Friday, September 29, 2006

A Tale of Two Meetings

Purpose of meeting:

Homeowners association

Scheduled starting time:

7:00 p.m.

Actual time meeting started:

7:02 p.m.


  • Speeches and speeches, updates and updates.
  • Councilman presentation on how the neighborhood successfully blocked a developer from McMansioning a yay-size property
  • Fire marshal presentation: don’t let children near fire
  • Update on the upcoming neighborhood social (decision made to have a kosher stand).
  • Congressperson made a pit stop. Shook hands—a bit too firmly-- smiled staidly and… very proud to represent us in congress. (Elegantly frazzled staffer subtly distributed campaign buttons made in China.)

Most interesting person there:

Elderly woman in a Chanel suit and flip-flops knitting a… tablemat? sweater? large bib? who seemed totally disinteresting in everything except the issue of people parking on the street. Police spokesperson gently reminded her that… um, parking is allowed on city streets. She was not happy. Not happy at all. Police spokesperson shriveled when she narrowed her eyes and poked her ball of wool with two army-size needles. I love her. It seems perfectly normal now not to want people parking their stupid automobiles on the street.

Most uncomfortable moment:

Spotted PTA-Nazi housewife who dresses her daughters like Future Republican Security Moms looking at me with her trademark “Oh, you are one of those mothers who work?” glare dripping from her fluttering eyelashes. Time to pretend to check the Blackberry. Don’t let me find her parked on the street.

Best line of the evening:

HOA chairman says how great it was that the neighborhood was diversifying, “y’know, ethnically.” Cool. 1 black person, 2 Asians and several people of middle eastern background. Maybe, chairman said flashing a “I love you people” smile, “maybe it’s time for some kind of ‘international day’ celebration.” I like. TrE siga being carved from a whole bull hung on hooks at the Ethiopian section. Or… chairman didn’t mean an all out “ethnic rally day” a la Senator Macacawitz, did he?

Times I checked my watch:

More than 15

# of decisions made and voted on:

10. Everything on the agenda.

Scheduled end time:

8: 30 p.m.

Actual time meeting ended:

8:33 p.m.

Next meeting:

Quick check of calendar- date set

How we knew the meeting was over:

Several personal electronic devices beeped.

What happened after the meeting:

Now that business was done with… everyone was politely priming to rush to get away from each other. I had to remind myself these were my neighbors and this was a community meeting… so I decided to, whatdoyoucallit, commune. How are you… how are you… how are you? Pretty obvious no one knew no one’s name. Oh, hey… we should go running together. Call me. No one touched the punch and cookies. (What?! Carbs?! Heresy.) Very skillfully, we were all edging towards the door. Don’t know if it was paranoia but had a feeling PTA-Nazi was trying to corner me. I love her shoes. My daughter had barfed on mine that morning.

It was drizzling, cold and dark outside. I didn’t have an umbrella coz that’s how I roll. People muttered tart goodnights and pretended they didn’t see me putting up my collar. They opened their small, tiny, one-person umbrellas and melted into the night. I hunkered beneath my briefcase and ran to my car. I stepped into a puddle. Ah. One way to wash off barf off of footwear.

And then four days later:

Purpose of meeting:

An Ethiopian community/grassroots philanthropic/outreach… something

Scheduled starting time:

6:30 p.m-ish

Actual time meeting started:

7:28 p.m.



Most interesting person there:

Elderly, supremely elegant man who kept referring to the young people present as “tikuss hyloch”… and not in that sarcastic, demeaning way either.

Most uncomfortable moment:

A know-it-all (yeah? we have those?) 50-ish ex-EPRP type kept lamenting how people in Addis were being forced out of their houses to live in “condoms.” Ahhh, really? Because of the AIDS? Ohhh. It… was… not… meant… in… an… allegorical, art-as-truth kinda way.

Best line of the evening:

Fqr yeTemawun hzb fqr magat mechal alebn.” (No way to translate that so it makes sense… loosely, “we have the responsibility of feeding love to a people parched for love.”) I tried picturing scenarios in which I force-feed my love to a reluctant ET. Maybe not so much.

Times I checked my watch:

More than 15.

