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…
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?
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.
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
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
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
One of the ‘shared political and moral values’ between the current Ethiopian government and the
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’
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
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
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............