By Fasika Woldesenbet
Why are We, Ethiopians living abroad having difficulty to come together? I usually prefer face to face conversations,but I feel like we need to talk even though we don’t know each other, because we share a common destiny. It is long, but this is what I want to talk to you about today which has been my observation for a while, hope it is useful to start a conversation as children’s of mother Ethiopia. Below I listed what I think our society, especially those who live abroad is not using effectively for various reasons, “ITS HUMAN RESOURCES” to bring change in Ethiopia. We cannot wait for a messiah to do it for us. We have to start to talk and organize with what we have in our area, because individual actions and change can benefit us all collectively, and the potential of every single positive thought and change cannot be undermined. Therefore, I listed below my observation, why I think we are standing divided, and how we can either change the circumstances or use them the way they are to bring change in Ethiopia. If we are unable to make the bystanders rally with us the way we think is the right way, I also listed how we can assist them or support their efforts in their own way to channel their potential towards building a just society in Ethiopia.
A lot has been said about ethnic divisions so I won’t say much about it, but being from a certain ethnicity or born from a certain ethnic member parents by itself in today’s Ethiopia, allows or deprives one from privileges a citizen should have in her/his own country. That is very dangerous and those from the current privileged ethnicity need to see the danger, and also need to work with fellow Ethiopians, but if they cannot see the divide and are unwilling to cross the divide, those who realize the divide is there need to go across first, and educate as much people as possible than letting hatred grow towards each other.
Some people work for their success, and others inherit a fortune just because they are born from a well to do family. Luck or fate can determine how one can start his/her own life and how the future will be, either full of opportunities or full of struggles. Therefore, a person’s life in Ethiopia as anywhere else in the world is not immune from being privileged in fortunes or misfortunes of material and immaterial worth, because he or she is born from a privileged class. Class thus, affects one’s understanding of situations, and creates a divide between citizens of the same country at home or abroad, and deter them from coming together for the same cause, since one’s fortune is secured with another’s misfortune and oppression. Also, when an Ethiopian is well-established abroad and live in comfort and has access to everything where he/she had settled, or whether in his/her home country had managed to accumulate or inherit wealth because of who they know or are born from, unless fate brings them down to see the hardship of their fellow Ethiopians at the lowest class, they are out of touch from the rest of society with or without their knowledge. Since, they live, wine and dine in an isolated and fenced community, it is possible to grow up without realizing the meaning of being poor and why. This does not mean there are no privileged Ethiopians who have managed to see across the class divide and are now doing their best to bring change in Ethiopia, it is to say that it is not enough. Thus, efforts need to start to rich out, address, and include these out of touch and isolated elite in Ethiopia and abroad, because their enormous wealth, expertise and connection is key to the struggle to liberate Ethiopia. We should remember that it is the children of elites who have ignited a revolution, and died in vain to dismantle the empire their parents have built for generations in the 1974’s revolution.
Same as class, for any Ethiopian as any human being, their education level and knowledge production is determined by the ability of her/his parents to send them to a school, and to which school available and affordable. This does not mean that individuals aided by their natural gift did not and will not succeed in life regardless of their education level and quality; however, a nation’s future collectively will be determined in the type of educated population’s capacity it brings to the work force at home, and those who will face the global job market using such educational background will be in for success or failure based on the acceptance or rejection of their grades and knowledge level. This will also affect dialogue among Ethiopian’s due to their lack of understanding to critically communicate and effectively collaborate on decisive issues that need a common understanding in efforts to establish a just and equitable society in Ethiopia.
Immigrants are not always granted stable residency and work opportunities that allows them to live in comfort and dignity all the time. Since most Ethiopian immigrants are dispersed around the world either legally or illegally, the negative experiences they will go through while they are waiting for their resident visa in refugee camps or the hardship they face while they await a response for their asylum cases, if they are even lucky and granted a permit cannot be undermined. After such harsh experiences it is understandable if their comradeship with humanity, especially with fellow Ethiopians will be minimal if not none at all. The negative memory of Ethiopians who hired them to do way below minimum wage jobs, and threaten them that they will be reported to legal services if they complain, or look down on them, abuse them, harass them etc…might force them to run away from anything Ethiopian. This does not mean though, such devastated fellow Ethiopian brothers and sisters who suffered multiple times in political and economic situations beyond their control in their home country and abroad, are not victims of the same regime they run away from, but lack of empathy to understand their situation, undermining their potential and number, and excluding them from political discussions and decision making is one of the grave mistakes Ethiopian activists make that requires genuine and swift measures.
This does not require much analysis as any human being who cannot work and get along with others, Ethiopian activists and politicians, whether they are sincere and truthful or not, if they cannot work with others, it will be hard for others to come together and channel their capacity in an organized manner. Selflessness is thus, one of the key characters those who decide to live and die for others need to display and exercise, because if issues that arise while working in unison arise, and they are taken personal instead of focusing on the main issue they come together for in the first place, it won’t be beneficial to the cause they believe in at all. Ego and jealousy will blind us with hate. Although it is good to analyze and critique individual’s opinion, weigh the motive of their opinion, critique the speeches they made, and critique the article they write top to bottom, if we do not separate the issue from the person, working together will obviously be harder. Pushing away dedicated individuals, who want to see change in Ethiopia, is not the solution to come together as well. Since such individuals dared to come forward without anyone’s request, they have more to offer and are self-motivated to do more than individuals who are recruited and convinced after so much effort; therefore, if talented individuals have difficulty to work in groups, it may be essential to assign them to perform a post that does not require so much interaction with people.
Most Ethiopians, activists, politicians as well as the general public in the diaspora had witnessed the killing and distractions of their family members and loved one’s either in Haile Selassie, Mengistu, and/or Meles’s era, and the misery continues in Hailemariam’s “Bajaj” administration (some joked on HD’s leadership supported by 3 deputies as the three wheeled vehicle called Bajaj in Ethiopia). It does not require to be a Psychiatrist to understand the trauma people had and are still going through, because of blood shed war and revolution that had tormented the lives of many young and old Ethiopians by their own fellow Ethiopians. Such horrifying experiences may scare people away from the political conversation, but their talent and knowledge should not be wasted. If these individuals shy away from politics, they should not be condemned and considered as uncaring for Ethiopia; instead vocational, relief, and non-political organizations should be created and led by such fellow brothers and sisters to cultivate and educate the next generation, Just because someone did not come together to political rallies and meetings for reasons that they don’t want to talk about, they are not enemies or traitors.
Almost all religions forbid killing or harming a fellow human being, and some religions go as far as caring for an insect’s life which makes it very difficult to bring people together in a deeply religious society such as Ethiopia to rally for change which at times may lead into violence. It is still a dilemma for me to reconcile the idea of using weapons for freedom, or dying in vain and without resistance for a principle under regimes who shoot first and ask later. At the same time it is written in religious and historical texts that there were wars fought between rulers, believers and non-believers, and even the heavens allied with the oppressed to grant the freedom of groups and individuals. It is written that oppressors have paid the price, but still since the justification is not clear whether or not to involve in violence for freedom, I ask religious scholars to clear the blur. Either way, we have witnessed to see church members having difficulty to take part in rallies about the distraction of Waldiba Monastery as if rallies are set aside for politicians only. Two things can be done in my opinion to resolve the lack of support from the religious mass in efforts to establish a just society in Ethiopia: one, is for religious leaders to educate their followers that human right violations are not God’s will even when targeting other religions, and that such violations can be stopped or resisted; two, allow those who do not believe in secular ways of resolving spiritual issues to actively and consistently use their spirituality to aid the process of change making in mass prayers, fasting, and religious activities at their assemblies, instead of condemning them for not rallying to parliaments and senate offices.
Generations are full of changes and improvements or otherwise when compared to previous ones. Again this is not taking place only in Ethiopia. Nostalgia is killing us alive when we lose our traditions in a speed of light in a rapidly changing and transforming global culture, and that when we witness the fading of cultures that used to be dear to us and our ancestors in Ethiopia.
What we should not forget is that something’s are beyond our control, and either we change our pace to catch up or be left wondering how every country get where they are while we are shaking our head in disbelief. Whether we like it or not our children’s dream is also moving away from ours, as we sing Blues, and look back in despair and fight to save what we cannot they will be rocking with full force. Another important point to note is that society was not always how it was when we grow up; it has also evolved to get to where it was and of course there was always resistance to go with the flock when new cultures emerge. When Telephone was introduced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we know people thought it was the devil’s work, but today even guards and domestic workers in Addis use cell phones, and their bosses do not need to call them for telephone when their family and friends want to reach them anymore. Coming back to the main point, the next generations’ interest transcend borders in efforts to save the environment or care for humanity, while ours revolve around ethnic lines and minor divisions that can be solved in genuine dialogue. The question is how can this huge number of youth in Ethiopia, and those who are second and third generations abroad can rally to become change makers in Ethiopia and the East African region? It is pioneers of different countries who immigrated to North America that changed its future and managed to create prosperity despite its tragic part of affecting the
Native’s lives; therefore, the future of Ethiopia can also be transformed if this huge number young and energetic generation abroad work in collaboration with fellow youth in Ethiopia to exchange knowledge and material. Listen up change makers, this is also another project that needs proper channeling and structure, but until then we can start to get our children sponsor a child in Ethiopia that can be a relative and supply their books, and materials that they need for survival instead of waiting until change takes place officially in the country. A generation of talented and capable youth can be raised both in Ethiopia and abroad while demanding to bring change.
Foreign, Foreign, Foreign!
Lack of respect for traditional values and ways had affected us enormously in the past, and will hurt us more unless we try to retain and modernize it in some ways. Although I contested not to be tied with nostalgia, it is not to say what we had as one of the oldest nations in the world is not beautiful and precious in many ways, but we should not make a mistake of putting ourselves above others, because being a primary in anything does not grant remaining that way forever. Other nations have built on what was and still is ours in many ways, and had become very powerful, and reached way ahead than many ancient civilizations have reached. It also does not mean their civilization remains primary in terms of technology as it is now forever. If Ethiopia was once a powerful nation, there is no way that it wouldn’t become a major player at a global level again. The evidence that poverty and hunger is not biological for Ethiopians is, that Ethiopia’s dear children had help to transform the world and are still doing their best to build a better world in the fields of Science, Medicine, Research, Technology, Economics, Politics, Engineering, Finance, Policy-making, Defense, Education, Sports, Art, etc… Many professionals and scholars are also scattered around the world doing survival jobs. Many may be forced to migrate for fear of persecution and settled abroad, but many are still migrating and dying to migrate abroad and will do anything to leave Ethiopia even if they are doing well, just for the sake of being abroad, because anything foreign is becoming a target in our culture. One thing we are missing is, if the mass with privileges and knowledge left the country, who will be left to resist and organize the general public against tyranny? Also, if we are looking for solutions for our problems, it comes from within, because the very same society we run away from also shares the same values that we value, and will be affected primarily if the country is affected once things start shaking. However, currently the Ethiopian education policy values what is only western, we rally for help to anything western, we want to look and talk as everything western, even our solutions for conflicts in family and society is becoming only western, and thus we shouldn’t be surprised if our society breaks apart. “Yageerun Serdo, Be Ageru Bere” newina! If a husband and wife or neighbours get into a dispute, I can say in almost all Ethiopian societies used to be resolved in restorative justice, be it not fare or fare for the sake of the children or the common values they share as a society they manage to bring rivals together. But, now from minor conflicts to major disputes including the border issue between Ethiopia and Eritrea, we sit with foreigners to resolve issues in arbitration, and of course one will win if the other loses, so conflicts will not be resolved without leaving grudge at the losers’ heart. Our ancestors thought us to compromise and reach into agreements while both sides willingly give up a little for the sake of everyone’s well being. Even the technological advanced societies that we envy so much, are trying to learn from our traditional ways of farming, cuisine, music, education and justice systems to merge it with their own in their efforts of always excelling their society. We on the other hand live and die to become foreign in every way. The heritage sites and traditional schools in Ethiopia, Monasteries, and Madrasa’s are not only religious schools, but also museums and libraries that bridge today and tomorrow with what was once the brain child of our ancestors that we can also build on; therefore, the collection and protection of what is left can also be led and assisted by scholars in Ethiopia and abroad, before we are left with nothing to refer to.
Lack of self-reflection
Last but not least, I noticed that we live in our bubbles that we have created where comforting conversations and dialogues take place between peers who think and behave the same with less or no objections. We even have a custom that we say “she/he is right… I think like that too”
What is this? What if he/she thinks differently, does that mean she/he is the enemy? It can be painful to be rejected, but as a society I believe we have to get used to being around with those who do not agree with our position. I also believe why these isolation and at the same time longing for unity or other similar mistakes cannot be corrected sooner is, again because we leave in a bubble. No one dares to tell us we are going in the wrong direction, since either they are afraid to be an outcast or they do not see it themselves since they are doing the very same thing. I am not an expert, but from what I observed the key to resolve this in my opinion is to go to places or hangout with people that we currently think are painful to deal with, because, if it hurts it is for sure out of our bubble, because in the bubble we are protected from such pain, we are comfortable with what takes place there, it is safe, it’s our zone.
Also, solitude I noticed is the best favour we can do to ourselves and our country, especially if we want to be agents of change for humanity. As we are communal beings, we may not like to spend time alone, especially in today’s society mostly for those who live abroad, work, school, family, friends, and volunteerism (for passion and principle) make our time so overcrowded that we have no time to be alone even if want to, and don’t forget telephone calls and social media in between as well. When are you going to be alone? We may even be afraid to be alone, because that’s when questions from our conscious hammer us from left and right with issues we want to deny or forget. However, if we cannot go through out this pain and listen to our hearts and reflect on what we are thinking, doing or is taking place around us or that we are part of, how can we improve our situation and change our attitude towards others? In such critical moments of Ethiopia’s history, as much as it seems a luxury that I am asking for dedicated individuals who may have to skip a meal or two to finish something, I strongly believe it will beneficial for us all if they stay alone for some time each day to just think! I also urge public figures to stay away from the crowd that cheer for them for various reasons and be alone to just to think! No phone calls, no social media, no bubble buddies, no encouraging family to make them happy even if they know what they are doing is wrong, just to be alone for a while each day and think! You can call it a prayer, meditation, self-reflection or retreat, but especially if you are deeply involved in bringing change in Ethiopia or busy in making the lives of Ethiopians miserable and even if you are part of the ruling regime, I don’t know you and so you know it is not personal, but I ask you for the sake of your stable future, to stop whatever you are involved in and just think! Do yourself and all of us a favour and think alone, about your thought, about your actions, or what you are capable of to bring positive change, and to stop unnecessary harm on others. I hope, wish and pray this self-reflection will not be the first; there is no one who does not love his mother, so I ask you in the name of your mother to do the same as often as possible. Self-reflectionis not just for the sake of being hard on ourselves, but my fellow Ethiopia’s children, it is for the sake of humanity, because if we are always busy to do something and never stop and review our actions and its outcome, there will be no WE tomorrow.