Mr. Secretary, where’s the young journalist from Addis? By Efrem Madebo
Mr. Secretary, last year when you went to Ethiopia, for the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU, many Ethiopians including myself expected that your stay in Addis Ababa (other than the jubilee celebration) will include important issues such as human right abuse, torture, freedom, democracy and good governance in Ethiopia. In fact, most of us wanted to see you voice your disagreement with the dreadful human rights record of Ethiopia, or at least rebuke Ethiopia’s dictators whom your department annual report depicts as enemies of liberty, justice and democracy year after year. Mr. Secretary, I remember, in your speech to the AU leaders, you said the following words:
“The United States joins with so many other nations – the Secretary General, Russia, many other friends that are here – all to applaud the remarkable accomplishments, to work together and solve peace, security challenges, trade, defense, democracy, good governance, and human rights”
Mr. Secretary,when I read your government’s promise of working together with others to solve peace, democracy, good governance, and human rights challenges in Africa, I was elated and my expectation grew by the day because I know for sure these are the problems that plagued my native country Ethiopia. In May 2013, I was also moved when I saw your picture with Ethiopian blogger Nathaniel Feleke, one of the founders of the renowned Zone –nine bloggers. Mr. Secretary, last week when you went back to Ethiopia, Nathaniel Feleke whom you gave a big hug with chanting smile was being tortured inside the notorious Makelawi prison.
Mr. Secretary, a week ago, a journalist who actually happens to be a friend of Nathaniel Feleke asked you the following very important question: Is your concern about press freedom real or “just lip service” Here is how you addressed the question: “I make clear to Ethiopian officials that they need to create greater opportunities for citizens. To be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society. And we shouldn’t use the anti-terrorism proclamations as mechanisms to be able to curb the free exchange of ideas” Well, Mr. Secretary, if this is not lip service then what? Besides, what about if the Ethiopian officials are not willing to create greater opportunities for citizens, and instead they keep on arresting and killing innocent citizens like they have been doing since 1991?
Mr. Secretary, a week before your recent visit to Ethiopia started, the Ethiopian regime arrested Blue Party leaders and members. As if this was not enough, just days before your scheduled arrival to Addis, Ethiopia arrested journalists and bloggers, and on April 30 2014 when you were in Addis, the regime killed more than 30 demonstrators and wounded and arrested undetermined number peaceful demonstrators. Mr. Secretary, I still have to hear your public statement on this “In your face” act of the Ethiopian regime that your government has been baby-sitting for more than two decades?
Mr. Secretary, the US government has always been the first to condemn indiscriminate killings by totalitarian regimes around the globe for a long time. In addition to this, the department you lead (the US Department of State), has exposed dictators and human rights violators through its annual human rights reports. But, the US government has abnormally been silent when the TPLF regime has been killing peaceful citizens throughout its twenty two years stay in power. I wonder how many Ethiopians should die before the US government goes beyond publishing annual reports and starts condemning and holding responsible the killing machine in Addis Ababa!
Mr. Secretary, the most recent killing in Ethiopia that ended the life of more than 30 innocent people took place while you were in Addis having good time with the very people that ordered the killing. Millions of Ethiopians who thought your visit will bring at least a temporary change of heart were staggered by the savage killing. Mr. Secretary, It is not just the killing that took millions of Ethiopians by surprise, it is the calculated timing of the arrest and the killing immediately before and after you set your foot on the soil of Ethiopia. Mr. Secretary, this is a deliberate move by the TPLF leaders who are seeking a divorce from the US and looking for another partner in Asia.
Mr. Secretary, while the people of Ethiopia were mourning their death, we heard that you met with PM Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to discuss efforts to advance peace and democracy in the Horn of Africa. Mr. Secretary, to me this is like teaming up with Cuba to advance democracy in Latin America. It’s also ironic that the United States Secretary of State meets with vicious killers to discuss efforts to advance peace and democracy in the Horn of Africa, in a country where more than thirty people were killed by government forces. I have never seen and I don’t think I would ever see again or hear such insensitivity for a loss of humans, especially from a country that reacts vigorously when animals are mistreated by humans.
I remember, during the 2009 Iranian protest, President Obama condemned the violence against the protesters and said the following two statements that have been travelling around the globe ever since he said them: “It would be wrong for me to be silent” – “The protesters in Iran will be ‘on the right side of history’ ”. Mr. Secretary, does the President’s silence when more than 30 Ethiopians were killed by the Ethiopian regime mean that – it would be right for him to be silent? What about the protesters in Ethiopia? Are they in the wrong side of history?
Dear Mr. Secretary, its geopolitical location, large population size (Christian & Moslem) and diverse ethnicity has made Ethiopia a strategically placed country in the Horn of Africa. If Ethiopia plays its hand wisely, it can be a critical force for good in the region. Unfortunately, ruthless dictatorships that ruled over Ethiopia for the past 23 years have darkened the fate of their own people let alone playing a positive role in democratizing the Horn of Africa.
We believe the relationship between Ethiopia and the United States has to be reconstituted on the basis of shared values of freedom, democracy, and promotion of mutual interests. To realize this, the United, and other democratic countries need a strong democratic partner in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa is a volatile region characterized by political instability, and it is no secret that the TPLF dictators are one of the architects of instability in the Horn of Africa.
Dear Mr. Secretary, from all of its actions, particularly since 2005, it is clear that the TPLF regime has closed all avenues for a peaceful democratic opposition and is determined to stay in power by force including committing the most heinous crimes against its own people. The extra judicial killings in different parts of the country, the 2005 massacre, and the genocide in Gambella are glaring examples of crimes committed by a regime which once was praised as the “Hope” of Africa. Today, it is obvious that Ethiopia’s is not and cannot provide a trusted leadership and the democratic credentials to be a credible partner to the United States and the international community at large. The TPLF regime has become an embarrassment to its own people and to the international community. It is high time for the United States and the international community to embrace change in Ethiopia.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org