Archive for the month “March, 2014”

“Nineteen Eighty-Four” in 2014 Ethiopiana

March 31, 2014

by Alemayehu G. Mariam

“Big Brother is Watching You!” secretly: The snooping thug state in 2014 Ethiopiana

The secrecy-obsessed regime in Ethiopia has a huge creepy dragnet of secret electronic surveillance programs to sniff out the deeply-buried secrets of the people of Ethiopia. They spend sleepless nights interrogating  themselves about what the people could do to them. Who do they talk to secretly? What do they secretly say about them? Do the people secretly despise them as much as they think they do? (That’s an open secret.) Are the people secretly planning to overthrow them? Who are the secret conspirators? Where are they? In Ethiopia? Europe? America? Could the secret enemies be extraterrestrial Ethiopians from Planet X?The passing  of Meles Zenawi

For the regime knowledge is strength. No! Ignorance is strength. The regime must find out by hook or crook. Bug the landlines. Intercept the mobile phones. Hack the personal computers.   Filter the critical websites. What else? They rack their brains and spend sleepless nights not only because they don’t know but also because they do. They know what they have done; and now they want to know what could be done unto them, secretly.  They turn and toss. In their nightmares, they are chased by the Truth. They wake up in cold sweat. Such is the secret night life of ignorant thugs in power in Ethiopiana.

Secrecy is the brick and mortar in the architecture of oppression established by the regime in Ethiopia over the past two decades. The regime is so obsessed with secrecy that nearly two years after the passing  of Meles Zenawi, its  “Great, Visionary, Heroic, Renaissance, etc., Leader”, there is no official word on the cause of his death. It is a highly guarded state secret. From their days in the bush, those running regime have cultivated a stenchy culture of official secrecy and corruption (what I call a “culture of secrruption” for readers familiar with my neologisms). In fact, they have refined official secrecy and corruption to an art form. They make decisions under the proverbial cone of silence and secrecy. A secret shadow government  (a “state within a state”) of faceless, nameless and conscienceless power-brokers makes all of the important decisions in the country. The regime operators and their cronies stash their stolen millions in secret off shore accounts. Global Financial Integrity not long ago reported that since 2000, Ethiopia has lost nearly USD$12 billion in secret illicit financial outflows. A cloak of secrecy shrouds public works and projects contracts which are back-channeled secretly to regime supporters and cronies.  The country’s best lands are given away (excuse me, “leased for 99 years”) for pennies to Saudi, Indian and Chinese “investors” in total secrecy. An Indian multinational actually claimed it acquired “2,500 sq km of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset, England-” in Ethiopia, together with generous tax breaks,  for £150 a week ($USD245). (Yeah! Right. If anyone believes that, I have the Brooklyn Bridge for sale at rock bottom prices. Somebodies got big secret paydays from that deal.)  The regime operators are secret (silent) partners in all of the investments and procurement deals they hand out.

Winston Churchill once observed that, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I would say the ruling regime in Ethiopia is a riddle wrapped in secrecy inside corruption. It is comically ironic that the secrecy-obsessed regime recently sought membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international organization dedicated exclusively to promote openness, transparency and accountability in the global mining industry.  It is like the proverbial Ethiopian wolf who sought membership among a flock of sheep by wrapping himself in sheep’s wool to keep his identity secret. (Could EITI be a pack of wolves wrapped in sheep’s wool?)

“They Know Everything We Do”

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its report on the secret massive electronic surveillance program of the regime in Ethiopia. In its report entitled, “‘They Know Everything We Do’: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia”, HRW concluded, “The Ethiopian government is using foreign technology to bolster its widespread telecom surveillance of opposition activists and journalists both in Ethiopia and abroad… The government is using control of its telecom system as a tool to silence dissenting voices…” The report documents the regime’s “complete control over the telecom system… (and the fact that) Ethiopian security officials have virtually unlimited access to the call records of all telephone users in Ethiopia. They regularly and easily record phone calls without any legal process or oversight. Recorded phone calls with family members and friends – particularly those with foreign phone numbers – are often played during abusive interrogations in which people who have been arbitrarily detained are accused of belonging to banned organizations.”

The regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to “curtail access to information by blocking websites and bloggers that offer any independent or critical analysis of political events in Ethiopia.” The regime has used “mobile surveillance” and “frequently targeted the ethnic Oromo population.” It has used “taped phone calls to compel people in custody to confess to being part of banned groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front.”  The surveillance technology is provided by China which has been the “exclusive supplier of telecom equipment from 2006 to 2009.” A number of “European companies have also provided advanced surveillance technology to Ethiopia, which have been used to target members of the diaspora.” The report points an accusatory finger at the “foreign firms that are providing products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s illegal surveillance are risking complicity in rights abuses.”

Redwan Hussein, an apparatchik in the regime’s “Ministry of Information”, regurgitated the now familiar litany of demonization against Human Rights Watch:  “This is one of the issues that it [HRW] has in the list of its campaigns to smear Ethiopia’s image, so there is nothing new to respond to it, because there is nothing new to it.”

The regime is simply not constructed to handle the truth. Time and again, it has shown unwillingness and inability to defend against the truth; so it reverts to its favorite and predictable five-pronged PR tactic: Deny the truth. Dismiss the truth as “smear”. Disguise the truth. Divert attention from the truth. Denigrate the truth-sayers and truth-diggers. But resistance to truth is futile.

When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted the late Meles Zenawi with the truth about his daylight theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, he denied and dismissed the truth and denigrated the entire EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” In August 2005, Meles, following the electoral drubbing of his party by a coalition of opposition parties in May, unleashed his wrath on European Union parliamentarian Ana Gomes and her election observer group. “We shall, in the coming days and weeks, see what we can do to expose the pack of lies and innuendoes that characterise the garbage in this report.”

So it is with the HRW and its report on internet and telecom surveillance in Ethiopia. All the regime can say in its defense is, “It is a campaign to smear Ethiopia’s image.” Truth be told, when it comes to “fear and smear campaigns” and fabrication of falsehoods, the regime in Ethiopia takes the cake. In my commentary, “The Politics of Fear and Smear” in Ethiopia, I demonstrated the regime’s propaganda campaign of smear, falsehoods and defamation against Ethiopian Muslims protesting political interference in their internal religious affairs.

The Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia

With every passing day, Ethiopia is becoming a hardcore dystopia (that would be the exact opposite of a utopia.) Dystopia Ethiopia is a frightening place. It is a place where thugs rule! It is a place where humans are dehumanized, civilization is barbarized, justice corrupted, ethnic cleansing practiced, people impoverished and hungry, the youth gagged, bound and canned, the environment destroyed, dams used to damn indigenous peoples and society in cataclysmic decline. If that sounds like George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” Oceania, it is not. It is “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in 2014 Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia!

In Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” Oceania, there is omnipresent government surveillance, public manipulation and thought-control by a regime under the control of a privileged “Inner Party” elite that persecutes all dissent and prosecutes freedom of thought as “thought crimes”. The state in Oceania thrives on deception, secret surveillance and mass psychological manipulation. The head honcho tyrant is an elusive “Big Brother” who is worshiped as a demigod. Orwell writes, “Nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings and a voice on the telescreen. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization.” The slogans of Big Brother’s party are: “War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.”

The “state” in 2014 Ethiopiana is uncannily similar to Orwell’s fictional Oceania. Big Brother Meles is the  infallible and all-powerful leader from the “telescreen” when he was alive (he never mingled with people in the street) and now from the grave. To Big Brother Meles belongs, “Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration.”  To his party acolytes, Big Brother Meles the omniscient,  was, is and will forever be the fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom. He is the source of all good and great ideas.

Meles’ handpicked replacement, Hailemariam Desalegn, in his eulogy at Meles funeral spoke of the “great and exemplary leader” who created the “grand vision of what we can achieve and become in the future.” He described Big Brother Meles as the man with the plan who led Ethiopia to stratospheric heights. Hailemariam said, the “wise, insightful and decisive leader established the EPDRF party and was the chief architect and engineer of Ethiopia’s developmental plan”. Hailemariam credited Meles for singularly designing policies and strategies for the country and creating an economy that produced 10 percent plus growth over a period of 9 years. Meles was the “Renaissance and heroic leader who gave Ethiopia economic growth and transformation. Even though he left us, his vision will remain nor only with the party but also every individual in the country,” eulogized Hailemariam.

Big Brother Meles is “superman”, if not demigod, in the imagination of a few of his powerful foreign Little Sisters.  Clare Short, Tony Blair’s former Secretary for International Development and the current chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative spoke of her unbounded admiration for Meles as “the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life.“ Ditto for Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the current national security advisor to Obama. In her eulogy Rice said, “The Meles I knew was…  the smartest person in the room, and most of the time Meles was right…” Big Brother Meles of Ethiopiana, like the Big Brother of Oceania, comes alive today not only on the telescreen, but also from the grave, to guide and goad his Little Brothers, “War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.” He taught his Little Brothers, “Surveillance is the soul of secrecy.”

Indeed, in Ethiopiana war is peace (though the society is seething with rage and rebellion but they can pretend it is all peaceful); ignorance is bliss (the less the people know, the happier they will be and therefore it is necessary to twist and distort the truth to keep the people ignorant) and freedom is slavery (“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of”, said Bill Moyers.)

The freedom to think freely is the death knell of tyranny. The unshackled mind is the terror of the ignorant.   In Oceania,  2+2=5, because everyone is manipulated to believe it to be so. In Ethiopiana’s voodoo economics, 6.5% annual economic growth= 11-15% annual economic growth, if there is anyone to believe it (that is, other than he World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).  Orwell’s formulaic slogans for Nineteen Eighty Four Oceania have been updated for 2014 Ethiopiana: Poverty is prosperity; famine is feast; government wrongs are human rights; repression is expression and thugogcracy is democracy. Ignorance is illuminance. Ignorance in Ethiopiana is the national equalizer. The purpose of the state is to twist, stretch and massage the truth to keep the people ignorant, dumb and unquestioning.

