The unintended consequences of the ordeals of Teddy Afro

By Selam Beyene (Ph.D.) / December 9, 2008
'Teddy Afro'
If there were any doubters about the viciousness and callousness of Zenawi's dictatorship, those doubts must now be dispelled by the recent conviction of Tewodros Kassahun (aka Teddy Afro) in the kangaroo court of the despot.1

Without regard to the strength of the evidence presented by the defendant2, Zenawi ordered the excessive punishment of the artist, demonstrating to the world once again his ruthlessness and cruelty in treating innocent civilians that he perceives as a threat to his authoritarian rule.

As has been widely reported3, there was gross inconsistency between the date the autopsy record showed when the alleged victim had died and the time when the hit and run purportedly took place. Ironically, in the dictator’s premeditated agenda to use the tragic death of the victim for vindictive political purpose, the sham judicial system has turned a blind eye to the investigation and prosecution of the "real" perpetrators of the enigmatic crime.

Behind the travesty of justice is, of course, the sinister motive of the dictator to send a signal of terror to future artists, and to divert attention from the pressing issues of the day – poverty, famine, human rights, war and sectarianism.

However, the bogus proceedings and the ensuing imposition of draconian measures have resulted in unintended consequences. The controversies surrounding the dubious arrest and sentencing of the artist have further damaged the already ugly image of the dictator even among those sections of the population that have been willing to give the tyrant the benefit of the doubt.

The members of the Millennial Generation have hitherto watched the toxic ethnic policies of Zenawi with measured skepticism, and played relatively marginal and passive roles in the fragmented struggles against sectarianism and authoritarian rule. They have now been stunned and rudely awakened by the brutality of the way the dictator has treated their idol, who has only been known to them through his extraordinary music and message of love, harmony and justice.

This is a generation that has its future in jeopardy thanks to the destructive policies of Zenawi that are designed to foment inter-ethnic animosity, to subject the population to perpetual famine, ignorance and diseases, and to promote nepotism and corruption over meritocracy4. This is also a cohort that is endowed with the 21st century skill set, and the temperament, drive and energy required to present an effective and credible resistance against tyranny and ethno-centrism.

The vigorous awakening of the Millennial Generation thus marks a watershed moment in the ongoing struggle that has so desperately lacked the active and passionate involvement of the youth. The anger and determination for change aroused now in this generation is a phenomenon that has not been seen since the nascent awakening movements of the 60’s and the 70’s. As the sacrifices of the youth were instrumental three decades ago to weaken Mengistu Haile-Mariam and eventually make him lethally vulnerable to the attacks of the opportunist parasites, Afeworki and Zenawi, there is no alternative to the leadership role that must be assumed by the Millennial Generation to bring to an end the current plague engulfing the country.

To the rest of the population, Zenawi has re-affirmed his trademark insensitivity and disdain for civility, at a time when many are still seeking answers to the numerous crimes and intransigencies of the dictator, including the massacre of innocent civilians5, the stolen victory of the people in the 2005 elections6 the genocide against the various ethnic groups7, the use of famine as a stealth instrument of repression8, and the adventurous war being waged in Somalia to curry favor from the West9.

To those in the Diaspora who have guilelessly been transferring hard-currency to the repressive machinery of the dictator in the name of "investing in the homeland", the plight of Teddy Afro shall serve as a reminder that their actions are not only emboldening the dictator, but are also lending him leverage to extend his spiteful control over their freedom. Every dime that goes for the purchase of a ticket from the TPLF controlled airline, or to acquire real estate at ridiculous prices, or to get other products and services from the network of business enterprises owned by the tyrant and his henchmen, is one more dime spent to perpetuate tyranny and to yield one’s freedom to a ruthless despot. In the current economic downturn, when the tyrant is desperate for hard-currency, uncritical transfer of funds to his coffers is a blatant expression of insensitivity to the plight of the people the money is used to exploit and repress.

To opposition groups, who credulously have been playing the treacherous game of cohabitation with the tyrant, the conviction of Teddy is a signal to refrain from participating in a political process without well-established groundrules that guarantee fairness, and without securing accountability for that tragedy that blemished the 2005 elections. The recent events in Kenya and Zimbabwe have provided a proven template for dealing with dictators that are addicted to manipulation of elections as a means of perpetuating their tyrannical rules. The people of Ethiopia expect and deserve no less in return for their votes, and they will no longer tolerate opposition leaders who will betray their trust and thwart their aspirations for democracy and justice.

To ethnic-based freedom fighters who have fallen to the dictator's poisonous trap of sectarianism, the plight of Teddy shall serve as a catalyst to re-examine their agenda and to stand in unity against oppression and authoritarianism. Dictatorship can only be crushed with a united front of all the oppressed people – a front founded with the singular goal of establishing a united and democratic Ethiopia that guarantees equality, liberty and social justice to all of its citizens.

To those in the military who are prepared to pay the ultimate price to preserve the sovereignty of their country, the shameless conviction of an innocent artist should be a wake-up call to question their allegiance to a vicious despot. As products of a great people, with a glorious history, they have a momentous responsibility to use their organization, power and discipline to liberate their people and save the country from total destruction and disintegration.

To the sons and daughters of Tigrai, who have thus far paid blind loyalty to a manipulative dictator, let the injustice of Teddy serve as a clarion call to join their brothers and sisters in the fight against tyranny and sectarianism. In the current African reality, no ethnic-based rule can bring lasting peace and prosperity; no minority can advance its interests at the expense of the suffering of the vast majority; and no military might or wealth can protect a privileged few from the wrath and retribution of an oppressed mass.

Napoleon Hill wrote: "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." Thus, even through this most evil of acts against the artist have come unintended opportunities – the further alienation and isolation of the despot and the dramatic awakening and determination of the Millennial Generation. It is the responsibility of all those who care for freedom, liberty, and democracy to seize these opportunities, and to bring an end to decades of repression in Ethiopia. The time has indeed never been more auspicious than now to rekindle the fighting spirit of the people of Ethiopia:

  • Those in the Diaspora should mobilize their immense resources to bring together the fragmented opposition groups, and to re-ignite the drive to pass HR3000 in the US Senate. The incoming US administration and leaders like Senator Russ Feingold, who has a clearly articulated view of the danger of pampering dictators10, are eager to restore America's image as a symbol of hope to oppressed people around the world. Without submitting to unrealistic expectations, the Diaspora should present a counterforce against the onslaught of attacks by Zenawi's lobbyists to trap the Obama administration and maintain control over the career diplomats.
  • Opposition groups inside and outside of Ethiopia should resist the temptation to participate in any future elections orchestrated by Zenawi in the absence of strict and enforceable preconditions for free and fair elections. They must vigorously oppose any elections that are marred by fraud and violence, and be prepared to boldly apply the recent lessons from the elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe to protect the votes of the people.
  • The youth should altruistically assume its fundamental responsibility to fight for freedom and social justice, and ferociously protect its future, heritage and history. The passion and anger aroused by the ruthless treatment of Teddy Afro must be harnessed and channeled to a worthy cause of establishing a just Ethiopia where all citizens enjoy liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness sans ethnicity.