The venue and more importantly the attendants say it all. Sheraton Addis- the city’s luxurious hotel- had its biggest party to throw. And the host is none other its owner-Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi- better known as the richest black man on the planet with an estimated 12 billion dollars in assets.
Think of any senior government official, head of public enterprise, celebrated artist, or notable businessperson, you sure would find them if you showed up at the Sheraton Laliblea ballroom on December 20th. You would also see a rare circle of people when some of the famous artists made a friend out of an EPRDF high -timers. Press photographers in particular had a field day with the crowd. A rather funny incident that took place is when the vocalist Madingo Afework chased a photographer to have his picture [taken with the Amhara regional president] deleted.
The event was the inauguration of a book A Tale of Two Elections Bereket Simon wrote. The high profile crowd that included even some of the diplomatic corps tells how powerful the man is; even more powerful one may think he is as an EPRDF’s senior official, head of the Government Communications Affairs Office, and a senior cabinet minister.
The event marked by a rare exhibition of intimate friendship between Bereket, dubbed as the second person in charge of the country of course next to PM Meles Zenawi, and the billionaire who apparently did not only cover the cost of the book’s publication and the party but also “forced” the minister to get medical help abroad.
Some commentators were asking why Bereket, at least openly, showed off a friendship with a billionaire when the country’s law ban government officials from taking any kind of gift exceeding a couple of hundred birr. I personally leave it to the anticorruption watchdog chief, who was present at the day, to look into the matter if it’s worth investigating.
Immediately after the lavish party came to a close, critics both at home and in the Diaspora threw their punches against the book and the author.
“After chasing out and jailing journalists, public scholars and critics, Bereket Simon publishes a book that is expected to win the “battle of ideas”,” said Abiye Teklemariam, Addis Neger Newspaper’s founding editor, in Facebook.
As I start reading the book I bought for 90 birr, local newspapers start featuring book reviews and commentaries. Addis Admass offered what I think is a very balanced assessment on the book while it also put into questions some of the “facts” quoted in the book. One of the factual questions it has raised is to point out that while Bereket claims “Beza” newspaper was used a tool to trash by Berhanu Nega (PhD) against his own colleagues in the opposition camp so that he could clear a path to fill the mayor seat in the 2005 heated debate, the newspaper actually ceased publication as early as 1999.
Bereket Simon spares no one in the opposition camp. Even Lidetu Ayalew, a person Bereket and PM Meles Zenawi tried to make excuses for when he lost the 2010 elections to the “extremist opposition”, is strongly criticized. But for whatever reasons now outlawed Ginbot -7 group founder Dr Berhanu seems to be the main target of the book which apparently had its manuscript read by Meles twice.
I think misstating Beza Newspaper as Berhanu’s tool comes from this motive; looking into including anything that can discredit the guy. I say this because of the more than a few, in my opinion very weak, accounts Bereket mentioned which were taken out of proportion to show Berhanu as a “power monger” who was uneasy to face when the “moment of truth” was reached.
For example Bereket in his book sounds surprised that Berhanu was not in attendance at the big Meskel Square rally the opposition camp staged; he apparently heard it first from Hailu Shawel in 2010. Berhanu’s alleged failure to show up at the rally isn’t only taken out of proportion but is even treated a revelation.
Bereket himself who quoted multiple accounts from opposition elites’ books must have either not read or choose to ignore the fact that Berhanu himself in his book Yenesanset Goh Siked [page 336] wrote in detail how he was not there in the rally and came after 3 in the afternoon and only saw the Meskel Square colorful events from recorded videos.
If the aim is to discredit Berhanu I would suggest, anybody is better served by quoting his own 2005 book against his recent message of the so called “all means” he so much advocates but only wishes others to do [the killing and getting killed] while he sips coffee in Pennsylvania and flies when eventually EPRDF is overthrown.
Bereket in his book praised and praised his party and colleagues as if they are guardian angels when the farmers, city residents, the public at large and the opposition are all at one point or other criticized for being reluctant or an outright evil.
Also I don’t know why the countless EPRDF officials who first read the book did not advise Bereket against including unsubstantiated claims, like saying ‘Addis Neger newspaper was initiated and financed by the former US Ambassador to Ethiopia’. While the government argues against the State Department’s annual human rights quoting of media reports, here the senior government official infer the embassy and journalists teamed to criticize EPRDF. His evidence for this is: “members of the press told me.”
What was Meles saying about Addis Neger fleeing abroad and the statements followed by the right groups? If I heard him correctly he was advising of at least trying to verify the facts a bit, well he should have given it to his colleague also.
The former CUD is also similarly accused of not filling a single Oromo candidate in Addis Ababa constituencies; what is it really that disqualifies Birtukan Midekssa or Tamrat Negera from being an Oromo?
These kinds of unsubstantiated claims disturb one’s reading of the book though other than being a base for the author to lead to criticism against his subjects, they don’t really add value to it.
I would personally like to have read more of personal assessments by Bereket; they briefly appear and get lost across the book.
Bereket’s book is enjoyable to read; its well written-shorter sentence and causal pointing of faults at surrounding like sound pollution- suggest to you that he may not fare bad if he tries his luck as an author. While it’s biased to EPRDF, it’s however very informative about the party and what the party elites think of themselves. Striking the right balance between maintaining sovereignty and soliciting donations to manage drought and famine and other business of the EPRDF are discussed in depth and with context. “I leave it to readers to judge if I fulfilled the responsibility of striking the right balance between stating the facts and offering personal analysis,” said the author in his book preface. I personally found a very biased book that wrote all the evil [both rightly and wrongly] about the opposition while its described EPRDF as an association of angles building a Utopia Ethiopia…of course…free from the opposition and their hardcore fans “who do not have any cause.”