Monday, July 3

The House Does the Right Thing

U.S. Representatives Donald Payne (D) & Chris Smith (R) - both represent New Jersey, the finest state in the Union.


It only seems like a century ago that we wrote about H.R. 5321, the "Free and Fair Elections in Ethiopia Act of 2004" that simply disappeared into the prevailing political winds. Now the House of Representatives is back in full and surprising effect with the "Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006" H. R. 5680.

We are rather pleasantly stunned (but not speechless) that Ethiopia showed up on the bipartisan radar screen (the very best place) of American government recognized as something far beyond the usual assumptions. It seems that to Washington, Ethiopia may not be an already failed hopeless place from which no good is expected. It also may not be a problem for the next Congress and Administration to deal with when Ethiopia's own government finally was done eating out its core.

Ethiopians have been given a great deal of respect and consideration by the progress of this bill to date. Ethiopians apparently have the same rights and duties as the rest of the human family beyond wretched aid finaced subsistence and aid financed dictatorship. That is a big change - if there is a follow through that is not by any means likely or assured in any way.

Despite the fact that the regime in Addis used millions stolen from Ethiopians or diverted from US taxpayers in lawyer and lobbyist fees in the US, spilled hidden oceans of blood to silence dissent in Ethiopia, expanded years of effort to silence diaspora critics abroad with an illegal espionage network directed by diplomats ... and above all despite holding the Horn of Africa hostage to its vicious whims - the government failed to stop the US House from doing the right thing for American and Ethiopian interests.

Why don't we take a walk through a few of the bill's most noteworthy statements. To those familiar with Ethiopian affairs nothing below is in the least bit surprising, indeed it is a generally mild critique but a big deal by virtue of its existence to
The 1995 and 2000 elections were largely boycotted and judged to be neither free nor fair.
Despite apparent improvement in the electoral process, preliminary election results announced by the Government of Ethiopia shortly after the May 15, 2005, elections were seen by observers as questionable.
Human rights conditions deteriorated significantly after the May 15, 2005, elections in Ethiopia and overall human rights conditions in the country remain poor. The Department of State, in its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, noted a myriad of human rights abuses by the Government of Ethiopia.
Tens of thousands of people suspected of being opposition supporters were detained over the past months, although many of these detainees were released. Nonetheless, government security forces continue to abuse opposition leaders, supporters, and family members.
[Opposition members and human rights leaders] were imprisoned and charged with treason and genocide. These measures were deliberately taken to stifle and criminalize opposition party activity in the country. The measures also were intended to intimidate and silence independent press and civil society, raising serious question about the Ethiopian Government's commitment to democracy and good governance.
The Representatives are just getting started up to here. The words above are in an unusually strong tongue for government, one that is usually reserved for the TPLF's sister dictatorships worldwide who all equally deserve them.

The real question becomes what should be done by the world's most powerful, richest and frankly most moral, country to right the wrongs defined above - or more accurately and crucially, how to help Ethiopians right those wrongs themselves.

The US President clearly expressed his own nation's spirit when he said in an echo of so many American leaders before him that
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.
On another occasion he added
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.
That plan seemed to have left out some 70 million folks we happen to have a particular concern for but things may be changing. So back to the bill ... There are to be restrictions in security aid but not with
with respect to peacekeeping or counter-terrorism assistance. Peacekeeping or counter-terrorism assistance provided to Ethiopia shall not be used for any other security-related purpose or to provide training to security personnel or units accused of human rights violations against civilians.
This is the real meat of the matter. The issue was never that successive US administrations thought well of the TPLF in any way (except for those momentary and giddy 'African Rennaisance' hopes) but that they expected so little decent behavior from Meles Inc. that they thought pressing for decency was simply a losing game.

Given very legitimate American interests it was decided to leave well, or as the case was perceived, bad enough alone. This is what Human Rights Watch had to say in years past about US efforts to make the Ethiopian government treat its own citizens decently
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.
HRW quotes a 'senior State Department official who says 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.
Having written all of the hopeful nice sounding words and having thought the fancy ideas here we realize that the House may have done the right thing but it is far from certain and maybe unlikely that the Senate will let this become policy.

Right now Southern Somalia is almost in the hands of a group that seems rather proto-Talibanish to say the least. The US doesn't want to send Marines to do something about it and Meles is eager to act as a proxy to deal with a common enemy.

It is unlikely that Washington could have ever done anything about events in Somalia but containing the danger there is seen as necessary. You had better believe when this bill hits the Senate that CENTCOM, Foggy Bottom, Langley and the White House will go to great lengths to remind the 'sober' Senators that the exuberant, though well meaning, House really doesn't get the great game of international politics at all.

That pitch, delivered quietly in offices, restaurants and even gyms to aides and Senators alike (don't expect the American media to even notice) will go a little something like this:

Initially: "Of course Senator XYZ we are very serious about the interests our country has in human rights and democracy but [insert frown here] we are concerned that this may not be the right time to proceed with the House bill in its current form."

Any astute questions on that front will be met with this bit of disarming comradely candor: "Of course Senator XYZ, our aid is mainly paying protection money for our interests to a thug - but the guy at least stays bought some of the time - and what's the problem with a few billion dollars being lost if it keeps the lid on in a complicated region like that."

With any more legislative doubts will come this rejoinder - delivered with a deep sincerity and knowing intensity: "A great woman / man like you who rose to selflessly serve their country and the great Americans of the great State of ABC surely understand that our hands are full right now and that we need to be realistic here about our hopes."

Only in the most intimate settings this will be heard: "Look here Senator XYZ, it is not like Ethiopia can ever do any better. Frankly, we're lucky those people aren't eating each other over there so let's leave things alone - the regime is likely to do just about anything if we pressure them anyway."

Finally, with a jovial smile and a handshake on the way out it will be time to quote FDR: "Sure the guy is an S.O.B. but he's our S.O.B."

Will the good women and men of the Senate even pay attention not to mention step up to the proverbial plate to do the right thing?

That remains to be seen - but we are genuinely hopeful that within the Senate, CENTCOM, Foggy Bottom, Langley and the White House - that America's interests can ultimately be served with imagination and recognition of what America is by folks in place right now.

The House may have realized the value of core American values and the interests and policies that they mandate are not in silence and just getting along with dictators but in the right here and now it is hard for too many politicians to see past tomorrow when Meles Inc. will bring down the Horn like a demented Samson.

Imagine for a moment that Washington knew the Ethiopian government was playing both sides in Somalia just for the sake of making its current incarnation seem indespensible to the US. The timing of Somali events is just too convenient to the Gibee. Given a policy of dealing with only today and leaving problems for future Administrations, the US may just go along.

After all, no one in Washington has any illusions about the TPLF. That non-Tigrayan, non-Popular, non-Liberating Front is the diametric opposite of every defining element of American across the political spectrum.

Rather, those defining elements of America are in doing the right thing worldwide for, as corny as it may sound at times, freedom. It has long been one of our core beliefs that the most fundamental interests of billions across the globe are not coincidentally in tune with American interests but rather that they are naturally shared.

For example, looking back at our collective historical memory we shudder at the the thought of what would have happened if the rebels had lost after 1776, if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, if Germany had won after 1917 and together with Japan during World War II or if the Soviet Union had prevailed during the Cold War.

It seems to us that this bill begins to show that the American government is remembering who Americans are as much as noting that Ethiopians are around too. Alright then, again back to the bill in question. It proposes that
the President shall deny a visa and entry into the United States to ... any official of the Government of Ethiopia who ... has been involved in giving orders to use lethal force against peaceful demonstrators in Ethiopia; or has been accused of gross human rights violations; [and] security personnel of the Government of Ethiopia who were involved in the June or November 2005 shootings of demonstrators
If applied this would mean that very very few members of Ethiopia's hydra headed greedy and brutal aristocracy aka Meles Inc. / ruling party / government would ever have a chance of seeing Disneyland in addition to not having any state visits - or for that matter, visiting their bank accounts or properties in the US.

That is one big missing piece from this bill, financial sanctions against the regime whose policies make it akin to a network of organized crime. A few people profit from and command the economy at every level from its international hard currency heights to its peasant farmer crops.

They own all the land, trade, control government monopolies, party and crony businesses while regulating the same. The whole rotten business is inseperable from the government's brutality so this should have been addressed in the bill.

