Congressmen Donald Payne and Chris Smith: Paragons of a New Era of U.S. Foreign Policy – By Selam Beyene
At a time when much of the world is disillusioned about the direction of the U.S. foreign policy, (more…)
At a time when much of the world is disillusioned about the direction of the U.S. foreign policy, the historic passage in the House of Representatives of the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 (H.R. 2003), sponsored by Congressmen Donald Payne and Chris Smith, has generated a renewed ray of hope that America is still a country that Ronald Reagan once called “… a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
Bound simply by principles to stand for truth and social justice, and having no egocentric motives to advance personal agenda, these Congressmen gave true meaning to the clarion call of their commander-in-chief, President Bush, who said:
“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
The noble action taken by the two Congressmen, in the face of formidable lobbying efforts  by the tyrant in Ethiopia to derail the bill, showed the world that America still has amidst its leaders persons of admirable integrity, courage, compassion, and conviction to the ideals upon which this great country is founded.
rrespective of its fate in the Senate or the White House, the historic passage of the bill in the House has sent an ominous message to dictators around the world that the days are over when despots can harass, imprison and massacre innocent civilians with impunity, steal elections blatantly, and embezzle the wealth of the people with no accountability.
The direction of the U.S. foreign policy for the coming decades is summed up in the far-sighted pronouncement by Congressman Smith who said: “No regime that terrorizes its citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror” .
Indeed, his declaration was recently echoed by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., when he stated that the U.S. policy concerning Pakistan needs to shift “from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy” .
The Senator from Delaware, who is now in control of the fate of H.R. 2003 in the Senate, has long been known for his strong stand on the side of oppressed people. In the 1980s he played a crucial role in changing the U.S. policy toward apartheid South Africa, expressing openly his outrage on “… the lack of moral backbone” to the prevailing U.S. policy of appeasement . All Ethiopians suffering under the brutal dictatorship of Zenawi should expect no less from the Honorable Senator, regardless of the current political environment or the enormous money the tyrant is spending to block the passage of the bill.
Ethiopians in the Diaspora have immense responsibility to work with Senator Biden and others to ensure that the bill is not derailed. The Diaspora has so far proven to be a force that Zenawi has neither been able to corrupt nor intimidate, despite his relentless efforts to do so. Having momentarily incapacitated all credible opposition groups at home, it is now public knowledge that a major focus of the tyrannical regime is to infiltrate and weaken the resolve and vigilance of Ethiopians in the Diaspora through financial incentives, violence and cheap propaganda. The secret directives issued to the embassies and consulates around the world  to thwart the heroic efforts of the Diaspora to free their fellow citizens, shows the degree of the desperation of the regime. The recent killings of refugees in East Africa by Zenawi’s agents , a stark reminder of the chilling murders of anti-Soviet individuals by the now defunct KGB in the decades preceding its demise, is another example of the distance Zenawi will go to satiate his hunger for power.
Why is Zenawi so Obsessed with the Ethiopian Diaspora?
Zenawi’s power base is built on lies, corruption, inter-ethnic animosity, and repression. With cheap propaganda, he has managed, albeit briefly, to hoodwink the West into believing that he was a new breed of African leader. He uses donors’ money to deceptively buy the allegiance of a handful of followers, and to run one of the most corrupt governments in the world today . He has made tireless efforts to disguise his dictatorship under the ugly cover of ethnicity, with open and shameless preferential treatment of one minority group over the rest. In a sinister design to deflect focus from his authoritarian rule, he has created tremendous tension and anxiety in the country by assigning almost all key government, business and army positions to individuals selected from one minority ethnic group. He has brought the army and secret police under his direct control, and is using them to brutally crush any opposition to his autocratic rule.
Members of the Ethiopian Diaspora, most of whom are products of decades of repression, are too sophisticated to be swayed by Zenawi’s cheap ethnic propaganda, financially secured to be lured by vain promises of the dictator, and well protected by the laws of their countries of residence to fear his retribution. Their intellectual, financial and electoral capital is a force that the tyrant has no capacity to contend with. Consequently, their embrace of Western democratic philosophy, coupled with their selfless desire to emancipate their fellow citizens from the shackles of tyranny, has made them an antidote to the repressive and ethno-centric policies of the despot.
The passion and warmth the Diaspora demonstrated toward the just-released leaders of Kinijit, and the ferociousness with which they have rallied behind the passage of H.R. 2003 are expressions of the potential of this group to effect a lasting solution to the predicaments of the people. In the final analysis, the true torch-bearers of the struggle for freedom and democracy are the people back home, who are bearing the brunt of Zenawi’s tyranny. Nonetheless, judged by their accomplishments to date, Ethiopians in the Diaspora undoubtedly have come of age to assume their historic responsibility and role in the struggle against tyranny.
In the near term, their focus should be the passage of H.R. 2003. They should educate their senators and other political figures about the true nature of Zenawi’s dictatorship. To derail the bill, the tyrant is already exploiting the frailties of such politicians as Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma who are out of line with reality, anachronistic in their interpretation of American values, and arrogant in their rendition of the history of a proud people. In 1936, Benito Mussolini launched an illegal and horrific aggression against Ethiopia in the name of “civilizing a barbaric people”. Today, Zenawi is using the same tactic in the U.S. Senate to justify his tyrannical rule. The Senator from Oklahoma was simply reflecting Zenawi’s wishes when he declared that democracy was not appropriate for a “backward” people, one of whose girls he had rescued “before the dogs got her”.
As we salute those in the Diaspora who have already dealt an effective blow to Zenawi’s latest treachery and assault on our proud history and culture, we should take the ignorant remarks of Inhofe and others as a wake-up call for the enormity of the task ahead of us.
Sliding From Bad to Worse
The conditions on the ground in Ethiopia today are more appalling than ever before. As exposed in the November 3rd issue of The Economist, the country has slid backwards in measures that were unthinkable even under the regime of the former dictator, Mengistu Haile-Mariam. According to the report, “Ethiopians remain mired in the most wretched poverty,” with “… the average cash income for households” in some areas as low as “six cents a day”! The report uncovered the fudged growth statistics the regime has been feeding to donor nations and organizations, and disclosed that the share of private investment in the country is “nearly unchanged” since Zenawi took over in the early 1990s. With regard to the deteriorating human rights conditions, the report quoted: “The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that only Zimbabwe has produced more exiled journalists since 2001.” It further noted:
The Ethiopian government’s efforts at political control are supported by a wide network of informers and secret police. Critics say it is exploiting the jihadist terror threat to link many legitimate opposition campaigners and supporters with terrorist groups and take them off the streets.
In a reiteration of the statement of Congressman Chris Smith, the report surmised: “[Zenawi's] friendship in a dangerously volatile region would be of little use to the West.”
Thanks to the efforts of Congressmen Donald Payne and Chris Smith, the historic passage of H.R. 2003 in the House has marked the dawn of a new era of American foreign policy — one that will be anchored not in the ephemeral and unnatural support of vicious and ruthless dictators, but in the trust and welfare of the people. Ethiopians in the Diaspora have played a crucial role in shaping the struggle of their fellow citizens for freedom and democracy, and have a historic responsibility to bring to bear their sizeable intellectual, financial and electoral capital to effect a lasting change in their country. The deteriorating socio-economic and human rights conditions in the country, as exhaustively elucidated in the November 3rd issue of The Economist and other media outlets, are objective predictors that the days of the tyrant are numbered.