Sister cities and Trojan horses
Ethiomedia | March 3, 2008
Lately, news of a proposed sister cities program with Addis Ababa has been buzzing in the Ethiopian community in Oakland, California. This program, backed by the top diplomatic representatives of the Meles regime in the U.S., apparently upstaged another similar private effort from Oakland with the city of Bahr Dar. But both proposals seemed to have taken many of the Ethiopian residents of Oakland by surprise. All indications are that few Ethiopians in Oakland were even aware that such efforts were taking place right under their noses.

Those who found out belatedly were furious at the stealthy diplomatic maneuvers using local residents to secretly push the program through the Oakland city government. Others were angry at the cloak-and-dagger operation planned for the speedy airlift of Addis Ababa city government officials to Oakland for the signing ceremony before any local resistance to the project could be organized. Many were appalled by the temerity of impostors who would simply show up in town and try to palm themselves off as the real leaders of Addis Ababa city government when in fact the democratically elected leaders of that city were prevented from taking office, jailed or exiled. Some found the cynical diplomatic scheme to create a Sister Cities program with the historic “home” of the Black Panthers humorously ironic. In 1956, President Eisenhower proposed the concept of a Sister Cities program to promote global understanding based on a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative. The program was developed to promote mutually beneficial cultural, educational and economic opportunities and activities between American cities and cities throughout the world. Over the decades, many American cities have managed to establish “twinning” (twins) or “sisterhood” arrangements with cities all over the world based on core shared democratic values and interests.

But the proposed Oakland-Addis Ababa Sister Cities program suffers from a fatal flaw which has been prominently pointed out by its opponents in Oakland. “The city of Addis Ababa does not have a legitimate democratically elected city government,” argued opponents, “and the people of Addis Ababa have no voice in their local government.” The first and only elected mayor in the history of Addis Ababa, Dr. Berhanu Nega, was jailed for over 20 months on trumped up charges after city voters swept him into office. The voters who thoroughly scrubbed the city council of the regime’s cronies have no representation today. In light of these facts, could any American city afford to make a deal with politically appointed imposters, pretenders and hucksters who have no legitimate claim to represent the people or city of Addis?

Perhaps there is more than meets the eye. With the total failure of the D.L.A. Piper lobbyists, and the remarkable efficacy of Diaspora grassroots mobilization at the local and national levels, it appears that the regime is seeking to use the Sister Cities program as a covert Trojan horse to blunt any pressures for policy change in Ethiopia. It appears that the regime may be planning to use the Sister Cities program to develop and use proxy local government officials in place of its expensive “K” Street lobbyists. By creating a series of sister cities agreements in the United States, it is entirely possible for the Meles regime to attempt to make long term use of American mayors and city council members as its unwitting and unpaid lobbyists and advocates; and over time, as a bulwarks or defensive lines against the unstoppable surge of Ethiopian Diaspora opposition in the United States. There is clear precedent for such a sneaky “Trojanesque” effort. Last year, a low key diplomatic offensive was initiated to mobilize African American pastors and churches in New York and Atlanta to defeat H.R. 5680/2003. Unsurprisingly, after transporting, wining, dining and duping a few unsuspecting church leaders, the best outcome the regime could obtain from this diplomatic effort was a few incoherent and benighted statements by uninformed clergymen about the wrongfulness of H.R. 2003.

One has to be mildly amused by the cagey artfulness of those who tried to use Oakland as the launch pad for their Trojan horse. Oakland is not an ordinary city. It is the historic home of the Black Panthers. Ron Dellums, its mayor, is no ordinary political leader. He is a national leader who is universally respected for his integrity, progressiveness and defense of human rights for nearly four decades. Mayor Dellums is so progressive that President Nixon put him on his short “Enemies List” in 1971. As a human rights champion, Dellums has a peerless record in Congress. He was the first member of Congress put up a Vietnam War Crimes exhibit in his congressional office, and call for a formal war crimes investigation in Vietnam in 1971. Congressman Dellums was the chief sponsor of the successful Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which called for a trade embargo against South Africa and immediate divestment by American corporations. In 1987, he introduced legislation to prohibit economic and military assistance to Mobutu’s Zaire. So getting a sister cities program with one of the most progressive cities and leaders in America would make for a perfect foil for human rights violators who seek to conceal their atrocious human rights record and gain respectability and credibility by association. Get Oakland and Dellums, the logic goes, and the rest will fall like dominoes. May be not!

At any rate, it appears the sleazy diplomatic effort has failed to gain any traction in Oakland city government. The mayor, after learning of the fierce opposition in the local Ethiopian community and realizing the underhanded diplomatic effort, appears to have left the issue to the local Ethiopian community to sort out.

The lesson for all Ethiopians in the United States who value freedom and human rights is that they must maintain vigilance in their cities for Sister Cities snake oil salesmen. No individual should be tricked into becoming a patsy in such an effort by promises of business deals, personal advantage or official recognition. The proposed sister cities program with the City of Oakland, and others that are being secretly contrived will fail, as have the efforts to convert African American pastors to become the unsuspecting apostles of human rights violators in the United States. We should not allow Oakland, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle or any other American city to be used as Trojan horses for dictators who seek to hide behind a façade of democratically elected local leaders to conceal and perpetuate their human rights abuses at home, while building international respectability.

Just like the jackal can not hide among a flock of sheep, human rights violators and dictators can not hide by mixing in a crowd of democratically elected American local leaders. The current “leaders” of Addis Ababa and their U.S. diplomatic representatives have the right to seek “sisterhood”, but only with their equals and soul mates. They should seek sisterhood with Pyongyang, Harare, Minsk, Havana, Tehran, Baghdad, Rangoon and Hanoi, not Oakland or any other American city. Birds of a feather flock together, but democracies and tyrannies never do.

Recent editorials