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Knowledge, information, consciousness and enlightenment are the most powerful weapons in the hands of 21st Century men and women to change their lives, the lives of their families and communities and control the destiny of their nations. For the regime in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance and secrecy are the most powerful weapons they can use to prevent change and cling to power. The singular motto of the “Little Brothers of Dystopia Ethiopia” is, “Secrecy is power. Secrecy is strength.” Secrecy combined with ignorance yields absolute power. Absolute power in the hands of the “ignorati” (willfully ignorant) ensures the manipulation,  emasculation and subjugation of the masses. “Keep ‘em ignorant, impoverished, hungry and divided and they will be your door mats,” is the mantra of the “Inner Party” (the “state within the state’) of Ethiopiana.

As I have argued on numerous occasions, the regime knows that it is detested and contemned by the vast majority of the population. Thus, the sleepless nights. They have done everything to get a little peace of mind, but to no avail. They have undertaken vicious propaganda campaigns to pit one ethnic group against another. They have tried to create war between Christians and Muslims; and thank God, they have completely failed! They have unleashed a barrage of propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, indoctrination, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era to cling to power. They have tried to clothe their deplorable human rights record with bogus statistics of economic growth and economic development.

For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance. At gunpoint, they have forced the people speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil about them.  Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a  2012 report of  Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. Their “growth and transformation plan” has succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to “Ethiopiana, the Land of Perpetual Ignorance and Darkness”.

All of the surveillance and spying program is part of an elaborate conspiracy by the regime to create the “Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopiana”, where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses.  The educational system in Ethiopiana is corrupted and serves as a system of indoctrination. By providing the youth with substandard education, the regime aims to permanently cripple them intellectually not only by denying them formal learning opportunities but also the chance to acquire knowledge on the Internet and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) a few years ago issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country.  (Interestingly, Meles and his top lieutenants got their “graduate education” using foreign distance learning programs.) The regime also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions.  There is no academic freedom in Ethiopiana. I have previously commented on the lack of academic freedom in Ethiopian higher education and the politicization of education in Ethiopia. In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School.

Why does the regime spy on the people?   

The regime secretly spies on the people because it is afraid of the people. In 1962, President  John F. Kennedy cautioned the American people, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” The regime in Ethiopia is afraid  of the people and seeks to overcome its fear through secret surveillance programs and open harassment.

What is tragically ironic is the fact that the official secrecy religiously practiced by the regime today is a constitutional anathema. The Ethiopian Constitution mandates government transparency and accountability under Article 12 (1) (“Functions and Accountability of Government”): “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public.” The regime has translated that constitutional mandate to mean, “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is totally secret and non-transparent to the public.” Secrecy is a powerful tool to deceive the people.

The great French man of letters, Victor Hugo observed, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” The Internet is an idea whose time has come. B.I. (Before the Internet) will never come back, only A.I. (After the Internet).  The Internet, not ignorance, is the great equalizer and democratizer in the world. With an inexpensive personal computer or mobile phone, knowledge and information in any language are at one’s fingertips. The regime in Ethiopia is fighting a losing war against the invisible empire of ideas and knowledge. The Internet is the 21st Century’s evergreen Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The regime in its assumed divinity wants to impose an edict on the people of Ethiopia: “Thou must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Internet “Tree of Knowledge” shall give life to all those that have been rendered zombies by ignorant tyrants.  The Internet genie is out of the bottle, and there is no way of putting it back. Neither telecom filters, electronic monitoring nor ownership of entire telecom systems will deter the determined “cyber-warriors” from empowering themselves with the truth, knowledge and information. In the Internet Age, resistance to truth, knowledge and information is futile!

Well, Big Brother Meles is gone (sort of) from Ethiopiana but he shall live on the “telescreen” and in the grave for his  ”Little Brothers” of his “Inner Party”. They shall go on visioning,  watching, looking, peeping, observing, surveilling, ogling, listening, sniffing, and yodeling:

…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

Ethiopiana’s Inner Party should know a few truths about the 21st Century: Secrecy is impotency. Ignorance is indolence.  Freedom is the essence of humanity; and the truth shall make them and all Ethiopians free. Orwell wrote, “During times of deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” But what happens when silence is accepted as a revolutionary act?

“When an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze  statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.” From my commentary, “Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia”.

Oceania Ethiopiana!  Welcome to the Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

posted by Daniel tesfaye


Is this the most farcical use of taxpayers’ money ever: Ethiopian gets legal aid from UK – to sue us for giving aid to… Ethiopia

March 30, 2014

by Ian Birrell
Mail Online

  • The farmer claims aid is funding a despotic one-party state in his country

  • Alleges regime is forcing thousands from their land using murder and rape

  • Prime Minister David Cameron says donations are a mark of compassion

  • If farmer is successful, Ministers might have to review overseas donations

Gift: Prime Minister David Cameron claims the donations are a mark of Britain's compassion

An Ethiopian farmer has been given legal aid in the UK to sue Britain – because he claims millions of pounds sent by the UK to his country is supporting a brutal regime that has ruined his life.

He says UK taxpayers’ money – £1.3 billion over the five years of the coalition Government – is funding a despotic one-party state in his country that is forcing thousands of villagers such as him from their land using murder, torture and rape.

The landmark case is highly embarrassing for the Government, which has poured vast amounts of extra cash into foreign aid despite belt-tightening austerity measures at home.

Prime Minister David Cameron claims the donations are a mark of Britain’s compassion.

But the farmer – whose case is set to cost tens of thousands of pounds – argues that huge sums handed to Ethiopia are breaching the Department for International Development’s (DFID) own human rights rules.

He accuses the Government of devastating the lives of some of the world’s poorest people rather than fulfilling promises to help them. The case comes amid growing global concern over Western aid propping up corrupt and repressive regimes.

If the farmer is successful, Ministers might have to review major donations to other nations accused of atrocities, such as Pakistan and Rwanda – and it could open up Britain to compensation claims from around the world.

Ethiopia, a key ally in the West’s war on terror, is the biggest recipient of British aid, despite repeated claims from human rights groups that the cash is used to crush opposition.

DFID was served papers last month by lawyers acting on behalf of ‘Mr O’, a 33-year-old forced to abandon his family and flee to a refugee camp in Kenya after being beaten and tortured for trying to protect his farm.

He is not seeking compensation but to challenge the Government’s approach to aid. His name is being withheld to protect his wife and six children who remain in Ethiopia.

‘My client’s life has been shattered by what has happened,’ said Rosa Curling, the lawyer handling the case. ‘It goes entirely against what our aid purports to stand for.’

Mr O’s family was caught in controversial ‘villagisation’ programmes. Under the schemes, four million people living in areas opposed to an autocratic government dominated by men from the north of the country are being forced from lucrative land into new villages.

Their land has been sold to foreign investors or given to Ethiopians with government connections.

People resisting the soldiers driving them from their farms and homes at gunpoint have been routinely beaten, raped, jailed, tortured or killed.

Exodus: The farmer claims villagers are being attacked by troops driving them from their land

‘Why is the West, especially the UK, giving so much money to the Ethiopian government when it is committing atrocities on my people?’ asked Mr O when we met last year.

His London-based lawyers argue that DFID is meant to ensure recipients of British aid do not violate human rights, and they have failed to properly investigate the complaints.

Human Rights Watch has issued several scathing reports highlighting the impact of villagisation and showing how Ethiopia misuses aid for political purposes, such as diverting food and seeds to supporters.

Concern focuses on a massive scheme called Protection of Basic Services, which is designed to upgrade public services and is part-funded by DFID.

Force: Ethiopian federal riot police point their weapons at protesting students in a square in the country's capital, Addis Ababa

Critics say this cash pays the salaries of officials implementing resettlements and for infrastructure at new villages.

DFID officials have not interviewed Mr O, reportedly saying it is too risky to visit the United Nations-run camp in Kenya where he is staying, and refuse to make their assessments public.

A spokesman said they could not comment specifically on the legal action but added: ‘It is wrong to suggest that British development money is used to force people from their homes. Our support to the Protection of Basic Services programme is only used to provide healthcare, schooling, clean water and other services.’

As he showed me pictures on his mobile phone of his homeland, the tall, bearded farmer smiled fondly. ‘We were very happy growing up there and living there,’ he said. This was hardly surprising: the lush Gambela region of Ethiopia is a fertile place of fruit trees, rivers and fissures of gold, writes Ian Birrell

That was the only smile when I met Mr O in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya last year. He told me how his simple family life had been destroyed in seconds – and how he blames British aid for his misery. ‘I miss my family so much,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be relying on handouts – I want to be productive.’

His nightmare began in November 2011 when Ethiopian troops accompanied by officials arrived in his village and ordered everyone to leave for a new location.

Men who refused were beaten and women were raped, leaving some infected with HIV.

I met a blind man who was hit in the face and a middle-aged mother whose husband was shot dead beside her – she still bore obvious the scars from her own beating and rape by three soldiers.

Unlike their previous home, their new village had no food, water, school or health facilities. They were not given farmland and there were just a few menial jobs.

‘The government was pretending it was about development,’ said Mr O, 33. ‘But they just want to push the indigenous people off so they can take our land and gold.’

After speaking out against forced relocations and returning to his village, Mr O was taken to a military camp where for three days he was gagged with a sock in his mouth, severely kicked and beaten with rifle butts and sticks.

‘I thought it would be better to die than to suffer like this,’ he told me.

Afterwards, like thousands of others, he fled the country; now he lives amid the dust and squalor of the world’s largest refugee camp. He says their land was then given to relatives of senior regime figures and foreign investors from Asia and the Middle East.

‘I am very angry about this aid,’ he said. ‘Britain needs to check what is happening to its money.
‘I hope the court will act to stop the killing, stop the land-grabbing and stop your Government supporting the Ethiopian government behind this.’

As the dignified Mr O said so sagely, what is happening in his country is the precise opposite of development.

posted by Daniel tesfaye

Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF) warns leaders of three Journalists Associations

March 28, 2014

Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF), the newly established journalists association in Ethiopia, warned leaders of three journalists associations operating in the country.Ethiopian Journalists Forum is a nonpartisan and independent professional association

In a statement issued yesterday, the association accused the officials of Ethiopian journalists Association (EJA), Ethiopian National Journalists Union (ENJU), and Ethiopian Free Journalists Association (EFJA) of fabricating false accusations against the association and members of media organizations.

Ethiopian Journalists Forum is a nonpartisan and independent professional association intended to defend the freedom of speech and of the press in Ethiopia.

The press statement says that the officials have been deliberately engaged in fabricating false accusations ranging from terrorism to conspiracy— aiming to intimidate journalists and members of the association. “They are trying to spoil the name of our association, which is getting a wider acceptance among journalists and media workers”, the statement explains.

“For instance, in an interview published at Addis Admass weekly newspaper issued on March 30, 2014 they said that journalists had been preparing to commit terrorism against the nation and its citizens. They also accused two unnamed countries of backing the journalists. In another article published at Reporter, a weekly newspaper, issued on March 9, 2014 they once again said the same thing accusing journalists”, it further explains.

The statement says the association doesn’t have a response for the groundless accusations of these depraved individuals—who are barking to retain their own cheep benefits. It says it only would like to warn them once and for all to refrain from their unlawful acts.
The EJF was established on 20 January, 2014 considering the harsh working conditions of journalists in Ethiopia; and the importance of a unified media workers and journalists’ voice. In a few months only, the association has been able to get acceptance among journalists and media institutions.

Particularly, the EJF has been welcomed by almost all journalists operating in the free press. Its formation has been good news to those who wish to see an independent institution—which is loyal only to the journalists.

The EJF is supposed by many to be a best framework to work against the deteriorating press freedom in the country and bring about change on the safety of journalists. It is, however, seen as a threat by EJA, ENJU, and EFJA. According to the association, it has begun to experience their accusation since its inception.

The EJF has a vision to become a leading professional association in Ethiopia, which defends the freedom of speech and of the press as well as the rights of journalists.

The Wake of Non-operational Associations

Ethiopian journalists Association (EJA), Ethiopian National Journalists Union (ENJU), and Ethiopian Free Journalists Association (EFJA) were in active for a long period. They came to the stage following the formation of EJF.

Both the associations are accused of being loyal to the regime and of failing to play their role. None of them have ever been seen doing anything to bring about change on the deteriorating press freedom and safety of journalists.

Despite the fact that journalists are still subjected to violence, EJA, ENJU, and EFJA believe freedom of speech and of the press is respected in Ethiopia, and accuse CPJ and other international organizations of defaming the name of the country.

They also accuse Ethiopian journalists of using their rights to incite violence in the country. They even don’t accept the journalists, who are currently behind the bar in the country, are prosecuted because of their Betre Yacob

posted by Daniel tesfaye

Ethiopia spies on citizens with foreign technology: HRW

March 26, 2014

AFP – Ethiopia is using foreign technology to spy on citizens suspected of being critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.Ethiopia is using foreign technology to spy on citizens

The report accused the government of using Chinese and European technology to survey phone calls and Internet activity in Ethiopia and among the diaspora living overseas, and HRW said firms colluding with the government could be guilty of abuses.

“The Ethiopian government is using control of its telecom system as a tool to silence dissenting voices,” HRW’s business and human rights director Arvind Ganesan, said in a statement.

“The foreign firms that are providing products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s illegal surveillance are risking complicity in rights abuses.”

The Ethiopian government dismissed the report as “mud-slinging” and accused the rights watchdog of repeatedly unfairly targeting the country.

“This is one of the issues that it has in the list of its campaigns to smear Ethiopia’s image, so there is nothing new to respond to it, because there is nothing new to it,” Ethiopia’s Information Minister, Redwan Hussein, told AFP.

He said Ethiopia is committed to improving access to telecommunications as part of its development program, not as a means to increase surveillance.

“The government is trying its level best to create access to not only to the urban but to all corners of the country,” Redwan added.

Ethiopia’s phone and internet networks are controlled by the state-owned Ethio Telecom, the sole telecommunications provider in the country.

HRW said the government’s telecommunications monopoly allows it to readily monitor user activity.

“Security officials have virtually unlimited access to the call records of all telephone users in Ethiopia. They regularly and easily record phone calls without any legal process or oversight,” the report said.

The rights watchdog said information gathered was often used to garner evidence against independent journalists and opposition activists, both inside Ethiopia and overseas.

In February, a US man filed a lawsuit against the Ethiopian government, accusing authorities of infecting his computer with spyware to monitor his online activity.

Rights groups have accused Ethiopia of cracking down on political dissenters, independent media and civil society through a series of harsh laws, including anti-terrorism legislation.

Only about 23 percent of Ethiopia’s 91 million people subscribe to mobile phones, and less than one percent have access to mobile internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

The government has committed to increasing mobile access by 2015, as part of an ambitious development plan.

Ethiopia has hired two Chinese firms, ZTE and Huawei, to upgrade the mobile network across the country.


Human Right Watch Full Report

Ethiopia: Telecom Surveillance Chills Rights

Foreign Technology Used to Spy on Opposition inside Country, Abroad

(Berlin) – The Ethiopian government is using foreign technology to bolster its widespread telecom surveillance of opposition activists and journalists both in Ethiopia and abroad, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 100-page report, “‘They Know Everything We Do’: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia,” details the technologies the Ethiopian government has acquired from several countries and uses to facilitate surveillance of perceived political opponents inside the country and among the diaspora. The government’s surveillance practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, association, and access to information. The government’s monopoly over all mobile and Internet services through its sole, state-owned telecom operator, Ethio Telecom, facilitates abuse of surveillance powers.

“The Ethiopian government is using control of its telecom system as a tool to silence dissenting voices,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The foreign firms that are providing products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s illegal surveillance are risking complicity in rights abuses.”

The report draws on more than 100 interviews with victims of abuses and former intelligence officials in Ethiopia and 10 other countries between September 2012 and February 2014. Because of the government’s complete control over the telecom system, Ethiopian security officials have virtually unlimited access to the call records of all telephone users in Ethiopia. They regularly and easily record phone calls without any legal process or oversight.

Recorded phone calls with family members and friends – particularly those with foreign phone numbers – are often played during abusive interrogations in which people who have been arbitrarily detained are accused of belonging to banned organizations. Mobile networks have been shut down during peaceful protests and protesters’ locations have been identified using information from their mobile phones.

A former opposition party member told Human Rights Watch: “One day they arrested me and they showed me everything. They showed me a list of all my phone calls and they played a conversation I had with my brother. They arrested me because we talked about politics on the phone. It was the first phone I ever owned, and I thought I could finally talk freely.”

The government has curtailed access to information by blocking websites that offer any independent or critical analysis of political events in Ethiopia. In-country testing that Human Rights Watch and Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto research center focusing on internet security and rights, carried out in 2013 showed that Ethiopia continues to block websites of opposition groups, media sites, and bloggers. In a country where there is little in the way of an independent media, access to such information is critical.

Ethiopian authorities using mobile surveillance have frequently targeted the ethnic Oromo population. Taped phone calls have been used to compel people in custody to confess to being part of banned groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front, which seeks greater autonomy for the Oromo people, or to provide information about members of these groups. Intercepted emails and phone calls have been submitted as evidence in trials under the country’s flawed anti-terrorism law, without indication that judicial warrants were obtained.

The authorities have also detained and interrogated people who received calls from phone numbers outside of Ethiopia that may not be in Ethio Telecom databases. As a result, many Ethiopians, particularly in rural areas, are afraid to call or receive phone calls from abroad, a particular problem for a country that has many nationals working in foreign countries.

Most of the technologies used to monitor telecom activity in Ethiopia have been provided by the Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which has been in the country since at least 2000 and was its exclusive supplier of telecom equipment from 2006 to 2009. ZTE is a major player in the African and global telecom industry, and continues to have a key role in the development of Ethiopia’s fledgling telecom network. ZTE has not responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries about whether it is taking steps to address and prevent human rights abuses linked to unlawful mobile surveillance in Ethiopia.

Several European companies have also provided advanced surveillance technology to Ethiopia, which have been used to target members of the diaspora. Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System. These tools give security and intelligence agencies access to files, information, and activity on the infected target’s computer. They can log keystrokes and passwords and turn on a device’s webcam and microphone, effectively turning a computer into a listening device. Ethiopians living in the UK, United States, Norway, and Switzerland are among those known to have been infected with this software, and cases have been brought in the US and UK alleging illegal wiretapping. One Skype conversation gleaned from the computers of infected Ethiopians has appeared on pro-government websites.

Gamma has not responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries as to whether it has any meaningful process in place to restrict the use or sale of these products to governments with poor human rights records. While Hacking Team applies certain precautions to limit abuse of its products, it has not confirmed whether and how those precautions applied to sales to the Ethiopian government.

“Ethiopia’s use of foreign technologies to target opposition members abroad is a deeply troubling example of this unregulated global trade, creating serious risks of abuse,” Ganesan said. “The makers of these tools should take immediate steps to address their misuse; including investigating the use of these tools to target the Ethiopian diaspora and addressing the human rights impact of their Ethiopia operations.”

Such powerful spyware remains virtually unregulated at the global level and there are insufficient national controls or limits on their export, Human Rights Watch said. In 2013, rights groups filed a complaint at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development alleging such technologies had been deployed to target activists in Bahrain, and Citizen Lab has found evidence of use of these tools in over 25 countries.

The internationally protected rights to privacy, and freedom of expression, information, and association are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. However, Ethiopia either lacks or ignores judicial and legislative mechanisms to protect people from unlawful government surveillance. This danger is made worse by the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment against political detainees in Ethiopian detention centers.

The extent of Ethiopia’s use of surveillance technologies may be limited by capacity issues and a lack of trust among key government ministries, Human Rights Watch said. But as capacity increases, Ethiopians may increasingly see far more pervasive unlawful use of mobile and email surveillance.

