Ethiopia in Transition, Prospects and Hope. Remarks of Rob Prince to the Ethiopian Community of Colorado. Embassy Suites Hotel, Aurora. September 23, 2012
Dear Friends of the Metro Denver Ethiopian Community…
Thank you for inviting me and my friends to join you for this special occasion. We are glad to be with you and to support your efforts to bring democracy and development to your dear country with its extraordinarily rich and diverse culture, its long and proud history. At 30,000, yours is a sizable and active community within our midst, many of whom have been in Colorado for three decades or more.
Ethiopia is not only the birthplace of coffee – but more generally, humanity itself.
When, at the end of the 19th century, the rest of Africa continent – `that great African cake’ as the Europeans called it – was carved up between this and that rapacious European colonial power, Ethiopia stood alone on the African continent as independent and free, having defeated Italy in 1896 at the Battle of Adwa.
In the twentieth century Ethiopia experienced a century of repeated hope and disappointment that continues until this day.
There are a number of themes I would simply like to touch on – to remind you of the great tradition of which you are a part.
- Even in the worst of times no Ethiopian tyrant – and you have had your share – has been able to smother the spirit of decency and democracy among your diverse population. One way or another they have fallen away, been swept from power by their own corruption, greed, repressive policies,- ultimately their failure to respond to the aspirations, needs of your people. They promised the moon, but gave nothing more than a harvest human suffering.
- The Ethiopian people have been the most effective at those moments when they could find common ground among the many ethnic groups and language families and join hands in coalition, at those moments when they understood that the fate of one group was the fate of all – and that in the face of a unified population, standing together in coalition, no tyrant – be it Mussolini, Haili Selassi, Menguistu Haile Mariam or Meles Zenawi – could last forever,…or even for that long.
- One must also mention the country’s rich history of opposition to foreign intervention, which today takes new forms: economic penetration, most especially the privatization of the country’s resources, the use of the country as a springboard for regional spying from foreign military communication centers, the use – or misuse – of Ethiopia for foreign military intervention against its neighbors – and this at a time when Ethiopia itself is suffering from a crushing generalized poverty and dramatic social divisions.
Achieving prosperous and independent Ethiopia is difficult to impossible with foreign military presence on your soil by those who claim to be their to insure your security, but who are rather, the masters of divide and conquer like in days of old.
But now, with the death of Meles Zenawi, new possibilities for change emerge have emerged. How the country deals with this moment – a moment of transition – will have a lasting effect for years to come. This is a special moment in your history, a moment in which you, the people of Ethiopia, can once again seize the initiative and shape your own history…
There are a number of lessons from the Arab Spring, that come to mind in relation to Ethiopia.
Without going through the developments in every country, but commenting on Tunisia and Egypt, I would like to point out…
- In both countries unpopular tyrants were removed from power by broad based public demonstrations which were, for the most part, peaceful.
- Both Ben Ali and Mubarek were entrenched in power – had powerful foreign backing – and it was thought that their positions were impenetrable, yet they fell with relative ease in the face of massive opposition led by broad-based coalitions.
- In both the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, formal positive growth rates hid economies which were characterized by high levels of unemployment – especially youth unemployment, and extremely low wage levels – classic examples of `growth, without developments’. There is a certain similarity with Ethiopia.
- Both Ben Ali and Mubarek specialized in stealing the national wealth from their own people – Estimates are that the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans stole $17 billion from Tunisia, the Mubarek’s some $70 billion from Egypt.
How much did Meles Zenawi take from the people of Ethiopia?
- In both the Tunisian and Egyptian cases, it was easier to get rid of the tyrants, than to change the systems. Getting rid of tyrants is only the first step…building democracies and vibrant economies – difficult tasks – need to follow. Not so easy
- In both countries, the road to progress, to more human systems, is filled with `potholes’, barriers large and small – sometimes, even after a tyrant is removed, the situation gets worse, before it gets better..but if we think of what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt more as the beginning of a process of change, than as its end, we understand, that the Arab Spring is still in its youth and that there is hope, a good deal of it actually, for the future.
A hundred years ago, Ethiopia was `the hope of Africa’. We know that the winds of change that erupted in North Africa, have blown south and that today we can talk not only about an `Arab Spring’, but more generally of an African Spring, one in which, Ethiopia can lead the way as it has so many times in the past – for its own people – for Africa and for the world.