By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
On July 30, 2015, a dumbfound The Irish Times headlined its teeth-gnawiing article: Obama visit to Ethiopia highlights human rights and media clampdown. The article’s curtain raiser sentence speaks of how “Irish and US governments ignored human rights have been traded off in the interests of “development” and security” in Ethiopia.
The article’s author Andrew Anderson mentions various victim group categories and discusses the nature of TPLF’s human rights violations.
Mentioned in the article is also the regime’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association. The UN expert “repeatedly expressed his concern at the misuse of anti-terror legislation to target civil society groups. But the Ethiopian government continues to use arbitrary arrests and prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and supporters of opposition political parties.”
In essence, nobody in Ethiopia has been spared of judgment and from TPLF fists, including school children and teachers, university lecturers and professors. In brief, while its ethnic discrimination has detracted inclusive growth, TPLF’s ethnic policies have reduced everything into catering to minority interests.
As it happens, therefore, Andrew Anderson derives satisfaction from President Obama speaking out on behalf of journalists and human rights defenders especially the part that says: “When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society, then you may have democracy in name, but not in substance”.
This, the journalist described as “a pretty accurate description of the situation in Ethiopia where human rights defenders are jailed and repressive legislation is used to shut down the media and independent civil society.”
In that, the journalist recalls, “Ethiopia was a pioneer in the use of repressive legislation to target human rights defenders, a practice now replicated in other states in the region.”
Finally, The Irish Times observes:
“Governments, including both the Irish and US governments, which consistently laud Ethiopia for its progress towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, ignore the expediency with which human rights have been traded off in the interests of “development” and security. It is counterproductive to hold Ethiopia up as a model of good governance when the current government has created one of the most oppressive regimes in Africa and has largely shut down civil society and the independent media. It is questionable, however, whether progress on economic indicators can be sustained as long as a repressive one-party government, largely representing a minority group, continues to exercise power by force.”
In light of this, it is dumb not to ask whether the TPLF wounds Barack Obama has deliberately poked are not undisguisable evidence of a highest-level ‘official damage’ the TPLF’s image and reputation has suffered. It basically is self-inflicted, apparently a consequence of the Front’s savagery against Ethiopians and a function of its ignorant pursuits of its greed for and arrogance of power.
Incidentally, I am not entirely clear why Obama has finally seen wisdom in zeroing especially on his last day in Ethiopia on the human rights and democracy issues – the TPLF’s fault lines – after tap dancing by his national security advisor which got him into calling the monsters democrats and the enterprise that keeps them in power “democratic.” Whether the last day’s 360 degrees flip by the president is done to indicate readiness to nudge the TPLF dictators into action lest he use his leverage over them, or by confusedly fudging the problem to satisfy the demand of his critics that are better concerned about the horrendous level of repression Ethiopians find themselves in is to be seen in time – especially from the president’s White House history and his.
Comes July 28 and President Barack Obama bids farewell to his hosts. A few hours after Obama was gone, the first facesaver of the TPLF regime was Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom. It so happened that either his skill not anchored on knowledge failed him or the television did not do him any favor. Therefore, poorly armed as he was, he appeared on CNN with Christiane Amanpour , where he started defending a bad record with more lies – something the man is very well known for. Accordingly, he poorly tired to polish and embellish what only needs destroying.
Luckily, Christiane Amanpour a very well educated journalist and international correspondent showed she was worth her salt brilliantly countering him; she responded to him at some point seemingly acknowledging he had given her “a very full answer”. Still, however, she reminded him: “You have said a lot of the right things…but your party won 100 percent of the votes even, which makes everything he said was wrong. Then smiling the experienced CNN senior journalist added “…the US national security advisor, your close ally, did not take that seriously [the election result].”
Even after that, the foreign minister tried to add more of the same old lies and new denials, as if the TPLF had any credence left in it. One of the things was his reaction especially to a young journalist, appearing on the same show and claiming that he had suffered in prison in the hands of the TPLF torturers. He said he was imprisoned for telling the truth to Ethiopians as a journalist, which he emphatically said was always writing stories he was supposed to write to inform the public.
In appearing on the CNN and in referring to the journalist’s claim as a lie, Tedros Adhanom’s objective was to try to use the CNN to return the minds of Ethiopians to the status quo ante, i.e., of fear and intimidation as in the days before the last election and before the arrival of the US president and the Patriotic Ginbot 7 to some degree raised the hope of Ethiopians for a democratic future in Ethiopia.
My heart tells me that anyone can do better the job of governing Ethiopia than the monstrous TPLF mafiosis, especially brutes such as Abay Tsehaye, Sebhat Nega, Samora Yunus and security chief Getachew Assefa, as well as the unprincipled and spineless man in the prime minister’s office.
Clear to Ethiopians now is that, on one hand the TPLF machinery – the courts, the security and intelligence – as usual are intimidatingly in full force to arrest and imprison independent-minded citizens or those they suspect are not friendly to their interests. In that sense, nothing has changed because of Obama’s visit.
For instance, Negere Ethiopia on July 29 reported that the remaining five Zone 9 members were in court Wednesday morning. But as usual with the TPLF, they were remanded to their prison cells, their next court date set to August 19, 2015.
In fact indicating a pattern of abuses, the TPLF has intensified terrible human rights violations of imprisoned political activists and opposition party leaders and members. On Saturday August 1, 2015, once again Negere Ethiopia has come with verifiable report of the regime informing some prisoner families of members of opposition party leaders they would not be visited either by family members and their respective lawyers, possibly – the TPLF could – even God’s intermediation and prayers.
Reading the above would show clearly why Ethiopians have boldly shown the United States president how much they hate the ruling party at this very instance. As a matter of fact, it was those that were carefully selected, screened and invited to the AU to listen to the president who exploited the opportunity to show their disgust with the regime with loud, prolonged chants and clappings from the Chinese built African Union (AU) hall, when the president exposed the TPLF regime’s wickdness and chastised it in clear terms.
Once Obama had left for home, as discussed above, the task of massaging the regime’s bruises before the international community was left to foreign minister Tedros Adhanom had to go through the gauntlet to defend the repressive regime’s image. Perhaps without meaning to so humiliate it, Obama has left bare the pretensions of the Ethiopian regime for the world to see and understand what governance in Ethiopia is all about.
Ethiopia’s TPLF regime is a lawless power, good at imprisoning citizens without any due process; it is a master-torturer and violator of human rights, and in the habit of persecuting journalists and bloggers. Who could know this better than its bankroller the president of the United States, who told the world that he has repeatedly rebuked TPLF leaders in private, i.e., in bilateral meetings, which he made public during the joint press conference of the two nations and even more in his speech to Africa from the Mandela Hall.With certainty, one could assume that July 27 and 28 must have been a season in hell for the TPLF regime. The major international media directly reported and also speculated on what the US president would or needed to do next, after lecturing the world and Africa in particular about Ethiopia and its like-minded states’ lack of democracy and respect for the fundamental human rights of their citizens.
Nonetheless, the problems of the regime started taking a bad turn in early July with controversies surrounding announcement of Obama’s visit. Many Ethiopians, international human rights experts and institutions made it clear that his visit in post-election period would come as stamp of approval for a notorious and much-hated regime. As it happens, the strength and intensity of the hatred increased mostly after Barack Obama’s official visit, which took place from July 26-28, 2015, and after his departure; and still the anti-TPLF campaign is continuing on major national and international media.
One so noticeable and hypocritical reaction of the TPLF officials and their ‘potted plants’ in this regard, therefore, is their resort to chorusing ‘Ethiopia’s democracy is nascent‘, i.e., after abusively burdening Ethiopians for a quarter of a century since they seized power by force of arms.
For that matter, this use by the regime of such political propaganda chorus is not new. It has its origin in the 2005 stolen election. Then the TPLF used it to justify its massacre of hundreds of Ethiopians in Addis Abeba alone and imprisoning of tens and thousands more, when they came out in mass protest against the stealing of the people’s voices and votes.
In the quarter century the TPLF has been in power, it has heavily relied on the massive flow of international assistance. Common sense should tell the Doubting Thomases in Western governments that a child born in 1991 is today a university graduate, possibly with two degrees in his/her belt and a family and with a good job under normal circumstances.
This shameful TPLF chorus is, therefore, the usual bogus only revived now to be grits for official political propaganda with Ethiopians. In that, the TPLF is aiming to tell Ethiopians it has done everything possible, thereby portraying itself as faultless and guileless.
Recall that at the joint press conference between the two nations on July 27, Mr. Obama publicly disapproved of the TPLF regime’s human rights records and political, social, security and militaristic approaches to governing, especially an old nation such as Ethiopia.
Further, at the African Union (AU) on 28 July the president used Ethiopia as an example of where the actions of the regime have deprived citizens of their fundamental human rights. It is in that context Mr. Obama warned the TPLF regime:
“I believe Ethiopia will not fully unleash the potential of its people if journalists are restricted or legitimate opposition groups can’t participate in the campaign process. And, to his credit, the Prime Minister acknowledged that more work will need to be done for Ethiopia to be a full-fledged, sustainable democracy.”
Anyone doubting TPLF’s intentions needs to look into the so-called Ethiopian army, whose ranked officers are 98.7 percent are strictly Tigreans, as is leadership of Ethiopian politics, the nation’s embassies and diplomacy and the security apparatus, the economy and natural resources and its wealths, its tourism and cultural demonstrations.
Most surprisingly, after the two countries had their first official meeting, the man in the prime minister’s office announced at the joint press conference the TPLF regime’s commitment to deepen the democratic process, without indicating what led them in the first place to steal votes and why they have denied Ethiopians of their fundamental human rights. And yet he added, “We have reiterated once again that our commitment to democracy is real, not skin-deep. We have both noted that we need to step up efforts to strengthen our institutions and build our capacity in various areas.”
At the same time, with every passing day their greed-induced actions and measures destroy the country’s future and its potentials. For instance, an interesting development on the media frontier during the week the president was in the country is an announcement by the TPLF news outlet Fana’. It reported on 28 July about Government Communication Office finalizing new directive to govern the regime’s media strategy. The effort is aimed at ‘transforming the country’s media into developmental democratic mass media’. This would become another vortex to suck down as many journalists, social media activists and possibility of citizens getting propaganda free information.
It is not easy to assess whether President Barack Obama’s visit has helped or hurt Ethiopian aspirations for democracy and the respect for their fundamental human rights. Beyond being personable on one side and also trying to repeat the July 11, 2009 Ghana moment in his speech at the AU, the president’s perspective on the Ethiopian election has jumped from one extreme to the other.
It is not clear, therefore, the statement he had made to Africa would have any anchor to be firm and not tolerate dictators in power. Such tolerance has not helped in Burundi, especially after the bogus election the State Department turning around and encouraging a government of national unity, with knowledge Nkurunziza would become first among seniors.
In Ethiopia’s case also, it would not help with its internal cohesion badly disturbed by the last electoral theft; it has now become internationally a brigand’s joke about his successes to a man who has lost everything.
Mr Obama’s perspective on human rights and democracy, the rule of law and transparency in government, especially in United States partner countries has not fully evolved yet, or it may be applied in different countries in a manner that even throws its principle to question.
Nor have his policy approaches ever been adequately scrutinized as two-term president with these principles at the backdrop. Yet, many in Ethiopia and human rights bodies in different countries seem to want that in response to remarks by the president in Ethiopia during the joint press conference on July 27, wherein he claimed “…the government of Ethiopia that has been democratically elected.”
Similarly, his national security advisor Susan Rice also on July 22 during briefing to journalists about the president’s visits to Kenya and Ethiopia. She erred in her response to the question whether the president thought the Ethiopian regime was democratic she sent dagger in Ethiopian hearts when she claimed, “100 percent”!
The Los Angeles Times in its July 28 edition recalled “Obama made the case that no one questions U.S. engagement with China and Russia. The U.S. could achieve more by engaging and telling blunt truths to leaders, he has argued.”
In a brilliant response, the paper rightly quoted Mark Logan, President of Freedom House, who reacted to the president by saying:
“But the president didn’t give them blunt truths in saying they had a democratic election when their election in May had intimidation of opposition figures, arrests and detentions of political watchdogs and 100% of the seats in the parliament were filled by the ruling party…The president was giving them a warm kiss when they didn’t deserve it.”
The Obama White House is divided internally, between those that have surrendered to their emotions and failed to realize the United States policy objectives. At the same time, there is Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, who said human rights would be a focal point of discussion during the president’s Africa visit. The official was quoted by July 27 issue of The Guardian – the same day Susan Rice said the president thinks the Ethiopian ‘government’ is “democratic” – spoke to the policy position and values of the United States:
“The Ethiopian government has made extraordinary progress in bringing greater development and opportunity to its citizens…but there are very significant restrictions that are not consistent with the universal values that we stand up for, for instance, the need for a free press.
And we’ve seen too much intimidation, and even imprisonment of journalists, and the need for a viable space for civil society and political opposition in the country. So the president will be certainly raising issues related to human rights in Ethiopia…”
For many, in a way the controversy surrounding the president’s Ethiopia visit is seen as fulfilment of the forewarning Obama that the Addis Abeba leg of his visit of a country with the terrible record of human rights under the most brutal authoritarian leadership would be difficult and unlike any in the degree of the challenges the president had faced before.
The fleeting days after President Obama’s visit to Ghana and his now famous speech to Africa of July 11, 2009 still resonating from a distant era, underlining his preferences of “strong institutions” for Africa to “strongmen” has since shown his approach leaning toward the latter, when one considers the Ethiopian case. This has shocked and disappointed many that saw his election in 2008 ‘as the beginning of a brave new world’ especially for human rights and human dignity.
It is no wonder that Ethiopian opposition leaders openly express their defiant opposition to the president’s visit. Yilkal Getnet of the Semayawi party declined to be present at the state dinner organized in honor of the president.
Reuters quotes Merara Gudina, vice chairman of the Medrek opposition coalition, who did fumed over the US administration’s support for the TPLF, “The Americans know (the situation in Ethiopia) but they are cautiously looking away…They choose to wine and dine with dictators instead.”
There is no doubt that the president’s White House years have demonstrated his strong commitment to expanding American economic and security interests and influencing others by any means and irrespective of the cost to them, especially in partner developing countries.
For instance, in Ethiopia Obama’s insensitive directness hit hard many Ethiopians at the state dinner hosted in his honor on July 27, 2015. It terribly offending their Ethiopian sensibility and who believed that their country would not stand security guard to anyone either because they are rich or powerful. Obama told them otherwise, claiming “So we don’t need to send our own Marines [to Somalia], for example, in to do the fighting. The Ethiopians are tough fighters…”
I would be upfront in telling him that has been extremely offensive to many Ethiopians, including this writer.
I would say, based on whatever I have gleaned from the media, the president and his national security team must have found themselves in a difficult situation about making choices between accommodating authoritarianism on one hand and facing it headlong and call a spade a spade on the other.
That is to say the president was determined to undertake the trip and do business with the TPLF guys. He gives them credit in the security field in delivering more than the US had required of them under the 2006 sub-contract to battling Somalia’s warlords and also keeping an eye on the Islamic Courts Union. Subsequent arrangements have also shown that Ethiopians have continued to fight Al-Shabab. This US satisfaction has come at a very exorbitant price for Ethiopians in their loss of their human rights and justice.
On the other hand, one is tempted to wonder whether Ethiopia’s atrocious human rights record as having provided the impetus for Obama to reexamine his presidency that single-mindedly is focused on partnering with warlords in state power that butcher their populations.Fortunately, before he left Ethiopia’s airspace President Obama seems to have recognized that internally Ethiopia could not continue as a strong country, with TPLF repression in tact. The US has so far cared about is its own security, having adopted the securitization of development, as its guiding principle. It is countries that have sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab and Islamic extremism – Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda – that enjoy US support in East Africa, while is also these countries that have shown utmost breaches of human rights and denial of civil liberties to their citizens. Less than a week after Obama left Africa, Uganda’s Museveni, who seized power in 1986 and ever since has been president and three decades later he too is seeking re-election, as is Rwanda’s strongman Paul Kagame.
The question is would Mr. Obama put in place the right policies and signal to Ethiopia and other repressive states in the region that he has made up his mind and that the US would not tolerate strongmen destroying institutions and the prospects of democracy in Africa? He has made the right speeches, as good as he is with his rhetorics, his visit must intimate to him now that this has been hindering progress and improvement in the lives of the people in general, political machinations ethnicity and religion being means of division to serve their ends.