Dec. 3, 2009

Ethiopian Despot Hijacks Copenhagen Leadership Role

By Douglas McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- I'm going to break one of my own writing rules today.

In the six years that I've written about Ethiopian immigrants and politics in Minnesota, I've never editorialized directly against the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.

Instead, I've limited myself to reporting on the experiences, outlooks and opinions of Ethiopian immigrants who live in Minnesota, a hub of the global Ethiopian diaspora.

Today I'm making an exception, though, because of what strikes me as the exceptional danger posed by  Meles' most recent global political moves -- a grave danger for Ethiopians and Africans, and possibly far beyond.

For once, I'll offer my personal view.

I'm talking about Meles' theft-in-plain-sight of the African leadership role at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that begins in Copenhagen next Monday.

As the spokesman for the 52 African nations at the conference, Meles holds potentially enormous disruptive power over agreements reached among the 190 total nations represented in Copenhagen.

Meles has already threatened to lead a walk-out of the African delegation if their demand for hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation payments from developed nations aren't met.

Arrest and Torture

It's crazy for one of the world’s bloodiest dictators to hold such global power.

It's a farce that Meles, whose environmental and human rights polices in Ethiopia are profoundly retrograde, has been given a global platform from which to scold other nations.

Meles runs his own country by a “divide and conquer” strategy and through the systematic, brutal dispensation of arbitrary arrest and torture – hardly the best model for global collaborative decision-making on the world's most pressing environmental crisis.

To be more specific, the Meles regime has held its grip on power the past 18 years through the use of genocide, ethnic cleansing, gulag prisons, a sham court system, medieval property laws and the jailing, torture and lawless execution of civilians and political opponents.

Why would Denmark even allow this man to step foot in their country?

Directly to the point of the hypocrisy of Meles’ role as Africa’s chief climate change negotiator, Ethiopia is now facing one of the worst famines in its history as a consequence of his own environmentally disastrous laws and policies.

Absolute Power

These include property laws that prevent farmers from owning their own land; that forbid foreign research and aid groups from entering the country; and a governing system that prevents orderly agriculture and environmentalism, because Meles stays in power by keeping his country mired in a permanent state of war.

The evidence for Meles’ crimes is far too extensive, public, and exhaustively well-documented to summarize in detail here.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch, the International Crisis Group, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, countless other aid groups and even the U.S. State Department have all for years now published report after detailed report on Meles’ crimes – reports stuffed with details of collective punishmentprison torture, slaughter of street protestors, on and on.

The picture painted is of a shrewd, pitiless tyrant who stays in power through total control of his country's political, economic, legal, media and military systems.

The only mystery that remains is why the world appears simply not to notice, to respond, or even to care in the least about the Ethiopia’s abysmal suffering.

Rule of Terror

It’s Rwanda and Darfur all over again. And it has been that way, although getting progressively worse, since 1991, the year that Meles took power in a coup and immediately began ethnic cleansing as a central tactic of his governing style.  

Meles’ 18-year rule of terror in Ethiopia has easily earned him a place alongside dictators such as Kim Jong-Il, Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Qaddafi, Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir, Than Swhe, and Ali Khamenei.

Would any of these despots be welcomed in Copenhagen?

Would any be given the chance to potentially veto a global climate accord?

Of course, Meles won’t do that. What he will do, though, is maximize his leverage through every means possible to further secure what for 18 years he has ruthlessly sought and won in Ethiopia, which is absolute power.

He’d let the world burn to a crisp before he relinquished that.

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