by Alemayehu G. Mariam
Just a year ago…
Last year, on the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Day I pondered what Dr. King’s message would be for young Ethiopians were he alive.
I said he would advise them to continue engaging in acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance against the 27-year long oppressive rule of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a gathering of hard-core murderous thugs.
When I joined the Ethiopian human rights movement following the Meles Massacres of 2005, I announced, “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 good will.”
I have always urged Ethiopia’s youth (Cheetahs/Abo Shemanes) to avoid violence and strive for peaceful change in Ethiopia using nonviolence, the most powerful weapon in the world.
Last year this time, I urged Ethiopia’s young people to continue with their nonviolent struggle because ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia is on its last legs and victory is in sight.
On January 20, 2018, exactly a year ago today, I rhetorically exhorted
How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) will wounded justice remain downtrodden on the dirt roads in the countryside and the highways be lifted and the hearts and minds of every Ethiopian healed?
Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!
How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) before the truth crushed to earth rise up again in Ethiopia?
Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!
When will the dark cloud of TPLF oppression be lifted from the Ethiopian skies and the sun return to the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine?
Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!
How long before Ethiopia is free from the yoke of ethnic apartheid?
Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!
We shall overcome!
A sustained youth-driven nonviolent movement in 2018 finally put an end to 27 years of thug-rule in Ethiopia.
But I remember…
I remember those who for years laughed at me when I said the thug-rule of the TPLF would end not with a bang — “the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry and the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield” — but a whimper.
TPLF’s minions said I was naïve. I have been away from home so long, I have no idea of the reality “on the ground”.
They scorned me, “Al Mariam is ignorant of the underlying factors of TPLF’s staying power and predicts state collapse on every small and big occasion.”
They said I simply did not understand how powerful and entrenched the TPLF is.
The TPLF has all the money. They control the army, police and security forces. They have a powerful secret Agazi force.
They have the support of the U.S., China and what have you.
They are invincible. They are untouchable. They are unchallengeable.
The TPLF and their lackeys succeeded in convincing their opposition that they can be removed from power only through brute force, the barrel of AK-47.
The late TPLF leader used to taunted them, “If you want to seize power, go into the bush like we did and fight your way back.”
The duped TPLF opposition adopted the battle cry, “Armed struggle to the end!”
I knew better.
I told Ethiopia’s young people not to be afraid because TPLF ain’t s _ _t.
I told them in Fbruary 2016, to keep on waging their nonviolent struggle because the TPLF is a Beast with feet of clay.
I told them, “When gazed upon, the T-TPLF appears awesome, formidable and infinitely powerful. It has guns, tanks, rockets, planes and bombs. Though the T-TPLF has legs of iron, its feet are made of clay.”
But I had assured Ethiopia’s young people with prophetic certainty, three years ago almost to the month, that the TPLF will soon be smashed and trashed into the dustbin of history in massive nonviolent resistance:
The T-TPLF is fast approaching its day of reckoning. What happens to the T-TPLF is in T-TPLF’s hands. It can choose the path of peaceful change or it can invite violent revolution. Regardless, the T-TPLF Beast will soon be carried away and ‘become like chaff from the summer threshing floors.’ It will be ‘carried in the wind so that no trace of them is found’ and those who have troubled the Ethiopia House ‘shall inherit the wind.’ It is so written!
Today, as I write this commentary, I am deeply moved that what has been written has come to pass with demonstrable accuracy.
Yes, in 2018, Ethiopia’s Abo Shemanes (Cheetahs) became victorious in a nonviolent struggle!
Yes, in 2018, the TPLF got smashed and was swept in the trash bin of history in a nonviolent youth resistance.
In the end, the mighty TPLF cut and run to hide in its self-made kilil hideout with its tail between its legs whimpering like a beaten dog licking its wounds.
“They make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Howling with hunger for their prey, they sneak round and round the walls, prowling with stealthy footstep, and barking in unamiable concert.”
Today, the TPLF whines, moans, groans and cackles from its hideout, “But we are being persecuted because of our ethnicity.”
The TPLF complaining about ethnic persecution to avoid accountability is like the Devil quoting Scripture to save his damnable soul.
But none of it matters because we are free of the TPLF cancer.
True, the TPLF cancer is trying to come back. They are financing terrorism and insurrection with the billions they stole from Ethiopians. They are plotting to set Ethiopian against Ethiopian so they can return to power.
Let the TPLF be forewarned with this prophesy if they continue in their evil ways, “Their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.”
No matter. We are free of the TPLF.
In the words of Dr. King, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty” we are free at last from TPLF thug-rule!
Where do we go from here chaos or community?”
Today, in the United States we celebrate the extraordinary life, achievements and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The third Monday of January, also known as King Day or MLK Day, commemorates Dr. King’s birthday. He would have been 90 years old this year.
My long-time readers know that hardly do I write a weekly commentary without drawing on the words of Dr. King. He has been an inspirational figure in my life since childhood.
