Skip to content

Cry the Beloved Country: Ethiopians criticize Columbia for hosting Meles

UPDATE Sept 19, 8:30am (see end of post)

I have been getting a lot of email from Ethiopian-Americans who are very upset that Columbia University has invited Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to speak this coming Wednesday, like this one:

Most of the professors who come across him, in most cases are neutralized or transformed as his advocates. So far, you are the only one standing clear, so the Ethiopian people need one intellectual friend like you to make their case. Please don’t be afraid and help our people and speak up.

I am both moved and extremely uncomfortable.  The Ethiopian diaspora critics of Meles are upset about the support for Meles coming from Professors Sachs and Stiglitz at Columbia (note: I hear from critics in the diaspora, because its nearly impossible to be a critic from inside Ethiopia). I have criticized the Meles regime here and here (2nd one joint with Laura). But it should not be up to the faranji to conduct the debate.  None of us know enough or have enough at stake to get it right.

But I am happy to give the opposition a platform in this blog, without necessarily endorsing any one viewpoint, individual, or movement. Nor do I imply that any one I quote is necessarily representing a majority of Ethiopians. I have previously given space on the blog to a supporter of Meles.

So what are the issues? The Columbia student newspaper noted how Columbia’s original speech announcement had a laudatory bio of Meles (since removed), further outraging the Ethiopian opposition.

Under the seasoned governmental leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi … Ethiopia has made and continues to make progresses in many areas including in education, transportation, health and energy.

Obang Metho, the director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia,  wrote me with an alternative bio:

Electoral manipulations, harassment, intimidation,beatings, political imprisonments and the withholding of humanitarian aid for any who do not support Meles ‘ethnic-based EPRDF party, have effectively closed all political space to any opposing groups. The criminalization of dissent, advanced through new repressive laws regarding civil society and vague antiterrorism laws that could make nearly anyone guilty, have further silenced the people and the media.

Columbia University has the right to invite whomever they choose, but yet, such an invitation will only be misused to further elevate a dictator who is oppressing the people of Ethiopia.

Political science professor Alemayehu Mariam wrote an open letter to Columbia president Lee Bollinger on the Huffington Post:

There is widespread belief among Ethiopian Americans that Mr. Zenawi’s invitation to speak …necessarily implies the University’s endorsement and support of Mr. Zenawi’s views, policies and actions in Ethiopia. I am writing to request your office to issue an official statement clarifying your position concerning Mr. Zenawi as you so eloquently did when Mahmood Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke on your campus on September 24, 2007.

Professor Mariam cites some of the credentials of Meles Zenawi to get the Ahmadinejad treatment:

In 2005, security forces under the personal command and control of Mr. Zenawi massacred 193 unarmed protesters and inflicted severe gunshot wounds on 763 others…

In December 2008, Mr. Zenawi arrested and reinstated a life sentence on Birtukan Midekssa, the only woman political party leader in Ethiopian history. He kept her under extreme conditions in prison.

He quotes the Committee to Protect Journalists:

The government enacted harsh legislation that criminalized coverage of vaguely defined “terrorist” activities, and used administrative restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments to induce self-censorship… The government has had a longstanding practice of bringing trumped-up criminal cases against critical journalists, leaving the charges unresolved for years as a means of intimidating the defendants… Ethiopia as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with ‘consistent’ and ‘substantial’ filtering of web sites…

Even it’s not up to the faranji to debate Ethiopia’s politics, we can all certainly comment on what support is given to each side by our governments, our aid agencies, and our universities.

What do you think of Columbia’s invitation to Meles? Should President Bollinger issue the “Ahmadinejad” disclaimer requested by the critics?

UPDATE (Sunday 9/19 8:30am): The same pro-Meles Ethiopian Ph.D. student cited in an earlier Aid Watch post wrote me again this morning (“you are back at it again!”):

The note you posted regarding HE PM Meles Zenawi is highly charged with hatred and grudge. It does not look one produced by a man who claims to be a scholar and neutral. Once again, you clearly demonstrated your malicious intent to harm the flourishing name of our prime minister… your witnesses are disgruntled and die hard extremists

I am very happy to feature both sides to the debate, just as I want to also provide an alternative viewpoint to the support of Meles by Professors Stiglitz and Sachs at Columbia. Unfortunately, this debate cannot happen within Ethiopia because Meles suppresses dissent, and even this very blog post is almost certainly blocked from anyone trying to access it from within Ethiopia.

This entry was posted in Democracy and freedom and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. David Zetland wrote:

    President Bollinger should read the First Amendment aloud, remind Meles that’s why he’s talking, and sit down

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  2. Christos wrote:

    In the age of IT the well established and respected institutions like Colombia University seems short of seeing the damage they are causing to their brand built over 100 of years.

    The name Colombia University automatically gave comfort to the millions of the world citizens a sense the Alpha and omega of knowledge, ethics and the belief the world is on the hands of the best and the brightest.

