by Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: This is the third successive installment in a series I have called “What Do WE Want and Do NOW?”. The serialized commentaries have three aims: 1) take stock of the impact of the recent uprisings in Ethiopia against the backdrop of the extreme repression (“state of emergency”) unleashed by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF); 2) challenge Ethiopians, particularly Ethiopian intellectuals, to think outside the box, indeed with no box at all, about going forward, and 3) propose some ideas that maybe useful in charting a future course of action given current circumstances.
George Orwell is credited for saying, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
It is my greatest privilege as an academic and a lawyer to speak truth not only to power, power abusers and misusers, but also to the power-hungry, power-thirsty and even the powerless. We live in an age where political language is used to confuse, to intimidate, to appease and to evade the tough issues. We live in an age where political correctness masquerades as intellectual courage and intellectual cowardice and narrow-mindedness celebrated as goodwill and tolerance. I wholeheartedly agree with Orwell’s observation that, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Pure wind and hot air permeate the current dialogues and debates about the situation in Ethiopia. I hear people talking about the “problems” and the “solutions” in an airtight echo chamber. There are few fresh and creative ideas circulating about what needs to be done and how to get it done. Most of us have become prisoners of jaded “old thinking” and continue to engage in patterns of thinking that have proven to be destructive and counterproductive. We have trapped ourselves in our own self-made ideological boxes. We are afraid to think outside the box, let alone bust out of the box and think freely. We find ourselves trapped in a “thinking bubble” because we are afraid of criticism and ostracism. The physical killil (Bantustan, homeland) created for us by the T-TPLF has now insidiously become an intellectual and psychological kilil. We are now not only prisoners of the T-TPLF in an open air prison called Ethiopia, but also T-TPLF prisoners of the mind.
One of the privileges of being an academic and lawyer with no political ambitions whatsoever is that I am unburdened by the demands of political correctness. I call it as I see it. I am sure some will find my ideas provocative, challenging, outrageous and even offensive. Others will find them inspirational, stimulating and even fresh and unorthodox. But I do not write for political effect or expediency. I write for one reason only: To speak truth to power, to power abusers and misusers, to the power-hungry and power-thirsty and to the powerless.
Yes, my TRUTH!
V. Build an “ETHIOPIAN CONSCIOUSNESS MOVEMENT”– Fight with our minds!
As I have argued in Parts I and II, the T-TPLF today operates a kinder and gentler black apartheid system in Ethiopia. In its essential attributes and consequences, there is little difference between the minority white apartheid system of South Africa and the T-TPLF apartheid system in Ethiopia.
The most important and devastating weapons used in defeating the white minority apartheid system was not AK-47s and grenade launchers but the minds of Black South Africans.
For a long time, the minority whites succeeded in forcing Black South Africans to accept as a fact that being black is the same as being subhuman and inferior. The whites proclaimed that Black South Africans have no human rights and do not deserve any because it is divinely ordained that they shall be ruled by the minority whites. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa (the official religion of the National Party that introduced apartheid in 1948), the ideological architects of apartheid and defenders of racial segregation, decreed separation of the races and white supremacy is divinely ordained by God.
While the T-TPLF has not used religion to justify its ethnic supremacy, it has created its own equivalent mythology about its own ethnic supremacy by propagandizing that they are the only ones who are heroic, brave and powerful; only they are the smartest and the brightest; only they are the chosen to rule over the rest of the God-forsaken Ethiopians. They have a birthright to first-class citizenship, and everyone else can compete for third-class citizenship and beyond. (The T-TPLF has reserved second-class citizenship to those who serve them faithfully and loyally.) The T-TPLF teach their children that members of other ethnic groups in Ethiopia are “donkeys”, “retards”, “lowlifes” and idiots. (See my August 2016 commentary, “Rise of the “Amhara Retards” and Oromo “Criminals and Terrorists” in 2016?) The white minority used to call Black South Africans “kaffirs.”
Apartheid rule in South Africa began to unravel when a grassroots anti-Apartheid activist movement evolved into a Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in the late 1960s.
Following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the jailing of the main leaders of the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress and the increased repression by the apartheid regime, a black consciousness movement began to spread. The BCM transformed the way Black South Africans thought about themselves and provided them the intellectual, psychological and spiritual tools to fight the apartheid system.
The BCM promoted defiant rejection of apartheid in all its forms, particularly among Black workers and the youth. Students and young people began to organize covertly and engaged in leaderless resistance campaigns including protests against Bantu education in Soweto. The BCM stoked protests and resistance in the townships across South Africa making them virtually ungovernable. Apartheid police massacred, jailed and tortured South Africans by tens of thousands, but that only led to more protests. The BCM steeled South Africans and instilled courage and defiance to fight partied and win or die trying. The BCM enabled Black South Africans to operate on the same wavelength and to be on the same page in fighting minority white rule.
I believe an “Ethiopian Consciousness Movement” is very much needed now. The situation is ripe for such a movement because the people have reached a critical moment and mass. As Frederick Douglass, the former slave in America turned abolitionist and freedom fighter said, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
An “Ethiopian Consciousness Movement” must be based on the complete and total rejection of the ideology of “kililism” and “developmental democracy”. It must reject in principle and in practice the divisive political strategy of “ethnic federalism”. It must aim to unhinge the infrastructure and foundations of the T-TPLF police state in all of its manifestations. It must also facilitate the creation of a unifying anti-apartheid spirit in which Ethiopians are committed not only to removing a repressive regime but also build a “New Ethiopia” cleansed of ethnic apartheid.
The T-TPLF has declared a state of emergency for itself (Ethiopia has been under a state of emergency for the past 25 years) because it knows the people of Ethiopia have passed the limits of their endurance. There is no going back to doing business as usual. The T-TPLF will try to remain in power in a perpetual state of emergency. But that is only temporary. The T-TPLF declared a state of emergency for one reason only: It had finally come face to face with the Tiger. As President John Kennedy observed in his inaugural speech, “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” The T-TPLF was thrown off the back of the tiger and suddenly found itself looking straight into the eye of the Tiger. The T-TPLF blinked (declared a state of emergency)!
Maximilien Robespierre said, “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
The way out of T-TPLF-imposed ignorance and mental slavery is by raising the awareness of the (young) people and channeling their exuberance and energy into an anti-apartheid movement. The time for building an “Ethiopian Consciousness Movement” has arrived. Neither the T-TPLF nor its donors, loaners and international poverty pimps are stronger than an idea whose time has come.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel; there is only the need to make it better. As an anti-apartheid consciousness movement, the Ethiopian Consciousness Movement can draw some important lessons and practices from the Black Consciousness Movement of South Africa.
“WE” must initiate and lead the “Ethiopian Consciousness Movement”. All of us.
I will be discussing aspects of the “Ethiopian Consciousness Movement” in coming commentaries.
VI. We must transform ethnic nationalism into civic nationalism
The politics of ethnic identity seems to be the driving force of politics in Ethiopia today, at least if one is to believe those jabbering in their airtight echo chambers.
I use the word “seems” advisedly. I do not believe the politics of ethnic identity for the ordinary Ethiopian living on less than $2 a day has any practical importance. But ethnic identity politics has 1) been a powerful weapon of divide and rule; 2) provided a new lease on political life to those who have spent their lifetime promoting it but have nothing to show for it; 3) enabled the politically ambitious and calculating to propel themselves into power. Ethnic identity politics has also been the last refuge for those who are unwilling, unable or lack the courage to explore new ideas and practices for the brave new Ethiopia of the 21st century.
There are those who want to invent the “New Ethiopia” with their minds trapped in the “Old Ethiopia”.
The “identity politicians” do not want a new “New Ethiopia”; what they want is the Old Ethiopia dressed up as new so that they will be in charge and continue with business as usual. Ethnic identity politics is the kind of avaricious thinking that is all too common in Africa today: The other guys have been eating our lunches for too long. It’s NOW time for us to eat! Each ethnic group waits for its turn to get into power so that they can do to others what others have done to them. The old Golden Rule spiked with a heavy dose of revenge.
My argument is that “WE” must completely abandon identity and ethnic politics.
Identity politics is the weaponization of ethnicity for purely political reasons. When ethnicity becomes the driving force of political ambition, it becomes ethnic nationalism. Identity and ethnic politics always prove to be zero-sum games. One group wins all the time, the other groups lose all the time. T-TPLF rule over the past 25 years is Exhibit I.
Identity ethnic politics by its very nature is exclusionary, not inclusive. It always fails because it fails to be inclusive. It demonizes those who do not share the same ethnic identity.
The idea in ethnic identity politics is that people sharing a common culture, language, traditions, religion, region heritage and could engage in politics and obtain political advantages. Ethnic, religious or linguistic belongingness and heritage becomes the litmus test for political action and ambition. The outcome is always predictable in the short- and long-term: destructive competition and endless strife. Common ethnicity may be useful in targeting one’s anger against an actual or perceived oppressor, but it will do very little to address the core political problems of a society.
That is why I am strongly in favor of “civic nationalism” in which people come together to enjoy and defend shared rights. “Civil nationalism” grows out of the needs of common citizenship, not ethncity. People from diverse backgrounds come together voluntarily to promote, defend and advance common civic interests. They are least concerned with the politics of race, color, religion, etc., but collaborate to create a system and process in which people from diverse backgrounds can share and enjoy a shared set of political values and practices.
When the Americans launched their revolution, their signature document set forth the principles of “civic nationalism. In the Declaration of Independence, they declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” That was what the American Revolution was about, even in the face of the fact that the people who made the declaration were slaveholders and women were excluded from the political process.
When the 13 American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, they learned quickly that they can win prevail against a much superior army if they stayed united. Under extreme wartime emergency, they drafted their first constitution, the Articles of Confederation which was replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
In the 1787 Constitution, the Americans institutionalized a powerful “civic nationalism: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
The French launched their revolution in 1789 with the words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (liberty, equality, brotherhood). That slogan soon evolved to become, “Unity, indivisibility of the Republic; liberty, equality or death”. The original conception of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” was incorporated in the Preamble to the 1958 French Constitution and serves as the basis of French “civic nationalism”.
It is not necessary to go back a couple of centuries to find an example of “civic nationalism”. Article 55 (4) of Ghana’s Constitution provides a near-perfect example of civic nationalism:
Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.
My argument is that “WE” should build a civic nationalism based on principles of the rule of law, unity by consent, democratic pluralism, individual rights and choice. I believe individuals acting together create a nation.
I do not subscribe to the whole idea of “nations, nationalities and peoples.”
In my May 2016 commentary entitled, “Does Ethiopia Need a Constitution?”, I demonstrated that whole idea of “nations, nationalities and peoples” was a clever invention by Joseph Stalin in his 1913 tract “Marxism and the National Question” and V.I. Lenin in his 1914 tract entitled “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”.
Stalin and Lenin understood the implications of the “national question” for their socialist revolution. They saw Russian Nationalism as the principal enemy to the spread of socialism and communism in Russia and globally. They feared their revolution would be defeated if the Russian Empire could be maintained by reformists in some sort of federal structure organized and managed by a multiplicity of national parties. They believed such a multi-party system would be counter-revolutionary and perpetuate the Russian Empire. Stalin and Lenin believed the destruction of Russian nationalism was an essential precondition for their revolution to succeed.
The irony of history is that the rise of Russian nationalism ultimately caused the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I regard the whole “nations, nationalities, peoples” analysis to Ethiopian politics as 1) historically irrelevant and vacuous, 2) a mere glorification of identity politics by ideologizing it, 3) a discredited thinking that is championed only by those who aim to hide their true ambitions for political power, and 4) an ideological refuge for those who lack the capacity for creative and energetic thinking fit for the 21st century.
I support and promote “civic nationalism” based on universal ideas of human rights which prescribe universal rights and obligations such as the right to free speech, free press, free assembly, property, due process, personal security, etc. I believe these to be the common heritage of all humanity (Humunity) on the planet.
VII. “WE” must know the “enemy” and ourselves.
As I argued in Part II, “WE” do not know who “WE” are. We only know who “THEY” say “WE” are.
“WE” also do not know the “enemy”. But the “enemy” knows who “WE” are.
A great tactician long ago observed, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Such wisdom seems almost commonsensical but escapes most of us.
“WE” do not know who the “enemy” is. If “WE” did, “WE” would do a lot of things differently.
But who’s the “enemy”?
There are those who say the “enemy” is the Ethiopian government.
To me, that is a totally absurd response because Ethiopia does NOT have a government.
I will admit that Ethiopia has been under the thumbs and boots of a gang of thugs wielding absolute power masquerading as a “government”. The corrupt T-TPLF thugs run the military, the bureaucracy, the economy and other state institutions.
How can anyone use the word “government” or “democratic government” to describe a regime that claims to have won every single seat (one hundred percent) in a rubber stamp parliament? (Ok! Other than Barack Obama, I mean.)
I coined the word “thugtatorship” for a reason. (See my commentary, Thugtatorship: The Highest Stage of African Dictatorship.)
“WE” must understand that the T-TPLF for what it truly is.
The T-TPLF is a certified terrorist organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database.
The fact that terrorists are clad in designer suits and carry briefcases does not change the fact they are terrorist. It is like the pig in lipstick. You can put lipstick on a pig and put nail polish on its hooves, but at the end of the day it is still a pig. The loaners, donors and international poverty pimps want us to believe that a pig in lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or a lamb frolicking in the meadows.
You can put lipstick on a thugtatorship to make it look like a pretty democracy, but at the end of the day, it is still an ugly thugtatorship! To paraphrase Barack Obama, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’” but after 25 long years it stinks to high heaven!
The problem with the T-TPLF “enemy” is that the big donors and loaners and international poverty pimps have done everything they can to validate it as a “government”. Obama with a straight face said that the T-TPLF is a “democratic government”. Did he say that beacuse he truly believed the T-TPLF to be democratic? Of course not. He did it out of political expediency. The T-TPLF is a loyal proxy for the U.S. in Somalia and a “gofer” elsewhere. It is like the reverse of the “dog that bites the hand that feeds it” situation. The man with the hand does not want to bite the dog.
“WE” must understand the T-TPLF for what it is. As I like to say, you can take the thug (terrorist) out of the bush (jungle) but you can never take the bush (jungle) out of the thug.
I have heard some saying that the T-TPLF is redeemable; it could embrace the rule of law, human rights, etc. Hope springs eternal; but to me it is nonsense. Preaching the rule of law, human rights and so on to the T-TPLF is like preaching Scripture to Heathen or pouring water on a slab of granite. (I confess I am comforted by the Chinese saying, “Dripping water penetrates the stone.” Of course, I am painfully aware that does not apply to the stone-hearted.)
It is extremely important to know not only the “enemy” but also the “enemy’s friends and supporters”.
The T-TPLF would not be in power for one minute but for the financial, political and diplomatic support it gets from the United States, the U.K., the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other Asian countries. Fighting against the T-TPLF also means fighting against its mighty and powerful supporters. That is a hell of a fight. But I learned long ago that what matters is “not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Anyway, “WE” should never forget that it is a small axe that cuts the biggest trees in the forest. Touche!
“WE” must never underestimate the “enemy”.
As I have previously written, the T-TPLF is a Beast in the scriptural sense. The T-TPLF leaders are among the most cunning, conniving, wily, scheming, evil, crooked, vicious, diabolical, wicked, shadowy and Machiavellian operators to be found anywhere on the planet. Their capacity for evil is unmatched in the annals of African history. The T-TPLF guys have made a religion out of hate. (See my August 2016 commentary: Ethiopia: Beyond the Politics of Hate”.
But there is also another enemy. The old saying is that when you point an index finger, remember that three fingers are pointing at you.
That enemy is us!
I talked about that “enemy” in my July 2008 commentary “We’ve Met the Enemy!”
I also talked about that enemy in my August 2016 commentary, “Ethiopia: Beyond the Politics of Hate”.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
VIII. “WE” need to enter into a Covenant
“WE” need to work not merely to remove the T-TPLF but to a greater and most sacred goal in the struggle against black apartheid in Ethiopia.
In his inauguration speech in 1994, Mandela promised and urged all South Africans to help build a “rainbow nation”. Mandela declared, “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
I embrace for the New Ethiopia Mandela’s Covenant for the New South Africa.
Mandela’s Covenant for a post-apartheid South Africa is simple and for the ages:
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.
“WE” need to come together to create the New Ethiopia.
Every Ethiopian should commit to making a Mandela Covenant for Ethiopia and rescue Ethiopia from being the skunk of the world:
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land of thirteen-months of sunshine will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.
“WE” Ethiopians should enter into a Covenant NOW to build a society in which all Ethiopians, Oromos, Amharas, Tigres, Gurages…, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
This is the Covenant I have made with the Ethiopian people and will do everything in my power to make it happen…
To be continued next week…