The Poison of Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia's Body Politic[Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

ethnic federalismThe Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation (T-TPLF) adopted its fabricated constitution for Ethiopia on December 8, 1994.

The Preamble to that constitution declares, “We the Nations, Nationalities and People of Ethiopia…” have written the constitution to 1) “secure the right to self-determination” for “people of the nations and nationalities”, 2) ensure the territorial insularity (separateness) of the “people of the nations and nationalities” so that they can “live with our rich and proud cultural legacies” 3) “rectify historically unjust relationships”, and  4) facilitate “liv[ing] as one economic community”.

In contrast, the American Constitution in its Preamble declares, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The T-TPLF constitution is designed to create a perpetual disunion, among the Ethiopian people by dividing and corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”. By segregating the people of Ethiopia into communal, linguistic, cultural and regional groups, the T-TPLF put a constitutional scheme in place that would permanently and irreversibly destroy the social glue of tolerance, harmony and understanding that has kept them united as a people for millennia.

The T-TPLF constitution is designed to destroy the very idea of one Ethiopian nation, one Ethiopian people. It is founded on the quintessential doctrine that there is no “Ethiopian Nation”. There is no “Ethiopian People.” There is no “Ethiopian culture”. There is no “Ethiopian history.” There is no “Ethiopian national identity.” There is no “Ethiopian flag” as a symbol of national identity. There is no “Ethiopian Dream”. There is no Ethiopia! There is only a collection of “nations and nationalities”,  trapped in an arbitrary geographic territory known to international law as “Ethiopia”, just waiting, yearning and itching to breakup into tribal chieftaincies and principalities.  There is only a make believe confederation of “nations and nationalities” in a mythical land called “Ethiopia”.

The American Constitution aspired to forge the people of the 13 colonies-cum-states into one “people of the United States” and make them one people, one nation.  The American Constitution was designed to bring together in a single national political entity the “People” of the 13 states and provide them a road map to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to [them]selves and [their] posterity.” The “united states” of America” started out very disunited following their war of independence from British colonial rule. They had major historical grievances against their former British colonial masters. Their historical grievances became the glue that held them together and compelled them to draft their very first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. They ended up creating a toothless national government believing that their newly-created national government would perpetuate the historical grievances of their colonial masters. In 1787, they resolved to form the “United States of America” so that they could address their historical grievances once and for all.

The T-TPLF constitution self-proclaims to be a weapon for “rectifying historical injustices”. It arms the  “nations and nationalities” with the nuclear option of “self-determination” for the “rectification” of  perceived historical injustices. The “nations and nationalities” are each given the switch box for their own nuclear weapon of mass destruction and literally blow up themselves and the entire country into smithereens.

The T-TPLF constitution aims to create “one economic community”, NOT one political community. The diesel engine of that “economic community” is the T-TPLF-owned “Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray” (EFFORT) which “accounts for roughly half of the country’s modern economy.” According to EFFORT’s former chairman, “EFFORT companies receive preferential access to limited credit and/or foreign exchange stocks, or treatment on government bids and contracts, customs clearance import/export license.”

The American Constitution aims to create a “more perfect” political union, NOT an economic union. The political union in the American Constitution is designed to “secure the blessings of liberty”.  Economic union and the attainment of the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (property) are inevitable if there is a “more perfect” political union.

The T-TPLF constitution is the ultimate blueprint for the eventual breakup and disintegration of Ethiopia. It is a constitution that sows the seeds of national destruction, uses ethnic hate to water it, germinates it in dark underground vaults of oppression and aims to harvest it in ethnic civil war and communal strife. The T-TPLF constitution is a backward looking apocalyptic document which guarantees the disintegration and implosion of the country by ensuring a final MAD (mutually assured destruction) Armageddon to resolve artificially-inflamed historically unjust relationships.

The U.S. Constitution was designed not only for those who drafted and ratified it, but also for “posterity”, the generations to come. It is true that imperfect Constitution turned a blind eye to slavery. It denied the right to vote based on race, skin color and gender. Yet 228 years after it was drafted, it remains the rock-solid political foundation for the UNITED States of America. William Gladstone who served as British Prime Minister on four separate occasions in the 19th Century observed, “As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

“Ethiopia, A Failed State Documentary”

Recently, a 54-minute video “Ethiopia, A Failed State Documentary” was released on Youtube. The documentary presents evidence and analysis few Ethiopians would dare discuss openly because of the sheer nightmarish nature of the issues raised.  The extraordinary documentary grabs by the tusk the biggest elephant in the room: The disintegration of Ethiopia from festering ethnic hatred, corruption and political repression of the T-TPLF.

