Monday, December 24
Happy Holidays To You ... and 3.5 years and counting for us
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and A Joyous Holiday Season of every variety to all.
We will also take this opportunity to salute ourselves for 3.5 years of writing / illustrating / html-ing / persisting on these pages. In the blogging universe, 3.5 years is a near eternity. To our continuing surprise, readers keep coming back and new ones keep joining them. We really thank all of you.
We are sorry that the pace of writing has been slowing down of late for no reason in particular - but it will return to at least several posts a month regularly in 2008. We never think that we are noticed or read until the very real variety and nature of all efforts to 'encourage' us to stop writing make us realize we somehow do matter. Above all those efforts have convinced us to stick with this indefinitely into the future.
That is barring a "who will rid me of this troublesome blogger?" moment sometime. Oh well ... we think of all that people have done for freedom in the U.S. or the dream of democracy in Ethiopia ... from warriors at Adwa to soldiers at Normandy - from civil rights workers found buried in dams to a generation of Ethiopian democrats shot down in the streets or in prison camps today.
One thing we know for sure is that all of those people didn't sacrifice so much for so long so that a pissant dictatorship anywhere could tell folks living under the protection of the U.S. Constitution how to think, speak, or live. We don't think we are all that big a deal but it seems rather often that we are - given all of that - the least we can do is keep writing this blog.
Sunday, December 16
From the Wikipedia article on Diplomatic Immunity:
A 2006 study by two economists found that there was a significant correlation between home country corruption (as measured by Transparency International) and unpaid parking fines"Most countries or the diplomatic personnel in question pay their parking fines in New York City but some do not. Are you surprised, dear reader, to find out that the EPRDF Mission to the U.N. does not have a good record of paying parking tickets?
Transparency International's 2007 report rates Meles Inc. as one of the most corrupt governments on earth. The article referenced above begins thus: "Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets" (PDF)
Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood.The article finds that between 1997-2002, an average of about ten EPRDF diplomats at any given time accumulated an average of 59.7 tickets EACH for parking violations.
To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone.
This generates a revealed preference measure of corruption based on real-world behavior for government officials all acting in the same setting. We find tremendous persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations.
Of all the diplomatic missions at the U.N., the EPRDF mission was #14 on the list of offenders from a total of 146 diplomatic missions. That was worse than ... say Sudan but one better than Nigeria.
The article concludes
We find that this measure [parking tickets] is strongly correlated with existing measures of home country corruption. This finding suggests that cultural or social norms related to corruption are quite persistent: even when stationed thousands of miles away, diplomats behave in a manner highly reminiscent of officials in the home country. Norms related to corruption are apparently very deeply engrained.No kidding ... this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding behavior in this diplomatic host country that is translated directly into things like espionage / illegal surveillance and intimidation of the Ethiopia diaspora.
Note that we don't refer to the 'Ethiopian Mission to the U.N.' The corporate representatives of Meles Inc. act as their boss acts back home and represent only him.
Sunday, December 9
Field of Screams
the addis ababa commodity exchange ... If you build it prosperity will come ... yeah, right
In Field of Dreams an Iowa farmer builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn fields after hearing voices, particularly one saying “if you build it, he will come.” Eventually a team of ghostly players from the infamously corrupt 1919 World Series do show up and throw a baseball around while the farmer works out some issues with his father. If you bother to figure accept the premise and sit through it - it can make for part of a fairly nice cable TV movie on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
On a related matter ... we have caught flak from a few readers every time we mentioned the hype about a Commodities Exchange for Ethiopia. Google the words commodity exchange and Ethiopia and you will see that apparently the whole world thinks it is the greatest idea since the opposable thumb or at least the talkies. To ethiopundit and other rational observers, however, it is not about ‘doing good’ or ‘developing institutions’ but propaganda.
Aping the outward appearance of institutions possessed by successful societies without following the practices of successful societies will not work and it will materially harm the mass of Ethiopians. It will for a few short reporter news cycles and a few more long bureaucratic career cycles serve as a smoke screen for the rapacious revolutionary feudal aristocracy running Ethiopia.
Remember the ‘elections’ and the ’election board’ in Ethiopia? How about the ‘parliament’ and the ‘supreme court’? The parliamentary investigations into the government massacres of the Anuak people? More greatest hits in that familiar dishonest style include the 7% now 10% now 11.8% economic growth bubbling along in the scorching hot ‘free market’ economy.
Why would anyone expect a commodities exchange to be any different than all the other lies and fake institutions? Ethiopia is one of the most corrupt nations on earth. It has one of the very lowest rates of foreign investment ever imagined. Money generally flows into Ethiopia from aid and remittances then joins money squeezed from peasants on the way back out into the elite’s foreign bank accounts, real estate, and investments.
The country has no property rights in law or in practice. The government / party / crony businesses control all commodities from the peasant’s fields onto foreign ports. Ethiopia produces less and less food for more and more people every year on less and less land due to erosion and is one of the biggest if not the very biggest recipients of food aid in the world.
There is no freedom of the press and no free exchange of information - period. All economic statistics are made up by the government / party. It has no plans to develop the country’s ample food or other economic potential aside from forever being the rich wardens of a permanent beggar state. This despite a wealth of fertile land and natural resources - and above all the abilities of her people.
Ethiopians have a government with one of the worst human rights records in the world. A police state that uses starvation not only as a means of attracting aid from foreigners but also of exerting power - witness the current starvation in the Ogaden.
How has the rest of the sixteen year litany of lies about democracy and the promises of reaching middle income nation status soon been working for Ethiopians so far? ... and we are all to believe that a Commodities Exchange will somehow miraculously be different - right? The simple ugly truth is that the government / party has set up a structure predicated on its own permanence and enrichment. Ethiopian suffering is the collateral damage of the growth potential of the Meles Inc. portfolio.
Commodities Exchanges and Stock Markets work because they are in societies and economies that are already developing because the right rules are in place. That free market of ideas and goods acquires a natural sophistication based on the traditions of trading found everywhere.
When the framework of the right laws, property rights, and economic / information freedom meet confidence, potential, and a people as enterprising as Ethiopians - economies explode forward. Ethiopians have been denied all of the basics for development that almost all of the rest of humanity enjoys. There is nothing wrong with Ethiopians genetically or culturally or geographically or historically that makes suffering a tradition there.
The flow of money and capital and goods as the numbers grow and the economy grows more complex is marked by the need for institutions where efficiencies are increased by centralized places where trading can take place.
Commodity Markets are markets where raw or primary products are exchanged. These raw commodities are traded on regulated Commodities Exchanges. A commodities exchange is an exchange where various commodities and products are traded. Most commodity markets across the world trade in agricultural products and other raw materials … and contracts based on them.Let us consider what above seems familiar to most world societies, an real bore to the rich ones, and the realm of absolute fantasy to Ethiopians. Essentially Ethiopia today has none of the predicates for a Commodities Exchange in law or in practice.
Basically the rational behind Ethiopia’s famous Commodities Exchange to be seems to us to be remarkably similar to that for building a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield in the hope that ghosts will show up to play on it. In the Ethiopia set up by Meles Inc. you are not talking about a Field of Dreams however but a veritable Field of Screams.
Perhaps a better comparison is to the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific. In the 19th century and particularly after World War II a series of religious movements appeared in areas of the South Pacific that had experienced often jarring contacts with the West. The word cargo refers to foreign goods possessed by Europeans and Americans that miraculously flowed from cargo ships and then cargo airplanes.
Cult believers figured that if they plowed fake airplane runways on their beaches and placed life size straw model airplanes on their mountain tops that they could get more cargo to come and usher in a future of paradise and plenty. To the cultists the desired objects, i.e. cargo - included everything from Spam and Coca Cola onto metal tools and textiles - were divorced from the societies and institutions that produced them and were instead seen as the result of rituals.
By that same faulty logic, building a Commodities Exchange in a fundamentally economically corrupt society at every level where the free exchange of information is considered to be criminal will somehow do good and serve as a model for the rest of the world. Ridiculous unless the issue is photo ops, headlines, and the confidence that no one will follow up the story seriously.
Another relevant term here may be Potemkin Village. Potemkin was the Prime Minister of some Czar or the other (perhaps Catherine the Great) who built a one layer of thin fake villages along her path to show her how prosperous her reign had been for her people. You had better believe that this Potemkin Commodities Exchange will work wonders on the intended targets - ferenjis.
After all the civil contract in Ethiopia is a covenant between ferenjis who write checks and the dictator who cashes them. Ferenji observers of Ethiopian affairs would be astounded to know that most of what the government says and all of what it pretends to be is an elaborate stage show put on for their benefit.
The Commodities Exchange will just open up a disgraceful new chapter in that ugly business of rule where a few foreigners writing reports and articles mean far more than the lives and futures of 70 million Ethiopians. Ethiopians who don't see the interests of Meles as their own aren't buying any of this and never have. They know exactly who rules them with no illusions.
‘Commodity exchange’ is nice concept but how about we take a look at some more relevant ones. The Ethiopian economy is based on agriculture but not really commodities for exchange in the economic model described above. Most have their lives based on subsistence agriculture where what they grow is what they eat - what little is left after taxes to the government / party apparatus and service of the debt owed to the government / party monopoly on fertilizer.
Which leads us to another definition:
A Company Store is where the workers of certain historical industries such as coal miners shop for vital goods. The prices are exorbitant and taken from already meager wages such that debt and peonage are constant. The overall result, especially where isolation and fear of the Company are factors, is one of modern day legalized slavery in all but name.In Ethiopia the Company in question is of course Meles Inc. which is all at once the government and its monopolies, the ruling vanguard people’s party and its wealthy conglomerates, so called ‘private’ enterprises owned and controlled openly or silently by the government / party, and the tiny fractional private businesses that exist in submission and service to the political / economic juggernaut described here.
From local agents and spies in committees to defend the revolution all the way through tribal militias and grain purchasers all the way up to Ethiopian embassies and economists is a vast apparatus dedicated to keeping Ethiopian peasants in their place and to defending the status quo with either ready violence or the means to cover it up.
How about another definition, this time let us try :
Serfdom is the socio-economic status of peasants under Feudalsm. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery. Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields.All of the land in Ethiopia is owned by the government and therefore by Meles himself the CEO of Meles Inc. The whole economy is the private checking account of Ethiopia’s tiny and brutal feudal aristocracy in the incestuous party / government / business hydra. They make their investments abroad in countries where commodities exchanges can rationally exist.
As Trotsky said, “In a country where the sole employer [or landlord] is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation.” He should have known because that was his business as it is of the Dergue and Meles Inc. Opposition meant death by enforced starvation and bombing in Tigray during the 1980s and death by enforced starvation and bombing in Ogaden during the 2000s.
The Ethiopian government is fundamentally opposed to the free flow of any kind of information in the same way that a vampire fears the cross or that Meles fears HR 2003. Let us repeat Ethiopia has no freedom of the press. Unauthorized exchange of information is a matter of death sentences or quiet disappearances in Ethiopia.
Internet and phone penetration have been blocked purposefully compared to every neighbor in Africa as a matter of policy so that Ethiopians don’t know too much and no one knows too much about them. All economic data is carefully cooked to maximize aid while providing a pretense of growth sufficient to justify aid.
Somehow a commodities exchange is supposed to work in this setting? In whose fantasy or nightmare? For a moment imagine how a Commodities Exchange could actually function in Ethiopia. The economy as we have said is basically made up by the government, its monopolies, the party, its businesses, and some hangers on as the sole actors. Peasants, for example, do the work but don't matter otherwise.
No one invests in that economy who is not motivated by pity or emotion ... or without a confidence born of pockets full of politicians and regulators for rent. So who is going to get involved in this exchange without a ready assumption that they will never lose money? Certainly no one will ever take the risk if they don’t feel that results are already decided and that this is just a way to make or launder money and impress ferenjis.
Anyone with the means but without connections will stay away because they will know way upfront it is all a political game. Imagine though that some bright young fellow outsmarts some TPLF conglomerate by cornering part of the coffee market on his own or with a few daring foreign investors.
Everyone knows up front that said bright young fellow will thereafter be in fear for his life and will lose his freedom. He will be up on charges of corruption and ‘rent seeking’ no doubt, his assets will be confiscated and the foreigners will be mau-mau-ed into silence by cries of how they are exploiting the Ethiopian people the way that Nestles was and Starbucks almost was.
Who is going to regulate the Exchange? As we have said the government / party of Ethiopia is acknowledged to be among the most corrupt on earth. But - they supposedly regulate themselves and tax themselves in a manner that the reader should assume is also based on corruption and the appearance but not the reality of civilized government.
Try and imagine a dedicated young lady working as an exchange regulator who tells a prosecutor that a TPLF company has done something unethical or illegal in the exchange or perhaps conducted insider trading in a hypothetical stock market. If she dared to do so she would of course be killed or arrested for life on corruption charges. Imagine also the ensuing cheers of ferenjis who would be happy to hear her arrest marked a major step in the transparency of the Ethiopian economy.
Every commodity in Ethiopia from each coffee bean and handful of grain will have been in government / party hands from the moment the farmer labored over it in fields owned by the government / party through the local collection centers controlled by the government / party all the way to roads to foreign ports or domestic markets controlled by the government / party.
The whole economy and every commodity are subject to Meles Inc. control at every level and that control is based on lethal force. There is no way to access capital from anywhere without the government / party taking the choicest cuts along the way.
Building an Commodities Exchange in the Ethiopia of Meles Zenawi is like holding elections there - errant nonsense. Countries don’t develop because ferenjis pay for the computers and staff that go into pretty buildings that they call Commodities Exchanges.
Commodities Exchanges develop because the native people are allowed to develop and they eventually need a Commodities Exchange. There can be no confidence in any sort of economic truth or information about the current or future price of a commodity in Ethiopia that is sufficient to make the existence of a Commodity Exchange justified beyond propaganda value.
Like carving out a baseball diamond in a field of corn in the Midwest in the hopes of being spiritually fulfilled, making fake airports on the beaches of the South Pacific in the hopes of growing miraculously rich, or building fake villages top please one’s Queen and be promoted - building a Commodities Exchange in Revolutionary Democratic Ethiopia is just plain silly - if the purpose is prosperity and development and not creating a shell game to get approving nods from ferenji aid bureaucrats and reporters.
The same goes for all the upcoming Meles Inc. propaganda planned about membership in the World Trade Organization. Consider this a post about that subject as well.
Sunday, December 2
... this great piece of turf:
what it took over millennia to keep it,
and how the revolutionary feudal elite see it ...
Private property was the original source of freedom. It still is its main bulwark.
The feudal label is both a potent and tired term of derision in the Ethiopian context and it is usually used with a great deal of inaccuracy in reference to the past. Ethiopia has never before experienced feudalism as she is living with today.
We really recommend the post The Creation of A Nation of Serfs. It gives a sense of the evolution of 'revolutionary feudalism,' in Ethiopia, the complexity of land tenure, and of social relations before the advent of Marxist-Leninism in 1974 and its affirmation in 1991.
While the pre-revolutionary era may not have been quite a golden age of history it was far better than the present and its passage represents a loss of hope in change wrought by reform and not by revolution - which is always a dead end.
One of Ethiopia's elected leaders was recently released from a prison camp because ferenjis begged and threaten Meles to not kill at least a few very visible Ethiopians. That leader, Berhanu Nega, wrote this piece Vision 2020 which in part discusses the role of tradition in limiting the potential brutality of government everywhere:
In Ethiopia’s modern history, the power of governments has invariably been absolutely unchecked, while individual freedom has been highly stifled.The system usually derided with the feudal pejorative is that of Emperor Haile Selassie. His imperial rule, while by no means that of a liberal democrat, did have crucial limits on its behavior based on tradition and religion.
During the imperial era, the Emperor, who believed he was the Elect of God, perceived the limits of his power as concurrent with his lifetime and, but for the fear of God, the then rulers could do anything they wanted to their subjects.
The Dergue and the current government do not such limits because both inhabit moral universes inspired by Marx and Lenin. Those two lower case 'gods' have had legions of followers will never be remembered for being in touch with their inner children - unless those inner children were all named Damien.
To be fair we should note that the current government is a great improvement over the Derg exactly to the degree that today their shared communist roots have been betrayed. However, in a truer sense the current government is a far worse than the Derg because of its (now failing) mastery of appearing to be what it is not while always behaving just as the Derg did.
What both the Derg and Meles Inc. mean to Ethiopians is the rule of rapacious, brutal, unrepresentative, greedy, permanent elites more concerned with power over those deliberately kept poor and obsessed with riches pumped into foreign accounts than anything else.
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.Indeed, the Mengistu vs. Meles death match of the 1970s and 1980s is best understood as a bitter ideological fight to see who the 'real communist' elite would be - not to see who could serve Ethiopia better.
The greatest example of this is not the simultaneous birth of the neighborhood revolutionary committees of Mengistu and the further refined household revolutionary cells of Meles.
Those shared instruments of oppression are the measure of current and past government. That is true with or without public relations campaigns for the benefit of ferenjis of any ideology but who are serially begged for arms and food in the name of either scientific socialism and revolutionary democracy or the fake free market and supposedly free elections.
Governmental authority today as inspired by ruinous foreign ideologies that don't have the mission of delivering on the promise of liberal democracy and capitalism but are all about the far more powerful, intrusive and absolute missions of interchangeable 'fascism of the left' and 'communism of the right'. The post Revolutionary Democracy discusses the ideological and practical roots of Meles Inc today.
The common root of Ethiopia's ills of the past generations is the absence of private property rights which is the very foundation of not only medieval feudalism but of totalitarian despotism. Their unholy spawn is seen in Ethiopian power today.
The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist.
One of the main reasons that the Human Rights 2003 Bill makes Meles Inc. angry and rant on about neo-colonialism in the very same breath as pledging what good partners they are of the same very same 'neo-colonialists' - is fear - pure and abject terror at having to face any consequences for what they have done to Ethiopians in Tigray since 1974 and then all of Ethiopia since 1991.
Dagmawi puts it to us in his accustomed clear manner here:
TPLF/EPRDF is afraid because the villa-and-landcruiser lifestyle its members enjoy in Addis Abeba is directly tied to TPLF control of the government. Yes, the life of the average person in Tigray has improved marginally [we don't agree with this bit - e.p.]. But look at how the lives of TPLF members, friends, and relatives has improved.Ethiopia's rulers use ethnic, tribal, and religious hatred as the basis of their rule. It is in the constitution and in every dearly felt plan that Ethiopians should hate each other and that Tigrayans should be hated above all - this is discussed in our post In Whose Name.
