Part III: WOULD MELES ZENAWI TRULY DEPART, AS HE HAS PROMISED, OR WOULD HE BECOME THE GREY EMINENCE OF ETHIOPIAN POLITICS? – By Genet Mersha
ANXIETY-RIDDEN TPLF EDGEING THE PRECIPICE OVER 2010 ELECTION (more…)
ANXIETY-RIDDEN TPLF EDGEING THE PRECIPICE OVER 2010 ELECTION
“We seem to be destined to face all the negative consequences of 2008 and 2009 without any of their limited benefits for the foreseeable future…I think the international community could and should provide adequate policy space, live up to its commitments of development assistance, limit global warming and pay compensation for the unavoidable damage caused by it. If no such assistance is forthcoming, then I am afraid, the prospects for many countries in Africa are likely to be very dire indeed.” PM Meles Zenawi, June 16, 2009 at African Conference of Experts
The deepening economic, political and security problems in Ethiopia have exerted extreme pressures on the TPLF, especially in the course of the last few years. Without a doubt, these conditions have made TPLF’s hold on power increasingly tenuous. Although officially the regime continues to reiterate its commitment to peace, democracy and human rights, in practice it has become their gravedigger. On one hand, it has intensified its repressive policies at home. On the other, it has been the real culprit behind the Horn of Africa crisis, no less than Eritrea or Sudan, by striving to keep alive the turmoil in Somalia. This action has also severe implications to neighbouring Kenya, the instability pushing Somali refugees into Kenyan territory and some of the warlords profiteering on human sufferings through uncontrollable businesses within Kenyan towns, including the port town of Mombassa.
TPLF’s role in Somalia has become increasingly as dirty as mercenaries’, fanning inter-clan clashes, thereby hampering the possibility of a number of processes that could have helped unfold by now genuine peace in that country. For instance, the TPLF has engaged for sometime in co-opting willing academics and intellectuals from Somalia’s different clans living in European capitals and American cities to operate as its agents. The purpose is to encourage inter-clan division and conflicts destroying the very essence of the traditional governance system in Somalia, the clan system, which ensures peace through mutually agreed pact to respect each other’s belongings, on which for a number of decades governments in that country had relied upon for peace, stability and public mobilization.
A very instructive article that I recently read in the US Naval Institute (USNI) blog is the recognition that a failing state is more dangerous than a failed state (Failed States Are Worse Than Weak States April 2009). The crisis in Somalia is TPLF’s insurance with the West. The TPLF is confident that, appearing as an ally that fights terrorism, it believes it is in a position to make the West pay through its nose in the false belief that TPLF would continue to fight to deny terrorists a base of operation. In return, the TPLF gets its counterfeit legitimacy and acceptance, its citizens have denied it. In addition, the West would continue to refuel the regime’s central bank with foreign currency reserves and keep government afloat, although both sides know that without public support and legitimacy, the TPLF would remain undoubtedly dysfunctional.
In practical terms, for the failed state of Somalia this cruel TPLF policy measures prolong human suffering, among others, through on-going inter-clan conflicts and countable deaths. Not surprisingly, because of TPLF’s criminal policies, poverty in a failed Somalia has already claimed its huge toll in deaths, refugees, and forced underworld existence for many. It has been a while since crimes of human trafficking and piracy on the high seas and the Indian Ocean have become a typical survival industry in Somalia. Not only has it overwhelmed the world’s most powerful navies and political capitals, but many African countries are also being punished through expensive imports of goods due to the rising shipping insurance costs that companies are passing to poor governments and their poor citizens.
Power directed solely to self-preservation
A desperate instinct for self-preservation of the TPLF government is the prime mover in Ethiopia at present. In other words, especially ever since its humiliation in the 2005 election that, the TPLF has turned bloody because of its misguided policies and narrow-minded ambitions, it has delegitimized itself once and for all. Consequently, TPLF has been undergoing official conversion as a right wing party, thus now joining the camp of rightist parties that in human history are better known for their habitual reliance on use of force, anti-human rights, anti-civil rights laws, policies and actions. With the rising level of poverty and human desperation in Ethiopia, what have become evident today are TPLF’s anti- poor
political and economic stances.
