Dear Prime Minister Zenawi –
I realise this letter is arriving at a particularly busy time for your administration. Simply keeping track of the more than 100 opposition politicians and activists (including a 15 year old boy) you’ve detained on charges of “treason” and “genocide” would keep most leaders busy. While overseeing violent crackdowns on dissent in rural areas of your nation, you’ve managed to make time to illegally occupy territory granted to Eritrea by the UN’s mediation committee, to intimidate or imprison the independent press, and even to sue Ethiopian dissidents in a US court. You’re a busy man.
It’s easy to understand, with such a busy schedule, that you might not be able to keep up with recent developments in non-lethal crowd control technologies. While not an expert on this topic, I was able to perform some Google searches and locate some pages that might be of interest to you. To my great surprise, it seems that most experts don’t advocate firing live ammunition in crowded city streets to disperse opposition protesters. According to Globalsecurity.org, a number of other options exist, including “malodorants and irritants“, designed to make members of crowds uncomfortable and disperse, or non-lethal munitions, which include sponge or rubber bullets, as well as alternative projectiles like beanbags, which are designed to be less likely to cause serious injury than conventional shells. (Of course, allowing non-violent dissenters to protest, unmolested, is always an option as well.)
You’ll be pleased to hear that many of these technologies can be purchased online and are surprisingly affordable – Security Safety and Supply of Brunswick, Maine offers several different options of nonlethal shotgun shells for $4.95 apiece. (They also offer free shipping for orders over $100!) While that’s significantly more expensive than arming your security forces solely with conventional weapons, it’s worth noting that violent suppression of dissent has caused donors to withhold over $375 million in support to your government – that’s almost 20% of the aid your nation receives per year, or slightly over 4% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product. A modest supply of 7 million non-lethal shells – one for roughly every ten of your fellow citizens – would cost only $35 million and might encourage former donors to unfreeze their aid to your government.
(Or you could simply wait for other national leaders to follow Hillary Benn’s lead and move their financial support from the “unrestricted” column of your budget to the health and water columns – perhaps you can now move some funds from those columns into the “rubber bullets” column.)
I appreciate your time and your consideration of my modest proposal.