The primary purpose of the TPLF is to ensure the best possible life for TPLF members and ensure the best future for their children. Their children will be marrying into the multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan, wealthy elite of Ethiopia. This is why they need to live the elite, high-status lifestyle in Addis Ababa.
This is why they arrest, kill, suppress, harrass, and intimidate Ethiopian citizens. This is why they cannot spend their time worrying about the problems of the common people of Tigray. This is why they are so enraged by HR2003.
The letter T in the TPLF makes that organization's name about as meaningful as the letter E in EPRDF. Both are about serving the needs of the most rapacious brutal and greedy elite in Ethiopian history. No government in that country's history has ever had this much power or so abused it.
Meles Inc. owns the Ethiopian government - after all it is an absolute dictatorship. Stalin had a pretend parliament too and Hitler had courts while Mao held elections. All are about as meaningful as today's Ethiopian democracy.
Based on ethnicity and collusion feudal rights can be handed out to branch offices of thugs who may create their own mini-Meles Inc. on the local level but there is a cadre from the central office in each one making sure the interests of Meles himself are paramount.
Because there is no right to private property the government owns all of the land so it follows that Meles Inc. owns all of the land. This translates into absolute control of every life outside of the reach of ferenji vision. What the absence of property rights breeds is insecurity and poverty - it is meant to do so.
Everyone who does not behave politically properly in the opinion of the corporate cadres or who ignores the social rights every variety of droit de seigneur provide to the favorites of the party can lose his livelihood, land, and life in a second.
Peasants need permission to travel between villages and even homesteads and they are controlled not only by cadres but a system of house hold level representatives of the interchangeable party and government recruited from among the weaker of their own ranks of every tribe, religion, and ethnicity.
Peasants are in permanent thrall to a system of planned system of fertilizer based indebtedness and grain purchasing that is just a facet of overall party / government graft and oppression. The rules are enforced with ready violence.
Aid is also the province of the government / party. Life itself in every manner is subjected to the approval of the elite to function. Entrepreneurship or the real development of Ethiopian initiative is forever stifled and looked on as a threat to the ruling class.
After all the more starving there are the more aid there is a chance to siphon off. The more poverty there is the more never to be paid loans there are to the government / party that keeps things that way.
The blood, sweat, and tears of Ethiopians is a cash business for Meles Inc. and measures to see them achieve out of the bounds of government / party control are actively discouraged by armies of cadres, agents, tribal militias. Lies about economic development are an essential element of this as are lies about democracy.
The idea of a commodity exchange being bandied about in Addis is simply too ridiculous for any reasonable person to take seriously who does not have an interest in the perpetuation of such a lie. Who will the participants be? One branch of Meles Inc. will buy from and sell to other branches of Meles Inc.
All for the benefit of the uncritical eyes of a few ferenji bureaucrats and journalists who will go on to write flowery articles and optomistic reports about how the New York Stock Exchange is about to be surpassed in a generation by those plucky revolutionary democrats in Addis.
There is no private sector to speak of in the Ethiopian economy beyond that owned by Meles Inc. which of course can not be separated from the government itself. The same incestuous beast regulates itself and passes its own laws. Participation in the economy just like participation in politics can only be a function of absolute submission to Meles and his imps at every level.
Aside from unprecedented billions in foreign aid and remittances the economy is stagnant and inflation is rampant. More Ethiopians are depended on food aid and aid for basic survival than ever before and what aid does accomplish is a matter of minimal trickle down after every local contract (Meles Inc. in any guise) has sucked up most of the cash and resources.
Foreign economic investment except it appears for the flower business (what is the Meles share there in graft or ownership? - massive you may safely assume) is subterranean. Seriously, Ethiopia attracts foreign capital at lower levels than almost every nation on earth except for perhaps Somalia.
Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
Money flows in Ethiopian are a matter of outflow mainly. Billions siphoned from peasants, foreign aid, party/government businesses at home and abroad end up in foreign countries that respect private property rights. American and European real estate and other investments to the tune of unimaginable sums are in play.
It is the threat to their property rights in the US that has the minions of Meles Inc. enraged and terrified. They feel that somehow they have a right to billions in foreign aid with no accountability necessary. They in turn feel that their wealth based on the absence of property rights for Ethiopians should have no bearing on the necessary absence of political rights for Ethiopians.
The revolutionary feudal class is concerned that the comfortable and secure exile planned for when Meles Inc. falls apart may not be available when the time comes. After all, the aid / nepotism / gravy train won't last forever. Where will they shop and make money when it all falls down if the US dares to make them accountable for their crimes against humanity?
All the talking heads of Washington both in the press and government get justly excited about Darfur and Burma and the state of human rights and human life in both places. Ethiopia today has a ferenji sponsored Darfur going on in the Ogaden and a far worse human rights record than the Burmese junta ever did.
The game of dictatorship, the encouragement of lethal insecurity in life and property among Ethiopians for any opposition, the lies of development and freedom are all inexorably linked. They support the lifestyle of the revolutionary feudals at all costs to Ethiopians.
Meles Inc. thought it had it all figured out. The Ethiopian civil contract was one that excluded Ethiopians of every kind but included the interests and views of aid donors and Ethiopia's real neo-neo-colonialist elite alone. HR 2003 could really mess with that program.
If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.
Ludwig von Mises
A fine book, The History of the Ancient World, tells us that the among the first purposes of the written word were the need to keep track of property. Those records provided part of the basis of civilization.
The Massai are as concerned with their cattle as the Lapps are with their reindeer. Every human outside of a few inappropriately idealized (a la Rousseau) hunter / gatherer societies understands the security of life that comes with ownership. In a few more inappropriately idealized socialist / communist societies everyone understood the importance of property rights- that is why the rulers kept that vital right away from everyone else.
Go anywhere from Kenya to Finland to the Amazon jungle to see that the basic concept "buy for a dollar and sell for two" along with "get off of my land / leave my stuff alone" are clear and present. Property rights aren't a new idea - they are a matter of human tradition.
To the development of human civilization and to the prosperity and security of liberal democracy property rights are as essential as using tools where to Neanderthals.
They are part of one needs for liberty and prosperity - at least at the start of the process. Ethiopians don't even have that. The first step up on the ladder of development and freedom is private property rights - one that Ethiopians are constitutionally denied to the applause of intellectuals and private / public bureaucrats worldwide who see their own strategic / career interests in Ethiopians not having what they have.
Even for people whose human and civil rights are already secured by their right to own property this concept are habitually found in each others company. Ultimately, no one can be free unless he can be secure in ownership that no one can take away from him.
Especially government which habitually tends towards oppression - unless there are fearless citizens to keep it in its proper place. The kind of freedom that land ownership represents is the anchor of all the rights given to man by virtue of his existence and therefore it is sacred.
Indeed, the system of land ownership defines a nation and its prospects far more accurately than any other factor. Look for groups in a society who are excluded from that natural rights and you will find serfs or slaves.
As the circle of owners of land narrows a feudal class is defined. Where the state owns all land, those who own the state become the ultimate feudal aristocracy. Invariably in the human experience misery and oppression are inversely related to rights of land ownership.
In the past religion was abused to dehumanize masses of humanity and to justify the control of a few by their control of land. In ancient Egypt or the antebellum American South, god kings or god simply wanted everything that way - at least according to the ruling classes. For them most men were just drones born to servitude.
We remember the war with Eritrea beginning in 1998 when tens of thousands of youth lost their lives in trench warfare running over fields of mines. What does Meles Inc. care? One semi-official comment at the time was that the poor were going to die of hunger anyway so they might as well clear minefields and be useful.
In modern times the false gods of scientific ideology generated their own religions to justify mass servitude and suffering. Totalitarian societies of the National Socialist (Nazi - Fascist) and Socialist (Communist - Marxist / Leninist / Maoist) varieties all denied the right of ownership absolutely or particularly as a precondition of dictatorship.
This matched perfectly the process of defining and excluding the designated enemy who was pursued on either on racial/religious or convenient class criteria from 1930s Germany to the 1950s China.
The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.
Friedrich August Hayek
Actually, frankly totalitarian or nascent despotisms are little more than modern incarnations of inhuman serf or slave societies that mankind has fought so desperately to escape.
All the power of the modern state and of technological and industrial progress along with pledges to the service of ‘the people’ are the instruments and lies of ... why don’t we just come out and say it ... EVIL ... it is simply evil to take away people’s natural rights.
What do we mean by natural rights? Simply put, rights that man has earned simply by virtue of his existence that are not dependent on the whims of the state and the ruling class commanded by it. The 1789 French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man emphasizes that “property is an inviolable and sacred right”.
The freedoms found in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution are grounded in the liberating concept of private property. When men know they have something that can not be taken away from them they can freely express themselves and exercise their rights without fear.
Let’s look at three of the amendments. The 3rd and 4th defend property from soldiers in peace and war while prohibiting “against unreasonable searches and seizures”. The 5th states that no person can “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
This security on one’s own great piece of turf guaranteed that the other rights of religion, assembly, and bearing arms had meaning. The laws of every free and prosperous nation of the modern era as well as those on the path of democracy and development recognize these truths.
