3.30 Update: Less than a year after assuming the Prime Minister’s office in Ethiopia amid much fanfare, there are troubling signs everywhere that Abiy Ahmed is reverting to the same tribal politics and repression that made life unbearable for Ethiopians. Though this article is limited to PM Ahmed’s economic policies, behind the scenes, ethnic politics are being unleashed in ways that can lead Ethiopia down the road of Rwanda. This morning, a leading political voice, Eskinder Nega, was effectively banned from holding a press conference by the police. Pay attention to what is taking place in Ethiopia, as tribalism is being kindled in Ethiopia on purpose, that same tribalism is threatening to engulf the world in the fires of hate and indifference. Read the article below not from the perspective of nationalism but through the lens of our common humanity.
I write this missive on behalf of the suffering majority, the marginalized humanity, who are either condemned to a life of poverty or feeling the brunt of financial anxieties in Ethiopia and throughout the planet. Though this letter is addressed to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, what I am penning are the frustrations of billions around the world and vexations that transcend the boundaries, flags and dialects that divide humanity.
Your Excellency PM Ahmed, I have to admit my feeling of reticence and unease as I watch the developments taking place in Ethiopia. It was only last year that I wrote an article expressing optimism about the land that gave birth to me and the soil I once called home. I sang your praises from my heart even as my mind expressed reservations; life experiences taught me not to put faith in politicians.
However, after witnessing the concrete steps you took towards reconciliation upon assuming office and the actions you implemented to liberalize society, I felt hope for Ethiopia for the first time since I arrived in America as a refugee fleeing despotism in 1982. After 20 years of the brutal Derg regime and another 27 years of ruthless repression by the TPLF junta that succeeded Mengistu Hailemariam, most Ethiopians were conditioned by a mix of bullets and bludgeons to accept despondency as a permanent condition. Out of nowhere, you arrived and replaced sorrow with possibility; it is for this reason that I too believed in you.
Almost a year later and I find myself at a crossroads. Though I have not fully given up on you, I am nonetheless questioning your vision for Ethiopia. After listening to your speech from this weekend and hearing your tone of condescension, my level of apprehension only increased and motivated me to write this letter to you. As you noted, there are plenty of people who gripe and complain as they use social media to advocate antipathy without offering solutions, but this does not absolve you of the work before you. Rest assured, my outreach is not grounded in nihilism; I pray you succeed as long as you do right by the people.
It is precisely because I am skeptical about your attentiveness to the people that doubt about your leadership has crept into my heart. Though your words of medemer (addition) is much needed, what good is addition if the people’s lives are being subtracted and their woes are multiplying? Over the past year, I have observed as you struck the right chord when it comes to rhetoric only for your policies to ring hollow. I say this with all due respect, what Ethiopia needs at this moment is not foreign investment nor donations from the “diaspora”. What is urgently needed are sound economic programs that empower the people instead of policies that enrich multinational corporations and their shareholders.
— Axios World (@AxiosWorld) June 11, 2018
A few weeks ago, you embraced France’s President Macron and welcomed him as a champion of justice. Nevermind that innumerable Parisians in yellow vests have been protesting throughout France for the past 19 weeks and counting as they demand relief from Macron’s brand of corporate totalitarianism. As much as I understand that leaders have to keep in mind the realities of geopolitics and I appreciate that diplomacy requires a certain level of chicanery, the enthusiastic way you lavished praise upon Macron was the tipping point for me. Ethiopia does not need a face lift when it comes to globalism, we need a radical departure from the paradigm of capital gluttony that is literally choking the life out of our planet.
Ethiopia is frequently hailed as a model of development by economists and investors around the world. Sparkling towers, booming construction and an influx of foreign capital is seen as proof positive that the previous regime’s “economic development” was a smashing success. Ethiopia’s rise from a “third world nation” to a developing African powerhouse is lauded by capitalists in financial hubs around the world. What was overlooked in this hoopla is the condition of the people, as skyscrapers pop up in Addis Abeba and Mercedes proliferated throughout big cities, the vast majority of Ethiopians are left to wallow in bleak conditions.
We must stop assessing the wellness of society through quantitative economic measures; we must instead weigh progress based on the condition of the least among us.
What I expected from you was a pivot away from corporate boondoggles to an economic policy based on building the people. Ethiopians have become indentured prisoners in their own country; a land that has enough resources and material wealth to feed a billion is instead forced to beg for NGO AID and Western “charity”. What is happening to Ethiopia is not a local phenomenon, from countries with emerging economies to nations with thriving service sectors, the gap between the haves and have nots continues to metastasize at alarming rates.
At the root of this global epidemic of economic inequalities and social imbalances is short term greed that comes at the cost of long term viability. The rush to satisfy shareholders by any means necessary is leading decision makers down the paths of greed and hubris. As corporations reap tremendous profits, the voices of the huddled masses who yearn a better tomorrow are drowned out by the sounds of cash registers and currency counters. Globalism is a syringe that is sucking the blood of humanity in order to nourish the avarice of the oligarchy.
Almost every leader around the world has become a servant of central bankers and the corporate plutocracy as greater tyrants bully lesser despots for global hegemony. I had high hopes that you were different, but everything I’ve witnessed thus far leads me to the opposite conclusion. I hope I am proven wrong; as you noted, it is too early in the game to make a definitive judgement about your record. It is for this reason that I have not bailed out on you all together, I pray that you live up to the hopes and dreams you fondly recount your mother had in you. Ethiopia, and the world for that matter, doesn’t need another foot soldier of corporatism, what our people desperately seek is a jegna (hero) who will empower them.
Feed the people and the people will be your army.
This is what Emperor Tewodros II, my grandfather six generations removed, realized during Zemene Mesafint (the age of princes). In a time where the aristocracy were pilfering the citizenry, Atse Tewodros rose to power by giving back to the people what was stolen from them by the royalty. Frequently reviled by Western historians and academia—the establishment always sully the reputations of people who stand up for the little guy—Emperor Tewodros is beloved by Ethiopians to this day because he sacrificed for the people and defied their oppressors.
You have a choice Prime Minister Ahmed, you can follow in the footsteps of Emperor Tewodros or you can emulate the likes of Macron, Trump, May and their corporate cohorts who put profits ahead of people. If you choose the former path, you will be hated by the status quo and you might even pay the ultimate sacrifice but you will be remembered as the man who stood on the side of humanity. If you chart the latter course, you will be rewarded handsomely but you will be judged as a leader who cast his lot with the ideology of selfishness that is threatening to dissolve our very existence on this planet.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I do not envy your predicament, you have naysayers on all side who lust power even as they lack the sagacity and the strategy to lead us forward. However, this is the job you signed up for. Now is a time that desperately needs a vision of inclusive justice and shared prosperity. There are troubling signs everywhere in Ethiopia, the rise of sectarianism, internal displacement of countless millions and a pandemic of joblessness and poverty; these are but the tip of the iceberg that threatens to sink Ethiopia into the abyss of social strife.
Economic inequalities are at the root of these exigent threats that darken the doorsteps of Ethiopia. All the symbolic measures, reconciliation efforts with Eritrea and your glowing endorsement by Western media will mean nothing if the plight of Ethiopians continue to deteriorate. You are duty bound not to enrich foreign investors nor to appease neo-colonizers but to do right by the people you serve. Your first and last responsibility is to the mother who can’t feed her children in Addis Abeba, the father who can’t find a job in Gonder, the farmer who has no land to till in Jimma, the student who faces a bleak future in Mek’ele, the elders who have lost hope in Gambela and the 105 million Ethiopians who you are entrusted to lead.
The same hopelessness that robs joys from tens of millions of Ethiopians is the source of consternation for countless millions in America and beyond. In every city and state throughout the United States, the number of homeless people and impoverished citizens is breathtaking. In a land that has more wealth than any other country in the world, more than 50% of Americans are dependent on the government for daily sustenance. Six people hog more than the bottom 40% of Americans combined; these are the iniquities that gave rise to the French Revolution. The well to do would do well to pay attention to the suffering of the masses.