The government’s actual control is exacerbated by the perception among many Ethiopians that government surveillance is omnipresent, resulting in considerable self-censorship, with Ethiopians refraining from openly communicating on a variety of topics across telecom networks. Self-censorship is especially common in rural Ethiopia, where mobile phone coverage and access to the Internet is very limited. The main mode of government control is through extensive networks of informants and a grassroots system of surveillance. This rural legacy means that many rural Ethiopians view mobile phones and other telecommunications technologies as just another tool to monitor them, Human Rights Watch found.

“As Ethiopia’s telecom system grows, there is an increasing need to ensure that proper legal protections are followed and that security officials don’t have unfettered access to people’s private communications,” Ganesan said. “Adoption of Internet and mobile technologies should support democracy, facilitating the spread of ideas and opinions and access to information, rather than being used to stifle people’s rights.”

posted by Daniel tesfaye


TPLF tapping your phone & internet

March 26, 2014

Ethiopia uses foreign kit to spy on opponents – HRW

Ethiopia’s government is using imported technology to spy on the phones and computers of its perceived opponents, a Human Rights Watch report says.

The New York-based rights group accuses the government of trying to silence dissent, using software and kit sold by European and Chinese firms.

The report says the firms may be guilty of colluding in oppression.Ethiopian government is accused of installing spyware on dissidents' computers

An Ethiopian government spokesman, quoted by AFP, dismissed the report as a part of a smear campaign.

“There is nothing new to respond to,” Ethiopian Information Minister Redwan Hussein told the agency.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says its report is based on more than 100 interviews with victims of abuses and former intelligence officials, conducted between September 2012 and February this year.

Rights groups frequently accuse the Ethiopian government of cracking down on opposition activists and journalists.

The government denies the claims.

‘Overseas surveillance’

All phone and internet connections in Ethiopia are provided by a state-owned company. According to HRW, this has given the government unchecked power to monitor communications.

“Security officials have virtually unlimited access to the call records of all telephone users in Ethiopia,” the report said. “They regularly and easily record phone calls without any legal process or oversight.”

Recorded conversations are also alleged to have featured in abusive interrogations of suspected dissidents.

The technology used by to monitor the communications is said to have been provided by companies based in China, the UK, Italy and Germany.

“The foreign firms that are providing products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s illegal surveillance are risking complicity in rights abuses,” HRW’s business and human rights director, Arvind Ganesan, said.

According to the report, the government has extended its surveillance to Ethiopians living overseas.

Ethiopians living in the UK and the US have accused the authorities in Addis Ababa of planting spy software on their computers.

Both countries have been urged to investigate the claims, on the grounds that they may have violated domestic laws against invasions of privacy.

HRW says the firms that sell surveillance technology to governments also have a duty to ensure that their products are not helping to suppress human rights.

“The makers of these tools should take immediate steps to address their misuse,” Mr Ganesan said.

Source: BBC

posted by Daniel tesfaye

EITI or Clare’s Corruption Club?

March 24, 2014

by Alemayehu G. Mariam

Clare Short has won! Congratulations, Clare! Brava!

Last week, Clare Short, Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), succeeded in bullying the EITI Board members into voting to admit the ruling regime in Ethiopia into her Club.  She did it the old-fashioned way— arm-twisting, browbeating, bulldozing, rear-end kicking, a little bit of jawboning and sweet-talkin’ and a whole lot of temper tantrum throwing. She had learned her lessons well. In 2003, when Short ripped into Tony Blair and threatened to resign her position as Secretary of State for International Development over the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, she fulminated defiantly, “But they were going to war anyway and they were going to bully and pressure countries to vote for it.” Clare Short, Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

Clare, we knew “you were going to bully and pressure your Board members to vote and let the corrupt regime in Ethiopia into EITI anyway.” Brava! You have won. Take a victory lap. Raise the roof. You have vanquished the “human rights campaigners”, humiliated and mocked the civil society representatives on your Board in front of the whole world and chased those hapless and voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians right out of town. Now, it is time for you to go to Addis and celebrate. You’ve earned it. Let the champagne and cognac flow. You now own EITI. It’s your baby! While you’re at it, make it real. Give EITI a new name. How about Clare’s Corruption Club? Has a nice ring to it. “The Triple C.”

What is truly fascinating is the fact that Short’s philosophy (she calls it “principles”) of controlling corruption in the mining and extractive industries in the most corrupt countries of the world has prevailed. In batting to admit the regime in Ethiopia into the EITI, Short advanced a short-sighted theory of mining corruption control, which can be reduced to the following simple proposition: Admit the most corrupt regimes in the world into EITI by having them playing-acting transparency and accountability. Have them do a little shuffling and song and dance.  Insist that they make a public confession by babbling a few trendy phrases about transparency and good governance. Have them complete a make-believe application form with a lot of feel-good bureaucratic mumbo jambo. Demand that they publicly pledge allegiance to mining best practices. Then wine and dine them. In other words, dress up crooks, thugs and racketeers  in designer suits, parade them in public like respectable national leaders, groom them for three years and re-introduce them to the world as  anti-corruption warfighters in Clare Short’s Army. That’s the Clare Short Way of cleaning up the corrupt mining, mineral and oil sectors in Africa and elsewhere.

The decision to admit the regime in Ethiopia into EITI was a complete fraud done with smoke and mirrors. When the regime’s application was rejected in 2010, the reason given was that the

board concluded that Ethiopia’s ‘Proclamation on Charities and Society’ would prevent civil society groups from being sufficiently independent and meaningfully participate in the process.  The board decided, in effect, not to admit Ethiopia ‘until the Proclamation on Charities and Society is no longer in place.’ This is the only such instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted and the grounds for this action was clearly rights-based. (Emphasis added.)

Was the “Proclamation on Charities and Society” changed to justify admitting Ethiopia now? Of course not. What has changed for civil society in Ethiopia since 2010? As a direct result of the “Proclamation”, in 2010, “the number of civil society organizations in Ethiopia was reduced from about 4600 to about 1400 in a period of three months in early 2010.  Staff members were reduced by 90% or more among many of those organizations that survive.”

In one fell swoop, within a span of three months, the “Proclamation” had wiped out 70 percent of the civil society organizations in Ethiopia. In February 2010, the regime froze the assets of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Council, Ethiopia’s oldest human rights organization, and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, effectively incapacitating these two vital institutions; indeed for all intents and purposes outlawing them.

After the Board rejected the regime’s application in 2010, one thing had changed for sure. In March 2011, Clare Short was elected chair of EITI. Short is a longtime cheerleader and champion of the ruling regime in Ethiopia and a groupie of the late Meles Zenawi. She worshipped Meles, and not necessarily in a figurative way. Perhaps she felt she had to avenge the honor of her comrades and avatar for the drubbing they got in 2010 at the hands of the civil society board representatives. After all, when the regime’s application was rejected, that was “the only instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted” on “clearly rights-based grounds”. Short set out to get even and avenge the “dishonor” of Meles & Co., by humiliating before the entire world the civil society representatives on the EITI Board who were instrumental in defeating Meles’ first application. Clare, the Avenger got even!

When Short launched her brazen lobbying campaign (I did not say bullying) on behalf of the regime in Ethiopia in her March 11 “Open Letter”, she hectored the civil society representatives on the EITI Board like juvenile delinquents. She also made a maddingly flabbergasting observation. “As I look around the EITI implementing countries, I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them,” bloviated Short.  What did she mean by that? Who are the members of EITI?

EITI now has some 40 plus members. A good many of the member countries are under the thumbs and boots of some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. Among them include  Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon,  Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and  Yemen. In her “no worse than a great many of them” parallelism, Short was actually declaring a manifest and undeniable truth: The regime in Ethiopia is no worse than or different from many of the current EITI members who engage in gross and massive abuses of human rights. They are all corrupt to the core; they have all crushed and decimated civil society institutions; and they are thugs and gangsters in designer suits sporting bridle leather briefcases. Her real message to her Board, human rights organizations and the Diaspora Ethiopians was simple. “Chill out y’all. Don’t get bent out of shape. Let’s put lipstick on the corrupt thugs and continue with business as usual. Can’t we just get along?”

I agreed with candidate Barack Obama when he said, “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change; it’s still going to stink.” EITI can dress up thugs in designer suits, put makeup on them and call them “transparent” and “accountable”, but they are still thugs. You can wrap corruption in EITI logo and call it clean, but it is still going to stink. EITI is the lipstick put on African thug regimes to make them look pretty and clean.

In a strange way, Short is actually quite right. Mea culpa! It is true that many of the African countries in EITI are run by a bunch of wolfish corrupt thug regimes. I actually theorized about them in my commentary, “Thugtatorship, the Highest State of African Dictatorship.” Short is right on the money. Why exclude the thug regime in Ethiopia from its rightful place at the EITI Grand Table of Corruption? It is not fair.

In an even stranger way, Short proves my point perfectly. EITI is indeed mining Corruption Club Central. It reminds me of Alibaba and the 40 Thieves.

Strangest yet, I am grateful to Short for what she has done in her Open Letter fighting tooth and nail to get the regime in Ethiopia admitted into the EITI system. I admire her fighting spirit. Short is the type who will take down anybody to the mat if they stand in her way.

In bullying her Board to approve the regime’s application, she did us all a great service. She inadvertently exposed EITI for what it truly is, a protection and extortion racket. In organized crime enterprises, protection rackets  operate in situations where the police and judiciary are unable, unwilling or are incapable of  providing legal protection to the community. In exchange for a  “small protection fee”, the racketeers effectively maintain “law and order” for their clients and ensure that they are not bothered by other gangsters and hooligans.

Many of the EITI member countries are incapable of controlling corruption through their own legal institutions. The vast majority of them are one-man, one-party jobs. Political institutions are corrupted to the core. They have rubberstamp parliaments. Their prosecutors are benighted goons and party hacks with make-believe law books under their armpits. The judiciary is in the back pockets of the regime leaders. The anti-corruption commissions are used as guided missiles to wipe out political opponents, including dissenters within the regimes. There is no rule of law, only the rule of ignorant thugs.

Comes now EITI ready to impose a new world order of morality and integrity on age-old mining corruption in Africa and elsewhere. Supposedly, that is what EITI has been doing for the past decade. Truth be told, EITI is actually a protection racket for all of the corrupt regimes in its Club. It serves as a safe harbor to corrupt thugs who rapaciously plunder and steal their national resources away from any prying eyes. All the corrupt regimes have to do to be born again and attain the kingdom of EITI is go through a rite of passage: 1) Sign up and recite the EITI catechism. 2) Get baptized and be anointed by the Priestess. 3) Perform a few acts of contrition in public. 4) Give indulgencies for all prior acts of corruption. 5) Wait in limbo for three years in preparation for beatification from corrupt to clean.

It is a great scam for the thug regimes. They get to wear the EITI badge of (dis)honor and swagger about pontificating about how free they are from corruption. The EITI badge will give the corrupt thugs in Ethiopia bragging rights. They will flaunt their EITI good housekeeping seal of approval in the face of the international human rights organizations and the voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians. “In your face Human Rights Watch! In your face, Diaspora Ethiopians! We’re clean as a hound’s tooth, and we can prove it. Check out this cool badge!” They will continue to ply their mining corruption above suspicion, aboveground, aboveboard and above the law. EITI membership gives them the license and to steal, wheel and deal their natural resources to unsuspecting investors and the moral legitimacy to squeeze the loaners and donors for some mo’ extra cash.

EITI’s charade about its standards and criteria for admission is its omerta (code of silence) and its method of silencing not only its external critics but also internal dissenters. EITI shrouds itself in a whole litany of bureaucratic mumbo jambo about admissions criteria, accountability and transparency. Short dismissed all that as nice PR verbiage in her Open Letter when she wrote, “the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI.” What about those high-falutin’ and pretentious official standards? Are they mere ritual songs and dances?

By any objective measure, the admission of the regime in Ethiopia into EITI shows that the EITI standards are hollow and vacuous. EITI proclaims that to join the Club, a “government is required to issue an unequivocal public statement of its intention to implement the EITI.” Big deal! A government “must appoint a senior individual to lead on the implementation of the EITI.” Sure, corrupt Tweedle Dee appoints corrupt Tweedle Dum to lead the implementation.  A government is “required to commit to work with civil society.” What civil society? Not a problem. Since the corrupt thugs have decimated all real civil societies in their countries, EITI gives them permission to invent their own. That is precisely what the regime in Ethiopia did when it invented out of whole cloth the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union”. What a joke! The Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality, just outside the capital city of Addis Ababa, warehouses all of the real journalists — internationally celebrated ones and multiple recipients of the most coveted and prestigious press awards in the world — including Eskinder Nega, Reyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye. Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years for criticizing the late Meles Zenawi and for commenting on the Arab Spring. Reeyot and Woubshet were handed 14 year sentences for expressing their views in their weekly magazines.

Expecting the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union” to press for real accountability and transparency in the mining sector is like expecting an accurate accounting of missing hens from the fox guarding the hen house. The basic idea in the EITI regime is to facilitate the publication of accurate and verifiable data on the mining, mineral and oil sectors under strict independent public oversight and scrutiny with direct public engagement. The ultimate aim is to make sure “Revenues generated from the extraction of natural resources are available for the public to see.”

When it comes to data, the regime in Ethiopia is notorious for cooking the books. As I demonstrated in my commentaries “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi” and “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, the Meles regime had been cooking the economic statistics to falsely claim that under his leadership Ethiopia achieved “double-digit economic growth” for a full decade. What is fascinatingly instructive is the fact that Meles cleverly fed his bogus economic growth data to the World Bank (WB)  and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so that they can blow his trumpet. Even though they knew better, the WB and IMF were willing accomplices in the perpetuation of one of the greatest and boldest economic canards in recent times.

I shall argue that the regime in Ethiopia will pull the same tricks and hide behind EITI’s skirt to report all kinds of bogus statistics about mining production and revenues, while siphoning off hundreds of millions and depositing them in their personal offshore accounts. In due course, I expect to write a commentary entitled, the “The Voodoo Statistics of Mining Corruption in Ethiopia Through EITI”.

EITI aims to create the illusion of legitimacy, credibility, transparency and accountability through its lofty-sounding standards while in fact legitimizing and giving cover to corruption in the extractive industries in Africa and other developing countries. EITI is the “stealth technology” the corrupt regimes in Africa and elsewhere having been looking for so that they can cruise in plain view while ripping off the resources of their people without suspicion or detection. EITI is one of the slickest, sleaziest and slimiest con games to be played out on the world stage in a long time.

Demanding a double apology and insisting on one

In my last commentary, Mining Corruption in Ethiopia: A Reply to Clare Short, I suggested that Short should offer an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians for her monstrous fatwa demanding that they be shut out of the debate over Ethiopia’s  admission into EITI. She urged her Board to “listen to [the]…clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.” She effectively argued that the voice of Diaspora Ethiopians should be  silenced.

The  “clear and united voice of civil society of Ethiopia”, of course, is only a figment of Short’s unhinged imagination. There is neither clear, united nor even a voice of civil society in Ethiopia. The real civil society organizations have been muzzled, gagged and bagged years ago. But Short for some reason wants to perpetuate the myth that there is “civil society” in Ethiopia. Perhaps like her bosom buddy Meles Zemawi, she must love telling bedtime stories. I am actually cool with fairy tales. I also like Dr. Seuss. “One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Blue Fish.” One civil society organization. Two. Red civil society organization. Blue.

Really, I was somewhat wishful that Short may issue an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians out of a sense of magnanimity and noblesse oblige. Perhaps she might have said, “Sorry, I have been misunderstood and quoted out of context.” She does not actually have to mean it, just a nice PR exercise. Short does not have the generosity to apologize to the victims of her misguided wrath. She has a long reputation for being a bully bordering on “thuggy”, to use the contemporary parlance of youth. Short is known for being short-fused and short-tempered. Richard Dowden, the respected British Journalist, recounted his experiences with her in 2011. “I once interviewed her on a plane and when I pressed a point about human rights in Rwanda she threatened to have me thrown off. Since we were over Guinea at the time, I backed off. Now we meet in the genteel tranquility of London’s Commonwealth Club and she is calm and reflective – though still capable of taking a swipe at anyone who tries to tinker with her creation.” Short don’t play. She bullied Tony Blair into submission. (No wonder Blair confessed, “I feel like an abused and bullied wife.” It’s Short’s short way or the long highway! I have to give her credit though. She is a formidable apologist for the thugs in power in Ethiopia.

No need to apologize to Diaspora Ethiopians. But Short must apologize to Ali Idrissa, Faith Nwadishi and Jean-Claude Katende, the civil society representatives on her Board,  and the other members of Publish What You Pay. I insist on it! In her “Open Letter”, she unjustly lambasted the trio for being stooges of the international human rights organizations.  She accused them of being “unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a ‘north telling the south what to do mindset’”. She hectored them for putting the fate of EITI in the balance by opposing the application of the regime in Ethiopia.

Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende respectfully replied  to short’s Open Letter and told her she had jumped the gun. They said, “Ethiopia’s application to join EITI was not on our agenda at the regional PWYP meeting in Pointe Noire, although the issue did come up when we held our session on the enabling environment.” They explained that there were two views aired at Pointe Noire, one to admit the other to oppose. They challenged her “neutrality” stating, “You have openly taken a position in favour of admitting Ethiopia as an EITI candidate country, going against the principle of neutrality that should characterise your chairmanship. The trust from which you benefit as a chair is grounded in this essential principle.” They expressed puzzlement over her bizarre Open Letter.  “On this issue, we would like to note that we do not understand to what end the letter was made public when it was only addressed to a few people… We would also appreciate if our letter, like yours, would be published on the EITI website. In addition to that, it will be made available to our coalition members on the PWYP-International website.”

Short responded to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende, not directly, but through her secretary, Jonas Moberg.  It was her way of adding insult to injury. She had no problems writing Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in her Open Letter and hectoring and pleading with them before the whole world, but when they talked back, how dare they?! They needed to be put in their place. Moberg was the man given the dirty job. I personally felt deeply humiliated when I read the following:

Clare has asked me to answer your letter. Your points are fully noted, except the so called neutrality of the chair. As I have mentioned to Jean-Claude, the chair does not need to be neutral. She should not act as a representative of any of our stakeholders, which is not the same as being neutral.  The chair serves the EITI because she believes in its principles. It is her duty to defend those principles and act in the interest of the EITI, which is what she was doing when she wrote to you. There was no breach of her role in her letter.

Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende are not worthy of a direct response from Her Majesty?!

As I re-read Moberg’s letter, I was pissed off like a squirrel with a frozen pine cone. How dare Short respond to them through her secretary! Who the hell does she think she is?! Couldn’t she have had the grace, no! the simple human decency and courtesy to have her secretary draft the letter for her to sign.  Obviously, Short wanted to send Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende a clear message. She wanted to show them who’s the boss and what it’s all about. She is the Boss and it’s all about mind over matter. Short does not mind and Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende don’t matter!

I am going to apologize to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in the name of human decency, respect and honor. I have never met them or talked to them, but as fellow Africans I want them to know that their humiliation is my humiliation. My pride as an African was hurt to see them treated that way, but I want them to know that I am mighty proud of them. Their reply to Short’s off-the-wall Open Letter was an example of  rationality, logic and common sense. In their reply, they showed restraint, professionalism, equanimity and intellectual  honesty. They also showed that their generation of Africans will never say, “Yes! Bwana!”, “Whatever you say Bwana!” Short and her ilk should know that the new generation of Africans will not kowtow to anyone.  The days of “yes suh massah” are long gone. All Africans should be proud of Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende because they showed  dignity and grace in the face of disgrace and outrageous indignity. They did it all in class. Bravissimo! Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende!

I also plead with Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende not be overly offended by Short’s repeated injuries and usurpations.  After all, Short worshiped the late Meles Zenawi. In April 2013, Short spoke of her unbounded admiration for Meles “Superman” Zenawi at a memorial service. She said Meles was  “the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life”.  (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Ed Milliband, David Cameron, John Major, Maggie Thatcher, eat your heart out!) I don’t know about “Meles the Omniscient,” but I have no doubt he was the pick of the litter. Just look around; they are all chasing their tails.

