Obama and the circus of clowns in Ethiopia
US president Barack Obama speaks at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)
By Abebe Gellaw
The historic state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Ethiopia has just accomplished what was expected all along. On the one hand, TPLF and its cronies tried to use it as a spectacle full of absurdities, comedic political circus and amateurish propaganda. On the other hand, it was a golden opportunity for Ethiopia as the crimes of the regime were exposed at a global scale.
From the moment the U.S. President landed at Bole International Airport to his departure, there were disorganized roadshows that revealed a tyrannical clique running around like a headless chicken. While making the U.S. President stroll around on shabby doormats and rugs rolled out as “red carpets” may seem a side issue, it drew ridicule globally even from bloggers in Kenya, where he was accorded a stately and colorful welcome. But for the TPLF goons what mattered the most was the photo opportunity and the cheap propaganda.
The circus started at Bole International Airport, where ministers and senior government officials were head over heels pushing each other to see and touch Mr. Obama. They behaved as if they were kids fighting over candies. Communication minister Redwan Hussein, Deputy Foreign Minister Berhane GebreKristos and an unnamed lady who was running around like a clueless midfielder can take the trophies for their disgraceful manner and lack of self-respect as dignitaries.
But the positive outcome for the majority of Ethiopians was the fact that the repression and crimes of the TPLF junta were exposed at a global scale. Major U.S. and international media outlets have turned their cameras and sharpened their pens to expose the realities behind the hype. The crimes that the regime is committing against innocent journalists, dissidents and ordinary citizens with impunity were revealed for the world to see.
At a joint press conference with Obama came an opportunity for incompetent Hailemariam Desalegn. He was asked to explain Ethiopia’s record for being the second top jailer of journalists in Africa. It was a hard challenge that he could not coherently take up.
“Mr. Prime Minister,” said an African-American journalist. “The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks your country as the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa. Just before President Obama arrived here, some journalists were released. Many more are still being detained. Would you explain what issues or objections you have to a free press?”
Here is what he said verbatim: “As far as Ethiopia is concerned, we need journalists. We need more of them and quality of them [sic], because we have not only bad stories to be told, but we have many success stories that has [sic] to be told. And so we need you. This is very important. But we need ethical journalism to function in this country.
“And there is limitation capacity [sic] in all aspects of our works [sic]. There is also capacity limitations in journalism and that way [sic]. Maybe those of you who are in developed nations, you [sic] can help our journalists — domestic journalists — to increase their capacity to work on ethical manner [sic]. But the only thing as a leader of this nation we do not want to see is journalism has to be respected [sic] when it doesn’t pass the line [sic]; that working with violent terrorist groups is not allowed –even in the United States. And we need civilized journalism as a culture and as a profession.
“So I think my government is committed to this issue that we need many young journalists to come up and help this country to understand what’s going on. And for us, it’s very important to be criticized because we also get feedback [sic] to correct our mistakes and limitations. So we need journalists. And I think this is our view. And rest assured that we’ll continue to do so, because the media is one of the institutions that has to be nurtured for democratic discourse. And so that’s why we agree that institutional capacity-building in all aspects of democracy in this country is essential.”
What this can be translated into, despite the incoherence, is that they only need journalists that praise them, just like the ones working for state-run media outlets. The reality is that those working for the regime, as mouthpieces, are not even journalists. They do not have the right and freedom to report the truth as journalists. They can only do what they are told to do and echo the workshop speeches of TPLF officials.
Hailemariam was trying to say that those journalists that courageously speak out and expose the atrocities of the regime, corruption, abuse of power or human rights violations are “unethical terrorists”. Those who boldly criticize the regime will be locked up as it has been the fate of so many courageous journalists like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Wubishet Taye and Zone 9 bloggers, Muslim rights activists, just to mention a few among so many others.
Even if no one had asked him about capacity building, the ridiculous man appealed to the very journalist who raised the question to train and help “domestic” journalists. What a shame!
While President Obama highlighted efforts to deepen areas of cooperation, he also mentioned the need for the regime to guarantee basic freedom and human rights, as well as opening the political space that has been closed to opposition parties. In his address to African rulers, he singled out Ethiopia’s predicament. He said: “I believe Ethiopia will not fully unleash the potential of its people if journalists are restricted or legitimate opposition groups can’t participate in the campaign process.”
It is an open secret that the U.S. foreign policy is based on national interest. Such a narrowly-framed policy has undermined the claims of the United States as a paragon of freedom and human rights. Hanging out with the terrorists misruling Ethiopia will only backfire and have the unintended consequences. No power in the world can promote liberty, justice and dignity with empty rhetoric. It needs a resolve to act and consistently stand by those who are oppressed and abused by the criminals in power.
As a postscript, we may need to look at the billboards that adorned major streets in the capital. One of the billboards expressed gratitude to Obama: “Thank you for vesting Ethiopia!” Another one reads: “We Ethiopians loves you mach!” Apparently, a TPLF-connected cowboy businessman was paid over 1 million birr from the treasury. After all, Ethiopia is a nation run by corrupt 3rd graders.
For the privileged ones, there is not the need to learn how to spell before making big billboards for the whole world to see. After all, even the Prime Minister cannot form a few sensible and coherent sentences in front of the international media.
Here is my message to the “heroic” and shameless TPLF junta: “Excselent! Wat maters iz ze meni. Pliz ran awey bifor zey kech yu!”
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