Ethiopia: The politics of fear and smear By Alemayehu G Mariam
By Alemayehu G Mariam
In December 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption?” contrasting two portraits of Ethiopia.
At the time, the portrait painted by Transparency International (TI) (Corruption Index) and Global Financial Integrity (GFI) showed Ethiopia as a land blighted by systemic corruption. GFI reported that “Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years.” TI gave Ethiopia a score of 2.7 on the Corruption Index (on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means “highly corrupt” and 10 means “very clean”).
At that time, the dictatorial regime, which is still in power today, sought to portray Ethiopia as a country under siege by traitorous terrorists. In a fear-mongering three-part propaganda “documentary” entitled “Akeldama” (or Land [field] of Blood, taken from Acts 1:19 referring to a field said to have been bought by Judas Iscariot with the thirty pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus) shown on ruling party-owned television service, the regime sought to depict Ethiopia as a country under withering terrorist attack by Ethiopian Diaspora opposition elements and their co-conspirators inside the country and other “terrorist” groups. “Akeldama” began with a proclamation on the arrival of a bloodbath doomsday in Ethiopia: “Terrorism is destroying the world. Terrorism is wrecking our daily lives, obstructing it. What I am telling you now is not about international terrorism. It is about a scheme that has been hatched against our country Ethiopia to turn her into Akeldama or land of blood. For us Ethiopians, terrorism has become a bitter problem….”
“Akeldama” stitched revolting and gruesome video clips and photomontage of terrorist carnage and destruction throughout the world to tar and feather all opponents of the late Meles Zenawi as stooges of Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Gratuitously horrific images of dead bodies of babies and little children lying on the ground, fly-infested corpses of adults oozing blood on the asphalt, severed limbs scattered in the streets, burned vehicles, bombed buildings, doctors treating injured victims and footage of the imploding Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2011 were blended in a toxic video presentation to hypnotize and paralyze the population with fear and loathing. Following an orgiastic presentation of carnage and destruction, that “documentary” pointed an accusatory finger at “ruthless terrorists” who are “destroying our peace” and “massacring our loved ones”. In a haunting voice, the narrator exhorts, “Let’s look at the evidence. In the past several years, there have been 131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists.”
By weaving deceitful, deceptive and distorted narratives between grisly spectacles of alleged terrorist atrocity, cruelty, brutality, bestiality and inhumanity from the world over, “Akeldama” hoped to create rabid public hysteria against Ethiopia’s opposition elements and justify the regime’s violent crackdowns on opposition elements. That propaganda hogwash gained little traction in the public mind.
2013: Dictatorship, corruption and the politics of fear and smear
Fast forward to February 2013. A recent exhaustive 448-page World Bank report revealed that Ethiopia has one of the most corrupt-to-the-core regimes in the world. According to this report, Ethiopia’s “Telecommunications Sector” is Corruption Central, the Ground Zero of Corruption: “Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.” Ethiopia’s “Construction Sector exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the “Justice Sector” rears its ugly head in the form of “political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the “Land Sector” is built into the law itself: “The capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.”
On February 5, 2013, the ruling regime in Ethiopia broadcasted a one hour “documentary” entitled “Jihadawi Harakat” (“Holy War Movement”) purportedly aimed at exposing Islamic extremists and terrorists preparing for a “holy war” to establish an Islamic government in Ethiopia. This “documentary” is nothing less than a declaration of an unholy war against Ethiopian Muslims. “Jihadawi Harakat” is a maliciously conceived and executed propaganda campaign right down to the diabolical title which seeks to portray Ethiopian Muslims peacefully demanding respect for their human rights as the handmaidens of such jihadist terrorist movements as Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini and the Abu Sayyaf (terror group in the southern Philippines) group’s Al Harakat al-Islamiyya.
“Jihadawi Harakat” is very similar in tone and content to “Akeldama”. The principal difference is that “Jihadawi Harakat” targets Ethiopian Muslims for persecution and vilification. The “documentary” as a whole argues that Ethiopian Muslims who asked for nothing more than respect for their basic human rights and non-government interference in their religious affairs are merely local chapters of blood thirsty terrorist groups such Boko Haram (Nigeria), Ansar al Din (Mali), Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hamas… Despite the lip service disclaimer that the “documentary” is about a “few terrorists taking cover behind the Islamic faith to commit terrorism” in Ethiopia, this “documentary” stands as an ugly testament to official state religious intolerance and persecution rarely seen anywhere in Africa.
There are lies, naked lies, damned lies and sleazy lies. “Jihadawi Harakat” is all four. After viewing this revolting “documentary”, I recalled the furious words of the late Meles Zenawi when the European Union Election Observer Group confronted him with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent. Meles was so angry that he got caught, he condemned the EU election report as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” This phony, vile, shallow, pretentious, noxious and histrionic docutrash is such a pile of crap that it deserves to be flushed into the sewer.
First, let us establish the facts on the demands of Ethiopian Muslims. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body constituted by the Congress and the President of the United States to monitor religious freedom worldwide:
Since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has sought to impose the al-Ahbash Islamic sect on the country’s Muslim community, a community that traditionally has practiced the Sufi form of Islam. The government also has manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Previously viewed as an independent body, EIASC is now viewed as a government-controlled institution. The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia. Muslims throughout Ethiopia have been arrested during peaceful protests: On October 29, the Ethiopia government charged 29 protestors with terrorism and attempting to establish an Islamic state.
The jihadists are coming, again?!
“Jihadawi Harakat” is not the first time the regime in power in Ethiopia has pulled the jihadist bogeyman out of their back pockets to scare the people of Ethiopia. Back in November 2006, a month before Meles Zenawi’s tanks “blitzkrieged” their way into Mogadishu killing tens of thousands of innocent Somali civilians and displacing over a million, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Jihadists are Coming!” I argued that Meles Zenawi had fabricated the Somali jihadist terrorist threat out of whole cloth to deflect attention from his dismal human rights record and repression and to buy the good will and diplomatic support of the U.S.:
Here we go again! Trot out the Somali jihadist bogeyman (aya jibo). Get out the smoke machine and mirrors. Show time! Act I. Narrator Zenawi: “Somalia is becoming a haven for terrorist. The sheiks of terror have declared an unholy war on Ethiopia, and the U.S. of A. They are on the outskirts. Patriots and countrymen, defend the homeland!…
But the whole jihadist business smacks of political fantasy. It’s surreal. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists and their Al Qaeda partners should be opposed and defeated because they are undemocratic, anti-democratic, oppressive and authoritarian. The jihadists don’t believe in human rights and do not allow political or social dissent. They are fanatics who want to impose one-party rule… Duh!!! Has Mr. Zenawi looked at the mirror lately?…
… Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists are lurking behind every desert rock and boulder. He wants Ethiopians to come out and fight them in every hamlet, town and city. We want Ethiopians to come out of the jails and prisons and rejoin their families. We want them to come out into the streets and peacefully express themselves, show their opposition to government policies and actions, engage in constructive dialogue with their fellow citizens and enjoy basic human rights… Now, we have a choice to make. We can follow along the Zenawi Road Show and entertain ourselves with stories of the Somali jihadist bogeyman, Mickey Mouse and the Easter Bunny. Or we can stay focused on the real issues of human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia.
Meles used the jihadist bogeyman in 2006 to plunge Ethiopia into the civil war in Somalia. In 2013, his disciples hope to use same jihadist bogeyman to plunge Ethiopia into internecine sectarian civil war.
“Jihadawi Harakat” or the art of Islamophobia
“Jihadawi Harakat” is such a revoltingly amateurish piece of propaganda that one could easily dismiss it as dimwitted cartoonish gibberish and sophomoric fear mongering melodrama. But that would be a serious mistake because this vicious docutrash scandalizes, villiainizes, slanders and vilifies Ethiopia’s Muslim community. As lame and as cynical as this docutrash is, its tacit propaganda aim is to present a “morality play” of “evil” Muslims against “good” Christians. It is intended to scare Christians into believing that the same Muslims with whom they have coexisted peacefully for a millennia have now suddenly been transformed into “Islamic terrorists” and are secretly planning to wage a jihadist war on them to establish an Islamic government. Just as “Akeldama” sought to demonize, dehumanize, anathematize, demoralize and barbarize all of Ethiopia’s dissidents and opposition groups as a confederation of blood thirsty terrorists, “Jihad Harekat” seeks to do exactly the same thing to Ethiopian Muslims by creating Islamophobic hysteria in Ethiopia.
Careful review and analysis shows the ruling regime sought to accomplish a number of propaganda objectives with this docutrash: 1) tar and feather all Muslims who demand respect for their basic human rights and regime non-interference in their religious affairs as blood thirsty terrorists, fanatical jihadists and homicidal maniacs, 2) inflame Christian passions to incite hatred and spread distrust and suspicion against Muslims; 3) vilify Muslims and create a climate of fear, loathing and intolerance which the regime hopes will trigger mass hysteria, persecution and discrimination against Muslims; 4) divert the attention of the population from the desperate economic, social and political issues of the day by feeding them ugly fantasies of jihadists Ethiopian Muslims planting bombs and planning terrorist acts to create an Islamic state, and 5) establish the moral justification for ruthlessly cracking down and clamping down on Muslims who have asked for nothing more than respect for their religious liberties and official non-interference in the administration of their religious affairs. Of course, the regime desperately wants to divert public attention from its massive corruption documented in the World Bank’s exhaustive 448-page report.
Anatomy of a Docutrash
For those who do not wish to waste their time viewing this pile of bull manure (make sure to hold your nose if you must watch it) passing off as a “documentary”, here is a summary. The docutrash opens with a text-image insert announcing, “An evidence-based documentary on a few individuals who have used the Islamic faith as a cover to conduct terrorist activities. A documentary prepared in collaboration with the national intelligence service, federal police and Ethiopian television and radio organization. It presents evidence on how a few individuals have taken cover behind the Islamic faith and tried to implement the terrorist plans of Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab in Ethiopia.”
For 13 seconds, the text image insert slowly recedes on the screen; and without warning the face of a menacing “terrorist” set against a pitch black background emerges and scrolls to the right on the screen for 8 seconds to inspire a foreboding sense of fear and panic in the viewer. The same man whose picture has been photoshopped to make him look wild-eyed and sinister appears and gives the first “evidence” by “confessing” in a soft voice and gentle demeanor, “The jihad is between Muslims and those who are not Muslims.”
The “evidence” presented consists of “confessions” (mostly 2 0r 3 sentence incriminating admissions by the “suspects” unaccompanied by the questions of the interrogators) of some of the 29 terror suspects mentioned in the report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom referenced above. (The terror suspects giving “confessions” are currently on trial and the regime broadcasted the “documentary” in flagrant violation of a court order not to do so.)
Following the “confession” of the man admitting to a jihad between Muslims and non-Muslims, a video clip of riotous young men (insinuating that they are Muslim rioters) running away from something is shown. Video clips likely scarfed from the internet immediately follow showing turbaned and disguised jihadists from all over the world wreaking havoc in unnamed places. A text-image follows announcing, “Boko Haram in Ethiopia.” Young Ethiopian Muslim men are briefly shown at a peaceful gathering protesting. A young Muslim leader is shown speaking to a group and claiming that Muslims are being “accused of being terrorists, criminals and seeking power.” More photos of turbaned and armed terrorists are shown followed by a video clip of Muslim terrorists digging up a cache of arms from a hole in the ground. A bearded Muslim man appears and states, “We have prepared the weapons and the manpower needed for the war against the government and our aim is to establish an Islamic government.” Photomontage of terrorists from other parts of the world brandishing AK47s and RPGs follow along with more video clips of terrorists blowing up buildings. Civilians are shown running away from scenes of terrorists attacks. Unnamed terrorists are shown marching in the bushes. Photoshopped pictures of the same bearded suspects shown at the very beginning of the video are scrolled time and again across the screen to give the creepy impression that the “confessing” suspects are stalking the viewer like beasts of prey. For another 58 minutes, the same theme is repeated over and over again with snippets of “confessions” sandwiched between scenes of armed terrorists and terrorist devastation.