Finally the bill asks that the President certify to Congress that
the Government of Ethiopia is making credible, quantifiable efforts to ensure that--

(A) all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia have been released, their civil and political rights restored, and their property returned;

(B) prisoners held without charge or kept in detention without fair trial in violation of the Constitution of Ethiopia are released or receive a fair and speedy trial, and prisoners whose charges have been dismissed or acquitted and are still being held are released without delay;

(C) the Ethiopian judiciary is able to function independently and allowed to uphold the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights standards;

(D) the investigation of the killing of civilian protesters by Ethiopian security forces is credible, transparent, and those involved in the unlawful killing are punished;

(E) family members, legal counsel, and others have unfettered access to visit detainees in Ethiopian prisons;

(F) print and broadcast media in Ethiopia are able to operate free from undue interference and laws restricting media freedom, including sections of the Ethiopian Federal Criminal Code, are revised;

(G) licensing of independent radio and television in Ethiopia is open and transparent;

(H) access in Ethiopia is provided to the Internet and the ability of citizens to freely send and receive electronic mail and otherwise obtain information is guaranteed;

(I) the National Election Board (NEB) includes representatives of political parties with seats in the Ethiopian Parliament and guarantees independence for the NEB in its decision-making;

(J) representatives of international human rights organizations engaged in human rights monitoring work in Ethiopia are admitted to Ethiopia without undue restriction; and

(K) Ethiopian human rights organizations are able to operate in an environment free of harassment, intimidation, and persecution.
If Meles Inc. does all of the above or even a fraction of it - the democratic space opened up will free 70 million captives who will necessarily depose the regime. There is simply no other option - if it all comes true. But of course it won't happen that simply.

From what we have seen Meles and his politburo will hang on until the last dead Ethiopian or the last Birr - so unless this is just a first step little will change. Yet it still matters.

The bill also brings up for future consideration other fundamental aspects of Ethiopian government, or rather misgovernment, showing that the Representatives know quite well what Meles Inc. is up to in so many ways
the President shall assist the Government of Ethiopia in developing policies that will address key economic obstacles, including in such areas as budgeting, taxation, debt management, bank supervision, anti-money laundering, and land title security that inhibit private sector development and limit participation in donor programs such as the United States Millennium Challenge Account.
It seems that the sincerely corrupt plan of Ethiopian government to stifle economic growth in favor of keeping all of the money and power while begging for subsistence aid and lying about free markets is no secret.

One fascinating part of the bill is laid out below - apparently not everyone shares ethiopundit's view of ethnic politics
encourage the Government of Ethiopia to enter into discussions with the Oromo Liberation Front to bring them into full participation in the political and economic affairs of Ethiopia, including their legalization as a political party
We really hope that our judgement of the OLF is wrong.

The simple words of a powerful democracy can have great results even if they don't make it all the way through to law. Refuseniks, dissidents, political prisoners as well as the masses of suffering peasants and workers throughout the Soviet Empire heard the words of America in decades past.

Those words emboldened them and gave them the hope to change their own lives. Unlike the war that destroyed National Socialism, the one that eventually brought down International Socialism and the vast prison camp of totalitarian states that defined it was the simple chance that American resistance gave simple people.

Now back to the worm in the apple. The provisions above may be waived if the Ethiopian government does the right thing (don't wait up all night for that one) or if
such a waiver is in the national interests of the United States
To state the obvious the US is a sovereign state responsible to the interests of its own citizens above all. Like we said we think those interests match those of Ethiopians rather neatly but this bit is just the way of the world and as it should be.

It is most important that the US not let its interests be defined by a regime that would sponsor instability at home and abroad to rule and find American favor. Determinations of interest made after passage of such a bill would occur in a more healthy environment than now obtains.

One thing the House has realized that other parts of the US government may forget is that however bloody regimes such as Meles Inc. are that they are also fundamentally weak beyond measure. The Ethiopian government is not stealing and killing because it is strong but because it is terrified of the human consequences of its own rule.

Like true psycopaths only their personal existence matters to them and other humans are simply animate objects. When such governments fall after they have done their will they often take whole countries with them.

It is in America's interests to deal with Ethiopian now. Ethiopians need all the help that they can get and it appears that some maybe on the way. All they have ever asked for is a little help to do for themselves what their government won't let them do.


A wonderful analysis of the bill and its progress can be found on this link from Ethiomedia, A comparative analysis of two substitute amendments on HR 4423. It is by Al Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.(Esq.)


We have known, for years (along with so many others) and have often written about one inescable fact whose appreciation is an idea whose time has come.

Beyond how brutally it treated Ethiopians at home, that the Ethiopian government has been using its diplomatic missions to quite openly run networks of agents, illegal by every diplomatic convention and by American law, with the purpose of intimidating and controlling American citizens and residents.

Those American citizens and residents have rights and America has sovereignity at home that is essential to its most basic values, dignity and identity. They are not subject to calculations of expediency. That subject for future Congressional hearings is now present like a rogue pink elephant in someone's living room and can't be accepted.

After all, in America, it is still America ... right?

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