By Maimire Mennasemay
On June 11, 2007, the Meles regime found democracy guilty for voicing the people's demand for a government that represents the will of the people. The arrogance and contempt for Ethiopians that this "judgment" exudes was already palpable in 1991 when Meles captured power. It has now crystallized into an anti-democratic ideology – Melesism, one may call it – that considers governance as a rule of the TPLF, by the TPLF, for the TPLF. The regime's war against democracy was evident in the 1995 and 2000 elections, which it won, as neutral observers noted, through intimidation and manipulation. Thanks, however, to the political maturity of the Ethiopian people, the regime failed to stifle the democratic forces in the 2005 elections. True to form, Meles lashed back by arresting the militants for democracy, among whom the CUD leaders, and accused them of treason. Now that it knows that the great majority of Ethiopians have rejected it, the regime is openly conducting a war against democracy. Two events, among so many one could cite, illustrate this – Sebhat Nega's declaration and the Millennium mega-party.
The rank-and-file of the TPLF, who shed their blood for democracy, must have been shaken out of their wits by the recent declaration of Sebhat, one of the top TPLF leaders, who announced publicly that he and his colleagues fought for the secession of Eritrea, despite the EPLF's wish to explore a political solution that will not dismember Ethiopia. The TPLF leadership sacrificed the lives of thousands of Tigreans, without ever consulting them, to ensure that Ethiopia becomes a land-locked nation. Thus, Tigreans, whose ancestors have shed their blood for centuries to defend the integrity and independence of Ethiopia, were used, without their consent, to dismember their own country. The contempt for democracy is thus lodged in the very heart of the TPLF, right from its very beginning.
Those who believed that Meles's gospel of ethnic self-determination meant democracy for all are also finally seeing that, according to Melesism, ethnic self-determination means creating ethnic entrepreneurs committed to cultivating their private interests by serving as the fifth column of the Meles clique in the various regions of Ethiopia. More and more, Melesism appears as the latest inheritor of the 2000 old feudal system that has kept Ethiopians locked in poverty and oppression. To be sure, it is a new kind of feudalism – ethnic feudalism, if you will. A look at the TPLF's politburo discloses that most of its members are related to each other though family ties, as befits a feudal order. To ensure their power, Meles and his clique have created a nation-wide ethnic feudal organization, the EPRDF. Its tentacles siphon wealth from all over Ethiopia into the coffers of the TPLF leadership and endowments. Its officials intimidate, imprison, torture and kill those who, believing that the demise of the Derg opened the way for democracy, try to give voice to the people. Feudalism, be it of the Imperial or EPRDF variety, is the enemy of democracy.
Those who believed that the Meles regime, intoxicated as it may be by the wealth and power it has reaped from its ethnic divide-and-rule policies, will at least distance itself from the kinds of crimes against humanity the previous regimes committed have now to admit that it also is playing the fiddle while Ethiopia is burning. During the great famine of the 1970's, the Imperial regime organized a lavish feast to celebrate the Emperor's 80th birthday. Certainly, the Emperor loved Ethiopia. Nevertheless, he considered Ethiopian peasants less worthy than his chihuahua dogs to whom he fed choice meat while thousands were dying from famine. Then came the Derg. It projected Jonathan Dimblby's "Hidden Hunger" on the catastrophic famine in Wollo, and, ridding on the shockwaves that the film sent through Addis Abeba, dethroned the Emperor. The Derg proclaimed socialism. Then again, one cannot serve the Imperial Regime without being infected by the virus of contempt for the people. In the middle of the devastating famine of 1984, the Derg threw a multi-million dollar tenth anniversary party. But the story of our rulers' contempt for Ethiopians is not yet over, for the Meles regime has now reclaimed the mantel of this repulsive and obscene behaviour of shameless feasting in the midst of absolute misery and is spending millions of dollars to throw its Millennium mega-party.
For the third time in 30 years, an Ethiopian regime will be dining, wining and dancing while millions of Ethiopians are suffering and dying. Apologists of the Meles regime may shriek that there is no public famine as in the past. But Ethiopians do not die from hunger alone. They die, in the present as in the past, not only from the scarcity of food, but also from the scarcity of democracy, though it is important to remind the apologists that more than five million Ethiopians teeter at the edge of famine every year, and that Ethiopians suffer and die by the thousands from preventable causes. The social and economic indicators from the specialized UN agencies depict Ethiopia as one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy is 48 years; 46% suffer from malnutrition; only 22% of Ethiopians have access to safe water. Among the 15 to 49 years old, 4.4% are HIV-positive. Malaria infects nine million Ethiopians and kills thousands a year. 90% percent of the urban population lives in shantytowns without basic sanitation. Many live over or besides open latrines. Water-borne diseases are common, and often fatal. Diarrhea alone accounts for 46% of mortality among children under five. Infant mortality rate under one year of age is 109 per thousand, one of the highest in the world. According to UNICEF, 509 000 children under the age of 5 die every year needlessly. 47% of children under five years suffer from stunting. And where does the Meles government spend its money? On a millennium party whose watering holes will be overflowing with scotch and gin from Scotland; wine, champagne and cognac from France; and beer from Holland. Of course, democracy is most unwelcome, indeed feared, for were it to be invited, it will surely transform the Millennium party into a massive popular demonstration against the tyranny and callousness of the Meles regime. No wonder then that Meles declared democracy guilty on June 11, 2007, and that the Foreign Policy review (2007) classified Ethiopia as one of the twenty most failed states in the world.
1972, 1984, and 2007 will go down in Ethiopian history as the years of infamy, of decadent and unforgivable feasting of the elite while Ethiopians are dying needlessly by the thousands. Indeed, 2007 shall be remembered as the year of a double ignominy: It marks the exit from our Second Millennium with the criminalization of democracy on June 11, 2007; and it ushers our Third Millennium with an obscene mega-party on September 11, 2007 for the ruling elite, while millions of Ethiopian children will go to bed on an empty stomach. On this day of infamy alone, according to UNICEF figures, at least 1394 children under the age of five will die from preventable causes.
But the end of the Meles regime is not far. However powerful Meles may be, he can never succeed in preventing democracy from rising again from the ashes of his victims, ever stronger, with her arteries rejuvenated by the blood of the martyrs, and her heart pulsating with the rhythm of freedom. Ethiopians shall rise and reclaim their rightful place as a free and dignified people. Meles can have his Millennium party, but the day after shall belong to Ethiopians and democracy.