Monday, October 30

The Great Intellectual Dictator

The Great Dictator is a 1940 Charlie Chaplin film and his first 'talkie'. In it, Chaplin both satirizes 1930s Totalitarianism and points out its essentially evil nature. In one extended sequence, the great dictator dances with a globe just as such men actually controlled the fates of millions. Mankind in general is blessed to be out of the reach of Ethiopia's dictatorship and Ethiopians and others on the Horn of Africa are cursed that Meles is playing with their lives in the same way today.

One of the principal targets for Chaplin's mockery is the dictator's cult of personality. Kruschev in his 1956 'secret speech' denouncing Stalinism had the following to say about such cults:
Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person. . . . One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin's self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948.

This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, "the greatest leader," "sublime strategist of all times and nations." Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.

We need not give here examples of the loathsome adulation filling this book. All we need to add is that they all were approved and edited by Stalin personally and some of them were added in his own handwriting to the draft text of the book.
The traditional version of such cults is familiar to us all in man's history, both good and bad, of god-kings. However, almost every monarch was positively benign when compared to modern times and the absolute rule of aggressive, intrusive and omnipresent dictatorship familiar to all victims and observers of fascism of the left and communism of the right.

The most famous cult of personality is probably that of Big Brother in 1984 but the Kim dynasty in North Korea, Mussolini in Italy, Mao in China, Castro in Cuba, Hitler in Germany and Mengistu in Ethiopia were subjects of such official religious devotion to their perfection. Ethiopia's current ruler, Meles Zenawi, appears to have no cult built up around him.

Every business and home (although he probably owns the business or owns the owner in question and by definition owns the land under the home in question) does not display his picture, ceremonial duties of state are carried out by a President who at least symbolically outranks the PM and he is even when seen as a dictator supposedly beholden to a politburo or the 'elders' of his tribal revolutionary party.

That all goes to show how sophisticated a cult of personality can be or how easily one can escape the eyes of those who don't look to closely - or don't want to. The contest between Mengistu and Meles / between Scientific Socialism and Revolutionary Democracy / between uneducated military Dictatorship of the Proletariat and student tribal Democratic Centralism was ultimately a struggle played out between two remarkably like-minded men for posession of Ethiopia.

We have likened Mengistu's rule to Zemene Awre - The Era of the Beast. This was the apt title for the Dergue’s reign given by an Eritrean poet whose name we have forgotten but whose words accurately describe seventeen years of brutality and destruction. We have also called the reign of Meles, Zemene Ashattir - The Era of the Trickster.

Both believed in tribal apartheid, both insisted on the essential illegitimacy of Ethiopia, both were against the concepts of private property and market economics, both held fake elections and had fake assemblies of the people, both controlled inseperable parties and governments, both did not hesitate to kill or intimidate exactly as many people as they needed to so that they could rule indefinitely in the name of 'the people'.

While evil (and what is dictatorship besides evil?) does come in the obvious form of the bloody beast, it is the more pleasing form of the trickster that seduces , corrupts and destroys with greater efficiency. Lies, secrecy, vicious reactions to criticism, eternal intrigue, manipulation, suspicion and an utter lack of transparency are vital elements of government today. Years ago the BBC made the following observation
Observers used to joke that when the TPLF captured towns from Mengistu's Marxist regime, they would take down the ubiquitous portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin in government offices, and replace them with even larger ones.
Mengistu ruled during a time when the USSR under Brezhnev was quite willing to supply all he needed to kill the requisite number of Ethiopians to stay in power. Meles came around to late for that unquestioning type of support. Almost from the beginning Meles had to deal with creating an illusion of popular and democratic credentials to stay ahead in the contest.

By the time Meles took over in 1991 there was no choice but to rule with images of Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith replacing images of Marx and Lenin. The internal contradictions of the larger revolutionary democratic world had seen it relegated to the dustbin of history so an accomodation had to be made to the victorious imperialist forces.

After all, somebody had to pay for Revolutionary Democracy, which was guaranteed to bring poverty and suffering in its wake. Pyonyang and Havana have found nuclear blackmail and sexual tourism to be reliable sources of finance so they don't have to play the same games to please aid donors.

Thus was born the Melesian cult of personality. The Melesian Cult is above all steeped in lies and blood. In the post On the Origins of the TPLF we took a look at the 1970s origins of the popular movement that Meles Inc. took over.

Until every traditional and ideological rival had been dealt with besides the Dergue, the nascent TPLF vigorously pretended not to be Communist. One reason was that Tigray has always been the Ethiopian setting of the strongest rights of personal property and also of Ethiopian patriotism.

When Tigrayans no longer had a choice, Meles Inc. showed its true face and the first pillar of its rule. Donald Levine notes that
This ethno-Marxist sentiment drove the most ambitious elements of the TPLF movement. It led those who took political control of the TPLF to turn against Tigrayan political elements who did not support Eritrean independence. Before long that led, evidence suggests, to a policy of liquidating those elements.

Tigray became, survivors of those horrific years aver, a "killing field." According to many reports, which must be investigated further by future historians, Tigrayan civilians were slaughtered right and left–in many cases following gruesome torture, according to eye witnesses.


Coupled with the new dogmatic abstraction about Ethiopia as an invention of Minilek, it became a heady brew that induced the committed TPLF ethno-Marxists to murder great numbers of civilians and to perpetrate slanders against Amharas and Ethiopian patriots.

One veteran of those killings confesses that when he told another, early in the fighting "the number of people we have killed thus far has reached 10,000," his comrade replied: "So what, Red China had to kill a million people in order to become victorious." Attitudes of that sort, be it noted, were shared by other Ethiopian revolutionaries of the time.
Here appeared the second pillar of Meles Inc. ideology, along with Marxisit-Leninism there was to be necessary dedication to Eritrean independence. In addition to being the opportunistic heirs of Stalin and Mao which naturally dictated a search for fractures such as class divisions to weaken their target, they also needed to search out regional and tribal divisions and similiarly make them worse to guarantee victory at all costs.

Later, even Stalin and Mao were not enough so the third pillar of Meles Inc. ideology was put in place. In response to comptetition, a need for absolutism developed within a struggle already betrayed by Moscow and ignored by Beijing so Meles declared absolute devotion to the teachings and examples of Enver Hoxha. We discussed this in the post Original Gangsta and concluded that the purpose was entirely internal.

First to set the lowest expectations possible for the TPLF and second to announce that any price in Tigrayan blood would be paid for Meles Inc. rule. The meaning of 'La Lutta Continua' after he was criticized for holding a fake election is simply an extension of the willingness to kill from Tigrayans alone to all Ethiopians in general.

As the rival Communist Mengistu collapsed, Meles realized that the ghost of Enver Hoxha would not pay the bills for his own brand of impoverishing government so he became a born again liberal democrat and capitalist.

Every step on the way from when his agents made their bones terrorizing Tigrayan peasants into submission all the way to walking the guilded halls of palaces where legitimate Presidents and Prime Ministers rule - the most consistent and notable part of Meles rule has been an amazing tactical ability to be exactly what the moment demanded for absolute power and absolute justification of every action.

By definition, "a cult of personality is a political institution in which a country's leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise".

Unlike the cults of personality of his more unsophisticated totalitarian ideological ancestors, Meles has let whatever the idea of the moment is - speak for him while he can shed them all in turn like a snake sheds its skin. All the while assured that attacks on the actual origin of every nonsensical new paradigm and borrowed idea are dealt with without mercy and that like crumbs thrown to birds, a flurry of words will keep those who can't be killed in awe while they try to understand it all.

Why don't we take a look at a partial list of the serial intellectual fronts and justifications for Meles to rule Ethiopia indefinitely. All used with consummate opportunism:

1- Tribalism (from Lenin and every other radical of the day)
2- The EPLF Agenda (from Issias Afeworki)
3- Albanian Communism (from Enver Hoxha)
4- Revolutionary Democracy (from Mao and Lenin)
5- Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (from Stalin, Mao and Nyerere)
6- Internet Led Industrialization (from Bono)
7- Renaissance African Leadership (from Clinton)
8- Super Liberal Democrat (from Blair)
9- Mr. Good Governance (Blair again)
10- Mr. Millenium Development Goals (from Sachs)
11- 'New and Improved' Development Economics (from Stiglitz)
12- The War on Terror (from Bush)

Aside from playing TPLF factions against each other, deciding who to kill or crush and scheduling purges we wonder if Meles has ever had an original thought. For the sources of inspiration that were alive at the time they were used, each providedcover for the Melesian Cult in turn very willingly while the horrible nature of their practical / intellectual partner was clear before the world.

And ... in turn, Meles has turned on each source of inspiration just as viciously as the moment required for his interests of eternal rule. One by one he will make it through the whole list betraying each in turn until he takes his golden parachute to land on billions stashed away in Western property and banks.

What will be left for Ethiopians to deal with is tragic to contemplate. Betrayal of Ethiopia's interests should simply be assumed. We are not talking about a great deal of sentimentality here.

What do you expect to come out of a vanguard tribalist revolutionary party and business empire that feeds off of the blood, sweat and tears of a nation? As far as his Terror Warrior credentials go, Meles is faking terrorist threats towards Ethiopia coming out of Somalia and he practically begged for a jihad to be declared against Ethiopia by invading Somalia to begin with.

Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, Al Quaeda and a whole host of assorted murderous miscreants actually caused harm to their own societies and foreign targets before they were targeted. Somalia's Islamists may be no different but it seems more likely that Meles invaded simply to have more burnished status as a strategic ally in the war on terror just as the Senate was considering HR-5680.

All of the above sources of inspiration knew exactly what Meles was about but he gave them all the desperately needed chance to see him exactly as they needed to. Constantly through this succession of ideas has been the primacy absolute rule of Meles Zenawi with great care taken when discussing a previous justification because it may re-occur at any time and absolutely no tolerance of actual discussion of Meles himself.

The Melesian Cult of Personality has been achieved without a single image of the man himself on currency, billboards or lapel pins ... but his supremacy is uppermost in every mind. Minimal consideration of whichever mask he chooses to wear still means that none of the essence of the dictatorial state he rules is open for any consideration.

Dedication to the essentials has given Meles a winning formula for rule. He has bypassed the need for any Ethiopians at all as a constituency by perpetuating the essentials of a system inherited from Mengistu that will keep them poor and powerless indefinitely.

His constituency is instead foreigners who in realizing his capacity to bring harm to Ethiopians take on the task of caring for Ethiopians at a minimal level and of minimizing the risks to regional security he can create.

Meles and his revolutionary aristocracy in the name of the party / government / cronies that all regulate each other own all of Ethiopia's land and economy in a more selfish and greedy grasp than ever before in history.

They deal with opposition brutally before all and do their will with a pretense of civilization where Western eyes are present and where they aren't do exactly what they want to anyone who thinks wrong thoughts.

All the while willing partners find in Meles a strategic partner or a new democrat or a great micro-economist or other such absurdities. This is all the essence of cleverness.

Is cleverness a form of intelligence? Certainly it is. Does intelligence combined with the perverse set of social skills needed to rise within a bloody revolutionary party at war make someone very smart? Sure they do.

Can you stir in a few big words and ideas, put them in the oven and bake a great intellectual? Apperently so. Even if Meles was some great intellectual (a very big if, mind you), of what purpose is intelligence in the service of immorality?

Once anyone figures out what he is actually talking about and manages to see what he has accomplished it is clear that beyond a cushion provided by foreign aid and remittances that there is nothing good in the mix for Ethiopians.

