By Prof. Al Mariam
“Ethiopians are like sergena teff [staple foodstuff in Ethiopia made whose tiny seeds resemble poppy seeds eaten as flatbread called injera] (applause). [Grain] that is gathered together. Milled together. Eaten together (applause)… EthiopiaWINet is an addiction [deep passion]. It is in the heart of each and every Ethiopian. If there is a way to open and look at what is in the hearts and and minds of Ethiopians, what we see here today [EthiopiaWINet] is what have seen here today [our unity in our Ethiopiawinet]… [EthiopiaWINet] is to be free. Human beings being free to express their feelings… Our people did not heroically sacrifice themselves in yesteryears for our country because they were paid. Our people who gave up their lives for the one-ness (unity) of our country.
In yesteryears, our people shed their blood in major battles for [to defend the integrity] Ethiopia. Now it is expected of us to work (sacrifice) for our country. We cannot go forward looking backwards. Let us not dwell on the past. Now we must stand together collectively for our country… If we set out to count our differences, in this hall there could be numerous things to separate and divide us. But there are also numerous other things that we share that could bring us together. Why don’t we strengthen that as long as it is something that can be used to good end?” — Obbo Lemma Megerssa, President of Oromiya regional government, speaking at the Amhara Oromo Discussion Forum in Bahr Dar, November 4, 2017.
… There may be different types of positions [views] taken on [Ethiopiawinet]. As you can see, everybody who has Ethiopiawinet inside them, [will forever] have it in them. That can never be lost. It is as deep as religion. Ethiopiawinet has a delicate mystery to itself. It has a very deep foundation. When we can agree on so many good things, it is not useful to dwell on the deficient things we have done together. Artiste Teodros (Teddy Afro) Kassahun, in a May 2017 interview following his launch of the “Ethiopia” album.
Like diamonds, EthiopiaWINet is forever. (Just like love is forever.) Alemayehu G. Mariam
Translator’s Note: The following is a translation of remarks given by Obbo Lemma Megerssa, President of Oromiya Regional State, at the “Amhara-Oromo Discussion Forum” in Bahr Dar, a city in north-western Ethiopia, on November 4, 2017.
A translation of the remarks of Ato Gezu Andargachew, President of Amhara regional government, at the Amhara Oromo Discussion Forum in Bahr Dar, November 4, 2017 will also be presented.
Mea culpa: I have attempted to offer an accurate and exact translation of Lemma’s remarks in Amharic. I underscore the word attempt because I admittedly do not have the translation skills to capture the eloquence of Lemma’s refined diction, the subtleties of his ideas, poetic imagination and undiluted passion (or as he calls it “addiction”) for Ethiopiawinet. Translating Amharic into English has its special challenges associated with finding appropriate trnanslational equivalences, finding comparable figurative language and accurately conveying the meaning of cultural terms, among others.
I apologize in advance to Lemma for any deficiencies in my translation of his remarks.
In my January 2012 commentary, “Africans Unite! Ethiopians Unite!”, I declared, “Choose your humanity before your ethnicity and nationality. Doing it the other way around is downright insanity.” That is what I have always believed.
Lemma Megerssa, Teddy Afro and many other Ethiopians are saying the same thing. We all call it Ethiopiawinet, which I simply define as love of the humanity of the people of Ethiopia. Ethiopiawinet is simply the belief and practice of universal values of humanity in that little corner of the planet in northeast Africa.
More specifically, Ethiopiawinet is our version of the same faith the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaffirmed and proclaimed as fundamental human rights nearly seven decades ago– the dignity and worth of the human person regardless of race, color, religion, nationality, language, gender, age and all other artificial classifications used to discriminate between all God’s children.
Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. Such has been the terrible fate of all black persons in our country under the system of apartheid.”
That is exactly how I feel about the black apartheid system set by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) in Ethiopia.
Mandela found the humanity of South Africans degraded by the inhumanity of white apartheid in the native “Ubuntu” (often translated as “humanity towards others”) tradition of inclusiveness. “Ubuntu” is to South Africans what EthiopiaWINet is to Ethiopians. We Ethiopians are human only through the humanity of other Ethiopians — not through our ethnicity, religiosity, territoriality, enmity or stupidity. EthiopiaWINet breaks down geographic ethnic kilils, mental kilils of hate and revenge and spiritual kilils of distrust and suspicion and opens up a level playing field for everyone…
(Author’s Note continues following translation of Lemma Megerssa’s remarks.)
Lemma Megerssa’s Remarks:
… I’m truly proud and happy to be here amongst you to discuss and consult on various matters (applause). Not only this, I wish also to thank all of the people of Amhara region on behalf of the regional government and people of Oromiya for the brotherly hospitality they showed our delegation since yesterday (as we travelled) from Abay Bridge to Bahrdar City (applause).
I would like to thank my brother Ato Gedu and his associates from Amhara kilil (translator’s note: “kilil” is a kinder and gentler ethnic version of the South African racial apartheid which created the black homelands) and other Amhara leaders [now]. But let’s hold off on that for now (it is premature) (applause). The reason is first we are a [an official] body holding public responsibility. Second, we have just started this [joint] effort but we have not concluded it (no need for self-congratulations). Once we bring (our efforts) to a successful conclusion, we will get plenty of opportunity to thank each other. That is why I said that (premature to self-congratulate (applause).
Indeed, today I don’t want to talk much. Many things have already been said. [I believe] our mere presence amongst you here since yesterday speaks louder than any words I could say or have been said by the people who came with me (including) the elders and leaders. [Our physical presence] indicates our intentions. That is self-evident to me (applause). Second, what has been blurred in our minds is the question, “What is happening to Ethiopiawinet?” I think this question has created confusion for most of us.
For me, what Ethiopiawinet is self-evident in what we have seen on this stage and at this event here (applause).
Ethiopiawinet is like, even though I have never tried it, being hooked on hashish. It is an addiction to be Ethiopiawinet (applause). If it were possible to open the heart of each and every Ethiopian and look, what we will find is what have seen here today [our unity in our Ethiopiawinet]. When a person is free to be able to express what he feels as we have seen here today, it is testimony showing how deeply Ethiopiawinet has penetrated our hearts (applause). Ethiopiawinet is therefore something that sparks hope. It is not that our Ethiopiawinet is darkening [despairing]. It is there [in our hearts and minds]. Indeed, it is not something that can be easily destroyed. [Our Ethiopiawinet] has been built over the ages [one brick over another]. It is an identity, a [distinctive] mark [of who we are]. It is not something that can be ruptured. It is not something whose shining lights could be switched off.
Indeed, this is not the only thing our Ethiopiawinet has taught us [our common identity]. When we were [initially] preparing for this conference with Amhara kilil leaders, our plan was to quietly slip in, discuss things and simply return without talking too much in our media or others [media]. But in the past couple of days, the news [of our travel here] has gone beyond Ethiopia to the rest of the world.
What this means is that on the issue of our country, its unity and oneness, we can plainly see there is a [deep] thirst and hunger everywhere among each and every Ethiopian wherever they may be (applause). Therefore, the journey and the solution [to our country’s problems] is one and the same [to be one and united as one] and we must strengthen that. We have no other solution. We have no other pathway. Thus, we have started a good thing [here], and though [a few] individuals can start things, [we must understand] all of us have our share of work. I want to [take this opportunity] to remind all of us that we have a collective responsibility to make sure [our efforts] bear fruit.
Regarding the issue of good governance and the youth, many elders have addressed them. Good governance is our collective problem. That is one of the things we considered to be one of [our major] our problems [in Oromiya]; and launched a renaissance to cleanse ourselves of such problems. We have been working to solve [the problems of good governance and youth] in Amhara kilil, Oromo kilil and elsewhere throughout the country.
Reform alone cannot be a solution to the problem of good governance. Best practices imported from throughout the world will not be able to solve the problem. They may assist and they could help us. When we talk about the problem [of lack of good governance] in Oromya, we are [focusing] on the [administration of] justice and the selling of public services [private use of public office, corruption].
The problem of selling services occurs when the provider of the services [public officials] sells those services for whatever price [demands corrupt payments] he wants. That means he has [given himself] the authority to sell public services.
What this means is that there is incompatibility [corruption] in authority. It means the public service provider, whether appointed authority or one with professional expertise, has indispensable [supreme] power. That means he has the singular [unchecked] authority in his hands to sell whatever pubic services he wants.
The way we solve this problem is by empowering the public. [We can solve it only] when we [place structures of public accountability] which ensure what can be properly done and what is improper and establish a strengthened body [institution] with the power, with the muscle to enhance the public’s [oversight] and hold those in authority accountable.
Regarding the authorities that have taken power to themselves and say they can sell these public services anyway they want, it is necessary to have their power split up and shared and given to the people. It means creating a power balance [by public accountability]. It is extremely important to work on this [public accountability]. If this power is held in a lopsided way [allow corruption to spread unchecked], it could eventually destroy us all.
Keeping the reforms we have been working on as they are, we must also undertake as a major effort increasing and strengthening the power of the people in [public accountability]. That is the basis for our efforts for empowering the public [so they can] help solve the problem of good governance. This is evidence [foundation] of the basis upon which we are working in the Amhara kilil and other kilils.
Regarding the issues [affecting] youth, they are not something that can be taken lightly. First, based on evidence that I have [on youth] in Oromiya, the problems disproportionately fall on them. The youth are the biggest segment of society. Second, the youth themselves have their own problems. They have unemployment problems. Their social and economic problems have not been solved. Therefore, it is extremely important to work in a very special [focused] way on the problems of the youth.
Foremost, by solving their social and economic problems. Second, whether we like it or not, this youth generation is the one that will take leadership in the future. It’s called the emerging generation. It is the generation that will take charge of the country. If this generation is not prepared now, [we should know that] the destiny of this country and what’s going to happen to it is going to decided by them.
Therefore, it is necessary to chip away at the problems [facing the youth] as we go forward by engaging them in the social and political activities. This is extremely important. Beyond this, there is a gap. It is a matter of profession [training]. In school, we cannot learn more than the academic curriculum. But a generation is first built in the family. Family is a major pillar of a country. Second is society. Our children may get proper ethical and professional training but I do not think that [skills] will abide within them overtime [without family reinforcement]. Professionalism is very necessary for any generation. Even though these things are necessary for the future of the country, we must realize we all have our collective responsibilities, particularly religious institutions, Aba Gedas (community elders) [as well as] many other social institutions.
[We must use these institutions] to nurture the children in professionalism and [teach them] love for their country and unity of their people and what it means to be responsible for the country. These are not things that can be learned in a science or geography class. Therefore, we have our collective responsibility to nurture the youth generation in these values. That is what I believe.
[What I have observed] over time is that our unity is not strengthening. From time to time, [I see our unity] shredded by minor things. That is what we are all witnessing. Beyond all that, what is even more worrying is [the attitude] that we are becoming comfortable with these things [issues that tear at the fabric of our country]. When problems arise, we say, ‘Such things just happen.” And we are getting used to hardship and making it a tradition[and making it the new normal]. [We take a cavalier] attitude in matters of death and when people are displaced [throughout the country in large numbers] and when we see other similar things. Indeed, preserving our patience, I suspect we are getting too comfortable with some dangerous things that are happening to us and dismissing them as just ordinary occurrences.
These things [that tear at the fabric of our country] are deadly diseases. As time goes on, they become destructive. This is something we should not forget.
Indeed, if we look at what we were yesterday and where we are today, many ugly things and many things that make us sick [to our stomachs] have occurred.
There are things that cannot be denied in our society, among the Amhara and among the Oromo. Instead of being united, we have leaned towards division and separation. There are ugly things we hear about what some of our brothers who have come from us but living throughout the world, believing in one God, are doing. They are dividing the churches. They divide the masjids. They say Amhara masjid, Oromo church, Amhara church. That is what we are witnessing.
When we see this, it makes us all sick. What is the cause of this? What brought us to this?
If we cannot bring this issue out and talk about it openly in public, if we cannot find medicine for this disease, what is it going to happen in the end?
It is something that we should talk about today properly without covering it up and without hiding it. We have no other country. The only one that we have is this one country. The fire that we have covered up [today], will keep burning under cover and tomorrow it will burn all of us.
A fire that has been covered, a fire that has not been put out will one day breakout and it will burn everybody. So, instead of covering it, it’s extremely necessary to work together and put out the fire.
We are part of the world. Our society has changed in many different ways, and not just in numbers but in the way of thinking and so many other ways. It has developed, changed. This is an undeniable truth. But have we changed [in our hearts and minds]? If we see it this way, there are many problems.
There are many things that we should be ashamed of and things that debase us.
Living in a time and age when the world is getting together and collaborating to solve its problems, we are doing the exact opposite.
If we cannot talk about [our Ethiopiawinet] this today, there is no other time we can talk about it.
I don’t think there’s anything else that is more important than this [Ethiopiawinet].
If we solemnly look at ourselves, we have lowered ourselves.
If we look at this deeply, [we know] this [division among ourselves] is not the kind of thing that is going to turn into something good over a period of time. If we set out to count our differences in this hall, there could be numerous things to separate and divide us. But there are also numerous other things that we share that could bring us together. Why don’t we strengthen [the things that bring us together] as long as it is something that can be used to good end?
There is something that none of us can deny. It is something none of us can change, an identity, a distinctiveness that has been built over the Millennia. We have our unity that can never be destroyed even by some accident. That cannot be destroyed even in our fantasy (applause).
Ethiopians are like [like the multi-colored seeds] sergena teff [staple foodstuff in Ethiopia made whose tiny seeds resemble poppy seeds eaten as flatbread called injera] (applause). [Grain] that is gathered together. Milled together. Eaten together (applause).
Through inter-marriage, through having children together, growing up together living together, there is a very strong unity and identity that is built .
Ethiopians share unity not only in living together. Ethiopians do not share only life, we are also a people that have shared death. Our skeletons have been buried together. We have shed our blood together. We are a people who have shared death, not only life.
We shared death at (the Battle of) Adwa [against the Italian colonial invaders]. Our skeletons were buried together. When Somalia invaded us, we shed our blood together. There is the blood of every Ethiopian on the soil of Badme [ tr. note– border town in northern Ethiopia which the late T-TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi delivered to the Eritreans in the so-called Algiers Agreement after tens of thousands of Ethiopians lost their lives defending it).
We did not shed our blood there because we were paid [mercenaries] or for money. Why did we shed our blood? For the sovereignty of this country, for the honor of this country (applause).
Every Ethiopian sacrificed his dear life not because life is not a joke or a play thing. It is because of the honor of his country that he sacrificed himself. We are people of such [patriotic fervor]. Why do we treat is so nonchalantly?
Why do we stand by and watch our unity break, collapse and be destroyed?
Why do we stand and watch like this is going to benefit someone?
This is something we should all think about. This makes us all worry.
Personally, I am not worried about past history. It does not get me into a fight with anybody.
It is true that our past history is our collective history whether it is good or bad. It is our history. As history it should be preserved. If there are lessons from past history, we should take it and learn from it today.
If there is is bad history, we should correct it today.
But we cannot go forward looking backwards. These problems are adding up and piling up over time and they are hurting us.
Truth be told, the path what we have taken has not brought us any profit only loss (applause).
Therefore, you cannot go back and correct history. To the extent it is history, it must be recorded and preserved for coming generations. Yesterday’s generation has done its history and passed on. Today there is a different generation. Why don’t we make history by developing a model that’s going to help us? When we can, why don’t we? This is a matter we should seriously think about.
There is no one who benefits from creating division. What world [history] shows is that there is no one country that has benefited from emphasizing differences and division. There are no people.
Benefit comes from unity. Unity is appreciated not only by people but also God.
Therefore, when we left Oromya and came to be with our Amhara brothers, we didn’t come for picnic or entertainment. It is because we truly understand [in our hearts] that we need you (applause).
We also need other nations and nationalities. The people of Oromiya even if they wiggle a thousand times, they cannot pass the Awash River. The same for Amhara. If they can wiggle a thousand times, they cannot pass the Abay River.
Unless we unite, unless we become one people, we can never escape from the slavery of poverty. Escape from the slavery of suffering (applause).
Therefore, unlike any other time before, in Ethiopia today we need love (applause). We need love.
We cannot bring love through slogans, blowing horns or propaganda.
Love comes when we feel for each other, when we care [and are concerned] for each other.
When we care for each other, love is created; it is built. When we have love, we will have a strong Ethiopia.
[When there is love] there will be strong Ethipiawinet. And beyond any other time today, to bring love, to build love today, it is extremely necessary to care and be considerate to each other. This is obligatory. Otherwise, all we will do is prolong our problems and we will not get too far.
For this country, indeed if we do not go above and beyond our concerns for daily bread, if we are not worried [about our unity], concerned about what could happen [without unity], our destruction is very near. Our tribulation is [going to be] an extreme tribulation. We live on the [powder keg of] Horn of Africa which could explode overnight.
It can collapse in one evening. We are seeing it with our neighbors.
Therefore, for the things that we do, for each thing that we do, unless we take our tasks with a spirit of responsibility, we will be in for a very difficult time.
So, all of us Ethiopians must think of our unity because that is how we can benefit collectively.
When we came from Oromya [to Amhara kilil], it is not because we had some unique love for Amharas. It is because we need you; you are indispensable to us. It is the same for the people of Tigray and people of the South. We need them all to [successfully] solve our problems.
The solution to our problems is to be one and one together (applause).
So, since it is not of much value to simply talk about it without doing it, [it is to be noted that] there are many [historical] grievances amongst us, Amharas and Oromos.
I and everyone, Amharas, Oromos, all of us, instead of looking at each other in mean ways and badgering each other, we can sit down and talk and create the opportunity to dialogue with each other.
We, Ethiopians in this modern age, are we the kind of people who can not talk to each other and come to an understanding?
Are we the kind of people who do not have the ability or the capacity to do this?
We can never eliminate differences. We cannot. But what is in front of us [in our future] is far more important.
If we are determined to [make a new] start, not to repeat the dirty stuff of the past, not to repeat the bad things of the past, if we are resolved to do that, [we will realize] the journey that is ahead of us is important.
Therefore, what I am urging you all to do, especially our intellectuals, you have a very high responsibility. All of us scattered here and there and looking at each other [with enmity], none of us can benefit.
We have to work collectively together for our country. We are all concerned (stakeholders) in all matters concerning our country. When our country is hurt, so we are also hurt.
To be educated and to be in service of country does not mean just to produce academic research papers. It also means to save your country, to contribute by finding ways of saving our country, coming up with creative ideas, to spread such ideas around. That is something expected more from our intellectuals than anyone else. That is what I think (applause).
Second, even though one of the ways a generation can be nurtured is through our universities, beyond what we teach in our universities, it is also necessary to make sure they know about their country. That is also our civic [citizenship] duty. Therefore, unlike any time before, it is extremely important for us to get closer to each other and work together.
[On the other hand] our youth, we have an extraordinary responsibility.
We should remain calm and think about what we can do for our country. That is extremely important…. [Video abruptly ends.]
Author’s Note: Continued…
I have often written about Ethiopia’s “Cheetah Generation” (young people). I declared Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of T-TPLF tyranny and dictatorship. I have always considered myself a “Cheehippo”. But when the T-TPLF in October 2017 decided to challenge my Ethiopiawinet identity on the Voice of America, I let them know that I am indeed a “spotted Ethiopian leopard).
For the past 12 years, I have declared my absolute confidence in Ethiopia’s youth. In my September 17, 2016 Amharic interview with Reeyot Alemu (begin clip at 14 minutes), I defended my view unapologetically.
I must confess that over the past 12 years, I have despaired about Ethiopia’s future given the state of facts. My despair originated from three sources of failure. I am deeply disappointed in the total failure of my generation. Ethiopia gave us so much and we gave back to her so little. The shame of it all. Second, I despaired over the failure of the so-called educated Ethiopians like me who dodged and ducked to avoid standing up, speaking up, writing up and acting up over the crimes against humanity committed on the Ethiopian people every day. We, the intellectuals, the tip of the spear, turned deaf ears, blind eyes and muted lips to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. The tip of the spear proved to be a rusted dull knife. Third, I despaired because I mistakenly believed that the younger generation of Ethiopians have been lost to T-TPLF dirty tricks, shenanigans, monkey business and atrocities. I had difficulty conceptualizing the existence of young leaders like Lemma Megerssa.
Today, I am more hopeful than ever that Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come. I have made such a statement many times before but more as a metaphor than a statement of reality. Today, I know it is only a matter of time before Ethiopia’s best days begin. There are tens of thousands of young leaders like Lemma all over Ethiopia that are willing, able and ready to make it happen.
Lemma made a special request to Ethiopian intellectuals to join the struggle and make their contributions, not just sit around smugly self-congratulating themselves for their academic publications. The usual herd of nattering nabobs of negativism responded by spewing their usual message of defeatism criticizing Lemma for talking the talk of Ethiopiawinet but not walking it. These do-nothing lotus eaters should stand by and stand up for Lemma and his message of Ethiopiawinet, instead of trying to tear him down and belittle his message.
As they say, haters are gonna hate. As for me, I am reporting for duty following Lemma’s call!