I listened to the interview Meles Zenawi gave in July 2011 and read the article by Yilma Bekele on the interview entitled: “Emperor Tewodros and Ato Meles,” which reminded me of the need to add my views from additional perspectives. The journalist who interviewed Meles and whom Yilma has not mentioned by name is Ms Meskerem Getachew.
The message of the interview:
Meles saved Ethiopia from disintegration and that he, unlike his predecessors, gives a solid basis for the unity of our country by implementing a democratic system for the voluntary unity of the different ethnic groups and by introducing an economic development paradigm to abolish poverty.
I will return to this claim later on.
Meles says: “When one historical mistake is committed for the first time, Ferenjotch (white people) call it a tragedy; when the mistake is repeated, they call it a farce.” Therefore, Meles, in his attempt to give an example of the concept of tragedy and comedy in the case of Ethiopia says: “It was a tragedy when Emperor Tewodros committed the mistake, and it was more than a laughable joke when the Derg repeated the same mistake.”
What Meles calls a mistake is the use of force to unite the people of Ethiopia which was divided by warlords before Tewodros came to power and the attempts of Emperor Tewodros and the Derg to produce fire arms. The idea of the recurrence of facts and persons as a tragedy and farce has its origin in Hegel and Marx. Therefore, Meles quotes the idea to decorate his interview by giving it a philosophical touch, but he makes it less visible by leaving out its authors. Meles also distorts the quotation by limiting it to mistakes.
The quotation is from Karl Marx in the book “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” The book is considered by the left to be the best class analysis of the French revolution (1848 to 1851) and Bonapartism. Meles used Bonapartism insincerely (since it was not relevant to the situation in Ethiopia) 10 years ago to get rid of almost half of the leadership of the TPLF [that had accused him of treason]. Now, Meles is using the same book to formally compare emperor Tewodros and the Derg, and actually to show how much better he is than both of them for the wellbeing of Ethiopia.
“Eritrea has seceded and this is a partial disintegration of Ethiopia for many Ethiopians while it is an act of decolonization for Meles.”
Given on the one hand, the fact that Meles was the founder of the Marxist Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT), that he has been to Albania in 1988 in search of support from the labour Party of Albania and that he misused the concept of Bonapartism by Marx to purge several members of the leadership of the MLLT/TPLF in 2001, the likelihood that his quotation originates from Marx is obvious. On the other hand, the quotation is widely cited in connection with Hegel and Marx, because the latter wrote: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages (not mistakes as quoted by Meles) of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: The first time as a tragedy, the second as farce. “Although the original version in German does not use the ordinal formulation of “first and second“(it is: “das eine Maandl” “das andere Mal”, which roughly means at the one time and at the other time) it is difficult to give the idea [of] the validity of a natural law, that all important facts etc…in world history occur twice in whatever order as tragedies and farces or vice versa.
As the quotation was used by Meles, a person who uses force more than a century later to reverse unity, to show the flaws of Tewodros for using force to impose unity, I tried to see the relevance of the quotation and its source, which is one of the sources of the knowledge of Meles. By doing this, I am neither accusing Meles of a Marxist ideology nor do I think of the ideology as a crime to be accused of, unless it is associated with murders of innocent people. In fact, I do not think that Meles has any clear ideology. The concept of revolutionary democracy as applied in Ethiopia as an ideology at this time by Meles is simply named for what it is not: It is neither revolutionary nor democratic in any sense. It is a process of promoting institutionalized ethnicity for the sake of divide-and-rule which carries the danger of disintegration.
The practice of the so called “democratic centralism” by the EPRDF may imply a connection with the ideology of socialism, although this is simply a technique of controlling and terrorizing people. The technique of totalitarian centralism can be used by any fascistic or extremist religious individuals or groups. An absolute power with the help of a totalitarian centralism is more important for Meles than any ideology, as it enables him to massacre, terrorize and control people. People turned to puppets can sing any song of any ideology like the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Meles is also trying to cover up his one-party-system with the so called “dominant-party-system” since the one party- system has been discredited.
The combination of centralism and ethnic divide and rule under Totalitarianism
Organisational Centralism under Totalitarianism is a form of divide and rule atomized down to individual level. Every individual in such a system, as in the case of the TPLF/EPRDF is not free to express his or her opinion to any other individual if the opinion is not disseminated or wanted from above, from an individual who has absolute power. Therefore it is neither the correctness nor the incorrectness of the idea nor what every free individual would have thought of it which matters; it is from whom the idea comes which is decisive for the acceptance of an idea. Every body has therefore the duty to control everybody else in order to nip every dissent in the bud. The assessment sessions called “Gmgemas” in the TPLF/EPRDF are meant not only to control what every member says and does but also what every member does not say and do as well as the contacts which exist between individuals to deny them privacy and force the automation of the behaviour of all members, like robots.
