Editor’s Note: This article was written and posted on the original tsinfocenter.com in April 2010. This website is reconstructed, and the article is posted again in July 2016 in its original form.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
President Ronald Regan
Over two thousand years ago, China began to build its Great Wall in order to keep nomadic tribes and marauding armies from crossing its borders. In the last few decades, China has built another protective barrier, a ‘Great Firewall,’ to keep socially disruptive web content from reaching its citizens. For the purpose of keeping out West Germans and keeping in East Germans, the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961.
Unfortunately, the Great Wall of China still remains intact and the “Great Firewall” has continued to be a bottleneck for the flow of information in China’s cyber world. On the other hand, the Berlin Wall is no more, which is considered one of the greatest symbols in a victory towards liberty. On June 12, 1987, former US president Ronald Reagan in his speech in Berlin uttered six words that signaled the end of the cold War Era. Although this visible wall was a symbol of barrier between the West and the East, there were so many invisible walls that divided the Communist and the Capitalist camp.
It is with these historical events in the background, I see the wall that is erected between the two camps of the Ethiopia intelligentsia. On one side we have a camp that opposes the regime in Ethiopia and on the other side we have a camp that ardently supports it. Both camps leave no stone unturned to spread their ferocious propaganda against each other devoid of any concern to the damage their intense propaganda would do to the nation and to the harmony among various ethnic groups.
On one extreme political spectrum, we have the proponents of the regime who tell us that any one who opposes the EPRDF is an “intellectual of the Derg or Haileselassie Era”. Worst of all, by labeling opponents of the regime as chauvinist Amharas or Dergists, the proponents are funning the flame of hatred and suspicion. Some of these elements, no doubt, are distinguished members of the “newly found” upper social stratum. The majorities of the elites in this side of the fence sees everything from point of view of ethnic politics and have revised history to fit their own agenda. The claim that the struggle waged against the successive Ethiopian regimes were because of the oppression of different ethnic groups is fundamentally flawed. In fact, if anything, the fact shows that the struggle waged originated by elites who were privileged and at one point of our history members of ethnic groups they belonged too ruled the country. These elites believed that they were distained to rule and the objective of their struggle was to oust their rival elites from the helm of the throne.
There is no record that indicates that the genesis of the struggle for various Liberation Movements is from oppressed nations and nationalities. Arguably, it is difficult to find in any part of Ethiopia an “oppressed” ethnic group as Wolaytas, Gambelas, Kembatas, and other minority groups in South; yet, we have never seen a “Liberation” movement arising from any of these groups with the exception of the SLM which was the brain child of the other liberation movements. Rather, what we have witnessed throughout our history is a liberation movement originated from “privileged” ethnic group elites.
The First “Liberation” movement, if it can be called that, was the Raya and Azbo uprising of 1943. This rebellion which is known as the Woyane movement was a spontaneous, localized peasant uprising with limited objectives and would be historically wrong to characterize it as a rebellion of any particular ethnic group. The second major rebellion was the Eritrean movement. This movement had more to do with religion than ethnicity. The so called Liberation movements in Ethiopia used ethnicity as a camouflage to galvanize support for their movements. To espouse their position, EPRDF backers still beat ethnicity drum for any one who would listen. The fact that Amhara elites were privileged, somehow, did not make the Amhara peasant in Menze any better than his counterparts in Gambela or Benishangule. One could argue that the Amhara peasant may have an advantage from his counter parts because Amharic is a national language, this unfortunately did not change the Amharas’ peasants lives in any significant way.
Such baseless and ridicules ideas are entertained in a cyber space that is fenced only to the supporters of the regime. Although these elites preach democracy, they would not dare to practice it. For them, free speech is only reserved to those who share their values and beliefs. Particularly the intelligentsia in Diaspora has built an invisible wall to a communication field that is borderless and immensely vast. What is mesmerizing is that both camps are preaching to their choirs; hence, their relentless effort and the barrage of accusation and unnecessary insult hardly win anyone’s heart. These camps are divided with ideology and also with deep seated hatreds. It would be disingenuous to sugar coat the role that ethnicity plays in both camps. This is not to say that there are no genuine differences in the idea of the path that our nation should take. For anyone who visits various Ethiopian websites, it is not unusual to see only people with similar ideas are engaged with one another. Within a fence of a particular website you can read these elites debunking one another without directly engaging with each other. Thanks for website like Nazret.com and Ethiomedia, where you can relatively see diverse ideas despite the hosts own political views.
It is obvious that social science cannot be experimented in some closed quarters in a laboratory setting. Occasionally, policies and ideas have to be tested on the field with real people and with real events. Since every countries situation is different, it would be a mistake to directly copy the social, economic, and political agendas and process and apply it to another nation. It is always possible to learn from others and apply what is necessary to different nations. Often, ideas are born from the citizens of a nation particularly those who are considered educated. Unfortunate for us, our educated citizens have drawn the lines and are more interested to defend their point of view in order to glorify the image of an organization or a political camp they support than act in the best interest of the nation.
The camp on the other political spectrum does not fair that much. Surfing various websites considered the opposition camp mischaracterize and debunk the regime and its supporters with similar lethality and unreserved assault. It is not unusual to read the regime in Ethiopia as an invading force and anyone who dare to support the regime labeled as a traitor and as a sellout that is bending to the regime for self interest only. The elites on this side of the political fence are extremely vocal and preach democracy, liberty, freedom of speech and other democratic values but fail to practice it by deliberately blocking opposing point of views. On one hand, this camp condemns the EPRDF for blocking websites and jamming news media. On the other hand, it has built a firewall of its own and practices its own “jamming” by blocking articles and information that are considered pro EPRDF. Such double standard is mind-boggling. It is clear that the battle ground is drawn and the troops have sharpen their pen to shoot at each other which only would indicate their incredible ability to use words and phrases to make their point. The question is would this people win anyone’s heart? Could the time, and the energy spend could be used for the benefit of the nation? Could this intellectuals deal with one another in a civilized manner and find a way to break the cycle of violence in a nation that is plagued with illiteracy, disease, poverty, and other social, economic, and political problems?
It is one thing to praise a political organization for playing a major role in a struggle to liberate a nation from a grip of a brutal military junta; it is quite another and hypocritical to continue to sing halleluiah when the same political organization becomes the kind of regime that it deposed. On the other hand, it is admirable and commendable to continue to fight for democratic values and freedom; it is quite another to deny and debunk any progress made in the country because one opposes the regime in power.
I do genuinely believe that the majority on both sides of the aisles have genuine concerns about the well being of our nation. The issue at hand is how to bring both sides from their respective well entrenched camps to a genuine dialogue so the best and the brightest amongst us could come up with workable solution to the problems that plagued our nation for years. How do we let them talk to each other instead of at each other?
It is commendable that a great effort was made to organize and hold the Ethiopian and Eritrean Friendship Conference in March 2010. This useful step to bring harmony and peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea should be encouraged and supported. As precious and as commendable as such an effort is we seem to neglect that we need to make a similar effort to bring about harmony and civilized dialogue among Ethiopian elites. Enormous efforts were made by Ethiopian opposition political parties for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia in the past; because the EPRDF lacked vision and far sightedness, the opposition repeated effort has failed.
As someone who advocated openly for the effort of the opposition to succeed, it was disappointing to witness how EPRDF supporters, particularly those who are considered educated, cheered EPRDF’s decision not to take part in the Peace and Reconciliation Conference. Instead of encouraging the EPRDF, these elites were more interested in embarrassing their counter parts on the other side of the political spectrum. Our elites are supposed to be our guiding lights; time and again however, they have led us towards darkness. Instead of supporting the Right Things and encouraging others to take corrective measures when they do the Wrong Things, our elites are more engaged in partisan politics no matter how damaging the conduct of a camp that they support.
With a population of over 80 million and a growing economy, Ethiopia already is a major force in Africa to be reckoned with. No matter how much we try, the economic progress in Ethiopia is undeniable. Those who oppose the regime in Ethiopia need to realize, and recognize that, and they must continue their struggle to widen the ever increasingly shrinking political space. There are visible social and economic progresses in Ethiopia. The infrastructures are improving, the health and educational sectors are changing for the better, and the opportunity to invest and create jobs for our citizens is also growing.
Whether we like it or not Ethiopia’s vast and untouched market promises to expand exponentially as wealth increases and education spreads. As recent news events indicated foreign investors are bringing their human and financial capital to Ethiopia. The fact that the Ethiopian market offers such investment potential should be a wake up call to all of us. On the other hand, the proponents of the EPRDF should not ignore the shrinking political space in Ethiopia and the dismal human rights record of the regime. There are thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia; Ethiopia’s citizens are subjected to unjust detention, torture and political assassination. Those who jump in a bandwagon to chastise the Eritrean regime should look at and scrutinize the Ethiopian regime conduct. It is inherently wrong and intellectually dishonest to apply different judgment to the same types of ‘crimes’.
Instead of worshiping one individual and propagating to prolong EPRDF’s reign, these elites must face the lingering political issue honestly. It may be self satisfying to declare how Mr. Meles is smart and clever, but in this information age it is foolish to admire how fashionable “the emperor’s cloth” is when he is fully naked with his incredibly ugly body fully exposed standing before the world’s stage. It is a strategic mistake and a historical error to exercise willful blindness when citizens who are challenging the EPRDF on its own game with its own rule are stabbed to death. It is astonishing and disingenuous to defend Mr. Meles when he categorized the opposition as the “enemies” of the state and when he invokes the Rwanda paramilitary organization Interahamwe to inflame suspicion and fear for short term political gain. You may ignore the facts on the ground and paint the regime with a rosy picture, but failure to realize that the path to ’social harmony’ is not through increasing authority and brutality but increasing liberty may bring unforeseen fatal blow in a near future.
The regime’s stand on human rights and its utter defiance for the freedom of the press should change pro EPRDF elites’ fundamental view of the government. I strongly believe that the EPRDF led government has a tremendous incentive to heed the call for democratization, liberalization, transparency, accountability, and respect for human and civil rights if its desire is peace and prosperity in our nation. The essence of economic growth would be only meaningful if policies are designed to bridge a growing gap between the newly rich minority and the still-impoverished majority. It is important to recognize that people like former president Carter have clearly stated their displeasure with the EPRDF led regime and that EPRDF Western allies are increasingly getting uncomfortable defending the indefensible. Surely, an attempt to turn the clock back to the kind of debacle that we have witnessed in 2005 election would bring civil unrest. It would be the responsible thing to do for the proponents of the regime to advice and encourage the regime to make the political playing field even. If the regime is as confident as it states about its ability to score a landslide victory in 2010 election, then why resort to threats, sabotage and a political assassinations?
The repeated mischief and human rights violation, and the recent blatant admission by Mr. Meles the Jamming of VOA Amharic program in Ethiopia has brought the media spotlight on Ethiopia once again. EPRDF supporters may fail to grasp that the regime is crumbling as its old guards are departing the political scene and particularly because the open rebellion against the TPLF in Tigray is holding ground. The question now is not whether Ethiopia will continue to grow economically, but how quickly; not whether the EPRDF leadership will reform, but how gracefully. Whether we like it or not the Ethiopian people are marching with determination and immense devotion towards liberty and freedom, it is up to the proponents of the EPRDF to join the rest of the population to speed the pace and demand the right thing. While it is right to speak about the progress made, it would be right to challenge the EPRDF to move forward for genuine political reform.
To contribute our fair share for the well being of our nation and to end the cycle of violence, it is profoundly important for the elites to Tear Down the Walls that they have built in order to debunk one another. By demonizing one another, the path to empower our people will not be established. The future generation expects more than good writings; it expects us to hand over a system of government that allows our people to be governed by their consent. The future generation expects us to pass it to them a civilized way of dealing with each other. There will always be disagreements; there are going to be conflict of ideas and interests; the wisdom or the lack there of is the way we handle conflicting ideas and interests. We may continue to bark at each other in cyber space or choose to come together with all our disagreements and create a conducive atmosphere to deal with each other in a manner that is productive and responsible.
The current political discourse is distractive and extremely dangerous. The seed that we are sowing may be extremely poisonous that will infect the generation to come. Rwanda and Burundi were not created over night. The little seed that we are dropping today will grow and it would multiply exponentially; the question is do we want to see the growth of a seed that will bring harmony or war? The choice is ours. So far, the escalating war of words has not helped anyone. Let us talk to each other rather than at each other, let our elders find a way to bring the two sides together; let us begin this journey in the Diaspora. Hoping what President Ronald Reagan has said 23 years ago resonates today, I respectfully ask all of you in this Easter Holiday to encourage our elites to Tear Down The Wall that is dividing us.
Happy Holiday, thank you!