An Ethiopian and the Presidential debate. By Yilma Bekele

October 6th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney had their first debate this evening. Watching this debate for the highest office in the land was a learning moment. This is not the first debate I have viewed or the first election I am experiencing. But no matter what, for an election starved Ethiopian like me every time it happens it is a like being hit by a lightning bolt experience. It literally gives me a jolt.

It is not really difficult to figure out why this is so. No one has asked for my consent to be my leader. Furthermore those that have assumed the position have always abused me to no end. When I see candidates presenting their best side and begging for votes I literally find myself on the verge of mind melt. This evening was no different. I stayed tuned, I worried for my candidate, I was elated at times fretted often and sweated a lot. I watched the big event with my American friends. That by itself was most revealing on how I interpret reality and act on it.

I am an Ethiopian. I look at things black and white. Who cares about grey is my motto. The debate was an insight into my soul. Here I was with an elevated heart beat, a hyper ventilating state of being and I was supposed to sit cool and collected. Being detached and above it all was the norm. How in the world did I find myself in this company was my first question.

What I needed was some passion here. I wanted someone to push me further on this rollercoaster of emotion. I longed for an Ethiopian beside me. I wanted Obama to jab, push and humiliate Romney. What is with this idea of mentioning where you agree when the thing to do was point out the negatives of the other dude? I want my candidate to come our firing and mock his opponent. I wanted Obama to be aggressive. I wanted him to be dismissive and cute.

That is what I know. That is what I am used to. My leaders are supposed to be dismissive and and above it all. They are all knowing, expert in every field, feared and uncompromising. My last leader was like that. He will never bring himself down to debate with mere mortals about the art of leadership. You send your minions for a task like that.

Do you remember once upon a time we had a debate in good old Ethiopia? It was not that long ago. Don’t tell me you forgot, it has only been seven years. It was 2005 to be precise. That event will go down in history as the golden year of elections in Ethiopia. Woyane thought they were ready for prime time. After lengthy and silly negotiations debates were allowed. Our ‘new leader from behind’ Ato Berket was the negotiator on behalf of the clueless regime. He brought out so many do’s and don’ts to get an advantage but the opposition agreed to all his demands. Kinijit was willing to humor Woyane because they knew they were smarter and were sure that they were selling a better product to the Ethiopian people. They just wanted that TV time to talk directly to the Ethiopian people.

Shall we say that history will judge Woyane to have been humiliated beyond repair? For the first time our people saw their leaders without their clothes. It was an ugly sight. Woyane sent their best and Kinijit exposed them for what they are to the Ethiopian public, a bunch of illiterate idiots that cannot finish an idea in a coherent manner. I remember the then Foreign Minster with his shrill voice trying to explain the loss of Assab. To see that he was considered crème de la crème, one of Woyane top guns was a reality check. All Dr. Yacob could do was stare at him with amusement and watch him try to explain the impossible.

I also remember the dead tyrant panicking as usual. He can not show up at the debates due to the fact that he was the ‘leader’ and it was beneath him. He knew that he will be exposed for the empty suit he was if forced to play by the same rules as others. The only alternative was to bring the camera to the palace so he can shine all by himself. A candle inside a barrel (ye gan mebrat) at its best.

The reason Obama/Romney debate got me twisted out of shape was due to my unfamiliarity with this concept of being shown respect as a citizen. As far back as I can remember in my country no one has come to power by the will of the people. Anybody that assumes leadership without the consent of the people is not accountable to the public. Where I came from leaders don’t compete to get elected, they take it the old fashioned way, by force or a very underhanded manner.

In Ethiopia we had a change of leadership a few weeks back. It was not done by election. It was all back room dealings and we were told someone emerged as the leader. Thus the non- elected individuals somehow decided to appoint the new guy as the leader. There was no debate. There was no competition and we don’t even know who else was running for the position.

