Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Jihadists are coming!

Here we go again! Trot out the Somali jihadist bogeyman (aya jibo). Get out the smoke machine and mirrors. Show time! Act I. Narrator Zenawi: “Somalia is becoming a haven for terrorist. The sheiks of terror have declared an unholy war on Ethiopia, and the U.S. of A. They are on the outskirts. This is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. Patriots and countrymen, defend the homeland!” Blah, blah, blah…

When the going gets tough, the Zenawi Road Show gets going. And these are indeed very tough times for Zenawi. The floodlight of truth has been trained on him over the past couple of weeks, and he has had no place to hide. He desperately wants to divert the attention of Ethiopians and the international community. Enter: Somali jihadist bogeyman. Let’s get the show on the road! Not just yet, buddy… No doubt, the last two weeks have not been kind to Zenawi. He has been stuck on the international stage with the spotlight on him, and the world saw him for what he is: An emperor with no clothes. No more talk about the “new breed of African leader,” first among equals in a “new generation of African leaders” committed to human rights, democracy and economic development.

The truth about the post-election massacres came out in the most unexpected forum. Zenawi had planned to have his Inquiry Commission put on a show for his parliament. But he couldn’t stage manage it. Instead, the truth was hand delivered to the United States Congress in a briefing, by none other than Inquiry Commission chairman and senior judge Frehiwot and vice chair and senior judge Woldemichael.

The facts ascertained by the Commission are shocking and incontrovertible: at least 193 men, women and children protesting the election results were murdered by Zenawi’s security forces. Over a thousand demonstrators shot and wounded. 65 prisoners of conscience executed in cold blood in a hail of machine gun fire in Qaliti prison. (Compare all this to the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960 when apartheid South African police opened fire and killed 69 African demonstrators protesting pass laws and injured as many as 300.)

But that was not all: The commission determined that no property was destroyed by protesters. Not a single protester was armed. Shots fired by government forces were intended not to disperse the crowd, but to kill protesters by directing fire to their heads and chest areas.

The report was not sensationalized. It was a dispassionate factual account of the Commission’s investigation, and the forensically meticulous methodology used in documenting the killings and the gross abuses of human rights. In the final analysis, Judges Frehiwot and Woldemichael presented a devastating indictment of Zenawi and his regime for crimes against humanity.

Zenawi desperately tried to keep a lid on the truth. But truth always has a way of getting out, even though Zenawi tried to keep it from seeing the light of day by turning off the power that lighted the offices of the Inquiry Commission.

Zenawi knew the jig was up, but he pleaded with the Inquiry Commission for hours: “Please, pretty please, change your conclusions. Just don’t say it is the government’s fault.” He tried to seduce them: “I will give you riches, whatever your heart desires. Just do it the way we did the Anuak report. Blame the victims.” Frehiwot and Woldemichael sat in stony silence, listening to Zenawi ranting and raving.

Then he gave the commissioners a stiff lecture on the jurisprudence of “excessive use of force.” (Such legal buffoonery must have amused the judges, but I suspect they must have reserved a measure of pity for Zenawi.) He cajoled them: “Your report is very important to Ethiopia’s international image. Your conclusions about government responsibility in the massacres will harm the country. I appeal to your sense of patriotism. Destroy this report and issue and new one favorable to the government.”

When he sensed his words were falling on deaf ears, he reminded them of his standard operating procedure: “You change your analysis and conclusions, or.…” That was it! Time to get the hell out of Dodge. And the two judges were out of there before sundown, with the evidence bagged and in tow -- reports, documents, videos, audios, the whole kit and caboodle.

What a great disappointment -- and a shocking surprise -- it must have been to Zenawi when Frehiwot and Woldemichael looked him straight in the face and said with steely resolve: “No deal, Zenawi. We don’t sell the truth. We expose it!” How proud we are of these men of courage and valor!

“What now?” Zenawi must have asked himself in stunned disbelief. “Are there really Ethiopians who will not sell their souls in exchange for a house, a car or luxurious lifestyle? These guys would rather live with nothing in a strange land than live a life of luxury and comfort at the cost of a little white lie? What the hell is happening in Ethiopia!?”

Well, I can imagine why Zenawi would be flabbergasted. No offense to anyone, but these are the “new breed” of African leaders, “vanguards of change” that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were really talking about. Woldemichael Meshesha, Frehiwot Samuel, Mitiku Teshome, Alemayheu Zemedkun, Getachew Jigi, Teshale Aberra, just to name a few among thousands of other young Ethiopian leaders who would rather live in exile than continue to serve a tyrant, and be tools of terror and oppression against their own people.

