The Debate on New Ethiopia ByZewge Fanta
This article is taken from unpublished book titled: “የልማት ግስጋሴ፣ የጥፍት መንስዔ”. The chapter containing this history was translated into English for the purpose of this article. It will be presented in three parts. (more…)
This article is taken from unpublished book titled: “የልማት ግስጋሴ፣ የጥፍት መንስዔ”. The chapter containing this history was translated into English for the purpose of this article. It will be presented in three parts. Part I is about the formative years of two students, Wallelign Mekonnen and Zewge Fanta, whose different imaginations echoed the two paths of modernizing Ethiopia. Wallelign saw the transformation of Ethiopia possible only through revolution. Zewge imagined changes possible through radical and gradual reforms. Both Wallelign and Zewge had accepted the fact that the revolution that Ethiopia needed was done and completed by Atse Tewodros noting the remarkable achievements of Atse Tewodros starting from the unification of the country to the abolition of slavery and sparks of many profound nation building initiatives. The fact that there was a third path that Ethiopia could take and become Federation of “ጎሳዎች” (tribes) known as Kilil was neither academic nor cognitive imagination to both. Part II reveals how Wallelign gave his life and about his specific political philosophy. Part III will cover the gross distortion and implications of his political philosophy by the new political pundits attempting to associate the pure revolution of Wallelign with the guided destructions of Ethiopia by the present regime. The Third Part will also cover the fall of the Monarch, a unique glimpse into the specific causes of the downfall and the long term implications to the nation and its people. In the book as it is in this article, the history culminates with that of the author’s assessment about “What is Communism” or what is America, as described in the book awarded, and his unique experiences about a country known or regarded as the factory of the principles of modern democracy and democratic nations.
Woizero Siheen School
The history begins at a place and period where the rudiment ideas of a new Ethiopia were debated. The idea of new Ethiopia by Wallelign had nothing to do either with the Communist Ethiopia of the Derg in its entirety or with the experimental Federal System known as Kilil of TPLF. The idea that Kilil was the brainchild of Wallelign Mekonnen is the imagination of those who lacked basis to legitimate their own anti Ethiopian doctrine or could not find any Ethiopian dogma that embraces the philosophy of Kilil.
The Paths to Modernize Ethiopia
An event that would mark the end of a remarkable life of childhood and early schooling, and the beginning of a new and unknown, yet promising future was in front of the future actors. It was also the end of a period in which students were forced to drink the unpleasant powder milk and to swallow the Bean-size vitamins. The long cultivations were about to yield fruits in all sizes and quantities as some were destined to join the meager workforce. Others had their minds fixed at that mesmerizing Institution of higher education fondly referred to Haileselassie I University. We were also concluding our fierce competitions and battle for first, second, and third place in classes or just for survival to complete the high school as was the case with some students. Finally, all of us made it without a loss of a classmate! Each of us graduated with his/her own crown on head and left our legacy at Woizero Siheen Comprehensive High School to the next torch bearers. That chapter was to be concluded with one more fierce battle for the crown known as, ‘Student of the Year”. The classrooms, and the auditorium were already littered with casualties of many eliminating battles. Two students emerged wounded through the butchering of the nerve wrecking processes of eliminations. The war ahead was totally unbalanced and without exaggeration, it was like ‘David v. Goliad’. No question who was going to be ashes and the reigning emperor.
Wallelign was not a regular student. He was known all over Dessie. He had dwarfed the giant names before him that Siheen produced, those who had become national figures and household names in Addis Ababa. Students like Negede Gobezie, Berhane Meskel Redda and many others had left their marks at Siheen and they remained popular there long after they were gone. Wallelign gained popularity through the plays especially, by his illustrious enactment of Atse Tewodros. Wallelign changed the images of Tewodros and made him more than the unifying leader and the nation building king. The brutal warrior who sent thousands of “ወለየዎች (Wolloyewoch)” down the cliffs of Mekdela had finally become the beloved king, understood and forgiven. The people discovered what Tewodros was like in real life, and the reasons for his brutality, his uncommon bravery, wisdom and far sightedness. Wallelign was given the nick name ‘Kassa’ and he acted like Kassa in real life consciously or not. Wallelign had become more known and popular than the school director or even the governor.
Zewge Fanta, the author of this article, in much smaller scale, was familiar to the students and teachers of W/o Siheen School. I was one of the three students who sang the national anthem raising the flag every morning before class started. I did that from grade one until grade eight. From grade 9th to 12th, I read the prayer every morning in front of about 850 students.
The competitions for the crown of the ‘Student of the Year’ had left the school fields and classrooms with dazed bodies walking aimlessly suffering from the previous weeks’ massacres. Wallelign and I had barely survived, but still licking our wounds. We were to kill each other in front of about 2,000 parents and dignitaries. I was assigned to speak about the contributions and values of history, cultures and traditions to modernizing Ethiopia. Wallelign was assigned to speak about the obstacles that some of our cultures, traditions, religions and history would create on the processes of modernizing Ethiopia.
Fear That Destroyed Many
The biggest fear every competitor had was speaking in front of crowd. Some had fear of the empty auditorium. Most of the contestants collapsed in front of students and teachers before they started or while in the middle of their speeches. I was a different animal in that regard. I had lost the beast called fear at early age. I used to go to school early morning and sit by the flag pole so that nobody would take my place. I was once very sick and in bed. I remember my bed sheet, the sheepskin-linen and my ‘Gabi’ soaked with perspiration. My programmed mind awoken me at the exact hour in the morning and I got up and run to school, as I said very sick. I do not remember everything, but somehow after the flag was raised, I was running back to my home. I collapsed in the middle of the field. Next I remembered little was that a dozen students carrying me up holding my hands and feet, trousers and jacket. I remember that my nose was one inch above the ground and my mouth was full of dust. The ground an inch from my nose was moving fast. My house was separated by fence from the school compound by fence. They damped me at the door steps of my home and told me to get up and walk inside. Therefore, when it comes to fear of people and height, I had lost their values. The credits go appropriately to Siheen School and Tossa Mountain!
The Psychological War
A week or two before the big event, I came across Wallelign and he smiled at me that time a bit longer than usual. He did not say one word, but I thought I heard him say: “I am going to butcher you, murder and burry you!” I sensed a horrific ending to my elementary and high school legacy. Throughout my elementary and High school classes, I was either number one or two except on few terms or years. Moreover, I had scored the highest grade in Wollo in the matriculation of the School Leaving Certificate. The prestige that I thought I had was about to come down crumbling in front of thousands of people. I realized that many of our traditional and cultural values would have to be scrapped or replaced by new modern ideas and attitudes in order to make societies modern in their outlooks and behaviors. I knew Wallelign would use those ideas against me and kill me. I went straight to the director’s office and demanded that Wallelign’s topic be changed. The director looked straight in my eyes and asked me smiling like a baby or to a baby: “Why?” I could not tell him that Wallelign was going to murder me. I turned around and walked out of his office in haste. I headed to Medhanealem Church where I stood clamped to the wall of the Church for hours praying! I read my speech to God that I had memorized, and I prayed that he makes it the winner. I made a commitment to Medhanealem to bring “ስለት (Silet)” if I win.
Finally, thousands of guests filled the rows of chairs placed on the Westside of the field. More people were still arriving and standing in lines behind and on the sides. The Director of the School gave a speech welcoming the guests and describing the occasion. The Master of Ceremony gave a brief speech introducing all the school activities and the contestants of the debate for “Student of the Year.” Wallelign was the first to speak and so he started his speech. I stood on the opposite side. I did not remember everything he said. I had my own struggle keeping my heart inside my chest. I claimed that I had no fear of crowd or height; I lied. At one point, I looked straight in the people and my eyes caught a motion. I saw the Pope who sat in the front row raising his “ጭራ (Chira)” and waiving it and throwing it down on his lap. That was to my understanding a signal that he did not like whatever Wallelign said. I also saw one or two dignitaries kind of nodding their heads and looking away as if showing their disagreement. However, there was a big continuous applause that I did not like as Wallelign concluded his speech. The Master of Ceremony introduced me and described the nature of my speech. I had memorized my speech, and I was speaking smoothly. However, there was no comparison with the dramatic speech of Wallelign. Wallelign dramatized every word and sentence with his high and thick voices and gestures. I knew he killed me not once, but a dozen times. I finished and there were applauses that I did not think were loud enough. I knew Wallelign won. How could he not? There was one point that I remembered Wallelign said. He pointed how King Tewodros abolished the old traditions to modernize Ethiopia. He mentioned how he transformed the institutions including the Churches by reducing the number of the holidays observed and increasing the work days, and how he reduced the number of priests from 30 to just 5. I was happy he said that and caused the pope to be unhappy. However that was not good enough when thousands continued clapping for Wallelign. I knew what Wallelign spoke about were imprinted in the hearts and minds of the guests. I knew Wallelign had demolished me! I stepped down feeling bad. I turned left to bow to the people before I walked away. At that moment, I saw the Pope signaling to me with his “ጭራ (Chira)” to come to him. I walked over knowing that he wanted to bless me. I bowed and kissed the cross on his hand, which was resting on his lap. Wallelign was right behind me and he too kissed the cross.
The Master of Ceremony climbed the platform to announce the winner. He had called my name, however I thought he called Wallelign instead. Wallelign told me to go, and I walked to the podium and received the big box. Wallelign followed and received his prize, same size box. I still did not know until a little afterwards who won. We smiled and hag each other. I remember that spectacular moment to this day. In matter of minutes, the celebration was over and the large field was almost empty except some students scattered here and there. Our friends had taken control of our gift boxes. They had torn them apart to see the prizes inside. I think they expected cookies, candies and gold watches. I saw one angry friend kicking the box repeatedly because there were no cookies in it. I could not believe everything was over that soon and that fast.
A few days later, I was sitting at the gate of the school. Wallelign came from my behind and put his long arm around my neck and squeezed me. I begged him to release me saying: “ok, you won!” He said: “ምን ኣባትህ አልክ? አሸንፈሽኝ የለም? (Min-abatih alk? Ashenfeshign yelem?)” He let me go and smiled at me big time. It was a wide pleasant smile with his shinning straight white teeth. It was a little sarcastic. Wallelign was happy and confident. I was confused. I thought he should be very angry with me or someone because he did not win. He was happy more than I was. We walked to Piazza joking and shoving each other. We had tea at a popular pastime. Other friends joined us and we spent the evening joking and having fun. We talked about many things, the fun we had all those years. Wallelign talked about our future and the importance of keeping in touch at HIM or where we ended up. We sang “ነወይ ልንለያይ ……” and we split.
About the Award Books
A few weeks after we received our prizes, I asked Wallelign to exchange the books to read. He said no at first and changed his mind later. I did not know why, but I thought his book was not that great.
The title of the book was: “What is Democracy.” It showed endless pictures of Ghettos, impoverished and blighted sections of big towns and cities where poor Blacks, Native Americans and Whites rummaged for food through the garbage. Images contrasting the lives of the rich and the poor, and the exploitation of the poor by the rich were shown with vivid photographs of factories and industries. I was naturally disappointed that it was the worst anti-democracy propaganda. According to the Book, America was the worst land that one could find on planet Earth. That was not what I knew from the movies and thousands of photographs I saw. It was full of photographs of the capitalist America in its ugliest form. The Communist Soviet Union was depicted as a heaven land on Earth. Moscow, Kremlin and Leningrad, and other picturesque cities were shown spread out across the pages. I was not convinced because of my deep rooted bias to Godless nation.
The title of the book I received was “What is Communism?” Inside, it showed on thick glossy papers the ugly images of life in the Soviet Union and in all other communist countries. It is full of photographs that showed the Soviet Union as the most backward giant country with poverty worse than the Third World nations. The book contained a section that depicted life in beautiful the United States of America. The beautiful pictures of cities, endless freeways, dense high rise buildings of cities and towns, university campuses, sport arenas, people jammed on streets of New York, the ring roads and crisscrossing bridges of Los Angeles and San Francisco and many other pictures of industries, vast agricultural fields, and tourist attraction spots, etc., etc. They looked like paintings not photographs of a real world.
Wallelign asked me to return his book. I was surprised that he valued and cared for his book that much. I returned his book and he gave me mine. He said smiling that he was happy to return the capitalists propaganda to me. Both books represented the epics of propaganda by the two superpowers. Both represented their country as a heaven and the other as hell on Earth. I wondered for a long time why the books of two different Worlds were selected as awards to Wallelign and me. I was also baffled who determined which one to be the prize for the first place and which for the second place award. From all indications, it was decided by officials higher up, perhaps involving diplomats and ministers.
The Radical Movements at HIU
Wallelign was becoming more popular and visible at Haileselassie I University. Wallelign espoused ideas of revolution. There were confusion about ‘revolution’ and ‘radical reform’. Students including Wallelign advocated for “መሬት ላራሹ (Land to the Tiller).” That was the tenet of ‘Radical Reform.’ The individuals, docorated with Doctoral, Master and Baccalaureate degrees had good pastimes at the popular café and bars catering to the political environments of radical and revolutionary changes. The frustrated intellectuals were venting their anger and covering their inadequacy to bring or induce changes sipping the numbing beer and bourbon. The students on other hand were intensifying their slogans “መሬት ላራሹ (Land to the Tiller)” on which they were gaining momentum that was spreading like wild fire throughout the country.
For students like Wallelign, nothing short of full-fledge radical reform was effective enough to bring profound changes. Wallelign believed that there were unfinished changes that Atse Tewodros did not accomplish. He also believed that the monarchy and the people around him were impediments to progresses. He wanted them gone and he believed that only a revolution would bring about that change. Wallelign often pointed out the bulging oppressive class. He did not see Radical Reforms could bringing tangible changes to lift the mass from devilish poverty.
The Towering Radical Activist
Wallelign had become highly sophisticated and skilled political activist, not only on the university campus but also in every school and among the intellectuals and elites and government officials and employees. Wallelign had gained enormous popularity and was already a political icon. Wallelign was a tireless debater keen on philosophical thoughts. He was in the mist of crafting his philosophy when he allowed himself to be guided into the World he never knew.
The Last Drama
Wallelign was the most visible person on campus. That image would come to an end soon. Wallelign was finally forced to think about other things. He was aware of the hardship he would face in Ethiopia. He had to join the elite groups that waste their time lamenting on everything from street to palace politics. Wallelign was humble, courteous and principled persons, and it would have been impossible for him to fit into that crowd.
I was out of the country for almost two years, and I did not have any contact with Wallelign. When I returned, and first saw him, I rushed to greet him calling by a his nick name. He responded: “So, you have not forgotten Amharic?” I replied: “No, I am always the same “ባላገር (Balager!) you know.” We both laughed uncontrollably for several minutes pushing each other and enquiring about each other’s wellbeing. I was so happy that our sense of humors and jokes were intact. For months following, I started seeing Wallelign a little calmer. I remember when Wallelign asked me on one occasion about the opportunity of scholarship to Europe. I was about to suggest to him instead to apply to Ministry of Land Reform and Administration where I was working. I did not know what difficulties Wallelign would run into. There were numerous articles that Wallelign authored some of which had infuriated many officials including the Emperor himself.
I became very busy and Wallelign was even more busier and so weeks even months would pass by before we saw each other. On one unordinary afternoon, a colleague told me a horrible news. No word would express the anger and confusion. Wallelign had asked me many questions except one thing: the routes out of Ethiopia. He could have slipped safely out of Ethiopia via Djibouti, Humera or Moyale. Wallelign trusted the one he should not have for one-minute and that inevitably led to the disastrous end. He did not know the layers and the schemes of each layer to understand the intricate schemes of the security organs. Wallelign was articulate, thinker and, a brave man. No doubt that he reached the top of the mountain, and his legacy lives forever.