Emperor Meles’ New Clothes
Some images are etched in our minds—whether we experienced them first hand or because they are part of a collective memory—Abebe Bekila dashing barefoot to victory through old Rome. Richard Nixon, as he was boarding the plane, turning to face America and giving the country that infamous farewell…wave; Rosa Parks’ mug shot when she was arrested for refusing to bow to America’s Apartheid policy towards people of African descent.
Now to be added to these iconic images is the picture of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia that appeared in the January 21, 2010 issue of the Economist.
Dare we say, Dapper Don? Accoutered for taking on the world, he donned a classic European cap, a smart scarf, peeking underneath is an Armani suit perhaps, topped off with fashionable Palinesque glasses and without a doubt a mobile.
Who dresses, Monsieur is the question du jour. Ethiopians have always been enamored with all things French from Lycee to our French-speaking emperor. Naturally we assumed a French designer was to blame. But wait…we didn’t think that Prime Minister was well versed in the language of love. We then ventured the Italians might be the culprits—having spent a significant amount of time in the jungles of Eritrea, perhaps he had fallen in love with those troublesome invaders. We put the call out to our favorite couturiers to see if anyone will lay claim to this look.
Was it extraordinary confidence that we see bubbling over his scarf? Hermès, Monsieur? Is it a semblance of cowardice? What lay behind those—Prada?—glasses is more mayhem and murder. Try as he might, not even Chanel has invented a cologne strong enough to mask the repugnant nature of his government’s crimes.
We dissect the Prime Minister’s clothing because it is obviously his stunning fashion sense that has charmed the pants off the West. You know what they say: Good clothes open doors! And boy have they for our young boy from Adwa! Who would have imagined that a fine pair of trousers would mean entrée into an exclusive club where the United States and its allies shower you with billions that you in turn use to slaughter your people! Yay for fashion! Of course the Mitmita Girls would never dream of using our Givenchy mascara and stilettos in such a vile manner. And so we are forced to ask, has dictatorship ever looked this damn good? We scoured the historical annals in search of portraits of Pinochet and Stalin, from whom Meles proudly inherits the mantle of repression. No, we assure you, while his predecessors were fascinated with military getups, no one even comes close to achieving that cold calculating look that is Meles’ signature.
Yet we couldn’t help wondering why we are giving the Prime Minister enough credit to get designer duds? Since his governing style is purely counterfeit, it is befitting that his outfits should also be knockoffs! Enter China! In addition to importing Chinese prisoners to build roads and Chinese technology to censor the Internet, his apparatchiks must have also assigned the illustrious job of clothing the leader of our fabled land to those from the Far East. Our poor shmanayWouch! What a discount he must get from China!
As if the threads weren’t impressive enough, it’s the mobile telephone that had us teetering on our four-inch heels. Is that a Blackberry, a Treo, an Iphone, we see pressed against your ear, Prime Minister? We suppose where he lives, he gets better service. Whenever we try our luck with the phones, some Girl 6 sounding operator comes on and says in her most seductive voice: “YedeweLoot silk teyezwal. Ehbakoat Coyetoe YemoeKeroot.” Basically: better luck next time, suckers!
Can you hear us now, Prime Minister?
Curious isn’t it to see our Meles parading around town and abroad with a cell phone when his government has crippled Ethiopian telephonic communications. No adequate and reliable communication lines; yet we are asked to swallow a lie like the commodity exchange. Chinese technology is used to block any websites the government finds objectionable but we have no medical technology to control the outbreak of cholera. You “own” your land only until eminent domain intervenes. This of course means some government honcho just wanted to build a condo for his mistress on your inopportunely placed property. You better be glad that all they took from you is your land—fair market value is hardly a worry when along with your confiscated land, you could be mourning your confiscated freedom.
The machinations of Meles aside, we love our country. As the azmari would sing: Sedet godolonew; WholgeZem aymolah. But for the children of Ethiopia it is either prison a la Birtukan Mideska or exile.
And speaking of our comrades in exile, while the rest of us were taking apart Meles’ closet, the world was enraged over the United States Supreme Court’s most recent decision regarding corporations. What is this! Corporations can influence US elections! How insane! How perverse! Ah! If only Ethiopians had the luxury of such outrage. We are still trying to get the roadmap together to find our way out of electoral buffoonery and into some semblances of freedom.
The Mitmita Girls giggled at everyone’s reaction! Must we be everyone’s financiers, lawyers, freedom fighters AND educators? For the uninitiated, allow us to inform you that corporations have long had greater rights than human beings. (Never mind that lawyers and other scholars have maintained that neither the US Constitution nor any court decision has explicitly provided companies with “corporate personhood.” Even more amazing is that the amendment which corporations have relied on to amass greater rights than the rest of us is the Fourteenth Amendment—the law passed to provide full United States citizenship rights to former enslaved Africans! Oh the irony!)
Allow us to enumerate but a few examples of corporate expansion of power over the years: Governments have been toppled for corporate dominance (See Confessions of an Economic Hitman for an eye opening account of what corporations do in the “developing world”); Wars have been fought and continue to this day for the benefit of corporations (See Bechtel, Halliburton, Blackwater and their profit margins after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan); The pursuit of the mighty dollar has also led corporation and their representatives—lawyers and bankers—to build countries (See How Wall Street Created A Nation recounting how Wall Street banks and law firms, working to finance the Panama Canal, fomented revolution in Columbia to cause the secession of a province which became the present day nation of Panama); and as ET Recycler reminded us last week, corporations conspire with governments to murder in the name of profit (See history of United Fruit Company).
And here you thought we only read Italian Vogue!
So this latest iteration of corporate domination—that companies now have unfettered ability to contribute to political campaigns—bored us to tears. What we do find worthy of discussion is that in the West and on our beloved African continent, corporate interests reign supreme. To be sure under Meles’ junta, corporate/governmental interests have always had greater rights than the denizens of Ethiopia. Granted the corporate structure in our country is under the larger umbrella of Meles & Co., thus whatever line that would be drawn, in a true democracy, between private companies and the government is nonexistent. Even in the West, despite the illusion of diversity, a minority of companies and individuals control the largest amount of wealth.
Perhaps American outrage has us flummoxed because Ethiopians are used to wealthier interests dominating our politics. Meles even attempted to import that thinking to the States. When he isn’t busy being a fashion plate, Meles has worked overtime to influence US policy towards Ethiopia. Hiring the firm DLA Piper and schmoozing that snake charmer Dick Armey to sink the Diaspora’s legislative efforts were the least of his efforts. We wouldn’t be surprised if Meles & Co. had filed amicus curiae “friend of the court” briefs urging the US Supreme Court to allow them to control American elections!