Tuesday, April 04, 2006

At least he didn't call him a "self appointed colonial viceroy"- Part 1

I live in a place where people talk about their Pilates instructor’s psychic with the same nonchalance they gulp down greeny- green juices. So technically, I don’t faze easily…

But…

What the hell is wrong with the EPRDF?

Have I asked that question before? Why, yes, I have.

I was ready to opine sagely on part 2 of my take on the congressional hearings

(here’s part 1) when a funny thing happened on my way to pontification: the Ethiopian Chargé d'Affaires in Washington sent a petulant letter to Congressman Chris Smith. And it’s a doozer. This is not a rhetorical question:

What in God’s name is wrong with the EPRDF?

Does anyone advise it? Does anyone in the whole organization have a semblance of good judgment? Who, who would ever let an Ethiopian Ambassador send this kind of earnest drivel and then sit back with a sense of accomplishment? People of EPRDF, since your favorite bean counter and #1 cheerleader Jeffrey Sachs is not telling you when you done something crazy, please… allow me?

Memorandum:

To: Whomever is in Charge of Sending Ethiopian Ambassadors to defend Ethiopian Government Policies

From: Another chauvinist, imperial revanchist (© Jeffrey Sachs)

Subject: What the …?

Please accept the following critique in the spirit it has been written: total aghast.

Paragraph 1---

Dear Representative Smith:

There are occasions, during the career of any diplomat, when one must express unpleasant truths for the benefit of the greater good. Today is one of those occasions, because I must express my displeasure at the way in which, in your capacity as chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, you conducted the March 28 hearing entitled “Ethiopia’s Troubled Internal Situation.”

Lettt'ssss gingerly put that in the 'What is “How to not start off a letter?”' category.

For sure when the Ambassador wrote this he didn’t think it sounded puffy or portentous. But as the first paragraph in a letter to a US congressman from a professed diplomat? Um. Impossibly mediocre.

Basic letter writing 101: even if your letter is adversarial, always start with restrained nicety. “Thank you for giving my government an opportunity to…” and THEN proceed gently to tearing your recipient a new one. Most diplomats would know that when you come off campy and contrived in the first paragraph, it’s gonna be downhill.

Also, don’t put yourself in the ambitious position of “unpleasant truths” teller. It compels people to look at each paragraph of your letter and weigh in on the ‘truthiness’ factors in what you are saying. Why open yourself up to such scrutiny? This is no time to grandstand

So we’re not off with a bang, but…

Paragraph 2:

It was clear from the outset that the hearing was going to be unbalanced – this was apparent from the initial list of witnesses, which included unabashed opponents of the Ethiopian government and neither a detached academic or think-tank expert on the Horn of Africa nor a representative of my government.

This might not have occurred to a career diplomat, but… huh?

“…which included unabashed opponents of the Ethiopian government”

Well, yes. That’s usually what happens at hearings. “Unabashed” opponents of the government are allowed to speak. Should they have been bashful opponents? Awkward use of an adjective. Rookie mistake.

“… and neither a detached academic or think-tank expert on the Horn of Africa nor a representative of my government.

Did Ato Ambassador mean ‘either’ a detached academic…? Have someone look over that part. It might be triple coded for the rest of us who aren’t career diplomats.

But the point is, bitching about the witness list because it includes people like the daughter of a well-known human rights activist who is in jail, a person who has been witness to the genocide of the Anuaks… a little creepy. And if a career diplomat can’t defend his government from a ‘detached academic’ then that’s one career diplomat who needs to examine his career path.

Bottom line: Whining about opponents you have clear contempt for is self defeating. You are basically admitting that you were beaten by unworthy opponents.

And look. We’re only on paragraph 3:

I was obviously offended as I am sure many others were about your making jokes against the death of uniformed police officers. At minimum, we do expect respect for the dead despite the circumstances. After all the police officers were killed by rioters while on duty.

Since this was in the third paragraph, is it safe to assume that it is the most important part of the letter? If so, weak. Let’s see… a government whose spokesman is quoted as saying that those killed in June were ‘hooligans” should not attempt its hand at moral indignation. Ehhh. The New York Times reported on a mother, the wife of an MP, who was gunned down in front of her children by government forces. Nebiy Alemayehu, a 14-year old was gunned down as he was walking home from school. His mother sent the Prime Minister Nebiy’s school books. He never got back to her. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been chronicling the Ethiopian government’s penchant for torture and killings. You see where this is going? So … “At minimum, we do expect respect for the dead” seems oddly uppity for a government that has set up concentration camps. Easy on the moral outrage, Mr. Ambassador. It is so not the EPRDF’s strongest argument.

Also, did Congressman Smith “make jokes” against dead policemen? Really? I guess we all have to rewind the tape and look for this ourselves. If the Ambassador wanted to make a point of this, he should have quoted some of the jokes just so we know the context.

Paragraph 4:

Prior to the hearing, we conveyed information to the subcommittee staff that at least two of the witnesses on the announced agenda lacked credibility. One was the member of the opposition, charged with serious crimes, including being instrumental in organizing the violent demonstrations last June, violence that was intended to undermine Ethiopia’s constitutional order. And another one was one who claims to represent an obscure “organization” that seems to have no one other than himself on its staff. It is hard to take seriously claims made by such an idiosyncratic entity.

Interesting. Had the Ambassador wanted to have a say on who gets on the witness list? And again, if the hearings pitted the Ambassador against weak opponents, shouldn’t he be writing a thank you letter to Congressman Smith and call it a day?

And the Ambassador might not realize this, but among the many, many people his government has charged with ‘inciting genocide’ and ‘undermining Ethiopia’s constitutional order’ include(d) reporters from VOA Amharic, a 6th grader (Biniyam Tadesse) who was charged with “treason and committing acts of genocide”, the mayor elect of Addis Ababa, human rights activists, and a a member of the opposition who worked on a tribunal of the Rwandan genocide. So, flinging around “someone who has been charged with serious crimes…” as if it has any kind of heft is grandstanding. And seriously? Snarky remarks about the director of the Anuak Justice Council? Did the Ambassador read the passionate speech Ato Obang made? You are countering that speech with “one who claims to represent an obscure ‘organization”? Sweet Jesus.

Paragraph 5:

At our insistence, you graciously permitted the Embassy to present both oral and written testimony, but only when there was little time available to prepare for the event. (Invitation was extended to us a day before the hearing whereas the other witnesses were listed about a week before the hearing). Still, because we felt it important that our perspective be presented forthrightly to you and the other members of the Subcommittee, we accepted your invitation.

Kudos on the use of ‘gracious.’ Butbutbutbut…Emergency moratorium on the whining. “You gave them one week… you gave us one day…” Shhh. No, seriously… Sh! The Ethiopian government spends millions of dollars on lobbyists and it still has to wrangle and invitation to a hearing? Someone needs a new lobbying firm. Besides, it is the Ambassador’s job to be able to testify within hours, let alone days. And whoever let this letter see daylight… you’re fired.

It has also been my expectation that oversight hearings are conducted with the same decorum as a court of law: respect shown to all participants, with appropriate solemnity on the part of observers. In every other proceeding of this sort that I have observed, when the audience becomes demonstrative (whether through cheers and applause or through boos and catcalls), it has been the responsibility of the chair to gavel the room to order. I was shocked that, when the hearing audience reacted audibly to the speakers, you not only chose not to call for order, you seemed to encourage the disorder among the crowd. This breach of protocol is not something one should have tolerated. Public policy is a serious matter, and it should not have been based upon the movement of the pointer on an applause meter.

How does one who is not a diplomat say ‘pul-lease’? It is probably a safe bet that Congressman Smith has conducted more hearings than Ato Fesseha has “observed.” So, attempting a soliloquy on “breach of protocol”? A wee bit orotund, don’t you think? If the Ambassador can’t handle boos from unarmed, non-stone throwing citizens, the Ambassador needs to state so in one sentence. Dedicating ten lines to it is tragically witless.

Paragraph 6:

While I expected to face some difficult questions, given the topic of the hearing, I was taken aback at the hostile, disrespectful and sometimes condescending tone of your own line of questions, your willful blindness to certain firmly established facts of the situation, and your refusal to acknowledge the shared political and moral values of Ethiopia and America.

Hm. The Ethiopian government couldn’t choose the witness list, and it couldn’t insist that the audience remain silent. Damn straight it was going to be difficult. But… “shared political and moral values of Ethiopia and America”?? Now that is what is called setting yourself up for failure.

I wonder if the Ambassador is going to give examples?

Let me provide some concrete examples.

Oh good. We aren’t going to be left with that kind of haughty proclamation dangling over us.

You asked, for instance, whether the Ethiopian media would report evenhandedly on the hearing, including both my testimony and your own remarks, or the remarks of other witnesses. When I stated I cannot predict what Ethiopian newspapers would write about the hearing, you sneered at my response, suggesting that the government controls the entire news media in my country. However this is not the case. As I stated in my remark, that there are over 80 private newspapers in Ethiopia, published in different locations and in different languages. Some of them are critical against the Government and others not. Since I am not an editor of any of the newspapers, I can no more predict what Ethiopian newspapers will say about an event than you can predict what the Trenton Times or Washington Post will say about it.

Wow.

One of the ‘shared political and moral values’ between the current Ethiopian government and the US is freedom of the press?!

I’m not being fussy about facts but… has the American government expelled an AP reporter on charges of “tarnishing the image of the nation", "repeatedly contravening journalism ethics", "disseminating information far from the truth about [good ol’ USA]"? Has the American government charged Ethiopian citizen journalists with “genocide”? Does it issue “Wanted” signs for editors and journalists?

I know the Ethiopian government has taken one too many a sniff from the democracy smelling salts, thus its delusion of being a bastion of democracy, but its representatives need a better line to work with than “there are 80 private newspapers in the country.” Here’s what the CPJ has to say about the Ethiopian government:

The government unleashed a sudden and far-reaching crackdown on the independent press in November following clashes between police and antigovernment protesters that left more than 40 people dead. Authorities detained more than a dozen journalists, issued a wanted list of editors and publishers, and threatened to charge journalists with treason, an offense punishable by death in Ethiopia. Dozens of journalists went into hiding during the crackdown, virtually silencing the local private press.

Now, who to believe on matters of free press? The Ethiopian government or the CPJ? It tears one up, dunn’it?

Not to belabor the point any further but… “I can no more predict what Ethiopian newspapers will say about an event than you can predict what the Trenton Times or Washington Post will say about it.” Another cutesyness gone haywire: The Trenton Times and the Washington Post are not controlled by the American government… whereas… the biggest newspapers and all of the TV in Ethiopia are controlled by the Ethiopian government. Bad analogy. Newbie mistake.

FYI: Let’s leave the smarminess to those who know how to use it.

So, after all this if the only thing that Mr. Smith did was sneer, then I am going to argue there was dereliction of duty.

Okay. It looks like we have to do this in parts. Until then, can the Ethiopian government please not send out any more letters?

Part 2, coming up............

19 Comments:

Anonymous ye mankusaw welafen said...

i am stressed, Wonqititu. what if the eprdf stops sending these letters? then what? i don't like it. not one bit.

8:07 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Wegesha said...

Weichegud! Didn't George Bush himslef make it ok not to be very polished as a politician. And if you remember, it was Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson that made ignorance fashionable. So why are you on the case of EPRDF for following a trend that has already been set by those three great minds.

8:15 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe it's just Meles who is supposed to be smart.

Can you see what I've been reduced to so as to not agree with you, wonq?

9:23 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous bolE liberation front said...

Maybe he is just punking us.

11:39 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet Mr. Ambassador TEBETEW is sweating reading this and cursing you for exposing him and his stupidity. But then he represents Meles and EPDRF NOT Ethiopia or/and the Ethiopians

2:09 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous majrat mecchhii said...

Wonq,

I thought YOU were punking us... thinking this was another satire. Ere yetabash!

My favorite part:"Public policy is a serious matter, and it should not have been based upon the movement of the pointer on an applause meter."

Ewi-ewi-ewi. Like Heidi Fleiss trying to teach Sunday School.

9:34 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

Honorable Madam Wonq,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to decode Paragraph 2. Your reading of the statement in this paragraph has the Ambassador recognizing the presence of a “detached academic” (an unbiased intellectual) among the list of witnesses when, in fact, he was saying the exact opposite, namely that the list was unbalanced and did NOT include “detached academics” (unbiased intellectuals).

Here’s what you wrote: “And if a career diplomat can’t defend his gov’t from a ‘detached academic’ then ….”
I hate to be so undiplomatic about it, but you sounded like some, uh, idiosyncratic entity there with that remark!

