By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Africa’s “first responder” does it again!
Last week, Sudan was pulled from the brink of disaster when the “military council and the main opposition coalition signed a power-sharing deal paving the way for transition to civilian rule.”
The agreement was brokered, not by the U.N. or the usual Western powers who have long played the role of “Masters of Africa’s Destiny” (MAD).
It was brokered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and his diligent diplomatic corps in the Sudan with the African Union cheering on.
PM Abiy was singled out for special commendation at the signing ceremony and got standing ovations when he addressed the diverse, fractious and often cantankerous Sudanese stakeholders.
Africa News reported, PM Abiy “‘stole the show’ at Sudan transition event.”
Amazingly, the MAD were playing second fiddle in the Sudan power sharing negotiations. “Diplomats from the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates pressed the two sides to accept proposals from the African Union and Ethiopia.”
With all due respect and credit to the African Union (AU), its initial reaction to the Sudanese military crackdown on protesters in June 2019 was to suspend Sudan “from the African Union (AU) amid growing fears that splits among the ruling military regime could lead to civil war and anarchy.”
The AU chose fear over hope.
Time and again, it has been proven that the AU neither has the capacity nor the diplomatic muscle to respond effectively to crises flaring up throughout the continent. The AU’s pattern and practice in dealing with crises is to take half-hearted measures followed by vacillation and muted silence.
PM Abiy chose hope over fear.
Within days of the crackdown, PM Abiy went to the Sudan armed with proposals for a negotiated settlement of the conflict between opposition and the military. It worked. Just weeks after everyone said the Sudan is going to hell in a handbasket, a deal was signed to create a transitional government with elections to follow in three years.
PM Abiy used his “Medemer” philosophy to bring together to the table not only the contending factions and stakeholders in the Sudan but also the African Union and the MAD, and managed to hammer out a deal that pulled the Sudan from the brink of civil war.
Of course, this is not the first time for PM Abiy to have pulled a diplomatic mission impossible.
In March 2019, he got the rival South Sudanese leaders to agree to a peace deal. Neither the UN, the MAD, IGAD northe AU could get them to the negotiating table to seal the deal and bring a nearly 5-year civil war to an end.
PM Abiy ended the 20-year long no-peace, no-war situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018.
He got Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti aboard the Abiy Ahmed Peace Train.
He has even allayed Egyptian fears that the construction of the dam over the Abay (Nile) River in western Ethiopia will harm Egypt.
PM Abiy has paved the way to ensure the Horn region does not become the battleground in global and regional geopolitics.
Some people have the Midas touch (golden touch). Abiy Ahmed has the Peace Touch. Everything he touches turns to peace.
PM Abiy Ahmed has become “Africa’s First Diplomatic Responder”.
He has become the messenger of peace in the Horn of Africa and beyond.
In December 2018, the noted Ghanaian politician and journalist writing for the BBCobserved:
Abiy Ahmed has been doing the seemingly impossible ever since he unexpectedly became prime minister of Ethiopia in April. In diplomatic relations he has done the equivalent of making the sun rise from the west.
No more does Africa hang in the balance between hope and despair
Were I to write an “Essay on African (Wo)Man” in the 21st century, I would have proclaimed, “Hope springs eternal in Africa’s breast; / Africans never are, but always to be blest.”
After a 27-year long curse in Ethiopia, it is wonderful to be blest.
“Dum spiro spero” (While I breathe, I hope).
The past 27 years for the vast majority of Ethiopians were not a time of hope but of despair; not of light but of darkness.
In 2014, when Africa seemed to be spinning in a vortex of violence and conflict, the question uppermost in my mind was, “Is there any hope for Africa?”
But Nicholas Kristof, the noted columnist for the New York Times, had asked and answered my questions ruefully in March 2004.
Kristoff declared in frustration and rhetorically asked, “Africa is a mess. It is the only continent that has gotten poorer over the last four decades and its famous for civil wars, genocide and mindboggling corruption. Is there any hope for Africa?”
At the time, Kristof was commiserating over the fate of Chad, then the “site of Africa’s latest heartbreak.”
In April 2014 when I wrote my commentary, just a hop and a skip on Chad’s southern border, the Central African Republic (CAR) was the newest site of Africa’s latest heartbreak. Chad 2004 was CAR 2014.
In April 2014, the people of Rwanda were observing a solemn month of official mourning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide.
But in April 1994, Hutu extremist leaders in government, their political supporters and organized militiamen coordinated a systematic killing spree, which lasted over 100 days and consumed the lives of more than 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
I memorialized that genocide in my commentary, “The Long Shadow of Rwanda on (Central) Africa”.
In 2019, when the Sudan was teetering on the brink of a civil war — when Sudan was poised to become site of Africa’s latest heartbreak — the intervention of a young African leader saved the day.
In nearly all of Africa’s deadly conflicts since “independence”, Africans have sought answers, guidance and mediation from their former colonial masters, MAD, directly or indirectly.
It has been like the chickens asking the fox to mediate their disputes.
In 1993, the U.S. sought to resolve Somali clan warfare through direct action resulting in a military disaster.
In 2002, French troops were deployed in Cote d’Ivoire to create a “line of non-engagement.”
In 2006, the late head honcho of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front declared war on Somalia and tried to impose his Pax Zenawi on the Somali people.
In 2013, French troops were fighting in the Central African Republic “to try to restore order after hundreds of people were killed by Christian and Muslim militia groups.”
In 2015, the U.N. “brokered a peace agreement in Libya.” Some “peace” in Libya. George Orwell wrote in “1984”, “War is peace.”
In 2018, Niger and French troops were conducting military strikes against insurgents.
In 2018, Britain declared “UK troops will continue to deploy to Africa to ‘stand at the forefront of the fight in Africa, to bring security and prosperity’”.
In 2019, France has some 4,500 troops stationed in Mali to fight Jihadists.
It’s been a “mad, mad MAD world” in Africa.
What has been the role of the AU in African crises resolution?
Is it the African Union or the “African Ostrich”?
George Ayittey argues, “Each time a crisis erupts in Africa, the instinctive reaction of the African Union (AU) is to bury its head in the sand or look for a foreign conspiracy and then appeal and appeal to the international community for relief assistance.”
Africans solving African problems: Fulfillment of prophesy?
Watching PM Abiy Ahmed on television receiving the appreciation of a grateful Sudanese nation for his extraordinary service in the cause of peace and understanding in the Sudan was a moment of enormous personal pride for me.
I am proud because Ethiopia under the leadership of PM Abiy is fast getting the reputation of being “Africa’s Peace Maker”.
Contrast the last 14 months with the last 27 years.
For 27 years, Ethiopia was known as Africa’s beggar nation, land of famine and starvation 4th worst jailor of journalists in the world, and the land where South Africa’s racial apartheid was reincarnated as ethnic apartheid.
I felt the same pride watching PM Abiy in the Sudan in 2019 as I did when I first saw newsreels of H.I.M. Haile Selassie addressing the League of Nations in 1937.
The only black African head of state at the League of Nations went to speak to the MAD. He forced his way to the lectern to deliver a plea for help and a message of peace. At the time, no head of state of any nation had ever addressed the League in person.
H.I.M. opened his speech before the League and pleaded for international help against the guns, planes and mustard gas of Italy’s fascist regime:
There is no precedent for a Head of State himself speaking in this assembly. But there is also no precedent for a people being victim of such injustice and being at present threatened by abandonment to its aggressor.
Representatives of the World, I have come to Geneva to discharge in your midst the most painful of the duties of the head of a State. What reply shall I have to take back to my people?”
He got no answer from the League, but the League, the MAD, approved Italy’s aggression against Ethiopia by taking no action.
When I saw PM Abiy addressing Sudanese leaders in Kartoum on August 19, I not only saw a leader with an answer for the age old problems of Africa but also witnessed the fulfillment of prophesy.
[U]ntil the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;
that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;
that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;
that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;
that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;
until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;
until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;
until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.
With Abiy Ahmed at the helm, the African continent is now beginning to know peace.
The problem in the Sudan as in Ethiopia and every other part of Africa is the philosophy which holds one ethnic group superior and another inferior; the existence of first class and second class citizenship; disregard of basic human rights; dominance of ignoble and unhappy dictators and bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest.
So, we Africans must solve our own problems.
We must not let the MAD control of our destiny.
We must be responsible for our actions and inactions.
Seventy years after “independence”, we can no longer point an accusatory index finger at others oblivious of the fact that three fingers are pointing at us.
No one can save Africa but Africans.
All over Africa, Africans are singing and dancing to the message of Bob Marley: “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.”
PM Abiy’s message to the people of Sudan: Home grown solutions for Africa’s problems
In his speech, PM Abiy spoke about a “new era” for Sudan. His theme was “home grown solutions” for Africa’s problems and “strength in unity”.
He acknowledged the sacrifices of the “forces of freedom and change” to create a democratic Sudan. He told the Sudanese people, “your victory is our victory just as your pain is our pain.”
He said the breakthrough in the negotiations resulted because the people of Sudan chose “country over self-interest”. He said “dialogue is the only way to a win-win situation.” The way forward must be based on principles of fairness, equality, dignity and love of country and people.
He shared a glimpse of his “Medemer” philosophy.
He said the people of Sudan must “choose cooperation over competition which is essential to our collective survival”. The Horn region must act in “synergy” and Medemer becomes a “yarn weaving us together collectively” and help us achieve “collectively what we can only imagine individually”.
He counseled there is “strength in unity”, and it is possible to transition from “fragmentation to harmony and amalgamation.”
The people of Sudan are profusely grateful for what PM Abiy has done for them.
As the people of Sudan show gratitude to PM Abiy, why don’t Ethiopians?
Scriptures teach, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”
If one were to pay attention to the ungrateful brain dead in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian diaspora – the prophets of doom and gloom, the armies of nabobs of negativism, defeatism and fatalism, the phalanxes of ignorati on social media and the forces of darkness plotting in secrecy — the Scriptural maxim may be true.
In December 2018, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Thank You PM Abiy Ahmed for All You Have Done for Ethiopia!”
At the time, many Ethiopians of good will and good faith were asking, “Do we really deserve Abiy Ahmed?
My answer then and now is the same.
Not only does Ethiopia deserve Abiy Ahmed, Africa deserves Abiy Ahmed. The world deserves Abiy Ahmed.
World leaders and the international media are expressing genuine appreciation for PM Abiy’s domestic and diplomatic initiatives. He is widely regarded as a top candidate for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Yet, I hear mighty little public appreciation of PM Abiy in Ethiopia.
But I hear a lot of moaning and groaning from all sorts of good-for-nothing windbags and empty barrels about why he cannot walk on water.
They are quick to issue a post-mortem on Ethiopia and carp on PM Abiy and are always prepared to “say evil, hear evil and do evil”.
What is even sadder is the fact that those considered to be the voices of reason, hope and aspirations are publicly silent about their appreciation of PM Abiy, though effusive in praise privately.
They have allowed the vocal minority to silence them and turn them into silent majority.
What they need to do is get up, stand up and speak up, “The silent majority will no longer be silenced by the empty barrel vocal minority.”
I doubt that will happen because the silent majority is afflicted by herd mentality and groupthink.
Though they are in the majority, individual members lack the 3 “C’s”: courage, conviction and confidence to do the right thing.
Paraphrasing Dickensian parlance, “In a word, Ethiopia’s silent majority are too cowardly to do what they know to be right, as they had been too cowardly to avoid doing what they know to be wrong.”
I have often been puzzled by what I have been told is the ignoble Ethiopian “tradition” of withholding gratitude and appreciation for extraordinary accomplishments.
I have been told public expression of gratitude and appreciation for a job well done is not part of “our Ethiopian tradition”.
Some have told me Ethiopians generally do not publicly and enthusiastically express gratitude because 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.”
Ha! The (un)grateful silent majority!
Silent gratitude impresses me as wrapping a beautiful gift for someone but never giving it.
is a virtue to be practiced by every individual every day, not a ritualistic social tradition.
Ethiopians solving Ethiopia’s problems
There will be great challenges and opportunities in 2019, 2020 and beyond.
The Forces of Darkness will continue to devise their evil schemes holed up under the rocks from whence they came. They believe they can steal their way into power by creating anarchy, chaos and civil war in Ethiopia.
We live in 2019 not 1991.
Let it be foretold.
Ethiopia will undoubtedly transition to democracy and the rule of law shall prevail.
The mud walls of the kilil-istans (ethnic homelands) that have kept the people of Ethiopia corralled like cattle will crumble into dust.
Bridges will be built to connect the people of Ethiopia who have been forcibly separated and segregated over the past 27 years.
Ethiopiawinet will triumph over ethnonationalism.
Ethiopia shall rise like the morning sun over the African horizon.
Ethiopia and Africa will know peace.
Just like the people of Sudan, the people of Eritrea, and other peoples throughout the Horn, Ethiopians will also one day thank Abiy Ahmed.
There is hope and certainty Africans will be able to solve their own problems.
They do not have to kill and maim each other to bring about political change. They can resolve their differences in dialogue.
They can practice “Medemer”.
As for me, I plead the memorable words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world [Ethiopia/Africa] will live as one [and in peace.]”
Hope and freedom at last. Hope and freedom after 27 years of bondage.
Onward to the New Ethiopia…