Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"What Have I Done for Ethiopia?"

I never realized how much I missed talking to my parents until they moved back to Ethiopia to, as my father put it, “live out our lives in peace.” He’s always had an irrational fear of dying in America. “The Almighty helped me survive the Clinton years; but I want to die back home,” was his opening salvo at every Thanksgiving dinner. He said it with such earnest conviction that none of us ever had the heart to point out the glaring non sequitur in his proclamation.

I suppose the best thing that has come out of their move is that my father and I now communicate through long emails that are sometimes brutally honest, often painfully obscure but always edifying. No wonder people of yon wrote long letters to each other. It is cathartic. I’ve been able to tell him things in writing that I could never say to him without a 1,000 mile minimum buffer zone between us.

One of the longest correspondences we have had has been about a segment on the “Diversity Visa Lottery” that aired on VOA-Amharic on November 27. A young woman who works in an internet café in Addis was interviewed about applicants coming in to try their luck at immigrating to the land of milk and honey.

She went on to recount the yearnings of young people especially, who trudge in looking for an out from the harsh Addis life. Most are desperate. The reporter asked her who she hopes will get the lottery. (My translation. Sorry if I missed something.)

I don’t want anyone to leave Ethiopia. People who leave are building other people’s countries. Where we need people is in Ethiopia where there is much to build. The more we leave Ethiopia, the less people to build her. It would be better if we started staying here and working towards leaving a lasting legacy for our children. The generation before us, our mothers and fathers, left without leaving us anything. And we’ve been paying the price for that. But now we have to be responsible so that the generation coming up doesn’t judge us for not leaving it anything. So I don’t think we should abandon our country.

What kind of people come to fill out the DV application? The majority are highly educated, she said. Some have two college degrees; people in high positions. The reporter then zoomed in on her. Has she ever filled out an application?

I’ve never filled one out before. And I haven’t now.

(The whole program is actually fascinating. It tells a story of hope and despair with equal gusto.)

It is obvious from his letters that my father has been struggling with the condemnation the young woman at the internet café leveled on his generation. My father was educated through a very generous scholarship provided by the Ethiopian government. He had gone back to Ethiopia after graduate school to serve his country and join the burgeoning middle class. But then everything fell apart.

Nearly three decades later, my father writes, he’s witnessing another round of violence.

This Christmas my father turns 65. My parents were supposed to come to the States for a long-planned birthday celebration and family reunion.

“What have I done for Ethiopia?” he wrote after our long discussion about the VOA program. “What have I left you, my children? And what will you leave yours?”

My parents decided to stay in Ethiopia this Christmas.


To the countless Ethiopian mothers who have buried their children this year.

Here’s hoping we leave our children an Ethiopia that is healed. And also hoping that we have an answer for them when they ask us, “What have you done for Ethiopia?”

Merry Christmas. See you in 2006.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Problem With "LF Groupies"

So I picked up the Los Angeles Times, and as it happens every time, I wonder why I ever bother reading the Los Angeles Times.

One Mike Clough opined about Ethiopia in A Losing Bet on Ethiopia, and thus was born another “LF” Groupie, and yet another angel in heaven lost its wings.

The briefest history of the “LF Groupies.”

It all started with one erratic know-it-all.

Michela “Oh So” Wrong was a journalist without a cause. She wandered the deserts of Africa until, the gods must be crazy, she found the Eritrean Peoples Liberation front, EPLF. The heavens opened. Ever since then she’s had a borderline unhealthy, obsessively savior-complex”y relationship with Eritrea… the kind of burdensome, pulsating love that makes her write half-assed books devoid of ... what’s that thing you need to be an authority on something… facts. Hell hath no fury than a guerilla babe journalista with no credibility. As the Grand Dame of “LF”s, Ms. Wrong’s devoted groupie status remained entrenched even when confronted with solid evidence that EPLF’s part-sociopath, part-lunatic leader had turned into a fulltime sociopath lunatic.

So what’s Ms. Wrong gonna do with all that junk in her trunk? Apologize for her myopia? Do a little gut check and ask herself how come she was so astronomically duped? Please. Not when a robust “youa culpa” will do: if only Ethiopia would agree to the border demarcation, Issayas would return to being the studly good Samaritan he really is deep down. Yawn.

And so people took her seriously. Respected media outlets asked her to write sagely about Africa, even as Africans got increasingly irritated by her loquacious renderings of murderous goofballs as brave, misunderstood warriors.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and on December 18 Ms. Wrong’s tortured career as a Horn of Africa raconteur came to a screeching halt with her pasty, frenetic “analysis”, How Horn of Africa Brothers Fell Out . Thank you, BBC, for finally putting an end to the madness.

With the kind of dazzling ineptitude she has obviously worked hard to perfect, note her contribution to the dumbing down of human beings.

Reason 1 they fell out… get a intellectual’s scrutiny:

"We Eritreans think with our hearts, but the Tigrayans are very wily, very complicated. Just like the road," any local driver is happy to explain.

Reason 2:

[Meles and Issayas] were undoubtedly close, but brothers can also be intensely, destructively competitive. The relationship was always a stormy one, with each side brooding over perceived slights, chafing over their enforced intimacy.

Give Freud a few minutes to flip over in his grave. I ain’t touching that with a ten foot pole.

She then trashes Ras Alula, who I bet she has read exactly zero about other than the notes she has gotten from the EPLF, but facts have never been a prerequisite for Ms. Wrong. Continue, on ye lady of bottomless indignant self righteousness…

That historical resentment was offset by a more recent sense of cultural superiority.

Then, brace yourself…

Eritreans took pride in their 1890 colonisation by the Italians, a contact, they felt, that had left them better educated and more sophisticated than their neighbours to the feudal south.


