Including, “የኦሮሞ እና የአማራ እውነተኛወ የዘር ምንጭ”
January 22, 2017
“The pen is apparently mightier than the sword – and sometimes the authorities have been so fearful of the written word that they’ve banned it altogether.”
I am writing this commentary because I read an article that stated Professor Fikre Tolosa’s famous new book titled “የኦሮሞ እና የአማራ እውነተኛወ የዘር ምንጭ “– which I translated to the Oromo and Amhara Real Ancestor – is outlawed in Ethiopia by the Woyane – the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF’s) Command Post. Consequently, in this article, I champion reading books the coward Command Post prohibited. I aim to try persuading you to read banned books to show that you stand for the freedom of speech and you stand up for the right to choose what to read. I share my opinions about Paulos Milkias (PhD) and Professor Getatchew Haile’s reviews of Tolosa’s book and the author’s responses to his critics along with report cards with grades (A, B, C or D) I gave for their writings: boldness, significance and thoughtfulness. I got the idea for grading them from CNN’s “Obama’s final report card”.
I’m not following a dysfunctional team playbook to appear aiding the fascist TPLF. I’m not undermining Professor Al Mariam’s call for “a truce in the war of words” among members of team New Ethiopia. Actually, I appreciated his call. I read and appreciated Professor Messay Kebede’s article titled “Ethnicity is not about Descent” – which shocked me to the core. And I drew great lessons from it. Maybe I would share my understanding of his messages that I cut out from this piece at another time if I think it would encourage a good conversation with Kebede. By writing this article, I’m trying to showcase that the New Ethiopia team’s strength is that its members openly share their opinions about one another’s contribution for the struggle against the brutal TPLF.
Although I feel bad about taking readers time by getting this article posted, I want to be heard. I want objectively to be on the side of Prof. Tolosa because some of his critics appeared to be disparaging and insulting him. They are intimidating him by asking him a barrage of questions – which I think he is dealing with in a confident way. They also seemed to me that they are determined to belittle his book and, by extension, his reputation without providing a decent review of his book. A review that I read which I thought was significant, constructive and thoughtful was a review by ከፍያለው አባተ (ዶር) titled “ወንድማማች አማሮችና ኦሮሞዎች”.
Last year in April, I wrote a critique about a book titled “ፍጹም ነው እምነቴ” (“Fistum Naew Emnetae”) which is riddled with “serial untruths” – which cries out for a critique from someone who is informed about Higher-15 prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I didn’t share my review of the book with the reading communities because, among others, I didn’t want to divert readers’ attention from the struggle against the TPLF. I also figured that the issues which need to be addressed might be unimportant for the former Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP’s) leaders and members, particularly most former Higher-15 prisoners’ although they were important to me. Inspired by Tolosa’s critics and his responses, I will share a condensed version of my review shortly after this article is published.
Looking at the bright side
I found out about “የኦሮሞ እና የአማራ እውነተኛወ የዘር ምንጭ” from its author’s interviews on Ethiopian’s websites and YouTube videos. I noted that he is a great communicator, and he can easily catch his audience’s attention and persuade them to act on his messages. For instance, based on his recommendation, I saw his YouTube video titled Multi Colored Flowers. And I loved it because it made me laugh and made me feel proud of my culture. So I clicked “Like” and shared it with friends and families.
Though I didn’t read Tolosa’s new book yet, I read several reviews of it and his responses to his critics to date. Basing the reviews and responses I read, it appeared to me that the writer and his critics are on the same team, New Ethiopia, which I belong to. My definition of team New Ethiopia is that it is a progressive team whose members work independently across the globe. In cyberspace, they exchange knowledge, information, opinions or concerns at the speed of light. They speak out and stand up against the massacre, corruption … of the evil TPLF’s leadership. They labor to keep the societal cancers, the TPLF’s leadership, “on life support” and to lend a hand in hammering the last nails in the fascist leadership’s coffin.
My Observations about Critiques of “የኦሮሞ እና የአማራ እውነተኛወ የዘር ምንጭ”
First, Paulos Milkias’ (PhD) Review — I read his review on Ethiomedia website. On his appraisal of the book, he stated the following:
“Dr. Fikre’s monograph is selling like hot cakes to gullible Ethiopians whose background in Ethiopian history is nil or those nationalist Ethiopians disillusioned by the Woyane’s ethnicization of their motherland who buy and read it though they do harbor doubts about the veracity of the assertions in the book. I hope young Ethiopians who have no background in their country’s history will not read this book and quote it in their research papers.”
