Lidetu Ayalew's pitiful politics

By Fekade Shewakena / December 7, 2010
Many people seem to be angry by Lidetu Ayalew’s political actions, his unqualified Diaspora bashing, and his attempts to belittle and badmouth people who don’t agree with him. I am among those who feel sorry for him and pity him rather than feel angry. He has become an angry man who speaks with a mouth faster than the speed with which his head processes the thoughts behind his words. His frustration is understandable. He is rejected and despised by an entire people that once admired him and considered him their hero. But I always thought that he could redeem himself someday somehow and insisted that he should be given a second chance. But, Oh boy, the man is in a race to the bottom and unstoppable. Just look at the interview he gave to a pro government radio station in Washington DC recently and the contempt he has for his listeners.

I was among Lidetu’s earliest supporters. I remember Lidetu’s first public meeting in Washington DC several years back. He started out his speech by bashing opposition politicians which he referred to as having spent twenty five years without doing anything and declared that their time is up. That statement was completely unnecessary for him to make at the time. He didn’t understand that among his audience were many who carry scars of brutality they received when they were very young and fighting for a better country and still believed that their pain has meant something for their people and country. Lidetu may have been a toddler or in diapers during that epic battle and could have exercised some caution on the mouth. That was the first time some of us detected that Lidetu may have what political pundits here in the US call a “foot in the mouth” disease. Even then, I defended him anyway, even quarreled with some, arguing that he is a young and a rising politician who has a lot of room for learning and improvement and that we should not capitalize on his verbal lapses. Do I regret my judgment and support for him then? No. I would do it again in the same situation. But I feel sorry for him now that he has degenerated to irrecoverable levels.

Recently he made multiple speeches (misnamed interviews) on a radio station in Washington DC aimed at bashing the Ethiopian Diaspora in general and Dr. Berhanu Nega in particular. This speech definitely speeded up his race to the bottom and leaves you wondering how hard his touchdown is going to look like.

The whole thing started on a somber day. Many Ethiopians in Washington DC were commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Election 2005 massacre in Ethiopia. On the same hour Lidetu was a gust on a pro government radio station making insensitive comments about the possibility of the organizers stealing money in the name of the event. He crossed a line of basic and elementary decency even by the standards bitter political opponents speak of one another when he made that suggestion. Mind you, some of the organizers and many who were at the commemoration are among those who helped Lidetu and his party generously in the past both financially and morally. Talk about biting the hands that fed you. Dr. Berhanu who was a guest speaker at the event was definitely incensed by Lidetu’s suggestion. That was the reason that led him to retell a story about Lidetu which he wrote in his book “Yenetsanet Goh Siqed” while he was still in prison. Lidetu claimed that he heard the charge for the first time and accused Dr. Birhanu of fabricating a new accusation 5 years late. I am sure Lidetu has read the book; I remember that he wrote some response to it. I am surprised that he thinks people don’t read and remember the contents of a best seller book that was read widely. Frankly, I never knew this man could go so low on the evaluation of and contempt for his listeners.

Let me make this clear. I am not here to defend Dr. Berhanu from Lidetu’s many accusations. First, I know enough about Dr. Berhanu to know that he doesn’t want me to save him from Lidetu. Second, my knowledge of the internal debates and squabbles inside Kinijit that led to Lidetu’s ouster is limited as I was watching the whole thing from a distance. My beef with Ato Lidetu is only his insult of the intelligence of the Diaspora community (myself included) that he expects to buy his words.

The part that attracted my attention the most from his long angry mud throwing speech is where he bragged about how he silenced two intellectuals who he mentioned by name, Dr. Yakob Hailemariam and Dr. Hailu Araya and a former defense minister of the Ethiopian armed forces and central committee member of the TPLF, Siye Abraha, after they criticized him once. Lidetu is obviously nowhere near the intellectual stature and experiences of Dr Yakob or Dr. Hailu or Ato Siye. He is simply a dwarf in the class to which these individuals belong. I suspect Lidetu has mistaken their decision to ignore him with an ability of shutting them up. I believe the reason they refused to answer to him may be because they did not want to dignify his badmouthing by a response. But in Lidetu’s logic, if you ignore him, it is because what he said is right and his critics have lost the argument. This bragging also gives you a clue into the operation of his mind. If you put this together with all his behaviors, you will find that Lidetu fits into the psychological profile of some narcissists who think their stature would grow only when others that excel them are torn down. I think that was what he was trying to pull off on Dr. Berhanu.

Lidetu is not even careful when he tries to tear down his critics. He makes up silly lies. Imagine for a moment how Dr. Berhanu, if he has to, must respond to Lidetu’s accusation that he doesn’t believe in God or was renting and living in a nice villa in Addis Ababa. I was dumbfounded to hear my one time political hero daring to go into the personal relationships people have with their gods or non-gods. I did not know Lidetu’s politics included policing religion. Lidetu may not know, but the world is full of wonderful people who do not worship any god and do more good to the world than many people who pray ten times a day. I have been away from my country for quite some time but I never knew being able to rent and live in a good villa is a crime as long as you don’t steal to pay for it. And where in the world is being a founder of a think tank, the Ethiopian Economic Policy Institute, securing large funding for it from foreign sources, doing research, being its president and getting paid 4000 birr a month as its executive president, held against you?

The part where he claimed that Dr. Birhanu is afraid about being repatriated to Ethiopia by the US government to face death penalty, and his actions arise from the paranoia of fear, reminds me of older people trying to scare me with “aya jibo yimetabhal” when I was a little kid. At least on this one Lidetu could have been a little generous to those of us who live in the US and understand how the US laws and traditions work many more times than he does. I am not sure if Lidetu knows that Ethiopians in the West are among the most educated immigrants.

Lidetu also tried to play the ethnic card on Dr. Berhanu suggesting that he conspired to form something like a Guraghe Liberation Front when he accused him of attending a secret meeting of ethnic Guraghe’s in DC to raise funds for Kinijit in 2005. This is more of an insult to the Guraghe community than Dr. Berhanu. His informants must have failed to tell him that the meeting was held in plain view of everybody including this non-Guraghe. Actually it was one of a series of fundraising events Dr. Berhanu attended to raise money for Kinijit, of which I am sure Lidetu himself and his party EDP benefited from. He just bit the hands the Guraghes community that fed him.

After having heard Lidetu’s talk I went back to reread his book “Yarem Ersha” just in case I could find some clues into the workings of his mind. What I was able to easily detect in the book is interesting. The book is full of “me”s. Believe it or not, I counted some 15 “me”s on one page alone. The cover of the Book itself is a big “me”, Lidetu’s portrait. If you open a few pages of it, you will find out that you do not need a degree in psychology to see that Lidetu suffers from an extreme form of egocentrism. We have a person who is completely blinded to see himself objectively. In the book you will not see anything close to self reflection or self criticism. It is all self-aggrandizement- Me! Me! Me! Me!

I have no convincing reason to believe the accusation by many who say that Lidetu is an agent of the regime and that he has been an infiltrator inside the opposition all along. I have no evidence. My observation of him tells me that he is a terrible narcissist and opportunist who is trying to carve out a political space for himself. A case in point is his claim of identifying a so called “third way” in Ethiopian opposition politics which he defined as supporting the ruling regime when it does good and opposing it when it does bad. I am sure he has heard about the concept known as the politics of the “third way”. Actually Lidetu’s third way has little resemblance with the ideals of the politics of the third way. Lidetu’s third way is not different from the mission statement of a beginner journalist. I don’t know why he has to organize an opposition party instead of a newspaper to “support the regime when it does good and oppose it when it does bad”. His support for the ill advised military adventure in Somalia has definitely come out of this opportunism.

I have had some trouble in the past of understanding why the hatred to Lidetu is so overwhelming and widespread in Ethiopia and among Ethiopians abroad and why many people despise him. Now I see why a little more clearly.

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