By Fekade Shewakena, 7 June 2010 — If you define election to mean what it means – freely choosing between choices, and tell me that there was an election in Ethiopia on May 23, 2010, you must either be crazy or think I am crazy to believe you. The whole charade, people going to the polls, the choreographed celebration and condemnation of Human rights Watch and “foreign forces” and the craftily worded statements of the election monitors and the “concern” expressed by donor country officials about the uneven playing field, is therefore simply a massive pile of joke on a captive population.
The praise profusely showered on the Ethiopian people by the officials of donor countries about holding a peaceful election, as if election day under dictatorships is always a day of violence, is an insulting patronization to people who have been mugged of their basic rights. That there was no violence on Election Day is proof of the level of control by the regime more than anything else and has little to do with the fairness or unfairness of the election. How often do elections under Saddam Hussein, Mengistu Hailemariam or Castro turn violent? In fact, a record of some protest may be an indication that there is some level of freedom and free organizing.
That dictators are often delusional is known. At some point they end up believing their own lies. But the willful ignorance of our Western friends is dumbfounding. We all have seen it in broad daylight when the Ethiopian people were herded like cattle and driven to polling places to vote for their tormentors. I am disappointed that the EU-Election observers couldn’t go a little further and blunter on their assessment and call it a piece of crappy joke on democracy. I only hope they will say this in their final report if they are honest. I mean, this doesn’t even deserve any diplomatic lingo and finessing. As to the AU observation group, I can only say that a few trained chimpanzees from the Congo would have produced better reports. These buffoons make me hate that I am an African, frankly. In fact, they show me the reason why Africa finds itself at the tail of human progress on this planet. This election is a violence committed against the Ethiopian people in order to steal their free will and their aspirations to join the community of civilized nations.Let me share with you a snippet of an email I received a few days ago from an old friend living in Addis Ababa. Read it and tell me if it shows you a people at peace with the election or the regime:
“I envy you for not being here and watching this farce my dear. I just came back from the Meles’s victory parade where my blood was boiling all day. ………..My dear, we are reliving Mengistu’s darkest days. The demonstration today is a picture perfect copy of what Mengistu used to do. I hope you will see the video. It was organized by the kebele and the “Ternnafi” and the government officials before any vote was cast. The only difference is that Meles is now Mengistu. Another difference you see is Meles is standing in a bulletproof glass booth and does not throw blood filled bottles on the stage. This coward does know that the people he gathered there all hate him. It was on government time and since I have to save my job I had to be there. You see in this country you are forced to celebrate something that even disgusts you. Not only they steal your vote, they make sure they also humiliate and dehumanize you. If that was their intention, they succeeded in doing that to me today. I am burning inside out and don’t exactly know what to do. …… Fear is everywhere, even the fear of appearing unhappy about the results of the election….. I hope you people living outside can be our voices. You can at least freely cry on our behalf.”
I know my friend is speaking for many. This flame burning inside millions of people may not be visible to the naked eye, particularly to the casual observer. If history hasn’t stopped to be a lesson, we will soon see it raging in the open. Spin it all you want, there was no election conducted on May 23. It was a ritual held for the coronation of Meles Zenwi’s one man rule. Now that he has began hanging his pictures where Mengistu’s were once hung and even employed Azmaris to sing how handsome he looks (don’t laugh), Meles has fully joined the club of Africa’s legendary delusional dictators. Those who died fighting to get rid of the dergue thinking that they were doing it to bring democracy to their people must be rolling in their graves.
Everything that happened on May 23 and the run up to the day, the five years of intense repression since the May 2005 debacle, is so public and on record for anyone willing to see. If you think Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups have axes to grind because their plan of colonizing Ethiopia is thwarted by Meles Zenawi and Bereket Simon, just have a quick look at the annual Human Rights Reports of the US State Department, the most important friend of Zenawi’s government. It is replete with accounts of gruesome repression, terror, killing and torture, many of which amount to crimes against humanity. I sometimes wonder why our Western friends are often heard condemning Issayas Afeworki of Eritrea for not holding this periodic ritual they call election. It appears that they are accusing him for being honest and refusing to spend millions of dollars for a useless ritual. I am sure he can hold similar elections and get himself easily elected. Look at the difference with Ethiopia now. Why does Meles destroy the lives of thousands of Ethiopians over conflicts with these fake elections and spend millions of dollars that could have been used to feed hungry children only to arrive at the same result as his former idol. Oh, I forgot, our lords of poverty want this shameless ritual to hoodwink their own tax payers to dole out their handouts that perpetuate our dependency on them.
