Stop putting political symbols on Ethiopian flag

August 23rd, 2010 Print Print Email Email

by Teddy Fikre August 23rd, 2010 posted on NewsDire

Ethiopian Flag

I know I am about to wade into potentially explosive debate, one that is strife with tensions on multiple side and could well drag out the worse side of Ethiopian political divides. With that said, as an Ethiopian who has an affinity for anything that is related to Ethiopia, it goes without saying that I am especially drawn to the Ethiopian flag. However, whenever I see the current Ethiopian flag, I feel like I am looking at something alien. Of course, I am drawn to the green, yellow, and red, but then there is a symbol in the middle that always manages to make my eyes avert from my homeland’s flag.

I will admit readily that the flag that I prefer the most, the one that binds me the most to the Ethiopia that I know in my mind is the one that has the lion of Judah on it. This flag carries with it a history that binds us to multiple cultures throughout the world, a flag that symbolizes the magnificent history of Ethiopia from the first emperor right down to our last and a flag that is adored by countless millions throughout the world. However, I realize that there are others who see in that symbol something different than I do, a feeling which cannot be smoothed over with a lecture about its history and its symbolism. As much passion and love that I have for this version of the flag, I am sure others are equally passionate about it in the opposite extreme.

Since the time I was born in 1974, I have seen the flag that I most equate with Ethiopia changed on two different occasions. When the Derg took over, they replaced the Lion of Judah with the hammer and sickle that would symbolize the embedding of communism in Ethiopia. After the TPLF defeated the Derg in 1993, they eradicated the hammer and sickle and replaced it with a yellow star placed over a blue background. In each case, the power structure used the Ethiopian flag as an imprimatur of their dominion, to erase the past and to move forward with the way that they saw fit. In each case, the symbol in the middle of the flag became a divisive issue, one that had supporters and detractors engaged in heated rhetoric about which flag truly represented Ethiopia.

Flags are powerful symbols, they can either divide a country or they can be divisive icons that separate people based on heritage and ethnic affiliation. You will not find too many Americans that would disparage the flag of the United States. However, there are certain states that embed within their state flags the some symbols which are divisive to the core. The flag of Mississippi has the confederate flag interwoven within the colors of the United States flag. This issue has divided the South for generations, serving as an affront to millions of people who rightly see the confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and exclusion.

Symbols are powerful because they invoke passions and ultimately exclude people as much as they include people. Within each community, within each region of Ethiopia, I am sure you will find different people who would rather replace the yellow flag with another symbol. I am sure some—like myself—would rather go back to the lion of Judah, while others who want to replace it with a different symbol all together, while there are others still who would rather maintain the flag as it is. Just as Southern states can do a lot to take down a divisive symbolism from their state flags, so too should powers that be in Ethiopia in order to have an inclusive flag instead of one that is excludes people who are not part of the power structure.

While each group can argue passionately about the symbol, one thing that most will not argue is that the basic premise of the flag, the green, yellow, and red, is the one uniting force. So why argue about the various symbols, why not instead take the symbol off the flag and leave the green, yellow, and red speak for itself, the true colors of Ethiopia. It is time for successive regimes to stop using the flag as their personal tool of propaganda and return the flag to the colors that are familiar to all without a symbol embedded in the middle. Governments should have their legacies determined by the good work that they accomplish not based on the propaganda they propagate through symbols they keep erasing and adding to our flag.

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