I have often contended that the ruling regime in Ethiopia controlled by the Tigrean Liberation Front (TPLF) is a thugtatorship, the highest stage of African dictatorship. If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugocracy is a government of thugs, for thugs, by thugs.
My concern in this commentary is not the domestic policy but the international diplomacy of the TPLF thugocracy? I am minting the terms “thugplomacy” and “thugplomat” to describe the recent outrageous criminal conduct of an accredited gun-toting diplomatic TPLF representative who fired several shots in an attempt to murder Ethiopian protesters on the chancery grounds.
The man described by Reuters as the “gunman [who] opened fire during a protest on the Ethiopian Embassy grounds is Solomon Tadesse Gebre Silasse, a TPLF “security attache” with full diplomatic immunity. The shocking and bizarre facts of Gebre Sillasies’s shooting spree on September 29 have established a new low in the annals of international diplomatic corps.
According to Reuters news service, “A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service said it had detained a possible shooter after a report at about 12:15 p.m. EDT that shots were fired near the [Ethiopian] embassy in northwest Washington, D.C. Witnesses said the gunfire took place inside the embassy compound during a protest…”
“Occupy Woyane Embassy”
An analysis of various video clips taken by protesters and a report by the Ethiopian Satellite Service (ESAT) show a group of individuals entering the embassy grounds to register their protest over recent massacres by the TPLF regime in the Ogaden and Gambela regions in Ethiopia and demanding a face-to-face meeting with the TPLF ambassador Girma Birru.
One video clip taken by an unidentified protester documents the initial entry into the embassy grounds. The video shows a group of individuals entering the chancery grounds and assembling in the lobby. Embassy personnel are standing behind a security glass enclosure. The protesters demand to see the ambassador. Various protesters shout out statements. One is heard saying, “This is a Woyane embassy, not Ethiopian Embassy.” Another demands, “We want to talk to Girma Birru (the TPLF ambassador). We want to talk to him about Gambella, Ogaden, Andargachew Tsgie.” Other protesters are seen carrying a picture of Andargachew Tsgie (leader of Ginbot 7 who was criminally abducted by the TPLF regime in Yemen a few months ago) and demanding his release. One protester is heard demanding, “Free Eskinder [Nega] (the internationally-celebrated journalist currently sentenced to 18 years by the TPLF regime).” Another unidentified protester shouts out, “We are sick and tired of ethnic division.” He asks plaintively, “How long will we be ruled by thugs? We are sick and tired of being ruled by thugs!”
A video taken by ESAT shows events as they unfolded outside the chancery building. Four demonstrators, one carrying an Ethiopian flag are seen approaching Gebre Silassie clad in a dark suit toting a handgun. Gebre Sellassie fires shots in the direction of the protesters but misses. Undaunted, the protesters continue to approach him. An unidentified protester repeatedly shouts in a loud voice, “We are not criminals. Call Girma [Birru], we want to talk to him.” Another protester repeatedly dares Gebre Silassie, “Go ahead. Shoot!”. Gebre Silassie points his gun at the protesters and taunts them as he backs up to the embassy building entryway to make an escape. He points his gun at the protesters and pulls the trigger repeatedly. He had run out of ammunition and only the click of the hammer on the pistol could be heard. The gunman slips into the chancery building in the protective embrace of the waiting “ambassador” and other staff. In the final scene, a protester is seen pulling down the TPLF flag with the eerie pentagram in the center from the flagpole to replace it with an Ethiopian flag. The protesters enter the lobby and chant, “Freedom, freedom…”
Free-lance investigative journalist and human rights activist Abebe Gellaw reported that he was informed by “Bill Miller, Public Information Officer at U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, that an arrest warrant had been issued for Gebre Sillasie on of ‘charges of assault with intent to kill while armed in connection, that charge carries a statutory maximum of 30 years.’” Jen Pensaki, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, stated that the TPLF regime had denied waiver of diplomatic immunity to prosecute Gebre Sillasie. Pensaki said, “The request was declined, and the individual involved has now left the country.”
Bush Flashback in Washington D.C.?
In the recorded annals of the diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C., the TPLF “diplomat” is the first individual to have used a firearm to ward off protesters from any embassy grounds. Could it be that Gebre Sillasie snapped? Had a flashback to his days in the bush fighting the Derg? Could Gebre Sillasie have been “re-living” his experiences from his days massacring civilians opposed to the TPLF when he fired at the embassy protesters point blank?
What Gebre Sillasie did is consistent with a psychological phenomenon known as “ flashback”, an involuntarily re-living of past memory suddenly and spontaneously. It is very likely that when Gebre Sillasie saw the unarmed protesters on the embassy grounds, in his mind’s eye he saw a column of heavily-armed enemy troops attacking his rebel camp. At that moment, he was not defending an embassy; in his mind he was defending a TPLF bunker in the bush. As he brandished his gun and fired at the protesters, he had completely forgotten that he was a high level foreign diplomat at a diplomatic mission in the United States. He had reverted back to being a foot soldier in the TPLF rebel army defending a command post against enemy attack.
Gebre Sillasie is obviously uninformed about U.S. policy and law on the protection of foreign missions and resident foreign diplomats. Unlike the U.S. which deploys Marines to defend its embassies in many countries, the protection of diplomatic facilities in the U.S. is a responsibility shared between the Department of State, the Secret Service, and local police agencies. As a matter of course, District of Columbia Police provide protection to diplomatic facilities in a variety of ways. They may assign officers to specifically guard a particular facility or provide security by roving patrols and marked police vehicles. The Uniformed Division of the Secret Service also provides protective services to missions located only in the Washington, D.C. area. When the Secret Service receives a credible threat against a diplomat or diplomatic facility, it takes appropriate action.
There is no law, policy or practice which allows diplomats with diplomatic immunity to engage in running gun battles with unarmed protesters, maintain weapons caches for possible combat in the host country or carry concealed weapons for use against Americans or others in the U.S. as part of their diplomatic duties. Diplomats use the “ammunition” of words to resolve disputes, not .38 caliber rounds. What Gebre Sillasie did by shooting to kill the unarmed protesters on the embassy grounds will be remembered as an egregious criminal act in the history of the diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C. His case will provide instructional material for students of international law and diplomacy as a special case study of thugplomacy for decades to come.
You can make a diplomat out of a thug but you can’t unmake the thug in the diplomat!
Diplomats seek to solve disputes by talking, negotiating and compromising (and often by deception). Thugplomats solve all problems by shooting, beating, jailing and torturing their opponents and enemies. Diplomacy is the “art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states.” It seems thugplomat Gebre Sillasie learned his diplomatic craft by training at the proverbial Zhou Enlai school of diplomacy: “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.” Gebre Sillassie wanted to bring the decades-old TPLF war against Ethiopians into the United States while garbed in the protective armor of diplomatic immunity.
Certified thugs are rarely, if ever, selected to become diplomats with immunity. The vast majority of countries recruit their diplomats from the highest ranks of their civil service. Most of the recruits are highly educated, experienced and politically sophisticated. Many countries also provide some degree of professional training for their diplomats before they assign them to a diplomatic mission abroad.
It is extremely rare for any country to post a functional illiterate like Gebre Sillasie to, of all places, a diplomatic mission in the United States. The trend even among the least diplomatically active countries is to rigorously train their diplomats so that they can effectively deal with the rapidly changing pace of international diplomacy before deploying them. That training is obviously in the art of diplomacy, not in the art of war or shooting people in the host country. For instance, Azerbaijan has its “Diplomatic Academy”; Bulgaria its “Diplomatic Institute” and Ghana its “Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Training Centre.” There are private universities such as the Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy as are other institutions associated with international organizations.
The incredibly tragic fact is that virtually the entire leadership of the TPLF foreign ministry is sorely and pathetically lacking in any professional diplomatic training or experience. For instance, the man at the head of the “Foreign Ministry” has no diplomatic training or experience. None! “Foreign minister” Tedros Adhanom got his undergraduate degree in biology from Asmara University. He received a Master of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the University of London and his Ph.D. in Community Health from the University of Nottingham in Britain. He was appointed health minister. One fine morning after the passing of Meles Zenawi he found out that he is “foreign minister”. (I am sure in a few months, he will wake up one fine morning and find out that he is “Prime Minster”. The foreign ministry is his stepping stone to the prime ministry.)
