By Alemayehu G. Mariam
We are aware of the rumors, fake news and disinformation that are circulating not only on social media but also in Ethiopian Diaspora communities.
People contact us to find out if baseless rumors about threats to Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed’s well-being are true.
People tell us that because no official comment has been made on the rumors, there must be some truth to the rumor.
Dignifying rumors with an official response is in a way partially confirming them. Of course, by responding to one rumor, one opens the floodgates for more rumors that will require even more official responses.
We believe the usual suspects are behind the various rumors, fake news and disinformation that have caused alarm and anxiety among Ethiopians over the past couple of weeks.
If lies and rumors were the only thing, we would not be all that concerned.
Our concern is that lies and rumors are being used to create instability, violence, death and destruction in certain parts of our country.
We believe the rumor mill is part of a well-organized campaign to delegitimize Prime Minster Abiy and his government and rob public confidence in the peaceful change that is taking place in Ethiopia today.
We are painfully aware of the concerted effort to paint a picture that “the country is falling into lawlessness” and “the constitution is being violated”.
The not-so-hidden message appears to be a threat for some type of armed takeover and a comeback to power by the old guard as guarantors of law and order.
We are also aware that some individuals are using the open political space for self-promotion and cheap publicity.
We are confident the Ethiopian people can separate the wheat from the chaff.
We are aware of recent events in which thousands of people have been forced out of their homes to escape violence, particularly in the Ethiopian Somali region. Most of them are women, the aged and children. The fingerprints and footprints of the criminals who are behind those pulling the trigger are well-known to the Ethiopian people.
We condemn all individuals and groups who are committing violence, and those who are organizing and financing such violence throughout Ethiopia.
We urge regional authorities to use their powers to ensure public safety and seek the aid of federal authorities as appropriate.
Ethiopia today is undergoing peaceful change unlike any it has seen in its long history.
After 27 years of dictatorial rule, Ethiopians for the first time are now seeing the dawn of a new day in which they are regaining hope and confidence in their future.
Over the past six months, we have seen things none of us expected in our wildest imaginations seven months ago.
We give Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed full credit for the release of political prisoners, reinstatement of press freedoms, rebuilding confidence in Ethiopian unity and Ethiopiawinet and peace with our neighbors, particularly Eritrea.
We want the positive changes to continue, but we also know that there are those who are working day and night to return us to the nightmare of the past 27 years.
Their weapon of choice is mass distraction so that we lose focus on our hard-won prizes.
All of the rumors, lies and fake news that are spread on social media and in our communities are designed to distract our eyes, deafen our ears and waste our time talking gibberish to each other.
While we run around in circles churning their rumors and fake news, they lay in place their secret their plans to steal our prizes.
We have many prizes within our reach.
We have many prizes that will be out of reach and gone if we allow them to make “fools and idiots” of us.
We have an opportunity for the first time in the history of our country to successfully carry out peaceful change, without a military coup or by force of arms of rebel groups.
We have an opportunity to consolidate the gains of individual and press freedoms in our country.
We have an opportunity to establish and institutionalize the rule of law and public accountability.
We have an opportunity to create a culture where human rights are valued and respected.
We should not take things for granted. Freedom is hard to gain but easy to lose.
We are asking all Ethiopians to keep their eyes on the prizes.
We got these prizes at a very high price.
Many Ethiopians made the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to the dawn of freedom we are witnessing today.
The victory of good over evil that we witness today in Ethiopia was purchased by the blood, sweat and tears of ALL Ethiopians.
We must never forget and must never allow anyone to tell us otherwise.
But we should speak truth to their faces!
We should tell them we were jailed together. We were tortured together. We suffered together. We shed our blood together.
In the end, we fought together and gained victory together.
We should honor the memories of those who sacrificed for us by making sure that Ethiopia will never be subjected to the rule of ruthless dictators and by ensuring our march on the long road to freedom and democracy will continue come hell or high water.
The problems we are dealing with today did not start in the last six months.
They have been with us for the past 27 years. These problems are the direct results of calculated policies designed to divide the people of Ethiopia by ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural and regional lines.
They have used a divide-and-rule policy to cling to power.
They have used military force and declarations of state of emergency to enforce their rule.
But those days are gone.
Today, we solve our problems through dialogue, negotiations and compromises.
We should be focused on solutions, not just talking about magnifying problems.
We must stop the politics of finger-pointing and recrimination.
We must practice the politics of love every day by showing how much we care for our fellow citizens.
A great African leader has taught us that the ballot, not the bullet, is the surest way to achieve durable peace in society. It is through truth and reconciliation that we can build a new future of equality and justice for all.
We must all speak up and offer solutions.
Most importantly, we must play our part in helping Ethiopia transition from dictatorship to democracy.
We do not believe Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed has all the answers.
We do not believe in looking up to him as the only one who can solve Ethiopia’s problems.
We do not believe any one man or group has the answers to our country’s complex problems.
Prime Minister Abiy did not create the problems, and we must not expect him to be the source of all the solutions.
We must all play our part as solution-makers.
Playing our part does not mean clicking the “Like” button on Facebook or getting into mudslinging contests on social media.
By playing our part, we mean organizing and participating in activities that will help promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia and ensuring Ethiopia remains on the path of peaceful change.
We should also look to the people, not government, for the solutions.
We are in the situation we are in today because of the problems created by government over the past 27 years.
We believe the solutions to our problems are in our hands, in each of our hands, not in the hands of politicians and government officials.
We know those who have lost power will do everything in their power to get it back. If they cannot, they will do everything they can to destroy the country.
They will not succeed because it is a new day in Ethiopia.
The old politics of hate, division and conflict is being replaced before our eyes with the new politics of love, understanding, reconciliation and peace.
The truth speaks for itself.
Those who have tried to divide and rule Ethiopia today find themselves divided, disordered, disorganized, disillusioned and disheartened.
How sweet it is watching them watch us in stunned disbelief and wonderment on how we managed to come together as one strong people in the spirit of unity, brotherhood, sisterhood and Ethiopiawinet right under their noses.
Regardless of how we cut or slice it, we are one Ethiopian people with one destiny. We rise or fall together as one people.
In the end, we have one and only one option, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will perish together as fools.”
We plead with our fellow Ethiopians to keep our collective eyes on the big prizes and not be distracted by sensationalistic lies, fake news and disinformation.
* In August 2007, Tamagne Beyene and myself were part of a three-person team named to coordinate the North American and European tour of the Kinijit leadershipfollowing their release from prison. Despite challenges, we managed to coordinate a successful tour for the Kinijit delegation in North America. It was a special privilege for me to work with Tamagne on that assignment because his energy, unbounded optimism and basic human decency helped us get through some tough times.
It is a special privilege and honor for me to join Tamagne again in August 2018, eleven years to the month after we worked on the Kinijit Leadership project, in an ongoing effort to promote and defend democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia and do our part to ensure our country will remain on a course of peaceful change and democratic transition.
** Tamagne Beyene is the foremost human rights activist in the Ethiopian Diaspora. He is also a celebrated musical and performing artist.
Tamagne has been fighting consistently for equality, national unity, justice, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia since 1991. Over the decades, he has earned the respect and admiration of his people in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora. “Tamagne” in Amharic means “always faithful”. The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is “Semper Fi” or “Always Faithful.” No one has been more faithful to Ethiopia than Tamagne Beyene, in my humble opinion.
Tamagne and I invite all Ethiopian human rights activists, intellectuals and professionals to join us in our ongoing series speaking truth to power, especially those who have been abusing power for decades and are now hellbent on regaining power by any means necessary. As we ask our fellow Ethiopians to join us in this effort, we remind them of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”