By Prof. Al Mariam
Author’s Note: If I assembled all of the commentaries I wrote on the T-TPLF’s corruption, it would comprise of at least two solid volumes. Back in 2013, I commented extensively on the range of T-TPLF corrupt practices in a number of sectors of the Ethiopian economy and society based on the World Bank’s 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”. (See my commentaries in 2013 at almariam.com.) I even coined a word to discuss T-TPLF corruption. It is “horruption”. Horrible corruption.
Every now and then, the T-TPLF bosses put on corruption show trials to distract the population, panhandle the loaner and donors and draw attention away from their criminality. They have done it again in July 2017.
Here we go again! The corruption prosecution con game of the T-TPLF
In May 2013, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Corruption Game” of the T-TPLF.
That commentary dealt with the arrest of some two dozen “high and medium ranking officials of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) and prominent businessmen”. Among them were ERCA “director general” with the “rank of minister”, his deputies and “chief prosecutor” along with other customs officials. “Ethiopia’s top anti-corruption official” Ali Sulaiman told the Voice of America Amharic “the suspects had been under surveillance for over two years.”
At the time, T-TPLF bosses were in the middle of their recurrent internal power struggles in the aftermath of the passing of their thugmaster Meles Zenawi.
The recent arrests are part of the ongoing “civil war” within the T-TPLF. It is intended to send a message to others who may think about opposing the current faction of the T-TPLF that the sledgehammer of corruption prosecution will also be visited upon their heads if they want to try anything.
Simply stated, the current dominant T-TPLF faction is simply “killing the chicken to warn the monkeys”, to use a Chinese idiom.
Today, the T-TPLF slicksters are trying to kill three birds with one stone: Rack up some PR credits to demonstrate good governance during the “state of emergency” and drum up popular support. They also believe they could divert and distract attention from their atrocious human rights record, including the Irreecha Massacres of October 2016, by showcasing their “anti-corruption” campaign. Last but not least, the cash-strapped T-TPLF bosses are hoping to squeeze American taxpayers for a few billion dollars (fat chance under Trump) by talking the talk of anti-corruption while walking and swimming in corruption.
Belatedly, T-TPLF puppet prime minister (PPM) Hailemariam Desalegn is also trying to prove that, despite his repeated public cathartic confessions that he is the handmaiden of Meles, he is Mr. Clean, not Mr. Clone (of Meles). Desalegn is still trying to prove to the loaners and donors that he is a different breed from his thugmaster Meles. He wants to perpetuate an image of Mr. Clean cleaning the “House of Meles”. Oh! Behold in 2017 the “Dirty 3 Dozen” he bagged!
2017: Sleazy investigating greasy and cheesy for corruption
Over the past couple of weeks, the T-TPLF has been rolling out the rogue’s gallery of alleged corruption suspects. Among them are “high level government officials” and sundry other businessmen.
They even allegedly jailed the “wife” of one of the founders of the T-TPLF, Abay Tsehay.
The “wife” was arrested “while she was attending her son’s wedding family reunion ceremony.” Tsehay was at the wedding but not arrested.
Obviously, the wife was “arrested” to send a clear message to Tsehay.
But if allegations of corruption are to be thrown around, Tsehay should be at the very top of guilty-as-sin suspects.
Tsehay was Board chairman of the “Commercial Bank of Ethiopia”, the largest and oldest bank in the country, even though he had absolutely no financial background whatsoever! During Tsehay’s tenure, the Commercial Bank lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Shouldn’t Tsehay be held accountable for that loss?
He was replaced by another T-TPLF ignoramus named Bereket Simon in 2011. Such was the height of T-TPLF nepotism and corruption.
It was clear to me in April that Tsehay was toast. Done. Finished.
As I indicated in my April 30 commentary, “The Good Kops/Bad Kops T-TPLF Con Game (Over) in Ethiopia”, I knew Tsehay was in deep doo-doo when PPT Desalegn dismissed a “study” done by Tsehay and his henchmen. “I don’t know [anything] about the study. It does not concern me. The study does not offer a correct analysis,” said Desalegn offhandedly.
I concluded that Desalegn would not have been emboldened to dismiss a report by a founding member of the T-TPLF unless that founding member was on his way out to pasture or something even worse. Alternatively, I reasoned that there is definitely a gang within the T-TPLF gunning for Tsehay. Either way, it was clear to me that Tsehay was history.
Curiously, Tsehay, a charlatan at best, must have been trying to reinvent himself as some sort of respectable academic or scholarly analyst when he put together a ragtag crew of “researchers” to issue a report. I suspected the T-TPLF gangsters ganging against Tsehay must have been offended by his bold report or considered it an effort by him to ingratiate himself with the public and gain ascendancy and tactically undercut them. After all, Tsehay practically called the T-TPLF “lawmakers” a bunch of morons who sit around rubberstamping whatever is sent to them by the “executive branch”.
What has happened to Tsehay is a clear indication to me that there is a “creeping civil war” among various T-TPLF factions today. The only reason the “civil war” has not broken out in public is because they are all tangled up in the same web and morass corruption and criminality.
The T-TPLF criminals know all too well that they must hang together or hang separately, to quote Ben Franklin.
Anyway, Tsehay’s cannibalistic T-TPLF friends threw him under the bus, just as he ganged up with them to throw so many others before. That is karmic poetic justice!
It must feel like hell to feel so disposable!
Back to the current corruption prosecution con game.
Just to maintain the suspense, the T-TPLF has been announcing arrests almost daily. Just yesterday, they announced the arrest of Alemayehu Gujo, T-TPLF “minister of finance” and the highest-ranking official in the roundup and Zayed Woldegabriel, Director General of the Ethiopian Roads Authority.
The “anti-corruption” prosecutors have completely avoided charging any of the top T-TPLF leaders despite mountains of evidence of all types of corruption and criminal wrongdoing. They have gone after the small fish and left the big sharks, the capo di tutti cappi (boss of all bosses) alone.
The fact of the matter is that the whole T-TPLF corruption prosecution is a bunch of horse manure!
For the T-TPLF to accuse its disfavored members, ministers and lackeys of corruption and criminal wrongdoing is exactly like Tweedledee accusing Tweedledum of taking his rattle (toy).
/‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee/ Agreed to have a battle;/For Tweedledum said Tweedledee/ Had spoiled his nice new rattle./Just then flew down a monstrous crow, As black as a tar-barrel;/Which frightened both the heroes so,/They quite forgot their quarrel./
Simply stated, the T-TPLF is just having an internal battle in their corruption nonsense over their 26-year-old rattle. They are quarreling over who should steal, cheat and rob the most.
That is exactly what the T-TPLF corruption prosecution con game we see played out today is all about. One gang of T-TPLFers quarreling with and battling against another gang of T-TPLFers about who should ripoff the most of their 26-year-old rattle (toy) called Ethiopia.
There is nothing new in the current corruption prosecution con game.
The T-TPLF bosses have been playing their corruption prosecution game to knock each other out from day 1.
The T-TPLF canned its first prime minster Tamrat Layne on corruption charges in 1996.
That cunning and ruthless thugmaster Meles Zenawi forced Layne, under threat of penalty of death, to admit corruption and abuse of power before the rubberstamp parliament.
Of course, Layne did nothing that every top T-TPLF leader did not do. If Layne could be convicted for corruption, then each and every T-TPLF member beginning with the thugmaster himself are all guilty as sin of corruption. But the corruption prosecution was a tactic used to neutralize and sideline Layne.
In 2002, Seeye Abraha, T-TPLF defense minister and chairman of the board and CEO of Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (a T-TPLF rabbit hole of high corruption, money laundering, conspiracy and sundry other criminality) was also jacked up on corruption charges and jailed for six years. Following the Ethio-Eritrean war in the late 1990s, the T-TPLF had split into two groups, one headed by Meles, the other by Seeye. Meles tactically outplayed and outfoxed Seeye and consolidated power. If Abraha could be convicted for corruption, then each and every T-TPLF member beginning with the thugmaster himself are all guilty as sin of corruption. But the corruption prosecution was a tactic used to neutralize and sideline Abraha.
