Friday, September 30

Caravan Redux

In the post The Caravan Passes and the Dog Barks we talked about a lawsuit filed by Ethiopian government officials alleging defamation over charges of corruption, using all of the organs and powers of the Ethiopian government, against the proprietors of a short wave radio station based in the US and Germany. For a number of reasons we expressed surprise.

First, the use of the legal system of a free society to export controls on free press by a government that denied every manner of freedom of the press seemed to be in rather poor taste.

Second, it set a very bad precedent for all despotic governments because none of them had ever tried this before.

Third, the purpose seemed to be to intimidate and harass a few so that others, would not dare to cross the government. The fact that it was impossible to imagine the government or the individuals alleging harm ever actually carrying through the suit and obeying the legal rules of discovery (handing over all information to the court) heightened this suspicion.

Fourth, it seemed that given the essentially corrupt nature of the governmental / ruling party / elite structure that it would be amazing if the most fair minded and reasonable observers did not assume that there was absolutely no difference between private and public funds anywhere where Ethiopia's rulers had interests.

Fifth, we noted that if every opinion (including those of supporters) on the matter was indeed wrong and there was no such corruption extant - then transparency in government by open international audits of the institutions concerned would prove the government blameless.

That way a principal reason for the lawsuit, the ruining of government 'development partner' relations with the imperialist camp (Western aid donors in ruling party lingo), could be turned into a positive and all would benefit from the resulting confidence.

Most fascinating , we found the whole lawsuit to be a real departure from normal international practice over centuries of history and law and diplomacy. After all dozens of dictators over decades from around the world never (to our knowledge) sued someone in the West for being called corrupt.

One has to wonder why. Apparently the Ethiopian government did not bother.

As a matter of policy this government is not even content with neutrality or even support from Ethiopians out of its clutches. Support or even neutrality imply choice and since choice can by definition change, the govenment maintains a default setting of aggressive intimidation of everyone not directly under its thumb.

The individuals being sued did not go along with the government plan.

They countersued for malicious prosecution and damages and they also prepared suit for all of the government's human rights violations against the families of Ethiopians abroad, many of whom then came forward to provide documentation. Since the government lawsuit had placed the Prime Minister and his government legally under the jurisdiction of a court in suburban Virginia, the PM was faced with the possibility of subpeona.

Even if he was actually immune by virtue of diplomatic status, the potential for legal harassment and loss of face (in far more vicious forms, these are normally favorite weapons of the government against its victims) must have been disconcerting. In addition the individuals the government was harassing assembled an evidently very talented legal team and brought on board every manner of human rights and free press organization possible.

Everyone else, with no diplomatic or head of state / head of government immunity, who voluntarily submitted themselves to the authority of a Virginia court were faced with the issue of the lawsuit's aftermath or any other suits brought against them because of their status in a dictatorship. It must have all seemed rather quickly like more trouble than it could have possibly been worth.

Far too late though, it must have become clear to the government why other dictatorships had avoided the legal systems of free societies while violating human rights for all to see at home. You see, the legal systems in free socities tend to be as free as the press in such places and because freedom implies a reasonable search for truth even if it is not found - despotic government is likely to either lose in the end or suffer damage far beyond any gain achieved.

This analysis from Ethiopian Review makes a point
Meles and his officials are backing away from their lawsuit against Tensae Radio, according to Tensae lawyer Ato Shakespear Feyissa. This proves that the report by Tensae Radio that Meles and his officials have deposited millions of dollars in foreign banks is true, and the radio programs credibility is intact. Tensae's counter lawsuit against Meles will proceed.
So what possible gain did the Ethiopian government get from all of this? The real question may be why no one involved in Addis Ababa's corridors of power ever predicted this debacle. Having millions of dollars squeezed from peasants and from party / government business monopolies to hire world class lawyers and PR people in free countries is apparently not enough to carry out sensible ideas.

The government's legal team in America (the same folks who lost the arbitration against Eritrea in the Hague) must have been shocked by all of this even being considered absent any rational precedent in human history. However, they do what the client tells them to and if the cause is wise or silly ... they still do rather well in the end.

Dagmawi sees the situation quite differently
After listening to the Tensae Lawyer's interview there is zero evidence presented concerning the veracity of the claim published by Tensae that certain named individuals in the goverment had tens of millions of dollars stashed in their name in banks around the world.

Tensae Radio should apologize to the Ethiopian people for broadcasting such lies. How can we condemn Walta and the Ethiopian Herald for defaming Ms. Ana Gomes when the Ethiopian Review is championing the lies of Tensae Radio?

By the ridiculous logic of Tensae's lawyer, if Ms Ana Gomes doesn't sue Walta and Ethiopian Herald, then she is guilty of biasing the EU report to get "half the money from the diaspora."
It is very true that the absence or abandonment of a lawsuit, can not serve as proof of guilt or innocence. That goes for the original charge that tens of millions of dollars were stashed away abroad by the named government officials.

Dagmawi's point (which made us re-write this section of this post) is best understood to us in the sense that the actual problems that can be pointed out with Ethiopian government are so massive that it only serves to unwisely level the moral playing field when charges are made without proof ... and ... it is just wrong to say so without proof anyway.

The Ethiopian Review's point is best understood to us in the sense that the structure of Ethiopian governance is essentially corrupt by design and definition to an unprecedented degree, while the result is absolutely destructive. The Tensae radio lawyer is an advocate for his clients alone, just like the lawyers for the government are and all other lawyers are by tradition and profession - he serves that purpose well.

Therefore, considering the ER point, any assumptions about corruption become fair game, or rather convenient game (as it has been for ethiopundit). To put it all another way - even if no one would be surprised by the externalization of funds, or if all would even expect the externalization of funds by the accused, that does not make it an acceptable fact.

However, that raises the point of the distinction between charges of corruption (or brutality for that matter in coming years) against a government / a ruling party / government - ruling party businesses / their officials / and private individuals. One person can simultaneously or at alternate ticks of the same minute serve in all five categories.

More care should be taken when considering individuals. However, does that absolve government by yet another convenience, this time of individual rights, which it also ignores. Especially when the governing structure makes all actors and even facets of one actor indistinguishable it is hard to posit that individuals are being defended when it is their status in a corrupt system that is the real issue.

Should the absence of a paper trail make us reconsider our view that the whole structure of government - party - business relations is thorougly corrupt? A foreign paper trail would certainly be unpenetrable to all but the national police and intelligence agencies of a handful of first world governments. Search for a domestic one might be met with imprisonment, disappearance or even death - unless a knowledgable defector comes forth with boxes of documents or the equivalent on computer discs.

Dictators generally do not have gentle retirement plans and there is no worldwide Tyrant Protection Program for the deposed - although maybe there should be. So - assuming some externalization of funds seems like a rational excercise even as it may be particularly unhelpful to do so in individual terms.

Mengistu certainly got better advice about filing suit in the West but he certainly sent money abroad even though no one to our knowledge has particular proof. Conversely, the Imperial Government did not send money abroad despite every manner of accusation and assumption.

So ... of course your average modern dictator and his entourage puts money in foreign banks. That is a matter of common sense. An inability to prove so exactly doesn't mean anyone has to pretend they aren't totally corrupt but maybe naming particular names is not cool.

Either way this is the most corrupt government that Ethiopia has ever experienced. That is the main issue.

OK already, enough splitting points and dragging back and forth over the edge of a razor. Beyond the issues of actual theft as particularly alleged it still remains amazing to us as it origianally did, that this all happened to begin with and that it has never happened before with dozens of harshly critical diaspora communities and despotic governments worldwide for over a century or more.

How decisions to sue folks in the diaspora for being called corrupt in a place far beyond the range of an AK-47 bullet, ever made it out of a single meeting calls into question every other policy of the government. It does not make sense to have done so without considering the risks and benefits beforehand.

Beyond the bad policies that enrich the party or lengthen rule, there just seems to be many things going on that are just bad ideas that no one is saying no about.

ethiopundit has more than its share of run on sentences and grammatical or spelling errors - but who cares? The whole lawsuit issue goes far to explain other small points like why so many documents out of a national Ministry of Information or a Prime Minsiter's Office are barely edited and riven with basic errors of written English.

Either no advice is sought in such contacts with the outside world that are out of normal diplomatic channels, or the government is too proud or too insecure to ask for help. It is otherwise inexplicable how given such a massive pool of Ethiopians in Addis who have totally mastered the English language and who come from a culture where the spoken and written word have been spun like gold for millenia, that all writing is not edited ...

... and that submitting Ethiopia's elite to the authority of free foreign courts was not discouraged. All of this is connected in the end. Just wonder to yourself how the arbitration with Eritrea was conducted.

Imagine the gimgema (criticism / self criticism session a la Lenin & Mao) at the aftermath of all this!

... or maybe the opposition will be blamed, or the EU, or Eritrean agents, or Lord Voldemort. Here is an even better explanation - the radio station was just being offered amnesty!


UPDATE: From the International Journalists' Network, 'Ethiopian government drops U.S. lawsuits against journalists' details the charges against the four being sued by the government and their alleged accusations against the goverment officials in question.

The whole thing is worth a read for background but this is the money quote
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in Virginia because they knew at least one of the defendants lived in the area. It is fairly common for public officials in many countries to file lawsuits against journalists who publish critical stories. But for officials to sue journalists from their own country in foreign courts is unusual.

If the lawsuits had proceeded, all the parties involved – including the prime minister, his wife and cabinet officials – would have had to come to Virginia to give their depositions in October. Gregg Murphy, a lawyer for the defendants, said dropping the suits “is nothing more than a delay tactic of basically stopping it right now with the right to bring it back again.
Amazing. The Prime Minister and the elite of a government just up and presented themselves to the authority of a suburban Virginia court. Even if this particular lawsuit is over, the legal precedent is established that the Ethiopian Government considers itself to be under either Virginian, every American or just all international courts.

