Friday, November 11, 2005

The Melesization of Jeffrey Sachs

When I was growing up in Ethiopia, our neighbors were Brits. The father worked for some NGO, although our zebegNa always looked at the man with unrelenting suspicion and never let an opportunity pass to mutter disgruntled missives that our shiny, happy neighbor was in fact a lecherous “C.I.D.”

My interest in my neighbors was more urgent: they had a tennis court. It took several staged happenstance meetings to befriend the kids. Bonus: one of the girls had a seemingly endless access to glossy fashion magazines, so there was also a little idolatry in there as well.

So, Nancy (I forget her real name) and I became friends. I played tennis. She taught me the words to Cat Stevens’ songs. I taught her how to braid hair. She showed me how to put on lipstick. We were the ebony and ivory of friends. She was preternaturally kind to me, although my mother made me return a used sweater Nancy had said I could have. We frolicked in the Addis sun. She said she loved Ethiopia, but missed London, and she’d regale me with stories of life in the UK.

One summer Nancy’s cousin came to Addis and the three of us went on with life as usual. The cousin was just as charming as Nancy. Wow, I thought, they are all so swell. They’d occasional allude to life in Ethiopia and the poverty, but hey, any discomfort I had was assuaged by continued access to the tennis court and embroidered stories from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

One day, sitting idly in Nancy’s expansive living room, the two cousins got to talking about stuff that went straight over my head. Besides, we were listening to Michael Jackson’s latest album. That kept me content. Ms. Thang cousin then effortlessly transitioned to complaining about all the beggars in Addis. Nancy tried to be polite, the first ever politically correct teenager in recorded history. The cousin would not stop. Finally I looked up at her and said, “Well, why don’t you leave if you are not happy?” Or something smart alecky like that. Nancy turned bright red. “She’s only saying what’s true!”

I felt sucker punched. My Nancy? The girl who gave the little shoe shine boy a whole birr? The girl who shared her croissants and chocolates with straggly street urchins?

But even then, at that tender age, Ethiopian yilungNta checked my instinct to bitch slap the cousin and “zeraff” my way out of the living room with a modicum of dignity. Well, that and we were going to watch a movie on a shiny new gadget called a VCR.

The cousin, encouraged by signs that Nancy had not morphed into the complete bohemian, “one with the natives” flower child, continued her bellyaching. I couldn’t take it any more. “Hey, wench,” I said with all the fury my little body could muster. (Well, I don’t think I said wench. Exactly.) “Hey! It’s rude to come to peoples’ country and insult it. If you don’t like my country, you can go back to England!”

That was the last straw for Nancy. “Oy!” she shrieked at me. “My father is here helping your stinking, starving country. You should be grateful.”

I can’t say I was not stunned even though I recovered very well. I flung her magazine across the room and stormed out, but not before I flashed both of them my best, home-spun, withering g’lmicha. “No one comes to my country and insults it!” I glowered. “Go back to England.”

My father eventually coaxed out of me why I had stopped going to Nancy’s house. “ItiyoPiyan sedebech,” (“She insulted Ethiopia”) I told him, fully expecting him to laugh at me. Instead, he nodded knowingly and we never talked about Nancy again. On the few occasions I saw her after that, I’d dart her a defiant glint- in a commendable imitation of our zebegNa’s.

It my first experience with superficial liberal guilt and the liberty that allows its practitioners to assume that occasional insults hurled at natives was acceptable as long as one was “helping their stinking, starving country.” I also learned that if you call them on it, you are relegated to the “ingrate” status, a Neanderthal incognizant of what it takes to help your stinking, starving ass.

Which brings me to Professor Sachs.

In response to Ethiopians writing to him about his love affair with Prime Minister Meles, Sachs wrote back thus:

If you read on in my statement that you quote, you will indeed see that I denounced the violence of last spring, and you would of course have noticed that I could not have denounced the recent violence since I made the statement that you quote more than two months ago -- and on that occasion spoke at length about the growing dangers in Ethiopia from extremism on many fronts.

When I quoted Sach’s partial speech in Melesocracy in Trouble, I made sure to include the paragraph where he addresses the June 8 killings.

Here is what he also said after praising PM Meles for “last years’ remarkable growth rate of more than 10 percent” (I’ll leave it to economists to honestly asses that claim):

I especially admire, Mr. Prime Minister, your deep commitment to Ethiopia’s rural communities and to Ethiopia’s Green Revolution, the very commitment that we recognize today with this award.


Ethiopia is a much divided society, as shown by the recent contested elections and the controversies that swirl around them. Political divisions are natural, indeed healthy. They are part and parcel of democracy. But the hate and distrust that are on view in Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic society are beyond normal. They are social ills that need mending. Few countries in the world have been able to make multi-ethnic societies work peacefully for all. Grievances and distrust in Ethiopia are deep and have deep historic roots. Many of the attacks on the current government reflect revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite. But others reflect real and deep grievances about the present day. Still others are simply a byproduct of the suffering of extreme poverty.

First of all, what more can Ato Meles possibly do to let the world know that he does not believe that “political divisions are natural, indeed healthy.” All the top leaders of the main opposition are in jail, soon to be charged with treason… which is punishable by… death. I hope Professor Sachs looked at Prime Minister Meles sternly when he said that.

Secondly, perhaps it is because Professor Sachs is dealing with the scrubbed up, cuff-linked Prime Minister that he has a fuzzy idea of how come the “hate and distrust that are on view in Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic society are beyond normal.”

Those of us who experienced the Ethiopia of the early 90s, when the avariciousness of Meles and Co. was not even remotely disguised for modesty’s sake, saw how Ato Meles treated Ethiopians. People lost their jobs because they did not belong to the right ethnic group. “Ethiopian” was no longer an acceptable form of identity. Business licenses were revoked and monopolies were awarded to Meles and his bantuized boys. Ethiopians who dared speak up against tribalization were labeled chauvinists and, hm, perhaps even proprietors of “revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite.”

It is beyond belief that Sachs actually uttered those words. He has swallowed the spoon-fed EPRDF bullshit, and then he wants to lecture us, us who have felt the brunt of Ato Meles’ malicious ethnic policies on the genesis of “abnormal hate”? One commentor on the last blog hit the nail square on the head: Liberals do jerk off to anyone who fits their perception of the ‘underdog.’

Ato Meles’ policy of tribalization had nothing to do with healing the wounds of Ethiopia’s past. He came of political age during the last days of the monarchy, and became a full-fledged guerrilla fighter for the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front in the Mengistu era, and Professor Sachs should probably read up on what Mengistu felt about “imperial domination of a former elite.” Mengistu was an equal opportunity tyrant. Ato Meles was not fighting to bring democracy to the Ethiopian people. He was in a liberation front which I assume wanted to be liberated from Ethiopia.

Like all dictators, Ato Meles zeroed in on Ethiopia’s wounds, and instead of being a leader who heals his peoples’ wounds, he went about to make sure the wounds were permanent. If Sachs thinks that Meles’ ethnic policies are based on a sincere effort to right past wrongs instead of a pernicious, cynical way to divide people further, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell him. One thing we should do is dig up some of Ato Meles’ typical speeches which are often punctuated with unreserved contempt for the Ethiopian people, and translate them for Sachs. Or maybe we can get him into a conference call with EU’s Ana Gomes who got a taste of what Ethiopians have been going through for 14 years when she dared say that something was fishy about the Ethiopian elections. (A state run newspaper editorial ran an “Opinion piece” suggesting that she was being promised 20% of the money coming in from the Diaspora.) Whatever it takes to makeProfessor Sachs understand that Ato Meles is one of the chief architects of ethnic hatred in Ethiopia today.

Most Ethiopians don’t despise Ato Meles because of his ethnic background. We deride him because he is a deranged sociopath who is willing to do anything to stay in power. He has managed to play the “poor me against the chauvinists” card, and Sachs has bought it hook, line and sinker. To Ato Meles, Ethiopia was never a priority. He made that very clear when he denigrated the Ethiopian flag and Ethiopia’s history. He could be from Mars for all I care. The man is not honorable. And Sachs brings dishonor to himself when he regurgitates what he’s been fed.

So, the order of your talking point, Professor Sachs, should be: Many of the attacks on the current government primarily reflect a byproduct of the suffering of extreme poverty, real and deep grievances about the present day and maybe some revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite. (You can eventual segue that into “Most of the attacks on the current government reflect a byproduct of the suffering of extreme poverty, real and deep grievances about the present day, over-hyped ethnic differences from a government who has no mandate.” You can still keep the “revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite” because it seems to make you happy. But, baby steps.)

If Professor Sachs cared to learn about Ato Meles’ policy on ethnicity, the real one not the one packaged for the ears of well-meaning developmental wonks, he’d discover that Ato Meles’ carefully constructed boogieman, “the-earth-is-shattering” and “if-it-were-not-for-me-Ethiopia-will-be-Rwanda” speechifying is less based on reality and more as a scheme to divide and rule. But sure, why take precious time to learn about all that? It’s so much easier to perpetuate the “oh those silly Africans and their tribal silliness” stereotype even against evidence to the contrary. Most of what Ato Meles has been telling anyone who cares to listen is exaggerated to serve his own purposes. I know that’s hard to swallow and I won’t ever expect Professor Sachs to admit that, but that’s the truth. Unfortunately, nothing makes people like Professor Sachs go “shiver me timbres” than the stereotyped African country in perpetual mess stemming from tribal wars. Like all stereotypes it is highly embellished, but it fits tidily into a preconceived pigeonhole.

Also, if Ato Meles is bitching about ethnic hatred, it is because he fostered it. Meticulously. He went as far as to say that the opposition harbored dreams of an Interwhame. Ask yourself, what was that based on? What are the opposition’s views on ethnicity?

The truth is, most of Ethiopia has moved on from the ethnic question. Debilitating poverty has a way refocusing things. It is Ato Meles who is hanging on to the Imperial times.

One of the most intriguing essays on the ethnic question I’ve read is by a Professor Berhanu Abegaz who teaches economics at Williams and Mary. (A forgivable offense.) The essay, Ethiopia: A Model Nation of Minorities, starts off with this quote from E.B. White:

"Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts."


The history of mutual invasion and assimilation among its cultural

communities has, contrary to the premises of the current Constitution, precluded the emergence of exclusivist political enclaves based on ethnicity. The strength of multiple and fluid identities have, unlike many African countries with a long colonial experience, made it difficult to classify the residents of highland Ethiopian society by ethnicity.

You don’t say?

Professor Berhanu bases his writing on… what do you call them, facts… from the latest available Ethiopian census, 1994. Instead of enshrining himself in cobbled layers of myth a la Ato Meles whenever he gets ready to meet donors for the express purpose of extending his tin can, Dr. Berhanu Abegaz starts adding up figures and percentages. He concludes,

Why care about these numbers? It would suffice to mention two implications: First, these numbers underscore the incredibly high and ever-changing nature of Ethiopian diversity. The Ethiopian genius for creatively synthesizing different traditions into a national mosaic is a product of this reality. With the emergence of a strong multiethnic state and an economic system that permits high mobility, Ethiopia has a great potential to build an egalitarian democratic society.

Ah. But, wait a minute. That’s gonna make Prime Minister Meles a vay-wee vay-wee unhappy man.

Second, this potential can be realized only if the intelligentsia shows respect for objective reality. For a nation of minorities, cultivating a tradition of coalition building is paramount for avoiding costly political and economic strategies based on mythologies or imagined communities. It is long overdue for the real Ethiopia to stand up and be (accurately) counted.

I know you have worked real hard in our country, Professor Sachs, but don’t venture to insult our intelligence. The “brilliant leader” who keeps you scintillated and tickled with cerebral heft is a spiteful, petty, warmongering warlord who has played up his hand. How you deal with that is up to you. But don’t lecture us on how bad the ethnic question is in Ethiopia. You may want to read up on how Ato Meles quashes dissent based on ethnicity. Ask the Anuaks. Ask the Oromos. Ask the Amharas. Ask the Tigrayans.

The truth is, because Prime Minister Meles’ politics are so debased and quilted awkwardly from tattered remnants of Marxist ideologies, the only thing he can do is play the ethnic card. Dividing people and encouraging hate politics comes naturally to him. And that’s not a sign of a brilliant mind. It is a sign of a severely underdeveloped mind.

So, Professor Sachs, the kids who are throwing stones at the bullet-hailing EPRDF Special Forces are teenagers who I can assure you do not possess revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite. They are not triggered by the ethnic doctrine. They are poor, they are sick of being poor and they are sickened that their votes did not count. You go to them and tell them that they hate Ato Meles because he is from a certain ethnic group.

But why are we talking about ethnicity? Weren’t we just asking the good professor to denounce the killings and disassociate himself from a government that is going down faster than Monica Lewinsky on hormones?

It’s a very interesting question.

Here’s how responds to one letter writer(and it’s a two-parter, so forgive me if I am combining the two):

I have certainly said nothing of the sort that you believe I said. I do
wish that you had simply asked me first.

Wow. I am hoping that Professor Sachs is not denying that he said all those lovely things about Ato Meles. Surely not.

But moving on.

I deplore the violence the same as you.

Last month I said publicly that I "pay my respects to those who have lost their lives in the struggle for democracy, both the fighters for freedom who toppled a despicable regime 14 years ago, and also the dozens of students and innocent bystanders who tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives several weeks ago when they were shot by security forces during protests in the nation's capital. There is no excuse for such loss of life; security
forces must be equipped with non-lethal means for riot and crowd control. And our students anywhere are our future."

Okay. This was a few weeks after the June 8 killings. Notice how Professor Sachs puts it:

I pay my respects to those who have lost their lives in the struggle for democracy, both the fighters for freedom who toppled a despicable regime 14 years ago, and also the dozens of students and innocent bystanders who tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives several weeks ago…

It’s what we call “buttressing a hostile witness.” A few weeks after the government led by Ato Meles gunned down 42 people, Professor Sachs is paying tribute to those in the TPLF who died toppling Mengistu, and the unarmed, defenseless people who were shot at point blank. I know, I know. It’s diplomatic. But it’s also bullshit.

Okay. So we have to make provisions for the fact that Professor Sachs couldn’t well tear Ato Meles a new one during a fancy, white-tie affair. Whatever. Fine.

But I am sure he’ll condemn the government now, non?

The fact that security forces have shot again into the crowds is not acceptable. Aside from the heated charges and counter-charges of who has done what to whom and who has or has not provoked the violence, the government and its security forces should have been much better prepared with non-lethal means to control unhappy crowds.

You think? You think that’s the only problem with this picture: that the government didn’t use non-lethal weapons? There might be a reason why people are protesting in the first place. But, anyway.

Ummm. I still don’t quite get condemnation from what Professor Sachs said but… going to the first part of what the professor said, the government’s biggest excuse IS that it killed people because “the opposition started it.” And yes, since the government failed to use tear gas and water canons the first time, and since it once again resorted to live ammunition, wouldn’t you think Professor Sachs would be more pissed off than “it is not acceptable”?

But, so here’s what’s bugging me.