Despite the occasional intrusion of reality, the illusion of intellectualism is a profoundly important part of the Cult of Meles. Indeed, being able to impress or fool ferenjis (along with ruthlessness in dealing with even imagined dissent) was one of the principal reasons for his rise and rule.

That intellectual illusion is just an aspect of being to every ferenji exactly the man their fevered imaginations need most deeply to picture sitting in front of them in his office or across a dinner or negotiating table. Ethiopians understand it all too well. They have no voice at that table or in any office and they know all too well the wages for commenting on the reality of Meles.

At every stage, choice little understood bites of intelligent sounding and self justifying rhetoric are grafted onto the grand Melesian illusion. The truth is that just like the Great Dictator who danced with the whole globe above, Ethiopia's own Great Intellectual Dictator is also of interest only for the games he plays with the fates of millions on the Horn of Africa.

In What are the Real Reasons Why Meles Decided to Accept the Border Ruling?, Dagmawi asks a fascinating question after noting that "identity is a dynamic property that changes in response to internal and external factors as each human being goes through life".
How many passports does Meles carry? He is an Adwan, a Tigrigna-speaker, a former(?) Marxist-Leninist, an Ethiopian, a guerrilla fighter and an Eritrean. It is not wrong to have multiple identities, but we need to know which of these passports Meles holds most dear.

When there is a conflict of interest, which identity does he defend with the most passion? What passport is he traveling on now with this new proposal of his?

Meles has a long record. It is clear from this record what is most important to him. He himself has told us in the past. The following ranking is my guess on how Meles prioritizes his various passports:

1. Nation of Tigrai
2. Ethnicity of Tigringa speaking people in the horn of Africa
3. Locality of the Adwa region
4. Post-Modern Adherents of Marxism-Leninism
5. Federal entity composed of separate ethnic nations that exist in northeast Africa
(note: this entity currently goes by the name of Ethiopia)
6. Country of Eritrea
7. Orthodox Christian
8. African
9. Human

There is a disconnect here. Meles has a job: Prime Minister of Ethiopia. But the Federal Entity of Northeast Africa (Ethiopia) only ranks fifth on the list of identities that are important to him.
We think Dagmawi is right (as usual) but we think that he left out the most important factor of the Ethiopian dictator's identity: above all else Meles is all about Meles and above all else Meles is loyal to Meles.

Meles wakes up every morning wondering what he should do for Meles that day and whom he has to break or trick to do it. Meles is dedicated to the interests of the absolute and eternal rule of Meles.

Meles has created a country (or at least a party, government and mutual elite) in his very own image. All dedicated to the proposition that he should rule and that without him all would be chaos. Tigrayans are to Meles simply the most readily available victims.

All other factors and motivations fade beside simple, plain old dictatorship. Old comrades, current cronies, eager cadres, opponents and everyone else are like 70 million Ethiopians simply animate objects to be used and discarded as needed in the service of the Prime Directive of Ethiopian Government - service to Meles.

Meles is the dominant factor in the lives of all regime 'supporters'. Meles Inc. wants obedient subjects, not partners. The partners it does tolerate are partners in crime who lose a bit of them selves in pursuit of property or position or just the easy way in life. Its supporters are people who by force or circumstance and very seldom by choice become minions of a vanguard party that treats them like minions and not like men.

Between harassment and intimidation, spying and subverting one’s own spirit and those of others, always in the party’s service, supporters can not but feel a continual internal sense of complicity in wrong. ‘Only following orders’ can only serve for just so long.

Government supporters are simply afraid to be critical in any way even if the criticism is constructive. THEY ARE TERRIFIED OF THE GOVERNMENT more than the opposition is. Cadres know very well the legal and moral crimes that they routinely commit against their own fellow cadres and opponents alike and are thus familiar with what lies in store for themselves if they think unapproved thoughts or even worse - dare to voice them.

