Monday, October 31, 2005

The Duplicity of The West In Buttressing Dictatorships in Africa: Stability vs. Democracy in Ethiopia

By Mogus Degoyae Mochena

A bit of historical prelude is in order to understand the carte blanche support of the West for Ethiopian dictator.

In his seminal book, "The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality" Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal cites that Hannibal of Carthage, the great African general, crossed into Europe to conquer Rome. As he advanced from Spain to Rome through the Alps, most of his army perished in the snowy winter of Northern Italy. According to Diop that was the last time Africa ventured into Europe with intention of dominating it. (Some historians argue the Moors ruled Spain for centuries at much later time than Hannibal's). Ever since Hannibal's failed adventure, according to Diop, Africa has been on the receiving end of European aggression and domination.

The late Professor Walter Rodney of Guyana meted out the harshest indictment against Europe's relentless imposition of its will on Africa. In his book, "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa", Professor Rodney expounds how Europe's proximity has been a curse to Africa. Africa could not evolve in its own natural way due to incessant meddling of Europeans in its affairs.

From slave trade to colonialism to neo-colonialism, the West has dominated the African consciousness, its politics and economy. The worst form of rule that humanity has ever witnessed, Apartheid, was the creation of the devious mentality of the Dutch colonizers, Afrikaners. The brutality of Apartheid that led to immense suffering of black people did not matter to the West; it treated the pariah state of South Africa as its ally against communism. Through constructive engagement and sheer disdain for sanctions imposed by the UN, the West prolonged Apartheid for many more years than it would have survived on its own legs.

The West's role in the recent past against liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique is a vivid reminder of the West's shameful support for aggressors rather than for the freedom of African people.

Some of the most brilliant African leaders, right after independence from colonialism, such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah were ousted from power with the help of CIA. In the case of Lumumba, he was replaced by Mobutu,the young army officer who turned out to be the notorious icon of dictatorship in Africa. Mobutu, a close ally of the west, pillaged and destroyed Zaire. Today Congo is a disaster - a torn-apart country of huge humanitarian crisis.

More recently in the 1990's, the Algerian democratic experience was halted when an Islamist party was expected to win the election. With a wink and a nod from the West, the military overthrew the civilian government. What followed next for over a decade was death and destruction. Over 150,000 Algerian lives were lost during the barbaric civil strife.

Rewinding the tape of history forward to 9-11, there seems to be a born-again consciousness or revelation to save Africa from its pitiful existence. Westerners are trumpeting hollow words of false expectations: democratic governance, debt relief, and increased aid. To undiscerning ear, the words sound too good to be true. But under scrutiny, as events unfold and one watches the actions of the West, the lofty words are nothing but mere pontifications by self-anointed saviors.

Take for instance, the question of debt relief. According to some estimates, Africa pays around eighteen billion dollars a year in debt services. What the G8 promised in debt relief after much painstaking deliberations, the 40 billion dollars, amounts to just two years of payments in debt servicing. In the first place, most of these loans were given to corrupt governments, the leaders of which turned around and deposited them in Swiss and other Western banks. It is a height of immorality of unprecedented magnitude to hold the poor of Africa hostage for the bad loans. Compared to the onerous debt payments and all the wealth the Westerners robbed during colonialism, the 40 billion is just a pittance; and any increase in aid that is being hyped probably will be eaten up by NGO salaries and purchase of surplus goods and equipment that are usually damped on poor third world countries.

The sublime utterances about democratic governance also do not hold water either under scrutiny when contrasted to what has recently transpired in Africa: the Ethiopian and Egyptian elections, of the second and third most populous countries in Africa. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the Ethiopian political saga, let me just briefly jot down what happened in Egypt.

After twenty-five years of dictatorship, President Mubarak, who receives 2 billion dollars a year in aid from the US, calls for a cosmetic, multi-party election. He allows for just three weeks of campaigning, makes sure the election board consists of his stooges and that no observers are allowed at polling stations. The turn out was very low. hat is very amazing is how the Western media portrayed such minor election gimmicks as great progress in democratization. The Egyptian people knew better and did not bother, in large numbers, to participate in the obvious shenanigans.

Back in May, just before the Ethiopian elections, the tiny West African nation of Togo, with a population of five million people, held an election. For some strange reason, this election caught the attention of Western media. May be because the Western media is keen in highlighting African foibles; the imposition of the son of the recently deceased long-time African dictator, Eyadema, by the military may have aroused their interest. One then naively expected at the time that the election in Ethiopia, a country of nearly seventy five million people, fifteen times the population of Togo, would at least get some comparable coverage. Disappointingly, except for some passing interest, there wasn't any coverage at all, not even the amount Togo received.

What is even worse and very hypocritical is the lack of tears the Westerners were shading elsewhere in the name of democracy while, right in front of them, the Ethiopian Robert Mugabe was in the making. Right after his security forces killed thirty something innocent demonstrators, the G8 invited Meles to wine and dine with them! Where was the rage they usually demonstrate against Mugabe? Was their rage against Mugabe because he kicked out white farmers from their farm? One could argue it had nothing to do with race. But, how about all those tears that were being shed for Ukraine and Georgia after their botched elections? Where are the same tears for Ethiopia as her children throughout the world are screaming for justice and democracy? What a double standard!!

Here we are six months after the elections and the country is still in limbo. The West has been mute as Meles and cabal dribbled election results, rerun elections again for Bereket Simon and other fallen and disgraced comrades, and as European observers and the Carter center concluded the elections "fraudulent" in diplomatically palatable jargon. Even as Meles lashed out at the Chief of the European delegation, The Honorable Ana Gomes, in a language that is vulgar and beneath that of a prime minister, there was no reaction.

What is even more disturbing is the collusion of the Western diplomats in averting the three-day stay-at-home strike. At the eleventh hour, they goaded the easily malleable opposition leaders into negotiations that were subsequently conducted in bad faith. Where is the retribution for bad faith?

On top of all this duplicity, there is the patronizing argument about the impressive gain of seats in parliament from twelve to one hundred seventy five. The gist of the argument is very simple: just get into parliament, and don't give us any headache for the sake of stability in the region. They seem to neglect the fundamental principle of democracy: an implicit, inviolable contract that must be respected - the verdict of the electorate. What is at stake is this fundamental contract that underlies all elections. The Ethiopian people unequivocally decided they do not want Meles & EPRDF for another five years after fourteen years. The verdict is crystal clear, and it is not too much to ask those who have been in power for fourteen years to step aside. Fourteen years is a very long time to be in power in modern times. If the verdict is not respected and shoved aside for political expediency, the repercussions will reverberate for years to come.

First and foremost, the primary fallout of expedient political solutions that contradict democratic principles will be the death of the budding democratic aspiration that manifested itself in huge rallies, long lines and general excitement in voting for the first time. The population will become very cynical and will not bother to vote in the future. The faith in democratic ideal will be exterminated for a foreseeable future. If the integrity of the voting process is not respected, then voting becomes an exercise in futility. If Meles and EPRDF retain their power through machinations, it will be the end of the nascent democracy and the onset of a one-man or one-party rule for years to come. This is not a far-fetched prediction given that African dictators rule until they die or are overthrown. Moreover, given the ongoing repressive trend in post-election fiasco: the hunting, harassing, imprisoning and even killing of opposition activists throughout Ethiopia, the prospect for survival of the budding democracy is dismal.

Second, the commitment of Meles and cabal to democracy has always been suspect. Meles has repeatedly invited his opponents to go into the bush and wage a guerrilla warfare as he did, if they want to ascend to power. Just on the first day of his illegal parliament, the most memorable phrase he belted out to the opposition was "Mengedun Cherk Yargilachew", which means go to hell. Such pronouncements are characteristic of his dismissive ego. His arrogance is just beyond the pale.

Third, in this day and age, psychological warfare and the show of force should not be allowed as the determining factors of election outcomes. Instead, the art of negotiation and compromise must be nurtured and cherished in order to iron out differences or break out of logjams. Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians must resist vigorously against the flaunting of military force to subdue popular peaceful uprising. Any violent action must not be tolerated and the perpetrators must be served notice that they will face international tribunals for crimes against humanity. This is not some sort of illusion on my part, but is becoming more and more of a reality these days. Recently an Israeli general who ordered the demolition of Palestinian houses had to return from Heathrow Airport in London when he learned the British police were waiting outside customs to handcuff him. A British magistrate had ordered a warrant for his arrest. Similarly, a Spanish magistrate ordered General Pinochet of Chile to be arrested a few years ago. Those of us in the Diaspora must make abundantly clear to abusers of human rights that Ethiopia is no longer an island to herself and that they will forever be hunted and brought to justice.

Despite all this glaring, impending gloom and doom, the status quo continues and the West seems more bent on appeasing a dictator for the sake of stability. Stability maintained through dictatorship is transitory, and it is only a matter of time before it blows apart and creates more havoc ultimately. Why Westerners fail to perceive the stability that will accrue from democratic governance is hard to fathom. May be instead of the unknown good, they would rather stick with the known evil. And such myopic policy could stump out the buds of democracy. The West, if it is serious about alleviating poverty and bringing about lasting peace in the region, it should refrain from groping for easy solutions.

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