Meles, like Short, was an arrogant man who “thugged” those who opposed or criticized him. He routinely called his opponents “idiots”, “dirty”, “mud dwellers”, “pompous egotists” and “good-for-nothing chaff and husk.” He also called them names that cannot be repeated in polite company. After Meles jailed Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, he called her a  “chicken” who has “gained weight (while she was in solitary confinement in prison) due to lack of exercise.” He took sadistic pleasure in humiliating and demeaning parliamentarians who challenged him with probing questions or even merely offered an alternative perspective. His put-downs, sarcasm and jibes were so humiliating and eviscerating that few parliamentarians dared to stand up to his bullying. When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted Meles with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, Meles condemned the entire EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” What can I say? Like demigod, like acolyte!

Did Short “defend EITI principles” or was she a lobbyist/agent for the regime in Ethiopia?

Short via Moberg’s reply to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende said that she was not being partial to Ethiopia but discharging “her duty to defend [EITI] principles and act in the interest of the EITI” when she wrote her Open Letter. Really?

Was Short “defending EITI principles” or pandering to the regime in Ethiopia when she wrote the following in her Open Letter:

I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them.

I must add that I find the discussion on Ethiopia to have been unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a “north telling the south what to do mindset”.

Rejecting Ethiopia’s application will leave Ethiopian civil society with nowhere to go.

I also believe that we should listen to what strikes me as a clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong group of activists who mean well but are quick to pick on some African countries which, whilst far from ideal, are no worse on human rights than many other countries.

There is also a serious problem of double standards. For example, removing the Occupy protesters from outside St Paul’s Cathedral by force in my own country hardly raised a murmur. The existence of Guantanamo and use of torture has not been mentioned in relation to the US application.

If [EITI] it is seen as a tool of campaigners it will lose effectiveness and support.

Fall on the sword for what?

Short has fought tooth and nail for the regime’s admission into EITI.  She proclaimed in her Open Letter that she is passionate in her advocacy for admission of the regime in Ethiopia. I respect anyone who has passion for a cause and fights for it, even if I disagree with them. I admire Short for having the balls to stand up for what she believes in. But I do wonder, really wonder! What the price is for her passion? What is the price for Short to fall on the sword for the thugs in Ethiopia? What is the price of Short’s soul?

Who really cares about EITI?

EITI, CCC, EEITI, whatever! Who cares? Who gives a damn!? You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can put a whole lot of African thugtators in EITI and call them transparent and accountable. At the end of the day, they are still thugtators in designer suits and fancy briefcases.

The suffering, violence and cruelty is going to go on and on in Ethiopia

Short once ruminated, “I think the suffering, violence and cruelty and Guantanamo and the rest is going to go on and on in Iraq.” Well, I feel the same way about Ethiopia. The suffering, violence and cruelty in Ethiopia is going to go on and on. Journalists will be jailed, civil society will be crushed, opposition leaders will be harassed and jailed, dissidents will be kicked around and elections stolen in broad daylight. That will not stop the struggle for peaceful nonviolent change. That will go on and on and on… Ethiopia’s young daughters and sons will rise up and shout out,

We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry! We need freedom! We need freedom! Free Eskinder! Free Andualem!  Free Abubaker! Free Reeyot! Free political prisoners! We need justice! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Don’t divide us! Ethiopia is One! One Ethiopia! We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry…”

Just as Short holds American presidents responsible for the suffering, violence and cruelty in Guantanamo and Iraq, I hold Short responsible as an accessory after the fact for the  decimation of civil society in Ethiopia.

Clare  Short, “J’Accuse…!”

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.” Emile Zola

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

posted by Daniel tesfaye


Free Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian Prisoner of Conscience

March 21,2014


Reeyot Alemu is an Ethiopian school teacher and columnist whose wings have been clipped and her mouth sealed. Reeyot has been in prison, after an unfair trail, for the past 1000 days.

Reeyot, prior to her unjust incarceration, wrote a weekly column for many Amharic-language newspapers. One of the fall-outs of the Arab Spring was that authoritarian governments in the MENA region panicked. As is wont with tyrants, many governments were afraid that the wave of dissent might spread to their country and engulf their regime.

In Ethiopia, Reeyot and four other journalists who were arrested in 2011 and convicted based on a trumped up charge of terrorism. The other journalists are Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega, Yusuf Getachew and Solomon Kebede.  

On June 21, 2011, Reeyot Alemu was abducted from the high school where she taught English Language. The place of her arrest and the charges for which she was being detained were concealed from her family. According to the Safe World for Women, Reeyot’s dignity was assaulted by Ethiopian authorities for “refusing offers of clemency in exchange for providing information on other journalists, was punished with nearly two weeks in solitary confinement.”

What was Reeyot Alemu’s crime? Safe World for Women explains: “Four days before her arrest, Alemu had written a scathing critique of the ruling political party’s fundraising methods for a national dam project, and had apparently drawn parallels between late Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi and Ethiopia’s then-Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.”

Reeyot was held in solitary confinement for three months before her trial, without legal counsel. Her charges were both vague and witnesses sprung from thin air to implicate her. And as though that were not enough, in a pre-mediated media framing, a documentary ran on state television in Ethiopia that painted Reeyot as a terrorist.

Eventually Reeyot was handed a 14 year sentence after a sham trial. In August 2012, the appeal court commuted the 14 years sentence to a five years prison sentence. The court also threw out the terrorism charges against her.

Reeyot Alemu is currently has a tumour in one of her breasts, which is also bleeding. Sadly her condition is without proper medical diagnosis, thus giving great concern about her health conditions. It should be noted that women with malignant breast lumps, in absence of specialized and immediate treatment stand chances of losing a whole breast or even death. 

Reeyot deserves to be free; it is not a privilege but a human right. Her dignity has been violated, her voice has been so forcefully silenced and above all her life hangs treacherously on a thin line. Reeyot Alemu, a prisoner of conscience, should be commended not condemned. This woman of valor should be praised not imprisoned. Free Reeyot now before she dies in prison!By Nwachukwu Egbunike

posted by Daniel tesfaye

Extractive Industries: Transparency Group Rewards Repression

March 20, 2014

Ethiopia Approved for Membership Contrary to Rules

Human Rights Watch

(Oslo) – A prominent international natural resource transparency group has damaged its credibility by approving membership for Ethiopia. On March 19, 2014, the governing board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes openness over oil, gas, and mining revenues, admitted Ethiopia as a candidate country despite harsh government repression that has crushed Ethiopia’s once vibrant independent organizations and its independent media.Ethiopia: Stop Using Anti-Terror Law to Stifle Peaceful Dissent

EITI rules call for candidate countries to make a commitment to meaningful participation of independent groups in public debate on natural resource management. Civil society representatives also sit on a national steering committee for EITI.

“The EITI’s decision to admit Ethiopia without insisting on reforms is an affront to the local activists who’ve been jailed or exiled for calling for a more transparent, accountable government,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “With this decision, EITI has thrown its principles to the wind and damaged its reputation as a leading good governance group.”

The decision divided members of the EITI board, which includes representatives of governments, companies, and civil society organizations. It also reversed a 2010 decision by the board to defer membership until a draconian 2009 law, still in effect, that sharply limits the activities of independent groups, “is no longer in place.”

Several exiled Ethiopian and international rights advocates called for conditions to be imposed on Ethiopia’s membership bid, but the board did not reach a consensus on such measures.

Under EITI procedures, Ethiopia has three years to prove compliance with the organization’s standards on revenue transparency and other matters. The board can call for an early review based on poor or deteriorating civil society concerns but has never done so.

“EITI’s leadership had an opportunity to stand up for the core principle that civil society participation is a linchpin of good governance,” Misol said. “Instead, it sacrificed EITI’s credibility by allowing Ethiopia to join the ‘transparency’ club despite intense repression.”

posted by Daniel tesfaye

1000 Days in Jail for Ethiopian Journalist Reeyot Alemu

March 19, 2014

March 16, 2014 marked the 1000th day of imprisonment for Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu. She is serving a five-year sentence after she was found guilty on terrorism charges in January 2012.

Jailed Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu.Photo source: Facebook page of Free Reyoot Alemu campaign.

Jailed Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu. Photo via Facebook page of Free Reyoot Alemu campaign.

Reeyot, an English teacher, is the recipient of the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prizethe Hellman/Hammett award, and the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Ethiopian government has convicted 11 independent journalists and bloggers including Reeyot and Eskinder Nega under a sweeping anti-terrorism law since 2011. Among those jailed are two Swedish journalists who are serving an 11-year sentence for allegedly supporting an ethnic Somali rebel group.

In this blog post, blogger BefeQadu Z Hailu described the plight of imprisoned Ethiopian journalists:

If the objective of imprisonment is to correct the convicted ones, then to encourage reading and education should be one of the tools to meet the objective. In Kality prison both are allowed but not easily to these journalists and others who are convicted in relation to ‘terrorism’.

These prisoners are not allowed to get books. Eskinder says, “Especially those kinds of books that have titles combining words of ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘history’ are not allowed in.” The same is true to the ward of Reeyot Alemu and others such as Wubshet Taye, Bekele Gerba, etc.

Local independent newspapers and magazines are not also allowed in; Eskinder further explained it to me that even News TV channels like BBC and Al Jazeera are not allowed to be viewed in zones where he and others are imprisoned.

Reeyot Alemu, after a tough struggle with the prison admins and after the media revealed the story, is now allowed to get distance education. But, it is still difficult for her to get supplementary books other than the books directly sent to her from the College.

