Ethiopia, the “North Korea of Africa”

News Opinions Politics Sophia Tesfamariam
 A televised tear of mourners for the late totalitarian dictator and Prime Minister of Africa's Nrth Korea, Meles Zenawi
A televised tear of mourners for the late totalitarian dictator and Prime Minister of Africa’s North Korea, Meles Zenawi

By Sophia Tesfamariam,

In their attacks of countries and leadership that do not align themselves with the West, the western media and NGO community, there are two countries, Iran and North Korea, that are presented as examples of, and labeled as, “pariah states”.

It is not this author’s intention to validate the western media’s assumptions about these two nations, but if they are to use labels, they ought to call a spade a spade and label Ethiopia the “North Korea” of Africa as the label best fits the minority regime in Ethiopia more than any other country or leadership in the region. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck …

Unwittingly, the West has created its own “North Korea” in the Horn of Africa, an imploding country teetering into the abyss. Despite the orchestrated defamation and vilification of leaders in the region by Ethiopia’s thugocracy, and its handlers, the people of Ethiopia and the people in the region have clearly identified the “North Korea of Africa”-and the facts are there to show the uncanny resemblance in leadership’s style and governance.

Like North Korea, Ethiopia is heavily dependent on Foreign Aid with thousands of western NGOs running several development projects in the country. Its population is fed by, and 60% of its national budget is subsidized by donors. The online site Durame reported the following in its article, “ Ethiopia-Africa’s North Korea”[1]:

“…Just like the hermit kingdom, Ethiopia depends heavily on foreign aid. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, Ethiopia received the second highest foreign assistance globally; totaling nearly 4 billion dollars. To put it in perspective, only war torn and US occupied Afghanistan receives more aid than Ethiopia…”

Aside from being staunch allies, North Korea and Ethiopia are ruled with the same oppressive and strict centralized governments and the two countries are, in fact, amongst the few nations in Africa that have close relations with North Korea. On 8 April 2007, the New York Times in its report, “Ethiopia bought arms from North Korea with U.S. assent”, Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti wrote:

“…Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of that country’s nuclear test, officials in the Bush administration allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from Pyongyang in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior U.S. officials…The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopian troops were in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the U.S. policy …”

But not only is Ethiopia getting arms from North Korea, with the acquiescence of the United States and its allies, but it is now an open secret that North Korea is developing Ethiopia’s munitions factories such as the ones in Ambo and Gafat near Debre Zeit. Reuters described the North Korean leader’s funeral in its 28 December report[2]:

“…Video showed weeping civilians who swayed with grief and shouted “father, father” as black Lincoln and Mercedes limousines and army trucks streamed past the crowds…”

Imitation is the best form of flattery and no other leader brought the likeness of North Korea and Ethiopia home, than the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia’s funeral[3], an orchestrated event complete with white handkerchief waving, wailing crowds in the thousands. The spectacle featured on Ethiopian television for days on end was no different. An Ethiopian observer described it well saying:

“…a close scrutiny of Mao Zedong’s funeral in November 1976, clearly shows a striking similarity of Mr. Zenawi’s and Mao’s funeral. It is very difficult not to construe that Mr. Zenawi’s funeral was orchestrated from the play book of china’s communist Party. In fact, the EPRDF applied such a staged funeral with a surgical precession. One can say with absolute certainty that the mourning displayed in Ethiopia and Mr. Zenawi’s funeral is exactly the same as the mourning and the funeral that took place in china in November 1976. Such staged funerals are not unique to Mao and Meles; in fact it is common in countries where not only one party but one man ruled a nation…”

While the funeral of the North Korean leader lasted 3 hours, Meles Zenawi’s was said to be 8 hours long….

Like that of North Korea, Ethiopia’s government controlled media churned out programs complete with staged interviews to idolize the man. The most hated man in Ethiopia, the people were told, was the best thing that ever happened to them. Of course the gullible western media who have to justify their `silence as he committed genocides in Ethiopia’s Gambela, Ogaden and Oromia regions were only happy to tow the official line and join the chorus to tout him as being indispensable. Meles Zenawi’s cult of personality became a prominent part of Ethiopian culture during his reign, culminating in the extended mourning that dragged on for months after his death.

The Ethiopian and western media went to great lengths to present Meles Zenawi as an all-powerful, all-knowing leader. He is now revered, as was Kim Jong II, as being the “Great leader” etc.   One Ethiopian citizen was not impressed with the accolades and pretensions and wrote:[4]:

“…Tyrants build a system of government making themselves the center of the universe, and build personality cult to create a climate of fear. At the end, they leave a legacy that forces their people to worship them as someone holy, despite the fact, they treated their fellow citizens with contempt and ruled with brutality…”

Seble Teweldebirhan, an Addis Ababa based Reporter for added:

“…his death proved that Ethiopians are trapped in serious and scary personality cult. Currently, the PM is in everything and everywhere. The entire country looks like a private living room of the PM with his pictures hanging in every corner of the entire nation. Just like any other personality cult, Meles is called ‘the father of the nation’ ‘the architect of Ethiopian development’ ‘the great and visionary leader’ ‘dear son of Africa’ and, surprisingly, ‘an advocate of human rights, equality and democracy’…”

In Post-Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia, life size posters adorn the city and the road leading to the city from the airport is filled with his ominous presence- on life size posters and statues are prominent fixtures, grim reminders of his brutal legacy. Statues are being erected in cities across Ethiopia and trees are planted in his name. Meles Zenawi posters, pictures and quotes are found in nearly every street of the capital. Life size pictures adorn the capital Addis Ababa, from the airport to the city square, Meskel Adebabye… Meles his omnipresent  ghost-like grip hangs over Ethiopians- even in death, he seems to hover over their every life:

“…Even months after his death, Addis Ababa is still plastered with bereavement posters. They cover entire sides of buildings and run for hundreds of metres along fences. Banners declare “we will continue your work” and “we will never forget you”…New propaganda tracts depict Meles as a selfless leader who sacrificed his life for his country. His party is trying to wring as much legitimacy as possible from his legacy. It may be too early to speak of a post-Meles era—even in death he is the country’s most visible politician…” 

Touting him as the “Great leader” and “Chief architect of our country’s renaissance” who dared challenge the Abbay-“ “Abayen ye defere jegna”-when the new members of the parliament were sworn in, wearing the lapel pin with Meles Zenawi’s picture, in yet another eerie spectacle, they included him…his poster size picture, during the swearing in ceremony.

Much has been written about Kim Jong II and love of athletics. The Ethiopian athletics team took part in the 14th World Athletics Championships held in Moscow from 10 to 18 August 2013. This is what Ethiopian radio[5] reported upon their return:

“…On the occasion, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation dedicated the medals it collected at the 14th World Athletics Championships to the late great leader Meles Zenawi whom it said has contributed greatly to the development of athletics sports…”

It is not unusual to establish scholarships; funds etc. in memory of loved ones, , but not using public funds, or on the backs of the people. Adding insult to the injury of the Ethiopian people, the regime made the following announcement recently:

“…The Meles Foundation is established in a proclamation recently passed by the House of Representatives to serve as a memorial of the prime minister’s great contribution in socio -economic issues, climate change negotiations and for his efforts aimed at ensuring peace and security of the continent among other things…”

Seems the Proclamation is establishing a golden nest for the Premier’s family…

Unfortunately, as in North Korea, Meles’ legacy lives on, not in just the pictures, posters and statues, but in the entrenched leadership and its ethnic based policies. The Abugida site reported the following on 13 February 2013[6]:

“…Meles was so central to the Ethiopian state that his followers are trying to keep him alive with a Mao-style cult of personality. Even months after his death, Addis Ababa is still plastered with bereavement posters. They cover entire sides of buildings and run for hundreds of metres along fences. Banners declare “we will continue your work” and “we will never forget you”…”

Over a year after his death, Meles Zenawi still rules Ethiopia, through Hailemariam Desalegn, the new Ethiopian Prime Minister, who has repeatedly stated that he intends to remain true to Meles Zenawi’s domestic and international policies and to “keeping his vision alive”…

The western nations, with the NGOs and press in tow, continue to tout Meles Zenawi as an ideal African leader, and still refer to him as a “staunch  ally” and “darling of the West”-not because they don’t know about his crimes against the people of Ethiopia, his regime’s lawlessness and belligerence, but because elevating his stature helps cover up  failed policies in the region that he helped advance.
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[1] accessed 10/20/2013
[2] accessed 10/22/2013
[3] accessed 20 October 2013
[4] accessed 20 October 2013
[5] accessed 10/28/2013
[6] accessed 10/26/2013
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