July 26, 2007

Jeffrey Gettleman, Journalist par excellence

Tightening the Noose Around Zenawi

Selam Beyene, Ph.D.

New York, NY 10017

In a series of articles [1,2] published in the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman shocked the world with a glimpse of the atrocities committed by Zenawi's regime against the people of Ethiopia.

In so doing, Gettleman not only demonstrated journalistic professionalism of the highest order, but also provided uncommon comfort to the 70 million Ethiopians suffering under Zenawi's iron

Through a powerful exposition of the brutality of Zenawi and his deceits of the donor community, Gettleman declared: "The Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have ... been siphoning off
millions of dollars in food aid and using a U.N. polio eradication program to funnel money to their fighters..."[2].

What support can one give to such an admirable journalist, who is owed so much by the people of Ethiopia, so that his efforts will not be in vain?

The answer may not be difficult. All genuine Ethiopians should express their gratitude for his Herculean efforts, and provide him with much needed information that exposes the brutality of Zenawi's regime not just in the Ogaden region, but throughout the country.

Gettleman's efforts would bear fruit, and the struggle to free the oppressed people of Ethiopia would be successful, only if the true picture of Zenawi's regime is presented in the proper perspective, without falling in the dangerous ethnic traps that the dictator has wickedly installed for us.

When Zenawi directed one of his attack dogs, Seyoum Mesfin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to respond to the first of Gettleman's reports [3], the motive was to divert the focus of the discussion from the absence of human rights and democracy to one concerning the rise of one ethnic group against the rest of "Ethiopia".While fully sharing the pains of our Ogaden compatriots, as we do collectively share the pains suffered by all other ethnic groups across the land, we should guard against the tendency to fall victims to Zenawi's ethnic politics by treating the movements to overthrow Zenawi's dictatorship as isolated movements of disparate ethnic groups against the motherland.

A movement against Zenawi's oppression cannot have a lasting democratic outcome, if it is anchored in an ethnic agenda. The memory is still fresh that less than two decades ago the ethnicbased movements that overthrew the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam only brought us
equally vicious dictators in the likes of Zenawi and Afewerki.

So, as we applaud Gettleman for his courage, integrity and objectivity in exposing the brutal nature of Zenawi's dictatorship, let's provide our support to him so that he will be better equipped with comprehensive knowledge to more effectively use the power of the New York Times toward the search for a more permanent and lasting solution to the suffering of all Ethiopians: from the Somalis and Afars in the lowlands to the Oromos, Amharas, Gurages and Tigreans of the highlands; and from the Anuaks of the West to the numerous oppressed people of the South.

Interestingly, Gettleman's reports could not have come at a worse time for the brutal dictator, who is cornered like a wounded and dangerous beast with no place to escape:

• At home, he is vilified and humiliated, having been rejected on May 15, 2005 by the people of Ethiopia in a vote of no confidence against his dictatorial and ethnic-based minority regime.

• Abroad, he is considered persona non grata, even by his once-ardent supporters, having been found responsible, by a commission set up by his own government, for the massacre of over 193 peaceful demonstrators and the arrests and torture of thousands of opposition party members[4].

• As recently as July 19, 2007, a U.S. congressional panel approved legislation aimed at supporting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, and sent the bill to the House Foreign Affairs Committee[5]

• His army is bogged down in a protracted war in Somalia ― a country he attacked although it had posed no tangible danger to the security of Ethiopia.

• Despite the billions of dollars poured into his coffers by donor nations, the economy is in shambles, thanks to blatant nepotism, corruption and mismanagement. According to a recent report[6], the number of Ethiopians living on less than a dollar a day, has nearly tripled since Zenawi took power in 1991 ― a shameful record, especially given the baseline is the discredited regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

• Across the land, the flames of inter-ethnic discord he once fanned for the purpose of weakening the Ethiopian nationhood have gone out of his control and are spreading like a wildfire, rapidly engulfing him.
What is the response of the desperate dictator, as the noose is tightening around him from all directions?

True to his roots, Zenawi copied Stalin's formula for the Great Purge, coerced the political prisoners, and forced them to accept accountability for the crimes he committed against humanity.

In his petty mind, the move was intended to serve several purposes:

1. The document bearing the signatures of the political prisoners would serve as a defense
against the inevitable charge for crimes against humanity.

2. The release of the opposition leaders, whose only crime is to have been elected by the people of Ethiopia, would serve to placate donor countries, who have withheld much needed money to finance Zenawi's repressive machinery and to fatten his overseas bank accounts[7].

3. The move is also intended to thwart the ongoing congressional activities in the US to hold the
regime accountable for human rights violations.

4. Most importantly, the alleged confessions and subsequent release of the political prisoners would help to divert attention from the dreaded issue of the illegitimacy of Zenawi’s government.

However, a careful evaluation of the recent unfolding events suggests that Zenawi's wishful thinking has no traction. No credible legal expert would believe that the documents signed under duress by the political prisoners would hold water in a court of law. Despite expensive lobbying[8], the plan to thwart the ongoing congressional activities has also backfired, and Congressman Payne has already declared that he’d still demand that “the killers of the 193 innocent civilians" be held accountable[9].

Thus, given Zenawi's desperate situation, and the abundance of support for the democratic movement, what is the optimal course of action for the opposition?

All genuine Ethiopians in the Diaspora and back home should now seize the moment and keep the pressure on Zenawi. They should set aside their personal, ethnic and political differences, and pool their resources to address the critical questions of the day:

• the return of political power to the legitimate leaders chosen by the people on May 15, 2005, and

• the prosecution of the criminals responsible for the post-election massacre of peaceful demonstrators, for the unjust imprisonment and torture of opposition members, and for the genocide of Anuaks and other ethnic groups.

July 26, 2007



No comments: