By Al Mariam
(Classified: For Ethiopian Cheetahs’ Eyes Only)
My first “Message” from 2013
In January 2013, I wrote a new year’s message in which I dedicated that year to Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
I described Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation comprising of not only graduates and professionals — the “best and the brightest” — but also the huddled masses of youth yearning to breathe free.
I called for dialogue that is inclusive of the millions of youth victimized by T-TPLF (Thugtagtorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front) nepotism, cronyism, corruption and human rights violations.
I called for the release of the moral leaders of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation and T-TPLF political prisoners including Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Alemu, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and so many others like them.
In my 2013 message, I declared Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of T-TPLF tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the venomous fangs of a benighted dictatorship and sweep away a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies and corruption into the dustbin of history.
In my message I also called upon Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to begin an informal dialogue among themselves and to define their own terms of national reconciliation.
I urged them to empower themselves and create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines.
I underscored the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in the national reconciliation conversations. I tried to make the point supported by social scientific evidence that women do a far superior job than men when it comes to conciliation, reconciliation and mediation. I further counselled that dialogue involves not only talking to each other but also listening to one another. I urged Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to use their diversity as a strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.
What has happened in the past three years?
I believe Ethiopia’s Cheetahs have fully awakened. Some Cheetahs are purring in anger and standing up to the T-TPLF defiantly as we continue to witness today. Others are hissing and growling. Ethiopian Cheetahs are not happy. That’s why they are prowling all over the country confronting hyenas.
My new “challenge message in a bottle” to Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation
I believe Ethiopia’s “Hippo Generation” (of which I am a member, certainly not by choice) has completely failed Ethiopia’s Cheetah generation.
George Ayittey correctly described Africa’s “Hippo Generation” as “intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They can see with eagle-eyed clarity the injustices perpetrated by whites against blacks, but they are hopelessly blind to the more heinous injustices they perpetrate against their own black people…”
We Ethiopian Hippos have been stuck in our muddy patch mindlessly spinning our wheels in the destructive politics of ethnicity, sectarianism, fear and loathing.
We have been politically comatose for sometime now. We churn out the same old stale and discredited ideas of the past. We shamelessly dance to the T-TPLF limbo in a race to the bottom. Our influence on Ethiopia’s Cheetahs has been regressive, uninspiring, visionless and completely void of creativity.
We Hippos leave the Cheetah Generation a legacy of failure, suspicion, distrust, disunity, discord, discontent, discouragement, disenchantment, disillusionment and self-doubt.
The foregoing may sound like a categorical accusation by a self-righteous Hippo against every member of Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation. Actually, it is a personal confession of just one Hippo. As I point my index finger at the rest, I am painfully aware that three fingers are pointing at me.
Confession in certain traditions is usually followed by an act of penance (a word that has roots in repentance), a redemptive act performed to correct and overcome past mistakes through good works.
It is my self-imposed “penance” henceforth to directly engage and challenge Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation to rise up and meet their future. (I admit I sound sanctimonious, preachy and holier-than-thou in doing my “penance”. But I consider myself a work in progress. I will improve with time.)
In ongoing “messages in a bottle” this year, I aim to challenge Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation to open their minds and to think for themselves, press them to ask the right and hard questions and to let their imaginations run wild about living as free men and women.
In formulating these challenges, I am inspired by Albert Einstein who once observed, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
I think what Einstein meant was that the more time one spends understanding a problem, the more likely one is to find the most effective solution(s) and resolution(s) to problem(s). It is my observation that most of us (beginning with me) already have the solutions to all of Ethiopia’s problems from removing tyranny to rooting out poverty. I would say most of our “solutions” are the result of half-baked, short-sighted, sterile and ill-conceived questions.
Einstein also observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” More poetically, George Bernard Shaw said, “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” That is the kind of imagination I am talking about.
I think what Einstein meant was that human potential and destiny is not determined just by what we know, but also by what we can imagine. It was Einstein who asked the supremely beautiful imaginary question, “What if I can ride a beam of light across the universe?” Just imagine that!!!
I would not urge Ethiopia’s Cheetah generation to ride a beam of light across the universe.
I just want them to fly. I want them to fly away from the enslaving politics of ethnicity. Fly free from tyranny. Free from corruption and human righst violations.
Not long ago, The Economist magazine asked a question that has been on my mind for years. The question hit me like a thunderbolt: “What if Ethiopian were really set free?”
The Economist answered its own question: “If the government let [the Ethiopian] people breathe, they might fly.”
I “spent 55 minutes” thinking about the “breathing” problem of the Ethiopian people. Then I spent “5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
I took a flight of imagination in my commentary, “Fly, Ethiopia, fly… Fly Cheetahs, fly high in the sky…”
If Ethiopians could fly, I said, they would not have to take to the sea to die. Ethiopian women wouldn’t have to fly to the Middle East to become virtual slaves. They would not have to cross the desert and become victims of bloodthirsty terrorists. They would not have to go into exile. If they could fly, they would soar like the African fish eagles, like African seagulls. They would lift their wings high, high into the sky and fly. They would flutter like humming birds.
That is why I aim to engage Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation on a sustained basis this year.
I want them to fly sky high on the wings of critical analysis. I want them to ask all the right and hard questions from as many angles as possible as they think about the seemingly insurmountable problems facing Ethiopia. I want them to take flight in their imagination. I want to challenge them to imagine a new Ethiopia that is their own creation free of ethnic politics, sectarianism and hate. I want them to imagine an Ethiopia at peace with itself and its neighbors; an Ethiopia free of oppression and thugtatorship. I want them to imagine a utopia Ethiopia, an Eutopia.
I want to challenge Every Ethiopian Cheetah to become an “Ethiopian Imagineer” — an architect, a designer, an inventor, a surveyor, a builder and entrepreuer of a free Ethiopian society whose citizens are more concerned about each other’s humanity than their own ethnicity; an Ethiopia of equal opportunity; an Ethiopia free of corruption, oppression and thugtgatorship.
I use the metaphor “message in a bottle” to signify the fact that I stuff my message (commentary) in a bottle and release it in the “ocean” called cyberspace or the internet hoping that Ethiopian Cheetahs the world over will find it randomly, uncork the bottle and read it.
I do not know how many will get to read my message. I am hopeful many will. I am sure some will agree with me and and others disagree. I do not seek agreement or disagreement. The object of my message is to challenge Ethiopia’s young people to dare to ask the right questions, to dare to know the truth (their own truth) and to dare to imagine a new country.
Ethiopian Cheetahs: You were born free but to live free you must liberate your mind from the shackles of “ethnic federalism”
The Question: What is “ethnic federalism”?
The “PREAMBLE” to the T-TPLF constitution provides a ready answer: “We the Nations, Nationalities and People of Ethiopia…” have written the constitution to 1) “secure the right to self-determination” for “people of the nations and nationalities”, 2) ensure the territorial insularity (separateness) of the “people of the nations and nationalities” so that they can “live with our rich and proud cultural legacies” 3) “rectify historically unjust relationships”, and 4) facilitate “liv[ing] as one economic community”. (See also Art. 39.)
I shall argue and supply evidence to support my contention that Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation should reject wholly T-TPLF’s “ethnic federalism”.
The summary of my argument is as follows: “Ethnic federalism” is the “kinder and gentler” name for the new and improved apartheid in the 21st century Africa. The T-TPLF’s “kilil” (Kilil-istan) is a modern version of apartheid’s Bantustan, an ethnic reservation. When the minority white apartheid government created the Bantustans in South Africa, their principal aim was to create a “homeland” for the people of South Africa based on race, language, geography, ethnicity, culture, etc. The ultimate aim was that the Bantustans was that they will one day become their own countries (exercise “self-determination”) and the whites would have their own country as well, unsurprisingly, in full possession of the most productive land in the country.
The Amharic word “kilil” in the context of “ethnic federalism” signifies an area of land designated specifically for the exclusive use and management of members of a group sharing similar language, history, culture, etc. “Kilil” signifies an enclosure, a defined boundary, territory and land mass. The T-TPLF is designed, devised, invented, contrived and blueprinted its “ethnic federalism” for the single purpose of creating perpetual geographic division and disunion among the Ethiopian people by corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”. By constitutionally segregating the people of Ethiopia into communal, linguistic, cultural and regional groups, the T-TPLF put a clever that would permanently and irreversibly destroy the social glue and fabric of tolerance, harmony and understanding that has kept the Ethiopian people united as one people for millenia.
Under the so-called Article 39, the ultimate aim of T-TPLF’s ethnic federalism is to ethnically divide Ethiopia and make it the proverbial Humpty Dumpty who “sat on a wall, and had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
When Ethiopia falls from the “kilil” walls the T-TPLF has created, it will not be the king’s horses and men who will put her back together. It will be Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation inspired by God who will!
I believe the most serious existential problem (the mother of all social, political, economic problems in Ethiopia) of Ethiopia today is, without question, “ethnic federalism”.
The T-TPLF understood that five separate fingers on a hand are far less powerful than the clenched fist that is formed when the five fingers come together in the center of the palm. The T-TPLF constitutionalized “ethnic federalism” as permanent strategy to keep the “five fingers” of Ethiopia from ever coming together to make a fist in T-TPLF’s face and to rule perpetually by keeping the fingers separate.
Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation must critically understand, evaluate and decide whether they want to accept T-TPLF’s “ethnic federalism”.
First and foremost, I challenge the Cheetahs to declare whether they agree with the bedrock assumptions of the T-TPLF on “Ethiopia”.
Assumption No. 1. There is no such thing as an Ethiopian nation because Ethiopia is an aggregation of “nations, nationalities and peoples.” There is only a make believe confederation of “nations and nationalities” trapped in a mythical land called “Ethiopia” just waiting, yearning and itching to breakup into tribal chieftaincies and principalities. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts because the parts could never amount to a whole.
The T-TPLF constitution self-proclaims to be a weapon for “rectifying historical injustices”. It arms the “nations and nationalities” with the nuclear option of “self-determination” for the “rectification” of perceived historical injustices. The “nations and nationalities” are each given the switch box for their own nuclear weapon of mass destruction and literally blow up themselves and the entire country into smithereens.
Assumption No. 2. There is no Ethiopian culture. There are diversity of cultures that are self-contained and mutually exclusive. The whole idea of unity in diversity in T-TPLF’s ethnic federalism is the practice of diversity in exclusivity, animosity and insensitivity.
Assumption No. 3. There is no Ethiopian history. A people without a history is a people without a past and without a future. T-TPLF mastermind the late Meles Zenawi in 1993 told an interviewer, “Ethiopia is only 100 years old. Those who claim otherwise are indulging themselves in fairy tales.” According to T-TPLF’s ethnic federalism, there is only the history of “nations, nationalities and peoples.”
Assumption No. 4. There is no “Ethiopian national identity.” National identity is one’s sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics. As far as I have been able to determine, Ethiopians are the only people in the world who are officially required by “law” to state their ethnicity in their interactions with regime authorities. Could there be a greater insult, a greater humiliation for a citizen of a country to be required to declare his/her ethnicity every time they seek to get public services?!
Surveys show British citizens “feel British”. The French people “feel French”. The same for Brazilians, Indians, Egyptians and so on.
The American people “feel American” before they feel African American, Polish American, Japanese American and so on.
Under the crushing boots of the T-TPLF, do people living in Ethiopia “feel Ethiopian”? Do they even feel “Oromo Ethiopian”, “Amhara Ethiopian”, “Tigrean Ethiopian” and so on?
Or do they just feel their ethnicity without their nationality, without their humanity?
Assumption No. 5. There is no “Ethiopian flag” as a symbol of national identity, pride and patriotism. Meles Zenawi in response to questions put to him about T-TPLF position on the flag said repeatedly said the “Ethiopian flag is a piece of rag.”
The vast majority of Americans respect and take pride in their flag. They nicknamed their flag “Old Glory”. In most public, sporting and patriotic events, they sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they raise Old Glory. In the last three lines of the lyrics, they sing: “And this be our motto – ‘In God is our trust,’/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That essentially defines “feeling American” for most Americans regardless of which corner of the world they or their ancestors came from.
Do “Ethiopians” feel the same way about a green, yellow and red flag with a blue pentagram in the middle of it? Why can’t Ethiopia be “land of the free and the home of the brave”? I don’t think the Americans have a monopoly on that.
(Just as an aside: I have never been able to figure out why the T-TPLF used a pentagram (a star encased in a circle) in the middle of their flag. The pentagram is the quintessential global symbol of the followers of the Prince of Darkness. No other country in the world has a flag with a pentagram in it. How odd, indeed!)
Assumption No. 6. There is no “Ethiopian Dream”. There is only a T-TPLF nightmare. The T-TPLF controls the economy, the politics and society. No one can inhale or exhale without the T-TPLF breathing down their backs. One can’t dream in a nightmare!
To understand T-TPLF’s ethnic federalism as modern day apartheid, Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation must study the history of apartheid laws creating and maintaining Bantustans in South Africa. The T-TPLF devised their “ethnic federalism” straight out of the apartheid playbook. In fact, ethnic federalism is a kinder and gentler version of South Africa’s apartheid state based on separate development of the people of South Africa.
My aim here is not to show discrete similarities and differences between Apartheid laws and T-TPLF “Proclamations”. If need be, I can do that with ease, expedition and pleasure. But I am merely trying to make the simple point that the white minority government in South Africa took calculated legislative measure to dispossess the majority Black African population and completely dominate the economy just like what the T-TPLF is doing in Ethiopia today by completely owning the land in the country.
The 1995 T-TPLF constitution declares, “The right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia. Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange.” (Article 40(3).)
If the state has exclusive ownership of rural and urban land in Ethiopia, then the obvious question is: Who has exclusive and complete ownership of the state in Ethiopia today?
Who has exclusively owned and operated the state in Ethiopia for the past 25 years?
In the Bantu Land Act of 1913 (originally The Natives Land Act, 1913 [Act No. 27 of 1913], the white settlers created a system of land tenure that deprived the majority of South Africa’s inhabitants of the right to own land which had major socio-economic repercussions. The Bantu Land Act created a “system of local government and administration, under apartheid, entrenched separate development and the balkanisation of the South African state into different ‘native reserves.’… The Act created a system of land tenure that deprived the majority of South Africans the right to own land.”
The Bantu Authorities Act, 1951(“Black Authorities Act, 1951”) created the legal basis for the deportation of blacks into designated homeland reserve areas and established tribal, regional and territorial authorities. This Act was subsequently augmented by the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act, 1970 (“Black States Citizenship Act & National States Citizenship Act, 1970) which sought to change the legal status of the inhabitants of the Bantustans by effectively denaturalizing them from enjoying citizenship rights as South Africans. These laws imposed draconian restrictions on the freedom of movement of black South Africans. These laws further sought to ensure that white South Africans would represent the majority of the de jure population of South Africa with the right to vote and monopolize control of the state machinery.
The Group Areas Act of 1950 (as re-enacted in the Group Areas Act of 1966), divided South Africa into separate areas for whites and blacks and gave the government the power to forcibly remove people from areas not designated for their particular tribal and racial group. Under this Act, anyone living in the “wrong” area was deported to his/her tribal group homeland. The law also denied Africans the right to own land anywhere in South Africa and stripped them of all political rights. The lives of over 3.5 million people were destroyed by this law as they were forcibly deported and corralled like cattle in their tribal group Bantustans.
The ideology of “kililism” shares many of the attributes of apartheid’s “Bantustanism”.
In Article 39 and other proclamations enacted by Meles’ rubberstamp parliament, Meles created “ethnic homelands” just as apartheid South Africa’s “Bantu (Black) Authorities Act of 1951” created “bantustans”. Article 39 provides, “A nation, nationality or people for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share a large measure of a common culture, or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, and who predominantly inhabit an identifiable, contiguous territory.” Both ideologies aim to concentrate members of designated ethnic groups into “homelands” by creating ethno-linguistically homogeneous territories which could ultimately morph into “autonomous” nation states.
In April 2012, in my commentary, “Green Justice or Ethnic Injustice”, I demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the chief architect and mastermind of “ethnic federalism”, the late Meles Zenawi, in his own words proved that he was running a modern apartheid system.
In April 2012, Meles personally ordered the removal and deportation of tens of thousands of “Amhara” from Southern Ethiopia.
In justifying his actions, Meles called Ethiopians living in the southern part of the country, “North Gojam “Amhara” “sefaris”, “criminal squatters” and “marauding land grabbers”.
To call any Ethiopian living in Ethiopia a “criminal squatter” makes me sick to the stomach. (To watch Meles Zenawi’s video Click HERE):
… By coincidence of history, over the past ten years numerous people — some 30,000 sefaris (squatters) from North Gojam – have settled in Benji Maji (BM) zone [in Southern Ethiopia]. In Gura Ferda, there are some 24,000 sefaris. Because the area is forested, not too many people live there. For all intents and purposes, Gura Ferda is little North Gojam complete with squatters’ local administration. That is not a problem: There is land to farm [in BM zone], and there are people who want to farm it. Everybody wins, no one loses. There is only one problem: The squatters did it in a disorganized way. The squatters settled individually and haphazardly and in an environmentally destructive way. The settlement was not based on a sound environmental impact study on the destruction of the forest. The pristine forest in the area must be protected. The squatters want land that can be easily developed and cultivated. They don’t care if it is a forest or not. They cut the forest and used the wood to make charcoal to aid in their settlement. As a result massive environmental destruction has occurred…. Settlers cannot move into the area and destroy the forest for settlement. It is illegal and must stop. Those who try to distort this fact are irresponsible. It is necessary to filter the truth. The rights of all Ethiopians must be protected on equal footing. Those who allege persecution and displacement of Amharas are engaged in irresponsible agitation which is not useful to anyone…
That is exactly what happened to Black South Africans for decades under apartheid. They were labelled “criminal squatters” and evicted and forcibly expelled…
I ask Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to fly with me on a beam of freedom. You are born free. Now live free because that is your divine destiny.
Your friendly Chee-Hippo
Message to be continued…