Fantastically revealing the sources of the crises in Ethiopia has been the gradual emergence of cult politics, which is typical of governments run by dictators. There is nothing more telling of this than last week’s hearing in parliament and the opinion of a government expert who spoke as an honest professional explaining what underlies the current power outages as long as sixteen to eighteen hours a day in those few parts of the country with power. The expert who came to present the report on the matter attributed the problem to three sources. Firstly, EPPCO board members are least familiar individuals with the work and responsibilities of the corporation, especially the science and techniques of generating electricity, according to a leading article on The Reporter.
Secondly, in a very revealing manner how the TPLF government works, the expert mentioned, “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had pledged to parliament in November that there would be no power outages in 2009. Consequently, beyond its capacity and available resources, the expert said EPPCO was bombarded by instructions from political quarters to stretch thin and was compelled to take unwise and harmful operational decisions to prove the infallibility of the prime minister. Thirdly, he said the main problem is that EPPCO, the office responsible to run the generation of electricity in Ethiopia, supposed to determine present and future power needs, reach balanced decisions over a course of a year, plan and expand power sources, is denied of managerial and operational independence.
Still the TPLF relies on glossing over the mess
Dishonest politics, lack of transparency in government and refusal to assume responsibility for official actions and inactions share similar identity and characteristics. They pervade government with malfeasance in everything that works in the country finally forcing it to succumb. At a point of their intersection, these combinations conjure up the psychology of sudden nakedness in public place, forcing leaders to scurry toward the easy way out. In such circumstances, on one hand against the backdrop of deepening political, economic and security challenges and a sense of desperation such as the situation has been in Ethiopia especially since the last few years, the simmering public anger reaches fast its boiling point.
On the other hand, despite this, when government drums up fantasy of how much the country has advanced constantly citing democracy’s fruition and the equality of nationalities, the roads built and buildings standing, the arrogance of power brings the country much closer to the breaking point. The problem is that lies have been piling up, as the country’s economy is gradually screeching to a halt. This has discredited the TPLF, forcing it to yelp louder for international help, surprisingly of late with an ultimatum. Indeed, for a while now the public has become weary because of all these and the exorbitant prices of everything, food shortages, the consequences of which are deepening poverty, instead of its alleviation, rising homelessness and the deteriorating human conditions.
Confronted with such a situation, a pragmatic government would have retraced its steps to correct its mistakes, knowing that pretence will get it nowhere. Instead, the TPLF has adopted two unhelpful strategies. One is to prepare to put its old guards behind the curtain. The second one is to pick on the international donor community, as if it is entirely responsible for Ethiopia’s economic woes. In that, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has found a good model in President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has undermined his great legacy in the liberation struggle against colonialism and his role in the fruition of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence. I fear there will be a shared fate, which I hope not for Ethiopia’s sake.
For instance, how could the failed agricultural policies and crushing inflation that devastated too many lives, businesses and the country’s prospects, driven, at the behest of Ato Meles’s massive public expenditures throughout these three years be wholly attributable to the international donor community?
Ato Sebhat Nega gives helping hand to this article
In order to understand this politico-economic alchemy, it would be better perhaps to look closely into the political milieu in the country and benefit from the views of Ato Sebhat Nega, founder of the TPLF, its central committee member and president of its international peace institute. As I was preparing to put on paper the third part of this article, I came across his interview on the VOA. As a man who has seen a lot and whose time has come and gone, he knew how to kowtow the tightrope party line not to court his isolation or endanger his privileges. Ato Sebhat tried to shed some light on TPLF’s current thinking and objectives for Ethiopia. What struck me most is the depth of the prevalent insincerity and parochial fantasies within the TPLF, which are now taunting it to become the very sources of its inevitable demise.
Ato Sebhat’s focus, like any person subject to the whims of a turbulent boss, was to extol the Front’s virtues and achievements. Owing to that, reason had no influence on him, nor was he in the mood to listen to any comments about TPLF’s shortcomings, especially those raised by the VOA interviewer and are considered threatening to the country’s unity, the future of democracy and rumours of alleged corruption behind the huge wealth the TPLF has amassed. It would be recalled that party businesses, such as EFFORT’s, have been the subject of too many strong criticisms by both Ethiopian experts and the World Bank in its interim strategy for 2006 – 2007.
The contents of Ato Sebhat’s aberrant interview, therefore, were notable mostly for their Marxist twists, although in some form he interjected his ‘eagerness’ to see capitalism’s advances in Ethiopia. In that regard, he assured his listeners that the capitalist system is the only way to solve ‘the contradictions arising from historically ethnicity-based inequalities in Ethiopia and a national unity imposed by force of arms, administration and budget.’ The Marxist knot in his thought on a higher decibel, he wondered how much “we did not know each other as members of different ethnic groups. Where does the Amhara know the Somali, or the Afar?” he asked in wonderment. Then he lowered his voice and stressed that TPLF’s success in resolving those historical contradictions has been unbelievably effective. This is because it has been able to create the mobility of people and capital. He made it sound, as if in the past there had been laws that prohibited popular mobility, and as if Tigrayans, among others, never settled by choice in different parts of the country. With a strong stress on his syllables, he made it clear that the TPLF has come through long and hard struggles determined to undo those inequalities.
“Today,” he added, “different ethnic groups live in peace and harmony.” He then cited by way of example how the Amharas live in peace with Tigrayans, the Somalis with Tigrayans, Afars, Somalis and others. He claimed this is because it “has strengthened the country’s unity and close relations of people of all ethnic groups more than any time before”. Consequently, with a sense of smug satisfaction, he observed that Ethiopia has now become “a country where not a single group is angry with the government”( emphasis by the writer).
The seeds of disunity that have become invisible to the TPLF
Perhaps, Ato Sebhat does not seem to be aware of the real situation in the country, or he may have considered some events and incidents not appropriate for public ears. The fact is that, in submitting his office’s performance report to parliament on 12 June, Ato Worqneh Gebeyhu, commissioner of police, indicated that within ten months of fiscal year 2008/2009 (six months already in 2009), twelve ethnic conflicts had taken place in ten months in different parts of the country and hundreds of people, including policemen had died. Pressed by parliamentarians, On a related matter, Ato Worqneh disclosed that several members of the police had resigned their posts for various reasons, according to local media sources.
Such problems have even become obstacle to national development in different parts of the country. One latest report on the media shows that construction has been interrupted for seven yeas, for instance, between Oromia and parts of Somali region since 2002. First time, it was stopped because of the war in the Ogaden and second time due to inter-ethnic conflicts, partly a fall out of the Ogaden war and partly because of resources scarcity. The outcome now is that people in those parts of the two regions remain without access to services, despite that part of the country being prone to malaria. The health ministry has also identified it for its high incidence of HIV/aids. Worst of all, the road construction company that had a 39 million birr contract for 52 km of road has gone bankrupt before it completed its work, due to destruction of all his equipment ensuing from this situation. It is also reported that the remaining assets of the owner of the construction company have been seized because of unpaid bank loans.
This in view, I saw clearly in Ato Sebhat’s words the slippery path into which the TPLF has been dragging the country, including itself. Be it known, nevertheless, that Ethiopia is more divided today than ever before. Moreover, the ‘bantustanization’ of ethnic groups has diminished the chances of many to aspire and feel beyond their localities. This has obliterated the concept and possibilities for imbuing the young in the different ethnic groups with a sense of national identity. In brief, Ethiopia is simply a fable in the minds of the young, especially those born after the TPLF seized power. In this regard, Germany, as one of Ethiopia’s foremost aid providers, has recognized the inherent danger in this. In its website, the federal ministry responsible for foreign economic development and cooperation writes, “Decentralisation has not yet led to the hoped-for political integration within the country, though, and ethnic conflicts are worsening in some regions.”
In all this, one thing is clear. Ato Sebhat’s mental absence about what is taking place in the country was too manifest. A case in point, which is terribly bothersome, is his obliviousness to the bloody war of the past few years in the Ogaden and the live trenches therein still today, which have been a subject of international condemnations and United Nations investigation and monitoring.
Similarly, the continuous low-intensity conflicts in different parts of the country, the largest one being in Oromia, and the plight of the many political prisoners for Ato Sebhat have become simply too invisible. Surely, there is no doubt that he knows too well that any challenge to the undemocratic nature and behaviour of the TPLF always ends up in disappearances or long-term incarceration. That has been, for instance, the fate of the luminous and courageous Judge Birtukan Mideksa, President of UDJ, one of the strongest opposition parties in Ethiopia, a situation that has made her a living symbol of freedom much as her sister in tribulation Aung San Sui Kyi of Myanmar. Many such prisoners as Ms. Mideksa are locked in because of their devotion to the cause of human freedom, democracy the rule of law, and human dignity both for themselves and for their fellow citizens.
