The Mitmita Girls did giggle as well. But for a different reason. We knew Robeliye wasn't the best Ethiopia could offer! Why at least two of the Mitmita Girls were expert swimmers in our hay day! The butterfly was our stroke and given Robeliye's performance, we are lamenting the fact that we didn't ask our daddies to head up the swimming committee so that we too can coast to the Olympics with nary a kickboard nor a swim meet in sight!
Our expectation of an Olympian is that of an athlete whose body and abilities exhibit thousands of hours of sacrifice and training. More accurately our expectations are that those attending the Olympics have done the work, put in the time, competed against the best in their country, excelled and have risen to the top to make it to the games. As cynical as we are, sometimes it's wonderful to be confronted with our naïveté: Robel is an Olympian because his father was president of the Ethiopian Swimming Federation.
This is par for the course in Ethiopia. That's how the whole thing works. It's favors, bribery, and corruption. And it's business as usual. Headed by a mercenary junta which these past two weeks has shut down Internet access, telephone calls including viber and other communications as the government severely cracked down on protestors calling for political reform. At least 100 people have been killed by Ethiopian government forces.
But who cares! Robel represented us at the Olympics! And he was so happy to be there!
Robel and the ruling class’ children are without a doubt some of the biggest threats to Ethiopia. They are apathetic—privileged with access to the best schools, ill begotten funds and no real concern for the direction of the country and the plight of poor. To say they have no social consciousness is to be utterly too kind. Between their concern with importing Italian marble for the veranda, gold from Dubai and many European excursions, they are loathe to consider the basic necessities that are unavailable to 90 million denizens. It’s not that they are clueless to their suffering, it’s that they couldn’t be bothered. Robel’s nonchalance to the outage and ridicule of the world evidences this state of mind. The Ethiopian one percent and their throwaway lines that God will provide—Egziaber Estachew—smacks of self-importance and the worst of kind avarice.
They view their assent to the upper echelons of Ethiopia’s society as their birth right. In a country run like a badly managed family company, favors are handed out to relatives and relative incompetents with abandon.
Which brings us to the curious case of Dr. Tedros Adhanom—the Ethiopian candidate who is in the running to become the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Avid Mitmita readers may remember the good doctor from when we wrote about the little cholera oooops we mean Acute Water Diarrhea (AWD) incident which occurred in Ethiopia in 2009. If you recall the Ethiopian government outrageously protested what to call the water borne disease instead of actually handling the health crisis. The regime is obsessed with managing its image to the world. Cholera is known and feared but AWD is unknown and therefore doesn’t sound as deadly!
So let’s go with that!
At any rate, the person who was in charge of the Minister of Health during that debacle was none other than Dr. Adhanom! It's like your favorite villain from a novel! You keep counting him out but it's too early in the story! He is having a second act as the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2012 and now he wants a third one as the Director-General of the WHO because who is more capable of handling a global health crisis than someone who could not even handle a cholera outbreak in Ethiopia! Yes!
This is the confidence of corruption! The confidence of mediocrity!
Dr. Adhanom is squarely from our dearly departed Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s school of governance. You must look the part, you must speak the part and you must act the part. He dresses impeccably; he, like Meles, blithely pontificates that you can separate economic progress from human rights and he even evidently tweets—quite voraciously! (how adoooorable and au courant!)
Like Meles his role model, the good doctor knows how to seduce the West. He is a natural. He is also just not cut out to head up the World Health Organization. As titillating as it would be for “Africa to have a go at it” with a top health post, wouldn’t it make more sense for such an African to have had a rate of success in helping his country overcome their persistent food insecurity problem? How can a person who couldn’t resolve health crises impacting 90 million handle problems facing billions of people? If you have to resort to switching the name of the disease from Cholera to the obscure and benign sounding AWD instead of focusing on ridding Ethiopia of Cholera, you should be in public relations or Hollywood and not heading up the Ministry of Health—much less the WHO!
And then of course there is also the small issue of misappropriation of funds. As it turns out, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria granted monies (some $1,306,035,989) to Dr. Adhanom’s Ministry of Health to be used, we think, ostensibly to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria as the name of the fund would suggest. Well an audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (report was filed in April 2012) found that there were misappropriation of funds, that the health facilities constructed without authorization were of substandard quality and that some of the funds were used for “ineligible expenditures.”
As you know the Mitmita Girls like to go to the source for delicious details so let us dig up this audit (look for a report on Ethiopia from April 2012). We want you to get yourself a nice delicious bottle of tej and get ready for some thrilling reading into Adventures in Misappropriation of Funds with the Good Doctor Adhanom!
From the damning pages of the audit we get these interesting tidbits: instead of using monies allocated for the spraying of Malaria, Dr. Adhanom’s Federal Ministry of Health instead diverted “USD 6.97 million … from indoor residual spraying to [Health Center] construction without the necessary formal approvals being obtained.”
Now you might say, well you know, it looks like they built health centers so what’s the harm in that, you silly Mitmita Girls? To begin with, the audit goes on to report how the health centers were of substandard quality. You would think if they “reprogrammed 6.97 million dollars” they would at least build something worthy of that money. But alas!
Again it is amateur hour in Ethiopia.
No doubt you think us harbingers of doom and gloom and you are still thinking we are sounding a false alarm about the building of health centers and thinking well at least they built some center and really how bad could they be? As it turns out, the centers were quite bad! The audit tells us what happened when 77 of these constructed health centers were inspected—“71% of the sites visited did not have access to water; 32% did not have functioning toilet facilities; 53% had major cracks in the floors; and 19% had leaking roofs.”
Hmmm. Sounds just like the kind of places we would all like to go to get treatment!
