By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
An open Thank You note to H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed
Dear Prime Minster Abiy:
For over a decade, I have used the last of my weekly commentaries to catalogue the crimes against humanity, the corruption and abuses of power that occurred in Ethiopia during the year.
But not this year.
This year is very special for me.
2018 is a year of gratitude.
I believe I resonate the feelings of millions of Ethiopians in my expressions of gratitude to the Almighty first and to all of the young Ethiopians who, through their blood, sweat and tears, managed to liberate Ethiopia from the iron clutches of ethnic apartheid.
I also believe millions of Ethiopians share my expressions of gratitude to you and The Team for toiling behind the scenes for years to root out ethnic hate, religious bigotry and social division in Ethiopia.
PM Abiy, when the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF) broke the USD$1 million last week, you expressed gratitude to all Ethiopians scattered throughout the world “for having kept our word”, our promise.
When you have been doing all of the heavy lifting over the past 8 months, and millions of us in the diaspora could not lift a dollar a day to support the EDTF, I am not sure we deserve such overwhelming gratitude from you.
But I humbly accept your magnanimous expression of gratitude as the chairperson of EDTF on behalf of the Ethiopian Diaspora.
But I would like to tell you, in the poetic words of Robert Frost, we Diaspora Ethiopians know we “have promises to keep, And miles to go before we sleep, And miles to go before we sleep.” For the work of EDTF has only just begun!
I have written this personal note as an expression of my personal gratitude for all you have done for Ethiopia over the past eight months.
I also belatedly thank you and so many others for your collective labor of love as unknown and unsung heroes toiling invisibly for years to bring the people of Ethiopia into an age of unity, multiparty democracy and the rule of law.
Perhaps you may wonder why I should write a public personal note of thanks to you.
It is because I hear and read few expressions of gratitude for your monumental, unrivalled and historic achievements in just the few months you have been in office.
I do not want to admit it but it pains me to see that those who most admire and honor your achievements in glowing terms are not your compatriots.
Here are just a few examples.
In July, Herman Cohen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs twitted, “For the first time in my professional life, I am nominating someone for the Nobel Peace Prize: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. If he brings multiparty democracy to #Ethiopia, the entire Horn of Africa will be transformed for the better.”
I am certain you will bring multiparty democracy to Ethiopia and the Nobel Prize will come to you. Mark my words!
In August, Black Star News declared, “Dr. Abiy Ahmed is a legitimate Nobel Peace Prize candidate.” I think you know my views on that.
The Financial Times wrote “Abiy Ahmed may be the most popular politician in Africa” and called you, “Ethiopia’s Mandela”. I think I said that first.
The New York Times says Abiy Ahmed is the “most closely watched leader in Africa.”
The Economist has been trying to figure out why “Ethiopians are going wild for Abiy Ahmed.”
Al Jazeera wondered if Abiy Ahmed is the real thing: “Are Ethiopians blinded by Abiymania?”
Two weeks ago, African Leadership Magazine declared you “2018 African of the Year”.
Just a few days ago, BBC reported, “Abiy Ahmed has been doing the seemingly impossible ever since he unexpectedly became prime minister of Ethiopia in April.” He has done the “equivalent of making the sun rise from the west.”
The sun rising from the west?!
In August, CNN tried to explain “Why Ethiopians believe their new prime minister is a prophet”.
Today, CNN wrote, “Abiy Ahmed: The Ethiopian Prime Minister who captured Africa’s imagination.”
What did we, your people, write about you?
Suffice it to say, “A prophet has no honor in his own country and among his people.”
There are those who are quick to criticize you and insist that you walk on water before they even acknowledge your work let alone express their appreciation.
They demand that, at least if you cannot walk on water, you must solve all of Ethiopia’s problems overnight but no less than eight months.
I call your carping critics “nabobs of negativism”.
They are a bunch of feckless and self-righteous windbags and busybodies who are nothing more than empty barrels. I ignore them with contempt.
I must tell you that it really bothers me why your compatriots, particularly those in the learned and professional communities, withhold their gratitude and appreciation for your extraordinary accomplishments.
That has puzzled me for some time.
I am told public expression of gratitude and appreciation for a job well done is not part of “our Ethiopian tradition”.
I am told Ethiopians generally do not publicly and enthusiastically express gratitude they fear being perceived as “weak”. Others withhold gratitude because of personal “envy”.
Someone once gave me a curious explanation. “Ethiopians express their gratitude in silence.”
That impresses me as wrapping a beautiful gift for someone but never giving it.
Of course, I do not believe any of these explanations because they suggest we are an ungrateful nation.
I must tell you that in the land where I spent nearly one-half century, gratitude is a highly cherished value. It is a hallowed tradition.
To me, gratitude is the most important virtue in life.
I am a grateful person by nature.
When I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family last month, I told them during the invocation blessings that I must be the most thankful person on the planet.
I am so grateful to so many who helped me along my path in life.
I am so grateful to those who helped us raise donations for EDTF.
When I express gratitude, I feel good.
I get joy when I express gratitude to you for your extraordinary achievements and unparalleled service to Ethiopia over the past eight months.
Truth be told, my public expression of gratitude for your historic and monumental achievements washes away the anger, the bitterness, the resentment, the sadness, the despair, and the heartache I carried for the past 13 years after I joined the Ethiopian human rights movement.
I have been accused, from time to time, of never, ever having said a good word about the previous ethnic apartheid regime or it leaders. “How come you never say one good thing for the economic development and double-digit growth they brought about?”
I came to Ethiopia in September. I saw their double-digit growth. I laughed and then I cried.
I cried because as I traveled throughout the countryside, I found out first-hand the vast majority of the people did not have clean water to drink.
The schools I saw were a mockery of education. The youth I talked to were regretful of the lack of educational and employment opportunities.
And they talk about double-digit growth.
The arrogance of the ignorant!
The fact of the matter is I do not thank or express appreciation to murderers, torturers, thieves, criminals against humanity, haters and abusers of power and in general for Princes of Darkness.
But, PM Abiy, for over a decade, my year-end commentaries were tales of woe, heartache and tragedy in Ethiopia. They were chronicles of corruption and gross abuses of human rights in Ethiopia.
But not 2018!
This year, PM Abiy, marks, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the end of “the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun (son) of Ethiopia/And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house/In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Nine months ago, I along with millions of Ethiopians were in deep despair as the cloud of civil war and strife lowered on our House of Ethiopia.
Nine months ago, I saw a vision of darkness at noon in Ethiopia.
Nine months ago, I saw no light but the darkness of hate engulfing Ethiopia.
Nine months ago, I was in the pit of despair. I was convinced it was The End for Ethiopia.
Nine months ago, I mulled and brooded over the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Nine months ago, I saw no exit for a nation trapped in ethnic apartheid.
Then a miracle happened, because that is the only way I, and millions of others, can explain it.
To me it was a prophesy fulfilled: “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”
But princes did not come out of Egypt.
They came out of Ethiopia itself.
Ethiopia was lifted from the abyss and raised to new heights.
In 2018, the sun of freedom shone brightly on 27 years of darkness.
Thank God, the evil ethnic apartheid system that lasted for 27 long years in Ethiopia is now buried not in the ocean, but in the very mantle of the earth.
PM Abiy, as I read my words from my December 29, 2009 commentary (“Groundhog Year in Prison Nation Ethiopia”, in December 2018, I am overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude to the point “my cup runneth over.”
Back then I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each “new” day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray… for deliverance from Evil!
In 2018, our prayers were answered when a modern-day Moses was sent to lead us out of wilderness of ethnic apartheid, sectarianism and hate.
You are living proof of Dr. King’s wisdom. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Over the past eight months, you have been driving out the Forces of Darkness and the darkness of hate from the land of Ethiopia.
You have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.
As BBC recently wrote, you have done the “equivalent of making the sun rise from the west.”
Who would have thought nine months ago darkness and the Princes of Darkness would run and hide in darkness at the first sign of sun light?
Nine months ago, our expectations were far different.
We were resigned to accept ethnic apartheid as the way of life in our lifetimes.
PM Abiy, in July 2015 I was in such despair that I had a letter delivered to President Barack Obama.
I asked him a special favor in the paraphrased words of the old Negro spiritual: “Go down Moses way down in Ethiopia land/ Tell all Pharaohs to let My people go/ Oppressed so hard they could not stand…”
I thought President Obama could serve as our temporary Moses until the real one showed up. I could not have been more wrong.
On July 27, 2015 at 1:47 p.m., President Obama stood side by side by with the masters of ethnic apartheid and declared, “the government of Ethiopia, that has been democratically elected.”
Those words were like a dagger in my heart.
What an insult to the dignity and intelligence of 100 million Ethiopians.
But on July 27, 2018 you came to America and mended my shattered heart and raised me to the peak of the mountain of hope.
Thank you, PM Abiy!
Thank you for ending our 27-year long captivity and long day’s journey into the dark night of apartheid.
Thank you for resurrecting ETHIOPIAWINET
Thank you and I thank those who taught us “Ethiopiawinet is an addiction. Those who sang and taught us Ethiopiawinet “can never be lost. It is as deep as religion. Ethiopiawinet has a delicate mystery to itself. It has a very deep foundation.”
Thank you for proving to us the Beast had feet of clay.
Thank you for leading us out of the hellfire of civil war and destruction into a state of tolerance, reconciliation, peace and love.
Thank you for elevating the status of women in Ethiopia.
Thank you for being the Fire Chief organizing the fire brigade to save the burning House of Ethiopia and cutting the fuse on the Ethiopia powder keg.
Thank you for standing your ground that the only path for our future is forgiveness, love and reconciliation.
Thank you for telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth: “Jailing and torturing, which we did, are not constitutional. Does the constitution say anyone who was sentenced by a court can be tortured, put in a dark room? Torturing, putting people in dark rooms, is our act of terrorism.”
Thank you for sowing love and harvesting peace with our neighbors and brothers and sisters: “Forgiveness frees the consciousness. When we say we have reconciled, we mean we have chosen a path of forgiveness and love. When I spoke with Isaias, I told him that there may not be enough hotels as Ethiopians visit Massawa and Asmara. He said he would leave his house for them and stay in balconies.”
Thank you for making me feel proud again for being an Ethiopian. After 48 years of being ashamed of being an Ethiopian, ashamed of Ethiopia being called the “beggar nation of the world”, the land of famine and civil war. Today, I proclaim to the world they shall soon learn the true meaning of multiparty democracy in Ethiopia. When EDTF is properly funded, Ethiopia will never, never, never again accept foreign aid, foreign loans or help from international NGOs. We will take care of our own!
Thank you for inviting me to return to my homeland after 48 years and live out my declaration, “I, PROUD ETHIOPIAN.”
Thank you for making us feel, Diaspora Ethiopians, proud to be Ethiopians. For 27 years, we were told Ethiopiawinet is a crime, a badge of blame and shame. We were forced to confess our tribal and ethnic affiliations.
Thank you for coming to America to show us your love. Did we not show you we love you more? We love ya!
Thank you for bringing back the lost rainbow to our rainbow nation.
Thank you for showing courage under fire, literally, telling the Forces of Darkness who raised their swords and grenades and told you are not strong enough to weather their storm.
Thank you for telling the Forces of Darkness, “I am the storm”.
Thank you for bringing change by changing the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.
Thank you for endless efforts to liberate our minds from the mental slavery of ethnic politics.
Thank you for showing us that it is only through the collective efforts of Ethiopians working together (Medemer) that they can build the New Ethiopia as the shining city upon a hill.
Thank you for teaching us power does not come from the barrel of the gun but the power of love.
Thank you for teaching us killing to remain in or to grab power is the politics of losers.
Thank you for preaching the only way we can solve our problems peacefully is through civilized dialogue, not through the chatter of AK-47s.
Thank you for proving Mandela’s maxim. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Thank you for preaching Ethiopia will rise up as a nation only when the power of love overcomes the love of power of those in power and those hungry and thirsty for power.
Thank you for preaching we cannot make progress unless we learn and practice to forgive and reconcile.
Thank you for showing us a new way to do our politics, Medemer.
PM Abiy, you may find what I am going to say rather puzzling.
Thank you for saving the criminal leaders of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front. Without you, I shudder to think what could have happened to them. Those ignorant and arrogant fools have no idea you are their insurance policy from the wrath of the people!
Most of all, PM Abiy thank you for…
Busting wide open the political space that had been the playground of the masters of ethnic apartheid for the past 27 years.
Emptying the country’s prisons of political prisoners.
Ending gross human rights violations in Ethiopia and bringing those criminals to the bar of justice.
Guaranteeing with unwavering certainty that in May 2020 Ethiopia will have an internationally-monitored free and fair election.
Allowing opposition leaders to return home from abroad and freely and peacefully participate in their country’s politics.
Granting amnesty to those unjustly declared to be “terrorists”.
Laying the groundwork for true multiparty democracy.
Restoring the people’s constitutional rights to free expression and allowing the media to function freely.
Allowing internet access without control or censorship.
Allowing the people to exercise their right to peaceful protest.
Bringing harmony and understanding among factions of the two religions in Ethiopia. You played a decisive role in bringing healing to the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church in the country and in the Diaspora. You played a decisive role in bringing healing to factions in the Islamic community.
Pleading allegiance to the rule of law and due process for the accused.
Condemning collective punishment for the crimes of a few.
Ending torture in Ethiopia’s prisons and exposing the secret prisons of the previous regime.
Removing criminals against humanity from the police, security and military forces.
Professionalizing the country’s defense and police forces to be in the service of the whole nation, not a single group.
Bringing a new era of peace with our neighbors.
Proving Mandela’s maxim: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” The partnership you and H.E. President Isayas Afeworki created has wrapped the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea in a single garment of social, economic and political destiny.
Helping play a key role in bringing South Sudan’s power contenders to the peace table.
Being a messenger of peace in the Horn of Africa. For going to Somalia and telling the people their peace and stability is Ethiopia’s peace and stability.
Opening peaceful relations between Eritrea and Djbouti.
Building a bridge of hope and cooperation with Egypt over the River Abay (Nile) and not a dam of strife and war.
Working to make sure the Horn of Africa does not become the battleground in global and regional geopolitics by leading a peace initiative with the contending regional powers and others to peacefully engage in the Horn of Africa.
Stabilizing the Ethiopian economy and the foreign exchange crises.
Establishing a commission to look into privatization of certain state-run institutions and liberalizing the economy with the aim of improving services through market competition.
Setting in motion an open, accountable and transparent government in which ministers will be evaluated by parliamentary committees, government agencies and offices are required to publish information on their activities.
Cleaning up your party of the “dead wood” and bringing in young people to leadership positions.
Elevating women from second class status to the epicenter of power.
Encouraging Ethiopia’s Cheetahs (young people) to believe in themselves and in the higher destiny of Ethiopia.
Inviting the older generation (Hippos) we also have a place in the construction of the New Ethiopia.
The road ahead…
There will be great challenges and opportunities in 2019.
The Forces of Darkness will continue to devise their evil schemes, but they will amount to nothing.
Let it be foretold.
The swords of the Forces of Darkness will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
There will be many mountains to climb to build that New Shining Ethiopia upon the hill.
There are many walls to tear down.
We have to tear down the mud walls the kilil-istans (ethnic homelands) that have kept the people of Ethiopia corralled like cattle.
PM Abiy, is it not ironic that the people who created “kilils” to corral Ethiopians today find themselves in self-imposed kilil prisons of their own?
We have to build bridges to connect people that have been separated and segregated over the past 27 years.
We will need many leaders like you for the job; leaders with capability, integrity, morality, respectability, intentionality and personality to do it right.
I have heard many Ethiopians ask, “Do we really deserve Abiy Ahmed?
My answer is simple. Africa deserves Abiy Ahmed. The world deserves Abiy Ahmed.
I know there are people who will say I am effusive in my praise and gratitude for all you have done.
That I am blinded to your shortcomings and deficits. That I must think you are perfect to deserve such appreciation.
My answer is simple. You are as imperfect as any man.
What I look for in a man or woman is not perfection but content of character.
Courage and grace under fire, literally.
Courage of convictions.
Integrity and commitment to truth.
Acceptance of responsibility. Humility. Authenticity.
Honor. Compassion. Respect. Excellence.
Patience. Tenacity. Generosity. Empathy.
But Pm Abiy, to me, the greatest of all virtues is ETHIOPIAWINET.
To those ingrates who say I am too generous with my gratitude, I tell them to walk a mile in your shoes and tell me how it feels.
Could you please tell me something?
How does it feel to carry a nation on your back 24/7?
How does it feel to walk among poisonous serpents?
How does it feel to live among crabs in a basket that claw you down every time you try to rise up?
How does it feel to carry the hopes, dreams and despair of 100 million people 24 hours a day?
How does it feel to sleep two hours a night because the Forces of Darkness are awake 24 hours a day?
I ask because I don’t know.
Truth be told, PM Abiy, I don’t give a damn what the empty barrels say or do.
I speak my mind because I am an intellectual in the mold of Edward Said: “The intellectual is an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public, in public.”
PM Abiy, my philosophy and attitude today is Medemer.
Medemer to build the New Ethiopia.
When 1 billion fingers come together (Medemer), we can build the New Ethiopia upon the hill.
I believe in Medemer in America too.
We have to fight the forces of hate and division in America with the synergy of Medemer.
I say Medemer in the world for a better world for all of God’s children.
Medemer is my dream for 2019.
In my very first open letter to you dated April 8, 2018, 6 days after you became prime minister, I told you regardless of what happens, failure is not an option for you.
It is not an option for me; for all of us who believe and toil for justice, equality, rule of law, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia..
All of us are invested heavily in your success because if you lose, We, the People of Ethiopia collectively, will be the biggest losers – of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Our only choice is to get it right this time around because we get only one chance.
PM Abiy, I am guided by the wisdom of Harriet Tubman, the great African American abolitionist and slavery-fighter: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
That is my message of hope and resolution for you as the great Ethiopian Dreamer.
You PM Abiy have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change Ethiopia, Africa and the world.
Have no doubts you will succeed!
Oh! One last thing before I finish.
We will always have your back!
HAPPY NEW YEAR, PM Abiy and the People of Ethiopia….