Whether the people of Ethiopia are better off in 2014 than they were in 2010 or in 2005 is the sole question that should be decided in the 2015 parliamentary “election”. If they are not, the people should vote to change diapers. After all, “politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Aarrgh! the thought of poor Ethiopia wearing the same diapers for another 5 years, for a total of 25 years!
In June 2010, I wrote a commentary lamenting the ludicrous 99.6 percent “electoral victory” of the “EPDRF” (“Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front”) , the late Meles Zenawi’s party. In a self-congratulatory victory speech, Meles declared that preposterous election “recognized the efforts of the EPRDF and unequivocally sent a clear message to the opposition parties in our country.” He was referring to the 79 officially registered opposition political “parties” in Ethiopia which were unable to muster even one-half percent collectively in 2010.
The 2010 European Union Election Observation Mission Ethiopia made the understatement of the decade when it observed, “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” The 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire with a straight face concluded, “the elections were free and fair and the team found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” The White House shedding crocodile tears expressed “concern that international observers found the elections fell short of international commitments.” Ethiopia is wearing the same diapers today.
The ghosts of elections past
In 2010, Meles bulldozed, bribed, bullied and terrorized his way to a 99.6 percent election “victory” . He (mis)used foreign humanitarian and economic aid to buy and extort votes from the rural population. He provided make-work jobs to buy the loyalty of the youth. He (mis)used state resources to mobilize support for his party. He organized a massive surveillance programs and used a network of spies and informants to identify and neutralize his opposition.
When Meles Zenawi prepared for his 99.6 percent electoral victory in 2010, he spoke loudly and carried a big stick. He threatened to prosecute opposition leaders for their allegedly “inflammatory” and “hateful” campaign statements aimed at “inciting violence’. He threatened to jail them if they withdrew from the elections at the last minute and agitated the youth to demonstrate in the streets. After he vanquished his imaginary 78 opponents at the polls, he extended an olive branch to them. They will get his mercy as long as they keep their tails between their legs and licked his boots. “We make this pledge to all the parties who did not succeed in getting the support of the people, during this election, that whether or not you have won seats in the parliament, as long as you respect the will of the people and the country’s Constitution and other laws of the land, we will work by consulting and involving you in all major national issues. We are making this pledge not only because we believe that we should be partners … [but also] you have the right to participate and to be heard.” Meles’ pledges are not worth the breath used to make them.
The Ghost of Meles Zenawi in 2015?
The ghost of Meles Zenawi will hang over the 2015 elections like “pall in the dunnest (dark) smoke of hell”, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Meles was the supreme playwright of stolen and rigged elections. He wrote the script and playbook for rigging and hijacking elections in the bush, long before he held the mantle of power. He was a bit overconfident in 2005 and his party got a thumping; but he learned his lessons well. Never give the real opposition an even break. He jailed wholesale nearly all of the top opposition leaders, independent journalists, human rights advocates and civil society leaders that year.
The overall election mugging strategy for 2015 is the same old one crafted by Meles. Just as Meles wrote the “Growth and Transformation Plan” for the economy, he also wrote the “How To Use Stealth and Hijack the Ethiopian Election Plan” (SHEEP) for politics. The SHEEP plan is based on one simple proposition. “EPDRF” is the ONLY game in town! “EPDRF” is the protector, deliverer and sole guardian of Ethiopia. The “EPDRF” is the ONLY secure pillar of stability, peace, development and progress in Ethiopia.
The SHEEP plan anticipates winning the 2015 election by at least 100 percent. It would be a disgrace and an insult to the memory of Meles to win by anything less! The Plan will work only if the SHEEP shepherds (forgive the pun) manage to hoodwink and corral the various players into their election game.
There is no question that the ruling TPLF (“Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front”) regime, masquerading as “EPDRF” will do everything in its power to convince the people of Ethiopia and the international loaners and donors that it is the one and ONLY force standing between order and total anarchy in that country. The TPLF will try to convince the people and its foreign bankrollers that without the “EPDRF”, Ethiopia will be plunged into civil war just like Rwanda. Without the “EPDRF” there will be ethnic fragmentation, conflict and warfare just like South Sudan. Without the “EPDRF”, the “evil” “Amharas” will take over power. Without the “EPDRF”, the “Oromos” will take over power and punish the “Amharas”. Without the “EPDRF”, the“Tigrayans” will face persecution by “Amharas” and “Oromos”. The ethnically diverse people of Ethiopia will be forced out of their homes, lose their lands and be deprived of their right to speak in their languages. Without the “EPDRF”, the infamous “Derg” will rear its ugly head. Without the EPDRF, the “Muslims” will impose Islamic law in Ethiopia. Without the EPDRF, “Muslims” and “Christians” will persecute each other just like in the Central African Republic. Without the EPDRF, Islamist terrorism will wreak havoc in Ethiopia just like Boko Haram in Nigeria. Without the “EPDRF”, all of the rich people who got rich through corruption and theft will lose their wealth and go to jail or into exile. Without the “EPDRF”, the economy will collapse and Ethiopia will no longer enjoy the (imaginary) 11-15 percent annual economic growth. Without the EPDRF, there will be no development in Ethiopia. Without the “EPDRF”, the sky will fall and the stars come crashing down on Ethiopia! Without the “EPDRF”, there will be no Ethiopia.
