Monday, May 21
We read something recently from the mainstream media about Ethiopia "when the Communist regime was overthrown by the current government". It is amazing how widely those simple words have spread and how wrong they are.
Roots Mengistu was power hungry military junta born, silly radical 'intellectual' inspired, mass murdering, scientific socialist style communist. Meles is a power hungry ethnic opportunist spawned, silly revolutionary 'student' inspired, bloodthirsty revolutionary democratic type communist.
The mutual will to power over innocent Ethiopians brought them into conflict but aside from that civil war within the communist faith played out on the bodies of Ethiopians, there is little to distinguish them from each other and much more that they have in common:
The Meles / Issias Factor The greatest difference between the two is that while Mengistu spent seventeen years fighting Meles & Issias while ruthlessly oppressing tens of millions all over Ethiopia - Meles has spent only sixteen years ruthlessly oppressing tens of millions of Ethiopians without the challenge of some one just like himself to make it all impossible.
Meles had been appointed EPLF Governor of Ethiopia by Issias but he cannily bided his time until breaking off on his own by 1997. Unlike Mengistu, Meles cleverly managed to have only a short war with Issias while getting his own war in Somalia to be sponsored by the Imperialist Forces that were against Mengistu. (Imperialist is of course what Donor Nations & the West will always be to M & M).
At one point in the 1970s Mengistu was fighting two of the biggest wars on planet earth. Ethiopian is a nation long sick of war, forced to fight by M & M, and longing for a government that does not have to be begged and threatened by ferenjis to treat them like humans. In Ethiopia today, because opposition is democratic and reasoned, Meles has basically had a cake walk compared to his fraternal socialist comrade Mengistu.
The Fraternal Communist Parties Both Mengistu and Meles have had social contracts that ignore their own people in favor of partnership with foreigners - who generally have not had Ethiopia's best interests at heart. Mengistu was amply supplied by the Soviet camp but he had to mortgage Ethiopia's meager resources for decades into the future to pay for his wars.
Meles turned to Albanian Communism because that was, in his mind anyway, an example of a ruthless relatively independent Communist state. In a world where his fellow revolutionaries were mainly on Mengistu's side and China was spilling over with oceans of common sense after Mao died, turning to an isolated, paranoid, backward even by Communist standards, Enver Hoxha for inspiration was somehow logical.
The Imperialist Powers When Mengistu killed people, he simply announced that revolutionary measures had been taken against X number of people - who were, of course, what else but counter-revolutionary agents on a mission from the Capitalist Imperialist Forces. Even the Soviets tired of this business before Gorbachev because it was all an embarassing reminder of what they had been like for most of the past sixty years.
When Meles kills people, he announces nothing. The Economist estimated that since the fake elections of 2005 that 80,000 have been put in prison camps. Other estimates have a camp population far higher. The number could be a million. Ultimately, who knows how many have been killed far from prying ferenji eyes?
You better believe that attention is the only thing that matters. It is like the old question "if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?" In Ethiopia, if ferenjis don't hear the sound of screams and the cries of mourning then they don't exist. Ethiopians notice - but that is how Africans are expected to treat Africans anyway.
When Meles has to kill in public or when he kills to make a political point, the victims are, of course, terrorists inspired by the Rwanda genocide. The West takes none of this seriously and are embarassed by their development partner / ally but seeing as he is already bought and paid for they figure it would be too much trouble to demand more than he do his killing somewhere out of sight.
Acrobatics Busy in the salons of Khartoum, Mogadishu, and London purging his actually fighting comrades in the field, Meles hated the Imperialists as much as Mengistu did but was forced to do more to get along with them. Mengistu shouted 'imperialism yiwdum!' (down with ...) until he was hoarse and killed until his fingernails had oceans of blood dripping from them.
So ... he was unable to maneuver himself around the rotting carcass of communism when it was clear that the imperialists had won the cold war. Meles was prepared, indeed that talent and preparation are a large part of his success in his own party.
Not only was he capable of deft, calculated, and deadly political maneuvers but he put on an Olympic Gold Medal worthy acrobatic display in turning himself into a sudden Jeffersonian democrat and Adam Smithian free marketer not to simultaneous mention darling of the New Left and Neo Conservatives.
