By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Creeping Youthbellion and Youthvolution in Africa and the Middle East
“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone,” goes the old saying. The sun that rose over tyranny in North Africa will not set at the edge of the Sahel; it will shine southward on the African savannah and rainforest. The wind of change blowing across the Middle East will soon cut a wide swath clear to the Atlantic Coast of West Africa from the Red Sea. The sun that lifted the darkness that had enveloped Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for decades can now be seen rising just over the Ethiopian horizon. The sun rises to greet a new generation of Ethiopians.
Today we are witnessing a second African independence, an independence from thugtatorship no less dramatic or volcanic than the upheavals of oppressed peoples that overthrew the yoke of colonialism one-half century ago. In 1960, British PM Harold McMillan warned his fraternity of European imperial powers: “The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”
The wind of change that has kicked up a sandstorm of youth rebellion and revolt in North Africa has laid bare the ghastly facts of oppression and youth despair to global consciousness. Arab and African youths are crying out for freedom, democracy, human rights and equal economic opportunity. The vast majority of the uneducated, under-educated and mis-educated African youths have no hope for the future. Legions of Arab youths with college degrees, advanced professional and technical training waste away the best years of their lives because they have few economic opportunities. They too see a void in their future. African and Arab youths have had enough, and they are rising up like the sun to liberate themselves and their societies from the clutches of thugs. The outcome of the youth uprisings is foreordained. As Sam Cooke, the great pioneer of soul music sang, “It’s been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will…”
But there are some who cynically argue that the type of volcanic popular uprisings sweeping North Africa cannot happen in Ethiopia. They offer many reasons. They say the thugtators in Ethiopia have used every means at their disposal to keep the people benighted, divided and antagonized. They point to the primitive state of information technology in Ethiopia as proof of a deliberate official strategy to prevent Ethiopian youth from accessing the Internet freely to learn new ideas and create cyber civic societies. (Ethiopia has the second lowest (after Sierra Leone) internet penetration rate in Africa.) They say Zenawi has bought off the best and the brightest of Ethiopia’s youth with cash, jobs, special educational opportunities and privileges just to keep them off the streets and happy as a clam. (It seems Ethiopia’s youth are a pressurized powder keg.) They say Ethiopia’s young people (who comprise the majority of the population) have no frame of historical reference and that Zenawi has brainwashed them into believing that he is their demi-god and savior. (It is possible to fool some of the youths all of the time, but it is impossible to fool all of the youths all of the time.) They say Zenawi’s vast security network of informants, spies and thugs will suppress any youth or other uprising before it could gather momentum. They say Zenawi has permeated the society with so much fear and loathing that it is nearly impossible for individuals or groups to come together, build consensus and articulate a unified demand for change. They say Zenawi has created so much ethnic antagonism in the society that he can cling to power indefinitely by playing his divide-and-rule game and raising the specter of genocide and civil war. Regardless of what anyone says, Zenawi has made it crystal clear what he will do to cling to power. He will “crush with full force” anyone who opposes him electorally or otherwise.
The Survival Principle of Thugtatorships
African thugtators will do anything to cling to power. Hosni Mubarak used a state of emergency decree to cling to power for three decades. When he was deposed from his Pharaonic throne, there were 30,000 political prisoners rotting in his dungeons. Ben Ali in Tunisia did as he pleased for nearly a quarter of a century. Gadhafi’s actions in Libya today offer a hard object lesson on what thugtators will do to cling to power. He continues to use helicopter gunships and MiG fighter planes to bomb and strafe civilians. He is using his private army of thugs and mercenaries to commit unspeakable violence on Libyan citizens. He has offered to buy off Libyans for $400 per household and pledged a 150 percent increase in government workers’ wages if they stop the uprising. They told him “to immerse it in water and drink it” (or “to stuff it…” in the English vernacular.) Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, has threatened to dismember Libya and plunge it into a civil war and “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet, until the last drop of my blood.” Gadhafi is doing everything in his power to cling to power. The only unanswered question is whether he will resort to the “chemical option”. On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussien used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja killing thousands. Will Gadhafi use chemical weapons against Libyans in March 2011 as his regime comes to its long overdue end? Whether Zenawi will follow Gadhafi’s scorched earth policy to cling to power remains to be seen, but careful analysis of his actions, public statements, interviews, speeches, writings, ideological perspective and the irrepressible and self-consuming hatred he has publicly displayed against those who have opposed him over the past 20 years suggests that he will likely follow the tragic wisdom of the old aphorism, “Apre moi, le deluge” (After me, the flood).