Zenawi says, “but they worked for my government all these years. Now, they are saying these lies just to get political asylum in the West. They can’t be trusted.” Sure, they desperately tried to be instruments of good in an evil system, but in the end these young people learned that in an evil system one has very limited set of choices: be part of it and try to change it, and in the process risk being changed by it, destroy it or in the process be destroyed by it, or escape from it. In the end, they chose to escape, and did so by the skin of their teeth. Now, Ethiopians the world over salute these heroes, champions of human rights who used the truth not only to bring light on the darkness of Zenawi’s regime, but also to defend their people and set them free. Hallelujah!

But Zenawi does not want to talk about the truth. No, he wants to talk about the jihadist bogeyman from Somalia. (By the way, when did the warlords grow up to be jihadists, anyway?) He wants to tell the world that the Somali jihadists are on the warpath; and watch out Ethiopians, and Americans too for supporting Christians and Jews. Pleeease, give me a break!

Classic Zenawi: When the going gets tough, distract the public’s attention. These are hard times for Zenawi. Recently, he went to the European Union to deliver a speech on development and good governance. (It reminded me of a speech once given by Idi Amin on human rights.) Someone remarked that Zenawi’s speech at the EU was not unlike the devil preaching the gospel. But he did not get to preach. The crowd in the gallery booed and jeered him. He had to stop after a few minutes, visibly shaken. But there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He could not arrest or jail his hecklers. Impolite and rowdy hecklers, but free people nonetheless who have the right to say whatever they wanted, including the epithets “murderer,” “killer” and “dictator.” If the shoe fits, wear it, I say.

But I wondered how Zenawi must felt at that moment, to have a rowdy bunch shut him up cold; and prevent him from speaking, expressing his thoughts and ideas about things he feels are important to Ethiopia and Africa. It couldn’t have been a good feeling. But that moment, Zenawi must understand, is “groundhog day” for ordinary Ethiopians who are trapped in a time loop where everyday is like the day before: Not allowed to speak their mind, not allowed to read their favorite newspapers, magazines or books. Not allowed to visit their favorite websites. Not allowed to listen to their leaders. Not allowed to be themselves. Not allowed…(Zenawi ought to share his feelings about his experience at the EU with the journalists enduring in his jails. I bet they would have something common to talk about.)

But that day at the EU, Zenawi learned a real lesson in democracy and human rights: The right to free expression means not only the right to expound on sublime and lofty ideas, or profess the party line or regurgitate the official ideology. Freedom of speech also embraces the right to heckle, pester and tease politicians! Heckling, even if it is rude, is a protected form of expression in the West, particularly when a politician is on the stand. So, the hecklers won the day, and Zenawi did not finish his speech.

In a way, I wish he had completed his speech. Perhaps he might have been able to share with the world his special expertise and insights in the use of indiscriminate killing of rambunctious but harmless demonstrators to establish good governance, or the special use of mass arrests and imprisonments to accelerate the economic development of Ethiopia. We’ll never find out now.

But, in all sincerity, Zenawi could have stolen the show at the EU and earned the respect of the world, and enjoyed watching his hecklers and critics dumbfounded and confused. He could have started his speech with something like: “The foundation of good governance is admission of mistakes by leaders; and God knows I have made my share of mistakes, as has my regime and party. It was a tragic mistake that 193 men, women and children were shot and killed and hundreds more wounded by my security forces. It was a terrible mistake to imprison the opposition leaders. It was wrong to have allowed the massacre of the Anuaks…. But, it is never a mistake to acknowledge a mistake and make amends…I am deeply sorry…”

Zenawi would have set a new standard, a historic milestone, of transparency and accountability in the practice of good governance. That was his golden opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of his people and in the court of world public opinion. But in his usual style, he will not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity; and so he let the hecklers win the day.

Back to the jihadists. The Somalis say they want to drive out the Ethiopian invaders from their country and reclaim their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Ethiopia admits having a contingency of expeditionary forces in and around Baidoa. The Somlais say Ethiopia is preparing to make war against Somalia and break up their country into permanent clandoms. They have no choice but to fight, they say.

In all fairness, their argument is not unlike the arguments Zenawi made when Badme was occupied by Eritrean forces. Back in 1998, Zenawi’s Foreign Ministry declared: “Eritrea has committed aggression against Ethiopia in violation of international law. Eritrea's unprovoked and naked aggression is a crime which cannot be justified by any pretext of border dispute.” See any parallels there?

