By Alemayehu G. Mariam
There is great wisdom in the old typing drill, “This is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country.”
I would argue more specifically this is the time for all good Ethiopian lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors, academics, writers, journalists, teachers, service workers and all others to come to the aid of their country.
The facts we must all face today are these:
The leadership of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) hiding out in Mekele believes Ethiopia will soon be plunged into ethnic civil war and implode.
The TPLF “doomsday preppers ” are getting ready to exploit the assumed impending anarchy and disorder and steal their way back to power. Just like they did in May 1991.
Over the past year, the TPLF has been orchestrating chaos, lawlessness, anarchy and disorder throughout the land. They are doing everything they can to make that happen with the billions they stole.
The TPLF has one and only one objective.
If they cannot have Ethiopia as their playground, they will do their damnedest to turn her into Yugoslavia.
They are drooling at the mouth just thinking about it.
The late TPLF Uber Boss Meles Zenawi was fond of scare-talk about how Ethiopia will go the way of Yugoslavia without his guiding hand and the TPLF’s command and control.
Balkanization was Meles’ dream for Ethiopia.
The TPLF prophets of doom and gloom today predict it is just a matter of time before Ethiopia becomes the next Syria or Libya.
Every day, the TPLF pumps empty blusters about secession and bravado about its military might.
The TPLF old foggies are still living in the 1960s. They think today is 1991.
A few days ago, the TPLF issued an announcement demanding a return to “the good old days.”
The TPLF wackjobs think they can turn back the hands of time.
They want to return to power so bad, they are willing to sell their grandmothers to get it.
Absurd as it sounds, the TPLF leaders expect to march into Addis Ababa soon as TPLF Knights in Shining Armor ready to save the Ethiopian damsel in distress.
Of course, the TPLF will return to power one day.
That will be the day when hell freezes over the and devil goes ice skating. Alternatively, when pigs fly.
Until then, TPLFers should make a comfortable permanent home in the trash bin of history.
I prophesied the end of the TPLF in February 2013: “Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!”
That is exactly, exactly what they did!
They inherited the wind.
Soon, they will be gone, gone with the wind!
Evil never sleeps. Neither does the TPLF.
We must maintain eternal vigilance and keep on keeping on.
In the meantime, we should man up, wise up, stand up, step up, shape up and get down to give aid to our country in its moment of greatest need.
Can Ethiopian intellectuals come to the aid of their country?
An old Jewish proverb teaches, “A nation’s treasure is its scholars (intellectuals).”
I would add a nation’s intellectuals should be the tip of the spear in political and social change.
George Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist, has a decidedly dim view of African intellectuals in general.
Ayittey argues African intellectuals have “prostituted themselves, selling off their principles and integrity to partake of the plunder, misrule and repression of the African people.
I should like to argue the lion’s share of obligation and burden of aiding Ethiopia in its hour of need rests on the shoulders of its community of scholars, academics and learned men and women.
Ethiopia has no shortage of degreed individuals, experts and intellectuals.
The number of Ethiopians sporting doctoral acronyms after their names is mind bending: Ph.Ds, M.Ds, J.Ds, D.As, D.B.As, D.Ds, EdDs, D.M.As, D.P.As, D.P.Hs, D.Scs, D.S.Ws, D.V.Ms, O.Ds…
But in aiding Ethiopia, the vast majority of the “doctors” have been as useful as a wooden frying pan.
Unfortunately, we, the “doctors”, have deluded ourselves into thinking talking in jargon and writing in fancy academic publications makes us special.
We think the academic acronyms after our names somehow transform our words into gospel truth.
The fact is we are not special.
We are only lucky to have the opportunity to get an education which is denied to 99.99 percent of our people.
Our degrees don’t mean diddly squat when 85 percent of our people are drinking polluted water from the river. Or die from preventable diseases.
How many of us “doctors” have scoured the countryside to see the abject poverty of the people and the degrading conditions under which they live on a daily basis?
The majority of Ethiopians live on less than $1 a day.
How many of us are willing to donate $1 a day to help them out?
The word “doctor” originates in the Latin verb docēre, which means “to teach”.
I don’t see many Ethiopian “doctors” teaching the (young, almost 80% of Ethiopia’s population) people.
For years, I have been calling on Ethiopian intellectuals to teach and preach to the people.
For years, I have been calling on Ethiopian intellectuals to come to the aid of their country.
I regret to say, the vast majority turned a deaf ear to my calls.
Back in June 2010, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Where Have the Ethiopian Intellectuals Gone?”
(I still have no idea where they have gone!)
I argued Ethiopian intellectuals were hopelessly wallowing in crises syndrome.
Ethiopian intellectuals are trapped in a “moral crisis”.
The vast majority of us are confused about what is right and wrong or are willfully ignorant of the difference. We have turned a blind eye and deaf ears to not only to decades of injustice but also have become depravedly indifferent to the common good of the future. Moral outrage has died a quiet death in our midst.
Ethiopian intellectuals suffer from a “crisis of critical thinking”.
We often lack depth in our analysis and prone to making quick conclusions based on hunches, speculations and gossip. We resort to polemics and labeling and consign anyone who disagrees with our point of view to eternal damnation. We rarely examine and re-examine our assumptions and beliefs but cling to them as eternal truths and propagate them as such.
Ethiopian intellectuals suffer a “crisis of self-confidence and intellectual courage”.
The vast majority of us are afraid to take a stand or to make our views known because we fear the ridicule and ostracism of our associates and peers. We are afflicted by “intellectual cowardicitus” which manifests itself in herd mentality and groupthink. We are afraid to take ownership and responsibility for our ideas for fear of being proven wrong and mask our intellectual cowardice with meaningless dogmas and abstractions. Lacking self-confidence, we have moored ourselves on islands of self-censorship and self-marginalization.
Ethiopian intellectuals suffer from a “crisis of foresight”.
Ethiopian intellectuals are experts on dwelling on the past though few of us have any substantive historical understanding. We passionately criticize the past and present but do very little forward-thinking. As Ethiopia’s “eyes”, we are ironically afflicted by myopia (nearsightedness). We perceive a country that could potentially be dismembered by “ethnic federalism” but lack the vision to make it whole. We blather about accession to political power but we lack the foresight and contingency planning necessary to ensure democratic governance.
Ethiopian intellectuals suffer from a “crisis of communication”.
The vast majority of Ethiopian intellectuals talk past each other and lack intellectual honesty and candor in our communications. We pretend to agree and give lip service to each other only to turn around and engage in vile backbiting. Often we do not say what we mean or mean what we say. We keep each other guessing. We make little effort to genuinely seek common ground with those who do not agree with us. We have a nasty habit of marginalizing those who disagree with us and tell it like it is. We hate to admit error and apologize. Instead we compound mistakes by committing more errors. We tend to be overly critical of each other over non-essentials. As a result, we have failed to nurture coherent and dynamic intellectual discourse about Ethiopia’s present and future.
Ethiopian intellectuals suffer a “crisis of intellectual leadership”.
There are few identifiable Ethiopian intellectual leaders today. In many societies, a diverse and competing intellectual community functions as the tip of the spear of social change. We have witnessed the powerful role played by intellectual leaders in emancipating Eastern Europe from the clutches of communist tyranny and in leading a peaceful process of change. No society can ever aspire to advance without a core intellectual guiding force. The founders of the American Republic were not merely political leaders but also intellectuals of the highest caliber for any age. Ethiopian intellectuals unfortunately wallow in a quagmire of recrimination, finger pointing and mudslinging.
I have challenged Ethiopia’s intellectuals to rise up and come to the aid of the country on numerous occasions.
In my May 2011 Huffington Post piece, I noted the fact that I had “publicly called for the establishment of an informal policy “think tank” to research and critically evaluate current and emergent issues in Ethiopia. Would it not be wonderful if there could be union of concerned Ethiopian scholars, scientists, intellectuals and professionals who could come together as the tip of the spear in seeking to institutionalize democracy, human rights and rule of law in Ethiopia?”
I repeated the same call in April 2018, to no avail.
In my July 2012 commentary, I argued, “Ethiopian intellectuals need to organize themselves to bridge the information and knowledge gap and come up with fresh and creative ideas to help transition Ethiopia from dictatorship to democracy. I plead with members of the Ethiopian academic and scholarly community to also become public intellectuals.”
All of my calls to Ethiopian intellectuals to become the vanguard of change in Ethiopia have fallen on deaf ears!
Hear! Hear! Ethiopian intellectuals. Will the moment define you or will you define the moment?
It is a new world in Ethiopia. The younger generation has taken over.
In January 2013, I prophesied Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (young people) “is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.”
That prophesy has come to pass!
In a side swipe, I remarked: “Ethiopia’s intellectual Hippos [older generation] by and large have chosen to stand on the sidelines with arms folded, ears plugged, mouths sealed shut and eyes blindfolded.”
The time has come to fish or cut bait for Ethiopia’s intellectuals.
In other words, the time has come to stop talking, complaining, griping, moaning, groaning, gossiping and rumor-mongering about Ethiopia’s problems and start doing something about them.
The time for fence-sitting is over. No more sticking fingers in the air and figuring out which way the wind is blowing.
The time for endless bickering, wind bagging and intellectual pontification is over.
The time to be Chicken Littles is over.
The time has come to start talking about what is right about Ethiopia and doing right by the people of Ethiopia.
It is foolish to sit around twiddling one’s thumb waiting to see a disintegrating Ethiopia according to the Gospel of the TPLF.
No need to fret about Ethiopia going to hell in a hand basket.
There is a special place in hell for the TPLF.
The TPLF will disintegrate and vanish into oblivion but Ethiopia shall remain one until kingdom come!
The time has come to stop finger pointing at our outstanding 43-year old prime minister and start looking at the three fingers pointing at us and ask, “What did I do for my country when I was 43 years old?”
I will be absolutely honest in answering that question. So should every Ethiopian who claims to be an intellectual with integrity.
What did I (or you?) do for Ethiopia when I was 43 years old?
Not a doggone thing!
I could have done so much. But I did not because I was selfish.
It took the Meles Massacres to jolt me out of my selfishness.
It is true there comes a time in every person’s life when s/he defines the moment or is defined by it.
The Meles Massacres defined me.
Meles and his TPLF goons fought with their AK47s.
I fought them back with my pen and keyboard.
I believe I proved, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
I followed Thomas Jefferson’s counsel (the man who wrote the American Declaration of Independence) to Thomas Paine in 1796: “Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.”
I fought the TPLF with my pen and my ideas and words.
My words proved to be more powerful that the TPLF’s AK47s.
I never said I would change Ethiopia. I said I would change the hearts and minds of the young people who will change Ethiopia in my very first full commentary in 2006 when I joined the Ethiopian human rights movement.
I believe I succeeded in that effort beyond my wildest expectations.
Ideas change hearts and minds. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.
Democratic ideals defeated Nazism in Germany, fascism in Italy, racial apartheid in South Africa and ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia.
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas do change the world.”
It is high time to put words and ideas to work in Ethiopia!
Let’s have a battle of ideas and let the best idea win!
The cacophonous segment of the Ethiopian intellectual community likes to bark at PM Abiy Ahmed about what he is doing wrong.
By and large, the accusations are unsubstantiated emotional outpourings.
To my knowledge, there is not a single accusation of wrongdoing against PM Abiy supported by meticulously documented evidence.
I challenge anyone to produce such evidence in public.
The accusation hurled at PM Abiy in the main are boilerplate rumors, innuendoes and gossip liberally laced with ethnic animus.
The fact of the matter is PM Abiy is simply a prodigious mind.
There is not a single intellectual in Ethiopia or in the diaspora today who has the breadth of knowledge or mastery and command of domestic and foreign policy issues.
Abiy Ahmed is a strategic thinker of the first order. He is simply brilliant. No ifs or buts about it!
But don’t take my word for that.
Hear for yourself what the fearless and long-persecuted champion and doyen of Ethiopian human rights, the 89 year-old Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam recently said!
Over a period of seven decades, we all know Prof. Mesfin is not given to hyperbole or exaggeration nor does he hand out praise lightly.
A few weeks ago, Prof. Mesfin urging Ethiopians to “give 100 percent support” to PM Abiy said:
… Abiy is special. Abiy, as far as I know, there is no ferenji (foreigner) or habesha (Ethiopian), I have never seen anyone who has a mind like Abiy. Regardless of what field, regardless of what educational discipline, he can speak authoritatively without a piece of paper (note). I have no idea how he disciplined his mind. He is an amazing person…
… I just don’t know how his mind is crafted. I just don’t know [what to say] about that guy. His mind is phenomenal. He has an amazing mind.
I know this deflates and steamrolls the fragile egos of so many Ethiopian intellectuals.
The truth is there is not a single Ethiopian intellectual today who can hold a candle to Abiy Ahmed.
All I can say is, “Deal with it! Challenge and defeat Abiy Ahmed in the arena of ideas, in the marketplace of ideas, if you can.”
Of course, all of that is beside the point.
The point is Abiy Ahmed has made us an offer we can’t refuse!
He has invited Ethiopia’s intellectuals in Ethiopia and in the diaspora to challenge him with ideas to change Ethiopia and makes the lives of the people better.
So, let’s show him how it’s done.
Let’s put in the public arena ideas and policies that are vastly superior to PM Abiy’s.
Let us show him we have a better idea than his Medemer.
Let us propose original and creative ideas and demand a role in their implementation.
Who said Abiy Ahmed has all the answers to Ethiopia’s problems?
Who said Abiy Ahmed has a monopoly on all the good ideas for Ethiopia?
What I know for a fact is that Abiy Ahmed is open to all creative, innovative and bold ideas.
He is certainly not afraid of ideas.
His clarion call has always been let’s have matchups in the marketplace of ideas and let the people have a choice.
His clarion call has been let’s have a free and fair election and let the best party win fair and square. If he loses the election, he will leave office within 24 hours.
Abiy Ahmed means what he says and says what he means. There is no BS with him.
He is a straight talker. He will say what can and cannot be done. He does not sugarcoat the bitter truth. He does not mince and dice the truth to make it more palatable.
The real challenge for Ethiopian intellectuals is to DO something right to make Ethiopia right.
If there are government wrongs, it is time to make them right. We have the knowledge, as we claim, to right wrongs.
If PM Abiy is doing things wrong, let’s show him how to do it right.
Admittedly, he did not go to fancy universities like we did. So, he does not know everything like we do.
He spent his youth in uniform doing what he can under a repressive regime.
He successfully undertook grassroots organizing with his team to rid Ethiopia from the TPLF cancer on the Ethiopian body politic.
Every day, Abiy Ahmed preaches, “Let’s build a new Ethiopia. If Ethiopia is heading down the wrong track, let’s put our shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone and put her on the right track.”
If Ethiopia is right on the precipice of implosion as the TPLF doomsayers say, it’s our job to pull her back to safety.
We pool our vast intellectual resources and come to the aid of Ethiopia.
Knowledge is power. Actionable knowledge is most powerful.
We have the engineering knowledge to tear down walls and build bridges to bring our people together across ethnic religious lines.
We have the legal knowledge to help build an orderly society, a society built on a foundation of equality, justice and the rule of law.
We have knowledge in education. We can lift the cloud of darkness of ignorance enveloping our people.
We have business knowledge. Let us promote innovation and entrepreneurship among Ethiopia’s youth.
We have medical knowledge. Let’s help heal our nation.
We have the expertise, knowledge and skills to help our people who are suffering.
But knowledge, intelligence, education and learning are of little value if we lack vision, imagination, creativity and inspiration.
My CHALLENGE to all Ethiopian intellectuals: Stop talking. Stop moaning and groaning. Bring forth actionable ideas to help build the New Ethiopia.
I hereby formally accept PM Abiy’s long-standing challenge to Ethiopian intellectuals to come up with innovative, creative and practical ideas to help the people of Ethiopia.
Below, I have listed more than two dozen policy areas which Ethiopian intellectuals can help address and improve current conditions in Ethiopia or help ensure positive outcomes in the future.
I intend to issue my personal “white papers” on many of the issues listed below.
Indeed, on a number of the issues I have expressed my views in commentary form.
Frankly, I wonder how many other Ethiopian intellectuals will also rise up to the occasion with me .
If the past 14 years are an indication, the answer is crystal clear.
When I stood up to the TPLF and exposed its long train of abuses in Ethiopia over the past 13 years, I stood alone every week and fought tooth and nail with my pen and keyboard.
Yes, there were a few fair-weather warriors who showed up from time to time, especially when the TPLF seemed vulnerable, to join in the battle cry.
I have heard the battle cry of “ye dil atbiya arbegnoch” from time to time.
Suffice it to say I will eat crow (vegan style, of course), if any other Ethiopian intellectual responds to the CHALLENGE.
I hope all will critically examine my forthcoming proposals and ideas and improve upon them or come up with their own original ideas.
I am not afraid to tackle issues beyond my areas of expertise.
I practice the art of asking questions and applying critical thinking to problems.
Albert Einstein observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
The TPLF made Ethiopia a dystopia.
I imagine a utopia of Ethiopia.
As I have said many times before, I proudly call myself a utopian Ethiopian.
I like to imagine the New Ethiopia. That makes me an “imagineer”.
Imagination is not fantasy.
Ethiopia desperately needs intellectuals with imagination.
Imagination is a process of asking probing questions about things that have yet to happen.
The lawyer’s professional life revolves around a simple principle: Ask endless questions to get at the truth.
I will be asking endless questions on the topics listed below.
The jury of the whole people will render a verdict on the answers and ideas I present.
How do we reduce, prevent and eliminate ethnic and communal violence and conflict?
How do we ensure a free, fair and peaceful election in 2020?
How do we form non-ethnic strong issue-based political parties?
How do we amend, revise or create a completely new constitution?
How do we deal with terrorism sponsored by secret groups?
How do we create economic opportunities for our youth?
How do we promote foreign direct investment in Ethiopia?
How do we promote tourism and make part of a sustainable economic development effort?
How do we increase and maximize diaspora remittances?
How do we rapidly increase the country’s foreign exchange reserve?
How do we institutionalize the rule of law?
How do we create good governance?
How do we improve educational quality at the elementary, secondary and college levels?
How do we effectively control corruption?
How do we improve the performance and professionalism of the civil service?
How do we improve professionalism in journalism?
How do we improve the professionalization of the military, security and police forces?
How do we fight fake news and disinformation on social media?
How do we improve the criminal and civil laws of the country?
How do we improve social relations through improved communication?
How do we deal with problems of ethnic and religious bias and bigotry?
How do we promote tolerance, civility in the public square?
How do we establish a community-based truth and reconciliation process?
How do we dismantle ethnic federalism or retain it?
How do we conduct an accurate census?
How do we manage population growth?
How do we promote preventive health care and sanitation?
How do we provide clean water to the 85 percent of the Ethiopian population that does not have it?
How do we empower women economically?
How do we manage the recurrent problems of famine and food crises?
How do we protect the environment and conserve resources?
How do we….?
Let’s stop talking and come up with sound ideas to do something. Anything!
Now is the Time for All Good Ethiopian Men and Women to Come to the Aid of Their Country!