Ambassador Fesseha's lamentations

Fesseha Tessema at a March 28 Congressional hearing in Washington, DC
An envoy of Ethiopia's tyrant Meles Zenawi, Ambassador Fesseha Asghedom read out a report which proved a complete reversal of events in Ethiopia (Photo: ECTV)
I watched the webcast of the recent hearings conducted by the US House Subcommittee on Africa regarding the Ethiopian political and human rights crisis. I also read the subsequent dirge by the TPLF regime's Ambassador over his "mistreatment" during the hearings and his many objections to the way Representative Chris Smith conducted the hearing.

I don't know if Ato Fesseha is a TPLF cadre or a career civil servant, but it is tempting to feel sorry for him in his unenviable position of being called on to defend a now world renowned despotic regime. No human can be comfortable having to spout what he himself knows is egregious canard from start to finish, in defense of a criminal junta.

It is one thing to be in his piteous position and hope for some level of benevolent treatment considering he is a mere mouthpiece, but quite another to have the audacity to come back and chastise the seasoned House Subcommittee chairman on matters of investigative procedure and conduct (notwithstanding the likelihood that his response to Representative Smith was 'ordered' or even more likely came directly from 'arat kilo').

Politicians, even civil servants are known to not loose sleep over a little ‘white lie’ here and there ‘for the greater good’, but having to defend political mass murder, unlawful mass imprisonments, stalinisque ‘legal’ charades and extensive human rights abuses through audacious denial or as though they were carried out to advance democracy, requires a monumental dive into the darkest chambers of human duplicity and deceit.

I am sure Congressman Smith will consider responding to Ato Fesseha's sniveling in his own way and time. I just want to point out a few of the glaring aberrations in his farcical letter to the Congressman.

After a platitude laden preamble, Ato Fesseha opens his lamentations by stating "It was clear ...the hearing was going to be unbalanced...the initial list of witnesses which included unabashed opponents of the Ethiopian government and neither a detached academic or think-tank expert … nor a representative of 'my' government…” Unbalanced? Unabashed opponents? Detached academics? I am no expert on the subcommittee rules of the US House of Representatives, nor do I know if in fact there are rules around representation for such hearings. I am reasonably certain however, that the subcommittee chair and his panel of seasoned congressmen and women are aware of the norms and would not waste their time in any kangaroo hearings if that were to be the case.

Ato Fesseha seems to be conveniently unaware that the US Congress is not a stalinisque chamber stacked with unelected or forcibly elected party hacks who would mindlessly engage in shoving egregious dictatorial "laws" and practices down the throats of their countrymen. They have a wide enough room to follow their conscience and do what is right by the people they are elected to represent or the foreign policy oversights they adjudicate.

Still, I wonder what Ato Fesseha's terms of reference are on 'representation' and 'balance', especially considering his own testimony in which he directly or indirectly testified that the 2005 elections and all the conducts and actions of 'his' government thereafter are legal and balanced. Perhaps he was expecting the hearing panel to be as ‘representative’ and as ‘balanced’ as the NEBE that rubber stamped the abortive 2005 election, or the election 'Complaints Investigation Panels' that were so 'balanced' they rejected all the complaints of the opposition, but ordered re-elections in all the constituencies where the regime's heavyweights had been defeated (as certified by the NEBE itself) and got them "re-elected" in uncontested re-runs.

His bawling over the "unabashed opponents" is also equally ludicrous. It seems as though he is too dense to understand that the hearing was designed to hear testimony that would corroborate the already established facts that led to the drafting of House bill HR 4423 (whose potential passing into law he stated " irrelevant to us"). Even if it was an open hearing without a draft bill to substantiate, Ato Fesseha seems to believe that there is no need for testimony from opponents of the regime, especially "unabashed" ones that are politically active and have first hand experience of extra-judicial incarceration and torture by 'his' government. No doubt he was incensed by the power of Ato Andargachew's testimony that turned his flagrant statement about the "absolute" absence of extra-legal arrests and torture in Ethiopia on its head.

