Ethiopia : Why we need an Adwa Mentality and the meaning of patriotism

Editor’s note – This commentary first appeared on borkena blog in 2013 entitled “Why we need Adwa mentality.” Repost appeared on this website in February 2014. The title is updated to emphasize the need to make discussion on social values as component of political activism in Ethiopia.

borkena, Ethiopian News
February 13,2014

For the record, Adwa is not the cause of our pride. Adwa is an outcome of it. It is an outcome of well-constructed social values that emphasize commitment to freedom, self-respect and dignity, invincible psychology,selflessness and last but not least spirituality. Of course all these values are building blocks of patriotism.

Adwa Victory - emperor Menelik - Ethiopia - Patriotism
Statue of Emperor Menelik II – endeared by Ethiopians during his time as emeye- to denote the depth his caring personality.

Patriotism is not a luxury, an illusion or mere love for adventure as some tend to put it. It rather begets higher form of consciousness,pursuit to self-respect and in most cases it is a response to a situation created by others with the intention to take away freedom and dignity-among other things. It’s a pursuit of dignified life and the sanctification of freedom -not ‘personal freedom’, if there is such a thing in the real sense of the phrase. Patriotism is a selfless act of doing something great with one’s life in the interest of freedom of your people and your country whose values you cherish most.

Patriotism has to be distinguished from pursuit of personal desires and goals so strongly (often times at the expense of collective desires, societal values and even the values of being human) in a fashion we observe in Hollywood movies where a loner wins his battle at the end of the day and is celebrated as a person of ‘extraordinary’ achievement. Once celebrated, the celebrity is,more often than not, is used in the conquest of collective values and creation of other loners who pursue individual glory and “success”. That is not patriotism.

Patriotism is not born out of the desire to create personal wealth or fame. It springs from spiritual and philosophical approach to life, and attachment to society, not detachment from society. Personal desire that is not related to the task of defending the interest, freedom and dignity of one’s own people has to vanish first for the noble virtue of patriotism to flourish. Patriotism is a virtue that people with great insight about life and imagination pursue. It’s partly divine in that all the great messengers in different religious traditions lived up to the ideals of patriotism-living for what they believed to be true and something that benefit others ,not just self. In an organic society patriotism is a way of life and mass action. Patriotism is not an enterprise of loners! Patriotism is essentially a rejection of mediocrity in life. It is an act of defiance of what is ordinary and pursuit of the extraordinary. Patriotism is real, deep, fulfilling and rewarding in terms of satisfaction. He who is selfish cannot be a patriot.



Selfishness is at odds with values essential for patriotism. Selfishness is the work of illusion. It tends to impel the thinking that what is noble is ‘self.’ For selfishness, the ‘collective’ is a source of threat and yet a means to achieve an end for ‘self.’ For patriotism the ‘collective’ is a friend, not a source of threat. Selfishness emanates from, among other things, greed and immorality, which could in a way be related to atheism of a sort.

Selfishness pretends to be genius and rational while it is an ultimate expression of irrationality. Selfishness could sell ones country out to others- irrespective of the way it manifests itself. The destructive nature and aspects of selfishness is not so much related to ‘bounded rationality.’ It’s related to illusion of faith in “self.” Selfishness in matters related to the interest of one’s own country is fundamentally a declaration (whether it is in action, word or some other forms) that one do not belong to the society she/he came from. It could be a way of looking society, from which one came from, down. It could be an act of venerating “self” and venerating the party that one thinks is in the service of ‘self’ as distinct from society or country. Selfishness sounds like affirming “self” while it is denial of ‘self’? What is “self” without the whole? What is in selfishness is fear. What is in Patriotism is faith and courage.

Patriotism is not something easy to fight with. Of course a culture that is a fertile ground for patriotism is prone to be conquered as it breads resistance for domination. What would a thinking enemy do is to invest with all its power to weaken attributes and human values essential for patriotism. I cannot help thinking about one particular Ethiopian comedy at this point.

One of the inorganic practices with which the Americans create an individual celebrity or an idol – “American Idol show” – is replicated in Ethiopia in the past ten or so years. Obviously, the label is changed to “Ethiopian Idol.” Clearly, the idea does not fit well in a society that idolizes selfless act, patriotism, and a culture that does not idolizes pursuit to self-interest. In the comedy video I linked above, Dereje, the comedian, seemed to brace the idea of selecting an individual idol (celebrity) on stage and runs his own “Yegele Idol show” (literally ‘my personal Idol Show’). The title itself seemed to ridicule the idea of idol show. Then, contestants started to show what they got, their singing talent. Demelash Gobeze, dressed in Ethiopian attire and in a very Ethiopian way, faced the judges.

When asked as to which musicians he admire, Demelash answered that he admire the famous Ethiopian singer -Tilahun Gesesse. The judge threw another specific question: “which foreign musician do you admire?” Demelash responded I admire “Miklo jakseno” [Micheal Jackson]. The judge can’t help asking “why.” Demelash was bold when he replied that he admire Michael Jackson because Michel Jackson admire him which suggests that the idea of ‘celebrity’ is strange for Demelash. It does not necessarily mean that Demelash is not familiar to the concept “celebrity.” It may rather mean that Demelash has his own celebrities, most likely Ethiopian patriots in history.

Demelash was then invited to show off his talent: singing. Demelsh started singing about his world- something that is very close and dear to his heart, which is Ethiopia and what Ethiopia means to him. He was singing it in an Adwa mentality- self-respect, patriotism and loving who you are as people.

The geographical description in his song is not merely geographical description. Mountains are not admired in the sense of admiring nature. There appears to be a social value embedded in them- something related to bravery, to the idea of standing tall and to valor, which all sit well with patriotism. When the judges, one of whom was comedian Dereje, gave a verdict that Demelash didn’t make it this time around, Demelash was not shown crying like contestants we see in American Idol. He was very calm and requested the judges to give him one more chance. The judges did so. Nothing changed. Demelash was angry and had to pull his sword, which was not visible at first, wanted to show them of an Adwa mentality: defiance of judgements of others. It is conceivable that what was judged, for Demelash, was Ethiopia. His disappointment did not end in self-pity. It rather triggered defiance and Adwa mentality. Well, may be the comedy is not presented very well. Yet, it’s entertaining and educational at the same time. Moral of the story is how patriotic values are subtly ridiculed on stages and how selfishness and conformity are propagated as an attributes of winning personality and “success.” Something selfish and what could rather be displeasing is rewarded. Obviously, such a practice is not about promoting art. It’s about conquering culture and collective values.

Selfless people are very hard to corrupt which is not the case with selfish people – and which why no selfish people could make of a patriot or defend the interest of a country. Adwa was a showdown between different values as much as it was a military showdown. And one of the significances of Adwa is the defeat of selfishness (call it Banda or whatever), defeat of people who bought into the propaganda of “civilising mission” which is the equivalent of what is now “progress and freedom.” The latter, of course, is an embodiment of subtle continuity of domination agenda and I don’t see any convincing reason to think that the domination agenda will die any time soon other than constantly changing its forms.

Just like people we call ‘banda’ in history were given ‘opportunity‘ for buying into the world view of the then “civilizers” (colonizing powers), those who bought into the world view of contemporary “progressive” powers are given ‘opportunity‘ – and with it the task to promote (through cultural diplomacy and other means) the world view of those with the lust for wealth and domination(power).

The struggle is between opportunism and principle, between morality and immorality, between selfishness and selflessness. Clearly, what is moral, selfless and valuable for patriots might sound naive to opportunists. Sadly, opportunism and immorality are, apparently, shaping the world in multifarious ways and they are given ‘rational and progressive’ look while they are simply manifestations of selfishness and immorality.

The image of freedom and moral living is being deformed before our eyes. Attacks are intensified on aspects of society that foster moral living, values that promote the whole rather than the individual and aspects of societal life that give society human values. For example, the attacks (with the use of selfish citizens, popular comedy shows, mainstream media or other means) on religion- whether it is Islam or Christianity -is evident and has now become a trend. It’s not hard to imagine that the attack is meant to weaken the source of strength for collective values. It is a subtle way of disempowering and weakening the sources from which society draws its strength. The attacks would in no way help even the freedom of the individual ultimately.

The nature of freedom is not complex. Yes, there could not be an absolute freedom but freedom could be better. It is nothing other than selfishness and illusion to promote a fundamentally slavery like situation as ‘freedom.’ It’s wicked. It’s immoral. And worst of all, when someone is in this kind of business, she/he need not and should not sell it as something very desirable by portraying selfish acts as if they are an acts of caring for the freedom of the society.

A mentality that made Adwa possible is critically important in this age to restore dignity and freedom in the real sense of the term. I am not in illusion to believe that those who work with and for TPLF, or some other powers will develop an Adwa mentality as selfishness could be addictive in its own right. What I hope is for innocent citizens not to imitate selfish ones and not to be overwhelmed by an apparent and temporary success of deceit and opportunism which is sometimes being sold as ‘modernity.‘ What I hope is a generation that do not take selfish ones seriously!

I have to reiterate that selfish citizens are harmful to society in that they could collaborate with an entity (be it local or foreign) while pursuing selfish motive and harm the very existence of the country. They may even go to the extent of fighting on the side of enemy. That is what people we refer to as ‘banda’ did to Ethiopia.

Life is short and it could be even shorter. It’s not worth it to live the ideals of opportunism and selfishness at the expense of the interest of Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia. Whoever managed to kill a selfish desire – which cultivates conscience,fearlessness-among other things – has a great potential to be a hero, a savior and patriot. And the satisfaction that springs from such deeds is righteous and remains with soul and is part of eternity. That’s why we need an Adwa mentality and stand tall for the values of being Ethiopian, for the values of freedom and for the values of being human, not for sordid gains and the illusion of “self.”

Happy Adwa Victory anniversary!
Dimetros Birku
The writer could be reached on twitter @dimetros
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