By Yilma Bekele
My friend came from out of town for a visit. I took him around to all the tourist places, including our local Museum of Modern Art. Lucky for us there was a Picasso exhibit the critics were raving about. It was a delight to view Picasso’s work in living color.
I was transfixed by the painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ or the chicks from d’ Avignon. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chicks-from-avignon.jpg)
Even though Picasso denied it, this work shows a strong resemblance to African art. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the maestro at his best. By some it is considered his most daring and outrageous work. The use of bold colors and brash diagonal lines makes the painting full of activity and perpetual motion. Pablo Picasso was a genius. Looking at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon one is left with the impression that Picasso was developing a new means of artistic expression. He is considered a maestro or ‘king of his craft.’
Then it came to me. I know some one that fits the description. It is no other than our dear leader for life Meles Zenawi. Picasso used his god given talent to bring joy to humanity while Meles uses his devil inspired negatively charged machinations to create chaos, mistrust and uncertainty to his subjects. The maestro our very own ‘prince of darkness.’
It was a sad realization but nevertheless a realization that will at eat my heart for the next two weeks. No matter how hard I tried to push it out of my head, it wouldn’t go away. I have to admit it was an apt comparison. There was no escaping from the fact that we are witnessing the scientific evolution of the ‘art of terror’ and our very own Meles Zenawi is achieving the rank of maestro in his chosen field. OK I concede, we can qualify it by creating a new classification of ‘mal maestro’. It must be a proud moment for his friends and family. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some just cheat, lie, push, shove, and kill just to make it. We have a winner amongst us.
Bestowing the title of maestro on our ‘Dear leader’ might be offensive to some. But ladies and gentlemen, if you will forgive me, I don’t see anything wrong in giving credit where credit is due. The tightly choreographed play that passed for a democratic and free election is worthy of mention in any history book. Mal maestro sounds like a perfect title to me. Our friend Picasso introduced the African sense of unrestricted vibrant wild energy into the ‘Cubist’ style of the time. Last weekend humanity watched in living color the modern drama of unabashed robbery as witnessed by distinguished guests from Europe and Africa. The opposition candidates were led to the sacrificial pooling booth accompanied by neatly dressed and well-fed toy solders adorned in their best-imported uniforms.
Just to add a little bit of drama our mal maestro erected video cameras in every major corners to watch, record and intimidate while a low flying helicopter supposedly equipped with video camera and automatic weapons was thrown in for special effect. The 2010 fourth general election in Ethiopia is another milestone in our history that will be judged as the best work of mal maestro Meles Zenawi by generations to come.
It took five years of preparation to put paint to canvas, and come up with such glorious achievement of 99.6% purity. Many have tried it but none have achieved such pure nirvana. Sudan’s Al Bashir was awe stricken, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe was flabbergasted, Mymar’s nameless Generals demanded the blueprint, and the Chinese Communist Party was humbled. Iran’s Ahmadinejad called a cabinet meeting upon hearing such colossal achievement, and Kyrgyzstan’s petty tyrant is said to have wept openly from his hiding place in Belarus. Solomon Tekaligne is right ‘the eye browed’ one is one cool hombre.
Watching the mal maestro at work is a delight. Professionals make a difficult task look so easy. The election drama was played out to a mesmerized audience with such passion that it left the feeble opposition dumbstruck and shell-shocked. Mal maestro Meles displayed such bold moves as TV debates in undisclosed location to be edited and broadcasted at a later time. His use of vibrant colors full of energy was evident in his ‘warning’ of contestants that they will be held liable for their negative uttering regarding his policy. The only location they could campaign without being taunted, beaten or abused was thousands of miles away in North America among non-voting supporters. Even there, they were reminded of the penalty of ‘mis- speaking’ that will await them. They were forced to relearn the art of speaking without saying anything of value. The fact that the opposition sacrificed a few die-hards was compared to the 2005 election and declared an improvement.
Our mal maestro was so sure of success that he organized a victory celebration before the ballots were in. The neat beautiful tri-color posters were printed months back, the participants paid ahead and the beautiful dais at Meskel Square lit with special lighting. The bulletproof vest was adorned with a casual jacket, the baseball hat was lined with silk and the big Israeli gun was brought out openly to make a bold statement of ‘don’t thread on me.’ The picture of the little dictator behind the bulletproof glass in front of his adoring fans was a symbol of our insanity taken to a higher level.
