Alemayehu G Mariam
(This week my regular Monday commentary is presented for the second time in the form of a “flash drama” on Obama (a sub-genre of theatrical play sometimes described as a “ten minute one-act play”). The first “act” of this “flash drama” was presented in my June 23 commentary, “Obama is Coming! Obama is Coming to Africa!!”
The scene in the second act is a neighborhood tearoom somewhere in Africa. The two young African college friends two weeks later have a chance meeting. Their conversation shifts from the critical health condition of President Nelson Mandela to President Obama’s departure from Africa after he completed his “Africa Visit”. (I have opted to use “flash drama” to add creative range to my commentaries and expand my reach to the younger generation of Ethiopians and other African youth. The names of the characters have special meaning.)
Act I: Obama is Coming! Obama is Coming to Africa!!
Duma: I am worried sick Mandela is sick.
Shudi: I just wonder what will happen to South Africa after Mandela is gone.
Duma: The same thing that will happen when the father of any family is gone.
Shudi: You mean there will be some family feud, discord and falling out…
Duma: But the family will survive. The South African family is strong.
Shudi: The Spirit of Mandela will keep the family together!
Duma: And guide South Africa as it always has.
Shudi: Guide the conscience of South Africans.
Duma: And their hearts and minds too.
Shudi: Mandela may be gone but his Spirit will live forever!
Duma: Africans say, “A good chief is a reward of God.”
Shudi: South Africa has been blessed!
Duma: “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God bless Africa.)
Shudi: Obama has come and gone…
Duma: Obama came and saw but did he conquer?
Shudi: He came. He saw. He left.
Duma: Back to the U.S. of A?
Shudi: Where else?
Duma: Ethiopia? Nigeria? They are America’s best partners in Africa.
Shudi: Not even Kenya! He says he’s “got three and half years to come back to Kenya.”
Duma: Hope he had a better reception than his first Africa visit in Accra, Ghana in 2009.
Shudi: Someone told him in Soweto, “the euphoria that engulfed this continent when President Obama was elected is fading.”
Duma: Yeah! The thrill is gone with the Obama drama.
Shudi: He visited three countries in one week, you know.
Duma: What’s up with that? Is he making campaign stops?
Shudi: With all the promises and pledges he made, you could say he was stumping.
Duma: He is the best at making promises.
Shudi: And not keeping them?
Duma: And breaking them. What did he promise this time?
Shudi: He promised to “launch a new program that’s going to givethousands of promising young Africans opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills at some of our best colleges and universities.”
Duma: Too little, too late!
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: China has already snatched 12,000 young Africans.
Shudi: Promising ones?
Duma: The crème de la crème.
Shudi: What about the millions of not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own.
Shudi: Promises only for promising young Africans in the Promised Land?
Duma: But it’s all promises. Don’t mean nothing.
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: How many promises has Obama made?
Shudi: Too many?
Duma: How many has he broken?
Shudi: Too many.
Duma: Ever heard of the “talented tenth”, Shudi?
Shudi: No. What’s that?
Duma: It’s an old idea about one in ten black men becoming leaders of their race in the world and solving the “The Negro Problem”.
Duma: Through education, entrepreneurship, scholarship and direct involvement in social change.
Shudi: Talented tenth for the “African Problem”?
Duma: Bring the most promising young Africans to America and teach them about “civic leadership and public administration and business and entrepreneurship”.
Shudi: And solve the “African Problem”?
Duma: With the help of the “connections” they “make in America… Americans from all walks of life… leaders in business and nonprofits and government.”
Shudi: And the great African brain drain continues…?
Duma: That’s old school, Shudi. It is now called “human capital flight”.
Shudi: Young promising Africans taking flight to America…
Duma: Whatever happened to Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010?
Shudi: That’s an old promise. That was about “engaging young African leaders who will shape the continent’s future.”
Duma: How many young African leaders were engaged in the last three years?
Shudi: You’re always digging up old promises. Fresh promises about old broken promises are the best kind of promises, if you know what I mean.
Duma: Promises are bliss to youth. Africa’s “talented tenth” better watch out.
Duma: Obama says, “The world will be watching what decisions you make. The world will be watching what you do.”
Shudi: Does that mean the U.S. is watching too?
Duma: Secretary of State John Kerry said America is watching.
Duma: “Brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them.”
Shudi: Will the U.S. be watching the brave, suffering and not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own. They don’t matter.
Shudi: You mean it’s mind over matter?
Duma: I mean Obama don’t mind and they don’t matter!
Shudi: Do you think Mandela will make it through?
Duma: Why not? He pulled through 27 years of hard labor and solitary confinement.
Shudi: Mandela is a man of courage. He can do anything!
Duma: Isn’t that what Obama said? “Nelson Mandela showed us that one man’s courage can move the world.”
Shudi: The man imprisoned for 27 years and on life support today can move the world but…
Duma: Why can’t the most powerful man in the world be able to move Africa?
Shudi: Obama says, courage is “the power that comes from acting on our ideals. That’s what Mandela understood.”
Duma: Why can’t Obama act from his ideals?
Shudi: Maybe he lost them. Maybe he doesn’t have any.
Duma: When he accepted the Nobel Prize, didn’t he say: “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”
Shudi: Did Obama compromise his ideals?
Duma: Did he lose himself?
Duma: He wants young Africans to act from their ideals?
Shudi: He wants them to “think of how many times ordinary people pushed against those walls of oppression and resistance, and the violence and the indignities that they suffered; the quiet courage that they sustained. Think of how many ripples of hope it took to build a wave that would eventually come crashing down like a mighty stream.”
Duma: What does that mean? A mighty tidal wave of angry youth crashing on African dictators?
Shudi: And hungry youth? Don’t know what it means.
Duma: It’s “Obamanese”. Empty words always sound good.
Shudi: Just like cotton candy tastes good?
Duma: Just like the sight of floating butterflies make you feel good.
Shudi: Obama said, “The struggle against apartheid, for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, his country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation, has been a personal inspiration to me.”
Duma: Obama was once an inspiration to me too.
Shudi: “Yes We Can!” “We are the change we have been waiting for.” “Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire; what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation…” “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”
Duma: “History is on the side of brave Africans.” “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”
Shudi: Where do you get courage?
Duma: The same place you get your ideals.
Shudi: Obama said, “Africa is rising”.
Duma: From tyranny? Dictatorship? Corruption?
Shudi: From “poverty to a growing, nascent middle class.”
Duma: Are the 80 percent of Africans living under less than $2 a day rising or falling?
Shudi: You can’t fall if you’ve always been down.
Duma: Only way is up.
Shudi: Up from tyranny. Injustice. Abuse of power.
Duma: And the not-so-promising young Africans?
Shudi: They are on their own and down?
Duma: They are all down and out.
Shudi: Obama said, “there is no question that Africa is on the move”?
