Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

When the purported leaders of two neighboring countries cannot even talk in a civil, well-mannered, courteous, respectful and thoughtful manner, is there any hope?

In April 2014, I wrote a  commentary entitled, “Is there Any Hope for Africa?”

I wrote that commentary despairing over the endless man-made disasters in Africa over the past couple of decades.

In April 2014, the Central African Republic (CAR) was in the throes of a deadly ethno-religious cleansing campaign.

In April 2014, South Sudan, Africa’s newest country, was undergoing ethnic cleansing of its own.

Following the December 2007 election, Uhuru Kenyatta and his confederates were orchestrating death squads which killed some 2 thousand innocent people and displaced over 650 thousand. Kenyatta, the current president of Kenya, and his vice president William Ruto were indicted in March 2011 and ordered to stand trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Both slithered out of the clutches of the ICC with a little help of their big friends not long ago.

In December 2005, Chad was in full-scale civil war.

Beginning in June of 2005 and for months thereafter hundreds of unarmed peaceful protesters were  slaughtered and thirty thousand jailed by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF), the ruling regime in Ethiopia, itself a terrorist organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database.

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a major report  on the T-TPLF’s handling of peaceful protests  entitled, “‘Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests.”

In February 2003, the Darfur genocide in the Sudan began resulting in some one-half million deaths.

In 2003, Liberia was still in the throes of a hellish war of thugs.

In 1998-2000, some 120 thousand soldiers and civilians died in a mindless war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In April 1994, the Rwandan genocide was in full swing.

In 1991, clan-based armed opposition groups in Somalia overthrew the military government; and today Somalia has become a victim of terrorism and a pawn in international politics. Just yesterday, terrorists detonated a car bomb and attacked a hotel leaving scores dead and wounded.

The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed the lives of six million people over the past two decades, and still counting.

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” is the inscription on the gate of Dante’s inferno (hell).

African thugtators and dictators have made Africa an inferno for the people of Africa.

The question of whether there is any hope for Africa is constantly on the minds of Africans, Africa’s friends and Africa’s foes.

Asking me if Africa has hope is like asking whether a critically ill patient on life support in the ICU is gonna make it. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I answered that question in my 2014 commentary with a rhapsodic pipedream. I proclaimed there is hope because Africa is a continent of “Afr-I-Cans” and not “Afr-I-Cannots”.

I professed, “I have a pipe dream that one day in Africa government wrongs will be redressed by human rights; and that African governments will fear their people and the people will forever cast off their fear of their governments. Such are the pipe dreams (daydreams) of a utopian Ethiopian for Africa.”

Now, I am asking, “Does the Horn of Africa have hope?”

I am hoping against hope it does because as the poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

But does it really?

Perhaps Emily Dickinson got it right:

Hope’ is the thing with feathers—…
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

After watching the recent  interview  of the “ambassadors of Ethiopia and Eritrea” with Yvonne Okwara on Kenya  Television Network (KTN) – World View,  I am perplexed in the extreme and would be grateful for a crumb of hope for the Horn of  Africa.

Okwara is the Senior Anchor and producer for KTN and one of the finest young African journalists.  (Okwara’s journalistic ferocity reminds me of the intrepid Oriana Fallaci who held the feet of many world leaders, dictators  and celebrities to the fire.)

The two “ambassadors” were supposed to be talking about the recent “war” (or as I called it wargames) between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the interview.

The two “ambassadors” were supposed to be representing their nations and governments in the interview.

But there was no interview, unless a shouting match, finger-wagging, tongue-wagging and the equivalent of sticking out one’s tongue qualifies as one.

I watched a video of two “ambassadors” shouting and taunting each other like schoolyard bullies.

I watched a video of two “ambassadors” attacking each other like hyenas fighting over a carcass.

It was so incredible, I had to do a triple-take.

It was torture watching the two ambassadors thugging it out.

I declared to myself, “I am not seeing what I am seeing. My lying eyes and ears are just lying to me.”

What I saw in that “interview” video reminded me of two tipsy guys sitting in an African beer hall  or a bar (or what they call in Ethiopia “tej-bet” or “tella-bet”)  arguing combatively with each other after polishing off a few “birilles” or “tasas” (cups) of  that good stuff.

I saw two knucklehead boys pointing fingers at each other in the elementary school principal’s office charging, “He started it!  No, he started it!”  They actually said that. “You started it. You talked about our internal affairs. I will go far, if you go far,” blustered the Eritrean ambassador, sneering at the T-TPLF ambassador.

I saw two neighborhood boys telling each other, “My daddy can beat your daddy.”

After I saw what I saw in that video, I felt deep shame.

