Alemayehu G. Mariam
“Big Brother is Watching You!” secretly: The snooping thug state in 2014 Ethiopiana
The secrecy-obsessed regime in Ethiopia has a huge creepy dragnet of secret electronic surveillance programs to sniff out the deeply-buried secrets of the people of Ethiopia. They spend sleepless nights interrogating themselves about what the people could do to them. Who do they talk to secretly? What do they secretly say about them? Do the people secretly despise them as much as they think they do? (That’s an open secret.) Are the people secretly planning to overthrow them? Who are the secret conspirators? Where are they? In Ethiopia? Europe? America? Could the secret enemies be extraterrestrial Ethiopians from Planet X?
For the regime knowledge is strength. No! Ignorance is strength. The regime must find out by hook or crook. Bug the landlines. Intercept the mobile phones. Hack the personal computers. Filter the critical websites. What else? They rack their brains and spend sleepless nights not only because they don’t know but also because they do. They know what they have done; and now they want to know what could be done unto them, secretly. They turn and toss. In their nightmares, they are chased by the Truth. They wake up in cold sweat. Such is the secret night life of ignorant thugs in power in Ethiopiana.
Secrecy is the brick and mortar in the architecture of oppression established by the regime in Ethiopia over the past two decades. The regime is so obsessed with secrecy that nearly two years after the passing of Meles Zenawi, its “Great, Visionary, Heroic, Renaissance, etc., Leader”, there is no official word on the cause of his death. It is a highly guarded state secret. From their days in the bush, those running regime have cultivated a stenchy culture of official secrecy and corruption (what I call a “culture of secrruption” for readers familiar with my neologisms). In fact, they have refined official secrecy and corruption to an art form. They make decisions under the proverbial cone of silence and secrecy. A secret shadow government (a “state within a state”) of faceless, nameless and conscienceless power-brokers makes all of the important decisions in the country. The regime operators and their cronies stash their stolen millions in secret off shore accounts. Global Financial Integrity not long ago reported that since 2000, Ethiopia has lost nearly USD$12 billion in secret illicit financial outflows. A cloak of secrecy shrouds public works and projects contracts which are back-channeled secretly to regime supporters and cronies. The country’s best lands are given away (excuse me, “leased for 99 years”) for pennies to Saudi, Indian and Chinese “investors” in total secrecy. An Indian multinational actually claimed it acquired “2,500 sq km of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset, England-” in Ethiopia, together with generous tax breaks, for £150 a week ($USD245). (Yeah! Right. If anyone believes that, I have the Brooklyn Bridge for sale at rock bottom prices. Somebodies got big secret paydays from that deal.) The regime operators are secret (silent) partners in all of the investments and procurement deals they hand out.
Winston Churchill once observed that, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I would say the ruling regime in Ethiopia is a riddle wrapped in secrecy inside corruption. It is comically ironic that the secrecy-obsessed regime recently sought membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international organization dedicated exclusively to promote openness, transparency and accountability in the global mining industry. It is like the proverbial Ethiopian wolf who sought membership among a flock of sheep by wrapping himself in sheep’s wool to keep his identity secret. (Could EITI be a pack of wolves wrapped in sheep’s wool?)
“They Know Everything We Do”
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its report on the secret massive electronic surveillance program of the regime in Ethiopia. In its report entitled, “‘They Know Everything We Do’: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia”, HRW concluded, “The Ethiopian government is using foreign technology to bolster its widespread telecom surveillance of opposition activists and journalists both in Ethiopia and abroad… The government is using control of its telecom system as a tool to silence dissenting voices…” The report documents the regime’s “complete control over the telecom system… (and the fact that) Ethiopian security officials have virtually unlimited access to the call records of all telephone users in Ethiopia. They regularly and easily record phone calls without any legal process or oversight. Recorded phone calls with family members and friends – particularly those with foreign phone numbers – are often played during abusive interrogations in which people who have been arbitrarily detained are accused of belonging to banned organizations.”
The regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to “curtail access to information by blocking websites and bloggers that offer any independent or critical analysis of political events in Ethiopia.” The regime has used “mobile surveillance” and “frequently targeted the ethnic Oromo population.” It has used “taped phone calls to compel people in custody to confess to being part of banned groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front.” The surveillance technology is provided by China which has been the “exclusive supplier of telecom equipment from 2006 to 2009.” A number of “European companies have also provided advanced surveillance technology to Ethiopia, which have been used to target members of the diaspora.” The report points an accusatory finger at the “foreign firms that are providing products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s illegal surveillance are risking complicity in rights abuses.”
Redwan Hussein, an apparatchik in the regime’s “Ministry of Information”, regurgitated the now familiar litany of demonization against Human Rights Watch: “This is one of the issues that it [HRW] has in the list of its campaigns to smear Ethiopia’s image, so there is nothing new to respond to it, because there is nothing new to it.”
The regime is simply not constructed to handle the truth. Time and again, it has shown unwillingness and inability to defend against the truth; so it reverts to its favorite and predictable five-pronged PR tactic: Deny the truth. Dismiss the truth as “smear”. Disguise the truth. Divert attention from the truth. Denigrate the truth-sayers and truth-diggers. But resistance to truth is futile.
When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted the late Meles Zenawi with the truth about his daylight theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, he denied and dismissed the truth and denigrated the entire EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” In August 2005, Meles, following the electoral drubbing of his party by a coalition of opposition parties in May, unleashed his wrath on European Union parliamentarian Ana Gomes and her election observer group. “We shall, in the coming days and weeks, see what we can do to expose the pack of lies and innuendoes that characterise the garbage in this report.”
So it is with the HRW and its report on internet and telecom surveillance in Ethiopia. All the regime can say in its defense is, “It is a campaign to smear Ethiopia’s image.” Truth be told, when it comes to “fear and smear campaigns” and fabrication of falsehoods, the regime in Ethiopia takes the cake. In my commentary, “The Politics of Fear and Smear” in Ethiopia, I demonstrated the regime’s propaganda campaign of smear, falsehoods and defamation against Ethiopian Muslims protesting political interference in their internal religious affairs.
The Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia
With every passing day, Ethiopia is becoming a hardcore dystopia (that would be the exact opposite of a utopia.) Dystopia Ethiopia is a frightening place. It is a place where thugs rule! It is a place where humans are dehumanized, civilization is barbarized, justice corrupted, ethnic cleansing practiced, people impoverished and hungry, the youth gagged, bound and canned, the environment destroyed, dams used to damn indigenous peoples and society in cataclysmic decline. If that sounds like George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” Oceania, it is not. It is “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in 2014 Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia!
In Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” Oceania, there is omnipresent government surveillance, public manipulation and thought-control by a regime under the control of a privileged “Inner Party” elite that persecutes all dissent and prosecutes freedom of thought as “thought crimes”. The state in Oceania thrives on deception, secret surveillance and mass psychological manipulation. The head honcho tyrant is an elusive “Big Brother” who is worshiped as a demigod. Orwell writes, “Nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings and a voice on the telescreen. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization.” The slogans of Big Brother’s party are: “War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.”
The “state” in 2014 Ethiopiana is uncannily similar to Orwell’s fictional Oceania. Big Brother Meles is the infallible and all-powerful leader from the “telescreen” when he was alive (he never mingled with people in the street) and now from the grave. To Big Brother Meles belongs, “Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration.” To his party acolytes, Big Brother Meles the omniscient, was, is and will forever be the fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom. He is the source of all good and great ideas.
Meles’ handpicked replacement, Hailemariam Desalegn, in his eulogy at Meles funeral spoke of the “great and exemplary leader” who created the “grand vision of what we can achieve and become in the future.” He described Big Brother Meles as the man with the plan who led Ethiopia to stratospheric heights. Hailemariam said, the “wise, insightful and decisive leader established the EPDRF party and was the chief architect and engineer of Ethiopia’s developmental plan”. Hailemariam credited Meles for singularly designing policies and strategies for the country and creating an economy that produced 10 percent plus growth over a period of 9 years. Meles was the “Renaissance and heroic leader who gave Ethiopia economic growth and transformation. Even though he left us, his vision will remain nor only with the party but also every individual in the country,” eulogized Hailemariam.
Big Brother Meles is “superman”, if not demigod, in the imagination of a few of his powerful foreign Little Sisters. Clare Short, Tony Blair’s former Secretary for International Development and the current chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative spoke of her unbounded admiration for Meles as “the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life.“ Ditto for Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the current national security advisor to Obama. In her eulogy Rice said, “The Meles I knew was… the smartest person in the room, and most of the time Meles was right…” Big Brother Meles of Ethiopiana, like the Big Brother of Oceania, comes alive today not only on the telescreen, but also from the grave, to guide and goad his Little Brothers, “War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.” He taught his Little Brothers, “Surveillance is the soul of secrecy.”
Indeed, in Ethiopiana war is peace (though the society is seething with rage and rebellion but they can pretend it is all peaceful); ignorance is bliss (the less the people know, the happier they will be and therefore it is necessary to twist and distort the truth to keep the people ignorant) and freedom is slavery (“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of”, said Bill Moyers.)
The freedom to think freely is the death knell of tyranny. The unshackled mind is the terror of the ignorant. In Oceania, 2+2=5, because everyone is manipulated to believe it to be so. In Ethiopiana’s voodoo economics, 6.5% annual economic growth= 11-15% annual economic growth, if there is anyone to believe it (that is, other than he World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Orwell’s formulaic slogans for Nineteen Eighty Four Oceania have been updated for 2014 Ethiopiana: Poverty is prosperity; famine is feast; government wrongs are human rights; repression is expression and thugogcracy is democracy. Ignorance is illuminance. Ignorance in Ethiopiana is the national equalizer. The purpose of the state is to twist, stretch and massage the truth to keep the people ignorant, dumb and unquestioning.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Knowledge, information, consciousness and enlightenment are the most powerful weapons in the hands of 21st Century men and women to change their lives, the lives of their families and communities and control the destiny of their nations. For the regime in Ethiopia, the reverse is true: Ignorance and secrecy are the most powerful weapons they can use to prevent change and cling to power. The singular motto of the “Little Brothers of Dystopia Ethiopia” is, “Secrecy is power. Secrecy is strength.” Secrecy combined with ignorance yields absolute power. Absolute power in the hands of the “ignorati” (willfully ignorant) ensures the manipulation, emasculation and subjugation of the masses. “Keep ‘em ignorant, impoverished, hungry and divided and they will be your door mats,” is the mantra of the “Inner Party” (the “state within the state’) of Ethiopiana.
As I have argued on numerous occasions, the regime knows that it is detested and contemned by the vast majority of the population. Thus, the sleepless nights. They have done everything to get a little peace of mind, but to no avail. They have undertaken vicious propaganda campaigns to pit one ethnic group against another. They have tried to create war between Christians and Muslims; and thank God, they have completely failed! They have unleashed a barrage of propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, indoctrination, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era to cling to power. They have tried to clothe their deplorable human rights record with bogus statistics of economic growth and economic development.
For over two decades, Meles and his gang have tried to keep Ethiopians in a state of blissful ignorance. At gunpoint, they have forced the people speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil about them. Meles and his posse have spent a king’s ransom to jam international radio and satellite transmissions to prevent the free flow of information to the people. They have blocked internet access to alternative and critical sources of information and views. According to a 2012 report of Freedom House, the highly respected nongovernmental research and advocacy organization established in 1941, “Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering.” They have shuttered independent newspapers, jailed reporters, editors and bloggers and exiled dozens of journalists in a futile attempt to conceal their horrific crimes against humanity and vampiric corruption. Their “growth and transformation plan” has succeeded in transforming Ethiopia from the “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine” to “Ethiopiana, the Land of Perpetual Ignorance and Darkness”.
All of the surveillance and spying program is part of an elaborate conspiracy by the regime to create the “Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopiana”, where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. The educational system in Ethiopiana is corrupted and serves as a system of indoctrination. By providing the youth with substandard education, the regime aims to permanently cripple them intellectually not only by denying them formal learning opportunities but also the chance to acquire knowledge on the Internet and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) a few years ago issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. (Interestingly, Meles and his top lieutenants got their “graduate education” using foreign distance learning programs.) The regime also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions. There is no academic freedom in Ethiopiana. I have previously commented on the lack of academic freedom in Ethiopian higher education and the politicization of education in Ethiopia. In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School.
Why does the regime spy on the people?
The regime secretly spies on the people because it is afraid of the people. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy cautioned the American people, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” The regime in Ethiopia is afraid of the people and seeks to overcome its fear through secret surveillance programs and open harassment.
What is tragically ironic is the fact that the official secrecy religiously practiced by the regime today is a constitutional anathema. The Ethiopian Constitution mandates government transparency and accountability under Article 12 (1) (“Functions and Accountability of Government”): “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public.” The regime has translated that constitutional mandate to mean, “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is totally secret and non-transparent to the public.” Secrecy is a powerful tool to deceive the people.
The great French man of letters, Victor Hugo observed, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” The Internet is an idea whose time has come. B.I. (Before the Internet) will never come back, only A.I. (After the Internet). The Internet, not ignorance, is the great equalizer and democratizer in the world. With an inexpensive personal computer or mobile phone, knowledge and information in any language are at one’s fingertips. The regime in Ethiopia is fighting a losing war against the invisible empire of ideas and knowledge. The Internet is the 21stCentury’s evergreen Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The regime in its assumed divinity wants to impose an edict on the people of Ethiopia: “Thou must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Internet “Tree of Knowledge” shall give life to all those that have been rendered zombies by ignorant tyrants. The Internet genie is out of the bottle, and there is no way of putting it back. Neither telecom filters, electronic monitoring nor ownership of entire telecom systems will deter the determined “cyber-warriors” from empowering themselves with the truth, knowledge and information. In the Internet Age, resistance to truth, knowledge and information is futile!
Well, Big Brother Meles is gone (sort of) from Ethiopiana but he shall live on the “telescreen” and in the grave for his “Little Brothers” of his “Inner Party”. They shall go on visioning, watching, looking, peeping, observing, surveilling, ogling, listening, sniffing, and yodeling:
…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.
Ethiopiana’s Inner Party should know a few truths about the 21st Century: Secrecy is impotency. Ignorance is indolence. Freedom is the essence of humanity; and the truth shall make them and all Ethiopians free. Orwell wrote, “During times of deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” But what happens when silence is accepted as a revolutionary act?
“When an entire generation of Ethiopian scholars, academics, professors and learned elites stands silent as a bronze statute witnessing the tyranny of ignorance in action, the burden on the few who try to become the voices of the voiceless on every issue is enormous.” From my commentary, “Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia”.
Oceania Ethiopiana! Welcome to the Federal Republic of Dystopia Ethiopia!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Alemayehu G. Mariam