We must live for the future, and not for the past or in the past.

By Mulugeta Asrate-Kassa
Dec. 16 2010

The news that former Derg officials – those who are currently serving life in prison and those in death row - have requested leaders of Ethiopia’s main religions to act as intermediaries in their quest to say sorry to the people of Ethiopia, has been greeted with mixed feelings in Europe and America where thousands of victims of Derg’s nightmarish rule reside, ironically, side by side with those former Derg henchmen who had hunted and hounded Ethiopians. Accordingly, Tehasas 16th (Gregorian Christmas Day) has been pencilled in for the Group of Religious Leaders to make a nation-wide appeal with the hope of securing a consensual agreement to forgive perpetrators of unprecedented heinous crimes.

It takes a wise Derg to say sorry, and even a wiser Ethiopian to forgive
As a people, seldom have we been confronted with such an emotive issue as this one; primarily because it demands from us a willingness to let go our pent-up feelings of hate, anger and resentment, consent to let bygones be bygones and, most crucially, to give in to a national consensus where the common good is best served. The whole world would be watching how we handle this sensitive issue: are we going to act like responsible citizens of a nation which is at peace with itself and out-South-Africa-South-Africa by forgiving those who committed untold acts of criminality? Or are we going to condemn our nation and people to wallow in an endless cycle of bouts of revenge?

Allow me, if you will, therefore, to share you my own experience in forgiveness, so that those who may be shilly-shallying on whether or not to forgive the former Derg members will at least be able to err on the side of caution. I had followed the fate of the former Derg members with rapt attention, and had been present at their major court hearings. I did so because I had filial obligation to witness the outcome of those who had ordered the summary execution of my dear father. Not only that, my mother, myself, my two brothers and two sisters were also made victims of Derg’s misrule as we were imprisoned for 15 years and 9 years respectively. It was during the course of my incarceration, then, that I came to realise the need to forgive – however trying an experience it may be – those who robbed me of a wonderful dad and my invaluable freedom. Forgiveness must be apolitical, as it is not expected to be found in party political manifestoes. It is one of the pillars of one’s faith. And it was through my Christian faith that I discovered that my reconciliation with my creator and redeemer was entirely dependent on my willingness to forgive others. It is true that when the former Derg members were sentenced to only life in prison in 2007, I did tell Radio Fana, “This sentence is a mockery of justice and called for the death penalty.” I was not stupefied by a longing for a vendetta when I said what I said at the time, but rather was expressing my desire to see the former Derg members receive the maximum penalty available in Ethiopia’s Penal Code. Besides, I never lost sight of the fact, then, that the mere fact that a death sentence was passed did not necessarily mean that they would be killed, as the President has the prerogative to commute the death sentence. It is also true that I have had run-ins with former ‘kakitocrats’ in London in 2004/2005. This, as I have repeatedly stated at the time, had nothing to do with harbouring grudge, but had everything to do with refusing to kow-tow to the exiled Derg.

Blessed are the peace makers, for the shall be called the children of God
In July 2007, I had the good fortune and ‘honour’ of being consulted on this particular issue by H.H. Abune Paulos I, Patriarch of Ethiopia. I humbly told His Holiness that firstly I can only speak for myself as I don’t represent anyone else, and secondly I echoed the answer I gave to the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent minutes after the life in prison sentence was passed in 2007: “As a Christian I forgive, but as an Ethiopian I don’t forget.” To some – who know not that a gulf exists between to forgive and to forget – this statement of mine may appear conflicting; but the truth remains that it is not an oxymoron. Basically, what our respective religious leaders are asking us now is not – and can not be – to forget our trials and tribulations, as well as to forget our “blood, sweat and tears,” but to forgive for the sake of the common good, for peace and reconciliation. We owe it to Ethiopians who are rearing up to secure growth and transformation.

Do it, too, for Ethiopia and proclaim to the world “We did it our way!”

God Bless Ethiopia