Pray tell, how does a man with no diplomatic experience, training or background, a man who did not even serve as an ambassador, ( and absolutely clueless about international law and diplomacy, [see my commentary “From the Ethiopian Fire Into the Saudi Arabian Frying Pan”]) suddenly become foreign minister?
The answer is obvious. It is only, and only because of his ethnicity that Adhanom became the diplomat-in-chief for the TPLF. Of course, that should not be surprising. What qualifications did the late Meles Zenawi bring to his post of prime minister? He got a Bachelor’s degree from a correspondence program in England in business administration and could not complete his Master’s theses at Erasmus University on a subject he claimed to be the world’s singular authority , “development economics”.
Perhaps it is time to shake up the staid and reactionary world of diplomacy by allowing a specialty in thugplomacy to flourish. I can imagine an “Institute for African Thugplomacy” being set up not too far away from the African (Beggars) Union Hall, the official gathering place of African thugtators and dictators. It could be interesting.
We must face facts. You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day it is still a pig. Likewise, you can dress up thugs like Solomon Gebre Silassie, Girma Birru or Tedros Adhanom and the rest of the lot in pricey designer suits, give them a brief case and fancy titles. At the end of the day, “they are what they is”, thugs.
Statecraft v. Thugcraft (Bushcraft)
When I describe the TPLF regime as a thugtatorship, I do not use the word out of malice or disrespect. When I described Meles Zenawi as “Africa’s beggar-in-chief”, I relied on his own words. I choose my words and phrases with factual predicates and aim to describe an objective state of facts.
The TPLF bosses have never been able to transition from thugcraft (bushcraft) to statecraft. I believe their experiences as young adults in the bush have arrested their intellectual, moral and social development. Even those who claim to have acquired advanced academic credentials after they seized power manifest the same underlying intellectual shallowness and moral deficits.
Living one’s early adult life in the bush as a rebel must leave an indelible impression. For the academic, living the life of a rebel in the bush conjures up images of life the proverbial jungle or Hobbes’ “state of nature”. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that in the absence of civil government, men live in a state of “war of every man against every man”. As a result, life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The question is what really happened to the TPLF leaders who lived in the equivalent of Hobbe’s state of nature for over a decade and half once they seized power and became “leaders” of civil government. Were they able to transform the thugcraft of their “state of nature” (bush) to the statecraft of modern civilized life structured on the rule of law?
Unfortunately, they were incapable of intellectual and moral “growth and transformation”, to borrow one of their talismanic phrases. For the TPLF bosses, life in a civil community is merely a continuation of life in the bush with the exception that they now have lots of stolen money and stuff. Nothing has changed in their way of thinking. After twenty-three years in power, they have learned nothing. They still cling to the politics of secrecy they practiced in the bush. They were never accountable and transparent in the bush; they are not now as “leaders” of a nation. In their armed campaign against the Derg junta, decision-making was left in the hands of the few. Those few leaders exercised raw, brute power over their followers and the communities they controlled. They silenced dissent and criticism ruthlessly, and leaders who disagreed were marginalized, labeled as traitors and killed or banished. They continued to do the same once they seized power persecuting opposition leaders, journalists and anyone they considered a threat. They ruthlessly crushed even members of their own factions!
In the bush, they understood power as a means of self-enrichment, political patronage and intimidation. The TPLF regime today is so corrupt and its corruption such a cancer on the Ethiopian body politic that the World Bank issued a 550-page report entitled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. Leadership to the TPLF leaders in the bush meant the cult of personality; and today, the late Meles Zenawi is worshipped as a lesser god by his disciples. Their transformation from bushcraft to statecraft consisted of replacing the one-man, one party Derg rule into a one-man, one party TPLF rule. The only innovation they have introduced over the Derg regime is a change in their motto: “What is good for the TPLF is good for Ethiopia!”
The transition from thugcraft/bushcraft to statecraft requires tectonic transformations both in ideology and policy. That shall remain a pipedream. As I have often said, expecting the TPLF leaders to embrace statecraft or practice statesmanship is like expecting Heathen to accept and practice Scripture.