    The erosion of ethics in prestigious institutions like Colombia has far more implications for western civilization than any other.

    It begins with corruption within and from the top down. The very corruption that made countries the Third World is sipping in well established learning institutions of the west. The water down ethics they adapt by aligning with commercial and political interest will have far more implication for western society.

    This is not an isolated incidence; watching the action of leaders produced by the prestigious institutions of the west made me wonder who is going to be trusted to be the moral compass of the world.

    We may have to clone Professors like William Easterly as fast as we can to save the free world.

    Thank you professor Eastern, you might not know your impact on millions, but your moral clarity is highly appreciated even tough it is an upward battle in the age spin doctors running the show.

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  3. Katrina wrote:

    I’m a Columbia alum and was slightly disturbed by the Zenawi invitation also. BUT… Bollinger is a free speech scholar. He will likely ask Zenawi some tough questions, especially if he has the appropriate pressure and direction from people more knowledgeable about Ethiopian politics than himself. So I advise that people who are upset about the invitation instead try to contact Bollinger with suggested questions. It’s a good opportunity to put Zenawi on the spot and engage him in a dialogue that has (at least on the surface) less policy strings attached than in a UN forum.

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Zemedkun wrote:

    I am not politician nor educated person. I am Ethiopian refugee leaving in Europe. Meles Zenawi destroyed the life of many. Under his direct comand his snipers shot dead nearly 200 innocent civilians. If Meles ordered the killing of 10 innocent American civilians, would he be invited by the university. I don’t think so. In the eye of this great university Ethiopian life is less important than Americans. Unfortunately this is a sad fact we all should be aware of and fight to change!

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  5. ken wrote:

    While agreeing that Columbia should issue a disclaimer that it does not endorse Zenawi’s policies, I think it is a good thing to engage some of these dictators. Forums like these are sometimes the only places in which autocrats like Zenawi can be grilled in public. I hope the moderators and audience at Columbia will put Mr. Zenawi’s feet to the fire, especially with regard to his anti-democratic tendencies.

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  6. sam wrote:

    Is it fair to assume that Prof. Easterly opposes Columbia’s decision? I can’t tell from this post. It seems like because Stiglitz and Sachs have, apparently, supported Meles, the good prof is trying to settle scores. Hardly appropriate. The reality is Iran’s president spoke at Columbia and Chavez spoke there, too. The point is clear and compelling: Freedom of speech. In this crazy age of patriot acts, etc., let’s be honest: Where else could this guy speak in America today? He certainly won’t be hosted by NYU, that’s for sure. Columbia U. is sticking to the principles upon which America was founded. Too many want to sell out those principles. The argument should not be with Columbia, but with those who support Meles and the many big American companies that do business in Ethiopia, directly supporting the guy: IBM, Ford, Ernst & Young, Mobil, etc. ( Funny how these guys don’t come in for any criticism here… hmmmmm!

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Geremew wrote:

    For those whom do not follow Ethiopian politics, please refer to the link for images of one of the known atrocities perpetrated by the Meles regime (go to the botton pages for the images

    Posted September 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  8. robert wrote:

    Let him speak. But limit it to allow for lots of discussion. Make it clear to him that substantial, tough questions may be supported by the moderator/facilitator and the whole ethos of social/ scientific inquiry within a university setting, and the rules of inquiry. Much of the success of the event for persons really concerned with what’s happening in Ethiopia will depend on how the moderator takes questions seriously and expects Zenawi to respond directly and honestly — even If Columbia and Zenawi might want a PR/”celebrity”/’diplomatic” exercise. The moderator should be allowed to support follow up questions a la BBC’s Hard Talk.

    Entering into discussion in a major university is not a PR exercise. Zenawi’s advisors and Columbia’s “events organizers” should be informed of this.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  9. Danny Solomon wrote:

    Are we going to see similar treatment for identical dictators at Colombia University? Or are we going to witness double standard in one of the top university in the United States of America?
    Colombia University invited Iran’s President Ahmadinejad in 2007 and President Lee C. Bollinger expressed outrage and condemnation of bad governance and his denial of Holocaust. Can we hope to hear President Bollinger asking the notorious Zenawi about his grouse human right violations, the blood on his hand and his minority lead apartheid government in Ethiopia?

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink
  10. Ethiosun wrote:

    I think Columbia should be cited for collaborating with a bloody tyrant and war criminal.

