The West’s lofty rhetoric and dangerous miscalculations – By Andualem Aragie
The end of the Cold War was quite a phenomenon; it seemed as if the once formidable Eastern Bloc appeared in total disarray and the West in harmony with the situations unfolding to its favor in many parts of the globe. Regime change was the order of the day in many countries. The West shifted its priority from confrontation to expanding democracy and freedom to these countries: at least in rhetoric. It tried to adjust itself to what was converging in its fold and for a moment it seemed as if modus Vivendi was reached in the world.
In addition, the end of the Cold War created a conducive environment for the only great power to meddle freely in the domestic affairs of countries. This was also true to Ethiopia. The plight of the Ethiopian people had been at its peak. The dictatorial socialist regime led by Colonel Mingsitu Haile Mariam and the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a baptized Albanian communist led by the current Prime Minister waged a bloody civil war, the former to extend its brutal dictatorship and the later to implement the deeds of the former in a subtle, deceiving and divisive way over the Ethiopian people.
As BBC’s transmission in March, this year exposed it to the world, the confiscation of relief aid by the Tigrian people Liberation Front (TPLF), the core of the EPRDF, in 1983 supplied by the West to the war ravaged Tigray region while the Tigrian people were helplessly fighting the agony of death, but still by the very name it was waging the bloody war, is an immortal testimony to its inherent undemocratic nature. The West however embraced EPRDF, knowing full well its capacity to commit such absolute inhumane practices.
Mingestu had to go because he had opposing views with the West. Not because he was a socialist or brutal dictator over the Ethiopian people. On the other hand, EPRDF, even though deeply communist, was more than ready to do as told by the West from the outset. Therefore, ensuring EPRDFs rise to the helm of power was facilitated by the West, in particular by the United States of America. This was not the only time the West assisted dictators or overthrew others. A case in point in this regard is the case of Saddam Hussein. His accession to power was facilitated by the US. Ironically, it was the former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld under President Bush, who served America as its envoy to the then Iraq of Saddam Hussein. They did not care what Saddam did to the people of Iraq until he became a bully in the region and he was believed to have weapons of mass destruction. No one forgets, however, the heavy price America has paid and is still paying, how many thousands of American soldiers were killed, how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, lost their lives and how many billions of dollars had to be wasted as a result of America’s misguided and reckless handling of the dictator. Numerous dangerous miscalculations made by the West can be cited with a varying magnitude. In fact, could there be any dictator that had not been supported by the West at all?
Ethiopians have been languishing under EPRDF’s dictatorial regime for two decades deprived of their democratic rights and robbed of their dignity. Everything in Ethiopia seems to be a sole property of this dictatorial party. Its leaders are the pure replica of Louis the 14th of France. The leadership of EPRDF facilitated smooth appropriations and transformed the country to the level of a “vampire state”. Anything done is meant to prolong it’s hegemony over the Ethiopia people. One would be in a real problem to locate the free press, civil society, rule of law and the other pillars of democracy to be found in EPRDF’s Ethiopia.
In the past two decades, lack of entrenched democratic institutions in Ethiopia, holding democratic elections so far remain as an intangible as a day dream. It was during 2005 that democratic elections were close to be realized in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, democracy once again died out while struggling to be born. Our leaders remained as self-chosen as ever. Ethiopia remained under the yoke of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s tight dictatorial grip.
The Ethiopian people presented themselves as lamb to be slaughtered before brute force in their struggle for freedom and democracy while the whole world was watching. Despite EPRDF’s savage act of killings of unarmed innocent civilians demanding that their votes be properly counted and respected, the West continued to do business as usual with EPRDF. Helen Epstein in her articulated article, “Cruel- Ethiopia,” stated: “Unfortunately, this aid is also subsidizing a regime that is rapidly becoming one of the most repressive and dictatorial on the continent. During Ethiopia’s most recent parliamentary elections, in May 2005, the government suspended the vote count in some areas when it seemed the opposition was winning more seats than expected. When the results were eventually announced, Meles’s EPRDF, to no one’s surprise, had won.” There is no demarcation between government administration and the ruling party’s structure, nevertheless, the West is still pouring its money and food aid through this structure.
EPRDF has drawn the lesson from the 2005 Ethiopian National Elections: its repressive and obsolete Revolutionary Democracy has no room left in the mind and heart of the Ethiopian people and that it cannot be elected unless it resorted to force. Therefore, it readily moved against the prevalence of democratic institutions and weakened them in their infancy .It used its party controlled and immense legislative power to promulgate new, destructive laws. Then it moved to stifle the right of the Ethiopian poor mercilessly in every hamlet. Therefore in 2010 EPRDF was ready to join the club of exclusive dictators in history. And it did.
In the 2005 rigged elections, the opposition was able to win 32% of the parliamentary seats. In 2010 however, this figure dwindled to only 0.1%, the second lowest record in history of the world, only next to Saddam Hussein’s 100% ‘victory’. Even Colonel Mingestu’s Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) was not close to such a “victory”. This time too, the West could not atone and embody virtues that humanity can respect and stand on the right side of history and the truth. It rather preferred silence, and silence at such a time is, I think, betrayal.
Ethiopians know the excruciating pain of injustice. We abhor human indignities. For the last two decades Ethiopians have been struggling for democracy and freedom from so many indignities in the hands our own rulers. However horrifying his actions over the Ethiopian people are, the Prime Minister remains to be the darling of the West so far in practice .Every time elections are held and rigged, it is the West that runs to recognize and promise Meles its continued support. The West has very little regard for the Ethiopian people who are in their desperate fight for democracy and justice.
Coincidentally, the Irish foreign Minister was here in Ethiopia for a working visit and the Irish Ambassador to Ethiopia was kind enough to invite government ministers, leaders from the opposition and people from what is left of Civil Societies to the residence of the Ambassador. The Foreign Minister while addressing the gathering during the occasion mentioned the presence of leaders of EPRDF, but the presence of the Ethiopian opposition was not even noted. Everyone listened to his speech attentively. He discussed briefly the diplomatic ties of the two countries as well as commerce and relief aid. Personally for me, it was an embarrassing moment to say the least. He did not seem to have the slightest concern for the lack of freedom in Ethiopia. The Irish Foreign Minister could not understand the pain of injustice inflicted on the Ethiopian people.
Similarly, the United States’ Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Booth hosted a reception at the Sheraton Addis to celebrate the 234th Independence Day of the United States. He too, did not seem to recognize the presence of the high level opposition leaders. He did not say a word about the lack of freedom in Ethiopia. He rather chose to focus on aid and agriculture. What is the message here? Both, the Foreign Minister of Ireland and the Ambassador of the United States seem to suggest that freedom is not a priority for the Ethiopian people.
Ethiopians residing in the US assiduously campaigned for President Obama not because he is black, but because they believed that he would engage Meles in robust diplomacy for the cause of democracy and human right in Ethiopia. Their hope seems to be dashed now.
The message the West is repeatedly sending to the Ethiopian people is very clear: it respects the bullet not the ballot. In addition to this, they know that the aid they are providing is used by EPRDF to strengthen repression. According to the West, EPRDF is the one holding the gun. It can fight the war on terror on the West’s behalf so that it can feel safe. This however is a self-deceptive approach to the problem; it is the Ethiopian youths that remain buried in Somalia’s desert. They died to safeguard American interest, not even EPRDF’s cadres.
Moreover, by inviting Meles to the G20 summit after his election ‘victory,’ the West is also explicitly giving him the go ahead. Could anyone call this wisdom? Or can anyone believe this as a constructive engagement? Or is it just a clear contempt for the Ethiopian people? It is the saddest thing to even imagine, but there is no angle left to look at it otherwise: it is a clear contempt for the Ethiopian people.
The long view of history shows that failure to cultivate genuine friendship not only with the Middle East People, but also with the people in the Horn of Africa is what is costing the Western counties very heavily. So long as the Western countries walk off the track, there will be no change in the outcome no matter how hard they try.
I am neither trying to put all the blame on the West. I do not believe it can solve every problem, nor am I asking to do the fighting on our behalf. The root causes for most of the problems we have today emanate from lack of sincerity and commitment for the truth. Democracy is the solution for most of the multifaceted problems we are facing in the world. For a democratic system to be realized in countries such as Ethiopia, peace to prevail all over the globe and for the West to achieve its national interest, putting the rule of law at the centre stage of our effort is very essential.
In more clear terms, by supporting dictators against the will of the people and its democratic principles cherished back home, the West is losing thousands of lives and burning its tax payers money to jeopardize its own long term interests. Lack of credibility is a slippery road that has so far led the West to abyss of conspicuous danger and created chaos in many poor countries in the world. The Ethiopian people expect the West to stop pretending and practice the truth. Ethiopians do not have the luxury to involve ourselves in a senseless fanfare. We are determined to achieve the goal of freedom in Ethiopia, even if it means walking it alone. The precarious past that we have come through in our long history is a clear testimony of the strength we have to rise up from these darkest states of tyranny to daybreak of freedom. In absolute obedience to peaceful struggle and knowing full well it is the right path to achieving freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, we will never look back until we are able to secure our democratic rights. This is exactly the reason why our leader Birtukan Midekessa is languishing in one of the worst prisons in the world.