The Case against Jasmine Revolution in Ethiopia
By Yared Ayicheh
Ethiopian Paltalk rooms have been discussing if Ethiopians should rise up against the Ethiopian government and overthrow it or not. Pro-government supporters respond by blindly denying the need for uprising, while the anti-government elements are salivating at this perceived opportunity.
It’s a fact that there are eerie similarities between Tunis, Cairo and Addis, such as corruption, rise of food prices, long term ‘serving’ leaders or dictators, and human rights abuses. The reality is Ethiopians have every reason for uprising more than the Tunisians or Egyptians have.
But the right question to me is this: Do Ethiopians need to change the Ethiopian government by popular uprising? Can Ethiopia afford to go through another ‘revolution’? My answer is a definite and absolute “no”, and here is why.
The nature of revolutions: Revolutions are extremely unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dynamic. That is exactly why the 1960s Ethiopian Revolution resulted in a military dictatorship instead of a democratically elected government. Revolutions also favor individuals with less intellectual, ethical and moral value – hence the slogan “Abiyot Lijochiwan Tibelalech”. It is these individuals that do the dirty work of revolutions and at the end they demand the lion’s share of the ‘victory’.
The root cause: Ethiopians have deep rooted, long lasting and generationally entrenched poverty, which is at the heart of the deplorable human condition in Ethiopia. Poverty breeds ignorance, intolerance, backwardness, injustice, unfairness, oppression, repression, hate, conflict, suspicion, paranoia etc … in other words, poverty defines a society and its individuals. Uprising will not remove poverty; uprising will only exacerbate poverty: a short look back at the economic hardship during Derg era is evidence for this point.
The alternative to uprising: The best alternative, not the perfect, but the best alternative to popular uprising is reforming the toxic, uncompromising Ethiopian political culture. That may sound like a simple task, it is not. It is a lesson our politicians have not learned even after the loss of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian youth in the last 40 years of Ethiopia’s history. A fundamental problem of Ethiopia’s politics is the uncivilized and shortsighted culture of stubbornness. No one gets 100% of what they want out of life, let alone out of political discourse.
Compromise is the key to our country’s political stability, peace and continuity. Ethiopian politicians must, must, must focus on compromising. The ruling party must find a common ground to work with opposition political parties by lowering its ideological stubbornness. Otherwise we will end up with another popular uprising that will most likely be hijacked by thugs like Col Mengistu Hailemariam, who will kills us, torture us and destroy what is left of our dignity as people.
In a country as poor as Ethiopia, where 40% of the population lives in abysmal poverty1, it is not impossible to foment uprising. Revolutions are like weddings, while the challenges of the Ethiopian people are like marriages. Dear Ethiopian politicians, list your priorities, chose the top two, discard the rest, compromise and fight our real enemy, poverty. Focus on the marriage!
Yared Ayicheh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
What about farting to protest?
By Hama Tuma*
Source: Afrik News
Vicious and cruel as they are, most of our dictators take time out from their sadist tendencies to entertain us in one way or another. Egypt’s Mubarak, whose demise has already been concluded by Washington, his onetime unrelenting Godfather, in a hurried move to stop a possible Muslim Brotherhood takeover, has sacked his government and replaced it with his own government. The American media is now peddling El Baradei, and even a possible coup, while Mubarak seeks to find a voice with the Egyptian masses claiming that he backs their quest for freedom while he continues to butcher them. But Egyptians are not as gullible as he thought. Hosni’s new-found religion as a democrat opposed to his own hand picked ministers has not convinced anyone.
The comical ease with which African tyrants continue to live in their ivory towers as though all the major political and economic problems of their countries were scenes from Alice in Wonderland is beyond disturbing. As both comical and disturbing as a Central African first lady who is known to give audiences in below zero-degree air-conditioned rooms at the presidential palace in order to parade her authentic Siberian fur coats in the heart of the tropics… Woe betide whoever forgets his or her winter coat! As disturbingly comical as the wife of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Azeb Mesfin, who after sadly observing how impossible it was for her Husband, the Prime Minister, and herself to afford their child’s school fees for lack of money was exposed for spending over 1.2 million euros on haute couture in Europe! But with husbands copying the likes of the late Idi Amin and Jean Bedel Bokassa, are such absurdities unjustified?
And whilst Meles Zenawi basks in the shameful glory of a one-party-one-ethnic rule system, the king of Swaziland, from the comfort of his stately home in a backdrop of poverty and HIV stricken subjects, has decreed that no girl who reaches puberty would be allowed to have sex for five years so as to decrease the risk of Aids. And as foreigners exhibit exemplary gullibility, trying to fathom the wisdom of the King’s edict, Swazis have continued to laugh out loud knowing that the King is only trying to insure that his usual supply of virgin maidens at the annual Reed Festival remains… well, intact.
Those silly laws
So Malawi is about to pass a law (Local Courts Bill of 2010) that would make farting in public punishable… "We have serious issues affecting Malawians today. I do not know how fouling the air should take priority over regulating Chinese investments which do not employ locals, serious graft amongst legislators, especially those in the ruling party”, said an irritated commentator. “The Bingu wa Mutharika led administration is to introduce a draft of legislation that seeks to criminalize an everyday natural occurrence of “passing gas” with the intention to “mould responsible and disciplined citizens?”, another asked annoyingly. If only the hundreds of thousands of starving Malawians afflicted by starvation and famine could eat to their hearts’ content, gather in front of the parliament where the bill is to be passed and foul the air in protest of an aberrant bill!
