By Alemayehu G Mariam
In January 2013, I proclaimed, “2013 shall be the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.” I promised “to make my full contribution to uplift and support Ethiopia’s youth and to challenge them to rise up to newer heights.” They rose to greater heights. I pledged to “reach out to them, teach them and preach to them”. I feel proud that I was able to deliver on my promise. In December 2013, I was delighted and immensely gratified to stand with Yilikal Getnet, Chairman of Ethiopia’s Semayawi (Blue) Party in Arlington, VA and show my solidarity with Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (young people).
In 2013, the Chee-Hippo Generation made itself known. I declared, “I am damn proud to be a Chee-Hippo”. There is a need to “invent” a new generation, the Chee-Hippo Generation. A Chee-Hippo is a Hippo (older generation) who thinks, behaves and acts like a Cheetah. A Chee-Hippo is also a cheetah who understands the limitations of Hippos yet is willing to work with them in common cause for a common purpose. Chee-Hippos are bridge builders. They build strong intergenerational bridges that connect the young with the old. They build bridges to connect people seeking democracy, freedom and human rights. They build bridges across ethnic canyons and connect people stranded on islands of homelands. They bridge the gulf of language, religion and region. They build bridges to link up the rich with the poor. They build bridges of national unity to harmonize diversity. They build bridges to connect the youth at home with the youth in the Diaspora.”
There was a massive propaganda assault and arbitrary arrest and detention of young people protesting against official interference in their faith and the way they seek to administer their religious affairs. The ruling regime in Ethiopia aired a one hour “documentary” entitled “Jihadawi Harakat” (“Holy War Movement”) purportedly aimed at exposing home grown Islamic extremists and terrorists preparing for a “holy war” to establish an Islamic government in Ethiopia. That outrageous, malicious and dirty “documentary” depicted young Ethiopian Muslims as Al Qaeda operatives and terrorists in the vein of the vicious Boko Harm of Nigeria. I condemned that nauseating and revolting documentary: “There are lies, naked lies, damned lies and sleazy lies. ‘Jihadawi Harakat’ is all four rolled into one.”
I celebrated my special heroes in 2013. I paid special tribute to Ethiopian journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, both of whom symbolize the plight of all young Ethiopian journalists imprisoned, persecuted, prosecuted and harassed by the dictatorship in power. These young journalists are heroes of a special kind to me because they represent the yearning of Ethiopia’s youth for freedom and the ongoing struggle against tyranny and for human rights in Ethiopia. They fought with nothing more than ideas and the truth. They slew falsehoods with the sword of truth. Armed only with a pen, they fought despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion. Above all, they spoke truth to power and to those who abuse, misuse, overuse and are corrupted by power.
The world saw the abysmal depths of corruption of the ruling regime in Ethiopia in 2013. Corruption was everywhere — in construction, telecommunication, land, health, justice and education. Corruption in education is perhaps the most devastating because it impacts the youth so much. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. For the ruling regime in Ethiopia, ignorance is the most powerful weapon you can use to prevent change and cling to power. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. They have made Ethiopia the “Benighted Kingdom” where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. Edu-corruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
In mid-2013, Ethiopia’s young people had an awakening. Semayawi (Blue) Party led thousands of young protesters in the streets of the capital demanding the release of political prisoners, religious freedom, respect for human rights and the Constitution and public accountability. They demanded action on youth unemployment, inflation and corruption. I was inspired: “The long youth march to freedom and dignity has begun in Ethiopia. It is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is peaceful. It is beautiful because it is motivated by love of country and love of each other as children of one Mother Ethiopia. It is beautiful because Ethiopia’s youth in unison are shouting out loud, “We can’t take anymore! We need change!”
In the Rise of the Blue Cheetahs, I argued that Ethiopia’s young people are rising and creating a special kind of change that flows form the fertile imagination of the youth. They are imagining a brave new Ethiopia. They don’t want the old Ethiopia built on a foundation of ethnic division, tribal affiliation, religious sectarianism and communalism. They want gender equality. I boldly asked, “Why shouldn’t they have their Ethiopia? We had ours, isn’t it time they have theirs?
When President Obama visited Africa in the Summer of 2013, I wrote two “flash dramas” (plays) to add creative range to my commentaries and expand my reach to the younger generation of Ethiopians. The two youthful characters were not sure why Obama was “coming to Africa”.
Duma: Aah! Obama is coming back to his African roots, that’s good Shudi.
Shudi: No, coming to talk to Africans.
Duma: Talk… Sweet talk. Tough talk. Small talk. Talk peace. Talk war. Walk the talk. Don’t walk the talk. Talk the talk. Talk sense. Talk nonsense. Talk is cheap. Money talks, bull_ _ _ _ walks. Talk, talk, talk…?
After Obama’s Africa visit, the two young protagonists rendered their judgment:
Shudi: Obama has come and gone…
Duma: Obama came and saw but did he conquer?
Shudi: He came. He saw. He left.
I offered President Obama my humble suggestions to empower Africa’s youth when he launched his “Power Africa” initiative. I urged him to empower the youth before “powering Africa”. I agreed with President Obama that Africa has a power problem and that he is part of that problem. “Africa needs protection from thugs-cum-leaders who abuse power, misuse power, confuse power and excuse and justify their abuse and misuse of power. President Obama is already powering Africa. The question is not whether to power Africa but how to protect powerless Africans from those dictators America has powered and empowered by doling out billions of dollars in aid, loans and technical assistance every year. If he wants to power Africa, he should begin by empowering ordinary Africans against those who abuse and misuse their power. He should power up the youth grid that remains unused, abused and disused by those who manage the political power grid. He should use the billions of dollars of annual aid to disempower the few powerful African thugtators and empower the hundreds of millions of African youth.”
I celebrated the young people who led the American civil rights movement on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Martin Luther King who began his civil rights struggle at age 26 dreamed about creating the “Beloved Community” in America which “will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” MLK’s “Beloved Community” is a society free of racism, poverty and militarism. It is a community of love and justice where brotherhood and sisterhood founded on the principle of compassion and caring define the meaning of social life. MLK said “nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
I called for a “renaissance of Ethiopian youth” in 2013. I argued that if Ethiopia is to have a “renaissance”, a “rebirth” or “revival” of any kind, it could only come through the blood, sweat and tears of her young people, and not from fables invented by despots and their mouthpieces. I believe young Ethiopian entrepreneurs are the tip of the spear in leading the country into an economic renaissance. Young Ethiopian scholars should lead the forces of intellectual transformation. Young Ethiopian scientists and engineers should lead the country into self-sufficiency and global competitiveness. Young Ethiopian lawyers should carry the sword of justice. Young Ethiopian leaders must be the dynamic agents of social and political change and lead Ethiopia into a bold and brave 21st Century.
Young Ethiopian migrant workers faced outrageous violations of their human rights in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Saudi police, security officials and thugs hunted down Ethiopians in the streets, beating, torturing and in some cases killing them. The video clips of Saudi police torturing Ethiopians are shocking to the conscience. The video clips of Saudi mobs in the presence of police and security officials chasing, attacking and lynching Ethiopians in the streets were proof of crimes against humanity. The “foreign minister” of the regime in Ethiopia apologized to the Saudi regime for abusing Ethiopian migrant workers, “Ethiopia would like to express its respect for the decision of the Saudi Authorities and the policy of deporting illegal migrants.” He added, what is happening to Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia “may be accepted when nations are at war to deport like this in a very rapid fashion people may understand, but not in peaceful situation.” In other words, the migrant workers are to blame for the abuse they suffered. He gave new meaning to the old expressions, “Never bite the hand that feeds you.”
It was time to say goodbye to the great Nelson Mandela, My African Prince. I never met Nelson Mandela. I wish I had just for the opportunity to say “Thank you!” Nelson Mandela was a bridge builder. He built bridges across racial, ethnic and class divides. Nelson Mandela was a fireman. He saved the South African house by dousing the smoldering embers of racial and ethnic strife with truth and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela was a pathfinder. He built two roads named Goodness and Reconciliation for the long walk to freedom, and walked the talk. Nelson Mandela was an architect. He built a magnificent tower of multiracial democracy on the ashes of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was a magician. He pulled a white and a black dove out of a hat at once and let them fly free. Nelson Mandela was the greatest alchemist who ever lived. He transformed hate into love, fear into courage; doubt into faith; intolerance into compassion; anger into understanding, discord into harmony and shame into dignity. I delivered Mandela’s Message to Ethiopia’s youth. “Do good, forgive and reconcile in creating your Beloved Ethiopian Community. Try without the promise of success; try in the face of failure, doubt and uncertainty. Try even when tired and just can’t go on. Try when there is no hope. Try again after succeeding. Try like Mandela tried.”
In 2013, I became a Witness for Semayawi (Blue) Party. I support Semayawi Party because it is a political party of young people, for young people and by young people. It is a party that aspires to represent the interests of the vast majority of Ethiopians (70 percent of Ethiopia’s population today is under age 35). Ethiopia’s young people continue to pay for democracy, freedom and human rights with their blood, sweat and tears. Ethiopia’s best and brightest have been persecuted, prosecuted, jailed, brutalized and silenced. At the top of the list are Birtukan Midekssa, Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Reeyot Alemu, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed, Woubshet Taye, Olbana Lelisa, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa, Temesgen Desalegn, the late Yenesew Gebre and countless others. I regard “Semayawi Party Movement” to be an organizational mechanism to articulate the dreams and ideals of Ethiopia’s young people about the country they want to build for themselves and pass on to the next generation. I urged all to be silent no more and to take a stand with Semayawi Party Movement.
Ethiopia’s youth: Rise like lions and cheetahs after slumber and build your “Beloved Ethiopia”
The dominant theme in the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation was to never, never give up on their dream of inventing their own “Beloved Ethiopia” — free from ignorance, ethnic hatred, communal strife and gender inequality. I say it has been a great year for Ethiopia’s Cheetahs; but their work is not done yet. They have a long hard walk ahead of them. They must pass through perilous valleys, climb craggy mountains and cross raging rivers before they get to their destination. I urge them to keep on walking courageously. I urge them to take comfort in the poetic words of Percy Bysshe Shelley who stood up for those young people engaged in peaceful nonviolent protest in 1819 facing the heavily armed cavalry of the corrupt, brutal and vicious British tyrants:
Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words, that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free!
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.
With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few
Ethiopia’s youth: Rise like lions! Rise like Cheetahs!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:http://www.ecadforum.com/
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/
By Alemayehu G Mariam