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Ethiopia: Bizarro government? Bizarro politicians? Bizarro nation?

By Tecola W Hagos
Tigrai Online, Jan. 1, 2019

  1. In General

Is it ever possible for Ethiopians to consider the tragedies facing hundreds of millions of human beings all around the World other than tragedies facing themselves?   Over the years, I have recorded some of the most horrible events in the world of the past thirty years and the response of Ethiopians through their writings and, in the last one decade, through their websites and social media. For example, how many of us have protested or expressed outrage of the inhumane treatment of the desperate people coming to the southern borders of the United States from as far south from Venezuela, persecuted fearful people seeking asylum? On December 13, 2018 a small girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and/or septic shock in the custody of US Border Patrol.  Another migrant child has died on Christmas Day in Border Patrol custody, this time an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy.

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 In the case of the murder of well-known dissenter writer Jamal Khashoggi, where the Saudi Crown Prince has allegedly sent a fifteen-man team to the Saudi’s Istanbul Consulate that ambushed and literally dismembered a journalist for writing what is truly a mild criticism of the activities of the power-crazed Crown Prince Mohammad Salman, there was a deafening silence in Ethiopian controlled websites and media outlets. No Ethiopian controlled Websites or social media reported or discussed or expressed remorse or solidarity dealing with such horrendous human sufferings and injustices.  Such inward looking, utterly parochial view of human life that I witnessed in Ethiopian controlled Websites and media outlets is very disturbing to me. For one it tells me that most Ethiopians that have access to international news and documentation and those Ethiopians that control the flow of news through their Websites are ethically and morally seriously flawed human beings. 

Ethiopia is a very unusual country not only in the Continent of Africa, but also Globally.  The fact of its thousands of years of independent existence noted by both ancient and modern historians is a saga told and retold often that it has lost its luster.  However, what captures the attention of modern readers, travelers, politicians, scam artists, et cetera about our ancient country is the fact that it is the birth place of “coffee” and that still maintains the most exotic varieties of coffee seeds [over three thousand] in the World. It is also known for its superb distance runners in both female and male athletes. Now there are as many contradictions as laudatory perception of Ethiopia in that it is also the poorest nation on Earth, often hit by devastating famine, a cursed land in the world, where millions in the last thirty years have died of starvation, war, and pestilence. On the other hand, according to the World Bank, IMF et cetera it is also known as the fastest growing economy in the world registering nearly 10% growth rate in the last Decade to date, unheard of in the world in the last one hundred years.

  1. Bizarro Government of Abiy Ahmed

The ongoing political drama in Ethiopia in the last fifteen days has staged in graphic form the unfathomable and bizarre political game played out between OLF, an armed liberation front, and the national Ethiopian Government and political leaders. Chairman Dawood Ibsa of OLF announced in an interview at his upscale office in Addis Ababa on public media on 21 December 2018 that there was an ongoing fierce fighting between OLF liberation guerrilla members and the Ethiopian Government troops in Wollega region, in the main, and small-scale engagements in other parts of Oromo Kilil. [See video interview of Dawood Ibsa in several websites and on Youtube] The Oromo Democratic Party’s response through its well-versed and efficient spokesperson Dr Alemu Seme was no less dramatic and interesting, and equally bizarro. [See video interview of ODP Spokesperson Alemu Seme]

An extensive public Statement by Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) Executive Committee of 21 December 2018 on such violent confrontations by a guerrilla terrorist group is worth reading.  During all the time of such national high drama, Abiy Ahmed is nowhere to be found, probably he is cowering down somewhere hoping things would dissipate through his power of prayer. It is truly tragic to be a Prime Minister of Ethiopia where terrorist leaders openly give press release on how their guerrilla fighters are terrorizing civilians, fighting government troops, looting banks et cetera.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=24&v=zGtSJurbxL4]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=24&v=zGtSJurbxL4 ]

Can we make any rational distinction between what Dawood Ibsa’s fighters are doing and what the former Governor of Somali Kilil Abdi Mohamud Omar is alleged to have done? One is in detention, the other freely leading his terrorist guerrilla liberation fighters violating the rights of Ethiopian citizens, challenging the Ethiopian Government, even giving public press interview about the exploits of his armed terrorists.

I challenge anyone, not just Ethiopians, to identify for us all a single country in the world where an armed resistance/liberation front leader sitting in an office in the very capital city of such a national government speaks of the fight being carried out by members of his forces/liberation front around the nation without being arrested or restricted by the sitting Government? May be arresting Dawood Ibsa and all of the OLF Central Committee Members and his terrorist guerrilla commanders is the right step to defuse the threat of national lawlessness.

  1.  Bizarro Journalists, Reporters, Elites

I must clearly state here that I am absolutely on the side of journalists, reporters, publishers and all individuals involved in the pursuit of “truth” through their investigative reporting that would benefit society. I do not even mind if their writings are frivolous. I advocate freedom of speech and expression and assembly but not in the naïve absolutist sense, but in the sense of social good in the eyes of the members of society as expressed in laws, social norms, social cohesion et cetera. I admit it is quite a formidable task to live with such high standard of freedom and liberty and that is why our courts need render their service without coercion by the executive or the legislative or the mob.

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To state the obvious here and now, Ethiopia is going through very bizarre political and economic transformation. One may say it is perverse to a great extent to see yesterday’s “liberal democrats” advocating ethnic cleansing, supporting one-man-rule of dictatorship, encouraging the establishment of SS Nazi type Republican Guards, endorsing the internment of “Tigrians” in concentration camps, and vindicating Mengistu Hailemariam and his blood-soaked regime from all responsibility for the Red Terror and policy of starvation of millions of Ethiopians.

A number of high-quality very illuminating interviews by upcoming young journalists, such as Zelalem Derege, were conducted with gusts of aging men that had gone through great political engagements, and some with exceptionally dramatic and extensive experience within party intrigues but mostly losers; nevertheless, eloquent masters of emotive expression and nuances. Listening to the well conducted interviews and/or self-staged postings of Aregawi Berhe (PhD), Berhanu Nega (PhD), Dagnachew Assefa (PhD), Daniel Kibret (D/n), Getatchew Haile (PhD), Kassaye Chemeda (Gen), Mekonnen Zelelew, Mesfin Woldemariam (PhD), Tsadkan Gebre Tensai (Gen) et cetera is reveling of the complexity of the human mind and personhood. None of these men I just listed are members of PM Abiy Ahmed’s government or part of the inner circle of friends to the PM. Some had cursory often hyped photo sessions and superficial discussions in highly publicized media sessions with Abiy Ahmed. Here below I have listed few of the video presentations:

  • Tsadkan and Kassaye  on Derg army: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooquH70Ocuc
  • On ethnic conflict:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3W_lZfkWAY
  • Aregawi Berhe on TPLF against Amhara: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCklbGoW6qI
  • On federal structure problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TW4ooh7lls
  • Mekonnen Zelelew on TAND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq6d5cKiFHk
  • Daniel Kibret on the Rooster/Sunrise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bseiwYo3eY4

We have gone through a period of fire-spitting journalists in exile within the Diaspora, mushrooming elite writers, and the standard charlatans writing in Websites and social media. Some of those dissenter groups have now become main stream, and most are practicing their version of human rights abuse censoring and stifling the free flow of ideas, some even advocating genocide, ethnic cleansing, and internment of a particular ethnic members in concentration camps. An illustrative example of a journalist completely losing his discipline as a journalist is the tragic case of one Mesay Mekonnen advocating internment of Tigrians in concentration camps as the United States did during WWII of Americans of Japanese origin. What those journalists seem not to understand or care about is the fact that they are committing international crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Mesay Mekonnen’s suggestion of the internment of Tigrians was actually an expanded extension of what was Mesfin Woldemariam’s imbecilic suggestion in an interview wherein he opined to detain TPLF’s former leaders and current ones as well before any trial or court/judicial procedures.

In order to counter balance such deranged elitist influences of antidemocratic activities, I suggest seasoned and mature journalists such as Eskinder Nega and Abebe Gelaw to take the initiative to form an association that will foster training, truth seeking techniques, and self-discipline to many of the aspiring journalists and publishers. Of all the organs of a healthy government and society, the people I single out for special attention and support are Journalists, reporters, writers, and publishers. I will never attack in a destructive manner any journalist, reporter or writer. I will try to offer constructive criticism if I find such professionals lying, distorting reality, instigating genocide, and/or promoting conflicts between people. 