The list of silly laws in Africa is getting longer by the day: A ban on trousers in Sudan; A ban on underwater sex in Swaziland; A ban on Christmas under former leader of Equatorial Guinea, Macias Nguema; A ban on Music in Somalia under al-Shabaab… But as funny as these laws may be, even sillier laws from wealthier countries mostly outmatch them. In Bushland, America, that is, Texas, for example, there are laws that state that when two trains meet each other at a railroad crossing, each shall come to a full stop, and neither shall proceed until the other has gone. The state of Texas has also made it illegal to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing, while Saudi Arabia has banned women from driving cars and declared that being poor is against the law and that men caught earning less than a “reasonable” income can be imprisoned.
The "reasonable income law", of course, won’t affect the high and mighty ex-Tunisian dictator Ben Ali who plundered his country’s wealth and fled with his family to Saudi Arabia. Mubarak, on the other hand, has vowed not to flee despite finding himself in the exit lane. An uncomfortable situation that makes authoritarian leaders from Algeria to Yemen through Jordan smile at the wrong sides of their mouths. But like a stubborn virus, Cote d’Ivoire’s Gbagbo has continued to ignore calls to transfer power to Alassane Ouattarra, notwithstanding the world record number of mediation talks; Mediation talks that is now to be controlled in part by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Yes, the same Mugabe who is being emulated by Gbagbo. The same Mugabe who used his anti-imperialist rhetoric to fend off criticisms of his horrific human rights record. Africans need to organise a billion-man-march to Addis Ababa and pass bad smelling wind in front of the African Union building in protest of such shocking decisions.
A wind of change is blowing in many countries and encouraging a real people’s Revolution that augurs badly for tyrants. The fall of Saleh as well as the separation of South Yemen could be in the making. But above all, one hopes that whole process educates the oppressed African about the power of her or his voice. This is an opportunity to take our destiny into our own hands, rather than allowing those autocratic leaders the luxury of taking time off their plundering sessions to enact pathetic laws and edicts that compromise our self respect as individuals, nations and continent.
*Hama Tuma, Ethiopian author, poet and journalist, has been active in the political and human rights struggle in Ethiopia and Africa since the sixties. His satirical essays under the general title of African Absurdities have gained support from many quarters. Some of his books (English and Amharic) have been translated to French, Italian and Hebrew.
“Mubarek should stay in power” Really!
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
The English Musician Chris Lowe said “Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way.” For any sane person, this sounds ridicules. However, I hate to tell you that in case of the people I am about to mention in this piece, Chris Lowe is absolutely right. Sometimes you wonder that, in America, how some people get to the top despite their stupidity, ignorance and utter arrogance; and again, this is a country where you become an instant celebrity because you display your naked “Boody” to the general public; then your opinion is given some weight you are like some genius. Go figure! Like Mr. Don King said “Only in America”.
After all, this is a country that made vulgar like Howard Stern famous and a millionaire for spewing his garbage publicly. The recent wind of change that reverberated from Tunisia to Iraq has exposed some people to who they really are and how arrogant and stupid they are. These are not ordinary folks; these are people who are considered successful by any account. Some of them have failed in their bid for the White House in the last election; and some are getting ready for 2012. How do people like these get where they are?
Listening to some of “the talking heads” in various media outlets, the event in Egypt has exposed the United States its ugly naked body. For some, it may be paradoxical to see the United States standing at the wrong side of the fence. Although president Obama cautiously asked Mr. Mubarek to stand down, and told the people of Egypt “We hear your Voice”; the president has not done everything he could in his power to encourage Mr. Mubarek’s departure from his palace. “The talking heads” have stated that the United States has only limited leverage; and it has done everything possible to remove Mr. Mubarek from power.
On the other hand, particularly Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rudy Julianne, Mike Huckabee, and God forbid, Rush Limbaugh, believe that Mr. Mubarek should stay in power in order to protect “the interest of the United States”. They tell us that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the revolt in Egypt, and that the extreme Muslims are waiting at the side line quietly to fill the power vacuum once Mr. Mubarek leaves office. Yes, The Boogey Man is coming! Such stupidity is not only attributed to the Republicans. Even Mr. Vice President has stated openly and publicly that Mr. Mubarek is not a dictator and he should not be removed from power. I had such an enormous respect to Mr. Joe Biden. I lost all the respect I had for him when he demanded that the Senator that took over his seat when he became the VP to resign from the Senate and not to run to the same office because he wanted Mr. his son to be the Junior Senator from Delaware. When Mr. Biden learned that the person who was going to challenge his son for Mr. Biden’s old Senate seat was a former governor who he thought was popular, he told his son not to run. As we all know, the hopeful republican candidate was defeated during the republican Primary by an Air Head T-Party candidate. By then, it was too late for Mr. Biden’s son to run for the Senate. As they say, the rest is history.
One thing is certain. Mr. Biden has something in common with despots like Mubarek- he wants to pass on his seat to his son. I don’t know what dictionary Mr. Biden was using when he tried to define the word “dictator”. Mr. Mubarek has been ruling Egypt with Iron Fist for 30 years. The state of Emergency that he declared 30 years ago still stands. Mr. Mubarek is as corrupt as they come. As we learned recently, Mr. Mubarek is worth 40 Billion US dollar while millions of Egyptians live in despicable poverty.
I am sure that Mr. Biden and other top US officials have known regarding life in a place called a “Grave Yard” in Cairo. This is the place where the poorest of the poor Egyptians reside. People live in a grave yard in make shift houses in the middle of Cairo. This is one of the biggest slams in the world. The people who live there are visited by tourists like animals in a zoo. There is no clean water at the grave yard; and the place is infested with garbage. This is life for millions of Egyptians. If this does not make you sick, I don’t know what will. At least, Mr. Biden has learned his lesson and he is currently talking to his counter part in Egypt; and he is working towards orderly exit for Mr. Mubarek.
Living through Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, I know his utter arrogance and stupidity. Mr. Gingrich is well known as a bully. This is a man who twisted the arms of his colleagues in the Senate to get what he wanted. His leadership in mid 1990s led America towards a wrong path. For any one who listened to Mr. Gingrich’s speeches; read his books and some of his writings, there is no doubt that he is as the extreme as they come. In a statement he has made recently about the uprising in Egypt, Mr. Gingrich said that “America is loosing the war in terror” and that is the reason that America could not influence the situation in Egypt to make sure that Mubarek stays in power.
His opinion is based on the fact that the people of Egypt rise up against a tyrant ruler. God forbid what would happen to the world if someone like Gingrich becomes the president of the United States. For Gingrich, the suffering of the Egyptians is a mere inconvenience for the interest of America. As long as America is benefited, who cares about the “rug heads” in Egypt; after all, in the minds of people like Gingrich, only “White people” deserve freedom and democratic governance; the rest of us exist simply to serve them.
Sometimes, I thank God for Satellite Television. When the people of Tunisia revolted against their ruler, we were told that the revolt was the work of Al Qaeda. It turns out to be false. When we heard about the Egypt uprising, we were told that the Muslim Brotherhood was trying to take over power in Egypt. People like Anderson Copper who continue to report live from Egypt informed us well that the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the uprising. Every Right Wing Extremist in America would tell you that The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over Egypt, and should that happen that would be the end of America’s influence in Egypt. They claim that the Middle East would be unstable and the National Security of Israel and the United States would be in great danger.
Unfortunately for these gullible extremists, every expert including experts from the conservative think-tank, the Brooking Institutes, stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization; and has renounced violence decades ago. They made it clear that the organization is not a threat to the United States and Israel. More over, these experts made it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood does not enjoy wide support in Egypt and has only about 20% public support. Despite the experts’ opinion, the political propagandists continue to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
During various interviews, the 2012 presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee could not answer when they were asked if they think Mubarek is a dictator. Mr. Rudy Julianne also failed short from stating that Mubarek is a dictator. In fact, these individuals with an enormous disregard to the suffering of millions of Egyptians, they made their position clear that the United States should back Mubarek. These are people who are trying to lecture us about justice, democracy, freedom and so on. These are the same people who claim that Sadam Hussein was removed from power because he was a dictator. Thus, it is ok for these individuals to stand with dictators like Mubarek who have massacred their own people as long as it serves the national security of the United States. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is OK if more than 80 million people Egyptians suffer as long as the few greedy corporations’ interest is protected. These people know that this has nothing to do with the National Security of the United States. This has a lot to do with the corporations that Mr. Mubarek has dealt with the last 30 years. Mr. Mubarek owns 51% of Egypt Subsidiaries US weapon manufacturers that do business in Egypt. That happens to be the law in Egypt currently. If Mr. Mubarek is not a share holder, you can’t do business in Egypt. Now, these corporations are unleashing their paid stooges to confuse the National Security interest of the United States with their own greedy interest.
If it was not for the Cable News, the American people probably would have believed that the uprising in Egypt was the working of “terrorist organizations”, and the uprising could have been a short lived nuisance. We all know that is not so. The world is watching when America’s allies are crumbling from power in the Middle East. Why is America sleeping with the devils? Why is it OK for America’s allies to loot, to massacre, and to commit unimaginable crime against their own people? When will America learn that it would be in the long term National Security interest of the United States if America assists in building democratic institutions, if America stands with democratic forces, and if America supports the people instead of despots who smother their own people?
Fortunately, the propaganda against the people of Egypt by Air Heads like Rush Limbaugh with a “Golden Microphone” is countered by dedicated journalists like Anderson Copper. Despite a beating and a threat to their lives, Anderson Copper and his colleagues remained in Cairo to report the truth. To tell us that the uprising in Egypt is a grass root movement, to tell us that the violence during the protest was perpetrated by paid thugs- paid by Mubarek and his stooges. We saw on our own eyes history unfolding. The current events exposed the United States foreign policy to what it is. The United States policy makers need to realize a true security comes when people have a say in their own government. If the United States truly supports democratic elements in any country, there will be no mass resentment and hatred against the US. It is a paramount importance for the United States to use its leverage to pressure despots in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world to change their political discourse; it needs to tell its allies that the “Boogey man” facade has cracked and it is time to listen to the people’s voice. Soon or later, people will say enough is enough. Scrambling for damage control when crisis hit at the 11th hour should not be the norm.
The United States and all Western countries should recall all their ambassadors NOW. They should tell Mr. Mubarek that they will not do business with Egypt until he leaves office. The United Nations National Security should convene and make it clear that Mr. Mubarek would be charged for a crime against humanity if he failed to exit from power orderly. I am certain, if the revolt was against a despot who is against the US, the CIA and Mossad would have done the unthinkable to remove him. When the revolt is against an ally, the claim is “we are doing all we can”. Well Mr. President, you are not doing all you can. You need to recall your ambassador from Egypt; you need to issue an executive order forbidding all American companies to stop doing business in Egypt; to ask the United Nation Security Council to take the appropriate measure against the government of Egypt. Then, the people of Egypt and citizens of the world will know that you stood with the people. When the people of Egypt realize that you stood with them, they will always stand with America, and they will do everything in their power to protect the interest of America. Then, only then, the National Security of the United States will be secured.
Mr. President, America’s Tanks, Bullets, and other weaponry have been used to silence the people of Egypt for 30 years. America assisted Mubarek in shackling Egyptians for 30 years; and America supported Mubarek when he selfishly looted Egypt while millions starved and literally lived in a Grave Yard for decades. America owes the people of Egypt a great deal. The least you could do is to do everything possible to facilitate Mr. Mubarek’s exit from power. What the world wants is not empty posturing; the world wants action. The right wing extremists have unleashed their propaganda in support of one of the worst despots in the world; such propaganda undoubtedly has emboldened Mr. Mubarek. Your decisive leadership is needed. Show us that you truly are uniquely qualified to lead the free world. Show us that you will not stand for hypocrisy. Mr. President, you cannot sustain a secured America if you stand with ruthless despots. That, Mr. President, should be a lesson learned from the uprising that we are witnessing in the Middle East.