Hardly sincere but apparently it satisfied the Imperialist Forces - it wasn't so much that they liked Meles but they simply loathed Mengistu.
Mengistu's turn to designer suits and Western TV interviews was too little too late - Meles wore Saville Row suits so well and threw away his Enver Hoxha bling bling so far that the whole world fell in love with him believing that is who he had been all along. A veritable herald of 'African Renaissance', genially and convincingly aping Stiglitz & Sachs, Blair or Bono, Clinton or Bush - just as the moment demanded - all the while with a firm hand on the natives.
Meles gave the Imperialist exactly what they wanted to see and got PAID IN FULL. From the World Bank to the IMF to every NGO to Donor Partners it is perfectly clear to all that their contracts go to Meles Inc. and that the money goes into the same small population of deep pockets.
Actually, Mengistu was also paid by the West but less directly. You see, as Communism naturally rotted away, it had its war machine fortified and its image given a new coat of makeup by billions in Western loans to Moscow. The West in Mengistu's time, like today, was responsible for feeding Ethiopians.
Corruption & Failure The West had aid and loans to give for the same reason that the more liberal democratic and capitalist a country's government is anywhere on earth, the happier are its people and the materially better their life is. Meles and Mengistu reject the most essential foundations of national success in favor of, like parasites, preying on a weak host.
M & M reject private property and the free market. Meles put the first bit in his fake constitution but pretends half heartedly to embrace the second. The personal fortune of Meles in the form of the party business empire in Ethiopian & properties & banks across the globe, absolute government monopolies, state ownership of all land, and crony run businesses - all of which he has the actual ownership or absolute death dealing control over - make Meles the most powerful and wealthy Ethiopian who has ever lived.
That wealth and power is by necessity rooted in Ethiopia's permanent international beggar status and the utter destitution of her people. No matter, there is a whole government, non-government, and media machine world wide dedicated to the proposition that pouring money into corrupt and brutal regimes while asking no awkward questions will do good for 'the people'.
Tools Both have extensively and passionately over years stated their views that the simple existence of Ethiopia was not only illegitimate but a crime as well. When it was convenient to do so, patriotism and unity became tools to wield in search of regime security by both. M & M both feel the most safe when the maximal number of divided Ethiopian groups in the smallest possible tribal / regional / ethnic / religious units - hate everyone else and fear the ruling party / business empire / government.
The whole issue of tribal divide and rule is like calls for justice and rewriting the past a way to destroy any other sources of loyalty and motivation not approved by the vanguard party of Meles or Mengistu. The same kind of men and women served / serve both for the chance to catch crumbs as pieces of cake float above them between donors and the regime or between peasants and the regime.
Rewriting history was a specialty of both M & M. Everything before either 1974, 1975, 1991, or 2000 was the Dark Ages depending on the weather, who is running the gimgema (enforced criticism - self criticism session - yes, that old communist standby exists in Ethiopia today) and whom is speaking. Neither accepts the concept of loyalty but only sees those whose submission is proved repeatedly and those who are threats and must be done away with or taught lessons.
Old allies are killed and villified or more creatively in the Meles way even killed and glorified. Why not? Death can serve many purposes, no relation whether family or blood can matter as much as loyalty to the party and a heavy hand awaits those who can't keep up. Then there are those who sell themselves cheap for a promise or smile and justify collusion.
Of such poor stuff, dictatorships are made.
Milovan put it best ... The passage below is from "Remembering Milovan Djilas" and shows how little has changed across time and space:
A sensation at the time, and now a classic, The New Class remains an abiding criticism of Communism. Its argument is straightforward, and [Milovan] Djilas’s status as Tito’s right-hand man made it all the more powerfully convincing:It is hard to come up with a better description of Meles, Mengistu, and their minions than that above.
Communism was not the just and egalitarian social system that it claimed to be, but a grabbing of spoils and privileges by a small number of unscrupulous people. Those in control of the party and the state enjoyed and displayed powers and dynastic ambitions even more arrogantly absolute than the monarchs and aristocrats they had dispossessed.
