Ask What You Can Do for Your Ethiopia! By Prof. Al MariamPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
Memorandum No. 3: Ask Not What Abiy Ahmed Can Do for Ethiopia, Ask What You Can Do for Your Ethiopia!
“… All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 1961.
Author’s Note: This Memorandum is to all Ethiopians and Friends of Ethiopia.
There are those clamoring for PM Abiy Ahmed to do everything under the sun in less than 30 days.
It is obvious that what he can possibly ever do will not be finished in 100 or 1000 days or in the lifetime of any Ethiopian alive today or at any time on this planet. But PM Abiy has made a great start.
PM Abiy’s trolls are coming out of the woodwork to spin their tales of defeatism and cynicism. “Oh! He will definitely fail. They will not allow him to work. They will keep on a tight leash. They have him surrounded by the old guard in his cabinet. He talks a good talk, but he has not done anything.” Blah, blah, blah…
In the past nearly 13 years when I was in the trenches every day and every week speaking, preaching and lecturing truth to Meles Zenawi and the TPLF, I rarely saw the wolf packs (cackle of hyenas is a more appropriate metaphor?) that are hounding PM Abiy today standing with me and howling truth at the TPLF. They were either coming out to do a hit and run once every so often or writing in pen names and hiding in the anonymity of cyberspace because they did not have the courage to stand up and counted. Now they are slithering out of their underground lairs to preach their gospel of pessimism and negativism.
Now, the wolf pack is unleashing and howling lies-as-truth at PM Abiy and demanding not only that he walk on water in less than 30 days but also soar in the sky without wings.
Now, the Johnny-come-latelys (ye dil atbiya arbegnoch) are ganging up on a young man whose philosophy is Ethiopiawinet and preaches peace, truth and reconciliation.
I wrote about them as recently as July 2017. They sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing. They prefer to wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil. They do nothing in earnest and with effect. They want others to make sacrifices for them. Many of them come out of the woodwork and play hero when they feel victory is assured.
Victory by no means is assured now but they believe it is.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I would not mind if they criticize PM Abiy by coming up with their plan to solve any of the myriad problems faced by Ethiopians. I would cheer them on and stand on their side if they were to deliver a comprehensive economic plan to PM Abiy. Or a plan for a comprehensive constitutional revision. Or a plan to deal with the shortage in hard currency, attracting foreign direct investment, dealing with the dire food shortage throughout the country and…
The deceitful windbags are incapable of putting their ideas to paper. But they are quick to pontificate and blow hot air over any proposals made by PM Abiy. Term limits for prime ministers? Oh! That is just a gimmick, they say. It is becoming increasingly clear that they will continue to scandalize and delegitimize PM Abiy regardless of what he does or does not do.
Two simple facts seem obvious to me from what PM Abiy’s trolls are doing. First, they are scared to death he will indeed succeed and bring a measure of peace, reconciliation and hope to Ethiopia. Second, they believe if PM Abiy succeeds, they are doomed to fail. Their ambition for power, fame, fortune and glory goes up in smoke.
Let me argue my point by focusing on what PM Abiy’s critics say are his fatal weakness. 1) He kept many of the old guard in his cabinet. He is doomed to fail because all he is doing is moving the sauce pan from one stove top to another hoping to make the sauce tastier. 2) He is all talk and no action. He does not walk the talk. In less than thirty days?!
I submit both contentions are ahistorical.
Let us consider Nelson Mandela’s cabinet. F.W. de Klerk, apartheid South African president, was Mandela’s deputy president. Several white political and business leaders of apartheid South Africa held important positions in Mandela’s cabinet. Above all, whites dominated the judiciary, media, civil service and economy during Mandela’s term. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who opposed the African National Congress violently, got a top ministerial job. But Mandela ultimately managed a peaceful constitutional transition for South Africa.
Was Mandela doomed because of what he did? Was his truth and reconciliation just talk that had no meaningful impact on South Africa? Was Mandela a failure?
How about Mikhail Gorbachev?
Gorbachev’s inner circle, the 10-member Presidential Council, included such hardliners as KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, the rabid nationalist Valentin G. Rasputin, the fanatical union leader Veniamin A. Yarin and the die-hard war horse defense minister Dmitri T. Yazov. Gorbachev ultimately managed to transform the Soviet Union through his policy of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”).
Did Gorbachev transform the Soviet Union? Was he a failure for pursuing glasnost and perestroika?
What can PM Abiy possibly do in less than 30 days?
Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, the stalwart of Ethiopian human rights, in an Amharic commentary explained it well:
Abiy is just starting. As he said himself, he is beginning to do his first task. He is just taking his first steps. Let alone running, he is barely walking. But it appears there are many standing in the shadows to ambush him. I believe he is crisscrossing the country to save our people from dangerous intrigues.
In my estimation, those who are expressing bitter opposition against him could be transformed into becoming his supporters. As I understand it, what Abiy has done is generally touch the sore point of the woyane power structure and especially the Wolkait segment of the Amhara society. While we are on the topic, the Wolkait-Tegede dispute is similar to the intrigue that resulted in the dispute between the Turks and Greeks following WW I, which remains unresolved to this day.
If we transcend the politics of ethnicity and identity, both illnesses could be resolved.
Rome was not built in a day, neither will Ethiopia
The old saying is that Rome was not built in a day. But Rome almost got destroyed in a day when Emperor Nero allegedly caused fire to be set in the city so that he could rebuild it to his own liking without interference by the senate.
What I am seeing and hearing today are modern day self-appointed Emperor Neros trying to burn down Ethiopia as PM Abiy Ahmed is toiling and crisscrossing the country as a Fire Chief with millions of young firemen behind him. As soon as he quells one fire, the pyromaniacs will set another one.
I predicted what we see today with PM Abiy 11 years ago in my commentary, “The Hummingbird and the Forest Fire: A Diaspora Morality Tale”.
That tale was about tiny hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire. As the large animals of the forest huffed and puffed about how they could out the fire, the tiny hummingbird went about putting out the fire with droplets of water in its beak. The large animals laughed at the hummingbird for trying to put out the fire with droplets of water. “I can only do what I can do,” replied the hummingbird.
PM Abiy is that hummingbird supported by millions of other hummingbirds. He is doing everything that he can to save Ethiopia from the fire of civil war. His critics are blowing hot air on the fire from the sidelines. They can huff and puff all day, but Fire Chief Abiy Ahmed will put out the fire because he has got the Almighty and a mighty army of Cheetahs on his side!
Ask not what Abiy Ahmed can do for Ethiopia, ask what you can do for your Ethiopia.
Is PM Abiy the only man responsible for solving Ethiopia’s problems dating back generations in less than thirty days?
Is he the only one who has all the answers?
Is he the messiah who will bring salvation to Ethiopia?
The answer to all three questions is an emphatic No!
As I mulled over these questions, I remembered President John F. Kennedy inaugural address in 1961 which has inspired me throughout my life from my teenage years.
In his speech, President Kennedy was “celebrating freedom and change”.
He talked about a “world that is very different” where “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
He talked about “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought for and are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
He proclaimed, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans who… are unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
His message to Africans and others suffering from dehumanizing colonial oppression was for the ages.
To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom — and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
He urged, “Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah — to “undo the heavy burdens and to let the oppressed go free.” In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”
Then he posed two timeless and deathless questions:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. (Emphasis added.)
Today, I pose the same questions to my fellow Ethiopians: Ask not what Abiy Ahmed can do for Ethiopia, ask what you can do for your Ethiopia.
After nearly 13 years of relentless struggle for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia, I am convinced more than ever that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Ethiopians who are unwilling to witness or permit the flagrant violation of human rights in Ethiopia. That generation is PM Abiy’s, not my Hippo (older) generation. Ethiopia’s fate and destiny hangs in the balance of their success and failure. I will do whatever I can to make sure PM Abiy’s generation succeeds because state failure, political failure, economic failure and social failure are not options for Ethiopia!
I must speak truth to myself and answer the inescapable question: What can I do for my Ethiopia?
Let me answer that question in context.
In a recent meeting with members of the Ethiopian business community, PM Abiy raised a number of issues with crystal clarity that resonated deeply with me.
He spoke truth to business entrepreneurs.
On the shortage of hard currency, PM Abiy said:
… We have a big problem generating foreign exchange. I want to appeal to you now to bring the money [dollars, Euros] you have stashed away in Dubai. We are facing severe hard currency problems. We have the problem not as a government but as a country. We want you to help us now. If you ask me why, [let me use a metaphor to explain it to you]. If your mother is sick and her children do not help her get better, it makes no sense for them to show up at her funeral. Our country is in deep trouble, specifically with hard currency. The government will do what it can, but I’m appealing to you to bring back the money [you have illicitly transferred out of the country]. It does not matter if bring it back from the friends and relatives you have kept it with or from where ever you have stashed it. You understand exactly what I mean when I say bring it back. If you don’t, the problem is not going to be solved easily. That is why we are coming to you and saying we are in big trouble, help us. We are not saying give us money. What we are saying is return the money you moved out of the country [and make it available for hard currency and help the people]. If you help us now, at another time you can say to us you helped us when we were most in need and you should expect us to help you [in your time of need]. You have to help us very much right now. [It is futile] for you to be just asking the government to give you [hard currency we do not have], you must also give back…
[There are many] Ethiopians who have stashed away a lot of money in Dubai and China. Huge amounts of wealth. We are asking them to return the money back to the country. By the way, the Chinese when their citizens have stashed away money outside the country, they use whatever power they have to go into those countries and get the money back to China. We have not reached that point, but we’ll get there. Those who are ripping off the country and accumulating wealth in other countries, it is only a matter of time before we get to them. It is only a matter of time before a proper solution is found…
That money if it’s returned will alleviate a lot of problems…
On investment, PM Abiy said:
… Ethiopia needs foreign investment, especially now. If we cannot attract foreign capital, we will not be able to accomplish the development plan we have set. [The importance of direct foreign investment] is what the experience of all countries shows. All countries [that succeeded in developing themselves] invited foreign capital [and made them part of their development plan]. Foreign investors offer various advantages. First, they are necessary for us to have global market access, and you all know how difficult that access is. Second, we need them for technology transfer. How many in Ethiopia have bought fancy high-tech cars but when they malfunctioned they left them parked or shipped them to Dubai because we don’t have the technical capacity to maintain them. Our children need modern high-tech training and experience [which investors bring with them]. Third, investors bring a different work ethic. You all know how we work traditionally and how they work. [We can learn from their disciplined work ethic.] Fourth, they can get us much needed hard currency. So, we need to invite and create joint ventures with them…
On remittances, PM Abiy said:
… Related to hard currency shortages is remittances. Ethiopians living abroad whether their scientists or do work ordinary jobs, remittance is the money that they sent back to their country. Ethiopia is among the few African countries that have a lot of citizens living abroad. Large numbers of Ethiopians live scattered throughout the world. Remittances coming into our country are very low. Nigeria generates 500% more in remittances and Egypt 300% more than we do. I’m raising the issue because I believe Diaspora Ethiopians may listen to our discussions [and would like for them] to think about it. To decide to send money into the country or to boycott remittances does not mean damaging the government. When the government does something to displease you, keeping remittances away from the country is not the proper punishment. When a child does something wrong, it is not proper to deny dinner to punish the child. We feed them dinner and in the old style we may [take out the belt] or in the new style put them into timeout. If we punish them by denying them dinner, you know the outcome.
When Diasporans say we will not send money to punish the government, who is going to be hurt? It will be the small business operators who do not have the ability to generate hard currency. But you well to do businessmen can get around that on the black market by paying whatever rate to get hard currency. The poor cannot afford that. Diaspora Ethiopians can pressure the government through written criticism, peaceful protest and dialogue. But withholding remittances hurts the whole country. We need to think about that. We have to work together to grow remittances. And as it grows it will help us reduce the problem of hard currency to a certain extent.
On Ethiopia’s image abroad, PM Abiy said:
Ethiopia has official ambassadors in many countries. Those ambassadors have not been able to do much, nor have they done much. Diplomatic work is done by Diaspora Ethiopians and business entrepreneurs like yourselves. Wherever you go, though you do not have official diplomatic commission, you should strive to improve the image of Ethiopia as much as possible. You strive to show the best of our country in your speeches and the things that you do. We cannot attract tourists and investors with official diplomats. Some African countries have opened image-building offices in Europe and with the good information they have been able to generate, they have increased tourism and investment…
And to the extent that bad things are said about our country, other people will stay away and not get involved.
What you must do, as much as possible, improve the image of Ethiopia throughout the world. I am not talking about our [government] image. I am talking about Ethiopia image and we must work together to improve that image.
For us to blacken and undermine Ethiopia’s image because we feel we are damaging the government is [mistaken]. It is important for you to realize what you do to improve the image of Ethiopia is much better than what we can ever try to do. So, as much as possible it would be great if you can help us improve Ethiopia’s image throughout the world.
I must say that I am stunned by the plain-spoken truth of PM Abiy.
Truth be told, he fascinates me. He is the kind of guy who says what he means and means what he says. He does not sugarcoat anything. He tells it like it is. He doesn’t hold back anything. With all due respect to PM Abiy, he speaks truth to power (his own administration), to those with economic power, Diasporans and the poor and powerless without hesitation and evasion just like me. But I can afford to do that because I am a human rights advocate without any political ambition and with a single mission.
But here’s the real twist in what PM Abiy is doing, I think. When he talks about the role of Diaspora Ethiopians he is speaking truth to me and all of us living outside of Ethiopia.
Truth be told, he is politely giving me and the rest of us a taste of our own medicine.
I have been speaking truth to the powers that be in Ethiopia for the past 13 years. Now, we have a young leader talking back the raw truth about Ethiopia’s survival hanging in the balance. He is telling everyone, “Put up or shut the hell up!”
So, there there are only two question: Can we handle the truth in the Diaspora? Are we going to put up or shut up?
Can we rise up to PM Abiy’s challenge and exceed it?
What can I do for Ethiopia?
On the shortage of hard currency and capital flight:
The issue of capital flight from Ethiopia is not something that is new to me. I first wrote about it in December 2011 commentary, “Ethiopia: The Art of Bleeding a Country Dry”.
The capital flight situation is devastating. Global Financial Integrity in 2009 reported, “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”
Ethiopia lost US$11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000 through 2009. Net official development assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia in 2009 totaled USD 3.8 billion.
Illicit financial flows out of Ethiopia “nearly doubled to US$3.26 billion in 2009 over the previous year, with corruption, kickbacks and bribery accounting for the vast majority of that increase.”
The annual average outflow from Ethiopia for the period 2008–2012 was US$3.55 billion. During same period, “Ethiopia’s illicit outflows were 1,355 percent of the foreign direct investment flowing into the country.”
A 2016 study showed the “stock of capital flight from Ethiopia stood at $29.9 billion in 2010,including interest earnings on past outflows, which is well above the stock of external debt of $7 billion in 2010.”
Those of us who keep abreast with capital flight issues know that Dubai and China are not the only destinations of choice for those robbing the country blind. The United States is another destination.
I don’t want to spend time and ink talking about the problem and particularly those who are largely responsible for the capital flight. There is something I and others like myself networked together could do to engage in grassroots asset recovery efforts at least in the United States.
The Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) of the U.S. Justice Department deals with asset forfeiture and anti-money laundering enforcement efforts. The International Assistance Team of MLARS litigates in U.S. courts to assist foreign governments seeking restraint and forfeiture of assets in the United States.
There are also other possibilities under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that could be used for illicit assets transferred to the United States.
There are members of the U.S. House of Representatives willing to use the Magnitsky Act to help improve human rights in Ethiopia. That could be a double-edged sword in an asset recovery effort.
In my December 2012 commentary, “Will the U.S. Stand by the Side of Brave Africans?”, I urged President Barack Obama to adopt the equivalent of a Magnitsky Act against certain members of the pre-PM Abiy administration. Obama ignored my plea.
In my October 1, 2017 “Letter to President Trump, I requested targeted sanctions under the Magnitsky Act be imposed against certain members of the pre-PM Abiy administration. On December 21, 2017, President Trump signed an executive ordermaking the Act applicable not just to Ethiopia, but to all nations. (There will come a time to publicly thank those who made this possible.)
PM Abiy said that in due course Ethiopia will have to resort, just like China, to undertake aggressive action to recover illicitly transferred assets throughout the world. I believe a volunteer “army” of lawyers could be organized to help in the effort.
I may have some practical ideas about how the Magnitsky Act could be used in an Ethiopian asset recovery effort in the U.S.
I have strongly opposed U.S. aid to Ethiopia for a long time. That is because I believed the pre-PM Abiy administration was using American tax payer dollars corruptly and without accountability and transparency. I have made strong arguments for significant reductions in all aid to Ethiopia and Africa. I have directly challenged USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smith for her past association with certain individuals in the pre-PM Abiy administration and her role in USAID.
With PM assurances for greater transparency and accountability and direct action against corruption, I am willing to do individually and collectively with others whatever I can to seek increases in critical humanitarian, emergency and development aid. But PM Abiy must put mechanism in place that can facilitate monitoring of U.S. aid against fraud, waste and abuse.
I have some familiarity with the remittance issue in Ethiopia. In my October 2008 commentary, “The Political Economy of Remittances in Ethiopia”, I addressed the very issues PM Abiy raised in his meeting with the business entrepreneurs. “Do our remittance dollars help or hurt our people?”. My concern at the time was focused on the role of remittances in providing economic buoyancy to help keep afloat, support, prolong and entrench a one-party, one-man dictatorship in Ethiopia.
I respectfully direct PM Abiy to consider the data, analysis and arguments in that commentary because I believe them to be relevant today as they were then.
In 2016, personal remittances, received (% of GDP) for Ethiopia was 1 %.
In my February 2018 commentary, I fully endorsed the global efforts to boycott remittances to Ethiopia and provided support to some anti-remittance groups to aid the Diaspora’s civil disobedience efforts against the pre-PM Abiy administration.
I learned from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 that boycotts could be a devastating weapon in the arsenal of civil disobedience against a repressive regime. I supported boycotts to “punish” the prior administration, to borrow PM Abiy’s words.
Indeed, before Official Day 1 of my involvement in the Ethiopian human rights struggle on July 3, 2006, I wrote a three-part commentary on civil disobedience and nonviolence and its relevance in the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.
I undertook that effort after the Tegbar League Addis Ababa Leadership Committee issued a statement in March 2006 indicating that it “will organize nonviolent actions such as blocking major roads, work slowdowns, boycott of schools, and boycott of products that are produced or sold by EPRDF-affiliated companies.”
In 2014, I joined the boycott of Coca Cola Company for its disrespectful and humiliating treatment of the great Ethiopian patriot Teddy “Afro” Kassahun. In my June 2014 commentary, “Why I am boycotting Ȼoca Ȼola”, I called on my readers to boycott Coca Cola products. I promised then never to touch a Coca Cola product, a promise I have kept to this day.
I believe circumstances have changed now, and so I must change my views also. I see no reason to “punish” PM Abiy’s administration. I am convinced that boycott of remittances will immeasurably damage the ordinary struggling people of Ethiopia, not the few fat cat crooks who can and will get their hard currency by hook or crook.
I am prepared to make the case to Diaspora Ethiopians to suspend the remittance boycott. We have made our point loud and clear. The old saying is money talks and our remittance money has talked and PM Abiy is listening.
My deepest concern is that I do not want Diaspora Ethiopians to (literally) throw out Ethiopian babies with the bathwater. Our people are hurting and if resuming remittances can improve their situation, I will stand with them and make the moral case for suspension of the remittance boycott. After all, making the moral case is all I have been able to do as I have for the past 13 years.
I ask all of us in the Diaspora take a deep breath and remit on remittances!
On foreign direct investment (and U.S. Aid):
I also know a few things about foreign direct investment and foreign in Ethiopia.
I have had opportunity to study the pre-PM Abiy administration’s investment policy and how it has been applied.
I have been consulted by numerous Ethiopians who have invested in Ethiopia and sought legal recourse because they felt they treated badly and literally robbed of their investments.
I have been asked by potential foreign direct investors to assess specific potential legal risks for them in Ethiopia.
Suffice it to say that I have discouraged potential foreign investors from investing in Ethiopia because I truly believed the pre-PM Abiy administration was playing a huge scam on foreign investors.
In my public commentaries I have often observed, “When you make a pact with the Devil who plays a zero-sum game, you always lose, and he will own your soul and body!”
That was precisely what I advised Sai Karuturi in 2011 publicly and otherwise after he decided to invest in Ethiopia in 2010. I cautioned him, “Beware of those bearing free gifts”.
In the end, a frustrated Karuturi was reduced to threatening to use the power of India to vindicate his rights in Ethiopia.
In September 2017, in my commentary, “I told you so, Sai Karuturi. But you would not listen!”, I discussed how my counsel to him came true in exacting detail.
I made the Karuturi case a teachable moment to all potential investors who sought my counsel.
My view has been that the pre-PM Abiy administration calculatedly set investment traps to lure unsuspecting, overeager and greedy “investors” by offering shady deals and offers they can’t refuse — out-of-this world freebies, free money, no or very low interest loans, no taxes, no problems– and rip them off in broad daylight. That’s what happened to Karuturi and so many other foreign and Diaspora Ethiopian investors based on facts revealed to me.
There are other foreign investor cases that have gone sour under the pre-PM Abiy adminsitration. In September 2018, Israeli Chemicals announced it is filing an arbitration claim in The Hague for nearly $200 million against Ethiopia. The company alleges that it was not provided necessary infrastructures and regulatory framework for its potash mining project.
The World Bank’s 2018 “Doing Business 2018” report for Ethiopia asserts “more than 2,900 regulatory reforms making it easier to do business since 2004.” Suffice it to say the reforms may have been made but are they being implemented earnestly? I have my grave doubts, but that is a discussion for another day.
My view is that if PM Abiy can cut the bureaucratic red tape for investment, minimize corruption in the foreign direct investment sector, strongly ensure property rights for investors, establish an ombudsman’s office for them and let them do their business without official meddling, there is a high likelihood that there will be an uptick in foreign direct investment in the foreseeable future. Above all, he must ensure reliable electric power supply and free internet access. These two factors I know to be of special concern for potential investors who have consulted with me.
On Ethiopia’s international image:
PM Abiy said it is important to maintain a high image of Ethiopia abroad and we should make a distinction between the “government” and the country.
As arguably the most persistently vocal Diaspora Ethiopian with substantial media access, readership and following, I have to some extent helped shape Ethiopia’s “image” throughout the world.
Did my relentless opposition to the pre-PM Abiy administration contribute to a negative image of Ethiopia?
I cannot honestly answer that question. There are those who believe my strong human rights stand reflected well on Ethiopia. Others could well argue I have conflated my opposition to the regime with the good of the country.
Both sides may be right. Unfortunately, zealous advocacy is the professional hazard of an American-trained lawyer and accidental human rights advocate. As a lawyer in America, I am trained to be single-mindedly one-sided. It is about winning the argument for one’s side by all ethical means. Those in my profession rarely factor in collateral damage on opposing sides.
When PM Abiy spoke truth about the sacredness of Ethiopia’s image in the world, it jolted me into thinking about my own role and responsibility for potentially creating a negative image about Ethiopia having such wide media access.
All I can say at this time is that I must do a lot of soul searching and determine if and how much I have contributed to any such negative image of Ethiopia.
Suffice it to say, I am the kind of guy who will own up to his mistakes publicly and make corrections instantly. Show me my mistake and it will be corrected in a flash. I have no ego problems whatsoever!
But it also seems to me that much of the Ethiopia image problem is self-inflicted by the pre-PM Abiy administration.
In 2016-17, the U.S. and U.K. governments issued at least 5 travel warnings and notices.
Time was tourists flocked to Ethiopia in search of the “Land of 13-Months of Sunshine” and adventure.
Ziggy Marley, son of the late great reggae king Bob Marley, even wrote a song about it:
13 Months of Sunshine/Is what we got/Take us to, take us to, take us to that land/
Who shall ascend the hill/Stand in that holy place/Lift up your heads/
O ancient gates/13 Months of Sunshine/Is what she got/Forward to, Forward to , Forward to that land/Where the water run (free)/We want to be/…
Tourism has been on the increase in Ethiopia.
2006 330,000 2007 358,000
2008 383,000 2009 427,000
2010 468,000 2011 523,000
2012 597,000 2013 681,000
2014 770,000 2015 864,000
After the October 2016 declaration of state of emergency, tourism in Ethiopia went downhill.
The pre-PM Abiy administration claimed Ethiopia earned over $5.6 billion from tourism activities in 2016 with over 800, 000 tourists.
By November 2016, tourism had dropped by 100,000. Yet, the “Ministry of Culture and Tourism hopes to increase the number of tourists to one million and the revenue to well over $29.8 billion in 2017.”
But as PM Abiy suggested, the Ethiopian tourism sector is very much in need. With all the travel warnings, states of emergencies and the rest, Ethiopia is no longer a tourist destination of choice.
The impact of a dried up tourism industry on the local services economy has been devastating.
A story in Addis Standard in March 2017 stated that tour businesses were reporting cancellations of “more than 95% of the bookings for the high season.”
The pre-PM Abiy administration sought to drum up tourism by participating in tourism fairs and exhibitions and conducting “workshops” for travel agents and tour operators in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and other cities. They launched tourism web-marketing under the tagline “Land of Origins” in apparent reference to Ethiopia as the “origin of mankind” and of the “Blue Nile”. None of the public relations efforts have worked. Tourists are staying away.
The decline in tourism has also impacted the availability of foreign currency as PM Abiy indicated. Tourism contributes significantly to the country’s foreign currency supply which is used to finance imports.
Can the tourism decline be turned around?
The first and foremost thing that needs to be done is lift the state of emergency.
I also have substantial anecdotal evidence suggesting that there is a major problem with immigration officials at the airport, including incidents of alleged shakedowns.
I believe it is possible to increase “educational tourism” in the form of study abroad programs from the U.S. It is also possible to organize academic, scholarly and scientific meetings at higher educational institutions in Ethiopia. Those of us in American higher education could help bridge the “tourism gap” in a significant way.
Two types of Ethiopians: Let me speak my truth!
I believe there are two types of Ethiopians today.
Paraphrasing the words of Robert Kennedy, there are Ethiopians who look at things the way they are, and ask why? Then there other Ethiopians who dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
I belong to the latter group.
So, today the question for me is not whether to support PM Abiy or if he can walk on water and solve Ethiopia’s problems overnight as some expect him to do.
The question is whether Ethiopians at home or in the Diaspora will belong to the camp that looks at things the way they are and ask why or the other camp where they dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
To those who look at things and ask why, I urge them to heed Robert Kennedy’s words exactly 50 years to the month, on April 5, 1968:
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
I close by paraphrasing Robert Kennedy’s words:
Finally, whether you are citizens of Ethiopia or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land of 13-months of Sunshine love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
PM Abiy said, “Put up or shut up!”
I say, “Ready to serve!”
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