Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Letter to Paul Wolfowitz

To: Paul Wolfowitz
World Bank

Washington, DC

Dear Paul,

I am inexplicably optimistic about your impending trip to Ethiopia. Considering the World Bank’s recent response to the Ethiopian government’s heavy-handedness, I find my suppressed optimism confounding.

I am the furthest thing from an economic wonk you can possibly find, but what I know is this: to make poverty history, you have to make tyranny history. Period. I am a late comer to understanding international aid and what I have learnt so far is crushingly disheartening. The EPRDF has gotten some $15+ billion in aid from the west so far. What do the Ethiopian people have to show for it?

Here is the neocon in me: I believe America should not only be respected globally, it should cause fear in the hearts of dictators everywhere. Even though I have been more or less disabused of the notion that American foreign policy should have a solid moral foundation, I have emerged an ever stronger evangelist of the fundamental decency and integrity of the American people and individuals in the American government who can make a difference.

In college I had a professor from central Africa who was unable to finish a class without throwing a series of well worn vitriolic barbs against the United States in what was a prerequisite for tenure at every liberal arts college in the late 80s. Yet my professor would spend Thursday afternoons waiting in line at the local immigration office in high anxiety mode, waiting for word on his Green Card. Such is the power of America.

I don’t envy American diplomats in Ethiopia. How do you negotiate with a leader of a country who many diplomats privately admit has a “psychopathic willingness to kill his own people to keep power”? Seriously, how do you negotiate with that? How do you put pressure on a man not to shoot innocent people? How do you beg him to care for his own people?

But even then, Paul, how does the American ambassador in Ethiopia venture out to exert pressure on imprisoned opposition leaders to give their blessing to a new political party created and manipulated by the ruling party? How does the American Ambassador quote Ecclesiastes and tell Ethiopians who have survived Mengistu Haile Mariam and 15 years of the EPRDF that it takes decades to build a democracy?

The past year has been a staggering series of realities for Ethiopian-Americans in the Diaspora. Like many, I had accepted an amicable divorce from Ethiopian politics. I belong to that generation of Ethiopians shell shocked out of politics by the brutality of the Mengistu regime, yet old enough remember an Ethiopia which was kind. Try as we have, it was impossible to burn off the loose threads connecting us to home. Between love and madness, my generation decided to focus on what we can do economically to help Ethiopia: we invested in businesses, supported NGOs… anything, everything and whatever helped us tiptoe around the abscess that is Ethiopian politics.

May 2005 yanked away our rose-tinted glasses. The harsh realization of self-imposed exile from politics made us, a collective of do-gooder overachievers, feel vulnerable and perhaps for the first time in a long time, hopeless. We felt ashamed for trapping ourselves into believing Ethiopia had bigger problems than democracy and liberty-- the very lack of which had forced our parents into being first generation refugees. One commentator on this blog put it brilliantly: as long as we helped build water projects, we were half way to sleeping soundly on 600 thread count sheets. So what if the water project was right next to Dedessa?

Ethiopians have died for liberty long before May 2005. Our great grandfathers stood up to the Italians long before our cousins stood in line for the May ballots. How we let ourselves believe our fellow countrymen didn’t deserve the same yearning for freedom in the 21st generation is our cross to bear.

There are a lot of elements in Greg Mills’ article, Ten Things that Africa Can Do for Itself I agree with. In the end, it is up to Ethiopians, back home and in the Diaspora, to stand up for liberty.

Paul, challenging the current Ethiopian government is one mammoth task. But why are Ethiopians put in the precarious position of begging the US to be on the side of people who chose a peaceful path towards democracy? Why are Ethiopian-Americans demonstrating and signing petitions in cities across this country pleading Washington to take notice of bloodletting by a close “ally”? Were we naïve to take President Bush’s words about tyranny to heart? I have to tell you, it’s been hard dragging a kicking and screaming US to the side of the Ethiopian people.

Without doubt the US’ foreign policy in Africa should motivated by self interest. What is it about a strong and democratic Ethiopia that is not in the best interest of the US in such a volatile place such as the Horn of Africa? These short-term spurts of aligning the US with borderline psychotic leaders have not-- not even once-- worked well for the US. Why is there such a glaring lack of a long-term strategy that will benefit the US?

I hope you find the unraveling political drama in Somalia instructive. Eventually, people’s will is much stronger than guns. I don’t know how the EPRDF does not realize this. If it were not so, the will of the TPLF would have been crushed by the viscerally murderous nature of the Mengistu regime. There is something unconquerable about one’s will… especially for freedom. As Berhanu Nega put it, it is hard to cover back up the rays of democracy from people who have seen it.

That the United States and the EU did not draw a line in the sand when the Ethiopian government decided to round up 131 people and charge them with ‘treason’ and ‘genocide’ will be a black eye for all of us. Obviously, there was enough pressure put on the Ethiopian government to drop the charges against the five VOA journalists. That we are letting the rest go through the travesty of the EPRDF’s court will serve as a reminder of broken promises. These trials should be as much an affront to all free people as it is to the defendants. For them to be asked to plead for amnesty by nations who have lived by one version or another of the mantra “give me liberty or give me death” is morally indefensible.

Admittedly, the Diaspora of my generation has outsourced Ethiopia’s well being to EPRDF wingmen like Jeffrey Sachs who believe matters of good governance is too much to ask of Africans. Ostensibly, it is great enough progress Africans are not cannibalizing each other on a regular basis that the solution to the continent’s chronic poverty is clear as day: pour so much money into government coffers that some of it will eventually trickle down to the poor. It appears to be Dr. Ishac Diwan’s position as well. That's why there was a collective sigh of relief when you entered the scene. Even people who disagreed with your politics rallied around the idea of someone at the helm of the World Bank who believes from his very core that everyone, everyone deserves a chance to live in a democracy. Finally, someone to crack the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.'

To demand honor from Ethiopian leaders, to ensure human rights for all Ethiopians is not a flight of whimsy. You, Paul, understand that more than anyone else.

I’ve been trying to encapsulate the difference between the two political parties in these great United States and the way they deal with Africa: liberals won’t help anyone who they don’t deem so weak that it requires their special kind of magnanimity-- as long as whoever is being helped makes room for mind-numbing patronization (the “we are feeding your stinking country so shut up and eat” school of thought), while conservatives are repulsed by weakness and don’t have the DNA wiring to help anyone from the ground up. Horribly reductionist, I know. The Ethiopian Diaspora, I think, has learnt to approach politics from the vantage point of strength. HR 4423 is evidence of that.

I’m sorry. I think I’m venting streams of consciousness on you.

The World Bank, no doubt, is also under duress in Ethiopia. The recent resumption of aid that very much resembles direct budgetary assistance to the Ethiopian government was a huge disappointment. While, again, it is hard to balance good governance with aid when one is dealing with a government which won't hesitate to use its citizens as leverage, is there a certain point when too much is finally enough? I don’t know what the behind the scenes look like, but I hope they are prettier than what we see from this end. It’s one thing for aid to be squandered. But what happens when aid is used to sustain an authoritarian government? What possible incentive does the Ethiopian government have to change? What more can it do to prove itself a more unworthy ally, a dying regime and an unremittingly vicious one?

I do hope you have time to visit with those who are in prison. Not just the leaders of the opposition, but the journalists and civic movement leaders who are charged with “treason”, “attempts to commit acts of genocide” and “outrages against the constitution.” I hope you get to know Ethiopia’s potential. The Derg robbed Ethiopia of some of her brightest sons and daughters. The EPRDF is on the verge of digging into that wound. Young dynamic leaders embarrassed the EPRDF in the May elections, and no one does revenge better than the EPRDF.

Believe me, I am a reluctant bit player in the Ethiopian political scene. I am an immigrant who considers herself exceptionally lucky to have landed on the shores of the US, who has been blessed with all the benefits that come with being wholly embraced by this great country. But how do I go about not letting Birtukan Mideksa’s letter affect me? Is it a curse or a blessing this obligation I feel to a country that educated my parents and afforded them a life out of poverty? If I had a choice, I would be happy helping out with water projects and AIDS awareness in Ethiopia and leaving the politics to others. But the hardest battle is being fought by people who are being gunned down. So what choice do I have? What else am I going to leave my children?

As sure as day, Ethiopians will eventually get a government which will respect their humanity. The question is, will the US have been there for them? With each passing day, it seems not to matter. As an American, that anguishes me. As an Ethiopian, it almost devastates me.

So why do I feel optimistic about your visit? Maybe because of that letter you sent the CUD. That was something. Even symbolically.

Bon voyage.



Blogger Geja said...

It has been a while for me, it could be from being overwhelmed with nothingness, or with the boundless articles, some insidious, some benign and some, like yours here heartfelt, gut wrenching and telling the truth to those who continually refused to hear it. I admire not just your wit and wisdom, but also your tenacity. You are a testament to what Ethiopia could have, but never has been so far due to the seemingly eternal malfunction and obesity of destruction some of her children are bestowed with.

7:20 PM, June 21, 2006  
Anonymous jiraf said...

well said, wonq. but at this point the US is becoming irrelevant in eth matters. unless we become a tour de force, there will always be a fast talking voiceover disclamer after bush's inauguration speech.. "does not apply to africa... circumstances may vary... this offer may be withdrawn at any time"...

6:02 AM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous safiya said...

Sorry Wonkette, your beloved neocons are not going to rescue us. Neocons only care about the war on terror-and Meles is their man.

We have a better chance with......the liberals. Maybe.

We are alone.

9:06 AM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Taking a break from the WC ...

Neocons, liberals, it doesn't matter as much as getting ourselves organised into a politically significant voting block. Then we'll be courted by all manner of politicians.

This goal is achievable. We do have the potential to make democracy work for us in the US, Canada, and Western Europe. We have already seen a tiny bit of this potential, and it's going to grow as the diaspora, like all other immigrant communities, slowly realizes that it must participate in the political process in order to become full beneficiaries of American/Canadian... citizenship.

We will not be alone unless we isolate ourselves.

1:10 PM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

weche WONKE wonkitu yegna the blog you wrote to Cndi Rice and this here to MR Wlof and all the others that you keep writing shoud be compiled in to a book to document the struggle that is being wedged ,and will eventualy bring the tyrants , that are hindering freedom and progress, down.Wonke do what you do best.Articulate for those of us who are not blessed with words and ideas.

1:31 PM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous etw said...


Agree very much although the ideological purists on the right are an untapped resource the diaspora in the US is not taking advantage of. I think you guys in Canada have done a much better job at incorporating the right into Ethiopian politics. (As are ETs in the UK.) We have a lot to learn.

But you are right about the eventual target: that it should not matter who is in office, the ET diaspora would have a voice, just like the Cuban and Jewish lobby. That's why I could not understand the vilification of Rep. Payne.

Goochie Woochie, just making sure you will write when I'm gone for the rest of the summer... please? Pretty please?

2:32 PM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

selam everyone,

i'll start with a mea culpa. i was one of those who had a (not so) "amicable divorce" from ethie politics. in retrospect, i see the folly in that.

i can claim to be a semi-econ wonk, and the prevalence of "people who are starving can't eat democracy" school of thought never ceases to amaze me. there is a very interesting response to donald levine (i know.. i know... levine) by a dr. yonas gedemo on

The final paragraph of your response, Professor Levine, I must completely disagree with. Work within the system, you said, Patience is essential, do not forget the main problems of hunger and poverty. Dr Levine, that’s precisely the reason why we do not have anymore patience left. Hunger and poverty are direct results of the megalomaniacs who ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for decades, not caring for the sufferings and aguish of our people. Democracy is the solution to these problems, and we can not afford to be patient any longer. The lives of our people depend on it.


an excellent post, Wonqette.

2:47 PM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent post and as usual you have surpassed yourself. Thank you on behalf of all those who need you and the likes of you.

4:10 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger kuchiye said...

We have to get involved and get invlved in real time. While blogging, attending political meetings, participating in public rallys and making monetary contributions once in a long while are somehow appreciable, they will never do the job of crowning Ethiopians with democratic governance. In most cases, these are self-serving, "feel goood", excercises and I have been as guilty as any playing the sub par game.

It is high time we face the bare truth that political changes come through the instrument of political parties, not thru mass organization, not thru NGOs, and cetainly not thru one forum or another. If parties are the only way, I cannot understand why we are seeking the truth following other ways. I have heard enough of "I am not a politician", "poleticana korenti beruq" crap. Yet, I don't know of an Ethiopian who does not discuss ET politics and who does not testify to the inadequacies of political parties every single day. Hiding behind these covers and seeking justice for our people is sheer hipocracy. Masses of Ethiopians had both the wisdom and courage to join parties of their choice in order to reach their promissed land. They had actually showed us the way in 2005.

The greatest gift we can give to our people is not scanty pocket changs and mass ralleys but joining parties en mass and making these parties potent forces. Anything less is ....

Sorry I had to rant but I thought I was entitled after my sabatical.

12:34 AM, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous dube said...

emebete wonqitu, excellent post. as always.

I disagree to a certain extent (but that is what I always do)
I feel somehow that change can never come from the outside. Not the foreigners or the diasporans can really change Ethiopia. Only the people who live there and work there and struggle there can really affect change. Unfortunatley the good people are too busy trying to make ends meet while the seemingly wiley/incompetent/powerhungry ones dedicate their lives to changing the country to their ideal. What was unique last year was that the regular folks were inspired by the suprisingly normal/sane/sincere 'politicans' that stepped up to say enough of this crap, I've got a better idea and I'm willing to dedicate my life to serve my country. And you know how much change that affected. You know the droves that came out to vote. You know the ones that wouldn't back down and are now in jail.

Though it will be nice if paulie here does something, I can't imagine us getting much out of them or change coming from that. El Primo Minister Meles doesn't strike me as one who would admit he is wrong and change the error of his ways, regardless of who the chiding came from.

Read this;

9:59 AM, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Indemn kermeshal? Just dropped by your site after 2-3 months. You're still a fighter! Very admirable. Reminds me of the Italian invasion era heroes.

I have kind of given up hope on the Americans because they just see things only in 1-D...too narrow.

Where Meles has them by the balls is with the "Somalia/Al Qaeda" boggie man. Even Herman Cohen said recently that Meles is feeding them with false info about Somalia. Look where they landed! They have even a meaner and more radical Somali warlord controlling Mogadishu now.

So, when Wolfi goes to Addis, Meles will feed him stories about Al Qaeda, Al-Bulshit, Al Tush-Tush.

That is where the American interest and weakness lies.

I hope you write one article on how Meles is playing with America's only focus - terrorism (imagined or real).


10:16 AM, June 25, 2006  
Blogger sokari said...

"To make poverty history you need to make tyranny history" brilliantly put and an excellent post as usual.

5:05 AM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger nigeria, what's new said...

Message to Larry, here is beauty. Everything we wanted to say is here. Connected? Oh yes. Thank you ET Wonqette.

4:36 AM, June 28, 2006  
Anonymous Wotete said...

For your enlightenment!!!!

12:58:30 pm, Categories: Ethiopia, 410 words
Somali Islamists suggest talks with Ethiopia over territorial dispute

"Ethiopia mistreats the Somalis under their administration. The land was given to them by colonialists and we will seek justice to resolve the crisis that is dividing the two countries,"

Powerful Somali Islamists have suggested talks with arch-foe Ethiopian to resolve a lingering territorial dispute thas has been a source of animosity between the two impoverished Horn of Africa nations.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the supreme leader of Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts that controls swathes of southern Somalia including the capital Mogadishu, said Wednesday he was ready to "negotiate" with Ethiopia on the status of the contested Ogaden region.

"We are ready to negotiate," he told AFP by phone from central Somalia's Galgudud region, where he has been establishing Islamic tribunals.

Relations between the countries have been frosty since they fought in 1977-8 over the ownership of the barren Ogaden region in southeastern Ethiopia, which is largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis who claim that the land was handed over to Ethiopia by the former colonial powers.

"Ethiopia mistreats the Somalis under their administration. The land was given to them by colonialists and we will seek justice to resolve the crisis that is dividing the two countries," Aweys told AFP.

"The land taken by Ethiopia cannot be forgotten because it is attached to our blood and nationalists," he said, referring to troops and civilians who died during the 1977/78 war.

In the past Addis Ababa has accused factions in Somalia of fueling tension in the Ogaden region, a dry belt that is believed to be lying on large quantities of gas, but further exploration is needed to verify the exact amount and develop the fields.

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused arch-foe Eritrea and Somali Islamists of destabilizing the Horn of Africa and warned his country would defend itself against any threat.

Since the Islamists routed US-backed warlords early this month, Ethiopia has reinforced its defences along the border with Somalia and warned the Islamists against provocation.

Analysts have said that efforts to settle the border dispute faces challenges, notably because Addis Ababa is a key ally of Washington in its "war against terrorism" and the Somali Islamic supremo Aweys is a hardline cleric who has been designated a terrorist by the United States.

In addition, Ethiopia supports Somalia's largely powerless transitional government, which is at odds with the Islamists, they add.

10:32 PM, June 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done! but wanna raise a quest,was CUD members except Dr B.. are the one who can get us out from these mess? or Have u ever question when the leader of CUD placed a wedge in his interview which we all sick to listen from Meles and the like?

7:32 PM, July 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mela yetefabish set,

For God's sake if you are Ethiopian, go to Ethiopia and all over the countryside to observe where our country is at the moment after 15 years of democratic governance for development. America tekemtesh metatif bit'tsfi, semi atagegnim.

So I invite you the real world and stop disposing your full nightmare confusion.

Let God help you!!!

4:51 PM, July 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to the above anonymous-

You know, we are sick and tired of the Woyanie growth turumba. Now you are trying to disperse us all over the countryside since the so called growth is invisible in the cities, is that it?

There ought to be a better way of earning a shelter and three square meals a day than by trying to defend the indefensible WOYANE.

5:51 PM, July 10, 2006  
Anonymous silverbullet said...

I have to say that i am impressed by Ethiopia s children ability to be patient....Over and over again we are being disappointed, stepped over, killed, manipulated, jailed, they give us a little hope only to crush it harder....paulo went to addis and resumed wb aid that was s getting funny, i feel like meles got slapped on the wrist and now it s all forgotten...Honestly, like ernesto guevara said it, there is no rervolution without a gunshot! that s my conclusion...For those that will run to label military actions as terrorism....i will remind them that resistance is not terrorism, liberation struggle is not terrorism....I am sure that paulo and co would hear us better if we helped their earing unblock with a couple of gunshots around 4 kilo....You know that s the only thing they respect anyway...let s stopp kidding ourselves beka...

4:22 AM, July 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'ld rather go ayyyyiiiiii and not gosh, indeed I do appreciate your style of writing, and I feel convienced that you belive in what you are saying, outright opposition is what you want to be. But hey that is not enough, you can't run a country by simply opposing. Once you have said your opinion about what is not right you should follow it with how you think it should be done instead, i guess this is a constructive way of doing things.
Instead of putting so much effort in convincing external powers you should try to do it yourself, move back, and listen to the people understand the problem, and try to solve it, to the extent your capacity allows. What i am sure of is that if you listen well and long enough the ethiopian problem does not start or end with meles or eprdf
The second one is that I somehow belive that Meles is as democratic and as forthcoming to the Ethiopian people and it's causes as any average Ethiopian. Yes sure, this means he is not qualified to lead, and that I would agree, but he is still an Ethiopian and hardly some "borderline psychotic leader".
We should instead discuss the goals we want to reach as Ethiopans, as africans and as part of this more and more globalized world. Once there is an Ethiopian goal to work towards, and not only mongering a western living style in an ever exhorbitant fashion, you would have motivated Ethiopians who will be willing to find the means to the end. As it is done now, it is totally absurd, where there actually is no goal in mind rather than fixing what is broken, right under your nose.
Having read your lines I feel certain if you have read so far, you are shocked, and put me on the side of EPRDF, but hey I could not care less.

1:09 PM, August 04, 2006  

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