    In addition Columbia lobbyists (Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz) should be accountable for attempting to mislead their students and the world by saying a tyrant (Meles Zenawi) should be an example of a good leadership.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 2:16 am | Permalink
  11. Galana wrote:

    This is not a big surprise for me. Today most of the higher institutions or civilized and developed countries misusing the the developing countries by the cover of aid and research. If the humanitarian and diplomatic representatives kept quite while genocied and other atrocities took place, how we can expect from colombia university? Here the big issue is are they going to ask him about political prisoners, mass murders of innocients, freedom speech…etc or simply ignoring such basic issues and to appreciate him for what has been achieved? Atleast staying on power for 19 years it self should be a big question to Columbia u.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink
  12. Yonas Tesfamariam wrote:

    The people at Colombia who have invited the tyrant should know that Melese has been involved in a lot of gruesome crimes in the past 30 years including the Addis massacre 2005, genocide against the Anuak people 2003, redirecting aid money given him to buy food for buying weapon to starving people in Tigray region in the middle of famine, igniting unnecessary wars which has claimed the life of over 1000000 of Ethiopians and Eritreans, incarcerating tens thousands of people without trial just because his paranoia-mind tell him they are his enemy and numerous violations of the basic and democratic right Ethiopians. He still presides in one of most undemocratic, corrupt and repressive regime in whole of Africa.
    It should be noted, for us no matter how the people in Colombia spin it, inviting Melse is an attempt to improve his image and that is a pure insult to many Ethiopians who are actively suffering in his hand. For me, It is also a clear manifestation of the indifference on the part of people who invited me. This is being deeply insensitive to human suffering. If I am allowed to express what I think on this blog; it is a clear manifestation of racism, although in hidden way. As everybody could guess the people in Columbia will never invite Mugabe, because unlike Melese his stupid and bad policy were directed against the white people.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink
  13. haile gemechu wrote:

    Hello Dear,

    Columbia University has invited Meles Zenawi a brutal dictator, who has been ruling Ethiopia for 20 years, as a keynote speaker.

    Doesn’t it contradict to the mission of your university to invite a dictator for a key note speech about leadership in Africa?

    Even the term for the Prime Minster is not limited by the constitution but the term for the nominal president is limited to two terms.

    Stop supporting and publicizing dictators! The judge & oppostion leader Bertukan Mideksa is in jail and nobody except her daughter and mother can visit her!

    The daughter of Bertukan Mideksa is begging

    Reports of his cruel records:

    Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights International Report, 25 February 2004 or read

    Human rights watch 2009 (about the upcoming election in 2010):

    Human rights watch 24 May 2010 (about the election held on 22 May 2010):

    The US state department human right report (March 11, 2010):

    No hope for Ethiopian elections, MEP tells RFI 19 May 2010 (the election was held 22 May 2010 in which the ruling party “won” 99.6%)

    Amnesty International:

    BBC 2006:

    BBC 2009 about Birtukan Medeksa (opposition leader):
    YouTube – Videos from this email
    Reply Reply to all Forward

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink
  14. blacky wrote:

    i think Colombia university has the right to invite who ever they want the thing here shouldn’t be why do they invite him but how are they going to present him to the public it is a good opportunity to tell to the world that meles is a dictator…!

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  15. Mengesesha wrote:

    The only reason the two professors invited him is that Meles knows how to please people who love to be quoted as a good …..and he has been doing it for long time. They give him a platform to advance their economic principles. Meles only cares for aid money to keep himself and his ethnic based divide and rule policy in place in Ethiopia for long time. So the professors who invited him in a way are also victims of a dictator who say and does anything to advance his rotten backward idea.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  16. Mark Robinson, Head of Profession for Governance and Conflict and Deputy Director of UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) says he has “been very impressed with the emphasis that the Ethiopian Government has been putting on food security as an overriding policy challenge.” He continued, “I can talk a lot about this. I think one of the things that distinguishes Ethiopia from the rest of the continent is that the government here has a clear sense of its development priorities. It has a vision for development and that is the main reason we think it is important to work closely together. It’s not that common to find a clear and articulate vision of development prioritisation across different levels of Governments in other countries in Africa where we work. In Ethiopia, it is distinguished by that vision and by the fact that the government is serious in its emphasis on poverty reduction. I was also impressed that I met so many dedicated civil servants at all levels of government. The opportunity to meet those responsible for providing advice to farmers was welcome and those at the lowest levels of government in the Tigray region were enormously impressive. Ethiopia is recognised by the international community as having a relatively capable state in line with this vision of a developmental state that is effective in its delivery. So, I think there are aspects of Ethiopia’s development standing up in a positive way.” [Emphasis ours]

    This then was the impression Mr. Robinson had after a 10-day visit in Mekelle and after talking to Mr. Meles [who must have lectured him on his “developmental state” doctrine. We had to re-read the interview to be sure it was not Mr. Meles or his Foreign Minister speaking!]

    So what is going on here? Mr. Robinson did not travel to Eastern and Southern Ethiopia where millions are facing famine and undernourishment. Instead, Mr. Robinson traveled to Tigray and, unbeknownst to him or to his handlers, ended up contradicting earlier statements by Gebru Asrat and co. that Tigray is not better off than the rest of the nation and that there are 601,000 people needing immediate food assistance.

    Mr. Meles is like a broken record – still talks about economic growth and “poverty-reduction” strategies after 18 years in power and still in denial about expanding hunger, undernourishment and poverty in the country! Well, if you will recall, British Minister for International Development, Mr. Douglas Alexander, had flown to Ethiopia a year ago to observe for himself the famine situation with the intention to commit millions of British pounds in funds over several years. He later had to reconsider his judgment because, as he put it, Mr. Meles and his government were using “deny and delay” tactic. Nothing has changed since last year. In fact, things have only gotten worse. Many aid organizations have been kicked out of the country. Allowing democratic space to the opposition as a prerequisite for receiving aid was promised but never put into practice. Mr. Meles, who had promised to retire, changed his mind to stay on indefinitely. Nearly 500 opposition members have been jailed in the past two months alone. Opposition party meeting in a nearby town was disrupted by hooligans sent in by the government, and so on.

    And what else is going on? Mr. Meles says he is now willing to hold bilateral talks with his comrade-in-alms Medrek chief Seye after initial refusal. Judge Birtukan could soon be released. Mr. Robinson’s carrot is the secret to all these developments. What is clearer is, however, hypocrisy of Gordon Brown’s government and inability to see the difference between a carrot and a stick. Meles has had plenty of carrots and his midriff shows; a good thrashing is what he should be getting instead [we are repeating his words to the opposition!]

    Now that Meles has fulfilled his pledges to Mr. Robinson or is about to fulfill them, Mr. Robinson is duty-bound to release some of the funds; democracy and human rights protection could wait! Money will start flowing once again. Meles will wait until Mr. Robinson travels to Asia and then go back on his word. The fox will do anything to keep the opposition in check and “impress” the inconsiderate, the patronizing, and the merchandizing donor. End of story. Alamoudi is already committing enormous sums to prop up his masters [ooops servants].

    In the 1984 famine Thatcher’s Britain was, on political grounds, opposed to a longterm aid to Ethiopia; it relented only after the airwaves became saturated with haunting cries of hungry children and Band Aid and others took matters into their own hands. It appears Britain today has grown deaf to the silent cries of malnourished and hungry populations in parts of Ethiopia other than Tigray because it has economic and geo-political interests to pursue.

    What else? We should not forget that Jeffrey Sachs, Joe Stiglitz, and now Mark Robinson are academes. They have an abiding interest in theories of development and poverty reduction and that Ethiopia is the lab of choice for researchers. Let us also remember these academes have big egos to save the world and would want to see those theories applied [no less than Professor Meles’s mission to save Africa from Western ecological “rapists”]. Being personal friends of a Prime Minister of a nation also has a bonus in that it allows the academes to govern by proxy. The late-Samuel Huntington and his “dominant ethnic party” recommendation sold to USAID, World Bank, and Mr. Meles’s minority ethnic groupies is another example why consultants should be made to answer for their judgments.

    Finally, Britain is in the process of re-branding its overseas aid in the manner of USAID to help maintain spending abroad during the current economic downturn. [See new UKaid logo above; we think logo should be labeled “encouraging begging hands”]. Mr. Robinson is simply a marketer and not necessarily one jolly guy interested in ethical/moral consequences of his statements.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  17. Ben wrote:

    Columbia University is not short of scholars to do little research on Meles and his human right violation and massacre ( Columbia University will be historically held accountable for not wanting to find out the truth and for endorsing dictator Meles Zenawi on its stage.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  18. kerdede wrote:

    It shame for Columbia calling Meles to attend this meeting. What will you teach to your students about democracy, justice & Good Governance. Zenawi is abusing 80 million people of Ethiopia. we Ethiopians donot have aright to express our feeling, not allowed to be member of political party, no free press. we are under slavery in modern world. So Columbia invitation the most hated Meles Zenawi is a threat of Democracy & Justice across Africa. Zenawi is full of inocent blood and we all want to see him in ICC not in Columbia. But we know there are lobysts for his cruel deeds that receive millions of Dollars snatched from Ethiopian poor. We know these people facilitated for Zenawi to come to Columbia.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  19. Selam wrote:, stop melding in Ethiopian politics. You are making things worse. Are you trying to justify that Melese’s killing ( and terrorizing of his own people is to fight poverty? Do you know who control every sector of the economy? It the business conglomerate of Meles Zenawi’s TPLF or what was formerly known as Marxist Leninist Tigray controlled by him and his wife. You Europeans think that Ethiopians do not deserve democracy and freedom. Do you still think that? This man has been in power for the last 20 years. Please let the Ethiopian victims speak and stop meddling in Ethiopian affairs.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  20. Jenn wrote:

    I think the discussion of whether Columbia has the “right” is misplaced. In a legalistic sense, of course it does: If it wishes to exercise it, it has the “right” to invite one cruel authoritarian a month: Mugabe in October, Than Shwe of Burma in November, Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan in December, etc., and it has the “right” to thank them profusely after their speech for their “seasoned governmental leadership”.

    The point is not about whether Columbia has the right to do all this (it does), but about the more difficult and elusive issue of “what’s the right thing to do”. If Mr. Bollinger invites a figure like Meles Zenawi with his devastating record (and it doesn’t take a Columbia PhD degree to research and find hard facts about the hurt the Meles rule has inflicted on the country in the past 20 years), the right thing for Mr. Bollinger to do is to:
    1) allocate *extended* time for free Q&A after his talk; and not just time for three quicky questions before Zenawi gets whisked away into the Limousine through Low Library’s back door,
    2) in addition to the current permission to register given only to Columbia students, staff and faculty: extend the invitation also to select individuals representing those organisations who have long expertise on Ethiopian governance and have an established track record working on related topics; e.g. HRW, CPJ, as well as Ethiopian scholars with the requisite expertise; and
    3) Do a Bollinger-post-Ahmadinejad-speech, as one of the excerpts from Bill’s post above suggests.

    (1) and (2) are required for Meles’ appearance to be an educational experience for Columbia students and not just a platform for an articulate dictator to shine, and (3) may be necessary for Mr. Bollinger to ensure he does not reserve true words about cruel authoritarians just for those who are on bad terms with the US government.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  21. abrham wrote:

    before you say something against meles come first and visit what is happeninig here in ethiopia.Here everybody tells you about development.Everybody works day and night to avoid poverty once foreever.Weather you belive it or not Meles is a pride of Africa.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  22. Sime wrote:

    Wow freedom of speech! Colombia University has made unspeakable mistake by inviting this despot to the university platform ’cause Zenawi has never comprehended what freedom of speech means. He’s closed down all the free presses excepting those presses originated from his localities ….. He’s cracked down on oppositions ……Zenawi is a criminal in the eyes of Ethiopians at home and outside ,,,,The Genocide watch transferred his case to the UN for the atrocities the army under his command committed against particularly the people of Ogaden, Oromia, Gambella and else where in Ethiopia………I personally appeal to the University officials to clearly denounce this evil man as they did to Amhadin Neejad of Iran.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  23. Eric R. wrote:

    After living in Ethiopia (yes, I have been there and seen) I can tell you Meles is not the pride of Africa. In Addis I can’t remember talking to a single person who voted for Meles, and yet somehow he won with 99%…

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  24. DA wrote:

    I think it’s pretty clear that at this point, an Ahmedinejad disclaimer would be the best way to go for all concerned (except Meles). But that wouldn’t be quite enough – there should also be an open Q&A allowing real questions about Ethiopia’s human rights record.

    There should certainly be question on Birtukan Mideksa, an opposition politician, mother of a young child, imprisoned by Meles for frankly, fear of her popularity. It would be nice if this question came from Bollinger himself.

    If all sides play this right, an invitation ill advised on the face of it will have turned into a good platform for the pro-democracy movement to expose Ethiopia’s human rights record.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  25. Mekdese B Kassa wrote:

    Unless he is not a friend of Jeffrey Sachs and Joe Stiglitz, the next Columbia University speaker is Omar al-Bashir of Sudan who is charged by ICC with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. He is on the same categorie like Melese Zenawi

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  26. Dhugaa wrote:

    Dear William Easterly and visitors as well as contributors of this blog,

    I would like to just cross-post a recent heart breaking story by Mr. Bekele Jirata, one of the many thousands of Oromo political prisionors, who sufferd under the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:
    No one will get away with a crime he/she comitted!

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  27. ezra wrote:

    I just came across your negative comment on Ethiopian Recycler. Either you haven’t read what is posted there or you have problem with English language or you are just being silly. Please re-read the post. Ethiopian Recycler is in fact one of the few consistent blogs that have been fighting the minority regime of dictator Meles Zenawi. Go google and if you have any sense in you you need to apologize for your error!

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  28. addis wrote:

    Those you quoted as saying: “…Most of the professors who come across him, in most cases are neutralized or transformed as his advocates…” , are afraid you would be a convert too… go figure!

    The Ethiopian loud diaspora is leading the failed path of the Cuban expatriates who have only succeeded in pulling their country and people under without achieving the downfall of the now ill and frail Fidel Castro…

    Just to mention some of the louder ones you mentioned: Al Mariam (who posts at least one anti Meles commentary a week… and would love to see the fall of Meles at any cost) and Obang (who used to be a moderate but swayed to the far right),… You don’t expect the TEA party patriots to have a favorable or balanced view of Obama.

    Meles is no angel, but he is by far a better leader Ethiopia has seen in recent years or even centuries for all I know. Your disclaimer (which I feel you might pursue not to look “neutralized” or “transformed” ) should respect the title he holds: PM of a sovereign nation, Ethiopia.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  29. Inde Hewan wrote:

    Meles’ speech in Columbia is not the main show for him; it’s just something he tacks on at the the tail-end of a much bigger fish he needs to this coming week, the Millenium Developmen Goals summit 20-22 September in NY.

    And at some point during the bigger show, someone–perhaps with a name starting and ending with S–will likely praise Ethiopia’s alleged galloping growth and poverty reduction. However, very serious questions have been raised about the soundness of the government’s agricultural data of the past couple years, which are a big driver of the alleged economic growth, by an Oxford economist who knows Ethiopia inside out: (see Section 2).

    While this paper doesn’t say it this way, let me say it: Suppose a sharp-minded dictator realises that it’s not only the rigging of election numbers which helps to secure power, but the rigging of economic numbers has a similar power-preserving effect (nice growth numbers –> more aid –> more money = more secure power). And suppose he’s therefore hellbent to get the numbers the way he needs them to be. Then who audits the data collection to make sure it wasn’t overmanaged from the top? The data entry to make sure it wasn’t tampered with? The data cleaning? Frankly, if said dictator is deeply committed to working the data every step of the way, is there any realistic way to stop him? Even if there were any way, does any entity have sufficient incentives to try? My reading of the above paper is that it shows through careful and sober analysis that Ethiopia’s current emperor has no clothes on, showing that the pieces simply will and will not add up, whichever way one looks at them.

    And this looks just at the agricultural data. What nakedness would any analyst uncover if (s)he were to subject the recent income (LSMS) data, from which the poverty numbers come that are so central to the MDGs, to similar scrutiny? Who puts all the other datasets to the test that the government generates through its own surveys or that the government manages through its guys it has carefully placed in the NGOs/UN offices in-country which conduct the surveys?

    So it seems that Meles’ approach to economic growth and poverty reduction is: If you can’t be like Chiina for real, then darn it, make sure you’ll look like China on paper.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  30. Hager wrote:

    Don’t bend to a pressure.
    Rather than making this a popularity contest, use your own judgement. Appeasing one side will always slight the other.
    You can call him whatever you wish but character assassination would serve no good to any party involved.

    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  31. Addisabebian wrote:

    I agree with Prof. Easterly that the solution for the problems of Ethiopia should come from Ethiopians, not from the ferenji. But I acknowledge your contribution will add to the struggle here.

    I am not against Colombia’s invitation to Meles, but I believe it is important to give the appropriate chance for his critics to qualify or challenge what he will be saying. Some one with good grasp of what is going on here in Ethiopia (political, social, economical, academic, etc.) such as Berhanu Nega (Ph.D).

    I would also expect challenges from the audience about academic freedom in the country besides the issues mentioned by the blog and the other commentators.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink
  32. abrham h wrote:

    I can assure u that those comments which are coming against Colombia’s invitation to Pm meles are from Erireana and Derg members.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  33. abrham h wrote:

    I can assure u that those comments which are coming against Colombia’s invitation to Pm meles are from Erireans and Derg members.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  34. Tefera wrote:

    As an Ethiopian I have been very dismayed and disheartened that Columbia University has invited the dictator Meles Zenawi to address a scholarly discussion. First of all, the university should realize that there is no any kind of freedom in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, all kinds of basic human rights and freedom has been suppressed by draconian laws. The Ethiopian tyrant is in power illegally by rigging the past two elections. To the amazement of the whole world, Meles has claimed a 99.6% win in the recent election. Since coming to power, he has been fomenting ethnic division and strife in the country to install a divide and rule strategy and satisfy his lust for power. However, Ethiopia is a blessed and ancient country that the people still stayed together and are trying their best against all odds.

    The Ethiopian people is being subjugated, humiliated, and annihilated by the myopic policies and actions of Meles’ regime. His ethnic-based politics is marginalizing the majority of the Ethiopian people politically and economically. Meles is setting up a time bomb in the country that could detonate some day and destroy the whole region in East Africa. It is a shame that a respected academic and scholarly institute like CU try to cover up the crimes of Meles Zenawi and disregard the plight of the Ethiopian people by posting a politically charged statement on its website. The statement has made it clear that the presence of the dictator will have a political implication and whoever facilitates the event has a dishonest and sinister motive. I have understood that Prof. Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz were insturmental in arranging such an event. It is obvious that these two people are using the prestigeous name of the university to promote their won bussiness of self-aggradizhment.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  35. Alex wrote:

    Hi Dr. Easterly,

    Your website isn’t blocked in Ethiopia. I am on it right now. I can’t say for certain if that is due to the mobile internet technology I am using , or because I am a ferenge, but either way, I check your site (and get your tweets) regularly

    As for Meles, let him speak and use the opportunity to engage on the issues being brought up here and in other forums.

    PS. My Ethiopians insist it is spelled Ferenj or Ferenge. a “ji” ending, apparently sounds too French!

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  36. David Rinaldi wrote:

    Ironically I was in Addis Ababa – where I rented the room of an Ethiopian American girl studying International Affairs at Columbia – when I first went through the “End of Poverty” masterpiece.

    I was laying in bed with my girlfriend and we just could not stop laughing. The prologue was so hilarious. Sachs thanks and express the higher respect to those African leaders who systematically put their personal interest before the one of their people, and in some cases with clear violation of basic democratic, I would say human, principles. He really list them all, it is so funny.

    One might think that the approach of prof. Sachs is to gain their trust and friendship in order to shift their politics from within instead of criticizing and achieving no change. I would probably consider this strategy as a very smart strategy. Eat with the enemy, make your hands dirty but aiming to concrete changes in the short-run.
    But I doubt this is the case. I find it more likely that after having dinner with the enemy once, after sharing the Sheraton suite and a couple of nice drinks, after attending conferences and UN style-speeches you end up thinking that the enemy is not that evil. And although your goal are still clear, you no longer find any opposition with the “Big Man”. I’m almost sure that if you speak with president Zenawi, he will ensure you with his highest commitment to improve the life and freedom of the People of Ethiopia.

    But it’s not words that matters, it’s facts and behaviours. I guess it’s not bad to recall the atrocities carried out by the Ethiopian leader, I gather it’s not bad to harshly address him our discontent in a public meeting but I once again laugh thinking to the headlines in Ethiopia. What will the public television broadcast? “ Columbia University invites Pres. Zenawi to lecture on the economic advances of Ethiopia.” “Leading Scholars demonstrates appreciation for the Ethiopian leadership to conduct Africa out of poverty” and so on.

    I’m a farenji and I have no clue to add to the debate – I still have a lot of problem to solve with the “Big Man” that is ruling and ruining my own country – but I’m very happy that there is debate.

    Hopefully sometime soon, contributions will pop up from Ethiopia-based Ethiopian once surfing on political website is no longer considered as a potentially terroristic activity.

    I apologize for the poor English and for wasting your time.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  37. Stephen Jones wrote:

    I thought Colombia’s biased treatment of Ahmedijad disgraceful.

    You invite somebody to speak and let him do so. Snide comments before his speech from the head of the inviting institution are gross ill manners, and Ahmedijad should have told his host so and walked out.

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  38. TheTruth wrote:

    Despite massive foreign aid estimated at $30 billion since 1991, and $3 billion per year, the latest Oxford University Multidimensional governance index showed that Ethiopia, along with Niger, is among the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ninety (90) percent of the population is poor; there are 5 million orphans; 70 percent of Ethiopian youth is unemployed; an estimated 7 million Ethiopians depend on international emergency food aid to survive.

    The national economy is dominated by party owned and endowed enterprises. Corruption is rampant at the highest levels of the regime. Inequality is on the rise. Ethiopian economists estimate that growing inequality is a consequence of economic and other asset concentration into the hands of a few and at the exclusion of the majority. Land, the primary source of livelihood for the vast majority of the Ethiopian people, is owned by the state. The ruling party has used its power to lease millions of acres of farmlands to foreign investors to produce food and related products for rich markets. This phenomenon deprives local communities and the country from achieving food self-sufficiency and security. At the same time, prices of basic necessities, including food, continue to rise, and to overcome the food inflation the government has frequently emptied its weak reserves. In illustrating the magnitude of the problem, Ethiopian social scientists estimate that, in Addis Ababa where 5 million people live, only about 100,000 have the means to eat three meals a day. For most, a single meal has become a luxury.

    Ethiopia continues to suffer from the absence of the rule of law, independent judiciary, free press, strong civil society and opposition, participation of civil society in policy and decision-making and vibrant private sector. The United States Department of State 2010 Country Report on Human Rights and Practices documented that Mr. Meles Zenawi’s government continued to carry out “Unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with impunity; poor prison conditions ; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of sympathizers of members of opposition groups detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; use of excessive force by security services..” International Human Rights Watch groups including Human Rights Watch and Genocide Watch have repeatedly documented and condemned the gross violation of human rights, war crimes and even genocide perpetrated by the regime of Meles Zenawi. The recent draft Senate Bill sponsored by two prominent US Senators confirms these atrocities.

    The legacy of the government of Meles Zenawi. What an achievement for a despot that has been in power for 20 years

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  39. TheTruth wrote:

    Despite over 7 million people depending on food aid to survive, over $2million paid to Washington lobbyists in just 1 year by the Melese Zenawi Government to influence U.S. policy. Why is billions of dollars in Foreign Aid pouring into Ethiopia if the money is not reaching the people but comes back to Washington lobbyists.

    Foreign Government Lobbying Influence…

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  40. Ayaantu wrote:

    Oromo Schools: TPLF Shooting Ranges
    Emboldened by the support it received from Western governments in return for his role in ousting Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from power in Somalia, TPLF has now turned its attention to what it does best in the country: Murdering, injuring, incarcerating and torturing Oromo students ….more

    Posted September 20, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
  41. Miriam wrote:

    Hmm, Columbia seems to have sanitized the description of Meles on the WLF website:

    Posted September 21, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  42. Drama wrote:

    To Colombia Spectator
    To All Executive Members of CU
    Once again, CU newspaper used two complex personalities (an Eritrean & another african from elsewhere) that do not have enough knowledge on Ethiopia to erode the opposing comments about Self appointed Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In addition, CU news paper used an excuse of Meles Zenawi’s human rights abuses and pinpointed that it is all about the Global Environment, like Meles is not destroying Ethiopians and their environment.
    Under his orders, the government is building the largest hydro-dam (Gil-Gil Gibe dam) in Africa which will displace local ethnic groups of off their habitats and destroy the livelihood they have cherished for thousands of years. This dam will destroy the lives of innocent people and deprive them of their daily food which they have depended on for centuries from the water bodies the dam is being built on. Is this what Mamadou Diouf wants to tells us about Meles Zenawi and his global agenda? For all we know Mamadou is an indirect mercenary, maybe prominent at CU but means diddley to us Ethiopians. Where is the ethics CU? inviting a butcher of people and the environment to a prominent US University? Shame to CU and Mamadou who thinks he is smart enough to outsmart us?
    Watching the Americans,
    An Ethiopian

    Posted September 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  43. samrawit wrote:

    I am so sorry for all of you above.Please come to Ethiopia and look how our country is changed.You guys you have been in America for 20 or 30 years. Now Ethiopia is on the track to development.There are a lot of infrastructures like road, Hydropowers, Universities and schools, Health centers and hospitals and so on……….. but i don’t undrstand why you coment like this all this development is because God gave us prime minister Meles Zenawi.I want to ask the president of colombia university ” please ask our prime minister what ever you need he will give you the answer and send him as soon as possible. we need him urgent. He has a lot of jobs. This is not a kind of joke. we need him we need him.”

    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink
  44. samrawit wrote:

    In one hand you are saying ethiopian people has no enough electric power,people are suffering in the darkness. And in the other hand you are hindering the construction of hydroelectric dams in the country by saying it will displace people. Try to use your mind. To relocate people is a must in dam construction. They are not relocating millions of people. It is thaousands of people. Even this people will go to a better life. It is preferable to shift this people and to to give light to the dark country and even to give light to Africa.How many millions of people relocated by china because of the three gorge dam, They have even dimolished a city bigger than Addis Ababa.Please read. Meles zenawi can not bring a change in one night. Give him time and follow him. I have seen many coments on this dam construction. Gibe = not good, Nile=Tis abay became dry. Which river we have to use? We make dam on colorado rever? Please Please

    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  45. Hey Dear
    Let me Appreciate COLOMBIA UNIVERSITY for being Inviting PM MELES,this is because to get some thing Important for the country USA,not for Ethiopia.This is not our(Ethiopian) business,our business is getting LOVE b/n us,fighting poverty which is a lot of years with us,getting DEMOCRACY,not surrender to WESTERN COUNTRIES to get WHEAT .Missing many things is very bad like,Democracy,Education,Health Facility,and other infrastructures.But we get at least of a lot from the above.Please thing as Ethiopian,don’t be sensitive especially for those Ethiopians living in Western countries.Come Invest in your country,to be Like America,close your ear to the Negative Reflection of Ethiopia through the Media of western countries.Frankly Ethiopia is waiting to our contribution.Please ask for the Americans what does he contribute for his country to be here. No doubt we are changed,will also change.

    Posted September 23, 2010 at 3:30 am | Permalink
  46. Lindsay wrote:

    In the eye of this great university Ethiopian life is less important than Americans.

    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink
  47. Getu wrote:

    I can not add much more to what ha already been said about the dictator. Any one remotely interested can find all the information they need from many sources including state department reports. My message to the profs at Colombia is just because you found a willing dictator, you should not use this old, proud and admittedly Poor nation and it’s people as field trial specimen for your grandoise social engineering experiments. Please stop feeding the corruption and cult personality ego trips of the dictator and his minions with hard earned US and Eurpean tax payers money. Bad and corrupt governance is a contributor if not the major contributor to poverty. Please stop rewarding it.

    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] William Easterly Posted at AID WATCH […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Easterly, William Easterly, William Easterly, JohnNess, Billy Williams and others. Billy Williams said: Check out new @bill_easterly debate w @jeffdsachs should sachs university promote his favorite autocrat? […]

  3. By Columbia being Criticized for Hosting Meles by Ethiopia on September 19, 2010 at 11:52 am

    […] Published on September 19,2010 Via […]

  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

  • Archives