Mr. Obama, you have a golden opportunity to assist countries ruled by despots to change and reform now. I disagree with Secretary Clinton when she said that this is un-chartered territory. In fact, the world has witnessed such uprisings time and again. Unfortunately, some revolts were hijacked, some successfully achieved their objectives; but most were squashed repeatedly with the Tanks and bullets that your country provided to despots that America considers as its allies. Mr. President, You are at the right place at the right time to do the Right thing. Be Courageous!
PM Meles Zenawi’s responses to Ethiopia’s economic malaise are getting funnier
By Genet Mersha, 4 February 2011
At a time when neighboring countries are tottering down the path of popular revolt to overthrow entrenched dictators and possibly collapse of their regimes, Meles has tightened political repressions in Ethiopia to protect himself from their fate. In spite of those attempts, however, the deepening economic problems are poking citizens with tensions and tremors of their own. These are now being felt throughout the country, as public complaints even in the government-controlled media are showing.
Moreover, not that these would amount to anything in a highly militarized and ethnically divided society, rumors and some credible stories are circulating about open clashes between farmers and students with security forces in some parts of the country. As signs of the economic alienation of millions, petty crimes in towns and cities, burglaries and highway robberies are becoming common occurrences some distances from the capital city itself.
The making of the current frustrations in Ethiopian society have been brewing over a long time. Their origins lay in the political crises that remain unresolved, nor the regime would admit. Then there are the ubiquitous economic crises that have been afflicting over 90 percent of the population. The only solution the government favours now is complete shut off of public space, as a primary step, politics by force and economics by decree, which have now become the mode of Ethiopia’s governance. Therefore, such a situation has served better corrupt party officials, businesspersons, the security, the military and those wired with the leaders. In such an environment, ordinary citizens find it difficult to eke out normal existence.
Whether information from countries now affected by popular revolt is permitted, the situation in those countries may only encourage a sense of solidarity with others. The little information Meles’s security apparatus could not control has made it through to Ethiopians. Therefore, they have become true partners in sharing the pains of the Egyptians, Tunisians, the Sudanese and Yemenis… As they say in Ethiopia, a heart filled with its own pains has better feel for others.
What is happening in Egypt, the reporting of which has been forbidden in the mass media in Ethiopia in this age of the Internet, mobile phone, in addition to foreign broadcasts may have only evoked great interest to the degree it has terrified the Meles regime. This is because people understand that is the reason why he chose to ‘shelter’ the people. This ‘let me get bye this’ situation attitude has not only brought contempt for the regime, but also given them a good sense of its shakiness. In the meantime, the situation in the country would continue to worsen, not because of outside influences, but mainly on account of the weight of the problems our people have been shouldering on a day-to-day basis.
Soaring prices & inordinate solutions at work
At present, notwithstanding the under-reported level of inflation and the pain this has caused for ordinary people for so long, especially after the introduction of devaluation and price controls recently, have deeply worried the government. It is trying to do everything within its powers, although even the solutions they try are becoming more grievous than the pain of living on little or nothing. An expert from the Ethiopian Commercial Bank recently rightly observed, “The most recent devaluation tended to function opposite to expectations and even caused grotesque developments in the economy. The subsequent high and indiscriminate price rise of all goods encourages imports more than exports, as domestic prices have become more rewarding than export prices” (Addis Fortune, Commentary, 30 January 2011).
The economist Prime Minister Meles Zenawi seems now to be fully aware of the damages he has caused the nation’s economy and the lives of its citizens. A man of hubris, he cannot say he lacks the humility to say sorry for that. However, when he appeared before parliament on 3 February, he used his usual infinite wisdom and ability to foresee over a long span of time, and pledged, among others, not to make any further devaluations for another five years. There is nothing more disappointing than this silly trick of dictators to summon evil at will and sputter ally when things go wrong at their lack of ability to dismiss it at will. Therefore, they jabber false promises and hopes; they know it is their way of admitting mistakes.
Of course, Ato Meles Zenawi’s ability to foresee things has been tested on several occasions. Recall that when he invaded Somalia he said he would make it a cakewalk into weeks. Ethiopia was stuck there for over two years—for that matter making a very amenable situation in that country more catastrophic for everyone now. If all claims to view things on a long-term basis, such as Ato Meles Zenawi’s five-year horizon are indeed possible, especially in economics either he or the IMF must have been able to foresee the December 2010 inflation level at 14.5 percent coming.
That not being the case, only in mid-November the IMF Executive Board gave clean bill of health and Mr. Naoyuki Shinohara, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair of the Board, on 15 November stated:
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has successfully implemented policies to reduce inflation and rebuild external reserves under the Exogenous Shocks Facility supported program. Program performance has been satisfactory with all of the quantitative performance targets met with margins and structural benchmarks implemented. Inflation has continued to decline, reflecting monetary restraint and aided by favorable weather conditions. International reserves have risen to about 2.1 months of imports coverage. The mild impact of the global recession on the Ethiopian economy has allowed for better performance on the external targets.
Press Release No. 10/432 November 15, 2010
That is not the end of it. Do you need more reminders? Who would forget that broadband Internet coverage of the breadth and width of Ethiopia within five years fiasco? Yes, important efforts were made and Cisco amassed tens of billions of dollars building the school.net and the government.net linkages. Thanks to the Chinese, the latter one has now become a dedicated instrument of espionage on citizens and mind control, instead of national development.
I have good reminder, much like a ticker the time when Meles Zenawi made that pledge to make Ethiopia the first country with broadband access within five short years. At the time, he was busy paving the ground early on for his election in 2005 that he took for granted. Ethiopians showed him that they are not with him, his abrasiveness and his mishandling of the nation’s affairs like his ‘kitchendom’. I recall that pledge distinctly. My grandson was born at that time. Soon he would turn ten. Surprise! Surprise! The latest research by an Irish company about Ethiopia’s snail-paced move into the world of technology states it all:
The population is approaching 90 million, but there are less than 1 million fixed lines in service, and a little more than 3.3 million mobile subscribers. The number of Internet users is dismal below 500,000 at the end of 2009. Communications service provision is reserved for the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), one of the few monopoly providers left on the African continent.
What is the conclusion? The report acknowledges that the French have taken over the Ethiopian Telecommunications to turn things around. Therefore, even in its most optimistic conclusion it hopes that the telecommunications sector may witness some movement. Of course the report is initiated and is set to see what it wants to see and therefore its hang-on is pure liberalization. For Ethiopians, however, what matters are their real national development and a sense of freedom from Meles’ Orwellian world. For whatever its worth, the report skeptically states:
By 2014 the number of fixed line subscribers in Ethiopia is expected to increase to 4.4 million, representing an annual average growth rate of 38% p.a. The number of mobile subscribers is expected to grow at 43% per year over the period, reaching almost 20 million by 2014. Even at these high growth levels the overall teledensity will be less than 25% in 2014, indicating that the market will be nowhere near saturation. The number of Internet users will jump to 12 million, but Internet subscribers will still be low at 1.4 million at the end of 2014. Ethiopia presents an opportunity for investors to reap vast returns as the liberalization agenda gets underway.
TMCnews.com, ICT Investment Opportunities in Ethiopia - 2010" report
Good news folks! GTP would cost you only one trillion ETB
The other headline grabbing news is that the prime minister has kindly identified funding sources for his Growth Transformation Plan (GTP), not that he was willing to tell openly every piece of it. The total amount required is one trillion ETB, about $60 billion, part of which is to be met from income from power export to neighboring countries, more rental of farmlands, significant amount of foreign aid and the rest from borrowing and foreign loans. What a great picture for the future of deepening economic structural changes in the country!
Ethiopia’s economic problems arise from: (i) centralization of decision-making in one person, whose officials only frightfully echo every single word the prime minister utters. Listen carefully when the foreign minister, the finance minister, minister of agriculture, minister of trade, communication minister…speaks. The echo is deafening. If this is the way a nation should be governed, what else should one expect other than bad economy and terrible human conditions? (ii) The other problem is the continuing replacement of few left over expertise by new party cadres to make the political decision the boss would appreciate. The first problem is that these people learn nothing, since they spend their days in political plotting; (iii) bad policies and poor implementation are a major problem, which we have seen time and again; (iv) poor domestic production and supply capacities remain a fundamental problem; (v) corruption and lack of accountability have become a way of life for the ruling party top down; (vi) the country has comfortably become dependent on foreign aid that has stolen its sense of independence and self-reliance. Even that, after the 2010 election and the misuse of humanitarian aid for political purposes, the international humanitarian community is having a second thought.
These are the major bottlenecks to the Ethiopian economy. Each of these has contributed to the continuing domination in the economy of poor production systems and non-existent and, if any, unreliable supply capacities.
Consequently, a structure of permanent disability has failed to meet domestic demands for goods and export capacity to foreign markets. These translate into foreign exchange shortage and poor macroeconomic environment that has continuously distracted policy from improving production and real national development.
On a side remark, let me ask you if you could give me one example where Ethiopia’s exports have found a niche market for any of its unique and much appreciated produces in terms of quality. Trust me, you would not find one, save, the stealth EFFORT, the TPLF’s business empire, which has penetrated the Chinese market—where now Ato Seyoum Mesfin, former foreign minister and deputy chairman of the TPLF, would operate as the eyes and ears of the regime as ambassador to that country. Many of the children of the ruling party members (TPLF) are also being educated in China.
The policy problem of this regime is that it lacks macroeconomic policy consistency. Because of that the task of policy has been reduced to fire fighting permanently against inflation and the chronic shortages of goods and services. Obviously, consistent long-term development has been pushed to the second tier or to chance. If there are some lights flickering here and there, they are not an outcome of two decades of work—but the efforts of a few enterprises and the nascent private sector—outside the ethnic oligarchic enterprises of the ruling party. That is why in Ethiopia today everything is touch and go. The only exception to this is the political attempt at putting the hyper makeover of Addis Ababa as Meles’s fact on the ground to delude citizens and willing accomplices to project that as national development.
The crises of the moment & Meles’ solutions
What gave spike to this present worry of the regime is the alliance of two evils: devaluation and inflation. This is further made worse by price controls that have been tried in many countries and have completely failed. It may some how for a while impose controls over hoarders and price gougers. However, overall it would only worsen the economic situation and weaken the economy. The problem in Ethiopia has always been Meles' over-confidence that no one could challenge him in his police state. He can do anything he likes with the economy, the country' security, its long-term interests, the prospects of future generations…
Even the pro-Meles EPRDF-ite Addis Fortune on 23 January tolerated the publication on its magazine strong criticism of Meles’s policies. The commentator wrote, “Little by little, certain goods and services in the market for which people are willing to pay are disappearing. It will not be long before parallel markets are created to cater to those who are willing to pay for what they want. Alternatively, traders may find a way of circumventing the system. Signs indicating this are also creeping.”
Interestingly, at about the same time in November 2010, China was also considering price controls to dampen food inflation, according to the Financial Times (China eyes price controls to fight inflation, 16 November 2010). Since Beijing knew the negative consequences to the economy, a coupe of cities used it to some products. China resorted to raising interest rate and is still mulling in search of better ways of dealing with rising prices sourced in inflation, other than price control.
In Ethiopia, salary increases have been made recently to offer civil servants some minimal cushion. They range from 28 to 38 percent to 1,017,351 civil servants (206,334 federal and 1,017,351 civil servants—source Capital). These adjustments range from 1,000 ETB ($ 60) to high-level officials to ETB 144 ($ 9) to lower level workers.
Given the speed with which the price level changes, not to speak of the availability of goods, the amount of the adjustments has understandably courted more disappointments, according to Capital of 31 January. Since the increases are too little to make a difference in this environment of rising prices, it is reported that civil servants are openly critical. In the circumstances, more noticeable is the big hole in the national budget equivalent to five billion ETB in unbudgeted expenditures, to which the increase itself jacks up its own share to the grinding inflation.
Speaking of inflation, from theory point of view, some in leadership seem literate in economics. Unfortunately, the translation into practice of that literacy has repeatedly belied that assumption and their pretenses. Of course, policy in Ethiopia is hardly a reflection of national consensus, but diktat from Meles, previously from Mengistu, which has gotten the country nowhere. In the past two decades, Ethiopia has experienced several bouts of inflation, a phenomenon directly associated with natural catastrophes, such as cyclical droughts, resulting in GDP decline and shortages food and other goods. The country’s experience is that in a while they only turn into either disinflation or deflation during crop seasons.
Now economic activity has increased and the level of imported inflation is going up on annual basis, especially this time. The nature of recovery in global economy is also making it a bit tricky. The policy that is the Meles regime has begun to pursue is not only reminiscent of Britain in the course of WWII, but has also been hardly capable of addressing the old and the changed circumstances with appropriate policies. It is not enough to perorate about this or that economic thought or this or that country’s experiences. Policy-makers must see the pressing need to learn to apply the right policy measures differently—this time around through genuine national consultations, instead of the usual Stalinist top down approach.
Bear in mind, in the 1980s Argentina, Brazil and Israel learned to control their huge inflations through approaches that were totally unorthodox—different from what were applied in mainstream Western economic settings at the time. It is in recognizing that the great economist the late Rudiger Dornbusch offered his view of that with two short sentences as admonition: “The economists’ scissors normally has two blades, supply and demand. But in questions of stabilization policy, that often is not the case.” The Ethiopian situation is far different from that of those countries, but stabilization follows similar principles, since the need for future growth has to be kept in mind.
Nevertheless, the message here is that the stakes are now too high and recurrence of these problems has become habitual and different solution must be sought. Consequently, Ato Meles must seize the opportunity to open the door for open and transparent discussions, not only between the usual suspects. But also this time in a nation-wide genuine participation, whereby the people that bear the brunt of sufferings should express their problems and make their recommendations, without fear of reprisals.
The prime minister holds scheduled meetings with businesses and is useful and essential. However, even that seen by its record, at no time has it been about addressing their actual problems of the gatherers. Therefore, as a part of his government’s approach in the search for solutions, this time he must allow people to express themselves. For once, he should stop pushing his solutions down everybody’s throats. Discussion is not a skills talent to pick who knows most and better, but to exchange views. This time, Ato Meles must listen to what citizens could chip in the solutions they think would save the nation. He should also recognize that, in addition to a number of policy-related destabilizing factors, the world grains market and food production in general has now come back with vehement problems of is own.
Food shortages and rising prices & the Meles regime response
Citing its barometer index, according to Reuters, on 3 February the FAO reported “price changes for a variety of staples, averaged 231 points in January -- the highest since records began in 1990…From its vantage point, Oxfam attributed the problem to reduced production due to bad weather, increased oil prices making fertilizer and transport more expensive, increased demand for biofuels, export restrictions and financial speculation.” That much for international analysts; no one sees the impact of poor and misguided policies on peoples in different countries.
The Economic Times of India recently wrote, “In what could give a big boost to India's efforts at food security, Ethiopia has offered 1.8 million hectares of its farmland to Indian investors that equals nearly 40 percent of the total area of the principal grain-growing state of Punjab.” The article was published in connection with the visit of the controversially demagogic Minister of Agriculture Tefera Derbew. The paper quotes the minister, who informs it:
So far we have transferred 307,000 hectares of land to foreign and domestic investors. Some 79 percent of this land has been transferred to Indian companies. This land is made available on a 70-year lease. We are now proposing to transfer another 3.6 million hectares of land to investors from overseas. And I am confident that more than half of the 3.6 million hectares land will go to Indians. How much land will actually go to Indian investors depends entirely on the interest of investors. If they come and take all the land, then also we will be very happy. Indian investors are very welcome in Ethiopia.
The Economic Times observes that land offered to Indians so far equals nearly 50 percent of the cultivable land of Punjab, often called India's granary. According to the paper, it accounts for 23 percent of its wheat and 10 percent of paddy output.
It seems that the Meles regime is taking its revenge for its agricultural policy failure by selling the country piece by piece. This has built frustrations of peasant farmers and patriotic Ethiopians to rise. It knows that they do not want to see their country sold piece by piece, for that matter to the lowest bidder! What is worrisome is that the contracts are long-term, the shortest being sixty years and the highest 99 years. Most of the deals the government has made so far with farm-renters are encouraged to produce cash crops so that it could pocket some foreign exchange, if not immediately, at least, after several years.
What has so far been kept secret has now become official. Land renters are promised and included in their contracts that they can export their produces to their home countries or wherever. Therefore the domestic market has nothing to look forward for from these deals. What state of mind tolerates this, now resulting in the displacement of our farmers and the destruction of natural forests, about which even the figurehead president has expressed repeated concerns?
