I write this missive in light of what is taking place in my birth land Ethiopia but really this counsel could be applied to America and throughout the world. I do not present this article to be curmudgeon and rain on the elation that is currently enveloping my homeland. Though I am reticent to jump on the bandwagon and remain in observation mode, I am nonetheless hopeful that the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will be a catalyst for a much needed change in Ethiopia.
Yet my hope is tempered by hesitance for there is much danger when one man is elevated as a savior of a nation. I understand the exuberance many feel in Ethiopia and the joys being expressed by those who were forced to flee to find homes in foreign lands. More than four decades of torment, repression and hopelessness have given way to the possibility of a new day in Ethiopia, a people who were treated to the deserts of despotism have been given a sip of freedom and unity. This is the reason why so many have embraced Prime Minister Ahmed’s message of unity and forgiveness.
However, no matter the feelings of elation, we must be on guard to not turn into a cult of personality and be blinded by idolism in the process. This is not to negate the positive tone that PM Ahmed has been setting and the steps he has taken to loosen the repressive shackles of previous administrations. However, prudence requires that we remain vigilant at all times for worshiping leaders can turn even angels into devils. History has witnessed time and time again the joys wrought by a new leader that eventually delivered pains to millions. Transformational change cannot be implemented from the top if the rest of us are not fully prepared to share in the load of mending past wounds and paving a road towards a future of inclusiveness. Click To Tweet
Considering that Ethiopia has been shrouded by tyrannical tribalism for the past 27 years and ruthless despotism before that, it is heartening to witness a leader talk about truth and reconciliation and taking concrete steps to ameliorate the autocratic nature of the Ethiopian federal government. However, if this gesture of good will is not seen as a down payment towards further reforms, we will be doing a great disservice to the people who have become marginalized in their own lands and to future generations. Progress cannot come at the cost of the people, we have to demand a government that prioritizes the development of the people above all else.
For too long, we have been conditioned to accept the influx of foreign investment and the construction of shiny buildings as a sign of good governance. Yet in the midst of an economic boom, too many Ethiopians languished unable to take part in the fortunes that were hoarded by a few. There is only one way to judge the effectiveness of PM Ahmed and that of any leader throughout the world. We must stop lauding the attainments of a few and instead measure political leaders by the wellness of the least among us. Photo ops will not shelter street children in Addis Ababa nor will rhetoric feed those who suffer in silence.
As we hold leaders accountable, let us not forget the role that each one of us have going forward. We must find it in our hearts to put aside petty differences and tribal instincts which have shattered our nation. The time for taunting and insults is over, the work ahead is too hard for us to revert to the antics that have substituted as conversations for too long. Ethiopia survived for nearly three thousand years, repelled colonialism and endured hardships because our communal nature allowed us to share the burdens and the gains. This is the greatness we must recapture instead of hoping to recreate empires and kingdoms of the past.
The only way these changes will take place is if the citizens remain engaged and disavow needless antagonism that has splintered us for too long. We cannot outsource the hard work that must be done to one man nor can we expect magical changes in a bang. The change we seek and need must happen within each one of us and demands that we seek a communal wealth above individual conquests. PM Ahmed noted “fiker yashenifal” (love will win). The love that will win is not for one man but a love that is inclusive of all irrespective of our differences. #FikerYashenifal
A nation cannot heal if we don’t mend first::
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.