Sunday, May 4

Attack of the Honest Lawyer ...

... or the Adventures of an American Law Professor in Melesian Higher Eduction.

The first part of this post is largely drawn from Linking Rights and Foreign Aid for Ethiopia: The Case of HR 2003 - The Juris of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Abigail Salisbury, was until recently, a visiting Professor at the Mekele "University Law Faculty" (MULF herein).

The only thing we know for sure about that fancy institutional title is that it is in fact in Mekele. Consider the following passage and it will be abundantly clear why the term University Law Faculty is in italics and quotation marks in the previous sentence.
... I sat down to read and grade the mid-term essays of the students in my International Human Rights Law classes. Because all of the instructors at Ethiopian universities are made to sign a contract that we will never say anything against the government or ruling party, I had been very careful in wording my assignment.
Manifestly, this is no regular law school - except for those tragic ersatz institutions in places like North Korea and Syria perhaps whose purpose is to provide written documentation for totalitarian whims.

Even then, one must assume that the hereditary dictatorship of the Assads might brutally enforce such rules without actually putting them in writing while the hereditary dictatorship of the Jungs would assume that such submission was assumed by the right of their slaves to breathe air.

Imagine that any academic institution from the local kids' Montessori School to Oxford or anywhere else in the world required such contracts. Outside of North Korea and Syria no one would ever fail to be outraged at such strictures. Outside of Ethiopia it is remarkable that anyone has noticed them at all.

It takes a special kind of government / party, defined by absolute arrogance born of thuggish instincts, massive insecurity, and absolute fear to have academics sign such a contract. MULF is just one tiny brick in the edifice of lies upon which the government and rule of Meles Zenawi is founded.

Ethiopia also has an office of Prime Minister, a Parliament, a Supreme Court, an Election Board, a Commodities Exchange, a Central Statistical Office, etc. etc. - the existence of each of these is just as meaningless as that of MULF. Dictators always know that they have to pretend to be civilized and have civilized institutions - especially dictators who depend on democracies to stay in power.

The result in Ethiopia is not developing or evolving institutions having growing pains but a mass Potemkin Inferno of falsity and suffering. It is however usually more than enough to satisfy most unquestioning ferenji journalists and complicit ferenji bureaucrats who help arrange payments to Meles for the whole thing to go on and on.

The Ethiopian civil contract is not between rulers and ruled it is between ferenjis and Meles Inc. As long as Ethiopia remains poor enough for billions in aid, no one speaks too loudly about who is making her poorer or who gets all the wealth - as long as the natives are beaten and buried out of earshot and downwind from ferenji embassies - the payments can go on forever and will.

As Professor Salisbury notes, a few fine ferenjis have gone and messed with the program. She was invited to
participate in a panel discussion on H.R. 2003, also known as the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007. This American bill, passed in October by the US House of Representatives and now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would withdraw nonessential assistance from Ethiopia until its government fulfills various human rights obligations as set forth by Congress.
[s]ome Ethiopians react badly to this, [in our humble opinion, 'Ethiopians' in this context means cadres, the terrorized, or those dreaming of the golden ring of crony status and returned property] go farther, though, stating that the bill amounts to coercion or intimidation, reaching the level of interference and threats against Ethiopia.

While I do not believe that the bill was meant to intimidate, it was clearly intended to persuade the Ethiopian government to change its ways, using economic restrictions as a tool.
The most fascinating part of the discussion is what she noticed about the sense of supposed betrayal present
There is a sense amongst many of the foreign aid workers whom I have met here that Ethiopians have developed a sense of entitlement. It is true that this could just be stressed people complaining about the locals to let off steam.

However, during the H.R. 2003 discussion forum there seemed to be a general assumption that Ethiopia is entitled to American aid. Throughout all the exploration of the various legal issues involved, no one ever doubted that the money belongs to the Ethiopian people.

When I worked up the courage to mention the issue, I was rather strongly told that America has a moral obligation to provide assistance to Ethiopia.
Professor Salisbury notes that even within the US itself that "federal aid often comes with strings attached for the states which accept them." It is amazing that deep into a second generation of proto-or actual totalitarianism that Ethiopian government has so deeply internalized international begging as a substitute for rational social and economic policy.

That one of the restrictions upon spending billions of tax dollars from Americans should be treating human beings in a minimally civilized way is not coercion or intimidation. So let us get back to the good Professor Salisbury's assignment and her students at MULF.
I assumed I would get some rather dry responses, especially given the comments from the H.R. 2003 discussion forum, which all seemed to assert that Ethiopia is doing just fine on the human rights front.

I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands.

A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on.

Of those who wrote such notes, almost all said that I would probably be surprised to find that many of the students had been afraid to express their true feelings at the H.R. 2003 discussion forum because you never know who is listening.
For most Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopia, enemies of Ethiopia in her own government - or for that matter the most casual students of any dictatorship in history - this is all just so blindingly obvious isn't it?

