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Western governments continue to support Meles Zenawi’s dictatorship because they believe that there is ‘no alternative in the opposition’, Alemayehu G. Mariam writes in this week’s Pambazuka News. But not only could this diplomatic mindset have ‘devastating consequences on Ethiopia’ by providing the moral justification for totalitarianism and a police state, it also makes the West complicit in the sufferings of the Ethiopians under Zenawi’s government, Mariam argues.

‘No alternative in the opposition,’ they whispered anonymously. What a disgusting phrase to use in justifying support for a ruthless dictatorship. That is apparently the scuttlebutt on Embassy Row in Addis Ababa. Reuters’ Barry Malone reported last week, ‘Most Western governments want Meles to continue because there is no alternative in the opposition. As long as the elections are semi-democratic, they'll probably stay quiet, keep giving aid, hope for liberalisation of the economy and leave full democracy for later.’ Is this the ultimate proof of the triumph of Western moral relativism, hypocrisy and skullduggery in Ethiopia and Africa? Is this the new 21st century Western paradigm of moral capitulation and appeasement of evil? Is the West going to a moral hellhole in a hand basket?

We now have a clear answer to a question that had puzzled us for the past two decades: Why do Western governments and their multilateral lending institutions support Zenawi’s dictatorship with billions of dollars in loans and foreign aid? Answer: Because ‘there is no alternative in the opposition!’ Why do they turn a blind eye to the gross violations of human rights in Ethiopia? Turn a deaf ear to the bootless cries of the thousands of Ethiopian political prisoners rotting in Zenawi’s jail? Pretend to be mute on Birtukan Midekssa’s unjust imprisonment? Prop up a regime that ruthlessly decimates its opposition, crushes the free press, chokes civil society organisations, squanders and defalcates foreign aid and loans and lords imperiously over a famine-ravaged country? Why do ‘most Western governments want Meles to continue?’ Answer: ‘Because there is no alternative in the opposition!’

It is agonising to finally come face to face with the banality of depraved Western diplomatic indifference in Addis Ababa. It is heartbreaking to learn that Western governments have earnestly resolved to humanise and normalise a brutal regime while preaching to Africans in forked tongue that their dictators are on the wrong side of morality and history. They shed crocodile tears for the victims of African dictators. They comfort the helpless and frightened African masses with sweet words of hope and grand promises of democratic renaissance. Now we have come to find out that the hypocrites are secretly in bed with the very dictators they condemn in public! It must be true that ‘politics makes for strange bedfellows.’

The ‘no alternative in the opposition’ Western diplomatic mantra and mindset could have devastating consequences on Ethiopia and other African countries suffering under the stranglehold of dictatorial rule. It means the seeds of the rule of law will die on the barren soil of African dictatorships; that totalitarianism and police states are morally justified and compelled in Africa whenever Western governments conclude there are ‘no alternatives in the opposition’; that state-sponsored violence and repression are necessary moral imperatives for the nurturance of an ‘emerging democracy’; and that dictatorship is necessary to save Ethiopians, and Africans in general, from themselves. Simply stated, the triumph of dictatorship in Africa is a necessary precondition for the rapture of democracy in Africa. Such has become the pitiful logic of moral decay and duplicity of Western governments in Africa today!

Of course, the whole notion of ‘no alternative in the opposition’ is absurd and patently false in its premise and conclusion. There is definitely a viable alternative in the opposition in Ethiopia, but Zenawi ruthlessly eliminates and roots out any opposition before it poses a real challenge to him. Birtukan Midekksa and her Ethiomedia.
* Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.