Ethiopia: Improvement should allay its critics

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Ambassador Tibor NagyBy Ambassador Tibor Nagy
Regarding the Houston Chronicle editorial about Ethiopia, “Do Better” (Page B7, July 29), while one can take a snapshot of Ethiopia’s current political, economic and social circumstances and find areas for serious criticism, it would be much fairer to view where Ethiopia is today in relation to where it has come from, and especially to where it is headed.
I served as a U.S. diplomat twice in Ethiopia, as a member of the U.S. embassy staff in the mid-1980s during the awful days of the Marxist dictatorship at the height of the “Great Famine,” and again as ambassador from 1999-2002.
I have also returned to the country a number of times since then to help facilitate educational exchanges between U.S. and Ethiopian universities. In my experience, for most Americans, “Ethiopia” still conjures up images more reminiscent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse than today’s reality.
Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa, made up of mostly dynamic young people experiencing unparalleled economic growth and incredible infrastructure development, with a realistic shot of becoming a middle-income country by 2025.
Along with economic development has come significant and rapid social progress in longevity, women’s education and HIV/AIDS reduction – and incredible growth in university education, with Ethiopia going from three to 38 national universities in just over a decade.
Historically, Ethiopia is an ancient nation – and the only sub-Saharan one to have developed through history and geography rather than by having colonizers drawing lines on a map that, in most cases, made little sense.
Its current political system dates to just 1991, when rebel groups forcibly overthrew the Marxist dictatorship and installed a hybrid political system, which is still evolving. Considering the immense existential threats the regime faced upon taking power, it is understandable that it didn’t immediately transform from the barbarous regime it displaced to an ideal Scandinavian democracy.
However, it has evolved and continues to do so, with each succeeding iteration more politically progressive (and I don’t mean this in U.S. political terms) than the last.
Has Ethiopia arrived at a point where the government in place is willing to have itself voted out of office? That is a question that only the government can answer. But subsequent elections will show whether the government will promote an environment that enables a serious opposition to exist, while the opposition will also have to be serious, instead of fractious, petty, selfish and generally irrelevant.
As the Chronicle editorial pointed out, Ethiopia has serious human rights problems.
As a historical comparison – this is not in any way justification – young nations often do. The U.S. won its independence from Britain in 1783, and in 1798 President John Adams signed into law the odious “Alien and Sedition Acts,” which any “civilized” nation would loudly criticize today.
Luckily, the U.S. tendency since then has been toward democratic liberalization.
An important point: So is Ethiopia’s. Unlike much of the rest of Africa (not to mention the Middle East), where the trend is stagnant or in reverse, Ethiopia’s environment keeps getting better.
I can state from my experience in dealing with Ethiopia: Outsiders who want to influence that evolution positively need to do so discreetly. There are some countries where public criticism works well; there are a few where it is counterproductive. And Ethiopia is definitely in the second category.
The international community needs to decide whether it wants to publicly flog Ethiopia or to effect positive political change. Pursuing the former will only cause Ethiopia to dig in its heels, empower those within the regime who resist change and likely result in stiffer sentences for the incarcertated journalists who plight was the supject of the editorial. If the goal is encouraging liberalization, then discussion out of the limelight will be much more produtive.
U.S. politicians are accountable to their constitutents – and the Ethiopian diaspora is a vocal and well-organized constituency. Having been a member of the Hungarian exile community, this is something I have personal experience with. Those of us who escaped the blood Soviet suppression of the 1956 uprising were vociferously anti-Communist and politically active agains the Hungarian regime until the crumbling of the Soviet Union.
incar In addition to having incredible energy, exile communities also tend to be highly emotional and can idealize the system that existed before the event that caused their exile. I know realize that we Hungarians dis this and failed to acknowledge any progress the post-1956 regime made with “Goulash Communism.”
I would simply urge the Ethiopian community to carefull evaluate events in Ethiopia – the positive as well as the negative – and work toward effecting progress on all fronts. Political and economic liberalization should happen together.

Read Aloud:   Ethiopia: Political Confusion


  1. Mr Ambassador,
    After reading your article, I was really curious about your poltical and educational background. Sir, you really have a very impressive resume. I am one of the people who criticies Ethiopian government. I am an Ethiopian. Born and raised in Ethiopia. I am a part of this very Unlucky young generation of Ethiopa, who have to deal with the current brutal, racist, dictator and minority(the list can go on and on) curent Ethiopian government. Here is my question to you sir; do you have any statstical data to back up how far this government came comparing the old regiemes? okay, Let`s not talk about the old regimes. Do you have any idea, how many poltical prisoners are in jail in Ethiopia right now? Sir,i am not talking about a county jail type we have here in US. A Jail in Ethiopia is a hell. Do you have any idea,how many millitary generals are from one ethnic called Tigre? Do you have any idea, How many civil governmnet officals are from the same ethnic called Tigre? Do you have any idea, How many journalists are prison? In fact Ethiopia is the one of the worst, if not the worst jailer of jounalists.Do you really have any idea, how the country`s wealth is distributed among the 14 fourteen regions we have? Do you have any idea,how the Police and Court treat us since we are not Tigre. I am really saddened by your opinion. It might look good for outsiders but Ethiopians are living in an Aparthied type of system.

  2. the ” good” diplomat seems to be willingly ignorant. Anyone who has set his foot in that country and has seen the plight of the people on the streets of Addis Abeba let alone some one like Mr.Tibor Nagy who has been in and out of the country many times and had access to first hand information about what is going on.
    For heaven sake have compassion, for the people!! they are dying by the score from lack of basic necessities!!!
    The regime has been in power for well over two decades, and now look where that country is; land locked! its meager resources plundered! the fertile lands of the country are beeing auctioned at the most embaracing price to most of the enemies of the nation! corruption rampant,the economy in shatters, where a few selfish people Weaynes (the curse of the nation) came from the north and took everything for themselves,and the once strong and united nation now divided along tribal lines and on the verge of disintegration!
    Is this what the “good” diplomat calls progress?? come on now give me a beak! Who is really trying to kid who??
    You may have some good friends among the Weyanes while you served your country as a diplomat in Ethiopia, and there is nothing wrong about making friends, and that is the main purpose of being a diplomat. But this friendship seems to me has come at the expense of enforcing and making clear the core value of the nation that sent you.
    You know what? Weyanes will be a carpet for you to walk over them as you please as long as you sing to their tunes, and turn blind eyes to their atrocity!!
    As an immigrant you know what it means to fight against tyranny! Ethiopians are not in ideological war (fight) with the Weyanes; Ethiopians are fighting against demon possesed individuals and groups who are not going away until their final doom!!
    Mr. Diplomat, Ethiopains have paid heft and enormous price and sacrifices for the past two decades, and they will continue to do so and you will witness their blood bought freedom even if that takes another 20 years! that is the determination of the people!! The Weyanes must go ! and they will go!!
    The people have only one choice; they don’t sit down and die away!! they will continue to fight!!
    Have you by the way visited any of the prison when you were in Ethiopia??
    God is on the side of the oppressed! He will wipe away every tears from their eyes! When God says it is enough, then it is enough!!

  3. I would not call this a diplomat. As a diplomat, you primary job, apart promoting your country’s interest, your job is to assess how Ethiopians live. Ethiopia is a living hell to its people. People are eating once time a day under TPLF in contrast to previous regimes where they eat three times a day. Every building and roads you see are built by starving people and printing paper money. This is not progress. It is killing the people.
    In terms of democracy, previous regimes are far better. For instance during the King time students can protest and walk free unlike now under TPLF where they are gunned down in broad daylight and imprisoned in thousands. Never in Ethiopian history political opposition go to jail in thousands. Even the bad Derg government did it only for short time and not for 23 years like TPLF.