The tragedy of Ethiopia is that a modern movement to give “land to the tiller” effectively denied all Ethiopians the right to own land forever and thus denied them the most elementary rights every human deserves by virtue of birth.
Why can’t Ethiopians kick agents of the government off of their land if they intrude with no warrant just like other humans all over the world with the very same DNA?
For the very same reasons Ethiopians are also destitute and disenfranchised. They have no land. The honest slogan would have been “all land to the politburo”.
[H]alf of the commissioners are African.Is this supposed to make Africans feel better? Do they feel encouraged that their fate is the hands of leaders like Ethiopia's Meles [...] who refuses to reform Ethiopia's feudal land system?
The Times of London on Cargo Cult Economics
The Creation of a Nation of Serfs traced the history of land ownership in recent Ethiopia beginning with all of the myriad shortcomings of the Imperial free / communal / feudal system and the society thus defined.
However, the state nationalization of all land by the Marxist Dergue was far worse and ushered in an era of eternal catastrophe that any one could have predicted from the most cursory reading of Russian or Chinese history.
Actually, the issue was not ignorance of history but rather an acute appreciation for it. One way in which those bloody tyrannies excelled was gaining and keeping power against all of the interests of the people they allegedly spoke for.
Like the pharaohs before them the new god kings of revolution liked the blueprint they found for absolute power and religious authority to justify and support it. Dictators and elites who take land away know exactly what they are doing and why.
In the name of the people the solution agreed upon by both the Dergue and the TPLF for the current state of affairs was a renewed all encompassing ‘revolutionary feudalism’ where no one could own land and all would be subjects not citizens of an ever more rapacious revolutionary aristocracy.
The portion of the Dergue’s reign of death and destruction directed against the people of Tigray led to a justified and thankfully successful rebellion - but as far as the victorious rebel leaders and the Dergue were concerned it was in many ways a fight to determine who the ‘real communists’ were.
Indeed, the ethno-radical roots of current tribally based ruling party and political system where ethnicity is the principal determinant of participation in national life is also also based on the precepts of Marxist-Leninism. The Tigrayan People‘s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling or vanguard party, hid its Marxist-Leninist roots from the people of Tigray until it no longer depended on their good will to function.
The fact that both the Dergue and the TPLF did not think that any Ethiopians had the right to own land was an inconvenient truth until ‘the people’ concerned had no choice in the matter and nowhere else to turn .
In a country where the sole employer [or landlord] is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation
Ethiopians starve, suffer from want and oppression because they have no property rights. Thus they have no security in their own country that can't be determined by the government and its agents.
They can't invest in land by terracing or irrigation without the certainty that it will be given over to someone more politically connected. Their lives and destinies aren't in their own hands but are instead based on the whims of the government which begs the world on their behalf.
Starvation necessarily follows the absence of property rights and self interest in investment on one's own land or what can pass on to future generations. In the old Soviet Union the tiny few percentage points of land that were privately farmed produced more food than all of the state farms and cooperatives put together.
Beyond the elite and their government that use property to control and grow rich - the whole idea of communal property is somewhat romantic but deeply flawed. The Tragedy of the Commons is an illustration of how 'the people's' land is never taken care of when there is no incentive to work or to develop.
In fact initiative is punished under such a system where everyone gets out the same no matter how much they put in. In Ethiopia add in the element of a vicious elite who are scared to death of Ethiopian enfranchisement or security that they don't control and there is a recipe for mass suffering.
Rurally based revolutionary armies and parties such as Mao’s and that of today’s rulers in Ethiopia have an acute understanding of the profound meaning of land ownership. Actually rurally based is wrong. The base was among the elite of the cities who wanted a bigger piece (actually the whole) pie and found peasants to be more cooperative fodder than urban residents.
That is why they don’t want anyone besides themselves to control land. However elite and urban the origins of vanguard parties are, they know very well that recruits voluntary or not can only come from rural areas and that real power lies in the land and the people on it. The revolutionaries are also determined that such power should not belong in the hands of the people.
What better way to ensure that end than to make sure that through government / party ownership every square inch of land and every soul on it is under eternal control?
By their understanding the people are revolutionary when they don’t have land and reactionary when they do. Remember revolutions kill reactionaries - after all they deserve it - and if you don’t agree, hey you just might be a counter-revolutionary too ...
This revolutionary feudal paranoia translates into an obsessive desire to control the land because the people in whose name the revolution is being conducted have a marked tendency to do the very opposite of what their revolutionary aristocrats want.
Of course the TPLF had to lie to the Tigrayan people about its intentions. The revolutionary vanguard knew very well that given a choice between two forces who wanted to take their land away and to alienate them from all other Ethiopians they may have searched for other options or at a minimum denied the vision of the ethnic Marxist god its chance for realization.
