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The Diaspora as a teacher

By Yilma Bekele

There are a lot of Ethiopians outside of their homeland. I have not seen a reliable statistics to tell us the real number, but there is no hiding from the fact that we have become a Nation that looks to outside to solve many of our pressing needs. Coffee, hides and lately cereals have been touted as the main export of our country since time {www:immemorial}. I have a feeling that is not correct anymore. Today human beings are the chief export of our country.

Like any {www:commodity} there are several ways people are exported. Coffee is exported raw or washed, classified into different grades or packaged various ways. It is the same with people. Some have higher education while a few are illiterate. The fortunate fly out while others walk or swim. Then there are those young so-called orphans sold out to the highest bidder.

Is the export of people good or bad? At first glance the natural reaction is to say there is nothing good about uprooting people from their natural habitat. It robs society of its precious resources. Missing the young and energetic is not a small matter to society. They are the future building blocks. There is also the problem of ‘brain drain’. Those that are blessed with that illusive and much wanted ‘fertile brain’ are always the first plucked by the rich West.

When it comes to our country export of people is a double-edged sword. It robs us of the services of our educated experts while at the same time the income they generate outside is returned back as remittances. The Diaspora has become the premier generator of wealth. Without remittances from the Diaspora our country would be more destitute if such thing is at all possible.

Why is the Diaspora so resourceful and so committed to helping its homeland is a good question? That is what I want to explore in this piece. That we are a special people is not an idle question. It is true and verifiable. Go to any big city all over the planet and you will see what I mean. There is an Ethiopian enclave wherever you go. We create a country inside a country. That is due to factors rooted in our history. We are suspicious of outsiders and it has been inoculated in us that we are the best. Whether true or not is not the issue. That we believe it is a fact is reflected in our behavior. We make sure we live in close proximity; we dine on Injera and wot day in and day out while pretending we can’t stand each other is part of our psychological makeup.

We are new at this game of outside migration. Before the fall of the Emperor the number of Ethiopians outside of their homeland was not significant at all. Higher education was the main reason for leaving the homeland. The vast majority returned home. The emergence of the Derg opened the floodgates. The TPLF minority junta made it into a business. It does not show any sign of slowing down. My question is it possible to make the Diaspora experience into a teachable experience?

I believe so. The Diaspora experience is a rich lesson that can be transferred into a positive asset to help our country and people. The vast majority leave their country empty handed with a one-way ticket out. It is definitely a frightening experience not knowing what lies ahead around the corner. Our lesson in independent living starts the first day away from home. By now it is clear that we are resourceful people and no amount of hurdle is a hindrance to the Abesha spirit residing in our DNA.

Do you ever wonder why we are so successful as immigrants but can qualify as a poster child for dysfunctional behavior when at home? I am not hating but it is difficult to escape that fact of life. We shine like a neon light as a Diaspora anywhere on planet Earth. No question about that.

The most crucial thing we learn is how to prioritize our needs. The first thing we secure is food and shelter. Be it a refugee center, a Red Cross-camp or the bare floor of a cousins apartment any place is acceptable until the next day. It usually takes a few days to get our orientation back and absorb knowledge from the early settlers. Then, we are up and running.

Our existence as the Diaspora is a varied as our Ethiopia. There is no profession we are not familiar with. It all depends on age, level of education, sex, and pure whim. One thing for sure is that we learn fast to be masters of our universe. As I said we choose many roads but we maintain certain things in common. We learn to value privacy. We learn fast that Independent living is not free. Some work, a few work and go to school while others concentrate on education. There is nothing like free choice.

We find out about budgeting and what it means to live within your means. The rent or mortgage has to be paid, utility cannot be skipped, insurance is a must and grocery is not an option. We learn how to plan to buy a house, a car or take a vacation. It is hard work but the reward is beyond imagination. There is nothing like standing on your own. We don’t stop there. The moment we feel secure we move heaven and earth to help each other. Brothers, sisters long lost relatives and even neighbors line up asking for a hand. Abeshas are generous people.

Do you see my problem here? How come the same resourceful people that roam the planet and succeed beyond expectations stink to high heaven in that real estate called Ethiopia? Is it possible those thousands of years of isolated living high up on our mountains have fortified our individualism? Do we function better alone rather than in-group setting? Is that why we are good at distance running but never succeed in soccer? Individually we excel whether in education, sports or business but put us in a venture that requires cooperation and working together and you know we are inviting trouble.

The life as a Diaspora is proof that we are up to the task when challenged and survival depends on ingenuity, clear-cut goals and personal rewards for job well done. That is what we can teach our people. As a Diaspora we have learned dreams and reality are two different animals. We deal with facts. Here are the lessons that I think we can share with our people.

· Life is about setting priority.
· We secure food and shelter first.
· We learn how to live within our means.
· We decide between education, work or both and don’t look back.
· We learn respect for others so they respect us back.
· We celebrate diversity and learn how to coexist with others.
· We learn not to shift responsibility or play the blame game.
· We discover how being an Ethiopian is a big deal and observe how much it is ingrained into us.
· We learn not to insult, demean or hate others.
· We learn the value of success and the meaning of sharing.

Don’t they all look so simple and easy? Apparently that is not the case. Our country is a perfect example of how to learn from negative experience. Don’t you wish our leaders had gone thru this growing process? They will learn to secure food and shelter first. They will not rent a house for five hundred dollars and install a thousand dollars security system. They will not buy an SUV while a little Toyota is what their budget allows. They will not marginalize a section of their population instead of inviting all to live under one big tent. They will learn how to save for a rainy day instead of scrambling to plug the leak as it pours. Most important of all they will learn not to look down at others because of some perceived inadequacy. They will learn to value and respect others not based their lineage, education, wealth or power but simply because they are human beings like us. When we start from that premise everything fits in place.

At a time when millions of our Somali brothers and sisters are facing hell on earth, millions of Ethiopians are surviving with less than one hundred calories a day don’t you think it is about time we reevaluate our current dysfunctional behavior? There is nothing wrong at reassessing our philosophy and outlook on life. It is never too late to change. We can start by being nice to each other, by listening to each other and looking at situations in a positive manner. This game of cultivating hate and magnifying differences is a dead end street. The lessons we are learning as a Diaspora has made us a better Ethiopian and decent human being. We never choose to settle away from our precious home but the experience has only enriched us and made us into a more tolerant and well-rounded person. Although we miss our home and people we have managed to contribute the lions share of helping our country.

Now if only those in charge will use the billions we send home to prioritize and spend the bounty in a meaningful manner. Now if only they will allocate resources to feed, shelter and educate our people in a rational manner. Now if only they spend our remittances on agriculture, technology and sustainable development. Now if only they will learn to respect us, bring us together and involve us in our affairs. The bottom line is we are not responsible for the behaviors of others but surely we can start by changing our selves and showing others how much cooperation is much superior than celebrating conflict. Remember Ezana, Tewodros, Abba Jifar, Tona, Ali Mirah, Worawo, Ginocho and other honorable ancestors are looking down at us, what do we tell them?

Ethiopia: The Art of War by Mass Distraction

Alemayehu G. Mariam

The Common People Don’t Want War

At the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, Hermann Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man, told his interrogator:

Naturally the common people don’t want war. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… Voice or no voice [democratic or non-democratic government], the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Lately, Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia, has been beating the drums of war. He charged:

Recently, Eritrea is training and deploying Al Shabab and locally grown destructive forces to terrorize our country. But Egypt is the direct force behind these destructive elements that back them. Until now, our strategy has been defending our sovereignty by speeding up our development. Now, we found that we could not go any longer with passive defense. It’s not possible to take passive defense as the only alternative. Therefore, we have to facilitate ways for Eritrean people to remove their dictatorial regime. We have no intention to jump into their country but we need to extend our influence there. If the Eritrean government tries to attack us, we will also respond proportionally.

In December 2006,  Zenawi used the exact same logique de guerre (war logic) at the onset of his unsuccessful  843-day war to dislodge the Islamic Courts Union and crush the Al Shabab in Somalia.  He said:

With regard to physical attacks or physical acts of the invasion, what has happened since last summer is that the Islamic courts have been training, equipping and smuggling armed opposition elements into Ethiopia. These elements have been engaged in activities of destabilization in Ethiopia. Hundreds of these have been smuggled and they have been involved in clashes with security forces in Ethiopia. To the extent that the Islamic Courts have trained them, equipped them, given them shelter and transported them to the border for smuggling. To that extent, they are directly involved in an act of aggression on Ethiopia. And that has been going since summer. It is still continuing.

Zenawi asserted the legal doctrine of pre-emptive self-defense (the right to use force in anticipation of an attack, Art. 51, U.N. Charter) to clothe his naked aggression against Somalia:

Ethiopian defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation. We are not trying to set up a government for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalia’s internal affairs. We have only been forced by the circumstances.

In 2009, a humbled Zenawi waxed philosophical and struck a grudgingly conciliatory tone as he ordered his defeated troops out of Somalia:

If the people of Somalia have a government, even one not positively inclined to Ethiopia, it would be better than the current situation. Having a stable government in place in Somalia is in our national interests.

Zenawi now bangs the drums of war and says there will no longer be “passive defense” against the “dictatorial regime” in Eritrea and its Egyptian “puppet masters” who are working in collusion to “destabilize” and “terrorize” Ethiopia.

Since “stability” is the hallmark of Pax Zenawi, one could reasonably ask whether “a stable government in place in Eritrea is in our national interest”. The undeniable fact is that Zenawi invaded Somalia to pander to the Bush Administration’s reflexive obsession with terrorism and to deflect criticism for his theft of the 2005 election and the post-election massacre of innocent demonstrators and mass imprisonment of opposition leaders.   Zenawi’s three-year occupation of Somalia created more instability in that country, and the so-called transitional government remains weaker than ever. The very elements Zenawi sought to vanquish in Somalia, including Al Shabab, are today stronger than ever. Somali pirates have become a maritime scourge on the Indian Ocean. Somalia is considerably worse off today than it was before Zenawi’s invasion in 2006.  That invasion created the worst global humanitarian crisis in the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. In the end, Zenawi did not save the Horn from Al Shabab, Al Queida, the Islamic Courts or whatever phantom enemies he was chasing after over there. If Zenawi could not dislodge a ragtag army of “terrorists” from Somalia after three years of an all-out war, it is illogical to expect a different result against a well-entrenched “dictatorial regime” in Eritrea.

The fact to keep in mind is that Zenawi today is recycling the exact same slick set of arguments he used to justify his invasion of Somalia.  But hidden deep in his casus belli (justification for war) against the “dictatorial regime” in Eritrea and Egypt are a complex set of geopolitical and domestic issues. At the geopolitical level, Zenawi is floating a trial baloon to see if the Americans will fall for a second-coming of the Savior of the Horn from the plague of global terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, regional instability and the rest of it. The U.S. will not fall for that old boogey-man-in-the-Horn trick, again. Obama is neither shopping for war in the Horn nor is he willing to bankroll one. So, there will be no war for regime change in Eritrea or a water war with Egypt.

Patriotism, the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

So, what is the real reason for all the talk about regime change in Eritrea and a looming water war with Egypt?  It is all political theater, part of a three-ring propaganda circus intended to distract the Ethiopian population and Diaspora critics from talking about the winds of change that will surely blow southward from North Africa. All the talk of war and regime change is bravado intended to cover something that is deeply troubling  Zenawi and his ruling class. It is part of a strategy intended to project invincibility and outward confidence that Zenawi still runs the show in Ethiopia and the upheavals taking place in North Africa will not occur under his watch. But all of  the pretentious war talk betrays Zenawi’s obvious preoccupation with loss of control and power as a result of a spontaneous popular uprising. Careful analysis of his public statements reveal the deep anxieties and profound political angst of a delusionally isolated man trapped in a siege mentality.

There is substantial psychological literature which suggests that dictators often resort to bombast and self-glorification to cover up their paranoid obsessions. For instance, dictators who are morbidly fearful of losing power will project that fear on their opponents as a way of reducing their own anxiety. More to the point, a dictator fearful of regime change will threaten others with regime change just to deal with his own anxieties.  The wind-bagging about war is intended to conceal Zenawi’s vulnerabilities from public view and enable him to  suppress the psychological discomfort of consciously admitting that he could realistically become a victim of regime change in a popular uprising. Metaphorically speaking, the constant fear and nightmare of dictators who ride the back of the proverbial tiger is what the tiger will do to them if they stop riding it.  As President Kennedy observed, “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding on the back of the tiger ended up inside.” Ending up inside the tiger’s belly is what keeps dictators from sleeping at night and war talk during the day.  Suffice it to say that the winds of change blowing over the Horn from North Africa must be spreading sheer panic about a lurking hungry and angry tiger in the land of “thirteen months of sunshine”!

Professor Jerrold Post’s research in leadership trait analysis is particularly instructive in understanding the techniques dictators use to project false confidence, conceal their anxieties about losing power and delusionally reassure themselves that they are omnipotent, invincible and untouchable.  Typically, they begin by making grandiose public statements about war and enemies hoping to boost popular support. They magically discover love of country and wrap themselves in the flag and become jingoistic (super-patriotic). They even become  revanchist (propose to reverse territorial losses incurred by their country) in an attempt to open the floodgates of popular patriotic emotion. They brazenly pander to the population using nationalistic and chauvinistic sensationalism and try to mobilize public support with cheap sentimentality by manufacturing hysteria about imminent attacks, invisible enemies, lurking terrorists, loss of sovereignty and the rest of it.  Every chance they get, they try to trigger paroxysms of public anger against the enemy and inflame public opinion with provocative and outrageously concocted stories designed to make themselves look patriotic and all  others unpatriotic. When all else fails, they openly incite fear and hysteria to distract public attention from their crimes and dictatorial rule.

By “facilitating ways for Eritrean people to remove their dictatorial regime”, Zenawi hopes to lay a credible groundwork for a just, moral and humanitarian intervention in Eritrea. But he is only pandering to the Eritrean people by promising to free them from a “dictatorship” just as he pledged the Somali people four years ago liberation from the clutches of Al Shabab and Al Qaeda terrorists and the Islamic Courts Union. By proposing “to extend our influence there”, he is pandering to revanchist elements in Ethiopia who still chafe at the secession of Eritrea and generate war hysteria to punish a “historic” enemy.

There is nothing new in this war propaganda game. From the time of the Roman emperors to the present day, the lords of war have played the “war card” and stirred up patriotic fever in the population to cling to power. Over the millennia, the technology of war may have changed but the deceit, ploys, chicanery, treachery and modus operandi of war-makers has remained the same. Dictators, like schoolyard bullies, are experts in the art of taunting, intimidation, bluffing and teasing. They start a war of words and flood their population with lies, fabrications and half-truths. More often than not, the war of words will not amount to much more than declarations of bravado and hyperbolic accusations and recriminations.

Time will show if there will be war or intervention in Eritrea, and a water war with Egypt. We will monitor the rumors of war over the coming weeks and months. We shall listen to the oratory of war and why it is necessary for two of the poorest countries on the planet to slaughter each other twice in less than fifteen years. Isn’t the 100,000 deaths of the 1998-2000  Ethio-Eritrea war enough? We shall read the dramatic propaganda narratives to be written to create war fever and observe the war hysteria that will be drummed up to bring more misery and suffering to the unfortunate people of the Horn of Africa. We will watch out for the sparks of war, the fabricated lures and lies that will be used as bait for an attack and intervention. If there is war, we shall see the masses of poor people marching to war they do not want. But for now, no one needs to lose sleep over that prospect. The only war being waged today by Zenawi is a war of mass distraction.

Holier-Than-Thou Dictators

It is the scholarly duty of historians, political scientists, journalists, lawyers and others to throw light on repeated historical patterns of war deception to enhance public understanding, and to debunk and unravel the tangled webs of lies and deceit of the war-makers. Herr Goering said, “Voice or no voice  the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.” Herr Goering is wrong. The people of North Africa are refusing the “bidding of their leaders.” Is it unreasonable to suppose that the people of the Horn of Africa will also refuse the “bidding of their leaders” to become cannon fodder for their dictators?

The common people of Ethiopia do not want war. If there is war, it will be Zenawi’s War. Zenawi has done one “fantastic Somalia job” . Another fantastic job in Eritrea is not needed. In any case, there needs to be some serious accounting for the war in Somalia in 2006 and the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea and that arbitration matter before starting a new war in 2011.

The holier-than-thou dictators ought to remind themselves that “The camel cannot see the crookedness of its own neck”. Before they go all out to remove other regimes, they should contemplate the simple wisdom of Scriptures: “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” In less sublime terms, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones”.

On the other hand, is it possible that when two elephants fight, the grass could come out as the real winner?

Past commentaries of the author are available at:

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Somalia threatens to degenerate

By FRED OLUOCH | The East African

The insecurity in Somalia is fast threatening regional peace, with calls for international intervention to avert a continental crisis.

Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are at most risk because of their porous borders, the proliferation of small arms and the ongoing recruitment of young people from these countries into the Al-Shabaab militia.

As the militia group pull off a flurry of takeovers of areas previously controlled by the government, the United Nations-supported African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) are in danger of being overwhelmed.

While Al-Shabaab is getting stronger, the Sheikh Sharif Ahmed-led transitional government currently controls only two of the 16 districts in Mogadishu — Wadajir and Darkabley.

Al-Shabaab’s strongholds are Bakara market, Heliwa, Yaqshid.

Amison controls the airport, the seaport and the area around the presidential palace.

President Sheikh Shariff Ahmed, Speaker of the National Assembly Osman Elmi Boqore and the Prime Minister Omar Abdulrashid Sharmarke are all guarded around the clock by Amisom.

