Ethiopia: U.S. double-talking human rights in Ethiopia, again!

By IndepthAfrica
In Alemayehu G. Mariam
Jul 1st, 2013
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By Alemayehu G. Mariam

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

By Alemayehu G Mariam

As my readers know, I enjoy watchin’ American diplomats chillin’ out and kickin’ it with African dictators. I like watchin’ ‘em kumbaya-ing, back-pattin’ and fist bumpin’. I have trained myself to decipher their cryptic diplomatese spoken with forked tongue. I have also learned to chew on their indigestible words with a whopping spoonful of salt and pepper.

Despite years of relentless effort, I have been unable to fathom their mendacity. I am mystified and spellbound by the depth of their duplicity and height of hypocrisy. Bewildered and frustrated, I was compelled to engage in a neologistic exercise and create a word that captured their culture of mendacity. I coined the term “diplocrisy” to refer to the deliberate and calculated use of double-talk, double-speak and double-dealing to misrepresent facts and mislead the inattentive public about what the U.S. is doing to actively promote human rights in Africa.

Diplocrisy is diplomatic hypocrisy in “lights, camera and action”. For instance, the diplocrites say, “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people…” Yet they turn a blind eye (or pretend to be legally blind) to the complete “closure of political space” in Ethiopia. (The euphemism “closure of political space” is what used to be called in the old days, oppression, repression and suppression.) The diplocrites promise to “work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders…”, but when Africa’s ruthless dictators tongue-lash them, the diplocrites become tongue-less (or tongue-tied) and their lips are sealed.

The diplocrites say, “When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere. That is why the United States joins its global partners in calling for the release of all imprisoned journalists in every country across the globe and for the end to intimidation.” The truth is they plug their ears to avoid hearing the pained whimpers of heroic journalists like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and so many other political prisoners chained deep in the bowels of Meles Zenawi Prison in Ethiopia. When they proclaim, “History is on the side of brave Africans…” and conveniently position themselves on the right side of the bed with Africa’s brutal dictators, I marvel at the height of their diplocrisy.

On June 20, 2013, I had another distressing opportunity to witness American diplocrisy in lights, camera, action when Donald Yamamoto, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs (and former ambassador to Ethiopia) testified before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. Yamamoto presented testimony to answer a single question: What is the U.S. prepared to do to improve the prospects for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia following the death of dictator Meles Zenawi?

Mr. Yamamoto’s answer, ungarnished with the sweet ambiguity of diplomatic argot, was “Not a damn thing!!!”

I find nothing surprising in U.S. inaction and aversion to action to help improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia or elsewhere in Africa. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Obama Administration does not give a rat’s behind about Ethiopian or African human rights. That does not bother me anymore. I am cool with it! I also do not mind if the diplocrites think we are “fools and idiots”, as the former U.S. U.N. Ambassador (currently National Security Advisor) Susan Rice chose to vicariously describe those of us who opposed the regime of Meles Zenawi. But I do mind when we are treated as “fools and idiots.” What I find outrageous is the audacity of diplocrites who give testimony under oath which insults our intelligence (or what little scrap of gray matter they think we have).

On January 20, Mr. Yamamoto gave testimony which went beyond insulting our intelligence. He testimony gave new meaning to the phrase “speaking with forked tongue.” When Mr. Yamamoto was an ambassador in Ethiopia in 2009, his position on what could and should be done to improve human rights in that country was crystal clear and radically different than was revealed in his testimony in 2013.

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto was confident, forthright, frank, veracious and scrupulous as he advised Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew about what could and should be done to promote human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. In June 2013, Yamamoto’s testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa evasive, patronizing, platitudinous and clichéd and amounted to nothing more than an elaborate obfuscation of the truth about what the U.S. needs and has the capacity to do to help improve human rights in Ethiopia. In effect his entire testimony before the Subcommittee could be reduced to one simple proposition: The U.S. is not able, willing or ready to use its resources to help improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia!

