By Abebe Gellaw |
Dear Professor Andreas Eshete,
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as one of the many “special advisers” to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Though I am mindful of the fact that advising a tyrant is not an enviable job, I wish you all the best in your new position.
On the positive side, your new position will undoubtedly give you a chance to look down the real Ethiopia from the tower of tyranny.
You may have a chance to raise serious questions about the unacceptable suffering of our nation under a tyrannical regime. If that fails to transpire, you may end up duplicating Bereket Simon’s easy job, i.e. parroting whatever the big boss says and declaring to the whole world that the starving people of Ethiopia are enjoying manna from heaven.
The main reason why I have decided to write an open letter to you today is neither to praise you for being a close confidant of Meles Zenawi nor being a minister without portfolio. It is rather to challenge your conscience with a few facts that might have eluded your professorial attention during your eight-year tenure as president of the Addis Ababa University.
As a nosy observer from a distance, it was with a great deal of interest that I have read the farewell letter you have penned to the Addis Ababa University community and posted it on the Internet. I agree with you that during your eight-year presidency at the university so much has happened. Notwithstanding your hype of success and excellence, we have also witnessed so many destructive measures that have made the future of our nation very uncertain and unpredictable. The university has been a major target of repressions and a guinea pig for Mr. Zenawi’s segregationist and divide-and-conquer experiments.
A few interesting sentences and phrases you have used in your three-page long missive have caught my eyes more than others. You stated: “It is important to go forward with AAU’s quest for excellence in higher education. The reasons are plain. AAU is duty bound to live up to a proud past.” And you went on to list the names of some of the widely known and unknown intellectuals that had graced the campuses of the university at different times such as Aklilu Lema, Mesfin Woldemariam, Mengistu Lema, Messay Kebede,Tadesse Tamrat…Tilahun Gizaw and Walelign Mekonnen.
You also noted that AAU is also “obliged to play a pivotal part in the making of Ethiopia’s bright future, a future that will bring a humane standard of living, genuine political, economic and social equality; as well as robust cultural and political pluralism; this generation’s lasting legacy to the Ethiopian people.”
Last but not least, you made an eye-catching concluding remark that I have found to be befitting to the ministerial position you have secured at the very heart of dictatorship in Ethiopia. You wrote: “ Finally, my deep gratitude to His Excellency, my Prime Minister [emphasis mine], who offered me the golden opportunity to cultivate Ethiopia’s richest asset, her youth, at a time of unprecedented growth in her higher education. Without the confidence and freedom he entrusted me, it would have been by no means easy to overcome our obstacles or to reach our intended destinations. I believe the university community will join me in expressing our appreciation to the Prime Minister for his manifest support and trust of our community.”
Please allow me, Professor Andeas, to start my comment from your last remark, which appears to be very colorful, passionate, rosy and romantic. It is good to know that there are still people who have the courage to publicly express admiration, gratitude and love to Mr. Zenawi, who has brutally hijacked the dreams of a wretched nation to live in freedom and dignity.
You referred to Mr. Zenawi as “my Prime Minister.” As a matter fact, the major problem with your boss is that he is indeed a “Prime Minister” for a handful of people like you, but a dangerous despot for the majority of Ethiopians that he has managed to silence and scare. I am sure you will disagree with me but look around the bantustanized and fractured nation suffering oppression, discrimination, exploitation and injustice.
Look at the legislature where “lawmakers” don’t seriously discuss and make laws but clap and go home. Look at the courts were the judges are not free to judge. Look at the self-centred ministers and the ambassadors that do not represent the aspirations and interests of their people. Look at the human rights commission and the ombudsman that don’t see any of the injustices people are complaining about. Look at the anti-corruption commission that turn blind eyes to the elephant in the room, i.e. the conspicuous corruption of the privileged ones, the TPLF and its illegal businesses. Look at the security agents that have muffled and terrorized an entire nation.
