By Jeff Pearce
You know the tired old aphorism that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Well, we now live in a time where in Ethiopia, we can see in real time good men and women do nothing. And so I feel I have to call these folks out.
The bridges to them probably went up in flames anyway the minute I chose my side in public. What these folks don’t realize yet is that they’re the ones treading water. The end of the Abiy regime is inevitable. And the door is closing fast on their chance to distance themselves from it.
I am calling them out and can call them out because contrary to the nonsense that was regularly spewed by the likes of AFP weasel Robbie Corey-Boulet and Economist weasel Tom Gardner, I never worked for the Ethiopian government, still don’t, and neither do my activist colleagues. We all cared and still care about Ethiopia.
I have no doubt in my mind that as misguided as these individuals are whom I list here, they are each a patriot in their own ways. They care deeply about their country, which is probably why they each chose to serve. But that time is over now.
If they stay on longer, their professional reputations will be forever stained with the blood of Abiy’s crimes and complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Amhara and the gross mistreatment of the Afar and others.
While those who worked on Ethiopia’s behalf against the TPLF stayed independent, we still had to deal now and then with its officials, which is how I came to respect each of these individuals. So, this isn’t an attempt to corner them, malign them, or be disingenuous in a “Brutus is an honorable man” way (the most passive-aggressive speech out of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar).
I’m writing about them and to them because I hope they get out now, as Ethiopia will need their skills and talents later to rebuild.
And if you are one of those I’ve singled out reading this, I’m saying that you don’t even need to join the fight. You don’t need to speak out and put yourself at risk, though yes, it would be wonderful if you did raise your voice. But if you walk away now, it will still help tremendously.
Let me take each of these individuals in turn. And then let’s consider some more why they might be sticking around.
On October 8 on Twitter/X, Billene Aster Seyoum posted photos of the country and wrote, “Tourism is a 7.71 tr USD industry & #Ethiopia has immense attractions to capitalize on.”
I couldn’t resist and quote-tweeted her, “It is beautiful. Is the gov’t’s plan to make it more ‘beautiful’ by depopulating it of certain folks?” I asked her if she felt ashamed. I asked her to quit the “killers’ side.”
During the Tigray conflict, Billene had one of the hardest, if not the hardest job. Day after day, she had to stand up and defend the nation’s case when a horde of Western idiots, their arrogance and ignorance on display, ran loose around the country and bought the TPLF’s lies hook, line, and sinker. The lack of even basic strategic communications on the government’s part, its amateur-hour incompetence in dealing with the terrorists’ propaganda, was beyond maddening, and I will make no apology for my criticisms of it in both public and private. Billene was the PMO’s Press Secretary, and I had a hard time reconciling the government’s gaffes with her poise, her thoughtful, patient responses to outright stupid and sometimes insulting questions, and her brilliant intelligence. This person was a brilliant professional.
She was and still is, I decided, much better than whatever passes for the comms department over there.
I only ever had one conversation with her, in which she invited me during my second trip over in 2021 to see certain infrastructure projects the government was doing for the country. I gave a polite but hard pass. I hadn’t flown all the way over to write what’s known in journalism as “puff pieces,” and I think I even used the term rather tactlessly on the phone with her. She took my borderline rudeness in stride because she’s a professional. It was her job to see if I was interested. I wasn’t. I had tons of advice for her on how the gov’t could make its case for Ethiopia better, which wasn’t any different than some of the things I’d said in public, and to her credit, she didn’t tell me to take a flying leap when she had every right to. Like I said, a consummate professional.
As an aside, I sure found it damn interesting that a hugely popular diaspora reporter flew over soon after and then got the queen’s tour of these infrastructure projects. I recall sitting in an SUV on the way to another site of destruction and thinking, “Boy, it sure would be nice if this person did some actual reporting.” It shouldn’t have surprised any of us that this same person has consistently tried to downplay what is happening to the Amhara.
But back to Billene. After my tweet a couple of days ago, people in replies wrote some nasty stuff about her—which she doesn’t deserve. And it’s not the way to persuade someone over to the other side. I, for one, still have enormous respect for her.
Which is why it’s so unfortunate that if she keeps her job, she’ll be increasingly stuck defending the indefensible.
When she spoke behind a podium and defended Ethiopia against the TPLF, she stood with the angels, even if Martin Plaut and Alex “Mango” de Waal would like to rewrite history. The attacks on November 3/4 2020 on the army were Ethiopia’s “9/11.” And I saw for myself the spiteful and cruel destruction they caused in Wollo and Afar.
Advocates and shills for the government now want to pretend that Fano is an “ethnic insurgency” that’s illegally attacking the state—the implication being that they are no better than what TPLF did. The government wants to posture and pretend it’s above all the ethnic noise, even after it betrayed everyone at Pretoria.
So, I would love to get the answers to a couple of questions on this logic.
Do please enlighten us: why is it that the TPLF and the OLF don’t have to disarm yet the government insists that Fano must do so?
