Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Youth and the Power of Medemer

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Super Congratulations, PM Abiy and Deputy PM Demeke!

I want to publicly congratulate H.E. Prime Minster Dr. Abiy Ahmed on his re-election as party chairman and H.E. Demeke Mekonnen as deputy chairman at the 11th Congress of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party.

When PM Abiy was first appointed on April 2, 2018 following the abrupt resignation of his predecessor, they said his appointment was temporary until the next Congress.

Six months to the week in office, PM Abiy was elected chairman by 176/177 votes. This is definitive proof of his idea of medemer. Even those who had vehemently and openly opposed him politically six months ago and continue to secretly and violently oppose him in the shadows have gotten aboard his Medemer Train.

Those who traffic in cynicism say, the medemer of those who oppose him is not genuine. They are only buying and biding their time with their make-believe medemer. They say, “one does not put a poisonous snake in his pocket believing it has been domesticated.”

I don’t share that view. I believe in giving second chances even to those who do not believe in giving their opponents a fighting chance.

People change because of rational self-interest, external circumstances or out of the goodness of their hearts.

My basic philosophy is, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.” That attitude goes with my basic philosophy about forgiveness and reconciliation.

Nonetheless, PM Abiy’s election as party chairman is incontrovertible proof of his extraordinary leadership, vision and broad popular support for his policies and the direction he has laid out for Ethiopia.

I know good leaders make a world – a country – of difference in the lives of their people.

In 1994, South Africa’s fate was a toss-up. White supremacists and ethnic factionalists sought to spark a racial civil war by engaging in terrorism. One man stood between civil war and civil peace.  Nelson Mandela saved the day in South Africa by preaching and practicing peace and reconciliation.

Abiy Ahmed in six months has made a world of difference in Ethiopia.

Seven months ago, everyone predicted Ethiopia will be torn to pieces by the dogs of civil war.

Abiy Ahmed came out of nowhere and manned the lines between civil war and civil peace. He saved  Ethiopia from the brink with his message of love, peace and reconciliation.

But for Abiy Ahmed, I shudder to think what could have happened in Ethiopia today. But even today we hear the dogs of war barking, but that is all they will do.

My view is that PM Abiy’s election as party chairman is one small step for Abiy Ahmed and one giant leap for Ethiopia’s youth.

I supported PM Abiy from Day 1 because he represented the very best in Ethiopia’s youth.

In my open letter to him on April 8, 2018, just six days after he took office, I “pledged to him my principled support for all his efforts to uplift Ethiopia’s youth from despair. I have always believed Ethiopia’s salvation and resurrection (Tinsae) can only come through her youth.”

I assured him, “Above all, I regard you as the leader of Ethiopia’s youth. That said, know that I am in your corner and got your back.”

My all-consuming dream from Day 1 of joining the human rights struggle in Ethiopia has been to see Ethiopia’s young generation (Aboshemane/Cheetahs) taking charge of Ethiopia’s destiny.

From day 1, I knew without a doubt it was the younger generation (not my generation) that could save Ethiopia by putting out the ethnic fires that are burning and threatening to consume the people of Ethiopia in a civil war.

In my very first commentary in July 2006, I wrote that I was joining the Ethiopian human rights struggle because of my hope and confidence in Ethiopia’s young people: “I pick myself up (when I am depressed) with visions of our young people in America and Ethiopia carrying the torch of freedom, human rights and democracy in every city, town and hamlet, in every village and neighborhood in Ethiopia.”

I realized my dream when young Ethiopians carrying the torch delivered Abiy Ahmed in the nick of time.

In my March 2007 commentary I wrote about the plight and suffering of our young people and asked everyone, particularly my generation, to help them:

My favorite people in the world are young people, young Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans. They are the most courageous, audacious, tenacious and passionate Ethiopians I know. God bless them all! They are the only ones who can fight this fire and put it out. The rest of us are water carriers.

But our young people in Ethiopia are in the fire, and on the firing line every day. They are shot down like rabid dogs if they protest. They are jailed if they speak their minds. They are harassed if they are considered disloyal. They disappear if they are considered subversive.

Our young people in the Diaspora are not on the firing line, but they are fired up about improving human rights in their homeland.

Let’s help the young firefighters do their work.

We need to tell our young firefighters they are the towers of our power. Let’s uplift their spirits. Let’s assure them they can put out the fire, and we are right there behind them manning the water lines. Sure, it is not going to be easy for the young firefighters. But they must fight the fire, the power. They have choice. They must rescue the fire victims. Let’s reach out to them, talk to them, inspire them and build their confidence. Because in the long run, it is their forest home — their future — that is on fire.

