My Personal Letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia By Prof. Al Mariam
Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all – never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another, and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. – President Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Address, 1994
April 8, 2018
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Office of the Prime Minister
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Dear Prime Minister Abiy:
Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on your inauguration as prime minister. I am supremely pleased to see an illustrious member of Ethiopia’s New Generation take leadership of the highest office in Ethiopia.
In the past I have called the New Generation Ethiopia’s “Cheetahs” (Abo Shemane), a metaphor popularized by my colleague and Ghanaian economist Prof. George Ayittey. Today, they are known as Qeerooss, Fannos, Zermas and Nebros. Does it matter what’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I have a special place in my heart and mind for Ethiopia’s Abo Shemanes.
For almost thirteen years now, I have felt a voice in the wilderness championing, defending and promoting the cause of Ethiopia’s youth. Perhaps you could understand why I derive such boundless personal satisfaction from witnessing your installation as prime minister. Above all, I regard your rise to the highest office in the land as the spark that will unleash fission chain reaction in Ethiopia’s youth. They too can rise from “Bowed heads and lowered eyes/ Shoulders falling down like teardrops, /Weakened by [their] soulful cries”, to borrow a few lines from Maya Angelou.
Let me say that I have a habit of writing (“speaking truth to”) presidents and other high government officials including Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and other world leaders. I have “written” to officials in Ethiopia every Monday for the past nearly 13 years. But they have pretended not to hear me, though they read me assiduously.
I write this letter as my own personal expression, but I humbly believe my words and thoughts speak for many millions of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia who have followed my weekly commentaries for the past almost 13 years and the millions more who have heard me on radio and other electronic media in Ethiopia.
I write this letter for several reasons.
First, I wish to pledge my principled support for all your efforts to uplift Ethiopia’s youth from despair. I have always believed Ethiopia’s salvation and resurrection (Tinsae) can only come through her youth. The youth are discouraged, disheartened and disobedient from repeatedly dashed hopes and expectations. Today, they rise in rebellion because they decided to end the long train of abuses, neglect and indifference under despotism. Like others from history, they have found out it is “their right, it is their duty, to throw off such despotic Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Above all, I regard you as the leader of Ethiopia’s youth. That said, know that I am in your corner and got your back.
Second, I wish to respond positively to a number of issues, though not all, you raised or touched upon in your inaugural speech. Let me say that on so many, many issues you were talking my language in that speech. We see eye to eye on many things.
Third, I wish to acknowledge your sincere gesture to Diaspora Ethiopians. You offered open arms welcome to all Ethiopians who seek to bring knowledge, resources and experience to help develop their country and make it easier to those who want to help from a distance. I very much appreciate your attitude of charity towards all malice to none. It is a mark of true leadership.
Fourth, I wish to clarify my own position as an opinion maker as we go forward. I want to assure you that my message will focus on the future. We shall leave the trash bin of history alone.
Please pardon the discursive nature of this letter. Given the variety of issues I will be addressing, I have organized my thought along key issues and topics. This will indeed be my first and not last letter.
You have an appointment with destiny… Walk in Mandela’s shoes!
In my humble view, you have one and only one mission as prime minister.
Your mission is to fulfill Nelson Mandela’s pledge in his inaugural speech for South Africa in Ethiopia:
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.
In 1964, during the Rivonia Trial, Nelson Mandela declined to testify at the kangaroo apartheid court choosing to deliver a speech which saved South Africa 30 years later. Mandela said:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
When Mandela said these words facing a life sentence, he was only 5 years older than you.
I urge you to read and heed these words every day and reflect on them. You must fight against Amhara, Tigray, Oromo… domination. That is what the young people rightly expect of you, demand of you and are counting on you to do. They want their beautiful land never again to experience the oppression of one by another.
Do not miss your rendezvous with history!
Ethiopiawinet is not something that is near and dear to my heart.
It is my heart, mind and soul.
You mentioned “Ethiopia” and Ethiopiawinet” so many times in your speech, I stopped counting, and not because I was tired but because I was filled with ecstasy. I have no recollection of such celebration of Ethiopia in a public speech of any person claiming national leadership in Ethiopia. For quite some time now, the word “Ethiopia” has meant shame; but you have made it a word of pride and fame.
I smiled with quiet wonderment when I heard you say in your inaugural speech addressing Diaspora Ethiopians, “You can take an Ethiopian out of Ethiopia but you cannot take Ethiopia out of the heart of an Ethiopian.”
That reminded me of my own very first speech, my personal manifesto announcing my engagement in the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia, on July 2, 2006:
“But I assure you that I may have left Ethiopia, but Ethiopia has never left me. My case is a simple one. To adapt an old saying: ‘You can take the kid out of Ethiopia, but you cannot take Ethiopia out of the kid!’ That is exactly how I feel.”
I have repeated that aphorism many times over the past nearly 13 years. I hope you can imagine how good that made me feel to hear you say that.
A few months ago, some people announced to the world that they have “doubts about my Ethiopiawinet” because of the content of my weekly commentaries. They produced no proof, not a single word, to support their claim of doubt. They mistook my relentless opposition to their rule with lack of Ethiopiawinet. But my response to them was quintessentially this: “You can take the boy out of Ethiopia but you cannot take the EthiopiaWINet out of the boy.”
I don’t want to sound fussy, but I demanded proof of my lack of Ethiopiawinet or an apology. I got neither. True this: Hope springs eternal in the human breast for an apology.
For me, speaking and writing about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people is a passion, a sacred duty for which I have been divinely blessed. I write not only for the present generation but also generations to come. These are my chronicles of the time of pain and suffering of the Ethiopian people as I have observed them from a very long distance.
But my brothers Lemma Megerssa and Teodros (Teddy Afro) Kassahun, Gedu Andargachew, yourself and so many young people, including those who participated in the recent “Peace Festival” have articulated Ethiopiawinet better than I ever could.
Lemma said Ethiopiawinet is an addiction [deep passion]. It is in the heart of each and every Ethiopian. He said if there was a way to open the hearts and minds of Ethiopians, what will be found is our unity in Ethiopiawinet. He said, “Ethiopians are like sergena teff gathered together, milled together and eaten together.
Gedu Andargachew said, “Ethiopiawinet is unity, togetherness and respect for each other.”
Teddy Afro sang Ethiopiawinet: “Before [I] finish paying her [Ethiopia] for all her favors/ Should not people say [shout out] “Unity” when they hear [the name] Ethiopia/ Ethiopia! Ethiopia! My country!/ Isn’t my honor because of you?
Even little children today are singing the joys of Ethiopiawinet. They chant, “Ethiopia existed yesterday. Ethiopia exists today. Ethiopia will exist tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Ethiopia shall exist forever.” It brought tears to my eyes when I saw these little children barely 7 or 8 years old singing in church, “Selam (Peace) for Ethiopia. Peace for our country. May our merciful God send us peace.”
To me Ethiopiawinet is simply the humanity of the people of Ethiopia.
In my very first speech in 2006, I defined our Ethiopiawinet as a condition ordained by God: “We are first and foremost Ethiopians, one people, woven by the hand of the Almighty into the most beautiful ethnic mosaic in the world. Look in the Holy Bible. Look in the Holy Q’uran. The learned scholars tell us that Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in the Holy Bible no less than thirty-three times, and as many times in the Holy Q’uran.”
Following your speech, you said, “Ethiopians living abroad and Ethiopians living here, we need to forgive each other from the bottom of our hearts.”
I accept your counsel. I no longer hold grudges against those who tried to de-Ethiopianize me and delegitimize my unrelenting human rights advocacy in Ethiopia by claiming they have “doubts” about my Ethiopiawinet. I forgive them from the bottom of my heart for doubting my Ethiopiawinet and apologize to them from the bottom of my heart if they feel I doubted theirs.
Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated
You have the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the youth in your hands. They are looking to you to rescue them.
I am proud to say I have always been concerned and very vocal about the pain and suffering of Ethiopia’s youth.
For the past nearly 13 years, I have declared my absolute confidence in Ethiopia’s youth. In my September 17, 2016 Amharic interview with Reeyot Alemu (begin clip at 14 minutes), I defended my view unapologetically.
I have always considered myself a “Chee-Hippo”.
In June 2010, this was how I described the situation of Ethiopia’s youth:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means.
In 2018, I am relieved that they have chosen the path of nonviolence and peaceful resistance.
In my February 2011 commentary, I declared Africa’s youth united can never be defeated. As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.”
In 2013, I declared, “My slogan has always been and remains, ‘Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated. Power to Ethiopia’s youth!’”
I have never, ever doubted that Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated.
I declared 2013 “Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation” and urged that Ethiopia’s youth to lead the national dialogue in search of a path to peaceful change and reconciliation.
In my January 2014 commentary, I wrote, “In my view, the problem of 21st Century Ethiopia is quintessentially the problem of Ethiopian youth.”
I have on numerous occasions professed my abiding faith in the power of Ethiopia’s youth to transform their country and take charge of their destiny.
I have sent Ethiopia’s Cheetahs a special “Message in a Bottle” from thousands of miles across the oceans, “You are born free! You must live free! You are condemned to be free!”
I declared Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of T-TPLF tyranny and dictatorship.
I believe recent history has vindicated my total faith in Ethiopia’s Cheetahs.
Nelson Mandela observed, “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”
I have always believed Ethiopia’s youth are Ethiopia’s greatest treasure, but they were always at extreme risk, and so has been the future of the country. Ethiopia’s greatest treasures have been neglected, abused, squandered and wasted.
Having said all that, I must also confess that I have despaired about Ethiopia’s future given the state of political and social facts. Hearing and reading reports of college graduates without jobs or technically trained young people working to arrange cobblestones has been depressing to me. It is painful to learn about young people falling prey to all sorts of vice, drugs and other forms of moral corruption. Through all this fog, it was difficult to see the sparkling pints of light – the Lemma Megerssas, Abiy Ahmeds, Eskinder Negas, Andualem Aragies, Emawayish Alemu and Reeyot Alemus and so many others.
Today, I am more hopeful than ever that Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come. I have made such a statement many times before but more as a metaphor than a statement of reality. Today, I know it Ethiopia’s best days are upon us. There are tens of thousands of young leaders like you and the others mentioned above who are willing, able and ready to make it happen.
I urge you, plead with you, to the stay the course with my Cheetahs.
On nonviolent change
As I indicated above, we think alike on so many issues. Nonviolent change is certainly one of them.
I have always believed in the practice and theory of nonviolent struggle against tyranny and oppression.
In my very first speech (“Awakening Giant: Can Ethiopians Living in America Make a Difference in their Homeland.” ) marking my involvement in the Ethiopian human rights struggle and pleading for Diaspora Ethiopians to join me, I declared the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia is a struggle to be won “not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.”
For nearly 13 years, I waged my personal struggle to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and people of good will throughout the world in my weekly commentaries, which some affectionately call “sermons”. Those of us who have always promoted nonviolent change, particularly Ethiopia’s youth who did all of the heavy lifting, dying and going to jail, today remain confident that we can change Ethiopia without bloodshed.
In my very first speech, I announced that I am a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., two great leaders who were deeply inspired by the teachings of Christ. I believe in the ways of nonviolence, truth and love. I also believe that mere declaration of faith in these principles is not enough. Gandhi and King taught the highest expression of love for mankind is to love justice, the highest virtue to stand for truth, and the highest value, compassion for our fellow man and woman. There is no place for violence where justice stands tall. No place for oppression where law reigns supreme.
Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, wrote a true “leader stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
I say, let your nimble Cheetahs go out ahead and leave the rest of us Hippos watching from the sidelines.
In my very first speech, I asked the following questions:
Can we cultivate leaders who are able to subordinate their personal ambitions to the common good? Leadership is the flip side of vision. We need to cultivate leaders who want to lead not out of personal ambition or selfish interest, but out of a desire to serve the common good. We have many such leaders amongst us today, but they need to come forward and join the march, lead the march, follow the march!
In the not too distant past, Ethiopia has had what I call “lone ranger leaders” who had convinced themselves that they can do it alone and dreamt up things in their minds trapped in solitary brooding which proved to be nightmares for the people. They sought to carve out a path for personal glory and success, so they could be worshipped as “The Great Visionary Leader”.
My review of the leadership literature suggests to me that there are a few elements that distinguish a good leader from a great one. Jim Collins, the well-known “leadership guru”, talks about “Level 5 leaders” who demonstrate “a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves.” Collins also says team work is necessary, which means you have to get the “right people of the bus”. You will not be able to go far carrying dead wood on your back.
You can’t do it alone but there are types of people who could help you get the job done and are critical to your success and must seek them out. There are those with special knowledge and skills that can help you avoid failure. They are likely to have insights into your challenges and can offer solutions and alternatives. They can help you be a better leader and grow in your position.
I can imagine you will face some leadership and team-building issues. You will no doubt have the “dead wood” problem and what to do with those who are in leaderships positions without merit but because of nepotism and cronyism. They got their positions because they passed a loyalty litmus test and serve as echo chambers.
There will be those who seek leadership because they wish you well and support you out of pride. You are an inspiration to them.
There will also be the doubting Thomases, skeptics, critics and others watching from sidelines because they lack courage, conviction and creativity to be real leaders.
There will be many others who will work day and night to make sure you fail. They will smile to your face but can’t wait to stab you in the back.
So, you will have a challenge constituting your leadership team.
Follow in Mandela’s footsteps and you will be a great leader:
Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.
Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Lead from the front, but don’t leave your base behind.
Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.
On the politics of personal destruction
This is a topic I do not want to talk about, but must.
From what I gather, in certain quarters, you are getting no honeymoon.
Barely two weeks into the job, there are those who have unsheathed their long knives and are apparently coordinating a campaign to wage a scorched earth, take no prisoners, mean-spirited campaign of personal destruction. They heap blame on you. They say you for being too young for the office. They criticize you for your political inexperience. They demonize you for your military service. They proclaim you are just another puppet. They diminish your extraordinary eloquence as “just talk, no action”. Some even said, you got the job because they did not want it. They can take it away from you any time they wish. They have set a long list of things you should have done today, yesterday, last week, last month, last year… They say you can neither walk on water nor soar like an eagle. They don’t want to give you a chance to prove yourself. They want you to fix the festering decay of 27 years in 7 days.
Who are “they”?
They are the “nattering nabobs of negativism, the members of the 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”.
Their aim is to distract, to demoralize, to denigrate, to demonize, to dehumanize, to spread rumors, and to deprive the Ethiopian people, that is Ethiopia’s youth, of any sense of optimism and hope and keep them languishing in the politics of despair.
In my very first speech, I cautioned against the nattering nabobs. “We malign and defame those individuals who strive to offer leadership and build organizations, and spread rumors about their individual and leadership integrity, often with little evidence.”
Do not lose sleep over the chatter of the nattering nabobs of negativism.
They want you to drive forward looking into the rear view mirror so that you can crash and burn.
That is not going to happen because your supporters are legion, in the tens of millions. Ethiopia’s Abo Shemanes (Cheetahs) got your back, and front and sides.
I suggest your stock answer to the nattering nabobs should be, “Pardon my youth. I’ve got to take care of the business of 75 million young people.”
Do not underestimate the power of 75 million Abo Shemanes. That can change the world!
Of course, I am not suggesting that you are above criticism or reproach. No one in public office should expect a free ride. But fairness requires that you should be criticized for things you have done, undone or for having shown indifference.
To be sure, when Hailemariam was nominated to become prime minister in 2012, I was fair to him. I did not write him off as many did. I cut him a whole lot of slack. I gave him the full benefit of the doubt! I wanted him to succeed as prime minister, not fail.
Truth be told, you should be given maximum credit for what has occurred in the first week of your primeministership. We have seen reports that Maekelawi Prison (a/k/a) torture central is closed, the Internet is open throughout the country and the recently released and rearrested political prisoners are released again and the meeting with leaders in the Somali region went very well. I say, Kudos!
I will admit that few practice the art of acrimonious political criticism more than myself. But I believe there is a distinction to be made between fair and unfair criticism. In nearly 13 years of uninterrupted weekly critical commentaries, now exceeding a thousand, not once has the regime in Ethiopia responded to me on the merits on anything I have said or written. That’s is because I speak truth to them, undoubtedly, often in harsh terms. I have learned that those in power can’t handle the bitter truth, but I keep on feeding them every week.
What saddens me is that I don’t see or hear the pitiful 4-H club giving you any credit, nor do they want to give you a chance to prove yourself.
There is nothing you can do to persuade the pitiful 4-H club members except to teach them by high moral example.
I have two simple pieces of unsolicited advice for you.
First, raise the bar for public discourse, which you did wonderfully in your speech. Respond to those waging a war of negativity with an all-out campaign of civility. Follow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s maxim, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In other words, drive out despair with messages of hope; plant optimism in the arid landscape of pessimism; chase out bad ideas with good ones and let good triumph over evil.
Second, believe it is all about mind over matter. If you don’t mind, they don’t matter. In the words of that old African proverb, “When the dogs bark, the camels just keep walking.” Keep walking the long road to freedom and lead from behind.
Why I do what I do…
Recently, a friend jokingly asked me, “You got one of your Cheetahs in place. Is that mission accomplished for you?”
But that has been a question asked of me by my family members for over a decade. “When is it mission accomplished for you and walk away?”
But I never give them a straight answer. I waffle and equivocate reciting to myself the poetic words of Robert Burns: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/ But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”
Yes, miles and miles to walk the long road to freedom with Ethiopia’s Cheetahs before I sleep.
For the past nearly 13 years, many people have wondered why I do what I do.
What I have been doing is speaking truth to power.
I “speak truth to power” because I believe in the Scriptural wisdom that “The truth shall set you free.” I take my inspiration in my “truth-speaking mission” from Prof. Edward Said and Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, both peerless intellectual giants.
Prof. Said observed that in the 21st century, the intellectual has taken the mission of advancing human freedom and knowledge by “speaking the truth to power, being a witness to persecution and suffering, and supplying a dissenting voice in conflicts with authority.”
Prof. Mesfin took upon the cross of speaking truth to power in Ethiopia in the second half of the last century.
I am an equal opportunity truth speaker. I speak truth not only to those in power and abusers of power but also to the power-hungry, power-thirsty, the power abusers, the power misusers and the plain powerless.
When I began my human rights advocacy in Ethiopia following the massacres that took place in the aftermath of the 2005 election, I resolved to become a witness for the victims in the Meles Massacres.
There are many who regard my relentless human rights advocacy beyond extraordinary.
There are also those who think it is all a waste of my time because I have nothing to show for it.
There are some who find my relentless opposition to the TPLF obsessive. A few regard my opposition as “hateful” and “mean-spirited”.
They are all entitled to their opinions.
I have declared on numerous occasions that I have no political ambition whatsoever. I have also said many times that I have nothing but contempt for those who crave power, for those hungry and thirsty for power. Love of power without the power of love for those who are oppressed, without deep concern for the pain and suffering of the powerless, voiceless and defenseless is the height of hypocrisy. It would be the height of absurdity and irony for a man who stumbled into a career of speaking truth to power to aspire power.
The theologian Martin Luther, the father of Protestanism, said, “If you want to change the world, pick up a pen and write.” I am not a Protestant but I picked up a pen nearly 13 years ago and am still going strong.
Paraphrasing the late music artist Tu Pac Shakur, “I never said I was gonna change Ethiopia, but I guaranteed from the beginning that I will spark the minds that will change Ethiopia.” I think I have done a little bit of that.
I can say without reservation that the past ten years have been the best years of my life. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to fight for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and freedom in Ethiopia and elsewhere with nothing more than my pen every single week.
My efforts to help build Beloved Community in Ethiopia is a never-ending labor of love. It must go on without pause or rest.
In his book “Stride Towards Freedom”, Dr. King wrote, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…”
As a dedicated and passionate individual, I ask myself, “If I don’t do it, who will?”
I gladly bear the cross of Ethiopian human rights advocacy. It is a blessing.
I am not a complicated man. With me, what you see and hear is what you get. I like blunt talk and do not beat around bush. I say what I mean, and mean what I say. I do not speak or write in sem-na-worq, except in jest.
There is nothing that I have done or said over the past nearly 13 years that I did not promise in my very first speech in July 2006. Nothing at all. I charted my course in 2006 and I have been walking, my critics say alone, on the long road to freedom for our people. Now, I am boundlessly comforted by the fact that I have been on the road following behind millions of Ethiopia’s Cheetahs.
Those who say I am “hateful” and harbor ill-will to those in power because of their ethnicity have long called me a leading Diaspora “extremist”.
Of course, I wear that label with pride. I subscribe to the maxim, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
I confess my defense of liberty for all Ethiopians has been unrelenting, uncompromising, unflagging, unrepentant and unapologetic. I do not believe justice can ever be pursued in moderation. That does not mean justice cannot be tempered with mercy.
I admit the tone of my speech and writings have often been accusatory and prosecutorial. That is one of the hazards of American legal education that thrives on the adversarial system.
Some say in my human rights advocacy, I treat the court of public opinion like a court of law. I shall plead guilty to that charge only until I can make my arguments for justice in a court of law.
My opposition has never been against personalities of the TPLF but their odious and atrocious acts. I have never said or done that shows ethnic bias. In nearly 13 years of commentary and speech, no one can produce any evidence proving ethnic bias on my part. I have always aspired to the highest standards of humanity (human-unity) and ethical conduct and never pandered to the politics of ethnicity. I harbor no personal ill-will against any of them because I don’t know them. But I know their crimes against humanity. In fact, I joined the Ethiopian human rights movement because of the Meles Massacres of 2005 and remained in the struggle because there was no end to the crimes they perpetuated.
I very much appreciated the sincere apology you offered in your inaugural speech concerning the extrajudicial killings by security forces. Indeed, others have offered crocodile tears.
I have always said that I would be glad to support them if they conformed their conduct to the rule of law. As recently as October 2017, I said, “I have no personal animus against the T-TPLF or any of its leaders or members. I have often said that I could be their number 1 fan if they conformed their conduct to the rule of law, practiced good governance and respected the human rights of all Ethiopians. That pledge still stands.”
I passionately defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University in September 2010 and was widely condemned for it. It was agonizingly heartbreaking for me to break rank with my personal hero and heroine Eskinder Nega and Serkalem Fasil who wrote a passionate and moving letter asking Columbia University president Lee Bollinger to disinvite Meles. To put principle above people one loves and admires as generational heroes and heroines is painful beyond description. But “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
There is a time for everything…
The Good Book says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. There is a “time to kill and a time to heal.” No more killing, it is time to heal Ethiopia. There is a “time to tear down and a time to build.” It is time to build up Ethiopia and tear down the kilils. There is a “time to weep and mourn and a time to laugh and dance.” It is our time to embrace and laugh at ourselves and dance the night away. There is a “time to tear and a time to mend.” We have been torn up by ethnicity, religion, language. It is time to mend and heal our wounds with the balm of Ethiopiawinet. There is a “time to love and a time to hate”. The time to hate is over. It is high time for love.
My message as we go forward shall be of inclusion, brotherhood, sisterhood. No more rancor and acrimony. No more finger wagging, teeth gnashing and belly aching.
When others talk war, we shall talk peace. We owe it to Ethiopia’s Abo Shemanes. They need a message of healing and unity and assurances that Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come.
Gandhi taught, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
It is time to change beliefs and thoughts and help Ethiopia’s youth change their country and take charge of their destiny.
Opening your arms to Diaspora Ethiopians
In your inaugural speech, you reached out to Ethiopians in the Diaspora “with open arms” and invited them to bring their knowledge, resources and experiences and help develop the country and pledged to return to your country and develop and facilitate others who want to help from a distance.
That is an important gesture of peace and reconciliation with the Diaspora Ethiopian community. I appreciate that. I remember the old days when elaborate war plans were drawn to deal with “Diaspora extremists” and propagandize the rest.
I cannot speak for all Diaspora Ethiopians, but I do speak for quite a few who have regarded me as their voice for over a decade.
There are many of us in the Diaspora who have reached points in our personal and professional lives that we find it more blessed to give than to receive. There are many among us to whom much is given, and much should be expected. We will give back much in return for the simple satisfaction that our young people will have a better future.
Lemma Megerssa said, “To be educated and to be in service of country does not mean just to produce academic research papers. It also means to save your country, to contribute by finding ways of saving our country, coming up with creative ideas, to spread such ideas around. That is something expected more from our intellectuals than anyone else. That is what I think.”
Lemma hit the nail on the head. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Lemma.
Lemma made a special request to Ethiopian intellectuals to join the struggle and make their contributions, not just sit around smugly self-congratulating themselves for their academic publications.
Of course, I immediately reported for duty. I am afraid not too many did report for duty.
It is a great challenge. The ball is in the Diaspora’s court. We are challenged to walk the talk.
Failure is not an option for you: The Ethiopian Abo Shemane (Cheetah) Clock
The prophets of doom and gloom have declared that you are destined to fail. They say “they” will put you on a short leash and won’t let you do anything more than cosmetic changes. Methinks they look through their old crystal ball darkly.
I am filled with optimism as I observe recent developments. But I also question if we are completely out of the woods. The danger of reactionary convulsion is present.
I have long learned to listen to the wisdom of traditional elders who have their fingers on the pulse of the people.
Recently, the amazing Aba Geda Beyene Senbeto preached the truth to all of us about the price of failure:
Let me tell you something. Lately there was this thing about selecting the prime minister. The transition to the Prime Minister had not happened, let me speak the truth, let the whole country hear it, this country would have been in a whole lot of hurt. God is my witness. Everybody was ready with their sharp knives. They were all saying, ‘We’ll see what will happen?’ But God protects Ethiopia. And the government bodies did the right thing and were saved from deep anxiety [about ominous things]. If that had not happened, you think a thousand command post soldiers can suppress one hundred million people? No they can’t…
Aba Geda Beyene is right. God protects Ethiopia.
That is why failure is not an option for you.
That is why failure is not an option for all of us.
All of us are invested heavily in your success because if you lose, we will be the biggest losers – of life, liberty and property.
We must get it right this time!
In America, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board operates something called the “Doomsday Clock” which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe, particularly from global nuclear war. The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as “midnight” and measures how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight.
I have set my own imaginary “Ethiopian Cheetah Doomsday Clock”. I say the clock is at 11 p.m. now. We need to turn back the clock 12 hours.
I know you cannot fail because over 70 million young people (71% of the population was under age 30 as of 2014) got your back!
Weathering the storm
Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” That is how David defeated Goliath. You too can prevail.
There is an old saying about the devil and the storm which I shall paraphrase. To those who say you are not strong enough to weather the storm, I want you to tell them, “I am the storm”. To those who do not believe you are the storm, tell them, “I am the calm in the eye of the storm.” To those who do not believe that, tell them, “Just wait and see Cheetahs raining down on you.”
You have made a rendezvous with history. Walk in Mandela’s shoes to your appointment.
Until next time, wishing you the very best,
Ethiopia today, Ethiopia tomorrow, Ethiopia forever…