Democratic statecraft requires an appreciation, understanding and application of basic principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism in the governance process. The TPLF thugtators have little experience with or practical understanding of such principles. Thus, it is illogical for anyone to expect them to institutionalize or practice accountability and transparency, which they never had or experienced in their political lives. They never had free elections in the bush, and they were totally surprised when they got thumped in the 2005 elections. They learned a big lesson. In 2010, they were victorious by 99.6 percent. In the bush, their words were the law; they had no idea about the rule of law. Once in power, their word is still law. The jail, torture and persecuted at will. In the bush, they were the judge, jury and executioners. In power, they are no different with the exception that they now use kangaroo courts more to do what they did out in the open bush. They lived in fear and tribulation in the bush and the ideas of civil liberties and due process were alien concepts to them. Today, they still live in fear of a sudden popular uprising against them and scoff at civil liberties and civil rights as Western luxuries. But they and their cronies and supporters enjoy complete freedom including full legal immunity for criminal acts and from civil liability. In short, it is wishful thinking to expect from them the kind of statecraft necessary for democratic governance.
According to one published report, the TPLF regime has requested prosecution of those who protested at the embassy grounds on September 29. Dina Mufti, “a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, stated “the U.S. government is expected to protect the integrity of the embassy and to charge the ‘intruders,’ who chanted anti-government slogans as they tried to take down the flag of Ethiopia.” Another report also indicated that demonstrators went to the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa and delivered a letter demanding the protesters “be brought before the court of law.” “The demonstrators have asked the U.S. government to bring before justice those who downgraded the flag that represents nations and nationalities.” Obviously, the demonstration was staged by the TPLF regime.
Mufti, Tedros Adhanom and the rest of the TPLF ignoramuses should be careful what they wish for.
First, they should be clear on their allegations of criminal culpability of the protesters. They should know that there is no federal or District of Columbia crime codified as “being an intruder.” By blathering about an imaginary “crime”, they only make a public confession of the depth of their ignorance about American law. (I cringe at the very thought of such arrant ignoramuses “leading” Ethiopia!)
Second, the TPLF ignoramuses should know that it is no crime in America to desecrate any flag including the stars and stripes of the United States of America. In Texas v. Johnson (1989) (where the defendant burned the U.S. flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas), Justice William Brennan in his majority opinion wrote, “Recognizing that the right to differ is the centerpiece of our First Amendment freedoms, a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol.” In simple language, it is perfectly constitutional to even burn Old Glory, let alone a bogus flag of “nation and nationalities”.
Third, the TPLF ignoramuses should know that the United States Government does not do diplomacy in newspapers and on websites. If they have an issue or want to make a demand of the U.S. Government, they must follow protocol. The U.S. State Department has detailed rules and procedures on how it responds to diplomatic protests from foreign governments. To help the TPLF ignoramuses avoid future embarrassment and humiliation, I will do them a favor and suggest that they consult the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual, Volume 5, Handbook 1. [By the bye, to my readers who have sent questions on diplomatic immunity, I apologize for not responding in person. May I recommend an informative document published by the U.S. State Department entitled, “Diplomatic and Consular Immunity: Guidance for Law Enforcement and Judicial Authorities”? ]
Fourth, the TPLF ignoramuses barking for the prosecution of the protesters should be aware that in U.S. courts, unlike their kangaroo courts, defendants have a whole panoply of constitutional protections including the rights to compulsory process, confrontation and discovery of a wide-ranging body of evidence. They should be prepared to turn over a whole lot of documents if they want prosecutions.
Fifth, the TPLF ignoramuses should know that if there is a prosecution, Gebre Sillasie would have to appear before a grand jury and testify as would Girma Birru and the other embassy staff. At trial, Tedros Adhanom and members of his “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” should expect to answer a subpoena to testify on a whole lot of things. Each defendant will have the right to cross-examine Girma Birru, Gebre Selassie, Adhanom and the rest of the lot. They will no doubt face withering cross-examination which will make them wish they were back in the bush fighting the Derg.
Sixth, Gebre Sillasie should expect a particularly tough time. If he should return to testify, he should know that he will not have diplomatic immunity. With an outstanding warrant against him on extremely serious charges, it is highly unlikely that he will get immunity from prosecution from the U.S. Attorney’s office in exchange for his testimony. Once in U.S. jurisdiction and without diplomatic immunity, he should expect to be promptly detained and held without bail until his trial.
I have also no doubts that Gebre Silassie and his TPLF bosses will be served with the biggest civil lawsuit they have ever seen. There will be protracted litigation to vicariously hold the TPLF embassy and regime liable for civil damages that may be determined at trial as a result of Gebre Sillasie’s acts or omissions. The evidentiary standard in civil cases in the U.S. is “preponderance of the evidence”, not very hard to meet.
It is noteworthy that most countries prosecute their diplomats who have escaped criminal liability in their host countries under their own laws. Gebre Sillasie will almost certainly not be prosecuted by his TPLF bosses in Ethiopia. It is likely that he will be lionized by his brother thugs for defending the TPLF Embassy against enemies.
There is good reason why countries do not select thugs as diplomats and are careful to recruit their diplomats from the highest ranks of their civil service. These civil servants know what is expected of them and behave and conduct themselves not only in strict compliance with the laws and regulations of their host countries but also meticulously avoid situations that could embarrass their countries and give others a basis to question their judgment.
When diplomats are recruited from the ranks of hardened criminal thugs, you get exactly the type of incident involving Gebre Sillasie. Hence, you can make a diplomat out of a thug but you can’t unmake the thug in the diplomat.
It’s true that Gebre Sillasie got away with attempted murder. But it is the law that let him off free. Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides, “A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State.” That is what the rule of law is all about whether we like it or not!
Post-Script: “U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia warns of attacks by Somali militants”
On October 15, 2014, Reuters reported that the U.S. Embassy issued a statement warning, “Restaurants, hotels, bars, places of worship, supermarkets, and shopping malls in the Bole area should be avoided [by American citizens] until further notice because they are possible targets for a potential imminent terrorist attack.” Reuters also noted, “The Ethiopian authorities said late last year that its security forces were on heightened alert after receiving strong evidence al Shabaab was plotting further attacks after a botched suicide bombing in Addis Ababa.”
Excuse me, but I am getting jittery again about another invasion of Somalia by the TPLF regime. Is the U.S. Embassy announcement some of sort of a trial balloon the U.S. and TPLF regime are floating to prepare Ethiopians for another invasion of Somalia? If that is the aim, they should know that the whole idea is going over like a lead balloon.
When President Obama was all lovey-dovey with the TPLF regime on September 23, I could smell a rat right through the posted video. President Obama said, “… we [with the TPLF delegation] discussed how critical it is for us to improve our effectiveness when it comes to peacekeeping and conflict resolution. And it turns out that Ethiopia may be one of the best in the world — one of the largest contributors of peacekeeping; one of the most effective fighting forces when it comes to being placed in some very difficult situations and helping to resolve conflicts…” Is the recent announcement of “a potential imminent terrorist attack” an indication that the other shoe has fallen.
I remember back in mid-December 2006, less than two weeks before Meles Zenawi fully unleashed his “blitzkrieg” (shock and awe) on the people of Somalia and his tanks rumbled into Mogadishu, there was lots of talk of al-shabbab jihadists terrorists poised to attack Ethiopia. I wrote a commentary in 2006 entitled “The Jihadists are Coming”. The propaganda set up in advance of the invasion was impressive. The N.Y. Times reported on December 14, 2006, that Jendayi Frazer, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs alleged that “diplomatic and intelligence officials believed that the Islamists could be trying to provoke an Ethiopian attack as a ‘rallying cry for support’ to their side.” On December 27, 2006, just as Meles Zenawi’s troops were storming through the desert to Mogadishu after capturing the strategic town of Jowhar ninety miles to the north. The U.S. State Department endorsed the invasion of Somalia by declaring that Islamist forces were creating “genuine security concerns” for Ethiopia. U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said, “Ethiopia has genuine security concerns with regard to developments in Somalia and has provided support at the request of the legitimate governing authority, the Transitional Federal institutions.”
I don’t know if invasion plans for Somalia are in place. Frankly, I don’t think that would make a difference worth a hill of beans. As I explained in my commentary October 8, 2008 commentary, “The End of Pax Zenawi in Somalia”, “the fact of the matter is that Somalis are not interested in any peace imposed upon them by Meles Zenawi or anybody else.” Only Somalis will solve their own problems and anyone who thinks otherwise is either delusional or pathetically naïve.
You can make a diplomat out of a thug but you can’t unmake the thug in the diplomat!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: