By Yilma Bekele
It is only four weeks ago when a few of us drove down from Oakland to San Jose to attend the Public Hall meeting called by the Ethiopian Government. We don’t really recognize the current Ethiopian regime as a democratically elected representative of the people, thus one of the reasons for our trip was to peacefully protest this illegal event and at the same time teach our own people and the American citizen regarding the nature of the TPLF regime and cry loudly for the voiceless, the silenced ones.
It was a sad event. Protesting against ones own people is never easy. It feels like washing one’s dirty linen in public. But it has to be done. Silence is our number one enemy. I agree with Elie Wiesel who wrote ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’ They tried to silence us by calling the police. The police told them ‘it is a free country and we can protest to our hearts content as long as we don’t infringe upon the freedom of others.’ They picked and choose who can attend and refused entry to some they defined as un-desirable. During question and answer time they decided who gets the microphone. We watched them in amazement. It was a choreographed event with no soul, no love and no life. It was a cadre convention. The blind leading the blind is what we saw.
We drove down to San Jose one more time this weekend. You can tell this trip was different. Everybody was in a festive mood. It was a bright beautiful Saturday and the gathering of all this Ethiopians to do good made it brighter. We drove fast. We shouted and we argued in good nature and San Jose got a lot closer this time around. This time we were attending a fundraising event for ESAT. Dr. Berhanu and Ato Tamagne were the invited guests. We were driving mad to help support the voice of freedom. As Dr. Berhanu said ‘our own Aljazeera.’
When people work with passion they do miracles. The mother of all Ethiopian flags was brought out and computer, projector and sound were weaved out of thin air. Ethiopians showed up on time. Some showed up early. I believe we are onto something. You can tell this meeting was different. No one was impatient. They just kept arriving. We kept adding more chairs.
And thenTamagne showed up on the stage. He does not have to do anything. His presence was enough. You can feel over three hundred brains working in harmony. They all show heightened sense of happiness and this uncontrollable urge to scream with delight. I was standing in the back and I saw them being electrified. People sat up straight. They were all smiling. To frown would have been totally rude and out of place. Tamagne exudes Ethiopia. Tamagne knows how to work that. What is fact and what is fiction gets blurred. The joke becomes a ‘Eureka’ moment and you start to see what is right in front you. He gets you totally immersed in the story the message sips in by osmosis. I told you he is good. He had the place in perfect sync. You know what? You can’t get enough of Tamagne.
I was worried. Dr. Berhanu is next and how do you follow Tamagne. That is the Ethiopian in me, always anxious. Well, it was all for nothing. Our Dr. has this rare ability to relate. Dr. Berhanu has perfected the art of reducing stuff into their simplest form. That must be the teacher in him. When he speaks he talks to you. He connects the dots and one start to see the picture. Please don’t ask him to finish it for you. He will send you to remedial class. Ask Meles he will tell you. Dr. Berhanu deals with facts not rumors. He tells you as it is not as the way you would like to see it. He does not evade question but meets it head on. You get to see why he is loved and respected by so many while he brings out the hate in some. The professor does not suffer fools gladly.
ESAT was celebrated as never before. The whole house was in such euphoric mood and the Ying and the Yang were in perfect harmony. Contributions for ESAT came like tis esat falls. It was raining money. Guess who shows up to prove the need for a free and independent press in Ethiopia? None other than our unfriendly neighborhood Woyane that is who. It was a perfect picture. The same folks that were standing outside and pointing out Ethiopians that are not allowed to attend their meeting four weeks earlier and the person that was on the podium with the TPLF officials as chairman were sitting comfortably in our festival. We were happy to see them. Not a soul asked them to leave. We saw it as a teachable moment.
Our Woyanes were in a hostile mood. They were ready for question and answer moment. They assumed we would deny them the microphone. They were taken by surprise. Our microphone was awarded on first come basis. You raise your hand first and you are the first to ask. When their turn came they were given the microphone. Their first questioner decided ‘insulting’ the house was the best strategy. Poor Abbay was the foil. Our grand father looking Woyane told the house to be thankful because in his own words ‘before Meles showed up we were not even aware of Abay’! Yes he said that and he was allowed to say it. You can feel the tension in the assembly but not a soul moved to object to such verbal aggression. He was provoking us. He was in search of chaos. We were more irritated than angry.
A few questioners later the second Woyane decided to change tactics. First he complained the way Dr. Berhanu answered his friend’s question and said ‘I found your answer condescending’ and went on and on some tirade. Since he was not asking but rather making a long statement he was asked to please hurry up since others were waiting for their turn. He was not interested in a dialogue but went on to hurl more insults in a loud manner. That was the feather that broke the camels back. Our friend was hauled out unceremoniously. His comrades tried to intervene but it was futile. The door was closed and the meeting continued as if nothing happened. TPLF cadres do not seem to understand that being allowed to ask a question is a privilege not a right.
The fact we are raising money for independent media for our motherland speaks a lot. We are not investors looking for profit. We do not have any agenda of our own that we are trying to pursue. Out two guests traveled across the continent for free. We are doing all this because independent media is not allowed in Ethiopia. Our country is only one of a handful on this planet where the government deicide what the citizen hears, watches and views. The regime controls all media. That was why we got together to raise money for ESAT. That is Ethiopian Satellite Television. ESAT is the fruit of some patriotic Ethiopians that donated their time and money to this noble cause. ESAT is not affiliated with any party or ideology but the truth.
ESAT has been under siege since birth. Meles Zenawi vowed in public to cripple ESAT. Based on his own admission his salary is not enough to wage a war against ESAT. He was vowing to use the taxpayer’s money to wage his private war. Believe me a country is a formidable enemy. Poor ESAT has been tossed around like a boat in stormy seas. First it was ArabSat but Meles and company checkmated with our beloved Sheik, then onto Thailand and AsiaSat, crap the Chinese probably launched the Satellite and the orbit requires a special gizmo on the dish. Well that is not good is it? It is like announcing ‘here Mr. Woyane look at me.’ ESAT is on the third or forth satellite. You know what ESAT is still alive because so many wish it to succeed. ESAT defines our common dream of Independence. ESAT is the voice of freedom.
Our gathering was to raise funds for ESAT. Because the Meles regime denies the citizen to be informed by independent media we are compelled to use our limited resources to combat censorship. Today we have millions of people starving, millions of kids with out vaccination, millions without adequate schools, teachers or books but the regime is spending millions to block ESAT and our independent Web sites.
The Meles regime does that because we let them. There is no victimizer without a victim. History shows victimizer will not relent without the victim demanding it. Some enable the victimizer by their silence while a few due to lack of the moral strength to stand up to bullies. Meles and a few of his friends decide the fate of eighty million people. We make all kinds of excuses for our failure to stand up for what is right. We make the argument for him to cover our fear and cowardice. We allow less than a thousand cadres lord it over eighty million souls. It is a shame.
The gelgel Woyanes that showed up at our fundraising were doing what comes naturally to cadres following orders. Their job is to show up and create chaos. Their aim is to insult, degrade and intimidate us. If it was in Ethiopia they will be armed.
ESAT will help us regain our self worth. Our Saturday afternoon festival was to enable our people get different perspective unfiltered by Woyane censors. Those that gathered that Saturday afternoon came to collect money so ESAT will do its job. There is a bright cloud of change coming to our country. That it is coming is not the question, the gist of the matter is, are we ready? I believe ESAT is one of the tools that will help create a well-informed and smart citizen. A conscious citizen is the best defense against tyrants and dictators. That is why the Ethiopian regime is hell bent in blocking ESAT and that is why we freedom lovers have vowed to make ESAT strong enough to penetrate their flimsy weak curtain. Go to http://www.ethsat.com/ and donate. Organize ESAT support group in your neighborhood and help ESAT. TPLF owns the Internet, television transmission, radio and newspaper and we got ESAT.