Second, the issue with building these substandard centers is that the money is diverted from its intended purpose which is battling malaria—meaning impacting the lives of Ethiopians—to constructing substandard buildings for which they did not have prior approvals. The audit went on to report that“[t]here was no formal approval from the Global Fund to expand grant activities for the construction of new [health centers]. Further, the TRP did not review and approve this material change to the scope and scale of the proposal originally approved, and the performance frameworks were not revised to reflect this significant reallocation of funds.”
In an almost exasperated tone, the report concludes that “from the audit findings, the OIG could not provide assurance that oversight arrangements ensured that grant funds are used for the purpose intended.” In other words, there is no real way of discerning exactly what is happening to grant monies.
So the Office of the Inspector General recommended that those “reprogramming”, thievin’, misappropriatin’ Minister of Health officials should refund some $7,026,929 to the Global Fund. Tsk tsk, sounds like the good doctor was into some fancy cyphering. For the rest of us lay folk, misappropriation is just another way of saying taking money that doesn’t belong to you. So where exactly was the money spent? What are these ineligible expenditures?
When money is being taken in our name for the sake of fighting diseases impacting our citizens but instead it is diverted to build substandard centers, we have the right to ask what happened. Instead of answers and accountability, we get the person who headed the agency accused of misappropriation asking to head up an even bigger organization! Such is the lunacy that is governance in Ethiopia! No accountability for corruption; rather, the person is rewarded by higher positions of authority within the country and then is paraded out like a prize to the world.
Robel and Dr. Adhanom exemplify what the Ethiopian junta is presenting to the world: a counterfeit Ethiopia—one in which the Addis skylines are lined with hundreds of skyscrapers and scaffolding but on the ground there is still no access to clean water, there are frequent electricity outages and the ever present food shortage. And oh, of course, there is still the regime’s penchant for shooting citizens in broad day light for something as benign as a peaceful protest.
The Ethiopian government and its apparatchiks are offering the world a glittering empty promise which will end in disaster. Just like the good doctor’s candidacy for the Director-General of the World Health Organization.
The Mitmita Girls have one more thing to add to those considering the candidacy of Dr. Adhanom: Caveat emptor, WHO! Buyer beware!
The last few days that aspect of our blessing has been in full bloom. Ethiopia’s children have been enjoying the latest crop of morale builders and national cheerleaders. Let me start with Almaz Ayana. She is like our country, deceitful at first glance. Almaz looks so small and fragile but don’t let that fool you. She conquered the 10K Olympic track record in Rio and signed her name in bold and it says ‘catch me if you can’. That is a personal achievement. It is also a national glory.
I have no words to describe the pride I felt when I saw Feyisa Lilesa raise his hands in Rio to reflect the pain in his heart. Our young hero in a moment of such personal glory decided to shine a bright light at the slaughter of his people by Woyane gangsters that are currently masquerading as a lawful regime. I was both in awe of his courage and proud of his achievement. How could one be so young and so unselfish to think of others less fortunate when the whole world was admiring his athletic ability? He turned things right side up. He said there are more important things we have to reflect upon together like the ‘lack of Freedom’ in Ethiopia.
That is what makes our people and country special. We produce selfless people and true leaders despite the beastly nature of the tyrants that have basically made us strangers in our own home. It is true we never give up. There has not been a single day Woyane has not been challenged in the country called Ethiopia. Woyane has spilled the blood of Ethiopians no matter what kilil one comes from.
Our young friend Feyisa is joining a noble company of warriors, freedom fighters and all around Ethiopians that have come before him. He is following their good steps. He is a disciple of Berhanu Nega, Birtukan Mideksa Reyot Alemu and others that have paid a heavy price for refusing to heel. Today Eskinder Nega, Wubshet Taye, Andualem Arage, Andargachew Tsige, Bekele Gerba, Abubeker Ahmed, Habtamu Ayalew, Temesgen Desalegn and many more are in Woyane dungen, not Ethiopian jail. The guards are Woyane, the language is Tigrean and life is harsh. The only crime they all committed is saying No to tyranny.
This unique Ethiopians have absorbed more of the ingredients that have produced such luminaries as Emperor Tewodros, Ras Alula, Itege Taitu, Dejazmach Balcha, Ras Desta, Ras Abebe, Mengistu and Germame, Tilahun Gizaw and many more beautiful Ethiopians. They all have one thing in common-unselfish behaviour in the service of people and country. Today Dr. Berhanu can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his hard work as a professor and watch his children grow, Judge Birtukan could have submitted to Meles and be left alone, Reyot has a chance to be an ordinary teacher and close her eyes to injustice, Eskinder could have kept quiet, Bekele Gerba was not tempted to lead the easy life outside nor did anyone push Temesgen to defy Woyane. Our young hero Feyisa could have gone home receive the accolades and may be open a Hotel and lead the life of leisure. What is real is sSome people add value to our life.
They all have the fire of freedom burning inside of them that wouldn't allow them to take the easy way out. That is not the stuff heroes are made from. Our heros show us by example what it means to sacrifice for a cause and face even torture and death. They are showing us the way forward is to stand up straight.
It is heartwarming to see the result of Feyisa’s ‘teachable’ moment that garnered solidarity with the people of Ethiopia thus exposing the true nature of the fascist regime. The donations to help him settle in a new land are pouring in from all over the world. He has made our cause front page news, we owe a debt to the young Ethiopian from Oromia. Your family loves you.
It is no use talking, admiring, taking credit for the selfless act of our heroes. They sacrificed a lot, stuck their neck out on our behalf. The way we pay them back and stand beside them is by emulating their selfless act. Those at home are doing all they could to confront an armed opponent that is being cornered on all sides due to its criminal acts. I am sure they will feel empowered by Feyisa and double their efforts to win their Freedom. That is how they show their admiration.
The people of Bahr Dar have continued on the footsteps of Gondar. Three days Bahr Dar was a closed town. The people of Bahr Dar like the citizens of Gondar expressed their discontent with Woyane rule in the strongest way possible. They shunned the ethnic based rule with its local puppets by turning their face around not to look at such shameful opponent.
