Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
Alemayehu G Mariam
From the International Slave Trade to the International Maid Trade
In the days of the Atlantic slave trade, the Middle Passage was the journey of slave trading ships from the west coast of Africa to the New World. Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, Dutch and other slave traders maintained outposts along the African coast to transact their business with their local slave raiding partners. Millions of African slaves were sold or traded for manufactured goods or raw materials. In the grueling journey, the slaves were often shackled and chained to the floor to gain maximum cargo capacity. Many died from disease, starvation, dehydration and suffocation. Many also committed suicide by jumping overboard. Those who resisted their masters were beaten and even killed. Plantation owners treated the slaves like cattle; and those working in the fields were often flogged and beaten. Female slaves were the objects of sexual desire and abuse by their masters. The law required runaway slaves (“fugitive slaves”) who escaped their bondage to be returned to their masters who punished them severely.
There is a Middle Passage of sorts taking place today from Ethiopia to the Middle East. It is what lawyer Khaled Ali Beydoun and others have described as the Ethiopian “Maid Trade”. Today a network of unscrupulous modern-day slave-traffickers (“human traffickers”) and “private labor employment agencies” operating under license by the ruling regime in Ethiopia transship thousands of young Ethiopian women to various parts of the Middle East to work as domestic servants in what amounts to “contract slavery” with little follow up and monitoring to ensure their well-being and welfare in their host countries.
The plight of Ethiopian women domestic workers in the Middle East has been documented in Bina Fernandez’s survey research (Ch. 7). In 2009, “over 74,000 people risked their lives to enter Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia, of which 42,000 were Ethiopians.” According to official data, 91% of the Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East were single women, 83% between the age of 20–30 age group, 63% had some secondary education, 26% were illiterate and 71% Muslim and 93% earned US$100–150 per month. Some of these women “officially registered with the government as a migrant worker”. Others “worked through illegal brokers who are viciously exploitative [and] often take the women’s money and sometimes abandon them in the desert before they even reach Somalia.”
The “Middle Passage” of Middle East “contract slavery” for the young Ethiopian women is unspeakably harrowing. Their working conditions are described as slave-like, except, as Beydoun argues, “Shackles and whips have been replaced by more inventive designs to dehumanize, suppress, and subsequently enslave persons for economic or sexual purposes.” Fernandez reported that the women live-in domestic workers she interviewed were “on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and working between 10 and 20 hours daily.” Some of the women pulled “double duty– that is, cleaning or doing laundry for a second household, usually a relative of their employer.” Most of these women got “only one day off a month, or no break at all.” Many of these women experienced “complete physical exhaustion” and often suffered “mental breakdown” unable to “tell what day of the week it was, or what time it was.” They faced extreme physical, mental and sexual abuse. In August 2011, the world witnessed the shocking video of Shweyga Mullah, a young Ethiopian woman who cared for two of Moammar Gadhafi’s grandchildren in Libya. Because Shweyga refused to beat one of the grandchildren, Gadhaffi’s daughter-in-law “tied her hand behind her back, taped her mouth and poured boiling water on her scalding her entire body.” She suffered first degree burns over her entire body. Extreme physical and sexual abuse of Ethiopian domestic workers is not uncommon elsewhere in the Middle East as documented by Al Jazeera in 2009 in the United Arab Emirates.
Fernadez further found that that “verbal abuse by employers is commonplace” including “racial insults and discriminatory behaviour (such as separate food and dishes for them) as is non-payment or underpayment of wages. To escape their conditions, some are forced to become “runaways”. They end up doing “live-out domestic workers, brewing and selling illicit liquor, or engaging in sex work.” But they are trapped. Fernandez explains, “Their lack of legal status makes them vulnerable to greater exploitation if they are detected, as they risk blackmail, imprisonment, and/or deportation. If they wish to leave voluntarily, they often have to pay highfines for exit visas.”
On the other hand, Beydoun argues that the young Ethiopian women trafficked in the “maid trade” in Lebanon are often clueless about “what their commitment entails, and the imminent risks and hazards they will likely endure during migration and employment.” They face enormous dangers including “overcharging of fees; debt bondage; falsification of documents; deception with regard to the nature and conditions of employment, contract substitution, exploitation and abuse, lack of preparation for employment abroad, including lack of predeparture training; forced/coerced recruitment, including being kidnapped or sold to illegal recruiters or traffickers; hazardous journey to the country of destination.”
Tears of the Ethiopian Maids
In a recent Youtube video, an unnamed young Ethiopian woman confronts a representative of the regime of Meles Zenawi in a meeting hall in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The words of this young woman in the 2 minute video are so powerful, so overwhelming and so penetrating that the listener is brought to convulsive tears. She complains about the mistreatment and dehumanization she and other maids continue to face in life and in death in the UAE, and laments the depraved indifference of her “government” to speak up, defend and protect them from gross abuses of human rights.
…. If we run away from [our abusive employers], there is a chance we can die. There is a woman who tells us to run away. But they don’t help us. If [we] run away, we need money to pay for rent and food. [We] don’t have to run away. As much as possible, it is better to help [us]. When we live in this country [UAE], sometimes we die. Many of us are buried here. Why must an Ethiopian be buried in the Emirates? Why is that our government does not check on us, follow up on our conditions, ask about us? Why should I be buried in a foreign country? It does not matter if we are Christian or Muslim. This question has deprived me sleep. When I bow to pray, I have not been able to do so properly. Only God knows. All I do is cry. Even our dead bodies must not be buried in this country. [There was a domestic worker accused of killing her employer.] It is possible she may have done something wrong. Her government should stand and defend her and advocate for her. She should be punished as appropriate [if she is guilty] by her family or the law… We learned [within a few days of her arrest] that she was killed by the authorities [in the Emirates].
As she concluded her statement, this young woman cries out in pain, her voice quivering, tears in her eyes and pleading for an answer from someone, anyone:
Where is Ethiopia’s flag? I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take it anymore…!!!!
It was enough to make a grown man cry. It would be impossible to find a more patriotic, resolute, unwavering, steadfast and true-to-the-core Ethiopian than this young woman!! When those who have a chokehold on power declare with depraved indifference that “Ethiopia’s flag is a piece of rag”, this unnamed young Ethiopian woman cries her heart out looking of her lost Ethiopian flag. Bless her heart!
The Response of Zenawi’s Regime – Blame the Maids!
The response of Meles Zenawi’s regime to the plight of these women is morally calloused and depraved. Fernandez reported: “The term ‘runaway’ was used in a pejorative sense by one Ethiopian government official and several of the PEA [private employment agency] representatives during interviews, to describe these women as delinquents who abandon their contractual responsibilities because they do not want to work hard, and want an easy life.” Beydoun argues that the ruling regime’s efforts to combat trafficking in Lebanon were symbolic and ineffective despite the fact that an inter-agency anti-trafficking task force had been established to deal with the problem. He concluded, “Trafficked women are particularly vulnerable where their own governments fail to adequately protect them.”
Since 1998, Zenawi’s regime has put in place a “Private Employment Agency Proclamation No. 104/1998”, which provided for licensing of private employment agencies and the prosecution of illegal brokers. In 2009, this Proclamation was repealed and updated by the “Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009”, which required private employment agencies, among other things, “not to recruit a job seeker below the age of 18 years; not to terminate the contract of employment before acquiring the consent of the worker in writing, get approval from the Ethiopian embassy or consular office to form a new contract or to modify the existing one, register a worker sent abroad, within fifteen days, with the nearest Ethiopian embassy or consular office.” The “private employment agency which sends workers abroad” is mandated to ensure that the working conditions in the host country not “be less favorable to an Ethiopian than the rights and benefits of those who work in a similar type and level of work in the country of employment.” The foreign employer is required to pay the “visa fee of the country of destination, round trip ticket, residence and work permit fees and insurance coverage” for the worker. Moreover, “any private employment agency which sends a worker abroad for work” must deposit cash or post bond in the minimum amount of USD$30,000 for up to 500 workers “for the protection and enforcement of the rights of the worker.”
The real penalty for violation of the Proclamation No. 632 is suspension, revocation or cancellation of license of the employment agency. Though various stiff criminal penalties are provided in Article 40, there is little evidence of serious prosecution of human traffickers. According to a 2010 State Department report, “Between March and October 2009, the [Federal High Court’s 11th Criminal] bench heard 15 cases related to transnational labor trafficking, resulting in five convictions, nine acquittals, and one withdrawal due to missing witnesses. Of the five convictions, three offenders received suspended sentences of five years’ imprisonment, two co-defendants were fined, and one offender is serving a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.”
Similarly, according to a 2011 UNHCR report, “The [Ethiopian] government showed only nascent signs of engaging destination country governments in an effort to improve protections for Ethiopian workers and obtain protective services for victims.” Moreover, “although licensed employment agencies must place funds in escrow in the event a worker’s contract is broken, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never used these deposits to pay for victims’ transportation back to Ethiopia.” But the regime has readily come to the rescue of other victims of human traffickers according to the same UNHCR report: “In 2010, Ethiopia granted asylum to 1,383 Eritrean refugees deported from Egypt, many of whom claim to have been brutalized by Rashaida smugglers operating in the Sinai – including conditions of forced construction labor – or have fled Eritrea to escape situations of forced labor associated with the implementation of the country’s national service program.” While it is noble and morally commendable to assist any victim of human trafficking and human rights abuse, it is also true that charity begins at home.
What Can Be Done to Help Ethiopian Women Caught Up in the “Maid Trade”?
The international movement of labor is a fact of international life. For a poor country such as Ethiopia where unemployment is high, workers who migrate abroad are a source of much needed financial support for their families, and a source of remittances for the country in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. But slavery, by any other name including contract slavery”, is still slavery. It is just as cruel, oppressive, exploitive, dehumanizing and degrading. These women are extremely vulnerable and have no rights and no means of support to vindicate their rights. Various commentators have argued that the demand for Ethiopian domestic workers will continue long-term as they are considered cheaper and more obedient. In other words, they are considered “model maids” who put up with a lot of abuse in quiet desperation.
One can point to international legal and moral obligations to help out these women and effectively combat human trafficking camouflaged as migrant labor. Among the relevant Conventions and protocols include: the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its two related protocols. Discussion of legal and moral state obligations under these Conventions would be an exercise in futility. Talking law to those who sneer and thumb their noses at the rule of law is a waste of time. So is making a moral plea or appealing to conscience as both presuppose the existence of a moral plane of discussion. All that can be done is explain what can be done!
If the problem of “contract slavery” in the Ethiopian “maid trade” is going to be addressed effectively, serious criminal investigations and prosecutions must be pursued against violators. The aggressive crackdown that has long been directed at the independent press in Ethiopia should be re-directed to the gangs of criminal human traffickers. Various scholars and researchers have offered effective recommendations to deal with the problem including the provision of domestic skills training in a Middle Eastern context to Ethiopian women in attempt to lessen their vulnerability, working with NGOs as partner organizations to monitor their working conditions and working with host countries to make it easy for these workers to use the banking institutions. Some have suggested ways of improving access to the criminal justice system of the host country by providing a confidential complaint reporting process for abuse and wage payment related issues and legal assistance, expanding victim services such as shelters and hotlines engaging civil society and faith-based groups to offer assistance. There are lessons to be learned from the experiences of other countries such as the Philippines which maintains an Overseas Employment Administration Agency to secure the interests of Filipino workers throughout the world.
Slavery By Any Other Name
Slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia and Yemen until 1962. A year later it was abolished in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In the 1950s, Saudi Arabia had an estimated 450,000 slaves, nearly 20 percent of the population. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that “contract slavery” of domestic servants continues in these countries. The deep tracks of slavery do not vanish easily in the desert sand in a mere 50 years. The vast majority of the Ethiopian domestic workers end up in these three countries. In 2009, “over 74,000 people risked their lives to enter Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia, of which 42,000 were Ethiopians.” The “kafala” or sponsorship system in the Gulf States gives disproportionate power to the sponsor (employer) in the “contract” relationship. If the worker breaks her contract, she bears the cost of her return ticket and will likely pay fines and pay debts to the employment agency that arranged the sponsorship. There is no running away from “contract slavery” particularly since the migrant worker is required to surrender her passport (if legally in the country) to the employer. Through the maids may be able to run away from their cruel employers, they cannot hide. They are frequently arrested as fugitive workers, not unlike fugitive slaves of yesteryears. Unable to change their circumstances, these women endure in quiet desperation often for years.
Slavery by any other name is still slavery. In truth, there can be no “contract slavery” since only free men and free women can enter into any contracts, which leaves many of the Ethiopian women domestic workers as nothing but slaves and at best indentured servants. Article 4 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude, slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” We must all do what we can to help our Ethiopian sisters to rise up from “contract slavery”!
“Where is Ethiopia’s flag?”
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Portrait of A Poor Country
Lately, the portrait of Ethiopia painted in the reports of Transparency International (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity shows a “Land of Corruption”. That contrasts with an equally revolting portrait of Ethiopia painted in a recent broadcast of a fear-mongering three-part propaganda programentitled “Akeldama” (or Land of Blood) on state-owned television. The program aired on November 26-28 was intended to be a moral, and to some extent legal and political, justification of dictator Meles Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism law”. The program begins with a doleful narrator setting a doomsday scenario:
Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorsim. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem. In this regard, I have three consecutive programs prepared for you my viewers.
Displaying photos of alleged terrorist carnage and simulated blood droplets falling from the title of the program — dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims, a crowd of wailing women mourning at a gravesite, an old man crying his eyes out over the death of his wife at the hand of “terrorsits” and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 and on and on — the narrator accuses “ruthless terrorists” for having “destroyed our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a plaintive tone the narrator exhorts:
“Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.
By displaying grisly spectacles of acts of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity from years past and by describing those acts with deceitful, deceptive and distorted narrative, “Akeldama” hopes to tar and feather ALL of Ethiopia’s opposition elements, inflame public passions and offer moral justification for Zenawi’s recent crackdowns and massive and sustained human rights violations.
The propaganda objective of “Akeldama” cannot be mistaken: Zenawi aims to vanquish from the active memory of the population any traces of popular support or sympathy for his opposition and critics by demonizing, brutalizing, dehumanizing, “villainizing” and virtually cannibalizing them. He wants the population to view the opposition as bloodthirsty gangs of conspirators blowing up defenseless babies, children, women and innocent citizens and unleashing terror and mayhem in every street corner in Ethiopia. The revolting and gruesome scenes and sequences of carnage and destruction stitched into the video are intended to lump together all of Zenawi’s opponents with Al Qaeda and Al Shabbab terrorists in Somalia.
“Akeldama”: Dictatorship, Lies and Videotapes
On the surface, few inquiring minds would disagree that “Akeldama” is sleazy melodrama. It has an exalted hero, dictator Meles Zenawi, the knight in shining armor, waiting in the shadows armed and ready to impale the wicked terrorists with his piercing lance. There is a damsel in distress, Lady Ethiopia. There are an assortment of scheming villains, conspirators, mischief-makers, subversives, foreign collaborators, and of course, terrorists who are cast in supporting roles as opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. It has a sensational and lurid plot featuring cloak-and-dagger conspiracies by neighboring countries, clandestine intrigues by Diaspora opposition elements, sedition and treason by local collaborators, and of course terrorism. Naturally, in the end, good triumphs over evil. Sir Meles Zenawi, knight errant, political wizard, archer and swordsman extraordinaire, delivers Lady Ethiopia from the clutches of the evil and sinister Al Qaeda, Al Shabbab and their minions and flunkeys, namely Ethiopia’s opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. Hollywood’s worst horror shows have nothing on “Akeldama”.
It is easy to dismiss “Akeldama” as dimwitted and ill-conceived horror melodrama. But that would be a mistake because as lame and as cynical as it is, its manifest propaganda aim is to present a morality play for the masses in an attempt to drum up support for Zenawi and preempt, prevent or stall the dawn of an “Ethiopian Spring”. Careful review of “Akeldama” suggests that Zenawi aims to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives: 1) tar and feather all who oppose him as terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and fellow travelers, war mongers, blood-letters and genocidal maniacs, and inflame public passions, promote hatred and incite distrust and suspicion against them; 2) create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance and trigger mass hysteria against the opposition by concocting a crude propaganda brew of mass deception, mass distraction and mass demoralization; 3) divert the attention of the population from the pressing economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding their fears, accentuating their anxieties and concerns and encouraging them to passively accept Zenawi’s rule, and 4) provide justification why Zenawi has a moral imperative to ruthlessly crackdown and clampdown on his opposition.
The fact of the matter is that every major international human rights and other independent organizations dedicated to good governance has condemned Zenawi’s regime for gross human rights violations, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and suppression of press freedoms. Zenawi understands that he has no moral legs to stand on and that he is running out of options. He rules by fear, intimidation, lies and deceit. Lacking any moral standing and little public support in the country, Zenawi now seeks to capture the moral high ground by presenting a pathetic and cynical melodrama.
His strategy is simple: To canonize himself, he demonizes his opposition and critics. By casting the opposition in the moral sewer, he hopes to capture the moral commanding heights. By portraying the opposition as bloodthirsty terrorists and baby killers, he hopes to mask his own bloody hands. By showing gruesome pictures of alleged atrocities by his opponents and by creating a message of fear and loathing, he aims to manipulate and frighten the population into supporting him. Ultimately, he hopes to create the public impression that all of the crackdown and clampdown on dissent, the violence against opponents and the complete closure of political space is morally defensible and necessary as measures needed to protect the population from “terrorism that has destroyed our daily peace” and “killed our loved ones”. Simply stated, “Akeldama” is Zenawi’s slick moral justification for his two decades of dictatorial rule, shutting down every independent newspaper and exiling journalists, jailing dissidents, muzzling critics and thumbing his nose at the rule of law and international human rights conventions.
The Strategic Use of Propaganda by Dictators
Hateful depiction of opposition elements by dictators is nothing new. In fact, all dictatorships in modern history have employed the media — everything from posters and newspapers to films, radio programs and now internet technologies — to moralize and pontificate about their rule while demonizing and mobilizing against their opposition, dissidents and critics. Joseph Goebbles, the grand master of propaganda, undertook a massive media campaign of fear and smear against the Jews which led directly to the Holocaust. The communists used “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda using drama, film, art, music) to win the support of the masses and to rail against the evils of liberal democracy (“neo-liberalism”), capitalism, human rights and so on. Agosto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allede in 1974 was followed by massive media propaganda campaigns depicting the liberal opposition as a bunch of communists and terrorists. Over 130 thousand Chileans and foreigners were tortured, imprisoned, killed or disappeared by Pinochet’s security forces.
For decades, South Africa’s Apartheid regime successfully used a slick propaganda campaign against the African National Congress (ANC) by “convincing” Western governments that the only choice to be made was between ANC communists and terrorists and freedom-loving Apartheid racists. Both John Vorster and P. W. Botha had the mindboggling audacity to portray the Apartheid system as a victim of terrorism, turning logic and facts on their heads, in their efforts to build and maintain Western support. They succeeded for a long time, but in the end their propaganda effort to delegitimize the ANC by legitimizing their illegitimate Apartheid system failed totally. “Akeldama” is no different. Zenawi portrays his regime as the victim of terrorism unleashed by the opposition, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab to bolster domestic and international support. He undertakes a fear and smear campaign aimed at tarring and feathering specific journalists, opposition party leaders, critics and dissidents as terrorists and enemies of the state while seeking to conceal and absolve himself of any culpability for massive and comprehensively documented human rights violations over two decades.
Dictators and Propaganda
But why do immoral and amoral dictators seek moral redemption? Political psychologists who have studied dictators point to a number of factors. One major reason is that all dictators are self-delusional and narcissistic (afflicted by morbid self-absorption and an over-inflated sense of self-importance). They believe their own PR (press release). They conveniently “convince” themselves that they are loved and venerated by their people, destined by Providence to save their nations and usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity (some call it a “Renaissance”). Gadhaffi swore until his last breath, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” Gadhaffi was so narcissistically delusional that he declared, “I am the creator of tomorrow, I am here, I am here, I am here…. Libya is my country. I created it, and I can destroy it.” Rarely, if ever, was it about Gadhaffi’s love for Libya or Libyans.
All dictators see outside conspiracies being hatched against them every day. If there are protests, it is not because “my people no longer love me” or “they have come to outright hate me”, rather it is because outside agitators are making them do it. Gadhaffi was so detached from reality that he claimed the young people protesting against him were doing so because they were taking drugs. Mubarak, Gadhaffi, Ben Ali, Assad and Gbagbo claimed the protests in their countries were guided and manipulated by evil outside forces. Before his swift fall from power, Mubarak appeared on state television and accused foreign journalists, human rights activists, and foreign hands for fomenting the unrest. Assad in Syria blamed “saboteurs” backed by foreign powers for fomenting widespread civil unrest and chaos. He claimed the unrest were the result of “conspiracies designed outside and perpetrated inside Syria.” Gbagbo accused foreign envoys of seeking to turn the military aganist him. Ali Saleh of Yemen accused foreign agitators for protests that were taking place in the country. In a speech on Libyan state television, Gadhaffi declared al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in Libya. Likewise, Zenawi’s message in “Akeldama” is that the people love him, and the mischief-makers are primarily outside agitators, namely Diaspora opposition leaders, neighboring countries, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab terrorists and their local minions and collaborators.
As I have previously argued,
Dictators see only what they want to see; and to avoid what they don’t want to see, they create their own convenient world of illusions cut out of the whole cloth of their personal beliefs, opinions and fantasies. As they continue to abuse power without any legal restraints and convince themselves that they are above the law and accountable to no one but themselves, they transform their world of illusion into a world of delusion. In their delusional world, they become both the “lone ranger” of the old American West “cleaning up bad towns and riff-raff” and the only custodians of the Holy Grail, with miraculous powers to save their nations. In their delusional world, there is room only for themselves and their cronies….
“Akeldama” II: Let Us See All of the Evidence of Atrocities Committed in Ethiopia
If “Akeldama” is indeed an accurate depiction of Ethiopia as the “Land of Blood”, it is manifestly lacking in evidence. That is why we MUST follow the exhortation of the narrator in “Akeldama” to take a “look at the evidence in the past several years.” It may be true that there were “131 terrorist attacks in which 339 citizens were killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.” But is that all the body count? Let us really look at the evidence — not in bits and pieces, not in slivers and shreds, not in fragments and scraps — but the whole body of evidence, the totality of the evidence. Let us have an “Akildama II” and examine
the evidence of post-2005 election massacres of June and November 2005, documented by the Inquiry Commission appointed by Zenawi, in which at least 193 persons were shot and killed, 763 wounded and 30,000 imprisoned by security forces under the direct command and control of Zenawi;
the December 2003 massacre, 8 years to the month, of the Anuak in Gambella in which 424 persons were massacred and some 16,000 displaced to the Sudan.
the extra-judicial killings in the Ogaden including reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and the killings of at least 37 others in Labiga, Faafann Valley and Hunjurri, and the burning of the villages of Daratoole, Qamuuda, Neef-Kuceliye, Laanjalelo, Aado, Jinnoole among many others in 2007; the October 2006 alleged terrorist deaths of three individuals;
the status of numerous detainees in three documented secret jails where they were held without due process of law and in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions;
the Treatment of “desperado terrorists” in 2009;
Let the truth be told about ALL atrocities committed in Ethiopia, without exception. Let the chips fall where they may!
Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity
Instead of wasting time and resources hate-mongering and demonizing the opposition, critics and dissidents, Zenawi could have used the opportunity to highlight and brag about his achievements and accomplishments over his two decades at the helm. Instead of showing mayhem, dismembered bodies, dead babies and destruction, he could have showed the people what he is doing (and has done) to bring down inflation and eliminate economic privation. Instead of promoting national enmity by depicting brutality, he could have used the opportunity to promote national unity. Instead of spreading a propaganda of hate, he could have been a peace and reconciliation advocate. Instead of demonizing his opponents, he could have humanized them. He could have showcased all of his achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, establishing universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability. Exhibition of such achievement could discredit any opposition claims and actions to legitimacy than the display of gratuitous horror, carnage, mayhem and destruction. But it seems Zenawi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do good, the right thing, the moral thing, the compassionate and humanistic thing.
It is not clear if “Akeldama” is the first in an endless series of melodramas calculated to demonize and dehumanize the opposition. It would be great to have an “Akeldama II”. But that is unlikely. There is little evidence to show that the lame and cynical piece of propaganda has gained any traction in the public. There is substantial anecdotal evidence which suggests most viewers in Ethiopia and the Diaspora are turned off by the gory scenes and deceitful exhortations of “Akeldama”. Even friends of Zenawi are said to have raised eyebrows by the excessive and extravagant display of gratuitous violence in the program.
At any rate, Tamagn Beyene’s masterful review of “Akeldama” delivers a totally devastating critique by pointing out numerous lies, factual errors, wholesale fabrications, distortions, exaggerations and fallacies. But credit must be given where it is due. Zenawi has once again succeeded in distracting us all from the real issues. Now, can we get on with the discussion of the issues that really matter such as of inflation, corruption, arbitrary detention, intimidation, maladministration, truth adulteration, balkanization, and the need for better collaboration, improved harmonization, effective communication and, most of all, genuine reconciliation….?
Land of Corruption or Land of Blood?
This past Summer, Zenawi, responding to an interviewer’s question about his feelings concerning the use of the word “famine” by the Oxford Dictionary synonymously with Ethiopia, said:
It is a mixed up situation. On the one hand, like any citizen, I am very sad. I am ashamed. It is degrading. A society that built the Lalibela churches some thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. A society that built the Axum obelisks some 2-3 thousand years ago is unable to cultivate the land and feed itself. That is very sad. It is very shameful. Of all the things, to go out begging for one’s daily bread, to be a beggar nation is dehumanizing. Therefore, I feel great shame.
It is a crystal clear situation for me. I feel great shame that a society that built the magnificent Lalibela churches (one of the great wonders of the ancient world) and the obelisks of Axum should be known throughout the world not only as a “beggar nation” but also as land of corruption, land of blood, land of famine and land of living lies.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Ethio-Corruption, Inc. (Unlimited)
“The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage”, wrote Economist Sarah Freitas who co-authored an upcoming report with Lead Economist Dev Kar of Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The GFI report entitled, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” previewed in the Wall Street Journal, found that
Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years… In 2008, Ethiopia received US$829 million in official development assistance, but this was swamped by the massive illicit outflows. The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009.”
Two weeks ago in my commentary, “Why is Ethiopia Poor?”, I highlighted the fact that the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, had recently ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries on its 2011 Prosperity Index (LPI). Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”.
The cancer of corruption is deeply embedded in the marrow of the Ethiopian body politic. The recently released Transparency International (TI) 2011 Corruption Perception Index report on Ethiopia confirms the findings of GFI and other anti-corruption international organizations. For the past decade, TI has ranked Ethiopia at the bottom of the barrel of countries ruled by the most corrupt governments. In fact, for the past ten years Ethiopia’s score on the TI index has remained virtually unchanged (TI ranks countries on a 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”) scale.
TI Corruption Index Score for Ethiopia by Year
In light of the 2011 GFI and TI reports, is there any doubt today why Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world? Is it rocket science to figure out why Ethiopians are the second poorest people on the planet? Ethiopians are poor because they have been robbed, ripped off, flimflammed, bamboozled, conned, fleeced, scammed, hosed, swindled, suckered, hoodwinked, victimized, shafted and taken to the cleaners by those clinging to power like bloodsucking ticks on an African milk cow. Is it not mindboggling that the US$3.26 billion stolen out of Ethiopia in 2009 was double the amount stolen in 2008 and 2007!?!
The Art of Bleeding Ethiopia Dry
I have long argued that the business of African dictatorships is corruption. In a November 2009 commentary entitled “Africorruption Inc.”, I wrote the following about corruption in Ethiopia:
The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. For instance, reports of widespread corruption in Ethiopia in the form of outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments and gain are commonplace. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Doctors are unable to treat patients at the public hospitals because medicine and supplies are diverted for private gain. Tariffs are imposed on medicine and medical supplies brought into the country for public charity. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners.
Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Two months ago, Ethiopia’s former president Dr. Negasso Gidada offered substantial evidence of systemic political corruption by documenting the misuse and abuse of political power for partisan electoral advantage. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.” [As of December 2011, over two years after the investigation was launched, the State Department has not publicly released the results of its investigation.]
Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia. The cunning dictator has been able to shroud his corrupt empire by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. Zenawi has successfully distracted public attention from rampant corruption by
Making wild allegations of terrorism against his critics, persecuting and prosecuting his opponents and by jailing and exiling independent journalists (a couple of weeks ago, Zenawi shuttered Awramba Times);
Proclaiming a bogus Growth and Transformation Plan that will “double economic growth by an annual average of 14.9 percent” by 2015;
Selling Ethiopia’s most fertile land for pennies above the table and for millions under the table;
Panhandling the international community for famine and humanitarian aid and misusing that aid for political purposes;
Taking massive loans from international banks without any significant accountability on how it is spent;
Trying to shame and intimidate Western bankers and donors by hectoring them of the evils of “neoliberalism”;
Proclaiming the construction of an imaginary hydroelectric dam over the River Nile;
Sending troops to occupy Somalia and threatening war with other neighboring countries;
Vilifying international human rights groups, election observers and officials of multilateral organizations who disagree with him;
Dispatching swarms of officials to panhandle the Ethiopian Diaspora for nickels and dimes to buy dam bonds;
Systematically extracting foreign remittances sent by Diaspora Ethiopians;
Staging political theatre by a toothless anti-corruption agency to hoodwink complicit Western donors and loaners.
The Economics of Corruption
The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial described “the Ethiopian government as one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world.” In 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. They are all wrong!
No one knows corruption, the economics of kleptocracy, better than Zenawi. The facts of Zenawi’s corruptonomics are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of businesses owned or dominated by Zenawi family members, cronies, supporters or hangers-on. According to the World Bank, business enterprises affiliated with Zenawi’s regime control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” Dataprovided by Zenawi’s regime showed that by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. The USD$11.7 billion stolen over the past decade could easily retire that debt. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid at nearly $USD4 billion in 2009, and the second largest foreign aid recipient in the world after Afghanistan.
Is There a Way to Stop Ethiopia from Bleeding?
The international community “naively” believes that corruption in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa could be controlled and significantly reduced by anti-corruption programs. The U.N. Convention Against Corruption (2003)requires signatories to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.” Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention in 2003. The Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (2003) established a regime to empower African countries to “prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors.” The Convention prescribes that “in order to combat corruption and related offences in the public service, State Parties” shall “require public officials to declare their assets at the time of assumption of office during and after their term of office in the public service.” Ethiopia signed the AU Convention in 2004. Neither of these Conventions has even made a dent in controlling the metastasizing corruption in Ethiopia.
Zenawi knows the power of corruption. He has effectively used corruption allegations to neutralize and eliminate his political opponents. He used his “Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission” to railroad his comrade-in-arms and former defense minister, Seeye Abraha, to jail for six years on unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. When then-Judge Birtukan Midekssa, and later Ethiopia’s first female political party leader and long suffering political prisoner, released Seeye for lack of evidence, Zenawi rammed legislation through his rubberstamp parliament to deny Seeye bail and keep him in pretrial detention. He later fired Judge Birtukan. In 2008, Zenawi’s anticorruption commission reported that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A number of culprits were fingered for the inside bank job, but no one was ever prosecuted. In February 2011, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he will “cut off their hands”.
For years, I have documented and railed against corruption in Ethiopia. In December 2008, three years to the month, in a weekly commentary entitled, “The Bleeping Business of Corruption in Ethiopia”, I wrote:
The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi in the Ethiopian body politics. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada clearly understood that when he declared in 2001 that ‘corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,’ adding that the government would show ‘an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic’. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’…. Ironically, in 2003, Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption; and a couple of months ago, a conference on institutions, culture, and corruption was hosted jointly in Addis Ababa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
The fact of the matter is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Zenawi has absolute power in Ethiopia. Pleading for transparency and issuing moral exhortations against corruption will have no effect on the behavior of Zenawi or any of the other African dictators. Indeed, to plead the virtues of accountability, transparency and good governance with Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathens. It means nothing to them. They are unfazed by moral hectoring or appeals to conscience. They sneer and jeer at those who rail and vociferate against corruption. Preaching to the corrupt, to put it simply, is an exercise in total futility!
In my November 7 commentary “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!”, I discussed the importance of initiating and cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in civil forfeiture actions to seize corruptly obtained cash, personal or real property of any person or entity that can be traced to “specified unlawful activity”. These civil court actions extend to foreign offenses involving extortion, money laundering, or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.) The U.S. has recently filed action to seize personal and real property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.
Carefully review and analysis of GFI and TI data sources reveals that public assets and funds stolen from many African countries, including Ethiopia, are often hidden in banks located in the U.S. and Europe, although the clever African dictators are now diversifying by taking advantage of financial havens in countries experiencing rapid growth and industrialization. Much of the corruption activity centers around money laundering (that is, illegal or dirty money is put through a complex cycle of financial transactions or washed and is transformed into legitimate or clean money).
The basic idea in money laundering is to minimize the chances of detection of stolen public assets and funds by breaking the direct link between the kleptocrats or “corruptocrats” and their collaborators by disguising the true ownership. Using financial consultants, shell companies (bogus companies that exist to simply create the appearance of legitimate transactions through fake invoices and balance sheets), fraudulent official documentation, wire transactions, and “smurfing” techniques (breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts in the names of multiple persons) etc., those who have stolen public assets and funds try to sever or camouflage their loot from its illegal source by placing it in international financial institutions. The aim in money laundering is at least twofold: 1) gain anonymity and hide the audit trail in case of a criminal investigation, and 2) plough the “clean money” into the legitimate economy by buying homes, investing in legitimate businesses, starting businesses and so on.
If the problem of corruption is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, it is not going to be at the fountainhead of the corruption itself but in the ocean where the river of corruption terminally flows. As one cannot expect the fox to safeguard the henhouse, one cannot similarly expect Africa’s dictators and corruptocrats and their collaborators to safeguard public assets and funds. A big part of the answer to the question of corruption lies in the Laundromats of financial institutions where the dirty money is washed. That’s why I believe it is the civic and moral duty of every Ethiopian and African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves hiding in America. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199
BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Awramba Times: More Powerful Than Ten Thousand Bayonets
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets,” fretted Napoleon Bonaparte, dictator of France, as he summed up his determination to crush that country’s independent press. For dictator Meles Zenawi, Awramba Times, the tip of the spear of press freedom in Ethiopia, is more to be feared than ten thousand bayonets. Two weeks ago, Awramba Times, the last popular independent weekly, stopped publication after its outstanding managing editor and recipient of the 2010 Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, Dawit Kebede, was forced to flee the country. Dawit was tipped off about Zenawi’s decision to revoke his 2007 “pardon” for a bogus treason conviction and throw him back in jail.
Needless to say, all dictators and tyrants in history have feared the enlightening powers of the independent press. Total control of the media remains the wicked obsession of all modern day dictators who believe that by controlling the flow of information, they can control the hearts and minds of their citizens. But that is only wishful thinking. As Napoleon realized, “a journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns and a tutor of nations.” It was the fact of “tutoring nations” — teaching, informing, enlightening and empowering the people with knowledge– that was Napoleon’s greatest fears of a free press. He understood the power of the independent press to effectively countercheck his tyrannical rule and hold him accountable before the people. He spared no effort to harass, jail, censor and muzzle journalists for criticizing his use of a vast network of spies to terrorize French society, exposing his military failures, condemning his indiscriminate massacres of unarmed citizen protesters in the streets and for killing, jailing and persecuting his political opponents. Ditto for Zenawi!
But enlightened leaders do not fear the press, they embrace it; they don’t condemn it, they commend it; they don’t try to crush, trash, squash and smash it, they act to preserve, protect, cherish and safeguard it. Enlightened leaders uphold the press as the paramount social institution without which there can be no human freedom. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” asked Thomas Jefferson rhetorically, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” George Washington was no less enthusiastic in recognizing the vital importance of the free press in “preserving liberty, stimulating the industry, and ameliorating the morals of a free and enlightened people.” It should come as no surprise that the Frist Amendment to the U.S. Constitution imposes a sweeping prohibition: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” NO government, NO official and NO political leader in America can censor, muzzle or persecute the press.
The American press, protected by the plate armor of the First Amendment, dutifully serves as the peoples’ eyes, ears and voices. In America, government trembles at the prospect of press scrutiny. In Ethiopia, government terrorizes the press. In America, government fears the press. In Ethiopia, the press fears government. In America, the press censors government. In Ethiopia, government censors the press. In America, the press stands as a watchdog over government. In Ethiopia, government dogs the press. That is the difference between an enlightened government and a benighted one.
Faced with a Jeffersonian choice, dictator Zenawi decided there shall be no independent newspapers or any other independent media in Ethiopia; and the only government that will exist shall be his own enchanted kingdom of venality, brutality, criminality and inhumanity. For years now, Zenawi has been shuttering independent newspapers and harassing, jailing and exiling journalists who are critical of his dictatorial rule earning the dubious title of “Africa’s second leading jailer of journalists.” On September 29, 2011, The Economist reported:
An open letter by international journalists to the Ethiopian foreign minister highlights broader abuses: ‘Ethiopia’s history of harassing, exiling and detaining both domestic and foreign reporters has been well-documented. Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Over the past decade, 79 Ethiopian reporters have fled into exile, the most of any country in the world, according to CPJ data. A number of these have worked as stringers for international news agencies. Additionally, since 2006, the Ethiopian government has detained or expelled foreign correspondents from the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Voice of America, and the Washington Post. We are also concerned by the government’s recent decision to charge two Swedish journalists reporting in the Ogaden with terrorism.’
Zenawi has indefatigably continued to swing the sledgehammer of censorship and finally succeeded in smashing and trashing Ethiopia’s free press. On November 11, 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported, “A judge in Ethiopia’s federal high court charged six journalists with terrorism on Thursday under the country’s antiterrorism law, bringing the number of journalists charged under the statute since June to 10.” On November 15, newspaper satirist Abebe Tolla, better known as Abé Tokichaw, fled Ethiopia fearing imprisonment in retaliation for critical news commentaries. On November 21, Dawit Kebede, was forced into exile. Zenawi had long dangled the bogus 2007 pardon as a Sword of Damocles over Dawit’s head.
Over the years, I have written numerous commentaries in defense of the free press and press freedom in Ethiopia. A year ago this month, I penned “The Art of War on Ethiopia’s Independent Press” predicting the eventual shuttering of Awramba Times and Zenawi’s final solution to his problem of press freedom in Ethiopia:
Against the onslaught of this crushing juggernaut [of press repression] stand a few dedicated and heroic journalists with nothing in their hands but pencils, pens and computer keyboards, and hearts full of faith and hope in freedom and human rights. The dictatorship is winning the war on the independent press hands down. Young, dynamic journalists are going into exile in droves, and others are waiting for the other shoe to drop on them. The systematic campaign to decimate and silence the free press in Ethiopia is a total success. One by one, the dictatorship has shuttered independent papers and banished or jailed their editors and journalists. The campaign is now in full swing to shut down Awramba Times. The dictatorship’s newspapers are frothing ink in a calculated move to smear and tarnish the reputation of the Awramba Times and its editors and journalists. For the past couple of years, Awramba Times staffers have been targets of sustained intimidation, detentions and warnings.
Today Zenawi stands triumphant over the ashes of Awramba Times; and the destruction of press freedom in Ethiopia is now complete. There is no doubt Zenawi has won the war on Ethiopia’s independent press by total annihilation. But Awramba Times and its young journalists also stand triumphant. They have fought and won the most important war of all – the war for the hearts and minds of 90 million Ethiopians. Team Awramba Times fought Zenawi with pens and pencils and computer keyboards. They brought a ray of light into a nation enveloped by the darkness of dictatorship. They defended the truth against Zenawi’s falsehoods and exposed his lies and deceit. They stood up for the peoples’ right to know against the tyranny of ignorance. They made Zenawi squirm, squiggle, wiggle, fidget, twitch and go through endless sleepless nights. Zenawi persecuted and prosecuted them as enemies of the state, but they shall forever remain the true and loyal friends of the people. Zenawi accused them of being terrorists. That is true: They struck terror with the truth in the dark heart of tyranny. They unleashed terror in the minds of tyrants with demands for legal and moral accountability.
In the title of his commentary in the very last issue of Awramba Times, Dawit asked a simple but profound question: “Frankly, whose country is this anyway?” In the piece, Dawit explored many issues of vital interest to all Ethiopians. But in some of the most stirring words ever written against tyranny, Dawit informed the world why he decided to flee the country he loved so much:
When a man cannot live in his own country in freedom, faces privation and feels completely helpless, and where government, instead of being a shelter and sanctuary to its people, becomes a wellspring of fear and anxiety, it is natural for a citizen to seek freedom in any place of refuge.
Long before Dawit, Benjamin Franklin, “The First American” and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the man who declared, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”, summed it all: “Where liberty is, there is my country.” So Dawit, welcome to America, the land of free press!
A Tribute to Awramba Times and Its Young Journalists
I write this commentary not to denounce the wicked villains and enemies of press freedom in Ethiopia, but to praise and celebrate the heroes and heroines of Ethiopia’s independent press. I write this commentary not as a eulogy to the late Awramba Times but as a living and loving tribute to the heroic and dedicated young men and women who shed blood, sweat and tears and overcame daily fears to keep Awramba Times and press freedom alive in Ethiopia.
But how does one give tribute to the young heroes and heroines who risked their lives to defend press freedom and human rights in Ethiopia?
I wish I possessed the “eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination or that brilliance of metaphor” to express my deep pride and joy in Awramba Times and its young journalists. I wish I possessed the talent, the insight and sensibility to tell the world of the sacrifices and contributions of these young people for the advancement of press freedom not just in Ethiopia but in all of Africa, and indeed the world.
Lacking that eloquence, I ask myself: What words can I use to express my gratitude and appreciation to these young people who toiled day and night to speak truth to tyranny? What can I possibly say to console these young truth tellers in a country that has been rendered the land of living lies? How can I show my respect, admiration and awe to these young people who soldiered for freedom and human rights in Ethiopia armed only with pens, pencils and computer keyboards? How do I acknowledge the historic contribution of the young journalists of Awramba Times and others like them who struggled beyond measure to keep the candle of press freedom flickering in the darkness of dictatorship?
Thank You Awramba Times!
Team Awramba Times
Thank you Awramba Times! Thank you Dawit Kebede, Woubshet Taye (recently jailed by Zenawi), Gizaw Legesse, Nebyou Mesfin, Abel Alemayehu, Wosenseged G Kidan, Mekdes Fisseha, Abe Tokichaw and Mehret Tadesse, Nafkot Yoseph, Moges Tikuye, Tigist Wondimu, Elias Gebru, Teshale Seifu, Fitsum Mammo and [not pictured] Ananya Sori, Surafel Girma and Tadios Getahun. I thank you all; but I thank you not out of formality, obligation or courtesy. No, I thank you for
being the voice of the voiceless, the powerless, the voteless, the nameless and faceless. You kept on preaching the good news even when the tyrant sought to replace the peoples’ courage with cowardice, their faith with doubt, their trust in each other with suspicion and their hopes with despair.
teaching us all the meaning of responsible journalism. You pages shined with integrity, accuracy and truthfulness. You informed us of the most pressing issues of the day. You offered us critical but balanced perspectives to make us think and understand. You did it all with professionalism, with malice towards none.
teaching us the meaning of ethical journalism. You revealed the truth and told the story without sensationalism and distortions. You held yourselves accountable by maintaining high standards and being responsive to your readers. You showed supreme moral strength in the face of corruption, preached truth to tyranny and made superhuman efforts to open the minds of the narrow-minded.
showing Zenawi what it means to have and be a free press. You have taught him that a free press is a mirror to society. Whenever he looked in the mirror of Awramba Times, he saw the image of brutality, inhumanity, criminality and venality. But the mirror does not lie; it only reflects what it sees. Smashing the mirror does not obliterate the image; it only fragments it into 90 million pieces.
giving us a platform on which to exchange policy ideas and discuss problems of governance.
being a class act! When the pathetic, vulgar, pandering and pitiful state media launched its vilification and fear and smear campaign and brayed to have Awramba Times shuttered, you responded with decency, civility, dignity, propriety, honesty, integrity, rationality and humanity. You even treated the tyrants with respect, honor, dignity and courtesy. What a class act you all are! I have never been more proud!
All of the young journalists of Awramba Times are my personal heroes and heroines. As I write these words, I am overcome with emotion of admiration, pride and joy; but Team Awramba Times does not need my praise or recognition. Team Awramba Times does not need my words to document their heroic struggle; they have inscribed their own glorious history of press freedom on the calloused breast of tyranny. Because of Awramba Times, generations of young Ethiopians to come will learn and appreciate the true meaning of human freedom and the need to maintain eternal vigilance over tyranny.
Awramba Times shall rise from the ashes of tyranny, and press freedom will be reborn on the parched landscape of dictatorship in Ethiopia. A new world rising over the horizon as the sun sets on tyranny and dictators sweat to cling to power in the Middle East. The wind of freedom shall blow southward from North Africa. A brave new world of knowledge, information, ideas and enlightenment awaits young people all over Africa. In this new world, ignorance, the most powerful weapon in the hands of African tyrants, is useless. It is easy to misrule, mistreat and enslave a population trapped in ignorance. But “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.” It was the religion of ignorance and its high priests in Ethiopia that Awramba Times and its young journalists were sworn to oppose and expose.
I have never met any member of Team Awramba Times. But I have read every issue of Awramba Times since it became available online. Awramba Times was not only a source of news, informed analysis and opinion for me, I regarded it as the ultimate symbol of press freedom in Ethiopia. Those of us who are blessed to live in a land where press freedom is valued higher than government itself pledge to uphold our oath proudly inscribed on a frieze below the dome at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man [and woman].” Amen!
Thank You Awramaba Times! Thank you Dawit, Woubshet, Gizaw, Nebyou, Abel, Wosenseged, Mekdes, Abebe, Mehret, Nafkot, Moges, Tigist, Elias, Teshale, Fitsum, Ananya, Surafel, and Tadios. I also thank the indomitable Eskinder Nega (recently imprisoned by Zenawi), Serkalem Fasil, the internationally acclaimed journalist, former political prisoner and wife of Eskinder Nega, Sisay Agena and so many others!
I salute you! I honor you! I stand in awe of your achievements and struggle for press freedom in Ethiopia!
Long Live Awramba Times!
 Photo Lineup: Standing R to L: Woubshet Taye (deputy editor of AT, recently imprisoned by Zenawi) , Gizaw Legesse, Nebyou Mesfin, Abel Alemayehu, Wosenseged G Kidan, Mekdes Fisseha, Abe Tokichaw and Mehret Tadesse. Foreground: R to L: Nafkot Yoseph, Moges Tikuye, Tigist Wondimu, Elias Gebru, Teshale Seifu and Fitsum Mammo.