Lacrimosa… Redux By Tecola W. Hagos

January 12th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

The infant, on opening his eyes, ought to see his country, and to the hour of his death never lose sight of it. [Un enfant en ouvrant ses yeux doit voir la patrie, et jusqu'a la mort ne voir qu'elle.] – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I. Introduction

I. Introduction

In criticizing the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I need not navigate in between raindrops, because in Meles Zenawi’s administration I could walk down a wide wasteland of broken promises and of shattered lives of a people. I wrote a number of articles lamenting Ethiopia under the leadership of Meles Zenawi and the intolerable situation living under the yoke of a divisive Constitution. The facts are all out there easily discernable by anyone. My criticism should not be seen as some form of personal feud or vendetta against Meles Zenawi or anybody else. I love Ethiopia unconditionally with all my heart. I would like to see Ethiopia survive for tens of thousands of years in great glory with industrious, happy, and wealthy citizens. If it comes down to a choice between preserving the unity and integrity of Ethiopia on one hand and some ahistorical secessionist effort of an ethnic or religious group on the other, I always choose to preserve Ethiopia at all cost.

Meles Zenawi claims that he has hit the bull’s eye in his economic as well as political undertakings. He boasts about the double-digit growth rate of the Ethiopian economy often immodestly, in his addresses in the Ethiopian Parliament. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. What Meles is doing is messing up Ethiopia with extremely serious short and long term problems. Meles’s claim of success is like that of a mediocre archer who shots his arrows at a large target/wall (even a child will not miss) hitting it all over the place and later circling each of his arrows that are stuck all over that wall with bull’s eyes, and then claiming that he is a great archer who hits bull’s eye targets all the time. Funny as it seems, this metaphor of “the moving bull’s eye” is proper in analogizing the activities of Meles Zenawi and his Government.

I suggest that one ask and answer the following simple and direct questions in order to understand the depth of the problems visited upon Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi. Has there been any improvement in Ethiopia since my last lamentations in 2010? How do Ethiopians feel about themselves? Are they proud to identify themselves as Ethiopians? How far do they control their natural resources? How much wealth do they have as individuals? Is Al-Amoudi still flying out tones of Ethiopian gold without proper accounting? Are Meles Zenawi and Azeb Mesfin billionaires as claimed by many? How many Ethiopian young women and girls leave Ethiopia to become domestic workers in Middle East countries? Do Ethiopians own land? Do Ethiopians feel secure in their person and property? What is the status of rule of law in Ethiopia? In answering such questions you will affirm that Meles Zenawi has failed as a national leader beyond repair.

There is nothing unusual in drawing psychological profiles of leaders and important people. The United States Government does it routinely. Most nations of the World do some form of profiling of foreign leaders and important personalities. Profiling of leaders is a process of understanding of such individuals, helpful in negotiations and strategic planning. A few months back, in a New York Times article, Benedict Carey wrote a summary of that practice focusing on events surrounding the Libyan revolt and Muammar el-Qaddafi. [See, Benedict Carey, “Testing out policy insight from a character profile,” New York Times, March 28, 2011.] Prof Messay Kebede’s recent article is very appropriate in focusing our attention on the personality of our leaders. Thus, Messay’s article must be welcomed as a very important contribution in enriching our understanding of Ethiopian political leaders. Some time back, I wrote on psychological profiling done by leaders on other rival leaders or potential allies. “It is reported that the great Iyasu, the first Shogun of Japan, used to inquire of the ‘willow world’ madams, about the size of the ‘shaft’ of the great Samurais he was going to fight or whom he was going to appoint to leadership position.” [See Tecola W. Hagos, “EDITORIAL: Mane Amno Yewotal Ye Sembelett Mama…The CUD/Kinijit Opposition Leaders: Life Sentence/Pardon,”, July 22, 2007.]

I emphasize the fact that Meles Zenawi has endangered the national security and integrity of Ethiopia to such magnitude that it is doubtful whether Ethiopia would survive the new upcoming generation of Ethiopians unless we help them with a start-up structure of unity and a sense of Ethiopiawinet. Those who support the misguided policies of Meles Zenawi do so for the right reasons and not for personal greed. Sycophantic allegiance does not help anyone. Here under I have identified three focus-points that are of primary importance for the survival of Ethiopia: unitary political structure, free market economy, and new science and technology oriented education. I have presented in each the most serious challenge and possible solution. Volumes could be written on each of the focus-points. It is also important that one keep in mind that one is dealing here with the tip of an iceberg of problems.

