J’Accuse! – Alemayehu G. Mariam

November 9th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

“No alternative in the opposition,” they whispered anonymously. What a disgusting phrase to use in justifying support for a ruthless dictatorship? (more…)

“No alternative in the opposition,” they whispered anonymously. What a disgusting phrase to use in justifying support for a ruthless dictatorship? That is apparently the scuttlebutt on Embassy Row in Addis Abeba. Reuters’ Barry Malone reported last week, “Most Western governments want Meles to continue because there is no alternative in the opposition. As long as the elections are semi-democratic, they’ll probably stay quiet, keep giving aid, hope for liberalisation of the economy and leave full democracy for later.” Is this the ultimate proof of the triumph of Western moral relativism, hypocrisy and skullduggery in Ethiopia and Africa? Is this the new 21st Century Western paradigm of moral capitulation and appeasement of evil? Is the West going to a moral hellhole in a hand basket?

We now have a clear answer to a question that had puzzled us for the past two decades: Why do Western governments and their multilateral lending institutions support Zenawi’s dictatorship with billions of dollars in loans and foreign aid? Answer: Because “there is no alternative in the opposition!” Why do they turn a blind eye to the gross violations of human rights in Ethiopia? Turn a deaf ear to the bootless cries of the thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners rotting in Zenawi’s jail? Pretend to be mute on Birtukan Midekssa’s unjust imprisonment? Prop up a regime that ruthlessly decimates its opposition, crushes the free press, chokes civil society organizations, squanders and defalcates foreign aid and loans and lords imperiously over a famine-ravaged country? Why do “most Western governments want Meles to continue?” Answer: “Because there is no alternative in the opposition!”

It is agonizing to finally come face to face with the banality of depraved Western diplomatic indifference in Addis Abeba. It is heartbreaking to learn that Western governments have earnestly resolved to humanize and normalize a brutal regime while preaching to Africans in forked tongue that their dictators are on the wrong side of morality and history. They shed crocodile tears for the victims of African dictators. They comfort the helpless and frightened African masses with sweet words of hope and grand promises of democratic renaissance. Now we have come to find out that the hypocrites are secretly in bed with the very dictators they condemn in public! It must be true that “politics makes for strange bedfellows.”

The “no alternative in the opposition” Western diplomatic mantra and mindset could have devastating consequences on Ethiopia and other African countries suffering under the stranglehold of dictatorial rule. It means the seeds of the rule of law will die on the barren soil of African dictatorships; that totalitarianism and police states are morally justified and compelled in Africa whenever Western governments conclude there are “no alternatives in the opposition”; that state-sponsored violence and repression are necessary moral imperatives for the nurturance of an “emerging democracy”; and that dictatorship is necessary to save Ethiopians, and Africans in general, from themselves. Simply stated, the triumph of dictatorship in Africa is a necessary precondition for the rapture of democracy in Africa. Such has become the pitiful logic of moral decay and duplicity of Western governments in Africa today!

Of course, the whole notion of “no alternative in the opposition” is absurd and patently false in its premise and conclusion. There is definitely a viable alternative it the opposition in Ethiopia, but Zenawi ruthlessly eliminates and roots out any opposition before it poses a real challenge to him. Birtukan Midekksa and her Unity, Democracy and Justice party represent a viable opposition; but a year ago Zenawi jailed Birtukan for life on the ridiculous charge of denying a pardon. Medrek, an alliance of eight parties, is a viable opposition, but Zenawi refuses to jointly develop a consensus-based election code of conduct with it. He wants to shove down the opposition’s throat his own self-serving election code of conduct while grandstanding for Western governments that he is willing, ready and able to have free and fair elections.

Zenawi has completely paralyzed the real opposition by intimidation and brutal repression. Just last week, “documents were given to Reuters by four opposition parties listing [450] prisoners’ names, the dates on which they were arrested and the jails in which they were being held.” Gizachew Shiferaw, deputy leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party told Reuters, “These jailings stop our members running in elections. It has become a strategy for the ruling party. Ethiopia is a one-party state.” The All Ethiopia Unity Organization has recorded seven politically-motivated murders of its members over the last 12 months. Last month, Ethiopia’s former president, Dr. Negasso Gidada, presented a mound of anecdotal evidence documenting the complete absence of a “level playing field” for the 2010 “election”. If there is “no alternative in the opposition,” as the Western governments claim, it is because a real opposition can not survive in a totalitarian police state!

In the Catch-22 diplomatic netherworld of Addis Abeba, the strategy is obvious: “It is better to deal with a devil you know than an angel you do not know.” In Ethiopia’s case, one must grudgingly give the “devil his due.” For the past two decades, Western governments have been confounded, hoodwinked, bambozzled, bluffed, duped, manipulated, seduced, beguiled, flim-flammed and sandbagged by a master of deception into believing that there is “no alternative in the opposition”.

But the canard of “no alternative in the opposition” could mask something more sinisterly selfish. Western governments apparently have their eyes transfixed on getting a lion’s share of the “lucrative telecommunications and banking industries in a nation of more than 80 million people” and “exporting commodities and exploring Ethiopia for probable oil and gas deposits.” They are scared that “if the opposition takes power, the future would be uncertain and investments delayed as foreign governments and lenders jostle for influence.” Hidden under the thick layers of hypocrisy is a deliberate decoupling of dictatorship from democracy and good governance and a coupling of calculated long-term economic interests with the strengthening of a stable dictatorship to advance a scheme of globalized economic exploitation in Ethiopia. In the old days, they called such things neo-colonialism. It is not clear what they call them these days, but there is no doubt that Ethiopian democracy and the Ethiopian people are held hostage in the grand cut-throat global competition for oil, gas and exports.

Western governments and multilateral lending institutions know better. As President Obama said, “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.” Or in the common idiom, “It is not about the man. It is about the plan.” They should be engaged in institution-building, not armor-plating the clenched fists of African dictators. They should use their financial leverage to help build strong multiparty institutions, facilitate clean fraud-free elections, establish structures of accountability, institutionalize the rule of law, fortify the protection of human rights and strengthening civil society institutions in Africa. That’s how viable alternatives in the opposition are created, nurtured and sustained in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.

It is a truism to say that full democratization will take time in Africa. There will be many uncertainties and obstacles to Africa’s democratic development. Having an “alternative in the opposition” is not a panacea to Ethiopia’s decades-old problems. Any “alternative” to dictatorship in Ethiopia would have to deal with the legacy of human rights violations, economic mismanagement, corruption and the social chaos spawned by the dictatorship’s catastrophic “ethnic federalism” program. There will be many false starts and trials and errors on the road to democracy under an “alternative opposition.”

Western governments should be careful not to cerate and perpetuate an insidious myth that Africa has no alternative to dictatorship. It is psychologically devastating to tell 80 million Ethiopians that Western governments will support Zenawi’s dictatorship because they believe there are “no alternatives in the opposition.” Such a callous and cold-blooded attitude conveys a defeatist message to Ethiopians. It sends a signal that Ethiopians should abandon all hope of freedom and democracy because they are doomed and destined to eternal dictatorship. This attitude inherently de-legitimizes, disregards and ridicules the efforts of emerging opposition groups, and effectively tranquilizes them into stunned silence, depriving them of the confidence needed to stand up for democracy, freedom and human rights. Ironfisted dictators will no doubt be emboldened by this windfall of appeasement. Ultimately, this attitude of do-nothing-now and turn-a-blind eye to dictatorship will undermine the long-term policy interests of Western governments in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa by incapacitating them from using the vast financial leverage they have to aid Africa transition from dictatorship to democracy and pursue their geopolitical interests.

None of the foregoing is intended to suggest the Ethiopian opposition is blameless. Those genuinely in the opposition must accept responsibility for their inability to come together and articulate a vision for the country. They deserve blame for squandering valuable opportunities to build organizational alliances, develop alternative policies and train young leaders. Of course, there have been Judases in the opposition who have been willing to sacrifice the cause of democracy on the altar of dictatorship and kneel down and kiss the blood-drenched hands of Herod for thirty pieces of silver. But that is no excuse for not closing ranks against dictatorship now, and presenting a united front in support of democracy, freedom and human rights.

The catchphrases bandied around in the Western diplomatic cocktail circuits in Addis Abeba today probably go something like this: “Democracy is a dead end road in Ethiopia. Dictatorship is the beacon of light for Ethiopia’s future. Forget about the famine, human rights violations, corruption and the rest of it. Ethiopia is doomed because she has ‘no alternatives in the opposition!’”

Excellencies, it is said you will support Zenawi’s dictatorship “as long as the [2010] elections are semi-democratic”. To believe a dictatorship can be semi-democratic is to believe a woman can be a little bit pregnant. Do not deceive yourselves, and do not write us off just yet. In the long run, Ethiopians, and Africans in general, will receive the blessings of democracy by evolution or revolution! For now, we want you to know that Ethiopians are double victims of crime. They are victimized by dictators who have perpetrated upon them crimes against humanity with impunity. They are also victims of the crime of depraved indifference to their suffering by those who continue to coddle, aid and abet the criminals who have committed upon them crimes against humanity. Let it be known that we make no distinctions between the two types of criminals. Excellencies, that is why every patriotic and human rights-loving Ethiopian shall face you in righteous indignation, and charge: “J’Accuse!”

Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on Pambazuka News and New American Media.

  1. Guest
    | #1

    These Embassies acted effectively in concert with Meles to destroy the viable opposition parties. It is ironic that the same people are disgruntled about the absence of alternative oppositions. Are they celebrating their achievement of annihilating the opposition parties or are they mocking the Ethiopian people? We know, the world knows, it is only that they appear powerful and indomitable at the moment.

  2. ደምስ
    | #2

    It is not a big secret MEDREK was left out in limbo by the gov’t and KAHADI Engineer Hailu. The only opposition groups can beat this evil gov’t. Now they’ll be presecuted and harrased for not signing this fake document. The dictator will tell them they are illegtment and trying to take power by force.

    All these kind of staff supported especially by UK and German embassy in Addis. For what ever reasons the US embassy seems not involved with this election cycle. The foreign minister was here last week with Sec. Clenton’s for some kind of back room deals.

    The Germans are the lobby for this gov’t for many business transaction. The British do advice security related issue to the dictator. What ever interest they may have either economical or poletical; we have to solve our problems.

    When the western diplomat say they would like to see democracy in Africa; they mean someone has to agree with them and benefits them too. That’s why they would rather keep the current dictator with their benefits, than supporting the true democracy.

    In our case may be God will entervine on behalf of our people or we have to rise up until we get a new gov’t. These so called diplomat will be in line first to have some kind of deal with new gov’t when ever that happen.

  3. JIGSA
    | #3

    i dont understand when dey say there is no opposition,the only opposition dey know is the one comes with gun like the current thugs in addis ababa and brutalize the ethiopian people since 1991.melesse zenawi said many times he is not seeking another term unless ofcourse he change his mind and as usuall lie.we know melesse zenawi can not be trusted but to see what he is up to wethere he is out or not,but the notion that there is no alternative or opposition is realy radiclious.the opposition must intensify the struglle now!the tribalist thugs in ethiopia destroy the country milioons of ethiopians are starving,melesse zenawi and his thugs are looting everything including aid for the hungry.down with the tribalist tigrai liberation front. victory to the ethiopian people!!!!!!!!!!

  4. What Is to Be Done?
    | #4

    Oh my Fod! Lenin was the one who sai, “What Is to Be Done?”. Now I’m creating a conducive ground for those who want us to waste our times in bickering among ourselves. They’ll start their polemics: “…is a communist. Don’t listen to …he wants to build a comunist state…”. I get mad when some call the meles gov a marxisit…This is an absurd. Should the meles kids know K.Marx, they couldn’t have made all the mess. Marx wasn’t for the constituency the meles kids talk about.Yes, they were instrument in the cold war time for one of the parties.
    I like the way the professor challenges these meles kids, who will never grow and always remain kids. But in this article, he didn’t give much attention to and didn’t come up with an opinion regarding the role of THE ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITIONS AND ETHIOPIAN COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD IN ESTABLISHING GOOD RELATIONSHIPS AND BRING TO THE ATTENTION OF THE PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD.

    We know that the opposions in Ethiopia don’t have access to the media. Their foreign wing (representative) should work hard to inform the world what is going on in the country. The diplomats would be challenged effectively when the people or gov they represent are well informed. Did the opposition properly inform the world about what’s going on in Ethiopia?
    The opposition should inspect itself and should reform itself accordingly.
    In the last few months I saw a tendency of not to say a word pro or agains any party or group of people as far as the party or group of people are against the meles kids. I’m against that practice. You should what you should say regardless of party affiliation… “ዬትም ፍጪው ዱቀቱን አምጪው” ፍልስፍና አይዋጥልኝም:: ከመሰራታዊዉ የፖለቲካ መስመር እስካወጣን ድረስ!
    This tendency was meant for good. But it’s counter productive. Did you see Shawl with JUST ONE INTERVIEW how he tarnished the role of the diaspora?
    Those who have the knowledge should come up and tell us about EACH OPPOSITION, INDIVIDUAL,COMMUNITY LEADER/S OR ANY WHO CLAIMS TO BE REPRESENTING THE IDEALS OF THE COUNTRY. WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF? HOW CAN THE OPPOSITION ESTABLISHES ITSELF UNLESS IT BRINGS ITS PROGRAMMES AND MECHANISIM/S OF STRUGGLE TO DISSCUSSIONS AND LET OTHERS HAVE A SAY? (ESPECIALLY AMONG ETHIOPIANS LEAVING ABROAD IS NOT A PROBLEM.)
    I see some are wasting time on shawl after it’s too late.
    To fix the problem of forming a VIABLE,STRONG AND VISIONARY ETHIOPIAN POLITICAL ENTITY AND REMOVING THE DICTATOR FROM POWER ALL OF SHOULD ASK OURSELVES, “What Is to Be Done?”.
    lET ME PIN POINT FEW THINGS WHICH WOULD HELP TO ASNWER THE ABOVE QUESTION:
    1.THE EXISTING OPPOSION PARTIES SHOULD TAKE TIME AND DOUBLE CHECK THEIR PROGRAMMES,STRATEGIES…MAKE CHANGES WHEREVERE NECESSARY; ADD NEW PROGRAMMES… WHEREVERE NECESSARY…
    2. DOUBLE CHECK THEIR VIEWS REGARDING THE DICTATORS…COME UP WITH APPROPRIATE VIEWS
    3. STUDY OTHER PARTIES’ PROGRAMMES…
    4. BASED ON THE FACTS FOUND AFTER THE ABOVE MENTIONED PRATCICES STRIVE TO FORM UNITED ACTION. EVEN STRIVE TO UNITE DIFFERENT PARTIES WHEN FOUND THAT THERE’S NO BASIC DPOLITICAL DIFFERENCES. THAT WAY BRING DOWN THE NUMBER OF PARTIES TO CONSOLIDATE STRENGTH.
    5. ESTABLISH A COMMON MEDIA TO DISSEMINATE THEIR POLITICAL PROGRAMMES AND CALL OTHERS TO JOIN THEM…
    6. FIGHT ALL FACTORS WHICH BREED THE CONDUCIVE GROUND FOR THE CUSTOMARY BICKERINGS…BY PROVIDING THE PUBLIC AT LARGE WITH UPT TO DATE INFROMATION AND BECOMING A RELIABLE SOURCE OF FACTS AND ALSO A GOOD LISTENER TO THEIR VIEWS. IN SHORT TAKE THE LEAD. NOT BE LEAD BY THE FEW INTERESTED GROOPS.
    What Is to Be Done?
    What Is to Be Done?……………..

  5. Teshome
    | #5

    Thank you for pointing out that the west has no close—they are all necked. For the west it is simple calculation it is cheaper to keep the dictators make them do all the dirty works for them. When finally the people gets close to uproot this blood suckers – the West again come to claim the prize that all along they were against the dictators. “They were helping because they don’t want the people to be starved, or they don’t want the country to fall in the hands of lawless hooligans etc.” But the solution lays only in our strength, when they see us challenging the government they will come around to stand with us . The enemy is within let uproot those who drug us by being the weakest link amongst us. Let help stop amongst us who are spreading rumors so that we fail to stand to gather.

  6. Ewnwtu
    | #6

    I wish the good professor sent this article to the Washington Post, New York Times and the greedy diplomats in Addis, especial, British, French and German. These diplomats take us for stupid because we are poor. What they do not realize is they are one of the main cause for our poverty. Sometimes I feel Western diplomats want to see Ethiopia remain a basket case because there is a lot of money to be made from the misery of others.

  7. What is to Be Done?
    | #7

    Teshome :Thank you for pointing out that the west has no close—they are all necked. For the west it is simple calculation it is cheaper to keep the dictators make them do all the dirty works for them. When finally the people gets close to uproot this blood suckers – the West again come to claim the prize that all along they were against the dictators….

    That’s not only incorrect, but also shows our ignorance of diplomacy and the role of diplomats.
    The problem is still in us. As I stated in previous post THE OPPOSITION COULDN’T ESTABLISH ITS ISSUES PROPERLY AND COULDN’T RESOLVE MINOR ISSUES AMONG THE DIFFERENT GROUPS…
    THEY COULDN’T TALK IN ONE LANGUAGE. HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE DIPLOMATS TO COME FORWARD AND SUPPORT THIS OR THAT GROUP. I’M WITH THE RPOFESSOR ON ONE POINT. THE DIPLOMATS DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO TELL US THAT THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO TAKE POWER. THAT IS A RACIT REMARK AS CUSTOMARYILY STATED…”AFRICA IS NOT YET READY FOR DEMOCRACY…”. OTHERWISE, I DON’T BLAME THEM FOR NOT SUPPORTING THIS OR THAT GROUP OFFICIALLY AND CONDEMN THE MELES GOV.
    THAT IS NOT THEIR DIPLOMATIC MISSION. IT’S THE OPPOSITIONS’ MAJOR DUTY TO CREATE A SITUATION UNDER WHICH THE WORLD COMMUNITY TO COME TO THEIR SIDE.
    THE DIPLOMATS ARE THERE TO ACCOMPLISH WHAT THEIR RESPECTIVE COUNTRIES EXPECT FROM THEM. FOR THAT STABILITY OF THE GOV IN QUESTION IS VERY NECESSARY.
    ONE MAY CHALLENGE ME AS FOLLOWS: “ISN’T THEIR DUTY TO CARRY OUT A VERY SIMPLE RESEARCH (SURVEY) ABOUT THE CONFIDENCE OF THE PEOPLE ON THEIR GOV? ARE YOU TELLING US THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE COUNTRY?…”.
    Let me assume ( I’m not quite sure whether the law allows them to do such survey) they did such survey. Let’s forget the rest part of the country and take THE CAPITAL CITY_ADDIS ABEBA.
    I’m not an expert on preparing questionarie for such surveys, but I would try to put few question for same purpose as follows:
    Q #1. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.
    Q @2. HOW DO YOU CHARACTERISE MENGISTU AND MELES?
    Q #3. WHAT IS THE PROGRAMME OF MEDREK?
    Q #4. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT US DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY?
    Q #5. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE 2005 DEATHS ACCORDING YOU?
    Q #6. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE COMING ELECTION? ARE ALREADY READY TO VOTE?
    I hope I didn’t waste your precious times. Let me conclude it by giving making clear why I involved myself in this. The result won”t be satisfactory..because different factors: First our culture doesn’t allow us to talk openely…Second, people are scared to death and won’t tell the WHOLE TRUTH. Thirs, the language problem would be a great barrier for some who might take the risk to tell the truth. The opposition didn’t see into this, THE ROLE PLAYED BY THE LANGUAGE BARRIER,and didn’t do anything. SHOULD ENCOURAGE AND EVEN GIVE SOME KIND OF SUPPORT FOR ITS MEMBERS TO GO TO SCHOOL OR FIND WAYS TO IMPROVE THEIR LANGUAGES.
    The result from the survey will be in the benefit of the meles…
    The opposition should make close relation with the people at large…

  8. Reppi
    | #8

    Meles is a puppet. To say the west was/is decieved by its own puppet is misleading.It implies that the west is/was acting with good intentions, that if it were not for Meles’s deception the west would have given up its own selfish interest.
    Like the word “civilization”was used to subjugate non-European nations;so freedom and democracy have become tools of oppression and aggression.

  9. hey
    | #9

    STOP WRITING LONG PARAGRAPHS!
    ETHIOPIANS, NOW THE WORLD ARE NOTICED YOU ARE COWARD PEOPLE.
    YOU DID NOTHING WHILE YOU ARE LAND LOCKED
    WHILE YOUR LAND IS SLICED AND GIVEN TO SUDAN
    WHILE YOUR FERTILE LAND IS HANDED OVER TO FORIEGNERS
    WHEN YOU WERE ROBBED 2005 ELECTION.
    YOU ARE USED AND ABUSED,I DON’T KNOW WHEN YOU WILL WAKE-
    UP.

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