By Yilma Bekele
President Mandela was inspired by the history and people of a place called Ethiopia and today we Ethiopians look at the life of this great man as an inspiration and source of optimism on what is possible when we are willing to practice what we believe to be true.
He stood for dignity and when denied he stood his ground. From menial quarry work to solitary confinement he endured it all. They did not break his faith that right would always triumph over wrong. So many black South African paid with their life as part of the struggle to be free because Madiba showed them freedom comes with a price.
They say they freed him and have a date to prove it. That is not true at all. They confined his body but his African spirit engulfed the world. Mandela has been free all his life it is his jailers that were in prison. They thought they would put him away and he will be forgotten, but he shined like a thousand stars eclipsing the candle light carried by his jailers. He did not disappoint us when given the helm to lead. As usual Madiba saw beyond tomorrow. For that South Africans are grateful. Humanity avoided a long and costly conflict and we are all indebted. War was postponed for another day due to the foresight of a single human being.
That is one way of looking at Mandela. Insistently yapping about the reconciler and peace maker aspect of him is what some are trying to exclusively look at today. They are trying to do to him what they did to MLK. That is not fair or true. It made both a one dimensional figure. My favorite is written by Richard Price “…The primary significance of Mandela and King was not their willingness to lock arms or hold hands with their enemies. It was their unshakable resolve to do whatever was necessary to bring those enemies to their knees. . . . “
For Mandela and ANC the Sharpeville massacre was a lesson on the necessity of self-defense. It also emboldened those that followed his footsteps to seek solidarity with other Liberation fronts to get the necessary training. The old Socialist configuration with the USSR arming and training and the Cubans sacrificing their life the situation in Southern Africa got hot for the white minority regime. They were just smart enough to read the writing on the wall and accept defeat.
The tenacity of the independent fighters, the organizational capability of young leaders such as Stephen Biko, spiritual guidance by various religious leaders such as Noble laureate Reverenced Tutu and the international community’s response led to the defeat of apartheid. Madiba threw the first spear and the struggle entered a new phase.
Mandela’s and the ANC’s struggle for justice and liberty stood on four legs. A) The armed wing. B) Civic Organizations C) Spiritual awakening using places of worship D) Appeal to humanity. That is the blue print for success. That is the proven way to attain independence and unleash the creative potential of the people. You can build on it but you cannot remove any of the legs.
We Ethiopians are fortunate to have showed the young Nelson Mandela that there exists country in Africa that is free and respected and with a long history.
Here for the first time in my life, I was a witnessing black solders being commanded by black generals applauded by black leaders who were all guests of black head of state. It was a heady moment. I only hoped it was a vision of what lay ahead in the future for my country
Our country Ethiopia played a pivotal role in the life of the African National Congress (ANC) and the leaders that nurtured and led that organization. We should deservingly be proud that the our forefathers were able to set an example and show the world that black people are capable of running a country of their own. Today Meles Zenawi and his children are trying hard to make our history small and not that significant but testimony from black leaders both in Africa and the Diaspora Africans all over the world always tell a different story. Who is who black leader looked at our country for inspiration. Our history has been invoked by no other than W.E.B. Du Bois, Markus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela to mention a few. It is nothing to sneer at.
So what is the best way we can celebrate the life of such a wonderful human being? Do we want to be known for paying lip service to the cause of freedom he stood for or do we want to be famous for living by the word of Mandela which we all agree to be inspirational and a recipe for victory. Is it enough to splash his picture all over social media, wear a t shirt with his face on it, and tell all those close and far how much we love Madiba?
The litmus test is simple and can be administered by any layman without the help of an expert. Do you stand for freedom and struggle against those that deny it? That is what Madiba is all about. Freedom and dignity for all humanity and resistance by any means necessary against those that block the road is the Mandela way. That is what we are celebrating this week. Not the death of an individual but joy at what he left behind for us to emulate.
We Ethiopians should look at Madiba with a different set of glasses. Europe and America are celebrating the peace maker Mandela. We on the other hand embrace the ‘stand your ground’ Mandela. That fiercely warrior Mandela is what we need today. That is what the situation in our country calls for.
Mandela trained as a lawyer tried to engage the white South African Government to change in a peaceful manner. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. ANC established Umkohonto we Sizwe (MK) or The Spear of the Nation in 1961 to respond in kind.
Kinijit in Ethiopia enthusiastically embraced the ballot and proved beyond anyone’s imagination the maturity of our people. The TPLF party on the other hand like the white South Africans resorted to repression to protect its ill-gotten power and wealth.
The Sharpeville massacre begat MK and TPLF under the warlord to remain unknown massacred our people in Addis Abeba and that incident begat Ginbot 7 popular Forces and others to self-defend against Woyane atrocity.
The military aspect of our response is taking shape. When the time is ripe I am sure Woyane warlords will feel their presence. Where do we stand on the civic organization wing of our struggle is a good question. We have made lots of progress at home. Andenet, Semayawi Party and a few others are a shining examples of civic engagement. Under difficult circumstances they are constantly devising new ways of raising the struggle to a higher level.
How is the Diaspora doing following on the footsteps of Madiba other than swearing allegiance on social media? The report card is mixed. The Diaspora is the only means our people have at their disposal to make their voice heard. The apartheid regime at home controls everything. We their children are the last resort our people turn to. We have not failed them. No matter rain, heat or snow they always manage to get out and remind the world of the criminal act in the land of the Habesha. God and Allah bless the Diaspora.
There is also the ugly face of the Diaspora. There are a few amongst us that are satisfied with short term personal gains and get rich quick schemes. Mandela had a few of those. The Zulu chief is one that comes to mind. The one whose name the world has forgotten. He did not leave a positive legacy behind. In the old days there were a few Ethiopians that sided with Italy and fought against their own people. They were referred to as Bandas. The Zulu chief and our Bandas did not stop history but they lengthened the misery of their people. What a shame.
Bandas usually do their shameful work at night in the cover of darkness. When exposed they have a ready reply ‘I am helping my country by investing and creating jobs and opportunity.’ You know who used that same argument? It is no other than the Western Democracies that were collaborating with the Apartheid regime that relied on slave labor. They claimed they were creating jobs. It was a fig leaf to cover their greed.
Steven Biko wrote ‘those who professed to worry over Blacks suffering if the economy deteriorated had missed the point. We’re already suffering’ He often reminded us ‘those who live in constant fear of being shot, beaten, or detained without charge, for those whose children already live in abject poverty and near starvation, an economic downturn is not the major area of concern.’ Nobel Laureate Albert Luthuli, president of the African National Congress in one of his speeches said
“The economic boycott of South Africa will entail undoubted hardship for African. We do not doubt that. But if it is a method which shortens the day of bloodshed, the suffering to us will be a price we are willing to pay.”
The question is what would you tell your children when they as ask ‘dad or mom what did you do during the struggle against one ethnic rule in Ethiopia to help yourself and your people be free? How do you think you will answer that question? Is it going to be I stood my ground and helped the Mandelas’ of Ethiopia? Or is it going to be ‘son I was lucky I found my way to America got education and training, met your mom and raised a good family and with the money I made I went back home and invested it on stolen land’ Would you admit to friends and neighbors that you were a Banda stat operated in stealth manner to line up your pocket when your country and people called on you? You realize no matter what you tell yourself that is exactly what you doing dancing with Woyane!
You want to see Ethiopia to be free and her children living to their potential? What better way other than following the trail blazed by Madiba? What is more beautiful other than being free and to live without fear? It is not difficult. Doing the right thing is never difficult. It is always the short cut, the deceitful, the kniving road that is hard and difficult. Like Madiba I have no doubt that one day our home will be free and democratic. We can make that happen sooner than later if we all act like Mandela, have faith like Mandela and love like Mandela. Open your heart and let Mandela inside to guide you. Long live Madiba! Long Live Ethiopia!
By Yilma Bekele