Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
June 20, 2013
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to discuss the situation in Ethiopia since the death in August 2012 of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Post-Meles Ethiopia presents the United States with a significant opportunity to encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record, liberalize its economy, and provide increased space for opposition parties and civil society organizations. Post-Meles Ethiopia also presents a significant challenge since Ethiopia plays an important role in advancing regional integration and mitigating regional conflict in Somalia and Sudan. Our partnership with Ethiopia balances these interests by focusing on democracy, governance, and human rights; economic growth and development; and regional peace and security.
Ethiopia and the United States enjoy strong ties on several levels. More than one million people of Ethiopian origin live in the United States. Many of these individuals are returning to their homeland to expand the political and economic ties between our two countries. A wide range of groups and individuals in the United States provide humanitarian support to Ethiopians. Ethiopia is also home to one of the oldest Peace Corps programs.
It is said that if one is between the ages of 18 and 30 and is not revolutionary, of the socialist/communist type, something is wrong with him. However, the maxim goes on that if one is over the age of 35 and is still revolutionary, then, obviously something is still wrong with him.
The essence of this saying is that those years, between 18 and 30, are years when we humans are motivated by emotions and idealism. We do not heed rational advices nor are we governed by empirical evidences for they may conflict with our emotions and idealism. Ergo, we decide to take the bull by the horns and grapple with it.
This maxim, I dare say, to a large extent, describes the evolution of the political activities of the generation of Ethiopian students, now between the ages of 60 and 75, that is unfortunately responsible for the sad state of affairs our beloved Ethiopia and its people have been embroiled in over the last 40 years. The intention of this writing is not, by any means, to blame and condemn that generation. It is however to appeal to our rational senses and come out, however difficult that may be, and eat crow. Unfortunately, we seem to have decided to leave the political scene quietly and tight-lipped. Yes many may not be alive to express their sincere apology. Though our intentions and activities were motivated by the love we all have for our country and the desire to see the lives of our downtrodden improve, the result has been cataclysmic and disastrous.
For the last two decades, the ruling party, EPRDF, set the agendas for political discourse, putting the opposition to a clear defensive position. The former drafted, ratified, and implemented rulings and laws solo several of which are calculated to contain and neutralize any form of public dissent. The opposition has had nothing to do about it but to mildly shout that the political playing field was and is too narrow to play. Discourses related to national economics and development were/are also the exclusive business of the ruling party. Moreover, it was/is the EPRDF only who re-defined/s our border lines and our relations to neighboring countries. The opposition reacted in some forms to such maneuverings. Generally, one could safely argue that the EPRDF and the opposition have respectively assumed their offensive and defensive roles for years.
In June 2009, I wrote an article complaining that President Obama is ignoring Africa. Now, he has made this momentous trip does that mean he is paying attention to Africa. Hardly so.
What is bedeviling Africa is poor leadership and dictators? President George Bush gave more lip service than Obama in promoting democracy in Africa. Africa has all the resources to be a politically stable and economically viable continent if it were not for the prevalence of corruption and dictators from Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea.
His primary focus has been in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He appears genuinely interested in disentangling the deeply rooted political problems of the Middle East and improving Muslim and Arab relations with America; however, can all this be at the expense of Africa?
Testimony of Berhanu Nega, Ph.D Associate Professor of Economics, Bucknell University Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations June 20, 2013
“Ethiopia After Meles: The Future of Democracy and Human Rights”
Good Morning Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, Distinguished Members of the House Africa Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. It is indeed a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to appear before you to discuss issues related to the future of Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia.
1. The State of Human Rights and Democratization in Ethiopia
As you are aware Mr. Chairman, Ethiopia’s human rights record is abysmal by all accounts and continues to deteriorate. The current regime, which has been in power for the last 21 years, continues to engage in the systematic violation of international standards with regard to fundamental human rights. The most significant assault on human rights include restrictions on:
(This week my regular Monday commentary is presented in the form of a “flash drama” on Obama (a sub-genre of theatrical play sometimes described as a “ten minute one-act play”).
The scene is a barbershop somewhere in Africa. Two young African college friends are talking soccer as they await their turn in the barber’s chair. Their conversation shifts from sports to international politics on the news that President Obama is scheduled to visit Africa in late June 2013.
I have opted to use “flash drama” to add creative range to my commentaries and expand my reach to the younger generation of Ethiopians and other African youth. The names of the two characters have special meaning.)
The Unity for Democracy and Justice(UDJ), the most important opposition political party working under the narrowest
political landscape of Ethiopia, has launched a “peaceful struggle campaign” with a motto——“Millions of Voices for Freedom” against the brutal regime ruling the country since 1991. Many millions of Ethiopians suffering from racial discrimination, exploitation, injustice, abject poverty, rampant human rights violations are expected to actively participate in the struggle.
In a launching press conference held on 20 June 2013, Mr. Dawite Solomon, the spokesperson of the party, called upon the people, political parties, civic organizations, the mass media, the Ethiopian diaspora and concerned members of the ruling party who give priority to the interest of the nation to take an active part and participate in the campaign. He said that it is the time to get together and struggle for freedom.