Thursday, January 26

Perfidious Albion

Not really, we are actually just jaded Anglophiles.

Despite some occasional unpleasantness over the past centuries - the historical balance sheet of that one and only sceptred isle from the Magna Carta onto Monty Python remains positive. In addition, while Blair was elected to serve the interests of the British people it is clear that the interests of Ethiopians are a higher priority at No 10 Downing Street than they are in the Ethiopian seat of power, the Gibee. After all what can an aid donor do when it has to threaten and beg to get a government to treat its own people decently?

Having said all that, Blair’s Britain gladly saw itself become the principal political constituent and economic patron of the Ethiopian regime to the exclusion of Ethiopians themselves and the accepted norms of liberal democracy and capitalism of any stripe. Tony being ‘best friends forever’ with the likes of Meles while rewarding his best buddie's actually poverty generating policies and despotism with billions in aid from British taxpayers seem poor substitutes for long term British or Western interests in the proven rewards that free men and free markets can bring all.

What did Britain get for its unusual investment of money and prestige? Nothing at all it seems but memories of Commission for Africa meetings past when it all seemed like wishing really hard would make the world a better place for a change.

We usually give the British Foreign Ministry more credit for understanding the world. The theory or rather the illusion is that in some Whitehall basement office in central London that there are at least two bureaucrats, one old and one young, who have dedicated their careers to the subject of Ethiopia. As living repositories of centuries of accumulated wisdom they know the history and country, view it with an acute (actually chronic is the right word here) appreciation for reality and British interests in the LONG term. They then give advice accordingly and are listened to by politicians who left alone may have a hard time finding the Horn of Africa on a map.

It is clear that the foreign policy of every nation is based upon self interest. Nations that don’t obey that rule generally tend to stop existing or suffer pretty badly. Examples of this are the Nazi and Soviet attempts to take over the world driven by evil messianic ideologies or the smaller scale religious train wrecks of Cuban Revolutionary Democracy or Taliban era Afghanistan’s paradise on earth for export. What happens in cases like these is that a few lead many into stupid and always corrupt re-imaginings of creation that seem vibrant for a moment before they fall apart as the designed failures that they always were.

The most ridiculous statements that is most widely held as a standard of absurd wisdom in far too many circles is that “X did that for their own benefit and not for Y.” Get real - why else should they be doing it then? It seems to us that one of the most important developments in human thought and one of the main benefits of post-Enlightenment and post-Industrial Revolution ideas, reinforced by the bitter lessons of the bloody 20th century, has been that the benefits of peace and stability in every corner of the globe are good for everyone.

That provides some breathing room in human affairs for expression of mutual self interest outside of the great game where war is a continuation of politics by other means. Self interest in seeming altruism can sensibly co-exist at times as long as rationality is never purposefully avoided.

Yet and still, for most countries today and throughout most of history the world, have seen it all as one vast zero-sum game where what one player had was by definition what was taken from another. Thankfully, for the sake of humanity, the zero-sum game has proven wrong. Tragically, for Ethiopians, the very basis of their regime is based upon a zero sum world view that takes its core beliefs from the totalitarian examples noted above. It will by definition fail and take millions along with it if sustained.

Indeed the new Ethiopian experiment with a third way of government is actually just a variation of the familiar totalitarian way. It has been failing for over thirty years and just as much in the past fifteen since the newest incarnation of heaven on earth messianic ideology took over. We loathed the Mengistu regime but in fairness to that devil it should be said that excluding the Mengistu vs Meles battle and the duel to see who the real communist was, including billions in foreign aid and most importantly given better table manners at places like the G-8 summits - that there is almost nothing to distinguish Meles and Mengistu from each other.

Both are as the old term goes “red in tooth and claw” with the principle difference being a good deal more sophistication at pulling the wool over ferenji eyes on the part of Mengistu’s heirs. The only reason that Meles has a lower body count than Mengistu is that as yet, he hasn’t had to kill so many people - but it is always an option. All of the prerequisites of exactly what made Britain the democratic aid donor and Ethiopia the despotic aid getter are missing in Ethiopia. It is getting poorer every year and is the poorest nation on earth while it is one of the most corrupt and most poorly governed on the planet.

The party through government and a web of crony enterprises literally owns all the land and the great majority of economic activity. There is no rule of law or civilized standards of behavior, indeed, wearing suits and ties while sipping tea with pinkies extended before talking of Parliaments and Courts does not distinguish Ethiopia’s leaders from barbarian warlords trading on tribalism and blood. The invisible reign of terror among tens of rural millions and the occasionally visible one amongst urban millions is loud testimony to the poor service done Great Britain by Blair and Whitehall.

How was it ever imagined that supporting this regime would create something, anything good for anyone's interests? After all the reason that Meles needs Blair to begin with is that he has designed Ethiopia with an eye on staying in power from one day to the next regardless of the eventual or current human cost anywhere. One is tempted to assume that British policy is based on keeping Meles from ruin and taking the whole Horn of Africa with him but there are important signs that Britain, or at least Blair, actually believed in Meles.

Certainly for a New Labor child of the 1960’s like Blair, someone like Meles was a very appealing source for the ‘what if’ redemption of old student day debates and really sincere desires to ‘change the world.’ Imagine if you will, a real life revolutionary guerrilla leader who left university to fight AND who knows which fork to use at state dinner! The occasional banter about the old ways, sober appreciation of the new ones and the subtle hint of danger when slipping back and forth must have been an intoxicating combination for a reformed politician of the Left to experience vicariously.

Certainly, the political qualities that made for a meteoric rise in the extreme by even Machiavellian standards vanguard, tribal revolutionary front was adaptable to a laser like beam of charismatic charm for the benefit of ferenjis with cash in hand. Ethiopians, get burned by that same light regularly and receive in turn assurances that they really do love their Prime Minster more than anything - after all they are always told so, he has so many important ferenji friends and folks who don’t like him are bent on genocide and treason - by definition.

Politicians of the Right are far more straightforward about Meles and equally as disturbing from the point of view of Ethiopians. They expect nothing good from the Ethiopian regime but what can serve their interests in the short term with no sentimentality. The long term is for another administration to deal with when the current Ethiopian regime finishes demolishing the country - in the meantime Somalia and Sudan need to be taken care of. Bush never took Ethiopian democracy seriously because he always understood Meles far better as a totalitarian wolf in democratic sheep clothing.

By killing and putting down enough people, dictators can reach that curious place of international respectability where they are honored and respected as the representatives of the millions that they kill and oppress. Make no mistake - from Japan to Europe to North America - all of those nations who keep Ethiopia’s Revolutionary Democratic nightmare stumbling along know exactly what they are dealing with in the Ethiopian government but are confronted with what to do about it if anything.

Take the example we have heard of where Meles was pressed on the issue of democracy by the Japanese Ambassador and responded with some lame and arrogant line about how long Japan's Liberal Democratic Party had been in power. Like the Euorpeans the Japanese smile in such situations and contemptously hand out the cash lest the ill behaved dictator end up hurting Ethiopians even more. It does not matter that the comparison is ridiculous.

Ferenjis must treat the regime with respect - it is after all a government. They must feed it because it has seventy million hostages and might with absolute malice and purpose destabilize an entire region of Africa. The American approach may seem more cold-blooded but the only difference is the illusion of European sincerity on the subject of democracy. There is actually a curious division of labor - not quite good cop / bad cop - but just as dated.

If the US were the one clamoring for democracy, accountability and rule of law using aid as a means to those ends it is not only likely but guaranteed that the Europeans would out of habit and natural inclination be stridently supportive of Meles just to be on the other side of the issue than the US. Like European support of Saddam it is likely that Meles would be universally acknowledged as a hero of anti-American imperialism while taxpayers from Lisbon to Berlin would contribute more to the despot's private fortune.

Thus, American indifference has been expressed in the form of silence when American election monitors were expelled as agents of imperialism, responses to street massacres of blaming the opposition for provoking the government by expecting it to act like a democracy and of course halting the shipment of HUMVEES. This has strangely given Europeans an opportunity to have the sincere like Ana Gomes and the cynical like Hilary Benn take the respectively real and simulated high moral ground to the ultimate end of absolutely no difference in policy.

The Europeans have under the terms of the Cotonu Aid Agreements threatened or decided (it changes from day to day) to stop giving money to the government which is dependent on aid not just for making up for its failed policies to see people fed but even to pay for pencils in government offices. Britain which first stopped increases in aid in response to June massacres decided recently to cut all aid to Ethiopia but then backtracked and said aid would go through other levels of the government and NGOs which are either owned by the government or depend on it for existence.

See Meskel Square, 'When is an aid cut not an aid cut' for that bit of classic newspeak laid out clearly. Basically, the British threatened, the Ethiopian government called their bluff by oppressing and killing even more and the British government folded. This may be a pattern for the future since Britain has taken the lead on Ethiopian affairs in Europe. If only those pesky Ethiopian people could just shut up then it might all just go away. But they won't shut up and the government will always be a sinister piece of work.

All parties willingly placed sanctions against Zimbabwe today and would have applauded the sanctions against apartheid South Africa. However, all of a sudden the aid needs to go through for the sake of the poor who are made poor by the government that siphons off most of the aid to begin with and whose policies make them poor. Why did that logic not hold in Southern Africa for decades now but does somehow in Ethiopia. As we discussed in No More Appeasement there are far more benefits to the poor political and economic victims from accountability than the reverse.