Simply stated, the “EPDRF’s” winning strategy is good old fear and loathing. If they can manage to get “Amharas” to fear and dread an “Oromo takeover” of power, they get to win and stay in power. If they can get “Oromos” to hate “Amharas”, they get to win and stay in power. If they can keep “Oromos” preoccupied by historical grievances and overlook the massacres of dozens of innocent university students, they get to win and stay in power. If they can frighten the smaller ethnic groups into believing the world will close on them without the “EPDRF”, they get to win and stay in power. If they can get “Christians” and “Muslims” to fear, loathe and distrust each other, they get to win and stay in power. If they can scare their rich supporters into believing that without the “EPDRF” , they will certainly lose their riches and end up in exile or in jail, they get to win and stay in power. If the “EPDRF” can get their loaners and donors to believe (wink, wink) the sky will fall on Ethiopia and their national interests if they fall out of power, they get to win and stay in power. If the loaners and donors turn a blind eye, purse their lips and plug their ears, as they always have, to the daylight theft of elections in Ethiopia, they get to win and stay in power.
Asking whether the “EPDRF” will win the 2015 elections is like asking whether darkness will envelope the land after sunset. It will be a cakewalk for them. With Meles, the election mugging playwright and director gone, his pitiful stagehands are now in charge. “Prime Minister” Hailemariam Desalegn, the man warming the “prime minister’s” armchair for Teodros Adhanom, the malaria-researcher-turned-instant-foreign-minster until 2015, has declared on numerous occasions that he and his colleagues will be guided (blindly) by Meles’ vision in everything they do. In 2010, Meles vision was to win the election by 100 percent. He missed it by four-tenths of one percent. Hailemariam & Co. now face a tremendous challenge. They owe it to Meles to win the 2015 “election” by at least 150 percent. It will be a crying shame if their victory margin falls below the golden threshold of 99.6 percent.
To win by at least 100 percent and make Meles proud, Hailemariam & Co. must handout a little bit more fertilizer to the peasants than they did in 2010. They must at least double the “productive safety net payments” to poor rural household to buy their votes. They need to hand out a lot more “microfinance” loans to hoodwink the youth and buy their loyalty and votes. They also need to provide boatloads of empty promises for handout of condos to urban residents.
Over the next 11 months, the “EPDRF” will busier than a mosquito at a nudist colony subtly, cleverly and gradually implementing its SHEEP to pit the various ethnic groups against each other and spend hundreds of millions of birr to buy votes. They will build on their past successes of divide and conquer/rule strategy. For a quarter of a century, they have succeeded in stoking the fires of ethnic antagonisms. They are stoking ethnic fires today by massacring innocent university students (a little over a week ago BBC reported the regime in Ethiopia massacred 47 university students in Ambo 80 miles west of the capital). They have had great difficulty in stoking the fires of sectarianism between Christians and Muslims, but they will keep trying. They are great at dirty tricks. Their local bankrollers, namely their corruption-fed fat cat supporters who have a chokehold on the economy, will flock to them ready to offer support. After all, they share the same destiny with the SHEEP herders. Naturally, the loaners and donors will babble the usual lip service nonsense about fair and free elections and at a blink of an eye turn a blind eye to the misuse of their foreign aid and loans for partisan political purposes.
What about the opposition?
What opposition?! The regime operators have nothing but contempt for the opposition. I have often remarked that Meles and his crew believed that opposition leaders are their intellectual inferiors. As Susan Rice, Obama’s current National Security Advisor, observed, Meles believed those who opposed him are all “fools and idiots”. Meles made it clear in his public statements that he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver his opponents any day of the week. He could. Meles’ acolytes today believe in their master’s teachings and visions. They too believe the opposition is dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to their power. They view their opposition as a bunch of delinquent children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, they will offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses — and whatever else it takes to buy their silence, if not their support. Those they cannot buy, they will intimidate, jail, prosecute or place under continuous surveillance and harass relentlessly.
The fact of the matter is that the Ethiopian opposition inside the country and in the Diaspora is terribly fragmented. Some opposition leaders are more concerned about their own power position than the dangers faced by the nation. They are unwilling to make genuine commitments to a common platform, unite and oppose a formidable common adversary. The opposition lacks the resources to counter the unlimited financial resources of the “EPDRF”. Opposition journalists are jailed and harassed. Even young bloggers are jacked up on silly terrorism charges. There is no civil society. To eliminate any traces of organized urban opposition, the regime has uprooted urban neighborhoods in the name of development. If push comes to shove, Meles’ minions will execute their master’s master plan. Meles once told an American diplomat, “We will crush the opposition with all our might.” The TPLF (sorry, I meant the “EPDRF”) will “win” the 2015 “election” by push or crush.
The BIG known unknowns, unknown unknowns?
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sometimes liked to speak in conundrums (riddles). He said, “there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
It is a known known that Meles was the brains and the brawns in the “EPDRF” operation (he single-handedly created the “EPDRF”). We know he was not only the “commander-in-chief” but also “strategist-cum-tactician-cum-guru-in-chief”. It is known that the combined intellectual capacity of all of Meles’ minions will not approximate four-tenths of Meles’ intellectual candlepower.
It is a known unknown that there is no one in the “EPDRF” today who could replace Meles. Hailemariam Desalegn, the ceremonial prime minster in Ethiopia, once declared that he will never be able to “fill Meles’ shoes”. He is right. No one in the “EPDRF” can! It is a known unknown who will indeed fill Meles’ role if not his shoes in 2015. (I think I know that known unknown.) The known unknowns are those things simmering behind the curtains of power in a regime that is legendary for its absolute secrecy. It is an unknown unknown how much infighting there is or has been since Meles’ death among the various TPLF factions. Those who claim to know the unknown unknown say the only thing keeping the various factions in the TPLF together is pure economic interest. They say the only thing that is keeping the infighting within TPLF from exploding openly is the unwritten code of honor among thieves. Thou shalt not war with another thief for there are no winners in a war among thieves. There is much known unknowns about the inner workings of the TPLF power core. Unfortunately, those who know the unknowns do not talk and those who talk do not know the unknowns.
What will the donors and loaners do in the 2015 election?
The donors and loaners will do nothing to help or ensure that the 2015 election will be free and fair. They could not care less. They want an election drama, not free and fair elections. They have their own old script to follow. In June 2010, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Speaking Truth to Strangers.” It was about the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” attitude of the loaners and donors towards Meles and his regime. “Zenawi has cultivated and foisted the ‘stability’ canard on the Western donors for years. He has tried to convince them that he is the glue that keeps the 80 million Ethiopians from exploding into ethnic warfare and civil war. The donors know it is all a grim fairy tale, but they go along with it.”
The facts speak for themselves. The US, Britain and the European Union have poured in tens of billions of dollars of aid to support his regime for nearly two decades while pontificating about democracy and human rights in Ethiopia endlessly. They took no action when Meles personally ordered the massacre of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in 2005. They pursed their lips when he passed a so-called press law criminalizing free speech and the free press. They moaned and groaned a little when he passed so-called anti-terrorism and civic society laws that effectively banned civic organizations and suppressed dissent. They have taken absolutely no action against the Meles regime to show restraint despite a quarter century record of uninterrupted gross human rights violations and criminality. Incredibly, these forked-tongue shameless “diplocrites” (practitioners of human rights hypocrisy by diplomacy) have sought to escape moral culpability by dumping the blame on the opposition. They say, “There is no viable alternative in the opposition.” They know full well that the opposition is subjected to daily threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions and violence, yet they have mustered the brazen audacity to blame the victims of tyranny for being ‘not viable’.
Why there can never be free and fair elections in Ethiopia under the present regime
One cannot squeeze blood from turnip. One cannot squeeze democracy from dictatorship. The transition from “bushcraft” to statecraft requires tectonic transformations. Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic democratic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The TPLF dictators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles. They never had free elections in the bush. Upholding the rule of law is absurd to them because they believe themselves to be THE LAW. Their ultimate justification for clinging to power is that they have made “sacrifices in the bush”. They expect those who oppose them to go in to the bush and fight their way to power. They scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries because they never lived in a system where the powers of government are constitutionally subordinated to the rights of the individual. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance from a gang of hateful ignoramuses from the bush. Goethe observed, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” Behold the overlords of Ethiopia today!
Sitting on a powder keg
The TPLF (“EPDRF”) is sitting on a powder keg. Its leaders filled with hubris and arrogance are blinded to the fact that the ethnic fires they stoked will one day consume them. The hate, fear and loathing they have nurtured will one day turn against them. They believe they can go on forever clinging to power by pitting one ethnic group against another, one religion against another. They may be able to fool all of the ethnic groups some of the time and some of the ethnic groups all of the time, but they can’t fool all of the ethnic groups all of the time.
The great African American author James Baldwin wrote, “Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”
Let those in power in Ethiopia heed an old prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves from the harrowing days of slavery in America: “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign: No more water. The fire next time!”
Vote Out Tyranny in Ethiopia 2015!
Victory Over Tyranny in Ethiopia in 2015!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
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Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: