Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
I have a dream that Ethiopia’s young people will put their shoulders to the wheel and take full charge of their country’s destiny; leave behind the politics of hate and ethnicity; turn their backs on those wallowing in moral bankruptcy and create a New Politics for a New Ethiopia based on dialogue, negotiation and compromise. I dream they will learn from the wisdom of their ancestors: “Tomorrow belongs to the young people who prepare for it today.” Alemayehu G Mariam, January 4, 2015
Author’s Note: In a different place and a different time, individuals like myself would take an honored place in society and play the role of elders like our ancestors did over the eons. We would be teaching the younger generation the moral values and virtues of peace, justice, fairness, equality, humility, reconciliation, forgiveness, truthfulness, respect, cooperation, and unity.
But that was not in the cards for a lost generation – a generation at once traumatized by prolonged wanton political violence, persecution and forced exile and marginalized by its own silence, cowardice, narcissism and depraved indifference.
Today, I am ashamed to say my generation has little to offer the younger or coming generations.
We have squandered our moral and social capital like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
We have abandoned the commanding moral heights to the lunatic fringe and to the armies of ignorati trolls who today wage a war of words, disinformation and lies on social media and cyberspace.
In America, people who grew up during the Great Depression and helped win World War II are sometimes called the “greatest generation”.
I call Ethiopians who came of age beginning in the mid-1960s and were privileged to receive modern education and subsequently achieved relatively high professional and leadership positions in their respective fields but did not do diddly-squat for their motherland, the “failed generation”.
We have failed in our moral, ethical, professional, social and political duties.
We have remained silent in the face of outrageous evil for decades.
We have failed to live by moral imperatives and stand up for the little guy who is afraid to speak, and speak truth to the big powerful guys on behalf of the little guy.
As professionals, our ethical standards have been closer to those who practice the world’s oldest profession. We have sold our souls and skills to dictators and thugs.
We have failed to show social responsibility.
We have failed politically by becoming part of the problem instead of the solution.
We are so shameless we have joined outsiders in pointing an accusatory index finger calling our motherland a “failed state”, a “failed nation” when she is struggling to rise up and yearn to breathe free after decades of tyrannical thug rule.
All along, we forget and we are blinded to the fact that as we point an index finger of failure on our homeland, three fingers are wagging at us as the failed generation.
But Ethiopia is doing alright. The younger generation is in the saddle.
We have a brilliant 43-year old prime minister whom the world admires for his extraordinary and exemplary leadership.
We have young women in the highest offices in Ethiopia.
We have young people exercising expressive freedoms to such an extent that the world today is calling Ethiopia one of two brightest spots of press freedom in the world.
The young generation of Ethiopian political and civic leaders today are doing a magnificent job of leading the nation into a new era of peace, reconciliation and prosperity.
And they are doing it all against all odds!
In barely a year, they are healing the wounds of ethnic division inflicted on Ethiopians over the past 27 tears.
They are reviving an economy that was left virtually bankrupt by a corrupt, inept and criminal regime.
They are organizing the first free and fair election in the country’s 2000 year plus history.
I am so proud of them.
But I am not proud of what my generation has and has not done to make Ethiopia more equal, more just, more united, more peaceful and more democratic.
I offer my deepest apologies for our failures in writing today as I look forward to the day when I will offer apologies in a public forum someday.
I shall admit my generation is the greatest obstacle to peace, progress and development in Ethiopia today.
That is a hard truth that must be proclaimed.
The greatest crime of my generation is its relentless insistence on continuing the deadly, discredited and shameful politics of polarized identity, ethnic exclusivity, ethnocentricity and tribal territoriality.
We insist on playing the deadly game of ethnic brinksmanship (EB) and mutual assured destruction (MAD) in willful disregard and indifference to the atrocity, brutality and inhumanity of communalism, tribalism and sectarianism.
But there is abundant hope in Ethiopia’s bosom.
Ethiopia’s young leaders are rising to meet the challenge.
I am supremely encouraged because the younger generation are doing their best NOT to follow in our footsteps that has brought so much suffering, death and destruction to the ordinary people of Ethiopia.
The younger generation does not dance to the beat of the tribal drummer.
They sing songs of peace, love and understanding. Like I did one-half century ago.
But there is one last hope for my generation to save itself before we face the final verdict of history.
One last act of atonement we must perform to save ourselves.
We must teach the younger generation one and only one lesson to pay for our generational crimes of commission and omission:
Starve the Bad and Feed the Good Wolf in Ethiopia.
Learning from a Cherokee fable of the good and bad wolf
The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is one of the largest native American nations in the United States.
The Cherokee people have been subjected to unspeakable suffering. History remembers their suffering as the ‘Trail of Tears’.
The Cherokee have wonderful folktales and traditional stories.
One of my favorites is the folktale of a grandfather teaching his grandson about good and evil. I used this instructive folktale in my April 2013 commentary.
‘A fight is going on inside me’, the grandfather told his grandson.
‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
‘One is an evil wolf who is full of anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
‘The other is a good wolf. He loves joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
The grandfather added, ‘The same fight is going on inside you and every other person, too.’
The grandson thought about what his grandfather said and asked, ‘Which wolf will win?’
The grandfather replied, ‘The one you feed.’
How the good wolf won against the bad wolf in Ethiopia
Were I to tell the Cherokee folktale to the younger generation of Ethiopians, this would be the story:
For a generation, my generation has been feeding the bad wolf in Ethiopia the raw meat of ethnic hatred, national disunity, communalism and sectarianism.
For the past 27 years, my generation has been feeding the bad wolf a high caloric diet of hate, anger, division, strife and ethnic superiority.
For the past 27 years, the bad wolf nurtured by my generation has beaten down, bitten to pieces, overpowered and crushed the good wolf living in the hearts and minds of the ordinary people of Ethiopia.
For the past 27 years, our bad wolf tried to make ordinary Ethiopians the proverbial, “Man is wolf to man.” (homo homini lupus) and create a dog-eat-dog world in Ethiopia.
Last year this time, the bad wolf which had grown monstrously big was baring its teeth to consume the nation.
But the doggone bad wolf one day was gone, vanished under the rock from whence it came.
The younger generation must now raise the good wolf.
The good wolf must be raised to be strong, fearless and determined to engage the big old bad wolf and beat him at his own game.
The younger generation must know that it is not the size of the wolf in the fight that determines the winner. It the size of the fight in the wolf that does.
The little good wolf can beat the big, bad evil wolf.
Though the big old bad wolf is damned, doomed and done, its cubs lurk and roam in the dark recesses of the hearts of every Ethiopian.
So, an epic do-or-die battle must be waged with the bad wolf in the hearts and minds of every Ethiopian.
Who shall win?
The victory of the good wolf over the bad is preordained.
For ages and ages, the people of Ethiopia have lived together in holy matrimony, as friends, as neighbors and as compatriots.
They have always been “man to man”, not “man is wolf to man”.
This is true for the common man and woman who live their daily lives in hardship, in fellowship and holy worship.
I wish I could say the same for Ethiopian elites, (the well-to-do, the educated, the privileged, the ones with social media accounts).
We, the elites, cannot help but feed and nurture the bad wolf that has taken up permanent residence in our hearts and minds.
We have weaponized the bad wolf of tribalism, communalism and sectarianism in our feeding frenzy for power, influence and money.
In our obsessive quest for “what’s-in-it for I, me and myself”, we have decided to feed the tens of millions of poor Ethiopians who can barely feed themselves to the bad hungry wolf.
Luckily, we are the last of our breed.
The young good wolf is rising and winning the hearts and minds of the common struggling people of Ethiopia.
Such is the story I would tell the younger generation of Ethiopians.
You are what you think: The power of positive thinking and feeling
Americans like to say, “You are what you eat”.
In other words, if you eat healthy food, you will enjoy good health and longevity.
Philosophers and psychologists tell us we are what we think.
If we think hate, we become haters.
If we think love, we becomes lovers.
Negative thoughts produce negative actions.
Positive thoughts produce positive actions.
Negative energy is disempowering.
Positive energy is empowering.
Fear produces inaction and indifference.
Courage produces action and change.
In the end, we all become what we think.
If we allow the bad wolf of negative thinking and hate to rule our hearts and minds, we will deplete our mental and spiritual energy. We become angry, hateful bitter and even violent.
If we allow the good wolf in us to feed on love, reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance, civility and humility, we will be energized and build a great society and shining city upon a hill.
So, we must make efforts to change our minds (thinking) and hearts (feelings).
It has been said those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
Before we can change Ethiopia, we must change our individual hearts and minds.
It is easy to pontificate about how others must change.
But like charity, change must begin at home, at the individual level.
Changing ourselves requires consciously changing the way we think about our beliefs and ideas and how we feel about others we dislike and despise.
But changing our hearts and minds is a most difficult task.
What I have noticed among Ethiopian elites over a period of decades is that the vast majority of them are afflicted by herd mentality/groupthink syndrome.
Groupthink among Ethiopian elites has to do with rational and well-meaning people making irrational decisions because they feel the urge to conform or not appear to oppose.
In a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts and judgments or disagreeing with the consensus.
