By Prof. Al Mariam
We remember our brother Eskinder Nega
There is nothing more the T-TPLF (Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front) would like to see than the memory of the great Eskinder Nega erased and obliterated from public memory and consciousness. The T-TPLF wants the world to forget Eskinder Nega. They want his memory to fade away into oblivion. If he must be remembered, they want the world to remember him as a “terrorist”.
That was exactly what the white minority apartheid regime of South Africa thought would happen to Nelson Mandela when they gave him a life sentence in 1964 for allgedly committing “terrorism” and shipped him off to Robben Island. Mandela emerged from apartheid prison after 27 years and saved South Africa.
The minority apartheid South African regime did not succeed in consigning Mandela to oblivion. Neither will the T-TPLF succeed with Eskinder Nega. Eskinder will also walk out of prison and those who imprisoned him will soon take his place.
Eskinder Nega’s image, writings and other commentaries on his work and sacrifices are all over social media and various websites including some of the most respected international press and human rights organizations. Hardly does a week go by without some international organization calling attention to his illegal incarceration and plight in T-TPLF prison or demanding his immediate release.
I have Eskinder’s image on the masthead on my Facebook page. Hardly a day passes by without someone asking me if I am aware that there is a picture of someone who does not look like me on my Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/al.mariam). I tell them not to worry, “That is the picture of my brother Eskinder Nega!”
I ask my readers a few small favors.
Before reading this commentary, I ask that they read Eskinder’s handwritten letter from T-TPLF “gulag” (prison) as he calls it. (To read the letter, Click HERE .)
(** We have not word processed Eskinder’s handwritten letter out of respect for the extraordinary effort it took to write it under the constant watch of T-TPLF prison guards and spies and to convey the raw power of the ideas he expressed.**)
I also ask my readers to watch a moving video tribute to Eskinder Nega by Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, (the journalist who busted wide open the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974) and Liev Schreiber, (the 2016 Oscar Best Picture winner and celebrated director, screenwriter). (To watch video, Click HERE. Would Carl Bernstein and Liev Schreiber deliver passionate speeches in defense of a “terrorist”? )
Most of all, I ask my readers to watch a heart-wrenching 3-minute video (with English subtitles) on Eskinder Nega by his wife Sekalem Fasil (herself a distinguished and award-winning Ethiopian journalist in her own right and once imprisoned with her husband for defending press freedom in Ethiopia.) (To watch video Click HERE.)
Serkalem gave birth to their son Nafqot in T-TPLF prison in 2007.
I am proud to call Eskinder my brother and Serkalem my sister. I am humbled by their sacrifices, awed by their courage, tenacity and unimpeachable integrity and inspired by their personal example.
Eskinder and Serkalem are just symbols of Ethiopia’s best and brightest journalists, dissidents, political and civic leaders and human rights advocates who have languished and continue to languish in T-TPLF official and secret prisons. When I think of Eskinder Nega, I also think of Bekele Gerba, Ahmedin Jebel, Woubshet Taye, Temesgen Desalegn, Andualem Aragie, Andargachew Tsgie, Emawayish Alemu, Deldessa Waqo Jarso, Akello Akoy Uchula, Zone 9 bloggers and thousands of other political prisoners.
When we remember Eskinder Nega, we remember them all!
The trials and tribulations of Eskinder Nega
Eskinder Nega is an extraordinary Ethiopian journalist and an unapologetic defender of press freedom in Ethiopia. He has been a fearless critic of the T-TPLF since 1993. Over the past two decades, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem launched a number of newspapers that were shuttered by the T-TPLF including Ethiopis, Asqual, Satenaw and Menelik. Until his arrest by the T-TPLF in September 2011, Eskinder was a tireless blogger who had a wide readership in the Ethiopian Diaspora. He called out the T-TPLF, and particularly its late leader Meles Zeanwi, on issues of abuse of power, corruption and maladministration. The T-TPLF has jailed Eskinder on bogus criminal charges so many times, it is hard to keep count.
The T-TPLF jailed Eskinder in September 2011 on trumped up charges of “terrorism”. His “crime” was 1) criticizing the T-TPLF for its repression of press freedom, 2) wholesale arrest and detention of journalists and 3) discussing the implications of the “Arab Spring” for Ethiopia. The T-TPLF organized a campaign of smear and fear against Eskinder in a futile attempt to portray him as a member of a “terrorist group”, a “spy for foreign forces” and as a “facilitator of terrorist attacks in Ethiopia.
There is credible evidence from well-placed sources that Meles Zenawi personally harbored extreme hatred for Eskinder. Meles could not stand Eskinder’s audacity to speak to him the way Eskinder did.
Eskinder showed little fear of Meles Zenawi. Eskinder spoke out against Meles come what may.
Meles hated Eskinder because he feared him. Meles feared Eskinder’s pen because Eskinder’s pen oozed out the unvarnished raw truth about Meles Zenawi.
Meles Zenawi can handle a lot of things. But he could not handle the truth.
In September 2010, Eskinder and Serkalem wrote a letter to Columbia University president Lee Bollinger and told the TRUTH about Meles. In that letter Eskidner and Serkalem enumerated the crimes Meles Zenawi had committed against them personally and against press freedom. They urged Meles Zenawi be disinvited: “It is incongruous that a leader who is actively suppressing freedom of expression in his country should now be eagerly awaiting the privilege of expressing his thoughts on the august premises of Columbia University.”
In an “Open Letter to PM Meles Zenawi” in March 2011, Eskinder told Meles the TRUTH. Meles might as well change his name to “Meles Judas Iscariot” and prophesied correctly that Meles will suffer Judas’ fate for his treachery and betrayal of so many who fought and died for the T-TPLF cause:
None of these leaders [referring to H.I.M. Haile Selassie and military strongman Mengistu Hailemariam and other American presidents], however, whether Ethiopian or American, had to wrestle with the emotional anguish of a bitter break between irreplaceable friends the way Meles Zenawi had to. The lost friendships between Meles and Seye Abraha et al were forged over three decades under the most difficult circumstances. New friends could not possibly fill the void created by their loss. A descent to the emotional wilderness, where it is undoubtedly lonesome, is the least that could have happened to Meles.
I can imagine how the TRUTH in that paragraph could have shredded Meles’ inner core. It is said Meles knew and agonized over what he had done to his closest friends and comrades in arms. (I don’t believe Meles had a conscience to suffer pangs of remorse.) But if he did, I wonder if he pondered Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 in the depth of his depressions: “…/And look upon myself, and curse my fate, /Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, /Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,/…” Meles had no friends, only enemies.
In the same Letter, Eskinder told Meles to quit the power game while he is ahead:
Ato Meles Zenawi: the people want — no, need — you to leave office. The people are closely watching events in North Africa as I write this letter. They are debating the implications for Africa, including Ethiopia. And they have been inspired by the heroism of ordinary Libyans. Listen to them before it’s too late.
In July 2011, Eskinder told Meles’ tyrannical rule is destined to the dustbin of history, and democracy shall rise in Ethiopia from the ashes of T-TPLF rule.
Democracy is humanity’s common destiny. There is no avoiding it whether you are an Eskimo or a Zulu; a Christian or a Muslim; white or black; developed or developing. It is truly universal. And after a long journey, Ethiopia’s encounter with destiny is right around the corner. We are almost there. We shall be free!
In August 2011, Eskinder warned warned Meles that if things continue the way they are, Meles should expect to meet Gadhafi’s ghastly fate.
Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, who now leads Africa’s largest dictatorship, and who many suspect is calculating as Gaddafi did at first, should take serious note… And as Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest dictatorship during Mubarak’s reign, was the Arab Spring’s golden prize, so will Ethiopia, sub-Sahara’s biggest dictatorship, be the golden prize for an African Spring. There couldn’t have been an Arab Spring without Egypt. There will be no African Spring without Ethiopia.
Eskinder counselled Meles Zenawi on September 2, 2011 not to resist demands for peaceful change:
In the event of prolonged absence of peaceful action, an implosion, perhaps violent and no doubt dangerous, is unavoidable. Needless to say, the status-quo is increasingly untenable. The time to call for peaceful and legal action has arrived in Ethiopia. History cannot be postponed indefinitely.
On September 14, 2011, Eskinder was arrested.
On July 13, 2012, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a T-TPLF kangaroo (monkey) court.
The T-TPLF’s evidence of terrorism against Eskinder consisted of poorly recorded audio of Eskinder talking at a town hall meeting potential implications of the Arab Spring in Ethiopia.
On August 20, 2012, Meles Zenawi officially died.
Ethiopian Satellite Television reported on July 20, 2012 (Ethiopian calendar Hamle 13, 2004), Meles died.
Scripture says God works in “mysterious ways”.
My information suggests Meles Zenawi hated Eskinder not only for his audacity, fearlessness and courage, but also because Meles envied Eskinder’s intellect.
As I have said many times over the past ten years, Meles was a clever charlatan who managed to convince international diplomats of his intellectual prowess and command of subject matter. Meles was little more than a phrase-mongering mountebank with a gift for gab. Meles made a patsy of former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto who said in a Wikileaks release, “On numerous occasions we have observed Meles run circles around visitors who note general concerns by throwing out detailed responses.” “Running circles” and setting up easily-duped Western diplomats for demolition was Meles best kept secrets. Those who know Meles know him to be a con artist. Eskinder knew that too. I always believed Meles was a frilled dragon. He will huff, puff and frill his membrane, but he would never engage his opponents in open public debate and discussion.
