Ethiopian Thugmocracy [Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

What do you get when you cross a thugocracy with democracy?

A thugmocracy.

TPLF2When thugs are “elected” to political office, they become thugmocrats. Naturally, “elected” thugmocrats run   thugmocracies.

If democracy is a government of the people, by the people for the people, a thugmocracy is a government of thugs, by thugs, for thugs.

A thugmocracy is a form of “government” in which the facade of representative electoral democracy is used to maintain and perpetuate the iron rule of a bunch of bush thugs who use state power to line their pockets and their cronies’ pockets.

On May 24, 2015, Africa’s foremost thugmocracy, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), held “parliamentary elections”.

On May 27, 2015, the Associated Press reported that “early results” of ballot counts showed the ruling TPLF thugmocrats had won 100 percent of 442 parliamentary seats.

No one doubts the TPLF thugmocrats will win the remaining 105 seats for a total of 547 or 100 percent of the parliamentary seats.

The TPLF thugmocrats damn near nailed it in 2010. They missed it by a hair, clenching only 99.6 percent.

The last time any election was “won” by 100 percent was in 2002. Saddam Hussein won every one of the 11,445,638 votes cast.

Way to go TPLF. Y’all shown the world the true meaning of a perfect election.

Truth be told, the TPLF delivered on its promise of a perfect election.

In February 2015, TPLF puppet prime minster (PPM) Hailemariam Desalegn (HD) said his party had in place “perfect election laws” that will produce a “perfect election.”

PPM-HD is a man of his word. He delivered the perfekt elektion in the May 24 elektion.

Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all others.”

I beg to disagree. Thugmocracy is the worst form of government. Period!

Democracy as a form of government has a checkered history.

The citizens of the ancient city-state (polis) of Athens introduced “democracy” in the Fifth Century B.C.  The idea was to have people (“demo”) rule (kratia”). The common people would exercise self-rule.

The ruling was done by the male free citizens of Athens who would gather in the “agora” (the public square/gathering place) for discussion and decision making. The Athenians had “direct democracy” in which every citizen had a right to personally participate in political decision making.

Athenian democracy served only one in five inhabitants. Women, slaves and foreigners were not citizens. They were excluded from the “democratic” process.

Contemporaneous with Athenian democracy, a popular form of government was introduced in the city-state of Rome.

The Romans called their form of government “respublica” (res= thing; publica= public [affairs of the public]).

The Roman “respublica” was also practiced in the public square. It was held in the “forum” in the center of that city-state.

Like the Athenians, the Romans limited participation to citizens.

Unlike the Athenians, Roman citizenship was conferred by birth, granted by naturalization and by manumission (slave owners freeing their slaves).

The Romans opted for representative democracy (indirect democracy). Instead of citizens directly participating in governance, they would elect representatives to make decisions for them. Ultimate political power remained with the people, but the people delegated their power to representatives they elected for a specific period of time.

Most Roman citizens, like Athens, could not participate in the “respublica” because they did not live close enough to the “forums”. They were effectively excluded.

The Roman model of representative democracy inspired Western representative democracies for centuries.

In the 17th And 18th Centuries, republican governments based on indirect representative democracy emerged in America, England and elsewhere.

Following the American Revolution in 1776, the Americans established a liberal democracy with broad protections for individual liberty,  property rights and allegiance to the rule of law.

The English formalized their parliamentary form of representative democracy after the Glorious Revolution in 1688. The seed of their representative democracy was planted in Article 61 of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Rise of the world’s first thugmocracy

In the history of civilized government, there has never been a “thugmocracy”, until NOW.

I should like to argue that the TPLF has created the world’s first genuine thugmocracy.

The TPLF has created its thugmocracy by masterfully subverting and manipulating the principles and practices of electoral democracy and establishing a formidable political machine that serves exclusively the interests of organized thugs whose only purpose is to use state power to siphon off the national treasury, plunder national resources and amass enormous wealth and power for themselves and their cronies.

The TPLF has been able to create its thugmocracy with the full financial aid and support of the Western donors who have spent tens of billions of dollars over the past quarter century to prop up the TPLF regime.

In creating the world’s first thugmocracy, I argue that the TPLF has made a historic contribution to the degradation, degeneration, subversion and perversion of representative democracy by engineering a massive and coercive transfer of political power from the people to a small but highly organized and sophisticated group of bush thugs.

Many of my readers are familiar with my “theory” of African thugtatorships. I argued previously that the highest evolution of African dictatorships is thugtatorship.

I shall argue here that the T-TPLF has refined its thugtatorship into a thugmocracy and ushered in a new age of “thugmo-kratia”, rule by thugs.

How the T-TPLF has used the electoral process to create a relatively complex and sophisticated political structure to consolidate its power, neutralize its opposition, legitimize its rule and establish its authority is a fascinating story of political machination, intrigue, stratagem and political gamesmanship. TPLF’s political ascendancy and entrenchment is an extraordinary achievement given the fact that most of the aging TPLF leaders still in control are functionally illiterate.

A case study in the rise of thugmocracy in Ethiopia  

Evidence of Dr. Negasso Gidada, former “EPDRF/TPLF” president

In 2009, Dr. Negasso Gidada, former Ethiopian President under the regime of the “Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front” (EPDRF) provided evidence on the organization and functioning of the TPLF thugmocracy. (The TPLF tries to disguise its true identity by calling itself “EPDRF”. EPDRF is a front alright but not for Ethiopians, only the T-TPLF).

Dr. Negasso Gidada’s recounted his personal experiences running for a parliamentary seat in 2009 in Dembi Dollo in Qelem Wallaga Zone of Oromia Region in western Ethiopia.

Dr. Negasso’s account of his attempted election campaign in Dembi Dollo offers a glimpse of how the TPLF thugmocracy uses “elections” to maintain itself in power.

Dr. Negasso shows up in Dembi Dollo to campaign. He is promptly shooed away and stonewalled by local functionaries.

Local TPLF representatives inform him that he cannot hold mass public meetings or engage in other forms of discussion or dialogue with the public.

In disbelief, Dr. Negasso hastily and privately arranges individual meetings with local businessmen, community elders, teachers, health workers, church leaders, qa’bale (local) officials, private professionals, university students, NGO employees and members and supporters of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM).

He is horrified to learn that any individuals he meets or talks to could be targets of abuse and victimization by local security operatives.

He learns that the ubiquitous and omnipotent local security apparatus has its tentacles planted firmly into individual households.

Dr. Negasso’s description of the “current situation” in Dembi Dollo at the time is downright chilling.

He depicted a local TPLF party organization nestled within an oppressive security apparatus consisting of layered and operationally interlocking committees.

Households, hamlets, villages, districts, towns and zones are hierarchically integrated into a commissariat for the single purpose of coordinating command and control over perceived “enemies of the people” and deliver perfect election results.

There is a vast network of informants, agents and secret police-type operatives who rely on heavy-handed methods to harass, intimidate, gather intelligence and penetrate opposition elements with the aim of neutralizing them.

The integrated overlay set up of the local security structure with the dominant OPDO/EPDRF party in Dembi Dollo is quite intriguing. According to Dr. Negasso, there is no structural or functional separation of political party and public security services in Dembi Dollo. The two are morphed into a single political structure which totally controls and dominates the local political and social scene.

Dr. Negasso’s account of the TPLF’s sophisticated system of electoral control is simply stunning:

Understanding how the OPDO/EPRDF itself and its Woreda administration are organized is very important. There is the OPDO/EPRDF Qellem Wallagga Zonal office in Dembi Dollo. This office receives information and instruction from the regional office in Addis Ababa. It passes messages to the lower structures and oversees the propaganda and organizational activities of the party. This office has branches in every village, schools and health institutions. These branches are subdivided into basic cells. The branches of these cells are organized into supporter groups, candidate groups and full members groups.

Additionally, the party has organized the people into youth, women and micro-credit associations for tighter control and easy dissemination of its propaganda and to do party activities. Dembi Dollo town is a special Woreda Town Administration. The Administration is sub-divided into four large “Ganda” (villages). The town used to have seven Qabales but was restructured just before the Qabale election in 2008. Each Qabale has 15 in the Woreda Council. It is said that the OPDO/EPRDF presented the names of pre-selected council members to the Qabale Council and had them endorsed. There is also the Sayyo Rual Woreda (24 Qabales). The administration of Sayyo Woreda also has its seat in Dembi Dollo town. These are all appointees of the party and are believed to be “strongly committed” to it. The four “Ganda” (villages or sometimes called Kifle Ketema) have each their own councils. A council has 300 members. The members were “elected” in 2008. All the people I talked to confirmed to me that the party pre-selected the candidates. The Qabale has its own cabinet and these are also party members. A Qabale is further sub-divided into different zones. The zones are sub-divided into “Gare”. There are up to 17 “Gare” in each zone.

The party’s propaganda and organization committees are located in the Zonal, Woreda and Qabale Administration building. The party does not pay rent for the rooms it uses. The committee members are party cadres but their monthly salaries and per diems are paid by the administration from public treasury. Their secretaries, cleaners and messengers also get their salary from public treasury. All civil servants are also members of the party. Monthly contribution of the members to the party are collected by the Woreda finance office at the time they pay the workers their monthly salaries. The party officials use government office materials, supplies and equipment, including official transport vehicles. The party uses town and qabale halls without paying rent. Meeting halls in health and educational institutions are also used without any payment and at will. This system is practiced from Zonal to “Gare” levels. But opposition to the OPDO/EPRDF are not allowed to rent rooms for offices from private owners or rent public halls in the town for meetings. Plasma televisions supposed to be used for school-net and Woreda-net are used for dissemination of party propaganda.

Dr. Negasso also wrote of the oppressive security atmosphere in frightening language:

The OPDO/EPRDF… seems determined not to allow any other political organization which could compete against it in the area. This goes as far as not welcoming individual visitors to the area. Visitors are secretly followed and placed under surveillance to determine where they have been, whom they have visited, and what they have said… Local people who had contact with visitors that are summoned and grilled by security officials. In my case, my brother-in-law, with whom I stayed, … received telephone calls from the Dembi Dollo and Naqamte security offices. He was asked why I came, whether I came for preparation for the coming election or for any other purpose.

[A USAID visiting group received the same treatment.] They were followed from the time it arrived in Naqamte. After the group returned, several security officials interrogated leaders of the Dembi Dollo Bethel-Mekane Yesus Church… One of the church leaders was even summoned to the zonal administrator’s office and asked detailed questions about the visitors from Addis.

[Individuals who came to greet] Dr. Belaynesh (member of the OFDM and an MP) were arrested, interrogated and held in custody for 24 to 48 hours. The houses of some of these individuals were also searched.

Evidence of Seeye Abraha, former “EPDRF/TPLF” defense minister

In an analysis of the 2010 election, Seeye Abraha, former EPDRF/TPLF defense minister, provided extraordinary insights into how the TPLF “won” that election by 99.6 percent. (See “Election 2010: A Retrospective”, International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2010-2011), pp. 53-78.)

Seeye argued,

The most incredible fact about the May 2010 Ethiopian election is not that the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRDF) won; that was foreordained. What is astonishing is the fact that it won by 99.6% percent. Such victory is impossible to explain to the reasonable mind. Even members of the EPDRF bow their heads down in embarrassment as they proclaim their ‘victory’. The incredible margin of victory was no accident. It was the result of a master plan that had gone completely awry. It was the unintended result of a campaign and election strategy that blended the legal with the illegal and the ethical with the unethical.

In 2010, Seeye campaigned in TPLF’s alleged home ground in Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

Seeye argued that the TPLF’s “main strategy in 2008 was to strengthen the organization and control of the rural areas in a tightly woven network of security and political structures. It emulates the kind of ‘machine politics’ that has been practiced historically in certain places in the United States to deliver large numbers of votes for the party in power.”

Seeye explained,

For the TPLF, there is no separation or distinction between partisan political work and official service as a state employee. Party work is carried out using government office facilities, transportation, per diem, etc. along with government work. When the TPLF calls political meetings, they are given the cover of “government work” and are financed by the government mainly from funds allocated for Safety Net and Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programs. Kebele and village officials who are invited to participate in these meetings are paid per diem. Although the kebele chairman does not receive a fixed salary, he could earn substantial per diem if he participates in meetings, workshops, seminars and the like for at least fifteen days in a given month. As a result, being invited to such meetings involves intense competition and favoritism. A kebele chairman has a big role in choosing the people who are selected to attend such meetings, and it is said that the chairman receives a ‘commission’ from each person selected. Furthermore, a kebele chairman has the power to decide who should receive public assistance and benefits. It is said that he receives ‘kickbacks’ in the form of free labor from those he chooses to become beneficiaries. It is also said that the kebele administrator amasses a lot of wealth through illicit means by taking land from one farmer and giving it to another and by giving land reserved for forest conservation to individuals who are willing to make ‘contributions’ to the administrator. Through these and other means, the kebele administrator who is not salaried could obtain twice as much money as the salaried manager. Within TPLF, as long as individuals do what they are told, such corrupt practices are tolerated. As a result, local officials abuse their power and enrich themselves at the expense of the farmer.

The TPLF employs the woreda administrative structure to control and deliver election results. According to Seeye:

The structure at the wereda local government consists of the Wereda Council (legislative) and Wereda Cabinet (executive). Although the membership of the Wereda Council varies in size from place to place, it usually ranges between 150 to 200. In the K’olla Tembien Wereda, there were 159 council members whose duty was to legislate on local matters, but in practice the council serves as a local implementation mechanism for the policies of the national government.

All council members are card-carrying T PLF/EPDRF members. A Wereda Cabinet has 15 to 17 members and is led by the Wereda Administrator who is the chief executive officer at the local level performing similar tasks as the prime minister or regional (kilil) president. The deputy administrator is effectively the head of propaganda for both the ruling party and the government. The third and fourth major players in the woreda structure are the Head of Security, who controls the local police and militia and the Head of Agriculture who is in charge of emergency assistance distribution and oversight of foreign aid under the PSNP (‘Safety Net’ or Productive Safety Net Program supported by the U.N. agencies, USAID, the World Bank, the EU, etc).

Seeye also described how large amounts of money flowed to woreda officials to coordinate the activities of party members and the security and political leadership.

According to Seeye, no one is exempt from service to the TPLF. Even educators are pressed into TPLF service:

In the rural areas, the headmaster usually stands out as the most educated person in the community, and is also the point man for the TPLF. He usually plays multiple roles. He could sit in the cabinet as the head of educational affairs. He could be the head of the party organization in the school. He could also be the head of the village’s election executive committee. For example, in the village where I voted, the headmaster named Teshager Hagos served in these multiple official capacities.

The secret of TPLF 100 percent electoral victory

The evidence on the TPLF’s total elektion victory, anecdotal it may be, is compelling and convincing. The TPLF thugmocracy operates a sophisticated system of vote buying and vote rigging.To attain 100 percent electoral victory, the TPLF employs a variety of techniques:

Misuses and abuses official public resources, equipment, machinery or personnel for improper electioneering work;

Misuses and abuses official venues and places to hold partisan political meetings and election rallies while preventing the opposition from such use;

Misuses and abuses the print and electronic media and suppression of the independent media and critical journalists;

Engages in massive illegal and corrupt practices by offering and promising financial payoffs, grants, fertilizers, roads, projects etc., in exchange for votes;

Harasses, intimidates, jails and otherwise persecutes opposition leaders and supporters and members of the independent press.

In May 2015, the TPLF had its elektion.  It won by 100 percent!

Abe Lincoln rightly observed, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abe should have added, “But you can fool yourself all of the time for all time.”

Let the TPLF fool themselves into believing they have won the elektion by 99.6, 100 or 110 percent (including dead voters) of the votes.

By duplicating its 2010 electoral strategy, the TPLF has scored a total victory in 2015. True, the margin of victory over 2010 is merely four-tenths of one percent. A “victory” of 99.6 percent is nothing to sneeze at!

In 2015, the TPLF owned, operated and managed its elektion.

In 2015, the T-TPLF owned, managed and operated the elektion board and the voter registration system.

In 2015, the TPLF administered its own elektion kode of konduct.

In 2015, the TPLF selected and designated its own elektion observers.

In 2015, the TPLF selected, approved, trained and funded its own “opposition parties” to compete against itself.

In 2015, the T-TPLF declared the elektion has been free and fair.

In 2015, the T-TPLF counted the votes.

In 2015, the TPLF decided who won the elektion.

In 2015, the TPLF had a perfekt elektion (‘k” as in fake or in kleptocracy).

In 2015, the TPLF had its own democracy (with a “z” in the place of second “c”).

In 2015, the TPLF won by 100 percent and established its own brand of demockracy (as in mockery of democracy).

In 2015, the TPLF established itself as the world’s first certified THUGMOCRACY!

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