Rule of Law or Rule of Ignoramuses
Leaders of the ruling regime often trumpet their allegiance to and defense of their Constitution. Last September propaganda meister Bereket Simon, after telling and retelling the world the Big Lie about Meles’ health and death, waxed eloquent day after day about constitutional succession and the game of official musical chairs to be played in the post-Meles period. As “communications minister”, Simon authorized the broadcasting of the “Jihadawi Harekat” docutrash. One really wonders how these “champions of the Ethiopian Constitution” seem to be enlightened only about those provisions they like but are willfully benighted about the parts they don’t like such as the rights of the accused. It reminds one of a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purposes.” Are they cunningly malicious or just plain ignorant? For years, I have been saying that preaching constitutional law (the rule of law) to the regime in Ethiopia is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathen. These vacuous imposters would not recognize the Constitution if it ran them over like a Mac truck.
What needs to be doubly underscored in the case against the 29 Muslim “terror suspects”, including those who allegedly confessed in “Jihadawi Harakat” are three important facts: 1) All of the “suspects” are pretrial detainees entitled to full procedural due process protections provided in the Ethiopian Constitution and various other binding international human rights conventions. 2) There is substantial evidence to show that the “suspects” who allegedly confessed did so under coercion. In the case of one “suspect”, for instance, a video of the interrogation and “confession” shows him handcuffed. 3) All of the 29 “terrorism suspects” in custody are political prisoners.
In terms of the flagrant disregard for the constitutional and human rights of the suspects, one cannot be unimpressed by the abysmal depth of ignorance and depraved indifference of the regime leaders. The Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3) provides: “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” They seem to be totally clueless (or don’t give a damn) of their obligation under international human rights conventions which are incorporated expressly into the Ethiopian Constitution under Article 13. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides under Art. 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Art. 14 (2): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) provides under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible public officials prior to a finding of guilt by a court of law. Moreover, the “confessions” obtained in this docutrash are in flagrant violation of the prohibition on coerced admissions and confessions and the exclusionary rule in Article 19 (5) which provides that the accused “shall not be compelled to make confessions or admissions which could be used in evidence or against them. Any evidence obtained under coercion shall not be admissible.”
The sad irony in the case against the Muslim “terror suspects” is that the kangaroo court which issued the injunction against the broadcasting of the docutrash will not have the integrity or the guts to throw out all of the “confessions” or impose other sanctions including criminal contempt citations against those who willfully disobeyed its order and/or dismiss with prejudice the case against the defendants for such an egregious and outrageous violation of their fair trial rights.
Frankly, I must confess that I take a bit of perverse pleasure in being fully vindicated. For years, I have been saying that there is no rule of law in Ethiopia and the courts are kangaroo courts puppet-mastered by the political bosses. Is there any doubt now that the miscarriage of justice has become justice in Ethiopia?
A desperate dictatorship and the art of sewage politics
With this docutrash, the dictators in Ethiopia have proven not only that they can get lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut but also that they are the grandmasters of sewage politics. The fact of the matter is that the only proven cases of terrorist carnage in Ethiopia were committed by the regime. In “Akeldama”, the regime claimed “131 terrorist attacks; 339 citizens killed; 363 injured and 25 kidnapped and killed by terrorists” over the preceding decade. However, the official Inquiry Commission established by Meles Zenawi determined that in just a few days following the election in May 2005, security troops under the personal control and command of Meles Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded another 763. The Commission concluded the “shots fired by government forces [which were intended] not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.” In September 2011, the world learned “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act. If all other acts of state terrorism committed against Ethiopian civilians were to be included, the body count would be in the hundreds of thousands. Those who point an accusatory index finger to tar and feather others with charges of terrorism should be careful to see which way the other three fingers are pointing.
“Jihadawi Harekat” is a smear campaign designed to vilify, malign, demean and marginalize Ethiopian Muslims. It is a vicious propaganda effort aimed at poisoning the centuries-old peaceful relations between adherents of the Islamic and Christian faiths in Ethiopia. It is an outrageous piece of propaganda designed to promote irrational fears of Muslims and Islam in Ethiopian society and facilitate the creation of conditions that will eventually lead to the persecution, discrimination and exclusion of Muslims from the political, social, economic and public life of the nation. “Jihadawi Harekat” is out-and-out Islamophobia.
We should never tolerate or yield to Islamophobia in Ethiopia!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.