Perhaps it was the MBA indoctrination that did it to me. Or maybe it was the way I’ve been conditioned by consumerism over a lifetime to equate big with success and wealth with wellness. Whatever it was, there was a time not too long ago where I used to go around preaching the virtues of leveraging debt in order to expand and the benefits of becoming a corporation to every small business owner or local entrepreneur. Backed by an expensive degree, I was convinced that I was dispensing advice freely that people should be paying me for.
This propensity of mine to give unasked for business counsel was magnified by factors of a hundred when it came to Ethiopian markets and restaurants. Let me admit something for those who might not know, I have a special place in my heart for my homeland and my fellow immigrants who are breaking their backs to succeed in a new land. I would tell every restaurant owner or shop keeper to market our products aggressively so that our goods could make it to stores like Whole Foods or Safeway. My heart had pure intentions but my mind was warped by materialism; I kept gauging advancement through the viewpoint of footprints and market shares.
It was not until I saw the underside of capitalism and the blow back of corporatism that I realized the folly of my ways. I look back at it now and shake my head in amusement; in order to advance the cause of the community, I was advocating business owners give their hands to the very same system that is destroying my native land Ethiopia, my new home America and nations throughout the world. It was not until I became a statistic of the system that I realized “reducing inefficiencies” and “maximizing profits” are corporate code talk for eliminating the human capacities to realize our potential and pursue happiness.
I felt compelled to write the backstory of my own journey to give people and idea of my awakening to the depraved ways of capitalism. For the record, my stance against capitalism should not be taken as championing communism. Since we are forever being trained to look at the grandness of this world through binary goggles, let me clarify one thing. My sentiment is that capitalism is the same beast as communism. Both are ideologies of federalism where central powers—Central Banks for capitalism and the Central State for communism—dictate morality to the people while dispossessing them of their property and savings.
There is another reason I felt moved to tell my road to discovery. I don’t want people who celebrate when they see ethnic foods or traditional offerings being carried by big conglomerations to feel like I’m piously preaching to them. I too was of that mindset not too long ago. I specifically don’t want to offend a friend who posted a picture of an Ethiopian dabo (bread) being carried at Whole Foods for it was his picture that inspired this article. The old me would have joined in the celebration and saw the development as a cause to pop champagne bottles. The old me is gone, I saw the picture and instantly felt sadness in my heart.
Whole Foods is selling Ethiopian dabo for $7.99 a loaf. A friend in New York told me that Whole Foods in Manhattan is selling the same dabo for $12.99. Here is what I know to be fact, out of the $7.99 that Whole Foods is selling the dabo for, the baker of that bread is getting a tiny fraction of that into their pockets. The rest is going right into the coffers of corporate bank accounts and eventually to the global cancer that is Amazon Inc. Corporations are jumping on the bandwagon of local markets, organic products and ethnic goods not because they care about us but to make yet more billions as humanity suffers.
I looked into the #Teff patent issue. It is an issue of our inability to own our national assets in the international legal system. I’m told Federal Attorney General office is looking into it-to hire international intellectual property lawyers. We need to defend it! #Ethiopia https://t.co/zp0JqBh8w9
— Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa) February 3, 2019
Jeff Bezos is worth $100,000,000,000, one man is worth more than the 40% of humanity combined. What is it about us where we feel the need to keep celebrating the wealthy while we are concurrently suffering. By the by, please don’t fall for corporate gimmicks like Starbucks fair trade, it’s nothing but a bamboozle where they monopolize local markets and pay pennies on the dollar as they take away the ability of farmers and regional businesses to grow communal wealth. Though they hide their intentions brilliantly with Madison Avenue concocted marketing campaigns, behind the slick ads and brilliant commercials is this one overriding truth. Corporations take a thousand more with their left hand the meager means they give with their right.
We keep bowing before the alters of corporations and the idols of billionaires not realizing that we are the sacrificial lambs that is being offered to the gods of capitalism and gluttony. I used to have this belief that one day my once homeland Ethiopia could be the Japan of “Africa”. Besides the fact that I don’t refer to the continent of mankind’s birth as Africa anymore, I still believe that the Ethiopia can one day feed her own instead of depending on the insidious handouts of colonialists and counterfeit NGO charities. We can only hope to do so by building up communities instead of feeding centralized powers.
The picture you see above is an Ethiopian bread (dabo) that is made out of teff. If you don’t know what teff is, you should take this moment to familiarize yourself with it. Teff is a super food of all super foods. It is a grain that is gluten free and chalk full of minerals, fully organic, is more nutritious than quinoa. More and more Americans are finding out about this delicious and healthy alternative to enriched flour. Teff could be the resource that enriches Ethiopia and the continent that has been hurting for centuries. Corporations have other ideas in mind as they swoop in to monopolize the teff market and continue the policy of colonizing nations in order to steal their resources.
What is true for Ethiopia is true of America too. Mainstream media disinformation and state propaganda paints a picture of “Africa” as a backwater of poverty while presenting America and western powers as the personification of good governance and prosperity. Take a stroll to your nearest city or your local marketplace and there you will find a teeming mass of humanity that is broken by capitalism shivering in the shadows of indigence. Moreover, when it comes to governance, the maliciousness of Democrats and Republicans make African tyrants look like Mother Theresa by comparison.
In the end though, I can only blame corporations on Wall Street and federalists in government but so much. We are the ones who empower the wicked to lord over us. We find validation when the rich and famous accept us but we neglect and overlook the abundance of riches around us on a regular basis. It takes Whole Foods carrying dabo for us to feel like we have arrived and jump on social media to hype this latest news of our accomplishments. Sadly, what gets magnified is Whole Foods while the person who made the dabo is overlooked. We have the power of media in our hands, we could use it to market each other and empower our communities, instead we use it to promote corporations.
Opinion leaders on the left and the right and our ever duplicitous corporate media are steadily agitating us as they use identity politics to pit one against the other. They always nibble at the edge of iniquities but never get at the core of injustice. Take for example the never ending brouhaha about cultural appropriation. Charlatans spin a story of Kim Kardashian wearing braids as the next coming of the Dredd Scott decision. Meanwhile these same con artists in the guise of social justice warriors NEVER mention how corporations like Whole Foods, Starbucks et al exploit cultures as a means to diversify their product lines and maximize their profits.
I write about togetherness and unity at all times, but I hope people don’t confuse oneness for conformity. There are nearly 8 billion souls who walk our planet; each of us are blessed with unique traits and gifts. Imagine a world where we pursue our talents and invest in each other instead of being wedded to corporations and divorced from our purpose. So when I write about togetherness, I do so through the prism of respecting and loving our differences.
To this end, if I want to purchase Ethiopian art, I will do so by going to the studios of amazing artists like Dilip Sheth and Mekbib Gebertsadik instead of purchasing “African” art mass produced and sold by Walmart or Amazon. Likewise if I have a hankering for sushi, I will go to a restaurant owned by a Japanese family instead of buying my sushi from Safeway. We should really consider our choices as consumers, the more we fork over our hard earned money to corporations, the more the economic noose tightens around our collective necks. #TeffDilemma Click To Tweet
Some of my fellow Ethiopians love to brag about the economic development taking place back home. But we don’t judge the development of a nation by shiny buildings and wealth creation for a fraction of the citizens, we judge the wellness of a society by the condition of the least among us. What does it matter if we have the most glamorous Sheraton in Addis Ababa or if Ethiopian Airlines keeps getting the latest planes, let us care about the children who are homeless and hopeless in the cities and countrysides. As Obang Metho once noted, I want a better nation, not a beggar nation.
What I write about my native land Ethiopia is equally applicable to everyone who is reading this. It is time we stop nullifying our power and squelching our potential as a people. We can protest and march from here to the next millennium but all of it is just meaningless symbolism if we don’t build up our communities ourselves. I said it before and I’ll say it again, protesting is for a defeated people—stop acting defeated and act like victors. The victory is found by investing in ourselves and reinvesting in our communities.
Next time, instead of taking a picture of an Ethiopian dabo being sold at Whole Foods, how about take a picture of the dabo being made at a local Ethiopian market. Likewise, instead of taking a picture of Nike’s newest line, how about we market a local manufacturer so that we can enrich our own and build up ourselves. What I’m presenting to you is not radicalism nor am I advocating absolutism, the key to change is through incrementalism. For every dollar you spend at a corporation, dedicate to spending an equal dollar to a business that is owned and operated in the community where you live. The choices are simple: shop, eat and grow locally or we will be slaves globally.
“The rich rob the poor, and the poor rob one another.” ~ Sojourner Truth
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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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