zenawi is shifting from political to economic theatre. As the country convulses in spiraling inflation Zenawi says, “It’s all good. Not a problem.” But the verdict of the big time bankers is in: Zenawi’s GTP is pure fantasy, a figment of his imagination. Of course, bankers like diplomats avoid straight talk and prefer to tip-toe and tap-dance around the truth. When they can say the GTP has as much chance of success as a snowball in hell, they would say the plan is “ambitious,” “unhealthy” and “unsustainable.” Instead of saying the plan is manifestly doomed to failure, they hedge on absurd contingencies that the plan will work only if “huge oil reserves are discovered” or the country gets an “unexpected windfall”. When they can say the Ethiopian economy has collapsed, they hem and haw about their concerns that the plan could “further overheat the economy”. They twiddle their thumbs and “worry about the private sector not thriving,” and express concern over Ethiopia’s “dependence on foreign capital”, the “unraveling of debt equations” and “debt balances getting out of control.”
As I have demonstrated in a previous commentary, Zenawi’s economic planning is based on juggled figures, massaged statistics and irrational exuberance about overrated and illusory economic development. Systematic falsification of economic data, fraudulent statistics and creative accounting in economic reports have largely gone unchallenged for years by the learned economists. The lack of systematic and sustained critique by Diaspora economists is all the more surprising and baffling given the fact that the economic swagger and wind-bagging about stratospheric economic growth and development comes from a regime not known for its economic “literacy”. The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial, in the context of the Starbucks coffee row, bluntly stated: “The Ethiopian government, one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world, would do well to take Starbucks’s advice.” The same observation was repeated in 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, according to a Wikileaks cablegram, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. Today, to the surprise of many observers, the IMF and WB who have previously swallowed whole the regime’s preposterous economic claims are openly echoing the views of the German diplomat and the Economist Magazine.
Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Zenawi’s regime. For many years, that regime has managed to scam the multilateral bankers and donors by talking about “sustainability,” “double-digit growth”, “renaissance” and “accelerated development in the developmental state”. It has even sought to shame and intimidate Western banker and donors by moral hectoring of the evils of “neoliberalism”. Zenawi seems to follow the old principle that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” In the Information Age, if you tell one big lie and embellish it with little lies every day, you will end up fooling yourself and no one else. (That obviously does not apply to Ethiopia which is hopelessly stranded and trapped in the Censorship and Disinformation Age).
The economic facts about Ethiopia are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of organized racketeers and regime cronies. Regime-affiliated businesses and enterprises control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” According to the regime’s data, by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. Remittances by Diaspora Ethiopians were the mainstay of the economy, and in 2008 Ethiopians in the U.S. alone sent $1.2 billion. “Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid (at $3.3 billion in 2008 and rising).” The regime has auctioned off millions of hectares of the country’s best land for less than pennies. “For £150 a week (USD$245), you can lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset, England – for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.”
According to the regime’s data, Ethiopia’s year-on-year rate of inflation jumped to 34.7 percent in May (2011) from 29.5 percent a month earlier; and food prices rose 40.7 percent during the year. Every year, Zenawi’s regime runs up the SOS flag begging for emergency humanitarian aid . So far in 2011, humanitarian pledges, commitments and contributions to the regime exceed USD$212 million. To get a government job or higher education, one has to be a member of Zenawi’s party. Ethiopia’s current population of some 80 million is expected to double in the next thirty years. It is mind-numbing to imagine the number of people who will be living in abject poverty without access to health care, education and employment in Ethiopia in three decades. The regime has failed to implement any policy aimed at controlling population growth.
One has to assume that those in the inner circle of the regime are aware of the massive economic crises in the country despite their manifest lack of “economic literacy.” But that assumption may be questionable given the fact that the regime appears to be in denial and has used its modest economic ingenuity to pin the blame for Ethiopia’s galloping inflation and the rest of that country’s economic problems on global market forces. Zenawi now offers the GTP as a “pie in the sky” plan that will not only provide food security but also catapult Ethiopia into becoming a middle income country like Malaysia in five years. The fact of the matter is that the regime’s self-centered short-term interests in accumulating wealth for its members and determination to cling to power forever have trumped the long-term strategic interests of the country.
Zenawi now is not only having difficulty persuading its bankers that it has the right economic policy, but the bankers are looking at his plan with increasing derision and cynicism. Ohashi says the GTP will work if Ethiopia “discovers huge oil reserves” or gets “an unexpected windfall.” Ohashi might as well have said the plan will work if manna falls from the sky.
