A Satire: The Conference of the oppressed – By Fekade Shewakena
An Orwellian drama was on show last Sunday, December 9, 2007 in theaters in Ethiopia and the most attended was in play in the city of Awassa. The show was carried live on televisions and radio stations across the country. The play is named “The Day of Nations and Nationalities of Ethiopia”. All the apparatchiks of Meles Zenawi and the representatives of the so called nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia have descended on Awassa in mass. Private hotels in the city were brought under the command of the government and individuals contracting some of the hotel rooms were kicked out to make room for the representatives (See news here). Nearly all representatives of the nations and nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia, as Meles wants to call them, had parts to play, some are, of course, extras. Zenawi plays the part of, what was that clever pig in Orwell’s Animal farm, that all the four legged animals repute with such an ability of a tongue that is capable of making you believe black is white? I think it is Squealer. The show is very much a plagiarism of Orwell’s Animal Farm. The only difference in the Awassa case is that the actors are human beings, not animals. Other star actors include Ato Ghirma Woldegiorgis and Abadula Gemeda. The Amhara are also represented and played by their son, that most Amhara of all Amharas, Bereket Simon. Ato Addisu Legesse, known as Mr. Interhamwe, for his repeated use of the strange word during the May 2005 election debate is also a supporting actor as is Teferea Walwa. The walls of the stage are decorated with slogans, the most prominent of which reads, “Neftegna Bad! TPLF/EPRDF Good”. There is also a big picture of a helicopter dropping bread and banana to joyful children in the Ogaden hanging on the wall of the assembly hall.
The show begins by giving this year’s lifetime achievement award to the Somalis of Ogadenia for being the most free of the free nations and nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. The representative of the Somalis in the Ogaden rose up and walked to the stage with his face beaming with smile. Meles beams back to him and asked Ato Girma to give the freedom award the Somali Killil Representative. Meto Aleqa Girma was also showing some face of glee but for some reason it looked like he was crying.
The Ogadeni representative turned to the crowed after taking the Medal of Honor on behalf of his people and said, “Thank you Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. President. Thank you for honoring us with this award this year, we waited too long for it”, he continued. “The cruel neftegnas who incorporated us into Ethiopia a hundred years ago by force and their ferenji friends keep telling the mother of all lies about the Ogaden these days. They are telling the world and writing on their papers that the sacred constitution of the oppressed people of Ethiopia is violated in the Ogaden”. He continued, “These neftegnas deliberately confuse the world by saying that the bread and banana being thrown in the Ogaden from helicopters are bombs to kill the innocent. Comrades from oppressed nations and nationalities, nothing can be further from the truth, and Prime Minister Meles knows this very well” he went on, looking toward a nodding Meles Zenawi. “The round metallic things that were falling from the skies of Ogaden are actually bread and banana. Some of the metals delivered by the Ethiopian Defense Forces were actually cooking utensils. Comrades, can’t you see on television the huge smoke clouding the villages as people were cooking food? Enough with this lie comrade representatives of the oppressed nations and nationalities! Enough! Freedom is shining in Ogadenia! This falsehood has been said about many oppressed peoples in the past as well. Some years back, it was the Agnuak, the Sidamas, the Hadyas and Wolaitas! etc”. “No one was killed in Ogaden, there was no rape but there was a lot of love making, no lynching and hanging of young men on trees, none. In our free and prosperous republic, we hang dead goats from trees not people. Period! Thank you. Long live the TPLF/ EPRDF and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Girma, death to liars”.
Representatives of the Agnuak, the Sidamas, the Wolaitas and the others from Southern Ethiopia, who have had lifetime achievement awards of their own over the past several years, were also there in the crowed proudly wearing their medals of freedom and nodding their heads as their Somali comrade was speaking the truth. The Ogadeni finished to a round of applause and standing ovation.
The Oromo, the largest nation in Ethiopia that keeps getting awards of freedom every year, is played by none other than Girma Woldegiorgis, the most powerful man, sitting at the helm of power in Ethiopia and Abadulla Gemeda, the President of Oromia, another powerful man. Zenawi, who was master of ceremony, took the podium and said “Oh, hear ye, oppressed people! Who can tell you the truth than the true representative of the Somali people of
Ogaden? Are you going to believe Kinijt or Donald Payne or Abdul Hamid from Ogadenia? He asked to a deafening applause of affirmation. But soon the hall was filled with a murmuring sound and a commotion set in. Order! Meles shouted, with his eyes looking for General Samora Yunus. In the commotion someone from the crowed run to the stage and whispered to Meles that the murmuring is not a disagreement with him but people were asking one another about who Donald Payne is. “I seeeeeeee!” Meles said, and continued, “Oh! Respected representatives of oppressed peoples, I am sure you have not heard enough about Donald Payne and HR2003 and I know the reason for the confusion in the house. I am sorry for not sufficiently explaining that. You see, Donald Payne is a white man who is trying to colonize our oppressed nations and nationalities. He is a white American congressman who has written a law for us in place of our constitution just as the Italians did in 1882. HR2003 means they are going to cut us into 2003 pieces” he said to a shocked house. Donald Payne is telling us to have an election board that he does not even recommend to his own country. He was sitting mum while Bush’s brother was supervising his brother’s election and counting the votes, now he wants to disturb our election laws and our development that brought you here today” Meles said eloquently. The moment Donald Payne’s name was mentioned Tefera Walwa, who was in charge of showing the power point presentation, posted the actual picture of Donald Payne on the screen. “Look at him, this is Donald Payne and he is a white man” Meles said using a pointer on the screen. At this time another commotion ensued near the seat of the representatives from South Omo. A representative named Mr. Dassicho from Dassenech nationality of South Omo, formerly known as the Geleb, rose to his feet and loudly said, “Mr. Prime Minister, there is a mistake, the picture we are seeing is not that of a white person, I know what white men look like as some of them often come to our villages, the aid giving people you know”, Dassicho said and took his seat. The nationalities from Mursi, Bena Kule, Konso, Erbore, and the Hamar clapped their hands in support of Dassicho a representative from their region. (In the part of Ethiopia they come from people don’t lie or accept lie easily as a matter of their culture). “Comrade Dassicho from the Dasenech oppressed nationality and others from South Omo, this picture you see is that of a white man, maybe there is what physicists call refraction on your sight. You guys don’t read books as I do and you don’t know the physics of how light travels from the picture to your eyes. I think you may have developed refraction that can show black people as white. This white man is Donald Payne whose ancestors took the land of the oppressed Indians of America. Brothers and sisters focus your eyes a bit and see! Focus! Wear your glasses if you have and see! He is white”, said emphatic Meles. It is also possible that the computer has distorted him for you to look black, you don’t know how these computers are sometimes confusing unless you use them as frequently as I do” Meles kept on, with his nerves showing like a horn all over his bold head. At this time everybody began staring in pain to focus on Donald Payne’s picture on the screen to see if it really is a white man’s picture. Even Bereket and Tefera Walwa drew out their glasses and began staring at the picture. Mr. Walwa changed the image background to black so that the picture appears whiter but unfortunately, Mr. Payne’s picture could not change to white. After a few minutes pause, Meles asked the audience if they are not convinced that Mr. Donald Payne’s picture on the screen is not of a white man. At this time most of the representatives said they are convinced he is white. Some representatives from the South including Dassicho from Dassenech could not agree. “No sir, I only see black man, I swear in God’s name, and I have no reason to lie”, said Dassicho and asked Meles to come see it from his seat.
