By Alem Mamo
March 29, 2014
Over the last two-decades the people of Ethiopia under the TPLF/EPRDF rule have endured the reign of terror, fear, and propaganda horrifyingly reminiscent of the notorious Ministry of State Security known as the Stasi. in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).1 It is within recent memory that the Stasi security and surveillance campaign kept citizens of East Germany under a constant reign of fear and terror until the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Totalitarian control of citizens throughout history has left a tragic mark in the collective psyche of humanity. The Stasi, Gestapo, KGB, Benito Mussolini’s OVRA, and many others, all of these brutal institutions committed heinous act of terror against innocent citizens.
The uncomfortable truth is that we are not even talking in past tense term about the horror and repression of citizens in our world. In fact, such organized and government-led criminal and terrorist enterprises continue to function in the 21st century world. Among several of such regimes in the world today, one in particular stands out on the spectrum of totalitarian index. With its full-fledged infrastructure of security and surveillance machinery, the TPLF/EPRDF-led regime in Ethiopia has time and again demonstrated that its league is not with those who envision freedom and justice but with those who rule by fear and terror.
The recent Human Right Watch report entitled: “They Know Everything We Do” – Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia is a testament and live autopsy into the soul of the lawless regime in Addis Ababa. The title of the report “They Know What We Do” speaks volumes to the extent and the depth of the regime’s reach into the daily lives of the general population. Millions of Ethiopians, who continue to suffer under this regime, are grateful to HRW in compiling such a comprehensive report and exposing the true nature and identity of the TPLF/EPRDF regime. However, it is worth noting that there is nothing new or revealing that the people of Ethiopia didn’t already know. For far too long, citizens in Ethiopia used all available outlets to share with the rest of the world their long suffering under the regime and its institutions of state terror and violence. By in large their pleas and cries for help have fallen on deaf ears, while the regime continues its repression and torture of innocent citizens.
The Stasi-zation of Ethiopia under TPLF/ EPRDF is ironically a continuation of Mengistu Hailemariam’s military rule, which received considerable technical and logistical support from GDR’s Stasi to enhance its security and surveillance structure. This included the training of professional “interrogators,” i.e. torturers and “field workers”, who kept constant watch on citizens. The difference this time is that the regime in Addis Ababa is heavily relying on the expertise and support of Western and Chinese companies for tools and know-how on telephone and Internet spying.
“Ethiopia’s government is deploying cutting-edge cyber and phone surveillance technologies from China and other nations to conduct widespread spying aimed at suppressing political dissent, according to a new report. Using modern technology from Chinese telecom giant ZTE, Ethiopia’s state telecom company has spent the last five years meshing that gear with additional spy software from European suppliers to create government surveillance tools spanning social media, phone, and Internet communications,” reported theChristian Science Monitor. quoting the Human Right Watch report.
Typical of totalitarian regimes, the TPLF/EPRDF regime saturated cities, towns, and neighborhoods with spies and informants the same way Stasis and other totalitarian regimes have done. Furthermore, the regime’s control over the economy, such as through telecommunications networks, made it far easier to spy on citizens. The political, economic, and all major structures in Ethiopia are fully under the grip of a few select members of TPLF minority.
In today’s Ethiopia, let alone freedom of expression or assembly, citizens are thrown into jail for what they might be thinking or simply for having a particular name or for belonging to a particular ethnic group. And yet, western countries who claim to uphold the fundamental values of freedom and justice continue to lend support knowing too well the moral and material support they provide is being used to terrorize citizens of Ethiopia. During my recent visit to Ethiopia and elderly man told me “We understand Chinese support to this regime because the Chinese don’t claim to uphold the values of democracy and freedom. What we don’t understand is why western nations continue to betray the Ethiopian people by continuing their support to the most brutal regime in this country’s history.”
After two successive totalitarian regimes, starting in 1974 with the military junta and then with the baton of repression and surveillance picked up by TPLF/EPRDF in 1991, the people of Ethiopia still continue to struggle toward their long-awaited freedom. The difference between the military regime and TPLF/EPRDF are cosmetic, not substantial. The notorious Makelawi prison and all prison dungeons used by the military regime are still used by this regime. In fact, the number of prisons in Ethiopia has considerably increased under this regime. Obviously, the military regime garnered support from USSR and Eastern Block to advance its repression and state violence. On the other hand, TPLF/EPRDF won the support of China and western powers who claim to stand for democracy and freedom. The support of the western nations to the TPLF/EPRDF regime has baffled the Ethiopian people, confirming their suspension about the hypocrisy and moral inconsistency of the western powers.
Ultimately, the Ethiopian people will win their freedom as East German’s people freed themselves from the clutches of Stasi terror. In the end, the structures of violence will be dismantled and the structures of political and economic justice will be built. The question is not if, but when because freedom and justice has the last word. As history tells us, totalitarian regimes that demand their legitimacy by constituting security surveillance network to keep an eye on the public are brought down by the same public they thought they had a total control over. Fear has a shelf life because the people’ yearning for freedom and justice overrides the wall of fear. We have witnessed in East Germany citizens breaking down the physical and psychological barrier to claim their freedom. More recently, people of the Arab world rose up to dismantle structures of oppression. This is indeed a testament to the unflinching desire to be free, which is more powerful than the structures of the security and surveillance state.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com