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Ethiopia: An Open Letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

October 19, 2006

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia.

Mr. Prime Minister,

Like most people you obviously have aspirations. You aspired to remove a brutal dictator from Ethiopia, and with help of a willing population and the assistance of the current Eritrean leadership – who in turn aspired to separate Eritrea from Ethiopia – you achieved your goal. Most of us were shocked at the swift pace of the Derg’s collapse, not that we regretted it but because of the uncertainty of what was to come in its place! You immediately put in place a form of administration that you thought would cure the maladies caused by the previous administrations. I doubt if it had occurred to you that 15 years after taking power you would be classified as a dictator alongside the man you deposed! After so willingly giving up Eritrea and doing everything within your power to legitimize it as an internationally recognizable entity, I doubt you’d have thought the same country and the same leadership, a few years later, would turn on you and eat the very hand that fed them! You promised and enshrined that promise in a constitution that promised ethnic entities autonomy up to and including independence! Those regions, today, are not claiming you as their liberator! After winning accolades from the Western leaders as one of Africa’s new breed of leaders, nobody wants to stand anywhere near you! So what happened?

Here are a few important reasons, in my humble opinion, why things just did not turn out to be the way you anticipated, and the list is by no means exhaustive:

  • At the time when people from all other the world were stretching across borders and continents to hold arms to create a more peaceful world (e.g. the thawing of East-West ice at the Berlin Wall) you attempted to erect barriers between the people of Ethiopia, executing a terribly flawed EXPERIMENT!
  • While telling the world that you champion the cause of democracy in Ethiopia , at home you ran the country on the doctrine of a failed communist dictatorship
  • You wrongly assumed that being seen on the world stage, rubbing shoulders with leaders of great countries (while you are leading one of the poorest nations on the face the globe) was equivalent to successful leadership at home. In so doing you failed to see that sharing the stage with those leaders was meant to be a reward for introducing “good democratic governance at home”!
  • You made and continue making the mistake of believing that if you have the friendship of powerful nations and particularly if you do some crucial tasks for them, then you can ride roughshod on your own population and expect to stay in power for as long as you want. Unwilling to learn that genuine leadership draws strength from the support of its nation, you continue fomenting trouble inside and outside the country, in the hope of getting outside attention, thereby exposing your country a serious threat of collapse.
  • By treating people of your ethnic group more favorably at the expense of the others (e.g. control of the economy, better health service, better education etc), you’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul for the last 15 years. Peter is resentful about what Paul is getting and Paul, being full of guilty conscience, of cause is defensive. You have given perks to the groups who support you and deprived those you oppose you and by so doing you have succeeded in turning the entire population against each other along ethnic lines. Lacking the knowledge of the psyche of an oppressed people (you had no stamina to stay and finish your medical education) you use their reaction to misrule as a reason for further oppression.
  • You lead a nation of God-fearing people who, in spite for their diversity, have lived in peace and harmony with each other for thousands of years. The nation, in spite of the upheavals you and your predecessor have put it through, long for peace and prosperity. The nation has resisted violence, yet you took this as weakness, lack of resolve, even lack of alternatives. You fail to understand that you are being given chance to put things right. You just don’t seem to get it!
  • The worst thing about you and your administration, regrettably, is DECEIPT! It is the basest of human traits, but sadly you wear it on your sleeve like a badge. I wonder if you have thought about why Tony Blair, your buddy, turned his back on you at your press conference in South Africa this year. You may not know this but it is PAINFUL TO SIT NEXT TO A PERSON WHO IS DECEIPFUL, and Tony Blair, being a decent man he is, was in PAIN, – it was written all over him! It is this feature and your irrepressible tendency to use it, that has now brought this great nation to the brink of catastrophe!
  • You seem to use your political opponents as a yard-stick to measure your own success. And you would use any means against them to declare that “success”. These are qualities of people who lack imagination, and total lack of decency – far from being qualities of a leader. You dismally fail to comprehend the implication of locking up the democratically elected leaders of the opposition, for yourself, your administration and your country! I am not a supporter of any political movement in Ethiopia today but the people’s leaders who are languishing in your jails are Heroes of mine and all freedom-loving people all over the world. It is simply incomprehensible why you feel it necessary to lock up a 75 year old man who is in such a state of ill-health! How do you reconcile your earlier attempt at being a doctor with what you are doing to people today? I am asking you these questions purely as a human being.

So today, in spite of promise to the contrary Ethiopia, under your watch is enduring the most repressive form of government comparable only to North Korea and Eritrea. Ethiopia is landlocked and therefore at the mercy of its neighbors to gain access to the sea; the country is surrounded by enemies who are committed to destroying Ethiopia. Having denied the population their democratic rights, killed and arbitrarily imprisoned so many innocent people, you have very few friends in the country; having locked up the democratically elected political leaders on trumped-up charges you have denied yourself credible partners to help resolve the problems that you so deftly created!

If I were a fly on the wall of your cabinet room, I am sure I would not see a smile on anybody’s face! I think I would hear about death and destruction of the population and their properties, bad news from all the regions and instability on the borders. Your administration, the outward appearance of serenity notwithstanding, is probably in its worst crisis since taking power – and you thought it out, designed it and produced it. And now you have a monstrous killing machine which, for all intents and purposes is completely out of control. I say this because, every action your administration has taken since last year’s election has been insanity beyond description. YOU HAVE SET OFF A CHAIN OF EVENTS WHICH RENDERS THE COUNTY AND ITS POPULATION, INCLUDING PEOPLE WHOSE INTEREST YOU SUPPOSEDLY PREPRESENT, MORE VULNERABLE TO DESTRUCTION WITH EACH PASSING DAY! And you have become a prisoner of your own actions.

As you hurtle down this precipice, it should be obvious to you that you may take Ethiopia down with you. That probably doesn’t matter to you much, but as a human being and a parent, you must, from time to time ask yourself “WHY AM I DOING THIS?”  I put this to you – WOULD YOU RATHER THE FUNDAMENTALISTS AND ISSAS PREVAIL IN ETHIOPIA? DO YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT THE TIGRAY PEOPLE?

Whether by choice or imposition you are the leader of Ethiopia. If nothing else moves you, at least you must look your family in their eyes and ask yourself “WHAT FUTURE AM I BUILDING FOR THEM?” I can tell you this – you are not above asking yourself that question! People make sacrifices everyday often out of humanity, for the people they don’t even know and there are many of those in Ethiopia today trying to cobble together lives that are shattered by your misrule! A brave man is far from being the one who opens fire on peaceful and unarmed people. A brave man is one who recognizes his mistakes, faces himself, stands up and acknowledges his mistakes, and makes redress!

In the aftermath of the regime you deposed, you had unparalleled opportunities to be a hero not just for your Tigrean brethren but for the entire nation of Ethiopia and beyond. Everything was at your disposal to make a positive mark in Ethiopia’s history, but you chose the low road and therefore missed those golden opportunities. But thanks to your feeble opponents, you can still do the right thing and prevent the implosion of Ethiopia even at this late hour!

My assessment of your performance is harsh because I think you are willfully destroying Ethiopia. I think you have jeopardized the lives of innocent people, and contrary to your belief you have hurt the Tigrean population more than any other ethnic group in Ethiopia. Your life is full of contradictions and that is reflected in the way you ruled Ethiopia. But you are OUR bad guy. You have the opportunity to demonstrate it if you really care about Ethiopia and its entire population.

I urge you to facilitate the creation of a neutral Administration of National Unity which will protect Ethiopia against its enemies. If I were you I would then ask for forgiveness for all the wrongs you have done and leave Ethiopia, so that Ethiopians can heal their wounds and return to their peaceful coexistence.

May the Almighty help you make this very important choice!

Yours most sincerely

Golto Aila.

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