The May 5, 2010 issue of The Reporter carried a story that the residents of Gambella had written to President Girma Wolde-Giorgis, asking his intervention to stop the takeover of their lands and the clearing of forests by farm companies. Incidentally, the land clearing company is state-owned and is paid Birr 9,000 ($670) per hectare (Addis Fortune, August 29).
Their letter states in part, “In a manner we do not know, without anybody telling us and consulting with us, our lands and forest resources have been allocated to a foreign company…The forest is our life, we use it to harvest honey, prepare our traditional medicines and build our homes…” The affected people also indicate that they do not want “the forests they have preserved this long to be destroyed in the name of development” [writer’s translation from Amharic].
What is interesting about this particular complaint is the fact that there is clear division between the people and the state administration. The local kebele (neighbourhood association) leaders are on the same side with the people, soliciting the president’s intervention. They have even been delegated to represent the people on this matter. On the other side are the local administration, the court and the federal ministry of agriculture; the latter saying studies have confirmed that there would be no adverse effects resulting from expansion of commercial farms on the leased farms and the clearing of natural forests. As protest and complaints are often interpreted in political terms in Ethiopia, The Reporter reports that the local administration was incensed and reflected the view that this was the work of anti-development and anti- democratic elements hiding within the people that are creating confusion.
Fortunately, the story does not end there. The president responded by writing a letter to the local environment protection agency requesting it to take urgent measures, taking into account the complaints by the residents of Goumare & kabo districts, in Gambella region. The local environment protection office wrote a letter to the minister of agriculture that the measures taken to give the land to commercial farmers were wrong. The minister of agriculture has not responded to the state president, because of which the president pursued the matter further recently writing his second letter to the minister of agriculture reminding him of the problem and inquiring if action was taken. The minister is a political cadre propelled to power not because of his capacity, but because of his service to the party as a political cadre.
This should serve as sufficient evidence that transactions in land are taking place in ill-equipped countries such as Ethiopia that lack capacities to assess the implications of ‘land grabs.’ This time, the state has sided the foreign farm companies. Clearly, Ethiopia does not even have adequate capacity, let alone to monitor its long-term consequences to millions of its citizens and the country's future itself, but also even how much land is rented out at this stage.
The source of the problem is that the fact that every region is its own master and can give land to whomever it wants, theoretically so long as it did not exceed 5,000 hectares. The country does not also have centralized data collecting system. Nor has it put in place appropriate laws and regulations to ensure follow up their implementations. Moreover, the task of land certification in Ethiopia has not been finalized. To date, only four regional states—Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) and Tigrai—have almost finalised issuance of land holding certificates to peasant households, formally recognising the rights of holders of the certificate.
At the same time, the other five regional states—Afar, Somali, Benishangul‐Gumuz, Gambella and Harari—have not issued legislation how to ensure and protect the rights of farmers and pastoralists, or implement land-leasing arrangements. It is mostly in these regions that there has been serious disenfranchisement of the farming population. A very useful paper presented to the World Bank Conference on Land Policy and Administration in Washington DC from April 26‐27, 2010, Imeru Tamrat states, “In the absence of detailed land administration laws in the other five regional states, it is not clear how the landholding rights given to peasants and pastoralists under the Constitution is being implemented within these regional states” (Imeru Tamrat, Governance of Large-scale Agricultural Investments in Africa: the Case of Ethiopia, 2010).
The fact that this new enterprise has made African governments’ role as both middlemen negotiating land deals and the ones clearing the lands and pushing their people from their holdings no different from that of native slave traders who hunted their own people and handed them to Arab slave traders that in turn passed them for higher fees to European slave traders. It may sound too strong a judgement. Anyone that has problem with this need only go and talk to those uprooted from their ancestral lands and their belongings.
Finally, what should farm-renters produce? As far as Ethiopia, speaking through its State Minister for Agriculture Abera Deressa, is concerned, they should produce cash crops. On 26 October, in an interview with Bloomberg he announced “We want to increase the amount of land to be leased…We have abundant land available.” He urged those already invested and potential investors to focus on production of “high value” crops; in that situation Ethiopia could afford to import its foods using those earnings. Ato Abera Deressa was confident when he said, “Then we can solve the food problem.” Such is the state of affairs in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under the TPLF led EPRDF government.
Ethiopia - Catching That Freedom Fever
By The Mitmita Girls!
"You get your freedom by letting your enemy know that you'll do anything to get it. Then you'll get it. It's the only way you'll get it." — Malcolm X
The Mitmita Girls are all atwitter at the auspicious beginning of this new decade. First came the Sudanese vote, then Tunisia, then our brothers and sisters in Yemen and well everybody knows about Egypt, goddam, as Nina Simone would sing.
Now we have Syrian and Yemeni leaders making “concessions” aimed at portraying a relaxing of their autocratic rule in an attempt to stem any of this freedom fever from wafting over the Red Sea and taking hold among their captive citizens.
A little southeast of Egypt, down at the origin of the Blue Nile, hiding in his presidential palace without so much as a squeak is our beloved Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. He need not make any concessions; the United States has given him carte blanche to keep his steel boots on the necks of eighty million Ethiopians. Here is a very, very brief look into the current conditions in Ethiopia:
Civil society is practically dead—it is essentially a crime to operate an NGO in Ethiopia. If you are an Ethiopian NGO, there are no means to obtain any funding and if you do get funding, the red tape and obstacles alone, including intimidation, harassment and utter disruption of your work, render you ineffective. If you are wondering why there are still so many ex pats and foreigners claiming to be working at an NGO in Ethiopia, understand that they are there for the macchiatos and to sit poolside at the Sheraton.