Twenty-five more years were to pass before a Russian, Michael Voslensky, in his book Nomenklatura (1980), substantiated the view that Communism in the Soviet Union from its foundation had pretended to an idealism which in practice was only organized corruption, and this was perfectly well accepted and policed by those gaining personally from it.
Personnel were required for the task, and they could be recruited only on the basis of inducement and reward. Purporting to be the masses, the New Class was actually a palace elite, completely set apart.
Putting Potemkin to Shame Ethiopia’s rulers have also mastered just enough of the rituals of prosperous and free societies to hang on to power - for example, pretending to have a free market and pretending to hold elections (that did not work out so well when the government proved to be so hated that it actually managed to lose a staged election).
The intended audience for that massive Potemkin Village of rituals known as Ethopian governance is only potential aid donors - the foreigners in their turn pretend to believe that the rituals are meaningful. So abysmally low are international expectations of Ethiopian governance, that the simple act of not being Mengistu is enough to cause considerable international satisfaction with the current state of affairs.
Indeed, 70 million Ethiopians are hostages to the willingness of their own rulers to let foreigners help them while they have not been allowed to help themselves. The rather obvious policies and practices that made the donor countries rich to begin with, that have allowed many others to emulate them and escape seemingly eternal poverty are denied to Ethiopians in the service of their ruler‘s insecurities.
Government is beholden to the archaic and destructive leftovers of revolutionary ideology and laws are based upon the atavistic call of ethnicity and the practice of tribal divide and rule. There are purposeful barriers to external and internal investment. Meanwhile, efforts to develop independent civil society are tenaciously resisted.
Dictated by deliberate policy, a situation has been created where aid does not just help but where national survival has become impossible without aid. So aware are the rulers of the harm they are causing that they are unwilling to risk the evolution of a society and economy in which any possible rivals may emerge.
As far as the liberation of Ethiopia by Meles from Mengistu we will repeat yet again, our favorite quote, (BBC):
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.The issue of the Red Army statue, The Bronze Soldier, also comes to mind. After signing the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Nazis and the Soviets attacked Poland within weeks of each other.
Eventually, the Nazis took over the Baltic states after turning on the Soviets. Later the Red Army kicked out the Nazis. The Red Army brought along with it the KGB and Soviet occupation that lasted until the 1990s. From the point of view of humanity and of Eastern Europeans the defeat of the Nazis was a blessed event. However, substituting Stalin and his heirs for Hitler does not make for eternal gratitude.
One of the distinctions between a Fascist and Communist state is supposed to be who owns the means of production - the state or private interests. Both states are murderous and any private interests in a Fascist state are totally creatures of the Totalitarian state that defines both. So the distinction is of little importance in real terms.
Another distinction between Communist and Fascist states is supposed to be how they justify themselves. Communist states are imagined to have an internationalist perspective and Fascist states a national one. Again, this difference can not withstand scrutiny because what it really means is that one directs violence based on class hatred while the other does so based on ethnic / religious hatred.
Indeed Communists never refer to German Fascists as Nazis instead preferring the term Hitlerites because Nazi is short for National Socialist. Neither shied away from creating states defined by brutality and violence within and without. Both attempted to take over the world and both committed genocide for similiar class / ethnic / religious motives.
Fascism of the Left or Communism of the Right are two sides of a Totalitarian coin that when tossed means bad luck for humanity however it may land. Both make people suffer for the interests of a few in the end and the ruling party of Ethiopia has recently seen the creation of a perverse new fusion of the two.
It is a Totalitarian Party with roots in Albanian Communism that governs by tribal divide and rule while pretending to be a fount of Liberal Democracy and Free Enterprise or at least to be at the service of the same. At the same time it actually owns the economy of an entire country through a corrupt web of state and pseudo- private interest that are themselves owned by the Party Politburo in question.
It's the Communism, Stupid
Ethiopia is in a bad situation today because of the decisions that her governments have made. Those are only bad decisions from the point of view of the ruled, the decisions are all quite rational from the point of view of the rulers.
Meles and Mengistu both want power. Early on the came up with the same justification for it at whatever cost to Ethiopians.
In the end, both are totalitarians at heart and in policy. Ethiopia wasn't liberated in 1991, it simply entered a new era of torment led by a new class of tormentors.