Mal maestro Meles is not faint hearted. That is his undoing. Why pussyfoot around when you can overwhelm and relieve the peasants of their misery is his motto. He is daring but lacks wisdom. Crude is the word I am looking for. He is void of ingenuity, creativity and nuance. A wise person searches a clever way out of an unpleasant situation. Our mal maestro is not blessed with subtlety. By any standards a blunt force such as 99.6% is the least elegant solution. It is like calling upon the US Air Force to settle a bar room brawl.
What did his subjects do, you might ask? I will try to answer that delicately. For a people who have been trampled upon for the last thirty years, we have developed a very fragile ego. Who would blame us if we turn around and fault ourselves? Victim blaming certainly did not start with us. Didn’t the Europeans blame Africans for the slave trade? Didn’t Hitler blame the Jews for his atrocities? Didn’t Meles blame Kinijit for planning Interhamwe? Well it is no surprise that some are blaming the opposition for losing.
Please tell me something new. Isn’t self-flagellation our national past time? No one can surpass Ethiopians in that field. We leave our homeland empty handed, we settle in strange places, we build a life, we raise a family and we still bad mouth each other. Do you notice that we live together in humongous apartment complexes, eat Tibs and Kitfo in our own restaurants, buy insurance from our cousins but without pause, we talk about the uselessness of Abeshas. Why stop there while you are at it why not blame the University massacre, the war with Eritrea, the genocide in Hawasa, Ogaden and Gambella the over 40% unemployment, the debacle of Gibe Dam and other mal maestros misdeeds on the opposition. Hey why not include the lack of rain in the mix. That should show everybody the only smart choice is the gang from Adwa.
So how did we deal with our current debacle? I am afraid I have nothing positive to report. We have decided to direct the rage on each other. Our programming was so complete we were ready to accept any crumbs thrown by the mal maestro. The contestants openly admitted the impossibility of wining. The issue was presented how much less was acceptable. Talks about low expectations, our gallant parties were reduced to dampening the enthusiasm of some of their hotheaded supporters that took the fake election to heart.
Where do we go from here? Do we go back to old habit of passing the blame around, knocking each other down and hiding our head under the sand or try something new for a change. Something like looking at the glass half full rather than half empty. Do we dare building on what we have instead of raising the bar so high and setting ourselves for another failure?
I am an optimist. I see the glass half full. I believe the mal maestro due to arrogance of power or the freelance nature of his well-trained zombie cadres committed a slight error. 99.6% was not the intention. But you can’t undue what is already done. He has made it difficult to his foreign benefactors to turn the usual blind eye. So they will complain a little, wring their hands a little and advise his victims to be a little patient. Some of us have already started to crow about the few isolated statements foreign office junior officials regarding the lack of ‘level playing field’ yadi yada. We seem to revelle when the Ferenjis tell us how brutal the mal maestro is. Ferenjis enable the victimizer then tell us how painful it is.
Now the ball is in our court so to say. It is about time somebody shows they got tooth too, that we can and we will bite back. We want our own ‘shock and awe’ moment. The time for talk is over. Baby steps are not the solution. Condemnations, outrage, anger are so yesterday. Today should be ‘look mom I can stand up with no support’ display moment. It is to show the world we are not dead, that we are capable of sacrifice and when we set our minds to the task we can do it! The issue is not how strong the enemy is but how committed we are for freedom. It is about hitting him in his most vulnerable spots and creating uncertainty and doubt. His benefactors will abandon him the first whiff of trouble. Our people will rally around the first inkling of trouble brewing. We ask someone to step forward and do the maestro a favor. He is tired, let us relieve him of such a heavy burden of bullying eighty million souls and let him get his deserved rest in a four by six room at Kaliti. We will include weight watchers manual in case of a few kilos from such comfort.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Note: Over the past week, I have received numerous requests from those who read my last commentary “Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History, to share my views on the on the question, “Where do we go from here?” in the aftermath of the so-called May 2010 elections. I am pleased to oblige in a series of forthcoming commentaries. Here I offer my analysis of the “election” and what I perceive to be the ruling regime’s future direction.
The 2010 Election: Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Some say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still a pig.” Others say, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it an ‘election’. It’s still gonna stink.” Well, one can certainly say that you can stampede throngs of “esteemed residents of Addis Ababa” into the public square and lecture them on how the “whole world knows the 4th national election has taken place in a peaceful, democratic and credible manner,” but at the end of the day a phony election with a 99.6 percent win is still a phony election. In fact, the spectacular margin of electoral victory claimed by dictator Meles Zenawi is second only to the victory claimed by the late dictator Saddam Hussien who won 100 percent of the 11,454, 638 yes votes in a referendum in 2002.
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The White House issued a statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.” Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
Only the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:
The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. They did not have freedom to campaign. We had no way of verifying the allegations.
With all due respect to Masire, it seems that he made his declaration clueless of the observation standards he is required to follow in the AU Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines[Guidelines] . If he had done so, he would have known that there is no logical, factual or documentary basis for him to declare the “elections were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards.” For instance, pursuant to Section III 9 (e) of the Guidelines (“MANDATES, RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE OBSERVERS”), Masire’s team had a mandatory duty to “observe the political parties and groups as well as the population at large in the exercise of their political rights, and the conditions in which such rights are to be exercised.” Masire by his own admission made no such observation. (“The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period ‘s team made no such observation.”) Under Section V (13), the Guidelines mandate that “AU Observers should ascertain that… (b) all competing political parties have equal access to both the print and the electronic media (radio, T.V.).” Masire said his team “had no way of verifying” pre-election complaints, including complaints of unequal access to state-controlled media. Under Section V (B) (d), the AU observers had a mandatory duty to ascertain “the campaign process is conducted in conditions of serenity, and that there are no acts of provocation or intimidation capable of compromising.” Masire’s team failed to make such inquiries. Under section B (24), the Guidelines mandate: “The atmosphere during the campaign should be carefully observed, and among the factors to consider in this regard include … (iv) persistent or reported cases of human rights violations.” Masire’s team does not appear to be aware of such a requirement, let alone to actually make the observation. It is truly regrettable to say of a former African leader that he showed no evidence of having read or understood the numerous mandatory election observation duties set forth in minute detail in the AU Guidelines before shamelessly and pathetically declaring the elections “were largely consistent with African Union regulations and standards.”
Where Do the Dictators Want to Go From Here?
In his victory speech (an event billed as a public protest against Human Rights Watch for its critical report on the regime), dictator Meles Zenawi boldly stated that he ain’t going nowhere. He is staying put where he has been for the past 19 years. It will be business as usual. The political game will be played out on the same 19 year-old zero-sum field; and his team will always win and everybody else will always lose. But there will be a change in style, form, appearance and public relations in the post- “election” period.
Hide the Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
“Hide the iron fist in a velvet glove. Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the essence of Zenawi’s “victory” speech (a/k/a demonstration against Human Rights Watch) on May 26. It was a grotesquely Churchillian speech. It was Winston Churchill who said, “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity”. In the “election” battle, Zenawi was resolute. For months before election day, he had threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for their “inflammatory” and “hateful” campaign statements calculated to “incite violence”. He even threatened to burn them at the stake if they withdrew from the elections at the last minute and agitated the youth to demonstrate in the streets. In his defeat — that is, the complete loss of credibility that comes from winning an election with 99.6 percent of the votes– he was defiant. (By the way, he gave a solemn promise to the 0.4 percent of the people who did not vote for him: “I would like to confirm to those who did not vote for us that we will work hard to look into your reasons for not voting for us with the view to learning from them and correcting any shortcomings on our part. We will work day and night to obtain your support in the next election.” In 2015, the vote will be 100 percent for Zenawi and his party!) In his 99.6 percent electoral “victory”, he was magnanimous – “let bygones be bygones.” (yalefew alfwal.)