Sachs had to be badgered into deploring this latest round of killings by busy-body ETs who sent him emails. How long do you think it would have taken him to say something had we not written to him? Are any of us convinced that he would have “deplored the killings” if we never said anything? Read carefully what he says:

If you read on in my statement that you quote, you will indeed see that I denounced the violence of last spring, and you would of course have noticed that I could not have denounced the recent violence since I made the statement that you quote more than two months ago

What does that mean? Seriously. What does it mean? Why exactly didn’t he denounce the killings (I assure him it was just not just “loss of life”) all on his own? Do we have to wait until Professor Sachs is presented with another “I Heart Meles” speech in which he tacks on a “I ache for those who died on November 1-7, June 8 and 14 years ago”?

You would think that that’s all he said to get hysterical about. Oh but wait ‘till you see what’s behind door number 3.

The opposition leaders too should have been speaking out much more to keep their own followers peaceful and unarmed. There are many reports that people in the crowds fired upon the police. I do not know whether those reports are accurate, and as far as I know there has been no independent assessment to date.

Undoubtedly, though, there is responsibility required on all sides in a tense confrontation such as this, and more that both government and opposition can and should be doing much more to secure the peace.

Hold up, sailor.

So the opposition, whose leaders are in jail being held longer than is allowed by the constitution, who are facing the death penalty on treason charges, they have the same culpability as an armed-to-the-teeth government who, um, sprays bystanders and 14-year-olds with live ammunition? Did Professor Sachs really try to sell us that logic? I mean, does the EPRDF have compromising pictures of Sachs with a dead prostitute or a live boy? It is unbelievable! It is so anti-intellectual and so garishly idiotic that I am hoping that he was on a lethal combination of downers when he wrote that.

Just so we are clear, EPRDF’s thugs didn’t just kill opposition supporters. They killed kids going to school, wives protecting their husbands and little boys playing soccer. So I guess the opposition should have warned all citizens to, I dunno, stay at home for a week?

This is a quote we should be sending to every outlet we know. Agitated as it makes me, I can almost understand when the EU/State Department tries on that “everyone is responsible for preserving the peace” line; but even they are backing off that. But a professor who is a well-respected humanitarian? A learned man? For him to try to pull off the “both government and opposition can and should be doing much more to secure the peace” absurdity on us? It would be embarrassing if it were not so wretched.

In case the professor has forgotten: the opposition is unarmed. Not a single gun was found. Not one. Even Ato Meles admitted that the first time around. (This time the EPRDF was a little more sophisticated and took pictures of grenades that were “thrown at police.”)

I am no fan of all the oppositions leaders, and I am irked by some of their supporters who are royal pains in the ass, but opposition leaders have been filing habeas corpus; demanding talks; squabbling over 8-point demands; signing “code of conduct” agreements time and time again, even after the EPRDF put some of them in jail before the ink dried; canceling planned rallies when denied permits from the government(even though the Ethiopian constitution allows for freedom assembly); some in the opposition even joined the parliament to work from the inside, even though new legislation basically renders any opposition useless; all acts majorly pissing off a good percentage of the opposition’s constituents who were ready to storm the palace. Ex-squeeze me very much, Professor Sachs, but what is it exactly that the opposition did that makes it equally culpable as the EPRDF for the latest killings? Usually, people on the left think that a group that throws stones at armed goons in response to oppression is a group battling deep-rooted desperation. They are almost never blamed for throwing stones. So what the hell happened to Jeffrey Sachs? When did he become such a hack?

Someone tranquilize me.

So we’re talking about Professor Sachs condemning the Meles government. Okay. It’s pretty obvious by now that ain’t happenin’.

I also explained why, in my view, the politics need to become
inclusive, rather than winner-take-all. Now having said that then, and having written to you just a few hours ago that I shared your deploring the recent violence, I will say it again. And again if necessary.

Yeah, Professor Sachs, why does the EPRDF think this is an all-or-nothing battle? Why did it summarily dismiss the opposition’s call for a unity government? Why is an opposition that calls for something like a unity government excoriated for being an ethnic-baiting, peace-hating, bloodthirsty assembly? Because the greatest threat to the EPRDF is anyone who preaches Ethiopian unity. Ethiopian unity means the unmasking of the EPRDF, and so unity advocators are called chauvinists. Or they are made to be out-of-touch malcontents who have no idea just how the level of ethnic hatred in Ethiopia is alarmingly “abnormal”.

Also, while it’s great that the Professor deplores violence, I am inclined to believe that most people generally eschew it, with the exception of former EPRDF Minister of Information and present Meles Special Minion/abominable PR strategist/certified Robo Cop, Bereket Simon. But nevertheless, thank you Professor Sachs for deploring the violence unleashed on people like Tsige Mariam Tesfaye’s brother.

Tsige was interviewed on VOA Amharic on Wednesday. Her 18-year-old brother was coming back from school. The family thought that things had calmed down so were not overly anxious that he was walking the streets. He almost made it back home. Ato Meles’ goons called him from the gate and one of them dropped kicked him. He died at Zewditu Hospital. He was due to graduate school in December.

Here’s what his sister said in describing her feelings (translation mine. Always open to correction):

She said, “Politics, you know, is only alphabets. Wisdom is respecting human life. Tell them. Tell them that wisdom is respecting human beings.” She dissolved into the kind of heartbreaking heaves of weeping of an inconsolable woman.

So, we are telling you, Professor Sachs, your moral equivalency gauge needs recalibrating. And yes, if it is not too much to ask, we ask you to condemn the government of Meles Zenawi, and not an abstract violence that you make seem mysteriously materialized. We ask you to call your friend on his bullshit, and we want you to tell him that politics is only alphabets. Wisdom is respecting human life.

I will also note for you that I receive many heartfelt assertions that accuse some of the opposition leaders of stoking violence and ethnic hatred. It appears that some of the spiraling unrest is partly, and dangerously, ethnically motivated on both sides. It is also widely believed that there are revanchists from the Mengistu era stoking some of the unrest.

First of all, can we pick one “revanchist era” and stick to it? Is that possible?

Careful use of passive tense won’t help out Sachs out of this one.

First of all, the point of spending that kind of money to attend Harvard is to be a thinker. Otherwise, you might as well go to Dartmouth. The situation in Ethiopia is dire. The fate of 71+ million people is in the hands of a certifiably aberrant leader… who is Jeffrey Sachs’ friend. People like Professor Sachs have tremendous influence. With that influence comes responsibility. Statements have to be based on facts. Professor Sachs bases his on, yes, “heartfelt assertions” about a charge as incendiary as “ stoking violence and ethnic hatred” nonetheless! What am I missing? What is the message he is sending Ethiopians when his proof of “stoking violence and ethnic hatred” is based on someone emailing him “heartfelt assertions”? Actually, I would like to read just one of those assertions, even the non-heartfelt ones.

Oh m’gad!

There are many reports that people in the crowds fired upon the police. I do not know whether those reports are accurate, and as far as I know there has been no independent assessment to date.

Admittedly, I got a ‘C’ in Logic. And I didn’t go to Harvard. In fact, Brown waitlisted me. But what has been the preponderance evidence: that civilians have been killed or that crowds have “fired upon the police?” Yes, we have seen pictures of bleeding soldiers, but there seem to be an awfully lot pictures of small caskets.

And where are the “reports that people in the crowd fired on the police”? I mean besides in the talking points on the EPRDF’s Bullshit Mill? I don’t think even the EPRDF makes that claim. I read that the EPRDF was saying that someone was shot while attempting to take a gun from a soldier. But shooting into the crowd? What kind of charge is that to make so casually? Read again what he says.

I do not know whether those reports are accurate, and as far as I know there has been no independent assessment to date.

Well how about this? How about not saying something like that you can check up on its veracity, Professor Sachs? Is that too much to ask from a Harvard-educated, power-wielding man people look up to?

And here’s something the Professor might not know: you know why there has been no independent assessment of the violence to date? Because the government Professor Sachs supports didn’t think it is necessary to investigate deaths of ordinary people. Let’s see… this is a recurring theme. June 8 to November 8… that’s 5 months. Prime Minister Meles did not even have the courtesy to do a perfunctory investigation of the June killings. He was finally browbeaten into announcing last week that there will be an investigation. Sometime in the future. Not independent body has been set up.

I mean, is Sachs serious?

Read this again:

There are many reports that people in the crowds fired upon the police. I do not know whether those reports are accurate, and as far as I know there has been no independent assessment to date.

This appeases him? The remote possibility that the police were shot at is enough to be sanguine about explaining off the killings he deplores? Dude, Harvard sucks.

And then of course the “Mengitu era revanchists” blah… blah. Now tell me that that is not straight from the EPRDF playbook. That is the single most weakest argument in the EPRDF’s cant. It is not even possible that someone of Jeffrey Sachs’ stature just parroted that long-deflated EPRDF bullshit. It is not possible.

So “revanchists from the Mengistu era” are stoking some of the unrest? Does Mengistu know this? Let’s see… last time it was the EU who contributed to the violence. Remember that? “Ethiopia Blames EU for the Violence.”

The Ethiopian government has accused EU observers of contributing to post-election violence during which about 40 people died.

It said the EU mission "illegally and secretly leaked information" to the opposition, prompting protests in June.

Remember that? I guess it’s Mengistu’s turn now. Whose will it be next time? Hopefully not Professor Sachs’.

Do you think it has even crossed Professor Sachs’ mind that the Ethiopian people are rising up, not because of Imperial revanchists, not because of EU revanchists, not because Mengitu revanchists, but maybe because they have a genuine grievance against the Meles regime? Do you think that is remotely possible, Professor Sachs? No? Okay.

And by the way, the opposition leaders could be two-headed, cousin-marrying, wild bear-chasing polygamists. The people voted for them! The last I checked, that was democracy. Believe us, Professor Sachs, the EPRDF has been blanketing the opposition with charges of being “ye Derg rzirazotch (remnants of the Derg) long before you checked your Blackberry these past few days. That’s because Ato Meles is very adept at gutter politics and wholly unequipped to handle differences of opinions without resorting to primordial, substandard, nutty drivel. But what’s Jeffrey Sachs’ excuse?

How did the EPRDF manage to make such a fawning shill out of Sachs? Now that’s some talent.

Here’s what I think happened. Remember when Bob Geldolf told the EPRDF to “grow up” when Meles’ Footmen went on a joy ride in June?

Sir Bob Geldof has slammed the Ethiopian leader for the shooting of demonstrators in Addis Abbaba on the day he launched a paperback edition of the Africa Commission report on aid, trade and debt.


But he said something even more interesting.

"No doubt, I'll get a briefing from the Ethiopian embassy: 'it wasn't like this, it was like that'. Grow up, they make me puke.

Ah-hum. Do you think that after every rampage the Ethiopian government sends out talking points to its ferenjie devotees, and Professor Sachs was just cutting and pasting his? He is a busy man.

And after all the praise that was heaped on Geldof by the Ethiopian government for so many years, some gasbag, ersatz scholar on the collection of brain surgeons that is Aiga ends up calling him “the patron-saint of the starved.”

Nah. Still not up to “self-appointed colonial viceroy.”

We are capriciously told that after Live Aid, “the selfless Geldof later on in his life became dead-broke as one reporter put it, "he could not even pay his phone bills."

Oookay. What that got to do with the EPRDF’s killing spree? Before we get to that, though:

Bob Geldof, in recognition to his specific roles, did not play the "big brother is watching" gymnastics, again his role was a humanitarian role nothing more nothing less.

Which I assume is a tortured way of saying he puts up the money and shuts his trap: the way Ato Meles likes his donors.

But get this…

These days however, [Geldof] seems to have lost his prospects and gave an impression of relapsing to his prior to 1980s self. Today, according to channel 4 news outlet, he slapped left and right Prime Minister Meles Zenawi by unleashing condescending attitude with unbecoming and disrespectful language with a potential of compromising their future relations. His remarks, if they in fact are remarks, are way out of the mark. Before letting himself over charged with transient sentiments, he should have laid out the facts and should have selected his words carefully, if he is not endowed with the wisdom of respecting a person, at least he should have a respect to the office of the Prime Minister.

Don’t you love EPRDF pitchmen? It’s like they live in the penthouse at the Leaning Tower of Denial, and feast on a veritable buffet of absurdity. The most foul-mouthed, uncouth, intellectually stunted Prime Minister ever (do we need a reminder, Viscount of Rambling Insanities?) having his minions talk about respect for the office of the Prime Minister? Hmmm. I’m lovin’ it.

So, I didn’t mean to take a detour. But just wanted to make “the good professor” aware of what will await him when he finally breaks away. And Tony Blair too. Can you imagine what they will say about Tony Blair? But the way, my prediction for next diplomat to give Ato Meles a Dick Cheney “Go fuck yourself” will be… Tim Clarke. As usual, a woman had to have bigger balls. But the men will soon follow.


Instead of conjecture and spewing back inanities he’s been fed, perhaps Professor Sachs might want to see what exactly the opposition has said that is evidence of instigating “the spiraling unrest” that is “partly, and dangerously, ethnically motivated.”

Professor, allow me…

No. The unrest had zero to do with ethnicity, although it is very convenient to say so.

The unrest has to do with a government you support that has arrested all its major opponents in typical warlordish manner

The unrest has to do with people not being allowed to peacefully express their dissent.

The unrest has to do with mass rounding up of young people who are then thrown in malaria-infested camps.

The unrest has to do with the EPRDF’s obsessive stranglehold on information. Nearly all free newspapers have halted production.

The unrest is about being treated inhumanely by a government who is adored by the right people on the upper west side.

The unrest has to do with blatant violations of human rights and the Ethiopian constitution.

The unrest has to do with people who are so sick of being poor that they are confronting machine guns with their bare bodies.

The unrest has to do with families who don’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead.

The unrest has to do with people having been promised that if they just didn’t upset the Prime Minister he won’t be goaded into killing them.

The unrest is because people were promised democracy and then told they didn’t matter.

The unrest had diddly squat to do with the kind of blood that flows in Ato Meles’ veins.

The unrest is about blood flowing on the streets.

So, we will thank you for not lecturing us on what the unrest is about via flimsy speculation, especially when you are casually speculating about ethnic violence. What do you think Jeffrey Sachs’ reaction would be if the US government gunned down 42 people who were throwing stones at the police? What kind of fury would he be engulfed in if he read that 4000 African-Americans from Biloxi, Mississippi were carted off to semi-concentration camps for opposing President’s Bush’s Iraq policy?

Why then are Ethiopian lives worth so infinitely less that condemning their killers has to come with caveats and stipulations?

You know why? Because they are Ethiopian lives. And because the people killing them look like them. And because Jeffrey Sachs has found an African friend he fancies, and refuses to admit he has been had.

Does it scare you shitless that someone like Sachs, someone in his position, someone who is a crusader for economic development has this kind of entrenched contempt for Ethiopians? How in the world can he justify his comments? Doesn’t he think that we have minds?

We are then, of course, subjected to the perfunctory, Nancy-esque “I am doing my best to help your stinking country”, slightly passive-aggressive avowal.

As always, I will try to do my best, in whatever modest way I can, to help your country. That has been my pledge for many, many years, particularly as I've worked -- with at least a modicum of success -- to help extend basic health care and greater food supplies to the many who desperately need it.

Hm. This is where we are supposed to say “ere b’nguss, esti miskeen sewiyewin tewut.” (“Can you just leave the poor guy alone?”)

Well, not this time. And not this ET-Chick. I know Dagmawi will be deeply disappointed in me for not heeding to his advice to

try not to react emotionally and with anger. Try not to lash out at the US State Dept. and any others who may be mistaken in their assessment of the situation. We just need to calmly lobby them (and not insult them) and point out how far the ideology of the Meles regime differs from the principles of the USA/EU.

Listen, I know… I know that Sachs can’t just drop Meles from his AOL Buddy List. But he needs to know that there are other people with grown-up IQs listening to him, and we are going to call him on his mind-bogglingly careless statements.

In the end, though, Ethiopia is not Jeffrey Sachs’ responsibility. Just like Nancy, he can always inject his “out clause”: “Hey, leave me alone. I am helping your stinking, starving country.” But we, we who don’t want to leave our children an Ethiopia maimed and bloodied have to take on the burden. We cannot, cannot let another generation of Ethiopians wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, screaming uncontrollably. We cannot sit by and watch democracy passing Ethiopia while we lament about it from a country that has given us the freedom to speak out.

Jeffrey Sachs feels at liberty to talk to us this way because we let him. I am not demonizing him. That’s the EPRDF’s tactic. (Self-appointed viceroy, anyone?) But I hate having my intelligence insulted, especially since I have so little of it.

One of the first lessons you learn in these great United States is that if you do not call out bullshit the first time you see it, the next time you notice it, you’re already waist deep in it.

So, in whatever decorous way I can, I am hurling the magazine across the room and storming out. It’s rude to insult peoples’ intelligence. I hope my withering g’limicha conveys across on the innernetz.

Write to Professor Sachs. Make sure you cc his colleagues. Can someone add to the list I have? (C’mon you ET policy wonks. Open your Palms.)

-- Sorry about the long post, And i was going so well! Damn. Have a great weekend.--

Professor Jeffrey Sachs:

CHRISTOPHER@DATA.ORG (has written on Sachs)

Please contact the following about your concerns in Ethiopia.

Africa Action:

Rights and Democracy: (African Faith and Justice Network) 
American Association for the Advancement of Science
(“surprisingly has a strong interest in human rights”)

Physicians for Human Rights: (development, AEI)

CATO INSTITUTE Jim Harper Marian L. Tupy


Blogger sokari said...

Excellent post - see Global Voices for 11th November.

6:29 AM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ethiopia's GDP has been averaging 4% growth from 1991/1992 to 2003/2004, which translates to 1.1% per capita.

It would be one thing if the economy were doing well under the EPRDF. But it is not, because the EPRDF prefers ideology over practicality. And that's a big reason why we're worried. Ten more years of economic malaise, and the resulting social explosion, especially from the overcrowded countryside, would make today look like a picnic.


8:50 AM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary Professor Sachs' comments. Still, we should not deny that some of the issues he raised about the nature of politics in Ethiopia are true.

The primary responsibility for the current madness in Ethiopia falls on the EPRDF government. There is no if and but about it. Its indiscrinate killing of more than 40 people and the arrest of thousands, including children, clearly shows that this guys will stop at nothing to govern the country by force. And he should come out and condemn it.

At the same time, I strongly beleive that moderate elements in the opposition have been silenced by the more exteme elements. In an atmosphere filled with name calling and bullying (in Addis as well as in Washington, D.C.)there was not any real debate about the merits of a gradualist approach. By pushing for reckless tactics they fell into the traps of a bloody ruling party which was set on reversing even the limited electoral losses it suffered (e.g. governing Addis)in the election.

May be it is not the right time to criticize while many of the noble leaders of the opposition are languishing in prison. But it will not help the cause of emocratization in Ethiopia to assume that all in the opposition have democratic credentials.

9:40 AM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous sleepless in DC said...


I honestly did not think that you could outdo yourself.

The offshoot of all of this is that yes, we are responsible for Ethiopia. It's not enough to call ferenjie on their bullshit. We have to call our own bullshit. Some of us still think that democracy is going to come from the heavens when the democracy gods smile on us. The thing is we have to work for it, and sacrifice. Whatever you want to say about people like Dr. Berhanu Nega, he is living proof of the kind of sacrifice it takes to bring democracy to Ethiopia. The guy could have lived comfortably off his wealth, or have secured a cushy tenure at a university in the states, or even have joined the private sector. He chose to go back home and call ihadig on its bullshit. I am not subscribing to cult politics. I do genuinely admire him, and more so when I got off my ass and read up on him. (I have a permanent link of his speech in Stockholm.)

What do we do? Some of us don’t even write letters to our senators. Some of us don’t even cut and paste an email to our congress people. Meanwhile, Dr. Berhanu, for the second time in his life, is being held in jail by ihadig. They thought for sure he would run away the first time they tried it—shit, who wouldn’t? But he stayed in Ethiopia and kept calling Ihadig on its bullshit.

Now that’s a leader.

10:38 AM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous ethie politics refugee said...

so this is where the sane people hang out? I was this close to diconnecting the respirator i had on Ethie politka.

the thing is, i thought that with all the lobbying firms working on behalf of the gove-rN-ment, i thought my piddly letter would not make a difference. it still might not, but i shall die trying. (or at least miss Oprah.) senator clinton will be getting my letter.

thank you for the oasis.

12:34 PM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

We flattered ourselves that we too could have us a little democracy. For one fleeting moment the thought had flickered in our minds that we too could live in a free society. Heck, we even had the temerity to believe that we were deserving of it!

Little did we know that “democracy” is a relative term that takes on a funny meaning when applied to us uppity Negroes of the dark continent. How could we NOT know that? How could we NOT have been smarter about what we wished for our country?

When we set out to improve our circumstances thru this thing called democracy, we should have had the foresight to know that our impertinence would unleash the wrath of the beast! A beast that has nothing but cruelty left to it for proof of power!

And so, here we are! Reduced to badgering some Professor about casting himself in the role of unaffected observor when we know full well that he is, in fact, well, . .unaffected! We went on the grossly mistaken assumption that since Meles’ self-actualization (validation) comes from without, a little Sachsy appeal to the better angel of his being might go some way to rein in a terror-campaign not seen on ET-soil this side of Mengistu’s Red Terror.

How fitting then, Professor Sachs’s response to us! Not unlike Nancy’s cousin he throws his hands up in the air and declares in righteous anger: “Stop hankering after what you know you ain’t getting! You ungrateful Ethiopians need to leave me alone and learn to be thankful for the small joys I’ve brought to your pathetic lives! Like The Clean Water! How could you forget the clean water!?”

Yeah, how ungrateful can we be, Wonqeteers? How could we forget that, thanks to the Professor, the children of Ethiopia don't have to die of waterborne disease anymore! Through his boundless act of kindness, they live to see . .er, DIE another day from his friend's boundless cruelty!

1:42 PM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous Solo said...

Thanks wonq as usual. The Sachs dude may have taken us for chimps( is not something new in our history...)Otherwise the guy must have a lesser IQ than his friend in Addis...which is possible but unpleasant.

2:09 PM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous waka said...

Bravo Wonki!
Ethiopia would be proud of you!

Mr sachs should learn from this, if he has some moral fibre. It is so evident that he behaves like a brainwashed cadre,and offers blind and bullshit support for TPLF. His friend, by the name DR Awash Tekilehaimanot- TpLfite and beneficiery of Meles in the form post at the minstry of health and then hot spots in NGOs and now with this professor venturing big capital sponsored by UN is brainwashing him on a daily basis.
It is a disgrace to note anonymous blames the opposition for this violence. Among the eight preconditions they asked, which one is unreasonable? for any fair minded person? is that how you define AKRARI?. Who in CUDP promomtes hate politics?(any evidence).There are tygreans in the leadrship. the anger emanated from the nepotism, monopolisation of government jobs,business, trade etc...., arrogance, greed, vote rigging,lie lie,manipulation and fabrication of news by their sole media(should have been for everybody),shoot to kill at will without impunity, by EPRDF and its elites. They control every thing. In fact ethiopian people are patient, wise and tolerant.I would like to emphasise this does not include the poor tygreans in the country side.If ethiopians have been as malicious, greedy, arrogant and cruel like TPLFites there would have been no Ethiopia by now. This being the fact on the ground, the only good and viable solution is to solve differences by dialogue, tolerance, fairness civility and forgiveness.Lest we will degenerate into chaos, revenge and mutual assured destruction.

8:08 PM, November 11, 2005  
Blogger DaEBushu said...

Thanks Wonq.

I’m very grateful for this Blog. During this sad and very troubling days…
It is good to feel you are not alone…

The only time I felt this bad was during the failed coup of the 1988.
I am not comparing the peaceful straggle of current opposition with Ethiopian Generals effort but I sow similar opportunity of transforming our county for good…

I don’t know what to think of this Dr. Sashs. Is he for real? I definitely regret that I wrote to him. I think it is a complete waste. The man is completely blinded. Where is he getting his information? What is he talking about… the opposition repeatedly called for peace full demonstration. Never mind.

1:54 AM, November 12, 2005  
Anonymous confused mamo said...


This made your post worth the hour I spent relishing it:-

In the end, though, Ethiopia is not Jeffrey Sachs’ responsibility.

... But we, we who don’t want to leave our children an Ethiopia maimed and bloodied have to take on the burden.

After all the qariya Tiffiwech you delivered from teh Wonqette assemblly line, you at least recognize how much, rather, how little much we have done for Ethiopia. WE have been irresponsible, and Meles treats us this way because we let him. We should also recognize that.

Thank you.

p.s. When is the next installment of the Dina Diaries?

6:29 AM, November 14, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Wonq

I read through your article as if I was reading Fiker Esek Mekaber. It was more than a political commentary. I hope one day we will have a country where people like you in-light us freely.

9:37 PM, November 15, 2005  
Anonymous Matthew Mekonnen said...

Impressively incisive in relating realities in down to earth manners with comical spicing. I am proud of her gift, loyalty to her country and her daring to fight for the truth!


2:09 PM, November 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elevating 'Zeraff' sword to 'Zeraff' word. Move on.

1:28 PM, December 11, 2005  

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