The beginning of the end of a brutal dictatorship

By Selam Beyene (Ph.D.) / Oct 19, 2007
THERE HAS NEVER BEEN a more auspicious time than now to free the people of Ethiopia from the clutches of the autocratic rule of Zenawi, who is treated as persona non grata even by his once ardent supporters, and has run out of options to revive a dying regime built on lies and crimes.

The only chance of survival for the tyrannical regime appears to rest now in the failure of opposition leaders to refrain from derailing the popular movement. The unfolding events of the past few weeks surrounding Kinijit’s leaders have been of Kafkaesque proportions in their incongruity relative to the people's aspirations and resolve.

The struggle for freedom of the people of Ethiopia has been compromised many times in the past by factionalism and internal bickering, each time resulting in devastating consequences. It should not be allowed to happen again this time.

The sacrifices paid thus far are too heavy, and the danger of letting Zenawi off the hook too ominous, to stand idly and watch as naďve and petty factionalism adversely impacts the people's determination to uproot tyranny and build a democratic society.

What are the objective conditions signaling the looming downfall of the dictator?
  • In an unprecedented event in the history of the struggle of the people of Ethiopia, the U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007).1 The bill, even before its enactment into law, has dealt a fatal blow to the beleaguered dictator by exposing the atrocities of his regime and the vulnerabilities of the tyrant and his associates to face justice for their crimes against humanity. It will also strengthen future efforts to reclaim the people’s wealth that the greedy TPLF leaders have plundered and stashed away in foreign bank accounts and financial institutions under the cover of spurious companies.2,3 Once the bill becomes law, the regime will further be isolated and lose its most deceptive cover as a bulwark of terrorism, and the leaders will have no refuge from international law.
  • In a recent visit, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and President of the European Union, put Zenawi on notice with a stark warning about his human rights abuses.4 In front of witnessing journalists, she stunned the dictator with her admonition: "We have the interest to see this society more open and the opposition's rights protected." Declaring that the dictator could no longer hoodwink donor nations with his usual lies of phantom democracy and fake growth statistics, she asserted: "The respect of human rights is among the factors very conducive for development." In the United States, lawmakers and other officials have openly condemned him as a “vicious dictator”.5 Even his staunch proponent, Jendayi E. Frazer, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, was obliged to grudgingly admit: “…political restrictions, including … harassment of or impediments blocking elected officials’ access to their constituencies, and restrictions on independent journalists and media outlets remain issues of concern.”6
  • The economy of the country is in shambles7,8 corruption and nepotism are rampant,9 and illiteracy and diseases are used as stealth instruments of repression10 — all unmistakable markers of a decaying totalitarian regime.
  • Investigative reporters, in the likes of the indefatigable Jeffrey Gettleman,11,12 and editors of major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal,13 have recognized the degree of oppression and corruption of Zenawi’s regime and are objectively exposing the atrocities committed by his repressive machinery. Most remarkably, a West African paper recently heralded: “… The world must stand up against Zenawi’s conduct. ….International pressure is required to make Ethiopia, where the African Union, with its Human Rights Commission, is ironically still headquartered, to comply with the ideals of the founding fathers of that organisation, ideals rooted in protecting the rights and dignity of our peoples.” It further forewarned: “Ethiopia needs to be saved from Zenawi, now.”14
  • Having rejected Zenawi’s rule in the May 2005 elections, Ethiopians at home continue to express their opposition to the autocratic government. From Tigray to Ogaden, and from Afar to the lands of the Oromo and the Anuaks, Ethiopians are fighting with unprecedented zeal and valor to overthrow the brutal dictator, turning against him the venomous policy of ethnicity that he has mischievously injected to poison the peace and harmony of a peace-loving people. His mercenary army, headed by a tiny ethnically homogenous group, created by the tyrant to deceive the people of Tigrai, is overstretched, with adventurous attacks on a neighboring nation, and incessant campaigns against popular uprisings across the nation.15-18
  • Ethiopians in the Diaspora have demonstrated a determination and effectiveness unparalleled hitherto to bring freedom to their fellow citizens. Waiving the tri-color that Zenawi denigrated, they have accorded a hero’s welcome to the leaders of Kinijit across Europe and the United States. They received Hailu Shawel with admiration and gratitude, Birtukan Mideksa, Birhanu Nega and the other leaders with songs and ululation, and Yacob Wolde Mariam and his entourage in Europe with the utmost affection and reverence. In city after city, they have opened their hearts and wallets to these leaders who have symbolized the struggle of the people against Zenawi’s tyranny. Undistracted by the relentless efforts of Zenawi to exploit the known trivial disputes among Kinijit’s leadership, genuine Ethiopians in the Diaspora continue to focus on the crimes of the brutal regime that has crushed the aspirations of the people for freedom and democracy, unleashed its killing machinery to massacre peaceful protesters, plundered the resources of the poor nation, and subjected the populace to unimaginable economic hardships, disease and illiteracy. The gruesome pictures of the victims of the 2005 massacre are too fresh in the minds of these Ethiopians to be swayed and sidetracked by the ploy of Zenawi to engage them in petty clashes of personalities. Fully convinced that the future of a nation, the fate of a people, and the survival of a way of life are under ferocious assault by the despot, the true sons and daughters of Ethiopia in the Diaspora have proven to be an indispensable component of the struggle to extricate their fellow citizens from the jaws of a vicious but fading dictatorship.

What are Zenawi's predictable answers to the omens signaling the crumbling of his authoritarian rule?

Like all ailing dictators in their final hours of life, Zenawi has frantically embarked on a campaign of deception, increased repression, phony patriotism, and war-mongering.

  • He is actively engaged in covert and overt actions to foment and/or exploit divisions within and among opposition groups. The hired guns19 of the regime are at work to weaken the opposition at home and abroad using enormous resources at their disposal. The embassies, consulates and numerous individuals planted in educational and other institutions abroad are waging relentless attacks on opposition groups and their activities.
  • Zenawi’s secret police has stepped up its repressive activities to harass, arrest and imprison suspected members of the opposition in thousands. By most accounts, more people are now incarcerated in secret prisons in Ethiopia than anywhere else in the world today.20
  • The dictator has re-invented the use of aggression as a tool to divert attention from his economic and political quagmires and to buy time to strengthen his weakening grip on power. Having declared war on a neighboring country that had posed no verifiable threat to the security of Ethiopia, he is now mobilizing the nation for another costly aggression against Eritrea21,22 — a land he has more affinity to than the one he is ruling.
  • Dr. Samuel Johnson, the famed author of Rasselas, once wrote: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Faced with formidable foes from every corner, the tyrant has begun to profess patriotism, in a direct assault on the sensibilities of the people, whose flag he has desecrated. Sensing the dawn of the new millennium is also the beginning of his demise, he is now lecturing23 on the history of the very country that he has denigrated, and whose dismemberment he has brazenly advocated and executed.
  • Most significantly, the dictator has launched a relentless campaign to block the enactment of HR2003 into law.24 He has intensified his lobbying efforts, and is engaged in personal attacks of Congressional members who supported the bill.25

A Call to Action

Opposition groups, genuine Ethiopians in the Diaspora, and human-rights advocates across the globe have a historic responsibility to seize this opportune moment and to bring deliverance to a people that have been subjected to unimaginable repression, demonstrated exemplary resilience against tyranny, and survived repeated betrayal by its torch bearers. In particular:

  • All opposition groups are called upon to set aside their intra and inter-organizational differences and to focus their energy and resources on the struggle to overthrow Zenawi's brutal dictatorship.
  • Without submitting to the whims of vain partisanship, Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora should demand from opposition leaders their affirmation of the primacy of the collective goal of overthrowing tyranny over individual aspirations.
  • In the near term, all genuine Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia should re-double their efforts and mobilize their resources to protect HR2003 from the onslaught of Zenawi.

Failure to recognize the imminent danger posed by the internal bickering of opposition leaders, and incapacity to take timely measures to prevent the derailment of the popular movement that is on the verge of delivering the people from the shackles of tyranny, would be inexcusable crimes that no genuine Ethiopian would be absolved of in the eyes of future generations.

13 Editorial, July 18, 2007.