Commentary: Elections, Designated Losers and the Epidemic of Election Stealing in Africa – By Fekade Shewakena
There is an epidemic of election rigging and stealing in Africa but the most virulent form of the disease appears to be sitting in Ethiopia. The current sick regional and local “elections” being held in Ethiopia is only a case in the pattern. The concept and ideals of election are completely put upside down. Linguists should come out with some word to name this crap the Meles Zenawi’s of Africa call election and do some justice both to the literal meaning of the word “election” and the value civilized humanity attach to it. What do you call this kind of elections where the losers are first designated? I have seen people in democratic countries as they walk out of election booths with their heads held high and walking majestically knowing full well that their votes count towards the ownership of their governments. For Gods sakes, how can you have elections when you don’t have choices to make and even if you choose you are not sure what the authorities do with your vote? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Paradoxically, Bereket Simon, Ethiopia’s Comical Ali, is in full gear telling everyone left and right that all problems of the elections are caused by the opposition, the designated losers. I am always flabbergasted by the density of this man’s head and the boldness with which he speaks. It is like a rapist accusing his victim of making noise.
If you still have difficulty understanding what passes for a democratic election in Ethiopia these days, take this soccer analogy. Then you will know what the TPLF dictators mean by election. Say we are going to play soccer – my team and yours. I will prepare the rules of the game A to Z. I will choose the ref. you will have to agree to my right to choose some of your players or I will have the right to break the legs of some of your good players. If your players miss a near goal during the game, scaring my team, I will be given a penalty kick. You also have to agree that I have a right to order the chopping of the hands of your supporters in the stadium who clap too much and annoy me and my team. Just in case you happen to win or we come out a draw, we will have to kick 5 penalties each. Isn’t that fair? But I will kick mine from the standard spot but you will have to kick yours from the opposite end of the goal. In the end, you are required to declare to the world that the game was fair. Monday morning quarterbacking is not allowed. If you complain, I will accuse you of trying to destroy soccer as we know it and take you before a panel of judges that I chose for the purpose. If anybody asks questions about the fairness of the game or attempts to laugh at us, we all have to agree to tell them that we are living in a backward country where soccer has not yet developed and promise them we will be there in a few years. Now let’s play the game.
Those of you who know how soccer is played may be laughing at this but if you substitute democratic election in place of the soccer game, that is exactly what you have going on in Ethiopia in the name of elections. It is hardly a surprise that even the small opposition groups who make a living by deferring every rule making to the regime could not take it anymore and decided to boycott the election. But I am not sure if the boycotters understood the consequences of their actions. They seem to have forgotten they are in the game already. I am sure they will pay for it dearly. Meles Zenawi is angry that he is accusing them of working against democracy and the “constitutional order”. Bereket is coming out swinging. The TPLF tribalists are angry and are already claiming, believe it or not, that these poor opposition groups are helping Shabia and terrorists. Boycotting election or refusing to vote are not rights in Ethiopic wonderland. If you think I am exaggerating this, read what the TPLF ethnic website Aiga wrote on its editorial this week. It is the preamble of the charges to be made. They wrote the following:
“It looks more and more like “the loyal opposition” is going to take on being a front to anti-government forces as a full time job. Together with Shabia and the terrorist ONLF, these forces are forming a constellation in attempt to reach a self-fulfilling prophesy”
The National Election Board, which is an arm of Meles Zenawi’s party, has already issued a thunderous statement intimidating the boycotters. The report by Peter Heinlein of the Voice of America filed from Addis Ababa contains the following ominous report.
National Election Board Chairman Merga Bekana Wednesday accused the leader one of the country’s largest regional parties of illegally ordering an election boycott, and suggested the party could lose its legal status. He said the boycott call by Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, or OFDM, chief Bulcha Demeksa, violated Ethiopia’s election code”…..”It is unhealthy, it is illegal, because in the middle of the game it is unfair to boycott the process of elections generally,” Merga Bekana said. “The board will take to the attention of …the issue, and the board will assess thoroughly within the legal frame and eventually declare the decision.”
Professors Beyene Petros and Merera Gudina and the good gentleman Mr. Bulcha Demeksa may have to quickly declare that they have made a mistake and find some clown who would serve as a Shimagille to go between them and Meles and peddle reconciliation before they are thrown into Kaliti. If they think there is an international community that will listen to their voices, it means they have not taken lessons from the 2005 election. The lords of poverty don’t listen to such voices.
Folks, why is it that we see a pattern of Africa’s dictators robbing their peoples’ votes in broad daylight and declare themselves winners with little exercise of shame and accountability? I see a demonstrable reason for this pattern. Deep inside their minds, all these dictators hate democratic elections like the plague. Election is a post Cold War burden, a curse if you like, on these dictators that the lords of poverty in the West demand of them to legitimize their loan, aid and the rest of the poverty industry. There are no lines the Meles Zenawi’s of Africa hesitate to cross to protect their stranglehold on power. When they tell you they are for democracy and waste your time lecturing you about it, they are simply lying though their teeth. They hate it actually. Only the most honest of Africa’s dictators do what Jean-Bédel Bokassa did in Central Africa – declare themselves emperor and lifelong rulers of their countries. Don’t you admire this guy for his honesty? Believe me, if you scratch Meles Zenawi a little deeper, you will definitely find some form of Bokassa minus the honesty. On that scale, I also believe Isayas Afeworki of Eritrea is more honest than some of these thugs who hold elections only to spill the blood of innocent people who think their vote meant something and come back to their thrones. Afeworki should be given credit for not wasting public resources on sham elections and not spilling election related blood. Any time the goons in Addis Ababa call Isayas Afeworki a dictator I feel like puking. It is as funny as the pot calling the kettle black.
Africa’s dictators gnash their teeth at the first sight of individuals or groups who dare to challenge them on democratic elections or try to publicly criticize them. In the first place, for an opposition to say you are an equal or a better alternative than the dictators is a huge affront to their sense of entitlement. Africa’s dictators talk about democracy because they have to pretend they embrace it. In many cases they are also encouraged to pretend they do by their donors. Were you amazed when US officials could not wait until sun set to congratulate Kenya’s Kibaki the day he hastily announced his stolen victory, only to backtrack it after the people became mad and drew their machetes? One would believe that, with all the information machine at their disposal, they would be the first to know that the goon stole the votes. Please don’t tell me you are happy to see the intensity of interest and condemnations of the elections in Zimbabwe? That is not for democracy. Are you surprised as to why they hold Mugabe to a different standard and that no one even credited him for conceding defeat in the parliamentary elections, at least? The man is obviously another African shame that drove his country into the ditches, but he is a Mother Theresa compared to dictators like Meles Zenawi who butcher and imprison their opponents in mass. The amount of Western hypocrisy is simply staggering. And this is the very reason why Africans should stop looking to the West for help in building their democracies. We have to fight and earn it ourselves. I often scramble to close my ears when President Bush speaks about spreading democracy in the world. It sounds like screechy broken record to me.
There is a dangerous antidemocratic trend in Africa developing in the name of democracy and prolonging the misery of the people. The dictators are adjusting and refining their systems of tyranny. They are fine tuning their administrative and legal systems to facilitate their repressive stranglehold on power. They legislate tyranny into laws. They craft them to fit their needs and get them rubber stamped in their parliaments. Musaveni of Uganda had no problem justifying changing the constitution when he felt like extending his term limit. Parliament is like a barn for the herd of cattle and the courts operate like their kitchen.
Unlike the dictators of the seventies and the sixties, the current ones are fast learners. There is a saying in Ethiopia about comparing the previous Dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam and that of Meles Zenawi. The Dergue, it is said, would kill you and parade your body for everyone to see. The Woyanes (the TPLF) would kill you in the dark and come to the funeral to make people believe that they are not the killers.
I see Ethiopia heading for darker days. It appears that Meles Zenawi has settled on his one party state proposal, that so called “developmentalist state” theory, an old crap in a new package hatched up to legitimize one party rule – a proxy for his unrepentant Albanian type of communism. There is nothing developmental in it. The goon thinks he can develop Ethiopia though government efforts, a dying notion of development. It is a kind of hallucination. Development is not as easy as dishing out concocted statistics and empty hopes. The way to develop Ethiopia is to cherish freedom and democracy. This is the only way for poor countries to break with their pasts. The way it is, Ethiopia is not attractive to its own citizens let alone to foreign investors. The only way out of our obscene poverty and institutionalized beggary is through democracy alone. There is no other way out from our conditions. None. With this stranglehold on Democracy our humiliation and grinding poverty are guaranteed to continue.
It appears Meles Zenawi has made his choice. I think the Ethiopian political elite in the opposition and the Ethiopian people have not. The flicker of light at the end of the tunnel that we hoped would be opened and bring the country together is gone. If Meles Zenawi cannot tolerate such small and weak oppositions and plays Zero-sum game with them, I don’t see how he would tolerate the existence of the larger ones. Already there are bills in parliament that are meant to decapitate potential viable opposition groups. The bills are either awaiting rubber stamping or are passed already.
I want to be wrong, but I see Ethiopia sitting on a ticking explosive. It is time for tough thinking on the part of the forces of democracy. I think the first thing we need to convince ourselves of is on the need for a comprehensive approach to the solutions. Somebody needs to pull the country’s resources and forces together to solve these problems. This is the age of information and networking. All serious opposition groups and individuals across the spectrum of ideology and ethnicity should stop this stupidity of living in their cocoons and think and debate and work and strategize together. If the problem looks complex to you, it is simply because there are as many puzzles that we as a people failed to put together. Only when we put some pieces of this puzzle together can the picture of the future become a little clearer. The tyrants in Addis Ababa must be made to think they have a problem and they will have to pay some price for their actions to bring them to their senses. They are driving the bus with their face towards the passengers.