Saturday, September 10

The Tragedy of Low Expectations

Hugo Chavez, Havana 2005:

"But Cuba doesn't have a dictatorship - it's a revolutionary democracy."

Jefferson Davis, Richmond 1860:

“But the South doesn’t mistreat slaves - slavery is revolutionary citizenship.”

Chinese Politburo, Beijing 1989:

“But we didn’t shoot any students - they got revolutionary acupuncture.”

Mengistu, Harare 1999:

“But I did not harm anyone - I only passed out revolutionary measures.”

Walter Duranty, Moscow 1936:

“But millions did not die in engineered famines - it was a revolutionary diet.”

African Union, Addis Ababa 2005:

"Following the announcement yesterday by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) of the results of the elections held on 15 May 2005, the African Union wishes to congratulate the people of Ethiopia for having freely expressed their will in the process."

Democracy is a simple concept and one easily separated from other, far less pleasant, forms of government - people do not have to live in Switzerland, New Zealand or Japan to benefit from it.

Democracy is a human achievement that has spread far beyond the West and does not require industrialization to achieve - but it does require an elementary sense of humanity in government.

From India to Botswana to Nicaragua many countries have democratic systems that are clearly recognizable as such by any honest and rational observer. The appraisal of a political system is very much like the difference between a nude and pornography - folks just plain know it when they see it.

The word democracy may be abused but no one is fooled by its perversions - who does not want to be. A celebration of Ethiopia's fake democracy is a sign of contempt for Ethiopians that holds that they either don't deserve better or are incapable of better.

So what does respect for Ethiopians sound like?

Ana Gomes, Addis Ababa 2005:

“[P]ost-polling day irregularities, delays and questionable vote counting, as well as flawed handling of complaints and re-runs of elections in some constituencies had undermined the electoral process ... international standards for genuine democratic elections were not met.”

Here is an emminently reasonable description of actual democracy from the US State Department (via Ethiomedia) called 'What is Democracy.' Clearly, Ethiopia under this government meets none of those most basic standards ... and the State Department knows it.

Equally clearly without the aid, concern and remittances from the EU, the US and others such as Japan, absolutely no development would be taking place in Ethiopia at all and the government suffocated native economy would plummet rather than just stagnate as at present. Without more than a generation worth of food aid anywhere up to tens of milions (probably more) Ethiopians would be dead.

However, contempt based on decades of bad government and expressed in the form of low expectations has so far caused an attitude of "what else do you expect from those Ethiopians." The EU has decided that apparrently far more should be expected from those Ethiopians.

No longer making excuses for suffering and acting like there is no virtue to despots sharing some genes that makes them look like their victims is a sign of great respect for Ethiopians. Close your eyes for a second and imagine that the Ethiopian politburo was made of ferenjis.

Do you imagine for a moment that the world would not be in a constant uproar over what was being done to Ethiopians of every ethnicity, region and religion? Is there some powerful unspoken human virtue in being oppressed by one's own?

Actually, apartheid gave Black South Africans far more economic rights and relatively the same human and political rights that Ethiopians have today - far more in some real ways. This can not be ignored unless we argue that there is some dubious honor to being oppressed by people who look like you.

One way that the Ethiopian government is fair is that it oppresses with equal opportunity. Oromo, Tigrayan, Amhara, Anuak, Gurage, Sidamo or Somali - all are targets of a tiny few who use tribalism as a weapon to divide and rule but who do not care about more than a tiny feudal revolutionary aristocracy atop a pyramid of suffering. All 70 million others are enemies (of the people!?) who will never be given another inch of a chance to express their displeasure.

The former American Ambassador to Ethiopia, Aurelia Brazael displayed the same sense that Ethiopian blood and pain matters when she said on a visit there that the Anuak region of Gambella was:

"the conscience of Ethiopia"

We believe her words and the power behind them saved thousands of Anuak lives that government ethnic cleansing was just beginning to organize to put possible oil reserves in hands it felt were more convenient. We know that without even the furtive interest of the community of donor countries that there would be absolutely no voice heard in Ethiopia besides the government's.

You see, the government is in a bind. The ideology that the ruling party at the center adopted back in the 1970s expressed their will to power and got them what they wanted - power. It also serves to justify eternal rule while including within the mechanisms to create elaborate illusions of civilized inclusive states.

This caused a necessary dependence on the imperialist camp (what the government calls donor nations) that allowed the government to maintain loyalty to its self serving ideology and the power that guaranteed. That arrangement also divorced it from the consequences of ideology which are eternal poverty for and the enmity of all Ethiopians.

That grotesque game seems to be coming to some form of a conclusion with the EU at least. How about the US? US election observers were expelled early on as agents of imperialism because of the government assumption that they would be less apt to manipulation than the EU.

That certainly seemed true at first as the EU participated in photo-ops such as three observers accompanying the PM and a crowd of reporters to his voting place. The problem was he was running unopposed there (and for what it mattered every othe place too) and there barely were enough observers anywhere else to notice even mass shootings much less simple ballot box stuffing.

In the end, despite ethiopundit's jibes about how the EU observers would stumble out of the Sheraton about dawn after a night of partying to shake bloody government hands, kiss the 'winners' and be off to the airport - they stood and fought for principal. No! - it was apparently not OK to steal an election and kill Ethiopians at will.