Bonus noxious dishonor to journalists everywhere…

If a job was dirty and demeaning in Eritrea, it was probably done by the "Agame", as the Tigrayans were dismissively known.

How about that for scholarly analysis! Worse thing about Ato Issayas, whose halo (nailed to his head by Ms. Wrong herself) has blinded any flickering of rational thought in d’ Madame je adore la EPLF? He’s “famously prickly.” And why wouldn’t he be? The West and the UN have tag-teamed in “betraying” the Eritrean people since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

As the little known 20th century philosopher and social critic Chris L’Rock put it with nimble yet devastating finesse, “Just shut the fuck up. If you don’t know something, just shut… the fuck… up!”

There, I said it.

You will note in Ms. Wrong’s article that it is all about the Eritreans versus the Tigrayans… not Ethiopians. Wily. Retarded, but wily. Nothing left on the cliché menu for Ms. Wrong to pick. Take a break, Michela. Get your hair done. Enjoy a manicure. Muse about poetry because we have stuck a fork in you. You are done, D-O-N-E.

Scary part is that the only person calling her bullshit is, of course, the one and only Dagmawi, who didn’t even have to sharpen his knife to abzol-lewtly dismiss the “LF Missus.” The Bile of Michela Wrong is her journalistic obituary. (Please God, never let me be on the wrong side of Dagmawi.) I might have missed it, but no Eritrean website has called to question Ms. Wrong’s fantastic assertion that Eritreans loved them the colonization. Maybe they’ve been over her a while ago.

R.I.P, Ms. Wrong. If you are looking for another pet project, I have a dictatorial PTA I would like you to look into.

Continuing with the history of the LF Groupies…

Is there a more genteel LF Lover than our own Jimmy Carter? Oh he could not get enough of the TPLF, led by another “renaissance leader” turned Tina Turner quoting gale force-serpentine maniac. Oh, the love Mistah Jimmy has for the TPLF. Sure, a few hiccups here and there… who hasn’t set up concentration camps in defense of democracy?… but the love lingers between these two, much like the blisters from a cold sore.

And now, boys and girls, bow down and avert your eyes as we, on the nineteenth day of the month of December, in the year Two Thousand and Five crown a new-new “-LF Groupie”, Mike Clough. He shore loves him some OLF.

He lulls us with great prose…

Meles has been a U.S. client since 1991, when his rebel movement seized power. He is good at talking the language of democracy and development — and even more adept at manipulating Western fears of terrorism.

And then… get your knighting swords out:

Most experts on Ethiopia believe that if the Oromo Liberation Front, which was forced to leave the country in 1992, had participated [in the elections], it would have won a majority of votes in the region. That would have left Meles and his party with only a minority of parliamentary seats.

Now I know this was a commentary, but don’t you need facts anymore when you write about Africa these days? Who are these experts, and what do they base this astounding belief in? Would OLF be more popular than the ONC? Why? How? What does the OLF believe in? Ah, you don’t need to know.

After the elections, the Oromo Liberation Front abandoned its sporadic and ineffective struggle against Meles and sought a peaceful accommodation.

Exsqueeze me very much, but does this accurately depict the armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia that the OLF has been waging for the past coupla decades? You think the OLF is fighting for justice? It uses the same imbecilic vitriol used by the EPLF and the TPLF to rally its troops.

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is a political organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to lead the national liberation struggle of the Oromo people against the Abyssinian colonial rule.

Bring out the violin.

The change made by the Tigrean regime, that grabbed power from the Amhara rulers in 1991…

Amhara rulers in… 1991? Mengistu was Amhara? You see, its okay when people just use this kind of bullshit when they are sparring on the innernetz, where the only death is a few brain cells. Unfortunately, when it is part of official policy of a Liberation Movement, it means human beings are dying. Real human beings. The kind that breathe and think. And when you ask people to take on arms and die for you, you better be standing on more solid ground than “Abyssinian colonial rule” which apparently ran until 1991!

With all due respect to Mr. Clough, how have past liberation movements worked for Ethiopia? EPLF? TPLF? Have they been working so superbly that you saw fit to try another one?

In the end, Mike could not resist that Michela Wrong Kingmaker Complex that “experts” so often succumb to.

Washington's refusal to deal with the Oromo Liberation Front is bewildering. The party is one of the few in the Horn of Africa to bridge the Christian-Muslim divide, and there is a strong democratic tradition in Oromo civil society. It has never adopted terrorism as a tactic.

There being a “strong democratic tradition” in Oromo does not, I repeat, does not mean that the OLF has democratic tendencies. Just because someone works in, say, a courtroom doesn’t make that person more law abiding. It is this kind of intractable hubris and logic-deficient generalization that has led to unrelenting bloodshed. How many thousands of Ethiopians who have been told that they are no longer Ethiopians but Oromos (just like the Eritreans were told that they were, um, more civilized thanks to colonialism which no longer makes them Ethiopian) have been used as cannon fodder for a pipe dream of an “independent” Oromo land. You seriously think that the OLF ever thought it was possible to carve out an independent land in the middle of Ethiopia? No. But yet it lets people die for it. And Clough and his bleeding heart can march up to congress and brief lawmakers on Ethiopia without impunity, as Clough did on May 5, 2005 at a hearing of the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Africa.

So after the debacle of the EPLF and the TPLF, Ethiopians are now being told to try on the OLF for size. Shut the fuck up.

Here’s something these “Ethiopia experts” might, I dunno, look into. Since thousands of Ethiopian lives died for a fuzzy concept called EPLF, and thousands more for TPLF, and thousands will die for OLF, do you think we could drop the championing of the –LFs due to...let’s say lack of one shred of goddamed evidence that LFs will miraculously morph into democratic institutions once they get power? Can we try thinking out of the pretty, rose-colored box?

It remains easy for people like Clough to gush out these inanities because he’s not being asked to die for a cause. A few thousand Ethiopian and African lives lost over ethnic maladies is collateral damage to the “experts.” But to Ethiopian mothers and fathers who have been burying their children for decades for causes that change names but not deeds, this is real life. Death is not just a theory in Africa.

It should be clear by now that curing the spoils of the various ethnic differences in Ethiopia will not come from any ethnic-based LF. Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions are not that neat and tidy. Now I’m sorry that’s not convenient to LF-ists and their groupies, but that’s a fact. Trying to understand the complexity of ethnicity in Ethiopia, the years of intermarriages and various cauldrons of melting pots is something that needs deeper thought.

May I suggest we all step back and take a break? Everyone read Berhanu Abegaz’s Ethiopia: A Model Nation of Minorities before getting a boner for another –LF.



Take a break from politics- listen to some incredible short stories on Addis Live. I am a late comer to Addis Live and have just been enjoying the music, but the stories segment. I have come to discover, is unbelievably sublime. And for the record, I am unashamed in admitting that… yes, I am infatuated with Bewqetu Seyoum. His work will remind you of the intricate Ethiopian tradition of the spoken word. And his stinging humor… That’s the Ethiopia I want to remember.

His two stories, Ye Eteye Menasho Penseeyon and Ye Eteye Menasho Restaurant will remind of an Ethiopia that stands above, way above, stupid politics.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Voices in the Light

First off, I cannot write enough sycophantic prose about the band Death Cab for Cutie. They are the freshest thing to come out of the alternative scene in years! Years! Maybe I like them because they remind me of the first time I heard Kurt Cobain. Remember them days? Good times. (You can catch DCC on Comedy Central’s Last Laugh 05, which is the best year-end round up next to Esquire’s “Dubious Achievements”.)

Quickly… thank you for the people at Tayetu for putting together the Teddy Afro interview on VOA. This is a must listen. ... catch Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Brown, on Charlie Rose. That woman is the kind of woman I have no chance in hell of ever becoming… astounding, astounding woman… speaking of hell, there will be a special place in it for the dimwits who cancelled Arrested Development. But maybe Dave Chappelle coming back for a third season will take the zing out of that sting. And that’s it for entertainment news.

So the big debate around some circles has been what the role of the Ethiopian Diaspora has been/should be in these trying times…

And like a beacon of light on a foggy night, guiding the mothership safely to shore, the answer came in the form of two Ethiopian Harvardites who organized a panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. (The video link I have is dead… if anyone has it handy...?)

The entire thing was extraordinary, especially the number of people it attracted. Especially impressive was one Yitayew Alemayehu Taye, a “PhD Candidate in Law, Policy and Society at Northeastern and MALD candidate at the Fletcher School” (a mouthful, I know), who sprinkled his speech with philosophy and stressed how each one of us is responsible for change in Ethiopia. I am in like with him. In fact, someone wrap him up in glittery paper and stick a bow on his head. Christmas has come early for us Diasporans. And the way one Dr. Meqdes Mesfin answered a question on why the opposition can’t be happy with the seats it got was nothing short of sublime. To paraphrase: it is not about the number of seats, it is about the process of democracy being high jacked.

The thing that made the whole thing impressive though was that it was conceived and executed by Ethiopians. We usually wait for someone else to do all the work for us and then vilify. But those days seem to be over. This panel was a signal most of us have been waiting for: if change is to happen, we have to initiate it. The large demonstration in Washington on November 19 has perhaps spawned a whole new movement in the Diaspora.

From the little I can gauge, people who never before touched Ethiopia politics with the tips of their fingers are saying “enough of this bullshit.” They are successful in their own rights (investment bankers, doctors, writers, lawyers etc) who have finally awoken. They are moderates and pragmatists, but, and this might not bode well for the EPRDF, they are the biggest pains in the asses when they latch on to a cause. They are connected, diligent and efficient and they have found their voice.

Like all groups, there is a fringe element in the Ethiopian Diaspora, not unlike the blanket men haters in feminism… the “no blood for oil” drama queens in the American left, and the “God hates everyone but me” religious nuts in the Republican Party. I find nothing more annoying than radicalism in any movement, although it is radicals who usually get the momentum going. The trouble is radicals never know when they have worn out their welcome. And the minute they smell the miasma of power they get unglued. Tragically, moderates don’t have the stamina to stand up to radicals—as you can see with the EPRDF.

Radicalism makes one irrational and unreceptive to intellectual discourse. The appalling way some in the Diaspora treated uber bean counter and not engineer Berhanu Nega is an example of a Diaspora drunk with “kingmaker complex.” I think there are some of us who still think that churning vitriol with Western PhD sticks excusably turns our venom to creamy, delicious butter. Please.

Thankfully the learning curve was brief. And here I don’t absolve people like me either, the Almaz-Come-Latelys who had lived in a virtual cocoon until May 2005. (And me with a brief dip in the pool of ephemeral hope back in the 1990s when I bought the whole “renaissance leaders” bullshit.) Sure we supported causes here and there, but our contribution to Ethiopia’s well being didn’t go deeper than writing a check. Our silence has contributed much to the disarray, and we have to own up to that.

But past the pity party and self flagellation, the progress is encouraging. The EPRDF and Ato Meles have no idea what they unleashed. They thought people wouldn’t be morally outraged by a government that has the unmitigated gall to justify the pumping of bullets into an unarmed crowd as a way of “furthering democracy.” They thought the majority of Diasporans could be placated as long as once a year it could flood Addis Abeba with Western currency and spend Christmas sipping 15 Birr beers. (By the way I never got that about us when we go back home on vacation. Why the hell anyone from America would want to troll around Addis Sheraton as if there aren’t enough hotels and nightclubs right here is something I will never understand. It is so ridiculous.)

What the EPRDF didn’t count on was for the silent majority to start speaking.

It is common knowledge that you are halfway to winning an argument if you control the agenda and define the parameters of the argument. Like most things that require actual thought, however, the EPRDF’s spin on matters scholarly is almost always unyieldingly clumsy. That is none clearer than in its sad effort to define the Ethiopian Diaspora.

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is yet another “the aftermath of the Ethiopian elections” innernetz pissing contest, this one between one Professor Clapham of Cambridge and someone named Paul Henze. Clapham wrote a Comment on the Crises, which prompted the Henze fellow to comment on the comments. In between, a beleaguered EPRDF official (are any other types?), one Tekeda Alemu, bless his heart, suffered though a blithely written response to Calpham which read like a really, really bad term paper. (Note to Ato Takeda: I beg you, benatot, not to write a response to the responses before I give you a couple of pointers on how to address opinionated ferenjies.)

So anyway, here is an interesting quote that the Henze fellow wrote about those of us in the Diaspora:

You underestimate the pernicious role of the diaspora, especially the diaspora
in Washington DC and other parts of the United States. These people are
not only, for the most part, strongly oriented toward traditional
Amhara-Centrist concepts of Ethiopia; they are also heavily infiltrated by Derg

Aww. Cute. Not as pithy as Jeffrey Sachs’ “they are remnant revanchists of an Imperial/Derg past” you understand, but cute in its own way. I had to Google Mr. Henze since I had never head of him and stopped after reading an insipid interview he gave to Addis Tribune after the Tribunal rendered its decision on the Ethio-Eritrean border.

Q: The commission of wise men [oh, lord] meeting in The Hague presented its
decision to both governments on 13 April 2002. They came out entirely in
favor of Ethiopia's position. Do you feel this was just?

Indeed I do. The decision was a remarkable demonstration of justice and
recognition of the facts of the situation. The decision was based on long,
meticulous study of the history of this border. They seem also to have
taken into account the recent history of the problem.

Uh. This was on April 24, 2002 which gave Monsieur Henze ample time to, I dunno…maybe read the decision on the demarcation? But why? Several thousand people died in the war, sure. But it is so much easier to read off of EPRDF’s talking points that to actually read the damn report. It turned out that Badme, the flashpoint of Ato Meles’ and Ato Isayas’ War of the Elevated Testosterones was “awarded” to Eritrea. It might be a matter of Henze not having actually bothered to read the decision, or, he read it, understood it but decided to be a willing shill for the EPRDF. Either way, that makes him irredeemably marginalized in my book, and I am not sure why he is still writing about Ethiopia.

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories my colleague loves to tell. His, um, friend’s client, Madame X, was one of those absurdly wealthy California women who was on her starter marriage. She found out that her husband was a lyin’, cheatin’ lowlife and wanted to take him to the cleaners. (Not particularly important to the story but interesting fact: Madame X, true to all clichés, had met her lyin’, cheatin’ husband while he was lyin’ cheatin’ on his third wife with her.) Anyway, Madame X’s husband, a seasoned veteran when it comes to divorce, had all the top divorce lawyers in our busy town on retainer so by the time Madame X stormed into my colleagues’ friends’ office, she was justifiably rancorous. “I don’t care that he has a mistress,” she huffed. “They all have mistresses. But I’ll be damned if I become the laughing stock at the Club because he was too goddamned inconsiderate not to have a proper mistress. He has a whore!”

So, I’m not saying that the EPRDF should not have a ferenjie spokesperson. Not at all. All I’m saying that the EPRDF needs to upgrade to a mistress. That’s all. And if you don’t believe me read on as Henze spouts lazy absurdities in stentorian tones. Clear your eardrums, boys and girls.

They [us, in the Diaspora] are looking backward, not forward. They are engaging
in scurrilous efforts to harass and denigrate all elements who do not agree with
them--particularly Tigrayans, of course, but also others.

Of course? Whazzap with the “of course”?

The US Government, fortunately, has been largely immune to their pressures, but
they are agitating among Congressmen (never too difficult a task) to force the
Administration to undertake punitive measures against Ethiopia which can only
damage its economy and prospects for development and drive the EPRDF further
into intransigence.

Did Henze just insult the House of Representatives of these great United States? Is he saying its elected officials are easily agitate-able? By backward-looking Amhara centrists, none the less? Oooh. And really, does the EPRDF need any reason to be perpetually intransigent? Really? Is it being provoked again into killing Ethiopians and setting up death camps by the big, bad Diaspora?

Not that facts matter here, but actually,

Now, you have seen here in the United States the largest demonstration by
Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians live in the United States. That was good. We
praise them. We support them. Why? Because they are giving their views and also
they are asking the United States to reassess, then continue. They help us to
look at how we can make things better. That is what we expect. That is what we
demand. We want to have the ability to work with the Diaspora in close
conversation. We talk with them in a daily basis. We also talk with the
oppositions in Ethiopia and the family members of those who have been arrested. We are in daily contact with all of them, as well as with the

That would be Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto on November 5.

In addition to local consultations being organized by the Country Director in
Ethiopia, I have asked Mr. Gobind Nankani, our Vice President for Africa, to
organize a consultation with your organization [CUD], and other diaspora groups
in the Washington DC area. We look forward to a constructive dialogue on how to ensure successful development outcomes for all Ethiopians.
Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank, November 28, 2005

The sad thing is, Henze was probably heralded as “a true friend of Ethiopia” for that piece of ridiculousness on Ethiopia "winning" Badme, and I am sure if I had the stomach to Google him further that his opinions were widely quoted ad nauseum by those of us in the Diaspora… much like Clapham is being quoted now. When will we learn to depend on our own selves?

If the EPRDF thinks all we are doing is the relatively, um, easy task of agitating congressmen and women, then I have a Cuban Diaspora to sell it. The rally around HR 4423, to me, is about the Diaspora finding its voice. Ethiopian-Americans who had not even bothered to vote in the last presidential election are now on a first-name basis with their congressmen and senators. 2006 is mid-term elections, and I humbly predict that Ethiopians will be letting their voices be heard. This mobilization of Ethiopians is at the grassroots level, which makes it have the potential to be powerful. Congressmen and Senators listen to their constituents, and once the ball gets rolling on that front, lobbying the executive body is relatively easy. Ethiopians are taking note of not just supporters of HR4423, but opponents and those who want to water it down. “Name and shame” as one of the panelists at the Harvard talk said. “Name and shame” works in America, where leaders are concerned about their legacies. That’s what the EPRDF does not understand: most people have a threshold for shame.

So, no. The US government has not been immune to Diaspora pressure. Perhaps someone should tell the EPRDF that. But, rock on.

But the best part of the Henze heave… wait for it…

They are also taking advantage of the large component of Ethiopians who work in
the World Bank (many of them former officials of the HSI government) to press
for lessening of World Bank support for Ethiopia.

Those damn imperial revanchists. They are everywhere!

The EPRDF has been futilely trying to sell the concept that those who say anything against it are intrinsically pro-Derg. Yeah sure. If we in the Diaspora wanted a bloodletting, vindictive and callous government, wouldn’t we be... pro EPRDF?

The encouraging thing is that all this Diaspora movement has been roused by individual efforts, stealth operators who are networked by themselves. Imagine the avalanche once there is a bone fide political action committee.

So back to the question: What is the role of Diasporan Ethiopians? To me it is to tell the story. Period. It is not to legislate Ethiopia from thousands of miles away. It is not to dictate the manifestos of the opposition. And it is certainly not to be kingmakers. Those of us who have shamefully skirted our responsibility so far can’t think we can make up for that transgression by swinging to the other side of the pendulum and be shrill adversaries. And... lest we forget, we owe a hell of a lot to those who paved the way for us, and were doing Ethiopian politics when Ethiopian politics was not cool.

The thing is, if we don’t start defining who we are, someone else will do it for us. And once we are defined by anyone other than ourselves, we’ve lost the battle.

Two students at Harvard, once upon a time, helped the silent Ethiopian Diaspora find its voice. Hundreds will follow.

(Note: when I refer to the “Ethiopian Diaspora” here, of course I mean those of us in the States. I used it for expediency and not because I am an authority on all Diaspora. Shit. I don’t even have authority in my own damn household about the Diaspora. I will leave the others in Europe and Africa to define themselves.)

I have been meaning to update the “New Blogs” section:

Enset: Dug up an interview with Berhanu Nega
Redeem Ethiopia: Has well-written analysis
One Ethiopia: “a log of the lonely thoughts of a man who has grown old in a foreign land” is beautifully written
Aqumada: continues to be brilliant, and, alright alright I owe Wegesha a response. And the love and respect is still there. Always will be.

Monday, December 12, 2005

With Friends Like This…

I am trying to zip though “Are Men Necessary?” as every self respecting post-feminist I know is scrambling to do. (The simple answer, according to Maureen is, “No. But neither is ice cream.”)


One ringa-dindy… two ringa-dingy… Is this the party to whom I would like to talk to?

Call schedule for today, Monday, December 12, 2005 in support of HR 4423 as put forward by Congressman Chris Smith…

Monday, December 12
Congressman John Boozman: (202) 225-4301
Congressman Brad Sherman: (202) 225-5911

Let the dialing commence.

By the way, two ferenjies who have stuck their necks for Ethiopia: Chris Smith and Ana Gomez. Period. The rest did the whole, “let’s wait to see who is winning and jump on that bandwagon” calisthenics. And Theodore Vestal (because ethiopundit says so, and what ethiopundit says... etch, meet stone).

Let’s do a little compare and contrast:

Chris Smith on November 3:

When I led a delegation to Addis in August, I urged Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to respect the rights of free speech and assembly and to immediately investigate the shooting of more than 40 election protesters by security forces in June. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has neither respected the rights of his citizens nor the rule of law in his country.

Read the whole statement. It’s pretty amazing.

Then let’s mosey on to Mistah Jimmah Car’a, who is out shilling a book on values and morality. In between, he is worshipping “the Prince of Peace.” (I’ll include the whole thing since it’s short and embittering):

ATLANTA….The Carter Center expresses its alarm at the outbreak of violence in Ethiopia rooted in the ongoing dispute over the May 2005 elections. We send condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives, and urge that every effort be made to avoid further death and injury.

Alrighty. Then…

Both government and opposition party supporters must show restraint. Leaders from each side must seek meaningful, constitutional, and peaceful mechanisms for bringing election disputes to a conclusion and allow the country to move forward.

You have to understand, by the time Mr. Carter issued this statement the leaders of the main opposition had been rounded up and jailed, and Prime Minister Meles was telling western journalist that they were going to be tried for treason. Another segment of the opposition had joined the parliament, something Mr. Carter has been “urging.”

So, yes. Can the opposition please show restraint?

The Center calls upon the government to insist that state security forces refrain from excessive use of force in response to protests and respect and protect the human rights of those who seek to express their opinions peacefully. Free expression and the right of association, including peaceful public demonstrations, are essential to all democracies, and the Ethiopian government has the responsibility to allow such constitutionally protected actions.

