Ethiopia’s Great Run – Growth Acceleration

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I have written many pieces on Ethiopia’s economic progress or lack of it. However, for the first time, I am compelled to believe that the recent World Bank report shades a better perspective on Ethiopia’s economic conditions and achievement than the views that I expressed especially views arising from the lives of ordinary people in Ethiopia.  While infrastructure and other notable developments are undeniable, the plight of the average Ethiopian is still bleak despite the economic progress achieved as measured by GDP.

Click here to see World Bank’s Analysis: Ethiopia’s Great Run

President Obama Can Help End Oppression in Ethiopia!

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Since President Obama decided to go to Ethiopia despite the existence of extreme human rights abuses, he might be able to persuade the regime to change its ways. In Ethiopia, theocracy, dictatorship, and thuggery are a reality of life. Even though most of the leaders came from a Marxist Leninist background, but from the outset they acted like a theocrat, a dictator, a black Afrikaners, and  thuggerish creating a necessary conditions for the rise of extremist elements, for revolt or revolution.

What are the conditions that make it possible for a revolt, a revolution or extremist group like Boko Haram and ISIS to rise? If a regime keeps pushing Muslims or Christians to the corner with arbitrary imprisonment, murder, and basic denial from sharing the fruits of the economy and freedom to worship without government intrusion, there is a chance some of these people can go crazy and even become fanatics like Boko Haram and ISIS. Some in the West will start wondering why there are such terrorist and extremists in Ethiopia. Unless they are mentally ill, such people have to be a product of their environment.  When another Boko Haram or ISIS emerges, President Obama and other Western leaders will wonder what went wrong and will send their drones to fight them. As it appears for now they are unwilling to address problems that create such extremists.  Sectarian and oppressive conditions in Iraq created ISIS. Ethiopia has a similar condition where a small sectarian or ethnic group rules with the barrel of the gun.

For President Obama it will be wise to raise the plight of detained Muslim leaders and journalists and listen to their stories before it is too late. Ethiopia may be vital to keep the lead on extremists in Somalia and other places in the Horn of Africa, but if Ethiopia with close to 100 million people explodes, it will be harder to contain it regardless of how many drones you deploy.

The demand of Muslim leaders in Ethiopia is simple, end government interference in religion; respect the constitutional which guarantees freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The same is true with journalists; they just wanted to practice their profession with some level of autonomy instead of as agent of the state.

ISIS and Boko Haram are fringe elements who have no mercy on Muslims or Christians and nobody wants such people to rise from any environment. In Ethiopia, given the extreme form of oppression because of one’s religion, tribe, or political affiliation, the country is ripe for revolt. But it is also possible that this revolt could be hijacked by extreme elements.

The ruling party, Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF) initially encouraged religious freedom for Muslims and Pentecostal groups, as leverage against the Orthodox Church and its followers, which it feared and loathed at the same time.

For a long time, the regime tried to court the Muslim and the Pentecostal community to counter its nemesis the Amharas and the Orthodox Church. After it totally crushing the Orthodox Church, the regime shifted gear to target the Muslim community to totally control and manage it. When the regime declared war on the Orthodox Church, the Muslims did not sing a song supporting the regime.   When the regime declared war on the Oromos, Amharas, Gurages etc. the Muslim community refused to collaborate with the regime.

Unfortunately, the regime eventually decided to declare war on Muslims because the Muslims did not want political allegiance to the regime and like many Ethiopians are fed up from taking orders who should be their leaders and how they should behave and become foot soldiers to oppress others.

The Muslims in Ethiopia never had political power or political ambitions for that reason they were tolerated by past regimes.  Although the DERG and TPLF initially leveled the playing field, but Muslim aspiration has not changed, it is simply live and let live in harmony and in peace as they did for the last 1400 hundreds years since the arrival of Islam in Ethiopia.

Muslims were tolerated by all previous regimes as long as they stick to their religion. Even Mengistu Haile Mariam and Haile Selassie never saw them a threat and allowed them a great degree of tolerance to practice their religion. TPLF as the most paranoid regime in the history of Ethiopia wanted more control, even though Muslims pose no threat to the regime.

The regime succeeded in creating great chasm among many groups: Oromos, Amharas, Somalis, and Christians, and the only cohesive group left were the Muslims, and the regime saw them as a threat.

Muslim and Christians lived in relative harmony for centuries in Ethiopia until the advent of the current regime. Now, the regime wants to capitalize in anti-Islam sentiment in the region and in the West and want to drive wedges between Christians and Muslims and among Muslims using its surrogates.

President Obama needs to know the biggest threat to stability and peace in the region are not journalists or Muslims, but the current regime in power in Ethiopia. The majority of Muslims, like Christians want to put food on the table, and live in harmony.

The Ethiopian regime arrested a number of Muslim leaders in order bring them into its wings, otherwise to silence them. Their protest stems from the late Meles Zenaw’s attempt to arbitrarily appoint their leaders and to force them to follow a brand of Islam that his team prefers.

Meles has exacted the same demand on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He fired the previous patriarch and replaced him with a more compliant and political one. Meles’ goal was also to make the Muslim community compliant, as well as anoint their leaders like he did with the Orthodox Church.

This was not the first time the regime wanted to take control of the Muslim community. In 1996, my own uncle was the Imam of the Anwar Mosque in Addis Ababa when Meles demanded a compliant relationship and support against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  When he refused, Meles organized his own Muslim team armed with guns and stormed the mosque. During the ensuing battle, many people were killed, a number of people wounded and arrested including my uncle. He was later released without charge and Meles backed off.

The primary reason to take control of the Muslim leadership was not because the Muslims were a threat to the regime, it was a paranoid Meles desire to put everyone under his command and to align the Muslim community against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Most Muslims have no problem with the Orthodox Church except putting up a healthy competition to save souls. Since most of Meles’ opposition came from the Orthodox Church and the Amhara community, Meles thought he can rely on Muslims as a buffer.  Recently, the regime has been emboldened because it is becoming much easier to brand Muslims as terrorists or jihadist. It is easy to exact any punishment even for any peaceful resistance as is the case with the Muslim leadership in jail. The regime can impose its will on the Muslim community without any fear from anywhere. Any opposition against the regime is maligned by the West and regarded out of line.

The regime is disdained by the majority of Ethiopians. Its very existence depends on Western Moral, political and economic support. President Obama can use his goodwill and power to pave Ethiopia to a more sustainable and lasting democracy or pamper things under the table and set Ethiopia for another Boko Haram, ISIS or violent revolution.

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I am for the completion of the Renaissance Dam

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Since President Obama opted to travel to Ethiopia despite a vociferous opposition, the Ethiopian people need to get some benefit out of it, the completion of the Abay Dam. There has been a lot of back and forth between supporters of the Abay or Renaissance Dam and those opposed to it on technical and economic reasons. My initial opposition was solely based on economic reason, which rests on the concept of efficient allocation of a scare resource, capital. I would have preferred smaller dams to be used for both irrigation and power and away from harm from neighboring countries.

In 2005, Meles cornered by stolen election and loss of face with the Ethiopian electrets started on a whim the Abay or Renaissance Dam, war with Somalia and fear mongering with Eritrea.  The dam is being built with blood, sweat and tears of poor Ethiopians. In 2014, President Obama announced a $12 Billion new aid to Africa for power projects.  It is time that President Obama did something significant to leave a last legacy in Africa by helping Ethiopia complete this project through his energy initiative.

Ethiopia has done most of the leg work and almost 50% of the dam is completed. President Obama can help Ethiopia finish it. I would recommend that the dam be called Obama Dam. This complex dam and one of the largest in Africa will bear Obama’s name for ever to eclipse other American president including George Bush, who is highly regarded.

It is a great burden for the Ethiopian people to finance it on their own. Poor workers, farmers, and business are forced to fork out part of their hard earned salary to finance huge undertaking for a country with limited resources and capital. Banks are forced to use 27% of their available funds to buy Abay bonds for a slim 5% return, which is not at all guaranteed. Worse by the time they get their principal, inflation would have eaten most of it.

When the project started, Ethiopia was slated to spend close to one year of its budget to build the dam. If the U.S. were to undertake a similar task it will be equivalent to $3.7 trillion dollar. Can you imagine the U.S. undertaking a project of this size for any reason? Or can you imagine such an investment at a whim by any President or Congress in any country.  Meles after an election fiasco and fall out with his TPLF members decided to win over mostly the nationalist or more anti Arab, anti Muslim, anti Eritrean forces in Ethiopia. During this time, he started playing anti-Somali, anti-Muslim, anti-Eritrean card by telling Ethiopians that the country is under threat from all sides. As far as starting to build the dam, he defied Egypt and Sudanese threat, where no previous leader dared to do. This was done to raise his profile, and to win among conservative Ethiopians, not to help or develop Ethiopia. Now, it is too late to go back, so we have to finish it with the help of President Obama.

Despite, Meles’ design; many Ethiopians want the Abay Dam finished and get it over with. They are tired of paying for it, while they have little or nothing to live on based on their meager income, as most Ethiopians are employed in the public sector. Ethiopia’s private sector is in infancy, as the government overwhelmingly owns most of the productive assets land, telecommunication, utilities, and other assets.

I believe Obama wants to visit Ethiopia because it is the seat of the OAU, UN, and he finds Ethiopia like Mandela an alluring place to visit, like a pilgrimage to holy place.  Ethiopia provokes pride, great legacy for most educated Africans and African-Americans with its rich and long history, written alphabet, language, independence from European occupation, as the land of Lucy, and great architecture versus the dark and savagery image of Africa, conjured by the West.

America’s investment will serve also as a deterrent for future Egyptian regime from attacking or trying to destroy the Abay or Obama dam for any reason. With billions of American stock pile of weapons, Egypt has the capacity to do serious damage on Ethiopia and on the dam anytime it wishes. Using its F-16C planes from it Aswan base, Egypt can send AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles and hit the dam with an accuracy of 8 feet and destroy it anytime. In addition, Egypt is setting up satellite states such as Eritrea, S. Sudan and even Djibouti in order to encircle Ethiopia. When Egypt gets its house in order and deals with the Muslim Brotherhood it will start looking outside and the Abay problem may surface again.

According to documents released by Wiki Leaks  in September, 2012,  the Egyptian and Sudanese governments had planned to attack the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia and some Egyptian legislatures were supporting  others hostile and clandestine operations, like planting false propaganda, arming rebels groups and instructing Egyptian spies to simply destroy the dam altogether. In light of these revelations, as Ethiopians, we have to coalesce given the outside potential threat.

Meles like any dictator had undertaken some good projects such as the expansion of schools, clinics and some bad ones with potentially low return on investment (ROI). Such projects include a wind Turbine ($220 million Euro), the Tekeze hydroelectric dam ($360 million dollars) with dwindling water supply, planned railroad from Djibouti to Mekele and the Abay dam. The most important economic tool, efficient allocation of scare resources, such as capital, was not taken into consideration in some of these cases.

I have been an opponent of the dam for economic reason, because such a mega project takes too much time and too many resources. According to recent reports, most of such mega dams are a failure in terms of return on investment and environmentally. However, now Meles, the mischief maker is gone and Ethiopia is left with the bag.  Meles may have started to build the dam to save his skin and to win over the nationalist forces and to reduce his paranoid view of the Ethiopian people. He has also put Ethiopia at risk of going to war with neighboring countries.

It is time Ethiopians of all stripes should  join hands and complete the project, given that the Ethiopian people with great sacrifice so far successfully completed half of the construction.  Let us also hope President Obama, to leave a lasting legacy and to lift this financial burden from the Ethiopian people will throw in his support for the completion of the dam.




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.