But thugtators, trapped in their bubbles and echo chambers, often overestimate their prowess and abilities. “Brotherly Leader” Gadhafi thought he was so powerful and the Libyan people so cowardly that he did not expect in his wildest imagination they would dare rise up and challenge him. He was proven wrong when Libyans broke the chains of crippling fear Gadhafi had put on them for 42 years. Gadhafi thought he could prevent Libyan youths from communicating and coordinating with each other by shutting down social media such as Facebook. Libya’s young revolutionaries proved to be more creative; they used Muslim dating websites to coordinate their activities. Now Gadhafi has completely shut down Internet service in the country believing he can control and distort the flow of information coming out of Libya. Gadhafi’s murderous thugs and mercenaries have been repelled time and again by a ragtag army of Libyan shopkeepers, waiters, welders, engineers, students and the unemployed. Despite Gadhafi’s talk of tribal war, Libyans have closed ranks to wage war on thugtatorship. After 42 years of ignorant ramblings in the Green Book, Gadhafi and his Jamahiriya (“republic ruled by the masses”) are in their death throes.
The Bouzazi Factor
Mohamed Bouzazi was the young Tunisian who burned himself to protest Ben Ali’s thugtatorship. Bouzazi’s desperate act became the spark that created the critical mass of popular uprising which has caused a chain reaction throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The tipping point for change in any country cannot be predicted with certainty. In Tunisia, Bouzazi was literally the “fissile material” that catalyzed the popular uprising. In Egypt, a number of factors worked together to get rid of Mubarak’s thugtatorship. The young Egyptians who led the revolt were well educated and tech savvy and used their knowledge to organize effectively. The Egyptian military maintained neutrality and opposition elements were able to build consensus on the need to remove Mubarak and his henchmen from power after three decades. In Libya, the people just had enough of a raving lunatic running their lives.
Change is a universal imperative and it will come to Ethiopia as it has for its northern neighbors. The coming change in Ethiopia may not necessarily follow any existing template. It will originate from an unexpected source and spread in unexpected ways. The tipping point in Ethiopia will likely revolve around three factors: 1) the clarity, truthfulness and persuasiveness of the message of change delivered to the people, 2) the unity in the voices of the messengers who deliver the message, and 3) the context in which the message of change is communicated to the people. Simply stated, a convergence of democratic forces and a consensus on a clear message of change is necessary to create a critical mass for change in Ethiopia.
Overcoming the Fear Factor
The one common thread in all of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East is that the people overcame their fears. The thugtators waged decades long campaigns of psychological warfare to instill fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of their peoples. For decades, the people believed the thugtators to be strong and invincible, untouchable and unaccountable. Recent evidence shows that all thugtatorships have feet of clay. The moment the Libyan people unshackled themselves from 42 years of crippling fear — the kind of fear President Roosevelt described as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance ” — they were able to see Gadhafi for what he truly is — a thug. Ditto for Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Change came to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya not because the thugtators had changed but because the people had changed. They were no longer afraid! They found out the true meaning of the old saying, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
The Hubris of Thugtators
Thugtators believe they can cling to power by eliminating their opposition, and particularly those who helped them get into power. They ward off potential challengers by keeping their military weak and appointing their cronies and henchmen to leadership positions. They believe they are loved, respected and admired by their people. Gadhafi said, “All my people love me!” They don’t. They hate him. Gadhafi convinced himself that all Libyans are happy under his rule.” They are not. Libya has a Sovereign Wealth Fund of $70 billion and nearly as much has been frozen by the American, British and Swiss governments. Yet the vast majority of the 6 million Libyans have difficulty making ends meet. Gadhafi has squandered much of the oil money buying arms, financing terrorists, seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, giving it away to other countries to increase his prestige and paying blood money for acts of terrorism he personally ordered. He paid $3 billion to the survivors of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 people died. Zenawi said he won the last election by 99.6 percent because the people love his party. They “consider themselves and the EPRDF as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization,” he said in his victory speech last May. He congratulated the people for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes” and patronized them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” in voting for his party.
Regardless of what thugtators say or do, they will always remain weak and anxiety-ridden because they are in it for the money and not to serve the people. State power is the means by which they pick clean the economic bones of their countries. Thugtators are incapable of anticipating or understanding the need for change. Because they lack a vision for the future and the courage to do what needs to be done in the present, they are always swept away in a flash flood of popular uprising as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadhafi have found out lately.
Foolishly Riding the Tiger
President Obama needs to realize that it is not enough to talk about being “on the right side of history”. The U.S. must first do the right thing. For the Obama Administration to talk about “regime alteration” instead of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa today is not being on the right side of history. It is just being plain wrong! President John F. Kennedy said that being on the right side of history is being on the side of the “people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery and helping them help themselves.” In his inaugural speech President Kennedy said:
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom– and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
The lesson of the spreading uprisings for African and Middle Eastern thugtators is a simple one best paraphrased in Gandhi’s immortal words: “There have been thugtators and murderers who have foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger. But in the end, they found themselves inside the tiger’s belly. Think of it, always.”
The weekly commentaries of the author are available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Invincible Dictators
Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi (The Mahatma or Great Soul) is today revered as a historical figure who fought against colonialism, racism and injustice. But he was also one of the greatest modern revolutionary political thinkers and moral theorists. While Nicolo Machiavelli taught tyrants how to acquire power and keep it through brute force, deceit and divide and rule, Gandhi taught ordinary people simple sure-fire techniques to bring down dictatorships. Gandhi learned from history that dictators, regardless of their geographic origin, cleverness, wealth, fame or brutality, in the end always fall: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.”
Last week, it was Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s turn to fall, and for the Tunisian people to get some respite from their despair. In the dead of night, Ben Ali packed his bags and winged out of the country he had ruled with an iron fist for 23 years to take up residence in Saudi Arabia where he was received with open arms and kisses on the cheeks. (Uganda’s bloodthirsty dictator Idi Amin also found a haven in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003 at age 80.) Ben Ali’s sudden downfall and departure came as a surprise to many within and outside Tunisia as did the sudden flight of the fear-stricken Mengistu Hailemariam in Ethiopia back in 1991. When push came to shove, Mengistu, the military man with nerves of steel who had bragged that he would be the last man standing when the going got tough, became the first man to blow out of town on a fast plane to Zimbabwe. Such has been the history of African dictators: When the going gets a little tough, the little dictators get going to some place where they can peacefully enjoy the hundreds of millions of dollars they have stolen and stashed away in European and American banks.
The end for Tunisia’s dictator (but not his dictatorship which is still functioning as most of his corrupt minions remain in the saddles of power) came swiftly and surprised his opponents, supporters and even his international bankrollers. President Obama who had never uttered a critical word about Ben Ali was the first to “applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people” in driving out the dictator. He added, “We will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard.” Those memorable images will be imprinted in the minds of all oppressed Africans; and no doubt they will heed the President’s words and drive out the continent’s dictators to pasture one by one.
After nearly a quarter century of dictatorial rule, few expected Ben Ali to be toppled so easily. He seemed to be in charge, in control and invincible. Many expected the 75 year-old Ben Ali to install his wife or son in-law in power and invisibly pull the puppet strings behind the throne. But any such plans were cut short on December 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old college graduate set himself on fire to protest the police confiscation of his unlicensed vegetable cart. Apparently, he was fed up paying “bakseesh” (bribe) to the cops. His death triggered massive public protests led by students, intellectuals, lawyers, trade unionists and other opposition elements. Bouazizi was transformed into a national martyr and the fallen champion of Tunisia’s downtrodden — the unemployed, the urban poor, the rural dispossessed, students, political prisoners and victims of human rights abuses.
Bouazizi’s form of protest by self-immolation is most unusual in these turbulent times when far too many young people have expressed their despair and anger by strapping themselves with explosives and causing the deaths of so many innocent people. Bouazizi, it seems, chose to end his despair and dramatize to the world the political repression, extreme economic hardships and the lack of opportunity for young people in Tunisia by ending his own life in such a tragic manner. He must have believed in his heart that his self-sacrifice could lead to political transformation.
Truth be told, Tunisia is not unique among African countries whose people have undergone prolonged economic hardships and political repression while the leaders and their parasitic flunkies cling to power and live high on the hog stashing millions abroad. In Ethiopia, the people today suffer from stratospheric inflation, soaring prices, extreme poverty, high unemployment (estimated at 70 percent for the youth) and a two-decade old dictatorship that does not give a hoot or allows them a voice in governance (in May 2010, the ruling party “won” 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament). In December 2010, inflation was running at 15 percent (according to “government reports”), but in reality at a much higher rate. The trade imbalance is mindboggling: a whopping $7 billion in imports to $1.2 billion worth of exports in 2009-10. In desperation, the regime recently imposed price caps on basic food stuffs and began a highly publicized official campaign to tar and feather “greedy” merchants and businessmen for causing high prices, the country’s economic woes and sabotaging the so-called growth and transformational plan. Hundreds of merchants and businessmen have been canned and await kangaroo court trials for hoarding, price-gouging and quite possibly for global warming as well. Former World Bank director and recently retired opposition party leader Bulcha Demeksa puts the blame squarely on the ruling regime’s shoulders and says price controls are senseless exercises in futility: “I’m not so angry with the retailers and sellers. I’m angry with the government, because the government counts on its capability to control price. Prices cannot be controlled. It has been tried everywhere in the world and it has failed. Unless you make it a totally totalitarian society it is impossible to control prices.” (When a regime claims electoral victory of 99.6 percent, there is little room to dispute whether it is totalitarian.) Aggravating the economic crises are chronic problems of reliable infrastructure including unstable electricity supply, burdensome and multiple taxation and a generally unfriendly business environment.
Gandhi’s Contemporary Relevance in Resisting Dictatorships
Without firing a single shot, Gandhi was able to successfully lead a movement which liberated India from the clutches of centuries of British colonialism using nonviolence and passive resistance as a weapon. Gandhi believed that it was possible to nonviolently struggle and win against injustice, discrimination and abuse of basic human rights be it in caste-divided India or racially divided South Africa. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence was based on the ancient Vedic (sacred writings of Hinduism) idea of “Ahimsa” which emphasizes the interconnection of all living things and avoidance of physical violence in human relations and in the relations between humans and other living things, notably animals. For Gandhi, Ahimsa principles also applied to psychological violence that destroys the mind and the spirit. He believed that to effectively deal with evil (be it colonialism, dictatorship, tyranny, hate, etc.) one must seek truth in a spirit of peace, love and understanding. One must undergo a process of self-purification to be rid of all forms of psychological violence including hatred, malice, bad faith, mistrust, revenge and other vices. He taught that one must strive to be open, honest, and fair, and accept suffering without inflicting it on others. Such was the basic idea of Gandhi’s “Satyagraha” or the pursuit of truth.
Dismantling Dictatorships in Africa
Ben Ali left Tunisia in a jiffy not because of a military or palace coup but as a result of a popular uprising that went on unabated for a month. Police officers are the latest to join in the street demonstrations and protests demanding an end to dictatorship and establishment of a genuine democratic government. But Ben Ali’s dictatorship is alive and well-entrenched in power. A few members of his old crew have been arrested or fired from their jobs, but Mohamed Ghannouchi, other ministers and power brokers are still doing what they have been doing for the last 23 years. To placate the public, token members of the opposition have been invited to join a transitional “unity government” pending elections in 60 days under constitutional provisions that favor Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD). Those who led the uprising do not seem to have much voice or representation in the “unity” government. For now it seems that the RCD foxes guarding the hen house are buying time and making plans to finish off the hens. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the best laid plans of Ben Ali’s lackeys may in the end fail and make way for a genuinely popular government. There are hopeful signs. For instance, informed observers note that there is a measure of solidarity and consensus among major opposition elements on such issues as democratic governance, human rights, release of political prisoners, democratic freedoms and the functioning of civil society groups.
