Ethiopia - The ‘Domino effect’ in living color
By yilma Bekele
What is referred to at the domino effect is “a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then cause another similar change, and so on in a linear sequence.” We are witnessing that phenomenon right now.
Fear of the domino effect is what got the US involved in Vietnam in the ‘60’s. When The Vietminh under Ho Chi Minh took over North Vietnam and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the US was convinced the communists will over run South Vietnam then continue on to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and so on. The war was to arrest the Communist juggernaut. Whether it failed or was a success is a matter of interpretation.
A recent example of the fear of the domino effect is the bailout of the Banking system here in the US and Western Europe. The US Treasury came up with the term ‘too big to fail.’ It was felt that allowing a major bank to go bankrupt would start a chain reaction that will threaten the capitalist system, as we know it. The taxpayer was compelled to prop up the banks with no interest loans and a guarantee by the Federal Reserve to do what is necessary to protect the integrity of the system.
This last week the domino effect came home to roost in every capital city where freedom and civil rights have been put in the back burner. Our beautiful and brave friends in Tunisia started the ball rolling in a spectacular fashion. May the almighty bless Tunisians and their ancestors. The elegant system they devised to topple a tyrant of over twenty years was awe inspiring in its simplicity and ease of application. It was a work of art. They are still fine tuning their copy righted manual “Seven Easy Steps to Get Rid of A Tyrant©”
An ordinary citizen named Mohamed Bouaziz set himself on fire because he decided it was not worth living in such an environment. I have no idea if he saw the bigger implication of his one-person defiance. For whatever reason he did it for, his public immolation set the domino effect in motion. Let us just say tyrants everywhere are rethinking their future prospects. No matter what brave face they present or pretend to do business as usual Tunisia has scared the pants out of them.
There was no fighting force in Tunisia. There was no opposition party that seized the leadership. Religion was not a factor. There were no glaring signs that things were simmering. But in less than thirty days the eruption of dis-content engulfed a whole nation. In a blink of an eye el macho, full of himself, the leader for life, tyrant and bully Ben Ali was stripped of his humanity.
It looks like Egypt is the next domino piece to fall. May be not. It really don’t matter, the foundation is showing cracks as big as Abbay gorge. Sooner or later it will crumble. As I write this, it is the third day of spontaneous protests and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Mubarak and company. His son who was considered the heir apparent left for London with his wife and family. Now Mrs. Mubarak is reported to be in London too. I assume the tyrant of thirty years will join them soon enough. I will also venture to state that dictator Mubarak and family will settle in the US for the rest of their life in exile. Welcome fellow refugees.
Since I am in this euphoric mood may I predict the fall of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the demise of “The Leader”. For you not in the know, that is how they refer to Corporal Gaddafi of Libya to be followed by Saleh of Yemen. Even Lloyds of London will deny King Abdallah II and Colonel Gaddafi’s life insurance coverage.
With all this excitement twirling in North Africa and the Middle East it was strange to listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clintons advice to the Egyptian people. Reuters reported that “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people's aspirations.”
It sounds familiar to Ethiopians. In the aftermath of the 2005 elections the US and European Diplomats were urging Kinijit to show restraint. It is sort of strange advice after her forceful statement congratulating the Tunisian people. It would not be surprising if the Department of State condemns the abuse of power by former President Mubarak and his associates of course after his downfall. It is not only dictatorships that refuse to learn, super powers are short sighted too.
With all this drama around us, it is not asking a lot to see if we can learn a few lessons so we can make our transformation less painful. The last two times we tried this game of change we sort of stumbled and fell hard. Let us hope the third time it will be a charm.
We have a lot in common with both Tunisia and Egypt. All our leaders have abused their welcome by twenty years and over. The regimes are based on single party rule. Opposition is not tolerated. They speak the language of democracy and emerging economies. They trade heavily with the current currency of being anti terrorism. They are favored by both the IMF and the World Bank. The youth unemployment hovers 30% and more. No matter how much rosy picture the IMF and their propaganda machines paint, the reality is their economy has stagnated. It cannot support the aspirations of the people.
Compared to the two, Ethiopia is a little different. We are lot poorer. Ethiopia is still a peasant society. Communication like Internet, Television, and Radio are deliberately suppressed. Our leader understands knowledge is power. In Ethiopia there is a Communications Department that oversees what is being said and printed in the country.
In both Tunisia and Egypt what is being called ‘Social Media’ played a big role in the citizens ability to be informed and organize. Facebook and twitter are the new heroes. That is what we lack in Ethiopia. The Meles regime was aware of the power of information and suppressed the media. The 2005 general elections proved to Meles and company the danger of even a half free press.
But we are innovative people. We will always find a way out. We created ESAT. I know Voice of America and Deutche Welle are doing an excellent job of informing our people. But ESAT is different. ESAT is you and I. It is the result of our own labor and sweat. It is accountable to no one but us. ESAT is our Facebook and twitter. The TPLF regime knows that. They will spare no amount of expenses to shut ESAT down. They have done it once. They will try again. We will deny them that pleasure.
