Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sending Boys to do a Woman’s Job

Condoleezza Rice , Secretary of State , United States
Birtukan Mideksa , Vice Chair- CUD, Ethiopia
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President, Liberia

January 11, 2oo6

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
State Department
Washington, DC

Dear Condi:

When he asked you to become Secretary of State, President Bush said you accepted on the condition that he include Africa in U.S. foreign policy priorities.

In your bold speech at the Leon H. Sullivan Summit dinner last June you stressed how much peace and security means to Africa, and that the United State is cognizant of the fact that a peaceful and prospering Africa benefits the US.

The first time I was eligible to vote in the United States, I lingered in the booth perhaps longer than I know. There was a part of me that wanted to be nonchalant, but I remember my voice quivering when I asked the person next to me to take my picture as I pulled the lever.

Whatever the circumstances that brought about the 2005 Ethiopian elections, whatever one might think of the ruling party of Ethiopia, it was hard to stay unsentimental when seeing pictures of lines snaking through the hills and valleys of Ethiopia, lines of patient people holding on to their voting cards with hope and determination.

So here we are eight months later. Who knows how many have died because they stood up to a government that just does not have the acumen to respect the very basic tenets of democracy, civility and honor. Thousands have been rounded up and beaten savagely. Thousands more wait to exhale. I am left asking, are there certain thresholds we as humans have in tolerating tyranny?

Prime Minister Meles’ army shot a mother at point black range in front of her children. His government told the children they would not receive custody of their mother’s body unless they signed an affidavit stating that it was the opposition who killed her. The children refused.

That was my threshold.

There is something obviously visceral in the EPRDF that makes it unable to treat Ethiopians with even the slightest modicum of decency. It is avaricious and divisive, incompetent and cruel beyond imagination.

But you know all that. The question is, what can you do about it?

I realize there are diplomatic loose ends the State Department needs to tie, and therefore it might be necessary to continue to pretend that Ato Meles’ government is interested in democracy. I get it. But the time has come to send people who know you are a fundamentally decent person a sign that you are disturbed by what’s going on. When we see US Humvees roaming the Addis Abeba, and the same red-beret army trained by the US to combat terrorism directing its snipers at teenagers, we need a sign that you know the jig is up.

Above politics, there is morality in question here. When Ethiopia’s history is written, your name should be included with those who stood up with Ethiopian mothers whose eyes have swollen and shrunken from unrelenting anguish.

There was something breathtakingly brave about Ana Gomes when she wrote to the EU Parliament urging them to “stop the killing of Ethiopians who dared to believe that democracy is possible in Ethiopia.” Anna is on record.

Something happened to us women of color when we saw you being sworn in as Secretary of State. No matter where we stood on the political spectrum, it was an inarguably powerful image. I can only imagine the kinds of pressure placed on you from all sides. Being “the first” anything is hard, but though to a very, very minor degree, I can attest to the landmines awaiting “the first black woman” to do anything. Madeleine Albright tells a charming story about her days as US Ambassador to the UN. The only other woman ambassador at that time was from Liechtenstein, and Madeleine was beautifully untactful about having a liberal open door policy with her, much to the chagrin of the male counterparts. Ms. Albright was coquettish, yet unapologetic. In trying to please everyone, trailblazing women can sometimes be trapped into straddling too many of those landmines. I say let some of them detonate.

I read a news report of an Ethiopian woman who lost a child in the November massacres. She said, “We don’t want bread. We don’t want money. All we want is for the government to not take away our hope.”

To me, that statement was single handedly the most powerful sentiment which justified the irrational hope I harbor that Ethiopia is on the verge of a true renaissance, despite the garishness of Melesocracy. Ethiopia has always been poor. But it is only a recent phenomenon, thanks to the crippling effects of communism and Nouveau Marxism, that she has loosened her grip on hope. It amazes me to no end that in the most recent poll, close to 70% of Iraqis say that they are have hope of a better Iraq. Even through daily bombings Iraqis are able to envision an Iraq that will eventually embrace its children. If that is not testament to the human spirit, I don’t know what is. Ethiopia just needs hope. Not money, not arms and definitely not platitude.

