Open Letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
By Abebe Gelaw

July 3, 2005

Your Excellency,

First and foremost, I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for waiving the confidentiality of your rebuttal letter to the US Congress and dated 29th June 2005 by ordering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Walta Information Centre and Aiga Forum to post your letter on their respective websites. As you might have expected, your letter, which has been thrown in the public domain to grab the maximum attention it so deserves, has stirred a great deal of interest.

Your Excellency's reassurance to the Honourable US Congressmen and Women as to your unswerving resolve and commitment to graciously grant democracy to the poor people of Ethiopia has been widely acclaimed and noticed. However, I should be honest enough to tell you that the overall contents of your letter have raised more concerns and questions than they were meant to address.

Your Excellency said: "I am particularly relieved and grateful to Your Honourables for reassuring me that it is in the mutual interest of both countries that Ethiopia be as secure, stable and prosperous as possible." I think this assertion gives the impression that you were less worried about the possibility of losing a great ally like the United States. It appears that you were so troubled by the fury of the US Congress that you spent so many sleepless nights worrying about its repercussions on the security, stability and prosperity of Ethiopia. I am pleased that you were relieved to find words of comfort in the letter of protest in which the lawmakers mainly expressed their concerns over grave human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in our country. I should be truthful enough to express my displeasure at Your Excellency's failure to address their main concerns with utmost candour and integrity to your conscience. For the sake of refreshing your memory, here is what the honourable lawmakers said: "State-sponsored violence against peaceful, if enthusiastic, demonstrators must be considered unacceptable in a civilized nation such as Ethiopia. The beatings, arrests and shootings of hundreds of your citizens not only threatens wider social upheaval but also mars an election that, by all accounts, represents an advancement over the elections of 2000."

Prime Minister, you replied by asserting: "We embarked on the process of democratic reform in our country not to please or displease anyone, but because we are convinced that there can be neither stability nor prosperity without democracy in Ethiopia. It is based on such conviction that we have embarked on the various democratic reforms including the election of May 15, 2005 and it is based on such conviction that we shall continue to protect and extend our democratic victories." Allow me Prime Minister to bring to your attention the fallacies of this assertion. As you very well know, democratic process cannot be embarked upon by the few for the benefit of the masses. It should naturally come from the people with their full and unrestricted participation. The quest for democracy has been closely entwined with contemporary Ethiopian history. It brought about the demise of the monarchy in the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution shattering its feudo-capitalist system, which was an anachronism in modern Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the revolution was hijacked by a military junta and fatally aborted by the protracted internecine conflict, in which you were a key participant. Regrettably, over half a million children of peasant farmers perished in what could have been a peasant revolution as fodders for causeless wars. Neither the quest for democracy nor development has been answered by our trigger-happy leaders. Due to the numerous rounds of bouts among leaders and rebels, friends and foes, the poor people of Ethiopia, who still sustain their lives with Western wheat and sorghum, have been losers in terms of the incalculable human, material and financial loses.

Your Excellency, though you have done numerous political somersaults in your career as a rebel leader in military fatigues and later as leader in silk ties based in the Grand Palace, one may do you a favour by reminding you that you were once fighting to liberate Tigray from the Dergue and set up an atheistic hermit state, based on your cocktail of ethnic parochialism and Enver Hoxha's communistic hotchpoch.

Your Excellency, even if it is a great merit for a politician to change colours and scripts with the dictate of the day, you are not acting quite well as a preacher in the great play called 'democracy'. On the one hand, you make mesmerising speeches about democracy, liberty, freedom and equality. On the other hand, when the excitement and applause of the poor crowd reaches a crescendo, you send out your commando with a warrant to shoot, kill, maim, humiliate and detain your subjects en masse calling them anti-peace and anti-democracy. Still, you continue making great speeches without changing your scripts. The masses seem to be getting fed up with your monotonous and self-refuting speeches and acts. Admittedly, you were quite good at pitting ethnic groups against one another, but even that has lost spectators and participants.

Your Excellency, it is good to learn from your letter once more that you were convinced that "there could be neither stability nor prosperity without democracy in Ethiopia." That is exactly the reality you seem to be facing even though this graet revelation should have been wisely backed by actions. Of course you have been making all sorts of empty promises and claims since you mounted yourself so visibly on the political stage nearly three decades ago. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.

I am not sure how your promise to the Honourables to "protect and extend our democratic victories" can be put into practice. Though there is no need of dispute on the meaning of democratic victories, I am sure you realise that democracy is not a golden pot that can be competently guarded and protected by your trigger-happy troops. It is an open secret that you are tirelessly working day and night for our own good, protecting and nurturing democratic victories. Needless to teach politics to an African leader of your stature, allow me to borrow the words of C.S Lewis to my own satisfaction: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

As a leader of boundless wisdom, I am sure you know that democracy is the rule of the majority with the full accommodation of the minority. It is not a form of government imposed on the majority by an armed minority group without popular participation. In spite of the fact that I do not know what you exactly mean by democracy, your great wisdom seems to have failed to convince your conscience that the Ethiopian people has never given you the mandate of serving them as a gardener to plant, nurture or protect the seedlings of democracy.

As we all remember, when the Dergue regime crumbled into pieces, more due to its lose of public support than your valour, you emerged from the jungle armed to the teeth leading the TPLF followed by numerous mini-ethnic puppet parties, created in the image of their creator. Even if that was the case, you have had so many missed opportunities to facilitate a peaceful transition to a democratic order. In the last fourteen years, the people grew weary of listening to your endless promises because nobody expected you to misrule us for fourteen years. Unless the heavy burden of your military rule masquerading as an elected constitutional government is removed from the shoulders of the Ethiopian people, the quest for democracy will inevitably ushers in a popular revolution, which seems in the making more than ever before. Your Excellency, you are doing a great disservice to yourself and your regime by dismissing every popular demand for real democracy as a storm in a teacup.

Prime Minister, you claimed that the May 5th election had been "free, fair and transparent by any standards, and not just by Ethiopian or African standards." Fair enough! The popular interest for a radical change was rather overwhelming by any standards. In Addis Ababa and other towns where there were enough foreign as well as local observers it was impossible to rig the elections. The testimony to this was the fact that your party and its best candidates lost all their sits in the metropolis by a huge margin. Here is the result of your political test in the sit of your government: 0 per cent. If such a resounding failure cannot teach you anything, nothing else can. As you know, the capital is a true reflection of a heterogeneous nation. The public has legitimate grounds to get upset and restless as it turned out that there were numerous complaints of vote rigging in many parts of the countryside committed by a sulky gang that has drastically failed its crucial exam where it matters most.

If you really have had the intention of making the election truly free and fair, why wouldn't you have made the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) independent instead of appointing sycophants like Ato Kemal Bebri, President of the Federal Supreme Court, Chairman of the National Election Board and President of the Council for Constitutional Inquiry. He is everywhere to declare that Your Excellency is infallible, as it was the case during the latest 'constitutional inquiry'. His duplication of power has made it difficult for the opposition to raise legal and constitutional issues. How come the 'election board' left no stone unturned to bar local civic groups from sending observers to the over thirty-two thousand polling stations? Did you sincerely believe that 500 foreign observers were enough?
Let me leave that as it may and raise another simple question. What do you call the elections in Tigray where the TPLF has been exercising its absolute control? What alternatives were the people given for us to accept your '100' per cent landslide victory? We were told that you received 100 per cent of the votes cast in the ballot box in Adowa. Who did you compete with? Nobody! In my judgement, that is enough to declare the elections a farcical exercise, no matter how well the opposition did or did not. Any toddler knows that democratic election is unthinkable without the right to freely choose from different alternatives. In today's Tigray, the people are not even allowed to see the universe far beyond the TPLF. It is considered 'high treason', in your own words, to stand against the one and only 'liberation front.'

Your Excellency, you have mentioned to the Honourable US legislators that the opposition were intent on using the electoral process to remove the constitutional order through 'extra-constitutional' means. I am neither a member of the opposition nor your party. Nevertheless, I feel that the TPLF has been resorting to terrorist tactics to scare anyone who dares to oppose your iron fist rule. Unless you are overestimating the opposition, they cannot remove your 'constitutional' regime. It is undeniable that the opposition have emerged stronger with coherent policies. Within a few months of their formations they became unifying agents for the aspiration of change. It is quite obvious to Your Excellency that opposition parties are not armed unlike the TPLF and its cohorts. They do not have any monopolistic command on the security, the army, the police, and the media nor do they own illegal multi-million, if not multi-billion, dollar business empires.

Opposition parties have rather exposed their members and supporters for a greater danger. Even MP-elects have been facing dire dangers due to your brutally suppressive measures. Some are living in fear exiled from their homes while others have been detained or dogged by your armed security agents everywhere they go. It still rings fresh in our mind that a young MP-elect, Tesfaye Adane Jara, 26, of the Oromo National Congress, was executed a few weeks ago by your men in Arsi Negele. Tesfaye had every reason to celebrate his real democratic victory with his companions for being elected as our future lawmaker. It was supposed to be a prestigious job. He could have been one of the youngest Ethiopian MPs. He had great prospects of serving his people, who had put a great deal of trust and faith on him, representing their interests in a real parliament. All his hopes and that of the electorate were shattered so cruelly by a state-sponsored violence. Here is how Walta Information reported the news on the finding of an inquiry team into the murder: "An inquiry team drawn from the state, zone and Woreda police uncovered leaflets prepared to incite unrest," as if leaflets were the most lethal WMDs. This and other numerous cases, which I cannot list down due to time and space constraints, appear great travesties of justice.

To be honest, the reason why the public unequivocally rejected your party was not because of the rhetoric of the opposition but rather due to your unpopularity. Had you been committed to preserving democratic victories, the young lawmaker would not have been executed in broad daylight. Had you been resolute in safeguarding democratic values, civilian protesters would not have been mowed down by your loyalist commandos. If you had been sincere with cultivating the rule of law, those responsible for crimes against humanity would have not continued to terrorise the people with impunity while thousands of poor families have been disrupted by the killings, injuries, threats and mass arrests.

During his last days in power, your predecessor Colonel Mengistu was frantic in using the same argument. He too had convinced himself that he was the legitimate leader of a constitutional government. The tyrant was right in a way due to the fact that there was a document called a constitution mainly written by his special adviser, Dr Fasil Nahum. As history repeats itself, you removed Mengistu's 'constitutional order' through unconstitutional means. To his dismay, you shredded his holy constitution into pieces and bought the service of the Colonel's special adviser, Dr Nahum, to rewrite another constitution that can well serve your ends. In other words, you have already set precedence of changing a constitution. As long as a constitution is written with a view to giving legitimacy for the illegitimate and denying the people from being masters of their own destiny, it does not survive long. The people are much more important than your private dossier called a constitution, which you have flouted on numerous occasions

Your Excellency, despite all that, I have no problem with your constitution. Article 8 stipulates that, "All sovereign power resides in the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia." It has also incorporated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenants on Human Rights. That is the reason why even by the standards of your own constitution 'the federal democratic government' is a misnomer. The simple reason is that you and your henchmen are defying all the basic constitutional provisions on democratic rights, freedom of expressions individual liberties and freedom of association. If citizens can be executed, jailed, harassed, beaten, tortured, dehumanized without due process of law for the sake of sustaining your lifetime premiership, I am afraid your constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on. Your Excellency, why do you expect others to abide by your constitution while you are wilfully violating and contravening it whenever the people protest against your misguided policies and misdeeds? Article 9 of the holy document declares: "The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or a public official that contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect. All citizens, organs of state, political organizations, other associations as well as their officials have the duty to ensure observance of the Constitution and obey it."

Your Excellency, your style of leadership is similar to that of Louise XIV, who famously declared, "I am the state!" He made himself the sovereign as well as the supreme power. The House of Peoples' Representatives did not even dare to call you to explain some of your disturbing actions after you have declared a state of emergency without following constitutional procedures.

Prime Minister, you wrote to the American legislators saying: "Your Honourables would be mistaken if you believed that our compatriots died on June 8 as a result of state sponsored violence in a confrontation between the police and "enthusiastic demonstrators". The tragic deaths were the result of the opposition's attempt to subvert the constitutional order and the government's legitimate attempts to prevent it."

Your Excellency's diplomatic skills are admirable. A diplomat knows how to choose the right words for the right occasion. You referred to those who were killed on that fateful Wednesday as 'our compatriots'. You were smart enough to appreciate that the Honourables would have been gravely shaken had you referred your victims as "bank robbers and dangerous hooligans." If you have had such a sharp mind, why would you have chosen to offend and hurt your own subjects by referring to those killed in cold blood as robbers and hooligans? Prime Minister, allow me to pose a simple again question to your conscience. "Who are the most dangerous robbers and hooligans in present day Ethiopia?" I am pretty certain that your ingeniousity will not fail to get an answer to such a simple question.
Another interesting issue Your Excellency raised, in the course of responding to the concerns of the legislators, was regarding the implications of the state of emergency which you dismissed as coming from "the fertile imagination of some of the financiers of the opposition in the U.S., many of whom are facing charges in Ethiopia for crimes against humanity that they committed as officials of the Mengistu regime." Unless it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, Dergue officials have been charged for shooting, torturing and detaining civilians. If that is what you mean by crime against humanity, whose turn should it be to face such charges in present day Ethiopia? The Derg was even facing an armed resistance while you have been challenged by unarmed protesters on campuses and in the streets. Your predecessors used to call those they killed mercenaries of imperialism, your federal democratic government labels its victims as 'bank robbers, dangerous hooligans, anti-peace and anti-democracy.' Who is better, Dergue or Your Excellency?

Prime Minister, you are also wasting the time and resources of a poor nation. In addition to building a huge security apparatus, you are spending tens of millions of dollars for destructive propaganda aimed at deceiving and misinforming the poor taxpayer. Instead of feeding the poor on useless lies, it seems sensible to give them their daily bread. Once a regime is hated its fervent propaganda is perceived by the masses as an offensive insult. As Eric Hoffer, author of 'The True Believer' has put it, "The truth seems to be propaganda cannot on its own force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe."

Speaking of treason, Your Excellency referred to the peaceful resistance of the Ethiopian people as "high treason." I am sure your legal advisers did not properly explain to you what "high treason" means. Here is the legal definition of high treason: the crime of betraying one's country. Treason against the country shall consist levying war against it, or in adhering to enemies, giving them aid and comfort. In British law, high treason is an archaic reference to the crime of disloyalty to the monarch. I am sure you are trying to outsmart your opponents once again by making another pre-emptive attack before time is out as high treason was an improper accusation.

One of your former lieutenants and close confidants has a much better convincing accusation of treason. Here is how it was reported in The Reporter [No. 289]: "Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been accused by Seye Abraha of committing "high treason" and "grand corruption". The accusation was contained in a 29-page statement read out on March 12, 2002 by the defendant in a corruption charge brought against him by the Federal Anti-Corruption and Ethics Commission…. He also charged the Prime Minister of "living in the palace funded by the taxpayer...and taking an annual emolument of 2,000,000 birr," adding that his government had caused the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia "to enter into an agreement in which it was obliged to pay Eritrean merchants more than a billion birr, which still remains unaccounted for". You people know each other very well. So there is nothing one can say on this. Your Excellency, the allegations of 'high treason' against you are so endless that I have neither the courage nor the time to list them down in a short letter.

Prime Minister, anyone who has observed you for the last thirty-one years can easily conclude that you have one great enemy, which will make your downfall even much nearer than ever. It is arrogance that has made everything you do and everything you say quite absurd. It was the Scottish Philosopher Sir David Hume who said: "When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities."

That is why even Sir Bob Geldof, who has done Ethiopia a great deal of favour than all our leaders in the last three decades added together, was in great despair when he saw what Your Excellency have been doing against your hungry subjects, whose daily aspiration is to have food on their plates. "It is pathetic. I despair, I really despair. No doubt, I'll get a briefing from the Ethiopian embassy: 'it wasn't like this, it was like that'". Geldof's message to Your Excellency, even if you are over fifty, was plain and simple: "Grow up!" If a foreign observer felt such a shock and despair, imagine what your victims would feel.

Allow me Your Excellency, to conclude by quoting Erich Hoffer, because you expressed your apprehension to the US lawmakers that the opposition were bent on instigating a revolution. He said: "Mass movements are mostly born of the resolve of the masses to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive system which doesn't reflect their aspirations and hopes." Your Excellency, there is no need to blame the symptoms, but rather the root causes bred by the arrogance and corruption of power.

P.S. Please don't ignore C.S Lewis words, no matter how silly they appear to you. "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."