In Ethiopia today, particularly among the elites, there is groupthink about ethnic and identity politics, which groups in society should be the objects of hate and distrust, who are the “real” Ethiopians, which groups have a birthright to rule and which ones are doomed to be ruled and so on.
Few among these elites are willing to come out in public, stand up, point a finger and challenge such groupthink. As a result, groupthink continues.
Herd (tribal/ethnic) mentality among Ethiopian elites is evident in the fact that well-educated professionals abandon rational thinking just to fit in with other dominant elites who hold a particular point of view poisoned by identity politics.
I am always amazed how these elites tow the line blindly and follow the tribal flock like sheep just because that is what the elite herd does.
Herd mentality is evident in the way the elites circle their ethnic/tribal wagons.
Each ethnic herd is poised to attack the other ethnic herd.
Some Ethiopian elites have been talking about an imaginary genocide about to take place. They seek to infect the wider population with this herd mentality.
Herd mentality among elites could result in mass hysteria.
The issue of “Who owns/to whom does Addis Ababa belong?” fiasco is a great example of herd mentality and groupthink.
One set of elites and their sympathizers claim the capital belongs to them. They want to rename it and make it an ethnic enclave.
Another set claims the capital belongs to the nation and even the continent. They want to set up a defensive vanguard to resist the other group.
Suffice it to say, it is much ado about nothing!
A lot of noise, commotion, fuss and Sturm und Drang about nothing.
But different elites try to use the issue to rouse up their rabble and poison the well of political dialogue and good will by stoking up emotions.
How do we change the negative political energy that permeates the minds of so many Ethiopian elites into positive energy?
THINK SOLUTIONS, FEEL SOLUTIONS, NOT PROBLEMS
If the proposition, “you are what you think”, then it follows that if we think problems, we aggravate existing and create new problems.
Similarly, if we think and feel solutions, we will naturally strive to create solutions to problems.
So, I ask the elites of my generation a few questions:
Why trot out the dead horse of ethnic/tribal politics and beat it?
Why not talk about and present competing solutions to all the problems created by ethnic, tribal, communal and sectarian politics?
Why not talk about and present competing solutions to the structural problems of rule of law and political accountability?
Why not talk about and present competing solutions to the problems of stolen elections?
Why not talk about and present constitutional solutions to constitutional problems?
I practice what I preach: Building on successful African experiments
I pride myself as a man who says what he means and means what he says.
In other words, I speak truth to power, the powerless, the power-hungry and -thirsty and anyone who cares to listen.
I talk and write about problems but also present practical solutions.
Over a decade ago, I proposed solutions to the problems Ethiopia is facing today.
It was not a solution imported from the West or the East.
It was not a solution based in abstract theory, political ideology or philosophy.
It was a solution borne of the African experience and created by Africans, for Africans.
It was a solution based on a successful experiment in Ghana.
I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Just improving and refining it.
In 2009, I proposed practical and tested constitutional solutions to the TPLF-created problems of identity and ethnic politics in Ethiopia, the flagrant disregard and depraved indifference to the rule of law that has been the hallmark of the TPLF regime and prevention of daylight electoral robberies.
I proposed adoption of proven remedies from the African experience not because Ghana has achieved superlative democratic status in Africa but because it has remained a stable and durable democracy in Africa for well over two decades bu relying on certain remedies.
I. Replace the politics of exclusive ethnicity/identity politics with inclusive democratic politics
The root of all political evil in Ethiopia is ethnic/identity politics planted by the TPLF.
But that is nothing new. Ghana has had inter-ethnic conflict.
What was their solution?
A simple but effective constitutional amendment.
In 2009, I urged adoption of the language of Article 55 of the Ghanaian Constitution as an antidote to the disease of tribal and ethnic-based politics in Ethiopia.
Article 55 (4) of the Ghanaian Constitution provides:
Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.
For the past 27 years, the washed-out and now-in-hiding Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) made ethnicity and tribal affiliation the rock-solid foundation of its ethnic apartheid divide and rule strategy.
In Article 46 (2), the TPLF devised and inserted the following constitutional language: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.”
Obviously, the central aim of Article 46 is to ensure party and electoral politics in Ethiopia will necessarily be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.
The solution is to purge Article 46 (2) out of the constitution and replace it with the language found in Art. 55 (4) of the Ghanaian Constitution as follows:
Article 46 (2): “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.”
Every political party in Ethiopia shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.
II. Ensure the primacy and supremacy of the rule of law
For the past 27 years, the rule of law in Ethiopia has meant the rule of one man, one-party pretending to be inclusive of several others and one small group of rapacious and predatory gangsters.
Ghana has a constitutional solution to the problem of disregard for the rule of law.
The Constitution of Ghana is the supreme law of the Republic of Ghana.
Article 125 provides that the Ghanaian “Judiciary shall be independent and subject only to the Constitution.”
The Ghanaian Supreme Court serves as the ultimate guardian of the rule of law.
The Supreme Court of Ghana has judicial review powers (the power of courts to determine if government actions violate the constitution).
That Court ensures the institutional independence of the judiciary and is not timid about overruling unconstitutional legislation and executive policies and decisions.
Article 127 (2) empowers the judiciary by further providing that “neither the President nor the Parliament nor any person whatsoever shall interfere with judges and judicial officers or other persons exercising judicial power, in the exercise of their judicial functions”.
All state organs are constitutionally required to comply with judicial orders.
The executive and legislative branches of government follow and respect the Constitution. They abide by the rulings and decisions of the courts and other fact-finding inquiry commissions.
The government of Ghana has undertaken actions to conform its laws to the standards of international human rights conventions.
Under Article 2 (4) of the Ghanaian Constitution, failure to obey or carry out the terms of a Supreme Court order is a “a high crime”, which in “the case of the President or the Vice-President, constitutes a ground for removal from office under this Constitution.”
Under Article 2 (1), “a person” can seek declaratory relief against an alleged unconstitutional law or act of any person by petitioning the Supreme Court. Amazingly, under Article 64, any Ghanaian citizen has the right to “challenge the validity of the election of the President in the Supreme Court within twenty-one days after the declaration of the result of the election.”
An independent judiciary is vital to the observance of the rule of law and protection of civil liberties is a non-negotiable issue in Ethiopia’s march towards democracy and rule of law.
The constitution drafted by the TPLF is simply not interested in the rule of law. It was designed to ensure the rule of outlaws and criminal gangsters.
Incorporate the foregoing elements of the Ghanaian Constitution into a new Ethiopian Constitution.
III. Ensure the integrity of electoral politics by institutionalizing an independent electoral commission
Unlike Ethiopia, Ghana has a competitive multi-party political system.
Ghanaians have shown multiparty democracy is not some fanciful Western ritual but a practical and effective system of governance. They have shown that a non-ethnic, non-tribal multiparty democracy is the only viable option that could guarantee stability, equity and economic development in Africa.
Article 55 of the Ghanaian Constitution guarantees, “Every citizen of Ghana of voting age has the right to join a political party.”
Political parties are free to organize and “disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character.”
There are some eight registered political parties (not 108), but the two dominant parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) are said to represent an estimated 80 per cent of the Ghanaian voters.
Under Article 46, the Electoral Commission is guaranteed independence and is insulated from political interference.
With certain exceptions, “the Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority…”
The Electoral Commission and is widely credited in Ghana and internationally for sustaining democracy, political pluralism and constitutional rule.
The problem of elections in Ethiopia is that they are stolen in broad daylight.
In 2005, the TPLF was trounced in the parliamentary elections and had to resort to extreme violence massacring hundreds of unarmed protesters to cling to power.
In 2010, the TPLF stole the election by claiming it had won 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament.
In 2015, the TPLF stole the election by claiming it had won 100 percent of the seats.
The first step is to restore faith in an electoral board that has a history of partiality and unprofessionalism.
The appointment of former judge Birtukan Midekssa as head of the election board is a significant first step. Birtukan was jailed for challenging the TPLF’s kangaroo elections process.
Fixing an election system that has been broken for decades will not be easy.
But it can be done in the run up to the 2020 election.
Independent election management bodies, nonpartisan domestic and international civil society election monitoring groups and independent media services could be established.
Pre-election process that are inclusive of citizens need to eb established.
The informal code of conduct among agreed to by the various parties should facilitate civil political discourse.
Cross-party cooperation is increasingly becoming a reality as coalitions are forming for the 2020 election and should serve to prevent conflict and election violence.
Police and security services should develop a coordinated election security strategy to ensure the election is conducted in a peaceful manner.
Simply stated, there is much to be learned from the practices and experiences of the Ghanaian Electoral Commission.
Let’s teach the children to starve the bad wolf and feed the good one
As I observe Ethiopian elite politics today, it’s all about the unholy trinities of bad wolves, “I, me and myself.”
When the elites are in a generous mood, they include the second set of unholy trinities “we, us and ours”.
But what do we pass on to the children, the next generation?
We should teach them one and only one lesson:
Feed the good and starve the bad wolf in the hearts and minds of Ethiopians!
Help the youth: Create tribal/ethnic/identity politics free zones in Ethiopia.