Friday, August 11

The World Is Yours VIII - Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Went into the store just to get a beer. Came out an accessory to murder and armed robbery. It's funny like that in the hood sometimes. You never knew what was gonna happen, or when.

Caine, the accessory to murder in Menace II Society, gets all philosophical and blames fate - bet he kept his share of the loot though.


Picture the setting: Ethiopia is considered one of the most corrupt countries on the planet according to Transparency International, the ruling party actually owns a business empire that dominates the economy at every level, it is a dictatorship where the party absolutely controls government and jealous government monopolies at every level, the same government owns all of the land in the country while the tiny nepotistic gang / fellow traveler cronies at the top control a brutal machine of coercion and violence that pretends to regulate itself while siphoning off billions of Euros and Dollars in foreign aid.

Yet and still - corruption is occasionally 'discovered' and becomes everyone else's fault but that of those closest to the Prime Minister. For example, in Billions of birr [hundreds of millions of dollars] missing from the Ethiopian budget, Ethiopian Review quotes this from
ADDIS FORTUNE reported last week that the Auditor General of Ethiopia, Lemma Argaw, presented a report to the Parliament exposing that 4.8 billion birr that were allocated by the federal government to regional administrations could not be accounted for. Ato Lemma received a tongue-lashing from Meles Zenawi who accused the Auditor General of interfering in the internal affairs of regional governments.

Here is an excerpt of a report by ADDIS FORTUNE: "Alas, the Prime Minister did not mince his words when he told a dumbfounded, although subdued House, that regional administrations had the authority that could go as far as burning the money they received as subsidies from the federal government, if there was to be an article in their constitution allowing for that to happen."
Yeah, right - we are sure it was an impressive performance. To begin with of all the billions in cash are probably not really missing as far as Ethiopia's Revolutionary Feudal Aristocracy is concerned ... the money is right where it belongs - in their very own pockets, or in the hands of foreign arms dealers, lobbyists and agents.

One must also wonder how the news about missing billions got out to begin with from the utterly non-transparent and frankly crooked confines of Meles Inc. It is certainly just a fraction of the total stolen and sent abroad as this other Ethiopian Review link shows, Cash exodus from Ethiopia to Europe increased by 103%: Third World cash exodus 'points to laundering' (via The Independent). So ... why admit anything bad is going on?

Is it all a pre-emptive 'leak' to make a show of honesty or it could be a prelude to a purge of whoever is about to be blamed for the government's standard operating procedure of corruption. Or ... since the World Bank and London are sending other billions in real money directly to regional tribal bantustans - calling those creatures of the center corrupt, could facilitate the ease of aid cash to the supposedly relatively 'honest' center.

Or, by asserting the independence of the bantustans, donors are being assured of their independence from the corrupt center - the donors don't believe any of this dog and pony show but every little bit of cover helps when you are financing a dictatorship.

Seriously readers, the term 'byzantine' as a description of complex plans is inadequate in present day Ethiopia. A neoligism such as 'melesian' is needed to describe the Gibee's arcane & bloody schemes that operate an order of magnitude beyond what humanity has heretofore experienced in terms of deceit and manipulation.

The simple truth of it all is that the players in Meles Inc. make the game up as they go along and the only consistent rule is that Meles always rules and those closest to him always get richer. No aristocracy in Ethiopian history has ever concentrated so much wealth in so few hands.

One point to remember always is the essentially corrupt worldview of tribal divide and rule cherished by the government. The TPLF and Meles Inc. serve the interests of the Tigrayan people just about as much as the EPRDF serves the interests of all Ethiopians. Keep in mind that despite the insidious efforts of the Politburo to associate its activities with the good name of Tigrayans it is clear that a very few permanent professional feudal revolutionaries rule for their own benefit - NOT that of Tigrayans in general. More on this in the post In Whose Name?.

With the kind permission of the author, we are serializing some selections from this remarkable article “The Great Purge and Ideological Paradox in Contemporary Ethiopian Politics” by Professor Paulos Milkias (copyright 2001). The author examines in detail the history of contemporary Ethiopia and of her ruling party. This is part of a section concerned with the use of corruption charges as a political weapon.


Crusade Against Corruption

It is in the decay of “Bonapartism” that Mr. Meles finds a niche for his opponents. The Tewolde-Siye group, he alleged, wanted to enthrone their own “Rotten Bonapartism” with its rampant corruption. As he did in 1996, when he ousted former Prime Minister, Tamrat Layne, Mr. Meles embarked on an anti-corruption crusade of a very selective nature against the dissidents of the TPLF, and their close relatives. By the beginning of June, 2001, some 25 persons were fenced in.

