By Alemayehu G. Mariam
For Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the question was, “To be or not to be.”
For me, the question is “medemer or not medemer.”
Hamlet, perplexed in the extreme about his own fate, pondered “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/…
I, also perplexed in the extreme about the fate of Ethiopia, ponder why some people who proclaim their love for Ethiopia choose not to help Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew as the do all of the heavy lifting in transitioning Ethiopia from dictatorship to democracy.
It appears some people prefer to stand on the sidelines and carp and whine about why the troika have not solved all of Ethiopia’s problems in five months.
If all the whining windbags on the sidelines would put their shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone, it may be possible to solve all of Ethiopia’s problems overnight. But they think they can heave “Poof!” and solve all of Ethiopia’s problems with hot air.
In 2018, Abiy Lemma and Gedu deflected many slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, prevented a civil war and transformed an Ethiopia in a deep sea of troubles into an Ethiopia in incredible sea-change.
Six months ago, I trembled in cold sweat watching Ethiopia inching to a creeping civil war. Today, I rejoice in the fact that God has smiled on Ethiopia and steered her away from civil war to civil peace, civil government, civility and civil reconciliation.
I give full credit to Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew for their extraordinary work in transforming a sure-fire civil war into an abundance of civil peace, despite the diabolical shenanigans of the Forces of Darkness.
In a recent speech, Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, the stalwart of Ethiopian human rights, said at this moment in Ethiopia’s history, the only question is whether to help Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and their team or to forfeit the chance and once again face the abyss.
Over the past several months, I have been asking the same question in a different form: Ask not what Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew can do for Ethiopia, ask what you can do for Ethiopia.
In other words, both I and Prof. Mesfin are asking everyone to share in the heavy lifting by doing our small part. We are asking everyone to practice what Abiy Ahmed calls “Medemer” or help each other as a core element of our Ethiopiawinet.
The enormous job of building the New Ethiopia is the responsibility of 100 million Ethiopians, not three individuals.
If only we could all pile up (“Medemer”) and do our little parts for the greater good of Ethiopia!
Ethiopians have an old saying. “If spiders’ web could be made into twine, it could tie up a lion.” If thousands of spiders could come together for a common purpose (“Medemer) and work together, they could snag and bag that big ole king of the jungle.
If 100 million Ethiopians could only lend each other a hand (“Medemer”), they could uplift not only their country but also the world.
“Medemer” means to help each other. To help means to give a hand, not a handout but a hand up.
We have so much strength in our hands to help each other.
We pack enormous kinetic energy when we make a fist by simply bringing those puny fingers into a fist.
Ten fingers working together (“Medemer”) can change the world for good or bad. The surgeon holding a scalpel in his fingers saves life. The trigger finger on a gun takes life. The fingers of the artist, author and musician create beauty. The demagogue wags his finger to sow conflict and discord.
When 5 puny fingers come together (“Medemer”), they make a powerful fist. When 10 fingers multiplied 100 million times come together, they can lift up a country.
That is what Abiy Ahmed’s “Medemer” means to me. One billion fingers coming together to lift up Ethiopia out of the miry pit poverty, disease, ignorance and ethnic division and hate.
I hear the nattering nabobs of negativism downplay “Medemer” as “just a political slogan. It does not mean anything.” They are missing the point.
“Medemer” is simply practicing the principle of inclusiveness.
In South Africa, they call their inclusiveness “Ubuntu” (I am because you are.” In other words, you are part of me and what happens to you affects me too.) For Mandela, Ubuntu is the “profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.”
As far as I am concerned, Abiy Ahmed’s “Medemer” is no different than Mandela’s Ubuntu. “Medemer” is all about cooperation, collaboration, consultation, common cause, give-and take, partnership, alliance-building, team work, giving a hand up and creating synergy for the common good.
“Medemer” is also rooted in MLK’s idea of “solidarity and concern for the good of others” because we “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said:
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
To me, that is all “Medemer” is all about: Being tied together in the single garment of destiny and being caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.
The alternative is to perish together as fools. How closely we came to perishing together as fools!
When we practice “Medemer”, we will be doing what Dr. King decreed: Walk together, work together, go to jail together, celebrate together, cry together, laugh together, pray together, sing together, and live together in peace until that day when all God’s children – Amhara, Oromo, Tigray, Somali, Gurage, Wolayita, Sidama, Afar and the other 75 or more groups of the Ethiopian family — will rejoice in one common band of humanity.
When we practice the inclusive politics of “Medemer”, in the poetic words of James Weldon Johnson, we
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won…
When we develop a robust culture of inclusiveness, our identity becomes our humanity. We focus on what makes us human, and not a member of an ethnic group, religion or region.
When we practice “Medemer”, we rise up from our narrow ethnicity to our inclusive humanity or Ethiopianity.
When we practice inclusiveness or Ethiopiawinet, we no longer think in terms of “I, me, mine”. We scale up to think about “We, us, ours” as human beings bound in a single garment of destiny called the New Ethiopia.
It is by being inclusive that we can create a peaceful and harmonious society where everyone feels they belong, which means they feel included.
When everyone feels included and becomes part of the Ethiopian family, “Medemer” becomes our song of faith, of hope, of freedom, of democracy, of equality, of justice.
“Medemer” ushers in our new day, our New Ethiopia, before the rising sun and becomes our anthem, not a slogan, as we march till victory is won.
Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam: The question is to help or not to help Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Team Abby-Lemma?
When Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam talks, most of us listen, and not necessarily because we agree with him. Many who disagree with him also listen. For many, he has been a teacher in the classroom and for many more an advocate-teacher in the courtroom of public opinion.
Prof. Mesfin is an inspiration to me.
To me, before he was a university professor, he was a professional dissenter. He has lived the hard, onerous and intellectually lonely life of the dissenter always speaking his truth to users, abusers, misusers and losers in power.
During his 88 years on the planet, all of the powers that be in Ethiopia have wagged their index fingers at him, clenched their fist in his face and pushed and shoved him in and out of jail. Like the indefatigable camel, he kept on walking. He kept on talking, teaching, preaching and outreaching as the dogs of state kept on barking and baring their teeth at him.
I was brought to tears when he told a gathering a few days ago [translated by author]:
… It is after such a long time that I have been invited to appear at a gathering like this. I am not the kind of person who is invited to attend gathering like this. The fact that I am invited to this event is testament to how much Ethiopia has changed. I thank you [for inviting me] not privately for myself but for Ethiopia. All of you who are here, just like me, perhaps are not the type who would have been invited to attend such a gathering. Today, we are here and so has Ethiopia.
The question now is how do we create an Ethiopia in which all of us will live in dignity, live peacefully, live proudly as Ethiopians. We are the ones who can make her so. To achieve this, we must purge self-centeredness from our character… We must unite and if do we will not go to bed hungry.
These days I have seen things I have not seen in my life. I am 88 years old. I have seen many governments since the time of the Italian invasion . Until this time when God has sent us the two people, Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megerssa, whom I believe are Godsend to us from Heaven, [I had little hope]. These people have ideas, spirits and objectives they want to plant in the country. We must join them (Medemer) and strive to plant the same ideas, spirit and objectives. That is the question now. There is no other question. There is no question of self-centeredness. How do we help these people who have come with new aims plant their objectives in Ethiopia? How do we help them so that what they are doing lasts a long time, for our children and grandchildren? That is the question. We must help them plant those ideas and objectives for all Ethiopian citizens, not ethnicities. Personally, for however long time I have, I don’t know if I have one or two years, I pledge to help these people by doing everything I can do…
Prof. Mesfin and myself are arguably the first out of the gate in the human rights advocacy community to fully endorse and defend PM Abiy Ahmed.
In an Amharic commentary on April 22, 2018, Prof. Mesfin explained:
… Abiy is just starting. As he said himself, he is beginning to do his first task. He is just taking his first steps. Let alone running, he is barely walking. But it appears there are many standing in the shadows to ambush him. I believe he is crisscrossing the country to save our people from dangerous intrigues. In my estimation, those who are expressing bitter opposition against him could be transformed into becoming his supporters…
How true. Those who opposed Abiy Ahmed in the beginning are today his die-hard fans and cheerleaders.
I gave PM Abiy Ahmed my unconditional support in my 6,755-word open letter six days after he took office.
I supported him because I knew he would be facing a gathering storm of doubt, condemnation, skepticism, fear mongering, criticism, baseless accusations and enmity. I knew he needed help and fast. That is why I assured him from day 1, I have his back.
I also gave him a couple of useful pieces of advice I have followed in my life.
One advice comes from Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist who said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that determines the outcome, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” That is how David defeated Goliath. Abiy too can prevail.
In my second piece of advice, I told him to heed an old adage about the devil and the storm. To those who say you are not strong enough to weather the storm, I want you to tell them, “I am the storm”. To those who do not believe you are the storm, tell them, “I am the calm in the eye of the storm.” To those who do not believe that, tell them, “Just wait and see Cheetahs raining down on you.”
Over the past seven months, Stormin’ Abiy has changed so many things, my head spins just thinking about it all.
Why we must help Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew (Team Abiy) in the heavy lifting to bring democracy to Ethiopia
Reason No. 1: To put it bluntly, Team Abiy is the best hope we have right now for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. No question about it!
There are many politicians who talk big and blow smoke.
Abiy, Lemma and Gedu talk the talk and walk it too!
Seven months ago, Ethiopia was on the verge of civil war. Today, Ethiopia is basking in civil peace and freedom.
Reason No. 2: Team Abiy saved the day. They saved us from the Day of Armageddon. They saved us all by preaching love and teaching us we must take the path of forgiveness and reconciliation because the other path leads only to destruction. We could have been cursed with rabble-rousers who preach the philosophy of “an eye for an eye”. If we had sought revenge instead of reconciliation, today Ethiopia would be a nation of 100 million blind people. Instead, we have 100 million bright-eyed people who believe Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come!
Reason No. 3: Team Abiy is knocking down walls and building bridges. They are busting down the kilil mud walls one mud brick at a time.
In January 2011, I predicted, “When the mud walls of African dictatorships come tumbling down, the palaces of illusion behind those walls will vanish without a trace.” If Ethiopians and the rest of Africa is to have “hope of a better future, they will need to build a fortress of freedom impregnable to the slings and arrows of civilian dictators and the savage musketry of military juntas.”
In February 2013, I predicted how the end would come when the mud walls of ethnic dictatorship in Ethiopia come tumbling down.
The mud walls of dictatorship in Ethiopia have been exhibiting ever expanding cracks since the death of the arch architect of dictatorship Meles Zenawi sometime last summer. The irony of history is that the question is no longer whether Ethiopia will be like Humpty Dumpty as the ‘king’ and ‘king’s men’ have toiled to make her for two decades. The tables are turned. Despite a wall of impregnable secrecy, the ‘king’s men and their horses’ are in a state of disarray and dissolution. They lost their vision when they lost their visionary. The old saying goes, ‘in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’ Well, the king is no more; and the ‘king’s men and horses’ are lost in the wilderness of their own wickedness, intrigue and deception.
Are the Forces of Darkness today lost in the wilderness of their own wickedness, intrigue and deception?
In January 2013, I also predicted the rise of a new generation of Chee-Hippo bridge builders. I wrote the Cheetah (Abo Shemane, younger) generation of Abiy, Lemma and Gedu shall join hands with my Hippo (older) generation to “build bridges to connect people seeking democracy, freedom and human rights. They will build bridges across ethnic canyons and connect people stranded on islands of homelands (kilils). They will bridge the gulf of language, religion and region. They build bridges to link up the rich with the poor. They build bridges of national unity to harmonize diversity. They build bridges to connect the youth at home with the youth in the Diaspora. Chee-Hippos will build social and political networks to empower youth.
I believe that is exactly what is happening today. Chee-Hippos tearing down mud walls and building steel bridges.
Why I will help Team Abiy to the best of my ability
I have no political ambitions. Over the past 13 years, I have declared many times that I have nothing but contempt for those who hunger and thirst for power.
I support Abiy, Lemma and Gedu because they believe and practice the politics of inclusion.
I abhor the politics of exclusion, division, discrimination, dehumanization, repression and personal destruction.
I shall help them because I share their core beliefs.
First and foremost, they, like me, believe in EthiopiaWINet. We do not believe in EthiopiawiNOT.
In January 2012, I declared, “Choose your humanity before your ethnicity and nationality.”
But when my Ethiopiawinet was challenged, I taught the Forces of Darkness the meaning of Ethiopiawinet.
I believe I am the first person to ever issue a personal proclamation (of 5,544 words) declaring myself, “I, PROUD ETHIOPIAN” when my Ethiopiawinet was challenged by the Forces of Darkness.
Second, like me, Abiy, Lemma and Gedu believe in the rule of law. I was proud to see Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed yesterday teaching members of the press the practical meaning of rule of law. He said no one will be deprived of his/her right except with strict adherence to the rule of law. That is due process.
When he was asked about the delay in the release of information to the public on the status of the investigation of the June 23 bombing, PM Abiy demonstrated to the world that he means what he says and says what he means when he talks about the rule of law. He made no mention of those accused but discussed the professional aspects of the police investigative process.
Compare that with the rule by law of Meles Zenawi.
During the “terrorism” trial of Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye in 2011, Meles Zenawi declared,
They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.
Shortly thereafter, Persson and Schibbye were convicted and handed a long prison term.
PM Abiy, knowing full well that the suspects tried to kill him and were caught red handed, said absolutely nothing about their case because he knows the applicable rule of law, Art. 20(3) of the Ethiopian Constitution: “Accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.”
Third, like me, they believe in the power of love, nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation. In my very first public statement in July 2006, I declared, “I believe we prove the righteousness of our cause not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of good will.” For me, from day 1, it has been a struggle for hearts and minds of Ethiopian men and women of good will. It has been about truth and reconciliation, first and foremost, in hearts and minds.
No one has ever won the hearts and minds of the people by using hate, violence and revenge.
But Abiy Ahmed has won the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people by preaching love, nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation. I challenge anyone to disprove me on this point!
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, Ethiopia shall have peace and not civil war, thanks to Abiy Ahmed!
Fourth, like me, they believe in inclusion. Having lived in America for nearly fifty years, I never felt excluded because I included myself in anything I wanted. In that, I felt like Ayn Rand’s character (founder of Objectivism, which champions individuality and self-reliance) in one of her novels who resonates the view, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” That is how I began my career of speaking truth to power where ever they may be.
Long before Barack Obama declared it, I practiced and lived the politics of inclusion in my life: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.”
That is exactly my politics of inclusive Ethiopiawinet. There is not an Oromoo Ethiopia, an Amhara Ethiopia, a Tigray Ethiopia… There is only ETHIOPIAWINET!
Fifth, I must confess Abiy, Lemma and Gedu are better than me. They are humble, unpretentious, soft-spoken, patient, modest, sincere and tolerant. That is great because I can learn so much from them. After seeing them in action, I have come down from my high horse and become one with the people of Ethiopia.
Dr. King said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others’?”
Nelson Mandela taught pretty much the same thing. “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Every day, I see Abiy, Lemma and Gedu leading by example working for Ethiopian unity, peace and reconciliation.
We know what Abiy, Lemma and Gedu are doing for Ethiopia. The question for all of us is, “What are we doing for our people? What positive difference are we making in their lives?”
My plea to the Hippo Generation to support Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew
I plead with those in my Hippo (older) Generation to rise up and help the Cheetah (Abo Shemane) Generation of Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew as they do all of the heavy lifting in transitioning Ethiopia from dictatorship in democracy.
I make my plea because I do not want our history to repeat itself.
I have this nagging, gnawing fear of history repeating itself in Ethiopia: We never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!
I shall paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln’s speech to Congress in December 1862, a month before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in making my closing argument:
Fellow-Ethiopians. We cannot escape history. We of the older generation will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the younger generation. We say we are for Ethiopia. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save Ethiopia. The world knows we do know how to save it. We hold the power and bear the responsibility.
Today, we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope for peace, reconciliation and a bright future for Ethiopia. Other means and men and women may succeed. But this blessed journey we have begun with Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew cannot and must not fail because failure is not an option for us!
We MUST help and support Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew with all our hearts and minds!
Ethiopia’s destiny is in our hands
The solution to our problems is in each of our hands.
If we want to defeat our deadly enemies — poverty, disease, ignorance, ethnic division, strife and hate – once and for all, we must be inclusive, not exclusive, divisive, isolative, discriminative or destructive.
Legend has it that a little boy once caught a small bird and took it to an old man to trick him. He put the bird in his cupped palms and asked, “Old man, can you guess what I have in my hands?” The old man replied, “You have a bird, my son.” The boy, disappointed he could not trick the old man followed up, “If you’re so smart, now tell me is this bird alive or dead?”
The old man paused for a while because he knew if he said the bird is alive, the boy would squeeze his hands and crush the little bird to death. If he said the bird is dead, then the boy would just open his hands and let the bird fly free. The old man replied, “Well, that is entirely up to you, my son. After all, the bird is in your hands.”
Ethiopia’s destiny is entirely in our hands, NOT in the hands of Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew.
Ethiopia will live or die based on what we do with our hands.
If we want Ethiopia to live forever and thrive, we have to give Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew a hand up in the heavy lifting.
We must join hands with them (Medemer) and lift Ethiopia out of poverty, disease, ignorance, ethnic strife and hatred.
We MUST all practice “Medemer” to let Ethiopia become free as a bird!