And if Fano does give up, will you do another shameful Pretoria, and Abiy can hand out phony-baloney awards as you did with Getachew Reda, et. al.?
Is that how you reward the thugs who bore down on the capital, who laid waste to hospitals, universities, even museums? You put ’em back in power in Mekelle?
And if you’re really trying to be a federal administration that recognizes all voices, why are some animals more equal than others? And why are you coddling the insurgents who put scores of people into IDP camps?
In a similar fashion, Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Canada, is tweeting today about the opening of the African Kaizen Center of Excellence in Addis Ababa, with Japan’s support. Diplomats are required to churn out this kind of puffery, but these days, it’s like the posts of Abiy planting trees while the world goes to hell.
And again, the actor here is far better than the script he was given.
When Mr. Fitsum was in Washington, he had a thankless job. Ethiopians, especially those in the diaspora, criticized him for not doing enough when all the doors of media were closed to him. And it wasn’t his fault. Once upon a time in the “old days,” if a newspaper attacked a country, its representative in Washington or Ottawa or London had what’s loosely called the “right of reply.” But the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail—all of them—outright refused to publish his responses to their Op-Eds or articles. And the papers and networks such as BBC reveled in muffling any voice that contradicted their narrative.
I think I’ve had only one conversation with Mr. Fitsum, and it was at my instigation. A sleazy little creep in DC—and no, I won’t link to his garbage—tried to smear me and the ambassador by claiming that Fitsum directly gave me cash payments for articles I wrote, which would be a neat trick as the border was closed for two years during Covid, and why the hell would I get money from DC when Ethiopia has a legation right in Ottawa? Dumb.
So, when I finally got a chance to speak to Mr. Fitsum in October of 2022, congratulating him on his appointment in Ottawa, I joked, “Sir, you guys apparently owe me back-pay of $800 for every article I ever wrote on Ethiopia.” He laughed. Of course, he did. Because we both know it was ridiculous.
This is a man, who like Billene, did his job quietly and well, and put up with a lot of crap. And I’m trying not to add to it, but I am forced to ask—just as I did on Twitter/X to Billene—Aren’t you ashamed by all this, sir? Doesn’t it embarrass you?
You are so much better than this.
Your boss, your Prime Minister, is trying to promote “a Tourism and Hospitality exhibition launched today.”
It’s hard to imagine anything more macabre than the bus coaches of tourists that Ethiopia’s PM is hoping for. Think of all these ignorant pilgrims stepping out to get the full Abiy tourism experience. Come! See the bullet holes in the sides of houses in Gondar! And after we’re done at the churches in Lalibela, let’s take photos of a tableau of residents being dragged out of their homes and arrested! After a lovely traditional meal, we’ll drive back to Addis where you can take in the bulldozing of a mosque!
Early in the Tigray conflict, I had the chance to interview by Zoom Mr. Gedion Timothewos, who last I checked (just 30 seconds ago) is still Ethiopia’s Minister of Justice. I never aired the interview or put the raw footage on YouTube or did anything with it. Mr. Gedion answered my questions, but there was no real substance to his answers and nothing new in them to hang a story on, even if I wanted to write an article from it for Medium or Substack. But it did reveal one very interesting thing…
You see, as many Ethiopians know, Mr. Gedion is a brilliant legal and constitutional scholar. When Stephen Sackur was being a rude, pompous ass on BBC’s HardTalk, Gedion held his own and was willing to make another appearance on the program months later. The man’s intelligence intimidates the hell out of me. But here’s the thing…
I asked him about the government’s plans, if any, to revise the constitution or develop a new one in collaboration with other parties. And he ducked the question. I asked him several times. Like the most experienced and shrewd politician, he wouldn’t give me a proper direct answer. Well, that’s his right.
Instead, he told me that when I came to Ethiopia, we could meet, and he would tell me off the record the government’s plan. I still have the recording of this, by the way. When I got to Ethiopia to do my first reporting on the war, I never did get the chance to meet with him.
And being an idiot, it didn’t hit me at the time we spoke: he was publicly saying he wouldn’t announce the government’s intentions and would only share them with me off the record. That should have set off alarm bells. That should have been my story. Duh.
And now months and months later, we can see that the Abiy regime clearly has no intention to fix the Frankenstein monster it inherited from the TPLF. It talks of “transitional justice” but put an entire region, Tigray, back into the hands of a group of psychopaths. It’s letting the army brutalize Amhara and turns a blind eye to ethnic extremists and their crimes in Oromia.
Mr. Gedion, you are a man who believes in the law. Where is the justice in the laws of Ethiopia these days?
You are better than this. I have to believe you are because the alternative is to think that you lied to me and knew two years ago that you never intended to bring real reform.
Please show us you stand not just for laws but for the very ideals of justice.
