Wednesday, June 22

Criminal Minded

Children in a stolen moment of joy at a UN food camp during the famine of 1985. The survivors are adults now. Their world hasn't really changed for the better. We once got this bit of wisdom born of suffering from a group of older kids comparing the EPRDF to the Dergue, "a bunch of flies who'd already had their fill of our wounds were replaced by new ones."

Here is a timeless description of a dictatorship (China's), that despite all appearances of being civilized “nevertheless clings to the old techniques beloved of paranoid totalitarianism: lie and bluster in public, arrest and torture in private.” - although Ethiopia's horrors have become rather public recently. The following passage is from a 2005 Human Rights Watch Report on human rights abuses by the revolutionary government against the Oromo people, it also reflects the status of all Ethiopians.
Despite its dependence on outside assistance, the Ethiopian government has loudly rejected even measured criticism of its human rights record with sweeping, contemptuous denials. When the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report on Ethiopia in February 2005, for example, the Ethiopian government denounced the entire report as “baseless,” “frivolous,” and based entirely on “rumors” and “lies.”

Despite the donor community’s enormous investments of aid, donor governments have generally appeared reluctant to challenge the Ethiopian government’s near-total refusal to engage in constructive dialogue about the government’s many human rights-related failings. Western governments have generally appeared too timid to challenge the government publicly.

Western diplomatic sources have told Human Rights Watch that precisely because the Ethiopian government reacts so angrily to criticism, the only option is to engage the government on human rights issues quietly and behind the scenes. United States policy is also influenced by Ethiopia’s perceived status as the most stable country in the Horn of Africa and by its cooperation in Washington’s “global war on terror.”

This “quiet” approach does not appear to be bringing about any change in the Ethiopian government’s refusal to engage in constructive dialogue about human rights issues. Recent events seem to indicate that the Ethiopian government may be becoming bolder in its willingness to ignore international criticism of its human rights record.
Near the beginning of our series on the poor prospects for democracy under the current regime we took a look at its human rights record as documented by numerous native and international sources and found it to be abysmal. Ethiopians are in the tragic position of being ruled by an undemocratic government that actively hinders their economic and social development and indeed values their suffering for the aid money it attracts.

That is because its policies and ideology of Revolutionary Democracy are based on rotten bits of Marx, Lenin and Mao that have been lovingly rescued from the rubbish bin of history such as the absence of private property and ethnic divide and rule. Those policies guarantee poverty and repression but they also assure power - which is by far the most important consideration in politburo rule.

So Western aid donors, which the government privately derides as imperialists have to foot the bill for dictatorship and have become the only constituency that matters. Thus, humanity is confronted by the barbaric scene of a government that has to be begged to treat its own people decently.

What do the West and Ethiopians get for those billions? Our series Cargo Cult Economics looked at this issue and found that the commitment to development and a free market was a sham. In particular the inseperable nature of party, government and crony owned businesses and monopolies at every level make for a setting of corrupt practices never seen before in Ethiopian history. From the Weekly Standard.
For while humanitarian assistance undoubtedly saves lives today, and debt-write off and new aid have their place, they send the same signals Africa has been receiving for the past four decades--the entire continent is a basket case in need of aid.

The Blair-Bush announcement of $674 million in aid for Eritrea and Ethiopia is worrying. While we except that food aid is warranted, the leaders of these two countries are among the worst in Africa, and we are rewarding them for bankrupting their agricultural economies through corruption, mismanagement, and communist collectivization.
In the last week Ethiopians killed 36 protesters who were up in arms over the failure to release election results on schedule. These results have been embargoed for several months so that its government can cook the books. In the meantime, they are declaring martial law. Did the Blair-Bush announcement give them license to conduct these acts?
Moreover, aid transfers and debt forgiveness do little to change the basic institutional failures of the past 30 years that have made Africa poorer and sicker while the rest of the world has become richer and healthier.

The danger in sending more aid to Africa is that the very governments that frustrate economic growth with laws and regulations, which entrench the power of political elites, will handle that money. Giving them more money empowers them further and ensures that they are removed from the populations that, theoretically, voted them into power.
Only aid tied to democratic reforms--especially reforms of property right structures--will likely deliver results. The fact that there is no private property in Ethiopia is the reason its economy is such a mess
Besides manipulating statistics to fake economic growth the Ethiopian government actively lies about the need for food aid to look good and insists that its policies are not at fault but rather their implementation. As if another century of Marx and Lenin anywhere on earth could do any good but for anyone besides a tiny revolutionary aristocracy.

The whole farce of the past election season was a public relations exercise designed to attract necesary foreign aid because the country was not allowed to move forward on its own. This is described in this fine essay by Dagmawi, Two Incompatible Objectives.

The bloody subsequent government crackdown and exposure of the Meles era politburo as the twin of the Mengistu era Dergue has destroyed the facade and left behind the brutal face of evil that Ethiopians have long been familiar with.

How much will change now? It is not clear. You see, the revolutionary aristocrats of Ethiopian government have 70 million hostages who are considered counter revolutionaries for wanting a different government. In addition, it allegedly holds the stability of the Horn and the East of Africa at the whim of its policies of ethnic and tribal divide and rule.

For a second generation now international and native expectations of Ethiopia's future and her government's have been so low that many are simply willing to let well enough, or bad enough as the case may be, alone rather than risk a collapse.

That fear is a carefully calculated and cultivated by Ethiopia's rulers because the politburo is running a classic Mafia protection racket. Anyone interested in the fate of Ethiopians has to give the aritstocracy a regular cut of the aid coming in and treat the gangsters at the top with respect.

Break those rules from inside and outside the country and millions of folks will suffer and die. Just in case the West considers itself immune from humanitarian concerns there is always the risk that a tragedy of massive proportions will require intervention. There is even the regular threat of Al Qaeda in the mix to bring the US, in particular, into line.

What is really a threat to Western interests is the government of Ethiopia which thrives on disorder while considering a decent into chaos a reasonable tool of diplomacy and negotiation for aid.

It is hard to really blame the West in the end for the 'democracy' they pretend to respect in Ethiopia and the security aims they grasp onto in the Horn and East of Africa. They clearly care more about the people than the people’s own government does.

Without their budgetary, development and food aid the policies of successive governments would have killed or ruined the lives of many more millions of Ethiopians. Without their usually inadequate attentions not a single Ethiopian would have any human rights at all.

After all, any country's foreign policy is based upon self interest. The international system as well as common decency and common sense assume that a government is actually concerned for its people - it is the enduring tragedy of Ethiopians that their own government holds no concern for them.

Take another look at the children playing above. The ones who have survived the poverty and repression of twenty years of Communism and tribal divide and rule face a bleak future under the current dictatorship. Don't they deserve more by virtue of their humanity?

Apologists and cadres for the EPRDF of all stripes and in all places quickly generate new sets of excuses or recycle old ones at every opportunity. Their insincerity is evident and is the handmaiden of evil deeds carried out on the helpless.

Perhaps they think Ethiopians don't value life or freedom as much as other peoples or maybe they think Ethiopians have less nerve endings with which to feel pain.

What promise of crony status or property is worth the virulent hatred expressed to the likes of those children and their families - that they should never expect more of what is taken for granted by six billion others on this planet.

This type of willful blindness is not new. Just as in the past weeks of 2005, there was a particular month in 1977 during the Red Terror of the Mengistu regime when hundreds were executed and thousands of lives were ruined. No one really remembers their names but the name of one man, Steve Biko, who died that month thousands of miles south is in the collective memory of mankind forever.

We do not begrudge South Africans their hero and martyr nor their struggle for freedom. Indeed, we celebrate it with them as a victory for all. But why doesn't anyone remember the dead, the tortured Ethiopians of 1977 and why do we hold a certain fear that the killed and the maimed of 2005 will go into the mists of time without note?

We don't believe for a second that only a few dozen died in Addis Ababa when machine guns were fired into crowds. The world has only heard of those in a handful that made it to hospitals where cadres did not fix the numbers of dead even as they fixed the vote count.

Countless others went into the EPRDF gulag dead or alive and executions are certainly proceeding as you read this. The numbers in the countryside certainly dwarf the horrors of the cities. No one will ever know how many have died.

Is their some difference in Ethiopian DNA that has made the world care about us only in terms of annual famine aid and rock concerts every two decades or so? Why are our millions permanent nameless and faceless victims who don't deserve permanent political and institutional resolutions to suffering just like the rest of the world?

How can we do this to each other and how can the world be silent? Freedom is more than the right to be oppressed by people who look like you do. Given the established freedom of democracy and the marketplace Ethiopians will no longer need aid or pity.

The opposition victory in the past month's elections has been stolen and will never be repeated under current rule. The election was a party mistake born of arrogance and contempt for Ethiopians who weren't expected to identify their tormentors.

The great result is hope. After hopeless wasted decades of Communist variants of Scientific Socialism and Revolutionary Democracy with attendant ethnic politics, millions chose multi-ethnic national candidates and parties and expressed the vibrancy and potential of their country and culture.

That should never be forgotten as the struggle for Ethiopia's future enters its next phase. Remember, there is nothing - no crime, no infamy, no horror that will not be gladly carried out by Ethiopia's rulers to sustain their grip for even another day in power.

One thing that is needed is a symbol of these times. Perhaps the name and image of the first victim of the new open terror can become a point of focus for the uncounted and nameless masses killed and bound by this set of despots.

In a recent case a US Congressmen threatened aid to Ethiopia in the interests of one of his constituents who was denied the return of his property stolen by the government in Addis Ababa. The response from Ethiopian officials was shock that one person could so influence relations betweeen the countries.

The official reaction is not surprising because in Ethiopia all 70 million people don't matter to their own government. It is time that 70 million individuals to be noticed and considered as the criminal mindset of the past is rejected and a mind born of every single life's value is renewed.

The interests of the world lie with them, not with their government. Remember what you said President Bush because millions believed you
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Ethiopians have to fix their own country but helping them gain their freedom will mean more good for both countries than billions in aid and security conferences with dictators. Despots are the ultimate authors and directors of international terrorism directed against all of humanity.

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