Ethiopia: Africa's North Korea

Ethiopia: Africa's North Korea

When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passed away in mid-December, the only African head of state to send his condolences was Ethiopia's dictator Meles Zenawi. With such a rare head of state public affection for the late 'dear leader', Ethiopians and a few western journalist alike, started to get a real inkling of how deep the alliance had grown with North Korea's military junta and Ethiopia's belligerent despot.

Over the years, North Korea has started to view Ethiopia as a close ally and have been regularly engaged in training, arming and sharing military intelligence with Addis Ababa. In complete violation of UNSC resolution 1718 (2006),North Korea has opened an advanced military munitions factory in Ambo, Ethiopia. According to a 2009 Wikileaks cable written by the former US ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto, the Ambo plant produces rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), BM-21 (truck mounted rocket launchers), and modified AK 47 rifle.

During Ethiopia's disastrous invasion and occupation of Somalia, junior US diplomats working with Zenawi had illegally allowed his regime to acquire North Korean battle tanks and hardware, despite months before, senior US officials successfully applying stiff arms embargo sanctions against North Korea. Much to his disbelief and surprise, John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN under the Bush administration, stated to the New York Times, "To make it clear to everyone how strongly we feel on this issue we should have gone to the Ethiopians and said they should send it back." He went on to add, "Never underestimate the strength of 'clientitis' at the State Department," which is political jargan for junior US diplomats stationed in Ethiopia going "native" for Ethiopia's despot.

Aside from being staunch allies, North Korea and Ethiopia are ruled with the same oppressive and strict centralized government. In Ethiopia, Zenawi is the constitution, legislative, judicial, and executive branch. In essence, he is the state and the state is him. Although much propaganda is invested on sham elections every 5 years, there's no question Zenawi has a tight grip on all the political, economic, social and military developments within Ethiopia. With over 250,000 Ethiopian refugees fleeing annually (the highest figure in Africa), young Ethiopians often state the only democracy in Ethiopia is by voting with your feet and fleeing the country.

Just like the hermit kingdom, Ethiopia depends heavily on foriegn 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.

Throughout their reign of terror, both Kim Jong-il and Meles Zenawi have tried to restrict the media and free speech. With North Korean and Chinese assistance, Ethiopia regularly jams satellite TV coverages that state anything remotely independent from their propaganda. Just about all websites that don't follow in Zenawi's doctrine are blocked and can't be accessed within Ethiopia. If one is caught viewing such websites, a stiff prison sentence will be handed down, along with regular beatings, torture and rape. For the simple reason of preventing Ethiopians from accessing independent information, the regime has deliberately hindered the growth of Ethiopia's telecommunications services. In fact, Ethiopia's internet penetration rate of 0.4% is the second lowest in the world, with only North Korea having a more depressing figure. Moreover, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more Ethiopian reporters have fled into exile than any country in Africa. Recently, Zenawi has even been brazen enough to charge and sentence two Swedish journalist to 11 years in a Kangaroo court on trumped-up terrorism charges. The reporters were apprehended and detained for attempting to report about the horrors the regime has conducted in the world's largest open-air prison of the Ogaden.

Holding on to power through terror

Both North Korea's military junta and Ethiopia's one-man-regime consolidate their power through intimidation, oppression, torture and murder. Even the late Kim Jong-il isn't accused of some of the henious crimes Zenawi has conducted over the years. For example, on December 13, 2003, more than 400 Ethiopian civilians of the Anuak ethnic group were massacred by the Ethiopian Defense Forces and caused over 10,000 Anuak refugees to flee for the Sudan. Additionally, in the 2005 sham elections, 193 Ethiopian civilians were shot and killed, with an additional 763 wounded and 30-50,000 citizens were apprehended and detained, after Ethiopians came out to demonstrate election fraud.

Meles Zenawi's Ogaden Genocide

But above all, the most concerning and shocking aspects of Zenawi's oppression and one that separates his heinous crimes from even the late Kim Jong-il, is the genocide he's conducting in Ethiopia's eastern region of the country. In 2007, over 50,000 Ethiopian troops were sent into the Ogaden to battle the ONLF, which has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Ogaden civilians. Using a scorched Earth campaign, Zenawi's forces have committed mass extrajudicial killings, torture, gang rapes of women, children and men, and using food aid as a political tool. The premier has even blocked all access to NGOs, independent observers, and reporters from accessing the Ogaden. Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, has described Zenawi's Ogaden atrocities as the world's largest ongoing genocide, and has accused Zenawi of carrying out deliberate and systematic genocide against Ethiopian civilians of the Ogaden. Yet even with such shocking revelations, hardly any international action has yet to been taken against Zenawi's deplorable human rights abuses.

Dictator Meles Zenawi has allied himself with North Korea

Former New York Times Reporter Doug McGill and Ethiopian immigrant Magn Nyang, PhD, speak about Meles Zenawi's crimes.