Friday, December 22

The Birth of Plenty

... all we are saying - is give the kulaks & bourgeoisie a chance...
sing to the tune of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."


Questions about how to make any poor country more wealthy can be approached by wondering how any human societies ever managed to end the age old reign of human poverty to begin with. In a reasonable and readable manner William Bernstein answers those questions in The Birth of Plenty where he argues that
Prosperity is not achieved by merely by possessing hydroelectric dams, roads, telephone wires, factories, fertile farmlands, or even great quantities of money. Nor can prosperity be transplanted from one nation to another simply by transferring the key components of an economic infrastructure.

In all but the most exceptional cases, national prosperity is not about physical objects or natural resources. Rather, it is about institutions—the framework within which human beings think, interact, and carry on business.
Most of humanity has been desperately poor for most of history with meaningful growth measured over centuries but
[t]he nature of that growth changed dramatically in the centuries following 1600. Initially, the growth was "extensive," consisting of a significant expansion of the national economy caused purely by population increase, unaccompanied by real improvement in the wealth or material comfort of the average citizen.

For the first time, the British economy mustered enough growth to keep pace with population numbers. By the nineteenth century, however, growth had become "intensive," outpacing even the human urge to reproduce, with advances in per capita income and an increase in material well-being at the individual level.
Karl Marx took note of this sea change in human affairs when in the Manifesto of the Communist Party he wrote “ The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.” By the ’rule of the bourgeoisie’ he means, of course, capitalism.

Contemporary Ethiopia does not rate very well among the preconditions for future plenty to spare her people levels of suffering that have become tradition. The author of ‘The Birth of Plenty’ defines the ‘sources of growth’ thus:
Property rights. Innovators and tradesmen must rest secure that the fruits of their labors will not be arbitrarily confiscated, by the state, by criminals, or by monopolists. The assurance that a person can keep most of his just reward is the right that guarantees all other rights. Note the emphasis on the word most.

The right to property is never absolute. Even the most economically libertarian governments, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, levy some taxes, enforce some form of eminent domain, and maintain some restrictions on commercial freedom of action. Similarly, confiscation can be more subtle than that which occurs in feudal or socialist states.

A government that fails to control inflation or maintain proper banking controls, such as Brazil's in the 1980s or present-day Zimbabwe's, steals from its citizens as surely as Edward III and Stalin did. In premodern Europe, government-granted monopolies, while highly profit-able to those who exercised them, sapped the incentive of the rest of the nation.
All land in Ethiopia belongs to the state. The citizens of any such state necessarily live in fear of losing their life’s work, represented by their property, for reasons either political or economic.

Indeed, the agents of such an all powerful state hold dominion over the very life and death of what are little more than millions of serfs. Thus, there is little to distinguish socialist models of governance, such as Ethiopia’s from feudal ones. In either case, the people are powerless and the engines of growth are crippled in the service of the power of a few.
Scientific rationalism. Economic progress depends on the development and commercialization of ideas. The inventive process requires a supportive intellectual framework—an infrastructure of rational thought, if you will, with a reliance on empirical observation and on the mathematical tools that support technologic advance. The scientific method that we take for granted in the modern West is a relatively new phenomenon.

Only in' the last four hundred years have Western peoples freed them-selves from the dead hand of the totalitarian, Aristotelian mind-set. Even today, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, honest intellectual inquiry places life and property at grave risk from the forces of state and religious tyranny.
This section, in its negative aspects defines contemporary Ethiopia quite clearly. The governing ideology of ‘revolutionary democracy’ is a set of nonsensical frankly silly radical mantras that were long forgotten or wisely ignored by most of humanity. It gives Marxist-Leninist-Maoist justifications for effective one party rule while foreign aid donors are reassured by an impossible and non-existent simultaneous commitment to the free market.

Rationalism is also abandoned in an ethnic mode of governance where all political and thus all economic and social interactions are dominated by tribalism that is manipulated to the minute by minute advantage of Ethiopia’s rulers. Constitutionally any group of any size can secede at will for any reason - of course that is not the case but it lays the foundation for destroying potential rivals of every kind at the center’s convenience.
Capital markets. The large-scale production of new goods and services requires vast amounts of money from others—"capital." (money available for investment) Even if property and the ability to innovate are secure, capital is still required to develop schemes and ideas.

Since almost no entrepreneur has enough money to mass-produce his inventions, economic growth is impossible without substantial capital from outside sources [outside meaning from all but personal sources]. Before the nineteenth century, society's best, brightest, and most ambitious individuals had scant access to the massive amounts of money necessary to transform their dreams into reality.
The litany of impediments to any native entrepreneur’s efforts are only exceeded by how unwelcome foreign investors are beyond almost anecdotal reports involving foreign remittances in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of foreign investment in Africa and considering the size of its population, per capita foreign investment may be the lowest on the planet.

In addition vast sums are locked up in the removal of all land from economic activity by the fact of state ownership. Taking into account the general anti-growth set of policies in place and the state of the banking sector it is clear that very few can dream of capital of any kind. Even those who manage it find themselves in competition with an effectively one party state and that owns businesses both ‘private’ and public at every level of society - taking any concept of patronage one might imagine to catastrophic levels.
Fast and efficient communications and transportation. The final step in the creation of gadgets [that were necessary for the industrial revolution] is their advertisement and distribution to buyers hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even if entrepreneurs possess secure property rights, the proper intellectual tools, and adequate capital, their innovations will languish unless they can quickly and cheaply put their products into the hands of consumers.

Sea transport did not become safe, efficient, and cheap until two centuries ago with the development of steam power, and land transport did not follow suit until about fifty years later.
Government monopoly of telecommunications places Ethiopia consistently in the very last group of failed of nearly failed states. This is compounded by frank hostility to freedom of communication evidenced by crippling the internet and in the limitations on a free press - or rather the absence of a free press outside of the hearing or sight of foreign aid donors.

Transportation is, of course, hampered by Ethiopia’s terrain. However, even there government interest is almost entirely based on foreign willingness to finance road construction projects. None of these factors can be divorced from each other and one must imagine how many more roads would be built in a rationally governed Ethiopia than the present.

The author continues
Not until all four of these factors—property rights, scientific rationalism, effective capital markets, and efficient transport and communication—are in place can a nation prosper. These four factors first coalesced, briefly, in sixteenth century Holland but were not securely in place in the English-speaking world until about 1820. Not until much later did the four factors begin to spread over the rest of the globe.
The absence of even one of these factors endangers economic prog-ress and human welfare; kicking out just one of these four legs will top-ple the platform upon which the wealth of a nation rests.

This occurred in eighteenth-century Holland with the British naval blockade, in the world's Communist states with the loss of property rights, and in much of the Middle East with the absence of capital markets and Western rationalism. Most tragic of all, in much of Africa, all four factors are still essentially absent.
One of the missing pieces in this book and of much development literature is the stomping roaring brightly pink colored elephant in the middle of the room with the word culture written all over it. We will begin to deal with culture shortly first in terms of Smith and Fukuyama, but will now note that culture is not static and that long before it becomes an issue some minimal accommodations to basic human experience must be made that are - as of 2006 still being ignored in Ethiopia.

Consider the wonderful possibilities of a stock market and imagine one in Ethiopia. Lack of property rights would deny most the capital to participate. The whole thing would never be taken seriously beyond the first few times Western journalists visit because the possibilities of market decisions and new concentrations of wealth and effort would be suspect and considered undoubtedly 'anti-revolutionary democracy' activities. Lastly, how could anyone ever know what a stock was worth when devaluing the stock of a government or party or crony owned company could mean imprisonment or 'disappearance'.

Understanding contemporary Ethiopia makes one come to the tragic realization that Ethiopia’s rulers are actually making perfectly rational choices every day and even in their long term planning. Purely from the point of view of staying in power and jealously guarding most of a small pool of rewards for as long as the juggling act can be kept up - all the right moves are being made.

The mistake from the observer’s point of view comes with the rather innocent set of assumptions one tends to bring to considerations of most national governments - often out of a desperate hope against all evidence.

The natural assumption of the well meaning mind that a decent balance can be found or is even considered worthy of discovery between the general good on one hand and the ruler's will to power on the other does not fit Ethiopia.

Monday, December 18

Leveraging Poverty

A scene from the Gibee sometime in 2002. (image)

This post is a companion piece to Scavengers of the Horn about the attempted corporate vs. corporate shakedown of Starbucks. Once you recognize the degree of criminal mindedness inherent to Meles Inc. one can't be surprised they tried it again.

Again? You see dear reader, back in 2002, Meles ran the same con game on Nestle and it worked. He cleverly crafted an image of a big bad corporation greedily going after the money of poor Ethiopians. Oh ... and Oxfam was involved in that one too.

Ethiopians are still paying the price for that and all too many other forms of ashattir with the very lowest absolute and per capita Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) levels on planet earth.

The Nestle Story

From the BBC on the 19th of December of 2002
The Swiss-based food giant, Nestle, has defended its demand for $6m in compensation from famine-stricken Ethiopia.

The dispute with the Ethiopian Government centres on a livestock firm that was owned by Germany's Schweisfurth Group, a Nestle subsidiary, before being nationalised by the former communist regime in 1975.

"I think it goes way beyond the legal case," a Nestle spokesman told the BBC.

"I think it is in the interest of the developing countries in general to have a continued flow of foreign direct investment."

He said it was "very important for a country like Ethiopia that people do not fear to invest in that country".
Then suddenly, from the Guardian one day later
Nestle, the world's largest coffee company, was forced into a humiliating climbdown yesterday after a wave of public outrage greeted its demand for a $6m (£3.7m) payment from the government of famine stricken Ethiopia.