So the Ethiopian government has set up concentration camps throughout the land and has been generally acting like a wayward thug. What part of Ato Meles’ government, Mr. Carter sir, do you think is interested in “protect[ing] the human rights of those who seek to express their opinions peacefully”? The part that is rounding up kids and sending them to Dedessa, or the part that is promoting “democracy” by rounding up its opponents? And is there an ETA on when to expect Ato Meles’ government to take on “the responsibility” of allowing constitutionally protected actions such as, let’s see, free expression and freedom of assembly, without the added bonus of gunning down people who do?

The Center encourages the opposition parties associated with the actions to exercise influence over their supporters to bring the current crisis to a close. The constitution's rights of association and protest also have strict limits. They exist within the context of the law.

Yeah. Maybe if Mr. Carter “calls upon” the EPRDF to free up some media, the opposition can ask its supporters not to throw stones so that they don’t get shot in the head.

The Carter Center calls on all parties and the Ethiopian people to recommit themselves to the pursuit of peace and democracy. All parties should seek to re-invigorate channels of communication and peaceful debate while disavowing violence.

Oh, please!

In the end, it won’t matter one single bit what Mr. Carter says. And the reason I keep bringing what he says to the forefront is not because I have deluded myself into thinking he will stand up for human rights in Ethiopia. But I despise the contempt he has for Ethiopians. His statement reeks of scorn, if not aggressive inattentiveness. The time to “call upon” the EPRDF to do anything has long passed.

It’s not that I expect Mr. Carter to “strongly condemn” Ato Meles’ government any time soon either. Please. Not enough Ethiopians have died for Mr. Carter to be rankled. But we all have to make sure that statements like the above goes on Mr. Carter’s human rights record. The smart thing to do now is to keep on asking him to defend his tacit approval of “the situation in Ethiopia.”

And how is it that Chris Smith, who until May none/few of us in the Ethiopian Diaspora had heard of … how come it is Chris Smith who is standing up to Ato Meles more than Mr. Carter?

I don’t like contempt. Especially when it is directed against the weak.

It’s the 15th day of the hunger strike by the jailed opposition leaders.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Is This the Best We Can Do?

I mean it. Is this the best we can do?

Seriously… The pissing contest between the Ethiopian and Eritrean ambassadors on CNN’s Diplomatic License… it is so surreally, garrulously retarded; regressively obtuse. Neither missed a single stereotype of present day African warlords in pin-striped suits. Demagoguery? Check. Scripted apparatchik creepiness? Check. Pre-school boy boorishness? Check. Tawdry bouncing of reality checks? Check. Being treated like “pain in the ass Africans who are going to war over nothing, and dragging us into pleading with them not to kill their own people… again!” by a haughty, perfectly coiffed anchor? Priceless.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

To leverage human lives on this bullshittary is beyond cruel.

To more sublime matters. The lucky recipients of calls from hundreds of pumped up Ethiopians supporting HR 4423 (and some irate ones requesting its defeat) are…

Friday, December 9
Congressman Mark Green: (202) 225-5665
Congresswoman Betty McCollum: (202) 225-6631

Hopefully their interns have had their protein shakes today.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Wonqette Grocery List

Taking a step back to take a breather…

Item One:

Can either Ethioindex or one of you innernetz savvy people please, please download the Teddy Afro interview with VOA Amharic? The two-part series was repeated partly on Monday (yesterday).

Seriously, it is nothing short of stunning this kid, Teddy Afro’s, depth of intelligence and sense of decency. His articulation of art and politics, his humor , his insight into what Ethiopia needs now more than anything else, the incredibly weighty and taboo subjects he broaches… this kid is waaaaay ahead of the curve. We are eating his dust. There was a lot I did not know about the other songs in the Yasteseriyal album, bringing to light the unpretentious intellectual heft of a kid in his 20s. I especially urge those of us in the Diaspora to learn the lyrics to Lambadina.

The thing about political turmoil is that it opens up past wounds and creates new ones. We become susceptible to bombast and create temporary but untenable alliances with “the enemy of my enemy” who all of a sudden becomes our new best friend. I’ve said it before, I will say it again… democracy is not a laxative. (My husband would like it to go on record that he thinks that saying is unbearably garish, even for me. Recorded.) Political turmoil also opens up an opportunity for professional flame fanners who thrive in chaos. Teddy talks gracefully about people with “qn menfess” (crude ETW translation: pure conscious); the challenge for us in the Diaspora is to always associate our efforts with those who have a proven track record of qn menfess. Whether it believes it or not, the EPRDF is on its way out. We can’t have a moral void.

Item two:

To me, the most effective discourses on civic and moral responsibility still remain Berhanu Nega’s speeches in Stockholm and London (Part 1 and Part 2). It would behoove someone to translate those into English. The p.h. balance of Ethiopian dialogue is changing. Hopefully it will become mainstream.

Item three:

Um… I have become a Saddam Hussein Trial junkie. My favorite part from yesterday’s proceeding was when Saddam’s half brother stood up and started bewilderingly screaming, “Down with dictatorship! Long live democracy!” Walk it off, darlin’. Walk it off.

Item four:

Ethiopian Media Forum has a very interesting interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto. That’s clouty. Someone from the Ethiopian press actually having access to the State Department. We’ve come a long way , baby.

Item five:

The Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005 was introduced in the House on November 18, 2005 by none other than gutsy Congressman Chris Smith of, yes, New Jersey. (Sent to me from a million and one readers. Alright awreddi!)

The bill will move through the House in the following order: Starting December 6, 2005 it will be deliberated among members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations. The subcommittee will most likely vote on it before December 15, the last day of session for the year.

Upon passage by the subcommittee, the bill will be sent to the House Committee on International Relations. The Committee on International Relations will most likely deliberate on it in early January 2006. It may make amendments or send it as is to the floor for a vote by the entire House. It is likely that the entire House will vote on it in late January or early February of 2006.

Yadda, yadda… bottom line, here’s what you can do from the comfort of your own home: call all members of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations between December 6 and 14, 2005. Designated schedule to call:

Tuesday, December 6
Congressman Christopher Smith: (202) 225-3765
Congressman Edward Royce: (202) 225-4111

Wednesday, December 7
Congressman Thomas Tancredo: (202) 225-7882
Congressman Donald Paine: (202) 225-3436

Thursday, December 8
Congressman Jeff Flake: (202) 225-2635
Congresswoman Barbara Lee: (202) 225-2661

Friday, December 9
Congressman Mark Green: (202) 225-5665
Congresswoman Betty McCollum: (202) 225-6631

Monday, December 12
Congressman John Boozman: (202) 225-4301
Congressman Brad Sherman: (202) 225-5911

Tuesday, December 13
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry: (202) 225-4806
Congressman Gregory Meeks: (202) 225-3461

Wednesday, December 14
Congresswoman Diane Watson: (202) 225-7084

Mark your calendars. Two phone calls a day. That’s all.

Last item:

Speaking of congress, you remember our friend Rep. Dana Rohrabacher? Yes, back in June I, um, had a few thoughts his proposed bill about aid package to Ethiopia.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s H.R. 1061, The American Property Claims Against Ethiopia Act of 2005 is all about

[prohibiting] United States assistance to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia until the Ethiopian Government returns all property of United States citizens and entities that has been nationalized, expropriated, or otherwise seized by the Ethiopian Government in contravention of international law, and for other purposes.

The whole bill makes for an interesting read, but even more interesting is Mr. Rochrabacher’s remarks published on the Extensions of Remarks in the November 9 Congressional Record. (For those of you reading this in Timbuktu, The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the Congress. Extensions of Remarks are “speeches, tributes and other extraneous words that were not actually uttered during open proceedings of the full Senate or of the full House of Representatives.”)

Monsieur Rochrabacher, you were saying…?






Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, the international community knows that the May 15 election in Ethiopia was rigged, and yet our government and other nations along with international banks and aid agencies, continue to prop up the corrupt regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Last week Meles security forces killed 76 members of the opposition party that refused to join the parliament and yet U.S. taxpayer money continues to flow. Mr. Speaker, what will it take to turn off the spigot? The United States Agency for International Development in FY 2004 spent $75 million propping up the Ethiopian dictators, in FY 2005 it was $55 million and in FY 2006 it will be $51 million. What have we received in return? We have aligned ourselves with a ruler who is complice in the murder of voters who only wanted an honest election. Thousands of good people were arrested last week when they peacefully took to the streets after the

Ethiopian political opposition refused to join parliament because of the rigged election. Many were greeted with live ammunition and gunned down dead like animals. Prime Minister Meles must now step aside and the international community must step forward to decide what to do about the stolen elections. This week thousands came out to protest in front of the White House. Today many Americans of Ethiopian origin are demonstrating at the State Department. Our Nation must support them and democracy in Africa.

Continuing business as usual with Ethiopia is not the way to do so. It’s not the American way. Let it be understood, America is on the side of the people struggling for an honest democratic government in Ethiopia. The popular opposition to Ethiopia’s current corrupt regime is comparable to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the brave Lebanese demonstrators who removed the Syrian puppet regime in their country. Our State Department is often wrong and timid. In the case of Ethiopia, Americans clearly back democratic reform movement and that should be our government’s policy.

Goddman. It’s all the sun in Kalleforniyaa. It makes us rambunctious. You go, Mr. Rohrabacher. Soon, Senator Lugar will be saying the same thing on the Senate floor.

In case you want to compare Mr. Carter’s November 5 statement on the November killings…. Feast your eyes on the second paragraph.

Both government and opposition party supporters must show restraint. Leaders from each side must seek meaningful, constitutional, and peaceful mechanisms for bringing election disputes to a conclusion and allow the country to move forward.

Sounds about right.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Dedessa: The New Waterloo

I lost a bet this weekend. The terms of the bet were such that if I lost, I’d have to reveal I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor. And the deal was that I could not put an “explainer” as to why I voted for Dah Tahminator. Now, if I were a lesser person I would skirt around the “no caveat” agreement with maneuvers that could argue the lack of stipulation that didn’t expressly state a couple of circumstances.

After all, the joke goes, "How does a lawyer give away a tangerine? “I hereby give and convey to you all and singular, my estate and interests, rights, claim, title, claim and advantages of and in, said tangerine, together with all its rind, juice, pulp, and seeds, and all rights and advantages with full power to bite, cut, freeze and otherwise eat, the same, or give the same away with and without the pulp, juice, rind and seeds, anything herein before or hereinafter or in any deed, or deeds, instruments of whatever nature or kind whatsoever to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding…”

Whatever. I voted for Arnold.

Moving on…

In a sign that Tony Blair has had it up to here with heating and re-heating Prime Minister Meles’ baby formula, UK’s Channel 4 broadcast this piece of reportage on "Ethiopia's Agony."

Uh oh.

The same reporter also filed a story for The Observer, Democratic Dawn in Ethiopia Fades as Abuses Come to Light.

Only the minds of the people who run the EPRDF could have thought no one would notice the arresting of tens of thousands of people and dumping them in a detention camp.

Five months after Ethiopia descended into political chaos following a dispute over the country's first democratic elections, details are emerging that give a disturbing glimpse into the scale of human rights abuses taking place.

Where are all these human rights abuses taking place?

Dedesa camp, a former military base, in the far west of Ethiopia, where thousands of detainees have been dumped in recent weeks as part of a massive and unprecedented crackdown by Ethiopian security forces.

It’s part of the democratization process. Ne’er ye shall worry.

Once there, [a former prisoner] says, several men, weakened by hunger and malaria, were beaten mercilessly by the guards even as they urinated.

He says he knew of at least 30 who died, their bodies taken away to an unknown location for burial. He discovered from overhearing conversations between two police guards that there were at least 43,000 detainees in the camp.

The prime minister only admits to only 6,000. And also, he'll have you know, only a couple of people who were already sick died en route to Dedessa.

You have a feeling the prime minister has stopped trying? What happened to the elaborate obfuscations? The lies wrapped in lumps of garbage... or whatever it was he said of Ana Gomes. It used to be so much fun unravelling his bullshit. Now you just have to quote him.

Moving on...

Here’s a most interesting quote:

[Meles] said the donor countries' demands to see opposition leaders in prison had been rejected because they were presented in an 'insulting manner'.

I’ve been meaning to say… I wish donor nations would put their requests to see political prisoners on scented paper. It would be insulting otherwise.

Ah, well. I see the prime minister has started to treat diplomats the same way he’s been treating the Ethiopian people for the past14 years. Welcome, diplomats. Welcome to Meles' World of Disdain. Take a load off. You have to be this tall to get on that ride.

And then, like clockwork, comes the money quote:

'I've always been convinced that democratisation in Ethiopia is not only a matter of choice but of survival. We shall persist with our democratic reforms, no matter the challenges we will face along the way.'

Sure thing, buddy. You go on ahead with your democratization self. The rest of us will be praying that you continue to use “democratization” to describe concentration camps. Much easier to shame your supporters with. But…I’ve said too much already.

Inevitably, more stories of what is happening in the name of democracy will come to light because nothing distends the intestines of renegade journalists more than rumors of a concentration camp. Talk about "shit hitting the fan." After all, “uncovering” atrocities and concentration camps is what Peabody Awards are made for.

The video clip of the Channel 4 news story is much more interesting

Some highlights…

Mr. Prime Minister, would your kind of democracy allow for people to visit La Camp De Meles, where guests enjoy chocolate mints and room service, no doubt?

As we speak there are religious leaders, journalists and NGOs visiting those detentions camps, but not foreigners. Not foreign embassies.

The journalist did not ask which religious leaders, journalists and NGOs have been allowed to visit but pretty much guaranteed they are:

  1. The Church of Melesocrasy- Open 24 hours. Please shut brain before entering.
  2. Two editors from the Walta Disinformation Center (headline: “Citizens voluntarily ashed to be moved to Deddessa in order to concentrate on democracy: Reports of government malfeasance very untrue.”)
  3. The Carter Center (Upcoming statement: “We are monitoring the situation carefully. While it appears that some in the camp may have been beaten senseless, the majority of occupants seem well adjusted. We urge the opposition to dialogue with the EPRDF and join the parliament so there is lasting peace in Ethiopia.”)

How do you think Jeffrey Sachs will respond to this? “I am shocked and appalled. No one wants to see a concentration camp. However, it should be understood that most of the people at Dedessa hold revanchist sentiments from an earlier era of Imperial domination of a former elite. Still, I am distraught”

Mm.. sounds about right.

In case you were wondering, the Chanel 4 reporter got personal assurances from Ato Meles that he would have access to Dedessa, which of course in Melesocrasy-to-English means, “Yeah sure. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”


Didja hear Tim Clarke? Speak, you bearded wonder.

It is extremely worrying. We haven’t witnessed anything like this in Ethiopia before. What worries us is this news blackout. We don’t know what is going on.

We’ve been hearing from Dedessa that there have been terrible atrocities committed taking place. I’ve personally had accounts of burial, mass burials of people who died of malaria, because of unsanitary conditions and so on. If these rumors are true as we hear them, then there are real, real, major human rights abuses that have to be resolved.

(Doesn't Jeffrey Sachs have a "eradicate malaria" program? Um, perhaps he can send some help... never mind.)

So, how do you solve a problem like “real, real, major human rights abuses”? Prime Minister, you have an opinion?

I have heard of the allegations. I will not take them at face value until they are investigated.

Phew. Good. They are going to be investigated. Maybe not by foreign journalists, but I am sure someone in the Office of Investigations will look into it. Right after they start the investigation of the June 8 killings. And after the November killings. It's been a busy few months.

A man caught up in the mass arrests recounts some of the horrible conditions of the camp and concludes with a statement that western diplomats have known since May. “[The EPRDF] will do whatever they want to survive. To rule Ethiopia.”

A quick check on Tim Clarke’s patience…

There comes a point where our patience as an international community is running out. We would like to see tomorrow, the media open up. Tomorrow, the political detainees being released. Tomorrow, the prisoners who’ve been taken without charge released. Tomorrow, the families and legal counsel get access. This, for us, is normal.

Normal is a state of mind. And tomorrow is just another day.

It will take a few more thousand deaths before the main stream media latches on to this story. That is inevitable. The world will be outraged. One of the imprisoned leaders of the opposition will die in prison. A couple of high-ranking government officials will resign/defect and spill the beans. In order to hide what has happened in Dedessa, the government will commit even more atrocities. And the rest will be history. It's a textbook case of an autocrat who has worn down the welcome mat.

That will be the legacy of Prime Minister Meles and the EPRDF: they brought back mass graves to Ethiopia. To Prime Minister Meles, it was always politics before country; avarice before goodwill; spite before reason. He will never again be able to walk the streets of Ethiopia holding his children’s hands. Instead, he will end up in a fortress somewhere, talking to walls while surrounded by mountains and mountains o’ things. Maybe then he’ll have time to learn the words to Tracy Chapman’s song, “Material World.”

All because he wanted to do whatever to rule Ethiopia. Dedessa is Ato Meles’ Waterloo. St. Helena is waiting.

"I felt that Fortune was abandoning me," Napoleon said. "I no longer had the feeling that I was sure to succeed."

Qrb new ye Ityopiya tnsaye.