I saved for last the individual I’ve had most contact with, Nasise Challi Jira, former ambassador to Canada who was promoted to Abiy’s Minister of Tourism. She is smart, a former cyber-security engineer by profession and who is way more educated than I’ll ever be, with a brilliant grasp of situations when presented to her on the spot. I highly suspect that the whole “homecoming” campaign to bring the diaspora back was her idea, though she had enough political acumen to give her boss the credit.
But let me tell you a quick story about Ms. Nasise and why I have enormous respect for her.
Back when the New York Times, AP, and Reuters all brazenly showed child soldiers, expressing not an iota of regret or conscience over doing such a contemptible thing and talking about them as “highly motivated young recruits,” well, I floated the idea to diaspora organizations and activists about interviewing a few captured child soldiers and getting their perspectives and suffering on record. I wanted to interview them live, on YouTube, so that those watching could tell that these kids weren’t being coached or coerced. People could even ask them live questions.
The YouTube interview never happened. Nobody’s fault, the circumstances simply didn’t work out. Instead, it’s worth noting that resourceful and tenacious journalist Francesca Ronchin interviewed two TPLF child soldiers in July of 2022. But back to my point—
I naturally needed some cooperation from government authorities and then the army, just as any reporter has to go through hoops for media accreditation on the ground, permission to report in certain conflict zones, blah, blah, blah. My first point of contact was Ms. Nasise.
This was a private conversation, pitching her the idea. She knew she didn’t have to be “on” as a politician in that moment. But the very first thing she said in response was that the kids’ faces couldn’t be shown, because one day they would likely want to return to their homes and communities and would have to reintegrate with their societies.
She was thinking automatically of their safety, their welfare.
Let that sink in for a moment. Now you can look up the fact that she once worked as a director of protocol and public relations for the Oromo National Regional Government before she was ambassador, and I’m sure people have leapt to conclusions, but I am telling you that here is a person who thought of Tigrayan child combatants as victims first. She thought like a mother, she thought of them as a human being should.
Ethiopia will aways need a person like this—a person of compassion and humanity. But the country needs a demonstration of that compassion and humanity again. By leaving the government.
To all of you, I say: Don’t you know your house is burning? Can’t you smell the smoke? Your guy, Abiy, is going down. There is no stopping the momentum. It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. ditches him because they prefer to back winners, and Fano’s ultimate success is on the horizon. Because your government is waging a war against its own people, which is a very different thing than when the TPLF waged a war on the country and held its base region hostage.
And let us say by some horrible “miracle,” your boss actually wins. Do you really want to stay on and work for this man who intends to build himself a Disneyland palace while your brothers and sisters in Amhara and Afar, in Gambela and Tigray suffer?
Yes, you need to make a living. Yes, maybe it’s more than that for each and all of you. You want to serve.
But this is not the way. You must each know that deep in your soul.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with two gentlemen who were both in positions of relative authority during the Derg era. I’m fully aware that it’s an awfully nice view from the cheap seats, looking back comfortably from today and questioning how they conducted themselves in a horrible time. Still… I couldn’t square the idea of people going to work, day to day, while the EPRP, MEISON, and the Derg’s killing squads all left bodies in the streets. How could they live with it? Short answer: they couldn’t.
But like you, both these men wanted to serve their country. To quit felt like giving up on the nation instead of just resigning from a job. To leave the country felt like amputating a limb. They did it because they recognized the corrosion of their own souls, that there was a higher duty they could only carry out once they left Mengistu’s regime behind. And while I neglected to ask, I doubt either of them ever regretted their choice to quit, although exile was painful.
And I am not suggesting any of you folks have to leave the country, unless you weigh the situation and deem it necessary for your own safety. But if you even have to think that through, that should tell you just how bad things have deteriorated—that you fear some kind of professional or legal reprisal if you pack up your office and quit. You need to quit anyway, and now’s the time to do it.
I’m not even asking you to join the chorus of voices that demand Enough. People can interpret and gossip over your absence and silence, but the point is you’ll be out of it. The time will come—maybe years, but hopefully just months—when you can tell us publicly how you made the decision.
I am hoping that no one replies to my posting of this article on Twitter/X or Facebook with derisive, nasty comments to these individuals. My intent here was not to shame them—quite the contrary.
We need these individuals on the side of freeing Ethiopia, saving an entire population from ethnic cleansing, flushing that toxic constitution once and for all. These individuals aren’t the enemy—they could be future allies.
Maybe they just need a push, a nudge to summon their conscience and a lamp in the dark to show them how they can walk away.
Just as Fano has demonstrated that it treats captured soldiers with decency, food, and the invitation to join their fight, so I can reasonably assure these individuals that there will be great sighs of relief if they get out now and certainly rousing cheers if they decide to add their voices and credibility to the cause of the persecuted.
So, yes, if you are one of them reading this, or if you’re another official or bureaucrat working for the regime, you’re needed on that side of the line that represents decency and caring for the rights of the most vulnerable.
And your brothers and sisters will welcome your change of heart.I wish each of you good luck and hope you’ll find your way.
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