Dialogue, Outrage and Kinijit – By Fekade Shewakena

January 8th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

I agree with Professor Messay’s idea of dialogue as a potent tool of achieving greater societal good. (more…)

I agree with Professor Messay’s idea of dialogue as a potent tool of achieving greater societal good. I very well understand that dialogue is the best tool to resolve conflicts in politics. After all, as they say in the business, politics is the art of compromise, and compromise can come only when you engage in dialogue. Dr. Messay is also right to call on all of us to address the structural socio-cultural problems in our society that lend themselves to a lot of intolerance. Dr. Messay is one of few Ethiopian scholars who made a deeper digging to shade some light to help us explain many more serious anomalies in our society. I have respect for his views, learnt a lot from him and value his ideas immensely. I also understand that he is not trying to promote partisan interest in the current Kinijit crisis. Any accusation of him on that point is totally out of place. I am also happy that our debate has generated a lot of useful discussion and contributions from intelligent and good people likes Alethia, Teferi Mengiste and Miamire Mennasemay among others.

The Difference between Dr. Messay’s views and mine on the issue of dialogue verses outrage is basically a case of talking past one another. Part of it, it seems to me, is also a result of our attempt to address the issue from different sets of facts and personal experience. Dr. Messay himself admits limitations when he says he lacks “enough information to make categorical judgment”, although I still cannot understand why he can’t make such judgments from the dearth of available public information that may only need a little sorting and sequencing.

My call for outrage did not come out of impatience nor was I “substituting outrage for dialogue” as Dr. Messay seems to suggest. I believe in dialogue. I still insist that the best solution for the political problems in Ethiopia is for the opposition and the TPLF/EPRDF to engage in serious dialogue. You can call me a dialogue monger. But I am sure Dr. Messay would agree to the presence of instances and cases in life where we cannot dialogue our ways out. In my view the case inside Kinijit as I see it now is one of them. Dialogue is like a ping pong game. If you want a good game, you need another person on the other side of the table who knows how to hold the racket and play the game. My idea of outrage is not a call to have a march with machetes, or bows and arrows in hand or even using abusive language. For me outrage is something directed inward toward the self. Outrage to me is an expression of self respect. It is one way of dignifying oneself. When I call people to be outraged, I am simply asking them to assert their dignified existence and self respect, by refusing to have their intelligence and pride insulted and degraded. That is what I think we end up doing do by accommodating clearly destructive and abusive behavior like that of Ato Hailu’s. We all know that dictators, abusers thrive on silence and complacency. I have a general belief that some of what we have as a problem in our country is in part our own collective making. Yes some of it is structured in our culture. But a good part of it is also the cowardice of the Ethiopian elite that Professor Mesfin Woldemariam rightly calls “yeashkernet” mentality. I don’t have an English word for it- maybe it is only an Ethiopian thing. If you have a good look at the people around Hailu Shaul, you see them in abundance. They will never make a mistake of calling Ato Hailu without the adjective “kibur”. Have you watched his political forums? It is all about extolling him and denigrating others.

I have painstakingly observed the development of the crisis over time. I have witnessed many attempts at creating a forum for dialogue between Ato Hailu and the rest of the people Ato Hailu says he has problems with. I know the medieval clique that is surrounding him and some of their thinking and politics very closely. I have seen attempts to initiate dialogue by many people including elders, religious leaders, and many others end in frustration. All attempts toward a resolution through dialogue have ended in frustration by Hailu’s unbelievable selfishness and disrespectful arrogance and intransigence. I have personally worked to create such a condition for dialogue and failed. Whatever shortcomings the other side may have, I have not seen them stand in the way of dialogue or a civilized discourse to solve the problem. They tolerated and even endured Hailu’s disrespectful language directed at them individually and as a group at a cost to their pride and dignity. They exhibited a sense of responsibility. In many cases they refused to respond in kind to Ato Hailu’s accusations, most of which were blatantly false and defamatory. I know for sure, for example, that he was the one who was vehemently against the participation of none imprisoned council members in making decisions when they came out of prison. He later turned it upside down and shamelessly accused the others of making divisions between imprisoned and none imprisoned council members. In fact he is reported to have said he would not have a meeting with “kehadiwoch” when the question was first raised.

I don’t look at this problem from the perspective of any group interest at all. My entire concern, in fact, the reason for my outrage, is the damage Hailu’s actions are inflicting on the democracy movement in Ethiopia and the aspirations of our people and the chill this can send to young people who wanted to learn and move on from this experience. The time we are wasting on this stupidity and medieval politicking is simply disgusting. As we are discussing this, our people are recoiling in disbelief that the organization they went to war with for their freedom and democracy, the epicenter of the spiritual political force that they have shed blood and tears with, is engaged in this senseless self destruction leaving their cause in the middle of nowhere. I have many emails from Ethiopia that nearly broke me to tears. I think we cannot keep blaming the structure of our culture for all setbacks indefinitely and sit back.

I think there is a deficit of outrage in our midst. The “yebase atamta” mentality, that George W Bush may call “the soft bigotry of low expectations” is chewing us up as a people. Why is it that we are not saying we can do and deserve better? Why do we settle for the least best? Whatever its virtues the “Yilugnta” thing is also heavily working on us. I think politicians do anything they feel like if they think their people are none reactive and if they assume we can live with all their lies and crimes without revulsion. There are many people who think they have won their case when their critics tend to be submissive and don’t get outraged. Many of us have lived all our lives in Ethiopia under dictators and know how to leave in fear and degradation. I want the Meles regime to be the last dictatorship in Ethiopia. Any thought of another round of dictatorship should send a lot of chill through our blood. Ato Hailu has demonstrated to me that he can be one potential dictator if given a chance with his disregard for his own laws. Even if I want to accommodate him or engage in dialogue with him I must be honest to tell him that I am outraged by his actions. Who knows? By telling him his wrongs we may even do a favor for him.

In fact, I can make a case against dialogue on one point alone as regards this issue. The insistence of dialogue has ended up being counterproductive. It ended up emboldening Ato Hailu’s arrogance and his resolve to rampage though both the organization and the movement at will. I think it has made him delusional about his place and relevance in the movement.

How can anybody with good conscience tolerate Ato Hailu’s goons that barred the key leaders of the party, who lived 20 months in prison from entering the Kinijit office (their office) in Addis Ababa while at the same time the regime was intimidating hotel owners not to rent them a small room to give a press conference? How different are Ato Hailu’s goons from Meles’s security? How dare anyone do this abominable action and not hear an outcry from decent people? Do you know what happened when we were not outraged the first time they did this? They brought hired gangsters and attempted to beat the vice chair and the other leaders when they made a second attempt to use the office space. I am told Ato Hailu is proud about the action of these hired hoodlums. If you want to tell me to dialogue on this, I first want to see you a little angry. Come’ on, don’t tell me not to be outraged at this? Like many of you I have contributed money to pay for the rent of that office.

Dr. Messays also seems to have gotten some facts backwards. For example, he appears to justify Hailu’s stance by questioning the “urgency that justified the decision, all the more so as Hailu Shawl-I heard him on the radio-expressed his opposition to the trip”. Yah- I too have heard that on the radio a multiple times. But it is public knowledge that the decision to come to the US was made after deliberations and with enough justification presented at the meeting of 20 imprisoned council members Ato Hailu included. In fact, Ato Hailu agreed to a three man committee to facilitate the visit in the US; three people who were believed to be outside the factions in North America. I know at least one of the team members was Ato Hailu’s own pick. Dr. Messay should also ask why Ato Hailu did not express the same misgiving against the delegates who travelled to Europe and other countries if that was the case. In fact, the person he now illegally appointed as the acting chair of Kinijit in Addis Ababa was a member of the delegation that went to Europe.

I don’t see dialogue and outrage as contradictory needs. They are applicable in different circumstances. Often they can be complementary. But outrage can also be empowering and a first step to do something better.


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