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (6/23/2009):

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto, assessing the political and human rights situation, instructed Deputy Secretary Jacob Lew:

Your visit to Ethiopia comes at a time when the Ethiopian Government’s (GoE) growing authoritarianism, intolerance of dissent, and ideological dominance over the economy since 2005 poses a serious threat to domestic stability and U.S. interests. The GoE has come to believe its own anxieties about a fundamental shift in U.S. policy against it. This self-induced crisis of confidence has exacerbated the GoE’s natural tendency of government control over politics, the economy and personal freedoms. To pre-empt retaliation, the GoE has increasingly purged ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and others perceived as not supporting the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) from the military, civil service, and security services…

… The May 2005 elections and their aftermath continue to weigh heavily on Ethiopia’s domestic political scene, and as a result, the government is systematically closing political space in Ethiopia. The U.S. Embassy has taken the lead in advocating for transparent and open national elections in 2010, the next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process… Since 2005, the government has enacted laws which limit and restrict party politics, the media, and civil society… The April 2008 local elections saw the ruling party take over all but three of over three million seats…

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013):

In assessing the political and human rights situation in Ethiopia in 2013 for the Subcommittee on Africa, Mr. Yamamoto stated:

Ethiopia’s weak human rights record creates tension in our relationship and we continue to push for press freedom, appropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation, a loosening of restrictions on civil society, greater tolerance for opposition views, and religious dialogue. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controls all aspects of government, including the legislative branch where the EPRDF and its allies hold 545 of 547 parliamentary seats. Political space in Ethiopia is limited and opposition viewpoints are generally not represented in government. In recent years, Ethiopia has passed legislation restricting press freedoms and NGO activities.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Is the “Ethiopian government” less intolerant of dissent and less authoritarian and less ideologically dominant over the economy in 2013 than it was in 2009?

Does the “Ethiopian government” in 2013 have any “anxieties about a fundamental shift in U.S. policy against it”?

In the April 2008 local elections, the ruling party in Ethiopia took all but three of over three million seats. In 2010, the ruling party won 545 of 547 parliamentary seats (99.6 percent). What result does the U.S. expect in a “post-Meles” 2015 election?

In light of the “GoE’s natural tendency” to exercise total “control over politics, the economy and personal freedoms”, when did the “GoE” stop its “preemptive retaliation of purging ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and others perceived as not supporting the ruling party from the military, civil service, and security services”?

In 2009, the “U.S. Embassy took a leading role in advocating for transparent and open national elections in 2010” which it described as “the next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process”. The ruling party claimed victory in the 2010 election with a margin of 99.6 percent. Does the U.S. expect a 100 percent victory margin for the ruling party in the “next major milestone in Ethiopia’s democratization process” in 2015?

What specific measures or steps has the U.S. taken since 2009 in its “continued push for press freedom, appropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation, a loosening of restrictions on civil society, greater tolerance for opposition views, and religious dialogue” in Ethiopia?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (6/23/2009)

In 2009, Mr. Yamamoto advising Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew argued for swift, decisive and forceful action and urged a no-nonsense approach to dealing with the “Ethiopian Government” on the issue of human rights:

… Since 2005, the government has enacted laws which limit and restrict party politics, the media, and civil society… Laws have been passed regulating political financing, access to the press, and ability of civil society organizations (NGOs) to receive funding from foreign sources and participate in the political process… Without significant policy reform to liberalize the economy and allow mounting political dissent to be vented… [there could be] major civil unrest. The United States can induce such a change, but we must act decisively, laying out explicitly our concerns and urging swift action. Because the GoE has enjoyed only growing international assistance and recognition despite its recent record, it currently has no incentive to veer from the current trajectory to which the EPRDF is so committed. If we are to move the GoE, we must be willing to use USG resources (diplomatic, development, and public recognition) to shift the EPRDF’s incentives away from the status quo trajectory….