# of decisions made and voted on:

I think…one. We decided to decide on the name of the organization at the next meeting.

Scheduled end time:

Eskemiyasschilen.” (“Until we can bear it.”)

Actual time meeting ended:

9:47 p.m.

How we knew the meeting was over:

We could not think of anymore broad, over-reaching, magnificent declarations. Once you have declared your mission to be feeding love, people, there ain’t nowhere to go but down.

What happened after the meeting:

I had let my brother drop me off, and like all people in their 20s who have a warped sense of punctuality, he was nowhere to be seen when the meeting finally broke. It was dark. I resigned myself to wait in the lobby but the security guard was shutting the building.

As we all headed outside the group noticed I did not have a ride. Immediately, five people offered to drop me off even though it was out of their way. I thanked everyone, but, I insisted, slacker brother will be here any moment. It was decided (without a word being uttered) everyone would wait with me. (Time honored Ethiopian concept of “maTabeq”) No. really. It was getting late. I’ll be fine... really…

Nothing doing. My weak mutters of protest were shushed. An impromptu circle formed. The conversation veered to who knew whom from where. How’s your mother? How’s your father? How’s Abba so-and-so. “Ye kebere selamta… innEm.”

So there we were, 10 strangers who were not strangers at all. I lost track of how late my brother was. It was a cold night, but in so many ways it was warm. And I needed warmth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Final Push for HR 5680


Here is information on a big push today for HR 5680. There is a rally on the Capitol.

I might be in the minority here, but I still believe there is a way to help Speaker Hastert “save face.” A better tactic might be to encourage him to be a champion of HR 5680. Portraying him as a shill for K Street might seem politically expedient (don’t know how), but it has deleterious long term consequences. Statements such as “Ethiopian-Americans across the United States are dismayed and surprised that Speaker Hastert has decided to thwart freedom, democracy and human rights in their homeland” [emphasis mine] are seriously unhelpful.

My representative has promised to push for an HR 5680 vote. It is essential we get our reps to rally for HR 5680 as well.

Ethiomedia has the best how-to posted here. Following up on our exercise to get 10 non Ethiopian-Americans in our respective circles involved, ask 10 friends to write their representatives. Make it easy on them by finding out who represents them (enter zip code here), then print out a sample letter, have them sign it and fax it off yourself.



Here is an interesting article on the “do-nothing” congress (New York Times).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Letter from Addis, Re: "Dawn of Freedom"

I got a nice email from “Mebreq” in Addis about
Berhanu Nega’s book, “The Dawn of Freedom.”
Thought I would share the redacted version. My
uncle has sworn he has sent me a copy—although
I have yet to receive it. I understand that one
can now get it online from (Which is why,
Mebreq, I have not done what you asked me to.)
Anyway… anyone who was at the discussion session in DC a few weekends ago, maybe you can update us? 
I have always kept trying to follow you even when your prose
sometimes takes a sudden turn to go through what I
find to be the foreign territory of esoteric
references and usage of American culture and idioms...
But it is fun. All the time. And that's extraordinary.
the main reason that led me to put
finger to keyboard and hammer out this note... is the
fact that I have recently been able to get hold of Dr.
Birhanu's new book "Yenetsanet Goh SiQed"  It is next
to impossible to buy it in the city at the moment. 
I no longer have any doubt that the reports
of 10,000 copies being sold out in 4 days are
accurate. I had some fear that the great expectations
would overwhelm the book's influence... but I have to
say, that man is something else! What with him being
in a filthy prison, I can't fathom just how in the
world he was able to put himself in that elusive state
of mind where one can even hope to write the kind of
book he did. The words seem to flow effortlessly...
and yet the book never loses its cohesiveness. Most
who align with [or] oppose the current regime fall to
address most points of Meles's ideology and fall back
to attacking on one narrow aspect of his range of
deeply flawed ideas. But Birhanu does a wonderful job
of showing just how thoroughly he understands the EPRDF
and its mentality and gives such strong counter points
and beautiful arguments, that countless times I ended
up having to put the book down and... ask myself just
what it all means when such a man is put behind bars,
charged with genocide... 
[Dr. Birhanu] has done so much, gone through much...and
yet is able to keep his book from falling into what it
could easily have become - a cheap bombastic diatribe.
I believe he has managed to put forth a work that
clearly, undeniably unequivocally gives him a complete
intellectual/ideological dominance over any of the
hogwash that Meles and his cronies keep spouting. It
is my firm belief that this should be a required
reading for any literate, thinking Ethiopian who has
ever lost a minute's thought on his/her country and
its future. In addition, I think this is a potent
medicine that will show the light to anyone hypnotized
and hoodwinked by the subterfuge of the EPRDF...  or
for anyone who only thought of CUD in context of the
EPRDF (as just "that party" opposing the EPRDF)... it
sheds so much light on their principles much more than
their campaign manifesto ever did.  Even though Dr.
Birhanu writes this book as an individual and puts a
clear disclaimer that it is not to be taken as a
statement of the CUD, I feel there isn't a better
insight into what the party had offered and what it
could have done. Even though he claims otherwise, and
although many of his actions seem to indicate to an
idealist (leaving his comfortable life to go into the
dangerous world of Ethiopian politics), Dr. Birhanu
surprises on many points by showing that he has given
much thought about all details of the things he
proposes...and by stating and effectively defending
his views, he inadvertently leads the reader to
daydream - painting an image of an Ethiopia that could
have been... and hopefully that will one day be. For
all those who argued (some maliciously others
unknowingly) that Birhanu and his colleagues were just
a ragtag team of ergue remnants, imperial
revanchists, amhara supremacists...etc, I truly
believe that this book will show them the right way,
at least for those who want to be on it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Update: HR 5680

I just talked to Hastert's office. They are deluged and aware-- and frankly a little weary.

I have gotten a few emails demonizing Hastert. Hello?! Exactly what happened to Donald Payne. Am I missing something? Do we Ethiopians “need” an enemy to galvanize?

As I understand it, we just need to ask the Speaker to schedule HR 5680 for a vote. And the strongest reason why it should be voted on is because it is in the best interest of the US—encouraging human rights and democracy are the best ways to combat extremism in a volatile Horn of Africa. Period. I am not sure I understand the two-week “do or die” deadline that is driving a mini-frenzy. Yes, there is recess coming up, but by no means is this bill doomed if it is not on the docket in two weeks.

People have to be methodical and calm. Fighting for democracy is not a “quick result” game where we think if we do X then Y must follow or the entire equation is wrecked. Sometimes you have to go through V to get to Y.

Thank you Aba Doyo from the comments section for the link to The Hill article. It was fascinating. Lobbying congress is a fine art. Alliances have to be nurtured and courted. This is a long-term commitment and not a roll in the hay, so how we treat congressional staffers should reflect our maturity and seriousness.

One thing I have learnt through all this is how insularly most of the Ethiopian-American existence is. We still have an immense problem venturing outside our comfort zone. A small example, how many of us belong to our alumni association? Even Ethiopians who have been lucky enough to have gone to top universities in the States rarely look back once we have degree in hand. Some of the most influential people leading this country went to these schools, and nothing opens up more doors than an alumna bond.

Someone needs to write a book on the art of networking for ETs. Seriously. Like all first generation immigrants, I guess we only venture outside our community only when we need something, and then drop off if we are not successful on the first try. It doesn’t work like that. We have a great opportunity to set a strong foundation. Once you get that going, even if the building falls, the foundation will sustain quick rebuilding. But if we are constantly pouring concrete on sand to set up ephemeral foundations we will be going nowhere fast.

The first step is to know what it takes to lobby the United States government. Know your representatives, vote, join our neighborhood associations and attend city and county meetings. Establishing personal relationships is a powerful tool yet unappreciated in our community.

My mother was very good at this. She used to volunteer PTA meetings at our house—which was a source of much consternation for our father who always became edgy when he had to deal with more than three ferenjie faces at one time… especially in his territory. My grandmother-in-law (such a thing?) still whispers when she sees ferenjies in our living room, and I have friends (you know who you are) who, when we invite them to a party at our house, immediately ask, “Is it an abesha thing or a ferenjie thing?” … ‘coz God forbid if the two shall meet!

To be sure, the Diaspora (the vocal one that Ato Meles’ government feels a need to, um, shut up) has come a long way. There are Ethiopian-American “get out the vote” initiatives happening. People are meeting with their representatives and senators. Even at a very ad hoc level, there is significant movement. Eventually, there will be one big gynormous PAC. But until then, there is an impressive, educated grass roots movement planting strong seeds. To really understand how grass roots movements work, research the history of the Christian Coalition.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see things), a strong Ethiopian PAC will come only after we are dealt a big blow. What the EPRDF should be more afraid of is this bill not passing because that will be the galvanizing factor. It will mean people who are in this thing for the short term and novelty will give up, which hopefully means more serious people who are not afraid of a few hits will fill the vacuum.

All to say… Hastert is our friend. Our job is to let him know that he is our friend. I have sent his staff a nice thank you letter, and maybe those of you in DC can deliver a basket of sambusa and a couple of bottles of tej to quench his staffs’ throats that are parched from talking to us. Any volunteers?

Speaker Hastert’s fax number is: 202-225-0697. I also like Demamu’s suggestion that we all get 10 non-Ethiopians to join the cause. I’ve gotten 6 and it took less than 2 hours!



  • Those of you who haven’t, join LinkedIn.
  • And don’t dare miss Borat’s movie- mark your calendar. November 3.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Ethiopian Diaspora comes of age.

Coalition for HR 5680- the webpage.

Take a moment to ask the Speaker of the House to schedule 5680 for a vote.



Chief of Staff: Scott Palmer

Legislative Director: Anthony Reed

Press Secretary: Ron Bonjean

Monday, September 18, 2006

With Allies Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

Apparently aided by a lobbying firm DLA Piper, HR 568o is stalled in the House of Representatives.

But why do people think the Meles government’s status as a US “ally on the war of terror” an insurmountable obstacle? The Pro-EPRDF lobby tells its supporters to help quash HR 5680 by informing US legislators that Ethiopia is an “ally on the war on terror,” as if that is an infallible logic.

But what kind of ally has the Ethiopian government been?

With all due respect to conventional wisdom, what is happening in Somalia is the strongest argument the opposition has to convince the US to sever its ties with the EPRDF. Further appeasement of the Meles regime is putting not only American interests in jeopardy, but it is contributing to the creation of a new haven of terrorism in one of the most dangerous and volatile areas in the world.

It is extremely important to understand how in the world one of the most secular and moderate Muslim nations is now teetering on the brink of sharia law thumping extremists who think watching soccer is an assault on Islam.

15 years after Somalia descended into anarchy in 1991, life has been one of sheer horror for Somalis. As the Council on Foreign Relation’s backgrounder on the rise of extremism in Somalis states, the various warlords who took over Somalia in 1991:

“were notorious for indiscriminate violence: Women and girls were often raped and locals could not move about the city without fear of being killed.”

Corruption was as rampant as the violence. The BBC reported people have “been afraid to leave [their] house” for 15 years.

The neighboring Ethiopian government, led by a rabid Marxist ethnicologist who got the Bill Clinton “Enlightened African leader” stamp of approval, was sanguine with the lawlessness in Somalia, even encouraging it, believing that a fractured Somalia was in the Meles government’s best interest. It postured itself as a fighter of terrorism, and an understandably skittish post-9/11 Bush Administration poured money and expertise into Prime Minister Meles’s “terror fighting” apparatus. (Sadly, US-made Humvees meant for this purpose were later used to gun down unarmed protestors. Awkward.)

As we learnt in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and countless other places, people eventually tire of lawlessness and fear. They look for any other option that might offer peace and stability. Stability in fractured Muslim states, unfortunately, is exactly what Al-Qaeda and extremists look for to set roots.

Enter the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.

A network of 11 Islamic courts has been set in recent years in Mogadishu, funded by businessmen who preferred any semblance of law and order to complete anarchy.

The courts' stated goal is to restore a system of Sharia law in the city and put an end to impunity and fighting on the streets.

By any standards, the ICU provided beleaguered Somalis a breather. Despite the first transitional Somali government being created in Kenya in October 2004, it could not establish itself in the capital Mogadishu because of security concerns. It instead settled in Baidoa, a town in southern Somalia, in February 2006. This transitional government was a consortium of warlords. Its president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, is a warlord with ties to Ethiopia.

By the time this new government took its place as the only internationally recognized government in Somalia, the ICU had already managed to win the hearts and souls of Somalis.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ros is one of the most prolific analysts on one of my favorite blogs, The Counterterrorism Blog. He correctly surmised:

As the Islamic militias gain ground in Somalia, they encounter little resistance. Residents don't have much incentive to fight the ICU, since the transitional government did little to engender loyalty. In fact, many residents welcome the prospect of stability that the ICU brings to a country that has been ravaged by war. Moreover, some of the government's soldiers have defected to the ICU's force, further adding to the Islamic militia's strength.

Prime Minister Meles’ support lay behind the transitional government, which would have been noble (after all this was an internationally recognized outfit) except that, like most things Ato Meles does, it was calculated, shrewd and miserably self-serving. Instead of strengthening the transitional government because it would be good for disenfranchised Somalis, the Ethiopian government acted like a puppet master. Instead of playing this behind the scenes, it chose bombast. As always, the EPRDF and Ato Meles needed to be the center of attention, a God-complex that has been a recurring infliction in Meles’ administration.

Needing to strongly depict itself as an ally on the war on terror, thereby deflecting attention from the massive unrest in Ethiopia following the May 2005 elections, the Ethiopian government sent troops to Baidoa (after of course congenitally lying about it) to protect the transitional government. It raised the stakes by saying that it would “crush” the ICU.

Washington rejoiced.

Unfortunately, we forgot… What fuels jihadists more than a sense of “protecting the motherland” from invading infidels backed by the US? Nothing. The ICU declared a jihad against Ethiopia.

The world was shocked, shocked when on June 5 the ICU captured Mogadishu. It was a stunning loss only to those who were not following the situation closely. A coalition of warlords which had craftily aligned to form the “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism” in February 2006 was soundly defeated despite being backed by the US and Ethiopia.

Again from the CFR:

Despite its name, the ARPCT probably does little to combat terrorism and is more interested in maintaining the lawless status quo in which the warlords thrive. Experts say the moniker is an attempt to make the group appealing to Western governments, highlighting their battle against the spread of an Islamic militia. The scheme seems to have worked: In June there were widespread reports the United States was providing financial support to the ARPCT.

While one would think this would have given pause to the Bush administration to question how it got suckered into this quagmire, Washington chose instead to play a part in the creation of something called the International Contact Group on Somalia on June 15—well after things had started to deteriorate. Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who has been particularly unserious about the unfolding disaster in the Horn of Africa (she asked the Ethiopian opposition not to throw stones at government forces as a solution to the post-election killings in June and November 2005) , provided the usual boilerplate.

“What we're trying to do is gain greater information, fidelity, and also make it very clear to all entities in Somalia, whether it's clan elders, whether it's Islamic court militias, whether it's warlords, whether it's business people - however you want to characterize them - that these foreign terrorists are going to continue to be a critical interest of the United States. They have to be turned over."

It was perhaps the lowest point of US diplomacy in the Horn.

The unnerving thing is that even after the fall of Mogadishu, there was an opportunity to diffuse the situation had there been someone who thought about long term strategies to curb a new hub for extremists. (Sadly, according to a New York Times article, Michael Zorick, the State Department's political officer for Somalia, was “reassigned to Chad after he sent a cable to Washington criticizing Washington's policy of paying Somali warlords.”)

The chairman of the ICU, one Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, considered a moderate element within the Union, had written a four-page letter to the UN, EU and the US calling, as the BBC reported, for “the establishment of friendly relations with the international community, based on mutual respect.” He continued, "We categorically deny and reject any accusation that were/are harboring any terrorists or supporters of terrorism," and adding, "We would like to establish a friendly relationship with the international community."

Sure it could have been a rouse, but it was an imminently exploitable one. It was an olive branch and seizing it before the ICU had a chance to regroup would have been helpful.

Even radical ICU leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a higher up in al-Itihaad al-Islaami, recognized by the US government as a terrorist organization, was careful to disassociate the ICU from Al-Qaeda.

In fact, there was reason to be optimistic even in early June. Quoting its editor of the Somali service, Yusuf Garaad Omar, the BBC reported:

"The Islamic courts and the transitional government need each other," [Omar] says. "One is the legal government, the other is a popular force in control of the capital."

But he warns that it is only a step forward on a long road towards the end of war. He says the Islamic courts are likely to become whatever others want them to be. If treated with respect - as partners - they could turn into the group which delivers the capital to the government and so end years of conflict.

But if they are viewed as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, that too, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is hard to believe that the ICU would have delivered Mogadishu to the transitional government and retreat, but it is a sentiment that is echoed by Professor Abdi Samatar from the University of Minneapolis:

I think Somalis have always been moderate practitioners of Islam and very, very free people. The same gentleman, Sheikh Sharif, also noted today that they are not interested in becoming ministers or government themselves -- that's the Islamic courts -- and that they will be using the Sharia law until such a time when a constitutional government is formed.


What they want to do is create the conditions in which the Somali people, and particularly the people of Mogadishu and the Banadir region, could be able to have determination as to which way they want to go

Who knows? But the fact remains that an opportunity for détente was willfully squandered. Who knows what would have happened if the US had not listened to the Ethiopian government’s braggadocio about “crushing” extremists? Instead, believing Ethiopia to be a reliable ally capable of containing extremism, the US decided on a proxy war approach.

What has unfolded since then should raise concern. Washington tightened its alliance with the Ethiopian government. Direct aid that had been cut off by the World Bank after the June and November killings were resumed. Paul Wolfowitz, the paragon of global democracy and a staunch architect of America’s moral war against tyranny, went on a highly publicized tour of Ethiopia, holding Meles’ hand and assuring the autocrat that between democracy and stability, the US would choose stability, however unstably. It was heartbreaking. Wolfowitz couldn’t even find a way to be discomforted by the imprisonment of 111 opposition leaders, journalists and civic group leaders which the Ethiopian government is trying for “genocide.” Perhaps he never got this letter.

With Ethiopia fanning the flames, the ICU started muscling in on the rest of Somalia. It captured the town of Beletuein, a stronghold of warlord Yusuf Ahmed Hagar, who also happened to be the transitional government’s nominee as governor of the Hiran region. Frigteningly, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, this was a “significant strategic victory for the ICU” especially if it wants to “further spread its influence into Ethiopia.”

Soon, Harardhere, a port city fell, giving the ICU access to the Indian Ocean. Then Eldher fell. Then port city of Hobyo fell. Douglas Farah frustratingly noted that Kazakstan had now joined Eritrea as a supplier of arms to the ICU. (The president of Kazakhstan, a world-class kleptrocrat, will, incidentally, be hosted by President Bush at the White House at the end of September, and is also invited to Kennebunkport.)

Meanwhile, the ICU was getting stronger and more radicalized. It continued to use Ethiopia’s presence in Baidoa as a rallying call, and Somalis who initially had a symbiotic relationship with the ICU were now entrenched in the radical culture of jihad. ICU installed a “ program to disarm Somalis not affiliated with the Islamists.”

The transitional government started suffering massive defections and resignations due to its association with Ethiopia. (Ethiopia is itself going through its own spate of generals, soldiers and diplomatic staff defections.) Now emboldened, the ICU delayed talks with the transitional government.

The transitional government is now holed up in landlocked Baidoa, surrounded by an ever-expanding ICU force. Talks resumed on September 4.

"We are brothers, we can achieve a lot. We want to focus on ways and means to take Somalia out of its current debacle," Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, speaker of Somalia's transitional parliament and leader of the government delegation, said at the opening of the Khartoum talks.

But here is the hair-raising part of Bill Roggio’s analysis on August 23. (Emphasis added.)

Both the Ethiopians and the Islamic Courts appear to be waiting for the other to make the first move and spark the war.

Well, guess what happened today?

“Twin Blasts In Somalia Apparent Assassination Attempt.”

Two explosions rocked the Somali town of Baidoa on Monday, killing the president's brother and three others in an apparent assassination attempt, officials said.

President Abdullahi Yusuf escaped unharmed, government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

This is Al-Qaeda style terror: car bombs, assassinations. This is frightening.

So, again, how did one of the most moderate Muslim nations in the world disintegrate thus? What are the long term ramifications of war in the Horn now that the Ethiopian government will certainly venture out to “crush” anyone it deems is an enemy of the transitional government?

The best antidote to radicalism is a stable government that understands and is serious about the long-term benefits of democracy. The best antidote to curbing Al-Qaeda is leadership which has the respect and support of the people. The Meles government is viscerally not the former, and severely lacks the latter. By continuing to blindly support the current Ethiopian government (which is a slowly dying regime), Washington is fast losing the hearts and souls of Ethiopians, who have so far looked towards the United States as an ally of the people, not the government.

The current American Charge d’ Affaires to Ethiopia, Ms. Vicki Huddleston, has been incomprehensively incompetent and unfocused. She is a mediocre broker of peace, to put it kindly, and her support of a “fake CUD” to appease the Meles government was a great disservice to the Bush administration. Hopefully, Donald Yamamoto will be confirmed as US Ambassador soon. We need serious people dealing with this volatile situation.

It would be one thing if the US had no choice but to support the Meles regime in order to stabilize situations in Somalia. But the US has options. Sadly, democratically elected Members of Parliament are in prison, in exile or dead. These are pro-west, pro-free market thinkers, now betrayed by the very tenets which made hope in Ethiopia possible. It was unconscionable that the international community did not put its foot down when the Ethiopian government arrested and tried opposition members on absurd charges of genocide. This blog contended that once the “trials” start, it would be difficult to pull back and save face. It was another colossal mistake enabled by Ms. Huddleston and Ms. Frazer, who put enough pressure of the government to have genocide charges dropped against VOA employees, American citizens of Ethiopian decent. Alas, the rest of the opposition was left to fend for themselves against a well armed US ally.

One of my favorite bloggers, Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit, rightfully agonizes the importance of supporting Ethiopian democracy and (not versus) not supporting a tyrannical regime.

I realize that it is important to make sure that a Taliban-like regime is not established in Somalia, but at the same time the freedom of the Ethiopian people cannot be compromised because of it.

Bingo. The thing is, the two are not mutually exclusive. For the Taliban not to resurrect itself in a nation like Somalia which has miles and miles of porous borders, we need allies in nations surrounding Somalia that care more about Somali people than power mongering. The current Ethiopian regime has proven itself an unworthy ally that has been instrumental in radicalizing Somalia. Somalis have the right to choose their leaders. Unfortunately, the current Ethiopian government’s belligerent policies are pushing Somalia and peaceful Somalis towards intractable radicalism. Once extremism spreads, it is hard to pull it back. The US can’t afford to fight a new front on terror.

In the end, Ethiopians, especially the opposition, should be happy that theirs was a truly grass-roots movement towards democracy, unaided by the greatest democracy on earth. The Ethiopian Diaspora, maligned and harangued by the Ethiopian government and its embassies, has managed to nudge Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-New Jersey) and Rep. Donald Payne’s (D- New Jersey) bipartisan bill, HR 5680, through the International Relations Committee. It is now up to Speaker Dennis Hasterd to schedule it for a vote.

After what happened in Somalia today, the US should grab this last opportunity to still be a player in the Horn of Africa. After sending a strong message to the Meles government that its cozy “ally on the war on terror” status has cost the US dearly, the US should now insist on a negotiated settlement between the EPRDF and opposition parties. If Ethiopia descends into civil unrest, the US will be shut out from setting the agenda on Horn issues. That goes against US interests.

Without doubt, the Ethiopian government has contributed to the instability of Somalia. Ethiopia also has a significant moderate Muslim population. The US is on the verge of completely losing the hearts and minds of the majority Ethiopian population. That’s the majority of 77 million people.

Unquestionably, the US should conduct its foreign policy according to what is in its best self interest. In this case, the US’ best interest is to align itself with the Ethiopian people who are in a valiant fight for liberty. Sure swathing the current Ethiopian regime with yet another layer of bandages might seem most expedient. But doing what is expedient isn’t what made this country great.

It is not if, but when the Meles regime falls, the US should not be seen as the one who had prolonged the agony. It is exactly because Ethiopia is an ally of the US that HR 5680 should be passed!

Help pass HR 5680. Call your representative. Call Mr. Hasret’s office: Phone: 202-225-2976. Write to him: Fax: 202-225-0697. Email: (Sample letter available at the HR5680 page here.)


More readings:


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Africa: The Perfect Photo-Op

I am sitting in my dentist’s waiting room, flipping through really old magazines, and doing my best to dodge the anorexic receptionist’s icy half smiles. (And by the way, my dentist charges $200 to look your way without disdain. You’d think we’d get current issues of Vanity Fair for that price.)

Anyway, there on the cover of a dated People Magazine is Jessica Simpson—pre divorce, while she was in the middle of the most blatant lie in this town (“My husband and I are happy! Really!”) since Jeffrey Katzenberg swore his allegiance to Michael Eisner.

And guess where Ms. Simpson is during a pre “we decided to go our separate ways but remain good friends” publicity tour? Where can American starlets possibly go to blunt an upcoming publicity onslaught? Yep. They go to Africa. They go to Africa and they make sure they are photographed feeding emaciated kids.

Ah. Africa. It’s not just for messianic rock stars anymore.

It reminds me of a snarky article about Ashley Judd in South Africa by Josh Trevino which was originally published on Tactitus, but removed because… well, goddamn lawyers. You can read it here, however.

Among the notable parts:

And every place we went, Ashley Judd swooped down like a good Southern matron and hugged the small children. She cried with destitute mothers. She stroked the heads of poor black people. The photographers from Glamour and Conde Nast loved it. And then, she's back in the car, and Ashley is tired, and Ashley is sick, and Ashley needs acupuncture. I asked the YouthAIDS senior person whether maybe Ashley was a bit spoiled, and she told me the story of how Ashley refused to do their first promotional tour to Cambodia unless she was allowed to fly British Airways first class all the way. “That's quite an expense for us as a humanitarian organization....but we ended up having to do it.”

A profound love for humanity, but no time for humans: the very picture of the narcissist celebrity leftist.

Never gets old.

Eventually, eventually I will blackmail/wear down a Mr. AK to write the back story of when Geldof first visited Ethiopia… before he became a Bushie. ("Clinton was a good guy, but he did fuck all.")

Another thing. Can we do this? Can we put a moratorium (pronounced “moratori’UM” as in South Park’s “Planetari-UM”) on Africans performing native songs and dances for visitors? It’s always awkward trying to keep up with the beat and all… and having to keep a smile plastered on your face in the merciless heat while all you want to do is hand a check to someone and find a Chinese acupuncturist… really, ship the starving kids to a Hollywood studio and save everybody humiliating exercises in humility.

And seriously, this is a crime against humanity.

As Africans, how did we let Africa get to this point?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Extraordinary Man

"When I entered prison, my overwhelming feeling was one of a great burden being lifted off of me. The only ones responsible for what happens after now are the leaders of the EPRDF. We did everything possible within our power to steer the struggle away from this situation. Knowing that we could not have done anything more freed my heart from regret."

- Quote from Dr. Berhanu Nega’s book, “Ye NeSanet Goh Siqed” ("When the Dawn of Freedom Breaks.")


(With apologies if I massacred the translation.)

I have read excerpts from Ato Berhanu’s book. By any, any standard, this is an extraordinary man. From the obviously high value he puts on his wife’s opinions, to how he describes in painful detail the CUD's internal struggle about whether it should or should not join parliament, this is a man with astonishingly intimidating insight, intelligence, instincts, and most of all, integrity. As a parent, I can only dream of leaving my children a quarter he has left his. And as an Ethiopian, I know now I will always be haunted by the question, “What have I done for Ethiopia?"

I have tried to argue on this blog the importance of honor in leadership. The people in prison are testimony to men and women who value honor above power. Ethiopia has taken one giant leap.

This is an extraordinary man.

You can now get information on how to buy the book online by emailing a request to bookorder@ I hope it is translated to English soon because the world needs to know this man’s and his colleagues’ contribution to Ethiopian history. In the meantime, my uncle ('seven words or less') has promised me my own, personal copy.

Qrb new ye Ityopiya tinasaE.