Now you know why this debate in North America was a little disorienting to my Ethiopian brain. When you consider the new guy who was presented to us insults my intelligence by claiming he was going to continue following the bankrupt polices of his predecessor you don’t fault me for assuming the fetal position and crawling back into bed. If only there was a debate I wouldn’t be in this hopeless mood.

President Obama and Mr. Romney were most respectful of their fellow citizens. They did not mock or put anybody down. They were uplifting and went out of their way to praise their people’s determination to forge ahead when faced with dire economic problem. They acknowledged that they needed everyone’s help to bring back peace and prosperity.

This I found to be in stark contrast to how things are done in my home land. The leader tells our people but does not bother to listen. The leader is not interested in being respected and loved but cultivates being feared. The leader makes sure that he is not one of the people but better and above them all. The last leader was never seen in public mixing with ordinary people but always surrounded by his bodyguards and with pre-selected fans. The leader leaves in a palace with more comfort than his people and travels in convoys with streets closed and people told to stay inside.

Our new leader was in New York to attend the UN opening ceremony. Don’t ask me why a poor country will spend thousands of dollars to transport him and his entourage to make a speech no one will care to listen to. The amount of money spent for this silly purpose is not supposed to be the concern of the citizen. That is why the leader did not bother to sit with his fellow citizens in exile and discuss common issues and encourage their participation in helping the country. When you consider the Ethiopian Diaspora is such a rich and important resource that can be harvested to move our nation in a new direction like the way it was done by India, Singapore, China and others our leaders do not see that. They would rather pick our pockets for spare change to build condominiums, bars and hotels.

Accountability is the hallmark of a successful system. Without accountability, checks and balances it is doubtful a system will work in a healthy manner. That is the reason our country is always on the verge of crisis and perpetually holding its hands out for alms. The leaders we produce have no respect for us and do not feel they have to answer or explain their policies. They come out of our midst but as soon as they assume that office they start to believe they are God’s gift to us. We elevate them so high no wonder they lose all semblance of respect to those they are empowered to care. The fault goes both ways. As they say you reap what you sow. We really can’t force the leader to change but the least we can do is change ourselves. The leader will follow our footsteps and change his ways.

  1. Dawi
    | #1

    [[..Kinijit was willing to humor Woyane because they knew they were smarter and were sure that they were selling a better product to the Ethiopian people. They just wanted that TV time to talk directly to the Ethiopian people...]]

    Yes elites on the surface look “smarter” than the ordinary people as you described them but your Kenijit can’t even continue as a coalitoin after thier big show in 2005. They didn’t have the back bone it takes to lead a huge country like Ethiopia, if you ask me.

    When you talk of the semblence of “democracy” as in the election debates and as it applies to our continent is only as a reference to its procedures rather than the substance. What you are applauding is the going through the motions of “debates” etc and the associated rituals that serve little to democratic functions.

    The best your Kinijit fanacy may have brought is probably what ANC of South Africa brought to that country, which is reduce average life expectancy of blacks from 62 in 1990 to 49 in 2007. Amasing acheivment! And this is with its regular elections, multi party system, freedom of press and active civil participation.

    What does it take for you and likes to see that there is a problem with “liberal democracy”?

    That it does not reflect the wishes of the majority. Elites have appropriated the “democratic platforms” to enhance their own provileges. When the farce elections doesn’t end up to their interest/likings they break apart like Kinijit to several pieces and feud for years to come. South Africa is not the only example off course ; others like India who have similar standard of “DEBATE” and other indicatiors that score similar to the US elections and changes of government are miserable failures when it comes to like offering the minimum public services such as education, health, clean water etc. India scores same or worst than a failed state Bangladesh on those indicators. Why?

    Why has democracy in India failed to promote service delivery to the citizen in spite of elections debates and the democratic associated strurctures?

    Try to answer that and you will at least be ashamed of insulting Meles for trying to help us/county to death to crack the code.

  2. yilmab
    | #2

    Dear Dawii, I thought you exited with your hero, what disinformation are you peddling now? I talked about the debate where your illitrate idiots lost, the Ethiopian people saw that and Kinijit won, there should never be doubt about that. The tyrant killed over 190 people we know of proven by the commission to stay in power. He ruled for seven years after that criminal act, that is 27 lives per year. But my subject matter was debate and elections, but you decided to go what happened later. Kinijit leaders, civic society heads, journalists, Human Rights activists were imprisoned for two years. You brought ANC and of course as a fortune teller is telling us what could have happened. I am afraid India is a working democracy with all sorts of problems that they will sort out in due time. They are not begging for food, they are not bullied around and they are listened to in the world arena. You can not say the same about the society your dictator tried to build the last twenty years. Always looking foe alms, famine everywhere, citizens migrating out and people living in terror. You should be ashamed trying to mention that idiot as an example of good governance. All they were interested was in amassing money and more money. They were born poor and wanting and they thought money was the solution. But money earned gives you self esteem while money stolen just makes you hungry for more. Look at them today fighting over what they stole all we got to do is sit and wait, they will finish the job for us.

  3. Tewodros
    | #3

    Dawi, if you are supporting the current Ethiopian government and think that democracy will not solve part of Ethiopia’s problem then you are an IDIOT!!!! Full stop.
    I agree democracy should not be the only measure of a political party esp. in Africa but it’s one of the most important component …..The woyane government have built universities, roads and the GDP has gone ( questionable) up I will admit that. I have been to Ethiopia recently and even though the government tells us that the economy has grown double digit for the past six or seven years people are struggling to make ends meet to give you an example one of my friend works us a doctor in Addis Ababa and he earns about roughly three thousand birr a month and he pays about roughly a thousand birr on 100kg Teff, one thousand birr on rent and he will have only a thousand birr for everything else for a month, If that is what a single doctor with no family of his own goes through Can you imagine what other people with low income and family go through ?????? And the government tells us that Ethiopian people are better off now than they were twenty years ago. Remember what Meles said when he came to power twenty years ago ‘Ethiopians will be able to eat three times a day/ choice what they would like to eat in twenty years’ What a load of bull!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Democracy should be seen on its entirety , If the Ethiopian people and the media were allowed to put facts and write freely, have a strong constitution and yes our government present their policy to us and people decide who should be their next president ( I am not advocating we should copy everything American but we can take out the important bits and make it our own) I will have no doubt it will solve most of our problems such us corruption( that is creep ling the country’s economy), ethnic and religious division and tension, and above all Ethiopians will have equal platform regardless of their political affiliation, race, gender, creed and sexual orientation
    Secondly you mentioned about S. Africa and how wonderful it was twenty years ago and had a better life expectancy, are you saying partied is better that the current government(ANC)????????????? What an IDIOT!!!!!!( I must admit I dont normally swear at ppl ) Listen S. Africans today can go to school, study in any university , working and earn their one money on equal platform to their white counterparts , ppl with low income get free houses from the government, they do not get killed by white south Africans for no reason and yes they are democratic and have a strong constitution …. even the Ethiopians in S. Africa are doing well!!!!!! I was there, I rest my case.

  4. Dawi
    | #4

    Yelma the responsibilities of the “killings” has to be shared by all; considering Kinijit didn’t have a back up plan.

    Bottom line though is that power in one person or a small clique is a widely accepted way in modern societies to solve problems and crisis; the crises in our country justifies doing exactly the same thing. Meles has tried to play that role and did very well.

    Looking at the place he resided, spent most his time and died in a video, one would say, he lived in a nice service quarter Mengestu constructed in the nineteen eighties at 4 kilo. So you can’t tell us/Ethiopians that he lived some high society lavish life because the people saw that during his funeral services. In my opinion, Ethiopians by in large felt sorry for their hard working leader. History will be the judge of his accomplishment & failures however, there is no denial that he played the role of a development state dictator as was done in S. Korea etc. off course such endeavor requires the skim of accumulating huge MONEY. that is how the game is played to make the developmental state sustainable and forward looking.

