Addis, seat of AU in a bad light

By; Kiflu Hussain

Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia where I was born and built my life until I had to abandon it in January 2007, had recently been cast in a bad light. Those who might be familiar with Addis including its blackouts that earned the state owned Electric Corporation a nickname “Power of Darkness” whose formal name in Amharic literally means “Power of Light,” may assume that I am going to talk about this sector’s abysmal failure despite the much hyped “development.”

Unfortunately, but deservedly, it’s The EastAfrican Newspaper (October 19-25, 2013) that cast a terrible light on my hometown that has been the seat of AU/OAU for over five decades. As if the regime’s record that’s blotted with blood by constantly waylaying human rights and ignoring rule of law is not enough, it led a chorus of African rulers who had shown the latest temerity to perpetuate impunity in the name of Africa.Thus, it made Addis, which was the venue for these rulers who ganged up against ICC, the focal point of almost all EA columnists.

Kalundi Serumaga in a piece titled Tantrums at Addis Ababa; Why servants don’t win arguments with their masters, aptly depicted the nuances in the symbiotic relationship between our dictators and their Western patrons as follows.

“The African dictators are now genuinely confused. Not so much as to why they are being singled out among all the world’s dictators and warlords for ICC indictment, but more as to why they are being prosecuted at all, given that at bottom, they have only been carrying out what they believed were the wishes of the Western corporations and the Western governments that promote them.

In arguments laced with copious pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist rhetoric, a cabal of esteemed Excellencies and ministers from Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya tried to mobilize the body to support a mass withdrawal from the 1998 Rome Statute that creates the ICC, and to which most are signatories. They were most unconvincing, and for good reason.”

Another columnist, L.Muthoni Wanyeki in her An Africa-wide coup at Addis? 14 out of 53? seconded Serumaga’s assertion on their being “most unconvincing.” She pointed out that “despite the media spin that only 14 of Africa’s heads of state and government bothered to show up for the extraordinary session.”Thus, she proceeded to conclude that “this was by no means the Africa-wide coup that it was made out to be.”

Charles Onyango-Obbo also strengthened her thesis by pointing out the unwillingness of the French-speaking African countries to gang up against ICC as well as furnishing his own theory on why rulers such as Museveni assumed the role of a gang leader to quash ICC which they dread now like a Frankenstein Monster.Jenerali Ulimwengu opined to this effect too and dismissed our rulers ganging up in the name of Africa by adding “Not enough African rulers are summoned to The Hague, if we go by the crimes they have committed against their own people.”

The Guest Columnist

The coup de grace in delivering a final blow on Addis’s superficial image, though, came from a guest columnist.Laetitia Bader; an African researcher at Human Rights Watch struck a chord on a close friend of this writer who’s more like an alter ego. The very first words she employed in Torture in the heart of Addis, even as leaders gather in gleaming AU building sent him on a memory lane, albeit unpleasant.

This close friend who had the “privilege” to spend time in the torture chamber Laetitia referred to as Maekelawi and the “concentration camp” known as Kality in 2005-06, reminisced about the summary execution of 60 Emperor Haileselassie era officials in November 1974 where the new “gleaming AU building” rests. Although, he was a child then, he clearly remembers that the former prison called Kerchele which was “torn down,” was a few blocks away from the formerly OAU headquarter. For this reason, my alter ego never entertained any illusion about OAU/AU.

Rather; he collated his own experience with what Laetitia wrote. While acknowledging torture of political prisoners, he’s of the view that it’s not as routinely as the “apolitical” inmates had to endure. He mentioned seeing detainees at Maekelawi with bruises and lacerations back from fresh torture in a cell nicknamed “Sheraton.”It earned that name in comparison with the suffering meted out to inmates cited by Laetitia as Chelema Bet (Dark House) and Tawla Bet (Wooden House).He agreed that Laetitia is also spot on by corroborating a story of a disabled “apolitical” detainee who had a mobile stool fixed for him by his own money to use it in the lavatory since his condition made it difficult to use the pit latrine in the “concentration camp” called Addis Ababa Correctional Facility. Because he refused to be subjected to extortion by the prison wardens, his stool was confiscated for some time. The list can go on like this up to a point where inmates were clubbed to death.

And so, he intimated that though he understands Laetitia’s exhortation as a human rights advocate for AU, ACHPR as well as foreign donors to reign on the Ethiopian régime, he has little faith on it. He buttressed his cynicism by even pointing out to an organization that calls itself African Media Initiative (AMI).Despite a claim to work for a “vibrant free media” in Africa, this organization bankrolled by the British DFID and other African and non-African “do-gooders” is going to hold its annual African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) in Addis Ababa, one of the top tormentor of journalists.

Irrespective of reports as to how journalists like Eskinder Nega are denied visitation right by severely limiting his contact with family members and friends; irrespective of Reeyot Alemu’s, a female journalist being repetitively subjected to solitary confinement as well as denial of medical treatment; irrespective of Woubshet Taye’s incarceration 200 km away from Addis to deny him visitation from family and friends, AMI defends its flirtation with their tormentors as “constructive engagement.”

In a nutshell, therefore, Addis Ababa, like a glittering brothel, will continue to attract and pander to the perverse need of our global actors who cloak their perversion with international respectability.
An Ethiopian Social & Political Commentator exiled in Uganda


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