According to the director of communications at State House, Abdulkadir Osman, the crisis in Somalia is getting out of hand and the international community should assist the country with both logistics and finance to save the region from possible anarchy.

“If we fail to contain the Al-Shabaab, it will be hard for the continent and the world to restore peace in the region,” said Mr Osman.

“We need financial support to train our armed forces and the intelligence in order to stand on our own feet,” said Mr Osman

Morale is low among government soldiers as most must go without pay.

Meanwhile, some officials are supplying Al-Shabaab with arms diverted from the government troops.

Recently, Kenyan authorities arrested seven Somali nationals at Kilindini harbour with an assortment of arms including rocket launchers, grenades and AK-47s, clear evidence that small arms from the war-torn Horn of Africa country are already flowing within the region.

Despite the threat, Kenya and Ethiopia, as the frontline states, were barred by the 2004 peace agreement from direct military intervention in Somalia because of conflict of interest.

The Ethiopian intervention in 2006 went against this mutual agreement.

Somali members of parliament stranded in Kenya

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – More than 200 Somalian parliamentarians have found themselves stranded in Nairobi, lacking the money to pay for air tickets for their return home, BBC reported Friday.

Citing a spokesman for the parliamentarians, who had attended an international conference in the Kenyan capital, BBC said that the UN Development Program (UNDP) on Thursday did pay the fares of 27 stranded delegates for a flight back to Mogadishu.

But the UNDP denied this.

The Somalian parliamentarians had taken part in a meeting with representatives from other countries in the region to review the work of the transition government in Mogadishu. The Somalians were of the view that the meeting organisers were responsible for their travel expenses, said deputy Abdul Rashid Mohammed Iro.

‘If someone invites you, he has to cover your expenses and your transport. That’s why we are expecting IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa) to cover our expenses and transport.

‘We are trying to solve our own problems. Sometimes we get paid a salary on monthly basis but the last three months we didn’t get any pay,’ he added.

– Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Bomb blast wounds Somali official, kills 3 guards in Baidoa

MOGADISHU (AFP) — At least five people were killed Saturday in a roadside bomb attack targeting a local official in the Somali town of Baidoa, south of Mogadishu, witnesses and police said.

The blast went off as district commissioner Hasan Moalim Ahmed’s vehicle drove by, wounding the official and killing three members of his security escort as well as two civilians, witnesses said.

“The commissioner’s vehicle was completely destroyed by a roadside bomb. I saw three of his guards and two civilians killed on the spot, seven others including the commissioner were also wounded,” one of the eyewitnesses, Abdisalan Adan Yare, said.

Hasan Yake Doyow, a police officer, confirmed the attack took place.

“The roadside bomb tore the commissioner’s vehicle apart and there are casualties. The commissioner himself was among the wounded but I cannot say how many died,” he said.

One of the official’s aides said the district commissioner’s wounds were not life-threatening.

“He suffered minor injuries but some of his guards died,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Baidoa is the seat of the transitional administration’s parliament but radical insurgents control positions around the city, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of the capital.

Islamist insurgents and other groups carry out daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets and Ethiopian Woyanne troops.

Somalia’s civilian population has borne the brunt of the violence in the Horn of Africa country, with some estimates saying at least 8,000 have died since the start of the year alone.

Eight people killed at Kenyan border-town fighting

Posted on

Source: APA

At least eight Kenyan Somalis have been killed in renewed fighting between two Somali clans in and outside the north-eastern Kenyan city of Mandera bordering Somalia early on Wednesday morning, a source from Mandera told APA in Mogadishu.

The fighting which erupted over the ownership of grazing lands first started in Koroney village about 14km south of Mandera and then spread into the town, Somali elder Abdi Samad Nur Ibrahim told APA by phone on Wednesday morning.

Abdi Samad Nur Ibrahim said in a telephone conversation with APA that 6 people were killed early Wednesday morning after they left a mosque in Mandera while 2 others were killed in Koroney village.

“The situation in Mandera is very tense today and the riot police are using teargas and rubber bullets to quell the intensifying fighting between Garre and Murale Kenyan ethnic Somalis,” he added.

“People were using swords, knives, bayonets and axes in the fighting and many bleeding people could be seen running everywhere in the city,” he added.

Schools and businesses were closed down because of the reigning tension and the clan-based hostility in the city.

Last week, at least 9 people were killed and dozens of houses burned when the two clans first fought over the ownership of grazing lands, but police and local elders were able to quell the incident.

Mandera is located in the north eastern part of Kenya, bordering Ethiopia and Somalia. It is located at 1000km from Mogadishu.