You ain’t no true Ethiopian!
By Aklilu Abreha
“…Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us……”
John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address. Friday, January 20, 1961
As I stated on my Part I, unlike its predecessors, the current government has made it a high priority to decentralize (though not to the level I like to see) and develop other regions of Ethiopia, as opposed to only Addis Ababa and its vicinity. There are hard facts and figures that do not require my enumeration. All I say to you is that when you go to Ethiopia next time around, and I have said it to you before, you need make it part of your itinerary to visit other places outside of Addis. Go visit small towns including places like Gondar, Bahirdar, Mekelle, Harrar, Afar and you will see the encouraging changes with your own eyes, gain a first hand experience meeting your fellow Ethiopians, and enjoy walking around places where your proud Ethiopian history got started.
Let us, instead, look at patriotic and true Ethiopians who fought against brutality. Since I started publishing articles, I have received several phone calls from my childhood friends and e-mails from other Ethiopians. My childhood friends and I are in agreement that we are the abused children turned baby boomers of Ethiopia. All of us have been subjected to horrific emotional trauma and physical harm so much so that most of us carry to this day psychological and physical scars.
Just the other day, I went to attend a Christening in Dallas and I run into some of my childhood friends. While revisiting those dark days of Derg, we were horrified when we remembered a “red terror” victim whose brain was ate by a dog while we stood around and watched; we grieved the beautiful long hair young girl whose dead body was exhibited for hours in front of the Telecommunication office; we felt nauseated, after twenty nine years, when we remembered the intestine of a young student decaying in front of Ethiopia Hotel for weeks after the Hidar 29, 1969 (Eth cal.) massacre; we suffered a sense of loss when we remembered the older guys whose life was cut short, and how we were left without role models; we shivered when we recalled the sleepless nights spent listening to the dreadful noise of oncoming Special Forces Land Rovers.
We became enraged at that murderous government, and our emotion poured out like a steam out of a pressure cooker after it blew out the lid. We could not stop talking; it was a desperately needed therapy. We continued and remembered our friend’s mother who was flogged by Melaku’s forces because she cried for her two murdered children. She was kneeling down and daring the soldier to shoot her right-there-and-then, and she told him, as far as she was considered, her life was over, but the soldier went on flogging her even harder. If my memory is serving me right, our friend’s mother was originally from Oromia and she begged the soldier in Oromiffa as most of Melaku’s Special Assassins were Oromos (no ill will intended to our Oromo brothers, but it has to be told). Our friend’s mother never gained her sanity back after that incident.
As we recalled much more of the horrific conditions of all those Derg days of mayhem and murder unleashed against innocent children and mothers of Ethiopia, our eyes became tearful and our voices got choked.
Oh! What a frightening time that was. But Derg had a way of making one gruesome act better than the other; we recollected the government approved Netsa Irmija, a sort of “drive by shooting” in Gondar, where Melaku’s gang members shot at people randomly as they drove down the city’s major streets. The Derg gangs just rolled down the windows of their Land Rover, pointed their Kalashnikovs out and randomly shot at pedestrians. We remembered the young student who was shot but survived after loosing an arm and an eye.
The abuse endured by the children of my generation under the Derg regime was so horrific that it makes the American children’s claim of abusive childhood look like a life in an amusement park. You know, when the American abused children-turned-adults sued the Catholic Church for compensation, I entertained the idea of filling a class action lawsuit against the Derg government and its leaders, but gave up on it as most of them have died or are likely to die soon and will not last to see the legal due process takes its course.
For us, the individuals who fought and destroyed Derg are a thousand times more true Ethiopians. And we despise the cowards who corroborated and supported Derg, the disloyal bunch who pledged allegiance to Mengistu; the perfidious who raised their left hand and shouted “Forward with comrade Mengistu.” while he murdered us in mass. For us, to hear people call a former Derg member a “true Ethiopian” is tantamount to calling the child abuser Catholic priest a saint. For us to see people trying to ascent a former Derg to Primeministership is like conferring sainthood to an abusive Catholic priest.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold EPRP equally responsible for the abuse we endured, because it conscripted us, the young and innocent children, exploiting our susceptibility to peer pressure and incessant desire to belong to a group. And EPRP never cared when we ended up victimized, instead they continued throwing us by thousands to Derg ‘s fire of brutality as if we were a worthless firewood.
Friends, brothers and sisters, talk about “it”-the atrocities you suffered under Derg- it helps. We have held it inside for far too long to the point that our victimizers thought we have forgotten.
After 14 years since we sent them to their graves, they are trying to resurrect their corrupt and sinful soul, and they are now conscripting children to make them a victimized generation again. In a strange world of politics, it is not surprising to see a new and twisted love affair between Derg and EPRP. EPRP is guiding CUD through a strategy on how to use little children in a futile attempt to subvert the latest Ethiopian democratic aspiration.
That is why, at his point, I need to issue the following SOS, an appeal to the Prime Minister Meles from a former child victim:
I understand, sir, you are a voracious reader. And I hope, by chance or by design, you heed my plea and take action. Please protect our innocent little brothers and sisters; do not let Ethiopian children become a generation of victims again. Be their guardian angel and stop their victimization by former Derg turned “democrat” child predators, and assure their safety and sanity as they are the future leaders of Ethiopia. In one of the greatest democracy we know as America, President Clinton, an unknown poor kid from Hope, Arkansas became one of the greatest Presidents in America. Mr. Prime Minister, because of your dedication and commitment to establish a democratic system in Ethiopia, a poor Ethiopian child now can dream that one day he/she will become Prime Minister of Ethiopia. I believe this to be is one of your momentous achievements. Until that dream is realized, however, please do not pay too much attention to the old, the tired, and the retired opponent; we, the baby boomers, are the ones to watch. I never ever thought I will say this in my life time, Mr. Prime Minister, but now that you have helped open the door of opportunity, I am hopeful than ever before that someday soon an individual from my generation will run in the next round of elections and occupy your office without firing a single bullet, not even a celebratory one. I am sure history will remember you as the Shepard who protected children and as a leader who made peace reign in Ethiopia. Thank you for making our country a better place for future generations of Ethiopians.
Now let me get back to Iwenetigna Ethiopiawinet. As I said, my friends, I have also received hundreds of e-mails from all kinds of Ethiopians. As much as I can, I make it a point to read and respond to all the e-mails I received. It is the least I can do for people who take time to read my rather extended articles.
I exchanged several correspondences with one person in particular because the writer claimed Prime Minister Meles is not Ethiopian, because, he argued, Mr. Meles neither loves nor has the best interest of Ethiopia at heart. He proceeded to tell me that he never heard Prime Minister Meles say he loves Ethiopia or make a public statement to protect the territorial integrity of Ethiopian at any cost. The writer suggested that if Mr. Meles were to come out tomorrow and tell us he is Ethiopian and he loves Ethiopia, all of Ethiopian political problems will disappear into thin air. And he concluded by saying Mengistu was better in that regard and CUD, of course, is quintessentially Ethiopian and it is the epitome of true Ethiopiawinet.
That is so infantile. Mr. Meles is a politician and I believe he knows the best strategy for him to continue garnering support for his agenda. Not all, but most Politicians are ambitious and shrewd individuals. To those of us who are audacious enough to share our political strategy advice, if we were better at it than Mr. Meles, one of us would have been the Prime Minister and not Mr. Meles himself. So, let us save our advice to ourselves.
Anyway, after that e-mail exchange, I was again reminded of an abusive relationship, and I could not believe that there are living and breathing people in year 2006 who are nostalgic for the dark days of the Derg era. I believe these people need some serious couch time with a certified therapist. Don’t you agree? I beg you to look at the similarities: in some private relationships, be it a marriage, a steady or a casual dating, one of the partners tends to be extremely abusive, and constantly inflicts physical and emotional harm to the other partner. Then, a few minutes later, the abuser turns around and convinces the victim that the act was committed out of deep love, respect, and protection of the victim. As incredible as it seems, the victim ends up believing it. When you ask the victim why stay in such a relationship, the answer is immediate and firm: because he/she loves me and respects me and he/she does “it” to protects me. That is self deceiving. Get real and realize “it”- the violence- and the relationship for what it is: it is an abuse relationship of an extreme order. Ask Dr. Phil and he will tell you the same thing and he will prescribe counseling to both partners.
Some Ethiopians will do themselves a favor calling Dr. Phil or another qualified counselor. The relationship Mengistu had with Ethiopians was abusive, violent, cruel, and sadistic. He claimed to love and protect us, but ended up torturing, crippling, and finally murdering us by thousands. He claimed to protect our territorial integrity and enshrine our glorious past history, but ended up making a here-and –now shameful history that most of us were ashamed to tell we are Ethiopians until recently. As sad as it was to see other African countries fall victims of famine and starvation, deep inside, some of us were relieved that the American comedians won’t make fun of Ethiopians anymore. Because making fun of starving Ethiopians has been the opening monologue of late night TV shows. Skeletal Ethiopians have been the punch line of jokes.
In the early 1990, when I was going to school and driving a Taxi cab at the same time, I dreaded and evaded the ever present “Where are you from cabbie?” question. Just like I did, most Ethiopians lied and said they were Jamaicans or Cubans or pretended to be citizens of another obscure African country. This “true Ethiopian” leader of yours, Mengistu, and his subordinates were the people who made us ashamed of claiming our Ethiopian citizenship.
As for CUD’s “Iwnetegna Ethiopiawinet”, I cannot say more than what I have said in my previous articles. But here is what I read on an article by one member/leader of CUD, Mr. Shewakena, he writes “I also think Andargachew has the competence to make intelligent choices about talking to Eritrean officials if he so wishes... He (Ato Andargachew Tsige) is a brilliant and visionary individual to be able to see what merits his country.”
And after hearing the news about CUD’s representatives allegedly shuttling from American and European cities to the capital of Eritrea, here is what I read from an Eritrean website www.awate.com about the CUD leaders collaboration with Shabia and Isayas’s intention:
“….He (Isayas) is driven by his personal ambition to secure a throne for himself beyond our (Eritrean) borders at the sleepy Tekeze River. He is not even interested in Tigray anymore- he looks deeper South to the high plateaus of Shoa which he first aspired to rule through the Tigray surrogate and when that failed, he wants to rule it through the surrogate power of the KINIJIT, the ‘new darling’ Ethiopian opposition…..He(Isayas) is bent on becoming a Neguse Negest….And if that fails and Ethiopia disintegrates as he wishes it, well and good; he will become an unchallenged bully of the region.”
As much as we were suspicious about EPRDF’s motive in charging the opposition leaders of treason and genocide, the above statement lends support to the government’s accusation and attempts to prove with some shadow of a doubt that CUD is aiding and abating the avowed enemies of Ethiopian -Shabia and OLF- to destroy our country and cause us harm. I assume that the government might have stronger evidence; we will see that as the court proceeding unfolds. But, reading both articles certainly sent chills down my spine. And I say to you these are the CUD leaders with a mission who you like to call “true Ethiopian”, and conspiring with Isayas is one of the missions your donation is designed to fulfill.
I have to say one thing here, there are conflicting reports about who traveled to Asmara and met with Isayas. I assume some of it may be a result of faulty intelligence. But I did my share to find out. I tell you; recently, I have become so dedicated it is scary. Well, I contacted a very, I mean very reliable source after I heard the news. He gave me names of people who did travel to Asmara, and even told me he knows people who watched a video recording of the meeting with Isayas. But he told me that Mr. Kassa Kebede has been under medical care for sometime now and did not travel to Asmara. He said, let alone intercontinental flight, Mr. Kebede is not even capable to travel short distances. There you have it.
