by Mohomed Mukhtar
Saturday, May 05, 2007
On 27 April 2007, the Guardian ran an article entitled: ‘Thousands flee as shelling by Ethiopian tanks kills hundreds of civilians in Somali capital’. The article depicted the grim reality of Mogadishu. This piece of writing has given a lot of people heartburn especially those who want to hide the bad news radiating from Mogadishu. Mr Berhanu Kebede, Ethiopian Ambassador to the UK, tops these people. On 3 May 2007, the ambassador wrote an article entitled: ‘Somalia asked us to save them from this brutal sub-clan’. The main aim of the ambassador’s article was to challenge the Guardian’s article.
Meles Zenawi has successfully massaged America’s interests until they may be in accord with his interests and convinced the US that Ethiopia’s illegal occupation of Somalia is part of ‘war on terror’. But when Zenawi’s regime attempts to stage-manage what the international media should write about that cannot be left uncontested.
The ambassador has chosen an interesting title for his article: ‘Somalia asked us to save them from this brutal sub-clan’. Is the ambassador suffering from a shortage of memory or is he trying to pull the wool over the international community’s eyes? Earlier in this year, Cameron Duodu wrote a paper entitled: ‘America’s New Puppet’. In reply to Duodu’s paper, the Ethiopian ambassador to London said: “Ethiopia went into Somalia for reasons of self-defence.” Now the ambassador is telling the world that Ethiopia went to Somalia to deal with a sub-clan. The begging question is: was he economical with the truth then or is he misleading the international community now?
The lack of intellectual coherence of the ambassador’s article is evident. The essence of the Guardian’s article was to report the human suffering that Mogadishu residents were undergoing. The paper reported: “The Ethiopian assault has killed several hundred people, many of them civilians harmed by indiscriminate shelling that has destroyed homes and shops, and forced tens of thousands to flee the city as it spread to previously relatively peaceful parts of Mogadishu. Corpses lie scattered on the streets because it is too dangerous to collect them.” Instead of coming up with evidential value to challenge the above facts, Kebede’s article went astray and focused on why Ethiopia is fighting inside Somalia. Whether this was a deliberate calculation or intellectual bankruptcy, the ambassador’s garbled article fails to be a telling response to the lucid article of the Guardian.
The ambassador is not only contradicting himself but he is saying the opposite of his government. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin and other Ethiopian officials have consistently claimed that this is a war of self-defence. Has the ambassador gone off on a long incoherent tangent?
There is also certain incoherence in the ambassador’s conception of the human rights reports. The ambassador argued: “Exaggerated human rights reports, published by an organisation closely linked to the UIC, have been used as an authentic source by many media outlets without independent scrutiny.” Alas, the human right reports did not come from one source alone, and surely those who are concerned about the human right issues are not the supporters of the Islamic Courts. Senator Norm Coleman noted the sufferings of Mogadishu residents in a letter to Jendayi Frazer, U.S. Assistant Secretary. He wrote: “there continues to be a severe humanitarian crisis in Somalia. It is estimated that the recent violence in Mogadishu affected over 100, 000 civilians, forcing them to leave their homes and endure significant suffering. This large population of internally displaced persons, who often sleep outside under trees with no food, water, or sanitary facilities, is in need of urgent assistance. Consequently, diseases such as diarrhoea are exacting a very high toll on the displaced children.” The International Committee of the Red Cross said: “The population of Mogadishu is caught up in the worst fighting in more than 15 years.”
Using a one-way moral mirror, the ambassador said: “The UIC introduced a crude form of punishment, including floggings and executions, and restrictions on people's liberties such as banning music and TV and radio programmes.” The ambassador sounds that he belongs to a regime that champions human rights, but a little probing around the regime’s human rights record tells a different story. Let the records of history speak for themselves and let us quickly look at how Zenawi’s regime has behaved both inside Ethiopia and Somalia.
In Ethiopia, in 2005, a report which detailed the human rights abuses committed by Zenawi’s regime was complied by the U.S. Department of State. The report said: “The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; detention of thousands without charge, and lengthy pre-trial detention and government restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; self censorship by journalists.” Human Rights Watch also observed this concern: “Since the May 15 parliamentary elections in which opposition parties made massive gains in their share of seats, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has used repression, intimidation and violence to punish real or perceived opposition supporters and eliminate dissent in both urban centres and rural areas.”
In Somalia, the CNN reported “according to the U.N. refugee agency, some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February .” That number went up quite dramatically the following two months. On 24 Apr 2007, World Vision said: “Recent Clashes Force Nearly Half a Million to Flee.” UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported on 3 May 2007 that “the fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu has led to increases of between 30 and 70 percent in the price of rental properties, transport, water and basic food and non-food items over the past four weeks.” The Ethiopian government and others have been accused of war crimes. A security adviser to the European Commission recently advised the Commission: “I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the Amisom force commander...have through commission or omission violated the Rome statute of the international criminal court.” The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) noted that “press freedom violations soared in Somalia in the period from 1st January to 1st May , up more than 43% on the same period in 2006.”
The ambassador’s response does not only show how sensitive his regime is to any criticism and but it exposes how his regime would like to silence the international press. The Zenawi regime has almost managed to silence the Ethiopian press. Reporters Without Boarders observed in their 2003 Annual Report on Ethiopia: “many journalists prefer to say nothing and not use information rather than risk being sentenced to a fine or a prison sentence and thereby threaten family members for whom they are the only source of income.” On May 1, 2007, Web monitor, the OpenNet Initiative, “accused Ethiopia of blocking scores of anti-government Web sites and millions of blogs in one of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest cases of cyber-censorship.” Therefore, it seems now the ambassador’s wish is to silence the international media and keep the international community in the dark about Zenawi’s criminal activities in Somalia.
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