We on the outside should do the same. We should boycott all aspects, forms and manners of Woyane. Plenty of non Ethiopians contributed money, moral support and identified with the cause and are helping Feyisa settle and bring his family to join him. We Ethiopians have a greater responsibility and a debt to pay.
As Almaz was breaking records, as Feyisa was making history Woyane was blanketing Addis Ababa with troops to stop a vigil at Meskel Square. They closed every street and alley and arrested all those they think would lead the protest. They mobilized the Army, alerted the Air Force and packed their bags for easy exit. They worked out a real sweat because they thought the people of Addis are going to pour out of their houses corner them in a dead end street and hang them just like what happened to Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. Not a good vision but when it is adorned with a tiny tint of realism what can one do except nod in agreement.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Ethiopian marathoner who flashed an antigovernment gesture as he crossed the finish line in second place at the Rio Olympics will not go home.
The runner, Feyisa Lilesa, will not fly back to Ethiopia on Tuesday with the rest of his team, his agent said, choosing instead to remain in Brazil with his immigration status unclear.
“He didn’t plan at all for this,” said Mr. Lilesa’s agent, Federico Rosa, speaking by telephone from Brescia, Italy. "He doesn’t want to go to Ethiopia, he wants to go to another country. The U.S. would be very good but right now we just don’t know where he’s going to go. He was very happy after winning but also a bit confused.”
By raising his arms and crossing them in an X in front of his face as he crossed the finish line Sunday, Mr. Lilesa, 26, has crossed the Ethiopian government, one of the most repressive in Africa.
His gesture, which he repeated during an award ceremony on Sunday after the race, was the most visible in a growing wave of protests in recent months against Ethiopia’s government. This unusual burst of protests has erupted across Ethiopia, especially in Oromia, the region from which Mr. Lilesa hails, and where the gesture of raised arms crossed in front of one’s face has become a sign of defiance.
Tens of thousands of protesters have been jailed and hundreds have been killed, according to Human Rights Watch. Mr. Lilesa said in interviews after his race that he believed that if he were to return home, he, too, would be punished. The Ethiopian government has said he has nothing to worry about and that he would be treated like a hero upon his return.
Mr. Rosa said that Mr. Lilesa was a serious young man who “doesn’t like to play games.”
Some sports analysts have speculated that Mr. Lilesa, who finished the Olympic marathon in 2:09:54, and has one of the 50 fastest times in history, might chose to run for another country, such as Bahrain or Qatar. The Gulf states have wooed many other African-born athletes with promises of large pay days if they win international competitions.
Mr. Rosa said that Mr. Lilesa, who won the Tokyo marathon this year and has a contract with Nike, did not make his protest in an effort to cash in.
“He didn’t plan at all to go to another country,” Mr. Rosa said. “I don’t know even when he decided to do this. He didn’t say anything to me about it. I was surprised. And you don’t do something like this for money. He did this to defend his country.”
In an interview with journalists Sunday in Rio after his race, Mr. Lilesa said he did not discuss his protest beforehand with his agent, coaches, teammates or his family. His wife and two children remain in Ethiopia.
If Mr. Lilesa wants to apply for asylum in the United States, it would be difficult to do that while in Brazil. He might first have to get asylum in Brazil and then apply to the American authorities for so-called humanitarian parole. Under that program, which is used sparingly, often for people in danger, Mr. Lilesa would be allowed to travel to the United States and stay temporarily. Once on American soil, he could apply for political asylum.
Mr. Lilesa has became a sensation on social media. As of Tuesday night, nearly $100,000 had been raised for him via a crowdsourcing website. “We assure you all the money collected will go to support this Oromo/Ethiopian hero,” the site said.
Correction: August 23, 2016
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated when Feyisa Lilesa made his second protest gesture. It was at a separate awards ceremony after the men’s marathon, not the medals ceremony.
Statement of my credo: Hate is the one crumbling wall that now stands between the people of Ethiopia and freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. The T-TPLF has weaponized and politicized hate. But the mud walls of hate erected by the T-TPLF are today collapsing on the T-TPLF everywhere under the volcanic pressure of a popular uprising . The kililistans (T-TPLF’s equivalent of apartheid’s “Bantustans”) are dissolving before our eyes. The glue that made it possible for the T-TPLF to monopolize and cling to power for the past quarter of a century has been the politics of hate – blind ethnic and religious hatred. But everywhere the people of Ethiopia are breaking out of the prison gates of T-TPLF’s kililistans. The people of Ethiopia are rising up against the Masters of Hate. The young people of Ethiopia are raising and crossing their arms in resolute nonviolent defiance and proclaiming that no amount of violence by the T-TPLF will break their spirit; and they will continue to march in the spirit of “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”
As victims of T-TPLF hate, the people of Ethiopia have become united as one in their pain and suffering. When protesting Oromo children are massacred Amhara, Tigray, Gurage and all other parents cry for them because they are children of Mother Ethiopia. When Amhara, Tigray, Gurage children are massacred, Oromo parents cry for them because we are all children of Mother Ethiopia. Those who planted the seeds of hate are now beginning to see the harvest of unity against hate. The T-TPLF has long traded on the myth that its fate and destiny is in fact the fate and destiny of the people of Tigray. The truth is that the T-TPLF represents no one but its members, supporters and cronies from all ethnic groups and religions who feed at its trough of corruption.
Let me begin my commentary with the wisdom of a cartoon character named Pogo who appeared in a comic strip back in my day.
The funny animal characters in that comic strip lived in a swamp community, which figuratively represented the diversity of American society and issues facing it. That community began to disintegrate because its residents were incapable of communicating with each other over the most important and urgent issues facing them. They wasted time squabbling and bickering over non-issues.
One day, Pogo saw the swamp they lived in filled with debris and litter. In reflective frustration he sighed, “We have met the enemy. He is us!”
I want to declare, paraphrasing Pogo, in reflective frustration over the politics of hate the T-TPLF has created and nurtured in Ethiopia over the past quarter of a century:
“We have met the haters. They are us!”
I am gratified to learn that my commentary last week, “Ethiopia: Rise of the “Amhara Retards” and Oromo “Criminals and Terrorists” in 2016?” has attracted considerable attention from my regular readers and others. The reach of this particular commentary online and social media can only be described as beyond extraordinary. Why?
The reactions to my commentary from those who reached out to me have been varied and could be summarized along the following lines:
1) I should have dealt with the subject of “hate talk” and hate-mongers more delicately and should not have presented the issues in the media in its raw “shocking” and “ugly” form.
2) I should not have discussed or brought out such a long-avoided taboo subject of “ethnic vilification” and “ethnic hate” into public discourse because “it is not in our tradition” to talk about it in the public (“newur new”, poor taste?).
3) I should not have written the commentary because it could sour ethnic relations and “add fuel” to the fire of ethnic hatred.
4) I should have named and shamed the person who was ranting and raving in the audio included in my commentary since that person is a well-known T-TPLF operative in the Ethiopian Diaspora.
5) I should not have given attention to the rantings and ravings of “low lifes” who spew hate on the internet globally and radio stations in Ethiopia. By commenting on the “ignorant” tirades of the “low-lifes”, I have “validated” and “legitimized” them.
6) I have now made it possible for all hate-mongers to be more emboldened to spew their hate because they expect they will get the attention of the wider public through my future commentaries.
7) I should not have brought out the subject of hate and haters at this critical time in the country because it could make some people angry and incite them to “act impulsively”.
8) By writing the commentary, I am in fact promoting hate against specific groups because I am “wittingly or unwittingly” resonating the message of the hate-mongers.
9) I have now made it possible and acceptable for the T-TPLF to preach to its supporters and followers that “THEY” are ganging up on “US” and for everyone on the “US” side to circle the wagons.
10) I am myself a hate-monger by repeating the message of the hate-mongers; and also because I have long been a “harsh” and “dogmatic” critic of the T-TPLF and have “NEVER” given credit “for anything the government has done”.
11) I should have focused my commentary on “all haters”, and by singling out only one group of haters “for special treatment”, I was “unfair”.
12) It was courageous of me to talk about the subject of hate in public because it is an issue which most Ethiopians avoid talking about candidly even in private.
13) I am the right person to raise the issue in public because of my long “record of moral leadership” and should continue to do so.
14) Others should be encouraged by my commentary and deal with other “taboo” subjects.
15) I should write more commentaries on subjects that are usually avoided “such as harmful and outmoded traditions”, and so on.
I do not doubt that people reading my commentaries will interpret them consistent with their own agendas, views, preferences and prejudices. That is human nature and to be expected in public debates and discussions.
My short answer to many of the points above is that my commentary is about hate, not the haters that hate. As Mohandas Gandhi counseled, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”
People in general avoid and fear to acknowledge the frightening power of hate.
Hate is the most powerful negative power in the universe known to human beings.
But hate resides in all of our hearts. We may deny it and pretend that is not so. But as we lay in bed, hate whispers to us in the dark language of revenge and evening the score.
No one is above suspicion when it comes to hate. No one or no society has a monopoly on hate.
There are Amhara, Oromo, Gurage… American, Russian, Chinese… haters.
Hate begins with “Us and Them” mentality.
I hate hate itself, not necessarily the perpetrators of hate. I will speak truth to haters but will not hate them.
For I know the history of mankind is that “Man is wolf to man” (Homo homini lupus est). I would say hate is the wolf in the man.
Donald Trump preaches the gospel of hate in America from the pulpit of his presidential campaign.
But the true Gospel teaches, “The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live.”
In my religious tradition, there is only one person who is beyond all evil and infinitely good.
But “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
As I contemplated many of the foregoing reactions and sentiments, it dawned on me that they all share one thing in common, intended or not: Censorship.
The kernel of most of the reactions, it seems to me, is that I should not have written about the subject of hate and hate-mongers. Alternatively, I should have maintained the unofficial code of social silence (the “Ethiopian Omerta”) and continue to pretend hate talk does not exist; and even if it does, it happens only in the netherworld of the “low-lifes”. I should ignore hate talk altogether.
In other words, I should have self-censored and not written the comment; or that the blogosphere and social media should have censored my commentary from wider dissemination.
Hate talk does not disappear or vanish because it is ignored or treated with contempt and indifference. Hate talk, like mushrooms, mushrooms in the dark. But it does not thrive in the light of critical analysis and inquiry.
Censorship, ipso facto, (by that very fact) is anathema to me.
I trace my absolute abhorrence to censorship to John Milton’s Areopagitica, in which Milton made the most soul-stirring philosophical defense of the principle of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
I have had my share of defending the right of hate-mongers to speak their hate in criminal cases and in public discourse.
I have spoken truth to haters whether they are U.S. Supreme Court Justices propagating hateful messages on young African Americans, presidential candidates arrogantly proclaiming the mass banning of people of a particular faith or rogue police officers who shoot and ask questions later because they believe black lives do not matter.
I have on a number of occasions called for the establishment of interfaith councils to combat sectarian hate in Ethiopia.
Most of my readers are familiar with my uncompromising and impassioned defense of the late Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University in 2010. (See my commentary, “Mr. Zenawi Goes to College!”.)
Meles is widely regarded as the master tactician of hate by the Ethiopian opposition. He is credited for refining the use of ethnic division and antagonism to consolidate his power.
There was near unanimous opposition in the Diaspora Ethiopian American opposition to Meles’ “keynote address” at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia.
