Unpacking the Ethiopian conundrum – By Yohannes Berhe

By Yohannes Berhe
Published on August 15, 2015

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

These words succinctly capture the essence of my commentary herein. It is fair to say, we all have experienced indecision at one time or another. I am not talking about indecision over trivial matters, the mundane and the inconsequential things in life, but indecisions over moral issues that affect our core values. The dilemma where to put our trust is particularly difficult in the murky world of politics that is filled with muddled ideas and misleading rhetoric. However, there comes a point where it all becomes clear and we are faced with stark choices: to remain silent, hence, appease the malevolent forces, or to speak out against them and hasten their demise.

Arguably, the defining moment in the recent history of our country was the 2005 election. Prior to the election, a lot of people weren’t sure what to make of the EPRDF/TPLF regime. The country was in terrible state and the situation was very fluid. The lack of rule of law and uncertainty still permeated the country. And, there seem to be a sense of paranoia through the ranks of the regime whose ragtag army appears to be trigger-happy. The brutal suppression of student protest at Addis Ababa University, and particularly the Anuak massacre in Gambella (Ethiopia: Crimes Against Humanity in Gambella Region | Human Rights Watch ) in the previous years was a source of grave concern. But, nevertheless there were some visible signs of changes. The private sector and the independent press were relatively free from government coercion and people could go about their business with relative ease. After so many years of war and mismanagement the country was in a mess, therefore, the task of repairing the country was huge and generally people thought things will get worse before they get better; a birth pang of a new Ethiopia. Moreover, because of the sheer complexity of the issues facing the country, the regime would be forced to seek a consensus with the various opposition groups, or so people thought.

Stolen Election

In the run-up to the election, the opposition parties were freely campaigning and effectively using the time they were allotted in the mass media to openly criticize the regime and to mobilize the population. Of course there were still serious issues that were not addressed: the Election Board, television and radio were still firmly under the control of the regime. All in all, though, there was a buoyant mood that spring was just around the corner, albeit overshadowed by restlessness and apprehension. There was even a glimmer of budding friendship among some of the opposition leaders and EPRDF/TPLF’s officials, which, in hindsight, reminds us of the classic tale of a snake that says to a benefactor, who expressed dismay after being bitten by the creature it has rescued, “you knew I was a snake.”

Still we were all entranced by the sight of steady stream of people from all walks of life, some old and infirm, barely standing, but waiting patiently for hours on end to cast their vote. The feeling of empowerment and the exuberant mood was felt even among the large contingent of diaspora communities. We all thought, our beloved country, once thought on the brink of dissolution was beginning to turn the corner. That, after long and torturous history, finally we were witnessing the dawn of a new era. On a personal level, this exuberant hope unleashed a torrent of pent-up nostalgia which led me, for the first time in a long a while, to contemplate a return to my beloved Addis which I left at a very young age.

As we all know, by now, the result of the election was a total disaster; in the aftermath of the election and the ensuing protest left at least 200 unarmed civilians dead and many more injured. Thousands of people, including many of the opposition leaders, were thrown in jail. Indeed, the long awaited change wasn’t meant to be. It was a sick jock by a deranged mind and ethnically intoxicated group that have no qualm with killing and causing mayhem in order to stay in power. The mastermind of this hoax, the late dictator Melese Zenawi, later confessed that he made a mistake (yes, a mistake) in allowing, arguably, the first free election in the history of the country. As if we needed more proof of the regime’s dubious intention, for the first time emerged a shadowy army; the Agazi army comprising exclusively of ethnic Tigreans, whose only duty, we were stunned to find out later, has been the protection of EPRDF/TPLF interest. This is an army of ‘zombies’, whose brain has been ‘lobotomized’ to turn them into a killing machine. They were responsible for indiscriminate killing of peaceful protesters in which, as the regime own enquiry report confirmed, most victims (some just bystanders) were hit in the head.

Democracy deferred

Few would dispute that fateful day has left an indelible mark on the nation. It is a turning point that most likely changed the trajectory of the nation in a way that made it difficult to make a peaceful transition. Considering the need for a change and the readiness and eagerness of the Ethiopian people for long awaited respite from relentless conflicts, and most of all the missed opportunity for a peaceful transition left a gaping hole, an indelible mark of anger and indignation that set me, ever since, squarely against the regime.

Fast-forward 23 years later, that advent of spring that had given much hope to many has turned into a gloomy winter. There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair in the nation that has forced many to take desperate measures either to leave the country, or to take up arms. The regime became so repressive, it earned the unsavory distinction of being one of the top jailers of journalists and human right advocates on par with North Korea.

Devoid of constructive and consistent policies, the regime, rather than to come up with a vision that articulate the future of the nation, is forced to rely on tactical measures designed to prolong its hold on power. Added to this, the regime is being challenged at every turn and on every level. Perhaps the greatest threat is from within the military and the rank and file of various satellite political groupings under EPRDF/TPLF who seem to have gained little compared with those that are at the higher end of the food chain. The EPRDF/TPLF and its supporters, to be sure, have been gaining tremendous short-term benefits from pervasive corruption that shield them from justice. But in the long run, eviscerating the rule of law is likely to prove their undoing. The absurdity of the regime’s action reached perhaps its most grotesque height when it declared a 100% electoral win in the recent election. A result, which is beyond the realm of probability, it became the butt of Internet jokes around the world with a well-known Nigerian journalist humorously suggesting that we should also consider the atypical scenario that the oppositions might also have voted for EPRDF/TPLF.

The regime would not have consolidated its hold on power without the active military and economic support of the Western nations. When we look inward, however, notwithstanding the diplomatic and economic support it received from foreign nations, the EPRDF/TPLF regime would have not survived for so long without the support of slew of people: the narrow nationalist, the greedy, the sycophant and most of all without the complicity of the not-so-silent majority. The moment of truth has come and gone and yet we have a persistent and pervasive apathy. And, this begs the question: why the deafening silences?

Before I delve into the details and present my argument, let me digress for a moment, to explain (to some of my readers who curiously ask) why I insist on the term regime as opposed to government to describe the EPRDF/TPLF assembly. I use the term regime and government with specific intent and meaning. To me the term government has the connotation of some degree of legitimacy through some kind of social contract between the governed and the government. On the other hand, regime implies a ruling system that is in power without the explicit consent of the governed. Much of the mainstream media seems to have taken similar approach. Only in academic writing the two terms are somehow still used interchangeably. Obviously, as most other terms in use it is a value-laden term not an objective definition.

Even if one ignores the issue of legitimacy and accepts the EPRDF/TPLF authority as a de facto, it will still be difficult to show deference, giving their disrespectful conduct and impertinent behavior. Let’s just take a quick look at some of the people at the helm: we have an appointed PM that is inept and obedient to a fault that one would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate word than idiot to describe his buffoon antics and unintelligible cacophonies; a foreign minister, supposedly the most ‘literate’ among the functionally illiterate, who has singlehandedly perfected lying into an art form; a communication minister whose duty is to misinform the public and spit out profanity and insults that would make a sailor blush; need I say more ? There is something to be said about the late dictator, Melese Zenawi, he knows how to pick and surround himself with unsavory and feeble-minded characters that satisfied his narcissistic impulse, hence, cleverly elevate his persona. He was indeed the “one-eyed king in the land of the blind.”

Now, back to my topic, let me use a medical analogy to illustrate my point: cancer is a disease that starts in our cell that can grow and reproduce or die. Its inception and modality can be used as a metaphor to aptly describe the conundrum we are facing and the view and position of the various players. We have the uncommitted, those who believe we have a benign tumor (not a cancer yet), hence, can be left alone because it does not pose a danger yet; the committed, those who believe we have a cancer (a malignant one at that) and they are convinced it should be removed before metastasis occurs (spread through the body), but they don’t yet know how to remove the cancer without killing the patient. Then, we have those who support the regime who simply deny there is a cancer. Although, from time to time they admit there are some symptoms of malaise.

