Freedom and personal responsibility – By Yilma bekele

March 18th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Human knowledge is an accumulation of experiences building on what works and discarding the mishaps. Thus we look back and see what others did when faced with the predicament as we are today. There is no lack of reference. Everything being done in the name of the people for the people has been done before. It is nothing new. Dictators always justify their evil actions as a service to the people. During the Vietnam conflict the US used to destroy the village to save it from the enemy. They called it ‘destroy the village to save the village.’ That is what the minority regime is doing in Ethiopia, ‘destroy the country to save the country.’ (more…)

Human knowledge is an accumulation of experiences building on what works and discarding the mishaps. Thus we look back and see what others did when faced with the predicament as we are today. There is no lack of reference. Everything being done in the name of the people for the people has been done before. It is nothing new. Dictators always justify their evil actions as a service to the people. During the Vietnam conflict the US used to destroy the village to save it from the enemy. They called it ‘destroy the village to save the village.’ That is what the minority regime is doing in Ethiopia, ‘destroy the country to save the country.’

So if our situation is no different from others before us, the question is what did they do to achieve democracy, human rights and the rule of law in their community? Today in the year 2008 except for a handful of states the planet is filled with free people and free nations with soaring achievements in science technology and the ever-elusive pursuit of happiness.

How did they do it?

Determination, hard work, sacrifice, focus and being blessed by a visionary leader are the main ingredients common to all.

Mahatma Gandhi is the face of non-violent struggle to achieve Independence (he called it Satyagraha – resistance to evil through active non-violent resistance) Gandhi could have asked his people to raise arms against the British. India has numerical superiority and a willing population to fight back while the enemy has to come from far and was weakened by WWII. But Gandhi chose the high road. Power coming from a barrel of a gun was definitely not the Mahatma’s cup of tea. For Gandhi the struggle was not about getting rid of the British and hoisting a flag. It was the liberation of the whole person. He organized his people to practice brotherhood among the many ethnic and religious groups, to fight for women’s liberation, end the cast system and work for economic independence from the British.

When the British imposed ‘salt tax’ he advocated disobedience. He openly called and organized for the British to “quit India”. Gandhi advocated the use of boycott, peaceful resistance and strike to achieve freedom for his people. He practiced what he preached. He lived a simple life and went to prison several times for his defiant actions against injustice. His faith in the inevitability of good over evil never wavered. India won. Today it is the largest democracy in the world.

Martin Luther King was a disciple of the Mahatma. Faced with the scrooge of Segregation and unequal treatment MLK advocated non-violence to achieve justice and freedom. English colonists brought the first African slaves to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Slavery was abolished with Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation of 1862 during the American Civil War and subsequent ratification of the 13th Amendment to the constitution in 1865. Unfortunate for Blacks the White Southerners passed what is known as “Jim Craw” laws which mandated the segregation of the races and the so called ‘separate but equal’ principle. It was a clever devise to disenfranchise Black people.

This state of affairs stayed unchanged till the 1960’s.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery came then, Alabama who was thrust into the limelight of History and led his people to the ‘promised land.’ MLK believed in the power of peaceful resistance to achieve the desired goal. Towards this end he led the ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott’ to end racial segregation on city buses. He urged Black people not to ride the city bus until their demands are met. He won. He was the co-organizer of the ‘March on Washington DC’ demanding equal right to all. Over 200,000 people gathered and King made his famous ‘I have a dream speech’. Dr King advocated the use of boycott, peaceful protest and use of targeted strikes to achieve freedom for his people. He was imprisoned, faced police with attacked dogs, firefighters with high-pressure water hoses and opposition from some of his own people. The Civil Right Act of 1964 and Voting Right Act of 1965 are the achievements of a focused and relentless struggle to secure dignity and freedom. It was an active resistance against evil and injustice.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is another one of those rare human beings who are born to make a positive difference. He added value to the human experience. He was involved in the ‘Youth wing’ of The African National Congress (ANC) when he was young man and became deputy national president in 1952. Mandela was inspired by the teachings of Gandhi and the ANC and based his struggle on the principle of non-violence to get rid of Apartheid. He organized and led ‘peaceful protest’ and was arrested several times. However the 1960 incident known as the ‘Sharpeville Massacre’ where peaceful protesters were gunned down by the regime was a turning point in Mandela’s thinking. He came to the realization that the non-violent movement should be augmented by the use of force. He organized and led Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation or MK) the military wing of ANC. He raised funds and visited several African countries (Ghana, Algeria, and Ethiopia) to arrange military training and logistical support.

During his trial in 1964 the ever-defiant leader told the white court,’ During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is n ideal for which I am prepared to die’.

He was found guilty and spent the next 27 years in the Apartheid regime’s prison. The ANC leaders’ imprisonment gave strength to a new generation of activists. Mk carried military campaigns whenever appropriate while the non-violent struggle was carried out in the towns and villages all over the country. New Leaders like the young and charismatic Steven Biko emerged to unite their people. They took the struggle internationally and they urged the West to boycott and divest all investment in South Africa. Like Gandhi and MLK, Steven Biko understood that the inner self needs liberation too. He wrote ‘The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’ The Soweto uprisings were organized and led by Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) which he was the president. He was murdered by the Apartheid regime. Black South Africans used boycott, peaceful resistance, International pressure and limited armed struggle to liberate their land and their people from a highly armed, organized and ruthless enemy.

All three examples above are a lesson on the need for organization, defined goal, and the most vital aspect of all, the involvement of the masses of people who are the major stakeholders in this epic journey. Our country Ethiopia has seen a successive of rulers who have chosen the path of coercion, intimidation and the power of the gun to further their personal narrow vision. Gandhi, MLK or Mandela showed by their actions that freedom is not free. There is a price to pay and they were willing and ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice with their life. Unlike some who fight the oppressor so they could sit on his chair, these three believed that without the liberation of the inner soul, what is achieved would be no better that what was struggled against. Liberation be it personal or a Nation is a long and arduous process. It requires personal sacrifice, determination and love for your fellow human.

The Imperial regime in Ethiopia was brought down by the intelligence led uprising and its own crumbling feudal system. The goal was to bring down the regime without any further thought with what to replace it with. This vacuum of planning gave an opportunity to the most organized group in the society, the military. Our well-meaning compatriots paid a heavy price. We suffered over seventeen years of hell on earth. An obscure outfit calling itself the TPLF/EPDRF replaced the Military regime. Again a vacuum was created and it was filled by the first in line with enough force. We have witnessed another seventeen years of one party, one man, with old and tired philosophy asserting his rule by the power of the gun.

The May 2005 general election is a testimonial to the readiness of our people to be part of the process of good governance thru participation. But those in power were not willing to accommodate their demands. We have a choice in front of us. We can accept the status quo and wait. We can organize an armed form of struggle. We can carry out a non-violent peaceful struggle. Or we can combine the two like in South Africa. Whatever road we choose, it requires some form of action from each of us. Each and every one of us has to assume personal responsibility for our actions. It is each individual Ethiopian which makes the larger ‘we Ethiopians’.

When Gandhi opposed the ‘salt tax’ by the British he led his people to the ocean to extract salt. When MLK paid the same amount like the Whites but was told to sit in the back of the bus was wrong he urged his people to boycott the city bus. Foreign investment by the US and Europeans was creating jobs for the Black population in South Africa. Steven Biko and ANC advocated divestment because the tax and other income were propping up the Apartheid regime. Steven Biko wrote ‘those who professed to worry over Blacks suffering if the economy deteriorated had missed the point. We’re already suffering’ He often reminded us ‘those who live in constant fear of being shot, beaten, or detained without charge, for those whose children already live in abject poverty and near starvation, an economic downturn is not the major area of concern.’ Nobel Laureate Albert Lutuli, president of the African National Congress in one of his speeches said “The economic boycott of South Africa will entail undoubted hardship for African. We do not doubt that. But if it is a method which shortens the day of bloodshed, the suffering to us will be a price we are willing to pay.”

Gandhi, MLK or Mandela did not entertain the illusion that others will fight for their freedom. They did not blame outsiders nor wait for foreign forces to liberate them. They took it upon themselves to cut the chains. Words have to be translated into action. Methods proven by others to work have to be put into practice. Volumes have been written about the crimes of the TPLF regime. We have heard enough about the narrow- minded psychopaths sitting in Arat Kilo. I doubt nothing new will be revealed. What is lacking in all this discourse is answering the simple but important question of what are you going to do about it?

Yes, what are you doing about it? It is not the lack of a credible opposition because you are it! It is not ignorance regarding what to do, because the issue has been answered by those before you. It is not that the TPLF regime is so mighty and powerful because the Vietnamese, the Afghanis and others have shown that even super powers cannot match the wrath of oppressed people. No matter how you look at it, it boils down to personal responsibility. Somebody have to do the job, and you cannot point your finger at others.

We hope the opposition will get their act together and unite our people. It is vital that they access the situation in a new light in the aftermath of the 2005 election and devise new ways and means to challenge the minority regime. Like Gandhi who taught his people about love and truth, like Steven Biko who sought to ‘liberate the mind’ of the African so our leaders have to transcend above petty bickering and follow on the foot steps of these giants of history. It seems to come down to the old proven method of boycott, peaceful protest and use of targeted strikes.

For those of us in the Diaspora the issue is simple and strait forward. There are certain facts that are true and no amount of propaganda can change that. The Ethiopian regime is a regime on welfare. It cannot pay its bills without subsidy by the European Union, World Bank, IMF and a host of other world philantophic organizations. We have shown it how powerful we are when it was forced to release the political prisoners. They were released due to the intense pressure we exerted not out of goodness of the TPLF mafia. We have muscle and we flexed it. We have HR2003 in the pipeline. The regime is being forced to hire lobbyists trying to stop it. It is good. It is less money they will spend on public security and waging war. Our two years of organizational strength have forced TPLF officials to stay as prisoners inside the country. HR2003 will shut the door more. Are you calling, faxing, and organizing to help HR2003 become law?

In 2005 according to the UN we sent $591 million in remittance money. This is not counting the $5000.00 + every Ethiopian takes home in cash. The real number will be a billion dollars if not more. That is a net income to the TPLF machine. Those one million dollar houses built by the Diaspora and flashed all over, as accomplishment of the regime is your hard earned money at work. Do you really think those construction companies are not part of the TPLF empire? Denying the regime that income until it changes its belligerent ways is a legitimate means of struggle. Not going to visit unless it is a family emergency is a proven and effective method of boycott. What are our foreign friends to think when we are flocking like birds and investing our hard earned money with our national tormenters? Earning 20 to 100 dollars per hour in the west and going home and lording it over people is not a sign of love for one’s country. It is inflating the price of basic needs for our own family not to mention the psychological impact on their self worth. Our actions have consequences whether we mean good or bad.

To think that building a house on government leased land is a good investment is debatable. It might in the short run create low paying jobs for a few months, but the dollar donated to the regime causes more destruction in the long run. It is better to look at the bigger picture. The country belongs to the few in the ruling class. Talk to anybody who has recently visited the homeland. The presence of authority is all around. Fear is permeating the whole society. Both those in power and their subjects live on the edge. Would you like to live in such terror? Would you like to raise a family in such environment where hopelessness and resignation is the norm? I have a poster on my wall and it says ‘not a single rain drop believes it is to blame for the flood’ we think the same way. We do not think our single dollar makes a difference. But it does. A dollar here a dollar there is what makes million.

The question we all have to answer to ourselves is am I doing enough? Was I present when my country called for me? Freedom does not just happen. What little sacrifice did you do on your part to tell yourself, your children or your family and friends? We do not oppose those in power because we hate them. We do not disagree with them because they are from a certain region. We do not wish their destruction nor do we wish something bad to happen to them. They are part of us. But their misguided ways is hurting us. We want them to take notice that evil in the long run will fail. This what Mahatma Gandhi said in one of his ‘quit India’ speeches in1942:

“We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them. People may laugh, nevertheless that is my claim. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbor hatred against anybody.”

He was indeed a beautiful human being.

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