In terms of substance, therefore, Ato Sebhat sounded like a man who demands to be listened and, determined as he was, to bring others to his side. “We are in power with the appropriate programme for Ethiopia’s development,” Ato Sebhat declared. Most strikingly, he added, “The TPLF is only in caretaker capacity until it liquidates itself with capitalism’s development, at which time it would hand over power to the bourgeoisie”! At this point, I must confess, I was totally lost. I am not sure still, whether he was talking about Ethiopians as a whole becoming bourgeois or the exclusive transformation of TPLF members as a class, given the wealth EFFORT has amassed.
Corporate TPLF, top most investor passes dividends to invisible beneficiaries
As EFFORT’s first chairperson, Ato Sebhat told publicly for the first time that EFFORT is ‘the single largest and wealthiest investor at the top of businesses in Ethiopia today.’ He revealed that it is involved in the country’s ‘strategic services’ such as transport, construction, as well as playing active role in agriculture, financial services, other development projects, industries and factories, etc. He also disclosed that the TPLF still has an export-import company in London. Recall in this connection, a British consultancy firm and mainstream newspaper in 2005 disclosed the existence of conduit in a poor country such as Ethiopia whose siphoned off capital to European banks had reached 503 percent.
As to the beneficiaries of EFFORT, Ato Sebhat was unequivocal that by law it is Tigrayan property. In the same breath, he added, “Tigrayans are not the direct beneficiaries. ” After the slippage of those words, he retreated to stop before he muddied TPLF’s face in the eyes of its diehard and trusting Tigrayan members. Therefore, he rephrased his words and redefined “beneficiaries” to mean the Ethiopian economy.
The pathetic baloney in his explanation is the foreign exchange that he said EFFORT had managed to bring into the country when it sold its assets in foreign countries at different times, all of which, he said went to the benefit of Ethiopia. While the essence of his words signals an air of dubiousness, clearly the sense of the sum of the magnitude he conveyed did not add up at all to its individual parts. For instance, Wegagen bank to which Ato Sebhat Nega is board chairman is the once that collected the foreign exchange, instead of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. If TPLF is willing to disprove this, it should come with explanation how Wegagen came to be the source of foreign exchange to the many TPLF purchases such as equipment and other items that financed the loans.
Evidently, as far as both the Ethiopian economy and especially the people of Tigray, in whose name EFFORT does its businesses, are concerned, TPLF’s ethos is what is mine is mine, what is yours is mine too!
TPLF’s self-liquidation becomes its new line of deception
Much as TPLF’s self-liquidation has puzzled the VOA interviewer, I am also one of those who wonder why after all elections should be organized in Ethiopia. Based on what Ato Sebhat has said, it seems logical to assume that legitimization of power by the voice of the electorate is of secondary importance. It is something that could wait for the flourishing of capitalism and the self-liquidation of the TPLF! In other words, if election cannot produce changes the electorate desires, what point is there in wasting time and resources in organizing them. The interviewer pursued this further hoping to squeeze out of his guest if the TPLF as a matter of law and political practice would respect the outcome of elections. Ato Sebhat’s response was in the affirmative. His hesitance is strikingly evident though, which he coated with stress on TPLF’s programme being the best for Ethiopia.
At the same time, Ato Sebhat resorted to the usual TPLF sideswiping of the persistent call in the country for democratic change through the ballot box. He said we have already seen their control of Addis Ababa, without mentioning CUD by name, and implying that they tried to chew more than they could bite. Then he added that is in the nature of the power hungry i.e., they often look for a shortcut to power. Still he advised that anyone of them could come with acceptable alternative programme that is not in conflict with the constitution—the usual TPLF catch for which it has earned singular distinction. Unfortunately, Ato Sebhat refrained from elaborating how and who would determine what programme is acceptable and constitutional. Nonetheless, the experience to date is unmistakable. Obedience to the constitution, unlike the government, is a duty stringently reposed on citizens.
