To the Editors:
In characteristic form, Helen Epstein dips deep in her searching piece “Cruel Ethiopia” [NYR, May 13]. Her reference to a common mode of Ethiopian discourse embodied in the title of my Wax and Gold [see the Web version of the article at www.nybooks. com] was apt, but for one misapprehension. The present regime’s rhetoric does not embody the traditional mode of ambiguity connoted by wax-and-gold. Rather, it represents a foreign intrusion from the heady days of Leninism, when political groups of virtually all colorations embraced the elite sense of knowing the right course of history and being entitled to use manipulation or coercion to reach their goals.
Although some in the regime of Meles Zenawi have struggled to evolve beyond that mindset, many others still cling to it. The road to a regime that respects human rights and discursive openness—just like the ambitious national road network currently underway there—will have to be built deliberately, with courageous and constructive inputs from all sides.
Professor of Sociology, Emeritus
University of Chicago
June 10, 2010