The Prime Minister started his corruption clean up with his major rival, former defence minister, Siye Abraha who is one of the leaders of the TPLF dissidents opposed to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Siye, who was previously expelled from the Politburo and the Central Committee, has. been dismissed as EFFORT Chairperson and replaced by Meles’ loyalist Arkebe Ouqubye. Furthermore, Siye no longer heads the Ethiopian Airlines. His immediate family whom the Prime Minister put in jail were all accused of financial embezzlement. They include Siye himself as well as his siblings - Assefa, Feseha and Mehreteab. Mehreteab and Feseha were shareholders in the Mefam Company. Asefa was previously given the lucrative position of the Privatisation Agency with the rank of Minister where kickbacks are not only common but are transferred in huge sums.

Trusted friends carried out transactions among themselves with the prices artificially fixed and rolled down from their market value. One case involved the sale of the oldest Royal Hotel in Addis Ababa, the Itege Hotel worth perhaps 20 million birr being sold at a puny price of less than 4 million birr. Siye’s elder brother, Asmelash who is a retired soldier and his sister Temnet who owns a company that imports medical products were accused of involvement in the illegal transactions carried out by their brother.

That Meles was very serious in getting his rivals was known when his officials started to probe into their foreign bank accounts. One reliable analyst of the region reports:

The Ethiopian authorities discretely approached a couple of Western embassies in Addis Ababa to try to find the trace of foreign bank accounts that party dissidents might be sheltering abroad. Naturally, the primary suspects are the leaders of the dissidents, starting with former defence minister Siye Abraha, and closely followed by the prime minister’s former adviser, Alemseged Gebreamlak, and thereafter, by Siye Abraha’s brothers who run businesses in a number of different sectors (transportation, drink distribution) in the North of the country.... Evidence of fraud is also being collected on military equipment contracts involving Siye Abraha, Assefa Abraha, and Fitur Zeab, who [has since] defected to Canada, as well as generals and officers of the air force.

That Meles uses corruption to get his rivals but turns a blind eye to those transgressions involving his friends and relatives became clear when warnings involving massive corruption around him were simply ignored. A report regarding this incident states:
A few months ago, an official of the Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS) unearthed a huge traffic of non-payment of taxes and informed the Ethiopian authorities thereof, but the local official of the Geneva-based company got the impression that nothing came thereof, unless it was the feeling of having mixed into affairs that was none of its business.
Other people who were alleged accomplices of the officials who were accused of corruption and were also incarcerated include - Bitew Belay, former commissioner of regional affairs in the prime minister's office, several high-level management of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and various managers of companies including the Star Business Group, which is an importer of sugar and salt, and an exporter of coffee to the United States whose general manager Worku Merga was accused of benefiting from a near-total monopoly on the importation of sugar to Ethiopia. The SBG is alleged to have profited from predisposed advantages engineered by officials of the regime who have been put behind bars.

The corruption charge did not stop with government officials and their connections in the private and semi-private sector. It extended to the military where there was challenge to Mr. Meles’ power. In November; 2000, as part of the reform of the civil service, a central body was set up to coordinate anti-corruption activity. Subsequently, in January 2001, charges were laid against Air Force officers and senior police functionaries in Addis Ababa, four of whom were charged with corruption

Then Meles Zenawi took the high horse to the military that he initially instructed should be outside politics. On March 27, 2001, he met high-ranking military officers [ officers holding the rank of colonel and above, ] in Addis Ababa under the chairmanship of General Tadesse Gawa, head of the army’s Educational Administration Department and explained to them that the positions of the 12 dissidents ousted from the central committee of the TPLF had been condemned and that any member of the military who espoused or supported the dissident's point of view would be immediately expelled from the army.

Some, including the Army Chief of Staff General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay were not happy that politics was being planted in the army ranks. So the fist casualty in the military was none other than Tsadkan himself. He was soon arrested on suspicion of attempting to stage a coup to overthrow the Prime Minister. Tsadkan was not alone in being detained.

As a first precaution, Meles made sure that members of the military should not join political parties so as to keep their neutrality in cases of crises in the government. He had also passed an order as soon as the crisis emerged into the open that the army should never take action until it receives orders directly from the Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, which happens to be himself. General Tsadkan took that at face value and showed disappointment when the Prime Minister came to the military to gain support for his side. Meles considered this insubordination. So, General Tsadkan was put under house arrest. Later it was reported that he was apprehended in connection with an abortive coup d’état. He was then charged with getting involved in an unauthorized export of coffee as well as trading in sugar that involved conflict of interest, since he was the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation. Meles’ people accuse him of illegally selling sugar to the Star Business Group (SBG) and businesswoman Yeshareg Zewde, proprietor of the Geta Trading firm.

Yeshareg was in addition said to have enriched herself during Ethiopia's war with Eritrea by handling oil transportation for the Ethiopian military forces. She has also been charged for having bought a government flourmill for 41 million birrs, a price reckoned far below its market value. She has since been charged and put under arrest. The police have now closed the offices of SBG and Geta. General Tsadkan’s younger brother, Abraham Gebre Tensay, and his half brother Tezera Gesese were also accused of having been involved in the importation of trucks that skirted the scrutiny of the taxation office. General Tsadkan’s wife has been tied to the Star business Group. All [except Tsadkan’s wife who is related to Meles’ ally, Sebhat Nega] were put behind bars.