Given the habit of judges and prosecutors in Europe in particular to entertain lawsuits against folks like Pinochet, it is not a stretch to imagine such courts accepting cases brought by Ethiopians abroad or frankly anyone who wants to do so. After all, there is nothing that courts and lawyers like to do more than extend their jurisdiction and have a bit of fun against tyrants while doing so.

We rather doubt that the Ethiopian government's 'progressive' credentials and revolutionary rhetoric will shield them from the interest of activist courts all over the world. Especially if the crackdown against the opposition continues in its bloody and brutal form, world opinion and politics would readily accept criminal or civil suits against such a government.


Thursday, September 29

Cargo Cult Economics 5 - Cheerleaders

Contemporary Ethiopia has its own band of intellectual cheerleaders who defend the government from rationality and smooth its place in despotic power. The Ethiopian government is literally doing everything wrong in terms of economic development.

The ruling party and the politburo at its core directly or through a web of illicit relations own the government, own all of the land in the country (there is no right to own private property and the threat of losing it is used as a potent political weapon), own the lion's share of the economy from the commanding heights of the hard currency monopolies all the way down to the softest parts of the service economy.

The same people regulate themselves, control the media, control the instruments of coercion from the secret police to private militias to the armed force, demand medieval fealty as a condition of successful participation in national life at any level and rule by pitting tribes, regions and religions against eachother.

The only people or tribe the government cares about is literally within the skins of a few hundred revolutionary aristocrats but even most of them are disposable in extremis - what really matters is a few dozen of the revolutionary nobility. The ethnic group in whose good name they allegedly rule are simply the first victims within a whole nation united in opposition to a tiny ruling cique at the top of a pyramid of suffering.

Ethiopia is rated internationally as one of the most corrupt, badly managed and closed governments and economies in the world with one of the lowest possible rates of per capita foreign investment on the planet. Per capita foreign direct investment comes to less than $1.00 and much of that is from just one generous person.

Another way of saying this is that aside from money generated by pity such as foreign aid and aside from money sent from Ethiopians abroad - there is almost no where else in the world that is less attractive for investment than revolutionary democratic Ethiopia.

Under the current government Ethiopa has actually managed to grow progressively poorer than in the days of Mengistu's horrific Dergue.

Where a famine under the old Imperial government meant hundreds of thousands of victims and under Mengistu a few million - today over 15 million people are continually dependent on foreign aid to survive every day and are victims of a government that plans to do nothing different in the future at all except ask for more aid. Indeed, the national budget is financed by aid and the faintest illusion of progress comes from diaspora remittances and Western taxpayers.

All plans for the future depend on the status quo or dreams of massive aid such as the Millenium Develoment Goals. All that is needed for growth and prosperity is already present within Ethiopia's borders, indeed as one author commented, within the Ethiopian brain. Left alone it can accomplish what any other set of brains in any other nation from South Korea to Botswana but is prevented from doing so. After all, the successes of capitalism aren't Caucasian or European or determined by any factor but the nobility and the sanity of giving a nation the proper institutions of success.

Actually, there is nothing new to figure out. What took Europe centuries to do through trial and error is free knowledge today - why should any of the rules be different for Africans? The main reason is their own leaders and those that enable them.


Recently there was controversy about the Ethiopian Prime Minister winning a $200,000 prize from a Norwegian company. The details of that tragic absurdity can be found in Negussay Ayele's excellent Norway, Ethiopia and the Yara Foundation. In a nutshell: the Ethiopian government which is indistinguishable from the ruling party muscled everyone else out of the fertilizer business from the beginning (imagine the ironical possibilities of that statement).

Ethiopian per capita grain produciton has been steadily falling on this government's watch. The use of land ownership as a political weapon and a lack of basic investment because of tenure insecurity hurt even the most basic farming. What limited security farmers have is in using ever increasing amounts of fertilizer.

Fertilizer can only be bought on credit from government / party owned businesses that are identical to local government. Credit, repayment and taxes are used as instruments of political coercion and human rights violations in perfect timing with threats on land ownership. In some regions the whole web of abuse includes requirements that the local tribal sub-village houselhold level of party officials be asked for permission before peasants can visit even the next village.

Let us repeat: in rural Ethiopia people have to have government permission to go beyond the confines of a few adjoning farms, they are constantly in debt to the party / government which routinely denies them basic rights, can take away their land at a whim and taxes them without mercy. In the post Civil War American South such a situation described sharecropping and Jim Crow in the life of African Americans.

To the revolutionary aristocracy at the top of this pyramid of feudalism sees all of the masses below and always figures that an extra buck can be squeezed from each of them. Imagine, per capita GNP is below $100 (less than a quarter in constant dollars than it was in the mid 1970s) and given unequal distribution of money an entire peasant family together probably sees far less money than that a year.

Even squeezing just one extra dollar from every peasant makes for tens of millions. Hey, that is enough money to by a single SU-27 jet fighter, to build a corporate office in Addis with marble executive washrooms or even just finance the activities of an army of spies, agents and cadres for a few months. Squeeze out even an extra buck and that means property is for the taking in Europe or America and an army of public relations agents can be hired there too - all it takes is some minimally creative accuonting and a complete lack of morality.

Both qualities are in abundance in revolutionary democracy as opposed to scarce items like daily bread and freedom.

Despite Ethiopia's abundant human and material capital there are only three main earners for the government. One is coffee which the government of course stuffs its coffers with through selective and high taxes, owning all the land, owning or dominating all of the private, public and semi-public companies that deal with it. Even then the dollar value of the all important coffee crop is a fraction of the value that it had in the 1970s or even 1980s.

Another similiar cash crop is the semi-narcotic khat plant whose fresh leaves are picked in Ethiopia and delivered, sometimes in a matter of hours to Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen. Be assured that the government, the party and its cronies take a very healthy cut of this trade.

The other main earner and the most valuable one of all is the blood, sweat and tears of the Ethiopian people. The country has the status of the poorest on earth and a permanent beggar because the government sees poverty and suffering as both a money making venture and a means of preventing the evolution of economic or political rivals that would accompany the empowerment that not worrying about survival and starvation would bring.

To make that image particularly grotesque, severe and appropriate imagine a man being whipped and picture that each drop of blood, every drop of sweat and every teardrop from the victim translated into cold hard cash for the torturer. That is an accurate picture of today's Ethiopia.

Think we are being extreme? Well, the Ethiopian government is financed based on how much Ethiopians suffer. Where some countries see cash in development, Ethiopia's rulers see cash in wretched poverty. They calculate that is safer than letting Ethiopians become independent and prosperous - at which time their demands for political rights may become more acute.

The whole world sees this clearly but what are they going to do about it? Send in the US Marines or UN Inspectors to make it all better? No, they all just recognize that the Ethiopian people are effective hostages of their own government and know that they must treat the government with some modicum of respect lest 70 million people fall even further into despair.

The government has a policy of not only divide and rule but of emphasizing abroad every chance it gets that Ethiopia is on the verge of genocidal tribal religious chaos. This is not at all true but it tends to silence critics who worry that like an evil Samson, that the Ethiopian government will make the whole nation come crashing down around it if it is sufficiently threatened.


Of course dear reader you mustn't worry, there are golden parachutes in reach for the revolutionary nobility. The only problem is that as the brutal face of the government becomes more clear to the world that unharried, comfortable exile becomes a more distant possibility for those that give the orders.

There may be no Mugabe to save the current band of neo-communists in the Gibee but that is actually a problem for Ethiopia. The more easily they can let go of the Tiger's Tail the better. Perhaps a worldwide Tyrant Protection Program is a good idea.

Oh yeah, the Norwegian Company that sells fertilizer to the exemplary government described above gave the Prime Minister his $200,000 prize. Such a prize is normally called a kickback, indeed by cutting out the corporate middle man, just a few tens of thousands of Ethiopian peasants could have had their finances runined with easy and the money sent directly to its destination.


Getting back to the point, lust for power for a few has made Ethiopia a place where suffering is now tradition. How then do we explain the intellectual academic cheerleading crowd at the ceremony in Norway cheering the authors of so much human misery on. The cheerleaders are not ignorant men. They know exactly what their new friends are all about.

The cheerleaders are also not bad men, they don't want Ethiopians to suffer. The problem lies in their esential intellectual's dilemma. They are so wrapped up in their ideas that they imagine themselves to be above petty politics and therefore petty realities of human concern. By having their eyes on some ever more distant mirage of even minimal improvement with no attention to the road or the people being trod on, they hope to mean something to humanity and to history.

Well, they do and it is not going to be a good legacy. The ends do not justify the means especially when the same means have been proven rotten at achieving good ends repeatedly over a century of human experience in dozens of countries at a cost of a hundred million lives, the suffering of billions and the waste of trillions of dollars.

Given a chance those worthies would have cheered on Nyerere or Nkrumah in their day as well. Some of them probably did. Actually they would have cheered on Idi Amin, Bokassa and Mengistu as well if they made the right progressive noises.

Ultimately the differences between all the despots listed above amounts not to death and suffering itself but to fine and convenient calculations of how much. Public relations and acting go a really long way too in getting the blessing of influential intellectuals. Some tryants just come across as 'Africans we can deal with' and fine cocktail party company while others are just more unabashedly dictatorial and rather embarassing or boorish dinner partners.

We would argue with confidence that with better manners and by being less forthright about the total gallons of blood he shed, that Mengistu could have easily survived in power until today. He would have been the new renaissance African leader of everyone's dreams in the 1990s and a humanitarian prize winner today who just won an election in a 'maturing democracy'.

The only way folks can justify such nonsense is by convincing themselves that Africans have different standards, or can't be blamed so they don't deserve as much - one can't say that out loud or pat them on the head but the message gets through loud and clear to anyone who is paying the least attention.


A simple way to avoid that 'romance of the primitive' trap in evaluating a government is to carry out this excercise every time someone, of any origin hears or encounters a dictator.

Close your eyes and imagine that the dictator is white and that their subjects are black or brown. Visions of Apartheid South Africa will immediately pop into place and depending on the country, sometimes even worse systems of government.

Keep listening and wonder if it makes sense that oppressing and killing one's own should lend some moral justification to what is done to innocents.

Someday, in a rational universe the litany of African dictators will include generations from all over the continent including Botha and his ilk in no particular rank of importance or wrong done.

Until then we will celebrate the victories over Apartheid in Zimbabwe and South Africa and wonder why Zimbabweans suddenly mattered less after Mugabe took over and why other Africans aren't worth mentioning at all.


Every word you hear dear reader about how money transfers will make the third world rich or even better are a massive lie. Not just based on common sense but on experience of hundreds of billions of dollars spent over the past half century in games played with a billion lives.

It all serves some complex internal need we all have to be moral, to find simple solutions and to serve the common good. Problem is that it just does not work, it never has and it never will.

What the third world and particularly Ethiopia needs is the institutions of accountability in freedom and democracy. They need ownership and a sense of possibility over their own and their children's fate independent of corrupt and brutal authority. People who are enfranchised , who have choices never starve - they even improve their own lives on a regular basis.

What is really amazing and tragic is also the reinforcement of failure. Leaders who do the right things are more likely to be bothered by the world than the ones who do wrong.

You can build billions worth of things or at least as much as they are worth when a thieving system allows actual funds to trickle down. However, it is all nothing without maintenance and care. The rich world is not rich because it has things ... it has things because it is rich ... and it is rich because the right institutions were allowed to develop and build all those things.

What is the purpose of human life in the modern era? We should certainly be beyond the point where survival in a "poor nasty brutish" state is commendable or acceptable. Actual human progress that the basic laws of liberal democracy and capitalism have proven that they can deliver is the current minimal demand of all men and it should be that of Ethiopians.


We speak in turn to everyone native and foreign who cheers on such authors of a permanent Hobbesian nightmare in the service of their own interests, ideas and egos from any stage. You share blame with every despot and dictator for the human condition in places like Ethiopia. That includes all of the cadres, sycophants, yes men, cronies, opportunists and agents of such despotism.

What you serve does not work, indeed it brings only suffering and death. You know it and can't pretend you don't or that you were only following orders or that everyone else does it too. That was the lesson of the bloody 20th Century, that saying all the right things and even feeling all the right things on any theme or subject for anyone's benefit at all usually meant doing all the wrong and inhuman things to milliona if not billions of actual humans.

Sure it feels good to replace the Ethiopian people and be the ones the government desperately seeks approval from - thereby shortcircuiting democracy. Sure no one would ever let you do those experiments on real people's lives in Ohio or Bavaria, and sure those places got rich doing the exact opposite of what you reccomend. Sure you are a better person than someone seeking mere profit. ... on and on .... Sure, just keep your dreams for yourself and get out of the way of liberal democratic capitalism. It actually works. It made you rich didn't it?

In the end, the enterpirsing businessman, the farmer, the inventor, the herder and their ilk who just follow the rules of a rational society stand far above the dreamers who "only want to help". The first group actually does all the right things given a chance. The second group is so in love with its own self image and brain that just spins recycled ideeas around in some eternal dream world of short term memory and no consequences that are noticed.

For some folks, the whole thing ends up a nightmare. Imagining that it is OK for them to live under different rules than you would expect for yourself is an example of the vile sentiment of actual romance and purpose that is found by some in other people's suffering.

Wednesday, September 28

The Original Gangsta

party up,
opposition down,
peasants and workers can't swim?
they're bound to drizown!

O.G. Enver Hoxha
(with apologies to Snoop Dogg)

An ‘O.G.’ or ‘Original Gangster‘ is the founder of a street gang or any older gang member. For our purposes, such gangs are considered to be in the proverbial 'game', not of street life, but that of totalitarian violence and power. Seriously, what is the difference?

O.G. used as an adjective is "a street-level mentality [of] no remorse or concessions for a person's (or group's ) behavior associated with violence [...] A way of life, of sorts, that doesn't provide explanations or apologies."

Sounds even more like the rules of the revolutionary dictatorship game doesn't it? So who are the O.G.'s of Ethiopian Revolutionary Democracy? We have certainly discussed Marx, Lenin and Mao in these pages but the real O.G. of current Ethiopian governance is Enver Hoxha

Who? Well, Hoxha was the long time absolute ruler of Albania who could have given Kim Il Sung himself, lessons in the art of isolated despotism. He is also the point of all the mentions over the years of the TPLF and its commitment to Albanian Communism .

His memory is certainly subject to much disrespect of late since his policies are being used to simulate fake capitalism and democracy ...

from a young g's perspective

... however, his spirit remains alive and well in Addis Ababa. Here is how, according to one of the founders of the TPLF who does us all the great service of examining history honestly , how a decades old ideological dilemma led to Hoxha's brain being transplanted to an Ethiopia that certainly deserved better.
The unyielding response of Zenawi’s regime to all the popular and legitimate calls of the Ethiopian people and political organisations could also be scrutinised from another dimension. In 1985 a party, officially known as the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT) was established within the TPLF, Meles Zenawi as its chief ideologue.

In its constitution, this party declared that: MLLT, as the core of the future Ethiopian Marxist Leninist Party [the Dergue already had a Worker's Party of Ethiopia in place but that was an example of rank heresy to the MLLT], is the only correct party free from all sorts of revisionism (Trotskyism, Maoism...) that could constitute a proletarian-peasant dictatorship to liberate the Ethiopian people (Constitution of MLLT 1985:1).

Any other political organisation that does not ideologically correspond to that of MLLT’s was labelled ‘reactionary’ and ‘anti-people’, and hence should be cleansed. In an interview with The Independent, at the end of 1989, the present Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, asserted that “the Soviet Union and other Eastern-bloc countries have never been truly socialist.

The nearest any country comes to being socialist as far as we are concerned is Albania” (The Independent, 28 Nov. 1989). To him, as was clearly maintained in the same interview, only this party could lead to a “fully democratic state” (Ibid). The officially published programme and declarations of the MLLT and TPLF are no longer visible since Zenawi joined the camp of the US; he prefers not even to mention that he was a leftist.

Eclectic as it appears, Zenawi’s policies have drawn the whole country into a state of chaos and confusion, because of the incompatibility between what he thinks and what he does.
Notice the slick convenience and blessing of language, definition and of every assumption (even more evident today) for the mission of the MLLT.

When you define, far ahead of time that 'the people' and 'democracy' is whatever is good for a tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy - it is like pre-emptively winning every discussion, argument and election way ahead of time no matter what anyone else may think.

If you aren't down with the MLLT, you are against the people by definition ... and you live on borrowed time.

Why was Hoxha and his isolated and dirt poor Albania held up as an ideal? At the time the high priests of Communism in Moscow had already laid their hands on Mengistu and proclaimed him their true disciple in Africa. Not only that, but the Soviet Union was in the midst of falling apart under its own inherent contradictions as well as turning into a hotbed of revisionism and reaction under Gorbachev.

The Soviets would normally have been happy to switch support to Meles if he fought his way into the Gibee but they clearly could not be counted on any longer. The Chinese were even worse from a young g's perspective. While the Soviets were at least trying to hang onto Lenin with the insincere N.E.P. like trick of Perestroika, Beijing had totally abandoned Mao in all but name.

China no longer had time to meet with radicals on the revolutionary convention circuit. They were too busy making money the old fashioned way - with a functional level of capitalism grafted onto China. Even today after the Ethiopian government endorsed the invasion of Taiwan and reaches out with deep yearning for an alliance or help of some sort, (for old times sake presumably because it has nothing to offer China), China will do no more than spare a line of propaganda in Xinhau every week or so and will spare no real cash at all.

So what was to be done when the league was being abandoned by all the old gods, comrades and increasingly left even further behind by history?

The fact that the Russians and Chinese had never really been socialists anyway, at least according to party theoritician Meles, explained why they and all of their minions were utter failures at not only creating the paradise of Communism on earth but even at feeding themselves or functioning at some bare level of subsistence.

Their cardinal sin, however, and the one that could never be forgiven was not properly maintaning the party's absolute power and the purity of its history. There could be no greater crime by anyone than that. Thus the failure of Communism in every nation it was ever tried at doing anything but giving power to a despotism could be explained by the fact that it wasn't really Communism after all!

That is where Enver and Albania came in. The MLLT, with Meles at the helm could take over the TPLF and then Ethiopia with an example st before all that was so absurd and unbelievable that no one could even argue against it. Hey, the reasoning became, it is so obscure and wierd that it must really be deep and meaningful if it is being talked about. Wrong.

creepin' while you're sleepin'

Albania broke with Stalin because he was too liberal back in the 1950s! After decades of being sustained by Chinese aid and wasting it as well , Albania broke with Deng after the death of Mao, and thus had nowhere else to turn but even more inwards. By the time the totalitarian states of Eastern Europe were all collapsing in the late 1980s, Albania was the poorest, the most isolated and least free of them all.

Albania in the late 1980s was more of a mess than it is possible to imagine.

Did that deter the decision to emulate Albania on the part of the MLLT? No it encouraged it. Having already usurped the just cause of the Tigrayan people and caught between tyrant Mengistu and an alliance of temporary convenience with the EPLF, Meles & Co. had to find some model and justification for their policies and to show how they were going to make it all work out in the end.

They needed to resurect that old revolutionary spirit. Nothing less than a religious revival was needed to keep the essential contradictions of Communism, its manifest failures worldwide, the dead end of tribalism and the fact that Tigrayans were part of the very essence of Ethiopia - all simultaneously hidden to justify MLLT rule.

Like so much out of this ruling pary output it was all smoke and mirrors - an elaborate trick until the cadres creeped up from behind any possible dissent, mainly from within, and crushed it aboslutely. The role of the future Prime Minister was interpreter of the holy texts of Communism with powers to excommunicate or carry out acts that would have made the shocked the Inquistion.

That, the mastery of revolutionary party machinations that could have left Machiavelli gasping in awe and the uncanny ability to be exactly what any given ferenji wanted so desperately to believe of an African leader, were the guarantors of power in an environment competitive beyond any understanding we may have.

Writing 700 page tomes on Revolutionary Democracy and 14,000 word letters to the editor lay far in the future. Right then what the situation demanded was something that was 'certified communist gangsta sh**' that could be put to work immediately and that needed little explanation.

Indeed, something was needed that would make anyone needing an explanation become an instant outlaw. Actually, like all of that silly totalitarian ideology it was all a meaningless mess but the air of mystery and meaning that such nonsense worked on susceptible minds was valuable nevertheless.

By choosing Hoxha and Albania they were basically sending out a message that even alone and isolated they would never turn from the revolutionary (self serving for a tiny tiny clique) path. They were also setting up a situation where 'the mother of all low expectations' ruled.

Seriously, if Albania was the aim how could the MLLT ever fail to achieve? Later when it was clear that moving on up to the Gibee was only a season or two away, Hoxha was himself abandoned in name but not in spirit.

Lenin said that "the capitalists will sell us the rope to hang them with." So what does a body do when his brand of Communism necessarily makes a country so poor that it can't buy that rope to begin with? You see, the state apparatus that guarantees power for a revolutionary feudal aristocracy also guarantees eternal poverty and popular enmity for the same group.

A revolutionary democratic party nor a marxist leninist league can ever be self supporting - even with its natural parasite - unwilling host grip on an entire nation. Therefore, extensive election and free market dramas had to be staged for money to convince the imperialist camp (donor nations whose systems actually created wealth) that what they saw is in fact an evolving free market democracy and not a real life totalitarian dictatorship that would one promised day leave them all in the dust.

The refinement of current manners relative to the Dergue is of crucial importance. Between 1974 and 1991 anyone presented with Mengistu or one of his minions would not have required much imagination to envision nails dripping with fresh blood from killings and hands stinking from the corpses of millions of victims.

Even though Scientific Socialism and Revolutionary Democracy were really fighting to see who the true Communists were, Meles had public relations advanatages Mengistu had washed away in a torrent of overt blood.

The new politburo, by contrast, knew how to do its killing behind closed doors and which fork to use for the proper course at state dinners. Today, one of the ultimate political skills and recommendations for power has become mastery of a delicate dance of seduction on Ethiopia's collective neck while giving out honey tongued whispers of misdirection that get Western money flowing.

In addition, as we noted above, anyone who has risen up in a revolutionary party and guerilla army could teach Machiavelli more than a thing or two about politics.

rat a tat, rat a tat tat tat, never hesitate to put an Ethiopian on his back

When that game seemed to stop working after fourteen years of trying and when the fake 'election' game fell apart with violence and with no extra cash forthcoming, the revolutionary feudal aristocracy called once again upon the memories of heroic days past - of isolated, eternal struggle and war with a glorious return to an Albanian fortress mode.

What that all meant in turn was that revolutionary democracy and the Albanian ideal would be defendend to the last drop of blood in the last Ethiopian peasant, Oromo - Tigrayan - Amahara - Sidamo or Gurage, hostage to the politburo's will to power. Actually, if you remember, the will of the people and peasants was by definition that of the ruling class - even if the latter never planned on ever skipping a meal or a first class ticket.

So in the end the whole business is really like some dreary but bloody sub-par Medieval tale of intrigue, webs of secret loyalties, vengeful gods, bloody holy wars and dynastic claims on the holy grail of communism. And it is all played out on the backs of the same wretched, faceless masses of every history that actually part with their the blood, sweat and tears.

Remember the low expectations set by the Albanian example? The revolutionary feudal aristocracy has managed to match them and do them better (or worse as the case may be). Foreign aid and remittances alone keep the economy from collapse and the party's jealous death grip on power suffocates the entrepreneurship and talents of the Ethiopian people.

In the coming week the endgame of the power struggle between Ethiopia and thirty years of Communism will begin in earnest. The opposition is not yielding, they won the election after all, and they will not accept smiles and gentle pats on the head from the world to just keep quiet and somehow appreciate the absence of minimally decent government that it has been Ethiopia's curse to experience for so long.

The Ethiopian ruling party does not have the capacity, in its current incarnation, to feel the shame or remorse that people power can bring to bear on other governments in the world. They can't give up power or share power by definition.

Of course there was never a chance that the party would have given up rule in the election. After all tyrants have always played at the game of parliaments to justify themselves and cultivate the illusion of consent even though they rule by the gun.

However, if the party in its present form had some ability to reform there would be other options for it beyond absolute power. Sharing some ministries or power in parliament would be options in a semi-honest system.

In a dishonest system, just like less vicious dictatorships worldwide there would be attempts to bring the opposition into the game and to share the spoils of a corrupt system. This could not happen for two reasons.

First the opposition would not go along anyway because they have as their purpose the end of that dishonesty. Second, the concept of sharing, especially power, even if it prolongs dictatorship and its rewards, is anathema to this government. Indeed, they wonder every moment why they can't just bury their opponents alive and move on.

Acutely sensitive of how intensely disliked the politburo is and how any policy to keep them in office will only increase that feeling - the party is determined to never show weakness and to always be on the offensive agains everyone at all times.

The party elite seem to live in a zero sum world of absolutes. You are with them or against them. To be with them is even not enough - one can't be allowed to remain independent of mind, soul or body. Individuals and groups must be broken down in every way and trained to heel and know their master.

The very possibility that an Ethiopian may exist somewhere on planet earth that is critical of this government causes them sleepless nights and an overwhelming impulse to control and destroy.

It is almost as though they wake up every morning and expect every day to be their last. Every shadow, every free word, every noise and every free breath is to them a prelude to another revolutionary creeping up behind them as they creeped up behind their own.

The very concept that every Ethiopian is not as naturally corrupt as those in a vanguard / bolshevik/ communist party is really beyond the understanding of this government. Principles and honesty and conviction to them are just more trickery - after all, when the government says all those things it is never sincere so how can any human really be anything but equally corrupt?

That is the fatal flaw of despots. They believe their own words have power beyond their own minds and the party. That is why the election was held to begin with. Any observer knew they would lose with even a halfway fair count - but believing their own propaganda and with visions of dollars, euros and yen on their minds they went ahead with it.

Everything is a weapon in the service of the party from hunger, torture, poverty and shootings onto basic corrupting assaults on the human spirit to make a weakness that which is most decent in every Ethiopian - their love of their children, family, relatives, friends, country and God - those assaults realized through not only violence but threats, intimidation and blackmail.

There is simply nothing that can not be manipulated to serve the will to power of the revolutionary aristocracy.

Making their victims complicit in their crimes also serves the purposes of low expectations. That individual Ethiopians and the whole country can expect nor deserve better of themselves or their tormentors, as though some unique variety of original sin in the party service only inflicted Ethiopians.

There is a level of viciousness in demanding loyalty and submission that speaks more of insecurity than anything else that will prove eventually to have shortened the rule of the current regime by years. They are well aware of what they have done to Ethiopians in Tigray for thirty years and to all Ethiopians together for fourteen more years - but holding on tightly and causing more pain may hurt everyone concerned - but will fail in the end.

Take the overtures to the Oromo Liberation Front recently by the ruling party that were spurned by the OLF for the ashattir (trickery) at its core. Now we are to believe that the OLF was being offered amnesty and not being set up for use as a pawn against other Oromos and Ethiopians.

You see there is no objective reality in gangsta or cadre world beyond whatever serves the purposes of those in control. The government responded to the losses it could not hide in Addis by crippling the city government.

It dealt with the losses it did not manage to cover up in the rest of the country by killing and intimidating and fraud. Rerun elections took away what little margin the opposition had as a consolation for winning and being cheated.

Then Parliament, already a rubber stamp, was crippled with changes that assured only the government itself could even bring things up to discuss. Not that it matters but it just makes ever more clear how governance is just a matter of crude trickery..

That is the absurd structure that the opposition has rightly rejected playing a part in.

disrespect? break 'em all off some 187s

There is literally nothing that will not be done in the coming days to hang onto power for even another minute. We have no doubt that to be independent of the ferenjis financial pressures that the government would begin a slave trade selling any Ethiopian in its clutches to anyone with cash and an equal poverty of basic humanity, if they could get away with it.

Totalitarian ideology internalized decades ago and a fundamental lack of imagination or nobility of spirit will not allow them to compromise in any meaningul way.

When the opposition marches, it will do so peacefully as it will rule. The government will pick a thousand fights that day as its agents stage incidents and while its gun bearers claim victim. Either in turn or simultaneously everyone from Anna Gomez to Martian invaders to opposition terrorists to genocidal coup plotters to Eritrean agents will be blamed as responsible. It does not matter to them as long as they remain in power.

Ethiopia's poverty and weakness are necessary for the continued rule of this government and are also caused by it. A vibrant Ethiopia would reject the gangstas and cadres at every level so international beggar status is actually carefully cultivated.

When a government equates disrespect with a mortal threat to its lefe and when it treats a whole country like its turf ... when the answer to every question ends up being about who has the loudest voice and the most guns ... when it cultivates false ideological justifications about the rules of the street life game with revolutionary democratic raps ... what distinguishes it from a plain old street gang?

A large chance for justice comes from the possibilty of an internal change or upheaval within the party from those whose noble souls are tired of being part of a mechanism of poverty and suffering for a whole nation.

