Dictatorship 101 and Ethiopia
By Yilma Bekele
According to Wiki “in contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.” That is what we have in Ethiopia. That is what we are used to in Ethiopia. We have never known any other type of system.
Emperor Menilik is considered the father of modern day Ethiopia. He was crowned in 1889 and reined till 1910. His title was Neguse Negest or king of kings. He was followed by Haile Sellasie who acted as a regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1074. His title was "His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God" (Ge'ez ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር; girmāwī ḳadāmāwī 'aṣē ḫaile śelassie, mō'ā 'ambassā ze'imneggede yehūda negus negast ze'ītyōṗṗyā, tsehume 'igzī'a'bihēr)
The French absolute Monarch Louis the XIV of France defined the term when he said L'État, c'est moi (the state, it is me). All power was vested on the individual and the citizen is referred to as a subject.
Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was the next de facto Emperor. His ascension to power was, as far as I am concerned definitely a freak accident. He was cunning enough to use ruthlessness as a calling card. We witnessed his purges. We became part of his convoluted worldview. We did a lot of harm to each other. Everybody carries a scar. Indifference carries its own baggage too. Colonel Mengistu and his minions abused us till his departure in 1991. If you are keeping count Mengistu precedes Ben Ali of Tunisia as the original deportee from his own country. He was thrown out. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is scheduled to join us the next few days. Frankly I am tired of welcoming tyrants. Hosni rest assured we are in no mood to furl the welcome mat. You are on your own.
Our current leader tormentor Meles Zenawi became President of the Transitional Government from 1991 to 1995 and has been the Prime Minister and kingmaker since 1996. He controls the army, banking thus the economy, the judiciary and the parliament (legislative body). He is the new emperor in a different guise. That is the condensed version of our history of the last one hundred twenty two years.
It looks like we are conditioned to accept the rule of a single individual. We are bred to follow power and authority. Subservient to someone because of age, wealth, education, heredity is part of our DNA. We invite what is known as ‘strong leader.’ We insist on it. The more abusive those leaders are the more our appreciation and respect out of fear.
This abusive relationship is not confined to the political realm alone. It permeates our social and family life too. We allow unscrupulous individuals to climb into position of leadership even in our civic and religious organizations. We know they are up to nothing good but we pretend, ignore and deny. We just wait for the crap to hit the fan and we come out of our hiding place and feign surprise. Our women tolerate their abusive partners; our children suffer under a suffocating and irrational family life.
This ugly trait we cultivate is carried over to the highest office in the land. Our leaders whether Emperors, solders or ordinary garden variety criminals are our own products. We gave birth to them. We coddled them, nurtured them and let them loose on ourselves. It looks like it is not them alone that have to change. We have to change too. We have to learn to respect our selves. We have to believe we deserve the best. How could we demand change when we ourselves are not willing to change? How could we respect strangers when we don’t respect those around us?
Our current Emperor is in a dilemma? We have allowed him to mistreat, abuse and kick us around for the last thirty years or more. He fine-tuned his style of bullying way back when he was an ordinary member of a study group. Now it has gone to his head and I am afraid he does not know the difference between right and wrong. There is no point in psychoanalysis. It is right in front of us for all to see. His habit of resorting to force at the drop of a hat, his tendency to be little others and his show of contempt for those that disagree with him is a glaring example of an individual with no moral compass. You cannot reason with such person.
Let us be clear that any show of good will and compromise is seen as a weakness by such individuals and will be dealt with harshly. Such people are not interested in just wining but require the absolute destruction of their perceived enemy. They get a jolt of adrenalin rush from delivering such a devastating blow. Do we need examples of such behavior? If you insist.
The utter humiliation of comrade in arms Tamrat Laine, the public flogging of Abate Kisho, the imprisonment of the whole clan of Seye Abraha and confiscation of their ill gotten wealth, the harsh treatment of Kinijit leaders and the over forty thousand young people in the aftermath of the 2005 elections and the re imprisonment of Bertukan are symptoms of a sick mind at work. The fact that the ‘leader’ was even keeping tab of Bertukan’s diet and weight is an indication of a very disturbed mind at work.
I dealt with dictatorship because of the current trend of emerging from the yoke of abuse and humiliation in our neighborhood. The example set by Tunisia knows no sign of slowing down. It took Tunisians twenty eight days to topple a twenty-three years old dictatorship. It looks like the Egyptians might do it in less than fifteen days. They were exactly in the same boat like us. Some pundits are trying to show how different we are. I disagree. Our similarities are more than our differences. All three dictators used fear as their potent weapon. All three used excessive force for minor offenses. Murdering, imprisoning or exiling opponents is common to all three. All three economies were on the verge of collapse.
Trying to compare who is the most autocratic between the three misfits is a useless exercise. All three would not blink when it comes to killing to stay in power. Ours is a little primitive due to the backward economic condition of our country. Using ethnic divide, economic disparity or education level is the hallmark of a dictatorship. Nothing-new there.
We learned from Tunisia that the yearning for freedom is a universal wish. We also found out that the people united speak with one loud voice. There was no lamentation regarding the lack of a viable opposition party or leader. No one except Ben Ali and company was worried what would come after the demise of the rotten system. There was no sign of lawless ness because there was a ‘void’. The dictator was sent packing and Tunisians are slowly trying to undo years of mismanagement.
We are learning additional lessons from our Egyptians brothers and sisters. We are beginning to witness the correct approach to dealing with the military. We are finding out the average solder is committed to protecting his country and flag not the tyrant. We are also watching closely the emergence of an independent individual to coordinate the various actors in this drama. Notice that he is someone that is not associated with the dictator or the opposition. It is a very interesting development.
It is a very important and timely lesson for our country. Some would like to scare us with the specter of a military dictatorship upon the demise of TPLF. Egypt is a good example of not looking at the military as a simple tool of the ruling class. It is a living organism with different independent parts not always controlled from the center. When it comes to our country what we see is a beautiful picture. Our job is to build on that discontent and appeal to the good in all of us. We know the Generals and officers are from the ruling ethnic group. Fortunately the ordinary foot solders are just like us. A rainbow of nations and nationalities.
Let us resolve to approach this situation with hope and anticipation of a better tomorrow. Let us ignore the naysayers, the scaremongers and the negative merchants. Our country is ripe for change. Our people are ready for change. Our situation cries out for change. We are going to bring about positive change. We are going to use every available means to help our people and ourselves to emerge as a shining light in East Africa. That is our destiny.
We are in the process of organizing a ‘peaceful occupation’ of Ethiopian Embassy’s all over the world. We are going to use ESAT, Facebook, our independent websites and Ginbot7 short wave radio to gather our forces. Our intention is to show the lack of democracy and civil rights in our ancient land. Our hope is those who are clinging to power will realize change is inevitable and they will see the writing on the wall and go wherever dictators go without a futile attempt to deny reality. We are not into revenge but are committed never to allow the rule of a single individual. We also realize those who still stand with abusers even at the last hour will not receive mercy from us. It is time all decide where they stand at this hour of change. Enough is enough.
Ethiopia - After the Fall of African Dictatorships
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
What happens to Africa after the mud walls of dictatorship come tumbling down and the palaces of illusion behind those walls vanish? Will Africa be like Humpty Dumpty who “had a great fall” and could not be put back together by “all the king's horses and all the king's men”? What happens to the dictators?
When the people begin to beat their drums and circle the mud walls, Africa’s dictators will pack their bags and fly off like bats out of hell. Some will go to Dictators’ Heaven in Saudi Arabia where they will be received with open arms and kisses on the cheeks (Ben Ali of Tunisia, Idi Amin of Uganda, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan found sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, as will Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan and soon.) Others will hide out in the backyards of their brother dictators (Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia has been holed up in Zimbabwe for the last 20 years; Hissen Habre of Chad remains a fugitive from justice sheltered in Senegal; Mohammed Siad Barre of Somalia lived out his last days in Nigeria as did Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko in Morocco). The rest will fade away into the sunset to quietly enjoy their stolen millions. But few will meet the fate of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic (CAR) who found sanctuary in France only to return to CAR, face trial and be convicted of murder; or Charles Taylor of Liberia who found refuge in Nigeria before he was handed over to the International Criminal Court and is now standing trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The fact is that the morning after the fall of Africa’s dictators, the people will be stuck with a ransacked economy, emptied national banks, empty store shelves, torture chambers full of political prisoners and dithering and power-hungry opposition leaders jockeying for position in the middle of political chaos.
Who Could Put Africa Together After the Fall?
Where are the “king’s men and the king’s horses” who will put Africa together after the mud walls come tumbling down? Who are Africa’s Knights in Shining Armor who will ride to the rescue? Unfortunately, there have been few African knights and a lot of armor with one general or self-proclaimed rebel leader replacing another to lord over the people. Africa has been a victim of a recurrent case of old dictator out, new dictator in. In 1991, after the fall of the military dictatorship (Derg) in Ethiopia led by Mengistu Hailemariam, a malignant dictatorship replaced it with Meles Zenawi at the helm. Zenawi and his crew came to power promising democracy and ended up establishing a kakistorcatic kleptocracy (a government of incompetents whose mission is to use the state apparatus to steal from the people and enrich themselves and their cronies). Two decades later, the country’s economy is in shambles with galloping inflation and jails full of businessmen and merchants who are made the fall guys for the country’s economic problems.
Laurent Gbagbo succeeded Ivory Coast’s military dictator Robert Guei in a democratic election in 2000. After losing a democratic election by a 9-point margin to Alassane Ouattara recently, Gbagbo refuses to step down and continues to cling to power despite pleas by his own election commission, the African Union, the U.N., the U.S. and the European Union. In 1997, rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, named himself president the day after Mobutu fled, suspended the constitution, renamed the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moved into Mobutu’s palace and continued Mobutu’s ongoing enterprise of massive human rights abuses and corruption without skipping a beat. A week after Kabila was assassinated by his own body guard in 2001, his 30 year-old son Joseph was anointed president. Lansana Conté replaced dictator Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea in 1984, until he was overthrown by another military dictator in December 2008. Omar al-Bashir seized power in the Sudan in 1989, immediately suspended political parties and introduced Sharia law on a national level, a major factor which contributed to the recent breakup of the Sudan. In 1999, he disbanded the parliament, suspended the constitution, declared a state of national emergency and began ruling by presidential decree. Today al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice sought by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. When Siad Barre’s military dictatorship fell in Somalia in 1991, the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his rebel group took over Mogadishu but were unable to consolidate their power throughout the country, triggering bloody clan wars that have left Somalia as the ultimate completely failed state.
Learning From History: Preparing for Change
It is said that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”; but there is much to be learned from the history of African dictatorships. Africa’s dictators have methodically and systematically wiped out their strongest opposition by demonizing, jailing, intimidating, torturing and outlawing them. They have neutralized rivals even with their own ranks. Zenawi jailed the entire leadership of the opposition, journalists, civil society leaders and human rights advocates in one fell swoop in 2005. The dictators have created their own political institutions and doctored their constitutions to allow for change to come only through the auspices of their own parties and allies. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak amended their constitutions so that no opposition leader or party could run for the presidency or other national office and have a chance to win in a fair and free election. Because African dictators live in an echo chamber they are self-delusional. They convince themselves that they have popular support. Mubarak believes he has the full support of the people, and by reshuffling his cabinet and appointing his army buddies to top posts he could continue his 30 year-old dictatorial rule. Zenawi declared that his 99.6 percent victory in the parliamentary election in May 2010 represented a “mandate” from the people to his party in gratitude for his great leadership and the “double digit” economic growth he had brought the country. African dictators are so arrogant that they believe they can save the day by making a few superficial concessions and grandstanding promises of democratization, reorganization and reconciliation. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya agreed to a make-believe “unity government” to prolong their dictatorships. Without the support of the West, no dictatorship in Africa could survive even a single day. That is why Mubarak, Zenawi, Kibaki, Musevini and rest of them shake in their boots when the West angles their collective boots towards their rear ends. The West will throw them under a steamroller at the first sign of unrest. President Obama was quick to “applaud” the Tunisian people for overthrowing Ben Ali. He warned Mubarak that unless he takes “concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people”, there will be cuts in the billions of dollars of U.S. handouts to Egypt.
On the other hand, many opposition leaders and parties opposing dictatorships in Africa have been disorganized, fractious, confused, haphazard, self-righteous and duplicitous. Regrettably, there are far too many opposition leaders in Africa who are driven by the singular desire to grab power than are interested in bringing about real change. Truth be told, many African opposition leaders have little faith in the courage and resourcefulness of the people; and the people prove them wrong every time. As Egypt’s Mohamed El Baradei recently observed on the Egyptian popular uprising: “It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date [for the uprising] and decided to go. Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready… [but what the youth have done] will give them the self-confidence they needed.” Once opposition leaders seat themselves in the saddles of power, they become the mirror images of the dictators they fought to remove. In the eyes of the people, many of these leaders have proven to be wolves in sheep’s clothing; they want to grab power to make sure “it is their turn to eat, their turn at the trough”. That is the reason why people in many parts of Africa have little faith in the opposition leaders or their parties. Laurent Gbago, who fought dictator Félix Houphouët-Boigny and years later led his supporters into the streets toppling General Robert Guei is today the reincarnation of Houphouët-Boigny-Guei. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda are no different. Further evidence in support of the assertion that many opposition leaders are driven by a hunger for power is their inability to present to the people concrete and comprehensive proposals to address the structural problems of poverty, unemployment, inflation, corruption, oppression and human rights violation in their countries. In short, many opposition leaders have no plans to clean up the mess the dictatorships always leave behind, and have failed to become beacons of hope to guide their people out of despair. That is what we seem to be witnessing today in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere.
An African Charter Against Dictatorship (Charter 2011)
The history of the human struggle for freedom offers many lessons. One of the great lessons of the past two decades is that political changes that ensure lasting peace and guarantee freedom and human rights do not come as a result of military or palace coups, rebel victories or the efforts of opposition parties and leaders, but through simple acts of civil disobedience, passive resistance and the spontaneous actions of ordinary people and youth in the streets fed up with corruption, poverty, unemployment and human rights abuses. Who could have imagined that the match young Mohamed Bouazizi lit to burn himself protesting dictatorship in Tunisia would now be torching decades-old dictatorships in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan? Could one reasonably doubt that the winds of change will not carry the embers of freedom from Tunisia and Egypt to other countries in the region?
In the current context of civil disobedience and mass resistance and the absence of organized parties and leaders to lead peaceful popular uprisings in many African dictatorships, it seems that there is a great role to be played by individuals, small groups, civic society and other informal institutions dedicated to the defense and protection of human rights and the rule of law in Africa. Africans must look to civil society institutions and grassroots organizations to spearhead real change and take charge of their destiny. The first step towards that end is for ordinary Africans committed to nonviolent peaceful change to take a stand against dictatorship openly and defiantly. It has been done before successfully a number of times. The struggle of the Czechoslovakian dissidents who signed the Charter 77 petition is one instructive example of how individuals without political partisanship, affiliation or ideology -- but committed to human rights and freedom -- were able to change history by simply standing up for their beliefs and defying dictatorships.
In November 1989, riot police violently suppressed student demonstrations in Prague, which in turn triggered a massive popular uprising and a general strike against the communist regime. As a result, Czech president Gustav Husak resigned in early December; and by the end of 1989 a non-communist government was in place. Within a few months, the much vaunted communist system in Czechoslovakia was dismantled completely. The “Velvet Revolution”, as it came to be known, had roots in the tireless efforts of a few hundred Czech dissidents committed to the principles of “Charter 77”, a human rights document prepared in the from a petition demanding respect for basic human rights guaranteed to Czech citizens in their Constitution and other international human rights conventions. The Charter demanded the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, a stop to politically-motivated prosecutions, humane treatment of political prisoners and other basic rights. Charter 77 was not an organization nor did it have any formal membership. Those who signed it consisted of “a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respecting of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world.” Anyone who agreed with the ideas of the Charter and was willing to propagate and participate in its pursuit could take ownership. When the Charter was finalized in 1977, approximately 300 individuals had the courage to sign it. Many avoided openly endorsing the document or showing support for it fearing retaliation, harassment and persecution by the communist regime. When communism fell in 1989, fewer than two thousand Czechs had signed the Charter. Most importantly, during the turbulent days of the “Velvet Revolution”, it was the members of Charter 77 who played a pivotal and decisive role in the transition of Czechoslovakia from totalitarianism to democracy. Member of Charter 77 ensured not only the dismantlement of communism but also became the bulwarks against the rise of another dictatorship. An African Charter Against Dictatorship is long overdue!
Palace of Illusion and Fortress of Freedom
When the mud walls of African dictatorships come tumbling down, the palaces of illusion behind those walls will vanish without a trace. If Africans are to have hope of a better future and fulfill their destiny to become one with all free peoples in the world, they will need to build a fortress of freedom impregnable to the slings and arrows of civilians dictators and the savage musketry of military juntas. African dictators should heed these words: “Those who make peaceful change impossible, make a violent revolution inevitable.”
Tunisia vs. Ethiopia: Could the Northern wave reach East?
By Jawar S. Mohammed*
After a sweeping nonviolent uprising forced Tunisia’s despotic ruler out of office, Ethiopian activists and pundits are speculating a renewed possibility of a similar revolution in Ethiopia. Factors that triggered the Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”—hike in food price and costs of living, can also be observed in Ethiopia, and are fueling the optimism. As citizens pray for the Tunis wave to reach Finfinne, the Ethiopian regime is scrambling to erect a levy against it. Meles Zenawi’s fear of not becoming the next Ben Ali is not without reason. But what are the odds of his nightmare becoming a reality?
The Demise of Ben Ali
A year ago, after listening to my presentation on strategic nonviolent resistance, a Tunisian activist told me that although theoretically sound, it’s impractical to implement a nonviolent resistance in countries such as Tunisia. He gave a laundry list of reasons for his beliefs;
1) The regime will use excessive force to prematurely crush organized resistance,
2) The military and security forces are very loyal to the regime,
3) The regime has co-opted all religious and community leaders,
4) The opposition is too divided, and lacks a charismatic leader
5) The regime has the full backing of the West, which would not stand by and watch its ally collapse
6) The ruling party has an extensive network of over two million members (20% of the total population) that would enable it to sniff out any possible threat.
Does it sound familiar? What a difference a year can make! Civil insurrection has toppled the once invincible Ben Ali, and the cynical activist I met in Washington, D.C. is now among the youth that engineered the revolution.
A ruler remains in power only as long as he has the consent of the people. In democratic countries, such consent is secured through periodic elections. In authoritarian systems, people consent due to fear, hopelessness, and identification with the ruler etc. The citizens’ consent indirectly translates into cooperating with and enabling the system that oppresses them. The objective of a civil resistance, therefore, is to eliminate factors that force citizens to consent to brutal and corrupt rulers. When people refuse to submit to the wishes and demands of their oppressor, the legitimacy of the ruler becomes questionable. The withdrawal of people’s cooperation increases the cost of making citizens conform. With reduced legitimacy and increased cost of control, the regime’s endurance begins to wane. When endurance is shaking, enforcers start feeling doubtful, so away goes their loyalty, and forcing the pillars that hold the power of a dictator to collapse.
The efficiency of a nonviolent movement depends on the choice and sequencing tactics. Gene Sharp identified some 200 methods that are categorized under three main tactics: protest (persuasion), noncooperation, and intervention. Protests serve as a means of raising awareness and creating unity among victims of the system. Noncooperation weakens the system’s ability to enforce its will, while intervention is obstructing the normal activities of the system and eventually crippling it.
What happened in Tunisia is a classic case of successfully executed nonviolent insurrections. Over the last several years, Tunisian citizens used social networks to expose corruption, human rights violations, unemployment, and repression. By the end of 2010, Tunisians have found one unifying issue – the economy, particularly the towering unemployment. The self- immolation of Mohammed Bouaziz—an unemployed young college graduate—protesting confiscation of his produce by police served as a trigger for a revolution ready to engulf the nation.
A heavy-handed attempt to suppress a rally in Bouaziz’s hometown of Sidi Bouzid was exposed by social media and soon enough other towns joined in solidarity. The movement gained momentum as labor activists and lawyers came onboard. The regime’s attack on those professionals backfired - elites from all sectors condemned the act and the middle class joined the movement. The activists employed brilliantly sequenced tactics completely disorienting the system through unpredictable and dispersed eruption of rallies all over the country. This served two purposes: first, although the number of direct participants was relatively small (less than 100,000 on its final days), the sporadic nature of the protests glorified the magnitude of the resistance. Second, the unpredictability of the events made the regime’s coordinated repressive response difficult.
Seeing the futility of repression, Ben Ali attempted appeasement by promising sweeping reforms. He reshuffled his cabinets, vowed to create 300,000 jobs, and grant full freedom of expression. The activists responded by increasing the pressure, calling on him to step down. When everything failed, Ben Ali resorted back to repression and ordered the military to use every means necessary to quash the revolt. However, the chief of army, Gen. Rachid Ammar, refused to order his soldiers to use live ammunition against unarmed protesters. His replacement followed the same suit. Ben Ali realized too late that everyone was sensing a rapid decline of the system’s endurance and his once loyal subordinates began positioning themselves to the new reality. The military leaders and reformist ministers took sides with the protesters forcing Ben Ali to run for his life.
The Danger of a Dominant Party System
Ben Ali failed to detect the looming troubles due in part to the perceived strength of his ruling party. His ruling party had over two million members who wore shirts with the president’s face on it, and swore to die for their beloved leader. His members proved their loyalty by helping Ben Ali win last year’s election with a staggering 89% percent. Interestingly enough, Meles Zenawi’s party boasts over five million members, whom he credits for winning him 99.6% of the parliamentary seats last May. Following the election, Meles attributed his overwhelming ‘victory’ to the dominant party system he had setup. Tunisia exemplifies the unreliability and even danger of grandiose dominant parties. How long a minority dominated ethnic coalition like the EPRDF would last, if met with a powerful strategic civil insurrection like Tunisia remains to be seen.
Opposition Politics: Leadership and a Unifying Agenda Syndrome
Opposition parties both in Ethiopia and Tunisia are highly fragmented and lack a unifying agenda or leader. With a low credibility rating, most citizens have a pessimistic view of the opposition. However, despite ever-growing harassment and repression, as well as the gloomy prospect of capturing state power, Tunisian opposition remained in the country and continued to participate in elections—even when they had no chance of winning. This proved to be important.
While Tunisian opposition political parties did not initiate or plan the civil insurrection, their presence on the ground was indispensable. By publicly defending the revolution, opposition leaders legitimized the youth movement against the regime’s attempt to dismiss it as extremism and hooliganism. When the resistance grew larger, opposition leaders jumped on the opportunity, directing and guiding the movement to achieve a full political change. They also facilitated communication between protesters and reformists within the government. Their role proved instrumental in reducing causality and preventing prolonged instability that could have resulted in the military seizing power to restore order. Quite startling, Islamic parties that were supposed to have the strongest support and thought to pose the main threat to Ben Ali, had a very small role in this revolution and its aftermath. The leaders of those parties were outside the country, and were out of touch with the reality on the ground—least aware, unprepared, and too far to make a direct impact on the political outcome.
The Role of the Military
Behind the success of the Tunisian revolution lies a constructive role played by the military. With no endurance left in Ben Ali, the military had multiple options: to stage a coup d’état and seize power, or to help civilians form a transitional government. They chose the latter. By defying the president’s order to crack down on the resistance, the military helped speed up the collapse of the old regime. Some went as far as setting up a telephone hotline system in order to protect the protesters against attack by Ben Ali’s loyal militias. Furthermore, by cracking down on the old security apparatus, the military prevented a likely coup against the new regime. In the words of General Rachid Ammar, the Tunisian army was acting as the “guarantor of the revolution.”
The odds of the military playing a similar role in Ethiopia are very small. The composition of the military is starkly different with all key command positions held by Meles Zenawi’s ardent loyalists from one ethnic group. In addition, Meles has been successful in instilling fear and insecurity among Tigrean elites (military, political and economic). They widely believe that the downfall of Meles and TPLF would result in a severe retribution against the Tigrean community and businesses. Therefore, Tigrean officers are unlikely to remain neutral or support a revolution against TPLF. In the event that a well-planned and strategically-guided resistance forces Meles to lose control, two possible scenarios may emerge:
a) The Tigrean generals will stand with Meles and crack down on resistance. At that likely event, given the discontent within the military, officers from other nations may side with the resistance resulting in an unpredictable and very violent episode.
b) Tigrean officers will stage a coup and replace Meles with another TPLF leader, hence leadership transition without a regime change. This could result in temporary relief; however, once wounded, authoritarian systems plunge into chronic crisis and do not last long.
Another interesting lesson from the Jasmine Revolution is the limit of foreign guardianship for authoritarian rulers. Both Ben Ali and Meles Zenawi top the list of Western allies in the war on terror. The despotic rulers and their opponents believe the West will do everything to protect their “Yes Men” from any trouble. Tunisia’s revolutionaries proved the myth wrong. In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the Tunisian people’s desire to be free. In Tunisia he said, “…the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.” It is not that the West (especially France) would have refused to help Ben Ali; it is rather the intensity of the resistance that took them off guard. By the time they woke in Paris and Washington, it was too late. Therefore, the United States and France had no option but to stand with the people of Tunisia. They even denied asylum request for their departing buddy.
The fate of Meles Zenawi might not be any different. Argument can be made that the geopolitical importance of Ethiopia is higher than that of Tunisia. Due to the volatile regional situation (Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Kenya, and Sudan), the West does not want to see instability in Ethiopia as it could pose grave danger to global security. Yet, past and recent history shows once a dictator loses internal control it is unlikely to be saved by external allies. In fact, my observation of the Obama administration is that while it lacks the stamina to provide practical support for democratic change, it does not stand in the way.
The Economy: Politics of Inflation and Price Caps
Ethiopia is facing more severe economic instability than Tunisia. During the early years of Ben Ali’s rule, Tunisia enjoyed a relatively stable economic growth. But in the last decade, Ben Ali began manipulating the numbers to show a rapid growth in order to hide his authoritarianism (Meles calls this a developmental state). However, as Ben Ali’s extended families and connected friends dominated the economy, little was trickling down for the rest of the country. In the last two years, economic growth plummeted, unemployment rose, and cost of living skyrocketed.
Zenawi gamb1ed even higher. A decade and half experiment with the so called Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) with hope of building power base in rural area failed to increase agricultural productivity and reduce food insecurity. During the experiment, urban development and small businesses were completely ignored. When the 2005 election revealed a looming danger coming from urban population and civil servants, the regime began devising economic policies to appease them. Thus, the current market crisis is the result of a number of decisions made to overcome the impact of the 2005 political crisis.
• To win back the support of the bureaucracy, Meles made a significant salary increase. For instance, a district administrator who once received 800 birr got a raise to 2000 or more. The number of state employees also increased, as kebele level administrators and cadres began receiving salary. Since printing the birr is the only logical source of such staggering increase, inflation became unavoidable.
• The sudden explosion of real estate and the construction sector was meant to bring temporary relief to urban unemployment, as well as to showcase rapid economic growth. State owned banks were shelling out loans. Real estate and construction sectors boomed causing the demand for construction materials to spike, hence leading to an acute shortage. The government had to subsidize imports of these materials resulting in a huge trade deficit and shortage of foreign currency. Companies are not able to service their bank loans, nor could they pay state taxes. The speculated fueled demand for real state is nowhere to be seen. The CEO’s are either on the run or have joined the hundreds of political prisoners.
• To compensate for foreign currency shortage, two steps were taken: devaluating the birr and inviting multinational corporations to grab as much arable land as possible. The logic is that revenues gained from export of the cash crop would help balance the deficit. The practicality of the land lease policy in reducing trade deficit is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, the market crisis is not waiting for revenue yet to be earned. Prices of basic goods are out of control, as there is also a severe shortage. (Report shows as much as 33% decline in the supply of bulls). The regime’s intervention by means of placing price caps is not working.. See Dr. Said’s recent analysis.)
The cumulative effects of these policy blunders are prepping Meles Zenawi’s regime for one of the most dangerous crises it has ever faced. So far, every step taken in stabilizing the market has backfired. The regime is in a state of panic as can be seen from its recent amateur policy decisions. Devaluating the birr by 17% has resulted in 14.5% inflation. The attempt to make merchants take the blame for the price hikes failed to materialize. Then, the regime turned to increasing pensions by 84% and salary by 35%. These measures are likely to exacerbate the situation than stabilize it.
Therefore, had there been an organized movement, Ethiopia’s current economic woes provide a great recipe to kick the 20 year old dictatorship in the groin. Even at the absence of exogenous pressure, given the self-isolating decisions Meles has been taking within his party, internal explosion cannot be ruled out.
Conclusion: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
The hike in the global food price presents a grave danger for dictators and a golden opportunity for their oppressed subjects yearning for freedom. Ben Ali is the first causality of the will of the people and Tunisia has shown the way forward. Algerians, Egyptians, and Yeminis have picked up the torch. We will see the results in the coming weeks. Their victory is the result of extensive and careful planning. Activists of those regions spent the last several years preparing for this moment—they built their capacity very well that, when the opportunity presented itself, they grabbed it. Ethiopians, who have fallen into deeper pessimism over the last years, seem to be waking up as well. I hope Ethiopians at home and abroad are watching and learning a thing or two from Tunisia and the fast-spreading revolution fever up north.
Mubarak is done; his words evoke more fury and anger
Does the US truly see through that public rage in Egypt?
By Genet Mersha
29 January 2011
At least, Mubarak proved wrong many who on Friday thought that he had joined his wife and son in London. It was a reasonable assumption though, given that the president was not seen in public or heard until half past midnight Saturday morning. Since last Tuesday, Cairo has been engulfed in protests and in flames. Saturday morning, the demonstrators have shown both restraint and increased defiance. The test of Egyptian and US resolve is how the Egyptian army would respond Saturday evening, when curfew time begins at five o’clock—two hours earlier.
As a shrewd politician, Mr. Mubarak realizes his end is here. The army he ordered Friday afternoon complied with his order to be out in the street, but has done nothing to enforce the curfew Friday night. In spite the curfew, therefore, protestors were in the streets Friday night, after the president’s speech furiously demanding his resignation. He also has seen since Thursday, the United States keenness to emphasize what he should do more to respond to the protestors, a signal that he has outlived his usefulness. Interestingly, the protestors are also insistent that Egyptians must be allowed to solve their problems, without interference by the United States.
Under the circumstances, what Mr. Mubarak is fiddling with may not any longer be about his stay in power, or responding to the popular clamour. As a typical Egyptian, who is convinced about their uniqueness in the Arab world, he too may be seeking an honorable way out, unlike Tunisia’s Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. As the protests gathered momentum in Tunisia, Ben Ali began to panic and confessed on television about his wrongs and readiness to mend his ways to ensure democracy and respect for human rights. How could he give what he did not have in his 23 years in power? His choice is now to face the Interpol, sought for stealing Tunisia’s wealth.
Even Ben Ali’s brother, the tycoon Belhassen Trabelsi, is in hiding now in Canada, after that country cancelled his residence permit, having found out that he had arrived on a private plane last week loaded with cash. Although almost in the same league with Ben Ali, in terms of his repression of Egyptian society and corruption in power, Mubarak did not want his personal history to be linked to Ben Ali’s.
One significant blunder by Mubarak Saturday morning was his claim in his statement, "I assure you that I'm working for the people and giving freedom... as long as you're respecting the law." That has lumped him with Ben Ali. A man who has kept three decades of state of emergency in force in Egypt, all of a sudden has turned into a friend of rule of law, a man of the constitution, democratic rights and freedom…
Finally, his promise was, "There will be new steps toward democracy and freedoms and new steps to face unemployment and increase the standard of living and services, and there will be new steps to help the poor and those with limited income." Where has he been in the last thirty years, or even two years ago, when Obama came to Egypt as a new president to speak to the Arab world from Cairo and urged him to do exactly that? Obama’s response was to the point:
When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech, and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words; to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise…Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people, and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away…The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere…I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
Surely, mobile phone service and Internet are back, even as the new cabinet is being formed Saturday. Nonetheless, the thinking of the military and its response to change in Egypt is yet to be seen. The army is a respected institution having distanced itself from politics under Hosni Mubarak. That was not because he believed in professional army. For that matter, he has no vice-president to succeed him. All his ministers are technocrats, without political party base. He has no patience to aspirants to his power.
I am very much struck by the actions and response of the United States. I have lived long enough to say that this is the first time I have seen the United States listening seriously to the street and giving counsel to its important ally that he would do better if he responded to the people’s demands. President Barack Obama emphasized in his response to Mubarak’s speech: "What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people." That is complete departure from hitherto United States permanent partisanship with murderous dictators, such as Pinochet in Chile, Sesse Seko in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia and the apartheid leaders in South Africa, Savimbi in Angola (George Bush I), … and now Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.
Therefore, it is time to give credit to the Obama administration for the posture it has assumed on the evolving situation in Egypt. Whatever the outcome, the United States has saved face, for now. Besides what the Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama said on Thursday and Friday, White House Spokesperson person Robert Gibbs Friday afternoon gave more than he could under these abnormal circumstances, even before Mubarak spoke at that ungodly hour, as he faced the hungry press. Clearly, the United States has tightened all lose ends, as it communicated with Mubarak and his officials.
Robert Gibbs Friday said, “It has been communicated [US demands to Mubarak] not just from this podium, not just in the remarks of the Secretary of State, but at levels within the Pentagon to the Egyptian military from the Egyptian military, from the State Department, from the words and conversations that have been had by Ambassador Scobey -- all levels -- and also the words, most importantly, of the President yesterday.”
With every passing hour, the United States is seen distancing itself from Mubarak. As a country that supplies Cairo with $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid yearly, already on Friday it implicitly indicated that, nearly like the Egyptian people without being vociferous, it would have little of Mubarak’s regime. It has also been made clear to the security forces and the army, in the words of Mr. Gibbs “I think that if --[sentence not completed] I think we are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of all the security forces, and all of those in the military. That their actions may affect our assistance would be the subject of that review.” Unheard of before!
Journalists pressed and quizzed Robert Gibbs during the briefing for more information; later rightly analysts called the administration’s position "walking a tight line", euphemism in diplomacy, when a diplomat or a country equivocates not to take clear position. At this stage, there is no doubt that the US could have done still much better, were not for its limited options. Any further obtrusion could have endangered its strategic interests in the greater Middle East, especially the Palestinian question and Egypt-Israeli relations and serving as cordon against Iranian intentions in the Persian Gulf and with respect to nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, not any differently from the Bush administration, the Obama administration has also been sucked into the anti-terrorism alliance, thereby giving blank checks to worst human rights violators such as Mubarak, Meles, Ali Salah… In recent years, fighting terrorism has become the bonanza Meles and Mubarak are exploiting, because of which they have enabled to entrench themselves in power this long, while becoming intolerably dictatorial and stealing election results in broad daylight. In the case of Egypt, this has also emboldened Mubarak to try to engage in attempts to create a dynasty wishing to install his son as his successor—a man who is among the many causes boiling the blood of Egyptians, especially the middle class.
The door has now been opened for the demands of the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, dazed by power’s aphrodisiac, he might in his folly hope to stay in power for a while. The truth is that, as far as Egyptian people are concerned, he is finished. The US no longer sees in him a leader as useful for their interests of controlling Iran, the Palestinians, and as a go between those Arab countries to whom the US often sends signals indirectly.
Finally, the question is whether this welcome and changed approach by the Obama administration i.e., to show the door to a dictator is based in American fundamental principles, as the president claims. If that is the case, principles are applicable to all peoples thirsting for freedom and human dignity. Principles cannot discriminate between select allies and others. If that is the case, there is no reason for the United States to tolerate a duplicitous Stalinist regime in Ethiopia, whom Washington and London, along with China cuddle, even as he continues to kill aspirations of the Ethiopian people for freedom and dignified life. How could torture be tolerated?
For a clear demonstration of Stalinism in Ethiopia, just go through this comparative table of what Ethiopia is today, compared to Egypt and what would have happened, if there is mass protest today, which is totally shut of by law.
• Since Tuesday, about 35 people have been killed, hundreds injured, over 2,000 imprisoned
• In a few hours, nearly 200 were mowed down in Addis Ababa only and about 40,000 were imprisoned in 2005; Meles would have massacred tens of thousands today, possibly in one day
• Radio and television continued to operate normally, focusing on the demonstrations, although tweets, internet mobile services were pulled off. Restored on Saturday
• No demonstrations were shown on TV; after the massacre of the students, Meles said they were robbers and hooligans; the media began to echo that ad infinitum; sms blocked for
nearly three years after that
• Airlines suspended flights, airport still open
• No flights in and out; airport was shut down
• There is relatively better leeway for the press to operate in Egypt
• Since 2005 media has been reduced to government mouthpiece, cadres operate as
journalists, while members of independent press are imprisoned, flee the country and their establishments closed
• Security forces imprison and torture; no independent judiciary;
• Security forces imprison and torture. More Stalinist than Stalin’s time: no rule of law; no independent judiciary,
• Education is not normally ideologically indoctrinated
• Educational system tainted with false history and ideology for purposes of maintain Meles’s power
• Army is kept outside politics
• Army and security are political instruments of Meles, recruited and promoted on the basis of belonging to his ethnic group
• Worst violator of human rights; at least Egyptians are not imprisoned for criticizing the regime openly
• Worst violator of human rights; even suspected opposition to the TPLF entails being sent to the ‘gulag’ in Kaliti and Maekelawi for tortures
• One person rule, fights the opposition, although civil society organizations operate in Egypt with some limitations
• One person rule, encircled by ethnic coteries, no room for political participation or for independent civil society organizations
• Widespread corruption in the upper echelons mostly
• Corrupt leadership, linked to the prime minister himself and his family and down to party cadres and the ethnically constituted army
• Since 2004, Egypt has found the success to its economic development because of professionals handling policy
• Ethiopia’s economy is Meles’s guinea pig into his fluid thinking picking up one thing and dropping the other every time
• Public frustration grew over time, but Egyptian society remains still united
• Anger and frustration has reached boiling point; fear has kept the lid on it, in a country that is polarized through and through
Effective, But Non-violent!
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
So we need not take over the State's decision-making process (elections); we need not physically destroy the State's coercive resources (violent resistance); instead we can win our freedom by striking at the heart of the State's power, disrupting the patterns of cooperation and obedience on which it depends. This is exactly what we are witnessing today in Egypt and Yemen; and what took place recently in Tunisia.
The wave of protests, disobedience and changes engulfing the Arab Nations soon or later would arrive to Ethiopia whether we like it or not. The similarity that Tunisians, Egyptians, The Yemenis and the people of Ethiopia are going through is almost identical. High unemployment, corruption, hyper inflation, power abuse, human rights violations, arrogance, and totalitarian regimes and so on are the root causes of the demand for change and disobedience that is shocking the world. What started in Tunisia is spreading like a wild fire to the rest of the countries ruled by despots. The only differences we have witnessed are the response by the police toward the protesters. In case of Tunisia even the police have joined the general public in demanding the removal of a despot ruler and his cronies.
Mr. Mubarek who ruled Egypt for the last 30 years is now in the verge of departing Egypt. Like his counter part in Ethiopia, Mr. Mubarek held power with fake elections and with the support of his Western Allies in guise of fighting terrorism. The Westerners who have been funding this brutal despot are now unable to defend him; and may be, they are planning his safe exit from Egypt. In Egypt, at least there are well organized political organizations that are able and willing to fill the vacuum should Mr. Mubarek depart Egypt.
The last time we witnessed such a spontaneous movement in our country was in 1974; which in 1975, the military regime deposed Emperor Haileselassie. We wanted change but the change we got was not the desired one. We did not have an effective political organization that could lead the struggle and eventually fill in the power vacuum. The opportunity allowed brutal military junta to take over power and to ruin the nation for 17 years.
This is not the first time that such opportunity presented itself in Ethiopia. In May 1997, we had the perfect “February 1974”; unfortunately, like then, we did not have effective leadership that could direct that perfect storm to force the desired change in Ethiopia. In May 1997, Merchants were protesting the high rent increase by the regime, the Gojam peasants came in mass to Addis Ababa to lodge their grievances, the dissatisfied Taxi Drivers were about to stage a work stoppage, and there was a belligerent and continues human rights abuse by the regime and an angry population was about to join the merchants to protest against the regime.
The opposition slept through it without doing any thing. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and the Ethiopian Chamber of commerce led the protesters and organized the merchants to close their business to polarize the entire city. There wasn’t a single political entity that was ready to take the “Bull by its Horn” and force the regime to reform itself and change the political discourse. It took only a single radio announcement by the regime to threaten the merchants and force them to re-open their shops. In a show of an enormous disregard to the concerns of the general public, the regime imprisoned about 80 merchants, revoked hundreds of licenses and shut down several businesses. This ended that perfect storm. The opposition could only look back with regrets for failing to step to the plate.
As we witness what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, we also observe that the opposition in Ethiopia is not providing any leadership so far. We have an enormous crisis in our country that requires sensible leadership. We don’t want this crisis to be hijacked once again that will allow another despot to replace a despot. I am aware that the opposition is agonizing how to take charge of the situation. If the opposition leadership believes that Non violent struggle means to function only at the will of the government, then, they have failed to realize that effective none violent struggle requires sacrifice; it requires saying no to the government; it requires being defiant and mobilizing the general public to demand justice and freedom. Such a humongous task requires strong leadership.
We have a dangerous storm looming in our nation; a perfect condition for public disobedience and nonviolent resistance. In order to direct this storm to a perfect storm, the opposition needs to use the opportunity to galvanize support for peaceful public disobedience to demand that EPRDF either make genuine reform or surrender power to the people. Without effective organization and leadership, it would be very difficult to bring the desired change in Ethiopia and to strike at the heart of the State’s brutal machine. What we need is an entity that will create conducive atmosphere for a democratic system of government where the rule of law reigns. What we need is a genuine change so there can be a protection of human and civic rights. What we need is a genuine change where people live in their own country without fearing their own government. What we need is a government by the people for the people. What we need is a government that governs with the consent of our people. Is the opposition ready to bring this desired change? If the answer is yes, then, the time is now to galvanize support and to direct the current discontent and public dissatisfaction into a perfect storm to bring the long awaited change to our nation.
There is no question that the EPRDF has been a thorn in the path of the opposition and has made it difficult for the opposition to galvanize public support to its cause using its brutal Agazi force. As we see before our eyes, you don’t need the regime’s permission to conduct an effective none violent struggle. All the ingredients are there for “a Revolution” except one thing-LEADERSHIP. I hope the Ethiopian people are watching, the opposition is learning and the regime is paying attention to what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. It should not come to street protest and public disobedience to bring about genuine reform in Ethiopia; but if that is what it takes to force the regime to change; then let the opposition lead the public, before the public spontaneously leads the opposition.
Once again, that we have witnessed the achievement of effective none violent struggle. Such an effective struggle needs effective leadership. It is clear that we don’t need to resort to armed struggle to bring despots to their knees. This is the perfect time for visionary and concerned leaders to consult with one another. This is not the time to be hungry for power, but a time to reflect how to establish a democratic system of government in our nation. This is not the time to be pretentious and lecture the impossibility of such action in Ethiopia. This is the time for our patriots to stand up and lead the way to say NO MORE! NO MORE! This is the time to say to Mr. Meles and his cronies ATNESSAM WEY; ATENESSAM WAY; YEGEF AGEZAZ AYEBEKAHEM WEY? As the saying goes you have to break eggs to make an omelet, it is unfortunate that it requires a sacrifice of human lives to get rid of despots who are sucking the life of our nation.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of nazret.com. The views are solely that of the author. Become a blogger of nazret.com, the #1 Rated Ethiopian Website according to Alexa. Contact us for details
«"alemayehu g. mariam "» «"ali mohammed"» "education" «"human rights"» "usaid" agriculture «alemayehu g. mariam» birtukan china clinton «commodity exchange» dc9 economics economy ecx «eskinder nega» inflation «meles zenawi» «messay kebede» «messay kebede» mideksa murder wikileaks «yilma bekele»
«"alemayehu g. mariam "» «"ali mohammed"» "education" «"human rights"» "usaid" agriculture «alemayehu g. mariam» birtukan china clinton «commodity exchange» dc9 economics economy ecx «eskinder nega» inflation «meles zenawi» «messay kebede» «messay kebede» mideksa murder wikileaks «yilma bekele»