In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ “right to burn money.”
In 2009, Meles publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them that he will forgive them this time because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He threatened to “cut off their hands” if they should steal coffee in the future.
Barely eight months ago in December 2016, the T-TPLF announced it had arrested 130 unnamed individuals on corruption charges. An additional 130 were said to be under investigation.
Just yesterday, to add suspense to excitement, the T-TPLF called an “emergency meeting” of its rubberstamp parliament without a public explanation for the meeting. Apparently, it had partly to do “with lifting the state of emergency order”, but the “parliament” removed “immunity” from two members at the ministerial and high administrative positions and jailed them. (More on that comedic drama in another commentary.)
All the T-TPLF corruption prosecution crap is nothing more than a con game, an attempt to distract and divert attention from the fact that the T-TPLF is on life support, on its last legs.
But the T-TPLF is playing the same old con game. Corruption prosecution is the oldest trick in the book of dictators.
In any power struggle in dictatorships, it is very common for one group of power players to accuse members of an opposing group of corruption and neutralize them. It is less costly and uncertain than conducting coups. Corruption show trials are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of dictators who seek to neutralize their opponents.
Back during the Derg (military rule) days, the favorite charge to neutralize opponents was to accuse them of being a “counter-revolutionary” and jail them or worse.
To be blunt, it is the same _ _ _t, just different flies.
In China, Bo Xilai, once touted to be the successor to President Hu Jintao in China, Liu Zhijun and many other high level Chinese communist party leaders were prosecuted for accepting bribes, corruption and abuses of power. They were all neutralized and sidelined.
Yet in 2016 the campaign against corruption came to a grinding halt as “President Xi Jinping’s high-profile ahead of a period of change for the Chinese Communist party’s leadership.” Jinping became president in 2012 and cleaned house using corruption prosecutions to eliminate his opponents.
Putin jailed Mikhail Khodorkovsky (once considered the “wealthiest man in Russia”) on trumped up charges of “corruption” and gave him a long prison sentence.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has used corruption prosecutions to neutralize his opposition and unfriendly power contenders. Putin’s favorite tactic to control his opponents is prosecution for money laundering. A few months ago, Putin arrested his foremost critic and anti-corruption champion Aleksei Navalny during an anti-corruption protest in Moscow and had him barred from a presidential run.
Putin jailed Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, who accused Russian officials of massive tax fraud. He was beaten to death in prison. The U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act barring entry of officials involved in Magnitsky’s murder.
Tip of the T-TPLF iceberg of corruption
Corruption in Africa, and particularly Ethiopia, is a proven means of accessing and clinging to power. It is the grease that lubricates the patronage system where supporters are rewarded with the spoils of controlling power.
The core business of the T-TPLF is corruption.
The T-TPLF warlords who seized political power in Ethiopia in 1991 have always operated in secrecy like a racketeering criminal organization. Their principal aim for more than a quarter of a century has been the looting of the national treasury which they have accomplished by illicit capital transfers and by plunging the country into a bottomless pit of foreign debt.
Corruption prosecutions in Ethiopia have been driven not by any unusual or extreme corrupt behavior, since all T-TPLF bosses are deeply mired in corruption, but because of the recurrent divisions and struggles in T-TPLF power circles.
Anyone who believes the T-TPLF is engaged in corruption prosecution to improve good governance is simply delusional. The T-TPLF’s only reason for existence is clinging to power to conduct the business of corruption, not good governance or stamping out corruption. The only reason the T-TPLF is in power is because corruption courses in their bloodstream and the bloodstream of their body politics. Corruption is the hemoglobin that delivers life-sustaining oxygen to their anatomical and organizational nerve centers.
Without corruption, the T-TPLF will simply wither away, or implode.
The anti-corruption organizations and prosecutorial and investigative bodies are created and stage-managed by the top political leaders. The members of these bodies are hand selected by the top leaders. They intervene in corruption investigations when it gets close to them. The whole anti-corruption campaign is set up to make sure that the grandmasters of corruption and their minions at the top are immune from investigation and prosecution.
As I argued in my commentary “Africorruption, Inc.”, corruption under the T-TPLF regime is widespread and endemic. It includes outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners. They must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement.
Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. T-TPLF officials and supporters do not have to repay millions of dollars in “loans” borrowed from the state banks and their debts are overlooked or forgiven. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Even Diaspora Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. In 2009, the U.S. State Department pledged to investigate allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.”
The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi of the T-TPLF regime. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada declared in 2001 that “corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,” adding that the government would show “an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic”.
Corruption today is not only endemic in Ethiopia; it is a terminal condition
The “holy cows” and “minnows” (fish bait) of corruption
Corruption in Ethiopia can no longer be viewed as a simple criminal matter of prosecuting a few dozen petty government officials and others for bribery, extortion, fraud and embezzlement,
The so-called “corruption investigations and prosecutions” today are no different from previous ones. They scapegoat the minnows, small fish while leaving the untouchable holy cows untouched.
Tradition has it that on the day of atonement, a goat would be selected by the high priest and loaded with the sins of the community and driven out into the wilderness as an affirmative act of symbolic cleansing. In ancient times, it made the people feel purged of evil and guiltless.
The individuals accused of corruption are low-level bureaucrats, ministers-in-name only and other officials-with-titles-only, suspected disloyal members and handmaidens of the regime. They all humbly and obediently served the T-TPLF bosses for years. Now the T-TPLF bosses want to make them out to be loathsome villains. The sins and crimes of the untouchable T-TPLF holy cows are placed upon their heads and railroaded to prison.
The T-TPLF high priests want to show the public they have been cleansed and the nation is free from the evil of corruption. In this narrative, the corrupt T-TPLF bosses want to appear as “anti-corruption warriors”, the white knights in shining armor.
But no amount of sheep’s clothing can make the wolf a lamb.
A pig in lipstick at the end of the day is still a pig.
The untouchable holy cows of T-TPLF corruption can put on lipstick and nail polish and try to appear pure and chaste. But at the end of the day, those holy cows are just like the pigs in lipstick.
The day of reckoning for the T-TPLF is at hand.
Fight the power! Fight corruption!
What is the best way to deal with “horruption” (horrible T-TPLF corruption) in Ethiopia?
Simple. Line up the right social forces to fight corruption.
Allow the free press to flourish so that it can aggressively and doggedly investigate and report corrupt officials and practices for public scrutiny. Establish an independent prosecutorial office properly budgeted and staffed (supported by certified international anti-corruption experts) to go after not only the small winnows but most importantly the big whales and sharks splish-splashing in a sea of corruption.
Take comprehensive measures to increase the transparency of all public institutions and translate into action the mandate of Article 12 of the “Ethiopian Constitution” (“Functions and Accountability of Government”).
Eliminate the T-TPLF’s involvement in the economy.
Allow the functioning of an independent judiciary that is capable of adjudicating corruption cases with full due process of law.
Let civil society institutions flourish so that they can maintain ongoing vigilance and work at the grassroots levels to provide anti-corruption awareness, education, training and monitoring.
Let there be a genuinely competitive multiparty system that can hold the ruling party and its officials accountable.
In short, institutionalize the rule of law.
Then it is possible to act against “horruption” instead of talking about corruption.
Honesty contest between T-TPLF bosses
Can there be a beauty contest among hyenas?
There is really no difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes used to walk the streets of ancient Athens carrying a lamp in broad daylight. When amused bystanders asked him about his apparently strange behavior, he would tell them that he was looking for an honest man.
Like Diogenes, one may be tempted to walk the unhallowed halls of T-TPLF power, search the highest of the high political and business offices and traverse the country with torchlight in hand looking for an honest and honorable T-TPLF leader, boss or operative. None will ever be found.
Today, the T-TPLF finds itself between the devil and blue sea (perhaps it should be said the blue sea finds itself between devils).
The T-TPLF cannot live with corruption nor live without it.
By (pretending) fighting corruption, the T-TPLF will hasten its own end for corruption is the foundation of the T-TPLF state.
By doing nothing, it will allow the cancer of corruption to completely metastasize throughout its body politics.
Either way, the T-TPLF is in a terminal state and moribund. It will soon find its way to the ash heap of history where it belongs.
What is the next T-TPLF distraction, distraction, distraction…?
The T-TPLF bosses think they can distract and divert attention by talking about “corruption” and selectively arresting a few of their scapegoated members and supporters and putting them on show trials. That is interesting political theater but it will not solve the problem of T-TPLF horruption unless one believes, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people.”
So what is the next distraction?
What will the clever and cunning T-TPLF bosses pull out of their behinds to distract public attention, discussion and focus from their criminality?
Could they spread rumors of war against a neighboring country? They tried that in the Ethiopia-Eritrea war games and did not work.
How about construction of an airport larger than Heathrow in London? They became laughing stocks on that one.
Space travel!? The T-TPLF announced their space program in April. I promptly volunteered to mobilize the Ethiopian Diaspora to financially support the program in the hope that we could pay for a rocket to transport all T-TPLFers back to Planet T-TPLF. (Well, they are still here.)
Well, what else?
How about passing a “law” to punish those who convert foreign currency into local birr without going through T-TPLF banks? In some places, they call it “hawala” (money is paid to an agent who then instructs a remote associate to pay the final recipient.)
It is an open secret that the T-TPLF is almost completely out of foreign exchange.
They can no longer pick pocket the American taxpayer with Trump at the helm.
The Ethiopian people refused to have their pockets picked by the T-TPLF when they engaged in mass civil disobedience and refused to pay arbitrary taxes.
So who has pockets that can easily be pick-pocketed?
Where can the T-TPLF find new fat cats, cash cows?!
Diaspora Ethiopians and their remittances, of course!
I shall predict (just a wild guess) that the T-TPLF will now go after Diaspora remittances and require that all remittance payments to recipients in Ethiopia be made through Paypal, Western Union, all the credit card companies and other such financial institutions. That way, they will be able to amass billions in foreign exchange to finance their empire of corruption and continue to cling to power.
What a brilliant scheme. I mean scam.
In October 2010, I wrote a commentary on “The political economy of remittances in Ethiopia”.
At the time, Diaspora Ethiopians contributed a cool US$1.2 billion to the Ethiopian economy, only second to the amount generated by Ethiopia’s exports.
There was so much concern about potential reductions in remittances due to the global economy that a T-TPLF bank manager fretted, “We are concerned and worried that as a result of the financial crisis … some of the Ethiopians may lose their jobs and as a result they may stop sending money to help their families back home.”
By 2013, Diaspora remittances had exceeded $4 billion.
Demeke Atnafu, T-TPLF director of diaspora engagement in the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, declared remittances had “surpassed the amount that Ethiopia got from donor countries in the form of development aid.”
In 2015, the T-TPLF reported receiving $3.7 billion from remittances.
In July 2016, Atnafu said the country received $ 4 billion in remittances in the first 10 months of the year.
So there you have it!
I expect the T-TPLF will try to implement an extortion scam to bleed every Diasporan Ethiopian sending money back home.
Diasporan Ethiopians are now the low hanging fruit in the T-TPLF Empire of Corruption.
Diaspora Ethiopians, get ready to be ripped off royally by the T-TPLF!
Post Script: For what it is worth, if any of my readers want to know my personal opinion about the T-TPLF’s current corruption prosecution game, it is simply this:
The T-TPLF has selectively arrested people in agencies that are money black holes where money disappears never to be seen.
Engineers Fekade Haile, Washihun Shiferaw and Ahmedin Buser and others from the “Addis Ababa City Roads Authority”, Zayed Woldegabriel, Abdo Mohammed, Bekele Nigussie, Gelana Bori, Yeneneh Assefa, Bekele Balcha and others from the “Ethiopian Roads Authority” and Alemayehu Gujo, Musa Mohammed, Mesfin Workneh, Wassihun Abate, Seyoum Gobena, Tamrat Amare and others from the “Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation” are all charged with corruption to SHUT THEM UP BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHERE THE T-TPLF CORRUPTION SKELETONS ARE HIDDEN IN THESE BUREAUCRATIC BLACK HOLES.