Monday, January 30, 2006

Extreme Makeover: Dictator Edition

Don Imus, who has managed to defy science and prove that imbibing vast quantities of drugs can pickle and preserve your brain cells as long as a trophy wife holds your head back as you puke our your bile, had a fascinating interview on his Friday program with Tom Rose, the former publisher of the Jerusalem Post.

Although they were talking about the Hamas win, you could almost verbatim apply their conversation to what is happening in Ethiopia.

Both were stunned (to the extent that uber curmudgeon Imus can be stunned by anything other that his own greatness) that the world is stunned by the Hamas win. In fact, Rose, ever the contrarian, was contemplative about why Hamas did so poorly. (Someone had a side of glib with his oatmeal, um?)

Imus asked the million dollar question:

One of the things that occurs to me is, wouldn’t you think the geniuses at the State Department in this country would have recognized the potential for this outcome?”

Right then and there I knew I should have dropped acid in college.

That’s what a lot of us interested in Ethiopian politics have been asking: What did the State Department and the EU expect would happen after the May 2005 Ethiopian elections? In one of his speeches in London, Berhanu Nega, geek-God Economist and democratically elected Mayor of Addis Abeba (who is presently, um, in prison facing willowy charges-- inciting “genocide”, condoning “treason”, and going 60 in a 40m.p.h zone) said he had lunch with EU man Tim Clarke in the days before the elections. Berhanu asked Clarke what contingency plan the EU and donor nations had if the opposition won. Tim coughed delicately into his monogrammed handkerchief and patted Berhanu on the head. Okay, that part didn’t happen. But Tim was very clear that it was the diplomatic world’s “understanding” that the EPRDF and Ato Meles would be the clear winners, sans perhaps a few seats, which would prove that this was a democratic undertaking. “Now,” said Clarke, “Can we order some sweet and sour chicken?”… Okay, I made that last part up. (In fact he had ordered ginger sautéed beef.)

It didn’t even enter the smallest recesses of EU’s mind that there was the slight probability that Ethiopians were sick and tired of being sick and tired of Prime Minister Meles’ gloriously inept government. Prime Minister Meles, after all, was Tony Blair’s buddy, an ally in the war on terror, hell, Meles was notorious for wearing suits and ties while sipping tea with his pinkie raised. pinkies.

Waiter, I’ll take my fortune cookie now.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to democracy. EPRDF had its behind handed to it, all gift wrapped with pages from “Revolutionary Democracy.” Dilemma for the West. Stunned, they were, much like the same state of stunnhood we all are that Hamas, freakin’ Hamas won a democratic election!

So, wasn’t the west promoting democracy in Ethiopia… and in Palestine?

Tom Rose on the Hamas win:

The [US] administration and Israel to a certain extent, has done precisely the opposite. We’ve been propping up the corrupt regime, we’ve been supporting a corrupt regime, we’ve been letting the Palestinian organization off the hook, we haven’t been making demands of it to change. We’ve always been positioning Hamas as the evil straw man, that if we don’t support Fatah with more power, more support… We are largely responsible for this outcome.

A thing of beauty when déjà vu moments collide.

Even with the Prime Minister Meles’ appalling human rights record, his ravenous appetite for crony capitalism and predatory tendencies towards those who oppose his will (Donald Levine is on record as saying that PM Meles said if the opposition wants power it should do what he did: raise arms and fight. Hm. Add two cups of Lithium and drink slowly), the west convinced itself that once Ato Meles started traveling in private jets and using electric razors things would change. Let’s give the boy a good bath and scrub and ta-da! Meet your statesman. Blair asked Ato Meles into the Africa Commission. How can anyone, anyone, so the thinking went, who was personal friends with angel-faced Blair not magically transform into a democracy-loving, freedom-y smelling, bundle of liberty?

So money poured into Ethiopia. But Ethiopia still remained one of the poorest nations in the world. Head-scratcher of a dilemma. Give it time, we were told. Exfoliate Ato Meles’ pores, push back his cuticles and lance that boil. Voila! (Queer Eye for the Dictator Guy.) And we waited. Still Ethiopia was poor, drought and starvation ravaged the land, genocide raged on in western regions, people refused to be dazzled by the after effects of Ato Meles’ Glycolic Treatment Facial. Bloody hell, as the Brits would say. But how can this be? He was even taught how to use hair products! People who mousse don’t kill mothers in front of their children!

If Hamas was the West’s bogeyman in the Middle East, Ato Meles’ fertile imagination made sure the donors’ lips quivered with fear whenever he mentioned the “chauvinist” opposition that stood on guard to unleash a Rwanda style genocide on the land. And when that didn’t work like a charm, nothing like a little “if I go jihadists will take over the Horn of Africa” to make the western donors hold their noses as they cut another check.

Imus asked Rose again why the West failed to see the outcome of the Hamas victory?

Rose hits the nail square on the head:

Because we can’t for some reason, and by ‘we’ I mean Americans, Europeans and Israelis, we can’t get past, we can’t break out of this notion or concept that free societies are not created from the bottom up and not the top down. You can’t invest authority or power into a corrupt leader and then expect him to transform a society into one that is consistent with and in sync with democratic principles and the ideals of co-existence and peace.

Imus and Rose share a frustration: “When the hell will we ever learn?” How can the west keep on making the same mistake over and over again? Young men and women, and in some cases boys and girls, are facing down Ato Meles’s army of thugs. These kids have been rounded up, beaten and killed, yet they come back and face an army that has been instructed to aim at their heads. And yet the kids come back with nothing more than anger, strong will and stones.

And yet, for the umpteenth time, the West, instead of being on the side of people who want to raise the ‘V’ sign without being arrested, finds itself on the side of the folks who run around in Humvees, occasionally using kids as target practice. It’s almost like an addiction.

The EU and the US now find themselves in the tawdry position of making excuses for a government that has unleashed wave upon wave of violence on its people. Ouch. They are forced into gently asking for a “speedy trial” for the 131 political leaders, journalists and brewers of “genocide” (including a 14-year-old-boy, by the way). Remember when the west had the moral upstanding to say STFU to miserable, boy-dictator warlords? Tom Rose says that free societies are created from the bottom up. I am gonna guess and say that the kids who are shouting “yifetu!” (“free the prisoners”) are the ones on the bottom. For once, just for a change, can we be on their side?

A Rose by any other name is still a Rose. Speak, oh, outraged one:

We have done nothing, virtually nothing to encourage independent Palestinians to develop and economic and political platform designed to better the lives of Palestinians. Instead what has happened is there was one alternative to the corrupt, horrendously corrupt, ossified organization Fatah-- and that was Hamas, which we let the corrupt Palestinian leadership always appear as our bogeyman. “You gotta support us or these bad guys are gonna win.”

Now why does that sound familiar in the Ethiopian case? Ethiopundit brilliantly debunks the theory that Ato Meles is the only able partner in the war against terror in what has become bible for people with triple digit IQs. No More Appeasement is a must read.

Tommy boy, bring us home:

Well, there was a third option which we punted on and the irony here is that the President Bush’s three-and-a-half year campaign to promote democracy missed a central message here which is surprising and shocking to me, and that it is our middle east approach has lacked the very moral clarity that the president had demonstrated quite admirably vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Iraq and the need for freedom and free institutions around the world.

People who are free and societies which respect that freedom are in the West’s interest. When Ethiopians see the EU/US siding with a government which has been fiddling with elections, torture and killings, seeds of anti-west sentiments are sown. And the last time Ethiopia was anti-west, well, Mengitu happened. How can that be good for the West and for Western values?

Something has gone horribly wrong when in the 21st century communist freaks lead countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia. And the scary thing is that it doesn’t seem to be a trend that is ebbing. It is lucky for the EU/US that the opposition in Ethiopia is economically and politically more pro-west that the current Marxist-in-polyester-suit government. There is still a tiny sliver of hope, and maybe after what has happened in Palestine, the west will take a breather and ask, “What the hell is going on?” Where has propping up ruthless dictators worked? And when these dictators fall and a virulently anti-west government takes over, why do we scratch our heads and say, “Woah. Didn’t see that one coming.”

Still, Tom Rose is optimistic.

The silver lining is, and I am somewhat reluctant we’ll learn the lesson, we can finally learn the lesson that freedom comes from the bottom up and not the other way around.

Imus interrupts Rose. “Well, that’s not going to happen.”

Ethiopians will eventually take care of Meles because they have the will to do so and because moral clarity is on their side. It just would have been nice, just for once, to know that the EU and these great United States were on the side that was standing up to tyranny.

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know...
United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."

- President Bush

Thursday, January 26, 2006

La Lutta Evil Continua

Pinch yourself, boy and girls, it seems like the AU is… what do you call it… what’s that thing… growing a mini-spine. Ahh. And just when we were getting comfortable with its meteoric impotency.

An African human rights commission is challenging the continent's worst rights offenders, including Sudan and Zimbabwe, in a move analysts say is a "coming of age" for the organisation.

Yes, of course, it should be technically sad that we are celebrating an organization that finally came around to ‘challenging’ peculiarly los loco governments such as Zimbabwe, but y’know, you go to war with the army you have not the one you want.

The AU's human rights commission issued rare and critical reviews of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those countries said they wanted a chance to reply before the report became public, ensuring it remained confidential.

Aww. It’s like the first time your kid tries to poop in the commode, misses, and soils the bathroom floor. You just kneel down and clap your hands… “Yayyyy! Next time, darling, in the bowl… you see the bowl… can you say bowl? Yayyy.”

Happy to report that there is yet another coup from the Wonqville On-Crack Research Team. Apparently Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was able to interrupt a top-level donor nation meeting in Washington DC by high jacking the remote video conferencing thingy. Hm. No good can come out of that. Anyway, presented here exclusively, the transcript of the conversation.

Meles: Is this.. hello… is this thing on? Helllooo. Someone, please. Is this…

Jendayi Frazer: Prime Minister Meles! This is highly inappropriate. We are in the middle of…

Meles: Can someone please check the connection. I… stop tinkering with the microphone, Bereket! Why am I surrounded by frickin’ incompetence. Mic check… 1..2…3… 3…2…1… Y’ello? Yisemal?

Hilary Benn: We can hear you, Mr. Prime Minister.

Meles: Oh. Okay. Hellllo. Welcome to my underground lair. Well, my palace. But I made it look like an underground lair. Nice, uh?

Anna Gomes: This is outrageous!

Meles: Hmm. I see we have the fembot colonial viceroy amongst us.

Condi Rice: This is a serious breech of…

Meles: Condi. Yes, hello Condi. Hmm. Most shagable Secretary of State since George Shultz. You haven’t been returning my calls, Condoleezzaaaa Rice.

Condi Rice: To what do we owe this intrusion?

Meles: I see we have dispensed with the pleasantries. Very well. As you know, I possess powers way beyond even my comprehension. I’ve shown you I am capable of shooting into crowds yet you still doubt my evilness. This has distressed me. Look at me. Look at my face. I’m all pimply with distress.

Tim Clarke: He is looking a bit ashy.

Meles: Silence! Why do you interrupt me? I hate that. So even though I keep telling you people I will hold on to power, you still think I am not evil enough. You think I am semi-evil. Quasi-evil. The Diet Coke of evil. The zeit shiro of evil.

Jendayi Frazer: The what?

Meles: I am inconsolably mocked. You designate me a pedant evil. You hurt me. I am the Nano of evil yet I am treated like an extraordinarily ordinary iPod of evil. Can’t you see that I have, as the French say, that certain “I don’t know what” when it comes to evil?

Hilary Benn: You do?

Meles: Well, not really. I can’t back that up right now but that’s not the point.

Ana Gomes: No. I believe you are evil.

Meles: Huh? Do I hear something? I thought I heard something, a frightful mumbling of a scorned woman, but maybe I didn’t? Huh? It should put lotion on itself…

Condi: Alright, let’s calm down.

Meles: Mmm. I’d like to tap me some of that. I’m honing the bezzie in the hiz-haws, youknowm’saying? Badunkadunk! You better not go there, girlfriend! …

Condi: What?!

Meles: No? Doesn’t work for you? I’ve been watching BET.

Jendayi: Is there a point to all this?

Meles: I sense malaise and sarcasm. An unfortunate amalgamation of ill-fitted emotions. Yes, there is a point. The point is, what do I have to frickin’ do to prove to you people the awesomeness of my evility? Is that a word? Evility?

Bereket: It is now, your Excellency.

Meles: Shut up.

Tim Clarke: We were in the middle of something, Prime Minister Meles.

Meles: So was I. How long have you people known me? Yet it is as if you don’t know me at all. You want me to share power and have a viable opposition… like f’schizzle? You don’t know me at all. Although I had deemed the details of my life inconsequential, maybe you should know me better before you think sanctions will bring me down. … Bereket, stop humping the laser. Geezuz. As I was saying, my life has been a series of compounded evil and… here, watch this video of my childhood. Bereket, hit the play button…Hit it. … Annnny day now… ta-la-frinckin’ la…. It’ll just be a minute, ladies and gentlemen. We are trying to find Bereket. Bereket? Bereket? For God's sake would someone put a frickin’ bell on him or something.

Ana Gomes: This is outrageous!

Meles: It is. He just wonders away without telling me. Anyway, about my life.I was born in Adowa, in a manger-- perhaps a divination of the persecution I was to be burdened with. My father was an unforgiving haberdasher with low-grade imperial revanchist tendencies and a penchant for buggery. My mother dropped me on my head more times than she could count on her abacus because she hated the way my eyebrows arched. I was an outcast even from birth. Ex-communicated, vilified and shunned because people thought I made outrageous claims such as I invented democracy. No one understood my position on land ownership or why I thought our village cat was a prostitute. I was blessed with the sort of ethereal wisdom that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Aksum, bomb-making camp. In the spring we'd make anti-peace elements disappear. When I was insolent I was tied up and made to recite the august work of Enver Hoxha in a timbre that reminded my torturers of 14 virgin carolers- pretty standard really. At the age of twelve I received my first poster of Marx. At the age of fourteen I ran away from home and joined a group of liberators who ritualistically shaved my testicles. It was a difficult life. Try bombing a village with shorn scrotums... it's debilitating. I highly suggest you don’t try it.

Condi Rice: Oooookaaayyyy… this is not productive.

Meles: Wait. I haven’t told you about the time we went to Addis Abeba to tweeze out the fingernails of males whose name ended with an ‘A’…

Hilary Benn: I don’t think those are pertinent details.

Meles: You don’t seem to comprehend, Mr. Benn. When I get angry, the ghost of Mr. Lenin gets upset. And when the ghost of Mr. Lenin gets upset... people die!

Hilary Benn: How can we prevent you from killing your own people, because now we are getting reports that outside of Addis Ababa numerous people are being rounded up and killed. This, as you might know, does not bode well for democracy.

Meles: Democracy, my dear Mr. Hilary Benn… isn’t Hilary a girl’s name? Democracy is relative. And it is not related to me.

Ana Gomes: Do you think it is ironic that we have to ask you not to kill people?

Meles: Is someone talking? I don’t hear anything. Anyone here speak fembot-ian.

Donald Yamamotto: What are you trying to tell us, Mr. Prime Minister? We have been in talks about helping establish peace in Ethiopia?

Meles: An evil peace?

Donald Yamamotto: No. Just the kind of peace you see in paradise.

Meles: An evil paradise?

Condi Rice: I assume you barged in for a good reason, Mr. Zenawi. It seems to me that you hate the Ethiopian people and you just want to kill them.

Jeffrey Sachs: I have to interject here. Actually, the love that the Prime Minister has for Ethiopians is quite overwhelming. He has dedicated his life to ending poverty and he has proven himself one of the most brilliant leaders in the world. He loves the Ethiopian people, and from what I saw they love him…

Meles: Jeffy, actually Condi is right. I hate them. And I want to kill all of them. But they are quite a wily bunch.