Zenawi’s fakeonomics is nothing new. The old communist regimes in Eastern Europe used to pull the same types of political and economic stunts. They would hold “elections” and declare they won it by 99 percent (to their credit not by 99.6 percent). They also had their “five-year economic plans” in which they predicted and “achieved” incredible economic growth. For instance, they would set a production target of ten thousand tractors a year and actually produce five thousand. They would publicly report they produced fifteen thousand tractors and give the factory bosses increased wages and bonuses for exceeding the production target. The communist regimes would even say they did not have inflation just high prices and deny high quality food items and other amenities to the masses while the nomenclatura (party bosses) and their cronies wallowed in luxury. The reality in Ethiopia is that basic necessities are unavailable and unaffordable to the vast majority of the people, and even those who could afford the inflated prices must have the right connection to get an adequate supply. A regime incapable of providing sugar, cooking oil and other basic staples to the people now boasts of making Ethiopia a middle income country in five years.
Are Ethiopians better off economically today than they were five years ago? The answer to that question will be the answer to what they will be five years from now!
In the final analysis, it is not about the plan. It’s about the man. As George Ayittey said, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” I say Africa is poor because of dictators who cling to power like ticks on a milk cow.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia, says he does not want to talk about the 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights [Report] in Ethiopia. But speaking through his parrot Hailemariam Desalegn, Zenawi said the Report is a meaningless “cut and paste” exercise and will be treated with “the contempt it deserves”:
The last two years we have engaged ourselves with the authorities of the United States and discussed several meetings on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. We thought we had convinced each other on many of the issues… If this is not considered at all, then there is no need to accept this report as something that can help us. So that’s why we dismissed the report totally because it is based on unfounded allegations which are baseless… We said this is a methodology failure. So if the United States is worried about the human rights challenge, then it should be critically evaluated. So if it is ‘cut and paste,’ then it doesn’t give any meaning to anyone. So we said, if it continues like this, it has nothing to do with changing and improving the human rights situation in Ethiopia.
Desalegn said the Report would not affect the “cordial relationship” between Addis Ababa and Washington. With snooty sarcasm he emphasized, “we dismiss the report, we have not dismissed the United States.” Translation: We will gladly pickpocket American Joe and Jane Taxpayer to the tune of USD$1 billion a year, but they can take their human rights report and shove it.
Last year Zenawi blasted the 2009 human rights Report as “lies, lies and implausible lies.” He even ridiculed the U.S. State Department for not preparing a report based on true lies:
The least one could expect from this report, even if there are lies is that they would be plausible ones. But that is not the case. It is very easy to ridicule it [report], because it is so full of loopholes (sic). They could very easily have closed the loopholes and still continued to lie.”
Zenawi’s consigliere, Bereket Simon, called the 2009 Report “the same old junk” released “to punish the image (sic) of Ethiopia and try if possible to derail the peaceful and democratic election process.”
Defending against unfavorable or critical reports of international human rights and other organizations by delivering a barrage of scorn, sarcasm and derision is standard operating procedure for Zenawi’s regime. In November 2010, Zenawi blitzkrieged the European Union Election Observer Report on the May 2010 election in Ethiopia as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage“.
The State Department human rights report does not “deserve” condemnation in barnyard language, but diplomatic praise for its rigorous analysis and reporting of human rights abuses. The Report is an important policy instrument submitted by the U.S. Secretary of State to the Speaker of the House of the U.S. Congress annually pursuant to amended sections 116(d) and 502 B (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and 504 of the Trade Act of 1974. Using the Report, Congress aims to hold U.S. aid recipient “governments accountable to their obligations under international human rights instruments” and promote the rule of law, expressive freedoms, women’s, children’s and minority rights in recipient countries. The U.S. State Department says it uses the findings and conclusions of the Report in “shaping policy, conducting diplomacy, and making assistance, training, and other resource allocations” and in determining “U.S. Government’s cooperation with private groups to promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights.” But the annual Report has broader significance in the global struggle for human rights. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explained, the human rights
reports are an essential tool – for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places.
Taking cheap shots at the Report by calling it “lies”, “junk” and “cut and paste” is to put on public display one’s abysmal ignorance of the American policy and legal process. To be sure, submitting any document to Congress containing “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry” (i.e. “lies, lies and implausible lies”) is a serious crime subject to a five-year prison sentence under Title 18, section 1001 (a) (3) (c) (1) (2). If there are any statements in the Report that fall under the foregoing section of Title 18, it is incumbent upon anyone with evidence of such statements to lodge a complaint and request a formal investigation with the Office of the Speaker of the U.S. House, among other federal law enforcement authorities. Launching a tirade against the U.S. is no defense against the naked truth that Zenawi’s regime is a notorious violator of human rights, nor is it a substitute for substantial and credible evidence to support a claim of false statement.
Failure of Methodology?
Desalegn parrots his boss when he says there is “a methodology failure” that consigns the Report to the ash-heap of “contempt”. Over the years, Zenawi has used similar vague and unsubstantiated accusations of “methodological” flaws in a futile attempt to discredit unfavorable human rights reports on his regime. In 2008, Zenawi alleged that methodological flaws in a Human Rights Watch report on the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia amounted to manufactured lies. It is a fact that Zenawi’s regime has thwarted and frustrated every effort by human rights organizations to conduct open and independent investigations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia. By labeling the truth a lie, Zenawi seems to believe that he can indeed change the truth into a lie.
There is nothing secret or sinister about the “methodology” and data collection procedures of the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Report is based on a compilation of information from a variety of sources. U.S. embassies collect “information throughout the year from a variety of sources across the political spectrum, including government officials, jurists, armed forces sources, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.” U.S. Foreign Service Officers undertake investigations of human rights abuses under difficult and not infrequently under “dangerous conditions”. They “monitor elections, and come to the aid of individuals at risk, such as political dissidents and human rights defenders whose rights are threatened by their governments.” The initial drafts of the Reports are completed at the embassies and submitted for review to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department. Information collected by other sources including “US and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the United Nations and other international and regional organizations and institutions and academic, media experts” and other sources are also evaluated and included to ensure accuracy, balance and corroboration.
The Reports reflect the work of hundreds of highly experienced and knowledgeable employees in the State Department and other branches of the U.S. Government. For the Report to be “lies, lies and implausible lies”, there must be a grand criminal conspiracy of hundreds of officials in the U.S. Government, including Secretary of State Clinton.
What’s in the “Contemptible” 2010 Human Rights Report on Ethiopia?
Here are some of the “lies, lies and implausible lies” in the 56-page Report:
There was no proof that the government and its agents committed any politically motivated killings during the year… [but] there were credible reports of involvement of security forces in the killings…in the Somali region…” (p.2.)
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, there were innumerable reports of local police, militia members, and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) seizing… opposition political activists. (p.4.)
On September 10, the federal government and Amhara and Oromia regional governments granted pardons to more than 9,000 prisoners, in keeping with a longstanding tradition for celebration of the new year on September 11. (p. 10.)
The UN Committee Against Torture noted in a November 19 report that it was ‘deeply concerned’ about ‘numerous, ongoing, and consistent allegations’ concerning “the routine use of torture” by the police, prison officers and others. (p.4.)
The country has three federal and 120 regional prisons. There also are many unofficial detention centers throughout the country… Most are located at military camps… Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common… Many prisoners had serious health problems in detention but received little treatment. (p. 6.)
Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions. (p. 8.)
The Ethiopian government and regional governments began to put in place “villagization” plans in the Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz regions… The plan involves the resettlement of 45,000 households… [T]here were reports of local skepticism and resentment… because much of the land was or was to be leased to foreign companies (pp. 14-15.)
The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals… Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government. (p. 15.)
While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, the government did not respect these rights in practice. The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors. (p. 19.)
The government restricted academic freedom during the year. Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and actively prohibited partisan political activity and association of any kind on university campuses. (p. 25.)
Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government limited this right in practice. (p. 27.)
The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully. In practice the country has never had a peaceful change of government, and the ruling EPRDF and its allies dominated the government. In May  elections, the EPRDF … won more than 99 percent of all legislative seats…. [T]here was ample evidence that unfair government tactics–including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters–influenced the extent of that victory. (p.32.)
The constitution provides citizens the right to freely join political organizations of their choice; however, in practice these rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles and government and ruling party intimidation, harassment, and arrests, with physical threats and violence used by local officials and EPRDF operatives, local police, and shadowy local militias under the control of local EPRDF operatives. (p. 33.)
The World Bank’s 2009 Worldwide Governance Indicators made it clear that corruption remained a serious problem… [S]ome government officials appeared to manipulate the privatization process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit. (p. 37.)
The law provides for public access to government information, but access was largely restricted in practice. (p. 38.)
The government harassed individuals who worked for domestic human rights organizations. (p. 40)
The government denied NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and political prisoners. There were credible reports that security officials continued to intimidate or detain local individuals to prevent them from meeting with NGOs and foreign government officials investigating allegations of abuse. (p. 41.)
There were no further developments in the July 2009 case of the 444 staff members, including high-ranking officials, fired by the Addis Ababa Police Commission for involvement in serious crimes, including armed robbery, rape, and theft. (p.8.)
Women and girls experienced gender-based violence daily, but it was underreported due to cultural acceptance, 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 (DHS) found that 81 percent of women believed a husband had a right to beat his wife. (p. 42.)
Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment; however, harassment-related laws were not enforced. (p. 43.)
Child abuse was widespread. Unlike in previous years there was no training of police officers on procedures for handling cases of child abuse. (p. 45.)
There were an estimated 5.4 million orphans in the country, according to the report of Central Statistics Authority. Government-run orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Due to severe resource constraints, hospitals and orphanages often overlooked or neglected abandoned infants. (p. 47.)
There were approximately seven million persons with disabilities, according to the Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities. There was one mental hospital and an estimated 10 psychiatrists in the country [of 80 million people.] (p. 48.)
If the foregoing facts are “lies, lies and implausible lies”, the U.S. State Department must be held accountable for issuing false, misleading and deceptive reports and those involved in its preparation should be prosecuted. But if it is the truth that keeps the human rights abusers in Ethiopia closemouthed, then as Scriptures counsel, “Let the lying lips be put to silence.”