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” (, 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!

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