But Zenawi spins a nice yarn about the threat of radical Islam in the Horn, and the insufficient response from the international community to deal with the threat. “The international community could have done more, and should have done more,” he said. The drumbeat for war on the Somali jihadists is deafening. “Somalia is going to be another Iraq or Afghanistan. The Horn is teetering on the brink of war. Al-Quieda is spreading its tentacles throughout East Africa. All the Westerns experts agree. CNN says it’s real, so does the BBC. We need to get the international community to support Ethiopia in its fight against terrorism and Somali jihadists. Ethiopians, quick, circle the wagons! The Somali jihadists are coming!” (I wonder if the jihadists are telling their people: “The infidels are already here! The infidels are in Baidoa! Let’s drive them out!”)

But wait just a cotton pickin’ minute! Amnesty International, Human rights Watch and the U.S. State Department all say, Zenawi’s regime is among the worst violators of human rights in the world. Western experts say Zenawi’s regime commits gross violations of human rights, and he keeps thousands of political prisoners in the country, and conducts mass arrests and extrajudicial killings. The U.S. House of Representatives has made legislative findings on gross violations of human rights in Ethiopia in H.R. 5680. CNN has reported on it, as has the BBC. To echo Zenawi: “The international community could have done more, and should have done more.” About human rights in Ethiopia, that is. But it hasn’t.

So, we got a problem. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists are lurking behind every desert rock and boulder. He wants Ethiopians to come out and fight them in every hamlet, town and city. We say, the gross violations of human rights continue unabated. We want Ethiopians to come out of the jails and prisons and rejoin their families. We want them to come out into the streets and peacefully express themselves, show their opposition to government policies and actions, engage in constructive dialogue with their fellow citizens and enjoy basic human rights, which according to Zenawi’s constitution is the natural right of every Ethiopian citizen. So, what do we do? Which way do we go?

Surely, Zenawi must know that it is pointless to ask Ethiopians to come out and circle the wagons when they feel they are themselves victims of a political war he has declared on them. They seem infinitely more afraid of his regime and security forces than any wild-eyed Somali jihadist they had never seen. Pray tell: What would the Somali jihadist do to them that Zenawi’s regime has not already done to them anyway? Ummm!

Common sense would suggest that it is hard to convince Ethiopians to come out and fight a jihadist bogeyman when they are themselves fighting for survival, everyday, against a regime that terrorizes them and keeps them in a state of perpetual fear and misery. It is hard to excite them to rise up in a fit of patriotism and rummage the featureless Ogaden desert in pursuit of an invisible jihadist when they are themselves hunted down like rabid dogs in their city and town streets, jailed, tortured and murdered.

It seems futile to sound the bugle of nationalism and jingoism when thousands of Ethiopians languish in jails for no other reason but for supporting democracy and exercising their human rights. The problem is the Ethiopian people can not fight two wars at once: defend themselves in a political war declared on them by Zenawi and his regime, and mount an attack on a distant and invisible enemy rattling sabers somewhere in the “failed state” of Somalia; an enemy, by the way, that seems incapable of bringing the whole of Somalia under its control let alone expect to win a war against a vastly superior Ethiopian military (so say the experts).

But the whole jihadist business smacks of political fantasy. It’s surreal. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists and their Al Qaeda partners should be opposed and defeated because they are undemocratic, anti-democratic, oppressive and authoritarian. The jihadists don’t believe in human rights and do not allow political or social dissent. They are fanatics who want to impose one-party rule, and do not believe in a democracy where the people elect their representatives. Duh!!! Has Mr. Zenawi looked at the mirror lately?

Now, we have a choice to make. We can follow along the Zenawi Road Show and entertain ourselves with stories of Somali jihadist bogeymen, Mickey Mouse and the Easter Bunny. Or we can stay focused on the real issues of human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia.

I shall keep my eyes fixed on the 800 pound gorilla in the living room that Zenawi does not want to talk about or acknowledge: How about freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, Mr. Zenawi?

Well, if you are not inclined to answer my question, good luck on your road show: “The Jihadists are coming, the Jihadists are coming…

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Farewell, Mr. Hastert! Good Bye, Mr. Armey! So Long, Mr. Zenawi!

How the tables can turn…

When Mr. Hastert bottled H.R. 5680 in the International Relations Committee just before the midterm recess, most supporters of the bill were deeply disappointed, and angry. We had labored long and hard to get the bill to the floor, and done a marvelous job of generating unanimous bipartisan support for it in committee. In the eleventh hour, we found out that we had been double-crossed by Speaker Hastert.

Hastert’s action in blocking the legislation from floor action was not entirely unanticipated, but we considered his intervention so remote that we failed to develop effective counter-strategies. After all, Hastert showed no signs of opposition to the bill at any prior time, nor did he manifest the slightest interest in it until late September. Hastert gave us a September surprise.

We felt Hastert had bushwacked us, mugged us in broad daylight. But we could not figure out why he would block the bill. H.R. 5680 was ready for floor action. He could have worked with the International Relations Committee and addressed any concerns he may have had about the bill. Supporters felt betrayed. For the first time in Diaspora history, Ethiopian Americans were poised to use the American legislative process to advance the cause of cause of human rights and democracy in their homeland; and as we hurtled to the end zone for a touchdown, we ran into a stonewall.

But we did not take it lying down. We went directly to Hastert’s constituents and made our case. They listened to us, and in less than a week we were able to enlist the support of local evangelical, civic and media leaders. The heat was on! Hundreds of telephone calls poured into Hastert’s Hill office from the 14th Congressional district. His staffers were amazed, but not amused, by the ferocity of our grassroots efforts.

As Congress recessed for the midterm elections, we had made extensive plans to undertake grassroots work in Hastert’s backyard with support from key individuals in the local media, academic institutions, churches and synagogues and civic institutions. We were ready to take on the Speaker; but we did not have to: Divine intervention was to deliver Hastert an October surprise. Within days of sabotaging H.R. 5680, “Stonewall” Hastert, principal linebacker for Zenawi’s regime, was himself backed into a corner with the Mark Foley scandal. He had apparently been coddling a pedophile who preyed on Congressional pages (high school students who serve as messengers for members).

Early in the Hastert controversy, I had a chance encounter with an elderly lady who tried to cheer me up after listening to my tales of woe over the recent turn of events in Hastert’s office. Her words proved prophetic: “አይዞህ: ልጄ፡ ግድ፡ የለም፡ የኢትዮጽየያ፡ አምላከ፡ ይከፍለዋለ።” (It’s alright my son, the God of Ethiopia will hold him accountable.”) What a difference a few weeks can make! And how the God of Ethiopia has worked in mysterious ways!

In a speech I gave at the University of California, Los Angeles on September 16, 2006, the premier of Obang Metho’s documentary “Betrayal of Democracy” (http://almariamforthedefense.blogspot.com/2006/09/betrayal-of-democracy.html), I urged supporters of H.R. 5680 to shout a great shout around the U.S. Congress, like Joshua’s army fighting the Battle of Jericho, and bring down the walls of DLA Piper lobbyists. And we made a great shout on the Hill, and thank God, our mighty adversaries -- those on the Hill and their lackeys peddling influence on the Hill-- have fallen down like the walls of Jericho.

Mr. Hastert is now history, repudiated by the American people. Mr. Armey and the whole lot of parasitical lobbyists of his ilk that thrive on the misery and suffering of poor countries like Ethiopia will now be forced to seek a more humane line of work.

But we are the survivors. We are still here, strong and determined than ever, to make history.

Lessons to be learned…

There are many lessons to be learned from the 2006 midterm elections. What the American people did on November 7 is not unlike what the Ethiopian people did on May 15, 2005. They did major house cleaning (no pun intended). After 12 years in power, the Republicans had grown arrogant, disdainful and imperious. Corruption was rampant among some of their members, and a number of their senior lawmakers were selling influence, taking bribes, engaged in sexual debauchery and all sorts of other unethical and immoral conduct. In the end, the Republican House was sending a steady supply of its convicted members to the jail house, or the Big House.

Lesson #1: When the Republicans launched their revolution in 1994, the Democrats had held control of Congress for nearly four decades, and in the end they had fallen from grace. In their “Contract With America”, Republicans promised greater fiscal responsibility, middle class tax relief, legal reform, enhanced national security and many other things. But after only 12 years of controlling the legislative branch of government, the Republicans had abused their power and the trust of the American people. The American people said: “It is time to throw out the rascals!” And a boatload of Republicans was thrown out, and President Bush magnanimously admitted: “We got thumped, it’s time, let’s go.”

In May 2005, Ethiopians voted for fundamental change in their system of governance. They wanted to sweep out 14 years of EPDRF mismanagement. 14 years of misrule. 14 years of misgovernment. 14 years of malfeasance. And 14 years of corruption. And when they voted with a 90 per cent turn out, they thought they had thrown out the EPDRF rascals, given them a good “thumping”. But the rascals would not accept the verdict of the people. Instead, they jailed the opposition leaders for having won the election fair and square.

The lesson for Zenawi and company is that when you are repudiated by the people, you graciously accept your fate and work to create an atmosphere of bipartisanship for the good of the country. Even die-hard communist and socialists have figured this one out. Just this week Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, leader of the Sandanista socialist revolution in the 1980s, won the presidential election after 16 years of conservative rule. Zenawi and his party have a great opportunity to do the right thing. Acknowledge the people’s verdict of May 2005. Be magnanimous. Step aside, become part of the loyal opposition, and give the opposition a run for their money in the next election.

Lesson #2: Abe Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. After 12 years of Republican control of national government, the American people were tired of being fooled. They had enough of the lies and deceptions, and the diversionary tactics and campaign tricks of Karl Rove. In the end, the Republicans could not fool anybody, except themselves. The jig was up!

The outcome is no different for Mr. Zenawi: The jig was up for him in May, 2005. As country folks like to say: “You can’t fool nobody, no more, no how.” Sure, you can arrest your opponents, jail them, torture them, exile them, whatever. You can terrorize and make the lives of ordinary Ethiopians hell. But despite your army, your money and you influence, there is one thing you can’t and will never be able to do: Fool the Ethiopian people anymore. They know who you are!

Lesson #3: The imperative of democracy is that you must accept the judgment of the people. When the American people voted for the Republicans in 1994 and elected President Bush in a tightly contested race in 2000, they made a decision. Americans who did not support President Bush accepted the verdict of the razor thin majority that elected President Bush along with the electoral college system that made it possible for the candidate with the fewer number of popular votes to win over the candidate who had the most popular votes.

Strange things happen in the polling booths. Things like people getting disgusted with the way their leaders exercise political power and authority. Americans struck back and withdrew their consent on November 7. But Republicans did not see it coming, or were blinded by their own arrogance. They got zapped by the people, and they will have many years to pay the price of their arrogance.

Well, strange things also happened to Zenawi and company in May, 2005. Ethiopian voters went to the polls and said: “We don’t want you. We want the opposition.” Very simple and clear message.

The lesson for Zenawi and company is that when you play by democratic rules, you always take a chance. If you have not been doing a good enough job while in power, you get “thumped.” Zenawi and his EPDRF party should understand that a thumped party is a dumped party. Their best option is to accept the fact that they have been rejected by the people, and organize to win the next election. That is what the Republicans will do, and that’s the price you pay in a democratic system when you lose an election.

Lesson #4: Democracy is a funny thing: When you thumb your nose at the people, exploit and oppress them, mistreat and terrorize them and violate the very rights guaranteed them in the Ethiopian Constitution, they grow weary and impatient. Americans learned the lesson of tyrannical abuse of power in their struggle for independence. Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security… The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world….”

Ethiopians can do better, and bring about a just and fair society through democratic and peaceful means. They are ready, willing and able to do so. In May 2005, they demonstrated their ability and readiness to engage in democratic self-governance beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ninety percent of the eligible voters turned out and said: “Meles, EPDRF and the whole lot of you, you gotta go!” Let the people’s decision stand, and Zenawi and his party stand down.

Lesson #5: There comes a time in all human events when enough is enough. That time came for the Republicans on November 7, 2006. They lost their way after 12 years of controlling Congress, and now they must find their way back to the political wilderness.

For Zenawi and the EPDRF, enough was enough on May 15, 2005. Zenawi and the EPDRF have lost their vision, if they ever had one. Ethiopia remains at the bottom of the list on indicators of human rights, democracy and economic development. Famine, HIV and other plagues menace the country year after year. Our youth wander aimlessly and hopelessly. The rich get richer and the poor are reduced to subhuman levels of existence. Government officials and their cronies line their pockets and accumulate wealth while young people are executed in the streets like wild animals. Dissidents and ethnic minorities are massacred and persecuted. Mr. Zenawi: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

On November 7, 2006, the American people spoke. And Mr. Hastert got the message: “It’s time to pack it up and go.” So, “Farewell, Mr. Hastert, Good Bye, Mr. Armey!” And Mr. Zenawi: If you are listening to the voice of your people which still echoes from May 15, 2005: The jig is up! “You got thumped, it’s time, let’s go.” So long!