Congress hearing on “Ethiopia after Meles” :What is wrong with Ethiopian activists?

Ethiopian News and Opinion
borkena
June 24,2013

Ethiopian activists are puzzling me. Not sure where but I do remember reading that a US diplomat is said to have introduced herself to Fidel Castro as “head of Cuban affair” for which Castro taunted her that he thought he was head of Cuban affair rather. What resonates through Castro’s resistance to the US diplomat (whether it is a fictitious or real story) is a higher from of political consciousness, clarity on the issue of freedom, nationalism, sense of self-respect and dignity. Also, the encounter could be viewed as, virtually, an encounter between imperialism and nationalism in the person of a diplomat from a country with an Empire mindset on the one hand, and a nationalist and an anti-imperialist head of state who spent a good part of his life building political consciousness capable of defying imperialism and empire politics on the other.

The consciousness, in most of its dimensions, that the revolutionary Castro demonstrated was something one is likely to find in Ethiopia among a commoner without any concept of revolution sometime in the past. In fact, it could be arguable that a person with a clear understanding of and readiness to die for freedom is a revolutionary in her/his own right. Dignity sounds like an integral part of uncorrupted human nature although it appears to be a social construction on the surface, and no question that it is very relevant in the world of politics. Unlike dignity, slave mentality sounds like a social construction and not an integral part of human nature. Slave mentality is thus a manifestation of corruption and perversion of human nature , and has got numerous forms.  This was never part of an Ethiopian psychology especially when it comes to an international relation.

Now, we seem to live in an entirely different era where you have even an alleged “political activist”, let alone a commoner, who, supposedly with some sort of political consciousness, is either entirely unaware or careless about this very basic sense of dignity which is, I would say, relevant for political consciousness and the fight for freedom. Freedom is dignity in some sense. But the illusion of freedom is, so to speak, different from freedom in the real sense of the term.

Having observed that the latest U.S. Congress subcommittee on foreign affairs hearing on “Democracy & Human Rights situation in Ethiopia after Melees” garnered much attention, and apparently value too, in social media and the cyber world among Ethiopians, I cannot afford to ignore some questions: does it meant a subscription to an illusion of freedom,  a case that represents mediocrity about freedom,  an offspring of ignorance or something represents a subtle oath of allegiance to the powers that used the minority ethnic regime in Ethiopia in furtherance of their domination agenda by way of demolishing a culture where real freedom, as a nation, was enshrined.

The fact that the congress hearing on Ethiopia is given much attention, especially among the Ethiopian diaspora, speaks volumes about to the level of political consciousness, level of nationalism of my generation and even the younger ones. Of course, there are exceptions to this story which I am not discounting. The reference is to what is trending which is very ugly, to say the least.  What I consider to be one of the most undesired and long-standing consequence of this approach (“diplomatic struggle”) is that it is not capable of producing determined, invincible and bitter freedom fighters. It does not shape consciousness about the Ethiopian identity. It’s not a liberating approach. It rather numbs and ultimately kill political consciousness.

Having watched the hearing, an informed African and/or Ethiopian is likely to stretch back in time and relate the hearing and what has been said in the hearing to salient aspects of colonization. Hard not to wonder if “protectorate” /sphere of influence type of colonial administrative arrangement is bygone. The picture that emerges from the narrative in the hearing, which at times sounds prescriptive presentations (“testimonials”) and, the questions the presentations caused, is resilience of continuity of historical domination over Africa rather than change.
If we are to question the relevance of the event in itself detaching it from its philosophical and political implications, it begs the question “what is really different about this particular hearing?” There have been hearings of similar nature in the past in the same US Congress but nothing substantive, or even meager for that matter, came out of it.  As it stands now, the regime in Addis continues to be US partner and one of the leading US aid recipient in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Post Meles TPLF continues to be or became even more repressive. Suffice to note that the post Meles TPLF even embarked on an outright ethnic cleansing political enterprise as part of its power game to indefinitely maintain an ethnic minority supremacy rule which is recently unfolding itself in a very cunning and reinvigorated buying of social base in the youth in and outside of Ethiopia –which implies a different form of corruption.

The hearing is not that informative to Ethiopians too. Many of Ethiopian activists in social media are more informed or at least equally informed about human rights violations in Ethiopia, equally informed as to what has or has not been done to improve human rights situation. For that matter, it is even hard to assume that the assigned subcommittee on foreign affairs in the Congress, to which the testimonial is prepared, is oblivious about continuation of human rights violation in Ethiopia and US’ nearly unconditional but subtle support to the regime in Ethiopia. Besides an apparent cultural interest, it does seem that US “development aid” to the regime in Ethiopia is mainly tied to the regime’s military service to the US by way of fighting political forces in the Horn of Africa, Somalia to be exact.

Evidently, during the presentation, the interest of the US is equally, perhaps more, emphasized. To understand that, one needs only to pay attention to the “closing window of opportunity for the US”  mantra that panelists were referring to (Obang Metho was an exception to this).  To a critical observer, the presentations sound like ‘US interest versus Human rights in Ethiopia.’ That was particularly evident in Ambassador (former I think) Yamamoto’s presentation, Mr. Pham’s presentation, and in the questions posed by members of the committee – especially from Mr. Meadows and ,Ms Bass.

Particularly, a question from Mr. Meadows was disappointing and it is very telling about the kind of Ethiopia that the US is interested in. He even seems to assume that there is no real opposition party in Ethiopia: “What can we [the committee by implication the US] do to help facilitate the opposition- if there is a real opposition party that emerges, do you see destabilizing.” The question is what is the measure of ‘real’ opposition for the US?

The only well rounded presentation within the framework of  human rights, rather than geo-strategic and the role of Ethiopia was made by Mr. Akwei. Apart from pointing out institutional challenges and the behavior of the regime in Ethiopia (by the way he is the only panelist of non-Ethiopian origin to use the term ‘regime’ in reference to the ethnic minority rule in Ethiopia), Mr. Akwei sharply pointed out that the 2005 mass killings which claimed well over 200 civilians are unaccounted for to date and the number is not verified to. Yet, even Mr. Akwei had to make a reference to “window of opportunity” closing for the US too.

From pragmatism point of view, I am not naïve to ignore that the US is, whether we like it or not, living an empire era and we cannot escape from the influence of the US.  That is a reality. Yet, there is another reality too: the regime in Ethiopia is a client to the US and it’s even a US enterprise since its coming to power well over two decades ago. The human rights violation perpetrated by this same regime goes back to the times of its coming to power and the record is in the hands of reputable human rights organizations.  Human Rights violation is not a new phenomenon.  Also, Ethiopians of high caliber have been bringing the matter to the attention of the US since then and the US is aware of it. It is for a reason that the US is not listening.

In light of all that, I don’t really get it how and why we expect the US – a country that spent a lot both in terms of finance and subtle and unsubtle diplomatic and political support to TPLF regime could have interest in the fight against TPLF.  Is there a serious naivety than being an optimist about the prospect of the US to be interested in the liberation of Ethiopia from archenemy political entity to Ethiopians whose coming to power was facilitated by the US – and in a situation where there is no evidence suggesting  the relationship between the US and its client regime is fundamentally changed?


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