The documentary aims to answer the question of what will happen when (not if, if present trends continue) Ethiopia is swallowed into the black hole of failed African states. The answer it provides is  spine-chilling.  Ethiopia will disintegrate and descend into an Armageddon of civil war and strife ultimately emerging as a “hub of terrorism” just like its neighbor Somalia.

The evidence presented and reviewed in the documentary are compelling and multifaceted. The documentary shows Ethiopia is doomed to be a classic African failed state because of the repression, corruption and bad governance of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). The documentary presents compelling and shocking evidence on the “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing” and other crimes against humanity committed against the “Amhara, Gambella and Oromo people” by the T-TPLF. It shows how billions of Western aid dollars have been laundered through the TPLF’s “Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray, the biggest corporation in Ethiopia in terms of revenue and assets” and deposited “in offshore bank accounts in the names of children of TPLF politicians.”

The documentary shows how the TPLF has used its “bogus terrorism act” to justify its imprisonment, harassment and jailing of opposition leaders, journalists, bloggers and dissidents. It shows how the TPLF has meddled in religion by politicizing the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and flagrantly violating canon law and other practices of that Church and persecuting clergy opposing political interference. It shows how the TPLF has sought to incite strife between Christians and Muslims and interfered in the religious affairs of Muslims in Ethiopia. It shows how the TPLF has sold the country’s best land to fly-by-night land-grabbers for pennies displacing hundreds of thousands of poor villagers with money obtained from the World Bank, the British Government and others.  Last week, the World Bank announced that it has failed to follow its own rules for protecting the poor people in Ethiopia swept aside by dams, roads and other big projects it bankrolls. The week before the British Government announced it “will no longer back $4.9bn project that critics claim has funded a brutal resettlement programme” in Ethiopia.

The documentary shows how the TPLF has subverted the legal system and made it a kangaroo (monkey) court system selling justice to the highest bidder and the most politically connected. It shows how TPLF persecution has resulted in the creation of large refugee populations and a source of cheap slave labor in the Middle East. It shows  how the TPLF has managed to dominate the military and intelligence sectors by controlling 95 percent of top leadership positions.

The documentary issues a massive indictment of U.S. policy in Ethiopia and argues that if the U.S., as the principal bankroller of the TPLF regime, does not take action to reverse the situation forthwith, it will have the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on its hands. The documentary concludes:

Ethiopia is at a crossroad and the future of the country is ever looking bleak. We are heading to a fully-fledged failed state resembling that of Somalia, Syria and Iraq. This is because the tension and conflict within Ethiopia have reached a boiling point where a simple spark could instigate chaos. Conflict and tension revolving around ethnicity, religion and politics are very high. This is because the TPLF since its inception has made sure to destroy the very fabric of Ethiopian society which was based on religious and ethnic tolerance and understanding… This has eroded to the point where it is now non-existent. The present Ethiopia is rife with hate, rhetoric and ideology… The TPLF’s ethnocracy is reminiscent of Rwanda and Yugoslavia which ended in genocide and civil war…

Suffice it to say that if the time ever came for a prosecution of the T-TPLF leaders in an international or domestic tribunal, this powerful documentary will be the centerpiece of the prosecution’s opening argument.

Ethiopia the powder keg? 

President John Kennedy warned, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” There is no question the T-TPLF leaders know the truth of Kennedy’s observation.

I believe the T-TPLF leaders know with absolute certainty that they are sitting on a powder keg.  As I have written previously, the T-TPLF has built its castles in the sand. The only question is whether those castles will be swept up by a tidal wave of  deep public discontent or blown away by the tornadic wind of the people’s fury. In either case, the T-TPLF will be vacuumed and deposited in the dust bin of history.

There is an immutable iron law of history the T-TPLF should know if they don’t know it already.  Mahatma Gandhi articulated that law.  “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always.”

The rogue’s gallery of fallen tyrants in our lifetime includes Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Blaise Compaoré, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Mengistu Hailemariam, Meles Zenawi, Mobutu Sese Seko, Sekou Toure, Kamuzu Banda, Siad Barre, Agosto Pinochet, Nicolae Ceausescu, Slobodan Milosevic, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos, Fulgencio Batista, Anastasio Somoza, Antonio Salazar, Alfredo Stroessner  and so many more. Is the T-TPLF an exception to the iron law of history?

My greatest concern is what will happen to Ethiopia (or should I say “nation and nationalities”) when the T-TPLF is consigned to the dustbin of history.

Reading the tea leaves

“Making predictions is hard. Especially about the future”, said the famous American baseball player, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra facetiously. Likewise, making predictions about Ethiopia is hard. Especially about the future. Looking in the rear view mirror does not make one a soothsayer nor a doomsayer. Perhaps it makes one a tea leaf reader. I have read the “leaves” in the leaves of many reports, studies, public statements, analyses, commentaries and other sources to make some logical inferences about the T-TPLF’s ENDGAME.