The company promised to invest any money it receives from Ethiopia back in the country after receiving thousands of emails of protest in response to the story in yesterday's Guardian.

At an emergency meeting in its Swiss HQ last night, senior executives were mulling over the public relations damage. The claim represents about an hour's turnover for a company which posted sales of $59.36bn and pre-tax profits of $6.15bn last year.

Nestle - fearing a consumer boycott of its products across Europe - is considering donating some of the money it is demanding to help feed the 11 million Ethiopians who face starvation in coming months.

Campaigners last night repeated their call for the company to abandon its claim entirely. "I hope that Nestle reconsiders and realises they don't need the money as much as Ethiopia. I hope they drop the issue altogether," said Sophia Tickell, senior policy analyst at Oxfam.
Amazing! Who benefits from this turn of events? Ethiopians? Not a chance - their credit rating just fell through the floor. Meles Inc.? Of course.

The Nestle spokesman was exactly right - it is in the interest of developing countries to be seen as responsible financial partners. Nestle is responsible to its shareholders and in the business of making money - which it does very well.

Just be sure that Nestle profits and the profits in the control of any sensible investment officer (who reads economic and investment country reports with any degree of intelligence) anywhere in the corporate universe will NEVER be invested in Ethiopia now after silliness like the Nestle and Starbucks issues.

Transformative Investment

As ever, the Meles version of long term planning is to weaken Ethiopia while short term planning is about grubbing around for as much cash on hand right now to send away into foreign banks. Which also has the added benefit for him of further weakening Ethiopia - like a parasite he needs his host to be weak.

Tens of billions in aid, budget support, loan forgiveness and serial 'new' loans never to be paid back have gone out as protection money so Meles will ruin less Ethiopian lives and so he won't bring the Horn of Africa down around him like a demented Samson.

None of those tens of billions from 'development partners' has translated into any economic growth or any dream of escaping suffering as the tradition it has become. Rather, Ethiopians are getting poorer even as her revolutionary feudal aristocracy gets ever more filthy rich.

There is no coincidence to be found in these truths.

Almost all of the rest of humanity has escaped or is busy escaping the "poor, nasty, brutish and short" life that has been man's fate for so long. None of them did it or are doing it because of foreign aid.

Aside from elementary pro-growth policies absent in Ethiopia such as the rule of law, free markets and secure rights of ownership - what all developing and healthy economies have in common is high levels of corporate FDI.

Ethiopia's levels of FDI are subterranean because of the very purposeful policies of the Ethiopian regime whose elite is busy sending money siphoned from aid and squeezed from Ethiopians onto investments and bank accounts in the West.

Absurdities such as discussing comodity markets in Addis (where anyone who sells TPLF stock short will be arrested), Silicon Valleys on Bole Road, 'unprecedented' FDI, and how lies about 7% growth will make Ethiopia a middle income country in a few years can't change the fate of 70 million Ethiopians under the rule of Meles Inc.

The corporate folks who make decisions about where to invest the hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars and euros floating around the world just looking for a place to land aren't stupid.

That money never gets to Ethiopia and never will because investors don't want to trust one of the most corrupt governments on earth that also has no respect for private property rights when so many other places are far more friendly and sensible.

That is especially the case when an inevitable business dispute with Meles Inc. necessarily becomes a potential P.R. disaster and a shakedown based on how corporations are hurting poor people.

Government, World Bank and I.M.F. money, even in the tens of billions, is not transformative in any positive sense. In fact, it hurts the recipient by divorcing public policy from any local accountability be it political or economic while encouraging corruption and dictatorship. (See the post So Much Ill and So Little Good.)

Anyway, taxpayers from the West are generally kept in the dark about what foreign aid does. Academics, bureaucrats and journalists who find it easier to report government and 'expert' words faithfully than to fact-check, prefer to ignore the complexity of development in favor of a throw money at the problem approach that has never worked and never will.

Don't invest for your own good, do it for Meles Inc.

Another bit of classic tragic absurdity from the Ethiopian government was discussed in the post Cognitive Dissonance. An INVESTMENT official had this to say about Ethiopian-Americans investing in Ethiopia
[h]e wanted to see Ethiopians come back to invest for the greater good for the country, because they want to help Ethiopia develop a sustainable economy.

His experience, however, has been one of Ethiopian Americans asking for special favors when considering investing or coming back expecting special treatment for the government.

He sees these investors as interested in financial gain rather than the good of Ethiopia.
Hello! The whole idea of a market economy, classical liberalism, capitalism, competition and investment that has made some of the world free and prosperous or on its way to being so is based upon financial gain ... the shared opportunity for all to seek their own totally and utterly selfish financial gain.

In normal economies the common good is defined by millions of free and necessarily selfish individual decisions that cause the best to rise up and the worst to fall. It is the genuine democracy of the marketplace that does so well everywhere at creating prosperity and laying the groundwork for the rise of the bourgeoise and political freedom and all of that other good stuff ... given limited government intrusion.

If government wants to define the common good by the willingness of investors to lose money and waste time while being comforted by a sense of national duty - then there will never be meaningful investment or willing risks taken.

Certainly, choosing where to invest can rationally be based in part on emotion and familiarity but only in part just as pity used agains the corporate world will produce absolutely nothing. Billions in potential investment over time has been lost to Ethiopia from the diaspora and tens of billions if not more from corporations.

Why? They don't want to lose their hard earned money or that of their shareholders to the hands of one of the most corrupt governments on earth that is also among the most hostile to free enterprise. Big business in Ethiopia means party owned conglomerates married to government monopolies with no oversight and mafia style enforcement of ever shifting rules.

The 'former' communist regime?

The Nestle spokesman and the reporters above talk of the 'former' communist government of Ethiopia as though things have changed for most Ethiopians. From the BBC
Observers used to joke that when the TPLF captured towns from Mengistu's Marxist regime, they would take down the ubiquitous portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin in government offices, and replace them with even larger ones.
Mengistu confiscated private property and businesses and Meles won't pay it back. Just like the natural convergence of Dergue and TPLF policies on human rights, intrusive neighborhood / household level control of people, and land ownership both made an effort in the late 1980's to convince the world that they weren't Marxist-Leninists.

The TPLF won the battle to see who was the real communist and the battle to "fool the imperialists" into funding their dictatorship. There is no 'former' communist regime - despite copious amounts of lipstick on a pig today, the basics of Ethiopian rule have not changed beyond the demands necessitated by a world where the side Meles and Mengistu were on together lost the Cold War.


Foreign aid is a political / security matter that demands no results and that has allowed Meles Inc. to find a constituency in the West that totally bypasses Ethiopians. FDI is economic, can't be fooled and will necessitate a more open and equitable society in Ethiopia.

To Meles, that is an unacceptable trade-off. He and his cronies prefer to scavenge what they can right now. As long as Meles Inc. shows a profit all is well with their world - and that is all that matters.

Monday, December 11

Scavengers of the Horn

Just in case, dear readers, you hadn't heard, the hyena, scavenger and corporate symbol of Meles Inc., has its eye on new territory. (image) From AFP (via EthioMedia) we hear that
Oxfam on Wednesday pressed US coffee giant Starbucks to let Ethiopia trademark three coffee beans and end a dispute in which the company has been accused of heavy-handed tactics.

The charity made the call after Oxfam chief Jim Donald and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi held talks in a bid to end the row, which has allegedly denied the impoverised Horn of Africa nation its rightful due.
But Starbucks won't budge. Corporations are often wrong, just as your average human is also often wrong. After all, corporations are made of people and across the world people have stakes in them whether they know it or not.

Next time your car starts or you find food at the market or you fly across the ocean in one piece or you read about new treatments for AIDS - don't give the government credit - rather good old fashioned corporations (with appropriate democratic government oversight of course) did it all for nothing but pure profit in relentless competition with eachother.

There is a certain brand of sophomoric wisdom that holds corporations wrong no matter what they do - it usually received with solemn nods and high fives. In effect, any corporate critic is assumed to be on the side of the angels no matter what reality is.

Let us see how one game played out. Continuing from AFP:
Ethiopia had applied to trademark its most famous coffee names, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe, enabling it to control their use and allow farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price.

But in mid-August, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favour of a protest by the National Coffee Association, which represents US coffee roasters including Starbucks, against the trademark application.
According to the Economist (via EthioMedia) there is a storm in a coffee cup brewing:
Oxfam says Starbucks is depriving farmers in Ethiopia of $90m a year by opposing the Ethiopian government's efforts to trademark three types of local coffee bean.

At least 70,000 customers have contacted Starbucks to complain, prompting the firm to post leaflets in its shops defending its behaviour. It accuses Oxfam of "misleading the public" and says the campaign "needs to stop".
Now Oxfam is a reputable organization but we agree with Starbucks here. Oxfam is not speaking on behalf of Ethiopian peasants in this case but on behalf of the corporate interests of Meles Inc. The Economist goes on, with a remarkably clear grasp of the issues at hand to say that:
[The] suggestion that the Ethiopian government is being frustrated in its attempts to help coffee growers become more entrepreneurial is laughable. It is being advised by Arnold & Porter, a top law firm based in Washington, DC.

It ought perhaps to have asked its lawyers for help in creating a business-friendly legal system, with meaningful property rights, to give Ethiopians a better shot at escaping poverty through their own efforts.

Ethiopia ranked 97th in the World Bank's latest "ease of doing business" index and a dreadful 130th in Transparency International's corruption-perceptions index. Some suspect that its pursuit of trademarks is just a way for the government to boost its own income, with little or none of it being used to help coffee growers.
The Ethiopian Review also has 'the real story'.
Oxfam's stated goal is "to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice." We would like to remind Oxfam that the main source of poverty, suffering and injustice in Ethiopia is not Starbucks. It is the brutal dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. Oxfam has yet to say any thing about the brutal treatment of poor farmers, and the people of Ethiopia, in general, by the ruling Marxist junta.

Starbucks deserves credit for giving Ethiopia's coffee the prominence it deserves in the world market. Ethiopians around the world are proud to see the names Sidamo, Harar, and Yirgacheffe in Starbucks coffee shops around the world.

Oxfam, and others who are campaigning against Starbucks, need to explain what if the coffee giant removes these names from its shops, instead of paying the $80 million per year, which goes to Meles Zenawi's pocket? How would the poor farmers of Ethiopia benefit from that?
You see, dear readers, the Ethiopian government is a dictatorship for profit or, in other words a cabal of cannabalistic kleptocracts. There is no private ownership of land which means that the government owns all land. This also means that the effectively feudal aristocracy that runs the single party government owns every square inch of the country.

Planned indebtedness of peasants to government fertilizer monopolies control them and land (and every other kind of economic) insecurity directed by government whim are united under one of the most corrupt and brutal governments on earth - this situation of course guarantees eternal poverty. The ruling party openly owns corporations that are inseperable from government monopolies, phantoms of oversight and crooked licensing /import / export schemes.

The dictatorial / corporate interests in question are enforced by every harsh means at the disposal of an unelected and naturally unpopular national government - particularly by murderous private militias, armed forces, armies of spies, jailkeepers and secret police.

The banking system, auditing and enforcement agencies, the so-called parliament and courts, the slavish party owned press are also part of the same corrupt-by -design structure that occupies Ethiopia like an army of scavengers.

The extent to which the Ethiopian economy at every level is dominated by the tiniest and greediest elite in the country's history, is so marked that just like Idi Amin's Uganda, the Ethiopia of Meles Zenawi is effectively "one man's bank account." As one would expect, profits are exported and can be found in foreign banks and real estate in countries with property rights and freedom.

Rule is constitutionally enshrined (whatever that means - the same constitution also guarantees human rights) in tribal divide and rule while religious divide and rule is the most frequently used weapon of manipulation lately.

Ethiopia has recieved billions in aid, loan forgiveness and direct budget support totalling far into the tens of billions since 1991 but every contract and dollar and euro spent has to make it through an impossible obstacle course of corruption and party/government hands that sees little to no benefit to Ethiopians in general.

In another article the Economist (via EthioMedia) had this to say
Though he has alleviated poverty a tad and improved the country's infrastructure, Mr Zenawi has turned Ethiopia into a police state. Many of the opposition are in prison on trumped-up charges carrying the death penalty. Tens of thousands of young Ethiopians were sent to prison camps after last year's poll. A few still languish there; others have fled abroad. Several judges have defected, fearing for their safety.

The press has been crushed, foreign correspondents expelled and many journalists and editors put in jail. The government has hired foreign specialists to help it shut down dissident websites, tap telephones and track e-mails. Among foreign governments, China has become an ally.
Most of the above is right, except that tens of thousands are still in prison camps (far from ferenji eyes) and even more important Meles had nothing to do with any 'tad' level alleviation of poverty or improvement in infrastructure - if such actually exists.

Infrastructure is built in Ethiopia when foreign donors discover plans already made by Ethiopians dating back years or just as often as far back as the 1950s. They decide to build a road here on the map or an electric line over there. The money comes from ferenjis, they make the decisions and get things done and keep them running.

The Ethiopian government despite the presence of many talented and honest individuals is so manifestly built in the corrupt image of its rulers that it becomes a sponge for graft. Government / party corporations / monopolies or crony businesses get every contract, siphon off as much as possible - then ask for more and then maybe - just maybe, something will get built.

Given the nature of the foreign aid game, responsibility for any halfway good result becomes headlines and of course has to be shared with the government that is actually busy keeping its people poor. You see for dictators like Ethiopia's, there is profit in the poverty of millions and security in the chaos of purposeful policy.

Shooting and killing your way to the top of a nation and being begged to treat your own people decently means "never having to say you are sorry" when you can bring it all tumbling down and folks believe you are ruthless enough to do it.

So ... the whole Starbucks - Ethiopia affair boils down to a corporate shakedown of Meles Inc. against an honest corporate citizen. Does anyone out there really believe that a single Ethiopian peasant would have seen a cent of money from coffee any more than they see any results from billions in foreign aid?

Starbucks had offices of its own government to turn to for justice against the bloody politburo / corporate board ruling Ethiopia - and all that was at stake was money. Ethiopians have nowhere to turn because it is their own government that is their problem - and their lives are at stake.

