Mikael G. Deribe’s Speech at Ethiopian Symposium On “Where Do We Go From Here?” – Mikael G. Deribe

September 2nd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Good evening! My name is Mikael Deribe, I am an Ethiopian. Currently, I live in Boston and I belong to the Ethiopian community there. First of all, I want to thank Obang Metho for working so hard to set up this symposium and for giving us the chance to answer the question “where do we go from here?” and I want to thank you, my fellow Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, for being here!! And above all, I want to thank God for making this possible!

So where do we go from here?

You know, this is a very important question to ask at this time of our struggle. However, I believe it is more important to answer this question at this particular time of the Ethiopian people’s struggle for justice and democracy, because we have reached that time of our history again when we are swamped in uncertainties. (more…)

Good evening! My name is Mikael Deribe, I am an Ethiopian. Currently, I live in Boston and I belong to the Ethiopian community there. First of all, I want to thank Obang Metho for working so hard to set up this symposium and for giving us the chance to answer the question “where do we go from here?” and I want to thank you, my fellow Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, for being here!! And above all, I want to thank God for making this possible!

So where do we go from here?

You know, this is a very important question to ask at this time of our struggle. However, I believe it is more important to answer this question at this particular time of the Ethiopian people’s struggle for justice and democracy, because we have reached that time of our history again when we are swamped in uncertainties. In recent years, we have been hit with cruel ironies left and right that the direction of our struggle has been sort of disoriented and our vision of Ethiopia’s future has been severely blurred.

On one hand, some people say that Ethiopia’s political problem is very complicated and our country will be in trouble for a long time to come! Others have doubted if it is a possible task to solve our insurmountable internal conflict. A substantial number have gone as far as concluding that it is in our nature to live our lives by killing and oppressing each other. In sum, people were led to believe that we Ethiopians are naturally a dysfunctional society that is never ready for constructive and civilized political system thereby incapable of achieving neither democracy nor development for the immediate perilous future. .

On the other hand, we Ethiopians can never deny and are mindful of the fact that we have never failed to pay the required sacrifice to bring change to our nation. We Ethiopians do have a society filled with altruistic people and we have demonstrated that selflessness just recently in every corner of our nation. Our people have paid their lives in Addis Ababa, in Gambella, in the Ogaden, in Oromia, in Gonder, in Tigray, in Sidamo and other regions of Ethiopia where a hopeful and popular movement was initiated hoping the next generation will live better. However the key question is: despite our past and current sacrifice, why do we still suffer under an oppressive regime? Where exactly did we go wrong?

Just like 98% of Africa, we Ethiopians chose not to unite through the many opposition forces who claim to represent us separately. These organizations preach us different things as the root cause of our miserable life. Some of us are told that we have been colonized and the solution to that is to fight for the cessation of our respective ethnic-based regions and live separately, some of us are told that these other organizations are fighting to disintegrate Ethiopia and no dialogue with them is worth our time, some of us are told that we are golden people, that we have paid our blood to earn authority over others and some other chauvinist groups are working to take it from us.

Our people are divided along ethnic lines not only by the government that uses Ethnicity to maintain its power but also by many political forces that are fighting the TPLF who hope to impose on others their version of “justice” if they’re able to defeat TPLF independently.

Former President Bill Clinton once said:

“There are large numbers of people who simply don’t have the values and vision necessary to be part of an inter-dependent world. They think their differences — whether religious, political, tribal or ethnic — are more important than our common humanity. They believe the truth they have justifies their imposition of that truth on other people, even if it takes them to the death of innocents.

My fellow Ethiopians,

I believe that the President’s statement applies to our condition so perfectly.

Moreover, I repeat, each Ethiopian opposition political force has its own rigid and radical ideology which it hopes to impose on others thus each group seeks to obtain victory all alone in a quest to exercise its own political objective without having to worry about appeasing any other organization. Accommodation and tolerance are increasingly becoming foreign to us, and yet no civilized society has ever managed to live without them, and why should Ethiopia be an exception than the rule.

This tells me that the leaders of each political force have not yet realized that the archaic winner – loser politics of our continent will bring neither peace nor development to the people they claim to represent. We have been given issues such as article 39 of the current constitution to demonize each other. This issue all alone has been a single source of the uncompromising mentality reflected on the stubbornness of each political group and a problem that sustains TPLF’s hold of power by making a viable coalition of opposition forces nearly impossible.

On May 22, 2006, five Ethiopian political forces got together and formed a coalition called Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD). This alliance was between the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD,) Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF,) and the Sidama Liberation Front (SLF.)

Each political force joined the alliance “reaffirming their commitment to shape a political order and a system of government inspired by the universal aspiration for freedom and founded on the values of justice, liberty, equality, democracy, good governance, pluralism, respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms, solidarity, mutual understanding, tolerance and cooperation”

However, AFD, despite its potential never put out a single visible work and was dysfunctional. The alliance does not exist anymore! Indeed it was not viable!! I believe this is a good time to ask why?

Mr. Meles Zenawi, who was actually shocked and paranoid over the formation of the alliance, described it as “a mix of oil and water” referring to the varying political objectives of each organization. For him, the inability of these organizations to form a homogeneous viable coalition is an achievement he can count on to keep him in power for a long time.

AFD’s objectives were vague and lacked a clear picture of post-TPLF Ethiopia. AFD’s future endeavors were not discussed enough and few of the political forces in the alliance had conflicting political agendas. The alliance was not formed based on the prospect of bringing peace, stability and development to Ethiopia in a post-TPLF era but solely on the aim of overthrowing the TPLF-dominated regime. This apathy to resolve our differences beforehand could have proved disastrous if the alliance was viable until the eminent demise of the TPLF regime plunging our country into another political chaos.

My fellow Ethiopians,

For us, unity is no longer an option!! Unity is a political imperative and a moral necessity.

When the potentially powerful majority of the people conflict among each other or fail to resolve their differences, the few and the cruel elites will win the battle!! And these few elites will definitely work to maintain that conflict to sustain their continued existence. For instance, during the May 2005 elections, Mr. Meles Zenawi introduced the word ‘interhamwe’ in Ethiopia’s political atmosphere. This is a good example of the elites’ quest to use our diversity against us.

As you may already know, “Interhamwe” is actually a name of a Rwandan Hutu paramilitary organization that committed most of the killings during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Well, even though the world knows what paramilitary group in Ethiopia committed the genocide of the’ Anuaks in Gambella, even though the world knows, whose army is involved in the ethnic cleansing in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia as we speak, and although the international community knows whose soldiers are raping, hanging and summarily executing Ethiopians all over our nation, and although we know that Ethiopians, as people, are not cruel enough to commit such evil crimes against each other, we must be engaged in dialogue and become conscious of the possibility that Meles Zenawi may set the conditions for such disasters to happen on our soil!

Some of us need to understand that Unity is not only living within an international recognized border, some of us need to understand that it is not the map of Ethiopia that has kept us oppressed, and we all must understand that in order to be free, we must unite to attack our main common enemy, which I believe is not the politically weak Meles Zenawi and his regime in Ethiopia, but the root cause of our oppressive political culture. And in order to unite we must seek dialogue filled with tolerance and the willingness to compromise.

If we refuse to take part in a dialogue, if we refuse to compromise, and if we refuse to at least participate in a positively-spirited discussion regarding the root cause of the oppressive Ethiopian political culture, not only do I believe we are incapable of freeing ourselves, but I also doubt if we deserve the privileges of liberty! If we don’t come to the table and discuss, and let the truth be told, we are imposing our version of “truth” on each other. When we do so, we become the cause and not the solution to the Ethiopian problem. We remain immersed in the political mud of intolerance. And that simply works in favor of Meles Zenawi’s planned prophecy of “intehamwe”!!

We must understand that all our people have been oppressed and neglected by the regimes that ruled us before and are still suffering under another regime and another dictator, which does the same. In the past, some regions of Ethiopia have been more marginalized than others. Other Ethiopians lived a more miserable life than others. A significant number, still hold grudges from the years of oppression and neglect, and you can feel their bitterness, because they cannot even stand hearing the name of their own nation. We Ethiopians have been disconnected for so long, some of us have grown to even hate each other, because no one ever took the time to build a bridge for us to know each other and we will not know each other if we fail to eradicate this hatred beforehand . The late President Ronald Reagan once said:

“The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”

My fellow Ethiopians, we ought to envy the American nation’s success story. We must break the barrier our past and current rulers built among us to keep us separated and under control. We must eradicate the old African winner-loser politics, where the winner imposes his version of “truth” and “justice” on the defeated. Instead, we must seek dialogue and compromise in order to defeat our common enemy, which is our oppressive political culture, and work closely in a solidarity movement for new Ethiopia to get out of the Orwellian world we live in today and establish a reviewed and renewed political culture to become a part of the growing global moral progress!

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