“Letter from an Ethiopian Jail”

I’ve written in the past about the sad saga of Eskinder Nega, the Ethiopian blogger who has been jailed for 18 years on trumped up “terrorism” charges. In reality, he’s been languishing in jail for two years for writing blog posts critical of government.

Via Bill Easterly, I see Nega has penned a powerful letter from his jail cell.

Letter from Kaliti by Eskinder Nega. 

So that I may do the deed
that my soul has to itself decreed

Individuals can be penalised, made to suffer (oh, how I miss my child) and even killed. But democracy is a destiny of humanity which can not be averted. It can be delayed but not defeated.

No less significant, absent trials and tribulations, democracy would be devoid of the soul that endows it with character and vitality. I accept my fate, even embrace it as serendipitous. I sleep in peace, even if only in the company of lice, behind bars. The same could not be said of my incarcerator though they sleep in warm beds, next to their wives, in their home.

The government has been able to lie in a court of law effortlessly as a function of the moral paucity of our politics. All the great crimes of history, lest we forget, have their genesis in the moral wilderness of their times.

The mundane details of the case offer nothing substantive but what Christopher Hitchens once described as “a vortex of irrationality and nastiness.” Suffice to say, that this is Ethiopia’s Dreyfus affair. Only this time, the despondency of withering tyranny, not smutty bigotry, is at play.

Martin Amis wrote, quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn, that Stalinism (in the 30s) tortured you not to force you to reveal a secret, but to collude you in a fiction. This is also the basic rational of the unfolding human rights crisis in Ethiopia. And the same 30s bravado that show-trials can somehow vindicate banal injustice pervades official thinking. Want to unlearn from history, we aptly repeat even its most brazen mistakes.

Why should the rest of the world care? Horace said it best: mutate nomine de te tabula narratur. “Change only the name and this story is also about you.” Where ever justice suffers our common humanity suffers, too. I will live to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may or may not be a long wait. Whichever way events may go, I shall persevere!

Liberté, égalité, fraternité
History shall absolve democracy

Eskinder Nega’s prosecution and conviction is an assault on human rights in Ethiopia. But deeper still it is an affront to the United States and Ethiopia’s other international partners. Ethiopia is dependent on aid–it receives some $600 million a year from the USA alone. For that aid, the USA gets a reliable partner  when it comes to fighting actual terrorism in the Horn of Africa, including a new drone base. But for that sum, the USA is also selling a bit of its soul.

The USA has great deal of leverage over Addis. It’s time Washington used that to promote human rights and free this prisoner of conscious.

Eskinder Nega’s incarceration demeans us all.