Who is Eskinder Nega?
It is easy and very difficult to describe Eskinder Nega. He is Ethiopia’s foremost journalist and political prisoner.
In June 2013, Amnesty International declared Eskinder “prisoner of conscience.” The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has similarly recognized that Eskinder is a prisoner of conscience. Other international human rights and press organizations have issued similar statements.
Eskinder is also the winner of several international press awards for courage, conviction and defense of press freedom.
Eskinder is all of the above and also much more.
Eskinder Nega is a special hero for me not because of the numerous publications he started, his fearless defense of press freedom or the international accolades he has received, which he eminently deserved.
Eskinder is a special hero to me because he is a freedom fighter of the first order. No he does not use guns, knives and terror to fight.
His weapon of choice is a pencil or a ball point pen. His pen spits devastating rounds of truths that paralyze and discombobulate the T-TPLF. His ideas are a force of nature.
Eskinder uses the truth as a sword to slay falsehoods, corruption, abuse of power and lawlessness.
Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fights despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion.
But Eskinder is much more than a fighter with a pen.
Eskinder is also a man of supreme courage. Eskinder looked straight into the vengeful eyes of the T-TPLF Beast and said:
You can arrest and jail me for the eight time. You can beat, torture and throw me into solitary confinement. You can persecute and prosecute me. You can starve and deny me medical care in your stinking prison. You can scandalize my name and defame my character. You can even persecute and humiliate my wife and laugh at my child as he cries his eyes out when your goons manhandle me. You can harass, intimidate and make life hell on earth for me and my family. But I will never, never, never bow down to your tyrannical rule, your corruption, your brutality, your sadistic cruelty and abysmal barbarity! For I am Eskinder Nega. I am the master of my fate and captain of my soul!
There are few human beings I respect, appreciate and admire more than Eskinder Nega and his wife Serkalem Fasil. I have written many tributes in their honor. Eskinder, Serkalem and their son Nafqot (who was born in prison prematurely and denied a life-saving incubator by Meles Zenawi’s “incomprehensible vindictiveness”.)
If I had my way, I would have a law passed declaring them “official Ethiopian national treasures” to make sure no other country or institution could claim them as their own. They would be given no choice in the matter!
I do not need to speak for Eskinder’s heroism as a defender of press freedom in Ethiopia. There are many who could speak on his behalf more eloquently than I.
Eskinder is the hero of all heroes of press freedom throughout the world.
The world’s most famous dissent journalists have spoken for him and demanded his immediate release, including, among many others, Kenneth Best, Liberia; Lydia Cacho, Mexico; Juan Pablo Cardenas, Chile; May Chidiac, Lebanon; Sir Harold Evans, United Kingdom; Akbar Ganji, Iran;Amira Hass, Israel; Daoud Kuttab, Jordan; Gwen Lister, Namibia; Raymond Louw, South Africa; Veran Matić, Serbia;Adam Michnik, Poland; Fred M’membe, Zambia; Nizar Nayouf, Syria; Pap Saine, The Gambia; Faraj Sarkohi, Iran; Nedim Şener, Turkey; Arun Shourie, India; Ricardo Uceda, Peru; Jose Ruben Zamora, Guatemala. Other human rights and press leaders including Mark Hamrick, President, National Press Club, Washington, D.C., Aryeh Neier, President, Open Society Foundations; Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, Joel Simon, Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists, William Easterly, Professor of Economics, New York University.
Eskinder Nega: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I want Eskinder Nega to know that he is not forgotten. I want Serkalem and Nafqot to know Eskinder will NEVER be forgotten. How can we forget a man who has given us back so much of our dignity by standing up to the T-TPLF?
I want the world to remember Eskinder Nega and all political prisoners in Ethiopia today.
We remember Eskinder, ALWAYS. We admire, respect and above all LOVE Eskinder for the wonderful and loving husband and father he is.
Above all, we honor, celebrate and REMEMBER Eskinder Nega as the proud son of Mother Ethiopia.
I thought Michael Jackson’s lyrics with slight paraphrasing would describe how we, the brothers and sisters of Eskinder Nega, really feel:
But you are not alone
We are here with you
Though we’re far apart
You’re always in our hearts
But you are not alone, not alone, not alone…
[We will always be with you.]
I am Eskinder Nega!
FREE ESKINDER NEGA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA!!!
A sampling of my previous commentaries on Eskinder Nega: