Wikileak’s censure on Seye and Berhanu controversial – Eskinder Nega, Addis Ababa

December 10th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

The excision of entire passages from a leaked US embassy cable on Seye Abraha, a former Defense Minister turned opposition politician, and Berhanu Nega, a former mayor –elect turned leader of a clandestine opposition based in the US, has stirred bewilderment and disappointment here in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The two were conspicuously referred to in a June 2009 cable to Washington by Donald Yamamoto, then US Ambassador to Ethiopia, after a rare meeting with Ethiopia’s “elusive hardliner” spy chief, Getachew Assefa.

Wikileaks posted the first two of more than 1300 leaked State Department cables on Ethiopia this week, triggering a new wave of blockades by ETC against proxies that circumvent filters against Ethiopian websites. (Despite their best effort, nonetheless, their “line of defense” is hardly impregnable.)

The revelation of the first Ethiopian cable, dated January 31, 2010, came as part of a notable international story about the Copenhagen accord on climate change. Mandated by the African Union to represent the continent, Meles is a prominent participant in this still on-going saga of international back-door dealings, public-grand standings and plain old-fashioned diplomatic intrigue. “ Meles (told Under Secretary of State Mario Otero) that the GOE (government of Ethiopia) supports the accord in Copenhagen,” cabled the US embassy to Washington, with obvious glee. But important as this may have been to the international community, it elicited no more than a long yawn from the Ethiopian public. In one of the world’s most improvised nations, climate change could hardly be part of mainstream discourse.

But if only half-heartedly, the Under Secretary, who travelled to Addis primarily to lobby in support of the Copenhagen accords, did raise other issues of keen local interest; and in the process, inadvertently highlighted not only the increasing assertiveness of Meles in his dealings with the world’s lone super power, but also the clear reluctance of the Obama administration to apply pressure on authoritarian regimes. “ Birtukan will vegetate in prison forever,” Meles tells the Americans belligerently. And all Otero could muster in response was a pitiful “(urge to) exercise wise judgment and leadership, and CONSIDER the release of Birtukan Mideksa.” Emboldened, Meles then even goes to risk the mother of all revisionist histories. “Referencing his own struggle against the Derge regime, “details the cable,” Meles said he and his compatriots received no foreign funding, but were willing to sacrifice and die for their cause.” The Americans, in line with their famed short attention spans, were in no position to debate about events two decades in the past. And suddenly, Meles assumes the moral high-ground. There was no stopping him after this.

All in all, Meles comes out the clear winner in this cable: strong, confident, and, most importantly, his private utterances fall in perfect sync with his public pronouncements. The Americans, on the other hand, fall far short of the traditional image of a superpower; sadly, not even that of a receding one. They allow Meles to bully, provoke and lecture them; all in almost meek silence. To all appearances, they stand powerless before him.( Interestingly, not a word about freedom of the press, the principal advocates of democracy until their suppression in 2005, but an argument of sorts over civil society, whose record on democratization in Ethiopia is at best minimal.)

The second cable, dated June 2009, is classified as Secret, a notch higher than the mere confidential status for the first one; and came under a distinctly interesting title: Understanding the Ethiopian hardliners. Written, classified and filed by Ambassador Donald Yamamoto himself, this is a very personal take of a senior diplomat on a vital national security issue.

But only two lines in to the cable, in a seeming vindication to Professor Easterly’s oft repeated adage, “foreigners never have enough at stake to get it right,” Yamamoto commits a startling error. “In a rare meeting with the elusive head of the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS),” wrote Yamamoto, “and main hardliner within the powerful executive committee of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party, Ambassador and NISS chief Getachew Assefa discussed a wide range of regional and bilateral issues.” But Getachew has never been a member of the Executive Committees of neither the EPRDF coalition nor one of its four constituent members, the TPLF; but has been, neither moving up or down, in the Central Committees of both for over two decades.

A few lines later, Yamamoto relates about Getachew’s concerns about the OLF and ONLF. He also“spoke at length about former Addis Ababa Mayor-elect Berhanu Nega.” And suddenly, inexplicably, the first excision, suggested by the State Department, and obviously accepted by wikileaks and the papers, appear. Presumably, only a few lines are omitted, but one could not help but wonder how “a State Department source,” the rational for the censures, could be involved here.(Or is the State Department, as many wonder, protecting Getachew’s sources, too?) Mercifully, the next two lines are spared the censor’s sharp scissors, and that “VOA’s biased reporting; the dangers of former Defense Minister Seeye Abraha’s growing authority within the opposition” are on the “reclusive” spy chief’s mind is revealed. All these, and much more, come as introductory summaries; in three unusually lengthy sentences. And only then do the details ensue.

Interestingly, this rare meeting comes courtesy of former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Irving Hicks, an African American, who is a close confident of Ethio-Saudi billionaire, Mohammed Al Amoudi. In fairness to Getachew, though he obviously disdains the prospect of a regular meet with foreigners, he tries to compensate by giving Yamamoto a 4 hour marathon audience.( Which was not enough to break the ice between them, however. “Getachew will never be a close contact,” Yamamoto informs Washington at the end of his report. And with US’ embassy in Asmara cable to Washington about the need for close contact with Eritrean Generals to encourage a coup against Isaias Afewerki posted by wikileaks, this will no doubt comfort Meles.)

Getachew speaks more like a politician, which he is, than a professional spy chief. “(the US) should brand the OLF and the ONLF as terrorists, and should never meet with them,” he argues. “The Ethiopian government would not meet with extremists in the US who bomb abortion clinics,” he assures Yamamoto, a bit comically. “ The Ambassador responded that there should be closer discussion between Ethiopia and the US on this issue,” reports Yamamoto.( Don’t hold your breath, Getachew.) All juicy, and nothing was omitted. So far, so good.

But then come the details about Getachew’s misgivings about the VOA, and everything after the first sentence is deleted. Where is room for ambiguity here, ask many in the public. No State Department source could even be remotely involved. Why then would wikileaks and the papers agree to the excisions suggested by the State Department?

But worse is in store. A paragraph later, a paragraph in its entirety, numbered 6, is missing. Number 7 is also partially cut. Number 8, as was the case for 6, is deleted entirely. Fortunately, the erasing stops here. The five subsequent paragraphs are there in their entirety. But the take (most probably, no more than a political analysis) of the security chief on Seye Abraha and Berhanu Nega are no where to be found. They are inexplicably removed “ from the public domain.”

Would Manning and Assange, both now languishing in prison, approve of censure, when the safeties of sources are clearly not endangered? Wiki leaks and the papers have a lot of explaining to do.

  1. Mesfin
    | #1

    Interesting comment, Eskinder. Overall I don’t have a problem giving you a “B-” for summarizing the leaks content. The only reason you are arguing about “missing points” is because you didn’t get what you expected to get from the leaks. And this stands between your declared manifestation of this regime. You would have liked it if it was said how brutal and incoherent Meles is, you would have further liked to read how Meles was beholden to his “masters” instructions and so forth. Absent that, you went back to assumptions and innuendos which may or may not exist. This to me is just an ersatz for your perceived image of the GoE. You also wonder that the guy acts like a politician than a professional spy master – well, isn’t our current spy master a well known ex-congress man and ex-chief of staff of the president of the untied states? That to me is as close as it gets to being a real politician. In fact, he has to come from somewhere to be trusted by the ruling party and placed in such sensitive position to begin with. What he does from his chair is more important than his political affiliation or leanings. From what I could discern from the leak, this guy seems quite independent to the extent that Meles himself has hard time getting hold of him. So, let’s be realistic and give credit when one is due. Our country is not led by bunch of tugs as we assumed – but rather by capable and willing people who are not afraid to confront even the mighty USA. Maybe and maybe then we can learn how to challenge and confront them to prevail in the market place of ideas. If we can’t acknowledge their strengths, resolve, determination and willingness to do what ever is necessary to govern, then we are doomed to stay in the wilderness for some time to come.

  2. Tell me more!
    | #2

    As usual great analysis.
    It is a wonder what a serious, hot and messy matters must be, even for Wikileaks to hide the information. So many things went in my mind what it could be…one is the safety of our opposition leaders, please be careful wherever you are and buy a multimillion dollar life insurance.

