Friday, June 16, 2006

Damage Control Gone Haywire

I had not planned on covering the ‘super secret’ 52-page document being circulated on the innernetz … you know, the directive by the EPRDF to Ethiopian embassies around the world on how to, um, approach pesky Diasporans who seem to think democracy is not-so-much in Ethiopia these days, because:

a) I didn’t know how to verify it.

b) Surely, surely… the EPRDF jests.

Yes, I called them ‘surely.’

That is, until someone sent me this comment posted on a pro-EPRDF site, and … seriously, I know this was supposed to be a nonchalant damage control missive, but seriously? As Zegabi put it, anyone thinking? Anyone?

Comment: To hear the opposition say it, about the document, is to hear as if they have done some Mosad operation to uncover the “document”. To read their reaction to know how misguided view are about Ethiopia’s future. Government policy can not be secret by nature and the so called secret Document turns out to be a not so secret directive on constituency building. Assuming it is a government document, it is a must read document that shows the governments commitment to reengage its citizens in Diaspora so that it could be active participant in the democratization process, as well as the struggle to pull out the country [form] poverty. What is secret is how the opposition thinks this document could damage the government.


As the World bank country representative stated it was hoped that the country has turned a corner for the better just before the election. Unfortunately we had a government unwilling to take credit to its good work, (as well as admit its short coming) and a vicious opposition that set out not only to defeat the ruling party but also destroy any good legacy the ruling party had that a promising election gave away to insecurity and bleak aftermath. But democracy is here to stay and the fact that the government setout to proactively wrestle away the Diaspora constituency from the vicious opposition is commendable. Even if the government is able to do half of the directive states it would be in better shape.


What is missing in the document is any mention of the obligation of the legal opposition. The government, as a government should re-engage the legal opposition to shoulder its responsibility to work on common ground of democracy building, common national interest etc. The legal opposition should know it can not build on one hand to destroy it by the other. It can not state thatit is building democratic institutions while catering to the Diaspora that advocates anarchy. The readiness to work on common ground has to start today.

Dude, first of all... “Government policy can not be secret by nature…” Whhh’wat?!

Seriously… whhh’wat!

So I am going to take this as yes, the document is authentic, and thank you very much.

Government policy can not be secret by nature and the so called secret Document turns out to be a not so secret directive on constituency building.

Uhhhh… has anyone read the directive because not keeping it a secret would be crazy stupid. On page 2 (and I hope someone translates this thing into English, and since it is not a secret I am sure no one in the Ethiopian government would mind it being distributed widely) it says (my lame translation):

Paragraph 2:

Ensuring the balance of political power in the Diaspora is won by ‘democratic forces’ and to have a powerful support group abroad requires pinpointing of current key problems.

Yes, it’s time to get jittery. Whenever the Ethiopian government refers to itself as “democratic forces”, ehhh, time to take cover.

Paragraph 3 concedes no amount of government-provided “incentives” (Tqmoch) will fundamentally change the Diaspora’s political standing. So, you ask, why go through all of this? Because dissent can’t be allowed to exist willy-nilly next to “democratic forces”, that’s why! Have you not been paying attention?

Paragraph 4:

We believe that the main problem in the Diaspora remains people who are political extremists, and that there has not been a concerted effort to weaken their power.

Well, that’s fine and dandy until you realize who the Ethiopian government considers “extremists.” People like Dr. Berhanu Nega, the mayor of Addis Abeba, Dr. Yaqob Hailemariam, Judge Birtukan Medeqsa and Professor Mesfin WoldeMariam are in jail being tried for treason and attempted genocide. So ‘extremist’ is in the eye of the beholder, and in the EPRDF’s case it appears to be anyone who is into dissent.

Membership in this new Diaspora capacity building fuzzy-wuzziness definitely has its privileges: to go in and out of Ethiopia without hassle, expedited ways to bring in property, build houses, build investment portfolios, opening bank accounts… nothing about free stays at Addis Sheraton, which the Ethiopian government might want to think about if it hopes to make a dent in the aesthetically-challenged segment of the Diaspora.

Assuming it is a government document, it is a must read document that shows the governments commitment to reengage its citizens in Diaspora so that it could be active participant in the democratization process, as well as the struggle to pull out the country [form] poverty. What is secret is how the opposition thinks this document could damage the government.

[Emphasis mine.]

Wait. The last crop of Diasporans who went back home to participate in the democratization process are, um… well, they’re in jail, which don’t strike me as a particularly comfortable democracy zone. So is it okay if we don’t all seize the opportunity to be democratized by this Ethiopian government?

So, basically, whachoo got here is a 52-page map of an intense PR campaign to restore the Ethiopian government’s good name and reputation in the Diaspora. (Never a good idea to publicize your PR strategy, but who am I to advise the Ethiopian government?)

Question: hasn’t the Ethiopian government been dismissing the Diaspora as irredeemable imperial revanchists who are dyed-in-the-wool chauvinist rejectionists not worth spitting upon? What changed? (HR 4423?) When did the Ethiopian government discover there is a Diaspora, and a strong one at that, and the importance of courting it?

For the record, I ain’t no bean counter, but what is detailed in this document is an expensive endeavor. Hopefully, it is not being paid for by western aid money. Could Dr. Diwan take extra care in examining the books when it’s time to assess the results of the newly released direct budget supplement that shan’t be called direct budgetary supplement? If he sees “Diaspora-Miscellaneous” in one of the expense report columns he knows to call someone for a ‘splanation.

It would be very interesting to see if the Ethiopian government goes about building support within the Diaspora under its name or a third party that does not mention it is being funded by the government.

As the World bank country representative stated it was hoped that the country has turned a corner for the better just before the election. Unfortunately we had a government unwilling to take credit to its good work, (as well as admit its short coming) and a vicious opposition that set out not only to defeat the ruling party but also destroy any good legacy the ruling party had that a promising election gave away to insecurity and bleak aftermath.

You know, that was exactly the problem with the Ethiopian elections of 2005! The EPRDF, shy and self-deprecating that it is, was simply “unwilling to take credit to its good work, (as well as admit its short coming)” … (notice is has only one shortcoming.)

Lez see… declaring victory before the votes were counted… then suspending the public’s right to demonstrate (guaranteed in the constitution)… then opening fire into crowds and bystanders… then stripping MPs of amnesty… then jailing journalists… and opposition leaders… and civic organization leaders… then firing on crowds again… dammit! If only the EPRDF was quick to take credit “to its good work” and admit that one shortcoming! We would have been dripping in democracy juices right about now. Oh and that vicious, vicious opposition preoccupied with making the genocide in Rwandaseem like child’s play.” Yeah, there was that, too.

The last paragraph in the ill-fated damage control piece inadvertently and very naively pounds the last nail in the coffin:

What is missing in the document is any mention of the obligation of the legal opposition. The government, as a government should re-engage the legal opposition to shoulder its responsibility to work on common ground of democracy building, common national interest etc. The legal opposition should know it can not build on one hand to destroy it by the other. It can not state that it is building democratic institutions while catering to the Diaspora that advocates anarchy. The readiness to work on common ground has to start today.

Hmm. Notice the “catering to the Diaspora that advocates anarchy” bit. Calling people you are trying to court ‘anarchists’… a tad, I dunno, lowbrow?

But what is missing, exactly, is any kind of sincere outreach to the ‘legal’ opposition in the Diaspora. Why is that?

Because the Ethiopian government is not the least bit interested in honest dialogue with the Diaspora, or really anyone it can’t intimidate with a gun. Why should it? Every time the Ethiopian government has had an open forum in the west, its representative has been intellectually decimated. (Poor Ambassador Kassahun begot hapless Ambassador Fesseha, both dismal failures in defending the EPRDF’s policies.) The EPRDF can only function well when it is not challenged by true dissent. Shit, it can’t even handle blogs, for the love of God.

This directive is just another evidence of a government unable to let go of its latent Marxist discipline of controlling information and therefore the populace. It has not been able to do it in Ethiopia, and it takes a special kind of myopia to think it can be done in democratic nations where detractors can’t be controlled by guns.

You only have to read page nine of the directive where some of the ways of curbing the ‘extremists” are spelled out: making public their ‘acts of genocide’, ‘corruption’, dereliction of duty and make a legal case for these charges; provide the governments of the countries in which these ‘extremists’ reside with their names; make sure publicly-funded radio stations in host countries know that tolerating ‘extremist’ views will endanger good diplomatic relations with Ethiopia; provide local police with the names of ‘extremists’ who have sought political asylum, thereby restriction their movement and political activities…and on and on. It reads like the guidebook of a third-rate gangster.

The fact is none of this is really new. In one of its most public blunders, the Ethiopian government sued in an American court the operators of a Diaspora-run radio station for liable. The result was a humiliating defeat. Ethiopundit has brilliantly written about it in Caravan Redux.

The Ethiopian government’s donor allies have conceded that Ato Meles processes a “psychopathic willingness to kill his own people to keep power.” The Ethiopian people and the Diaspora have known that for a while now. It’s gonna take a hell lot more than a sloppy directive on ‘Diaspora constituency building’ to change that image.

Perhaps the first step for the Ethiopian government is to ask its supporters not to do it any favors.

But democracy is here to stay and the fact that the government setout to proactively wrestle away the Diaspora constituency from the vicious opposition is commendable.

Good gracious. Does anybody do a trite-check at the EPRDF? (Probably not. Too busy not taking credit for democratic strides.)

Thanks for letting us know. We’ll be on the lookout for well-funded ‘community’ meetings and festivals and school reunions. The rest we’ll watch on our brand new plasma TVs.

.........................................................
This actually needs more coverage in Diaspora blogs. I'm sorry I have not done it justice with this one entry. Too much to say, too little time before I really take off next Friday.

3 Comments:

Blogger sokari said...

Hi, I have set up an African Women's Reblog at:

http://www.africanwomenblogs.com/africanwomen.html

Myself and Mshairi are hoping to develop the Reblog into a space for African women - we are not sure what yet but would appreciate it if you would have a look through the reblog and add a link to it on your blog.

many thanks

7:34 PM, June 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually it needed to be summirized well and scatered within the diaspora community. Also, some law experts coming up with something that could help the diaspora to counter attack this document and the regime.

1:17 AM, June 17, 2006  
Anonymous Aba Doyo said...

Etiye Wonqitu,
You wrote and i quote,
"...The EPRDF can only function well when it is not challenged by true dissent. Shit, it can’t even handle blogs, for the love of God."
How true!
I am encouraged more and more Western blogggers in Ethiopia are following the footsteps of 'Addis Ferenji' and are showing the courage to write about Legesse Zenawi's misrule. Here is one latest entry from one of such bloggers from Addis on the topic of dissent in Ethiopia. I think we should say to this lady, ISEYEW, IDEGI TEMENDEGI!

http://ftlethiopia.blogspot.com/
Saturday, June 10, 2006
finger pointing

No one can deny the EPRDF is hard working. They’ve been busy blocking websites and denying the blockages. They’ve been directing the trials of the CUD leaders and creating interesting “facts” submitted as evidence. One of the most amusing parts of my day is picking up the Ethiopian Herald to read what these crazy kids will come up with next.

The EPRDF has been doing a lot of finger pointing. And the thing with pointing a finger is there are three fingers pointing back at you. The harder the EPRDF works to prove that both bloggers and CUD members aren’t with ’em, the more they establish their own government as a farce.


Some simple points on democracy:


1. The right to speak out against the government.

Previously this year, journalists were beaten and/or arrested. Now the EPRDF is censoring the internet by blocking certain websites and blogs; we’re waiting to see if bloggers will actually be targeted next.


2. A certain amount of faith in the population to make their own choices.

By censuring and censoring the media, the government denies the public the ability to make their own decisions as to what to read and what to believe. If the government is concerned about the slanted views expressed on the internet or elsewhere, have faith that ETV and the Herald offset this bias.


3. An opposition party is necessary.

The CUD leaders were arrested on charges of treason, await their fate in prison and are now being subjected to circus trials.


4. Respect for due process and rule of law.

Circus trials. Need I say more?


Mr. EPRDF, you claim you are part of democracy. If you block information, you are not part of democracy. If you view your public as an incapable mass, you are not part of democracy. If you charge the opposition with treason, you are not part of democracy. If you use the opposition’s campaign as evidence of treason, you are not part of democracy.


Dissent is a healthy part of democracy. The harder the EPRDF works to show who the dissenters are, the more it distances itself from democracy. There are many of us, Ethiopian or otherwise, who believe the actions and/or inactions of the EPRDF will be its own downfall. It’s a slippery slope and we hope the slide is fast.

2:26 PM, June 17, 2006  

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