Twitter users sent out tweets using the hashtag #ReeyotAlemu to express their support for the jailed journalist. Below are a sample of tweets:

Read More :HERE

posted by Daniel tesfaye

Letter to My Son (By Eskinder Nega)


Kaliti Prison
The mistakes of my life. Ah! I could go on and on and on about them. (Warning, I am aiming for your sympathy.) There are the missed opportunities. (God is generous, I squandered them all, literally.) There are the wrong choices (Hey there is at least the adrenaline rush that comes with every wrong move.) There is the conceited self-absorption (Obviously more and more as I rush through middle age.) There is the lack of direction (Bitter to admit, but true.) There is the incapacitating self-doubt. (Question: are you teary-eyed or disgusted?)
But here is what my strategy is not: a crafty debasement of expectation at the outset, so that by the end the balance of sympathy could sway no way but in my favor. I simply hanker honesty.
Indeed, I too yearn to be a hero in my son’s eye. Somehow privy to the notion that a male child’s first hero is the father, I dream to play the role. That this phase of the child is posed to pass quickly matters not an iota to me. I insist on my 15 minutes of fame. But I am also interested in the most enduring kind of appraisal, that of respect. While the former, unexplored adoration, is innate in every child, the latter, empathy and regard of the person, is the result of a complex process. And it has to be earned. Whether I merit this honor should be clear by the end of this letter.
I have reluctantly become an absent father because I ache for what the French in the late 18th century expressed in three simple words: liberté, egalité, fraternité. Before the advent of my son in my life, I was a nonchalant prisoner of conscience on at least seven occasions. The blithe was hardly unnoticed by my incarcerators.
It troubled them greatly because they did not know how to defeat it. Tyranny is a function of fear: the terror of state violence, the menace of imprisonment, the dread of imposed penury. None of these, however, could be applied against an entire population. But strike only against a handful and copious number of peoples are hypnotized into inaction. Our collective dignity, as the world’s oldest black nation, demands that this spell be broken irrevocably.
No myth has had wider resonance than the supposed gulf in history, lifestyle, psychology and hence politics between nations. Indeed the measure of progress has trended at varying pace for disparate peoples. But between antiquity and the 16th century, when the first flicker of scientific revolution appeared with the works of Copernicus in astronomy, the rift between the most advanced and the primal was inconsequential. It took two more centuries, until the invention of the steam engine in 1789 in Britain, before science commenced to transform society. Up to this time, the structural gap between Europe, the most advanced, and Africa, perhaps the least developed, was no more dramatic than the cleavage between rural and urban Europe itself. Only in the last 100-150 years was there a recognizable paradigm shift, with rural Europe finally overtaken by the rise of cities.
No country save the British, with their Magna Carta in 1215 and bill of rights in 1689, could claim centuries old evolution of democratic institutions. The rest of the world plunged haphazardly and unceremoniously into an unexplored world of democratic reconfiguration. The trail blazer, revolutionary France, in 1789, did not seek space for evolution to abscond from the bosom of one of Europe’s most strident monarchy to the enduringly seminal rights of men men and citizen; which enshrined not merely for France but for all humanity the principle of a government constrained by law. No less significantly France and many parts of Western Europe were democratic well before a sizable middle class emerged. The same holds for Britain. The U.S., too, was not only securely democratic in the early 19th century, but was also a nation with an overwhelmingly rural citizenry.
But fast forward to the mid-20th century and democratic countries were still far from the norm. It took a world war between 1939 and 1945 for democracy to reverse catastrophic slide and settle for an uneasy parity with ascending totalitarianism in Europe. An additional four-decades long cold war, spanning 1945 to 1990, was needed to decide the winner convincingly. Only then did democracy attain momentum.
Despite the popular convention mischievously amplified by most autocrats, to deter demands for rights, no people or country could plausibly claim an extended tradition of democracy. Unless, that is, the last 200 years of humanity’s 5,000 years of communal history is deemed as elongated.
And it seems Africa has finally moved to aptly realign with history. The tempo is to boldly march the French way. The result is breathtaking. Over two decades, the period between the collapse of Communisim, in 1989, to the end of the first decade of the new millennium, Africa was transfigured from a repository of fatuous dictators to a stronghold of more democracies than Asia, the continent with the fastest growing middle class in history. How Ethiopia lagged in this transformative saga of African renaissance and reformation accounts for my imprisonment, cruelly and yet impersonally imperiling my prized duty as a father.
My parents brief matrimony was an early causalty of the intractable tension between tradition and modernity in post-liberation Ethiopia. Gruesome though the Italian occupation was, in the late 1930s, it tore down a smug culture of complacency. The need to modernize, to embrace the know-how of the outside world, was no more in doubt. The ease with which the nation had fallen to fascist Italy was proof beyond reproach. That my parents, both hailing from profoundly conservative Orthodox families, who traditionally equated modern education with Catholicism, were allowed to attend school is testimony of how deep feelings run.
Modern Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, idealizes, by way of his still ongoing great marriage debate, the kind of union my parents forged. Highly intelligent, both had won super-competitive scholarships to do tertiary studies in American universities. Father was in New Jersey at Rutgers University for six years. Mother’s tenure at the American University of Beirut, the jewel of higher education in the Middle East, was shorter, having pursued post-graduate studies for a year. Both returned home full of energy, with [a] plethora of bright ideas, and a healthy dose of the sanguine optimism of the inexperienced.
Like many of htier contemporaries, their rise was swift, easy and assimilated in style. Both were successful, upwardly mobile, and still hungry for more when they met. The only predicament was in how they personally embraced modernity, an allegory of the dilemma at the national level.
To his credit father did not yield to the sentiment which Lee Kuan Yew ruefully laments about: the compulsion of educated young men to marry down. In mother he met a remarkably rare Ethiopian woman: financially independent, educated, emotionally secure as a single woman, and no less ambitious than himself. But unlike many of his peers he did not dive for cover. He was in fact a persistent pursuer, her repeated protestation notwithstanding. She was not particularly wary of him, rather she was circumspect of her odds in a primeval society. But in the end, I presume, his charm, and certainly family pressure, inexorably prevailed. A lavish wedding sealed the pact.
Unlike virtually all the women of her generation, education had emancipated mother not only financially, but crucially, emotionally. Reversal of either was unsavory, to be fended off at any cost. She was in a sense a feminist, absent the creed. There was little of the past she cared for. To exemplify her feelings, she started smoking, though discretely. Had he known, her devoutly religious father would have simply died of grief. Neither, as far as I could discern, did father. He would have certainly balked at the prospect of a smoking wife. Even if he had wanted to oblige her, society, his friends and kin would have censured him. But every puff was an exhilarating expression of freedom for her. Freedom not from want, but the strictures imposed by tradition. When she finally stopped, after her divorce, it was for my sake. I was trying to emulate the only parent I knew. And by this time she also had a more serious diversion to engage her energy; the quest, unprecedented in Ethiopia, to prove that there can be a better life for a single woman after a divorce. Her vindication came, in little over five years, by way of the most successful clinic in the country, which she owned and managed. Father, awed and embarrassed, could only watch from the sidelines. A rebellious wife customarily returned to her husband chastened and humbled.
To all appearances, father was the quintessential modern man. He was moderately liberal, he lived in the right neighborhood, he dressed fashionably, his English was faultless, and until the rise of communism drove the latest cars. And he had money. But this was only the façade. His acquiescence to modernity extended only slightly beyond these parameters. The nucleus of the values he internalized from society, which were in need of metamorphosis to complement his public image, remained intact. In this sense his profiles outlines the paradox that is the modern Ethiopian intellectual. There is the fixation with the façade of modernity—the technology, the infrastructure, the economy, the lifestyl. But there is also the corresponding resistance to its essential modus operandi—a radically transformed worldview. This means redefined relationships between husband and wife; parents and children; individual and society; the state and its citizens.
To mother, on the other hand, most established values were anachronistic. She had no compunction discarding them. In their place, a singular fixation with independence took hold. Society was, of course, less than ready to accommodate her. Though unexpressed, her husband had expected blunting of the fiery spirit, a gradual but inevitable acceptance of a place in life as a stay-at-home-mom. She thought otherwise. Forsaking a secure and well-paying job, when females with jobs were a rarity, for a precarious entrepreneurial venture was inexplicable. Both departures from convention were broadly misread as expressions of aggressive disposition. Few were able to see an indomitable spirit of individualism that make a modern society possible. This discord between a cumbersome past and a future grappling to unfold is also at the core of our national dispute over democracy.
A coarse encounter between the novel and the archaic is as old as history itself. The anecdotal evidence is rarely for the new to relinquish to the old. After all, women no[w] live in a far more liberate milieu than the yesteryears when few brave souls like mother were challenging convention.
Our modern politics has its genesis in a coup attempt in 1960. Though overwhelmed with relative ease, it left a lasting imprint on history by precipitating the rise of a fiery student movement, a precursor to the nation’s major political parties. Inspired by Egypt’s much romanticized coup, in 1952, which propelled young left-leaning revolutionary officers to power, Ethiopia’s was the first shot by soldiers to seize state power in black Africa. But while Egypt’s was conscientiously planned and executed to eschew violence, Ethiopia’s was marred by wanton carnage. Thus the debut of modern Ethiopian politics shadowed by unbridled violence. Fifty years later, the menace of brute force still lies at the heart of politics.
By the reckoning of the imperial government, father, like many of the intelligentsia, harbored suspect reformist sentiments. Though rewarded with high positions at an early age, there was tension in his relationship with the government. But it was tension devoid of danger for both sides. For the government, father and many of the young Turks, as they were propitiously called by some, posed no danger of subversion. They were impatient for hasty reform from inside, not calamitous revolution from outside. Even if the young Turks had their way, the result would be far less than catastrophic, with some measure of discomfort, they were tolerated. And indeed no sedition was ever intended by the young Turks. All they wanted was to upgrade, not change, the software. This somewhat cozy but uneasy bond between government and intelligentsia was upstaged the day university students flooded the streets in support of the coup attempt.
In 1960, the year of the coup attempt, Ethiopia’s elite center of learning was cloistered in a lone university college. A full-fledged university had yet to be realized. This was almost a generation after liberation from the Italians. In about the same interval, war-ravaged Germany and Japan had not only reconstructed but were on the verge of crossing new economic frontiers. Ethiopia’s shortcoming was manifestly evident. And finally a new generation scandalized by the inertia, indolence, stoicism and cynicism had risen. It was palpably time for change.
The 1960s could be credibly dubbed as the decade of student movements. But at its dawn, students nurtured no greater ambition than to be part of the global post-war economic boom. The revered genre of the silent, strong male, which dominated the 1950s, was still paramount. By the mid-1960s, Vietnam radicalized American youth, primarily on its colleges and universities. In France it was another war, Algeria, that was the impetus for campus militancy. In Iran and Europe [think he meant Ethiopia] it was a coup, successful in the case of the former, [a] debacle in the latter. The quartet gave the world the most animated students in history. By the mid-1970s, however, the Americans and French had fizzled out. The Ethiopians and Iranians peaked in the late 1970s, and quietly faded into oblivion in the early 1980s.
But their fleeting existence notwithstanding they left behind powerful legacies. The backlash against the counter-culture (contempt for authority and tradition) the students triggered in the US made the seminal presidencies of Nixon and Reagan possible. It took the coalition forged by Obama to win a second term to alter the dynamics of American politics. At their peak, Iranian students mesmerized the world by storming the US embassy in Tehran and humiliating a proud superpower. In less than a decade and a half, Ethiopian students inspired a nation to uproot a monarchy that had preserved for a millennium. Though they were from four far-flung continents, had distinct histories, and promoted radically different visions, the students shared a common denominator: disdain for the status-quo. To the Americans no one older than 30 was trustworthy. As a way to unshackle tradition, they attacked its prudish sexual mores. The French were unduly agitated against their government, and vented their anger on the streets of Paris with passion unseen since the storming of the Bastille. After rejecting the modernizing pretensions of their foreign-tainted monarch, Iranian students yearned for the purity of a lost age. To the Ethiopian students, groomed by rote learning rather than critical thinking, Marxism became the Holy Grail, the panacea to all the nation’s ills.
But a pivotal divide also separated them. The Americans and the French lived in free societies. There were adept political parties, vibrant free press, useful civic organizations, multitude of professional and trade unions to channel grievances and represent interests. None of these were about to be supplanted by students. The Ethiopians and Iranians lived in tired monarchies. There were no conduits for dissent. Here was an opening for transformative impact.
Unlike the Japanese and the Chinese after the madness of the Cultural Revolution, Ethiopian students never really made the crucial connection between the indigenization of science and development. They saw national redemption primarily in the social sciences, and many of the best students flocked to them in droves despite steady underperformance on standardized reading and comprehension tests. To father and his generation, the monarchy was sacrosanct. Very few of them flirted with republicanism. Their ideal was a British monarchy. To the students who were embittered and abruptly radicalized by the events of 1960, the monarchy, and the US, which was implicated in the reversal of the coup attempt, became loathed icons. Embracing socialism seemed only logical and inevitable. And here is where an academic culture chronically short on critical thinking was to have detrimental effect. Whereas in the U.S. and France deep scholarly foundations mitigated against the swamping of the student majority by extremism, in Ethiopia and Iran intellectual buffers against infantile radicalization were ominously absent. But while Iranian students rallied around grassroot sentiments for religious chastity and nationalism, only Ethiopian students militated against all things aboriniginal. Nothing was sacred to them. The emperor was lampooned. Religion was rejected. Culture was mocked. Tradition was attacked. History was disputed. Ethnicity was politicized. It was a tsunami at full thrust against all things established. A good measure of excitement was the intriguing possibility of engineering society from scratch.
But rejection is virtually a carefree venture. There is little strenuous intellectual effort involved. The demanding undertaking lies in the pursuit and nourishment of an alternative consensus. Ultimately, this is where the students failed calamitously. Singularly transfixed with rebellion, and only perfunctorily with its aftermath, they were governed by no moral codes, were disciplined by no hierarchy, and were direly lacking sense of proportion to temper emotions. In this sense, they had no analogue in the Americans or the French. Nor indeed in the Iranians. The Americans and the French were ultimately anchored by nationalism and ingrained identity. The Iranians of course had religion. Having rejected both nationalism and religion, Ethiopian students had nothing durably satiating to replace them with. This was the pristine environment in which militancy thrived. Extremism thus became not a mere idiosyncrasy, but rather the structural building block of the movement. Tragically, what the Ethiopians radicalized was really nothing more than nihilism. The mania was to tear down an existing order. In the end, after the collapse of the imperial order, only a small minority, by now metamorphasized into armed insurgents, had the energy to tread o. The majority was too exhausted to continue, opting for exile and a well-earned rest in the West. Of [A] multitude of vague memories from my distant childhood, the sense of dread that permanently enveloped my grandmother’s home, where my mother and I lived intermittently after the divorce, still lingers with me. Years later, in the 1990s, I was to learn, rather to my shock, ours was only one of a handful of families in the neighborhood that mourned the fall of Haile Selassie, the diminutive king who had held sway over the nation for over half a century. Initially I thought it was loss of privilege that explained our anomalous. But I know now there was more.
If one word was to render the spirit of the revolution, it would certainly be equality. An inordinate passion for equality suddenly bewitched the public—what in theory could only have meant equality of opportunity was in practice subverted to imply equality of merit. Not even the elderly, the repository of wisdom in traditional thinking, were to be deferred to anymore. The nation’s best and brightest, whose income, lifestyle and manners marked them from the majority, became more subjects of derision than role models. They were no more in vogue. It was time to celebrate mediocrity, to artificially elevate it to a higher podium. This atmosphere endured, with disastrous consequences for the entire reign of the military dictatorship, the guardian of the revolution and still influences the present. It is this pauperization of value that lies at the provenance o fthe national malaise that has numbed the intellectual elite.
To be fair, many nations, including the meritocratic U.S., where guilt-ridden 2008 (2012?) presidential candidate Mitt Romney was bullied for his wealth, occasionally toy with debased populism, but rarely has it persisted with the kind of intensity evident in Ethiopia. It was this slide to debauched populism that distressed grandmother’s household. It was a prescient reserve that anticipated an impending moral morass.
The ultimate failure of the military dictatorship, including its gross human rights violations, is the failure of Communism. But even within the narrow constraints of communism, more was possible. The Soviets failed broadly but compensated with a world-class military-industrial complex. Nothing works in Cuba except health services, one of the best in Latin America. Mao’s China at least liberated a billion plus mass of humanity from worry about its quotidian meals. Ditto for many Communist countries, where a lone bright spot attested to the restrained potential of an oppressed people. But because the principal consensus in post-revolutionary Ethiopia had been an unremitting joy derived from the leveling of society, a culture against exceptionalism gained traction. Blending became the default modus operandi both at the individual and group levels. No distinction was made between superiority stemming from privilege and superiority attained by merit. For a government fighting multiple insurgencies, this was a fatal shortcoming. Unable to build a professional army based on merit, it eventually succumbed not to superior force but to weaker adversaries who had assembled meritocratic fighting machines. It took seventeen years, but there was no avoiding it: grandmother was vindicated. And she lived to see it all. God bless her soul.
Sadly, the implosion of the military dictatorship did not necessarily entail reorientation of national disposition. On the contrary, unlike their less fortunate, American, French and Iranian brethren, Ethiopian students, untempered by outside influence, ascended to power in 1991 and had their nation at their complete mercy. And they did what was unthinkable to everyone but the puritan nihilist: facilitated—nay, promoted—the secession of Eritrea, the heartland of historical Ethiopia. Whether the nation will survive the shock that ensued is still an open question.
But while this is where we are, our future is not predestined. The future is malleable, at least in its mid to long-term facets. This is God’s way of internalizing hope into our existence. And best of all, the age of the students is fading. Consider recent events.
Even in sane democracies, the death of a nation’s leader can be the slow motion drama that it customarily is in autocracies. In contentedly democratic Ghana, where the specter of succession no more bodes the possibility of bloodletting, the president’s ill-health was the state’s most guarded secret. When John Atta Mills finally spoke of his illness, it was to insist of a successful cure. In the spirit of the famous adage, he wanted a return to normalcy. What he lacked, though, was an obliging public. This is Ghana, after all. Cynicism, one could argue plausibly, is a national brand. But in the end, even his deputy and successor, John Mahama, could not help but be caught unawares by his boss’s abrupt transition.
In increasingly Orwellian Ethiopia, the mere mention of the leader’s ailment required a radical departure from an entrenched—and prized—ethos of opacity. The enduringly hapless Ethiopian public does not expect to be told the truth by its government. The absence, not the histrionics itself, would have surprised Ethiopians. Thus only the hopelessly guileless were surprised by the delayed news of the leader’s death.
The paranoia is hardly misplaced. The death of despots has altered the course of national histories scores of times, and sometimes even world history.
One of the greatest empires in world history, that of Alexander the Great, simply collapsed with news of his early death; clearing the path for the rise of the Romans. The inopportune death of Odedai Khan saved Europe from an unstoppable Mongolian invading army in 1241. Had the Mongolians overrun Europe as they did China, world history would have changed beyond recognition. Along with the body of Oliver Cromwell was buried the political prospect of republicanism in 17th century England. Ominously, cautionary tales from local history are hardly in want. The legacies of Ethiopia’s last four kings, stretching from mid-19th century to mid-20th century, have all been marred by lack of continuity. And now there is the instinctive inkling by Ethiopia’s ruling party that history is about to repeat itself. But this time, absence of an enduring legacy awaits not merely a leader or party but an entire generation, the spirited students of the 1960s. Theirs will mostly be a legacy of infamy. To paraphrase Reagan, a legacy meant for the trash bin of history.
Life is tragically short. But only when challenged by a mid-life crisis, or when shock is triggered by illness or accident, does existence’s fleeting status dominate consciousness. How people react to the challenge is a measure of character. The broad motions people go through, however, are well established. There is the initial dazed realization of how disloyally momentary life is, then a reaction abounds, and finally, either stoically or grudgingly, acceptance of the inevitable assumes primacy. Prison has been the triggering element for me. And however exalted, the cause of justice is that has landed me here. I miss you and your mother terribly. The pain is almost physical. But in this plight of our family is embedded hope of a long suffering people. There is no greater honor. We must bear any pain, travel any distance, climb any mountain, cross any ocean to complete this journey to freedom. Anything less is impoverishment of our soul. God bless you, my son. You will always be in my prayers.
Eskinder Nega
Kaliti Prison
posted by Daniel tesfaye

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