BY Alemayehu G. Mariam
It would be an understatement for me to say what happened on June 22 2019 in Bahr Dar, Amhara region of Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa has caused me deep sorrow and anguish. Words fall short in expressing my regrets.
On June 22, 2019, we lost some of our best and brightest political and military leaders in a hail of bullets at the hands of misguided gunmen.
It was a senseless act of political violence reminiscent of Ethiopia’s “Dark Ages”, the last 27 years.
The utopian Ethiopian I am, I asked, “Why must brother kill brother?”
How appropriate poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s edict in his Declaration of Rights, “Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.”
It was a crime of murder that was committed by individuals in uniform on June 22, 2019.
It was a murder that smacks of Shakespearean tragedy.
Brutus was a close ally of General Julius Caesar. But he grew disaffected and joined a faction that opposed Caesar. When that faction was defeated, Brutus surrendered and Caesar granted him amnesty. Much later, Brutus joined another plot which ended in the assassination of Caesar. Brutus committed suicide in the end.
As Caesar was being stabbed to death, he recognized Brutus among the assassins and as he lay dying, Shakespeare wrote, uttered the words, “Et tu Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?).
The political leaders who were massacred in Bahr Dar — Amhara Region President Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen, Attorney General Megbaru Kebede, Advisor Ezez Wassie and others — toiled to free the general who executed them in cold blood from a nearly decade-long imprisonment.
They got that general amnesty and made him a free man. Then they extended him the great honor of joining their leadership to serve the people in the Amhara region.
They trusted their killer as a brother, as a colleague and as a comrade-in-arms. But he proved to be the proverbial man in Ethiopia who “has butter on his mouth but a dagger in his heart.”
I wondered if the last words of the young leaders to the general spraying them with bullets were, “Why? Et tu Brutus! Is this how you repay us for our kindness? ‘No good deed shall go unpunished.’”
The military leaders who were killed in Addis Ababa – General Seare Mekonnen and General Gezai Abera – were brothers in arms to the rogue general who masterminded the Bahr Dar massacres. They served their country honorably, patriotically and above and beyond the call of duty.
All Ethiopians owe a debt of eternal gratitude to the political and military leaders who were massacred on June 22, 2019.
But the general that went rogue and became a villainous murderer was once our friend, our hero and our faithful brother too.
Like Brutus, he was once an honorable man who stood for justice and equality and against oppression and tyranny.
He was once loved by so many of his compatriots for all his sacrifices, for his courage and defiance and for his suffering during long imprisonment.
But our friend and brother suddenly turned into a brutish beast and lost his reason.
He became ambitious and the price he exacted for his ambition was the death of our best and brightest leaders.
I am still reeling in thought trying to fathom the nature of the mind that believes at the end of the second decade of the 21st century that power comes out of the barrel of the gun.
I have come to the conclusion that only the weak will seek power from the barrel of the gun.
The strong fight with the power of their ideas. They need no guns because they know guns are no match for ideas.
Victor Hugo wrote, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
The time has come for many ideas to flower in Ethiopia.
But the time for ideas of war, hate, prejudice, division and exclusion is long gone.
The time for the idea of getting political power by the barrel of the gun has passed.
The time now is for ideas of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, unity, equality.
The time now is for resolving differences by exchanging ideas, presenting new and creative ideas and letting the people decide in the marketplace of ideas which ideas are best.
But as I ponder deeply about the assassination of our distinguished leaders, I have come to the compelling conclusion that they were not murdered by a demented general and his lackeys but an idea that had poisoned their minds and hearts.
It is an idea that drove ordinary human beings with goodness in their hearts and reason in their minds to become stone cold killers.
It is an idea that pulled the trigger fingers of those who committed the cowardly act.
It is an idea that has become a cancer in the bodies and souls of all Ethiopians for the past 27 years.
It is a toxic idea all Ethiopians have been force-fed for the past 27 years.
It is a viral idea that has been programmed deep in the minds of every Ethiopian for the past 27 years.
Those who pulled the trigger on June 22 were programmed robots. They were in a state of mind control. They were brainwashed.
That idea, the software that guided the trigger fingers of the killers on June 22 is “ethnic federalism”.
What is ethnic federalism?
Ethnic federalism is the greatest scam, con job and and finest snake oil of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) ever sold to the Ethiopian people.
It is a poison pill administered daily to every Ethiopian by the TPLF.
Ethnic federalism is bastardized federalism.
It is perverted federalism.
It is fake federalism.
Ethnic federalism is to federalism as fool’s gold is to gold; astroturf is to grass; fake news is to news; silk flowers are to real flowers; margarine it to butter; naugahyde is to leather; military music is to music and imitation crab meat is to real crab meat.
Ethnic federalism looks like federalism, talks like federalism and walks like federalism.
But at close inspection, ethnic federalism is stark naked ethnic apartheid.
That idea of ethnic federalism gave birth to ethnic homelands called kilils or kililistans in Ethiopia just like racial apartheid created bantustans or black homelands in South Africa.
That idea of ethnic federalism created a nation of ethnic robots running a software program that always chooses the wrong binary code.
The people who committed the atrocities on June 22, like many others in Ethiopia, ran the ethnic federalism software and chose hate over love; division over unity; strife over dialogue; revenge over forgiveness; war over peace and falsehood over truth.
So, I say our brothers who died on June 22 were murdered by an idea. By a piece of viral software.
We all carry the ethnic federalism virus in our hearts and minds. The only difference is some of us are better able to keep it under control while others act out in wanton violence.
Let us not be smug in our holier-than-thou attitude.
But for the grace of God, go we.
Let us look around. Let us look into our hearts and minds.
How many of us nurse and harbor the hateful ideology of ethnic federalism?
When we point an accusatory finger at the killers on June 22, let us look at the three fingers that are pointing directly at our hearts.
Let us be mindful the leaders we lost on June 22 are only the latest victims of ethnic federalism.
The idea of ethnic federalism has been killing, maiming and displacing hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians for the past 27 years.
Unless we remain vigilant and defiant, the ethnic federalism that killed our brothers today will kill our Mother Ethiopia tomorrow.
But how do we fight and win against this wicked idea and ideology of ethnic federalism?
In June 1940, when France was under withering Nazi attack driven by an ideology of racial supremacy, the Allies asked, “How are we going to win?”
Winston Churchill on job barely a month spoke to Parliament. “In casting up this dread balance-sheet, contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.”
I, too, contemplating the dangers of ethnic federalism with a disillusioned eye, am filled with dread of potential civil war and civil strife.
But I am in neither a state of panic nor of despair.
Indeed, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion.
That’s why we must always remember the price of liberty, the price of peace, the price of justice and equality is eternal vigilance.
Over the past year, we have witnessed evil never sleeps nor the wicked rest.
I see the hands of the Forces of Darkness behind the trigger fingers of the killers on June 22.
The Forces of Darkness think they cannot be seen because they live in the valley of the shadow of death and orchestrate evil throughout the land.
But we can see them in a candle light of truth. Let it be known we will not trip or fall into the traps they set every day.
We must remain eternally vigilant against those who seek political power through the barrel of the gun.
I am more hopeful than ever the martyrdom of the brothers we lost will usher in a new era of civilized politics where we fight to win hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people with the weapon of uplifting ideas.
I am more hopeful than ever that the blood of the patriots shed on June 22, 2019 will not have been in vain.
Their blood will nourish the oak tree of liberty, democracy and peace in Ethiopia.
There is no point in finger pointing now.
We all share the blame for what happened on June 22.
In July 2008, I wrote a commentary entitled, “We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us”:
Many years ago, there used to be an old comic strip called “Pogo” which appeared regularly in American newspapers. The funny animal characters in Pogo lived in a swamp community, which figuratively represented the diversity of American society and issues facing it. That community began to disintegrate because its residents were incapable of communicating with each other to deal with the most important and urgent issues facing them. They wasted valuable time on non-issues. One day, Pogo saw the swamp they live in filled with debris and litter. In reflective frustration he sighed, “We have met the enemy. He is us!”
Pogo has a very good point. As members of the Ethiopian pro-democracy movement we should look in the mirror and ask basic questions of ourselves: Why can’t we unite as a global force for justice and human rights advocacy in Ethiopia? Why can’t we build strong bridges across ethnic lines and use the language of human rights to communicate with each other? Why don’t we shout together — and often — a mighty shout of protest when the human rights of our Oromo brothers and sisters are trampled by Zenawi day in and day out? Or defend the Amharas when they are maligned as the persecutors of “Tigreans, minority groups and Muslims”? Or speak unreservedly against those who seek to paint all Tigreans with a broad brush of ethnic hatred? Why are we politely silent about the plight of our people in the Ogaden, the Afar and Gambella regions? Where is our outrage — where are our tears — when they were bombed, strafed and slaughtered? Driven from their homes and made refugees by the hundreds of thousands? Why aren’t we joining hands — locking hands — to defend the territorial integrity of the motherland? And so on… Is Zenawi to blame for any of the above? Pogo is right: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.
What I wrote in July 2008 holds compellingly true in July 2019.
If ideas can kill, ideas can also give life. Choose life. Choose Medemer.
How do we fight and win against the toxic idea of ethnic federalism?
In my March 2015 commentary, I explained how the poison of ethnic federalism has destroyed Ethiopia:
The TPLF constitution is designed to create a perpetual disunion, among the Ethiopian people by dividing and corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”. By segregating the people of Ethiopia into communal, linguistic, cultural and regional groups, the T-TPLF put a constitutional scheme in place that would permanently and irreversibly destroy the social glue of tolerance, harmony and understanding that has kept them united as a people for millennia.
But how do we detoxify the poison of ethnic federalism in the blood stream of Ethiopia?
I believe we have the antidote, the silver bullet, that will rid Ethiopia of ethnic federalism once and for all.
The antidote is an idea called Medemer.
Medemer is an idea that resonates the maxim, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
It is an idea that resonates an old Ethiopian saying. “If spiders’ web could be made into twine, it could tie up a lion.”
If 100 million Ethiopians could only lend each other a hand (“Medemer”), they could dismantle and root out ethnic apartheid.
If 100 million Ethiopians could only lend each other a hand (“Medemer”), they could uplift not only Ethiopia but also Africa.
“Medemer” means to help each other. To help means to give a hand, not a handout but a hand up.
Medemer is our roadmap out of the mountainous wilderness of tribalism, poverty, disease and ignorance.
I have written on the idea of Medemer on a number of occasions over the past year.
I have also written on the “The Praxis of Medemer in the Horn of Africa”.
I even created an equation on the “physics” of Medemer:
Are there teachable moments form the tragedy of June 22 2019?
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
We must draw lessons from the crimes of June 22.
Lesson #1: “For all they that take the sword (or gun) shall perish with the sword (gun).”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” There will be no meaningless chaos in Ethiopia today or in the future.
Lesson #2: Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”
Let’s be honest. The evil that lurked in the hearts of those who killed also resides in the hearts of each one of us.
Let’s us not feel smug in “We are holier than thou” attitude.
Let him or her who has not ethnic and communal hatred in their heart be the first one to cast stones.
Lesson #3: We all share the shame and blame.
What happened on June 22 has brought shame and blame to all Ethiopians.
Many have called to tell me of their deep disappointment.
What happened in Bahr Dar is a day of shame for Amhara people. Our enemies will forever say ‘Amhara only kills Amhara’. Amhara cannot be trusted. The killers have given a black eye to all Amharans. Amharans are like crabs in a basket. When one tries to get out, the others will pull him down. The killers did the dastardly deed of our enemies and so on.
(There is even one washed up foreign diplomat who tried to degrade and humiliate Amhara people as political predators. I will guarantee NEVER AGAIN will that old fool slander and scandalize any Ethiopians, let alone Amhara people.)
What happened on June 22 has absolutely nothing to do with Amhara people.
What has happened over the past 27 years under TPLF rule has absolutely nothing to do with the Tigrean people.
It is unfair to scandalize and lump all Amharans with a few demented killers and convict them of guilt by association.
It is unfair to scandalize and lump all Tigreans with a few corrupt thugs and convict them of guilt by association.
We should never generalize and stereotype an entire people by what good or evil a few individuals do.
We should never judge the apple orchard by few rotten apples.
Lesson #4: The evil that men do lives after them. Let us not condemn to eternal damnation the misguided and misbegotten individuals who committed the atrocities on June 22. But let us use the ugly experience to teach the youth the admonition of Niccolò Machiavelli, “He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must fall with the greatest loss.”
What can I say of those who sought power in the sword and not the word?
I will paraphrase the words of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar to express my feelings:
Friends, Ethiopians, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to eulogize my brothers who were cut down in the prime of their lives, not to send their killer to eternal damnation.
The evil that men do lives after them.
The good is oft interred with their bones.
So, let it be with the misbegotten who chose to walk on the dark side, on the path of death and destruction, on June 22, 2019.
Lesson #6: Ethiopia will have peace when the power of love of Ethiopia overpowers the love of power to rule Ethiopia.
“The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.”
Without peace, there is no democracy, human rights, good governance. There is no Ethiopia without peace.
There shall be no peace for the wicked.
But have no doubts.
Ethiopia will have peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
It is a maxim that guides those who seek to deliver the message of peace and reconciliation to humanity.
It is a message that teaches true peace is found between individuals or nations by restoring broken relationships in a reconciliation process.
Ethiopia is truly blessed to have a blessed young peacemaker.
He walks the talk of peace, forgiveness, truth and reconciliation.
God smiled on Ethiopia when He gave her Abiy Ahmed.
They died with their boots on!
I shall always observe June 22, 2019 as “Peace Builder Patriots Day” because every one of the leaders gunned down in cold blood driven by the ambition for power sacrificed their lives for the peace and prosperity of all Ethiopians.
June 22, 2019 was our darkest day. It was the finest hour of our fallen brothers.
“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.”
Our brothers tasted death unafraid and valiantly living out the oath of service they took before their people.
They died manning their posts.
They died with their boots on.
Their patriotic deeds shall live forever.
Today, our hearts are in the coffins with our brothers.
We will pause for just a while, and soon we shall put our shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone and finish the job our brothers started.
May they all rest in peace in the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people.
May their families be showered with blessings and comfort.
WE SHALL OVERCOME!