Flight of the Eagle and pursuit of the Dragon
In June 2011, during her visit to Zambia U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pulled the alarm bell on a creeping “new colonialism” in Africa. While dismissing “China’s Model” of authoritarian state capitalism as a governance model for Africa, she took a swipe at China for its unprincipled opportunism in Africa. “In the long-run, medium-run, even short-run, no I don’t [think China is a good model of governance in Africa]…We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave, …And when you leave, you don’t leave much behind for the people who are there. We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa…”
It seems the Eagle has finally taken a good look at the sidewinding Dragon eating its lunch in Africa. The U.S. is in stiff competition not only in Africa but also in the “world’s least explored” country. Clinton minced no words in telling the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We are in a competition for influence with China; let’s put aside the moral, humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in, and let’s just talk straight realpolitik… Take Papua New Guinea: huge energy find … ExxonMobil is producing it. China is in there every day in every way, trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come under us.”
For the past decade, the U.S. has been nonchalant and complacent about China’s “invasion” and lightning-fast penetration of Africa. It was a complacency born of a combination of underestimation, miscalculation, hubris and dismissive thinking that often comes with being a superpower. But the U.S. is finally reading the memo.
Meanwhile, China is zooming along the African highway of “opportunism” with steely resolve and an iron fist sheathed in velvet gloves lined with loans, aid and expensive gifts. In July 2012, Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Opening Ceremony of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation proudly proclaimed his country’s economic prowess in Africa. “China’s trade with and investment in Africa have been expanding. In 2011, our two-way trade reached 166.3 billion U.S. dollars, three times the figure in 2006. Cumulative Chinese direct investment in Africa has exceeded 15 billion U.S. dollars, with investment projects covering 50 countries.” He added, “China and Africa have set up 29 Confucius Institutes or Classrooms in 22 African countries. Twenty pairs of leading Chinese and African universities have entered into cooperation under the 20+20 Cooperation Plan for Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education.”
In 1980, China’s total economic investment in Africa hovered around $USD1 billion; and 20 years later rose only to $USD10 billion. In 2010, China and Ghana signed infrastructure-related loans, credits and made other arrangements valued at about $15 billion. In 2009, China signed a $6 billion loan agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo for infrastructure projects. In 2010, Chinese banks extended nearly $9 billion in loans and other types of financing to Angola for various projects. The Angolan government in turn used its oil credit line to commission the State-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation to build a ghost town outside of the capital at a cost of $USD3.5 billion. (To see the video of the Angolan ghost town click here.) In 2011, Chinese firms accounted for 40% of the corporate contracts in Africa compared to only 2 percent for U.S. firms. According to a report issued by the South African Institute of International Affairs, between 2003-2009, there were between 583,050–820,050 Chinese living, working and doing business in 43 African countries. Today China is Africa’s largest trading partner as the U.S. recedes fast in the rear view mirror.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is it a duck?
China’s official policy statement on its trade and aid relationship with Africa derives from the first of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. China “respects African countries’ choice in political system and development path suited to their own national conditions, does not interfere in internal affairs of African countries, and supports them in their just struggles for safeguarding their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” China rejects accusations of neocolonial ambitions in Africa. President Hu Jintao explained that Africa and China are building a “new type of China-Africa strategic partnership… China and Africa have deepened practical economic cooperation featuring mutual benefit.”
But many critics are quick to point out that China’s assertion of a “strategic partnership” cleverly camouflages its calculated strategic ambition to suck out African natural resources on a long-term basis, cultivate African markets as dumping grounds for its cheap manufactured goods and gradually impose its hegemony over the continent. The policy of “noninterference” is said to be an elaborate and shameless ploy used by China to pacify and anesthetize witless African dictators and secure lucrative long-term contracts for raw materials.
Kwame Nkrumah coined the term “neo-colonialism”, the eponymous title to his book, to describe the socio-economic and political control exercised by the old colonial countries and others to perpetuate their economic dominance in the former colonies through their multinational corporations and other cultural institutions. He wrote, “Neo-colonialism is also the worst form of imperialism. For those who practise it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In the colony those who served the ruling imperial power could at least look to its protection against any violent move by their opponents. With neo-colonialism neither is the case...”
Is there Chinese “neocolonialism” in Africa? Is China exercising “power without responsibility” in Africa “causing exploitation without redress” for Africans?
China is in Africa in full force with traders, investors, lenders, builders, developers, laborers and others. But gnawing questions linger. For instance, is China’s “gift” of the $USD200 million African Union (AU) building in Addis Ababa in 2011 a public demonstration of its good faith, good will and good works in Africa or a subtle hint of its neocolonial ambitions and hegemonic designs? Is China’s aid for the construction of roads, rail lines, bridges, dams and other public works projects evidence of an altruistic commitment to improve communication and commerce within Africa or a calculated strategy to further facilitate China’s deep penetration into the African hinterlands for raw materials (not unlike the European colonialists who built rail lines and ports to export Africa’s mineral wealth)? Is China fully supporting corrupt-to-the-core African dictators because it does not want to “interfere” in local politics or is “noninterference” its way of maintaining a chokehold on African dictators to protect its long-term interests in Africa? Does China want to do business in Africa in the short term and control its destiny in the long term?
In my column, “The Dragon’s Dance with Hyenas”, I suggested that Africa’s dictators could not be more happy with their “new strategic partnership” with China. They claim that China is not only a good friend but also the great rescuer of Africa from the ravenous and crushing jaws of neocolonialists, imperialists, neoliberals and other such nasty creatures. AU president in 2011, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the ruthless and corrupt dictator of Equatorial Guinea since 1979, even saw “a reflection of the new Africa, and the future we want for Africa” in the Chinese-built 20-story AU glass tower. The late Meles Zenawi saw China leading Africa on a long march out of the winter of despair and desperation in to the spring of hope and renaissance. He proclaimed China brings to Africa a “message of optimism, a message that is out of the decades of hopelessness and imprisonment a new era of hope is dawning, and that Africa is being unshackled and freed…”
I disagreed with Meles Zenawi when he said he saw the “rise of Africa” and an “African Renaissance” reflected in the glass tower. I peeked behind the façade of that shiny edifice and saw standing “a giggling gang of beggars with cupped palms, outstretched hands, forlorn eyes and shuffling legs looking simultaneously cute and hungry and begging” and unable to pony up the chump change needed to put up a building that is to become their world stage.
The “China Model” and China as an ideal(less) partner for African dictators
African dictators talk about the “China Model” as a solution to Africa’s economic problems in much the same way as African sorcerers invoke voodoo incantations to heal those possessed by evil spirits. But the Chinese reject the notion of a “China Model”. Liu Guijin, China’s special representative on African affairs offered an official disclaimer. “What we are doing is sharing our experiences. Believe me, China doesn’t want to export our ideology, our governance, our model. We don’t regard it as a mature model.”
No African dictator has gone beyond phrase mongering to explain how the “China Model” applies to Africa. But the general idea in championing the “China Model” (“Beijing Consensus”) is that Africa can be successful without following the “Washington Consensus” (a set of ten policies supported by the U.S. and the international lending institutions including “fiscal discipline (limiting budget deficits), increasing foreign direct investments, privatization, deregulation, diminished role for the state, etc.). China presumably became a global economic power in just a few decades by pursuing state controlled capitalism instead of free market capitalism, avoiding political liberalization, giving a commanding role for the ruling political party in the economy and society, heavily investing in infrastructure projects, engaging in trial and error economic experimentation, etc.
African dictators believe they can achieve a comparable level of economic development by copycatting China. For Meles Zenawi and his disciples, the “China Model” is the magic carpet that will transport Ethiopia from abysmal underdevelopment and poverty to stratospheric economic growth and industrialization. African dictators are particularly enamored with the “China Model” because China achieved its economic “miracles” in a one-party system that has a chokehold on all state institutions including the civil service and the armed and security forces and by instituting a vast system of controls and censorship that keeps the people from challenging the government or learning about alternatives.
In reality, the “China Model” for African dictators demonstrates not so much the success of authoritarian state capitalism but the triumph of praetorian klepto-capitalism – a form of militarized kleptocratic capitalism in which African dictators and their cronies control the state apparatus and the economy using the military and security forces. African dictators in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, etc. rule by coercion and their coercive power derives almost exclusively from their control and manipulation of the military, police, and security forces, party apparatuses and bloated bureaucracies which they use for political patronage. They have successfully eliminated rival political parties, civil society institutions and the independent press.
The “China Model” is the ultimate smokescreen for African Dictators, Inc. It provides a plausible justification for avoiding transparent and accountable governance, competitive, free and fair elections and suppression of free speech and the press. Simply stated, the “China Model” in Africa is a huge hoax perpetrated on the people with the aim of imposing absolute control and exacting total political obedience while justifying brutal suppression of all dissent and maximizing the ruling class’ kleptocratic monopoly over the economy.
Could the “China Model” work in Africa?
Stripped off its hype, the “China Model” in Africa is the same old one-man, one-party pony that has been around since the early days of African independence in the 1960s. Time was when Zenawi, Museveni and Kagame were crowned the “new breed of African leaders” (by neoliberal imperators Bill Clinton and Tony Blair) and given a free pass to suck at the teats of neoliberal cash cows such as the World Bank and the IMF. Today these dictators heap contempt on “neoliberalism” as a “band-aid” approach to development, criticize the “gunboat diplomacy” of the U.S. (whose hard working taxpayers have shelled out tens of billions of dollars to shore up these dictatorships in the last decade) and tongue-lash “extremist neo-liberal” human rights defenders and advocates for slamming them on their atrocious human rights record and mindboggling corruption. If neoliberalism did not work in Africa, why should the “China Model” work?
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but flattery does not get you anywhere in economic development. The great absurdity of all African dictators is that they believe they can copycat “word-for-word” ideas and practices from different countries, systems and cultures and make it work in Africa. For instance, in February 2012, Meles Zenawi literally believed he had the most perfect antiterrorism law in the entire world. He told his rubberstamp parliament with great pride and gusto, “In drafting our anti-terrorism law, we copied word-for-word the very best anti-terrorism laws in the world. We took from America, England and the European model anti-terrorism laws. It is from these three sources that we have drafted our anti-terrorism law. From these, we have chosen the better ones.”
One cannot pirate, copycat or cut-and-paste an economic model in the same way as one would make knockoffs of famous fashion accessories, popular brands of electronics or machine parts. But African dictators believe they can cut-and-paste the “China Model” in Africa and create economic miracles. But what they have succeeded in creating is the optical illusion of economic development by constructing shiny glass buildings and fancy roadways that go nowhere while sucking their national economies bone dry. As Global Financial Integrity concluded, “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.” That is what the “China Model” means in Ethiopia, and for that matter in much of Africa where it is followed.
Fightin’ Eagle in Africa?
So far we have heard a screaming Eagle grousing about the unfair advantage, immorality, amorality, opportunism and new colonialism of the Dragon. But will we ever see a fightin’ Eagle standing up to a fire-breathin’ Dragon in Africa and “win”?
The U.S. “battle plan”, other than the “moral, humanitarian, do good” human rights rhetoric, is to do too little too late. In 2000, the U.S. enacted The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)followed by the Africa Investment Incentive Act of 2006 to substantially expand preferential access for imports into the U.S. from designated Sub-Saharan African countries. These laws were intended to be substitutes for a Free Trade Agreement and enable reforming African countries the most liberal access to the U.S. market. By creating effective partnerships with U.S. firms and encouraging African governments to reform their economic and commercial regimes, the U.S. hoped to change and improve its long-term trade relations with Africa and open vast opportunities for Africans. As of 2011, U.S. trade with sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 3 percent of total U.S. imports and 1 percent of U.S. exports. Oil makes up more than 90 percent of the $44 billion generated by U.S. imports from the AGOA countries. These laws have produced little success in achieving their aims.
Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Chris Coons, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs released a report (“Embracing Africa’s Economic Potential”) which underscored the “clear and pressing need for increased U.S. economic engagement in sub-Saharan Africa.” The Report argued that “increased trade facilitates growth for U.S. businesses as well as our African partners, simultaneously strengthening our own economy and Africa’s emerging markets.” It made several recommendations urging the development of a comprehensive strategy for increased U.S. investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, reauthorization and strengthening of the AGOA, removal of economic barriers and engagement of the African diaspora community in the United States. It will be hard to fight a Dragon with Eagle feathers!
How about an “Africa Model”?
I like to ask naïve questions. For instance, I ask not why China built the African Union Hall but why 53 plus African countries could not chip in or borrow the chump change needed to build the most symbolic building on the continent representing the independence, unity and hope of all African peoples? By the same token, I do not ask why an increasing number of African countries choose to follow the “China Model” but rather why they avoid following an African model such as the “Ghana’s Model”?
I am a big fan of Ghana. In July, 2009, in one of my weekly commentaries I asked one of my naïve questions: “What is it the Ghanaians got, we ain’t got?”. I argued that present day Ghana offers a reasonably good, certainly not perfect, template of governance for the rest of Africa. Ironically, it is to Ghana, the cradle of the one-man, one-party rule in Sub-Saharan Africa, that the rest of Africa must now turn to find a model of constitutional multiparty democracy.
Ghana today has a functioning, competitive, multiparty political system guided by its 1992 Constitution. Political parties have the constitutional right to freely organize and “disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programs of a national character”. Tribal and ethnic parties are illegal in Ghana under Article 55 (4). That is the secret of Ghana’s political success. The Ghanaians also have an independent electoral commission (Art. 46) which is “not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority” and has proven its mettle time and again by ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.
Ghanaians enjoy a panoply of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. There are more than 133 private newspapers, 110 FM radio stations and two state-owned dailies in Ghana. Ghanaians express their opinions without fear of government retaliation. The rule of law is upheld and the government follows and respects the Constitution. Ghana has a fiercely independent judiciary, which is vital to the observance of the rule of law and protection of civil liberties. Political leaders and public officials abide by the rulings and decisions of the courts and other fact-finding inquiry commissions.
It is possible to do business with China without following the “China Model.” Ghana has done billions of dollars worth of business with China without using the “China Model”. In 2012, Ghana snagged a loan from China for a cool USD$3 billion. In 2010, Ghana signed deals with China for various infrastructure projects valued at about $15 billion. Ghana is proof positive that Africa can do business with China without becoming “Western” China. Ghana is certainly not a utopia, but she is living proof that multiparty constitutional democracy can help salvage African countries like Ethiopia from political and economic dystopia. Why not adopt the “Ghanaian Model” continent wide?
“Let’s put aside the moral… and just talk straight realpolitik”
As Secretary Clinton rhetorically urged, “Let’s just talk straight realpolitik.” In international politics, there are no moral standards. The rule is might and self-interest makes right. That principle of international amorality has been taught since the ancient Greek historian Thucydides described relations between nations as anarchic and immoral. The world is driven by competitive self-interest. Machiavelli and Hobbes warned against mixing morality in the relations between nations as did Hans Morgenthau in the mid-20th Century. He wrote, “Universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but that they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place.” International amorality has its own virtues. Zeng Huacheng, a counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia says, “It’s not China versus America. It’s whatever helps the Ethiopians. If we don’t help, Africans will suffer.” So also said the fox guarding the hens in the henhouse, “I am here only to protect and serve you.”
There is an old African saying that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. What could happen when the Dragon and the Eagle fight in Africa? Who is likely to win? Not to worry. There will be no fight as there was no fight at the Berlin Conference in 1884; only a gentlemen’s agreement.
I believe there will be a great struggle for the destiny of Africa – a destiny that beckons Africa to take the low road of developmental thralldom and another that summons Africa to rise up and follow the high road to freedom. That struggle will be decided in a contest between the powers of “greedom” and the powers of freedom.
Will Africa’s destiny be determined by the Dragon, the laughing-to-the-bank hyenas, the Eagle or the people of Africa? The dragon is symbol of power and strength. The Emperor of China used the image of the dragon to project his imperial ambitions and domination. The Eagle represents freedom. The Eagle can freely sweep into the valleys below or fly upward into in to the boundless sky. The hyena thrives on carrion. But the African people have the power of freedom in their hands and in their souls.
Speaking truth to power means speaking truthfully to power and letting the chips fall where they may. I see great similarity in what the Chinese and the U.S. are doing in Africa. China gives money, loans, aid and gifts to corrupt-to-the core African governments. Doesn’t the U.S.? The only difference is that China is honest about it. China does not speak with forked tongue. It does not talk our ears off about human rights violations and crimes against humanity and turn around and reward the criminals with billions of dollars in aid and loans. For China, there is no human rights, it’s all strictly business. Aah! But isn’t U.S. talk of human rights in Africa as beautiful as the sight of the Bald Eagle in flight against the background of snow-capped mountains and the deep blue sky? But the U.S. first minds its business before minding African human rights. I am afraid human rights in Africa for both countries is a simple issue of mind over matter. They mind their businesses, don’t mind African dictators and the human rights of Africans don’t matter!
Perhaps the answer to the question of Africa’s destiny was given long ago by the man elected as the “Father of African Unity” at the 1972 Ninth Heads of States and Governments meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). H.I.M. Haile Selassie at the 1963 inaugural O.A.U. Summit told his fellow African heads of state:
… Africa was a physical resource to be exploited and Africans were chattels to be purchased bodily or, at best, peoples to be reduced to vassalage and lackeyhood. Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed…
…The answers [to the continent’s problems] are within our power to dictate. The challenges and opportunities which open before us today are greater than those presented at any time in Africa’s millennia of history. The risks and the dangers which confront us are no less great. The immense responsibilities which history and circumstance have thrust upon us demand balanced and sober reflection. If we succeed in the tasks which lie before us, our names will be remembered and our deeds recalled by those who follow us. If we fail, history will puzzle at our failure and mourn what was lost… May [we]… be granted the wisdom, the judgment, and the inspiration which will enable us to maintain our faith with the peoples and the nations which have entrusted their fate to our hands.
Thus spoke the African Lion!
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:
Graziani and the TPLF, an Ethiopian saga. By Yilma Bekele
‘The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians’. Rodolfo Graziani
I am writing this as a proud Ethiopian because Graziani’s promise to the Fascist dictator was thwarted by my gallant ancestors. If it was not for the bravery and sacrifice of our grandparents, to day our country will be referred to as ex Italian Colony, we will be conversing in Italian, our national dish would be spaghetti and my name will probably be Mario. Please don’t knock it because my country being referred to as the only independent country in Africa, having my own national language, dining on Injera and answering to an original name is what defines me as unique member of the human race.
The Ethiopian and Italian entanglement goes very far back in history. The period known as ’the scramble for Africa’ from 1870 to 1914 is a good place to start. It was a time the European powers were invading, colonizing, occupying and abusing Africans all over the continent. After the scrooge of slavery this was another century where being black was not a desirable existence, not that it is any different now. To avoid warring each other the Europeans decided to sit around a table and carve out the continent into outright ownership of people and country and spheres of influence. Italy already had Libya and decided to include Ethiopia in its portfolio.
Unfortunate for the Italians the Ethiopians found the idea absurd to say the least. The battle of Adwa settled the matter and dealt the Europeans their one and only defeat in Africa. The victory at Adwa will forever define what it means to be an Ethiopian. Generations will use this colossal event to shape and mold their children to grow up with pride and determination to guard what is their own and not to covet what belongs to others.
The Italians never forgave us for the humiliation at Adwa. After waiting for forty years they came back in 1935 to avenge their defeat. They came back better prepared. They used superior weapons including poison gas trying to overwhelm our barefoot army on horseback. They occupied most of our sacred land. They won a few battles but were unable to win the war. Our grandparents never gave the invading army a single day of respite. The concept of guerilla warfare that has become the mainstay of all oppressed peoples response to overwhelming force was brilliantly utilized by our ancestors. You can say they wrote the book on mobile war using a few to harass and demoralize the enemy while recovering national strength.
This brings us to the infamous General Rodolfo Graziani Governor of Italian East Africa. His ghost is what is waking us up from where we having been lying down comfortably numb for over forty years. Graziani tried to do what Meles Zenawi was able to accomplish. I know harsh words but deservingly so. Let me tell you what Graziani did to us in 1936. The day was Friday February nineteenth. Viceroy Graziani decided to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Naples in Addis Abeba at the ‘Genete Leul palace.’ Abreha Deboch and Moges Asgedom two of the most beautiful Ethiopians our country has ever produced threw ten grenades at the fascist pig and his accomplices during the celebration.
What happened next will forever live in our heart and mind as the price paid when sovereignty is lost. The Federal Secretary Guido Cortese gave the following order to his solders:
“Comrades, today is the day when we should show our devotion to our Viceroy by reacting and destroying the Ethiopians for three days. For three days I give you carte blanche to destroy and kill and do what you want to the Ethiopians.”
Ethiopians were hunted down like pray animals and killed. Over thirty thousand (30,000) of our people died in revenge. No one was spared. They burnt the town down and murdered everything that moved. Graziani earned the name “butcher of Ethiopia.” I doubt there is anyone amongst that has not lost a distant relative in this bloodbath. Darkness fell on our country and we were given a taste of what it means to be under the mercy of an occupying force.
On the other hand Graziani’s animalistic and criminal behavior aroused the righteous anger of any and all red blooded Ethiopians. The fascist pigs never knew peace in the land of the habeshas until they were driven out the second time hopefully never to return again. This little note is by no means an adequate exposition of our fearless and gallant ancestors but it would be unforgivable not to mention Lij Haile Mariam Mamo-the first árbegna’, Dejazmacj Abarra Kasa from the north-west, Dejazmach balcha Aba Nebso from the south-west, Ras Abebe Argay leader of the band, Shaleka Mesfin Seleshi, Ras Desta Damtew from the south, Ato Belay Zeleke and host of other notables that stood a head above others and gave the enemy a taste of Ethiopian indignation.
As I said before the ghost of this evil specimen of a human being is with us again. In 2012 the town of Affile built a mausoleum in memory the fascist pig. Yes the same Graziani that ordered the killing of over thirty thousand people in a three days period, the same criminal that used mustard gas throughout our homeland killing in the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians was honored as a patriot and a hero by his people. They felt they could do that because they knew there would be no one to stop them. What they saw was a country divided into nine Bantustans, a country in the process of degrading its past, a country willing to sacrifice its youth pushing, encouraging them to go where harm awaits them. Yes the citizens of Affile felt no shame because they knew no one will call them out.
We might be down but we are not dead yet. As there were ‘wust arebenoch’ during the occupation, there are still plenty of patriots that keep the flame of freedom alive. The shameful act of the people of Affile was too much to take. Patriotic Ethiopians decided to protest this fascist spit on our honor and insult to the memory of our people by marching and showing their righteous indignation in our homeland. You would think any government that is the recipient of this unjust provocation will lead the charge on behalf of its citizens. That it will use its moral power to unite its citizens and humanity at large and put the unrepentant Italians on notice that this kind of act is not acceptable, is counterproductive and unnecessarily brings buried memories to the forefront.
This is not unique to us. The Germans were made to accept responsibility for the crimes of Hitler, the Japanese were held liable for their atrocities in China and South East Asia, and the US showed its profound sorrow for slavery and so on. In the scheme of human history some shameful acts were committed and since no one can turn time back the responsibility of the current generation is to look back at the horror and shame and take responsibility and do what is necessary to teach its citizens so there would be no chance today or in the future for history to repeat itself.
No need to travel to Germany or Japan when we can just walk over to our neighbor in the south. The Kenyans have sued the British government for imprisonment and torture during the Mau Mau uprising for independence and their case is being heard in London. As far as I know the Kenyan government has not jailed any of its citizens for requesting accountability. Needless to say we do not have a legitimate government that reflects the aspirations of the citizen. Thus our patriotic protesters that dared express their views on the matter were beaten by Woyane police and hauled to prison. Their protest was seen as a criminal act. The odd situation here is that a few Italians that felt this miscarriage of justice did protest in Italy but no one beat them up and none were imprisoned for peacefully making their objections known.
We are one unique people aren’t we? No one will believe this unfolding story taking place in our ancient land. No one with a fertile imagination will come up with this kind of scenario even for as fiction. When we think we have seen enough our Woyane masters idiocy they seem to have this bottomless pit and pull out a new and more bizarre behavior to confound our senses.
At the beginning I compared Graziani to the recently departed Meles Zenawi the Woyane warlord. Some of you probably thought I have gone too far. Some of you judged me unfair and filled with hate. I understand. I felt the same way when I wrote it down. I almost took it out. Then I slept on it. Further reflection made me realize I am not really off the mark. I will state my point, you my brethren be the judge.
Graziani was avenging his people’s humiliation at Adwa. He came back with a purpose. What exactly did he do to make sure Ethiopia will never rise again? Wanton killing was one. Selective murder was another. The use of mustard gas, burning of villages and the Addis massacre are examples of wanton killing. The May 19th murder of 297 monks and 23 laymen of Debre Libanos Monastery is a calculated act of terror to discredit our ancient religion. Furthermore the liquidation of the young Ethiopian intellectuals and their organization ‘The Black Lions’ was another assault on what is dear to us. Other than those that left the country with the Emperor and the lucky ones that found their way to Sudan and Kenya all were executed. This I will file under selective murder.
The Italians also redrew the map of our country to create separate Bantustans. They divided our country into six units as follows: 1) Eritrea to include Tigrai – capital Asmara 2) Amhara to include Begemeder, Gojjam, Wello and northern Shoa – capital Gonder 3) Galla and Sidamo –capital Jimma 4) Addis Abeba 5) Harar 6) Somalia-capital Mogadishu.
Well, well, well, where do you think the great mind of Meles came up with his kilil solution? Now you know what he has been reading while holed down in his cave in the mountains of Tigrai. History will also show that his first target was none other than Haile Selassie University in search of intellectuals to liquidate, imprison or exile.
The period from 1935 to 1941 is referred to as the time of Italian ‘occupation.’ It is not known as Italian ‘colonization.’ That is so because our resistance did not give the Italians the legitimacy they so desired. Our patriots never allowed the Italian flag to fly unchallenged. Our Emperor was gallantly going to every capital in Europe and the League of Nations keeping the flame of freedom alive while our patriots at home were waging a successful guerrilla war keeping the fascist army in a state of fear and uncertainty.
We their children have failed our forefathers. We are unable to resist a home grown fascist dominating us using an old user’s manual. There are groups fighting the regime but unfortunately no one has managed to break out and claim the vanguard role. We are working on that. Where there is oppression there is resistance and we are not different. It is obvious we’re fighting an uphill battle. Our people are not educated, our communication system is rudimentary and our enemy is very cunning with plenty of resource. The young and able that are open to new ideas are being systematically marginalized using cheap drug to numb the mind and encouraged to leave the homeland. No matter, the planes and advanced weapons did not deter our ancestors and surely illiterate and not more than a thousand Woyane diehards are not going to make us flinch from our destiny of making sure our country take its deserved place as the leader of all Black people.
Finally here is a beautiful and timely poem from a play written by Ato Yoftahe Negus while in exile in the Sudan as quoted by Ato Berhanu Zewde. You will find information on Ato Berhanu’s book at the end of this article.
Bahru Zewde-The Ethiopian Intelegencia and the Italio Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 (The International journal of African Historical Studious, vol. 26, No. 2(1993.)
Richard Pankhurst –The Ethiopians- A History. (Blackwell Publishers USA 1998, pp238-239)
The great American poet Walt Whitman said, “Either define the moment or the moment will define you.” Will the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president of Kenya define President Barack Obama in Africa or will President Barack Obama use the election of President Kenyatta to define his human rights policy in Africa?
Following the presidential election in late December 2007 and the Kenya Electoral Commission’s hurried declaration of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki as the winner, supporters of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga in the Orange Democratic Movement alleged widespread electoral fraud and irregularities. For nearly two months following that election, ethnic violence and strife in Kenya raged resulting in more than 1200 deaths, 3,500 injuries, and the displacement of over 350,000 persons and destruction of over 100,000 properties.
In March 2011, Uhuru Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on various counts of crimes against humanity arising from the post-election violence. The details of the ICC charges against Kenyatta and other defendants are set forth in exhaustive detail in a 10-count indictment.Kenyatta allegedly conspired, planned, financed, and coordinated violence against the supporters of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement. He allegedly “controlled the Mungiki organization” and directed the commission of murders, deportations, rapes, persecutions, and other inhumane acts against civilians in the towns of Kibera, Kisumu, Naivasha, and Nakuru. Kenyatta’s trial is scheduled to start at The Hague on July 9. Kenyatta’s election running mate and vice president-elect William Ruto as well as other top Kenyan officials are part of different ICC cases. Ruto’s trial has been postponed to May 28.
Kenyatta and Ruto are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Kenyatta’s lawyer Steven Kay claimed the ICC charges were “determined on false evidence, evidence that was concealed from the defense and the facts underlying the charges have been put utterly and fully in doubt.”
U.S. efforts to ensure free and fair elections in Kenya after 2008
The U.S. was among the first nations to recognize the validity of Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. At the time, U.S. State Department Spokesman Robert McInturff announced, “The United States congratulates the winners and is calling for calm, and for Kenyans to abide by the results declared by the election commission. We support the commission’s decision.” But U.S. validation of that election was completely unwarranted since there was substantial credible evidence of rampant electoral fraud and vote rigging in favor of Kibaki and considerable doubt about the neutrality and integrity of the Kenya Electoral Commission.
Over the past two years, the U.S. has made significant investments to promote free and fair elections in Kenya and prevent a repetition of the 2007 violence. According to the U.S. State Department, “since 2010, the U.S. Government has contributed more than $35 million to support electoral reform, civic education, and elections preparation in Kenya. In addition, since 2008, we have provided more than $90 million to support constitutional reform, conflict mitigation, civil society strengthening, and youth leadership and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to the goal of free, fair, and peaceful elections in Kenya.”
Obama’s defining moment in Africa?
The March 2013 presidential election in which Kenyatta won by a razor thin margin of 50.7 percent is not entirely free of controversy. Raila Odinga, who received about 43 percent of the votes, has rejected the outcome of the election and filed action in court alleging collusion between the Kenyatta and the electoral commission, not unlike what happened in 2007. This time around, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered only half-hearted congratulations and assurances to the people of Kenya and applauded the fortitude of those who counted the ballots. But his congratulatory statement belied an apparent disappointment as manifested in his omission of the names of the election victors. “On behalf of the United States of America, I want to congratulate the people of Kenya for voting peacefully on March 4 and all those elected to office… I am inspired by the overwhelming desire of Kenyans to peacefully make their voices heard… We … will continue to be a strong friend and ally of the Kenyan people.”
Prior to the election, it seemed President Obama and his top African policy man Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson were playing a bit of the old “good cop, bad cop” routine. President Obama in a special video message to the people of Kenya said that though he is proud of his Kenyan heritage “the choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people. The United States does not endorse any candidate for office…” He assured Kenyans that they “will continue to have a strong friend and partner in the United States of America.” But Johnnie Carson who was also a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya, was more blunt in hinting to Kenyans that their “choices have consequences”. Carson hectored Kenyans that they “should be thoughtful about those they choose to be leaders, the impact their choices would have on their country, region or global community.” Does that mean electing ICC suspects in crimes against humanity could bring about crippling sanctions?
What is good for the goose is good for the gander?
Now that Kenyatta and Ruto are elected, will the U.S. do what it did with Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan, another notorious suspect indicted by the ICC? Or will Kenyatta and his government receive special dispensation from sanctions and other penalties?
Carson argued that Kenya and the Sudan are two different situations. “I don’t want to make a comparison with Sudan in its totality because Sudan is a special case in many ways.” What makes Bashir and Sudan different, according to Carson, is the fact that Sudan is on the list of countries that support terrorism and Bashir and his co-defendants are under indictment for the genocide in Darfur. Since “none of that applies to Kenya,” according to Carson, it appears the U.S. will follow a different policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry seemed to provide a more direct response in his “congratulatory” statement in explaining why Kenya will get special treatment. “Kenya has been one of America’s strongest and most enduring partners in Africa… and [the U.S] will continue to be a strong friend and ally of the Kenyan people.” That is diplomatese for “we will continue with business as usual in Kenya” come hell or high water at the ICC. Carson’s predecessor, Jendayi Frazer, cut to the chase: “Kenyatta knows that he needs the United States, and the United States knows it needs Kenya… And so I suspect that while it might be awkward, there won’t be a significant change in our policy stances toward Kenya or theirs toward us.”
A double standard of U.S. human rights policy in Africa?
It seems the U.S. has a double standard of human rights policy in Africa. One for those the U.S. does not like such as Bashir and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and another for those it likes like the late Meles Zenawi, Paul Kagame, Yuweri Museveni and now Uhuru Kenyatta.
Following Bashir’s ICC indictment in 2009, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, demanded his arrest and prosecution: “The people of Sudan have suffered too much for too long, and an end to their anguish will not come easily. Those who committed atrocities in Sudan, including genocide, should be brought to justice.” Just before her resignation last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged: “Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable.” The U.S. has frozen the assets of individuals and businesses allegedly controlled by Mugabe’s henchmen because the “Mugabe regime rules through politically motivated violence and intimidation and has triggered the collapse of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”
Legend has it that President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza that “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Despite lofty rhetoric in support of the advancement of democracy and protection of human rights in Africa, the United States continues to subsidize and coddle African dictatorships that are as bad as or even worse than Mugabe’s. The U.S. currently provides substantial economic aid, loans, technical and security assistance to the repressive regimes in Ethiopia, Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda and others. None of these countries hold free elections, allow the operation of an independent press or free expression or abide by the rule of law. All of them are corrupt to the core, keep thousands of political prisoners, use torture and ruthlessly persecute their opposition.
No case of double standard in U.S. human rights policy in Africa is more instructive than Equatorial Guinea where Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979. Teodoro Obiang is said to make Robert Mugabe “seem stable and benign”. The U.S. maintains excellent relations with Teodoro Obiang because of vast oil reserves in Equatorial Guinea. But all of the oil revenues are looted by Obiang and his cronies. In 2011, the U.S. brought legal action in federal court against Teodoro Obiang’s son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to seize corruptly obtained assets including a $40 million estate in Malibu, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a luxury plane and super-sports cars worth millions of dollars. In describing the seizure action, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer crowed, “We are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders.” (Ironically, U.S. law requires the U.S. to return any assets or proceeds from an asset forfeiture court action to the government from which it was stolen. In other words, the assets or proceeds from the forfeiture action against son Teodoro Nguema Obiang will eventually be returned to father Teodoro Obiang Nguema!!!)
But the U.S. has not touched any of the other African Ali Babas and their forty dozen thieving cronies who have stolen billions and stashed their cash in U.S. and other banks. For instance, Global Financial Integrity reported in 2011 reported that “Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years…” Is there really any one wonder who in Ethiopia has the ability to amass such wealth or “illicitly” ship it out of the country and where much of that cash is stashed? Suffice it to say that the dictators in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda… may be kleptocrats, criminals against humanity, genociders, election thieves, torturers, abusers of power… , but they are OUR kleptocrats, criminals against humanity…”
Does the Obama Administration have a (African) human rights policy?
If anyone is searching for the Obama Administration’s global or African human rights policy, s/he may (or may not) find it in the recent statements of Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the United States. Posner said American human rights policy is based on “principled engagement”: “We are going to go to the United Nations and join the Human Rights Council and we’re going to be part of iteven though we recognize it doesn’t work… We’re going to engage with governments that are allies but we are also going to engage with governments with tough relationships and human rights are going to be part of those discussions.” Second, the U.S. will follow “a single standard for human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it applies to all including ourselves…” Third, consistent with President “Obama’s personality”, the Administration believes “change occurs from within and so a lot of the emphasis… [will be] on how we can help local actors, change agents, civil society, labor activists, religious leaders trying to change their societies from within and amplify their own voices and give them the support they need…” But does “engagement” of African dictators mean sharing a cozy bed with them so that they can suck at the teats of American taxpayers to satisfy their insatiable aid addiction?
Since 2008, the U.S. Government has spent $125 million to support electoral reform, civic education, constitutional reform, conflict mitigation, civil society strengthening, and youth leadership and empowerment for free democratic elections in Kenya. But just north of the Kenyan border in Ethiopia, how much has the U.S. invested to support electoral reform, civic education, civil society strengthening, etc., has the U.S. invested? (That is actually a trick question. Civil society institutions are illegal in Ethiopia and no electoral reform is needed where the ruling party wins elections by 99.6 percent.)
In May 2010 after Meles Zenawi’s party won 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament, the White House issued a Statement expressing “concern that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments”; but the statement unambiguously affirmed that “we will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.” To paraphrase William Buckley, “I won’t insult the intelligence of the White House by suggesting that they really do believe the statement they had issued.”
“There’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain…”
There is a great moral irony in the Obama Administration’s human rights policy in Africa. The President seems to believe that he is moving the African human rights agenda forward while appearing to be backsliding metaphorically similar to Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk” dance. My humble personal view, (with all due respect to President Obama and his office and mindful of my own full support for his election in 2008 and re-election in 2012), is that President Obama needs to straight walk his human rights talk, not “moonwalk” it. I feel he does not have the confidence in the power of American ideals that I have as a naïve academician and lawyer. He is in an extraordinary historical position in world history as a person of color to advance American ideals in convincing and creative ways. But it seems to me that he has chosen to stand his ground on expediency with little demonstrated faith in American ideals. He now finds himself on a tightrope of moral ambiguity, which impels his hand to choose expediency over consistency of ideals and principles every time he deals with African dictators. He has chosen the creed of realpolitik at a time in global history when the common man and woman stand their ground on principle and ideals of human dignity.
In the “Arab Spring”, ordinary Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians, Yemeni’s and others who have always faced privation, oppression, corruption and destitution rose up and stood their ground on the principle of human dignity and the rights of Man and Woman. They wanted basic human dignity more than loaves of bread. It is true that one cannot eat dignity like bread nor drink it like milk. But dignity is like oxygen. It is the essence of human existence. If one cannot breathe, one can neither eat nor drink. Human beings without dignity merely exist like the beasts of the wilderness — aimless, purposeless, meaningless, desultory, fearful and permanently insecure.
It seems to me President Obama has crossed over from the strength of American ideals to the weakness of political expediency. He has chosen to overlook and thereby excuse the cruelty and inhumanity of Africa’s ruthless dictators, their bottomless corruption and their endless crimes against humanity. He says he will “engage” African dictators on human rights. Some “engagement” it is to wine, dine and lionize them as America’s trade partners and “partners on the war on terror”! But the real terror is committed by these dictators on their own people every day as they smash and trash religious liberties, steal elections, jail journalists, shutter newspapers, fill their jails with political prisoners and so on. “Engagement” of African dictators for the sake of the war on terror and oil has created a monstrous moral complacency which tolerates and justifies the ends of evil for the illusion of good.
In his first inaugural speech, President Obama served notice to the world’s dictators: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” In July 2009, in Ghana, President Obama told Africa’s “strongmen” they are on the wrong side of history: “History offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not…. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end… Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans [citizens and their communities driving change], and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Senator Obama before becoming president said: “[Reinhold Niebuhr] is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away [from his works] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard.”
Perhaps President Obama has forgotten his philosophical roots. But Niebuhr’s philosophy has special relevance in dealing with not only the evils of communist totalitarianism but also the evils of dictatorships, criminals against humanity, kleptocrats, abusers of power and genociders in Africa today. I wish to remind President Obama of his words in his first inauguration speech: “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”
If I had a chance to have a word or two with President Obama, I would ask him eight naïve questions:
1) On which “side of history” are you?
2) If “Africa does not need strongmen”, why does America need them?
3) Why does America support governments that “do not respect the will of their own people” and as a direct result have made their countries failed states (not “prosperous, successful and stable ones”)?
4) Why can’t you help ordinary Africans “end tyranny” in the continent?
5) When will you stop “moonwalking” your human rights talk and actually straight walk your eloquent talk in Africa?
6) What are you prepared to do in the next four years about the “serious evil” of dictatorship, corruption and abuse of power in Africa and stop using the war on terror and oil as an excuse for “cynicism and inaction” ?
7) Do you think the people of Africa will render a “verdict” in your favor (assuming you care)?
8) When will you start living up to the “ideals that light up the world” and give up “expedience”?
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:
Ethiopian Muslims engaged in the moral equivalent of an anti-Apartheid movement?
In her recent commentary in the New York Review of Books, “Obama: Failing the African Spring?”, Dr. Helen Epstein questioned the Obama Administration for turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Africa, and particularly the persecution of Muslims in Ethiopia. She argued that “After more than four years in office… Obama has done little to advance the idealistic goals of his Ghana speech.” In fact, she finds the Administration playing peekaboo with Paul Kagame, the Rwandan dictator and puppet master of M23 (the rebel group led by Bosco Ntganda under indictment by the International Criminal Court) which has been wreaking havoc in Goma, (city in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Youweri Museveni, the overlord of the corruptocracy in Uganda. Dr. Epstein is perplexed by President Obama’s lofty rhetoric and his paralysis when it comes to walking the talk in Ethiopia:
Perhaps most worrying of all is the unwillingness of Obama and other Western leaders to say or do anything to support the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Ethiopians who have been demonstrating peacefully against government interference in their religious affairs for more than a year. (The Ethiopian government claims the country has a Christian majority, but Muslims may account for up to one half of the population.) You’d think a nonviolent Islamic movement would be just the kind of thing the Obama administration would want to showcase to the world. It has no hint of terrorist influence, and its leaders are calling for a secular government under the slogan ‘We have a cause worth dying for, but not worth killing for.’ Indeed, the Ethiopian protesters may be leading Africa’s most promising and important nonviolent human rights campaign since the anti-apartheid struggle.
Is Dr. Epstein correct in her profound observation that the Ethiopian Muslim “protesters may be leading Africa’s most promising and important nonviolent human rights campaign since the anti-apartheid struggle.” Are the Muslim protests that have been going on for nearly two years the moral equivalent of an anti-Apartheid movement in Ethiopia? Is Obama failing an Ethiopian Spring?
The importance of religious freedom to Americans and in U.S. foreign policy
Religious freedom is arguably the most important cornerstone of all American liberties. Promoting religious freedom worldwide is so important that the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA)affirming religious freedom enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and in various international instruments, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Obama Administration’s record on international religious freedom in general has been deplorable. In 2010, Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Commission openly complained that the Administration is ignoring religious persecution throughout the world to the potential detriment of U.S. national security. “We’re completely neglecting religious freedom in countries that tend to be Petri dishes for extremism. This invariably leads to trouble for us… Regrettably, this point seems to shrink year after year for the White House and State Department.”
The Obama Administration’s disregard for religious freedom and tolerance of religious intolerance and persecution throughout the world is incomprehensible given the centrality of religious freedom and separation of religion and government in the scheme of American liberties. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the foundation of all American liberties, first and foremost prohibits government involvement in religion in sweeping and uncompromising language: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The “establishment” clause guarantees government neutrality by preventing government establishment of religious institutions or support for religion in general. The “free exercise” clause protects against religious persecution by government.
In the 1796 “Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary”, the U.S. formally affirmed to the world the sanctity of religious freedom in America without regard to doctrine or denomination: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (Art. 11.)
Many of the American Founding Fathers including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were deeply suspicious of government involvement in religion, which they believed corrupted religion itself. George Washington championed separation of religion and state when he wrote, “I beg you be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” Thomas Jefferson believed religion was a personal matter which invited no government involvement and argued for the “building a wall of separation between Church & State”. Jefferson wrote, “Among the most inestimable of our blessings is that … of liberty to worship our Creator… a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.” James Madison, the “father of the U.S. Constitution” was a staunch defender of religious diversity: “Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which pervades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.” President John Adams minced no words when he wrote, “Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.”
President Barack Obama himself made it crystal clear that he personally disapproves of government’s involvement in religion or government imposition of religious orthodoxy on citizens. “I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody’s religious beliefs -including my own- on nonbelievers.” In his first inauguration speech, President Obama declared, “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”
The right of freedom of religion is the quintessential “rights of man” and an “ideal that still lights the world”. Yet, neither President Obama personally nor his Administration collectively have made any statements or taken any action concerning religious persecution in Ethiopia. It seems President Obama has given up the “ideal” of religious freedom for “expedience’s sake”. Such facile expedience is difficult to comprehend because President Obama was a constitutional lawyer before he became president.
It seems the President Obama now prefers a foreign policy based not on principle and the ideals of the Constitution but rather one based on expediency. It is more expedient for President Obama to have drone bases in Ethiopia than to have bastions of religious freedom. It is more expedient to sacrifice human rights at the altar of realpolitik than to uphold the right of Ethiopians to worship at the altar of their faiths. It is more expedient to chase after terrorists in the name of counterterrorism while sharing a bed with state terrorists. It is more expedient to tolerate dictatorship than to uphold the fundamental rights of citizenship. It is more expedient to support a benighted police state that to use American “ideals that still light the world” to enlighten it.
Why is the Obama Administration tone-deaf and bat-blind about religious freedom in Ethiopia given the established fact that the ruling regime in that country has engaged in egregious religious persecution with reckless abandon. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body constituted by the Congress and the President of the United States to monitor religious freedom worldwide, recently reported:
Since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has sought to impose the al-Ahbash Islamic sect on the country’s Muslim community, a community that traditionally has practiced the Sufi form of Islam. The government also has manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Previously viewed as an independent body, EIASC is now viewed as a government-controlled institution. The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia. Muslims throughout Ethiopia have been arrested during peaceful protests: On October 29, the Ethiopia government charged 29 protestors with terrorism and attempting to establish an Islamic state.
U.S. foreign policy of expediency in Africa
Expediency has been a guiding principle in American foreign policy in Africa for quite a while. “Expediency” emphasizes “pragmatism” or “realpolitik” over principles and ideals. It is an approach that dictates consideration of each case in light of prevailing circumstances. Expediency subordinates values, ideals and principles to particular political or strategic objectives. Expediency justifies full support for blood thirsty African thugs just to advance the national interest in global “war on terror”. Expediency sacrifices principles and ideals on the altar of hypocrisy. Expediency has allowed the Obama Administration to pump billions of America taxpayer dollars to strengthen the iron fist of Meles Zenawi and his cronies in the name of fighting the so-called war on terror while preaching a hollow sermon of human rights to ordinary Africans.
What is most disconcerting is the fact that President Obama speaks with forked tongue. In Accra and Cairo, he hectored African dictators and made promises and affirmations to the people of Africa: “Development depends on good governance… We must support strong and sustainable democratic governments… Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty… That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there…” He spoke of a “new partnership” with Africa, but his Watusi dance partners were Kagame, Museveni, Zenawi and their ilk.
As a strong supporter of President Obama and one who sought to exhort and mobilize Ethiopian Americans to support his election and re-election, I feel pangs of conscience when I say the President has been a poor advocate of American ideals in U.S. foreign policy in Africa. He has hectored ordinary Africans and African dictators about the need to be “on the right side of history”. For four years, President Obama has talked a good talk to Africans that America symbolizes freedom, liberty and democracy. But when it comes to walking the talk, we see him sitting in a wooden wheel chair that ain’t going nowhere fast. This paralysis has created a monumental crises of credibility for the President personally. Few Africans believe he is on their side and even fewer believe he is on the right side of history. But they do see him standing side by side with African dictators.
But could there really be expediency in dealing with blood thirsty African dictators? President Obama knows Ethiopia is a virtual police state. He knows elections are stolen there in broad daylight as those in power claim victory by a margin of 99.6 percent. He knows thousands of political prisoners languish in Ethiopian jails considered by international human rights organizations to be among the most inhumane in the world. He knows civil society institutions in that country have been wiped out of existence. He knows opposition parties, the press and dissidents have been crushed. He knows of the crimes against humanity that have been and continue to be committed in the Ogaden region, in Gambella, the Omo region and many other parts of the country. He knows about religious persecution. President Obama personally knows that 193 unarmed protesters were massacred and 763 wounded following the 2005 elections and that no one has been brought to justice for those crimes against humanity. That crime against humanity is on par with the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960 in South Africa in which South African police slaughtered 69 unarmed black protesters in the township of Sharpeville and wounded 180.
It is said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. But must the Obama Administration get in bed with those who have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity in the 21st Century? Is it worth sacrificing American ideals to coddle and consort with brutal African dictators just to get drone bases?
Can Ethiopian Americans hold the Obama Administration accountable?
Yes, we can! The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-292) [IRFA] was enacted to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States, and to advocate on behalf of persons and groups facing religious persecution throughout the world. Very few people are aware that IFRA came into being as a result of the religious persecution of a Christian Ethiopian man named Getanah Metafriah who was “imprisoned and tortured by the Communist rulers of Ethiopia for talking about Jesus.” Getanah’s cause “manage[d] to help start a grassroots movement to publicize religious persecution abroad” eventually leading to the passage of IRFA.