II. My Concern Dealing with Political Issues

The recent theatrics, which was massively launched by Meles Zenawi in celebrating the nations and nationalities and ethnic groups of Ethiopia, clearly show the process of the fracturing of a people and a nation. I have been following the presentations and general broadcast of the Ethiopian Government/State controlled Television (ETV) for almost a year now. It is amazing to see how Meles Zenawi has changed the orientation of his anti-Ethiopia programs. I have been watching the same programs broadcasted in Ethiopia for almost a year. In the last two to three months, the programs I watched seem to have shelved States/Kilils politics along with their distinctive flags; instead what I was seeing was the Ethiopian tricolor everywhere. It has been a source of excruciating pain to me every time I see States/Kilils colors, for such flags were graphic reminders to me how Meles Zenawi was fracturing my beloved Ethiopia that my great ancestors bleed for to preserve in freedom and independence.

It is an incredible sight to see that transformation of the promotion of the Federal State of Ethiopia as opposed to the individual States/Kilils. The contents of the new ETV programs on ethnicity seem to be geared toward the enhancement of the unity of Ethiopia rather than divisiveness inherent in dividing the nation by States/Kilils. At any rate, it gave me a chance to see in such programs the many beautiful faces of Ethiopians—all exceptionally beautiful people with incredibly authenticity. Since I have been wrongly accused of harboring a pernicious ethnic affiliation, I said to my self which group would I discard or care more for? And at that time I remembered a heart wrenching battlefield scene in the movie “The Last Samurai,” when the great Samurai nationalist warrior Lord Katsumoto said, “They all are beautiful,” when in his death throes he found himself in a field of cherry flowers. Every single Ethiopian is equally dear to me irrespective of religious orientation, ethnic origin, culture, social status et cetera like a field of flowers. This should not come as a surprise to anybody, for all of my writings reflect just that.

On ETV, I watched with fascination how the propaganda machine of Meles Zenawi has changed its trademark hatemongering against imagined enemies. He seems to have changed into the premier promoter of Ethiopian unity, notwithstanding the fact of the haunting presence of the 1995 Constitution that has framed the relationship between the many States/Kilils and the central federal authority, supposedly representing the State of Ethiopia, in an extremely divisive political structure. The divisive political situation is reflected in the many provisions of the Constitution dealing with state structure, federal structure, unbalanced power structure among the organs of Government, subordination of religion to the State et cetera. The fact is that the Constitution legitimizes ethnic politics of discrimination, discord, factionalism et cetera. The Constitution has brought about a calamity where tens of thousands of individuals were driven off from places where they have settled for generations on the divisive ethnic States/Kilils enclaves. Such divisive structure must be dismantled.

Ethiopian Citizenship and the State of Ethiopia are totally undermined and deformed to such extent that one can assert they have ceased to exist in the Constitution. Ethiopians have no real Constitutional protection from the brutalizing power of leaders whether it is Meles Zenawi or the mini-tyrants of States/Kilils. There is an acute need to revise or totally discard the Constitution and start all over from scratch in order to reorient our vision of a united and strong Ethiopia. All must acknowledge the fact that Ethiopian Citizens do have preeminent rights that supersede any other social, cultural, or ethnic based collective rights. The key to the establishment and to the preservation of a just and progressive society is the preeminent position individual citizens have in that society. An Ethiopian citizen should be able to travel freely anywhere, live anywhere, acquire property including land anywhere, work anywhere without ever being challenged or restricted by any ethnicity measurement.

One effective way to defuse the divisive power of the current States/Kilils structure is to establish administrative unites at the Woreda level as the main geopolitical base as the base of the political and administrative organization of Ethiopia. Such structure is manageable and effective in promoting democratic governance. Such structure also correlates with the manpower capacity of such administrative unite. The current States/Kilils unites are far too big and far too complex for the available manpower to administer effectively. In other word these bites of States/Kilils are far too big to be chewed properly. One of the main reasons of the administrative inefficiency and corruption is the fact of such manpower deficiency in administrating States/Kilils. By contrast, the Woreda size is a manageable administrative size for the type of human capacity available in such areas.