What the regime tried to do to Starbucks is a very mild form of what the regime does to Ethiopians everyday - pursuit like prey, shakedowns, predation and scavenging. The only difference is that Meles can't have anybody at Starbucks arrested, tortured or shot.

Monday, December 4

Dictator for Life ... by Foreign Acclaim

In ancient Rome a temporary dictator could be appointed by the Senate during times of crisis - for a fixed period only. After that, power reverted to the usual suspects in joint rule by patrician / feudal politicians or warlords. That is ... unless the dictator wanted to stay dictator longer.

Rome muddled through the decay of its Republic institutions until Julius Caesar brought the whole thing tumbling down with more ambition than usual and civil war. His adopted son, Octavian emerged from the chaos to became the great Augustus, the Emperor that Julius always wanted to be.

In truth for all Rome's glory then and meaning to our modern world now, the Republic or Empire or what have you was ruled by one or a few men from just the right families. But ... at least Rome gave us the notions of Roman Law and the modern state even if the Senate was representative of only a few who mattered while the whole was built by conquest.

To be fair to history though, every nation today was built by some version of the same process, wasn't it?

It is what happens next that mattered. In the past that next meant centuries while today expectations are different and there is little more to discover about governing. Fukayama may have been wrong about saying that history was over back in 1990 or so but he was right about what worked to make mankind escape the "poor, nasty and brutish" lives that the Hobbesian reality of the past pointed to ... forever, without the saving graces of liberal democracy and capitalism.

Well, it wasn't a total loss for mankind at all, however we look back and scorn Rome's pre-Judeo-Christian morality and world view. At least the idea of representation was important and although that was borrowed from the no more democratic (by our standards) Greeks - it is hard to judge history in the same manner as the present when men, presumably know better.

The legacy of Meles Inc. does not need to await any verdict of history. That legacy is apparent today.

Meles has been the ultimate Machiavellian dictator within the TPLF and a self appointed tyrant of all Tigrayans he could get his hands on since 1974. From 1991 on after the defeat of his fellow despot, Mengistu in the contest to see who was the real communist, Meles became the bloody despot of all Ethiopians he could lay hands on.

The fact that Ethiopia has had 'elections' and has a 'parliament' and even a 'supreme court' is of no import. Even Stalin and Mengistu played the same games to provide a false aura of popular consent and faux legality for their dictatorships. It could be argued (successfully we are sure) that during the period up to 1998 and the Eritrean invasion of Ethiopia, Meles shared each stage of his growing reign with Issias of the EPLF.

That corporate dispute at the cost of tens of thousands of lives brought about the elevation of Meles from a co-tyranny of Ethiopia at best or the Eritrean governorship of Ethiopia at worst, all the way to the brass ring of absolute rule. Meles just knew he had it all figured out after that.

He would grow ever more rich and ever more powerful with only a minimal need to give a tiny feudal aristocracy drawn from every tribe and some hangers on, a fraction of what he kept for himself. Their crimes on his behalf drew them to him out of fear of justice along with the certain knowledge that what Meles had given, he could take away on a whim. They also knew what they had done to others could be done to themselves by Meles whenever they displeased him.

The world at large played along with the game. Much of the international community just like the United Nations that purports to represent it, did not care a bit. Others took him at his word or pretended to anyway out of natural self interest and declared him a leader of an African renaissance. Others saw a thug who at least stayed bought some of the time he was paid to do something.

Payment was a crucial part of the equation. The Meles brand of rule ignored every rule of history whose aims were national freedom and enrichment. Tribal divide and rule, kleptocratic corrupt economics and no ownership rights of property, of course, guaranteed eternal poverty and all concerned knew it.

So a social compact was made with the West to pay protection money to Meles on behalf of Ethiopians that he oppressed and made poorer as long as he was given respect and got the greatest share of billions in aid for Meles Inc.

The West got in return confirmation of their low expectations, the balm of good feeling that came from caring more for Ethiopians than their own government did and someone they could talk to at dinner parties who might be trusted to keep Ethiopia out of the headlines that may lead folks back home to wonder about their own foreign policies.

It hasn't worked out that way. The fake election agreed upon to make nice the transfer of countless new billions of Dollars and Euros between development partners was somehow lost. It was lost by virtue of the brave sincere desire of all Ethiopians for change, their combined loathing of their rulers and their desperate need for chance to take part in the benefits of liberal democracy and capitalism that the rest of the world was enjoying.

Meles then showed his true face to the West (Ethiopians knew it all to well all along) and tore an even bloodier swath through the country. He paused from draining out gallons of blood, sweat and tears from thousands of killed, tens of thousands in prison camps and millions of others living in terror only long enough to talk of 'election commissions', 'parliamentary investigations' and 'free trials'.

The reality of his rule comes out of the mouths of AK-47s and the barrels of cash from his financiers abroad. But ... none of this is news is it?