Look at the tax collectors that persecute poor business owners but never ask EFFORT to pay income tax from the billions it is making. Look at the deadconstitution, the law of the land, that does not have real and meaningful life except on paper. Look at the state-controlled media outlets that censor the truth but air lies and non-issues that matter little to ordinary Ethiopians. So what are you advising Mr. Zenawi to do? Will you ask him to reform before it is too late or will you join the chorus of praise for his number crunching economic projects that have made real life totally unaffordable to the majority? What wisdom are going to add to be noticed in Mr. Zenawi’s army of advisers whose silence is much more appreciated than their honest opinions? What meaning will the new position add to your life and ordinary Ethiopians?
Look around Professor. You should also look at yourself in the mirror first as that may help you to be an honest advisor. When you walk in the corridors of power, do not believe for a minute that you were called to serve the people. Your calling is not for public service, but to fill a void for a sick tyrant that has taken a nation hostage for so long. You may not see that at a close distance but that is what I see from a distance
The Prime Minister is yours, as you said, but not not mine, not of the ordinary citizens that have no dignity and freedom to air their grievances, to elect their leaders freely. He is not a leader for those countless prisoners of conscience whose crimes are only speaking out their minds or standing up for the inconvenient truth.
The majority of Ethiopians have a problem with your prime minister. In addition to being a certified dictator he is still the leader an ethno-nationalist movement. And yet, we wants to be the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. That is where he fails. He was expected to to unify the nation and serve the without narrow partisanship, favoratism and nepotism. But all the most important people around him, the generals and the key holders, including his own wife, are trusted TPLF members. How is it possible for anyone to be a narrowethno-nationalist and a leader of nation at the same time? After twenty years, Mr. Zenawi’s TPLF rules Ethiopia playing a bogus game of power sharing with its puppets that have no meaningful and independent existence of their own.
Your prime minister has made our country a true prison of “nations and nationalities”, where TPLF the puppeteer and its puppets are declared to be equal. But we all know that the puppets have no meaningful existence without the puppeteer that give them names, roles to play and make them speak in the grand puppet show.
You said your Prime Minister gave you “a golden opportunity to cultivate Ethiopia’s richest asset, her youth.” I wish he had given these golden goose opportunity to every citizen. But I find it puzzling when you talk about the desire of Meles Zenawi to cultivate the youth. Though the story is not about me, let me share with you my own student experience at the Addis AbabaUniversity as I had witnessed his reckless and destructive actions. That is what I saw.
When the tanks of the triumphant rebels led by your Prime Minister rolled into Addis Ababa in 1991, I was a freshman. I can tell that it was one of the happiest day of my life because the rebels were my kind of heroes that dismantled the Mingistu regime. When I was a naive high school student, I used to listen to TPLF’s pirate radio broadcasts. In 1989, “EPRDF” was set up and the appealing propaganda of the rebels touched my heart and resonated with me. They said they would liberate all Ethiopians; they said freedom would reign; they said every one would be equal; they said there would be no hunger anymore and they said there would be no political prisoner, torture, dictatorship nor corruption. During the last phase of the fighting, I used to celebrate the rebels’ military victories in Wello, Gondar, Gojam, SemenShewa, Ambo…and finally Addis Ababa. Like so many Ethiopians who had hoped to enjoy liberty, I was very proud of Mr. Zenawi and his liberation fronts.
I would confess that two of my high school friends and I even connived to join the liberators in 1990. Our teenage plan reached the ears of the deputy principal of our school, who dragged two us into his office and beat us savagely. We were lucky to have escape with bruises and slightly broken bones.
A few months after the liberators arrived in Addis Ababa, they started shooting at peaceful protesters. I started to question where all the freedom they were preaching about had gone. Alas! It was all a grand deception. All the bloodshed and sacrifices in the name of freedom was totally betrayed as soon as they grabbed power.
While at college, I was one of the vocal advocates of academic freedom. In January 1993, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali arrived in Ethiopia for a working visit. At the time, students were outraged by thebogus Eritrean referendum, which was being organised by Mr. Zenawi and Mr. Isaias Afeworki. We decided to hold a peaceful rally to deliver our letter of protest to Dr. Boutros-Ghali. We were allowed to march out of the SidistKilo campus. But within minutes, Zenawi’s armed thugs started shootingindiscriminately and attacking the crowd with bayonets and bullets. Thepeaceful protest ended in bloodshed and your Prime Minister said that he did not buy tear gas and water cannons to disperse peaceful protest. Your prime minister still prefers live ammunition to disperse crowds. How little he learnt and prepared to be a responsible leader!
A few months later, Mr. Zenawi decided to fire 42 respected lecturers and professors from the university. The majority of those fired unjustly did not cause any offense nor commit any crimes. They just belonged to the wrong ethnic groups that Zenawi and his cronies loved to vilify openly. A few more were fired just for expressing opinions that he did not like. At the time, many students felt that the university was a victim of a detructive tyrannical measure. At least two people in your list, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, the nation’s father of human rights advocacy, and Dr. Messay Kebede were also victims of the injustice.
At the time, there were 11 full professors in the entire university. Six of them were fired. Professor Asrat Woldeyes, the first qualified surgeon and also credited for setting up the first medical school in Ethiopia was among the most prominent victims of your Prime Minister’s irresponsible onslaughtagainst intellectuals.
Some of us who felt outraged took the lead to organise students to demand the reinstatement of these scholars. After all, the measure had crippled and destroyed the university. We took our case to the then Minister of Education, Genet Zewdie. In stead of heeding our legitimate demand for justice she treated as terrorists and coordinated attacks and kidnappings. On her watch, hundreds of students, including myself, were attacked, illegally imprisoned and abused. We were also unjustly suspended from our studies for a year. That is what I witnessed at the Addis Ababa University.
Contrary to what you claimed, your Prime Minister made sure that the university community would not be able to raise its voice vocally, as it used to be the epicenter of change. During your presidency, Addis AbabaUniversity students have suffered the same fate. Students were kidnapped, abused, intimidated and some were even killed. They cannot organise or exercise their basic freedoms. Their efforts to form independent student unions have never succeeded during your presidency. You never tried to stop security forces from raiding campuses and detaining students en massejust for raising their voices.
Today, the university is a highly divided place. Your Prime Minister’s design has worked. The majority of students in the university were born and raised during the last twenty years under one man. The students have no common national vision. As ethnically divided as they are, they distrust each other and so many have been organised under every wicked liberation front without their free will. As a friend of mine told me “the campuses smell of ethnic animosity and deep divisions.” This is how Mr. Zenawi wanted to “cultivate” the new generation; a generation that has no common national agenda and a common cause to stand for. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is a great danger, not an opportunity to be proud of as an accomplishment.
When your Prime Minster went to the university to dictate a lecture to faculty members a few years ago, a daring lecturer plucked his courage and pleaded to him to be a bit humane when he kick around the people like a soccer ball. I heard that the poor lecturer had faced so many difficulties and obstacles as a result of expressing his honest views at a university shackled with fear and deep distrust.
I should admit that you are among the lucky few to be granted “confidence and freedom” you needed to overcome obstacles and challenges. Allow me, Professor, to beg to differ. As far as ordinary Ethiopians are concerned, Mr.Zenawi is the biggest obstacle and enemy of freedom in Ethiopia. Despite his hype of speedy economic development that does not manifest in the lives of the poor and millions of aid dependent Ethiopians, he is a big obstacle to realprogress and transformation. His belligerent, dictatorial and narrow mentality has not allowed him to see the world from a wider perspective. For Mr. Zenawi, there is only one man with his wife, save their cronies, that matter in Ethiopia. The rest of us don’t matter in reality. Those who protest will never be heard, their grievances will never be addressed. To be counted as “good citizens”, they should pass TPLF’s criteria. If they fail the test, they are “anti-peace, anti-people, anti-democracy” elements. This is the new Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi.