Finding independent media in Ethiopia is about as likely as chasing down that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Any opposition has been killed, jailed and silenced through pardons, threats of further imprisonment or violence or forced into exile. The rest of the population is divided into two camps: first, those whose business interests keep them “loyal” to the regime—until the regime betrays them through their eminent domain laws or other legalese which enable them to effectively rob you of your businesses and/or lands and second, the silent majority, those who have watched their daughters being raped, their ancestors’ graves desecrated, their uncles pistol-whipped into submission and fathers disappeared and have relegated themselves into this existence because no amount of demonstrations or elections or martyrdom has brought about the end of this dictatorship.
When is enough enough?
Yet the Mitmita Girls can’t help wondering if our beloved Melese is getting a little restless with all of the goings on around him: Sudan, Egypt, Yemen…Could the fever catch on again in Ethiopia?
We were struck by the similarities between these popular uprisings and the 2005 people’s revolt in Ethiopia. This is particularly the case with Egypt. Here you have a strong ally of the United States for 30 years. Similarly, Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia has been at the beck and call of the United States government since he took power in the early 1990s. It may not be a thirty year relationship but the kind of love affair these two governments share cannot be measured in terms of time.
Then there is the matter of the funding these regimes. The Egyptian government is the second largest recipient of aid from the US, after Israel. Meles’ regime also receives billions in aid from the United States. It’s important to note that that the recipients of the “aid” in these scenarios are the governments and not the people of Egypt or Ethiopia. Meles’ personal coffers, like those of Mubarak are lined with the billions intended to feed, build infrastructure, educate and otherwise “lead” a nation of millions.
That would be your tax dollars at work, Minnesota!
Part of this aid, or rather a substantial portion of it, is military training and equipment. We were therefore not surprised when news emerged that the tear gas that was being used against pro-democracy protestors in Egypt was made in the United States. The State Department was quick to point that that the tear gas was not a part of the aid provided to the Egyptian government.
Is this déjà-vu, wondered the Mitmita Girls?
This is a revolution redux. We have been here before! In 2005 during the massive human rights and pro-democracy uprising in Ethiopia, government security forces used US made Humvees to run over anti-Meles demonstrators. United States officials at the time practically swore on a stack of bibles that the Humvees were not US made. Except that they really were and there was photographic evidence.
The US provides all manner of technical training and military equipment to the Ethiopian regime. Better yet, Ethiopia was allegedly one of the sites for the CIA’s extrajudicial rendition program where all manners of torture were being exacted on alleged terror suspects.
Our Alice in Wonderland feeling of “haven’t we been here before” continued with the official US response to the revolt in Egypt. As with the current situation, in Ethiopia, since the EU and the United States had praised Meles as an exemplary African leader, it was obviously hard for them to call for his ouster just because a rag tag of “unemployed youth” as our Prime Minister branded our popular uprising, called for a regime change. So they never called for his resignation. They instead used the familiar refrain of “condemning violence” and asking both sides to “use restraint.”
This week, Tony Blair, former PM of Great Britain, that hapless dilettante who allowed George Jr. to talk him into the elusive search for those Weapons of Mass Destruction, has decided to crawl out of that ninth circle of hell to which he has been resigned to announce to the world that Mubarak is “immensely courageous and a force for good.” The statement, strangely out of place following nearly a week of massive protests, exposes the singular objective of the West on the African continent: Western national security concerns and corporate interests at the cost of the dignity and human rights of African people. And lest you forget, dear reader, Egypt is an African nation and can be found on the African continent. It is not in the Middle East.
In the next stage of coordinated repression, Mubarak is following the “how to put down the popular uprising” handbook to the letter. Journalists and human rights activists are being attacked and jailed. As one human rights group noted, he is essentially eliminating witnesses to his brutal crackdown against demonstrators.
Rewind to 2005, when Meles also following this handbook, jailed opposition leaders, journalists, attorneys and human rights activists and for his pièce de résistance— charged them with genocide and treason!
Next on the list is ostracizing or downplaying the opposition. Both Meles and Mubarak are using the “outside agitator logic”: Meles in 2005 blamed the Diaspora Ethiopians for poisoning the minds of the good, simple people of Ethiopia into believing that they are being repressed. Likewise, Mubarak is now blaming journalists and outside factions for fomenting revolution.
And finally, we come to the American handling of this “crisis. The United States’ response to the uprising in Egypt, described as cowardly by the brilliant journalist Robert Fisk, is rooted in the same self-interested analysis which resulted in their betrayal of the hopes of the Ethiopian people in 2005. In Ethiopia, they feared that with Meles’ ouster, a “strategic ally” (Read: lapdog) will be removed and replaced with a whole host of bogeymen including: a socialist/Marxist a la Chavez, an “Islamist pariah state” like Somalia or even more unthinkable: a revolutionary leader a la Patrice Lumumba who would put the interests and the rights of her people above the national security and corporate interest of the United States. The latter is the most horrifying of all prospects.
The dialogue surrounding the ouster of Mubarak has taken on the same tone: the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know. This translates to: the next leader might not be as malleable and do our bidding. This in turn is spun to say: we fear an Islamic state a la Iran being established in Egypt or what about the security of Israel in the event that another leader is elected and she doesn’t honor the peace treaty between the two nations? Nowhere in that reasoning is the interest of the Egyptian people taken into account. They are absent in the analysis as they have been for the past thirty years of US support for this dictatorship.
Mubarak may likely continue to hold firm in his refusal to relinquish power as did Meles because his masters, his funders, the United States have yet to blatantly tell him that its time to make his exit.
But freedom…it may be delayed but it certainly won’t be denied for too long in Egypt.
When the Egyptians yell “Kefaya!” at the top of the Nile, we, at the origin of the longest river in the world, the cradle of civilization should be yelling “Beh'qa!” Enough!
2011 is not 2005. It’s time to catch that freedom fever again.
Ethiopia, can you hear us?
MITMITA....... Because well behaved Ethiopian women rarely make history!
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