Rehtorical Good Governance to Mask Rights Violations & Abuse Of Power in Ethiopia – By Genet Mersha
The snatching of journalist Amare Aregawi from his office in Addis Ababa on 22 August and the bizarre mistreatment he was subjected to is yet another sorry state of affairs in Ethiopia. It is a further acerbic evidence of the prevalent practice of gross violations of fundamental human rights and the abuse of power by the TPLF/EPRDF regime. (more…)
The snatching of journalist Amare Aregawi from his office in Addis Ababa on 22 August and the bizarre mistreatment he was subjected to is yet another sorry state of affairs in Ethiopia. It is a further acerbic evidence of the prevalent practice of gross violations of fundamental human rights and the abuse of power by the TPLF/EPRDF regime. Luckily, Mr. Aregawi’s many friends turned to their influential contacts to get him out of prison in a matter of days. While his release is welcome, for many voiceless Ethiopians this incident comes as testimony to the bleak prospects of democracy in Ethiopia.
The valid concern at this stage is that the regime may have orchestrated Mr. Aregawi’s humiliating treatment in a difficult time as its signal of determination to go to any extent to stifle opposition or dissent of any form, including by sacrificing one of its own. Surely, for the intolerant TPLF/EPRDF Mr. Aregawi’s occasional needling has of late become a source of heartburn.
Therefore, in a manner befitting the actions of a mafia group, Mr. Amare was put on a brewery truck with the full knowledge of the capital police and was taken to Gondar for imprisonment, 700 km north of Addis Ababa. One officer from the Gondar police escorted him along with an employee driver of the truck under the direction of the brewery management. Dashen Brewery is owned by EFFORT, the business empire of the ruling party. The board of the brewery is studded with senior officials of the ruling party, including Mr. Bereket Simon, once minister of information and currently the Prime Minister’s public relations assistant with the rank of minister in the prime minister’s office.
While Mr. Amare stayed in prison for one week along with another journalist, whose predicament did not seem to capture much attention, the experience of the two individuals unmistakably reveals the prevalence of lawlessness in Ethiopia and the continued worsening of the human rights situation. What is worrisome is how powerful individuals, members of the ruling party’s executive committee, seem to be free to misuse power with no fear of consequences or conscience as in the manner of warlords with guns and militias. In the name of the state, they proved that they were determined to get their way, perhaps exact revenge because of differences of opinion.
As a former TPLF fighter, there should be no mistaking that Mr. Aregawi has been in the good books of the ruling party. For a time, this has been reinforced by his unreserved campaigns and much-loathed editorials since 2005 against opposition parties, especially his support of the incarceration of the former CUD the members. Ethiopia being a deeply polarized society and at the same time cowered into submission by the sword of the ruling party, his actions have also bought him hatred among considerable members of the Ethiopian society, both at home and abroad.
However, if his actions especially of the last few years are any guide, Mr. Amare, like most of us, has matured outside of the confines of the restrictive and parochial TPLF ideology. He has shown capacity to learn from experience by debating and observing the Ethiopian reality as a journalist. He has come to understand that the much-vaunted economic growth has not only proved unsustainable to all intents and purposes, but has also fizzled out because of politics that is more focussed on security than the regime’s oft-reiterated but least realized promises of alleviation of poverty.
Hence, it is evident that Amare Aregawi has seen the split of Ethiopian society with a handful of party cadres and their associates prospering. The result is that the majority of the people are wallowing in further deepening poverty that is further exacerbated by inadequate tools to control the factors behind Ethiopian inflation. Rising food prices and life threatening drought and floods in some areas have exacerbated the sense of helplessness. On occasions, this has challenged Mr. Aregawi to take shots at the excesses of the ruling party, especially regarding official corruption and malfeasance, mistreatment of journalists and civic organizations, suppression of freedom of the press and government inefficiency and squandering of national resources.
Ethiopians are fair-minded people; they took mental note of his efforts and gave him credit for his good deeds. As a result, The Reporter has won wider readership merely for its daring to speak truth to power. Certainly, Mr. Aregawi’s connection with TPLF senior members has helped him a great deal in being more courageous than other ordinary mortals are. However, the lesson is that good deed in today’s Ethiopia is no sufficient insurance on its own, as the yardstick of who goes up or down is usually defined by caprice and the tremors inside the party and the fears of leadership. Especially this has to be taken into account when one deals with those that scarcely differentiate helpful criticisms from outright enmity. In that category is Mr. Bereket Simon, whose years of abrasiveness have stifled mutual tolerance within the larger society and the prospects of democracy in Ethiopia. Added to this, according to some sources, is Mr. Simon’s recent public bickering with Mr. Aregawi during the consultations on the latest press law. That is one reason why many suspect that Bereket Simon is the author of Amare Aregawi’s straightening through humiliation in total violation of the victim’s civil rights as citizen.
Without missing the bigger picture, Mr. Aregawi demonstrated strong emotions and anger during an interview after his release, which is understandable. He told The Reporter on 30 August that he considered his unfortunate experience “an eye-opener.” To that end, he observed, “we as media people have limited ourselves to Addis Ababa that we are blind to the suffering and injustice meted out to thousands outside the capital. So many people around the country continue to be subjected to the whims of officials” [30 August].
Surely, it is not lost on Amare Aregawi that even in Addis Ababa many citizens, journalists included, continue to languish in prison with no evidence of criminality brought against them, even years after they were thrown in jail. The question here is why Mr. Aregawi’s situation captured immediate attention, thereby leading to his release. Some attribute that to his prominence as editor-in-chief of The Reporter. Others attribute it to his connections to the ruling party and his role as a former fighter in the Tigrai liberation front. Hopefully, the truth of this matter which has embarrassed even the very support base of the regime will come out someday.
Even the warlike Aigaforum took greater interest in exposing Mr. Amare Aregawi’s mistreatment. It seems Aigaforum has recognized that it would be in no position in future to defend the claim of empty good governance, when even a journalist connected to the TPLF is thrown to prison without due process. On 27 August, Aigaforum tried to explain cautiously its worthy action by stating, “The Reporter may be guilty of such deeds [sensationalism] but we think the Reporter by and large is a responsible newspaper worth defending, if not for anything else to promote the democratic process an inch forward.” It is my sincere hope that Aigaforum will apply the same standard of advocacy for other Ethiopians as well, irrespective of the opinions they hold or natural identifier. Democracy by definition and in practice is not protection and defence of the rights of those tied to the ruling party alone.
So far, I have not read anywhere the response of Mr. Bereket Simon to the many insinuations by a number of papers [The Reporter included 7 September excellently written opinion] on the role played by him in the mistreatment of Mr. Amare Aregawi. Moreover, no other senior government official has reacted either to this mafia type behaviour by Dashen Beer, which it would not have done were it not for the dual role of EFFORT business enterprises as businesses and politico security entities. Based on responses to Aigaforum’s solicitation of comments on the matter, the incident has even incensed many in the pro-government camp.
Clearly, more than others, the incident reflects negatively on Mr. Bereket Simon for his failure to rise to the occasion as a senior executive committee member of the ruling party and defend the democratic and constitutional rights of the journalist. For two important reasons Mr. Bereket is linked to this lawless action by Dashen Brewery and the Gondar police. The first reason is that Mr. Bereket Simon is a board member (chairman?) of the Dashen Brewery. Secondly, he is one of the most powerful persons not only in the ruling party and the federal government, but also in the ANDM, the regional party, which is a founding constituent member of the EPRDF. Surprisingly, the three-member court in Gondar held three different views, perhaps a reflection of institutional unpreparedness. When a request came to close the case, the response was confusion as to how a case that in the first place was never opened could be closed.
Given this anomalous situation, where ordinary Ethiopians have lacked the means to correct, how could it really make any sense for any Ethiopian to oppose outside support aimed at steering Ethiopia on a democratic path? One such latest effort is that of Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy who a few days ago introduced a bill in a Committee of the US Senate with a view to building US friendship with Ethiopia on a solid and democratic basis. That surely would help ensure the objectives of the friendship between the United States and Ethiopia, while in no less degree helping to foster democratic and humanitarian principles and practices in government and within the broader society.
Unfortunately, even this present initiative by the US senate members is misconstrued as effort by democrats to outsmart republicans at the expense of Ethiopia. To that end, Aigaforum, the regime’s mouthpiece wrote, “It is common knowledge during the presidential election period both parties in the US will do anything to undermine each other. The Democrats have been complaining about US policy in Iraq with the hope it will gain them some votes in the coming election. However with the recent success in Iraq in part due to the military surge the democrats may be trying to find new ways to attack the Republicans.”
Is that really the motive of the two senators, or staving off Ethiopia’s slippage into lawlessness where the human rights situation could worsen further? Democrat or republican, it does not matter who is elected as president, the key to success in Ethiopia is through better governance. Already Mr. Obama has declared on CBS with David Letterman that if he is elected president, get ready that his litmus test for African governments is BETTER GOVERNANCE.