By Dilwenberu Nega
May 15, 2012
The Government’s run-ins with religion during the last quarter have raised the spectre of politics rearing its ugly head in an area of our lives which is meant to remain a politically-free zone. As mixing politics with religion – two immiscible elements - has a proven track record of ending up a recipe for disaster, not to say bonfire, society must be seen exerting maximum efforts to nip in a bud politicians’ penchant for lurking behind either the Cross (Christianity) or the Crescent (Islam).
Politics and religion belong to two different worlds. In layman’s term politics belongs to Man, and has everything to do with translating into deeds the visions and manifestoes of political parties; whereas religion belongs to institutions of worship the sole mission of which is to save man’s soul on earth so that they are able to inherit the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. The two elements, therefore, are as different as chalk and cheese.
The current furore over what I call “Waldebagate” boils down to nothing more than a sinister ploy by a fraternity of Ethiopian Orthodox fundamentalist zealots to cut a wedge between the Government and the laity of EOTC. It’s worth noting here that these are die-hard orthodox who glom onto the anachronistic view of Ethiopia as fundamentally Christian, not to say a Christian island, and EOTC as “a symbol of Ethiopian unity and the cradle of Ethiopian civilization,” which as you know, better than I do, constitute the right mindset for turning Ethiopia – world renowned for peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims – into an inter-religious inferno.
By falsely accusing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s administration of turning “the perpetually virgin lands of the Monastery of Waldeba into playing fields of bulldozers and tractors in preparation for sugar-cane plantation,” self-exiled gaga opposition politicians continue to leave no stone unturned to overegg Waldebagate in a desperate attempt to discredit the Government and to get maximum political mileage from the bubble. No one dare deny the polarising effect of Waldebagate has had on the sizeable EOTC fellowship abroad where the bubble had managed to win hearts and minds of the gullible.
On one occasion alone the Management Committee of a London based church which had declared UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) from Addis Ababa, ordered the Priest-in-Charge to condemn as “Enemy of St. Mary” anyone who failed to attend a pro-Waldeba demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament. This is not abnormality: its madness galore.
Have faith, for all is not doom and gloom in topsy-turvy Waldebagate. Much to the chagrin and disappointment of the politically toxic brigade, and thanks to ETV’s coverage of all aspects of the ongoing construction of an irrigation dam on the River Zarema and the impact it will have on the hitherto “untouched lands of the Monastery,” we have been able to sift the fiction from fact. Fiction number 1: the ongoing preparation of land for sugar-cane plantation has turned the lands of Waldeba into “playing fields of bulldozers and tractors.” Fiction number 2: The construction of a dam for irrigation on the River Zarema will cause flooding in Waldeba. Fiction number 3: the Government has desecrated the burial grounds of holy fathers.
Fact number 1: no bulldozer or tractor has thus far rolled or will ever roll on the sacred grounds of the Monastery. Levelling and ploughing the Tekeze valley is a far cry from turning the mountain-top sacred estate of Waldeba into playing fields of bulldozers and tractors. Fact number 2: Impact assessment has confirmed that the level of water the dam is expected to contain will, under no circumstances, rise to the apex of the mountain where Waldeba’s fiefdom is located. Fact number 3: it is an unadulterated lie to accuse the Government that has always respected the sanctity of the church of desecrating the remains of holy fathers. I think it is worth noting here that as far as EOTC is concerned, this Government has fared better than its predecessor. It is this Government which by virtue of the 1994 Constitution that separated State and Church – a significant move that paved the way for EOTC’s independent status. It is this Government which had searched and exhumed the remains of Ethiopia’s second patriarch, who was strangled to death by Derg’s Special Commando Unit. It is this Government which resituated EOTC’s real estate and the Theological College.
The good news, however, is that despite the damage done to communal harmony by galloping Waldebagate, there is light at the end of the tunnel. People are beginning to pay heed to their senses more than a willingness to be goaded by whimsical politicians. Mark my word, Waldebagate’s will also deflate like American and European dotcom bubble of 2000.
The second hot-potato to have confronted the Government and the society with anxious concern is Wahhabiyya zealot’s cunning cabal to ventilate in the open their so far held in check plan to seize state power, not through the ballot box, but by virtue of their religion. Fundamentalist zealots from Wahhabiyya started off with a campaign demanding the Government to take its hand off from Islamic affairs. But the truth is that the Government hasn’t interfered in the first place. What turned Wahhabiyya ballistic is the leave to operate granted to rival Al Ahbash. The Government was acting in accordance with the Constitution which unequivocally guarantees freedom and equality of religions. The Government has no mandate to favour one religious sect at the expense of another. Events have made it crystal clear that what Wahhabiyya now wants is to circumvent the Constitution by arguing fallaciously that because Ethiopian Muslims outnumber Ethiopian Christians, Wahhabiyya has the right to establish an Islamic state in Ethiopia.
Our ancient land is endowed with the enviable virtue of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Instead of building on this great foundation a modern and secular country, it would be an exercise in futility to tamper with our society’s sacrosanct values.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to conclude my commentary by expressing my lament and shock at the sheer sight of the Secretary General of the Washington-based ‘Runaway Synod’ expressing support to Wahhabiyya’s demand. Opposing the EPRDF from the pulpit of a church is one thing, but to support calls for the establishment of an Islamist state is a downright irresponsible, opportunistic and insensitive act. If it was some other Arch Bishop who came out in support of Wahhabiyya’s claim, I probably would not have reacted. But this support to “Our Muslim Brothers” came from a recalcitrant “Ethiopia is a Christian island” fanatic. Oh, whatever next with the runaway synod?
Politicians: hands off from churches and mosques!