Those who don’t have property, who want to keep it or who want to get it given back to them become desperate pawns and tools of dictatorship and let slip their moral visions. Because they can have no independent existence without some utitlity to the powerful who command and demean them, they are eternal servants to injustice more determined than familiar traditional feudalism could ever have been.
Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff.
The current government is better than the Dergue exactly to the degree it has abandoned their shared ideological roots - in appearance at least. In the late 1980s as the Soviet Empire collapsed and the West seemed ascendant both the TPLF and the Dergue made the same tactical decision to turn away from Marxist-Leninism. At least both pretended to do so just enough to garner Western support or at least decrease Western hostility - and most importantly to get Western money.
The Dergue, as brutal and inept as ever, failed because too much blood had been shed and too much suffering caused for Ethiopians and even foreigners to ever believe it. The current government was far more successful. Superior to the Dergue from every standpoint from military acumen to public relations schmoozing the TPLF made a more sincere effort to deal with the prevailing conditions in a world where its cherished worldview was widely seen as defunct.
'A large portion of the motivation for free market and democratic pretense was a dependence on foreign aid and loans that would be more forthcoming to a government with the nominal structure and appearance of successful societies. Where it really matters though in term of law there is no right to private property. Any economic or social backwardness or suffering caused by that policy is considered well worth it as long as it ensures power . Therefore there is eternal aid dependence and dreams of massive infusions of aid instead of conditions for actual growth and the very worst crony capitalism instead of the real thing.
Central to all of these points we have endeavored to make is the state ownership of land based upon the social religion of communism. No matter what accommodations the Dergue or the TPLF could make with reality one point neither could abandon was state, party and their personal control of every single square meter of land and thus control of every Ethiopian life.
The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy.
Every society that has held those views that dictate the absence of private property is neither prosperous nor free. It is all that simple. The essential bits of that ideology and its cannibalistic appetite for power such as state ownership of land and beyond the eyes of foreign aid donors the primacy of a single vanguard party will never be abandoned. Western aid donors are financing the proverbial boot on the common Ethiopian neck. The government has 70+ million hostages against Western indifference or interference.
Two brands of totalitarianism (or modern slavery) have haunted Ethiopia in the past century. The first was fascism back in the 1930s when Mussolini invaded Ethiopian territory and communism since the 1970s when Marx invaded Ethiopian minds. The first never had a hold on a people determined to be free. The second, and we fear the more insidious for its staying power, may not leave without an exorcism whose trauma can be ill afforded.
The past century was a cauldron of industrialized religious, racial and ideological bloodletting. However, the world entered this new century with the same era's bitterly won legacy of hope. Aside from a few unenviable holdouts, the links between economic rights, prosperity and ultimately human rights has become a commonly accepted point of view.
Tragically, aside from carefully crafted policies to convince foreign observers and donors to the contrary, Ethiopia remains one of the last bastions of human civilization to reject these hard earned rights and rewards that were dreamed of and won at the cost of almost unimaginable sacrifice from Ethiopians.
Land will remain state-owned as long as the EPRDF is at the helm of the country's leadership.
Simply put and deserving of repetiton - the absence of prosperity, of human rights, of democracy and of the right to own land are inexorably linked concepts - and for Ethiopians their time has come.
No people anywhere can be free or experience any meaningful form of democracy without the right to own land as the ultimate factual representation and living symbol of their independence from those who would have them be subjects and not citizens.
We will soon take a look another look at these truths already evident to the vast majority of Ethiopians who actually live on the land and who are subject to dictatorship far from the eyes of Western aid donors.
Observers, both Ethiopians and ferenjis (foreigners) who comment on Ethiopian affairs uncritically should wonder if they themselves would want to live in such dire straits with no hope of escape. They should wonder why it is somehow OK for Ethiopians to have natural rights denied them that they have suffered and died for over countless generations while an inalienable right to property is a birthright of the rest of humanity.
If you ever wonder why Ethiopia is ruled by dictators or why it is poor and seemingly permanently so - look no further than her current ruler's founding ideology and constitution that places control of all property in ultimately in the hands of one man.
Someone always owns everything. When you are told all land is communal or government owned that means just that whoever owns the government owns all the land and every soul on it.
The ferenji partners of Meles Inc. in the foreign policy and development bureaucracies of Washington to Brussels know all of this very well. They would never let it happen in their own countries.
A glance at the economic system and methods of totalitarian states -- of the Soviet bloc, for example -- is enough to show that state-ownership of the means of production does not lead to an increase of wealth for the people but, on the contrary, to their exploitation, whereas the reverse is true of the free countries and peoples, which are denounced for their so-called capitalism but which clearly illustrates how private ownership of the means of production is contributing more and more to the general welfare.