I was a little girl during the Red Terror in Ethiopia and memories of that time have thankfully become hazy. But I am changed forever because of one profound moment.

My grandmother was taking care of my sisters and I when soldiers burst through her compound, her front door and started searching her house. My grandmother’s stoic stare strangely comforted us. She continued eating dinner and we followed suit, albeit shakily. Occasionally she would glance up at the barely adolescent soldiers who were turning her quaint house upside down. If the soldiers were not disarmed by her serenity they were definitely stunned when she sent her cook to ask them if they wanted to have something to eat. The soldiers declined; my grandmother continued eating.

At some point, perhaps annoyed by her insouciance, the soldiers started getting increasingly bold. One of them closely scrutinized the framed pictures on my grandmother’s mantelpiece. He looked back deliberately at her and rifle-butted the large picture of my dead grandfather’s picture. The glass frame smashed into a million pieces when it crashed on the floor. My older sister began to cry. My grandmother stood up and walked to the soldier. She went right up to him and staring directly in his eyes told him to pick up the frame.

It was the first time I felt absolute terror rushing through all the tiny fibers of my body. The other soldiers stopped rummaging. “Shoot her,” one of the soldiers said. “Shoot her and let’s go.” My grandmother didn’t flinch. She again told the soldier to pick up the frame. The longest few minutes of my life followed. Eventually the soldier picked up the frame and threw it on the sofa. My grandmother walked back to us and we hung on to her for dear life.

I’ve been able to look people in the eye because my grandfather’s picture was my grandmother’s threshold.

Condi, what’s yours?

Pictures of and stories from the camps in Dedessa and all the other concentration camps will eventually come to light. The EPRDF is, for all intents and purposes, finished. Your legacy and the US’ legacy can’t be associated with a government that is about to convict its opponents for “genocide.” Your legacy should not include having stayed silent while the Ethiopian government prods and pokes a terrified 14-year-old to prove he is a 16-year-old so he can be charged with “treason and genocide.”

According to a BBC report, Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, the Vice Chairman of the CUD who also happens to be a judge, has a nine-month-old baby girl at home. Birtukan is one of the 131 people facing the death penalty on trumped up charges of conspiracy to commit genocide. Birtukan’s mother is taking care of the baby, who has oval eyes not yet aware of the calamity around her. How can we let another generation of Ethiopians go through terror when we have the ways and means of finally breaking the vicious circle of poverty, terror and hopelessness?

When discussing democracy and AGOA with five African leaders at the White House last June, President Bush said, “We believe Africa is a continent full of promise and talent and opportunity, and the United States will do our part to help the people of Africa realize the brighter future they deserve.”

What powerful words. Ethiopia survived Fascist Italy gassing her people with mustard gas. Ethiopia survived Mengistu’s bloodletting. And Ethiopia will survive Ato Meles and the EPRDF. All that is required of the US is to not prolong the agony by staying silent.

You can change history, Condi. You could and should be the one to say “enough.” Whoever takes over leadership in Ethiopia will be a stronger US ally on the war on terror because it will be obligated to Ethiopia first and not to a narrow, tribalist concern. The era of jungle mentality and warlordship has come to an end. Ethiopians are ready for moral leadership. The US will be better off aligning itself with the party that has the moral and intellectual upper hand.

Some of us who thought 1991 was the dawn of a new era for Ethiopia went back home to do our duty; to give back what we can to a land that has given us so much. We came back broken spirited and wounded. We were called chauvinists and “imperial/Derg revanchists” (we still are) because we believed in an Ethiopia that was better than the government. Undoubtedly, you have gone through the same absurdity: who among us has not been called a “sell out” and an Uncle Tom by our very own for daring to think outside of our pre-assigned mold?

I wish you knew the potential Ethiopia has, Condi. It is absolutely unacceptable that a country like Ethiopia is mired in this much poverty. It is intolerable that Ethiopia has been relegated to permanent beggar nation. I wish you knew Ethiopia’s potential. You already know, as you said at a hearing of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last May, that the Ethiopian government has been complacent about the chronic food shortages it faces. According to the AP, “U.S. officials, [Rice] said, have been trying to get the government ‘to be responsive to what may be a humanitarian problem it has had trouble seeing.’”

Prime Minister Meles never had trouble seeing the looming humanitarian crisis. He just prefers other people feed Ethiopians. Ethiopia was never a priority for the Meles government. It never will be.

My hope is that Ethiopia will soon have her own Rosa Parks, a force that will be infinitely more powerful than guns and politics. The primitive instinct of women to protect their own with prove much more powerful than even the smartest political maneuver. Women understand broken spirits because inevitably we are the ones who are tasked with mending them.

Africa will change because of you, Condi, because I have a feeling you have reached your threshold.

Of HIV/AIDS ravishing Africa you said, “History will treat us unkindly if those of us who had the means and those of us who had the way were unresponsive to this great crisis."

History will.

With much admiration.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


If what you wrote doesn't not tug at her heart, I would question if she is capable of having a threshold. This is not for Condi alone. This also goes for everybody who has been silent so far. This also goes supporters of EPRDF. What is your threshold?

God bless you Wonquette!

4:58 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You raise an interesting issue:"meles is going down, do you want your legacy connected to him?"

Because legacies matter to people like Condi and Bush, moral responsibility is a much more powerful argument. Also the possibility that a conservative administartion could be the one to change Africa for the better is a powerful argument. Clinton to this day can't stop talking about Rwanda and his failure there.

But ultimately, it is up to Ethiopians and Africans.


5:51 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wedeetwa Ye aEtyopia Lej,

You go on girl! Can I fax her this piece with your permission?

Ke telek akberot gara,

11:27 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot weichegud!

You did it again! Your post is a must read for all Ethiopians. The part about your grandmother and Birtukan reflects a quintessential Ethiopian trait (Atinkun Baynet or አትንኩን ባይነት).

I did not know Birtukan has a nine-month baby. My heart is broken for out modern day Etege Tayetu. In system riddled with injustice, she was a lone voice for truth and fairness. She tried to free Siye Abraha who did his best to protect Ethiopia’s sovereignty, albeit at the last minute. (Now he is forgotten by his erstwhile supporters.)

If Condi gets hold of your letter, I am sure it will have a big influence on her. It has the right mix of fact, analysis, poignant story and a good dose of flattery. One hopes she has the spirit of the civil rights movement.

While we are campaigning to change US foreign policy, we should not forget the key is in our own hand. US foreign policy, especially on Africa, has never been humane and principled nor in the national interest of the country itself.

Ethiopians will remove Meles’s fascist regime. In the last couple of years, we have witnessed the resurgence of Atinkun Baynet (አትንኩን ባይነት) amidst despair. I feel reborn and I have never had more hope for Ethiopia than I do now. The rebirth of Ethiopia is nearer than we think.

Victory for Ethiopia!

5:19 AM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The guiding principles of conservatism, if applied fairly to Africa, would actually be better policy for the continent than the usual left proviso that Africans just cannot handle their problems (therefore throw a few coins at it and turn away). If eventually Africa blips on the conservative agenda, I am ready to bet my fancy car and fancy vacation house that it would turn around the “Africa malaise” in US foreign policy. They all think all we want is their money, and it is up to us to let them know that there are those of us out there who just want to be looked directly in the eyes.

8:13 AM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you actually sent this to Rice? If not, I think you should. An elegant paper copy, if possible.

10:24 AM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could write like you do. This is just something. Please, please, for love of God, keep blogging.

11:47 AM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger kuchiye said...


What a chilling story! No child ever deserves to go through such traumatic experience... yesterday, today or in the future.

All the more reason for us to intensify our struggle.

