By Midday I had a visit from Ghana’s former High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere. He had written and just launched a book titled “Between The Lion And The Elephant Memoirs of an African Diplomat”. Kabral had been a friend even before he became a diplomat and as a diplomat we had a very good relationship. He had thanked me in the acknowledgement and also mentioned me in the book. So I had the honour of getting an autographed edition. The book is about his sojourn in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast as a diplomat and he hopes to launch it in Sierra Leone sometime later this year. Kabral is also now head of their Media Commission.
As Kabral was leaving Walter and Kate from the Australian High Commission were collecting me for lunch and a brief getting to know each other. We had a good meal and discussed a wide range of issues. Then it was the airport for me.
At the check-in desk at the Kotoka airport Business class passengers had a separate check-in desk, infront of which was laid out a red and blue Emirates carpet. A ticket was handed to me for the Lounge. After clearing immigration and looking disinterestedly at the duty free items I strolled into the Lounge. Here food was free as well as internet access. So again obtaining the wireless access password from the attendants I settled down to check my mail and make my final calls courtesy of Zain of course. This was a far cry from what obtains in Sierra Leone where I got a single drink in a “comfortable” room.
Flying on Emirates
As my wife told me “enjoy the pleasures provided you do not know when you will have another opportunity like this” flying Emirates is an experience. Flying business class on Emirates is heavenly. Having been separated from the economy class passengers, the waitress announced me by name. The seats were reclining and comfortable. The meal was like any top level restaurant in Freetown Mamba Point, Country Lodge, Alexis, Cape Light House you name it.
The flight took seven and a half hours, but since we are moving towards the sun we gained three hours so our clocks were now three hours earlier making it seem as we had travelled for ten and a half hours when in actual fact we only travelled for seven and a half hours.
I drank a lot of wine on the flight because I was afraid. I had just learnt from the screen in front of me and looking at the BBC page that an Indian aircraft had crashed with over a hundred people dead. Well my fear was because the pilot had delayed coming in from Dakar. As we sat waiting for take off he announced that those sitting on the right side would see that engineers were still working on one of the engines and he would not compromise our safety, so as soon as he is given the green light from the engineers we would leave otherwise another line of action will be taken. I said to myself my God we start with a faulty engine are we going to be history? So I started praying as my Bishop (Frederic Abu Koroma) had taught me. I closed my eyes and soon the engines started and we were off. So I started asking for more and more wine, as you know travelling business you can request for more drinks and food as you wish. So I spent my time reading Kabral’s book which was gripping in itself and soon the wine got the better of me and I slept. I woke up and the first thing I listened for was the sound of the engine although not an engineer I was checking with my ears if anything was wrong with engine. You know I have a very beautiful wife and a wonderful 6 year old boy I do not want to leave them so soon. So I drank more wine and read some more and slept some more until we landed smoothly in Dubai and I thanked God profusely. If Bishop Abu Koroma had heard me pray he will have been very proud of me- maybe he would have encouraged me to become a pastor.
African Note book
What is curious about parliamentary elections in Ethiopia is that ten chances to one, the result is known even before the polls get started.
In the language of lawn tennis enthusiasts, ”it’s a straight set.”
And so in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa and other towns and cities in this difficult to analyze country, contestants jostled about to secure seats in the election which took place last Sunday.
Not much was touted on the election itself nor is the result expected to be spectacular as it is already known that the ruling party would win by what Africans have been used to…99.9 percent.
The government of Meles Zenawi and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front faced no threat in the election as some 70 percent of leading opposition figures were either in jail awaiting a torturous future or has fled the country for fear of being haunted. Those who opted to contest were aware that they were purely token candidates out to barely scrape a dozen or less votes..
The government remained at logger heads with nearly all sectors of the society including students and workers. Only party loyalists rode high plucking the juiciest fruits with overseas trips paid from government funds.
With such scenario, you are right to ask: why were elections held if things were so skimpy ?
One reason: the government wanted to keep a seemingly democratic posture as Ethiopia is seen as the diplomatic hub in Africa. It cannot look cross-eyed with the presence of democratic institutions like the African Union headquartered there, nor the UN Economic Commission for Africa and over 70 embassies and consulates around. So it had to keep the look of being stern
But friendly – just like a butcher and a cow.
But problems remain mainly politically inclined,. Although some opposition parties took part, they do not come from a formidable opposition that could give the government a good run for its money.
The opposition parties have been cried wolf even before the polls saying that the result would be a foregone conclusion.
The country remains heavily security covered where everybody especially visitors are closely watched starting with arrivals at Bole International Airport to hotel guests. Land phones in hotels are monitored by plainclothes securities posing as cleaners. You can’t even own a mobile phone except you are a long time resident with a permanent address. To get rid of any Ethiopian pestering you, just ask him what he thinks about the government and he would beat an hasty retreat.
The hard fact of the Ethiopian life is that the country has a large number of political exiles abroad which makes any government nervous and sensitive. These exiles, real or imagined as classified in Ethiopia terminology as ”terrorists”, ”angels of demons” and agents of destruction.’’
One marked man remains the former Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam who ruled the country ”terror-wise” resulting in the deaths and disappearance of hundreds of thousands.
He was swept from power by a coup and fled to Zimbabwe where he is now a political refugee.
But now with the elections over, the society will remain polarized. As one Ethiopian strategist said; there is little difference between the days of Emperor Haile Selassie and that of the present government which is more repressive and quick to stamp the treason charge on its opponents. What we are getting so far are shadowy overcast on that light.