I was astounded by his unconstructive judgment on the book. Without providing evidence, he listed the author’s assertions that he think are “fiction and Fairy Tale”. His presentation was below par for his caliber. It wasn’t well thought out, and it wasn’t thoroughly proofread, and it wasn’t his best. If he submits it to English teacher that makes a student earn his/her grade, I think the best grade he would get for it is a C+. To me his sloppy review shows his lack of respect for his readers. His statement that discouraged young Ethiopians from reading the book just because he thinks their history knowledge is nil and the book is garbage is plainly wrong. It spooked me because it underestimated a generation’s intelligence that is protesting and/or fighting across Ethiopia against the brutal TPLF oppression.
I found his review too harsh with an excessive inquisition. It didn’t provide to me any substance except trashing the book and its author. Some of the issues he discussed were off the subject. Moreover, his review didn’t help me to make up my mind about reading the book. Therefore, contrary to his hope that “young Ethiopians who have no background in their country’s history will not read this book and quote it in their research papers”, I strongly encourage readers to critically read the book because I think it would do much more good than harm.
Let’s say that a religious fanatic urges young people not to read and quote from Milkias’ book titled Paulos Milkias’ Dictionary of Ethiopian Christianity. What would he think about the extremist’s effort? I like to think that he would reason the extremist is interfering in others right to choose what to read. And he would hopefully stand against the fanatic.
While rereading Milkias’ Review, I think I discovered an answer for a question why some less educated Ethiopians belittle some highly educated Ethiopians though getting higher education supposed to bring more respect. It seemed to me that they get undermined, belittled or insulted because of their unprofessional presentation of their ideas, opinions, criticisms… A typical example to support my assertion is the following statements of Milkias:
He articulated that Tolosa’s statements and assertions “… are total fiction and total Fairy Tale [he said it eleven times in 77 words] …” “They are much in the realm of delusionary and phantom apparitions symbolized by Dukak diktats that qat [chat] addicts describe after taking a pause in their chewing regimen. [Emphases added.]”
I couldn’t easily understand his statements because I didn’t know the definition of the words (“phantom”, “apparitions”, “diktats” and “qat”). So I looked them up in a dictionary, and I wondered if he uses those kinds of words regularly. Qat wasn’t in a dictionary so I googled it, and I learned that it is a Yemen word for chat. I also learned that “The khat plant is known by a variety of names, such as qat and gat in Yemen, qaat and jaad in Somalia, and chat in Ethiopia. It is also known as jimaa in the Oromo language and mayirungi in Luganda Language …”, according to Wikipedia
Rereading his statement to understand it more (which became a reason to write this section) made me feel embarrassed and sad. Because it reminded me of one of my saddest regrets not knowing how to help a chat addict. Furthermore, to me his statements exhibited that he absolutely has no sympathy for addicts whatsoever. And it appears that he lacks awareness about addiction. For instance, various research indicates that “one in seven people is addicted to alcohol or drugs” such as cocaine, heroin or crack.
His lack of pity for chat addicts made me want to speak out about chat addiction because I think it is a social problem. I also think that addicts deserve at least some sympathy. Certainly, they need people with a good heart and mind to understand their situation and maybe to guide them to sobriety. I believe that most addicts wouldn’t dare to touch alcohol or a drug if they could get another chance at life. “Khat [chat] contains a monoamine alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria”, according to Wikipedia
Ideally, I expect from a person of his caliber to show some empathy for addicts. I would love to dream that he would campaign to raise awareness about chat addiction and to raise funds to establish treatment centers for them. For those addicts who don’t have resources to get to his rehab program, he would give them a scholarship for their treatments from the funds he raised. Even better, he would consider bringing the issue to the TPLF’s regime attention to solicit it to use some of the income it earns from exporting chat – which is the “country’s second-largest source of foreign currency” – to offset the cost of these programs. He would also try to persuade the regime to use some of its airtime to let its subjects become aware that chewing chat can cause addiction instead of boring them with its fake and manipulated news and programs.
Note: By being an “Ethiopian utopian”, I want to make my point. Since it was common among my generation chewing chat to stay focused during studying time, I chewed chat once in a while which one of my dear friends used to buy when I was a high school senior. I was fortunate for not liking its taste and its effect that increased attention and calm it gave me. Every time I think of my friend, I feel bad, sad or cry because I regret not knowing how to talk him out of it. At times, I wonder about what could have happened to me if I liked it as much he did.