The Ambassador’s statement is hopelessly tormented, to be sure. Not unlike his
convoluted reasoning, but with a little tweaking, perhaps it can be salvaged. Like, for instance, this way:

“….this was apparent from the initial list of witnesses, which included unabashed opponents of the Ethiopian gov’t, but included neither a detached academic nor a think-tank expert and a representative of my gov’t.”

What is revealing about this statement, btw, is that the poor devil laments the absence of a detached academic, the absence of an expert, and the absence of an ET-gov’t representative from the list of witnesses. I mean, what the hell is HE if not a representative of the Ethiopian gov’t. Do you suppose he meant “ABLE” representative?

9:40 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous unpleasant truth said...

Snnnnniiiffffff.............

He had me at "There are occasions, during the career of any diplomat, when one must express unpleasant truths for the benefit of the greater good."

I am naming my child "unpleasant truths"---Jr.

9:45 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wha? this is not a satire??

10:50 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Please, ETW, easy on the fellow. I just hope we get some more Fesseha's and letters from Fesseha's. Does our cause mighty good.

Like you, I wonder if Smith will respond. Is it worth his time replying to some lowly Third World ambassador? If it is, then I hope he gives him an American version of Clapham's response to Takeda. Maybe something like, "Listen you upstart barya, we're giving you hundreds of millions of dollars a year because you can't even feed yourselves and govern yourselves. Go sit in the corner and be glad I don't pull the plug."

11:35 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Geja said...

To the las anon:
It is a satire, an excellent material for any Late Night TV show. I propose we send a copy of the video to Jayl or DavidL. Double edged sword if you ask me - We all will laugh at ourselves, hey even the ambasaador as stupid as he is, he is one of us, and Americans will learn what dull witted, brutish animals Ethiopians have to deal with day in day out. How is that?

11:58 AM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Yohannes said...

Ouch Gooch. I don't know how to take your dig. Ouch. BTW, really enjoyed your fill-inship at Wonq Terra.

"what the hell is wrong with the eprdf?" is a futile question, ETW. what i find fascinating is how mch the rank and file eprdf-ian is willing to be humiliated by a delusional leadership. It is getting later and later for moderates in the eprdf. When they eventually do break away they would have already been marginalized. My guess is that Fesseha knew better than to send this letter. but orders from higher up demanded a redress. He either didn't have the will and/nor the backbone to say no. How can he function as a respectable diplomat with this letter hanging over his head? Who will take him seriously after this?

Another one bites the dust.

12:27 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous wuha said...

Did Amb/CA. Fesseha actually write that? Is the document really authentic? If it is, I can't believe they sent it to Rep Smith w/o evaluating the content.

1:42 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am convinced the bigger dim witted hayena face called Meles wrote this one as well. Read all his previous letters sent to the Et Herald Editorial and you can see the similarities to this one. This is the best they all can do and I am certain they celebrated at the end of the last sentence.

3:45 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

you know, when Gooch has something unflattering to say about someone, there's nothing left to say.
with that remark up there, Gooch, you've earned yourself the dubious honor of being initiated into the wonqetian family as a full-fledged member. and what an honor that is!

to the regulars here at wonqville: you see what y'all done did? you done took a perfectly sane Gooch and made him our Frankenstein!

4:19 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous ye mankusaw welafen said...

Merigeta Not Anon,

Franken-Shhteen.

Ij nesichalehu.

5:10 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Actually, Not Anon, I really didn't mean it. I was just trying to provoke a reaction!

9:23 PM, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

Yidress ke-Mankusaw Wolafen:

Aya, mechem kante zend worE ayTeffa, indiaw bemotE, ya ye-Ligaba Tessema lij, Fissiha mibal Kutara, Amarika gebto yebaT yeqoTun yizebariqal yalut wunet yihon? bishegreN, mekari zemed indet Teffa biyE indiaw g’rmmmm sileN senebete.


Gooch,

You know, you killed me with that . .:)

10:27 AM, April 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What gooch blurted up there is not any near analogy to Clapham's response to Tekeda. It is totally out of taste to be included in wonkville affronts. I would rather read his thought provoking takes than cheap insults.

4:30 AM, April 07, 2006  

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