Unmistakable similarities between Ato Meles and Ato Sebhat’s thinking
The crucial junction where Ato Sebhat’s thinking and Ato Meles’s meet is TPLF’s indefinite stay in power. Ato Sebhat poorly discusses the mechanics and is only certain that the measures must be the full blossoming of capitalism in Ethiopia, at which time the TPLF would hand over power to the bourgeoisie. Ato Meles has placed its context in Ethiopia’s development, although his is also an analysis preformatted by a pre-existing conclusion, instead of the analysis leading to a conclusion. In his 2006 treatise, African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings, he insists that revolutionary democracy—TPLF—must remain in power, as necessity by itself when possible and with coalition with others even with rightist parties when dictated by circumstances. The justification is to provide policy consistency and leadership continuity. Ato Meles implies in his writing that he puts the ceiling to fifty years. Perhaps, who knows, capitalism could flourish by then, as Ato Sebhat promised, the TPLF, would pack up, and take its leave to the next upper class.
A regime with such agenda turns out to be manipulative, as in constant demonstration is the total divorce between its official preaching and its unlawful practices. Add to this, official TPLF press conferences and its press releases, which is top and centre replete with denials. More frightening is the fact of the TPLF’s ease in being fast and loose with the truth, because of which few Ethiopians give little weight to what the government of Ethiopia says. Worst of all, troubling to many is its lack of credibility to shoulder the responsibility of defending the country’s honour, sovereignty, territorial integrity and its long-term interests. Experience has already shown Ethiopians how Assab was voluntarily given away.
TPLF could not help it—the EPLF took Assab!
Ato Sebhat told the VOA, “the TPLF did not give away Assab to the EPLF. It took it. Before we [TPLF] entered Addis Ababa, for a while the EPLF had already been in control of Asmara and Assab.” From the voice of the interviewer, I could hear his agony and pain, his silent rage and a heap of contempt to his guest. He calmly asked to ensure if he had heard him right the first time, “was the EPLF in control of Asmara and Assab even while the Dergue was in power?” Ato Sebhat unblinkingly said, “Yes, even when the Dergue was there.”
Surprises never end, as far as the TPLF is concerned. However, one thing the interviewer ought to ask was about the fertile lands of western Ethiopia that have been ceded to the Sudan in a secret deal barely three years ago. Not that we do not know the facts, but Ato Sebhat’s response would have added one more material evidence to the long list of TPLF’s lies and credibility crisis. Moreover, for instance, which Ethiopian cannot see or understand today that, among others, Ethiopia’s foreign policy has been for a quite sometime, especially since 2005, at the auction block to the highest bidder.
Leading contenders for now are China, which sees Ethiopia as its gateway to Africa and provides good aid package and low interest credits. Another frontrunner that officially has focussed on the economy is Germany. For three years, Germany has provided 96 million euros until 2011. It exerts enormous influences on Addis Ababa. In a recent visit, a high-level German official lauded Ethiopian democracy. Germany has also benefited handsomely from economic returns through the investments of its nationals.
GTZ, in collaboration with its fellows GTZ/CIM, KfW and DED, is Berlin’s operation arm in Ethiopia and is the largest foreign aid office worldwide by any donor country. In Ethiopia, GTZ has more than 200 foreign experts and around 425 national Staff, according to information by the agency. As I expressed my disquiet in another article a few months back, it operates on behalf of the Ethiopian government in dealing with other international donors, especially in matters involving bids and contracts to hire construction companies and initiate construction projects. In a country that had safeguarded its independence all these thousands of years, it is repulsive that a foreign government agency be allowed to operate on behalf of our government. Partly because of their interests, Ethiopian construction company owners have already made their concerns known.
Certainly, until recently on the political and security fronts, the United States has been the boss with the largest humanitarian aid to Ethiopia and in the fight against HIV/aids with appreciable consistency. Nevertheless, the entire focus of the Bush administration had been on its security interests and ensuring that the government is accepted by other donors. With the Obama administration, things are likely to change. Initially, they are likely to engage the government in a dialogue to impress on the regime to change its undemocratic ways.
In a VOA interview on 18 June, Ambassador Jonnie Carson, the new assistant secretary of state for Africa, made it clear for the second time, “We will want to talk to the Ethiopian government about opening political space, strengthening institutions, having greater involvement of civil society and more respect for the rights of individual in the economic and political sphere.” At the same time, the Obama administration seems to try to put its money where its mouth is. There are signs to engage in Ethiopia in agricultural productivity growth in view of the fact that Ethiopia’s agriculture has failed citizens, despite the massive resources that have been poured into agriculture in the past eighteen years, which the regime used mostly to rally the farming population into becoming its political base.