Jendayi Frazer: This is going nowhere. Did you have something specific you wanted to talk about Mr…?

Meles: I want everyone to start calling me Dr. Meles from now on. I didn’t spend six years in 12th grade to be called “mister.”

Tim Clarke: This is blasphemous.

Meles: Blasphemy, Mr. Clarke, is that I have to beg you people to understand the depth of my power. Blasphemy is that I have to drag myself up and put on this quasi-futuristic suit which I had to design myself and degrade myself into begging you to take my evilness seriously. Blasphemy is that I had one simple request, and that is to rig one lousy election and have ballots with frickin' laser beams attached! Blasphemy is that now, evidently, my cycloptic colleague informs me that that can't be done. Can you remind me what I pay you people for? Honestly, throw me a bone here!

Condi Rice: Mr. Zenawi! For God’s sake! We are busy people!

Meles: I am intriguingly aroused by your silent fury, Madam Secretary. Alas, the satellite feed is about to fade so I have to make this quick. I want you people to stop telling me what to do. I want you to stop filling up these Ethiopian people with gobbledygook notions of freedom and liberty. Everything was fine until you came along. And most of all, I will continue killing people unless you give me… one… million dollars!

Bereket: Er… your Excellency… we..

Meles: Shh!

Bereket: But one million…

Meles: Shh-

Bereket: ...dollars is…

Meles: Knock, knock?

Bereket: Who’s there?

Meles: Shh-

Bereket: They already give us…


Bereket: But sir, they…

Meles: What’s shh! minus shh!?

Bereket: What I am saying is…

Meles: Control, Alt… Shh!

Bereket: A million dollars is…

Meles: Sh-uh, schoo, shee, scha, schE, … shh!

Bereket: Really, Sir…

Meles: My favorite Teddy Afro song… Shhhhhhhemindefer.

Hilary Benn: I believe what your advisor is trying to tell you is that we already give you 1.9 billion dollars in aid.

Meles: Yes. But why give me billion when you can give me… one m-m-million!

Ana Gomes: This is bizarre.

Meles: Did… did… someone say something or was that the macabre sound of a mosquito sucking blood?

Condi Rice: You want us to pay you not to kill your people?

Meles: Oh, you can pay me to kill them too.

Donald Yamamotto: This does not compute.

Meles: I’ll tell you what does not compute, Mr. Hello Motto. Get it? Hello? Motto? Or hallow motto? It’s… a…. not quite a homonym, not quite alliteration. Never mind. What does not compute is me begging permission from you people to kill my own people. That, now, does not compute! You have been warned. Either you pay me… one… m-m-million dollars…

Bereket: One million is lower than one billion.

Meles: Oh. Okay. You see these are the kind of things I need to know in advance. You pay me, one… ca-jillion dollars or I will start shooting at people while they celebrate some religious holiday.

Bereket: We, um, already did that, Sir.

Meles: You see…? No one tells me anything. Have you people heard of top-down communication? It’s a … really? We did that? Okay. You give me… one… maxtrillion dollars or I will shoot people while they… take a nap? Have we done that yet?

Bereket: No. Not in the strictest sense, Sir.

Meles: Okay. You have 72 hours. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Call me. Okay, people, let’s cue in the music and end transmission. Are we still on? No? Okay then. I think that scared them, huh?

Bereket: You did very well, your Excellency. I know they were quivering under your commanding presence. They are, after all, cowards who can’t face a few killings.

Meles: How much money is maxtrillion dollars?

Bereket: A lot.

Meles: Enough to buy me a laser-guided toothbrush?

Bereket: Indeed. Perhaps even enough for two. Your mastership is…

Meles: Shut up!

Bereket: Oh, sir. I wish I knew how to quit you.

Condi Rice: Um… you know we can still hear you, right?

Meles: Goddamit, Bereket! I will…… [inaudible] you, you mother [expletive]. You incompetent…

Audio fades.


Special thanks to Arada Lij via EP. Sorry for terrible re-photoshopping.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Returnees Vs. The Diaspora

Does Yahoo have an emoticon for “Oh my God! Is there anyone advising Prime Minister Meles about public relations?”

In what must be the most hypnotically dumb move ever committed by a bunch of bungling warlords in cufflinks, the Ethiopian government kicked out an AP reporter for “tarnishing the image” of Ethiopia. In case you were wondering, federal police who kill unarmed citizens don’t tarnish images. Foreign reporters who write about it do.

Seriously. I know as an Imperial-Derg revanchist/chauvinist/cyber warrior in the Diaspora I am in no position to be giving advice to the EPRDF’s unlettered apprentices, but… what the fuck! Which EPRDF apparatchik thought it was a stroke of brilliance to kick out Anthony? Now whenever the over-fraught, half-wit EPRDF schlemiels are paraded out to defend the government (or beg for food), they will be confronted by indignant ferenjie reporters who are outraged, I tell you, outraged.


Okay, pay attention EPRDF-ffers: the next journalist you decide to kick out shouldn’t be a member of an internationally revered media organization. See if there is someone from… Field and Stream, or… Dictator’s Monthly. Also, come up with something more substantial to justify the kicking out. “Mr. So-and-So was found to be trying to incite genocide and treason.” Hm. No. You tried that already.

Now journalists are going to think that there is a real story in Ethiopia. And does anything add to a journalist’s cache than being expelled by a government? Especially a government loved and adored by the west? Remember the NYT reporter whose stock rose when then Governor Bush called him a “major league asshole” on a live microphone? (Mitchell has apparently lived in Ethiopia for three years and has family there. I can’t imagine his personal pain.)

But I have another unstructured rant.

We were at a little party this weekend and perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, perhaps it was one too many glass of wine, but an elderly man with unsteady hands pointed at me and barked, “You! Weichegud! I don’t like you.”


I did what every self-respecting blogger would do in a similar situation: I pretended there was hair in my lasagna and proceeded to have an ardent conversation with my plate. I couldn’t get myself to confront a man my father’s age, and believe me I am no wallflower Ethiopian who shies from confrontation.

Later at home my husband noticed I was perplexed. Well, more confused than perplexed. Why hadn’t I at least asked the gentleman his beef? I’ve defended myself against more worthy opponents. “You know why?” my husband asked with that infuriating tone I have not yet convinced him is condescending. “You know why? Because however much assimilated you think you are, you are still restrained by that singularly thorny trait all us Ethiopians have trouble shaking off: yiluNta. It’s not in our DNA to cross certain lines because we are encumbered by yiluNta.”

I guess the best way to explain yiluNta to non-Amharic speakers is … that certain “what will people think” voice that ought to not be so loud in those of us who think we are more American than apple pie. For the life of me, I could not have an argument with a kindly, older gentleman because of a grossly inadequate reason: he was older, and I didn’t want him to think I was insolent. Yeah.

So all of this reminded me of an article I read in Addis Fortune a while ago, Ethiopian Returnees in Defense of Foreign Aid to Ethiopia. When the Brits recently decided to ‘withhold’ direct aid to the Ethiopian government, I figured the most unhappy people in Ethiopia would be that same group of Ethiopian returnees (can we find a better word for them?).

I have been fascinated by the article ever since I read it.

While a huge part of the Ethiopian Diaspora is known to have an uncompromising animosity towards the EPRDF-led government, their friends at home say they would rather take an objective view of the current political situation and agree on what is fundamental to Ethiopia.

Woo hoo! a) We have friends b) we have friends who want to take an objective view, and c) we have “uncompromising animosity towards the EPRDF.” I hope you are taking notes.

Close to 35 returnees from the Diaspora gathered at the Sheraton Addis' Semien Hall, on Thursday, December 1, 2005, to make their voice heard against what they called a campaign waged by Ethiopians in the Diaspora who have appealed to the European Union, the U.S. and other donor countries to stop aid, loans, debt relief and lobby to stop people from traveling to Ethiopia.

I personally want to appeal to our friends to find a new venue for their meetings. Seriously, it makes us all look bad when we can’t seem to extricate ourselves from our “let’s meet at Sheraton” trademark.

They have created a committee of eight to advance their cause, comprising Mulugeta Tesfakiros, Mimi Sebehatu, Genenew Assefa, Biruk Buzuayehu, Biruk Fekade, Solomon Tadesse, Anteneh Tirusew and Daniel Tedesse; the last three will function as a caucus in North America.

Hello. There is such a caucus in North America? How come our friends don’t tell us these things?

“This has negatively contributed to other Ethiopians who wish to come to and invest in their home country," said Solomon Tadesse, a resident of Seattle for 35 years and honorary consulate general of Ethiopia in the United States.

Seattle? Oh, well. (Just what does it take to be an “honorary consulate general of Ethiopia” because I have a feeling it comes with fabulous perks, and I want to be one. A consulate, that is. Not a perk.)

Solomon is one of the two organizers and co-chair of the meeting, together with Mulugeta Tesfakiros. They say they were compelled to organize such a meeting at the Sheraton to hammer out issues that despite differences along political lines, Ethiopians should not fight over what is best for the country.

I guess this is an admirable gesture of “let’s find common ground other than politics”, and normally I would be all for it except I can hardly think of one good reason why the EU or the US should directly fund a government that has a juvenile disposition about roaming cities in Humvees and sharp shooting human targets. I’m picky like that. So, does that make me ineligible to be part of a group who is searching for “what is best for Ethiopia”? I don’t know.

Those campaigning in the Diaspora against the current government allege that the U.S. and other European governments should not give aid, loans and debt relief to Ethiopia on the grounds that it does not represent the majority of the Ethiopian people and has committed "a series of human rights violations of its citizens".

Quotation marks around “a series of human rights violations” duly noted. I guess it’s different from plain old violating human rights of citizens.

The unfortunate situation Ethiopia is in, or better yet Ethiopia was put in by the EPRDF’s magnificent incompetence is that the country cannot survive without foreign aid. No one I know wants aid cut indiscriminately, but… shouldn’t we be cautious about directly funding a government that can use the money to pay its trigger happy army? Is this a government that can be trusted not to siphon off aid money for its many pet projects? Does the EPRDF inspire trust and good governance? In other words, are our friends telling us that we should we attach NO conditions to aid? I’m thinking not.

"Urging donors to cut aid to Ethiopia can only hurt the average Ethiopian," said one of the returnee participants, who lived in the United States for over 10 years. "And we want to show the world that there is peace in this country where people can come and invest."

Note that this was in December. In June and November the government went a little Gin-and-Juice and shot and killed unarmed people. That don’t inspire a sense of peace in me, but then again I am known to be very picky about not investing my money where armed goons roam about willy nilly.

In fact, what our friends don’t understand is that we have been investing in Ethiopia thinking that better days will come. Some of us bought houses there. A lot of us have business partnerships there. And countless of us send money back home to sustain our relatives. But at a certain point we have asked ourselves if our business interests always come first. How long are we supposed to not rock the boat? As people who have lived in a free market world, do our friends forget that capitalism needs security and stability? But I am sure since our friends have had the wherewithal to pick up and move to Ethiopia they will find a way to tell a wary world that there is “peace in the country where people can come and invest” even as regularly scheduled government malfeasance storms the headlines. Me? I’m kinda not thinking that it’s peaceful. Let me ask Anthony Mitchell and get back to you.

Most of the participants in the returnees' meeting were businesspeople who run their own companies in Addis, although a few of them are due to return. They returned to invest in the country and claim that the campaign to stop aid and loans to Ethiopia could affect their businesses in general and the majority of poor Ethiopians in particular. Many of the returnees deal with companies abroad, and fear that crises fuelled by sanctions could affect the way they do business.

Hm. Now I know the cynic among us are going to be disorderly and scream “You see? They only care about their own business”, but let’s all back off and breathe. In… out…in… out. It is inherently human to want to protect what you’ve worked for. In pre-election times we ignored the EPRDF and forged on ahead with business ventures in Ethiopia. But it has becoame hard for some of us to keep ignoring the EPRDF post-election. All the compromising we did didn’t change the entrenched brutality of the EPRDF. So yes, we don’t want our tax money to go to the government. We hope our friends understand that.

The meeting has unanimously passed a resolution that states that the campaign against aid to Ethiopia is harmful to the country, the people and to the returnees themselves. They also opposed and expressed their concern against the effort to discourage travel to Ethiopia and called upon Ethiopians in the Diaspora to refrain from disseminating a distorted picture of peace and stability of the country.

Now I would think that our friends back in Ethiopia would sympathize with the reticence we feel and come up with a way to guide us on where to channel our money. I was in DC a few weeks back and I fell in love with a sign outside an Ethiopian store. It politely informs its customers that it understands if people do not want to send remittances through Wegagen Bank, one of the countless EPRDF-owned/affiliated businesses. The store, the sign said, can accommodate customers who want to use other banks, and it lists the banks. It ends by thanking patrons for continuing to send money back home. Now that is capitalism. And that’s the kind of guidance we need from home. Telling us there is peace in Ethiopia… not so much. (A group of my mother’s friends printed out a list of EPRDF-owned businesses and distributed them to their children who went home for Christmas vacation. The list comes with a stern warning to boycott the companies. Hmm. Ladies who lunch as political activists… is there a more wondrous sight?)

But the last two paragraphs of the Fortune article are what I found most fascinating.

Not every one of them was on the same wavelength in spite of the unanimous decision in passing the resolution. It differed from those who challenged, in the meeting, the administration they said violates the constitution while breaching it itself, to those who told Fortune that they were not fully aware of the nature of the meeting when invited.

A-ha. So there were dissenters. Well, I guess there were dissenters even though the resolution passed, um, unanimously. Here’s the money quote:

"We were literally coaxed into agreeing on the resolution," said a participant who said he had thought the meeting was called to discuss the problems the returnee community is facing during this time of crises. "If this is what they wanted, we were not in a position to go against it."

Whaaaa? People who have lived in the United States for 30 plus years can be coaxed into voting for a resolution they don’t believe in? What happened to staunch individualism? Open discussion? Honest disagreement? What happened to standing your ground? I am less intrigued by people who want to coax people into voting for a bullshit resolution as am I with people who are willing to be coaxed into voting for a bullshit resolution. What the hell was that all about?

Was that a mutated form of yiluNta? Did the dissenters think it would be insolent to go against the grain? "If this is what they wanted, we were not in a position to go against it." I am dying to know why.

It might be that I have stayed in the good old USA too long, but I get personally offended and appalled by an Ethiopian government that shoots mothers and children. Maybe I am not enlightened enough or maybe I am naïve, but there is something about the sanctity of human life that humbles me. I am not sure what it is about going back to live in Ethiopia that makes it okay to not be immune to “human right violations” in quotation marks. And I certainly do not understand people who can’t find the moral standing to vote against a lousy resolution they disagree with.

Over Christmas holidays some friends of ours were hosting a returnee. Once a successful corporate cog, the returnee went back to Ethiopia to be an even greater cog. It’s only been a few years since he went back. We asked him if he voted in the elections. He hadn’t. He’d look at us with pity and superciliousness when we talked about politics. When we knew him, he was one of those enlightened men- progressive and open-minded almost to a fault. Now he borders on being an apathetic misogynist. He annoyed the shit out of our friends’ housekeeper by ordering her to do his laundry and wait on him hand and foot. Exsqueeze me very much?? Finally bitter, we asked what the hell was wrong with him. (I did get permission to write about this from him, by the way.) “You people,” he said. “You have no idea what it takes to survive in Ethiopia.”

It’s true. Most of us don’t, but a surprising number of us do. And I can understand if an unemployed youth with no prospect said that. But for one of “us” to say it? What makes a virtual millionaire returnee so blasé? From where we see it, returnees have every advantage in the society. So what went so wrong? I guess that’s why I am grateful to people like Berhanu Nega. He represents the best of former Diasporans.