IFRA requires that the United States designate as “country of particular concern” (CPC) those countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious and “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” and prescribes sanctions against such countries. IRFA provides the President 15 options ( 22 U.S.C. § 6445(a)(1)-(15)) to consider against states violating religious freedom including demarches (diplomatic protest) , private or public condemnation, denial, delay or cancellation of scientific or cultural exchanges, cancellation of a state visit, withdrawal or limitation of humanitarian or security assistance, restriction of credit or loans from United States and multilateral organizations, denial of licenses to export goods or technologies, prohibition against the U.S. government entering into any agreement to procure goods or services from that country, or “any other action authorized by law” so long as it “is commensurate in effect to the action substituted.” Once a state is designated a CPC, the President is required by law to conduct an annual review, no later than September 1 of each year, and to take one or more of the actions specified in IRFA.
Based on the USCRIF (a body auhtorized by IFRA) report cited above, there is no question that the regime in Ethiopia meets the IRFA criteria of engaging in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of the religious liberty of Ethiopian Muslims. It is noteworthy that the 2012 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom March 2012 (covering April 1, 2011 – February 29, 2012)) documenting serious abuses of freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief around the world does not include religious persecution of Muslims in Ethiopia (which was reported by USCRIF in Novemeber 2012).
The first action Ethiopian Americans who believe in religious freedom in Ethiopia should take in an organized and collective manner is to file a request, (and if necessary a demand) that USCRIF amend or append to its 2012 report religious persecution and government interference in the profession and practice of the Islamic and Christian faiths in Ethiopia and make recommendations to the Secretary of State (SoS) for sanctions or alternative actions. In the alternative, they should insure that the violation is reported in the 2012-2013 USCRIF report with recommendations to the SoS for appropriate action. The SoS is required by IRFA to take “into consideration the recommendations of the Commission [USCRIF]” in formulating subsequent action.
By having USCRIF amend or append to its report and submit appropriate recommendations, Ethiopian Americans concerned about religious freedom in Ethiopia will have a legal basis to demand that the President “take all appropriate and feasible actions authorized by law to obtain the cessation of violations” (22 U.S.C. § 6445(a)(1)-(15)) or make Presidential certification and issue a waiver. In other words, the President would be in a position to take action or not to take action because taking action would be against U.S. “national security”. Either way, the Obama Administration could be held accountable under IFRA. No doubt, any such organized effort by Ethiopian Americans will stir the hornet’s nest of the K Street lobbyists who will rub their palms with glee and grin ear to ear as they come to feast at the trough of poor Ethiopian taxpayers.
The second action Ethiopian Americans who believe in religious freedom in Ethiopia should take is to establish an interfaith council to work on broader issues of religious freedom in Ethiopia. In my July 2012 commentary “Unity in Divinity”, I argued that a threat to the religious liberty of Muslims is a threat to the religious freedom of Christians. I urged Ethiopian “Christian and Muslim religious leaders [to] play a critical role in preventing conflict and in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect and collaborative working relations…” I suggested the establishment of “interfaith councils” patterned after those in the U.S. “These [interfaith] councils bring diverse faith communities to work together to foster greater understanding and respect among people of different faiths and to address basic needs in the community. Many such councils go beyond dialogue and reflection to cooperative work in social services and implementing projects to meet community needs. They stand together to protect religious freedom by opposing discrimination and condemning debasement of religious institutions and faiths. There is no reason why Ethiopians could not establish interfaith councils of their own.”
I reiterate my call for interfaith councils to bring together members of the two faith communities in the United States, and possibly elsewhere, for collective action. Religious freedom in Ethiopia is not an issue that concerns only Muslims. It is of equal concern and importance for Christian Ethiopians who have undergone similar egregious interference in the selection of their religious leadership just recently.
What is needed is sincere and open dialogue and interaction between Ethiopian Americans who are Christians and Muslims to advance the cause of religious liberty and equality for all in unity. Members of these two faith communities must come together in a historic meeting and develop a joint agenda to guarantee and safeguard their religious freedom, overcome any traces of sectarianism and reaffirm their long coexistence, diversity and harmony in a unified country based on the rule of law. They must jointly develop principles of cooperation and coordination. They must develop solidarity which can withstand narrow sectarian interests and the whims and personalities of those in leadership positions. They must relate with each other in the spirit of mutual respect, trust and co-operation and find ways to deepen and strengthen their relations.
Perhaps such dialogue may not come so easily in the absence of existing institutions. It may be necessary for leaders of both faiths to join together and establish a task force to study the issues and make recommendations for the broadest possible dialogue between Ethiopian American Muslims and Christians in America. Christian and Islamic spiritual authorities and laymen should be encouraged to work together not only to defend each other on matters of religious liberty but also to propose long term solutions to reduce the dangers of sectarianism, fanaticism, conflict and misunderstanding and institute a permanent dialogue between members of both faiths. There is no reason why an interfaith council cannot organize joint conferences, meetings, workshops, seminars, press conferences and informational campaigns in the media in both faith communities. The Ethiopia of tomorrow can be built on a strong foundation of dialogue of Muslims and Christians today. Dialogue is a precursor to national reconciliation.
From expediency to consistency
The Obama Administration must do a lot more to improve human rights in Africa. President Obama must not only talk a good talk, he must also walk the talk. But with religious liberty, he must walk the talk and follow the letter and spirit of IFRA. If he does not, he would have betrayed not only the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution but also disregarded the law he is sworn to uphold. There is no reason why the Obama Administration cannot find a harmonious convergence of national security and human rights in Africa. When America cannot lead by ideals it will be forced to follow up by exacting ordeals.
Are the Ethiopian Muslim protesters leading Africa’s most promising and important nonviolent human rights campaign since the anti-apartheid struggle? Yes, they are!!!
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:
2013 shall be the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
“The Cheetah Generation refers to the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective. They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the ‘restless generation’ but they are Africa’s new hope. They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations”, explained George Ayittey, the distingushed Ghanaian economist.
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation includes not only graduates and professionals — the “best and the brightest” — but also the huddled masses of youth yearning to breathe free; the millions of youth victimized by nepotism, cronyism and corruption and those who face brutal suppression and those who have been subjected to illegal incarceration for protesting human rights violations. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is Eskinder Nega’s and Serkalem Fasil’s Generation. It is the generation of Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others like them. Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation should move over and make way for the Cheetahs. As Ayittey said, Africa’s “Hippo Generation is intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They are stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old ‘colonialism-imperialism’ paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They lack vision and sit comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure…”
Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation is not only astigmatic with distorted vision, it is also myopic and narrow- minded preoccupied with mindless self-aggrandizement. The Hippos in power are stuck in the quicksand of divisive ethnic politics and the bog of revenge politics. They proclaim the omnipotence of their state, which is nothing more than a thugtatorship. Their lips drip with condemnation of “neoliberalism”, the very system they shamelessly panhandle for their daily bread and ensures that they cling to power like barnacles on a sunken ship. They try to palm off foreign project handouts as real economic growth and development. To these Hippos, the youth are of peripheral importance. They give them lip service. In his “victory” speech celebrating his 99.6 percent win in the May 2010 “election”, Meles Zenawi showered the youth with hollow gratitude: “We are also proud of the youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development and also those who are in the process of applying efforts to be productively employed! We offer our thanks and salute the youth of Ethiopia for their unwavering support and enthusiasm!”
The Hippos out of power have failed to effectively integrate and mobilize the youth and women in their party leadership structure and organizational activities. As a result, they find themselves in a state of political stagnation and paralysis. They need youth power to rejuvenate themselves and to become dynamic, resilient and irrepressible. Unpowered by youth, the Hippos out of power have become the object of ridicule, contempt and insolence for the Hippos in power.
Ethiopia’s intellectual Hippos by and large have chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged, mouths sealed shut and eyes blindfolded. They have chosen to remain silent fearful that anything they say can and will be used against them as they obsequiously curry favor with the Hippos in power. They have broken faith with the youth. Instead of becoming transformational and visionary thinkers capable of inspiring the youth with creative ideas, the majority of the intellectual Hippos have chosen to dissociate themselves from the youth or have joined the service of the dictators to advance their own self-interests.
The shameless canard is that Ethiopia’s youth “have started to benefit from the ongoing development.” The facts tell a completely different story. Though the Ethiopian population under the age of 18 is estimated to be 41 million or just over half of Ethiopia’s population, UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five. Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans; or approximately 15 per cent of all children are orphans! Some 800,000 children are estimated to be orphaned as a result of AIDS. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at over 70 per cent. Ethiopia has one of the lowest youth literacy rate in Africa according to a 2011 report of the United Nations Capital Development Fund. Literacy in the 15-24 age group is a dismal 43 percent; gross enrollment at the secondary level is a mere 30.9 percent! A shocking 77.8 per cent of the Ethiopian youth population lives on less than USD$2 per day! Young people have to sell their souls to get a job. According to the 2010 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, “Reliable reports establish that unemployed youth who were not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the ‘support letters’ from their kebeles necessary to get jobs.” Party memberships is the sine qua non for government employment, educational and business opportunity and the key to survival in a police state. The 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report concluded, “According to credible sources, the ruling party ‘stacks’ student enrollment at Addis Ababa University, which is the nation’s largest and most influential university, with students loyal to the party to ensure further adherence to the party’s principles and to forestall any student protest.”
Frustrated and in despair, many youths drop out of school and engage in a fatalistic pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes them to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Poor youths (the overwhelming majority of youth population) deprived of educational and employment opportunity, have lost faith in their own and their country’s future. When I contemplate the situation of Ethiopia’s youth, I am haunted by the penetrating question recently posed by Hajj Mohamed Seid, the prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto: “Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation.”
Unchain the Cheetahs
Many of my readers are familiar with my numerous commentaries on Ethiopia’s chained youth yearning for freedom and change. My readers will also remember my fierce and unremitting defense of Ethiopia’s Proudest Cheetahs — Eskinder Nega, Serkalem Faisl, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others — jailed for exercising their constitutional rights and for speaking truth to power. But in the Year of the Cheetahs, I aim to call attention to the extreme challenges faced by Ethiopia’s youth and make a moral appeal to all Hippos, particularly the intellectual Hippos in the Diaspora, to stand up and be counted with the youth by providing support, guidance and inspiration. In June 2010, I called attention to some undeniable facts:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means. On the other hand, many thousands gripped by despair and hopelessness and convinced they have no future in Ethiopia continue to vote with their feet. Today, young Ethiopian refugees can be found in large numbers from South Africa to North America and the Middle East to the Far East.