  3. aha!
    | #3

    Good observation of the missing documents together with well thoughtout analysis. Thanks for bringing that in the open. It hard to speculate what dangers the security chief sensed with respect to siye joining and holding a prominent position, I believe, he is refering to UDJP, not Tigrai Harena, who nevertheless being exTPLFite, has not abandoned the ethnic agenda, and UDJP is in that coalition with ethnic agenda, and the TPLF/eprdf regime has in the past five years has put every thing under their control, while the loyalist oppostion parties were pleading for political space, and UDJP was posed to settle for “nochange but durable democracy”, which never existed for the silent majority to build upon. Where does that fear come from, when the logical framework of Medrek/fdd/fdre is a mirror image of TPLF/eprdf regime. Win or loose it is destined to form a bi-cameral chaber of parliament in both houses.

  4. c452345
    | #4

    WikiLeak too much Change for Obama?
    Know It’s roller coaster, still xx harder for totalitarian states.

    We NEED transparency for our global society that we created an cannot control. To many crises. We’d never gone to Iraq if we read the cables first?

    How can a few wise leaders alone solve complex global issues pending ?
    People need to be involved/need same info on these complex issues to let our global society decide & survive.

    If democracy fails, the only solution is More democracy.
    E-vote(power), not E-commerce(money) that changes our world!
    so think ..our 200 y old democracy, then we compete china! yes, only way is up.

  5. ጎርፉ
    | #5

    #1 This is a tiny document out of many so let wait and see before coming to conclusion. On the other side you sound that you have a personal vendetta with Mr.Eskinder. Wikileak is not the barometer for how the tegadalay goverment ruling the country of Ethiopia. Sir it is the people of Ethiopia and history that are the witnesses. We are looking in front of our eyes the country is going one step fore ward and two steps back ward. As for the we the people living in the wilderness you still mistaken. At this time Ethiopia is the modern wilderness. As for you response to Mr. Esknder I will give you Z. I can not go lower than that.

  6. gobena
    | #6

    It looks like you are feeding us a good litreature with your assumption as a fact. It take us know where. I would be happy if your analysis is based on facts and an addition for tomorrow struggle, not a mere intellectual subjective analysis on your assumption and conclusion. But thanks for your trial.

  7. Adane
    | #7

    Thank you #1 for your well articulated observation. People like you give me a little hope that we all are not lost in the hysteria of hate after all. I wish there were more sound people like yourself participating in such a forum rather than the likes of #5. What they know is overkill and stretch everything they touch and see. He would be fine to give you an “F” to make you fail, but no he has to go all the way to “Z” to overkill his point. As he said, “one step forward two steps backward”. Well, it takes one to know one. That was, I guess, a figurative speech on his part. If I were to grade you, I’d be forced to give you unequivocal “A+”. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    #1, you said:
    “Our country is not led by bunch of tugs as we assumed – but rather by capable and willing people who are not afraid to confront even the mighty USA.”

    I give you Z-. Apparently you are an admirer of a dictator and his puppets. Being a bully has nothing to do being capable. These are professional cheaters, looters and murderess that are ruling the country with iron fist — holding Ethiopians hostage at gunpoint. The US government is well aware that they are dealing with the mentally unstable dictator that has blood on his hands. Unfortunately, US is looking the other way and ignoring the Human Rights Abuse in Ethiopia because of the unrest in Somalia. And the bully dictator is using it to his advantages.

  9. Mesfin
    | #9

    #5 and #8 you don’t merit any response since you seem unable to read between the lines. In any case, given that I got a “Z” and “Z-” respectively, I guess I don’t belong to your league – which I readily admit I don’t and won’t. As to #7, I thank you for your kind comments. I try to remain sane in this insane world of diaspora.

  10. Anonymous
    | #10

    #7,you get Z-, as well.
    Nothing in this world is worse than Torture and Murder! Have you ever taken a second to think, how you would feel if someone kill one of your kids, siblings, parents or friends? Think about it! In the last two decades alone hundreds of thousands Ethiopians have been tortured and killed, and their families have been put through hell and the worst nightmares that will never go away for loosing their loved ones. We all should hate evil and speak out against evil, and always stand for justice. People like you loose credibility when you go around insult or blame Diaspora that have done nothing wrong or committed a single crime, and praise the very man that has committed unspeakable crimes and genocide in Ethiopia.
    You said about Ethiopians: “What they know is overkill and stretch everything they touch and see.” — How wrong you are! Have Woyanes kill countless number of Ethiopians? Have the members of TPLF in control of the entire government of Ethiopia? Have Meles, his wife, their close friends become multimillionaires or possibly billionaire — while millions of Ethiopians are dying of starvation? The answer is a fat YES! It is not a stretch of imagination and overkill as you put it — it is a reality! One innocent life is too many to loose let alone thousands!! May the merciful teach you a lesson!!

  11. Anonymous
    | #11

    Dec 10, 2006 9:49 pm Post subject: Colonel Abdissa Aga Reply with quote

    I believe, my fifth
    grade text book had two famous and inspiring
    short stories of Zerai Deress & Abdissa Aga.
    Obviously, Most of us have a glimpse of
    understanding about these most important
    and highly respected heroes. Now let’s
    examine closely the most fascinating
    achievements or actions of Colonel Abdissa Aga
    from the excellent article of Dr. Fikere Tolassa.

    Abdissa Aga
    Colonel Abdissa Aga was born in Welega. His
    father lost his temper and killed his own
    brother when Abdissa was about 12 years old.
    Though he went as far as Addis Ababa to
    appeal for the release of his father, he was
    executed. Sad and embittered, he joined the
    Ethiopian Army around the age of 14 and
    fought against Fascist Italy in 1936 in Ethiopia.
    He was captured and imprisoned in a
    concentration camp in the island of Sicily in
    Italy. There he met Captain Julio, a Yugoslav

    The two became friends and made a daring
    escape from the concentration camp taking
    with them a dozen prisoners to the woods.
    They returned to the camp a few days later, at
    night, led by young Abdissa who was terribly
    feared by the Italians. Abdissa choked and
    silenced the guards. He and Julio took off the
    uniforms of the guards. Two of the former
    prisoners wore the uniforms, held the guns of
    the dead soldiers, and stood at the gate of the
    camp pretending to be Fascist watchmen.
    Abdissa and Julio, followed by the other
    partisans Penetrated the camp, released all of
    the prisoners, fought with some of the Fascist
    officers, robbed them off their ammunitions
    and supplies, as well as trucks full of
    weapons, and drove back to the woods.

    They continued to fight in that manner freeing
    prisoners and robbing concentration camps,
    banks, government warehouses, etc. until
    their number grew to an army, and until the
    Italian Government battled with them fiercely.
    The partisans chose Abdissa to be their
    leader and called him Major. The Italian
    Fascists were terrified since they knew how
    brave Ethiopians were recalling the Battle of
    Dogali, Ambalage, Adwa, Maichew and
    remembering the bravery of Zerai Deres,
    whom later, Abdissa tried in vain to see and
    hug. Taking advantage of the fear of the Italian
    people, Italian gangsters painted their faces
    cook and started robbing banks and pillaging
    villages imposing as Abdissa and other
    Ethiopians who were also partisans together
    with him. Abdissa caught these awe-inspiring
    gangsters and executed them, since they
    were discrediting his name by their atrocious
    acts. The Italian Government did all it could to
    catch Abdissa by force. As they failed to do
    so, they tried to cajole and allure him by
    promising him a big post and by begging him
    to stop fighting and join their ranks. If I recall
    correctly, Abdissa shot the Italian officer who
    brought him the letter from the Italian

    Finally, the Second World War broke out. The
    Allied forces, Britain, the USA, France and
    Russia recognized Major Abdissa, Captain
    Julio and the rest of the partisans and began
    to supply them with arms and provisions.
    Major Abdissa Aga was chosen to lead the
    international army of partisans (former
    prisoners) which consisted of Americans,
    English, French, Ethiopians and other
    nationals. Captain Julio became the
    commander of the Yugoslav partisans. This
    way the partisans weakened Italy and
    contributed to their defeat. Major Abdissa Aga
    was the first hero who entered and captured
    the city of Rome sitting in a jeep, waving first
    and foremost the flag of Ethiopia, which was
    also tied around the arms of his international
    soldiers including Americans, French and
    English. When the armies of the allies
    reached Rome, they honored Major Abdissa
    Aga highly. The British made him the
    Commander of the British Military Police and
    sent him to Germany to fight against the
    German Army. He battled with the German
    Nazis in different cities, defeated them,
    controlled the cities and villages, and entered
    Berlin triumphantly again waving Ethiopian
    and British flags. He was in the spot light all
    over the world.