There was even push back from some prominent journalists in Ethiopia. It was agonizingly heartbreaking for me to break rank with my personal hero and heroine Eskinder Nega and Serkalem Fasil who wrote a passionate and moving letter asking Columbia University president Lee Bollinger to disinvite Meles. To put principle above people one loves and adores as generational heroes and heroines is painful beyond description.
Suffice it to say that I subscribe to Prof. Noam Chomsky’s admonition: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Even the master tactician of hate has the right to speak his mind.
As a student and practitioner of American constitutional law, my views on censorship are best articulated by the late U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:
Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago, those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression, they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman’s intrusive thumb or a judge’s heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself [herself]…” (dissenting in Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463, 498 (1966); emphasis added.)
My regular readers over the last ten years know that I have chosen for myself the motto, “Speak truth to power”; and also to the power-hungry, power-thirsty, the power abusers, the power misusers and the plain powerless.
I “speak truth to power” because I believe in the Scriptural wisdom that “The truth shall set you free.”
I take my inspiration in my “truth-speaking mission” from Prof. Edward Said and Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, both peerless intellectual giants.
Prof. Said observed that in the 21st century, the intellectual has taken the mission of advancing human freedom and knowledge by “speaking the truth to power, being a witness to persecution and suffering, and supplying a dissenting voice in conflicts with authority.”
Prof. Mesfin took upon the cross of speaking truth to power in Ethiopia in the second half of the last century. (See my November 2015 commentary, Reflections on Prof. Mesfin’s “Adafne”: Saving Ethiopians From Themselves?)
When I began my human rights advocacy in Ethiopia following the massacres that took place in the aftermath of the 2005 election, I resolved to become a witness for the victims in the Meles Massacres.
I was initially outraged by the fact that the late Meles Zenawi could feel so powerful and so totally unaccountable as to direct his security and military forces to shoot at unarmed demonstrators indiscriminately. When my outrage subsided somewhat, I mulled the question: What kind of a human being would authorize the massacre of unarmed citizen protesters?
The conventional answers were not satisfactory to me. Of course, dictators will use all means at their disposal to cling to power. Dictators will kill, steal, cheat and beat to keep their hold on power.
I was not convinced that the conventional logic of dictatorship held true in the case of Meles and the T-TPLF.
As I delved deep into the history of the “TPLF”, studied the TPLF Manifesto, listened to hours of audio and video tapes of former TPLF members divulging TPLF secrets and reading scholarly analysis by former TPLF leaders, it became crystal clear to me that Meles’ and his organization’s lust for political power was driven above all by H-A-T-E.
From the very beginning, Meles and the T-TPLF have always cultivated and operated in an environment of “Us” vs “Them”. Hate coursed in the bloodstreams of Meles and his T-TPLF comrades.
Meles and the T-TPLF understood the power of hate and used it craftily in aggrandizing more political power.
At the slightest provocation, hate would ooze out of Meles’ mouth as maggots would from carrion.
Meles once told the esteemed and distinguished Ethiopianist and my good friend, the late Professor Donald Levine: “The Tigreans had Axum, but what could that mean to the Gurague? The Agew had Lalibela, but what could that mean to the Oromo? The Gonderes had castles, but what could that mean to the Wolaitai?”
What is the meaning and connotation of such questions?
Meles also said the Ethiopian flag is nothing more than a “piece of rag” and that “Ethiopia is only 100 years old. Those who claim otherwise are indulging themselves in fairy tales.”
Meles believed and his T-TPLF today conveniently believe that there is no such thing as Ethiopia, only a collection of “nations, nationalities and peoples” in an imaginary land, ideological garbage they snatched from the demented writings of Koba the Dread, a/k/a Stalin. (See my may 2016 commentary, “Does Ethiopia Need a Constitution?”.)
What Meles and the T-TPLF could not fathom is the simple fact that there is a real Ethiopia with a history dating back to Biblical times. (See my November 2014 commentary “The de-Ethiopianization of Ethiopia”.)
All Ethiopians have the moral and legal right to claim Axum, Lalibela, Lucy (Dinqnesh), Harar Jugol (considered to be the fourth holiest city of Islam by UNESCO), the “Gadaa” and “Gumii Gaayoo” systems of governance and many others.
The T-TPLF has always sought to deflect attention from its hateful and criminal actions by mythologizing the alleged hateful acts of others. They have tried re-write and miswrite history to conceal their own crimes against humanity. They have paid millions to erect a statue depicting Emperor Menelik II as a brutal king who lopped off women’s breasts and thereby memorialize for eternity hate between Oromos and Amharas.
When it comes to brutality, is there anyone more brutal and cold-blooded than Meles Zenawi and his T-TPLF?
Meles’ personally established Inquiry Commission laid full blame for the intentional and deliberate massacre of at least 193 unarmed protesters and the severe wounding of 763 others following the 2005 election at Meles’ feet.
Human Rights Watch laid full responsibility for the massacre of 400 unarmed protesters in Oromia in its June 2016 report, “Such a Brutal Crackdown”.
Meles personally ordered the massacre of over 400 civilians in Gambella, in western Ethiopia in 2004.
Meles personally authorized the bombing and strafing of villages in the Ogaden. Steve Crawshaw, the United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch described the crimes against humanity committed by Meles and the T-TPLF in the Ogaden as “a mini-Darfur.”
Of course, the T-TPLF’s ethnic hate propaganda is completely bogus.
I challenge any Ethiopian who claims to have one and only one ethnic genotype. I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that if every Ethiopian gave a DNA sample, not only will they find out that they have genetic markers from every ethnic group within Ethiopia but also, much to their surprise, everywhere else in the world. These days for a measly USD$99, it is possible for anyone to trace one’s genealogy, if one is prepared to “handle the truth”.
There is no one who is “pure” Amhara, Oromo, Tigray, etc.