Mr. Meles’ vehement opponent in the SEPDF movement and a supporter of the Tewolde-Siye faction, Abate Kisho, and several other directors of his regional administration have also been arrested on corruption charges. Bitew Belay. SBG’s general manager, Worku Nega, a big share holder in the Bank of Abyssinia have all been thrown into prison for alleged embezzlement of US$10 million. It is interesting that, SBG was previously cited by a report of the commerce department of the United States embassy in Addis Ababa as an exemplary new Ethiopian private enterprise. Also included among companies accused of corruption whose chief managers have been apprehended is Mesfin Company.

Meles does not stop accusing his opponents of corruption even if the proof is dubious. For example, as soon as he was at loggerheads with the President of the Republic, the government media accused Dr. Negasso Gidada of refusing to discuss questions of corruption. However, he had actually stated when he was confronting Meles in the EPRDF:
If there is a suspicion of corruption in the EPRDF ranks, let the property of everyone of us .... be accounted for in banks, in our homes, and among our families by neutral persons. And let not officials escape the scrutiny taking parliamentary immunity.
The independent press [a shadow of this independence no longer exists] has pointed out the proliferation of corruption not long after the TPLF came to power. Nevertheless, the warning was never heeded. The Prime Minister however, took the matter up only when he had to face his opponents on March 23, 2001. On this occasion, the Prime Minister publicly castigated the Tewolde-Siye group of refusing to recognize that "the absence of democracy and the existence of corruption" are jeopardizing the position of the political system and the TPLF itself.

Even though Mr. Meles presents the problem only in relation to his rivals in the EPRDF, he cannot escape the fact that some of his trusted friends and members of his family are also suspects. Indeed, this is a matter bout which no group, whether the expelled one or the remaining leadership can successfully claim to be clean.

The Meles camp has treated corruption as one in which a person illegally enriches himself or nepotism, or using one's power to harm others. What that means is that it is not simply personal. It can also be organizational. The Prime Minister may have his proofs against the Tewolde -Siye faction but the vexing question is, can the governing Politburo and Central Committee prove that they are innocent of the accusations against their own group’s financial malpractices? In actual fact, the independent press has for long pointed a finger at some of Mr. Meles’ government supporters that hold high profile positions that they are prone to nepotism. Among those mentioned often are Dawit Zewde, Genet Zewde and Duri Mohamed.

Meles may also find some of his own family members implicated in monetary scandals. including fraudulent practices such as tax evasion and the resale on the local market of products earmarked for export. There have been reported cases of huge non-payment of taxes that have been recorded abroad and informed to the Ethiopian authorities; but the matter was dismissed as a non-issue. This comes as no surprise because some of the individuals involved are suspected to be members of the prime minister's inner circle.

Those targeted in this connection include the PM's brother, Nikodimos Zenawi, who, in 1991, was just an ordinary employee earning 460 birr a month, but is now considered to be one of the richest men in the capital. The supporters of the dissidents claim that Meles' wife, Azeb [Lemlem] Gola, who was former head of the Mega Net firm, benefited from untaxed imports and currently exchange violations. Foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin's 23-year-old son, Benyam Mesfin, who owns a fleet of Swedish made Scania brand trucks they also charge, has amassed millions of dollars in the last few years and should be part of those to be investigated.

But wielding his whipping instrument, the allegation of corruption, Mr. Meles was determined not to let his rivals off the hook. When the courts released Siye and the other individuals who were sent to jail on bail, he used the Parliament to block the action. The EPRDF dominated Ethiopian House of representatives was presented with a bill that retroactively prevented freeing the dissidents imprisoned on corruption charges. The bill was adopted almost unanimously by the 348 MP’s present only four of whom abstained. Siye who was released on bail was again locked up. The Prime Minister has also made parliament pass a proclamation dealing with Ethics and Anti-Corruption that would be run by his office and makes the matter an executive not a legislative matter. Mr. Meles is therefore an autocrat who uses Stalinist instruments only to purge his opponents.


The Prime Minister on economics:
"Unlike in [Western Style] Liberal Democracy, in [Ethiopia’s] “Revolutionary Democracy,” there is no economic area that is outside its preserve. Only available capital and procurable management can limit its investment capacity.
This will be another long series from numerous sources detailing the essentially corrupt system that Ethiopians suffer under. A system that simultaneously wastes billions in aid dollars and euros while impoverishing millions:

The World Is Yours I
The World Is Yours II - The Syndicate
The World Is Yours III - The Commission
The World Is Yours IV - "An Offer They Can't Refuse"
The World Is Yours V - Capo di tutti Capi
The World Is Yours VI - Our Thing
The World Is Yours VII - Wise Guys
The World Is Yours VIII - Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game
The World is Yours IX -

You get the idea.

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