The solution that can go a long way to address the disparity between the privileged few and the burdened many is to turn away from corporatism and turn your hands quickly to building up communities and empowering enterprising Ethiopians. On this front, the privatization plans that your administration offers is the exact opposite of what Ethiopia needs. This should not be seen as an endorsement of communism; state ownership of public resources is just as bankrupt as corporate hoarding.
The solution is found between the two polarities; instead of entrusting the state or enriching the private sector, you must empower communities.
Corporatism has divorced the laborer from the fruits of his labor. Human beings thrive when we feel connected to our work and find a sense of purpose through the manifestation of our God given talents. Sadly, in this age of profiteers we live in, humanity has been turned into cogs of the machine while many more have become wardens of the state dependent on handouts and donations. There is a better path than turning Ethiopia into a beggar country, we demand a better nation.
Implement an Ethiopian version of a Homestead Act, one that does not appropriate other people’s lands but returns ownership from corporations and sovereign wealth funds back to the citizenry. Instead of giving large tracts of lands to foreign nationals, give small plots to Ethiopians. Ownership gives people agency and a shared responsibility to the wellness of society whereas indenturing workers with corporate wages robs them of both dignity and the ability to be financially viable. This is true of Ethiopia and the world over; humanity is crying out for equity. We don’t need incremental rises in wages nor social programs that make us dependent on the state; we demand the means to take care of ourselves and feed our own children. #Ethiopia #AdwaAwakening Click To Tweet
The world is watching Prime Minister Ahmed; Ethiopia can be an araya (model) for a new way forward or we can mimic the bankrupt ideology of globalism that is bleeding the world. It is in the interest of every leader to find an alternative to policies that reserve austerity for the people and enrich the aristocracy. The wealthy will never find security if the proletariat are suffering. Shared success lifts all boats but hoarding will surely sink the yachts of the gentry. I pray you follow in the footsteps of my forefather Emperor Tewodros and deliver our people from globalism instead of feeding our people to the wolves who come before us dressed as sheep as they shepherd our resources into off-shore accounts.
Last Friday, my cousin Meshesha Kassa and I were invited to the Ethiopian embassy to celebrate the return of Emperor Tewodros’s lock of hair from Great Britain to Ethiopia. As a direct descendant of Emperor Tewodros, I shared in the happiness of a stolen treasure being returned where it belongs. However, I do not write this letter as a royal but as a fellow human being who cares about equality and cries for justice. Besides, royalty is not in a title but in what one does with his/her life and the kindness we pass on to others. To this end Prime Minister Ahmed, your most important job is not to enrich foreign investors but to feed the hopes of the people. Prime Minister Ahmed, I ask this of you humbly, feed our people. Nourish the hopes of Ethiopians and the people will have an Adwa Awakening that will be a clarion call for the rest of the world to follow.
Let me end by addressing not the pharaohs but the people. What I’m writing next rings true for my birth land Ethiopia, my new home America and the world over. Stop idolizing leaders and hold them accountable. What’s more, walk away from tribalism and hold tight to our common humanity. Challenging times are ahead of us; the relative calm before us will give way to a period of adversity. When that day arrives, we will have a choice to make: seek solutions together or whither and suffer apart. I pray we choose unity over factionalism; through love we can endure anything and potentially prevent the fate that awaits us, with hate we will find equality by way of collective tribulation—the boil cometh.
Irrespective of what happens tomorrow, let us not waste the short time we have on earth spreading ill will and negativeness. Instead of fighting fire with fire, let us be water to others who struggle just like us. No matter our divergences, irrespective of the languages that get in the way of understanding, the flags that segregate us or the boundaries that keep us apart, the truth is that we have infinitely more in common than we have differences. Let the currency be kindness and the supreme law be love and one day we can finally have peace on earth and equality and justice for all::
“A thousand spiders can tie up a lion.” ~ an Ethiopian proverb
If you are in the DC Metro area, come out this Sunday, March 31st as Ghion Journal will be hosting an Adwa Awakening event. The theme of the event is “Unity Can Overcome Injustice”. Click HERE or on the picture below to find out more about the Adwa Awakening, RSVP and, if you are not planning on attending the event, to watch a video that connects the narratives of Ethiopia, Haiti and America in showing that a people united cannot be defeated.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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