Why I am boycotting Ȼoca Ȼola (Proff. Alemayehu G Mariam)

(Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam – a.k.a. Al-Mariam)

Diaspora Ethiopians are expressing their outrage on social and online media and calling for a boycott of Coca Cola Company for its unethical, arbitrary and unfair dealings with Ethiopia’s pop music superstar Teodros Kassahun (Teddy Afro). They say the Coca Cola Company singled out Teddy and maliciously targeted him for discrimination. Coca Cola commissioned 32 local versions of the 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup “anthem”. Coca Cola has officially released all versions except Ethiopia’s version sung by Teddy Afro!

I now join the boycott of Coca Cola. I ask the millions of readers who have followed my weekly commentaries over the past eight years to join me in boycotting Coca Cola.

I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Coca Cola Company and its representatives have done Teddy wrong. They have demeaned, degraded and humiliated him publicly. They have dishonored, tarnished and scandalized his good name.  They have treated him unfairly, cruelly and unscrupulously.

An official representative of Coca Cola Company was quoted in a June 7 report stating that “Teddy Afro was brought into our Coke Studio in Africa to record a version of the Coca-Cola FIFA World Cup song, ‘The World is Ours’ with the goal of capturing the unique genre of Ethiopian music. The contract with Teddy Afro was executed by a 3rd party, Mandala Limited, a production House based Nairobi and Teddy Afro was compensated in full for his efforts.” The official further stated that “following recording the produced track become the property of Coca-Cola CEWA to be used at the Company’s discretion. The song has not been released and there are no plans for release at this time.

In a June 10 press release, Teddy Afro’s official representatives decried Coca Cola’s bizarre and unprofessional behavior in making the public statement given the fact that a confidentiality clause in the contract precluded public disclosure of contractual terms. The statement expressed puzzlement over Coca Cola’s “unwarranted prevention of the release of the Ethiopian Version of the World Cup Anthem” and lack of  “any response although we have brought the issue to their attention before we decided to publish the press release on our website.” It accused Coca Cola of engaging in “corporate arrogance”, bad faith dealings and a flagrant violation of its “supposed corporate ethical principles of integrity, honesty, public trust and confidence.” It expressed deep disappointment over the fact that Coca Cola released a public statement that is  “degrading and disrespectful of our fans and even Coca Cola’s customers.”

Teddy Afro’s official representatives categorically rejected Coca Cola’s assertion that “the contract with Teddy Afro was executed by a 3rd party, Mandala Limited, a production House based Nairobi.” They said an official Coca Cola representative, “Mr. Misikir Mulugeta [Brand Manager for Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Manadala TV] approached us and took the initiative to make the selection for the Coke project and further “brought” us in touch with Coke Studio, signed the contract with Mandala TV, the agent for Coca Cola, Central, East and West Africa Limited… Mr. Misikir as an employee and Manadala TV as the agent who have been contracted to carry out various musical property services and acted for and on behalf of Coca Cola Central, East and West Africa, in the same legal capacity and effect as the representative of Coca Cola, headquartered in Atlanta that issued the statement.”

They also pointed out glaring inconsistencies in Coca Cola’s public statement.  If the Coca Cola Company does not have any contractual relationship with Teddy Afro, why did it feel the need to issue a public statement on him? Why did Coca Cola claim that Teddy has been paid “in full for his efforts,” and that “the produced track become the property of Coca-Cola CEWA?” if the Company did not have a contractual engagement with Teddy to produce the world cup song? 

What is so objectionable about the Ethiopian version of the world cup anthem that compelled Coca Cola not to release it officially?

There is ABSOLUTELY nothing political or controversial about the lyrics or melody in Teddy’s version of the world cup anthem.  In fact, Teddy used an Amharic translation of words taken directly from David Correy’s official lyrics to the world cup song “The World is Ours”. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why is Teddy Afro singled out of 32 global musical artists and targeted for humiliation and degradation by Coca Cola? Why is  Coca Cola unwilling to privately explain to Teddy its reasons for not releasing the Ethiopian version of the song officially? Why isn’t Coca Cola coming clean and telling Teddy’s  millions of fans its reasons for not releasing the Ethiopian version of the anthem?

Why I am “dumping” Coca Cola

The official statement of Coca Cola refusing to release the Ethiopian version of the world cup song has been a source of jubilation and victorious chest-beating for Teddy Afro haters. They triumphantly announced, “Coca Cola dumps Teddy Afro!”

I am dumping Coca Cola like they dump industrial chemicals at a toxic waste dumpsite.  I am not using this metaphor lightly. “The Coca-Cola Co. has settled lawsuits over ingredients that can form cancer-causing benzene (in two of its products) Fanta Pineapple and Vault Zero”.

Coca Cola lists 114 different product lines on its website beginning with virtually every letter of the English alphabet from Aquapure to Zico. 

I am dumping all 114 products. I will not buy or use Aquapure, Barq’s, Coca-Cola, DASANI, Evian, FUZE, Glacéau Vitaminwater, Hi-C, Inca Kola, Jericho, Kinley, Lift, Minute Maid, Northern Neck, Odwalla, POWERADE, Red Flash,  Sprite, TaB, VAULT, Worx Energy, Zico… I will not encourage or recommend to anyone to buy or use these products. As a matter of fact, I ask my millions of readers throughout the world not to buy or use these products!

Let us unite and Dump Coca Cola and all of its 114 products!

For decades, the Coca-Cola Company promoted its products with all sorts of charming and gimmicky slogans and jingles that affirmed its corporate integrity, universal appeal and wholesome business values. Their ubiquitous taglines proclaimed, “Coke: It’s the Real Thing.”  “Things Go Better With Coke.” “Coke is what the world wants today.” “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”  “Coke Adds Life.” “Have a Coke and a Smile.” “Coke is It.” Coca Cola even had a television commercial song with the opening line, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

The truth is Coke is as real as a sprite (fairy).

Things go bitter with Coke in Ethiopia.

Coca Cola has caused acrimony, not harmony in Ethiopia.

Coke has added not life but strife in Ethiopia.

Coke does not make Ethiopians smile; it makes them downright hostile.

Coke is It, if you only added the letters “sh” to it.

I will not drink Coke, the high fructose makes me choke.

I would like the world NOT to buy Coke or any of the other 113 products.

The last thing the world needs today is Coke.

Coke is a joke!

I know why they do not want the song of the proud bird of Ethiopian popular music not to be heard by the world

Teddy Afro loves his people and country and he is being punished for it.

There is no question in my mind that  the despicable and petty-minded regime in Ethiopia has pressured Coca Cola not to release Teddy’s song. The reason is simple. That wickedly vengeful regime wants to show Teddy Afro who the real boss is. They want to show Teddy and his supporters how smart,  cunning and smooth they can be in taking revenge. They watched and snickered as the whole deal went down with Coca Cola from the beginning. They let it go on. They said, “Let Teddy work his heart out and come up with a beautiful song.” They rubbed their hands gleefully, “We’ll teach him a lesson in revenge that he will never forget.” Revenge and hate courses in their blood stream. 

At the last minute, they pounced on Coca Cola. (Coca Cola completed its third bottling plant in Dire Dawa in 2013.) If Coca Cola wants to expand its market in Ethiopia, it must not release Teddy Afro’s world cup song. Poor Coca Cola is literally caught between the Devil and Teddy Afro.

Of course, none of that nonsense matters to Teddy Afro. He will keep on singing “Love conquers all.”  His maxim is, “There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.” He forgives those who have done him wrong. (Jah, Yasteseryal!)

Any casual observer of the thugtatorship in Ethiopia is familiar with the silly psyop (psychological warfare) they are waging against Teddy to demoralize, unnerve and discourage him from being a symbol of national unity and pride. They have used similar dirty tricks for years against their opponents and will continue to do so.

The fact of the matter is that for his entire artistic career Teddy Afro has shown undying love for Ethiopia. In all of his songs and lyrics,  Teddy has glorified Ethiopia and spoken truth to mercenaries and thugs. His music, songs and lyrics have been effective antidotes to the diabolical efforts to undermine the spirit and morale of the Ethiopian people. Teddy proclaimed in his lyrics, “Hold on, hold tight! Ethiopia’s resurrection (Ye Itopia tinsae) is near, if only we forgive each other in love.”

In his album Yasteseryal, Teddy exposed the truth about the seizure of the “throne” by a criminal band of thugs. He used his songs to call on Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds to live in harmony, peace and love in a single Ethiopian nation. He has used his peerless musical talent to bring Christians and Muslims to join hands in peace and friendship.   Teddy has been offered riches and rewards beyond measure to sell out his integrity and honor. But on all occasions, he has refused to sell his soul to thugs.   

Teddy Afro is the most inspiring young artist of his generation. Teddy has inspired millions of Ethiopia’s young people to yearn for democracy, freedom and human rights in a single Ethiopian nation.  Now they are making him “pay” for his patriotism by silencing his musical voice. It is impossible to silence the song of truth.

Teddy is not for sale! Teddy cannot be bought by Coca Cola, by a billionaire or by thugs. They can try to humiliate and scandalize him. The simple truth is that Teddy has pride and dignity in himself and in his country as big as the Ras Dashen mountain.  Thugs, bullies and gangsters will forever remain thugs, bullies and gangsters no matter how rich they become for all of the money they have stolen. This is no invective. It is a fact!

Please don’t hate Teddy Afro because he has pride in himself and his country! Don’t hate him because he is a class act. Don’t hate him because he is a patriot. He can’t help it. He was born that way!

Teddy Afro, NOT Coke, is the real thing in Ethiopia!

The world and, most of all, the world football federation needs Teddy Afro. Teddy is an African musical genius. His lyrical mantra is, “Love Conquers All!”  He brings Africans together in uplifting lyrics and musical harmony.

Teddy is the most popular musical artist in Ethiopia today because his music brings people together. He sings of love, peace, friendship and goodwill among Ethiopians and Africans. He sings protest songs. He sings of the need for reconciliation, understanding and forgiveness.  He sings work songs for those building a new Ethiopia. He sings about the natural beauty of Ethiopia and its people. Teddy Afro sings about his love of Africa.

Teddy Afro’s music makes life supremely enjoyable. I’d like to see the world listen to Teddy Afro sing in perfect harmony. Teddy Afro’s music adds life and joy to  a country that has been rendered lifeless and joyless by a vicious dictatorship. 

Teddy’s latest album, Tikur Sew (Black Man), is a celebration of Ethiopia’s victory over Italy in 1896. That stunning victory is a milestone in African and world history. Less than two years after the Berlin Conference in which the European colonial powers agreed to carve up Africa and began their subjugation of African peoples, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia routed the Italian Army at the Battle of Adwa in the First Italo-Ethiopian War.  The Battle of Adwa marked the first time a European power was brought to its knees by an African army. Fascist Italy tried to colonize Ethiopia again in 1935 in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. They got a rear-end kicking they would never forget. Ethiopia remained the only country in Africa (other than Liberia) to remain free from colonialism. Teddy Afro sings of Ethiopia, its fearless leaders and the ordinary people who fought to keep their independence and sovereignty not only with bows, arrows and outdated muskets, but also pride.

I am proud of Teddy and his extraordinary artistic accomplishments. I am proud of his enormous contributions to Ethiopian popular culture. I am proud of his untiring efforts to bring about harmony, unity and reconciliation among the people of Ethiopia through his music. He is a man of extraordinary integrity and disarming humility. When they attack his reputation viciously, he does not respond. He just says, “Love conquers all.” Haters just can’t fight a man who uses love to conquer all. 

When the late Meles Zenawi jailed Teddy on trumped up charges of hit and run resulting in a fatality in 2008, I defended Teddy in the court of world public opinion. I also listed the ten real “crimes” Teddy committed for which Meles Zenawi ordered his arrest and conviction. Meles was pierced by the truth and aspirations expressed in Teddy’s lyrics.

When Teddy came to Los Angeles in 2010, I attended his concert. It was phenomenal. Teddy reminded me of the great Bob Marely I saw as a young man during his Kaya and Survival tours in the late 1970s standing in the front row.   Like Marley whose passion was African liberation and Pan-Africanism, Teddy’s passion is the freedom, unity, reconciliation and harmony of the Ethiopian people. Like Marley, Teddy’s music is stirring, thrilling and even heart-wrenching. Like Marley, Teddy sings songs of love, peace, hope, faith, charity, justice, reconciliation, understanding and forgiveness. These are the sources of Teddy’s rhythmic power which enable him to reach deep into the Ethiopian soul and psyche and suture the festering wounds of despair, soothe the unendurable pain of oppression and prophesy the resurrection of Ethiopia from the graveyard of dictatorship. Nothing can stop Teddy from preaching love, peace and justice in Ethiopia.

I consider Teddy a heroic Ethiopian artist and my personal hero!

The world is ours, NOT Coke’s. We must dump Coca Cola one person, one Coke bottle/can at a time

I am calling on the millions of readers who have followed my weekly commentaries over the years to join me and “Dump Coke!” Let’s rescue our world from the clutches of Coke.

Coca Cola does not care if we hold candle light vigils in protest. Coca Cola does not care about our moral outrage. It cares only about its bottom line. Coca-Cola has global sales of over 30 billion cases in over 200 countries. They spend billions of dollars in global marketing campaigns every year. The only language Coca Cola understands is the language of the bottom line.

If we act one person at a time and stop buying and using the 114 Coca Cola products, we can take back our world from the clutches of Coca Cola in 114 days.

I ask my readers in Ethiopia to conduct their own boycott.  I ask them to have their own individual “Coke Out Day”.  No Coke, every day!!!

This boycott is not about Coca Cola. It is about Ethiopian national pride. It is about taking back our country from soda peddlers and thugs.

I say fight back one Coca Cola bottle, one Coca Cola can at a time!

Coca Cola brags, “The World is Ours!” We need to show Coca Cola Ethiopia is OURS! 

Ultimately, my personal boycott of Coca Cola is not about challenging Coca Cola to come clean on Teddy Afro. It is not even about speaking truth to the tone deaf regime that is twisting Coca Cola’s hands behind the scenes. It is about my pride in being an Ethiopian.  When Coca Cola commissions  32 local versions of the world cup song, releases 31 of them and  “dumps” the Ethiopian version, I say to Coca Cola, “GO TO HELL!!!”

Just say NO to Coke!


*Originally published on Salon.com on June 15, 2014, titled “Why I am boycotting Ȼoca Ȼola”. The author Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Content gathered and compiled from online and offline media by Hornaffairs staff based on relevance and interest to the Horn of Africa.

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