For crying out loud, these are African diplomats or juvenile delinquents slamming each other tooth and nail?!

How could two African diplomats humiliate each other and themselves (and in the process all Africans) in cyberspace?

At one point the Eritrean ambassador admonished the T-TPLF ambassador to behave like a diplomat. “We are not in a bar. We are in front of people. People are viewing us [all over the world]”, pleaded the Eritrean ambassador.

They converted the interview into an opportunity to engage in a hand-to-hand combat war of words.

Both came to the interview ring armed with scripted talking points and regurgitated them robotically.

They unloaded their talking points like fists of fury with the aim of knocking out the other side in the very first round and walk away victorious.

Neither “ambassador” was interested in talking about the issue of why war has broken out between the two countries at this time. They just wanted to talk about their own agenda.

Both “ambassadors” threw verbal jabs and barbs at each other.

They made outlandish and inflammatory statements fit for the mouths of street thugs than sophisticated and respectable international diplomats.

They took cheap shots at each other and tried to play an escalating game of one-upmanship on each other.

It was worse than watching a Donald Trump interview.

The two “ambassadors” taunted and diplomatically insulted each other. “You want me to shut up my mouth while you are insulting me?”, interjected the Eritrean ambassador at one point.

They scowled, snubbed, sniped, mocked and put-down each other.

They demonized and villainized each other.

They verbally dueled until the end when the frustrated interviewer had to cut off the jibber jabber of the “ambassadors”.

It is said that “An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.” These two “ambassadors” proved that an ambassador is a man sent abroad to lie for his country and in the process make a darned fool of himself.

As the interview began, the T-TPLF ambassador busted out the talking points he had drilled down from day one. He declared repeatedly that the “only enemy Ethiopia has are poverty, backwardness and ignorance… Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing countries in the planet earth right now.”

That “fastest growing” hoax is a pet peeve of mine. I wanted to stop the video and shout out, “Mr. ‘Ambassador’, you are telling a lie, a damned lie and a statislie!”

Of course, the T-TPLF “ambassador” has not read my definitive and to date unchallenged evidence and analysis in my commentary, “Ethiopia and the World Bank of Lies, Damned Lies and Statislies”.

I have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF’s claim of “fastest growing, double-digit growth over the past 10 years” is a bold face lie, a damned lie and a statistical lie. Anyone who repeats that lie is also a damned liar!

The T-TPLF ambassador also conveniently overlooked in his talking points regurgitation the fact that “Ethiopia lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009.”

In 2011, Global Financial Integrity reported “illicit financial outflows from Ethiopia  nearly doubled in 2009 to US$3.26 b.”

Who in Ethiopia has that kind of money to stash in offshore accounts? Who made Ethiopia poor, backward and ignorant? Who has been sucking Ethiopia’s blood for 25 years?

The answer is: The fourth enemy of Ethiopia!

The T-TPLF ambassador accused Eritrea of starting the recent armed conflict and a whole bunch of other conflicts in the region over the years.

The Eritrean ambassador was ticked off and in no mood to be upstaged.  He opened up full blast: “I pity the ambassador because he overstepped his mandate answering this question.”  He reminisced about the good old days when the Eritreans and the T-TPLF were bosom buddies. “We were friends together. We overthrew the Mengistu regime. And we were living peacefully until the offensive [Ethiopia-Eritrea War] of 1998.” I said the same thing in my commentary last week.

The Eritrean ambassador turned angry and got on his soapbox ignoring the interviewer’s plea to stop blathering and answer the question put to him.  The interviewer repeatedly tried to ask questions and move on to the next topic. He brushed her off. He raised his voice and slammed the T-TPLF ambassador:

“Maybe Dina does not know. We fought Yemen together, Eritrea and Ethiopia together… It was Ethiopia who showed us the Yemenis have infringed, encroached on the two islands [off the coast of Eritrea]… Those holding the real power in Ethiopia, this minority group, the TPLF, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front, know this very well. They assisted us in fighting against Yemen.”

The T-TPLF ambassador in an apparent attempt to calm the Eritrean ambassador said the two “are good friends” but “the issue at hand is the behavior of the government [the Eritrean ambassador] represents… The issue is implementing the border agreement… We have common destinies. You know, we sink or swim together.”

I said to myself, “Bingo!”

In my commentary this past Monday, I argued the Ethiopia-Eritrea War is a war-game of mass distraction among a band of brothers. The war-gamers need each other to remain in power just as Siamese twins need each other to breathe and live. They are peas in a pod.”

I asked, “Could there be war among those who are on different sides of the same coin?”

The two sides cannot afford to war against each other because they will sink together if they do.