They, the opposition leaders and Ethiopians in general face difficult days ahead with prospects as dangerous as they may be bright. It seems that silent, almost traditional suffering is no longer an option and another generation will not voluntarily be lost to the purposes of a selfish few.

It was such a unity of spirit and fact against foreign invasion that kept Ethiopia in existence for centuries. The invasion and occupation by the tiny clique of practitioners of a despicable foreign religion like Communism deserves the same treatment.

The battle that Ethiopians are currently fighting is not only the familiar one for their shared existence and survival, but also for the unrealized promise of the 20th century earned by all men.

That bloody awful time not only challenged the good in mankind with totalitarian evil but it also showed him the promise the future could hold in human lives that were no longer nasty brutish and short for all but a few.


Next up we will finish with a look at the life and times of O.G. Enver Hoxha in his natural setting for a better sense of what lies ahead for Ethiopia if his heirs don't (or do) get what they want.

The post below, Short Term Memory, is finished and Weichegud has a great post, excellent as always called We Ask You Not to Interrupt This Suicide up. Just a few of our favorites from the sidebar include: Foreign Dispatches, Booker Rising, African Bullets & Honey and Cobb]

Monday, September 26

Cargo Cult Economics 4 - Short Term Memory

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a wonderful series of essays and a best seller from the last century by a neurologist that begins by exploring the functioning our brains and ends up pondering our spiritual nature and the lines inbetween. One story tells of a man in his fifties for whom every moment is spent as a youth of twenty something.

Certainly that can describe many in a mid-life crisis or even just plain immaturity - but the man in question had a very particular brain injury in his twenties that froze him in time. To put it in crude terms, the brain works something like the common understanding of a computer. There is a moment to moment memory of what is going on right then and on the screen.

If it is not saved to the hard drive it disappears forever. Such is the difference between short term memory and long term memory in the brain. What we have all experienced in the past few minutes disappears forever until it is properly recorded in our brain. The man in question lost the ability to lay down memory.

Thus, he is forever a young sailor during the Second World War who is kept aloft only by his generous pension, natural optimism, affability and a loving wife. He meets the doctor and is re-introduced every few minutes of their sessions and has to continually relearn and re-experience every moment of every day forever.


There are nations that live the same way - but in some promise of a future that can never be whose existence is to be assured by a present nightmare. They never learn from experience and because of the very nature of their leadership, the state of permanent confusion and crisis is a matter of policy.

Part of what makes us human is the capacity we all have to do good and evil and the choices we make every day. Our living memories and our knowledge of history allow us to know ourselves and to put forward the better aspects of our nature. When ferenjis are always blamed for every evil in Africa it may satisfy a sense of African shame and a sense of Western guilt - but it also devalues the humanity of Africans.

If excuses are made when Africans do wrong to each other then Africans are by definition morally feeble and can't be expeted to know any better ... as though only ferenjis can be called to account for moral failings. That is why the evil of Apartheid was always more offensive to the world than the evil of Mengistu's Scientific Socialism or the slavery and genocide in Sudan today.

All that is an expression, not of respect for Africans in South Africa, Ethiopia or Sudan, but of contempt and self-contempt that is repulsive beyond adequate description. The fact that Ethiopia's government today has to be threatened and begged to treat its own people decently while it is greeted with even fake smiles in diplomatic circles is a cosmic joke in very poor taste.

In addition to the power that governments have to kill individuals or tens of thousands their choice of policies that cause indirect mass death and suffering is just as criminal and important. The policies that lead to national happiness, namely freedom and prosperity have been common knowledge for generations.

The policies that cause oppression and poverty are also very well known. Ethiopia is just another case in point where every bit of the lethal policy nonsense is re-run endlessly like a bad movie - with the same B movie actors (or their clones) playing the same old tired roles. Ethiopians can't just change the channel.

While we acknowledge the primacy of Ethiopian responsibility for the fact that Ethiopia is the poorest nation on earth with an economy stagnant beyond aid and remittances, in this post we will look at some of the enablers of Ethiopian suffering in the West.

No it is not the big players of realpolitik government we are concerned with but the bit players who make common cause with dictators - totally out of compassion and the goodness of their hearts - whose eternal 'romance with the primitive' and the trail of destruction they leave behind is not usually a topic for conversation.


Those advisors abroad keep re-imagining the past somehow hoping for a different present and future each time and figure that given new third world millions to experiment on and a few billion dollars more of funding to hand out that they can defy human nature.

Julius Nyerere was the leader of Tanzania from independence until the 1980s - until his death he still ran the country from a ceremonial retirement into the 1990s. The very intellectual author of Ujama, 'African Socialism' and his own Little Black Book (no, not that kind - although the world would have been better off ...) to mimic Mao's Little Red Book, he was the darling of the progressive world and Western intellectuals and academics for generations.

For so long he was like some Olympian figure of a kindly grandfather, wise village leader on the international scale and a beacon of African pride and significance all rolled into one. The only problem was that he was a massive fraud and despot. Nyerere was a master at convinving everyone except his own people who had to live under his rule how great he was.

Tanzanians got poorer and less free every year he ruled and are still attempting to recover from the damage he wrought with his brand of Marxist inspired nonsense. Despite his foreign popularity attracting billions of dollars from a West gushing over with admiration and warmth, the former food exporter became a permanent beggar nation.

The World Bank, the IMF, rich Western governments, academics, foundations, endowments, think tanks, every manner of Economics Noble Prize winners, wise men, even Russia and China fell all over themselves trying to get in line to give Nyerere money. Tanzania was the biggest African recipient of economic aid for decades running but today no one knows where a single cent of that money ended up in productive use (except, presumably, the funds in Swiss Bank that benefitted somebody), because not a shred of evidence is available of all that aid money's productive use in Tanzania.

The co-operative Ujama villages were filled not by eager crowds of smiling peasants but by millions forced into destined to fail communal living modelled on China's genocidal Great Leap Forward. Soldiers and cadres of Nyerere's ruling party forced folks into his experimental test tubes at gunpoint. He tolerated no opposition and there are only three good things we can find to say about him and his rule.

One, he was not as bloodthirsty as Mengistu or Meles. Two, his army overthrew Idi Amin (however, replacing Amin with Milton Obote makes for a half credit only). Lastly, near the end of his life he admitted that his policies had catastrophic results. No one listened to that single utterance of wisdom although all his socialist blathering of decades past made him a 1960s and 1970s superstar bigger than the Beatles and ABBA combined in many circles.

The brand of Rousseauian 'romance with the primitive' that made Nyerere a living saint despite his obvious litany of failures played out in the broken lives of Africans is not over. You see, every African intellectual and bureacrat and every Westerner who thought it was just so right for Tanzanians to live with the manifest rot of African Socialism never had to live the life they so reccomended for others.

All of the bureacrats and academics and officials went home to rapacious dog eat dog capitalist societies that cherished their rights to own private property and to do and say what they wanted - or else they invested there. Every country that was as poor as Tanzania in the early 1960s that followed the capitalist path is today either well on the way to first world lifestyles or relatively far more prosperous and free than their progressive neighbors.


The worst thing that ever happened to Africa was arguably not the European export of colonialism and imperialism but the hidden contagion of totalitarian ideology derived from Marx, the bastard child of the Enlightenment, that also came out of Europe and that has consumed African lives and brains for generations now like a vicious retrovirus precursor of AIDS.

It is hard to imagine how communism and socialism had any more legitimacy as national models than calling for more colonialism or imperialism. By the early 1960s and the wave of African independence, the failures of that model were clear to all that did not have a particular interest in its failure.

What was the attraction? One, it justified failure as having a higher purpose and had a built in catechism to justify dictatorship. Two, it made foreigners feel good. They could live out radical fantasies that their relatively conservative societies would never allow to be played out in their own lives.

Another saint of Afro-Socialism in popular memory and misplaced pride is Kwame Nkrumah. He literally destroyed the most developed native run economy in the third world and its institutions, both imported as well as traditional, creating a poor despotism that still haunts Ghana. In his last days when his finance minister told him that there was only $1.4 million in the treasury and hundreds of millions in new debt wasted on fantastic socialist get rich quick schemes - he first sat silently - then wept.

Like Nyerere's name, Nkrumah's is likely to get approving smiles today for his espousal of African Unity (under his leadership of course). The ruined nation and lives that he left behind like dozens of tin pot dictators that have haunted Africa for decades is not part of polite conversation today. The hundreds of millions of humans cheated of opportunity, those lives wasted by early death and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to no good cause continent wide are also not part of polite conversation.

Yet their examples and living catastrophe is still greeted with only passing frowns and a sense of 'what else do you expect from Africans?' As we said, Africans are largely the authors of their own misery but their intellectual partners must also be called to account because they are still doing the same cheerleading today.


It is possible that intellectuals just feel jealous of businessmen, inventors and entrepreuneurs who are the real agents of modern human progress. Intellectuals want to matter and to be important but since their only coin is warmed over ideas - no one who is actually busy building or producing or developing the good old fashioned capitalist way wants to pay much attention to them.

At home, outside of academia and a handful of talking heads, no one is paying attention outside of an echo chamber of fantastic ideas long discarded by successful societies in practice. So where does someone like that go to feel like their ideas matter and to show that they are important?

They go to the third world where cooperative dictators fulfill their fantasies of being better people than all those crass businessmen, of being listened to by those in corridors of power - there the interests of the intellecutal mercenary and the dictator fit together rather nicely.

That symbiotic relationship allows them to serve as joint parasites on a desperate body of whole nations. The dictators get good press, friendly sound bites, justification for failure and get the flood of dollars, euros, pounds and yen greased on the way to to government accounts that are fundamentally indistinguishable from private ones.

The entire industry of pity and aid and excuses gets billions in overhead and almost as important - they find in the third world that they and their ideas really do matter for some Potentates, Presidents and Prime Ministers. For poor folks this is a match made in hell. No, we don't think that all of the 'Lords of Poverty' (to borrow Graham Hancock's apt title) are somehow damned by nature the way third world despots are.