Maybe not so obvious so ... Western reporters routinely go to Ethiopia and ignore everything they see to hang out at the Sheraton Bar or if they are really slumming the Hilton Bar. They write a few paragraphs about the natives' cute supposed superstitions regarding electoral day rings around the sun without noting that no elections actually took place. Optionally they can write about orphaned cheetah cubs in Harar without mentioning the Darfur style ethnic cleansing going on there.

Western foreign policy and aid bureaucrats can always be relied upon to be "shocked, absolutely shocked" far less sincerely than the Professor that there are violations of basic rights going on in Ethiopia. But ... they quickly rationalize them away because their major irritation with the government is that it paraded dirty laundry in front of them forcing them to say something.

Mission one is getting along with the native thugs at all costs. They alone allow access to the natives who are kept conveniently poor for the lords of poverty to swarm around them and be ever so meaningful. The great intellectuals who hold that their personal theories matter more than people are perhaps the worst of the lot.

Nevermind that what made those lords rich to begin with is being forever denied Ethiopians. The same goes for the lords of realpolitik. Mission one is keeping a lid on things and knowing that while Meles "is and S.O.B. - here is our S.O.B." bought and paid for in cold hard cash.

So what is remarkable about Abigail Salisbury is that she saw Ethiopians as people just like her. They weren't career stepping stones and didn't exist to make her feel better about herself. Rather, she had higher expectations of them and for them than anyone else at MULF and Meles Inc.

She had a glimpse of totalitarian horror and chose not to pretend it was something else. Why does she matter? Well, as we have said many times before it is ferenjis that keep Meles in power every bit as much as his fervent willingness to shed blood.

It is perhaps also good to know that ferenjis are even capable of making such moral decisions about the lives of Africans that aren't based on ever new interpretations of Rousseau's Romance with the Primitive.

There is nothing primitive about Ethiopians or any Africans that makes dictatorship somehow OK for them and not others. Salisbury has given Ethiopians just that respect and since ultimately ferenjis are listened to more than Ethiopians what she says is revealing to many more.

The Professor concludes her article supporting the notion that the Ethiopian government should be accountable for how it treats Ethiopians in the eyes of Americans who are paying the bills ...
Instead of being ashamed that our country is disliked for taking unpopular measures, perhaps as Americans we can find pride in that self-same fact, exactly because we do that which we feel must be done to improve lives, despite what others may think of us.
Right on. Even at this stage of her evolving understanding or perhaps it is actual academic reticence - it is understandable that Professor Salisbury still speaks in terms of unpopularity.

It is not Ethiopians who oppose making Meles accountable. It is his revolutionary feudal aristocracy that fears the consequences of their actions. Besides stealing all they can from Ethiopians and from ferenji aid today such a bill in American and possibly European law raises the possibility that they may not enjoy their ill gotten gains in comfortable exile either.

So what happened when Abigail's article was published? She had clearly broken the letter and spirit of her contract to submit to Meles Inc. and thereby to actively participate in the oppression of tens of millions of Ethiopians. It doesn't take a lawyer to see that much does it?

Well she was fired for alleged "incompetence". This article, HR2003 revisited - American law professor fired from Ethiopian university - from the Sub-Saharan Informer tells a bit of the story.
After failing to convince the university’s academic commission that her contract should not be terminated, Professor Salisbury is planning to depart Ethiopia. The firing quickly followed an article she published in “The Jurist,” [the article quoted above]
The amazing thing about this passage from one point of view is that she voluntarily fought to stay at MULF. In this piece, Interview with Prof. Abigail Salisbury - from Ethiomedia we get a whole lot more detail.
Abraha Belai: Would you have written the piece in JURIST if you knew what you know about the consequences?

Abigail Salisbury: That’s a really difficult question. When I wrote the piece, I knew I was taking something of a risk, but I didn’t think anyone in Ethiopia would notice it. I had written for JURIST before, but my work didn’t attract huge interest.

I wrote the article on Ethiopia thinking that it would provide some interesting information and nothing more. I’ve been shocked and a little embarrassed at the attention paid to the piece. I am glad that I wrote what I did, though.
That she had the luxury of making that choice is absolutely based on her status as a ferenji. Had she been Ethiopian she not only would have faced dismissal but other far less tolerable fates as well. Imagine Abigail Salisbury was instead Abebech Sileshi. What would have happened?

- she would have definitely been arrested, tortured, and imprisoned with or without trial (given the Ethiopian legal system what is the difference?) for however long Meles or his feudal appointees wanted

- she could have been executed for any reason that crossed the mind of Meles at the time - any made up association of her fate with terrorism or corruption fighting would have had ferenji embassies smiling encouragingly

- the fact that she did this in Mekele where Ethiopians are by definition supposed to be absolutely subservient and where independent thought is most feared would have compounded her crimes

- all of her claims to savings, possessions, property, reputation, respect or security of any kind would have become moot

- her family and friends who chose to stay decent in any way regarding her or who did not actively take cadre orders to do her harm (even physical) would have been at risk for all or part of the above themselves

Are we exaggerating here? Not a bit. This is how Ethiopia is run today and how the lives of 70 million Ethiopians are defined.

She describes a setting with not only the absence of academic freedom of any kind but also the absence of what is expected of academics at all. What is described is a sort of "Lord of Flies" institution.
I complained to the dean and vice dean many times that the students were just allowed to run wild, and that the students were controlling the instructors. Students commonly visit professors’ offices to beg for money or otherwise harass them.

Because of that environment, there was a fair amount of animosity and there wasn’t much motivation for any real exchange of ideas, whatever the political situation.
As long as no one strays from the central point that Meles / his government / his party are infallible then anything goes. Professors are terrified of their students and vice versa. Accusations of ideological nature are deadly and absent such or given their threat the purpose of a university or indeed a kindergarten is so perverted that it seems to not only betray students but to actively corrupt them.
The first day of class, I tried to get my students to tell me their names and what interest they had in human rights. Even if I specifically asked a student his or her name, the student would just sit there and look away. I knew from that moment there would be no discussions in class.

I desperately tried getting students to react even through simple means, saying things such as, “Who agrees with that idea? Raise your hand if you do.” Nothing would happen. “Who disagrees? Raise your hand.” No hands went up. The students wanted only to be given facts to memorize, and became angry if asked to analyze ideas or provide their own thoughts on something.

I was utterly shocked at the students’ expectations. Clearly they had always been taught that way.
MULF can not be viewed independently of the whole of Meles Inc. Students and instructors may come to such a place with all the sincerity of academics and students from Seoul University to the University of the West Indies. When they get to MULF they find a microcosm of why the Ethiopia of Meles is in a mess and why given current policies it will stay that way.

If there is no honesty in the larger society of any kind, or if honesty is absent in institutions and civil society under threat of death, then what can one expect at MULF? There is nothing surprising here - only that someone told.

The attrition rate for visiting professors seems accordingly high. One left without any pay or reimbursement and Abigail got no severance pay. Hmmm ... we wonder what happened to the money? The same thing that probably happened to all of the millions spent to run or donated for the improvement of MULF.

Along with most of the funds for students it has disappeared into the coffers of Meles Inc. So what happened when the JURIST article above came out?
The day following the publication of my article, I noticed that it could not be accessed online from Ethiopia. That night around 7 p.m. I got a phone call from the dean of the law faculty, who told me to appear at his office the next morning. No explanation was given.

At his office, I spoke to the dean and two other law faculty leaders. They said secret proceedings had been started against me because my students had complained that they weren’t learning anything. I had been telling the dean that the students weren’t learning for months. I had told him that they couldn’t understand me and that they said the reading materials I assigned were “over their heads”.

I had also experienced terrible behavior, such as students yelling at me or walking out of class, telling me what to do, asking for money, following me home, and sexually harassing me during my office hours. I had asked the dean, vice dean, and higher-up professors for advice dozens of times, but had never been given any help.

The dean told me that I would be permitted to write a letter arguing why I should not be fired, but that I would never meet my accusers.
The dean mentioned my JURIST article and said that the content was all lies, and that I don’t know how to write. Things would have been different, he told me, if only I knew how to write properly.
Seems to us that the problem was exactly that she knew how to write properly or at least that she exercised a presumed human right to write. The levels of institutional dishonesty and depravity on exhibit there are stunning. Here is a bit more on the consequences of the JURIST article. Ms. Salisbury goes on to say
I think the education given there is very poor.
After graduating from MULF with a four-year degree, students can become judges right away.
We only know about this in any detail because one honest ferenji lawyer had enough. Not really, though, Ethiopians always knew. More to the point she was an honest ferenji by her own choice where almost all ferenjis choose the convenient lie that no more can be expected from or for Ethiopians than Meles.

Imagine what the talented students at MULF could accomplish given a decent & honest educational system. Imagine what talented teachers could explore and pass on. Imagine the horror of millions of Ethiopian lives in such a system. Imagine how far Ethiopia has fallen - and there seems no limit to how long and hard she may fall.

For a country that prided itself on only five years of foreign occupation in thousands of years of existence, Ethiopia is now ruled by a rapacious elite hostile to her very existence.

The nooks and crannies of the Melesian corrosion boring and poisoning its way through Ethiopia only seems to matter when a ferenji notices. Otherwise, like a tree falling in the forest - no one hears or notices.


We will end on this hilarious (diplomatic in a way but we suspect intentionally understated) note. Professor Salisbury says
I should mention that teaching this human rights class can be a very touchy thing, even though the subject appears to be strongly supported by the university, which is of course overseen by the Ministry of Education in Addis Ababa.

While such a subject would be almost a luxury elective or niche seminar in America, it is a part of the Ethiopian core curriculum and the administrators consider it one of the most important topics today, even having established a Human Rights Centre for community advocacy and informative purposes.
Good one Abigail!