African diplomats, most of whom had brashly stood by Zenawi when he violently crushed a pro-democracy movement in 2005, naively expressed shock and incredulity at his betrayal of their trust at the recent Copenhagen Climate Conference1,2.
As heralded by this3 and numerous other authorse.g. 4&5 before the ill-fated conference, Zenawi had a sinister agenda when he successfully lobbied corrupt African diplomats in Addis to get the nomination as a spokesperson for Africa.
The dictator has been in serious desperation to get the attention of the West after he lost the cover of “War on Terror” that he had successfully exploited to enjoy the full support of the Bush Administration and other Western powers. Despite his atrocious records of crimes against humanity, corruption and suppression of basic human rights, these powers looked the other way when the dictator massacred peaceful demonstrators in the aftermath of his humiliating defeat in the elections of 2005, and propped up his tyrannical rule with billions of dollars in aid that he plundered with no accountability and squandered on expensive lobbying campaigns to thwart congressional measures intended to promote democracy and good governance in Ethiopia6.
To the furtively resourceful tyrant, a visible position at the Climate Conference was hence the only hope of getting the attention the West, and especially that of the Obama administration, whose rhetoric of democracy and social justice had sent terrifying signals to the despot.
With the specter of the 2005 massacre still haunting him, Zenawi saw the position endowed upon him by African diplomats as a valuable tool to earn legitimacy among Western powers and to ensure their tacit assent as he prepares to violently thwart again the aspirations of the Ethiopian people for democracy in the upcoming May 2010 elections.
In view of the mounting evidence pointing at his atrocities7, he has also been frantically seeking means of garnering the sympathy of the West in the likely eventuality of charges for his crimes against humanity. Betrayal of members of the African Union, an institution that has proven a loyal subservient to him, was therefore an effective measure toward that end without any adverse consequence.
With the dwindling financial aid, thanks in part to the irrelevance of his ploy as an ally in the War on Terror, and, more generally, to the impact of the global economic downturn on the capacity of donor nations to squander money on the dictator, a quick source of hard-currency, however meager, was also a matter of great urgency for the dictator. The lofty goals of the nations of Africa, in whose names he earned visibility, were therefore expendable in the eyes of a dictator, whose track records as a leader are characterized by myopic self-interest, ethnocentrism, poor governance, corruption and environmental degradation.
It was thus a foregone conclusion that Zenawi would forgo any viable long-term international accord for a short-term gain, and that he would easily agree, as he has reprehensibly and egoistically done so, to the reduction of the billions of dollars from what African leaders had agreed or to the 2°C commitment that many campaigners claim would threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Africa8.
If the Obama administration engages in the discredited Bush-era diplomacy, sacrificing its hallmarks of social justice and democracy for short-term diplomatic expediency, then it has not learned the bitter lessons of its predecessors. To the chagrin of many Ethiopian supporters, the White House confirmed, as reported in the Los Angeles Times9:
“… He [President Obama] expressed his appreciation for the leadership role the Prime Minister [Zenawi] was playing in work with African countries on climate change, and urged him to help reach agreement at the Leaders summit later this week in Copenhagen. For his part, Prime Minister Meles stressed the importance of success in Copenhagen, and the need to find ways to make suitable progress on the mitigation, adaptation, and the provision of finance for the developing countries."
The people of Africa in general, and of Ethiopia in particular, hailed President Obama, when he declared10:
“America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation - the essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny. What we will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance - on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard; on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting, automating services, strengthening hotlines, and protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability.”
If good governance, transparency and accountability are the guiding principles of American foreign aid under Obama, then it is hard to envisage that the President has not digressed from the path of justice when he initiated a dialogue with a dictator who has some of the worst records of any leader in each of the stated parameters.
We do agree with the President’s affirmation11: “We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning,….” Accordingly, it is high time for the Obama administration to live up to its professed ideals and to make a new beginning in dealing with dictators. We trust the Obama administration would have the courage and wisdom to depart from the discredited policies of yesteryear when long-term stability took backseat to short-term diplomatic pragmatism.
As widely reported, no sooner had Zeanwi received the nod of the West, at the expense of the trust of Africa, than he ordered his kangaroo court to sentence to death potential opponents on trumped up charges12. He has intensified his attacks on the free press, as evidenced by the recent flights of respected journalists out of the countrye.g. 13&14, and has effectively silenced all political dissent. He has kept credible political opponents, like Birtukan Mideksa, in prison15, and is using mafia-like tactics to intimidate and frustrate opposition groups16. To avoid another humiliating defeat in the capital and other cities and towns in the May 2010 elections, every eligible voter employed by the government or runs a major private enterprise is under duress to sign up as a card-holding member of Zenawi’s party. In the rural areas, where farmers are at the absolute mercy of the dictator to till the land or get access to fertilizers, opposition groups are completely shut out to rule out any credible threats to the despot.
Ethiopians in the Diaspora have a historic responsibility to ensure that Zenawi does not use his newly-earned notoriety to garner Western support and tacit acquiescence as he embarks on his vicious campaign to violently thwart once again the aspiration of the Ethiopian people for democracy in the upcoming elections. They should continue to mobilize their resources and influence the Obama administration and other Western powers from becoming accomplices in the evil gambits of the tyrant.
Opposition leaders should come to the realization that there is no more pressing matter, or nobler cause, or greater party agenda than the need to stand in unison and salvage Ethiopia from the cancerous tyranny of Meles Zenawi and his repressive machinery. The deliverance of the people can become a reality only when the leaders are prepared to forfeit egotism, party loyalty and petty bickering, and are determined to fight to the end, paying the ultimate consequences, with an enemy that may project vacuous invincibility and power, but has in essence no longevity or resilience.