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Obama and Kerry Finally May Be Hearing Heartfelt Ethiopian Cries for Human Rights and Civil Liberties

San Jose, California, May 12 – Security was high at a Democratic National Committee fund-raising reception at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel on May 9. And Ethiopian Journalist Abebe Gellaw probably chanced arrest more than the chance of educating the Obama Administration about the abject tyranny to which the people of Ethiopia have been subjected. As the President was wrapping up a speech to Silicon Valley political and business leaders, Mr. Gellaw spoke aloud, “Mr., Obama, we Ethiopians love you. We demand freedom for Ethiopia.”

President Obama: “I Agree With You.” “I love you back.”
The President was describing the importance of keeping the House and the Senate from Republican domination in the upcoming midterm elections. Gellaw interrupted the President, “Stand with the people of Ethiopia, don’t support tyranny.” “I agree with you,” replied Mr. Obama. Gellaw continued, “We have tyranny in Ethiopia. We love you!” “I love you back,” replied Mr. Obama. After Gellaw’s interruption, the President said that he would be around to talk with Gellaw after the speech. As promised, Mr. Obama briefly met with Mr. Gellaw, and Gellaw took the opportunity to hand over a letter specifically detailing the plight of the Ethiopian people.

Kerry’s Equivocation May Signal Acknowledgment of Ethiopia’s Plight
More than a week earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a visit to the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa on Thursday, May 1. He held high-level talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to discuss peace efforts in the region, especially in the Sudan, and to strengthen ties with Ethiopia, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. Her statements led Ethiopians to ask: How can a regime that rules with the rifle promote peace in other countries? Who would want to strengthen ties with a despotic regime that treats its people with disdain, intimidation, displacement, and even torture and death?

Important U.S. Ally
For decades the U.S. has considered Ethiopia a supremely important ally in the region, especially regarding the so-called war against terrorism. Kerry’s five-day tour included stops in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo to encourage democratic development, to promote respect for human rights, and to advance peace and security. Before leaving Ethiopia, Kerry gave a short speech summarizing the results of his session with the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

Kerry Praises Economic Growth
During the initial part of his speech, Secretary Kerry focused on Ethiopia’s economic progress, noting that the nation is among the 10 fastest-growing economies on the globe. He went on to say that America supports this economic growth because it will eventually lead to greater stabilization in the region, as well as providing much needed jobs. He briefly held forth that a free press and democracy were essential to sustained economic growth, noting that free political systems are just as important as free markets.

Kerry Missed an Important Business Fact
While visiting Ethiopia, Kerry probably saw bustling business centers and cranes erecting skyscrapers. Skyscrapers and commercial truck traffic are not yard sticks for economic growth. While praising a supposedly booming economy, Kerry knew, but failed to acknowledge, that the greater part of business in Ethiopia is in the hands of the political elite and hardly benefits the ordinary citizens of Ethiopia in any way at all.

Kerry Did Make Free Press Demands
Many Ethiopians were glad that Secretary Kerry did visit Ethiopia on a mission promoting democracy and human rights. They were also pleased that the Secretary demanded the release of the Zone 9 Bloggers, including Nathnael Feleke, a young blogger Kerry had a chance to meet and inspire last year in Addis Ababa.

American Hypocrisy
Despite being long-regarded as the world’s bastion of civil liberty and promoter of democratic government, the U.S. has forged alliances with some nasty governments that have little regard for civil and political liberty, justice, and human rights – Ethiopia being a case in point. For decades, the Ethiopian people have been under the TPLF/EPRDF repressive regime that retains power with stuffed ballot boxes and voter intimidation..

U.S. Supports Corrupt Regime
Despite U.S. support for individual, civil, and political liberty, and freedom of the press, it seems to look the other way or holds its nose every time it writes a check for foreign aid to the government of Ethiopia. Surely the American government realizes that little of the aid actually benefits ordinary Ethiopian citizens. How can any government – especially the U.S. – support a regime that assassinates, maims, and illegally imprisons members of any opposition movement? Time and time again, it has been revealed that the present Ethiopian regime has little regard for the life and liberty of its citizens. Surely the American government is aware of this plight.

The U.S. and Its Allies Should Be Embarrassed
For almost two decades, the Ethiopian ruling parties have ensured their hold on the government, using means far beyond their moral authority, including assassination and unlawful imprisonment. For instance: Where was the U.S. during the 2005 Ethiopian elections? Human Rights Watch and the European Union issued reports after the election telling of systematic political repression during the election, with over 500 complaints of vote-rigging and fraud.

Election Fraud Leads to Protests, Deaths, Maiming, Imprisonment
While protesting in a peaceful demonstration against the fraud after the 2005 election, over 193 Ethiopians were assassinated – by their own government. Other demonstrators were subjected to savage beatings with batons and rifle butts. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned in remote military prison camps without access to legal representation nor the means to speak with families and friends.

Election Fraud Continued
The results of the 2010 elections supposedly won 99.6% for the TPLF/EPRDF; Once again, election observers complained of many election irregularities that worked to keep the TPLF/EPRDF in power. Human rights watch reported, “Systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism.” And European election observers whispered that the election fell short of international standards. The regime claims popular election victories to make itself seem more acceptable to the world at large.
Misrule Rife for Decades
Since the TPLF/EPRDF parties gained power in Ethiopia over two decades ago, any political opposition has been met with rifles and jails. For instance, just recently over three dozen students were shot dead as they protested the enlargement of Addis Ababa, the capital city. The abuse of the Ethiopian people by their government has been quite visible; often there is not even an attempt to conceal the atrocities. The parliament, packed with TPLF/EPRDF members, has enacted bills to prevent terrorism. These bills do little to protect against terrorism, but they are quite effective in quelling any opposition movements.

Nation Under Martial Law
The nation is effectively under martial law. Ethiopian citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, or challenge government policies. Scores of journalists, both foreign and domestic, have been jailed, and many newspapers have folded under the political repression of the outlaw regime. Presently, Ethiopia’s leaders are able to quell almost any dissent through a combination of legislation, intimidation, and harassment. Also, the government has agents in practically every town across the nation, watching and waiting for any person espousing or even hinting at the overthrow of the regime.

Buying Back the Dead
The extent of the cruelty by the government is far-reaching and overwhelming. For instance, if a person is murdered by government forces, the authorities will not allow collection of the body until a family member or friend signs documents averring that the deceased was a terrorist or involved in a plot to overthrow the government. Then the person collecting the body also must sign statements declaring his or her fealty to the present regime. Lastly, a bribe must be paid to get the body. The regime is so morally corrupt and underhanded that selling the bodies of the dead – innocents murdered by the government – is just another day of business as usual.

Land Grabs
Many times Ethiopian citizens have been evicted from ancestral lands and dragged to outlying fringe properties with little water and poor soil. Their ancestral lands are then leased to foreign firms to do with as they please, including the demolishing of edifices that have great historic and sentimental value; a number of historic and ancient churches and temples have met a bulldozing fate. Others try to remain in the homeland of their ancestors and they become indentured servants to Saudi, Indian, or other foreign lease-holders. None of the lease monies go to the displaced people, nor do the funds benefit any of Ethiopian society at large. Those lease payments most likely go into the personal bank accounts of ruling party members.

Other Agents of Control
Upon graduation from an Ethiopian college or university, students are required to pledge allegiance to the ruling regime. Without this oath of fealty to the government, finding a job or getting a loan to start a business, can be next to impossible. The regime regularly jams radio, especially the Voice of America and its Amharic broadcasts. To its advantage, the government can control cell phone use and social networking via the Internet. Earlier this year, six Ethiopian bloggers and three Ethiopian journalists, members of an informal activist group called the Zone 9 Bloggers, were arrested. They have published and blogged information critical of the regime. They were charged with attempting to incite violence.

U.S. Prime Enabler of Corrupt Ethiopian Regime
Citizens and governments around the world should become entities of good will in order to stand and vigorously argue for the people of Ethiopia. With foreign assistance accounting for one third of all Ethiopia’s governmental expenditures, EAC calls on major donors, such as the World Bank, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, to take a squint-eyed view of the dictatorial, repressive, and criminal Ethiopian government. The present Ethiopian regime seems intent on being a government and a society modeled after the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.

Cruel Irony
The current regime in Ethiopia has been hosting peace talks between the government of South Sudan and the dissidents within that nation. Considering the egregious punishment meted out by the corrupt Ethiopian government on its own people, whose only guilt is their pursuit of reform and liberty, it is difficult to understand how that government could be a major player in promoting democratic government in other nations.

Nations and Peoples Abroad Should Assist the People of Ethiopia
All Ethiopian-Americans, as well as other Americans, must join EAC in demanding that the U.S. Congress, the Obama administration, particularly Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, do more to bring fair and free elections to the Ethiopian homeland. Unless free and fair election processes are employed in Ethiopia, now and into the future, EAC pleads that Ethiopian government officials be banned from traveling to the U.S. Ethiopian assets in foreign lands must be frozen as well. The Obama administration and the Congress, and other freedom-loving nations and governments, should stop funding the present Ethiopian government immediately.