    On the point of political freedoms, Meles has said it clearly that it should be considered and should account as desirable features in a society, but they are not part of the concept of development. Democracy is good on its own merit period.

    In S. Africa and India as in the examples I gave you, both Yelma & Tewodros missed my message, I have to say on purpose because it is not that complicated.

    My assertion is that “Democracy” has the potential to undermine sustainable development [in terms of health, education, income and security] through the improper incentives raised by the democratic decision making processes. It is absolutely true when the development is at the lowest level and when folks are unable to feed themselves are consequently incapable of administering any political liberties. It is the Political demagogues who ran the show.

    Elites in S. Africa and India are the demagogues where the “untouchables” (apartheid) are found in India today and the life expectancy goes lower than it was in apartheid time for blacks in S. Africa. :)

    At worst such kind of “Democracy” will break countries to pieces as in the examples of Yugoslavia and the USSR. Seeing the weaknesses it showed later, If Kinijit took power in 2005 a break up of our country by the feuding leadership is not a far fetched thinking.

    What we are talking about is what MODEL to follow as an ideal?

    In short the China model has replaced the American model if you ask me. So as a minimum if we agree in that we have a good start in our discussions.

    [[....Dawi, if you are supporting the current Ethiopian government and think that democracy will not solve part of Ethiopia’s problem then you are an IDIOT!!!! Full stop...]]

    Listen, a semi-capitalist country is bound to evolve in time into a democracy, because the emerging middle class would demand it. That is despite what EPRDF says, that the country would require continued guidance by the party for at least another 100 years. :-)

    If opposition doesn’t come up with alternative as Prof. Al said the other day, then see you in 100 years, in another life my freind.

  5. Belihu
    | #5

    I watched the debate between Romney and President intern Obama with enthusiasm. I felt great watching Obama schooled by Romney. President Intern Obama, an ideologue, will never learn and understand the founding of this great nation. He has an agenda to bring this nation down, like every other African despot. In fact I do not see the difference between Meles and Obama. They are both pathological liars, smooth talkers, agitators and dividers except our despot Meles committed crimes against humanity. President Intern Obama, socialist liberal liar, an ex-college professor will end his internship this November. I can’t wait to see him fired from a position he will never have the capacity or know-how to hold as a leader to this free great nation. You useful idiots, out there that believe that there is still racism in the US, simply put, you are a life-long miserable whiners.
    God bless the United States of America!!!!!

  6. Dawi
    | #6


    I don’t know when you came here but, it was only 5 decades ago that USA lived in a segregated society. Some progress is done but still a long way to go.

    It is sad but folks like you are misfits here and in your birth country Ethiopia.

    You take all the benefit of what the Afro-Americans fought for as a black person in employment etc but don’t appreciate their opening the doors for you but even have the audacity to blabber nonsense saying there is “no racism”.

    Looking at patterns of community development, discrimination against blacks in America is not an accident but a product of government policy and judicial mandates just as the “untouchables” [modern apartheid] in India is tolarated by the “democratic” government of India.

    With your kind of thinking there is no surprise that you see Obama and Meles as one and the same.

  7. yilmab
    | #7

    “the responsibilities of the “killings” has to be shared by all; considering Kinijit didn’t have a back up plan.” what exactly is that supposed to mean? Backup plan to do what? so now you are blaming the victim for Meles and and his friends crime. He is dead but his accomplices are still alive and justice might be late but justice will be served.
    Your next statement is no less surprising when you wrote “Bottom line though is that power in one person or a small clique is a widely accepted way in modern societies to solve problems and crisis; the crises in our country justifies doing exactly the same thing. Meles has tried to play that role and did very well” Is that a new way of justifying dictatorship? One person or a small clique doing what they believe best on behalf of eighty million souls? My dear friend Meles was nothing but a smart alec tug that was able to stay in power with the help of his Western sponsors. Nothing more nothing less. No matter how you look at it he presided over a failed state always on the verge of starvation, young ones leaving their home, crisis everywhere and security on alert 24/7. What is the big deal about that. If it was not for our luck that he died he could have gone a while longer tormenting us. Look Gadaafi stayed 40 yrs, Mubarack thirty the Kim family is celebrating over 60 etc. We are just lucky he was short lived. Regarding your so called ‘model’ to follow this is not some project you experiment on real people. Please stop this half baked idea of throwing key words and pretending to make sense- ‘semi-capitalist country, emerging middle class, guidance by a party etc. is just a smoke screen to sound knowledgeable and you all of a sudden you become a fan of Prof Al and declare if the opposition doesn’t come up with alternative we are toast! Please do not make fun of us. You remember you dead PM did not allow no one to speak and write except him? Where do you expect them to share their ideas if they can not even sit and talk? they can not even call a meeting? they can not even publish? they can not even organize? where tell us oh great guru. As for South Africa you know what they are free! free to elect their leader, free to speak, free to associate, free to write, and free to be stupid if that is what they want, but they are free! They are in the process of building their society after decades of abuse and slavery. It will take a few generations to reach their potential, but they have started the journey as free people. We on the other hand are on square one. We need to be free from Woyane mentality first. Our potential is there waiting to be discovered but first we got to be free.

  8. Dawi
    | #8

    [[…“the responsibilities of the “killings” has to be shared by all; considering Kinijit didn’t have a back up plan.” what exactly is that supposed to mean? Backup plan to do what?..]]

    If you win election with a loose coalition and you know in your heart that you don’t have a solid party as such, you take what ever you win, run as fast as you can and work with that but don’t try to challenge an Authoritarian Government and mislead followers as if you have some solid back up plan to defend yourself if things go out of hand is what I mean.

    [[..Regarding your so called ‘model’ to follow this is not some project you experiment on real people…]]

    It is better than rolling the dice if you ask me.

    If you have read the draft paper Meles wrote & published a while ago by Columbia U. He argued that the neo liberal paradigm is dead and is incapable of bringing the African renaissance. He recommends a shift for Africans towards becoming a developmental state.

    Meles is credited to be behind and done substantial work on Ethiopian renaissance, NEPAD, one voice for Africa, green economic development etc.

    Unless you come up with an alternative model that will get us out of poverty faster than that then, let us support his model because similar models have brought the fastest growth ever in S. Korea, Singapore, china etc. and we are seeing some hopeful signs of the work in progress he started in Ethiopia.

  9. Dawi
    | #9

    Just saw a recent speech by one of my favorite politicians Dr. Berhanu former Kinijit.

    As a teacher he uses analogies to explain things and does a superb job while entertaining his listeners.

    The analogy he gave this time was comparing a neighborhood big bully with Woyane/EPRDF. I will try to paraphrase what I understood

    He asked what do you do as an Ethiopian man caught by a big bully in a street corner, knife on your throat, about to be raped and is told, if you keep quit your life would be spared? You fight and die an honorable death or get raped and live with that conscience for the rest of your life? The thing is the rapist might not even keep his word of not killing you.

    Well, he said that is the situation we face with EPRDF today.

    It looked to me exactly like the picture Ethiopians faced in Adwa over a hundred or so years ago against fascist Italy.

    Afterwards, I said what if this big bully rapist Dr. Berhanu is talking about just come out of 21 years of prison sentence? He still has the killing instinct in his personality but, has made a lot of progress in other areas of his life? What do you do then?

    I think the 21 or so years of Woyane/EPRDF in power have thought them something. If that is the case, we should not just worry about their killing instinct alone by ruling out all the other lessons they have learned through time.

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