I take this moment not to write about politics nor to pontificate about the conflict in Ethiopia, instead I am compelled to write about the war that wages in our minds and the very things we refuse to recognize and yet reside deep in our hearts. The violence and chaos erupting in Ethiopia and all around the world are really manifestations of injuries that have been passed on to us like cursed inheritances. Generation after generation were born into trauma after trauma; these wounds swallowed as if they were bitter gurshas—internalized and rarely discussed.
I’m talking about pains witnessed going back to my grandparent’s generation; though anguish was also passed down to them from their forefathers. In the 1930’s, Italy invaded Ethiopia and tried to undo the legacy of Adwa. Mussolini attempted to salvage Italian pride by blowing up hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children in a chemical holocaust that preceded Auschwitz. The world ignored the suffering of Ethiopians even as Haile Selassie warned the League of Nations about the fire that was burning in Ethiopia, that fire eventually consumed Europe and most of the world.
“Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment.” ~ Haile Selassie
Though heroic Arbegnoch eventually turned back Italy and reclaimed our independence, the price for their victory was paid with mass graves and sorrows that are hard to fathom. But our culture is not one to dwell on the past—even if the source of one’s pain is recent—so they moved on and started the hard work of rebuilding their nation. Deep inside however, memories of loved ones lost, the PTSD of seeing neighbors who perished in fires of mustard gas and the shock of villages being destroyed lived on.
These untended wounds were ingested only to be passed down to their children. Pain birthing pain, my parent’s generation not only had to cope with their parents’ burdens, they eventually witnessed the Derg rise to power under the pretense of standing for the people only to bury them in unmarked graves. The horrors of Mussolini were revisited upon Ethiopia in the 1970’s and 80’s, except this time the despot was not an Italian hooligan but a home-grown hoodlum.
Mengistu killed and hacked his way into authority only to commit a genocide in order to retain power. More than 500,000 Ethiopians were murdered by the Derg and those who survived were traumatized in ways that we have yet to fully grasp. It was during this era that we learned to mistrust one another, a campaign of rumors and innuendo turned neighbor against neighbor. To survive, we learned to smile outwardly and hide our true feelings; a wrong word uttered or something spoken taken out of context could lead to a death sentence. Elders, scholars and keepers of our traditions were murdered by the thousands, a vacuum was created that would later balloon into a chasm.
After seventeen years of terror, the TPLF arrived promising liberation. Though they told us by the name they retain to this day that the liberation they espoused was never for all Ethiopians nor even for the average Tigrayans. Three decades after they marched on 4 kilo to Addis Abeba, they left behind a legacy of terror that did not match the body count of the Derg but exceeded its malice. Their ideology of sectarianism indoctrinating a generation of Ethiopians to think about ethnicity first and turned our common humanity into an afterthought.
One government giving way to the next, each one worse than its predecessor. At each turn, we take to the streets and demand justice only to be ignored by the world and the only rewards for our toils are corns on our feet from marching and horsed voices from shouting. We have turned into a nation of individual grievances who refuse to listen to others who hurt. This is not to diminish the suffering of Ethiopians and the pains we express, but we’ve taken on the identity politics of the west and we are shattering a county that existed for three thousand years in the process.
It is so tragic, people who have a multitude of ethnicities in their blood are forced to pick sides. We throw stones at each other based on tribe not realizing those rocks land on our own ancestors. The legacy of solidarity that empowered our forefathers to accomplish the impossible at Adwa being erased daily and replaced by a doctrine of racism that is “ethnic federalism”. Our diversity, which has been the source of our strength, has been turned into a liability; ethnocentrism bleeding us of our commonalities and convincing us to act like a nation of Cains caning each other to death.
The agony of Ethiopians is deep and complex; those who left to escape repression always have their minds on the grind of living in a new country while their hearts are still parked back home. As if being an immigrant is not hard enough, being an immigrant from a war torn country triples the grief. Those who are back in Ethiopia have to negotiate between inflation and tribal politics that is tearing society at the seams. Layered on top of these difficulties are the intricacies of historical injustices that all ethnic groups have felt which live to this day. But instead of listening to each other, despair has turned us against each other.
How do you speak against ethnocentrism in #Ethiopia by speaking of only your ethnicity's struggle? As you bash #Oromo|s #Ahmara|s or #Tigray|ans, the rock you throw at them lands at your own family tree. COVID & Ebola combined have nothing on ethnic-based grievances politics::
— Teodrose Fikremariam (@TeodroseFikre) November 19, 2020
The source of most of these frictions are pains that we refuse to address. We disparage others who suffer from mental illnesses not realizing that we are a country shrouded by anxieties and depression. Too much pride to seek help or admit vulnerability for fear of being judged as weak, we instead seek therapy by listening to Tizita and pouring our griefs into Tikur Labels. We are a people hurting deeply; the insults and taunts that have become norms are nothing more than projections of visceral afflictions.
If there is one thing that I know, it’s that holding on to grudges and living in anger is like a cancer that destroys from within. We do a great disservice to ourselves, to the memories of our ancestors and to future generations by being stuck in a perpetual state of grievance. The only way forward is to forgive those who hurt us and to ask forgiveness for those whom we hurt. The journey starts at one, first each one of us must heal, then we heal our broken relationships, then we heal our communities and in time where #Ethiopia suffers her children will thrive. This is how we #HealEthiopiaTogether Click To Tweet
As hopeless as thing seem in Ethiopia and around the world, I know from personal experience that the darkest moments in time give way to the the brightest blessings. Just like child birth, nine months of dimness lead to broken waters that deliver life and the embrace of God’s love. I don’t say these things to preach but as testimonies, it was not too long ago that I found myself in the pits of despair thinking that my life was over. From that time, where I was turned into an afterthought, God never forgot about me and turned around my life.
From the streets of distress, God gave me a wife and a son who are both centers of my universe. The same will be true of Ethiopia, the tears that envelop the country and her people will be the water that will wash away the transgressions and traumas of the past.
I pray for the land that gave birth to me and the whole of humanity. No matter how much peddlers of hate tell you otherwise, the path to redemption is not through antipathy and rancor but through forgiveness and love. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. We would do well to reflect on these words and let the love within conquer the hatred that multiplies around us::