I have long preached that there is an ancient land called Ethiopia that is our motherland. Ethiopia cannot be sliced into “kilils”, diced into “ethnic federalism” or priced for fly-by-night investors or secretly handed over into a border “agreement”.
But for the T-TPLF the “Us” vs. “THEM” dichotomy has been a cleverly disguised strategy.
There is the “Us”, namely the leaders, members and cronies of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front”, of which they speak in glorious terms of military prowess, and then there is the implied “Us”.
There is the T-TPLF “Us” wallowing in corruption, crimes against humanity and abuse of power.
Then there is the implied “Us”, the ordinary people of Tigray, who like the rest of ordinary Ethiopians have suffered the slings and arrows of a bloodthirsty gang of thugs from the time when the TPLF was a rebel army.
The T-TPLF has taken the people of Tigray as hostages.
But do the ordinary people of Tigray have a say in whether the T-TPLF can use their name for its own criminal purposes? Do the ordinary people of Tigray freely, willingly and voluntarily support the T-TPLF?
To answer these questions, we must examine the evidence.
That evidence comes from none other than one of the original founders and former defense minister of the T-TPLF, Seeye Abraha.
In a “retrospective on the 2010 parliamentary election” (in which Seeye ran in Tigray), Seeye exposed the T-TPLF police state which controlled every aspect of the life of the ordinary people of Tigray. He documented the trials and tribulation the people of Tigray had to undergo in supporting the T-TPLF.
Seeye showed how the TPLF used state resources, institutions, cronyism, favoritism, bribes and corruption to force the ordinary people of Tigray to pledge allegiance to it and how the TPLF punished those who refuse to tow its party line or openly oppose it.
Seeye argued, “For the TPLF [in Tigray], there is no separation or distinction between partisan political work and official service as a state employee. Party work is carried out using government office facilities, transportation, per diem, etc. along with government work.” He explained:
In the Tigrai Region, the TPLF has created two structures, at the village level, which serve as the basic building blocks for the tightly-woven network of security and political structure in the rural area: the Wahio and the Development Gujille (DG). In the structural hierarchy of TPLF, the lowest unit is called Wahio and consists of up to 20 TPLF party members. In one village, there can be up to twenty Wahios, depending on its size. The chairpersons of the Wahios in a village are in turn organized in a primary group called Primary Widdabe (PW). They choose their own chairpersons and control all government and party activities at the village level.
The TPLF had conducted a study on every person in every village suspected of being in any way related to me. There are many veteran TPLF members who had participated in the armed struggle against the Derg but they were pushed out of the party’s fold during the TPLF split because they were suspected of siding with me or others like me. Moreover, there are many families that had sacrificed not one but two or three of their children during the armed struggle and who are now left without anyone to care for them. I have received reports on how TPLF cadres were manipulating the process to undermine the secret ballot. Voters were told that the TPLF had installed cameras in secret places that showed who voted for TPLF and who did not.
The election of 2010 was a travesty of democracy carefully organized and managed by the TPLF for the TPLF. Putting aside the claim of the Election Board as being neutral, the elections were under the strict control and supervision of the TPLF’s kebele and wereda administrators. The majority of the farmers in the rural kebeles and villages have been forced to become TPLF members. Wherever one goes TPLF members are everywhere. Practically every avenue of benefit is closed to those who are not members. Those who are not members are labeled as enemies and their lives turned into a living hell. The chains binding the people are Safety Net and Emergency Assistance programs. These programs are used to manipulate and intimidate the people into total submission to the ruling party.
Does the T-TPLF actually represent the people of Tigray? Do the people of Tigray freely and of their own will support the T-TPLF? Are the people of Tigray T-TPLF hostages?
Or are the people of Tigray just as helpless victims of the T-TPLF as the people of Oromiya or those in the Amhara region and elsewhere?
Let us further consider the evidence provided by Dr. Negasso Gidada, former state president under the T-TPLF.
Dr. Negasso described an identical situation in Dembi Dollo, Qelem Wallaga Zone of Oromia Region in September 2009. The T-TPLF applied the Meles Master Plan/ Playbook in Oromia and Tigray.
The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….
Do the people of Oromia freely, willingly and voluntarily support the T-TPLF?
The T-TPLF operates using the Meles playbook, the Meles Master Plan to steal elections by forcing people to vote for it, or else.
I could add much anecdotal evidence which amplify on these facts.
On the other hand, it has been argued by some that the people of Tigray have disproportionately benefited from T-TPLF economic largess in the form of infrastructure programs, investments and international aid.
What is the evidence to support this claim?
In 2016, the Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia were among the most affected by the “drought that is estimated to be the worst in 50 years.”
According to a March 2016 Foreign Affairs report, “Crop production in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray and Afar regions has dropped between 50 and 90 percent.”
What did the T-TPLF do to help the people of Tigray and Afar? Run to the international poverty pimps with its begging bowls. That’s what!
Of course, Meles in one of his first interviews after taking power in 1991 said, “he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day.”
Meles also said Ethiopia will be self-sufficient in food production by 2015. So much for MeLies!
It may be recalled that the T-TPLF touted SAERT (Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Rehabilitation in Tigray) as the silver bullet to make Tigray self-sufficient in food production by utilizing smaller dams and irrigation methods by 2008. Yet in 2016, the T-TPLF is out with its begging bowls to feed the people of Tigray?
According to a 2014 report of the Ethiopia Central Statistical Agency and the World Food Programme, the “highest prevalence of food energy deficient households was found in Addis Ababa (50%), Amhara (49%), Dire Dawa (42%), and Tigray (42%).” In terms of food poverty, “The highest regional prevalence was found in Amhara (35%) and Tigray (30%).” Nothing for the T-TPLF to brag about.
According to “The National Regional State of Tigray, Bureau of Planning and Finance”, “75% rural and 61 urban” population in the Tigray Region are “living below the poverty line”. Nothing to brag about for the T-TPLF.
It is claimed that Tigray is “the industrial powerhouse” in Ethiopia.
According to one report, there are said to be “66 companies [are] are owned and managed by ethnic Tigreans” with investment capital of over Birr 20 million in Ethiopia.
The Birr 20 million question is, “How many of them are in Tigray?”
According to a November 2015 United States Department of Agricultural Office Foreign Agricultural Service report, “Ethiopia aims to become one of the world’s top 10 sugar producers.”
The data on sugar factories under construction throughout the country and their estimated production capacity does not support claims that the T-TPLF has invested disproportionate amounts of resources to make Tigray an “industrial power house”. Quite to the contrary!
What is the investment data on Tigray?
According to Tigray Investment Process Owner Goytom Gebrekidan, in 2015, the “Tigray Regional State Urban Development and Construction Industry Office” licensed “over 800 projects with a capital of 10.5 Billion ETB.” Gebrekidan said, “829 industries have already registered operating in agriculture, social services, culture and tourism sectors in the past nine months.”
(The 800 projects happened when Santa Clause made a crash landing in Gebrekidan’s neighborhood after the GPS on the reindeer sled pulled by Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen malfunctioned.)
In 2009, the Millennum Cities Initiative and Vale Columbia Center issued an 80-page report on “investment opportunities in Mekele, Tigray State, Ethiopia.” What is the status of “investments” touted under that report in 2016?
Perhaps the answer to this question may be found in this report by Tigray Regional State, Industry and Trade Office.
It is not my aim here to refute every claim about T-TPLF propaganda and what it has “done for the people of Tigray.” That discussion will have to be reserved for another time.
My point is that the T-TPLF’s propaganda about what it has done for the people of Tigray should be taken with a grain of salt.
Simple truth be told, the T-TPLF power structure that is in power represents no one but itself, its supporters, cronies and friends.
The T-TPLF is using the people of Tigray as hostages as its crimes against humanity pile up.
The lesson to be learned is that it is morally and factually wrong to lump the ordinary people of Tigray with the T-TPLF and condemn them as though they are willing accessories and aiders and abettors of the T-TPLF.
This is not to suggest that many individuals and businesses with capital in the multi-millions are not ethnic Tigreans closely allied with the T-TPLF.
This is not to deny that the T-TPLF has used its patronage and nepotism system to give special advantage to its ethnic Tigrean supporters and cronies.
This is not to suggest that the racketeering organization known as EFFORT is not set up specifically to benefit T-TPLF leaders, cadres, cronies and supporters who happen to be ethnic Tigreans.
This is not to suggest that the T-TPLF has not handed out hundreds of millions of birr in public works contracts and non-repayable “loans” from national banks to its members who happen to be ethnic Tigreans.
This is not to suggest that ethnic Tigreans are not advantaged in getting public service jobs, enrollment in higher education, getting public benefits, etc.
This is not to suggest that T-TPLF members, cadres, cronies and supporters who happen to be ethnic Tigreans do not have to pay taxes, pay the least amount or avoid paying import duties.
The point is that anyone from any ethnic group who is willing to sell his/her soul to the T-TPLF Devil can get the same benefits.
The T-TPLF is willing, able and ready to make a Faustian deal with anyone, at any time in any place!
Goethe’s Dr. Faust made a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power.
The T-TPLF is an equal opportunity Devil.
The T-TPLF will promise and deliver wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc., who is prepared to sell his soul.
The T-TPLF does not give a damn who you are and will make a deal with you at any cost provided, in the end, it gets your soul.
As Meles liked to say, loyalty to the T-TPLF is far more important to the T-TPLF than ethnicity, religion, education, work experience or anything else.
Loyalty to the T-TPLF is the Devil’s litmus test.
There are as many Amharas, Oromos, Gurages and others who have sold their souls and become T-TPLF’s loyal servants and hirelings. Can anyone deny that?
The most important fact I want to stress is that we must all be fair and refrain from finding guilty by ethnic association the ordinary people of Tigray for the sins and crimes of the T-TPLF.
Guilt by association is the most immoral and shameful because its logical outcome is a battle cry for collective punishment.
It is unfair to condemn the ordinary people of Tigray for the sins and transgressions of the T-TPLF Devils.
The T-TPLF leaders always present their perceived threats as a threat not to themselves per se but as a life and death threat to the people of Tigray. The T-TPLF tries to tie its fate and destiny with the destiny of the people of Tigray in a narrative of persecution and even potential genocide.
We must always see the ordinary people of Tigray as separate from the T-TPLF who live in Corrupt-istan.
What the T-TPLF leaders have done for the past 25 years in Ethiopia closely tracks what the Nazi leader Herman Goering once told an investigator during the Nuremberg trials:
Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.
The T-TPLF can bang its drumbeat of hate and loathing and try to tell the people of Tigray “they are being attacked” and that the “Amharas” and “Oromos” are “ganging up” against Tigreans, but it is not going to work.
Not this time, T-TPLF!
In July 2008, I wrote a commentary entitled, “We’ve Met the Enemy. They are Us”. It was a study in the word “enemy”.
In August 2016, I write that “We have met the hate-mongers; and they are us.”
The simple fact of the matter is that hate is a sickness of the soul. It is the other side of the coin of violence. To paraphrase philosopher and peace-builder Daisaku Ikeda, hate is
born from a wounded spirit: a spirit burned and blistered by the fire of arrogance; a spirit splintered and frayed by the frustration of powerlessness; a spirit parched with an unquenched thirst for meaning in life; a spirit shriveled and shrunk by feelings of inferiority. The rage that results from injured self-respect, from humiliation, erupts as violence. A culture of [hate] and violence, which delights in crushing and beating others into submission, spreads throughout society, often amplified by the media… From a healed, peaceful heart, humility is born; from humility, a willingness to listen to others is born; from a willingness to listen to others, mutual understanding is born; and from mutual understanding, a peaceful society will be born.