For the opposition, while glorifying its own leaders, labeling EPRDF anti-Ethiopian and calling its leaders not-Ethiopian is border line criminal. We have to recognize that EPRDF is a political organization, and its leaders and members are Ethiopians. The Party has a political agenda geared on how to redress past injustices and how to maintain a united Ethiopia enshrined in a constitution with equal rights to all Ethiopian citizens. EPRDF has policies and strategies to meet this desired end and is working on implementing it.
This is nothing new here. Just like EPRDF, other political Parties create division among people to broaden their own constituency. It works the same way here in the most developed democracy we know as America: you have the urban (code word for black); the suburban (code word for white); the soccer mom (young white baby boomer); conservative (middle age white man) etc…. Need I say more about the 1998 Willie Horton ads run by Bush Sr. and the affirmative action campaign ads run by Senator Jessie Helms of North Carolina? History is full of organizations and politicians who sought differing methods and followed divergent course of action to redress past and current injustice. In America (pardon me for dwelling on an American experience, as my adult life experience is shaped by it) you had the Jamaican born Marcus Garvey who wanted to repatriate all black people back to Africa. And then, you had Elijah Mohammed of the Nation of Islam who advocated a separate black homeland to be carved out from America, and he mandated it be independent and separated from American federal administration
EPRDF is no different. It is an organization that built its constituency on ethnic bases, and this political structure on ethnic lines does not make it anti-Ethiopian. The Party has been in power for over fourteen years since the “sinister plan” of EPRDF to destroy Ethiopia was announced to us by the opposition. Well, the opposition is proven wrong, because Ethiopia is still here, and better than ever, developing economically, and a force to be reckoned with militarily. EPDRF is not an alien entity; it is an Ethiopian political reality. It is going to stay here for good in Ethiopian politics, and such, we better develop a better strategy to deal with it in the political arena. Let us come to our senses and deal with EPDRF as an opposing force; any attempt to label it anti-Ethiopian and any struggle to destroy it is a futile exercise to say the least.
Among other issues, the most frequented that I have noticed in particular, and the one that gave EPRDF anti-Ethiopian label is Article 39, which, some strongly believe, does not protect the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. I am not an expert in constitutional matters, but I believe there are justifications for the inclusion of Article 39.
My fellow citizens, Constitutions are made to be amended; all we need to do is understand the reasons and genuinely work towards addressing and eliminating the concerns. Once we have gained the confidence of all our fellow Ethiopians, we can propose to amend our constitution to articulate “one nation, under God and Allah, indivisible….” That is fair enough for me and I hope it is to you too. If not, there is also another way to look at it, especially for those of you in academia; I recently read a book titled “Radical Hermeneutics.” In the book, the author argues that “Radical thinking is not an exercise in nihilism, as its critics charge, but a renewed vigilance about the gaps and differences inherent in our experience.” Isn’t EPRDF engaged in radical thinking? I like to think so.
In conclusion, to some Ethiopians, I say it to you once again: you ain’t no true Ethiopian until you prove your sincerity. Besides getting wrapped up with a flag and singing “EeeeeeeeeeeThiopia! Ageeeeeerie!.” what have you done for families of your comrades who died fighting against Derg? What have you done for your old neighborhood, for your old high school, for your small town? You have the power if you chose to make a difference. The Ethiopian government has a tax exempt policy, take advantage of it and then you can proudly claim to the whole wide world that you are a true Ethiopian.
To that end, again, in the famous words of President Kennedy, I want to hear you pledge:
“To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe Ethiopia struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists EPRDF may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
And your partners in development will say right back to you:
“Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”
“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate….Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
And all of us together say:
“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this EPRDF Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Boy, revisiting my childhood events has been very emotional for me…..Until next time….Arighato and Sayonara!
God bless us all, and keep our homeland safe for all of us-the lost lambs-to joyfully return.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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