    At the end of the war, the British, the
    Canadians and the Americans wanted him to
    join their armies promising him high ranks. He
    refused adamantly saying that though his
    motherland, Ethiopia, was poor, he would still
    return to her and see the face of his Emperor
    whom he had missed for so long. This
    incensed the Allies, and believe it or not, they
    accused him of ravaging the Italian Fascists
    when he was a partisan. The French, the
    British, the Americans, even the Russians to
    some extent condemned him. Fortunately, a
    noble British general who had decorated him
    with medals previously fought for his release
    changing the prison sentence to financial fine,
    which was paid by Abdissa himself and the
    British Government.

    The great Ethiopian hero finally returned to
    Ethiopia longing to see his country and
    Emperor. The Emperor welcomed him and
    sent him to Ras Abebe Aregai, the then
    Minister of Defense so that he would employ
    him. Ras Abebe and some of the most
    important patriots Ethiopia were scared of
    Abdissa’s valor and feared
    for their own positions. So, instead of
    promoting him to a general, Ras Abebe sent
    Major Abdissa to the Holeta Military Academy
    as a simple cadet. After several months of
    hardship in Holeta he graduated as a first
    lieutenant, to the surprise of the British
    officers whom Abdissa used to command
    when they were in Europe. Abdissa was
    oppressed in the Ethiopian Army. He was sent
    to the Ogaden and fought against the Somali
    invaders displaying incredible courage and
    military tactics. In spite of what he did to raise
    the pride of Ethiopia and to safeguard her
    territorial integrity, he didn’t rise above the
    rank of a captain for many, many years until
    somebody (they say Captain Julio and
    Marshal Tito) drew the attention of the
    Emperor towards the end of the Emperor’s life
    and regime. The Emperor raised his rank to
    colonel and made him his bodyguard. Colonel
    Abdissa Aga the great died a few years after
    the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution

  12. idiot dictator
    | #12

    I don’t believe any of the Wikileak stuff until I see the rest of it and find it in congruent with Ethiopian realities. In regards to this specific info, I draw that it is fuzy and unreal. Who made Seye Abraha and Birhanu famous opposition members? That is one bs by itself. Seye? Come on. At least they can say Birhanu. He is not even that famous in Greater Ethiopia. Wikileaks on Ethiopia is right now weak and I don’t trust it.

  13. Samuel
    | #13

    Please remember that TPLF is ruling with a barrel of the gun and not with the consent of the people. Despite your effort, TPLF leaders admit to the fact that they fought hard to get to the position and even dare all to do the same if they want to change the status quo. Their abilty here is the aquisition and use of force to occupy a non-willing, but helpless, society. That is the fact and that is why it is called a Tigrean government.

  14. kush-kush
    | #14

    The worst thing I tried not to read is ” cult building.” What do we gain about the missing part(s) regarding the three persons? You the writer thought it was a big deal if the missing paragraphs were there . To me even if we find heaps of secret documents, it will not help any one . What is important is how to defeat the TPLF/EPLF junta . Nothing more and nothing less . In the end, I do not like the article and I am not in any position to give you any grade because we all have diffrent perceptions and tastes . If you(writer)is a fair minded person, why don’t you write about the nonexisting, nonworking and good for nothing groups? If you don’t like my comment, just dsregard . The end of the case.

  15. Anonymous
    | #15

    #11, thank you for sharing this story. At this critical time, Ethiopia needs more heroes like Col. Abdissa Aga. But, I am afraid that the two evil dictators–Meles and Mengestu have killed the majority of our brave patriotic Ethiopians.

  16. Drama
    | #16


  17. ጎርፉ
    | #17

    Adane “it takes one to know one” you are one hell of tegadalay. I am glad you admitted this tegadalay government is taking the country one step forward and and two step backward. Unless some one says “ምስብጻይ ለገስ ወይም ሞት”it gives you bad test to your mouth. Whether you like it or not meles is a political prostitute,yesteryear’s. hard line communist todays reactionary feudal. This pig used to lecure us about Enver Hoja’s was god sent. His book was his Bible plus yisayas’s “nhna ermjana” what ever. Why don’t ask you hero how he accept that ” Esayas was the first proletariat leader like, Lenin, Marx, Engles and Mao to put a new phylosophy on the existing proletariat revolution”. After all these he made a complete and now he thinks he is the son on Adam Smith. Until then injoy your ግም

  18. Anonymous
    | #18

    Why do you want to defeat EPLF? You can defeat TPLF if you like. What is it to you to defeat EPLF. EPLF is a concern of Eritreans.

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