Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder, Mr. Henze.

18 mins read

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

For you, Mr. Henze, TPLF is beautiful, but for majority of Ethiopians, who had to endure 14 and half years of TPLF’s repressive rule, it is really ugly. This letter is not addressed just to you, but to all those foreign policy wonks in the West who have turned a deaf ear to the cries of Ethiopians and continue to support a dictatorial government in Ethiopia. A Negro spiritual begins with these inspiring words:

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe

The day of freedom in Ethiopia is just around the corner, and that I do believe.

Dear Mr. Paul Henze:

I have read your piece, “Comments on Comments“, on Professor Christopher Clapham’s recent article titled “Comments on the Ethiopian Crisis” with utter incredulity. You started your comments with harsh criticisms referring to Professor Clapham’s judgment of the current post-electoral crisis as “too categorical, too negative a review of EPRDF history, and too charitable in its assessment of opposition motivation and behavior”. I do believe that this characterization of yours and the rest of your article is not based on an objective assessment of the recent political developments in Ethiopia.

You are famously known for being a very close friend of Prime Minister Meles and his coterie of TPLF leaders. To those who are familiar with this bosom relationship of yours to TPLFites, it does not come as surprise that you took your time to respond to Professor Clapham’s long and detailed piece on the current political developments in Ethiopia so quickly and so dismissively. If one replaced your name as the writer of the “Comments on Comments” piece with Meles Zenawi, your article could very well pass for an article written by Mr. Meles. You seem to be chanting the same mantra Meles and the TPLF ex-guerrillas have been singing all along for years. Thank God, it is you instead of him, because he seems to use such exhilarating quotes as “What’s love got to do with it?”, from Tina Turner, the famous pop singer, or vulgar phrases such as “lumps of truth covered with garbage” referring to the report of European Union Observer delegation led by the Honorable Ana Gomes. (You also dismiss her in your article as a partisan, like your friends, Meles & Co).

I am sure Meles & Co. wanted a policy wonk of your caliber to counterbalance the detailed arguments and assessments of a scholar from an internationally respected University of Cambridge. I believe Professor Clapham presented his informed knowledge without prejudice or impartially to maintain his integrity as a scholar and the prestige of his institution. On the other hand, thanks to revolution in communications, it is very apparent that your eyes are shrouded by Meles’ friendship for the international community to count on you to give them the objective reality of the developments in Ethiopia. I believe you have discredited yourself to be an impartial judge of the crisis at hand. Since you and other wonks like you have resisted the cries of millions of Ethiopians at home and thousands and thousands of Ethiopians in the Diaspora, I thought I could contribute in a small way for the struggle for Democracy by writing this response to you.

Unfortunately, we have to confront our own homegrown dictators who have lost both the political and moral legitimacy to govern because of their terrorizing of their own citizens in order to instill fear and subdue them, and wonks like you who arrogantly advance the so called geopolitical interest of the US – stability in the region – by colluding with dictators at the expense of the democratic aspiration of the Ethiopian people. As you know very well, there are a number of precedents of such insensitive and antidemocratic US foreign policies. The US foreign policy is largely responsible for creating one of the worst dictators in Africa, Mobutu, and prolonging the suffering of the people of South Africa by its disingenuous policy of “constructive engagement” with the Apartheid regime of South Africa in the name of the fight against communism, just to cite two examples among many. So those of us from Ethiopia now find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We are forced to challenge arrogant foreign policy wonks like you who think the fight against terrorism is more important than the democratic aspirations of Ethiopian people and continue to believe the West’s fight against terrorism could only be addressed by giving their support carte blanche to a dictator, while it is crystal clear to us that the West’s fight against terrorism will be served better if the West allies itself with the people of Ethiopia who are thirsty for democracy and freedom.

Despite the categorical support of wonks like you, I do not believe the wheels of history can be rolled back for Meles and cabal. In their desperate attempt to cling to power at any cost, they kill innocent lives and then as usual call for an independent commission into the killings afterwards – what a joke! Is an Ethiopian life worth anything for you and your friends, Mr. Henze? Your continued support for Meles despite his killings could only mean that you do not value the lives of those who were gunned down in the streets of Addis Ababa and elsewhere. You are rubbing salt in our wounds by trying to deflect the criticisms leveled against such blatant repression with mini-historical look into TPLF’s accomplishments and the evolution of the opposition. As they say in Ethiopia, you have “washed your eyes with salt”, i.e. you have no shame or moral qualm to pen such an utterly biased account of events in Ethiopia in order to defend Meles’s rule.

How could you downplay fourteen long years of rule by Meles in this day and age? Instead you shift the blame to the opposition with the usual TPLF excuse: the opposition’s “attempt to replace it (EPRDF) by resort to extra-legal methods or incitement to violence”. Let me remind you, as a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, that your governors are only one-term governors. Despite 70% or 80 % approval rating, as you know, Governor Mark Warner could not run for governor again. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander, as they say. If Virginians think term limits are good for Virginians like you, there must be some truth to it. As Professor Clapham correctly pointed out it is now those who were once touted as “the new leaders of Africa” who are desperately trying to cling to power by any means possible despite their long tenure. Meles wants to extend it to twenty years by killing citizens with impunity, throwing opposition leaders into jail and charging them with treason, banning demonstrations and violating human rights. Museveni, after twenty years, tweaks the Ugandan constitution to extend his rule to twenty five years and also charges an opposition leader with treason. And Esayas is a trouble-making dictator living in his own little world, also in power for fourteen years. As a diehard friend of Meles, you are in the company of those rulers who have stayed in power for too long.

You spent the first part of your article praising profusely TPLF’s achievements and wonderful rule. You seem to forget that Ethiopians have seen your TPLF darlings for fourteen years for what they are and voted unequivocally to rid themselves of their rule. For millions of Ethiopians they are power-crazed megalomaniacs who are hunkered in the Menlelik palace and order their security forces to shoot to kill those who exercise their democratic rights: demonstration and civil disobedience. You gloss over the recent repeated killings blithely. Nor do you mention the rounding up of over fifteen thousand people (may be twenty thousand). What is fascinating, in a quirky way, about your piece is nowhere do you point out that Prime Minister Meles banned demonstrations through emergency declarations the day after the elections. I am sure you know or must be reminded that demonstrating peacefully is one of bedrock rights of democracy. The people of Addis Ababa proved to the whole world a week before the elections that they could hold peaceful demonstrations. The rallies were huge and peaceful. Where was the justification for banning demonstrations? And during voting on the day of election, millions stood in long lines for long hours to cast their votes. It was a spectacular scene of unprecedented civility. Once again, the people of third world showed to the world that they are ready for democracy. All Ethiopia-loving citizens were excited, but only for few hours until your friend declared a state of emergency, pouring cold shower over the hopes and excitement of millions of Ethiopians. Mr. Henze, it is those in power, like your friend Meles, who are not ready for democracy because they can’t see themselves giving up power after fourteen long years.

I was incredulous to read most of what you wrote. You question the intention of the opposition and their tactics. Democracy is not a courthouse where one has to prove one’s intent beforehand. Nor is it an exercise in psychiatry. No individual is entitled to judge what intentions are good or bad. Not you, not Meles! If the balloting process were undertaken transparently and under the watchful eyes of observers and in the presence of the representatives of the competing parties, none of these issues would have risen. It is the lack of transparent process, stupid. The problem, as you clearly know deep in your heart, is in the breakdown of the electoral process. If Meles and cabal wanted a transparent election, all they had to do was let as many observers, international as well as local ones, at many polling stations. If that had been done, you would not be writing about the intentions of the opposition. According to you, it seems the National Election Board must psychoanalyze the minds of politicians before they enter into election campaigns. You seem to look for scapegoats instead of explaining or addressing what happened – a fraudulent election.

You also rehash the same old reasons and doubts about the opposition instead of focusing on the current issues at hand. I do not believe the Ethiopian people are interested in the history of the evolution of the opposition. You seem to indulge in the minutia of TPLF on one hand and the irrelevant past of the opposition instead of dwelling on what has happened recently. What is spectacular and unbelievable about this election was the nobility and grace with which the Ethiopian people conducted themselves. What is absolutely shocking and unexpected was their utter lack of confidence in EPRDF as government and how they decided to vote for the opposition by large numbers. For exercising their democratic rights so beautifully for the first time in their history, they are paying a heavy price right now. You are deliberately setting aside the current burning issues and take us back to minute details of the past to distract our attention.

What is also sorry about your arguments is how you seem to echo the arguments of TPLF. Perhaps your access to the corridors of power has resulted in your service as an oracle of tired reasoning. You seem to underscore your fear of the extremist fringe in societies and do not seem to comprehend the complexities of the current state of Ethiopia since you just hang around the ruling elite. Bellicose statements by some elements of the Ethiopian society must not be misconstrued as the general attitude of the Ethiopian people and serve as an excuse for stability arguments of the kind you made.

In the last part of your piece, you pretended to get into what is to be done. It is, however, amusing how you started your paragraph with “An internationally recognized government which maintains violence has been consciously perpetrated against it…” What international recognition are you trying to flaunt? Have the Ethiopian people recognized this government or does it matter to you what they recognize? What violence? Who provoked and perpetrated the violence? It is very dishonest on your part to claim that EPRDF was putting down violence, when it is the very cause of violence. Instead of preaching to Ethiopians the virtues of EPRDF, I ask you to advise your friend Meles to yield to the demands of the opposition, release all political prisoners, and sit down to form a unity government. You only mentioned once in your piece about unity government in passing. That really shows how serious you are about helping your friends in power at the expense of poking our wounds.

In the words of the great American 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself will not stand”. Ethiopia will only stand if her children are united. The current government, for sure, is not a vehicle for unity and therefore Ethiopia’s future as a country is at stake. And your wishful stable Horn of Africa could be up in flames!!!!

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