Mehretab Assefa 04/02/10
To the casual observer the multiple cyber-attacks on the government in Ethiopia appear to be detached from one another, making their simultaneous appearance accidental. To the critical mind, however, the seemingly isolated offensives are over-determinations of a fundamental restructuring of the global economy. Viewed as such, the multi-pronged assault synchronized to correspond to the election is not an accidental state of affair. The whole spectacle is a coordinated stratagem to undermine the electoral process so that the country remains in perpetual poverty. Unless one refuses to see the underlying rationale that sustains the concerted onslaught as calculate, one has no choice but to stagnate in a paralysis of analysis. As long as one persists in taking each line of attack at face value, the logical outcome would be to see each indictment in isolation, which also means the sanctioning of the incriminating evidences in each case.
The logic of pigeonholing wide-ranging and far-reaching political processes into disconnected legal cases calls for the arraignment of a criminal defendant in each trial. However, because the fundamental issue is political not legal, the defendant is the same in all cases. Despite and irrespective of different forms of litigation each taking place in autonomous tribunals, the accused is the same in all hearings; namely the state in Ethiopia. The variety of trials and the sameness of the accused is inherently a function of global power relations that are poised to transform dynamic social-political processes into static legal proceedings each confined within the constraints of the particular litigation.
Hence, each and every cyber-attack is concerned neither with social-justice nor political-integrity. They are all obsessed with the overthrow of the government in Ethiopia. And legalism, which is nothing but a scheme to garner legitimacy, gives them a sort of moral cover. Truncating the political reality and discourse in Ethiopia into disjointed court cases does not only defy common sense by putting the cart before the horse, but most importantly it subjects the country and its peoples into abstract and inconsequential entities. Whether the case is preserving the environment, defending the sanctity of indigenous cultures, protecting the human-rights of selected individuals, safeguarding freedom of the press, or upholding the virtue of free-market, the plaintiff can be anyone purporting to represent the people but not the peoples themselves. The latter are simply convenient medium to authenticate the legal cases.
Every line of attack is conducted in the name of the people. Their concrete interests and aspirations, however, are systematically expunged from the equation. That is because the very wellbeing of the people is contrary to the intent legalism. The assortment of charges is primarily a ploy to conceal political concerns that necessarily bring structural and historical inequalities to the front burner. In this upcoming election, for constructive political discourse is prioritized, it is imperative to see the disparate accusations as a totality rather than in terms of their seeming isolation. It is therefore not a matter of choice cultivate a political perspective not only because it undercuts the unwarranted strictures of hyper legalism and hegemony of self-proclaimed advocates, but because it brings social-economic issues analytical scrutiny and empowers the public in owning their destiny. .
Advocating for political perspective is not conferring the government with immunity nor is exonerating it from accountability. Far from it, it simply means that the political process in Ethiopia should be unburdened by formal legalism of foreign origins. One does not have to be a fortune teller to foresee the destructiveness of the winner-take-all legalistic frame of mind. Obsessed with the destruction of the state, the zeal to prosecute the government for everything that has taken place under sun makes things in Ethiopia eternally motionless and impervious to change, unless of course the catalyst of change is foreign in origin and lawyerly in form. A toxic mix which undercuts all prospects of productive political discourse in the short-run, and in the long-run it emasculates the country’s relative fortitude in entering the 21st century.
As soon as the political process is released from legalistic tentacles, the main head of the octopus becomes visible. That is, although the legalistic cases are manifestly wide-ranging in scope and dissimilar in focus, their objective is one and the same. The legalistic rationales and attendant prosecutorial actions, besides openly directed at the government, are underhandedly targeting the political process. Hence, it is not the government that is at issue here, it is rather the very peoples of Ethiopia may I add of Africa too. Putting the government on trial is only the tip of the iceberg; the real issue is the de-politicization of poverty which necessarily entails the de-legitimization of the state. Now let us juxtapose the segregated legal proceedings against the comprehensive social-political actuality in Ethiopia.
I- Tribunal on Crime Against Ethnicities or Politics of Rural/Urban Contradiction
It is not a secret that the Ethiopian government is accused of dividing the nation along ethnic lines, which is in all likelihood a recipe for inter-ethnic conflicts. It is also an open secret that the urban/rural disparity in Ethiopia is an explosive issue that had put the country in peril. Even though the two phenomena seem to be technically separate, a closer look reveals their close political affinity. To the prosecutorial mindset urban/rural dichotomy is simply an abstract issue unrelated to the real offense of ethnic conflict? It is beyond the purview of a prosecutor to make a case based on structural ground. It is however within his/her scope to prosecute ethnic based crime. To the political mindset ethnicity is not an end in itself. It is rather a social-historical construction, which makes its standing in Ethiopia contingent upon urban/rural unevenness. To the prosecutorial exigency the ethnic issue is an end in itself, not because it is accurate, but because it conforms to the objective of legalism. The privileging of ethnicity, which also means taking it out of urban/rural context, forces the government to stand trial for actual or potential ethnic based felony.
A perfect example which demonstrates the legalistic frame of mind would be the recent manifesto of Gibot 7. By comparing the ethnic composition of general officers under the three regimes (Imperial, Military, Ethnic Federalism), Ginbot 7 makes the point that unlike its predecessors which had a multi-ethnic officer corps, the current government’s general officers are all Tigreans. But this is only half of the story, the least important I may add. What Ginbot 7 neglects to mention is the important remaining half. That is, the fates of general officers under the three governments. Almost all of the high ranking officers of the previous regimes were killed not by enemy forces or died by natural causes, but by their own comrades in arm. In other words, despite and irrespective of the multi-ethnic composition, the general had fallen prey to their brutal underlings. Unless one justifies equal opportunity in terms of fratricidal murder, the whole argument does not stand the slightest scrutiny. If indeed the concern is to make the composition of the officer corps more ethnically diverse, the point of departure would not have been the criminalization of the new military. It would rather be the appreciation of its role in deracinating the murderous culture of the old one. The indiscriminate intra-military murders have stopped under the current regime not because the general officers are from a single ethnicity, but because their political provenance is rural and their intellectual acumen does not pit urban cosmopolitanism against rural parochialism. Is it not an irony that Addis Ababa has finally assumed a cosmopolitan flavor once it is liberated from the urban elites?
II- Tribunal on Crime Against Indigenous peoples or Politics of Environmental Racism
Whether justified through Historical Materialism, Social-Darwinist or Hegelian Historicism modern notion of social change looks at rural cultures in general and indigenous social groups in particular with contempt. Yet, nowadays, in the so-called post-modern condition, the long held wisdom is turned upside down and the virtues of indigenous peoples are rediscovered afresh. However, under close examination the ostensible change of heart is nothing but a ruse that is designed not to render justice but to resume injustice. The indigenous people are objectified so that they serve as legitimate exhibits in the prosecution of the state. The problem with this rationale is that it assumes that the so-called indigenous people dwell in a perpetual state of nature making ahistorical. The logic is identical to that of Animal Rights Activists which condemn any type of infrastructural initiative is taken as interfering with their natural habitat, thereby exposing them to extinction.
The petition drive that is recently initiated by self-proclaimed environmentalists against the construction of hydroelectric dams is nothing but a specimen of environmental racism. We are told that the lives of 500,000 individuals in many autochthonous groups are imperiled by the ill-conceived project. Because the environmental racists believe that the peoples in the Omo River Valley are naturally resistant to social change, the dams are disruptive of their primeval way of life. However, the fact of the matter is that the region and its inhabitants are living in the 21st century and there is no reason why they would be denied from having electricity and other basic amenities. By the way whether one admits it or not the modern tool that is ubiquitous throughout the region is the AK47 assault rifle. If gun violence is common in their midst, why would electricity is beyond their need?
If the environmental racists are honest, why wouldn’t they cry foul when rape and utter chaos are being institutionalized in the Lacastrine region of Central Africa. They intentionally have chosen to ignore what’s taking place in the DRC because it runs counter to their racist objectives. First, they know very well that the mayhem in the DRC has nothing to do with indigenous traditions and cultures; but it has everything to do with the exploitation of Coltan, a crucial raw material sustaining the entire IT industry. Computer, cell phone or any electronic gadget for that matter depends on this commodity which 70% of world deposit is in the DRC. Second, interfering with the violence is economically detrimental. As far as the environmental racists reason the carnage is a necessary consequence of coltan production. It is truly bizarre that the leading sector of the world economy is dependent on a commodity coming from the most violent part of the world. Of course, every now and then the world community is informed of the arrest and prosecution of a lowly warlord.
III- Tribunal on Crime against Democracy or Politics of Global Inequality
The present discourse about democracy is spearheaded by the remnants of the defunct military and fraudulent intellectual apparatchiks of pseudo-cosmopolitanism. In tandem they had destroyed the social fabrics in the country and turned the Ethiopian people into wretched of the earth. Intolerant in demeanor; paternalistic in viewpoint; cruel in temperament; cowardly in character; and bankrupt in spirit; these perverted social institutions exemplify the ugly side of modern Ethiopia. Endowed with inexhaustible mix of superficial knowledge, neither literate in Western nor in Ethiopian epistemologies, they chronically take matters out of context. Because they see things in simplistic either/or fashion, they wind up destroying the real in order to hold on to the imagined. And it is in this manner that these individuals advocate democracy.
By uncritically adhering to liberalism, the learned acolytes qualify democracy to be exclusively Western, therefore extraneous to Ethiopia. What makes this interpretation a sad state of affairs is that not only do they believe in their own self-deprecation, but they also condemn those who do not suffer from deep-seated inferiority complex. For better or worse, the great majority of Ethiopians have very deep sense of self-respect, dignity, and communalism. And any vision of democratic Ethiopia has to start from knowing one’s cultural values instead of adhering indiscriminately to Western norms. Ironically, in the West the basic preambles of liberal democracy are seriously interrogated and exposed by a range of social entities. If that is the case then the critical issue is not only to understand the historical background wherein Western democratic thoughts are shaped, but also to study the social-historical contexts of Ethiopia. Unless both dimensions are tackled simultaneously, the only alternative would be to be bounced back and forth between the imaginary West and the simulated Ethiopia; both of which do not exist in the real world only in a bogus legal document.
