Bad company – The Philadelphia Inquirer

May 28th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That was the Cold War creed. No matter how despicable the regime, it was OK if it was properly aligned, meaning capitalist or communist. (more…)

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That was the Cold War creed. No matter how despicable the regime, it was OK if it was properly aligned, meaning capitalist or communist.

After the Soviet Union fell, there was hope that this country would choose its allies based on the content of their character. But in this post-9/11 world, we’ve fallen back to our old tendencies.

Look at the blanket U.S. support for the corrupt Karzai government in Afghanistan, our necessary buddy in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

That fight is also dictating our relationship with Ethiopia, a key ally in the Horn of Africa. That part of the continent has become a fountainhead for piracy and worldwide terrorist activity.

The Ethiopian government has wisely decided that it would be undermined by any infiltration of terrorist organizations rooted in neighboring Somalia and Eritrea, the former Ethiopian territory with which it fought a 30-year war. Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen, another terrorist host.

Because it is an ally against terrorism, Ethiopia has been rewarded with millions of dollars in U.S. military aid. Not only that, the U.S. government also has largely been silent in regard to many human-rights abuses in the country.

And, just as with Afghanistan, this country is unlikely to do more than mildly rebuke the results of Ethiopia’s parliamentary election. The balloting Sunday occurred amid criticism by international observers that government repression had guaranteed the results before any vote was cast.

Indeed, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party appeared to have won at least 534 of 547 parliamentary seats. That ensures another six-year term for him.

Meles has been in power since 1991, when the guerrillas he led toppled the brutal Red Terror regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, which had toppled the repressive monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. Yes, such has been the fate of Ethiopia, which has existed since the time of Christ – one despot after another.

Thousands of Ethiopians were tortured, murdered, or “disappeared” under Mengitsu’s authority. Forced relocations ordered by his Marxist government, drought, and disease had made the country a basket case by the time Meles took over. President Bill Clinton called Meles part of a “new generation” of African leaders.

In fact, Meles has moved Ethiopia forward in many respects. He has greatly improved educational and economic opportunity in the past 19 years. But, like others whose power was derived at the point of a gun, he has no tolerance for dissent. Elections are only a prop for these autocrats, who believe only they are capable of leading their countries.

Meles certainly didn’t want a repeat of the 2005 elections, when an opposition coalition won enough seats to make him nervous. A subsequent crackdown on those protesting his victory as fraudulent left hundreds of people dead. Since then, political foes have been beaten and jailed.

Today, membership in the Meles party is required for almost any educational or professional advancement. Journalists are afraid to criticize the regime. So are ordinary people, who say retaliation might cost them their jobs, or worse. They have good reason to keep quiet. But what about this country? Will its war keep it from speaking the truth to an ally?

  1. Joseph
    | #1

    Dear readers,

    It isn’t just Meles who is the culprit for the failures, it is also our weaknesses. The opposition groups are shaky in their positions as we already know from experience and are caving in easily to Meles’ deceptions. Now that the International community, the International media, the EU EOM, the White House, the UK Government, the HRW, and the Diaspora etc are on the opposition side, they have to fight the dicatator in earnest. Generally, the wave of events is in their favour and therefore they should capitalize on all these.

    By now they must have clearly understood, the dictator’s crafty media rhetoric and time buying tactic. His warnings that he has been practicing of the last 19 years at the press conferences shouldn’t scare them off. They should solidly stand together without waiving from their demand. Even the re-run of the election won’t help them much as the regime will apply similar cheating tricks even if it is going to happen in the first place.

    They should apply to ask for peaceful protest demonstrations/rally too. In the mean-time they should go for their previous/past demands, i.e. establishment of neutral civil/independent institutions (police, media, judiciary, election commission etc), release of all political prisoners including Birtukan, access to the media without censorship etc. This may take one to two years but better than five years.

    They have to even form a broader political block, that includes the so called Lidetu’s EDP, Engineer Hailu’s AEUP, Chamiso’s Kinjit etc. They have to work together for their survival under strict discipline. I repeat: “If they want to survive they have to work together.”

    If they let them-selves down by walking downwards on slippery slope, then they will end up in Kality Prison one by one, though they are still in prison.

  2. Kane
    | #2

    @Joseph,
    It is true that the above mentioned international groups, western countries and all international communities that advocate for democracy in Ethiopia are all in the same side of the opposition, to the extent that, they see this May 23, 2010 election as fraudulent, predetermined in favor of EPDRF even before a single ballot has been cast. But, let’s not think for one moment, because these countries see this election for what it is, as the opposition and the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians do, their interest at heart is completely same as ours. Meaning, they have their specific interests (in this case, fighting so called terrorism in the east African region) and that is what they care for most above the interest of democratic election or democratic changes in Ethiopia.
    But as Joseph mentioned, the only way we can make the leaders of these countries care about democracy in Ethiopia, particularly the western countries like U.S., U.K. and the European Union is, by mounting mass protests in and outside Ethiopia for their public to see, the opposition sticking to its demands and not relenting one iota of demand, the opposition by creating a more united front among themselves and speaking with one voice, the opposition crafting a savvy media campaign to communicate its demands of these countries (as PR is the only way the opposition can be listened to by these governments), the opposition by repeating the charge that the undemocratic and illegal acts and practices of the EPDRF over the past five years to ensure itself of stealing the so called election, by consolidating all power to itself and stifling any dissent from opposition parties, the few existed media outlets, non-governmental organizations and civil societies.
    Also, the opposition needs to affirm to these countries that they will have a better ally for fighting terrorism than the Woyane; they need not fear once EPDRF is out of power that terrorists will have free space to operate in the region. But, if all fails, we need to shame the leaders of these countries by pointing out the hypocritical practices of their governments, like for example that of the U.S. Were it not for their government’s unequivocal support for the tyrannical Woyane government in Ethiopia, in the name of its alliance to fighting terrorism, there is not even a slim chance for EPDRF to be in power against the repeated will of the Ethiopian electorate. Their advocacy for democracy need not depend solely on the short sited national interests of their governments, fighting terrorism, but should be able to foresee and take into account the long term stability of the East African region and the true will of the Ethiopian people.

  3. aha!
    | #3

    You have said it right in your conclusion, with the premise how repressive the previous regimes were for centuries, which are already gone. If there is any tangible evidence of repression of individuals by the past regimes does that in any way equate to lack of freedom of individuals in the present day Ethiopia, the basic element to democratic process and development of democratic institutions and an eletoral process of a democratic government, where the party rules by the consent of the goverened. At least in the past the individual is free and own property anywhere in Ethiopia and consider anywhere in Ethiopia his/her home, which is the basic requirement to keep Ethiopia in tact.

    Or are you talking of oppression of the nationalities that gave rise to these ethnocrats and ethnic dictatorship of ethnic-based agenda: partioned the country into ethnic boundries, ethnic-federalism with secessionist right upto independence to equate to repression of what: the individuals or the nationalities by the previous regimes.

    Or are you talking about the human rights violations committed by the various regimes committed by the regimes upto the present?

    By the way, we do not have autocrats, but ethnocrats and ethnic dictatorship of ethnic-based parties, inclined to dominate the rest of ethnic groups, when any-one of them assume power. Given the basic freedom to vote freely without coercion, intimidation and tying their livelyhood to TPLF/eprdf party membership; Ethiopians will never again vote to office a party with ethnic-agenda, rather than national agenda.

    On the question of the notion of “enemy of my enemy is my friend” does not fit in very well with governments as it does with the misguided notion of EPPF, and Ginbot-7, leaderships with Eritrean leadership and UDJP leadership with ex-tplfites, while governments act on the basis of/ upon their each others national interests.

    Thanks for bringing up the notion, that the silent majority of Ethiopians are wedged into by TPLF/eprdf regime, and also the bluff by Medrek, EPPF and Ginbot -7, which have never been brought up in this article.

  4. sam
    | #4

    I am tired of some people try to defend the ethnic dictatorship of Ethiopia for what he had done and doing the same narrow nationalistic ideology in the country. If you look through his records of power keeping,it is unimaginable. The military, the air force, the political parties are controlled by ethnic minority named “Tigre”. The rest of the countries majority ethnic groups are not allow to get in the field of democracy. The opposition groups need to go beyond party line, ethnicity, and their political interest. This is the time to see Ethiopia as one country, and the agenda should be Free Ethiopia. A unified Ethiopia has it’s own independent thinking and far-sightedness and freedom of expression. The people of Ethiopia suffer inside, and outside the country. Luck of communication between the opposition gave the ruling party plenty of power to quiet down the people of Ethiopia. Ethiopian people: This is the time to come into harmony and dialogue. Every Ethiopian who love his/her country should do what ever she/he can. The light of freedom is alive, if the people keep the hope one day every Ethiopian trust each other and work for the sake of oppressed people of Ethiopia.

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