A Day of infamy at Columbia University!
For the past 20 years, the Ethiopian people have suffered from repressive political governance and a socioeconomic architecture that has enabled a minority-ethnic based leftist political party, the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, to dominate the national economy by merging ethnicity, party and state. The consequence of this merger is that, despite massive foreign aid estimated at $30 billion since 1991, and $3 billion per year, the latest Oxford University Multidimensional governance index showed that Ethiopia, along with Niger, is among the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ninety (90) percent of the population is poor; there are 5 million orphans; 70 percent of Ethiopian youth is unemployed; an estimated 7 million Ethiopians depend on international emergency food aid to survive.
The national economy is dominated by party owned and endowed enterprises. Corruption is rampant at the highest levels of the regime. Inequality is on the rise. Ethiopian economists estimate that growing inequality is a consequence of economic and other asset concentration into the hands of a few and at the exclusion of the majority. Land, the primary source of livelihood for the vast majority of the Ethiopian people, is owned by the state. The ruling party has used its power to lease millions of acres of farmlands to foreign investors to produce food and related products for rich markets. This phenomenon deprives local communities and the country from achieving food self-sufficiency and security. At the same time, prices of basic necessities, including food, continue to rise, and to overcome the food inflation the government has frequently emptied its weak reserves. In illustrating the magnitude of the problem, Ethiopian social scientists estimate that, in Addis Ababa where 5 million people live, only about 100,000 have the means to eat three meals a day. For most, a single meal has become a luxury.
Ethiopia continues to suffer from the absence of the rule of law, independent judiciary, free press, strong civil society and opposition, participation of civil society in policy and decision-making and vibrant private sector. The United States Department of State 2010 Country Report on Human Rights and Practices documented that Mr. Meles Zenawi’s government continued to carry out “Unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with impunity; poor prison conditions ; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of sympathizers of members of opposition groups detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; use of excessive force by security services..” International Human Rights Watch groups including Human Rights Watch and Genocide Watch have repeatedly documented and condemned the gross violation of human rights, war crimes and even genocide perpetrated by the regime of Meles Zenawi. The recent draft Senate Bill sponsored by two prominent US Senators confirms these atrocities.
These gross human rights violations are an affront to humanity and we believe the American people will not remain silent about these abuses by the Ethiopian government. In the 2010 parliamentary elections, violation of human rights and the absence of a fair and free election process in Ethiopia allowed the ruling minority clique to claim that it won by 99.6%. In 2005, Mr. Meles Zenawi’s government made the election a total sham; imprisoned thousands of innocent Ethiopians and the entire leadership of the major opposition party; and killed more than 200 peaceful protestors. Today, the only women leader of a major opposition party, Ms. Bertukan Midekssa, is in jail with no end in sight for her release.
Under Mr. Meles Zenawi’s single party rule, Ethiopia continues to lose its educated human capital. He and his government are singularly responsible for the country’s massive brain drain. The educational system is totally ethnicized and politicized; more than 40 highly educated academics were expelled from Addis Ababa University; and thousands of others who remain in the country silenced. The Ethiopian Prime Minister is anemic to academic and intellectual freedom.
In light of the above, we members of Ethiopian American Civic groups, Advocacy for Ethiopia (AFE) and Ethiopian American Civic Advocacy Council, are stunned that Columbia University has invited Mr. Meles Zenawi, an individual that many foreign observers characterize as “authoritarian” and Ethiopians call “dictator” to speak at the University. While we appreciate the University’s reasoning of sponsoring and debating with controversial figures, we believe that inviting Mr. Meles Zenawi gives him and his repressive government legitimacy to continue repressive, ethnic-based and exclusive socioeconomic and political policies and programs. For these reason, we urge alumni, students, the board of trustees and management of the University not to honor a repressive Prime Minister and the government he leads legitimacy. Instead, we call on the university to stand on the side of the Ethiopian people.