  4. The good ambassador knows what is going on, he just doesn’t care because that is not his job. His job like any of his predecessors is to prop up dictators in the continent so that they can serve the interest of military industrial complex. Trust me the people of Africa are not going to benefit from the second round of SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA.

  5. Mr.Ambassador
    Whose wealth is growing which tribe is reach ? I think as an American diplomat you should know because you Americans help them to occupy us you never like our unity our x president was unifier not our dead tyrant you brought on us come on now at least tell the truth
    Ethiopia the land before time

  6. What a cruel joke!
    I guess this guy served during Herman Cohen days. It was then that we used to hear from him some advice-cum-instruction: “you should respect TPLF, because it removed the Dergue for you!”. I recall reading an interview he gave somewhere. He was challenged by an interviewer as to why on earth he sent the TPLF army into Addis Ababa, when he clearly knew that TPLF was deeply unpopular among Ethiopians, particularly Addis residents!?
    His reply was short and to the point. Herman Cohen replied as follows: “yes, I understand what you say but I also knew that Addis residents would welcome the TPLF army as long as they knew that they were backed by the US government!!” It was a painful thing hear. I can never get it out of my head, a very serious insult to the Ethiopian people by a totally arrogant and ignorant diplomat!
    Of course, Cohen persisted with his line of argument. If Ethiopians complained that TPLF massacred 100 people at such day and such place, then Cohen and his staff (perhaps including this guy) would reply, “well, that was OK, because Dergue used to kill more than 100 so EPRDF was still better than the Dergue!”.
    This guy goes out of his way to defend the indefensible. He goes all the way back in the US history to draw a parallel and justify present day injustices in Ethiopia. In a way, he is so accurate, we are living in conditions similar to Robber Barons era of bygone days. Ethiopians are shot and killed by Federal Police and Agazi special forces pretty much in cowboy style.
    Even if we try to go along with analogy of the historical reference this “diplomat” is trying to use to lecture us, then he is required to do one simple thing, at least to remain consistent on his part — he should advice his government to stop intervening in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs. Regardless of messy historical background, durable democratic institutions emerged in the US simply because there was no external force intervening and jeopardizing their domestic power balances. Different groups fought it out and some equilibrium was established, consensuses and compromises emerged.
    Ethiopians have been forbidden from doing this simple thing. In our case, we lost the opportunity to create conditions for consensus building by our own means. If it were not US and European support, the Ethiopian people have removed dictators very easily and in the shortest span of time. The EPRDF regime is surviving by the support it gets from elsewhere, with no domestic support whatsoever.
    I know it is too much to ask you to stop supplying our dictatorial regime with arms and funds. Your national security concerns will most certainly override any consideration in our basic human rights.
    In the mean time, however, please can I ask for your favor — please stop providing us with a lecture on theory of comparative dictatorship! We know about it better than you do, both in theory and in practice!

  7. This are voices from paid hands out to undermine Ethiopia and and its people, the plot against our country is wider than we can even imagine and this is one of the wake up calls to the real Ethiopians to embrace each other and stand firm against the danger of eternal slavery.
    zeHabesha this bit is for you, please go and see at the link below, if you have not already seen it, how Tesfaye Gebreab is putting the agenda of his mother country in action by riding on the emotions of the so called Oromo elites.
    And try to see in that how I stand vindicated when I challenge the unity groups to go out of their way and try to bring Oromos on board.
    The plot against our country is far wider than we ever thought, we need to open our eyes and act accordingly, times have changed guys.

    • Here we go again – what has this got to do with anti Ethiopia campaign? For one, I claim to be an Ethiopian as much as you do. And I understand this as a brilliant lecture from a beautiful mind. For that matter Tesfaye is an Ethiopian as much as you and I are. Same way Obama’s dad was from elsewhere Tesfaye happen to have Eriterian parents. Period. The three of us (you, Tesfaye and I) are different types of Ethiopians, but Ethiopians nonetheless. If you think your type are note ethiopoans than the rest of us,you have a problem. Go back to the basics and educate yourself on citizenship. You can then start discussing isssues Such as the content of Tesfaye’s lecture. In the mean time get over your paranoia, shift your attention from imagined and unreal enemies to real enemy. That way you will make tangible contributions to our country’s progress. The task is tough enough, do not make it even more hard for yourself.

  8. Dear Ambassador,
    Your excellency, you have vivdly shown to us that it your gouvernement’s policy that neither Ethiopia nor Ethiopians are worthy of democracy, freedom, human rights and many more manifestations of democracy as wé know it in thé West. Such ignorance stems from your deep-rooted supriority complex that has been ingrined into your pethetic brain and it Is rather unfortunate you are still slave to it. More Worryingly, you are working with your impairmement intact and you have the audacity to lecturing us, dear ambassador you rather get help or try to educate yourself by apprecaiting the plight of Ethiopians…..don’t regurgitate and spout what has been given to by the gouvernement’s communication press office.
    With utmost respect

  9. Omg, this guy is comparing today’s ethiopia with the 17th century American democrasy.And he said it is okay noatter what bad things happen.Alas.
    He also called oppositions as ridiculous (we know who made them so)
    Alo he said about the government willingness to voted out of office,only the government can answer. Hmm, so sad.

  10. It is very sad to hear from very ignorant and illiterate Diasporas such criticism. Whether you accept it or not, The diplomat has based his message base on realistic observations and with evidence. He is very true that Ethiopia has been showing massive economical, political and soil changes. But there are still challenges in terms of human right violations. So far I know, the current ruling regime has been making relentless effort to change the image of our country, and they have been succeeding. This is the reality. But still more has to be done to improve the the human right violations and the right of citizens. Obviously, dealing with these issues is time demanding because the government is not dealing with few individuals but masses of diverse people who in the past have been oppressed to the level of getting trapped into identity crisis and convinced that we are useless. Imagine the depth of poverty we were in and how it paralyzed our mentality to to the extent that we convinced ourselves we are not able.
    fellow citizens Let us be realistic and make our points as genuine as we can. I tell you that nothing can change the progress our country has been making. Our first enemy is abject poverty.

  11. Dear Ambassador Nagy
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations about Ethiopia. The free exchange of ideas and opposing views without fear of retribution are the hall mark of a free and democratic society. Mr. Ambassador, as you very well know, present day Ethiopia is often cited by CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) as an example of a blatant abuser of freedom of expression and the free press. A case in point is the recent jailing of Zone 9 Bloggers. The government has recently brought the charge of terrorism against these bloggers whose only crime is exercising their freedom of expression which, by the way, is guaranteed by the Ethiopian Constitution. Given your long term association with and interest in Ethiopia, I am sure you know there are other prominent journalists such as Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega who are languishing in jail. The sad fact is present day Ethiopia is allergic to freedom of expression and an independent free press.
    I agree with you credit should be given where it is due. Sure a lot of buildings, roads have been built and there are other ambitious infra-structure projects in the pipeline. My question to you sir is development at what cost. People are displaced wreaking havoc to the social fabric that holds a community together. As you know Ethiopian society is very communal and values the social safety network that comes with the long term association with a given community. Equating the number of high rises and substandard “condominiums” with progress and development is very old school. What about equity and income distribution and other indices of social development? Will current day Ethiopia measure up if measured using non brick and mortar measures? I will leave the answer to objective judges.
    Another point you raised in your piece is and I quote “I served as a U.S. diplomat twice in Ethiopia, as a member of the U.S. embassy staff in the mid-1980s during the awful days of the Marxist dictatorship”. As far as I am concerned this was probably the darkest moment in Ethiopia’s long history. Using that era to compare present day conditions in the country is, to say the least, a stretch. Any regime, regardless of its human rights record, will fare better than Mengistu haile Mariam and his blood thirsty goons that terrorized the country for almost two decades.
    In the higher education arena you mention “incredible growth in university education, with Ethiopia going from three to 38 national universities in just over a decade.” What you trumpet as a success story is exactly where the problem lies in the current state of higher education in Ethiopia. In their zeal for quantity, the policy makers have totally ignored the quality of higher education. Producing functional illiterates simply adds to the ranks of the unemployed. In Ethiopia no one is paying serious attention on the quality of education provided by the universities.
    Mr. Ambassador, the issue is not whether the international community should flog Ethiopia publicly. As a matter of fact the world has turned a blind eye to the human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian regime. Where is the outcry about the kidnapping and extradition to Ethiopia of Mr. Andargachew Tsige, an Ethiopian opposition figure with British citizenship?
    Development without the respect for basic human rights and the rule of law is wrongheaded.

  12. In reality, Mr ANdargachew is a foreign citizen trying to create havoc to another nation. He should have carefully avoided such incidence. Although, I personally feel sorry for him, more specially because has has children and wife. He shouldn’t have made such a big mistake. It is not good to judge on a person who is languishing in a jail. Our country has the legitimate right to protect herself and her people from any person who come to cause a damage to the nation. If he was not a foreign national, things could have been different.

  13. Mengistu kills you if you want peoples government. Woyanie (TPLF) treats us the same thing. No difference in governance between TPLF and Mengistu.
    About the so called universities, it all name change. I will give you examples: Ambo, Awassa, Jimma, Alemaya, Nazret, Dilla, Arbaminch, Debreberhan and etc existed as colleges under previous regimes. Woyanie called them universities. So Mr Ambassador, you are misinformed to say there were only 3 universities and TPLF opened 39 universities.

  14. Ambassador? And for the US? Never more will I be shocked to learn that such an egregious liar and consummate partisan who sold his integrity for corruptive influences and party shows! Utter scale of stupidity! I am ashamed you claimed you were working as an ambassador for the US. Of course, you remember which goverment sponsored parties you were to and that is your recollection. And as simple as you think, your analysis also has in perspective the parties and restaurants you enjoyed secured by goverment security! You are an epicurian enemy who values his gluttony for turmoil and bloodshed in poor countries under the hardh claws of dinosaurus tyrants. I pray yhat you life be as short as your full belly which turns empt hhhhhj after an hour. You need to be ashamed and swallow your words. Give a window to you brain so that the darkness you live in might get some light!

  15. Mr. ambassador, as Ethiopian American, you failed me and you failed the people of united states and your country if you were espousing such attitude towards tyrants like leaders of the Ethiopian regime. when you got confirmed , you promised to cherish, uphold and promote the pillars of our constitution- the right for justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. instead, you are making excuses to tyrants in this article of yours. I can easily conclude that this was your operating motto while you were serving as a diplomat representing united states. what amazes me is the fact that you sound like a diplomat from the peoples republic of china rather our beloved united states. communism is tyrannical in its nature. Here, you claim to have fought against communism while defending the Ethiopian regime which practices the ills of communism namely violation basic human right, arbitrary arrest and killing, genocide and mass suppression. we have seen some great diplomats who stood with freedom fighters against such tyrants as Mugabe of Zimbabwe or moi of Kenya. I wished you followed their examples. I believe you are a paid lobbyist for this cruel and genocidal government. you should have declared your real relationship with the regime so we would know where you are coming from. that education mumbo jumbo is not cutting it. at the end of your article, you said that economic and political liberalization should happen together. are they happening in Ethiopia now for you to glorify and defend this regime? I will leave the answer to you.

  16. When people are evil and immoral and lack dignity and integrity, their mind is busy to be extremely critical, negative and destructive. This is how the opinions of many of you. The Ambassador- has far greater insight than many of the writers here. It seems one person is writing repeatedly.
    Be genuine. If you fight for true democracy and freedom of people, first see yourselves. Most of you give lip services, and you do not have rightful and well substantiated comments and responses.
    Shame for you

    • Evil is the best description for you and your evil masters organization called TPLF. don’t give it away. In fact you should fight tooth and nail to retain your God given name, as Evil remained to be your only fitting name over the last 40yrs.
      The ambassador simply writes crap for a pay.

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