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Apr-29-2012 13:44printcomments

The Specter of Death on Those Who Brought Same on Free Expression

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
-George Washington

Mr. Bingu WA Mutharika
The late Mr. Bingu WA Mutharika Courtesy: Wikipedia

(UGANDA) - It seems the sudden demise of Mr. Bingu WA Mutharika, president of Malawi who died recently, brought a specter of death on a number of our “venerable” African strongmen. Some of these specters are real and hanging over the head of some of our despots who perpetuated the continent’s, particularly, Horn of Africa’s, notoriety for brooking no space for free expression.

As the right to freedom of expression is the cornerstone of all human and civil rights; and also World Press Freedom Day is around the corner, I collate the reign of these strongmen to whom death has become a concern with their treatment of those who promote and advocate free expression. Following Mutharika’s departure to eternity, if one of them currently rumored to be on the verge of death or are already said to be dead is confirmed, then the veracity of the Ethiopian saying “a dying man will drag one to his death.”

President Girma Woldegiorgis

Speaking of Ethiopian saying brings us to the strong rumor of a high level Ethiopian public figure’s death. Despite, the “high level” attributed to this octogenarian by the one who really wields power to the extent of using his ceremonial position in the fictional constitution that lends Ethiopia the appearance of having presidential term limits, Mr. Girma Woldegiorgis, the elderly president, is no strongman. The worst crime that earned him despise by most Ethiopians is his mastery of survival. Girma was a member of parliament during Emperor Haileselassie while he became a small time power broker during the reign of Col. Mengistu.

Mels Zamawi - Prime Minister of Ethiopia

And, now he offered himself as president jester to Meles Zenawi. Whatever the case, the man whom many had written off long ago due to his advanced age, not to speak of his corpulent and doddering stature, was said to have died eventually in a Saudi hospital. Though, it’s been quite a while since he appeared in public, the regime denied his death.

President Yoweri Museveni

That’s Ethiopia where there’s a semblance of term limits on a bogus president. Interestingly, this forces me to equate the current bid to re-introduce term limits in my host country Uganda. It was scrapped in 2005 thereby subtly turning President Yoweri Museveni as a life time ruler, unlike his predecessor, Idi Amin, who dreamt about it crudely. In this nascent stage to reintroduce term limits, a question of succession also cropped up.

Thus, the president alongside his spokesman Mr. Ofwono Opondo acknowledged the fact that Museveni is mortal like any of us poor souls for which reason they reasoned have positioned Mr. Edward Ssekandi to stand by. Had I been a Ugandan, I would have said that Mr. Ssekandi himself looks more eligible for a privileged retirement rather than the burden of a public office in a nation with astronomical problems. The point here, Mr. Mutharika’s death apparently has jolted the strongman in the Great Lakes Region too who seemed to have assumed immortality.

Eritrea's Isaias Afewerki

Back to the Horn of Africa where a juicy rumor of the death of another strongman went viral eventually filtering its way to the mainstream media. Although, it may not be anything like Fidel Castro of Cuba or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, I believe the Western powers, especially, the United States want to see this strongman of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki, go away from the scene of Horn of Africa. It’s not only the Western powers who want to see his departure by any means. Nor are they the first. Since Isaias Afeworki’s original nemesis is Ethiopia whose enmity he provoked himself, nearly two decades ago speculation about his death broke out and spread like a bushfire in Addis.

Cerebral malaria was attributed to his death wherefore one cartoon in an independent newspaper portrayed mosquito as “a gallant fighter against a secessionist.”

Ironically, since Meles Zenawi’s Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) was still in bed with Afeworki’s Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF), the speculation was dismissed by Zenawi’s propaganda machinery on behalf of Asmara. Today is another day whereby I first learned about Afeworki’s “second” demise from Zenawi’s apparatchiks swarming Kampala to monitor busy bodies like me, just in case.

Memento mori, irrespective of your identity or status

The Latin says it all. Death is inevitable to everyone. Science has neither conquered death nor shown the desire to do so. Therefore, if Afeworki hasn’t died yesterday, he will die tomorrow including his counterparts mentioned here. One thing seems to be certain about Afeworki; and that’s he’s critically or terminally ill.

Fortunately, life seems to have given him another leeway without necessarily extending his longevity.

Rather, a chance is here for him to atone for some of his terrible deeds during his life as a “liberator” and president. According to a picture posted on titled “Isaias Afeworki; The end of an era?” he didn’t appear as having descended into a helpless vegetative being. In fact, he seemed far from death. But if he is, would he at least tell us what he did or where he has jailed journalists like Dawit Isaak? If what Ethiomedia published is anything to go by about Afeworki having relented on his former lieutenants whom he incarcerated when they demanded reform, couldn’t he have done the same to journalists like Isaak?

Or if he is asked about matters such as this, would he simply behave like a warrior called Narvaez from ancient history? When Narvaez was asked on his deathbed by the Father Confessor, “General, have you forgiven your enemies?” The General answered; “I have no enemies. I had shot them all.”

Some mistakenly attribute Narvaez’s last minute utterance to Stalin due to the 1956 writings of Bertrand D.Wolfe titled “Stalin’s Ghost at the Party Congress.”

One redeeming feature I find about Afeworki like Col. Mengistu whom he fought for seventeen years is that he never pretended with democracy for long.

Although, this doesn’t add any value to the struggle for rule of law and universal human rights; at least it gives clear perspective where one stands under such a system.

There won’t be any room for illusion created by one of the worst violator of human rights such as Meles Zenawi.

On top of ingratiating himself as an ally on the war on terror, the way this despot has brought institutions under his heels using highly qualified lawyers who even graduated from prestigious universities like McGill, Yale etc as drafters of draconian legislations and Hanging Judges of Kangaroo courts reminds one of the Hitler era who managed to enlist almost all the big “brains” for Nazism. As Hitler proclaimed himself as the supreme judge (Oberster Gerichtsherr), Zenawi also forces us to deal with his legacy of those sycophants who take blind orders while serving under institutions meant to be ruled by higher principles of independence.

The others like in Uganda who appear to accord some space for free expression continue to use subtle methods to curb it. As Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa consultant put it aptly a couple of months ago on how Ugandan police are engaged in a cynical cycle of beating journalists and then apologizing, only to repeat the same unacceptable behavior, the situation has culminated to impunity.

Since those who roughed up the opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye under the full glare of cameras, had never been brought to justice, impunity has become the order of the day. Thus, Ugandan police had taken to shooting live bullets to journalists as well as sexually assaulting women activists in broad day light.

In a nutshell, when I think of the death or possible death of the man who killed free expression in Eritrea in one stroke, I also think of, with great trepidation, about his counterparts who is doing the same thing subtly but surely under the guise of democracy. Last but not least, as a decent human being who value life with a freedom to think and express, I leave you with the following insightful remarks.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” -
John Donne

Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt.” -
Bergen Evans

An Ethiopian Human Rights Defender exiled in Uganda

Kiflu Hussain is an attorney based in Uganda. He says his passion for writing came from reading, and that it’s inevitable that the more one reads, the more one develops the urge to write. Kiflu has published articles in Ethiopia on the English Reporter, then a weekly newspaper along with a few Amharic articles on the defunct Addis Zena. It was after he and his family found refuge in Uganda, that he began contributing writings to the local papers and various websites such as Daily Monitor, Uganda Record, The New Vision, Ethioquestnews, Garowe Online, WardheerNews etc.

The reason for this is clear. Ethiopia, despite being a seat of the African Union had never produced a regime that allows even the minimum space for dialogue that other people in Africa enjoy so naturally. So Kiflu's ending up as a refugee in Uganda is a blessing in disguise for it accorded him with the opportunity to write. He says at the same time he learned, unfortunately, that his refugee status would be what showed how deep the hypocrisy of the “international community” goes. We at are honored to carry this gentleman's work and we hope that in the process, western people may come to appreciate the struggle of refugees throughout the world.

You can write to Kiflu at this address: E-mail;

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