Tony Benn and his government know this very well but are dealing with a despot in Meles who will play a game of chicken with the lives of Ethiopians that will easily see millions dead if he is not left alone to rule them as he wants. Ethiopian government is like a classic Mafia protection racket. Beyond that they wonder what actual harm he may do to the entire region by extending the instability that he rules by and that he cherishes to bring and encourage Western interest and support.

So what real difference is there between the British / European and American approaches? None really. Meles can always be counted on to be vicious in any situation with no consequences. That is a result of the absolute terror of knowing how widely and deeply the current revolutionary feudal aristocracy is reviled from Badme to Moyale and all points in between amongst every ethnic group, region and religion. Even religious holidays can’t get by without killings lest people get the idea in their heads that any sphere of life is theirs to decide on without interference.

Meles can always be counted on to keep killing. Violence is the language that the regime is most fluent in and a default setting of war interrupted by truces where the party still gets what it wants is its own version of reality. At some point there will be a break between the West and Meles Inc. It is a matter of the regime’s brutal and bloody nature and of the will of Ethiopians to resist with dignity and courage their continued subjugation using the language of peace and unity that the government can not speak and can only fear.

The total sum of British and European calls for Ethiopian democracy at this late date is that the opposition members, figures and civil society and journalists PERSONALLY KNOWN to EU diplomats are only suffering in prison and not dead. Thousands of others without their names on Embassy rolodexes are dead or dying or their days are numbered. Given time just like the slow killing of Professor Asrat the government will kill them all if it is allowed to do so by its European patrons.

British statements on aid cuts and its abject retreats are an expression of several facts - they are, if only with cash, a frustrated attempt to do something right by the Ethiopian people against a government that has to be begged and threatened to take care of its own people. As ever this is a problem for Ethiopians to fix. They have been through worse in the past, not much worse mind you, but they will win in the end.

In the meantime knowing that Britain is not Perfidious Albion nor a toothless lion with mute meows with which to remember roars long gone is important. Along with rational calls to British self interest outside of alliance with a regime that has already produced a failed state kept alive by aid alone the moral element of such an alliance must be made clear.

Remember that point. Ethiopia is not in danger of becoming a failed state - it already is. Only billions in aid prop up its regime determined planned pyramid of profound dysfuntion and Biblical suffering. There is no reason for it to be that way but that the government feels safer with a destitute and disenfranchised people taken care of by foreign constituents. A system that has managed to totally bypass Ethiopians.

Like relations with all nations there are permanent interests in common that dangerous short term calculations can damage. Britain helped Ethiopia against Italy and others at times but was actively harmful at other times for its own interests in Europe, locally and elsewhere. She then went on to help liberate Ethiopians liberate themselves and considered staying on indefinitely using the same tribal divide and rule that Meles Inc. so cherishes.

Britain reconsidered and recalculated and so must we all based on mutual self interest. The most apt example is actually further back in history. Britain outlawed slavery in the very early 19th century and sent the Royal Navy to enforce a ban on the Atlantic Slave Trade long before the rest of humanity on the whole planet ever even pretended to have a problem with slavery. This came about from their own economy being too advanced for slavery to be of use as well as a crucial and honest impulse of abolitionism.

The all powerful force represented by the union of free men and free markets will yet leave Ethiopia's permanent class of revolutionary feudal aristocrats in the dustbin of history. Sadly it didn't happen in the 20th century when civilized rationalism was born from the lessons of that century both bloody and full of hope.

But it will come and sooner than we believe.

As we have often said providence owes Ethiopians a break, their struggles for survival will not end and they will outlive Meles Inc. as they did millennia of other invasions and occupations. That their oppressors look like them is of no consequence - they are occupied and the chains in the hands of their government are tightening not because of the regime's strength but because of its manifest weakness.

The Ethiopian government kills and lies because it is terrified of Ethiopians. Ethiopians know better than to believe Mr. Benn who speaks for the now silent Mr. Blair on the subject of Tony's good friend Meles and the already failed state that he created. The British know better too. By doing what it does naturally to stay in power the Ethiopian regime will continue too illustrate the point and decide the ending of this whole ugly episode in history.


The following are must reads: we have mentioned Meskel Square above. Ethan Zuckerman has a 'A modest proposal for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi' In addition
  • Weichegud! ET Politics
  • Things We Should Have Written
  • Ethio Media
  • Ethiopian Review
  • Nazret News Portal
  • Dagmawi
  • Addis Ferengi
  • and other Ethio-links on the sidebar are worth following.

    Just a few great other blogs include
  • Booker Rising
  • Foreign Dispatches
  • Global Voices
  • Instapundit
  • Publius Pundit
  • and
  • Gateway Pundit
  • .

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