Let us never doubt that our young firefighters, though they may inherit a society devastated by decades of political repression and human rights abuse, will one day be able to build a City Upon a Hill — a just, humane and pious society — where no man or woman will fear his or her government, where government will dutifully respect the rights and liberties of its citizens, where every person can stand tall and freely speak his or her mind, and where no man, woman or child will ever lose life, liberty of property without due process of just laws.

In May 2011, I argued the wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means.”

In June 2013, I prophesied:

Ethiopia’s Cheetahs will rise and shine and soar to new heights. They will lift up and carry Ethiopia on their wings… Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel  claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.

I believe I called it right.

But whenever I wrote about my unflinching confidence in Ethiopia’s young people,  some people used to laugh at me, sometimes in my face.

Others mocked me as a naïve and clueless Diaspora Ethiopian who has not been back to his country for decades.

They told me the “real truth” about the younger generation of Ethiopians under the previous regime. They said the youth are corrupted and systematically  brainwashed about their identity, misled about their ability and hoodwinked about their futurity. They are hopeless. They care only about flash and cash. They  don’t give a hoot about democracy, human right, good governance and all the rest.

But I kept faith with Ethiopia’s young people and never wavered.

I defended them against accusations they are self-centered hedonists who could not care less for their country.

In February 2016, I urged the youth to keep on with their peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience.

I exhorted them not to fear the “evil Beast with feet of clay. When gazed upon, they appear awesome, formidable and infinitely powerful. They have guns, tanks, rockets, planes and bombs. Though they have legs of iron, their feet are made of clay.”

It was GAME OVER for those men with feet of clay who had made Ethiopia their playground and plaything.

In May 2013, I declared Ethiopia is RISING and there is no power on earth that could stop it.

In October 2018, Ethiopia has risen though the Forces of Darkness toil everyday to bury her again.

As I was dreaming about Ethiopia’s youth and their uprising to take their rightful place in their country, I had no clue there were two young firefighters named Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megerssa planning meticulously in the shadows to save the Burning House of Ethiopia.

I must be the luckiest man in the world because I got the dream team leaders for Ethiopia I had dreamed about for so long for Ethiopia’s new generation.

Yes, the Dream Team of Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megerssa!

So, the only question is whether to team up with the dream team and line up with Ethiopia’s young people..

Abiy Ahmed: Our man for all seasons

The phrase “a man for all seasons” refers to a man of extraordinary integrity and principle. Every society upon whom fortune smiles is blessed with an individual of such extraordinary qualities that he deserves the title “man (woman) for all seasons”.

Five centuries ago, Thomas Moore, an English lawyer and statesman was such a man. Moore was hated and despised by those in power but loved and adored by the common people and his family. He remained true to his conscience and  principles and showed unwavering integrity. He was a “man of an angel’s wit and singular learning” and of “gentleness, lowliness and affability”, a “man for all seasons.”

“Extraordinary” is a word ordinarily used to describe PM Abiy. He is our man for all seasons.

I have listed in summary form his extraordinary achievements of the past six months in my commentary last week.

I waxed poetic describing his achievements:

He brought us the sun and flowers after 27 years of darkness and gloom.
He brought back the lost rainbow to our rainbow nation.
Today, the stormy skies over the Ethiopian rainbow nation have turned azure and we can see clearly over the horizon.
And what difference did Abiy Ahmed make in 180 days?
Abiy Ahmed made a difference not by changing Ethiopia but by changing the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.

Here is a man who has been in office less than six months and the world is touting him as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

What a contrast! For the past 27 years of tears in Ethiopia, in deep despair, I had concluded Ethiopia must be a cursed nation, the damned of the earth.

Now, I have learned “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

After a 27 year-long night of weeping, it is morning time in Ethiopia and the sun is rising over a Rising Ethiopia.

We are rejoicing in our blessing!

The power of ideas

Ideas change the world.

Timely new ideas transform the way we live and think. That is true in the sciences as well as in politics.

The Founders of the American Republic came up with ideas of separation of powers and checks and balances and created a government of three branches that has endured for over 230 years.

They came up with another innovative idea and divided power between two levels of government and called it federalism, which has been copied throughout the world. (That idea was perverted, corrupted and distorted into an apartheid-style system of Bantustans (ethnic homelands) called “kilils” In Ethiopia.)

The idea of “human rights” has been around for centuries and debated as “civil liberties”. It became a universal reality and a powerful global movement after the UN adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

Charles Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection has transformed the way we understand life on the planet.

Sigmund  Freud’s ideas about the unconscious changed our understanding of the human mind and what makes us tick.

Albert Einstein’s  famous equation E =mc2 changed the way we understand the universe.

As Einstein himself explained, “the equation E is equal to m c-squared, in which energy is put equal to mass, multiplied by the square of the velocity of light, showed that very small amounts of mass may be converted into a very large amount of energy and vice versa.”

We have not had much success generating transformational ideas in Africa.

In the post-colonial period, we tried PanAfricanism based on the belief that  Africans in the continent and Africans in the diaspora were bound in a single garment of destiny and must unite to collectively uplift themselves. PanAfricanism died on the vine as Africa fell in the grips of dictatorship.

We also tried Negritude (affirmation or consciousness of the value of black or African culture, heritage, and identity) but that idea engaged few outside the African intellectual community.

One African country tried the idea of ujamaa (familyhood) to increase self-reliance resulting in a disastrous program of “villagization” and nationalization of businesses and industry.

Africans even toyed with the idea of African socialism, trying to Africanize Western socialism with little success.

A cabal of junta leaders tried to implement the idea of “military socialism” in Ethiopia in the 1970s resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through political violence and millions more in famines, depraved indifference and criminal negligence.

For the past 27 years, the idea of “revolutionary democracy” was the (dis)order of the day in Ethiopia. That idea proved to be nothing more than an aggregation of inane catch phrases, lamebrained slogans and silly mantras. It became the justification for the greatest rip-offs of a nation in the 21st century.

In the end, Africa became the battleground for Western ideas of communism, socialism, capitalism and other “isims”.

The results of these mutated ideologies in Africa were revolutionary wars, class wars, ethnic wars, border wars, civil wars, secession wars, Cold War, proxy wars and the rest.

These ideologies were based on fundamental principles that I believe were not only incompatible but also destructive of African history, traditions and aspirations. These ideologies posit:

1) There must necessarily be winners and losers in politics. Winner takes all. (For instance, in a given election one party wins 100 percent of the seats in parliament, but no less than 99.6 percent in worst case situations.)
2) Only one party, one leader, one group must be in power to the exclusion of all others and perpetually.
3) Power comes out of the barrel of the gun and is maintained by a vast military, security and police system.
4) The purpose of politics is to seize power, rob the public treasury and cling to power by hook of crook for as long as possible.
5) Negotiations, compromise, mediation, accommodation and conciliation are political weaknesses to be avoided at all costs.
6) Rule of law means law of those who rule at gunpoint, at knife point.
7) The common good, the greater good and the public interest is secondary to the personal/ethnic interests of those in power.

The power of the idea of Medemer

In my recent commentary, “Medemer or not Medemer, That is the Question for All Ethiopians!”, I suggested that we may be witnessing a new idea in practice (not theory) in Ethiopia.

Medemer rejects all of the 7 principles mentioned above.

The idea of “Medemer” reminds me of Einstein’s famous equation about “very small amounts of mass (being) converted into a very large amount of energy and vice versa.”

Einstein’s equation to me resonates an old Ethiopian saying. “If the silk in spiders’ web could be made into twine, it could tie up a lion.”  (The strand of spider silk that looks like one is actually many thin threads stuck together.)

If one hundred million spiders could work together for a common purpose (“Medemer), they could snag and bag that big ole king of the jungle.

If 100 million Ethiopians could only lend each other a hand (“Medemer”), they could uplift not only their country but also the world.

A large number of ordinary Ethiopians organized, coming together and acting as one can defeat the greatest enemies of the Ethiopian people: poverty, disease, illiteracy, ethnic hate, corruption, bad governance and gross violations of human rights.

“Medemer” means to help each other. To help means to give a hand, not a handout but a hand up.

We have so much strength in our hands to help each other, without the need for foreign aid, foreign charity and foreign supervision.

We pack enormous kinetic energy when we make a fist by simply bringing those puny fingers into a fist.

Ten fingers working together (“Medemer”) can change the world for good or bad.

The surgeon holding a scalpel in his fingers saves life.

The trigger finger on a gun takes life.

The fingers of the artist, author and musician create beauty.

The demagogue wags his finger to sow conflict and discord.

The political leader with the five fingers signs the death warrant of the innocent, frees the innocent from a wrongful conviction or signs an agreement to usher peace with neighboring countries.

When 5 puny fingers come together (“Medemer”), they make a powerful fist.

When 10 fingers multiplied 100 million times come together, they can lift up a country.

That is what Abiy Ahmed’s “Medemer” means to me.

One billion fingers coming together to lift up Ethiopia out of the miry pit of poverty, disease, ignorance and ethnic division and hate.

