By Samuel Estefanous
Recently uncorroborated strings of allegations were being churned out by the rumor mills of the underground cyber world. I have this feeling like the rumor is hyped on purpose to stage a phenomenal coup de grace of the stooges who had reigned over a shameful stretch of the political history of this unfortunate country.
I refuse to believe that the ex-Premier would order a 68,000.00 birr pair of designer shoes; or the former first lady would buy a tea set worth 120, 000.00 birr at the expense of the hard pressed tax payers. Certainly not now, when the country is literally hemorrhaging from countless open wounds and every single Ethiopian is doing its very level best to stop it with all the resources at his or her disposal.
The other day my friend was telling me a heartwarming story about her secretary who pays a regular contribution of 150 birr from her meager salary to support the ENDF! That is on top of the contribution she makes as an employee.
The comparison will always baffle us. Ordinary people are distracted because they have no other country to go to. Like the proverbial widow, they skip small comforts or regular meals to give. I can’t vouch for the same for the ‘Senior Government’ beneficiaries of the notorious proclamation 653…
I know, among others, both dignitaries are entitled to three SUVs with drivers, a four bedroom mansion, a functioning office complete with staff etc. However, I don’t think we are required to pay for the tea set of the widow of the ex-premier to the tune of 120,000.00 birr. In the event you are wondering, that is the average gross cumulative annual salary of a public servant heading a given directorate.
Wait, there is this sneaky loose phrase fashioned as ‘personal expenses’ of heads of states and governments as well as their widows and widowers which is covered by the public coffer.
The drafters of the proclamation were so ‘studious’ as to define ‘member of parliament’ as ‘a member of parliament is a member of the parliament of the FDRE’; yet they had refrained from rendering a definition for the controversial phrase ‘personal expenses’. The senior officials might as well send their domestic servants on vacation to Mombasa and charge us dumb folks to foot the bill. Maybe it was deliberately left ambiguous to benefit from the golden rule of legal interpretation that requires jurists to opt for positive inclusive interpretation. You never know.
Jokes aside, a very creepy kinda New Class is emerging in Ethiopia. They are ruthless, incredibly deceitful, manipulative, insatiable, avaricious and lethal. I am nowhere close to kidding when I say they are lethal! And guess what? They are filthy rich and fight corruption like no other. They wield- at least used to- both the monopoly of violence and the money. These are dangerous combinations for any one country. I mean when a chief of staff owns a brewery or a Sovereign Council member keeps a goldmine.
Like I said their definitive hallmark is they ‘fight’ corruption tooth and nail. Maybe it is indeed the lingering legacy of TPLF, as we are being told. Incidentally, have you ever encountered an EPRDFite who doesn’t fight corruption from the podium? I am afraid not. I think TPLF’s administrative manuals of governance and culture of elitism; a.k.a., ruling by deceit and by an incredible sense of entitlement is going to ruin this country way more than TDF’s foot soldiers are going.
Actually Ethiopia is not the exception. Unless nipped in the bud, every system creates a New Class of its own making. It is the black curse of the entire third world community; for starters you will never miss the following…
1-The economy is more freak than it is free (I am not making an allusion to the Freakonomics of Steven Levitt). As is the case in the rest of Africa, your politician eventually ends up becoming a seasoned business person with a lifestyle that outsmarts Western bankers. Our version of from rags to rich story is as much about a politician as it is about a self made business man.
2-Moscow tops the list of cities with more billionaires. They have no particular business acumen to distinguish them from the rest of their compatriots, except perhaps the ruthless avarice and the iron determination to amass wealth at the expense of the rest of the country. They didn’t make money; they just had public companies transferred to them through shady dealings and the trick of privatization. Russian billionaires are made by the Privatization of State Enterprises and Corporations. See? There is always the legislative cover to legitimize the otherwise criminal endeavor. Oh, privatization- may thy name be cursed to eternity! We are no exception.
3-An African politician always keeps a business sidekick. These armies of sidekicks are very capable folks who never miss an opportunity and win lucrative public deals in their own name but for the benefit of you know who. In one TV drama series they are characterized as ‘qibewu’ and they are certain to make a politician a multi millionaire at the snap of the finger…just like that
4- African politicians are the new landed gentry. These landed gentries speculate in public land. They live in Government Issue apartments and rent out three or four private houses. You would be surprised when they give free lectures on the rent seeking sick economy with straight faces.
5-The sense of entitlement, ladies and gentlemen! I don’t think even members of the defunct royal family felt this level of entitlement. These folks are under the illusion that they are entitled to everything. They are under the illusion that theirs is a thousand years old Reich or something. They break; they apologize; they try to fix and break even more in the process; apologize and go on to repeat the cycle. We have made them indispensable and unwittingly created a royalty just like Milovan Djilas wrote decades ago.
6-Naturally these African elites tend to cross each other’s paths once in a while and have it bloody out. In case you are not aware of it, they are mighty territorial. Oh, boy! Never trespass into their backyard; otherwise you will be a goner at the bat of the eyelid. On their part, they would go on a campaign of recruiting willing executioners under the guise of colorful lofty idyllic slogans, and the foot soldiers bash each other’s heads with spiked staff.
7-Again I am thinking of some popular books in Ethiopia which epitomize these freak economics and freak politics. I think we need to reread those books to make more sense of what is going around.
a-The New Class by Milovan Djilas
B-Lords of Poverty by Graham Hancock
c- Animal Farm by Arthur Blair
8-Most dangerous of all, the public tends to alienate them. An alienated politician is worth nothing except being a heavy burden like a dead body. They create their own gated communities; send their kids to ‘International Community Schools’, they raise a family which is alienated by the people and which are alien to the country. Remember how Ethiopians alienated the hell out of TPLF and sent it to the morgue without firing a bullet?
9-All is not lost, I guess. We have seen light at the end of the tunnel. On my part I would rather chase that dim light than cynically curse right and left.
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