Putting Lipstick on a Pig, Ethiopian Style – Alemayehu G. Mariam

February 1st, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Last week, there was a great deal of teeth-gnashing, knuckle-cracking and gut-wrenching by Ethiopia’s dictators over Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) 2010 report. The dictators belched out much sound and fury that signified nothing. Their fury had to do with HRW’s conclusion that “Ethiopia is on a deteriorating human rights trajectory as parliamentary elections approach in 2010.” In blunt and unequivocal language, HRW whipsawed the dictators with the facts:

Broad patterns of government repression have prevented the emergence of organized opposition in most of the country. In December 2008 the government reimprisoned opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa for life after she made remarks that allegedly violated the terms of an earlier pardon. In 2009 the government passed two pieces of legislation that codify some of the worst aspects of the slide towards deeper repression and political intolerance. A civil society law passed in January is one of the most restrictive of its kind, and its provisions will make most independent human rights work impossible. A new counterterrorism law passed in July permits the government and security forces to prosecute political protesters and non-violent expressions of dissent as acts of terrorism. Ordinary citizens who criticize government policies or officials frequently face arrest on trumped-up accusations of belonging to illegal “anti-peace” groups, including armed opposition movements. Officials sometimes bring criminal cases in a manner that appears to selectively target government critics…

The dictators bellyached about HRW’s “unfairness” and bitterly complained about its malicious and willful blindness to the great strides and democratic achievements they have made over the past several years. “How could HRW overlook our prized Code of Conduct for Political Parties negotiated by 65 political parties?” they lamented. How could they disregard a “Code” that is so “impressive, transparent, free, fair, peaceful, democratic, legitimate and acceptable to the voters”? To add insult to injury, they even overlooked the appointment “by parliamentary acclamation” of a new human rights commissioner. No matter. All HRW cares about is carping about the “civil society and anti-terrorist laws” and fabricating stories about human rights abuses in the Somali Regional State. Those cynical and contemptible rascals have “no interest in, and no time for, any promising developments.” After all, they are just stooges and mouthpieces of the evil Ethiopian “dissident” Diaspora whose sole aim is to discredit the “democratic achievements” of the dictatorship.

When candidate Barack Obama ran for the U.S. presidency, he used a folksy idiom to describe John McCain’s pretensions as a new force of change in Washington. “That’s not change [McCain is talking about]. That’s just calling the same thing something different. But you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change; it’s still going to stink.”

Well, you can jazz up a bogus election in a one-man, one-party dictatorship with a “Code of Conduct”, but to the entire world it is still a bogus election under a one-man, one-party dictatorship. You can appoint lackeys to issue a whitewash human rights report on “allegations” of abuse in the Ogaden and call it an objective inquiry commission report, but it is still a whitewash. You can appoint a fox to guard the chicken coop and call it safeguarding human rights, but the sly fox will not spare the chickens. You can put lipstick on dictatorship to make it look like a pretty democracy, but at the end of the day, it is still an ugly dictatorship!

Ethiopia’s dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. They think lipstick will make everything look pretty. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the “fastest developing economies in the world”. Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with mega wattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of “severe malnutrition”. Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a “human rights” chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’ but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!”

Of course, all the sound and fury is a calculated effort at misdirection. Instead of talking about the factual allegations in the HRW report, the dictators want to make Human Rights Watch the ISSUE. But HRW is one human rights organization that needs no lipstick to do its work, or to cover it up. HRW’s investigators do not work on a commission. They don’t get paid a dime for digging up mass graves in distant lands and conduct complex forensic studies. They make no money walking the scorching deserts for days and thumping the under brush in the tropical forests to interview remotely located civilian victims of war crimes and human rights abuse. HRW does not work for profit. They do their exceedingly difficult and dangerous work to prevent human rights abuse and to hold states, armed groups and others accountable for human rights violations. They receive their financial support largely from individual donations and gifts. HRW never takes sides in any conflict. To do their work, they do not make their own rules but use established international human rights conventions, treaties, domestic laws and resolutions of world bodies.

Vile accusations against HRW are not new. All governments and groups stung by HRW’s factual reports squeal like a stuck pig. They try to discredit HRW’s reports as methodologically flawed, unsubstantiated, speculative, slanted, unfair, biased and so on. They try to distract and misdirect public attention from the evidence of their criminality in the reports by attacking HRW as an antagonistic and politically vindictive organization. In the past few years, HRW has been vilified by those on opposite ends of the same conflict. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have called HRW a “Zionist” organization. The Israeli government has accused HRW of being “obsessed with Israel” and dubbed them “supporters of terrorism.” But HRW is an organization with the highest level of integrity. They will not back down from holding any government accountable, including the U.S. In its latest report, HRW praised President Obama for abolishing secret CIA prisons and banning all use of torture, but they clobbered him ferociously for “adopting many of the Bush administration’s most misguided policies” including the policy of “indefinite detention without charge” of “enemy combatants”.

There is no secret to HRW’s investigative work. They conduct extensive interviews of alleged victims of human rights abuse. They work with confidential informants in victims’ communities and gather evidence from others sources within a given country. They talk to officials and top political leaders and analyze government reports and any other relevant documentation and data. They conduct field investigations and their experts conduct forensic studies, perform ballistics tests and examine medical and autopsy reports. They always seek official permission to conduct their investigations, but most governments generally refuse or ignore the requests to enter their countries for such purposes. HRW has a rigorous system of checking and cross-checking facts. Before publication, HRW always presents its findings to the relevant governments for comment and feedback, and to incorporate changes and make corrections where appropriate. Often, regimes and governments remain silent and provide no feedback on the reports before publication. Once the reports are made public, governments sensitive to criticism unleash their spin-doctors to moan and groan about HRW in an attempt to capture media attention and deflect public scrutiny from the evidence in the reports that incriminate them.

“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” But attacking the messenger does not make a lie out of the message, just as putting lipstick on a pig does not make the pig a swan (perhaps a vulture).

Support Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations!

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, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and his commentaries appear regularly on Pambazuka News and New American Media.

  1. tekola
    | #1

    Thank u prof.

  2. Thison
    | #2

    wrong title. lipstick on monkey’s is better. melese is the same as an asian’s monkey

  3. mateos
    | #3

    I think our dear professor is finally coming with the rightest description of the midget man! HOWEVER, next time around please use the title, “THE AIGA JUNGLE MONKEY IN CIVILIAN CITY”!!!

  4. RA
    | #4


  5. B.Ayele
    | #5

    To Professor Alemayehu:

    Being a learned man, a lawyer and a professor, how you call a human being a “pig”?. As part of America’s social and/or political problem and racial segeregation, we forigners come to learn that white people call us “nigger” and other names similar to that. Whether whites call blacks nigger or other names, that still keep us in the social boundery since nigger does not mean animal or anything closer to that. However, when you call a human being “pig” you placed him out of human nature, but Meles is a human being no matter how evil he was and is. So why you call human being a pig?? I asked this question because I did not expect an eperienced legal professional to say that. You know, as a pro se litigant in civil case in the the U.S. district court, the court of appeals (mostly the Second Circuits) and even to the U.S. Sup. Ct. J have caused engaged my adverseries to battle on civil rights matter. There, or at any other cases, I never never eperienced such denegerating words used by any one against the other. Therfore, how dare you used such offensive word in view of your acadamic and legal profession??. Don’t you think someone will not use it against you on account of professional responsibility? How the court of your jurisidiction could allow you to practice law and defend civil rights while you yourself become an offender of human value??.

  6. Anonymous
    | #6

    መሬታችን እና ሌሎቺ ሃቢታቺን ለዉቺ እየተስጤ መሆኑ ዪታወቃል
    እና መለሲን የጁን እግዚሃቢሄር ዪሲተዉ

  7. atuba dolla
    | #7

    Gangs and Robbers don’t have any sort of value.Legally speaking,they are murderes and are fugitive.They are pigs because they think of killing and looting;this is why it is said criminals deserve punishments.

  8. ketema
    | #8

    the proefesor never called anyone a pig.if the idiot understand it is
    un experession moron.even the candidate for the usa mrs sarah palin us
    used it in the last election.anyway tring to explain to blind triblist
    degenerate narrow minded idiots is like pouring water on a rock.

  9. Akakizeraf
    | #9

    God bless your hart for your outrage,but I can assure you that the professor is not calling no human being a pig.He is simply using a very popular political expression used in the west to say”what you are seeing and hearing here is not what really it is” it is the same old dirty pig even it has now a lipstick to look better.

  10. B.Ayele
    | #10

    TO a’dolla/Ketema and Akakizeraf:

    Your objection to my challenge to Professor Alemayehu is not worthy of persuasion since all of you speaking in his name are not expressing it in the mind set of him. Secondly, you are NOT the defendant(s) challenged but him. So why not he HIMSELF put small explanation to me and people like me who are troubled on his statments. As professional who wrote several political article several times in the past, why not now defend himself at this time?? Probably, the usual Lawyers’ excuse, in my opinion is, that he may only focus on the matter where money flow such as civil/criminal litigation which has several process such as: Filing complaint (or defend one,) status conference, discovery (intrrogation, deposition… and everything that he is familiar with that.

    Prof. Alemayehu: if you do not clear your position with certain amount of statement within 10 days of this MEMO, you will lose your case as judgement will entered by default.

    | #11


    The Lawye/professor can explain far better his own defense. I do not understand how both of you become his defender the fact of which he desired to ignore his own defense. You see, the approximate fee for a professional lawyer is $350-500 per hour excluding the first 1/2 hour consultation fee. So, why you labor for free for the cause that HE has not represent you. If he believed that my comment was erroneous, why not he himself write a simple explanation about his “pig” statement?

    | #12


    This mid-day I posted same comment but you did not put (or have distroyed) it for whatever reason. It is unfair and highly prejudical to do this in the face of free world and free press. The above is the second comment with the hope that it will not be distroyed again for whatever reason.

    Thank you.

  13. Akakizeraf
    | #13

    Your choice of platform to play a lawyer or have a chance to practice as one is not right.I suggest you satisfy your curiosity by joining your community college or some kind of club.I think I am not mistaken to assume that you have enormes interest in litigation but again,I belive, we should use this website for the general use.

  14. atuba dolla
    | #14

    The Professor’s explanation has been lucid and elaborative;therefore,there is no need for him to waste his valuable time because we too think he has other important tasks and professional responsibilities in other areas.

    | #15

    TO THE WEBMASTER: Thank you for putting back the earlier statement (comment No. 10, above.

    TO THE GENERAL READERS; Please note that the other name of “B.Ayele” is “Ethiopian Jew” and don’t assume that it was two different persons or personalities.

    | #16


    Thank you for your comment(s). I took both of your comments as ONE issue both defending Professor Alemayehu’s ARTICLE and HIMSELF as a person. As to his article, it would have been better for all of us if he clarify his statements but he choose not to do so, therefore, there is no point to discuss further at this time and in this web page. However, his comment to equate animals with human beings deserve the judical attention by the American Bar Association which one may file charge if and when it become necessary.

    Mr. Atubadolla, in defending the professor, you stated that he has several business to do and for this reason no answer/explanation is necessary. But professional responsibilities are not the cumulative nature of the job (job load) but a matter of questioning the person’s CHARACTER whether his character were manifested in relation to the job or outside his job. I am better aware of this and do not mislead me in this point.

    Mr. AKAKIZERAF: Your comment(#13) has some truth and some errors. The truth is that I am interested to seek out the truth and, for this reason alone I am an arguable person without being an argumentative. When one undermined and ignored me (which Prof. Alemayehu does) I become restless and always insist. It may have been for this reason that I volunteered to assist victim of employment discrimination in Federal court (and per discretion of the presiding judge I also argued cases even though the adversery advanced their objection for my practicing law without license). Therefor, Brother Akakizeraf, I do not need a “community College ” level course or “join a club” to learn law and my degree in other area (MSAS/MBA) from Boston University is sufficient .

    AS TO THE USAGE OF THE WEBSITE: You believed that the website should not entertain issues on legal matter but for “GENERAL USE”. You are wrong and should be always wrong if you think that way. Any national interest be it politics or religion … etc should be entertained because everything touch our lives as human. For your information we made religious argument in this website and if you are interested you can visit the issue at:


    If the above failed to connect you to my articles posted earlier, you can try http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11868 and click the link at comment No.16. My Christian brother’s comment was not separately written but start at comment no. 11 and continued to the end.

    Shalom and Good Luck

    | #17


    CORRECTION: The link of the first web address failed because “wp” was mistakenly typed as “we”. GIVE IT A TRY. THANKS

  18. Helen
    | #18

    የግል ችግርህን ወደጎን አስቀምጠው እዚህ ስለአንተ እውቀትና ችግር እንቅልፍ የነሳው ሰው ያለ አይመስለኝም ፤ፕሮፌሰሩ የጻፉት በኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ ላይ አሰቃቂ ጥፋት ስለሚፈጽመው ስለዚህ አሳማ ባንዳ መለስ ነው እዚህ ዋናው አርአስትም ስለዚሁ የአውሬነት እንጂ ምንም ሰው የሚያስብል ባህርይ ስለሌለው መለስ ወንጀል ነው እና ምኑ ነው የባጡን የቆጡን ለመቀባጠር የተገደድክበት ምክንያት ? ሌላው አንተ ማነህ እና “When one undermined and ignored me (which Prof. Alemayehu does) I become restless and always insist.” ታድያ ሂድና ቀዝቀዝ ያለ ውሃ ፈልግና ተነከር ወይም እንደአገራችን አባባል ኮረንቲ ሂድና ጨብጥ እንዲአረጋጋህ፤ B.Ayele “Being a learned man, a lawyer and a professor, how you call a human being a “pig”?. As part of America’s social and/or political problem and racial segregation” መጀመሪያ ይቺን አንድ ቃል ተጠቅመህ የአይጥ ምስክር ድንቢጥ አትሁን ያንተ ተቃውሞ አሳማ ከምትለው ቃል ጋር ከሆነ ከላይ Akakizeraf እንደአስረዳህ ፕሮፌሰር አለማየሁ እንደምሳሌ ምህራባውያን የሚጠቀሙበት ቃል ስለሆነ የጠቀሱት ከልብህ አትውሰደው ፤ ለመሆኑ ይሄ ባንዳ መለስ ከሚሰራቸው አረመኔአዊ ድርጊቶች በሞላ የከበደህ ይሄ የአሳማ ትራኬ ነው ለምሳሌ እኔ በግሌ የሱን ባህርይ ሊገልጽ የሚችል በሰው መሃል ሳይሆን ከአውሬዎችም እንኩዋን ከየትኛው አውሬ ጋር አንደማመሳስለው ማግኘት ከብዶኛል ለምን ብትል ማንኛውንም አውሬ ጸባዩን ስትመለከት መጥፎ ብቻ ሳይሆን ጥሩም ጎን ስላለው የዚህን ሰው መሳይ አውሬ መለስ ጠቅላላ ባህሪውን በአንድ አውሬ ጸባይ ለማካተት ስለሚከብድ ነው፤

  19. Temesgen
    | #19

    Anche Sekaram Beshetash Tenesabesh? See psychatrist clinic so you will be better of your abaze. The Ethiopian Jew, will not, and we urge him to ignore her. Thank you Abugida for this forum.

  20. Helen
    | #20

    ስምህን ተመስገንም በለው ኢቲይጵያን ይሁዲ ዋናው ቁምነገሩን ማጤንህ ነው እንጂ የሰው ሰካራምነትና በሽተኛነት ይመጀመሪያ ዋናው ምልክቱ መቀባጠር መሰለኝ፡ ሁለተኛ ነገር ይሀውልህ አሳማ የምትለዋ ትረካ አንገብግባህ ስለቆምክለት ምስኪን አዲስ ዜና አለ ፡ “በአዲሱ የምርጫ ታዛቢዎች የሥነ ምግባር ረቂቅ መመሪያ ታዛቢዎች ካሜራ መጠቀም አይችሉም” http://www.ethiopianreporter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1118:2010-02-10-07-17-17&catid=98:2009-11-13-13-41-10&Itemid=617
    “Weyane plan to sell the Ethiopian Embassy in London Revealed.” http://abbaymedia.com/News/?p=3809
    ሂድና አንብብ ይገባኛል አንዳንዴ ውነትን መስማት ይከብዳል።

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