Duma: I have a question. Which Africa?
Shudi: The African middle class is on the move.
Duma: How about the African “80 percenters”?
Shudi: They can’t move.
Duma: Well, the “80 percenters” are like the “47 percenters”, if you know what I mean.
Shudi: Don’t know what you mean.
Duma: “They depend on government handouts; they believe that they are victims; they believe government has a responsibility to care for them; they believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Shudi: Didn’t the 47 percenters elect Obama?
Duma: Obama wasn’t elected in Africa.
Shudi: Shouldn’t the real question be if democracy is on the move in Africa?
Duma: And human rights are rising and dictatorships falling?
Shudi: Obama says, he will “partner with governments and regional organizations here in Africa and foundations and civil society to amplify your voices as you stand up for democracy and equality.”
Duma: Partner with the foxes guarding the henhouse?
Shudi: Partnership of eagles and foxes?
Duma: Eagles and hyenas.
Shudi: Amplify the voices of silenced civil society institutions? I don’t understand…
Duma: What’s there not to understand? Silence is the voice of the voiceless.
Shudi: Obama says Africa is not moving fast enough “for the protester who is beaten in Harare [Zimbabwe], or the woman who is raped in Eastern Congo”?
Duma: And for the unfortunate and untalented 80 percenters?
Shudi: Them too.
Duma: But moving fast enough for young, talented and jailed Ethiopian journalists like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, opposition and civic society leaders and dissidents Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel and so many thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners…?
Shudi: Are there good and bad African dictators?
Duma: You mean does Obama think there are good and bad African dictators?
Shudi: Obama said, “Governments that respect the rights of their citizens and abide by the rule of law do better, grow faster, draw more investment than those who don’t. That’s just a fact.”
Duma: As a matter of fact, which African governments respect the rights of their people?
Shudi: You’re missing the point, Duma. Obama told the South Africans, “Just look at your neighbor, Zimbabwe, where the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy.” Zimbabwe is on the move with a new constitution and new elections.
Duma: An elected constitutional democratic dictatorship!
Shudi: Just a promise of an elected constitutional democratic dictatorship?
Duma: Mugabe is a dictator.
Shudi: And a thief. He has been stealing elections for decades. How can Zimbabwe move forward with a thieving dictator?
Duma: The dictators in Ethiopia have been stealing elections for decades too, but they are America’s best partners in Africa.
Shudi: But Mugabe is a dictator and an S.O.B.?
Duma: And those guys in Ethiopia?
Shudi: They are dictators too. “But they are our S.O.B.s”?
Duma: You sound like President Franklin Roosevelt.
Shudi: Obama said 85 percent of Africans need power and he is going to give it to them?
Duma: Power? Africans have all the power they need, if it weren’t stolen by the dictators…
Shudi: I meant electric power, not real power. You know what I mean?
Duma: What do you mean?
Shudi: He said, Africans “must have the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.”
Duma: Another promise?
Shudi: He said, “Now we’re going to talk about power — Power Africa — a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it.”
Duma: Talked about Africa. Talked about brave young Africans.
Shudi: Now, talk about power? Doubletalk about power?
Duma: Why not talk about the absolute power of African dictators?
Shudi: Obama said, “We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. And in partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy.”
Duma: The youth are the new sources of energy. Why not develop them?
Shudi: Develop the not-so-promising young Africans?
Duma: They are on their own.
Shudi: He is going to take “$7 billion in U.S. government resources” and give it to stinking rich African dictators?
Duma: Who are “U.S. government resources”?
Shudi: American taxpayers?
Duma: Take from toiling American taxpayers and give to stinking rich African dictators.
Shudi: Reverse Robin Hood for Africa.
Duma: That’s not fair…
Shudi: You mean…
Duma: Detroit needs the money more than African dictators. Don’t you agree?
Duma: I am not worried.
Shudi: Why not?
Duma: It’s all talk. Doubletalk. Empty promises. Cotton candy for African dictators!
Shudi: Obama said, “If anyone wants to see the difference between freedom and tyranny, let them come here, to South Africa. Here, citizens braved bullets and beatings to claim that most basic right: the ability to be free, to determine your own fate, in your own land.”
Duma: That’s an odd thing to say?
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: Is he saying that if Africans want to end tyranny and get their freedom, they should be “brave” enough to “brave the bullets and beatings”?
Shudi: I think he meant what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”
Duma: I got no problems with that.
Shudi: Obama told Africans as it is.
Duma: What did he say?
Shudi: “These are things that America stands for… We don’t tell people who their leaders should be, but we do stand up with those who support the principles that lead to a better life. And that’s why we’re interested in investing not in strongmen, but in strong institutions: independent judiciaries that can enforce the rule of law — honest police forces that can protect the peoples’ interests instead of their own; an open government that can bring transparency and accountability. And, yes, that’s why we stand up for civil society — for journalists and NGOs, and community organizers and activists — who give people a voice… I want you to know that you will always find the extended hand of a friend in the United States of America. ”
Duma: Give me a break!! He said exactly the same thing in Accra in 2009.
Shudi: He did?
Duma: Same exact thing! “Good governance is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top. 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. I know there are those who argue that ideas like democracy and transparency are somehow Western exports. I disagree. Those in power who make those arguments are usually trying to distract people from their own abuses. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives. Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Shudi: Obama told Africa’s youth to use their “imagination, your optimism, your idealism. The future of this continent is in your hands. Don’t lose those qualities of youth, the imagination, the courage, the ‘yes, we can’ attitude of young Africans like you.”
Duma: The future of Africa in the hands of Africa’s youth? Don’t think sooo!
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: The future of Africa is in the hands of China, India, Saudi Arabia…
Shudi: China came, saw and conquered.
Duma: India and Saudi Arabia too.
Shudi: Not America?
Duma: America is chasing terrorists in Africa.
Shudi: It should be chasing after Africa’s youth?
Duma: The promising and the not-so-promising ones.
Shudi: What do you say to Africa’s youth?
Duma: Obama came, Obama saw but did he conquer Africa’s youth?
Shudi: But really…
Duma: I’d say to them what Percy Bysshe Shelley said poetically to those young people who faced impossible odds:
Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words, that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free!
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few”
Rise and shine African Cheetahs and Lions!! And Hippos too?!
(The meaning of the names of the characters: “Shudi” in the Hausa language (Nigeria) means Blue. “Duma” in Swahili means Cheetah. Blue Cheetahs!)
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:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
In February 2011, at the onset of the Libyan Revolution, Moamar Gadhaffi trumpeted to the world, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” He called the rebels fighting to oust him from power “rats and cockroaches”. He believed it was his birthright to rule Libya as “king of kings” and remained in total denial of his own doom until the bitter end in a sewer tunnel. In the end, in an ironic twist of fate, Gadhaffi was served poetic justice. He was trapped like a sewer rat and smashed like a cockroach as he begged for mercy: “Don’t shoot me!”
The man who had played God in Libya for 42 years died a wimpy thug. The man with the absolute power to decide who shall live and who shall die was shot down like a rabid dog in the street by a nameless rebel. The man who had tortured and abused so many thousands of his people in secret prisons and dungeons was himself tortured and abused with unspeakable inhumanity broadcast for the world to see. The man who slaughtered thousands of his people ended up in the meat locker of a slaughterhouse where his victims gloated over his bloodied and half-naked body discarded on a filthy mattress like big game hunters inspecting their kill on an African safari. The man with the golden gun died from a lead bullet. The man-turned-monster who once called himself “brother leader,” “guide of the revolution,” “king of kings,” “Great Leader,” and “keeper of Arab nationalism” was escorted to his unmarked grave in the featureless desert by a swarm of hungry maggot-bearing flies. Only one question remained: Is it possible for Gandhi’s warning about dictators to have momentarily flashed before Gadhaffi’s eyes or echoed in his ears as he prepared to meet his Maker: “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Gadhafi boasted he will die a hero and a martyr, but died a hated villain and a coward. But the manner of his death left an ugly blotch on the glorious record of the Libyan Revolution. Gadhaffi’s young captors, unable to contain their pent up rage, treated him with such unspeakably inhumanity that their actions spoke very poorly for all of humanity. His execution in the street was an ugly public testament to man’s inhumanity to man. Even the most wicked and depraved dictator is entitled to basic human dignity. But in the euphoria of the moment, Libyans erupted with celebration at the news Gadhaffi’s dehumanization and death. With muted jubilation and a sigh of relief, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declared: “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” President Obama followed, “This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for Libya.”
Gadhaffi was the ultimate personification of the adage, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Over four decades, he became convinced that he was a god and untouchable by any man or law. He became an egomaniac, a megalomaniac, and a monomaniac. Gadhaffi and members of his family believed that they had a divine right to own Libya and Libyans as their personal property. His son Saif al-Islam threatened to dismember the country and plunge it into a civil war that “will last for 30 or 40 years” if anyone tries to oust his family. The young thug promised a bloodbath: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet. I will fight until the last drop of my blood. We have a Plan A which is to live and die in Libya. Plan B which is to live and die in Libya…” Gadhaffi refused to resign and leave the country peacefully. He would not listen to reason and defiantly declared he would never negotiate, mediate, compromise or surrender. He urged his supporters to fight to the last man and watched Libya burn in a civil war holed up in the sewer. As many as thirty thousand Libyans are estimated to have died as a result of Gadhaffi’s futile attempt to cling to power.
The African People Do Not Love Their Dictators
They say love is blind. That is especially true for dictators. Dictators are so blind that they believe the people love them. Long before Gadhaffi announced to the world “my people love me”, his brother-dictator Saddam Hussien of Iraq told the interrogators who snatched him out his spider hole, “The Iraqi people will always love me.” He even authored a romantic novel and spoke through his main character (king): “I’m a great leader. You must obey me. Not only that, you must love me.”
Long before Saddam, the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini pontificated, “With every beat of my heart, I give service to the Italian people. I feel that all Italians understand and love me.” Idi Amin of Uganda was less sentimental: “The people should love their leader!”; and if they don’t he had his own tough love methods to get the job done. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire would often chuckle and tell foreign correspondents that not only do his people love him, they want him to stay in power because the “people need me.” Mengistu Hailemariam believed that he ruled with an iron fist out of patriotic duty and love of country. No doubt he loved Ethiopia to death, and proved it for seventeen years by killing thousands of its citizens wantonly. Last May, in a victory speech, Meles Zenawi said he won the election by 99.6 percent because the Ethiopian people love his party and implicitly himself as the party leader. He said the people “consider themselves and the EPRDF [Zenawi’s party] as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization.” He returned the love by congratulating them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” and for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes.”
African dictators are so tone-deaf that they just don’t get the message no matter how many times it is repeated to them. Perhaps they might understand if told in sign language: T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U! In fact, they loathe you. It is a raw and visceral feeling that is manifest in the eyes, thoughts and words of the people. African dictators love having absolute power and boundless privilege. They worship at the altar of money. They love themselves and no one else because they are narcissistic. Every day they look into the ghostly mirror in their minds seeking reassurance: “Mirror, mirror!! Who is the smartest, cleverest, boldest, cruelest, wickedest, trickiest, slickest, shrewdest, quickest, savviest, cunningest… of them all? The answer is always the same.
African dictators are all self-delusional and spend most of their time on Planet Denial. In the face of total repudiation by their people, they invent their own mythology of self-grandeur. They reassure themselves that even if the people don’t love them, “history will one day vindicate me”. To avoid facing the truth, they categorically claim that they have “never killed even a fly and all the crimes I’m accused of are all lies perpetrated by my enemies.” They justify their cruelty by making the excuse that “my country is better off under me” than the previous regime. They brag about their accomplishments “successfully managing the transition from military dictatorship to an emerging democracy” and put themselves out as messiahs who “rekindle hope through a renaissance” and “chart a course of optimism” on a “trajectory of fast economic growth.” African dictators are as loveable as an African scorpion.
Perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement to say African dictators do not love their people. They do. They love to kill them; they love to jail them and torture them. They love to intimidate them, and most of all they love to crush them like cockroaches. How they love to rob, steal and cheat them! They thrive on the blood, sweat and tears of their people. African dictators love their people in much the same way as vampires love people. They love the sound of their own voices which resonate with lies, echo with deceit and jangle with hate: Those who oppose them are “rats and cockroaches” and “terrorists and insurrectionists”.
Did Gadhaffi Cheat the Libyan People in Death as He Did in Life?
It was jarring, confusing and troubling to hear acting Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declare on the confirmation of Gadhaffi’s death that “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” I wish he had said, “The day we have been waiting for was the day Gadhaffi is brought to the bar of justice.” I wish the rebel fighter who shot Gadhafi in the face would have said the same thing that young fighter who captured the dictator Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire said a few months ago. “We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker. Gbagbo was there with his wife and his son. He was slapped by a soldier, but was not otherwise hurt.”
The moment to wait for would have been that precious moment when Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi stood in the dock in a Libyan court or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague listening to the long list of criminal charges as his victims paraded in one by one wagging an accusatory finger at him. That would have been a historic moment worth waiting for no matter how long it took.
Gadhaffi is one of the top ten worst human rights abusers and criminals of the post-World War II era. I personally believe he is the apotheosis of evil. Regardless, I fully respect his human rights, including his right to a presumption of innocence and unabashedly defend his basic human right to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law based exclusively on legally admissible evidence. This I believe to be the true meaning of human rights. Even monsters walking amongst us in human skin are entitled to due process (fair trial) and must be protected from lynching or street, mob or vigilante justice. The line that separates the rule of law from the rule of one man or the rule of the mob is a mighty slender one; and the rule of law must be defended at all costs against those who seek to breach it. It is easy to defend the human rights of Eman al-Obeidy, the courageous Libyan woman who was gang-raped by Gadhaffi’s thugs or Gadhaffi’s revenge killing victims. But it is infinitely more difficult to stand up for monsters like Gadhaffi; but the ironic truth is that the brand of human rights that fully protects Eman al-Obeidy also protects fully the monster once known as Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi.
But I am afraid Gadhaffi in his death, as in his lifetime, got away with murder and torture and all sorts of crimes against humanity. He cheated al-Obeidy and the Libyan people out of justice. He cheated them out of the TRUTH. Now, al-Obeidy will never get the chance to confront Gadhaffi in a court of law, wag her delicate fingers at him as her tears roll down her cheeks and scream with all her might, “Gadhaffi! I accuse of rape and torture!” Her tears which testified before the court of world opinion and seared the conscience of all humanity will never get the chance to testify against Gadhaffi in a court of law and have him held accountable.
The truth is now buried with Gadhafi’s corpse and lost forever in the featureless sand dunes of the Sahara. His humiliation will give no satisfaction to al-Obeidy or the thousands of other innocent victims in Libya or those he blew up on Pan Am flight 103. The ghoulish public display of his corpse as a trophy game animal and all the gloating that went with it might give momentary satisfaction to some but it will never quench Libyans’ thirst for justice that could have come only from bringing Gadhaffi to trial. By taking the truth to his grave, Gadhaffi had the last laugh. He took his last revenge on the Libyan people for he knew that there could be no reconciliation in Libya without the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth laid bare before the people. It is too bad that Gadhaffi was given the easy way out!
The End of African Dictators
Winston Churchill said, “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” President John Kennedy cautioned us to “remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” He warned the “new states” liberated from colonialism that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The people of Africa are beating the drums of change and democracy and encircling the mud walls of African dictatorships. The die is now cast and African dictators will have to make a choice. The smart ones will read the writing on the wall and beat feet to enjoy their stolen loot in comfort and luxury in the sanctuary of well-known “dictatordoms”. Ben Ali and Mengustu are doing just that now as did Idi Amin before them. The stubborn ones will stick around and face the scales of justice. Mubarak is doing that now as did Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, before him. The self-delusional ones like Gadhaffi and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire and Samuel Doe of Liberia before them will cause a civil war to cling to power only to find themselves at the mercy of their ferocious and vengeance-thirsty adversaries. The rest will try to hide and hope their crimes will not catch up with them. Like Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir, they will always be looking over their shoulders for the long arm of international law or the sharp tiger claws of the people that will one day surely hook them. African dictators who make peaceful change impossible will make vigilante justice possible as they peek straight through the barrel of a gun whimpering, “Don’t shoot me! Please don’t shoot me!” African dictators, there is a better way. Show your people some love. LEAVE THEM!
African Dictators! T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Triumphalism of African Dictators
There is nothing that is both amusing and annoying than the chest-beating triumphalism of Africa’s tin pot dictators. This past February, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda lectured a press conference: “There will be no Egyptian-like revolution here. … We would just lock them up. In the most humane manner possible, bang them into jails land that would be the end of the story.” That is to say, if you crack a few heads and kick a few behinds, Africans will bow down and fall in line. Museveni must have been a protégé of Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia. In 2005, troops under the direct control and command of Zenawi shot dead at least 193 unarmed demonstrators, wounded an additional 763 and jailed over 30 thousand following elections that year. That was the “end of the story” for Zenawi. Or was it?
In March of this year, Zenawi reaffirmed his 99.6 percent electoral victory in the May 2010 elections and ruled out an “Egyptian-like revolution” by proclaiming a contractual right (read birthright) to cling to power: “When the people gave us a five year contract, it was based on the understanding that if the EPDRF party (Zenawi’s party) does not perform the contract to expectations it would be kicked out of power. No need for hassles. The people can judge by withholding their ballots and chase EPDRF out of power. EPDRF knows it and the people know it too.” For Zenawi, electoral politics is a business deal sealed in contract. Every ballot dropped (and stuffed) in the box is the equivalent of an individual signature in blood on an iron clad five-year contract.
Following the recent uprisings, the delirious 42-year dictator of Libya jabbered, “Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down… This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post, Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.” Simply stated: Muammar Gaddafi is president-for-life!
In 2003, Robert Mugabe, the self-proclaimed Hitler of Zimbabwe, shocked the world by declaring: “I am still the Hitler of the times. This Hitler has only one objective: Justice for his people. Sovereignty for his people. If that is Hitler, right, then let me be a Hitler ten-fold.” In Mein Kampf, the self-proclaimed leader (Der Fuhrer) of the “master race” wrote blacks are “monstrosities halfway between man and ape.” Africans have deep respect for their elders because they believe wisdom comes with age. Sadly, the 87 year-old Mugabe is living proof of the old saying, “There is no fool like an old fool.”
What makes African dictators so mindlessly arrogant, egotistically self-aggrandizing, delusionally contemptuous, hopelessly megalomaniacal and sociopathically homicidal? More simply: What the hell is wrong with African dictators?!?
Seeking to answer this question, I conducted an imaginary interview with Africa’s greatest, most respected and universally-loved leader, Nelson (Madiba) Rolihlahla Mandela. The answers below are quotations pieced together from President Mandela’s books, public statements, speeches, interviews, court proceedings and other publications and materials.
An Imaginary Conversation With President Nelson Mandela
Q. President Mandela, many African leaders believe they can cling to power forever by “locking up” their enemies and “banging” them in jail, shooting them in the streets and waging a sustained psychological campaign of fear and intimidation against their people. Is peaceful change possible in Africa?
A. “The government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as a weakness: the people’s non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed force against the people without any fear of reprisals…
Neither should it ever happen that once more the avenues to peaceful change are blocked by usurpers who seek to take power away from the people, in pursuit of their own, ignoble purposes.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Q. Many African leaders “lead” by intimidating, arbitrarily arresting, torturing and murdering their people. What are the leadership qualities Africa needs?
A. “I always remember the axiom: a leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
As a leader… I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion.
This [first democratic election for all South Africans] is one of the most important moments in the life of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy – pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such calm, patient determination to reclaim this count. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
Quitting is leading too.”
Q. Many African leaders today believe they are “supermen” who have a birthright to rule their people as they wish. Does this concern you?
A. “That was one of the things that worried me – to be raised to the position of a semi-god – because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but, nevertheless, sometimes fails to live up to expectations.”
Q. You have spent many decades in prison. Do you have any regrets for all the sacrifices you have made?
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Q. There are African leaders who say democracy and freedom must be delayed and rationed to the people in small portions to make way for development. Can freedom be rationed?
A. “There is no such thing as part freedom.”
Q. What is at the end of the rainbow of freedom?
A. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Q. One African leader takes great pride in comparing himself to Adolf Hitler, the iconic symbol of hate in modern human history. Why are so many African leaders filled with so much hatred, malice and bitterness?
A. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Q. Do you believe an election is a contract between Africa’s iron-fisted rulers and the people?
A. “Only free men can negotiate, prisoners can’t enter in contracts.”
Q. What can Africans do to liberate themselves from the scourge of dictatorship?
A. “No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”
Q. Why are so many well-off Africans afraid to take a stand against dictatorship, human rights violations and corruption on the continent?
A. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us: it’s in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Q. How can African intellectuals contribute to the struggle for democracy, human rights and accountability in the continent?
A: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
Q. What is the one important thing young Africans need to guarantee a bright future for themselves and the continent?
A. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president…”
Q. What is you dream for Africa and humanity in general?
A. “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.”
Q. What are the choices facing the people of Africa today?
A. “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom.”
Thank you, President Mandela. May you live for a thousand years! Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. (God Bless Africa.)
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
The Deal of the Century
Supposing someone offered you the following land deal, would you take it or walk away believing it is too good to be true?
For £150 a week (USD$245), you can lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset, England – for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.
If you walked away from it, you would have lost out on “the deal of the century”, perhaps the millennium. If you think this is a joke or some sort of wild and crazy exaggeration, see this Guardian (U.K.) report and video on an incredible international land giveaway that is taking place in Gambella in Western Ethiopia and judge for yourself.
Ethiopia on the Chopping Block
The Indian agribusiness giant Karuturi Global is today the proud owner of 1,000 sq. miles of virgin Ethiopian land. Karuturi did not ask for the land and did not even see it when a signed 50-year “lease” was delivered to it on a golden platter in Bangalore, India by Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia. Karuturi Project Manager in Ethiopia Karmjeet Sekhon laughed euphorically as he explained what happened to Guardian reporter John Vidal:
We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land. (Triumphantly cackling laughter) They offered it. That’s all.
It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India. There [India] you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it. To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here.
Ethiopia is on fire sale. Everybody is getting a piece of her. For next to nothing. The land vultures are swooping down on Gambella from all parts of the world. Zenawi proudly claims “36 countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land.” The Guardian reported that “foreign investors” have snagged
1.1 million hectares in Gambella, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years…. This month [March 2011] the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.
Karuturi, “one of the world’s top 25 agri-businesses” plans to “export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province to world markets.”
Villagization of Gambella and the Irony of History
To make way for Karuturi and the 896 investors, the people of Gambella must be removed permanently from their ancestral lands. Over the past three years, tens of thousands of villagers have been forced to move as part of a so-called villagization program. Zenawi’s agriculture official said “there is no movement of population” in Gambella. It is the “choice” of the people to move to “villagized” centers where they can get basic services. Once they move, the official said, “they have to abandon their previous way of life, and they can’t ever go back to their villages”. Simply stated, Zenawi has imposed a contract on the indigenous people of Gambella: They will “voluntarily” choose to give up their ancestral lands, their culture and their community in exchange for a clinic, a school and a road.
“Villagization” (sefera) has a sinister and ugly history in Ethiopia. In the iron fists of the military junta (Derg) that ruled Ethiopia from the mid-1970s until 1991, “villagization” was a political and tactical counter-insurgency weapon. The Derg “villagized” and “resettled” populations in rebel-controlled areas to deny local support to rebels and create buffer zones. The Derg, like Zenawi’s regime today, justified its “villagization” program as a “development” and humanitarian effort aimed at providing food, clean water, health and educational services to needy populations.
At the onset of the 1984 famine, the Derg sought to resettle 1.5 million people from insurgent-controlled and drought-affected northern regions to the south and southwest of the country. The Derg said the people were relocating voluntarily. The northern insurgents, who now wield power, told the Derg victims of resettlement that they were being moved to concentration camps and will never return to the land where they were born (“where their umbilical cord was buried” to use the local metaphor in translation). It is an irony of history that in 2011 we hear the same old story: The people of Gambella are “voluntarily” leaving their ancestral lands and abandoning their traditional way of life in exchange for “clean water, health and educational services” in villagized centers.
The Derg never asked people (plebiscite) if they wanted to be resettled or remain on their ancestral land. Zenawi’s regime did not ask the indigenous people of Gambella if they want to be permanently uprooted from their ancestral lands and be “villagized” or corralled into reservations. The Derg could not have cared less about the people it was resettling as long as the resettlement policy advanced its counter-insurgency strategy. Zenawi could not care less about the indigenous people of Gambella as long it advanced his investment strategy. It is all about war or money. The Derg never did an environmental and human ecological impact study before it moved masses of people from the north to the southern part of the country. Zenawi’s regime never did a credible ecological study before uprooting the indigenous people of Gambella. Tens of thousands of people died in the Derg’s resettlement program from illness and starvation. Families were separated as people fled the ill-equipped and ill-managed resettlement centers. But the indigenous people of Gambella face extinction as a minority in Ethiopian society. So says a 2006 UNICEF field study:
The deracination [uprooting from ancestral lands] of indigenous people that is evident in rural areas of Gambella is extreme. It is very likely that Anuak (and possibly other indigenous minorities) culture will completely disappear in the not-so-distant future. Cultural survival, autonomy, rights of self-determination and self-governance are all legitimate issues for these indigenous groups, and these are all enshrined by international covenants and United Nations bodies—but all are meaningless in Gambella today.
It is true that history repeats itself over and over again!
When the Derg implemented its “villagization” and “resettlement” programs in the 1980s as a counterinsurgency strategy, it was not only morally wrong, it was criminal. It is no different for Zenawi in 2011 to “villagize” the indigenous people of Gambella and give away their ancestral lands for free to foreign investors who did not even ask for it. If it was a crime against humanity for Derg leader Mengistu to depopulate the northern rebel-controlled regions as part of his counterinsurgency strategy, it is no less a crime against humanity for Zenawi to depopulate Gambella to make way for his “investments.” Mengistu was convicted of genocide by Zenawi in substantial part for Mengistu’s use of “resettlement” and “villagization” as a tool of counterinsurgency. Mengistu never believed he would be held accountable; and today Zenawi similarly believes he will never be held accountable. But sometimes “justice is like a train that always arrives late.” Justice will soon arrive for the indigenous people of Gambella.
