By Ephrem Madebo
“The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen” Tommy Smothers
A very disturbing truth about Ethiopia is that the daily life of its leaders is dictated by emotions. No matter how many facts they gather before they make political and economic decisions, Ethiopia’s leaders are profoundly influenced by their feelings; not by a felling of hope, but by a feeling of obliteration that pushes the people of Ethiopia an inch closer to the gates of ‘hell’ with a passing of every day. States and governments exist for citizens, and citizens are served by existing political, economic, and governmental institutions. When the government and its institutions decay and cease serving the public, only citizens can bring them back to life and make them responsive and accountable. In any civilized nation, laws are made into codes to protect these rights of citizens from being infringed on by anybody including the government. Sadly, in Ethiopia; laws are enacted to protect all-out criminals from law abiding citizens, or laws are endorsed to defend the government against the people. In its true sense, a constitution is an instrument for the people to restrain the government, in Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia; the constitution is an instrument for the government to restrain the people.
In the last 17 years, the TPLF regime has made many superfluous laws. For example, the “Seyie Law”, an overnight law to keep Seyie Abraha in jail, and the quickie hand written “Municipal Law” that PM Meles wrote a day after the May 2005 election. The essence of this pathetic law was to partially federalize the administration of Addis Ababa when it became apparent that CUDP was in charge of Ethiopia’s capital. Today, in Ethiopia, it seems that every joke that Meles makes in the Parliament becomes a law, and every law that the Parliament makes is a joke. Can you imagine that Meles enacted a law to just keep his one time soul mate in jail? This is what happens when a single person controls power, money, and gun. Ethiopia and the US are different in so many features, but they are uncharacteristically similar in one aspect. In the US, no one is above the law. The same is true in Ethiopia; no one is above the law, and PM Meles is the law.
The information age is typified by the following three types of people: people who produce information, people who use information, and people who block the dissemination of information. Today, we live in a world where the standard of living of people is directly related to their efficiency of sending, receiving, and using information. The constitution of many democratic nations entitles all member of society the right to request and to acquire information regardless of the reason for the request. Ethiopia is not an exception here, and it has no business of limiting the press on what it can publish, broadcast, webcast, or podcast.
Throughout history dictators and totalitarian regimes have invented new tools and methods to prolong their life, but no dictator has survived the wrath of the people. The swift technological advancements of the last three decades have exposed the malevolent acts of totalitarian regimes. E-mails, cell phones, instant messages, web sites, and the ubiquitous blogs have brought information to the door steps of the oppressed people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Colonel Mengistu committed most of his atrocities behind a closed door. The Colonel who ruled Ethiopia before the era of the Internet [World Wide Web] tried to hide his inequities by expelling Western media sources from the country. The current dictator that succeeded Colonel Mengistu seems to be busy not governing the country, but closing every hole through which he thinks information is flowing into Ethiopia. Today the TPLF regime imports more Chinese experts to block information (radio, blogs, and web sites) than Chinese goods or knowhow.
Ethiopia’s comatose parliament recently passed a new media law which is yet another threat to the already crumbling press freedom in Ethiopia. The preamble of the new law reads: "the proclamation removes all obstacles that were impediments to the operation of the media in Ethiopia." Well, the preamble is absolutely right. The new media law in deed clears the way for the government to continue to abuse and persecute the messenger whenever the message disenchants Meles Zeanwi, or any of his commandants. The recent senseless intimidations on “Awramba Times” and the extra-judicial decision by Judge Leul Gebremariam are sneak pre-views of the new media law. I’m sure judge Leul will treat me differently than Teddy Afro’s lawyer.
The most distressing portion of the new law is that when the law goes in to effect, the government [Meles] has the right to prosecute media outlets on defamation cases even if the allegedly defamed government entity does not seek legal actions. Here is article 43 (7) of the new media law: “Defamation and false accusation against "constitutionally mandated legislators, executives and judiciaries will be a matter of the government and prosecutable even if the person against whom they were committed chooses not to press charge" With this draconian law, either many pens will go dry, or many messengers will go to Kaliti. In Ethiopia, it is dangerous to be right and to be a news paper editor where the government is always wrong and detests true-life newspapers. I just feel bad for my fellow Ethiopians, as to me, I will rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers.
The International community in general and the United States in particular have been enthusiastic advocates of freedom of press. However, recently the US has been supporting the Ethiopian regime that preys on the free press. The US has knowingly compromised its fundamental value of freedom to give Meles Zenawi the green light to abuse the freedom of Ethiopians. Much to the surprise of many Ethiopians, the US has gone deaf on the freedom cry of millions of Ethiopians to protect American freedom in Somalia. The US should know better that the absence of freedom in Ethiopia is a threat to freedom in America. We have repeatedly seen America fighting its past. In the 1980s, the US assisted Sadam Hussien against Iran. In 2003, the US ousted Sadam and the US military is still bleeding in Iraq. Again in the 1980s, the US helped Ben Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan; today, the US troops are hunting Bin Laden in the remote mountainous regions of Pakistan. It seems that the US is passing through the same course in Ethiopia. Where is the lesson… America?
Poverty and political repression are the root causes of terrorism. In any place or any country, people will not choose terrorism to be part of their life if they have the full freedom to make decisions on their material and spiritual life. Freedom to make a choice is completely absent in Ethiopia. It is mind boggling to even think why a government that leads the global fight on terrorism supports another government that waters the sources of terrorism. The core values of any nation should not conflict with its interest; therefore, America must not bend its values to protect its interest. We all know Americans enjoy a much higher standard of living that Ethiopians, but the God given freedom of an Ethiopian beggar on the streets of Addis is no less than the freedom of the president of the United States. America should not support the abuse of freedom anywhere to protect freedom elsewhere.
The Ethiopia regime is a collection of monsters and ethical infants. Just three years ago, Meles Zenawi banned the independent media and blocked all pro-democracy websites and blogs. Blocking access to undesirable web sites through the use of IP filter has been a common government practice in China, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. Thanks to our "internet guru" Prime Minister, Ethiopia has joined the exclusive club of China and Saudi Arabia, and just like these two countries; Ethiopia has waged a war against the press, the independent media, and a war against information. The children of Ethiopia know more about dictatorship than they know about democracy, they know more about hunger that they know about surfeit. They know more about violence than they know about peace & justice. The Ethiopian children don’t goggle much like other children of the world. They don’t goggle because what is goggled out is what the government wants them to see, and they are sick and tired of that rubbish on ETV.
When a leader of a nation breaks the law and becomes the law, he breeds contempt for the law and opens the door for others to break the law and become the law like him. Such a leader creates a society of criminals where the only survivals are the ones with a better weapon to kill. In a developing nation like ours, I have no problem when leaders have a giant's strength, but it is horrifying to see when a leader uses his strength like a giant. Fellow Ethiopians, we must not sleep when a pitiless giant is roaming our land. We have to restrain the giant, or there should be either the giant, or us.
My question for all freedom loving Ethiopians is, aren’t we mortified to accept that in our country the sale of a magazine, a news paper, or a book is a subject of rational inquisition and of criminal inquiry too? It should be embossed upon our minds and implanted into the hearts our children that not the government, but we the people have the right to decide what to read and what to listen. The freedom of press is the protector of our civil, political, and religious rights. The bandits keep on telling us that unprotected press kills society. Well, that is a lie, and such a creed is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime. We the people understand that free press can be good or bad, but, we are absolutely sure that without freedom, a press can be nothing but bad and evil. God deliver us from all evil, amen!