By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
(Open Letter Version)
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
C/o Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Dr., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Dear Prime Minister Abiy:
I am informed and believe that you will not be visiting the U.S. in early July as part of scheduled events.
I am writing to respectfully request and strongly urge you to maintain your scheduled visit dates in July, if at all possible, to directly engage your legion of supporters and well-wishers in the United States.
Gandhi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean, if a few drops of the ocean are dirty not everything in it is dirty.”
You must not lose your faith in the Ethiopian Diaspora in America because we too are an ocean. Indeed, America is an ocean that is home to immigrants from all corners of the planet. We cherish not only our multicultural diversity but also our right to express our opinions with impunity. I should like to believe diversity is the reason the de facto motto of the United States is “E Pluribus Unum”, “Out of many, one.” It is the equivalent of your cherished creed of Ethiopiawinet, “ONE Ethiopia out of many nations, nationalities and peoples”.
As you have consistently demonstrated since you took office in April, you must continue to appeal to our common humanity and Ethiopiawinet which bind us together. You have chosen the path of reconciliation and inclusiveness keeping alive Mandela’s legacy in Ethiopia.
We live in a polarized world where fear and prejudice rule the hearts and minds of human beings. Since taking office, you have taken bold, defiant and courageous steps to win the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people with uplifting messages of love, understanding, compassion, truth and reconciliation.
Truth be told, those who speak the truth and preach truth to power are often perceived as a threat by those who cannot handle the truth. Goethe said, “There is nothing more frightening than ignorance.” I believe there is nothing more awesome than the power of truth.
In my very first public statement in 2006 when I joined the human rights struggle in Ethiopia, I prophesied how change will eventually come to Ethiopia. “I believe we prove the righteousness of our cause not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.”
You have single handedly pulled Ethiopia from the brink of certain bloody civil war and staved off internecine ethnic strife by winning the hearts and minds of Ethiopians of goodwill in the country and in the Diaspora. I am not paying you any special tribute; I am simply stating a fact!
In my first public statement, I also asked a “question of great interest to all of us: Can we — Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans– make a difference in our homeland while living, working and struggling in America? I shall argue that we can, and in fact, are making a world of difference today.”
On various occasions during the past several weeks, you have answered the question I posed twelve years ago time and again in the affirmative.
You have unequivocally declared Diaspora Ethiopians are most welcome to return and help their country or provide help from where ever they may be.
You have said Diaspora Ethiopians are free to return and peacefully compete in the political process.
You have invited the Diaspora opposition press to open their headquarters in the country and operate freely.
You have strongly urged reconciliation between Diaspora Ethiopians and their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.
You have demonstrated your commitment to inclusiveness of Diaspora Ethiopians beyond a shadow of doubt, and in the process you have paid us great respect.
It is written, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In my Memorandum No. 4, I wrote, “We in the Diaspora are behind PM Abiy. He must tell us everything as it is. He must tell us his hopes as well as his fears. He must tell us what he can and cannot do. He must tell us how we can help him succeed and what will likely happen if he fails.”
In response to your challenge that Diaspora Ethiopians have a duty to improve the tarnished image of Ethiopia over the past 27 years, I challenged you to do the same because “today you are the public image of Ethiopia. You must continue and intensify your own efforts to project an image of optimism, hope and success about Ethiopia to the world.”
Now, you offered to pay us your respect in person by visiting us in the first week of July tell us about your vision for the New Ethiopia and in the process paint a new portrait of a rising and resilient Ethiopia. Regardless of the unfortunate circumstances, know that legions of your supporters in America could not wait for the opportunity to repay your respect.
The American novelist Ken Kesey back in my day said, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”
Over the past 2 months, you have crisscrossed Ethiopia to make the case for the New Ethiopia and to listen to the voice of the people. I applaud you for that because the voice of the people is the voice of God (Vox Populi, Vox Dei.) The goodwill you have generated in these visits has been instrumental in stabilizing the country and inspiring hope for the future of Ethiopia and establish confidence in your extraordinary leadership.
You have also travelled to neighboring countries to secure the release of thousands of captive Ethiopians and to seek greater cooperation for regional peace, stability and cooperation. You have been extraordinarily successful in your efforts.
I regard your offer to visit Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in the U.S. as one leg in an itinerary that aims to bring all Ethiopians together to help their country and people.
I believe your aim in coming to America is to personally deliver your message of national reconciliation and national unity and to mobilize us to join our brothers and sisters at home in building the Beloved Ethiopian Community in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You wanted to come and share with us your hopes, dreams and vision for Ethiopia. Above all, I believe you wanted to listen to our concerns, fears and hopes for our homeland first hand.
Let me assure you that the legions of your supporters in the U.S. of A are ready for you. We can’t wait to have you in our midst and hear you make the case for national reconciliation, national unity and how we can build the Beloved Ethiopian Community. We can’t wait to tell you how ready, willing and able we are to respond to your call for national salvation from decades of misrule and bad governance.
I wish to remind you that your leadership role model Mandela once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I know you do not like the word “enemy” used in the context of political interaction. You prefer “competitors”.
Barely two months in office, you have shown leadership skills unseen in modern African history. I make this statement as a matter of fact not maudlin sentimentality.
You have shown leadership character and qualities that have bewildered and confounded your competitors and energized, electrified and mobilized your supporters. You have paralyzed and petrified the Forces of the Dark Side.
You are proving to be the kind of leader Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke about: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
To my knowledge (and to the extent that I have been able to research the fact), you never set out to be a national leader but became one by the equality of your actions and integrity of your intent to bring about national reconciliation and good governance in Ethiopia.
Every day I hear Ethiopians saying you were sent by Providence to lead your people out of 27 years of captivity from the proverbial Babylon.
I believe you showed supreme courage when you stood up to the Forces of the Dark Side and stared them down and let them know you won’t back down; you won’t be turned around; you will stand your ground! They looked as pitiful as a deer in headlights, frozen in time and space, with a freight train approaching fast.
You showed supreme confidence when you declared Ethiopia can never move forward looking in the rearview mirror driving on streets called hate, revenge, retribution and retaliation.
You showed supreme compassion when you emptied the prisons holding political prisoners in Ethiopia and travelled to the Sudan and Saudi Arabia and negotiated the release of thousands of our brothers and sisters.
You showed extraordinary compassion when you visited a 16 year-old Ethiopian victim of medical malpractice and persuaded the government of Saudi Arabia to pay his family some 22 million birr in compensatory damages. No Ethiopian government official visited the young comatose Ethiopian since 2006!
You showed supreme integrity when you publicly apologized for the lawlessness and abuse of power of your predecessor regime and openly admitted that the government you inherited is populated by thieves, crooks and swindlers who have converted the public treasury into their personal bank account. You minced no words when you explained the enormous difficulty of hewing out of a mountain of kleptocracy a stone of democracy, to paraphrase MLK.
Today, you showed supreme magnanimity when you offered to come and visit us in the U.S. I am sure you made the offer knowing the duties of the shepherd who must care for his flock where ever they may be not because he must but because he is willing and “not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.”
Now, I must tell it like it is.
Your offer to visit us in July was a masterful move worthy of Sun Tzu. “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
When you made your offer to visit, you dropped it on us like a thunderbolt. It was a completely unanticipated move. It was a creatively disarming move. It was a strategic move of extraordinary brilliance.
None of us expected you would make such a bold move, seize the moment and strategically capture the contentious political landscape in the Diaspora by such a simple graceful act.
I can assure you that the audacity of your offer shocked some people who thought you would be too timid to come and present yourself to friends and foes in an open forum and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Diaspora criticism and invective.
Your offer discombobulated some of us. We did not know what to make of it. We are accustomed to chasing officials of your predecessor government out of meeting halls in America and elsewhere. Now, you flipped our own table on us. You wanted to come and chase us on our home turf, in a manner of speaking. That takes supreme self-confidence!
Most of us were caught off-guard. I certainly was.
By simply making the request you kicked us out of our comfort zones. You forced us to put our money where our mouth is. You put us in an extreme predicament: Put me up on your stage and let me say my peace or shut up and stop complaining about how I do not walk the talk!
When you said you would embrace us with open arms when we return, I thought it was a nice gesture. I felt, “We’ll see you in Ethiopia when we see you. No rush or urgency.”
But you could not wait for us to show up. So, you decided to show up on our doorsteps in July.
Perhaps what you did not realize by your offer is the fact that you have put some of us on the horns of a terrible dilemma. You have made life miserable for those of us who have been badgering you about being all talk and no action. Some of us said you were just talking the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy and did not mean any of it. Now, you put your mouth where your feet are and asked to be invited to show us how you walk the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy.
We like to talk about meeting our political adversaries half way. You said you won’t meet us half way; you will meet us all the way in America.
In offering to meet us all the way, you have masterfully captured the commanding moral heights. You have shown the courage of your convictions and forced us to show the cowardice of our hypocrisy. By simply asking to speak to us, you backed us into a corner. You have done something no Ethiopian leader has ever done. You reached out to us beyond and above the call of duty or office.
You have much to be proud of as some of us have reason be ashamed.
You may recall in my Memorandum No. 4, I offered to coordinate an electronic town hall for you to engage Diaspora Ethiopians. I thought under the circumstances such a town hall would be a more convenient means of communication.
I must admit you one-upped me on that idea. You decided to forget the electronic town hall and show up in person at our doorstep. By offering to come to the U.S. and engage us directly, you proved to me that an Ethiopian Cheetah could give an Ethiopian Hippo a run for his money any day of the week. I love it!
Your offer to visit scared some of us because we are afraid of you, more specifically, the irresistible power of your ideas. Some of us fear you because we cannot hold a candle to you forensic prowess in public debate. Certainly, we cannot win an argument against your ideas of Ethiopiawinet, Ethiopian unity, rule of law, accountability and transparency in government. Truth be told, we don’t want you to come to America and embarrass us. So, you forced us, I regret to say, to fabricate laughable subterfuges and bogus excuses about why you cannot come. “You should not come because you have a lot of work to do there. You are coming to America just to show off. We can’t guarantee your safety (as if the Secret Service is no longer in service), blah, blah….
Let me cut to the chase.
If you had come, some of us were afraid you would have stolen the show. Straight up! No question about it! You would have brought down the house down and raised the roof. You would have upstaged the stage. You would have been treated like a rock star by the younger generation of Ethiopians and as the leader sent by Providence by the older generation.
Sun Tzu advised, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle”. If you had come to the U.S., I have no doubts you would have victoriously declared, “I came; I saw; and I conquered the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in America.”
Sun Tzu “teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” Regardless of your coming or not coming, you have made your moral position unassailable and are sure to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and demonstrate the kind of extraordinary political and moral leader you are.
The fact of the matter is that you checkmated us. We did not know how to respond to you because you win regardless of what we do or don’t. If we accepted your offer, you will come and do what you do best. Capture the hearts and minds of your Diaspora brothers and sisters. If we decline your offer, you will command the moral high ground because we turned down your good faith offer.
Naturally, we did what we do best: Never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.
But one’s loss is another’s opportunity.
Know that your legions of supporters in America are ready, willing and able to have you visit us in July, August, September or any other time of your choosing.
You have said on various occasions that you will embrace us with open arms if we returned home. Well, your legions of supporters in the U.S. of A are willing, able and ready to return the favor by embracing you back in America. If you are willing to travel thousands of miles to deliver an olive branch to us in America, we will wait for you until hell freezes over or a moment’s notice to show up and hand you over a ton of olive branches.
I remember September 2010 when your late predecessor came to speak at Columbia University. He was made the object of much contempt, derision and opposition. He used to call us “Diaspora extremist”, “terrorists” and such. He even devised a plan to attack and destroy his opposition in the Diaspora in the name of “constituency building”. He never, never made a gesture of good will to us. He never wanted to talk to us. He always talked down to us when he was not scandalizing, vilifying and belittling us.
But I defended his right to speak his peace because I wanted him to experience the freedom he has denied so many back home.
On a personal level, your predecessor regime not long ago singled me out by name and announced to the world that they “doubt my Ethiopiawinet”. I was not offended. On the contrary, I was profoundly grateful to them. They gave me a new platform and energized me beyond measure to launch my campaign of EthiopiaWINet and continue my relentless struggle for human rights in Ethiopia.
In July 2018, you want to come to us in America and not only share the good news of freedom, democratic change, national unity and reconciliation but also affirm to us in person that Diaspora Ethiopians matter to Ethiopia. You acknowledged that just like Diaspora Indians, Jews and others have helped build their countries, so can Diaspora Ethiopians.
You must think some of us Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in the U.S. are a strange breed. We did not want to hear the messenger of hate and division in 2010. We don’t want to hear the messenger of love and reconciliation in 2018.
But the fact of the matter is that there are legions of us who want to invite you to come to America and listen to what we have to say. We want you to come and share the good news with us. We want you to come and tell us how long the road to freedom is. We want to tell you what we think and how we can help you get the job of getting Ethiopia on the right track.
Personally, I want you to come to America and answer the questions I asked in my January 2018 commentary:
How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the dirt roads in the countryside and the highways be lifted and the hearts and minds of every Ethiopian healed?
How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) before the truth crushed to earth rises up again in Ethiopia?
How long before the dark cloud of oppression is lifted from the Ethiopian skies and the sun of freedom returns to the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine?
How long will justice be crucified in Ethiopia, and truth bear it?
How long before Ethiopia is free from the yoke of ethnic apartheid?
I am sure I know how you will answer these questions, but I want to hear it from you.
How long Abiy?
“Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!”
I would like to hear you say in America that you will fulfill Mandela’s promise in Ethiopia: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
In my self-appointed role as the Diaspora defender of Ethiopian human rights, I have a feel for the pulse of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans. There are legions who pray for you every day to succeed. There are legions who watch you online and hang on to your every word. There are legions who doubted you at to first but are slowly changing their minds and becoming your supporters. There are legions who believe you are sent by Providence.
Then there are a few who have made a religion out of negativism, defeatism, cynicism and pessimism who simply can’t stand you. I wrote all about them in my Memorandum No. 4.
Lastly, I am going to try and use all of my forensic skills to appeal to your deep sense of Ethiopiawinet to come and be with your legion of supporters in America.
I will offer you seven compelling reasons why you should come to visit us soon.
Reason No. 1: We love you. Machiavelli wrote it is better for the Prince to be feared than loved. Your late predecessor believed in that maxim and failed. Your late predecessor weaponized hate. You weaponized love and reconciliation. He lost. Every day you prove to the world love conquers all. Everyday you are winning hearts and minds. Well, come to America and let’s show you some LOVE!
Reason No. 2: We respect and admire you as a role model for political leadership and engagement. I do not believe there an instance in the last 27 years in which a high official from Ethiopia has come to America to engage Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans and not faced the wrath and opposition of the activist community. They have all been tarred and feathered, humiliated and disgraced. Against this historical background, you displayed supreme self-confidence by offering to come in person and brave the slings and arrows of those who may disagree with you.
On a personal level, I have the greatest respect and admiration for you as a human being and as a leader. As you know, I was not enamored of your predecessor regime. In fact, I coined at least a dozen new unflattering English words to describe them. It testifies to the moral authority of your leadership that I should completely cease any negative references to that regime and its members despite the fact that there have been many occasions for me to say a word or two to them since you took office. I have resisted the temptation to lash out following your counsel that we cannot move Ethiopia forward by engaging in the politics of recrimination, denunciation and castigation. Come and let’s show you our respect and admiration.
Reason No. 3: We are super proud of you. As the youngest leader in Africa, you make us proud. Is it not ironic that the oldest country in Africa should have the youngest leader? We are proud of you for the uncompromising and courageous stands you have taken on the issues. You make no compromises on the rule of law. On democracy. On human rights. On corruption. On peace and reconciliation.
A couple of days ago, you spoke truth to the “generals”. You said “a sergeant in free country has more respect than a general in a poor country.” In doing so, you demonstrated the true constitutional meaning of Art. 74(1) of the Ethiopian Constitution: “The Prime Minister shall be the head of government, chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” You schooled the “generals” on what it takes to have a professional army. The armed forces must be a nonpartisan and nonpolitical institution that fully respects and takes orders from its commander in chief. A professional army is not a “shadowy semi- autonomous paramilitary group accountable only to a select few senior echelon members of a party” or a “private army resembling a mercenary group that is hired by warlords to protect their interest”. Come and let us show you and all of America how proud as a peacock we are of you!
Reason No. 4: Our young Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans want to see you, hear you and have you listen to them. I am sure you know that America’s higher educational institutions have a substantial number of Ethiopian and Ethiopian American students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. I know because I interact with them all the time. In my view, they probably love Ethiopia more than many of us in the Hippo Generation. You need to come and talk to them and persuade them to come and help out their ancestral home for however long they choose. For a very long time, the best and brightest of these young Ethiopians in America have been turned off by the political situation in the country. They will visit but say they will never live in Ethiopia given the way things are. But you can talk to them in person and turn them around. You are young like them. They will listen to you because you speak their language and understand their culture of technology, science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Think of these young Ethiopians as incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship for Ethiopia. Come and reach out to them and convince them that they can achieve personal success in Ethiopia while ensuring Ethiopia succeeds.
Heed Margaret Mead’s advice, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” You have a powerhouse in the young Ethiopians in America who can change not only Ethiopia but also the world. Come talk to them and win their hearts and minds!
Reason No. 5: As I have assessed your role since taking office, I have concluded that you strive to be a man of principle intent on living out the true meaning of those principles. I have also concluded that you have been as much a teacher as a political leader. There is an old saying that “leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” I see you doing just that. You want to produce more leaders and fewer followers.
In your public statements and speeches, you do not fail to teach the people the true meaning of good governance. At the foundation of good governance is truth and reconciliation. You resonate MLK every chance you get: “An ‘eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing. The end of nonviolent social change is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.” You resonate Gandhi every chance you get: “Before we can change the world, we must change ourselves. You must be the change you want to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” If you had been in Tanzania, they would have called you “Mwalimu”.
Your supporters in America admire and seek to emulate your commitment to the principles of Ethiopiawinet, national reconciliation and unity, respect for the rule of law, nonderogable sovereignty of the people and protections against government wrongs by human rights. Come and give them a lecture or two.
When Britain staggered under relentless Nazi bombardment and was almost defenseless against the Nazi war machine, the world wrote off Britain as “gone, finished and liquidated.” But Churchill took a defiant stand as he told some school children: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.“
Two months ago, the world had written off Ethiopia to the doomsday of ethnic civil war. They said Ethiopia’s account is closed and she is finished.” Our young people never, never gave up their commitment to the principles of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance and produced you, Abiy Ahmed, as the result of their triumphant struggle.
I say come to America and teach us about commitment to principle. Nations are built on principles; whether they live up to them is another question. America is founded on the “self-evident truth” that all men and certainly women are “created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that governments are instituted to protect those rights and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Come to America and tell us on what principles the New Ethiopia will be built on. Will it be founded on truth and reconciliation…?
Reason No 6. Come to America and meet the “enemy”
In my commentary in July 2008, I addressed the very issue involved in your visit today using the lessons from an old comic strip called “Pogo” which appeared regularly in American newspapers. The funny animal characters in Pogo lived in a swamp community, which figuratively represented the diversity of American society and issues facing it. That community began to disintegrate because its residents were incapable of communicating with each other to deal with the most important and urgent issues facing them. They wasted valuable time on non-issues. One day, Pogo saw the swamp they live in filled with debris and litter. In reflective frustration he sighed, “We have met the enemy. He is us!”
As members of the Ethiopian pro-democracy movement we have been unable to look in the mirror and ask basic questions of ourselves: Why can’t we unite as a global force for justice and human rights advocacy in Ethiopia? Why can’t we build strong bridges across ethnic lines and use the language of human rights to communicate with each other? Why can’t we support a leader of good will and demonstrated competence? Why do we have to be crabs in a basket pulling back the one trying to get out and lead? Why can’t we join hands, lock arms, put our noses to the grindstone and help our suffering people?
We cannot get to our destination of the New Ethiopia by traveling the same old road paved with accusations, recriminations, denunciations and castigations. Nor can we get there on the wings of bitterness, pettiness, subterfugess and bogus excuses.
We must take a different road, the road less traveled, the road of truth and reconciliation of which you speak. In the verse of Robert Frost:
… I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Come to America and meet the “enemy”. Come and hold hands of friendship with the “enemy” and lead us into the future on the road less traveled by, the road not taken. The road of truth and reconciliation. It will make all the difference for us as human beings! It will make all the difference for us as a people, and as a nation known for millennia as Ethiopia!
Mandela believed a good leader follows his people. I say come to America and follow us back home.
To those who do not want to lead or follow, I say, “Get out of the way on the road of truth and reconciliation”.
P.S. Kudos for lifting the state of emergency. There was no doubt in my mind you would lift it. There will be a state of emergency only if you are not at the helm of S.S. Ethiopia!
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi