It has been a tough couple of weeks for all who have been following the conflict in Ethiopia that reached a major milestone yesterday afternoon. I know whatever distresses people like me, who have been engaged with the developments taking place in Ethiopia from the comforts of distant lands, have felt pales in comparison to the angst that people on the frontlines—civilians and combatants alike—have been enduring in Mek’ele, Shire, Hawzen and beyond. Same goes for the anxieties countless millions of Ethiopians have been feeling from the time TPLF made the fateful decision to attack their own country’s defense forces.
It is precisely because I have been so vested in Ethiopia and care deeply about her people that I write this open letter to you Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. As an Ethiopian who left my birthland at the age of eight not out of choice but out of force due to the menace of Mengistu Hailemariam and his ruthless regime, my voice could be dismissed as the chatter of the “diaspora”. But I humbly submit to you, You Excellency, that I and the millions of expatriates who have been scattered into the wind are in fact constituents to be courted; we are the talented tenth whom Du Bois alluded to who could return home and fundamentally reverse the brain drain that is kneecapping Ethiopia and Africa writ large.
Beyond the potential that an influx of talented and motivated Ethiopians returning home could have in terms of fostering a transformational change for the land of origins, it is an imperative that we get beyond the age of division and enter into an era of inclusion. It is specifically on this point that I write to you today Ato Abiy; for too long Ethiopians have been sliced and diced into the ghettos of ethnic Bantustans to the benefit of the TPLF and the detriment of everyone else. The violence and chaos we have been witnessing for the past couple of years are not your responsibility as much as they are the manifestations of a plan hatched a long time ago to destabilize Ethiopia by weakening the very foundation of our nation.
Ethiopia managed to remain unharmed by the menacing touch of colonialism for one reason and one reason only. Unity. Though bickering has been a hallmark of Ethiopian politics going back to zemene mesafint and prior, when it came to confronting external threats, our ancestors always united. Fascists came twice bragging vidi, vini, vici only to be sent packing north by Jegnoch who roared embi! Would be colonizers learned a hard lesson at the hands of arbegoch, Ethiopians could not be subdued by brute force. What they could not do with guns they achieved through Machiavellian tactics, they just turned us against each other.
This is the precise reason why the TPLF were chosen in 1991 at the London Conference by the likes of Herman Cohen. A Marxist ideology of godless material pursuits at the cost of our heritage ultimately led to the second coming of apartheid being foisted upon Ethiopia. By creating qilils based on ethnicity, the TPLF conditioned a whole generation of Ethiopians to view themselves through the lens of tribe. Gone was the audacity of Adwa, imported was the playbook of Afrikaner supremacy.
If we have a shot at overcoming the decades of frictions “ethnic federalism” has wrought upon Ethiopia, ridding the country of ethnocentrism is essential. However, a system that was imposed upon Ethiopia cannot be done by imposition; we don’t need a radical change, we need an eventual transformation built on the foundations of inclusion and realized from the hard work of getting buy in from all stakeholders. If there is one thing that I can attest to is that revolutions are bankrupt, they give way to the very things that people rose up against. One need only look to the legacy of the Derg and their Red Terror to realize this fact.
The reality is that there are tens of millions of Ethiopians who feel like they never had a seat at the table throughout the history of Ethiopia. We can’t dismiss these emotions just because we choose to romanticize Ethiopia. TPLF played on these grievances and installed a scheme that pretended to give agency to Ethiopians while robbing us of our common nationality and our connective humanity. Twenty nine years after they marched into Addis Abeba through Arat Kilo, yesterday their Stalin grip on Ethiopia was finally loosened. Today we stand at a new day full of fraught possibilities.
Achieving victory in wars is the easy part, the harder path is keeping the peace and cultivating prosperity beyond catchy political slogans. That is why I’m writing this letter to you Ato Abiy, though I have criticized your administration in the past, I believe that this moment before us is too important and the risks too great to look backward. After all, I too am a flawed messenger who has spent the better part of my life making too many mistakes to expect perfection from you. People change, I am a testament to that fact.
So I offer this dispatch not so much as a critique but as my prayer for Ethiopia. As long as your aim is to help the people of Ethiopia, as long as your objective is to alleviate the plight of street children in Addis Abeba, as long as your effort is to ease the burdens of parents in Mek’ele, as long as your policies are crafted to empower farmers in Sidamo and beyond, I stand right next to you because your success would be to the benefit of all Ethiopians. I will use whatever platform I am entrusted with to this end, to cheer you on when you are doing right by the people and to prod if I feel you are headed in the opposite direction.
To my fellow Ethiopians, I turn to you to implore that you look inward before you lash outward. We are a people deeply traumatized by generations, if not centuries, of transferred pains that we harbor in our hearts. Though we smile defiantly, most of us cry on the inside. Those of us who were fated to a life of Sedet (exodus) live with our minds planted in a new land while our hearts remain in Ethiopia. The rest who remain in Ethiopia have both feet planted firmly in economic uncertainties, social adversities and political turmoil.
Like Jews walking in circles after escaping Egypt, we starve for sustenance and thirst for hope while engaging in ethnic animosity that is leading us to famines. The manna is unity that honors the distinctions of our communities, cultures and customs. We are brought into this world without the virus of racism and ethnocentrism, society taught us to look at our fellow man and women through the lens of our differences and the prism, actually prisons, of tribalism.
I know Ethiopians are deeply spiritual people, stop listening to wolves in sheep’s clothes and instead listen to the teachings of prophets that we revere regardless of the faith we follow. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, we do this and Ethiopia will become the light that will lead Africa out of bondage and offer humanity a blueprint to escape the clutches of identity politics.
To the free-press and international observers whom I’m taken to task for the past couple of weeks for weaving media narratives to serve hidden motives. I am going to take this moment to extend a hand of friendship where yesterday I was offering the slingshot of David. At times my passions get ahead of me and blinds me to the conundrum you find yourselves in; we are all enmeshed in a global web that takes from us our idealism and replaces it with conformity for the sake of paychecks. I don’t expect you to be martyrs, I know what awaits journalists who don’t toe corporate lines and politicians who don’t comply with the demands of oligarchs.
The change that we all desperately want will not arrive because we raise our decibels or march in protest, what we need is to first heal inward, then find it within ourselves to cross the divides and join hands with those who don’t look, sound or think like us. As long as we are manipulated emotionally to bash fellow marginalized communities and as long as we honor our differences by spiting on our commonalities of our pains, we will take one step towards justice while taking five steps back into nihilism.
It took two years of being homeless and struggling to find food and shelter for me to finally shed my tribal blinders and seek instead inclusive justice. Before that, I too used to castigate “white” people and bash Republicans while lauding Democrats. I too used to revert to collective judgement as I chastised anyone who supported TPLF and made no distinction between party and people who, out of desperation and yearning to feel heard, turn to tribal hustlers.
But there is good news from my dance with indigence, I emerged on the other side of the abyss with my faith in humanity strengthened. Moreover, like Job, all that I lost was replaced a million fold. Had I remained bitter and sought vengeance above forgiveness as I asked to be forgiven for my shortcomings, do you think I would have found the love of my life, that we would have a son named Yohannes who is the light of our lives and that you would be reading these words today.
Grievance is an echo chamber, love is healing and transformative. There is a reason why the wealthiest few empower and enrich politicians, pundits and demagogues who speak to our angers but refuse to lead movements that transcend the social and political divides. When opinion leaders incite you into anger, they are robbing you of your greatest power—love. It is love that lifted me out of poverty and hopelessness. I know the same blessings await humanity if we only emerge from the caste systems of labels and ideologies and seek the higher grounds of collective success and inclusive justice.
We are quickly arriving at an inflection point as a human species, COVID-19 is not the climax of a movie but a preview of coming subtractions. We have a choice before us; we can keep feeding into the divides and filling our hearts with tribalism or we can elevate the public discourse by lifting ourselves out of the muck of identity politics. The former is a pathway to redemption for all of us, the latter is a gateway to our collective dissolution. For the sake of ourselves, our children and future generations, I hope and pray we choose wisely and hold tight to the love that resides in all of us:: #OurCommonHumanity Click To Tweet
ፍቅር የኃጢአትን ብዛት ይሸፍናልና ከሁሉ በፊት እርስ በርሳችሁ አጥብቃችሁ ተዋደዱ። 1ኛ የጴጥሮስ መልእክት 4:8
Post script: Bethlehem and I are willing to move back to Ethiopia as God wills it, I yearn to reconnect to roots that I know of from a afar but that time and distance have blurred. Moreover, both Bethlehem and I desperately want to give back and be a part of a “Healing and Reconciliation” campaign for Ethiopia that could cascade outward.
If this desire comes true, I will always love America for giving me and my family shelter when my birthland turned us into a refugees. As to the question of our eventual return to Ethiopia, I’ve learned all you can do is put wish to paper and let greater forces fill in the blanks. May God bless Ethiopia, America and the whole of humanity::
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