Granted, there are as many excuses, as there are people who make them, for not taking a stand against EPRDF/TPLF, what are the main ones? Let me start with the mother all excuses:

The apolitical pretenses

“I am not into politics. In fact, I don’t like politics at all. I am busy living my life” (obviously I am being a bit emphatic, but the substance remains the same). This is probably the lamest excuse by far to avoid taking a stand. Clearly these are individuals who display very shallow understanding of the reality of life in general and of politics in particular. But still, their hypocrisy knows no bound, because oftentimes the same people who show their aversion to politics seem rather unhesitant to provide unsolicited comment or criticize those who are taking a stand against the regime. They have a deeply ingrained habit of flip-flopping. The staple of their idiotic reasoning is, there is no viable option to maintain and administrate the country, therefore, we have to be content with the status quo albeit its ‘shortcomings.’

Frankly, I can’t hide my contempt for deeply superficial individuals who find it easier to ‘fall for anything than to stand for something’. These are people who either lack a basic understanding what politics is all about, or they are displaying duplicitous hypocrisy. Every social interaction between people and our own individual actions are political acts. In fact everything is political and politics is everything: from whom one votes to what one eats, or even to issues related to health, work, safety, education. Director Mike Leigh summed up this viewpoint neatly when he stated: “You cannot be political. It is like asking if I consider myself a human being.”

This group of hopeless bystanders includes also those who are ‘genuinely’ opposed to the regime, but somehow find it very difficult (mainly for selfish reasons) to be committed. They fail to understand that a commitment to a cause requires choice and action. What is more, they delusionally believe that they are personally involved in the struggle beyond their own lives. As if merely to be swept up in the drama and be in opposition to the regime will be sufficient enough to be part of the struggle.

The myth of Religious neutrality

Religious beliefs, as expressed through the established organizations (Christians, Muslim, etc.), are in precipitous decline. The decline in Christianity in the West has been particularly acute. There is a profound disconnect between the teaching of organized religion and the reality around us. Religion is becoming a ritual, compulsory practice that one performs a few days a week, rather than an exercise in deep examination of one’s place in the world and the relationship with fellow human being. Unsurprisingly, the younger generations seem to be the main driver of religious (not necessarily spiritual) decline. This is scarcely surprising; younger people are innately pragmatic as such they are focused on what we do, not on what we say. The fragility of moral structure and the sanctimonious behavior of those who profess to believe in God and those who preach about God compel one to question the bases of his or her beliefs. Paradoxically, even the flare of religion extremism or the rise of fundamentalism that seem to be spreading is seen as a desperate attempt to stem the flow of loss and to fend off the crises of organized religion further exasperated by globalization and the advance of scientific knowledge.

Notwithstanding the ample evidence of religious inspired war, injustice and even genocide, it also true that religion had been part of the impetus of human civilization; contributing to philosophy, literature, art and architecture. The great works of art, or monument symbolizing human civilization are mostly inspired by religion. The great masterpieces of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, close to home the beautiful mosaic, or rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela, are few example among the myriads.

Although religion as a guiding principle of human affair has run its course, is still the focus of community organization and identity. One reason that religions are often so powerful in war or peace is that they carry the images, and symbols of meaning and identity that inform people’s thoughts and actions, therefore, it is natural that religion would be drawn into the sometimes-brutal business of politics. Organize religions play inescapable role in social affair, hence, cannot be above the fray. And yet we have people who use religion as an excuse to disengage from politics and consider passively accepting human suffering and injustice as the will of God. Thus, the concern for afterlife and the fear of God’s punishment seems to be the only motivation for attending church, mosque, and synagogue. The care for the poor and the unfortunate seems to be relegated to God; a vicarious feeling that smack of selfish indulgence and insensitivity.

Even though today the role of religion in social justice seems to be anachronistic, there was a time when religion was at the forefront of social justice movement. The best know religious inspired social movement was called Liberation theology, which has been described as “an interpretation of Christian faith out of the experience of the poor … an attempt to read the Bible and key Christian doctrines with the eyes of the poor”. Liberation theology arose in early 60s principally as a moral reaction to the poverty and social injustice in Latin America. The most known proponent of this movement was the Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980). Hailed as a hero by supporters, he spoke out against poverty, social injustice. He was shot dead while celebrating Mass. The Vatican has officially beatified him in May of this year. One of his most memorable quotes is: “I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.”

I want to be clear; the issue is not one’s religious belief or devotion. I get it; grappling with our day-to-day existence is difficult enough without the terrifying prospect of our demise. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable why people try to find solace in religion or some other abstract beliefs. To have reassurances from vagaries of everyday life is indeed an attractive proposition. Even for someone like me who have been increasingly disillusioned with organized religion (after all, there is only so much hypocrisy one can tolerate) some of the spiritual practices still evoke a sense of serenity and solemn mood – the memory of my childhood and the vestige of my upbringing still lingers. Although, I have to say, I am no longer concerned in reserving a place in heaven, nor perturbed by the prospect of hell. I would be happier to leave planet earth without heavy load on my conscience for what I did or didn’t do. I happened to believe that life on earth with all its mystery and beauty (and yes with its pain) should be lived intensely not be distracted, or tormented by the fear of what comes after, the ‘afterlife’ which is nothingness. Most importantly, I don’t have a particular predilection for any particular religion – I am indifferent at best and an equal opportunity offender at worst. My comment about the rule of religions institution in a society is based on the assumption that religion is a human construct, and as such can be instrumental in pressing for social justice.

The perceived role and the extent of engagement of the three major religious communities (i.e. Pentecostal, Christian Orthodox and Muslim) vis-à-vis the struggle for social justice in Ethiopia varies considerably. Pentecostal church followers (disparagingly called by the abbreviated word ‘pente’) are the least engaged to the point of being purportedly suspected to be in collusion with the regime. Perhaps, this has to be seen within the context of often-difficult relation between the Christian Orthodox and Pentecostal followers, (which speaks volume about the increasing intolerance among the various religious communities). Again, attesting the tribal root of organized religion and its inability, despite thousand years of historical evolution, to come up with a unified moral code common to, at least, all monotheist beliefs or even to something resembling ‘common-sense morality’.

Despite the significant number of Muslims in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has played active and prominent role in the affair of the state (a state by most account considered a secular one). In fact, the alliance between the church and state has deep historical roots. The church has played a key role in safeguarding national languages, traditions, and historical memory. Despite this historical context, however, the reaction and response of the church to undisguised frontal assault by EPRDF/TPLF has been very timid, to say the least. To be sure, the wanton destruction of so many churches, monasteries, precious and historic artifact has been met with anger and endless condemnation both at home and in the diaspora. Nonetheless, the church seems to be paralyzed and weakened by internal division to respond in an effective and sustained manner. It is indeed remarkably uncharacteristic reaction for a church that is standing on the shoulder of one of the most celebrated giant and the icon of Ethiopian nationalism, Abune Petros (1892-1936), an Ethiopian bishop and martyr, executed on 29 July 1936 by the Italian occupation forces for publicly condemning colonialism, and massacre of fellow Ethiopians.

In contrast the Ethiopian Muslim community, under the canopy of the movement dubbed ‘let our voice be heard’, has become a critical and resilient component of the struggle for democracy, despite being the victim of incessant attack. The regime had left no stone unturned to clampdown on this peaceful movement. In addition to the brutal attack against peaceful demonstrators in the streets and in the mosques, the regime resorted to utterly desperate and irresponsible measures such as falsely linking the movement to international terror network and hence undermining the real threat posed to the nation, it spearheaded the burning of churches to foment tension between Christian and Muslim Ethiopians. Throughout this, the movement has shown tremendous resilience both in terms of shrewd tactics and unbound creativity.

When the EPRDF/TPLF’s thugs requested to meet the leaders of Ethiopian Muslims movement, ostensibly, to negotiate a truce, the latter sensed a trap and prepared for it. Acting in good faith and yearning for peace, they sent their delegates to negotiate, but not before they arranged an underground parallel leadership. Predictably the EPRDF/TPLF thugs, which seem to know little about good faith negotiation, promptly arrested all the delegates and torture them. However, this time their trap didn’t work. At least not the way they have hoped for. The underground Muslim leadership immediately sprang into action to continue to provide a sustained, and yet very disciplined and timed leadership. The kind of leadership that have earned them the respect and admiration of Ethiopians from all walks of life. Their organizational skills and immense political acumen has a lot to teach other opposition groups who tend to falter and unravel in the face of severe stress and the regime’s divisive tactics.

The uninhibited narrow nationalist

Their often-repeated mantra is: “All those opposed to the regime are anti Tigrean chauvinist” who would like to dominate and subjugate other nationalities” (of course, chauvinist refers to the usual suspect, the ‘Amhara’). These allegations mostly come from a minority among ethnic Tigrean community who remain loyal to the regime by virtue of their ethnic affiliation.

In a highly volatile ethnic situation it is difficult to totally avoid ethnic discourse. However, it is equally true that ethnic based politics does not merely create a fear, but it is also a real factor. Some might find comfort in seeing someone of their own heritage in power, this comfort become a moral abdication when is traded for one’s humanity. Ethnic triumphalism is a short-lived mirage; an optical illusion caused by inferiority induced parochial views. Having said this, the hard reality and the difficult truth is that power and greed is the main motivating factor than ethnicity or any other parochial nonsense. It is a well-established fact that, in an unjust society wealth confers access to political power. In today’s Ethiopia ethnicity confers political power, which is easily convertible to wealth. In other words, Ethiopia has taken on the classic attributes of ethnocracy (regime dominated by an ethnic group) and plutocracy (government by the few wealthy individuals). One has to be utterly dishonest and self-serving to deny these facts.

That said I am also cognizant of the fact that some might have a tendency to over-generalize and decontextualized the current situation in Ethiopia in order to lump all Tigreans as being the sole supporters of the regime, hence the beneficiary of the largesse. But, if truth be told, there are enough sycophants and peddlers of lies from all ethnic groups that profit handsomely from the system. In fact, without these turncoats the regime might not have survived this long even in the unlikely scenario of being supported by a significant number of Tigreans. Nonetheless, my strongest denunciation is directed at so called Tigreans ‘elite’; especially, diaspora Tigreans who appear to have thrown in their lot with the regime that is universally detested by Ethiopians. A regime that is using and abusing their names to brutalize and subjugate the Ethiopian people including the majority of Tigreans who seem to have gained little despite the huge sacrifice they paid in overthrowing the former Derg regime.

I don’t believe in collective guilt, and never have. After all, race and ethnicity is an involuntary membership and an ascribed status. Injustice against anyone or by anyone must be subject to moral reflection by all individuals regardless of their tribal affiliation. However, there are instances where members of an identifiable group should take a morally visible stance towards crimes that being committed in their name.

The ideological foundation of the crime, the manner in which the victims were chosen and most of all the ethnic affiliation of those who are wielding power thereby liable of commission, or omission of criminal act, are irrefutable facts that raises the question of moral stance of a non-voluntary group in whose name crime is being committed. For those who are not persuaded by moral argument, perhaps they should also consider the pragmatic stance that, given the possible grave consequences for intra-ethnic relation and the potential retribution from the victims of the regime, speaking against the injustice now would be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the victims while differentiating the very few who are committing the crime from the majority of Tigreans who are themselves victim of the crime. It would be an irony of epic proportion, if indeed the cradle of Ethiopia also turns out to be the provenance of a group that instigated its demise.

