Ethiopian Democracy Lesson
Earlier this week the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi addressed a public lecture on “leadership” at Columbia. Meles is in town for the UN’s talk fest slash summit on the Millennium Development Goals this week.
Meles has been in power since 1991, wins elections with 99% of the vote, fills his jails with opposition activists, his police harass the country’s media, and the army oppress Ethiopia’s ethnic minorities. Zenawi is, of course, also a key ally of the United States in its war on terror.
Some friends joked Meles would give a lecture on how to be a dictator.
As opposition to the visit grew, the title of the speech was later conveniently changed to “The Current Global Environment and its Impact in Africa.”
Except for a few blogs–here and here for example and the campus newspaper–as well as aggregator sites, Zenawi and his hosts (Columbia President Lee Bollinger and professors, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz) may have hoped no one would notice. Not many people know who Meles is or where Ethiopia is or can tell you what is going on there. The local news does not help. They’re doing stories on weight loss products. The national news is obsessed with Christine O’Donnell.
Except of course the large Ethiopian diaspora along the east coast as well as it energetic blogosphere, especially the news and opinion site, Ethiopian Review.
So as part of a assignment for a class I teach at the New School, I ask my students to head up to the Upper West Side Wednesday afternoon, see what happens, film proceedings, interview protesters (turns out there were also a pro-Meles protesters) and blog about it. What did they find? You can watch their efforts here and here (by this morning the latter video already had +4,500 views on Youtube).