The Guardian goes on a fiction-writing safari
In what could be described as the worst piece of journalism ever read from a respected paper, Simon Tisdall of the Guardian picks up Meles Zenawi as a staunch critic of western pressure on Kenya, whose President, Mwai Kibaki, faces public fury for stealing votes, and plunging Kenya into chaos.
What is odd here is not Meles, who also rigged the elections in 2005, defending his Kenyan ilk but how Simon Tisdall, assistant editor of the Guardian, goes on a fiction-writing safari, and refers to Mr. Zenawi as "one of sub-Saharan Africa's most respected and thoughtful leaders."
Tisdall's report is obviously infused with outlandish praise for the dictator in Ethiopia, too outlandish that it is not journalism but a public relations gimmick that it is at work here. Readers may forward complaints to Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger, Michael White, and Simon Tisdall himself at the following addresses, respetively: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.(Photo: Courtesy of 'The Guardian')
'To impose democracy from outside is inherently undemocratic': Zenawi tells The Guardian's Simon Tisdall.
Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, tells Simon Tisdall in a rare interview that western policy in the region is ill-informed and at times arrogant Western countries should stop trying to browbeat Kenya's warring political leaders into submission and do more in practical terms to prevent poverty, lack of opportunity, and Islamist terrorism from further destabilising the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has told the Guardian.
"The threat of western sanctions as a response to the current crisis in Kenya is very, very misguided," Meles said. "If it is presumed that the Kenyans will democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development assistance from the European Union, for example, it would be a big mistake."
Placing pressure on resources to influence the post-election process, which has degenerated into violence amid claims of government-engineered fraud, would not work and could be counter-productive, he said.
"What it does do is give the impression that Africans democratise in response to development assistance and all you have to do is close the taps and they will sit up and behave like proper schoolchildren. That is very unfortunate and quite demeaning."
Meles, a former guerrilla who has become one of sub-Saharan Africa's most respected and thoughtful leaders, has held power since 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition overthrew the cold war military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Praised in the west for subsequently switching ideological tack and adopting pro-market policies to boost Ethiopia's impoverished, largely agricultural economy, he has also faced sharp criticism over alleged human rights abuses and the violent crackdown that followed his victory in the last multi-party general election in 2005.
In an exclusive interview at his office in Addis Ababa, Meles said he had personally urged Kenya's presidential rivals, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, to settle their differences peacefully and legally.
And he warned that any permanent destabilisation of Kenya as a result of the current unrest would represent "an unmitigated disaster" for the entire region, adding to existing problems in Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Kenya's stability was of "paramount importance", he said.
Speaking one year after he sent up to 10,000 troops into Somalia to end Islamist rule in Mogadishu and southern areas of the country, Meles said progress was being made towards establishing "democratic, responsive and inclusive" governance there. But while serious security challenges remained, it was impossible to give a timetable for withdrawal.
"The biggest achievement so far is that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Somali people have saved the country from being taken over by the Taliban of Somalia [a reference to hardliners linked to the Islamic Courts Union or ICU]. They made no secret of their intention of establishing a caliphate there. Defeating them was no mean achievement.
"In addition, there has been a national reconciliation conference last summer and that has concluded successfully. A new government has been established that is likely to be more effective than the previous one.
"The TFG is reaching out to moderate members of the ICU for a commitment to resolve problems by peaceful means. They are already in contact with some of these groups. So there is a lot of progress going on."
But Meles warned that Ethiopia could not disengage militarily until the African Union's peacekeeping mission to Somalia, Amisom, was up to strength or had at least achieved a "substantial deployment".
So far, fewer than one third of the promised 8,000 troops have materialised on the ground.
Somalia was a good example of why more practical help from the international community was required in the region, he said. African countries were capable of dealing with security issues in Somalia but Amisom badly needed help with logistics and transportation.
Even allowing for their commitments in Darfur and elsewhere, western countries were not doing enough. "In rhetorical terms they are supportive. We understand that resources are overstretched. But if Somalia goes back to where it was a year ago, everybody would lose."
Meles said there was accumulating evidence of a growing Islamist threat across the Horn of Africa and accused Eritrea, Ethiopia's sworn enemy since the 1998-2000 war between the two countries, of aiding and abetting the jihadis.
"Eritrea has been actively destabilising the African nations of the Horn," he said. "They give shelter and harbour international terrorists including [Sheikh] Hassan Aweys [former head of the ICU and of the extremist al-Itihaad group] who is on the list of terrorists of the United Nations.
"They are on record as saying they would be happy to equip, arm and deploy armed groups in Ethiopia to destabilise Ethiopia."
Meles also repeated claims that Qatar and other un-named Arab Sunni Muslim states were financing Eritrea's covert operations against Orthodox Christian Ethiopia.
He suggested Eritrea was intent on radicalising Ethiopia's Muslims, particularly in the eastern Somali regional state where a low-level insurgency has been underway for the past two years.
It may also have helped establish jihadist "cells" inside Kenya, he said, but once again the international community was paying insufficient attention.
Eritrea has previously rejected all such allegations. But the US and Britain are known to share some of Ethiopia's concerns, and consideration is being given in Washington to formerly declaring Asmara's government a sponsor of international terrorism and a rogue state.
Meles said Eritrea continued to reject offers of bilateral talks.
"Our position is that we can sit down and talk to try to solve our problems through dialogue. We have tried, we have made public calls for dialogue, we have expressed our willingness to meet the Eritrean government anywhere, any time. So far to no avail."
Even though tensions remained high along the disputed border, he said renewed all-out war was unlikely, given Ethiopia's much improved military capabilities (the annual defence budget is now about $300m).
"I think the Eritrean government is aware that any full-scale invasion of Ethiopia along the lines of 1998 could turn out to be suicidal ... And we will not respond to any provocation short of all-out invasion. We are already engaged in a much more fruitful war - against poverty."
Meles said Ethiopia was working "quite closely" with the US on counter-terrorism in the region but that the extent of American military activity was "negligible".
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