Open letter to Paul Henze
By Fekade Shewakena
November 22, 2005
My limited knowledge of you, Mr. Paul Henze, spans over a decade. I know you particularly when you were a perennial presence at Ethiopian Studies Conferences toward the end of Mengistu’s rule. I was then a junior lecturer at Addis Ababa University. I have to admit that I liked your presentations then. To be frank with you, I liked your presentations not for the quality of the scholarship but for one other reason alone - for saying things that we in the Ethiopian academia knew more than you do but were afraid to speak of. You had the advantage of being a ferengi and sit outside the range of Mengistu’s guillotine. Most of your works relating to Ethiopia that I am familiar with seem to me works of propaganda than researched truths that often require harder labor. I have seen some of your writings which in some cases include complete fabrications. For example, I have read a paper you distributed in Washington DC in 1994 bluntly stating that the number of student enrollment has increased and normal conditions were prevailing in schools in places like Arsi when, in actual fact, due to various problems of implementing new policies and inter-ethnic conflicts, the number of students has decreased in absolute number. I was there, and as an Ethiopian educator, I had more access to the data than you had through a one week visit. That finished it for me regarding your integrity. But never have I ever expected you to transgress acceptable limits and spit in our face as you did by way of your criticism of Professor Christopher Clapham’s recent comments of conditions in Ethiopia.

I am not here to defend Professor Clapham, whose intellect and knowledge of Ethiopia, dwarfs yours a million times and who, if he wishes to honor your pile of untruths with a response, can fix you in a few sentences. Frankly, I wouldn’t have cared to write this piece had it not been for your indecency of spitting on our face at a time when our country is engulfed in grief and sadness. In our culture, which I assume you have some knowledge of, lying for child and women killing criminals and blaming the victim amount to pure obscenity punishable by social ostracism. Among many Ethiopians you are now a “wuguz keme arios”.

I am not sure if you are one of those who get paid by the regime in money taken from the hungry children of Ethiopia to image make and sell the TPLF to donors or a simple opportunist who wants to make some career out of a poor third world country. I observed an exhibition of your dangerous opportunism when you took side in the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war. I say this because I know that, soon after the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, you were one of the lead persons in a group which called itself “Friends of Ethiopia and Eritrea”. You could have done the decent job of becoming a voice of sanity and reconciliation to stop the fratricidal war that killed nearly one hundred thousand children of the Ethiopian and Eritrean people. Your calculation of siding with Ethiopia may have worked for you and you may even have gained personally out of it, but I will report to you that both of us, Ethiopians and Eritreans, lost dearly in that war which you helped fan. Thank you for helping make the big scar we all have to carry on our backs for the rest of our history. But that was not an offence to me or my country as much as I think it was pitiful of you to do that. After all, you sided with my country with which I personally have no choice but to side with.

I know your kind of work does not require looking for hard evidence. But you can do some easy things to do a more intelligent image making for the TPLF and Meles Zenawi without insulting the intelligence of Ethiopian grade school kids. For example, you failed to check the order in which the points in your comments of current conditions in Ethiopia and the points Meles Zenawi made at a recent prearranged Amharic interview on ETV occur. You could have at least changed the order of the talking points. It sounds odd that a person of your stature write something that looks like material plagiarized in the same order and word for word from the man whose rear you seem to want to cover. Ouch! They also have confused you by telling you that Negede Gobeze is a member of CUD. That was made up to confuse some illiterate people and kids for the objective of the ‘the CUD is going to bring the dergue” campaign. (There is nothing advocating violence in Mr. Gobeze’s book by the way). How about some shame sir? You took that from the wrong note book or perhaps some dummy ambassador must have failed to ask you to remove it.

There were a lot of things you could have easily done to save yourself from embarrassment. If you make a simple call to the Red Cross in Addis Ababa today, they would tell you that a river of tears is flooding their gates, a river of tears coming from the eyes of mothers who don’t know the whereabouts of their children for weeks and months now. If you walk in the neighborhoods of cities and towns around the country today, you would hear the sound of crying and sobbing children with dead or detained families sitting home alone or you will hear the wailing of mothers who bury their loved ones, some their only bread winners (the equivalent of the Social Security in the US). If you need a map showing which ones are Amhara and which area is Orthodox Christian, anyone of us would have assisted you. You will also find some people who have not buried their dead for many days because of their refusal to sign a government paper that states that their loved ones were killed by the CUD (the opposition). If you talk to the thousands of youth including thousands of minors who now sit in malaria infested concentration camps in the Dedessa Valley and the Zeway Concentration Camp, they would give you a graphic description of fascism. They will tell you how they were made to crawl on gravel on their bleeding knees without any regard to HIV/AIDS transmission. If you read Amharic as you claimed you have read Negede Gobeze’s book, you will see the recent report on the Addis Reporter, not exactly a pro-opposition newspaper, which reported that a soldier was bayoneting boys and girls with the same knife by breaking into the houses of terrified neighborhoods. If you visit the hospitals you would see the thousands who are crying of the wounds from bullets and bayonets of the brutal forces of the government you image make. I know you and your friends will accuse me of exaggeration, but the actual number of people who were killed in Addis Ababa alone is counted in hundreds. The official number 46 is a count of the number of the dead who were found at the hospital morgues. People will tell you the body of street children, most of whom are orphans or without a family to look after were simply collected and dumped somewhere, possibly mass graves. If you talk to older people they would tell you that the brutality and the indiscriminate killing by the people you want to image-make parallel that of Fascist Italy’s massacres of the Addis Ababa youth on a February day five and half decades ago. You could have talked to the opposition leaders you callously accuse of having “no skill in taking advantage of the openings the constitution offered” and they would tell you that they are languishing in prison for calling a peaceful and civilized civil disobedience demanding that Meles negotiate with them on outstanding issues people were demanding answers on. I doubt if you have read the 8 point demands of the opposition. Where in the world, except in your book and that of Meles Zenawi’s, is hooting you car horns at rush hour and stay at home strikes a call for insurrection and a coup de tat. The leaders of CUD, who by the way are some of Ethiopia’s best and brightest, know that we have an army and police force led by Meles Zenawi’s TPLF. They are not small kids who think that they can topple a government through street demonstrations. Your contempt for their intelligence is pitiful, to say the least. They know quite a bit more about their country and the power structure than pretentious ferenjis who make bold statements based on a week long visit to their country. For your information a good number of them have been educated in the United States, some of them have been professors at US universities. At least they know from their experience in the US that people don’t need special skills to be protected by a constitution.

Many Ethiopians know you as a friend of the TPLF, a regular visitor of Zenawi’s court beginning from the days of their insurgency and one of very few foreigners offered personal audience at the Minilik Palace. I have also read some of your image making works for Meles Zenawi and his TPLF. I don’t know if you are one of those who get paid in millions of dollars in money taken from the mouths of hungry Ethiopian children to image-make and lobby for Meles Zenawi and sell the thing you and Meles Zenawi call a “democratic process”, but we in Ethiopia know as Neo-Stalinism. You said you know the TPLF leaders since 1990. I know many of them personally since the 1970s when we were in college together. Don’t be surprised if I know more secrets than you do. Irrespective of where we are on our political differences we Ethiopians have some common characteristics. We all despise people who want to help us by lying, During the Ethio-Eritrean war, when the TPLF was in a diplomatic debacle, one senior official, a former school friend, told me that you are a pit-bull who they can unleash you at a moment’s notice. I don’t know for sure. You may have been fooled into believing that Meles Zenawi is a bright person with good ideas for Ethiopia. Those of us who grow up with him know him as a street smart who would do anything to have his way. He even succeeded in ambushing and destroying his very colleagues who did most of the burden of fighting against Mengistu.

I have neither the time nor the stomach to honor the numerous false statements you made by way of your response to Professor Clapham. Let me give you some glaring facts that stand in contrast to the pictures you want to paint and show you how image making like yours fly in the face of reality in Ethiopia.

1. Since the take over of power by the TPLF in 1991, the number of the absolute poor has now more than doubled. Over thirty million people live below the poverty line. This is despite the fact that Ethiopia is the largest recipient of billions of dollars of foreign aid in Sub-Sahara Africa. The current crisis in Ethiopia, we believe is a result of frustration of 14 years of waiting and the hopelessness that engulfed our people. Ethiopians somehow believed that democracy will be a tool out of their poverty and made a choice. They wanted new leadership. Meles Zenawi, who spends most of his life barricaded inside a palace, never felt that there was a ground swell of hatred to his Stalinism throughout the country. As he confessed once himself, he took a calculated risk on democracy. He needed that for donor consumption more than any other reason. The day the vote counting began and the moment he saw trends favoring the opposition, he made a quick recalculation and declared victory and a state of emergency at the same time. In response to a bewildered Jimmy Carter who asked why the state of emergency, Meles said the reason he declared emergency was to avoid a possible violence against celebrators in Addis Ababa by his TPLF supporters. Most Ethiopians knew it then that their vote was stolen. Even Mr. Carter, who tried to walk a tight rope in his report could not avoid saying that ballot “boxes were improperly moved” – a cowardly way of saying the votes were stolen.

2. Ethiopia under Zenawi is unattractive for investors. The only major investors in Ethiopia today are illegal, and unconstitutionally operating TPLF/EPRDF companies which are given a tactical and funny name of “endowments”. Many Ethiopians were discouraged from investing fearing that they could be crushed by TPLF businesses. With the exception of an Arab Ethiopian Ethiopia has not attracted any meaningful foreign investment even from among wealthy Ethiopians who live in Diaspora. I personally know people who had to return back frustrated. Key sectors of the economy are still in government hands, operating inefficiently and engulfed in widespread corruption. One cause of the temper tantrum of the TPLF and a reason for its cruelty was the call by the opposition to boycott products of TPLF/EPRDF companies as part of their peaceful resistance. Incompetence is widespread. Meles is once reported to have openly said, “I prefer to appoint illiterate people to high offices than people who show disagreement with our policies”. There are reports that Meles Zenawi and his family and top officials are stashing money in foreign banks. After buying expensive lawyers and suing the individuals who broke the news about the story, they withdrew the suit, leading us to believe that the story is true

3. Land, the major means of production over which 85% of the population directly depend on and the most important source of export earnings is still owned by the government. Despite numerous studies recommending changes in agrarian policies, the same policies of Mengistu that starved Ethiopia to death are being pursued by the TPLF. For the EPRDF land is a leash to hold the farmers under control rather than the economic asset that it should be. We have reports currently that peasants who voted for the opposition are subjected to widespread evictions.

4. The number of people who are being affected by a famine cycle has tripled sine Melles Zeawi’s TPLF took over and some catastrophic famines have only been averted because of timely begging than any change in the economy. Many areas in southern and western Ethiopia that have never been least affected are now part of the famine geography of Ethiopia.

5. Several thousand Ethiopians women are now working as slaves in households throughout the Middle East. Many are forced to undergo religious conversion in order make a living in these countries. We have many reports of suicide among these suffering Ethiopians.

6. There has never been a single instance of unemployment of people with degrees throughout the history Ethiopia’s modern education. The number is staggeringly large since the TPLF took over. In a country where the government is the largest employer Ethnic discrimination in employment is rampant.

7. Unlike Mr. Henze’s assertion Ethiopian opposition groups have for the last 14 years tried to use whatever opening the TPLF was willing to make. In 1994 Ethiopian opposition groups and civic organizations inside and outside Ethiopia embarked on the idea of a Conference of Peace and reconciliation. Some who went from abroad for the conference were taken to prison upon their arrival at the airport. Since then, any opposition was nipped in the bud and we all know the previous two elections were won by Mr. Zenawi’s without a competing political party. The Oromo Liberation Front, which accepted to work within the framework made by TPLF, was chased out of the country because it wanted to represent the interest of the Oromo people independently and proved a major competitor to power.

8. Civic and professional associations, the pillars that help the building of a democracy, were not tolerated if they do not come under a Stalinist structure of falling in the fold of the party. The leader of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, who insisted on an independent labor Union, is now in exile after he escaped assassination. A member of the leadership of the Ethiopian Teachers association Mr. Assefa Maru was not so lucky. He was showered with bullets by a land rover full of TPLF security gangs as he leaves his home to work. The President of Ethiopian Teachers Association Professor Taye Woldesamait languished in prison for 6 years for the only crime of arguing that the Association be independent of TPLF control.

9. The TPLF began by firing 42 professors from Addis Ababa University in one day for the simple reason that they dared to criticize Mr. Zenawi and happen to be from the ethnic group he vehemently hates. Mr. Henze, who tell us he is concerned for Ethiopia’s welfare was no where near the Donald Lavine’s and the Claphams, the true friends of Ethiopia’s, to criticize the action as hurtful to the country at the time. Like all fascists the TPLF regime is anti-intellectual and has become a major push factor for the brain drain that is killing Ethiopia. The famous Ethiopian Airlines that was completely ethiopianized for many years is now hiring pilots from West Africa.

10. Ethiopian scholars say they have ample evidence that the economic growth statistics dished out every year is concocted for purpose of guaranteeing smooth flow of Western aid. None of the so called growth has been observed affecting the lives of people positively. But Meles’s relatives and inner clique have become instant millionaires. The per-capita income of the country has declined by more than 10% since the people Mr. Henze tirelessly sells to us as hard working democrats took power in Ethiopia

11. The TPLF depends on selected weak, ignorant and desperate individuals to make surrogate ethnic parties. Most are powerless even in their own ethnic areas. People who resent subjugation are openly massacred in front of the world. One has to see the life of the Agnuak tribe in Gabmella to see what Meles means by respecting the right to self determination of ethnic groups.

12. The Opposition, particularly the CUD has a democratic platform to run on and was able to effectively use the opening before the election to articulate the options out of the hellhole of poverty. The show intended to buy more western money unfortunately turned serious and against TPLF. That is the source of the current problem in Ethiopia. Prominent TPLF supporters are now openly regretting that they shouldn’t have monkeyied with fair election and democracy in the first place.

13. Sadly the insinuation that the opposition is Amhara and orthodox Christian is sold very well to unsuspecting donors. If you have a chance to go through a list of the names of the leasders of CUD now languishing in prison you would see that virtually every major Ethnic group and religion is represented. That there exist people who believe this crap is a tragedy. CUD’s leadership is made up of all religions and all major ethnic groups including people from Meles’s own ethnic group.

14. We have had a senseless war that killed tens of thousands of young Ethiopians. Because of the incompetence of Meles and his clique the argument was lost at international arbitration forum. Because of this we now have an impending war with Eritrea again. The argument that the opposition wants to go to war with Eritrea if Meles Zenawi is removed from power is another crap being sold. In fact the CUD is perhaps in the best position to address the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and guarantee lasting peace between the two brotherly people.

15. The single most important lie, and a dangerous one, being sold now in favor of Meles Zenawi to the West particularly to the US, is he helps stability in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Any body who believes that the stability we have in that part of the world currently happened due to Zenawi's leadership suffers from serious ignorance. Ethiopia’s stability so far is due to mainly its unique history and sociology than anything Meles Zenawi was able to do. Ethiopia’s stability owes much to a centripetal force crated over a long period of time and history unique to Ethiopia. If anything Meles’s Stalinist experiment is weighing on the side of centrifugal forces that tend to fracture the country and destabilize it. If the TPLF and Meles Zenawi are allowed to continue on the savage subjugation of the Ethiopian people by paying only lip service to ethnic self-determination from their northern most peripheral base, instability of serious consequences for Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and the rest of the world is soon bound to occur. Mr. Henze, mark my word. Meles Zenawi’s dictatorship is now a source of instability in the horn of Africa. I have seen many mistakes made by the West on Ethiopia. I hope this is not going to be another one. Any far sighted individual and strategic thinker cannot miss that Meles Zenawi and his TPLF ruling clique has now proven beyond the shadow a doubt to be the single most important factor in destabilizing the second most populous country in Africa and the region as a whole.

Mr. Henze, I and a good number of my friends regret for being late to learn from an adage in Ethiopia, komatan Komata Kalalut gebto yefetefital. If you read Negede’s book, I hope you can understand what it means. If you can’t still understand it, our dear friend Professor Donald Lavine, the expert on the Ethiopian Gold and Wax, is the person to go to.