The hypocrisy of very many Ethiopians in the Diaspora is both disappointing and depressing to me. Especially the anti democratic behavior of intolerance is alarming considering the fact that such individuals have lived for decades in the West, and are benefiting from the virtues of pluralistic Western societies and states. There is no room in our Ethiopian narrative for postmodern form of deconstructive philosophy of fracturing, dividing, and mincing viable unites into fractional societies that neither can maintain any civil community nor safeguard individual rights. As far as I can see, all liberation fronts and ethnic based political organizations in Ethiopia are primitive and destructive. There can be no accommodation for such forms of anti-Ethiopia movement in what ever guise. Whether it is the primitive Jihadist religion based movements or the pseudo-Marxist fronts rolled up in seductive rhetoric of group or ethnic rights are essentially preludes to abusive and violent dictatorships down the line of their future transformations. They would only bring about violence pitting one group against another and the ensuing genocide and persecution of the weak, the defenseless, the minority et cetera. What is quite ironic is that well versed Marxist-Leninists or Maoists in EPRP, Meison, Woz et cetera were not narrow ethnicists despite the fact that they had to deal with the question of secession.

III. My Concern Dealing with Economic Disaster

Clearly defined property rights allow for secured ownership of property that includes land ownership in fee simple/reast. The new Urban Lands Lease Holding Proclamation No. 721/2011 has started its life with tremendous controversy. From the town-hall discussions broadcasted on Ethiopian TV, I gather the problem to be on the issue of ownership (in fee simple) as opposed to lease or rights based on possession. The problem with the land lease/possession formula is the fact that the Government has made it impossible for any Ethiopian to have a secured ownership of land. The concept of ownership of land by “the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia” is enshrined in Article 40 of the Federal Constitution, which relates to “Right to Property.” In sub-article three it is stated, “The right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia. Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange.” This provision in the Constitution is the source of all social, political, and economic problems in Ethiopia.

In one such town hall meeting, Kumsa Demeksa, the Mayor of Addis Ababa, recanted the pseudo Marxist explanation that Meles Zenawi used to recite incessantly on the land ownership system being the main reason for Ethiopia’s underdevelopment and the poverty of its citizens. That idea is not something new, but is a continuation of the “land to the tiller” student movement from the 1960s. The fallacy in that type of sweeping generalization is the fact that it glossed over historical facts and important details. Such pre-existing land ownership by traditional title holders had distinct and legitimate historical narratives. In fact, there would have been no Ethiopia if it were not for those courageous Ethiopian pioneers who fought and created our Ethiopia that they passed down to us. If some of our ancestors owned large tract of land and passed it down to their children, that is the result of their hard labor, pioneering spirit, great courage, and endless battles and wars they fought in forging the nation of Ethiopia out of chaotic, wild, and primitive conditions. Some of the vast land owners from Emperor Haile Selassie’s generation, for example, such as Ras Abebe Aregai, were some of the legendary patriots of Ethiopia who fought against the Italians for the independence of Ethiopia. Such holdings can be considered as proper payment for service rendered to the nation. If there was a problem of distribution of land, it has to do with the size/amount and not with the basic right of owning land in fee simple/reast.

In our own time, our struggle should have been aimed at expanding the number of individuals owning land by including the middle class and the poor tenant farmers of Ethiopia on one hand and limiting or reducing huge land ownership on the other hand. Our struggle should not have been aimed at dispossessing the small number of traditional land owners. In trying to do justice for the poor we ended up nationalizing land whereby everybody lost that right to own land and the dictators, whether it is Mengistu or Meles, end up controlling all land in Ethiopia. Ownership of land in fee simple is not mere economic right but touches the very essence of being a human person that affirms the unconditional Citizenship right of every individual Ethiopian. It does not require some exceptional ability to understand the pathological connection between human beings and their property. Just think of our own attachment to our money, would anyone of you send me a hundred dollars if I ask you? How about ten thousand dollars since you have no significant attachment to your property? I hope each Ethiopian gets my meaning and message in my question. Human beings seem to be free to the extent they control their own individual property—the less they have, less is their freedom too.

One must understand the motive why Meles Zenawi and his supporters and some political organizations are opposing secured land ownership by individuals. For Meles, it is the one powerful way to control the population. For political organizations, it is a divisive agenda in preparation for future secession of “their” piece of land from the larger geographic area of Ethiopia. It is a very cynical and dubious position of the elites of such ethnic organizations. In both cases, the individual Ethiopian citizen is dispossessed and often squashed. The lack of respect of private property will lead to the lack of respect of individual rights culminating in the abuses and other violations of both democratic and civil rights. We must take the ownership of land as a very serious matter, for it is a primordial instinctive attribute of Man the animal. Denying such rights is contrary to human nature or propensity.

Before I consider a single economic policy initiated by Meles Zenawi, I would like to see the full accounting of all the monies generated and controlled by him in EFFORT and all such dummy corporations, first and foremost. In fact, I demand that Meles Zenawi disclose in detail everything about EFFORT and the wealth generated by corporations that he controls. The wealth so far horded by EFFORT and such other organizations not only belongs to “Tigriyans” but also to all Ethiopians. If “Tigriyans” have access to the wealth that is claimed in their name by EFFORT/Meles, than I too have access to the wealth of the Bank of America just because I have an account in that Bank.

The many development projects in Ethiopia are not all that “grand” on closer scrutiny. In fact, some are down-right stupid. Like all dictators, Meles Zenawi masks his misdeeds through grandiose projects. He used these projects to finance a corrupt system of exclusive economic enclaves that suck Ethiopia dry of its limited wealth and hard currency. Let me give you as an example the fact that the Ethiopian Government is spending over four billion dollars in developing vast territories in Wolkait in Tigray State, in Kesem in Afar State, at Beles in Amhara State, Finch in Oromo State, and in the South Omo basin, and also revamping older sugar cane processing factories, plantations with their dams, and feeder water-ways. Even though the effort to construct and develop the use of river basins is an excellent idea, the effort will not be productive if the end process is wasteful and poorly planned.

The sugar factories and vast plantations are clear examples of the wastefulness and mediocre planning of Meles’s government. The world is moving away from sugar cane to the cultivation of Stevia Rebaudiana plant as the source for highly concentrated and extremely economical sugar/sweetener production. The problem of sugar-cane based processes is all too well documented. Fluoride contamination of drinking water is the main problem that has devastated already the health of tens of thousands of Ethiopians in Wonji and Tendaho. The production of sugar from sugar-cane is an antiquated process, and yet Meles is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on an industry that is on the brink of obsolescence.

Even the mainly self financed huge dams on the Omo River basin and the construction of another huge dam in the Blue Nile gorge are very problematic. Other than the poor choice of dam cites in places that are unstable and also susceptible to plate movements along major geological fault lines like that of the Great Rift Valley, there is also the socio-political possible conflict with neighboring countries. I am not suggesting that Ethiopia’s development ambition should be subjected to the approval of neighboring countries. However, I suggest a far more effective diplomatic approach than the bulldozing policy of Meles Zenawi. Millions of Ethiopians seem to be caught up in the dam building euphoria. Such important development programs ought to be done with cool mind rather than turning the whole processes into a public political fanfare. By politicizing development projects, Ethiopians pay dearly in terms of poor planning, inappropriate technology, corruption and waste. At any rate, construction of dams, roads, factories, schools, et cetera is not prima facie evidence of patriotism or care for people, brutal colonialists in our recent past, and ancient conquerors/conquistadores have done that in far more impressive magnitude than what Meles Zenawi is credited for doing.

IV. My Concern Dealing with Education

Whether we like it or not Ethiopia’s perennial problem cannot find any long term solution without totally revamping the education system of the country. Meles Zenawi has destroyed Ethiopia’s education system to such extent that there is nothing to be salvaged. We may have to think in terms of starting to restructure the system of education in Ethiopia form scratch. The emphasis on academics focused on training students for white-collar type work had severely limited the creative and dynamism of Ethiopian school graduates. The emphasis should have been on mathematics and the sciences starting from grade schools, and in vocational training high schools and beyond. At the completion of high school there may be instituted a national service program of two years of field service and training of all Ethiopians graduating from high school or on attaining the age of majority i.e., eighteen years.

True, many universities and private colleges have sprouted all over Ethiopia in the last fifteen years. I would give credit to Meles Zenawi for the construction aspect of such multitude of universities and colleges. However, I have been informed by reliable educators from several of such universities and colleges about the acute shortage of qualified professors, lack of teaching material (textbooks, academic journals, fully equipped labs et cetera). Moreover boarding/dormitories and cafeteria services are absolutely dismal or none existing. It seems education in Ethiopia is not given the type of serious consideration that it deserves. Most such colleges and universities ought to be considered as high school facilities rather than universities and colleges, and as such would serve the population better with their limited resources. In other words, the Government has constructed major buildings that can only be seen as façades and not real higher education institutions. Ethiopians in the Diaspora could turn around things on this subject by providing educational material to schools.

The amount of money budgeted and expended for education in Ethiopia is quite limited considering the fact that the base condition is highly underdeveloped and underfunded. Taking into account the degree of underdevelopment, the 5.5% of GDP allocation of expenditure for education is very low indeed. After all Ethiopia is ranked as 174th out of 194 countries in its HDI. This is not an encouraging sign at all. [See "Education spending (% of GDP) by country," United Nations Human Development Programme, 2011,] I believe that the Ethiopian Government should increase its funding of education ten-fold. The Ethiopian Government focus need be foremost on the development of a) primary schools and b) elementary schools; and in its secondary phase the development of c) high schools and vocational institutions. It is absolutely useless to focus on building universities and colleges if the students graduating from high school and coming into colleges and universities have been attending substandard elementary and high schools.

The number of scholarship students from Ethiopia attending Western universities is very small, in absolute numbers insignificant. Problems of quality of education, different system of education et cetera play also a role in depressing the number of students sponsored by Ethiopian Government scholarship in Western universities. The Ethiopian Government Ministry of Education maybe overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problem of education in Ethiopia. Maybe independent agencies should be created to share the burden of providing extensive and quality education to Ethiopian students. Religious organizations such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Muslims et cetera should step up their education programs by providing secular instructions in the sciences, art et cetera in addition to their core subjects in their respective religions. Some form of subsidy both to religious schools and to privet educational institutions should be provided by the Ethiopian Government. Community based education institutions are key in teaching the young develop into responsible citizens, thus special effort must be exerted to that end by the Ethiopian Government. There are several millionaires and even billionaires in Ethiopia now, thus such people should establish non-profit organizations to fund schools as well.


I am not playing in a political sand-box by engaging my fellow Ethiopians with my essays. This is serious business for me. I have no desire to participate in some form of maieutic or pedagogy. I would not have been engaged in this form of writing activity if it does not lead to a meaningful resolution of the current political and economic impasse (deadlock). For example, I am promoting my science based conviction that ownership of land is in the nature of human beings, and any watered-down right like “lease” or mere “possessory” right will not do. Just because I write on issues that infuriate some readers, readers whose reactions at times could only be described as schizoid, it does not mean that I am a sadist and a sucker for punishment. I suffer the indignation of the foul language of unscrupulous individuals who make light of my serious effort and those of others.

I believe that my effort and the efforts of other Ethiopians have impact and might give hope and inspiration to many. My suffering of bruised ego is nothing compared to the heroic deeds of the likes of Eskinder Nega, Andualem Arage and many other brave men and women of Ethiopia. And I demand that Meles Zenawi free those courageous Ethiopians he has incarcerated under horrible conditions.

I wonder at times what happened to all that hoopla about setting up a new leadership for EPRDF to replace the old generation of leaders including Meles Zenawi? That was the reason trumpeted by Meles Zenawi when he retired or pushed out the veteran leaders of the TPLF from office a couple of years ago. Here he is now entrenching himself in power and consolidating his position as if he intends to stay forever as Prime Minister. I ask Meles Zenawi do the honorable thing by falling on his sword and end the nightmarish world he created in Ethiopia. To some of my readers, it might seem that I am “preaching to the choir” in identifying the three key focus points in order to deal with the problematic leadership of Meles Zenawi. Nevertheless, as a first step on the way to solve such monumental problems, one could start by acknowledging the fact that land ownership in fee simple is the key for economic growth and for political democratization and lasting stability. There are some innovative ideas in my approach that I believe would be fresh starting points for our struggle to preserve Ethiopia. God Bless Ethiopia and Ethiopians.Ω

Tecola W. Hagos
Washington DC

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