On a personal level, it is disheartening to hear some, who tend to read too much into my surname, make unguarded remarks about other ethnic groups that I find it insensitive if not outright racist. Their presumption and biases are so complete their conversation is always peppered with ‘we’ and ‘them’. Even when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, most supporters have found it possible, after steadying their rattled nerves, to settle comfortably back into their vaunted belief that the regime is dedicated to the well being of the country. It is a cold fact that the longer the regime stays in power and continues to hold the entire country hostage the consequence for all and particularly for Tigreans will be dire. Make no mistake; there is no zero sum game where one ends up winning and the other losing. In the long run it’s a lose-lose proposition. No one, I mean no one community or country will escape the wrath of war, conflict and religious violence when there are social inequalities and political disequilibrium.

Another group that is aiding and abetting, albeit indirectly the EPRDF/TPLF regime is the Oromo-separatist group who are the ideological twin of EPRDF/TPLF, therefore, in virtual collusion when it comes to ethnic balkanization of the country while being, at the same time, in collision with it for state power. Deep down they long for the total destruction of Ethiopia in order a build a nation based on ethnically ‘pure’ notion of Oromo. If there is a group that is suffering a perpetual insanity by repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the Oromo-separatist group. Despite the endless suffering visited upon the Oromo people, they still turn their razor edge of hatred against the ‘Amhara.’ Their virulent anti-Amhara sentiment remains unabated even as the latter suffer under the EPRDF/TPLF regime. It is an emotional complexity and unrealistic proposition that is not only prolonging the agony of the Oromo people, but is diverting attention from the real struggle and retarding the march toward democracy. It is a paradoxical proposition, unique in history (perhaps an Ethiopian exceptionalism?) for a group that claims to be a majority in the nation to still be contemplating secession. Obviously it is not a question of democracy (with its basic tenets of majority rule), but a deeply flawed and misplaced form of identity politics.

In a converging world where the meaning of nationality and citizenship is being constantly challenged, it is remarkable, to think there are still people out there who hold on to a parochial view of identity such as race, color, ethnicity. In my opinion, narrow nationalism or any other parochial feeling is nothing more than an inferiority complex, which often takes the bizarre form of imagined national identity and virulent hatred of others. The incessant attack on ‘Amhara’ or any other group, even as they suffered under the EPRDF/TPLF regime, accentuates even more this fact. The message is instinctively appealing and unfailingly simple, never your fault, it is always the others. It is both an act of abrogation of responsibility and an absolution of fault. Indeed, an irresistible challenge for a mere mortal. Nihilism, not to mention their cut-through revisionist interpretation of history, toward anything and everything Ethiopian seems to be the main ingredient even among the narrow nationalist ‘intellectuals’. The danger is, if it remains unchecked it might robe a sense of identity to the younger generation and exasperate further the crises, akin to Eritreans youth who grew up during the protracted struggle for independence.

Clearly I am not trying to make a sweeping generalization, but to reflect the general mood and public sentiment dominant among us. There are courageous individuals from all walks of life, from every ethnic group and religious persuasion that are committed to bring about much needed changes. What is important is to understand that we should all have a stake in the principle of justice, hence should become indignant when these are violated. I find it quite astounding that those who know or suffered injustice suddenly find the notion of injustice abstract and disconnected. An ethnic or any other narrowly defined identity based political arrangement represents not a promise of democracy and coexistence but a blueprint for sectarian strife-Lebanon in the eighties, Yugoslavia in the nineties. Whether the struggle is for religious liberty, equal access to the nation resources, or indigenous land rights, they are all part of the struggle for freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Fundamental rights to which we are all entitled, hence, we all have a stake in fighting injustice.

Courage in the face of adversity

Nowadays Ethiopians are too easily deceived by a few gestures and action designed to give them the illusion of progress, or a better life. They have been tricked again and again, sold out at every turn by phony promises. Take for instance the ostensibly named Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to the dam project per se, but I am opposed to the dumb people behind the project. A project of this magnitude has far reaching impact not only for the current generation but also for future generation, not to mention the political implication in the region. It requires careful deliberation and astute diplomacy. A national debate over the pros and cons, or even the merit of the project should not be an option; the country cannot afford a ‘white elephant’ project that is detrimental to its future. Conventional mega project delivery has a dismal record in terms of costs and benefits. The world is littered with dead mega projects that prove to be too costly to finish, or inefficient to operate. And yet, some people – not necessarily all supporters of the regime – are blindly and emotionally driven to support the project and the regime is taking advantage of the nationalist fever by playing them like a damn fiddle. I sometimes wonder if those who support the project would do the same with respect to decision affecting their personal life. For example, would they build or buy a house without any due diligence?

The tactic by which the EPRDF/TPLF regime have kept the millions in optimum subjugation has been a conscious, systematic emasculation of opposition leadership, and those who are willing to be submitted, through an elaborate system of sanctions, rewards, penalties and persecutions as well as with gestures designed to divert attention away from the abysmal socio-political condition. Giving away stolen farmlands and condominiums built on illegally acquired lands (robbing Peter to pay Paul) are designed to create chaos as much as to garner support. Every turn the regime has taken is treasonous act that will endanger the welfare and security of the country.

Indeed, the policy of the EPRDF/TPLF is conceived in order to leave Ethiopia without a unitary and nationally viable self-image that is at loggerheads with itself and its neighbors. The task ahead for Ethiopians is to forge a unity of purpose and act in unison to deprive the EPRDF/TPLF regime its main instrument of control; ethnic and religious division.

Despite the shady and unsavory characters that seem to permeate all aspect of our life, not all is doom and gloom. For better or for worse we all are history’s actors and actresses, but far too few of us are in the leading role of a heroic characters. For quite some time now, I have found myself grappling with, living through, analyzing over and over with mystification to understand what makes some people stand their ground despite the risk to themselves and their loved ones.

We are fortunate to have individuals who posses extraordinary courage and conviction. Individual such as Andualem Aragei whose stance against tyranny reveal a fairness of mind and the courage to stand beyond his self interest and to rise above the pressure of his environment.

I always ask myself, what drives Eskinder Nega, an eloquent voice of reason and a man who helps us make sense of EPRDF/TPLF’s senseless brutality through his beautiful prose, to sacrifice the pleasure of comfortable life and the joy of spending his days with his son and beautiful wife – a heroine in her own right?

What does it take for someone like Sileshi Hagos to keep his spirit unbroken when EPRDF/TPLF’s thugs broke his bones and threatened his life for refusing their race-bait?

Despite a breast cancer and the prospect of dying in prison, what does it take for Reeyot Alemu to summon up all her energy and courage to tell the regime to shove it when they requested her to sign a false confession in exchange for her freedom?

What does it take for Abraha Desta and Bekele Gerba to master the courage to interrogate reality and ask the same from the brutal regime?

Where and how did the young and restless members of Zone 9 learn to be defiant and risk their young life in order to demand their rightful place in the future of their country?

Who are all those countless people locked up in various EPRDF/TPLF’s dungeons and surrounded by a vast sea of apathy and complacency and yet they have the habit of staring death right in the face and poking their fingers at it?

I don’t have the answer to all these questions. However, I do know that the long arc of the moral universe that is persistently and eloquently enunciated by many, doesn’t bend toward justice on its own. It bends because individual of extraordinary courage such as these put their hands on the arc and bend it in the direction of justice.

The writer, Yohannes Berhe, is a resident of Ottowa, Canada. He can be reached at yohannesb23@gmail.com

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