If we are to move them, though, we need to deliver an explicit and direct (yet private) message that does not glad-hand them. We must convey forcefully that we are not convinced by their rhetoric, but rather that we see their actions for what they are… We should [assure them]… that we are not trying to promote regime change, and that we are delivering a similarly explicit message of the need for change to opposition groups.

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/13):

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa that the best the U.S. could do was to “encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record”:

Post-Meles Ethiopia presents the United States with a significant opportunity to encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record, liberalize its economy, and provide increased space for opposition parties and civil society organizations. Post-Meles Ethiopia also presents a significant challenge since Ethiopia plays an important role in advancing regional integration and mitigating regional conflict in Somalia and Sudan. Our partnership with Ethiopia balances these interests by focusing on democracy, governance, and human rights; economic growth and development; and regional peace and security.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

What “significant policy reform” has been taken by the “GoE” since 2009 to liberalize the economy and allow mounting political dissent to be vented?

In what ways has the U.S. acted decisively to get the “GoE” to relax application of its draconian media, civil society and other repressive laws in Ethiopia? Have any of the “laws enacted in Ethiopia after 2005 limiting and restricting party politics, the media, and civil society” been repealed, modified or in any way tempered or mitigated?

Since 2009, what “incentives” (or disincentives) (including “diplomatic, development, and public recognition”) has the U.S. used to “induce change” or redirect the “GoE from the status quo trajectory”? Alternatively, how has the U.S. “acted decisively, laying out explicitly our concerns and urging swift action” by the “Ethiopian Government”?

Could Ethiopia experience a “spark of major civil unrest” in 2013-14 if the “GoE does not undertake significant policy reform to liberalize the economy, allow mounting political dissent to be vented”, competently manage the economy and “control inflation”?

When and why did the U.S. stop trying to promote “regime change” in Ethiopia?

When did the U.S. stop “glad-handing” and start fist bumping with the leaders of the regime in Ethiopia?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto told Deputy Secretary Lew that the “Ethiopian government” maintained a chokehold on the economy and that its claims of double-digit growth are fabrications:

Foreign investment restrictions are widespread, including key sectors such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is the only service provider in the sector, creating an environment of poor telecom service and access. In a country of nearly 80 million people, there are only 920,000 fixed phone lines, 1.8 million cell phones, and 29,000 internet connections. The GOE maintains a hard line stance on these key sectors…

The GOE publicly touts that Ethiopia has experienced double-digit real GDP growth of over 11 percent in recent years. The GOE predicts real GDP growth of 10 percent this year. Many institutions, including the World Bank and IMF, dispute the GOE’s growth statistics, stating that Ethiopia’s real GDP growth rate will most likely range between six and seven percent this year.

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013)

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa that

Ethiopia ranks among the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 10 percent GDP growth over the last five years. State-run infrastructure drives much of this growth. Our bilateral trade and investment relationship is limited by investment climate challenges and the lack of market liberalization… Currently about 100 U.S. companies are represented in Ethiopia. Total U.S. exports to Ethiopia in 2012 were $1.29 billion; imports from Ethiopia totaled $183 million.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Mr. Yamamoto: Which one of the following statements is false: 1) “Ethiopia ranks among the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 10 percent GDP growth over the last five years.” 2) Over the past five years, “Ethiopia’s real GDP growth rate most likely ranged between six and seven percent.”

Why is “foreign investment” from China (instead of the U.S.) more widespread in Ethiopia in 2013?

Ethiopia has “invested some US$14 billion in infrastructure development between 1996 and 2006 and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure” and made “exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure”? What accounts for the fact that Ethiopia has the worst “telecom service and access” in all of Africa and quite possibly the entire world?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Mr. Yamamoto advised Deputy Secretary Lew how to leverage U.S. aid to bring about human rights improvements in Ethiopia:

Ethiopia is now the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the preponderance of this assistance is humanitarian, including food aid… of which a significant share supplements the Government of Ethiopia budget…. The increasingly difficult operating environment and growing transaction costs for non-budgetary foreign aid and, in particular, the proposed tight restrictions on non-governmental organization (NGO) implementing partners, call for a reassessment of the mix and effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Ethiopia in order to support U.S. foreign policy objectives…

