What is lacking in Ethiopia today is the inability to see the humanity of others. The fight before us is more about false ideas that people have adopted as truth. When followed, perpetual competition and disharmony with others results. Ideas matter and even good people can take on flawed ideas that can lead to mutual destruction.
When those ideas are not based on God’s truth, they can lead to immoral and selfish decisions, to hate instead of love and compassion, to greed instead of fairness and generosity, to pride instead of humility, or to lies instead of honesty and integrity. When they become part of a family, community, culture, or nation, they can bring destruction.
As a member of a minority group— and there are many of us who have been marginalized, discriminated against and cut-off from the mainstream for years— it is not an easy thing to challenge the status quo. The system we have now is based on lies and deception. It fails to uphold the humanity of others. In such a system, only the power holders benefit. Morality is gone and to avoid accountability, the manipulation of truth creates an illusion.
It makes it almost impossible to correct the system since those who stand for truth are crushed. It has pushed the society to the point of ethnic explosion and disintegration— to the killing of each other and to a possible genocide.
Life in Ethiopia is not based on the common good for the people, but is twisted to give in to the whims and ambitions of those with power. It has pushed people to view “the other” as the enemy; again, failing to see the God-given humanity of others.
Over the past years and months, Ethiopians have been trying to inform the world about these senseless crimes being committed across Ethiopia on almost a daily basis. The main response has come from human rights groups. This has not only been the case regarding the people of Oromia, but also that of Ethiopians from Gambella to the Somali region, from Afar to Benishangul, from the Amhara region to the people of the South and so on. It is as if the screams of the people were silent, despite efforts to raise awareness.
Yet, as Ethiopians see their family members dying at the hands of the TPLF/EPRDF, they ask; why are we being ignored? Why is our pain unnoticed as we lose our families? It is like someone having an operation without enough medication to block the pain; but yet, not enough strength to scream out so the doctor will stop. This is what Ethiopians have felt.
Since last November, day after day, many young Oromo have come out to protest, crossing their wrists and lifting their arms together, but many of them never returned home. Feyissa’s friends were among them, one of them burned in the recent prison fire. Suddenly, Feyissa’s voice broke through the silence and stunned the world.
The darkness surrounding the terror against Ethiopians was exposed in the light. The symbol he made when he crossed his wrists and raised his arms as he crossed the finish line to win a silver medal, brought many Ethiopians to tears, including me. His bravery showed the oppression of Ethiopians to the world and exposed the truth about the system of ethnic-based apartheid. His act of courage gave renewed hope.
When he crossed the finish line and publicly said he did it for all the people of Ethiopia, not only for one group, he shook the foundation of the hate-building ethnic divisive policies of the TPLF/EPRDF. He refused to blindly accept the limitations and deceitfulness of an ethnic-based identity, seductively imposed on many of us by the TPLF/EPRDF as a means for them to stay in power. He shows himself to be a man freed from the manipulation of the TPLF. It gave me hope that this young man could play a big role to bring unity to the people, many of whom are held captive to TPLF ideology and rule. He showed he was free to embrace the humanity of others— a God-given principle.
He became a hero to almost every Ethiopian, regardless of ethnicity or other differences. Meeting him in Washington DC for the first time this week, gave me an opportunity to find out what kind of person he was and I found him to be a genuine, humble, friendly and caring man of courage, integrity and principle— a person of faith.
He will be faced with the challenge of differing ideological viewpoints. The TPLF/EPRDF will want to force him back to their narrow definition of an Oromo in order to weaken his influence and the inspiration for the struggle he has offered. But yet, who defines him? Who defines any of us? When that definition leads to the dehumanization or disregard of others, we can know that it is not how God intends us to be.
The TPLF/EPRDF has given Ethiopians defined identifies to separate us. Those identities include the promotion of grievances that never get resolved, corrected or forgiven. For the last 25 years, people have been accepting the identities given to them without enough questioning.
We must struggle against ideas that are not based on God-given truth. Perhaps Feyissa and others like him, can bridge the gap between the people. As people begin to seek resolution to their differences; it will open up new avenues to dialogue, reconciliation, cooperation and systemic justice, equality and freedom for all people.
Feyissa’s example has now been followed by others who took similar stands in races. Ebisa Ejigu crossed his arms when he was in the Quebec City Marathon in Canada. Tamiru Demissie, a visually impaired Paralympic silver medal winner in the 1,500meter run in Rio, also crossed his arms as he ran over the finish line. Another Ethiopian Kassa Yemer the martial art crossed his arms after he won the Gold in South Korea, on n September 7, 2016. These are national heroes; but even more so, they are models of courage, boldness and principle who get what it means to be a human being.
At such a time as this, Ethiopia needs more of this kind of men and women. The New Ethiopia we are seeking will require people with the moral strength to break out of the mold— people who can see all human beings as worthy of dignity and respect.
May God strengthen and inspire Feyissa, Ebisa, Kassa, Tamiru and others like them, to act as bridges and models to others, encouraging them to discard someone else’s flawed definition of their identity and nationality, pushed on them in order to keep Ethiopians under control and from seeing each other as one people.
May God free us from ideas, attitudes, and actions that are wrong, hurtful or destructive; especially those that keep us chained to oppression and block us from valuing each other.