Milkias’ Review Final grade: A+ on boldness; C- for significance; C- for thoughtfulness
Side Note1: I think Milkias is a great man and a respected scholar. “He wrote more than five books. “Paulos Milkias … is Professor of Humanities and Political Science at Marianopolis College/Concordia University in Montreal Canada… Dr. Milkias’ major publications include The ABC of Ethiopian Christianity (University Press of America, 2006), The Battle of Adwa”, according to Cambria Press.
Second, I read Professor Getatchew Haile’s reviews of Tolosa’s book due to the unprofessional remarks by Milkias and his derogatory comments about addicts. From reading Haile reviews of the book and his other articles about Ethiopia’s history, I learned so much and developed more confidence about Ethiopia’s history. I encourage readers to click the hyperlink to read some of his articles.
Based on his writings, it appears to me that he is passionate about the truth. But he unthoughtfully presented his arguments against Tolosa’s claim that his book is Ethiopia’s true history without providing evidence. As if he is Tolosa’s boss or teacher, he threw at him a barrage of questions, which Tolosa entertained patiently and confidently. It seemed to me that his aim was only to sow seeds of doubt in his readers’ minds about the books genre (fiction, mythology …) – which I thought was fine.; for example,
- He briefly mentioned about national mythology. Since his explanation wasn’t clear enough to me and I didn’t know the definition of mythology let alone national mythology, I reached to a dictionary to learn the definition of mythology. I learned that mythology means “ideas or opinions that many people believe, but that are wrong or not true”, according to Longman Advanced American Dictionary.
- He thinks that Tolosa’s book is mythology. And he argues that mythology doesn’t come after history and replace history. It comes before history, and it gets replaced by history. It sounds like a solid argument to me. However, what is wrong with breaking this rule and inventing a new idea in order to write a “believable fictional mythology”? If readers like me, who Milkias think are “gullible”, accept the stories wouldn’t that be more power to the author?
- He alleged that the author supported some/most of his assertions by information he gathered from unreliable sources – an author named መሪራስ አማን በላይ made up stories. But he didn’t provide a single proof for his allegations, so I think that it is just his opinion. Consider reading Tolosa’s articulation about Haile’s inappropriate allegations; click the hyperlink and read the third paragraph on page 4.
- He argued that key evidences – an important archaeological find that “the ancient manuscripts found at Jebel Nuba” – the author used to create his myth(s) are counterfeited. I think this is a serious accusation against the author that needs to be resolved squarely.
Although I enjoyed reading his reviews and learned from them, I think he should support his allegations with evidence. He shouldn’t spoil the book’s element of surprise. He shouldn’t rush to get the manuscripts (which the author believes are more than 3,000 years old) authenticated. My reasoning is that getting the manuscripts authenticated isn’t an immediate need. Yes! Absolutely, they should be carbon dated eventually. Until then, I sit tight and enjoy reading the book to see whether the author would be brave enough to invalidate Milkias and Haile’s allegations (at least some of them) against his book by getting his manuscripts carbon dated. And I will keep my fingers crossed that the ancient manuscripts would turn out to be legit.
Ideally, I think getting the manuscripts carbon dated would be the right thing to do before claiming the book is a true history.
Haile’s Reviews Final grade: A+ on boldness; C- for significance; C- for thoughtfulness
Side Note2: I think Professor Getatchew Haile is a wonderful person and a distinguished scholar. “… he wrote more than twenty books. “… Haile … is an Ethiopian-American philologist widely considered the foremost scholar of the Ge’ez language alive today. He was acknowledged for his contributions to the field with a MacArthur Fellows Program “genius” award and the Edward Ullendorff Medal from the Council of the British Academy.”, according to Wikipedia
The author’s responses to his critics
To me the author’s responses to his critics made him appear that he is a cultured gentleman. He also seemed certain for writing Ethiopia’s true history unless one disproves him. He, for example, stated that “መልሶቼ ሁሉ ተደምረው የሌሎቹንም ግለሰቦች ሁሉ ጥያቄዎች ይመልሳሉ ብዬ ተስፋ አደርጋለሁ፡፡ በጥንቃቄና በቀና ልብ ያነበቡት ሰዎች ሁሉ መጽሀፉ ራሱ ጥያቄዎቻቸውን መልሶላቸዋል፡፡ (page 1 0f 16)”. He confidently speaks about his book; he said that “…የኢትዮጵያን ሀዝብ አንድነትና ፍቅር በሚያንጸባርቅ ሀቀኛ መጽሀፍ …” (page 2 of 16) “ፈላስፋውና ነቢዩ ደሸት የኦሮሞ አባት፣የአማራ አያት መሆኑን በበቂ የመከራከርያ ነጥቦች አረጋግጫለሁ፡፡” (page 15 of 16). He also said that his book is a work in progress – another edition of it is already published – that he would keep revising it as he gets more feedback and information.