Divide-and-rule based on ethnicity enhances the danger of disintegration after the demise of totalitarianism, but it is not as important as the enslavement of individuals within an organization to elongate the life of a totalitarian regime. It was the enslavement of the individual TPLF members, not the ethnic division which Meles exploited to maintain his absolute power after the war with Eritrea. What is usually referred to as a split in the TPLF in 2001 was for instance, not a split of the organization, because armed undemocratic organizations can hardly split. An organization can be said to have been divided, if it has a certain degree of transparency and if its members can take different sides according to their interests and convictions. Since the leadership of TPLF has always been undemocratic, it never informed its members about the differences of opinion in the leadership, the members could not make a thorough discussion about such differences, reach their own decisions and take sides. It is only after the perpetrators single out their victims that the rank-and-file-members are ordered to rally behind the perpetrators against the victims. Therefore, that is why there was no urgent need to include the ANDM, OPDO etc…and no need to call a meeting of the members of the TPLF, when Meles purged the dissidents from the TPLF in 2001.
False information and a wrong conclusion about Tewodros
Meles asserts that Emperor Tewodros was defeated only once and that it was the first and the last. But it is not true. Since there were several attempts by Europeans to colonize Ethiopia (see the Survival of Ethiopian Independence by Sven Rubenson for details) in addition to Turkish- Egyptian incursions, it was quite natural for responsible Ethiopians to defend the independence of their country and arm themselves for the defence. For Emperor Tewodros this was not only a theoretical question. Since he was defeated by an army with superior weapons, he saw the need to arm himself to defend his country as the following authors, unlike Meles, have mentioned the salient reasons for his activities:
Richard Pankhurst wrote:
“In the following year (after he married Tewabach in 1847) Kasa advanced into Sudan as far as Dabarki, where the Egyptians had erected a fort. He tried to capture it, but his soldiers suffered heavy casualties, and were routed. The engagement was significant, for it taught him that a traditional Ethiopian force was no match for a modern European-style army equipped with fire-arms.”
Tewodros is portrayed by the historian Pankhurst as a unifier, reformer, and innovator (Google). He was not only a warrior as Meles makes him look like in the interview.
Sven Rubenson in his book The Survival of Ethiopian Independence, wrote:
“At Dabarki, in 1848, he (Kasa, later Tewodros) had suffered the only serious defeat of his early career at their hands. His preoccupation with artillery, and the desire to drill his soldiers, emanated from that encounter.”
Bahru Zewde wrote:
“At the battle of Debarqi in 1848, Kasa`s troops, whose only advantage lay in their blind courage, were mown down by the artillery wielded to deadly effect by the disciplined Egyptian troops. Kasa came out chastened from the whole experience. At the same time was born his abiding interest in discipline and artillery.” (Page 28, A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1974)
In this obvious case, the appropriate quotation for Meles from the same book should have been: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.“ Emperor Tewodros did that, and since the defence of the sovereignty of his country was his highest priority, he tried to manufacture fire arms. It would have shown only ignorance in the history of social development, if Meles had established a democratic system in the 21st century and if he had criticized Tewodros for not doing the same in Ethiopia of the 19th century. But it is an extreme form of dishonesty for a serial mass murderer like Meles (He committed five rounds of massacre in Addis Ababa alone: in 1991, in 1993, in 2001 and in the months of June and November in 2005), to talk about the mistake of Tewodros for using force to unite his country 150 years ago.
The disconnection of military and civilian technology by Meles
Meles is also wrong when he disconnects the development of military technology from economic development (unless only North Korea is in his mind) and belittles the efforts of Tewodros and the Derg to develop a military technology. Products of military inventions can be transferred to civilian use as the Internet, GPS, digital photography, jet engine, nuclear technology, Ballistic missiles, Radar, Night vision etc..
Therefore, in the case of Tewodros, Meles does not probably know the history and he is irresponsibly misinforming more than 80 Million Ethiopians as well as making distorted interpretations. In the case of his own peaceful resolutions to existing conflicts, Meles is telling lies to the very people whom he is victimizing, because the victims have no right to oppose him.
