By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
In mid 1994, when my father Samuel Ferenji, wrote and published a piece about the history of emperor Yohannes, the Honorable Mamo Wudneh responded by criticizing the historical accounts of my father. In his response, the Honorable Mamo Wudneh began by stating that it was considered unethical in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Information for one journalist to criticize the work of another journalist that he worked with; he indicated the pain sticking decision he made to publicly criticize my father’s article. The honorable Mamo Wudneh felt correcting the error made by a very dear friend to be far more important than risking disappointment with his friend. After reading the response that his honor Mamo Wudneh wrote, my father and I laughed about it. My father did not take the criticism personally and accepted the correction suggested by the Honorable Mamo Wudneh.
Today, I am contemplating the ethical aspect of what I am about to say publicly about a dear friend whom I respected a great deal until I read his current article on Aiga Forum. I am not concerned whether my friend is going to take this personally or not, whether he will be disappointed or not; rather, what I am concerned about and what I am contemplating about is whether the information I am about to divulge could be considered a “Kiss and Tell.” Although my intention is not to launch a personal attack, this piece cannot be written without attacking the person’s opportunist political stand. I have no personal issues with the individual; and I completely respect his right to switch his political allegiance. However, I detest his unprincipled political posturing, and his personal attack on opposition figures and human rights activists who stand for the truth and who are determined to expose the evil deeds of the regime in Ethiopia. It was extremely disappointing to read the most outrages and dishonest article from a person I greatly respected for so many years and defended fiercely as a person of integrity. At least now, I know, he has neither integrity nor loyalty to the basic human decency.
Reading Genenew Assefa’s piece titled “RANSAKING WIKILEAKS What you see is what you get!” posted on Aiga Forum, I was puzzled and outraged to understand what motivated Genenew to write such mean spirited and dishonest article. In fact, it was clear that Genenew used Weakileak as a pretext to debunk EPRDF’s ardent opponents and to undermine the struggle for social justice and democracy in Ethiopia. This coincides with the regime’s propaganda war directed at the Ethiopian Diaspora community and particularly those who have become the loud voices of the voiceless. I am certain that the regime cannot find a better “General” than Genenew Assefa in this particular war front.
Although I am aware that Genenew supported the EPRDF since the end of 1998, as far as I know, he never gave unconditional support to the regime until recently. I have known Genenew since the early 1990s, and often, we were able to see eye to eye as far as politics is concerned. I admired his principled political stand and his ability to see issues from different angles. In 1995, Genenew was the only Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces (COEDF) official who took the position that the opposition should participate in the 1995 Ethiopian election when the White House deeply involved to persuade the opposition to take part in the 1995 national election. His position was that it was an opportunity for political organizations in Diaspora to get in the country, use the 1995 election as a stepping stone, and start a grass root movement to build their constituency in the country and prepare for the 2000 election because the 1995 election was too late to galvanize support in the country. This was also the position I took and tried to promote in my radio program as a producer and host of Washington based “Hibret radio”.
Genenew’s position was not liked by COEDF’s executive committee and the majority members. In a daring attempt to get his point across, not only to various political organizations leaders and members, but also to the general public, Genenew wrote and published a booklet titled “Thinking Out Loud”. Genenew was criticized for the position he took and looked at with suspicion and doubt. I appreciated his honesty, vision, courage and foresight. Genenew’s relation with COEDF leadership and members was strained and almost he became an outcaste.
After the ethio-Eritrean war, when most opposition political organizations took a political position not to support the regime in Ethiopia unless the Ethiopian government gave some political concessions, Genenew took an opposing political stand defying COEDF and other opposition political organizations. I also took similar position and made it clear that the Ethiopian government should be supported for the sake of territorial integrity of Ethiopia until the Eritrean invading force was dislodged from Ethiopia’s territories. Sadly, organizations like COEDF attempted to exploit the situation for their own political gains and failed to grasp the public sentiment and the importance of galvanizing support to defeat a common enemy. This was the same type of mistake made by the EPRP during the ethio-Somalian war. Since the end of 1998, Genenew has joined his family members in the EPRDF and has become a stanch defender of the regime regardless of what the regime does.
When I was in Ethiopia, in 2007, I had the opportunity to spend lots of time with Genenew. Although I don’t have direct evidence, I do believe, he had protected me from harm when I published my controversial newspaper in Addis Ababa. During my time with Genenew, I have learned more about him and the kind of person I thought he was than during his time in the US. This is a man who gave his time and know-how without any compensation for serious of development projects in Addis Ababa. He was unpaid special advisor to the then Mayor Arkebe Equbaye. I have no doubt that Genenew loves his country and has no ill will towards his country that he loves and gave up so much for. However, it begs the question why in the world would Genenew work against the interest of his country and his people, and most of all how could he defend the indefensible? Is his rivalry with his former comrades and former friends worth sacrificing his conscious and integrity? Only Genenew could answer these questions. One thing I know for sure is Genenew is not in it for the money and materialistic things. I know that Genenew was frustrated with the failure of the opposition and the personal attack he encountered from various corners. The campaign against him was ferocious and unforgiving. But, is that a reason to sacrifice once country for personal revenge? I don’t know his motives; what I know however is, his recent articles are clear that Genenew has sold his soul to the devil. He was dishonest, hypocritical, and he sounded like a hired gun of the regime than a concerned citizen or an intellectual defending a political position with sound principles.
I lost all the respect I had for my dear friend when he engaged in a personal attack against Professor Al Mariam; and his relentless campaign to undermine the opposition’s and human rights activists’ effort to pressure the regime to change its dangerous political discourse. Genenew used to be the voice of the voiceless. Now, he has become part of an instrument to crash dissent inside and outside of the country. In his current article, his personal attacks against the opposition figures are similar to that of the regime’s hired guns whose intention is to silence critical Diaspora activists through character assassinations. Although I have never met Professor Al Mariam, I admire and appreciate his advocacy for human rights and political freedom in Ethiopia as so many Ethiopians admire and appreciate him. There is no comparison to the personal and professional accomplishment of Professor Al-Mariam with Genenew. Genenew accomplished nothing personally and professionally. May be it is because he was unable to get recognition from the opposition for what he considered “personal achievement” that drove him to the edge and decided to switch political allegiance. I know that Mr. Meles Zenawi revises and corrects some of Genenew’s writings before it is published. I have no proof that the current article was reviewed by Mr. Meles; however, it is clear that Mr. Meles is speaking louder in Genenew’s article. May be for Genenew getting the approval of one of the most detested dictator and a sorry excuse for a human being is an achievement. After all, there were intellectuals who were seeking the attention and the approval of Adolph Hitler.
Do not misunderstand me please, Genenew has every right to disagree with the political position that Professor Al-Mariam and others took; however, his attempt to “intimidate” and get in mudslinging character assassination against the regime vocal opponents shows the low point that he has reached in defending the indefensible. Genenew’s attack on Professor Al-Mariam was personal, vindictive, uncalled for and an act of a coward. This is a man who is more than capable of debating on issues without resorting to personal attack and character assassination. His current article is full of rhetoric and defies common sense. If anything, it is Genenew who is clueless. May be Genenew should explain to the family members whose children are gun down by the regime security forces in a broad day light, how lawful that is. May be he should look at in the eyes of Assefa Maru’s widow and his children that the brutal action the government of Meles Zenawi took against Mr. Assefa Maru was lawful. What standard is Genenew using when he said the EPRDF is operating with in the law? Of course, even Hitler’s defenders have said that Hitler operated within the law. The law that Hitler operated under and now Mr. Meles is operating do not adhere to the universally accepted basic principle of governing laws.
How do you justify the murder of an innocent 16 years old kid who was killed at point blank as he return from school which the clueless prime minister, openly and publicly without an iota of evidence, declared that they young boy was a bank robber. Does this sound operating within the law? Genenew could enlighten us how lawful it was for the EPRDF to detain him and others in 1993 without any trail accusing them “as terrorists.” May be Genenew could tell Eskender Nega’s child how lawful it was for him to be born in a prison cell. Knowing Genenew, he is may be taking a great pride for “a great article” he posted. What he may be is not realizing is that there are lives at stake here. This is not some kind of game where he could show his former friends how great he is in debunking them. Genenew’s article is an indicative of how low and desperate the tactics that regime that Genenew work for has become. It is a desperate attempt by Genenew and the regime to degrade and undermine the Diaspora opposition which Genenew was a part of in his recent past. It is noteworthy, to remind Genenew that the Diaspora activists that he is demonizing now, lobbied, and protested for his release when he was arrested by the regime when he and his comrades were falsely accused of conducting an armed struggle against the regime. I am sure he knows the lobbying and the protest made a significant contribution for his release. I am sad to say that my dear friend has exposed himself to who he really is, and became someone who bite the hand that fed him. I was naïve and gullible to think and believe that he was a man of principle, integrity and will never succumb to any pressure and resort to “below the belt” tactic to silence those who criticize the regime to what it really is- a blood sucking brutal regime. It is equally sad to see the man who was a voice to the voiceless at one period of his life become the defender of a brutal regime that silence its critics by imprisoning and murdering them. May be Genenew should do a little “Thinking Out Loud” and a lot of soul searching why a bright man like him decided to become one of the world most brutal despots stooges and work under the supervision of Shimles Kemal, a man who can’t even breath without the approval of his bosses.