Political and Economic Forces: Living with Disagreement [In the Event of the Death or Disability of Meles Zenawi] By Tecola W. Hagos
“There were some bandas who spread rumors that the Emperor had fled the country. A Patriot would never say that.”
Now that we are hearing from BBC News that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is alive and recovering from undisclosed illness, I am particularly incensed that I have to learn about the health condition of an Ethiopian leader from foreign sources. I find the silence of the officials of the Ethiopian Government, under the present situation of the public absence of Meles Zenawi from view, irresponsible and utterly callous and disrespectful of the Ethiopian People. As Ethiopians we have every right to know where Meles Zenawi is being taken care of, if such is the case. What is his current situation? Is he dead or alive? What preparation of transfer of power is being arranged? Is there some kind of accommodation being implemented to invite the opposition groups/parties that are located in Ethiopia to participate in the transition? No matter how this crisis of the condition of Meles Zenawi is resolved, we are in a different phase from now on ward.
One important game-changer for a new beginning is to release right away the courageous journalist Eskinder Nega, politician Andualem Arage, the very young commentator Reeyot Alemu, and the many individuals who are convicted under the draconian terrorism legislations. However, I do not want anyone to misunderstand my statement as if I am gunning for forgiveness and reconciliation. I am fully opposed with such approach whether it is in connection with individual crime or collective responsibility. Our Penal Code system must play out its course. I do not support the idea that politicians, including those leaders from opposition liberation fronts and parties, who have murdered/killed, imprisoned, tortured, and/or abused Ethiopians at any time since the time of Emperor Haile Selassie go free without any formal accountability processes. Especially those who committed all kinds of crimes against the people of Ethiopia during the seventeen years of terror of Mengistu Hailemariam and his officials must not be allowed to escape proper punishment. As to the crimes of Meles Zenawi and his officials, let us have first control of the Government, and their prosecution could be pursued in an orderly and legal manner. Right now, it is not the time. “የጅብ፡ ችኩል፡ ቀንድ፡ ይነክሳል።”
The confusion between what is offered as an explanation with what is presumed to be a justification is one serious source of misunderstanding leading to violent verbal attacks, especially in cases of individuals whose temperament leans towards psychopathic behavior. Some even see unwarranted insults in my identifying individuals with their ethnic group especially when I see such individuals pretending to be something they are not in order to promote some perverted political goals. Giving proper identification of ones ancestors is not an insult. There is nothing wrong being an Amhara, or a Bantu, or a Beja, or Nilotic, or Nordic or Tygré et cetera. What would be wrong for anyone to do is to try to marginalize anyone on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or gender. For example, one reason I respect Oromos is due to the fact that every Oromo knows his or her family tree in great depth. Such awareness of ones identity ties one in a meaningful manner to ones community. Aleqa Taye in his monumental work on the history of the people of Ethiopia pointed out that fact with great admiration of the Oromos (Gallas in the lexicon of the time). Only those free-radicals (as in chemical process) discount the value of knowing ones ancestral identity.
II. What “Struggle”?
What is tragic in our current political atmosphere in the Diaspora is the fact of lack of civil commitment to a cause. The political and social distortions and harm that the Ethiopian student movement caused to our perception of the rights and duties of the Ethiopian individual and his/her relationships to society in general is incalculable. Prof Messay Kebede, one of the most astute and cerebral thinkers of our time, wrote numerous articles and an entire book demonstrating the connection between the Ethiopian students movement and the deterioration and distortions of our value system that had weathered centuries standing firm against hostile neighbors. Politically active educated Ethiopians have caused more harm than helping us in building our own civil society and our own political and economic developmental structures. In general, starting from the most mundane practice of hiding behind fake names while blogging some of the lamest inconsequential political statements to some of the most reckless mob demonstrations against well armed unscrupulous security forces, the record of Diaspora Ethiopians clearly demonstrate both political and social immaturity, acerbic dogmatism, and lack of political unity.
I hear and also read often statements and occasional essays by Diaspora “activists” identifying their activities as a political “struggle.” The meaning of “political struggle” has become exceedingly murky for me. Something must be missing in translation, for I do not see any “struggle” whatsoever in the Diaspora community, unless we consider the occasional meetings in luxury hotels, such as the Sheraton and the Hyatt et cetera as a form of struggle. In fact, that form of “struggle” is to the benefit of the participants. The audience in that form of “struggle” in luxury hotel auditoriums keeps itself sane and validated, whereas the speakers and organizers are elevated in the eyes o the Community thereby satisfying their egos. In a situation where the suicide rate of the members of the Ethiopian Diaspora Community being the highest compared to other Diaspora groups from other nations, such activities would help us control those demons of self-destruction inside of us. This observation which is quite accurate was voiced to me by my compatriot Dr.Mekonnen Meshesha, a psychologist of considerable experience and community service. I have not observed any other form of “struggle” that is political requiring great personal sacrifices by the members of the Ethiopian Diaspora except the few engaged in non-profit charitable organizations. What I see in the main in the Ethiopian Diaspora is the common-place struggle to survive in the United States or elsewhere.
What I would consider a worthy involvement in the lives of Ethiopians in the Diaspora is of the kind that considers the individual Ethiopian and his or her circumstance in life here in the United States first and foremost, real helpfulness whether individually or collectively discharged. To very many Ethiopians that truly need help the question is not about who is going to be king, but legitimate and existential questions: where are the scholarship funds? The health assistance foundations? The self-help trusts that cater to the Ethiopian community? All I see is a bunch of loud-mouths endlessly lamenting human rights abuses in Ethiopia and spitting out ethnic slurs year in year out. Grow-up people and take your responsibilities from the ground up, not the silly dream of boarding an Ethiopian Airlines and landing at Bole with a welcoming crowed of Millions of Ethiopians awaiting the arrival of enlightened “Diaspora” descending from the heavens to remedy the ills of Ethiopia. This may come as a surprise to most Diaspora aspirants that most Ethiopians I polled at home have no less contempt for Diaspora Ethiopians than the one they have for Meles Zenawi or Mengistu Hailemariam. However, there are members of the Ethiopian Diaspora worthy of our respect our undivided attention too, but they are far too far in between.
III. Response to my Essay and the Diaspora Community
Although there were some bloggers who were supportive, mostly the reactions to the first part of this essay show some of the worst form of hooliganism and irresponsible chatting/postings by individuals who seem to be throwing endless tantrums hiding behind silly made-up names and writing statements only psychopaths would write. The distortion by such individuals/bloggers of what I wrote is monumental. I never supported in any of my writings the 1995 Constitution. In Part One of this article, I was just simply pointing out the fact that even if we desire peaceful transition or transfer of power, it is not workable under the 1995 Constitution unless some steps are undertaken with the House of Representatives to fix the problem. Moreover, it is appropriate to point out here that some of such bloggers/writers have some very bizarre ideas about the concept and operations of “law,” for one “law” is not absolutely dependant on the whims and caprices of any one individual even under a government structure of tyranny. The “Law” does not die with the demise of any particular government. The “law” also includes customs and practices of a society that drives its authority to great extent from natural law and universal moral (divine) law. If we listen to the narrow and rustic views of some of the bloggers/writers on law and civil society, the Nuremberg trails against Nazi officials and collaborators would not have been possible, for example.
Some of the comments by my detractors brought back dead-end criticism on my earlier writings dealing with some of Ethiopia’s 19th Century Emperors. I stand by every word I wrote then for what I wrote was absolutely true supported by overwhelming evidence, except that I should have added some of their great virtues not just focused on their shortcomings. At any rate, whether it is Emperor Tewodros II or Emperor Menilik II, their places in our history is unshakable and one person’s criticism of some of their activities will not make a ripple of difference. Even if I take back every single word I wrote about those two emperors, the facts of their biographies and activities would still be there. Facts are facts and are hard to change, all one can do is offer various interpretations. I have much softer perception of Menilik II now after my good friend Dr. Moges Gebremariam, by way of chastising me as only good friends do, showed me a copy of a letter Emperor Menilik II wrote to my Grandfather wherein the good Emperor was expressing his concern about the health of an old man, with such humility. It is mind blowing to think of an Emperor of great power could heed the welfare of some Memhir/teacher in Boru, Wollo.
Some bloggers had questioned my commitment to Ethiopia, forgetting the fact that I have far more deeply rooted stake in Ethiopia than any squatter or some Johnny-come-lately blogger whose concept of Ethiopiawinet is quite shallow and cursory. It is laughable to promote the idea that a Mengistu-Hailemariam is more connected to Ethiopia and more patriotic than I am. After all Mengistu Hailemariam and his supporters have committed the worst brutality and criminal murders in Ethiopian history, including the murder of Emperor Haile Selassie, Abuna Theophilos, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, senior officials, and tens of thousands of innocent Ethiopians. Some of those Ethiopians whom Mengistu and his thugs murdered were genuine Patriots who bled for Ethiopia fighting the Italian Fascist military during the occupation of Ethiopia for five long harrowing years. What amazes me most is the fact that former officials and supporters of Mengistu, who are eking out a living in the West as immigrants/refugees, are still supportive and loyal to a leader who abandoned them like some garbage and fled the country with his family looting furnishings and vehicles from the Palace like a common thief that he is.
A few of the bloggers even stooped so low using my father’s name in addressing me trying to belittle my Tygrian ancestry. Let me tell you a thing or two about the patriotism and valor of Grazmatch Hagos Hailu, my Patriotic warrior father who bled for Ethiopia to the day he died some five years ago having lived a moral and rich Ethiopian life full of heroic deeds. I do not know what your fathers or grandfathers did during the Italian war; I cannot identify you because you are a bunch of cowards writing filth hiding behind fake names. And even if I know your identities, I will never belittle your parents (or ethnic background) for what they had to do in order to survive under terrible circumstances because I understand whether they were vending eggs to the Italians or working as domestics for the occupiers that was the humane thing to do to survive.
A piece of real history was hidden and buried in order to promote Haile Selassie and his returnee entourage; a great many patriots from North and South Ethiopia were systematically disfranchised and their patriotic history deliberately buried under heaps of mumbo–jumbo and exaggerated and fabricated accounts of selected individuals by court historians. Even Bahru Zewde, the great historian of my generation, was wanting for he devoted only a couple of highly generalized statements summing the heroic deeds of such great heroes in his very popular book on the history of Ethiopia from Emperor Tewodros II to the end of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign. To wit, my father, Grazmatch Hagos Hailu, my great uncles, and motley of young warriors initiated the “first” Patriotic Movement after their Commanders (including Haile Selassie) abandoned them on Mereb to Michew battlefields . They fought a great patriotic battle for five long years the length and width of Ethiopia literally after picking the Ethiopian Flag where it had fallen with the patriotic standard bearer. They fought for Ethiopia, not for Begemder, or Gojjam, or Tygrai, or Wollo, even though they hailed from those areas, and later in 1937 electing as their leader Yohannes Iyasu, the son of Lij Eyasu of Wollo.
“Patriotism began just afterwards. I became a Patriot when I refused to be ruled the Italians who occupied the area after winning their temporary victory at Maychew… And so I became part of the resistance in Begemder[Gayan, Debre Tabor, and Beleso], the land of folk heroes, and spent the next four years as a patriot under my leader Lij Yohannes Iyasu, who came from Wello.”
Grazmach Hagos Hailu
[See Andrew Hilton, The Ethiopian Patriots: Forgotten Voices of the Italo-Abyssinian War 1935-41, Spellmount, (2007) p 75. Trans. Yonatan Sahle]
All other Patriotic groups, including that of Abebe Aregai, who championed Melaketsehai Iyasu, the second son of Lij Iyasu also, were formed from six to a year later copied after that patriotic front first established near Michew, in Tygrai by my father and his warrior compatriots from Begemder, Gojjam, Tygrai, and Wollo in 1936. The tragic mistreatment and destruction later in the hands of Haile Selassie and his returnee/banda collaborators of the patriotic group of my father and his compatriots after all they have sacrificed for Ethiopia is a great reminder of the dubiousness and the ruthlessness of those who pursue power. Most members of the Diaspora may not know that Haile Selassie exiled Yohannes Iyasu to Jimma, and it was the Derg in 1975 that freed him from exile of over thirty years. My father was banned from traveling to Keffa to visit his leader, all he could do was to name his third most loved son after his Patriotic leader. Just a foot note to the popular claim of the British in liberating Ethiopia, the fact is that Dessie was liberated by Yohannes Iyasu and his Patriot followers, and Gondar was liberated on Nov 27, 1941 by the resistance movement that included my Father sent back from Addis Ababa by the order of the Emperor under the leadership of Crown Prince Asfawosen. I suppose in a scheme where their leader Yohannes Iyasu was asked to remain in Addis Ababa and later exiled.
It is only fair for individuals to be suspicious and circumspect, when it comes to Ethiopian politics and politicians, having lived through almost half a century of atrocities, devious leaders, and their sycophantic followers. Fighting Mengistu Hailemariam was not only a political necessity, but also a moral imperative. I fully supported anyone in what I perceived at the time as a courageous struggle against a brutal dictator. Thus, I supported both TPLF and EPRP in their courageous effort, what happened within the structure of each group was not transparent to me from such a distance. My whole family, especially my brothers and I, supported such resistance fronts, and a couple of them were actually on the ground where engagements took place. I read now all forms of revisionist effort to rehabilitate the murderous Mengistu and his brutal supporters and collaborators which is clearly the consequence of our social laxity and due to the irresponsible recent decisions of EPRDF leaders especially Meles Zenawi not to pursue vigorously such criminals. Now, they are raising their vicious heads even threatening me in a recent blog in response to my essay.
True, Ethiopia as we speak resembles a salad bowel with distinct communities, but tossed around in a mixture of great beauty and vitality. [However, as attractive as it is, there is a real risk of disintegration due to the malicious and destructive implementation of the Kilil system of ethnic federalism that exasperated an already frail balancing act practiced for millenniums.] Whether Ethiopia resembles a salad bowel or something else, it does not lose its primordial origin and later political and social history and its ever growing complexity. The role played by my ancestors in the creation of this great nation and also the maintenance of its continued existence through thousands of years of history cannot be simply be denied by calling me names, especially by individuals that do not have neither courage nor knowledge. I am not just an Ethiopian, but a passionate Ethiopian, period. Due to my blunt statements, some over sensitive individuals may think that I am arrogant and chauvinistic. I would rather be seen excessive in my sentiments and passion for my Motherland than be considered as some “fair-weather” Ethiopian.
IV. Muslim Religious Leaders on Ethiopian TV
I watched ETV’s last week presentation of the incident that took place In Addis Ababa of demonstrations by some Muslims protesting the “interference” of the Government in their religious affairs (July 16, 2012, July 22-4, 2012). I was moved by the great wisdom and eloquent statements made by several Muslim leaders and religious teachers being interviewed on the recent destructive demonstrations by Muslim fanatics. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the profundity of their thoughts and grateful for their genuine love of our common Motherland. All along over the years, I have stated that Ethiopia is our common Motherland that each one of us no matter our diverse background have equal stake in its welfare and no less responsibility fighting to preserve our national integrity and sovereignty for our Motherland. I have said that our call of duty and commitment cannot be carried out by a surrogate when it comes to protecting and fighting for Ethiopia, it is everyone’s privilege and duty. And in no uncertain terms these great Muslim leaders and great philosophers laid out their inclusive and patriotic vision for all of us. I wish our Diaspora politicians would have the humility to learn from such great Ethiopians. In order to incorporate in our lexicon in our discourses, here under I have encapsulated the views of those Muslim scholars and leaders I remember by name:
1. Sheik Ahmed Ibrahim, a great sage of over 85 years from Addis Ababa, talked of tolerance and the depth and wisdom of the Holy Koran and the Hadith that counters fanaticism and promotes peaceful coexistence. He literally cried recalling how the fanatics had defiled the graves of many great Ethiopian Muslim scholars and venerable teachers, one of whom was his own teacher. This was one truly moving moment for me.
2. Shiek Ahmed Zeyin – From Amhara/Wollo area – spoke of the verification and ontology of truth. He stressed how fanatics distort the truth through partial-truth and fallacious statements, and cover their hidden agenda with claims of Koranic mandate.
3. Sheik Abdi Ibrahim – From Oromo region expressed the concern of Muslim Ethiopians in the role played out by foreign influence of fanaticism from Libya, Syria and other Arab countries and foreign organization such as Al-Ahbash aimed to create conflict within the Ethiopian community. He laid out the long history of communal life in Ethiopia.
5. Sheik Mufti – From Bale/Oromo area, an elderly leader who stressed the importance of law and order. He expounded the relationship between constitutional freedoms of religion and the limit set by the interest of the Government to keep peace and security among all Ethiopians not just for one religious or political group.
6. Sheik Abubeker from Addis Ababa was the youngest among those patriotic Muslim leaders and teachers/scholars, but his youthful appearance did not diminish the depth and profundity of his thoughts on the role that ought to have been played by the Government in curbing the destructiveness of the fanatic fundamentalist group much earlier. He pointed out that every one must be vigilant to stand against those who are aiming to turn Ethiopia into a failed State like Somalia.
I was reflecting on that TV discussion far into the night after watching the interview program with wide open eyes. No interview in my life had ever profoundly affected my thinking about the future of Ethiopia as did the interview of those truly great leaders. I am more than ever convinced that the Diaspora as a community is more of a burden and more of a destructive force for Ethiopians at home. For example, a group that calls itself Ethiopian Christian and Muslim Council had issued a statement condemning the arrest of members of the group that organized and carried out an insurgent movement in the guise of Muslim revival/sediqua in Addis Ababa a couple of weeks ago.
I do believe that the problem of Muslim fanaticism was brought about by the Ethiopian Government’s ill advised and divisive policy to allow Wahabist involvement in the Ethiopian Muslim community through Mohammad Al’Amoudi who seems to have worked for years in collaboration with the Saudi Security officials’ setup in undermining the long term interest of Ethiopia. Al’Amoudi is a disruptive variable whether his involvement has to do with Ethiopia’s economy and/or its national security. It is truly tragic that some members of the Diaspora joined hands in supporting fanatics without knowing the destructive agenda of such foreign sponsored group (Al-Ahbash, Wahabists) that was clearly using religion to disrupt and create chaos in our Ethiopian society. One must be careful not to be blinded by ones hate for Meles or for Tygreans from acting out in a way that will hurt Ethiopia and its security interest. I hear and read the writings also of infantile aspirations of some members of the Diaspora to have unlimited individual freedom to say anything they want, do anything they want, create and join any type of organization, and ultimately become every single one of them Prime Ministers and high officials of the Ethiopian Government. The Ethiopian Diaspora community must really look at itself very carefully not in a self indulgent mirror but in the mirror provided by Ethiopians back home.
I wish also the great religious Fathers and leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church take the initiative to form a truly patriotic and nationalist connective organization that will have as its members such patriotic and wise Muslim leaders as partners and work for better understanding and close cooperation as one people living in a single Motherland that is equally dear to all its children. At my age, I cannot be swayed easily by high sounding words and phrases. I know that the vision of a truly one Ethiopian people is not a figment of my imagination, but the reality that is deep within each of us. I ask all here, what person would truly want to see such a wonderful country with the richness of diversity, the cradle of mankind and civilization perish? God Bless Ethiopia.
Tecola W. Hagos
Copyright © Phineaus St. Claire, 2012
Political and Economic Forces: Diaspora Politics and the Local Power Structure and the Legacy of Meles Zenawi