By Aba Chibssa
In Ethiopia the government writes laws which it violates routinely when it stands on its way and applies it on its political opponents when it helps it quash dissent. The violation of law and basic rights is done with full impunity. Often it looks like that they do it to prove to the rest of us that, not only that they are above the law, but that they are the law. The use of government resources, money, vehicles and all other government property for personal and EPRDF activity is as normal as breathing air. They ruthlessly rampage on the poor country as if it is their mother’s kitchen. Try finding employment in government without EPRDF membership these days. You can even be as genius as Einstein, you will not be considered if you don’t hold the EPRDF membership card. People in Ethiopia call it “woyin Lesira” and they take it when they are desperate. It has almost become mandatory now, and Meles Zenawi’s government doesn’t even make a secret of it. Membership in EPRDF is now a precondition to get opportunity to go to a government graduate school. You can be an A+ student and may not apply if you are not a member of the EPRDF. You can forget thinking about it altogether if you are a member of an opposition political party. Many people are forced to join the EPRDF outside of their wish just to survive. Even peasant farmers have to have the card to buy fertilizer or receive foreign donated food aid in time of need. Fraud and abuse by government authorities are quite common in Ethiopia that you think it is normal and legal. But you may never think the TPLF/EPRDF is also capable of committing fraud and breaking the laws of other countries such as the United States of America. But they do. Here is one case which may also be only a tip of the iceberg.
This is going on inside the Ethiopian embassy in the United States, right in the heart of Washington DC with full knowledge of the officials from the Ambassador down. The victim under abuse is the generosity of the US government and its laws. The United States has been generous to the thousands of us, Ethiopians, in providing political asylum and protection from the cruel persecution of the current government and the previous military dictatorship under Mengistu. I know many of us, Ethiopians, are eternally grateful for this generosity and we love the United Sates for that.
The specific case is that of a certain Tsehaye Debalkew Tessema, currently listed as Public Relations Officer on the Embassy website. Mr. Tsehaye Debalkew Tessema is an ethnic Tigrean. He has been a senior official at the Ministry of Information in Addis Ababa before he came to the United States around 2000 and started working in the embassy under Berhane Gebrekirstos, the Ambassador, another ethnic Tigrean and a political bureau member of the TPLF. Tsehaye was also an official of the Ministry of information in charge of television programming and propaganda work under Mengistu during the red terror period. He was a member of Mengistu’s party and a regular presence on TV. Only God knows the crimes he committed then. But as an ethnic Tigrean who has relatives inside the TPLF nothing happened to him. He was in fact, awarded with a senior position inside the Ministry of information.
After working a couple of months at the embassy around 2000, Mr. Tsehaye Debalkew Tessema stopped working in the embassy and asked for political asylum in the United States, falsely claiming that he is persecuted by the current government of Ethiopia and apparently lying and fabricating a story to support his claim. According to people who saw his application for asylum he has hidden his real personal stories and affiliations with both the previous and the current government. Good old generous United States granted him asylum. Once Tshaye got his asylum and all the privileges that go with it, such as bringing his family, securing free education for his family etc, he went back to the embassy to begin business as usual – work for the government of Ethiopia as its chief propagandist in North America. He is currently among the top executive in the embassy, where he works as a Public Relations Officer and an executive of UTNA, the Association of ethnic Tigreans, members and supporters of Zenawi’s ethnic party, in North America. Mind you, all along, his status is a protected resident of the US from harm by the Ethiopian government. Tsehaye has been so bold that he has been doing his fraud in full public view. He has been writing articles on websites, and speaking on many radio outlets supporting the regime and disparaging its opponents and the victims of Meles Zenawi. A lot of his articles that praise the regime and disparage opponents are published on Aigaforum website, a TPLF outlet. He has been writing and publicly speaking about how the regime he fled from and sought protection by the US government, is building democracy among other nauseating lies on its behalf. Not only this, he is also for many years now, the anchor of Radio Selam, a weekly Amharic radio program which is prepared and broadcast by the embassy to residents around the Washington DC area. The radio program is an extension of the propaganda work of Zenawi’s government and is paid and owned by the Embassy. On every Sunday from 1PM to 2PM he anchors the government radio program on 1120AM, interviewing regime officials and supporters and reading commentaries accusing critics of the government particularly the Ethiopian Diaspora including US officials who criticize the human rights conditions in Ethiopia. Astonishingly, I have heard this fraud, Tsehaye, use Tilahun Gessesse’s famous song “lewnet Emotalehu” (I will die for the truth) as a bridge for one of his propaganda pieces. According to sources from the embassy Tsehaye is feared by many workers at the embassy particularly the non Tigreans.
Officials of the EPRDF and all its supporters are used to making fraud and bask in it. But this is a huge violation of US laws and is taking place with the knowledge and encouragement of the embassy. I am not sure if Mr. Tsehaye Debalkew Tessema pays taxes to the US government or the government of Ethiopia that hires him. But he certainly uses our tax dollars to pay for his family’s education and other privileges that a US resident gets after securing political asylum.
Both Mr. Tsehaye and the embassy that gives cover to this crime should be investigated for violating the laws of the United States. I know many Ethiopians who are angry listening and reading to Tsehaye justify murders by Zenawi’s government on his Radio Selam. But we should be angrier at what he and the embassy do to defraud the generous protection this wonderful country has provided the thousands of us who are the victims of the government that torments our people on a daily basis.
Someone in the Washington DC area should alert US Immigration officials to investigate this fraud which is done with the full knowledge and cooperation of embassy officials and the government of Ethiopia. I particularly call on groups like Advocacy for Ethiopia (AFE) and journalists and editors of websites or other community civic groups to take up the case and report it to the concerned officials. I am told this can be reported to the Arlington Office of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service in Virginia. Failing to do so is to abate this crime and not give the Woyanes a lesson in the rule of law. Those of you in the DC area should do this and do a heroic job of exposing this fraud. We may not have the power to protect our people back home from daily abuses but how can we let these criminals who dare to follow us to the places of our exile do these to us and the country that protects us from them?