During the run up to the election, Meles has been locking down on all space for the exercise of democracy while at the same time suppressing democratic expressions and oiling his machine of repression with western aid. The lockdown on all civic society and the already feeble institutions that could at least grow into some pillars for democracy were being systematically dismantled one by one through decree after decree. The Civil Societies Law, the so called Anti-terrorism Law, that defined even minor civil disobedience as an act of terror, the draconian press law and the closure of independent newspapers that silenced journalists and sent many of them to exile, the jamming of prodemocracy radio stations including the Voice of America, critical websites, the complete blurring and then merger between the TPLF/EPRDF and the government, the use and establishment of neighborhood party watchers already experimented and pilot tested on the people of Tigrai, Meles Zenawi’s ethnic homeland, for nineteen years etc , were not done for fun. The imprisonment of Birtukan Mideksa, the Chairwoman of UDJ and a rising young political star was not because she broke any law? She has to get out of the way and suffer so that Meles and his cronies get their way. All of this was done for 99% control and 99% result.
According to sources from inside the government, the order was given out to local authorities that they will lose their livelihood if any opposition wins and that they will be rewarded if they deliver victory. Cadres worked their butts off, killing and imprisoning political opponents when they can, chasing opposition election observers, filling out voting cards and stuffing them, telling a terrorized people that it was easy to find out who they voted for from finger prints and hidden cameras in voting booths and that they will be a heavy price to pay latter if they vote for any opposition. Meles Zenawi’s regime has even used food donated to hungry Ethiopians by the international community, as confirmed by multiple sources including the victims, for election purposes. Is there anything cruel than calling this level of abuse election? If this is not a mafia like muggery then tell me what it is?
The 99.6% Surprise:
Many people seem to be surprised about the 99.6% “victory” margin. Some may have believed the well oiled repressive machine Meles Zenawi built was not as extensive. But many are surprised that Meles, the clever politician they know, failed to donate some “votes” to the opposition to make the ritual look like there was an election. Meles is a coward person even by standards of other dictators, as many of his former comrades testify. A slight opening of the door for democratic election five years ago has scared the living daylight out of him. That is one reason he calculated a zero risk and came up with this embarrassing result.
The surprise over the 99.6% margin also comes from some level of ignorance. This farce is not the only 90+% achieved by the regime. According to researchers, over the last five years Meles has purged the leadership of the national defense forces of all other ethnic groups and put 95% of it under the leadership of loyal members of his own ethnic party. For the first time since Emperor Menilik, there is no a single Oromo, holding a single key position in the national army. Of 61 key military positions identified by the researchers, 58 are from Meles Zenawi’s ethnic party. Now, that would be surprising. It is even more surprising when you think that the Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia that provide nearly 90+% of the export earnings and most of the food produced in the country. Researchers have also found out that some 90+% of the chiefs of the Ministry of National Security (the spy agency) are people from Meles Zenawi’s loyal ethnic clique? We are now told that 99% of young people who are allowed to attend graduate studies are members of the party, many recruited outside of their will. With the requirement for higher education becoming membership to Zenawi’s party and preference for government employment being given to party members, 99% of people with graduate degree in the country and all civil servants will soon be members of Zenawi’s party. These things should surprise all descent people much more than the 99.6% “vote” margin.
What is perhaps even more surprising is this endless ritual of election observers and officials of the donor countries, the enablers of the suffering of the millions, issuing carefully worded reports and statements telling us that they are “concerned’ about the undemocratic practices, but that they love us and our country so much that they will continue to extend their helping hand. This is what the EU Chief foreign officer Anita Ashton did minutes after she was told that her election observers have issued a preliminary report that angered Meles Zenawi. Her disregard for the facts and the speed with which she swung to whitewash the mild criticism was an expression of her bigotry towards Africans. She was actually saying, “You are Africans and the ritual is enough for you”.
The Net results:
Nearly everybody including Meles has lost this election. Peaceniks like me and many Ethiopians who have been sitting on the fences have also lost the argument that there is hope in democratizing Ethiopia though a peaceful process. In a perverse way they have made it easier on all of us now. The unnecessarily fragmented Ethiopian opposition should cease this opportunity to rethink its tactics and strategies, find its voice, and mount a vigorous common resistance to this inhuman system. Will the donors of Meles Zenawi who oil his machine of repression continue to help him after fully knowing that they are accomplices in the crimes being committed against an entire people? We will see. If history is any lesson they would. But they will soon see that they have achieved neither democracy nor stability in that part of the region. They will have a smaller mouth to open against a people who are left with the devils alternatives. Meles Zenawi and the house of cards he is built has peaked and can go nowhere but downhill from here on.
The writer can be reached at: Fekadeshewakena@yahoo.com