1:50 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just hope that I will be able to have half your eloquence one day!!! You inspire me soooo much (specially as a diasporized Ethiopian, a woman and law student). The impact and outreach of your writing is far beyond simple blogging. And as witnessed you touch & inspire many of us who wish to follow your trail. Thank god for this technology and your blog!!

Ke tilik misgana, adnikotna kibir gar.

2:44 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even on an idiotic reader like me, the power of a simple : “Condi, what’s yours?” is not lost! Aygermim?

In fact, I tried to, intn, ADOPT (What Plagiarize? Who me?) the phrase for a little something I’m doing in AmariNa, but had a bit of difficulty in translating, er, ADOPTING it:

What’s your threshold, Condi? . .Condi, gedebish wedet new? Condi, dimberish weyet new? Condi . . . .esti, help arguN benatachihu! My little AmariNa project is nothing without it!

Ahhh, Señora Wonqacho! See how you do me?

3:08 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not anonymous,
the phrase you are trying to plagiarize would read (in amharic)
Condi, yanchis gedeb yet dres new?

word to the wise: three years out of the 4, in high school, I didn't get a passing grade in amharic.

3:28 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

morality vs. national interest.

yes, meles may have gone a little too wild as far the US gov. is concerned but he remains a loyal ally. But really, the US doesn't want to see another Chavez, not in the Horn, not in Africa, not anywhere in the world as a matter of fact. Especially when the chinese are the door, and they're known to bankroll anyone who can let them have it their way. Because it'll require a Chavez to pull us out of the nightmare we've been stuck in for decades. It'll require a leader who demands fairer treatment by the west.

Bush received last year at the white house Bongo from Gabon, the poster child of dictatorship in Africa. National interest.

Morality is good but national interest comes first.

3:46 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wegesha, passing grade or not, you are a winner in my book! Your Amahric is impressive, but hey, what happened to your Engiliz? I said “ADOPT!” Ain’t nobody said nothin’ about “plagiarizating" no wonq! Lenegeru, badergewm, SHE MINE! Inde?

Benegerachn lie, did you get the residency?

4:06 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great letter! Moral appeal is as American as you can get.

Just curious, overall do Ethiopian-Americans vote more conservative or liberal? Not to suggest it is a monolith, but I'd be interested in knowing.

Enjoy your work.

8:19 AM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yigermal, yidenqal. What is moral you talk about yehayalun shefafenoo? So many are suffering because of ye'Americaw tegbar. Weichegud! aydelem inde yerasin atlalto yehayalun mamogages. Hypocracy newe weyes awakinet! Ewnetim ETwonquette!

9:22 AM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CUD NA support group is haveing confrence on Jan 13 and 14. There is discussion going on at ER forum to present a proposal to the conference with the objective strengthening the group. If you want to contribute to this proposal, please visit:

Recommendation to CUD North American Conference from ER Forum Members


1:43 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow is an amazing letter and I hope you have somehow tried to get it to Condi. You are right the days of Melese and EPDRF are numbered and once again(as we have overcome the red terror and Mengistu's regim) Ethiopia And Ethiopians will see the the day light out of this political darkness. keep up the good work.
god bless you

8:41 PM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger enaseb said...

bravo wonq! not because i think she will hear it but because you link it - despite her.

not anonymous,
me thinks you accidentally encapsulated this blog with "Condi . . . .esti, help arguN benatachihu!" demo regarding your plagiarizing possibilities......what are you claiming as yours here? (wink wink wonqueye...)

12:00 AM, January 17, 2006  
Blogger INEHO? said...

A beautifully written message, but I wish it was addressed to someone who actually had a heart or something that resembles it. Asking Condi to symphatize to a genuine black cause, especially an African one, is like pleading with a secretary of an SS officer to ask her boss to helpthe Jews in Poland. Did we forget that this is the same woman who was shopping for Ferragamo shoes on Fifth Ave and treating herself to a showing of 'Spamelot' when thousands of HER people, were drowning in New Orleans? Are we that naive or that forgetful? I vote for naive.

12:36 AM, January 31, 2006  

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