[Dehai-WN] FW- Dr David Shinn and his peasant-based analysis

[Dehai-WN] FW- Dr David Shinn and his peasant-based analysis

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2011 21:04:24 +0100

Dr David Shinn and his peasant-based analysis

By Hewan Daniel, California | November 4, 2011



Video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_jeADdUk4Y



I watched a recent interview Abebe Gellaw held with Ambassador Dr. David
Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, on the Ethiopian Satellite
Television (ESAT). He is currently presented as a professor and Horn of
Africa analyst. I have found the interview very informative and insightful
especially in terms of understanding how the US, just like during the Cold
War, is still obsessed with narrow “national interest” at the expense
universal values of liberty and democracy, and of course when it comes to
weaker African countries like Ethiopia. While Dr. Shinn has made a few good
points, I will mainly focus on his weak perspectives that are not expected
from a man of his caliber.

On the positive side, Dr. Shinn tried to balance his views by making some
remarks that were critical of both the Meles regime and the opposition,
which he rightly described as divided and weak. At least he gently pointed
out that the regime has to open up the political space in Ethiopia and also
noted that the 2005 elections signify a return to 2000 years of centralized

As he is no longer in diplomatic service, Dr. Shinn obviously spoke as an
analyst. But as an ordinary person with ordinary concerns, I rate his
performance 3 out of 10. Let me explain why. When it comes to some “serious”
questions such as ethnic federalism, TPLF domination, democracy, Meles
Zenawi and jamming, Dr. Shinn failed to speak with honesty and candor. He
was visibly hesitant and nervous. One could see him trying to evade the
questions by saying “you have to ask 83 percent of Ethiopian peasants”
rather than answering them directly, either as a scholar or a diplomat.

He mentioned the US state department annual human rights report as a great
example of America’s “concern” on human rights. It is quite true that the US
publishes many reports annually. The annual US State Department human rights
report is surely as good as the reports of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty
International. But the most obvious difference in the reports is that the
State Department is a governmental entity while the latter two are NGOs.

As it is obvious, in the case of some countries, the US doggedly acts upon
the report and constantly condemns and tries to punish those who violate
human rights. Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, Cuba and North Korea are cases in
point. But in a few countries like Ethiopia where the US is courting the
so-called “friendly tyrants” like Meles Zenawi, US officials turn a blind
eye and make utmost effort not to offend their evil allies. The old and
proverbial unofficial adage of the us foreign policy that all tyrants are
indeed bastards but some are our bastards is surely has been at work when it
comes to dictators such as Meles Zenawi.Dr. Shinn is obviously aware of the
fact that the most serious trouble with America’s priorities in Ethiopia is
working with the TPLF regime to combat “terrorism”. But the hypocrisy is
that Ethiopians have been loudly protesting against being terrorized by
Zenawi and his army of oppression. As the records of the US Homeland
Security database reveals, TPLF is a certified terrorist organization using
state machineries to divide and conquer Ethiopians, violate their rights,
terrorize them into silence.

The US is well-informed, as one can indeed see in the annual human rights
report, on how the Meles Zenawi’s reign of terror has created a fertile
ground for future conflicts that could potentially engulf their region like
no other before.. If this so-called “national interest” discounts the
suffering of an entire nation in pursuit of a few anti-American Somali
Islamic extremists, then US national interest is irrational because people
being trampled upon hate to see Americans helping terrorists like Meles
Zenawi, who has been mistreating, abusing and oppressing the people of
Ethiopia. I am sure this is quite obvious to Dr. Shinn as he used to have
access to classified and confidential information on Ethiopia. One can see
the Wikileaks cable to assess how much American diplomats know about
Ethiopia and its complex problems under the tyranny of Meles Zenawi.

When Ambassador Shinn was asked to comment on Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism
he hastened to note that “this is obviously something Ethiopians have to
decide for themselves.” Frankly speaking, the question was clearly how he
analyzes the issue as a scholar, or rather a Horn of Africa analyst, not who
and when should make a decision on ethnic federalism. But Dr. Shinn took his
evasive tactic to a higher level. He said: “I am a little bit reluctant to
try to tell Ethiopians what is best for them because I am not sure it is my
right to be doing that.”

As an analysis with experience and expertise in diplomacy, politics and
international relations, as well as Ethiopia, he could have simply analyzed
the pros and cons of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism, a divide-and-rule design
that will have far-reaching consequences. To make matters worse, his
analysis was off track again when he linked the issue with the Ethiopian
Diaspora versus illiterate or under-educated peasants in Ethiopia.

Here is what he said verbatim:

“I appreciate that the vast majority in the Ethiopian Diaspora, at least in
the United States, are opposed to ethnic federalism. It is rare I run into
someone in the Diaspora who speaks in favor of it. On the other hand, what
is more important is in what the Diaspora thinks is what do [sic] Ethiopians
in Ethiopia think. I am not sure I know enough about that, particularly when
I think about the 83 percent of the population that are peasant farmers. How
often do they think about ethnic federalism? How often is it on their minds?
Somehow I just suspect that it is not very high on their priority list.
Their priority is shelter and food. If they have that taken care of the
general philosophy of government is not just a real big deal for them. It
may be a significant matter for the elites particularly in the urban areas
of Ethiopia. But again I am not even sure I know from this point so many
miles away from Ethiopia what the thinking is inside the cities of Ethiopia
on ethnic federalism…,”

One may wonder how Dr. Shinn did his survey to reach to such a conclusion
that 83 percent of Ethiopians never care about governance issues, justice,
human rights or democracy. Because Dr. Shinn answered the simple question in
a very dishonest manner, I can only give 0 out of 10 for this particular

If the same question was posed to the average peasant farmers in Ethiopia,
who are supposed not to care about issues of governance or ethnic federalism
as long as the belly is full, they could surely analyze the issue in much
wiser, insightful and educated way than the patronizing analyst, who exposed
not his ignorance but his intellectual dishonesty and duplicity.

Then came another simple question which was basically about what Dr. Shinn
thinks about the domination of the TPLF in Ethiopia. First, he narrowed the
issue only to domination in the security apparatus. He said: “In terms of
dominance I think what you said as far as the security apparatus is true
concern. There is clearly a disproportionate component that comes from one
ethnic group. On the other hand and in all fairness, if you look at members
of the EPRDF cabinet, if you look at parliament you see pretty good
distribution of ethnic groups in the country….” Really!

As a former ambassador to Ethiopia, Dr. Shinn should have understood by now
the so-called representatives of ethnic groups do not have constituencies
except obeying their TPLF bosses. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidida has
written a book about what he felt to be president representing Oromos. He
never talked about real representation. His book is full of apologies and
regrets that he was used by the TPLF, like all non-TPLF “presidents”,
ministers or diplomats, as a puppet. Even the peasants in Ethiopia know that
Meles Zenawi’s TPLF is only interested in puppets that it controls to
control the people of Ethiopia. Dr. Shinn’s claim of fair “distribution” of
power in the cabinet and parliament is obviously insincere. I have no doubt
that he knows better, pretended not to for whatever reason.

As a follow up, Abebe Gellaw raised a question on whether he sees Meles
Zenawi as a national leader in the face of his divide-and-rule. A few
seconds were counted and it seemed as though he did not want to answer the
question. Again his answer was very poor. He said: “I see him trying to be a
national leader.” That is fair enough. Then he fell back to his
peasant-based analysis: “Whether he has escaped the perception of being
leader of a particular ethnic group or not again it is hard for me to

“You have to ask those 83 percent of the population of peasant farmers,
among others. No one has ever done that….” Imagine a journalist going around
the homes of millions of peasants. In fact, nobody will ever do that in any
country, but Dr. Shinn was trying to use it again as an escape route from
the main question.

Here again he raises his favorite group, the Diaspora, to make his points
more plausible. “I would give him a credit at least of trying to be a
national leader. Again within the Ethiopian Diaspora I suspect he is not
seen that way. Probably very few would see him as a national leader. But the
Diaspora have to put themselves in the shoes of the people inside Ethiopia
and not just the elite in the urban areas. If they do that they might come
up with a different point of view…” He even advised the Diaspora to
“replant” themselves in Ethiopia to have a better perspective. What?

Again he was asked to tell us his point of view but was talking about the
perception of Ethiopian peasants vis--vis the Diaspora in America, people
displaced from Ethiopia who live in freedom. One can easily note that Dr.
Shinn was just raising points that were irrelevant for his analysis.

Then came a question on whether Ethiopia has a hope to transition to a
democratic order under the Meles regime. The answer: “It depends whose
definition of democratic order you are talking about. If you accept the
EPRDF’s definition of democratic order then I t hink the answer to the
question is yes. If you are looking at the more traditional Western liberal
democracy form of democracy, you have to raise some serious questions…”

Unless TPLF’s ethnically-based tyranny has an acceptable definition of
democracy, Meles Zenawi one-man government is anti-thesis to the very
concept of democracy. TPLF cannot offer an alternative definition to
democracy no matter how Meles talks about democracy at every opportunity. On
the one hand, Dr. Shinn said that the 2005 elections signify a reversion to
2000 years of central control, on the other hand he pretends to know that
EPRDF has an alternative definition of democracy. I am not sure whether Dr.
Shinn really believes that TPLF has an alternative definition of democracy,
Another interesting point was that Dr. Shinn said that democracy “will not
bloom like a flower overnight” after he told us that there was reversion to
2000 years of central control. When Abebe Gellaw asked if 20 years was not
enough, the analyst asks: “Are you talking about Western liberal democracy?”
May be not!

One last point, asked what his take was on the jamming of the Voice of
America, Deutsche Welle and ESAT, Dr. Shinn emphasized on one important
point. “I think it is important to clarify that the jamming in terms of VOA
is confined to the Amharic service. It isn’t the English service, the Oromo
service or the Tigrian Service.” But this beggars the question why this is
an important point. Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia. It is not
just spoken by Amharas but the majority of Ethiopians. Nonetheless, it
appeared important to point out that the Tigrigna or the Oromigna service
has not been jammed. This may only reveal the fact that the two services
hardly raise issues that are critically important to the people of Ethiopia
including governance, human rights abuses, democratization and corruption.

All in all, Dr. Shinn’s ESAT performance was below satisfactory. He lost a
good opportunity to answer all the critical questions posed to him with
candor, honesty and intelligence. This distinguished diplomat and scholar
was only tiptoeing in the middle of America so as to avoid offending an
African tyrant. One thing is clear, i.e., Dr. Shinn’s peasant-based analysis
was borrowed from Meles Zenawi himself, who has already moved to the
“developmental state” mumbo jumbo to give his criminal tyranny a theoretical

I can’t speak for others, but as far as I am concerned Dr. Shinn’s
peasant-based analysis on such critically important issues was a failure. I
thank ESAT wholeheartedly for bringing this fact to light.

The writer can be reached at hewandan_at_gmail.com 
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Received on Fri Nov 04 2011 - 16:04:46 EDT
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