Ethiopia is now at the crossroads looking to a future beyond enemies, haters and the politics of hate.
It is a future that we can all shape, mold, create and build for our children, ourselves and generations to come.
It is a future free of fear, violence, hatred and religious and ethnic bigotry.
It is a future firmly founded on the consent of the people, the rule of law and vibrant democratic institutions.
It is a future very much similar to the one envisioned by Nelson Mandela for South Africa: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
It is a future about a society where government respects the rights of its citizens and protects individual liberties; and leaders are accountable to the people and the law of the land.
It is a future where our young people will take over the helm of state and society.
Haters have no place in Ethiopia.
Haters, of course, have no race, no nation, no nationality, no ethnicity, no religion and no gender.
Haters have their own Planet Hate.
“Haters are gonna hate.” Our job is to make sure, they remain on their solitary, nasty and brutish planet as long as they insist on spewing hate.
To paraphrase Mandela, “Holding onto hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
We are wasting too much time and energy talking about things that separate us instead of bringing us closer together.
Our problem is a deficit of justice, denial of human rights, deprivation of liberty and theft of our voice to govern ourselves.
We should be talking about Us, the other Us, the Us known as the united people of Ethiopia.
We shoudl be talking about our cause, who we are and who we are not, what we stand for and believe in, how we can help each other and avoid harming ourselves, cooperate and collaborate with each other to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
We are all Ethiopians – a nation of brothers and sisters victimized by a brotherhood of gangsters.
Our victory in the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights is in our unity, not enmity.
Our victory in the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights is our united rejection of the politics of hate and our united embrace of the politics of inclusion and diversity.
We should be talking about brotherhood and sisterhood and how to complete the long road to a destination at the end of which is a rainbow of green, yellow and red.
We should be talking about the pot of priceless treasure at the end of that rainbow: human rights protected by law, democratic institutions sustained by the consent of the people and public accountability secured by the rule of law and law of the land.
But we cannot get to our destination trash talking hate against each other and traveling the same old road paved with accusations, recriminations and insults. Nor can we get to the end of that rainbow on the wings of bitterness and pettiness.
We must take a different road, the road less traveled. In the verse of Robert Frost:
… I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Now that we have met the hate-mongers, let’s hold hands in friendship and head into the future on the road less traveled by, the road not taken.
It will make all the difference for us as human beings! It will make all the difference for us as a people, and as a nation!
George Bernard Shaw wisely observed, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
Let us change our minds from the politics of hate to the politics of brotherly and sisterly love and “Be the change that [we] wish to see in the world.”
Hate begets hate. Love conquers all.
Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa wins silver at Rio Olympics but is too scared to return home
Source: Sydney Morning News
Feyisa Lilesa won the silver medal for Ethiopia in the marathon but is too scared to return to his country for fear he will be killed or jailed there.
Afterwards he said he was protesting to support family members who were illegally jailed in Ethiopia for protesting the government there.
"I was protesting for my people," Lilesa said.
"It was for all my relatives in prison. I am worried to ask my relatives to talk in prison - if you talk you get killed."
He knew his protest would have consequences for him in his country were he to return now.
"If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If I am not killed maybe they will put me in prison. [If ] they [do] not put me in prison they will block me at airport," he said.
"I have got a decision. Maybe I move to another country."
He said that in the last nine months more than a thousand people had been killed by the government for protesting for rights and democracy.
He said the Ethiopian government had removed people from their land and then jailed or killed them for protesting.
"If you talk about this one it's very dangerous so another athlete (says to him) how can you speak this one? It is a very bad government. Now America, England, France support this government when they give this support it buys machine guns then they kill the people."
An Ethiopian medalist just led a protest that could land him in jail.
By Kevin Sieff
NAIROBI — When he crossed the Olympics marathon finish line, Feyisa Lilesa put his hands above his head in an "X." Most of those who watched Lilesa's spectacular silver medal performance didn't know what that meant — or just how dangerous a protest they were watching.
Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government's killing of hundreds of the country's Oromo people — an ethnic majority that has long complained about being marginalized by the country's government. The group has held protests this year over plans to reallocate Oromo land. Many of those protests ended in bloodshed. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since November.
For months, the Oromo have been using the same "X" gesture that Lilesa, 26, used at the finish line.
At a news conference following the race, he reiterated his defiant message.
"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said. "My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."
It was a remarkable turn of events — within seconds, Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country. In addition to those killed, many Oromo protesters are currently languishing in prison.
In Ethiopia, the state broadcaster did not air a replay of the finish.
Lilesa was conscious of the danger. He immediately suggested that he might have to move somewhere else.
"If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said.
It wasn’t the first time an Ethiopian athlete had considered defecting after competition. In 2014, four of the country’s runners applied for asylum in the United States after disappearing from the international junior track championships in Eugene, Ore.
The plight of the Oromo and the Ethiopian government's use of force against civilians have received some attention recently, but nothing as prominent as Lilesa's defiance. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said that it was “deeply concerned” about the most recent killing of protesters. But likely because Ethiopia remains a U.S. ally in the fight against Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab, American officials have been reluctant to offer any further condemnation.
Oromo dissidents, particularly those outside Ethiopia, have been active on social media about their cause. As soon as Lilesa crossed the finish line, tweets and Facebook posts went up with pictures of their new folk hero. Ethiopia is one of Africa's fastest growing nations, and it seen by many as a model of economic potential. The government has played down the protests, saying earlier this month that “the attempted demonstrations were orchestrated by foreign enemies from near and far in partnership with local forces.”
Lilesa has been racing internationally for Ethiopia for more than eight years, and holds one of the world's fastest ever marathon times: 2:04:52.
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