Ambassador Donald Yamamoto
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Dear Ambassador Yamamoto:
Your recent assertion1 that suggests a parallel between the democratic path followed by the Founding Fathers of the USA and the destructive course chosen by the dictator Meles Zenawi is a cruel blow to the aspirations of oppressed people around the world who view the United States as a beacon of hope in their struggles against tyranny, injustice and oppression.
Contrary to your assertion, a careful study of the history of the United States does not indicate the existence of a member of the Founding Fathers who manipulated the constitution to justify the massacre of peaceful demonstrators, the imprisonment of opposition leaders, and the incarceration of thousands of opposition party members, after losing an election, as has been blatantly done by Meles Zenawi. Your unabashed support for Zenawi is in sharp contradiction to the ideals of those pillars of democracy, including James Madison, who counseled in his immortal words: “The eyes of the world being thus on our Country, it is put the more on its good behavior, and under the greater obligation also, to do justice to the Tree of Liberty by an exhibition of the fine fruits we gather from it.”
In disregarding these enduring words, you have demonstrated a lack of appreciation of the enormity of the responsibility vested in you as an ambassador of the country those Founding Fathers fought for. To draw a parallel between the criminal acts of Meles Zenawi and the exemplary democratic past of the great nation of the United States of America is to display a most egregious abuse of responsibility by an official of your stature.
By declaring similarity between Zenawi’s police state and a genuine democratic process in the formative years of the United States, you have given a dangerous and ill-advised signal to all the dictators of the world, including Meles Zenawi, to continue their unbridled suppression of democratic movements.
By your account, the crimes committed against humanity by such dictators as Meles Zenawi, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and numerous others could be palliated as trivial consequences arising from the “imperfectness of democracy.”
On May 15, 2005, the people of Ethiopia cast a vote of no confidence against the brutal regime of Meles Zenawi. As documented by credible observers3, the resounding victory of the opposition was stolen by Zenawi, who also ordered the massacre of at least 193 peaceful demonstrators, and imprisoned the opposition leaders and thousands of their followers. To characterize this barbaric act as a manifestation of the “imperfectness of democracy” is to make a mockery of Thomas Jefferson’s belief when he wrote: “This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force.”
When Zenawi ordered his prosecutor to ask for the death penalty for the opposition leaders, and then commanded his court to sentence them for life2, the Founding Fathers could not have condoned it as a consequence of the “imperfectness of democracy.” In fact, John Adams must have been worried about such dictatorial tendencies when he wrote:
“The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, and both should be checks upon that.”
In a criminal act reminiscent of Stalin’s Great Purge, Zenawi coerced the imprisoned to admit guilt, and used their alleged confessions for his cheap propaganda to calm down the donor nations. As an ambassador of a leader, who pledged his support in the fight for democracy, you should have condemned this as a barbaric act and stood with the people of Ethiopia, who rose up and answered Thomas Jefferson’s call:
“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them.”
Your relentless advocacy for the brutal regime of Meles Zenawi can only alienate the people of Ethiopia from the country they admire as a paragon of democracy.
Given the pathetic record of Zenawi’s regime with regard to press freedom4, your assertion that “… the new media law [in Ethiopia] has rights and freedoms far more advanced than in the US,” is a direct affront to the sensibilities of the people of Ethiopia, a brazen attack on the US Constitution, and an insult to the journalists of the world who sympathize with the countless reporters languishing in Zenawi’s prisons under trumped up charges.
A true and lasting ally of the people of the United States in their fight against terrorism cannot be a bloodthirsty dictator. History has repeatedly shown that terrorism can only be a by-product of oppression and dictatorship. As James Madison noted: “In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.”
We, therefore, call upon you to stand on the side of democracy, freedom and social justice, refraining from misusing the immense power bestowed upon you and the huge resources at your disposal for the purpose of stifling the struggle of the people of Ethiopia against tyranny.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The flames kindled on the 4 of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these
engines and all who work them.”
And the flames kindled on the 15 of May 2005 cannot be extinguished by the brutal oppression of Zenawi or the massive resources he is committing to buy expensive advocates.
Selam Beyene, Ph.D.