Columbia University – dancing with a criminal.

 By Yilma Bekele

Let just say it is painful to hear that a prestigious University like Columbia has invited Ethiopia’s tyrannical leader Meles Zenawi to speak at the annual World Leaders Forum. As an Ethiopian I feel insulted and mocked upon.

Then again we Ethiopians are used to having our country and people judged with different sets of values and standards than what is applied to others. The cowardly stand taken by the League of Nations that failed to condemn Italy’s aggression against a member state served a severe blow to the Organization. Emperor Haile Selassie’s prophetic words ‘“It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.” Still rings true today.

We will always remember former President Jimmy Carter’s retreat from telling the truth on the aftermath of the 2005 general elections. When the PM declared state of emergency this is what Mr. Cater said, “We believe collectively that the decision of the prime minister was not excessive in preventing any possible arousal of animosity or violence among his own supporters or the opposition.” Such endorsement of an illegal action emboldened the tyrant to let loose his private Agazi force and specially trained sharpshooters on unarmed civilian protesters and the world ignored our cry.

Columbia University is not ‘just another’ institution. It is the fifth oldest in the US (1754) and is credited with affiliation with the most Noble Prize winners in the world. The World Leaders Forum that extended the invitation has the following regarding its guest:

Under the seasoned governmental leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, now in his fourth term, and vision of the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), Ethiopia has made and continues to make progresses in many areas including in education, transportation, health and energy.

Does that statement reflect facts on the ground, as we Ethiopians know it? For such a prestigious research University the statement seems to have been written by a freshman that is not yet clued on the importance of fact check and adherence to higher academic standard of proof before publishing. TPLF is neither visionary (student of Albania’s Enver Hoxha) EPDRF is a subsidiary of TPLF and the progress is a mirage concocted for donors and enablers and we can prove that without much fanfare.

Here is your ‘visionary’ leader undressed as seen by his poverty stricken subjects that pray daily to all the Gods for his quick departure from the land of Abeshas.

His visionary policies include:

Land: The State owns all of Ethiopia and the people lease the land and pay rent. The State uses its ownership to reward or punish the citizen depending on ethnic and political affiliation.

Business and Industry: All key industries and private businesses are owned by the TPLF party and it affiliates. EFFORT is a super conglomerate owned and controlled by the party. It owns Banks, Cement factory, Brewery, Insurance, Transportation, Tannery, Engineering etc. EFFORT is bigger than Ethiopia and is not accountable to the State.

Communications. Telephone service both land and cellular is owned by the state. It is a cash cow for TPLF that uses the income for its own survival (on security, bribing Bantustan chiefs, and buying individuals loyalty) instead of upgrading and modernizing the system, Thus in this day of explosion of cellular technology Ethiopia is next to last in Africa.

Media: The state controls the single Television and short wave radio transmission services. ESAT (Ethiopian Satellite Television) that is trying to level the playing field by offering independent news and entertainment service from abroad is being subjected to jamming using sophisticated Chinese technology. The print media has been decimated and at the moment on life support with no chance of survival. Publishers, editors and reporters are victims of secret service death squads and forced exile from their homeland. Internet when available is still slow dial up service with all ‘independent’ sites blocked.

Politics: TPLF divided our country into ethnic Bantustans called ‘Kilils’ like as in South Africa during Apartheid rule. This is your basic ‘divide and rule’ policy pursued by colonialists to have the natives fight for the limited resources. In theory although the Kilils supposedly have their own people in charge, in practice it is TPLF cadres that are running the show.

The so-called EPDRF is a Hollywood style façade for show. The different Party’s are the brainchild of TPLF and nothing more than puppets on a string. Any opposition that dares to challenge the mighty TPLF is subjected to intimidation, harassment and cooption. No viable opposition is tolerated. The Chairman of Andenet Party Bertukan Mideksa is solitary confinement and denied visitors, Red Cross and medical attention. As for the four elections they were nothing but a farce. The recent one in May of 2010 was the ultimate joke played on the world where the single ethnic based party garnered 99% of the vote. So much for participatory democracy.

Dear organizers, if you have only talked to Ethiopians at home you would have found out that famine is a fact of life in TPLF’s Ethiopia. ‘According to estimates by the United Nations World Food Program, 14.3 million people in Ethiopia are threatened with starvation—every fifth person in the country

When we say your ‘visionary’ leader is a murder it is not some kind of metaphor rather a statement with verifiable facts. Ask Addis Abeba University students that have been recipient of Woyane justice. Unlike Columbia University, AAU has become a cadre training institutions with most of its able and seasoned professors dismissed by the PM (1991) students murdered (1993, 2001) and independent associations banned.

We Ethiopians are a little confused when you claim ‘progress’ that is being made by the regime under the PM. On the other hand we are perfectly aware of the fact that our country ranks 171 on the UN Human Development Index. I doubt being ahead of nine countries is a source of pride. I am sure the PM will mention stability and peace as one of his legacy. That is not rue either. Since his assumption of power there has been inter ethnic clashes in Gambella, Awasa, Jimma, Ogaden, Afar, Arsi and all university campuses including the TPLF capital Mekele. Today’s Ethiopia is a police state with security personnel in every government office, neighborhood control centers (Kebeles) and so called Kilils or Ethiopian Bantustans.

With all due respect your invitation of a dictator whose crime has been recorded by such credible organizations as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors without Boarders, International Federation of Journalists and your own State Department Human Rights Report is very perplexing for his victims. I very much doubt you will sleep easy after reading any of the above organizations reports.

You can talk all you want about ‘freedom of speech’ but the fact of the matter is that your honored guest does not believe in that. It also makes one wonder if you will accord the same right to Osama Bin laden or how you would feel if the shoe is on the other feet and Addis Ababa University invites Mr. Bin laden to expound on the his ‘seasoned leadership’ of a terrorist organization and the progress he is making in extending his tentacles all over the world.

I assure you with or without your help Ethiopia will be free. Your honored guest will be tried by the Ethiopian people for his crimes and our country will rise up one day to usher liberty and the rule of law in our ancient land. After over thirty years of civil war, dictatorship, famine we are one tired people. Your ill advised action makes us sad but not despondent because we know we are capable of overcoming any hurdle and rebuild our country to join the international community as free and equal.

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