The Tunisian people’s revolution provides practical insights into the prerequisites for dismantling dictatorships in Africa. The first lesson is that when dictatorships end, their end could come with a bang or a whimper, and without warning. Just a few weeks ago no one would have predicted that Ben Ali would be swept into the dust bin of history with such swiftness. Second, there is always the risk of losing the victory won by the people in the streets by a disorganized and dithering opposition prepared to draw out the long knives at the first whiff of power in the air. Third, when tyrants fall, the immediate task is to dismantle the police state they have erected before they have a chance to strike back. Their modus operandi is well known: The dictators will decree a state of emergency, impose curfews and issue shoot-to-kill orders to terrorize the population and crush the people’s hopes and reinforce their sense of despair, powerlessness, isolation, and fear. Obviously, this has not worked in Tunisia. After more than 100 protesters were killed in the streets, more seem to be coming. Fourth, it is manifest that Western support for African dictators is only skin deep. Ben Ali was toasted in the West as the great modernizer and bulwark against religious extremism and all that. The West threw him under the bus and “applauded” the people who overthrew him before his plane touched down in Saudi Arabia. Some friends, the West! Ultimately, the more practical strategy to successfully dismantle dictatorships is to build and strengthen inclusive coalitions and alliances of anti-dictatorship forces who are willing to stand up and demand real change. If such coalitions and alliances could not be built now, the outcome when the dictators fall will be just a changing of the guards: old dictator out, new dictator in.
The Tunisian people’s revolution should be an example for all Africans struggling to breathe under the thumbs and boots of ruthless dictators. It is interesting to note that there was a complete news blackout of the Tunisian people’s revolution in countries like Ethiopia. They do not want Ethiopians to get any funny ideas. On November 11, 2005, Meles Zenawi defending the massacre of hundreds of people in the streets said, “This is not your run-of-the-mill demonstration. This is an Orange revolution [in Ukrane] gone wrong.” Ben Ali said the same thing until he found himself on a fast jet to Jeddah. From India to Poland to the Ukraine to Czechoslovakia and Chile decades-old dictatorships have been overthrown in massive acts of civil disobedience and passive resistance. There is no doubt dictators from Egypt to Zimbabwe are having nightmares from Tunisia’s version of a “velvet’ or “orange” revolution.
The Power of Civil Disobedience and Nonviolent Resistance: Dictators, Quit Africa!
In His “Quit India” speech in August 1942, Gandhi made observations that are worth considering in challenging dictatorships in Africa:
In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence…
I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behaviour. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one. We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism.
For Africans, the quarrel is not and ought not be about ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, religion, language or region, but about the injustices, crimes and gross and widespread human rights violations committed by African dictators. As Gandhi has taught, dictators for a time appear formidable, strong, golden and invincible. But in reality they all have feet of clay. “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will,” said Gandhi. The Tunisian people have showed their African brothers and sisters what indomitable will is all about when they chased old Ben Ali out of town. All Africans now have a successful template to use in ridding themselves of thugs, criminals and hyenas in designer suits and military uniforms holding the mantle of power.
By Yilma Bekele
Here we are celebrating New Year in Tahesas. Accepting January, as Meskerem is a tall order. Enqutatash or Adis Amet is Adey Abeba blanketing the mountains with its vibrant bright yellow colors and the sun shining with all its strength. We are in the middle of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. It is dark, cold and gloomy.
That was a weak ago. Last Friday the sun shone a little brighter. It felt like spring. We Ethiopians gave each other a knowing smile. We all felt empowered. Guess who was generating this intense feeling of a new beginning. It is no other than little Tunisia, electrifying Africa and the Middle East. Last Friday Tunisia got rid of a malignant tumor.
It was only a year and three months ago Tunisia’s President Zinedine Ben Ali won a landslide victory, with 89.62%. Last Friday the honorable President was forced to flee for his life. How does an 89.62 percent winner turn into a refugee so fast? That is the nature of the dictatorship business. Just like an earthquake, it is unpredictable. Ben Ali is just a new inductee into that infamous Hall of Fame for “Scumbags of Humanity.” He follows the footsteps of Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Shah of Iran, Augusto Pinochet, Mengistu Haile Mariam and my personal favorite Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena.
As you read this, political refugee (actually fleeing criminal) Zinedine Ben Ali and former first lady Leila are camped in Saudi Arabia unsure of what tomorrow is going to bring. It will not be far fetched to say that the former mafia bosses are shell-shocked unable to comprehend what has unfolded and definitely under sedation. Unfortunate for the duo this is not some bad dream or a bad acid trip. It is real baby! How did they get into this mess?
Tunisia is located in North Africa between Libya and Algeria and has a population of ten and a half million. It got its independence from France in 1956. The first President Habib Bourguiba became the first dictator and stayed in power until doctors declared him ‘unfit to rule’ in 1987. Mr. Zinedine Ben Ali who was the Prime Minster became the President. That was twenty-three years ago.
Former dictator president Zinedine Ben Ali is a crafty fellow in the sense of being devious and cruel. He knew how to talk the language of Democracy, Human Rights, freedom of expression and free enterprise. That was for foreign consumption. It gave his enablers a fig leaf to hide behind. Ben Ali’s Tunisia was one big prison.
Dictator Ali went to military schools both in France and the USA. He worked his way up from Security Chief to being the Prime Minister. His style of leadership is the envy of every African dictator. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia has mentioned him plenty of times as an example of good leadership and stability. Zambia has awarded him its highest medal. Tunisia has even won the United Nations E- government Award for ‘excellence in serving the public interest. I told you he was good. With Algeria on his left projecting symptoms of a ‘failed state’ and Libya to his right run by a poster child for ‘grandiose delusion’ symptoms, Ben Ali looked like an oasis of stability. To prove it Tunisia never failed to hold elections since Ben Ali came to power. The elections held in ’89, ’94, 04, and as recent as 2009 were all won By Ben Ali and his party with over 90% approval.
The real face of Tunisia was completely different than the picture presented by Ben Ali and family. The real Tunisia was a one Party State belonging to Zinedine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi. Economic regulations, and legal procedures did not apply to the Ben Ali clan. First Lady Leila was the most hated person Tunisia. She even deserved her own report on Wiki Leaks. Here is a quote:
“Corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, first lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her; even those close to the government express dismay at her reported behavior.
Her greed was so legendary she was dubbed the Imelda Marcos of the Arab world and the ‘Regent of Carthage’ for her power behind the throne and her love of money, luxury cars and shopping spree.
The one party state did not allow dissent, banned political parties unless approved by the state, closed all independent media outlets and used Cisco filters to block free web sites. The prisons were full of political opponents and the most educated and those that have connections first impulse was to leave. The safest option for investment for those with money was real estate or off shore account. Both do not contribute to sustainable economic growth. The rampant corruption, unemployment, inflation and general hopelessness was spiraling out of control.
Mohamed Bouaziz a 26-year old unemployed college graduate became the flash point that started a prairie fire. When the police confiscated his fruit cart regarding permit issue, Mr. Bouaziz drew the line in the sand and said enough. He set himself on fire. The day was Friday December 17th. The people of Tunisia felt a jolt of ‘anti fear’ laser tease. Twenty-eight days later on Friday January 17th. Coward Ben Ali and cruel and mean Leila fled not knowing who will welcome them. Shock is an understatement.
Today, the interim government is hunting down former officials and palace lovers and state television reported the arrest for “crimes against Tunisia” of 33 members of Mr. Ben Ali’s family, many of whom grew rich from their connections. Let justice begin.
Is what happened to dictator Ben Ali out of the ordinary? Can it be duplicated? Both are valid questions. What happened in Tunisia is not unique. The saying ‘where there is oppression there is resistance’ is a universal truth. The human spirit soars when it is free. It is also true that dominance over others is an aphrodisiac. There will always be a few individuals that will shine brighter than others. Most will leave a lasting legacy and generations will utter their names with fondness and admiration. A few are considered a curse. Poverty of mind and spirit is their making. What happened in Tunisia has happened in Iran, Ethiopia, Philippines, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Zaire and more. Dictators never learn.
No one has been able to predict the ‘tipping point’ where fear is replaced by empowerment. Not political scientists, sociologists or human behavior psychologists. What opens the floodgates of discontent could be anything.
Rosa Parks’s refusal to give her seat to a white person is considered the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, the firing of Anna Walentynowicz, a shipyard worker in Gdansk, Poland gave birth to the Solidarity Movement that ushered in the unraveling of the Soviet System, and now Mohamed Bouaziz’s personal protest is felt all over the world.
Ethiopian television, radio, newspapers, websites have made it a policy not to mention Tunisia. Controlling the flow of information is job number one of any dictatorship. The regime spends millions of hard earned currency to misinform, jam, block use physical coercion to keep the population in ignorance. It is a futile attempt. Where there is oppression there is resistance.
I am sure crafty Ben Ali must have tried all kinds of gimmicks to turn away the tide of discontent. Sitting in his palace isolated from daily life he was sure that his people like him. The fool probably believed it too. I am sure he blamed the Diaspora, Islamists or other perceived enemies for the problem he created.
Our Ethiopia has its own uniqueness. Our country has been in turmoil since the early ‘70s. The over forty years of chaos have rendered us numb and confused. Killing, lying, cheating and using each other has become the norm. Fear has become our middle name. We don’t not only trust the government but mistrust among friends, neighbors or family has taken away our ability to unite. Our psych has been scared and requires careful handling. We are a very wounded people.
Ben Ali and Meles Zenawi are two different animals. The TPLF boss has his own private army, his own private Federal Police and boasts of emasculated Bantustan chiefs. Meles Zenawi can also count on the citizens he drove out of the country to turn around and contribute heavily to his welfare. According to the World Bank the Diaspora contributes over $3 billion US to prop up the ethnic junta. In a nutshell we are contributing for our own slavery.
That being said, fortunate for us ‘dictatorship’ carries its own destruction in its womb. No amount of Party organized bullying, Kebele based spying, Federal Police killing, fostering inter-ethnic strife will interfere with the inevitable collapse of a totalitarian state. As I said no one can predict when but all agree the system will explode. It is not a matter of if but when.
Oppressed people approach the problem from two fronts. The first is building up organizations that will act as a catalyst to hasten the inevitable collapse of the dictatorship. We are doing that. The many Diaspora organizations involved in doing community work in exposing the ethnic based regime are the source of our pride. Since the stolen elections of 2005 our force have shown both maturity and muscle. Such Organizations as Ginbot7, Andenet, OLF, SMNE, ONLF and others are doing a good job. The second front is winning the hearts and minds of our people. The best example of that is ESAT. Ethiopian Satellite TV is working hard to level the playing field when it comes to unfettered information. ESAT is our lethal weapon. ESAT will inform our people so they can make a smart decision based on facts not Berket Semeon’s concocted lie. ESAT and our independent web sites are the future of Ethiopia.
I will not try to guess where Ato Meles will go when ‘the rubber hits the road’ in other words when the mob breaches the palace walls. Will he be ready, will he have time to pack, will his security guard betray him and other questions will arise. Then comes the issue of where to go? Eritrea, definitely no, Sudan, out of the question, USA and Europe, very dangerous that leaves China, North Korea or Rwanda with his buddy Kagame. None of the choices are enticing. The question Ben Ali is contemplating today should be is life imprisonment a good investment for a mere twenty years of bullying. Being a dictator is a thankless job!