The Gambella Gambit
History shows that the indigenous people of Gambella have been neglected, discriminated and exploited over centuries of successive administrations in Ethiopia. But it was in December 2003 that the public rape of Gambella became known to the whole world. Before taking Gambella’s “best farmland”, they took the lives of hundreds of Gambella’s best and brightest over a three-day period that December. As Obang Metho, the tireless and tenacious young Ethiopian human rights advocate who was born in Gambella described it:
They targeted those individuals who were the voices of the community and have a say in the exploration and development of oil on their land. The killing squads went through Gambella town looking for the next Anuak to brutally kill, they chanted, ‘Today there will be no more Anuak.’ ‘Today there will be no more Anuak land.’ As they raped the women they said, ‘Today there will be no more Anuak babies.’ Within three days, 424 Anuak were dead.
When I received news, it was the darkest day of my life. My world was turned upside down. Among the 424 Anuak killed, I personally knew 317 of them. They were my family, my classmates and many others with whom I had been working to bring development not just to the Anuak, but to the region. Most were educated and outspoken. I have no doubts that I would have been one of the victims had I been living there at the time.
Genocide Watch described this massacre as a “major pogrom of terror and repression against the Anuak minority carried out by EPRDF soldiers and Highlander militias.” Human Rights Watch concluded: “Since late 2003, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has committed numerous human rights violations against Anuak communities in the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia that may amount to crimes against humanity.” The Anuak Justice Council reported “genocide and crimes against humanity have continued, raising the death toll between 1,500 and 2,500, and causing more than 50,000 Anuak to flee.”
Ethiopian Developers are Criminals, Indian Investors are Heroes?
A couple of weeks ago, Zenawi condemned Ethiopian developers who were transferring their leaseholds in urban land in Addis Ababa as “land grabbers” and “speculators” who should be “locked up”. He said “developers were grabbing land that does not belong to them in any legal sense and misusing the land lease rights they were given for personal profit and speculation.” In Zenawi’s eyes, Ethiopian developers are low-down, no good, two-bit cheaters, scammers and profiteers; but Indian investors who are given millions of hectares of the “best land” in the country without asking and for nothing are heroes and saviors.
But this is not about Ethiopian developers against Indian investors. It is not about the rights of local against international investors. It is about fairness and equity. It is about official wrongs and the human rights of some of the poorest, historically oppressed, discriminated and exploited indigenous minorities in Ethiopia. It is about a land giveaway of mind-boggling proportions to a foreign company to raise rice, edible oils, maize and cotton for export while millions of Ethiopians are starving and living on international food handouts. (In 2010, Ethiopia “received more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid, but has offered three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of virgin land to foreign corporations such as Karuturi.”) It is about making “land deals of the century” without accountability, transparency, public debate, discussion and, above all, the consent of the people who will be permanently displaced from their ancestral lands. It is about how a whole country became the personal investment property of one man and his syndicate!
Karuturi, Beware of Those Bearing Free Gifts
I will never forget the giddy, bearded-face of Karuturi Project Manager in Gambella, Karmjeet Sekhon, in the Guardian video giggling ecstatically and telling John Vidal about the free land his company got: “We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land. They offered it. That’s all.”
Sorry, Karuturi and Mr. Sekhon, “that is not all.” You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Of course, Karuturi is free to indulge in the proverbial fantasy about a free lunch, free money and free land. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free land. After Karturi spends millions to clear the forest, bring in expensive agricultural equipment, build infrastructure and get the farms humming, it will find out “that’s not all”. Mr. Sekhon will wake up one fine Gambella morning and find out that the free land his company got without asking ain’t free after all. Karuturi will find out that it has failed to get this or that permit, or is in violation of this or that part of the 50-year lease. It did not build this school or that clinic, and the ones it built are not big enough or good enough. It will find out that it did not build this road or that town center the right way, and the ones it built are inadequate and more need to be built. Karuturi will suddenly find out that foreign investment law that gave them millions of hectares of free land has been reinterpreted to mean whatever the free land-givers want it to mean, just like the urban land law was interpreted to mean that developers could be “locked up” for trying to transfer their leaseholds for profit or pay “hefty fines” to avoid jail time. In the end, Mr. Sekhon’s words will come back to haunt him and his company: “The hand that gaveth the free land is the hand that taketh away the fine, well-developed farmland!”
Karuturi and the rest of the “investors” have no idea how cunning, shrewd, tricky, wily and crafty the free land-givers are; and they do not learn from self-evident facts. Those who are handing out free land understand the power of greed in the hearts and minds of the greedy. Mr. Sekhon was as giddy and merry as a five-year old child who was just got handed a bagful of candy. All of the investors salivate at the idea of grabbing millions of hectares of free land. Their greed blinds them to a self-evident truth: It is impossible to get a whole lot of something (1,000 sq miles of virgin, fertile land) for a whole lot of nothing ($245 a week for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks).
In the end, all of the investors will lose. In the end, the free land-givers will have it all. Over the decades, we have seen free-land-for-nothing type of scams from Angola to Zimbabwe. On March 27, 2011, Robert Mugabe told foreign investors straight-up that he is going to muscle in on their mining operations in Zimbabwe:
We are taking over. Listen Britain and America: this is our country. If you have companies which would want to work in our mining sector, they are welcome to come and join us, but we must have our people as the major shareholders. Those whites who want to be with us, those outsiders who want to work with us fine, they come in as partners, we are the senior partner, no more the junior partner.
Like Mugabe, Ethiopia’s free land-givers will watch the international investors pour their money, hearts and skills into the lands. They will study every move the investors make, and then make their own move. Soon enough, Karuturi and Mr. Sekhon and the rest of them will figure out that they are “outsiders” (not investors) and the free land-givers will “take over” the farming operations, or at least become “senior partners” for giving them free land in the first place. That’s how it will all play out. It has happened time and again all over Africa. Any written lease contract with Karuturi and the rest of them will not be worth the paper it is written on. Whatever unwritten agreements there may be, they will be conveniently forgotten. By the time the investors figure out that they had been taken to the cleaners, it would too late. Mr. Sekhon, who giggled uncontrollably for getting hundreds of thousands of hectares of free land will cry uncontrollably all the way back to Bangalore, India to tell his bosses: “We should have known it was too good to be true! We should have….” The guys who gave out millions of free hectares without anyone asking them for it will be laughing all the way to the bank in London, New York and Zurich.
Cry for the Beloved Country
When hundreds of Anuaks were massacred in Gambella in 2003, the international human rights organizations stepped forward to let the world know what happened there. In 2011, the Guardian newspaper bared to the world the imminent danger facing the indigenous people of Gambella. Over the years, I have tried to offer my voice of support to the cause of Anuak human rights and condemned the giveaway of the ancestral lands for nothing to foreign investors. I shall cry for all the people of Gambella. I shall cry for the Anuak because I fear, as does UNICEF, that they are undergoing a slow genocide by cultural annihilation and dispossession of ancestral lands. The indigenous people of Gambella will forever lose their pastoral way of life, and the new generation of young Gambellans who will never know the traditional ways of their forefathers. I shall cry for the precious wild life that will never return because their habitat has been permanently destroyed and for the bountiful forests that are burned to ashes and the rivers and fishes that will be poisoned with pesticide and herbicide to grow rice and cotton for export. I shall cry out to the heavens for Ethiopia, for she has become the personal investment property of Meles Zenawi, just like the Congo was the personal investment property of King Leopold II of Belgium in the late 1800s.
But this is no time to despair and submit to the arrogance of power and the power of arrogance. The trials and tribulations of the indigenous people of Gambella and their 80 million compatriots shall come to pass soon; and the bright sun that is lifting the darkness over North Africa and the Middle East is dawning just over the horizon over the land of 13 months of sunshine. Let them all stand up, hold hands, march together and cast away their fears into the fierce blowing winds of change.
Enough! Beka! Gaye! Bass! Yiakel!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Thugogracy in Africa
If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugogracy is a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, a thugtatorship is rule by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugs) in designer suits. It is becoming crystal clear that much of Africa today is a thugogracy privately managed and operated for the exclusive benefit of bloodthirsty thugtators.
In a thugtatorship, the purpose of seizing and clinging to political power is solely to accumulate personal wealth for the ruling class by stealing public funds and depriving the broader population scarce resources necessary for basic survival. The English word “thug” comes from the Hindi word “thag” which means “con man”. In India “Thugees”, well-organized criminal gangs, robbed and murdered unsuspecting travelers over a century ago. Africa’s “thugees” today mug, rob, pillage, plunder and rape unsuspecting whole nations and peoples and secrete away their billions in stolen loot in European and American banks.
Today, we see the incredibly extreme lengths Libyan thugtator Muammar Gaddafi is willing to go to preserve his thugocratic empire floating on billions of stolen oil dollars hidden in foreign bank accounts and corporate property holdings. The British Government recently announced that it expects to seize “around £20 billion in liquid assets of the Libyan regime, mostly in London.” The Swiss Government has similarly issued an order for the immediate freeze of assets belonging to Gadhafi and his entourage. The Swiss central bank announced that it will freeze Gaddafi’s 613 million Swiss francs (USD$658 million), with an additional 205 million francs (USD$220 million) in paper or fiduciary operations. In 2008, before a diplomatic incident involving the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons for assault in Switzerland, Gadhafi’s Swiss holdings amounted to 5.7 billion in cash and 812 million francs in paper and fiduciary operations. In 2006, the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund had investments of $70 billion. The U.S. closed its Embassy in Triopli and slapped a freeze on all Libyan assets described as “substantial.”
To protect his empire of corruption, Gadhafi has ordered his air force to bomb and strafe unarmed civilian demonstrators demanding an end to his 42-year rule. His son Saif al-Islam threatened to dismember the country and plunge it into a civil war that will last for 30 or 40 years. In a televised speech, the young thug promised a bloodbath: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet. I will fight until the last drop of my blood.” The buffoonish al-Islam contemptuously reassured the world: “Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya.” For someone who has no official role in government, it was an astonishing statement to make.
Gadhafi himself has vowed to fight on and die “like a martyr” in the service of his thugogracy. He urged his supporters in Green Square to fight back and “defend the nation.” He exhorted, “Retaliate against them, retaliate against them… Dance, sing and prepare. Prepare to defend Libya, to defend the oil, dignity and independence.” Gadhafi promised: “At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire.” It is not enough for Gadhafi and his thugs to have bled the Libyan people dry for 42 years, they now want to burn down the whole country to ashes. Apres moi, le deluge! (After me, the flood!)
The Ivory Coast is on the verge of civil war, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In December 2010, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after he was decisively defeated in the presidential election. His own Election Commission said his opponent Alassane Ouattara won the election by a nine-point margin. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the United States, the European Union all said Ouattara is the winner. Gbagbo has turned a deaf ear and is preparing to plunge the Ivory Coast into civil war to protect his empire of corruption. In 2000, Gbagbo imposed a curfew and a state of emergency and ordered security forces to shoot and kill any demonstrators in the streets: “Police, gendarmes and soldiers from all branches of the armed forces are ordered to use all means throughout the country to oppose troublemakers.” Like Gaddafi’s mercenaries today, Gbagbo’s troops back then went on a killing and beating rampage. The European Union, the Swiss and United States Governments have frozen Gbagbo’s assets in their countries.
In May 2010, Meles Zenawi said he won the parliamentary election by 99.6 percent. The European Union Election Observer Team said the election “lacked a level playing field” and “failed to meet international standards”, a well-known code phrase for a “stolen election”. In its 2005 report, the Observer Team said exactly the same thing. Zenawi’s EPDRF party pretty much owns the Ethiopian economy. “According to the World Bank, roughly half of the rest of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” The regime’s own anti-corruption agency reported in 2008 that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A couple of weeks ago, in an incredible display of arrogance and total lack of accountability, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he would “cut off their hands”.
In 2005, Zenawi demonstrated the extremes he will go to protect his empire of corruption. Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission documented that troops under Zenawi’s direct command and control mowed down 193 documented unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded nearly 800. Another 30,000 suspected opponents were jailed. In a meeting with high level U.S. officials in advance of the May 2010 election, Zenawi told them in plain words what he will do to his opposition if they try to “discredit the election”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” If Zenawi will “crush” those who “attempt to discredit an election”, it does not leave much to the imagination to figure out what he will do when the people ask him peacefully to leave power.
In April 2010, Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan claimed victory by winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. The EU EOM declared the “deficiencies in the legal and electoral framework in the campaign environment led the overall process to fall short of a number of international standards for genuine democratic elections.” Another election stolen in broad daylight; but that is not all Bashir has stolen. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “International Criminal Court [ICC] Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told [U.S.] Ambassadors Rice and Wolff on March 20  that [Ocampo] would put the figure of Sudanese President Bashir’s stash of money at possibly $9 billion.” After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the first warrant of its kind for a sitting head of state, a sneering Bashir flipped his middle finger at the ICC: “They will issue their decision tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it“, a common Arabic insult which is the equivalent of “they can shove it up their _ _ _.” Bashir recently he said he will not run for the presidency again. (It is not clear if had decided not to run because he wants to enjoy his stolen billions or because he expects to put on the jail jumpsuit of the ICC.)
In February 2010, a group of soldiers in Niger calling itself the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy” stormed Niger’s presidential palace and snatched president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers. In 2009, Tandja had dissolved the National Assembly and set up a “Constitutional Court” to pave the way for him to become president-for-life. Niger’s state auditor reported that “at least 64 billion CFA francs [USD$128-million] were stolen from Niger’s state coffers under the government of former president Mamadou Tandja.” Tandja is sitting in jail in southwestern Niger.
In March 2008, Robert Mugabe declared victory in the presidential election after waging a campaign of violence and intimidation on his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters. In 2003, Mugabe boasted, “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.” No one would disagree with Mugabe’s self-description. In 2010, Mugabe announced his plan to sell “about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage” (probably rejects of his diamond-crazed wife Grace). According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “a small group of high-ranking Zimbabwean officials (including Grace Mugabe) have been extracting tremendous diamond profits.” Mugabe is so greedy that he stole outright “£4.5 million from [aid] funds meant to help millions of seriously ill people.”
In December 2007, Mwai Kibaki declared himself winner of the presidential election. In 2002, Kibaki, criticizing his predecessor Daniel Arap Moi regime, urged the people to “Remain calm, even when intimidated or provoked by those who are desperately determined to rig the elections and plunge the country into civil war.” In 2007, Kibaki and his thugees unleashed such violence against the civilian population that 1500 Kenyans were killed and some 600 hundred thousand displaced, almost plunging Kenya into civil war. The Kroll Report revealed that Moi stole billions of dollars using a “web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen” and secreted the loot in 30 countries. Kibaki stonewalled further action on the report, including prosecution of Moi.
The story of corruption, theft, embezzlement and brazen transfer of the national wealth of African peoples to European and African banks and corporate institutions is repeated elsewhere in the continent. Ex-Nigerian President Sani Abacha, who was judicially determined to be a member of a criminal organization by a Swiss court, stole $500 million. Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also have their stolen assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars frozen in Switzerland and elsewhere. Other African thugtators who have robbed their people blind (and pretty much have gotten away with it) include Nigeria’s Ibrahim Babangida, Guniea’s Lansana Conte, Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Equatorial Guniea’s Obiang Nguema, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Campore and Congo’s (Brazaville) Denis Sassou Nguesso, among others.
Godfathers and African Thugogracies
In previous commentaries, I have argued that the business of African governments is corruption. African thugtators cling to power to operate sophisticated criminal business enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. These African “leaders” are actually “godfathers” or heads of criminal families. Just like any organized criminal enterprise, African thugtators use their party apparatuses, bureaucracies, military and police forces to maintain and perpetuate their corrupt financial empires.
When the U.S. first announced its “kleptocracy asset recovery program” to the world in July 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the message, not at some international anti-corruption forum, but at the African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda. Holder told the gathered African thugtators:
Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.
Holder’s announcement was nothing short of breathtaking. It was as though he was addressing the national convention of the “Commissione” of all the Mafia families from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In Kampala, Holder was talking directly to the African equivalents of the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese crime families in one place. Absolutely surreal!
The Political Economy of Thugtatorships
Thugtatorships in Africa thrive in the political economy of kleptocracy. Widespread corruption permeates every corner of society. Oil revenues, diamonds, gold bars, coffee and other commodities and foreign aid are stolen outright and pocketed by the thugtators and their army of thugocrats. Public funds are embezzled and misused and state property misappropriated and converted to private use. Publicly-owned assets are virtually given away to supporters in “privatization programs” or secretly held in illegal transactions. Bank loans are given out to front enterprises owned secretly by the thugtators or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business are victimized in shakedowns by thugocrats. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation.
Armageddon: Thugtators’ Nuclear Option
One of the common tricks used by thugtators to cling to power is to terrorize the people with warnings of an impending Armageddon. They say that if they are removed from power, even after 42 years, the sky will fall and the earth will open up and swallow the people. Thugtators sow fear, uncertainty and doubt in the population and use misinformation and disinformation to psychologically defeat, disorient and neutralize the people. Gaddafi thuggish son warned Libya will “spiral into civil war for the next 30 to 40 years and the country’s infrastructure ruined” without the Gadhafi dynasty. He said Libya will be awash in “rivers of blood”. Gadhafi urged his supporters: “This is an opposition movement, a separatist movement which threatens the unity of Libya. We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”
Zenawi has been talking about “genocide” for years. The 2005 European Union Election Observer Mission in its Final Mission Report strongly chastised Zenawi and his associates for morbid genocide rhetoric:
The end of the campaign became more heated, with parties accusing each other of numerous violations of campaign rules. Campaign rhetoric became insulting. The most extreme example of this came from the Deputy Prime Minister, Addisu Legesse, who, in a public debate on 15 April, compared the opposition parties with the Interhamwe militia, which perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Prime Minister made the same comparison on 5 May in relation to the CUD [Coalition for Unity and Democracy]. The EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] made the same associations during its free slots on radio and TV… Such rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic election.
Zenawi “is quick to talk up threats to his country, whether from malcontents in the army or disgruntled ethnic groups among Ethiopia’s mosaic of peoples. Radical Oromos, a southern group that makes up about a third of Ethiopia’s people, often fall under suspicion.” Last year, he compared Voice of America radio broadcasts to Ethiopia with broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines which directed the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
If Africa’s thugtators plan to use the “nuclear option” and bring Armageddon on their societies, they would be wise to know who is destined to win the final battle between good and evil. Gadhafi’s fate now dangles between what he wants to do to bring this unspeakable tragedy to a swift conclusion, the will of the Libyan people once they vanquish his mercenaries and the International Criminal Court to whom the U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to refer Moammar Gadhafi and members of his government in Libya for investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Like al-Bashir of the Sudan, Gadhafi and members of his thugocratic empire will not escape the long arms of justice. The days of massacring unarmed demonstrators, strafing and bombing civilians and detention of innocent people by the tens of thousands with impunity are gone. Justice may be delayed but when the people open the floodgates of freedom, “justice (not blood) will run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” and wash out the wreckage of thugtatorship into the sea.
Thugtators and Their Business Partners in Africorruption, Inc.
Africa’s thugtatorships have longstanding and profitable partnerships with the West. Through aid and trade, the West has enabled these thugocracies to flourish in Africa and repress Africans. To cover up their hypocrisy and hoodwink the people, the West is now lined up to “freeze” the assets of the thugtators. It is a drama they have perfected since the early days of African independence. The fact of the matter is that the West is interested only in “stability” in Africa. That simply means, in any African country, they want a “guy they can do business with.” The business they want to do in Africa is the oil business, the (blood) diamond business, the arms sales business, the coffee and cocoa export business, the tourism business, the luxury goods export business and the war on terrorism business. They are not interested in the African peoples’ business, the human rights business, the rule of law business, the accountability and transparency business and the fair and free elections business.
Today, the West is witnessing a special kind of revolution it has never seen: A youth-led popular nonviolent revolution against thugtatorships in Africa and the Middle East. Neither the West nor the thugtators know what to do with this kind of revolution or the revolutionaries leading it. President Obama said, “History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history.” Well, what is good for Egypt is good enough for Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, the Sudan, Algeria, Kenya, Bahrain, Djbouti, Somalia…, and Zimbabwe. The decisive question in world history today is: Are we on the right side of history with the victims of oppression, or are we on the wrong side with thugtators destined to the dustbin of history?
Power to Youths in Africa and the Middle East!