PM Abiy’s opening speech in Hawassa: Power of Medemer and Ethiopia’s younger generation 

PM Abiy’s dominant theme in opening speech his opening speech at the 11thCongress of the EPRDF focused on a rising Ethiopia, the younger generation rising and Medemer.

The party Congress was dubbed, “National Unity for Collective Prosperity”, representing the core ideas of Medemer.

PM Abiy launched his speech by hearkening back to the historical role of Ethiopia as a beacon of freedom and independence when nearly all of Africa suffered in the darkness of European colonial rule.

Indeed, Ethiopia played arguably the single most important leadership in creating the Organization of African Union in 1963, later the African Union. H.I.M. Haile Selassie was the only African leader to ever be called the “Father of African Unity”. (But some people made sure he does not even deserve a statute on the grounds of the African Union n Addis Ababa. I hope this hate-motivated political decision will son be corrected.)

PM Abiy said more recently Ethiopia is known as a beggar nation waiting for handouts from the rest of the world.

But all that could change, and Ethiopians can aspire to regain their former glory.

He said, “Ethiopia is a country brimming with young people. In the 21st century, Ethiopia shall be a shining star in Africa as it is built and shaped by its young generation.” (I would say Ethiopia is an ocean of young people as I witnessed recently. )

But the job of building the rising Ethiopia is the responsibility of the present generation and we must not look to the past. He said, the younger generation has the knowledge and energy to build the new Ethiopia. I have been preaching that message for the past 13 years.

He reminded Ethiopians of the inevitable generational shift and the responsibilities that go with it. He cautioned, “It is a personal choice not to accept the old Ethiopia, but it is a collective responsibility and obligation to deliver a better Ethiopia to the next  generation.”

His message for the necessity of a generational transition in leadership could not be mistaken. That is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is the orderly process by which the older and younger generation of Ethiopians could effect the transition.

The ultimate success of leadership, he said, is to develop more leaders who can replace themselves and build and improve on existing accomplishments.

PM Abiy stressed the fact that the older generation must medemer (synergize) with the younger generation by offering advice and counsel.

But his message to the older generation could not be clearer. They must hand over the mantle of power to the younger generation. “Clinging to power is an indicator of lack of vision and inability to look broadly.”

He cautioned the younger generation not to play the blame game with older generation but respect and learn from them and build on their achievements and avoid their mistakes.

He urged we must abandon the politics of tripping and obstructing each other and work together for the common good.

He said our history is based on Medemer. “No one can say I alone built Ethiopia.  Ethiopia was built with our collective sweat and blood. We are all owners. Our forefathers and mothers paid with their blood to preserve Ethiopia for us.”

He said there is no better choice than medemer. In medemer, everyone brings his/her special strengths and combines it with others creating a much stronger force to build the new Ethiopia.

He argued, “Our collective destiny forces us to work together. If one finger on our body is hurt, it affects how we feel in the rest of our body. If one of us is hurt, the rest of us are hurt; if one of us is attacked, the rest are attacked; if one of us is displaced or killed, it affects us all the same. That is why we must Medemer.”

He said his ultimate hope is to make the EPRDF as the umbrella party for all Ethiopians to medemer and freely participate to help lead their country. EPRDF will be a “political party for all citizens. It will be an all-inclusive organization in which any citizen can participate and even become prime minster.”

We should not measure our success by the failure of others but our collective growth. We should practice the politics of medemer and produce an outcome that is win-win, not win-lose. We compete with the world not each other. We should work in good will.

He had other messages.

We should never use ethnicity and religion to hurt others.

He said Ethiopia will be there long after we are all gone. As he always likes to say, “When we are alive, we are Ethiopians, when we die (and buried in her soil) we become Ethiopia.”

We should not be concerned with the past but focus on building the future.

Federalism is the best option for Ethiopia for a country like Ethiopia. But it must be based on Ethiopia’s history, culture and tradition. It must never be based on ethnicity.

For the past 27 years, ethnic identity and national citizenship have been out of kilter. Instead of being complementary, they have been made to be mutually exclusive. That has to change. We must uplift our collective Ethiopian identity.

The “physics” of medemer

I am fascinated by the idea of medemer. It makes common sense and even scientific sense to me.

As I analyze it, medemer is based on demonstrable physical principles of synergy, or the principle of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Amplifying his idea of Medemer, PM Abiy said Ethiopia is a country that is synergized in faith, language, marriage and good neighborliness.

When people work synergistically, they magnify and amplify each other’s work. The output of the group is larger than the output of individuals in the group working alone.

I have an equation for Medemer.

M(edemer)= Sc(social capital) x Ac(active citizens)

Where Sc is social capital defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, and

Ac is defined as the number of people getting involved actively in their local communities and democracy at all levels (from towns to cities to nationwide activity).

My preliminary theory is that when Ethiopians work together in solidarity in groups, organizations, parties, associations, congregations, assemblies, clubs, leagues, cooperatives, guilds, neighborhood and kebele groups and the rest for a common purpose and common goal, they don’t just double their output for each group, they multiply the output for the country exponentially.

The amount of intellectual, political, social and spiritual energy that is bound up in these groups is simply massive and transformative.

Let’s Medemer on the side of Ethiopia’s young generation

To paraphrase a line from PM Abiy’s speech, it is our choice whether to support Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa, Demeke Mekonnen and Gedu Andargachew. But it is our solemn duty and obligation to medemer on the side of Ethiopia’s younger generation.

But Abiy Ahmed has proven before our eyes his idea of medemer works.

He has “medemered” Ethiopia’s younger generation. They love him in the cities and rural areas. I have seen it with my own eyes in uptown, downtown and the shantytowns of the capital and way out in the geter boonies.

In July, he came to America and “medemered” not only Diaspora Ethiopians in America (who have been mortal enemies of any “government of Ethiopia”) but the global Ethiopian diaspora through his Ethiopian Trust Fund project which will launch soon.

He “medemered” the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church by convincing the national and diaspora branches they can accomplish much more together than separately. He did the same by “medemering” contending leadership factions of the Muslim community.

He “medemered” the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.

He “medemered” Somalia and Djbouti.

He even “medemered” United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia into committing billions in investments and loans to Ethiopia.

Now, he “medemered” his fractured and divided party and got 176/177 votes to become chairman.

Whatever we do or don’t, Abiy Ahmed will continue on his mission to “medemer”.

They say some people have the golden touch which turns whatever is touched into gold. The Abiy Ahmed touch is that he “medemers” everything he touches.

PM Abiy talks about building the New Ethiopia with his young construction crew. I signed long ago to be a water carrier for that crew.

That leaves those of us in the older generation with three  choices: Medemer, not medemer or getting the hell out of the way.

There is a New Ethiopia is rising over the horizon. It is a new Ethiopia with a new destiny. It is a new Ethiopia that is going to be created in the image of its young people.

Those of us who resist or decline to medemer with the younger generation should be prepared to meet our destiny in the dustbin of history.

I hate to put it starkly, but we in the older generation are obsolete, superannuated.

Let’s give the young people a chance.

Let us be honest with ourselves. Our time is long gone. It is their world. Our world from the ’60 and ’70 is fading. We have done our duty.

It is time for us to retire and enjoy our golden years.

Let’s come to terms with the stark fact that we could not measure up even if we were given the chance.

Father time has taken a terrible toll on us.

We may not want to admit it, but we know the truth as we take our pills every day to fight off the harsh sentence Father Time has imposed on us.

We cannot lead the youth because they want their own leaders. They don’t want us. Let me repeat: They want their own leaders.

When I visited Ethiopia recently, I spoke to young people in the urban and rural areas. The one question I asked them consistently was what they thought of the older generation leading them. To the last past person I talked to, the answer was the same. “Thanks for the generous offer, but NO thanks. We can take it from here.”

It was no different than a conversation I had with a young Ethiopian immigrant back in June 2006.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to walk away from power for those who had been wallowing in it for decades, those who have tasted power and those starving and thirsting power.

It was not easy for me to line up with the younger generation either even though I had no ambitions for political office or power.

As I confessed in December 2013, “I had great difficulty accepting the fact that the time has come for me and my Hippo Generation to  pass on the baton, stand aside and serve as humble water carriers for the restless Cheetahs.”

Ethiopia’s destiny is not in the hands of Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa, Demeke Mekonnen and Gedu Andargachew.

Ethiopia’s destiny is in the hand of its young generation.

In his Hawassa speech, PM Abiy said, “Ethiopia will remain long after we are all gone.” As he likes to remind us, “When we are alive, we are Ethiopians, when we die we become Ethiopia.”

If we want Ethiopia to live forever and thrive, we have to stand on the right side of history, on the right side of the younger generation.

If we do not, the only thing we should look forward to is our last appointment with the dust bin of history.

Let’s join hands, hold hands with Ethiopia’s younger generation as they lift  Ethiopia out of poverty, disease, ignorance, ethnic strife and hatred.

Power to the young people of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s youth medemered can never be defeated. 

Medemer in Ethiopia today.

Medemer in Ethiopia tomorrow.

Medemer in Ethiopia forever!

 

 

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