IV- Tribunal on Crime against Free Market or Politics of Globalization
The most important legal ground which sustains all of the other legal proceedings is the ostensible felony against Free Market. It encompasses all of the accusations leveled by the agents of global market forces. All serving to the pleasure of finance capital the spokespersons range from reputable news outlets to disreputable émigré. Whether expressed through the controversy between BBC and Live Band or through the acrimony of Human Rights Watch, Friends of the Turkanna, International Crisis Group, the specter of reckless legalism originates in the West. The convergence between the interests of Western Special Interest groups and exiled Ethiopian entities is exemplified by the case of the VOA.
To the naïve spectator the unholy alliance seems to be a peculiar occurrence where one is using the other. Is it the US who has innocently surrendered its official voice? Or is it those well meaning expatriate Ethiopians who are being used by the US? To the astute observer, however, the alliance is not a matter of one side manipulating the other. It is rather a matter of shared objective. As far as the US or any other Western entity for that matter is concerned, the primary goal is the accumulation of capital, which means turning the purchasing power of national currencies into commodity money. The two identities of money are so different their mutual coexistence is anything but harmonious. Whereas the strength of money as purchasing power is a based on national social-relation, the power of commodity money is derived from global power relation, which is spearheaded by financial market. Since the dept crisis of the early 80s, the assault on purchasing power has been unrelenting. Under the umbrella of Neo-Liberalism the forces of finance capital were unleashed with devastating effects especially in the poor parts of the world. Whether it is called shock therapy, structural adjustment, market liberalism, the basic goal is the same. It is the obliteration of nations and exposing them to chronic crisis. The phenomenon is not new, but its form is. Whether it is called Primitive Accumulation, Imperialism, or Globalization the basic idea is the forceful subjection of social-relations to commodity exchange. The only new thing is that under Globalization the abominable task includes the expatriate. And this makes what had been exclusively a White Man’s Burden the responsibility of the Black Man too.
To the émigré the primary concern is to turn his/her hard-currency or commodity money into gold, a condition which requires the destruction of money as Purchasing Power. The likelihood of such prodigy is more certain in Ethiopia than investing in Western financial market. The rationale is simple. If indeed, Ethiopia is open to unregulated financial policy, the person with hard-currency would have tremendous power over the local population with soft-currency. To guarantee such outcome, the purchasing power of the Birr has to be lowered to the point of nothingness. And the opportune way to achieve this is to conflate monetary Policy (the manipulation of commodity money) with fiscal policy (the preservation of social cohesion). And the expatriate is the perfect instrument that can accomplish this dirty task because she/he cannot be accused of out rightly as racist, neo-colonialist etc. After all, he/she are “pure Ethiopians”; aren’t they? Undermining the fiscal policy of the state is effectively surrendering macro-economic measures, which are within the authority of the state, to micro-economic pressures, which are exerted by trans-national corporations backed by high finance.
In Ethiopia, given the current reality, the government’s policy is rational. It has carefully avoided the false choice between drinking the deadly potion of either globalization or autarchic protectionism. It has done so by looking at both extremes are relational manifestations of the objective reality, instead of taking them at face-value in terms of their self-professed categorical opposition to each other. The rationale of Neo-Liberal globalism is nothing but scientific capitalism. It presupposes that if left to its own devices, the market can self-regulate itself. The rationale of economic autarchy is scientific socialism. It assumes that the market in all its forms is the source of all evils and the nation has to be sterilized from its deadly virus.
As much as capitalism and socialism appear to be opposites, they share the adjective scientific as their common denominator. And it is the farfetched scientism which allows them to justify the total destruction of the social fabric so that they can implement their respective program on clean slate without hindrance. It is not by accident that the émigré in the VOA who were diehard disciples of scientific socialism have found it unproblematic to proselytize and turn into ardent believers in scientific capitalism. Despite the apparent conversion they still maintain their basic principle, which is the destruction of the Ethiopian society. Their entire purpose in life and existential preoccupation is to become rich and powerful in Ethiopia by any means necessary.
The good news is that so far as the upcoming election is concerned irrelevant and potentially harmful political discourses have effectively left Ethiopia and settled in the West. And this means the efforts to delegitimize the government, which runs parallel to the sanctioning of corruption, are exposed of their true nature of being the alter-ego of commodity money. Now the West finally tastes the bitter pills concocted by finance capital. One has only to see the zealotry of tea partiers leveled at the Obama Administration. Even though their actions and aspirations defy common sense because they are blinded by hate, but their ideals are buttressed by constitutional legalism. As far as they are concerned, whatever the president does is unacceptable because in their eyes he is legally illegitimate in the double sense. He cannot be a legally legitimate president because he is not legally American to begin with. As nonsensical as their rationale appears to be, it is nonetheless anchored in legalistic reasoning. Incidentally, the same points are raised against EPDRF and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.