ADDIS ABABA: Mariam sits quietly as she listens to the Friday sermon. Her mind is elsewhere. She believes in change and hopes for her country, Ethiopia. But for her, as a Muslim woman, life in the country is becoming overwhelming at times, she said.
“I think we have to look at all sorts of solutions to what is happening here politically and socially,” said the 20-year-old sociologist student in Addis Ababa. “Muslims have been perceived as violent across the world and this is a danger we all face, but here in Ethiopia, we can be nonviolent and show that things can be different.”
She is not alone, as thousands of Muslims have signed on to the concept of nonviolence as a means for change.
Despite controversial trials that international rights groups have labeled “unfair” in calling on the Ethiopia government to put at end to legal action against Muslim protesters, there is hope in the country that attitudes toward faith are beginning to change at a grassroots level.
Leading that charge are young people, who have been able to come together and work together for what they say is the common goal of “making Ethiopia better.”
Since last October, a group of concerned students have repeatedly told Bikyanews.com that the ongoing tension between the government and Muslims should be ended and they called on the government here in Addis Ababa to do more to ensure that violence does not erupt again.
“We believe that the government is creating this tension and fear of sectarian conflict in the country by not allowing the Muslim population to have their will in their own affairs,” said the group meeting at a cafe.
They added that the youth of the country should be consulted more “because we have connections with one another that goes beyond religious lines.”
“We have for so long been a fragmented country in many ways, with Muslims and Christians battling for their power,” said Teresa, a 21-year-old marketing student and Christian.
“Now, as we have the opportunity to really make a change in how the country is run, we have to move quickly or face the same dictatorship that tore us apart for decades,” she told Bikyanews.com, referring to the iron grip of late PM Zenawi.
Her Muslim counterparts agree that the time is now for change, but how that will happen is anyone’s guess. They remain skeptically optimistic that the country can gather around what Hassan Mahammad said was the country’s most important resource, “the people.”
He argued that “Ethiopia is a large country and we are a diverse people, but that is what makes us special. We can debate and create a new foundation for all people, Muslim, Christian and other for the bettering of our society.”
For these young people, who represent their respective youth communities, they believe that togetherness is the only solution to creating a new Ethiopia with solid foundation in understanding and forward-thinking.
Earlier this month, leading Ethiopian political thinker and professor Alemayehu G. Mariam said the time is now for Ethiopia to have “radical improvements” in its social and political climate following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
“I say today is the perfect time for all Ethiopians to bury the hatchet of ethnic division, religious sectarianism, regional conflict and human rights violations,” Mariam wrote in an opinion article. “It is the perfect time to shake hands, embrace each other and get our noses to the grindstone to build a new democratic Ethiopia where the rule of law is upheld and human rights and democratic institutions respected.”
He argued that the situation facing Ethiopia does not need to be a painful process of change and that the new leadership should learn from the past two decades and its impact on the people.
“Today, not tomorrow, is the best time to put an end to historic hatreds and resentments and open a new chapter in Ethiopia’s history. Today is the best time to unchain ourselves from the burdens of the past, close the wounds that have festered for generations and declare to future generations that we will no longer be prisoners of resentments of the past,” the professor argued.
There is a tentative hope that democracy and human rights can be part of the transition away from authoritarian rule.
Still, many experts have pointed to the reality that Ethiopia is unlikely to see democracy or a change in the status quo, despite the two decades rule of Zenawi coming to an end.
For the university student group made up of Christians and Muslims, they are hopeful that the change can be made for the better.
“We have long face this kind of attack from the government if we speak out, so we really want to see democratic change in Ethiopia because it will mean a better country for all,” the group told Bikyanews.com.
“Ethiopia deserves a country that is not ruled by one person, but a place where citizens and the people have a say in our future.”