Meles has not saved Ethiopia from disintegration
The question in this respect should be: “Which threat of disintegration of Ethiopia has Meles averted to claim that he has saved Ethiopia from disintegration?” The areas in which serious demands of secession were raised are Eritrea, Tigray, Oromia and the Ogaden.
Eritrea has seceded and this is a partial disintegration of Ethiopia for many Ethiopians while it is an act of decolonization for Meles. Meles did not even try to entertain the idea of a voluntary unity of Eritrea with Ethiopia without denying the Eritreans to decide their own destiny.
“It is an extreme form of dishonesty for a serial mass murderer like Meles to talk about the mistake of Tewodros for using force to unite his country 150 years ago.”
In the case of Tigray, Meles had no vision of Ethiopia or he had a vision of the disintegration of Ethiopia, when he, in his manifesto of 1976, declared the aim of the TPLF to be the independence of Tigray. While it is a welcome development that Meles did not push for the secession of Tigray, the reason for the change of his mind has to be sought in the fact that he did not want to lose the chance of ruling a big nation with all its advantages when a power vacuum was created and in the fact that he could not be sure of getting support for the independence of Tigray.
The liberation fronts of Oromia and Ogaden were not strong enough to control the areas for which they were fighting during the rule of the Derg, despite the fact that the Derg was collapsing in the war against the EPLF and TPLF. Now, the OLF and ONLF are still waging an armed struggle against the government of the EPRDF, which clearly shows that the constitution for the right to secession introduced by Meles has not convinced them (the OLF and ONLF) to give up their armed struggle. On the contrary, it is force which hinders them to do whatever they want to do. If Meles wants to claim that he is defending the integration of Ethiopia for whatever reason, then he can say this in the traditional way i.e. by force, and therefore he does not have to resort to the repetition of lies that his ethnic politics saved Ethiopia from disintegration. Meles has never resolved any conflict peacefully.
Meles, in his interview was right in his portrayal of the international competitiveness of Ethiopians during the times of Axum, Lalibella and Gonder. However, he went over to his thoughtless exaggeration by saying that Ethiopians were now not in a position to construct similar buildings as those found in the historical places mentioned above. I think Ethiopian engineers are more advanced now than a thousand or more years ago.
Finally, it is not a crime when Meles makes mistakes as any other person. It is not the end of history even if he tells lies. But it is more than a crime, because he is denying millions of Ethiopians the right to get the opinions of others by monopolizing the media so that all can listen only to his speeches and those of his puppets as well as see and read from the same source. This is forced indoctrination, a lesson of ignorance and lies in exclusion to alternatives, which is one of the main characteristics of totalitarian regimes. The people are organized from above several times as youth, cadres, women, militia, neighbourhood etc. down to household level and controlled in such a way that the garbage from Meles is distributed everywhere for indoctrination.
It is unbelievable that some individuals even in the Voice of America and the Deutsche Welle (DW) are importing the habit of stifling critical voices from Ethiopia. The DW organized a successful international conference under the title: “Human Rights in a Globalized World, Challenges for the Media” (June 20-22, 2011 in Bonn) for about 1600 participants from more than 100 countries. The Director-General of Deutsche Welle, Erik Bettermann called for cooperation in forming a global “alliance for human rights” during the closing session. In total contradiction to such efforts, an.employee of the DW, Mr. Ludger Schadomsky, who heads the Amharic section of the DW, seems to be using a list of undisclosed names whose voice should not be heard in the DW. Thanks to the young journalist, Messay Mekonnen, this censorship in the DW was exposed. I knew this case since January 2011, but I did not speak out, because I feared Schadomsky could at least personally be unfriendly to the journalists who informed me. I was invited to participate in a discussion, but Schadomsky ordered the journalist who invited me to reverse the invitation and he (Schadomsky) further remarked that he would not let Dr. Berhanu Nega participate, even though the latter is an economist. This remark was a reaction to the suggestion by the Ethio-German journalists that an economist should participate in a discussion on economic issues. This clearly indicates that there is a list of unwanted persons.
The end of forced indoctrination in Ethiopia (indoctrination depends more on manipulation than coercion when it is applied by some sects) can come only with the end of totalitarianism, and hence with the end of the reign of Meles Zenawi. In the meantime, the mass media of democratic countries has a moral and constitutional obligation to expose forced indoctrination and support human rights.
—By Tesfay Atsbeha
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org