I‘m writing this letter to drive out the vestiges of resentments that I have harbored in my heart towards the Ethiopian community for too long. This grievance of mine is rooted in treatments I’ve experienced personally and observations I’ve made over the years about the callousness we have towards one another. Though I’m addressing this missive to people who trace their origins to the land that gave birth to me, in reality this applies to humanity writ large. What you are about to read will touch upon frustrations that are shared by many irrespective of nationality.
People who have been reading my writings over the years know I have a special place in my heart for Ethiopia. Although I believe in humanity above the constructs of identity and ideology, I cannot deny the special bond that I have for the country that I called home until I was seven years old. Being ripped from the land that I love was a source of trauma that took decades to overcome and still impacts me at this present moment. Gone was the gregarious child that used to walk around freely in Addis Abeba, arriving in America as an immigrant robbed me of my smile and turned me into a homebody who found solace by zoning out in front of TV screens.
Beyond the pains of missing my grandmother who stayed behind in Ethiopia and longing the friends I had in Bole, struggling to assimilate as an immigrant—only to be taunted for my accent and the weight I gained as a result of self-medicating on nuggets and Twinkies—imbued a profound sense of unbelonging in my heart. Too foreign to be welcomed by Americans and too Americanized to be accepted by Ethiopians, I felt like the protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s book “the Invisible Man”.
For close to 30 years, I tried my hardest to fit in while living apart from Ethiopians only to grow estranged from the community that I desperately wanted to connect to. The 2008 election was a seminal moment in my life; being a part of Ethiopians for Obama opened the door to forge relationships with my fellow country men and women. What I did not realize—mostly because I was detached from Ethiopians and too idealistic—is that the Ethiopian community as a whole has allowed pride and indifference to poison the fabric of society.
David Pilling: Ethiopian famine fears: ‘There’s no food in Tigray’ https://t.co/FlwVrNZF9T
— FT Opinion (@ftopinion) June 25, 2021
I got a rude introduction to the toxic ways we treat each other when my first article titled “the Power of One” was published in 2008. Though the missive was political, it was after all a write up encouraging Ethiopians to vote for Barack Obama, it was in no way contentious. My aim was to get Ethiopians involved in the US political process so that our voices and our concerns could be heard. Proud of having my work published at a major Ethiopian outlet, I was sure that I would have nothing but accolades and roses tossed at my feet. Instead, I was barraged with insults and thorns as trolls turned an article that was written to inspire others into a spear to stab someone they never met.
What I learned over the past thirteen years is that my initial baptism by fire from my community was not an outlier but the norm. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to kindness and giving to others, Ethiopians are as unselfish as they come. Our culture is rooted in collectivism; we eat together, we pray together, we dance together and when death arrives we mourn together. Yet, beyond the welcoming smiles and the three kisses on the cheeks we greet each other with, there is an underlying level of loathing that we have towards one another.
This veiled malice we exude towards our own people has only intensified the more we endeavor in ethnocentrism and swallow the arsenic of Western style identity politics. Ethiopia has riches of talent and a poverty of imagination; the number of brilliant minds from doctors, engineers, thinkers and beyond within our community is truly astounding. Yet we suffer as a people because we refuse to work together and insist on a go-it-alone attitude. Collaboration creates wealth but so many Ethiopians are so intent on competing that we keep losing no matter how much we strive to succeed.
When everyone wants to be king, all end up being paupers. Every Tefere, Dawit and Habte insists they have the best ideas and refuse to listen to others unless their preexisting viewpoints are being echoed. This sense of arrogance and entitlement leads to antipathy; this is why ethnic based protests are proliferating in America and beyond while the whole of Ethiopia is burning. Neighbor versus neighbor, brothers turning on brothers; the country I once called home and a nation that survived intact for 3,000 years is in the process of disintegrating because people would rather pay tribute to their egos instead of honoring the God that exists within all of us.
As I noted, this is a topic that is very personal. I once held the mistaken belief that my own people would be the first to encourage me and support my endeavors only to realize that having an Ethiopian name is not an asset but a liability when it comes to my community. Someone once told me that Ethiopians will never help propel a train but will be the first to claim credit once the locomotive leaves the station. This is a fact that I can attest to to this day; out of the nearly 2,500 visitors who check in at this website daily, only a tiny fraction are Ethiopians.
This is not unique to me, I wrote about an uber-talented rapper by the name of Abel Tesfaye who was once a struggling artist living on the streets as a homeless vagabond. The minute Drake “discovered” him and Abel changed his name to the Weeknd, all the sudden millions of Ethiopians could not stop raving about him. I don’t know where we get this inferiority complex from; we refuse to support someone who looks like us unless they are blessed by outsiders. We say we have never been colonized but we sure do play the part of a colonized people.
If we only valued partnerships above self-centered pursuits and if we knew our limitations instead of thinking we can do it all, the sky’s the limit for us. Sadly, what we are witnessing in Ethiopia and among the diaspora is the complete opposite as we take hammers to others who don’t belong in the clans we claim to and value only those who sound and think as we do. A people who are deeply spiritual and a country that is the nexus of Judaism, Christianity and Islam has accepted the devil’s offering which is ego. There is a reason why Psalms 68:31 states “Ethiopia shall quickly turn her hand back to God”; shall denotes something to be done in the future. If our hands are not turned to God, who do you think we have given our hands to?
During my days as a community organizer, I used to say all the time that Ethiopia has enough natural resources and human capital to become the Japan of Africa. As I was writing this article at a local cafe called Kaldi’s Social House, owned and operated by Tsega Haile, I ran into a published author by the name of Yohannes Mezgebe and very sharp recruiter named Yeneneh Ketema who works for a major defense contractor. Gone largely unnoticed and unsupported by our community, prodigious artists like Solomon Asfaw, brilliant entrepreneurs like the co-owners of Moxit Mike Endale and Ephrem Girma and mental health advocate Tiemert Letike toil in the shadows while political activists who only know how to act with malice are showered with attention.
Hubris has become an albatross upon our collective necks. Instead of leading by example, too many want to lead through titles. Ethiopia has more doctors and professors than injera has holes in it yet few among them are healers nor teachers; they are more interested in dividing society and leveraging their suspect credentials to enrich themselves at the cost of the people. This level of pretension has permeated throughout the community; every person with an opinion thinks he is a political scientist and everyone with a cell phone is determined to be a YouTube darling.
Gone are the days of Adwa, these days Ethiopia is being misled by a cavalcade of armchair jegnas who agitate for war even though the closest they come to conflicts are their daily battles with Black Label as they take shots after shots.
What is missing is humility. I’ve done well as a writer but I suck at eskista; I leave the dancing to people who actually know how to shimmy their shoulders to Ethiopian music. The way to succeed as a community is to understand and implement the concept of comparative advantage. If my forte is messaging and another person is good at organizing and yet another person is good at collecting data, if we leverage each other’s skills and work as a team, we will succeed as individuals and as a team. However, if I try to formulate the message, organize an event and collect data on my own, the only thing I will achieve is failure.A country that has the potential to feed the whole continent of #Africa, #Ethiopia is being destroyed from within because we have ingested the pestilence of pride and the #PlagueOfIndifference Click To Tweet
Apathy and animosity are not contained within the borders of Ethiopia; to the contrary the germs of antagonism and disregard for our common humanity have gone global in ways that exceeds the transmissibility of Covid-19. The same strife created by tribalism is evident here in America as people bludgeon one another defending the rich and famous who are actively working to reduce our footprints. If we don’t disavow the cult of personality we have become, idolatry shall be the death of us.
I don’t know why we keep expecting millionaires and billionaires to revamp a status quo that is enriching them. Change will never arrive from the top. The revolution we have been waiting for will not be televised nor will it be promoted by the establishment; the only way to liberate ourselves from the webs that are spun by globalists is if we empower each other and build up our communities. Failing that, get ready for woes that will make the crucibles of last year seem like child’s play. If we won’t unite based on our common humanity, we shall be made equal by poverty and unending tribulations::
“A thousand spiders can tie up a lion.” ~ Ethiopian Proverb
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