The Hopes and Hooplas of the Millennium Week – By Fekade Shewakena
What a weeeeek it was last week in DC!! A week of love, solidarity and togetherness among my fellow Ethiopians in the Washington DC area and the many who have come from different parts of the world to celebrate the down of the new Ethiopian millennium and receive the Kinijit heroes visiting the US.
The conferences we had on the multifaceted issues of Ethiopia, the concerts and cultural shows that celebrate our heritage – all of them made by the people for the people with no coercive authority telling us how to do it – it was simply magnificent, memorable and a testimony not only to the rich heritage and history of our beautiful country, but also of the fact that Ethiopians have become a more powerful community in Diaspora. I wish this strength serves us strengthen our country and that we have done everything we did here back home in Ethiopia. I am not sure if the control freaks ruling our country, who block websites and cell-phone text messaging accessible only to a minute fraction of the population, would let us do it.
My ferenji friend who has been to many of our community occasions has endless admiration for Ethiopians and repeatedly told me that we are resourceful and beautiful people. I thanked him for that and I know he was sincere. But as most non Ethiopian friends often do, he came up with that sickening question and said, “you are all beautiful, intelligent and culturally rich and one of the oldest of civilizations and I cannot fathom why the image of poverty is the only thing we in the west are made to stick with when we think of Ethiopia”. Already and amid the celebrations, I had flashbacks of that obscene poverty back home, starving children on the streets, people with reached clothes, my fellow Ethiopians in the Ogaden whose villages are burnt to the ground by their cruel rulers, and the millions that may not even care to know what day of the week it is let alone a millennium week. I think part of it is a sense of shame, but I am also tired of answering this question. I know how to explain it, but it pains me and sometimes gets me outraged as I think and talk about it. I know my country very well- have been to every part of it. My country, the water tower of Africa, the land and the origin of the muddy Nile, the Baro, Shebelle, Tekezze, Ghenale, the Awash and the Omo rivers, is capable of feeding many multiples of its current size. I also know that some of the world’s hardest working farmers live in Ethiopian. Thanks to our collective failure and our governments who corked our potential in favor of their greed and lust for oppressive power, our mothers are still carrying water on their backs as they have done over the past several hundred years.
As luck would have it for a consolation and distract these flashbacks, some of Ethiopia’s bravest were here among us with images of hope. Some of Ethiopia’s children who decided to fight and die carrying our collective dream of a better country. I am talking about the leaders of Kinijit who just got out of the hellhole in Kaliti for the only reason of dreaming big for their country and trying to rally their people to a better future. If you have been to the airports where thousands came out to receive them, you could easily tell that our people are hungry for heroes, leaders, and for people that dare to dream big and work for the kind of country Ethiopia can and deserves to be. I was there to receive them. You may not want to believe me, but this was a day that I saw love moving physically, flowing like a river from inside men, women, the young and the old. I am sure the place has never seen anything that looks like it. Stunned travelers and airport policemen were watching us like fools as we waved our flag and drive in a caravan of miles and miles of cars following the tricolor draped limo that carried these children made its way into Washington DC.
There she was, the peoples lawyer, Birtukan, almost drowned in the flood. Berhanu managed to wrench himself of nearly a hundred hands trying to get a piece of him and the charismatic Gizachew attempting to hug everyone running toward him, the grey haired wonderful Dr. Hailu was nearly trampled upon by his admirers. The otherwise calm and quite Brook Kebede was in broad smile throwing both hands as if to give himself to everyone coming his way. The scene was the same one week later when of Ato Hailu Shaul arrived. One has to be there to understand what I am saying. I have seen many people with tears even as they laugh in joy.
But the climax came on Sunday, September 16th. A gathering of Ethiopians in one huge hall, rarely observed among Ethiopians in DC unless it is Tedi’s concert. But it almost looked like a concert as the five came to the huge Chrystal Gateway Marriot in Virginia. The band of five showed up with their tricolor scarves wrapped around their necks. Soon the packed auditorium started to overflow, but luckily, the hall was extendable, a wall was removed, and the entire space was packed to the brim again. It was time to listen to the music. In speech after speech each one of them showed us their determination and conviction that they will not rest until our country begins the road to join the communities of democracies around the world.
Dr. Berhanu’s was dubbed by many as the speech of the Millennium. I have rarely seen the Amharic language put to such a wonderful use. It was simple clear, visionary and moving and to the point. But one has to be there and see Berhanu himself, the expressions on his face, the piercing eyes that see beyond the horizon, to complete the beauty and flawlessness of both the substance of what he spoke and the beauty of his language use. It sounds like a sequel to his wonderful book “Yenetsanet Goh Siked” that he wrote while in prison. His speech was the music of hope for all of us. Dr. Berhanu’s speech should reach every Ethiopian including the tormentors of our people. At a minimum they should appreciate that this is coming from a person who refused to be bitter after having been subjected to so much injustice. There are no better words to begin the political discussion of the new millennium than this speech. The speech may not be everything, but it definitely can serve as a framework to guide the next political discourse in our country. I hope people both in the opposition and the government itself have heard the cry for civilized dialogue and a nonviolent solution to stop the dangerous trend the country is currently on.
Here is a recommendation. If Ato Meles Zenawi wants us to buy the portrayal of himself as an intellectual and all he is telling us about development and prosperity is from his heart, here is a real chance for him. He should put down the gun and sit down with Berhanu in public and debate with him. The one way lectures don’t do it. Ato Meles, if you happen to read this piece, you cannot hold a gun with one hand and lecture us on democracy and your models of development and then look intellectual. Those of us on all locations on the political spectrum will have to encourage this direction. This is a good point to start the new Millennium. As Dr. Berhanu pointed out, it is a shame that we pride ourselves with thousands of years of independence and still measure way behind our neighbors in Africa that got their independence only some 40 years ago. Ato Meles’s tired theory of the so called “developmental state”, real name, “economic growth under dictatorship”, is not going to work in Ethiopia for many obvious reasons. In the first place, it should be condemned as a cruel and sadistic use of our people’s poverty for political purposes. Secondly dictatorship and economic progress is pure oxymoronic, particularly in our country where conflict and resentment to such widespread human rights abuse is growing by the day. I am sure this growing generation of self respecting and democracy seeking Ethiopians will reject the suggestion that they be led like herds without freedom for the promise of feeding them like cattle sometime later.
The wonderful Ethiopians who filled the Marriot auditorium with passionate love of country and freedom and generously dipped into their pockets to raise fund for Kinijit should also be applauded. They came to listen to the Kinijit delegates and make contribution defying negative campaigns to do so. There were unsigned flyers every where telling people not to attend the gathering and fundraising event. You may think these flyers are sent by some enemy of Kinijit. No, actually the same flyer surfaced on the Kinijit.org for some time. Yah, it is sad but true. We are condemned to have down sides when we just think we are moving forward.
Yes! This is Ethiopia. The devil is running amok in our midst and spoiling the party. It appears that some rancor peddlers and do nothing egomaniacs, who have been preparing hard for sometime, have made a day for themselves by using problems in the leadership. That Engineer Hailu is currently at odds with the rest of the delegation and the Kinijit leadership is an open secret. It appears they have succeeded in hijacking Ato Hailu Shawul by successfully feeding him negative information and expanding the small problems inside the leadership. Ato Hailu missed this wonderful meeting at the Marriot Hall and also his chance to thank the thousands who worked day and night for the freedom of all of them. Later that day, while the jubilant gathering was going on at the auditorium of the Marriot Hotel, they dragged him into an interview on a radio station run by a community outcast who is notorious for stealing money from funds raised to help famine victims in Ethiopia and who, a few months ago, was goading Lidetu to unleash his diatribe against Ato Hailu himself. This rude former Abyot tebaki, typical to his street harasser culture, was badmouthing the peoples’ lawyer, Birtukan Mideksa, the vice chair of Kinijit in despicable language. He did the same thing before some years back accusing Ato Hailu himself for the death of Professor Asrat. Ato Hailu cannot be blamed for this, but the people who seem to have hijacked him and set him up with this notorious moron are total heartless beings. These people are so backward looking that they are unable to see that the train has left station. Instead of encouraging Ato Hailu to engage in dialogue and rest to recover from his illness, they drag him everyday for interviews on radio stations. I respect Ato Hailu immensely. But I am looking at a person engaged in self destruction and destroying his legacy. I am sorry for him and hope he will soon discover he is on the wrong track crowded with a bunch of people from a different era.
Ato Hailu’s handlers are unable to see a trend that more and more Ethiopians in Diaspora are refusing to have their intelligence insulted by people who still think like the medieval times, hate mongers and divisive elements. Yes, as far as most Diaspora Ethiopians are concerned the train has left the station. I am not sure how they can either stop it or catch it. Kinijit has now grown beyond individuals. Its ideals are indestructible. It is understandable that here remains a lot of internal work to make the party work democratically and with strong discipline. The party is still a work in progress. Kinijit was initially conceived as a coalition for the purpose of winning the election, which I believe it successfully did. It is the momentum and the need for unity that propelled it toward becoming a party. We need to let the leaders sort out their problems within themselves using democratic principles. None of the leaders in any case should be allowed to stand above the organization. People should understand that this is an organization that has produced martyrs – they too own the future of the party and don’t forget they are looking down on us from the heavens.
Ato Hailu is a respectable person and one who has done a lot for the struggle for democracy in our country. He is physically ill as we saw him when he arrived. I prey for him and wish him speedy recovery. I admire him but that doesn’t mean he is beyond criticism. All of them for that matter should open for criticism. I now see he is making a mistake. I was disappointed by his refusal to meet with the Washington DC Metro Kinijit Support Chapter which literally did most of the campaign in Washington DC for their freedom. I know the rest of the leaders respect him a lot. One of his admirers is Dr Berhanu Nega. He once told me that he admires his sense of dignity and pride. “Gashe Hailu”, Dr. Berhanu told me, “is a kind of person you rarely see carry himself with dignity and pride under the most difficult times”. “He is a great inspiration to me” he told me. This is verbatim from a person these medieval crooks are accusing of fomenting a coup de tat against Ato Hailu. It is despicable, and all of us should condemn these crooks for fabricating phantom conspiracies. These crooks love themselves more than anybody. If they have an iota of integrity or love of country or respect for him and his legacy they would not drag him in this mud. We all need to admire the patience and tolerance of the rest of the delegation against the daily onslaught on their integrity.
I still believe there still is a solution, although I see the problem has progressed to a braking point. Here is a solution. Stop the fanning. This is not a soccer game. Try to encourage all of them to discuss internal party problems together and make their decisions according to their laws. People who work hard for democracy and pay dearly for it should be the first to try democracy to solve their problems.
Here is another problem for the conflict peddlers inside Kinijit, the medieval wing of the party and groups who want to think to raise their profile with the demise of others. The Ethiopian people don’t like what is being done to their Kinijit here in America. This peddlers should fear that the Ethiopian people, not the woyane will hung them on lamp posts when returning back home. All genuine freedom and democracy seeking Ethiopians should not let this happen. We want a civilized political discourse in our country. We are tired of empty bravado.
I am convinced we are on a new beginning with the New Year and the New Millennium. Our dream shall be realized if we refuse to be misled by people who want to drag us back. Add the upsides and the down sides together. The net result is that it was a good millennium week. Let’s not allow anyone to drag us back. Someone tell these people that the train has left station. Worry less my friends, everything will be ok!