Since I am axe grinding I have been simmering about something: I’ve asked several people who are returnees who write passionate emails to me from Ethiopia to start blogging. They obviously have the time, computer access and grasp of the English language. Yet none of them has taken on the challenge. What does it say about us that there is just one Ethiopian blogger who writes from Ethiopia? As always we leave the work to ferenjies, and then we beat up on them when we think they are not on our side. It is abominable. What’s the use of going back to Ethiopia if all we are doing is acclimating to the status quo? How much of ourselves do we have to give back in order to go back?

Prime Minister Meles’s lumbering government is bewilderingly incompetent. 14 years after it took power, we are still begging the world to feed our brothers and sisters. The EPRDF is morally bankrupt and marginalized beyond repair. It survives on fustian charades and seismic brutality. Telling us to keep investing in Ethiopia and instructing us to quit urging our respective governments to stop funding Ato Meles is a no-starter. It is up to the EPRDF to compromise just a wee bit, but it is unable to do so because it is led my myopia and unquenchable powerlust.

That said, I still think we need to dialogue with some of our returnee friends on what is truly best for “the average Ethiopian.” Maybe one of them can start , I dunno, a blog.

It is perhaps some kind of cosmic joke that returnees lose their voices just as those in the Diaspora finds their's.


I found out why the elderly gentleman was unimpressed by me (as if he needs an excuse). He told someone that I use too many curse words. Oh shit.)

p.s. I will be on winter vacation from February 12-22. Guest bloggers can send me articles/vents . I'll be happy to put up.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bloodletting Re-Redux

Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday and was scuttled to the Ethiopian/Eritrean border. I’m not exactly sure what she saw, nor do I totally understand what visiting the border will accomplish. (“Hmm,” Assistant Secretary Frazer said. “Nice border. Wish we could find a way to demarcate it” ??)

Here’s my proletarian assessment of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border issue: it ain’t an issue. The last thing Mr. Muffet Issayas Afewerqi wants is for the border issue to be solved because that would mean he’ll have to attend to the issues that have made the State of Eritrea such an abysmal failure. Seriously, what’s Issayas gonna do? Take back Badme? And then what? Occupy it? Hm. So not shock and awe.

On the other hand, Robo Cop Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is known to have said, “If Badme goes, I go.” Here’s the thing about signing up to have your testosterone checked by an international court, Mr. Prime Minister: it is binding. The last thing our fearless leader wants is for Eritrea to say, yeah? You will accept the ruling if we sit down for a dialogue? Okay. Let’s talk. We’ll bring the papers for you to sign after our talk. Bring a pen.

Neither warlord wants peace. We know it. Bob Dole knows it. The American people know it.

So it is interesting that the State Department is all of a sudden wicked spooked about the two most absurdly unbalanced leaders in Africa and their sporadic temper tantrums. Here’s what methinks, and me rarely thinks so pay attention: Ms. Frazer’s trip is so not about the border.

Now here’s the interesting part: today, Friday, Ms. Frazer was supposed to meet with our fearless leader in Addis Abeba. Probably while they were meeting, Ato Meles’ fidgety soldiers were spraying a new crowd of stone throwers with live ammunition.

"I don't really know what was happening to me. I was shot by the police twice, one on my stomach and one on my throat," Wubishet Solomon, 16, told the AP news agency.


You have to wonder what the talking points for the EPRDF is going to be on this one. It can’t quite blame the EU for the protests. The CUD leadership is all in jail. Well, since it happened on a religious holiday, I have $100 on the EPRDF putting out a statement that God made the crowd throw stones. “We have a warrant out for God’s arrest. He created the stones. And he created the hands that threw it. God has to respect rule of law.”

Oh wait. Hold off on charging God with treason and genocide.

"The problem started when this hand grenade was thrown by unidentified people during the religious celebration in Yeka Michael church. Police were trying to cool down the problem where some people were injured," the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not the official police spokesman.

Ah, the regurgitating of the grenade story. Hm. Not as peppy as “God did it” but cute nonetheless.

So the Ethiopian government has proved yet again that it is incapable of governing people without having to shoot them. So here is a scenario:

Demonstrations were reported in several neighborhoods across Addis Ababa, and riot police were driving through the city. Some of the police trucks appeared to be carrying people wounded from the clashes.

Someone tell Ms. Frazer’s motorcade to look right and left at intersections. It’s a thankless job zipping from one church to another to “restore peace.” And watch out for falling snipers, dead bodies or both.

"The majority of them are shot in the legs and in the chest, but there are a few shot in the head. They are getting treatment so I can't tell you the figure," one doctor said in between treating patients.

Is there any chance of Ms. Frazer visiting some of the hospitals to find out for herself if this is true? Sure, it isn’t anything like visiting the border, but I’m sure there’s less dust.

So in summary: Ethiopians being shot at during the Tmqet holiday. A few miles away Ms. Frazer is in talks with Meles. That’s gotta be uncomfortable. I hope she at least mention that it is internationally unacceptable to fire live ammunition into a crowd. It’s just not done. (Maybe it’ll help if she quotes Tina Turner.)

Now it’s going to be verrry interesting what Ms. Frazer will say in her press conference and her trip report. Now that is worth holding our breath for.

The thing is, this effectively ends all issues about the Ethio-Eritrean border because… the border issue is not an issue.