I believe the T-TPLF is in its endgame after a quarter of a century in power. The evidence for my conclusion is as follows.

The passing of Meles Zenawi dealt a devastating psychological blow to the T-TPLF leadership and its network of cronies, clients and supporters. Meles was the brains and the brawns of the T-TPLF operation. He was their thinker and their enforcer. He was the supreme captain of the T-TPLF Ship of State. That ship today is rudderless and compass-less and captained by a bunch of faceless and nameless deck hands who pine for their lost leader possibly reciting lines from Walt Whitman’s verse:  “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, /The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,/”.

The question is how long the T-TPLF can keep the prize it won and cherished for nearly a quarter of a century and its ship afloat on a turbulent sea of popular anger, resentment, outrage and hatred.

I see the tale-tale signs of  confusion among the T-TPLF leadership, decay in its organizational and support structures and systems and rapid decline in its ability and capacity to withstand even the minimum amount of external pressure.

It is manifest to me that the top T-TPLF leadership today is tired, dog tired, of being in power and living in constant fear and loathing of the vast majority of the population. They are all aging and have squirreled away nice nest eggs in foreign banks. They want the chance to ride into the sunset and simply enjoy the millions they have stolen in peace. There is only one problem. As I have previously explained in detail, the T-TPLF has been riding the Ethiopian tiger for nearly a quarter of a century and will dare not dismount. When it does, the T-TPLF will be looking at the ravenous eyes, sharpened teeth, sinewy  claws and pointy nails of one big angry hungry tiger!

The T-TPLF puts on a strong public face to cover up its decay and decline. They stage events to project stability, strength and dominance. They do their anniversary celebrations and proclaim their elections. They hire public relations firms to peddle stories to rebuild their tattered global image as gross human rights violators. Just in the past week, they have managed to put stories with the Voice of America English program for “positive imaging”. The Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the White House showed up last week at the “Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”.  They have teamed up with the “Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa”  which describes itself as “the premiere entity that engages and educates Americans about the countries comprising the continent of Africa” to, I guess, educate Americans about their impeccable human rights record?! They even managed to sneak in a piece in the N.Y. Times which claimed “ Ethiopia, long mired in poverty, rides an economic boom.” They have put out a story claiming they have “reached a full agreement” on the “Nile Dam” with Sudan and Egypt. They managed to get CNN to write up a story about “Ethiopia’s $5bn project that could turn it into Africa’s water powerhouse.”


Nothing gets my goat and insults my intelligence more than the T-TPLF’s totally bogus claim that  it has managed to achieve an “average 10.7% economic growth rate over the last 10 years, more than double the annual average of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which was around 5.2%.” They even got the odious World Bank to trumpet the bogus claim on their behalf. I take great pride in demonstrating beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF economic figures are completely fabricated, concocted and dreamt up in the statistics office of the T-TPLF. I just cannot imagine how they have convinced themselves into believing that any reasonably well-informed person could believe such stratospheric economic growth when the economy is in the chokehold of one oligarchic “corporation”, the “Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray”.

It’s all good; but it is also all political theatre calculated to conceal, cloak and obscure the manifest decay and decline of the T-TPLF. I can understand why they would want to reinvent themselves as a kinder and gentler version of their previous selves. But I don’t believe they are fooling anyone except themselves if they think they can gloss over and cover up their hideous human rights record by a public relations campaign. Henry L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore”, once observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” The T-TPLF leaders probably think the same way about the Ethiopian people.

In spite of the global public relations efforts to clean up its image, the T-TPLF is a spent organization. No one knows this better than the decrepit leadership of the T-TPLF. It has been unraveling since the death of Meles. They tried to shore up their organization and maintain a public image of collective leadership and internal unity byappointing a bumbling sanitary engineer as prime minster. Hailemariam Desalegn has done nothing to clean up the trash of corruption piled up in the T-TPLF. Of course, he can’t. He was put there to serve as a seat warmer until the T-TPLF bosses straightened out their house and installed their new capo di tutti capi  (boss of all bosses).

The T-PLF leaders know they are playing their end game. They know their game can end at any moment. They go sleepless trying to figure out whether their end game will end in a single massive popular explosion or a slow and gradual internal implosion within their own organization.

The tell-tale evidence of the endgame is plain to see.

Over the past couple of years, the T-TPLF has intensified its political repression. It has completely crushed the media. Independent newspapers have been shuttered and scores of journalists jailed and exiled. Opposition leaders are harassed, detained and persecuted. Dissidents and youthful bloggers have been jailed and charged with treason for expressing their views on social media. Would a regime that is confident in its legitimacy and self-assured in its popular acceptance and support undertake such extreme measures to deal with its opponents and critics?

The T-TPLF leaders, their cronies, clients and supporters are getting their money out and depositing it in foreign banks, buying businesses and property in the United States and elsewhere. Some even openly talk about their plans to hop and split town on the first signs of trouble. They have stashed enough money to last them for the rest of their lives, their children’s lives and their grandchildren’s as well. How did this happen? Global Financial Integrity reports, “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.” The T-TPLF shows absolutely no confidence in its political future in Ethiopia. Period! Would a regime that is that is confident in its legitimacy and self-assured in its popular acceptance and support move out billions of dollars out of the country for use and investment in the U.S., Europe and China?

The internal structure of the T-TPLF is weak and the leadership’s control over party, military and bureaucratic institutions is at best extremely shaky. Nearly every bureaucratic institution is controlled by T-TPLF members, cronies or supporters. They have tried to make apparatchiks out of the legions of bureaucratic functionaries, but those functionaries are there to earn a living not to serve the T-TPLF.  The economy is totally dominated by family members and friends of the T-TPLF leadership. As the T-TPLF aristocracy swagger in town with fistfuls of cash and roll in town in their expensive SUVs and other luxury cars, they know the people have their tiger-eyes fixed on them. “Ride on! We’re watching,” think they. The top and middle leadership of the military consists of T-TPLF members and supporters. The rank and file are not T-TPLF members; they are in the military to earn a living. The fact of the matter is that whatever support the T-TPLF has convinced itself it has in the broader society, at best such support is skin deep. Would a regime that is that is confident in its legitimacy and self-assured in its popular acceptance and support so totally dominate the bureaucracy, military and economy?

The vitality of the T-TPLF, if it ever had one, has been sapped by a massive system of corruption it had erected, and which now has penetrated into every nook and cranny of Ethiopian (should I say “nation and nationalities”) society, culture, political, religious, bureaucratic and military institutions. They have used their single party system to build a vast empire of corruption that thrives on patron-client networks without any public accountability and transparency and in complete disregard of the rule of law. The T-TPLF knows that it cannot continue to operate its corrupt empire for much longer. Recent history shows that the social upheavals and political uprisings were driven by outrage over corruption and abuse of power. Few regimes in modern African history have been more corrupted by power than the T-TPLF.  For almost a quarter of a century, the T-TPLF has held absolute power and it has been corrupted absolutely by its exercise of absolute power. Would a regime that is that is confident in its legitimacy and self-assured in its popular acceptance and support be corrupt with such reckless abandon?

The T-TPLF has set May 24 as its election day.  In 2010, Meles bulldozed, bribed, bullied and terrorized his way to a 99.6 percent election “victory” . He (mis)used foreign humanitarian and economic aid to buy and extort votes from the rural population. He provided make-work jobs to buy the loyalty of the youth. He (mis)used state resources to mobilize support for his party. He organized a massive surveillance programs and used a network of spies and informants to identify and neutralize his opposition. Meles and the T-TPLF “won”. Is there any question whatsoever that the T-TPLF will “win” the May 2015 election by at least 99.6 percent? Would a regime that is going to win an election by at least 99.6 percent lack so much confidence in itself that it has to harass and jail its opponents, crush the press and imprison teenagers and twenty-somethings on “terrorism” charges just because they blogged on social media?

The TPLF knows it is sitting on a powder keg. Its leaders, inebriated by hubris and arrogance, are blinded to the fact that the ethnic fires they stoked for nearly a quarter of a century will one day consume them if they do not change their ways. The hate, fear and loathing they have nurtured and unleashed for so long will one day turn against them. If they believe they can go on forever clinging to power by pitting one ethnic group against another, one religion against another, they are badly mistaken. They may be able to fool all of the ethnic groups some of the time and some of the ethnic groups all of the time, but they can’t fool all of the ethnic groups all of the time. They may be able to fool all of the Christians… Muslims… some of the time, but they can’t fool all Christians and Muslims all of the time.

Selma, Alabama and Ethiopia

Yesterday, March 7, 2015, President Barack Obama joined nearly 100 members of Congress in Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”. Fifty years ago, hundreds of African Americans yearning to vote were clubbed, trampled, tear-gassed and manhandled by state police and hand selected vigilantes. President Barack Obama stood on that bridge and told the nation,  “What [the men and women who stood their ground in a violent confrontation with police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge] did here will reverberate through the ages, not because the change they won was preordained, not because their victory was complete, but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.”

There are many Ethiopians who are asking if the T-TPLF is in its endgame and how much longer will it take for the T-TPLF endgame to end?

Fifty years ago, on March 7, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King rhetorically asked and answered a similar question:

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?”  Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” How long? Not long,  because “no lie can live forever.” How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’

I hope the T-TPLF will learn from the Selma experience. It is really true that “nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.” The alternative is too frightening, too horrifying, too terrifying and too petrifying for me to contemplate: “YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW!

To be continued…


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