But after generations of failed policies and worsening conditions and espousal of policies diametrically opposed to those that made their own societies rich to begin with - they can not escape or be excused from the moral dimension of their alliance with dictators who are doing every thing possible that can be done wrong and who assure eternal poverty and oppression.

Thursday, September 22

The Historic Elections of May 2005

Every Communist must grasp the truth, 'political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.'
Internal documents of Ethiopia's ruling party that were published as "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule." From Vestal's Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State.
We can attain our objectives and goals only if Revolutionary Democracy becomes the governing outlook in our society, and only by winning the elections successively and holding power without letup can we securely establish the hegemony of Revolutionary Democracy.

If we lose in the elections even once, we will encounter a great danger. So, in order to permanently establish this hegemony, we should win in the initial elections and then create a conducive situation that will ensure the establishment of this hegemony. In the subsequent elections, too, we should be able to win without interruption.
From the European Union Preliminary Report on the historic elections.
“[P]ost-polling day irregularities, delays and questionable vote counting, as well as flawed handling of complaints and re-runs of elections in some constituencies had undermined the electoral process ... international standards for genuine democratic elections were not met.”
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi responds to the European Union Report and Ethiopia's options without 'development partners.'
But your average peasant would not be the sage of facing existential challenges if he/she only had one plan. Again you can bet your life that there would at least be a plan B just in case the perpetrator of the injustice was able to get away with murder.

Plan B would start with strengthening the peasants fortress, his/her homestead, so that it can withstand the possible temper tantrums of the spurned perpetrator of the injustice. Having done that, the peasant would plan to treat his/her tormentor with the disdain and contempt he/she deserves and move on with his/her eternal struggle to keep body and soul together.

I believe we can do no less or no better than that. As our brothers the Southern African freedom fighters used to say, in Portuguese, La Lutta Continua! the struggle for a prosperous and democratic Ethiopia must and will go on despite the challenges.
George Bush
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.
George Bush
Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy -- as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress.

In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path….

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.
Human Rights Watch
As parliamentary elections approach, the Ethiopian authorities have established new institutions that suppress speech and political activity in the country's most populous regime ... officials have continued to detain and harass perceiced political opponents.


Western diplomatic sources have told Human Rights Watch that precisely because the Ethiopian government reacts so angrily to criticism, the only option is to engage the government on human rights issues quietly and behind the scenes. United States policy is also influenced by Ethiopia’s perceived status as the most stable country in the Horn of Africa and by its cooperation in Washington’s “global war on terror.”

This “quiet” approach does not appear to be bringing about any change in the Ethiopian government’s refusal to engage in constructive dialogue about human rights issues. Recent events seem to indicate that the Ethiopian government may be becoming bolder in its willingness to ignore international criticism of its human rights record.


The newly designated U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia told Human Rights Watch that human rights and the "war on terror" are both important objectives for the United States.

But a senior State Department official told Human Rights Watch that Ethiopia's cooperation in gathering intelligence from Sudan and Somalia and in other matters he was not at liberty to discuss is so important to U.S. interests that the U.S. effectively wields little if any leverage over the Ethiopian government.

He said that, although the U.S. is aware that Ethiopia's interests do not always coincide with its own and listens to its partner "with a jaundiced ear," the country's human rights record is "not a factor" in the bilateral relationship "as a point of fact.


In the wake of last week’s election-related protests, the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on potential sources of unrest has spread throughout the country ... While international attention has focused on events in Addis Ababa, opposition members and students in other cities are increasingly at risk of arbitrary arrest and torture.
The United States State Department on the historic elections of 2005
These elections stand out as a milestone in creating a new, more competitive multi-party political system in one of Africa’s largest and most important countries. Because reported election irregularities raised concerns about transparency, we will work with the international community and the Ethiopian government and parties to strengthen the electoral process.

We strongly urge all the political parties to participate in the political process and to play responsible roles as the elected representatives of the Ethiopian people. The governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has the responsibility to reach out to the opposition parties to ensure their full involvement in governance.

We call on all newly elected members of parliament to take their seats, and to serve under Ethiopia’s constitution. We urge the Ethiopian government and all political parties to address the deficiencies in the electoral process, to avoid violence, and to cooperate in advancing democracy in Ethiopia.

Milovan Djilas
Normal life cannot sustain revolutionary attitudes for long.
Hegemony is a term derived from the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, which refers to the ability of a dominant group to exert or maintain control through a combination of overt and subtle mechanisms. One authority commenting on the Ancient Roman state had this to say
Power is very rarely limited to the pure exercise of brute force.... The Roman state bolstered its authority and legitimacy with the trappings of ceremonial — cloaking the actualities of power beneath a display of wealth, the sanction of tradition, and the spectacle of insuperable resources....

Power is a far more complex and mysterious quality than any apparently simple manifestation of it would appear. It is as much a matter of impression, of theatre, of persuading those over whom authority is wielded to collude in their subjugation.

Insofar as power is a matter of presentation, its cultural currency in antiquity (and still today) was the creation, manipulation, and display of images. In the propagation of the imperial office, at any rate, art was power.
CUD chairman Hailu Shawel
It is the most illegitimate process I have ever seen in my life, even in a beginning democracy, where the winner is declared the loser and the absolute loser is declared the winner ... It is not rigging as some call it, it is simple burglary.
Notice that aside from the should be PM, who was elected, and the actual PM, whose will to eternal power runs counter to the interests of Ethiopians in freedom and development, that every utterance above came from foreigners.

As fate would have it, foreigners, who seem to be washing their hands of Ethiopia's fate, are really the only reason that even the tiniest democratic space was created and that a single Ethiopian on this planet has any human, civil or economic rights at all.

George Bush was elected President of the United States and is sworn to protect the interests of Americans. It is our own tragedy that Meles Zenawi has the interests of Ethiopians as a distant priority to the primordial ideology of despotism that serves as the catechism for the religion of his own eternal rule and that of a tiny revolutionary aristocracy.

Political power may come out of the barrel of a gun right now, but an unintended consequence of the transient democratic space created has been the clear voice heard from the Ethiopian people and the opposition that can't be silenced forever by men with guns.

The government did not win anywhere where there were election observers and re-ran numerous contests held even further in the dark to get the numbers it wanted. It took months of fraudulent counts to overcome the great margin of ruling party loss.

The whole world knows it but because the government has 70 million hostages the world will play along with their captors. Most governments are dedicated to serving the interests of their people but Ethiopians have had to make do with a trickle down form of human rights from foreigners who must confront the Ethiopian government to treat its own people decently.

Even Stalin, Mao and Mengistu played at the game of elections and parliaments. The next elections will be more like those of this government's revolutionary godfathers and this regime's elections in 1995, 2000 and the fake referendum on the constitution.

If the government and ruling party knew they were disliked and needed to coerce a victory before - now they know they are despised and will mete out unprecendented levels of brutality. After all, the only constituency that the tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy was ever worried about, foreign aid donors, have given them a free hand to stay in power by any means necessary.

Foreigners can't work magic with a government that worships power at the expense of development and freedom. In the end, it is up to Ethiopians, with as much help as they can muster from friends from abroad, to resist this despotim as they have fought foreign invasions for countless centuries.

The Historic Elections of May 2005 will ultimately be remembered for its expression of national unity behind a rational opposition in defiance of a thirty year reign of government orchestrated totalitarian ideologies as well as tribal, religious and regional divide and rule.

Tuesday, September 20

Revolutionary Democracy Reloaded

21st Century Maoism - CDs on sale now in Addis Ababa, Pyongyang and Havana
(Images are from a Fark photoshop contest.)

Revolutionary Democracy is the guiding ideology of the Ethiopian ruling party. The first attempt to make sense of it was (1) Revolutionary Democracy which discussed the Marxist - Leninist - Maoist roots of the ideology and found it to be essentially a grab bag of silly but deadly mantras justifying the dictatorship of a few.

With very kind permission we have serialized over a number of posts, Chapter 7 of Dr. Theodore Vestal's remarkable book Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State. That chapter deals with the the ruling party's 'Revolutionary Democratic Goals' based on internal documents of the party that were published as "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule," in Ethiopian Register Magazine.

The first part of Chapter 7 was (2) Revolutionary Democracy Redux and it looked at the overall strategy of the ruling EPRDF, its own view of Revolutionary Democracy and the overall political goals that the program was to achieve. The second part of Chapter 7 was (3) Revolutionary Democracy Recycled , and examined the economic aspects of the party program.

The third part of Chapter 7 was (4) Revolutionary Democracy Returns, which noted the political strategies of the party for ensuring permanent hegemony and the rules various actors in society will play or be forced to play in forcing eternal rule.

This final entry (5) Revolutionary Democracy Reloaded is the end of Chapter 7 and will conclude with the strategies for hegemony and conclude this overall revealing and stunningly frank blueprint of a revolutionary vanguard party to reach its aim of permanent dictatorship while convincing the whole world otherwise.

This is indeed 'Zemene Ashattir - the Era of the Trickster' as opposed to the Dergue's 'Zemene Awre - the Era of the Beast'. Differences in public relations abilities and intelligence can't obscure the totalitarian ideology at the core of both and the trail of destruction that is the price of unprecedented power for a few.


The whole of Dr. Vestal's book is important to an understanding of contemporary Ethiopia. He is clearly a friend of Ethiopians everywhere because he makes no excuses for Ethiopian suffering when oppression comes from within. The tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy that makes victims of Oromos, Tigrayans, Amharas, Sidamos, Anuak and Gurage alike should receive no credit for just happening to look like its victims.


Schools (Indirect Propaganda)

In the nation's schools, the curriculum can be used to disseminate scientific knowledge and teach respect for the histories and cultures of various ethnic groups. The study of the country's constitution provides an opportunity for the Front to inculcate the basic goals of revolutionary democracy. Because such study is not openly presented as propaganda, it will effectively serve the purposes of the EPRDF.

The Front also will attempt to persuade teachers, key figures in education as propaganda, to stand for revolutionary democracy. The EPRDF will involve teachers in curriculum design and convince them of the need for changing the educational system. By involving teachers in social and developmental activities and subjecting them to party-line explanations provided on such occasions, the Front hopes to "bring them to the fold of revolutionary democracy."

Students, too, should be involved in party developmental and political activities. The EPRDF will utilize sports activities, associations such as boy scouts, clubs, and various seminars to mold the views of young people.

Religious Organizations

Religious organizations are characterized in the strategy document as always being propaganda tools and frequently aligned with reactionary forces in society. Such organizations can be used to disseminate the revolutionary view within certain limits. If such a strategy is impossible, the Front should attempt to curtail organized religion's obstructionist activities.

Rather than focusing on the leadership of religious groups, the EPRDF will direct its effort at village level religious organizations closer to people. Without denying the religious the respect due them, the Front will attempt to mold their views, curtail their propaganda against revolutionary democracy, and even use them to serve the party's end. The EPRDF also will forge a close relationship with the leadership echelon of religious bodies, exploit "their internal contradictions," and prevent them from coordinating propaganda against the Front. If possible, the EPRDF will use religious leaders to disseminate the propaganda of revolutionary democracy.

Mass Organizations

The Front's strategy is to use mass organizations as forums for political and propaganda work to ensure the hegemony of revolutionary democracy. The party would try to influence mass organizations through indirect means rather than imposing its leadership on them by disregarding their internal organizational autonomy. Seminars and panel discussions will be organized by the EPRDF to draw members of mass organizations to the camp of revolutionary democracy.

The Question of Organization

To establish the system envisioned by the Front, "the masses have to be organized in various social and political associations" which connect them and lead them in the direction of revolutionary democracy. While maintaining the relative autonomy of such associations as a means of promoting popular initiatives and as a check on corrupt tendencies in party cadres, the EPRDF plans to influence the activities of organizations and to recruit their members.

The masses will be organized by sectors including the peasantry, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, government workers, and ethnic groups.

Organizations of peasantry will include peasant associations, women's and youth associations, cooperatives, and local militia.

Democratic Petty Bourgeoisie's Urban Organizations will include professional associations in education, medicine, and journalism; peace organizations, human rights organizations, and development organizations.

The most desirable form of Workers' associations are trade unions organized as industrial organizations rather than on the basis of ethnicity or region. The various sectors of the proletariat should then be united in a single umbrella organization.

Government Organizations

The EPRDF feels secure about its control of organizations in lower levels of government because they are formed mainly with the involvement of the peasants. Middle and upper levels of government, where there are no elected officials and where intellectuals are involved, are more problematic to the party. Included in this sector are the army, security forces, and the judiciary which will not be under the direct control of political organizations as such. However, according to the strategy document, since these groups are there to promote and indirectly implement the goals of revolutionary democracy, they form part of its strength. The mission of government agencies, as seen by the Front, is to protect the political and human rights of the masses, contribute their share in the implementation of EPRDF development strategies, widen the political influence of revolutionary democracy through their activities, and act as its key instrument in combating the illegal activities of the enemy.

At the apex of associations of nations, nationalities, and peoples will be a nationwide organization formed from democratic nationality (ethnic) organizations. This nation-wide political organization will be formed, not by multi- national organizations (in the EPRDF sense of the term), but by a union of ethnic-based organizations.

The mission of these nationality-based organizations, is two-fold. On the one hand, they are to disseminate in various languages the same revolutionary democratic (party-line) substance; to translate this substance into practice by adapting it to local conditions; and to rally peasants and other progressive forces around the goals of revolutionary democracy. On the other hand, the ethnic organizations are "to promote the common interests of all the people."

The strategy document takes a final swing at the strawmen chauvinists, ruling classes, secessionists, and narrow nationalists by pointing out why they are adverse to a nation-wide organization of nationality-based organizations. The chauvinist ruling classes, who back the idea of "Itiopiawinnet" (Ethiopianness), would prefer a multi- national organization composed of individuals from various ethnic groups "that have betrayed the causes of their people and bowed to these chauvinists." Narrow nationalists and secessionists "do not want the fulfillment of the peoples' common interests," so they also oppose the proposed nation- wide organization.


The document concludes with self-assured assertions of the rightness and rectitude of the EPRDF cause. The ideologues contend that the Front's revolutionary democratic goals can liberate the majority of Ethiopian society from poverty and backwardness and that they can assure the widest democratic rights and participation in the political system. For the party faithful, the EPRDF's political and economic strategies and tactics "ensure the realization of these goals and the victory of revolutionary democracy."

The document dogmatically states that if the Front's goals do not materialize, "the people will suffer from endless poverty and crises and there will be no single and united country called Ethiopia." Therefore, in order to fulfill the peoples' interests and to ensure the survival of the nation, the victory of EPRDF goals is imperative. The cadres and other participants in the struggle, called "tegadays or "combatants," should proudly stand for such "an honorable cause," and they "must do everything possible in order to courageously and successfully carry out this popular and national responsibility."


Behind the facile Marxist-Leninist ideas of the document are the concerns of ideologues under stress. In a world where communism and Marxist-Leninist regimes, with a few exceptions, have faded away, how can EPRDF theorists be true to their Marxist principles and at the same time appease donor nations? In the face of "people power" that said "No!" to authoritarian regimes in so many Marxist states during the past decade, how can a small elite of former guerrilla fighters follow the old communist pattern and boldly proclaim that they know what is best for Ethiopia and its people?

To answer these questions, the strategy document provides techniques for avoiding conflict with "the imperialists" while creating a facade of democracy, the protection of human rights, and free market capitalism. New "masters of deceit" give instructions in how to beguile donor nations and international bodies with what the party appears to do even as the Front follows a very different agenda in its actions.

At the top of the agenda is the party's goal of permanently establishing hegemony. Lacking confidence that the people would accept its self-proclaimed legitimacy, the EPRDF feared "losing the elections even once." Thus, the Front will do whatever it takes to win all elections and to destroy effective political opposition. Backed by an army that is "free and neutral in appearance" but really the EPRDF military, the Front will not hesitate to cite "any relevant legal article" to punish its detractors.

Following Lenin's advice, the EPRDF seeks to "control the commanding heights of the economy." To scale the heights, the Front will get a boost from its two-track public and private powers. Government fiscal policy will reduce taxes on EPRDF-backed forces while "piling up" taxes on others. Front workers will receive "pay and training far better" than others. Trade unions will be infiltrated by party loyalists. Economic "revolutionary democratic" forces, euphemistically companies affiliated with the Front, will "invest as one individual in those economic sectors which have no direct state influence." This use of "party capitalists" is a clever ploy that allows the EPRDF indirectly to play an economic role that the Front knows the West would not let it play directly.

As described in the strategy document, the use to the fullest extent possible of "key propaganda tools," including schools, religious organizations, and mass media is a shrewd scheme to present the Front in the best possible light. The document also cunningly recommends propaganda that "is not openly presented as propaganda" as effective in the party's use.

The strategy document gives instructions in the latest version of the Lenin two-step, a dance for the Front artiste featuring far more than two steps backward to avoid bumping into the forces of imperialism while doing one step forward to demonstrate ideological adroitness for the comrades. The EPRDF has well learned the choreography and, as we shall see, has skirted around Western nations and international bodies on the main dance floor. Meanwhile, the Front continues to affront fellow citizens who refuse to cheer its performance with a crude stomp dance.



1. TPLF/EPRDF, "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule," English translation of TPLF/EPRDF document originally published in June 1993, Ethiopian Register 3 (June 1996): 20-29. All of the quotations in this chapter are taken from this translation.

Thursday, September 15

Unhealing Wounds

The Unhealing Wound is the website of a documentary that tells of a forgotten Ethiopian story.
The Unhealing Wound is an extraordinary story of Ethiopians who have been stranded in Cuba for the past twenty-three years as a result of the socialist love-affair[e] between Cuba and Ethiopia.

Their story traces back to the 1977 Ethiopia-Somalia war during which the Ethiopian communist leader Lt. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam received billions of dollars worth of aid and arms from the Soviet block to fight against the invading Somalia.

Cuba on its part sent thousands of its young citizens to fight and die alongside their Ethiopian comrades in the conflict. Because of this relationship, Cuba offered to take and educate the orphaned children of fallen Ethiopian soldiers. Over 4,000 children ranging from the ages of six to thirteen were sent to a small island located on the southwest corner of Cuba called Isla de la Juventud.

In a foreign land without family or Ethiopian government support, these children now in adulthood have managed to endure years of hardship and loneliness. This film is a documentation of their lost childhood as they reflect on the past 20 years on life in Cuba.
The production company, Past Forward Films has a very accomplished group of productive and artistic talent. A photogallery of some of the film's subjects begins here.


At one point in 1977-1978 Ethiopia was fighting two of the largest wars on planet earth - all within its own borders. One against invading Somalis on the Eastern Front and the second against Eritrean rebels on the Northern Front.

From 1977 through to the late 1980s Cuba had at least 15,000 soldiers, airman, advisors, technicians and intelligence agents in Ethiopia at any given time. They left when the Soviet Empire collapsed and there was no one left to pay their bills any longer.

Some Ethiopians have fond memories of the Cuban presence in terms of the individual soldiers but the geopolitics of it all is more in dispute. Despite their association with the Mengistu regime, most lower rank Cubans were seen as innocents caught up in a foreign war not of their making.

We have met more than one youth of the late 1970s or early 1980s who assumed 'Guantanamera', that quintessentially Cuban song, was an Ethiopian song sung in Spanish.