The first time I “met” Dr. King was when I was in the ninth or tenth grade, one-half century ago.
I heard an upperclassman at my high school recite Dr. King’s “I have A Dream” speech during assembly.
I was moved by the words as the student passionately recited them from memory. That event is forever etched in my mind.
I day dreamed of the day I would go to America and be part of the youth movements I read about in Newsweek and Time. I did not have much interest in the local socialist-oriented youth movement.
When I arrived in America in June 1970, I fit right in.
As an undergraduate majoring in political science, I even wrote a paper about the relevance of Dr. King’s ideas to the struggle in Africa.
I concluded Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin and Mao Zedong were the future of Africa.
Within a couple of years in America as college student, I was radicalized into believing violence was the way to victory.
My sophomoric mantra was, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
By the late 1970s, as the military junta (Derg) unleashed its “red terror” campaign in Ethiopia killing thousands of young people, including some of my friends and relatives, my views changed.
I learned that it was easy to rationalize the deaths of strangers, but the pain of losing family an friends was simply unbearable.
I began to study nonviolence as a means of political change.
As I read Dr. King, Gandhi and Thoreau in the 1980s, I became convinced the only thing that grows out of the barrel of a gun is death and destruction.
I began to realize violent revolution was a convenient altar for the power hungry and thirsty to sacrifice the blood of innocent people so they can seize power. I realized violence is a never-ending cycle. Violence solves nothing. It dawned on me that the cradle of violence is hate.
Dr. King wrote:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
This past Christmas one of the presents I received from my family was Dr. King’s book, “Where Do We Go From Here Chaos or Community?”
It is a prophetic book filled with hope and confidence in the infinite capacity for goodness in humanity.
Dr. King lays out his vision, dreams, plans and expectations for America’s future.
To me what is extraordinary about this book is best expressed in Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s Foreword.
Mrs. King wrote, the book “stresses the common cause of all the disinherited, white and black, laying the basis for the contemporary struggles… The solutions he offered can still save our society from self-destruction”.
Medemer: The solution to save Ethiopia and America from self-destruction
The eerie query title of Dr. Kings book today gnaws at the back of my mind: “Where Do We Go From Here Chaos or Community?”
We as in “We, the People of the United States”.
We as in “We the people of Ethiopia”, NOT as the so-called nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia.
I have discredited the nonsense about “nations, nationalities and peoples” in Ethiopia.
But where do we go from here in the United States of America and in Ethiopia?
I am not sure if I should say The United States or The Divided States of America.
When I first came to America nearly 50 years ago, I attended a foreign student’s orientation at my college and was told America is a melting pot of races, ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, etc.
That was the first time I heard Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”.
Almost fifty years later, Franklin’s words sound hollow to me.
In today’s America, it seems to me more like united we fall, divided we stand. Stand as in a face-off. Stand as in stand your ground, never give an inch.
Our Congress is divided. Our Supreme Court is divided.
Our country is divided between Red and Blue States, although the flag is red, white and blue. I always believed it was the United (not red/blue) States.
But today, we are divided by race, class, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, language and on and on.
We are divided by citizenship and immigration status. Some of us want to build a wall to keep out the rest of the world out of the land of immigrants.
What happened to our traditional motto, E pluribus unum (out of many, one)?
What happened to the pledge of allegiance, “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?
Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Today, it is, “Just for Us and Just (who cares about) Them.”
In the old days, they used to say, “Americans in unity, and unity in Americans!”
Thomas Jefferson boasted, “The cement of this union is the heart-blood of every American.”
I am afraid there is an evil coursing in the heart-blood of every American.
Division has become America’s leukemia.
I believe hate feeds the cancer of division in the American heart-blood.
As Dr. King said, “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”
But Ethiopians are also not spared the unchecked cancer of hate in heart-blood.
That cancerous hate metastasizes in ethnic arrogance, religious zealotry, intolerance, disdain for the truth and general ignorance of the ways of forefathers and foremothers.
A year ago, I trembled in cold sweat watching Ethiopia inching towards a creeping civil war.
Today, I rejoice in the fact that God has smiled on Ethiopia and steered her away from civil war to civil peace, to civil government, to civility and to civil reconciliation.
Ethiopians have an old saying. “If spiders’ web could be made into twine, it could tie up a lion.”
If thousands of spiders could come together for a common purpose (“Medemer) and work together, they could snag and bag that big ole king of the jungle.
“Medemer” is the only cure to the cancer of hate and division.
Last August, I told Ethiopians the only question they face is Medemer or not Medemer.
This past October, I formulated an equation for Medemer.
M(edemer)= Sc(social capital) x Ac2 (active citizens)
Where Sc is social capital defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, and
Ac is defined as the number of people getting involved actively in their local communities and democracy at all levels (from towns to cities to nationwide activity).
“Medemer” is simply a metaphor for practicing the principle of inclusiveness.