So, again, what of the US?
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.
While we at ethiopundit are supporters of the war on terror it is clear that supporting this government while holding one's nose or wiping hands after greeting its minions works only for short term policy gain but will in the long term be harmful. The Ethiopian government policy is founded on the aid that poverty and fear of chaos generates while government policy also assures poverty and chaos will result.

Anyway, it is not poverty that generates terror but it is government policy that trades on categories of divide and rule based upon force as the basic coin of exchange in a society. Thus opening up doors for every manner of nasty actor to enter. All of the elements for that strange brew are part of Ethiopian government policy to stay in power at all costs.

In Politburo Knows Best I - Liberal Democracy we discussed the various American interests in Ethiopian human rights and the war on terror in more detail. The US government did not force through the issue of funding a bill for US government observers and did not protest loudly when indpendent American ones were expelled because it ultimately did not take the Ethiopian government very seriously as converted neo-democrats.

So from Foggy Bottom to the White House through to the NSC the message went out to Congress and all its committees - don't expect too much from Ethiopia. This Ethiopian government is horrible but we can't risk worse - especially when this government has the country primed to fall apart if it is seriously challenged.

When the government of Uzbekistan massacred democracy protestors the US risked its all important airbases there supporting the international military mission in Afghanistan. It seriously denounced that government's human rights violations and got kicked out.

What possible risk is there of demanding the Ethiopian government treat Ethiopians decently that was not taken in Uzbekistan where far more was at stake? When Ambassador Brazael was appointed, Human Rights Watch had this to say:
The newly designated U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia told Human Rights Watch that human rights and the "war on terror" are both important objectives for the United States.

But a senior State Department official told Human Rights Watch that Ethiopia's cooperation in gathering intelligence from Sudan and Somalia and in other matters he was not at liberty to discuss is so important to U.S. interests that the U.S. effectively wields little if any leverage over the Ethiopian government.

He said that, although the U.S. is aware that Ethiopia's interests do not always coincide with its own and listens to its partner "with a jaundiced ear," the country's human rights record is "not a factor" in the bilateral relationship "as a point of fact.
Indeed at times it seems as though CENTCOM warnings of terrorist burrowing in the Horn and Africa in general are timed to coincide with democratic activities in Ethiopia that are expected to be dishonest on the Ethiopian government's part or of Ethiopian government violence towards its own people. It is as though all are being reminded not to expect too much from Ethiopian governance and that Americans should keep their eye on the 'global war on terror' ball.

The impetus and simultaneous low expectations on the subject of democracy are confusing. The US must decide whether or not Ethiopia is on the list of nations who should pay heed to the (universal?) call that Ethiopians believed of George Bush:
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.
We reject out of hand any of the usual conspiracy theories as silly that America has always been an enemy of Ethiopia because she went against the US towards the end of the Cold War or how America is jealous that Ethiopia is thousands of years older. That is all a load of nonsense. The foreign policy of all nations is based on naked self interest.

Some countries have a view of self interest that the more prosperous and democratic countries are out there, the better it is for all ... for purely selfish reasons. That is fine and all that one can ask for in this earthly reality. The self interest of the US in the long term is in an Ethiopia whose government has not placed it in a state of permanent crisis by design.

A government that did not see its 70 million people and their suffering as effective hostages and a weapon against the humanitarian interests of the imperialist camp (donor nations) would serve the interests of US security interests far more in the long term and in the short term as well.

As Dagmawi pointed out, much of the donor community has recognized that there is a valuable viable opposition that makes government claims to be the only rational actors look like the self serving mess that it is. That opposition also won the recent election.

That is why there was a many months delay in reporting results, repeated claims to have won by the government, and a massive nationwide crackdown inclunding murders of opponents and their supporters. Always remember in no area where there were observers did the ruling party (essentially the same thing as the government) win a single contest.

The Ethiopian government has been trading of tribal divide and rule for decades to serve its will to power. They have barely begun playing with religious divide and rule but the plans are all there and that is ony a matter of time for them to carry out because there is literally nothing they won't do for another day in power.

So the American government has a decision to make. Who do America's long term interests lie with?

-- Is a neo-communist dictatorship that is doing all of the wrong things in terms of national, economic and social development that the US has always cherished really worth sticking with at all costs?

-- Is it the will of the entire Ethiopian people and a viable opposition that won an election across every ethnic group, region and religion and that appreciates the rights of man and the fundamental policies that have brought plenty and freedom to billions?

President Bush, Secretary Rice, Democrats, Independents and Republicans everywhere - do you realize that no one in Ethiopia has property rights, and all are effectively serfs of those that own the state. That situation guarantees eternal wretchedness and lack of human and civil rights forever.

Is this a government that you want the good name and the good people of the United States to be associated with? You have a job to do in serving the interests of the American people but history has shown us, as well as recent events that enlightened self interest is seldom found in concert with despots.

Ethiopians have taken care of themselves for centuries and resisted foreign influence in their political life. They have done so with unity across all regional, ethnic and religious lines. This time they need some help against a homegrown enemy with an imported Marxist - Leninist - Maoist ideology - that effectively makes a very very few Ethiopians the totalitarian colonial viceroys over 70 milion victims of a modern day self-colonialism.


What can be done from abroad without harming the 70 million hostages of this government and while maintaing all local and international needs for stability? It can quite viably and rationally be done - all that is needed is will. A future post Accountability Now & Neo-Sullivan Principles will lay out a road map.

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