To clear the doubts of many of representatives Meles suggested that judge Adil, of the High Court give his verdict about the color of the man on the screen. Judge Adil was called to the podium. Judge Adil stood in front of the picture and Shimelis Kemal stood on the side to make sure Adil gets it clearly. Adil asked Meles if it is possible to postpone the verdict for another day so that the other judges that were sick that day would accompany him and help. Meles said that he should give a verdict now saying emphatically that, “justice delayed is justice denied”, to the applause of the representatives. Judge Adil posed for a few minutes on the picture, then looked at Shimelis Kemal and then Meles and then Bereket and finally turned to the crowed and said, “the the court has decided that the picture you see here on this screen of Donald Payne is that of a white man” and walked back to his seat. That was followed by deafening applause, Abadulla and Teferra and Addisu were jumping up and down. Squealer can’t make mistakes. Soon Meles called order and said, “Thanks to our justice system and democracy we got it right finally. But you should also understand that it is your right to believe, Donald Payne is black. It is your democratic right that is guaranteed in the constitution, but when you go back and tell your people you cannot say he is black for it means you will be going against the court’s decision”. After saying this, Meles whispered at Bereket’s ear to make sure that he assigned sufficient plain cloth operatives in the crowed to find out which representatives of the oppressed nations were adamant to accept Donald Payne as a white man. “Comrade Bereket, make it a point that these stubborn people are not coming back to the celebration next year”, Meles whispered into Bereket’s ear.
“Oppressed Oromos of Ethiopia, continued Meles, “I now give you president Girma Woldegiorgis who is the ultimate first person in Ethiopia. “Oh, people of Oromia”, he added,” rejoice since Meto Aleqa Girma represents a power and position in direct proportion to the size of the Oromo nation. He makes decisions for the country including giving pardons to convicted people against our wish and attending funerals and receiving dignitaries. He is irreplaceable and that is why the tax payers of Ethiopia are paying everything necessary to keep him alive. If he is dead the sky would fall on us, particularly on the Oromo people” Meles continued, “Oh, Oromia rejoice, for the first time in history an Oromo is the head of Ethiopia”.
Dressed in traditional Oromo outfits Meto Aleqa Girma looked charismatic while in his seat. The only problem with him was that he forgot to take enough Viagra in the morning that day to keep him in an erect position. He was unable to deliver his speech standing. Squealer asked the audience to allow Meto Aleqa Girma to speak while sitting. A huge applause to Meles was taken as a response of affirmation. Meto Aleqa Girma pulled the speaker to his mouth and said “Ehhhhhhhh” followed by a long pause. He then uttered an inaudible word and then went ehhhhh again. Another ehhhh and another inaudible word and another ehhh! and on and on. The crowd was cold and could not gather a word of what Meto Aleqa Girma said. Meles finally took the mike from Ato Girma with his two hands and asked the audience to stand on its feet and applaud the most powerful man. Abadulla then came swinging to cover for the lost opportunity. “Brothers and sisters Oromia is a free land and nobody can stop us from speaking in our language now! Nobody would cut fingers and legs and breasts of the Oromo now. When the EPRDF came in 1991, there were about one million legs and breasts ready in line to be cut by the neftegnas, according a study made by our best scholars Dr. Gemechu and Dr. Mekonnen Dissassa”, he said. “Brothers and sisters of the oppressed nations and nationalities and peoples, I am an Oromo, and there are millions of Oromos in this country that have been oppressed for nearly one hundred years until the TPLF/EPRDF came and saved us”, he went on. “I know there are other Oromos that call themselves the OLF, ONC, OFDM etc. No they are not Oromos; they are the children of the neftegna who want to cut legs, fingers and breasts of the Oromo people. They are angry that the Oromo are using their language in school and for singing. They don’t want to see Oromos dancing on television. The OLF are actually not Oromos to tell you the truth. Merera Gudina and Ato Bulcha Demeksa are not Oromos, I swear to God they are not! OPDO is the only Oromo Organization representing the aspirations of the Oromo people. There are evil people in Oromia who call us condoms. They have forgotten the famous saying – condoms save lives. OPDO also saves lives. What is wrong with being condom as long as it saves lives? Are we not telling our people to wear it during sex” Abadulla said, and continued. “Do you know the reason why I don’t complain that the prisons in the country are full of Oromos and the guards are from TPLF? Do you think this happens because I serve TPLF as condom? No! Do you understand why I, as the elected president of Oromia with a landslide vote, didn’t say a word when 300 Oromo University students were fired from their classes in one day? Do you understand why I punish Oromo students, Oromo peasants in every part of Oromia? Do You?” Nooooo said the crowed. Abadulla sipped some water from a glass and cleared his throat. “You see, they are disguised Shabia, and anyone who is helped by Shabia is bad for Ethiopia. Shabia are like cock roaches, you don’t see them when they plot against you”. This was followed by a chorus of slogan, “Shabia Bad! TPLF EPRDF and OPDO good! Condom Saves Lives! And Abadulla continued. “Anybody who gets help from Shabia to come to power in this country is evil”, Abadulla said. This time Meles slept a note on a piece of paper in front of Abadula. The paper reads “you are crossing a red line”. Abadulla took a quick glance at Meles’s note and began shaking. “Yes comrades, Shabia was good in the past. Now they are bad. Then his voice began to crack and his mind went blank and stood there like a statue. Then he pulled his thoughts together and said “OLF and Kinijit Bad! TPLF good! Shabia now Bad formerly Good! Condoms save lives” and ended his speech. Melese’s slip was a terrible distraction on Abadulla and he lost his track and stopped without finishing the allotted time. “Thank you our brother from the oppressed nation of Oromia”, said Meles and asked the crowd to give him a round of applause. Meles then called on Bereket Simon and introduced him as the most Amhara of all of the children of the Amhara people who won a landslide vote in Bugna district in Wollo where he was born from his Amhara parents and lived like the Amhara.
Bereket’s stood up and said, “Comrades, my job is a little more difficult than the representatives of the rest of the oppressed nations and nationalities. I am here to protect the people of Gondar, Gojam, Shoa and Wollo from their addiction of oppressing oppressed people. That is why the people of Bugna keep sending me to parliament every five years. Brothers and sisters you need to be careful about this Kinijit thing. I know these are evil Amharas who sneak out from our killil and try to spoil your hard earned freedom and constitution. Look for example, they tell you about individual freedom instead of the freedom of the nations and nationalities and peoples. Ask yourselves, would you be dining and winning here with us in this beautiful hall if you were individuals? No. You see”, continued Bereket, “you
are here because your nation is free to elect and send you here”. At this time every representative rose to their feet and applauded. “What is individual freedom? Can we bring every Oromo in this room and have them dine with their leaders or is it better for them to wine and dine and drink whisky through their representatives? No comrades. Kinijit is fooling you. Individuals do stupid things when you let them make decisions. Some oppressed people have almost made the disaster of electing Kinijit during the election in May 2005 outside of the decision of the nations. Didn’t that scare the hell out of you, the neftegna back in power, taking your land and your wives and cutting your breasts and legs? Oh God”, Bereket continued sweating profusely. “I am Amhara. I know how wicked the amhara are? They have almost given me a heart attack last year, comrades. Stay vigilant for your hard earned freedom of self determination including and up to cessation. Watch for neftegnas in your midst. I know there are Kinijit even in some remote parts of some nations and nationalities. Watch them out. I can’t come to your Killil to do this. You have to chase them out of your killil and I will take care of them when they come to mine”. Another round of applause, and Bereket sat back wiping his sweat from his face in a white kerchief.
Now Mr. Squealer came out for the closing speech. “Comrades I think we have discussed enough about the state of our freedom. Allow me to say a few things for the people of Tigrai at this moment. I am very proud to be your son oh people of Tigrai. I am worried for you than myself and I am working hard so that your children could live in peace and prosperity and harmony and love in Ethiopia. I have to kill all those kids and women and the old in Addis Ababa in 2005 in your name to save you from them. People of Tigrai you are now sitting in the palace through me and you need to be happy. That is the reason you gave your children to the degue killers. Complain not if you are still starved and even beg on the streets of Addis Ababa. The economy is growing 10% and as the visiting beggars might have told you, the city is full of big buildings and good roads. EFFORT is yours and will deliver everything you need at your door steps next year. As for me, I am the poorest Prime Minister on the planet as my wife told a Washington audience about a year ago. I can’t even buy red pepper. I am against corruption and the reason I sacked Gebru Asrat is because he is the most corrupt person who is responsible for whatever poverty exists in Tigrai today. He took millions of dollars from you and building a party in your name. Gebru Asrat is also collaborating with the neftegna who want to kill you. That is why I have to clean all neftegna and Shabia loving Oromos to make 90% of the army leadership made of your sons. Of course at the same time we are helping the rest of the oppressed people from the hard job of contributing Generals and Colonels in the army, they need to rest and be respected”, he said to a big applause.
“As for you oppressed nations and nationalities”, continued Meles, “you have to be strong in taking care of yourselves. If any oppressed nation from a neighborhood comes to take you land attack them hard, don’t let them cross your boundaries. There are many enemies we have and you have to contribute your children to the army. The Somali Islamists almost arrived in Dire Dawa when we declared war on them. Now we are finishing them without America contributing a penny. None of your children in Mogadishu are dead as the neftegna and Shabia keep telling you. The bodies they showed you being dragged in the streets of Mogadishu on the internet is a piece of rug not that of your sons. We are winning the war against Islamists. Already half Mogadishu is leveled to the ground give us another month and we will change it to a nice football field. By the end of the war half the Somalis will also die of famine. For your safety, I have ordered all radio stations coming from abroad be jammed and the internet blocked”.
“Brother Nations and nationalities” continued Meles. “You see it is true that we killed some bad guys among you from time to time. These are individuals and they are not the nation or nationality. We don’t kill nations and nationalities. We kill individual. Our democracy is very young and it has to kill some to nurture, otherwise it is not going to grow fast and we are not going to get good governance”. When our democracy grows, we will all live happily ever after like animals on a good pasture. Look at the cows and sheep and goats, they disturb nobody’s peace and they are not shot at”. These animals live together as herds. No individual cow or goat asks a separate question to force anybody to kill them”. Can anybody accuse me of killing cows and goats and sheep in the last seventeen years that I was in power?” Meles asked. There was a resounding Nooooooo roar from the crowd. “You see, it is good to learn even from your cows and your sheep and goats. No authority would touch them because they live as herds, ask their questions peacefully as herds they don’t care if their question is not answered or not, they don’t demonstrate, write bad things and disturb peace like these bad journalists. That is a very democratic order we all should emulate. Nobody will carpet bomb cows, nobody will gunship them because they are peaceful”, Meles said to an intently listening crowed of representatives.
Towards the end of his speech Meles softened his speech and said, “Comrades, I must tell you that I am a bit tired of working for you. I am planning not to run for my current position in the next election”. When he said this the house was filled with another murmuring and commotion. Bereket and Abadulla began wiping tears from their eyes and many from the oppressed nations followed. Meles sipped water from the glass sitting in front of him, paused for a while and continued: “Of course if you and my party insist that I serve, I will have no option but to serve you as Prime Minister again but my wife is saying that my head can be marketed to fetch more money to better our lives and wants me to work as a scientist at Harvard and that is if this HR2003 is not signed into law. Let me be frank with you. That is why I hate this HR2003 and Donald Payine. It will cut me and Bereket into 2003 parts”. This time there was a general sigh of relief among the representatives as Meles spoke of the good news that he may reconsider leaving. He concluded the meeting saying the slogan Neftega Bad! HR2003 Bad! Finally everybody broke to the song chosen for the occasion, “Oppressed people learn from your cows”.
After the daylong show, it was time for dinner. The chafes were busy all day working on the food in another hall. It was time for the oppressed people to chow down the choma and doro wat. The sound of plates and glasses was mouth watering for the people who were watching on TV. The band was playing the latest song- “Oppressed people learn from the cows”. Representatives were slicing choma from the big chunk of meet hanging on the wall. Some individuals were making slices of raw meet the size of their feast and dipping it in the awaze. Wow, berbere! See! See! Children all over the country said as they watched Abadulla and Bereket on TV throw their slice of choma into the awaze. It looks like ages since most of these kids of Ethiopia last saw berbere in their houses.
It was a festive day for everyone unlike any other, even Meles danced with his wife to the beat of oppressed people. But one person who was starring during the day is now missing in the crowed. Dassicho, the representative from Dassenech, who was not convinced about the whiteness of Donald Payne, was nowhere to be seen.