By Berhane Kahsay, August 03, 2013
Tigrai Online - It was very hilarious to read Eskinder Nega’s letter from Kaliti prison that appeared in the New York Times newspaper on 24th June, titled ’ Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag.’ This person has an incredibly inflated opinion of himself, and no doubt, suffers from an extreme version of delusions of grandeur.
To place Kaliti on the same pedestal as the USSR’s Gulag labour camps that held 14,000,000 people from 1929 to 1953 is simply preposterous. Records clearly show that conditions in the camps were extremely intolerable for the incarcerated and had to contend with infestations of harmful animals of all sorts. Prisoners lacked sufficient clothing to assist them withstand the severe and inhospitable weathers of Siberia; food was scarce and enduring the long working hours without it was extremely hard. As a result of the atrocious living conditions, the people who died in the camps from multitude of diseases and exhaustion were numerous. Estimates vary but 10,000,000 inmates were believed to have perished between 1929 and 1953.
According to Eskinder, there are 1000 inmates in Kaliti, and the state is duty bound to ensure that these prisoners have access to adequate food, water, toilets, adequate living space, health provisions, education, family visitations and other privileges. To describe Kaliti as a ‘Gulag’ where the inmates suffered a great deal due to the lack of basic provisions is highly disingenuous. Eskinder is also fully aware of the fact that in the USSR the prisoners were simply rounded up and damped in various labour camps. Where as those in Kaliti penitentiary, their constitutional rights were respected as they passed through the diligent due process of law.
The political activist who masquerades as a ‘journalist’ used to be an ardent proponent of Arab Spring uprising but now he seems to have doubts after witnessing the chaos and bloodshed in Egypt, Tunsia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. In the absence of law and order, Eskinder realised that it would be too difficult for him and his pals to assume control of the country in the event of the forceful removal of the incumbent government.
The net outcome of Arab Spring has been the creation of failed states and bringing normal life to the citizens is proving too difficult. Syrian crisis alone has caused the death of 100,000 people and over a million have been forced to flee their country, and are now living in tents in neighbouring countries. Destructive and bloody civil war is still raging and shows no sign of abating as it is fuelled by foreign hands with vested interests.
Eskinder has now come up with another proposition and is pleading with US to assist him bring a change of government in Ethiopia. In his letter he said ’’ I propose that the United States impose economic sanctions on Ethiopia (while continuing to extend humanitarian aid without preconditions) and impose travel bans on Ethiopian officials implicated in human rights violations.’’ Why would the US consider imposing sanctions on its dependable ally that is performing economic miracles and taking serious measures to reinforce democracy and the rule of law?
Eskinder went on and stated in his letter ’’Sanctions tipped the balance against apartheid in South Africa, minority rule in Zimbabwe, and military dictatorship in Myanmar.’’ Of course under apartheid black South Africans were treated as second class citizens and their human rights were grossly violated. A combination of sanctions and military action by the ANC brought an end to white minority rule that lasted for 46 years. Sanctions also contributed significantly in bringing change to Zimbabwe and Myanmar which disfranchised their own people for a considerable period.
The political activist’s assessment of Ethiopia is wholly erroneous; infant democracy does exist in the country, and all efforts are being expended to ensure human rights are respected as guaranteed by the FDRE constitution. It is on the record that there have been minor violations before but immediate actions were taken to correct the situation, and measures were also put in place to circumvent recurrences. But the fact of the matter is that, Ethiopia is a developing country and incidents of this nature are bound to occur from time to time. Those who expect a squeaky clean record on human rights must be living in a cloud- cuckoo- land. Even old democracy America isn’t free from this as we have heard graphically from the whistle blower, Edward Snowden, the extent of the US’s involvement in extensive covert activities intended to impede Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Act.
Other instances of violations committed by the so called civilised countries include torture of Guantanamo Bay prisoners using ‘water boarding’ techniques and the involvement of the United Kingdom government in the murder of a Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was defending Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners. Generally speaking, human rights violations committed during the troubles in Northern Ireland are too numerous to mention.
Eskinder’s demand for sanctions is a clear pointer of utter desperation for power, but this would land on deaf ears as was his call for an Arab Spring uprising. The fact that this individual is in prison has nothing to do with the absence of freedom of expression in Ethiopia; he is in Kaliti because he broke the law of the land and the courts sentenced him to 18 years of imprisonment. It is simply poppycock to claim that his incarceration was related to his political beliefs. There are numerous private newspapers freely expressing their dissenting political opinions and views without fear of repercussions. Unlike Eskinder, they are making invaluable contributions to the development and consolidation of the young democracy.
