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Lessons after the Meles speech at Columbia: Let Ethiopians debate Ethiopia

It’s sure was nice to see mainly Ethiopians vigorously participating in a debate about Ethiopia, in contrast to the usual Old White Men debating Africa. The Meles visit to Columbia had the unintentional effect of promoting this debate.  We were very happy at Aid Watch to have had the privilege of turning over our  little corner of the web to host some of this debate, and then just get out of the way.

Here’s more in the aftermath of the Meles speech:

Africa Didn’t Ask You (honestly):

New School Thoughts on Africa:

(both of the above are students in the class of New School Prof Sean Jacobs, who founded the group blog Africa is a Country)

There are two blog posts on HuffPo from Professor Alemayehu Mariam:
Veni, Vidi, Orator, Fugio!
Mr. Zenawi Goes to College!

Committee to Protect Journalists blog:
As Zenawi speaks, editors are grilled in Ethiopia

Columbia Spectator:
World Leaders site raises eyebrows
Columbia’s invitation to Zenawi sparks outrage

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13 Comments

  1. sam wrote:

    So I guess Europeans should not debate America or Japanese debate China or Australians debate Zimbabwe. Strange logic. Ethiopians have always debated Ethiopia. Togolese have always debated Togo. What’s odd is that you are noticing this. What’s not so good is that they are debating Ethiopia in the U.S. rather than in Ethiopia. Which is really the whole problem, isn’t it?

    Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  2. Katrina wrote:

    I think the debate sparked by the visit was precisely the point of bringing Zenawi to Columbia, not merely an “unintentional effect”…

    Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  3. Quiet Griot wrote:

    I hope the day will come when African politics is based on ideas, values, and differing points of view. If that day does come, you will be right to argue that Westerners should stay out of African political debates. But that isn’t where we are. Politics in almost all African countries are overwhelmingly dominated by urban elites. In my experience, African urban elites are much more likely to have opinions driven by prejudice, ignorance, or narrow self-interested rent seeking than the outsiders who would try to comment on African politics.

    Ethiopia is a good example: Meles has overwhelming support in his home region of Tigray, to which he has diverted a lot of resources. Meles has little support elsewhere, where his focus on Tigray and his autocratic tendencies are resented. There really isn’t much of “debate” going on at all. If Westerners can help make these points, clarify the issues, and bring attention to them then that’s certainly a good thing for Ethiopia.

    Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  4. Matt Richmond wrote:

    The second video was absolutely the most slanted and irritating thing I have seen today. First, they don’t interview anyone who thinks he is a good leader, perhaps he IS a murderer, but apparently some people think he isn’t and they should be heard.

    Second, they show two groups of foreigners who admit they don’t know anything about the situation (much better than pretending they do). Wow. So that means that foreigners as a whole know nothing? Why don’t we pick out random Americans and ask them their opinion on American export subsidies? The fact that almost no one would have any clue what they’re talking about shows that Americans should then keep their mouths shut on domestic issues as well? That is what that video is hinting at. I’m disappointed that that video was hosted on this blog without some heavy criticism, it was shot with all the professionalism of a high school journalism project.

    Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Christos wrote:

    I beg to differ in Americans disengaging on the debate. In fact, they should be more of it not less. After all the entire problem is a one man dictator deciding the fate of millions with the help of US government, and non government organization. Therefore any American have the interest to get involved.

    Those who guess the opinion of the people under dictatorship should stay out of making statement on what people think and who they support.

    Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  6. jon wrote:

    As usual the useless and time wasting people are louder. This President is a blessing to Ethiopia ans Africa. Columbia did good in acknowledging it.

    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink
  7. 2disgusted wrote:

    Thank you for hosting the debate and yes, I agree, the matter concerns ONLY Ethiopians. We Ethiopians,(EXCLUDING axe grinding Eritreans), both for and against Meles, need a neutral place to debate.In the same way kidnapped cult members need mediated de-programming, TPLF supporters in particular need to learn from this exercise. These victims of information-famine created by Meles, are worshiping Meles like a devoted sect, estranged from the truth and separated from reality. With a view to cult rescue, I believe your type of hosted debate will have better results than Cyber Smackdowns in partisan forums that only serve to strengthen the delusions of these indoctrinated Axuimite Cult ASIMO’s

    There are surprisingly limited opportunities for true dialogue/debate between pro and anti meles supporters outside Ethiopia AND NONE WHATSOEVER in Ethiopia itself where trigger happy Tigre-Agazee & other brutal security forces are busy using their US anti terrorism training to subjugate the increasing numbers of dissenting citizens. Thanks to Meles Zenawi’s extremely repressive system of governance that includes a paranoid PREDATORY view of Ethiopian’s media, there is no place for healthy debate in Ethiopia.Meles has resurrected and restored Mengistu’s sinister “neighborhood watch” structure to monitor every citizens every move. Never mind Ethiopian media and society, Meles has unashamedly admitted to jamming VOA on the grounds that it was the same, he said, as Radio Mille Colline!! Crazy Cult Leader!!

    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  8. facil wrote:

    It’s one thing to criticize Meles and his political and human rights related failures another to state that repressive security forces are from one ethnic group the Tigre as mentionned above which is not based on any hard facts and not only oversimplify Ethiopian political issues but also alieniates a large number of people who would be willing to judge Meles based on its policies and not his ethnic background; and why are we so sacred that others debate Ethiopian politics and does it really concern Ethiopians only? is this simply a way of rejecting some balanced point of view for as usual we only want to hear things we support? we need a change from authoritarianism but not only that of Meles but of the so called opposition as well!!

    Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  9. Jenn wrote:

    Bill, I must disagree with you. Westerners should not “get out of the way” of thinking about Ethiopia, and not only for the reasons mentioned by @Christos. Anyone with even a hint of universalist values may want to care about what happens beyond her/his national borders.

    @Quiet Griot: Correct conclusion, atrocious (and factually wrong) reasoning. If your “African urban elites”, say those of the Ethiopian persuasion, were so driven by “prejudice, ignorance, or narrow self-interested rent seeking”, not clear to me how they take time away from their comfortable lives to advocate and appeal for attention to the masses and masses of people massacred by Meles’ forces in the remotest corners of Ethiopia such as Gambella and Ogaden, just to give one example. And your simplifying sweep that all Tigreans in Tigray support Meles is off. Sadly, no professional polls can as yet be conducted, but just look at the huge divide about Meles among Tigreans when push came to shove in 2001, despite the risk of showing disagreement with the ruler.

    @Facile: So let’s see, by this logic, it was wrong for those who stated in early 20th century America that being black made you much more likely to experience lynching, because bringing up the race thing “would alienate a large number of (white) people”.

    Posted October 1, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink
  10. Haile wrote:

    If one refers to the human rights reports by the State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, it is clear to make up ones mind that Meles Zenawi is no different from other war criminals like Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir. Like any other dictator, Meles has also a cabal of followers who only beat the drums when they get paid, or else disappear when not. The other activists who were seen holding the pictures of Birtukan Mideksa were not paid hirelings. They covered their own expenses, and are governed by their own conscience.

    It is a matter of time before the people are united and brought Mr. Meles to the court of justice.

    Posted October 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  11. 2disgusted wrote:

    facil, please face are the facts. The Ethiopian military and security forces are almost entirely Tigre. In particular, the child and woman murdering Agazee forces (A Tigrean name for a Tigrean Security Unit, renown all over Ethiopia for vindictive merciless inhumanity, do NOT EVEN SPEAK THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE as they go about their business of brutalizing Ethiopians. This is reported by Agazee Genocide survivors in Gambella, victims of Agazee shooting sprees in Addis Abeba Tepi and Awassa. Somalis no longer see the repeated invasion and former occupation of their land as Ethiopian preferring to call the psycho security and military forces from Tigray TIGREEGA. What does this tell you facil? In any case..here is the proof that Ethiopia’s repressive security forces are all Tigres. Here are the facts. Read them!
    http://ethioforum.org/wp/archives/1785
    http://saylicipress.net/2009/06/09/the-total-domination-of-the-ethiopian-army-by-ethnic-tigrean-officers/
    http://www.ethiosun.com/ethiopian-military-leadership-ethinocentrisim/
    The only people “alienated” by such evidence, are TPLF indoctrinated HIWAHAT cult members like yourself.

    Posted October 2, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink
  12. 2disgusted wrote:

    More evidence that Ethiopian security and military personnel are mostly Tigrean. See US Army recruitment drive for translators to facilitate US Miliatary Assistance delivery around the world. For Ethiopia, although Tigrinya is spoken by only 6% of the population, the US Military considers it a MOST CRITICAL language as important as the national language but less important than another ethnic language spoken by the majority of Ethiopians- Oromigna. So even at US Government level there is recognition of this total dominance by Tigres of the military and security forces.
    http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/ar611-6.htm
    I’m sure this makes you very proud and happy facil but it is not right and you must understand there will be consequences for such blatant unfairness and imbalance. Despite the American guns and Chinese money that keeps a tiny minority in absolute and total control of a massive and angry majority, those people temporarily terrorized by the Tigrean security forces will find a way to express their disgust and correct this imbalance one way or another.

    Posted October 2, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  13. Dor wrote:

    Just thought I would point out this small matter :

    The demonstrators who are supporting Meles Zenawi are actually dancing and singing in Tigray tribal language. Nobody else , other than that tribe, can speak that language.

    Whereas the ones against the government of Meles Zenawi are doing the same thing but in Amharic, the national language.

    This fact alone demonstrates that the supporters of Meles are his own ethnic people, the Tigres, who speak his language and are a minority in Ethiopia (6%).

    The ethnic element is all that matters for his supporters. One of their own is in power, and they want to keep it that way, no matter what.

    And our tragic history will soon repeat itself.

    Posted October 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink