FROM ADDIS WITH BLUDGEONS…(by Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: August 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

As we advance the cause of effective regional integration and development in Africa, one salient point that we cannot continue to ignore is the symbolism of the location of regional headquarters. Such symbolism speaks to a number of issues, most importantly, the vision and purpose of the agenda. Beyond the glitzy venues and well-choreographed atmosphere, it is also necessary to establish how such location reinforces the standards and aspirations of the organisation. The inability to draw a positive nexus is not only worrying but essentially defeats and weakens the foundation of the agenda.

It is against this background that one is often critical of the Ethiopian government. Such criticism is not based on any hatred for the country but mainly because the regime negates all the ideas of freedom and justice the African Union supposedly uphold. Beyond the chorus of “Ethiopia is rising, Africa is rising”, it is essential that we begin to understand how repressive the Ethiopian government is. Both real and imagined opposition are brutally suppressed by a government that continues to force the theory of “development is better than democracy” down our throats.

Since many of the African leaders that attend the jamboree summit of the AU are equally guilty of suppressing, and in some cases shamelessly slaughter their citizens, there is no wonder as to why there has been little or no criticism of the regime in Addis Ababa. I have often described these summits and meetings as organised hypocrisy, a platform for fine-tuning sound and fury.

The regime in Ethiopia is fully aware that only a handful of African countries can really confront it and register displeasure by protesting and/or boycotting AU summits and meetings in Addis. The regime understands the psychology of African brotherhood, which has always informed the “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to atrocities committed by fellow African states. The regime has mastered the knowledge that the AU, like its predecessor, the OAU, is a trade union of autocrats, where the interests of tyrants trump that of citizens.

The regime further knows that the weak articulation and implementation of democratic values allows it to flaunt the signs of “development” in Addis as the symbol of the warped theory of “democracy hinders real economic progress”. In addition, the regime flourishes in the bubble of praises and gyrations by intellectuals that fall over each other to rationalise its bad behaviour (The same unfortunate rationalisation is often extended to Paul Kagame).

While our leaders gather in the Chinese built and donated AU secretariat to talk, talk and talk about democratic norms, their host continues to refine and perfect state machinery of suppression. The reality, albeit a sad one, is that Addis Ababa remain the political and administrative headquarters of the continent, and the symbol of what it intends to achieve through unity. This reality is the primary reason why we must not relent on calling out and exposing the misdemeanours of the regime. How do we expect to achieve true freedom and justice when the seat of “power” remains the bastion of suppression? We need to send the right message to the masses of our people. It should be the message that highlights the compatibility of freedom and development. Without diminishing the contextual nature of development, which should rightly inform the rejection of a “one size fits all” discourse, the imperative of freedom must also not be ignored. Our post-colonial history is littered with the nonsensical obsession with the erasure of freedom on the alter of phantom development, yet we fail to learn lessons.

As for The Gambia, which unfortunately hosts the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights, it is a story for another day.

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