Fast economic growth which is qualitatively changing the lives of millions of people, and the prevalence of rule of law has made Ethiopia peaceful, stable, safe, forward looking and a magnet for Foreign Direct Investment( FDI) which has recently reached the $1,000,000,000 mark. Furthermore, the mindset of the populace with regard to politics has been altered for good; on many occasions they paid scant attention to the toxic opposition who were trying to use them to grab power by violent means. Incessant calls to spark insurrections were out rightly rejected because the people would only accept a change of government through democratic elections. Therefore, the likelihood of Ethiopia ‘’imploding’’, as Eskinder is boldly stating, isn’t remotely feasible as his conclusions are based on false premises.
If Ethiopia is ‘unstable’ and on the verge of ‘ imploding’ as the political activist claims, why is Egypt overtly eager to negotiate fair distribution of the Nile Waters? Democratic and stable Ethiopia is oozing with confidence and the Egyptians can read this from a million miles. Consequently, the Arab nation seems to have dropped the suicidal military option, and has chosen instead to come to terms with the construction of the Millennium Hydro Dam and the inevitable review of the 1959 Nile Waters Treaty. If the Egyptians reading of the current situation in Ethiopia were similar to that of the pseudo journalist, the bilateral dialogues that are taking place at this moment in time wouldn’t have been possible.
Eritrea’s numerous efforts to destabilize Ethiopia directly and via Eskinder’s associates and, the long and concerted efforts by the flag burning Wahabian extremists to bring the country to its knees have been dealt with successfully. High cost of living which has come about as a result of the two-decade economic success is becoming beyond the reach of many citizens. And the efforts of some political opponents to take advantage of this unacceptable situation, and cause mayhem, have failed to take off the ground. Another important milestone that was registered for the first time in the history of Ethiopia was the smooth transfer of power after the demise of Prime Minister Meles. Ethiopia was also able to dispatch peace keeping forces to Liberia, Burundi, Darfur, Somalia, Abeyi and Darfur while still in a state of war with Eritrea. The aforementioned instances further indicate, in no uncertain terms, the stability of the country, its military prowess, and the maturity of its politicians who are loyally serving their country in an exemplary manner.
Ethiopia is now in capable hands and won’t ‘implode’ now or in the foreseeable. Thanks to the late Premier Meles, the ‘dictator’ as Eskinder would like to describe him, the country is stronger, economically prosperous and as solid as a rock. For Ayte Eskinder’s benefit, it is necessary to list the names of some dictators past and present as a reminder---------- Esayass, Sadam Hussein, Idi Amin, Ceausescu, Mubarak, Kaddafi, Ben Ali, Pinochet, Kim Jong II to name but a few. Only those who are totally deranged and disloyal would place the highly intelligent and visionary deceased Premier alongside despots that did very little for their own people, and were at the helm to simply line their own pockets.
Perhaps Eskinder, who seems to have plenty time and freedom to write, should instead ‘propose’ to the US to consider imposing sanctions on monolithic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait which are renowned for gross violation of human rights. Ethiopians working in these countries are also abused by their employers in the most barbaric way possible. With this regard the political activist said ‘hundreds of millions of aid flow into the region (including Ethiopia) while millions of emigrants flow out.’ As far as Ethiopia is concerned, the monies received from her development partners have been prudently spent, and as a result of this, the country has managed to be among the top seven economic performers of the world.
Numerous jobs have been created in infrastructure developments, garment, cement, hotel, flower, condominium construction and sugar industries. The last three alone have created job opportunities for 362,000 people. For sure this is bound to have an impact in reducing the number of people leaving their country in search of employment in Various Arab states but end up being treated in the most hideous and grotesque manner. Recent announcement by the Ministry of Communications and Technology to invest $1,600,000,000 to improve the telecoms infrastructure would further create jobs for hundreds and thousands of people all over the country. The EPRDF administration is managing all these despite the countless attempts by Eskinder and his sorts to sabotage Ethiopia’s phenomenal economic rise by calling for an uprising and imposition of sanctions, and by being on the payroll of the enemies of Ethiopia.
In the meantime, we wish Eskinder an enjoyable time in kaliti, and by the time he leaves prison in 17 years time, Ethiopia would be a completely transformed country. If ‘Ethiopia’s Gulag’ isn’t to his liking, he should then request a transfer to Guantanamo Bay.