Pulling strings to consolidate the reign of terror
One of the purposes of Ato Sebaht Nega’s latest visit to the US is to explain to the Tigrayan community the rationale of Ato Meles’s latest decision to return Eritrean properties to their legitimate owners. Citizens of the two countries were disowned unlawfully more than ten years ago by both Ethiopia and Eritrea as they went to war in 1998. Understandably, this latest decision has irritated some TPLF members or other Tigrayans on behalf of their relatives or friends who have lost properties in Eritrea or, allegedly those in other parts of Ethiopia who have taken over Eritrean properties and are not enthusiastic in returning them.
In explaining the rationale of this measure, one point Ato Sebhat kept on repeating is the security condition that necessitated such measure in the past is no longer there now. Notwithstanding that by implication, he was justifying the Eritrean action. Ato Sebhat explained that today Ethiopia is at peace internally and stable. Therefore, those properties needed to be returned to their legitimate owners. Supposedly, is this an attempt to fish propaganda coup against the TPLF implying by this action that Eritrea is not at peace?
TPLF’s rationale notwithstanding, first of all the decision ought to be seen within the context of the indignities both peoples have suffered. To start with, it was a huge mistake that both governments paraded each other’s citizens, robbed them of their properties and threw them out as if they were dirt. Unfortunate, as it is, this latest mistake is vulgar and self-serving, if not for anything, at least for ignoring the indignities suffered by Ethiopians and their lost properties. For that matter, it neither atones for past mistakes against ordinary Eritreans; nor does it show concern about the new pains it inflicts on those Ethiopians Eritrea has mistreated in the same way by robbing them of their properties and human dignities.
Worst of all, the push behind the decision is hardly internal peace and security in Ethiopia, as Ato Sebhat alleges. TPLF has three objectives in mind. The first one is to divert public attention in Ethiopia form the crushing economic malaise and the overall frustration by attempting to incite nationalist sentiments against Isayias Afeworki, portraying him as a rogue bully at the corner who has stolen Ethiopian properties. Secondly, for the increasing number of Ethiopian resistance groups Isayias Afeworki has become a godfather. This has deeply worried the TPLF. Because of that, the TPLF has turned to the Eritrean people trying to court their favour through this latest decision. Thirdly, in view of the worsening economic conditions in Ethiopia, the TPLF hopes that returning Eritrean properties could encourage them to engage in businesses in Ethiopia, possibly attracting more capital from abroad, helping revive the economy, and even bringing in initially more foreign exchange through the Eritrean diaspora, who would also be encouraged to visit families and tourism.
Nevertheless, for many who heard Ato Sebhat, his claim of peace and security sounded hollow. Some chatted on the internet and wrote their views to the effect that, if there is such peace questioning as to why there is continuing tension between citizens and government. Surely, the TPLF could be prepared to accuse them of being ARENA sympathizers. The fact is, however, the unanswered question is what compels ‘a stable government in a peaceful country’ to continue to deny the democratic rights of its citizens, i.e., free press, freedom of speech, the right to assemble and organize, the rule of law, independent courts, etc., and even choose to disable civil society organizations.
For many, the strongest indicator is the latest undemocratic anti-terrorism law that belies TPLF’s claim of sense of security and the country’s stability. Unless a government is insecure, there is no reason for putting heavy axe of the law and law enforcement against dissent, as its so-called anti-terrorism law does. A nation with a united purpose and goal would have reposed its attention and resources to target the real terrorists, extremists and fundamentalists of all forms, instead of directing itself against citizens aspiring for their democratic rights. In its editorial, The Reporter last week wrote, “We are deeply concerned that, under the guise of fighting terrorism, respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law, press freedom and all other civil rights, have fallen under imminent danger more than ever before.”
The truth is that the TPLF does not want citizens to know that it is desperate because of two reasons: the economy is in severe crisis and the forthcoming election would provide opportunities to demonstrate public rejection of it. Therefore, to date in preparation for that, the TPLF has left not a thing untried within its means, including its capacity at locking peaceful citizens and/or butchering them for no offence at all. The army and the security machineries gobble up 15 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP, according to Business Monitor International, and are ready to butcher once again peaceful protestors, empowered by the latest proclamation notable for its anti-constitutional and anti human rights accent.
Last Friday’s warning mixed with stretching olive branches to the contending parties by Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran, who is apparently worried about the row over election fraud, pales by comparison to the recent pre-election warning by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. VOA’s Peter Heilein writes, “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that government forces would have little tolerance for street protests.” He quotes the prime minister saying, “The 2005 experience was experience enough for anybody to be able to learn from, and so I’m sure our law enforcement entities will be much better prepared for any eventuality than they were in 2005, not only in terms of handling riots, but also in terms of deterring and preventing riots.”
It is in a way, evidence of the regime’s insecurity. Ato Meles revealed to Africa Confidential of 3 May, “We may have some foreign exchange constraints but those constraints are already beginning to ease. So in balance, we hope and expect that it will be a permissive economic environment for a peaceful and successful election” in 2010 (emphasis by the writer). This is the first time the government has openly spoken of such concerns, i.e. the danger of the simmering political and economic discontents in the country. Against the prime minister’s feigned optimism to the media, however, the economic reality is ugly, with little likelihood of its improvement, let alone before the 2010 election even in the medium-term.
The gathering storm & Ato Meles’s predicament
What Ato Sebhat avoided discussing is the economic crisis, which is likely to undermine the TPLF. Politically, all these years the TPLF has waded through its unpopularity by imprisoning and eliminating its opponents. What it cannot do now is turn around the country’s economy, which for some years has been heading in the wrong direction. The government is waking up very late in the day, after economic decline has exposed all its weaknesses, the outcome of the faulty policies it has pursued this long.
Ato Meles has known this for sometime, although real awareness has set in only lately, as he was preoccupied for a while in his decision to leave or not to leave. Already last spring, he was in denial that the Ethiopian economy is in any danger. When the reality proved him wrong especially in the autumn of 2008, his first act was to order his forces in March to raid coffee exporters’ stores, seize their coffees, and export them to get badly needed foreign exchange. It earned his government $21 million in foreign exchange, for that matter, at low market prices that the exporters wanted to dodge. Among the expropriated exporters were many well-known exporters the regime had earlier awarded prizes acknowledging their superior performances. Now Ato Meles realizes that his action was wrong, and feels concerned that the international community would accuse him of not respecting property rights and the rule of law. Therefore, as a matter of habit for him, the best solution is to charge the exporters with attempts to sabotage the government’s efforts at national development. Thank God, this time he has not applied charges of genocide or attempts at subverting the constitution!
All that this shows is Ato Meles’s desperation. He is aware that the TPLF would not tolerate the reversal of its fortunes. Therefore, instead of taking appropriate policy measures and solutions, on one hand Ato Meles has chosen to play political theatrics announcing his interest in parting, without even sharing his intention first formally or informally with his colleagues in leadership, who heard all about it from the media. On the other hand, since February he has been making the loudest SOS (Save Our Souls) in the name of Africa, calling for increased foreign aid. Lest, he warned repeatedly that many African states would become failed or failing states. Of course, he has not mentioned that Ethiopia under his leadership is one of those countries. Ato Meles’s strategy now seems to be to yelp holding the donor community responsible for all the mess, which partly is true, but not entirely.
Perhaps, this is seemingly a smart move coming from him, before his party begins to look around to replace him. Clearly, TPLF would not be interested in losing its position of strength, or welcome new shareholders emerging now on the back of economic and political crises. However, what is astounding is how either instinct of the Tigrayan elites within the TPLF, including the army brass, or even the intellect of the elites abroad has failed to see the regime’s slippery path this long. When the leadership realized, as late as Ato Meles himself did, for all of them it was no time to apportion blame while the fire is gutting out everything. They recognize that the problem is already beyond them. In the light of this, due to the lack of option, the internal consensus within the TPLF seems to be to focus to limiting the cascading effects of the negative economic and political developments.
What are those negative consequences and developments Ato Meles has been talking of lately? Part IV of this article would present a complete analysis and prognosis of the Ethiopian economy. Weak economy is the source of political insecurity for the TPLF, strengthening its opponents, who are as unprepared in the real sense of the word. In the meantime, the unpopularity of the regime has been increasingly turning it into the extreme right, in both policy choices and its disrespect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
Its move against the tide is creating internal restlessness within the TPLF, growing resistance within the country, and sings of betrayal are in evidence that those ethnic fronts it has arrayed around it are bidding their time to desert. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian economy would go through the worst in the medium-term, before seeing promising signs of recovery. We all need to pray in earnest our country would not fall into the trap of needless bloodletting.
(To be continued…)