They also know that their own hands are dirty and can only justify their own weak behavior by louder and more aggressive behavior to prove themselves and to direct fire away from themselves. It is a structure that dehumanizes all who touch it within and without while demanding subservience in the same manner that cowboys break the spirit of a horse. They endure in the system to give themselves some illusion of purpose beyond the whims of those above them.

It is likely the case that much of the brutality of every manner directed against opponents is a result of trying to silence the internal guilt of knowing better from what tradition and family have taught them but being unable to face their own weak reality as a cog in an immoral machine. They seem to have viciousness in direct proportion to the earnestness of their opponents.

Try getting a government supporter to make any critique of the government in any way at all. They simply can't do it. It is like asking someone to forsake God. Now try the same with an opposition supporter and try and get them to criticize the opposition - you won't be able to shut them up. That is all a sign of great strength of the opposition and the clear insecurity and weakness of the government.

The only way a criticism will be allowed is when particular permission is given for the sake of infiltration and seeming reasonable in civilized circles. For example, the odd throwaway remark about the land policy is done only along the lines of a script handed down from far above and attempts to make the speaker seem open minded.

Presumably cadres should have to submit themselves to ritual cleansing after such missions.

Another example where extraordinary written permission may be needed is when loud abusive insults are directed at the government by its agents. The purpose there is classic Leninist infiltration to draw out hidden opponents in the flock and to discredit the opposition. Having thus established 'street credibility' an assault on the opposition may be launched that is supposed to find more receptive ears.

Often such calls are made with demands for anti-government violence and tribal insults and other ad hominem attacks. Even when no one is fooled, a purpose is served by such performances. Everyone just feels stupid and silly to even be in the company or the same room and interested in the same subject as the performer.

Participation on the sacred party ground of politics is thus discouraged by often successful but indirect means. Willing participants in the ruling party games are actually rather sad to contemplate seriously. Those at home may have untold pressures brought to bear on them but those abroad are real subjects for study.

What happens to those who dare to break the rules and not play along with the Melesian Cult? During a series of street massacres last year it seems to be popular wisdom now that almost 200 civilians were killed for protesting or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. A further 20,000 are reported to be in camps under horrible conditions.

From the beginning we said all estimates of dead, injured and imprisoned were far too low and to this day we think even the new numbers greatly underestimate the government's vengeance upon realizing it was even more loathed than it had imagined. Even in a fake election in a dictatorship not a single district where observers where present was won by the government and no vote counts capable of sustaining statistical inquiry and common sense have been submitted to anyone.

Like gangsters, Meles Inc. took the issue to the streets and settled it there with violence. Leaders of the opposition, human rights groups and the press are in horrible conditions in prison and on trial for their lives before judges as bought and paid for by Meles as his private militia and secret police.

So ... Meles certainly does have a Cult of Personality as vivid and intrusive as any of his totalitarian relations. Criticism of him is not tolerated and praise of him is assumed. The illusion of the great intellectual is simply part of the whole sorry business.

No matter whom Meles quotes, who he finds to ghost write for him, how slavish cadres and sycophantic 'news' outlets are in permanent awe at his every utterance and see him as infallible, how many zeroes are added to the Meles Inc. portfolio, how many minutes of applause there are at party congresses or what summits there are invitations to - in the end the only common issue all have regarding him is how best to minimize the damage he necessarily causes with his primordial tribalism and primitive ideology.

We are delighted to be counted amongst 70 million Ethiopians and countless other friends of Ethiopia who have opted out of, or never joined, the Cult of Meles and all of its attendant bloodthirsty silliness.


This post fits in the series analyzing the ever evolving, ever opportunistic, ever more absurd intellectual justifications for Ethiopia's bloody dictatorship. It all started when we came across some excerpts from a book by the PM titled African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF file) that we were so impressed with. The series began even before we knew it in the posts Revolutionary Democracy, Hypnotize, Intellectuals and their Discontents and Jeffersonian Economics.

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