In this Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs, those of us with a conscience in the Hippo Generation must do a few things to atone for our failures and make amends to our youth. President Obama, though short on action, is nearly always right in his analysis of Africa’s plight: “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.” We, learned Hippos, must learn that Ethiopia’s destiny will not be determined by the specter of dead dictators or their dopplegangers. It will not be determined by those who use the state as their private fiefdom and playground, or those who spread the poison of ethnic politics to prolong their lease on power. Ethiopia’s destiny will be determined by a robust coalition of Cheetahs who must unite, speak in one voice and act like fingers in a clenched fist to achieve a common destiny.
I craft my message here to the Hippos out of power and the intellectual Hippos standing on the sidelines. I say step up, stand up and be counted with the youth. Know that they are the only ones who can unchain us from the cages of our own hateful ethnic politics. Only they can liberate us from the curse of religious sectarianism. They are the ones who can free us from our destructive ideological conflicts. They are the ones who can emancipate us from the despair and misery of dictatorship. We need to reach, teach and preach to the Cheetahs to free their minds from mental slavery and help them develop their creative powers.
We must reach out to the Cheetahs using all available technology and share with them our knowledge and expertise in all fields. We must listen to what they have to say. We need to understand their views and perspectives on the issues and problems that are vital to them. It is a fact that we have for far too long marginalized the youth in our discussions and debates. We are quick to tell them what to do but turn a deaf ear to what they have to say. We lecture them when we are not ignoring them. Rarely do we show our young people the respect they deserve. We tend to underestimate their intelligence and overestimate our abilities and craftiness to manipulate and use them for our own cynical ends. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to reach out and touch the youth.
We must teach the youth the values that are vital to all of us. Hajj Mohamed Seid has warned us that without unity, we have nothing. “If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything.” That is why we must teach the youth they must unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology, scheme or effort that seeks to divide them on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, language, region or class. We must teach to enlighten, to uncover and illuminate the lies and proclaim the truth. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob the rights of youth who are ignorant and fearful. “Ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of tyrants.” Nelson Mandela has taught us that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Educating and teaching the youth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny and dictatorship. In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to teach the Cheetahs to fight ignorance and ignoramuses with knowledge, enlightenment and intelligence.
We must also preach the way of peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency. No man shall make himself the law. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide must be held to account. There shall be no state within the state. Exercise of one’s constitutional rights should not be criminalized. Might does not make right! In the Year of the Cheetah, I plead with my fellow intellectual Hippos to preach till kingdom come.
We need to find ways to link Ethiopian Diaspora youth with youth in Ethiopia in a Chain of Destiny. Today, we see a big disconnect and a huge gulf between young Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. We need to help organize and provide support to Ethiopian Diaspora youth to link up with their counterparts in Ethiopia so that they could have meaningful dialogue and interaction and work together to ensure a common democratic future.
The challenges facing Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation are enormous, but we must do all we can to prepare the youth to take leadership roles in their future. We need to help them develop a formal youth agenda that addresses the wide range of problems, challenges and issues facing them. All we need to do is provide them guidance, counsel and advice. The Cheetahs are fully capable of doing the heavy lifting if the Hippos are willing to carry water to them.
Ethiopian Youth Must Lead a National Dialogue in Search of a Path to Peaceful Change
I have said it before and I will say is again and again. For the past year, I have been talking and writing about Ethiopia’s inevitable transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have also called for a national dialogue to facilitate the transition and appealed to Ethiopia’s youth to lead a grassroots and one-on-one dialogue across ethnic, religious, linguistic and religious lines. I made the appeal because I believe Ethiopia’s salvation and destiny rests not in the fossilized jaws of power-hungry Hippos but in the soft and delicate paws of the Cheetahs. In the Year of the Cheetahs, I plead with Ethiopia’s youth inside the country and in the Diaspora to take upon the challenge and begin a process of reconciliation. I have come to the regrettable conclusion that most Hippos are hardwired not to reconcile. Hippos have been “reconciling” for decades using the language of finger pointing, fear and smear, mudslinging and grudge holding. But Cheetahs have no choice but to genuinely reconcile because if they do not, they will inherit the winds of ethnic and sectarian strife.
In making my plea to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, I only ask them to begin an informal dialogue among themselves. Let them define national reconciliation as they see it. They should empower themselves to create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines. I underscore the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in the national reconciliation conversations. It is an established social scientific fact that women do a far superior job than men when it comes to conciliation, reconciliation and mediation. Dialogue involves not only talking to each other but also listening to one another. Ethiopia’s Cheetahs should use their diversity as a strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.
Up With Ethiopian Cheetahs!
Africans know all too well that hippos (including their metaphorical human counterparts) are dangerous animals that are fiercely territorial and attack anything that comes into their turf. Every year more people are killed by hippos (both the real and metaphorical ones) in Africa than lions or elephants. Cheetahs are known to be the fastest animals, but their weakness is that they give up the chase easily or surrender their prey when challenged by other predators including hyenas. A group of hippos is known as a crash. A group of cheetahs is called a “coalition”. Only a coalition of cheetahs organized across ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines can crash a crash of hippos and a cackle of hyenas and save Ethiopia.
In this Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs, I expect to make my full contribution to uplift and support Ethiopia’s youth and to challenge them to rise up to newer heights. I appeal to all of my brother and sister Hippos to join me in this effort. As for the Cheetahs, I say, darkness always give way to light. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” Ethiopia’s Cheetahs must be strong in spirit and in will. As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and war planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” Winston Churchill must have learned something from Gandhi when he said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Ethiopian Cheetahs must never give in!
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:
2012 is gone. 2013 is on the way. Let us ring in redress to all humankind.
I wish a happy and prosperous new year to all of my readers throughout the world. To those who have unwearyingly followed my columns for nearly three hundred uninterrupted weeks, I wish to express my deep gratitude and appreciation. I am thankful for all of the support and encouragement I have received from my readers in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Diaspora and others throughout the world.
I ask my readers to ring in the new year with a firm resolution to seek redress for human rights violations in Ethiopia, other parts of Africa and throughout the world. As Dr. Martin Luther King taught, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
Let us bid farewell to the old year and greet the new one with the poetic words of Lord Alfred Tennyson:
Ring out the old, ring in the new,…
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,…
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws…
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good…
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,…
Ringing Out 2012
I thought I would ring out 2012 by extracting snippets from selected weekly commentaries I wrote during the year.
In January 2012, I wondered aloud if there will be an “African Spring” or “Ethiopian Tsedey (Spring)” in 2012. I cryptically answered my own question taking cover in Albert Camus’ book “The Rebel”. “What is a rebel?”, asked Camus. “A man who says no… A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying ‘no’? He means, for example, that ‘this has been going on too long,’ ‘up to this point yes, beyond it no’, ‘you are going too far,’ or, again, ‘there is a limit beyond which you shall not go.’ But from the moment that the rebel finds his voice — even though he says nothing but ‘no’ — he begins to desire and to judge. The rebel confronts an order of things which oppresses him with the insistence on a kind of right not to be oppressed beyond the limit that he can tolerate.”
Africa’s Spring will arrive when enough Africans including Ethiopians collectively resolve to rise up from the winter of their discontent and make glorious spring and summer by declaring, “No! Enough is Enough!”
In February 2012, I pointed out the shame and humiliation in receiving a Chinese handout (“gift”) in the form of a gleaming “African Union Hall” to 50 plus African countries who could not afford the measly $200 million needed to build such a quintessentially symbolic continental edifice. I christened it “African Beggars Union Hall”.
The Chinese Dragon is dancing the Watusi shuffle with African Hyenas. Things could not be better for the Dragon in Africa. In the middle of what once used to be the African Pride Land now stands a brand-spanking new hyenas’ den called the African Union Hall (AU). Every penny of the USD$200 million stately pleasure dome was paid for by China. It is said to be “China’s gift to Africa.” Sooner or later China has to come to terms with three simple questions: Can it afford to fasten its destiny to Africa’s dictators, genociders and despots? How long can China pretend to turn a blind eye to the misery of the African people suffering under ruthless dictatorships? Will there be a price to pay once the African dictators that China supported are forced out of power in a popular uprising? To update the old saying, “Beware of Chinese who bear gifts.”
In March 2012, I boldly predicted that Ethiopia will transition from dictatorship to democracy. But I also cautiously suggested that dissolution of the dictatorship in Ethiopia does not guarantee the birth of democracy. There is no phoenix of democracy that will rise gloriously from the trash heap of dictatorship. Birthing democracy will require a lot of collaborative hard work, massive amounts of creative problem solving and plenty of good luck and good will. A lot of heavy lifting needs to be done to propel Ethiopia from the abyss of dictatorship to the heights of democracy. It will be necessary to undertake a collective effort now to chart a clear course on how that long-suffering country will emerge from decades of dictatorship, without the benefit of any viable democratic political institutions, a functional political party system, a system of civil society institutions and an independent press to kindle a democratic renaissance.