Dateline: Washington, D.C. (6/20/2013)

In June 2013, Mr. Yamamoto told the Subcommittee on Africa one of the proudest achievements of U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia:

On democracy and human rights, we recently secured agreements to do media development training and open two community radio stations. Mechanisms such as our bilateral Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights Working Group, bilateral Economic Growth and Development Working Group, and Bilateral Defense Committee are useful tools for advancing our policy objectives in our three focus pillars. At the same time, we are public in our support for an improved environment for civil society, those we believe to have been subjected to politically motivated arrests, inclusive democratic processes, and rule-of-law. Making progress on this area will continue to be challenging and will require a great deal of creativity…. Ethiopia is a significant recipient of U.S. foreign aid, having benefited from over $740 million in FY 2012 assistance…

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

In 2009, you stated that a significant amount of U.S. humanitarian aid “supplemented the Government of Ethiopia’s budget….” Doesn’t use of “humanitarian aid” to “supplement the Government of Ethiopia’s budget” flagrantly violate 22 USC § 2151n et seq. (Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended) which provides in relevant part:

No assistance may be provided under subchapter I of this chapter to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.

Do you deny that the “Government of Ethiopia” has engaged and continues to “engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”?

Is U.S. “humanitarian aid” still used in 2013 to “supplement the Government of Ethiopia’s budget”?

If the U.S. could use its aid leverage (through “a reassessment of the mix and effectiveness of U.S. assistance”) to bring about improvements in human rights in Ethiopia in 2009, why can’t it do the same in 2013?

You stated, “On democracy and human rights, we recently secured agreements to do media development training and open two community radio stations.” Is this the singularly proud outcome of “working diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people”?

Dateline: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 6/23/2009

In June 2009, Yamamoto cautioned Deputy Secretary Lew to understand the “Ethiopian Leadership’s Guiding Philosophy”:

Understanding Ethiopia’s domestic political and economic actions, and developing a strategy for moving the ruling party forward democratically and developmentally, requires understanding the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) prevailing political ideology: Revolutionary Democracy. Hard-line TPLF politburo ideologues explain the concept in antiquated Marxist terms reminiscent of the TPLF’s precursor Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray…. As an extension of this philosophy, to the ruling party, development is their gift to Ethiopia, and their first priority. While they accept assistance from the international community, they resent attempts by donors to tell them how development should be done. The leadership believes that only they can know what is best for Ethiopia, and if given enough time, Ethiopia will transform itself into a developed nation.

Questions for Mr. Yamamoto:

Has the “Ethiopian leadership’s guiding philosophy” changed since the passing of Meles Zenawi?

Is the “Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s prevailing political ideology of Revolutionary Democracy” compatible with the values of the Founders of the American Republic?

You stated that “while the GoE accepts assistance from the international community, they resent attempts by donors to tell them how development should be done. The leadership believes that only they can know what is best for Ethiopia.” Does the TPLF “leadership” in 2013 believe that “only they can know what is best for Ethiopia”?

Does the U.S. share the TPLF “leadership’s” belief that “only the TPLF can know what is best for Ethiopia?

Of Fools and Idiots

I don’t mind them double-talking us as though we are “fools and idiots”. If they must relate to us as such, we demand to be treated as “Shakespearean fools”. Our silence in the face of outrageous lies may give the misimpression that we are ignorant, witless, fainthearted and without much sense or sensibility. But we know the simple truth; and that truth is human rights in Ethiopia is an afterthought for the Obama Administration. There is no need to double-talk us on human rights anymore. Just tell us straight that human rights in a world in which the U.S. is at war with terrorism is for the birds, not Ethiopians! We’d understand. In the final analysis, in the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, we must draw our inspiration from our tower of power Nelson Mandela and keep walking that long road. We keep on walking, let them keep on talking, double-talking…!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

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