The Cubans were there as Soviet mercenaries. Sending them was a way to avoid a direct provocation that Soviet forces would have meant to the West and also served the general fiction of a third world revolutionary crusade that played well in progressive circles.

..................................... provides a very complete summary of the Ethiopia - Somalia Ogaden War. Losses are not delineated in terms of dead or wounded but the Ethiopian number given is 15,000 and the Cuban one is 2,000. Combined losses for Somalis and Somali sponsored rebels (really the same thing) is 20,000.

Normally there is an assumed 3:1 ratio of wounded to dead in combat. Given the horrific medical care Ethiopians could have expected under Mengistu or the Somalis under Siad that number may have been more like 2:1. However, a slightly superior medical infrastructure inherited from Haile Selassie's government and a number of Cuban doctors probably improved the odds for Ethiopian wounded a bit more.

Thus we don't know if 15,000 casualties means about 5,000 dead and 10,000 wounded or 15,000 dead and up to 45,000 wounded. Dictatorships generally don't care as we saw in the recent Ethiopian - Eritrean war whose combined casualty figures are estimated to run up to between 80,000 and 100,000 by some authorities.

Besides a relatively small elite who are given technical and other special training such as armor, intelligence, communications, artillery or logistics, many third world armies have a bleak ‘unit cost’ approach to soldiers and warfare.

It is based on how much it costs to outfit one soldier with the basics such as an AK-47 and uniform while giving him basic training, token pay, and feeding him until battle. That figure is then multiplied by how many soldiers will be needed. Not much thought (if any) is given to the wounded or adequate pensions.

Survivors go back in line waiting for battle again while they pray for early victory and / or peace. Thus, there is a definite price tags of say $10 million (probably less) for a division's worth of infantry (about 10,000 men) - dead or alive.


Somali losses in the 1970s and Eritrean losses at the turn of this century should also be noted in the context of populations about ten times smaller than those of Ethiopia. One must wonder what the Somali government was possibly thinking of achieving in the short term and keeping in the long term.

The assessment of the US Military Aid Mission to Ethiopia in the 60s and the early 70s was that Somalia had enough superiority in armored forces and artillery to push Ethiopia's 3rd Division (all alone in the vastness of Harar and the Ogaden with a few 1940s era tanks) back to the gates of Harar city proper and Jijiga.

At that point, drawing on the gold reserves of the state (remember that then Ethiopia used foreign aid for specific development projects but was self supporting otherwise), extant patriotism of many centuries standing and further long centuries of military competence - it was expected that "those Ethiopians will come tearing down from the highlands and not stop until they reached the Indian Ocean."

This was just expected to happen with or without American involvement. In fact, from the point of view of American foreign policy, the problem was not a possible Ethiopian defeat but the geopolitical consequences of an overwhelming Ethiopian victory. Soviet involvement to defend their Somali client state and the Soviet military bases there would then threaten a US-Soviet confrontation.


The Somali national mission from independence on was one of conqest of its neighbors - all of Djibouti, North-Eastern Kenya and about a third of Eastern Ethiopia - to take all lands where Somali was spoken or were Somalis ever transited as nomads. That mission, doomed to failure, and the Scientific Socialist dictatorship of Siad Bare eventually led to the destruction of Somalia proper in civil war and the fragmenting of Somali proper into the 'nations, nationalities and peoples' of infinitely smaller warring units.

Ethiopia was relatively weak at the time because the Dergue was busy traumatizing its own society while politicizing and purging the military along Communist lines - all to assure its own power. Somalia, since its independence some fifteen years before had been planning to invade, made up detailed plans with intense Soviet involvement and took the opportunity Mengistu gave them.

Remember, the military forces of military dictatorships are always less capable than their civilian counteparts because their mission in the former is politics and in the latter military readiness.

The entire Somali military machine was better equipped than Ethiopia's (although not as well trained) and the object of a long decade's lavish supply and support from the Soviet Union. When Ethiopia embraced Revolutionary Democracy (oh sorry, Scientific Socialism) under the Dergue, the very same Soviets just flew right next door and set up shop planning to kill Somalis instead of Ethiopians.

Ethiopia was considered a far richer prize in the grand designs of the Soviet Empire. All of the Soviets and the Cubans could have easily been aiding Somalia and fighting Ethiopians if it wasn't for a few accidents of geopolitics.


One condition for Cuban and South Yemeni aid seems to have been that they would not take direct action against EPLF rebels and one must presume by association TPLF rebels as well. This was probably because the Eritrean cause had established its revolutionary credentials on the progressive scene long before then.

Not that such credentials mattered as a moral issue, but they did have some importance to Soviet relations with its Arab client states who were great supporters of the ELF and EPLF from the beginning. In addition much of the Soviet Bloc already had long standing relations with the Eritrean rebel movement that they did not sacrifice the way they did their relations with Somalia in favor of Ethiopia.

However, that did not stop the Cubans from joining the Soviets in training and equipping every Ethiopian unit that fought on that northern front. It all served Soviet policy in another way. They knew Ethiopia had become an ally because of its weakness so they encouraged every manner of dependence.

They knew very well that in peacetime they had nothing to offer even the Dergue beyond economic schemes that had already been failing in the USSR since 1917. Indeed, by the 1970s and 1980s the Soviets themselves were already dependent on Western largesse in the form of billions in loans to keep their economy, society and war machine somewhere near functional.

An endless war in northern Ethiopia served Moscow's purposes perfectly in this regard. For example, from Belgians and French in the 1930s through to Swedes, British, Americans, Israelis and even Indians in later decades - all had been involved with the Ethiopian military with particular care paid to comprehensive training. Ethiopians were expected to learn to use and repair everything from jet and tank engines onto radars and howitzers.

The Soviets, however, had major components flown back to depots in the USSR as a matter of routine for maintenance so Ethiopians could not function without constant outside involvement. The Cubans, who were there largely to pay back Moscow for its tens of billions of dollars of aid dating from Communisim's first failed economic introduction to Cuba, played along with their bosses and paymasters.


While we strenously avoid conspiracy theories, one story is revealing in terms of what it shows of the resentment and mistrust felt between the Ethiopian forces and their Soviet / Cuban allies. Sometime in the 1980s (after Operation Red Star) an exposed position, perhaps a bulge in the Army line in Ertitrea near the Sudanese border, was considered no longer worth keeping. So the local commander suggested a tactical retreat to more defensible positions.

Mengistu, safe in the Gibee while chain-smoking Winstons and managing the destruction of yet more lives, gave his characteristic 'fight to the death' order. Soviet advisers then insisted that resupply of the hill in question include a battery of anti-aircraft guns - even though the EPLF obviously had no air force. So when the hill was lost the EPLF came into posession of an intact means of making life difficult for Ethiopia's greatest military asset, its air force.

Once again, what the above story reveals, true or not, is as much a penchant for conspiracy theories to explain loss as it does a profound mistrust, nearing actual hostility betweeen erstwhile fraternal socialist comrades. In the 1970s Dergue members had actually been executed by Mengistu for having world views to suited to Ethiopian interests as opposed to an internationalist perspective that took into account Soviet needs.


The Somalis later claimed that Washington had 'winked' at their plans to invade Ethiopia but especially during the Carter Administration this is very hard to credit. Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Carter was simply not playing such realpolitik games and was if anything concerned with the "inordinate fear of Communism" that guided American foreign policy since World War II on.

Along with the self proclaimed socialism of the Dergue, it was Carter's human rights policies that ruined relations becasue being a thug, Mengistu knew very well that he could never meet any standard of treating Ethiopians decently. So he needed a source of military supply that did not care who or how many got 'red terror'-ed or napalmed. So he blustered and insulted and made long speeches and got on the phone to Moscow.

Later the Saudis paid for some American arms shipments to Somalia after the end of the war but with the American caveat that they not be used across the border. By then the Somali internal crisis was well along and the more 'labor and skill intensive' US weapons simply rusted in fields and parking lots along with those leftover from the USSR and Egypt.

In 1982 Ethiopians invaded Somalia to attack staging bases for rebels who with necessary Somali government support were acting up again back across the border. This is a recurring pattern - the last foray was in 1996-97 (to our knowledge). The ability to know about and intervene (through surrogates or directly) in Somali affairs is probably the biggest reason for the American embrace of Ethiopia's current dictatorship.

Indeed, some argue that this issue is regularly manipulated by the Ethiopian government for its advantage by the creation of incidents and the exageration of Somali radicalism to draw favorable Western attention and comparison.

By the late 1980s both Mengistu and Siad were so deeply embroiled in wars of anhilation with their own people that they signed a peace treaty. Thus Ethiopia's Ogaden army could be sent to Eritrea and Tigray while the Somali army could act against Somali civilians, particularly in the north, in earnest without worrying about an external threat.


Another untold story of that war is what happened to the Cuban veterans of Angola and Ethiopia when they went back home. The ones who did the fighting and the dying were disproportionately from Revolutionary Cuba's totally disenfranchised Black majority.

There was a cruel joke (as all such ugly truths are) at the time among potential Black Cuban draftees: 'the blacker you are in Havana, the redder you will be back in Africa.' The red presumably being the blood staining one's uniform and of course an allusion to the red of the Cuban communist revolution.


Yet another story of the shared experience is the orphans left behind in places like Harar and Addis whose Cuban fathers were rotated back home. That kind of experience is a constant of every war and its aftermath everywhere throughout history.

We have little doubt that while they shared the hardships of life with their fellow Ethiopians that they were far more integrated into society and less lonely than their fellow Ethiopians sent to the Isle of Youth in Cuba.


Ethiopian Review has a fascinating archive of formerly secret Eastern Bloc Documents on the late 1970s crisis in the Horn of Africa from the Soviet Bloc perspective.


Eventually in our sporadic history of the Ethiopian Air Force we will write about the multi-national air war in the Horn of Africa in the late 1970s.