In April 2012 , I paid a special tribute to my personal hero Eskinder Nega, winner of the 2012 PEN Freedom to Write Award. Eskinder Nega (to me Eskinder Invictus) has been jailed as a “terrorist” by the powers that be in Ethiopia. But Eskinder is a hero’s hero. His cause was taken up by an army of world renowned journalists who have themselves suffered at the hands of dictatorships including Kenneth Best, founder of the Daily Observer (Liberia’s first independent daily); Lydia Cacho, arguably the most famous Mexican journalist; Akbar Ganji Faraj Sarkohi Iran’s foremost dissidents; Arun Shourie, one of India’s most renowned and controversial journalists and many others. Recently, Carl Bernstein (one of the two journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon) and Liev Schreiber paid extraordinary homage to Eskinder Nega. Bernstein said, “No honor can be greater than to read Eskinder Nega’s words. He is more than a symbol. He is the embodiment of the greatness of truth, of writing and reporting real truth, of persisting in truth and resisting the oppression of untruths,…”
Eskinder Nega is my special hero because he fought tyranny with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slew falsehoods with the sword of truth. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fought despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion. I lack the words to express my deep pride and gratitude to Eskinder and his wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil (winner of the 2007 International Women’s Media Foundation “Courage in Journalism Award”), for their boundless courage and extraordinary sacrifices in the cause of press freedom in Ethiopia. It is said that history is written by the victor. When truth becomes the victor in Ethiopia, the names Eskinder Nega and Serkalem Fasil will be inscribed in the Hall of Fame for unfaltering courage and steadfast endurance in the face of Evil.
In May 2012, Abebe Gelaw, a young Ethiopian journalist stood up in the audience at the Food Security 2012 G8 Summit in Washington, D.C. and cried freedom. The late Meles Zenawi sat in catatonic silence as the young journalist shouted out: “Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Free Eskinder Nega! Free Political Prisoners! You are a dictator. You are committing crimes against humanity. Food is nothing without freedom! Meles has committed crimes against humanity! We Need Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”
The “heckler’s veto” is one of the most precious rights of American citizens. The idea is really simple. It is always governments who abuse their power to silence their critics and those who disagree with them. With the “heckler’s veto”, the individual silences the government and the powerful. The tables are turned. Zenawi was silenced by Abebe! In that moment, Abebe gloriously realized the true meaning of the tagline of his website addisvoice.com – “A Voice of the Voiceless”. Ironically, the voice of the voiceless rendered speechless the man who had rendered millions voiceless!
In June 2012, I joyously witnessed the unity of Christian and Muslim religious leaders against those seeking to divide them. Hajj Mohamed Seid, a prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto, made an extraordinary statement that should be a lesson to all Ethiopians: “As you know Ethiopia is a country that has different religions. Ethiopia is a country where Muslims and followers of the Orthodox faith have lived and loved each other throughout recorded history. Even in our lifetimes — 50 to 60 years — we have not seen Ethiopia in so much suffering and tribulation. Religion is a private choice, but country is a collective responsibility. If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything… They [the rulers in Ethiopia] have sold the land [to foreigners] and have kept the most arable land to themselves. The money from the sale is not in our country. It is in their pockets… Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation…
In July 2012, I held a private celebration on the occasion of the ninety-fourth birthday of President Nelson Mandela. May he live long with gladness and good health! Madiba has been a great inspiration for me very much like Gandhi. Madiba and Gandhi were lawyers who spoke truth to power fearlessly. For Madiba, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, true human rights advocacy was devoid of all political ambition. The politics of human rights is the politics of human dignity, not ideology, political partisanship or the pursuit of political office. The committed human rights advocate thrives on hopes and dreams of a better future, not the lust for political power or craving for status, position or privilege. I have been relentlessly “sermonizing” (as some affectionately refer to my weekly commentaries) on human rights in Ethiopia and against dictatorship for many years now. I have done so not because I believed my efforts will produce immediate political results or expected structural changes overnight. I stayed in for the long haul because I believe defending, advocating and writing about human rights and righting government wrongs is right, good and the moral thing to do.
In August 2012, I bade farewell to Meles Zenawi who passed away from an undisclosed illness. It was a difficult farewell to write. For over two hundred seventy five weeks, without missing a single week, I wrote long expository commentaries on the deeds and misdeeds of the man who was at the helm of power in Ethiopia for over two decades. Meles and I would have never crossed paths but for the massacres of 2005 in which some 200 unarmed protesters were shot dead in the streets and another 800 wounded by police and security officials under Meles’ personal command and control.
Meles was a man who had an appointment with destiny. Fate had chosen him to play a historic role in Ethiopia and beyond. He was one of the leaders of a rebel group that fought and defeated a brutal military dictatorship that had been in power for 17 years. In victory, Meles promised democracy, respect for democratic liberties and development. But as the years wore on, Meles became increasingly repressive, intolerant of criticism and in the end became as tyrannical as the tyrant he had replaced. In his last years, he created a police state reinforced by a massive security network of spies and surveillance technology. He criminalized press freedom and civil society institutions. He crushed dissent and all opposition. He spread fear and loathing that penetrated the remotest parts of the countryside. For over 21 years, Meles clutched the scepter of power in his hands and cast away the sword of justice he held when he marched into the capital from the bush in 1991. Meles was feared, disliked and demonized by his adversaries. He was loved, admired, idealized and idolized by his supporters. In the end, Meles died a man who had absolute power which had corrupted him absolutely. In his relentless pursuit of absolute power, Meles missed his appointment with destiny to become a peerless and exemplary Ethiopian leader.
In September 2012, I explained why I supported President Obama’s re-election. I tried to make an honest case for supporting the President’s re-election despite deep disappointments over his human rights records in Africa in his first term. Did President Obama deliver on the promises he made for Africa to promote good governance, democracy and human rights? Did he deliver on human rights in Ethiopia? No. Are Ethiopian Americans disappointed over the unfulfilled promises President Obama made in Accra, Ghana in 2009 and his Administration’s support for a dictatorship in Ethiopia? Yes. We remember when President Obama talked about the need to develop robust democratic institutions, uphold the rule of law and the necessity of maintaining open political space and protecting human rights in Africa. We all remember what he said: “Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions.” “Development depends on good governance.” “No nation will create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy.” Was he just saying these words or did he truly believe them? Truth be told, what the President has done or not done to promote good governance, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is no different than what we, the vast majority of Ethiopian Americans, have done or not done to promote the same values in Ethiopia. That is the painful truth we must face.
In October 2012, I wrote about breast cancer awareness for Ethiopian women and men. There is a strange and confounding culture of secrecy and silence about certain kinds of illnesses among many Ethiopians in the country and those in the Diaspora. Among the two taboo diseases are cancer and HIV/AIDS. The rule seems to be hide the illness until death, even after death. We saw this regrettable practice in the recent passing of Meles Zenawi. Meles’ illness and cause of death remain a closely guarded state secret. It is widely believed that he died from brain cancer. This culture of secrecy and silence has contributed significantly to the needless deaths of thousands of Ethiopians. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that far too many Ethiopian women living in the U.S. have needlessly died from breast cancer because they failed or avoided to get regular breast cancer screening fearing a positive diagnosis. Secrecy and silence when it comes to breast cancer is a self-imposed death warrant!
In November 2012, I remembered. I remembered the hundreds of unarmed citizens murdered in the streets by police and security officials under the personal command and control of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia on June 6-8 and November 1-4, 2005, following the Ethiopian parliamentary elections in May of that year. According to an official Inquiry Commission, “There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs. [The shots fired by government forces] were not intended to disperse the crowd but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” I also remembered Yenesew Gebre, a 29 year-old Ethiopian school teacher and human rights activist set himself ablaze outside a public meeting hall in the town of Tarcha located in Dawro Zone in Southern Ethiopia on 11/11/11. He died three days later from his injuries. Before torching himself, Yenesew told a gathered crowd outside of a meeting hall, “In a country where there is no justice and no fair administration, where human rights are not respected, I will sacrifice myself so that these young people will be set free.” I remembered why I was transformed from a cloistered armchair academic and hardboiled defense lawyer to a (com)passionate human rights advocate and defender.
In December 2012, I fiercely opposed the potential nomination of Susan Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. I argued that Rice has been waltzing (or should I say do-se-do-ing) with Africa’s slyest, slickest and meanest dictators for nearly two decades. Rice and other top U.S. officials knew or should have known a genocide was underway or in the making once RAF and interahamwe militia began killing people in the streets and neighborhoods on April 6, the day Rwandan President Juvenal Habyiarimana was assassinated. They were receiving reports from the U.N. mission in Rwanda; and their own intelligence pointed to unspeakable massacres taking place in Kigali and elsewhere in the country. Rice feigned ignorance of the ongoing genocide, but the irrefutable documentary evidence showed that Rice, her boss Anthony Lake and other high level U.S. officials knew from the very beginning (April 6, 1994) that genocide was in the making in Rwanda. On September 2, 2012 at the funeral of Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa and at a memorial service for Meles in New York City on October 27, 2012, Rice delivered a eulogy that virtually canonized Meles. In her blind eulogy, Rice turned a blind eye to the thousands of Ethiopians who were victimized, imprisoned and killed by Meles Zenawi. Rice could not see the police state Meles had created. To literally add insult to injury, Rice called Meles’ opponents and critics “fools and idiots”. Truth be told, I was deeply offended by Rice’s hubristic remarks and her audacity, pomposity, nerve and insolence to insult and humiliate Ethiopians in their own country in such callous and contemptuious manner. Ethiopians have been robbed of their dignity for 21 years. But I will be damned if any foreigner, however high or exalted, should feel free to demean, dehumanize and demonize my people as “fools and idoits”. Recently, Rice explained: “I know I’m vilified for having said anything other than, ‘He [Meles] was a tyrant,’ … which would’ve been a little awkward, on behalf of the U.S. government and in front of all the mourning Ethiopians.” Rice has no qualms calling Ethiopians “fools and idiots” but she writhes in agony just thinking about calling Meles a tyrant?!? Some people just don’t get it!!!
In 1994, Rice was willfully blind to the genocide in Rwanda. In 2012, she was willfully blind to the long train of human rights abuses and atrocities in Ethiopia.
America does not need a friend and a buddy to African dictators as its Secretary of State. America does not need a Secretary of State with a heart of stone and tears of a crocodile. America does not need a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” Secretary of State. America needs a Secretary of State who can tell the difference between human rights and government wrongs!
Let us join hands to ring in redress to all mankind in 2013. Let us all work together for human rights for all and against all government wrongs!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
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