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Monday, March 27, 2006

Faces of a Dictator

(By Paulos Dandego, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)

EPRDF’s officials are running Ethiopia applying the slave (capo) mentality, a slave who has been promoted to a higher rank by his master and is willing to do anything to keep his status. It is part of the job description for such a slave to oppress those beneath him (his fellow slaves) so they will not dare challenge his authority and keep his masters happy by tending to their every need.

This mentality is what earned Prime Minister Meles Zenawi the “progressive leader” label in Europe and the “dictator” label in his own country. Premiere Meles is convinced his authority comes from his western donors and considers citizens in his country as inconsequential.

Last Tuesday Charges were dropped for 18 defendants who had been accused by the government of genocide and treason. This follows a recent visit by a top western diplomat who at a meeting with EPRDF officials demanded on behalf of the U.S government that charges brought up against U.S employees be dropped ASAP. A few weeks to save face and voila! charges are dropped.

There are two versions of Mr. Zenawi. Most English speaking Ethiopians have known this for years. His lack of respect for his fellow citizens and his unholy reverence of foreigners is clearly depicted in his speeches. His Amharic speeches are designed to scare and intimidate Ethiopians while his English speeches are designed to appease and please the west.

Here’s one example:

On July of 2005 Mr. Zenawi made the following statement on HardTalk to BBC's Stephen Sackur

“Leaders have to stay as long as the people want them to stay, and do so through freely-contested elections. The decision has to be that of the people in the final analysis. ……..The longevity of political leaders, in my view, depends on the quality of the democracy in the country. ………however, more frequent changes of leaders is a safer and healthier approach.”

Just a few days earlier he had made the following statement in Amharic on the state run ETV....

“These are the four choices that are facing opposition leaders at the moment
1) Go into exile
2) pick up arms and engage in armed struggle
3) submit and live quietly
4) Languish in detention for the rest of your lives.”

This translation may seem exaggerated to some who only know the “well mannered” side of Mr. Zenawi, but Ethiopians who had heard that speech in “Amharic” will no doubt attest that we have in fact watered it down a bit.

What distinguishes the current government of Ethiopia form those in the past is not its dedication to democracy as some have suggested but rather its willingness to bend over backwards to be on the good side of its donors.

It will be interesting to see what will happen the day the U.S stops calling for a fair trail and demands an unconditional release of all political prisoners, human rights activists and journalists.