The Eritrean ambassador hectored his counterpart.  He said the two sides fought against the Mengistu military regime together. They fought against the Yemenis together. Without the Eritreans, the T-TPLF would not have been able to march into the capital Addis Ababa.

In the second half of the interview, all hell broke loose. It was free-for-all.

The two “ambassadors” would not allow the interviewer to ask questions.

They went after each other. I might even say it was like a cat and dog fight.

“We have special agreements with neighboring countries … The intervention that the [Eritrean] ambassador is talking about is not a reality on the ground… We did not intervene in any countries..,” proclaimed the T-TPLF ambassador.

“Answer the question,” the Eritrean ambassador interrupted forcefully.

“Ambassador, don’t guide me. I am speaking my mind… Let’s act like diplomats, please, please… You are a gentleman, you are a big man,” admonished the T-TPLF ambassador.

The T-TPLF ambassador continued, “The ambassador doesn’t have any evidence about what he claims or alleges Ethiopia for… I have never expected from him because this is a seasoned guy, a seasoned ambassador, he shouldn’t have created the illusion…”

“You want me to shut up my mouth while you are insulting me?”, interjected the Eritrean ambassador.

The T-TPLF ambassador called the Eritrean regime “tyrant” and accused it of “destabilizing the region.” He spiked his charges by claiming the Eritrean regime “was sleeping with Al Shabaab [the Somali terrorist group]”.

The T-TPLF ambassador got right under his counterpart’s skin.

The shouting match was in full swing as the “ambassadors” interrupted and virtually heckled each other.

“I am sorry to say he is still in the dark. The… monitoring group has reported time and again there is  no Eritrean support to Al Shabaab,” denied the Eritrean ambassador.  When he was rudely interrupted by the T-TPLF ambassador, the Eritrean ambassador blew up, “Please! Let me speak, please! We are not in a bar. We are in front of people. People are viewing at us”,  pleaded the Eritrean ambassador.

The Al Shabaab allegation must have been the last straw for the Eritrean ambassador. He ploughed full thrust. “They [TPLF] have killed 400 Oromo protesters in Ethiopia. [The TPLF] regime is not at peace with its own people.” He was firing on all cylinders. He ordered the T-TPLF ambassador to restrain himself from gesticulating with his hands in his direction: “Keep your hands with you, like me [showing him how to put his hands on the arm rest of the chair].”  It was hilarious!

The Eritrean ambassador blew his stack. “If you go far, I will go far. He [T-TPLF ambassador] is not from the Tigrean people. His own people are dying. He is an Oromo. If you go far, I will go far.”

The T-TPLF ambassador shot back, “You cannot speak for the Oromos.”

“I can speak for the Oromos”, quipped the Eritrean ambassador curtly.

The Eritrean ambassador charged, “You started it. You talked about our internal affairs.”

The T-TPLF ambassador was not to be outgunned in the tit-for-tat game. “We have a policy… If Eritrea attacks, we take proportional measures. If they attack by air, we attack by air. If they attack on the ground, we do it.”

The Eritrean ambassador tried to compose himself:

“May I speak calmly? Would you please restrain him [T-TPLF ambassador]?… There is a very easy solution [to the border conflict]… We could live peacefully… Even the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi said time and again that he wanted to see a regime change in Eritrea which is being  repeated by Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn. I am sorry to say he does not even know what’s going on in the border because once they put it in his mouth he also said, ‘we want a regime change, blah, blah, blah. He [Desalegn] was not part of the revolution, part of the regime. He was just picked up and made a [prime minister]. It is up to the Ethiopian government, TPLF government , a minority government, to restrain itself, accept the verdict, withdraw its forces [from the border area]  and we start the diplomatic relationship…”

The Eritrean ambassador lambasted the interviewer when she asked him about human rights issues and forced conscription in Eritrea. He explained, “Those who have fled from this area are more than two-thirds Ethiopians”. When pressed, he accused the interviewer: “The problem is that you are not responsible journalists.  You don’t make your research. You know the blame should have been to Ethiopia. Because it is the Ethiopians killing their own people. You don’t have any report that says Eritrea kills its own people. You should have come here making your research.  You should have come in having read all of our press releases and everything…”

In the last minute of the interview, it was all about the pot calling the kettle black.

The Eritrean ambassador had the last word. I hope “this minority government will come to its senses.”

The T-TPLF ambassador tried to make a comeback with a parting shot as the interviewer announced the interview was over. “This is a government [Eritrean] that has not known elections for years. It has never known elections for years. This is a government that has been killing its people for years.”

How ironic?

The T-TPLF ambassador seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the T-TPLF in May 2015 claimed a 100 percent victory in its election. In 2010, the T-TPLF claimed victory by 99.9 percent.

It was surreal watching the T-TPLF ambassador lecturing the Eritrean ambassador that his “government that has not known elections for years.” (I wonder on which planet the T-TPLF ambassador spends his time when he is not “ambassadoring” on earth?)

I guess the T-TPLF ambassador has not heard the old saying, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Or read the line in the Good Book: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Who won the shouting match between the “ambassadors”?

All Africans lost.

I will ask my question again. Does the Horn of Africa have any hope?

When the purported leaders of two neighboring countries cannot even talk in a civil, well-mannered, courteous, respectful and thoughtful manner, is there any hope?

When the purported diplomats of two neighboring countries trade insults and try to out-snark, out-boast, out-bully, out-shout, out-slick each other for silly political points, is there any hope?

When the purported diplomats of two neighboring countries scowl and shred each other with sarcasm, ridicule, derision, acrimony, scorn and mockery, is there any hope?

A teachable moment for the two “ambassadors”?

The problem with teachers is that they like to teach. I think there is a teachable moment here for the two “ambassadors” and the regimes they represent.

I am not sure they learned their combative, antagonistic, belligerent, cantankerous and quarrelsome diplomatic style from their “great” leaders. It certainly looks like it!

Regardless, over the past ten years, I have learned that talking to T-TPLF leaders is like preaching Scripture to Heathen, or pouring water on a slab of granite.  It is an exercise in total futility.

Here is an example. Three years ago, I warned the T-TPLF leaders that selling unregistered bond in the U.S. is a crime. I gave them the “chapter and verse” of the U.S. law they were violating.

But they paid no attention, possibly because the suggestion came from their most relentless and implacable critic. But I told them the truth so that they can restrain themselves from criminal activities.

Because they ignored my admonition  not to commit a crime in the U.S., today they are forced to cough up USD$6.5m to payback the Diaspora Ethiopians they swindled.

I don’t expect and have no illusions that either side will pay any attention to what I have to say, but I will say it anyhow.

My humble suggestion to the two “ambassadors” is that they (and their ilk)  critically review their roles in the age of digital diplomacy.

Their world of rebel and bush diplomacy is long gone.

We live in the age of digital diplomacy where the inner secrets of states are revealed to the world and accessible to anyone with a keyboard and internet connection.  The “WikiLeaks/Cablegate” and Snowden revelations have shown that government’s will have an increasingly difficult time concealing their lies, misdeeds and corruption.

I urge the two “ambassadors” to review their performance in the “interview” and learn from it. They should consider taking a course or two on diplomatic decorum. That is to say, diplomats do not use sneers and jeers to communicate with each other.

They should learn the specialized language spoken by diplomats and master the various nuances of diplomatic speak. (I did not say master the art of diplocrisy.)

They should present at least the public persona of a diplomat instead of behaving like thugs in suits.

They should realize that an interview is not a soapbox or a platform to make stump speeches. Diplomacy is not a war of words, nor is war diplomacy by other means.

They should answers questions put them and not blather about tangential and distracting issues.

It is inappropriate to insult the interviewer while taking offense one is insulted by a co-interviewee.  To accuse Okwara of professional malfeasance by not being a “responsible journalist” who does not do “research” before an interview is inexcusable and indefensible.

The two “ambassadors” should have shown respect at least to the interviewer, if not each other.

The two “ambassadors” should regard a journalistic interview as serious forum for the  exchange of information on matters of international concern and not treat it as an African beer hall or bar where they can chit-chat and engage in  flippancy, frivolity and foolishness.

Great diplomats are also great listeners. A shouting match will never produce great diplomats, only great thugplomats.

They could benefit from a course or two on how to do diplomatic interviews.

They should try to project a diplomacy of hope, not despair. They should try to become ambassadors from Africa, not desperadoes from Africa.

Is there hope for the Horn of Africa?

In October 2014, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Thugplomacy of the TPLF”. It was a commentary on a shocking incident involving a diplomat at the T-TPLF embassy in Washington, D.C. who  fired live bullets to scare off protesters in the embassy compound. I wondered if that diplomat with diplomatic immunity had experienced a flashback from his days in the bush as he brandished his gun and fired at the protesters. Did he forget that he was a high-level foreign diplomat at a diplomatic mission in the United States?

I felt the same way watching the “interview” of the two “ambassadors”.  The only difference is that the embassy diplomat had a gun.

Is there hope for the Horn of Africa?


“Hope’ is the thing with feathers—…
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.”

I remain perplexed in the extreme and would be grateful to receive a crumb of hope for the Horn of Africa.

*Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to [email=[email protected]]editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org[/email] or comment online at Pambazuka News.