Medemer is based on the principle, “Without you, there is no me. Without me, there is no you.”
In other words, without Oromos, there are no Amharas; without Amharas, there are no Tigreans; without Tigreans there are no Somalis; Without Somalis, there are no Sidama, without Sidama, there are not Woleyita; without Woleyita, there are no Afari; without Afari, there are no Harari; without Harari, there are no Anuak and on and on.
Without each other in Ethiopia, there is only “the other”.
The “other” who is the enemy.
The “other” who must be annihilated.
The “other” who is a stranger among us, even though in every way s/he is one of us, our flesh and blood.
In July 2008, in frustration over who is the enemy in Ethiopia, I wrote a commentaryentitled, “We have met the Enemy. He is Us.”
Dr. King taught is that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others’?”
For me, that question translates, “What are you doing within your power for the powerless, the defenseless, the hopeless and helpless?”
Most importantly, what are political, social and economic leaders saying to be inclusive or divisive?
In the United States, President Donald Trump has chosen the path of division. He wants to create an America of “Us and Them”.
He proclaims, “Let’s Make America Great”.
He is willfully ignorant of the fact that what makes America great is the great American Dream.
The world flocks to America in search of the American Dream.
I believe the dream we all came looking for in the land of immigrants is Dr. King’s “dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
We came looking for Dr. King’s dream that America “will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice” in a global desert of injustice and indifference.
We came looking for Dr. King’s dream that one day we will all “live in a nation [a world] where [we are] not judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.”
I wrote about my great Ethiopian Dream back in 2012.
It is a dream rooted in peace and I-N-C-L-U-S-I-V-E-N-E-S-S.
I insisted on inclusive dialogue to establish an Ethiopia at peace:
To restore Ethiopia to good health, we must begin national dialogue, not only in the halls of power, the corridors of the bureaucracy and the military barracks but also in the remotest villages, the church and masjid meeting halls and other places of worship, the schools and colleges, the neighborhood associations and in the taverns, the streets and markets and wherever two or more people congregate. We have no choice but to begin talking to each other with good will and in good faith.
But what will make Ethiopia great?
When we include everyone into the whole fabric of Ethiopia — that single garment of destiny Dr. King talked about — undivided by ethnicity, religion, language, etc., then we know we have attained greatness in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has chosen the path of inclusiveness to make Ethiopia great.
Every day, he preaches the gospel of “We and Us.”
For PM Abiy, “Us” includes our neighbors who border us, all Africans and all people of the world.
Every day, PM Abiy preaches and teaches the wisdom of Dr. King, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.”
The essence of Medemer is that all Ethiopians are tied together in the single garment of destiny.
We are all part of a single garment of destiny! Not just an Ethiopian and American destiny. We are part of the single garment of human destiny. But what is that destiny?
As Dr. King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
The network of mutuality that Dr. King talked about, as it applies to Ethiopia and America today, is Medemer.
In Ethiopia and in America, we must all practice Medemer — practice living together on the principle of “live and let live” and talking to each other in good faith and in good will — as brothers and sisters, as friends and foes, as country folk and city dwellers, as political and party leaders, as religious leaders, as professionals, as young people, as women, as farmers and workers, as…
That has always been the Medemer message and practice of PM Abiy to his people at home and abroad.
Amazingly, practicing Medemer, PM Abiy welcomed back into Ethiopia individuals, groups and organizations previously damned as “terrorists”, “extremists” and “criminals.”
PM Abiy said anyone who is willing to engage in the peaceful political transformation of Ethiopia is a “winner”.
He said the only losers are those who want to kill, steal, rob and cheat their way into power.
PM Abiy invited all opposition groups to peacefully engage in the political transformation of the country.
He said if his part loses in a free and fair election conducted under broad international supervision, he would walk away from power with no questions asked.
Many accepted PM Abiy’s invitation and committed to the principle of Medemer.
But some chose to perish as fools and today are fomenting terrorism and insurrection throughout the country.
But we all know, there are no fools like old fools!
In conclusion, I want to answer Dr. King’s timeless question for Ethiopia and for America: “Where Do We Go From Here Chaos or Community?”
My answer is crystal clear: We must choose community because we are paying a very high price for chaos.
The P-R-O-B-L-E-M that has brought us to this point of self-destruction in Ethiopia and America is D-I-V-I-S-I-O-N manufactured by power hungry and thirsty so-called leaders.
The S-O-L-U-T-I-O-N that can save our societies from self-destructive division is Medemer!
In his book “Stride Towards Freedom”, Dr. King wrote:
Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
Medemer requires passionate and dedicated exertions by individual Ethiopians and Americans.
Medemer is the only way we can fight the insurgent and primitive forces of hate and division.
Now is the time for vigorous and positive Medemer action in Ethiopia and America.
The alternative to Medemer is foretold by Dr. King:
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.
“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,… [and] see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Medemer in Ethiopia. Medemer in America.