Are Ethiopian Demonstrations a Waste of Time?

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According to the White House press release in late July President Obama will travel to Ethiopia for bilateral meetings with the Government of Ethiopia and with the leadership of the African Union. Ethiopians are expected to demonstrate against the visit. The Washington Post characterized the visit as “unfathomable” given the brutal nature of the regime.

If the trip comes to fruition, we should not blame Obama for going to Ethiopia, a place that has a great deal of symbolism and attraction for most Black people.  We should blame the Diaspora for not doing enough to educate him or force him to take the right stand regarding the regime during his presidency. In America, all decisions are not done in the best interest of America; more often lobbyists decide foreign and domestic policies. Some of them go against the grain of American principles and interest. I can name a few domestic organizations and foreign government lobbyist,  like the one organized by Ethiopia via DLA Piper.

In 1997, we were able to pass House Resolution #20 demanding the Ethiopian Government adhere to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stop promoting “… the shocking brutality of ethnic warfare elsewhere in Africa from spreading to Ethiopia” This Bill was initiated by Ethiopians in Houston and passed the House and Senate, but it was vetoed by President Clinton for other reasons. After learning about the Bill, Meles immediately flew to Washington in September of 1997 and invited “Who is who in America in Academia and politics on Ethiopia” to Washington and he immediately launched a Woyane lobby to stop any similar bill from passing again.

The State Department and President Obama know all the facts about Ethiopia, however, should President Obama go on the limb by himself and defend the Ethiopian people against all the lobbyists and some of his closest friends such as Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, Gayle Smith and others who are co-opted by Woyanes.

If we had an Ethiopian lobby this would not have happened. The regime would have been a pariah state like Eritrea and North Korea,  and will not be in power for over two decades. Now, they have mastered the system at home and abroad. It will be hard to disentangle them, but it is doable if enough people are committed to creating a lobby and fund it. I have stated the strategy how to defeat Woyane in a year- 2000 piece  how to_defeat_meles.html. Unfortunately, no one in the Diaspora seems to realize the value of effective lobbying like Melese or the Woyanes did back in 1997. An effective lobby is one that helps shape U.S. policy in the interest of Ethiopians, not in the interest of Woyanes like DLP does. An effective lobby or political action committee (PAC) has good access to the power to be in Washington and knows which button to push to get a job done. So don’t blame Obama, blame the Ethiopian Diaspora for this disastrous foreign policy. I am sure the Ethiopian people will totally lose faith on us. The shame is on us, not President Obama.

Now some in the Diaspora are urging a demonstration in front of the White House and elsewhere. This is the same song and dance we heard by so-called leaders of the Diaspora, who play on the emotion of innocent Ethiopians. Demonstrations are useless unless they can garner massive publicity or create an embracing situation for the President or the State Department. For example one of the most successful demonstrations was conducted in Waco Texas near President Bush’s ranch during Thanksgiving weekend of 2005. With Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey protesting the death of her son in Iraq and blaming President Bush for it, as well as a visit by the President of Russia, and alleged sickness of Bush Senior or whatever reason forced the State Department to request the cancelation of the protest.  The State Department did not want us to go to Bush’s ranch during Thanksgiving and embrace him with the presence of his family including his father, media, during a visit by President of Russia, so we got calls from the State Department asking us to cancel the demonstration. Why did we chose Waco, because of the presence of hundreds of international and local media.

Why did we get the call, whether his father was sick or not, President Bush was under tremendous pressure and he did not want any more bad publicity under the presence of hundreds of journalists who were there covering Cindy Sheehan and the visit by the President of Russia.  We were promised that the imprisoned CUD leaders will be released immediately and there was no need for further demonstration. Of course, since there was no guarantee that CUD leaders will be freed and the demonstration was organized by various groups of Ethiopians in Texas it was hard to stop it.

Nonetheless that pressure was manifested immediately when the new Ambassador, Donald Yamamoto went to Ethiopia. Ambassador Yamamoto was the toughest Ambassador on Wyanes. Meles circumvented his call to impose severe sanctions by invading Somalia to co-opt America and Ethiopian nationalists by claiming that he was fighting Muslim terrorists from Somalia.

Another useful tactic was one conducted by Ato Abebe Gelaw when he confronted Meles, and later President Obama for shock effect and to cause embarrassment. It also important to mention another  effective demonstration conducted by  Ethiopians in Israel  though this may have involved the  blocking of  the Ayalon Highway  for three hours in many directions. This demonstration resulted in face to face meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

By the way, if the number of demonstration was a factor, Ethiopians should have conquered the whole world and not just free Ethiopia. Ethiopian demonstrations for some reason don’t resonate with the media because we are peaceful people or poorly organized. Of course, diversity in tactics should be encouraged, but we should not waste time on tactics that did not yield any results so far.

For the last 24 years, we did everything we could to fight oppression in Ethiopia, unfortunately, we have nothing to show for it despite numerous demonstrations, the presence of ESAT, Ginbot 7 and other organizations. What is missing?  The most important  instrument in shaping Washington policy is the formation of a lobby. Meles realized that immediately and formed one.

What is needed is the formation of an effective lobby in the U.S., and encourage and finance massive civil disobedience at home.  With an effective lobby, we can stop U.S. support of the brutal regime and with effective funding, we can strengthen civil disobedience at home. Ethiopians funded various groups, have demonstrated in numerous occasions, thus far there is nothing to show for it. So let us learn from the master of all evils, Meles Zenawi, form immediately an all Ethiopian lobby in order to defeat his own creation, TPLF and EPRDF.

President Obama’s Visit to Ethiopia is “unfathomable”!

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As lame duck President,  Obama is free to do anything he likes including wining and dining with any brutal dictators. He is slated to be in Ethiopia late July according to the State Department. Ethiopia like many of the African countries brings lots of baggage of crony capitalism, anti-Gay legislation, corruption, abuse of human rights, simply absolute lack of rule of law. The Washington Post called his visit to Ethiopia “Unfathomable” in its June 25th Editorial. 

For example, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his party have been in power for the last 24 years, and their legacy is dreadful, as Ethiopia is  ranked  one of the poorest and  sickest country in the world, where over 70% of the population goes hungry on daily basis. The primary reason for the dreadful situation is government control of the economy by unseasoned tribal cadres.

Creeping-famine-in-ethiopia

A young boy waiting  in front of his tukul for his mother as she arrives with a body of his 4-year old dead sister  who died of malnutrition in Shashemene, Ethiopia: Source: NBC: & .Creeping famine-is-back-to-Ethiopia

Like North Korea, the regime controls everything, spies on everybody, at the village level as well as via the Internet, even though less than 2% of the people have  Internet access. Like North Korea, the state controls all  land, telecommunication, Internet, mining, banking, and major industries directly or through cronies. 

In Ethiopia, like in North Korea,  there is no freedom of the press, freedom of assembly,  no free or fair election, no property rights, and simply no rule of law when it comes to the majority of the citizens. Although the ruling party TPLF, represents less than 6% of the population, but like the old Apartheid regime rules the rest of the country through its private and ethnic army and as well as cronies.

It would have been more natural to visit only those countries respecting and applying democratic principles. Furthermore, winning and dinning with African dictators will mean nothing unless President Obama has a concrete plan and he can make it stick.

For example, he can propose a Marshall Plan for Africa like the way Truman did for Europe.  He can prompt  African leaders to spend less on the military, because the armies are primarily used to keep the one party dictatorship, and spend more on education, technology, and economic development.  Adopt a common language, privatize the economy, end corruption, respect human and property rights, rule of law, and form a stronger economic and political union.

Raging ethnic and religious tensions are primarily fueled by lack of hope and oppression. In many cases, the primary culprit for the hopeless situation are dictators that thrive and survive with U.S. support and largesse.  Some will go by the wayside without massive Western  aid. This gives President Obama tremendous leverage  to promote democratic and economic reform in the continent.  For example,  the rabid anti-Muslim and anti-homosexual  government of Ethiopia lead by  Mr. Desalegn was forced last March by Washington to rescind an anti-homosexual legislation ( Homosexuality-non pardonable) that he orchestrated  through his  rubber-stamped parliament.

The Ethiopian regime pretended for long for things that it is not in order to earn respect and foreign aid. The Ethiopian regime spends huge sums of money  to make sure the West does not notice the cruel and evil system and to portray the regime incorrectly anti-terrorist and democratic. It co-opts high level government officials such as Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, Gayle Smith and congressional representatives by hiring one of the largest lobby groups in the world, DLP Piper.

For example, Azusa Pacific University Board unanimously withdrew a plan to award an honorary degree to Mr. Desalegn on July 31, 2014 after they learned gross human rights violations by his regime (university-withdraws-honor).  In 2003, Texas Southern University canceled a planned event with an Ethiopian government delegation for similar reason.

President Obama can rise to the challenge if he dared too. Pushing democratic values and free market economic development strategies are critical. President Truman provided a lifeline to a devastated Europe and created strong democratic allies for the U.S. The total cost for the Marshall Plan from 1948-1952 was $13.3 billion.  President Obama has the option to embark on a similar, bold political and economic agenda for Africa, while opening a huge market three times that of Europe for American businesses without beholding to dictators if he ever has any desire to leave a lasting legacy in Africa. Nonetheless, visiting a country mired with gross human rights violations may send a wrong message and tarnish his legacy.

By Dula Abdu,  dula can be reached at dula06@gmail.com  (article was adopted from previous articles from similar topics).

In Memory of Mohammed Bedru, a serial and a tireless entrepreneur.

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Death is shocking, but the untimely death of a friend is more shocking. I had the opportunity to meet Mohammed Bedru, when he opened his cafe at the Chase Tower, where I was located for the previous ten years as an investment analyst for JPMorgan Chase. In the early 1990′s it was rare to see any black person, especially an Ethiopian to get a lease, let alone open business in Downtown, at that in the most expensive and prime real estate in Downtown, the Chase Tower. The Chase tower, in the center of Downtown was one of the most expensive and tallest buildings in the Southwest with its 75 stories.

My most excitement was seeing an Ethiopian own a business. In my Office, the buzz was that an Ethiopian, who is a  friend of Dula owns the cafe and everybody wanted to fraternize Mohammed’s business. Instead of associating Ethiopians with famine and hunger, now Mohammed, the quintessential entrepreneur, was the face  of Ethiopia. You cannot imagine, how proud I was. My excitement also emanates from my belief that all Ethiopians, if possible all black people focus owning their own business instead of looking for a J.O.B.  So when I was confronted with early retirement from Chase about 12 years ago, I said I want to be an entrepreneur  like Mohammed instead of looking for a job.

I used to deploy any chance or excuse to stop at his cafe. His place became home away from home. Mohammed really became like a brother and friend, despite badgering him with politics more often than he cared to. Whenever I uttered a political statement, he used to advise me with  the following ( Amharic) “Politicawon titeh lidichohen Asadig.” His advise still resonates. In hindsight, I wish I listened to his wise advise, it could have saved  some headaches and some grey hair. This advise was repeated whether I visited him in Downtown or other stores.

Some people described Mohammed as towering figure physically, he was a towering figure intellectually too. His thought process and advise to those who paid attention was profound. In hindsight I regret for not paying attention to what he was saying, as it resonated now, even after many years.

When I started working in Downtown in 80′s there were hardly any black owned businesses and blacks were not employed  in any important positions as far as the financial industry was concerned. I used to get in trouble with management when I asked how come there were not black employees. One of my bosses flatly told me that he hired me thinking I was an Indian, because Indians were not supposed to be concerned about racial inequity.

Freedom Fighter: Some of his friends described him also as fearless during his formative years as a freedom fighter against Woyanes and the Derg. He saw danger when others cannot, and in one of these occasions, he was able to save many of his colleagues lives, by taking the necessary and bold action and getting wounded in the process.

So when Mohammed opened his shop in the mid 1990s, I was elated and super impressed. I just did not think they would lease such a prime real estate to a Blackman. Some of my colleagues used to come and tell me in a very surprised manner if I knew the Ethiopian who owned the shop in the Tunnel.  Of course, I used to give an affirmative. I encouraged everyone in my department to use his service for their birthdays and other occasions.

What was great was his entrepreneurial spirit which I admired the most. As a former teacher, I emphasized this important concept to my students. When Mohammed closed his shops and moved to Ethiopia, he carried the same spirit and to make a difference and to be a pioneer.

Untimely death:  Mohammed and I were the same age. My kids just gave me  surprise party a day before his memorial. The big question is why Mohammed passed away and I am still alive. My contention is if Mohammed was still living in the U. S., he may had better chance to live longer and survived whatever the situation. The untimely death is hard to fathom.

It is clear that it is very difficult to do business in developing countries, especially in Ethiopia where corruption is meshed with tribalism and ethnic hegemony.  Mohammed was working on his second business trying to  employ close to 30 Ethiopians, but government and local cadres were pestering him constantly for bribe and how much he should charge for coffee and other products despite the fact that the other coffee shops were exempted from  VAT tax (a rate of 15% for every taxable transaction)  , because they were friends of the tax assessor or were giving bribes.  As Mohammed did not want to join the corruption racket and did not want to give bribes, he was constantly harassed and put under tremendous pressure. The Woyanes did not succeed to kill him in the battle field in the 70′s, but did their corrupt and difficult business environment has anything do with his untimely death. We will never find out.

The pressure of working in Ethiopia is huge. The corruption and the threat of government cadres to deny your liberty and property is massive or always in the back of your mind, unless you are a Woyane or a top cadre in the system.  The threat for bribery or denial to operate are huge factors in causing one to be under a tremendous pressure.

After investing a huge amount of capital and time, Mohammed was about to give up. At 64, it would have looked a huge burden to start all over again in the U.S. or become part of the corrupt system in Ethiopia. Mohammed escaped imminent threat or war with Woyanes in the 70′s and saved many lives while wounded in the process, but the current pressure may have been too hard to bear.

When Mohammed decided to go to Ethiopia, he told me briefly about it and he asked me to put his house on the market. Of course, I told him my own story of going to Africa to start a business and how I found it too complicated and corrupt.  After closing his business in Houston, he saw an opportunity to make a difference in Ethiopia. He carried with his own entrepreneurial spirit that made him successful in Houston. He thought he can duplicate it in Ethiopia without too much hassle.

However, I shared with him my own experience.  After the fall of the Apartheid regime, I went to Kenya and S. Africa to open an investment or a brokerage firm. My experience was negative. I found it  too bureaucratic and I came to the conclusion that there was no place like the USA to run a business because of its transparency, legal and banking system and a huge middle class which is an economic powerhouse on its own.

Mohammed was very independent minded. When I sent him some email that were critical of the regime, he used to correct me, of course, he was not afraid to read my critical email about the regime. Some people in Ethiopia don’t.

Mohammed knew things will be difficult, but not that difficult or that fatal. In one of his email, he said, “As the investment talk no country is better than US. It is always sweet home US. Try to compare apple to apple. Yes, if you can invest and has the capacity do it there no doubt about it. But, here too if you have the knowledge and the money place the tolerance, you can do it too. But it is from different prospective. It matters why you come here. If it is for money you are going to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. ” He added,  “I am going to open cafe’ and bakery. It will be in Welayta Sodo. I might finish the remodeling in the next one or two months. I will have close to 30 employee’s hopefully. I will post it when it is completed.” That was in December, 2011.

Mohammed went to Ethiopia to make a difference and to pursue his entrepreneurial spirit. His dreams may have been cut short, but Mohammed will be remembered as a serial entrepreneur, a straight shooter, and a very Wiseman to those who dared to know him. He used to look out for others, as he did for me by telling me “”Politicawon titeh lidichohen Asadig”. I will forever cherish his friendship, entrepreneurial spirit, great advise and love of country.

Bridging the Economic Divide in America

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In order to bridge the economic divide that has been going on for a long time and that is getting worse requires innovative solutions. Some of the countries that are succeeding in bridging  the economic divide are  those leveraging technology.

Such a strategy requires reaching out to the most economically disadvantaged communities. The simplest and the most cost effective strategy will be  to create a mini Silicon Valley / technology corridors close to disadvantaged areas by bringing government and private partnership to transform  these communities.

Those countries that realized that importance of  technological skills  include countries like Israel, Ireland, S. Korea and many more. Those that have employed technology effectively have improved their productivity and their standard of living for good. For the economically disadvantaged, leveraging technology is imperative. This will enable them to bridge the economic gap with minimum expenditure of capital and in a shorter time.

How to go about it? Simple, imitate other successful models used in the creation of the Silicon Valley in San Francisco , the Research Triangle in the North Carolina, and the Silicon Wadi (Valley) in Israel and many others places that systematically improved the living standards of their citizens and brighten their futures. The fact that there are many Indian doctors and engineers around the world is no accident, it was the work of visionary leaders in the 60s who planted the seed by establishing many IT centers.

To serve historically disadvantaged  communities  would require  attracting minority students to science and technology and providing vocational and advanced technological education to those suffering from unemployment and underemployment“African-Americans make up roughly 11% of the U.S. population,  but represent only 1-2% of the workforce at most Silicon Valley and tech companies. In addition, the race gap in wealth between the median black family and the median white family is  20 fold according to Pew research. Also the U.S. has the highest per capita incarnation of Black people in the world.  This is related to f lack of education that leads to gainful employment.

Why technology education?  International Labor Organization (ILO) in the past projected that there will  be 1.2 billion young people around the world looking for work and only 300 million jobs to go around.  According to Forbes Magazine over 90% of the 300 million jobs will be in science, technology and mathematics.

Thus  the most efficient way to address these gaps and the faster way to transform these communities once and for all is to leverage technology and provide  skill-based training. The alternative is to keep the status quo and see the racial polarization and eventually racial violence to continue. The most dynamic economies or communities are those who leverage technology. For example, Austin as a city, Silicon Valley in San Francisco, Research Triangle in North Carolina,  countries like Singapore, Israel, China, Taiwan,  S. Korea or most of the other  Asian Tigers did not happen by accident. Leaders with a vision made it possible.

To lift the people out of poverty once and for all and  make them a beacon of hope for others would require;  training people in the community in vocational and technology related fields and simultaneously inviting tech companies to relocate. The technology courses will be demand driven serving the Energy and the high tech industry especially in cities like Houston, and will be short and cost effective.

With proper foundation it will be possible to create/mint the necessary workforce to meet the needs of industry and to transform communities. Such an investment has rendered the highest return for real estate owners, industry and the community, as demonstrated in Silicon Valley and other similar settings.

It behooves one to make a note of the fact that  Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, Silicon Wadi, and other successful institutions did not happen by accident. Visionary leaders created them and  transformed those communities.  The U.S. has the opportunity  to change the course of history. The question is does it have the gusto to dare such a drastic transformation or not.