I ask again: Condi, what is your threshold?

Wubishet Solomon, 16 said he was listening to religious music when the shooting started.

First hand accounts from Things We Should Have Written Down and Addis Ferenjie.

Goodness to Betsy! Does all this mean that Hilary Benn has to re-state his statement that Britain is not not going to cut off aid to the Ethiopian government that it had not said it was going to cut after is said it was going to cut aid? It’s the hardest thing being Ato Meles’s friend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mother Blogger

First an unrelated vent:

Felicity Huffman used to be on my favorite TVshow, Sports Night. She played a woman who was a role model for the single, corporate gal trying to balance a 70-hour work week with testosterone, back stabbing and three-inch pumps. I guess it is the nature of Hollywood that she had to settle for some willfully banal show now. Whatever.

So Huffman was being interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday. I was watching passively because I had assumed it was going to be the usual “I was not hugged enough as a child” bowel movement of an interview. I groaned loudly when the eternally persnickety semi-journalist Leslie Stahl asked, “Is this the best experience in your life, being a mommy?” Those of us who have children know the condescending half-smile that usually accompanies that question. The standard, obligatory response, of course, is some variation of “Yes. It changed my life. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d give it all up…” blah blah blah.

That was what I was excepting from Huffman so I nearly choked on a spoonful of Chunky Monkey when she, visibly irritated, spat back, “No.”


Stahl’s face: horror.

Huffman: No. And I resent that question.

Yeeeeeeyawza! Stahl lookslike one of them EPRDF officials when they are confronted with unscripted questions: resentful, confused and totally unable to recover.

Huffman continues.

“Because I think it puts women in an untenable position. Because unless I say to you, ‘Oh, Leslie it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life’ I’m considered a bad mother. And just when I said no, you… [throwing her head back] you went back.”

Stahl tries to recover, thus digging herself in more.

“Well, let me ask it this way. Are you a good mother?”

Dude. S0 not another way of asking “is it the best experience of your life”. But why am I defending Huffman?

Huffman: I don’t know if I am a good mother.

Stahl tries on an ersatz clinical psychologist approach.

Stahl: You’re not there enough…? Or… you’re not patient enough?

Huffaman: Yeah.. No, I’m there enough. I don’t know if I am patient enough. I don’t know if I am teaching them the right things…”

Oh, yeah. Sister went there.

Motherhood is not the most beautiful thing I have done in my life. Rather, it has been the most uncertain, destabilizing entity to hit my life. All of a sudden my confidence plummeted, I lost my footing, I was filled with doubt and dread about being responsible for the wellbeing of another living, breathing human being. I spent countless nights debating and rattling sabers with my husband about morality, discipline, logic and latitude—and I can guarantee you no part of it was beautiful. I’ve agonized over what a complete basket case I’d be if I lost a child. Parenthood made me be what I had always resented: vulnerable, bourgeois and the champion of everything status quo. I started to fight to quell the rebel in me and gut check that part of me which made questioning authority prerequisite for fun. Alas now I was the authority. Parenthood turns you into a horrible cliché.

The first day I went back to work after having my son was honestly one of the worse days of my life. I hated feeling guilty for wanting to have a career, and believe me there is no lack of culture to make you feel like a bad mother: not wanting to stay home with the precious gift God gave you, not wanting to car pool with spoiled rug rats with entitlement issues, not wanting to set up insipid play dates, not wanting to have my kid tested for every new mutation of ADD, not wanting to be in the Mother-Son dance committee ... trust me, I've been on the hit list of every waif, neurotic, socialite housewife up and down the Gold Coast. You think standing up to Meles Zenawi is bad? Try standing up to entrenched, dipped-in-PTA parents. Ugh.

Being a mother tore through my Teflon shield of infallibility and I’ve spent many hours agonizing about the gargantuan responsibility I took on without really knowing whether I was equipped with the right DNA to handle it.

Parents who fawn over parenthood are either new parents who have not been slapped with reality, or closet drunks who need sip on sum'sum to cope with being slapped with reality.

I am not always sure I am a good mother. There, I said it. But that uncertainty is what makes me want to try harder. Motherhood might have made me obsess about imaginary germs, but it also got me to think about someone other than my narcissistic, yuppie self. The same pictures of Ethiopian mothers holding their emaciated kid now sears more deeply into my soul. And every time, every time I see a picture of a mother holding a portrait of her dead child, I am temporarily paralyzed by fear.

But being is a mother is why I am the most unlikely, unqualified political un-pundit there is. For the first time in my life I have started to think and write from my heart instead of my brain. I don’t know yet if that’s good. Politics is no longer remote and static. The business of law is no longer a business. I know too much about the environment, airline security, grocery shopping… practically every perspective I thought was a constant in my life has been slightly altered post-kid, and believe me I have an LMK (low maintenance kid). I can’t imaging what a raging bitch I would be if I had a fussy one.

I rage against the machine in Ethiopia because I want a better Ethiopia for my children. I want them to know that my generation at least tried to speak out against tyranny and that we cared about their legacy. I am resigned to the fact that our role should be to stop the hemorrhaging- the hemorrhaging of good will, honor, hard work and hope.

I don’t know if I am a good mother. I don’t know if being a mommy is the best thing that has happened to me. I know though that I want to make my world better.

I told you. Parenthood turns you into a horrible cliché.

I guess politics has to wait until the next blog.