You know how we do that? We make ESAT strong. We make ESAT independent. We contribute to make ESAT to have the best capability to inform our people. It is easy. Go to ethsat.com and you can give using pay pal, bank transfer or just call them. It is not how much you give. That is not the issue. It is all about building from scratch and encouraging the best in us. There is no point feeling good about Tunisia and hoping for Egypt. We can help them by contributing our share of liberating our corner of the world. Go to ethsat.com and give your share. It could be ten dollars or a thousand but what matters is you gave. Are you up to the challenge?
North Africa: From Jasmine to the Nile Revolution, to Ethiopia?
By Genet Mersha
The Egyptian regime went about employing, in a typical fashion of a besieged regime Tuesday afternoon, to bedevil the thousands of protestors in the streets. In Egypt, officially this was supposed to be a Police Day. Egyptian dubbed it a ‘Day of Anger.” By late Tuesday afternoon in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Mahalla al-Kobra and elsewhere, thousands of protesters came out to call for the Mubarak regime to go. Some lives were lost—both civilian and policemen. Several protestors were injured. Egypt has not had such a fury in decades.
As in Iran during its last election, social media has done good by popular action, summoning the people for protests. The New York Times reported more than 90,000 people signed up on a Facebook page to join the protests, “framed by the organizers as a stand against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.” From what I saw in the media, all classes of Egyptians were out there to inform Mr Mubarak and his entourage that people were tired of his thirty years in power.
Egyptian cartoon: self-immolation—the height of ultimate distress
Courtesy of Al Ahram, 20 January 2011: “Acts of self-immolation spread throughout the Arab World, replicating what happened in Tunisia.” Cartoon by Fahi Abul Ezz (by Lina El-Wardani)
Wonders never end; Egypt’s Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly has not read the writing on the wall. He warned the protestors on Police Day that they would be detained. And indeed, the police took some of them. Seemingly exhorting himself and his colleagues, the minister said, “Security authorities are capable of deterring any danger to citizens’ safety or damage to properties.” The regime also diminished Internet and mobile phone services.
What is interesting is in unusual concession from the regime, where emergency law has been in place for thirty years now, he said, “the protesters will be protected only if they are merely gathering to express their opinion.” Nonetheless, as if all dictators and their officials graduate from the same school, Mr Al-Adly described the protestors as "a bunch of incognizant, ineffective young people.” However, what the world witnessed on television were experts, women doctors, lawyers, workers…explaining why they are angry, not “incognizant... “
Mr Al-Adly’s words reminded me of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s murderous electoral escapade, in which his forces mowed down in one-day nearly 200 young lives in 2005. Ato Meles went on BBC interview with Stephen Sucker days later accused of stealing election results to claim those he ordered killed and the survivors were “unemployed.” Any ways, what difference does that make? Still he is responsible for their death.
Today, Egyptian police used water cannons and barrages of tear gas on thousands of people that converged in Tahrir Square, not far from the US embassy, the Interior Ministry, and an environ of upper class hotels, according to news reports. Nothing was able to deter Tuesday’s angry protestors. They are determined to initiate in earnest Egyptian requiem for the Mubarak regime, guided by the spirit of the Nile Revolution.
Civil society organizations quickly moved in the protest areas. About 30 Egyptian human rights groups have set up operations unit in downtown Cairo to provide protesters with legal support. Tuesday’s public protest, organized on the social media, is the largest ever in Egypt in years. Initially it was peaceful, even the brutal Egyptian security forces showing unusual restraint, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “in what appeared to be a calculated strategy by the government to avoid further sullying the image of a security apparatus widely seen as little more than corrupt thugs in uniforms.”
A recent visit to Cairo gave me the shock of my life, where within ten days I heard a chorus of complaints from everyone I met, as never before, about the difficult life in Egypt. The chitchat everywhere is about money, cost of living, the dreaded political suppression and brutality of the regime. In a country where only 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line, in this difficult time, it seemed every Egyptian have their wails. Beyond any shadow of doubt the middle class is unhappy with Mubarak and his regime. Bear in mind, this is a class that has relatively done well under him, especially since 2004.
I would not like to think how deep the rage must be in Ethiopia. Under normal times, according to the 2010 UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), the population under distressful life conditions, measured on the health, education and living standards] metrics is 94.2 percent. Especially this time, in a country where poverty has dug deep, and inflation at 15 percent last December that keeps on rising, has been hitting them hard on a daily basis. The ‘ethnocratic’ regime has kept on feeding them false hope about the continually rising economic growth that bears no fruits ordinary people can eat. Is it too much for these people to seek change by any means to their conditions of life?
I recall writing my discontent on behalf of my people, when I discussed in a 31 January 2010 article "The Rise of an Ethnic Oligarchy", www.addisvoice.com, dealing with the level of institutionalized corruption in Ethiopia. With poverty rising significantly since then, the depth of anguish and anger must have no limit. Water is a good conductor of currents; hopefully the currents of change would pass from Tunis to Cairo via the Nile, enabling Ethiopians to seek their redress.
Professionals I met in Cairo were sarcastic about the regime’s efforts to silence them, their second nature humour intact. They have plenty of funny jokes about the old man and his regime. As in any society under the grips of fear, Egyptians crack their jokes in the privacy of their homes and amongst circles of friends. Day and night, they shred Mubarak’s regime to pieces; they despise it for its corruption. As the BBC after the protests put it this afternoon, Egyptians despise the regime’s lack of vision and sense of the future.
Mubarak fell low in the eyes of the people not only for the corruption and brutality of his regime, but also for daring to pretend Egypt is a democracy for which he is preparing his son to take the mantle of power. The young think and believe they have never had leaders in a long time, embarrassed about the senility of the ‘emperor’, who is now dynastically brokering Gamal’s succession in an election that would take place less than a year from now.
Even separated, as they are by income differentials, taste and life styles, what binds together young Egyptians, the working-class folks and members of the middle class and higher ups is their hatred for the regime that has lost its ways for a long time now and is organizing an election in which, irrespective of the vote counts, his son would be declared a winner.
On 19 January, I read an article on www.almasryalyoum.com. I never realized that it was sign the time has come. It simply surprised me that, in a country where the media is censored and journalists are dismissed or imprisoned, almasryalyoum dared to write the following:
“Before former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s unceremonious ousting from power, he resorted to the desperate tactic many dictators attempt when faced with questions they can’t answer. He blamed “hostile elements in the pay of foreigners…manipulated from outside the country.”
When Egyptian leaders employ this tactic, by “foreigners” they might mean Islamic fundamentalists from other countries. But more often than not, it means just one thing: It’s a Zionist conspiracy.
It took less than two days for some prominent members of Egyptian society to blame a Zionist conspiracy for the five Egyptian copy-cats of the Tunisian man who burned himself as a form of protest against the government.
In an effort to analyze the would-be suicides, member of the Al-Azhar-affiliated Islamic Research Academy Magdy Mehanna told Al-Youm Al-Sabei newspaper, "[Suicide] is an objection against God. [...] How can a Muslim do this? [...] It must be related to the Zionist plans to bring down the Arab and Muslim world.”
From orchestrated power outages to remote-controlled killer sharks, Egyptian accusations against Israel range from the plausible to the ludicrous. The frequency and sometimes absurdity of finger pointing in the Israeli direction has left Egyptians vulnerable to ridicule in the foreign media. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal went so far as to dub Egypt “a nation of political imbeciles.”
In the case of Egypt, therefore, the Nile Revolution would witness, if it is not crushed with the level of impunity only cruelty knows, it would have stronger support. What will make today’s protest in Egypt potent is not only its vehemence, but also the non-participation of the Moslem brotherhood that has chosen to sit out, according to Annette Young of France 24.
Quoting the Associated Press, WSJ wrote,” Mothers carrying babies also marched and chanted, "Revolution until Victory!" while the young waved signs reading "OUT!" that were inspired by the Tunisian protestations of "DEGAGE!" Men sprayed graffiti reading "Down with Hosni Mubarak."
Ethiopia - As African Tyrants Fall
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Invincible Dictators
Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi (The Mahatma or Great Soul) is today revered as a historical figure who fought against colonialism, racism and injustice. But he was also one of the greatest modern revolutionary political thinkers and moral theorists. While Nicolo Machiavelli taught tyrants how to acquire power and keep it through brute force, deceit and divide and rule, Gandhi taught ordinary people simple sure-fire techniques to bring down dictatorships. Gandhi learned from history that dictators, regardless of their geographic origin, cleverness, wealth, fame or brutality, in the end always fall:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.”
Last week, it was Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s turn to fall, and for the Tunisian people to get some respite from their despair. In the dead of night, Ben Ali packed his bags and winged out of the country he had ruled with an iron fist for 23 years to take up residence in Saudi Arabia where he was received with open arms and kisses on the cheeks. (Uganda’s bloodthirsty dictator Idi Amin also found a haven in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003 at age 80.) Ben Ali’s sudden downfall and departure came as a surprise to many within and outside Tunisia as did the sudden flight of the fear-stricken Mengistu Hailemariam in Ethiopia back in 1991. When push came to shove, Mengistu, the military man with nerves of steel who had bragged that he would be the last man standing when the going got tough, became the first man to blow out of town on a fast plane to Zimbabwe. Such has been the history of African dictators: When the going gets a little tough, the little dictators get going to some place where they can peacefully enjoy the hundreds of millions of dollars they have stolen and stashed away in European and American banks.
The end for Tunisia’s dictator (but not his dictatorship which is still functioning as most of his corrupt minions remain in the saddles of power) came swiftly and surprised his opponents, supporters and even his international bankrollers. President Obama who had never uttered a critical word about Ben Ali was the first to "applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people" in driving out the dictator. He added, “We will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard.” Those memorable images will be imprinted in the minds of all oppressed Africans; and no doubt they will heed the President’s words and drive out the continent’s dictators to pasture one by one.
After nearly a quarter century of dictatorial rule, few expected Ben Ali to be toppled so easily. He seemed to be in charge, in control and invincible. Many expected the 75 year-old Ben Ali to install his wife or son in-law in power and invisibly pull the puppet strings behind the throne. But any such plans were cut short on December 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old college graduate set himself on fire to protest the police confiscation of his unlicensed vegetable cart. Apparently, he was fed up paying “bakseesh” (bribe) to the cops. His death triggered massive public protests led by students, intellectuals, lawyers, trade unionists and other opposition elements. Bouazizi was transformed into a national martyr and the fallen champion of Tunisia’s downtrodden -- the unemployed, the urban poor, the rural dispossessed, students, political prisoners and victims of human rights abuses.
Bouazizi’s form of protest by self-immolation is most unusual in these turbulent times when far too many young people have expressed their despair and anger by strapping themselves with explosives and causing the deaths of so many innocent people. Bouazizi, it seems, chose to end his despair and dramatize to the world the political repression, extreme economic hardships and the lack of opportunity for young people in Tunisia by ending his own life in such a tragic manner. He must have believed in his heart that his self-sacrifice could lead to political transformation.
Truth be told, Tunisia is not unique among African countries whose people have undergone prolonged economic hardships and political repression while the leaders and their parasitic flunkies cling to power and live high on the hog stashing millions abroad. In Ethiopia, the people today suffer from stratospheric inflation, soaring prices, extreme poverty, high unemployment (estimated at 70 percent for the youth) and a two-decade old dictatorship that does not give a hoot or allows them a voice in governance (in May 2010, the ruling party “won” 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament). In December 2010, inflation was running at 15 percent (according to “government reports”), but in reality at a much higher rate. The trade imbalance is mindboggling: a whopping $7 billion in imports to $1.2 billion worth of exports in 2009-10. In desperation, the regime recently imposed price caps on basic food stuffs and began a highly publicized official campaign to tar and feather “greedy” merchants and businessmen for causing high prices, the country’s economic woes and sabotaging the so-called growth and transformational plan. Hundreds of merchants and businessmen have been canned and await kangaroo court trials for hoarding, price-gouging and quite possibly for global warming as well. Former World Bank director and recently retired opposition party leader Bulcha Demeksa puts the blame squarely on the ruling regime’s shoulders and says price controls are senseless exercises in futility: “I’m not so angry with the retailers and sellers. I’m angry with the government, because the government counts on its capability to control price. Prices cannot be controlled. It has been tried everywhere in the world and it has failed. Unless you make it a totally totalitarian society it is impossible to control prices.” (When a regime claims electoral victory of 99.6 percent, there is little room to dispute whether it is totalitarian.) Aggravating the economic crises are chronic problems of reliable infrastructure including unstable electricity supply, burdensome and multiple taxation and a generally unfriendly business environment.
Gandhi’s Contemporary Relevance in Resisting Dictatorships
Without firing a single shot, Gandhi was able to successfully lead a movement which liberated India from the clutches of centuries of British colonialism using nonviolence and passive resistance as a weapon. Gandhi believed that it was possible to nonviolently struggle and win against injustice, discrimination and abuse of basic human rights be it in caste-divided India or racially divided South Africa. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence was based on the ancient Vedic (sacred writings of Hinduism) idea of “Ahimsa” which emphasizes the interconnection of all living things and avoidance of physical violence in human relations and in the relations between humans and other living things, notably animals. For Gandhi, Ahimsa principles also applied to psychological violence that destroys the mind and the spirit. He believed that to effectively deal with evil (be it colonialism, dictatorship, tyranny, hate, etc.) one must seek truth in a spirit of peace, love and understanding. One must undergo a process of self-purification to be rid of all forms of psychological violence including hatred, malice, bad faith, mistrust, revenge and other vices. He taught that one must strive to be open, honest, and fair, and accept suffering without inflicting it on others. Such was the basic idea of Gandhi’s “Satyagraha” or the pursuit of truth.
Dismantling Dictatorships in Africa
Ben Ali left Tunisia in a jiffy not because of a military or palace coup but as a result of a popular uprising that went on unabated for a month. Police officers are the latest to join in the street demonstrations and protests demanding an end to dictatorship and establishment of a genuine democratic government. But Ben Ali dictatorship is alive and well-entrenched in power. A few members of his old crew have been arrested or fired from their jobs, but Mohamed Ghannouchi, other ministers and power brokers are still doing what they have been doing for the last 23 years. To placate the public, token members of the opposition have been invited to join a transitional “unity government” pending elections in 60 days under constitutional provisions that favor Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD). Those who led the uprising do not seem to have much voice or representation in the “unity” government. For now it seems that the RCD foxes guarding the hen house are buying time and making plans to finish off the hens. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the best laid plans of Ben Ali’s lackeys may in the end fail and make way for a genuinely popular government. There are hopeful signs. For instance, informed observers note that there is a measure of solidarity and consensus among major opposition elements on such issues as democratic governance, human rights, release of political prisoners, democratic freedoms and the functioning of civil society groups.
The Tunisian people’s revolution provides practical insights into the prerequisites for dismantling dictatorships in Africa. The first lesson is that when dictatorships end, their end could come with a bang or a whimper, and without warning. Just a few weeks ago no one would have predicted that Ben Ali would be swept into the dust bin of history with such swiftness. Second, there is always the risk of losing the victory won by the people in the streets by a disorganized and dithering opposition prepared to draw out the long knives at the first whiff of power in the air. Third, when tyrants fall, the immediate task is to dismantle the police state they have erected before they have a chance to strike back. Their modus operandi is well known: The dictators will decree a state of emergency, impose curfews and issue shoot-to-kill orders to terrorize the population and crush the people’s hopes and reinforce their sense of despair, powerlessness, isolation, and fear. Obviously, this has not worked in Tunisia. After more than 100 protesters were killed in the streets, more seem to be coming. Fourth, it is manifest that Western support for African dictators is only skin deep. Ben Ali was toasted in the West as the great modernizer and bulwark against religious extremism and all that. The West threw him under the bus and “applauded” the people who overthrew him before his plane touched down in Saudi Arabia. Some friends, the West! Ultimately, the more practical strategy to successfully dismantle dictatorships is to build and strengthen inclusive coalitions and alliances of anti-dictatorship forces who are willing to stand up and demand real change. If such coalitions and alliances could not be built now, the outcome when the dictators fall will be just a changing of the guards: old dictator out, new dictator in.
The Tunisian people's revolution should be an example for all Africans struggling to breathe under the thumbs and boots of ruthless dictators. It is interesting to note that there was a complete news blackout of the Tunisian people’s revolution in countries like Ethiopia. They do not want Ethiopians to get any funny ideas. On November 11, 2005, Meles Zenawi defending the massacre of hundreds of people in the streets said, "This is not your run-of-the-mill demonstration. This is an Orange revolution [in Ukrane] gone wrong.” Ben Ali said the same thing until he found himself on a fast jet to Jeddah. From India to Poland to the Ukraine to Czechoslovakia and Chile decades-old dictatorships have been overthrown in massive acts of civil disobedience and passive resistance. There is no doubt dictators from Egypt to Zimbabwe are having nightmares from Tunisia’s version of a “velvet’ or “orange” revolution.
The Power of Civil Disobedience and Nonviolent Resistance: Dictators, Quit Africa!
In His “Quit India” speech in August 1942, Gandhi made observations that are worth considering in challenging dictatorships in Africa:
In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence…
I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behaviour. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one. We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism.”
For Africans, the quarrel is not and ought not be about ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, religion, language or region, but about the injustices, crimes and gross and widespread human rights violations committed by African dictators. As Gandhi has taught, dictators for a time appear formidable, strong, golden and invincible. But in reality they all have feet of clay. “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will,” said Gandhi. The Tunisian people have showed their African brothers and sisters what indomitable will is all about when they chased old Ben Ali out of town. All Africans now have a successful template to use in ridding themselves of thugs, criminals and hyenas in designer suits and military uniforms holding the mantle of power.
Ethiopia : From Tunisia with love
By Yilma Bekele
Here we are celebrating New Year in Tahesas. Accepting January, as Meskerem is a tall order. Enqutatash or Adis Amet is Adey Abeba blanketing the mountains with its vibrant bright yellow colors and the sun shining with all its strength. We are in the middle of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. It is dark, cold and gloomy.
That was a weak ago. Last Friday the sun shone a little brighter. It felt like spring. We Ethiopians gave each other a knowing smile. We all felt empowered. Guess who was generating this intense feeling of a new beginning. It is no other than little Tunisia, electrifying Africa and the Middle East. Last Friday Tunisia got rid of a malignant tumor.
It was only a year and three months ago Tunisia’s President Zinedine Ben Ali won a landslide victory, with 89.62%. Last Friday the honorable President was forced to flee for his life. How does an 89.62 percent winner turn into a refugee so fast? That is the nature of the dictatorship business. Just like an earthquake, it is unpredictable. Ben Ali is just a new inductee into that infamous Hall of Fame for ‘Scumbags of Humanity”. He follows the footsteps of Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Shah of Iran, Augusto Pinochet, Mengistu Haile Mariam and my personal favorite Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena.
As you read this, political refugee (actually fleeing criminal) Zinedine Ben Ali and former first lady Leila are camped in Saudi Arabia unsure of what tomorrow is going to bring. It will not be farfetched to say that the former mafia bosses are shell-shocked unable to comprehend what has unfolded and definitely under sedation. Unfortunate for the duo this is not some bad dream or a bad acid trip. It is real baby! How did they get into this mess?
Tunisia is located in North Africa between Libya and Algeria and has a population of ten and a half million. It got its independence from France in 1956. The first President Habib Bourguiba became the first dictator and stayed in power until doctors declared him ‘unfit to rule’ in 1987. Mr. Zinedine Ben Ali who was the Prime Minster became the President. That was twenty-three years ago.
Former dictator president Zinedine Ben Ali is a crafty fellow in the sense of being devious and cruel. He knew how to talk the language of Democracy, Human Rights, freedom of expression and free enterprise. That was for foreign consumption. It gave his enablers a fig leaf to hide behind. Ben Ali’s Tunisia was one big prison.
Dictator Ali went to military schools both in France and the USA. He worked his way up from Security Chief to being the Prime Minister. His style of leadership is the envy of every African dictator. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia has mentioned him plenty of times as an example of good leadership and stability. Zambia has awarded him its highest medal. Tunisia has even won the United Nations E- government Award for ‘excellence in serving the public interest. I told you he was good. With Algeria on his left projecting symptoms of a ‘failed state’ and Libya to his right run by a poster child for ‘grandiose delusion’ symptoms, Ben Ali looked like an oasis of stability. To prove it Tunisia never failed to hold elections since Ben Ali came to power. The elections held in ’89, ’94, 04, and as recent as 2009 were all won By Ben Ali and his party with over 90% approval.
The real face of Tunisia was completely different than the picture presented by Ben Ali and family. The real Tunisia was a one Party State belonging to Zinedine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi. Economic regulations, and legal procedures did not apply to the Ben Ali clan. First Lady Leila was the most hated person Tunisia. She even deserved her own report on Wiki Leaks. Here is a quote:
“Corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, first lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her; even those close to the government express dismay at her reported behavior.
Her greed was so legendary she was dubbed the Imelda Marcos of the Arab world and the ‘Regent of Carthage’ for her power behind the throne and her love of money, luxury cars and shopping spree.
The one party state did not allow dissent, banned political parties unless approved by the state, closed all independent media outlets and used Cisco filters to block free web sites. The prisons were full of political opponents and the most educated and those that have connections first impulse was to leave. The safest option for investment for those with money was real estate or off shore account. Both do not contribute to sustainable economic growth. The rampant corruption, unemployment, inflation and general hopelessness was spiraling out of control.
Mohamed Bouaziz a 26-year old unemployed college graduate became the flash point that started a prairie fire. When the police confiscated his fruit cart regarding permit issue, Mr. Bouaziz drew the line in the sand and said enough. He set himself on fire. The day was Friday December 17th. The people of Tunisia felt a jolt of ‘anti fear’ laser tease. Twenty-eight days later on Friday January 17th. Coward Ben Ali and cruel and mean Leila fled not knowing who will welcome them. Shock is an understatement.
Today, the interim government is hunting down former officials and palace lovers and state television reported the arrest for “crimes against Tunisia” of 33 members of Mr. Ben Ali’s family, many of whom grew rich from their connections. Let justice begin.
Is what happened to dictator Ben Ali out of the ordinary? Can it be duplicated? Both are valid questions. What happened in Tunisia is not unique. The saying ‘where there is oppression there is resistance’ is a universal truth. The human spirit soars when it is free. It is also true that dominance over others is an aphrodisiac. There will always be a few individuals that will shine brighter than others. Most will leave a lasting legacy and generations will utter their names with fondness and admiration. A few are considered a curse. Poverty of mind and spirit is their making. What happened in Tunisia has happened in Iran, Ethiopia, Philippines, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Zaire and more. Dictators never learn.
No one has been able to predict the ‘tipping point’ where fear is replaced by empowerment. Not political scientists, sociologists or human behavior psychologists. What opens the floodgates of discontent could be anything.
Rosa Parks’s refusal to give her seat to a white person is considered the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, the firing of Anna Walentynowicz, a shipyard worker in Gdansk, Poland gave birth to the Solidarity Movement that ushered in the unraveling of the Soviet System, and now Mohamed Bouaziz’s personal protest is felt all over the world.
Ethiopian television, radio, newspapers, websites have made it a policy not to mention Tunisia. Controlling the flow of information is job number one of any dictatorship. The regime spends millions of hard earned currency to misinform, jam, block use physical coercion to keep the population in ignorance. It is a futile attempt. Where there is oppression there is resistance.
I am sure crafty Ben Ali must have tried all kinds of gimmicks to turn away the tide of discontent. Sitting in his palace isolated from daily life he was sure that his people like him. The fool probably believed it too. I am sure he blamed the Diaspora, Islamists or other perceived enemies for the problem he created.
Our Ethiopia has its own uniqueness. Our country has been in turmoil since the early ‘70s. The over forty years of chaos have rendered us numb and confused. Killing, lying, cheating and using each other has become the norm. Fear has become our middle name. We don’t not only trust the government but mistrust among friends, neighbors or family has taken away our ability to unite. Our psych has been scared and requires careful handling. We are a very wounded people.
Ben Ali and Meles Zenawi are two different animals. The TPLF boss has his own private army, his own private Federal Police and boasts of emasculated Bantustan chiefs. Meles Zenawi can also count on the citizens he drove out of the country to turn around and contribute heavily to his welfare. According to the World Bank the Diaspora contributes over $3 billion US to prop up the ethnic junta. In a nutshell we are contributing for our own slavery.
That being said, fortunate for us ‘dictatorship’ carries its own destruction in its womb. No amount of Party organized bullying, Kebele based spying, Federal Police killing, fostering inter-ethnic strife will interfere with the inevitable collapse of a totalitarian state. As I said no one can predict when but all agree the system will explode. It is not a matter of if but when.
Oppressed people approach the problem from two fronts. The first is building up organizations that will act as a catalyst to hasten the inevitable collapse of the dictatorship. We are doing that. The many Diaspora organizations involved in doing community work in exposing the ethnic based regime are the source of our pride. Since the stolen elections of 2005 our force have shown both maturity and muscle. Such Organizations as Ginbot7, Andenet, OLF, SMNE, ONLF and others are doing a good job. The second front is winning the hearts and minds of our people. The best example of that is ESAT. Ethiopian Satellite TV is working hard to level the playing field when it comes to unfettered information. ESAT is our lethal weapon. ESAT will inform our people so they can make a smart decision based on facts not Berket Semeon’s concocted lie. ESAT and our independent web sites are the future of Ethiopia.
I will not try to guess where Ato Meles will go when ‘the rubber hits the road’ in other words when the mob breaches the palace walls. Will he be ready, will he have time to pack, will his security guard betray him and other questions will arise. Then comes the issue of where to go? Eritrea, definitely no, Sudan, out of the question, USA and Europe, very dangerous that leaves China, North Korea or Rwanda with his buddy Kagame. None of the choices are enticing. The question Ben Ali is contemplating today should be is life imprisonment a good investment for a mere twenty years of bullying. Being a dictator is a thankless job!
Sudan's Best and Worst of Times
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
It is the best of times in the Sudan. It is the worst of times in the Sudan. It is the happiest day in the Sudan. It is the saddest day in the Sudan. It is referendum for the Sudan. It is requiem for Africa.
South Sudan just finished voting in a referendum, part of a deal made in 2005 to end a civil war that dates back over one-half century. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) says the final results will be announced on February 14; but no one really believes there will be one united Sudan by July 2011. By then, South Sudan will be Africa's newest state.
In a recent speech at Khartoum University, Thabo Mbeki, former South African president and Chairperson of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel on Sudan, alluded to the causes of the current breakup of the Sudan: "As all of us know, a year ahead of your independence, in 1955, a rebellion broke out in Southern Sudan. The essential reason for the rebellion was that your compatriots in the South saw the impending independence as a threat to them, which they elected to oppose by resorting to the weapons of war." There is a lot more to the South Sudanese "rebellion" than a delayed rendezvous with the legacy of British colonialism. In some ways it could be argued that the "imperfect" decolonization of the Sudan, which did not necessarily follow the boundaries of ethnic and linguistic group settlement, led to decades of conflict and civil wars and the current breakup.
Many of the problems leading to the referendum are also rooted in post-independence Sudanese history -- irreconcilable religious differences, economic exploitation and discrimination. The central Sudanese government's imposition of "Arabism" and "Islamism" (sharia law) on the South Sudanese and rampant discrimination against them are said to be a sustaining cause of the civil war. South Sudan is believed to hold much of the potential wealth of the Sudan including oil. Yet the majority of South Sudanese people languished in abject poverty for decades, while their northern compatriots benefitted disproportionately.
Whether the people of South Sudan will secede and form their own state is a question only they can decide. They certainly have the legal right under international law to self-determination, a principle enshrined in the U.N. Charter. Their vote will be the final word on the issue. The focus now is on what is likely to happen after South Sudan becomes independent. Those who seem to be in the know sound optimistic. Mbeki says, "Both the Government of Sudan and the SPLM have made the solemn and vitally important commitment that should the people of South Sudan vote for secession, they will work to ensure the emergence and peaceful coexistence of two viable states." The tea leaves readers and pundits are predicting doom and gloom. They say the Sudan will be transformed into a hardline theocratic state ruled under sharia law. There will be renewed violence in Darfur, South Kurdofan and Eastern Sudan. There will be endless civil wars that will cause more deaths and destruction according to the modern day seers.
To some extent, the pessimism over Sudan's future may have some merit. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir's told the New York Times recently about his post-secession plans: "We'll change the Constitution. Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language." Bashir's plan goes beyond establishing a theocratic state. There will be no tolerance of diversity of any kind in Bashir's "new Sudan". He says, "If South Sudan secedes, we will change the Constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity." Bashir's warning is not only shocking but deeply troubling. The message undoubtedly will cause great alarm among secularists, Southern Sudanese living in the north who voted for unity and Sudanese of different faiths, viewpoints, beliefs and ideologies. In post-secession Sudan, diversity, tolerance, compromise and reconciliation will be crimes against the state. It is all eerily reminiscent of the ideas of another guy who 70 years ago talked about "organic unity" and the "common welfare of the Volk". Sudanese opposition leaders are issuing their own ultimata. Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, issued a demand for a new constitution and elections; in the alternative, he promised to work for the overthrow of Bashir's regime. Other opposition leaders seem to be following along the same line. There is a rocky road ahead for the Sudan, both south and north.
From Pan-Africanism to Afro-Fascism?
The outcome of the South Sudanese referendum is not in doubt, but where Africa is headed in the second decade of the 21st Century is very much in doubt. Last week, Tunisian dictator Ben Ali packed up and left after 23 years of corrupt dictatorial rule. President Obama "applauded the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people" in driving out the dictator. Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo is still holed up in Abidjan taunting U.N. peacekeepers and playing round-robin with various African leaders. Over in the Horn of Africa, Meles Zenawi is carting off businessmen and merchants to jail for allegedly price-gouging the public and economic sabotage. What in the world is happening to Africa?
When African countries cast off the yoke of colonialism, their future seemed bright and limitless. Independence leaders thought in terms of Pan-Africanism and the political and economic unification of native Africans and those of African heritage into a "global African community". Pan-Africanism represented a return to African values and traditions in the struggle against neo-colonialism, imperialism, racism and the rest of it. Its core value was the unity of all African peoples.
The founding fathers of post-independence Africa all believed in the dream of African unity. Ethiopia's H.I.M. Haile Selassie, Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, Guinea's Ahmed Sékou Touré, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser were all declared Pan-Africanists. On the occasion of the establishment of the permanent headquarters of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963, H.I.M. Haile Selassie made the most compelling case for African unity:
We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity.... Our efforts as free men must be to establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples.
Pan-Africanism is dead. A new ideology today is sweeping over Africa. Africa's home grown dictators are furiously beating the drums of "tribal nationalism" all over the continent to cling to power. In many parts of Africa today ideologies of "ethnic identity", "ethnic purity," "ethnic homelands", ethnic cleansing and tribal chauvinism have become fashionable. In Ivory Coast, an ideological war has been waged over 'Ivoirité ('Ivorian-ness') since the 1990s. Proponents of this ideology argue that the country's problems are rooted in the contamination of genuine Ivorian identity by outsiders who have been allowed to freely immigrate into the country. Immigrants, even those who have been there for generations, and refugees from the neighboring countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Liberia are singled out and blamed for the country's problems and persecuted. Professor Gbagbo even tried to tar and feather the winner of the recent election Alassane Ouattara (whose father is allegedly Burkinabe) as a not having true Ivorian identity. Gbagbo has used religion to divide Ivorians regionally into north and south.
In Ethiopia, tribal politics has been repackaged in a fancy wrapper called "ethnic federalism." Zenawi has segregated the Ethiopian people by ethno-tribal classification like cattle in grotesque regional political units called "kilils" (reservations) or glorified apartheid-style Bantustans or tribal homelands. This sinister perversion of the concept of federalism has enabled a few cunning dictators to oppress, divide and rule some 80 million people for nearly two decades. South of the border in Kenya, in the aftermath of the 2007 elections, over 600 thousand Kenyans were displaced as a result of ethnic motivated hatred and violence. Over 1,500 were massacred. Kenya continues to arrest and detain untold numbers of Ethiopian refugees that have fled the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. What more can be said about Rwanda that has not already been said.
It is not only the worst-governed African countries that are having problems with "Africanity". South Africa has been skating on the slippery slope of xenophobia. Immigrants from Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have been attacked by mobs. According to a study by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP): "The ANC government - in its attempts to overcome the divides of the past and build new forms of social cohesion... embarked on an aggressive and inclusive nation-building project. One unanticipated by-product of this project has been a growth in intolerance towards outsiders... Violence against foreign citizens and African refugees has become increasingly common and communities are divided by hostility and suspicion." Among the member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), South Africans expressed the harshest and most punitive anti-foreigner sentiments in the study. How ironic for a country that was under apartheid less than two decades ago.
Whether it is the "kilil" ideology practiced in Ethiopia or the "Ivorite" of Ivory Coast, the central aim of these weird ideologies is to enable power hungry and bloodthirsty African dictators to cling to power by dividing Africans along ethnic, linguistic, tribal, racial and religious lines. Fellow Africans are foreigners to be arrested, jailed, displaced, deported and blamed for whatever goes wrong under the watch of the dictators. The old Pan-African ideas of common African history, suffering, struggle, heritage and legacy are gone. There is no unifying sense African brotherhood or sisterhood. Africa's contemporary leaders, or more appropriately, hyenas in designer suits and uniforms, have made Africans strangers to each other and rendered Africa a "dog-eat-dog" continent.
In 2009, in Accra, Ghana, President Obama blasted identity politics as a canker in the African body politics:
We all have many identities - of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century.... In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.
For what little it is worth, for the last few years I have preached from my cyber soapbox against those in Africa who have used the politics of ethnicity to cling to power. I firmly believe that our humanity is more important than our ethnicity, nationality, sovereignty or even Africanity! As an unreformed Pan-Africanist, I also believe that Africans are not prisoners to be kept behind tribal walls, ethnic enclaves, Ivorite, kilils, Bantustans, apartheid or whatever divisive and repressive ideology is manufactured by dictators, but free men and women who are captains of their destines in one un-walled Africa that belongs to all equally. "Tear down the walls of tribalism and ethnicity in Africa," I say.
It is necessary to come up with a counter-ideology to withstand the rising tide of Afro-Fascism. Perhaps we can learn from Archbishop Desmond Tutu's ideas of "Ubuntu", the essence of being human. Tutu explained: "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed." I believe "Ubuntu" provides a sound philosophical basis for the development of a human rights culture for the African continent based on a common African belief of "belonging to a greater whole." To this end, Tutu taught, "Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." More specifically, Africa.
"Afri-Cans" and "Afri-Cannots"
As for South Sudan, the future holds many dangers and opportunities. Africans have fought their way out of colonialism and become independent. Some have seceded from the post-independence states, but it is questionable if they have succeeded. How many African countries are better off today than they were prior to independence? Before secession? As the old saying goes: "Be careful what you wish for. You may receive it." We wish the people of South and North Sudan a future of hope, peace, prosperity and reconciliation.
I am no longer sure if Afri-Cans are able to "unite for the benefit of their people", as Bob Marley pleaded. But I am sure that Afri-Cannot continue to have tribal wars, ethnic domination, corruption, inflation and repression as Fela Kuti warned, and expect to be viable in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century. In 1963, H.I.M. Haile Selassie reminded his colleagues:
Today, Africa has emerged from this dark passage [of colonialism]. Our Armageddon is past. Africa has been reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men.... Those men who refused to accept the judgment passed upon them by the colonisers, who held unswervingly through the darkest hours to a vision of an Africa emancipated from political, economic, and spiritual domination, will be remembered and revered wherever Africans meet.... Their deeds are written in history."
It is said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. I am afraid Africa's Armageddon is yet to come. Africa has been re-enslaved by home grown dictators, and Africans have become prisoners of thugs, criminals, gangsters, fugitives and outlaws who have seized and cling to power like parasitic ticks on a milk cow. Cry for the beloved continent!
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