What is just a little bit new is the lengths to which Meles will play the 'set the Horn of Africa' afire card to stay in the good graces of Washington and Brussels. As representatives of the US and EU peoples threatened to stop the gravy train and demand he treat Ethiopians decently he took full advantage of Somali politics to position himself as the ultimate practitioner of the War on Terror.

Unable to fake democracy convincingly enough to satisfy even the easiest observers who wanted him to be their man - Meles has decided now to become officially appointed dictator in true Roman fashion. Once again, everyone knows what he has always been but in a curious manner he has recently dropped the whole facade.

The first person that Meles sent into Kaliti prison where hundreds of opposition leaders, journalists and human rights campaigners are before a kangaroo court with their lives at stake was US Charge d'Affaires Vicki Huddleston. According to Seminawork back in August of this year Ms. Huddleston was
still engaged in reconciliation [our italics, read popular surrender] efforts. According to close sources, she is hoping that the jailed leaders will initiate talks with the government. Prison sources confirmed that she talked with Birtukan Midekisa last Friday and told her in detail about the problems of Somalia and the need to solve internal differences to do away with the threat of "Islamism in the Ethiopia".

Birtukan replied that she didn't want to see war with Somalia but Kinijit had no control on the situation. The Charge d'affaires was adamant that there is a way out for Ethiopia and they should think about starting a reconciliation process. Sources said that the Charge d'affairs is thinking in terms of the Mandela line where he initiated talks with the government while he was in prison. It was reported that the government has shown a gesture of will to the talks but doesn't want to initiate them.
Get all those bits of nonsense?

Apparently, the Mandela-like thing to do is to approach the government (meaning surrender) while the government is too proud to even openly acknowledge the need for talks not to mention congenitally incapable of negotiating in good faith. This while it imprisoned the other side and threatened their lives as certified genocidal men and women of treason.

Apparently, the Ethiopian thing to do is to surrender to the government because Somali politics and its endless civil war was resulting in a victory for Islamists. Makes perfect sense doesn't it? The right thing to do for those prisoners jailed in a larger prison country was to surrender to the will of Vicki's buddy in the Gibee.

All of this even though those prisoners are only kept alive because of a complex and failed charade of civilized government mandated by donors for their financing of Ethiopia's dictatorship. Shame on you Ms. Huddleston and your superiors at Foggy Bottom - just like you knew then from the prisoner's answers and just like you knew before you set out on that dubious mission - Ethiopians want to choose their own leaders for a change.

Now that the situation in Somalia has deteriorated even more, much to the advantage of Meles and the Islamists - and to the disadvantage of everyone else (could either dream of a better enemy?), has sent a second person into the lion's den of Kaliti with the same message. This week Seminawork reports that Meles sent the respected Ethiopianist Ephrem Isaac to Kaliti with a new variation of the same old proposal.
Ethiopia's dictator Meles Zenawi would release CUD leaders who had been held at Kaliti prison for the last thirteen months if they agreed to quit politics. According to prison sources, Meles sent the message to the prisoners through Professor Ephrem Isaac. The prominent linguist and historian met the prisoners at least twice this week and heard a firm rejection from some of the top leaders.
Again the issue is that Ethiopia is in a crisis and now needs an appointed dictator instead of a self appointed one. This is about as logical as the first prison visit by the diplomat. Meles has arrested hundreds on trumped up charges such as planning actual genocide like that in Rwanda's past. They are charged with treason and murder and terrorism - but if they just agree to surrender to his will all will be forgotten.

No one believes these charges at all but they are the word of Ethiopia's infallible (in some circles) god-king Meles. If the opposition is all that bad then how can they be released or trusted under any circumstances? Doesn't that mean that Meles was lying about them all along and that the only issue was that they dared to legitimately challenge his rule and get in the way of his absolute power and bank transfers?

Of course it does and now Meles has confirmed it.

Adrift from his paymasters in a world where ashattir (lies and deception) have gotten him only so far but no longer seem to work he has assumed that all men are like him and the sychophants he surrounds himself with. Unlike the corporate board and share owners of Meles Inc., some men and women just aren't for sale and apparently Meles just can't understand that some people don't bow down before him out of fear or greed.

Imagine the pressures upon the jailed leaders, their families and their loyal friends given the proven viciousness of the regime. They have rejected every manner of bribery and threats to remain loyal to their cause and their country. Imagine how easy it would be (for so many) to take the easy way out. We are reminded of one of our favorite quotes from Andrei Sakharov who understood that mentality of Meles and his ilk perfectly well when he wrote these words about those destroying his country
Homo Sovieticus is like the prostitute who believes that all women are whores because she is. Soviet man believes that the whole world is divided into parties and that every man is a member of one party or another, and that there is no real honesty. No one stands for the truth. And if anyone says he is above Party and is trying to speak the truth alone, he is lying.
The Islamist warlords have every desire and certainly plan to do every harm possible to Ethiopia once they are done ravaging their own people. But that is not the point.

