The Urban Poor-a Vibrant and Veritable Force to Reckon With
By Samuel Estefanous
Tigrai Online, Sept. 19, 2017
Washington Post trying to create ginormous out of tiny.
The urban poor is the ultimate harbinger of coming events. Like in the popular book, when coming events cast their shadow, they sure take measure of the teeming urban crowd.
Let us take an example.
On a number of occasions TOL has featured very engaging views relative to a local vocalist who seems to have some kind of cult following. I am not sure if it is by an AP correspondent or a Huffington Post one but recently I remember reading something in the line of how the world loves this vocalist to distraction while his own government is openly spurning him. It sounded like an amateurish piece worthy of the comment box but to its credit the article had dutifully incorporated all the standard ferenji lopsided perceptions of Ethiopians.
On top of all that, it did reflect one fundamental simmering urban issue. The vocalist does command an army of solid, uncompromising followers. I believe he is what one would call ‘a teen heartthrob’ gone wild and overboard. Only teen heartthrobs tend to wither away before they hit thirty and this one is riding the waves well in to his mid-forties.
Again, they say he isn’t a killing hunter like a Cheetah but an opportunistic scavenger like the Hyena that steals the kill. He always times his ‘top charting’ singles to coincide with a current political mishap or crisis and steals the limelight. After that the melodrama keeps going on like-all eyes on me, remember that song?
Let us assume all that.
After all an artist without a blemish is one buried alive. The “industry” is said to thrive on controversies, if there is none one has to be created. The question is, how should the government handle it if it has got to indeed?
In my humble opinion, the government and local think tank brigades should have been be training their pairs of binoculars not on Tewodros Kassahun per se but the multitudes of the urban poor who dance blind folded to his tunes. If they knew how to make the best of it, Teddy Afro is doing them invaluable service, pin pointing the tense spots in the social spectrum and allowing them to do their research bound to their armchair with little effort.
1-What are the Azimars and Shepherd Boys singing about?
Ethiopians are indomitably secretive society who rarely speak their mind and hardly eat their heart out in public. It might sound farfetched but now as fifteen hundred years ago, chiefs and even ordinary folks air their grievances after sun down in the tej beths, taverns and trendy liquor shops. In the old days the reigning monarchs knew whom to trust and when. So what they would do, they would send out scouts-research assistants - to go around and listen to the revealing lyrics of the Azimaris and the Shepherd Boys. Considering little seems to have changed over the past hundreds of years, there is no reason the government should be jettisoning this particular research methodology.
2-Beer Hall Putsch
True political manifestos of the urban poor are declared in local pubs and community center beer halls. And for the most part, they are hardly declarations of love and trust. In a small kebele beer hall they form in to small units and eye each other with suspicion and if one breaks in to such a unit they feel like a halter is thrown around their neck or something and begin talking loudly in an exaggerated politically correct manner, beginning with the cliché -hagerachin Etyopia eko…only to totally counter it all after downing more jugs of beer. To observe them is like reading a thriller.
Breaking in to such a crowd and dancing to the current vibe is more meaningful and relevant to understand the society than burying one’s nose in a Harvard academic journal to find a cure to a National ailment.
True, I don’t like seasonal ‘populist agendas’ but I sure know what they are capable of. Skin deep as they are, irresponsible as they tend to be, they are capable of making or breaking the Nation at large. We need to have our lesson in history and try to heed them.
3-Melting in a Pot
For the most part agrarian and pastoralist communities are comparatively self-sufficient. They might be eating, once, twice or thrice a day but they do provide for that meal on their own. Contrary to that, urban folks are ‘hooked on the government’ in one way or another. Unlike rural communities, the society is a motley of all races, religions and cultures that melt in to one big pot with all the strings attached from back home.
In this community you might encounter a ‘sefer’ where a regular customer willfully waits on you when the waiters are nowhere to be seen. You might protest saying he didn’t have to do that and his reply would be something like ‘Nah, no problem, Sir, I am yesefer lij and you kinda look a stranger here.’ This good Samaritanism is worthy of a Holy Book Verse if you ask me. Yet in this very community you might encounter a fellow customer who feels uncomfortable and wouldn’t visit an eatery unless he is in a group of five or more exclusively drawn from his own kind.
It wouldn’t take you much time or effort to realize that the former are established folks about the City and the latter are recent arrivals who couldn’t fit in, so they literally carry a bit of the town around themselves. If they couldn’t fit in, no matter how hard they try day in and day out, it means there is a problem to be diagnosed. You see, what moves and shakes these two groups are incredibly divergent but they shouldn’t be.
Otherwise, when the latter group increasingly realizes it is hardly ‘fitting in’, it naturally creates an oasis for its own kind or tries to reclaim and enforce its own as the mainstream. A major political overhaul would be eminent to carry this agenda to a degree of success and it might not be welcome across the board.
4- Education that fails to Bake Injera
Do you remember the precollege philosophy course where you begin the lesson by debating if philosophy bakes bread or not?
In developing countries in particular, educations invariably urbanizes the community. For as long as the urban centers create jobs and the government employs the graduates, there might be little problem, but when the educated youth makes up the bulk of the urban poor, it is the perfect recipe for sociological disasters.
We got to ask ourselves, does the education we give the youth capable of baking good injera? Or does it just make the graduates capable of using the social media effectively to foment all sorts of movements, imagined or otherwise?