For the last twenty years, Ethiopians have been suffering under his boots. There has never been any alternative offered to tackle the multifaceted andcomplex problems we have been facing except his one-man solutions imposed on the entire nation. While his interference in the university has created great unease, you have had the audacity of calling on the entire university community to join you in the sycophancy of expressingappreciation and gratitude to a tyrant for undermining a university that has been immobilized by fear and distrust. I really wonder if at all the new students will ever be able to unify and raise serious questions like the predecessors.
Professor Andreas, allow me again to be bluntly honest. You started your public life in the aftermath of the 1991 regime change. You might have forgotten all about it. But let me remind you, in case you have forgotten, that you appeared on national TV to give your dishonest testimony on how IsaiasAfeworki was humanely treating Ethiopians in Eritrea at a time when so many of our compatriots were robbed, dispossessed, raped, abused and killed. You were simply providing a cover for a naked tyranny committing crimes against humanity.
In spite of the fact that you questionably retain the academic title of “Unescochair for [education in] human rights and democracy”, you are least likely to serve the causes of neither human rights nor democracy. One should not deny the fact that you played a key role in setting up a lot of shoddy institutes including Kifle Wodajo Memorial Center for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy. It is good to remember a good friend but nobody knows the good deeds of the late Kifle Wodajo, let him rest in peace, in the promotion of human rights and democracy. Which human rights, which democracy was promoted? For your information, many students and faculty members of the university accuse you leaving a legacy of a nepotistic network and patronage system that rewards incompetent friends and excludes real scholars.
If your advisory job is for real, please remind your prime minister that his sinister design of ethnocentric tyranny is pushing the nation to the brink of civil war. Tell him that the corruption of the TPLF, which is enjoying a privileged monopoly of almost everything in Ethiopia, has created so much resentment and anger which is only waiting to explode. Please remind him that the real exclusion of the majority of Ethiopian people from the political and economic affairs of the nation is a perfect recipe for a nation-wide uprising. Honestly advise him that his bogus democratic system has not done him a favour except exposing his deceits and tyranny.
If you are supposed to be a real adviser, please tell Mr. Zenawi that his absurd and boring puppet show is making him an object of ridicule. Please also tell him that EFFORT’s greedy Apartheid era discriminatory business strategies have only showed the true colors and corruption of his regime. If you are going to be a real advisor, please tell him that people can no longer tolerate the indignity of living in fear and terror. Professor, please don’t forget to tell your boss that change is inevitable and therefore he should stop trying to block the aspirations of a new generation to live in dignity and freedom.
Professor, there is an achievement you have understated in your farewell letter. It is the fact that you have played instrumental roles in silencing and crippling AAU that had once been in the forefront of the struggle for justice, freedom and dignity in Ethiopia.
Before I sign off, I would like to recommend a good book that will help you understand your true place in history. Please read, if you will, Hitler’s Professors by Max Weinreich. The book narrates in great detail how opportunistic intellectuals played key roles in expanding Nazism in German academic institutions that eventually produced some of the evil geniuses who became Hitler’s enablers.
Professor, let me tell you why I am writing to you so boldly and bluntly. The secret is that the scary long hand of your boss, who is known to be allergic to the truth, cannot reach me. I live in exile in the United States where my freedom is totally guaranteed. I do not fear anyone but God. But I too have a dream that sooner or later my fellow countrymen will also be able to breathe the fresh air of freedom. For that to happen, the yoke of oppression imposed by your prime minister must be shaken off from the shoulders of the entire people of Ethiopia. Then and only then, we will all know the true meaning of being not objects or subjects, but equal, proud and free citizens. I am certain that change is inevitable.
The most honest and simple advice that Mr. Zenawi should have taken to heart came from Sir Bob Geldof, who has done so much for him. After Mr.Zenawi killed and maimed over 193 civilians and maimed over 800 others, Sir Geldof had this to say to him. “It is pathetic. I despair, I really despair…Grow up! It is a disgrace.” So far we have seen no change. It is the same stunted tyrant who fears change. The big man never listens. So I wish you best of luck in your advisory job.
If you have the luxury of uncensored Internet access that is denied to the masses, please feel free to take time to correct my mistakes and challenge my ignorance.
Let truth and light shine in Ethiopia.