The velvet glove/big stick strategy is based on a simple idea of totally demoralizing and humiliating the opposition, hoodwinking the Western donors and simply fooling the people. Zenawi’s velvety message was that he “does not want to be forced to embark upon the business of tracking down people committing crimes. I would like to appeal to some opposition parties… not to force the Government to take measures against them.” He is still carrying a chip on his shoulder from the drubbing his party got in 2005. The opposition humiliated his party in 2005 by wining every seat in Addis Ababa, and now it is their turn to be humiliated. “It is to be recalled that in the last election, five years ago, we, the EPRDF lost every seat in the capital due to our failure to achieve our goals..” Not this time. We won them all. (Hee…hee). In 2005, the opposition accused him of rigging and stealing the election; well, let them get a load this in 2010: “We all know the destructive role some political parties have been playing so far. [They have] attempt[ed] to mar and discredit the polling process. They have tried to cause delay by instructing their observers to arrive late at the polling stations. They have tried to disrupt the queues, make all sorts of shouts and cries,…[and even] sen[t] in their members with grenades to detonate among people queuing at polling stations… We have also observed successful and unsuccessful attempts by members of some of the opposition parties to snatch away ballot boxes and burn the votes of the people.”
But there is an olive branch extended to the opposition wrapped in condescending cordiality and paternalism. Now that the opposition has been vanquished, they will be allowed to lick the crumbs off the table (and the shoes of the victors) as long as they keep their tails between their legs. “We make this pledge to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people, during this election, that whether or not you have won seats in the parliament, as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners… [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” In other words, we will let you speak, if we want to; and we’ll shut you up when we want to. Your political existence depends on our good will, whim and fancy.
Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopia’s recorded history and that country’s no. 1 political prisoner had said it all before she was re-imprisoned for life in December 2008:
The message is clear and this message is not only for me but for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party has set and not according to what the country’s Constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.
Now that the “election’ is over, Zenawi will probably trot out the tired old “elders” to begin reconciliation talks to help him buy time until the dust settles around the “elections” controversy. He may even tantalize some opposition leaders with offers of fancy appointments and positions to divide and neutralize them. He is very good at the divide-and-rule thing, which he has successfully used for the past 19 years. Unsurprisingly, some will fall for his tricks, as history shown time and again. He will make promises to democratize, uphold the rile of law and all that just to buy enough time for the opposition and the people to fall deeper into the vortex of hopeless and despair.
The bottom line for Zenawi’s regime is: For the foreseeable future, the opposition will know who the Boss is; and if they have any doubts, the iron fist will be unsheathed from the velvet glove and the big stick pulled out to drive that point home. No political prisoners will be released, including Birtukan Midekssa. More will be added. There will be no independent press. Civic society organizations will not be allowed to operate freely. Judges will remain in the back pockets of the ruling regime. Justice, and pieces of the country, will be up for sale to the highest bidder; and on and on. Business will be conducted in the same way it has for the last 19 years!
Hoodwinking the Donors
The contempt and disregard Zenawi has for the Western donors is exceeded only by his utter scorn for the opposition. He warned the donors with diplomatic finesse: “We have seen those we believed were friends and partners behaving like king makers and an appeal court for Ethiopia’s politics. Our proud people would still like to extend a warm welcome of friendship and partnership. We say to you: Please give due respect to the decision and the sovereign power of the people to elect their own leaders.” His strategy in dealing with the Western donors is simple: He is the only game in town. The donors have no alternatives to him because he has wiped out the opposition. The donors want stability above all things and will tolerate anything he does. They don’t really believe in democracy and human rights anyway; they believe only in advancing their national interests. They do not have the guts to take any action against him because he will threaten to cut them off and go with the Chinese. In any case, they have never taken any serious actions against him and never will. He regards them as a bunch of hypocritical, forked-tongue, double-dealing and double-talking windbags. America is not going to do anything because of her preoccupation with terrorism in the Horn. To ease the criticism on the donors, he will give them diplomatic cover by touting that he has achieved “double digit economic growth”, built roads, schools and other infrastructure. In any case, if push comes to shove, he will attack them by claiming that they are interfering in the country’s sovereignty and affronting the Ethiopian people.
If truth be told, Zenawi would not be necessarily inaccurate in his view. The U.S., Britain and the European Union have poured in tens of billions of dollars of aid to support his regime for nearly two decades while pontificating about democracy and human rights endlessly. They took no action when he passed a so-called press law criminalizing free speech and the free press. They just moaned and groaned about it a little. They took no action when he passed a so-called civic society law that effectively banned civic organizations. They have taken no action against him despite a nearly two decade uninterrupted record of gross human rights violations and criminality. All they have done is dump the blame on the opposition: “There is no viable alternative in the opposition.” They know full well that the opposition is subjected to daily threats, intimidations, arbitrary arrests and detentions and violence, yet they have mustered the audacity to blame them for being “not viable”. As I have argued previously, the Western donors have entered into a conspiracy of silence to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of Zenawi.
You Can Fool All of the People All of the Time on Planet Ethiopia
It is said that “you may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Not so for Zenawi and company on Planet Ethiopia. If you think you have fooled the people for 20 years, you can try and fool them for another five or more. In his speech, Zenawi told the people:
The voters have given us their support freely and democratically. Women are the real backbone of our organization… The youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development. We are ready to learn from [our] mistakes…. The important point in the election process is not the result of the election. It is not about which party won the election. It is Ethiopia’s renewal. The winner is Ethiopia’s democracy and all Ethiopians. We say congratulations to all the electorate and to our country’s forces of peace and democracy… The residents of Addis Ababa are fully aware of our respect for their decision. I believe that the people of Ethiopia, beyond recognizing the efforts of the EPRDF and voting it into power have unequivocally sent a clear message to the opposition parties in our country…
It is all about humility and how they can learn from their mistakes and all of the improvements they will make to earn the trust and confidence of the people and so on. We have heard it all before. No need to recite that litany of lies and false promises. Of course, if Zenawi wants to find out the truth all he has to do is ask the people one simple question: Are they better off today than they were in 2005?
I have expressed my views on the limitations of the regime on previous occasions:
The dictators of Ethiopia are trapped in a historical time warp. They have clutched the reigns of state for two decades and ostentatiously display the trappings of political power and wealth. But they have not been able to transform ‘bushcraft’ into statecraft… In their armed campaign against the Derg junta, decision-making was left in the hands of the few. The few leaders exercised raw, brute power over their followers and the communities they controlled. They silenced dissent and criticism ruthlessly, and leaders who disagreed were marginalised, labeled as traitors and removed. Everything was done in secrecy. Power was understood not as a public duty but as a means of self-enrichment, political patronage and intimidation. Leadership meant the cult of personality. The best they have been able to do is to transform the ‘politics of the bush’ fighting the Derg into a one-man, one-party state, whose guiding motto is, ‘What is good for the TPLF/EPDRF is good for Ethiopia!’
The transition from ‘bushcraft’ to statecraft requires tectonic transformations. Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic democratic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The dictators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles… They never had free elections in the bush; and it is no wonder that they were totally surprised when they got thumped in the 2005 elections. Upholding the rule of law is absurd to them because they believe themselves to be THE LAW… They scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries because they never lived in a system where the powers of government are constitutionally subordinated to the rights of the individual. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect from them the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance.
Mr. Zenawi and company need to understand a simple fact about elections: “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Arrrrgh! The thought of poor Ethiopia wearing the same diapers for another 5 years….
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia.
http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046 ; http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11869
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
There is an old morality tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes about a king who is so self-absorbed, vainglorious and obsessed with his appearance that he hired two suit makers and gave them vast amounts of money to sew him the finest silk robes. They agreed to make the robes but warned the king that the types of robes they make are invisible to anyone who is unfit for their official position or hopelessly stupid. As they set out to sew their make-believe robes, the king and his ministers would drop in from time to time and offer their admiration for the suit makers’ craftsmanship of the invisible robes. None would dare challenge the suit makers afraid of being called incompetent or stupid. Finally, the suit makers dressed the king in their pretend silk robe and marched him down the street with his courtiers to the applause and cheers of his obedient subjects. The people could see that the king was naked but were afraid to say so fearing his anger. A child in the crowd suddenly yelled out that the king is naked; and the crowd began chanting: “The king is naked!” The king cringed with shame and embarrassment, but held himself up proudly as he continued to walk naked in the royal procession.
The tale of the naked emperor is an apt allegory for the so-called Ethiopian election being held on May 23. The ruling regime in Ethiopia has been blowing its horn about an invisible “democratic election” for over a year. They brought in the best European “election” tailors to embroider the finest “election code of conduct.” They threatened, cajoled, bribed and withheld food aid from the people to force them out into the street and clap and ululate for them as they paraded themselves in their invisible majestic robe of democratic election. Some Western and African representatives volunteered to line up the streets cheerleading for the king. The European Union (EU) sent a delegation of 150 observers to observe 32 million voters vote at 43,000 polling stations in an election that was won by the ruling regime long before it was even conceived. The African Union (AU) deployed 60 observers to do the same in flagrant disregard of its own Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines, Section V (14). Both the EU and AU boogied down at the naked king’s parade with full knowledge that “the people who cast the votes (and observe the votes) decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
Dictator Meles Zenawi prohibited diplomatic representatives from traveling outside the capital during the “election”. He told Al Jazeera a few days ago that it was a bad idea for diplomats to observe the elections because it was disapproved by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Swedish organization which helped him devise the “election code of conduct”: “I know that some diplomats in Addis are offended when they are told they [can not go outside Addis Ababa], but I am sure [allowing them to travel] is not internationally [IDEA] accepted best practice.” That is simply not true! It is a verifiable fact that IDEA strongly encourages all individuals, organization and governments who conduct or are involved in elections to maintain openness, transparency and neutrality because “The public will measure the legitimacy of an election on the basis of both the actual integrity of its administration and the appearance of integrity of the election process.” IDEA emphatically urges “each person or organization using its code of conduct to apply it flexibly, together with good common sense, to meet the requirements of each situation.” By IDEA’s own standards, allowing the diplomats to observe would be “best practice” because they could help ensure and verify the integrity of the election process.
The fact of the matter is that we have witnessed an election in terrorem for the past year in which the ruling party has harassed, intimidated, threatened and inflicted violence against opposition party leaders and members. On April 13, 2010, Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he will hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May, 2010 “election”, or agitate the youth for political action. Weeks before “election” day, the ruling regime mounted a sustained campaign of smear and fear, distortions and lies, fabrications and accusations and allegations and charges of incitement to violence, “acting against the constitution” and other malicious hyperbole and propaganda against opposition leaders. All this was manifestly intended to prepare public opinion (and the donor community) for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralization and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in the post-“election” period. As usual, Western donors have covered their eyes with their hands pretending not to see, but peeking at this travesty of democracy between their fingers. They know the whole election farce is staged for their cynical amusement and to beg them later for more handouts. They have become willing collaborators in their own manipulation. So the king proudly marches down the boulevard to applause; but alas! he has no clothes.
Of course, the issue is not whether the emperor has clothes, but whether the people have clothes to cover their backs withered by two decades of dictatorship, enough food to quell the hunger in their stomachs, adequate shelter from the elements and enough oxygen of freedom to breath. In the final analysis, there is one and only one question of consequence in this “election”:
Are the people of Ethiopia better off today than they were 5 years ago?
Do Ethiopians have more food to eat today than they did five years ago? Is there less unemployment in the country today than five years ago? Less inflation? More health care? More press freedom? More human rights protections today than five years ago? Is there more accountability, transparency and openness in government today than five years ago? Do young Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future than they did five years ago? Do Ethiopia’s youth have more employment opportunities today than they did five years ago? More academic freedom in the universities? Do Ethiopians have more access to the vast universe of information available on the internet than they did five years ago? (On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, President Obama singled out Ethiopia as one of four countries in the world that have prevented their citizens from “gaining greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies.”) Do Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future, their rulers and public institutions than they did five years ago?
The answer is a resounding NO.
After 19 years of one-man, one-party rule, does the same crew of kleptocrats cling to power like barnacles to the sunken Ethiopian ship of state? Do the dictators continue to use more violence, intimidations, threats and arbitrary arrests and detentions against their opposition to maintain themselves in power? Do those who massacred 193 innocent protesters and wounded hundreds more after the 2005 elections still walk the streets free? Are the country’s prisons full of political prisoners? Are the members of the ruling party and their allies getting richer, and the masses growing hungrier and poorer everyday? Are the robbers who stole millions of dollars worth of gold bars from the national bank in broad daylight in 2007 still roam the streets free enjoying their loot? Is the environment more degraded today than it was five years ago? Is corruption so endemic in Ethiopia that the country for the last five years has been ranked at the very bottom of the International Corruption Index? Does Ethiopia still rank at the very bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index (in 2005 (169/177 countries; in 2009 (171/182) ?
The answer is a resounding YES!
The fact of the matter is that talking about elections in a police state is like talking about a fish riding a motorcycle. It is silly. It is sheer madness. 
But Ethiopia today stands at the crossroads of history; and as the old African saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” At this crossroad, Ethiopians can choose to take the right way or the wrong way. The right way is the way of national reconciliation, compromise, mutual understanding and tolerance. The wrong way is the way of force, violence, brutality, threats, intimidation and persecution. Ethiopians can choose the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to follow and live by the rule of law and ensure everyone’s human rights are respected and all are held to account for their actions and omissions. The hard way is the way of dictatorship, despotism, deceit and conceit. Ethiopians can take the high road or the low road. The high road is the way of morality, ethical conduct, common sense and compassion. The low road is the way of dishonesty, lies, distortions and trickery. We can take the road to somewhere or the road to nowhere. The road to somewhere take us to national unity, commonality of purpose, harmony, coalition-building and cooperation. The road to nowhere takes us to ethnic division and tribal conflict, irrational fear and hatred and needless violence and destruction. We can take the superhighway or the dirt road. The superhighway will take us on a wonderful journey to a brave new world of information, ideas and knowledge on the wings of modern technology. The dirt road has a one-way ticket to dictatorship, tyranny, darkness and ignorance. We can walk together on the united way or remain stranded on a divided highway.
Ultimately, we can choose the way of all our ancestors — the Ethiopian Way — or join the way of the ignoramuses who arrogantly proclaim that “if it is not my way, there ain’t no way but the highway.” We must choose the Ethiopian Way — the way of humanity, unity, solidarity, integrity, honesty, cordiality, empathy, fraternity and congeniality.
If we choose to take the Ethiopian Way, we must collectively make our roadmap to get us to our preferred destination. We will need to set the mileposts and detail out the rules of the road. We must brightly mark the “yield” and “stop” signs together with the “no crossing” and “danger” signs along the way. We must be prepared to take the “the road less traveled” to get to our destination. That is the road of tolerance, good will, broad-mindedness, patience and understanding. We must avoid the beaten path of personal attacks, hatred and prejudice, recriminations, accusations and pettiness. We can not begin a new journey along the Ethiopian Way with the old mindset: “If you don’t agree with me in everything, you are my enemy.” We must trade it in for a new spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood across ethnic, linguistic, class and regional lines. We must reinvent a new mentality that substitutes the concerns of ethnicity and partisanship with the needs of our basic humanity, our unity in our Ethiopian nationality and our personal authenticity.
Let us use this bogus election as the impetus for the development of a comprehensive political, economic, social and legal agenda for Ethiopia that is based on a compelling vision of a better future for this and coming generations. Let us cast off the shortsightedness and narrow partisanship of the past. Let us gather ideas from all segments of society — and not just from the intellectuals and the elites – and pursue them inclusively and aggressively with a common sense of purpose and destiny. If desperate times require desperate actions, times of great opportunity such as this one require quick, bold and determined action. Carpe diem! Let us seize the moment and set a new course for Ethiopia.
The future is bright for Ethiopia regardless of the already-won election of 2010. No doubt some will be disheartened and dispirited; but it is illogical to be disappointed about an “election” outcome that has always been a foregone conclusion. It is natural to anguish over the loss of such a great opportunity to plant the seeds of democracy in Ethiopia. But we must always be mindful of the fact that nothing will give the dictators greater pleasure than having us all depressed and dejected about their “victory” in this “election”. Their ardent wish is that we abandon and give up the struggle for the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. But they fail to grasp a simple fact: These causes are much larger and greater than any one election, one dictator, one party or one regime. These causes represent the quintessential, timeless and universal yearning of all humanity in recorded history. As the great Nelson Mandela said, “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” We must never let the sun set on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.
As for the “election”: Let us just say that it ain’t the votin’ that makes for a free and fair election. It is the countin’. We sure know who will be burning the midnight oil on May 23 counting, double-counting, triple- and quadruple-counting the same ballots to proclaim victory at the crack of dawn on May 24. This Ethiopian election caper aside, it has been said that a “politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” Let us all strive to develop in earnest the true attributes of genuine statesmanship and stateswomanship so that we may be able to help the next generation become Ethiopia’s Greatest Generation!
Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
 See http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/11046
(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, afronline.org, newamericamedia.org and other sites.)