Back to our roots, back to Geez

By Godofai Tgiorgis
May 09 2010

What language is good for Ethiopia? All of them. What official language should Ethiopia have? Anyone of them. For convenience however only one is possible. The question then is which language should we accept as official one? The outright answer which comes to mind is Amharic. Amharic has been used as an official language for couple of centuries now. Many people speak and understand Amharic as a result. Therefore, if any, Amharic should stay as the official language of the nation. But this is only fine as far as common sense can go and is half true. In a nation where many languages are spoken choosing Amharic only because it has been there does not follow logic. Amharic as much as it is an asset is also a liability to many. The introduction of Latin, the revival of Tigrigna, etc. was nothing more than a protest against Amharic and through it the Amahara rule. Amharic is therefore convenient but not a choice unless otherwise the people have a say for it.

The recent argument for making Oromigna as a second official language of Ethiopia can be attributed to nothing but a challenge to Amharic which is assumed to symbolize past wounds. Ethiopia needs an official language and a second language as well. But that does not imply that Oromigna should be the one. This is not because Oromigna does not qualify to be so. But the argument from majority that it is relying on is too weak. The Oromo people can have majority in number or many people from other regions can work there but that does not give Oromigna the privilege to become a second language. I am not against Oromigna becoming a second official language but the argument from majority simply does not cut the ribbon. More work need to be done, more reasons have to come forward and above all the people of Ethiopia should vote for it. If we approve language based on what one is good at then TPLF has power now and should claim Tigrigna to be official and so on and that is not right.

Existing situations can help one’s case but should not be pushed to be a dictate. The Ethiopian people must be given a sufficient reason that convinces them to give their consent to it because the resentment that people have against one another is deep and fresh that it is hard to cross the bridge without creating a full understanding. Whatever measure we take should be all inclusive and accommodating and everyone should be content and clear of what one is getting lest we go back to the old rivalries. The problem of course is us, our opinion and experience, and not the language. However, to avoid any backlash the language should come forth passing that litmus test. And I believe the language that would pass that litmus test is Geez. Not Amharic, not Oromigna, not Tigrigna but Geez. Adopting Geez as a national language is therefore imperative not because it is our root but also because of the present and future advantages it provides.

Why Geez? There are four main reasons why Ethiopia should revisit Geez as its official language. First, Geez is a highly developed language by comparison. Although I am not a Geez literate, Geez covers a wide range of representation more than Amharic, Oromigna and Tigrigna combined. It is rich in vocabulary and references. There will be no shortage of communication with Geez. And recent words that followed recent technical and other developments can be integrated easily. We can also add verbs and words from the native languages to fill in the shortage if necessary.

Second, Geez is our history, our script, our invention. Geez is our identity, our legacy and a symbol of everything that is Ethiopian. It is our tradition that we must handover to our future generations. Ethiopia stands out as pride of the Negro because of Geez. Geez was what Africa today isn’t. Geez is the symbol of pride and defiance of what the Westerners call the savage people. Geez is Africa as much as Africa is Geez. Making Geez an official language is therefore nothing more than asserting our place in the world, asserting our identity both as Ethiopians and Africans, again.

A wide range of issues got a good coverage and the meeting was closed by paying tribute in a one minute silence to those who fell recently victims to the terrorist acts in Tigray, Ethiopia and to all martyrs who paid sacrifices to bring democracy, peace and stability in Ethiopia.

The third reason is that it does not side with anyone. All the resentments each ethnic has against the other will be over with the advent of Geez because it does not side with anyone. Neither it is with Amharic nor with Tigrigna. Geez is neither Christian nor Muslim. It is impartial. Simply put it is the language our ancestors had before even they handed us down the religions we believe in. Geez therefore belongs to all of us as Ethiopians. It was not imposed and is not imposed. And if it becomes our official language it will be so only by our choice.

The last but not the least is that everyone will learn from the start. One cannot claim advantage over the other. Everyone becomes a student and a teacher of Geez at the same time. Yes the training might take much time and resource. It is going to be painful too. Regardless it is worth the sacrifice because it is cost effective in the long run from the country’s perspective. A maximum of ten years may take for its implementation but this is short period of discomfort compared to the resentments we will harbor for centuries. Geez will bring more harmony and peace than the dictates or “high tech “languages we are importing.

One might suggest the Swiss model that we learn the dominant languages simultaneously. Learning Amharic, Oromigna and Tigrigna or other languages combined for example. But with Ethiopia having so many languages this is not a good idea because it will bring only a complication and extra burden to the minorities. And what Ethiopia needs from now on is an official language that should not be a burden, in any form, to the nationalities. We need therefore a language that is bipartisan and that reflects our full participation. And Geez is the right choice in the right direction.

Yes we can choose another language too but that choice better be a dialect that we own both in spirit and script. Yes it is one’s right to exercise what one feels is right whether this is choosing language on its merit. However no merit is to be found in the scripts we import except it shows our weak spirit. We are simply short exchanging our home, our shelter for a mansion we haven’t built. Many of us might have suffered badly by the Amhara or Tigray rule in the past but that should not be an excuse for us to take refugee from what is ours. We all belong to Ethiopia and Ethiopia is ours not matter what. As citizens, therefore, we are good only as far as we preserve and respect what is ours. And Geez is our heritage and therefore all of us have a duty to preserve even without making it our official language. Geez transcends tribalism. Geez transcends sectarianism.

Ethiopia can stride big time economically, socially and politically. However, such stride will mean something only if it is accompanied by preserving the culture, language and values that it had for generations. All that is old is not bad and should not be discarded. And Geez is one of them that should be preserved. We have to grow up and we have to grow big but that growth will make more sense if we also resurrect those forgotten values and languages that are our heritages. If we can learn foreign languages, such as English, in our schools I don’t see any problem in learning Geez. The difficulty should not arise because it is ours. We can leave Geez aside and adopt any language we want but Latinizing or Arabicizing it is outright wrong and hard to imagine. Let us fight on what is our right, whether this is power or something else, but whatever fight we fight let this fight not be over borrowed culture, language and scripts please. Ethiopia and Ethiopians deserve more than this.