Friday, August 24, 2007

Ato Samuel Goes to Washington....Part 1

We will ask this question knowing the answer: does everything/everyone that comes into contact with the EPRDF immediately dissolve into immitigable mediocrity?

(This is the part where you say, “yes”.)

So we are watching this horrifying video of the current Ethiopian ambassador to the United States and … seriously? Even given the generous provision that defending Ato Meles and his ghetto fabulous approach to public policy is as near an impossible undertaking as you can get, Ato Samuel Assefa, considered to be Ato Meles’ Karl Rove (how do you say ‘Turd Blossom’ in Amharic?) seems not to be trying at all.

Now, we at Weichegud… we are simple people. We don’t relish jumping all over opportunist ersatz intellectuals… no. Wait. We do relish that.

And so enters one Ambassador Samuel Assefa into our lives. He took over from our previous friend, the besottingly crazy Kassahun Ayele who routinely castrated himself whenever he had to … what’s that thing called when an ambassador has to negotiate difficult diplomatic terrains… talk. He is sorely missed—in that we miss the cerebral sores he gave us.

Soooo…. some know-it-alls at Foreign Policy, what with their fancy graphs and fancy indices, put Ethiopia in their “Failed States” list, the 2007 version. Big woop. Then they send someone to interview the ambassador so he could ‘splaine himself. And that’s when things start unraveling.

Okay. So we are hoping that this shit was very, very unfairly edited and that Ato Samuel really did not say these things because, if he did, we have to slit our wrists.

Question number 1:

Is Ethiopia a failed state?

Simple enough. How can anyone fuck that one up? Throw out your own bullshit statistics, hover in never-never-land, blame the weather and the vast right wing conspiracy and, bara-bing. Out of the park Yeah?

Answer: [Preceded by a good impression of a dumb look.]

What exactly does it mean to be a failed state? [Look around as if the answer might be on your desk.] Uh… whatever it is it, is not a failed state.

Waa? Hold right there, cowboy. Did you… could you… have you… Dude, c’mon! You had an Ivy League education! What the hell kind of a defense is "Ethiopia is not a failed state because I don’t know what a failed state is?" That's like saying, “I don’t know what that is, but whatever it is, it is not.” You see how that doesn't work... at all?

(But we will try it at work. “Why is my report late? I don't know what you mean by late. Since I don't know the meaning of late, how can it be late?)

Oh, no. He is still talking.

But I am not so sure that we know what it means to be a failed state according to this model. I believe the indices themselves are radically insufficient to give us a sense of what is going on in Ethiopia. It is a huge political experiment. Incredibly complex society. A very old, OLD country, huh… whose claim to being one of the cradles of civilization should be taken seriously.

Uh. Yeah. We have a question:… Whaaaat?

Which brings up the point: What the hell kind of indices did those magniloquent boobs at FP use to come to such a grand conclusion, and did they take into consideration just how OLD a civilization Ethiopia is? What, they think they can judge us by their “refugees and displaced persons” index; their “public service” index, their “human rights” index; their whatever the hell “factionalized elites” index is? Where is the “Do you claim Sheba and Solomon fornicated and thus a king was born” index, huh, you elitist bastards?! Good day, sirs. No, we said good day!

We want to tell you it is uphill from there, but---

Question number 2:

Why is there such a gap between the rich and poor in Ethiopia?

Okay, phew. Easy question to deflect. Redeem yourself, Mr. Ambassador. Make Princeton proud.

Blah.. blah…

… the nation is composed of small landholders … uh… and that 85% that are on the land control the land. There isn’t strict property over the land but… use of [something] right, [something] of tenure is also provided. The mainstay of the agrarian economy are the small farmers…

Sammy, Sammy, Sam-mi! You have got be shittin’ us!

Ahhh, the nation is composed of landholders who- ehem- don’t have strict ownership of the land? What's that? Is that the crazy way of saying that the government of Ethiopia strictly owns ALL the land in Ethiopia, and 85% of the population are its serfs? Boo, you disappoint us.

Or was Ato Samuel being smarter than we are dumb and subtly indicting the EPRDF’s own deranged policy: there is poverty because we don’t let anyone own their own land, he is saying in nuanced sem-inna-werq. If so, he should be expecting a very irate call from Ato Meles which will start with something like, “Hey, Ivy League boy. What are we paying you for?”

So, to re-cap, what is to blame for the gap between rich and poor in Ethiopia? Those piddling, non-land holding landowner freaks who are bringing all of us down.

And as if that response was not in itself spectacularly inane, Ato Smauel pushes the envelope ever so gently further into Crazy EPRDF Land. You were saying, Mr. Ambassador…

Maybe you can think of, I dunno, Iowa. Of course the farms in Iowa are far larger, more technological. But it is… the state it is, what, is populated by small farmers. That’s the ideal. So, I don’t think inequality in that sense is intended because still we have now put in place a market economy, but still, it has not developed in such a way that huge inequities, huge inequities of the kind that you mention exist.

So… you know how when you watch a really bad horror movie—there is always some self righteous, dumb blonde who decides to go to the basement alone to confront the monster, and she is all like “Hello. Is anyone there?” and you are like, “Anchi qebeT. Yibelish!”

Rigggght? So, the blonde in this scenario is played by Ato Samuel, and may we say, what a performance.

And why we gotta drag the poor people of Iowa into this, anyway, what with their technological farms? Never mind that according to the US Census of 2005, Iowa is ranked smack in the middle (27th) of states with people living below the poverty level. Those bastard farmers in Iowa. Do they actually own their own land or are they tenured, um, statistic dragger-downers? And what “radically insufficient” indices are used to determine these rankings anyway?

Now we realize being perched in Washington DC and projectile vomiting platitudes is a cushy position we one day hope to aspire to, but, insane talk aside, has the Ambassador ventured out to Ethiopia recently, ‘coz we gotta tell him, there is a HUGE gap between rich and poor thanks to the wondrously incompetent cleptocracy run by Ato Meles and his dingbat man Fridays. But, we ain’t no philosophy majors.

Coming up in Part 2… Rodney King has a three-way with Eritrea: The Good Ambassador ups the ante on insanity.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Silence before death

There is an incredibly poignant article in Ethiomedia titled How Long Does Hunger Last? It is written by an Ethiopian in 2000, yet it heartbreakingly applies to today’s Ethiopia. Things have a way of staying put in Ethiopia.

The emptiness and despair in the eyes of the three children who were sharing a tiny dirt spot in one of the crowded makeshift shelters were horrifying. Their mother, helplessly lying beside them, placed the palm of her bony left hand under her hollow left cheek while holding the wrist of her famished three-year-old daughter as if trying to feel the child’s remote pulse. The two boys, too weak to sit upright, shifted their eyes from their little sister to their mother and again back to their little sister in a manner that revealed their hidden horror of losing either one in a matter of hours.

The writer, Tewodros Abebe, recalls the horror of seeing a family on the verge of death. A mother, herself emaciated, waits to see how long it will take for her children to die.

When my daughter was an infant she had an insatiable appetite. If I waited one minute longer than she could bear the hunger pains, she would let out a wail that’d haunt me for hours.

So imagine the pain of Ethiopian mothers who have to first hear the wails of their hungry children and be unable to feed them. Then imagine the silence that follows.

The article is gut wrenching on so many levels—but more so because it is written by an Ethiopian. This is not a CARE pamphlet. It is not a sanctimonious BBC documentary on those starving Africans. These are the words of one of us who has seen the horror of man-made famines.

My mother has a saying: “Lij yewelede indet g’ff yiseral?” (Someone translate that for me.) And that’s what I don’t understand about the EPRDF. How can Ato Meles, a parent himself, be sanguine about letting other people’s children die?

And how can we, as Ethiopians, keep on letting this happen to us? Why have we outsourced the well being of our mothers to NGOs and Bono?

Tewodros writes about “the disheartening images of men bitterly crying like children when they were informed that their and their families’ share of the day’s food ration was gone.”

How long does hunger last? Apparently as long as we are willing to look away.

I have gotten a few emails from people who want to do some volunteer work during their visit to Ethiopia to celebrate the Millennium. Organizations in Ethiopia looking for help, please post your information in the comments section or send me an email. One organization to look into is the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association.