Teklemichael Sahlemariam Is Ethiopia’s Loss and Canada’s Gain By Chris Goldsburger

July 15th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

Teklemichael Sahlemariam has only lived in Canada for a decade yet he has achieved what most would only dream of achieving in a lifetime.

The Canadian lawyer, one-time Ethiopian refugee is emerging as the most reasonable voice for Ethiopia and Ethiopians in Canada and in their homeland. It is unfortunate; he is not in Ethiopia, fighting for the ideals he passionately cares about. It disappoints me to know the young man is a wanted man in his homeland and will likely be sent to prison if he set foot there for advocating for political change. To Canada, he is one of our valued celebrated Canadian citizens.

In 2011, a colleague from my law-school days had suggested I meet with the young political activist in Victoria. I was a retired lawyer and he was a new Law school graduate. I was not sure if we would have anything in common to talk about.

I suggested we meet at my favorite Irish bar and he wanted to invite me to an Ethiopian restaurant. I was not sure. I was not familiar with the food. I persisted we go to an Irish bar and I won.

There was nothing extraordinary about him when he walked to my table 15 minutes later than expected apologizing repeatedly. His hair was a mess and his facial hair had almost swallowed his baby face. His grey hair made him look 20 years older than his actual age. I expected our conversation to last an hour and I wanted an use an excuse of family obligations to leave.

By the third round of our drinks – he prefers Heineken – I had been extremely taken-aback by this young man.

A university student leader during an Ethiopian election, he had fled to Kenya and Uganda as a political refugee. He had challenged the Ethiopian authority and they had come after him. His many friends had been beaten up, and many have disappeared to neighboring countries. He also would follow in their footsteps. From the day he left, he would refuse to cut or trim his hair, as a protest to what was happening, in Ethiopia.

My only association with his country was during the infamous Ethiopia famine where I had made a generous donation with my wife. For me, Ethiopia, always represented misery and charity, but that would soon change. Beyond the history and politics of his home country, he knew more about Canada more than I would care to know. He loved Canada and respected the many Canadians who gave him opportunities along the way.

He had come to Canada, as a refugee and with a still incomplete academic destination, yet would soon earn an undergraduate degree, an LLB and LLM in record time. Upon graduation, while unsuccessfully securing an internship, he would become a powerful voice with ESAT – a TV station that opposes the Ethiopian government. (In 2014, he was called to the bar). He would introduce me the biographies of Eskender Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and an Amnesty International adopted prisoner of conscious.

The one-hour planned conversation would last four hours. At the end, I would gain an understanding of the hope and reality of Ethiopia. I would soon read books and follow the current politics of the country. The reality of today’s Ethiopia – is where a brutal government holds an election and every parliamentarian seats is won by them while opposition leaders are imprisoned and journalists who did not endorse the government are imprisoned.

Teklemichael Shalemariam is an important and extraordinary voice in Canada – for better ideals for all of us. I have never known a better advocate for peaceful political change, at home and abroad, than him. I am lucky to have known him and continue to have a regular conversation about many important issues, including about Ethiopia and Canada. I am forever thankful that Canada has given such a significant voice a home. He is Ethiopia’s loss but Canada’s gain.

  1. woyane is in crisis -politically and financially?
    | #1

    Dear Chris Goldburge
    What promped you to write about him?
    We know Aleka Tekle. Is there a purpose for writing about him because We know many other Ethiopians like him?

  2. Dawi
    | #2

    [[..My only association with his country was during the infamous Ethiopia famine … Ethiopia, always represented misery and charity, but that would soon change…]]

    How? Is the world freer because of economic growth?

    I say yes, the world is a freer place now because of mainly economic growth and that is that is probably the only reason “Ethiopia’s misery” is going to change soon.

    Trying to convince a westerner idealist to pursue an old “civilizing effort” as missionaries did in the 19th century is not necessary if you ask me. However, if this guy also opposes Canada’s human rights violations in 2015 against indigenous women as accused by UN it is a different story; I won’t held my breath because chances are the guy cares less about such issues sensing his write up. Brother Teke should have brought that subject up during his 4 hrs conversation. I doubt if he did because such sensitive issue would have been included in the write up by the man and the whole thing wouldn’t have been one sided.

  3. Redone
    | #3

    You have a whole picture of the complicated Ethiopian politics just by having a 4 hours leisurely conversation with an opposition member. I am impressed. [End of sarcasm!]

  4. Mulunesh Garba
    | #4

    No amount of self-promotion vicariously like this post could help Ethiopia.Ethiopia at this key juncture in its history needs a Knight Warrior, period. Not the inane utterings of so many PhDs or Lawyers we have since May 1991. Nor the diasporas who supported economically the enslavement of their own country and their own people. When an Ethiopian takes Ethiopian Air-lines, send remittance through the Bank of Woyane, buys fresh injera, teff, beriberi, and buy a house with hard currency, which is ferociously expensive and unfordable for the local people. The diaspora in every respect are much Worse than the predatory widow Azeb Mesfin, who runs the country as a private estate. Sufficed to say, launch arm-struggle as the only means to free the country from the conqueror Woyane.

  5. Dawi
    | #5

    [[..The reality of today’s Ethiopia – is where a brutal government holds an election and every parliamentarian seats is won by them while opposition leaders are imprisoned and journalists who did not endorse the government are imprisoned..]]

    Where is the balance??

    “Brutality” is maybe in the eyes of the beholder; other than that, the reality in “human rights” for African origins in America is worst than Ethiopia.

    In North America, 1 in every 13 African Americans – can’t vote because of felony convictions to begin with and 1 person is killed by a security officer on the average every 28 hours. Report notes that it’s possible that the real number could be much higher. This is in addition of mass incarcerations of non whites. Blacks are 13% of the population but, they’re 40% of the prison population and receive longer sentences compared to whites. Most are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. That is what we and our kids are dealing with here for those who don’t know.

    That is why I said the write up lacks balance. Can he tell us what Teklemichael “achieved” considering what he is facing here?

    Frankly, we are all here mainly for economic reason; only few of us if any are engaged in local American politics.

  6. Kassa
    | #6

    I wonder why you wrote about him? Are you in love with him or something else?

  7. Anonymous
    | #7

    I know Aleka Tekle,
    There are two things I take away from the story: The writer has got a mission suddenly and he is getting on it through one reason or two, and he found Tekle to spend the rest of his fruitful time serving the cause of humanity via the causes of Ethiopia! Tekle became the channel and the bridge for that purpose, and credit goes to Tekle for winning the heart of one person (plus his wife). It looks not normal, but it may be the case. Tekle is a young person and has a lot of prospects ahead of him. This may be open the opportunity for him via his new friend. I wish him best of luck. These are the positive aspects that entered my mind when I read the story. I cannot think or allow myself to think any negative thing attached to the story. I won’t make it my nature. Not to put down others’ opinions or assumptions, I merely reflected my view.

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    I commend Chris for talking to this clever Ethio-Canadian who has done so much for ideals he believed in. Tekle believes in Centralized political system where Ethiopia is governed by Amhara ethnic group and regional demarcation in
    the country is not based on ethnic or linguistic group. Tekle also believes that Amaharic should be the national language of the country. He is always upset seeing that Various ethnic/linguistic groups are working on promoting their culture and language in Ethiopia.

    Chris, you have now grasped one of the political opinions in Ethiopia. I encourage you to speak to people on the other side as well. I suggest you speak to Oromo elites, Tigrean officials in government as well as in opposition. It may also be educational if you talk to Sidama, Kambata and members of South Ethiopian nations and nationalities. Thanks for the article you wrote on Tekle.

  9. Don
    | #9

    It’s really excited when you see someone that you love. I wish to love them one I cherish from my. Heart

  10. Lessons to learn
    | #10

    Dear Dawi
    Please do not generalize by saying:
    ‘… Frankly, we are all here mainly for economic reason…’
    I agree in most of your comments but this generalization is wrong for several reasons. If you leave your country for economic reasons then it reflects the failure a government polices to create jobs and security to its citizen. Specially when considering Woyane politics I do not think your generalization reflects majorities dying in the sea and deserts of Shara in fleeing their country.


  11. Waaqoo
    | #11

    How disgusting are we grown? It is pity that all of the comments above are pretty rubbish and an expression of the apex of ones brutal ignorance. Please grow up and learn to appreciate even if you don’t agree with.

  12. Lessons to learn
    | #12

    Dear Mr Goldsburger
    I thought you will defend your witness statement by explaining purpose, and motive and timing.

    I watched tv documentaries of expert witnesses lying for money. Any way I am not against your statement but the motive and purpose of is not clear.
    Thank you.

  13. Lessons to learn
    | #13

    Without prejudice
    I found you guilty of conspiracy to deceive us as if you are spoken person or Tebeka of Lij Tekliye.

    I am asking to compensate us for drugging Lij Tekl name into mud as if he could not earn or achieve his dream of becoming Ethiopian leader by the merit of his own efforts.

    I have several times asked you to defend the motive and purpose of your writing. But you refused to answer or to settle the issue by answering our (myself and others) concerns.

    Your action amounts to indiscriminate generalization of our ability to choose our own leaders. Your unprovoked attack upon our ability to judge who should lead us amounts to meddling with Ethiopian politics and our ability to judge who could be our future leaders.

    I am asking you to compensate us by
    1. clearly stating your motive and purpose of your article
    2. asking Lij Aleka Tekle to comment on your article
    3. that you will not in the future attempt of such malicious attack on our ability to know our leaders, friends, or enemies

    I expect your response asap before I believe that you are meddling with Ethiopian politics just because you are ex-lawyer with colonial mentality.
    Ball is you in your court!!!

  14. Dawi
    | #14

    Dear Lessons to learn,

    The reason I generalized is considering the human right violations we and our kids are facing at this moment as black people in North America, I don’t see any other reason that compels us to stay here except economics. Do you?

    I agree it is our historical failure to “create jobs and security” fast enough that is causing life threatening migration but, is there a quicker policy than the present “developmental state” policies to get us to a middle income country status sooner? That is the question one needs to answer.

  15. Lessons to learn
    | #15

    Dear Dawi
    Thanks. let me give you my Dawla answer.
    I agree with you on your point about black people experiences in USA
    But the issue raised here is about Ethiopian government policies which failed its citizen to feed, protect, and provide shelter, educations, Developmental state polices are responsible for thousands to leave their country and for millions living in poverty, for hundreds of young people dying in Sahara desert

    Tekle and thousands others become refugee or left Ethiopia because of the current developmental state policies. we are discussing about the present and the future because we can not change the past.

    The question one to answer is when policies fail to deliver basic things for its citizens then those responsible must leave office, abandon their polices or will be forced to leave.

    thank you again.

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