In my identification above of some of the most public elites, one may notice that they are quite a mixed bag, for some have evolved truly negative and destructive personalities, but some others have become very wise and positively influential personalities. Take for Example, Mesfin Woldemariam who seems to be deteriorating mentally with his declining health. He used to suggest very wise ideas on improving the political and economic lives of millions of Ethiopians. But now, in a time of great changes taking place in the minds of millions of Ethiopians, he seeds such hateful persecutorial views against a particular group, which is truly tragic and criminal too. He was advocating to detain former TPLF Leaders without trail or court order illegally for political expediency. Furthermore, he did not squeak a single word of unconditional condemnation on the brutality of the Derg, but focused his outrageous sentiment blaming the Red Terror on the victims of the Military Regime--the radical student movement and the participants thereof. There is something seriously wrong with a number of aging/old Ethiopian elites, they do not seem to mature with age but enter a phase of second-childhood called in Amharic ማረጥ.  It does not make much sense to talk about law and order and justice to all on one hand but advocate extra judicial detentions and violations of basic human rights against select members of an ethnic group.

Despite such disappointing degeneration of some intellectuals, there are also absolutely outstanding men and women who promote and teach the public a much higher truth that had eluded us for decades. One outstanding individual whose public presentations is a beacon of great scholarship, a paragon of humility and gentle manners, as well as a true Ethiopiawinet patriot is Dagnachew Assefa, a Philosopher in the true meaning of the word—a “lover of wisdom”. It is truly illuminating to listen to several of his video presentations on the current situation in Ethiopia and his in-depth book reviews. The last book review Dagnachew did that I listened to completely mesmerized (and cursing the Ad interruptions) was the outstanding autobiographical book by Le’ul Ras Mangesha Seyoum የትውልድ አደራ (Yetiwilid Adera) AAU Press, 2018. 

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Mind you that I do not agree with a number of Dagnachew‘s political and/or philosophical views. For example, he is a true supporter of PM Abiy Ahmed, but I am not, for I am more of Lemma Megersa supporter.  The single reason that turned me off from supporting Abiy Ahmed is his blank “forgiveness” of former Derg Members and Mengistu Hailemariam. There is a total confusion in Abiy Ahmed’s “forgiveness” and the “medemer” concept and of Justice based punishment as opposed to vengeful penalties. I seek justice not vengeance, thus the unbridgeable gulf between us. Nevertheless, I find Dagnachew extremely engaging, intellectually stimulating, highly scholarly, and above all truthful and sincere. For example, his discussion on ethnicism especially his elaboration of Ernest Crawley inspired Sigmund Freud’s concept of “narcissism of minor difference” is timely and on the mark.  I strongly suggest for Ethiopians to watch Dagnachew’s video on ethnicism and discuss the many excellent issues he brought forth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXBAd6Dvu58&feature=share.

I have identified several of TPLF’s Leaders including the deceased Meles Zenawi as responsible for corruption and injustices in Ethiopia in articles and commentaries for decades. Whether it is Sebhat Nega or Abay Tsehai, or Getachew Assefa et cetera must face justice for innumerable alleged crimes committed against thousands of Ethiopians in the last twenty-seven years. The former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne is equally responsible on the same grounds of abuse of power, illegal detentions and torture of dissidents, and even murders as the many Leaders of TPLF. It is only a matter of mitigating circumstances if Hailemariam is charged for abuse of power, corruption, violations of individual rights of Ethiopians or anyone else in residence that will lessen the severity of his punishment but does not free him from his responsibility as the Leader of the EPRDF and the Head of the Ethiopian Government to protect and safeguard all Ethiopians and residents from harm and abuse.  This is where it makes it both optically and substantively distasteful to arrest such individuals from TPLF, OPDO et cetera for alleged serious crimes at a time where Derg Members, who are proven criminals and Red Terror participants and who had been convicted of murder and torture of tens of thousands of Ethiopians, are walking around free.

  1. Bizarro Republican Guards, Praetorian Guards, The SS of Nazi Germany…

Our national (citizenry) tragedies seem to have no end, for we are faced with the recent creation of the “Republican Guard” by Abiy Ahmed, a highly trained and highly mobile military outfit not a part of the Military of the Ethiopian Forces, but solely answerable to the Prime Minister. Are we heading back to Roman times of Praetorian Guards, the Cohors Praetoria, household troops of the Roman Emperors? Or is it Hitler’s SS of Nazi Germany? None of these models are proper for a new government trying to create a democratic image and reality.

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When Meles Zenawi fought his way up the ladder of leadership to become the Leader of the TPLF and subsequently that of the EPRDF, he had to develop solid relationship of comradeship and loyalty with several formidably field commanders of the TPLF warriors. That core group of Commanders were controlled by Meles, but Meles was in turn controlled by the TPLF core group as well.  Meles Zenawi was able to stay in power by manipulating such members of the core group through his smarts and complex political programs et cetera. The situation now with Abiy Ahmed is quite different. There are no powerful commanders in ODP or the other members of the EPRDF except in TPLF. But that check/balancing on power from TPLF Leaders is overwhelmed and is far too little and compromised because the Leadership of the TPLF has not resolved the problem of leadership within itself even though it still maintains formidable armed warriors with full hierarchal command structure.

The establishment of a Republican Guard by Abiy Ahmed is wrong both optically and thematically. The name itself conjures in my mind Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The Iraqi Republican Guard was a branch of the Iraqi Military but answerable to Saddam Hussein from 1964 until the overthrow of the Iraqi Government in 2003. That Republican Guard Unit was notorious for detaining, torturing, and murdering of innocent Iraqi citizens. This formation of a personal Republican Guard by Abiy Ahmed is no different than all such personalized military unites, and in few years Abiy’s Republican Guard will act as an enforcer in no different form than the horrible Papa Doc’s Tonton Macoute of Haiti Or the Guards of Saddam Hussein. It is truly shameful even to think of such an outfit for Ethiopia at a time of great expectations of democratic foundational changes.

  1. Conclusion

የአርበኞች ግንቦት 7 የግንባሩ ዋና ፅሃፊ አንዳርጋቸው ፅጌ እንግሊዛዊ, ብርሃኑ ነጋ አሜሪካዊ, ታማኝ በየነ አሜሪካዊ እና በርካቶቹም ሆነዉ እያለ ያገራቸዉን ዜግነት ለጥቅም ብለዉ የለወጡ እንዴት አፋቸዉን ሞልተዉ ስለ ኢትዮጵያዊነት በእርግጠኝነት ይከራከራሉ፤ እንዳዉ እፍረት አይዛቸዉም። ነገ አንድ ነገር በኢትዮጵያ ቢከሰት እኮ መሸሸግያቸዉን አመቻችተዋል። ኢትዮጵያ አገሬ የወደቀላት ቀርቶ የሚበላት የሚወደስበት ግዜ ነዉ ያለነዉ። በሁለት ቢላ እየበሉ ከዛም ባለፈ እኔ ከእናንተ የበለጠ አገሯን አዉቃለሁ ማለታቸዉ ምን ያህል በሕዝቡ ላይ ንቀት እንዳላቸዉ ነዉ የሚያሳየዉ። እነዚህ የፅንፈኛ ሀይሎች ወደ ኢትዮጵያ በገቡ ግዜ አገሪቷ ከመለወጧ ብዛት የድሮ ቤታቸዉ እንደጠፋባቸዉ በመጀመርያ ማመን አለባቸዉ፤ የእድገቷና የልማቷ አቧራ ሳይነካቸዉ ሱፍና ክራቫታቸዉን ለብሰዉ ይኸን የዋህ ሕዝብ አለሁልህ ሲሉት መቸም ታሪክ ዉሎ አድሮ ሳያጋልጣቸዉ አይቀርም።

The quoted material above is a comment posted in response to an article titled “Full-fledged military dictatorship is around the corner in Ethiopia” Tigrai Online, Dec. 24, 2018. [http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/abiyahmed-dictatorship.html] This comment is profound and reflects the sentiments of many of my friends, who feel that such individuals mentioned above should display some modesty and allow Ethiopians that never left the country to save themselves to take up center stage. I fully support the idea that those Ethiopians who had dedicated all their lives and energy in the service of fellow Ethiopians working from within Ethiopia should be occupying center stage. Abiy Ahmed has failed on that score too, for he has blatantly outsourced positions of political prestige to undeserving individuals who had minimal connections with Ethiopia.

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We often write about national security and threats of national disintegration. May be our framing of the problem we believe facing us is not the right point of our concern. May be if we think in far more modest manner about our own individual needs and the needs of our neighbors and identify such needs as our needs too, our response might be far more effective in resolving our concerns. Absolutist approach or either/or search for solutions in itself may be the problem.  The superb young satirist author Alemayehu Wasé (my recent discovery) has similar sentiment like mine, but expressed in his uniquely charming and eloquent Amharic. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FY6J_UgU6o]

I want to conclude this lengthy comment with a sentiment welcoming the New Year and damming up the Old by emphatically stating that I really get no pleasure in criticizing Abiy Ahmed, for he is in a real bind leading a nation that at every turn is faced with monumental crises. But errors he is committing or situations he is not attentive to, must be pointed out to him since he is after all “the tip of the spear”. 

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