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Ethiopian Nationalism in the Service of Its Renaissance

By Addis Alem, August 01, 2013 -

Tigrai Online - Yes, Ethiopian nationalism had been left savagely soiled by the bloody hands of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam. We all watched him in horror as he cried – Ethiopia First! - all the while murdering and torturing the very Ethiopians who could have saved the nation from his megalomaniac craze; and leaving those who managed to escape with their lives severely disoriented and embittered with their own national identity. But I am afraid that, blinded by our disgust of the colonel, we overcorrected and crashed into a ditch where Ethiopian nationalism became either tarnished as an exercise in vanity; or worse, a taboo subject one fumbled with only to push some hidden personal agenda. I think it’s high time we rescued Ethiopian nationalism out of this ditch and rode it to gallop faster towards its renaissance that is already beaconing in the horizon.

Ethiopian Nationalism in the Service of Its Renaissance
I think itís now time for the Ethiopian government to correct its overcorrection when it comes to Ethiopian nationalism. Ethiopian nationalism should not be something we discard along with the trash Mengistu Hailemariam was. Ethiopian nationalism is not a conspiracy theory; rather, itís how we celebrate and pass on to our children who we are as one great people. Painting - Defender, by the renowned artist Afewerk Tekle.

Today, Ethiopia had become one of the top countries in the world with the fastest growing economies. I appreciate that we are starting from a dismal GDP figure, and the percentage increase is not dramatic enough to transform our lives; but nobody can deny that the country is moving in the right direction for the first time in a very long time. But then, why are so many of our young sisters and brothers risking everything to flee from it all? Why are they in such a rush to sail and walk right into the predatory and sadistic arms of brute Arab nations while we all watch in silence? How many of them need to be mutilated and tortured to death before somebody said enough? And who is supposed to speak for, and rescue the ones who find themselves trapped in an endless sexual and emotional enslavement before we lost them to insanity or suicide? These deeply troubling questions had long been weighing on Ethiopians, but these days, instead of dissolving into some kind of solution, they seem to be worsening to reach a sickening crisis level. The failure on the part of the Ethiopian government to reign in this crisis had become so hideous that it had made it look like it’s profiting from the human trafficking of its own citizens. We are shipping our innocent sisters off to these horrific Arab lands, and forgetting all about them as if they were some cheap export goods.        

Now, I am not here implying that all these horror stories could have been easily averted had the Ethiopian government tried to instill national pride in all its citizens. We all know it’s much more complicated than this. But we also know that sometimes great human transformations can spring out of a small sense of pride one takes in oneself. So, what is stopping the Ethiopian government from trying to inspire our young generation with our immensely rich history and culture so that they can start to dream big in their own homeland? Why is the Ethiopian Government looking the other way as our sisters and brothers kept losing all sense of self-worth to the point of risking torture and death for a chance to cross into these savage Arab lands where only physical and emotional exploitation awaited them? I am afraid this is one extremely distressing policy area the Ethiopian Government dropped the ball, damaging our national pride and severely tarnishing its own image. The disgusting impunity with which our innocent sisters and brothers are being tortured and murdered in those barbarous Arab nations has made the Ethiopian government look disturbingly amateurish for such an ancient proud nation – failing miserably to execute one of its most sacred duties, which is protecting and speaking for its own citizens. This, I believe, is the worst manifestation of the overcorrection we have undertaken concerning our nationalism.

Of course, it is not necessarily a bad thing that the current Ethiopian government is more focused on building the nation’s infrastructure than talking about its glorious past. But it really feels like this exclusive focus on infrastructure might have been embraced by the government to a fault. After all, the nation is rushing to build its infrastructure to grow out of poverty, not to run away from its past. Yes, the nation is for sure better off devoting more of its resources building its future rather than talking about its glorious past; but this doesn’t mean its past is irrelevant to its future. And the fact that all of us Ethiopians didn’t get to share our nation’s glorious past with similar familiarity and intensity across time and geography cannot and shouldn’t be interpreted to mean we never had a past as a nation. We cannot claim to be proud of our diversity and then rush to restrict and limit the nature of that diversity we use to define our modern national identity. Tigrai’s present or distant past should be just as valuable to our diversity as Gambela’s. There is simply no good reason to deemphasize our diversity on historical bases, and then selectively emphasize it on cultural or religious bases. We are a proud ancient nation that is just as rich in history as it is rich in cultural and religious diversity; and ordinary Ethiopians shouldn’t always be the ones reminding this richness to the Ethiopian government; actually, it is supposed to be the other way around. The Ethiopian government needs to get over its overcorrection on Ethiopian nationalism.

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Ethiopia - an immensely diverse and underdeveloped nation that sits in the middle of a very tough neighborhood - cannot afford to ditch the application of nationalism to expedite its cultural, social, and economic integration. Nationally, a well developed sense of nationalism would make this integration effortless by encouraging regional states to focus on cooperating with each other rather than wasting their meager resources on trivial squabbles. Internationally, a strong sense of Ethiopian nationalism can help make regional borders less rigid – allowing foreign companies to cross them smoothly - facilitating commerce and reducing the cost of doing business - thereby making Ethiopia more attractive for foreign investment. However, our government seems exclusively focused on infrastructure. Ethiopian nationalism had become something the government embraces only when it is going to war. This is yet another manifestation of our overcorrection on the issue of Ethiopian nationalism. The nation had forgotten how take pride in itself – or even recognize itself. I am delighted our nation’s infrastructure is growing strong – as it is its backbone really - but what about the nation’s spirit? What about the nation’s sense of itself? What about Ethiopian nationalism?     

I think it’s now time for the Ethiopian government to correct its overcorrection when it comes to Ethiopian nationalism. Ethiopian nationalism should not be something we discard along with the trash Mengistu Hailemariam was. Ethiopian nationalism is not a conspiracy theory; rather, it’s how we celebrate and pass on to our children who we are as one great people –immensely rich with decency, diversity, and history. It’s time the Ethiopian government abandoned this foolish idea that the manhandling of Ethiopian nationalism by colonel Mengistu had forever soiled it beyond redemption. Only a fool would throw away a gold bar just because it had been used to bludgeon somebody to death – completely ignoring its obvious potential to make lovely gold rings that can be used to strengthen love and unity. God bless Teddy Afro, but fostering Ethiopian nationalism is not a simple task that should be left to one gifted artist alone. Besides, I don’t think Teddy Afro is singing the nation praise so that he can become the next Amhara king of Ethiopia – he does it simply because he is proud to be Ethiopian. It’s also time our own government showed pride in the nation it’s working so hard to awaken to the dawn of its renaissance. After all, how can our government expect young Ethiopians to stay in their own homeland and contribute to the renewal and renaissance of Ethiopia when it had totally neglected to teach them about its glory days in the first place?

Editors Comment: Mr. Addis Alem is passionate about Ethiopian unity and he is a regular contributor to Tigrai Online. He is a nationalist Ethiopian and we have had heated discussions on different national issues with him. Sometimes we do sometimes we don’t agree with his opinions. On this article, even though we agree with most of the concepts we strongly disagree with the assertion that the Amharic singer Teddy Afro is fostering Ethiopian nationalism. We think Teddy Afro is a racist, tribalist and one of the most narrow minded people who are pushing one ethnic group’s achievements and one king’s false glorification. We don’t think Teddy Afro is a good example of Ethiopian nationalist, but he is a great example of those who are working to destroy Ethiopian unity and nationalism.

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