Ato Fesseha also laments the fact that there was no testimony from a "...detached academic or think-tank expert" at the hearing. Yes, there was no such "expert" at the hearing, but again Ato Fesseha conveniently misses the mark. House bills such as HR4423 are not drafted and written on the basis of innuendo. Not only are 'his' government's egregious human rights abuses in the public record, but congressional committees have abundant professional staff and resources who thoroughly research the subject matter that goes into draft bills; and they usually only conduct hearings to consider first hand testimonials that would strengthen the draft bills if need be, before they go for committee or house vote.

It is not difficult to guess which "detached academic..." whose absence Ato Fesseha is bawling over. We all know the unconscionable views of the TPLF's favorite pseudo academics like Mr. Paul Henze who continue to lobby the US government to stand behind a regime which has earned distinctions like "having a consistently despicable human rights record" and "the worst mass jailer of journalists", from all credible advocates and defenders of liberty and human rights on the planet. I am sure Ato Fesseha would have been ecstatic to have the likes of Mr. Henze testify, but I also suspect that he is too obtuse to realize even that would have come back to haunt him as even a proverbial lobbyist for dictators of Mr. Henze's experience would have had a very difficult time pulling the wool over the eyes of Congressmen of Rep Smith and Rep Payne's knowledge, caliber and humane concern for the needless suffering in Ethiopia.

Ato Fesseha proceeds to castigate Rep Smith for "not gaveling the room to order... when the audience reacted audibly...seemed to encourage the disorder...etc". I will leave the response to this cheekiness to the Congressman, but would only add a simple reminder to Ato Fesseha that he was testifying in the US Congress in "the land of the free", not some TPLF "gimgema" under the auspices of "revolutionary democracy".

Ato Fesseha didn't stop there. He went on to state that "while I expected difficult questions...I was taken aback by the hostile...tone of your own line of questions, your willful blindness to firmly established facts...refusal to acknowledge the shared political and moral values of Ethiopia and America...” Which planet does this man live on? Which "facts" is he talking about? Which currently shared values? Does he have the foggiest idea that being an official defender of daylight mass murder of unarmed demonstrators, arbitrary rounding up and death-camp detention of 50,000 young people, politically motivated incarceration of the entire opposition party and civil society leaders and the countless other human rights violations of 'his' regime will beget not only "difficult questions" but yes, distaste and repugnance?

There was more to come from Ato Fesseha. He goes on to "...provide concrete examples" of the hostility and disrespect he experienced at the hands of Congressman Smith. He takes objection to being asked if the media in Ethiopia would report on the hearing evenhandedly and states that "...there are over 80 private newspapers in Ethiopia...some are critical of the government, others are not...I cannot predict...” Again Ato Fesseha's deceit has no bounds. Which 80 "private" newspapers is he referring to? He knows as much as everyone else that all the private papers that used to report news stories and opinions not favoring the junta have been shut down and most of their publishers and editors are in jail accused of 'treason' and 'genocide'. The remaining private papers are either non-political general interest papers or 'loyal' newspapers published by quasi-TPLF sources. These papers and the TPLF controlled mass media have long stopped uttering the slightest statement or news report that would be meaningfully critical of the regime.

Ato Fesseha missed including at this juncture the subsequent question from Congressman Smith, "Would I be jailed if I had made the statements I made today in my opening address if I were in Ethiopia?” Ato Fesseha seemed lost for a moment and then flatly said "no". The fact is, while it can be considered mild in terms of specific demands for redress, the Congressman's opening statement was unmistakable in its assertion that during and after the 2005 elections, Ethiopia is in a severe political and human rights crisis primarily perpetrated by the willful and extensive violations of citizens human rights by the regime of PM Meles Zenawi. Ato Fesseha's emphatic "no" did sire a sorrowful smirk from the chair and the panel who are fully aware that a lot of the journalists who are languishing in jail in Ethiopia are there for even less categorical reportage and opinions on the state of our tragic nation.

The 'Ambassador' sinks further into the abyss with hideous lies about "elected politicians who chose not to take their seats...are freely engaging in political activities...” This at a time when the all encompassing reign of terror that began in earnest in June 2005 has yet to abate, where a round the clock nation wide campaign is being waged by the regime to force-feed the population TPLF's re-write of the political history of the country replete with venomous tribalism and fantastically false and macabre depictions of the noble and peaceful objectives of the CUDP. Where an open campaign is also on going to replace the CUDP with yet another 'appendage' (teletafi) of the TPLF. Again political posturing and some degree of 'political lying’ is not a new phenomenon, but Ato Fesseha's statements were so far off the map, the chair could not help but characterize them as stalinisque, which again seems to have deeply perturbed the "Ambassador".

He also again bemoans being "put in the immediately respond to questions... calculated to embarrass me and the Embassy by creating an impression of cowardice...comparisons between 'his' government and Ceaucescu's Romania...” I can only say to Ato Fesseha, welcome to the other side of the world where fortitude, legality and accountability rule more often than full scale nonsensical politicking.

Ato Fesseha further laments the testimony of the Amnesty International representative, which he deliberately fails to name, but glosses over as "a reasonably detached organization...” and attempts to create a link with Amnesty's criticism of the US on the death penalty and Guantanmo prisoners. Nice try Mr. Ambassador, except that the death penalty (over which the US can rightly be criticized on depending on one’s freely held views on criminal penalties and deterrence) in the US is not administered to unarmed civilian public demonstrators, passers by and elected representatives of the people in broad daylight.

After grieving over "the Embassy's attempt at...providing constructive comments to find common ground...” he closes off that portion of his letter by stating that "...whether or not HR4423 passes or fails is irrelevant to us...” It seems he has taken his queue from Ato Meles' asinine diatribe against Mrs. Anna Gomez's EU-OM report on the 2005 election. Again all he is saying just like his PM is, please don't be critical of us, but in the end we don't give a damn and won't move an inch even if you remain critical of us. Needless to add that 'his' PM has also publicly stated that it is wrong for the EU and Britain to deny his government direct budgetary money, but he cares less if they remain adamant because as far as he is concerned, what his government has done and is doing is for the good of the country. Of course what he is really saying is that the country may suffer, but not me and my partners in criminal power.

Like all dictatorial regimes, anyone who dares to openly criticize and demand accountability especially with some form of punitive consequence attached is a grave enemy of the country, never mind the regime's henchmen. Mrs. Anna Gomez and now US Representative Christopher Smith have earned their public enemy wings.

Ato Fesseha closes off by listing 'his' government's proud accomplishments in "democratizing the country...growing the economy at record pace...the ability of the judicial system to act independently and with integrity, and without interference from the executive..." and the kicker, "for that matter without the pressure of meddlesome foreign powers". Whew! Please show me this country on the map and I will take the next plane out there and never return, please.

My final note to Ato Fesseha as a fellow Ethiopian is that, it is possible both you and I will reminisce on this period of our history in our own life time, after Ato Meles and his murderous regime are cast off to the dustbins of history - which believe me will happen sooner than later. We will then both need to face not just remote history, but also our own children, and recount our beliefs and deeds during this tragic time in our country. My response will probably not be very proud and will likely be heavy on stories of exile and shirking from actively defending my country from the forces of evil that have ravaged my beloved land for 32 years and counting. However, while I will have a hard time defending what I did not do, I will have no issues defending what I did. I wonder what your story will be. I don't think you will have the heart to regurgitate to your own children the litany of deplorable fabrications you so squeamishly put in the public record last week. To make it worse, the webcast and transcripts of the hearing, replete with your falsehoods in the face of immense suffering by your people will be even more publicly and widely available. You see by then, your testimony would be taught for what it truly is - a textbook example on mind-numbing dictatorial demagoguery.

The writer can be reached for comments at