At this precise moment, a Tigaru mother is mourning the loss of her daughter while living without electricity in Adigrat, an Amhara street child is sleeping on the sidewalks in Addis Abeba while his stomach rumbles with hunger and an Oromo father in Jimma is beset by anxieties trying to figure out how to protect his family from non-ending flares of violence that target his children based on their ethnic identity. These heartrending scenes are not hypothetical scenarios, they are occurring throughout Ethiopia without bias to identity or ideology.
While the rest of the world is paying scant attention, my birthland is teetering on the precipice and nearing an implosion as generations of undealt pains and unresolved injustices are fueling sectarian violence that is leading a nation that survived intact for 3,000 plus years on the same path that decimated Rwanda. The conflict that is taking place in Tigray and the violence that are rippling throughout the country is but an outward manifestation of the deep agonies that are embedded in the hearts and minds of almost every Ethiopian back home and throughout the “diaspora” who have been scattered by the winds to the four corners of the world.
There is not one family in Ethiopia that has escaped the touch of injustice and the caress of depression that comes with losing loved ones at the hands of the ruling class. While scenes of death and devastation in northern Ethiopia are at the forefront because war always captures our imagination, persecutions that beget unending sorrows have been taking place for centuries. When Tigaru families convey how they felt marginalized in the past, when Oromo youths express resentments over being excluded, when Amharas rage over unequal treatments, they do so from a place of authentic suffering—their distresses are not figments of imaginations.
The astounding levels of ethnic animosity and strife that are taking place in Addis Abeba, Mek’ele, Benishangul-Gumuz and beyond is a natural outflow of the division that was sown among the people ages ago only be passed down from generation to generation like a cursed inheritance. These divisions birthed passive indifference which eventually mutated into active malice towards others whom we have been conditioned to view and discount as “different”. A benign tumor—which could have been removed before it festered if only we had doctors who heal instead of “doctors” who harm—metastasized into a stage IV cancer because too many chose ego over God who is love and whom we are supposed to emulate.
It is on this front that I feel compelled to drive home a point; I truly believe that the turmoil that we are witnessing throughout Ethiopia and cascading throughout the world is not so much political or even economic but a battle that is spiritual. When I was younger, there was a particular passage in the bible that used to always warm my heart. “Princes shall come forth out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall quickly stretch forth her hands unto God.” This verse from Psalms 68:31 is one that I still gravitate to each time I read scriptures. Apart from the pride I felt that my birthland was cited by Dawit to praise Egzyhabier (God), I never really grasped how truly profound that sentence was.
Shall implies something to be done, an action to be performed. If we shall quickly turn our hands towards God, that means we are facing in the opposite direction and following the seduction of the devil at this exact moment. Even if I kept it strictly secular and replaced God with love, the truth is that we have turned away from the love of humanity, love of country and love of community above individuality and instead given our hands towards the spirits of antagonism, vengeance and wrath. There is no redemption to be had by letting our souls be infected with enmity; the more we drink from the chalice of bitterness, the more we will keep being dehydrated with hostility.
The only way to course-correct and restore hope for Ethiopia and the world is through empathy, which is not possible if we insist on talking past one another. I know from personal experience that conversations rooted in kindness, attentiveness and understanding can change a person’s life in the most astounding ways. When I was enduring the biggest adversity of my life five years ago, it was not lectures and harsh words that redeemed a lost soul but the compassion given by random strangers. It might sound trite to some for me to say this, but it is love not anger that can change our world and bend the long arc of history towards justice.
Of course, there are many who are profiting through the status quo and there are countless duplicitous snakes who pretend to be for us when they are really working for outside interests who do not want us to turn our hands quickly back to God and return to the love that brought us into this world. They prefer that we fight and bicker among ourselves instead of listening to one another and letting grace towards our fellow humans be our North Stars. So they incite our passions and manipulate our emotions; mostly by ripping old scars open over and over again not to salve wounds but to keep hurts alive.
There are many, in my birthland #Ethiopia and beyond, who pretend to be fighting for justice while getting paid by the same system that is purveying injustices throughout the world. Be leery of these serpents, they are venomous demagogues who are employed to fragment us.
— Teodrose Fikremariam (@Teodrose_Fikre) May 12, 2021
As long as we are angry, we will be blinded to our connective struggles. In the age of social media and social distancing, it has gotten easier and easier to demonize people by objectifying them and hating people as an abstraction. But when we open up and share each other’s griefs and the tribulations that weigh on our hearts, it becomes harder to despise one another because we will realize that there is a commonality to our sorrows. There is not one person in the world who emerged into adulthood without being traumatized as a child; all of us are saddled with painful memories, it’s just that some chose to be takers to forget and others opted to be givers to cope.
So the challenge before us is not to see who can scream the loudest nor who can monopolize pains, those two are roads towards bitterness that will turn your life into dust. The goal is to rise above our suffering and refuse to let resentment eat away at our joys. This does not mean that you can’t speak up about what happened to you or demand recompense for what the injustices that were visited upon your family in the past or in the present. But there is a way to tell your story by connecting your pains to the pains others carry in their hearts.
No one likes to be lectured and no one wants to hear that their burdens are insignificant. Tears are tears, sadness is sadness; we only know the woes that come knocking at our doors. To this end, trying to compel others to understand while diminishing their struggles is a sure-fire way to lose allies. It’s precisely because too many have chosen to bully others and dismiss their plight in the process that Ethiopians march apart waving different flags and spitting on the unity of our ancestors in the process.
Here is my challenge to my fellow Ethiopians and really anyone who is reading this irrespective of your identity. Next time you want others to listen to you and you want the world to understand the injustices your community are bearing, do so not from a place of exclusiveness but through a spirit of inclusion. I used to tell political activists back in the day—when I thought that justice could actually be delivered through politics—that if they want the global community to care about Ethiopia, they must weave the struggles of Ethiopians with that of Jews, Mexicans, Asians or the rest of the global community. People feel invested when they feel connected, they disassociate if they are not tied into the narrative.Fiker yashenifal, love will win; our ancestors figured this out and that's why they prevailed in Adwa #Ethiopia. May we heed their lessons and quickly turn our hands back to the love that once kept us. ኢትዮጵያ ለዘላለም ትኑር Click To Tweet
I pray for Ethiopia because what is happening now is but a preview of coming attraction if we don’t make a U-turn fast. If not, if we keep going on this path of vindictiveness and self-centered pursuit of justice, we will only get more grief and leksos for our efforts. The violence we see breaking out throughout Ethiopia and the strife that is making life unbearable for tens of millions of Ethiopians is not the fault of anyone ethnicity. Assigning collective guilt is immoral because it perpetuates the cyclical violence that is threatening to destroy a blessed land.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” ~ 1 Peter 4:8
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