In passing, I found out that the author and I have the same outlook about the word “አበሻ”. He said that “እኔ ‹‹አበሻ‹‹ ማለት ውርደት፣ኢትዮጵያዊነት ግን ኩራት ስለሆነ ኢትዮጵያውያን መባል አለብን፣ እላለሁ፡፡” (page 15 of 16). I totally agree with him. Let me explain, so far in my life I never used the word “አበሻ” to refer to an Ethiopian because it sounds derogatory to me, and I didn’t learn its definition until recently. When my family members use it to refer to an Ethiopian, I usually ask them about what it means to them. They say that it means Ethiopian. And I recommend to them using the word “Ethiopian” because it sounds better to me though I was never been able to explain why they shouldn’t use “አበሻ”.
The Author’s Responses to his critics’ Final grade: A+ on boldness; A+ for significance; A+ for thoughtfulness
To sum up, I don’t have all the answers about why team New Ethiopia looks dysfunctional at times. However, using this opportunity, I would like to try addressing it partially by using Professor Getatchew Haile‘s reviews of Tolosa’s book. It seemed to me that he should write his review methodically so that a reader would be able to make up his/her own mind whether to read the book, and the author might get constructive feedback. I think he didn’t need to list thirteen questions and ask the author to provide him answers. Who is he to challenge him like that in public? I know he is “philologist widely considered the foremost scholar of the Ge’ez language alive today.” But I don’t think he is Tolosa’s boss or teacher? Couldn’t he find the answers to his questions in the book? I think he could. What I think he should have done was for the record present his argument to his readers by quoting the authors’ three or four assertions which he thinks are false along with evidences the author provided to support his claims. And explain painstakingly why the author’s evidences don’t support his assertions. Then leave it to his readers’ judgments instead of ruffling some feathers.
If the author used counterfeited manuscripts and unreliable sources to rewrite Ethiopia’s history, I think his assertions wouldn’t make a dent in Ethiopia’s history. Even worse, he would lose credibility among his readers. I believe that his critics’ allegations which claim that reading the book would damage young readers outlook who don’t know much about Ethiopian history is baseless. It undermined their intelligence. I think a threat to our legacy that has been facing us over forty years is a result of our own failure to set aside our petty differences (such as the unconstructive discussions about Tolosa’s book) and to form a united front against the TPLF – which has been one of its vital strengths so far.
I thought Tolosa did his best to awaken Ethiopians national unity and identity. He also did a great job addressing his critics’ questions. Though some said that his diagnose of Ethiopia’s societal cancer – the TPLF’s language based ethnic politics – didn’t provide the right remedy. For instance, Professor Messay Kebede said that Ethiopians’ problem is political so it requires a political answer. I also noted the below articulation of Kebede that:
“The supporters of the idea of a common origin think that it will significantly decrease the ethnic tension between Oromo and Amhara. If Oromo and Amhara are related, then the arguments of secessionist Oromo go down in flames. On the other hand, those who maintain that the idea of a common origin is just a fantasy actually share the same assumption only to say that the idea is unfortunately untrue. They do believe that the attempt to base Ethiopian unity on a fantasy is a dangerous game if only because it misunderstands and underestimates the Oromo grievances.”
Lastly, if we want our legacy wouldn’t fall apart, we take another lesson from this unfortunate experience. And we try to do our level best to make our future discussions constructive because our “legacy hangs in the balance”. So, let’s make this moment to make the best of it. Let’s make this moment to bring out the best from each other. Let’s make this moment our legacy – which we start restoring our Ethiopian national unity and identity! And let’s make this moment to chant together DOWN, DOWN, WOYANE!!!
READ BOOKS THE TPLF’s COMMAND POST BANNED
Including, Oromo and Amhara Real Ancestor
“የኦሮሞ እና የአማራ እውነተኛወ የዘር ምንጭ”
“TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHT”
“TO CHOOSE WHAT TO READ”
The writer LJDemissie can be reached at LJDemissie@yahoo.com