The progress or regression of politics in Somalia presents no rational, moral or sensible reason for Ethiopians to anoint the principle author of their suffering with a mandate to do his will in Ethiopia or in Somalia. Ethiopia will always be weaker and more vulnerable against any threat with Meles in charge.

Anyway, given the 'constitution' mandated by Meles why should he bother with Somalia at all? According to his precious tribalist world view any part of Ethiopia from the Ogaden to a city neighborhood can become independent at will. According to his own laws isn't it up to the people of any part of Ethiopia that the Islamists claim to have a plebiscite to decide any issues without interference from Addis?

Of course not in reality - no more than the people of the Ogaden want to be subject to the same kind of violent insanity engulfing Somalia. But it does seem that there is no consistent internal logic to anything from Ethiopia's government that outlasts decisions about who to kill or trick on any given day.

Get ready for some more absurd lies - Reuters reports that
Ethiopia's parliament voted on Thursday to let the government take "all necessary" steps to rebuff any invasion by Somalia's Islamists amid reports Ethiopian troops on Somali soil had died in a landmine blast.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi urged lawmakers last week to back his plans to fight the Islamists, who have declared jihad on Ethiopia accusing it of sending troops into Somalia to prop up the chaotic country's fragile interim government
How absurd. To begin with what parliament? The whole thing is a front to simulate the behaviour of civilized government. If Meles wanted 'parliament' to make the national language Swedish or to order Ethiopians to wear their underpants on the outside so the government could check to see they were clean (a la Woody Allen's strongman in Bananas) 'parliament' would do so unanimously.

The bit about some abstaining and others voting against the overwhelming pro-Meles 'majority' is for the benefit of 'journalists' who prefer not to take the effort to report reality and who take the words of dictators at face value. Reuters also reports that
U.N. diplomats say Washington is expected this week to unveil a draft Security Council resolution authorising the peacekeeping mission.

But a chorus of voices from Western and regional diplomats to independent analysts say deployment is likely to trigger war between a shaky, Ethiopian-backed interim government and the powerful Eritrean-backed Islamist movement.
Ignore all the calls for everyone to leave Somalia alone coming out of Washington. If the US actually goes through with trying out a resolution like this it would show a tragic myopia but even announcing the intention to do so is a solid vote for Meles to do on the Horn of Africa whatever he wishes anointed with full American support.

We at ethiopundit are supporters of the War on Terror as we stated on the anniversary of 9/11:
The Fourth World War is here. This time humanity faces determined enemies who want to bend Islam, one of the world's great religions, to their own private will in the service of a new totalitarian evil. The first three wars were fought against the Central Powers from 1914-18, totalitarian Fascism from 1935-45 and totalitarian Communism from 1945-91.

The enemies were first engaged with (often simultaneous) policies based upon wishful thinking and frank appeasement that were nurtured by civilization's own self doubts, denial and fears. Peace only came when enough people had the final bitter realization that like it or not there was a war going on that was worth winning.

That realization came to most in the U.S. three years ago today. Some countries had been fighting the war for years while a few are just noticing it. Many others in the U.S. and elsewhere remain unconvinced or simply assume they will remain untouched.

It is the same war all over the world and it has to be won.
Young American men and women are risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq today and millions of Muslims and others are engaged in a bitter struggle with Islamism today because the world tried to build some of its foundations on the imagined stability of dictators and every manner of silly 'third way' instead of the bedrock of simple, good old fashioned liberal democracy and capitalism.

The further American embrace of Meles will only lead to suffering for Ethiopians and will harm the interests of America - but that is a price a future Administration will have to pay - today's myopia will undoubtedly cost American blood in the future from encouraging an inherently destabilizing dictatorship to do what it does best.

Meles is only a partner to his own interests just as much as Iran's dictator or North Korea's.

Meles just happens to depend on the US right now because his rule by necessity makes Ethiopia poor and weak - but remember he is always for sale to the highest bidder with his usual ideological and tribal obsessions taking second place to his business empire and eternal residency in the Gibee. For a big enough check Meles would become an Islamist tomorrow, invite a cloned Mussolini to rule Ethiopia or welcome Martian overlords over Earth.

Crisis in Somalia or no crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia's real crisis is caused by Ethiopia's very own dictator. One is not an excuse for the other. Beyond allowing a fraction of billions in aid to build some things along as Meles Inc. gets the contracts and beyond undeserved respect from the rest of the world it is clear that the rule of Meles has no silver lining for Ethiopia and his historical legacy from every point of view will be horrific.

Ethiopians never chose him and no one else can appoint him dictator by imagined popular or American / European acclaim. We see no redeeming features at all in the past two generations of Ethiopian dictatorship - unless one argues that at least the Meles or Mengistu body count wasn't as bad as Pol Pot's.

Well Meles for one hasn't had to do all that ... yet. Do you really doubt that he would?