Cry the beloved country: Ethiopians criticize Columbia for hosting Meles – By William Easterly

September 19th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

I have been getting a lot of email from Ethiopian-Americans who are very upset that Columbia University has invited Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to speak this coming Wednesday, like this one: (more…)

I have been getting a lot of email from Ethiopian-Americans who are very upset that Columbia University has invited Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to speak this coming Wednesday, like this one:

Most of the professors who come across him, in most cases are neutralized or transformed as his advocates. So far, you are the only one standing clear, so the Ethiopian people need one intellectual friend like you to make their case. Please don’t be afraid and help our people and speak up.

I am both moved and extremely uncomfortable. The Ethiopian diaspora critics of Meles are upset about the support for Meles coming from Professors Sachs and Stiglitz at Columbia (note: I hear from critics in the diaspora, because its nearly impossible to be a critic from inside Ethiopia). I have criticized the Meles regime here and here (2nd one joint with Laura). But it should not be up to the faranji to conduct the debate. None of us know enough or have enough at stake to get it right.

But I am happy to give the opposition a platform in this blog, without necessarily endorsing any one viewpoint, individual, or movement. Nor do I imply that any one I quote is necessarily representing a majority of Ethiopians. I have previously given space on the blog to a supporter of Meles.

So what are the issues? The Columbia student newspaper noted how Columbia’s original speech announcement had a laudatory bio of Meles (since removed), further outraging the Ethiopian opposition.

Under the seasoned governmental leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi … Ethiopia has made and continues to make progresses in many areas including in education, transportation, health and energy.

Obang Metho, the director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, wrote me with an alternative bio:

Electoral manipulations, harassment, intimidation,beatings, political imprisonments and the withholding of humanitarianaid for any who do not support Meles ‘ethnic-based EPRDF party, have effectively closed all political space to any opposing groups. The criminalization of dissent, advanced through new repressive laws regarding civil society and vague antiterrorism laws that could make nearly anyone guilty, have further silenced the people and the media.

Columbia University has the right to invite whomever they choose, but yet, such an invitation will only be misused to further elevate a dictator who is oppressing the people of Ethiopia.

Political science professor Alemayehu Mariam wrote an open letter to Columbia president Lee Bollinger on the Huffington Post:

There is widespread belief among Ethiopian Americans that Mr. Zenawi’s invitation to speak …necessarily implies the University’s endorsement and support of Mr. Zenawi’s views, policies and actions in Ethiopia. I am writing to request your office to issue an official statement clarifying your position concerning Mr. Zenawi as you so eloquently did when Mahmood Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke on your campus on September 24, 2007.

Professor Mariam cites some of the credentials of Meles Zenawi to get the Ahmadinejad treatment:

In 2005, security forces under the personal command and control of Mr. Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters and inflicted severe gunshot wounds on 763 others…

In December 2008, Mr. Zenawi arrested and reinstated a life sentence on Birtukan Midekssa, the only woman political party leader in Ethiopian history. He kept her under extreme conditions in prison.

He quotes the Committee to Protect Journalists:

The government enacted harsh legislation that criminalized coverage of vaguely defined “terrorist” activities, and used administrative restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments to induce self-censorship… The government has had a longstanding practice of bringing trumped-up criminal cases against critical journalists, leaving the charges unresolved for years as a means of intimidating the defendants… Ethiopia as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with ‘consistent’ and ‘substantial’ filtering of web sites…

Even it’s not up to the faranji to debate Ethiopia’s politics, we can all certainly comment on what support is given to each side by our governments, our aid agencies, and our universities.

What do you think of Columbia’s invitation to Meles? Should President Bollinger issue the “Ahmadinejad” disclaimer requested by the critics?


Prof. Easterly is a Professor of Economics at New York University and the author of “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.” He is the Co-Director of NYU’s Development Research Institute, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Growth, and of the Journal of Development Economics.

  1. annanymouse
    | #1

    There is no doubt Abebe/Legesse/Mathza/Meles and his boss Bereket Simon are fulltime employees of the foreing interest groupie in Ethiopia- and that included some of the prominent Columbia Un. professors; otherwise how could they invite such individual who is responsible for the blood shed of the Ethio-Eritrea 1998-2000 war that cost nearly 200,000 lives, billions of dollars, disregarding to the international recognized verdict, continues to violate against an average Ethiopian and against the state Ethiopia, who continue to bleed Somalia in the name of war on terror, and above all who continues to loot Ethiopia and Ethiopians to the bone. It’s time to bring Abebe/Legesse/Mathza/Meles, Azeb, and Bereket to court of law of Ethiopia and face justice.

  2. She Is Ethiopia
    | #2

    Ethiopian tragedy is Meles. Please visit the following link for further information

    http://www.ethiopiantragedy.com/

  3. aha!
    | #3

    This remark is much about “Clombia Spectator on Meles Zenawi”, not much about this article and the reactive rather than proactive nature of the Ethiopian elites in the diaspora. Two statements stand out with respect to the invitation of Meles Zenawi to speak at the World Leadership Forum at Clombia University in which also controversial Professor Jeffry Sacks resides as proponent of the current leadership, providing for a third dimension of the controvery.

    The first statement has to do with the Clombia student news paper which states, “Under the seasoned governmental leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi …. Ethiopia made & continues to make progress in many areas including education, transportation, health and energy”.

    The second statement has to do with the the last paragraph and particularly the last sentence in the same Columbia Spectator, which reads: “Prime Minister Zenawi’s invitation to speak at Columbia does not constitute endorsement of his views or his nation’s policies”.

    Let us start with second statement, then proceed with first statement and the third controversial green revolution approach of Prof. Jeffry Sachs. On the second staement above, let us say for argument sake, the institution is neutral and is trying to invite to the World Leadership Leadership Forum contoroversial leaders for an open discussion on the world stage, where electonic media reaches millions of people, assuming that they are notewothy for the priviledge to present their views or their policies and/or politics, which in the case of Ethiopia is ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies, economic and political crises, poverty, famine and starvation prevailing and lack freedom of the individuals, stemming from the basic set up of the constitutional set up of the country, including sovereignity and sovereignity of the country at stake, to say the least democracy is a rare commodity for the silent majority of Ethiopians.

    If the Forum is set up to brng matters/issues/policies and personal views to the Forum by the Prime Minister for an open discussion with views from opposition parties and/or organzations, it is more than welcome. The way it is currently set up it looks like a publicity gommic for the ruling party and for the Diaspora elites to be reactive rather than proactive makes even worse by putting the blame on Clombia Univesity President and Wolrld Leadeship Forum, I presume. Furtheremore, it does not add up to the peaceful struggle for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty of Efiopia and Ethiopians under liberal democracy, which a goals in stark contrast to TPLF/eprdf regime. Short of meeting the ultimate goals by a peaceful struggle with common goals and common strategies, it only becomes a matter of providing unnecessary publicity for ruling party, which has in its 20 year rule has reached a climax of consolidating power by any means available at its disposal.

    While I will comment on Prof. Sach’s Green Revolution Approah for Africa and particulary for Ethiopia in the relevant Article, I will comment on the first statement by the Columbia student News Letter. That statment is unsubstantiated and uncorroborated by Ethiopian Economists, in a country, where famine and starvation, stagflation and poverty is rampant, where the very few TPLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises control the economy and Ethiopians do not the right to property owner ship as form of accumulating wealth and as one the means of production to make decion to invest on the property.

  4. She Is Ethiopia
    | #4

    ATTN: Dear Democratic President,

    I hope you will read this someday. Perhaps a miracle which happen and your democratic attitude will change.

    Democracy is not election to screen the votes of a nation with the filter of your own opinion. Democracy is not taking what other’s for yours, for your own survival. Democracy is not choking the voices so that no harsh word could aggrieve your ears. Democracy is not ruling a totalitarian regime under the name of a Republic. Democracy is not that minority chains majority. Democracy is not describing the sacred things as your own and charging anyone who says anything against you with heresy. Democracy is not being a caring foster for other countries’ people and being an unkind stepmother for your own nation. Democracy is not to play with words and to invert the truth and still discourse on freedom of speech. Democracy is not that whatever we say is not democratic and whatever you say is democratic.

    Democracy is what my brothers and sisters requested for and you shed their blood because of it. But still we haven’t given up on our dream.

    As Farbod Khoshtinat, Democracy Video Challenge, of Iran says

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